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To Catch a Falling Star

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Desperation spurs Kíli to leap when he sees the Orc captain swing a mace over Tauriel. And it works: Bolg immediately breaks off the attack when Kíli lands on top of him, although it only takes an instant before he throws him off.

Kíli scrambles back to his feet and attacks again. He was helpless to watch his brother die, but he can give this loved one a fighting chance. This foe is beyond even her—she's still lying stunned and helpless, so he knows his odds of surviving are slim. The Orc seems to hardly feel his blows and he's as fast as an elf despite his massive size.

An instant later Bolg's swiped the sword out of his hands before bulling forward, sending Kíli crashing into the staircase and knocking the air from his lungs. He sees stars and reaches feebly to grab a rock, a branch, anything- when he feels something smooth against his fingers.

 

Her dagger.

 

And he wheels it overhand as Bolg hauls him up like a rag doll for skewering.

Kíli shouts and he hears Tauriel scream as the sharpened end of Bolg's mace hits his chest, like an anvil into his ribs before they both go crashing to the ground.

But the dagger has done its work, quivering in Bolg's eye socket, and without guidance Bolg's weapon has missed the gap in his mail.

"Kíli!" Tauriel heaves Bolg's corpse off of his body, falling to her knees beside him.

Tears fill her eyes when he takes a desperate breath, clutching at his ribs reflexively. He opens his eyes and attempts a smile.

"Seems you gave this Dwarf a weapon after all," he gasps, indicating the dagger with a tilt of his head, and she huffs a laugh and shakes her head as she strokes a hand down his cheek.

She can feel her fate sealing like Luthien's doom as relief and joy flood her senses, threatening to make the tears fall. But she says only, "your mother was correct."

"Hopeless," he agrees, placing his hand over hers and smiling as their eyes meet. He knows. But now is not the time.

They both grimace and scramble to retrieve their weapons when they hear shouts in Black Speech and heavy footfalls approaching.

They have yet to cut the head off this snake.

 


 

There's a kind of bitterness in Kili's heart as he chops down Azog's signal vanes atop Ravenhill, sending them spinning down the snowy slopes.

He pants for breath and discards the orc axe, bracing his hands against his knees as his wrathful momentum flags. Awareness seeps in of just how badly his chest hurts and how tired and sore he is as he looks around at the bodies scattered around. Ravenhill has a perfect view of the surrounding area, and Tauriel is studying the battlefield below.

"The Orcs scatter. A… large bear and the Great Eagles give chase." There are bewildered tears in her eyes. "My people did not retreat."

He looks up at her, placing a comforting hand on her arm, and she looks back at him and smiles. "It has been an age since Elves, Dwarves and Men fought together. Perhaps brighter days return."

He looks over at Erebor, relieved to see the Dwarf lines have held, although it's obvious how drastically their numbers have been reduced. Their reclaimed homeland, held at a terrible cost.

And he's reluctant to retrace his path back down to where Fíli lies, half hoping that it was all an awful joke. The numerous dead orcs littered along the way give him no pride or solace: none of those deaths will bring his brother back.

And he can barely breathe for weeping when they find him where he fell- wide-eyed and pale, the ground stained red under his body.

Kíli kneels to close his eyes and wipe the blood from his lips. Fíli had been the golden boy, Thorin's heir, always stronger, smarter and better prepared. And he'd always taken the duty to protect his brother to heart- they've all heard his mother tell the story of how she'd looked over to see Fíli dragging Kíli away from touching the glowing coals in the hearth, though he'd been just a wee lad himself.

"I know what you did. And I wish you hadn't. How am I going to tell Mother?" Kíli whispers brokenly.

Tauriel places her hand on his shoulder, eyes full of sorrow. She understands now why he'd been fighting his way uphill with such desperate rage.

She waits until the first storm of grief has eased a little, and wordlessly takes the sword he hands her so he can carry his brother's body down the mountain.

 

But that is not the only blow his heart has to withstand that day.

 

They hear Bilbo weeping before they find him, and Kíli staggers to a halt when they spot the hobbit huddled protectively over Thorin's head.

"No! No, no, no…"

It matters not that Azog lies impaled upon Orcrist a few feet away, his vile oath unfulfilled. Fíli was still not his final victim from the line of Durin.

"Oh Kíli. I'm so sorry," she whispers, bowing her head. She knows she can offer him no comfort beyond her sympathy- she remembers well the bewildering intensity of her own grief when she had lost her parents to orcs, now dead for six hundred years.

That is where Legolas finds her, and he assesses Azog's corpse and the company of dwarves grieving before he inclines his head in brief deference to Thorin's fallen figure. Then he approaches Tauriel and speaks low, urgently.

"Tauriel. They gather the wounded in Dale. Healers are needed."

She hesitates- she hates to leave Kíli like this, so raw and brokenhearted, but this isn't her place either.

Balin nods at her. "We will take care of our dead. You do what you can for the living."

She nods and follows Legolas back down the mountain.

 


 

In retrospect, Kíli finds surviving the next few hours far more difficult than surviving the battle itself.

Balin is solemn and regretful when he speaks once Kíli sits hollow and quiet before their bodies. Terrible to lose close kin, doubly so that he was witness to the violence of Fili's last moments.

And yet the words must be spoken. "As Thorin's next male kin, rule of Erebor and Durin's Folk falls to you now, Kíli, son of Dis."

The words take a few seconds to register, and Kili's mouth opens in stunned realization.

"How… can you even…? Thorin and Fíli were the elder brothers, the ones meant for greatness. I'm not… a leader, I'm just… I can't even braid my beard yet!"

Balin nods soberly. He'd expected Kíli to be reluctant- he's always been a follower, dutifully providing support instead of holding the position of power. But he's shown enough of his own initiative recently to give even a Longbeard some faith in this last member of Durin's senior bloodline. "The line of succession is clear. And perhaps you're too young to have done enough to merit greatness. But you are a worthy son of Durin. You've shown your mettle in battle today, fighting uphill to bring down the command signals of the enemy and defeating Bolg, spawn of Azog—you did not know?" he asks in mild surprise.

Kíli shakes his head and grimaces. His chest still aches from that encounter, every breath causing a sharp pain in the ribs. "That was… chance. He'd disarmed both of us and was about to finish me when I found Tauriel's dagger on the ground."

Balin tilts his head thoughtfully. "Was it only chance? Or could it possibly be fate? Shall I remind you how Thorin defeated Azog and became leader of Durin's Folk? Or simply of the last words you exchanged with your uncle?"

Was that only a few hours ago? Kíli stops, reeling. "You're saying that quailing isn't right? That leadership is in my blood? This was never meant for me. I am reckless, inexperienced, Fíli was supposed to… How could I possibly do justice to such an honor?"

"With one just act at a time. Your doubts are understandable- expected and right, even. Perhaps you could yield the crown to Dain, although he and his kin hold the Iron Hills. Or you can trust, as I do, that Blood will tell." Balin pauses, raising his brows. "It seems you have a natural skill for Elvish diplomacy, at the very least."

Kíli flushes but says nothing of Tauriel. Tauriel. He had expected to marry or not, as he chose, and Durin's senior line truly hangs by a thread now.

 

But this duty is hardly one he can bypass with honor.

 

Bofur pats him on the shoulder. "And of course we know you're a reckless stripling! Who else would charge uphill into an army of Orcs alone? But you don't expect to rule without a council, now?"

Bifur glares and smacks him on the shoulder, and Bofur mouths "What?"

"Even Durin the Deathless listened to the people before founding Moria," Ori ventures. "Every leader has, in all the histories."

"Then advise me now. What does a king do after a battle is won?"

Ori gulps nervously. "Treat with the other kings."

"Our allies may expect to be compensated before they take their leave." Dori notes, frowning and stroking his beard.

Kíli nods, thinking aloud. "Well…we now owe the Eagles and Beorn twice over, and of course Gandalf and that other wizard fellow."

"Radagast was his name," Ori says.

"Bard still has the Arkenstone and the Elves won't be going anywhere soon with so many dead to mourn, nor our kin from the Iron Hills. Have I forgotten anybody?"

They eye each other and shrug.

Kili nods and looks at his brother and uncle again. 

 

Not so easily broken.

 

And he swallows and stands. "Let's get them home, then."

He's not sure why tears spring into his eyes again when they all bow and move to carry out his words.

 


 

As they carry the bodies of their kinsmen back to Erebor, they have to make their way past the carnage strewn over the land and spilling out of Dale, the moans of the dying and stench of death and smoke and blood. Oin and Gloin leave the procession to assist badly wounded kinsmen to Dale. And for the next few hours, those still able bodied compete in a grisly race to keep the wounded alive and retrieve their dead before the bodies are desecrated: many of the Gundabad bats linger, feasting on the abundance of carrion.

Kíli thinks those tasks more critical, but he has other duties now. And if he discharges them as a novice with red-rimmed eyes and a heavy heart, he believes he does well enough, considering. Dain Ironfoot, Balin, Dwalin and Ori accompany him to the gathering of the leaders, carrying what rewards they would offer, and he's grateful for their presence and Bilbo's in the presence of such towering, powerful allies.

 

Gandalf directs the proceedings, for which he is grateful. Kíli merely has to follow his lead, thanking the Eagles and offering them lasting friendship, along with a gold crown for their Lord and armlets for the others as tokens of that promise. The Lord of Eagles accepts them gratefully and Kíli bows. One thing done.

 

Beorn thunderously forestalls any offer of gold, growling that he is satisfied with the knowledge that Thorin Oakenshield killed the Defiler. Kíli nods, forcing back the surge of emotion those words evoke and scrambling to think. "As you will- of course. But- we Dwarves have some skill with metal, and you have aided us twice. I wonder… if you would allow us to try to remove the shackle on your wrist. After all, we have forge and tools again."

This surprises them all, and Beorn considers for a nerve-wracking moment before accepting with a fierce delight that makes them all take a nervous step back.

Kíli bows before standing straighter and prouder. And another.

 

But the next part is hard anyway—Thranduil's manner is so cold and superior that Kíli understands immediately why he had driven Thorin into a rage. His son Legolas glowering behind him is also the one who'd ordered Tauriel away from him on the shore.

But Kili's also learned the bitter price of war, and he reminds himself that Elves fought with Dwarves today; that their healers work even now to save life and limb; that these are Tauriel's kin and their neighbors, and goodwill will smooth future dealings. And there is blood—both orc and not—splattered on their beautiful clothes and faces.

So he opens a chest of white gems, the largest of which are set in a mithril necklace crowning the lot. And as he sees hungry triumph flare in the Elven King's eyes he feels his gut sink, but that unease tempers when he sees the tearful emotion that follows on its heels.

"Ah, Legolas. If only your mother were still alive to wear these. She so dearly loved the stars," Thranduil whispers.

Behind him, Legolas' eyes widen with startled vulnerability before he lowers them hastily.

Thranduil closes the chest before he smiles regally and bows, and Kíli bows in return.

 

They then approach Bard with two chests of gold. "A portion of what is owed. I hold three of fourteen shares now. Dale will have one, honoring the bargain my Uncle originally struck. I would not ransom more lives for gold," Kíli vows.

Bard bows. "It will not bring back the lost. But it will help rebuild the lives of those who survived. We thank you for just settlement."

He produces the Arkenstone, regarding it thoughtfully for a moment. "I return this then, to the one whose share it was claimed under."

 

Kili's face tightens as he looks at it. Their family treasure and the right to call on all seven tribes: the Heart of the Mountain so irreverently passed between non-dwarves.

Bilbo quirks his head before he speaks, voice thick with emotion despite his attempt to keep the words light. "If you don't mind, I'd like to give this into Thorin's keeping where he- rests. I'd intended for him to get it back all along and heaven knows I don't need it. Would that be all right? I'm not sure of the proper Dwarven wa-"

Too moved to speak, Kili forgoes all ceremony and engulfs him in a hug, eyes full as he claps the hobbit on the back. He swallows before he finds the words. "It will be done, and gladly. But do not think you go home with nothing- a Burglar should have gold and silver for cheese and dishes and pipeweed."

Gandalf smiles as the others of the company join them, buffeting Bilbo with tearful hugs and pats.

And so ends of the presenting of rewards, for both wizards brush off offers of compensation.

"We aid those that would fight the darkness. Nothing more. This reward business is concluded, yes? I must needs return to my friends," Radagast grumbles, looking distractedly out of the tent.

Gandalf coughs hastily. "Well…then." He looks at each of them solemnly. "All creatures under the light fought together this day. May we see such bonds continue even in times of peace."

 

They all bow, and Radagast hustles out, beckoning to the Eagles to follow. Thranduil and his son depart behind them in that graceful unison that Elves achieve so easily before Bard and his men carry out their gold. Somewhere in the fuss Bilbo disappears in typical Burglar fashion.

Kíli directs the other dwarves to guide Beorn back to Erebor and lingers behind. "Gandalf- could I have a word?"

The wizard grips his shoulder, seeing the fresh grief in his eyes, the uncertainty. "That was well met, Kíli, King under the Mountain."

Kíli feels unsure all over again hearing Gandalf utter the title. But the assurance gives him a little heart. "…I only try to honor my kin and pay proper due. But one thing plagues me: is there some way we can cleanse the dragon sickness from the gold? I dare not use it if I will fall prey to the same weakness, and yet I see no other course."

Gandalf beams before he starts to chuckle. "My dear Kíli. You spend it."

Kíli blinks, baffled. "That is… all? No wizard's spell, no secret tool?"

Gandalf nods, squeezing the shoulder of this unlikely king. "The sickness festers in the hoarding. Turn that gold into grain and livestock, steelworkers and stonemasons- do anything but keep it. And both king and kingdom will be healthy and prosperous, indeed."

Kíli sighs, looking out at the scarred and littered battlefield, the oily smoke from the pyre of orc corpses, Erebor's ruined gate and Dale's collapsed outer walls. "It will take much more than gold to right this."

"Anything worthwhile does," Gandalf replies philosophically. "Destruction has always been easier. Creation, construction, connection: those take the longer and harder path. But- I think most would concur that they are far more rewarding."

Not sure that he's comforted, Kíli bows and takes his leave. There's work to do, and he's still surer of what he can accomplish with his hands than with the grand gestures of a king.

 


 

They all continue to work until well after the moon rises: both Elves and Men will eventually return their dead to the soil, but Dwarves place their fallen into the stone crypts under the mountain. Occasionally the grim task uncovers a survivor on the battlefield—both orc and not- and the bats become more aggressive as they fight for the right to the corpses, so they all work with blade in hand.

Kíli leads a group of injured to Dale once their dead have all been retrieved: they'd refused to waste time seeing to themselves while they could be of service, but he'll accept no protest now. He brings them to Oin and Sigrid, who immediately begin sorting those that need Elvish healing from those they can treat with splints, poultices and stitches.

