Tired of being stuck in the mountain and missing spending time with the laughing younger prince, Bella begged a lunch basket from Bombur and a list of needed herbs from Oin before going in search of Kili. She found him pestering Fili who was trying to do some paperwork, excess energy clear in his bounciness and chattering. Fili glared at him before looking at Bella pleadingly.
Bella grinned back at him and Fili's shoulders relaxed. She held up the list and the lunch basket so Kili could see, "Kee, Oin needs some herbs and I told him that I would be able to find them. Wanna come with and get away from the mountain for a little bit? I'm sure that Fili needs to actually concentrate for a little while and Dwalin has forbidden me from leaving Erebor without an escort, so it would actually solve things rather neatly."
Fili nodded firmly, "Yes, go. We don't want to have a repeat of the last incident."
Bella rolled her eyes, "Will all of you ever let that go? How was I supposed to know that that dwarf had designs on me? And he learned well enough to heed when a female says no, even if they aren't a dam. There was no reason for Dwalin to have such kittens about the whole affair. Now I can't even go to Dale by myself without having to drag some poor dwarf away from his task."
The dwarf princes shared exasperated glances. The only reason that she was safe was because hobbit feet had proved to be tougher than dwarven bones and skin. That particular dwarf would be hobbling for a long time, courtesy of Bella. She was much too naive and trusting of others, especially given how many would want to use her for her position close to the company. But what everyone didn't realize was that the company's bond had been forged in dragon fire and it was a bond that would never be severed or abused. They were learning, slowly, but in the meantime there were still many who thought that she was the easiest mark of the company.
Scooping the basket easily from her, Kili grinned down at her, "Until you can take down Dwalin in combat, you will continue to have a guard, simple as that."
Bella groaned, allowing him to lead her away, managing to wink cheekily at Fili who nodded his thanks, "Kili, you know that I'll never be able to do that. That dratted dwarf is nigh on unmovable and seems to be carved from stone in truth."
Moving her out of the way of a hurrying message runner and scowling at the retreating dwarf's back, Kili said absently, "You could always give up, you know. There's no shame in that."
Bella gestured rudely at him in Khuzdul, a sign that he had taught her, something that caused him to roar with laughter, "Bite your tongue. I will not be coddled like a helpless faunt for the rest of my days. I will take him down if it's the last thing that I ever do, you have my word on it."
Kili nodded gravely, his eyes still dancing as he replied, "And we all know that the word of a Baggins is priceless. C'mon, let's get out of here before uncle finds me some task to do. What herbs does Oin need?"
Bella shrugged, tucking the list into her pocket, "Mainly herbs for muscle remedies, Dwalin just got a new crop of recruits after all. He also wants to stockpile some herbs to help strengthen and improve health and start laying away herbs for winter remedies. Bombur also gave me some herbs to look out for, although he would like the plants brought back instead of cuttings so that he could start cultivating them, if at all possible."
They walked out the front gate and Bella paused for a moment, closing her eyes and tipping her face up to the sun, a small smile tugging at her mouth. Kili studied her, his expression softening and a smile tugging unconsciously at his own mouth. When she opened her eyes, he hastily looked away before she caught him staring. She said lightly, apparently unaware, "Oh, it's nice to get some sun. Do you want to walk or ride?"
Kili shook himself out of his awkwardness, mentally commanding himself to pull himself together, "Why don't we walk? It'll be nice to have a break from everything that always needs to be done."
Bella nodded, "It'll be nice to just be us. No matter where you turn in Erebor, you trip over more dwarves. I had no idea that there would be so many. It would be nice to spend some more time with just u..." Her cheeks pinked and she looked away for a second before clearing her throat and finishing, "just, uh, the company. I've missed spending time with all of you."
Kili was dying of curiosity about what she would've said before she caught herself, but forced himself to let it go, agreeing easily, "Yes, Erebor is full and bustling. It's overwhelming at times. At least you get to work outside in the fields, right? I'm stuck doing paperwork all the time."
Bella pulled a face at him, "Oh, poor little princeling. I'm outside but Dwalin has so many guards around me that it isn't even funny. And paperwork is evil, especially when required in triplicate like the council seems to require. If another dragon comes, this place is going to go up in flames, simply from the amount of paper in here."
They looked at each other guiltily before bursting into laughter. Looping her arm through his, she tugged him down the path away from the mountain, "C'mon, this will be fun."
