Chapter 1: A Fateful Healing
" Of all the herbs most rare and potent, none can compare to the Athelas, better known in the common tongue as Kingsfoil. This small plant, whilst commonplace and unremarkable in both petal and leaf, hath properties most remarkable. In the hands of a King, its powers are miraculous. However, such power is not nigh as that which it is in the hands of an Elf wielding Magik of the most ancient and cathartic sort. An ancient Magik forsworn and forsaken, known by few, long since banned. Magik that penetrates both skin and sinew, tissue and bone, heart and soul.
Beware, oh heedless apothecary! Ye know not what ye meddle with, for Magik of the soul is the most dangerous kind and the most unpredictable. Thy troubles shalt be heaped down on thine own head, for there will be none to blame for any such unfortunate happenstance or consequences."
-An excerpt from the Lost Apothecary's Handbook, dated from the Second Age
The last Orc fell to the ground with a heavy thud, Tauriel's arrow embedded in its skull.
The she-elf however, did not relax her position or lower her bow as she scanned the room for further intruders. A young boy, a Man, crawled out from beneath the table where he'd been hidden.
"You killed them all." The boy said, looking slightly wondrous and still a little hesitant. Tauriel didn't blame him, he and his siblings had probably never seen Orcs- or elves- before in his short life.
I wish it were that simple, she thought to herself, finally tucking away her bow. From the doorway, Legolas called,
"There are others. Tauriel, come!"
Tauriel hesitated. Legolas waited expectantly, eyes dark with the thought of Orcs and hair almost silver in the moonlight. She would be lying if she denied that, in some small corner of her heart, her attraction to him remained. Meanwhile, Kili lay on top of a simple oaken table, semi-concious and groaning. One of the dwarves- Oin, was it?- had set some odd-looking plate of walnuts under his head, and looked deeply concerned. He glanced up at Tauriel.
"We're losing him!"
Her place was with Legolas, but what about Kili?
Kili, Kili, Kili, Kili… A traitorous voice in the back of her mind chanted. He's going to die if you don't help him, he's going to die… Her heart pounded feircely in her chest, fear and grief tightening her throat. If she left now, what would happen to him?
"Tauriel," said Legolas again. To anyone else, he would have sounded even more demanding this time than the last, but Tauriel could hear the unspoken plea woven in. Are you coming? Tauriel, please. Don't do anything foolish.
She took a step back.
No, came her reply, equally silent. Legolas paused for a moment, torn, and for a heartbeat Tauriel thought he might stay. But then the moment shattered when the cry of an orc tore through the night and in a flash, Legolas was gone.
Only a second later, a second dwarf- this one with a large, floppy brown hat- came running inside, clutching a plain-flowered plant in his hand. Tauriel took it from him.
"Athelas," she murmured, the floppy hatted dwarf eying her uncertainly.
"What are you doing?"
Tauriel looked at him, hoping that she looked a lot calmer than she felt. "I'm going to save him." The reply was a lot simpler than the situation truly warranted. Kili had been struck by a Morgul Shaft- which to the dwarves, certainly meant bad news. But they had no real idea the potency of the arrow's poison. There were some things not even elvish healing could fix. Unless…
Tauriel shifted the Kingsfoil around in her palms. It felt lush and fresh. But it is forbidden- such healing has been forbidden for over seven hundred years, what will the Elvenking say to me if he finds out that I used such magic, especially to save the life of a dwarf? She wasn't as worried about the dwarves, they probably wouldn't know one elvish chant from the next, and would have no idea what Fea Evaliir- also known as soul magic- was.
It's dangerous, it's unpredicatable… The more cautious side of her, which sounded suspiciously like Legolas, urged. If done wrong, it could get you killed! But the stubborn traitorous side of her was even louder. Kili's life is at stake, and you want to sit around and do nothing? You travelled to Laketown to make sure he would live, and you need to see that through!
Her mind made up, Tauriel gripped the Kingsfoil harder and said grimly to the dwarves, "Hold him down."
Once they had done so, Tauriel pulled back the cloth covering the wound. It looked infected, all swollen and red, and it didn't look like Kili had taken any time to properly treat it at all. That complicates things, the she-elf thought. If Tauriel hadn't been so used to blood, the sight would have made her sick right then and there. Gritting her teeth, she pressed the Kingsfoil against the open wound and began to chant.
Her first guess was right: ordinary elvish healing was not going to work on Kili. His injury was too severe, and had been left untreated for too long. The only option left was Fea Evaliir.
Tauriel closed her eyes, trying to remember everything she knew about using the forbidden magic. Remember, Tauriel, the voice of her mother came back to her, unbidden. That healing is a gift. You must use it. At its core, Fea Evaliir is simple. Energy is the truest sorce of healing, and our energy is life. Life flows through us all, all you need to know how to do is redirect the life and energy from your own body into another. Let the light of the Eldar guide you.
Tauriel's mother had died when she was only a little over a hundred years old, and as Captain of the Guard, Tauriel had always been more of a warrior than a healer. She truly had no idea what she was doing, but knew she had to try. Kili's life depended on it.
She focused, and as she focused, Tauriel could feel the sickness and pain radiating from the young dwarf's body. No matter how hard she focused her own energy into her fingertips and attempted to ease the healing essence into Kili's semi-concious form, the poison fought back. It clung to Kili like flies to a dead warg, working its way again and again through his bloodstream. Everywhere their skin touched her fingers tingled. If jet black were a color, it would feel like this,Tauriel thought. Like pain and despair, she was suffocating, dying-
And still she pressed deeper. She pushed her way through the darkness, seaching for the light. A light. Any light. She chanted even louder.
Then she found it- the light she was looking for. Tauriel sensed it, buried deep within his chest. She allowed herself to open her eyes. To her surprise, Kili was staring back, though he seemed too disoriented to do anything else. It was as if he too sensed that she'd found his soul, for that was what the light within truly was. Tauriel hadn't known what to expect, succeeding in finding the deepest part of the dwarf's inner being. For the first time, she could understand why Fea Evaliir was outlawed; the soul was a vulnerable thing.
It wasn't an unpleasant feeling, so to speak. Kili's soul was light and warm and young; it felt golden if that made any sense, just as the poison from the Morgul Shaft felt like an inky black. His aura was cheerful and should have been strong, but she could feel it weakening rapidly, even as she willed him to live. She could sense within Kili fears and desires, hopes and dreams, all swirling around inside of his soul like the mist in a crystal ball. Within her, she could sense her own soul stir, almost brushing his but not quite. It felt wrong to be so directly linked to someone who was unaware of it.
Stay with me, Kili… Stay with me… Tauriel begged. She was beginning to grow tired, and Kili was at death's door. I'm losing him! She realized. Even the forbidden magic was failing….
Let the light of the Eldar guide you…
With one final surge of effort, Tauriel drew from the last reserve of energy she had left- her own soul, her very life force. Pressing down with renewed vigor, she channeled the life into Kili's body. The poison- and even Kili's own body- rebelled against the internal invasion. The dwarvishness of his soul rose up to fight against Tauriel's elvish magic, but to no avail. She squashed it down ruthlessly, continuing to pour elven life and healing into his body, and the fight drained out of him.
Kili's eyes flickered feverishly as he looked up at her. "Tauriel?" he asked sluggishly. But before Tauriel could respond, he continued, unaware. "No, you cannot be her. She is far away… She… She walks in starlight in another world. It was just a dream."
She was only faintly aware of his fingers wrapping weakly around her wrist, so weary from the healing she was. Kili's soul, as battered from the barrage of magic as his body was healed by it, was no longer merely accepting the foreign presence, but embracing it. Adapting to it.
Tauriel frowned. That wasn't supposed to happen…
She stumbled back, head spinning and off balance with exhaustion. Meanwhile, Kili's form had begun to lengthen, his ears growing longer and more pointed while his meager beginnings of a beard faded away entirely. But Tauriel had no more time to wonder at what was happening because at that moment she fell, her head striking the ground, and she knew no more.
Fili closed his eyes in disbelief, turning away from his younger brother. How was any of this possible? The dark-haired stranger laying ontop of Bard's table couldn't possibly be Kili, his Kili, the younger brother he had sworn to protect, the most rambunctious member of the Company, but most of all… his best friend. This stranger, tall as any Man- if not taller- couldn't be Kili.
For starters, Kili was a Dwarf.
"We haven't lost him, lad." The golden-haired heir felt the weight of Bofur's hand clasp his shoulder, but the touch didn't feel anywhere near reassuring. Not when Kili had been… had been… I should've done something to save him, Fili thought miserably to himself, refusing to finish his previous train of thought. If only I'd been the one to climb out of my barrel to raise the gate in Mirkwood, or- or if I could've done something to stop that Orc from firing that arrow…
It seemed that Bofur took his silence as a sign to go on. "We haven't lost him," he repeated, but to Fili's ears, it sounded like he was trying to convince himself as well. "He's just different now… He's an…"
"An Elf." Fili managed to reply. There was a terrible moment of silence.
The two fatal words were finally spoken.
Mahal, it sounded ridiculous. Kili the Elf? It sounded like someone's idea of a bad joke or perhaps a very, very bad dream. Certainly not reality. Fili snuck another glance at the strange Elf lying unconcious next to him.
It- no, not it, he, Fili reminded himself, this was Kili he was talking about- stirred slightly, and for a moment all three of the Dwarves tensed, half hoping and half fearing that the Elf was about to awake, but the moment quickly passed. Letting out a soft sigh, he shifted his weight into what Fili hoped was a more comfortable position- because in all honesty, that wooden table didn't look the slightest bit comfortable. The steady rise and fall of his chest assured Fili that the Elf was still in a deep sleep.
Not an Elf, Fili scolded himself. Kili, your brother. Kili, Kili, Kil!
As much as it pained him, Fili could see very little of his brother in the being before him. The stranger certainly had Kili's dark, slightly unruly hair, with several strands overshadowing his brow. He also had Kili's clothes- the pants and no doubt the shoes that no longer fit the Elf's taller, more limber build. He'd grown into Bard's red shirt quite nicely, but as for the rest of his clothes, Kili would definitely need to change out of them. Fili cast an uncertain glance at the elleth who had healed his brother, after losing conciousness herself, had been propped up rather haphazardly against a nearby wall (with the combined efforts of Bofur and Oin- they'd quickly learned that despite their deceptive grace, an unconcious full grown Elf was heavy).
Had she known that in saving Kili's life, she would be taking him away from them? Fili doubted it; from the little he had seen, it was clear that his little brother was fond of the Elf- perhaps too fond- and now, seeing that she'd come all the way to Laketown to save him, it was also clear that those were feelings that she reciprocated. She would never do anything to willfully hurt him.
Oh, Kee… What have you gotten yourself into?
"I know little of Elvish medicine, and I'd considered it a great honor to watch such healing at work. I wished to see how it would magage to heal Kili," Oin's voice was heavy with regret. "But now all I wish is that I'd been a little less curious, and a little more cautious."
Fili looked directly at the elderly healer, disbelief shining in his eyes. "You mean, this was for nothing? You could've saved Kili's life, without the help of the Elf?"
"You misunderstand me," said Oin with a sad shake of his head. "Kili was fading fast; there was nothing to be done. Initially, I believed that I may have been able to treat him. That is why I stayed behind. But by dusk, I realized that that there was nothing I could do. For better or for worse, that elf," he nodded breifly in Tauriel's direction, "saved his life."
"He's going to panic when he wakes up," said Fili, casting another anxious glance at his brother. A soft smile flitted across the unconcious former Dwarf's face, and he murmured something that sounded suspiciously like 'Tauriel.' Tauriel. Was that the Elf woman's name? Fili frowned. Was his brother actually… dreaming about her? Kili, please don't tell me this means you actually like the Elf!
"What was that?" asked Bofur.
"What was what? I didn't hear anything," said Fili, perhaps a little too quickly, covering for his brother. "What I said was 'he's going to panic when he wakes up.'"
"Aye, that he is." agreed Oin. "But for all we know, this may not be permanent. The Elf who healed him may know how to reverse this. Until then, we'll just have to remain patient until she wakes up."
That's a lot easier said than done, Fili thought grimly. What will we do if Kili wakes up before she does? What will we say? How do you explain to someone that they have become something that they are supposed to hate? But the question he asked was one even more pressing. "Kili is my brother, no matter what. But how will Uncle Thorin react?"
A groggy voice caused all three Dwarves to jump.
"How will Uncle react to what?"
Conciousness returned to Kili in bits and pieces. At first, all he could remember was searing pain. Terrible pain, like none he'd ever endured before, spreading from his injured knee to the rest of his body. Then there was the jarring sensation of falling on the ground when the Orcs attacked. Wait, was it the Orcs that attacked? Kili was pretty sure it was the Orcs, but for all he knew, it could've been anything. The poison in the arrowhead made him feverish and hazy.
Then he'd seen Tauriel, and that part he was pretty sure was a dream. For one, Tauriel lived in Mirkwood, what would she be doing in Laketown? And even if she somehow had followed the Company to Laketown and healed him, it didn't make any sense for her to be glowing as she did so.
But as impossible as it was, it felt so real.
In his dream, she'd placed her hands on his wound and began to chant. And as she chanted, he'd began to feel rather… strange. Something other than the sickness had crept into his body and seeped into his very bones. At first, it had felt nice- all light and warmth and distinctly Tauriel. But then, it had grown overpowering, tearing him apart from the inside, burning and blinding him with its brightness.
Come to think of it, he could still feel the warm little light in his chest. It no longer felt uncomfortable, but welcoming and natural. He smiled softly to himself. It was nice. Like Tauriel.
It was then that he became aware of the conversation going on around him.
"…May not be permanent," came the slightly rough but unmistakable voice of Oin. "The elf who healed him… we'll just have to be patient until she wakes up." Oin's voice drifted in and out of focus. What were they talking about? Kili tried to ask, but his mouth felt like it was filled with cotton. He wanted to wake up, to reassure everyone that he was alright, but his eyelids felt so heavy…
The next voice however, Kili understood perfectly.
"Kili is my brother-" Fee! Kili wanted to embrace him. Of course I'm your brother, why wouldn't I be? Unaware of the former Dwarf's awareness, Fili continued. "-no matter what. But how will Uncle Thorin react?"
How will Uncle Thorin react?
There was something wrong with him.
Panic surged inside of Kili, and he struggled to push it down. What's wrong? He wanted to cry out. What's so bad that Uncle wouldn't accept me for it? Was he blind, and that was why he couldn't open his eyes? Or… Or had his injured leg been amputated, and he would never be able to walk again? But as far as Kili knew, Uncle Thorin had never disowned or discriminated against anyone based on an injury. In fact, Uncle Thorin was the one who had taught Kili to respect those severely injured in battle. Maybe Fili was simply worried that Thorin wouldn't be pleased to learn that Kili'd been healed by an Elf.
That's it, Kili told himself. My dream wasn't a dream; Tauriel was really here. Uncle isn't going to be happy to hear that an Elf saved my life.
All the same, he struggled to open his eyes. Come on, he coaxed his stubborn eyelids. For Durin's sake, work!
His eyes flew open, the lighting inside Bard's almost blinding. Squinting, he managed to ask in a voice thick and heavy with sleep, "How will Uncle react to what?"
Kili watched at the color drained out of his brother's face. Fili took a deep breath, as if bracing himself for something unpleasant, and took a step closer to him. "Kee," he said slowly. Kili stiffened. Fili hadn't used that nickname so publicly since they were children. "No matter what has happened, you will always be my brother."
Kili whimpered. "Fee, you're scaring me." He struggled to sit up, but Oin gently pushed him back down.
"Easy, laddie. I don't think you're ready for that quite yet."
The young prince ignored him and sat up anyway. His head ached, but the wrongness of the situation hit him like a thunderclap. Even though he was not standing up, it was clear that he was taller than Fili. Taller than any of the Dwarves for that matter.
"What's going on?" He asked, hating how frightened and demanding he sounded.
Fili gingerly put a reassuring hand on his arm. "An Elf woman came and healed you, brother. You were dying."
"Tauriel," Kili said softly, happy that part hadn't been a dream after all. "But what's going on? Why is everyone acting like someone just died?"
His brother took a shaky breath. "She saved you, Kili, but at a price. You're no longer a Dwarf… You're an Elf."
What? No. No, no, no, no,no…. Kili stared disbelievingly at the three Dwarves before him. It all made sense, in a horrible, twisted sort of way. The fact that he was taller. The strange warmth in his chest. It was magic. Desperately, he looked to Fili. "I don't believe you." His voice shook. "You're lying!" The room rocked and he rocked with it. Fili's reply was soft, barely above a whisper.
"I wouldn't lie to you, Kee."
No, no, no, no, no!
Kili raised his hands in front of his face, staring at the elongated, elegant digits in shock. The nails were still dirty and cut to the quick, but unfamiliar. They weren't his hands. With a morbid fascination, he brought the foreign hands up to his face, tracing its contours. His face felt strange, more angular. His cheeks and jaw were now as smooth and soft as the skin of a newborn dwarfling, all traces of the scruffy beginnings of a beard gone. His hands roved higher. Kili dreaded what he would find, but found himself unable to stop. Fingertips traced over the long, sensitive pointed ears, and Kili could hold it back no more.
He was inexplicably and undeniably an Elf.
Fili was right, what was Thorin going to think? His uncle wouldn't want an Elf as one of his heirs!
Kili could see his own grief reflected in the bright blue eyes of his brother. Looking back on the moment later, neither Oin nor Bofur could tell who acted first- it seemed that at the exact moment Fili opened his arms Kili flung himself into his brother's embrace, where they stayed for awhile, rocking ever so slightly back and forth.
"It's going to be alright," murmured Fili. "Everything's going to turn out okay."
Oin and Bofur exchanged uncertain glances. Would it?
The house shook as another roar sounded in the distance.
"Smaug," said Bofur grimly. "We've got to get out of here. Quickly."
Kili made a move to get off the table, but fell with a startled yelp as soon as his feet touched the ground. The former Dwarf looked pained as he staggered to his feet, gripping the table for support.
"Are you alright, brother?" asked Fili. He put a steadying hand on Kili's arm- not that it would do much good if the Elf did stumble, Fili supposed that with Kili's larger size, he may just end up dragging his brother down with him. He gripped the sides of the table so hard his knuckles turned white, which Fili pretended not to notice. Taking a few labored breaths, Kili nodded.
