Chapter 4: Guilt and Dissension
Warnings: angst, grief, rage, political maneuvering
Word Count: 9,260 (30,808 so far)
Disclaimer: If I owned the hobbit, I wouldn't have to write fanfic
Summary: Thorin believes that his nephew betrayed the company in the goblin caves and leaves him there to die; Bilbo will not stand for this.
Chapter 1: Paranoia
Chapter 2: Courage and Despair
Chapter 3: Healing
This is Mahal's punishment, Fíli thinks, staring down at Azog the Defiler with a dull horror building in his chest. This is my death, come for me and I deserve whatever fate the pale orc brings. We all deserve it for letting my brother die.
It is the only explanation which makes sense to him, the only truth that he can see. Why else would Azog have found their company mere moments after they escaped from the Goblin King and left Kíli in his clutches? How else would his uncle's greatest enemy still live and breathe?
This is retribution, retribution for their crime, and it is a crime no matter what Thorin may believe. Fíli knows his brother and there is... was no treachery within his heart, he could not even tell a lie. Yet somehow this truth did not matter in the face of his uncle's paranoia, Kíli's life and name still sacrificed too easily and the dwarf knows that even if they succeed, he will never consider their quest worth the cost.
However, while he wishes that he could just abandon the journey and leave these false friends far behind, Fíli owes his brother a better legacy than this would bring. His grief will accept nothing less then the reclamation of their homeland in his brother's name and his rightful place in dwarvish history as a hero to their cause. So before this journey is completed, Fíli is determined to restore Kíli's honor and although he will never forgive Thorin for abandoning their youngest, his brother was never one to believe vengeance is justified.
Only this knowledge made the dwarf assent to leave when his uncle threatened violence. Only this stopped him from plunging a blade deep into his uncle's gut and ending the Elder Line of Durin there. For without Kíli, Fíli is nothing, just an heir without his heart, and there is darkness stirring in his mind.
So he keeps the screams at bay by thinking of his brother, the one who somehow always saw the best in everybody's lies. He keeps his guilt at bay by promising to live his life for Kíli and that he will not rest until he can speak his brother's name aloud. Yet all his vows may be meaningless for the company now seems unlikely to survive the night and in all honesty, Fíli does not have the will to care. Because if Azog slaughters Thorin and lets his beasts feed on the corpse, the dwarf's only regret will be that he was not the one who struck the bastard down.
Perhaps tomorrow he will be able to acknowledge that his uncle had his reasons. Perhaps tomorrow he will be able to understand how abandoning his brother could possibly be right. But he doubts it.
And tonight Fíli's heart is raw and bleeding, Kíli's loss an open wound and all he can think when he looks death in the eye is that if they perish before Thorin's judgment is known to their people, then his brother will be honored with the others who wait in Mahal's hall.
So the dwarf watches impassively as his uncle charges the Defiler and he watches almost gleefully as the orc takes his foe apart. There is an endless rage burning inside Fíli, a fury which demands restitution for his younger brother's pain and his hate freezes him in place when Azog moves to claim his bloody prize. Instead it is Dwalin who stops the blade from falling, Dwalin who saves his uncle's life and Fíli does not know whether to thank him or curse him for doing what is right.
Because he knows that he should move to help them against the danger which still threatens and death breeds only death, his mother taught him that. However, though the part of his heart still belonging to Thorin's loyal heir is screaming for him to charge forward into battle, this voice is drowned out by the overwhelming fury which sizzles in his veins and Fíli knows that would burn the world if it would bring his brother back.
However, as it turns out, Fíli will not have his blood price paid tonight. Before Azog can slaughter the pair who dare to face him, their lives are saved by the wizard's magic, eagles swooping in to turn the tide. The enormous birds drive back the orcs and carry the company to safety but the dwarf has never felt more alone than he does flying from the battlefield without Kíli at his back.
So while the sharp pain of his grief eventually fades into an exhausted sleep there is no peace for him in dreaming and when the dwarf wakes, the cold light of day only illuminates the jagged gouge within his heart. Yet the raw edge of his agony has been worn down over the hours and Fíli knows that it is time to think again instead of simply acting.
Because it seems that the Valar have decided their company will live despite his darker desire and thus he has a future where there was almost none. A future and a purpose to accomplish and if he is to succeed he will need to be more calculating than he has ever been before. While Fíli has always been the brother more skilled at scheming, the stakes are higher than the simple pranks he's used to for this time he will be playing for the highest wager of them all: honor and justice for his blood.
Although his brother's spirit may not approve of cold-blooded vengeance, he thinks that Kíli will understand the need to make things right and if claiming restitution causes some collateral damage to his uncle along the way, this is a price he will pay gladly.
So Fíli plans and he plots and for now he masks his rage with blankness because Thorin cannot yet know just how deep a rift between them his judgment has caused. The dwarf needs his uncle to trust him with the evidence of Kíli's crime so that he can prove it false and if all else fails, he needs his uncle to keep him as his heir. For if he cannot clear his brother's name in Thorin's lifetime then he will do it in his own and yet he does not wish to balance Kíli's honor on the slim hope of a future crown around his brow.
