Óin stepped into the deep shadows between the trees that crowned the ridge, then he halted and watched in silence as Dís's sons continued to argue and fuss. This was the first time the boys had been allowed out with him overnight to practice field medicine; but though, at 20- and 25-years, they were certainly old enough to be able to complete the simple tasks Óin had set on them, they had done little but grumble and make excuses since they had set out earlier that day.
After a few hours the noise had started to wear so thin on Óin that he had used the need to gather firewood as an excuse to get a few minutes of peace. He hadn't held out much hope that his absence would improve their mood, though, and he was not now surprised when he saw Fíli poke his brother's chest with his finger.
"You're never going to get this right," said Fíli; then he unwrapped the bandage from around the bottom of his own leg and began rewrapping it, himself. "If I was really hurt, my leg would've fallen off already."
"How about I tie that bandage around your mouth, instead?" asked Kíli, sitting back and folding his arms tightly across his chest.
"How about you try to get it right the first time," said Fíli, "then you won't have to worry about Óin making you do it over and over until you do get it right?" He finished binding his imaginary wound and pointed at it. "See. That's how you do it."
"Why do we even have to do this?" asked Kíli as he flopped onto his back and draped his forearm over his eyes.
Óin let out a long breath, then strode into the ring of firelight with a bundle of sticks in his arms. "Because your uncle and mother want you to learn how to treat wounds."
Fíli turned his head to look at him and Kíli groaned.
"But isn't that what you're for?" asked the younger brother, sitting up.
Fíli kicked him gently, as if to tell him to be quiet; but Óin just laughed.
"Now, you think I'll always be there?" he asked, sitting down with a grunt and piling the sticks next to the fire.
"Well, yeah," said Kíli with a slight shrug. "You or Uncle Thorin or somebody. It's not like we're going to go out on our own."
"You will someday, and you may just be thankful for this learning when that moment comes along." He shifted around and examined Fíli's binding job. "This isn't too bad, but it is a bit loose."
"Uncle Thorin showed us how to do most of this already," said Fíli, wincing as Óin pulled the bandage tighter around his leg. "But Kíli still can't get it right."
"Everybody doesn't have to know how to do everything, do they?" asked Kíli under his breath.
"Well, you don't know much of anything," replied Fíli in a whisper.
Though Óin's ears were not as keen as they had once been, he still heard the boys and shot them a fiery look. Kíli shut his mouth tight and Fíli looked off to the side.
"You'd do well not to insult your brother," Óin told Fíli, "when you didn't know anything at the beginning, yourself. Truth is, you could both do with a lot more training."
"But couldn't we at least wait until morning?" asked Kíli.
"Do you think your wounds would wait until morning?" returned Óin. "If your leg was bleeding or broken, do you really think you would want to wait until daylight to treat it?"
Both Fíli and Kíli looked away sheepishly, and Óin sat back and picked up a long stick, then began poking at the fire. A rush of sparks flew up into the night air, and Fíli's eyes glinted as he turned them upwards.
"Go on and take the bandage off," Óin told him. "There are other things I want to go over with you lads before we turn in for the night."
Fíli started trying to untie the cloth from his leg, but Óin had bound it so tight that he could not release the knot. He looked at Kíli and gave him a tight-lipped smile, as if to ask for assistance; but Kíli just smirked and shook his head.
"Do it, yourself," said Kíli, "if you're so good at it."
Fíli's smile fell into a scowl; then the corner of his mouth turned up and he grabbed his hunting knife out of its sheath on his boot. He slid the blade under the bandage, cutting it away, then waved the cloth in his brother's face.
"Never cut what you can untie, Fíli," scolded Óin, grabbing the bandage from him. "This could have been used again."
"I couldn't untie it," said Fíli. "You made it too tight."
"You could have untied it if you'd have tried just a little harder," said Óin, then he threw the bandage onto his pack before turning to Kíli. "And you should have helped your brother. Someday, all you two might have is each other, and if you don't learn to work together, then it'll be no better than if you were out on your own."
"Well, yeah," said Fíli. "But, still, we have more bandages."
"And if you didn't?" asked Óin.
The boys looked at one another, then back at the older Dwarf.
"But we do," said Kíli.
