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This Long and Winding Road - Chapter 11

Title: This Long and Winding Road
Chapter 11: Ze'sasekh
Pairings: Mostly Platonic Kíli/Fíli, Kíli/Bilbo/Fíli, Dwalin/Ori, Dwalin/Nori, Bilbo/Thorin, minor and background pairings
Rating/Warnings: None for this part unless you count canon injuries and more pining
Word Count: 8872 (66,649 so far)
Disclaimer: If I owned it, there would be more threesomes.
Summary: Fíli and Kíli have spent decades searching for the last piece of their hearts, but meeting Bilbo is just the beginning of the tale.  Because hobbits believe in love, not destiny and someone else catches their burglar's eye.

Chapter 1: Ze'                           Chapter 6: Ges
Chapter 2: Nu'                           Chapter 7: Haded
Chapter 3: Gem                        Chapter 8: Gimon
Chapter 4: Ramekh                   Chapter 9: Tager
Chapter 5: Gamekh                  Chapter 10: Sasekh


The younger prince's strength did not last for very long after Fíli left him, his memory of those minutes still fragmented even now. Kíli remembers watching his amrâbulnâs disappear, their connection growing ever weaker as distance took its toll. He remembers falling into darkness when his remaining strength gave out.

After that, the prince can recall only flashes: pain and desperation and sneering faces turning his small group away. Bofur and Óin had carried him through Laketown until a lack of options drove them to Bard's door.

Although the archer was not lucid for that conversation, he doubts the man was pleased to see them after what the Master said. Even so, Bard must have granted them assistance because the bargeman's eldest daughter is wiping the sweat from Kíli's brow when he wakes up again.

Her hands are kind and gentle, but her touch does little to ease the fire in his skin. The archer's wound is throbbing to the rhythm of his heartbeat, every breath causing another stab of agony. Yet Kíli cannot lie still. He wants Fíli and Bilbo to be with him. He wants his amrâbulnâs here so that he doesn't have to die alone.

“Ssh, you're all right,” Sigrid murmurs as the young dwarf whimpers faintly. Her heart twinges when he reaches out, seeking comfort blindly from any source he can. She takes his hand and squeezes before wetting her rag and wiping Kíli's face again. If this fever doesn't break, the dwarf probably won't live to see tomorrow and his friends clearly know that his time is running out.

The dwarven healer sent his companion out to search for kingsfoil almost an hour ago, claiming that the weed would help bring the archer’s fever down. Sigrid has never heard this, but she is also not a healer so perhaps this Óin is right.

However, his friend has yet to return and while they wait, Sigrid can only try to keep Kíli comfortable. She has just turned to wet her rag again when the whole house shakes. The girl almost falls off her chair as the building trembles, putting out one hand for balance while the dust rattles from the walls.

“What was that?” Bain asks.

“It's coming from the mountain,” Tilda says from her place by the window. Sigrid trades a glance with both her siblings before looking at their father worriedly.

Everyone in Laketown knows that danger comes when the earth trembles, each new generation cautioning their children against the day the dragon wakes. This threat has lain over their city for so long that it has almost lost all meaning – most Lakemen were more likely to be struck by lightning than to die by dragon's flame. But now Thorin Oakenshield has dared to enter the Lonely Mountain and it seems that day has finally come.

“You should leave us,” Óin tells Bard quietly. Kíli is in no condition to travel, but the healer would not see the bargeman suffer for his hospitality. “Take your children and flee this place as fast as possible. I know that Thorin means to fight Smaug, but I do not know if he'll succeed.”

“There is nowhere to run,” the man replies with a frown. “Thranduil will not take us and we have no army beyond the Master's bully boys. Even if we did, Laketown cannot stand against the dragon. This city will burn to ashes as the prophecy foretold.”

There is no hope inside Bard's heart. Girion's descendants have passed down the tale of his last stand from father to son for generations and while Bain sees courage in the story, the bargeman just sees failure. How could he kill Smaug with one Black Arrow when Girion shot an entire quiver at the dragon fruitlessly? Bard and his kin should simply accept whatever fate sweeps down from the Lonely Mountain, their futures bought and sold by Thorin Oakenshield.

“Father? Are we going to die?”

“Will Smaug come here and eat us?”

The answer is yes to both these questions but when the bargeman look at Tilda's face, the words stick inside his throat. He has not taught his children to give up in the face of hardship and Bard can brave Smaug's flames for them.

The last of Girion's line will go down fighting and while Bard does not truly think that he can kill the dragon, maybe he can buy his children time enough to flee. A small boat might slip beneath Smaug's notice if he draws the creature's eye.

“None of you will die here. I will kill the dragon first,” Bard pronounces. Then he reaches up into the rafters and pulls down the Black Arrow. The bargeman never thought he'd use the weapon even if it was his birthright, the arrow passed down through the generations ever since Girion’s eldest daughter took it from the wreckage of her home. She kept it as a reminder of her father’s courage and Bard is grateful to her now.

“Da? How long has that arrow been there?” Sigrid asks in consternation, clearly wondering if she's been hanging herbs and cooking pots from an ancient weapon all her life.

“Never mind that! You have a Black Arrow!” Óin exclaims. “That means we have a chance. Why didn’t you mention the weapon earlier?”