No, Fíli wants to remove the mark of treason from his fallen before their journey ends so that his brother will be honored as a hero before all of Erebor and they celebrate the life paid to help reclaim their home.
However, if he is to win the fight against his uncle's paranoia, the dwarf will need allies and thus while the remnants of their company make the long trek to the hall of Gandalf's friend, Fíli tries to discover just where the others stand. For while Thorin is their leader in this quest as in all things, his judgment of Kíli has caused doubt where there was none before and so it is not certain on which side of coming battle his company will fall.
And as it turns out, the situation is not as good as Fíli hoped but far better than he feared, though their coward of a wizard spends two days refusing to meet his eyes.
But he learns that Óin, Dori and Balin are with his uncle no matter what they personal believe because none of them will challenge their king without greater cause and Thorin's old adviser is the first to confirm that a traitor to their people did exist. Does exist damn it all, because he did not die with Kíli.
In contrast, Ori and Bofur are wholeheartedly with Fíli for they were his brother's friends and they know as well as he does that Kíli could not have betrayed them as his uncle claims. If the dwarf is slightly bitter about their failure to defend his brother at the time then he will not speak of it, because he knows their shame will only make them fight all the harder now. And how can I blame them for something I am guilty of myself?
While this seems a small foundation of support from which to plead his case, his numbers could swell quickly because the rest have yet to make their choice. At least two dwarves, Dwalin and Glóin, are sharply torn in their loyalties for his brother had been like a son to them while Thorin was their friend and lord. Finally, Bombur, Bifur and Nori seem to be reserving judgment until they have more information, although the last two have always been difficult for Fíli to read.
Which means that he has hope, a small helpless kernel within the depths of his despair and it is this hope that allows the dwarf to keep moving forward instead of collapsing where he stands. This hope is what allows him to keep the hatred off his face and replace it with a mask of blank civility. Civility and nothing more because it is all Fíli can do to look his uncle in the eye while his grief is still so fresh.
This grief turns all food to ashes in his mouth and when they finally reach the wizard's destination, he can hardly eat a bite of the impressive feast which their host has laid out. Indeed no one other than his uncle feels much like celebrating and the meal is awkward in the extreme, nothing but stilted conversation and pained looks sent between the company as their leader waxes poetic about how he will slaughter Azog next time if he only gets the chance for a fair fight.
Delusional as well as paranoid uncle? Fíli wonders in disgust and the three who sided firmly with Thorin will not meet his eyes for they know as well as he does that if Dwalin had not stepped in, the Defiler would have claimed his uncle's head.
Perhaps the dwarf lord is simply trying to keep their spirits up since the last thing this quest need is another enemy baying at their heels when they face off against the dragon. Yet even if this is the case, Thorin's words sound like little more than hubris and his nephew truly doubts the dice will fall differently when the two meet again. And they will meet again, he is certain of it, for the pale orc has gotten a taste of Durin's blood along with his taste for vengeance and neither of these masters will free him without a death price paid.
After all Azog has already chased his uncle for decades, tracked him across the many mountains of Middle Earth and a small setback like this will not stop him now. So there is nothing their company can do except run far and faster and hope that when the pale orc returns they will be able to face him from within the walls of Erebor.
But thankfully even Thorin has moments of sanity and he recognizes this truth as well, allowing the company only one night to rest within Beorn's home before they travel on. One night of safety and small comfort and Fíli is surprised to find that he does not dream this evening, does not dream of blood and pain and suffering beneath the goblins' hands.
One night and then their wizard says that he is leaving them to travel north and Fíli wishes this news were a surprise. Yet what is one more setback amongst the ill luck which has plagued them from the start and he has never trusted Gandalf's motives anyway. However, for some reason the other seems to trust him because the wizard takes the dwarf aside and asks him to watch for Bilbo, strangely certain that the hobbit is still alive.
Fíli had rather forgotten about their burglar in the all-consuming maelstrom of his grief and while he agrees to this request, it is mostly so that Gandalf will stop looking at him with such pity in his eyes. Indeed, the hobbit remains far from his thoughts when they travel on again. For Fíli's grief is a constant companion, one which haunts his footsteps and leaves him hollow-eyed and shaking every night.
Yet the days are almost worse when he begins to forget about his loss, turning to speak to his brother and finding naught but ghosts and shadows there, and each remembrance only drives the dagger deeper in his heart. But the dwarf has a goal that he must reach and so he fights through the pain, fights to function without the half which made him whole and ever so slowly he succeeds.
Ever so slowly Fíli remembers how to smile, though it feels false upon his face. Ever so slowly he begins to find his feet and he considers it a victory when he manages to speak to his uncle once again.
These conversations are the first step towards claiming restitution but by the time they reach the western edge of Mirkwood, he realizes that Thorin is even farther gone than he had feared, for the barest mention of a traitor sends him into furious rants about honor, loyalty and the shame of broken oaths.
