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This Long and Winding Road - Chapter 13

Title: This Long and Winding Road
Chapter 13: Gemsasekh
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: 7369 (74,018 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 11: Ze'sasekh
Chapter 2: Nu'                           Chapter 7: Haded             Chapter 12: Nu'sasekh
Chapter 3: Gem                        Chapter 8: Gimon
Chapter 4: Ramekh                   Chapter 9: Tager
Chapter 5: Gamekh                  Chapter 10: Sasekh


The next morning dawns clear and cold, the sunrise casting red shadows in Thorin's eyes. The dwarf lord took the final watch so it is he who first sees movement in the ruins of Dale and he who wakes his companions with a warning shout.

“To the gate!” Thorin orders and the other dwarves are quick to follow, gathering their weapons and their armor before joining him above the gate.

Even Bilbo throws his mithril vest on beneath his tunic and ties Sting around his waist, though he hopes that neither will be necessary once Bard reveals the Arkenstone. Then the hobbit follows his companions up the steps, finding an empty space next to Bofur and smiling at the miner when the dwarf's eyes widen in surprise.

“I stand with my friends,” he murmurs before looking over the edge of the ramparts to the plain below. Thorin's company has arranged themselves in a line above the gate to watch as the army of elves and men marches closer and only their leader feels no fear at the sight before his eyes.

Most of the dwarves have never faced such an overwhelming force and even those who fought at Azanulbizar had an army at their backs. Despite Thorin's hatred, he has always been honest about elven battle skill and most of Thranduil's warriors will have trained for several dwarven lifetimes at this point. They have experience and numbers while the Lakemen have the strength of desperation and none of the dwarf lord's companions truly wish to fight.

Even if Dáin left as soon as he received Thorin's message and the dwarves of the Iron Hills arrive with reinforcements, fighting will only lead to slaughter on both sides. Azsâlul'abad will be bathed in blood and agony, their kingdom's future built on death instead of peace, and Fíli feels nauseous at the thought.

The prince tries to keep his expression blank since the dwarves cannot afford to show their former allies weakness, but that does not stop the doubts. Kíli senses his brother's misgivings – and, indeed, he shares them – the archer pressing his shoulder against Fíli's in a solid line of comfort as Thranduil and Bard stop before the gate.

“You have had your day, King Beneath the Mountain,” the man shouts up to Thorin. “Will you give my people what you promised and end this foolishness?”

“Never!”

“What if I told you that payment for your promise has been offered and accepted? All that remains is for you to choose the terms.”

“Liar! I have given you nothing!” Thorin shouts in answer as his companions murmur to each other, wondering if the man has simply snapped. None but Bilbo could have dreamed that Bard would pull the Arkenstone from his tunic, the gem instantly recognizable even to those dwarves who have never seen its light before.

“I have this!” Bard announces, holding the Arkenstone up high. “I have the Heart of the Mountain and you must treat with me.”

“Thieves! How came you by the heirloom of our house?! That stone belongs to the king!”

The shout comes from Kíli, several of the other dwarves turning to look at him in shock. The archer is angrier than anyone has ever seen him, his teeth bared in a snarl as he looks down at the man. “We saved your town and your children from Smaug's wrath and this is how you repay us? This is how you repay my gift?! I should have let you die in agony!”

Bard actually looks surprised by the prince's outburst, a flicker of regret moving across his face. He has no idea what the Arkenstone means to Kíli, to his brother and their allies, and the archer isn't the only one prepared to leap from the battlements and take that gemstone back by force. Thorin may see his greatest treasure but Fíli, Kíli, and Nori see their only chance at happiness held hostage; if they are to have a future, the King Under the Mountain must have his jewel returned.

“This is a trick. A filthy ruse. The Arkenstone is in this mountain!”

Thorin's sharp denial is the only thing that stops his sister-sons from doing something reckless. Fíli is too angry to temper his brother in this moment, desperation driving the dwarves to consider actions that they never would have dreamed of otherwise.

However, the princes' rage turns to betrayal in an instant when Bilbo steps forward and says quietly, “The stone is real. I gave it to them.”

For a moment there is utter silence as the dwarves of Erebor gape at their burglar and then Thorin begins to shout. He calls the hobbit a traitor, a thief, and a dirty rat, every furious accusation making Bilbo flinch. Yet even though Thorin's anger is sharp and brutal, it is the naked hurt on Fíli's face that makes the hobbit cringe.