“Because I hoped to convince Thorin Oakenshield to turn away from folly, not give the fool dwarf further hope. This arrow would have stayed hidden if he'd left the dragon unmolested but now it seems I have no other choice,” Bard retorts before turning back to his children. “Sigrid and Tilda, you stay here. Gather up food, clothing, and whatever else you think that you might need. I want you to go to shore before the dragon comes; you will be much safer there. Once I am settled by the wind-lance, I will send Bain back to join you. Your brother knows the hidden routes from Laketown that the guards will not be watching and three of you working together should be able to steer our barge to shore. Promise me that you will go as soon as he returns.”

Sigrid nods, her expression worried but determined, and Bard doesn't think he has never been prouder of his daughter than he is right now.

“That's my girl,” he says. The bargeman looks over at Kíli for a moment before telling Óin. “If your friend is well enough to move by then, you are welcome to go with them. I would not force you to remain with a dragon on the prowl.”

“Thank you,” the healer answers. “We may accept your offer if Bofur returns quickly. Although, I fear it is more likely that Kíli will have passed.”

“All the more reason that you should not die as well,” Bard tells him before hefting the Black Arrow and walking to the door with Bain. The Master’s spies should have left hours ago but the bargeman still looks around warily as he slips outside. Bard sticks to the smaller streets as he and his son make their way toward the wind-lance. Even so, the pair is forced to stop and hide from several guard patrols; the Master’s men are out in force.

Thankfully, he and Bain reach the Master’s mansion without being seen and when the bargeman glances up at the roof, the wind-lance is still there. The way his luck has been going recently, Bard was half expecting the Master to have torn it down for scrap.

“Listen to me carefully,” he tells his son after taking in the lay of the land. “I need you to distract the guards around the mansion. Once it’s clear, I’ll climb up the tower and set the arrow to the bow.”

No one should notice him up there, especially not if the dragon is really on his way. As long as Bard stays out of sight, the Master’s men should have much more important things to think about.

Bain nods once, his expression nervous but resolute and the bargemen is struck by a wave of affection for his son. The boy won’t allow fear to stop him from doing as his father asks and Bard can only hope that he manages the same. He hopes that his courage will not fail him when he sees the dragon’s rage.

Bard's son takes a deep breath, squaring his shoulders before starting toward the mouth of the alley. But he’s only gone a few steps before a sudden shout makes him freeze up in surprise.

“There he is! Bard! After him!”

The cry comes from the opposite end of the street and the pair whirls around to see a squad of men running toward them, the guard captain Braga at their head. Judging by the men’s expressions, this can’t mean anything good and Bard grabs Bain by the arm.

“Quickly! Over there!” he says, shoving his son down another smaller street. The bargeman needs to lose the Master’s guards before he can climb the tower but running with the Black Arrow is awkward at best and Bard won’t risk Bain being captured. The Master could use his son as leverage far too easily.

So he pulls the boy into a nearby alley, waiting until the guards run past and then giving the Black Arrow to his son.

“Keep it safe,” Bard says. “Keep it hidden. I'll distract the guards.”

“I won’t leave you!”

“You must,” the bargeman orders firmly. “Whatever you do, stay out of sight. I’ll meet you back here as soon as I can.”

“I don't want... I... Just be careful,” Bain tells his father fiercely. Then he runs around the corner, ducking out of sight when the Master's guards begin to circle back. While he flees, Bard just stands there waiting, wanting to give his son enough time to get away.

“Bard,” the guard captain says when he draws closer.

“Braga,” the bargeman replies flatly.

“You're under arrest,” the other man announces and Bard can't even be surprised. He just wants to know what lies the Master has decided to tell now.

“On what charge?” Bard asks. “You know that I've done nothing.”

“Any charge the Master chooses,” Braga tells him, not even trying to pretend that this arrest is justified. “You've never been able to bite your tongue and the Master has decided to charge you with high treason. You should never have challenged his authority in front of Thorin Oakenshield.”

“We don't have time for this,” Bard says, still hoping that the captain might see reason. “Smaug is coming; don't you realize that? You must have heard the mountain rumbling.”

“You really would say anything, wouldn't you?” Braga asks with a sneer. “A few earthquakes do not make a dragon and I won't have you inciting this town to riot. However, since you've saved us the effort of dragging you out of your house, I'll make you a deal: we'll leave your kin alone if you come quietly. Otherwise, well, the Master might decide that he has room for your whole family in his prison and I promise I'd keep a very close eye on those pretty girls of yours.”

Several of the Master's guardsmen flinch at their captain's answer. But their shame won't save Bard; this has gone too far. The bargeman can't trust them to do the right thing and he can't trust the Master's generosity to protect his children now.

So he throws the first punch, his fist slamming into Braga's chin and knocking the captain off his feet. Then Bard ducks through the opening and runs in the opposite direction from the Master's mansion. He's hoping to lose the guards in the narrow streets of Laketown before returning to his son.

Bain watches from his hiding place as his dad leads Braga and his men away. He knows he was supposed to run but he just couldn't do it. He needs to know for sure that his father is all right. However, Bain can't break his promise to protect the arrow either. So he looks around for a place to hide the weapon, not wanting to carry Girion's last hope around the streets of Laketown.

