Work Header

Courting Habbits of the Hopelessly Unprepared

Chapter Text


Courting Habits of the Hopelessly Unprepared


Chapter One — Songs of Duty



Kíli could hardly remember a time when the smell of mineral and rock wasn’t surrounding him with every breath; or a day when some Big person wasn’t taking advantage of the destitute dwarves, and the shoulders of their elders weren't bowed with shame. Then a daft adventure had seen a kingdom reclaimed and a dragon die, and everything changed.

Now, he and Fíli were Princes in truth, instead of just heirs in exile living in a small mining kingdom. When they had begged their uncle to join him on his mad quest, all those years ago, they hadn’t had any concept of life after the adventure. There had been only two outcomes looming in their mind—failure or success, and to think beyond success seemed far too fanciful back then, when failure was almost certain. Even after six years of work, Erebor was still a shell of its former glory, but it was a Kingdom that felt like home, despite the fact that Kíli had been born in Erid Luin, half a world away. Pride and gratitude showed in every aspect of the restoration work being done, and Kíli found his days full and happy as their people prospered.

Fíli had finally appeased Master Loni, though Kíli privately thought the gift of Orcrist in place of Fíli's First Craft to be almost ludicrous in its generosity, and the old Master Weapons Smith had crankily agreed to oversee Fíli's journeyman work. Of course, being able to make time for it was another challenge altogether, and one Kíli did not envy his brother. Few rulers ever attained their Mastery of their Heart Craft before their second century, if at all, because of all the other demands on their time, including learning a basic amount in at least all the other major craft guilds, but the fire of his Heart Craft burned hot in his breast, and Fíli, of course, was determined to make it happen decades faster.

Kíli knew it was a foreign concept to the other races, even Uncle Bilbo had questioned it at first, but dwarrow were profoundly dualist at their core, and as far as he knew, Kíli's place in the monarchy was unique to every other race. To the outside world, Fíli would be King Under the Mountain, sole ruler and voice of Erebor. Dwarrow, however, knew that two would always be required for a balanced view, and so while Fíli might be first voice of the King to the outside world, Kíli’s voice would be second; and in many cases, more important, as he was the voice of the people. Fíli’s position would be that of Melhekhur-Bakhuz, the King’s Hammer; wielder of the king’s hand and crafter of the king’s will, and the face of the kingdom outside the Mountain. Kíli would be Dohyar-Melhekh, the Anvil of the King; the foundation of all the King wished to accomplish. It was a delicate position, one that required a great ability to listen, to take in all that was said and unsaid, and to know what was happening in all areas of the kingdom, so that he could bring the people’s concerns to the Throne. His would be the face of the King within the Mountain and in many ways, Kíli would be the voice of the people to the throne.

A position that could be difficult, and most days, Kíli felt as if he were being stretched thinner than thin, because of course, their duties as princes where the same, if on a slightly smaller scale.

Fíli was the accomplished one; he was golden in so many ways, and had already earned a reputation for even-handed justice in addition to courage and calmness under pressure. Their quest had earned him the name Fíli Courageheart, and the people had seen little reason to change it. Kíli was proud of him; prouder than he would have thought possible, and he loved his brother more than anything. He was deeply thankful that his Bakhuz was Fíli, for he could not imagine trying to rule with anyone else by his side.

And though Fíli was the golden one, Kíli knew that he himself was…not. People whispered sometimes, though not nearly as often as before; with the quest, he had finally started to earn his place, and he was confident he would eventually find his way into their hearts as he proved to be a good Dohyar; for Fíli, and Erebor. It didn’t help that at eighty-four, he still didn’t have a publicly declared Heart Craft, which gave his doubters plenty to whisper about. Elf-get, he’d been called, or Faithless, or unloved by the Maker. Uncle Thorin had always put a stop to it, as much as he could anyway, back in the Blue Mountains, but as Kíli and Fíli stepped more and more into their roles within the monarchy, Thorin was less able to protect them. He knew his uncle worried, but Kíli wished he wouldn’t; Kíli knew he would eventually earn his own place, and didn’t let the specifics bother him too much; impulsive, gut-driven behaviour had always served him well, after all.

Besides, this day was Fíli's, and he was content to let his brother have it.

“Nervous?” he asked sympathetically; Fíli hadn’t stopped pacing for the last quarter hour. In truth, he wasn't sure his brother had stopped pacing since the idea had first been proposed, months ago.

Fíli didn’t even have the energy to toss him more than a worried glance as he continued to pound out his track around the room.

