Chapter IV: Preamble - Part 3
Pairings: Unrequited Kíli/Bilbo & Bilbo/Thorin, somewhat requited Kíli/Tauriel
Warnings: angst, canon violence, pining
Word Count: 7288 (74,142 so far)
Summary: Kíli is the only Durin to survive the Battle of the Five Armies but when his world falls into darkness, the Valar grant him one chance to make things right.
Chapter I: Epilogue
Chapter II: Prologue - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
Chapter III: Preface - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3A, Part 3B
Chapter IV: Preamble - Part 1, Part 2
“What news do you bring me of my enemies?” Kíli asked as soon as the raven was in earshot, the dwarf taking the last few steps at a run. He needed to know whether his plan had any chance of succeeding and he needed to know it now.
If the bird had been older, the archer would not have dared such rudeness despite his impatience – indeed, Roäc had once refused to speak to him for days after Kíli ticked him off. But this raven was hardly more than a fledgling and so it only gave a little huff of ruffled feathers at the once-king's informality before telling him what he wished to know.
'Orcs, but not orcs,' the raven said, its uncertainty visible in the tilt of its head. 'I saw the tracks of an army; the bones of meals and the ash of fires but no orcs in my sight. Their path lead underground, into the dark cold earth where I could not fly and my sharp eyes did not see them rise to light again.'
“Could you tell where they were going? Anything to prove that the orcs are coming here?” the once-king demanded a little desperately.
'The earth rumbles to the west. It shakes and shudders as I have never seen before. But I do not know where the tunnels lead.'
“That's it? That's all you have?!”
The words tore out of Kíli without conscious intent, the dwarf whirling and slamming his fist into the stone. With this news, the raven had destroyed all of his careful planning, his best hope at convincing Thorin gone. Because tracks were not enough; tracks would not bring the dwarf lord from his madness before men and elves started pounding on his door.
The orcs could be marching on Mirkwood or Lothlórien for all the raven knew, only Kíli's past history making him certain that they were coming here instead, and his uncle would probably be overjoyed at the thought of the forest under siege.
“Fuck,” the once-king whispered, slumping to his knees on the battlements. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!”
He wasn't sure how long he sat there, the dwarf cursing everyone and everything and his own failures most of all. But eventually the rustling of the raven's feathers brought Kíli from his stupor, the once-king raising his head to see the bird staring down at him expectantly.
'I am hungry. I am tired. I must roost,' the raven said, these simple concerns driving the once-king into motion where his own will could not.
“Yes, of course. I am sorry,” the archer murmured. He rooted through his pockets until he found a few scraps of meat to offer, the raven taking these morsels from his fingers with its beak. “Thank you for your service; you have more than earned a rest. But first I must ask one last thing of you. When my uncle wakes, please tell him what you told me. I do not think that it will change his purpose, but maybe this knowledge will aid our allies down the line.”
'I live to serve the kings beneath the mountain,' the bird answered, hopping onto Kíli's arm when the archer offered it. The once-king carried his raven back to the company's camp, the other dwarves just beginning to stir beneath the light of dawn.
“Uncle, are you awake?” Kíli asked quietly as he knelt at Thorin's side. “This raven arrived at the end of my watch and asked to speak with you.”
When the dwarf lord turned his head, the once-king almost recoiled, the shadows in his uncle's eyes having grown much deeper overnight. But Thorin didn't appear to notice the archer's unease, his focus on the raven still perched on Kíli's arm.
“If you have news then speak it,” the dwarf lord commanded and the raven did as it was told.
Indeed, the bird did its best to convince Thorin of the danger, but the conversation went just as the once-king had feared it would. His uncle dismissed the signs of Azog's army as unimportant; a threat to be dealt with later if it arrived at all. For Thorin's dragon-sickness only allowed him to grasp that which threatened Erebor's gold directly and tracks to the west were too abstract for his fevered mind. Although even the dwarf lord could recognize that his company would be vastly outnumbered if the Lakemen came to fight.
So Thorin ordered Kíli's raven to lead him to its aerie, sending out messengers to the Iron Hills for reinforcements the way that he had done in the past. Then the dwarf lord roused his company, ordering them to eat and make ready before their uninvited guests arrived.