He stands by his decision; he does, because he still sees no other way. But the elder prince has always been the more stoic of the brothers; for him to show such pain in his expression, he must be bleeding fit to die, and the hobbit sees the truth of this when he meets Kíli's haunted eyes.

So Bilbo finds himself speaking as much to the brothers as to Thorin when he tries to explain, “I was going to give it to you many times. I wanted to, but...”

“But what, thief?!”

“You have changed, Thorin,” Bilbo says, praying that his beloved will finally see the light. “The dwarf I met in Bag End would never have gone back on his word. The dwarf I fell in love with would never have doubted the loyalty of his kin.”

“You would speak to me of love?” the dwarf lord hisses, while Fíli and Kíli just watch the hobbit brokenly. Yet for all their pain, neither of the princes tries to hurt Bilbo; it takes their uncle to do that.

“Betrayer!” Thorin shouts, lunging forward to grab the burglar's tunic and dragging him to the edge of the battlements. “Curse you! Curse the wizard who forced you on this company!”

The dwarf starts to shove Bilbo over the ramparts, the hobbit too shocked to fight back. He can only stare at the once beloved face now twisted beyond all recognition and wonder if he was ever loved at all. For how could Thorin do this even in his madness if he truly cared about the hobbit? Bilbo should have seen the signs; he should have taken the dwarf lord's first threat in earnest and fled the mountain days ago. The burglar should have listened to Fíli instead of dismissing his concerns.

Indeed, it is Fíli who rushes to Bilbo's rescue, the prince's own pain forgotten in his horror. Kíli is barely a step behind his brother and the rest of their companions follow after, the dwarves managing to drag Thorin off their hobbit before he completes his crime.

However, the dwarf lord won't stop struggling. He is prepared to fight his way through all of his kinsmen in order to reach Bilbo and the ramparts might have run red with blood if Gandalf had not intervened.

“Do not damage my burglar!” the wizard commands, his voice echoing like thunder from the stone. “If you do not want him anymore then let him return to me unharmed.”

Gandalf's magic knocks Thorin back a step, refocusing his rage away from Bilbo so that the hobbit can escape. Bofur and the princes guard the burglar as he runs to the far side of the battlements, the dwarves keeping a wary eye on their leader in case he tries again. But the dwarf lord seems to have dismissed Bilbo from his thoughts because he pays no attention to the hobbit as he throws a rope over the edge of the gate and climbs down to the ground.

Bofur pulls the rope back up while Fíli and Kíli watch their amrâbulnas run to Gandalf's side. Although it hurts to see him go, the princes cannot join him after what he's done. That would be treason to match the burglar's and while the dwarves are sure that their hobbit had his reasons, the sting of betrayal is too fresh to listen to them now.

But they will listen someday. The princes are sure of that.

While their uncle has thrown away the hobbit's love – indeed, he's thrown away their hobbit – Fíli and Kíli cannot do the same. Bilbo is still their missing piece and they still love him anyway. Once this mess is over, the princes will give their amrâbulnas a chance to explain his actions and if his intentions were pure, Fíli and Kíli will do their best to lift his banishment. Once this mess is over, the dwarves will stand against their uncle’s fury no matter what the cost.

However, Fíli and Kíli cannot do that until the Arkenstone adorns the throne of the Lonely Mountain and their boon is spoken into law. They made a promise to themselves and to their allies in exchange for their assistance and the line of Durin has already broken far too many vows.

So the princes make sure that their amrâbulnas is safe with Gandalf and then turn their attention back to the task at hand.

Thorin’s attempt on Bilbo’s life may have derailed the negotiations for a minute, but Bard's offer still requires a response. The Arkenstone in trade for what was promised and this is a bargain that Fíli and Kíli want their uncle to accept. Bilbo may have betrayed them but war can only cause more sorrow; let the dwarves of Azsâlul'abad turn their hearts to peace before too much blood is spilled. Because the Lonely Mountain cannot stand alone forever and there must be reconciliation for their people to survive.

“Tell us, Thorin Oakenshield. Are we resolved? The return of the Arkenstone for what was promised,” Bard calls to the dwarf lord.

“Why should I buy back what is mine?” Thorin growls, pacing back and forth across the ramparts as he curses everyone. “I will kill you all!”

“I have heard enough,” Thranduil says, turning away from the gates. His army begins to ready their weapons even as Gandalf makes one last attempt at reasoning.

“Thorin! Lay down your arms! Open these gates,” the wizard begs.

