Sacred Duty, Bleeding Heart

Chapter 9

The battle had taken place six weeks ago and Fili by now had the last of his bandages removed. He approached the chamber in which Thorin, who himself was far from being fully healed,had taken up residence. The door stood open and Fili stepped in.

“Thorin,” he began, and Thorin, who had been brooding over ancient maps with Balin, looked up at his nephew, a pleased smile on his face.

“Fili! We were just talking about you. Come here.”
Fili stepped towards the table where Thorin and Balin were sat; the maps being ones of Erebor from the old days.
“Where did you find these?” He reverently traced his finger across one piece of ancient, brittle parchment.
“We were in the Archives, down in the Halls of Wisdom,” Balin replied. “To find they had not been touched since Smaug. Everything is still there, and I must say, I think Ori has developed his own special kind of dragon sickness right now. He’s up to his ears in dusty old books and cobwebs and tattered parchments and ink and quills.”
Thorin chuckled briefly. “It won’t be long before he can recite everything that happened in this city that ever mattered.”
“And half the things that don’t,” Balin added.

Fili chuckled as well and leaned over the map. “You sent for me, uncle?”
“Yes, since I had no intention to inform our people of news as grave as this that I would merely send them a letter, or even a messenger,” Thorin said after looking up at him, the humour gone from his eyes. “You, Fili, shall go to Ered Luin as a prince of Erebor, and bring our people home. Right now, the roads and the passes are still free and travelling is easy.”
Fili took a deep breath. “I will certainly do that, but...”
“But? Would you put your mother and all of the others through another winter of waiting? I think they have waited long enough as it is.”
“Doubtlessly,” Fili said. “And I will certainly go, and with haste. It’s just that I have a promise of my own to tend to.”
“And what kind of promise could be so vital that it was of more importance than the end of the long exile of your own people?”

Fili licked his lips. “I never said it was,” he replied. “But I have promised Katla I would return for her to end her exile of loneliness as well...”
“Katla?” Thorin tilted his head. “Oh, was that the healer we left you with? Don’t worry about her, nephew. She will receive her due reward, I have no intention of sneaking out of the debt I owe her.” Thorin’s voice was calm, but his eyes gazed into Fili’s with an intensity that allowed no objection.

Fili bowed his head. “I am as good as gone, then. But I gather we will not make it back before the mountain passes become impassable with the winter snows.”
“No, most likely not.” Thorin nodded. “Use the winter to prepare for the road and set off as soon as the roads are sufficiently clear. We shall await your return around Spring Equinox.”
Fili bowed again. “Is there anything else? A message to your sister, maybe?”
“No.” Thorin smiled again. “I have faith that you know full well what you need to tell her. Safe travels.”
Fili bowed again and turned away, only to be stopped by Thorin’s voice a final time.

“Oh, and Fili?”
He turned around again. “Yes?”
“Take your brother with you. He’s spending far more time with the elves than I’m comfortable with.”
Fili bowed his head a final time and headed down the slope to find Kili. A deep frown settled onto his forehead as he began to look for his brother.

“Spending too much time with elves...” Kili rolled his eyes in mock anger. “I was trying to learn something about them!”
Fili couldn’t help but chuckle. “I think he imagined you trying to learn how to get into their pants, first and foremost.”
“What?” Kili snorted, this time in honest bafflement, and his pony snorted as if in reply.

It was a good day to travel, the skies were clear and the roads dry. Riding side by side the two brothers guided their ponies westward, for Ered Luin.

“Trying to...,” Kili muttered. “There’s but one of them where I... well, what you just said. Only she’s not that interested in me, and that’s that. Apart from that, I’ve really only tried to understand these people.” He looked up, and gave Fili an almost pleading look. “Honestly!”
Fili had to laugh. “Now you remind me of that little boy who tried to convince me it wasn’t him who had eaten half of mother’s apple pie.”
“But that hadn’t been me, either!”
“Oh come on.” Fili grinned, and his brother returned the grin. “Next you’re telling me it was the cat.”
“Feee...” Kili wailed in a childish pout, and both brothers burst out laughing.

