Series: A Matter of Perspective
Warnings: angst, violence, canon character death
Word Count: 10,695; (51,631 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
Our journey seemed to take forever as the company walked ever deeper into the mountain with only the faint glow of our torches to light the way. There was something strangely chilling about the weight of the stone above us or perhaps it was just the weight of my own fears, for the rest of my companions seemed to breathe easier with every step we took.
Because they were coming home, even those such as Ori and my brother who were born outside this kingdom's walls. They were coming home while I was simply visiting, terrified by the changes which I saw in my kin.
Where has this need for vengeance come from? I wondered as I padded beside my hobbit in the gloom. Has it always been there, hidden beneath the masks that we must show the world? Hidden from my eyes just as I had misjudged the strength of Fíli's prejudice. Or is this some new fervor, triggered by the return to Erebor and which I would be feeling if I were a proper dwarf?
The worst thing about these questions was that I could not be sure if my worries were grounded in reality when only Bilbo seemed to share my unease. While the dragon was a looming threat that could not be ignored, perhaps the fear of failing in this task was making me see shadows where none lived.
Perhaps it was I who was going mad.
However, before I could sink too deep into doubt and depression, our company reached a door at the end of the passage and Bilbo murmured softly, “Smaug's hoard is through there.”
On hearing these words, everyone rushed forward en masse, shoving the slab aside and spilling into the chamber beyond. I followed more sedately, my worries overwhelming any sense of anticipation which I might otherwise have felt, but the sight which greeted us took even my breath away.
For the hall was truly enormous, vaulted ceilings stretching so high above us that our torches could not pierce the gloom. I had not known that our people could build such structures when Ered Luin had been carved on a much smaller scale and every inch of the chamber was filled with gleaming gold. More treasure than I had believed could exist in this world was strewn in towering piles upon the stone: gems, coins, steel and glittering mithril artifacts all thrown together haphazardly and for the first time, I truly understood how wealthy my family had once been.
No wonder uncle had often seemed so angry with our situation, so disgusted with the scraps we had to eat. No wonder mother had always seemed so tired when I was younger, unused to the hard life on the road.
Yet such riches did not come without a cost, the weight of expectation and responsibility which I had so chafed against. Without the dragon I would have grown up in these hallowed chambers, an entire kingdom's worth of dwarves judging my every action and waiting for me to fail. But maybe I would not have minded. Maybe I would have turned out as proud and prejudiced as Fíli, a snotty dwarven princeling in every sense of the word.
Or perhaps my wild spirit would have conquered even this and I would simply have been miserable, as trapped by my position as I had always feared. So as I stared upon the wealth of a kingdom, I offered a prayer of gratitude to Mahal for granting me my hobbit and thus giving me the strength to run.
All I had to do now was survive until the dragon was slain, whether by my arrows or another's hand, and then I would finally be free. Free to chase my own dreams and live for my own desires, with only Bilbo and myself to answer to.
So I decided then that it didn't matter if I had seen a glint of gold in my uncle's eyes and my companions carried some dire madness in their veins. It didn't matter that Smaug might return at any moment because I finally had something worth fighting for and that's exactly what I planned to do. We were going to survive this, me and my hobbit, survive the dragon and my relatives and anything else which fate decided to throw in.
We were all going to survive this, each of my companions living to see a brighter day. For while Bilbo was my priority now, I still loved my family and would do everything in my power to make their dreams come true. I would protect those I cared about, even from themselves if necessary, and with this new conviction I strode forward to join the others in the center of the hall.
Despite my fears about his sanity, I was pleased to see that Thorin still had at least some of his wits about him, ordering the company to focus on Smaug for now. The treasure would still be there once we killed him, and if our plans failed then it would hardly matter anyway.
Thus we prepared and we plotted and while this group was not known for being particularly quick to agree on anything, our burglar's information had us in accord for once.
It was I who must strike the monster down while the rest served as distraction, pierce his weak point with my arrows to win our kingdom back. And perhaps if I succeeded, the honor of this deed might serve to counteract the hatred when my secrets came out.
So I stood tense and ready, waiting for my moment as the hours passed.
Yet the dragon did not return. When there was still no sign of Smaug by the next morning, uncle relaxed his vigilance and set the company to cataloging his vast riches in the times we had to spare. It was then that the cracks in Thorin's mind began to show. Because while the other dwarves differed wildly in their need for this shining treasure, from Bofur's near indifference to my brother's fevered lust, our leader was affected worst of all.
It was not the gold which consumed him, though he did watch over it with a possessive gleam in his eyes. No it was the Arkenstone which captured Thorin's every waking moment and ensnared his thoughts. The Heart of the Mountain: the greatest symbol of our kingdom or perhaps its greatest curse.
With every day that passed without the gemstone being found, Thorin became a little more unstable and the tensions within our group wound ever tighter. So it was something of a relief when after three dawns rose without sight of the dragon, uncle declared us victorious at last. Our ancient foe must have fled to richer hills or perished somewhere outside the mountain and in my deepest heart, I breathed a sigh of reprieve.
Our quest was over and while it would soon be time for me to speak the truths I had kept hidden, I wanted to enjoy the celebration first. Indeed the company threw themselves into the festivities with a vengeance, Bombur digging a cask of spirits out from somewhere before his eminent skills turned our supplies into a feast.
