Kili worries that Thorin won't permit him to join the Quest, so he hatches a daring plan. Fili doesn't approve, and makes his displeasure known in a way his little brother never anticipated.
For all my awesome readers. I love you guys. And special nods to those who asked for this story.
Thanks to Kat, my ever-loyal cheerleader and amazing beta. She makes me look good
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement is intended. This story is not meant to violate the rights held by New Line, Tolkien Enterprises, nor any other licensee, nor is any disrespect intended. I don’t own Tolkien’s original characters, however, my OC’s, Gwinthorian, Garrick, Devon and several other Rangers are exclusively my own.
An Immediate Response (1/2)
"You're not serious."
"'Course I'm serious."
"I said no, Kili."
"I heard you, but--"
"No. Right. I understand, Fili. I do. But--"
"I mean it, little brother. No."
"I know you mean it, but if you'd just listen--"
"I listened. You want to go after the black stag that's rumored to live in the Forbidden Valley."
"No one knows that for certain."
"If I were to slay the black stag and bring him back--"
"No. Absolutely not."
"Look, Uncle said I couldn't go on this Quest, so--"
"That isn't - he said he was thinking about it. He hasn't made a decision yet."
"I won't stay behind, Fili. I won't!"
"And what did I tell you about that?"
"You said you wouldn't go without me."
"I mean that, little brother. If you don't go, I don't go."
"But that's not your decision to make. Uncle won't let you stay behind. If needs be he'll order you to go."
"And you'll have to go. You're the heir. And orders are orders."
"Listen to me--"
"So I want to slay the black stag and bring it home--"
"To prove yourself worthy. Then uncle will permit you to join the Quest."
"No. He won't. He'll see you as impulsive and dangerous and a threat to his mission."
"A -A threat?!"
"Then he'll heat up your backside until you can't sit and send you home."
"No, he won't! If I could but show him what I can do--"
"He knows what you can do, Kili. He's impressed by what you can do."
"Not impressed enough to include me in the Company. But if I brought home that black stag--"
"Out of the question."
"Fili, please, listen--"
"I won't allow it. And we're done talking about this. Put it out of your mind. I said no and there's an end to it."
Kili's forbearance collapsed. His face flooded with color. "YOU won't allow it?"
"You heard me," I said. "I will not permit it. I'll stop you."
"And how do you plan to stop--" He gave me a look of horrified realization. "You wouldn't."
I raised a brow at him and took another swig of ale.
"You wouldn't . . . you wouldn't tell Uncle."
Actually, I hadn't been considering that, but . . .. "I shall do whatever I must to keep you from charging off on some suicide mission to prove yourself worthy."
Kili shot to his feet. "You would do that? You'd tell? You would actually tell?"
I glanced around. We were off in a corner of the dimly lit, busy tavern. The other patrons were busy drinking and being loud and they weren't giving us the slightest notice. Private conversations took place at tables throughout the room. But if Kili's temper exploded . . . .
"Sit down," I told him, much good it did me.
"We've never told on each other. Never. I just . . . I cannot believe you'd do something that . . . disloyal."
I cringed inside, but said, "Think what you will of me, little brother. At least you'll be alive to think it. Alive and mighty sore-bottomed after Thorin finishes with you."
Kili continued to stand, fists clenched at his sides, glaring down at me. I glanced around. A few dwarfs were now looking our way. The two princes having a dispute? In public? Yes, we were beginning to turn heads. I pushed Kili's ale towards him, saying, "Kili. Sit down at once. If Thorin catches wind of this we'll find ourselves facing another lecture about princely decorum."
Kili didn't sit. He fumed. Then he grabbed his cloak and stormed out of the tavern. Hmm. Leaving behind nearly a full pint of ale . . . well, that was a first. I jumped up, cloak in fist, and followed my hot-headed brother out into the night. I didn't see him right away. My eyes were used to the tavern and the darkness outside was dense. Not so much as a sliver of moon lit up the muddy street. But then I caught sight of Kili, ready to round a corner. He must have been pelting along at a dead run to be that far down the lane.
I took off after him. "Kili! Stop!" I yelled, which only made him up his speed and fly around the corner. I chased him. He was fast, but I was just as fast. Still, by the time I rounded the corner Kili had vanished into the night. I stood there, knowing that it was useless to try finding him. I knew all his regular hideaways. They were mine as well. I thought about trying to track him down. But Kili was angry and he didn't think when he was angry. If he didn't want to be found I wouldn't be able to find him. I could chase about all night, check each of his hiding places and still come up empty. I stood in the dark and sighed, muttering, "Kili." Then I tossed on my cloak and spent several hours doing exactly what I knew wasn't going to help much. I checked every hiding place. No Kili. Finally I headed home. My brother's stomach would lead him home eventually. He hadn't eaten much today after we heard what Uncle had to say about the two of us joining the Company.
