Tauriel had entered his life barely a season ago. She captained the guard that imprisoned them in the last days of autumn as they raced towards Durin’s Day and the beginning of winter. Killing the dragon, readying their armies and allies, the battle itself—a lifetime of action fit into such a short time.
He woke from the longest sleep of his life to her stockinged feet resting on his bed. Her chair was pulled close to his bed, her arms crossed over her chest, her eyes lightly closed. If he was dead, he reasoned, this would have been much more transcendent with much more choral singing. He remembers very little of the third or fourth time she saved his life, but he remembers her incantation, that glow, the bag of walnuts someone used to pillow his head.
This was so ordinary. He had to be alive.
Óin startled him, but he was too weak to jump or flinch as two fingers rested on the inside of his wrist.
“Took you long enough to wake,” Óin said. “Your uncle and Fíli were about ready to send Dwalin in here to throw daggers at the top of your bed and see if you would react to that.” A pause as Óin hummed and ran his other hand along the wooden headboard over Kíli’s head. Óin said, “Hmm. I’m not entirely sure they didn’t.”
Kíli turned his hand so he could tug on Óin’s hand, but he found he couldn’t speak just yet. He pointed to her—that was question enough.
“Likely to see if her investment would pan out after all,” Óin said. “As I hear it, she only tore you from the mouth of a warg, single combat with one of those very tall orcs, and the millions of arrows flying about the field. I suppose you pulled your own weight here and there. She wouldn’t like you to harp too much on that sizable debt.”
“Yes I would,” said Tauriel. Kíli turned his face back; he wondered if he knew how roguish she could look when it pleased her. Yes. Yes of course. “Your friend Bofur wrote three verses of a drinking song celebrating my accomplishments.”
“There’s the pinnacle of your long existence, Captain,” Óin remarked. “He only does that for people who truly appreciate it, or that can’t be won over any other way.” Óin tapped on Kíli’s jaw and said, “Don’t try to speak. We have pins there to keep it together for a few weeks yet.”
“Óin,” Tauriel said. A dim light emerged from somewhere in his brain: She learned their names, she learned all their names, surely that means something.
She sat up in her chair, feet off the bed, and took one of Kíli’s bandaged hands in both her own. “Please. Tell me, and tell me true.” She looked at Kíli and then at Óin, mocking him gloriously because he was alive and he was going to be all right, he was going to be all right. “His jaw. Will it remain as ruggedly handsome as before?”
Óin, tugged at Kíli’s hair as if Kíli was a lad in his mother’s braids again. “I heard that chuckle and you’re not to laugh, not until I take the pins out, do you hear?”
“But it’s vitally important that I know,” Tauriel pleaded.
“Likely more handsome, Captain,” Óin said, “What with all these tremendous scars.”
“Oh,” Tauriel said. He could see her try to hide some real astonishment behind her teasing. “He looks smug. He’s feeling better already. That’s well enough for fieldwork again, isn’t it?”
“I’ll fetch the King and Fíli, and you’re not to joke about him leaving that bed until I say the word,” he warned her. “The boys are the only ones with any of that famous irony among them; the others believe in healing through re-breaking and I won’t have it.”
He left and Tauriel still held Kíli’s hand.
“I was beginning to think these were the best accommodations I would see as an honored guest of the sleeping prince,” she said. “Don’t talk. I’m imagining much wittier replies for you.”
Kíli held up his other hand, hoping she understood his miming of mirror. She shook her head. “Not until the stitches have been removed and the redness fades more. However, I can tell you…” She sat on the edge of his bed and cupped his cheek. “I’ll trace your scars for you. You won’t be so shocked, then, when you see them in some days.”
He nodded and kept his eyes open as her finger touched his cheek and ran across a thin, sensitive line of skin; along the edge of his jaw in a jagged motion that might have been the healing, not the battle; down the side of his face, from his eyebrow down to the side of his mouth. “That one,” Tauriel said, “Came too close to your eye, and tore the edge of the skin, but you fought it off bravely. We fought hard. You saved my life, too, you know.”
She looked and rested her hand on his left arm, the skin tight with scarring in every direction. “I was set on by a pack, an actual pack of wild men, and you—ingenious—approached without a sound and cut them all down, running in a circle with your dagger and bringing them all down by the backs of their legs like horses. Speaking of horses: do you remember the rams? One of the armies from the south rode in with battle rams. We captured a few that your friend Dori is trying to break them like horses for our use.”
