The moon was high in the sky and Thorin's watch was nearly at it's end when a noise outside the window caught his attention and drew him out of his thoughts. He sat up slowly, one hand going to the sword he placed on the table by his feet. Out of the corner of his eye he saw movement and slowly slid off the table to avoid being seen. A rough voice called out in a language Thorin immediately recognized and he cursed silently. Slowly and as quietly as he could he crept over to where Ona was sleeping and placed a hand on her shoulder. Before his mind registered what was going on, he had her knife pressed to his throat. As the She-Dwarf woke fully she withdrew the knife with a glare, "I could have killed you!"
Thorin quickly covered her mouth and jerked his head toward the window. Ona instantly understood what he meant and she rolled to fit herself under the table. Thorin wedged himself next to her and tried to keep his breathing as shallow and silent as possible. From the window they could here Orcish being spoken, harsh and guttural. Ona shut her eyes briefly to focus on the voices clearly. She silently held up three fingers and Thorin nodded in understanding. The orcs seemed to draw nearer to the building and they held their breath for a moment before the voices faded as they headed off. Thorin slowly got to his feet, keeping a sharp eye out the window, "Orc scouts."
Ona immediately began to tie up her bedroll, "We can't sleep here. If there are scouts, we're right in the middle of Orc territory."
Thorin shouldered his own pack and secured his sword belt around his waist again, "Let's just hope Dwalin and the boys stay away from this area. We'll find a tree to sleep in for tonight and we'll get an early start."
As the sun began to peek it's head out in the very early hours of the morning Dwalin stirred slightly, waking and blinking at the light. On either side of him slept both boys, still sound asleep. A soft noise drew Dwalin attention downward. Inside his snare was the remains of a rabbit being feasted on by a mother coyote and her three pups. Dwalin watched them eat for a moment before Kili stirred, eyes opening slightly. The youngest Durin followed Dwalin's gaze before his eyes opened wide and he yelped, pressing himself as close to the trunk of the tree as he could, "Go away!"
Kili cry woke his brother and Fili nearly rolled out of the tree, startled. Dwalin caught him quickly before shushing Kili, "It's fine. It's fine! They're not Wargs. Just coyotes."
Kili didn't look reassured, "What's a coyote?"
Fili brightened and crept forward on the branch to get a better look, "I read about them once! They're kinda like wolves!"
Kili's eyes got huge, "Wolves?"
Dwalin kept a firm grasp on Fili's tunic as the blonde watched the canine family eat, "Closer to dogs than wolves. They won't bother us."
Kili slowly moved so he could get a better look, "I like dogs."
Dwalin grabbed onto his tunic as well and both brothers hung off the branch to watch the coyotes eat. Kili looked up at Dwalin with a grin, "The little ones look like puppies!"
They watched in rapt silence for a few long moments before the mother coyotes picked up one of her pups and led them back into the woods. Fili sat back up slowly with a grin, "Awesome."
The blonde's grin faded as he looked at the ground below, "We have to climb down now, don't we?"
Dwalin nodded and began his descent first in order to assist the boys, "It'll be fine. Just like before."
Kili immediately began down with unusual ease and limberness, "Come on Fee!"
Fili made a face and slowly followed down. Dwalin quickly started talking to the boy to distract him from the task at hand, "You said you read about coyotes. Do you like reading?"
Fili nodded and his distraction seemed to work, "Mmhm. I'm a good reader too. At least that's what Mama and Uncle Thorin say."
Dwalin looked down as Kili who launched himself the last few feet to the ground below, "What about you? Do you like reading?"
Kili made a disgusted face, "No. Reading is boring."
Dwalin made it to the ground and reached up to pluck Fili down as well, "I was never one for reading either."
Dwalin checked to make sure both boys were securely on the ground and looked around, "We need to start moving. If we walk quick enough we can try to make it to the Iron Hills tonight. I'm sure your uncle is waiting."
The warrior began to walk, both children following behind.
Near the edge of the forest Ona held perfectly still behind a tree as another three orcs passed her by. Thorin looked over at her from his own hiding spot in the branches higher up. As the orcs disappeared from view Ona looked up at him, "We can't stay over here. There are orc packs everywhere. We're outnumbered and we're going to get ourselves killed."