"Fili, you are with me. Kili . . ." Thorin hesitated, studying my brother with a judicious air and a grim expression.
His eyes growing wide, Kili had stared at Thorin. "Uncle?" he breathed. It was all he could manage.
"I shall let you know what I decide," Thorin said and he turned, striding off.
I gave Kili a 'let it be' look, but he was having none of that. He raced after Thorin and grabbed his upper arm. Thorin spun on him, looking startled and unamused.
"Uncle, please!" Kili exclaimed. "You must take me with you!"
I closed my eyes, inwardly groaning, then slowly opened them. Uncle had fixed my brother with a dark glare and Kili now released Thorin's arm.
"'M sorry," he muttered. "But, please, Uncle. Please. Do not leave me behind."
I wandered closer and stood next to Kili. Thorin glanced at me, and I gave a small nod and grabbed my little brother's hand. "Come," I said to him
His anguished gaze still locked on our uncle, Kili tried to shake me off, but I held on, squeezing his hand hard as I used to do when we were younger and I was trying to get his attention enough to pull him away from whatever he'd gotten himself into. But Kili was so intent on Thorin he didn't even notice.
"Uncle please, you cannot--"
"I shall think on't." It was Thorin's 'that's enough' growl. Kili and I had learned long ago that we didn't question that growl. "Go with your brother," Thorin then said, and he turned and stalked off, leaving me with a dazed and defeated Kili.
He was pliable then, so I'd pulled him along, growling myself. "You know better than to tell Thorin he cannot do something. Makes him dig in his heels even more." I wasn't sure Kili was even hearing me. He looked too panicked and distracted, but he followed me docilely enough.
Twenty-four hours later Kili had cooked up what had to be his most absurd and dangerous-sounding scheme to date and that was saying something. Black stag indeed. Proof of my little brother's desperation. He was thinking of hunting a mythical creature in a valley known to be so afoul with dark things that it had been forbidden to any dwarf. Then he planned to somehow slay the animal and haul it home. All to prove his worthiness to our uncle, who had not yet made up his mind about anything. It was madness. 'Kili madness,' a state unique to my daring brother who had ever sought to challenge himself in the most perilous of ways. And now he was lost in the night. I thought of him out there, alone, angry, feeling betrayed by his big brother, feeling afraid that he was going to be left out of the Quest we had dreamed of all our lives. My heart hurt for him.
But there was nothing more I could do, so I went home and sat up by the fire puffing my pipe and waiting for my little brother. For hours. I'd started out somewhat angry, mostly because of the reception my mother gave me when I returned without him.
"What do you mean he needed some time alone?" she'd demanded.
"Just that, ma'am," I'd replied, trying to sound casual. "He saw some friends in the tavern, and I didn't feel like staying, and he said he'd be along directly. I'm sure he will be."
She looked skeptical. "If he isn't --"
"I shall go haul him out of the tavern and bring him home," I assured her.
"Very well," she said, satisfied.
The only thing that made me feel worse than lying to my mother was the fact that she'd gone to bed trusting my words. I felt awful about that. But I knew she'd only worry if I told her the truth and I didn't want her staying up to fret. And if she knew what had set Kili off then the day after tomorrow when Thorin returned from the trade conference she'd likely light into him for causing her youngest's upset. When it came to Kili and me Mother wasn't affected by Thorin's roars. Then Thorin would glare at us for getting him into trouble with his younger sister. All things considered, a small falsehood seemed the best course of action at the moment, but I still felt bad about it and angry at Kili for putting me in this position and causing my discomfort.
So I sat, and I waited, vacillating between feeling vexed with my brother and sympathizing with him. I could only imagine how frightened he must feel. All our lives we'd dreamed of this Quest, trained for it, knowing that someday, someday it would come about. We were ready. We were eager. And I was baffled by Thorin's hesitation regarding Kili. There was no question in my mind that he knew exactly how worthy my brother was. He'd watched us train, sparred with us himself and been like a father to us. We grew up proud to be his nephews. We were of the noble House of Durin. Of course all three of us would undertake this Quest together. Little wonder Kili was distressed, although he was assuming the worst too soon. Thorin would likely relent and allow Kili to join us.
The hours stretched on. I thought about going back out to search again, even if it took all night. Maybe Kili had doubled back and was now settled in one of our hidey holes. I hoped he was sleeping somewhere warm. I considered pounding on the doors of every acquaintance we knew and asking if my little brother was there, despite the possible talk it would generate. I imagined what I'd say to Kili when he finally came in. He might be drunk, in which case I'd dump him in bed and let him take his chances with our mother in the morning.
I smoked some more, drank some ale, went back and forth between anger and worry and tried to avoid thinking about how hurt Kili had looked in the tavern when I hinted that I'd tell about his foolhardy plan. Of course I wouldn't do such a thing. Maybe I wouldn't. If I couldn't talk Kili down from his plan I'd be faced with a difficult choice. I'd either have to betray my brother's trust and tell Thorin, who would most definitely deter Kili in the exact over-the-knee manner I'd predicted, or I'd have to go with him on his absurd black stag hunt and try to keep him alive. And that was no solution. We'd both end up either dead or very sore-bottomed, and the ramifications of our actions could be long-reaching. I doubted Thorin would leave me behind as well, but if we pulled a stunt like this I couldn't predict how our uncle would respond. If he saw us as a threat to his plans to reclaim Erebor, then yes, I could see both Kili and I missing out on this Quest.
Thorin hadn't yet come to a decision about Kili, though. In the unlikely event that he did decide it best that Kili remain home, I'd go to my uncle and plead my brother's case. Thorin would listen to me, but he might refuse my request that Kili join us without further debate. Uncle could be unrelenting at times, and he was more protective of Kili than he was of me. Kili was a fierce warrior, but he was more reckless than I was. He'd led us into situations I'd never have risked on my own. But if Thorin did decide that Kili had to stay behind, I was truthful about staying behind with him, no matter what our uncle ordered. I would risk his wrath and . . ..
"Ow!" I jumped and yelped, a sharp pain burning atop my thigh. My mother stood beside me brandishing her wooden spoon. I rubbed at the sting on my leg, blinked sleepily up at her and tried to work this out. Morning light streamed through the window behind her, startling me awake as quickly as the second sharp whack she gave me.
"Well what? OW!"
"Where is he?"
Oh no. "He didn't, he's not--? OW!"
"No, he's not home. His bed's not been slept in."
I jumped up, avoiding another whack and charged down the hallway to Kili's room. His bow and arrows were gone. I dropped to my knees and searched under his bed. His haversack was also missing. He'd left then. Lit out for the Forbidden Valley. Alone. The little brat had snuck out while I slept. Crept in and out right past me.
I turned to find mother at the door to Kili's room, arms crossed, spoon still clutched in one fist and a furious expression on her face. "WHAT is going on? And do not try to tell me that he is simply out with friends."
I didn't attempt to tell her anything other than, "I'll find him."
I edged past her and raced to my room, collected my sword, loaded up with plenty of sharp weaponry and grabbed my haversack. By the time I'd reached the kitchen mother was filling a skin with ale. "He at least took something to eat and drink," she said, handing me the skin and a bundle of provisions wrapped in a cloth. I tucked it all in my haversack and headed for the door. "If you are not home with your brother by the time your uncle returns tomorrow --"
"I will be." I kissed her cheek and turned away, unwilling to look in her eyes and see the worry she was trying to mask with anger. "I'll return with him long before that."
"See that you do," she called after me as I pelted out the door, heading for the stables. "Else your uncle shall be coming for the two of you."
I muttered a string of foul Khuzdûl at the thought of that and shortly thereafter I was galloping my mount towards the Forbidden Valley.
It was well named. The Forbidden Valley looked, well . . . forbidding. I sat atop my mount on the southern ridge, gazing down on the dark forest below. It was large and long, surrounded by mountains and shrouded by a gray mist. But somewhere within that darkness there lived a black stag. And he was mine. He had to be real. All our lives Fili and I had heard of him through tale and song and verse. So he just had to be real. He walked amongst the dark creatures in that valley. Others had tried hunting him. Some never came back. But those who did return told of the shadowy woodlands, the frightening creatures they'd seen and the fearsome sounds that haunted them at night when none dared close his eyes.
"Old wives' tales," Dwalin had scoffed one day when Fili asked him about the legend.
But Balin had given us his twinkly-eyed look and said, "Well, lads, I cannot say if the black stag truly lives. If he does he is a magical creature, for the tales of him have been around for some time. He was said to be the Lord of the Forbidden Valley --" He grew more serious. "But, stag or no, that dark place is as real as real can be. It is full of all manner of evil creatures. Long ago a band of warriors decided to go clean out that valley. Few returned, and those that did had dire stories to tell. And so the legends grew." His gaze and voice then became more solemn. "You two are never to so much as think about going there."
"Thorin would skin you alive," Dwalin said, shooting us a fierce glare. "And if he doesn't, I will."
I reckon I was now doomed to be skinned alive by somebody.
Still, I hadn't really gone down there. Not yet. The Forbidden Valley was far beyond the boundaries Uncle had set for Fili and me. But we'd gone beyond our boundaries before. We'd just wanted to. We were curious. And curiosity is a good thing to have. So every now and then I could convince Fili that we should head off for a little adventure, do some hunting and see what lay beyond those boundaries. He went along with most things I came up with, but he didn't hesitate to tell me 'no' when he thought something was too risky. I'd argue, he'd put his foot down and that was that. Other times he'd make a big show of trying to convince me that we shouldn't do something, then he'd give in and admit that what I'd come up with sounded like a fine idea and we'd go off and have a great time doing something ill-advised. Most of the time my brother didn't take much convincing. He was every bit as daring as I was. And he did his own share of suggesting plans of action that would make our uncle frown. I wasn't the only instigator. Of course, far too often when Thorin caught up to us he did a lot more than just frown. Fili and I had started keeping a tally.
"This time it was your fault," I'd say, the two of us standing to eat our supper.
"True. This time it was," Fili would say. "Your fault the last two times."
And then our mother would come in and make us both sit down to eat. Best not think about mother right now. She'd be mighty upset by what I'd done.
I clicked to Myrtle, heading her at a slow pace along the ridge, Nala following behind us. I held her reins, glad I'd thought to bring a second pony to bear home my prize. I couldn't travel as fast as I could have without the extra mount, but I'd needed her. I could hardly walk all the way home whilst the dead stag rode Myrtle.
I gazed down at the valley, thinking of how angry Fili had been last night. I was still surprised by his behavior. I thought my idea was perfect. Whatever doubts Thorin had about my readiness for the Quest would vanish when he saw me return with the black stag.
But Fili . . . he'd been just plain stubborn. It wasn't like him. He wouldn't even listen to me. Of course, he had nothing to worry about. Thorin was taking him on the Quest. He was Uncle's heir, so Fili needn't think he'd be left behind. And although he said he'd never leave without me, my brother was a warrior, and we had grown up understanding and believing in the warrior's code of obedience. Fili wouldn't go against Thorin's wishes, and if he refused, Thorin would just order his heir to go on this huge Quest with him. So Fili would be his obedient self and go. He'd have no choice in that. But me? It seemed I was expendable. And I couldn't understand why. Fili didn't have any more battle experience than I did. And I was a most able warrior. I was as good a fighter as my big brother was. Even Dwalin had said so. And Balin. And others. I was also the most skilled bowman around. I'd heard Balin tell Thorin as much.
"He has a gift," he had said, when they didn't know I was close enough to hear them. "Put a bow in his hands and that lad won't miss."
Didn't that count for something? Wasn't that good enough for Thorin? Wasn't I good enough? What more did I need to do to prove myself? I bit my lip, blinking hard to stop my eyes from stinging. I didn't want to think about how bad this felt. It cut deep inside me. And it just wasn't fair. Not, not, not fair! I wanted to yell that at Fili last night, ask him why he couldn't see how important it was for me to go after the stag, how much I wanted to show Thorin that I could be a valuable asset to him. With so much at stake I could have used some brotherly support. I'd hoped Fili would come with me, help me fight off whatever foul things might attack whilst we hunted. I'd hoped he'd be there when my arrow brought down the stag. I'd hoped he'd have kept me company in that dark place.
So much for my hopes. I was shocked when Fili bit my head off and told me 'no' in about a hundred different ways. Stubborn. And then - well, it was bad enough that he said Uncle might see me as a 'threat' to his mission. That felt terrible. It was badder still when he hinted about telling Thorin my plan. That was just plain low. But then, worst of all, Fili had said that he wouldn't "allow" me to do this. Allow? As though I needed his permission?
That was it. I came just about as close to punching my big brother as I'd ever been. I had to get out of that tavern before I did something I'd regret. And I knew he would follow me. So I doubled back and followed him, and when he'd checked for me in all our regular hiding places my brother gave up and headed home and I went back to the stables. I buried myself in the hay and waited and waited and waited. I didn't fall asleep. I was too mad to be tired.
When I reckoned enough time had gone by and that Fili was surely asleep, I'd gone home. I'd crept in, right past my snoring brother who lay sprawled in his favorite chair by the fire, and I gathered up everything I would need. But I paused on my way out and I stood over Fili, watching him sleep. He looked so peaceful. A deep ache grew inside me. I almost changed my mind. A big part of me didn't want to do this. I knew I had to, though, and Fili would never just let me go. I had no other choice but to go alone. I could tarry no longer. But first I took Fili's pipe from his hand and put it on the table beside him, because even though it wasn't lit it still seemed dangerous leaving it like that. What if there was some little spark still alive, ready to fall out and burn up my brother? Quietly, I put another log on the fire and fled, feeling miserable about going alone. Well, at least maybe now he'd understand how I felt about being left behind.
The further I rode the more I'd missed him. It was strange, not seeing Fili beside me. I especially missed him right now, looking down on the dark valley and thinking about what might be down there waiting for me. We were a pair, my brother and me, a pair on the sparring field, a pair in trouble-making and a pair when we were caught and disciplined for it. Oh, there were the occasional times when one of us, usually me, was spanked without the other for something we'd done on our own. But when Uncle had finished spanking me and soothing me, Fili was always there to add his own brotherly comfort.
"You gave him no choice, you know," he'd said a few weeks ago when he lay stretched out behind me on my bed, holding me the way he always did after Uncle had walloped me.
"Go 'way, big bruver," I'd muttered, still sluggish with that stupid post-spanking slur. "You're sus'sposed to be on my side."
"Shhhhhh," he'd purred. "Sh. Sh. Sh. Of course I'm on your side. I'm always on your side, but that doesn't mean I like what you did. I just wish you'd think before you acted. I don't like seeing you with a sore bottom."
"I don't like seeing me wif a sore bottom, too."
"Then next time come and talk to me before you consider doing something so reckless."
"Aye, Fee," I'd said, embarrassed that I could never seem to pronounce his name when I was well-spanked. "I . . . I'll try."
"That's good enough for me."
Which was what Fili always said. And then he'd say something else he always said: "I'm with you, little brother. I'm here." And that helped me relax back against him.
Fili shared my fate most of the time. He'd been beside me ever since I could remember, and I felt braver and safer with him there. I worked harder to excel. We urged each other on. I tried to show myself to be as strong and capable as my big brother. I'd never be heir to the throne, and that was alright with me. I didn't want to rule. I wanted that for Fili. He was much better suited to it than I was, more fair minded and even tempered. I knew I was too impulsive. Plenty of others had told me that I was, and they were right. And Fili was wiser than me. He had a core of composure I'd never have, and I loved and admired my big brother for that and for all he was that I wasn't. I wanted to be like him, but 'twas unlikely I ever would be, because Fili was right. I tended to act without thinking.
And now I was far away from him. He'd sometimes be off with Thorin, learning heir-ly type things, and those were usually the times I got into trouble on my own. But this was the first time I'd chosen to leave my brother far behind and venture forth without him. It felt . . . wrong. I felt wrong. A bit . . . empty. I looked around at the stark mountains, feeling exposed and unprotected. This vast ridge had no cover, no trees, just a lot of big boulders and a drop off to the valley below. It was awful, this aloneness. It was wrong and awful. I hated it.
But I wasn't afraid. I wasn't. Everything felt wrong and awful, but I wasn't afraid. I couldn't think about how much I missed my brother. I'd chosen to do this and I'd see it through. So I tried to remember how he'd treated me in the tavern last night. Maybe that would help me stop feeling so awful and remind me of my quest. Giving Myrtle a nudge with my heels, I clicked to her and started making my way along the ridge. There had to be a pathway down to the valley.
And that's when I felt it. Something on the wind. Someone coming. I stopped and turned and looked behind me.
I spotted him the moment I came over the hill. Perched atop Myrtle and leading Nala, my little brother sat on the ridge, watching me over his shoulder. I was so relieved to see him that I urged Dora on at an even faster pace. Kili seemed fine. He turned his mount and watched me approach.
"Come to join me after all?" he called.
I drew closer and saw his 'let's be wicked' grin in place and his dark eyes full of sparkling lights. He was unbelievable.
"Join you?" I pulled to a halt beside him and stared at him. "Join you?"
He blinked at me, then looked down at the valley below and gave a nod towards it. "Look. We're so close. I was searching for a pathway down."
"You can stop searching," I said.
He whipped his head up. "You see a trail?"
"Yes." I snatched the reins from his fist and held them tight. "Our trail leads home, little brother."
"What?" he cried. "No! I'm not going home, Fili. Not without the black--"
"Yes, you are," I said. "Hang the black stag, Kili. You're through here. I can't believe you did this." I halted and drew a deep breath. I wouldn't start lecturing him now. I wanted to get him off this ridge and away from that menacing place below. "We're leaving," I said. "Now. Can I trust you to follow me or must I lead your pony?"
"Very well," I said gripping his reins tighter. "Come."
"No! Fili, I meant--!"
"We can make it half-way home before nightfall."
"I am not--!"
"Three hours and we'll set up camp. Mother sent provisions." Kili paused at my mention of our mother and watched me. "Yes," I said, "she's angry. But mostly she's worried."
He stared at me. "Mother? Worried?"
"She's trying to cover it up, but, yes, of course she's worried."
Kili looked off, blinked and pressed his lips together. Watching him swallow hard, I asked, "Did you even stop to consider how she might feel?"
"I . . . I knew she'd be unhappy with me."
I snorted. "Unhappy? Just unhappy?"
"You and I have stayed out overnight before."
"Yes. You and I. Together. And she knew where we were. But when I came home last night without you --" I stopped myself again. I was not going to be drawn into an argument now. "Enough. Come on. We're going home. We'll discuss it when we stop for the night."
"No!" Kili cried again. He was out of his saddle like a shot. Standing stiff-legged and glaring up at me, he growled, "I said no, Fili. I won't go back without the stag. If you haven't come to help me you can just go away!"
I couldn't believe this. His behavior was worthy of a little one half his age. I crossed my wrists over the saddle horn and leaned over to look down at him. "Go away? Do you intend to march into the Forbidden Valley on foot then?"
"If you ride off with the ponies, yes. I'll have my bow."
I could only nod. Kili's bow was indeed on his back, along with his quiver of arrows, but for the life of me I could not fathom what he thought he was doing. He stood there, stiff-backed and defiant, a scowl on his face and, apparently, not a rational thought in his head. Pure emotional response, that was one of my little brother's greatest failings. "Do not fight angry. Fight smart," Dwalin had often told him. Kili showed his age when he behaved like this. I had but five years on my little brother, but I oft felt decades older than him. Were I a bit less irritated I would have laughed. I had a beardling glaring up at me. I felt like a cat toying with a mouse.
"So," I said, "your plan is to walk into the Forbidden Valley, track the stag, kill it, and . . . what? Drag it home on foot?"
"I . . . " Kili shifted his weight. "I don't know. It would be nice if you left me my ponies."
"Oh? And tell mother what when I got home? That you sent me away and I left you alone to hunt the black stag in the Forbidden Valley?"
He shrugged, looking troubled and uncertain. It was so like him to not consider how his actions affected others.
I shook my head. "That's not going to happen, little brother."
Kili fumed again. "Fine. Then if you won't leave me the ponies, maybe you can tell Uncle where I am when he returns, and he can--"
"Come out here and find you?" I wanted to laugh at the absurdity of this. I wanted to rage at him. Instead I leaned further over and said, "Do you honestly want Thorin to come riding out here with a party of warriors to help you bring back the black stag? You're prepared to sit a saddle after he catches up to you? If, that is, he can find a trace of you, if you haven't been completely eaten up by some wild creature, or creatures."
Kili was past hearing. He just stared up at me, so furious and frustrated he was trembling, and at that point I felt such compassion for my little brother that I was able to shove down whatever threatened to rise up out of me. This was just too . . . it was Kili at his unreasonable finest, so far beyond thinking that I vow he looked ready to cry. My poor little brother. He was struggling so. And I felt something new ignite within me. All at once I felt the way I knew Thorin would feel right now. Time to behave the way I knew he would behave, the way I longed to behave, the way I suddenly knew Kili needed me to behave.
"Get back on your pony," I ordered. "Now, little brother."
Kili lifted his chin. "No. I won't."
I jumped down, yanked out my longest dagger, wrapped the reins around it and slammed it deep into the ground to keep the ponies in place. Then I stalked towards Kili.
He watched my approach, frozen, eyes widening. "What-What are you--?"
"Last chance," I said, closing on him.
Kili could do nothing but stare at me, too startled to move. I took full advantage of that. Grabbing his upper arm I dragged him to his mount. He was too stunned to do anything but gasp out short bursts of breath. He didn't fight me, though. Reaching his pony, I picked my brother up and slammed him down in his saddle. Kili is a bit taller than I am, but he isn't stronger than me, and I had surprise and determination on my side, valuable assets when dealing with an irrational beardling. And Kili was tired. I'd noticed his weariness the moment I rode up. Small wonder, given he'd been up all night, hiding, escaping and riding so far beyond our boundaries that Thorin would explode when he learned of it. Kili looked as though fatigue was suddenly getting to him. I doubt he'd bothered to eat anything on his way here, either. He had that drawn appearance as he did when he'd neglected to eat. Hunger and fatigue, a dangerous combination in my little brother.
"Will you stay in your saddle, or must I tie you there?" I said, glowering up at him.
"What?" He blinked down at me, startled. "No! I mean, y-yes. Of course I can stay in my saddle."
"Not another word about that stag," I said. I gathered up the reins, re-sheathed my dagger and mounted, making sure the ponies were in some sort of order. Turning, I studied my brooding little brother, then I drew his mount close to mine, put out my arm and said, "Come. Get on. Behind me."
"Fili! No! Please! I can ride --"
"Now," I said in what Kili and I called 'Uncle's deadly voice.' It was effective. Kili watched me with a guarded expression, then he bit his lip, grabbed my arm and swung over behind me. I drew his arms around my waist and said, "Hold on. If you let go you'll be very sorry indeed."
He locked his arms around me, saying nothing, and I clutched the ponies' reins and turned Dora towards home, leaving the dark valley behind. I mulled things over during the several hours we traveled. Kili was forever dashing headlong into trouble, but I could scarce believe even he would dare do something this foolhardy. I thought about how close this had been, of how Kili had been seeking a route down to the valley when I caught up with him. Had I arrived any later he might have already found his way down to that foul place, and if he'd made it down the mountain and into that forest I'd likely never have found him. If I hadn't reached him in time I could have lost my little brother this day. I surely would have lost him in the night. Kili, alone in the dark, surrounded by untold horrors. I wanted to roar.
Terrible imaginings followed me during that ride. It was one reason why I'd pulled him onto my pony with me. I'd sensed some dark thoughts approaching and I needed to feel my brother right there, safe behind me, holding on. He must've felt safe, too. Shortly after we set off he nestled his head against my back, his arms went slack and he fell asleep. It surely was uncomfortable for him, but his exhaustion won out over the discomfort of the jarring ride. I held his wrists securely and rode on. I should have been weary myself, but I wasn't. I had slept whilst waiting up for him last night so I felt alert. And I knew what I had to do, what I wanted to do. I suppose it truly had been but a matter of time until it came to this. And Kili, with his flawless accuracy, had triggered every protective instinct I possessed. I wouldn't hesitate to do what I now knew needed to be done.
It was just past dusk when I reached a good site for our camp at the base of a mountain, a deep recess in the rock face that went in a ways, but didn't go back far enough to be a cave. There was a large grassy area nearby with a small stream running through it, water for the ponies. Good timber lay all around, plenty for a fire in front of the recess. There were even a few fallen logs. We could drag one close to the fire and sit, then bundle up against it to sleep. It would serve another useful purpose as well.
"Kili," I muttered, shaking his arms. "Wake up."
He was always hard to rouse. "Wake up. We'll stop here tonight." Kili still sounded sluggish, so I swung my leg over the pony's neck and hopped down, bracing up my groggy brother to keep him from falling. "Wake up, you sluggard," I told him, pulling him down to stand his languid self before me. Kili shook his head a few times then focused on me.
"You awake?" I asked him. He nodded, so I released him, saying, "We're stopping here for the night."
Kili looked around, finally aware enough to wander off and find a little privacy. I did the same, then we quickly set up camp. We'd done this many times when we were with others and when we were off by ourselves, although we were further from home now than usual. Soon we had a fire going and were seated on the log we'd half-rolled, half-dragged over, devouring nearly everything our mother had sent and washing it all down with ale. Kili seemed ravenous. It was good to see him eating and wise planning on Mother's part to have packed quite a lot. He had actually managed to bring some provisions as well, showing more foresight than I'd have given him credit for when he'd been in constant danger of getting caught in the act of escaping.
We left some food for the morning, then we sat quietly together. Kili always went silent when he knew I wasn't happy with him. Generally when he'd behaved in a manner unbefitting the House of Durin I'd been right in there with him doing the same unbefitting thing. But when Kili misstepped on his own and earned my displeasure he felt embarrassed and awkward. He didn't know what to say or how to make amends, so he'd go silent and wait for my anger to blow over. And it would. He'd apologize in his own shy manner and I'd let it go. It didn't happen often. He'd been belligerent with me sometimes, but there hadn't been an occasion arise wherein I felt I needed to do more than frown at him and wait for him to come around. This time, however, he sat beside me on the log, fidgeting. He grabbed a long stick and began to alternate between idly picking at the bark and using it to dig at the embers of the fire.
"Mother's pretty upset, huh?" he finally asked.
I turned to look at him. He kept staring down at the fire, fully aware that I was watching him. "She isn't the only one."
He was quiet for a moment, then: "I . . . I thought . . .."
"No, Kili," I said. "You didn't think. You did exactly what you wanted to do. Never mind how it would affect others. Never mind the danger. Never mind that it was going to get you killed."
"You don't know that - I might not have been kil--"
"I do know," I interrupted. "You would have died, Kili. You'd have died bloody and alone, that is if you were lucky enough to have been killed quickly. You could have been completely consumed by some wild thing and there would've been nothing left for a search party to find save a pool of blood."
I'd spent most of the day haunted by what could have happened and it sounded even worse when I started saying it out loud. I'd struggled to keep my anger in check when finding him. But I'd collected myself now, knowing what I planned to do. Besides, Kili wasn't arguing because he thought he was right. He was arguing because he didn't want to suffer the disgrace of being so entirely wrong. And he knew now that he'd been wrong. His voice was soft and his speech had slowed the way it does when he's been mulling something over. He'd plainly been thinking about his actions since waking, deep-down thinking, and he'd realized just how foolish his plan had been. He didn't know how to admit that to me, but it didn't matter. Sleep had brought him some clarity and that was a step in the right direction. I'd help him the rest of the way.
"You're angry with me."
I didn't even need to think about how to answer him. I just knew. "I'm not angry with you," I said, realizing the truth of it. "But I'm not happy about what you did."
He tensed, clearly feeling a shift between us, but he didn't know what to make of it. He just murmured, "That's what Uncle always says."
"Now I know how he feels when he says it."
Lifting his head, he turned to me, watching me with a sad, tentative look. I held his gaze until he shyly looked back down. A moment later he surprised me.
"I'm sorry," he said in a small voice.
Usually I responded with some sort of forgiving phrase such as, "That's alright," or "It's over now," or "Let's forget about it." Not this time. Kili lifted his hand and began to twirl the ends of his hair with his fingers, a habit he'd formed when he was very young and sometimes fell back on when he was nervous.
"I . . . I . . . I guess that wasn't very smart of me," he said.
"No," I said. "It wasn't. But thank you for apologizing."
"So, you're really not mad at me?" he asked again.
"You were mad when you found me today. You had your angry eyes and you talked in Uncle's deadly voice."
My angry eyes and Uncle's deadly voice. Kili was slipping into the very little-Kili that emerged when Thorin disciplined him. It made sense. He was ever ill at ease when I was unhappy with him, but he'd never done anything this big and dangerous on his own and I'd never been this authoritarian with him. So the shift between us put him on uncertain ground and he was beginning to falter. That was alright. It made it easier to deal with him. If he'd been rebellious this would've turned into a rough night for both of us.
I slowly reached over and took his hand, removing his fingers from his hair, and said, "I was upset when I found you because I'd been so afraid of what might've happened to you. I feared I wouldn't get to you before you'd entered the Forbidden Valley and were lost to me." Kili looked up at me again, dark eyes wide and full of glistening lights. "You know how Thorin sometimes roars at us when we've done something dangerous?" I said.
He nodded. "Aye. Then later he'll say he wasn't mad. He was alarmed because we'd endangered ourselves, so he has to yell at first." Kili paused to wince. "Those are the worst spankings."
"Mmmm. Well, that's why I was cross with you when I found you. I was relieved to see that I wasn't too late, and that big relief mixes with how worried I'd been and it all comes out together."
"So you had your angry eyes and Uncle's deadly voice."
"But you don't now."
"And that means you're not mad at me anymore?"
He blinked and quickly said, "I-I mean does that mean you're not angry 'bout what I did anymore?"
"No. It means I've calmed down. I'm still angry about what you did."
"I said sorry."
As if that would fix everything. Typical Kili. "I'm glad you apologized. But that isn't enough. Not this time."
He gave me a searching look. "What do you mean?"
"I mean you can't just say you're sorry and expect it to wipe out what you did. Would Thorin accept an apology for this and just let the matter go?"
He bit his lip, then shook his head. "Prolly not."
"Indeed not," I said. "There are consequences."
Kili turned away and frowned at the fire again, poking it with short fierce jabs. "So you are going to tell Uncle," he said in a pouty voice.
"You think I shouldn't tell him?" I asked.
"Well . . .." He shrugged one shoulder. "You don't have to."
"Don't you think he'll find out on his own?"
"Not unless you tell him."
"Kili, how often have we successfully kept something we've done a secret from him?"
"I don't remember," he muttered. My brother never was a competent liar.
"I do," I said. "Try never. We've never been able to hide something we've done from Thorin. And when we've tried and he's found out it's always worse than if we'd just admitted the truth upfront. Because what does Thorin say? "
My brother heaved a heavy sigh. "Hiding the truth is the same as lying."
"And you know how he feels about lying." Thorin was death on lying, as we'd found out too many times.
Kili turned pleading eyes at me. "But he really won't find out, Fili. How could he, unless you tell him? And if you do tell him he's going to . . .."
"Spank you," I said.
"Aye," Kili said, looking woebegone.
"Don't worry, little brother," I said. "Thorin won't spank you."
"He won't?" Kili gave me a quizzical glance. "Why not?"
"Because I'm going to spank you."
Onward to Part Two.