Kíli brought her hand to his lips, and tried to figure out miming her injuries. He settled for resting a finger against one of his scars and pointing to her. She grinned and said, “A few here and there.” Then she pointed to her upper arm and said, “One tremendous one all along this arm that you will love to see. All shallow, already healed, and I don’t care to hide it. We were too quick for them.”
She sat up suddenly and moved back to the chair. “I hear Fíli and his showman’s cane. And Bilbo and the King yelling in unison.” She took Kíli’s hand again and said, “Brace yourself.”
He slept for days yet, but soon he was well enough to begin walking around his room, then up and down the corridor, then even to meals.
Tauriel would walk him to breakfast and back, then disappear until supper. Fíli, also under Óin’s decree of gradual mobility, said both she and Legolas had stayed on after the battle as representatives of Mirkwood and Thranduil’s kingdom.
“Ambassadors of a sort,” Fíli said as they practiced their grip work together. The brothers had some fire scarring due to a horror or two brought up from the fortress in the south, hot enough to brand their hands with the pattern of the fingerless mail they wore that day. “The scar down the side of your face, and mine, Thorin has it, too—I still don’t know how, but we were standing in a row, like we do, and something flew by and its spinning did all this. I know, I know, but Mother has promised to beat us senseless when we’re all well because Uncle promised he wouldn’t let the three of us stay together, blah blah blah emotionally compromised—”
Kíli cleared his throat and Fíli looked at the doorway as Dís stood there and listened.
“And then Thranduil said—”
“I taught you to lie better than that,” Dís said.
“Mother, please, don’t upset Kíli, he’s so weak.” Fíli covered his eyes and sobbed loudly.
“Better,” Dís said. “Still terrible, but you’re also on the mend, I suppose.”
Fíli grinned as she came closer and stood over Kíli, who Óin had upgraded to sitting in a chair sometimes. “Sit up straight,” Dís said, and Kíli did so with pride. “You’re so much more pleasant without the talking, dear. If Óin decides it’s too much of a risk ever to take the pins out, I can’t say we’ll fight him very much on it.”
Kíli offered his most pitiful eyes, tracing an invisible tear down the scar at the corner of his eye.
“That’s cheating,” Dís said. She leaned down and kissed the top of his head, then sat next to Fíli. “And my dear son who can actually speak. You were criticizing your mother?”
“What,” Fíli said. “I am shocked, shocked, that you would even think of—Mother I am injured, and you have been so supportive—and—ha—gentle with us—”
Kíli nudged Fíli’s leg and signed a straight line high above his head.
“We were discussing the elves,” Fíli said. “Kíli’s ancient lady and the sulking prince of the forest.”
“You mock him, but he’s making much progress to establishing the kingdom with potential allies and traders, and all the representatives from the west and south who have just heard, months on, that there was some significant battle here,” Dís said.
“Has Uncle already asked—”
“He and Balin hinted at the idea of gifting me and now they know, as you should too, that even joking about that will result in establishing a matriarchy and your sudden, tragic deaths in the night.”
“Just think of that elf’s face, though,” Fíli said. “Somewhere in this mountain, a pair of cheeks have tightened and he’s not sure why.”
“The lady has been very good to you,” Dís said to Kíli. “Fíli said not just here, but even before the battle.”
Kíli nodded and motioned to his leg.
“She works magic, that one,” Fíli said. “And not just the kind where she gets him to shut up without pins in his jaw.”
“So I’ve heard,” Dís replied. “As for speaking to her—”
Kíli choked on his air and stared wide-eyed at Dís.
“I was very nice to her!” Dís said. “Why do you two and your uncle always assume the worst? I asked her about her upbringing, her work—”
Fíli finished in a sing-song voice, “And Balin comes in with the marriage contract.”
“He’ll do no such thing,” Dís said. “But she would be… a fine choice for you, Kíli.”
Kíli raised his eyebrows at her and looked to Fíli, who had already smothered the gasp in his mouth.
“Did you just. Endorse. Someone.”
Kíli made the hand motion again, a straight line high next to his head.
“Endorse an elf,” Fíli corrected. “As a suitable spouse for my brother?”
“This is why we only talk when you’re injured,” Dís said as she stood up. “I have less lip from both of you when Óin has drugged you senseless.”
“THE PRINCES HEREBY SUMMON BALIN, OUR LORD CHAMBERLAIN, TO THE ROYAL SICKROOM,” Fíli yelled. He had pushed his lungs too much, though, and had a coughing fit that Kíli was all too glad to help cure by pounding on his back.