Thorin jumped down from the tree, slightly out of breath, "I haven't seen any sign of Dwalin or the boys either. I doubt they came this way."
Ona pressed herself back against the tree as another orc came by before muttering under her breath, "Lucky for them."
It went by without incident and Thorin began moving cautiously, "We need to make it to the other side of the woods. I'm hoping that's where Dwalin took the boys."
Ona nodded and followed, keeping her movement as quiet as she could and her eyes peeled for orcs.
They had been walking for about an hour when Kili spoke up, "Where are we going?"
Dwalin looked down at the youngest Durin, Kili scrambling to keep up with Dwalin's longer strides, "We're taking the long way around and up. I'm not sure what are in these woods. The quicker we walk, the quicker we'll reach the cliffside and we can climb up. It'll be a short walk after that to the Iron Hills."
Kili quickened his pace until he was at Dwalin's side, grabbing his hand tightly, "There's things in the woods? Like those Warg things? Or wolves?"
Dwalin looked down and saw two terrified faces staring bak at him. He covered the best he could, cursing internally, "Uh....no....yes? Maybe? I'm not sure. Probably not. Better to be safe than regret it."
Fili frowned, "But it's uphill the whole way! Uphill is hard to walk!"
He grabbed hold of Dwalin's other hand causing the warrior to slow his usual brisk pace down slightly. He fought a smile the best he could at the sound of Fili's whining, "Not quite. It's pretty flat here. We're going to have to climb up the rocks eventually. We're in a valley now."
Kili looked up at him skeptically, "We're going to climb up rocks?"
"Think of it like climbing a tree. I'll help you both or I'll just carry you."
The younger brother did not look convinced, "At the same time?"
Dwalin sighed, "We'll figure something out."
Kili looked like he was going to protest again and Dwalin quickly changed the subject, "I've been in this valley before. Not in the forest but alongside the mountain. There's an area with a tiny, little cliff drop-off....thing. It leads to this little shoreline and the river. It's in the opposite direction but I think you'd both like it. Maybe once we get you to your uncle we can take you both there."
Kili sighed loudly, "If we ever get there... I'm tired of walking!"
Dwalin gave him a slightly amused look and the child beamed up at him....so much for his fear, "Alright. How about this? We walk for five more minutes, then we go a little deeper in the woods for some food and rest."
Five minutes never moves slower than when you're with a complaining child, let alone two. And Kili, son of Dis from the line of Durin could make a living whining professionally. Dwalin could feel what little patience he had dwindling rather quickly as Kili made another complaint, this time about being hot, "We're at five minutes. Let's get you both something to eat. Hopefully I can find something."
Kili eyed the forest warily, "It gets dark in there."
Fili nodded, "And you said you didn't know what could be in there."
Dwalin ran a hand over his head and counted to five, "It'll be fine. I'll be with you. Come on."
Both boys had a hand tightly in their grasp and they ventured deeper. Dwalin kept his eyes sharp, looking for both food and whatever else could be lurking. As they walked the boys grew bolder and let go of Dwalin's hands to walk slightly ahead. Dwalin looked them over, checking for injuries more severe than cuts and scrapes and was once again shocked by how similar Kili looked to his late uncle, "Your uncle is right Kili....you really do look like your Uncle Frerin."
Kili beamed back at him and Dwalin once again found himself fighting a smile, the boy's grin was infectious, "I'm almost taller than Fili too, even though I'm younger."
Fili glowered at him, "Or maybe you're done growing and you'll be this tall forever!"
Kili stuck his tongue out, "Will not!"
"Will too!" Fili barely got his taunt out before he stumbled on the rougher terrain.
Dwalin stepped between them and caught him before he hit the ground, steadying him on his feet with a firm but not harsh, grasp of his arm, "I'm going to stop that right there. You know I'm taller than Balin and he's my older brother."
The boys stared up at him in shock before Fili managed to speak, "You're Mr. Balin's brother?"
Dwalin nodded and Kili's mouth dropped open, "I was never scared of Balin...."
Dwalin sighed with a smile, "Hopefully you're not scared of me now either. There's a blackberry bush over there. We can get you guys some berries."