As he glances around, his eye catches on the large statue of the Master in the main canal. Bain's dad hates that statue – he called it a pointless waste of money when the Master had it built – but the boy only cares about the cluster of boats tied to its base.

Widow Hedra's boat sits among them, filled with tools and rope enough to hide the Black Arrow from anyone who passes by. She definitely won't be going for any late night boat rides so the weapon should be safe there and Bain buries the arrow out of sight. Then he runs after his father as quickly as he can.

Bain isn't sure which way his dad went but following the sound of shouting works out well. Indeed, he arrives just in time to see the Master's lackey trip Bard and then knock him out with a wooden oar.

The boy's hands clench into fists as his father is dragged off by the guards. He wants to attack them. He wants to rush at them and beat them with his hands until they let his father go. But Bain knows that the Master’s men would only laugh – or worse, arrest him too.

So he stays silent, waiting until the guards are out of sight before racing toward his home. Bain doesn’t even think about grabbing the Black Arrow; he needs to tell his sisters what has happened. Without Bard to kill the dragon, they have to run right now and maybe, if he begs, the dwarves will agree to help him break his father out.

Bain doesn't look up as he sprints through Laketown. If he had, the boy probably would have stumbled, his limbs gone numb with shock and horror. Because a pack of orcs is making its way across the rooftops, weapons in their hands and vengeance on their minds.

Bolg had not given up after losing Thorin on the river. The orc knew there was only one place that the dwarves could ask for succor and he had led his pack around the water to reach the wooden causeway that connects Laketown to the shore. Indeed, Bolg can smell the dwarves now – at least a few of them are still here in the city – and the orc has no intention of returning to his father without a prize to show him. Azog does not take kindly to failure and he wants these dwarves wiped out.

The orcs slip through Laketown, following the scent of their prey toward Bard’s house. No one notices their passage and in turn, they are too focused on their target to realize that they are being followed by a pair of elves.

Tauriel has spent the last few days tracking Bolg's orcs from Mirkwood with her prince at her side. The captain thought long and hard before choosing to leave the forest; King Thranduil had forbidden her from going beyond his borders many times and she did not defy him lightly. But this was something that the elfine had to do.

She didn’t leave for Kíli, though she had enjoyed their conversation and the orc that she and Legolas had captured spoke of poison in his blood. She didn’t leave in order to kill her enemies, though wiping Bolg and his pack from the earth would be no travesty.

Tauriel left because she could not continue on as she had been any longer. If she did not act, then Thranduil would always see her as a nothing more than a Silvan elf, one the king indulged but did not truly respect and she could not live with that. The future that Tauriel dreamed of required her king's recognition and the captain was prepared to risk the only home she'd ever known in order for the chance. She would do her best to lay Smaug's bloody head at Thranduil's feet or at least prove once and for all that the elves of Mirkwood could not hide within their borders and hope that the world would pass them by.

So Tauriel collected her bow, her arrows, and her daggers and then left the elf king's hall. Her warriors would guard the forest in her absence; if she truly thought her king was threatened, the captain would have set her dreams aside.

The elfine traveled quickly but Legolas caught up to her at the river. She'd half expected him to follow, though she had not dared to hope. Her prince had duties of his own.

“You should not be here,” Tauriel said softly when the other elf came up beside her.

“Neither should you,” Legolas replied. “You know my father forbid us from pursuing this matter any further and even if he hadn’t, no one is allowed to leave the forest on their own.”

“That is true. But you know I have to do this,”
the elfine told him. “You know I have to try.”

“Yes. And that’s why I have to join you. I can't let you risk my father’s wrath alone, not when I know that you're doing this for both our benefits. I don’t like these dwarves but I can understand their longing and this land will be brighter if Erebor is restored.”

“Thank you, meleth nin,”
she said with a faint smile. “Now come. The light will be fading soon and we need to find the orcs before they catch Thorin's company.”

The elves followed their targets to Laketown easily enough; both of them were practiced trackers and even if they hadn't been, it wasn't hard to guess where the orcs were headed now. Indeed, Tauriel caught sight of an orc only a few moments after she and Legolas crossed the bridge to Laketown, sharp elven eyes seeing movement where the city's men were blind.

Since then, the pair has been trailing Bolg's orcs through Laketown, hoping that the monsters will lead them to Thorin's company before the dwarves do something foolish. Tauriel would much rather attack Smaug on her own terms; ideally while he's still sleeping inside of Erebor. But the captain is starting to get worried because she hasn't seen any sign of Thorin or his companions and if the dwarves are already in the mountain then they're running out of time.

“Wait,” Legolas whispers and the elfine pauses. “Did you see that?”

“See what?”

“Bolg!”
the prince hisses in reply. “I thought I recognized the leader of these orcs earlier but now I am sure. That is Bolg, spawn of Azog the Defiler, and he should not be here. Last I heard, that orc was hiding somewhere in the Misty Mountains; whatever errand brought him here bodes ill for everyone.”

“Why? You told me that Thorin slew Azog in the war at Dimrill Dale after the pale orc killed his grandfather; it's not hard to believe that Bolg would want revenge.”

“True, but he wouldn't risk war with Mirkwood without reason,”
Legolas tells her. “And I've heard rumors that the Defiler may not be as dead as we all thought. I have a bad feeling about this, Tauriel. Azog's kin have never been known for fighting fair and if the Defiler still lives then we may all be in great danger now. We need to confront Bolg and force him to tell us of his plans.”