Of course, the once-king's uncle didn't take his own advice, instead standing on the ramparts and glaring at the army of elves that had appeared on the walls of Dale overnight. The dwarf lord refused to move when his companions called him down for breakfast, refused to eat even when Balin brought way-bread to the gate.
Eventually the other dwarves left him to his brooding and returned to their own work, more than an hour passing in this way. But just as the once-king was starting to wonder if a messenger would actually appear this morning, Thorin swept into the middle of their small camp again.
“Come on!” the dwarf lord commanded, his companions grabbing their weapons and following him to the top of the blocked gate. From this vantage point, they could see a lone man on horseback riding toward them, Kíli surprised to see that the man was Bard. The once-king had been expecting several days of messengers before the negotiations reached this point, but it seemed that the timeline had shortened on him once again.
“Hail Thorin son of Thráin. We are glad to find you alive beyond hope,” the bowman called, reining his horse to a stop before the gate.
“Why do you come to the gates of the King Under the Mountain armed for war?” Thorin shouted back, forgoing diplomatic niceties for hostility.
“Why does the King Under the Mountain fence himself in like a robber in his hole?” Bard answered, Kíli wincing as his uncle's expression darkened even more.
“Perhaps it is because I am expecting to be robbed!”
This response actually appeared to knock the man off balance for a moment – perhaps this incarnation of Bard did not truly wish to start a war with Erebor or perhaps he simply realized that politeness was far more likely to be successful than veiled insults could ever be. Whatever the reason, the bowman's tone was almost pleading when he replied, “My lord, we have not come to rob you but to seek fair settlement. Will you not speak with me?”
Thorin thought for a long moment before nodding once in agreement. He signaled Bard to walk up to the gate and then walked down the stairs to meet him, pausing at the bottom to summon one of the ravens who had been waiting in the wings
“Find Dáin's army for me and bid them further speed,” the dwarf lord ordered, sending the raven winging from the mountain before stepping up the blockade to deal with Bard again.
“On behalf of the people of Laketown, I ask that you honor your pledge,” the bowman said. “A share of the treasure so that they might rebuild their lives.”
“I will not treat with any man while an armed host lies before my door.”
“That armed host will attack this mountain if we do not come to terms.”
“Your threats do not sway me.”
“What of your conscience? Does it not tell you our cause is just? My people offered you help, and in return, you brought on them only ruin and death.”
Bard's tongue was smoother than Kíli remembered and he found himself hoping that these negotiations would go better than they had in the past. A slim hope, but all the once-king had now that his plans had failed.
So maybe his uncle would listen despite the veiled threat of Thranduil's army on Dale's walls. Maybe Thorin would recognize that the bowman had a much better claim to offer in this lifetime since the dwarf lord had promised that the Lakemen would have a share of Erebor. He had given his word – and the dwarf lord of the once-king's childhood did not break his vows.
Except he did; Thorin answered Bard's entreaties with a single question, one tinged with such bitterness as Kíli had never heard in his uncle's words before.
“When did the men of Laketown ever come to our aid but for the promise of rich reward?” the dwarf lord asked and the once-king was suddenly certain that Thorin was not seeing Bard right now. Thorin was seeing every man who had ever tried to cheat him out of a fair day's labor, every elf who had refused his people sanctuary, and the bowman might as well have been speaking Sindarin when he reminded the dwarf lord that a bargain had been made.
“A bargain? What choice did we have but to barter our birthright for blankets and food; to ransom our future in exchange for our freedom?” Thorin asked, decades of slights and dishonor ringing in his voice.
What choice had Durin's Folk ever had after Smaug claimed their kingdom, their home lost and their friends nowhere to be seen. For friends that must be bought were no true friends to Durin's sons and even though Kíli knew where such bitterness would lead, his heart bled for his uncle's eloquence. It bled for his uncle's pain, the dreams that Thorin had never lived to see fulfilled and the second chance that his dragon-madness was threatening to ruin now.
“You call that a fair trade? Tell me, Bard the Dragonslayer, why should I honor such terms?”
“Because you gave us your word. Does that mean nothing?” the bowman pleaded, though he must know that his cause was hopeless, and the archer's heart bled for him as well. His people were no better off than Thorin's, their lives lost to the dragon and their home lost to the flames and what greed was in their hearts was at least partly born from necessity.
