Author's Note: Chapter 3! Not sure about the ending but eh. This chapter is longer than the other two so that's something at least. Like I said, this story seems to be flowing really well and I'm hoping to keep this pace until it's done. Hopefully you'll enjoy as well.
The rain started shortly before dawn. It wasn't quite rain but not quite a mist, more of something in between that made everything muddy, wet, and highly unpleasant. Dwalin let the boys sleep (and sleep they did, soundly and with no nightmares or issues-something Dwalin was grateful for) until early morning. He knocked on the side of the overturned wagon and waited for a response. Nothing. Off in the distance, still far enough way to not pose any problem, a pack of wolves sounded, howls long and low. As the noise died down a disheveled Fili head popped out from the door, "What was that?"
Kili's head emerged from beneath his brother's, "Are those monsters coming back?"
Dwalin cursed and looked down at the two terrified faces looking up at him, "No. Those were Wolves, not Wargs."
Kili's lowered lip was trembling and his eyes were larger than Dwalin thought possible, "But can't Wolves eat us too?"
Dwalin felt another strong urge to curse but managed to bite is tongue. The last thing he needed was for Thorin's nephews to pick up language their mother would skin his hide for. He took a deep breath and looked down at them, "The Wolves are far away. Nothing to worry about. You both need to get up and we need to start moving. I need to get you back to your uncle."
Both heads nodded, eyes still wide and Kili scrambled out from under his brother out into the open. Fili followed a bit slower and Dwalin knelt to look him in the eye, "Are you hurt?"
Fili shook his head, "No. I'm fine."
Dwalin looked him over with a keen eye. The little blonde didn't seem to be injured. Granted he was still covered in a thick layer of mud but at this point that was inevitable, "You let me know if you feel any kind of pain, understand?"
He gave the boy a severe look and Fili nodded again. Kili was soon back by his brother's side, Fili's arm going immediately around his shoulders. Dwalin had a brief image of himself as a child and Balin doing the same thing. His mouth quirked slightly and he looked around their camp. The wagon was beyond repair and would be no use to them. His bedroll and cloak were probably coated with enough mud that it wouldn't worth it to bring them along. Securing his axe to his back, Dwalin peered through the heavy mist at the two Dwarflings that were now in his care, "Let's get going."
He started a slow pace, eyes switching between keeping a steady eye out for danger and making sure both boys were still keeping up. As the mist picked up the three Dwarves disappeared farther into the valley.
Around midmorning the mist started to slow, just in time for Thorin and Ona to arrived on what appeared to be a violent battle scene. Thorin swore, breathless and slid off his pony, not bothering for it to stop. There were several dead Warg lying around along with splintered wood. Thorin rushed to the tree line and saw what looked to be pieces of meat spread out on the ground. Thorin's stomach turned when he recognized what was most certainly an arm. The more he looked the more he realized what was lying around him was the remains of someone...most likely one of the Dwarves sent to accompany his nephew. A large section of a green coat was snagged on a tree and Thorin had a brief flash of memory of one of the Dwarves...Robo...wearing a green coat.
"I think this was Robo!" He called back to Ona.
He heard a gag and she responded thickly, "I think this was too."
Thorin looked back at her and scanned the area. There seemed to be no other sign of the other Dwarf nor his nephews and his stomach twisted tighter. Ona walked up to him, her face pale, "I don't see any sign of them."
Thorin could feel the start of panic settling in and repressed it the best he could, "We'll split up and look. Not far. Within yelling distance."
Ona's voice was shaky, "Where is the wagon?"
Thorin nearly took off in a run and kept his eyes open for any sign of his nephews, "Fili! Kili!"
He heard Ona behind him, keeping up the same litany of calls, "Boys! Please! Fili! Kili!"
There seemed to be no sign of his nephews, the wagon, nor the second Dwarf sent with them. Thorin was heading deeper into the woods, in the vain hope that maybe they had run there when he heard Ona's voice call to him in a panic, "Thorin! The wagon!"
He bolted over to her, feeling nauseous, "Where?"
Ona dropped down to her stomach into mud, "It's down there! The wagon fell down there!"
