Between a bear and a dark place

Chapter 26

Across the table Dwalin was beginning to tire of his brother's eyes boring into him. The white bearded dwarf was unhappy with the fact that his brother had opted to sit around the house as opposed to going where Balin clearly thought he needed to go.

"You're not doing yourself any favors by refusing to go and see the lad or his brother."

Dwalin merely snorted at his brother's words. "I am not refusing anything."

"You are," Balin chided, "And you know it."

Dwalin did not answer, returning back to tearing apart the bread in his hands and inflicting his frustrations on it with his clashing teeth. Through the window opposite him it was clear night was falling, yet the sun appeared to still be making an attempt to fight the darkness back.

With an exasperated sigh Balin excused himself from the table, sending his brother one last irritated glance before moving off to his study. Dwalin did not need to watch him go in order to know that the older dwarf was most likely cursing his apparent thick headedness with silently mouthed words.

The bread in Dwalin's mouth seemed to turn to a tasteless paste, as if he had been chewing it too long before swallowing. The warrior supposed he had been doing the same thing with the thoughts in his head, chewing on them for too long without actually coming to a decision.

Since when does a dwarf avoid conflict? Dwalin shook his head at himself. Since when does a dwarf become a coward? That was a better question.

Disgusted with himself Dwalin pushed away from the table, the rest of his meal left untouched on his plate. The burly dwarf just stood aimlessly for a few moments, trying to figure out what to do.

In the end it was his feet who chose where to go.

Stepping out into the coolness of the dusk, Dwalin felt himself moving towards the thing that in his mind was repeatedly calling his name, calling the warrior to it to face up to what he had done. Weaving his way between houses and the last of the blacksmiths and miners scurrying home for the night, the bald dwarf began to smooth out the turmoil that was his mind. In the peace of the darkened air things did not seem as bad as they had before.

Dwalin exhaled a large breath of air as he drew closer to his destination, the shadowy tree tops just visible over the gate that loomed before him. A few stray lights pricked the now blackened sky, but the darkness did not deter the tattooed dwarf from climbing up to see over the wall.

Everything was silent save for the softly blowing wind and the rhythmic clomp of a sentry's feet close by. Little sparks of silver spotted the inky blanket above the forest which had donned a garment of shadows and moonlight itself. Dwalin flexed his hands against the rough stone beneath them, the pads of his fingers scrapping almost uncomfortably along the grainy surface.

The warrior felt as though in that single moment he was perhaps the calmest he had been in a long while. Standing atop the battlements, although he was not within the midst of the forest, it seemed to Dwalin as though everything was finally slowing down to a pace he could keep up with. All his emotions had fled from him for an unknown reason, but in doing so they had been caught in a net and laid before the burly dwarf like a prize catch of fish. The guilt, the fear, the failure – all had been rid of their hooked claws that had been sinking too deep into his flesh of late.

Damn Balin. Dwalin knew it had been his brother who had shaken some sense into him, the older dwarf always seeming to know what to say in order to get to his brother. Balin, Dwalin realised with a fondness, had always been able to see straight through him, had always been able to kick start him into action.

The warrior started as an unseen force brushed up against his legs. Looking down, the dwarf was surprised to see that had cat had somehow found its way up onto the top of the gate protecting Erid Lurin from outside forces. The creature blinked up at him with glowing eyes that coolly regarded every feature of the warrior's face before began to wind its way between his legs once more and disappearing into the night rumbling like an avalanche.

Shaking himself free of the distraction, Dwalin stared back out into the open air that in turn was disrupted by the occasional treetop and soaring owl. Kili – the young lad was the problem he had been avoiding, but no more. The boy deserved to be able to tear into him if he wanted for it was Dwalin's fault that Kili had been hurt. The lad was healing however, and it was Dwalin's responsibility to check on the young dwarf and see that he made a full recovery. It was also his responsibility to see the lad for another reason too, this one being to apologise for all that had befallen the youth.

The tattooed dwarf sent one last glance over the side of the wall before turning to climb back down the way he had come. The streets were now largely empty, ruled only by the scurrying vermin and odd animal that took delight in the darkness of the night. Dwalin held no such feelings however, and he discretely brushed his side up against a wall to keep out of the way of any obstacles that might suddenly confront him. Every now and then a lantern broke through the blackened glass of the hour blinding the dwarf with its brilliant light.

It did not take long for the warrior to follow the path to his second destination for that night, following the same path he had ridden so desperately through barely a week before. Dwalin could still smell the sweat of the mount that had been below him at the time, a scent mingled heavily with that of coppery blood. He could still hear each of his steed's labored breaths, each of his own erratic ones as he tried to hone in on the sound of Kili's own barely audible breaths as he had ridden straight towards the lad's home. He could still see the door that had blocked his way into the house as he had pulled the limp Kili into his arms, the door that still blocked his way to the lad as it loomed before him.

Breathing in deeply to steady his nerves, the warrior rapped his knuckles swiftly against the door once, twice, three times. It took a moment longer than Dwalin expected for the same door to be opened.

"What are you doing here?"

The question was not what Dwalin had expected for his age old friend nor was the tone of indifference. "I came to see the lad."

Thorin looked over to the room where both his nephews were holed up and then back towards his friend.

"Kili's fever shot back up." The words were said with what seemed like a despairing resignation.

"It can't be all that bad," Dwalin replied, brow furrowed. "He pulled through before."

Thorin looked at the warrior with eyes that screamed for a reprimand from the pain they were being forced to suffer, that his nephew was being forced to suffer. "His arm, it's infected. Badly."

Dwalin blinked and closed his eyes, suddenly feeling the need to lean on the doorframe for support. "Mahal."

Mahal. What am I supposed to do now?

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