“Please uncle, we cannot win this fight,” Fíli and Kíli say, adding their voices to Gandalf's plea. Thorin must have the Arkenstone in order to secure their future and an even trade seems the best choice for everyone involved. No good can come from fighting with their allies. No good can come from war.

Thorin is silent as he contemplates his choices, the dragon sickness loosening its talons as he looks upon the army at his gates.

“Give us your answer,” Bard says into the silence. “Will you have peace or war?”

For a moment the princes think that Thorin will back down. But before he can speak, a raven suddenly soars over Thranduil's army and alights upon the battlements. When the bird croaks triumphantly, Thorin looks to the east and his sister-sons can tell by his expression that their hopes of peace are lost. Because Dáin cannot be far behind the raven and the King Under the Mountain will never agree to give up a portion of his treasure with an army on his side.

Indeed, there is a fey light in Thorin's eyes as he smiles down at his enemies and growls, “I will have war.”

Moments later, the first dwarves crest the eastern hills, rank after rank of warriors marching toward the gates. Behind the line of infantry, Fíli and Kíli see wheeled ballistae, dwarven cavalry, and war chariots pulled by three pairs of mountain goats, weapons of war that the princes have only read about. Dáin himself is riding an enormous war pig, both mount and rider armored heavily. The Lord of the Iron Hills has come prepared for battle and although the dwarves are still outnumbered, he doesn't seem inclined to resolve this peacefully.

Dáin and Thranduil shout insults back and forth and when the elf king refuses to leave, the dwarf declares their battle on. He rides back to his warriors while Thranduil's army turns smoothly toward the hillside, leaving Bilbo, Gandalf, and the Lakemen to watch in horror as their former allies start to fight.

“Send in the goats,” Dáin roars with a wave of his arm. The ranks of dwarven warriors shift at his signal, opening space for the cavalry to charge. A line of armored mountain goats thunders down the hill as their riders hold their weapons high.

Thranduil shouts a command to his archers and moments later, the sky is filled with arrows. A black cloud descends upon Dáin's warriors and it seems impossible that any could survive. But the Lord of the Iron Hills came equipped for Mirkwood and at his shout, dwarvish ballistae fly. These enormous missiles slam into Thranduil's army, their trailing metal fins sweeping every elvish arrow from the sky along the way.

“How do you like the old twirly-whirlies?!” Dáin cackles from the hillside as the elf king barks another order and his archers shoot again.

A valiant effort but the dwarf lord brought ballistae to spare. Thranduil's second volley of arrows is swept aside just like the one before and the archers move back behind the elvish line when Dáin's goats draw close. The cavalry slams into the elf king's warriors, their armored horns carving huge holes in Thranduil's line. Pike and shield fight axe and hammer, the dwarves of Erebor growing quieter with every blow that falls.

Thorin's company cheered at first to see Dáin stand up to Thranduil, every old grudge between their people firing their blood. But when the fighting starts and their kin begin to die, the dwarves fall silent one by one. Kíli and Fíli first, then Dwalin and the Ri brothers, Óin and Glóin, Balin, Bombur and his cousins, until only Thorin is watching the slaughter with a smile on his face.

The King Under the Mountain feels almost gleeful at the blood being spilled before his gates. Thranduil and his people deserve naught but death for daring to challenge the throne of Azsâlul'abad and if he didn't need to protect his gold from greedy fingers, Thorin would leap over the battlements to kill a few more elves himself.

So the king watches with anticipation as Dáin signals the remainder of his army forward. The dwarf lord leads the charge: one war pig, half a dozen armored chariots and several hundred warriors racing toward the battlefield.

Razor sharp wheels slice through the chaos, blood and screams trailing in their wake. There is no strategy at this point and those watching can barely tell their friend from foe. There is only the crush of battle, a writhing chaos of death and mud and hate, and it seems as though these armies will destroy each other and themselves.

But then the world begins to shake and every soul freezes instantly. The ground comes alive beneath their feet, trembling so fiercely the dwarves of Erebor are forced to clutch at the battlements to keep from falling and the armies on the field cannot keep their feet. The quake goes on and on until the southern slopes begin to crumble and enormous creatures burst out of the ground.

“Wheel worms!” Gandalf mutters as elves, men, and dwarves stare at the monsters in surprise. No one dares to move until the worms disappear into the earth again and an army of orcs begins to pour from the tunnels that the wheel worms left behind.

