Thorin stared down at his two shivering nephews. They looked so small and pathetic huddled together as they were. In the twilight, Fíli's wet hair looked more brown than gold, but that could have also been from the dirty water they had just been in. Kíli just looked miserable. And both of them looked more like drowned rats than princes-in-exile. Neither of them seemed to have noticed him. With a deep sigh, Thorin realized that this could not go unanswered. They had risked far too much this time and they hadn't even thought about it first.
"Do either of you care to tell me just what you were thinking?" Thorin asked, his voice little more than a low rumble. Both of them flinched at the sound. Thorin waited, wondering which of them would have the courage—or foolishness—to attempt to explain their actions. He wasn't surprised when it was Kíli. Kíli always had an answer for everything, whether that answer was the right one or not . . . that was questionable.
"We . . . we w-were th-thinking that . . . t-that "Kíli scrambled trying to come up with an excuse that his uncle might accept for them diving headlong into a swollen stream without a plan.
"You weren't thinking," Thorin corrected harshly. "If you had been, you would not have dove into the stream. Or you would have at least taken off your boots first." Kíli continued to stare up at him with wide eyes. Thorin had never spoken to him so sharply before. Fíli, however, hung his head in shame. He knew that they had erred and would not attempt to make excuses for their actions. They had behaved foolishly after all. They should have at least removed their boots. They had been quite heavy in the stream and the moments they'd saved in keeping them on had been in vain. It wasn't like they'd saved the supplies.
"B-but U-Uncle," Kíli tried to say through his shivers and his shock, "If we'd w-waited—"
"What, Kíli?"" Thorin demanded. "If you'd waited more of the supplies would have been lost? They were lost the moment the ponies went into the stream. If you'd waited until we had a plan . . . "
"The second pony would have been lost," Kíli said looking up at his uncle with sad brown eyes that were begging Thorin to understand. Better the pony than you, Thorin thought but he didn't say anything. He could almost see that argument. They did need the ponies. Even so, Kíli could not think that he could do such foolish and reckless things.
"Be that as it may," Thorin countered, "you still should have waited for a plan. Or—Mahal!— even made one yourself! You should not have just jumped into the stream with no plan. In doing so you two put not only yourselves but Bofur at risk as well. It was foolish and reckless and—." Thorin paused to take a deep breath and calm himself once more.
"On top of all of that, you disobeyed me," Thorin breathed, the pain from his fear of losing the boys making his voice harsh. "I ordered you to leave the pony and swim to safety and you willfully disobeyed me. Do you deny that you heard the order?"
"We're s-s-sorry, Uncle," Kíli said looking up at Thorin from his place on the ground through his wet hair. "We just—"
"I don't care why you did it!" Thorin snarled. "You. Almost. Died. Do you have any idea what that would have done to your mother?" To me, he added silently.
"We were just—"
"I don't want to hear it, Kíli," Thorin said coolly. "I don't know what you think you were doing but you are not to do it again. If you were seeking glory or . . . or praise that is not the way to go about it. You do not do foolish or reckless things just for the honor they might bring you. I suppose it doesn't matter what you were seeking because, at any rate, you failed. Not only did you two risk your own lives, but Bofur's as well and the supplies were not saved."
"We saved the p-pony," Kíli offered in a quiet, disconsolate voice as he looked away from the pain and disappointment in his uncle's eyes. "That c-counts for s-something, r-right?"
"One pony is not worth the risk of life for three dwarves, or even one," Thorin countered. "Ponies and supplies can be replaced. Lives cannot. If you do not realize that perhaps I should have left you both at home." His heart ached as Kíli deflated at his harsh words but he did not retract them. He could not lose Kíli and if he had to hurt his feelings to impress upon him the gravity of this quest, so be it.
"It will n-not h-happen again, Uncle," Fíli promised quietly, unable to look up and see the anger that he knew would be in his uncle's eyes. Instead, he rested his cheek on Kíli's sopping head as he held Kíli's quivering form against him and tried to offer his brother what little warmth and comfort he could.
