This promise to himself was tested before they ever reached the Misty Mountains. Ever since they had left the hobbit's home, it seemed as if there had been nothing but rain. Not only had it made the entire company miserable, but it had made the journey treacherous. Roads were now nothing more than soft mud with hidden tree roots and stones that threatened to turn the ankles of the ponies. That had been Thorin's biggest concern. A lame mount would have been a great impediment to the speed of the quest.
What actually happened was worse. He never learned what it was that had spooked the ponies, perhaps it was the wind or a sound or a shadow. The why was really irrelevant. It was what it led to that haunted the king's nightmares. Two of the ponies, taking fright at something, bolted. Straight into the swollen stream beside the path. And Fíli and Kíli rather than give them up for drowned, jumped up, stripping weapons and clothes as they ran and dove headlong into the stream after them.
Thorin lept to his feet as well, attempting to catch the lads before they dove but he was too late. He attempted to go after them but Balin and Dwalin's arms around his chest held him back. Even so, he struggled against them, needing to rescue his nephews. Thorin stood at the side of the stream, fighting his cousins and watching in blind panic, waiting for their heads to emerge from the turbulent waters.
"Just stop, Thorin!" Balin snapped. "See sense! We can't pull all three of you out and we can't do anything until we know where the lads are anyway. They won't still be right here, not in this current." Balin's words broke through his panic and he began frantically looking down stream. Just as he was beginning to give up hope he saw it. A flash of gold breaking the surface of the water: Fíli's hair. Right next to him, Kíli broke the surface. Thorin felt his heart restart. They were still alive.
Fíli and Kíli, however, were less relieved. They hadn't quite thought through the implications of diving into a flooded stream. The current was stronger than either of them had counted on, the eddies more turbulent and there were other things in the turbid water that bounced off of them in the current. And neither of them was prepared for the panic that had flooded their veins as the water engulfed them and refused to let them surface. The certainty that they were going to die, and the panic it led to, only depleting their precious supply of air further. When Fíli did finally manage to break the surface of the water, he looked frantically for his brother. It was only once he saw Kíli's head break the surface and heard him draw in a gasp of air that he began to look for the ponies.
He saw that one of them had managed to get out of the stream on her own and was standing in the shallows, most of her baggage gone. As he began scanning for the other, his attention was shattered by a log crashing into his side painfully. At his cry, Kíli's dark eyes were on him looking at him appraisingly with panic clear in their brown depths.
"I'm fine," Fíli called. "Ma—" he was cut off as his head went under the water. He came back up coughing, having not had time to prepare himself to be underwater. "Make for the edge," he said between coughs.
The two brothers swam, buffeted by the debris and the current and weighed down by their sodden clothing. The others watched from the banks as the boys swam, their hearts stopping in their chests whenever one of them would disappear for even a faction of a second only to begin to beat painfully once more when the lad would surface. None of them could stand the idea of losing either of them. Not to a river. They were almost to the edge when the scream of a pony came from just downstream. The lads exchanged a glance before Fíli nodded and they moved back into the current and allowed it to carry them to the lost pony.
"No," Thorin breathed pulling against Dwailn and Balin's hold on him again in his attempt to get to his nephews. He was horrified that they had gone back into danger when they were so close to being safe. Horrified and strangely proud that they would risk their own lives for the good of the company. But mostly horrified.
"They'll be alright, Thorin," Dwalin said with a certainty that he did not feel. "They're young and strong. They can survive a stream. Besides, they're already in there. They may as well do what they went in to do." Thorin whirled, prepared to lay into his cousin about his flippant take on his nephews' safety only to have the words die on his tongue at the fear in Dwalin's dark eyes. Dwalin feared for the safety of the lads as much as he did. Rather than snarl at his cousin, Thorin turned his eyes back on his nephews praying to any who would listen that they would come out of this in one piece.
Despite his fear for them, he couldn't help but smile at Kíli's triumphant cry when he managed to seize the pony's bridle and began swimming it back towards their side of the river with Fíli on the other side doing the same. He glanced aside in surprise when he heard Balin snort.
"Foolish lads," Balin muttered. Thorin was about to defend his nephews' intelligence and bravery when Balin cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled over the roar of the current. "Use the reins you idiots! You're too close to the pony! If it kicks you it will break your fool legs!" Thorin looked at Balin in shock, he had never spoken to the lads like that. Had it have been Dwalin, Thorin would not have been surprised but Balin . . . he doted on them. Especially Fíli. It was then—as he saw the same tension in Balin that he felt himself—that Thorin realized that they were all afraid for his nephews. He did not have a monopoly on concern for their wellbeing. He gave Balin a small smile before turning his attention back to his nephews—who had followed his advice and moved their hold to the reins rather than the bridle.
They were midway across the river when he heard his name shouted from upstream by Glóin. There had been more panic in his cousin's voice than he had ever heard before. He turned fearing the worst only to see Glóin pointing into the middle of the swollen stream. Thorin watched in confusion for a moment before he saw what appeared to be an entire tree roll over. All he could hear was his heartbeat thudding in his ears as his eyes quickly mapped out the trajectory and he realized that there was no way that Fíli and Kíli could swim fast enough with the pony in tow to clear the path of the tree. Perhaps not even without it, but with it they stood no chance at all.
"Fíli! Kíli!" he called urgently not caring that he could hear panic in his own voice. They glanced at him and for a precious moment stopped swimming as they tried to hear him over the rush of water in their ears.
