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Sacred Duty, Bleeding Heart

By Lakritzwolf

Romance / Fantasy

Chapter 1

It wasn't even an attack. No orcish blade or arrow, it had been an accident—a case of sodden boots, wet moss and slippery rocks.

They had all been in a hurry to get out of those bloody barrels and onto dry land, so when the current had washed them where rocky outcrops of the river gorge levelled out onto the river’s edge they had taken their chance right there and then, even if there was still some climbing to do and they had no way of knowing if the orcs were truly gone.

And that was why it had happened. Having almost reached the upper edge, Fili had lost his footing, then his grip, too fast for any of the other dwarves to react. His body had hit the rocks below, and now Kili was sitting with his brother cradled in his arms. Fili had a deep, ugly gash on his temple that was bleeding freely. The gash alone was bad enough, but who knew what other injury the wound might conceal.

Kili couldn’t even feel the pain in his leg right now as he sat there and watched Oin desperately try to stop the bleeding. But even without a healer’s knowledge Kili knew it was a forlorn hope to try and treat a wound like that with nothing more than a strip of cloth torn off from a wet and dirty shirt. Oin shook his head, defeat in his eyes.

Just as Thorin knelt beside them, his face set tight, they heard steps crashing through the underbrush. Thorin was on his feet again in an instant, but it was just Nori stumbling out of the shrubs.

“I heard goats down there!” He pointed downhill. “And chickens!”

“Come on.” Thorin waved Dwalin over who hoisted Fili up into his arms.

“I didn’t even know there were people living this close to Mirkwood,” Balin said thoughtfully. “I am not sure that this is a good idea.”
“If you have a better one, I’ll gladly listen,” Thorin snapped at him, but the older dwarf shrugged with a deeply furrowed brow.

Bofur clamped an arm around Kili’s midriff to support him and the dwarves hurried through the strip of shrubby woodland that marked the outer edge of the Mirkwood forest, and crested a small rise. Before them the hills rolled down, covered in green grass, and there was a small column of smoke rising up behind some gnarled and wind-swept birch trees. A gaggle of chickens clucked peacefully in the sunshine, a goat bleated in half-hearted annoyance.

Thorin broke into a run. “Hello!” he roared. “Help! Someone!”

To their surprise there wasn’t a house, only two doors set directly into the side of the hill, between them a small latch with a ladder that had to be the chicken coop.

The larger door almost looked like the entrance to a hobbit hole, apart from the fact that it was rectangular, not round.

At that moment a woman emerged from the smaller door to the right, carrying a bucket full of milk and a small milking-stool. Through the door she had just emerged from, goats could be seen chewing peacefully on their hay.

She was barefoot and dressed in a shirt and skirt of homespun wool. Chestnut hair was pulled back in a tight bun and dark green eyes looked anxious, almost frightened, at the dwarves’ approach.

“Please!” Thorin approached her. “Is there a village nearby? We need a healer, a herb woman, anything!”

The woman looked past him, saw Dwalin catch up with Thorin and what he was carrying. She took a deep breath. “The village was razed by orcs and burned to the ground, two years ago. But you are in luck. The herb woman survived, her house lying somewhat away from the village.”

Dwalin shifted the unconscious man in his arms. A small puddle of blood had already formed between his feet. “Well, where can we find her? Quick!”

The woman, who was very short for a human, even a woman, put the bucket down and nervously looked around. She seemed more than a little bit afraid of Dwalin’s angry bark. “You’ve already found her. Bring him in.”

The hut consisted of only two rooms, the entrance door led into a small kitchen and through the door to the right was a more spacious room with a fireplace and another bed. Carefully Dwalin placed his load there and stood back, looking around him with a scowl.

Shelves lined the walls, packed with jars and boxes; a strange, herbal smell hung in the air. A flat kettle hung over the banked fire, and with a few, efficient moves the woman had stirred up the flames and lowered the kettle to get the water boiling while she lit up an oil lamp and picked a few jars from the shelves. When she turned around, she let her eyes roam over twelve dwarves and one hobbit packed into the tiny room. Despite that, the only sound to be heard was the soft ‘pit-pit-pit’ of Fili’s blood hitting the wooden floor.

“Well don’t just stand there, please give me some room!” She shooed the dwarves out with a few moves of her hands. “Get me some water, there’s a well behind the stable.” After casting a look at the kettle she noticed Kili still standing beside the cot. She looked at his face, narrowed her eyes and let her look sweep down him. It lingered on his thigh before her eyes met Kili’s again. “Sit down there, I’ll take care of you shortly,” she said, pointing at a small stool under the tiny window.

“It’s not that.” Kili took a step back and lowered himself cautiously onto the small stool. “I... he’s my brother and...”
Her expression softened. “I promise I will do my best.”

Kili nodded and watched her fill a bowl with the boiling water and add some herbs to it. A sharp, pungent smell rose from the bowl.

Kili shifted on his stool. “What’s your name?”
“Katla.”
“My name’s Kili, and my brother’s is Fili.”

She nodded with a smile, then turned around again, a few clean cloths in her hand from a stack on another shelf, and noticed Oin standing in the doorway with the bucket. She pointed towards the cot. “Thank you.”

“I was wondering...” the elder dwarf began, “if you would allow me to help you? My duty has always been caring for the wounded.”
Katla tilted her head after casting a glance at his hearing aid, but then nodded. “Can you remove the bandage?”

Oin nodded and set to work removing the clumsy, dirty, makeshift bandage while Katla returned to her brew. She strained it into another bowl and returned to the cot to have a look at Fili’s head wound. Fresh blood had welled up after Oin had removed the bandage and Katla quickly pressed a cloth soaked in the herbal brew onto the wound.

