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A Terrible Mistake- Part IV: Rift

Title: A Terrible Mistake
Series: A Matter of Perspective
Pairings: Kíli/Bilbo
Warnings: racism and homophobia; character death
Word Count: 10,113 (27,942 total so far)
Disclaimer: If I owned the Hobbit no one would die
Summary: Fíli does not approve of his brother's new infatuation

Part I: Reverie
Part II: Ruin
Part III: Rancor


Part IV: Rift

With the sight of the mountain rising before us, our spirits lift and it is a cheerful company that walks from the riverside to the borders of Esgaroth.  The trip is filled with laughter and song and many toasts to the burglar who organized our escape for it is good to be free again, and only I and Thorin do not join in.

When I see my uncle's serious face, I put aside my own troubles and walk to his side, asking him to share his thoughts.  Even if my brother is lost to me for now, I can at least protect the family that remains and grant my uncle solace if I may.

"There is nothing to be said, nothing that you do not already know.  We have lost much time to the treachery of the elf king and the absence of our weapons could mean the difference between life and death if the dragon still breathes within the mountain.  At least your brother has his bow and we are not entirely unarmed but that is small comfort against the power of the beast."  His voice is grave and I am shocked by the despair I hear within.

"Surely it is not as bad as that.  The men of Laketown may aid us and we do not know if Smaug is even still alive.  He may have passed onward long ago as you have hoped and when the wizard returns he can help us with our plans,"  I offer Thorin these reassurances in an attempt to ease his mind, though I do not truly believe them, but uncle will not accept such false comfort.

"No, nephew, the world is bleak and spare.  We cannot wait for the wizard, not with Durin's Day so close, and any aid we receive we will not get for free.  Why would these men remain here in the shadow of the mountain unless they thought that one day they could claim its treasure?  And having met the elf king, do you truly believe that Erebor would not have been ransacked already if the dragon did not guard its door?"

Against this relentless logic there is little I can say and my thoughts turn dark as he continues.   "No, their greedy eyes still rest on our family's gold just as in the past and they will fall upon us like scavengers if we show the slightest weakness."

"But what can we do?  We are hardly the picture of dwarven might right now."  I ask, hoping that he will have an answer for me as he always has before.

"We will keep quiet about our mission while in Laketown, act as though we are simply travelers who have come upon hard times.  Our company may accept any offered aid but what we receive we must pay good price for so that the men cannot say a debt remains when the truth is finally told.  And we shall kill the dragon through the strength of our own hands or die in the attempt because when I reclaim my throne I will have no one claim that the line of Durin owes its place to any other."

By the time uncle finishes speaking, the company has arrived at the edge of the great water and is standing only a short distance away from the long wooden bridge that connects the floating city of Laketown to the shore.  This side of the bridge is unguarded, which speaks to me of poorly planned defenses, but there is a gate visible before the entrance at the other end and presumably someone will meet us there.

Thorin explains his plan and his reasoning to the company and all agree that it is sound, though I can see some doubt on my brother's face.  However, doubt or no, he will follow my uncle's word for even in his madness Kíli has yet to break an oath he swore, though he treads across the laws of our people with nary a backwards glance.

So everyone agrees to keep our purpose secret and then we step out upon the bridge that will carry us to Laketown.  As our company walks upon the planks, I look nervously over the side for although I can swim well enough I do not enjoy it and the water is deep and murky.

Perhaps this is a good defense after all, cut the ropes and leave us stranded, then pick us off with archers.  All this water might help to protect them against the dragon as well.

The other warriors in our company obviously share my worried thoughts because there is a great sigh of relief when we finally reach the large platform on the other side of the bridge and stand before the entrance.  Uncle hammers on the gate with a thunderous pounding against the wood and if they had somehow missed our arrival before they surely could not miss us now.  Indeed, as the last echoes of his knocks ring out and fade there is a call from the wall above.

"Who goes there?  Speak your name and state your business."  The voice orders, stern and wary, and rightly so since we are a large party and it would have been many years since dwarves had passed this way.  However, before uncle can name us travelers from distant lands who are seeking rest and shelter for the night, there is a loud commotion beyond the palisade.

"Open the gate lad, open the gate and let them in," another man cries out, and he holds power because no sooner does he finish speaking then the enormous wooden bars come up and the gates swing back.

Rather confused by this turn of events, we watch suspiciously as a tall human strides toward us through the opening and stops in front of Thorin.  He is old for their kind, with short grey hair and a thick beard, but he has lost none of his stature nor strength with his years and he easily carries a long wooden staff in one hand.  Atop the staff is a carved symbol that must mark him as either leader or guide to these people for he is flanked by a pair of guards as well.  These two are younger men, both dressed in leather and chain armor, and one carries a great bow slung across his back.

Uncle opens his mouth to demand an explanation for this bizarre greeting, but the old human cuts him off sharply.

"I thought I recognized you, Thorin Oakenshield, though you have not been seen in these parts since long before my mother bore me.  But the Masters of Laketown have passed down your description and a drawing of your face for generations so that we could aid you when you at last returned to claim your crown.  To think that the day has finally come; please enter and be welcome. Rest your weary bodies and let us help you with your quest because we have long lived in the dragon's shadow and yearned for his destruction."

Thorin's protests cannot stand against such utter certainty and before long we have been swept into the town's main square where we find humans cheering our arrival on all sides.  The Master leads us into the great wooden building at the center of the square and there we are finally called to council.

He gathers us around a large round table and as soon as the door closes behind us and blocks his people's gaze, the adoring smile disappears from the old man's face.  Now he is all the Master and none of the fool as he stares grimly at our small group.