“Feels good to be on the road with you,” Kili said after a while. “I could almost pretend all that business never happened and we’re just out hunting in the hills.”
“Well, I guess those carefree days are going to be over once we are really moving into Erebor and will be crowned as princes,” Fili mused and rolled his shoulders.
“Maybe, and maybe not.” A glint of mischief shone in Kili’s eyes. “But if uncle thinks that he can lock me away underground like the contents of his treasury he’s mistaken.”
“It’s more the being ordered around that worries me. I’m already on the brink of breaking my own promise because of this...” He broke off and pressed his lips together.

Kili reined his pony a little closer, all mirth gone from his eyes. “Brother? You all right?”
Fili cast a glance at his brother. “I... I guess I can tell you.”
Worry in his hazel eyes, Kili nodded solemnly.

“I... I promised Katla I’d come back for her,” Fili finally said. “But Thorin is right of course, and the fate of all our people is more important than that...” He frowned at his saddle horn and sighed.
“Hey.” Kili nudged Fili’s foot with his. “You can still go to her after we’re back, can’t you?”
“Of course I can, and I will. And even though I didn’t promise her I’d be back before winter... or whenever, it still... it doesn’t sit right with me. She’s all alone out there, and while I was there, there was a pack of orcs and they... they just didn’t see the door, is all.”
“I see why you’re worried,” Kili gave back.

They rode in silence for a while until Kili spoke again. “She did a damn good job stitching that wound. I thought you’d be left with a brute of a scar.”
Absentmindedly, Fili emitted an affirmative hum.
“And she saved your hair, too,” Kili continued, his tone lightening. “I must admit I wouldn’t mind having those fingers threaded in my hair at one point.”
Fili’s shoulders stiffened.
Chattering brightly, Kili was unaware of his brother’s darkening look. “I must also admit I was a little gobsmacked when I realised she wasn’t a human. Didn’t expect to find one of our kind all alone that far from any mountain. Still, a rare gem, isn’t she? And those gentle hands... she bound the arrow wound on my leg, and I couldn’t help but think what her legs would look like without...”

Kili’s back hit the dusty road and with an angry grunt, Fili had jumped out of the saddle too and hauled his brother up again by the yokes before Kili had even had a chance to get his wind back.
“Don’t you dare talk about her that way!” Their noses almost touched and Fili’s eyes were glowing with fury. “Don’t you dare talk about her that way ever again!”

Kili swallowed drily and nodded. With a huff, Fili let him go and spun around.

“Sorry, brother,” he said after a moment in a small voice. “I... I don’t know what got into me.”
Kili straightened his armour and smoothed his hair back before taking a cautious step towards his brother.
“No, I’m sorry,” he said. “I should not have spoken about her that way, no matter what.”
Fili turned around to look at him, and when their eyes met, Kili pressed his lips together.
“I promised,” Fili said after a few heartbeats. “Brother, I’m so worried...”
Kili draped an arm around his shoulders. “Then let’s get this over with. The sooner we get back, the sooner you can bring her home.”

They mounted in silence and did not speak again before making camp that night, but by then the feelings had eased between them.

Snow came early that year and the Durin brothers had a hard time crossing the Misty Mountains. Thus it was that they first arrived in Ered Luin at the day of the Midwinter Celebration; freezing, hungry and tired and caked with wet snow. Both ponies and riders slumped with tiredness as they finally reached their destination.

The first one to lay eyes on them as they stumbled towards the caves was Dafur the blacksmith and he ushered them into his workshop even before he had recognised them.