“Oh, come on!” Dáin shouts, wheeling his mount to face this brand new enemy. The Lord of the Iron Hills signals his army, his quarrel with the elves forgotten in the face of this more dangerous enemy. The dwarven infantry runs forward, slamming their shields into the earth to create a wall; a fragile line compared to the endless tide of orcs now bearing down on them.

But then, between one breath and the next, Thranduil's army moves. The elves of Mirkwood leap over the dwarven shield wall and fall upon the first line of orcs, cutting them to ribbons like scythes reaping wheat. Dáin's warriors charge after their new allies and the battle is joined in earnest, the clash of metal ringing out across the field.

“I'm going over the wall. Who's with me?” Fíli shouts. The prince cannot stand on the sidelines any longer while their brethren fight and the rest of his companions are quick to agree, lifting their weapons with a rousing cheer.

“Stand down. No one is leaving this mountain while I still draw breath,” the dwarf lord growls, silencing his kinsmen's protests with a burning glare. “Anyone who disobeys me will be declared a traitor and cast out.”

When Kíli looks ready to argue further despite the threat of banishment, Fíli grabs his arm before the younger prince can speak. “We cannot disobey him, brother. We cannot risk the consequence.”

“But Bilbo is out there,” the archer whispers back, his distress threatening to rip the heart from Fíli's chest. Kíli has never been the type to hold a grudge and the threat to their hobbit's life far outweighs his betrayal in the prince's mind. “What if he dies while we cower in the dark?”

“Then we will have our vengeance no matter what the cost,” his brother promises. “But we are too close to our goal to jeopardize our chances. Trust me, Kí. You earned our boon so let me be the one to speak with Thorin; that way he cannot take his blessing back. I will make our uncle see reason somehow; he must see reason when we all know this isn't right.”

Kíli allows the arguments of his amrâbulnas to sway him, though he does it grudgingly. The prince will trust Fíli's judgment since his brother has never steered him wrong before and yet, there is a first time for everything. He cannot help but wonder if Bilbo will be able to forgive them for their actions, assuming he survives the fight outside. Is the ability to court their amrâbulnas truly worth their honor and the lives of their kinsmen? What if the hobbit cannot love them after this?

The archer cannot bring himself to leave the battlements when Thorin leaves and Fíli follows, determination burning fiercely in his brother's chest. Instead, Kíli watches the battle raging on the plain, his gaze locked on Gandalf's hat and his prayers with the burglar who should be at the wizard's side.

He watches them until they flee into the ruins of Dale with Bard's fishermen behind them, only the flickers of emotion that he feels from Bilbo telling the prince that his amrâbulnas still lives. In this, Bilbo is doing far better than many of their allies for while the dwarves of the Iron Hills and Thranduil's elves fight bravely, they are sorely outnumbered and eventually Kíli has to turn away from the slaughter on the field.

There is no honor in watching as others fight his battles for him. There is no honor in standing on the sidelines as his kindred die. Whatever glory the archer gained from killing Smaug, he swears that he can feel it slipping through his fingers with each second spent in cowardice.

As much as Kíli wants the boon his uncle promised, he isn't sure that he deserves it after this and his heart is troubled when he goes to join his brother once again. Fíli's mood isn't any better; whatever the older prince said to their uncle clearly had no effect and indeed, Thorin is nowhere to be seen while the rest of their companions drift around the main hall despondently.

The archer sits down by his brother with a frustrated growl, the princes' emotions feeding off each other until both of them are teetering on the edge of furious despair. Kíli is almost ready to charge into battle and damn the consequences when Thorin finally reappears and Fíli cannot blame his brother for finally snapping then. The older prince is only irritated that the archer gets there first.

Because Kíli says what both of them are thinking, rounding on their uncle with murder in his eyes, “I cannot do this, Thorin. I cannot sit here cowering within this mountain while our kindred fight and die upon the field. If this is the cost of Azsâlul'abad, then it is not worth paying. You can banish me if you wish, I do not care; at least I will know that I had honor to the last. Cowardice is not in my blood, uncle, and you are no son of Durin now.”

During the archer's speech, Fíli moves to stand shoulder to shoulder with his brother and several of their companions rise to their feet as well. Whatever Thorin's answer, the princes will be entering the battle for their homeland and Fíli will be surprised if a number of their companions do not join the fight as well.

This choice may cost Fíli and Kíli their family, but at least they will be able to hold their heads up high when they meet their ancestors. The princes will be able to look Bilbo in the eye without shame when they state their intentions and indeed, perhaps being banished would free them to court their amrâbulnas without the law's constraint.