"Gentlemen, shall we talk business?"  He asks, though truly it is not a question but a demand.  "My people may be overjoyed to hear that the King Under the Mountain has returned to defeat the beast and reclaim his gold, thus bringing trade and prosperity back to these lonely parts, but we all know that it won't be so simple as that."

Thorin inclines his head and how he keeps his temper against such blatant disregard I will never know.  "Indeed, the journey has been long and we have encountered bad luck upon the way, but you need not fear that we lack a plan.  We will pay well for whatever aid you grant us and Smaug will be defeated by dwarven steel, I swear to that."

"This is good to hear, because the safety of my people is of course my first concern.  We will be happy to offer you our hospitality while you purchase what you require and I assure you that our prices will be fair, though you need not pay immediately if it is too great a hardship."

Now that he knows what he stands to gain and for such little risk, the Master recovers his friendly smile and I think that uncle is right to say that men have greedy hearts.  He is practically salivating at the thought of a dwarf king in his debt and no doubt there are images of treasure chests running through his mind.  He will be sorely disappointed when we settle all our accounts before we go.

"My dear friend here will show you to a house where you can stay while you are with us.  You should be able to find everything you need in our markets but if there is something special that we can do for you, do not hesitate to ask."  He waves his arm at the man with the bow, who stands and leads us out of the room.

---

As we travel through Laketown, it feels as though the entire population has come to gawk and glare but thankfully the presence of the human seems to keep them all at bay.  Kíli is of course fascinated by the large bow that the man carries and soon they strike up a friendly conversation.

The man introduces himself as Bard the Bowman and cheerfully points out the different sights and landmarks in the town as we walk past, elaborating on the history of the city in response to Kíli's subtle leading questions.  Thus, by the time that we have reached our borrowed house, my brother has learned all about the human's family, and his skill with a bow. He has also discovered the various defenses of Laketown, Bard's dream of avenging his ancestor Girion's death and his hope of one day rebuilding the city of Dale.  He has even wrung a promise from the man that they will shoot together if we have the time.

Kíli, master of the friendly interrogation, I think to myself as I watch Bard walk away, for the human obviously does not realize that the scale of information gained is tilted firmly toward our side, and then I turn and follow the rest into our house.  It is a nice place, probably one of the better dwellings in the town, which means that the Master is erring on the side of caution and avoiding all possible insult to Erebor's once and future king.

The company gathers in the main room and each of us starts pulling out our hidden stashes, the valuables sewn into seams and hems.  The hobbit watches with wide eyes as the pile grows but when you live on other's sufferance there are many tricks you learn, and like our doors, dwarf pockets are invisible when closed.  Once we have finished, there is a fair bit of wealth laying on the table and uncle nods in satisfaction because that should be enough to serve our needs.

Since the hour is getting late we will leave our shopping for tomorrow, so tonight our company simply determines what we need and the length of the list is disheartening.

We require weapons and armor with which to fight the dragon, and enough clothes to get us there.  Óin is low on medicines and we are out of food entirely, which is particularly worrying if our battle turns into a siege.  There are a few more items missing that can wait until after we have regained Erebor but it is unlikely that any perishables still remain within the mountain and these supplies we will need to take our kingdom back.

There is little else to do this evening and we are all exhausted from our ordeal so we decide to turn in for the night.  The house is large enough that the majority of our company does not have to share, and I stretch out gleefully on the first real bed I've had since we left Beorn's hospitality so many weeks ago.  Though my mind is still dark with worries over the fight that is to come, the hint of despair lingering in my uncle's gaze and hiding the transgression that Kíli so joyfully commits, it is not long before my eyelids droop and I drift deeply into dreams.

On the following morning once everyone has woken, Thorin divides the gold among us and hands out our duties for the day.  Kíli, the hobbit, and Ori are in charge of talking with the tailors; Dwalin, Balin, and uncle will seek the means of dealing death; Bombur, Glóin and Dori will replenish our stores of food, while Óin and I must see about medicines and armor.

Finally, Bofur, Bifur and Nori will try to augment our dwindling funds, the first two by selling toys and buttons which they carved over the course of our journey and the latter through means we may wish to plausibly deny.  The goal is to complete our purchases quickly so that we can continue our journey the next morning because now we have less than a month remaining before Durin's Day arrives.

Thankfully my task is accomplished easily; though the merchants of Laketown have only a small selection, what they have will serve us well enough.  The humans must trade primarily with the elves based on the armor that I see, but while little of it is made to fit people of our stature, it is the type that can be adjusted without difficulty.  Indeed, the armorers practically throw themselves upon me to volunteer when they see the color of my money and the task will be finished rapidly with so many able hands.  It seems that true gold has not been seen in these parts for many, many years; Thranduil must be a stingy bastard.

When my errand is complete, I return to the house to discover that the others have had fair success as well.  Our food and medicine are fully restocked, the toymakers did a brisk business with excited children and like the armor, our clothes will be ready for fitting tonight; the isolation means that labor is cheap in this town and customers such as us are rare.

Though I have to bite my tongue when I see what Bilbo is wearing, the halfling dressed in a parody of dwarven garb.  No one seems to realize how ridiculous it is for this imposter to be claiming membership within our clan and I have to look away from my brother's triumphant glance.  The weapons are also disappointing because none of them have the quality of proper dwarven steel and Thorin could not find replacements to match some of our company's odder fighting styles.  However, in truth, even with the arms that we left in the elf king's hall, a frontal attack on the dragon would be naught but suicide.  We will need trickery to bring down our ancient foe and these weapons are sharp enough for that.

