Author's note: I'm home for winter break so I got a new chapter up quick for you guys! This will also be the last time I'm updating before the new year, so I hope you enjoy it.
Without further ado, I give you Chapter 13!
Kíli hastily pulled on the tunic that had been laid out for him, no more comfortable with the sight of the bare Elvish skin of his chest and down his navel than he'd been the first time he had been changing his shirt, back in Erebor.
After he finished fastening the thin belt around his waist, he carefully tucked the discarded Dwarvish armor in one of the corners of the tent, hopeful that no one would find it and confiscate it. Getting rid of the armor felt like a betrayal and besides, he would need it for later.
After Gandalf changed him back, he would need something that would fit. Currently though, the tunic provided for him fit perfectly. It was less gaudy than many of the garments the Elves in Rivendell seemed to favor, and for that Kíli was relieved. Mirkwood Elves—with the exception of the Elvenking—seemed more practical and utilitarian.
His tunic, while finely made, consisted of a tough, durable material, longer in the back than it was in the front, ended just above the knees at its longest point and was a vivid shade of green. Over it he wore the traditional armor of the Mirkwood Elves, the shoulders and breastplate a burnished bronze-green and shaped with a swirling pattern of autumn leaves. Despite his shorter, more unruly hair, there was nothing about him that suggested that he was anything more than an ordinary Silvan Elf.
Except for one thing.
Kili's hand stayed to the silver clasp in his hair. That was staying, no matter what.
Slinging his quiver over his shoulder and picking up his bow, the dark-haired Elf slipped out of the tent and into the cold night air.
He kept his ear pricked, listening closely for any sign of Gandalf above the clamor of the camp, his hearing far more formidable a thing than his eyesight at the moment being. Now that he was dressed as one of them, most of the Elves hardly spared him a second glance, most likely mistakenly assuming that that's precisely what he was. Many of Men from Laketown however, watched him with an almost awed sort of reverence. It was a little unnerving, but Kíli reminded himself that they had probably never seen an Elf before, but only heard the tales and legends.
No, not an Elf. The former Dwarf caught himself too late. A Dwelf. Self-consciously, he pulled a few tendrils of hair farther over his pointed ear tips. I'm Kíli, of Durin's Folk. I was a Dwarf, and I will be again. I just need to find…
Kíli caught sight of the wizard, standing near one of the tents and speaking with Bilbo. He paused. So their burglar had returned to Gandalf. It shouldn't have been surprising, but in a way, it was. Kíli hadn't expected to see the Hobbit again. He went over to the pair.
"Gandalf," he said, keeping his gaze trained only on the gray wizard.
"Ah, Kíli." Gandalf sounded tired. His eyes remained bright and watchful within his weathered face, but a frown had begun to form on the lower part of his face, half concealed by the thickness of his beard. As if he already knew—or had a good suspicion—of what Kíli wanted to ask. "A great darkness is almost upon us, I fear. Too few know about it, and even fewer wish to fight it. It was a good thing you did, back in Erebor, intervening on the behalf of my Hobbit. Bilbo just finished telling me about it. I only wish that we could have met again under happier circumstances."
"He shouldn't have stolen the Arkenstone though," said Kíli, remembering what it was that made his uncle turn on him once again. Bilbo shifted uncomfortable. He shouldn't have taken it, and I shouldn't have found it. Then neither of us would be in this mess.
"Perhaps not. But it is impossible to see what may have been, for even the wise cannot see all ends."
"But you're wise. And very powerful." Perhaps he was overstretching it a bit—after all, the most powerful thing the young Durin had seen Gandalf do was light pinecones on fire to hurl at Wargs—but his heart pounded wildly in his chest. It couldn't hurt to hope. Besides, Gandalf was an Istari, surely he could do something about his present condition. "I was wondering if—if y-you could change me back."
