Title: The Other Side of the Coin
Series: A Matter of Perspective
Rating/Warnings: light R, Fíli still being a dick
Word Count: 11,913 for both sections (40,936 so far)
Disclaimer: If I owned the hobbit there would be more angst
Summary: Kíli just wanted to have an adventure, he never expected to find love as well. (The companion piece to A Terrible Mistake)
Part I: Secrets
Part II: Sabotage
Part III: Sorrow
Part IV: Schism
Eventually Thorin called our company to attention and we set out toward Laketown, some of the others beginning a cheerful song. Despite the dark thoughts which still haunted me, I found their cheer infectious and even if I couldn't hear the music of the mountain, this didn't mean I couldn't sing along. For if these were to be my last days on Middle Earth, I wanted to enjoy them and there would be time enough to worry when we reached Erebor.
So I concentrated on the brilliant sky above me and the happy light in my hobbit's eyes, grinning proudly when Bombur praised his bravery with a cheer. Only Thorin and my brother seemed to find no joy in our surroundings and I wondered what could be running through their minds.
For while I knew that my relatives missed their homeland dearly, I sometimes wondered if it were truly love which drove them, because how could real love cause such possessiveness? Perhaps it was only about control instead and the belief that we owned this mountain just as my family tried to own my mind; perhaps it was this which would not let Fíli bend.
Today my brother certainly shared in the dark cloud that hovered over Thorin, walking apart from the company as he sent vicious glares my way. Whatever Bilbo had said when trying to change his mind only seemed to have made Fíli's anger burn more fiercely and I could feel his stare as a weight upon my skin. Yet the rage which simmered in my heart made it easy to ignore my brother's sullen judgment, though I still noticed when he moved to my uncle's side.
Whatever the two began to whisper to each other made their faces darken further, but I knew that their words could have naught to do with me. My brother would never tell Thorin the truth of what I'd chosen and if their discussion were truly important, I would hear of it soon enough.
Maybe this is a sign that uncle has finally recognized the challenge which stands before us, instead of resting all our hopes on the chance that Smaug has died, I thought, watching the dwarves conspire. However, before I came to any conclusions, I was distracted from my musings when our company finally reached the shores of Esgaroth and the bridge to Laketown stretched before my eyes. This city had been visible at some distance, but the closer that we came, the more I was fascinated by its strange construction.
Although I had heard tales of the town as a child, I had never really understood how people could survive without any earth beneath their feet. Yet there it was, a village floating upon the lake with only one long causeway to tie it to the shore.
The bridge was not even guarded along the bank, leaving their enemies free to cut the planks loose without reprisal, but perhaps this was part of the city's plan. For the men of Laketown must be skilled upon the water to survive this life and so it was they who would benefit from a battle far from land. Besides, the shadow of the mountain could not be forgotten and any weaknesses against other foes were surely worth the added protection against the dragon's flame.
Our company stopped briefly at the edge of the causeway so that my uncle could give us orders on how to act within the city, orders based on secrecy. Thorin was determined to keep our purpose hidden, lying to the men even as we begged hospitality, and I began to think that our long imprisonment had addled his mind.
For while my uncle had always been suspicious of outsiders, there was a difference between watching out for our family and lying to those who would be our allies if we won. How could he hope to build trust between our kingdoms if his first act was one of betrayal and even the Lonely Mountain would not be able to stand alone. However, I could see from the stubborn set of my uncle's shoulders that speaking would do no good and so I held my tongue.
Instead I nodded along with the others as Thorin swore us to secrecy, while privately thinking that a share of gold would be a small price to pay for aid in our endeavors. Though I know Fíli would say that this just proves my perversity and a true dwarf would guard his treasure with his life. He doesn't understand that I have found my gold already, I thought, watching the sun glint off Bilbo's hair.
Still I would not break my oaths so I was bound to follow my uncle until we reclaimed Erebor, whether or not I agreed with the path he chose. And I had to admit that I found his flustered expression rather amusing when we reached the other end of the bridge and our hail was answered by an excited call.