So we busy ourselves with repairs and preparations until it is time for our fittings and despite my doubts, the tailors are accomplished at their trades.  Once every member of the company proclaims themselves satisfied, uncle allows us the remainder of the night to do with as we will, to rest and relax and finally have some fun.  Which, being dwarves, means that it's time to find a tavern and this is exactly what we do.

Thus the fourteen members of our company stride into the largest tavern in town and Thorin calls for ale in his deep demanding voice as the rest of us shove tables into the center of the room.  When we have enough together that all of us can sit comfortably, we sprawl around them and start the very important task of pickling our brains.

After the first hour, we all have a comfortable buzz beneath our skin, and I watch gleefully as Bofur attempts to build a castle from our empty mugs.  It's actually quite an impressive structure with fine walls, a bailey and a main keep which has one tall tower in the center and I notice from the corner of my eye that more and more men are trailing through the door to watch it grow in awe.

Eventually we have drunk enough that Bofur has almost completed it for there are just the last few tower mugs to add, but even standing on the table the dwarf discovers that he simply cannot reach.  When the last attempt leaves him teetering and only Kíli's quick actions pull him back from falling on the gate, Bofur leans back and surveys the room until he finds the one he seeks.

"Bard, Bard the Bowman.  Come over here and help me out will you?"  Bofur calls, waving the last two mugs in the man's direction and the archer happily answers his summons.

"What can I do for you master dwarf?"  Bard asks and is quickly handed a mug and pointed toward a chair.

"Stand on that and finish this for me will you?  Put those long arms of yours to good use."

The man does as asked and the entire tavern cheers when the last mug is placed and the whole structure does not come tumbling down.  Of course, right at that moment Nori trips coming back from refilling his drink and slams into the table to send a rain of mugs down upon our heads.  Everyone collapses in laughter as the hobbit shrieks and ducks under the table, yelling that if he gets a concussion it will all be Nori's fault.

Now that there is no more danger to be found, other men gather around our company in interest, listening to the tales that drunken dwarves will tell.  Balin is in fine form as he pulls out some of our raunchiest legends and I can see my brother deep in conversation with Bard once again, the halfling watching them intently as they talk.  Drunk as I am, I cannot afford to look long at the hobbit for I am sure to say something foolish, but fortunately just then one of the men breaks out into a roaring song.

"Oh when I was a little lad my honest mother told me,
That if I didn't kiss the girls my lips would grow all moldy,
So I chased the bonny lasses round and caught one to be my wife
And now when I go kiss the girls she pulls out a bloody knife."

The whole place erupts with merriment and as the tune is a simple variation of a common drinking song, our company soon finds its voice and joins right in.

"The legends say that dwarves are born from air and rock and stone
For whenever we go traveling we leave your wives alone,
But it's the beards we think are lacking on your ladies tall and fair
We're not used to seeing women who have quite so little hair."

This begins a long contest between us dwarves and the men to see who can come up with the wittiest, dirtiest lyrics without letting the rhythm slide.  I'm proud to say that we are winning because there are no lyricists that can match a dwarf in full drunken song, and I have just finished my latest verse when I look around the tavern and realize that my brother is not there.  Bard is now absorbed in conversation with Dori, while the chair that Kíli was sitting in is occupied by a slumbering Ori, and as I search the place again I discover that the hobbit has disappeared as well.

He wouldn't! I think in horror, but I know that Kíli probably would, young and drunk and horny and with an actual bed to use.

Well I'll just see about that, I think to myself as I inform uncle that I'm leaving and then rush out of the door.  Kíli may have enough sense to wait until he and the hobbit are behind locked doors before indulging his depravity, but I cannot risk it, not with so many people around to see and us so close to our goal.

I am slightly relieved as I trace my steps back to our house without seeing hide nor hair of the couple, but that relief fades as soon as I walk in our door.  Kíli and the hobbit are not in sight but I can hear them and they are obviously making no attempt to keep it down.  So I follow the moans and gasps and groaning up the stairs and quickly avert my eyes when I see my brother pressing Bilbo to the wall outside their room, hand inside the hobbit's shirt and mouth sucking bruises into his neck.

"What are you doing?  Are you crazy?  Someone could see you!"  I yell furiously, blocking my sight with my hand.

I hear the hobbit squeak in surprise, but when Kíli answers his voice holds no apology.  "There's no one here but you, Fíli, and the rest won't be back for hours.  We have plenty of time to do what we want with none the wiser."

"You swore to me!  You promised that none would discover your disgrace and this is how you plan to keep that vow?  Parading your dishonor in the halls for all to see,"  I am angry enough now to glare at him directly despite the display the couple makes but Kíli stares back at me and his eyes are entirely without shame.

"You and your dishonor.  I swear you care more about my reputation than I do, but I know, I know, I'd hurt the family name."  His voice is bitter, almost hostile now.  "You realize that if we kill Smaug, I could keep a harem of elves and the songs would still sing our praises until the light finally fades from the world?  But yes, I remember my promise that no one would know.  And no one will, because if you would just leave us be then we'd be done before they return, and even if we weren't do you honestly think any of them would notice, drunk out of their minds?"

I'm struck speechless for a moment by the blatant disregard he shows for how his actions affect uncle and our family, how his actions affect me.  Does he simply not care that this would ruin him, ruin all of us?  Or does he truly think that it would be all right? Kíli takes my silence as agreement and goes back to kissing the halfling, pulling him tight against his body as Bilbo moans filthily and wraps an arm around his neck.

"Mahal's fury, do you have to do that in front of me?"  I yell again, but Kíli just rolls his eyes.