“Serves you right,” Dís said. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to change my mind completely about your captain.”
Kíli smiled as much as he could manage.
“Mother,” Fíli coughed. “Mother, where’s my spouse? Mother, won’t you find me someone suitable enough—”
“I’ll find you a nice deep mine where the rocks would be all too glad to listen to you chatter all day,” Dís said.
“Mother, just what I always wanted! You so know my heart, Mother dear!”
The pins came out of Kíli’s jaw to a great audience.
Great in size and status, probably, but not much else.
“He’s more focused with the pins,” Dwalin said. “Keep them in there.”
“Take them out,” Dís said. “Kíli will take my side in our current trade dispute.”
“Perhaps,” Tauriel said, supporting Legolas in The Other Side of the trade dispute.
Dís looked over at Tauriel and then said, “I’ve changed my mind. Keep them in and cut out his tongue.”
“That speaks highly of your argument’s strength,” Bilbo said.
“Pins for you, too,” Dís declared. “Pins for everyone! No one speaks but me.”
“See,” Thorin said as he leaned against Bilbo. “I said you were similar.”
“I hate when he’s right, don’t you?” Bilbo asked.
“Don’t give him the satisfaction,” Dís replied.
“Are quite so many of you necessary for this procedure?” Óin asked. “I’m sure you’re not and I’m sure that this is my sick room.”
“I wonder what his first words will be,” Fíli said. “I used to wonder that, too, when he was a baby and still learning how to talk.”
“What was his first word?” Tauriel asked.
“... do you know, I think it was beer,” Fíli said.
“It was,” Dís said. “It was Da, beer because your father had some and wouldn’t let him at it.”
“Sounds about right,” Fíli said. “Speaking of beer: Óin, when can he drink again?”
“He’s been drinking,” Óin replied. “Drink helps with the illness, keeps the insides clear of disease.”
“Is that why you’ve been here so long?” Balin asked. “Should have known only the best medicine could have kept you to a bed these weeks.”
“Well,” Thorin said.
“You wouldn’t know,” Bilbo said. “Who would have the patience?”
Only Dís and Dwalin dared to laugh, and they laughed enough for the rest of them.
“All right, the pins are out,” Óin said. “Mark this well: you’re not to get carried away exercising it as though it’s good as new. You work it back up to its strength. If anyone here catches you over-flapping that big mouth of yours, they’re to kick you right back to me.”
“With pleasure,” Dís said.
“I’ve never taken a charge so seriously in all my life,” Dwalin said.
He could speak now, through his teeth, jaw relaxed but still feeling very tight. He looked around the room and his eyes rested on Tauriel.
“Great,” Kíli said.
“All right, back to work,” Balin said. “Don’t you all have work to attend?”
“You’re to return here for your exercises every morning,” Óin said as Kíli climbed off the bed. “And you’re not to overexert yourself under any circumstances.”
“But he can,” Fíli said, tapping his finger on his chin. “You know. Exert himself.”
“LEAVING,” Kíli said through his teeth.
Once everyone had left the room, Tauriel offered him her hand. “Fíli has been hoarding all the canes in his rooms, but you should have a bit of variety, don't you think?”
Kíli stopped and shook his head when she made sure he was all right—no he didn’t hurt (no more than usual, at this point), yes, he was all right.
“Thank you,” Kíli said. “For everything.”
“For staying,” he said.
She watched him for a moment, her inscrutable smile making her—well, her.
“It wasn’t even a question,” she said. “Of staying. Of course I stayed. Of course I will.”
She leaned down and kissed him, not for the first time, not for the last, but this time, yes, this time to stay.
They settled into a routine, those in Erebor, Thorin’s Company and all those they had gathered along the way: Dís, Tauriel and Legolas, the families that arrived in waves, ready to work and rebuild their kingdom. Bard and his family were still in Lake-town, across the ruin of Dale, and still welcomed the dwarves and in turn were welcomed into Erebor for dinners at the high table, when Bard could be spared/dragged.
Kíli would wake in his rooms with Tauriel. Later in the morning, she would walk him to Óin’s for his exercises and, once he was strong enough, his retraining with Dwalin and Fíli and Thorin himself. Tauriel joined Legolas, Dís, Balin, and Glóin for letter-writing, arguing about new and old trade partners, and some good general arguing about infrastructure.
Bilbo, who had never lived anywhere so populous, so in need of people with purpose, made it her business to know everyone in the mountain and their business, and how everything interlocked with everything else. When Dwalin arrived in the healers’ corridor for his strength training of the injured royalty, she would sit in the corner of the sparring room and catch them up on the goings-on of the city, of Lake-town, the wider world as she heard of it.