"There is an ancient magic about you, Kíli son of Dis. The wizard scrutinized him closely, then shook his head. "It appears have taken root in your very soul. Even if I could reverse it, I am not sure I would. It would not be wise," he said, not unkindly. "For I have not seen such a thing in over a thousand years. Soul magic like this is remarkable… Truly, no signs of fractured energy at all. Your life force is thriving in its new state."
"But I don't want to be an Elf," Kíli pleaded, hating how childish the way his tone began to sound.
"I wish there was more I could do for you," Gandalf said solemnly, "I would not leave you as such if it were in my power to undo it, but that is not for me nor you to decide. You were spared for a reason, Kíli. All you must do now is choose how to lead the life you have been given."
The sun had barely risen, and Fíli's whole world was already sliding towards disaster. Kíli was gone and Thorin was slipping further into madness. Even deep within the mountain, the blond heir could hear the sounds of battle—the fierce roars of the Orcs, the battle cries of the Dwarves and Elves, the clash of steel on steel—and he traced a hand over his blades, longing to rush to their aid.
Was his brother among them?
Give the boy to me, and I will stay my hand, the Elvenking had promised. Chills ran up Fíli's spine at the words. Would Kíli have gone to him on his own, especially without saying a word to him about it? Yes, of course he would, Fili thought, answering his own question. If he thought he was doing the right thing. It would be just like Kíli, jumping at a chance to be the hero without thinking it all the way through. Even with that knowledge though, Kili's absence stung like a physical blow.
He didn't even bother to say goodbye.
Dori—who'd took part in the second watch that night with Gloin—had admitted to spying the former Dwarf slip outside, but had thought nothing of it. Despite how subtle he tried to be, all of the Company knew about the dark-haired Elf's nightly excursions. Kíli tried to hide it, but Fili could see when his brother began to go stir-crazy, becoming shaky and agitated.
Elves were beings of the trees and sky; they weren't meant to be cooped up for long periods of time beneath earth and stone.
Fíli knew that the first night Kíli spent sleeping outside has hardly been his last, and with every passing day he returned to the mountain closer and closer to dawn, spending more time among the trees and fresh air the Eldar so loved. At least until Tauriel left.
And now he's gone too. Fíli pushed his worry away with limited success. There were other things to worry about as well, bigger and more pressing things. Such as the fact their uncle had commanded them not to enter the fray happening right outside the mountain's very walls. However, each Dwarf remained alert, waiting for their king to give the word.
But Thorin still had yet to move from his throne.
Finally, it was Dwalin who could stand it no longer. He climbed the steps to the throne, coming to stand before their king. "Thorin, they are dying out there."
Nothing in Thorin's gaze suggested that he heard the words of his old friend. His eyes remained focused on what lay beyond Dwalin far off in the distance, something shadowed flickering their cerulean depths. "There are halls beneath halls within this mountain," he mused distantly. "Places we can fortify. Make safe. Yes, that is it. We must move the gold further underground."
The gold? What about our people? Thought Fili.
"Did you not hear me?!" Dwalin's voice was thick with emotion, and the blond Dwarf could see a vein jump in the tattooed warrior's jaw. Dwalin was barely keeping his temper in check; Fili knew that from personal experience. "Dain is surrounded. They're being slaughtered, Thorin."
"Many die in war." If Fíli could keenly sense Dwalin's distress, he could only imagine how much more so it should have affected Thorin. Yet his uncle continued to listlessly look away, continuing to speak in that soft, hollow tone of voice." Life is cheap, but a treasure such as this cannot be counted in lives lost. It is worth all the blood we can spend."
"The blood of the Elves and Men I can understand," said the warrior with a disgusted shake of his head, "but the blood of your kin? Your cousin, Dain Ironfoot, is out there fighting on your behalf and I'd reckon that Kíli is out there as well—he's reckless, and this is just the sort of thing he'd do. He may be a thrice-damned Elf, but he's your sister-son! We've both known him since he was a small lad!"