Kíli wasn't even sure which side had first suggested the proposal, but in truth, everyone had always known that was where the treaty discussions would lead. He and Fíli had been raised with the knowledge that such an arrangement might be in their future, though neither of them had ever suspected it to be with a sternly capable child of Men. It was possible Fíli was panicking as much about that as he was about his impending courtship—both of them had seen what difficulties and misunderstandings had happened when Uncle had tried to court Bilbo, and they had already had the benefit of almost a year of travelling together first.

But a treaty with Dale had to be made, and in truth, Uncle felt that he owed Bard his support in taking back his family’s kingdom, even after everything Uncle had already done to atone for his deeds at the Gate. When the idea got broached in council last fall, Thorin had halted the discussions right there before either he or Fíli had even had a chance to do more than blink, insisting on speaking with his nephews about it privately before any decisions were made. He had come to their quarters well after the evening bell, crownless and without his royal regalia, as just their uncle—not King Under the Mountain. Some of the things they had talked about were things that Kíli would never forget—frank and honest conversations and shared wisdom that would always remain in his heart, no matter what the future held.

Some of it, admittedly, devolved into less-than-polite stories Bilbo would definitely not approve of.

They had stayed up late into the night, and by morning all three of them had hangovers the size of minecarts, but were in accord over how to proceed. It was for the best of both kingdoms, and Fíli thought he had a better than even chance of finding happiness, in time, with Bard's eldest daughter.

That had been more than five months ago, when the snows first started to lay as a dusting upon the ground. The discussions had been complicated and very, very cautious while both sides took their time with the notion, and once deep snows had finally blanketed the landscape, an agreement had been tentatively hammered out. All through the long northern winter, no further delegations were sent or received, and it was like the eye of a storm, or the deep breath before battle; and now that spring was a hint in the air, leaving behind tiny crocuses and hellebore poking through the thin layers of lingering snow, the dwarves were riding down from Erebor.

It was time.

They had arrived in Laketown early that morning, and had been given the use of this room to discuss privately until Lord Bard and his councillors were ready to meet with them. The Treaty between Erebor and the Men of Esgaroth had been a long time in coming. Six years ago, they had faced each other through the gates of the Mountain as enemies, despite later joining forces against the orcs of Gundebad. Six years ago, neither side could forget the words and deeds at the gates, and so the ensuing truce was an uneasy one. Uncle Thorin, driven by guilt, had quietly diverted supplies to those among the Men that needed it most, despite having little extra for his own people. He would be deeply uneasy to have his involvement with the town’s affairs exposed, but Kíli suspected Lord Bard was at least peripherally aware of his actions during their rebuilding by now, but let the matter drop out of respect for the dwarf that had eventually saved his son in battle. Both settlements were now thriving and prosperous, and Lord Bard of Laketown would soon be King Bard of the Kingdom of Dale.

And that was the factor that changed everything: there was going to be a Kingdom of Men right on their doorstep again. Laketown was one thing, a fishing town almost a week’s travel by foot from Erebor, but Dale was set to be a thriving capitol, and it was half again as close to their front door. It was situated in a bend of the River Running, their main supply line in getting work in and out of their Mountain, and would become a major point on the road to Erebor, and points further east. Not to mention Laketown—and soon Dale, Kíli supposed—was their major supplier of foodstuffs. Of course, it wasn’t all one-sided. Erebor was the main draw that brought trade from far and wide; trade that Lord Bard was counting on to eventually make Dale a major merchant city again. Erebor stood along the Spice Route—the roads leading further east, from whence exotic spices and decorative items came from those few Easterling tribes friendly to trade, or even strange artifacts and goods from the snowmen of Forochel who came down from their wasteland homes to trade in Ered Luin far in the west from time to time. Erebor also stood as Dale’s best ally against orcs or for any of the wainriders raiding points west and north. Both sides needed this treaty, and discussions and negotiations had taken most of the year.

Though it had only been discussed informally before now, a notion carefully dissected between various councillors to the throne and not between Thorin and Bard themselves, Lord Bard was expecting today’s proposal—in fact, Kíli privately suspected that it was in part responsible for why they had been left to drum their heels for so long. The Men would agree, though—had already agreed, unofficially, and were only waiting the formal proposal to come from the Kingdom of Erebor to finalize the arrangement.