He followed her pointing to down below where the wagon was, lying overturned. His vision swam for a moment, "Fili! Kili!"
"Boys!" Ona called after.
Thorin kept his gaze trained on the wagon, hoping in vain to see some sign of his nephews below, "We need to find a way down there."
"There's a rope! A rope tied to a rock! Somebody already went down there!"
Thorin looked over to where her voice came from in time to see the red head grab hold of the rope and launch herself over the side of the drop-off. Thorin reached for her, "Ona!"
She slid down the rope, likely burning her palms, before letting go and jumping down the last five feet or so, "There's a dead Warg down here! Fili!"
Thorin made his way halfway down the rope before letting go and falling the last few feet, rolling to his feet, "Kili! Fili!"
Thorin went to his knees and looked under the wagon with a pit in his stomach at what he would find. There were no bodies, much to his relief, but there was a bedroll and a cloak that he drew out. Ona called out to him, "Their bags are all over here. I don't see them anywhere though."
Thorin stood, cloak in hand, "There's no sign of them in the wagon either."
Ona walked over and took the cloak from him, "What's this?"
Thorin scanned the tree line, now desperate for any sign of the boys, "I found it in the wagon."
Out of the corner of his eye he noticed a small impression on the ground and walked over, deaf to what Ona was telling him. There in the mud where three sets of footprints. One large, and two small boot prints that caused the knot in Thorin's chest to release somewhat, "Ona."
She walked over to him with a pack in hand, "They're alive. They have to be."
Thorin's shoulders slumped slightly, "We'll follow the trail they left. Hopefully we'll catch up to them."
She held out the pack, "I found this."
Thorin looked it over before the crest on the flap registered, "Dwalin. This belongs to Dwalin."
Ona's eyebrows knit together, "Dwalin's been traveling. He hasn't been near the Blue Mountains for months."
Thorin stood and headed off in the direction of the footprints, Ona at his side, "He was going to meet Balin at the Iron Hills. He must be the Dwarf who has the boys."
With midday came the end of the mist, the sun starting to push back the clouds. Everything was beginning to dry, mud turning into dirt. Both Fili and Kili were caked in it. Dwalin himself had his own fair share of mud drying on him, though more on his pants and arms than anywhere else. The boys were quiet beside him, shoulders pressed together, seeking comfort no doubt. Dwalin looked them over, at this point they were more mud than Dwarf. He looked over to the side where there was a small stream and nodded, "Follow me."
Both boys did as they were told and he led them to the water. He rinsed off his arms and held out a hand to Fili who stepped forward and knelt down on the bank, "Rinse off your face the best you can to get rid of some of the mud."
Kili, without needing any prompting took a running start and leaped into the water, thoroughly splashing his brother. Fili grinned and followed his brother into the water, splashing him back. Dwalin let them splash for a moment before straightening, "All right. That's enough. Let's get moving."
Minor grumbles came from both boys but the exited the water all the same. The sun was starting to dry things up and gave the promise of a rather warm day. Dwalin started walking, Fili following before he realized Kili was still standing near the water, staring back in the direction they had come from. Dwalin turned back to him, "Kili. Come on."
Kili nodded and slowly followed, dragging his feet, a somber expression on his face. Dwalin cleared his throat and attempted to keep his voice less gruff than usual, "What's wrong."
The question came out more of a statement and Kili just shrugged one shoulder. Dwalin adjusted his tone again, "What is it?"
Kili's eyes were trained on the ground, "Our stuff was in the wagon."
"Oh," Dwalin was at a loss, "Was there anything you really needed?"
Fili's shoulders slumped as well, "Our new training stuff was in there. The swords and stuff Uncle made us."
Instantly Dwalin understood, "Well...I personally will help your uncle make you new ones. What were you training with?"
He started walking again and both boys followed, still slowly but with a bit more enthusiasm now that hope of new weapons was on the horizon. Fili brightened almost instantly at that question, "I'm working with two swords like Uncle Frerin used to."
Dwalin fondly remembered the younger Durin brother, "He was very good with both swords. You'll take after him I'm sure."