"Isn't Tauriel here?" Kíli asks, searching the hall. Sigrid gives him an unhappy look. "She's out back. We lost another Elf and she's taking it hard."

Satisfied that the men are being seen to, he goes to find her.

She's sitting against the wall, face toward the night sky and tears leaving tracks down her cheeks. Her clothes are badly stained now with blood that isn't hers, and it smears her face when she attempts to wipe away the tears. "Kíli?"

"…You lost a friend?"

She shakes her head. "A subordinate. I trained him. Perhaps not well enough."

He's never seen any elf forlorn and uncertain. "Tauriel. The fault is not yours."

"Is it not? All captains must learn critical healing, but perhaps I should have asked a dedicated healer to care for him instead," she says, disconsolate as she looks at the blood staining her hands. Kíli swallows before venturing closer.

"You may not have saved him. But you saved at least one. More, if we helped hasten the retreat of their armies," he says, taking her hand and sitting next to her.

She leans her head on his and squeezes his hand. "Victory does not taste as sweet as I had imagined."

He leans back against her, thinking of Fíli and Thorin on their stone beds, and his voice cracks. "No, it does not."

They speak simultaneously:

 

"I've been banished."

"I am king now."

 

Then again, aghast.

 

"What?!"

"Thranduil banished you?!"

 

"King Thranduil. I defied him and worse. If not for Legolas I would be dead. How can you be king?"

"Thorin Oakenshield was my uncle. And Fíli was his heir," he says, and she can hear the tears in his voice.

"Oh Kíli," she says softly. What strange fates we have found.

 

They are silent for a minute, grieving together before she realizes how shallow and halting his breathing is and sits up. "Curse the stubbornness of Dwarves. You are injured."

His mouth falls open to protest, but she quells him with a stern look and briskly parts the gap in his mail to examine his chest with a frown.

"This was where that Orc struck you- I suspect you've several fractured ribs. You should have told me earlier; it must be painful. I need you to come inside, take off your armor and lie down."

He can't help it with an opening like that: he half-smiles and raises his eyebrow suggestively. "If you insist."

She rolls her eyes, but can't hold back a faint smile. "I will ask you not to be so impudent in front of the others."

"Says the She-elf begging me to remove my clothing."

She huffs her outrage while offering him a hand up. She can still feel grief clinging, a mournful ache in her eyes and chest. But there will be time and space to mourn later, when the need for action is not so pressing. And there's a kind of relief with Kíli here being his irrepressible, vital self.

It reminds her of what they fought for, a spark in the darkness.

He's less cheeky in the hall—taking off his armor hurts more than he wants to admit, and he's grateful she's facing away washing her hands. But he winks when she asks him to pull up his shirt, smiling wider when he sees her cheeks color before she lays her hands on his chest. Watching their king trust in Elvish medicine also helps Oin convince the reluctant to submit to magical healing as well: no ointment can heal wounds inflicted by the cursed blades and arrows some of the orcs carried.

Kili's grateful he's not delirious this time- his memory of her healing had been as a dream, fragmented and otherworldly. And he wants to remember this, her hands cool and smooth on his skin, and her eyes on his as she chants. He gasps when he feels intense heat where constricting pain had been, with Tauriel seeming to glow, incandescent. Then the vision dims and his breathing suddenly comes easier again.

She smiles when he does, and lets him hold her hands close as he gulps for breath.

"What does it mean? The words."

She hesitates. "May what grace is given me pass to him."

That puzzles him. "Is that the usual spell for fractures?"

She flushes, lowering her eyes, but before she can speak she's curtly interrupted.

"No. It is not."

Legolas has entered the hall with Bard, narrowing his eyes at Tauriel and jerking his head in wordless disapproval.

She pulls her hands back, embarrassed, and turns away. Bard glances around warily, taken aback by the sudden tension. "I… apologize for the intrusion. Our women have made soup and stew and they send word that Elves and Dwarves are welcome to share in it."

Kíli nods, pulling down his shirt and sitting up slowly. While Bard has averted his eyes respectfully to the side, Legolas' scrutiny is distinctly uncomfortable.

"That is most generous. I will tell my kin. Perhaps we can contribute in some way as well. Erebor's food stores have long turned to dust but there are still spirits in the cellars."

Bard smiles faintly. "I think many will welcome a drink tonight."

"We dwarves greatly prefer it to anything else after a battle," Kili agrees wryly.

"We will be in the square." Bard bows before leaving.

To Kili's dismay, Legolas stays while Tauriel self-consciously busies herself collecting more medical supplies. So Kíli blithely ignores him, shucking back on his armor and checking that the other dwarves have been treated and released before approaching her again.

"Tauriel, I thank you."

"A healer's duty is to the injured," she says, demurring, and he knows she's speaking as much to Legolas as to him.

"Will you come to eat later?"

She meets his eyes hesitantly. "If duty permits. The need is less critical now, but some were merely putting off seeing a healer," she says pointedly, and he grins back cheekily.

"Then I hope to see you there," he says warmly, squeezing her hand before giving Legolas a wary look and bowing himself out.

She hopes that the public nature of the hall will prevent Legolas from airing his frustrations. But he simply speaks low.

"Pedin den i ebenthig drego methad ammen. Dan sen Nogotheg mhellyn în phain an-agor.   Lle wethrine amin.  Man i theled cared?"

She looks down, shamefaced. "Ú-iston."

His eyes narrow slightly, and there's cold anger in his tone. "Den ú-iston. "

She swallows. "What does it matter? Did we not gain a victory over darkness today by fighting with them? Perhaps now the Mirkwood will return to the Greenwood and trade will once again flourish-"

"Tauriel! I ask for answers, not evasions."

There's no time for more recriminations though- several Elves hurry in holding another. "She's badly injured- we thought we were recovering a corpse when Amathiel realized she still drew breath."

The other healers are all occupied. She gives Legolas a pleading look. "Forgive me."

He gestures impatiently, bidding her to attend to the injured.

She swallows and briskly issues orders, assessing the extent of the injuries, prioritizing the swelling in the brain over the nasty bite marks and dislocated shoulder.

By the time the long and difficult healing is complete, he has already gone. And the relief that she feels is a double-edged blade: Legolas has ever been her closest friend. Feeling the widening gulf between them is yet another torment in a day already overfull with anguish.

 


 

The number of patients falls off dramatically when their dead are all accounted for. Most of those that survived need talk, rest and nourishment to heal, and drink can suppress the pain of the heart the way magic cannot. The senior healers urge the others to rest, the mortals especially.

Tauriel approaches Sigrid at their behest. "You are weary and the hour is late. Go, eat and rest."

She widens her eyes and straightens in simulated alertness. "No, I want to help. I'm not that tired."

Tauriel sighs and gives Oin an imploring look. He nods gruffly. "Come on, lass. Many a healer has become the patient through lack of rest. We do not have the stamina of Elven-kind, and may hinder more than help."

Tauriel thinks quickly. "Send food. That we need, and dare not leave our station to retrieve."

Oin pats Sigrid's shoulder, tucking away his ear trumpet. "Well. We've one last task then. Show this old dwarf the way to the square?"

Sigrid sighs, outnumbered and outwitted. But Tauriel is surprised when Bard himself appears with stew and bread.

"Sigrid dispatched me," he says, proffering the food. His manner suggests exactly how that encounter went.

Tauriel smiles, serving the most senior healers first. "She is eager to learn, and the young chafe against limitations. I understand that."

Bard speaks reflectively. "She admires you greatly. You rescued them from Orcs and then Smaug's wrath. I am in your debt."

Was that only days ago?  "No- we should never have let Orcs pass our lands. And I doubt even our finest bowmen could have brought down that wyrm- you have truly prodigious skill. Any debt would be mine."

He raises his brows self-deprecatingly. "High praise, coming from an Elf- I thank you. But I cannot claim the whole of it- without my son we would have been lost. And the Black Arrow was dwarf forged, passed down from my fathers. Nothing else would have pierced that hide, no matter how fierce and true the flight. Such craftsmanship has long been lost."

She smiles faintly at such unrelenting pessimism. "Perhaps it can yet be found again. After all, a prophecy has been fulfilled."

Bard's more accustomed to hardship than hope. "That is true. But I worry this new king seems more reckless than wise. And his kinsman proved less than honorable."

She can feel her cheeks warming as she eyes him sharply. There's an unspoken question there- this Bard missed little from earlier. So she speaks carefully, placing her hand over the runestone still safe in her pocket. "They were our prisoners for a time. Kíli and I became- close…in a way I had not expected. Your perceptions may be apt. But I also know he has a good heart. And that he keeps his promises."

Bard tilts his head and nods respectfully. "I rest assured, then. Please, eat. I dare not risk my daughter's wrath again."

And he gives her a rare smile before he departs, leaving her bemused. A man asking an elf about a dwarf. To think she'd been bemoaning their isolation.

 


 

Kili hadn't meant to get drunk. He knows people look to their kings, and his uncle had always been the model of moderation and princely self-control.

But he's exhausted and it dulls the pain of lost loved ones, the horror of seeing his kin cut down and feeling of being hopelessly out of place in his new role. If only I'd gone with him. Refused to obey. They might have both made it out.

The others are no help- they're all somber and heartsick too. So he keeps drinking in silence, listening to Dain talk of their desperate journey here and the valor of some of his fallen men. Bombur is the first to start crying into his cups, but not the last.

There will be songs and heroically embellished tales later to celebrate the lives of their honorable dead. He'll get through that with as much bravado as he can, but for now he can't think about how brightly they had shone in life without feeling their loss more keenly.

He glances around the square, where humans and elves are sitting in their own groups, sharing their shell-shocked tales of near misses, orc depravity and lost comrades. He still hasn't seen Tauriel, although Legolas has been glaring daggers at him all night.

Which reminds him of her exile. It's lucky chance Thranduil isn't here or he would probably be belligerent and inappropriate towards their new ally.

He sets down his mug and belatedly realizes how far-gone he is when he staggers to his feet. It brings to mind his mother's advice: Look for Fili if you're in trouble. Like as not he'll be in it with you, but even so. He's always found a way to scrape you home from bar or brawl.

He swipes away tears before he informs Ori instead, who nods absently while continuing to fill his book of parchment.

But he never makes it to the healing hall- she's striding toward the square, her red hair easily recognizable even in the waning moonlight, and her tender smile gives him a rush of warmth.

"I'd forgotten to ask if you needed a place to sleep. You will always be welcome in Erebor. And I can say grand, sweeping things like that now," he says, swaying a little on his feet.

"I thank you. But Elves do not sleep as mortals must. The sky is clear and starlight will give me refreshment enough," she says, looking at him with concern. He's grieving, battle weary, and more than a little drunk. And yet concern for her had spurred him to seek her out.

"You and your starlight. You will be free to see it every night now, at least," he says tentatively.

She smiles tremulously. "Come then. See it with me now?"

They climb up the broken wall of the city so that the view is less obstructed. And it's easy enough to convince him to lay his head next to hers so she can tell him their names until she hears his breathing even out.

She keeps vigil as he sleeps, deep and blessedly dreamless. Her conscience demands that she should seek out Legolas. But she's not sure she can say anything that will soothe his ire- she's acted on emotion more than wisdom, broken a long held trust.

And she cannot deny that spending her night next to Kíli under the stars is what her heart wants after the events of the day.

So she brushes a kiss to his lips and stays, pondering what new paths lie before her -and which are now closed behind- as she looks out into the night.

 


 

Legolas tracks her down just after daybreak.

"You did not come to the square." He looks inordinately pleased until he realizes who lies beside her.

"He was so weary," she explains weakly.

"So he drank himself into oblivion? A suitable new king, indeed."

She exhales, exasperated. "Legolas, have mercy! Surely even our kin were not restrained after yesterday's horrors. He lost his brother and uncle and was then asked to carry an honor he never wanted. I understand wanting to cloud such painful memory."

He looks at her with disbelief. "You speak as if you've known him longer than an instant."

"…Because I know him. Amiable and courageous, curious and loyal, proud and yet humble… He makes me laugh and wonder and hope. He's seen so much more of our world despite being so young…"

She smiles then, as if at some sort of private joke.

Stricken by the tenderness in her expression, Legolas inhales, looking away. "You love him. Against all that is natural."

He knows her better than anybody, and she can't lie to him about this any more than she can continue lying to herself. "I- I suppose."

His eyes are pained. "You suppose? It is folly, Tauriel! Would you catch a falling star? It will not extinguish the slower, merely take you with it into oblivion."

"…But I would get to hold it close. If only for a moment."

 

She looks at him with regret, tries to explain, as much for him as herself. "Do you think there is any argument, any scenario you could imagine that I have not already considered? I know Luthien's tale and all I stand to lose; I know the great divide between our peoples; the power he now holds and how it may change him. … But my king has already decreed that I cannot go home. And you know that hearts do not heed commands. I have tried mightily to school it with reason; to forestall such perilous emotion, and I have failed. So I would follow where it leads."

Legolas turns away, horrified. Long moments pass before he speaks. "Then our ways must part. For I cannot abide witnessing you succumb to this fate." He pauses, his eyes anguished as he stares into the sunrise. "You know the yearning of my heart."

The despair in his voice breaks her heart, and tears spring to her eyes.

"Díheno nin Mellonamin. Cormamin niuve tenna' ta elea lle au'. "

He does not bid her farewell. He hasn't the heart to, with her doom like a stone weighing it down and her choice of another cutting it to the core.

 


 

The Elves take their leave shortly before sundown, when the Dwarves will ceremoniously seal the crypts of their dead. Kíli is paying his last respects to his kin, and Tauriel suspects her king has timed this as a final punishment.

Thranduil rides at the front of the procession, and he halts their progress so he can speak to her one last time. "I have not congratulated you for snaring a king. If only you had not ensnared a prince first, I might have spared you your prize."

Legolas' parting is painful enough without adding salt to the wound, and she looks away bitterly. "This was no game. You mock me for feelings I cannot control."

"And yet they have driven my son away. I suspect he cannot bear to see you cleave to this…Nogotheg. As such, I expect his return when you have both met your doom. For all the love in your heart… will not spare him from death."

She stiffens as if he's struck her but simply lowers her head deferentially when he urges his horse to ride onwards.

Tears run down her cheeks as she watches her people file past, cold and silent. But they are not all unmoved: several—her comrades and subordinates- walk by with hand over heart to show their grief over parting. They dare not do more, and she stares straight ahead, determined to endure this with grace.

She's so focused on maintaining the façade that she gasps with shock when Tilda runs up to tug at her sleeve. "But why are you not going with them?"

She struggles to find an explanation that would suit a child. "…I defied my king by leaving the wood. So I must now make my home elsewhere."