Óin growled low and scratched under his beard. "All right," he said, sighing heavily. "What would you lads like to do now?"
Kíli glanced at his bedroll. "I think I'd like to sleep."
"All you ever want to do is sleep," said Fíli; then he yawned and turned to Óin. "But he's right."
"I know you lads don't much enjoy this type of training," said Óin, tightening his jaw. "But it really is much more important than you might think."
"Maybe important, but really boring," said Fíli.
Kíli nodded vigorously. "How come you like it so much, anyway?"
Óin stared into the fire for a moment, then his mouth twisted into a crooked grin as he reached into the satchel at his side and withdrew his pipe. "Fine, I'll let you lads sleep..."
Fíli let out a relieved breath and Kíli laid back onto his bedroll; then Óin cleared his throat as he pulled his pipeweed pouch out of his bag and started stuffing his pipe.
"...But you'll be listening to me until then."
"I'll listen," said Kíli, thrusting both arms straight up into the air, "so long as we don't have to do anything." He let his hands fall onto his chest.
Óin looked at Fíli. "And you? Would you like to listen?"
Fíli pulled his knees up to his chest. "Depends on what I'm listening to, I guess."
"Well, tell me... do you lads really want to know why I chose to be a healer?"
"Not really, no," said Kíli.
Óin let out a quick laugh. "Maybe it'd be best if I didn't tell you, after all." He placed the bit of his pipe in his mouth. "I doubt you would sleep well afterwards."
"Nothing is gonna keep me awake," said Kíli.
"This might," said Óin. "It is really a rather frightening thing."
"What is so frightening about patching scrapes and treating headaches?" asked Kíli.
Kíli never seemed to have much love for such tales, but they had always fascinated Fíli; and the elder brother grinned and rested his chin on his knees as he let his full focus fall on Óin.
"Were you close to our age at the time?" he asked.
"Ah, no," said Óin. "I was almost sixty, and before that I had pretty well set my mind on being a scholar."
"What changed your mind?"
"The second death of Heggi Silvereye."
Kíli raised his head. "The what?"
Óin drew a thin stick from the fire and held the burning end to the bowl of his pipe. He puffed on it a few times, sending swirls of smoke curling into the air between himself and the campfire, then he threw the stick back into the flames. From the corner of his eye, he saw Kíli sit up.
"Are you going to tell us about it?" asked Fíli after a minute of watching Óin puff on his pipe.
"Are you quite sure you want me to?" asked Óin. "You are a bit young to be hearing such things, and your mother mightn't want me to tell you."
"She doesn't have to know," said Fíli.
Kíli scooted closer to the fire and said nothing.
Óin grinned around the stem of his pipe, then turned his face towards the sky. The night air was still and silent, and though he figured a wailing wind might lend itself better to the telling of this story, he thought it well enough that it was as quiet as a tomb, and nearly as dark.
"In those days, I had a good friend by the name of Fari," he said after gathering his memories. "We worked the mines together..."
"Why would you spend time in the mines if you wanted to be a scholar?" interrupted Fíli.
"I did it because it needed to be done," said Óin. "And you lads will be doing your turn there someday, as well, since your uncle and mother don't want you to ride through your lives on your names alone. Now hush up and listen."
Fíli nodded, and Óin went on.
"Now, we were working an iron deposit one day, Fari and I, and... well, it is an unfortunate thing, but the walls were a bit unstable and there was a cave-in..."
Fíli's eyes widened. "Were you hurt?"
"Did Fari die?" added Kíli.
"Neither," said Óin. "Though six miners did die in the collapse, and it was a number of days before we could dig them out. Among the dead was Fari's uncle..."
"Was that Heggi Silvereye?" asked Kíli anxiously.
"No, his name was Sulki. Now stop interrupting, both of you." Óin sighed. "Anyway, Sulki had raised Fari after the dragon came; and as Fari's closest friend, I was asked to stand with him at the interment."
Óin tried to puff on his pipe again, then looked into the bowl when no smoke came out. He picked up a small stick and started digging at the hard-packed pipeweed, then he thrust the end of the stick into the flames. After he had lit his pipe once more, he looked into the fire and let his thoughts drift back.
"Now, this is where Heggi comes into the tale..."