Soon everyone was tossing back cups of liquor until their heads were spinning and they gave a hearty cheer when uncle praised my hobbit's skill. While I joined in the toasting, I imbibed far more lightly because I rather hoped that they would drink themselves into a stupor before too long. For now that I knew the taste of my lover, not being able to touch him was driving me to distraction and if I could at least steal a kiss, I would.
Bilbo smiled at me sweetly from where he was sprawled across the mounds of treasure, a flagon of spirits in his hands and his cheeks flushed beautifully when I scooted over to whisper in his ear, “After they all pass out, let's find ourselves a private corner of our own.”
My hobbit nodded his agreement, pressing our shoulders together firmly as he lifted his tankard and joined in Nori's caterwauling song. Thankfully it only took a few more verses before the others began to pass out from the liquor, sprawling back to snore on beds of gold. Dwalin was the last of them to fall, the sturdy warrior well into his cups by then, and when his eyes had been closed for several minutes, I took my lover by the hand.
However, even now one of our company might wake up and that's not how I wanted the truth about our feelings to come out, so I led my hobbit across the coins and gemstones toward one of the side halls. We had nearly reached the entrance, far enough from the rest to begin trading kisses, when Bilbo suddenly tripped over backward on something beneath his feet.
Though I tried to catch him, I was drunk enough to misjudge the distance and my hobbit tumbled down the treasure mound in an avalanche of gold. But he seemed more annoyed than injured when I reached him, spitting jewels from his mouth with a disgusted from.
“Are you all right?” I asked just to be sure as I helped him to sit up.
“Yeah I think so,” Bilbo replied. “Though I'll probably have a few bruises in the morning. Who knew treasure was so hard?”
These complaints made me smile for my hobbit was always one to think of comfort before the rest and I grabbed his hand to pull him to his feet. At my lover's urging we climbed back up to see what he had tripped on and while he claimed simple curiosity, I think it might have been fate instead.
For when we brushed the scattered coins off the strange protrusion that had caught his toes, a shining gemstone lay before our eyes. The jewel glowed from within, lit by a soft eldritch fire, and I knew exactly what it must be. So I reached out to pick up my family's greatest treasure and the moment that my fingers touched it, all thoughts of romance left my mind.
Perhaps it was a vision sent to me by the Valar or a natural instinct screaming in my head, but I could suddenly see how our future might play out. For there was blood behind my eyes, blood and death and carnage sweeping across my company and kin.
I jerked my hand back sharply, staring at the Arkenstone as I might watch a viper, and now it was Bilbo's turn to ask if I was all right. But what answer could I give? I did not know what to say because this premonition, whether real or imagined, had left me shaken to the core. Yet I didn't wish to worry my hobbit needlessly so I shook myself free of my horror, giving him a tremulous smile that he pretended to believe.
Then I used the sleeve of my tunic to pick up the gemstone, tucking it inside one of my inner pockets where it could not touch flesh before standing up once more.
“We need to talk,” I told my lover, taking his hand again and walking on in silence until we reached an alcove off one of the side halls. Once there I leaned against the wall with a heavy sigh and tried to figure out how to explain what had just occurred.
“That gem was the Arkenstone.” I started since this was the heart of the matter, but then I faltered for all this word brought to mind was the death which I had seen.
"Shouldn't we give it to Thorin? It's what he wants." Bilbo said after I had been silent for too long, looking up at me with confused worry in his eyes.
"No.” I replied grimly. Although I did not know which path lead to destruction, something in me was sure that uniting my uncle with the gemstone would be the quickest way to fall. Because while the Arkenstone might wipe out his treasure madness, the rest of our company might not be so lucky and I had grown up surrounded by the damage desperate greed could do. “Let us wait and keep it just in case."
"In case of what?" My hobbit asked, sounding honestly perplexed and I knew my explanation had probably made little sense. But I did not want to speak of my strange vision for speaking would make it far too real.
Even if what I saw was nothing more than a hallucination brought on by nerves and overtiredness, the warning held within it was no lie. Because who knows how long loyalty will continue to conquer over the avarice in our companions' hearts and I have seen the hungry light in my brother's eyes. I have seen the greed.
Therefore until I could be sure that none of our company would do something stupid, we would keep the Arkenstone as a weapon in our hand. A bargaining chip to use if all else failed. "In case we need the leverage. Though I truly hope it does not come to that."
I rested my head on Bilbo's shoulder with an exhausted sigh, taking comfort in my hobbit's arms as I wondered how things had become so twisted now. Here I was, plotting against my own family for fear that they would destroy themselves without my interference and yet what else could I do? I could not risk handing over the gemstone on the chance that this would bring about my vision and even if I was branded a traitor for my efforts, I could not stand back while my family ran to ruin before my eyes.
“Would you just hold me for awhile?” I whispered to my lover, wanting to remind myself that not everyone would hate me for what I felt I had to do. Indeed even if he didn't understand exactly, Bilbo was a rock of support as always, stroking my hair softly until my shaking stopped.
Though I felt somewhat guilty about the sudden change in our plans, there was simply no desire left in me after these darkness I had seen. So I could only be thankful that my hobbit didn't press me for anything, helping to search out a cozy corner in which we could curl up together and fall asleep. Perhaps in the morning I would feel myself again.
However, when Bilbo and I woke there was only time for a few innocent kisses before we were interrupted by surprised shouts from the main hall. When the two of us reached the chamber, the rest of the company was there already and the reason for their cries was obvious.