"Well you could leave, and then you wouldn't have to see anything would you?"  He asks sarcastically, for once the perfect image of my wayward little brother once again.  The similarity makes me wince and long for better days but I shove that feeling roughly aside.

"At least go in your room, will you?  In case one of the others comes back."  I ask testily, opening the door and looking at them pointedly.  Thankfully Kíli finally assents to that, pulling the hobbit inside the room and slamming it shut behind them.  I hear the lock click and then he calls back through the door, "Now go away!"

However, as much as I dearly wish to, I cannot.  What if someone comes back early just as I did?  What if they're too loud and uncle discovers their disgrace?

I have to keep his secret if there is to be any hope of maintaining my kingdom and my honor. If there is to be any hope of restoring my brother's reputation when he finally breaks free of this madness and so I set myself to guard the door, trying to ignore the heated moans and thumps that echo through the wall.  I have never wanted to know what Kíli sounds like in the throes of passion, and I certainly never wanted the mental images that their groaning gives.  But even in this I will do what must be done.

It is a long and uncomfortable period until they finally fall silent and I am able to stagger at last to my own bed.  Shortly afterward I hear the first member of our company stumble in the door and I finally allow myself to fall into a light and restless sleep.

---

Our fellowship embarks late the next morning for most of us overdid it and wake with aching heads.  Only Kíli and the hobbit are bright and cheerful as they help the others pack, though looking at them now makes my stomach roll.

However, we are eventually ready to leave and we make our way back to the Laketown causeway where the Master meets us to say farewell.  Bard is there as well and offers a friendly goodbye to many of the company whom he had become quite fond of over our night of drunken revelry, though of course Kíli is still his favorite.

My head is pounding too hard to really pay much attention but I am cheered by the look on the Master's face when uncle thanks him for his hospitality and hands him more than enough coin to settle any remaining debts between us.  Serves him right for trying to capitalize on our misfortune, I think viciously as he turns away in obvious disappointment.

A short time later we are back on solid ground and heading toward the Lonely Mountain where our quest will finally end.  At first the trip is pleasant enough, for the day is clear and the scenery fine and as the company finally walks off its excesses, our spirits rise in song.

"We're heading back to Erebor before the week is done
Heading back to claim our gold and give it to our sons.
We're gonna kill a dragon lads, cut him fiercely on the snout
Bring him down and show the world what dwarves are all about."

But the words cut off sharply as we crest a hill and take in our first view of the charred wasteland known as the Desolation of Smaug.  Nothing grows there: no bushes, no trees, no flowers.  There are no birds and no animals, just the blackened earth and charred stumps that remain as a twisted echo of the life long vanished.  This barrenness stretches on for leagues, all the way to the foot of the mountain, and it is impossible to keep up our hopes in the face of such destruction.

What can we do against power like this?  What can we hope to accomplish? Yet as I look at uncle to see if he still shares my worries, I discover that there is a strange light in his eyes, almost an exultation, and I realize that he feels no fear.

Whatever doubts Thorin had are falling by the wayside, lost to the battle fury taking hold at this chance to finally face the beast that drove him from his home and destroyed all that he held dear.  I can see it in the others, now that I look, all the others who lived through the sack of Erebor and the Battle of Azanulbizar, and I realize that this quest is not just about our kingdom, it is about our vengeance.

This strange mood spreads throughout our company and soon I am also ensnared beneath its spell as we march quickly onward to meet our triumph or our doom.  It no longer matters that our quest is likely suicide, for what could be a better way to die?  Either we will slay the creature, avenge our kin and reclaim the homeland that we lost, or we will perish in the attempt and die a glorious death fighting for the only things that matter: honor, pride, treasure and the righting of our wrongs.

Only Kíli and the hobbit seem uneasy at this change in the atmosphere.  Only they do not seem to find solace at the thought of a magnificent death, but they keep their worries quiet and I am too filled with euphoria to think on them for long.

The only consideration now is reaching the mountain in time to find the hidden door, because the new year is almost upon us.  So we march on the double and we march through the night, buoyed by the singing in our veins and as the first light of Durin's Day dawns in the east our company reaches the base of the mountain.

Thorin orders us to make a quick camp and then we begin climbing, we must locate the door before the last light falls.  However, the task is not easy because our only clue as to its whereabouts is that it is by a grey stone on which a thrush would knock.  However, clever Nori realizes that if the last light of Durin's Day is to be our guide, the keyhole must be on the western face, which narrows the search down slightly.

Yet for all our seeking, time passes quickly without us discovering a grey stone of any sort and the company soon becomes frantic as we rush about.  To come so far and then fail now, I think desperately, for it is not to be born, cannot be born.  In the distance, the sun begins to set and as I am about to give in to despair, the hobbit runs off, shouting over his shoulder for us to follow.

"I hear it.  I hear the thrush," he yells as he runs up the path, Kíli close on his heels, and as we comprehend his words the rest of the company charges after.  Following his trail we crest the rise and reach a small ledge where a plain brown bird is beating a snail against the rock.

At this moment the sun drops down over the horizon and its last golden gleam intersects with the light of the rising moon and reveals a depression in the stone.  Thorin pulls out my grandfather's key and rushes over to it, exclaiming triumphantly when it fits inside and with a click and a turn the door pulls back and the way into Erebor is open.

However, from the passage there comes a smell like brimstone, like an overheated forge, and a deep rumbling noise that must be a dragon's breath.  The cheers of our company fall silent at this proof that our fearsome enemy still lives, and for a moment each of us just looks around, at a loss for what to do.  But then Thorin is calling to the hobbit, calling for our burglar and he shoves him roughly toward the door.