"Open the gate lad, open the gate and let them in," a man cried out, walking through the entryway to stand before our sight. He was the oldest human that I had ever seen but there was an aura of power around him nonetheless and he greeted Thorin by name. So I guess these men aren't the fools you thought, uncle, I snorted to myself, finding a sort of bitter pleasure in the ruin of his plan.
The old man introduced himself as the Master of Laketown and started into a grand speech of welcome, though I tuned out after the first few words. I understood enough of politics to know that this show was little more than fluff for the watching masses and I was far more interested in his guards.
For they were younger than their leader, dressed in leather and chain armor, and one of them carried a long bow that was near as tall as I. It was this bow which drew my gaze because it was clearly an heirloom, the wood of its limbs darkened with use and age. Yet it was also well cared for, polished and gleaming in the sun, and I wanted to test its weight beneath my hands. While I knew that this would be impossible given its size, I could at least challenge its owner to a match of skill.
However, this contest would have to wait because the Master had finished his welcome and led our company into Laketown, meaning that there was business to be done.
“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." The man said once we had seated ourselves in his hall, his mask of friendly geniality disappearing to reveal the sharp mind hidden underneath. Seeing this I had to wonder if our company might have met its match in him, because the Master obviously did not believe any of Thorin's bullshit, including the delusions of an easy battle that my uncle told himself.
Truthfully I was rather glad that it was not my job to speak because while I could keep secrets with the best of them, I had little talent for diplomacy. No talent and no patience for the lessons which my older relatives had tried to shove into my head. But where I would have fallen back on bluntness and spoken the hard truth plain, Thorin started making promises instead. He swore that we would pay Laketown for its trouble and that we had an actual plan to defeat the dragon by ourselves.
Pretty words indeed, but what will happen if we fail to keep these vows? I thought, watching the two of them spar back and forth. While the Master seemed pleased with uncle's promises at the moment, his anger when we broke them would be terrible and could we truly blame men for their greed when Thorin was dangling gold before their eyes?
Technically, none of this would be my problem since my duty would end the moment the dragon fell and I would not be here when any blood was spilled. For if we succeeded in our quest, I would be returning with my hobbit to the Shire, whether banished or not, and if we failed, I would be dead.
Yet I still worried about what our clan would face without me because I did not want my family to lose all that we might gain. If we managed to reclaim Erebor, I wanted to know that she would prosper and I couldn't see how this would be possible if uncle persisted in making enemies everywhere he went. Fíli was no help either for I could see in his eyes that he agreed with Thorin's actions, and it's not as though he would take advice from me right now.
But maybe I was simply seeing trouble where none was present, because what did I truly know of how a kingdom should be ruled? I was only the spare and a reluctant one at that, so why couldn't I force myself to trust in my uncle's long experience instead? Certainly the Master seemed pleased with us at the moment, ending the discussion with a cheerful offer of hospitality.
“My dear friend here will show you to a house where you can stay while you are with us.” The man said, waving the archer forward to lead us from the room, and my skin crawled slightly at his sycophantic tone, “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.”
However, Thorin just nodded as though this fawning was our due and then followed the guard onto the street.
“This is a fine city you have here,” I said as I moved to the archer's side, trying to ignore the way that crowds of men stared as we walked by. While this had been a common reaction in villages in the West, I had rather hoped that Erebor would be different but it seemed that this was not the case.
Though to be fair, men age must faster than my people so who knew how many generations had passed since the mountain fell and dwarves lived in these parts? At least this man seemed to take our company in stride, walking along with the air of one entirely at peace with his place in the world and I couldn't help but feel a bit jealous of his surety.
“My family has been here from the beginning,” The archer told me proudly before beginning an impromptu history lesson as he pointed out the major buildings and platforms that made up Laketown's bones. “My great-grandfather was just a child when the dragon came and he grew up along with this city, helping the remnants of our people find a sanctuary here. Though I'm sure you have lived a similar story yourself, given that your clan once held Erebor.”
“I may be older than I look, but not by that much,” I replied with a laugh. “Smaug attacked many years before I was born so I grew up in the West country, even if I was raised on tales of the Lonely Mountain from the time that I was small. Kíli son of Jilí at your service.”