His uncle does not seem to realize how hypocritical it is to demand loyalty when he sentenced Kíli without the chance to defend his name and he does not seem to care that all his evidence is circumstantial. It is all rumor and speculation, coincidence and cursed luck and how could such small things have combined to tear his family apart?
Yet Fíli also knows this will make his job that much harder because he cannot disprove an accusation built on smoke and mist and fear. There is nothing for him to fight against and so no easy way to change his uncle's mind, not when their true betrayer is probably still in Ered Luin.
So although the dwarf does not truly wish to cause dissension, right now it is the only option that he has. All Fíli can do is try to convince the rest of their company that his uncle's accusations are baseless in order to remove the foundation of trust from which they gain their validation. All he can do is hope that when Thorin stands alone in his beliefs, he will finally see through the veil of his paranoia to the truth that lies beneath.
And if he does not, then a discredited king is easily toppled and the dwarf knows what his first decree will be.
Some might call this treason. Some might call it retribution. His uncle would call it betrayal and strike his name down with his brother's, but to Fíli it is justice and he will not be turned aside. If he was willing to let them all die so that Kíli would be remembered as a hero, he can hardly balk at a peaceful solution that will accomplish the same goal.
Not when Thorin betrayed him first. Betrayed him by allowing him to believe that his brother had been rescued until after they escaped and the dwarf will never forgive his uncle for that deception. He should have allowed Fíli to make his own decision; he should have allowed him to die at Kíli's side.
But he did not and if the dwarf must live without his brother, he will not live without the right to speak his name and Thorin has no idea what he has set in motion. He must have no idea until the trap closes upon him and his uncle is forced to face the truth of what he's done.
Fíli begins by talking to his allies for Dwalin taught him never to begin a battle without consolidating his position and he cannot afford to lose the few supporters which he has. While Ori and Bofur already believe that Kíli must be innocent, he reinforces their belief with certainty when he explains the small coincidences that combined to destroy Thorin's trust in his nephew and how truly ridiculous they were.
For there could be any number of reasons why the Goblin King had been expecting them, from spies of his own to Azog giving him the information, and none of these required a traitor in their ranks. Truly even if a betrayer had told the goblins about their plans, he did not need to know their exact route in order to send messengers across the whole of the Misty Mountains and warn their enemies to keep a weather eye.
In fact there are so many other possibilities that Fíli finds Thorin's logic entirely baffling, particularly considering that what his uncle claims as secret information is anything but. For their destination has been known across the clans since before their journey even started and where else would they be traveling if not to Erebor? So too everyone knows that Fíli is his uncle's heir and as the only blond in the company he is rather hard to miss. This is not proof of treachery so much as proof of gossip and if that were considered treason then half their clan would have to share his brother's fate.
And even if this these things were evidence of treachery they could have pointed to any member of the company and when the dwarf asks what exactly lay the blame upon his brother, Thorin has only one more piece of evidence and a mass of wild speculation.
This speculation is built on the idea that everyone wants to steal his uncle's glorious position and Fíli will not bother to repeat it for the very thought of speaking those words makes him cringe in shame. He refuses to even allow his allies to consider the idea that his brother betrayed them to claim the crown because Kíli had always accepted that he could never be their king. It was not a matter of skill, duty or desire but the simple fact that the only way someone would be able kill Fíli was if they made it through his brother first.
So the last piece of his uncle's justification which the dwarf will actually acknowledge is that Kíli was not tortured where the rest of them could see. When Thorin tells his nephew this, says it with the air of one imparting a great secret, Fíli has to excuse himself from the conversation and find some privacy where he can laugh hysterically until he cries.
Could you not hear the screaming uncle? There was no falsehood there. And if the Goblin King had chosen one of us instead, would you have cast out him the same way you now decry my brother?
Although the dwarf asks Ori and Bofur to talk to their relatives, it is this truth which brings him his first convert, the simple fact that Thorin could have turned on any one of them with just as little cause. It is this which makes Nori sit down next to Fíli and turn to him with a pledge in his eyes.
“I did not know your brother well and so I cannot judge his innocence but I am with you lad because I do know that Thorin was not right to sentence him without a trial or defense. I owe my life to second chances and Kíli deserved to have the opportunity to plead his case before your uncle took his name as punishment for a crime he might not have committed. For that could have been any of us lost within the mountains and if it was Ori whose death was on our hands, I would be standing in your boots.”
Fíli thanks him sincerely and the knowledge that he is gaining ground helps to fight back the despair which lingers beneath the trees. Despair and something else for the Mirkwood has an evil presence unlike any forest which he has ever seen, seeming to pulse with malice and whisper hatred on the breeze.
However, while this foul darkness dampens everyone's spirits, it cannot hold a candle to the pain the dwarf brought with him and he actually welcomes the changes which it brings. For Thorin has been convinced their luck must change now that Kíli is not with them and he has made this claim loudly and publicly throughout the days. So when disaster begins to trace their steps again, Fíli takes it as an omen of his brother's innocence and it is difficult for the others to deny the truth in what he says.