"Go scout, Bilbo, do the task for which we brought you.  Return to us at the camp when you have discovered something useful."

"You can't send him alone," Kíli protests.  "What if something happens and he needs to send word to us?  At least let me stay here and keep guard."  But the hobbit shakes his head and reminds my brother gently that he is the most skillful at walking by unseen and promises that he will be all right. Then the halfling girds himself and steps softly into the passage.

It is a tense time that follows, Kíli pacing constantly as we wait for a sign of our burglar.  I watch as his face grows darker with every hour and I wonder if I will have to stop him from doing something foolish, something that could hinder us in achieving our goal.  Then, just as I think his nerves are about to break, there is a whisper from above and Kíli smiles brightly as Bilbo slips back into camp, throwing an arm around his shoulders.

"What did you find?"  Thorin asks gruffly, pushing his way to the front of the crowd.  "What of the dragon?"

"Smaug still sleeps, and he sleeps atop a bed of treasure."  The hobbit replies and hands my uncle a large golden cup.  "But even asleep I saw no way for us to kill him.  He is armored with scales thicker than steel and his undersides are crusted with gold and gems.  Yet my father always said that every wyrm has a weak spot so if I return again perhaps I can find out more."

Kíli escorts Bilbo back up the path and then we are waiting again, each of the company passing time in his own way.  Some carve, some pace, some whistle and uncle Thorin sits by the fire as he strokes the golden goblet, the shine of it glinting in his eyes.  It is much longer this time before the hobbit returns once more but when he does his face is alive with excitement.

"I found it," He calls out gladly while running toward us down the path.  "I found Smaug's weak point.  There is a patch of scales on his chest as bare as a newborn babe, where one could surely strike his heart.  It will be difficult, but I think a skilled enough archer could manage it."

Bilbo smiles at my brother while the whole company gives a cheer for this is fine news indeed, and it seems that Kíli's mad hobby will finally pay off.  Yet just as we begin to plan our assault, there is a great roar within the mountain and the ground beneath us trembles.  A stream of fire shoots from the battlements and Smaug roars again as he begins hauling himself into the open air, "Barrel-riders!  Lakemen!  Thieves!"

Boulders start tumbling toward us at the dragon's fury and the distance is too far for even the strongest arrow so Kíli shouts, "Head for the passage!  We cannot fight him here."

The company follows him, racing up the trail, while above us Smaug spreads his great red wings for the first time in more than sixty years. The dragon takes again to the sky as we tumble inside the door and pull it shut behind us.  Outside there is a great rumbling as though half the mountain is coming down and when the dust settles, the secret door is blocked and Smaug is gone.  Thorin sends the burglar to scout but he returns quickly and it seems that the dragon has truly abandoned Erebor.

While we would like to believe that Smaug has fled for good, we know this is doubtful and we must be ready to defeat him when he returns.  So we follow Bilbo down the secret passage until it opens up into an enormous hall, the size of which I did not know existed in the world, and every inch of it is filled with golden treasure.  At the sight, I feel a strange possessiveness well up within me and I see the same light in my uncle's eyes; this gold is ours, ours and our people's and of course we will defend it unto death.

However, this new greed just makes our preparations even more urgent because now the thought of Smaug returning to claim my hoard fills my heart with panic.  So we make ready, planning where we will attack when the dragon shows his face again, and setting one of our company to watch the sky at every hour of the day.

While we wait, uncle makes us catalog the kingdom's riches so that we may divide them fairly when the time finally comes- perhaps it won't though, perhaps it can all be mine? -and always, always he searches for the Arkenstone.  The gold lust that fills me when I stare at the heaps of treasure shines twice as brightly on my uncle's face when he speaks of the Heart of the Mountain and as time passes I start to think that he might perish of loss if the stone cannot be found. Perish then and quickly, so that I may have your share. All of you can die.

After three days and three nights, Smaug still has not returned and uncle declares that the beast must have perished or fled to distant lands, nevermore to trouble the Lonely Mountain.  He proclaims a great celebration and all of our company spreads out upon the hills of gold, and we feast and sing long into the night.

My uncle toasts the burglar, covering him with praise since without Bilbo we would have had to fight the dragon- but it's not worth a whole fourteenth share, not really, take it back- and everyone joins in the cheer before drifting to sleep on beds of treasure.

---

I wake sometime in the night with a desperate need to relieve myself, stumbling toward one of the many entrances that come off of the hall.  After I complete my business, I am walking back with the careful steps of the extremely drunk when I hear voices and nearly trip over the hobbit and my brother.  I pull back quickly since I really do not wish to see them having sex again, but it seems I have stumbled on a far more serious conversation for their clothes are on and their faces dark.

"-give it to Thorin?  It's what he wants."  The hobbit is asking, although I do not know what he speaks about.

"No.  This treasure madness worries me.  Let us wait and keep it just in case."  Kíli answers and his voice is grim.  Mad he proclaims us, he who is mad for dishonor.

"In case of what?"

"In case we need the leverage.  Though I truly hope it does not come to that."  My brother rests his head on the hobbit's shoulder tiredly and when Bilbo's arms wrap around him tightly, I turn to leave for I suddenly feel as if I am intruding.

I wander around until I find a soft spot to pass out again and when I wake I can hardly remember the odd conversation at all, especially not with the sight that meets my eyes.  The entire hall before me is filled with birds: small birds, large birds, birds of all colors and shapes, and at their center stands an enormous black raven.