“Bard the Bowman, at yours,” The man introduced himself in turn, before adding with a grin. “I'm sure you can figure out why they call me that.”
“Yes, I think I can. That is a truly lovely weapon that you have there and well-kept for its age; an heirloom isn't it?” I observed, letting some of my admiration seep into my voice.
“You do know your bows, Master Kíli,” Bard said with a hint of surprise and I could tell that I had impressed him with my words. “This yew bow dates back to the days of Erebor along with the Black Arrow in my quiver and was used by my great-great-grandfather Girion for many years. When he perished in Smaug's onslaught, his wife saved his weapon and we have passed it down through the generations ever since. So I received this bow on my father's deathbed, just as I will entrust it to my son when I die.”
Here was a man who saw the honor in his history without letting it control him, something which my brother and I could both stand to learn: me for the pride and he for the freedom. Not that Fíli seemed to be paying attention to the emotional nuances of our conversation, too busy cataloging the weaknesses he saw.
My family had never understood why people would talk to me so readily while spurning uncle's more interrogative questions and my brother had asked me to teach him the trick of it more than once before. But I couldn't for he would never believe me when I explained that there was no trick at all. People told me about their lives because I was honestly interested in what they had to say and if I happened to pick up some useful information, that was just a silver lining on a rich vein of ore.
Though I must admit that I was mining slightly when I asked, “Girion? You mean Lord Girion of Dale? Then shouldn't you be the Master here?”
Bard laughed awkwardly and I could see that I had hit on a political tangle by the way the man glanced furtively around. “Yes, that Girion, last king of our people. However, his son was too young to rule when Smaug razed the city and the Masters of Laketown have led us well. So while I do dream of avenging my ancestor's death someday, I am perfectly content with my position as the Captain of the Guard.”
Although some of his protestations might have been for show, I actually believed him because this was a man who cared more about his people's welfare than the glory of his name. His humility was also visible in his discomfort for in my limited experience, the truly great were the ones who never boasted and I allowed Bard to change the subject without a fight. I had already learned enough to avoid tripping over this pitfall in casual conversation and a bit more local gossip wasn't worth the risk of antagonizing our guide.
Besides, I was curious about Laketown's defenses and this was a topic on which the archer was happy to expound. By the time he had finished explaining how the causeway could be cut loose to strand any attackers, the man had relaxed again and I figured this was a good time to ask the question that was really on my mind.
“So where do you go for target practice around here? I would love to see your bow in action some time.” I said, the words as much truth as flattery, and Bard's eyes lit up at the thought.
“I am honored by your interest and do not think I failed to notice that you carry a bow as well. Truly I have never seen one carved in that style and I must ask you where you found it; I did not think your people worked in wood.”
This was a common misconception among the other races, who seemed to believe that dwarves cared nothing for the world outside our mines. Though in their defense, metal was the only song of most dwarven hearts. But not mine and as I was rather proud of my work, I could not let this assumption stand.
“We may be known for our blades but my people are masters of many crafts. This bow is actually my own design; the difference in curve offsets its shortness and I would wager that I have the power to match even that tall beauty of yours.” I told him, not bothering to hide my pride in my creation. It had taken me nearly a decade to properly adapt the design to my specifications and here at last was someone who might appreciate my skill.
“Now that I would give a great deal to see,” Bard replied, eyeing my bow with a speculative glance. While he obviously believed in the superiority of his weapon, as is his right, no true archer could resist the chance to try their hand and he seemed honestly regretful when he continued.
“Unfortunately, we have to return to shore in order to shoot at a proper distance so I doubt there will be time to test our skills before you leave. Perhaps once the dragon is defeated and our kingdoms stand retaken, then you will have the chance to prove your claim.”
“I will hold you to that promise,” I told him when we finally arrived at our destination, a well-built house near the edge of the town. It was nicer than most of the places that my family had lived in on the road which meant that the Master must be taking my uncle at his word.
However, I was far more interested in what was inside the house than what it meant politically and as I waved farewell to Bard, my mind was already turning to a different sort of plan. Because the rooms had beds and doors that locked and this was my opportunity to finally see Bilbo without all those layers on.