Thus Dwalin joins him next, as his doubts finally overcome his faith in Thorin and stretch the bonds of loyalty that held his heart. They stretch but do not break because the dwarf makes it clear that he does not wish to harm their leader or even fight him unless they must; he only wishes to save Fíli's uncle from himself.
The night before he made his decision, some thing stole half their supplies right out of their packs and the warrior had seen it as a sign from the Valar that doom lies ahead if their leader stays upon his path. Though the way Thorin glares at Dwalin for being on watch at the time probably helped him make this choice for if their leader can look on even his oldest friend with such suspicion then none of them are safe.
None of them are safe even within a company of friends and allies and perhaps Thorin has a right to paranoia now with the doubts and accusations which are muttered in his wake. Yet with only five to his uncle's four and three still undecided, their whispers are quiet for they cannot afford dissension until they escape the shadows in the dark.
For while Fíli sometimes gets caught up in his scheming and forgets that there are other dangers to be faced, he can never ignore the Mirkwood for long when creatures stalk them as they pass. There are sounds that should not exist floating on the wind and the dwarves can feel eyes on their backs, eyes that draw their nerves tight and whiten the knuckles wrapped around their weapons' hilts.
The company is also starving because the supplies which had not been stolen soon run out and thus half their number decide it is a perfectly reasonable idea to leave the path when they hear laughter and see firelight flickering between the trunks.
Thorin tries to stop them because he would rather starve than beg from elves but once most of the group is running forward he can only follow or be left behind. Yet despite the source, this time his uncle's mistrust may be completely justified for they find nothing but mist and no matter how fast they travel no one can catch the voices which taunt them farther on. Eventually exhaustion forces the dwarves to halt and as they stand there panting, they are easy prey for the beasts that descend from the trees.
One sharp bite into his shoulder and then Fíli knows no more until he is waking to the sight of a stern elf above him, knife slicing the strands of web across his face. While the dwarf is no great connoisseur of elvish expressions, this one does not look pleased to see him and he is not particularly surprised when she replaces the spiders' bonds with ones of rope and twine instead of giving him his freedom.
The dwarf's mind is still clouded by the creatures' venom and his body aches with every breath so he does not struggle when the elves him to his companions and prod them to walk. Some of the others do grumble at the rough treatment but Fíli cannot spare any concentration if he wants to keep his feet moving through the pounding in his head.
Indeed the journey passes in a blur of pain and nausea with barely a pause to rest and the dwarf does not have the energy to be impressed when their captors finally escort them into the King of Mirkwood's Hall.
As it is, Fíli is too busy trying not to puke on the intricate mosaic built into the floor to appreciate the carefully cultivated majesty, which is a shame considering the grandeur of the throne room is nearly as blinding as the elf king's hair. But when their group is shoved forward to stand beneath Thranduil's supercilious stare, the dwarf is comforted to see all of his companions, even his uncle whom he no longer wishes dead. Discredited, possibly injured and repentant to be sure, but by this point the dwarf's hate has distilled to a driving purpose and he wishes no real damage to Thorin past what must be done.
Although the way his uncle is antagonizing Thranduil, his health may soon be in serious jeopardy after all and as subtly as he can, Fíli knocks into their leader to cut off his angry rant. While he turns his furious glare on his nephew instead, Thorin does at least stop yelling and his face softens somewhat when he sees the state his heir is in.
Yet this peace is short-lived for the elf sneers again and soon ultimatums are spoken and lines in the sand are drawn, neither side willing to give in but only one with the power to back it up. So when the cell door locks behind him, Fíli curses his uncle's stubbornness viciously before he allows the remnants of the venom to finally sweep him into dreams.
At first the dwarf does not mind their captivity that much for while the elves are not exactly gracious hosts, he is getting enough food and rest for the first time since they left Beorn and he appreciates the chance to regain his strength.
However once he has recovered his health, the enforced idleness weighs heavily on Fíli for every day which passes is a day lost to him forever. Not that the dwarf is sure exactly how much time is passing because the dungeons are locked in an eternal gloom that defies all his attempts to measure it and the guards do not appear in a pattern he can trace.
But it is enough time that Fíli grows bored and restless, troubled by thoughts of all he should be doing and he worries over how their imprisonment will impact his plans. While this detour may give his uncle time to reconsider his hasty judgment, it is unfortunately more likely that Thorin will stew in his anger and injured pride until there will be no budging him from his position for all the gold in Erebor. So too his companions may decide to change their minds and Fíli does not so many allies that he can afford a loss.
Not that any of this is more than speculation at the moment since the guards do not deign to passing messages and none of his companions are near enough to shout, so for the first few weeks the dwarf simply focuses on staying sane. He exercises his body as best he can in order to keep fit, though Fíli sorely misses the twin blades which should lay across his back, and he exercises his mind by planning out his moves for when he can scheme again. The dwarf recites the myths of his people and goes over the ancient laws that Balin taught him, trying to recall the many lessons he will need as king if that's the way his fate plays out.