Thorin didn't reply, and Dwalin curled his hands into fists. "You sit here in these vast halls, with a crown upon your head, and yet you are less than you ever have been."
That got his attention. The Dwarf king leapt up from his throne, pacing away from the warrior. "Do not speak to me as if I were some lowly Dwarf lord," he said. "As if I were…" Faltering, as if on the verge of tears. A moment of weakness. "…Still Thorin Oakenshield," he finished hoarsely, head in his hands. But in a heartbeat, that moment of weakness vanished and he snapped to attention. " I AM YOUR KING!"
"You were always my king." Dwalin replied, wistful. "You used to know that once. You cannot see what you have become."
"Go." Thorin was present at last, his eyes no longer staring off into the distance but boring into Dwalin's own. But there was no relief in the realization as the Dwarf king then snapped, "Get out. Before I kill you."
Tauriel paused in her journey, glancing up at the sky. It was still dark, but it would be dawn in a matter of hours. She journeyed across the jagged terrain swiftly—without a horse or without a map to lead the way, for she had neither the money to purchase them nor the knowledge of where to buy them, since the land between Erebor and Gundabad was chiefly wilderness, large settlements far and few in between.
There was still no sign of Legolas.
Her feet were sore. Her legs ached. Never in her life had the Silvan elleth travelled so far, especially on foot, and a trained Mirkwood warrior or not, she was beginning to feel the effects of it. But the pain faded in comparison to her fear, worry for Legolas deep in her heart and thrumming through her veins a pulse.
Ai Valar, she thought, allowing her breathing to slow in preparation to increase her pace again. How far must I go?
More than anything, Tauriel wished she'd had the foresight to bring a torch. Like all Elves, she was more impervious to the cold than those of other races, but even her fingers and toes were beginning to feel the slightly numb and stiffer than normal as she woke in the mornings, nothing sheltering her from the nightly elements but a thin travelling cloak.
That morning, she'd awoke to the cloak encased in a of frost, the frost stretched thinly across the dark material like a pale coating of glistening dust, and could only stare in surprise. Of course there will be frost, she rebuked herself later, feeling foolish in her astonishment. It's the beginnings of the winter season Rhîw, and this is farther to the north than Mirkwood is.
But she had made up her mind rarely slept during the night. Instead, she used the time to travel, constantly looking up at the sky for guidance, grateful for the long nights she used to spend out late with Legolas—before Thranduil grew suspicious, before the Dwarves arrived in their realm, back when everything was simple—looking up at the stars. Those nights had been more than merely enjoying the company of a friend. She'd learned things from them as well; countless, valuable things.
The patterns of the stars. The names of constellations. But most importantly, how to use them to navigate.
She bought no map, yes, but that didn't mean there wasn't one provided for her.
So while the stars were out she would travel, her sharp eyes constantly probing the sky for the next sign to indicate that she was travelling in the right direction. Even if she had brought a torch, she wasn't sure if she would have even used it. Running with fire wasn't a good idea at the best of times, even though she knew she was unlikely to drop it.
Her real worry stemmed from the attention the bright light may have drawn. The light would be a beacon to all those nearby, including highwaymen, thieves, and Orcs. So she stayed off the main paths, and chose instead to travel under the cover of darkness.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the galloping hoof beats of a lone horse and rider, rapidly approaching.
It was a clear, cloudless night, but Tauriel managed to retreat into the shadows beneath the trees that flanked the sides of the narrow path. Spindly and gray, the trees stood like sentries, their bare branches casting jagged shadows across the ground, twisted and broken. Surprisingly steady fingers despite the frantic racing of her heart drew an arrow from her quiver and fitted it into her bow. Drawing back slightly on the string, she listened more intently.
The gait was too light for a draft, or any of the sturdier working breeds that the Men in the region seemed to favor, she thought to herself. An inkling of an idea began to form in her mind.