However, instead of rejecting Kíli's words, Thorin lays a hand on the archer's shoulder and smiles, a smile that his sister-sons have not seen in far too long.

“You are right, Kíli. All of you are right. I have been a blind fool, more concerned with treasure than the best interests of our people, and if I am to be a king in deed as well as title, my priorities must change. The lives of our kindred are worth more than all the gold within this mountain and while I know that I have no right to ask this of you, will you follow me into battle one more time?”

There is only one answer to that question. The companions of Thorin Oakenshield pick up their weapons, shields, and helmets and shout their battle cry.

The charge begins with Bombur. The dwarf climbs to the top of the gates with one of the great horns of Azsâlul'abad and sounds the attack, the deep note rolling across the battlefield to give Thorin's allies hope. The King Under the Mountain is finally on his way.

As Bombur sounds the charge, the rest of his companions hoist one of the morning bells onto a pulley and aim it at the gate. Just before the last note fades, Thorin signals Glóin and Bofur to release their ropes and this makeshift battering ram smashes through the walled off gate. The dwarf lord and his companions start running before the last piece falls, their voices raised in an ancient battle cry.

This is Fíli's first true battle and yet the prince feels no fear for what's to come. He feels only exhilaration and relief of doing something; the Sigin-tarâg were never meant to run from a fight.

Instead, the dwarves run toward it, Dáin's surviving warriors rallying around the king to push back their enemies. Fíli feels the shock of that clash through his whole body as his blade slams into the first orc's chest. He barely has time to kick the orc's corpse free before another is upon him. But this one is killed by Kíli, his brother slotting in at his side so they can watch each other's flanks.

Soon the ground runs red beneath the princes' feet, their company's first wild charge splitting into groups of two and three as Azog's orcs fight back. But Dáin had brought his finest warriors and the ashânumahâl has always been an advantage in this sort of pitched battle. Bonded pairs fight as one, ducking and striking around each other fluidly. They never get in each other's way, they never strike another dwarf by accident, and the chaotic flailing of their foes cannot stand against such unity. Even though this also means that two dwarves die for every one.

With the help of Thorin's company, Dáin and his warriors gradually begin to clear the field. They slay Azog's great beasts with spear and javelin; bring down their foes with pike and battleaxe until they finally have some space to breathe.

Yet the day is not won, not as long as Azog stands unmolested in his high perch on Raven Hill. They could kill orcs for days and not end the struggle; only once the monster has been beheaded will Thorin's kin be safe.

“We need to get up there!” the dwarf lord shouts, pointing at Raven Hill when his company regroups. “I will bury my sword in Azog's chest and end this fight for good.”

“You'll never make it,” Dáin tells his cousin. “Half the battlefield stands in-between you and my warriors lack the strength to make another charge. We can hold this line but we cannot push through and you cannot fight your way to Raven Hill singlehandedly. It's bloody suicide.”

But Thorin just grins as he catches sight of something over the other dwarf lord's shoulder, grabbing a nearby goat and swinging into its saddle with a feral laugh. “I am not going alone, cousin.”

Dáin turns around and sees one of his war chariots sweeping toward him, the blades on its wheels carving a bloody swathe through the battlefield. Balin is at the reins with Ori and Dwalin standing by the chariot's mounted crossbow and Fíli, Kíli, and Nori clinging to its armored sides. The princes nod at their uncle when he meets their eyes and Thorin raises his sword high in the air.

“To Azog!” he shouts before kicking his goat and charging across the field.

“Hold tight lads,” Balin tells the others, snapping the reins sharply and following his king.

“You're all mad bastards,” Dáin says, shaking his head as they disappear into the distance and then turning back to his warriors. “Crazy fools; I like it. Now get that shield wall up!”

Thorin trusts his cousin to hold the gates until he deals with Azog so he does not spare another thought for the dwarves he left behind. His focus is on the ground before him and his sword swings ceaselessly as his mount smashes through the orcish line.

The war chariot follows closely on Thorin's heels, the dwarves aboard laying waste to every orc in reach. Kíli fires arrows as fast as he can pull them from his quiver while Nori and Ori use their slings with lethal skill. Fíli is more cautious with his knives since he would hate to lose his favorites, but several enemies learn the strength of dwarvish steel and Dwalin uses the chariot’s mounted crossbow to clear the path ahead.

