Fíli was both excited and nervous as they made their way to the market. He was thrilled that his mother was willing to trust him with this but also worried that he would make a mistake. Kíli, however, didn't seem to be affected by his brother's mood. He was walking backwards, tossing a small rock in the air.
"Good idea, Brother," Kíli said with a laugh. "This was a good way to get us out of the house that isn't lessons or an outing with Uncle. Now we can have a bit of fun."
"We're not out here for fun, Kíli," Fíli replied with an indulgent smile. "We're on an errand for Mother. She needs us to come back soon so that she can finish cooking."
"Come on, Fee," Kíli said with a smirk. "She even said this might take awhile. We've got time for a bit of fun."
"Kee," Fíli sighed. While what his brother was offering sounded good Fíli's conscious was against it. "What are we going to do for fun, eh? It's not like we can leave the settlement without Uncle, the guards won't let us out. What is there to do in town?" He felt a bit bad as Kíli's shoulders fell at his logic.
"I suppose you're right," Kíli sighed. "Let's just buy the grain and get home."
"It's better that way, Kee," Fíli said patting him consolingly. "Maybe if we do a good job Uncle will let us go with him when he goes to look for work. He's about to have to leave."
"Do you really think so?" Kíli asked, his face brightening. Even if they'd been out of the settlement on outings, they'd never been to a town of men, despite the fact that Fíli was training to be a smith and Kíli would be a valuable asset to the group—with his archery skills to bring down game.
"Maybe," the elder replied with a shrug. "You can always ask him." He knew they'd have a better chance of going if Kíli asked than if he did, and he'd been trying to figure out how to get his brother to ask if they could go for days now.
"I think I will. That would be nice, wouldn't it?" Kíli asked wistfully. "I've never seen a Man before but I hear they're tall. Taller even than uncle. I've even heard that their children are taller than we are." Fíli had to smile at the excitement in his brother's voice at seeing children that were taller than him.
"That's what they say," he agreed with a shrug. His smile turned into a smirk at his brother's next words as he imagined his uncle's face if he heard them.
"Do you think we might run into an Elf?" Kíli asked nearly bouncing in place. "I hear they're taller even than Men."
"Your mother would know," Fíli's smile fell as a snide voice spoke from the alley they'd just passed.
"Excuse me?" Kíli asked turning to see who had spoken, his eyes dancing with rage at the slur against his mother, one he'd heard countless times behind his back but never directly to his face like this.
"I said that your mother would know," the same voice replied as Borin, one of their classmates closer in age to Fíli stepped out, flanked on both sides by his dark-haired cousins.
"And just what's that supposed to mean?" Fíli demanded, feeling his temper rise to the surface at what he perceived to be an insult to his mother and perhaps his brother. This wasn't the first time he'd heard rumors that Kíli was half-elf, but it was the first time anyone had dared to say it directly to either of them to his knowledge.
"Nothing where you're concerned," Borin replied with a shrug. "Everyone knows that Víli was your father. You look too much like him for anything else to be true. But this one . . . there's no way he's all dwarf."
"You take that back," Fíli said, his voice dropping and becoming deadly. "My mother would not have sullied her marriage bed in such a way. Kíli and I share a mother and a father."
"Are you so sure?" Borin asked reaching across Fíli to run his face over the patchy fuzz that still covered Kíli's cheek despite the fact that he was nearly forty-five. Kíli batted his hand away with a glare, only to have Borin's hand close around his wrist and twist it behind him. Kíli winced as the larger dwarfling pulled him against his chest and grabbed his jaw, forcing him to turn his head so they could all see his lack of beard.
"Look at this," Borin said. "I've seen newborns with better beards." Fíli felt anger burn in his gut at what the other boy dared to do to his brother and started forward only to stop when Borin tightened his hold causing Kíli to wince once more. With a growl, Fíli stayed where he was. He knew that he was stronger than Borin alone but not with Kíli between them and Borin's cousins there beside. He couldn't fight their way out of this.
"He's all dwarf," Fíli snarled, his chest heaving with fury at how helpless he felt. "Mother and Uncle have both told me so."
"So you questioned it too," Dorin, one of Borin's cousins, said triumphantly.
"Never," Fíli spat, his blue eyes begging Kíli to believe him as pain and betrayal began filling his brother's eyes. "I never doubted it. Don't listen to them, Kíli. I never doubted it, I swear."
"Then why'd they tell you?" Dorin demanded. "Not that it matters. Of course they'd say that. It's not as if our King could admit that his sister is a elf-whore and her son—his heir—a half-elf bastard. You do have to admit that it explains his beard, though."
"And his height," Glorin, the other cousin, chimed in. "Even if the king is one of the tallest dwarves around, he's still too tall and thin. Just what you'd expect from a mongrel."
"Kíli's not a mongrel," Fíli said firmly. "And our mother is not a whore. Just how do you think our uncle would feel about what you've dared to say about his sister and heir? It wouldn't take much for him to find out."
"Of course," Borin scoffed. "Hide behind your titles and your uncle. It's not as if you could win any other way."
"Release my brother and I'll show you just how well I can win on my own," Fíli promised. "I don't need my uncle's title or my own to beat you. I can do it on my own merit."
"And if you can't will you admit that your brother is a mongrel and your mother a whore?" Borin demanded.
"Never," Fíli snarled. "I would never admit to something that's not true."
"Then I don't see why I should let him go," Borin replied, twisting Kíli's arm just a bit higher to elicit a squeak of pain that Kíli tried to disguise as a cough, but Fíli heard it for what it was and it made his blood boil.