"I'm fine," he said, "I- I can't walk right with this body." With this body. As if the body he was currently in was not his own. Shuffling his feet underneath him, Kili drew himself to his full height and loosened his grip somewhat. However, as he continued, he looked distinctly embarrassed. "But… I think I split my pants."
"I'll ask Singrid if Bard has any to spare. And shoes too," Fili added with a pointed glance at his feet. Kili followed his brother's gaze, gasping at what he saw. His boots- his favorite, worn leather boots- were destroyed, split along the seams by much longer Elven feet. The former dwarf blinked in surprise- those couldn't- how could those be his feet? But to his dismay, when he willed his toes to move, the Elven toes sticking out of the boots wiggled as well.
Fili encountered Singrid while racing up the stairs, both moving so quickly that they nearly ran into each other.
"I need to borrow some pants and a pair of boots," said Fili.
Singrid's eyes narrowed in confusion, and she peered around the blond dwarf. "What for?" She asked. "You're a dwarf. And who's that by the table down there?"
Tilda poked her head out from behind her older sister. "I think he's an Elf," she informed Singrid with an air of childlike certainty. Her eyes widened. "But I don't remember him. Do you think he'll bring good luck like the Dwarves were supposed to? Do you suppose he got here through the toilet as well?"
"That's Kili." At both girls astonished and disbelieving glances, Fili knew he'd need a better explanation, but a better explanation would have to wait. Smaug was near enough now that they could hear wingbeats; the whole house seemed to quake under the rage of the dreaded dragon. Singrid glanced anxiously at the ceiling then nodded, dashing back upstairs. A moment later she returned carrying a brown bundle and a pair of muddied boots.
"Here," she said, tossing them to Fili. "Will these work?"
Fili nodded. "Thank you."
He brought them back to Kili, uncrumpling the pants and doing the best he could to scrape the mud off the boots. "Here, put these on."
The last thing Kili wanted to do was put on Bard's extra clothes. To put on the extra clothes was to confirm the reality of his situation, to aknowledge his change in size. It almost felt like a betrayal, casting off his Dwarven belongings.
But in the end, that is what the newly formed Elf had to do. This isn't permanent, he told himself, hastily slipping on the pants before Singrid and Tilda came hurdling back down the stairs. Next he pulled on the boots, uncertain of whether to be disturbed or relieved by the fact that they fit almost perfectly. Oin said Tauriel will be able to fix it, once she wakes up. I am not an Elf. This is not my body. I am a Dwarf of Erebor. I am a Son of Durin! It rapidly became a mantra as he fought back the tears that threatened to fall.
They climbed into the small boat tied to the side of the house overlooking the harbor, all of them- he, Fili, Oin, Bofur, Singrid, Tilda and Tauriel. Well, not so much Tauriel; the unconcious elleth was half carried, half hauled into the boat. Kili had tried to help, but only succeeded in tripping over his own too large, too foreign feet. Wordlessly, Fili had guided him back to the boat, allowing his younger brother to lean against him like a crutch.
Kili wasn't sure whether to scream or cry at his inability to be useful- weren't Elves supposed to be graceful?
Realizing his slip-up, the former Dwarf quickly caught himself: I am not an Elf. Elves were supposed to be graceful, but he was not an Elf.
Laketown was in shambles, the bitter cold of the crisp winter air contrasted sharply with the blistering heat of dragon fire. People scattered like leaves on the wind; the screams of unfortunate souls caught up in the inferno mingling with the cries of men calling to one another, children crying for their parents and mothers wailing for their lost children.
Tilda hunkered closer to him, drawing her knees up against her chest. "I'm scared," she whispered, almost inaudibly. Kili did not respond- what was there to say? They had come to the Lonely Mountain seeking to reclaim their lost homeland and awakened Smaug, the dragon inflicting his ire upon Laketown. His throat tightened. We did this. This is our fault. We brought this danger to Laketown- me, Thorin, and the rest of the Company. He rowed even harder.
The fire was red, its flaming spread… Unbidden, the Song of The Lonely Mountain rang in his ears, the words eerily prophetic.
The trees like torches blazed with light… Uncle Thorin's voice was pitched low and gravelly, deep within his chest, and Kili could almost imagine a voice like that coming from deep within the heart of the mountain itself. Only meters away, a Man who caught fire plunged into the Lake. Kili wasn't sure if he ever resurfaced.
The bells were ringing in the Dale,
And Men looked up with faces pale…
"Where's Da?" Singrid crouched unsteadily, causing the boat to sway slightly back and forth, craning her neck to see over the heads of the Oin and Fili. The dark shape of Smaug swooped overhead again, so close the occupants of the boat could feel the rush of air created by his wings. Behind Kili, Tauriel slept on, oblivious to the carnage all around them.
Then dragon's ire more fierce than fire,
Laid low their houses and towers frail…
"Look, up there!"
They all looked up to where Tilda pointed. Far in the distance, Kili could see a lone figure- a Man- atop of the ruined bell tower. Tattered cloak billowing in the wind with bow and arrow in hand, the Man stood, braced against Smaug himself.
"It's too dark to see clearly," said Singrid, frowning.
"There is someone up there," added Fili in a doubtful tone, "but your sister is right. It's too dark to tell."
Kili shook his head. "No, I can see- clear as day. It's Bard!"
Bard misfired another arrow, its sharp point glancing off the dragon's hide as if nothing. But it was not nothing, and Smaug knew it. The dragon seemed to stiffen, arching his neck and changing direction in midair, flying back towards the archer and the tower. Tilda let out a muffled scream as Smaug descended, his heavy tail striking the tower and sending rubble and debris flying into the lake below. But still Bard held on.
The terrible dragon and the noble bowman disappeared from sight when the boat rounded the corner, hidden by an expanse of tall buildings.
"Do you think Da's alright?" Tilda asked softly, looking wistfully off into the direction from which they'd came.
"I'm sure your Da is fine," came Oin's response, more out of a desire to comfort the child than to provide actual truth. "If anyone can slay that dragon, it's him."
The mountain smoked beneath the moon,
The Dwarves, they heard-
A startled gasp from behind him jolted Kili from his thoughts. He spun around quickly, one hand already subconciously reaching for his bow- the bow that he did not possess at the time being and would've been too small to use properly anyway, but stopped in his tracks. He was confronted by none other than a very awake Tauriel.
Tauriel wasn't fond of strange situations in which she didn't know what was going on, and this was no exception.
She awoke to the sounds of people screaming and the hiss and crackle of flame, to the smell of buildings burning and the feel of cold night air and smoke leaving a bitter taste in the back of her throat. She certainly didn't expect to wake up on a small boat accompanied by two children, three Dwarves from the Company of Thorin Oakensheild, and a strange Elf.
Instantly, she sat upright. She had no idea what was happening or what she planned on doing next, but anything was better than doing nothing at all. A pressing sense of urgency nudged her onwards, but she had no idea of what to say. She surveyed the Company again- there were only three. Kili was missing, and the very thought caused her heart to skip a beat.
"Where am I, and where is Kili?" Whatever she'd needed to say so urgently, that shouldn't have been it. Such concern for the young Dwarf would only rouse suspicion from the other Dwarves and the unknown Elf, bringing unneccessary attention to both herself and Kili. She was a warrior, a Captain of the guard. Such softness should not have slipped by her.
Yet it did, and there was nothing she could say to take back her words.
Her question however, elicted a very unexpected response.
The Elf in the red shirt- in Bard's red shirt, although her mind was still too weary and addled to put two and two together- turned towards her. His eyes, a deep shade of brown, almost black in the dark but shining twice as bright, glinted with an unrecognizable emotion. It was not until the Elf spoke that Tauriel recognized the voice, though the face and form had changed.
He leaned a little closer. "Tauriel," he said. "It's me."
It was Kili.
Instantly, all traces of grogginess vanished from Tauriel's face. The elleth sat upright so suddenly the entire boat rocked, its passengers gripping the sides to steady it. Tauriel, seemingly uneffected by the the upset, settled herself into a more poised seating position, legs tucked under her and feet pressed firmly against the baseboards.
"Kili?" Her voice caught in her throat. "How did this…" The words died before they left her mouth. Kili looked miserable, shoulders hunched and arms wrapped around himself as if warding off a chill. As if, the Captain of the Guard told herself. If Kili was truly as Elven as he looked, then the cold- at least not a mild cold- would have much effect on him. No, the biting pain Kili suffered from was one from within- for not only did the dark-haired Elf look miserable, he looked lost.
"I woke up like this," Kili said numbly. "Long legs, no beard, stupid ears…"
Tauriel wanted to argue that Elf ears were not stupid- she could hear the sound of a twig snapping from half a mile away, thank you very much, but decided that it probably wouldn't be best for her first real conversation with Kili since Mirkwood to be an argument. Kili's delerious ramblings at Bard's place didn't count for anything.
He shifted his own weight slightly, sending her a saddened grin that reminded Tauriel more of a grimace as he did so. "Surprise. Do you still think I'm tall for a Dwarf?"
It was intended as a joke, but neither felt like laughing.
Do you think I'm tall for a Dwarf?
There was nothing Dwarven left about Kili. That wasn't to say that he wasn't Kili; Tauriel could easily see the shadow of the Dwarf behind the face of the Elf. He was still distinct and recognizable, the dark eyes and hair virtually untouched. And perhaps his brows remained thicker, denser than those of a typical Elf, his skin a little less smooth. But everything that truly mattered in the appearance of an Elf- the ears, the build, the stature- was there. The Kili seated before her was not one who looked as if under an enchantment. He looked as though he'd always been an Elf.
Kili could see the understanding dawn in Tauriel's eyes, and felt a myriad of conflicting emotions. On one hand, she was Tauriel, his rescuer, his… friend. He felt strangely reluctant to call her anything more, for what was there to call her? Crush made him sound like he was back in his thirties and liking a female for the first time. Lover implied they were something more when they were not.
As Thorin said, she was the enemy. And in saving him, she'd made him the enemy as well.
Kili supressed a shudder. What was his uncle going to think when he found out what had happened to him?
Hesitantly, as if afraid he would shy away from her touch, Tauriel reached out a hand. She paused only inches from his face, then drew back. "Fea Evaliir," she murmured quietly.
"Feeya Eval-eer?" Kili echoed in confusion, mangling the Sindarin pronounciation. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Fea Evaliir," Tauriel repeated, more firmly that time. "Soul magic. It's what I used to heal you."
"You preformed magic on his soul?" Fili demanded incredulously, whirling around so quickly that his paddle flew up out of the lake, scattering drops of water everywhere and nearly whacking Kili upside the head. The blond dwarf shot an apologetic glance at his brother. "Oops. Sorry, Kili." His attention was quickly drawn back to Tauriel. "But isn't that dangerous?"
Tauriel nodded. "Very. I wouldn't have used it if I hadn't believed it would be the only way to save his life."
I'm going to save him. It seemed that her earlier words had came back to haunt her. It was hard to believe that they'd came from her lips less than an hour before. She'd been so confident then, so sure of herself. So sure that she was doing the right thing in saving Kili's life. But was it the right thing to do? It was clear that Kili was devastated by his transformation, and Tauriel knew firsthand that if their wish for death was severe enough, an Elf could fade away from greif. To make things even more difficult, Kili was originally not an Elf but a Dwarf.
Tauriel tried to imagine what the roles would've looked like in reverse; an Elf forced into the body of a Dwarf. She did her best to stifle a cringe as she imagined what it would be like, trapped in a squat, aging body, living away from the starlight deep underground, spending the remainder of her days obsessing over gems and precious metals. Any sane Elf would prefer death over such a wretched existence.
Would a Dwarf feel the same way about being an Elf?
If he lives on, he will lose everything, Tauriel realized with a sudden jolt. He will outlive his uncle and brother. And there was no way to tell yet of how deeply Kili's transformation affected him psychologically. He may find himself claustrophobic underground, or develop a yearning for trees and open spaces, she realized with growing horror. He will live as an outcast from his people.
She said none of this out loud, but her heart cried out for what she had done to the Dwarf she'd been trying to help.
Oh Kili, what have I done to you?
Another frightening roar cut through the night. Their boat tilted ominously back and forth on the inky water as waves struck the starboard side, propelled by the collapse of a fire-ravaged structure only yards away. Oin glanced nervously out over the lake.
"This may be a discussion better reserved for another time."
The shadow of Smaug darted once more over the lake, the occupants of the boat hardly daring to breathe. No one disagreed with the old healer.
Before dawn, they set up camp.
Bofur was weary- they had to haul the boat far enough up shore it wouldn't drift away at the first opportunity- and ice cold water sloshed around in his boots. With stiff fingers he riffled through his coat pockets, searching for his pipe. He felt near frozen and was in need of a good smoke. He soon found his pipe, but belatedly realized that he had nothing to light it with: his matches were too soaked with lake water to be of any use.
Ah, well. At least he hadn't lost his hat.
The toy maker paused on the shore, glancing back to see how his companions were faring.
Oin was the next to trudge to shore, and behind him came Singrid holding tightly to Tilda's hand. Tauriel leapt from the boat to dry ground with irritating ease. Stupid, arrogant Elves with their natural agility. Fili had gone back to help Kili off the boat, the former Dwarf still struggling to maintain balance with his altered gait. Kili still leaned heavily on the blond Dwarf, Fili stoic and uncomplaining as he bore the icy water once again to assist his brother.
At last they were all on dry land, but they weren't the only ones.
Hundreds of Men and women- survivors from Laketown- gathered in groups, some sitting aroung hastily made fires, others wringing out waterlogged possessions or tending the wounded. Some simply sat fown on the ground and stared listlessly off into the distance, shell shocked. The air was filled with the thrum of voices.
One voice in particular rose above the rest.
"It it isn't Bard, the hero of Laketown, the slayer of Smaug!" It was Alfrid, the sleazy advisor of the Master. The man's voice was as slick and oily as his hair. Bard, emerging from the middle of the crowd, scowled.
No amount of wheedling and assurances could earn back the trust Alfrid had lost from the people after his cowardly flight from Laketown, and the angry crowd closed in on him. Too late, the selfish advisor realized that the tide had turned against him.
"This could get ugly," Oin murmured, and Bofur was grateful for their location furthur downshore, where even Bard took no notice of them. It was unlikely that any would unless they were truly looking. At the sight of their father, Singrid and Tilda took off running.
"Da!" Before anyone could stop them, they launched themselves into his arms.
Bard's expression softened as he held his children close. Turning back to the crowd and Alfrid, the Bowman spoke, and his words calmed the angry sea of faces. The tension over, the Dwarves, Kili, and Tauriel resumed setting up camp.
"Now that that's settled," Bofur sighed, once again attempting to light his pipe, successfully this time. "I think there's a lot we need to talk about."
Tauriel shifted uncomfortably. "Where do I begin?"
"How about at the beginning?"
Kili had to be dreaming. There was no other explanation.
His head spun, trying to process everything Tauriel had told them – had told him- as they sat around the fireside, the shore strangely quiet as most of the people of Laketown had long since gone to sleep. Their fire had begun to burn out, but no one moved to rekindle it. It would be morning in a few hours, and the sun would chase away the predawn chill. Besides, it seemed that Tauriel's account had enraptured them all.
Soul magic, forbidden healing, transformation? Kili shook his head. It all sounded like something out of a legend, a far-fetched tale like the ones Uncle used to tell him and Fili when they were dwarflings. Certainly not something that happened in real life.
Tauriel seemed apologetic as she spoke, her eyes constantly seeking out Kili's as she sought to explain. With no little difficulty, Kili gazed back. In part, he felt that he should've been angry at the elleth for what she'd done to him, for what he had lost, but found himself unable to. Maybe it was because her intentions were well-meaning, or maybe it was simply because she was Tauriel.
Either way, Kili couldn't find it in his heart to hate her.
And for that, he wasn't sure whether to be grateful or concerned.
Either way, he knew he had to return things to normal. Soon. Before Thorin or any other member of the Company could see him as a shirumund Elf.
"You don't suppose you could… change me back by any chance?" Kili's tone was so achingly hopeful, it even pained him. The doubt in Tauriel's eyes was obvious.
"I can try," she offered, moving closer to him. "But I have never done this before and it may not work. But I will give it my all."
She placed one hand on either side of the dark-haired Elf's temples, right above the ears, and began to chant. It was disconcerting to see how the Dwarf who'd not quite came up to her chest had managed to become an Elf nearly a full head taller than her. She couldn't imagine what it felt like from Kili's perspective.
Kili closed his eyes and focused on the sound of her voice. He could feel a strange, prickling sensation spreading throughout his body, and felt almost dizzy with hope. Maybe this would work after all. The ball of warmth in his chest seemed to swell, growing stronger and larger. Whether it was working with or against Tauriel's magic Kili wasn't sure, but he prayed that it was the former.
It flickered and grew, and as Tauriel's incantation increased in speed and volume, he felt a rush of excitement. This was it, he knew. Soon he would be a Dwarf again, probably looking ridiculous in Bard's oversized clothes, but none of that would matter. He would be himself again, and everything would return to normal-
Abruptly, he realized that Tauriel was no longer chanting.
Slowly, cautiously, hardly daring to breathe, he opened his eyes. To his surprise, he found Tauriel staring back, her face almost inches from his own. Staring up at him, not down. The disappointment came crashing down on him, as hard as any physical blow.
He was still an Elf.
Tauriel gently drew back, moisture gathering in the corners of her eyes as she apologized. "I am sorry, Kili. I am so, so sorry."
Kili could swear he could almost feel his heart breaking- if the pesky warmth in his chest hadn't been pulsing more strongly. Self-conciously, he rubbed at it. "Do you always feel like this?" he asked.
Tauriel looked confused. "Feel like what?"
"Like there's a furnace in your chest."
The elleth brought a hand up to her own collarbone. "I… I suppose I do," she said at last, looking thoughtful.
Kili frowned. "What do you mean, you suppose you do?"
"I guess I've never really given much thought to it before," Tauriel replied. "I have always felt this. What you feel Kili is the Light of the Eldar, a life force present in all Elves." She carefully refrained from mentioning it was the Light of the Eldar that gave Elves their long life spans and immortality.
The idea of being immortal seemed to have not yet occurred to Kili yet, and she didn't wish to bring it to the forefront of his mind until he was ready. The knowledge would devastate the former Dwarf, who was devastated enough already. Yes, Tauriel realized, he would find out soon enough.