Bard joins them belatedly, giving Tilda a reproving look as he pants for breath before frowning at Tauriel. "Exile? A harsh sentence."

Tauriel swallows. "Soldiers must obey."

Bard frowns, understanding. "An example, then."

Tilda screws up her forehead in dismay. "Well that's not fair. If you hadn't come those Orcs would have got us."

Tauriel inhales jaggedly at such childish, self-centered reasoning. "I am glad I came, then."

Tilda looks up. "You can hold my hand if you're sad."

 

 

She does.

 

 

Chapter Text

Tauriel had always known her place. All her life she’d obeyed: first, the loving guidance of her parents and then as the king’s ward, his benevolent instruction. There was comfort in structure and hierarchy and for six hundred years she’d earned the king’s favor, safety for the realm and respect by carrying out her chosen role.

Now she’s bereft of palace to protect and provide, a lone Elf among Men and Dwarves.

In their long history, this kind of existence is almost unprecedented: Elves have always lived in segregation from both Dwarves and Men. The few that had strayed from the norm had had dim fates; a cautionary tale for others.

She briefly wonders if she should depart for the sea, making her way alone as Legolas now does. Kíli and Bard may welcome her, but the other Men and Dwarves look at her askance, unaware that she can hear their whispers as clearly as if they speak aloud. 

Outcast. Rebel. Betrayer. She wonders which label is most apt as she sings a lament for her fallen kin. There are no markers by the graves but she remembers exactly who lies under each covered mound. Their bodies will help give life to flowers and grass come spring, but for now she mourns lives ended too soon and worries for their loved ones. Elves are easily overwhelmed by tragedy: they can perish from despair or remain in its grips for years. Many choose the eternal ease beyond the sea when such hardships prove unendurable. 

She is not so weary yet- but the option is tempting now that she feels so lost. She has no role here like the one that Kíli has been thrown into. She wonders if he would have been so unafraid to declare himself if he had known; if she would have been able to walk away if not for that ardent promise.

 

How different their futures might have been.

 

She’s jogged out of her reflections by the approach of a woman, who fidgets hesitantly with her skirts before pressing forward determinedly when Tauriel finishes her song. 

“Mistress Elf, beggin’ your pardon. My boy is terrible sick and herbs are not easin’ his fever. If you could magic him better like the other elves I’d be much obliged. Please. I can pay.” 

Tauriel considers for a moment, not wanting to give false hope. There is fear and desperation there, so she speaks carefully. “I am not a healer by trade, but I do have some skill in the craft. I will see if I can help.” 

The woman Astrid wrings her hands as they hurry back to Dale. “It came on sudden in the night- he was out playin’ just yesterday. To think we survived dragonfire and great dirty orcs! It’s the constant draft, it is. He was never so ill when we had a proper roof over our ‘eds.” 

Tauriel nods sympathetically. She knows disease isn’t brought on by weather, but constant exposure weakens the body’s defenses. And the humans have caught the worst of recent events, losing their homes before being thrust into war. 

As they make their way through the streets, skirting dented helms, broken shields and rubble, she can see many huddled around fires, wrapped in whatever ragged clothing and blankets they’d managed to salvage. That they have young, elderly, and those still recovering from injuries living in such conditions is unconscionable—and surely avoidable. 

But she can worry about such things later: as soon as she ducks past the ragged sheet that they’ve hung in lieu of a door, she catches a hint of an unmistakable smell. 

“But how…? He took injury in battle?” Tauriel asks, examining the small boy with a frown. His pallor, convulsions and clouded eyes are obvious signs, and she moves immediately to strip him of the blankets they’ve wrapped him in. 

“No ma’am! He was with the elders and the other littles. Our men let no orcs through,” she declares defensively, stout and proud. 

“…and he would not have survived this long without healing,” Tauriel murmurs, puzzled. She smells the source before she uncovers it, removing the sock and sticky bandage on his left foot to find the wound with its telltale black edges to confirm. “I need Athelas, fresh water and bandages. The poison from a Morghul blade acts at speed.” 

Astrid’s eyes go wide at the sight of the festering wound and she immediately turns to the elder child for an explanation. He ducks, shamefaced. “We didn’t know! We were playing Blind Man when he stepped on something. I washed and bandaged it proper- he wasn’t even limping!” 

She makes an outraged sound before turning back to Tauriel urgently. “Athelas? Is that feverfew? But we already gave him that!” 

“No… Asëa Aranion? A plant with white flowers and small leaves…” She tries to indicate its size with her hands, wishing she’d learned the Westron word. Her eyes widen when she realizes she knows somebody who does. “Sigrid!” 

“Bard’s daughter?” 

“She worked with us in the healing hall after the battle. Find her and ask her bring Athelas. Tell her this is a wound from a Morghul blade- she will understand.” 

Astrid dispatches the older boy to do as instructed, and he goes running before she gives Tauriel the shirt hanging from the line to rip up for bandages. 

“Surely we do not have to despoil your clean garment when you have none to spare,” Tauriel says, aghast. 

“Better the shirt than his life. Bard’s promised us gold enough to buy more once traders arrive. At least the orcs didn’t foul the wells.” She pauses on her way out the door with the bucket, eyes pleading. “Will he- do you think you can save my boy?” 

Tauriel tries to reassure her without making rash promises. “I have treated many wounds given by Orc blades. And the young recover quickly.” 

But she prays that Sigrid hurries.

 

 

***

 

 

In retrospect, both Kíli and Bard wish they had invited fewer witnesses.

 

It was supposed to be a simple matter: take account of their supplies and figure out how to divide the labor of rebuilding. They’d expected it to be straightforward: the Men of Dale and Dwarves of Erebor had lived in accord for hundreds of years. Ori had found and prepared maps and ledgers; Dori and Gloin a tally of the gold and jewels piled in the Great Hall, Bard and Dain lists of those who need rewards. But as everybody pitches their two copper’s worth about the division of land, spoils and fair recompense, tempers rise and actual decisions remain elusive. 

It doesn’t help that most of the dwarves are nursing hangovers from the previous night’s feast. A fitting send-off for their glorious dead- oh, the tales that had been told, the songs that had been sung! The halls of Erebor had rung with the voices of Dwarves again, and the feast had continued nigh unto morning. 

Naturally, his uncle had had most of the glory: Thorin Oakenshield, King Under the Mountain, who had won back a kingdom for a people in exile and lost his life defeating their vilest foe. But this time Kíli had sustained himself more on memories than drink, knowing his role in giving Fíli remembrance and recognition in fair measure, and as king, in closing the crypts. The responsibility is an unfamiliar burden that can’t be ignored, and it’s sobering to know it will shape his actions for the rest of his life.

Doubt plagues him as he remembers how effortlessly Thorin had held authority, how they had all followed without reservation, trusting his leadership in their very bones. He hardly feels half as commanding, especially since Fíli’s loss hurts like a lost limb, a constant pain that leaves him feeling off kilter. And he’s not used to having to think of his kin before himself, of trying to plan several steps ahead and keep the entire picture in mind. How much simpler it was to carry out orders instead of give them, to have his actions reflect only on himself instead of their entire race.

The company has been encouraging, but the Iron Hills folk look to Dain, and he’s obviously reserving judgement on a young cousin-son as the new leader of Durin’s Folk.

 

He can’t really blame him for that.

 

And he has to admire Bard, who has also been newly raised in station. The men of Laketown call him king now, and he fills the role as if he was born to it, leading with valorous words and deeds despite being gloomy and overserious as an elf. He’s obviously used to shouldering responsibility and dealing with fools and dissent, respectful even when the look in his eyes shows that his patience is wearing thin. 

Kili’s sorely tempted just to order everybody to clear out so the two of them can get something decided, but he has to admit that there are occasional insights amidst all the petty grievances: the land where the orcs burned will be too polluted for crops and winter snows will likely discourage trade wagons from making the journey here. Any traders brave enough to make it will carry only what can be managed on horseback, and likely charge exorbitant prices. 

A growing list of problems that kings must solve. But he’d rather be prepared- doubtless there will be things he’ll miss, some angle or person or cog in all that machinery downstairs overlooked. The fewer of those, the better. 

The doors open and everyone looks up in surprise when Tauriel enters, approaching Bard and Kíli urgently. She halts when her passage is barred abruptly by both men and dwarves. 

“I was told this was an open meeting.” she says, surprised and wary. 

Appalled, Kíli surges to his feet. “This is Tauriel, who fought beside me on Ravenhill! She is always welcome here in Erebor!”

Bard also gestures his men back with irritation. “She also treated some of you in the healing hall- have you such short memories? Milady, you come with news?” 

She inhales as those barring the way retreat, striving to ignore the suspicious murmurs as she makes her way forward. “Of a sort. Sigrid and I have just healed a boy with a Morghul wound. He stepped on this when he was playing by his home. It is… lucky chance that I was here. Without an Elven healer, he would certainly have died.” 

She places a bundle on the table and unwraps it carefully, revealing a broken black blade. 

She looks squarely at Kíli and Bard and lifts her chin. “If memory serves, there are many rooms in the outer halls of Erebor, where Dwarves used to create and sell tools and custom-fit armor. Surely some of them can be used by the displaced people of Escaroth until Dale can be cleansed of such filth and rebuilt.” 

Bard’s eyebrows lift with surprise at their cause taken up by such an unlikely champion. 

Dain leaps to his feet, incensed. “Well, isn’t that just like an Elf? Telling us to take Men into our homeland! A place we Dwarves have only just reclaimed!” 

She doesn’t flinch at the challenge. “I see little good in leaving the elderly, wounded and children amidst such dangers when there is proper shelter to spare.” 

“They did no more when Smaug drove us forth,” Dwalin grouses, and there is a rumble of agreement from the dwarves. 

Tauriel sighs. “And do you cherish such wrongs so dearly? Escaroth gave safe harbor to all those fleeing Dale. Smaug’s rampage did not affect Dwarves alone.” 

Dain scoffs. “And what would a mere she-elf know of such things?” 

She looks at him in disbelief. “…This mere she-elf watched Dale and Erebor burn and saw Escaroth overrun with refugees. We brought aid to ease their suffering, but despite our efforts, their town never truly recovered. Under the dragon’s shadow crops failed to thrive, trade strayed to safer, greener routes and this part of the world slipped into decline. Do you think Erebor would fare any better now without the goodwill of Men? Do you also not understand that none of us are islands?” 

Balin stands and smiles, stretching out his hands between them in a pacifying gesture. “Begging your pardon, milady. Dain’s folk have not had contact with Elven-kind in many a year. I would wager most of us here were not witness to those days. As one who was, I can attest that she speaks the truth. Unfortunately, those rooms were not left as they were. Smaug’s long residence has left them more foul than fair.” 

Bard clears his throat and speaks. “Then perhaps we can help clean out the depredations of the dragon in exchange for a place to sleep out of wind and weather. I had not dared to risk good will for mere comfort, but it seems more danger remains in Dale than I had realized.” 

They all look to Kíli, who has been listening with a frown. In truth, he’d been the first to protest when Thorin had decided to wall out Laketown’s survivors. But he’d forgotten their plight in the aftermath of war, and now there are a couple hundred dwarves looking on him to defend their interests. 

Their protests are spurious though- they have enough warriors to protect the inner sanctums from possible treachery, and he has not forgotten how Bard opened his home when he was deathly ill with a Morghul wound himself. He can hardly do less in turn, even if Dain looks fit to burst from sheer temper. 

Kíli stands and takes a deep breath before speaking. “If not for the true aim of Men, Smaug would make his home here still. We should risk no more of their lives. Many hands will lighten the work of righting these halls, and there are few sons of Durin who relish wielding brooms. Look at the state of this place! I would not bring our people home to such a welcome. And I daresay Erebor will feel brighter with the voices of women and children in her halls again. I say it is a fair bargain.” 

Tauriel smiles and Bard bows to Kíli gratefully before inclining his head to her as well. The men greet the announcement with relief, but Kíli notes that Dain and the other dwarves are less than pleased, although they make no further protest.

 

But with the humans in a more generous spirit, they finally make progress. They have limited resources until the season turns, so a bargain is struck: Men will fish, hunt and procure lumber while Dwarves will forge tools and hew stone to rebuild halls and homes. 

Encouraged by the air of cooperation, Tauriel volunteers to stay on to protect and guide those that venture into the forest, and to heal as needed. 

“Tauriel- if going into the wood would torment you…” Kíli says, concerned. 

“There is nobody better suited,” Tauriel says reflectively. “I know the hazards and secrets of the forest, and the borders of the Woodland Realm even in the dark. Elves do not like to live so far from trees- I think it would comfort more than harm. And I would contribute in the best way I can.” 

Bard nods and smiles encouragingly. “You are most welcome. In any capacity.”  

She smiles faintly and lowers her eyes. It’s bittersweet, but it eases her mind to know that perhaps there’s a place for her here after all. 

 

In contrast, Kili wonders if he’s made a terrible misstep. The dwarves seem more doubtful of his leadership than ever, especially after his instant show of sympathy for Tauriel. Too shanking careless…

But he’ll have to handle what consequences come: he no longer has a brother and uncle to bail him out of trouble. 

 

***

 

 

So it is that Laketown’s people make their home within Erebor’s walls before true winter sets in, and Dwarves and Men begin to learn how live together again. 

The dwarves immediately set up a jealous watch on the vaults and Great Hall. But they grumble less as Men make good on their bargain, going out in almost any weather to bring back food and wood while those staying behind clear out cobwebs, dust and broken furnishings.

Erebor’s halls go from littered and damaged to something more like its old grandeur, and the smell of cooking, soap, and the stirring industry of its inhabitants slowly drives out Smaug’s sulphurous stench. 

The Dwarves make good on their side of the bargain as well, making the daily trek out to Dale to rebuild the town. They begin in the square, toppling gutted buildings and clearing rubble (remaining cautious around odd bits of metal) before starting work on the great hall, marketplace and fountain. It gives the Men heart to see buildings rising anew, and as familiarity between their races grows, it becomes easier to compliment intricate carvings or admire the flawless way dwarves piece stones together. 

And in return it becomes more common to see Dwarves giving children toy figures shaped from leftover stone and raising their voices in merry song after a meal. Men clap and stamp their feet in appreciation, and better, start to offer gold for crafting homes on the land they have been granted.

 

Tauriel finds it inspiring, even if carving her place among them holds its own challenges. The room she has cleared for her own use is achingly bare: she’d come away from battle with only her blades and the clothes on her back. It’s humbling to find that most children have more experience with household tasks and trading for goods than she does. 

Still, she teaches them much about the forest- how to find and harvest pinenuts and edible mushrooms, track prey and set snares. And Tilda always holds her hand in silent support when they leave the wood at sunset. The staunch protectiveness of Bard's family warms her heart despite moments when she fiercely misses her kin, feels alien and alone amongst mortals and wonders bleakly how Legolas fares wherever he wanders. 