Only seconds later, her suspicion was confirmed as a horse and Elven rider came charging into view. Less than a heartbeat later, she saw who the Elven rider was.
"Legolas!" she called out, stepping out into path as her friend raced on by. The reaction was immediate. Legolas stiffened, glancing in surprise over his shoulder giving a sharp tug on the reins, wheeling his sorrel charger around so swiftly that its feet hardly seemed to skim the ground as they turned to face her, galloping back down the path.
Tauriel found herself nearly face to face with the stallion as Legolas brought it to a halt, then swiftly dismounted.
"Tauriel," he said, and despite the smooth expression he wore, there was a flicker of warmth in those blue eyes. Her fears of his anger vanished immediately. Despite their sudden, almost bitter parting in the ruins of Laketown nearly a month prior, he was genuinely pleased to see her. Others might not, but she could see through his carefully constructed mask. He examined her uncertainly. "These roads lead away from the Lonely Mountain, towards a fell place. What are you doing, going this way alone? I thought you chose to stay with the Dwarves."
Resentment simmered faintly beneath the last statement.
"Kíli is well," she said evenly, remembering that Thorin Oakenshield had at last seemed to accept the truth of Kili's identity, even if he still wasn't willing to give his blessing towards their courtship. At the time being, that was the least of their troubles. "I have fulfilled my mission to return him to his kin, and guide him through the early stages of his grief. He will not fade, I think. He's recovered well from the loss."
A faint smile softened the hard line of her mouth as she thought of the dark-haired Elf rolling his eyes at something ridiculous said as he clearly didn't take the comment seriously, the steely light in his eyes as he focused on a target, the way he tucked stray strands of hair behind his ears—on the rare occasion that he forgot to hide what made him so Elvish, not remembering that the habit only served to accent their pointedness in his new state. Of his lips passionately pressed against hers, his hands cupping her face or roaming down her sides, her hands tangled in a dark mane of hair… Her slight smile was a brief one, but it didn't escape the notice of the Mirkwood prince.
"It's not much of a loss though, is it?" asked Legolas, with poorly concealed cynicism. And suddenly, Tauriel found that they were strangers once again. "He's gained everything. Strength, speed, immortality…" You, the silent voice added, but neither Elf dared speak it out loud. "What did he even have to lose?"
"He could have lost everything." Tauriel said. And he still might. "His own uncle turned on him the night we arrived in Erebor, as well as many of the other Dwarves. As strange as it may seem, he liked being a Dwarf."
"Then why didn't you let the Dwarf remain as he was on the night that you healed him?"
The Silvan elleth felt her face heat up. "You know that transforming Kíli-" Tauriel placed emphasis on the former Dwarf's name, "wasn't my intent. I knew that Fëa Evaliir was an unstable magic even at the best of times, but I didn't know what would come of it. I understood that Kíli was mortal, I never wanted him to be an Elf. I never knew such a thing was possible."
"But now you are grateful for it," Legolas accused, eyes narrowing in suspicion.
For perhaps the first time since he had known her, Tauriel blushed. It was difficult to tell in the darkness of night, but no clouds covered the moon, and her face certainly didn't have its usual pallor. If it had been lighter out, Legolas was certain that her cheeks would only be a few shades lighter than her hair.
However, she regained her composure quickly, though her eyes didn't quite meet his when she next spoke. "Perhaps I am… but it pains me to see him suffering," she admitted, "He surprises me though. Under the circumstances, he is adapting well. I couldn't let him die. You know that, mellon nin. There is so much outside of Mirkwood, so much neither you nor I have ever seen, and the Elvenking—"
"Do not drag my father into this!" Legolas snapped, harsher than he intended. The stallion beside him roughly nosed his shoulder, eager to get going once again, and Legolas slipped his hand around its bridle, murmuring a few soothing words to it in Sindarin. Then he turned back to Tauriel, eyes softening. "He may be wrong, but this is a matter of your own doing."