Perhaps neither king was entirely in the right here even as neither would give in and Kíli didn't know how he could have believed that Thorin and Bard would ever come to terms. Because the dwarf lord would never give up the birthright of his people – he hadn't even without the gold-sickness to bind his thoughts to avarice – and a bargain struck from desperation could not have turned that truth aside.
It was hopeless and yet the once-king would keep trying until his last breath failed him, even if every attempt at diplomacy ended in threats of blood instead.
Indeed, Thorin had come to the end of his patience with Bard's entreaties, the dwarf lord halting this farce of a negotiation with a shout. “Be gone; ere arrow fly!”
The bowman cursed but did as he was ordered, mounting his horse and riding back to Dale again as the dwarves watched from the top of the gate. This was the beginning of the end and if some part of their story had to remain unchanged by the Valar's weaving, why must it be this?
“He will come back with an army and the orcs will follow him,” Kíli murmured to his brother.
“Thorin does not care,” Fíli replied and the once-king knew that it was true. Their uncle would be content to live within the Lonely Mountain while the whole world burned outside it; he would let Middle Earth fall to ruin as long as his gold survived. But even the largest wall might crumble if someone kept chipping at its foundation and it’s not as though Kíli had any other options now. Because he could not leave Erebor without his brother and Fíli would never leave without Thorin at their side.
So the once-king opened his mouth to say something, what exactly he hadn't quite worked out. However, before he could speak, Bilbo got there first.
“What are you doing? You cannot go to war!” the hobbit protested, too stubborn to admit that Thorin was beyond all reason now. But then again, he and Kíli had always been matched well in obstinacy.
“This does not concern you,” the dwarf lord growled in answer to this challenge, as though Bilbo had not been with their company every step of the way. As though the hobbit did not have the right to worry for his friends.
“Excuse me?! But just in case you haven't noticed there is an army of elves out there, not to mention several hundred angry fishermen. We are, in fact, outnumbered.”
“Not for much longer,” was Thorin's smug reply, the dwarf lord's hopes resting on raven wing. And in this one thing, Kíli could not fault his uncle's certainty. Dáin would come as long as he received Thorin's message and at least one of Erebor's ravens was sure to reach the Iron Hills in time. But the hobbit had still been asleep when the dwarf lord had set his birds to flight and so this answer only made him angrier.
“What does that mean?” Bilbo asked, throwing his hands up in the air. The burglar had always been too forgiving of Thorin's moods, too ready to pass his successes off as luck over skill, but it seemed that he had finally reached his breaking point.
Some things did not change despite the tapestry that Vairë had rewoven; some spark that made Bilbo Bilbo was still the same within his heart. Indeed, this was the spark that the once-king was trusting to make him to steal the Arkenstone again. Perhaps not in the same manner, but as long as the gemstone made its way into Bard the bowman's hands that would be good enough. That would get Bilbo away from Thorin before he could do something unforgivable and once Kíli's uncle banished their burglar, Gandalf would protect him as the archer's letter urged. The wizard would have to keep Bilbo from the battle so that Kíli could concentrate on breaking Thorin's madness and protecting his own family.
So the archer stayed silent as his uncle and their hobbit argued, though his every instinct cried out for him to step in on Bilbo's side. The once-king had to walk a careful balance between challenging Thorin's dragon-sickness and pushing the other dwarf too far, and the more frustrated Bilbo grew with his uncle now, the sooner he should steal the Arkenstone.
Indeed, the burglar looked about ready to punch Thorin in the face by the time the dwarf lord turned back to the rest of his company.
“We have reclaimed Erebor, now we defend it,” Thorin pronounced before leading the other dwarves deep into the heart of the Lonely Mountain, bringing them to the great armory that had been left untouched since Smaug attacked.
This was the true wealth of Erebor in the archer's eyes, the heirlooms of generations and the greatest masterworks that Durin’s Folk had ever made. Under better circumstances, Kíli could have spent hours unearthing these forgotten treasures – indeed, he sometimes had on nights when sleep just would not come – and many of the weapons uncovered now felt like long-lost friends.
There was the armor that he had worn on the awful day when Erebor had fallen; there was the shield that had been broken by an Easterling's mace strike. His shattered knives and dented helmet were once more unblemished, hanging on the wall where they had lived for years.