She wonders if other Elves could hold themselves so far above mortals if they could witness their resilience and forward momentum in such proximity. The mortality of their bodies belies the strength of their spirits, and she often thinks her own people could learn lessons in how to laugh and live with such fire.

  

And then there is Kíli.

  

He does not despair as an Elf might, but grief lingers in his eyes as he listens to counsel, oversees construction and planning, and helps settle disputes. He laughs less than he did and looks often to the crypts under the mountain, seeking her out in truly black moments despite the disapproval of his kin. 

“I can’t shake the feeling that this is all just a bad dream,” he confesses one night, as they sit in their usual place on Dale’s ruined wall. “The one place I have always belonged is with my brother. Following as he led on some adventure, beside him with sword or tankard; telling the punchline to his jokes. So because Fíli has always been true, this strange life must be false. …And yet I cannot wake, and keep stumbling forward without him. I fear I am leaving him behind. I forgot he was gone today, several times. And I felt as if I’d betrayed him when I realized.” 

She nods sympathetically. “Grief runs a painful course. And for a time it is natural to feel immobilized by it. But for most, life eventually runs stronger. It does not mean you love him less when its momentum pulls you back to your feet. Do you believe you will ever truly forget your brother?” 

He gives her a scandalized look. “Of course not!” 

She smiles wanly. “Then try to forgive yourself for not remaining in agony. Not being able to let go of grief is a weakness of Elves, but not mortals.” 

 

He nods and kicks at a bit of rubble absently, reminded of something else that had been bothering him. 

“Did you really see this city burn?”

“Yes. King Thranduil ordered us to stand down. We were too late- both Dale and Erebor were lost, and a dragon in his lair is an unassailable foe. Your kinsmen accomplished what we thought impossible,” she muses wryly. 

“So…you are of an age with Balin, then?” 

Tauriel turns to him, smiling faintly at the trepidation there. “I am considered one of the young among my people. But that is perhaps not how you will view it: I am six hundred and eighty nine years old.”

His mouth falls open. “Six hundred… and eighty nine?!” 

“And still too easily swayed by emotion.” She dimples. “Reckless, even.” 

He scoffs at himself, reeling as he stares blindly at the mountain. “You must think me a child.” 

She glances at him, remembering the feeling of his bare chest under her hands. 

“On the contrary. I think you fully grown.” 

That brings a slow smile to his lips, and he studies her blush before he strokes his thumb over her knuckles. “Well, that’s a relief.” 

She inhales and swallows before her eyes dart to Erebor and she pulls her hand back abruptly. “Our chaperone arrives.”

 

He sighs with resignation as they watch Dain march towards them. “Sometimes I wish we weren’t such stubborn folk.” 

“Trust is earned, not given,” she reminds him, “And Dain worries about my influence on his king: my first impression on your kinsmen did little to endear me to them. I am sorry if it has made things even more difficult for you.”

He tilts his head and shrugs.

“Nah. Being king was never going to be easy, especially with the majority here from the Iron Hills instead of Ered Luin. And I think they know you were right even if they’ll never admit it- even Dain’s shaped toys for the bairns and greeted a pretty lass in the halls a time or two.” He sighs. “…I’m sorry we get so little time together; that I always ramble about Fíli when we do. It seems I only see you from a distance while my kin clamor loudly around me. But I haven’t forgotten my promise.” 

She smiles and looks up at the stars. “Nor I. But you lost your kin and I, my home. You are king and I am no longer a captain of the guard. Those adjustments must come first. So I will keep it here until then,” she says, placing her hand over her heart. 

He smiles warmly, picking himself up and holding out his hand to help her up. “I suppose this is more pleasant than speaking to you through bars, anyway.” 

She laughs, a silvery sound that makes his heart ache with hope.

 

So many hurdles to cross and bridges to build.

 

But he can look forward to what waits.

 

***

 

 

The next meeting she is invited to has far fewer participants: Kíli and Bard meet several times a week after breakfast to discuss necessary changes to their plans, but they now invite only those necessary to make decisions.

Kíli doesn’t stand on ceremony once they’re all seated. “We have been told that we have some dire needs.” 

Hilda’s always been outspoken. “The kitchens need vegetables, fruit or seeds to sprout. Nothing green coming from the foragers in winter. We’ll start seeing bleeding gum and winter weakness without.” 

Óin takes his turn. “Cloth and medicines are also in very short supply.” 

There’s a silence before Bard gestures to stablemaster Golbund, and he gulps and speaks belatedly. “The livestock need grain and fodder, milord. We’ve been rationing, but supplies won’t last the season.”

Hilda speaks up again. “Wool and yarn too, sires. Feels frightful strange not to be able to knit when we’re so short on warm clothing.” 

Bard nods gravely. “Well, then. Supplies had best be obtained before blizzards come. Storms blow in quickly here, and can last several days. Travel will be too hazardous to risk,” he explains to the dwarves. 

Kili sighs, resigned. The few opportunistic traders that had made it up past the Long Lake had hurried back south with gold aplenty, but they had carried only small amounts of luxury items that had likely been meant for the Master of Laketown. “I would wager the Woodland Realm is the closest place we can trade for all those in quantity.” 

They look to Tauriel and she nods, understanding why she had been invited. “Agreed. It should be possible to go and return in the space of a long day.” 

“Will gold suffice as payment?” Dori asks. 

“I believe so. It is how the king has always paid for wine,” she replies. 

Bard frowns. “Is there some way we can communicate our requests to King Thranduil? I recall only Elven messengers conducting business with the Master of Laketown.” 

Kíli cocks his head. “We can send a raven with a message, and it will know its way back. But do we have recourse if Thranduil refuses?”

“There are a few farms to the south, but trading with them would take several trips and time we may not have. Why the concern? The Elven King seemed pleased by settlement after battle,” Bard says, puzzled. 

Kíli shakes his head grudgingly, glancing at Tauriel. “Not enough, by my measure.” 

Bard raises his brows and sighs with exasperation. “Anger will not serve us, Master Dwarf.” 

Kíli considers and shakes his head. “No, but you had best write the missive. Dwarves find forgiveness even in times of need difficult. I would likely say something regrettable.” 

Bard leans back, eyeing Kili’s stubborn expression with resignation. “A pinch of prevention then. I will write the official request if you handle sending it.” 

“Done.” 

“Good.” Bard looks around the table. “Thank you all for coming. Rest assured that your kings have heard you.”

 

Noticing the troubled look on Tauriel’s face, Kíli quickly places a hand on her arm before she stands to leave. “Tauriel. I am sure Bard and his men can find the way on their own. Please. Do not volunteer to guide them.” 

She eyes him wryly. “Do you think anybody here knows the way better than I do?” 

“No. But I think any would rather a longer route than force you before a border you cannot cross,” he says. 

She nods once to acknowledge the truth there, and he relaxes. Neither notices the way Oin frowns at the casual contact as he departs, or the knowing smile on Bard’s lips as he takes his leave. 

“Also, you’ve been going out without a bow,” Kili continues. “We all assumed you fought for Thranduil. I can reward you personally for fighting by my side if you would like gold for a weaponsmaker.” 

Remembering her desperate threats and the feel of cold steel at her throat, she inhales shakily and looks away. 

“No …I am not accustomed to the bows available. And it seems Dol Guldur’s power has been broken- the giant spiders have retreated. Blades and snares suffice, and Bard and Bain can use their bows at need.” 

He frowns, but any further conversation is cut short by Dain’s predictable arrival. 

“Kíli! There’s work to do and the days are too short to waste.”

Tauriel stands briskly. “The sleigh will be waiting for me as well. Good day to you both.” 

She brushes past Dain and he scowls before glaring at Kíli. “You listen too much to men and elves. Coddling them does not make us stronger. This is our chance to take the upper hand!” 

Kíli meets his eye, frowning. “I listen to all before making my own decisions, as my uncle did. And we get food and gold and the chance to make things again. We are not Orcs. I seek balance and our fair share, not dominance.” 

Dain blusters indignantly “Well- of course we’re not! But I still think I’d like them better outside Erebor.” 

Kíli smiles with satisfaction, clapping him on the shoulder. “Fair enough. So let’s get their houses built. Come, I have to see Bard and send a raven before we head out.”

 

***

  

The trade goes uneventfully a couple days later, with Bard setting out with a few of his men at dawn with the gold Thranduil requested. 

Upon their return, the sleighs are met outside Dale by both Dwarves and Men wanting a first look at the goods. 

Kíli makes his way to Bard eagerly through the snow. “You got the lot?” 

Bard leaps to the ground so they can speak more privately. “Yes. With a caveat: the elf Feren says the bow is only for my use, a boon to the Dragonslayer from the Woodland Realm.” 

Kili’s face darkens and Bard places a restraining hand on his shoulder. “Feren was present when Tauriel threatened her king for, as he put it, ‘the lives of mere mortals’.” 

Bard obviously finds the Elf’s arrogance rather amusing, but his expression becomes grave again when he continues. “Thranduil himself stripped her of a bow raised in treason. I suspect Tauriel accepts the price of her actions, and would not use this bow even if I gave it to her. ” 

Kíli grimaces and clenches his fists in frustration. “I owe her my life.” 

“And I am no less grateful,” Bard assures him. “Had she not defied her king, my children would also have perished. And without Bain, I could not have slain that dragon. She did more good by saving a few mere mortals than her kin might deign to recognize. …That said, I am somewhat accustomed to working around regulations. You say she prefers bows of Elven make. Suppose your craftsmen study this bow I was given out of… professional curiosity,” he says, shrugging. 

Kíli smiles slowly at the studiously innocent expression on Bard’s face before he claps him on the back. “I like you,” he declares. 

Bard looks at the happy faces on those surrounding the sleighs and then to Dale, more new buildings than ruins now. And he turns to Kíli with a wry smile. “It seems bright souls teach even cautious ones to hope.” 

 

***

  

There’s a feast of sorts that night, with everybody rejoicing over the fresh new food. Even the dwarves enjoy the greens after monotonous weeks of mostly oats, bread and fish. 

But Kíli notices immediately that Tauriel is absent from Bard’s table.

 

So when he spots Sigrid leaving the hall with a tray of food, he pretends to need the toilet and hurries after her. 

“Sigrid! You go to Tauriel?” 

She quirks her mouth. “The kitchens found bundles of her things hidden under the vegetables. She says she doesn’t feel like celebrating, but I thought she should eat.” 

He understands instantly. “If they were hidden, they were sent without malice. But she must be saddened- may I come with you?” 

She hesitates. “Da says the dwarves don’t like you talking to her.” 

He frowns belligerently. “They can boil their heads before I leave her alone in sorrow.”

She can’t help smiling at that image, and tilts her head to indicate he should follow.

 

And she knows she’s done right when he immediately hugs her and Tauriel only hesitates an instant before she leans into the comfort he offers. 

“I should feel grateful for their return- some of these things are all I have left of my parents. But all I feel is irrevocable loss. It defies reason,” she gasps, shaking her head. 

“No, a home lost needs mourning. Any dwarf knows that. And these things are a fresh reminder.” 

She nods. His fervent support and solid strength feel so right and good, even if it’s unlike the Elven way of comforting with soothing words and wisdom. 

 

Sigrid sets down the tray before edging back towards the door, feeling awkward at their unthinking show of familiarity. She’s seen how they look at each other when they think nobody is watching, even if they maintain a careful distance in the halls. But it’s still so odd to see their stern, strong Elf friend and the fiery young dwarf king embracing each other. 

Tauriel gives her a grateful look and mouths “Thank you” before Sigrid slips out the door with a sympathetic smile. It’s nice to be able to give her something back, even if it’s just a shoulder to cry on and a bit of privacy. 

So when she returns to the hall she tells Óin she’s sent Kíli to bed with a tincture for stomach trouble.

He frowns and gives her a suspicious look. 

“This wouldn’t be a bit of, say- Elvish stomach trouble?” 

She shrugs, refusing to meet his eye, and he sighs and shakes his head.

“Kili’s always been too headstrong for his own good. They’re different races, lass. No point in encouraging the impossible.” 

“Why is their being friends so bad? Aren’t we friends?” she asks. 

“Not the same thing- and I suspect you know it. Ah! They’ll come to the bitter truth of it sooner or later I suppose.” He grudgingly relays her story when Dain asks after Kíli, and the whole matter is soon forgotten when life continues unchanged the next day. 

But as it happens, the unexpected gifts soon prove to be worth more than mere sentiment.

 

***

 

When blizzard season finally gives way to warmer weather, all of them are hopeful and relieved. Dwarves and Men may have a better appreciation of the other after surviving a cold, lean season together, but they’ve all had enough of living in each other’s pockets. Some human families eagerly move into their new homes even though it still drops below freezing at night and Erebor remains the only place for meals. The dwarves redouble their efforts to finish the remaining homes, even working past dark.

 

And with roads emerging from under snow and rivers freed from ice, the opportunity to spend their rewards also arrives.

 

Kíli has worried all winter about living over so much dragon tainted gold. As soon as the threat of storms passes, he encourages bands of dwarves to make the trek back to the Iron Hills with their rewards. 

Supplies, livestock and dwarves aplenty make the return journey. 

The influx of more Iron Hills folk is not just the curious and those drawn by the lure of well paid work: Kili soon realizes that every one of Dain’s unmarried female kin have made the journey. After weeks of introductions and awkward conversations, he finally begs for a reprieve. 

“Dain! I’ve just lost my brother and uncle and I’m still getting Erebor in order. I would appreciate if you could let your lovely kinswomen know that I’m in no state to think of love.” Even for the one who already holds my heart, he adds silently. 

Dain beams benevolently. “Of course, Kíli, of course. But plenty of lovely choices when that changes, eh? You know my daughter Dura can make boar twenty different ways? And have you noticed the fine beard on my cousin Thra? Renowned for her beauty, as I’m sure you can tell.” 

Kíli heaves a sigh and doesn’t answer. At least Tauriel is more amused by the simpering flirtations and thinly veiled propositions than anything. Her elvish hearing is keen, and spotting her bright eyes and dimples as he strikes about desperately to end  uncomfortable conversations is becoming all too common. If he didn’t think it would create more problems than it would solve, he’d make his attachment to her public, and that would be the end of it. 

If only Fíli were here. The women would have been chasing after him and he could have enjoyed the teasing instead.

 

And he realizes belatedly that the pain of thinking on his brother has dulled somewhat. Time and work have made a little distance there, even if the ever-growing population and increasing number of strangers bring more problems to solve than ever. Human traders have started arriving from the south, and the bargain Men and Dwarves struck grows less relevant as rebuilding in Dale comes at last to the city walls and food becomes readily available in the marketplace. Withdrawals from the vaults have increased ten-fold and Erebor’s dining hall sees fewer and fewer Men; charges of fraud and theft are also on the rise. 