“Tauriel made quite an impression today,” Bilbo said.
“That’s right,” Dwalin said as he went hard at Kíli with a sword. “Focus on what you’re doing, not on the captain.”
“She and the others went into Lake-town for their weekly meeting with Bard and the old Master’s men who won’t relinquish their seats on the city council,” Bilbo continued. “And one of them actually said to her, to her face, that he wasn’t about to take advice or instruction from a delicate lady who couldn’t hold her drink.”
“That’s one fool down,” Thorin said as Dwalin turned to spar with him.
“Tell us the rest,” Kíli said as he practiced escaping Fíli’s arm hold on his weaker side. “How did it end?”
“Oh,” Bilbo laughed. “Tauriel downed a beer in front of him, he did the same, and he was out after two rounds.”
“Three rounds total? Three drinks?” Kíli scoffed. “I thought it was a real challenge. We’ve had more for a summer breakfast.”
“Just one more point in the captain’s favor,” Fíli said. “You can settle all your arguments with drinks and she’ll always think the better of you because you let her win.”
“I wouldn’t let her win,” Kíli said.
“No, no, she would win,” Fíli said. “But before you pass out on the floor, you could tell her that you concede and she’s always right and she should never leave you because you’ll never find anyone else like her. If you work enough at it, I’m sure you can train yourself to that.”
“I wouldn’t let her win,” Kíli repeated. “It’s one thing for some old man from Lake-town to give up after three drinks, but I’m young, regaining my strength, I—”
“It’s a biological impossibility, Kíli,” Bilbo laughed. “Tauriel has lived for centuries among the elves in Mirkwood. They’re not the reserved elves of Rivendell; she’s likely drank more during one of their starlight festivals than you have in your entire adult life.”
Kíli rested his arm on Fíli and truly considered what Bilbo was telling him.
“I can take her,” Kíli decided.
“It would be extremely funny to watch you try,” Bilbo said. “The I TOLD YOU SO carved on your tomb would be visible for miles.”
“I don’t see what gives you such great confidence in these elves’ ability to hold their drink,” Thorin said to Bilbo. “Biggest festival of their year and thirteen casks to show for it? Come now.”
“Should I remind you that those casks were big enough to fit BOMBUR?” Bilbo asked. “Or does that not count, either?”
“Watered down forest wine,” Thorin scoffed.
“Oh, yes, that’s what they’ve spent ten millennia of civilization fermenting and perfecting,” Bilbo said.
“Kíli, you can challenge your captain when you’ve won a spar against me,” Dwalin said. “Back to footwork, all of you.”
“Dwalin, don’t you want to hear the rest of my intelligence?” Bilbo asked. “I have some interesting—”
“Permission to terrify her out of the room?” Dwalin asked Thorin.
“If you can manage it,” Thorin replied. “Don’t you think I’ve been trying?”
“Was that trying? As I was saying,” Bilbo continued.
The days and weeks passed. Kíli becoming strong enough to fight again, ride again, talk without Óin and everyone else slapping him on the wrist or jabbing him in the side when he spoke for more than a few moments at length. Before his injuries, the battle, the quest, Kíli measured time in his jobs and travels, in seasons and whether he and Fíli were sleeping in the warm, the rain, or snow. Now?
At first, every day out of bed had been a trial of his will against his body. Now he was becoming strong enough for them to work together again, his body feeling stronger and working harder for having been so broken.
That was when the Elvenking decided to kick his feet out from under him.
“I forgot to tell you,” Tauriel said as she settled against him in bed that night. “Legolas has had word from his father today. Well. He told me today, I can only assume he had it today.”
“How is the Lord of Robes Aplenty?” Kíli asked. “You never did tell me where he found a battle elk. Rams are one thing, but that elk. Really.”
“I’m still sworn to secrecy on that,” Tauriel laughed.
“If you say so,” Kíli sighed. “What sweet words did Arda’s Worst Host have for you, Captain?”
“None for me, except the usual I will infer from the timeliness of your reply that Captain Tauriel continues to perform her role admirably.”
“Does he really say that? End of every letter?”
“That’s the warmest he’s been yet.”
“It’s a wonder you’re not more murderous.”
Kíli glanced at Tauriel’s head resting against his shoulder, seeing that she smiled but said nothing else. She only let him have the last word in really rare, exceptional circumstances—like when she thought he was dying.
Probably not even then, as he had been dying.