“All right. Then we will,”
Tauriel agrees. However, the words have barely left her mouth before Bolg signals to his orcs. The rest of his pack suddenly darts into a nearby house while the orc stands waiting on the street and the silence of the night is broken by shrill screams.

The elfine pauses, torn between going after Bolg and running to the rescue. If Legolas is right about the orc's motives, then capturing him should probably be the elves' priority. But the captain can't just stand by while Bolg's orcs slaughter innocents.

“Come on, melui nin. We help them first,” Legolas says and Tauriel gives him a feral grin. She should have known that the other elf would feel the same.

He runs across the rooftops and the captain follows, both elves drawing a matched set of twin swords. Legolas and Tauriel leap into the house right on the orcs' heels and straight into a fight.

Tauriel takes the scene in quickly: two human girls, one of the older dwarves, and Kíli are struggling against the orc pack, the four of them seriously outnumbered and fighting for their lives. The younger girl is barely more than a child but her older sister is throwing everything that she can reach at their attackers while Óin lays into the closest orcs with his staff.

Legolas jumps to their defense as Tauriel fights her way toward Kíli, twin blades slicing through her enemies. The dwarf screams when one of the orcs drags him to the ground, his hand clutching his injured leg. But he comes up swinging, slamming a dagger between the creature's ribs just as Tauriel reaches him.

“Fancy seeing you here,” Kíli says with a wide smirk and the elfine has to laugh.

“You looked like you could use some help,” she replies. Then Tauriel lets out a curse as the dwarf's eyes roll back in his head and he drops down like a rock. She catches Kíli with one arm, biting back another curse when she feels his burning skin. The orc hadn't been lying about the archer's injury. But Tauriel doesn't have time to try to heal him now. So she drops Kíli to the floor as two more orcs attack them, the dwarf landing at her feet with a thud. He'll be all right for the moment and taking out Bolg's pack is her first priority.

Legolas has been making quick work of the other orcs while Tauriel grabbed Kíli and the survivors are starting to think twice about continuing the fight. Cowards, the lot of them, and their courage breaks when the captain decapitates her next opponent flashily.

“Ekinskeld obguranid!” an orc shouts out of the window, calling to Bolg who's still waiting on the street.

“Gur! Arangim!” Bolg shouts back. The surviving orcs spill from Bard's house, one of them nearly tripping over Bain on his way out. The boy was running up the stairs when the orc suddenly bowled him over and it's only his panicked duck that saves him when the monster swings his sword. Thankfully the orc doesn't try again; Bolg's pack is more concerned with survival than killing one human boy tonight.

So Bain climbs up on shaking feet and then runs into the house. He looks around in shock, his eyes widening at the sight of Tauriel and Legolas. The boy has never seen any elves this close before and he doesn't move until Legolas steps out onto the balcony to track his enemies.

“Bain! There you are,” Óin says when he catches sight of the boy. “Is your father in position?”

“No! The guards took him! Braga arrested him on the Master's orders. What's going on? What happened?” Bain exclaims before running over to his sisters. “Sigrid, Tilda, are you both okay?”

“We're fine. But da... You said he's... And all our packing...” Sigrid replies, staring at the wreckage that the orcs made of her home. “We'll have to start again.”

“Packing? No, Sigrid, we have to get him out!” Bain protests, looking at his older sister as though she's gone insane.

“And how exactly are we supposed to do that?” Sigrid asks her brother sharply. “Two girls, a stripling, an old dwarf, and a sick one? We couldn't stand against one guard, let alone them all, and I doubt these elves want to help us lead a jailbreak. No, Bain. Da told us to leave when you returned and that's what we have to do. I promised. So either help me pack or help Óin take care of Kíli; Smaug may be awake already and we cannot stay here waiting 'til we die.”

“I... Okay. I... I guess you're right,” the boy replies after a moment, his shoulders slumping as his indignation dies. He follows Óin over to Kíli and kneels down to grab the prince's shoulder at the older dwarf's command.

“Be careful. He's sick,” Tauriel tells Bain as he and Óin lift Kíli back onto the bed.

“He is dying,” Óin corrects her and the elfine cannot argue. Truthfully, she doesn't know how the archer has survived this long given the clear signs of Morgul poisoning that run across his skin. Tauriel doubts that Kíli has more an hour left to walk upon this earth.

“Tauriel, come,” Legolas says from the balcony. “We can do nothing for him and we must leave now or Bolg will get away.”

He jumps down to the street and the elfine moves to follow him; as much as she hates to admit it, she knows her prince is right. Although the captain has some training as a healer, she has no hope of curing Kíli without the proper herbs. Verbena, chamomile, or willow bark would ease his suffering but only athelas would give Tauriel any hope of burning the poison out.

So she sheathes her weapons and follows after her prince, her feet barely touching the wood before another dwarf almost runs right into her. It's the one with the strange hat and Tauriel's breath catches when she sees what he is holding. This must be a sign from the Valar. Aulë has granted his children a miracle tonight.

“Hey!” the dwarf protests when Tauriel snatches the athelas from his fingers. “I need that!”

“Tauriel? What are you doing?” Legolas asks behind her. “We have to go.”