But it makes him proud to see Dwarves pressing on to uphold their end of the bargain- they will not default, even if they consume rather more of the pastries, cheeses and hams from the market than the tender new greens and boring old fish the Men of Dale dutifully provide Erebor’s kitchens. 

And soon enough there are much more pressing matters than his personal issues. For there are also deadly troubles that come with a bustling population. 

 

***

  

It’s just an upswing in the number suffering colds at first- runny noses and sneezing. But as more start seeking treatment for fevers and sores, those responsible for healing all start to worry. 

Bard’s late wife had been an apothecary, so he understands well the need for healing herbs in times of sickness. But with spring just arrived, there are more patients than they have even imported stock for, and unchecked, ailments start to spread through the population like wildfire. 

 

To their dismay, Tauriel knows no magical cures for disease. 

 

They struggle along as best they can, but when Gima, the youngest of Dain’s issue, looks likely to succumb to unrelenting fever, both Óin and Kíli beg her to help. 

“Can’t you try the spell you used to heal Kili’s chest?” Óin pleads. “The cough is the greatest evil. Without it she could keep down the kingsfoil tea.”

Tauriel shakes her head with regret. The child coughs so hard that there are spans of time where she cannot draw breath, and deep, healing sleep is impossible. Dwarves are hardier than humans, and she’s never seen one so ill without some dark magic at play. “I cannot answer that- I am not a true healer. I have only the training to heal wounds sustained in battle, and this craft has many more branches. Perhaps you can appeal to the Woodland Realm for-” 

She stops and tilts her head for a long moment before she suddenly stands. 

“My parents were healers. Perhaps a more immediate solution is at hand,” she says, departing abruptly. 

She races back to her room, already knowing the volume she must open. And as she flips through the pages, she can remember scraps of conversation; debates her parents held. The entries are mostly for diseases suffered by Men, but her breath quickens when she finds the section on dwarves. 

When she finally finds an entry that matches the symptoms, her heart fills with worry and doubt. The notes, in her mother’s script, are about a single patient treated in Rivendell. If the case was atypical, if there were other spells or potions used that her mother had somehow failed to record… 

 

But a little hope is better than none. 

 

She studies and repeats the incantations under her breath until she’s confident she won’t stumble, able to keep her breathing in rhythm with the words for whatever length of time may be required. 

But once she returns to Oin’s healing hall she looks at the dwarves gathered with trepidation. “I can only try- I have some innate skill, and my parents were conscientious in their healing records. But it may not be enough.” 

Dain nods, voice gruff with worry. “Will it hurt?” 

“It should be painless for her,” Tauriel says carefully.

“But you’ve not done this before?”

This is no time for the protective half-truths of elves- indeed, she would hardly dare to try if not for the desperate condition of the girl. “When I was a child I studied theory and observed my parents at work. And all captains must learn to heal traumatic injuries for the sake of their soldiers. But this will be my first attempt to heal disease.” 

“We don’t have any other choice, Dain. She wouldn’t survive the trip to the Woodland Realm even if their king gave permission,” Óin says, shaking his head. 

He nods grimly before he gestures toward his daughter. 

“Then do what you can. Please.” 

She nods and opens the book to review again before she begins. 

Healing trauma is straightforward repair, knitting rent flesh or bone back into place. And there is an element of that here as well, although the damage done is widespread and uneven. 

But in practice she realizes this is more like training and directing soldiers in battle, teaching the body’s own defenses to fight the contagion that infests her lungs and nasal cavities. 

As she chants she sustains the beleaguered forces where the battle rages hardest, directs different groups to rout dangerous pockets of infection. And her confidence grows.

  

She understands battle. She can do this. 

 

It’s a long healing, and she’s weary when she finally closes the incantation. Kíli shouts when she sways, and she quickly catches herself, leaning against the shoulder he offers until the dizziness recedes. But she smiles when her mundane senses confirm what internal vision the spell had conferred: the invaders have been vanquished and the girl sleeps easily now. 

Kíli guides her to another patient bed while Óin checks over Gima, reporting to Dain with relief that her fever has broken and her chest sounds clear. 

“You did not tell us this would harm you,” Kíli says, brushing her hair back from her face as he studies her eyes anxiously. 

“There is always a cost. And I am a novice. A little sleep will recover my strength,” she murmurs, squeezing his hand reassuringly. 

Dain approaches, his helm in his hands. “I thank you. Truly. I am in your debt.” 

“It gladdens me to help. Indeed, it is as if light shines on a path I had spurned. I thought my parents knew nothing of battle. How wrong I was,” she muses, laughing softly before she gives in to sleep.

  

 

When she wakes, Kíli has been called away but Dain keeps vigil, seated between the two beds.

“Lord Dain. Have I been asleep long?” 

“Naw. About an hour. Would you like some water?” he asks gruffly.

“Please.” 

She sits up and takes the glass he offers, sipping slowly as she assesses her own condition and critically reviews her work. She’d overextended herself unnecessarily- she could have left some healing for the girl to do on her own, mustered far fewer “soldiers” near the end. But with training and practice… 

Dain interrupts her thoughts. “Óin says you left the wood to save Kili’s life.” 

She nods cautiously. It would be unwise to reveal too much, but she can sense his willingness to put aside suspicion at last. 

“Why?” 

She speaks carefully. “…Elves have hearts just as men and dwarves do. And I could not justify leaving him to die. Not after knowing him.” 

His eyebrows knit as he studies her face. “He’s my kinsman and king. But that was hardly wise, lassie.” 

“It is perhaps the most foolish thing I have ever done. But I would still choose to do it again,” she admits. 

He shakes his head and sighs. “S’pose we’re all built a bit foolish that way. …For what it’s worth though, I think it turned out all right.”

She considers the events of the past months before she meets his eye again and smiles. 

“It seems we agree,” she says teasingly, and Dain laughs aloud and claps her on the shoulder.

  

***

  

“King Kíli, a good morning to you! Have you time for a question?” 

Kíli glances down at Bard from his perch atop the ladder, keeping careful hold of the rope he has to hang. “Sounds ominous. But ask away.” 

“…I was hoping you could point me towards a craftsman who can make me a crown. I’ve had one too many a trader wonder at my authority when they’d last known me as Bargeman. And if I would do the work of a king, I suppose I should look it.” 

Kíli smiles with delight. “In that case, I would be honored to fashion it myself.” 

“I thank you,” Bard replies, bowing respectfully before he quickly adds, “not too ornate or heavy, please. I think one such as your uncle’s would suit me ill.” 

Kíli grins mischievously. “What? No great writhing dragon about the brow of the Dragonslayer King?” 

Bard gives him a pained look and Kili chuckles before nodding in assent.  And he knows him well enough now to understand the unspoken question when Bard raises his brows. 

“No…not until I bring my people home and finish the task my uncle began.” 

Bard nods gravely. “…I understand. But I would say you carry the weight of one well enough already.” 

The unexpected praise makes his cheeks warm, and he swallows. “I…thank you. I admit I have struggled with it. Without your support and Dain’s I might have been lost.” 

Bard shakes his head, observing the activity below. “You give yourself too little credit. I think we could not have accomplished so much without your open heart and honest words. Although- I suppose it might have been foreordained,” he muses philosophically. “Tell me what you see.”

 

Kili gives him a questioning look before he complies. “Marketplace looks busy despite the early hour- ha! There’s Mister Bombur getting the first taste. The new fountains that Tauriel wanted seem to be working well. Balin’s wagon train is heading out of Erebor. He wants trees on the mountain again, so he’s headed southwest to see Beorn, who will hopefully not bite his head off and actually take the gold. Be nice to have fresh apples. Those barges that brought up all the wine are leaving as well, and I’d wager they are carrying a lot more gold than you ever did,” he adds teasingly. 

Bard smiles. But he’s oddly emotional as he meets Kili’s eyes. “Silver fountains, gold streaming from the mountain. And you, here, hanging bells.” 

Kili gives him a puzzled look. “Well, I thought Balin would like to hear them as a sendoff, so I put them first on today’s list. And I know they seem extravagant, but Tauriel says the silver will help keep contagion from the water.”

Bard laughs, resigned. “You don’t believe in fate, Master Dwarf.”

Kili grins and scoffs. “Nah. I make my own decisions. Both bad and good.” 

Bard smiles. “Well I suppose you’ve chosen remarkably well, then.” 

 

***

 

If Tauriel is surprised by the shift in general dwarf opinion that comes with Dain’s  approval, she’s wise enough not to show it. They may view her as more “useful” and “helpful” than “friend”, but it certainly makes it more comfortable to be the last foreign guest living in Erebor.

Still, she spends most of her days with Sigrid, either in the forest gathering barks and medicinal herbs or in Dale’s new healing hall. And as she enters this morning, she gratefully notes that they have no patients waiting. As rewarding as it is to practice healing magic, she still only employs it as a last resort. Perhaps one day she can journey to Rivendell as her parents did and complete enough training to feel more confident, but for now, the additional fountains and city ordinances on handwashing have greatly reduced the spread of illness. 

She blinks in surprise and smiles warmly when she sees Kíli seated beside Sigrid as she bundles herbs for drying- odd that he didn’t let her know he would visit today. 

But her eyes go wide and she gasps when he stands and she sees what he is holding. 

 

An Elven bow- but not, somehow. And her old quiver filled with new arrows.

 

He grins, obviously pleased by her reaction. “You lost your bow in our defense. And I know you’ve rediscovered a part of yourself in the wake of that. But I did not think you should have to give this part up,” he explains. 

She takes it reverently as tears fill her eyes. It’s the perfect size and weight, made in the style of all Elven bows, although the silvered Dwarvish runes carved into its grip reflect the true makers.

 

She’s so eager to head outside to test it that she shoves the basket containing her lunch onto the table rather carelessly, and Sigrid and Kíli both have to laugh. 

  

And oh, how her heart sings at the familiar feel of the bowstring as she draws, as she sees the arrow fly straight and true to its mark!

  

“Oh Kíli. I accept this with joy and thanks,” she finally gasps, almost too moved to speak. 

“I am just sorry it took so long. Finding the right wood and then seasoning it took time.” He draws a hopeful breath. “…I was thinking as well, that you might have need of it. For I have a request.”

 

She pulls her eyes from the bow, brow furrowing with curiosity

 

“We spoke once, of travel. And I know that you have just started to put down roots here anew. But rebuilding winds to a close, and the roads are most favorable in summer. So I will go back to Ered Luin to lead my people home. Will you come? See the other side of the mountains, and perhaps even the sea? I would like to introduce you to my mother sooner than later,” he says carefully.

 

She smiles, understanding.

  

He’s ready to venture forward, if she is.

  

And seeing the excited promise in her eyes, he can’t help grinning before he even hears her answer.

 

“I will.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Kíli calls a last meeting of the Company once Dale’s city walls stand completed. Ravens have been winging to Ered Luin with lists of the lodgings available and back to Erebor with lists of those claiming them.

But the route needs planning- they’ll have women, children, wagons of belongings and livestock to get to Erebor. The well-trodden road past Dunland and through Rohan is the one they know best, with plenty of towns used to travelers from which they can obtain supplies enroute. But that route will take months, and Dwalin shakes his head as he looks at the map. “We lost too many out of weariness and exposure last time. Hill People bandits in Rohan as well and Goblins and Trolls always raid the Greenway.”

“Granted, we’ll be ready this time with food and tents, weapons and gold. But I’d hate to spend another winter on the road, watching the women and aged suffer. My Gamad died on the road. So did my wee sister,” Oin says.

 

They all go solemn. “I too, would rather not chance returning in storm season. We could spend the winter in Ered Luin and leave in spring,” Kíli suggests.

“That’s asking for months of broken axles and getting stuck in the mud. Naw, we should try to keep travel to summer and fall,” Dwalin growls.

“Well, how about taking a short cut through the Misty Mountains? Putting everything on pack beasts? Then we might even make it back before winter this year,” Ori says.

They all consider this, and Gloin taps the map eagerly. “We made a “deposit” round this area as well, if ye recall. Wouldn’t mind collecting it.”

“Could do. Didn’t Gandalf say we’d just had a bit of bad luck, with the storm waking the Stone Giants?” Bofur says, shrugging.

“But we’ll have elderly. Old Hornbori won’t be able to ride, and the children can’t walk or ride long either,” Oin says, perusing the list of migrants and shaking his head.

“And we still don’t have Gandalf with us to show the way to the High Pass. Would have been nice to have some of that Rivendell wine again, though,” Kíli says.

Tauriel gives him a shocked look. “You’ve been to Rivendell? And you’ve never mentioned it?”

Kili shrugs, abashed. “The quest of our company was supposed to be secret. And then I suppose it never came up.”

Ori wrinkles his nose. “Can’t say much about the food there. Or the music.” 

There’s a rumble of agreement around the table.

Tauriel blinks and sits back, her expression one of incredulous bemusement. To think the lone Elf here would be the only one here unacquainted with Rivendell’s halls.

Kíli winks at her and she arches a brow and smiles, shaking her head. “Why do you not discuss passing south of Ered Mithrin, and Gundabad? It seems the most straightforward path.”

They all blink in surprise. “The North is the realm of Orcs and Dragons. Too hazardous for travel,” Oin tells her, frowning.

Tauriel tilts her head reflectively. “It was a bleak place when Legolas and I passed through on Bolg’s trail. Fresh water was difficult to find. But we did not spy a single Orc; nor were we attacked. There are no roads, but the land is hard enough for wagons bearing loads. However, I do not know what lies on the other side of the Misty Mountains.”

Dwalin shrugs. “Men territory. Farms and not much else.”

 

The others all nod and study the map again- it would be the shortest route, almost as straight as the crow flies. But it will be stray far from warmer, populated areas, and there is only wilderness between Orc and Goblin territory. 

“We’ve just dealt the Orcs a defeat. They might have retreated north to lick their wounds,” Nori speculates.

Dwalin shakes his head. “Or perhaps they are all the more dangerous having suffered so great a loss. And with no call to arms, some may have slunk back south. Besides, two elves can be easily overlooked. We will be many, and moving slowly.”

Nori shrugs. “Might as well scout it out. A good thief always does due diligence before taking the prize.”

Dori frowns and smacks his shoulder, but the rest of them all nod with agreement, including Kíli.

“It seems the best course. We can scout the lands on our way back, and choose a new route if we find a few too many orcs for our liking.”

They all nod agreement.

“Excellent. I’d like to leave as soon as possible, then.”

 

At that, a few of them eye each other.