For every inch of bare stone was covered with birds, a living, breathing, feathered cacophony and at its center stood an enormous raven, obviously the leader of the flock. I couldn't imagine where they all had come from or how the creatures had entered the mountain, but before I could speak any of the questions on my tongue, Thorin strode up to the bird and bowed.
The raven was of a height to look my uncle in the eyes and his gaze yellow was piercing when he began to speak. My hobbit startled next to me, obviously unused to creatures who spoke the common tongue and even I had only heard of such things in myth.
But uncle took the situation well in stride, standing calmly as the bird introduced himself. “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."
These tidings cheered our company for knowing that Smaug would never return would be important for our people's morale in the hard years to come. Yet Roäc was not finished and the words which followed were daggers in my heart.
Because the raven told us that Bard had slain the drake, their battle destroying Laketown and killing many of his kin. The surviving Lake-men were now marching on Erebor to ask for restitution, their hearts filled with pain and anger at their loss. They would surely blame our company for failing to kill the dragon before Smaug laid waste to their city and now all of Thorin's promises were coming due as I had feared. Uncle had given them the hope of gold and treasure and that is what they would demand, even though Laketown had no legal claim. Indeed the men were probably acting more from emotion than from reason and with Thranduil's army marching at their side, we could not hope to win by force.
But when Roäc stopped speaking, Thorin's growl reverberated around the chamber in a wave of possessive hate. "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."
While the rest of the company gave a rousing cheer at this declaration, leaving to raid the armory and see to our defenses, I stood frozen by my hobbit's side. Because I was sure that this was the moment my vision had been warning of, when the lust for treasure led those who should be allies to spill each other's blood. So although I knew what my uncle would surely say, I felt I had to try.
"The elves deserve nothing but doesn't Bard have some right to claim reparations for his town?” I pleaded with him. “We swore that the dragon would die by dwarven steel and that oath is broken."
I hoped that appealing to my uncle's honor would make him consider the idea, make him realize that through this small concession we might head off a greater war. For even if the men of Laketown had no right to claim our people's wealth, all I could think about was the loss of life that was sure to follow unless we found a route to peace. However this attempt failed miserably because Thorin answered my words with a roar of such fury as I had never heard and threw me from the chamber bodily.
Therefore when the company gathered atop the battlements to meet with the armies at our door, there was a sick feeling lodged in my throat. And when Bard the Bowman hailed us, this feeling only grew.
“Why do you fence yourself like a robber in his hole? We are not yet foes and we rejoice that you are alive beyond our hope. We came expecting to find none living here and now that we are met there is matter for a parley and a council.” He told my uncle and I knew then that this would not end like I had hoped. For the man who loved his people and his family more than power seemed to have disappeared beneath one filled with rage and avarice.
“Not yet foes,” He called us before admitting in the next breath that they came to loot our home and even I felt a hint of fury at the thought. What sort of leader robs the graves of his allies and comes to scavenge treasure whose owners still lived and breathed? For even if we had perished in our quest against the dragon, the surviving Sigin-tarâg would always be the rightful owners of the wealth of Erebor.
Though to my great surprise, uncle managed to keep his head at first, listening almost calmly while Bard did indeed demand restitution for the damage Smaug had done. Thorin listened and then he very reasonably told the man exactly what he would do.
“The price of the goods and the assistance that we received from Laketown we will fairly pay – in due time. But we will give you nothing under threat of force. While an armed host lies before our door, we look on you as foes and thieves and it is in my mind to ask what share of their inheritance you would have paid to our kindred, had you found the hoard unguarded as you thought?”
Yet while this response was justified, I could not help but worry that we were antagonizing those who must be our kingdom's allies against the harsh winters still to come. What is one small concession now against decades with these men as Erebor's closest neighbors and such bad blood held between?
The discussion ended without a solution, Bard avoiding the question of his intent and uncle refusing to negotiate anymore while Thranduil dared to show his face. But a few hours later, all my worst fears were realized when a messenger appeared on our doorstep again and read this ultimatum out:
“In the name of Esgaroth and the Forest… we speak unto Thorin Thráin's son Oakenshield, calling himself the King under the Mountain, and we bid him consider our claims well or be declared our foe. At the least he shall deliver one twelfth portion of the treasure unto Bard, as the dragonslayer and the heir of Girion, and if Thorin would have the friendship of the lands about, then he will also give of his own riches for the comfort of the men of the Lake.”
Every word was guaranteed to drive my uncle into a rage, from the scorn of denying him his proper title to the sheer unreasonable greed of the demands. So I was not particularly surprised when Thorin grabbed my bow and sent this messenger away with an arrow at his heels, even as I felt the bloody wasteland of my vision move ever closer to the present day.
Thus began the siege of the Lonely Mountain
In those first hours, I tried to speak with my uncle and make him understand my worries, understand that this siege could not possibly end well. But he ignored each of my pleas, ordering our companions to search out supplies and the weak points in our defense so we would know exactly where we stood.
The atmosphere within the mountain was tense that night for everyone was on edge with an army at our door and I could not close my eyes without seeing blood splashed across my lids. While the sheer weight of exhaustion eventually dragged me down, I slept for only a few hours before I woke to the flapping of enormous wings. It was Roäc, returning from the Iron Hills with a message for the company, Thorin's cousin Dáin promising that he would bring an army to our aid.
The other dwarves were greatly cheered by this information, but I knew that this meant war indeed and my stomach roiled violently as I watched uncle send his fellow leaders away again. I spent the rest of the day trying to think of a way to halt the carnage and by the time evening fell, I knew what I must do. I had to give our enemies the Arkenstone because only then would Thorin listen, and better I be branded a traitor than have any of our people die.