"Let him go or you'll regret it," Fíli threatened darkly. "And don't you dare hurt him again."
"And just what are you going to do about it?" Borin asked coldly. "There's three of us and one of you."
"Um, Borin," Glorin said, hoping that Fíli wouldn't hear him, but he did. "I'm fine with tormenting the mongrel but . . . the crown prince. I can't do that, Cousin. I just . . . I can't."
"Kíli's not a mongrel," Fíli snarled, rounding on Glorin. "And I assure you, assaulting him will land you in trouble with our uncle far more rapidly than touching me ever could. Kíli's his favorite, even if I'm the first heir."
"Borin?" Dorin breathed wondering if Fíli had told the truth and they had just tormented the favorite heir of their king while insulting his sister. If that was the case . . . Dorin felt fear flood his veins. While he'd never seen Thorin angry he'd heard enough tales and seen enough training bouts to know that he didn't want to be on the receiving end of such anger.
"He's lying," Borin scoffed, rolling his eyes at the fear he could hear in his cousin's voice. There was no way that the king would pick Kíli as a favorite. The dwarfling, mongrel or no, was a failure, especially when compared to Fíli. Thorin was pragmatic enough to not choose a failure as a favorite.
"Am I?" Fíli asked with a humorless laugh as he admitted aloud what he'd always known in his heart to be true. "Would you like to take that up with my uncle when Kíli or I tell him what happened today?"
"Let's just go," Dorin said, placing his hand on Borin's arm. "I don't want to risk it. Let him go. Let's just leave him alone. What's it matter if he's a half-breed. It's not like he'll ever rule anyway."
"I suppose it doesn't," Borin said bitterly, releasing Kíli and shoving him into Fíli. "Not like we can prove it anyway. Even if everyone already knows it." Fíli caught his brother and glared at Borin over Kíli's shoulder as he walked away. Though this looked like a surrender there was something in the other dwarf's eyes that he didn't trust in the slightest. He had a feeling this was far from over. He glared after them until they were gone, only then did he turn his attention to Kíli.
Kíli wouldn't look at him and was still stiff in his arms, though no tears were falling. What worried Fíli though, was the way he had the arm that Borin had twisted behind him against his chest and was curled around it protectively.
"Let me see," Fíli said reaching for it only for Kíli to pull out of his grip and glare at him through his hair, pain and betrayal in his brown eyes.
"Was it true?" Kíli breathed, his eyes never leaving his brothers.
"What they said?" Fíli replied with a shrug. "Of course not. Now let me see your arm."
"Are you sure?" Kíli asked again, his eyes boring into his brother as if attempting to mine the truth from Fíli's mind by sheer force of will alone.
"Kíli, this isn't the first time someone's said that," Fíli said soothingly. "They've been saying it forever. Mother says it's not true, Uncle says it's not true. I say it's not true but . . . I don't know. Not really. I wasn't there but it doesn't matter either way. Even if it is true, what does it matter? I love you. Mother loves you. Uncle loves you. Isn't that enough?" A sudden smile split Kíli's face.
"It is," he agreed with a smile. "What do they know anyway?"
"Nothing," Fíli agreed holding out his hand for his brother's arm once more. This time Kíli offered it freely. Fíli looked over it carefully but nothing seemed to be broken. It was a little red where Borin's hand had gripped him, but it didn't even look like it'd bruise.
"Looks fine," Fíli said releasing him and pulling his sleeve back down. "Does it hurt?" Kíli rotated his shoulder and wiggled his fingers.
"Just a bit but I'll be fine," he replied. "Thanks to you. That was a great lie you came up with. Me being Uncle's favorite." Fíli's smile fell at the last bit but he forced it back on his face.
"Yeah," Fíli said. "Guess that's why they say I'm the smart one, huh?" He hoped Kíli couldn't hear the strain in his voice when he spoke. And if he did he didn't show it.
"I never would have thought of it," Kíli said clapping him on the shoulder and steering him towards the market once more. "And you said we wouldn't find any entertainment in town."
"But you knew better, didn't you?" Fíli asked, throwing his arm around Kíli's shoulder. "Did you get your fill of excitement for the day."
"You know better than that, Brother," Kíli replied with a laugh, leaning his cheek against Fíli's arm. "I never have my fill of excitement."Fíli said nothing in response but just shook his head and continued their search for grain.
It took them less time than they'd thought it would to find someone selling oats at a reasonable price and negotiate for it. Fíli was feeling quite proud of himself as they made their way home with enough oats for a week and coin left over. When they were nearly home, Fíli stopped his brother with a hand on his arm.
"Kíli," he said quietly. "Promise me you will never tell Mother or Uncle about what happened in the market."
"Why not?" Kíli asked looking at him in confusion. "We didn't do anything wrong. You didn't even get in a fight. It's not like we'd be in trouble for it."
"No, but nothing good will come of it either," the elder replied. "All that could happen is that Mother will get her feelings hurt because of what they said about you and her and Uncle will get mad. And there's nothing either of them can do to make it stop. Not really. You noticed that they've never said anything to you about it before. They'll never do it in front of Mother or Uncle. So let's just keep it between us, alright?" When he finished speaking, he extended the arm that he'd been using to steady his sack of grain to his brother. Kíli thought about it a moment before he nodded.
"Just between us," he promised gripping Fíli's forearm.
"Just between us," Fíli repeated before releasing Kíli and heading for the gate once more.