Lion of Durin, they were calling him. In the odd moments when he’d been awake he had overheard hushed whispers of respect, snatches of epic deeds, and found these murmurs hard to connect with himself. He felt anything but leonine – more like a weak and frightened kitten. In truth, he didn’t really remember a lot of the battle, and part of him fervently hoped he never would.
Fragments of memory floated to the surface. Kili and Thorin and he, back to back in a triangle of fury, battling wargs and Orcs in a haze of death and blood. Thorin, a spear in his side, sliding to the ground, and his scream of pain and rage. He and Kili standing over their uncle, defending him with shield and body, sword and axe scything with deadly accuracy, arrows flying murderously straight and true. Beorn’s arrival and the rescue of Thorin from the battlefield. The brothers had looked at each other and smiled grimly. They had completed their task – they had protected their king.
Then Kili had fallen, and the world had stopped. One of the giant wargs had charged their way, and Kili’s arrows felled the Orc rider. The warg had barreled forward, heedless of two more arrows in his hide. It had bitten through Kili’s mangled armor, shaking his already wounded and weakened body like a rag doll. Fili’s vision had gone red, and he remembered none of the following slaughter, only coming to himself when the great beast lay hacked at his feet, his weapons coated with gore, and his arms numb. He’d fallen to his knees next to Kili, barely feeling the arrows that pierced his back and shoulder.
He had been told that they had been found slumped together, and it was feared for a moment that they had been called to Mahal. They, along with Thorin, had been laid side by side in a tent a bit away from the rest of the wounded. There were bandages, needles, concoctions that smelled foul and tasted worse, and more than enough pain to convince him he did indeed still live.
When his eyes opened and felt as though they weren’t going to immediately fall shut again, he found himself looking up into the concerned eyes of Oin. As deadly as the old Dwarf could be on a battlefield, his healing arts had been needed behind the lines. “How are you, lad? It’s good to see you truly awake, it’s been over a week.”
“Wish I wasn’t. Water?”
Oin reached for a cup, using his other arm to lift Fili’s head and shoulders. “Easy now, not too much.” Fili sipped when he really wanted to gulp, knowing too much would likely make him vomit, and not wanting to add that to his miseries. When he was finished, Oin laid him back down and pulled the blanket back, checking his bandages. “Not healing quite as fast as I’d like, but you’re lucky to be here at all. I’m not sure if that’s a tribute to my skill or your youth, but either way I’m glad.”
Fili turned his head to see his uncle lying quietly under his blanket, regular breaths moving it up and down. “How is he?”
“It will take time, but Balin was right, the line of Durin is not easily broken. He will live.”
Fili closed his eyes and sent up a small prayer of thanks. He opened them again and tried to lever himself up on his elbows to see across Thorin to where Kili lay. The effort was too much, and he fell back. “Kili?” he whispered.
Oin’s eyes clouded, and it was a moment before he answered, as if debating how much to say. “Not so good. He was already weak from the wounds and the blood loss, and then the warg bites infected. Filthy scavengers, those beasts. I’ve done all I can for him, even brought in one of Dain’s healers to look at him. "
Oin shook his head. “The wizard can’t help, he’s already tried. All we can do now is wait … and hope he is strong enough to fight it.” He attempted a smile. “Remember, we Dwarves were born of stone.”
He wasn’t bleeding stone out there on the battlefield, Fili thought. He took as deep a breath as he could manage against the constriction of the bandages, and with a titanic effort, struggled to a sitting position. His head swam and he felt as if he might pass out, but he fought the feeling back. Oin let out a cry and put a hand on his shoulder to push him back down. Fili fixed him with a fierce glare, and his hand fell away.
“What are you doing?” asked a quiet deep voice beside him. Fili looked into his uncle’s eyes, startlingly blue against his pale face. Pain was etched in that face, but worry shone through brighter.
“Need to see him,“ Fili grunted out, looking over at his brother, so still under his blankets. Kili was never still, he even twitched in his sleep. “Please,” he begged, “help me … “
Thorin’s eyes met Oin’s and he gave an almost imperceptible nod. Oin beckoned a pair of attendants over, and they helped Fili to a seat beside his brother’s bed. Fili all but fell into it, and reached for Kili’s hand. It was clammy and cold, though sweat had plastered the dark hair to the younger Dwarf’s forehead.