I blink stupidly, wondering if I am still dreaming, but by their surprised cries the rest of the company can see the flock as well.  Uncle gets his act together first, walking up to the raven and greeting him with a bow, and then the giant creature starts to speak.

"I am Roäc the Raven.  I served your grandfather and I would have served your father if the dragon had not come.  I bring you news of the dragon's death."  The raven says in his strange croaking voice, and the company takes heart at his words.  However, when he continues there is no more good news to be had and the mood turns somber and dim instead.

"The dragon Smaug attacked Laketown for daring to aid you and he rained terrible destruction upon its people.  Yet Bard the Bowman, descendant of the last great lord of Dale, drew back his bow and shot the dragon down.  His body fell upon Esgaroth and destroyed Laketown, and many of its people did not survive.  However, those who did have proclaimed Bard the King of Dale reborn and they are on their way here to ask for restitution, joined in this endeavor by the army of the elf king Thranduil."

When Roäc finishes uncle growls, a dark, possessive, hungry sound that resonates with the lust that fills my soul.  "They do not come for restitution, they come to claim our gold!  I knew their hearts were greedy and should they dare to demand my treasure, we will answer them with steel."

Of course we will, greedy, filthy, thieves. The rest of the company sounds our agreement and uncle orders Roäc to travel to the Iron Hills and ask Dáin for aid.  Surely now the Lord of the Ironhills will answer our call and help us defend our recaptured home- now that the dragon is dead and the gold is unprotected.

While the members of our company run to prepare, raiding the armory and the treasure hall for equipment that we can use to fight, Kíli stands unmoving at the hobbit's side.  As I am leaving the hall to check on our defenses, I hear my brother ask, "The elves deserve nothing but doesn't Bard have some right to claim reparations for his town?  We swore that the dragon would die by dwarven steel and that oath is broken."

Fool!  Give to one, give to all, the gold is ours and ours alone.  He could not have killed the dragon without our actions anyway, and it seems that my uncle agrees with me for his furious roar can be heard far down the passage.

So when Bard and Thranduil darken our doorstep and dare to demand a share of our kingdom's gold, Kíli stays silent. He and the hobbit watch with worried eyes as Thorin turns them away, vowing that the pair will claim our treasure over his dead body. And a few hours later, their messenger comes to say that they intend to do just that so our company prepares for siege.

We are tense that night with enemies so near at hand and so we watch and guard and sharpen our swords. But the morning grants us joy, for Dáin has replied to the plea that we had sent on Roäc's wings, stating that he brings his army to our aid. The news that dwarven steel is coming to protect Erebor from these interlopers gives us courage, and we are smug as we once again turn the human and the elf away

Yet on the third morning, when Thranduil and Bard come to parley one last time, all our joy quickly disappears.  Instead of offering threats or bargains as before, Bard simply raises a bright and shining jewel above his head.  I gasp in awe because even at this distance I can recognize the Arkenstone, for the Heart of the Mountain calls out to me in a seductive siren's song, and next to me uncle's voice rises in a shriek.

"Where did you get that?"  Thorin screams harshly, but Bard just smirks up at us and replies, "It was given to me by one who was sympathetic to my cause.  I would be glad to trade it to you in exchange for the fourteenth share that is my due."

However, my uncle's only answer is an inarticulate roar and I know that though the desire for the stone burns within him, he cannot bend to this, not when the treasure song weaves within our minds.  He continues frothing until the two kings leave again and then turns and asks with blazing eyes.

"Which of you betrayed me?  Which of you slipped out like a thief in the night?"  Uncle seems ready to attack any of us in his fury and we all back up uneasily beneath his maddened gaze. Except for the hobbit, who stands firm and admits to his wrongdoing with his head held high as he dares to claim that this betrayal was for our own good. The halfling says that he was trying to stop us from dying needlessly and at these words Thorin grabs him swiftly and threatens to cast him down upon the rocks below.

Uncle raises Bilbo high over his head and is about to make good on his threat when Kíli tackles him from the side and sends them tumbling to the stone of the battlements instead. Then my brother stands quickly and shoves the hobbit behind him as he bares his teeth in a snarl.

"Stop this madness!  Yes Bilbo gave the Arkenstone to Bard but he did it with my blessing, because it was the only way to make you all see reason.  We cannot fight the combined armies of Dale and Mirkwood, even if Dáin comes to our aid, and it is folly to try.  Should we somehow win, our victory would still be hollow because every death on either side would be a life wasted, a life sacrificed for your insane possessive pride.  So please, give them Bilbo's share, give them my share if you must, and let us all go home in peace!"

My brother's words are earnest and perhaps even logical but they are nothing to the gold-tinted rage that pounds inside my head.  It all swirls together: this new betrayal, his new rejection and the ongoing denial of the values and honor of our house that has infuriated me throughout this journey.  Though I know somewhere in the back of my mind that I was keeping his secret for a reason, I can no longer remember why and so my hate and wounded jealousy come pouring out.

"Silence!  You have no right to speak of honor, no right to speak of anything!  You have betrayed us all in giving away the greatest treasure of our people and you have betrayed your family in this attempt to sacrifice our home.

How can you speak of wasting lives when you waste your love on this hobbit?  How can you speak of home when you plan to run away with him to live in sin and perfidy?  You talk of peace, but we shall have peace when our enemies are dead!"

Though my words are vicious, Kíli stands firm under the onslaught, meeting my eyes directly and without shame.  The company seems caught between agreement and horror at what I say, and I wonder vaguely if any of them had already guessed.  However, it is uncle's face that my eyes are fixed on for his is the only response that truly matters.

"Is this true?"  He asks softly, and when my brother answers, "From his perspective, yes," he is silent for a long, long time as a shadow forms on his features, a shadow that I cannot penetrate.