 

Bombur clears his throat and nudges Nori, who shrugs and nudges Dori, who smiles determinedly, lacing his fingers and sticking out his chin. “Well. See, a few of us feel rather settled here. I’d rather not have to train a replacement down in the vaults. And you know that Nori was having a wee bit of trouble back in the Luin… and that Bombur’s discovered adventure doesn’t agree with him, much.”

Bombur shakes his head sadly.

Kíli inhales and nods slowly. He hadn’t realized any of the company would not want to return to Ered Luin in triumph. “If that is what you wish, you will be missed. Balin will be returning to Erebor while we are away as well. But I need him here- he’s rather more diplomatic than Dain and I’d hate for feuds with the neighbors to start while I’m away.”

Tauriel speaks up. “I will need some time to prepare Sigrid. She is nervous about running the healing hall on her own, especially with Oin leaving as well.”

Oin shakes his head. “Novices must eventually stand on their own. Brunni is an excellent healer. I’ve informed him he is to help Sigrid, and she knows this.”

Kíli meets Tauriel’s eye. “We must be ready to leave sooner than later.”

Tauriel nods. “I will do my best to reassure her. She is ready- merely uncertain.”

“Good.” He exhales and smiles at them all fondly. “We make ready for one last adventure then?”

They smile back with pride and maybe a little wistfulness before their heads all dip in respectful assent.

 

 


 

 

 

“I wish I could just use magic like you,” Sigrid sighs. She’s practicing stitches on a chicken thigh that Tauriel has cut neatly near the joint. The silk thread is so fine that it keeps catching on her work-roughened hands, and she’s still rather aghast that they’re using good meat this way. It would have been an unthinkable waste even two months past, but there is an abundance of both silk and meat in the market now, and her father and Tauriel have deemed the silver well spent.

Still, she plans to cook it. Old habits die hard, and the surgical surfaces have all been sterilized- the meat will be fine for a bit of practice.

Which she supposes is the point of it. And as she carefully ties the last stitch, gently prodding the flesh to check her work, she thinks she’s done well enough.

Tauriel smiles faintly as she moves the joint, noting with satisfaction how the stitches pull but do not tear. “You do the same thing with this thread that I do with magic. And this was well done- see how beautifully you have aligned sinew and muscle here, how the stitching is neither too tight or too loose? Save for the chance of infection, this leg would have healed well and been perfectly usable again. And you know how to make salves and tinctures to reduce the odds of that.”

She meets Sigrid’s eyes insistently when the girl quirks her lips and shrugs. “Do not discount your skills so easily. You still surpass me in your knowledge of herbs and their interactions. Your people have survived without magic through much harsher conditions, and I have no doubt your herb lore played no small part in that. Brunni from the Iron Hills will be in Erebor if you require a second opinion or set of hands. And if all goes smoothly we may be back before winter.”

“I still wish I could do magic. Especially if we have another outbreak,” Sigrid says, sighing.

Tauriel tilts her head. “My people have a saying: Ever the other is fairer. It reminds us of two things: that there will always be things out of our grasp. And that discontent can blind us to what we already possess.”

Sigrid is frankly disbelieving. “Even for Elves?”

Especially us. We are easily consumed by emotion and have an eternity to brood on our mistakes.” She speaks lightly, but Sigrid sees the sadness in her eyes.

 

“…I’ll miss you, too.”

 

That does the trick to distract her from her melancholy, and Tauriel turns back and smiles warmly. “And I you. But I have greatly longed for this chance.”

Sigrid smiles knowingly, getting up to wash her hands. “Not every day one gets to ride off on an adventure with a handsome dwarf king.”

Tauriel’s cheeks color, but she has experience enough to give tit for tat now. “I often wonder if all mortals are this impudent. Shall I mention a certain seed seller in the marketplace who made you titter like a thrush in spring?”

Sigrid grins. “That one flatters all the ladies, hoping to entice us to spend more silver. But I like the way his eyes twinkle and he does know his seeds. Bain says he’s a right scamp, though.”

 

Tauriel lifts her eyes and sighs at Sigrid’s gleeful lack of repentance, but they both turn and give warm greetings when Old Brenna knocks and hobbles in.

She comes in once a week for treatment for her rheumatism now that her family is farming land on the south side of Dale. And she happily passes on gossip about the folks in the surrounding area, her coins tucked in a basket of fresh eggs as a gift with payment. Tauriel guides her to a chair and props her legs on another, applying cool cloths to her knees and ankles while Sigrid measures and grinds primrose, ginger and celery seed for her to take home, filtering advice through the gossip the old lady craves.

“I know it’s hard to get fish out on the farm, but you know Colborn-“

“Dustin’s boy? The blond one with freckles?”

“That’s him. He sells his Da’s catch in the market here, and prices are decent seeing as how the fancy hams and muttons from down south are all the rage now. Eat a bit of herring every day and put on the cold compresses at night. And the pain should be better in the mornings for it.”

“Oh, I’m just stiff because I’m too old to be chasing chickens around! Those hens keep trying to hide their eggs in odd crannies, and I’m not used to keeping such a big place.”

There’s a knock and Bard enters once bidden.

Old Brenna flutters, checking that Tauriel has covered up her legs modestly before she beams up at him. “Well, if it isn’t the King. You’re looking as grand as your Sigrid in such bright colors. And I see you’ve got a crown now!”

He dips his head respectfully, smiling. He’s still not entirely used to the feel of it, but he supposes it’s a symbol of the people’s support and an authority strangers automatically respect. “Dale prospers as we do, Mistress Brenna. How fares your family?”

“Good, good- Ingrid’s sent along some of our eggs and I’ve just told Sigrid how the fields are all sown and sprouting. It’s nice to hear the rain on a roof again.”

Bard smiles. “I’m glad to hear it.”

 

There’s a perfunctory knock before Tilda dashes in, her basket full of fresh greens, sunbonnet dangling uselessly down her back and the edge of her skirts smeared with dirt. “Hello, Mistress Brenna, Da,” she chirps breezily before plopping her basket on the worktable. “Well here’s the herbs you wanted, Sig, and I thinned the carrots and picked some peas. But Da says we’re to go to the goodbye feast in Erebor tonight! Do you think there’ll be dancing on the tables again?”

Brenna eavesdrops avidly while Bard nods, resigned to her exuberant ways.

“It wouldn’t be much like a Dwarf feast without, now would it? Which reminds me: Milady Tauriel, I have been asked to inform you that there are several horses to choose from in the stables. The stablemaster says they are all good, biddable beasts, with clever footing. You simply have to choose the one you would prefer for your journey- King Kili’s already arranged for payment.”

Tauriel straightens, eyes lighting up with excitement. “I will go to the stables then, if it all right with you, Sigrid.”

Sigrid glances nervously around the hall before inhaling and smiling determinedly. “I can finish treating Mistress Brenna and sort out the herbs with Tilda’s help. Might as well get used to doing this without you.”

Bard hugs Sigrid’s shoulders and gives Tauriel a nod, and Tauriel smiles gratefully before excusing herself.

 

 


 

 

The Company sets off after breakfast, with the people of both Erebor and Dale sending them off in cheerful procession. Tauriel is incredibly touched by the warm farewells and small gifts pressed upon them as they ride past Dale towards Ravenhill- dried mint leaves for tea from Sigrid and Tilda; from Bombur, her favorite cookies. The farmers in the fields they pass wave and call out their well wishes, and they can hear the bells of both cities sounding as they crest the hill that will take them out of sight.

It helps them all start the journey feeling enthusiastic and hopeful.

Well, most of them. A few are still nursing dreadful hangovers. They won’t see much drink until they get to Ered Luin, and Bofur and Ori especially had seemed determined to make up for it.

However, it seems that luck is on their side as they journey North of Mirkwood and south of the Grey Mountains. They are doubly careful when they reach the Misty Mountains—the pass south of Gundabad is the most dangerous territory they will journey through, and there is little cover to be had. Ori carefully notes every water source they find on the map, they investigate all signs of Goblin and Orc activity, make campfires sparingly and maintain two watchers on both night shifts.

But their progress remains steady and unremarkable. There are more streams and water holes than Tauriel had remembered due to the turn in season, and they find no fresh enemy trails or kills, although there is plenty of evidence of the armies’ retreat. They are seasoned enough travelers, and Tauriel is a dab hand at hunting, tracking, and finding water. Her mare seems to find her rider little burden, and Kíli swears her cheeks grow pink and eyes sparkle as they never have despite eschewing sleep. She takes every night watch, both early and late shifts, and yet does not drowse or falter during the day as they journey westward. Most of them accept (and appreciate) this “Elvish trick”, but Kíli worries.

“Why don’t you sleep through the first watch tonight? We have always rotated night watches and surely you could use the rest. I can easily stand watch with Oin or you can wake me to do the second half with Dwalin,” Kíli offers. They’re eating their evening meal of cram and the prairie hen she had shot, sitting a little apart from the others gathered around the campfire.

She smiles, turning her gaze from the stars on the horizon to him. “But you have watch tomorrow, and should not lose sleep two nights in a row. Whereas starlight and sunlight can sustain an Elf almost indefinitely. I have the keenest senses among us, especially in the dark. And I was the one who suggested this course-- I would do my best to keep us safe while we are on it.”

Kíli touches her shoulder. “Even the finest swords sometimes need sharpening. We all agreed to this course, and you have more than done your part.”

She curls her fingers around his lightly. “I can sleep once we reach our destination. Do not fret. I am far from weary. Such wonders we behold every day, Kíli! I have never seen some of the plants and animals save for illustrations in books. And to be here with you under different stars is wish turned truth-- I would savor every moment. Even if we must also remain alert for Orcs and Trolls,” she adds, eyes bright with humor.

“Well, I’ve never seen anybody get as excited over humble prairie gophers. Or mere tumbleweed,” he chuckles.

She slants him a look, smiling to show she doesn’t mind the teasing. Away from Erebor things are so much simpler: no politics or pressing demands beyond searching for the next place to water their mounts or make camp. They’ve both been reveling in the freedom to enjoy each other’s company, riding side-by-side and sharing experiences and stories.

 

And that smoldering something that sometimes ignites in her eyes when she looks at him is both encouraging and maddening.

 

There’s no real privacy when traveling with others, which has never bothered Kili until now. Indeed, his friends had worried over her womanly sensibilities when he’d announced that he’d invited her along. But she takes care of her needs quickly and discreetly, and she’s matter of fact about turning around or walking a short distance away if a bit of privacy is needed.

 

Still, there are some things he’d rather try away from the eyes and ears of his kin.

 

So he contents himself with bringing her wildflowers and grinning when she braids them into her hair. Enjoys feeling her hand brush against his or simply sitting together at meals and making her laugh.

 

And he looks forward to night watch rather more than he ever has. Some chances are worth missing sleep for.

 

“Gundabad’s shadow seems even longer at night. I will feel easier when we have left these parts,” she says, scanning the mountains looming in the north.

 

“You’re thinking of him again.”

She regards him in surprise, and he shrugs. “Your eyes reflect your sadness.”

She hesitates before explaining. “This was as far as we came together. Legolas is strong and fast --he taught me much of what I know-- but even the greatest warrior can be slain. Especially when alone and unaided. And he departed to the North. I cannot help but worry.”

Kíli studies the guilt on her face, troubled. He suspects the pretty prince had more than friendship in mind, or he would never have left Tauriel alone among dwarves and men.

 

But there’s no chance to offer her comfort-- they both turn as Óin approaches.

“You should sleep, Kíli. Nights are short enough in this season. Tauriel, shall we?”

She nods, standing. Watches with Óin are the least awkward-- they know each other well enough to chat easily while the others sleep.

 

But tonight Óin fidgets endlessly with his ear trumpet and squints off into the distance until Kíli seems to be asleep. “Tauriel. Those of us in the company have been feeling… a little uneasy. We’ve noticed certain things. And I thought it best to bring them up with you directly: are you aware of Dwarvish courting customs?”

Her eyes widen. “…You speak of Kili’s gifts.”

Óin exhales heavily. “So. He has informed you of his intentions.”

Tauriel smiles faintly. “No, but I had surmised as much. Elves have similar customs, but we usually offer songs or poetry. Dwarves seem to prefer something more tangible. I have yet to find anything that suits him”

Óin waves a hand dismissively. “Males court females, not the other way around. I was not sure that you welcomed his court?”

She stills, dismayed. “You do not approve.”

Óin lifts his brows. “You know well how different our ways are-- we often speak on that very topic.”

“Different yes, but not insurmountably so. I am not the first Elf to count Dwarves and Men among my friends, nor do I expect to be the last.” She had not expected his objections. Sigrid, Bard and Tilda wholly support their relationship, and even Dain had urged Kíli to ask her to dance at the farewell feast.

“Friendship is not what we speak of though, Tauriel. And you yourself told me Elves have lived apart from mortals since the First Age. What you and Kíli are doing feels strange. Unnatural. And I worry for both of you. Tell me you will think this over carefully. We all know how reckless stubborn Kíli can be. And some of our kin will not take kindly to even an Elf-friend, nonetheless an Elf-queen. Surely nipping this messy business in the bud will prevent a bad end.”

He meets her eyes insistently until she swallows and nods, looking away.

 

It’s disturbing to hear an echo of Legolas’ words after so many months.

 

 


 

 

 

But despite the warnings, she can hardly turn away from Kíli the next morning. They’re a small group and they all have their preferred traveling companions. It’s natural for the two of them to ride out first: she has the keenest eyes and fastest mount, and he is not only eager to move forward and fearless, but also their king and leader. Ori, Gloin and Bofur follow, spiritedly debating issues like ideal amounts of malt in ale and which Longbeard was actually the greatest warrior, and Óin, Bifur and Dwalin guard the rear in mostly companionable silence.

Besides, it’s hard to resist Kili’s warm and fascinating company when they both yearn to be closer; when there are finally fewer restrictions and responsibilities keeping them apart. And despite another night of careful consideration, she believes what had spurred her to leave the realm, to abandon even Legolas and defy her king has only grown the stronger.

 

Surely if even those from the Iron Hills can learn to accept her, those who love him can do so as well.

 

They have the relative privacy of a shared watch tonight. And she knows Kíli well enough to see that he is anticipating those hours as keenly as she is.

 

So she avoids Oin’s searching looks as they sit a short distance from where the others are stretching out to sleep. But she doesn’t really relax until she hears his snores join the chorus, sighing and smiling up at the sky. The cloud cover from earlier has cleared and there are unfamiliar stars wheeling into view.

 

“I still prefer cloudy nights when traveling. Clear ones are cold,” Kíli says, staring up into the night.

“But the stars are so beautiful,” she objects.

“Well, you know, I don’t usually see much when I’m sleeping,” he counters, chuckling, and she laughs softly, brushing her hand against his.

Her cheeks flush when he takes it, and she squeezes. “You feel warm enough, anyway.”

