“Here, let me.” He smiled and winked. “I
made the mess, I’ll clear it up. Besides, you’ve done enough for the day.”
She returned the smile. “Thank you. But I’m afraid my work is not done yet.”
“Is that so? What do you need? Can we help?”
“Maybe.” She ran a hand through her hair.She was visibly tired after having spent more than half the day patching Fili back together. “I just need to warm some water to wash his hair...”
“Wash his hair...” Dwalin gave her a dark look. “Hasn’t the lad gone through enough messing with his privacy already?”
“...before it turns into a tangled, smelly mess that only a pair of shears can solve,” Katla went on, looking at her feet. “I only want to help.”
“Where’s the bloody bucket,” Dwalin growled after a small, pregnant pause as he got up onto his feet.
“Dori, Ori,” Bofur fell in. “Can you lads manage that? I wouldn’t trust Dwalin with washing Fili’s hair; he might just take him by the legs and dunk him in.”
Dwalin, having just returned from the well, now put the bucket down and narrowed his eyes. And then, with one swift bend and move, he had Bofur by the ankles and plunged his head into the bucket for a few seconds. Amidst roaring laughter from the others he set the bedraggled Bofur onto his feet again, his hair, beard and hat dripping water.
“Like that?” Dwalin asked. “Och, dinna
fret, lad. I’d never do that!”
“Oh.” Bofur took his hat off and emptied the water out of it. “That’s a good thing, that is.” With that, he vanished into the kitchen.
“Here, lass.”Dwalin shooed Bifur and
Nori off the small bench beside the door. “Have a seat and rest yerself.”
“Thank you.” Katla sat down and closed her eyes.
“Don’t you worry so much,” Oin said to the others around the fire. “I know skill when I see it. Some fine stitching she did there, too. He’s in good hands.”
When Katla heard steps coming towards
her, she opened her eyes to see Thorin approach, looking down at her with a
frown on his face. “A few weeks you say?”
“A few weeks until he can walk again. I am not sure how long it will take until he is well enough to travel. Head injuries like this often have an aftermath.”
Thorin’s eyes narrowed. “What kind of aftermath?”
“Headaches, mostly. Vicious headaches. Dizziness.” She cleared her throat. “Sometimes they cannot speak or remember anything, or have troubles with their eyesight. But only temporarily.”
“I do not want him crippled,” Thorin growled softly. “He’d better be himself again when we come for him.” He got up and left with her staring at his back with a pale face.
“I am sorry.” Balin sat down beside her.
“He’s caught between a rock and a hard place, he is. It’s his own nephew this
is about, but if we do not hurry we’ll forsake every chance at success we might
have ever had.Forgive his words.”
Katla swallowed and nodded.
“I know it’s not very kind of him, what
he did,” Balin went on as he patted the back of her hand. “Growlingat you like
that after all you’ve done for Fili, and the food you’ve given us. Will you
accept my apologies and my thanks instead of his?”
She nodded again, forcing a small smile onto her face at the elder dwarf’s kind words. When she noticed Balin’s scrutinizing look, however, the smile died.
sanu yenet.”Balin searched her eyes; he found nothing but incomprehension.
“I...,” she muttered after a moment. “I don’t understand.”
Balin shook his head. “Apologies again, lass. You looked like a dwarven woman to me.”
Katla shrugged and adjusted the woollen
shawl around her shoulders. “I am a foundling. A travelling trader found me
further north in a basket adrift on a stream. The herb woman took pity on me
and took me in. She... my mo... my stepmother said that there had been a small
piece of stone wrapped into my blankets with me and it had given my name, and
my father’s. I’m... only a half-breed.”
“You should not be ashamed of what you cannot help,” Balin replied gently. “And I should have looked closer. You have no chin hair, after all.”
With a hesitating look, she met Balin’s
eyes again, then looked back at her hands. “I... You and the others are the
first dwarves I’ve ever laid eyes on.”