"See that it doesn't," Thorin whispered before he stalked off into the woods alone. It was only a second later that Dwalin followed after him, knowing that Thorin would need comfort even if he wished to pretend that he would not.
He had been right. He found Thorin sitting on a log with his head in his hands.
"I nearly lost them, Dwalin," Thorin whispered, unshed tears in his voice. "To a stream! I nearly lost them to a stream and we haven't even crossed the Mountains yet!" Dwalin said nothing. He just stood there and allowed his King to vent. "I should have left them at home. It's foolishness to risk the entire line on this quest. I should have left Kíli with his mother. Dís' opinion be damned."
"Kíli's done well on this quest so far," Dwalin said simply. "He's young, rash, and foolish. But he's learning. He never makes the same mistake twice, Thorin. You know that. He won't be diving headlong into any more streams after ponies, I can promise you that."
"Then I should have left Fíli," Thorin replied. "One of them should have stayed."
"They wouldn't have," Dwalin said. "You know that, Thorin. If you had tried to separate them . . . the other would have followed with or without permission and Dís would have give either of them permission to follow you with her blessing." Thorin sighed knowing that Dwalin was right but not wanting to admit it aloud. There had been no way to stop his nephews from coming on this quest.
"Besides," Dwalin added with a small chuckle, "can you imagine what kind of a terror Kíli would be without Fíli? Fíli's a grounding force for his brother. Keeps him in line."
"Then he should do a better job," Thorin snapped. The more he thought about it, the more Dwalin was right. Kíli was young and foolish but Fíli, he wasn't. He should have known better than to dive into the stream with his brother. Kíli might not have gone alone. He might have stopped if Fíli did. And he had seen them exchange glances in the water. Had Kíli convinced Fíli to disobey him or had it been the other way around . . .
"Perhaps," Dwalin said warily, seeing Thorin's mood shift once more. "But you do need to remember that Fíli is young and untried as well. He's not near as foolish as Kíli but he's not fully mature yet either." Thorin said nothing but merely gave a noncommittal grunt in reply as he continued to wonder if that lapse of judgment on their part had been caused by Kíli's foolishness or Fíli's lack of control over his brother or both.
As soon as the King had left, Balin was there, peeling away the sodden blanket they were wrapped in and attempting to do the same to their clothing. Wet clothes would not help them to get warm. Trust Thorin to lecture them without seeing to their needs, Balin thought with a small shake of his head. He was a bit surprised that it had been Kíli on the receiving end of the tirade but it was only a sign of how close things actually came that Thorin would criticize the lad. All the same, he did feel that it would do the lad some good to hear that he had made a mistake from his uncle. After he had finished with the fire, Glóin came to assist him with the brothers' wet clothing while Bombur and Bifur were doing the same to Bofur—who was loudly declaring his ability to remove his own clothing, declarations which fell on deaf ears. Kíli grumbled as he was separated from Fíli and Balin had to laugh.
The youngest heir looked all the world like a soaked stray pup. "Don't worry, my little feckless idiot," Balin laughed pausing just long enough to ruffle Kíli's hair before he returned to his task of stripping Fíli's shaking limbs. "You'll get him back soon enough. I just need to get him out of his wet clothes and check him over and then he's all yours. I'm not separating you. Though I probably should. The two of you do such foolish things when you are together." Seeing the horror in both of their eyes he laughed once more.
"Don't fret, lads. It was only a joke," he promised.
"It was in p-p-poor taste," Kíli pouted as Glóin continued to strip him, the wet leather of his clothing clinging to him as if it had been stuck there by glue. It took both of their combined efforts to remove his bracers and boots. Kíli did not even fight when his cousin grabbed his shirt and pulled it over his head. When Glóin reached for the laces of his breaches, however, Kíli batted away his hands.
"I-I can get th-those," Kíli proclaimed through chattering teeth and reached down with cold-numbed fingers to fumble with the laces for a moment before his hands were batted away and Glóin's replaced them.
"It's not like I haven't done this before, lad," Glóin said with a smirk. "I've even changed your diapers. This is not nearly as embarrassing for either of us. Besides, you don't have anything that we haven't seen before."