But until that time came, she figured there was no harm in sheltering him from the pain.
The group lasped into an uncomfortable silence until at last Bofur stretched and said with a yawn, "I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm ready to hit the hay. Tomorrow we can begin the long walk to the Lonely Mountain. Just think of it, lads. Erebor awaits!"
The rest of the group hastily agreed and as the three Dwarves and Kili lay down and got situated, Tauriel wondered if it was an appropriate time to mention that Elves didn't require the same kind of sleep.
Chapter 3: To Be Immortal
Apparently he was not only an Elf, but an insomniac as well.
Kili sighed loudly and flopped over, turning on his stomach and burying his head in his arms, doing his best to ignore the lush, almost sickeningly sweet odor emanating from the grass and the feel of beardless skin against his arms. The sounds of his snoring companions usually didn't bother him- travelling together meant that they'd all had ample time to get used to each other- but tonight their rumbling was loud enough to wake the dead.
It didn't help that as well as the snoring, he could hear the murmur of Men's voices from furthur down the river as distinctly as if they were carried by the wind, the cawing of a lone crow, and of course, the constant slap of the lakewater as it struck the side of the shore. Somewhere in the distance, a twig snapped as suddenly and violently as a bone breaking.
Never one to be patient, Kili huffed and readjusted his position again, clapping his hands over his ears. Was he supposed to hear this well? The former Dwarf supposed he could ask Tauriel, but the elleth was probably sound asleep and he didn't want to wake her up for the sake of a stupid question.
His determination doubled by the thought, Kili resolutely kept his eyes shut and forced his body to remain motionless, taking deep, measured breaths to quiet his mind. If anything though, his thoughts refused to be quieted and he found his imagination even more active than before.
The Lonely Mountain. Erebor. His Uncle.
He would see them all tomorrow.
How many times had he pictured their triumphant return to the mountain, imagined his first step into the kingdom of Erebor? The answer must've been more times than he could count- he and Fili had been raised on tales of the mountain. Their quest was one of legend.
But reality however, had different plans than legend.
In all of Kili's fantasies, he was with his Uncle when they reclaimed their home. Together with Fili, he would explore the great halls and corridors of old, see the Arkenstone, stand on piles of endless treasure. Maybe even find out which room had once belonged to Thorin or his deceased uncle, Frerin. Never in Kili's dreams did he give much thought to the events leading up to reclaiming their home. Oh sure, there would be a long journey to reach Erebor, filled with difficulty and small dangers, but nothing too terrible. And then there was the issue of Smaug- who honestly did frighten Kili, but he chose not to think too much about that- Thorin had a plan, right?
But not even in his wildest dreams did he imagine that he wouldn't be there when the Company first set foot in Erebor. Nor did he ever imagine he'd be seeing it as an Elf.
Kili's stomach lurched uncomfortably at the reminder and his grip tightened, nails digging into the pointed ears so hard that it hurt.
Mahal, he thought, half praying. I don't want this. I don't want to be an Elf.
But if the maker heard the dark-haired Elf's plea, he gave no indication of it. Mahal was silent, as silent as he was on the day Smaug attacked Erebor and Dale all those years ago. Kili swallowed down the heavy lump in his throat. Mahal created the Seven Fathers, would he even listen to the cry of an Elf? The Elves, Kili remembered, were created by Ilúvatar. Should he make his plea to Iluvatar instead?
Whoever you are- Mahal, Ilúvatar- I don't care! I don't want to be an Elf!
What would happen to him then, when he died? Since he was born a Dwarf, would he be reunited with his kin in death? Or would he go to... Kili struggled to remember what happened to Elves when they died, but nothing came to mind. Thorin had never been very encouraging towards the studying of other races, especially the Elves. But death didn't seem as important to the Elves anyway, they were practically immortal.
Durin's beard. The Elves were immortal.
He was immortal.
And in that realization, Kili's entire world shattered. He sat bolt upright, the desire to sleep vanished. His chest heaved and his whole body trembled, a cold sweat beading his brow. He looked over at his companions- at his brother- sleeping peacefully without a care in the world, oblivious to the dark-haired Elf's turmoil. Fili twitched slightly in his sleep, as if sensing something was amiss, but then settled into an even deeper sleep than before. The only one who noticed him was Tauriel.
"Kili, what's wrong?" Her green eyes were bright and watchful- too alert for one who had just been asleep. She had been awake and nearby, but though in his greif, Kili hadn't noticed.
He scrambled to his feet, heart pounding wildly. "St-stay away from me!"
The cry tore from his throat, raw and frightened. Terrified.
Tauriel stiffened, hurt and confusion flashing in her eyes. "What's wrong?" she pressed. "Kili, you can tell me."
Kili shook. He was trapped, trapped in his own body.
He was going to watch as his Uncle, his mother, even his own brother grow old and die, and be powerless to do anything about it. Mahal, Fee could have great-grandchildren one day and he would still end up looking younger than them.
Tauriel was an Elf, she wouldn't understand. Long life was a given among her kind. She wouldn't understand how terrible it would be to outlive the ones she loved- because they were all Elves, like her. Kili had never spoken to Tauriel about her family before, but he could easily picture it. She probably had an Elf father and an Elf mother, and maybe even some Elf siblings and an Elf cousin or two. They were probably a happy, normal Elven family that would practice archery and comb each other's hair- or whatever it was that Elves did in their spare time.
Kili was different: his family were Dwarves.
Tauriel wouldn't understand, how could she? Despite how he felt about her, she was in many ways still a stranger. She could offer him no comfort, only the truth.
He needed to escape.
Before he fully knew what he was doing, he turned and ran. His feet were against him, his movements clumsy and uncoordinated, but he didn't care. It didn't matter. Nothing in the world mattered, not when he was bound to the world alone. Branches lashed at his arms and raked across his face as he fled further into the forest, but still he continued to run.
In the end, it wasn't so much about escape as it was about getting away.
He could never escape.
Tauriel ran after him, calling his name. The former Dwarf ignored her, and focused on his running. The trail was treacherous; several times he stumbled and fell, the muddy forest floor cushioning his fall but dirtying his tattered clothes further. When that happened, he didn't hesitate but quickly got back on his feet and kept on running.
As he ran, his footsteps got quicker and lighter. Under any other circumstance, Kili would've marvelled at the agility he now possessed, but all coherent thoughts were driven from his mind. He ran as hard and fast as he could through the trees and the silvery light filtering through their leaves, feet skimming the ground. Instead of tripping over roots, he began to anticipate and avoid them- leaping over one then veering around another.
"Kili!" Tauriel called again. She sounded closer that time.
Weariness crept back into Kili's body and he began to slow down. As fleet as he was, even an Elf couldn't run forever. Ahead, the land dipped low, forming a hollow. Kili walked by the time he reached it. Tauriel wasn't far behind.
But for once, he didn't want to see Tauriel. He wanted to be left alone.
The elleth looked concerned- but also slightly frustrated- by the fact she'd had to chase Kili through the forest, he could see it in her eyes. Mouth dry, he dropped his gaze. She did this to me.
"You did this to me." His voice rasped.
"Yes." A pause, neither condemning nor hopeful. Then, "You were going to die, there was nothing else to do. Are Elves truly so terrible that you can't bear to live your life as one? I didn't know the petty hatred between our races ran so deep."
"I don't hate Elves," Kili grumbled. His gaze darted up and met Tauriel's, but her expression was unreadable, closed off from him.
She had a way of doing that- of drawing him in yet half-heartedly pushing him away at the same time, it was part of what made her so fun to tease, yet so frustrating. Only yesterday morning he'd been sure of what he wanted in terms of his relationship with Tauriel. Next time he saw her, he'd decided, he was going to confess his feelings for her- even give her his runestone.
Now he wasn't so sure.
"I was born a Dwarf, and I always thought that I was going to die a Dwarf," Kili admitted. He felt he owed Tauriel some explanation, even if it was one as weak as that. "And now I realized that I'm going to live forever. If I don't die a painful, unnatural death, that is. But Thorin and Fili… and my Mum… They're- they're going to d… not live forever." He looked to Tauriel, dark eyes pleading. "Why didn't you let me die?
Because I love you, though Tauriel, and I didn't want to see you dead.
But the words died on her lips. Why was admitting the way she truly felt so difficult?
Before, the answer would've been obvious. She was an Elf, and he was a Dwarf. It was as simple as that. But now… standing before her was a male Elf, not a dwarrow. A handsome, if battered and miserable Elf, who also happened to be Kili. She skirted around his question.
"You're bleeding," she said instead, gesturing to one of the branch-infilicted cuts slashed across his cheek. Tauriel felt a flash of guilt at her previous thoughts- Kili was suffering from the effects of her magic, what right did she have to think of him in such a way?
Kili ran a hand along the side of his face, seeming absentminded and only faintly surprised when he drew back fingertips coated in blood.
"Let's go back to camp," said Tauriel. She began making her way out of the hollow, pausing and glancing over her shoulder to make sure Kili was following.
"I'm not coming with you. I… I think I'm going to stay here for a little while. Alone."
The former Dwarf made another feeble attempt to wipe away the blood, but only succeeded in smearing it across his jaw. Tauriel hesitated a moment- it was almost morning, she could see the sun beginning to peer out from behind the trees- then nodded.
Perhaps that was all Kili needed- some time alone.
Tauriel only hoped that it would be enough.
Fili stretched and yawned, rubbing his eyes clear of sleep. He could still hear the deep snore of Bofur and the lighter, more wheezing sound of Oin beside him. It was early morning, the sun just beginning to shine over the horizon, and it seemed that he was the first one up. Despite only a few hours of sleep and the events of last night, Fili felt well rested.
Deciding to let the others sleep, the blond heir sat up and began rebraiding his mustache. Today they would set off for Erebor-and if they made good time, they would reach it before nightfall. It was important that he looked his best. After he finished his braids, maybe he could collect more firewood so they could cook breakfast.
Having finished one side of his 'do, Fili moved on to the other side, running his fingers through the coarse hair a few times to make sure it was smooth and even. Satisfied with it, he began to braid. His fingers were deft and nimble from years of practice. The hardest part wasn't until the end, where he had to retie the little band in place and fit the bead over it. He often had Kili help him with that part.
Holding the braid in place, Fili looked around for his brother. Where was Kili?
"Kee?" He called softly, not wanting to wake the others. There was no sign of Kili, only an Elf-sized indent in the grass where he'd lain. Fili tried again, a little louder this time. "Kili!"
Hastily tying the braid himself- much more sloppily than he usually would've done, Fili was sure- he got up and began to search in earnest for his brother. There were no telltale marks of a scuffle, yet Kili could hardly walk on his own. Where in the world could he have gone to?
He decided to wake Oin and Bofur.
"Have you seen Kili?" he asked urgently, as soon as he'd shoved them rather uncerimoniously awake. Bofur blinked blearily up at him for a moment, then scanned the clearing.
"I've been asleep, lad. Personally though, I think your worrin' too much- that Elf lass is gone too, and she's not someone many would trifle with. Kili's safe with her because where ever they went, I'm pretty sure they went there together. It might not be best to walk in on them," he said.
At Fili's mortified splutter and protests, Bofur cracked a rakish grin. "I appreciate that you're covering for your brother, but anyone with eyes could see the way he looks at that Elf. The acoustics back in that Mirkwood prison certainly helped too- we're not deaf, you know. Sometimes I think Thorin's the only one who hasn't noticed." Seeing that Fili was still red in the face, he added, "Relax. The last part was a joke. I'm sure Kili and that Elf of his aren't that well acquainted."
Oin snorted. "We should hope not."
"All the same," Fili replied, "I want to go look for him."
"Patience," advised Oin. The old healer dusted off his clothes. "They should get back soon enough. If they're not back by breakfast, then we'll go look for them."
Frustrated but seeing no better option, Fili nodded. They divided the chores among them, and the blond dwarf hurried off to get firewood. The sooner they finished, the sooner he could search for Kili.
Tauriel returned alone.
"Where is Kili?" Fili demanded, noticing the elleth's stricken expression. Tauriel seemed conflicted and weary- the blond noticed a tear at the bottom of her dress that hadn't been there the night before and her eyes had an almost glassy, opaque look to them. The alarm bells going off in his mind rang even louder.
"He's in the forest," said Tauriel, nodding back in the direction from which she'd came. "He… discovered his immortality. I thought it best to leave him be."
"You left him alone?"
Tauriel nodded, downcast.
Fili felt his heart freeze up. Kili was never one to spend much time by himself- he typically preferred the company of others, even in greif. But this is not a typical situation, the dark voice in the back of his mind warned. Kili has become an Elf. You have no idea what he's going through. No one does. This is bad, very, very bad. Most Dwarves would prefer death to this. Uncle Thorin would've killed himself before having to live life as an Elf.
But Kili… What would Kili do?
A greif-stricken image of the dark-haired Elf floated in his mind's eye, face twisted with horror at what he'd become, shoulders shaking with great, racking sobs. He could picture the Elf kneeling somewhere in the forest, alone. Could picture him drawing a dagger- or more realistically, one of the arrows from his quiver- from beneath his shirt, raising it to plunge into-
No. Kili would never do that. He wouldn't.
Not Kili, his youngest of the Company. Not Kili, who was always so full of light and laughter, who strove to one day be as majestic as Uncle and flirted with Elves. Death by one's own hand was for cowards and the hopeless.
Not for Kili.
Not for his little brother.
Fili set down his firewood and turned towards the present members of the Company. His heart pounded wildly. "I've got to go find him. He shouldn't be alone. What if he's…."
What if he's dead? The unspoken question hung in the air, heavy and stifling. Fili's mind raced as he sought a way to convince the others of this, but before he could, Oin spoke.
"Go to him. If anyone can help your brother, it's you." Uncertainty clawed at the back of Fili's mind, but he merely nodded. His mouth felt too dry to say anything else. Oin bent over and rummaged through his supplies, pulling out a small green vial. Making sure the cork was still securely in place, he passed it to Fili. "Here, take this. It's ground cayenne and lobelia. If necessary, it will help regulate bloodflow and calm the mind."
Fili hastily tucked the vial into his pocket, thanking the old healer.
Mahal, the blond Dwarf thought desperately. I hope I don't have to use it! Hang on, Kili… I'm coming for you. Don't you dare give up on me. Remember your promise to Mum. Stay stong, Kee. Please, stay strong.
"Follow the forest path, and you should find him." Tauriel added.
There wasn't any time to waste.
As soon as he set foot in the forest, Fili broke into a run. He was no skilled tracker, but even he could see from time to time the footprints embedded in the mud- Elvish footprints. In other places the trail wasn't so clear- the tracks were skidded and muddled, as if their owner had lost balance and fell… several times. Fili could only imagine one of the two Elves being so unsteady on their feet, and his throat tightened.
Another thing that struck him was how far apart the tracks were- a single Elven stride was nearly two of his own. Soon Fili was gasping for air, legs like lead and a stitch in his side. He marvelled at how much land Kili and Tauriel had covered. Dwarves weren't built for long distances, he reminded himself, although they could be quite formidable while sprinting.
He only hoped that he could catch up to Kili in time.
Fili alternated between jogging and a brisk walk until he reached a hollow at the end of the trail. There he slowed to a stop, resting his hands against his knees in an attempt to catch his breath. He glanced up, still panting. "Kili?"
He caught sight of his brother almost immediately, sucking in a worried breath as he saw the blood on the side of Kili's face. The dark-haired Elf looked terrible- his hair was matted and it was clear he'd been crying- glistening tear lines streaked down his otherwise dirty face. He sat leaned up against the trunk of a gnarled oak tree, arms by his sides.
"Fee?" Something flickered in Kili's gaze. "You came."
"Of course I came," said Fili, unsure of whether he wanted to laugh or cry. Most likely that latter. "You're my brother. I was worried about you."
He came closer to Kili, then sat down beside him. Kili turned towards him, and Fili could clearly see the welt on the side of his face. The bleeding had already ended, the blood caked and dried into a rusty reddish brown.
The cut itself was fairly superficial- deep enough to draw blood, but unlikely to leave a lasting scar. Fili was relieved to see that while Kili had other scratches on him as well (caused by branches overshadowing the path, no doubt. Fili had been smacked by quite a few himself, but hadn't been moving quickly enough to sustain any real injury from them.), that one seemed to be the most severe.
"Here, Oin gave me this." The blond Dwarf fished the green vial out of his pocket. "He suspected something might've happened."
Kili fixed him with a doubtful stare. "He thought trees would attack my face?"
Was Kili purposely being difficult? Fili pressed the medicine into his brother's hand.
"Not exactly, no." he admitted. "We're worried for you, Kee. All of us. I remember when you woke up, you seemed to be in so much pain… So miserable. We wondered if… if you'd decided to find a way to end the pain once and for all."
Kili drew in a sharp breath. "You thought I was going to kill myself?"
Fili nodded, already feeling embarrassed and ashamed that the thought had even crossed his mind. Kili's expression was one of shock and hurt- he should've known that his brother was stronger than that. "We didn't know what you were thinking. All we knew was that you were hurting and that you were alone." He gave a short, humorless laugh. "I was afraid, and all of these changes didn't happen to me. For the first time, I couldn't help you. You're my brother, and I promise to always be there."
Kili slumped down even furthur. "But you won't always be there for me. I'm immortal. You're not."
"I know. You were always going to outlive me, Kili," Fili gently reminded him.
"But only by a few years!" The dark-haired Elf protested. "Not a few thousand years! It's not fair- I never asked to be an Elf, I don't want to be one! I'm scared, Fee…" His dark eyes met Fili's own beseechingly. "Why didn't Tauriel let me die?"
"I'm glad she saved you," Fili admitted. "I know it's selfish, but it's true. I almost lost you- we almost lost you. And now you're safe and alive, and part of me is glad. Very guilty and upset as well, but also glad. I don't want to live in a world without my brother."
"Neither do I."
"We'll find a way to reverse this, and then you won't have to ." Fili promised. It felt like a lie as soon as the words left his mouth. He knew nothing about what fate had befallen his brother- even Tauriel didn't know, and she was the one who'd healed him. What were the odds Kili would ever be a Dwarf again? However, his promise seemed to comfort his brother, so Fili let the moment slip by.
"Thank you," Kili murmured, breifly resting his forehead against forehead against Fili's own. The blond heir allowed himself a small smile.