Thorin sat patiently in one of the chairs that Bard had obviously had modified for his shorter guests, murmuring with Balin and the few of his councillors who had been part of the preliminary negotiations. His eyes flicked away occasionally as he contemplated the industry of the town through the wide windows beside them, and a faint smile hovered on his lips to see it. A wheeled car, laden with refreshments, had been left by Thorin’s elbow, and sat thoroughly ignored as they spoke.

Fíli continued to pace, his ceremonial armour jingling as he went.

Kíli caught his brother’s eye and gave him a commiserating look, before settling further into his bench and closing his eyes, before Fíli's tight circuits made him dizzy.

He couldn’t help but wonder if Sigrid were pacing somewhere, as well.


Sigrid was in fact not pacing, but was taking a seat in the Treaty room calmly, if rather mechanically, Kíli observed when they were finally lead in ten minutes later. Her younger sister on the other hand, trembled faintly as she sat, but he had no time to wonder at it.

The room, though generous in size, was barely large enough for both parties, and Kíli knew it was going to grow uncomfortably hot by mid-afternoon. A large oval table dominated the space, and the floor was laid with polished slate that shone almost emerald in the sunlight, and curving designs had been laid at the edges of the room with tiny iridescent tiles of what appeared to be shell. The walls, which of course had been built with mine-rubble patiently squared off, were largely hidden behind woven tapestries which Kíli suspected showcased skill of significance, some Master-Weaver’s work, perhaps; though he couldn't be sure.

Bard sat at the end facing them as they arrived, flanked on one side by Bain, and a Gondorian youth sent to apprentice with Dale's soon-to-be king, and on the other by both of Bard’s daughters. A few of his councillors, most of them young-faced and no more experienced than Bard, finished off the delegation of Men. Thorin took the time to acknowledge each of them with a nod before taking his seat at the dwarven end of the table, and the rest of his delegation followed. With a nod from Bard, the youth, Lord Denethor, took the floor, and the ponderous dance that was the negotiating process began.

It took most of the morning, but eventually the preliminaries of trade and defences were agreed upon, and Balin stood, staring serenely about the room. This was only a formality, after all, the real difficulties already surmounted in the months leading up to this day. This was the reward for all of Balin’s hard work, for today the blasted Treaty would be signed, and their two kingdoms set on the path to being joined. He paced three steps away from Thorin, so that he was on Lady Sigrid’s heart-side before speaking. Suddenly, Balin's insistence that Kíli sit to Thorin's right, with Fíli on the end, made sense, for he was now on Fíli's heart-side as well. The old romantic, Kíli thought fondly. It was a thoughtful touch.

Cousin Balin cleared his throat, and smiled kindly at the Lady Sigrid. “We would like to discuss the terms of courtship, and eventual marriage, between the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Erebor, and Future King under the Mountain, to the Lady of Laketown, soon to be Princess of Dale…”

Idly, Kíli settled in to listen with half an ear to the formal speech he knew his cousin had likely spent the better part of a week polishing. Instead, he let his eyes wander: to Fíli, pale and yet determined, sitting straight and true as he waited to pledge himself, and the throne of Erebor, to the house of Dale. To Bard, stern and unbending, but yet with an air of a man who has made peace with difficult decisions. To the youth Denethor, whose spirit, virtue and honour showed despite the arrogant mantle that stiffened his spine and lifted his chin. Each of the men in Bard's entourage was examined, carefully and subtly through the lens of Kíli's heightened senses, to report on privately to his kin later. Kíli sensed nothing out of the ordinary, which was as he expected: some small resentments, some fascination, and a surprising amount of acceptance.

From Lady Sigrid herself, though? Almost nothing. She sat, apparently perfectly at ease with the proceedings. Not a single shadow crossed her brow, nor frown escape her as she sat, serene as marble at Lord Bard's side, eyes following Balin indifferently as he spoke. Though he could wish he sensed, well, more from Lady Sigrid, he supposed he should be grateful for his brother's sake that if not enthusiasm, she didn't feel to have any strong emotions against the match, either.

It was a heartening beginning, and Kíli settled back, content that everything was proceeding as they had hoped.

Little did Kíli know that not fifteen minutes later, he’d be leaning in, idly whispering to his kin, while frantically signalling Thorin in hurried Igleshmêk to stop the meeting—quickly!—before they had a problem they couldn’t solve. Uncle stared at him, hard, but hesitated for no more than a moment before smoothing his expression and pushing himself to his feet, effectively halting the proceedings. Lightheaded as relief flooded him, Kíli let out the breath he’d been holding. A warm glow ignited in his chest at Thorin’s apparent faith in him; of course, right on its heels was an equally terrified feeling of having that much of Thorin’s faith, and Kíli fought back the urge to close his eyes tightly and tried not to groan.