I just wish it had not come to this, I thought, watching the others with sorrow in my heart. But while I had considered using the gemstone as a bargaining chip in my own negotiations, it would have been far too easy for Thorin to simply tear the jewel from my hands.
So we had to sneak the Arkenstone outside of Erebor where my uncle could not reach it, give it to our opponents and pray that they would use it well. Because I knew there was no guarantee that Bard and Thranduil would overcome their greed long enough for reason to triumph here; I simply couldn't see any other way.
Whether this is the right thing to do or not, this is the course that I have chosen and I would do far worse to ensure that those I care about survive.
Thankfully my lover was willing to act as the messenger since a dwarven prince of Erebor could hardly walk into the enemy camp and ask to see their king. So giving him the gemstone and a kiss for luck, I lowered Bilbo carefully to the ground and watched him until he disappeared.
Then I was stuck waiting again and I swore that this was the last time my hobbit would travel into danger without me by his side. But despite my nerves, he returned in just under an hour, safe and well and with his errand now complete.
“Bard and Thranduil took the gemstone gladly once I told them what it was and they offered me safe residence in their camp if I wished,” Bilbo explained softly as he waited for me to finishing coiling my rope. “But while I told them what you said about compromise being better for all parties, I'm not sure that either of them was actually listening.”
“You did the best you could. Perhaps our former allies would have heeded this warning better from my lips, but I could not risk the elf king deciding to simply hold me hostage and I am a great deal heavier than you.”
Thus there was nothing to do but wait again, though I took a detour to the armory to replace my missing blades before I joined the others back in the main hall. While I was there a shimmer of metal caught my eye, a small mail shirt of mithril in just my hobbit's size. Perhaps it had been my uncle's when he was young for it was armor worthy of a prince of Erebor. Or of his lover and I pocketed the garment to present to Bilbo as a courting gift.
Although we were rather past the wooing stage by now, I was still dwarf enough that I wanted to give him something worthy of the love he'd granted me. Something that would show the world how much my hobbit was valued and given what we had just done, this might be the only portion of our kingdom's treasure that I would ever see. This and the blades which I now carried and it seemed strangely fitting that such battle armament would be my legacy of Erebor when the mountain was coming to mean naught but death to me.
These weapons were with me when I stood upon the wall the next morning and watched Bard raise that shining gemstone high. The sight of the Arkenstone in another's hands drove my uncle into a frothing rage and even though the man had lessened his demands to the same fourteenth share due each member of our company, Thorin would not hear him out.
Instead he sent his fellow kings away once more, vowing to take his treasure back by force when Dáin's warriors arrived, and then uncle turned to the company, "Which of you betrayed me? Which of you slipped out like a thief in the night?"
His eyes were blazing with fury and although I had seen hate on Thorin's face before, this put it all to shame. Truly our leader seemed ready to slaughter all of us if no one admitted to the crime.
But before I could own up to my betrayal, Bilbo proved his foolhardy courage once again. “I took it,” He announced, holding his head high as he met uncle's gaze. “I took the Arkenstone as my share of treasure and traded it to your enemies, hoping that this would force you to bargain for peace instead of continuing on with this needless war. Because you are all my friends and I would not have you die without cause.”
While some of the company seemed to find sense in my hobbit's words, uncle's face only twisted further and he lunged forward with a snarl. Moments later our king was threatening to throw our burglar from the battlements as I stared on in horror, shocked that Thorin so would defy the life debt which he owed.
Yet it was no bluff and when my uncle raised Bilbo high above his head, I tackled them both to the battlements. No one was going to hurt my lover while I still drew breath and I shoved him behind me with a snarl of my own.
"Stop this madness!” I shouted. “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!"
By the time I fell silent, my temper having run its course, uncle was nearly apoplectic in his rage and I knew that my plea had fallen on deaf ears. However, to my eternal surprise, it was not Thorin who snapped first.
"Silence!” My brother roared as all the anger he had been keeping locked away finally broke down his walls. “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 his words still hurt me even now, I refused to let Fíli see me bleed and so I stood firm beneath this onslaught until he finally ran out of hate to spew. There was silence when my brother finished, our companions' faces torn between shock and accord and I knew then that I would receive no assistance there. For even those who shared my preferences remained quiet, their reticence as damaging as hatred in the end.
"Is this true?" Thorin asked me and now that Fíli's words had released me from my oath, I was not going to lie. "From his perspective, yes," I told my uncle and he remained silent for a long time as he contemplated what to do with me.
But while some optimistic streak within my heart still hoped for his acceptance, I was not truly surprised when our king finally began to speak. "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."
And that is that. All ties are cut just as I hoped and feared. I only wish that I could have stopped this foolishness before you banished me, I thought, regret filling me as I looked at those who had been my kin.
However, I had known that this might be my fate ever since Fíli had first tried to sabotage my romance and so I would not falter now. Instead I clasped my hobbit's hand proudly as Dwalin tied a rope to the battlements, taking some pleasure in the fact that half our company could not meet my eyes. Then we were climbing, every foot of distance taking me farther from the only family which I had ever known.
“Will you be all right?” My hobbit asked me once we had reached the ground and for a moment I was not sure what to say. I was not happy and I knew that I would miss the others fiercely and yet I felt strangely free.