When Thorin finally speaks, his voice is the rolling crackle of an avalanche and it sweeps all hope before it.  "You have betrayed us twice over then, once for cowardice and once for folly.  If these were older days your lives would bleed upon my blade for the disgrace that you have caused me.  Yet for the bonds of family and the life debt that I owe, you may keep your heads if not your honor.  You are banished from my sight for as long as I still live and if you wish mercy try the armies on our doorstep, because traitors such as yourselves will find none of that here."

There is sorrow in my brother's eyes but he does not back down, and soon he and Bilbo are climbing carefully down a rope thrown over the edge of the battlements.  I watch them until they have disappeared into the distance toward the human's camp and then I turn back inside, all regret buried under rage.  He made his choice and he picked the wrong side in this war.

---

The mood is subdued after Kíli and the hobbit leave, the rest of our company walking on eggshells in order to keep from setting Thorin off again.  I can see doubt on some of their faces and questions in their eyes, but they keep silent and follow orders so I do not have to take them down.

However, it is a relief when Dáin finally arrives and my mind can turn to other things.  When I hear the dwarven horns that signal the arrival of our ally, I rush to the battlements and watch in awe as the three armies maneuver slowly into position; the elves, dwarves and men forming an enormous triangle upon the plain.

I wonder briefly if my brother is out there somewhere and which side he's on, but then I shove the thought aside for it no longer matters.  The rest of the company joins me at my post and we wait with bated breath for the clash to begin, for this is the first opportunity dwarves have had to carve their pain out of Thranduil's elvish hide. Yet suddenly there is a great commotion out upon the field and the armies all turn back.  From this distance we cannot see what has occurred so we send Roäc to discover what he can and when he returns the news is foul.

"It is Gandalf, the Wandering Wizard.  He has arrived with a terrible warning, that an enormous army of orcs and goblins is advancing on the mountain.  It moves swiftly and at its head rides Azog the Defiler come to fulfill his oath.  Thranduil, Bard and Dáin have decided to put aside their hatred to face this greater threat and defend the free folk of Middle Earth."

Though their choice is logical, it infuriates the part of me that wants the elves to suffer, that wants to keep our precious gold as mine alone, so I leave the council and wander the passageways until the red haze on my vision finally clears.  I return to the battlements and discover that the three lords have prepared for the coming onslaught, arranging their armies on the right and left flanks of the mountain in order to fall upon the monsters when they move toward Erebor.  Then I watch as six thousand orcs and goblins with their weapons and their wargs charge into view and once I see them I cannot look away.

At first the plan seems to be working because the creatures run recklessly into the trap and take heavy losses from the armies on their flanks. However, for each monster that is killed, three more take its place and eventually the sheer numbers of the enemy start to push back our allies. I begin to see dwarves fall and cries of loss and agony rise up from the plain.

"They're going to lose," I hear and turn in horror to my uncle who is standing at my side.  Thorin stares down at the battlefield and for the first time in days his eyes are clear of madness and of hate.  His shout rallies the others and then we are racing for the entrance, the best of Erebor's weapons drawn and raised.  We quickly tear down the barrier across the broken doors and then I follow my uncle out into the death and the chaos.

"Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!"

I cry with the others as we slice destruction through our enemies, an arrow aimed at Azog standing in their army's heart.  There is no thinking, only terror and action and my blades bite deeply into goblin flesh as I run across their dying bodies and we race onward toward our goal.  I had always dreamed of the glory of war but even flushed with battle madness I can recognize that there is no glory here, just death and blood and filth and a thousand wasted lives.

Our best hope for ending this war is to take out the monsters' head and soon we are separated from Azog only by the wall of his guards, giant orcs in armor who swing battleaxes with both hands.  Here our advance falters and it seems we will fall short when something flies past me and an arrow sprouts from the forehead of the enormous orc I face.

Thorin and I charge through this opening and stand together as Azog snarls down upon us.  He rides his great white warg once again, now dressed in full armor with his metal claws sharpened to razor points and the mace that broke the Oakenshield raised high.

We dodge, and strike and dodge again, trying to avoid the deadly blows of claw and fangs and steel.  Finally, I see my opening and I lunge in to slash my sword across the white warg's throat but its death shudder throws me to the side and I am helpless to stop it as that giant mace knocks my uncle to the ground.  Thorin manages to stagger upright, ducks under the next blow and buries his sword in Azog's gut before he is hit full on again and crumples to ground.

I run to stand in front of my uncle's body and defend him while I can, but I am fading quickly and I know it.  All too soon one of Azog's strikes knocks my sword from my hands and I stare death in the face when he raises his arm for the final killing blow.

Something slashes me from behind and the world grows dark as I watch the massive weapon fall but then Azog suddenly stumbles back, an arrow in his neck.  I know that arrow, I think looking on the instrument of my salvation and in the distance a faint voice cries out, "The eagles are coming," before I finally succumb to my wounds.

---

When I wake it is to see Gandalf and the cloth of a tent above me, and though my whole body aches, I am alive.

"Good, you're awake.  Your uncle needs you," the wizard says and this news drives me to my feet despite my pain.  I look around and see that I am in a small tent which contains only one other bed, in which Kíli lays bandaged and asleep, and then Gandalf herds me out the door.  It is a short walk to my uncle's far grander pavilion and when I enter Thorin is there, the hobbit sitting at his side.

"What are you doing here?"  I snarl, but Thorin silences me with a glare.

"I invited him here to make my peace.  I was blind with greed and gold madness just like that which claimed my grandfather and I said many things that I would take back if I could."