“What else?” Kíli asked.
“That,” she said. “He asks Legolas to make plans for his return. He should return before the start of winter.”
“Ah,” Kíli said. “Hm. Well. We’ll be sad to lose Legolas.”
“I’ll tell him that,” Tauriel said. “Very few things throw him off his guard like a compliment from one of you.”
“We enjoy him plenty,” Kíli said. He stroked her hair and when neither of them spoke again, he cleared his throat. “So. Business. Uh. Strictly speaking. Professionally, I mean. Captain. I was wondering, and have been wondering, actually, for some time.”
He could feel Tauriel freeze against him for a moment before she sat up straight and turned to face him.
“That’s not helping,” he laughed.
“Who said I should make it easy?” she asked. “Óin was removing huge chunks of spear from your leg last time I saw you squirm this much.”
“Stop,” he said, still laughing because when could they ever be serious, about anything, ever. “I’m just. Asking. About a matter of contracts. Whether you would consider, perhaps, taking on a new assignment. Here. In Erebor. As… my spouse?”
She burst out laughing.
“Yes, I understand, it’s ridiculous, but hear me out!” Kíli said. “It would only be for a century, century and a half or so, and fairly lucrative. Not as lucrative as if I was Fíli, but you can’t have everything, can you? And I’m so much nicer than Fíli.” She took his hands in hers and he added, “Really, I say a century and a half, but you can bow out when I lose my looks in about a century. Who am I kidding—this hair will last until I turn to stone, so let’s say a full 150-year term.”
“That sounds fair,” Tauriel said. “But what have I to offer you?”
“Good point,” Kíli said. “What do I want from the one who has given me my life a half-dozen times over? And I’ve not grown any less reckless, Captain. Think of how much more trouble we can find for ourselves in this age of the world.”
“And if we only have a century to find out,” Tauriel said. “Well. We should start as soon as possible.”
In another two months, Balin and Legolas finalized the marriage contract, Kíli and Tauriel could finally sign it, and Erebor could host a modest (by Balin’s standards, asphyxiating by Thorin’s) celebration of the royal signing. Representatives arrived from the other kingdoms and their trade partners, all of them gathered into the one restored great hall, finally unveiled into much of its former glory. There, in front of the assembled crowd and kingdom, Kíli and Tauriel completed in full and signed the final negotiated version of their contract.
A traditional royal marriage ceremony (dating back to before the Desolation and exile) was performed like this, in a great hall, where the royal contract was reviewed and completed by the parties being married. Balin had brought in a massive desk that could fit the complete (complete, unfurled) marriage contract, with Tauriel and Kíli, in their respective regalia, seated side by side and completing in turn the huge portions left to them.
“Do I have to sign my full name?” Kíli whispered to Balin.
“As much as you can remember,” Balin said fondly.
“And we have to use three reckonings for birth month and year?”
“It’s seventh kingdom, not fifth,” Thorin said, hovering over Kíli’s shoulder. “You’re a prince of the seventh kingdom of Erebor.”
“Uncle, there’s only a thousand people watching,” Kíli said as he wrote.
“This will only be carved into the walls of this royal chamber for our descendants to commemorate until the breaking of the world,” Thorin replied. “Seventh.”
(The thought stayed in Tauriel’s mind—that she could return here in a thousand years and touch a wall, marked this day to remember this moment. Rather than shake her head and banish it, she welcomed the thought. Something more than bones and stories would remain. Something real.
(Of course, she might not be in Arda or even alive in a thousand years, or there might not be an Arda, but it was still humbling to have the option.)
Dís interrupted and Kíli tried to write faster before she said something that would require them to start over.
“Thorin, from where did you get the idea that Erebor is the seventh kingdom?”
“It’s on the wall by the secret door,” Thorin replied.
“Yes, be that as it may, just because it’s carved in the back door of our little palace here,” Dís said, “Doesn’t mean it’s necessarily accurate. There aren’t seven active dwarven kingdoms at the moment, and there haven’t been seven kingdoms even within Erebor. There have been more than seven kings, of course, but—”
“Mother, really?” Kíli asked. “Really? I’m in the middle of something.
“I’m only pointing out what’s perfectly obvious to anyone who isn’t quite so distracted as your uncle, dear,” Dís said. “And Balin, you’re better than this—there isn’t so much as a crinkle on that parchment whose placement you haven’t considered for weeks. Where did you get seventh kingdom from?”
“It’s a figure of speech,” Balin said. “The seven legendary kings of old.”