Unfortunately, tonight was not looking good for I had promised Fíli that no one would discover my secret and there were too many risks with the whole company around. I needed a time when the house would be empty and our absence go unnoticed, a time when stray noises would not be overheard.
Though if not for my oath, I would drag my hobbit off right now, I thought, sending my brother a sullen glance. There was no guarantee that anyone else would care despite what Fíli thought and even if they did, the life debt bound their hands from retaliation. I could deal with being ostracized if it meant I could kiss Bilbo whenever I pleased and if we somehow succeeded in this mad quest, I rather thought our people would forgive far worse things than love.
But I had sworn and so I stayed where I was seated, emptying the hidden pockets in my tunic at uncle Thorin's command. While my hoarding tending more toward practical items and thus I didn't have nearly as much wealth stashed away as some of my companions, one always needed a few gems and coins for emergencies.
For packs had a habit of going missing when you lacked a secure place to call your own and no one wanted to be left unprepared on the road. So I had learned to carry the necessities on my person, as had my companions, and Bilbo's eyes widened with every new handful of gold that spilled across the wood.
By the time everyone was finished, there was a significant pile of wealth on the table and Thorin nodded smugly at the sight. While not a fortune by Western standards, this town had probably been generations without properly forged coinage so we should be able to leave the city with all our debts repaid. Whether this would make the Master more willing to forgive my uncle's implications remained to be seen, but at least we would not have to storm the mountain in our underwear.
Because right now our company lacked everything: weapons, armor, food and even proper clothing, all of which had been left behind within the elf king's hall. Truly the list was rather disheartening and I could only hope that the markets of Laketown would be large enough to serve our needs.
However, the search for supplies would have to wait until tomorrow because the sun was near to setting and we were all exhausted from our recent ordeal. So when Thorin ordered us to get some rest, no one argued and I managed to snag a room for myself and Bilbo without complaint. Indeed there were enough chambers that most of the other dwarves didn't seem to notice my choice of lodgings, though Bofur did give me a speculative glance as we walked by.
A little forethought had made Óin our only neighbor, so I felt comfortable enough to draw my hobbit into a kiss as soon as we were out of sight. Bilbo leaned into me with a smile, his hands a warm pressure on my hips, and it was terribly hard to pull away.
But while we could have stroked each other to completion as we had before, I wanted to do things right this time. I wanted to take this chance to explore my hobbit from head to toe, find every spot that made him shudder and truly show Bilbo all the love I held inside. So I forced myself to wait, somehow finding the strength to resist the temptation of those plump lips and ready the bed.
Though built to hold only one man, the mattress fit us with room to spare and I wanted to revel in the softness beneath my skin. Compared to the dirt and stone we had been sleeping on, this was the height of luxury and Bilbo tucked his head into my shoulder with a contented sigh.
“I could get used to this,” He murmured and I would have given up everything I owned to grant him what he wished. For this was all I wanted as well, warmth and love and understanding, and whatever pain lay in my future, these moments were worth the cost.
So I pressed another kiss to my hobbit's hair, wrapping one arm around his back as he cuddled against my side and I fell asleep to the beating of his heart.
We were woken bright and early the next morning, Thorin giving us our marching order as he divided up our stash of gold. Along with Ori and Bilbo, I was to talk with the tailors to ensure that everyone had actual clothes to wear and could stop walking around town in our undertunics. For although the men either hadn't recognized our lack of dress or had been too polite to mention it, dwarves always wore layers and I felt half-naked without the proper surcoats on.
So as soon as uncle handed us our share, I threw my arms around my companions and pushed them onto the street, not bothering to wait until the remaining jobs were sorted.
Uncle could not have given me a more perfect pair if he had tried, for I was always happy to spend more time with my hobbit and Ori was still the sweetest dwarf around. Though it took him a little while to lose the awe of Bilbo's latest rescue, when he finally relaxed, the two of them began to swap handicraft techniques as we walked along. In fact the conversation was soon far above my head, for Ori had been knitting for as long as I had known him and Bilbo was a fair hand with crochet. However, I was happy just to listen to them and it was a lovely stroll over the wooden platforms of Laketown now that the crowds from yesterday were gone.