Kíli picked these items up and then set them aside, unwilling to trust anyone's life to such failed steel again. However, there was no shortage of other weapons to carry into battle, each of the dwarves searching out their preferred armaments. Axes for Glóin and a staff for Óin; a mace for Balin and a war hammer for his brother, while Dori's kin each took swords of their own and Bofur's tested half the arsenal. Fíli picked out the sharpest knives to slip into his belt while Kíli used his knowledge of this armory's hidden treasures to find the perfect blades for both their hands.
The only one missing was Bilbo, their hobbit having slipped off somewhere in between the gate and the armory, and the once-king made a mental note to seek him out later on. The burglar's sword was as fine a weapon as he might wish for but Kíli would see him properly armored before he was banished, the dwarf keeping one eye open for a hobbit-sized helmet amidst the rest.
Unfortunately, the archer could find neither that nor a bow to his liking, the wood failing to weather time as well as metal had. Those few that survived were not weapons that Kíli wished trust when his life was on the line and he spared one longing thought for the bow that he had left in Thranduil's hall.
As it was, once-king would have to make do with sword and shield alone and while he felt somewhat naked without a bow on his shoulder, Kíli had to admit that the weapon was not well suited to a crowded battlefield. It certainly hadn't saved him last time, the ghost of memory weighing on the archer's shoulders as heavily as the armor that his brother handed him.
These shadows only grew when Thorin donned his own armor, every shining piece making the dwarf lord seem more a stranger than he had before. This was not Thorin Oakenshield, this was the King Under the Mountain, and he was going to paint his lands with blood before his work was done.
“Master Baggins! Come here!”
Kíli turned to see his uncle standing at the entrance to the armory, motioning to someone standing in the passageway beyond. It was Bilbo and it seemed that the archer would not need to find him later because a very familiar coat of armor was dangling from Thorin's hands.
While mithril had not saved their burglar before, it certainly could not hurt, and the weight on Kíli's shoulders became incrementally lighter when Bilbo shrugged the tunic on. He looked, well, a little silly and a little beautiful if the archer was being honest, though the hobbit seemed determined to focus on the silly part.
“I look absurd. I'm not a warrior; I'm a hobbit,” Bilbo protested when he noticed the rest of the company watching him. He looked ready to say more, but before he could, Thorin dragged him off further down the corridor where Kíli and the others could not hear his words.
However, the once-king could guess how the conversation went from the expressions on their faces, the hobbit's pleading and Thorin's twisted with suspicious avarice. He kept glancing back at the other dwarves as though expecting an assassination and it probably wouldn’t be long before he started accusing some of them outright. But as with the rest of the quest, time was moving faster now than it had in Kíli's memory, and the battle should begin before Thorin reached that point.
It would begin and with Valar’s grace, the plight of his kindred would snap the dwarf lord free from madness where all other pleas had failed. Because the Lonely Mountain was the greatest stronghold of the dwarves for a reason and if she fell, the West would follow in her wake.
There might not be a Shire for their hobbit to return to if Azog and his kin took hold of Erebor and this was a possibility that the once-king had not allowed himself to contemplate. It was a slim chance, yes, for Kíli was sure that Beorn would come in answer to his message – the pain that the skin-changer owed to Azog would demand that he seek vengeance – but there was a chance nonetheless. After all, even Beorn could not fight an entire army and enough arrows would bring an eagle down.
So if Thorin did not join the fight; if he did not reinforce his allies when they began to weaken, the Lonely Mountain might fall to ruin once again. There might not be anyone left by the time the skin-changer came to save them and the once-king had seen firsthand how much difference a tiny change could make. They might lose this; they might lose this battle and thus the war and this thought kept Kíli from resting well that night.
The few hours of sleep he managed were soaked with blood and carnage and eventually the archer gave up on sleep entirely. He took over the night watch from Bombur, figuring that he might as well put his insomnia to good use.
At least this way Kíli's companions would be well-rested and he could watch out for their burglar as well. Because Bilbo was not with the others, which could only mean that he had chosen to steal the King's Jewel tonight. Indeed, there was a rope hanging over the edge of the gate when the dwarf walked the ramparts and their burglar was doubtlessly in the process of giving Bard the Arkenstone.
So the once-king settled himself in an alcove where he could see both the gate and his companions without being detected and then tried not to think. Because Kíli couldn't plan for the battle until he saw his allies' forces and he had already done more than his fair share of worrying.