Balin broke off mid-sentence as Thorin’s chair scraped loudly across the floor behind him, and after a fleeting moment of consternation, tried to look as though this were expected and completely under control. Thorin inclined his head to Bard and his advisors stiffly, and made an absurd excuse with a perfectly straight face and just the right amount of apology, and while everyone around him was gawping and trying to catch up to what was going on, Thorin motioned to Balin with a jerk of his head, and the four of them left the room.

Kíli tried not to groan at the straight set of Balin's shoulders as he marched out just ahead of the three royals.

Months. He had spent months on this.

Cousin Balin was going to murder him.

Or worse yet, turn him over to Mister Dwalin for remedial training for a month or two.



Two liveried Men, who had been stationed in the hall, showed them to a private chamber, just down from the meeting room, and Thorin dismissed Balin at the door with a meaningful look and a nonplussed expression. Kíli winced as the consigliere’s exit, though perfectly decorous, was punctuated by the unnecessarily loud click of the door closing behind him.

As soon as they were alone, Thorin turned to his nephew. “What is the problem?” he demanded. Fíli stopped in the centre of the room to stare at Kíli, too, frowning faintly in confusion as he waited for his younger brother to explain himself, one blond eyebrow raised.

Kíli was squirming under their combined scrutiny, aware that this hurried break from the meeting might be really, really awkward to smooth over with the Men, and knowing that Thorin knew it too, but had done it on the strength of his belief in Kíli's judgment and untrained Canting abilities. He still wasn’t sure if he was more pleased than terrified at that faith, and prayed he didn’t let Uncle down.

“I don’t know precisely,” he admitted, finally. “I just..." he paused, looking for better words; something less nebulous than a feeling, but found none. "I just uncovered a sense of tension that doesn’t bode well for the union.”

Thorin raised an eyebrow at him, but Kíli was relieved that his uncle was taking his vague impressions seriously, so he struggled to voice what he’d sensed. “The marriage is not welcome,” he said finally, with an apologetic glance at his brother.

“Not welcome?” Fíli shook his head, looking totally bewildered. “I thought the Men had already agreed it was the best solution?”

Kíli wished it wasn’t him opening this particular mineshaft, but he’d started this, so he had no choice but to push on with as much truth as he could divine. “I don't think it's Lord Bard, actually," he admitted, staring at the floor as he thought. "Or any of his advisors. I think it’s not welcome to either of the young Ladies.”

His words were met with total silence. Thorin frowned deeply while he considered this new information; Fíli just looked tired.

“No one is going to feel excitement for a political union,” Fíli pointed out, sounding discouraged, though obviously trying to hide it. “One can hope for feelings to grow, but for right now, the Lady Sigrid has little to recommend this union to herself, personally, beyond the benefit to her people." Fíli's normally warm expression twisted into something rueful. "I don’t imagine I’m projecting a great deal of excitement, either, for that matter.”

Kíli shook his head. “There is a definite difference between lack of excitement, and unwelcome,” Kíli frowned, still trying to sort through all of the impressions he’d gotten. “No, this is...something more than that. The Lady Sigrid, for all her seeming calm, sits tense enough to break stone; her heart is...frozen in her chest. From the younger sister,” he paused, uncomfortably, “nothing but sadness...and despair.”

“Despair?” Fíli asked, looking disturbed. “I had thought her sister and I had got on well enough, once.” Kíli wanted to comfort his older brother, who looked so torn and wistful as he thought of the girl he had once known. Fíli had indeed had high hopes that he and the Lady could eventually find happiness together; born partly from the ease of their previous interactions and the similarity of their temperaments, and partly on his willingness to serve the crown. Though he'd had no chance to form an attachment with Sigrid, his hopes had been high that they would prove good together. More faith than substance, but if anyone deserved it, it was Fíli with his kind and steadfast heart.

“But not well enough to open her heart,” Kíli pointed out, softly.

Fíli flushed, and stared at his toes. “I gave her a ruby, once,” he admitted. “It could be argued that I owe her a commitment.”

Kíli goggled at him. “When in the world did you have time to gift her with such a thing?” and then a truly horrible thought occurred to him. “Fee—is she your One?”

“Fíli—” Thorin rumbled, staring at him with pity.

Fíli looked up, wide-eyed and startled. “No!” he reassured them, and Kíli was relieved that the thought never seemed to have occurred to his brother.