Fili touched his brother’s face with a trembling hand and Kili’s eyes opened, fever-bright and uncomprehending. “Look at me, little brother,” Fili said, his voice becoming stronger and steadier, forgetting his pain, focusing on nothing but his brother’s face.
Kili blinked slowly, twice, and the glazed look fell away, replaced by recognition. “Fili?” he whispered, and a slight pressure on his hand nearly made Fili weep. He swallowed hard and held Kili’s gaze with his.
“That’s right; keep your eyes on me. You need to get well, you need to be strong. Uncle is counting on you. I’m counting on you.” He attempted a smile. “Don’t make me go home without you – Mum will skin me.” If he had looked at his uncle, he would have seen the bright sheen of tears in Thorin’s eyes. But his whole world had telescoped down to one pair of hazel eyes.
“T-trying … but … “ Kili drew a shaky breath and closed his eyes. “Hurts,” he said in a half-sob.
Mahal help me, Fili thought, and gripped his brother’s hand tighter. “I know it does, but we’re going to make it better soon. Until then, you need to do something for me.”
Kili opened his eyes. “What?”
“You need to fight. I know it’s hard, but you’re a fighter, you always have been. I remember when you were a baby, that first winter. Two weeks, no one knew if you were going to make it, no one except me. I knew you could do it. I sat by your cradle and told you that, over and over again. I told you to hold on. Hold on for me now, little brother. Will you do that?”
Kili was silent for a long moment, then the barest nod. “Yes.”
“Good. Now go to sleep, I’ll be back soon.” Kili obediently closed his eyes, and Fili sat holding his hand for several more minutes until he was sure his brother was asleep. Then he disengaged his hand from Kili’s and stood slowly, clenching his teeth against the protest from his wounds. A plan had formed in his mind, a plan that might bear no fruit, but it was the only chance left.
He turned to the two attendants hovering nearby. “Find me some clothes – shirt, trousers, boots, cloak. And saddle me a pony.” The two Dwarves’ eyes widened at the note of authority that rang in his tone, but didn’t move. “Do as you’re told!” he barked, and they scurried out.
The King under the Mountain was not so easily cowed. “What do you think you’re about?” he asked in a low growl. He got an elbow under him and managed to sit up, wincing at the pain. “If you think you’re going somewhere … “
Fili stared directly into his eyes. “Lie back down,” he said in a soft voice. “Please.” Their gazes locked and held for several moments, and Fili waited for the explosion. Instead, with a slow nod of acknowledgement, Thorin did as he was bidden. Letting out a breath he hadn’t been aware he’d been holding, Fili continued, “I gave Mum my word that I’d look after Kili, and I’m going to.”
“No one here can help him. I’m going to find someone who can.”
Fili drew his pony up before the entrance to the Elvish encampment, taking several deep breaths to steady himself. Oin’s elixir was doing its job, but not as well as he’d have liked. The old Dwarf hadn’t wanted to give it to him, saying it was dangerous. “You won’t feel the pain, and you can do yourself a worse damage because of that. Please think about this.”
“I have thought about it, and there is no other way. Whatever happens, I have to do this.” Oin reluctantly handed him the bottle, and he took a healthy swig before tucking it into his trouser pocket. It had smelled like sewage and probably tasted like it too. It had begun numbing the pain almost immediately, and Fili was glad. Getting dressed had been agony -- he was sweating and shaking by the time he was done, and worried he might have broken some of his wounds open again. He shook that thought away, allowed the attendant to help him into his cloak, then gestured toward Thorin. “See that he stays in bed – sit on him if you have to. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” He turned and headed out, not seeing the glimmer of a smile that tugged at Thorin’s mouth.
His pony waited patiently for him, and for the first time since he was a child Fili used a mounting block. Even with that assistance he had to bite back a groan, hoping no one heard him. He wheeled his mount around and turned toward the gates of Erebor.
Thranduil would not suffer his people to camp inside the Mountain, so the tents for the wounded that could not be moved were set up just outside the gates of Erebor. Those that could travel had been returned to Mirkwood, but their King had declared he would only leave when the last of his people did. Fili was counting on him keeping to his word.