"The others are pretty much packed up and ready to go," he said, drawing back. "Are we ready?"
"As I'll ever be." An uncertain shrug and a lopsided grin was Kili's response.
"Do you need any help?" Fili asked as Kili rose to stand.
The dark-haired Elf shook his head, pulling himself to his feet with almost catlike grace. "I'm good," he said, "Think I finally figured out the trick to it this morning." He still looked upset, but Fili could see a glint of humor in his eyes. "You're a lot shorter than I remembered."
"And you're very tall," Fili replied. "You're my little brother- I'm the older one. I hardly see how this is fair."
"Admit it, you've always looked up to me."
The blond Dwarf gave a skeptical snort. He was relieved to see Kili back in good spirits, and decided to humor his brother. "Only in your wildest dreams, Kee."
"So I don't suppose you'd want to race me back to camp then?" Kili asked, grinning for real that time.
Fili knew he had no chance of even keeping pace with an Elf, never mind beating one, but he agreed anyway. "Wash up first, then we'll race."
Kili nodded. "Deal."
Tauriel kept herself busy, tidying up around the campfire before sitting down to mend the torn hem of her dress. She hoped that with enough to do, her mind would be far too occupied to wander, but that didn't seem to be the case. Worry for Kili gnawed at her insides, and her fingers trembled. She kept her ears pricked, hoping to hear Kili and his brother return.
When she heard a soft footfall behind her, she whirled around quickly. "Kili?"
It was Legolas.
Chapter 4: Towards The Mountain
If Legolas recognized the Dwarf's name, he made no comment of it.
"Tauriel." His expression remained as schooled and calm as ever, but voice betrayed his relief at seeing her alive and well. Not for the first time, the Silvan elleth found herself struck by how closely he resembled his father, yet how different he truly was. She was certain that the Elvenking's eyes had never shown with such fondness- as hidden and reserved as it often was- or gone to such lengths to help a friend. Meanwhile, Legolas came closer. "I have been looking for you since the dragon's attack. Where have you been?"
Why didn't you come find me?
Tauriel almost told him the truth. She wanted to tell him the truth. She wanted to tell him about what a disaster their stay in Laketown had been, how she'd dabbled in forbidden magic, and how that went awry and because of it Kili was stuck as an Elf-
But as soon as the words bubbled up, she pressed them back down, feeling strangely reluctant to tell anything to Legolas.
She was saved from saying anything however, when they were inturrupted by a messenger astride a white horse, the crest of Mirkwood proudly emblazoned on the clasp of his cape. A messenger from the Elvenking.
"Prince Legolas, I bear a message from your father. He wishes for you to return to Mirkwood."
"Not her." The messenger shifted uneasily, but otherwise kept his manner brisk. "The Elvenking has decreed her banished."
The last word cut into Tauriel's mind and heart, more sharp and biting than any blade of steel. Could she have heard the messenger right- Banished?
No... The Elvenking was harsh, but he wasn't that callous. Was he?
Forget the blade, a knife to the ribs was a merciful way to die compared to this. Tauriel felt more like she was drowning. For years she'd trod on thin ice with King Thranduil- testing his patience, testing his limits- but always confident in her footing. But now she'd fallen through. The messenger's words were ice water, crashing over her head and smothering her cry, driving every other thought from her mind. Banished?
Yes… He was that callous, wasn't he?
She should've known her King wouldn't have been so lenient in saving the life of a Dwarf. Striken with her own thoughts, Tauriel nearly jumped when Legolas abruptly spoke.
"You may tell my father that if there's no place for Tauriel, then there's no place for me."
The messenger wasn't the only one surprised by the emotion in the prince's voice. Tauriel felt a rush of affection for her friend, but it was quickly followed by dismay. Mirkwood needed Legolas, he being Thranduil's sole heir aside. Who else would be prepared to face the oncoming darkness? Certainly not the Elvenking, looking down his nose at the world beyond. Nor the Men of Laketown, already worn ragged by the rage of Smaug.
"Legolas, it is your king's command." said Tauriel.
What she really wanted to say was forget the Elvenking, our people need you or, as horribly weak and cliched it sounded, don't go, I need you. For centuries they had fought together, laughed together, lived together. No matter what Thranduil said, he was her best friend.
"Yes, he is my king, but he does not command my heart," Legolas replied softly in Sindarin. His gaze warmed her, but Tauriel felt a flicker of uncertainty. Was there something other than friendship in his eyes? The Mirkwood prince hesitated for a moment, as if there was more that he wished to say, but decided against it. Abruptly, he switched back to Westron. "I ride north, will you come with me?"
"To where?" Tauriel asked, already dreading the answer. Thranduil was already furious no doubt, and He would only make things worse by acting against the Elvenking's orders, but Legolas didn't seem to care. Part of Tauriel felt proud of her mellon for taking a stand against his father, but another part felt only worry. What end did he hope to achieve through his defiance?
Do not give him hope where there is none.
Once, Tauriel assumed that the Elvenking spoke only to warn her that no possible future could exist between her and Legolas, but now she wasn't so sure. In all of her six hundred years she'd never seen her friend behave so recklessly, and couldn't help but wonder how much of it was bolstered on her behalf.
Was this what Thranduil had truly feared?
"To Gundabad," said Legolas.
Gundabad. The infamous Orc stronghold. It was said to have been purged of Orcs since the War of The Dwarves and Orcs, but with darkness yet again on the rise, its complete abandonment seemed unlikely. It would be a dangerous place for two Elves to venture to. Doubly dangerous for one to venture alone. Yet how could she go, when Kili needed her?
Tauriel hesitated. But Legolas needs me as well, she thought to herself. I cannot leave him to hunt the darkness alone. Kili will soon be with his Uncle and friends at Erebor, he's in no immediate danger. But however she tried to covince herself of that, her reluctance remained.
He has much to learn about being an Elf, there's still so much I haven't taught him. Will he be able to manage on his own? Will his Uncle even accept him?
"Tauriel? Are you feeling ill?"
Concern shone bright in the eyes of her friend, and Tauriel felt her stomach clench up with guilt. "I am fine, mellon." The response came quick and cool, almost scathing with its guarded edge, and the Silvan elleth immediately wished she could take it back. The corners of Legolas's mouth turned down almost inperceptively.
"My father was wrong to banish you," he said, misreading her expression. "I meant what I said to that messenger- as long as you cannot return to Mirkwood, neither shall I. He will change his mind soon, I'm sure, once he sees that I intend to uphold my word."
"You shouldn't allow me to come between me and your father. You've done more than enough for me, more than I could ever repay you for. Go home, Legolas."
"It's not home without you, Tauriel."
He extended his hand to her, and she nearly took it, wondering if indeed the air in Mirkwood affected Elves as much as it affected other beings. Her people had always been proud of their natural resilience to the sickening and enchantments of the forest- the Mirkwood Elves never suffered from disorientation and confusion induced by the forest, and didn't require the path to navigate its treacherous and timeless expanse. Mirkwood had near developed a mind of its own, becoming more sly and ruthless with every year the darkness grew.
But with every passing year, we grow more sly and ruthless too, thought Tauriel. More centered on our own wishes, more ignorant to the world around us. Perhaps that's why we Silvan Elves are considered less wise and more dangerous than our kin. Outwardly, there was very little difference between a Silvan and Sindarin Elf; the main contrasts seemed to be behavioral. The only key difference Tauriel could see between the two was subtle- the shape of a Silvan ear tended to be slightly more exaggerated, the pointed tip more distinct.
She though of Kili, with his familiar dark hair and eyes, and his newly minted features. She then studied Legolas, with his pale complexion, golden hair, and distinctly Sindarin ears, though she had heard the whispered tales of Thranduil's Silvan queen. She had no idea of how Dwarves classified themselves- or if they even had subdivisions within their own race at all- but Kili's ears held closer resemblance to her own. The prestigious descendant of Durin was a mere Silvan Elf.
Vaguely, she wondered if he would inherit their reputation for secrecy and darkness as well. Tauriel hoped not. Kili was as bright as mithril; a quality she hoped he would never lose.
Legolas tensed suddenly, pulling back his hand and drawing his bow with fluid speed as there came the sound of snapped twigs and rustling undergrowth from the forest to the right of them. Someone was running towards them, making no effort to muffle their footsteps as they went. Tauriel stepped back as Legolas pulled back further on his bow- no doubt still wary and ready for combat if necessary due to the previous night- ready to loose an arrow on whatever foe was foolish enough to charge a fully armed Elf.
Kili burst from the foilage, loud and ungainly, looking over his shoulder and oblivious to the astonished Mirkwood prince in front of him. "I won, Fee!" he called, laughing. "Do you think the others have-" Whatever Kili was going to say next died in his throat as he caught sight of Legolas. The dark-haired Elf's eyes widened momentarily, then narrowed in hostility. "You."
"You seem to recognize me, but I don't recognize you," said Legolas. He lowered his bow, his features going from grim to confused as he eyed the unfamiliar Elf's tattered garments. "But if you are a messenger from my father, I have already told him, I will not return until he revokes Tauriel's banishment."
"Er… what?" Kili looked to Tauriel for guidance. "I didn't get a word of what he just said. Except your name. He did say Tauriel, right?"
Legolas had spoken in Sindarin, and while the two true Elves understood every word of what he'd said, Kili did not.
An Elf who couldn't comprehend Sindarin, the most common of the Elvish languages? As much as he found it hard to believe, Legolas sensed that the strange Elf spoke the truth. There was no understanding in the depths of those brown eyes. His confusion only grew as a second figure emerged from the forest.
"Kili, wait up! Where are you- oh." Like his dark-haired Elven companion, he stiffened at the sight of the Mirkwood prince.
The second intruder was a Dwarf; a relatively young one with a braided mustache. Who on Middle Earth braided their mustache? Legolas resisted the urge to shake his head. Dwarves were even stranger than he thought. This Dwarf however, as strange as he was, looked familiar.
He was one of the twelve Dwarves from the Company of Thorin Oakensheild; Legolas remembered giving the order to have him and his fellow theives imprisioned. Despite Thranduil's wrath and a good deal of effort on the part of the Elves of Mirkwood, they still had yet to discover how the Dwarves had managed to escape…
But that was a matter for another time.
The blond Dwarf- Fee, his name was? It was what his companion called him at least- seemed to realize that it wouldn't be wise to anger two Elves (he counted both himself and Tauriel), and shouldered his way almost imperceptibly in front of the dark-haired Elf, who looked as if he was considering launching himself at Legolas any moment.
"We're not looking for trouble," he said, his tone carefully honed and diplomatic. He shot his companion a sharp look, and to Legolas's surprise, the Elf obliged, curtly nodding his head and taking a step back. What self-respecting Elf took orders from a Dwarf? Legolas found himself liking the stranger less and less- even his name sounded odd. Kili. It sounded almost Dwarvish.
"We are outside the borders of Mirkwood, and mean you no harm," Fee continued with the same, irritatingly reasonable tone. "You have no cause to arrest us. Smaug is dead, and my brother and I only wish to join our uncle and friends at Erebor, our rightful home."
The blond Dwarf quickly tried to backtrack, but it was too late. He'd had a companion with him, Legolas recalled, during their capture- the tall archer that Tauriel was so taken with. At the time the Mirkwood prince had assumed they were close friends, not brothers, so different they were in appearances. Suddenly, the dark-haired Elf seemed hauntingly familiar.
Another thought occurred to him; the names of Dwarvish siblings tended to rhyme… Fee. What parent- even a Dwarf one- would name their child Fee? It had to be a nickname, Legolas deduced. Fee… Fee-li… Fili! Fili and Kili! The names sounded right, and vaguely familiar. Legolas wondered where he had heard them before. Perhaps his father had mentioned them during one of his many tirades about the so-called King Thorin and the perils of dragon fire.
But if Fili and Kili were relatives of Thorin…
"That's right, my brother!" The dark-haired Elf- Kili- all but snarled. "A Dwarf of Erebor!"
There was frightened sort of defiance in his eyes, as if there was an invisible weight attatched to the importance of claiming relation to a Dwarf. Legolas had seen that same light blazing in those same eyes in a different time and place. The Elf who stood before him hadn't been an Elf then, but a young Dwarf.
One of the nephews of Thorin Oakensheild.
But how had..?
Her mother had been one of the last great practitioners of Fea Evaliir, had she not? And while becoming an Elf was not among the list of side effects Legolas heard rumored for the ancient art, he could see no other plausible explanation. After all, Dwarves didn't spontaneously transform into Elves.
His worst fear had came true- Tauriel loved the Dwarf. She loved him with the same kind of feirce, protective love that he reserved only for her. He thought back to the night he'd seen the two speaking in the caverns, all smiles and light laughter, talk of promises and starlight. He'd been jealous then; jealous that Tauriel had opened up more to that Dwarf in a single night than she'd done to him over six hundred years.
But love… how could he have missed it?
"You care for the Dwarf," said Legolas, slipping back into Sindarin so Kili would be unable to hear. "I've seen it in your eyes since the day his kind set foot in Mirkwood. I do not understand it, nor do I think I ever will, but I wish you well on your travels. May the Valar protect you and guide you."
"You won't tell the Elvenking what I've done?" The relief was palpable in her eyes.
He shook his head, the words catching in his throat. She loved another, but by the Valar, he would do anything to see her safe. "No. I won't tell him. I promised you, I will not be returning to Mirkwood when we face such a threat from Gundabad."
"Legolas- mellon- you can't ride north alone!"
"But who would go north with me?" The Mirkwood prince gave a sad, almost sardonic smile. "Certainly not my father, nor any Elf under his command. You won't, not when you have another mission to see through. I will rejoin you in less than a fortnight. Go to Erebor with your Dwarf, Tauriel. You care more for him and your secrets more than you care for Mirkwood, for your place among our people. More than you care for me."
He quickly turned and left, feelings threatening to boil over. Tauriel had made her choice, now he made his.
Kili glanced from Tauriel to the rapidly retreating from of Legolas with obvious confusion. He turned towards the Silvan elleth. "What was that all about?" he asked.
Tauriel shook her head. "It was nothing. I'm going with you to Erebor."
There was regret in her eyes, but Kili didn't ask why.
By the time they returned Bofur and Oin were waiting, the ragtag group's meager possessions neatly packed and bundled inside the boat. The boat itself was still in exceptional condition, considering all that it had been through.
"Bard has been generous enough to lend it to us," said Oin, placing a hand on its wooden helm.
Fili frowned. "I'm glad we have a boat and all, but won't he need to use it?"
"He has no further use of it, not where they're going." Before Kili could ask who they were, Oin continued. "The people of Laketown are regrouping in the ruins of Dale. They'll be walking through the mainland, not sailing downriver. It would be a shame to let such a boat go to waste. Besides, once we get settled in to Erebor, Bard will be paid for his expenses ten times over."
Remembering the promise Thorin made to the Master of Laketown two nights previous, Kili nodded. He noticed Tauriel's look of poorly hidden skepticism, and felt a twinge of defensiveness. His uncle was an honorable Dwarf- he would uphold his word to the people of Laketown, Kili was sure of it.
Not all dwarves were as greedy as Thrain, his great grandfather. How could Tauriel harbor any doubts? Their quest was a noble one, his Uncle's intentions pure. And what if their Company was protective of their treasure? It was rightfully theirs.
Stupid Elves, I didn't see them risking their lives to help us, Kili thought in exasperation, feeling guilty as soon as he put his feelings to words. Tauriel was an Elf, and she'd been nothing but kind to young prince's stomach lurched. He too was an Elf as well now, so what did that make him?
The dark-haired Elf hesitated. He didn't feel any different- deep down inside he was still Kili; his new body hadn't changed that. But old habits died hard it seemed- as much as he cared for Tauriel, the lingering ghost of Uncle Thorin's lectures and distaste for the Fair Folk remained.
"Oi, Kili! It seems I've lost my pipe. You wouldn't mind putting those keen eyes of yours to use and helping me look for it, would you?' It was Bofur. Abruptly pulled from his thoughts, Kili turned in the direction of the toy maker.
"I'll look too," volunteered Fili, but Bofur quickly shook his head, cutting him off.
"I'm sure Kili and I can find it," he said cheerfully. "It'll only take a moment, stay with the boat."
Kili tensed. Bofur's tone was too light, too casual. Whatever he wanted, Kili was sure it was more than just a pipe. Fili seemed to notice the disparity between Bofur's words and deamor as well- anxiety flashed for the briefest moment in his blue eyes- but he said nothing.
Reluctant yet not wanting to offend Bofur, Kili headed over to the toy maker.
"I probably left it over there," said Bofur, nodding in the general direction of where they'd set up camp. "Would you mind coming with me?"
Kili said no, he didn't mind, and fell in step beside him. The sun had already risen high in the sky- it was a surprisingly warm day for mid November- and Kili knew that if they didn't set out for Erebor soon, they wouldn't make it there before night fell. Bofur couldn't be that addicted to his pipe. Couldn't he have simply waited to replace it once they reached Erebor? The uncomfortable silence between them only grew with every passing second. Kili was only heartbeats away from sharing his observations when suddenly-
"How are you holdin' up, laddie?"
"I'm fine." The answer came swiftly and automatically, with hardly a second thought. Bofur merely sighed.
"That's the same thing you said when you took an Orcish arrow to the knee. You weren't fine then, and it's alright if you're not fine now. There's a difference between showing pain and weakness, you know." He glanced over his shoulder, then shot Kili a conspirational look. They were far enough from the lake shore that no one- not even Tauriel- would be able to hear them. His voice was rough with sympathy. "I wouldn't think of you any less for it."
Kili shrugged, blinking back tears. He slipped a hand into his pocket, fingers closing over his runestone. The stone was reassuring, familiar to the touch. His thumb ran over the front side of it, exploring all the little ravines and gullies the Khuzdul runes carved into its expanse.
"You're one of Durin's folk, alright. Just like your uncle. Stubborn, and never lets anyone forget it either. Doesn't give them time to." Bofur added, almost reminiscently. At Kili's questioning glare, he chuckled. "I don't think I've ever met anyone more stubborn than Thorin. You're probably too young to remember it, but when he and your mum came to the Blue Mountains, he had difficulty adjusting to his new life. He was a prince- he never expected to have to work for a living. The only trade he knew anything in was blacksmithing- and we have plenty of those already."