Which was good considering that the tailors were located across the city and the walk took quite some time. But it was such a nice morning that none of us minded the distance and I was almost sad when we finally reached our goal. Though at least the seamstresses were overjoyed to see us so my disappointment was quickly overwhelmed by fabric swatches.
People here must not buy very many clothes, I thought with bemusement as I explained what we needed to an ever more excited bunch. Though I suppose that makes sense in a small place like this; we're obviously not the only ones who would benefit from the restoration of Erebor.
Between the two of us, Ori knew most of the company's measurements well enough to get the tailors started and I had Thorin and Fíli down from years of helping mother mend. So with our tunics as a template, all we needed to do was to pick out the fabrics and despite the lack of outside trade, Laketown had enough of a selection that even uncle should feel properly dressed.
Once the tailors had a general idea of what we required, I took my hobbit aside to find him some new attire as well. While Bilbo's wardrobe had survived a little better than the others, his once fine fabric was practically in tatters and I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to clothe him as I wished. So after asking his permission, I had the tailors measure my hobbit for a proper dwarven tunic, only a few shades lighter than uncle's royal blue.
The rest of the company would see this as a sign of Thorin's favor but Fíli and I would know the truth and something in me thrilled at the thought of showing my love in this way. For if I could not tell the world to whom Bilbo was promised, at least they would see that he was part of this company as he deserved.
“Don't think I don't know what you're doing,” My hobbit whispered with a wink when the tailor was called away and we had a moment to ourselves. “But I'll let you have your way right now if I can do the same when you come home with me. I can't wait to see you in a true Shire waistcoat; you'll be the talk of the town for more than your tiny little feet.”
“Hey now. That's going a bit far, don't you think?” I asked, poking him gently in the side. “Dwarves aren't meant to wear vests and you know it. I honestly don't understand how you make them look so good.”
“Practice love, practice.” Bilbo replied, holding his arms out for the tailor once again. “But are you sure you're going to be able to keep your hands to yourself once we're done?”
Although I promised him that I would control myself, it was difficult to resist the sight of my hobbit when the tailor had completed his work. The deep blue of Bilbo's tunic made his eyes sparkle like gemstones and the sight of him in the dress of my clan was even better than I had thought. But after my hobbit had swatted my hands away a time or two, I forced myself to keep my distance and went back to helping Ori with his plans.
When my friend had finally finished speaking with the tailors, every member of our company was due for two complete sets of clothing and the men swore that they would be ready to fit the others by this afternoon. This seemed like a rather large task for them to handle, but they seemed confident in their abilities and it's not as though they had a great deal of other work. So we decided to trust their estimation and went back to see how the rest of our company had done.
Bilbo drew admiring stares when we walked in with our new clothing and I had to smile at the startled expression on Fíli's face. Never thought he could look that good, did you brother? I thought proudly, sending him a smug glance from which he could only look away.
Though despite his other problems, my brother had completed uncle's task, finding us serviceable armor with which we could fight. Actually every member of our company had managed remarkably well and for the first time since the Misty Mountains, our packs were fully stocked. The one disappointment was in the selection of weapons because I could tell that dwarven smiths had not been in these parts for many years and the rest had not been so lucky in the Mirkwood as I.
Still Thorin had done the best he could and its not as though the swords that the elf king had stolen could have stood against Smaug anyway. Truly my doubts about this quest were only getting stronger with every step we took toward Erebor and if uncle didn't have a clever plan to defeat the dragon, then quite frankly we were fucked.
However, we would still do our best to be prepared and so the company spent the afternoon packing our new supplies until the tailors and armorers dropped by. As the men had promised, everything was ready for our fittings and with a score of hands operating together, they finished while the evening was still young.
The rapidness of their work put my uncle in a pleasant mood and he declared that our company could take the rest of the night off. So being dwarves, we decided to find ourselves a tavern and sample the local brews.
Go to Section B