The old dwarf opened his mouth to say something, but shut it again when he found nothing helpful to say. He just shook his head and patted her hand again.
After a few moments of silence, Katla
got up. “I think I better go inside again and look after... Fili?”
Balin nodded. “That’s his name.” He followed her with his eyes until she had vanished inside, and shook his head with a sad and tired sigh.
The two dwarf brothers had taken their task very seriously and had even cleaned the floor so that the room no longer smelled of blood, and all the dirty cloths and clothes were piled up in a corner.
Kili limped in behind her, his eyes on
his brother, and without looking at her he asked in a low voice: “Can I stay
“You will have to sleep on the floor.”
“It doesn’t bother me.” He carefully lowered himself to the ground. “I just... want to be here.”
Katla nodded and pulled the stool over from the window towards the cot.
Kili watched her as she checked Fili’s heartbeat and breathing, felt his forehead and carefully dabbed the wound with a cloth soaked in the strange-smelling herbal brew. Then she sat down, pulled the shawl over her shoulders and stared into the fire.
When Kili awoke it was still dark; the fire had burned down and cast the room in a dark, orange glow mingling with dancing shadows. He noticed that Katla was sitting next to Fili’s head and was sorting through a strand of his hair, removing knots and tangles with her fingers.
Kili pushed himself up onto one
elbow.“What are you doing?”
Katla dropped the strand of hair and despite the dim light, Kili could see her blush. “I’m sorry. May I not be doing this?”
“No. I mean, yes.” Kili gave her a small, lopsided smile. “What I meant was: why are you doing it?”
Brushing a strand of her own hair behind her ear, Katla rested her eyes on Fili’s face.
“Forcing it with a comb would hurt him,” she said after a moment. “It gives me something to do while I sit here, and he can feel he is not alone.”
Kili kept on watching her as she removed a small piece of twig from Fili’s hair and threw it into the fire.
After a few moments, she went on, her voice
low and her expression softening. “I know I said he is out of immediate danger
of dying, that it all depends on him now, and I am in no doubt that he is a
fighter and a strong man,” she said. “But even the strongest man can give up if
he believes himself to be forsaken. And even if I cannot fight his fight for
him, I can let him know he is not fighting alone.” She paused and her fingers
“The small hours of the night,” she continued, her voice even lower. “They are the most dangerous. I do not know why, but it is in these hours, when the night is darkest, that most men die. Maybe it is because the darkness is strongest then. But if you manage to get a wounded man through the darkest hours before dawn, he will likely live.” She paused again. “They seldom die with sunrise.”
The fire crackled, casting restless shadows over her face as her fingers began to work again. Kili watched this for a while before his eyes slowly fell shut again.
He awoke once more during the night, and found her now sitting at his brother’s side, one of his hands between both of hers. She did nothing, said nothing, she just sat there and held on to him. Closing his eyes again Kili lay back down, letting sleep claim him once more.
When the first rays of a milky looking sun
broke through the foggy morning dew Kili awoke again, to find Katla still
sitting as he last had seen her. He slowly laboured himself onto his feet and
when she acknowledged his presence with a nod, the tiredness was visible in her
deeply shadowed eyes.
And while Fili still had the pale and lifeless complexion of a corpse, he was still breathing. She also had parted his hair at the back of his head and plaited into a braid on either side of his head before wrapping a bandage around the wound.
Kili leaned over his brother and put a hand on his cheek. It was cool, but certainly not as cold and waxy as that of a corpse.
“Erebor,” he whispered into Fili’s ear, and in Khuzdul, he added: “You want to see it, don’t you? Then you have to stop lying on your lazy backside and get yourself together, brother of mine.” He paused; there wasn’t even a twitch in Fili’s face that indicated he might have heard his brother’s words. “I don’t know what I’m going to do without you,” Kili added in an even lower voice. Then – very gently – he touched Fili’s forehead with his own and straightened up again.