“But I... I can save him,” she replies, holding up the athelas as she waves back at the house. Although Tauriel did not leave the forest for Kíli's sake, when faced with the chance to help him, she cannot walk away. “I have to save him now.”

“All right, melui nin. Be careful,”
Legolas tells the elfine softly. He understands her decision - Tauriel would not be Tauriel if she chose any differently – and he knows she understands why he cannot stay as well. “I will track down Bolg and then find you afterward. Wait for me on the shore?”

“I will be there, meleth nin,”
Tauriel promises. She kisses her prince on the cheek, sending him off with her blessing before running back inside.

“You! I need some water! As hot as you can manage,” the elfine orders sharply, her tone leaving no room for argument. Indeed, Sigrid jumps to obey her. The girl grabs one of the few surviving bowls off the floor and the kettle that's sitting on the fireplace, bringing both items over to Tauriel.

“Put them on the table,” the captain instructs Sigrid as she pins up her sleeves and then turns to the watching dwarves. “I will need you to keep Kíli from moving too much while I drive out the poison. This will be quite painful but it's the only way to save his life.”

“Anything you need,” Óin promises.

“Good. Please remove his bandage, if you would?” Tauriel asks. The healer moves to obey, telling Bofur to roll up Kíli's trousers so that they can reach his wound. Meanwhile, Tauriel tears the athelas into pieces and puts them inside the bowl that Sigrid brought her. She pours water over the leaves, just enough to make a paste, and she's glad to see that the mix is steaming. The heat will help bring out the athelas' healing properties.

Once the paste is ready, Tauriel walks over to her patient. Óin and Bofur are standing ready on either side of the archer and the elfine can't help a frown when she finally gets a good look at Kíli's injury. The wound is dark with poison, angry black lines spreading in all directions, and the dwarf's spirit feels much dimmer than she'd like.

So Tauriel starts to chant, gathering her magic as she covers the prince's wound in athelas. Kíli stirs under her hands, his face twisting with discomfort, and the captain signals the dwarf's companions to hold him now. Once she starts this spell, a break in concentration could be fatal for them both and she cannot trust Kíli not to lash out in his delirium.

Indeed, the archer is not truly conscious. He is caught between awareness and strange dreaming, his mind floating helplessly on a sea of pain. Even Kíli's ashânumahâl cannot bring him from the darkness; his bonds are thin from distance and only weakening.

The dwarf is drowning, his amrâbulnâs slipping through his fingers as the poison drags him down. For Bilbo is a ghost within his grasp and Fíli's strength is not enough to keep him anchored anymore.

“Stay with me. You will not die!” Tauriel shouts. She can feel the archer slipping and she will not allow it. The elfine presses her hands over Kíli's injury and pours healing magic into the prince's veins.

Her power wraps around the young dwarf's failing spirit, holding his life within his body as she tries to drag him back. But Kíli is too close to death; the captain is burning through her power just keeping him in place. Tauriel doesn't have the skill for this and she's about to lose him when light bursts behind her eyes.

Suddenly strength starts pouring into Kíli from another source, thick bands of magic stretching off toward Erebor. The elfine has never seen anything like it and she certainly can't explain it; if Tauriel didn't know better, she'd think the dwarf was Valar-blessed. However, that does not stop the captain from taking accepting this assistance; she would have to be a fool to turn such aid aside.

By the time the light begins to fade, Tauriel has locked Kíli's spirit back within his body, this added strength enough to tip the balance in her favor. The elfine whispers another spell as she spreads more athelas across the archer's wound; Kíli is no longer dying but she still needs to destroy the poison before his wound can heal. The dwarf screams beneath Tauriel's hands as her magic burns his body clean and when the last drop of evil has finally disappeared, he falls unconscious almost instantly.

However, the archer's stupor quickly turns into a healing sleep and Tauriel can't help but smile even as she sags against the bed. That was a harder fight than she expected but she triumphed in the end.

“He will be all right now,” the elfine tells Kíli's companions, Óin and Bofur breathing twin sighs of relief. Tauriel lets the archer doze, resting for a moment while his companions help Bard's children pack their gear. Fleeing Laketown is the dwarves' next priority and they plan to leave as soon as Kíli is strong enough to move.

The captain may have saved the archer's life, but he is still weak and he will need time to recover his full strength again. However, the prince does not have time, none of them do, and he snaps awake when a wave of panic washes over him.

“Smaug is coming,” Kíli announces to the room with utter certainty. “The dragon is coming; he's on his way to kill us all.”

“How do you know? I have not heard an alarm,” Tauriel replies a little skeptically. She moves back to the archer's side, checking his temperature to see if wound fever has caught his mind again. But his eyes are clear and she feels no hint of poison in his skin.

“My amrâbulnâs are in the mountain and I can feel their fear,” Kíli tells the elfine, though only Óin and Bofur know what these words truly mean. Khazâd rarely speak about such things to outsiders and telling an elf this much already borders on impropriety.

However, while Tauriel doesn't understand the source of the archer's knowledge, his companions do not doubt him and the captain is soon convinced by their certainty. Even if Smaug is not on his way to Laketown, she would rather be overly prepared than ambushed by a dragon in the night.