"But I-I'll be naked!" Kíli protested, more upset about being stripped like a child than the resulting nudity. "Th-that can't p-p-possibly help to g-g-get me warm. I can j-j-just keep my pants on." This elicited a roar of laughter from the company, save for Bilbo who had not been around during Kíli's "clothing is bad" phase.
"What's so funny?!" Kíli demanded. "I c-can't see how my skin being b-bare can help me to get w-warm!"
"I have to agree with him," Bilbo added. "Wouldn't cloth of any kind, even wet cloth, help him warm up better?"
"It won't," Balin replied. "But that is not what we are laughing at, laddie." At Bilbo's confused expression Balin laughed again. "Well, this will make more sense if you have a bit more information."
"Balin," Kíli whined. "No. D-don't tell him about th-that!" Bilbo looked between Kíli's blushing face and the rest of the company's amused smirks and something Tookish awoke in him and he just had to know.
"Fine," Fíli replied with a laugh seeing Bilbo's eager expression. "Then I'll tell him. When Kíli was yo-younger he went through a phase where—"
"Fee, no!" Kíli pleaded. "D-don't tell him, p-p-please! It's bad e-e-enough that the rest of you know. Can't I just have one m-m-member of the company that doesn't think of me as a child!?"
"Fine, Kíli," Fíli sighed. "I w-won't tell him."
"Then I will," Bofur said with a laugh. "Kíli went through a period of his life where he refused to wear clothing."
"All small children do, I think," Bilbo replied in confusion. He had heard nearly all of his cousins complain that their children were wanting to run around naked. He could actually remember a party for Lobelia, one of his stuffier relatives, when his little cousin Drogo had decided that his shirt was all too encumbering and had thrown it just as the cake was brought out and had lit it on fire along with a chunk of Lobelia's hair. Drogo had been one of his favorites ever since.
"Kíli was a bit older than most children when they do such things," Bofur said still laughing.
"Dís was mortified," Balin recalled. "They would be in the middle of the market and Kíli would just . . . and then there was a naked dwarfling where a clothed princeling had been moments before. She eventually convinced him to stop. I'm not sure how she did it."
"She sewed the hem of his shirt to his pants every morning," Fíli supplied. "He c-couldn't get them off and even-eventually decided to wear them. She j-joked about doing it b-before we left for this quest so that he would not start stripping in the w-wilderness and embarrass Uncle."
"Traitor," Kíli snarled, glaring at his brother.
"Al-always, Brother Dear," Fíli replied reaching over to pull Kíli's hair playfully and stopping with a wince as he pulled his bruised ribs.
"Fíli?" Kíli said, all traces of anger gone as he batted away Glóin's hands once more and all but pounced his brother in his worry for him.
"I'm f-fine," Fíli panted, a small smile on his face as he shivered. "I just . . . there was s-something in the w-water and it hit me. It's sore but I'm fine."
"Let me see," Balin demanded moving the blanket aside and prodding the purple area none-too-gently. "Any grating or popping when you breathe?" Fíli shook his head as he hissed a breath through his teeth. "You're lucky, lad. Nothing's broken, just bruised. Maybe it'll serve as a reminder not to be so rash in the future. I think that was the most foolish thing that either of you have ever done. You're idiots, both of you."
"But we're your idiots," Fíli countered with a smile. "And you l-love us j-just the way we are." Balin smirked at Fíli's certainty and bent to pull off the young heir's boot.
"Be that as it may," Balin said eventually, his harsh words ruined by the smile on his face "you're still idiots. Please don't do anything so foolish ever again. I'm not sure that my heart can take it. I am getting old, you know."
"U-Uncle's older," Kíli whispered looking at Balin with sad brown eyes as Glóin wrapped him in a blanket once more to cover his nakedness.
"He is," Balin agreed. "and he was so worried for the two of you. You, the two of you and your mother, you're all he has in this world. If you won't be careful for yourselves, do it for us poor old dwarves. After all, if you are lost who will we send to scout and gather wood?" Kíli looked at him incredulously at the thought that it was only the inconvenience that their loss would cause the company that would cause Balin to miss them only to see the twinkle in the older dwarf's eyes.