“Ah,” said Dís. “So not real, actual kings and kingdoms, but only the ones that befit our legacy. I see.”
Fíli put an arm around his mother’s shoulders and said, “I missed you. Do I say that often enough? Do you know how many months we were on the road with Uncle—no laughter, no songs, no—”
“How many kingdoms do you think there are?” Dís asked Fíli.
“As many as you say there are.”
Tauriel leaned in to where Kíli sat completing his portion of the contract. “Now I don’t have to list how many elven kingdoms there have been, do I? There’s literally too many for one piece of paper.”
“Would you believe,” Kíli said as he took a break from writing, “That she was referring just to this sweeping pronouncement on top?” He stood up and pointed down near the floor to the top of the epicly long parchment and the dwarven letters at the top. “That’s the official name of Erebor and this kingdom and that’s what Mother protests.”
“If I may interrupt,” said a voice quietly. They turned around as Ori, in his finest gloves and everything else, stepped up to the platform with the desk and said: “Seventh kingdom isn’t a figure of speech, but a rhetorical device.”
Dwalin pinched the bridge of his nose and glanced around for an escape.
“It’s six legendary kingdoms, beginning with Durin, and then the seventh is always whatever kingdom you’re standing in or referring to,” Ori said. “So the current kingdom of your making is always referring back to the kingdoms of old, you see.”
“We don’t recall asking, Ori,” Balin said.
And that was Ori’s cue to return to his seat in the front row with the rest of the Company.
Even Thranduil had ventured to Erebor for the signing (not for Tauriel's sake, as he assured them, but because Kíli was a member of the royal family). He stood behind Legolas and both of them took great care watching Tauriel complete her share of the contract.
“Legolas,” Tauriel whispered. “In Quenya, how many E’s are in Gondolin?”
“Just the one, Tauriel,” Thranduil said. “With an accent.”
“A diaeresis,” Legolas said.
“THE TWO DOTS, CAPTAIN,” Thranduil said.
“You don’t remember how to spell your home city?” Kíli asked as he flexed his hand after all the writing.
“Your contract asks for the home of my family two generations back and they, my grandparents, were in Gondolin, which has been under the sea for about eight thousand years.”
“This seems like something that could have been researched and drafted prior to the day,” Thranduil noted. “Is there wine yet? Not that wine is any excuse to forget how to spell Ondolindë.”
“Our people seal with a drink,” Thorin said. “When it’s complete.”
“Is that it?” Thranduil asked. “They sign a paper and that’s it? What of the ceremony?”
“This is the ceremony, Father,” Legolas said.
Thranduil was too well-composed to sputter, but he did raise an eyebrow to show his deep, deep offense at these new-to-him developments. “How can she be married without summoning her very real and volatile deities that will watch over them? Legolas, you said you had taken care of our portion of the ceremony and the song to the Queen of the Stars was included in that.”
Kíli checked on Tauriel’s progress and asked, “Did your parents have that many properties?”
“No, cities,” she replied. “They were exiles, but the contract says anywhere they remained for more than three centuries.” She shook the cramp out of her hand and said, “I understand Balin was being thorough, but you all underestimate how long the Second Age was for the rest of us.”
“I can sing the traditional ode,” Thranduil continued to Legolas. “You are my darling son, but your voice is not the best.”
“Oh no no no no,” Tauriel whispered as she returned to completing the contract. After another moment, she shouted: “FINISHED.” She turned to Kílli and said, “I was promised a drink when we began this an age ago.”
“Father,” Legolas whispered, “Did you really want to sing? And present her with the necklace you had made for her? It’s much better to let them have the attention today.”
“Legolas, you’re a transparent and terrible liar, but never let it be said I don’t appreciate the effort,” Thranduil said. “We’ll save the elvish ceremony for some future festival in the Greenwood. Or after a few pitchers. I can’t recall if dwarven wine is as strong as ours.”
Attendants had begun to distribute beer and wine throughout the hall, with a small battalion of them just for the royal crowd at the front. Balin ushered the couple out of the way and began to review the contract while Kíli and Tauriel toasted to each other and drank.
“Is it over now?” Tauriel asked. “Are we married? Can we eat? Why couldn’t we complete the contract in advance?”
“That’s our way,” Balin said as he frowned over Kíli and Tauriel’s equally awful handwriting. “Nothing proves the question will this union last? like completing paperwork in front of your families and a large, impatient, sober audience.” Balin motioned behind them and said, “Kíli, ask your mother how many times she left the hall when we tried to marry her to your father.”