Fili beamed and swelled with pride, "Uncle Thorin says I remind him of Frerin when I'm training. He says Kili reminds him of Frerin all the time."
That Dwalin could see. Kili was the spitting image of Thorin's younger brother and seemed to have the same mischievous streak as well, "And you Kili? What're you training with?"
Kili shrugged again. His hesitance around Dwalin seemed to have returned. Fili spoke up for him brother, "Kili just started to train with a sword but he's really good with his bow."
"A bow? You must have really good aim."
Kili's eyes remained downcast and he shrugged again. Fili gave his brother a sympathetic look, "He does. He's the best with it."
Dwalin took a deep breath and steadied himself. It was high time he stopped scaring this kid, "Do you like training with a sword or bow better?"
Kili's voice was quiet, "Bow...but the sword is better."
Fili spoke up then, his eyes dark and a look on his face that strongly reminded Dwalin of Thorin himself, "There's nothing wrong with your bow. The other kids are stupid."
Dwalin had a sinking suspicion he knew what was going on, "What kids?"
Fili looked ready to take on all of the Blue Mountains in defense of his brother, "The other kids during training. They call-"
"Fili, don't!" Kili interrupted.
"-him an Elf," Fili finished with a glare, "You're not an Elf and they're just jealous."
Kili's pace slowed even more, actually dragging his feet now. Dwalin ran a head over his head and frowned once again. He may not know how to handle these two but he had kept them alive so far. Might as well make them like him, "You now your uncle is pretty good with a bow."
Kili's eyes raised, "Really?"
"Not as good as he is with a sword but he can certainly shoot well enough. I never could. Tried it when I was younger. I'm better with an axe or a hammer," Dwalin explained, making sure to keep his eyes ahead of him to not scare him off, "I always like having an archer in hunting parties. Less people get hurt when you have someone with a bow and arrow with."
Kili's eyes brightened, "So...using a bow doesn't make me an Elf?"
Dwalin did look at him then and raised an eyebrow, "Do you really think your uncle would let you do anything like and Elf?"
Kili shook his head with a bright grin and instantly the mood felt lighter. Dwalin gave them both a fond look, "Once we get to the Iron Hills we'll get you both some practice weapons and let me see how your uncle's been training you."
They nodded enthusiastically and Dwalin felt himself hoping the rest of their journey would continue on the easy going path they seemed to be on. A howl sounded far off in the distance and Dwalin highly doubted it would.
Ona was nearly at a run, attempting to keep up with Thorin's brisk strides, "Oakenshield. Slow down! Thorin!"
Thorin paused but kept a keen lookout for any sign of Dwalin or his nephews, "Sorry."
Ona caught up with him and sighed, "We'll find them. We may have found them faster if we had gone back up for the ponies."
Thorin shook his head, "No. We'd have to find a safe path down and we're already far enough behind them."
They began to travel again and Ona looked at Thorin. He was clearly agitated, body pulled tight, ready to snap at any moment, "If anybody can get those boys to the Iron Hills safely, it's Dwalin. You know that, right?"
Thorin sighed but nodded, "It'll take them at least another day of walking to make it out of the valley. Then at least half a day to make it to the Hills themselves."
"They're probably moving slow. Dwalin probably can't keep a good pace...at least not with the boys walking. I'm sure we'll catch up to them."
Dwalin trekked his way up the small hill before pausing at the top. Fili and Kili were slowly making their way up behind him, panting and groaning about the pace. They made it next to him and flung themselves to the ground dramatically. Dwalin looked down at them ruefully, "Twenty more minutes, then we'll stop for a break."
Kili continued to play dead, face down on the ground but Fili shifted enough to turn his head slightly to be heard, "You said that twenty minutes ago."
Dwalin sighed and looked around. It was already late afternoon and they had been keeping a steady pace the whole time. At some point he also had to feed them. Might as well be that point right then, "Let's get you two some food."
Kili's roused, "I want cookies, and milk, and Mama's butter biscuits, and to stop walking."
The kid could have a job as a professional whiner. Dwalin hoisted Fili to his feet before doing the same with a protesting Kili, "I can find us some berries and maybe set a trap for a rabbit in the woods."