Uncle crossed his arms, and stared at his heir sternly. “Then explain how it is that you came to give a daughter of the house of Dale a stone of passion,” he demanded.

Fair skin still flushed and rosy, Fíli almost tripped over himself to explain how it had come to pass that he’d presented the Lady Sigrid with a ruby shard from the hide of an exploded dragon.

Uncle finally uncrossed his arms near the end, when it became obvious that there had been no real intent behind the action, and Kíli realised that until then, he’d still harboured suspicions that Fíli's heart was already held by the girl.

Thorin sighed, ruefully. “Other races do not view such actions with the same eyes that a dwarf would,” he reminded them both, and Kíli had to hide a grin at what he was sure had been a hard-learned lesson for his Uncle. Thorin scrubbed his forehead with one hand, tiredly. “If the house of Dale demands recompense for the broken commitment, then we shall of course pay it, but I do not think it will come up, especially given that the child herself does not appear to wish it.”

“But that still doesn’t solve our problem of the union,” Fíli sighed, shaking his head as if he could clear away any impediments, and see a solution.

“It’s been six years since you gifted it to her, hasn’t it?” Kíli reminded him gently, and shrugged. “Men change much in that time, I think. She could be afraid, perhaps.”

Thorin’s expression turned thunderous, a mixture of shame and guilt shadowing his outrage, while Fíli simply looked sickened. “She would never come to any harm from us,” he choked.

“I know, and I doubt she would think so either,” Kíli admitted, “but she may simply not be a brave sort, when it comes to leaving behind everything she’s ever known.” Fíli looked sheepish at that reminder, and Thorin slightly less apoplectic. “Or it might not be that at all, but some other form of entanglement.”

“Her father spoke of no attachments,” Thorin rumbled, looking as if he might start bellowing for Balin to explain this oversight.

“Perhaps Bard doesn’t know?” Fíli pointed out.

“Or values the treaty enough to set aside the girl’s own wishes,” Kíli shrugged. “Who knows what goes through the minds of Men. We have seen it before, in other settlements we’ve passed through. Some Men seem to value their womenfolk very little, except in barter.”

"I do not think Lord Bard to be one of those." Fíli sighed, obviously uneasy. “We cannot afford to not have this union. Perhaps if I talk with her—”

Kíli threw himself onto one of the plush benches lining the room, feeling dejected for his brother’s sake. “I honestly don’t think she’d tell you anything, Fee,” he said with a sigh. He tipped his head back and covered his eyes with the crook of his arm as he thought. “I get the impression that she too knows how important this treaty is, and will willingly consign herself to it.”

When Kíli looked up, his brother’s smile was twisted and sardonic, and the look was alien on his face. “But with a heart unable to open for me.”

They were quiet for a long moment. Thorin scowled furiously as he paced the cramped room, while Fíli simply looked resigned. Kíli closed his eyes again, trying to ease the tension in his shoulders as he attempted to block out the frustrations of his kin, and think.

He heard Thorin’s pacing eventually stop, though when Kíli looked up, his uncle’s hands were flexing at his sides as if he could wrap them around the problem and physically subdue it. “We shall have to consult with Balin,” Thorin said heavily. “I will not have the girl married into our house under these auspices. I will not risk such misery for herself and Fíli. We will find another way.”

Fíli, of course, began protesting that he was willing to do his duty for Erebor, but Kíli was content their Uncle wouldn’t heed him, so instead he tried to sift through what he had gleaned from stone, and think. An alternative idea had already occurred to him the moment he’d felt Lady Tilda’s disquiet, though he had been reluctant to examine it.

Sigrid wouldn’t be the only Princess of Dale, after all…And although the world at large may not understand that he held rank equal to that of Fíli, his perceived place in the monarchy should still be sufficient for the Men of Dale, and the purpose of this treaty.

But the unbidden truth of the matter was, Tilda’s distress had caught his attention. In a room full of tense and focused people, her love for her sister had sliced through it all, somehow sliding directly into his senses so that the rest had become merely background. Her concern was what had directed his attention to Lady Sigrid, who’d been keeping herself so contained that he’d had to prod quite hard, eventually resorting to listening to the pretty agate stone she wore on her neck (and it had been pretty—not from the ground anywhere near here, nice banding) to get the true measure of her tension. Even then, he’d got no more than what he’d already shared; but it had been enough.

Fíli was a passionate dwarf, easy to love and be in love; but not for Sigrid. Fíli—and Sigrid—would be miserable if this went forward.