Indeed, the dwarves leave a trail of blood and death in their wake, several of their enemies taking one look at their faces and running the other way. But the closer Thorin gets to Raven Hill, the thicker the fighting and soon his progress starts to slow.

Normal orcs may not be a problem for the dwarf lord and his companions, but Azog brought far more dangerous beasts as well. Balin lets out a curse when an ogre nearly sideswipes the chariot’s lead pair of goats, only a quick jerk on the reins saving them from disaster. Dwalin shoots the creature with his crossbow but even as the ogre falls, another charges toward them with a roar.

Thorin’s companions lose sight of their king as they’re driven off the battlefield and onto the frozen river that runs near Erebor. The chariot’s wheels slide across the ice but the mountain goats keep moving forward, their hooves catching on the slick surface and dragging the chariot along.

Seconds later, another ogre crashes onto the ice. This one is larger than the others, armor covering its chest and enormous metal claws seemingly grafted to its hands. Its massive weight breaks the surface of the ice and it lets out a roar of pain as it falls into the frozen water underneath. But the creature is so large that its feet can touch the bottom and it just keeps coming, massive claws threatening to crush the fleeing chariot.

The dwarves try to bring the ogre down; arrows, rocks, and knives turning its face into a pincushion. Yet the monster refuses to die and every step just brings it closer, grasping hands trying to drag Balin from his place.

“Bring it down!” Dwalin shouts.

“We’re bloody trying!” Kíli shouts back. Fíli just throws another knife into the ogre’s gaping maw and Nori slings a rock into its eye. But it’s Ori’s missile that finally tips the balance. The stone slams into the creature’s forehead and knocks him backward, their enemy letting out a hoarse scream as it chokes on Fíli's dagger and then disappears beneath the surface without coming up again.

The dwarves breathe a sigh of relief, looking around for Thorin to rejoin their king. But the respite is short-lived and Nori curses sharply when a pack of wargs leaps down onto the ice.

Kíli uses up his last half dozen arrows trying to kill the creatures and while several of them fall, it's not enough. One warg leaps onto the closest goat, sinking its fangs in deep and knocking the whole chariot sideways until the traces finally snap. The monster falls back to feast but the delay allows the rest of the pack to get closer, the dwarves fending off their next attack with fists and blades.

Two more wargs fall before another goat is slaughtered and now the chariot is truly listing to one side. The broken traces drag across the ice, slowing the dwarves' progress even more as their enemies close in.

“We'll never make it!” Ori shouts and his companions know that he is right. There are only three goats remaining and they're struggling to pull the chariot's weight while wargs snap at their heels.

“Cut the traces. Ride the goats to Raven Hill!” Balin orders. Fíli and Kíli dash forward without question but Dwalin hesitates.

“I cannot leave you,” the warrior says, looking from his amrâbulnâs to his brother. The three dwarves he loves most in this world are on this chariot and he will not abandon them to die, not even for his king.

“We'll be all right,” Nori tells him. “I'll watch out for my brother and see you on the other side.”

“Watch out for yourself as well,” Dwalin replies. He can't say more with Balin watching, but his amrâbulnâs understand his meaning judging by the softness in their eyes.

“We will,” Ori promises. “But you must go help Thorin. If we lose this battle, then we're all dead anyway. Go on, husband mine, and don't you worry; the three of us will manage fine.”

Dwalin still doesn't like it but he knows that Ori has a point. So he leans down and kisses his husband quickly and then clasps Nori on the shoulder, wishing desperately that he could kiss the other dwarf as well.

“Durin be with you, brother,” Balin tells the warrior. “Just give us a kick around on your way and we'll show these wargs the strength of dwarvish steel.”

“Good luck,” Dwalin replies, clasping his brother's hand before he turns and leaps onto the back of the last goat. Fíli and Kíli have been waiting for him and they slash through the leather traces, freeing their goats from harness so they can run free. Dwalin does the same a moment later. But as his goat leaps forward, the dwarf kicks the side of the chariot so that it spins around to face the oncoming wargs head on.

Without the weight of the chariot to drag them down, the three goats quickly outpace their companions. Dwalin lets his mount choose its own path, looking back to watch the dwarves he left behind. The warrior can't help being worried despite the others' promises.

However, that last kick put the chariot's front-mounted crossbow back into play and Balin wastes no time in firing.