“Ah, my heart’s on fire. Keeps the rest of me toasty,” he says easily, edging closer. And when she turns to him with a shy smile at that declaration, he cups her cheek and searches her eyes.

 

And seeing the longing mirrored there, he raises himself to press his lips to hers, questing, tasting for a long moment.

 

Everything else seems to perish in the heat of that contact.

 

Every inch of her skin feels flushed when he pulls back, and she’s intensely aware of his scent, the taste of him still on her lips and then of the way she’s unconsciously grabbed a handful of his clothing to pull him closer. “How you make me burn,” she gasps.

 

He laughs softly in triumph before he kisses her again, and they both revel in the heady pleasure of it for the next few minutes. She notes hazily the way his facial hair feels against her skin; that both their pulses are racing; that their mouths fit perfectly together no matter what anybody thinks. And he thinks quite plainly that this far surpasses any of his fantasies, staggered by the ardor she’s kept banked behind all that patient Elvish restraint.

 

The watch passes too quickly. He wishes that she were a little less disciplined-- she breaks off the kissing so they can catch their breath and talk instead; trying to pay proper attention to the task they’re expected to perform. And he cooperates reluctantly—there could be Orcs or Goblins out there in the dark waiting for an opportunity to strike, but he’d still rather kiss her again.

 

He can tell she’s still rather affected as they chat and keep an eye out for movement in the darkness. She keeps her hand in his and they sit closer than they had, her eyes straying to his lips in a way that makes him grin.

 

It’s not difficult to persuade her into a few more kisses in the hours before his shift is over. But all too soon she sends him off to wake Ori after one last, lingering kiss.

 

 As he stretches out on the ground next to the others, feeling a curious mixture of buoyancy and fatigue, his first impulsive thought is of a need to tell Fíli.

 

And then he remembers and has to swallow against the ache in his chest. So he turns to watch Tauriel serenely apprise Ori of the quiet conditions as the scribe scratches and yawns, nodding sleepily.

 

And he falls asleep smiling anyway.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The lord of silver fountains

The king of carven stone

The king beneath the mountain

Shall come into his own

 

And the bells shall ring in gladness

At the mountain king’s return

But all shall fade in sadness

And the lake will shine and burn

 

 

The prophecy of Durin’s Folk

 

 

***

 

 

Once they emerge from enemy territory, they all breathe a little easier. They’d suffered only a single attack from a pack of wild Wargs, and dispatched them easily enough, which they all agree bodes well for their return along the same route.

The dwarves are familiar with the lay of the land and varied peoples in the Arnor region, and the lush greenery and patchwork of farms are a welcome sight.

They keep to the north to avoid the hilly regions, cutting across the countryside with an eagerness that comes of knowing that home is almost in sight. Even Ori and Kíli are quick to rise in the mornings, and Óin and Bifur reluctant to stop for the night once they spot Ered Luin’s familiar silhouette in the distance.

And the ecstatic welcome that greets them when they finally arrive brings tears to Tauriel’s eyes.

 

She hangs back, the only stranger in the flurry of warm embraces and shouts. So she studies the entrance hall, already surprised by how different Ered Luin is to Erebor.

For all that it is hewn into the mountains, there’s an unfinished quality to it, with hardly a hint of the intricate carving and grandeur that she has come to associate with Dwarf hewn stone. And as she looks upon the laden wagons lining the walls and circling the quiet silver fountain in the center of the hall, she understands.

 

It was built with an expectation that they would leave.

 

 

“Tauriel!” Kíli struggles through the crowd toward her, grinning. “I apologize for the noise and confusion. There’s somebody I wish for you to meet.”

She shakes her head, smiling as she takes the hand he offers. “I have lived among dwarves for months. I expect little else upon such a momentous occasion,” she assures him.

But there’s a growing hush followed by bewildered murmurs as he leads her through the crowd.

 

There’s no mistaking the woman who awaits: her presence, coloring, and even her beard so like that of her brother.

 

There’s also no mistaking the consternation that crosses her face when she spots their linked hands before she carefully assumes a more neutral expression.

 

Kíli’s too eager for them to meet to notice. “Mother, I want you to meet Tauriel. She fought beside me at the Battle of the Five Armies and lives now in Erebor, working as a healer for both our people and Dale’s. We have been grateful for her skills many a time. Tauriel, this is my mother: Dís, daughter of Thrain, princess of Erebor.”

Dís gives her a measured smile. “I have heard a little of you by raven, Tauriel. I bid you welcome, in the name of my son, our king. Who has much to explain,” she adds, raising a brow at Kíli, who twinkles charmingly.

Tauriel inclines her head, striving to ignore the disquiet tugging at her heart. “Greetings, Lady Dis. I thank you for your welcome.”

 

 

 


 

 

 

For the next couple of days, all appears well enough. Tauriel knows how to find and use the facilities and is accustomed to dwelling under stone. She’s also familiar with the steps to the dances and the songs that are sung in celebration. But his kin are rather disconcerted to find Kíli so unthinkably familiar with her, especially in the gaping absence of Fíli and Thorin.

As king, Kili’s invitation must take precedence over their suspicions. But they find small ways to underscore how much she does not belong. Like “forgetting” to tell her how to unlock the stone door of her room and fitting it with glows that go out after only minutes of use (as do the spares). Or seating her between Bifur (who speaks only Khuzdhul) and the end of the table at meals, ensuring that she can easily speak to nobody.

She tries to view the situation with cool logic. Long ingrained prejudices will take time to overcome and they see her as a threat to one whom they love and must obey.

 

But it’s hard not to feel that despite long months of earning acceptance, all progress has been undone. She hears all too clearly the whispers about her bald-faced ugliness, and how she must have used her Elven magic on Kíli to obtain his favor. It’s a shock to see women fearfully keep the curious littles from her, as if she were Orc and not Elf.

 

She feels especially lonely after so many weeks in Kili’s company on the road. And unlike in Erebor, she does not have the friendships of others or other productive tasks to bolster her.

 

Save one.

 

So she seeks out Óin, who is grim and regretful to see her so diminished and unhappy.

“I must rest, and having gone so long without, it will be a deep slumber. I may not wake for several days, so I thought it prudent to inform a friend beforehand. There have been a number of …jests. It would reassure me if you could ensure that my body is left in peace. Kíli already has so much keeping him occupied,” Tauriel says.  

“…and you don’t wish to let him know you’re having a hard time of it here.” Óin looks at her sadly. “Lass, I’m sorry.”

“…You warned me.”

“It still pains me to see you suffer.” He sighs. “You were banished from the Woodland Realm. But there is a small Elvish community just to the south of us, where the Lhûn River meets the sea. Would they look upon you unkindly?”

 

She pauses for a long moment, feeling the creeping dread of a fateful choice upon her. “You speak of the Grey Havens. No, those who dwell there would not turn away any Elf.”

“Would it not be easier to go back to your own people, then? I know it has been hard for you without any of your kin. And they are hardly a week’s travel south, through safe country.”

 

She stares unseeing at the wall, unable to answer. Dwarves are, perhaps, not aware of the larger purpose of the Grey Havens.

 

“I know Kíli has been paying you court, and you care deeply for each other. Anyone can see that. But it is not too late to return his gifts and allow him the freedom to continue his line. And he is the last, Tauriel. Azog made sure of that on Ravenhill. While I know Elves and Men have had unions in the past, I know of no Elf/Dwarf example in either history or legend. Or I would not speak of this to you.”

 

She bows her head, hope dwindling with each terrible truth he speaks. “…But I love him.”

“Ah, lass! I’d feared as much. But surely you see that such feelings can only end in tragedy. Whether it is today or two hundred years from now, you’ll still be fated to part. You are the finest healer I have ever had the privilege of working with. But all your skill will not save him in the end.”

 

More painful echoes. And perhaps it is fate that has brought her so close to the Grey Havens already.

 

Oin continues. “You left your people to save him. But I fear staying dooms both him and you, all the same. This might be a chance to save you both.”

 

Stricken, she meets his eye.

 

She has never been one to stand idly by.

 

 


 

 

 

Kili has tried to avoid having this particular private conversation with his mother ever since he saw her thunderous expression when he asked Tauriel to dance. And there has been work enough to forestall it-- planning signals and procedures for the caravan; selling as much as they can to the neighboring communities of Men and Hobbits; loading wagon after endless wagon with provisions and possessions. But his mother is seldom denied anything for long, and she descends upon his chambers in the time he’s carved out to pack up his own things.

“You court an Elf? While you are still new to ruling? Are you trying to test the loyalty of your kin? Thorin would never have done something so foolish!”

Kíli rolls his eyes and gives up trying to sort through his belongings while his mother agitatedly paces and gesticulates to emphasize her points. “Well, maybe not with an Elf…”

Dís doesn’t have to pretend to be scandalized. “Kíli!”

 

He sighs. “I mean no disrespect! It’s just that we all saw the way he felt about— never mind. I suppose it doesn’t matter now, anyway.”

She taps her foot, seething. Kili’s always been reckless, teetering from the brink of one disaster to the next. And without Fíli to steady him… “They say she’s used magic on you. It’s true, isn’t it?”

Healing magic. She saved my life and you act like this is some unspeakable evil!”

“You think it coincidence that a dwarf prince gets snared by some Elf-witch as soon as he comes into a large sum of gold and the crown? When he’s lost two of his closest kin in one fell swoop?”

 

He patiently explains, although he judges it wiser to leave out the bit about her being their jailer. “I loved her well before she healed me. She only learned of my bloodline after the battle, when we were both grieving. And my own kin were the ones pressuring me despite that, not an Elf who prefers starlight and stories to jewels and prestige.”

“Because that’s not the least bit abnormal.”

Kíli grits his teeth. “What I’m trying to tell you is that she is not interested in power or wealth. She wants me. Just me. Kíli. Name me a single dwarf woman who will not see me as king first now.”

That softens her, at last, and she sits and grips his hands imploringly.

Dashat, I understand that. And if anybody knows the pressure that comes with a royal heritage, you know it is me. But how can this be something with roots? Elves are known for being liars and cheats. And she is not like us. She did not sleep the whole of your journey; she can do magic- these are not things that show me she can be wife to you. Do you not want children? Would you allow our line to die as that thrice-cursed Azog wanted all along?”

Kíli scoffs bitterly. “You would have me give up the woman I love to breed me like livestock? Accord me fewer rights than any of our people? Just to spite some dead Orc?”

“You’ve a duty, Kíli.”

And I’ve done it. I treated with our allies after the battle, honored the memories of our dead. Kept our people fed and warm in cooperation with Men in the cold season after. Rebuilt both Erebor and Dale-- halls, mines and forges stand ready. And we’ve scouted the route to lead our people home. I may not be as great a warrior as my uncle, and I may spend gold at a rate that would have horrified my forbears. But everything I’ve done has been for the future of our people. And this? Is not a matter any but she and I get to decide.”

“How can you say that? Do you love this Elf more than your own people? Some may never come around to accepting her as Queen. Would you give up being king if they demand it?”

Kíli sobers. “…You know the answer to that.”

Dís shakes her head in despair. “Kíli…”

 

“She gave up her people for me. If it came down to it, I could do no less. Please. Don’t force me to choose when there isn’t a need. All you have now is fear, not fact. And Durin’s folk do not flee from a fight. You know as well as I do that what seems impossible does not always prove so. And she’s already won over Dain’s folk. All I ask is for you to give her a chance.” 

Dís sits back, moved and humbled. She’s never known Kíli to be so sure and decisive. This adventure --or perhaps being king—has changed him. “…Must you do everything the difficult way? I will try to smooth things over with the grumblers. But I reserve the right to speak my mind on the matter. Even if the final decision remains yours.”

Kíli laughs and presses a kiss to her cheek. He can ask nothing more than that. “It’s a promise, then. I’ll go get her- order some tea. Or wine, if that would make it easier on you.”

 

 

But when he passes through the entrance chamber to his rooms, he stops, bewildered to find the door ajar.

 

The traditional sign for a way out offered. His eyes widen. But surely Tauriel would not know…

 

His face goes ashen when he turns his gaze to the entrance table.

 

Placed carefully upon it are a neat pile of dried wildflowers, her bow and arrows and the bridle for her mare.

 

His courting gifts, returned. Even the flowers.

 

He sits numbly, stunned and heartbroken. He’s been buried in the leaving preparations since they’ve arrived, but her decision leaves him at a loss. Only a week ago they’d kissed each other to the breathless brink on their last night watch; two nights ago they were dancing and laughing at the feast.

 

But this morning he’d stolen a moment to chat with her after breakfast, because she’d seemed melancholy.

She’d dodged the observation, as usual, and he’d been pulled away before he could tease it out of her. He rues that dreadfully now-- he is always too busy, and she is far too patient in comparison to his kin. With his mother to help with the day-to-day responsibilities of ruling, things at Erebor should be easier, but still…

 

He touches the sprig of baby’s breath, the wild roses, remembering offering them to her. They still smell as sweet as the time they’d spent together, and the memories bring tears to his eyes. They hadn’t exchanged beads but he’d been so sure of her heart…

 

 

And he realizes suddenly that there is something missing.

 

 

He sorts through the flowers to check that it isn’t hidden underneath, heart thudding in his ears.

 

And he swipes the tears off his cheeks when he confirms, and leaps to his feet.

 

She must still have the runestone. And if she left the horse, he may still be able to catch her.

 

 


 

 

 

He finds her trail easily, and her, within minutes. “Tauriel! What happened? Don’t leave!”

She slows, but doesn’t look back.  “I must. For your sake, and my own. Forgive me-- I should have heeded wisdom instead of taking us both to the edge of ruin. You were right: this was just a dream, a selfish, foolish one.”

He blinks, appalled. “Words spoken in the wake of fever- you can’t be serious! Think on these past months-- was that also a dream? It hardly felt ruinous to me, and I’m sure you felt the same! What can possibly have changed?”

 

She halts him with her hand. “Please. Don’t come any closer.” If he touches her she knows her resolve will falter and this time, at least, she should heed wisdom.

“I go back to my people, and you should return to yours. You are the last of your line, and a king now. Every step we take forward makes your future even more uncertain. And your people need you. I should have realized this was an impossible path to tread. Perhaps it is fate that Ered Luin lies so close to the Grey Havens.”

 

He regards the determined set of her back miserably. “So this is how you would have us part?”

“…Death will separate us eventually. Surely doing this now will be less cruel.”

“Death separates all mortals eventually-- you don’t see us throwing love away because of it! If you no longer return my feelings, I will not hold you. But-- I think you still do.”

She presses her lips together, wavering. “I wish love were enough. But there is more at stake than just how we feel. So I have given you back your gifts so that you may one day find a more suitable mate.”

 

He scoffs. “You would have me marry someone else?”