* * *
The morning passed peaceably enough as they hiked to the spot where she preferred to gather the herbs and plants from, laughing and talking merrily although Kili kept his weapons easily accessible out of habit. Finally she had found all of the plants that Oin needed along with several that she had been delighted to discover. She hadn't thought that they grew that far east. She had nearly danced as she showed them to Kili. Although he didn't understand her glee (they were plants, for Mahal's sake!), he nonetheless dutifully harvested the plants that she showed him.
Once they had all the plants gathered, Bella pulled out the lunch that Bombur had packed for them. The fresh air and sunshine along with the hike had sharpened their appetites and they feasted merrily, talking about all of the improvements that had occurred in Erebor as well as what was planned. However, neither one broached what they truly wanted to know, what the other one wanted for their future, if anything.
Finally, the picnic was over, not even a crumb left. Looking at the sky, Bella sighed and started reluctantly packing away the dishes, tucking the gathered plants inside the basket as well. "We'd better be heading back. Looks like there might be rain this afternoon."
Kili looked like he didn't want to head back any more than Bella did, but obediently helped her pack up, making sure that everything was accounted for. He offered carelessly, belying the way that his heart was pounding, "We could always come back another day. Now that we know where all of this grows, I'm sure that Oin will want more as well."
She offered him a shy smile, "I would like that. But will you be able to get away again?"
He grinned at her, "For you, dearest Bella, anything. Besides, if I say that it's for you, Dwalin will let me go in a heart beat. I swear, he frets over you more than he does uncle."
Bella said drily, "Glad that I can be used as an escape route. And Dwalin worries more about me because I don't carry a big, hulking sword to chop dwarves into little bits like Thorin does."
Kili chuckled at that, taking the basket in one hand and easily helping her up with the other, "There is that. Still, you're no slouch with your little letter opener."
Bella didn't bother to try and pull her and from his larger one, sighing as she admitted, "He knows that I'm loathe to use it on a dwarf. In a way, I'm glad to have a guard, I just wish that there wasn't a need for it."
He started to reply before he snapped his mouth shut and they both stiffened. Yanking her hand from his, she pulled the basket from his hands so he could reach his weapons. Kili eased his bow from his shoulder and carefully nocked an arrow. They listened carefully, her ears twitching as she strained to figure out what had caught their attention. After a moment, she murmured, "The birds should be singing. Why aren't they singing?"
He reached over and nudged her behind him, scanning the forest carefully as he murmured back, "I don't know, but I don't think that I want to find out. Let's head back to Erebor and then we can send a group of guards out to find out."
Resisting the urge to grab hold of his sleeve for comfort, she said softly, "I think that's the best plan of action."
Right then, a breeze brought them the sound of guttural words and harsh laughter. Both of them swore and Kili said grimly, "Orcs. A larger raiding party from the sounds of it. How did the patrols miss that, we're supposed to be in the safe zone."
Bella growled, "I don't care, I don't want to see another orc as long as I live if I can help it."
There was an answering growl behind her and she whirled, the basket in her hands smacking hard against the nose of a warg that was creeping up on her, causing it to let out a startled yelp. She scrambled backwards and tripped, landing in the dirt with a small shriek. Kili spun and there were three arrows in the warg before she even registered that he had fired. He nocked yet another arrow and scanned the woods for another enemy.
When he didn't shoot, she assumed that that was the only warg for the moment, although she double checked over her shoulder quickly to make sure. Staring at the warg, it didn't appear to be breathing, she asked shakily, "Is it dead?"
Without bothering to look at her, he reached down and hauled her to her feet, "Yes, it's dead and we will be if we stay here. That was a scout, unless I'm mistaken." He glanced over at her, concern etched on his face, "Are you hurt?"
Ignoring the ripped hem of her skirt, she nodded, "I'm fine, I was just startled. Let's get out of here before they realize it, one mad race from orcs and wargs was more than enough."
Grabbing her hand, he started leading her hastily through the woods back towards Erebor, "One mad race? Which particular one would you be thinking of?"
She grumbled slightly even as she tried to keep up with his longer strides, "You know, there's something incredibly wrong with the fact that there are multiple times of running from orcs and wargs to pick from. You dratted dwarves really do have the most awful luck."
He teased, although she could hear the underlying worry in his voice, "You know, it could be your luck that's the rotten one. And you didn't answer which time?"
Hearing the shouts of the orcs and the howls of the wargs, she knew that they had already discovered the slain warg and cursed inwardly. Rotten luck indeed! Picking up their pace until they were flat out sprinting, she huffed out, "The first time, I guess. You shot the scout that time as well, although it was trying to eat Thorin that time, not me, at least. I'd never seen anyone shoot as fast as you did."
