For about a week it did seem as that was going to be the end of it. Neither Borin nor his cousins said or did anything to either Fíli or Kíli and Dorin and Glorin were actually quite cordial to both of them, even offering Kíli a small bow when they saw him and Thorin walking to the forge one day. Kíli couldn't help but smile at them. No one ever offered him his own bow. Fíli got them, his uncle got them and even his mother got them but never him. Even when he burned his hand attempting to help his uncle it didn't dampen his mood, though his uncle seemed quite worried about it. Despite the fact that it was barely red and only had one little blister, Thorin refused to let him help for the rest of the day, insisting that he sit with his hand in the water barrel instead.
All of that changed one day at weapons training. They'd showed up just as they always did and warmed up for training by sparring just as they always had, but this day there were no training weapons visible once they were admitted into the arena. There was some confused muttering among the trainees until Dwalin stepped into the middle of the arena.
"Listen up, lads," he called prompting instant silence. "Today we're going to do things a bit differently. As you've no doubt noticed, there are no weapons. Instead we're going to be practicing with a different weapon." There was only a second of murmuring before Dwalin cut them off.
"Anyone, what is the one thing predictable about warfare?" Dwalin asked. Fíli waited a moment to give someone else a chance to answer but when it was clear that no one else intended to do so he raised his voice.
"That it's unpredictable," Fíli called.
"Very good, lad," Dwalin replied offering him a rare half-smile. "That's it. War is only predictable in that it is unpredictable. So, someone tell me this. You're in the middle of a battle, you're shield is broken. Your sword, ax, whatever, it's either broken or gone. You're exhausted and suddenly another enemy is before you. What do you do?"
"You die?" one of the class called out.
"That's a possibility," Dwalin agreed. "And a very real one. But what do you do before that?"
"Try to take him with you," Kíli called from beside Fíli.
"And how are you going to do that?" Dwalin asked moving in on Kíli and looming over him before grasping his upper arm and pulling him into the arena with him. "Come on, show me. What are you going to do to take me with you when I kill you?"
"I'll look for anything I can use as a weapon," Kíli said backing away and using his lithe build to dance out of Dwalin's reach. "While making sure that you don't come close enough to touch me."
"Do you see any weapons, lad?" the older warrior asked gesturing at the smooth earth around them. "Anything you can use?"
"No," Kíli replied, his eyes going wide as he realized there was nothing.
"And how long can you keep this up?" Dwalin asked lunging after the young heir. "This avoidance? You are faster than me, but how long can you run from me?"
"Long as I need to," Kíli panted, a bit tired already from his spar with his brother a bit before and wearing down under the larger dwarf's relentless pursuit.
"You don't believe that," Dwalin replied. "And if you do, you're a fool. Let's change the game a bit, shall we? Let's say I still have a weapon." Before Kíli could react, Dwalin pulled a stave from his back and began wielding it like a sword. "Now what do you do, lad?" Fíli watched as Kíli's eyes went wide before his brother's face scrunched up in distaste.
"No, Kíli, no," Fíli breathed, knowing just what his brother intended to do and knowing that it would never work. He closed his eyes and turned his head unwilling to watch Dwalin defeat his brother, even if he knew that Kíli would be fine.
Of course, Kíli didn't hear Fíli's warning and even if he had he probably still would have done what he did. Dwalin had a 'sword' not a knife. If he could get close enough . . . well swords require a bit of room to be effective. If he could get close enough he just might stand a chance. Without warning, he quit backing away and changed direction, sprinting towards his cousin only to bounce off Dwalin's chest with a grunt. Rather than allow him to fall, his cousin grabbed his wrist and brought it across Kíli's own chest, pulling Kíli's back to his front. Kíli's free hand came up to grab at the arm now around his throat, just tight enough to make a point without actually hurting him.
"Nice try, laddie," Dwalin breathed in his ear, not the least bit out of breath, "but you're too small to be trying brute strength attacks like that. Your brother or uncle might stand a chance with something like that but you . . . use your head! I'm more that twice your size. Now try to get free."
"I don't want to hurt you," Kíli panted out.
"I'm trying to kill you, laddie," Dwalin replied brightly. "Do your worst. I will." Kíli tensed to bring his boot down on Dwalin's foot but stopped.
"It's not right," he muttered. "It's not fair."
"This is war," Dwalin replied. "There is no "fair" as far as the enemy's concerned. There is just those that live and those that die. If a dirty trick will save your life use it. The orcs will." Kíli closed his eyes once more before tipping his head forward and using the extra space to drive it back into Dwalin's chest. The move left him dazed, but it also caused the larger warrior to loosen his hold so that Kíli could get his teeth on Dwalin's arm.