"Leave the pony! Swim!" he commanded simply his gaze unconsciously flicking upstream to check the progress of the tree before coming back to them. He cursed himself as he saw his nephews follow his gaze and he was forced to watch as their eyes widened in fear. He did growl out a string of curses when instead of swimming, they froze.
"Don't just sit there!" he heard Bofur call from a bit downstream where he was prepared to help drag them ashore. "Swim you fools! Don't sit there waiting for it to come to you!" Bofur's words seemed to pull the boys back to the present as Fíli began swimming once more, swatting Kíli on a stroke to get his brother to help. But even though they had continued swimming, they had not followed the second order as neither of them had released their hold on the pony's reins. None of the company dared to breathe as the boys made their slow progress. None of them could resist the urge to keep flicking their eyes to the tree coming down the stream and then back to the young dwarves, attempting to calculate the time it would take for the tree to reach the lads and if they would be clear before it did. They all came to the same, painful conclusion: there was no way they could swim free in time.
Thorin was glancing around desperately for a plan, trying to think of anything he could to speed his nephews' swim across the river; he could think of nothing. If they could get a rope to the boys they could pull them faster than they could swim but none of them could throw a rope quite so far, not without a weight on it and the weight necessary to make the distance would be dangerous. If it hit one of the lads it would knock them unconscious and they would drown. He was trying to get a new plan when he heard a shout and a splash from downstream.
His head whipped around sharply to see Bofur swimming towards the boys, a rope tied around his chest and going back to the shore where it was secured around Bombur. Before he could think to be irritated with the miner for putting yet another of the company in danger, he was in motion, Dwalin right on his heels, and making for Bombur's side. The moment Bofur reached the boys, he untied the rope and expanded the loop so that all three of them were contained within it. The moment it was done, he gave a sharp whistle.
"That's the signal," Bombur said. "Pull." None of them needed telling twice and as Bombur backed up, using his weight as a counterbalance, Thorin, Dwalin and Dori pulled. They were making good progress, but a quick glance upstream reveled that it still wasn't going to be enough. Even with the three of them swimming and the four on the shore pulling they were never going to clear the current before the tree reached them. And everyone knew it. Even so, they continued on, refusing to give the three members of their company up for dead. Thorin's pulls became even more frantic as he watched the tree tumble in the current yet again, knowing that the next fall would bring it down on Bofur and his nephews.
But then a miracle occurred. The tree must have hit something, a rock, the stream bed, at any rate, it turned and instead of traveling down the stream across it, it was suddenly traveling down it with the roots at one end and the crown at the other. The sudden change was enough that it cleared both the dwarves and the pony. All of the company felt their limbs go weak with relief as they released a breath they hadn't realized they were holding. Everyone was safe.
It only took a few more moments to drag the sodden trio to the edge of the swollen stream and pull them out onto dry land. As the rope was unwound from around them, Bofur smiled at the two young dwarves coughing beside him.
"No offence, lads," he whispered, "but the two of you are rubbish at picking swimming holes. Next time, I get to pick where we swim, deal?" They simply nodded, both of their eyes far too wide in their pale faces as shivers wracked their forms from both the chill of the water and the relief at not being dead. Bofur was only able to take in their nod, and the way that Kíli was desperately clinging to his brother—almost as if he needed to reassure himself that Fíli was alive—before a heavy hand came down on his shoulder.
He glanced up in shock as he realized that the hand was connected to Thorin. Part of the company he may have been, but he'd never been close enough to the royal family for Thorin to touch him before. The only member that had was Kíli, but the heir was a bit too free with affection for a dwarf. The oddness of the situation made him a bit wary, as did the fact that the king stared down at him with an expression that Bofur couldn't quite place on his face and some strange emotion in his eyes.
"Thank you," Thorin finally whispered. "You did a very brave thing just now and I will not forget it. If we are successful I will see you well rewarded for saving my nephews from their own stupidity. For now, I believe Glóin has a fire started and you have relatives that wish to see you."
"I didn't do it for a reward," Bofur replied, hoping that Thorin didn't truly think that he had only saved Fíli and Kíli for the reward they might earn him.
"I know," Thorin said with a sharp nod. "That's why I'm determined that you have one." The King nudged his head towards the fire and Bofur realized that it was not just a thank you but also a dismissal. Thorin intended to have words with his nephews and did not particularly want an audience for it. Which was fine by Bofur. He didn't particularly want to be the audience.
No sooner had Thorin released him than he found himself engulfed by Bifur and Bombur. "I'm glad you saved their lives, Brother," Bombur whispered into Bofur's ear as his hands gripped his soaked pigtails, "But don't ever do something like that again." Bofur laughed but said nothing. Odds were very high that he would indeed be doing something life-threatening again. It was a dangerous quest after all. And he knew that his brother knew it as well.
"Is there anything to eat?" Bofur asked knowing just how to distract Bombur from his coddling. "Swimming is hunger-making work." Bombur said nothing, knowing that Bofur was attempting to distract him. It worked. Bombur had never been able to allow another to go hungry if it was within his power to prevent it and this time it was. With a sad shake of his head, he led his shivering brother to the fire where he and Bilbo had been chopping vegetables before all of this began. As he watched Bifur fussing over Bofur while he and Bilbo finished up the prep work for the stew it finally sank in for Bombur about just what they had agreed to. It was one thing to see on paper that death was a possibility but to have nearly experienced it. He was already beginning to wonder if this quest was worth it or if he had made a grave mistake in coming.