“That was not because of Kíli’s father—”
“Not only,” Thorin said.
“Who insisted not just on Khuzdul spellings, but Old Khuzdul?” Dís asked. “The archaic dialect that was only taught to brats of the royal family, who didn’t even bother to study it that thoroughly?”
Thorin replied, “That was Frerin. Frerin insisted. He thought you would find it funny.”
“Oh,” Dís said. “Well, he’s dead, so you get the brunt of the grudge. ENJOY.”
Legolas rested his hand on Tauriel’s shoulder. She would swear he was laughing.
“But how can it be,” Thranduil continued. “That’s your royal ceremony? You sign a contract and that’s the end of it? What of prayers, songs, jewelry—there’s just—so much jewelry to be had.”
“That’s why we have the feast afterwards, Majesty,” Fíli said. Somehow, he was simultaneously the furthest gone and the most diplomatic at that point in the feast.
They draped on Tauriel metal and jewels woven into her hair, a circlet, four rings, two necklaces, a huge brooch, and some kind of super-necklace that had to be draped and pinned to her gown at the shoulders. The more those around her drank, the easier for her to unlink a chain or take off a ring and a brooch, rest it on the table, and pretend it had always been there. It was really enough jewelry for the moment, and any more would become insultingly impractical.
“Maybe this is just where I come from,” Bofur said. “Anyone else hear of the Test of Triumph?” He motioned to Bombur and said, “It was a story our father used to tell us, about how our mother agreed to marry him.” He looked back at Thranduil and assured him, “Vital, intimate part of marriage customs in the Blue Mountains, Majesty.”
“Oh please,” Bilbo said from down the table next to Thorin. “The story of your origin into the world? Please. Please tell us.”
“Ah, well, nothing special about that part, but the marrying was something else,” Bofur said. “That our mother refused to marry our father until he could defeat her in arm wrestling.”
Fíli cackled. “Kíli, you never did challenge the captain to that drinking contest.”
“You,” Legolas pointed to Kíli, “win a drinking contest against her?”
“I’ll ready the emetics,” Óin sighed.
“I’LL BE FINE,” Kíli called after Óin to no avail.
“We don’t have to do this,” Tauriel said.
“Oh?” Kíli asked. “Now I think we have to do this.”
“I tried to tell him,” Bilbo said to Tauriel and Legolas. “It’s simply a matter of mass, and—”
“Clear the table,” Thorin said as he stood up and urged the other side of the long table to make room for Kíli, so husband and wife could face each other in their competition.
“I’d like it made official, in some sort of record, that this was not my idea,” Bofur called out.
Bifur ran a finger across his neck and crossed his eyes, and that was all the “record” Bofur needed to vacate his seat.
“I’d like to request we use liquor,” Tauriel said. “It’ll be over quicker.”
“Don’t go easy on me,” Kíli said. “I can take you.”
“You were in the mouth of a warg not a year ago,” Bilbo said. “Did you forget the warg?”
“First one to vomit,” Kíli said.
“Will have vomited on their wedding day,” Bilbo added. “At their wedding feast.”
“This is the way of our people,” Fíli said.
“I wish it wasn’t,” Dís said.
The dwarves around him would have made more of that statement, but the kitchen had brought out twenty small glasses (ten for each of the contenders) and Óin returned from the sick room with his clear “medicinal” liquor. As Bilbo filled the small glasses for the competitors, muttering about their idiocy as she did so, Kíli extended a hand across the table to Tauriel, who clasped it warmly.
“Traditional rules here,” Fíli announced. “Take a drink together, count to fifteen, take another, repeat until someone falls over.”
When Bilbo finished pouring, Tauriel held up her first glass across the table to clink with Kíli’s. “It was nice being married to you before your sudden, completely expected death from alcohol poisoning,” she said. “Today was a very nice day.”
“It was, wasn’t it?” Kíli said. They clinked again and then they drank.
(Actually, the feast ended with Kíli’s resounding victory over Tauriel, who gracefully slumped into Legolas’s arms on their sixth “shot” of water. The captain folded her arms on the table and took a well-earned nap with her many wedding gifts gathered in a small hoard over which she laid her head. She rested her eyes as the feast continued around her. She could pick up snippets here and there, and, with some effort, pieced some of the evening together:
Bilbo downed the rest of Kíli’s “shots” (two real small glasses of liquor and then the rest water with something bitter Óin kept in his cabinets, a substance usually reserved for curing small dwarves of their thumbsucking). The high table hailed her the Hero of the Shire.