The dark-haired Elf swallowed, remembering the Blue Mountains. Thorin called it a pitiful excuse for a home, but to Kili and Fili, it was the only place they knew. It was home. He'd gone with his uncle to Erebor- because Erebor was their real home, right?- craving adventure and an escape from the tedious routines of everyday life, but he found himself missing the Blue Mountains.
I wonder what Mum's doing right now, Kili thought to himself. Was she still just as worried about them as she was the day they left? Mahal, what was she going to say when she found out her youngest son was an Elf?
I need to get back to normal, and soon. Or else…
No. I can't be stuck like this. I can't. Kili pushed away the dark train of thought and forced himself to listen to what Bofur was saying.
"…So he decided to try his hand at bein' a lumberjack. Not a bad way to make a livin'- all you really need to know how to do is swing an axe, and there are plenty of trees in the mountains. Some of the dwarrows more experienced in the trade offered to help him start out but no, he was Thorin Oakensheild, he didn't need help from anybody. Not for something as mundane as chopping down a tree, anyway.
"So first day on the job, he headed out into the woods not too far from the town. Found himself a tree and started chopping. It wasn't until the last blow that he realized he hadn't paid attention to the angle at which he was hackin'- or the way the wind was blowin'. When the tree started to fall over, it fell towards him."
"Was he hurt?" asked Kili in spite of himself. They'd all had to learn survival in the mountains, but this was a tale of Thorin he hadn't heard yet. The dark-haired Elf couldn't picture his uncle being bested by a tree- and he definitely couldn't picture him ever admitting that he was if that were the case.
"Aye, but not badly. Part of the trunk landed on his foot, but it wasn't enough to do any lasting damage. I suspect that what was injured more was his pride- he'd been so angry and full of himself. But this was over some sixty odd years ago, and your uncle's learned a lot since then. He's learned to survive in his new life and some day, so will you."
Kili narrowed his eyes. "No, you're wrong. This isn't permanent." It can't be. He didn't like the direction Bofur was taking this. The toy maker made it sound like he was going to be an Elf for, well… forever. "One day," he said hoarsely, "I will be a Dwarf again. Like you."
"Maybe lad, maybe." Bofur replied, but in his eyes he looked doubtful.
"Weren't we looking for your pipe?"
Bofur recognized the intentional change in subject and latched on to it. "Right you are, Kili." He dug through his pockets for a moment, muttering quietly to himself. "Ah! There it is. It was right in my pocket the whole time." He drew out the pipe, to neither he nor Kili's surprise.
He made a move to clasp the dark-haired Elf on the shoulder, realizing rather belatedly that Thorin's younger nephew had become too tall for that. He settled for patting Kili on the arm instead. "Let's get back to the boat. I'm sure the others are waiting."
By mid afternoon, it became clear that they were making good progress downriver- unless any further complications arose, they would reach Erebor before the sun set. The current of the Celduin was no longer as sluggish as it had been on the outskirts of Laketown nor as turbulent as it had been in Mirkwood, and bore their small them swiftly towards their destination.
The sky was blue and the water seemed even bluer, the constant current sweeping the river bottom clear of any potential algae or pond scum. The Lonely Mountain stood tall and proud, no longer quite so in the distance, as if to welcome the weary travelers to its halls.
The relative ease of the journey meant that there was very little work for the occupants of the boat to do besides ensure that the boat remained on course. They had paddles, which every once in a while they'd have to use to steer around a particularly sharp rock, but they encountered little else.
While grateful for the reprieve, Fili soon wished that they had something to be doing. Not an hour had gone by after setting out before the group lasped into an uncomfortable silence.
Kili- whom Fili had been certain would've once been the most animated on their return to Erebor- sat almost sullenly beside him, absentmindedly fiddling with his rune stone and staring out over the water. Something must've happened between he and Bofur, Fili deduced, for the toy maker looked equally uneasy, worrying his pipe between his teeth as he struck his paddle lightly against the water, propelling the boat forward.
The blond heir was tempted to sigh. This is going to be a long trip.
Chapter 5: In Which Thorin Reacts
All too soon, they reached the foot of the mountain.
“I can’t do this,” murmured Kili, looking up towards the entryway to Erebor, which was little more than a gaping hole torn asunder by Smaug, with apprehension. “I can’t see him. Not like this. I shouldn’t have come.” His voice rose in hysteria, and no one had to ask who he was. They knew.
He was none other than Thorin Oakenshield.
“Uncle loves you, Kili,” said Fili, placing a steadying hand on his brother’s arm and gently pushing him forward. Kili had the same skittish look of a horse getting ready to bolt. “No matter what.” He kept his tone calm, certain. “You can’t let this get the best of you. Listen to me, brother. Listen. There’s no turning back. We’re going to go in there, march up to Uncle Thorin, and then… and then everything’s going to be alright.”
Is it? Kili wanted to ask, but he was too afraid of the answer. All he could think of were the hundreds- wait, where they hundreds? They might’ve been thousands- of times Thorin had declared his hatred for Elves.
“We’ve gone too far to give up now,” agreed Oin. “The only way left is forward.”
Kili felt lightheaded, his mouth dry. Back at Laketown, everything had been a haze, a fog of disbelief. Now, in front of Erebor, it all seemed so real. His heart pounded out a sickening rhythm in his chest. I can’t do this. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.
He looked pleadingly at Fili, but Fili’s eyes, while reflecting sympathy, remained resolute. Please don’t make me do this, he thought again. I can’t.
“You can do this, Kee. We’re with you.” His brother said, as if reading his mind. Kili took a deep, shuddering breath.
“I will stay behind, if it will make things easier,” Tauriel offered. “Your uncle has no great love of Elves and my presence is more than likely to only enrage him. I will keep watch over the boat and wait for your return.” She hesitated, and Kili could see that her reluctance stemmed from more than wishing to not stir up trouble; she was afraid. Afraid of been locked underground, away from her beloved starlight. Afraid of being in the home of the enemy, surrounded by those she’d once imprisoned. But when she spoke again, her voice rang true. “But if you want me to come with you, you only need to give the word.”
She was close to him, oh so close. Her auburn hair reflected the fading light of the autumn evening like a forge, a deep russet in some places and a brilliant copper in others.
“Come with me.” Gingerly, he took his hand in hers. It was warm. “Please.”
A small smile traced her lips. “Always,” she replied.
From behind them came a disapproving snort. Oin, most likely. Neither Elf glanced back to see.
Together, the group headed towards the archway, Kili and Tauriel pulling away from each other as they drew nearer. To their surprise, it was Bilbo who dashed out to meet them.
“It’s Thorin,” the hobbit began without preamble, panting the words out between breaths. Kili froze. What could be wrong with his uncle? Had Smaug left him gravely injured? Dead? The dark-haired Elf wished Bilbo would just catch his breath already. “…he’s been like this for days. He won’t come out- not even to eat or drink.”
So he’s still alive, Kili thought with relief. As long as his uncle wasn’t dead, he could handle anything else.
But Bilbo wasn’t done with his rant just yet. His eyes widened almost comically as caught sight of Kili and Tauriel. “Are those Elves? No, no, no, Thorin will not allow Elves under the mountain, he’ll lose it if he sees you.” The hobbit twitched his mouth nervously in that rabbit-like fashion and waved his hands as if shooing away flies. “I’m terribly sorry, but we can’t have any visitors here right now. Not today. Please, go back to Mirkwood or Rivendel or wherever you came from.” Shoving his hands in his pockets in a very agitated manner, he nodded his head and began walking back into the mouth of Erebor. “Good night!”
Somehow, Bilbo managed to make the greeting sound like a dismisal.
“Master Boggins, wait!” called Kili before he could stop himself.
“It’s Baggins, Kili, Baggins. I’ve told you a hundred times!” Bilbo corrected, more out of habit than out of actual awareness to what he was saying. He stopped short as his words caught up to him, whirling around to face the startled Elf, taking a deep breath. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to snap. The funny thing is, you remind me of somebody I know. Somebody who should be here, actually…”
Kili could see the cogs in Bilbo’s mind turning as his gaze raked the group, searching for the Dwarf he used to be. He was relieved when Fili cut in.
“This is important, Bilbo. These two Elves need to speak with Thorin.”
Reluctantly, the hobbit nodded. “Alright. But don’t blame me if Thorin completely snaps.”
Some might’ve called it madness. In any other circumstance, Thorin, would’ve called it madness. But madness it was not, he decided, dropping to his knees to once again scoop up another handful of gold. So beautiful, so cold. It was his. Rising to his feet, Thorin allowed the precious coins- only a fraction of Erebor’s great wealth- to slip through his grasp, tumbling down the side of the golden pile in glorious disarray, mere grains of sand in the hourglass of riches of which the halls of his fathers were.
The newly made and self-declared (for that was what he was, at least until the Arkenstone was found) King Under the Mountain scowled, his contentment fading as his mind drifted towards his all-consuming obsession.
Until he could get his hands on the Arkenstone- literally get his hands on it- for then and only then would he hold the authority to unite the seven Clans under one banner, he held no true power. He had taken back their homeland, but what good would that be if he hadn’t the strength to defend it? The Arkenstone grew in Thorin’s mind until it blotted out everything else, and even the magnificent throne room and the resplendent throne of Thror grew small in comparison. He wanted it. He craved it. He needed it.
He called together the Dwarves of his Company, and ordered them to search for it. Only Balin- old, faithful Balin, whose back was stiff and eyesight was not as good as it once was- remained, hovering dutifully by his side as Thorin busied himself in perusing through the treasure, finding a ruby the size of his fist within minutes. It wasn’t the Arkenstone, but upon closer inspection of its rose-tinted, multifaceted sides, he marvelled at how he’d ever done without such a gem.
His gaze swept across the throne room, hungrily taking in the impressive display of old, stone pillars and pile upon pile of the glimmering riches. It was his- all of it his, and he couldn’t be more pleased with himself or his fine, brave Company.
A particularly loud shout from Gloin, who for the briefest moment, had thought he’d come across the king’s long-lost prize, pulled him from his reverie, hopeful and expectant. But it wasn’t the Arkenstone, Gloin regretfully affirmed, and Thorin’s shoulders sagged. He looked out again at the wealth he’d amassed, but this time it failed to bring warmth to his heart. None of it mattered. The only thing that mattered was the Arkenstone, and it was out of his reach.
The thin line of his mouth hardened and there was darkness in his eyes.
I will not part with a single stone!
The simple tone at which he’d said it didn’t match the angry roar inside his head. How dare anyone suggest otherwise? Thorin rounded on Ori, the young Dwarf foolish enough to incense- albeit unknowingly- the king’s wrath.
The scribe quailed under his icy gaze, nearly dropping his books and pen in the process. Ori was quiet and timid enough as it was, and no doubt it had taken him a good deal of time and courage to work up the strength to approach Thorin and cautiously broach the subject of his deal with the Men of Laketown. Evidently Ori clearly regretted it; he shook his head, frightened, and stumbled over an apology.
“We did make a deal with the Master of Laketown, it would be wise to honor it. Otherwise we may be looking at a potential war,” cautioned Balin, though even he sounded reluctant to part with Erebor’s treasure, Thorin noted with some satisfaction.
“There will be no dealings with the Men of Laketown,” he bit back, “nor any other race who wishes to challenge us. This is ours and ours alone.”
Nobody said otherwise, but Thorin did hear Bombur mutter once he thought the king was out of range, “Aye, we’ll have plenty of gold, but then what? We’ll have war and nothing to eat! We’ll be besieged.” Stupid, fat Bombur. Always thinking with his stomach.
Thorin ignored the little voice in the back of his mind that warned him Bombur’s words may have held truth, but became more wary still.
That night he wrote to his cousin, Dain of the Iron Hills, seeking his aid in help against their enemies. If there was to be a war, Thorin thought darkly, then let there be a war.
On the third day, the trickery of the Elves came. Surrounded by his gold in the center of the throne room he stood, waiting, eager for the arrival of his sister-sons. In his haste and desire for the Arkenstone he’d all but forgotten about them, but on that particular day he’d woken from a restless sleep, Fili and Kili fresh on his mind.
A pang of guilt- as sharp and pricking as any Warg’s claw- ran through him at that. How could he have forgotten his beloved nephews? For the first time since their arrival at Erebor, Thorin surveyed the mountains of wealth around him with unease. The gold called to him more strongly than any of his kin, glinting and whispering soft secrets in the dim lighting and for the first time, he was reminded of his grandfather.
I understand how you felt now, the king thought to himself, remembering the way Thror would wander the halls of their kingdom, his love reserved only for the precious metals within. But the thought was fleeting and he quickly pushed it away, thinking instead, all of this, I did for them.
Fili and Kili would understand.
And so he waited, thoughts on the Arkenstone conflicting with those for his nephews. He’d been forced to leave Kili behind at Laketown, and Fili- damn his attactchment to his brother sometimes!- had opted to stay behind with him. When they had left, Kili had barely been able to walk, and it was only out of concern for his youngest nephew that he forced Kili to remain behind.
Dis, Fili, and Kili were the only true family he had left, and Kili… Kili was much like Frerin. Certainly not in looks- his little brother had been more stocky, with stormy blue eyes that had bordered on green. Frerin and his nephew were more alike in manner, in spirit. Frerin had been a dreamer as well, and Thorin couldn’t count the number of times he’d gotten into trouble for something his little brother that had done when they were younger. He wasn’t made for the world, a fact Thorin had understood only all too well as his brother had lain in his arms, dying.
Kili had to survive- he had to. Because if he didn’t….
It would be like losing Frerin all over again.
The king’s contemplative mood only lasted as long as the quiet around him- as soon as Balin reported to him that the Arkenstone had yet to be found, his volatile temper reared its head and he forced himself to rein in the urge to answer his old confidant with a scathing reply. The tug of the gold was stronger now, almost tangible, and Thorin ran a hand across the precious metal in a slow caress. And waited.
Late in the evening, with the muffled echo of footsteps clambering down the great hall and a call from Bilbo, they arrived.
The King Under the Mountain almost scoffed at his own foolishness. Almost. Of course the Elves were the first to come, seeking gold and favors that he wouldn’t grant. He could see past their lies and trickery, for what else could be expected from Elves who groveled at the feet of Thranduil the Oath-breaker? The Elvenking must’ve sent them, but Thorin would not be fooled. Not by Thranduil.
Nor ever again.
Elves. Why had Bilbo let them in?
Thorin braced himself for a confrontation- or quite possibly an attack- as one of the Elves; the taller, dark-haired one that he was fairly certain was male (though it was hard to tell with those pale, smooth skinned faces - blasted Elves!) took a fluid step towards him, arms outstretched in what was either a pleading gesture or an embrace.
Thorin knew that voice and despite all the changes, he knew that face. Kili. Shock, horror, pity and anger flooded his mind, stunning him speechless until at last the barrage of emotions subsided, leaving only one behind to take root in his heart- anger.
How dare Thranduil seek to destroy him by sending one of his own in the guise of Thorin’s own kin.
The Elves were masters of deception, Thorin had seen it for himself in Mirkwood when Thranduil lowered the glamor that hid his hideous scarring for a moment. A well placed concealment spell was all it took, and an Elf could fashion themselves into the likeness of anyone.
How dare that Elf parade around pretending to be Kili.
“Do I know you, Elf?” Thorin demanded, relishing the way the Elf flinched as he spat its race name as if it were a curse word. Surprise and hurt flitted across its face, and achingly familiar dark brown eyes glinted with tears, which Thorin pretended not to notice. They were only crocodile tears, meant to trick and ensnare him. They were not real. It was not Kili-
He ground his teeth as he continued. “You have no right to be here, defiling the halls of my fathers! You are a curse, you and all your kin. I have no dealings with Elves, or that cowardly Elf you call a king. Get out now, before I make you. I swear by Durin’s beard, if I ever see you again, I will kill you.”
The Elf let out a chocked sob, dropping to its knees so that they stood- or in its case, crouched- at the same height. “Uncle, it’s me- Kili! Kili, your nephew. Kili! I’m trapped in this body, but I promise, it’s still me!”
It even managed to perfectly imitate his nephew’s voice. Anguished rage simmered in his chest, and Thorin reached out and slammed it against the ground, grasping it by the collar and wrapping his hands around its neck so tightly that it struggled to breathe. It offered no resistance, only looked up at Thorin with terrified disbelief. It had every right to be afraid. It shouldn’t have chosen to mock him.
“I don’t know what you are,” Thorin growled, “or what your purpose in coming here is, but you are not my nephew.”
“Uncle, stop! You’re hurting him!” He was shoved roughly aside by Fili, the blond heir hastening to help the Elf, the abomination, to its feet. The Elf still looked shaken, gasping for air and rubbing its neck, where red marks in the shape of a hand had blossomed across its throat.
“You’ve got to believe him. He really is Kili!” Fili placed himself protectively in front of the Elf, and it was Thorin’s turn to stare in disbelief. The accursed Elf had bewitched Fili as well. But how was that possible? This Elf was weak, pathetic. He didn’t even put up a fight when Thorin attacked him! His gaze snapped to the female Elf, who had remained silent and relatively unnoticed up until that point.
“You.” snarled Thorin, “I should’ve known. You’re the Elf-witch behind this.”
“I may have used magic, but I am no witch,” the elleth replied. She stood to her full height, firm and resolute, but Thorin could detect a flicker of fear and uncertainty in her eyes. He recognized her; she was the Captain of the Guard who detained them at Mirkwood. His distaste for the elleth grew.
“I saved his life, but at a price. Fea Evaliir is dangerous and unpredictable, my people have not practiced it even at the best of times. He was dying, and I healed him. I had no control over what happened next, and neither did he. But if anyone is to blame, it is I. I poured life from my own soul into his, it is what sustains him. If he were to become a Dwarf again, the poison would once again catch up and kill him.”
“Tauriel-“ Began the Elf, eyes wide with surprise, but Thorin didn’t allow him to finish.
“No Elf is kin of mine.” Its not Kili, he fervently told himself. Its not. If it was, I would’ve known. It’s a trick from Thranduil, he wants to steal what is rightfully mine. “And you will not claim a single gem under this mountain.”
He was tempted to banish the Elf right then and there, but one glance at Fili and he knew it would not be wise. His remaining nephew was still under the enchantment of the Elves, and until Thorin knew how to break it, he would be forced to play along. He nodded formally to the Captain of the Guard and her treacherous companion.