“Smaug will be here soon and we must be ready,” Kíli says again, his brother's fear and guilt like an itch beneath his skin. The prince cannot seem to settle, limping back and forth across the floor of Bard's house until Tauriel grabs his arm.

“We cannot fight the wyrm on open water,” the captain says. “We do not have the weapons to pierce that monster's hide. Our best hope was an ambush and we lost that chance when your uncle woke the dragon. So we must warn the people of Laketown that Smaug is coming. We won't be able to focus on killing him until everyone is safe.”

“There's no time, not if Smaug has already left the mountain,” Bofur tells her. “And I doubt the Master would believe us anyway. The man sent Thorin off in style, but he showed his true colors when we asked for help with Kíli's injury. He turned us away without a second's thought. Our best bet is to flee on our own as Bard instructed and pray that we somehow manage to outrun dragon fire. If we stay to argue, we will be burnt to ashes where we stand.”

“Aye, he is right,” Óin agrees. “As much as I hate to say it, the men of Laketown will not listen to the likes of you and me.”

“If da was here, he could make them listen,” Sigrid says. “He's well-respected even though the Master hates him and there are enough boats to get everyone to safety if we could get past the Master's guards. They block the causeway and most of the waterways at night in order to hurt the smugglers.”

“You may be right, child, but your father has been imprisoned and we cannot pin our hopes on his captors releasing him in time,” Tauriel tells the young woman gently. “And we still have no weapon that might bring the dragon down.”

“The wind-lance,” Kíli says with sudden inspiration, looking out the window at the Master's manor house. “We will use the wind-lance of King Girion.”

“That’s what Bard thought, laddie. But we don't have the Black Arrow,” Óin replies with a frown. “Bard took the last one with him and I doubt the Master's guards would let us borrow it. Without the arrow, the wind-lance is no more than a pretty decoration and just as useless in a fight.”

“But I can get the arrow!” Bain shouts, pushing his way to the center of the conversation. “I hid the arrow when the Master's guards came to arrest my father and I can show you where.”

“Then we shall follow you, young Bain, and pray that no one has disturbed your hiding place,” Tauriel says, laying a hand on the boy's shoulder. “This is our best hope to save your city and your courage does your family proud.”

With their course of action decided, the group grabs their packs and splits in two. Tauriel and Kíli follow Bain onto the streets of Laketown while Óin and Bofur join Bard's daughters in the family barge. The dwarves will see Sigrid and Tilda safely to the shore via the route their brother mapped, their task to alert as many people as will listen on their way out of town. Even if the archer manages to kill Smaug with the wind-lance, the dragon will need to be in range and who knows how much damage he will do before he falls? Better for the people of Laketown to evacuate needlessly than to burn with their city if this battle does not go Kíli's way.

Indeed, the prince knows that his odds are slim even with the wind-lance and he probably won't live to see the dawn. But he cannot run away and abandon Laketown to the fire; even if he had the heart to let them die, Kíli still needs to prove himself.

The dwarf's injury forced him to miss the fight within the mountain and the fact that Smaug still lives makes him doubt that Fíli earned the sort of glory that would let them change the law. Which means it’s up to Kíli to secure their future, theirs and that of all khazâd who can’t acknowledge their karrash. For everyone whose ashânumahâl only brings them agony, the prince will do his best to win the day.

Kíli isn't certain of Tauriel's motivation. Although he likes the elfine well enough – and is deeply grateful for his life – the archer doesn't actually know that much about her. He doesn't even know why she chose to save him or what she's doing here. But Tauriel seems sincere about wanting to help him slay the dragon and as long as the elfine stands against Smaug bravely, Kíli doesn't need to know her reasoning.

All the archer needs is her sharp eyes to aim the wind-lance since his own vision hasn't quite recovered from the poison in his blood. Kíli had been close to death, closer than he would like to ever be again, and if not for the strength of his amrâbulnâs, he probably wouldn’t have lasted long enough to be healed by Tauriel.

And for them, I will survive this, Kíli promises as he follows Bain on a twisting path through Laketown. The boy takes frequent detours to avoid the Master's guards since they cannot afford the delay of a confrontation now.

Thankfully the Valar grant them luck and the trio reaches their goal without an incident. Kíli and Tauriel wait on the dock while Bain climbs into a small boat near a tall wooden statue of the Master to retrieve their prize. The dwarf watches the boy nervously as he searches through piles of nets and baskets, worried that someone else might have taken the Black Arrow without knowing what it was. But only a few moments pass before Bain lets out a triumphant cry and holds up the arrow, passing it over to Kíli before returning to the dock.

“The Black Arrow,” Tauriel murmurs with something close to awe as the prince checks the projectile over for any cracks or flaws. But the craftsmanship of his forefathers had no equal in its time and the archer knows this missile will fly as true now as on the day that it was forged.

“Now the wind-lance. Will you guide our steps once more?” Kíli asks Bain, offering the lad a chance to leave. The boy has done more than enough by giving them the arrow and the prince would not think less of Bain if he chose to sit this battle out.

However, the lad just squares his shoulders and says, “Follow me.”

Bain guides Kíli and Tauriel back toward the Master's house. Although the pair could have found their way alone, the journey goes much faster with his help. The boy knows the hidden pathways through the streets of Laketown, cutting across boats and under houses to shave minutes from their trip. Indeed, the Master's manor has just come into view when the town's alarm bell finally starts ringing and the trio looks up to see Smaug's dark silhouette against the starry sky.