He preened slightly at that, even as he glanced worriedly over his shoulder, "It was a lucky shot, I admit. I hadn't been practicing as much as I should've been on the road. I'm just glad that my poor arms weren't like yours."
Hearing the sound of the start of the pursuit, Bella cursed again, something that Kili heartily echoed. She said sharply, "Can we outrun them and reach Erebor?"
Determination filled Kili's expression, "We have to."
She snapped, "Can we honestly make it?"
He snarled, "It's too far, but I refuse to let you die."
Feeling her heart warm at his concern, she shoved it aside, "Neither of us is going to die today, not if I can help it. You've patrolled all over this place, you know the land, where's the closest, most defensible spot that we can reach?"
He didn't answer, but instead veered to their right, cutting up and across a small rise. Bella put on an extra burst of speed, pulling even with him. Once they had crossed the small rise, he led her up through the small gully, running in the small stream of water in the hopes of diluting their scents. After making several sharp twists and turns, he scrambled up a steep bank, practically dragging her bodily up behind him. There, at the top nearly was a small indent in the side of the hill, deep enough to protect them from the sides and above, but not so deep as to be a true cave. There was also a deadfall right next to the hollow that would offer additional protection as well.
The climb was so steep that he had to boost her the last few feet. She scrambled inside gratefully, breathing hard, then turned back to offer Kili a hand up. However, he was already hauling himself up into the hollow, a hint of relief on his face. She checked him over, discreetly, but he appeared to be unharmed. She asked quietly, "Do you think that we lost them?"
Her brief hope died as Kili was already shaking his head, "No, we might've been able to get a bit of a lead, but where we killed one of theirs, they will hunt us down."
Bella sighed then glanced over and saw Kili's worried face. Reaching over and squeezing his hand gently, she soothed, "It's all right, we'll just have to hold out for a little while. I'm sure that Dwalin and them will send out a search party when they realize that we're not back with weather moving in."
He squeezed her hand gently back before releasing it, although he looked slightly guilty for some reason. Instead of answering, he started pulling out and assessing his weaponry. He asked, "What do you have on you?"
She sighed, pulling out the pitifully few items compared to his veritable armory, "Not much, Sting, a couple of small knives that Fili gave me, my gathering knife, our cutlery, and my wits."
He stared at her, "Cutlery? You mean, you held onto the basket?"
She shrugged, feeling her cheeks heat, "Well, not intentionally, I just didn't drop it, is all."
He laughed quietly at that, shaking his head, "Only you, Bella. If Dwalin finds out that we held off orcs until they arrive with cutlery, we'll never live it down. Bombur would probably commend us for it though, maybe even share some tips." He looked at the pile of weapons and scowled, before sighing resignedly, "Well, this will just have to do. And your wits are nothing to be sneezed at, got us out of more than one tight spot on the quest."
She laughed at that, her breathing starting to ease now that danger was not literally nipping at their heels for the moment. "You make light of it, but you've never seen a hobbit cornered in a truly tight spot. We're very resourceful people when we need be. Why do you think that the big folk so rarely see or speak of us?"
He mock shuddered at that, even as they half listened to the warg howls drawing slowly closer, the water having apparently disrupted their trail enough to slow the tracking, although not through them off entirely. He teased, carefully arranging the weapons, "Dare I ask or is it better if I don't know?"
She gave him an absent half smile, digging through the basket, "Eh, the Tooks are worse than the rest of the hobbits. They like snares and pits to keep people away from the Shire. Most of the rest of the hobbits are just content to escape notice, most of the big folk never know when one of us is about." Settling more comfortably into a cross legged position, she started searching for something on the ground.
Kili asked curiously, "What are you looking for? And I'm not reassured, just so you know. I know that you're half Took."
She offered him a sly smile, "I'm also half Baggins, quite book learned we are. It's amazing the things that you can learn in books." She sobered at the sound of yet another hunting howl, "I need a small rock, about the size of the palm of my hand. As a matter of fact, try to find as many rocks as you can, the cloth coverings might be useful as slings in a pinch."
He nodded and cast about, quickly finding one like she described and handed it over, "What are you doing?"
She took it gratefully, smiling up at him, "Possibly buying us more time later. Are there more stones?"
He nodded, quickly turning his attention to gathering the loose stones scattered across the hollow. Soon there was a respectable pile of stones, not the best weapons, but it would do in a pinch. He glanced over from his task to find Bella bent over one of the bowls, using the rock as a pestle to grind some of the plants that she had gathered earlier into a paste.