Yet although his recall is as good as always, Fíli does not truly feel experienced enough to reign over a kingdom and he spares a moment to wonder if others would think his purpose worth the cost. For if he is forced to usurp his uncle in order to clear his brother's name, the damage to their clan will be inescapable and what could not be fractured by their exile may be shattered by his plan.
Despite his current descent into paranoia and ill judgment, the dwarf cannot doubt that his uncle would rule the Lonely Mountain well, just as he has led the Sigin-tarâg to prosperity with wisdom in his heart. Fíli does not have nearly the same faith in his own abilities, untried and unpracticed as he is, and there is a very real possibility that even if the company repudiates his uncle, the rest of their clan will refuse to follow. But while the dwarf knows his attempt to restore his brother's honor may accomplish nothing but the destruction of his own, he cannot find it in himself to regret the chances to be taken, no matter what the final consequence.
Though he takes some comfort from the fact that such action may not be necessary for the dwarf still hopes his uncle will see reason without need for revolution and so instead of dwelling on the uncertain future he tries to drown his sorrows in the past.
Fíli remembers the good times, the peaceful times, when Kíli used to trail after him as a bright-eyed child who wanted to know the whys of everything he saw. They used to play along the river, swimming and laughing with their mother, though she didn't smile quite so often after their father died. He thinks of how his brother's eyes lit up when Thorin presented him with his first bow over their step-father's objections and Kíli used to take the weapon everywhere, even sleeping with it at his side.
This is a bittersweet memory now for it is a reminder that their uncle had once cared for them in his own way. He used to smile just as brightly as Kíli did before he turned into this driven stranger and lost sight of what should truly matter in his eyes.
But eventually the dwarf runs out of memories, replaying his favorites until even they cannot soothe the pit of grief which still makes him weep some nights and the driving need for freedom crawling beneath his skin. A need that Fíli cannot satisfy for he has scoped out his cell ten times over without discovering a way to escape and the others must be in a similar predicament because he has seen neither hide nor hair of them since they were dragged away.
Without the ability to fight or run their only chance is diplomacy but it has been weeks now, possibly months, and the dwarf begins to wonder if his uncle has even tried. Has he tried to negotiate at all or is he fuming in the dungeon over the slights that Thranduil paid him, and assuming that the Valar will somehow save their quest again? But the wizard is gone and their burglar is probably dead so there will be no aid from those quarters and it strikes Fíli suddenly that this leaves their fate with him.
His uncle has never been rational about elves in all the years he's known him and thus waiting for Thorin to negotiate is tantamount to signing his life away. However to negotiate with Thranduil in his uncle's place would make him as much of a traitor as Kíli in the dwarf lord's eyes and Fíli cannot afford to lose his position yet.
Although... that is assuming uncle has to know. If I can keep this secret until we retake Erebor, he might be inclined to look on me more kindly and if not, once he is discredited it won't matter anymore. Anyway I already have almost half the company on my side and if Thorin keeps acting like this then I doubt it will take much longer to convince the rest.
Uncle's paranoia has turned him into his own worst enemy and if this is truly his father's insanity waking in his blood then by removing him from his position I am simply doing my duty as I must. I have to protect our people after all and even an inexperienced king must be better than a mad one.
So the choice is made and the next time one of the guards arrives with his meal, the dwarf asks to be taken to his king, saying he has information which Thranduil will want to hear. While the elf gives no outward sign that he is listening, less than an hour later Fíli is escorted into the elf king's throne room once again.
This time his mind is clear and his eyes unclouded so he takes a moment to look at all that stands before him: the intricate carvings on the walls, the glittering sunlight falling to the mosaiced floor and their captor, sitting still as stone upon his polished chair. Yet despite the disdain upon Thranduil's face, the cold dismissal and the pride which seems to seep out from his skin, Fíli is struck by a wave of pity, for there is a strange air of mourning in the other's eyes.
It is hidden well behind the arrogance but his own loss resonates with the thread of pain he sees and the dwarf wonders suddenly what it must be like to outlive the world. He does not think that he could bear to watch as the light fades from all other things and for a moment he understands why some elves choose to armor their hearts against mortals and keep that sorrow from their lives.
Of course then the elf king speaks and Fíli must clench his teeth to keep from snarling at the scorn within his voice.
“So dwarf, you asked to speak with me and I assume this means that you have found your senses. I was starting to think your company had wits of stone to match your features and my guards would find you grown into the rock one morning instead of living flesh. But speak then if you have something to offer for my time is short and I have better things to do.”
“I am here to negotiate the release of my companions so that we may continue with our quest.” Fíli tells him, swallowing his annoyance and refusing to reveal the nervousness which swells within his gut. He holds all the cards here so the only choice is boldness, show him the steel within your veins.
“And what exactly might this quest be? Your leader refused to state his purpose and now refuses to speak at all.” Thranduil asks and the dwarf's surprise makes him speak before he thinks.