“You were right,” Tauriel says with a fair bit of surprise as the dragon flies overhead. However, before Kíli can ask the elfine why she came with him if she thought that he was crazy, Bain interrupts his train of thought.

“Da!” the boy shouts and the archer follows his gaze to a bridge-like structure over the next canal. A barred window stands halfway through the span and through the bars, Kíli can see Bard. The man hasn’t noticed them yet, but he’s shouting and struggling to escape.

“Go to him,” Kíli orders, laying a hand on Bain's shoulder. “Free your father and then flee this place as quickly as you can.”

“Are you sure?” the boy asks, holding to his word even though he is clearly desperate to run to his father's side.

“Yes, go,” the prince tells him. “We can travel the rest of the way on our own. Free Bard and if he is as respected as Sigrid said, help him organize your people before Smaug attacks. Open the gates and get everyone to safety if you can.”

With Kíli's permission, Bain takes off like an arrow. The archer watches him dash toward Bard's prison for a moment – hopefully the guards have all run off – before turning his attention back to the task at hand. Thankfully, Smaug is taking his time about attacking, circling Laketown on crimson wings as his laughter echoes down.

Indeed, the dragon is enjoying the anticipation of a slaughter, reveling in the scent of fear that rises from the streets. He does not want to cut his pleasure short, not when it has been a long time since he tasted terror so sweet.

Kíli and Tauriel make good use of those extra seconds, sprinting to the Master's mansion while the great wyrm circles round again. When the door proves to be locked, the pair decides to climb, the elfine scaling the side of the building easily. She leaps to the lower balcony and then leans back down for the Black Arrow so that the dwarf can climb as well. Kíli isn't quite as fast about it, but with both hands free, the archer manages.

From the balcony, it's a matter of seconds to race up the stairs to the wind-lance and Kíli steps onto the platform just as Smaug folds his wings and dives. The dragon breathes a line of fire through the heart of Laketown, the wind from his passage strong enough to make those watching stagger back. Even Kíli finds himself paralyzed with terror and only when Smaug rises again does he manage to shake himself free, moving to stand by the wind-lance that must save them now.

“Will it work?” Tauriel asks as the prince runs his hands across the weapon, checking that everything is still in good order after being neglected through the years. But time has barely touched the wind-lance and the few bits of rust that Kíli finds will not stop the mechanism from working properly.

“She'll strike true,” the archer promises his companion as he loads the Black Arrow. “Can you draw Smaug's attention? Bain told us that Girion knocked a scale loose from the dragon's breast but even if that's true, our target will be small and I only have one shot. I need Smaug much closer if we are to have a chance.”

If Tauriel had been a dwarf, Kíli might have asked her to aim the wind-lance since he's still not completely recovered from his wound. As much as he needs to earn glory, the prince is rather fond of living too.

But this mechanism requires a delicate touch and this is not the time to teach a novice how the wind-lance works. Kíli will simply have to trust in Mahal to guide his hand and indeed, Tauriel does not offer to take the archer's place.

“I will draw the monster,” the elfine says instead, taking her bow down from her shoulder. “Be ready to fire quickly when you see your mark.”

Tauriel shoots at Smaug when the dragon begins another pass over Laketown, her arrow striking right between the creature's eyes. Although the weapon bounces off his scales without doing any damage, it gets Smaug's attention and Kíli wipes sweaty hands on his trousers as that fiery gaze pins him in place. Tauriel looses several more arrows to quickly test Smaug's armor, but even the membranes of his wings turn her strikes aside. They will have one chance and one alone and the prince cannot afford to waste his arrow on anything but a true killing shot.

“Get down!” the elfine shouts when Smaug dives towards the Master's house, tendrils of flame spilling from his jaws. He is upon them in an instant, his claws gouging huge furrows in the wood as he goes by, and his attack misses the wind-lance by the Valar's grace alone.

Tauriel lets out a cry as the corner of the platform crumbles away beneath her feet, only a quick leap saving her from falling, and Kíli knows that they will not survive another rush. But when the dwarf spins the wind-lance around to face the dragon, Smaug is laughing. The wyrm is standing upon half a dozen burning houses and cackling, secure in his invulnerability.

“An elf and a dwarf,” Smaug rumbles when his laughter finally fades. “Now this is something that I never thought to see. Did your king finally decide to stop cowering in Mirkwood as he has done since I first claimed the mountain? I do not believe so. I think you are without allies in this folly, your royal leader justifying his cowardice with the belief that his people are worth more than all the rest. I know elves, little archer; kill one and the survivors always shatter at the thought of eternity cut short.

“Now, dwarves, on the other hand, dwarves are all too ready to die for what they love and their witless fury is the perfect seasoning. Shall I tell you how I ate your kinsfolk who snuck into Erebor? How their flesh bled and their bones crunched beneath my teeth?”

“You lie!” Kíli shouts, unable to bear the dragon's taunts in silence.

If the prince had not been able to feel his amrâbulnâs, he might have believed Smaug's story and even the thought makes his heart thump in his chest. As it is, his hands are shaking with a fear too instinctual to be mastered, and this must be how Durin felt when he dug too deep in Khazad-dûm. If Kíli has ever doubted that Smaug is evil, he does not doubt it now and Middle Earth will be well rid of a monster such as this.