“You may stay under the mountain for three days or until I say otherwise. Then you must return to your own, on pain of death.” Hopefully, Dain’s army would be arriving soon, and he could figure out how to break the hold the blasted Elves had over Fili.
In the meantime though, he would watch and wait, and find out what they were really up to.
If he had been alone, Kili didn't know what he would've done. He still didn't know what to do. Even with Fili, Tauriel, Bofur, and even Oin- although the old healer seemed have gone selectively deaf, choosing to ignore Thorin's angry shouts and the Elf's shuddering cry, but offering a sympathetic glance and a promise to check back in on how his scratches were healing once he'd properly restocked and his remedy kit afterwards.
The rest of the Company was a different story, however.
Between the not-so-inconspicuous walkway to the throne room and the cavernous palace's unfortunate effeciency at carrying echoes (and perhaps a word from Nori, who may or may not have been lingering near the mouth of the archway), their arrival in Erebor was no secret.
Kili had been hopeful for acceptance but dreading hatred. The one thing he hadn't expected was this.
It was as if the whole Company was walking on egg shells around him and Thorin, or scrutinizing him under a magnifying glass; like he was some odd, brightly colored beetle that no one was quite sure what to do with. Whenever his gaze darted to one of theirs- which was quite often- he always found them staring back, with a pitying or uncertain expression on their face. He even thought he almost caught Ori tying to make a quick sketch of him in his notebook once.
Even when he looked away, he could feel the weight of their gazes boring into the back of his skull. Mahal, didn't they realize how unnerving that was?
Yet no one wanted to say anything, they were too afraid of angering Thorin.
Kili supposed that they were trying though, at least some of them were. Gloin merely huffed and made a big deal out of sharpening his axe when Kili hovered uncertainly nearby, debating whether or not to sit down next to the redheaded Dwarf. A pointed glance and another meaningful scape of his whetstone against his axe sent the former Dwarf quickly on his way.
But later that night, Bombur slipped him a second helping of stew- of which he vaguely remembered as being one of the better tasting recipes from their journey – so the dark-haired Elf supposed that at least some of them were on his side, thankfully.
The hardest part was being around Thorin. Kili longed to call the king uncle, but the ice in Thorin's eyes and the memory of sturdy hands with an iron grip around his throat made the familiar and much loved familial title die before the words even left his mouth. It didn't help that Thorin seemed adamant not to call him by name.
"Elf," he said instead, with barely restrained civility. Kili tried not to flinch.
"Thorin," he replied with a respectful nod of his head, testing the name out on his tongue. How wrong it felt without the word uncle in front of it!
But for the most part, Thorin preferred to leave his younger nephew alone. And for that, Kili wasn't certain whether to be upset or relieved. He was practically bursting to get away from the Company with their judgemental stares and poorly concealed curiosity. He wanted only to be in the company of Tauriel and his brother, and to maybe get a good night's sleep afterwards.
I haven't truly slept since that night at Bard's, how is it that I'm still awake? The former Dwarf thought, incredulous. He felt exhausted, both mentally and physically, but closing his eyes rolling over on his stomach seemed to no longer do the trick. Having unnaturally good hearing certainly didn't help things either.
There were so many things he needed to ask Tauriel.
Is it true- I'll never be a Dwarf again? Of all his questions, that was the one most pressing- and the most difficult to ask. Kili wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer.
But at last the bustle and activity of the day died down, as eventually the Dwarves got ready for sleep. They had made a temporary camp near the mouth of the mountain- blankets were strewn across the floor near the entryway, which was partially obscured by stones. It looked as though Thorin intended to provide a barrier between Erebor and the outside world. From their vantage point, they could easily see anyone coming miles before they reached the gate.
Their sleeping arrangements weren't too close to the entrance though- it was too chilly, and an icy late fall breeze could sweep through the opening with ease. Even without the draft, Erebor grew cold quickly. Kili noticed that the blankets were circled around the a fire, its light and warmth waning as it faded into embers.
"Kili?" The former Dwarf's keen ears detected the pad of bare feet before their owner had even spoken. "Bofur told me about what happened. And- and I believe him. I know you're still in there."
"Master Boggins," said Kili, turning around to face their burgular.
"It's Baggins, actually." Bilbo corrected gently. The hobbit offered a small, sad smile. "I should've known it was you at the gate, just because of that. I shouldn't have snapped at you, though. Do you forgive me?"
Kili supposed that in his own fussy, proper way the hobbit was actually trying to be comforting. He shrugged in response. "Of course."
If only seeking forgivness from Uncle was this easy. But what did he have to apologize for- being an Elf?
Stupid, stupid, stupid! Why had he even come in the first place? He knew that Thorin hated Elves, so why should he have expected to be treated any different? Because you're his nephew, that's why, his quiet internal voice chided. He loves you and Fili- or at least he did. You're not the only one who's changed. Thorin had changed as well.
Bilbo seemed uncomfortable- and a little unnerved- at how quiet the youngest Durin was being. He cleared his throat awkwardly. "Well. Right then, I guess I'll be on my way." He started to turn, only to stop in his tracks. "Hypothetically, if Thorin got the Arkenstone, do you think he'd stop this madness?"
Kili paused and considered this. "I don't know," he answered honestly. "I've never seen Uncle act this way before. It might make him better, but it might make him worse. Why are you asking?"
"Oh. Ah, no reason," the hobbit answered evasively, and Kili was too tired to pursue it further. "Just wondering. Good night, Kili!"
With Bilbo headed off to bed, the former Dwarf decided to seek out Tauriel. He hadn't seen her since dinner, where she'd quickly drained her bowl and slipped away, leaving him to awkwardly try and bond with the Company. As irritated as he was by her disappearance, he couldn't deny that her presence probably wouldn't help prove that he wasn't really an Elf.
He carefully walked around the resting company towards the mouth of Erebor, pausing as he reached the pile of stones. They only came up to his waist. With only a moment of decision, the dark-haired Elf gathered his strength and leapt, landing lightly on top of them. He staggered for a moment, trying to regain his balance- he'd only been half expecting to clear the jump, but his new Elven muscles responded with surprising fluidity- before straightening to his full height.
A gentle wind blew through his hair and the moon hung high in the sky as full and round as a silver coin, casting everything below it in a soft, grayish light. The sky was clear, the stars glittering down on him coldly. Kili let out a slow breath. It had been a while since he'd looked at the stars- truly looked at them, with more than a passing glance.
As his gaze drifted lower, he caught sight of something (or in his case, someone) that made his heart skip a beat.
Tauriel. She too was looking at the stars.
Jumping down from his perch, he made his way over to her. She was Elven- of course long spans of time spent underground were uncomfortable for her. Kili supposed that he should've tried looking for her outside sooner. He pointedly ignored the fact that above ground, under the open sky, he felt significantly more relaxed as well.
She straightened slightly as he came near, acknowledging his presence, but her gaze remained fixed on the stars. "They're beautiful, aren't they?" she asked.
Kili murmured in agreement. "Mm, you are."
She turned towards him in surprise, and Kili could almost swear that she was blushing, even though her voice remained serious as she replied, "I was talking about the stars."
"What did you think I was talking about?" asked Kili, arching his brow innocently. A smile- albeit a small one, but a smile all the same- twitched at the corners of his mouth, and he fought it down. "You must've misheard me." Mahal, she was fun to tease.
"You mock me," said Tauriel, but her eyes danced with mirth.
"Who, me? I would never dream of it, my lady. Or should I say Captain? I'd have to be pretty foolish to mess with the Captain of the Guard."
Her cheerfulness faded at that, and Kili knew that he'd said the wrong thing. But what? Tauriel lowered her eyes, shamefaced.
"I am no longer Captain of the Guard, the Elvenking has decreed me banished. I cannot return to Mirkwood."
For a fleeting moment, the former Dwarf almost offered the Sylvan elleth a place at Erebor. Then he remembered that even he wouldn't be allowed at Erebor in three day's time, if he couldn't convince Thorin of who he was. Dread clawed at his stomach, and Kili suddenly felt sick with fear. "Then were will we go? You can't be with your people, and I can't be with mine. I'm frightened," he admitted, as hard as it was to get the words out in front of Tauriel. "I've never been anywhere without my brother. Not for a very long time, at least."
"You and your brother must be very close." There was a note of wistfulness in her voice that Kili hadn't heard before.
He nodded. "Fili's five years older than I am. The best big brother I could ask for. We used to get into trouble all the time when we were younger. Wait, no- we still do. There was this one time on our quest where we got…sidetracked… and when we turned around, two of the ponies were gone! Trolls had taken them!"
"Trolls?" Tauriel asked, clearly skeptical.
"Aye, trolls. Stupid, ugly, and huge!" The dark-haired Elf spread his arms for emphasis. When Tauriel still looked doubtful, he huffed in mock indignation. "I'll have you know that I have witnesses, thirteen of them! Ask any Dwarf- or Master Boggins. Fili and I sent him to take back the ponies."
"You sent the Hobbit to face the trolls all on his own?"
"We were right behind him! Well, sort of," Kili amended. "But that's what he was meant for. What's the point of having a burgular if he doesn't do burglarly things?"
They both laughed at that, neither sure of who started to first or what exactly it was they were laughing over, the mental image of poor Bilbo, so proper that he wanted to postpone the quest to head back to Bag End to grab his hankerchief, up against trolls or Kili's use of the word burglarly. Perhaps stress had taken its toll on both of them and they'd finally cracked.
Whatever the case, as their laughter subsided, Kili asked, "What about you and your family? Any brothers or sisters? What are your parents like?"
"I have no siblings, and as for my parents, they were killed in an Orc raid." said Tauriel.
"I'm sorry," said Kili, mentally kicking himself. There he went ruining the mood- again. But Tauriel merely shook her head.
"It's not your fault, you weren't the ones who killed them. My father was a member of the king's Guard, and I vowed to follow in his footsteps. His name was Caranoron, from the words "red fire" in Sindarin. It matched his appearance as well- I inherited my hair color from him. He was brave and had a warrior's spirit."
"That's another thing you inherited from him then," said Kili, and Tauriel smiled.
"My mother's name was Imryll," the elleth continued, "and she was a healer. I learned some from her before she passed. She was one of the last great particioners of fea evaliir, the same magic I used to save you."
The former Dwarf's breath caught in is throat as he was once again given a reminder of earlier. "Tauriel, is it true that…" He paused, struggling to find the words. "…that I'll never be a Dwarf again?"
Tauriel paused, reluctant. Uncertainty and fear shone in Kili's eyes, but underneath she could still detect a glimmer of hope. Don't give him hope where there is none, part of her cautioned, but she quickly pushed it away. It sounded too much like Thranduil. Besides, who was to say that there was no hope? She didn't have the power to reverse what she'd done, but perhaps there was some entity out there that could. Tauriel decided that honesty would proably be the best option.
"I don't know, but it is unlikely." The Sylvan elleth admitted, watching as the dark-haired Elf seemed to deflate. He seemed miserable, exhausted. She reached out and took his hand in hers, giving it a gentle squeeze. "But much of which was once impossible has become possible. I never imagined that this fate would become yours, so why is it not possible that such a thing can't be reversed? "
Kili nodded and started to say something, but then yawned. Wearily, he rubbed his eyes. "Do Elves ever go to sleep?"
"Yes, but it is not the kind of sleep you would think of it as." Her eyes widened as she realized what Kili was implying. "You haven't slept yet?"
"Nope." Kili huffed. "Not a wink. Not since before all of this at least. You know that saying, 'evil doesn't sleep?' I was starting to think it applied to Elves as well. What do you mean, Elves don't sleep the way Dwarves do?” Then, reluctantly, “Tauriel, I'm so tired. How do I do it?"
"Well, for one… Elves sleep with their eyes open."
She almost laughed as Kili jumped, astonishment written all over his face. "I have to what? How is that possible? Won't my eyes go dry?”
She didn't manage to suppress a small laugh at that, especially as Kili indignantly spluttered, "This isn't funny! I'm being serious!"
"So am I, nin meleth." replied Tauriel, still chuckling. "All Elves sleep with their eyes open, it is the way of the Eldar. I've been alive for hundreds of years, and I've never heard of any Elf getting anything in their eyes while they slept.
"It's normal and safe," she added as as Kili continued staring at her, doubtful. "and far more restful than the sleep of either Men or Dwarves. I prefer to lie on my back and watch as dreams and starlight fade into one, but others do it differently. You're already tired, so it should come easily to you. Lie down so that you're comfortable, then breathe deeply and focus your gaze on a single spot. Think peaceful, soothing thoughts."
"Soothing? Uncle Thorin hates me. Something's going to land in my eye!" Kili's breathing began to grow rapid with panic. "In three day's time, I'm going to be exiled from Erebor!"
Tauriel's heart twisted in sympathy for the still newly-turned Elf. She understood how difficult it was to lose a home. "Don't say that, there's still time to convince your uncle. A lot can happen in three days time. There is always hope."
A heavy sigh came in response, but when the former Dwarf once again spoke, he sounded a good deal calmer. "I know. We still have a few more days, and I won't waste a single one of them." A pause. Then, "Tauriel? What does nin meleth mean?"
My love. Heat rushed to her cheeks, but she was saved from answering by an unexpected cry of, "Kili!"
Both Elves turned to Fili racing towards them.
"There you are, brother," he said as soon as he reached Kili. The moonlight washed his hair in an almost silver sheen and the relief reflected in his eyes was evident. "I've been looking everywhere for you, and was starting to worry you'd ran away."
"I'm not going anywhere," declared Kili, squaring his shoulders defensively. He bent over to hug his brother, and both Fili and Tauriel exchanged a long, meaningful look over his shoulder while he was unaware. If they couldn't convince Thorin- and soon- then Kili might not have any choice.
After Kili and Fili parted from their embrace, Tauriel bid the brothers goodnight and quietly strode away to give the two some time together alone.
"You've been up exceptionally early lately, Kee," said Fili, stifling a yawn. "Are you ready to go back inside and get some rest?"
"Who says I ever went to sleep in the first place?"
"You haven't- how did you-?" For once, Fili- Thorin's golden heir, the diplomatic one- seemed to be at a loss for words. Kili grinned slightly at his brother's confusion and astonishment. Looking back on it, his reaction reminded him of his own. "Do Elves not-" Fili at last choked out,"-not sleep?"
"They sleep, it's just different." said Kili, not bothering to explain any of the said differences. He still wasn't sure if he understood the mechanics of Elven sleep himself. Waiting until starlight and dreams blend into one? It sounded terribly confusing. He yawned as well. "I'm so tired."
"Then let's go inside," Fili offered again.
Kili tensed up. He didn't want to go back inside the mountain. That was where the walls threatened to close in all around him. Where the moon cast dark shadows on the walls. Where Thorin attacked him. He didn't want to set foot back in the mountain, not at the moment at least.
"Er, Fili?" The dark-haired Elf cleared his throat uncomfortably. "I think I'd rather stay out here and sleep." At his brother's stunned expression, he quickly explained. "I don't feel comfortable down there. Not after Uncle… I won't stay out here forever. Just for tonight."
"Alright," said Fili, unable to keep the surprise out of his voice. As his brother lay down and got himself situated in the grass, he turned to leave. "Good night, Kili."
"Fee?" The blond heir stopped in his tracks.
"Will you stay with me, please?" Kili's voice had become small, pleading. It reminded Fili of when they were younger, and Kili would have nightmares about goblins under his bed. He would then clamber into Fili's bed and make Fili promise to fight off all the goblins if they came. It reminded him of simpler times. He glanced back at the Elf- his brother- and shivered. The night air was cool and crisp, much different from the warm, inviting fire within Erebor.
"Of couse I will," said Fili, and Kili relaxed, a small but grateful smile on his lips. Fili lay down next to his brother, nestling against his side for warmth.
Kili sighed in contentment. His brother was with him, and Tauriel was with him as well. Metaphorically speaking, that was. Despite his earlier misgivings, he felt sleep begin to overtake him. It felt different than it had before- his eyelids didn't get heavy- but his body loosened and his thoughts slowed. The starlight seemed to swirl above him, and he was only dimly aware of Fili beside him.
Tauriel was right- the stars were beautiful, especially as they seemed to leap and dance across the sky. He wanted to wake Fili and show him as well, but his arm felt too heavy to move… Come to think of it, his entire body felt like it was weighted to the ground… But that was okay, for the sky above him shimmered with color…
I wonder… Began Kili, but that was as far as he got.
Elven sleep had overtaken him.
Chapter 7: The Exploration of Erebor
Kili… Kili? Kili! Get up! KILI!"
Rough hands shook him, and Kili bolted upright, everything sharpening back into focus as he regained consciousness. Fili! Concern shot through him like a lightning bolt. The former Dwarf hastily blinked a few times, clearing the last remnants of dreams and the memory of starlight from his mind.
Fili sat beside him, one hand still clasped on his arm. "Thank Mahal," he sighed in utter relief.
Kili stared at him in as if he were mad, not quite sure what was running through his brother's mind. Fili looked calm now, though there was still an uncertain look in his eyes. He stole a quick around them, but the mountain was quiet. No signs of danger.
His confusion only deepened as Fili drew him into an embrace. "You're alive." His voice was slightly muffled, pressed up against the front of Kili's shirt. "I'd thought something had happened to you."
"Wait- what?" was Kili's very eloquent reply. What could Fili possibly be talking about?
"You looked dead," said Fili, drawing back and looking uncharacteristicly sheepish. "Your eyes were open and you weren't moving. You weren't looking at anything either. Your gaze was glassy, and when I called your name you didn't respond."
"I was sleeping," said Kili, slightly awed himself. The sun had already risen- had he really spent the entire night like that?
"Sleeping." Fili murmured, dazed. "Are there any other strange Elvish habits I need to know about before you give me another heart attack?"
"Hmm... No, I think that covers it." said Kili. He had absolutely no idea whether or not there was anything else Fili should know of. If Elves instinctively did anything else bizarre, Kili had a nagging feeling that he would find out about it pretty soon, whether he wanted to or not. Pushing the feeling away, he turned back towards his brother, trying to be as nonchalant as possible.
"But if I develop a craving for green foods and start wanting to play the harp, please put me out of my misery," he said.
Fili cast him a sidelong glance, unsure of whether or not he was serious. To this Kili merely rolled his eyes. "I'm joking, Fee. Absolutely joking. I'm not that much of an Elf, I'm more of a Dwelf, really."