“Dreadful weather to be about,” the blacksmith said as he shoved a small foot bench towards the blazing forge. “Jora! Bring ale for these poor men!”
His wife hurried in with the ale and the blacksmith proceeded to stick a glowing poker into each tankard to warm the ale before handing it out to the freezing dwarves huddled on the bench.
“What under the earth makes you travel at this time of year? Where do you come from?” the blacksmith inquired as the two brothers closed their stiffened, bluish fingers around the warm tankards.

After the first sip, Fili shook his woollen hood off and gave the blacksmith a grateful smile. “News from the east, friend Dafur.”
Kili slipped his hood back as well, and the blacksmith and his wife exchanged a wide-eyed look.
“Bless my beard,” the hardened craftsman said with moisture in his eyes. “It’s the Durin boys...”
“What news?” his wife fell in, her voice shaking. “What news from the east?”

Fili took a sip of ale. “Good news, friend blacksmith. Good news.” He took another sip to warm his lips and Kili went on for him.
“Erebor is won,” Kili said, smiling smugly at the blacksmith’s stunned expression. “We can go home.”

Upon hearing these words, the blacksmith, so hardened by years of work that he seemed more like a product of his own craft, dropped the poker, buried his face in his hands and began to weep uncontrollably.
His wife slung her arms around him and said almost apologetically: “I have no ken about Erebor but from the old tales. But Dafur was born there although he was but a wee lad when the dragon took it.”
The brothers nodded and occupied themselves with their ale to allow the blacksmith to get his composure back, exchanging a secret smile.

“Feels good to be the bearer of such good news,” Kili whispered to his brother, and Fili nodded in agreement.
“Blessed and twice blessed be this day!” The blacksmith wiped his eyes and smoothed down his beard. “May your beards forever grow, lads!”

With that, he left his workshop and hurried towards the entrance of the cavern, Kili and Fili following him.

“Feels like a lifetime we’ve been away,” Kili whispered as he had a look around in the large, low hall with its countless side caverns that housed shops, workshops and family homes. In the centre of the main hall a few men and women were just finishing the last preparations for the Midwinter Celebration, arranging tables and benches around the, as of yet, unlit fire pit.
“It does,” his brother confirmed. “And it’s only been what? Half a year and a little more, and I already feel like a stranger after having set foot into Erebor.”
“Just think if you’d been born there,” Kili replied thoughtfully.
Fili could only shrug.

“Listen!” The blacksmith now hollered across the cave, his mighty chest giving his voice the force required to reach even the farthest corner. “Listen up! The Durin brothers are back!”
Heads flew around, doors opened, and more and more people began to appear on doorsteps and galleries.
“Listen! News from the East!!” The blacksmith continued, his voice echoing in the cave. “EREBOR IS WON! THE DURIN BROTHERS HAVE COME TO TAKE US HOME!”

As the two brothers then crossed the cave there was not a single man or woman who did not try to touch their hands and a thousand times the questions arose what had happened, what would happen, and how many losses there were to mourn.
And Kili and Fili answered dutifully and patiently that all questions would be answered and the tale be told after the lighting of the midwinter fire.

After having reached their destination, one of the larger family homes at the very back of the hall, Fili raised his hand and knocked. The door was opened by a woman with raven-black hair, yet her temple braids were laced with a little silver. She looked haughtily at the two young dwarf warriors standing at her doorstep, her face chiselled from stone; but when Kili held out the black rune stone to her with a hesitant smile on his lips her face turned to living flesh and blood.
She stared at the stone and took it, her hand slightly trembling as she did so. When she looked up again tears were spilling from her eyes, and with a small sob she dropped the stone and fell into Kili’s arms.

Kili clamped his arms around her. “I’m home, amad. Just like I promised I would.”
“I did not allow myself to believe you could hold to it, banô-ê. I dared not to hope.”
Dís freed herself from Kili’s embrace and slung her arms around Fili now who returned the embrace. “Dashatê...
“We are well, amad. And so is uncle Thorin. He sent us to take you home. All of you.”

Amad – mother

banô-ê – my treasure
dashatê –
my son

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