Kíli, on the other hand, had no attachments of his own; had never felt the pull of another on his soul. He’d always had more than enough to deal with, between being a prince and at first pushing away, and now trying to discretely manage his Calling; could he make room in his life for the care of another?

Did he have a choice?

“We will withdraw, for now,” his uncle was saying. "Some other way will have to be found, but it won’t be today,” and Kíli's mouth opened before he’d actually decided to speak.

“What if I were willing to form a union with Lady Tilda, instead?”

The words hung there, like a physical presence. It was so quiet, Kíli was almost afraid to breathe least he upset the balance one way or the other, and was even less sure why it mattered.

His uncle looked at him, his eyes fierce and steady as they regarded him, and Kíli tried to look resolute and calm under that stern gaze. He felt like a dwarfling again, when Thorin would hold his practice-workings in the forge up for judgment. Fíli looked at him with wide eyes, and reached out to grasp his arm, though whether in protest or support he wasn’t sure either of them knew yet. The moment was long and tense and Kíli just knew he was going to open his mouth in a moment to make some kind of joke before the tension suffocated him.

“You are sure, Sister-Son?” Thorin asked him finally, looking as grave and regal and serious as Kíli had ever seen him. “This will not be easy, for either of you.”

After a short pause, while Kíli searched his heart for any feeling that he should not do this, he nodded, once, meeting Thorin’s stare with his signature relaxed countenance; not reckless or thoughtless, but easy and at peace with his decision.

“So be it, then,” Thorin rumbled heavily, and turned to go find Balin, leaving Kíli alone with his brother. He felt lightheaded, and he was glad he was still sitting down, because he wasn’t entirely sure his knees wouldn’t have buckled.

“Are you really sure, Kee?” Fíli asked, looking torn and worn out as his eyes probed Kíli for any waver in his decision.

Kíli really wasn’t sure about anything, frankly. The idea that he was going to be expected to start a courtship in the very near future—with a human girl no less—seemed like a distant concept, one that was actually happening to someone else, maybe. “Sure. I mean, I’m as good as you in a marriage contract, right?” he told Fíli with an easy shrug. His voice was high and tight, despite his best efforts.

“That’s not what I mean, and you know it," Fíli frowned. "I mean, you don’t have to do this.”

Kíli blew out a breath, and blinked a few times, as if that could help the knowledge mean something; but nope, it still seemed like an abstract concept, like the knowledge that Dwalin once had hair. “Except one of us does,” he pointed out, “and the only reason we went with you was because at least you were friendly with Lady Sigrid at one point.”

“That’s not the only—” Fíli tried to argue, but Kíli interrupted him.

“Honestly," Kíli told him, trying to look like he'd thought this through when all he really had was the feelings in his gut, "I think it might be a worse mess, if you were to marry the younger one now.”

Fíli shut his mouth, chagrined, but laughed a moment later. He grasped Kíli's shoulders and pulled him close to rest his forehead against his brother’s. “Thank you,” he murmured, and Kíli could hear the gratitude in his heart.

The consequences of his impetuous offer began to sink in, and his mouth went dry. The Men had very little reason to refuse that he could see, and the despair of Lady Tilda spoke volumes that she herself would make sure it happened if it meant sparing her sister from whatever fate she obviously feared for her.

He was going to be joined. Partnered. But despite the haste of his decision, Kíli had searched his heart for any feeling that he should not do this, and found none; he was as at peace with this outcome as he could be, even as he tried not to be absolutely terrified. Did he and the Lady have any better chance of finding an accord? He could only pray his limited abilities were enough to sense his Maker's will, and that what seemed like a brilliant solution today would still hold up to the harsh light of tomorrow's logic.

And hope for the best, which is usually how Kíli regarded his decisions, so at least this queasy feeling in his stomach was familiar.

When, some minutes later they rejoined the meeting, Balin was fully briefed and all prepared to offer their new proposal, as if it was what they had had in mind all along. Mahal knew how they were going to explain it, but Balin was good, and Kíli didn’t really have any doubts that he would find a way to smooth it over.

The small tick in Balin’s eyebrow, however, didn’t bode well for Kíli's future.

Kíli swallowed hard, and prepared to be as easy and graceful under strain as he knew how. Getting through the next hour was all that mattered.

There would be plenty of time for panic later.

Briefly, he looked up, and caught the puzzled grey gaze of Lady Tilda.

Kíli wished he could warn her as to what was coming.