"You know, part Dwarf, part Elf?"
"That I do believe, is the most stupid thing I've ever heard of." said Fili lightly, still recovering from the near-panic he'd felt at mistaking his sleeping brother for dead. "Only you would joke in a situation like this."
Kili shrugged. "I'm an Elf on the outside, but a Dwarf on the inside. That'll never change." But what about last night? Part of him whispered darkly. When you were too afraid to go inside the mountain? Was that not a change? An Elven change? He was already an Elf physically, but what if he became one mentally as well? The idea made his stomach churn.
They betrayed our people, the former Dwarf reminded himself. I'm not really one of them. I'm not.
Why did he joke about his condition?
Because the only other option was to despair.
"Why did you do that?"
"Why did I do what?" Thorin's gaze evenly met Fili's own, but to Fili, the only thing it seemed was distant. Vacant, even. Uncaring. So remote- so different- from the uncle he knew. One of Thorin's hands roved again over gossamer surface of the crystal inlaid bureau beside them, and he felt an urge to slap it away. "You know what I'm talking about, Uncle," he pressed quickly, almost desperately. "Why did you hurt Kili?"
Something in Thorin's expression shifted. "The Elf?" A certain coldness- one that Fili realized with a sinking heart that he reserved only for the Fair Folk- seeped in his eyes, and his uncle turned away in response. "I do not trust Elves, and neither should you. You're my heir, Fili, you must understand. You will be king one day, and that Elf has filled your head with nothing but lies and deceit."
"His name is Kili-"
"He is not Kili!" Thorin hissed, so suddenly that Fili took a step back. It sounded so resolved, so rehearsed, that the blonde Dwarf wondered if it had become a mantra he told himself. "He's not. If your brother is not here with you, then he's dead." For the first time, Fili could see genuine greif in Thorin's counternance and felt a flare of hope. Perhaps, amid all this madness, Thorin could be reached after all.
His uncle reached out and clasped a hand on his shoulder. "I understand what it's like to lose a brother-"
The weight of his hand on Fili's shoulder was familiar, comforting. But Fili could not allow himself to be comforted. He shootk his hand off. "Yes, but Kili's not dead. He's alive! The other Elf- Tauriel- she healed him, back in Laketown. He's the Elf, Uncle. It's him!"
"So this is how you handle your grief?" demanded Thorin. "You imagine that he is that Elf?"
"I don't imagine, I know-"
"Enough!" A sharp intake of breath and rapidly clenched fists were all Fili needed to know that his Uncle was barely holding together. "Do not dishonor your brother's memory by associating him with that thrice-dammed Elf. He's gone, Fili. You've lost your brother, and I've lost a sister-son." His gaze wandered over the droves of treasure- they stood alone atop a mountain of valuables, and across the room they could see Bombur doling out portions of stew- and Fili wondered what possibly was going through his mind.
"Do not dishonor your brother's memory," Thorin repeated, softer that time, as if afraid that another besides them might overhear. His fears weren't entirely unfounded; at that moment Kili glanced up from the corner he'd tucked himself away in, pausing with his spoon halfway to his mouth before giving a small shrug and resuming his meal. Tauriel sat a few feet beside him.
His uncle was right. Fili had momentarily forgotten about the sharp ears of Elves.
"You do not understand what it is you speak of. You are my heir, but your mother was right. You and your brother were too young to come on this quest. You know nothing of the world. The Elves have you under their control, and you have no idea. They are oath-breakers and traitors, servants of Thranduil here to steal what belongs to our people-"
"Do you even hear yourself?" challenged Fili.
A narrow but unyielding line had been drawn between them, one that had been invisible up to that point, one that Fili hadn't even been aware of nor realized he'd crossed. Never before had he spoken to his uncle so blantantly.
Yet he knew which side of it he stood on; he also knew that there was no turning back.
"Think about it," he urged, willing his uncle to see reason. "Why would the Elvenking send two Elves- unarmed, worn ragged- into Erebor when he could send an entire army? What could there possibly be to gain from this? They could be spies, yes, but if they were then it would be foolish for them to enter deep inside the mountain. If Thranduil wished to invade then we would have two easy hostages."
Thorin's eyes darkened as he saw Bofur pick up his bowl and go sit beside the dark-haired Elf, Ori not far behind, sketchbook in hand. Fili wondered if he still held his uncle's attention.
"If he is Kili," said the Dwarf king at last, "then why has he not anything to convince me of it?"
Noting the deliberate transition from referring to Kili as a he and not an it, Fili felt a good deal more optimistic. However, he chose his words carefully. "You frightened him, uncle. He came seeking help and acceptance, and you nearly choked him to death. Give him a chance, and he'll prove it."
"He is not Kili," Thorin scowled as the two Dwarves began making their way towards the others. He sounded angrier than before, but Fili thought he caught a twinge of uncertainty. He certainly covered it up well enough behind a mask of hostility though. His tone was distinctly confrontational as he asked, "And if I banish this Elf from our homeland, what will you do?"
Fili didn't break stride, even as Thorin's steps slowed.
"I told you," he said, brushing past his uncle without even a backward glance, "my place is with my brother."
And with that, he left behind a very stunned and troubled Thorin Oakenshield, ruminating over his older nephew and his attatchment to that accursed Elf.
The Elf with the eyes of Kili.
It seemed, perhaps, that Mahal was in his side after all.
By lunch Kili was certain that he'd convinced several more members of the company of his true identity, and he was all the more grateful for it. Maybe it was from absence of Thorin's watchful presence, or that they were finally beginning to recover from the shock of the previous night, but whatever the case, the interactions between him and the rest of the Company had taken a definite turn for the better. They were still hesitant around him, Kili noticed, but less guarded. Freer.
The dark-haired Elf allowed himself a small smile. If Bifur hadn't directed a comment towards him earlier that morning- the gruff, axe-wielding dwarrow voicing his own suspicion, not truly expecting Kili to understand it- and if he hadn't responded as equally fluently in Khuzdul, their native language feeling familiar and right on his lips, even if they were Elven ones, Kili supposed that they'd still be back on square one of the trust phase.
He was very happy that the Dwarven language was such a secretive one; there was no possible way an outsider could've learned it, especially an Elf.
After that, it seemed that he quickly gained acceptance from the vast majority of the Company, although they approached him with varying degrees of friendliness and trust. Even Gloin- who had scared the dark-haired Elf off earlier, sharpening his axe, gave a curt nod of approval.
While it was a definite improvement from the night before, Kili could sense the unspoken question hanging above them. It was the same question he'd been asking himself: how much had becoming an Elf changed him? While they were no longer openly hostile, Kili had a feeling he wouldn't be privy to any conversations involving personal secrets or information regarding Dwarven conflict with Elves anytime soon.
He wore the body of the enemy.
But that didn't stop some of the Dwarves. Ori was becoming comfortable around him once again- although the scribe still refused to show him what he kept scribbling down in his journal, and his brothers followed suit. Kili may not've known the brothers of Ri as well as some of the others in the Company, but they showed no outward signs of discomfort at hanging around the former Dwarf.
Maybe the axe stuck in his forehead interfered with his judgment as well, but after their brief confrontation earlier, Bifur seemed to trust him as well, even agreeing to show the two Elves the basic layout of Erebor.
"We're almost there. Only a few more passageways to go until we reach Prince Frerin's old room, if my memory serves me correctly." said Bofur, translating for Tauriel as his exclusively Khuzdul-speaking brother guided them through the halls. Of course, the toymaker added his own comments in as well. "Although it's been more than a few years," he admitted cheerfully, "so we may be wandering around for a while. But there's no shame in that, right lad?"
"No," said Kili, managing to find his voice. "This place is amazing. Just like it is in Uncle's stories just… bigger. More real. It's incredible."
Indeed, the dark-haired Elf found Erebor far more bearable during the daytime, away from the vast throne room and Thorin, the glittering piles of gold. Madness. That's what Bofur had called it. His uncle had fallen prey to madness, the dragon sickness consuming his mind. It was the only thing that would've driven Thorin to attack him, both the toymaker and Fili assured him, though Kili wasn't so sure. Was it?
Pleased with Kili's reaction, Bofur grinned. "Aye, at this rate you might be able to see most of Erebor within a few days time." He turned to Tauriel, still grinning. "And I do believe that you're the first Elf to get your own private tour of these halls. What do you think of that, lass?"
Tauriel returned his smile graciously. "I am honored, Master Dwarf."
The four of them walked through the hall in an easy, companionable fashion. He'd originally planned on spending the morning with Fili, but after seeing his brother approach Thorin he'd hastily headed off the other way, deciding that he wanted no part in that. The last thing he wanted was a repeat of the previous evening.
Coward, part of him chastized. He's your uncle, you shouldn't be afraid of him! But then Kili remembered stong hands wrapping around his throat, and his fears felt well-founded. You only have three days to convince him of who you are, and you're wasting them!
His dark thoughts were interrupted when Tauriel suddenly came to a stop.
"This is an Elvish blade." The warmth in her tone had faded somewhat, to be replaced by an uncertain, almost hostile tone. Kili felt his stomach to a nervous flip-flop. Tauriel and Bofur couldn't fight. As small as it was, he was enjoying the temporary peace between their races, even if it was only between two Dwarves, an Elf, and a Dwelf.
Tauriel bent down, picking up the sheathed blade that lay almost haphazardly across the floor in the doorway of one of the doorways on the side of the hall, dusting off the sheath. "Anga," she read, translating the name inscribed in Elvish runes. "Iron."
Kili snorted, somewhat breaking the tension. "That's not very creative. That's like calling your pony steed or naming a dog puppy."
"There wasn't always war between the Dwarves and Elves." Bofur pushed the door open a little further, stepping inside. The hinges groaned in protest, and as the door opened, the smell of must and something that Kili could only descibe as old swept out. He wrinkled his nose, stepping gingerly inside. Everything seemed to be covered in a fine layer of dust.
"There was once a time where the two races were allies, though that hasn't been for hundreds of years." Bofur brushed the dust coating off an old shield, Elvish runes inscribed on it as well. "Though who knows how long it has been since this room was used."
Tauriel seemed to relax, placing Anga inside a box of swords that sat adjacent to the door. The sword must've originally been knocked out of there in the first place. "However, not everything Elvish under the mountain is here because my people wanted it to be. Some of it was given unwillingly as tribute." Unease crept into her voice. "The Elvenking will stop at nothing to regain the white gems of starlight."
"That may be," replied Bofur stiffly, and Kili quickly looked away.
There had been a time- and it hadn't been that long ago- that he would've fough viciously for the riches of Erebor, but now… he wasn't so sure. He saw the light of hunger and desire in the eyes of his kin as they surveyed the wealth around them and while he didn't ever want to be as bad as Thorin, he almost envied them for it.
He was of Durin's Folk- fine craftsmanship and an appreciation of fine stones ran in his blood- but when he walked past the mountains of gold or examined a crystal in the palm of his hand, he felt nothing. Certainly a sense of awe and admiration at its beauty, but nothing deeper. No desire to hold it close, to keep it for himself. At first he worried that such a thing was an Elf trait- greed was a desire less accociated with the Elves, so maybe he was changed- but it didn't seem that all Elves were immune.
The king of Mirkwood didn't seem to be, after all. Kili found it oddly reassuring. Maybe I never really cared that much in the first place, he reflected. However, his eyes brightened as he caught sight of something he did desire.
Bows and arrows.
Several of them were lined up against the back wall, all of decidedly Elvish make. He ran a practiced hand across their limbs admiringly. His old bow no longer fit him- in fact, it looked more like a child's first bow rather than a dangerous weapon in contrast to his new form, and as loathe as he was to part with it, he definitely needed a new one.
He also had to admit that he was a little excited; he'd asked for a new bow before leaving Ered Luin, but had been unable to get one. Any extra money was being saved to buy provisions for their quest.
Picking out the most Dwarven looking of the bows- a sturdy recurve bow, crafted from a dark painted wood, but still painstakingly Elvish with its elegant curves and design, Kili picked it up and flexed its limb, pleased to find that it was still strong and supple. It needed to be restrung, but that wouldn't be too much of a problem. He knew where the extra string was kept.
Relaxing his hold, he gestured eagerly for Tauriel to come over. "Didn't you say your King broke your old bow? Come over here and we can get you a new one. These old bows are in great condition!"
Tauriel came beside him, eyes running over the collection as well.
"Will your king allow me to take one?" She asked, clearly doubtful.
Kili shrugged, busy counting how many arrows he had in his quiver. Ten. Not bad, but he would definitely need to find more. "I don't know, but I have a claim to a thirteenth of Erebor's treasure. I'll claim it as part of my share." Before Tauriel could protest, he added, "Think of it as a gift, from me to you."
Gifts were part of a traditional Dwarven courtship,and the acceptance of such a gift meant that the dwarrowdam in question had accepted its giver as a suitor. The dark-haired Elf could feel the color rising to his cheeks; even if they weren't truly courting,and Tauriel didn't understand the significance of such a gift, his mind lingered on it. Yes, a new bow would make an excellent first courtship gift.
Not that that's what it was, of course. Kili cleared his throat, forcing down a small smile.
"You're welcome." He replied in all seriousness. "Your bow's larger than mine, but it's not the size of the bow but the size of the arrow that matters, if you know what I mean." The innuendo would've worked better had he still been a Dwarf, but he was determined to use it anyway. Payback for the quip about nothing in his trousers at Mirkwood.
"I have no idea what you mean by that," Tauriel said with with a straight face, the picture of innocence. "Could you explain it to me?"
Kili felt his face burn even further, and she flashed him a small grin. The elleth knew he wasn't going to try and explain that to her! She knew perfectly well what he was talking about-
Wait. Was she flirting with him?
His mood once again brightened considerably.
With the exception of Bofur, any other poor Dwarf probably would've been traumatized by their exchange.
Tauriel picked up a pale longbow, but instead of keeping it for herself like Kili had expected, she handed it to him, taking the recurve bow out of his hands. "Here. This one's better."
But it's too Elven! Kili wanted to protest, handling the weapon unhappily. Knowing that such a comment, wouldn't go over well with Tauriel, he kept it to himself. "I don't want this one," he said instead. "The other is more like my old bow, I'll be able to use it better."
"As a Dwarf, perhaps," said Tauriel, "a recurve bow is smaller sized, fitting as much strength as possible into its frame. It works for a Dwarf or a rider on horseback. Elves are tall, and we fight on foot." Kili flinched slightly at being included in that we. "A longbow has more power and a longer range, you should use it."
Kili sighed, accepting the weapon as Tauriel picked one similar.
They then continued to explore the room, Kili drifting towards the center of the room when suddenly, a glint of gold caught his eye. Curious, the former Dwarf made his way over to it. Encrusted in dust, it stood taller than him, rectangular and narrow. He brought his hand up and rubbed it, stepping back as the dust fell away.
It was a mirror.
And in the mirror he saw himself.
Kili froze upon seeing his altered reflection for the first time. A startled Elf gazed back at him, foreign yet familiar at the same time. Pointed ears stuck out from behind dark, unruly hair, but worst of all was the face. Smooth, flawless skin. No beard. Mahal, why did Elves have to look so feminine?
Mortified, he remembered his accidental flirtation with that male Elf at Rivendell. Dwarf girls were manlier than Elf men.
A hand wrapped around his arm, drawing him away from the terrible reflection. Bofur's hand. "Come away from it, lad." The toymaker advised, correctly reading Kili's staggered expression. "Don't look."
Numbly, Kili obeyed, and they left the Elven room behind.
Chapter 8: Of Bitter and Sweet
Is that really what I look like? Kili plucked another arrow from his quiver and drew back his bow. What everyone sees when they look at me?
He steadied himself, placing the foot opposite from his dominant hand forward and adjusting his grip near the end of the arrow, long and still foreign-feeling fingers holding it in place. It was in moments like this he most keenly felt the differences his new body provided.
They- he and Tauriel- were back outside the mountain, breaking in the new bows. The side of the mountain was a treacherous terrain; reluctant to stray far from Erebor, the two Elves decided to make do with the uneven ground around them, and Kil's boots scrabbled for purchase on the dry, barren ground. He hastily- far too hastily- released his arrow, swearing softly under his breath in Khuzdul as it missed his target, a rather scrawny rowan tree that seemed to stand an impossibly far distance away.
Or, it should've seemed an impossibly far distance away. He could see every twist and knot in the tree's gnarled branches. Mahal, he possessed the eyesight every mortal archer dreamed about.
Was it a blessing or a curse?
The glowy-light thing in his chest leaped to life again, flickering with concern. Kili grimaced, lowering his bow to rub at his collarbone. Stupid Light of the Eldar. He didn't need it reminding him that he was no longer a Dwarf. He already had everything else to help him out with that one.
Unbidden, the sight of himself in the mirror floated to the front of his mind.
He caught Tauriel looking at him, worry written clear across her features, and dropped his hand.
"It's nothing," he said.
"I didn't ask if it was nothing," replied Tauriel, lowering her own bow. They hadn't been practicing for very long, but even in that short amount of time, she'd already struck the tree more than a couple of times. He had yet to hit it once. She tilted her head slightly to the side, calculating. "I didn't even ask if it was something. What's troubling you?"
"It's stupid, really." He was one of Durin's Folk. They weren't supposed to show weakness. They weren't supposed to despair. They especially weren't supposed to turn into Elves.
His breath caught in his throat.
"How about you?" he asked instead.
It was wrong, everything was wrong. Every problem seemed to revolve around him. When facing the spiders in Mirkwood, Tauriel had been the one to save him. When he clambered out of the barrel to open the gate, she had came to his rescue once again. Then, as he lay dying, poison in his blood, who had saved his life?
And now she was exiled from the only home she'd ever known, saddled with him, a useless Dwelf who couldn't even go to sleep without help. She'd risked so much, and he wasn't even sure if what they had was love. Did she feel the same way he did?
"I'm doing well enough, I suppose." She looked thoughtful, honest but surprised to be asked such a question, moistening her lips with her tongue before continuing. Kili didn't care if what he felt was wrong or not; he wanted to kiss those lips. She gazed off into the direction of Mirkwood. "I miss the forest, but I couldn't stay. My people, we look out for our own and for our realm, but care not for what surrounds it. This fight is our fight, just as much as it is for Men and Dwarves."