“I am much too old for this,” the dwarf mutters as he makes mincemeat of the charging wargs, crossbow bolts knocking the creatures off their feet. One warg survives the barrage but Nori and Ori kill it with their slings before it can reach the chariot. Then the dwarves turn to wave to their amrâbulnas, Nori shouting a distant, “I told you we'd be fine...”

Dwalin can't hold back a grin, shaking his head at the dwarf's antics. While his husband's brother drives him crazy sometimes, the warrior can't deny that Nori makes his life more interesting. If only the three of them could be what Mahal had intended when he gave them their karrash. But Dwalin has never been a dreamer so he shakes away that thought.

The warrior spies Thorin up ahead and steers his goat toward the dwarf lord, Fíli and Kíli following on his heels. The trio reunites with Thorin at the base of Raven Hill, their mounts racing up the steep stairs without pause. Well, most of them. Fíli has to bite back a chuckle when his brother's goat decides to take the scenic route and leaps straight up the cliff instead. The mountain goats were bred for this and it has no trouble with the slick rocks even as Kíli's stomach twists warningly.

Then the dwarves are at the summit and there is no thought but battle. Another group of orcs is waiting for them, Thorin and his companions leaping off their goats with shouted battle cries. The four dwarves make quick work of their enemies before looking around for Azog.

The ruins on the hilltop appear deserted; the Defiler is nowhere to be seen. There is only empty silence and the princes feel a chill when they look toward the far tower where the pale orc had stood.

“Maybe he's gone,” the archer says and Fíli wants to believe it even as he can feel his brother’s doubt. Indeed, the prince shares Kíli's misgivings; everything about this place feels wrong. But when Thorin asks his sister-sons to search the ruins for Azog, the pair can't disobey.

“Stay low and quiet,” the dwarf lord warns and the princes fully intend to follow this advice. They make their way down the stairs to the frozen lake that crowns the top of Raven Hill and step carefully onto the ice. Fíli and Kíli have nearly reached the far tower when the sounds of fighting ring out behind them, the dwarves glancing back to see Thorin and Dwalin holding off a horde of goblin mercenaries. But despite everything that's happened, the princes trust their uncle to protect them now. The dwarves continue forward, knowing that their kinsmen won't let their exit be cut off.

At first glance, the watchtower truly does seem empty. Fíli and Kíli find only a few scattered footprints in the dust of decades past and the brothers follow this trail up the weathered stairs. The stone is solid beneath their feet despite the years and lack of maintenance, no sound but their own breathing in their ears.

Kíli and Fíli follow the footprints out of the stairwell and into one of the upper hallways. These prints were definitely made recently but the princes can't tell if the orcs were coming or going at the time. Indeed, the lack of other signs makes the brothers start to wonder if Azog has fled after all.

However, just as they round another corner, Fíli and Kíli hear a sudden drumming and see the glow of torches up ahead. The archer raises his blade and starts forward but his brother puts an arm across his chest.

“Don't be stupid,” Fíli tells him. “I know uncle told us to find Azog but we've lost surprise already and we don't know how many there might be. Let's go regroup for now.”

Although he lets out a huff, Kíli can't deny his brother's logic so he sheathes his weapon and turns back toward the stairs. The older prince follows a few steps behind the archer, one hand on his blade in case the orcs try to rush them from behind. But the torchlight and the drumming seems to be keeping pace instead, neither closer nor farther away by the time the brothers reach the stairs. Kíli has just started to descend when the whole tower suddenly shakes to its foundation and a deafening crack echoes through the stone.

“Fíli!” the archer shouts. He spins around and the older prince has one glimpse of his brother's panicked face before the ceiling crashes down between them. Fíli has to jump back in order to avoid being crushed by falling stone, the dust making him cough helplessly.

“Kíli!” he calls out. “Kí, are you all right?”

The question isn't really necessary since the ashânumahâl is still strong between them, their bond resonating with worry but no pain of injury. But Fíli is still relieved when his brother answers back.

“I'm fine. I'm here. What happened?”

“Azog must have trapped the stairs,” the older prince says. “I'm sorry; I should have seen it earlier. You need to go back and get Thorin. I'll try to find another way around.”

“What? No! I won't leave you,” Kíli refuses hotly. Fíli hears his brother grunt as he tries to move the blockage, the whole pile shifting dangerously.

“Stop! If we try to clear the stairwell, the whole tower might come down,” Fíli tells him, pressing close to the stone. “I know it sucks but you have to go now. You have to leave before you miss your chance. I'll be all right, I promise. I just need to find another set of stairs.”