"I couldn't stay, hir vuin."
"No. Don't call me that. I am not your lord." What had happened between them?
She then smiled, all her previous fire and defiance faded, but there was no happiness in it, either. "You are my lord, Legolas. You are one of the Sindar, while I am a mere Silvan Elf. You are my commander, my mentor, my friend." A slight hesitation. "If things had been different, I would've fought gladly beside you for all of my days."
"And only fought?" Disappointment weighed in Legolas's voice, heavy as a stone.
"I do not know," Tauriel replied truthfully, "but now I have another path to take, and I would not change it for anything." Their love—the one shared between her and Kíli—had been impossible, nothing more than a distant dream between a Dwarf and an Elf. But now…
Tauriel found a reason to hope.
"The Dwarf king has succumbed to gold sickness." Abruptly, she switched subjects, the urgency of her mission bubbling to the forefront of her mind. Legolas didn't look surprised, though his face fell in dismay. "He will not repay the Men of Laketown their share, nor will he give your father the White Gems of Lasgalen. All of them—Dwarves, Men, and Elves—prepare for battle."
She expected Legolas to shake his head over the foolishness of the Dwarves (thirteen against an entire army?) or look assured in the strength of their people. What she wasn't expecting was this.
The Mirkwood prince drew in a sharp breath, horrified.
"Legolas, what is it?"
"Gundabad is rising once again," he said. "They've grown in strength and number since their defeat. That place of darkness is crawling with more Orcs than our people ever imagined, and they too are preparing for bloodshed. Their forges are lit, and every warrior is armed. They've bred all kinds of fell creatures—monstrous bats, large enough to lift one off the ground—and they're bred for one purpose. War. Dark forces head for the Mountain."
"If we must, we can defeat them once again. We have before, at Angmar—"
"But not like this. Tauriel, the last time Mirkwood marched on Angmar, my mother died. The darkness has grown powerful."
Any shock that Tauriel may felt as the rare mention of Mirkwood Queen—dead hundreds of years before she was even born, whose very name had become somewhat of a taboo among the Elves out of respect and reluctance to further upset Thranduil—was pushed aside as yet another revelation hit her.
"Our people." Her voice was barely above a whisper. "They are at the Mountain as well, prepared to fight Dwarves, not Orcs. They will be caught unaware. The Pale Orc means to slaughter them all."
Friends. Acquaintances. Fellow Elves and comrades-in-arms that she had lived alongside her entire life. Kili's as well. Within a day's time, she knew she might lose any number of them.
Suddenly, it became very hard to breathe.
She cared little for the Dwarves of the Company as a whole, but she couldn't deny that the thought of losing those that had shown kindness to her and Kíli—such as Fili, Bofur, and dare she say it? Bifur of all Dwarves—left her with an ache in her chest. She didn't wish for them to die. In truth, she didn't want for any of the Dwarves to die at all. Not from a grim, messy death such as that.
There was understanding in Legolas's expression.
"We must warn them if we can." Quickly, he mounted his horse. And although Tauriel had a feeling that the only them he referred to were their own people, she nonetheless felt reassured by it. "Come, Tauriel."
He held out his hand to her and this time, Tauriel took it.
He pulled, and she swung herself into the saddle behind him, gripping tightly with her legs as the sorrel stallion sprung into motion. Even then, she lurched backwards—falling towards the ground for a single, terrifying second—before wildly grasping wildly to Legolas's back to keep from falling off. Regaining her balance, though faintly embarrassed, she adjusted her grip by wrapping her arms loosely around Legolas. He made no comment of it, and she didn't say anything in turn.
She was centuries old, but had only ridden a horse a small handful of times. Tauriel reassured herself by thinking that if she had ridden alone, she could've managed well enough balancing in the saddle with her hands on the reins. It wasn't her fault she had to cling to him in order to stay on when they rode together.
All the same though, it was going to make for a long ride.