"But we've won back the mountain," Kili argued. "The hardest part is over, Smaug is dead. My uncle will find the Arkenstone and unite the Dwarf clans, and those of us that are scatted will return to the mountain. If Azog returns-"
"The pale Orc whose army invaded Mirkwood. He's been chasing us since before we reached the borders of Rivendell. He's obsessed.They even chased us up trees once! Luckily Gandalf was there and we all threw flaming pinecones at him! Not Gandalf of couse, but the pale Orc. I even managed to hit his warg."
"A powerful Orc army has been chasing you for months, and you all survived?"
Kili huffed. "No need so sound surprised about it. We do an excellent job of looking out for ourselves."
"Except when you need to be saved from the spiders," replied Tauriel.
And everything else, it seems. A bitter part of himself added. Did she harbor any true feelings towards him? Vaguely, Kili remembered mumbling something about starlight and another world while feverish at Bard's. It felt like a punch in his stomach. He'd written it off as part of a fevered dream, but he'd assumed the same thing about Tauriel at first. And she'd been real.
Mahal. Had he actually said all that?
But even worse… Tauriel had said nothing back. Nothing. Not even a tender murmur.
He knew it had been unconventional- a Dwarf and an Elf? Impossible!- but he'd hoped. Even with his uncle and his hatred of Elves, even with his mortal life and her immortal one, he'd desperately hoped. He that if it wasn't for his bloodline, he'd hardly been considered a catch.
What dwarrow couldn't grow a proper beard?
As far as Elves went… Well, Kili wasn't so sure. What did an Elf consider attractive? He'd seen himself in a mirror, yes, but he couldn't make much of it. All he knew was that he probably would've been deemed by his Dwarf self as "pretty" enough to flirt with, and that wasn't remotely reassuring. But what did Tauriel think?
Mahal, was it possible for one's unattractiveness to transcend a racial transformation?
"Tauriel?" asked Kili.
Chills raced down Tauriel's spine. Ai Valar, she loved it when he said her name. How could a single voice, three mere syllables, contain so much? She locked eyes with the uncertain dark-haired Elf beside her. "Yes, Kili?"
The question that came was not the one she expected.
"Am I… AmIattractiveforanElf?" The words came out in a wild, hurried jumble. She blinked in surprise.
"Are you what?"
She watched as Kili took another breath, stumbling over his words. He ducked his head nervously, staring at his feet for a moment before darting his gaze back to her. "Am I attractive for an Elf?" Every word was clearly and carefully articulated.
He sounded like he was about to die from embarassment.
"Yes," she said, finding that it was no lie. "I think you are."
Kili looked uncertain at that, and Tauriel was unsure of where his hesitancy originated from. Did he not believe her, or was it because Dwarven standards of beauty were so different from Elven ones that he found it difficult to accept? Whatever the case, he looked choked, gripping his bow so forcefully his knuckles turned white.
She hesitated. He had gone through so much already, more than any one being should have to endure, especially not one as young and bright as Kili.
But he was adapting to his life far better than she'd hoped. Everyday he looked stronger, more like himself again. She was no longer worried that he would fade from grief, even though she knew he struggled with his new existence. He still wasn't fully alright, deep down inside.
But he will be, thought Tauriel, because that's the kind of person he is.
If there was anything she knew about Kili, it was that nothing could keep him down for long.
Gently, she reached out one hand and ran it alongside his jawline. It was different than she'd expected; strong and sleek instead of covered in stubble and rough against her hand like she'd used to imagine it.
"But I found you handsome before," she said.
Kili's eyes lit up, and her heart sped up, pounding out a frantic rhythm in her chest. What was it- disbelief, joy? She wasn't sure. They were close, too close. Wonderfully, terribly, amazingly close. This was the first time she'd initiated the contact between them, and it felt right. Even as the back of her mind screamed you don't know what you're doing, this is happening too quickly-
But she didn't draw away. Not this time. Instead, she leaned in even closer to him.
And then she saw him.
Not as simply as an Elf, or a former Dwarf, or even as the nephew of Thorin Oakenshield. No, she saw him as Kili, spirited and reckless Kili, the one who showed her that there was life and love outside of Mirkwood, whose eyes blazed with insecurity.
She vowed to make that insecurity disappear.
"…Tauriel?" he said.
"Kili," she said, and pressed her lips against his.
was kissing him.
Tauriel was kissing him. Kili stiffened in disbelief, the feeling of her lips soft and inviting against his own. Perhaps the Morgul poison was still in his veins and in reality he still lay unconcious atop Bard's table in Laketown, because this was all too bizarre to be real. It was a chaste kiss, quick and gentle, but it left him reeling.
She loved him back.
And then it was he who was kissing her.
Kili flung his bow aside, drawing her into his embrace. Tauriel let out a sharp gasp of surprise as his mouth passionately met hers. He hesitated for a moment, relaxing once again as the Sylvan elleth dropped her own bow. He felt her reach back, twining her hands in his hair.
The former Dwarf cupped the sides of her face with both hands, running a deft finger along the side her left ear. A shudder ran through her body, and Kili wanted to smirk. He was just beginning to understand how sensitive an Elf's ear truly was.
Their kiss began to grow more heated and they were just about to break away for air when suddenly, Kili heard the snap of a twig and the sharp hiss of a surprised breath drawn in behind them.
"Ahem," a very stern voice said, wavering on losing composure. "And what are you doing?"
Uncle Thorin! The youngest Durin felt his stomach drop. Hastily, he untangled himself from Tauriel. His uncle stood with his arms crossed across his chest, storm clouds gathering in his eyes as a scowl settled on the lower half of his face. Although he towered over his uncle, Kili once again felt very small. A dwarfling caught raiding the cookie jar.
But this time, the situation was so much worse.
"We were, erm…. Practicing archery?"
It came out more like a question than an actual answer.
"Were you now?" said Thorin, scathing. Kili cringed, knowing that his uncle's tone was more of a challenge than an open-ended question.
"We were," said Tauriel, raising her chin defensively, "We were practicing on that rowan tree over there." She gestured in the direction they'd been shooting, though Kili doubted he could see their target as clearly.
"Tauriel," Kili breathed softly, quietly enough that only their sharp ears would hear. "He's my uncle, I need to be able to talk to him eventually. Stand down."
"I will not stand down." She bristled, whirling to face him. "He has no right to speak to you that way-"
"I have every right," said Thorin, though to Kili he sounded slightly regretful, less harsh. "You are the one who has no right to speak to me, or my kin. I wish to speak to my nephew alone."
He called me nephew. A fierce joy rekindled in his heart, and he nodded his head, not trusting himself to speak. Does he believe me now?
He called me nephew.
"Very well," said Tauriel. She stole one last look at Kili and, upon seeing the acceptance in his eyes, strode away.
They waited until even the bright flame of Tauriel's hair disappeared from sight, the former Dwarf uneasy and nervous as his uncle stood beside him, as firm and unyeilding as the very walls of the mountain. It was difficult to read the expression on Thorin's face, and Kili considered being the one to break the uncomfortable silence.
But it was Thorin who spoke first. "I want honesty, Elf." he said, the demand lacking any of its previous venom. It was haggard, weary. The fight was drained from it, it only waited on and trusted the reply that came next. "Are you Kili? Are you really my nephew?"
"Yes, Uncle." he said, lapsing into Khuzdul. It worked with the Company, so he ferverently prayed it would work with his uncle. He stared fixedly at the ground, struggling to keep his breathing steady. Maybe if he stared at it long enough, the earth would rise up and swallow him. "It really is me… Kili."
Tentatively, he looked up to see Thorin's response, only to wish that he hadn't.
Something in his uncle's eyes had shattered.
"Uncle?" Kili's mouth went dry, heart hammering in his chest. "A-are you alright?"
"Kili," murmered Thorin, voice scarcely above a whisper. He looked up at his nephew, stricken, and the raw emotion in his eyes was enough to take Kili's breath away. Grief. Uncertainty. Loss. They were all emotions the dark-haired Elf had percieved before, but never to such an extent. And never from his uncle, whom Kili knew had suffered much, but masked his feelings behind the Durin strength he tended to wear as naturally as a coat of armor.
"I could have killed you, and I was going to banish you from our lands." His voice, though soft, was rough and made Kili's heart twist in pain. Too well he remembered Thorin's hands around his throat, his head connecting with the stone floor; it was the first time his uncle had ever struck him.
Thorin seemed to realize this as well, and he bowed his head. "Gajut men," he said. Forgive me. "I have failed you."
"No, you haven't!" Kili protested, ferverently shaking his head. "You are the best uncle Fili and I could ask for. You haven't failed anyone." He blinked back the tears threatening to spill from his eyes, the fear of his uncle's wrath evaporating like dew.
"Menu gajatu," he told Thorin. You are forgiven. But it didn't look like Thorin believed him, so he repeated it again, more firmly this time. "Menu gajatu!"
A bit of resolve made its way back into the Dwarf king's eyes- eyes that glistened almost as much as Kili's own, and he straightened. "I don't know if I can forgive myself," he said, "but I hardly expected to find my sister-son under a curse." Kili winced, and Thorin's countenance softened. "I didn't mean it like that, but you're cursed. It's the doing of that Elf-witch."
Kili didn't like Thorin's tone when he spoke of Tauriel.
"She saved my life-" He began, but Thorin cut him off.
"We will find a cure." His uncle had begun pacing, continuing as if he hadn't heard his nephew's protest. "No matter what it takes, even if it means scouring the darkest pits of Mordor. We will have you back to normal. You are not an Elf, so I do not want you consorting with Thranduil's she-elf anymore. You are a son of Durin, you must fight it-"
"I love Tauriel. I loved her before all of- all of this!" The former Dward's voice broke, and he gestured to himself. "I had feelings for her the moment she saved me from the spiders."
Thorin turned and stopped. "Don't be ridiculous, Kili, she's an Elf-"
"And so am I! Do you think of me any less for it? Do you see me as a faithless woodland sprite? I saw myself in a mirror, Uncle." He may call himself a Dwelf, but others looked at him and saw only an Elf. It was a terrible, uncomfortable revelation. Kili suppressed a shudder, and held his chin high. "I know what I am. Is that all I am to you?"
Thorin shook his head. "This is not permanent. We will wait for Gandalf. The wizard will know what to do; he'll reverse it."
This conversation is feeling very one-sided, Kili thought bitterly. Why couldn't his uncle understand? Anger loosened his tongue and made him reckless, and he voiced the thought that even he feared to consider.
"But what if it can't be reversed?" It was frightening that a small part of him began to accept the idea as a fact, and his throat tightened.
"You are not courting an Elf, and that's final. If you wish to marry, you will wait until you're older, choose a dwarrowdam from a respectable family-"
"And what dwarrowdam would want me like this?"
Kili was being difficult, and he knew it. Thorin looked downright murderous.
"You'd be willing to shame your bloodline by lying with one of them? Your children would be Elves!" Thorin said Elves the way most people would say Orcs. "Treasonous woodland sprites, like their mother! They wouldn't even be half-Dwarf. We have enough enemies already without you wanting to spawn more. Our ancesters must be rolling in their graves!"
The thought of siring an Elfling left him with mixed emotions, both shame and pride warring in his heart. Becoming a father, especially to a little Elf, hadn't really crossed his mind.
But what else would the child be?
The question seemed painstakingly obivious as soon as it occurred to Kili. He didn't feel ready for fatherhood- and doubted that he would anytime soon- but the more he thought about it, the less bad it seemed. If- sometime far in the future- the day came, he would treasure his child, no matter its race. An Elfling wouldn't be so terrible; especially if its mother was Tauriel. Kili's hands curled into fists.
"Don't insult Tauriel or I like that ever again!" he snarled, explosive. "She saved me, while you left me behind to die in Laketown!"
"Durin's axe, Kili!" Frustration cast dark shadows under Thorin's eyes, giving them an almost haunted, sunken apprearance. "Do you want to be an Elf?!"
Silence. All Kili could hear was the sound of his own breaths, ragged and angry, while his heart pounded furiously in his chest. The light within his chest flickered as well, as if it sensed his anger and sought to soothe him. But Kili wouldn't be soothed. He was angry, and finally realized why. It wasn't at himself for being careless or Tauriel transforming him like he'd previously thought, but at his uncle for abandoning him.
"You left me, uncle, standing on the dock. Why?" Kili demanded, hating how hurt he sounded. He was trying to be angry, fierce. Not despondent.
"I did what I had to do. You were too weak to fight a dragon. Oin, Bofur, and your brother stayed behind to help you."
"Bofur had too much wine the night before, he didn't mean to get left behind." The dark-haired Elf deflated. His initial burst of anger had passed, taking all of its wild energy with it. Now he only felt weary, drained. Resentful. "Oin volunteered. When Fili climbed out of the boat, you tried to stop him. I was going to be alone."
"I didn't realize the poison from that arrow was so strong it would kill you." Thorin's eyes flashed in reply, his countenance challenging. "If you hadn't insisted you were fine and kept on lying to the rest of the Company, I would've insisted you see a healer!"
"But you still would've gone to Erebor without me."
"Aye." There was reluctance in his uncle's voice. "I would have. We had come too far and travelled too long to give up. I would've left behind any member of the Company had they been in your position because the good of the many outweighs the good of one. Even you, my sister-son. If you hadn't been so stubborn-"
"Stubborn?" Kili spat. "I wonder where I got that trait from."
He closed his eyes, sinking to his knees. A particularly sharp pebble stuck into his kneecap, but he didn't care. Thorin's shouting made his mind ring. His sensitive Elf ears weren't quite yet adjusted to the noise. Perhaps they never would be.
"I don't want to be an Elf," he admitted quietly. "I never wanted this. It was an accident, Tauriel meant only to heal me, but she ended up channeling her life force into mine and I transformed. Do you know what that's like? Having something creep inside you, crushing you and making you into something you're not?"
A tear rolled down his cheek and this time, Kili did nothing to stop it.
"It hurts. It hurts so bad, and there's nothing you can do to change it. I should be dead, but Tauriel saved my life. She put the Light of the Eldar inside of me, it's the only reason I'm still alive." He opened his eyes, blinking through a haze of tears, and took Thorin's hand, pressing it to his collarbone. He felt his uncle's fingers curve against the warmth, his face slack with surprise.
"It's… like a hearth," the king said hesitantly, unsure of how to complement this strange feature of Elven anatomy. Thorin was unsure of how to complement Elves in general, Kili reflected. His expression was guarded. "What is it?"
"A life force. It makes me immortal." I will not cry, I will not cry- He took a deep, shuddering breath instead, trying to stop his face from scrunching up. He closed his eyes again. Some things were easier to bear in the dark. "I'm going to outlive Fee… Everyone I know will be gone, and I'll still be... here."
A racking sob shook his body, but no sooner than it had, strong arms enveloped him. A beard tickled the bare skin of his neck and gentle fingers rubbed in comforting circles on his back.
Kili could take it no more. He buried his head into the broad shoulder, the pain, confusion, and fear of the past several days washing over him. He wept as Thorin held him close, letting out all the tears he'd held back, and it wasn't until he felt something warm and wet slide past his ear that he realized his uncle was crying as well.
"You are brave, my sister-son," Thorin murmured, his breath hot and thick against Kili's skin. "I'm so proud of you."
"I don't feel very brave," Kili mumbled in reply. "I feel scared, mostly. Where will I go if I'm not welcome at Erebor?"
"You will always be welcome at Erebor, any Dwarf who says otherwise will have to challenge me. But I refuse to accept this as permanent." The comforting hands left his back and the two released their embrace. A wild, defiant light had entered Thorin's eyes and he leaned forward, pressing his forehead against Kili's own. "And I refuse lose you to the Elves."
"You'll never lose me," Kili promised as he soaked in the Dwarf king's words, which were as soothing as any healing balm. Despite their previous confrontation, he felt good again. Whole. Peaceful.
Kili collected his bow, and then the Dwarf and the Elf walked side by side back into Erebor, their bond repaired in the end by neither what was left said or unsaid, but the actions that spoke for them. Never in all his years did Thorin imagine that he'd willingly hug an Elf, but what else was there to do?
For a fleeting moment, his mind was free.
There was no quest, no thirst for glory. There was only his Company and his sister-sons, and their new place at Erebor. The Arkenstone be damned; it held no power over him. But as they headed back inside, away from the fresh, clean air and back to the droves of gold and the half-lit hallways were the dragon sickness spawned, it crept back into his mind, as creeping as a shadow.
And Thorin Oakenshield was about to learn for the second time that he'd never been so wrong in all his life.
Sorry this is just an author's note, but I've got some important things to discuss with you guys. It's been three years since I've last written for this story! That just blows my mind, and first of all I want to start by thanking all you guys who've waited so patiently for an update. Second of all, I want to let you know that Blessings and Curses will be updated again in May. For real. I know I said I'd update again back in 2017 and gave a lot of you false hope, but I mean it. I've been editing and re-posting my old material back on fanfiction.net and have even started working on a new chapter! However, that brings me back to part of what caused me to stop writing this story in the first place- the post-BOTFA timeline. I reviewed my storyline a few nights ago but am still having trouble deciding which of the two possible directions this story should take. Both are completely different timelines. Since I cannot decide and I don't want to deal with the writer's block any longer, I'm opening the floor to you guys (my lovely, dedicated readers!) to see which you'd prefer.
Scenario #1: Thorin dies and Kili is forced to go to Mirkwood, where he must live life as a Mirkwood Elf.
Scenario #2: Thorin lives and Kili gets to stay in Erebor. He and Tauriel go to Rivendell to see if the soul magic can be reversed.
If you want to help a writer out, please leave a comment saying which (or which combination of) the above choices you would like to see or vote on my anonymous fanfiction poll. Either way, I'm ready to get writing, I just need to choose a direction for this story to go. My first impulse was to send Kili to Mirkwood, to deliberately invert the common theme of Tauriel joining Kili and the Dwarves in their home at Erebor, but never the other way around. This plotline would probably focus on the growing darkness in the forest, and an uneasy relationship between Mirkwood and Erebor. The second would be a lighter, happier arc, where everyone survives and Kili and Tauriel are free to traipse across Middle Earth, encountering all sorts of people.
In the meantime, stay tuned! The next update should be in mid-May when I get out of school. I have plans to write a lot over the summer, when everything is hopefully less crazy.
See you guys then!
Thanks for helping out,
PS: I will be going back through later to edit these existing chapters with spellcheck! XD