So I said, “I will be,” and wrapped my arm around Bilbo's shoulders as we began the long trek toward the army of tents on the fields of Erebor.
Whispers followed us when we passed the border of the human's camp, the sentry waving Bilbo through on his king's command. But no one was pleased to see a dwarf walking with him and if not for my lover's presence, I probably would have been fleeing a lynch mob before I took two steps.
However, we managed to reach Bard's tent safely and were bowed inside by a stern-faced guard. There we found the Bowman and Thranduil pouring over a map of the area, obviously planning out how they would attack. The two kings looked up at our entrance and when he saw my hobbit, Bard greeted him cheerfully.
“Master Baggins, you've returned. Did you decide to accept our hospitality after all?”
“Well, yes I suppose, though not exactly anything so voluntary as all that,” Bilbo replied awkwardly. “I'm afraid that we were cast out rather decisively for our part in this conflict and don't really have anywhere else to go.”
“I'm sorry to hear that but you are certainly welcome here. Although... did you say we?” Bard's words cut off sharply as he finally noticed me where I was standing in the shadows of the tent. I had thought it prudent to let the kings see Bilbo first before throwing a dwarf into the mix and given the surprise on their faces, I had probably been right. Though now there was no more point in hiding so I stepped forward and greeted them with a short bow.
“Kíli son of Jilí at your service. I am sorry to intrude like this.” I said, trying to remember the lessons in formal manners which mother had done her best to shove into my head.
“You're a dwarf,” Thranduil said softly while Bard was still gaping, proving that even elves could state the obvious. Though I could not stop myself from flinching when he continued, the wound too fresh to bear even this light weight. “And if I am not mistaken, you are one of Thorin's nephews as well.”
“Perhaps I was once, but I am no son of Durin now.” I replied, shaking my head.
His surprise at this statement knocked Bard out of his stupor and he looked at me with a hint of worry in his eyes. “Thorin cast out one of his own kin? What could you have done to make him turn on you so harshly?”
“I betrayed him, or did you think that Bilbo stole the Arkenstone entirely under his own inspiration. No, it was my idea so for that and other... private matters we have been banished from Thorin's sight. Our former kinship is the only reason that he did not kill me where I stood. Though he might have been somewhat kinder if you hadn't managed to infuriate him so.”
“You cannot blame your uncle's actions on us. If that stubborn dwarf had only been reasonable and given in to our demands then none of this would have been necessary.” Thranduil said in that annoyingly condescending way of his.
“And if you had not come to us with avarice in your thoughts and greed shining in your eyes, then Thorin would not have reacted as he did. You should have asked for aid unarmed as gentlemen instead of marching with an army to our gate.” I retorted hotly, before Bilbo's soft touch on my arm brought me up short. With some effort I forced my temper back under control, reminding myself that we could not afford to alienate these kings as well. “But what's done is done and the time for blame is past. If you have a spare tent that we may borrow or even a spot to lay our gear, the two of us shall leave to your work.”
Although Thranduil seemed entirely unfazed by my words, I thought I saw a hint of guilt in the Bowman's eyes and he winced when the elf king asked, “Are you sure you do not wish to stay? Your insight would be invaluable.”
As if I was a traitor in truth, to sell my family out to a scavenger such as you! This was an insult that I would not have born in other circumstances and my voice was tight as I replied. “I gave you the Arkenstone because I wished to avoid a battle but now that war is coming, I cannot stand on either side. Even if I have been cast out, all of Durin's Folk are still kindred in my heart and so while I will not fight against you, I also will not help you conquer them.”
“That is a position deserving of respect,” Bard told me, shooting a glare to his ally. “We are not such brutes as to ask you to turn upon your family and your friends and I shall have one of my archers show you to an open place which you may claim. Though if you choose to grant us some of your knowledge later on, I would appreciate any advice that will reduce the danger of death on both sides.”
Any advice except to renounce your demands and focus on rebuilding as you should, I thought somewhat bitterly, although I inclined my head in thanks nonetheless. At least he was not pressing me to do what I could not and there were glimpses here and there of the good man Bard had seemed.
One of the king's guards led us to an empty patch of earth nearby and he was kind enough to scrounge a tent for us as well. Given the interesting stains it carried, the cloth had clearly been used for storage in the not too distant past, but it would serve our purposes just fine. So we bid the man farewell before setting up our shelter and it truly was a sad state of affairs.
But Bilbo didn't seem to mind the poor accommodations, running off to explore the camp while I stayed behind and sharpened my weapons to a lethal edge. I figured that it would be better to show my face as little as possible for the moment until the men of Laketown lost some of their resentment and truly, there was not much else to do. When my hobbit returned several hours later I had moved on to making arrows, having borrowed the supplies from a nearby armorer, and Bilbo settled down to watch at my side.
This was not something I had done in front of my lover before so he was quite fascinated, peppering me with questions in between descriptions of what he had found. It seemed that the men were vastly outnumbered by their allies, some one thousand elves to their two hundred fighting strength, and this made me feel slightly more sympathetic to the choices Bard had made.
Outnumbered five to one, the Bowman could not have forced Thranduil to leave against his will and I seriously doubted that the elf king had been inclined to do as uncle asked. Thus while I was still rather angry at the man, perhaps his actions had not been as actively malicious as I had first thought.