Whether Thorin's company won or lost, the next two days would decide everything. Tomorrow the once-king's uncle would discover their burglar's theft and banish him; tomorrow Gandalf should arrive to take charge of Bilbo's safety and the dwarf could warn him of the coming army if the wizard did not know himself. If Gandalf did not send Bilbo away then, Kíli would have to tell him the truth of their hobbit's destiny and hope that he believed the archer's words. The burglar had to survive or none of this would matter and the once-king would be able to fight more fiercely knowing he was safe.
Assuming, of course, that Thorin allowed his sister-sons to fight once Azog's host arrived the morning after next. But that problem too, Kíli must work on tomorrow, and he promised himself that he would find a way.
Fuck it. For all I know, Beorn and the eagles will arrive at dawn and Azog's army will run away in fear. I've done what I could to prepare and whatever I must do tomorrow will not be aided by a night spent fretting here. So close your eyes, stop thinking, and get some goddamned sleep.
And wonder of wonders, Kíli did exactly that.
He was roused from his doze the next morning by the rustle of Bilbo returning to the mountain, his footsteps audible even if he could not be seen. So Kíli waited until the hobbit had lain down again before heading to the gate to check on their visitors. A quick glance over the wall informed the once-king that Thranduil and Bard were already headed toward Erebor and so the dwarf ran to wake the rest of his companions before the elves arrived.
Thus their former allies were met at the gate with the full might of Thorin’s company, thirteen dwarves and one small hobbit against several thousand strong. It should have been ludicrous but Kíli felt only a sick sense of anticipation as his uncle’s arrow shattered on the stone at Thranduil’s feet.
“I will put the next one between your eyes,” the dwarf lord warned,Thranduil responding to this threat with a sea of elvish longbows aimed at Thorin's head. However, while the rest of the company sensibly took cover, Thorin didn’t flinch. One might fault his uncle’s honor but Kíli couldn’t fault his courage and even the elf king looked a tiny bit impressed.
“We have come to tell you, payment of your debt has been offered and accepted,” Thranduil said, returning Thorin's glare with a cold stare of his own.
“What payment? I gave you nothing. You have nothing!”
“We have this!” Bard reached into his tunic and pulled out the Arkenstone, the gem shining just as bright as that which had lived above Kíli's throne for years.
“They have the Arkenstone. Thieves! How came you by the heirloom of our house?” the once-king shouted, asking a question that he already knew the answer to. But Thorin didn't and the more extreme his uncle's response to this betrayal, the farther their burglar would run.
“That stone belongs to the king!”
“And the king may have it with our good will,” the bowman called back in answer, standing firm despite Thorin's murderous glare. “But first he must honor his word.”
A fair enough bargain for one built on theft and treachery. However, if Bard was truly expecting the dwarf lord to agree so easily, he was doomed to disappointment once again. Because Thorin was close to frothing with his fury and his answer was spoken more as curse than words. “They are taking us for fools. This is a ruse, a filthy lie.”
He was not willing to believe it, that the treasure he had been searching for so desperately could be in the possession of his enemies. This was the birthright of his people, the jewel that would crown him the true King of Carven Stone, and to see it in Bard's hands was unthinkable. “The Arkenstone is in this mountain. It is a trick!”
However, the company did not need Kíli's knowledge to realize that Thorin was mistaken for even Thranduil could not have faked the mountain's heart. He could not have faked the glow or the way it sung to Mahal's children and it was only the dragon-sickness that let their king deny its song.
But before any of the dwarves could speak this truth, Bilbo did it for them, the company watching in shock as their burglar stepped forward and announced, “It's no trick; the stone is real. I gave it to them.”
For a moment Thorin did not react, staring at the hobbit as though seeing a stranger in his place. It seemed that Kíli's uncle truly did care for Bilbo somewhere beneath the madness because his voice was almost pleading when he whispered, “You?”
“I took it as my fourteenth share,” the burglar told him, an awkward shrug and smile trying to defuse the dwarf lord's pain. But it was no use and the company could only stand there helpless while Thorin's hurt twisted into rage.
“You would steal from me?”
“Steal from you? No,” Bilbo contradicted with a shake of his head. “No, I may be a burglar but I like to think I'm an honest one. I am willing to let it stand against my claim.”