“Who comes into the camp of King Thranduil?” called one of the tall Elvish guards. The guards, three of them, stood still as statues, seeming almost bored, but Fili had seen their lethal grace in battle, and had no doubt that if he moved one muscle in a way they didn’t like, they could cut him to ribbons before he knew what hit him.
He pushed back the hood of his cloak. “Prince Fili of Erebor, seeking an audience with His Majesty.”
“What is the nature of your business with the King?”
“Send word to your master that I seek his aid on a matter of life and death,” Fili answered, putting all the weight behind it he could muster. From the pony’s back, he was still only eye level with the tall Elf, so he sat up as straight as he was able, meeting his cool gaze with the full dignity of his station.
“Wait here,” the guard said after a moment, turning and walking into the camp. He slipped into a tent, larger than the others, and was gone for some moments. When he returned, he was followed by a tall, fair form in ice blue – Prince Legolas, Thranduil’s heir.
“Mae govannen, Prince Fili,” Legolas greeted him, touching his heart in the traditional Elvish greeting. Fili bowed in return. “Leave your mount with my men, and follow me. My lord father awaits you.”
Fili swung down off his pony as gracefully as possible, but winced as his dismount jarred the stitches and pulled on bandages. “Thank you, Your Highness,” he said, and was mortified to hear the slightest of quavers in his voice. He hoped that Legolas wouldn’t notice it.
The blond Elf looked at him for a moment. “You are in pain.” It wasn’t a question. “The need must be desperate.”
Fili considered lying and saying he was fine, and opened his mouth to say so. What came out was, “You are right, the need is desperate, but it’s not my pain that is of concern here. Don’t trouble yourself over it.” Their eyes met, prince to prince, with Fili adopting Dwalin’s trick of keeping his head level and looking up out of the tops of his eyes.
Legolas nodded and led the way to the large tent, entering first and saying something in Sindarin – Fili thought he caught his name and the word ‘Erebor’. Thranduil sat on a carved chair, reading a scroll. Fili stopped a few feet away from the King and bowed as deeply as he was able. “Great King,” he said, imitating Legolas’ gesture of greeting as closely as possible. The icily beautiful face before him remained expressionless, but Fili thought he saw a hint of surprise in his eyes. “I bring greetings from my Lord Thorin, King under the Mountain, and a request for Your Majesty’s assistance.”
“It has been many years since the Dwarves sought the help of Elves.” Thranduil’s expression and voice gave nothing away. Fili could feel his temper flare. As if it’s ever done the Dwarves any good to ask Elves for help, he fumed silently. If there had been any other course for him to take, he would have turned on his heel and gone back home, leaving his curse behind him. He glanced over at Legolas, standing to the right of his father, and saw the slight nod and barely-there smile. He pushed the anger back down and looked straight into Thranduil’s eyes. This wasn’t about the past; this was about the present, and the future.
“The situation is dire, my Lord. My brother, Prince Kili, was attacked by one of the giant wargs during the battle. The bites have become infected, and it is feared he will not survive. Our healers have done everything they can to no avail.” There was no princely pride left in him, just the fear of a brother. He allowed that fear to show through his words. “I have come to ask … to beg … for your help. Elvish healers are wise beyond the ken of mortals, and we need that wisdom now.” He glanced at Legolas, then back to the King. “If the life of one you loved hung in the balance, would you not seek help from the most powerful source?”
An elegant eyebrow arched, and Thranduil considered for a moment. Turning to Legolas, he said something in Sindarin. The Prince left, but not before catching Fili’s eye and giving him that almost-smile again. Hope kindled in Fili, but he kept his expression neutral.
A few moments later Legolas returned with an older female Elf in tow. “This is Daerwen, my personal healer,” Thranduil said. “She will accompany you and my son back to Erebor to lend what aid she can.”
“We are in your debt, Majesty … and yours, my Lady,” Fili said, bowing to the Elf woman.
“Be warned, my lord – because they are scavengers, the bite of a warg is dangerous, especially combined with his other injuries. My skill may not be enough,” Daerwen said. “When your brother is well, we will decide if there is a debt owed.”
“It is more hope than I had a few moments ago, Lady. The debt remains, no matter the outcome.”
Thranduil seemed pleased by this. At least Fili thought he was pleased – that slagging impassive mask was so hard to read. He wondered how Legolas managed, but then, he’d probably had centuries to figure it out. “Take my greetings back to your King, and may all go well for you.”