However, in truth this changed little and I moved on to sharpening my hobbit's blade as the hours dragged by. It was a fine weapon, nearly as fine as any dwarven work, and I knew that it would serve my lover well. But while I intended to sit this battle out if remotely possible and the mithril armor would protect Bilbo from damage, it didn't seem right to let him wander about with only one weapon to his name. So I used this time to kit my hobbit out with as many knives as he would take and he seemed somewhat relieved when the horns sounded to signal Dáin's arrival.
This was the moment for which I had been waiting because if Thorin would not see reason perhaps my elder cousin would, and this was my last chance to stop the war before far too much blood was shed. So I armed myself again and left to speak with Dáin, Bilbo remaining at the edge of Bard's encampment on my request.
Yet uncle must have sent Roäc to his cousin with the news of my banishment for Dáin's warriors would not even let me cross the army's lines. No matter how strongly I swore that I must talk to their leader over a matter of life and death, the other dwarves remained impassive to my pleas.
Eventually the captain grew tired of my persistence, ordering several of his company to throw me from his sight. Since I would not fight my kin and they seemed to have none of the same restraint in terms of fighting me, I could do nothing but limp back to my lover as a failure once again. And while Bilbo offered to sneak into the dwarven army and find Dáin himself, I knew that the Lord of the Iron Hills would never listen to a hobbit's advice.
Just then Bard summoned us back to his pavilion where Thranduil demanded to know why I had not told them of my cousin's threat. Several of his lieutenants seemed prepared to kill me themselves when I reminded the elf king that this would have counted as aiding them against my kin and one of the more hotheaded even accused me of being a dwarven spy.
But to my surprise, the Bowman came to my defense and I knew then that something in my earlier words must have touched him truly. Bard even allowed me to stay and listen to their war council over his ally's objections once I explained that, “I want to see what I have wrought.”
Indeed I considered this my penance of sorts, to listen to these onetime allies plan the best way to kill my kin. For perhaps if I had done something differently then we would not be standing here now and yet who knew if my actions made a difference at all. Bilbo sat there with me, a comforting presence pressed against my side, and when the talk was finished, we perched upon a nearby hill to watch our friends die.
Though I wasn't actually sure if Thorin and the others would join in the fight since opening the Lonely Mountain's gate would break the siege, and part of my heart hoped that our company would stay safe behind those walls.
Because it was bad enough to watch dwarves whom I had never met line up for slaughter, the three armies forming a great triangle upon the plain. Once they were in position, the warriors of three kingdoms stood at the ready, waiting only for the spark to light the blaze. Indeed the air over the battlefield was heavy with a strange expectation, like the moment before a lightning strike, and all that remained now was to see where it would fall.
However, before that signal was given, there was a great commotion from the west and my eyes picked out a rider tearing across the plain. Though I could not see who it was at this distance, I recognized Gandalf's voice when he cried out that an army of orcs and goblins was marching our way.
“So cease this foolish bickering,” He ordered, spinning his horse in place to glare at all three kings. “If you do not band together now, then all of you will be slain on orcish blades.”
As much as Bard, Dáin, and Thranduil might have hated and mistrusted each other, the wizard was still considered a friend to all their peoples and his word was his bond. Therefore they ordered their armies back to camp for now while they met to discuss this new threat.
By the time the lords finished giving out these orders, Bilbo and I had made our way to Gandalf's side and the wizard seemed surprised indeed to see us there. But there was no time for more than a cursory explanation of our part in the conflict before our small party arrived at Bard's pavilion and the focus of all thoughts turned to war.
While Gandalf believed that the main force of goblins should not arrive until morning, there were only a few hours left in the day and we could not afford to be exhausted when our enemy arrived. So the kings worked feverishly to come up with a plan and their warriors slept on the battlefield that night.
Dawn broke early the next morning, bringing with it the foul scent of goblins on the wind, while our allies had arranged their armies on the left and right flanks of the Lonely Mountain to draw their foes into a pincer trap. I stood with the other archers upon the eastern spar, ready to rain death upon the goblins as they ran by and Bilbo waited with his sling at my side.
Despite my hobbit's bravery, he was not trained as a warrior and with his small size it would be far too easy for him to be trampled in the chaos. So we had scrounged the sling for him from one of Bard's kinsmen and I truly hoped that we would not face closer quarters before the day was done.
But when our foes appeared on the horizon, that hope began to seem a frail and futile thing. Because there were thousands of them, more than double our own forces, and while our trap seemed to be working at first, every goblin struck down by my arrows was replaced by four more. So although we archers shot until our fingers were raw and our quivers nearly empty, there was no end to the enemy and gradually the tide began to turn.
Screams began to rise over the battlefield as our allies fell by the hundreds, screams of fear and agony. I could hear Thranduil cursing behind me, his mask of serenity finally cracking with the first deaths of his kinsmen and yet it did not help to know that elves could feel such helplessness after all.
Because if even he who had lived a hundred lifetimes could not see a way to turn this fight to victory then what hope was there for us all? But while the coward within my heart wanted to grab my hobbit and run, I could not give up now. I would never be able to live with myself if I abandoned my kin to their fates and if I was going to die, I was going to die fighting.
So when I spied the pale orc riding in the center of the carnage, I felt determination well up in my chest. However, before I could act upon this impulse, my feet were frozen by the yell which echoed across the battlefield.
"Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!" My uncle shouted our ancient battle cry as he and his company charged out of Erebor to make their final stand. I could see the bright flash of Fíli's hair there with him as they sliced through orcs like steel, a blade aimed at Azog's heart, and for a moment I thought they would succeed. Indeed uncle had nearly reached the Defiler when their charge began to falter and on seeing this, I ran forward to provide whatever aid I could.