"That's it, lad!" Dwalin said. "But it'll take more than that to get loose." Knowing what he had to do and hating the idea of doing it, Kíli used the extra room he'd created to spin, twisting his own arm behind him in the process so that he was facing his cousin.
"I'm sorry," he said, his brown eyes filled with regret as he looked up at his cousin and drove his knee into his groin. Dwalin groaned in response and released Kíli before dropping to his knees. As he watched his cousin go down, Kíli stood there, shoulders hunched and hand halfway extended, unsure what would happen if he touched his cousin at the moment. That really had been a low blow.
"Are you alright," he asked sheepishly. "I'm sorry. I know that was wrong but it was all that I could think of and you told me to do whatever I could to be free."
"That was a cheap shot!" one of his classmates called out angrily. "That's against the rules!"
"Trust Kíli, to be the one to break them," Borin scoffed.
"And what's that supposed to mean?" Fíli demanded. "Kíli—"
"There's no way you can defend that," Borin retorted. "In case you didn't see, he kneed him in the groin. That's indefensible."
"No," Dwalin panted, coughing and wincing as he rose to his feet once more. "He did exactly what I told him to. You all just learned a lesson. In true battle there are no rules. Anything you can do to get an edge on your opponent is fair. Even that."
"Thank you, Kíli," Dwalin said offering the dark-haired heir a tense smile. "Rejoin the others." Kíli nodded and trotted back to his brother's side, feeling the continued derision of his classmates as he did so. Or maybe it was his own conscience he could feel. Even if Dwalin said it was fair that had still felt foul to him. With a smirk he wondered what his uncle would think about him kicking Dwalin there.
"Now," Dwalin said, his tone and breathing having returned to normal, "Each of you is going to try this. You will pair off and attempt to get one another to yield. You can pick your own partners but your partner has to be within a decade of your own age and I have to approve it. I won't have you big lads picking on the little ones. So, who's first?" No one volunteered, unsure just what the rules were in this new training and not wanting to be the first to try them. After more than a minute had passed Dwalin sighed.
"Cowards," he muttered before raising his voice. "Fíli," he called, feeling a bit bad when the lad looked up at him with startled blue eyes, "pick a partner." Fíli looked over his classmates for a moment before a small smile stretched across his face. He knew just the one. After all, they did have a question still existing between them over which one would win in a fight.
"Borin," Fíli said turning back to Dwalin. "I pick Borin." Dwalin eyed them for a moment. They were both about the same size and they were within the same decade, even if Borin was three years older.
"Alright," Dwalin said, nodding his approval. "Borin, Fíli let's get started."
"What are the rules?" Borin asked as he made his way to the large dwarf's side.
"When one of you yields, stop," Dwalin replied. "That's the only rule."
"That's it?" Fíli asked, unsure if this was such a good idea after all. Borin had already proved that he was willing to fight dirty when he'd outnumbered them and used Kíli as a shield. Did Fíli really want to stoop to his level.
"That's it," Dwalin agreed backing out of the way. "And whoever wins can pick another partner or step down and let a new pair try. That's what you get for winning. Begin."
For a moment the two of them circled one another, neither quite sure just how to start such a confrontation. They'd sparred enough times to have at least a basic knowledge of the weaknesses and strengths of the other with weapons, but they'd never grappled before. Fíli had wanted to wait for Borin to make the first move and use the other dwarf's momentum against him, but it seemed that he was never going to get around to it. With a huff of frustration, Fíli launched himself at the larger dwarfling. Rather than attempt to avoid the impact like he'd anticipated, Borin stood his ground and caught Fíli's hands in his own. They grabbled for a time, neither of them actually strong enough to gain the upper hand and break the other's hold.
"I'm glad you picked me," Borin hissed eventually.
"Why?" Fíli ground out. "So that when I defeat you everyone can see?"
"No," the other dwarfling said, a sadistic smirk crossing his features. "So that once I've trounced you and shown you that you truly are no better than your title I can challenge that mongrel you call a brother."
"Don't you dare touch Kíli," Fíli snarled.
"Oh, I'll touch him, alright," Borin replied, seeing that he was angering Fíli and hoping to force the prince into doing something foolish in his rage. He knew that if he tried to fight Fíli head-on the other dwarfling's intelligence would be a difficulty but if he could anger him . . . rage left little room for logic. And he was almost there. Just a bit more and Fíli would be gone and he would win.