"But he betrayed us!"  I stammer in protest, "He should pay."

"Have you not seen enough of fighting, nephew, to want still another war?  The hobbit is a hero to our allies, and indeed he should be a hero to us as well, because this senseless bloodshed is what he and your brother were trying to avoid.  What betrayal there was has been more than repaid, for who do you think helped us to strike Azog's final blow, who do you think stood over us as we lay bleeding on the field?"

I cannot refute his logic there because I recognized my brother's arrow, and in truth that debt is paid.  Yet there is still the greater scar that runs across my heart.  "What of their relationship, how can we rebuild Erebor without Kíli at our side?  How can we live with him disgracing our family's name?"

At that my uncle only sighs and looks upon me sadly.  "Not we, Fíli, but you, for despite the best efforts of our healers I will be leaving this world shortly and you will reign as King Under the Mountain in my stead.  And while once I would have agreed with you, I have come to see that the world is not so black and white.

Yes, Kíli has broken our ancient laws but times are changing, nephew, and such acts no longer carry the stigma they once did. You need only ask our companions to discover the truth of that.

I know that you wish to protect you brother from the pain that is to come but you cannot live Kíli's life for him and he has made his choice with open eyes.  Try to remember that if more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier and happier world in which to live. If you continue on this path you will lose your brother forever because while he loves his family, he loves this hobbit more. So you must learn that sometimes standing firm is not the better way and try to find a shred of acceptance in your heart.

If you cannot do that then at least make our people your first priority, our people and not your pride or your ideas of disgrace. If you do this then you will rule Erebor well and the Kingdom Under the Mountain will flourish once again.  I am sorry to leave you to carry this burden so young but you will have support as long as you allow it and I will see you again in Mahal's embrace."

With this farewell, Thorin II Oakenshield, King Under the Mountain, passes from the world of Middle Earth, and the crown of Erebor falls into my care.  I grieve then, for how long I do not know, but when I come to my senses I am alone.  There is a choice to be made now and as I consider my uncle's final words, I vow that I will do right by our people, but to accomplish this I must be respected and I must be honored and I do not know if I can grant his last request.

So I leave my uncle's tent and return to my brother who is now awake, sitting in the bed with Bilbo curled up at his side.  Kíli looks at me as I enter and though his expression is neither angry nor pleading, I think he knows the decision that I've made.

"You saved my life even after you were banished and have regained the right to be named among our people.  I would call you brother once again and I wish for you to stand at my side as I rebuild Erebor because your support and your counsel would greatly ease my heart.  However, this cannot be if you insist on staying with the hobbit.  I cannot watch you throw your life away and I cannot accept the loss of respect your love would cost me, not if Erebor is to regain its former glory.  What say you?"

He looks at me and his eyes are almost pitying.  "You know my choice, brother, you have known it for months, which is why you fought so hard to change my mind.  I will follow my heart and return with Bilbo to the Shire, though I wish you all the luck in the world."

"As you desire.  You may stay for uncle's funeral and should you ever change your mind you will always have a place here.  I hope that someday you will see reason."

"And I hope someday you will learn, as uncle did, that the world is not so black and white and love is worth the price."  He turns away from me then and I leave the tent feeling as if I am the one who has been banished, as if I am the who has made a terrible mistake.  But how could that be when I have our laws, propriety, and honor on my side?

No, you are the one who will see reason brother; we will see who is right when the day is done.  If I have to wait until your hobbit grows old before this madness fades, then I will wait because time is on my side. And when his hair is white and his body feeble, you will look upon him and see the horror of what you've paid.  You will be alone and have no one else to help you mend your shattered heart, no one but the family that you now reject.  So I will be waiting brother, I will wait as long as it takes for you to return to my side.

Three days pass, three days in which our dead are burned and my uncle is buried in a tomb beneath the mountain, the Arkenstone shining on his breast.  Then I watch from the battlements as Kíli and his hobbit abandon the homeland that the House of Durin fought so long and so hard to reclaim.

And though I stare at them until they finally pass beyond the horizon, my brother never once looks back.

Part V: Regret

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
ferowyn
Dec. 30th, 2013 12:41 pm (UTC)
Oh wow
I think this was kinda the saddest of your stories that I've read, and I'm not happy with the ending.
(It's very well written, and works with the story. I still don't like it xD)
Also, you kept me again. This time I was reading in the tub and the water was getting fucking cold, but I had to keep reading ;)
rata_toskr
Dec. 31st, 2013 02:35 am (UTC)
Just to check, you did actually get to the end right? Things do get a little happier than the ending here in chapter 4.

But this story was actually meant to be a complete tragedy in the beginning and while the characters wouldn't let it be as sad as I'd planned, there are definitely still those overtones.

Oddly this is actually one of the stories I'm most proud of, or well the whole series really, even though it's never been one of my most read. But I wanted to write something where no one's really perfect and everyone does the best they can, but decisions have consequences and no one gets a 100% happy ending either.

(Though if this is too sad for you, do not read Six Strains of Heartbreak, just don't.)
ferowyn
Dec. 31st, 2013 11:41 am (UTC)
Oh that may be it *blush*
I'm off to read it now... ^^

It's really well written, and I totally agree with you about the impossibly 100% happy ending.

Edited at 2013-12-31 11:42 am (UTC)
rata_toskr
Dec. 31st, 2013 03:07 pm (UTC)
Hahahahaha. No worries. Glad I could help, if only because I really like the last two sections and it would be a shame to miss them.

Ending here would have been more like the tragedy I originally planned, horribly depressing and all.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )