If anyone asked her, Kíli would tell them that she had a happy childhood.
It was no palace she grew up in, not the splendor of Erebor, the promised land of her forefathers, the magnificent halls of the mountain kings that shone so vividly in the narrations of her elders. She was not raised as a princess, clad in silks and velvet and adorned with heavy jewelry of mithril and diamonds. Instead she roamed the streets and surroundings of a small dwarven settlement in the Blue Mountains with her brother, free as a mountain cat, and when they were tired of climbing trees and swimming in the river and harassing the baker for extra treats they would return to their family's small dwelling near the forge. Their mother would scold them with fond exasperation for tearing their threadbare clothes again, Uncle Thorin would shake them by the ears and then slice some bread and give them an extra helping of ham, and when were lying in bed they would fall asleep to the rumbling voices of Dwalin and Balin talking by the fireplace.
There had been no worries those days. Oh, they noticed how the adults often appeared tense or tired. They saw the look of defiant pride in their mother's eyes, but never wondered where it had sprung from. They knew that she loathed the rich scent of meat that was roasted over the open fire, but they had never thought to ask her why. Other times they were awakened in the middle of the night by muffled screams, and when it happened for the first time they both shot out of bed and burst into their uncle's room to find him shaking in his sister's arms, his eyes wide and full of terror while their mother was stroking his hair and muttering softly into his ear. Then Dwalin appeared behind them, barefoot and in his nightclothes, and he caught them both by their collars and ushered them back to bed. They never went looking again.
They heard about the horrible things that were shadowing the lives of their elders, about the burning of Erebor and the terrible slaughter at the gates of Khazad-dûm and the bleak years of wandering in between, but they were too young to understand, and thus weren't touched by the knowledge any more than they were by the ancient tales told before bedtime.
"I'm living in a magical world," Kíli remembers Fíli telling her one day. "Everything I wish for is going to come true. Look!" And he pulled a beautifully crafted wooden sword from his secret place under the bed. "I wanted to have a sword so much and now Uncle Thorin has made me one. You just have to wish hard enough. One day I'm going to make the dragon go away and Uncle will be a great king. You'll see!"
"But why don't you wish for that right now?" Kíli objected, because somehow it seemed unfair to her to make their uncle wait.
"Of course it doesn't work at once, silly," Fíli declared haughtily, and off they went to their magic cave to fight imaginary trolls.
It was as simple as that.
Adulthood turns out to be not quite as simple.
She and Fíli were adamant in their resolve to accompany Thorin on his quest to the golden land of their dreams, but in hindsight she has to admit that they did not have the faintest idea what they were getting into. The first shock is Thorin's sharp rebuttal of their innocent joke about orcs. Then there are trolls, wargs, elves, stone giants, goblins, the white orc Azog and generally a wide array of different terrors, with a lot of running for their lives in between.
And there is Bofur.
Kíli has never been very interested in the fact that there was supposed to be such a thing as romance in the world. There was little opportunity in Ered Luin, and not one single young dwarrow who had made her thoughts wander in that particular direction. She was not looking for romance, and she was definitely not looking for a simple, plain-spoken miner several decades older than herself.
But now during those few brighter moments they find on their quest, the precious times where they laugh, smoke and celebrate together, it is usually Bofur who lightens their worries with a joke or a song, who makes her smile and takes her fears away. He possesses nothing of Thorin's gravity or Dwalin's gruffness, Balin's earnest scholarship or her mother's defiant pride. He is simply a handsome bloke with a heart of gold and a smile that radiates like the brightest gems, and, as it turns out when their adventure progresses, also a spine of mithril. It does not take long for her to realize that she is totally, hopelessly besotted.
It takes not much longer for Fíli to realize it as well, but she has a lifetime's experience in ignoring his unasked opinions.
Bofur is reluctant when they come to the point when he must realize her intentions, though she is fairly certain that he is just too noble for their own good, too aware of the differences both in age and class that separate them. "You're so brilliant, lassie," he tells her one night while they are holding watch together beside the camp fire. "You'll be turning that whole mountain of yours on its head, and for the better, I should say. Made for great deeds, the lot of you. I just hope you won't change too much when you're at it."
Predictably, she has no idea what to say, so she doesn't say anything. It is too dark for him to notice that her cheeks are burning.
After Mirkwood, when they clamber out of their wet, smelly barrels, he takes her into his arms for the first time. It is just a brief hug, and she returns it with a heady feeling and takes care to avoid the sharp look Uncle Thorin gives her afterwards. But it makes her hope, and she seeks Bofur's presence as he seeks hers, drawn together as there are by a likeness that goes further that just physical attraction.
She has never realized that as much as in the moment they are both stepping inside the treasure room of Erebor for the first time. At first she almost forgets to breathe, stunned beyond belief by the glorious sight that presents itself before their eyes. The ancient stonework and deeply dwarvish architecture that is so strange and yet so intimately familiar, charred and damaged as it may be; the artifacts of unspeakable beauty and priceless worth that litter the floor around them, and the gold, so much gold that it nearly blinds her eyes. These are heirlooms of her people, and gemstones and gold and silver call out to her as they do to any dwarf, evoking the everlasting beauty of stone, the smoothness and gleam of precious metal and the unequaled artistry of generations of craftspeople.
Bofur is standing beside her, gaping at the treasure with his mouth hanging open and an expression of utter disbelief on his handsome face, and she remembers that he, like herself and Fíli, has never before set eyes on such a miracle. Her mother and Uncle Thorin and the sons of Fundin frequently used to tell stories about Erebor's glory, trying to evoke in her and Fíli a vague idea of the grandeur they had left behind when they had lost the home of their youth. They were unable to forget the splendor of these halls by day and tortured by images of burning flesh by night. She will never fully understand the horror they went through, and the deep feeling of rightness they must feel now when they walk the ancient pathways of their forefathers again. But Bofur is like her; to him Erebor has never been more than a tale and a song, and he is as overwhelmed as she is by its sheer vastness and abundance.
It makes her feel a little less out of place.
"Great place, isn't it?" she says to Fíli as they are both walking down a magnificent staircase with blackened steps and a broken gilded railing, and she has finally recovered her voice. "Impressive. Sort of… worth the trouble."
"Sort of," he agrees with a wry smile. "It's fantastic, is what you're trying to tell me."
"Well, it is." She lets her gaze roam across the huge arched hallway with the impossibly high ceiling and the beautiful statues that are covered with more than a century's worth of dust. Shreds of colorful fabric are hanging limply from the walls; banners and decorations, from the look of it. A great place, yes; it speaks of ancient glory and horrible tragedy, it is a monument and a tomb, and now it is supposed to be their new home. She should be ecstatic, and it makes her feel nervous and ungrateful that she is not.
Neither is Fíli, though. She knows her brother better than anyone, and she can easily read his moods. Behind a thin façade of cheerfulness his face is drawn and tense, and she knows that he is worried. Not like a prince should feel when he sets foot into his reclaimed heirloom for the very first time.
"Something's bothering you," she tells him bluntly. "Care to tell me what it is?"
He meets her eyes and gives her a quick smile. They both know that evasions or pretty white lies are a useless endeavor.
"Seeing ghosts, that's all," he replies softly, and she notices the quick glance he casts around, as if to make sure they are not overheard.
"Nothing." He sighs and shakes his head, as if to chase away unpleasant thoughts. "It's nothing, really."
Kíli stops walking and crosses her arms, waiting. Her big brother is looking nervous. She does not like it one bit.
"Oh, well. Right." Fíli turns around and faces her, but not without casting a quick look over her shoulder beforehand. "It's just that… have you seen Thorin lately? Not from afar, I mean, have you talked to him?"
"No." She frowns, considering. "He's busy."
"Aye. That's all, I guess. So, you see? It's just ghosts."
"But… no, wait a moment. You think there's something wrong with him being busy? He's just reclaimed his kingdom, we can't expect him to…"
"And that's what I'm telling you." Fíli takes her arm and draws her along. "So stop fretting. Anything left for dinner, do you think?"
She bristles briefly before she relents, knowing very well that it is useless to force anything out of her brother if he is not in the mood to share. But she is far from relieved.
Fíli thinks that something is wrong with Uncle Thorin, and Fíli is usually right about such things. It is a terrifying thought.
He has not been the uncle they knew for quite some time, of that much she is sure. The fatherly guardian of her childhood, strict but deeply devoted to the children he had accepted as his own, had been left behind in the Ered Luin - though, no, that is not entirely true. He had been hidden behind the stern facade of their king and leader who was driven by a higher goal and by his responsibility for the entire company, and could not allow for favoritism. He has been tense all along, more distant and remote than he used to be, though his unlikely friendship with their gentle burglar from the Shire brought back the smile to his face, at least for a while.
He is not smiling when she finds him in the treasure room later that same day, standing between several piles of gold coins and inspecting a small ceremonial axe that is heavily ornated with diamonds and rubies. His face is alight with fascination as he turns it this way and that, admiring the glow of the gemstones in the flickering torchlight, and he looks utterly captivated.
"Uncle Thorin", she ventures, and he whirls around with the axe in his hand poised to throw. It is obvious that he did not hear her coming. He is a trained warrior, why did he not hear her coming?
"I was wondering," she explains when his expression darkens. "There is so much work to be done, we hardly know where to start. Do we have a plan... how to proceed?"
"A plan?" Thorin gives her a short laugh that lacks any trace of humour. "The plan is to find the Arkenstone somewhere in this chaos. That's my first priority right now, to prove that I am legitimately Durin's heir. Everything else can wait."
"We were thinking more in terms of food and repairs," she objects. "We can't find the Arkenstone if we've starved to death."
"Then I suggest you consult Balin over this," her uncle informs her coolly. "He makes the best plans. I'm sure he has been mulling over that problem ever since we arrived here."
With that he turns toward the treasure again, completely ignoring her presence.
Kíli leaves him to his business, but she is far from reassured, and the little she sees of Thorin during the following days only enhances the gnawing feeling of uneasiness that has settled in her guts. The king is praised and serenaded by his company, and he relishes in their attention. He fills his hands with gems and treasure. She tells herself that he is perfectly entitled to do this, but then she sees his enthralled face and shudders, for it is not the face of the uncle she adores.
If Fíli is seeing ghosts, then she sees them too.
She does not tell Bofur of her worries, but still she seeks his company like a moth that is drawn towards the light, willing him to chase her ghosts away with his smile and his songs. But the one thing that has worked as an infallible remedy during the long months of their journey is a meagre comfort now.
"You will be a real princess," he tells her enthusiastically. "The finest jewelry of dwarven make will enhance your beauty. There are necklaces with sapphires the size of my fist, and diamond brooches and diadems of mithril, have you seen them?"
She has not seen them and she does not want to see them, because Bofur's eyes are shining with a strange light when he talks of them and it makes her angry. Did he not tell her that he hoped she would not change too much?
"I don't care," she replies sharply. "I would live with you if you were still a poor miner back in Ered Luin. Forget about the jewels."
He stares at her in disbelief, and it takes a moment before he truly gets her meaning. He is not so far gone, thank Mahal, that he does not understand, and the smile that lightens up his face shines brighter than polished diamonds reflecting candlelight.
"You shouldn't," he says softly. "You're a princess, lassie, you shouldn't…"
"I will do as I please," she informs him, and then she kisses his hand because they are not alone but she still wants him to know that she has chosen him, and she will not share him with a pile of treasure. She is going to fight for that.
She wants to fight for her uncle as well, but she cannot think of a way to reach him.
Things go from bad to worse when the armies of men and elves arrive at the foot of the mountain, rudely making outrageous demands and, when Thorin tells them in a rush of righteous fury what he thinks of them, effectively imprisoning them in their newly reclaimed home.
"They cannot mean this," Fíli moans for the fifth time in as many minutes. "They were supposed to be our allies, how can they do this to us?"
It's the treasure, Kíli thinks, but she does not say it aloud. Look what it does to Thorin and Bofur and the others. It is poisoning our minds and theirs as well. Suddenly she wishes with a fierce longing they had never left their old home.
Thorin walks the large and empty halls of Erebor like a dark, angry wraith. None of them is able to reach him, neither herself or Fíli, not even his closest friends. Balin is talking to the ravens. Dwalin is vocal about where he thinks the elven king should stuff his own crown. Bofur takes her hand and tells her that they will be alright.
No-one pays attention to Bilbo Baggins.
When she sees the Arkenstone in the hand of their enemies and hears Bilbo's brave but foolish admission, the world seems to come to a grinding halt.
No, is her only thought, and for a moment she hears nothing beneath the blood rushing in her ears, although there would not have been anything to hear in the deadly silence that has seized the group. No. This is not possible. He is our friend, we trusted him, he saved us, he risked his life for us…
And then, while she is still struggling to understand what their trusty little hobbit did, why he did it, and how it is possible that the elders were right, that they can trust no one because they are always betrayed - that is when the last defenses of Thorin's sanity finally break down, and his large hand clenches around Bilbo's throat.
Her uncle's wrath is the most horrifying thing she has ever seen. She wants to scream, wants to throw herself into his arms to stop him, but she is frozen in terror and watches in a haze as the events unfold. She can hardly feel relieved when Bilbo, their brave, dear Bilbo, the treacherous little rat, how could he, is saved from Thorin's murderous grip and sent down to their enemies who appear to be his new friends and why?
Thorin turns away and stalks past her and she has never been so afraid of anyone, not even the Goblin King, not even Azog. She has never seen him like this, his face twisted in blind fury, his mind beyond all rational thought. She did not know he was capable of murder. She has known him all her life; he is her safety rope, her protector, the only father she has ever known, and now she does not recognize him. In a surge of hysterical panic, she wonders if he is possessed by an evil spirit.
For a moment they are all frozen to the spot. Then Dwalin squares his shoulders and walks after him. No one follows them.
She catches Bofur's hand, but it is cold.
They find Dwalin on one of the smaller balconies that overlook the site of the siege without being immediately exposed to the enemies' eyes. The huge warrior is leaning against the rough stone wall, his large forearms crossed, eyes narrowed as he watches the hostile armies busy about with a thoughtful expression on his scarred face. He looks big and strong and invincible, as he always has ever since they were tiny dwarflings and he carried them around on his broad shoulders. Fíli steps beside him and follows his gaze, and Kíli quickly closes the distance between them.
"How are things going?" Fíli demands matter-of-factly, all heir to the throne instead of the surrogate son they both know he is. It is probably just his idea of sounding self-assured, but the sons of Fundin have been living with them forever and Dwalin's sidelong glance tells them that he is not fooled for a second.
"How does it look like?" he snorts, sounding unamused. "Open your eyes, laddie. Dain's men better be here soon."
"I thought..." Fíli breaks off and bites his lip, like he always did when their elders were giving them lessons and he tried not to make a fool of himself. Dwalin gives him a sharp look.
"Thorin is not going to give in," Kíli supplies quietly.
"How can he?" It is not a question. "A fine King Under The Mountain he would make, to grovel before traitors and blackmailers. Who's going to come next, demanding a share of our treasure? The Steward of Gondor, who would like reparation for the loss of trading rights during the last couple of centuries?" Dwalin spits on the ground, looking thoroughly disgusted. "Curse the hobbit!"
There is nothing to say to that, and they stand in silence for a moment, looking towards their enemies' lines in quiet desperation.
"So we are going to war," Fíli says at last, and his voice is so soft that Kíli can barely hear him. Dwalin closes his eyes briefly, and a pained expression shadows the rough lines of his face.
"Aye," he says simply. "Looks like this is going to end in fire after all." And then, after a pause, "We never wanted that, for you."
We are going to war.
Kíli thinks of Uncle Thorin's nightmares and the decapitated king and all the tales of blood and suffering and pain that were so unreal to her when she was a dwarfling.
Maybe this is what Bilbo tried to prevent?