“Are you actually going to pretend you don't already know the answer to that question? You recognized our leader the moment he walked through that doorway and you greeted him by name. So you must know there is only one thing which could compel Thorin Oakenshield to travel through your wood.”
Thankfully the elf seems more amused than angered by his bluntness and there is a faint but definite tilt to his lips as he replies. “Perhaps you are smarter than your leader then and worthy of an exchange after all. Although for that matter, who are you to deal with me?”
“I am Fíli, son of Dís, sister to Thorin and my uncle's heir.” The dwarf tells him, posture straightening as he recites the litany of his kin. Dirty, plain and travel worn Fíli may be, but there is royal blood in his veins and the other must recognize it if his plan is to succeed. So he stands tall and proud beneath Thranduil's searching gaze and eventually the elf king nods.
“So you are. Well then young Fíli, what do you want from me and what do you plan to give me in exchange? For you are right, I do not need information which I already possess.”
Then why did you demand it? The dwarf wonders, because if the elf knows his uncle at all then he should have known how Thorin would react to a request like that. Or perhaps that was the point of his ultimatum after all.
There is an idea forming in the back of his mind and Fíli shapes his words carefully, speaking to the hints of sorrow which he can still see beneath the elf king's frosty pride. “I want you to let us go... No, that's not right. I want you to allow us the chance to escape under our own power for my uncle would never accept anything else. And I want you to help us defeat the dragon as you did not when Smaug first attacked Erebor.”
“And why would I-” Thranduil is angry now, Fíli's words digging into an old and unhealed wound, but when the dwarf holds up a hand to stop his words, the sheer audacity of it cuts the elf king off. So he speaks into this short window of opportunity, needing to plead his case before the other regains his fury and throws him back in his cell.
“Not an army, I am not asking you to throw your people's lives away. But give me two of your best archers to follow hidden in our wake.” The dwarf says, not pleading but respectful since antagonizing Thranduil would serve no purpose now. “Once we make our way into the mountain, we will discover the dragon's weak point and lure him out so that your elves can strike and Smaug will trouble all of us no more.”
“And why would I do this?” The elf king asks again, but this time there is more curiosity than anger in his voice and Fíli knows that he has him as long as he does not falter now.
“Because I offer you a fourteenth of the kingdom's treasure when the deed is done and the chance to silence the ghosts of those whom you watched die so many years ago.” Because this imprisonment is your way of protecting my uncle from sharing in his kingdom's fate, though I do not think you would take it kindly if I mention that.
At this last, Thranduil's eyes narrow and if the dwarf hadn't been expecting this reaction he would have flinched back when the other hisses like a striking snake. “You would judge me just as Thorin does, blame me for not leading my men to their deaths to save a land already lost.”
“No my lord, I do not judge you for I was not there to see it. Charging into battle when already defeated might have been the more dwarvish choice to make, but this does not mean it was the right one at the time.” And perhaps that is why I cannot forgive uncle, because he abandoned my brother just as he denounces the elves for abandoning his kin. If Kíli's death had been the only way to save us and he had asked before he'd taken, if he had honored the sacrifice as it deserved then maybe... But I think I am too much of a dwarf at heart and I would have charged forward either way.
The thought of his brother makes him melancholy and his voice is soft when he continues for he wishes to acknowledge the answering sorrow which the elf king bears. They may be different races but they bleed and grieve the same and Fíli cannot hate Thranduil when he is sure the other has never stopped mourning the dwarves he failed to save, no matter what stern facade he shows the world.
“However, just because you made the best decision that you could does not mean you have not regretted it and it does not stop the dead from calling in the dark. Besides there should be a great deal of gold in my grandfather's kingdom so you need not feel your aid is cheaply bought.” The elf seems confused by Fíli's words, unsure of how to treat a dwarf who sympathizes with his lot instead of hating him and Thranduil stares at him in consideration for a long time.
But at last he comes to a decision, the small inclination of his head bringing joy to the dwarf's heart. “You have a deal young Master Fíli. I will aid you as you wish if only because the world will a far more interesting place when you become the King Under the Mountain, assuming your uncle does not disown you for this stunt.”
Fíli just shrugs in response to this last comment, because while this is a definite possibility, if his plans succeed Thorin will have a far more lethal punishment in mind.
Now that they have reached an agreement only the details remain to be sorted and the dwarf knows he read the king correctly when Thranduil leaves those to his captain, not even bothering to negotiate for a larger share of treasure before he glides out of the room. However this elf is intelligent, quick to grasp what Fíli needs, and far more approachable than her king pretends to be, so it isn't long before they've come up with a plan.
It's a surprisingly uncomplicated plan, all things considered, but he knows his companions well and a strong pin dropped in reach of Nori's cell will be enough to get them free. From there it will be simple enough to make their way to the river which runs beneath these halls, simple enough with all the patrols scheduled elsewhere and their gear in a room just off the way.
The captain tells him that tomorrow night there will be fifteen barrels filled with items easily repacked waiting in the cellar to be ridden to the shores of Esgaroth and Fíli thinks that this sounds perfect- simple to explain and unpleasant enough that the others will not see through the ruse.