"Tell me," he whispered, "do you think his little half-elf bones will hold up in a fight? I don't think they will. When I had his arm in my hand the other day I felt them give. I'll bet I could break him." He felt a surge of triumph as Fíli's blue eyes filled with murderous rage. Victory was his.
What he hadn't counted on was the extra strength that rage would lend the blonde dwarf. Fíli was strong on a normal day, but with fear for his brother rampaging through his veins he truly became a force to be reckoned with. With a primal roar he broke free from Borin's hold and tackled the other dwarfling to the ground, landing on his chest and pinning his arms with his knees before his fists began raining down blows. After the first few, Borin knew that he'd made a mistake. Try as he might he couldn't be free of the other dwarfling. He'd pushed too far and there was no way he could come out on top.
"I yield!" Borin called out fear making his voice shrill as he tried to turn his face so that Fíli's blows fell in less tender areas. Rather than stop as he'd anticipated, Fíli continued to pummel him. It took the combined forces of Dwalin and Glóin to pry Fíli off Borin and even once they had the blonde heir continued to claw like a creature possessed in an attempt to resume his beating of Borin.
"Lad! Fíli!" Dwalin roared, getting down into his face while Glóin restrained him. "What's gotten into you?"
"Let me go!" Fíli screamed, his voice sounding feral. "I'll kill him! I swear I will!"
"Nobody's killing anybody," Dwalin replied, his blood running cold at the anger that was coming off the blonde. He'd never imagined Fíli capable of such violence. It was a rather chilling sight. It was made no less chilling when he turned to check on the other dwarfling. It didn't look good. Borin was lying in a pool of his own blood, his eyes already beginning to swell shut.
"Get him out of here," Dwalin called to Glóin before kneeling beside Borin and checking him over. He heaved a sigh of relief when he felt the lad's breath against his cheek. Fíli hadn't killed him outright, though there was still a risk. When he pulled the lad's eye open he was pleased to see the pupil react to light. That was a good sign that he would survive but the intent behind the attack still left him chilled. Even if he hadn't managed it, Fíli had meant to kill him. And he'd set out to do it with his bare hands.
"You two," Dwalin called to two of the other warriors milling around. "Take him to Óin. Be gentle. We don't know what damage has been done." Once he was sure that they would listen, he turned back to his students. All of their faces registered shock and some of them were a troublesome shade of white or green.
"You lot go home," he said sadly. "We're done for the day." As they moved to follow his directions, a thought occurred to him. "Kíli, Dorin, Glorin, I'd like to talk to the three of you. Stay." Once the rest of the class was gone, he turned to them.
"Any of you able to tell me what that was about?" he demanded. Dorin and Glorin shifted uncomfortably but it was Kíli who spoke.
"There's nothing to tell," he said, his promise to his brother burning in his mind.
"Is that so?" Dwalin asked taking in the shiftiness of the other boys and what he knew about Fíli. It didn't take a genius to know that Kíli was lying. His curt nod and the way he refused to make eye contact said it clearly.
"Really?" Dwalin asked "You honestly expect me to believe that nothing led to that?" With a growl he gestured to where the pool of blood was darkening the dirt of the arena. "You expect me to believe that your brother, that Fíli did that without reason?"
"I . . . I do," Kíli breathed, his clinched fists and shallow rapid breathing giving away the lie. It hurt him to defame his brother as he was, but Fíli had made him promise not to tell. He was only keeping a promise. Fíli would be the one to defend himself. He knew it.
"Don't lie to me, lad," Dwalin growled. "Thorin might let you get away with it but don't lie to me. Not now and not about this. What made him do it?"
"I can't tell you," Kíli said, looking levelly into Dwalin's eyes, his brown eyes serious. "I can't tell you what may have led to it and I don't know why he did what he did today." Dwalin stared at his cousin for a moment before he nodded.
"Fine," he said. "So you do know what there was between them and you won't tell." Kíli looked away and nodded. "What about you two?" he asked turning to the others. "Do you know anything about this." They looked at Dwalin unsure of what to say as Kíli refused to tell. A subtle shake of the brunette heir's head decided them.
"No, sir," Dorin said, hoping he sounded more sure than he felt even as he told a bold-faced lie to the intimidating dwarf before him.
"What about you?" Dwalin demanded, his expression dark as he turned to Glorin. "What do you know?"
"Nothing," Glorin gasped. Dwalin stared at the them, alternating his glare between the three. He knew that they were all lying and knew more than they were letting on but it was equally clear to him that they had no intention of telling him what they knew.