He led them into the tree line in the centre of the valley and began gather branches and twigs for a snare trap. He looked up at the boys, "Don't eat anything unless I say so. The last thing we need is for one of you to eat something poisonous."
They boys nodded sagely and Dwalin looked around. There wasn't much they could eat that would be filling but hopefully he would manage to find some berries or something to tide them over until he could catch something more substantial. He cursed under his breath at his less than brilliant idea to leave his pack behind and rose, "Let's go food hunting."
Two hours, a raspberry bush, and an apple tree later the boys had something in their stomach. They had made it slightly farther ahead and the sun was beginning to have a rather quick descent. Dwalin looked around and found a small bush nearby to set up a snare. The boys watched fascinated as he tied some vines and sticks together and covered it with leaves, "Maybe we'll catch something for the morning. For now we'll get some sleep. I'd like to start walking early."
Kili made a face at the mention of early morning waking before looking around, "Where are we gonna sleep?"
Dwalin looked behind him at one of the large trees, "Up here. Off the ground so nothing can see us."
Kili immediately started climbing after a boost from Dwalin but Fili groaned loudly. Dwalin managed to get him started before the blonde groaned louder, "I hate trees!"
Kili, who seemed to have a natural ability for climbing looked down at them both brightly, "They don't bother me!"
Fili gave his brother a look, "You weren't in the last one."
Kili stuck his tongue out and continued to climb until he reached a branch big enough for the three of them to sit in against the trunk, "I bet we're high enough to see a dragon."
Fili made it beside his brother and scooted as close to the trunk as he could, "Why would you want to see a dragon?"
Kili gave his brother a look, "I didn't say I wanted to see one. I said we were high enough to maybe see one. You don't go and bother dragons for you are crunchy and taste good with milk."
Dwalin couldn't help the smile that appeared at Kili's wisdom, "That's pretty good, Kid."
Kili looked at him brightly and Dwalin settle against the trunk beside them. Kili scrambled to move onto the other side so the older Dwarf was between the two, "Dwalin...what's big, scaly, and bounces?"
Dwalin was at a loss, "I don't know."
Kili grinned, "A dragon jumping on the bed."
Dwalin snorted and Kili's grin grew, "What eats more than one dragon?"
"I don't know. What does eat more than one dragon?" Dwalin repeated, catching on to Kili's game.
Dwalin shook his head in amusement, "Pretty clever."
"What do dragons eat for snacks?"
Dwalin chuckled and settled back against the tree, making himself comfortable. He nearly started when both boys leaned against him, Kili almost instantly dropping off to sleep. Fili struggled to keep his eyes opened for a moment, "Dwalin?"
Dwalin ruffled the boy's hair, "You're welcome. Get some sleep."
Fili's eyes shut and Dwalin looked at both boys fondly before shutting his own eyes.
The moon was already in the sky when Thorin and Ona slowed their pace. Ona stopped walking altogether, "Thorin. We have to get some rest. I don't want to know what wanders out of these woods at night. We have to find somewhere to sleep."
Thorin looked frustrated but clearly saw the wisdom in her woods, "We'll wander ahead. We're close enough to the Iron Hills that there should be an outpost or guard area. Dain wouldn't let this area go that unprotected for hunting groups."
Sure enough, nestled in the shallowest part of the wood edge was a small stone building. It was crumbling but intact enough to sleep in. Ona looked around hesitantly, "It looks abandoned."
Thorin nodded, "I don't want to find out why but we have no choice. We'll rest here for the night."
The door remained stubbornly shut until Ona sighed, frustrated, "It's rusted shut. Stand back."
Thorin gave her a look but did as he was told as Ona slammed her foot into it, sending the door flying open with a loud creak. The inside had a small fire pit and a closet, as well as enough area for at least four bedrolls. A small table and bench sat along the wall but otherwise the room was sparse. Thorin sat on the table and leaded back against the wall, "I'll take first watch."
Ona unpacked her bedroll and looked around the room with a frown, "Here's hoping we survive long enough to actually switch watches."
Thorin couldn't agree more, "And if we do, let's hope we don't find out why this outpost isn't being used anymore..."