Just then, Dori and Óin appeared with clean, dry clothing for the brothers. None of it was theirs—as the ponies that bolted had been carrying their packs—and it fit poorly but it was at least dry. Kíli was in some of Dwalin's spare clothing due to Kíli's height, but his lack of bulk made the fabric pool around him comicallyKíli looked so much like he had as a dwarfling attempting to wear their uncle's clothing Fíli had to laugh at the sight..
"Y-you sh-should see yourself, K-Kíli," Fíli laughed. "You look so pathetic!"
"You d-don't l-look any b-better," Kíli countered, though he secretly knew that Fíli did. His brother was close to the size of many of the other dwarves and Glóin's spare clothing fit him quite well. Even so, Kíli couldn't very well say so. So instead, he crawled towards Fíli and huddled against his brother under the dry blankets that someone had provided. He was still shivering moments later when he felt a warm hand come down on his shoulder. He glanced up to see his uncle looking down at him, sadness in his eyes.
"Come, Little One," Thorin whispered. "You'll never get warm that way. Neither of you has any warmth to offer the other at the moment." Unlike when Balin had tried to separate the brothers, Kíli offered no resistance when his uncle gently lifted him into his arms before moving to the other side of the fire and leaning against a log. He draped Kíli across his chest and covered them both with his coat which he had left there before moving to collect his nephew. They sat there for a moment before Kíli gave a weak, wet cough and snuggled more firmly into his uncle. Thorin felt Kíli jerk against him and knew that his nephew was about to speak even before it happened.
"You . . . your armor," Kíli whispered.
"I took it off," Thorin replied with a gentle smile. "Would have just been in the way. You'll get warm faster this way."
"But . . . what if—"
"Hush," Thorin soothed petting Kíli's head as he had when he had been small. "Your safety is more important to me than my own. More important than this quest even. Please, Kíli," Thorin sighed before he continued. "Never do anything so foolishly reckless again."
"I won't," Kíli promised in a quiet voice. "I'm sorry that I frightened you." Thorin said nothing in response, but his grip on his nephew tightened slightly and he bent to press his lips to Kíli's damp hair as he tried to convince himself that the boys would be fine. They had survived their own stupidity and they would be fine. This time, a dark voice whispered in his mind.
Fíli watched sadly as his uncle took his brother from him. While he was glad that Kíli was getting warm, he truly wanted his brother beside him. It had been a far closer call that day then even he wanted to admit. With a shiver he tucked his chin against his chest and wrapped his hands around his knees in an attempt to trap what heat he had. He jumped slightly when he felt the blanket pulled from his shoulders and a large body settle in behind him before the blanket was tucked back around them both.
"You looked cold, lad," Dwalin rumbled from behind him. Fíli considered denying it but before he could speak a shiver wracked his frame. Rather than deny it, he went for another reason Dwalin didn't have to be there.
"You'll get wet," he muttered holding himself a bit apart from his cousin despite the way he wanted to lean into the warmth that was being offered.
"It's not the first time," Dwalin said placing a hand on the young heir's shoulder. "And it won't be the last. Rest, lad. We both know you need it." Fíli said nothing but allowed himself to lean against his older cousin. As his muscles began to warm and loosen, Fíli felt sleep creeping into the edges of his mind. With a final force of will, he opened his eyes and looked up at his cousin. Dwalin was staring into the fire, seemingly oblivious to the frigid young dwarf stealing his body heat.
"Dwalin," Fíli whispered, offering the older dwarf a small smile when his dark eyes flicked to meet his, "thank you."
"No need to thank me, lad," the warrior replied in a surprisingly gentle tone. "Any one of us would have done the same." But they didn't, Fíli thought. You did. Rather than say it, though, Fíli yawned.
"Sleep, lad," Dwalin repeated, tucking the blanket more tightly around them both. "Dawn comes early and your uncle won't wait." That was the last thing Fíli heard before sleep claimed him.