Bilbo was at my side even though I had not asked it of him, his face a mask of resolve as we fought to get in range. I could see Fíli and uncle battling against Azog's massive guards as the rest of the company tried to fend off the seething mass of goblins at their back and I drew my bow to take one of the monsters down.
“Kíli, watch out!” The cry came just as I released my arrow and I prayed that it struck true even as I threw myself to the side. A massive blade landed in the earth where I had been moments before, the goblin who wielded it snarling in anger and then falling with Bilbo's blade buried in his gut.
My hobbit pulled me to my feet and I clasped his shoulder briefly in thanks before turning to see how my kin had fared. Although my vision was blocked by the sheer number of enemies, I could see flashes of Thorin and my brother facing off against Azog and I knew that my arrow must have done its work. However, the ferocity of our enemy was driving the rest of the company back step by step, so I swept my bow off the ground and raced forward to find a better vantage point.
Yet this search took forever even with Bilbo at my side, every foot a struggle through blood and mud and pain. There were too many of our foe to defend against properly and soon my body was littered with gashes which had slipped beneath my guard.
But whenever I caught a glimpse through the carnage, my kinsmen were struggling to hold their own and as long as I could lift my weapon, I would not leave them without aid.
Finally, my hobbit and I carved our way to a high outcrop of rock from which I could look down upon the battle, just in time to see my uncle fall. Though Thorin had done serious damage and a gaping wound was visible on Azog's stomach where his sword had lodged in deep, somehow the orc still had the strength to batter Fíli down. My brother's weapon was knocked from his hands as I struggled to draw my bow through the wound on my shoulder, Bilbo standing nearby to watch my back.
Soon my world narrowed to the sight line of my arrow, the sounds of the battlefield fading into silence as my eyes locked on Azog's throat. Nothing else mattered, not the goblin who sliced Fíli from behind nor the cries of my companions on the wind. Nothing mattered but killing the Defiler before he fulfilled his vow and with a slow exhale, I released the string.
My missile shot true, striking the pale orc cleanly through his neck, but before I could see if my brother was alive, I was brought back to my surroundings by a sharp pain in my side. I let out a startled scream, more surprised than injured, jerking around to stab my dagger into a goblin's chest.
When Azog fell, the majority of his army began to retreat in panic as our allies rallied to chase the creatures down. But this was no help to those of us in the midst of the fighting for the Defiler's lieutenants had gone berserk instead. These goblins attacked viciously, the remaining members of our company quickly overwhelmed by their fury and it was all I could do to keep my head.
However, just as I was losing all hope of survival, I heard my hobbit shout, “the eagles are coming,” and salvation swept down upon the field.
“Please check on my brother,” I whispered to Bilbo as my energy finally gave out, the edges of my vision dimming from loss of blood. He nodded quickly, worry in his gaze, but I could see our allies riding toward us over his shoulder and I knew that we would be all right.
When I regained consciousness the sharp pain of my injuries had faded to a dull ache, though attempting to sit up was not one of my best plans. However, my hobbit was there in seconds, helping me to lean back against the bed.
“Idiot, you shouldn't move yet” He scolded, checking on my bandages and forcing me to stay still. But as relieved as my lover appeared to see me there was sorrow in his eyes and I felt my heart lurch.
“Fíli?” I asked, clutching at Bilbo's arm. “Is he all right?” Even after everything which had happened, the thought of my brother dying left an icy hole within my chest, I cannot lose him now, not before we mend what is broken.
But my lover shook his head and wrapped his arms around me in reassurance. “Fíli is fine. I saw him earlier,” Bilbo whispered against my neck. “But your uncle... Thorin, he summoned me. He forgave us for our actions and urged your brother to do the same, only his injuries... they proved to be too much. I'm so sorry love, but your uncle is gone.”
“The king is dead, long live the king,” I murmured, burying my head in Bilbo's shoulder as tears began to stream down my face. I sobbed helplessly, crying for Thorin who would never live to see his home restored, crying for my mother who would have to bury another of her kin, and for myself, who had been forgiven but would never see that truth on my uncle's face. For myself, who had been forgiven but not by the family member who mattered most.
While Fíli might have changed, Thorin's final words opening his eyes to possibility of truths other than our family honor, somehow I knew that this wouldn't be the case.
Because my brother was king now, young and untried though he might be. Uncle was dead, he was king and he would hold tight to our traditions as a means to prove himself. So I knew that Bilbo and I would not be welcome in Fíli's sight, for his detractors would need only point to his feckless, degenerate brother to try and prove him unworthy for the job. And I knew that I could not be the reason that he failed in his dreams just as I could not make the sacrifice he would demand.
Once I accepted this, I found that my weeping stopped quickly, though I knew that I would probably still mourn for many years. But the sharpness of the pain had flowed out with my tears and now all I had to do was wait for the blow to fall.
Bilbo eventually succumbed to sleep, curling across my lap as exhaustion bore him down. So I sat there, stroking his hair slowly until my brother arrived and the way that he looked down at us told me I was right.
"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?"
His voice was even, without the anger or disgust of our earlier conversations, and I knew that Fíli truly wanted to repair our relationship. But my brother wanted it on his terms alone and thus, no matter how much it pained me to hurt him, there was still only one answer which I could give. "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."