"We cannot win," Fíli says with a quiet calm that makes her shiver. "And even if we could, we would continue to live surrounded by enemies, and Erebor cannot stand alone. He has to bargain, lest it shall kill us all."
Dwalin says nothing for a long moment. Then his lips move into a grim smile.
"Well spoken, my prince," he admits gruffly. "You would make a great king, one day."
Kíli shifts her weight from one foot to the other. She cannot believe that Thorin will send them all to their doom, that Balin and Dwalin will simply accept this, and the others as well, they have to see it, don't they?
Does Bofur see it?
"Well," she declares brightly, pretending that she is not shaken to the core. "Good thing we have a great king, then. There's still time, I bet they'll all come around. Uncle Thorin will sort it out, it's not the first tight spot he's gotten us out of, is it?"
He is strong, she wants to shout at Dwalin. He is our leader. We can trust him. You have always trusted him.
Dwalin's silence is answer enough. His mouth is a thin line, and his features have become an impassive mask that makes it impossible for her to read any kind of emotion in them. He does not reassure her and declare his undying belief in his friend, although he must know she is asking for it, and she feels horror creeping up her spine because when has Dwalin lost his faith in Thorin?
"We shall see," he states eventually, and his voice is flat and devoid of any feeling. "And I hope that miner of yours is worth his ilk."
With that he turns away before she can even protest that Bofur is not her miner, and she is left with a cold dread in her stomach. When she turns to Fíli, her brother is watching her with a helpless look she has never seen on his face before. He quickly controls his features and catches her hand, shooting her a smile she immediately recognizes as fake.
"Well, I'm sure he is," he says with a cheer that hurts her soul, like the bright light of the midday sun that blinds her eyes and makes them water. "Let's go find him, shall we?"
She presses his hand in return and follows him as he walks back into the great hall.
Bofur is sitting on a fallen piece of rock at the far end of the hall, accompanied by Bombur and Bifur. The grim silence about the three Broadbeams is uncanny. None of Bofur's usual cheer is lifting the small group's spirits; Bifur is staring moodily into the distance, and Bombur is fiddling with a clasp of his pack, looking distracted. Bofur looks up at the young heirs' approach, and puts away the mattock he has been sharpening with a soft clatter.
"Alright there, lass?" he addresses Kíli, and the complete lack of a smile is possibly even more unnerving than Fíli's fake one. She gives him a nervous grin.
"Aye, fine," she lies, dropping beside him while Fíli hovers next to them, crossing his arms and looking tense. She wishes that he would go away.
"We talked to Dwalin," she tells Bofur, and the miner leans upon his forearms and lifts an eyebrow. His warm brown eyes are stunning, even if they are not laughing like they are supposed to.
"Really?" he prompts. "What does he say?"
He says that we are going to war and we cannot win.
He says that we are all going to die here.
He doesn't say that Uncle Thorin has lost his mind, but he is thinking it.
She gives him a smile that is just as fake as Fíli's. "We're going to be fine," she says. "Everything's going to be fine. You just see."
Because I am living in a magical world, and you just have to wish hard enough.
He gives her a long, very serious look, and she knows he is not fooled. Then he smiles a sad smile that does not look like him at all, and kisses her cheek in a swift motion that is over almost before she has realized it.
"I hope you are right, my precious one," he states calmly. "I pray to Mahal that you are right."
It is all going to work out, she decides right there as she leans against him and lets her head sink onto his shoulder. She has to believe it, and so she does, even if Fíli looks helpless and Bofur does not smile, if Thorin is terrible in his fury and Dwalin is a thundercloud. The doom that is gathering around them will pass, as it has before, although a small voice in the back of her mind is telling her that this is different, that this time they are standing at the edge of an abyss that may swallow them all. She knows, but it is not happening, because she wishes it away with all her might.
Uncle Thorin will be King, because he is strong and wise and no evil can touch him. He will not fall.
Fíli will be his heir, because he is clever and he always knows a solution to everything.
She and Bofur will be happy together, because they deserve it.
It is as simple as that.