Dwalin knew the moment the young heir passed into dreams. He also knew that had the lad been warmed properly he would have done so sooner. Even so, it worried him. Fíli had never fallen asleep so quickly, even in his own home. His sharp mind refused to allow it. It was a mark of how close things truly had been that day that he was able to now.
As he watched Thorin fuss over Kíli he realized that he wasn't the only one that realized just how close they had come that day to losing the lads. For Thorin to show affection so openly . . . he knew. As he glanced down at the golden head lolling on his shoulder he wondered just how much closer the call would have to be to get Thorin to realize that it wasn't just Kíli who'd been in danger. Would it take more of an injury than a log to the ribs? Just how close would Fíli have to come to death to make Thorin see that he was important to the King? One glance at Fíli's sleeping face made Dwalin hope that he never found out. For Fíli's sake if nothing else. He wasn't sure that the heir would survive the kind of thing it would take to make Thorin see reason.
Their next brush with death, and test of Thorin's promise, came the very next evening. Trolls. Three of them. Hungry and intent on eating the company. And they would have succeeded too, where it not for a timely intervention by Gandalf. Even Thorin had had to admit that the old man, while insufferable and infuriating, was, at times, quite useful. Even when his idea of useful led them to Rivendell. And if it meant that for a time they had to suffer the company of elves, at least it also provided them with a clean, dry, safe place to sleep, good food to eat and good ale to drink.
And if Thorin insisted that they sleep in a group as they would in the wild rather than take advantage of the beds they were offered since he felt the need to keep his nephews in sight . . . well, let the others say what they would about his stubborn distrust of elves. It was better than them knowing the truth. While he trusted the dwarves with him with his life, there were things even they did not need to know.
Both too soon and too late for his tastes, Lord Elrond was able to read his map—the shape and day of the moon finally aligning as it needed to—and they were on their way once more. While he was glad to be underway, each step leading them closer to their final destination, he was loathe to leave the safety afforded by the valley. For while each step was a step closer to home, it was also a step closer to a dragon that might not be dead and to the Misty Mountains and the orcs housed therein.
With every step he took, Thorin prayed to the Maker for a peaceful crossing. While he would not flee from a battle, he also had no desire to come face-to-face with the orcs. He still remembered the atrocities they were capable of and their tested warriors were too few to take on a determined horde. With every step he took, he could also feel himself growing more tense. Fíli and Kíli would not fall to orcs. That much he swore. Neither orcs nor goblins would ever lay a hand on his nephews. Not while he still drew breath.
It was with this goal in mind that he diligently checked every crevice of every cave they took shelter in as they crossed the high pass. And once he was done, he had Dwalin do the same. If either of them found anything even slightly amiss, they continued on to the next shelter. It led to more than one night spent huddled against the cliff face for protection rather than in a dry cave that had been just a bit further back.
That night they'd found a safe cave, much to their relief as there was a thunder battle—something they had all believed to be myth—raging outside. Once the ponies were tethered at the back and dinner was eaten they prepared themselves for sleep. As Thorin lay down, he couldn't help but smile. There were, perhaps, two days left before they were clear of the mountains and so far there had been no sign of either orcs or goblins. As he drifted off to sleep he thought that perhaps the Maker was smiling on him. For once.
His happy dreams were shattered by a shrill scream in the middle of the night.
"No," he breathed as he sat up, sword in hand, and faced the back of the cave where a great crack had opened in the wall. "No," he repeated as he watched his company, including his nephews, bound by goblins before being herded into the tunnel under threat of the whip like livestock. He was in such shock that when he was grabbed, the fight that he put up was pathetic at best but it wouldn't have mattered. The goblins were too many and the company too few, especially as Dwalin and Glóin had been the first to be seized. No. there was nothing to do for it. They were captured. Captured and being led into the dark of Goblin Town where who knew what horrors awaited them.
As he was marched into the dark Thorin was only sure of one thing; while he drew breath Fíli and Kíli would suffer no ill treatment at the hands of the goblins.
That's the end of this one folks. If you find that you need to continue this story, simply look for "Trust Me But Don't Thank Me Yet" on my profile. It picks up right here.
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