As for Smaug, the elf promises to choose two of her most deadly fellows to follow the dwarves from Laketown and stand ready to strike the dragon from the sky. She gives Fíli a small whistle with which to contact them when he needs to pass a message on and he has to wonder at her easy confidence.
Surely if it was actually this easy someone would have killed the monster years ago, but then again without the map and key no one else could sneak inside and facing Smaug within the mountain would be true suicide. And it may still be our downfall since only the bards will ever claim this was a well-thought plan. For even if the elves keep their end of the bargain, too many things must go right to make this work and I truly hope the archers do not miss or we will all be dead before they can fire a second shot.
But this is still far better than our chances were looking with neither our burglar nor wizard here to aid us and if uncle was in his right mind he would thank me for working to keep our company alive. Then again if uncle was in his right mind we would not need the elves because we would have an archer with us and I would not be preparing to stab him in the back.
Once the plan is set to both their likings, Fíli returns to his cell to wait for Nori's 'rescue' and right on time the next evening someone rattles his cell door. He looks up to see three of his companions and the former thief's quick fingers soon have him outside in the corridor as they move on quickly to free the rest.
Before long their entire company is sneaking toward the cellars, Fíli having told them of his 'overheard' conversation about the river down below, and all it takes is a glance through a door and an “oh look are those our weapons” to have them all rearmed.
At some point he may warn his allies about the deal he's struck, if only to reassure them that reclaiming Erebor is still within their grasp, but better to do this somewhere with privacy for at the moment a few strident objections could ruin it all. So Fíli stays silent except as necessary to keep things moving smoothly, though he has to fight the urge to hit his uncle when Thorin objects to the indignity of their escape.
Apparently their leader prefers rotting in the elf king's dungeons until their chance to reclaim Erebor slips between their fingers to sneaking out like criminals in the night, but thankfully Balin sorts him out before Fíli has to show his hand. Though it gives him great pleasure to seal Thorin in a reeking barrel and shove him forward with a splash, a petty delight maybe but even such small vengeance helps to ease the ache.
Just as his uncle's stubborn pride helps confirm his choice was right.
So once the rest are bobbing upon the water, Fíli opens the sluice gate and hops into his own make-shift boat, pulling the lid down tight as the barrel slips into the current and picks up speed. It is not a particularly pleasant ride but the dwarf would accept far worse to finally be free of his cell and at least he does not share the weakness to motion which plagues many of his kin.
Indeed when the scent of fresh air tells the dwarf that the Mirkwood is finally behind them and he calls for his companions to shove the lids off of their barrels, he is the only one who does not look green around the gills. Yet despite their sickness, the others are just as glad to be free as Fíli and eventually they all manage to drag themselves to the eastern bank, reveling in the feel of firm earth beneath their feet. The sight of Esgaroth and the Lonely Mountain rising in the distance also brightens their spirits, for they are finally in reach of their goal.
Though this cheer is dampened slightly by the fact that no one is entirely sure how long they spent in Thranduil's dungeons, and Fíli forgot to ask, and if they missed their window of opportunity the company will have to wait another long year until Durin's Day returns.
However, once evening falls, Balin reads the position of the moon and stars to discover that all is not yet lost, for the New Year is still three weeks away and with unspoken agreement the company marches through the night.
As they travel, Fíli makes sure to spend some time with each of his conspirators to ensure they remain with him and he notices enough considering glances from those still undecided that he thinks their numbers may soon increase again. So while the dwarf still hasn't managed to drive a wedge into Thorin's steadfast trio, he is feeling rather optimistic because if he has the support of all the others, this might be enough.
And once Erebor is ours again, assuming the elves don't screw us over, either the sight of our family's treasure will make uncle more willing to listen or I will take my chance and strike.
They reach the shores of Esgaroth some time before dawn and there the dwarves finally allow themselves to stop, taking a few hours rest so that they do not arrive in Laketown looking more like beggars than like kings.
Instead the company sleeps until mid-morning, hailing the gate only after they straighten their clothes and brush off the worst of the dirt and Fíli cannot understand how Thorin still manages to look majestic after months in prison with neither brush nor comb.
Yet he does and perhaps it is a good thing for the humans of Laketown recognize his uncle's face, greeting him with glee as everyone celebrates the King's return. While Fíli thinks they are probably more pleased by what this means for their people than what it means for his, the dwarf has to admit that it is nice to be popular for once. He has far too many memories of sneers and dark looks received by his family when traveling through the towns of men and so this is a pleasant change, even if the Master cannot quite mask the greedy light behind his eyes.
Thorin notices his avarice as well, political instincts resurfacing now that he is no longer facing elves and although he preens beneath the human's flattery, he promises nothing and warns Fíli to watch his back. Although it is somewhat surreal to listen to his uncle's suspicions of the Master while plotting a insurrection, the dwarf listens nonetheless because there is still wisdom here and he will need wisdom if he is to lead their kingdom in Thorin's place.