Before he could ask what exactly she was making, the orc band arrived. To their relief, it was a smaller band, only ten to fifteen orcs and a handful of wargs. Bella looked up from her work and peeked out the entrance, her tension easing a fraction when she saw that there weren't any warriors like Bolg or Azog in their midst. She murmured, "It looks more like a raiding party than a war party. Do you have enough arrows?"
He shook his head, "I have two dozen, but I will undoubtedly not be able to do all kill shots with the way that they're milling about and I need to reserve some to make sure that they can't overrun us."
She shrugged, returning to her task, "Sorry, I had to ask. I must admit, I need to learn how to pack better for outings. First the quest and now this, and not having the proper supplies either time."
He murmured, keeping an eye on the pack and waiting for them to look up, an arrow quietly nocked and ready, "And what would the proper supplies be? Handkerchiefs?"
She grunted slightly as she leaned heavier on the rock, "Well, you can't go wrong with handkerchiefs, but no. I was thinking more of my spices and powders."
Before he could reply, the orcs looked up, snarling and laughing as they saw that the two of them were cornered. Kili called firmly, drawing his bow back to full draw, "Leave now and live or stay and die, it doesn't matter to me."
The apparently leader gave an annoying, high pitched cackle and called back, "Fine words for dwarf scum that fled before us like two mice."
Bella grumbled, "Well now, that's just plain rude."
Kili didn't show his amusement solely because of many long years perfecting a solemn mask for court functions. He called back coldly, "We didn't flee, we have drawn you right to where we wanted you. We have faced and defeated the white orc and his spawn, why would we fear worms like you?"
As the orcs down below devolved into chaos, Bella admired how steady Kili's arms were, knowing that it wasn't easy to keep a bow at full draw for any length of time. She murmured, "You might as well ease up, looks like it will take them a few minutes to decide whether to flee or attack. Why did you tell them about Azog?"
Kili eased his draw, although he didn't remove the arrow from the string, "This is a rag tag group, there's a chance that they won't want to tangle with one who defeated one of their mightiest warriors." He shrugged and added as an afterthought, "On the other hand, they might want to try their luck and have the prestige of killing the one who defeated their mightiest warrior. It could go either way." He grinned happily at her before returning to watching the orcs below with interest.
Knowing that he was just, mainly, putting on a brave face for her (although there was a portion of him that was enjoying it, she just knew it), she groused good naturedly, "Dwarves! This was not how I anticipated the day going when I invited you on a picnic."
He pouted at her, "But, I thought that you said that this was going to be fun."
She rolled her eyes, "If this is your idea of fun, you need to get your head examined. I thought some fresh air, sunshine, good food, and good company was the fun part. Silly me."
He opened his mouth and started to speak when the snarl down below sorted itself and the leader called, "You lie, dwarf scum! We will take your head and that of your companions for this insult."
Kili's expression turned icy, "Wrong answer, orc." Whipping up his bow, his arrow was away before they even registered his weapon. It struck the leader in the middle of his forehead, killing him instantly. This stirred the others into the frenzy and they started swarming up the embankment. Bella said sharply, "Just keep the orcs away, I'll handle the wargs, I just need a few more seconds." Grabbing another plant, she started mashing it frantically into the paste.
He grunted his acknowledgement, not bothering to tell her that she would face a warg over his dead body. Instead, he carefully aimed and brought down the lead rider, tangling up the group and causing them to tumble back into the ravine. He said coolly, "You have a few seconds, amralime, but I would hurry if you can. This is unlikely to keep them down for long, but I'll do my best."
She said warmly, "I believe in you, I'm almost done, just another minute at most. Do you have water?"
He passed her over his water skin, "What are you making?"
She took it and carefully trickled some water in, "Hopefully, a way to get rid of the wargs. What are they doing now?"
He looked down carefully, although there didn't seem to be any archers in the group, "One of the other orcs seem to have taken over and seems to be lining up the wargs for them to charge."
She grinned at that, her Took side shining through brightly, "They're putting them all together? At the front of the charge? Any riders?"
He shifted uneasily, not trusting that grin, "Yes, all of them bunched up in the front. Looks like two riders. Whatever, you're doing, hurry. They're about to charge."
She tossed the rock aside with a laugh and scrambled to her feet, joining him in the entrance, "Ooh, that's a bad idea. Perfect. Hold this!"
She thrust the bowl into his hand right as the wargs started charging up. He bellowed, "Bella!"
However, she ignored him and his fear, watching steadily as they charged upward. Then, when he thought that his heart would stop from fear, she reached into the bowl and scooped out two large handfuls of paste, hurling it with devastating accuracy into the faces of the charging wargs faces. The results were immediate, agonizing howls ringing out as they bucked of their riders in an agony of movement, snarling, clawing, and snapping at anything that moved nearby. Several of the orcs rushed in trying restore order, much to their detriment. In the end, two wargs were slain along with half a dozen orcs before the remaining three fled, still howling in agony. Half of the remaining orcs were seriously, perhaps even fatally injured.