A logical argument, perhaps, and the hobbit could have made a case for his actions under any other circumstance. But logic had no place here; no contract could weigh against the dwarf lord's crazed possession and indeed, Thorin's answer held only hate. “Against your claim. Your claim? You have no claim over me, you miserable rat!”
“I was going to give it to you; many times I wanted to,” Bilbo replied. “But...”
“But what, thief?!”
“You are changed, Thorin. The dwarf I met in Bag End would never have gone back on his word; would never have doubted the loyalty of his kin.”
The hobbit was begging now, pleading for the dwarf lord to regain his senses, and watching him, all Kíli could think was, This is what it looks like when a heart bursts beyond repair.
Here was grief in living color, and in this instant, the once-king hated the Valar more than he had ever hated anyone. Because Bolg might have destroyed his family, but the orc was only doing what was in his nature and he would have treated any member of Durin's line the same. That had not been personal, but this was; this was Kaminzabdûna reaching into Kíli's chest and crushing his heart within her hands. This was Mahal's Lady telling the once-king that his love had burned the future and apparently the answer was to break both their hearts instead.
Or perhaps three hearts in truth, for Thorin's voice was choked with grief when he replied, “Do not speak to me of loyalty.”
The dwarf lord didn't know how to respond to this betrayal, his mind clearly reeling from this sudden sucker punch. Thorin had thought that Bilbo was trustworthy, the only member of his company who would not betray him, and yet it was the hobbit who had stabbed him in the back. But whatever sorrow Kíli's uncle was feeling, he had ever been the type to mask his pain with anger, and the once-king remembered well how this argument had ended in the past.
Indeed, the rage in Thorin's eyes only grew stronger, hate building within him like the molten core of a fire mountain until the dwarf lord roared: “Throw him from the ramparts!”
But no one moved a muscle then, the rest of the company too shocked to do anything at all. The hobbit was their friend; he had traveled with them through danger and through hardship, and even if he had stolen the Arkenstone, Bilbo had also saved Thorin's life more than once.
The dwarf lord owed their burglar the chance to leave with dignity; the hobbit had earned that much with his bravery in the defense of Durin's Folk. But Thorin did not care about the dishonor of ignoring such a life debt; he only cared about his hatred now. Indeed, the dwarves' refusal to follow his order only made Kíli's uncle angrier until he finally turned his curses on his kindred and moved to throw Bilbo from the battlements himself.
Now the other dwarves did act, rushing forward to stop their leader before he christened his kingdom with atrocity. However, Thorin's strength was fueled by hate and madness and despite his sister-sons' best efforts, they could not pry their burglar from his hands.
Instead the dwarf lord dragged Bilbo to the edge of the battlements, muttering fell curses as Bard and Thranduil watched in shock. Thorin denounced them all: his friends, his family, his hobbit, and the meddlesome wizard who had forced this burglar upon his company. The wizard who must save Bilbo from Kíli's uncle, though Gandalf waited long enough that the once-king was preparing to do something drastic when the wizard’s voice finally boomed over them.
“If you do not like my burglar then do not damage him! Return him to me,” Gandalf ordered, the command in his voice forcing Thorin back a step. “You're not making a very splendid figure as King Under the Mountain, are you Thorin, son of Thráin?”
This question made the dwarf lord snarl, his sister-sons taking advantage of his shock to pull Bilbo back to safety once again. They handed the hobbit off to Bofur, who escorted their burglar over to the edge of the wall. The rope that Bilbo had used last night was still attached there and he descended quickly, running over to stand by Gandalf before Thorin could try to strike him down.
However, even the new King Under the Mountain was not mad enough to leave the safety of his walls when an armed host stood at his door. Instead, he just glared down at the interlopers as he shouted further insults upon the heads of Gandalf and his former burglar.
“Never again will I have dealings with wizards or treacherous Shire rats!” Thorin bellowed, Bilbo flinching at every word.
But it seemed that Bard and Thranduil had finally tired of watching this drama play out before them or perhaps the bowman had found a trace of kindness in his heart for Bilbo now that the hobbit had lost his friends in service of Laketown's cause.
Whatever the reason, the man drew Thorin’s attention away from the hobbit with a shout, “Are we resolved? The return of the Arkenstone for what was promised. Give us your answer. Will you have peace or war?!”