Imagining him with another is agonizing, but she forcefully pushes the image away. Real love is not a cage. And she offers only a childless future, or worse, revolt and exile…

 

But she chokes on the words so she simply dips her head in reply.

 

He laughs humorlessly, shaking his head in disbelief. “I thought you understood how stubborn Dwarves are. We are as steadfast as the stones from which Mahal created us: we only love once. You will always hold my heart-- and I know you still bear a token of that.”

 

She closes her eyes and clutches at the runestone tucked in the pocket at her breast. He’d joked once that this stone had held a curse. And perhaps he’d spoken the truth unknowing: she’d been unable to give it up. So she finally speaks, unable to refute his words. “The same is true for Elves.”

 

He takes a hopeful step forward. “Then you know it won’t change anything for either of us if you leave. I will be childless like Thorin, and Dain or his son will rule Erebor when I die.”

 

She stills as hope sparks, and half-turns. “But Azog swore-- Dain is your heir?”

Yes. Dain Ironfoot heads the secondary bloodline. Dwarves are not Men-- there will be no bloodshed over something as straightforward as succession.”

 

He plunges on as she considers. “You kept the stone because of the memories it holds. And I know I can’t promise you forever the way another Elf could. But I can vow to give you love and laughter for the rest of my life, memories you can keep against the grief of parting-- if you will grant me the honor. I don’t know if it will be enough… But surely we have a greater chance of happiness together than apart?”

 

To be wed, and share their lives and bodies fully… She inhales at the heady allure of that promise. Surely the joy of those years would eclipse the eventual sorrow?  Still, she is all too aware of what drove her decision to leave. “There are still so many challenges. Your close kin despise me even more than Dain did. I fear this is still folly.”

 He closes the distance between them. “I’ve always thought it brave to take on a challenge. Look at how far we’ve already come! Surviving Smaug, winning a battle, restoring Dale and Erebor and figuring out our new roles there. You’ve already won over the Iron Hills Folk, and I was on my way to find you after convincing my mother. I promise you: she’s a much harder nut to crack than Dain. Even my uncle dreaded debating with her. You can’t give up when I’ve already done half the work here.”

 

She can’t help huffing a laugh. And she can’t stop the tears when she finally turns back to him, but they fall now out of hope and joyous certainty.

 

“Then I will endeavor not to be afraid.”

 

And if the kiss to cement the new promises is rather desperate and tinged with the taste of tears, it is no less heartfelt.

 

 


 

 

Kíli carefully adds beads to her hair that signal their formal attachment and proudly seats Tauriel on his left at meals. They also make and exchange silver rings, in keeping with Elven tradition.

 

The conferred status quells most of the overt resistance to her presence, although they are all aware that misgivings still remain. Private teas with Dís are rather stilted and awkward despite his mother’s efforts to stay open-minded. She’s simply baffled by Tauriel’s lack of interest in managing Erebor as a queen is expected to, but she makes her stance on the engagement clear when Tauriel’s unnatural long rest is unkindly remarked upon.

“An Elvish trick, aye. But it is done to keep us and ours safe. And I, for one, appreciate the gesture.”

 

Óin still worries, no matter how happy they appear now that they are formally betrothed. “I know Dís has accepted Kili’s word on this. But will you really be all right without your people?”

“Kíli inspires courage even in the darkest places. I suppose it is part of what makes him a good king. And I have you and Sigrid, Tilda and Bard besides.” She takes hold of his hands earnestly when he still looks doubtful. “If I had gone on, we would both have lived in regret for the rest of our lives. I could not throw away love with both hands when what we had feared would come to pass regardless. And this way I will have more memories to hold dear when we part. I would rather not mourn prematurely.”

 He sighs. “A healer must be prepared for the worst. And to seek the best course of treatment.”

 

“But that is no way to live. And love is not a sickness that needs curing.”

 

He tilts his head and sighs. “Well, you have me there. And you look fine enough, with the flush back in your cheeks and your braids finished in beads like a proper dwarrodam. Now help me get these herbs wrapped.”

 

Which she knows is his way of saying he will make peace with it, so she smiles and complies.

 

 


 

 

 

The return of Durin’s Folk begins under the summer sun. Hundreds of Dwarves, women, children and a sizable number of livestock make the journey. Progress is slow and halting, especially at first. They need to stop to rest feet unused to tramping so far and tender bottoms unused to their mounts; to grow accustomed to the rhythm of life on the road. So as the caravan makes to travel north of the Shire, Kili and Tauriel ride south to drop in on Bilbo.

 

And the Hobbit stops short, squeaking and clutching a pair of oven mitts to his chest when he opens the door to find Thranduil’s Guard Captain on his doorstep.

“You!”

 

She smirks, eyes bright with humor. It’s small revenge on the one who had bested her when she’d had charge of the dungeons, but nonetheless…

“I was told tea is at four?” she says, raising her brows expectantly.

 

His brow furrows as he pauses with his mouth wide, searching for an explanation. “Well… yes. But I don’t understand how-- that is, I don’t recall speaking to any elves about-“

He hears a snort of laughter, and his fussy manner immediately changes when he ducks his head out.

“Kíli!”

“At your service,” he chuckles, pulling Bilbo into a hug.

 

Bilbo laughs and claps Kili’s back in return rather haplessly. “Well, whatever are you doing here in Bag End?! Your timing is excellent! I’ve just put some orange poundcake in the oven, and it will be done just in time to finish off our tea. I also have plenty of that cheese Bombur was so fond of if he’s also coming along…?”

“He won’t be. But a few of the Company will probably drop in. They’re in different places in the guard around the caravan.”

Bilbo frowns, puzzled. “Caravan?”

 

Kili smiles, proud and wistful. “We bring our people home to Erebor,” he says. And there’s something so like Thorin in the way he speaks that Bilbo feels his eyes and nose sting.

 

But the hobbit smiles bracingly and grips Kili’s shoulder, blinking. “That’s…wonderful news. I’m thrilled, for you all, truly. And you’ve made the time to visit! Come in, come in!”

And he turns to find Tauriel before him again, and Kíli wheezes with laughter again at the befuddled look on Bilbo’s face. Ah, if only Fili were here…

“Bilbo, this is Tauriel, formerly of the Woodland Realm. She’s agreed to do me the honor of becoming my lady wife.”

 

Bilbo swallows and blinks, bowing as he attempts to process the information. “Wi- My- congratulations,” he stammers.

She smiles. “It is a pleasure to meet Kili’s famous Burglar at last.”

He pauses and scratches at the back of his neck, abashed. “Yes, well. I do apologize for the inconvenience.”

Her smile widens, and she meets his eyes. “It is rare for dwarves to count another among their own,” she says.

 

Bilbo regards her with sudden understanding.

 “Ah. That was mostly a matter of time, really. And perhaps a small amount of courage.” Suddenly realizing they are lingering on the doorstep, he shakes his head and hops back, waving them inwards with the oven mitts. “Pardon my manners! Come in, welcome, welcome!”

 

 And so it is that an Elf joins another unexpected dinner party in a little hobbit hole.

 

 


 

 

 

The journey back through the Gundabad pass realizes their worst fears. Orc and Goblin forces have been lying in wait for the final phase of the prophecy.

They aren’t the huge armies they had faced previously, but there are no walls to shelter behind either as enemies stream down the mountains toward them from both sides. The dwarves grimly put their defensive plans into motion, stragglers hurrying to enter the protection of concentric rings of armed and armored dwarves.

But as she checks her quiver and readies her bow, Tauriel is dismayed by Kili’s assumption that she will stay behind with the other women and children.

“I have been killing Orcs since before any of you were born. Have you forgotten Ravenhill? My place is at your side.

He meets her eyes, pleading. “Dwarves protect their women. And if you will be Queen my warriors will spend their lives trying to keep you from harm…Please. Stay with my mother at the center of the caravan.”

 

There is no time for arguments. She estimates the wave of orcs and trolls will reach them in a minute, and the goblin forces on the other side will arrive soon after. “We will speak on this later. And I will do what I must from behind you.”

He nods and puts his fist to his heart before leaping onto a Battle Ram and rushing off, shouting orders.

 

Dís hisses with annoyance at Tauriel’s unseemly interruption of their emergency procedures, issuing her own commands to arrange the wagons in a rough circular barricade around the women and children, making sure all carry something to shield from arrows. But she can hardly ignore Tauriel when she leaps lightly on top of one of the wagons, studying the battlefield.

“Do you think arrows will not find you, Elf?! Think on Kili’s grief and stay behind cover as you’ve been told!”

“Kíli told me where to stand, not how to act, and I am not one to stand idly by. He knows this full well.”

 

There’s a clash of metal and the roar of battle cries when the first orcs reach the lines.

 

Tauriel ignores Dís’ furious gestures to get down, gauging where her arrows will best be put to use. Their forces can easily withstand the meager weapons of the Goblins- the danger mostly comes from the larger and better armed foes from the north.

 

She fires first on the Wargs swooping down the slopes from the northwest, smiling as their bodies crash into the orcs before them. Then she knocks aside an arrow with a hastily drawn blade and takes out the Goblin archer who fired it, then another.

It’s a war of attrition between her and the enemy archers for the next few minutes. She is faster and more accurate, but they greatly outnumber her and she often wastes arrows deflecting theirs. Still, she steadily empties her quiver until she is satisfied that she can spot no more before she turns back to the north.

 

Her eyes widen in consternation. “Kíli!”

 

Three heavily armed trolls are almost upon the vanguard Kíli heads. And each one has been armored specifically for a battle against dwarves, their limbs and lower bodies protected by steel plates.

 

Luckily for her, none of them wear helms.

 

She gets two through the eye before they realize what is happening. Kíli shouts for his warriors to avoid their falling bodies and salutes her before leaping back into the fray.

Tauriel has to draw hard to puncture the base of the skull of the third, who has turned to avoid her arrows. And with the contents of her quiver spent, she leaps down off the wagon. “I need more arrows. There are still many targets,” she says to Dis.

 

“Skirfir- you know where the weapons are kept. Do as your future queen commands. Stay low,” Dis snaps. The boy, who had been chafing at the unfairness of being deemed too young to fight, obeys with a delighted grin.

 

Tauriel blinks in surprise and turns to look at Dis.

 

Dís smiles grimly. “Kíli had the naming of your bow?”

 

Tauriel nods, brow furrowed.

 

“I found it so odd. Amarakh. Defender with a feminine prefix, a seeming nonsense word. But now? …I understand.”

 

And from the emotion in her eyes, Tauriel realizes that she means more than the odd naming of bows.

 

And she smiles and inclines her head.

 

 


 

 

 

The battle is over quickly- it seems nothing inspires dwarves like the peril of their kin, and the orcs and goblins had expected easier pickings. Much of the unrestrained livestock has bolted in fear or been carried off, but better to lose boars and goats than their people.

Dis gets the caravan back in order as best she can, directing the disposal of enemy bodies and livestock too injured to travel on, and repairs to the wagons so they can move on at first light. And she has to admit that the healing magic Tauriel employs is useful indeed, and that she doesn’t mind having sole charge of the caravan while their fighters chase down the remnants of their attackers and try to round up livestock.

When Kili returns with his victorious warriors, there’s no mistaking the passion with which he claims a kiss from his bride-to-be or the anxiety in her eyes as she inspects him for signs of injury.

And Dís smiles with sheer delight when she overhears Tauriel berating him in that damnably calm voice of hers for taking unnecessary risks.

 

That night, as Kili is toasting his warriors at their makeshift feast, Dís clears her throat and reaches over to pat her hand. “I’m Dwarf enough to admit it. We can make this work, Elf or not. But you need to learn a few things about how dwarrowdams get things done.”

Tauriel lifts a brow and smiles. “A novice should always listen to the advice of those more experienced.”

Dis smiles back at her, pleased. “Good. You will need to ask Kíli for a dance or he’ll drink himself under the table. There are too many triumphant warriors to toast tonight, but honor demands that he do so anyway. As his intended you can claim his attention without sullying anybody’s honor. But maybe wait until after he toasts Gimli, Gloin’s son there. He made his first kills tonight, and deserves a king’s recognition.”

 

Tauriel blinks and inhales. “I see I have much to learn.”

“Ach.” Dís flutters a hand. “Don’t worry yourself overmuch. Dwarves are far more forgiving than Elves.”

 

Tauriel’s brow furrows and she blinks rapidly. That statement is blatantly false, and yet she’s hesitant to disturb their newfound understanding.

 

Until she realizes Dís is studying her and shaking with restrained laughter.

 

She lifts her eyes and sighs, smiling. “I see where Kíli gets his sense of humor.”

Dís chortles and raises her glass to Tauriel. She’ll do just fine.

 

 


 

 

 

They finally get to Ravenhill as the sun is setting, after a long day of travel. And Dís looks upon the spot where her brother and son died, with Erebor so close, and weeps.

 

Home. But it’s bittersweet.

 

Tauriel notes that harvest has already been completed and the fields are stubble and straw. And she smiles with delight to see the trees growing on the mountain, leaves yellowing on the young saplings. But they all turn towards Dale as its bells start chiming, and a minute later, Erebor’s great bell begins to toll.

 

Kíli raises his arm and waves when he spots the riders coming towards them: Bard, Dain and Balin, all grinning like fools.

“I go to meet them. We’ll need an orderly way to get everybody settled. Plus I want to see what Bombur has planned for tonight’s feast. I hope to never eat cram again as long as I live. Amad- are you all right?”

 

Dís shakes her head tearfully.

“I’m fine. Forgive me a few sentimental tears. I imagined this moment far different.”

Kíli looks appealingly at Tauriel, and she nods and places her hand on Dis’ shoulder. Dis gratefully covers it with her own before tilting her head to indicate he should go. Nodding, he rides off.

“I am certain they are with us in spirit,” Tauriel offers.

Dís huffs a laugh. “Of course. But that is not what troubles me. Do you know the prophecy of Durin’s Folk? My brother and father kept it close to their hearts all those years we lived in exile, wandering the world until we made ourselves lesser halls. And then the portents began to come true. Thorin left to fulfill his fate, with my boys along for the adventure. But now I am not so sure the king it referred to was only my brother,” she says, eyes brimming with tears as she watches her son hail his fellow king and lords.

 

Tauriel follows her gaze to Erebor, dwarves streaming from its gates, gushing fountains on either side of the entrance. The setting sun changing the lake to molten amber and bleeding reds in the background. Hears Erebor’s bell sounding deep and Dale’s in musical counterpoint. Sees Kíli gesturing and nodding as he discusses plans for getting hundreds of dwarves and their things up into the halls waiting for them.

 

And she understands, thunderstruck. “The King under the mountain shall come into his own,” she whispers.

 

Dís nods proudly. “And it seems he has.”