“Stay here, you two have done enough.”
Funny, how so few words can seem so ominous. My Uncle stomped away to converse in undertones with Gandalf, leaving me to exchange an uneasy glance with my brother. He looked a sight – dark hair even wilder than usual, dirt smeared across his face and a decidedly nervous look about him. Well, that did not bode well. I have often commented on how blindly my brother seems to fall into these situations, oblivious to both the chaos he creates and the stern reckoning it inspires from our Uncle. Whereas I, on the other hand, am well aware of such hazards, and yet more often than not, I end up right there with him, facing down our Uncle – once more his ever-troublesome little nephews in need of stern correction – as opposed to staying well out of it and simply leaving my errant brother to his fate. But of course, I will always stand beside him just as he always stands beside me on the increasingly rare occasions when my actions lead us into mischief; he would no sooner leave me to face our Uncle alone than I would him. Still, if even Kili – in all my obliviousness – is able to recognise in our Uncle’s quietly voiced command, the unspoken promise of swift retribution for our actions tonight, then it does not bode well for us. Not at all. I felt my throat constrict at the thought and hoped my blush was not too visible in the early morning light.
“Fili,” my little brother began in a small voice, edging closer to me so as not to be overheard, “you don’t suppose Thorin is –”
“Yes, I do.” I stated, cutting off the end of his question abruptly.
I felt my insides twist at the implications of my answer – not that it hadn’t already been in my thoughts. Thorin had been away from The Blue Mountains – no doubt consulting others about the feasibility of this…shambles – for nigh on three years before he turned up at our door asking us to join him. But three years was a long time, my brother had barely been of age the last time we met. Thorin had no doubt assumed that Kili and I would have grown into our adulthood by now and ceased our mischief otherwise I can’t imagine he’d have allowed us to come, let alone invited us. Well, invited me. I felt a sudden stab of fear in my gut. I had almost had to beg Thorin to allow Kili his place in our company and had, in fact, only secured it by stating the plain fact of the matter: if Thorin did not allow to Kili to come willingly, then Kili would simply wait and then follow us by himself. It had caused a good deal of impassioned pleas on either side but, in the end, my Mother and brother had had their say and their say was that Kili would be an asset to Thorin. If he could behave. My Uncle had conceded the point but as good as told us all that Kili would be sent home at the first sign of mischief. I glanced at my brother from the corner of my eye. Kili stood off to one side now, eyes downcast and hair falling across his face. My heart seized; I could not see him sent home in disgrace while my Uncle, companions and I went on to glory in our quest. Perhaps more so, I could not allow my Uncle to send my younger brother home with nobody to accompany him. It was a fair bit of luck that he and I had found ourselves at Bilbo’s door in the first place, I didn’t like to think of my little brother making the long, dangerous journey back to The Blue Mountains alone and no doubt distraught over being sent back at all.
“Kili,” I called softly, holding one arm out for him to come into. He shot a cautious glance at our company before wrapping himself against me, laying his head on my shoulder (though he had to lean down to do so). He pressed himself into my arms with a long-forgotten eagerness, for once unperturbed by the watchful glances of the others. I responded in kind, running hands along his familiar frame checking for new wounds, my thoughts filled with images of what could have happened had Bilbo not been so clever as to play for time or had Gandalf not appeared to cleave that great rock in two and bring in the dawn. I could not have said who trembled more. Vaguely, I became aware of him whispering something under his breath. I bade him speak louder but instead he raised his head to whisper in my ear.
“Please don’t let him send me back,” he begged softly, his breath hot on my ear. “I couldn’t bear it if you were to go on without me – what if you were hurt, and I was not there?”
I was about to answer him – though I know not what I would have said – when Thorin appeared before me. I felt my brother stiffen in my arms. My Uncle and I gazed at each other over my brother’s hunched shoulders for a moment until I could bear his intense gaze no longer and had to look away. Thorin placed one huge hand on each of our shoulders.
“Come,” he commanded, drawing us apart and back towards the troll’s fire where our company now sat. We allowed ourselves to be led, though our Uncle did not speak again until we entered the circle of firelight. I vow I could feel the wrath radiating off Thorin, though his grip on my shoulder was surprisingly gentle. “Sit down,” he told us sternly, indicating a fallen log at the edge of the camp, facing the others. We sat.
Beside me, Kili glared downwards in a way that I knew others – who did not know him as I did – might consider to be sulking. But I knew my little brother of old, and I could almost hear the way his darkest thoughts whispered to him of having disappointed our Uncle, of having failed before we had really even started. I knew, in part, because I felt those same things. I suddenly realised that Thorin had been speaking since we sat down and that I had not been paying of blind bit of attention, so focussed was I on my brother. I dragged my eyes from Kili’s hunched form and chanced a glance around at the others. Each of them watched and listened to Thorin now, nodding every so often and rubbing at their newly acquired bumps and bruises. I felt guilt gnawing at me – what could have happened tonight simply because my brother and I had not been paying attention.
“…so you see, gentleman,” Thorin was saying now, addressing the company, “we have been fortunate this time. But as I see it, we have but two options available to us now. This transgression, this…disregard of duty cannot go unanswered.”
I felt my face heat up as it dawned on me what they were discussing and I forced myself to listen though the sheer disappointment in my Uncle’s voice threatened to bring tears to my eyes. A quick glance told me that each of our companions looked stern and, in some cases, angry. I could hardly blame them. Even Bofur, who was normally so jolly, looked on in uncharacteristic grimness.
“If it is not dealt with, then it may happen again and I cannot afford for anyone,” here my Uncle paused and shot a dark look at Bilbo, “to become a liability to the group. So, the first, and indeed some of you may think best, option, is that since Kili cannot be trusted with the welfare of the group, his presence in it must be forfeit. He shall return to The Bue Mountains forthwith and no longer be a part of our company. In the meantime, we may hope that without his brother’s influence,” I felt my brother flinch violently and my heart positively ached for him. “Fili will require no further action against him.”
I was touched to hear a few startled cries of disagreement with this course of action from Ori, Bombur and Bilbo though the others continued to look on in sad acceptance. Mainly though, my attention was focused upon my little brother whom I could feel trembling slightly where our shoulders were touching. I wrapped one arm around his shoulders, rubbing with my thumb as he rigidly leant into my touch.
“Thorin.” I did not realise I had stood or spoken until it was too late. Thorin turned sharply, clearly annoyed by my interruption whilst behind him, all eyes turned to Kili and me.
“What is it you have to say, Fili?” Thorin growled.
I hesitated. Could I really give up my place on this adventure to babysit my brother? Was I really willing to return home in shame and indignity simply because in a moment of immaturity I had given in to my brother’s need for a playmate? I glanced down at him, seeing him blink his big, dark eyes at me – so hopeful as ever that his big brother would help get him out of this most recent fix and yet, something new as well. My brother, my poor, desperate little brother gazed at in such heartbroken humiliation that I knew in an instant what I had to say.
“Thorin,” I repeated more clearly, “If you send Kili back to The Blue Mountains – if the company sends him back – then I must go too.” I noticed a few of them exchange anxious glances with each other, some nodding approvingly, others frowning. “I can’t go on and leave him behind,” I explained helplessly, looking straight into my Uncle’s eyes, willing him to understand, “I won’t.”
“’Won’t, is it, little boy?” Thorin growled quietly, though I fancied his eyes shone with something akin to pride. I knew not how. In the past few days I had made a mockery of the monsters who murdered my kin, shown a negligence that almost resulted in the death of the entire company but now, as I simply voiced what was always in me – my absolute and unconditional love for my brother – my Uncle still somehow found it in himself to be proud. He dropped his gaze to my brother, who had once more returned to staring at the earth. “And what have you to say, Kili? Will you allow your brother to make such a sacrifice?”
Kili’s head shot up, startled at being addressed. We watched him flounder, clearly stuck between the answer he felt he ought to give (‘No, of course not.’) and the one he clearly wished to. He darted me a look of such abject shame that I couldn’t help but intercede.
“He doesn’t have a choice,” I declared, far more confidently than I felt. Kili raised one hand to cover mine where it lay on his shoulder; I squeezed tightly. “Thorin, I won’t go any further without him.”
“And what if I forbid you from leaving us?”
I swallowed. Truthfully, if Thorin really did forbid me to leave, I doubted I would disobey but then I could not imagine my Uncle ever forcibly separating us that way so it really made no difference. At my silence, he gave me a knowing look before bidding me sit down.
“That is the first course of action,” he continued as if I had not spoken, turning back to the group. He hesitated before speaking again, “The second is that they both remain here with us and that you all trust that I, as their leader and as their kin, shall take care of this misconduct as I see fit.”
I had been both hoping and dreading that he would suggest such a course. I dearly hoped that despite his own anger towards us, Thorin would not expand on how he intended to ‘take care’ of us. I did not think my dignity would bear it.
“So, either they both leave, or they both stay?” Ori piped up, looking at me rather than my Uncle. I nodded slightly, and noticed my Uncle also doing so. Ori brightened and I felt a rush of affection for him – though I did not know him all that well. “Oh, well, I vote the second course. They have to stay!”
Beside him, his brother’s gave him stern frowns that demonstrated their disapproval. Ori, Thorin and I all looked at our fellow dwarves, and of course our wizard and hobbit expectantly.
“I do not ask for a unanimous vote,” Thorin prompted them.
“Well,” began Dwalin and I found myself mouthing pleas at him though he made an effort not to look, “I shall favour my king’s decision. It is not for me to decide for him.”
I found myself vaguely surprised at his deference to my Uncle; as far as I was aware, Dwalin had always spoken his mind most readily around Thorin. It suddenly occurred to me, with a painful tug in my chest, that Dwalin in fact wished to send us home and had refused his vote out of friendship and care for my Uncle.
When, at last, all eleven of them had cast their votes (for Gandalf had refused since he was ‘not really a part of the company but only thought to check in with us’ and Thorin did not vote and my brother and I were understandably not eligible), Thorin turned to us both with a smouldering frown. “So be it,” they had eventually opted for our second option. I was glad not to be made to leave but the thought of what I suspected now awaited us made my stomach do familiar flip-flops. “Very well. Come, Fili, Kili,” Thorin commanded as he passed us, not bothering to stop and check that we were indeed following.
I took hold of my brother’s sleeve, dragging him up and leading him along behind me, not daring to look back at the company. Ahead, our Uncle stomped through the trees, clearly knowing exactly where he was going. My stomach twisted at the thought that he had already planned this and I wondered what he would have done if the group had voted against him – I wanted to ask if he really would have cast us out but I did not like to risk angering him further.
“We could have died.”
I stopped, turning to my brother and taking both of his hands in mine. He stared at me, eyes haunted and lower lip faintly trembling. “But we didn’t,” I reminded him, enfolding him to me and petting his hair softly. He shook in my grasp, not quite crying but clearly on the verge of it. My heart went out to him, I couldn’t help but think was probably not the way he had imagined his first real adventure would go.
“Gentlemen!” Thorin reappeared ahead of us, clearly having realised we were no longer with him. Kili whimpered slightly and pressed himself closer to me, I hushed him though he was still uncharacteristically quiet and turned imploring eyes on our Uncle. “We will not go much further, come!” he commanded, though I saw his expression had softened somewhat. He turned and continued on his way, trusting that my brother and I would eventually catch up.