The entire world seemed to hold its breath for a moment while the gathered armies waited for Thorin's answer, the words that would give them either death or wealth untold. Even Kíli found himself growing strangely nervous when his uncle did not speak, though he already knew what the dwarf's response should be: a reluctant agreement to give up his gold tomorrow even as he made plans to drive off both elves and men when Dáin arrived. But maybe the once-king had missed something, some clue that would make this battle begin differently than it had before.
Indeed, the once-king had missed something, though it was not a change that he could have prepared for. Because Thorin was stalling for time and when the first rays of sunlight above the eastern hills brought with them a raven, the dwarf lord gave Bard a feral smirk.
“I will have war,” Thorin growled as the ranks of Dáin's army began to crest the rise. Row upon row of dwarven warriors marching steadily toward the valley, the Lord of the Iron Hills and his armored boar riding out in front.
Instantly Thranduil turned his elves to the east to face these new arrivals, the men of Laketown rushing to follow in their wake. The three lords squared off while Thorin's company cheered their reinforcements, their cause no longer quite as hopeless as it had been.
Kíli raised his voice with the others though his mind was racing, wondering if the orcs would arrive soon enough to stop this madness now. The dwarf never thought that he would be praying for Azog to attack them but Dáin should not have arrived so quickly – damn my messenger – and the Defiler must appear before any allied blood was spilled. There were some things that a king could not forgive and if a single elf fell to dwarvish steel then there would never be peace between Erebor and Mirkwood after this. Kíli needed either orcs or Gandalf to talk his allies down.
“Good morning. How are we all?” Dáin shouted once his army was in position, the Lord of the Iron Hills exactly as he was in the once-king's memories. But then again, Thorin's cousin had always been a force of nature and even the Valar could not alter a dwarrow such as that.
Indeed, Dáin didn't seem remotely daunted by the army ranged before him, the dwarf lord meeting Thranduil's cold stare with a fierce glare of his own. “I have a wee proposition, if you wouldn't mind giving me a few moments of your time. Would you consider... just sodding off?! All of you! Right now!”
Dáin's shout caused a ripple in the ranks before him, the men of Laketown not quite so courageous when faced with an army instead of Thorin's small company. But Bard bolstered his people with a firm, “Stand fast,” while Gandalf stepped into the gap.
“Come now, Lord Dáin,” the wizard began, his conciliatory smile audible even to Thorin's company.
“Gandalf the Grey,” the dwarf lord greeted scornfully, though he kept his gaze fixed on Thranduil when he spoke. “Tell this rabble to leave or I'll water the ground with their blood!”
While this was a rather typical statement on Dáin's part and one that the dwarves of Erebor could not help but cheer for, Kíli wasn't exactly pleased to hear it now. He couldn't understand why Gandalf was not warning his allies about Azog and his army and it was going to be rather difficult for his allies to prepare for the coming battle if Dáin and Thranduil were trying to bash in each other's skulls.
But then the wizard spoke exactly the words that the once-king had been hoping for. “There is no need for war between dwarves, men and elves! A legion of orcs marches on the mountain. Stand your army down!”
Gandalf spoke these words and yet it did nothing to sway the dwarf lord's mind. Perhaps Dáin did not believe him; perhaps he was simply too filled with hate to care.
“I'll not stand down for any elf,” the dwarf lord shouted. “Not least this faithless woodland sprite. He wishes nothing but ill on my people. If he chooses to stand between me and my kin, I'll split his pretty head open! See if he's still smirking then.”
Of course he’s smirking, Kíli thought with a sigh, fighting the urge to beat his forehead against the stone. This was like watching a mine collapse in slow motion, the once-king knowing the disaster that awaited but unable to stop it from happening. Because this day just can’t get any better, Thranduil has to sit there smirking while Azog moves his army into position and prepares to kills us all. He’ll be smirking when I pass into the halls of my forefathers and he’ll probably still be smirking when Mahal calls us to renew this world.
The once-king was too busy grumbling to catch Thranduil’s response to Dáin's insults, but whatever the elf said, it was not diplomatic in the least. It couldn’t have been since the dwarf lord took it as a cry to battle, spinning his war pig around and shouting, “You hear that, lads? We're on. Let's give these bastards a good hammering.”
With this, Dáin's generals began to order his warriors forward but the dwarves of the Iron Hills had hardly taken a step before the ground began to rumble, this sudden earthquake threatening to knock both armies off their feet.