"Fine," he said eventually. "You two go home. Straight home. Kíli, you stay right there. I'm going to go talk to your brother and then I'll escort you both home." Dwalin didn't wait to see if his orders were obeyed before he turned to go into the armory where Glóin had taken Fíli.
Dwalin wasn't sure what he would see when he entered the armory but the silence that he heard made him fear for the young heir. He knew that Glóin would have done whatever was necessary to prevent Fíli from returning to finish off the other lad and he feared what that may have taken. What he wasn't expecting was for Fíli to be sitting on the ground, fully conscious and sullenly staring at the wall.
"Has he told you why he did it?" Dwalin asked. Glóin shook his head.
"Hasn't said a word since he quit raging," he continued. "Just been sitting there staring at the wall." Dwalin sighed and knelt down in Fíli's line of sight taking his cousin's chin in his hand when Fíli tried to look away.
"Look at me, lad," Dwalin ordered. Fíli's eyes flicked to his own, rebellion burning in their blue depths for the first time in Dwalin's memory. "Tell me why you did it." Rather than reply, Fíli gave a sad laugh and looked away.
"Listen," Dwalin tried again. "I know you had a reason so just tell me what it was. What happened to cause you to go off like that?"
"Why'd something have to cause it?" Fíli breathed. "Can't I just have done it?"
"No, Fíli," Dwalin replied shaking his head sadly. "You can't've. I refuse to believe that you assaulted a classmate like that for no reason. But if you won't tell me why, I can't help you. If there's a good enough reason this can just go away but if you won't tell me . . . I'll have to tell your uncle what happened today. And with what you said when you were drug off him, this isn't just assault. It's attempted murder, lad."
"Then tell him," Fíli said, tears in his voice. "I have no reason I can give you. Let Uncle do what he must."
"Fine," Dwalin growled out, deciding that he would be a bit rough in hopes of scaring Fíli into telling the truth. "If you won't help yourself, I can't help you. If you want to be treated like a criminal then I can do that too." With that he stood and hauled Fíli to his feet by his upper arm and began marching towards the door, his steps far too long for his shorter cousin to keep up with easily, causing Fíli to have to jog beside him or be dragged. With a sigh, Dwalin slid to a stop and grabbed a length of rope from the wall. Fíli said nothing until he picked up the lad's wrist and began tying a knot around it.
"Mr. Dwalin, what—" Fíli asked, looking up at him, confusion and shock in his eyes.
"You refuse to behave like an innocent dwarf and leave me no choice but to treat you as a criminal," Dwalin said sharply, disliking what he was doing but hoping that by tying him he could convince Fíli to tell the truth and spare himself a worse punishment.
"Give me the other one," Dwalin ordered. Fíli hesitated. "Give it to me or I will take it," he threatened. With what could only be described as a sob Fíli placed his left hand behind his back and allowed Dwalin to tie it in place.
"Come on then," the older dwarf ordered taking his cousin's arm once more and setting off towards the arena to collect Kíli and take them home. Fíli could feel panic beginning to grip his chest from the moment that Dwalin had bound his wrists and his panic only grew stronger with each passing moment. The sight of Kíli's shocked expression only made it worse as he was marched to his brother's side.
"Come, Kíli," Dwalin snapped. "I'm taking the two of you home."
"But Mr. Dwalin, why . . . untie him. Please," Kíli begged, refusing to move as he looked at his brother. He couldn't bear to see Fíli bound and Dwalin holding him like he was dangerous. Fíli wasn't dangerous.
"Can't do that, lad," Dwalin replied. "Now walk."
"But the people in town," Kíli began.
"Already know what he did," Dwalin said, feeling bad about the embarrassment that this would cause the young heir. All it took was a glance at the blood still on the arena to tamp down that sympathy. Fíli wasn't behaving as if he were innocent, Dwalin couldn't treat him like he was.
"It's fine, Kíli," Fíli whispered, cutting his brother off. "Mr. Dwalin's just doing his job. Let's go home." Even though he said it was fine, it took a sharp tug on his arm from his cousin to get him to step out the gate of the training grounds. He kept his head down as they made their way through town, keeping his eyes on his feet but he knew that it was no good. With his hair there was no chance that they could mistake him for another dwarfling. The shame of it almost made him tell Dwalin what had happened, but he could not bring himself to tell something that would cause his mother embarrassment, not to spare himself. It never occurred to him that having her son paraded through the town bound like a common criminal would shame her more than any rumor repeated by a dwarfling ever could.