For Fíli knows it is not fair to let their people suffer for his purpose and while he will not turn aside unless his uncle makes amends, his brother's spirit will never forgive him if he doesn't do the best he can. So the dwarf needs to be able to deal shrewdly with Laketown and with Mirkwood in order to regain their clan's prosperity and though he was trained as heir from the moment of his birth, he knows there is a wide gap between lessons and life which will be difficult to cross. Therefore Fíli watches and learns from Thorin's maneuvering, the way his uncle implies without ever making vows and the dwarf is unwillingly impressed by the diplomatic skill he shows.
He is polite, understanding and listens to every argument the Master puts before him and if only Thorin would treat his own family with the same respect he gives this stranger then his nephew could let him take the throne which he has earned.
And if I were to sit here making pointless wishes, I'd pray for Kíli to still be among the living and that Erebor had never left our family's grasp. I'd wish I still had a family, not this suspicious stranger and a brother whose name I may not speak. I'd wish that I still had a father to fight these battles for me instead of a mother who has never recovered from her grief and a step-father who sees us as burdens instead of kin.
However, Fíli learned long ago that wishes will get you nothing so he puts these thoughts from his mind and focuses on the purpose which has now kept him sane for months. It is the only thing he lives for anymore and he falls asleep planning out his final moves, the arguments which will sway the last of the undecided to his cause.
Of course none of these plans survive past the next morning for they have barely begun breakfast when Bilbo Baggins stalks furiously through the door. At first the dwarf blinks furiously, sure he must be dreaming or that he's finally snapped because, despite his promise to the wizard, he truly never thought to see their burglar again.
Except that the rest of his companions are also gaping in wide-eyed shock as the hobbit marches up to Thorin and then, without warning, socks him in the jaw. Bilbo follows this with another punch to the dwarf lord's nose which he lands with a satisfying crunch and when his uncle starts cursing furiously, Fíli knows that this is real.
It is real and better than he had ever dreamed so he sits back and watches in awe as their burglar tears into Thorin like a soul possessed.
All the things Fíli has been thinking the hobbit dares to say and it warms his heart to hear someone else defend his brother, rubbing his uncle's face in his hypocrisy as he hasn't allowed himself to do. However, as much as he loves to hear Bilbo declare Kíli innocent, he can also see the rage building behind Thorin's eyes and coming to their burglar's aid would tip Fíli's hand too soon. So he catches the hobbit's eye and frantically shakes his head, begging him to hold off until they have a chance to talk.
Thankfully the other heeds his warning and cuts his rant short, though the dwarf can see Bilbo's fury still raging behind his eyes and he has to wonder why this halfling is so sure of his brother's innocence when those who've known him longer remain split in their thoughts.
But the burglar's sudden silence is enough for Thorin to retreat without completely losing face, his uncle throwing out one last threat before allowing Óin and Balin to shepherd him back to his room and fix his face.
As soon as the trio is out of sight, the rest of the company rushes to Bilbo's side in a cacophony of babbled questions. But the hobbit answers none of them, instead turning to Fíli and asking through clenched teeth: “Why did you stop me from speaking out for your brother? I know you must agree that he has been falsely accused.”
Since his uncle is out of hearing range, the dwarf does not lie when he replies but he does speak in whispers just in case. “Of course I agree with you, but Thorin does not and arguing with him will only set him further in his ways. I have a plan to clear Kíli's name and if it is going to work then my uncle cannot become suspicious yet- he already looks at too many of us with distrust in his eyes. And unless you have proof that is unequivocal, your word alone will not help our cause.”
Fíli would never admit to it but he is almost hoping the hobbit does carry evidence which would stop his plans right here. Evidence he could take to Thorin and have believed without a struggle so that he might not follow this road to its unpleasant end. Yet this hope dies when Bilbo shakes his head.
“No. I have no proof but what I've seen and heard and what Kíli told me, so I will follow your lead if you know a way to give him back his life. It's not like we had an actual plan ourselves.”
Give him back... ? “My brother is dead, Bilbo. I seek only to have him honored for his sacrifice as he deserves.”
“No he isn't, Kíli is alive.” The hobbit declares, looking almost offended as the rest of their companions stare at him in shock. “I went back for him after all of you would not and although he was pretty badly injured, he's most certainly not dead. I left him with Beorn to recover when he sent me on ahead to join you and, oh, he gave me this to prove it.”
Bilbo rummages in his pockets for a minute before pulling out a small silver object and handing it to Fíli, who feels his knees buckle as he traces the design. It is the clasp which held his brother's hair, the one he made him for his seventieth birthday, and Kíli was wearing it when the goblins dragged him off.
My brother is alive. How can he doubt it with the hobbit standing so sure before him and hard proof within his hands? His brother is alive and the hollow pain within his chest eases slightly, a wound that now might heal. However, Kíli is still named a traitor so even as an incandescent joy bursts within him, Fíli must recognize another truth. This changes everything and yet nothing at all.
Chapter 5: Intrigue - Part I