Only it wasn’t an earthquake, the shaking growing stronger and stronger until enormous creatures burst out of the hills to the south. These were the great wheel worms of Angmar, earth-eaters in the orcish tongue, and Kíli had never thought to see them in the flesh. Such creatures were said to have been destroyed when Thranduil’s armies overran the northern kingdom in a far older age, but it seemed that the tale spinners had been wrong.
In this timeline at least the worms had survived the fall of Angmar and so allowed Azog to move his army into position beneath the earth. That is why Kíli's raven had not seen them, though ranks upon rank of orcs were spilling out into the valley now.
From his vantage point upon the gate, the once-king could see that the Defiler had brought a whole host of evil creatures to stand against the Lonely Mountain: goblins, orcs and ogres armed for war. It was a host that Erebor and her allies were not prepared for and the once-king cursed whatever twist of fate had taken his last day from him.
Dáin, Thranduil, and Bard were supposed to have time to plan out their defenses; Bilbo was supposed to be miles away from here not standing in the middle of the battlefield. Indeed, the Lonely Mountain's eventual victory had depended much on their position, Thranduil taking the high ground of Raven Hill with his elven archers and raining death down from above. Yet it was Azog who had claimed those ruined towers now, the pale orc signaling his army to attack as he waited out the fight.
However, Dáin was considered one of their people’s finest warriors for a reason and this new assault did not leave him reeling very long.
“The hordes of hell are upon us. To battle! To battle, sons of Durin,” the dwarf lord shouted, his army marching around the elves to meet the orcish charge.
His warriors moved as one, sprinting forward and then slamming their shields into the ground to create the Shield Wall for which the Iron Hills were known. This barrier of steel and razor-edged pikes had served them well in many battles, but all the once-king could think about was how few his kindred seemed against the coming horde. They were sorely outnumbered and to make matters worse, the elves had yet to move.
Thranduil was just sitting there, watching the dwarves from the back of his elk, and Kíli truly did not know what he would do. Because he could not believe that the elf king would turn away from this battle; he did not want to believe it when his ally had been unforgiving but fair through all their dealings in the past. Yet Thranduil was still not moving and Kíli almost couldn’t bear to look.
But then, just before the orcs reached the dwarvish Shield Wall, the elven army surged forward, leaping over the backs of Dáin's warriors to dance death upon their foes.
“I'm going over the wall; who's coming with me?” Fíli shouted on seeing the battle joined, his brother speaking the thought in his companions' minds aloud. For they could hardly let their kindred go to war without them and Kíli turned to look at his uncle hopefully.
If everything else in this lifetime was moving so much faster, why should Thorin not throw off his dragon-sickness now and thus reduce their allies’ casualties? But it seemed that time only ran more quickly when it was not in the once-king's favor because the dwarf lord stopped his companions in their tracks with a growled, “Stand down!”
“Are we to do nothing?” Fíli protested, Dwalin and Bofur nodding their agreement at his side. Kíli's brother was staring at their uncle with something like betrayal, his loyalty tested to its limits by the other dwarf's command.
“I said, stand down!” Thorin shouted over all further protests, his eyes promising death to anyone who disobeyed. Then the dwarf lord turned away from the battle as though it did not matter anymore.
His company could have left then; any one of them could have climbed down the same rope as Bilbo and joined Dáin's warriors in their fight. Indeed, several of Kíli's companions clearly wished to do just that and yet they all stood motionless. Because Thorin was their king as well as kinsman and to disobey him now was something that they could not do. Loyalty was in their bones, built into them by the hands of Mahal, and they did not know who they were if they were not Thorin's company.
Of them all, only Kíli might have disobeyed the dwarf lord without flinching and one glance at Fíli told him that he would be staying here instead. His brother didn't have the once-king's long years upon the throne to harden him against their uncle's disapproval or the promise of a future outside of Erebor to lighten his banishment.
So the dwarf took one last glance at the battlefield, watching as the men of Laketown ran toward Dale with Gandalf and Bilbo in their midst.
“Be safe,” Kíli murmured, promising himself that he would come to their aid as soon as he was able to do so with his uncle and his brother at his side. Then the once-king turned away and followed the rest of his companions back into the depths of Erebor.
Chapter IV: Preamble - Part IV