Katla arched her back and ran a hand down her face. Then she adjusted the tight bun at the back of her head and headed for the kitchen. “I need to milk the goats,” she said as she opened the door. “And look for...”
“That would’ve been taken care of,” Bofur said brightly. “Good morning!” He was standing at the stove with a large frying pan. “How do you like your eggs?”
Katla crossed her arms and shook her head. “Raiding my chicken coop as well? I... Thank you.”
“Oh, don’t just thank me.” Bofur manoeuvred the big frying pan past her and outside. “Ori did the milking.”
The stable had been mucked out, and Dwalin was just stacking the last bits of wood he had been chopping.
“That is very kind of you all,” Katla
said to the group of dwarves around the small fire, a small frown on her
forehead. “At least I won’t have to worry about chopping wood for the next few
“Think nothing of it, lassie,” Dwalin replied, picked an egg out of the pan with his bare fingers and swallowed it with almost no chewing.
“I have to admit I found it not that easy to deal with, either,” Bilbo added. “But once a gaggle of dwarves has decided to enter your house and raid your pantry...” he broke off with a meaningful shrug as around him, the dwarves sniggered and grinned.
“You mean they do this all the time?”
Katla pulled the shawl tighter around her shoulders.
“Well they...” Bilbo began, but Thorin cut him off.
“Thank Gandalf for that misunderstanding.” And to Katla, he added: “We were in need of help and food, and we are very grateful for your generosity.”
“It’s not as if you’ve given her any choice about the matter,” Bilbo said after wrinkling his nose.
Thorin cast him a look that would have felled a lesser hobbit.
Breakfast was a hasty affair as Thorin was already lashing his men on to get going again. A few, Bilbo included, gave the now empty pan a mournful look; as a single fried egg is no breakfast for a hungry dwarf or hobbit. But they got onto their feet without complaining. Since they all knew what was at stake.
Thorin approached Katla again, but this
time, he inclined his head before he spoke. “I fear I cannot pay you more than
this for your service or your food. I can only add my thanks.” He held out a
small pouch of coins to her.
Katla clutched the ends of her shawl. “There is no need for payment. I could not have done otherwise.”
“Still. I am in your debt, and I will repay you.” Then he cast a look past her at the door. “We will come back for him, if he has not recovered enough to follow us by the time our task is done.”
He still held the pouch, but Katla shook her head “Keep your coins, you might need them yet, and they are of no use to me out here.”
Thorin slowly lowered his hand and nodded, his lips a tight line. “I am in your debt, then. I shall owe you a favour for a favour, a service for a service.” His words a formal ring to it. He then turned around and walked away, fingers clutched tightly around the small pouch.
Balin stepped up beside her. “For our
kind, it’s never easy, being in debt. For him it is especially hard, he has not
much left other than his pride.”
Katla swallowed. “I would not want anyone to feel bad about me helping them.”
“Remember that when you call that favour in,” Balin replied in a low voice. “A debt is a serious business. Not being able to repay you will make him lose his face forever.”
“I see.” Katla sighed. “I suddenly wish I had taken the coins.”
Balin gently patted her shoulder. “Debts are nothing to be handled light-heartedly. Do not call it in that way.”
“Thank you.” She met his eyes and sighed again. “Thank you for your advice. I will keep it in mind.”
“I am sure you will.” Balin smiled before stepping away from her and to Thorin’s side.
“Get moving,” Thorin called out. “Kili!”
Kili was still staring back and forth between the others and the door.
“Kili!” Thorin walked back and closed a hand around his arm. “. I hate to leave him behind as much as you do. But I am sure he would not want you to stay idly behind while the company needs you.”
Their eyes met, and after a moment, Kili swallowed with a nod. Thorin released his arm and patted his shoulder. “He is in good hands. Now come on.”
Kili gritted his teeth as he turned to follow the others.
Katla watched them go, and watched until
they had vanished out of sight.