Thranduil forced Legolas to practice singing scales until Dís distracted him by asking for his literal life story. “What do you mean,” Thranduil asked, “You’ve never heard of me?” Dís shrugged, propped her chin on her hand, and listened, allowing Legolas to escape somewhere/anywhere.
Bifur and Bofur showed off their latest creations for the bored noble children at one of the tables. Several small fires were put out and cuts and scrapes obtained; in the morning, when their parents’ wallets were more accessible, several sales would be made.
Dori and her lady made up a plate for Kíli the conqueror while they shared the secrets of a solid partnership. “I really can’t tell you enough,” Rúna said to Kíli. “Don’t walk away from each other angry. It will just—it’ll eat you up, and be that much harder to forget later.”
Glóin rescued his son from no less than four single combat challenges with four different elves.
Nori charmed her way around the hall, table to table, collecting a decent share of traveling trinkets that no one would miss too much.
Balin found himself the most popular dwarf at the feast as he was introduced to every eligible dwarf son and daughter in the city as a potential match for the remaining heir.
Fíli, meanwhile, found himself cornered by Bombur’s grown daughter, Brynna, who wanted to discuss social policy initiatives for Erebor before she began her new position assisting the council. Fíli was half relieved that she wished to talk business (not marriage) and half disappointed that she wanted to talk business.
Bombur trapped Nori with a proposal: would she would be interested in joining the team to create several more hidden escapes out of the city? Stealing wallets is one thing, but entire people out of the mountain? An actual fucking challenge.
Ori and the Quenya translator of Thranduil’s party disappeared for some time to discuss further the intricacies of their respective languages.
Tauriel sat up, stretched, and curled up again along an entire bench and a half. Bilbo scooped up her wedding gifts and put them away for the morning.
Thorin and Thranduil recalled they hated each other beneath all that begrudging respect between allies and now family. They challenged each other to their own drinking contest.
Legolas suddenly fell ill because the “heavy dwarf cuisine” finally took its toll on his delicate constitution. Óin checked him over and recommended to the Elvenking that rest would be the best thing for both of them, lest the excitement of the day do them further harm.
Bofur rolled up with a wheelbarrow to take the king back to his suite, but Thorin regained his senses as Bilbo said, “Just drop him in the wheelbarrow, the hangover should mask a concussion.”
The hall quieted as people retired, enough that Tauriel learned a royal dwarven drinking feast ended as most drinking feasts do:
Dwalin sat at a corner table, draped in two not-that-drunk princes who used the opportunity to discuss their feelings in vivid detail. Dwalin was a good stone with a heart. He wouldn’t judge them.
“It isn’t completion, like a setting that was missing a stone,” Kíli said, half against Dwalin’s shoulder and half projecting towards Tauriel (still “sleeping” at the head table). “It’s a third thing when you thought there were only two.”
Fíli was already asleep against Dwalin’s other shoulder.
“Pretty words, Kíli,” Dwalin said.
“I want to sleep outside,” said Kíli. “CARRY ME OUTSIDE. RIGHT ON THIS TABLE.”
“I CARE NOT.")
It was cold. Kíli re-settled his head on his folded arm and tried to be gentle as he kicked his quilt down around his feet. Behind him, Tauriel stirred and tightened her arm around his waist. She didn’t feel the cold, so it would be all right to take a bit more of the quilt.
A bird chirped and Kíli’s heart screamed the rest of him awake.
“Are we outside?” he whispered out loud.
In fact, they were outside on a long wooden dining table situated just past the main doors of Erebor, facing the courtyard and trees with the mountain looming over them. The sun was coming up and doing an absolutely shit job of providing any warmth at this point in the dawn.
“How did we get outside?” he whispered.
“Do you actually want me to wake up and tell you,” Tauriel asked, “Or do you want to go inside and sleep some more?”
“If it’s all right with you,” Kíli said as he turned in Tauriel’s arms and met her now-open eyes. “I’d like to go inside and never speak of this blessed day again.”
“It’s really in your best interest,” Tauriel said. “Actually, in the best interest of your family, and Thranduil and Legolas. You did promise me at least a century of amusement, remember?”
“I can’t move,” Kíli said as he hid his eyes from the light. “I said a century, I meant twelve hours. Please kill me and enjoy my family’s riches. Use it well.”
“Get up or I’ll throw you in the lake.”
“That works, too. Let’s go inside! What a fine idea! My wife, the captain of all fine ideas, and forgiveness, and love and affection, and that eyebrow, and—”