Anxiety written all over him; Kili watched them as they carefully cleaned the wound; a big, ragged gash on the left side of his brother’s forehead from the root of the nose to the hairline above his left temple. His hair and beard were matted with drying blood. Once the gash was clean, Katla gently pressed along the length of the wound; Fili stirred and moaned quietly, but did not awaken.

“Hold on, brother,” Kili muttered, the pain in his leg all but forgotten. “Hold on.”

Katla looked up and gave him a reassuring smile, "He doesn't seem to have cracked his skull—that's a reason to be thankful." Trying to return the smile Kili nodded, but his smile died before it had even emerged as he looked at the still and pale form of his brother, lifeless as a corpse.

Katla had produced a small package from which she now took a curved needle and thread. Oin held Fili’s head as she sewed the wound in small, tight stitches. “What happened to him?” she asked while she worked.
“He fell,” Kili said, shuddering at the memory. “We were climbing up the cliff down from the river, and he fell and landed on the rocks below.”
Katla nodded, “I see.”

Then she straightened up and assessed her work. With a nod, she put the pack with the needles away and got a pair of shears which she used to cut the shirt off Fili’s body, neatly following the seams. Oin and Kili exchanged an uncomfortable glance as she proceeded to remove his boots and trousers. They were visibly troubled to see him so bared and exposed even when, for decency’s sake, she covered his groin with a cloth before cleaning her hands in the bucket.

The only sounds were the crackling of the fire and the low mumbling of the others outside. No one inside the hut felt the urge to talk.

Closing her eyes, Katla now began to palpate every limb of Fili’s body, carefully digging her fingers into his flesh, starting with his chest. “Three cracked ribs”, she muttered under her breath. “Only one of them is damaged more severely. What kind of bones does he have?”

Kili and Oin exchanged a brief, almost amused glance.

As it turned out, his left arm was broken in two places, and his left shin was broken too. After setting the fractures, a task made easier by the fact that Fili was still deeply unconscious, she bound them in wet strips of rawhide; these would shrink as they dried and become hard as wood, thus keeping the healing bones in place.

“I’ve done what I can for now,” she finally said after having taken care of the fractures. “The rest is up to him.”

“Thank you,” Kili murmured, unable to take his eyes off his brother’s lifeless face. “I just...”

Oin patted his shoulder. “Don’t ya fret yourself, lad. He’s as strong as an ox and twice as stubborn. He’ll make it.”

Kili tried to smile, but failed.

“Let me look at your leg,” Katla said and knelt down before him.
“It’s nothing,” Kili muttered.
“It’s not big,” Katla replied sternly. “But it sure looks nasty. Let me have a look.”
“Was that an arrow?” she asked after she had cleaned the wound and bound it with a fresh, clean bandage.

Kili nodded mutely, his face still burning as he pulled up his trousers and hastily buckled his belt.

“Are there any more of you needing my help?” She then asked as she got up, dusting off her skirt.

Kili shook his head. “I don’t think so. Just a few scratches. I was the only one stupid enough to get hit.”

“Stupid or unlucky.” Katla shook her head. “Does it make a difference? You’re still alive. So is your brother. Be happy about that and let it rest.”

“I guess you’re right,” He gave her a hesitant smile.
“What was it that hunted you? Orcs?”
Kili nodded. “A pack of them.”
“And why exactly are you running around here in the middle of nowhere with naught more than the clothes on your back?”
“We were captured.” He avoided her eyes. “We managed to escape, but only barely.”

Katla gave Kili a stern look. “We will have to keep an eye on that,” she said after a moment before opening the door to the kitchen. “I do not like the look of that wound.”

Bofur stood at the stove and turned around as he heard the door, beaming at Katla and Kili entering the kitchen. “We were kinda hungry,” he said, sounding slightly apologetic. “And I didn’t want to disturb, so I had a wee look around and then fixed us up a stew.”

Katla looked at him, then up the stairs into the attic. “Well, I would have preferred being asked before you went raiding my pantry.” Katla shook her head, but this time she seemed a little amused. “But it sure smells delicious.”

“Everything he makes does,” Kili said with a smirk as he shoved past her. “And then it always tastes like a troll ate it first and shat it out again.”

Bofur threatened him with the cooking spoon in mock anger and both dwarves snorted and chuckled at each other.

They then took the large kettle between them and carried it outside where the others were sitting around a small, makeshift campfire engaged in a lively conversation. Yet everyone fell silent as Katla approached and sat down. She faced a lot of worried and expectant looks.

“He will live,” she said and gave Bofur, who just handed her a bowl, a thankful nod. “But he is weak. He lost a lot of blood, and with his injuries it is going to be a few weeks before he can walk again.”
“We cannot wait that long,” Thorin said darkly, frowning into the fire. “We can’t.”

The dwarves exchanged unhappy glances, yet none of them said a word.

Finally Ori broke the silence. “But can we just leave him here?” He looked anxiously around before his eyes rested on Katla. “I mean...”
“You will have to,” the herb woman replied. “If you try hauling him through the countryside in his state he will be dead before next sunset.”

“Then it’s settled.” Thorin nodded, his face dark and eyes unreadable, “I hate to leave him behind, but we have come so far and he wouldn’t want it to have been for nothing.”
“He surely wouldn’t,” Balin agreed.

A heavy, uncomfortable silence hung over the campfire, broken only by the crackle of the fire. A log broke and sent a shower of sparks high into the cold, dark night.

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