“Lie?! A dragon does not lie, dwarf,” the wyrm retorts, prowling closer to Kíli like a mountain hunting prey. “A dragon keeps his promises. For I have eaten your kin in the past and I shall eat them again once Laketown has fallen to my fire, those thieving rats in my mountain will be brought down one by one.

“You first and then your leader, Thorin Oakenshield. I will bruise and bloody your rightful king until he regrets the day that he ever dared to challenge me. For I am fire and the sword; I am Smaug the Terrible and I am death to all I see.

“Although... you have shown courage here and perhaps I should reward such folly. Perhaps I shall save you for the last, keeping you alive until all that you love has been destroyed and you can only beg for death between your tears. You live on my sufferance; all living things within the shadow of the mountain survive because I have not chosen to destroy them and it is time for lesser creatures to remember why they fear.”

Tauriel and Kíli trade horrified glances at Smaug's twisted imagery. However, while the prince would do anything to stop this creature, he has no target yet. His arrow is ready; his hands are as steady as they will ever be, but the only thing he sees upon the dragon's chest is a sea of crimson scales.

The wyrm's armor is smooth and unbroken and to fire now would be to waste his arrow foolishly. Assuming that Smaug even has a weakness and if Bard was wrong then Kíli will curse the bargeman's name with his final breath.

“Cower before my majesty and maybe I will spare you,” the drake roars as he rises to his full height. Smaug stretches toward the sky and the prince's eyes catch on a faint patch of grey upon the dragon's breast.

“Tauriel?” Kíli whispers, not sure whether his eyes are playing tricks on him. “Do you see it?”

The prince hears the elfine's answer in her quiet gasp and if her sharp eyes agree then Bard and Bain must have spoken truly after all. So Kíli takes careful aim as Smaug lets out a deafening bellow, the dragon cursing their disobedience and preparing one last charge.

Easy now, this is no different from a thousand other targets that you practiced on with Fíli. You can hit an acorn on the wind, you can hit the dragon now, Kíli tells himself, forcing the tension from his shoulders when he turns the wind-lance a hair too far. Just one more shot. One more before you can go find your brother and your hobbit once again.

The archer fixes the image of his amrâbulnâs in his mind before taking a deep breath and letting the Black Arrow fly. The missile spirals through the air, striking Smaug in his chest just as the dragon leaps forward to swallow Kíli whole. The prince sees his own death coming in that instant but his aim was true. Smaug's roar of triumph turns into a scream of agony when his legs crumple underneath him, momentum carrying the wyrm headfirst into the Master's house.

Shit! Kíli curses as the platform beneath his feet shudders dangerously. Neither the prince nor Tauriel have time to leap to safety before the Master's house collapses and they are falling helplessly.

Kíli and the elfine plummet toward the lake even as Smaug leaps into the sky, the dragon's cries of pain and anger echoing like thunder in their ears. The wyrm is trying to flee back to the mountain but he does not get far with an arrow in his heart. Indeed, the last thing the prince sees before landing in a crash of wood and rubble is the dragon's death rattle, Smaug's giving one last gasp as his burning flame goes out.

When the dust finally settles, Kíli discovers that he and Tauriel are trapped in some sort of cellar. The faint light shining through the wreckage reveals a fair amount of space and four rough walls, the floor damp but watertight enough to keep the pair from drowning before they can get out.

Thankfully, the archer wasn't injured when he landed – dwarves are sturdy folk, built to withstand the worst deep mines can offer, and it takes more than a few flaming timbers and a long drop to damage them. However, Kíli isn't strong enough to lift the heavy beams that are blocking off the cellar and Tauriel appears to be unconscious; something must have hit her when they fell. He doesn't think that she has any other injuries but the prince won't risk upsetting the balance of the rubble while she's not awake to help.

Instead, Kíli settles down to wait, keeping an eye on the captain's breathing just in case. Although the archer is impatient to return to his amrâbulnâs, he's not going to get himself killed by rushing stupidly. Kíli can afford a few hours now that Smaug has perished and he needs Tauriel's help to dig them out.

So the prince passes the time by thinking about his brother and his hobbit. Fíli and Bilbo are waiting for him in the Lonely Mountain and while Kíli does wonder what Azsâlul'abad will look like, gold and gemstones have never been his dream. Indeed, the archer's dreams are rather more physical these days, fantasies of his amrâbulnâs tangled in bed together making his blood run as hot as the Maker's forge. He wants them as he has never wanted anyone and yet, it's the domestic fantasies that his thoughts focus on right now; Kíli has visions of fletching arrows by a roaring fire while Bilbo reads aloud from some thick treatise on diplomacy and Fíli argues every point the author makes.

That's what the dwarf wants most from his future and now that he has slain the dragon, those dreams may actually come true. Surely killing Smaug will earn the prince his boon. Then he and Fíli will show Bilbo that he belongs with them instead of Thorin and the life that they've hoped for will finally begin.

Kíli has waited long enough. The archer wants their happy ending and he's starting to wonder if he should risk digging after all when he hears voices up above. The prince shouts for help as loudly as he can and he's sorely relieved when he hears Bard answer back.


Chapter 12:Nu'sasekh