Bella watched the chaos with sorrow on her face, taking no joy from the agony of living creatures. Yes, she knew that it was them or the orcs, but it didn't mean that she would rejoice in it. The orcs, maddened by the injuries and loses, tried to storm the hollow, but Kili quickly picked them off with his bow before they got close. There was less than a handful left when their courage broke and they ran.
She turned and started throwing stuff haphazardly back into the basket while Kili started hastily stowing away his weapons, keeping a careful eye on the entrance to make sure that no orc tried to return and sneak up on them, "Hurry, let's get out of here while we can."
Bella nodded hastily, staying right behind him while they scrambled down the embankment, racing down the gully that they had raced up just a short time. Once he was satisfied that they weren't in immediate danger, he slowed to a jog, carefully watching their surroundings for any signs of danger. She moved up and trotted alongside him, one hand on Sting's hilt while the other still held onto the basket.
Hearing another pain filled howl, although thankfully far enough away to not be a problem, he asked curiously, "What in the world was that?"
She said smugly, "Fleabane, sneezewort, and stinging nettles. Served them right."
He only half teased, "Note to self, never annoy the hobbit when there are plants around."
Right then, the skies that had been growing darker chose to fulfill their promise of rain and opened up a heavy deluge, soaking them within moments. Without slowing down, they needed to get back to the safety of Erebor before the rain washed away the paste's effectiveness, Bella said drily, "Rotten luck! Must be a line of Durin thing."
He laughed and protested, "Oh, I don't know. We got away pretty handily back there."
She just rolled her eyes, "Let's get back home before they realize that it doesn't burn, sting, or itch anymore, ok?"
He gulped, not having thought of that and said meekly, "Ok."
* * *
It was a sorry pair indeed that reached Erebor nearly an hour later. They were soaked to the skin and covered with mud and scratches where they had slipped and fallen several times in their hurry to return to Erebor. They looked like a pair of pathetic, wet kittens. The guards just stared as they walked in, unable to find the words to stop them. Dwalin, who was talking with Oin in the entry hall and keeping an eye on the entrance, had no such problem. He bellowed, "What in the world happened to you two? You look like you've been dragged backwards through the rain and much by a pack of wargs!"
Marching over to the pair, Bella shoved the basket into Oin's hands, the basket in as rough as shape as they were. Turning to Dwalin, she scowled at him, although her soaked appearance ruined the effect, "As it so happens, we ran into a spot of trouble while we were gathering the plants. Turns out, the patrols missed a group of orcs. They delayed our return until we became unavoidable soaked, Kili can tell you what happened, although I suggest that you wait until he can at least change into dry clothes. I am tired, wet, and insufferably dirty. I am going to take a bath and go to bed and woe betide the dwarf that tries to disturb me until tomorrow." She tried to look fierce, but she was just too adorable bedraggled and the sneeze that she gave once she finished speaking reminded them of nothing so much as a kitten sneeze, finishing up the image.
Seeing her shiver, Dwalin said quietly, "Aye lass, go get cleaned up and warmed up before you catch a cold like you did in Laketown."
She nodded and started towards her chambers before freezing, her hands curling into fists. Whirling on her heel, she marched over to where Kili was watching her, his eyes large. He said quietly, humor lacing his voice, "I can't believe you're leaving me to Dwalin's tender mercies. Shoulda just left me to the wargs."
Ignoring that, she scowled and said firmly, "Next time you call me love, pick a time when we're not about to die or be eaten." His eyes widened and he started to stammer something, most likely a denial or excuse, but she just grabbed his collar and pulled him down so she could claim his lips in a brief fierce kiss. Letting him go, she turned and started for her rooms, calling over her shoulder, "You and I are going to have a talk, very soon."
Kili stood frozen, wide eyed, and watched her go before turning to Fili and demanding, "Did that just happen?"
Raising an eyebrow, Fili nodded, "It did, indeed. It looks like you had a very interesting day. Let's go get you cleaned up and you can tell me everything that happened." He grabbed Kili and started towing the younger dwarf towards his room. Seeing the dopey smile on Kili's face, Fili sighed and told Dwalin, "I'll bring him back when he starts making sense again. It's gonna be a while."
Dwalin just nodded and watched them go. Once all three had disappeared, he turned to Oin and asked, "What in Mahal's name did you send them out to gather?"