There's a long pause and the prince can feel his brother's reluctance. But eventually Kíli mutters, “Fine. I'll go get Thorin. But you better be right behind me, Fí. Otherwise, me and uncle will be coming in for you.”

“It's a deal. And thank you,” Fíli says quietly. Whatever happens, he needs his brother safe. Not that the prince intends on getting caught here and he sends that reassurance to Kíli through their bond.

His brother lets out one last curse before he finally leaves, the sound of his boots fading down the stairs. Fíli waits until he can't hear the archer any longer and then turns to go himself. The hall may be blocked by his enemies in one direction, but the other is still clear and hopefully the prince will find another staircase there.

However, Fíli has only taken a few steps before light suddenly appears in front of him as well. Azog's orcs must have circled around the tower and the drumming grows louder and louder even as the prince's heart starts pounding in his chest. He knows that he won't be able to escape without a fight, not anymore; this part of the hallway has no windows, the stairs are blocked, and the torchlight keeps drawing closer on both sides.

So the prince unsheathes his sword and waits, gripping the hilt tightly as the first orc runs into view. Fíli skewers the creature without hesitation; he may have fallen into Azog's trap but he won't die easily, not when his amrâbulnâs need him to survive.

The thought of Kíli and Bilbo fills the dwarf with new determination and Fíli shifts his stance even as he tries to keep his emotions out of the ashânumahâl. He doesn't trust his brother not to turn around.

The prince is so focused on dimming their connection that he barely manages to dodge the next orc's strike. He stumbles slightly as the sword slices through his tunic and then rolls forward to slit his foe's throat from ear to ear. This orc crumples but two more come up behind Fíli, a wild sweep of his sword giving him time to pull several daggers free. The dwarf slams the first knife deep into the eye socket of the orc that tries to grab his shoulder even as he guts the other with his blade. Then Fíli throws the next dagger, taking out the goblin that has just pulled out a crossbow further down the passageway.

His enemies are warier now but the dwarf knows that he hasn't bought himself more than a few seconds to regroup. He needs to break through the wall of orcs, win free long enough to find another exit and make the fight more fair.

Fíli leaps forward, slamming bodily into the front line of orcs that is blocking the way forward. His move takes them by surprise, his enemies falling in a tangle of limbs even as his blades flash out to steal their lives away. Fíli carves his way through the orcs and goblins, taking a few minor wounds amidst the carnage as he tries to reach the open passage further on. The dwarf does not pause when the floor grows slick with blood beneath his feet. He just runs across the bodies of his enemies instead as his daggers drop them where they stand.

Fíli is almost out of knives by the time he kills the last orc blocking his escape, his way clear to run at last. So the prince does, his heart leaping when he rounds the corner and sees another set of stairs. But before the dwarf can reach them, a crossbow bolt slams into his back. The force of the blow drives the prince to his knees, his right shoulder burning in agony.

His walls are breaking now – the shock too much to keep them strong – and he can feel Kíli's worry loud and clear. Fíli tries to tell him not to come, sending a wave of warning through their bond, but now that Kíli knows the danger, he won't be able to stay out of the fight for long. He'll climb the tower if he has to and the prince can't let his brother run headfirst into this trap as well.

So he forces himself to his feet as the orcs draw closer. They think their prey defenseless but the first creature to touch him goes down with a dagger in its chest. Fíli may not be able to lift his sword arm now but he's far from weaponless. He'll claw his way free with his teeth if it comes to that.

But as the dwarf turns toward the stairs again, Azog appears from the shadows to bar his way. The Defiler's sword is already in mid-swing and Fíli can't hope to block the strike while injured. So the prince throws himself to the stone instead, biting back a scream when the move jostles the crossbow bolt still buried in his flesh.

He only lays there for a moment as he struggles to catch his breath but that moment is enough. Azog's orcs fall upon Fíli before he can gain his feet again. The creatures swarm over him, ripping his weapons from his hands and tearing at every piece of armor they can reach.

Fíli tries to struggle but he barely manages to pull one arm free before three more orcs grab hold, his enemies pinning him to the stone while Azog watches with a cruel smirk on his face. Once the prince is well and truly captured, the pale orc yanks out the crossbow bolt that brought his foe down. Fíli screams then, pain overwhelming his defenses as blood gushes freely down his shoulder, and the dwarf can only whisper an apology to his amrâbulnâs before the darkness claims his mind.


Chapter 14: Ramekhsasekh