I truly meant these words and I hoped that he could see that, see that I never meant to cause him any harm. I wanted my brother to be happy despite everything all that he had done even as I simply could not force myself into his mold anymore.
But I think some part of Fíli's mind heard my apology even if he was not conscious of it, for his eyes were sad when he continued, promising that I could stay for Thorin's funeral and would always have a place with him if I ever changed my mind. So my brother felt the pain of this separation as much as I did but whatever doubts he might have felt were hidden beneath the weight of law and propriety. Honor was his anchor and his crutch, helping Fíli to face the world even as he tried to deny all its wild variation and for that I pitied him.
"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 left the tent then and although I remained in Erebor for three more days, my brother never once looked me in the eye. Indeed Fíli avoided me throughout my convalescence, throwing himself into the work of kingship with a vengeance as the dead were laid upon their pyres and the battlefield was cleared.
So once Thorin was finally buried, laid in state beneath his kingdom with that damned stone on his chest, I did not bother to say goodbye. There was no point in opening that wound again when my brother was not going to apologize and right now, I just wanted to leave this whole mess behind.
Some of the company did find us while Bilbo and I were packing for the road, dropping in to say farewell. Dori, Nori and Ori came, Bofur and Dwalin and even Glóin arrived to show his support. It warmed my heart to see them, particularly those who did not understand my choices but wanted us to know that we were loved anyway. So I set these memories within my mind to treasure in case I never saw my friends again and promised that they would always be welcome in Bad End if they were ever down our way.
Then we mounted our ponies and set out toward Mirkwood, the first stop on our long journey west. Although I was still not fond of the elf king, Thranduil had been polite since the battle and it would have been an insult to ignore his hospitality. So we spent a few days there while he named my hobbit Elf-friend for his actions and pretended that I did not exist.
But Thranduil's youngest son seemed to like me now that we were allies and although his temper still flared brightly, the elf was always willing to indulge my archery. Bilbo and I met up with Gandalf there as well, the wizard traveling back across the Misty Mountains to speak with his kindred and he decided to join us on our road. So the trip back through the Mirkwood was infinitely more pleasant than the journey east had been and we spent many hours listening to Gandalf's tales.
The descriptions of what he had found in Dol Guldur chilled my blood and I was rather impressed that the wizard had survived at all. But he seemed just as interested in what had occurred in his long absence, making Bilbo and I tell our stories in excruciating detail and asking questions on everything.
We reached Beorn's hall before we had finished this recitation and so the final portion of the tale was told around the skin-changer's glowing hearth. This was the first time that I had actually heard the complete tale of my lover's encounter with the dragon and when he finished I simply had to kiss him then and there. However, when I looked up nervously to see Gandalf watching us across the table, he simply offered his congratulations.
“I have seen many things in my long years on this earth and love such as yours is a rare blessing indeed. So treasure it. Treasure your love and let no one tell you that it lacks value because they do not agree with the form it took.”
There was something strangely sad in the wizard's eyes and I did not stop him when he changed the subject back to more cheerful things. Though as I curled around my hobbit that night, I wondered, who could he have lost?
Once we left Beorn's hall, the next landmark in our travels was Rivendell and with the Misty Mountains emptied of goblins, this stretch took no time at all. Indeed the journey west was far easier than the journey east had been and it seemed strange that the same road could change so much. But perhaps there had been greater forces arrayed against us than just our mortal foes and when I mentioned this thought to Gandalf, he mused pensively.
“You may be right, Master Kíli There are events which change the shape of history, people who hold fate within their hands, and these lives are never easy for those involved. For while the Valar are good, they are not always kind to their heroes and your uncle's life may have been a small price to pay for the victory they wrought.”
However, it was impossible to keep discussing such disturbing theories in the dreamy peace of Rivendell, particularly when Bilbo was so fond of the place. While his love for these elves still made me slightly jealous, it was easier to bear now that I could stake my claim properly.
After all the beds in Elrond's House were just as lovely as I remembered and since my lover was a screamer, every elf in earshot soon knew he'd chosen me. Though truthfully they seemed more amused than annoyed by my possessiveness and every speck of envy I'd ever felt was worth the way my hobbit blushed when Elrond politely asked if we could keep it down next time.
Our small company spent over a week in those wooded halls, resting and resupplying while Gandalf and the elf lord had serious discussions about Smaug, the future and past history. But we paid them little mind after Bilbo snuck into one of their talks and discovered that it was all about omens and shadows on the wind.
From Rivendell we continued toward the Shire, taking a short detour to unearth some buried gold. My companions would not miss this stash with their share of Erebor and I was not truly comfortable with the thought of making my hobbit support me when I was used to pulling my own weight. But this gold would balance out the scales until I found my trade, though I did give a share to Gandalf to aid our friend in whatever mad quest he took on next.
A few days later our paths diverged for the wizard's road led north toward the Hills of Evendim and so it was only the two of us who set out west again.
With every furlong that we traveled, I felt the burdens on my heart grow lighter and Bilbo too relaxed his watchfulness. Soon our journey was filled with song and hope and laughter once again and I came to realize that as much as he enjoyed adventure, part of my hobbit would always love his homeland more. For he was a child of this western earth, its lush fertility feeding his spirit as no walls of stone had done.
It was this same sense of belonging which had so enticed me when Fíli and I began our quest nearly a year ago and it meant the world that my love would understand. Indeed, when we finally crossed over the Brandywine River and entered the Shire proper, Bilbo turned to me with a brilliant smile and murmured,
Part VI: Solace