The two children ran to the bush in question and Dwalin shook his head slowly, storing that little exchange away in his memory to tell Balin once he was in the Iron Hills. As Fili and Kili began munching on berries, making faces from the occasional sour one, a faint noise came from nearby and Dwalin froze, listening closely. As the guttural speech and soft growls grew louder the boys became aware of it too. Kili looked up at Dwalin and got to his feet, "I wanna go.....I wanna go now."
Fili nodded, eyes huge and scrambled to his feet as well. Dwalin took each of them by a hand and began backing up slowly. His boot crunched a stick underfoot, causing a loud crack. The trio froze for a second as the sounds turned in their direction. Dwalin let out a stream of curses causing Fili to look up at him, terrified, "What is that?"
Dwalin just shook his head, "Just go....run....as fast as you can."
He began to run, keep a firm grasp on both boys, practically dragging them along. The growls and cries echoed from around them and grew unnervingly closer as the ran through the forest best the could. Fili stumbled more than once, Dwalin dragging him to his feet not willing to stop for any reason. Up ahead was a fallen tree and Dwalin felt a surge of relief, he pushed both boys under it before diving behind it himself. Quickly he looked them over, "You're going to both cover your ears and shut your eyes. You're going to want to look and see but you're not going to, understand?"
Both boys nodded obediently, eyes terrified. Once he was sure they would listen he pulled out his axe and climbed back over, eyes searching for the Warg and Orc scout following them. He waited a few long minutes before his shoulders relaxed, "Come on out boys. I think they're gone. Let's get out of these woods before we find something else we don't want to."
He sheathed his weapon securely on his back and accepted a hand from both boys, "Come on. I'm not sure where we are in the woods so we'll head for the edge of them and go from there. Shouldn't be too far of a walk."
The boys both walked in silence, clearly still shaken from the run. Dwalin kept his eyes and ears doubly sharp and trained, every snap and every rustle making him tense, "I'm going to be honest with both of you. What was following us is probably still following us. We're going to get out of here as quickly as possible, understand?"
Two terrified nods and Dwalin picked up the pace slightly, the boys nearly at a run. As the edge of the forest grew closer Fili hesitantly spoke up, "What-what was that?"
"An orc. On a warg. I'm not going to let it near you though."
Kili's voice was shaky, "I don't like this valley-thing. I want Mama."
A howl sounded from the woods and Dwalin closed his eyes, "Oh no."
He looked around briefly before swinging Fili onto his back the best he could, "Hold on tight."
Kili was swept into him arms and he quickened his pace to a near run until they cleared the tree line. The sound of running water greeted them and Dwalin looked around, knowing exactly where they were, "Remember that place I was telling you about?"
He felt two nods, "We're at that place."
Fili was distressed as he slid down from his back, "I thought you said that was the wrong way from the way we needed to be!"
Dwalin sighed and put Kili on the ground, "It was. When we ran, we ran that way. We're going to jump down into the river and walk down the shore until we're away from the orcs."
Another howl sounded and Dwalin ushered them toward the drop-off. It was small, only ten feet or so, the river rolling slowly under it, but to the boys it seemed huge. Kili looked at Dwalin and shook his head violently, "I can do this."
Dwalin nodded, "Yes you can. I'll jump down first, then Fili, then you."
Kili stared at the distance, frozen in fear. Dwalin took a quick glance at the forest and swung down from the edge, dropping down into the water before he surfaced and swam to the shore to call up, "See? Fili you're going to jump down and I'm going to catch you."
Another howl sounded, closer this time and Fili all but launched himself into Dwalin's arms. Kili stayed frozen, shaking his head furiously, "No!"
Dwalin backed up some so he could clearly see the ledge, "Kili you have to jump! Let's count to three. One! Two! Three!"
Kili just shook his head harder, "I can't do it!"
Fili looked up, beginning to panic, "Kee! You have to come down here!"
Dwalin looked from Fili to Kili before looking hard at the rock wall in front of him, "Kili I'm going to climb up and get you if I can."
Kili made a strangled noise of pure terror and Dwalin looked up in, "Kili what is it?"
Kili whimpered and Dwalin backed up to see clearer. He could just barely see the warg-riding orc scout, now just out of the tree line, advancing on helpless Kili, "You have to jump. On three. One. Two-"
The Warg jumped at him and Kili tripped backwards and off the edge, smacking his head on a rock on his way down before disappearing into the water.