Horses waited at the encampment entrance, saddled and ready. Fili started to go for his pony, but Legolas stopped him. “If you can bear it,” he said quietly, “ride with me. It will cause you pain, I fear, but we will return faster. One of my people will bring your mount home.”
Fili paled at the thought of being jounced by a horse, but Legolas was right, speed was critical. He took the bottle of elixir out of his pocket, gulped down a mouthful with a grimace, and waited for the numbness to start spreading. Oh, I am going to pay dearly for this later, he thought. Then he nodded at the Elf. “All right. You’ll need to give me a hand up.”
Fili was deposited on the horse with seemingly no effort – despite his almost frail appearance, the Elvish prince was very strong. Then he seemed to float up into the saddle, and Fili wondered if there were some interesting side effects to the elixir that Oin hadn’t told him about. Daerwen mounted her horse, and they galloped back to Erebor.
Fili ushered his guests in to the tent; Daerwen went straight to Kili’s bedside and Legolas stayed by his side. “Oin, give Lady Daerwen whatever assistance she needs, otherwise stay out of her way,” he ordered, ignoring the spluttering of Khuzdul aimed in his direction. He watched the Elf healer for a moment, silently asking Mahal to guide her hands.
“You’re bleeding,” Legolas said urgently, and Fili became aware of a warm wetness on his chest. Sure enough, the slash on his chest had broken open, seeping through the bandages and staining his shirt. “Schist,” he cursed, or tried to – for some reason his voice refused to work. He felt light-headed, and sparkles of light were dancing in front of his eyes. He had gotten this far on sheer strength of will and the crutch of the elixir. At that moment, both deserted him utterly, and he never felt the strong arms that slipped around him and carried him to his bed.
He woke to quiet and the feeling that someone was watching him. He looked up into a pair of blue eyes regarding him with concern. “So you have come back to us,” Thorin said from his seat at the bedside.
“I thought I gave orders for you to stay in bed,” Fili said without thinking, and wanted to bite his tongue off.
There was a touch of amusement in Thorin’s eyes. “I think you’ll find that the will of a king still outweighs the will of a prince, no matter how bold that prince might be.”
“How is Kili? Was the healer able to help him?”
“The fever is broken, and the infection is lessened. The road will be long, but she expects him to make a full recovery.” Fili closed his eyes, willing back tears of relief. “She was good enough to look at the rest of our wounded, including you and me. I told her it wasn’t necessary, but she said it was Thranduil’s orders.”
“I expect Oin didn’t like that much.”
Thorin smiled slightly, then his face went serious again. “It was a great risk you took, traveling in your condition, and asking aid of the Elves. I’m still not certain if it was brave or foolish, or perhaps a combination of both.”
“I would have asked aid of Melkor himself if it would have saved Kili’s life,” Fili shot back. “And you would have, too, don’t deny it.” Thorin’s eyebrows went up at this retort, but he chose to let it pass. “Anyway, I’m not sorry I did any of it. I am sorry, however, if you don’t approve.” Fili’s gaze dropped away from Thorin’s – he could hear the nearly-insolent lack of contrition in his own voice, and he really didn’t care if it offended his uncle. He was too slagging tired.
He felt a gentle hand on his arm. “On the contrary – it is nothing less than I would expect of my heir – and of the Lion of Durin.” Fili looked up at that and saw his uncle smiling down at him, pride glowing in his eyes. “Rest now, regain your strength. It’s time for others to take care of you.”
“I’ll rest if you will.” Fili looked straight into Thorin’s eyes, a challenge in them.
Thorin regarded him thoughtfully for a moment, then nodded. “Very well. When you wake, you should be able to talk to Kili for a little while. He was awake and asking for you earlier. I told him you needed your sleep, you’d been very busy, and so you had.”
Thorin rose to go to his bed, and looked at Fili one more time. “We will have more to talk of later, and in days to come, I think. Sleep well.”
Fili closed his eyes. In his mind, he could see a glimmering of the future, of the kind of king he hoped to be. Mahal willing, the time of his kingship would be long in coming, and Thorin’s reign would be legendary for its length and glory. In the meantime, he would do his best to be worthy of his King’s trust and his heritage, and to earn the title of Lion of Durin. He fell asleep, content and at peace.