Characters: Kili/Tauriel, Bilbo Baggins, Legolas (Tauriel-centric)
Word Count: just under 3000
Rating/Warnings: K+, none
Summary: As Captain of the guard, Tauriel thought she was ready for anything the prisoners could attempt. She discovers she was wrong.
The king of the Woodland Realm seldom had visitors, and even more seldom, prisoners. But upon prisoners must a guard be maintained and as their captain, Tauriel has always led by example.
She had expected this responsibility to hold equal parts tedium and vexing attempts at escape. Dwarves are known for their skill for craft and stubbornness-- she allows them no utensils with their food and ensures that every wooden bowl, cup and washbasin is returned whole and unblemished; watches with exasperation while several continue to hurl themselves against the bars on the cells.
And that is not the only challenge: she’s also forced to overrule the objections from those who resent “serving” prisoners, nonetheless a lesser race.
“We serve only the king. Or shall I present your objections to my lord Thranduil?”
The resentful murmurs subside, but she does her utmost to ensure that malcontents have fewer shifts in the dungeon than on gates and patrols, giving herself the lion’s share of the unpopular task. A resentful soldier can be careless or cruel and it is her job to ensure that the guards perform at their most efficient.
Tauriel understands how to command the respect and maintain the morale of her subordinates. They are part of their protection, as surely as her bow and blades. Darkness is descending on Middle Earth, slow and inexorable, and this is the only haven left in what had once been the Great Greenwood.
But for all her preparation she had not expected the power of mere words. After all, dwarves command no magic, nor are they renowned for their fair speech. So perhaps it was something else entirely that passed through those bars…
That first watch she’s wary. She keeps her distance so that the prisoners can’t swipe a weapon through the bars as she passes, counting occupants silently until she reaches her destination with a slight frown.
It’s unfortunate that the spot in front of this particular cell holds the best vantage point over all the doors. She steels herself to ignore any more crude innuendos from its occupant, resolving to be as implacable as marble as she turns to stand watch. That the tall-ish dwarf is somewhat attractive is unimportant: she’s a soldier. Legolas’ remarks still irk her, as if she had been somehow at fault.
The dwarf sits up with surprise when he sees her, but he makes no attempt to approach the bars in belligerent defiance like his companions have.
She can feel his eyes on her, but she turns her gaze impassively towards the other cells. Trouble is unlikely to come from a single occupant- the cells housing more than one dwarf are where plots and plans will ferment. Her task is to keep them from reaching fruition.
She smirks a little when she overhears one of them shush another mid-whisper. “Quiet! They say Elves have keen ears and that she-elf is hanging about like one of those cursed spiders.”
After a few minutes, she relaxes as the sullen quiet is gradually punctuated by snores: boredom is preferable to enduring harassment, although she wishes they were not being so careful. She’d been counting on their whispers and mutters to occupy her, and she wonders if any of them spot some weakness—however unlikely—in this prison. It’s also amusing to hear them speak in their low timbred voices, raging and grumbling and poking fun at each other without the studied self-control of her kin.
It stirs memories of better, livelier times. She often wishes that outsiders were welcome to the Woodland Realm as they had once been. The forest paths are now neglected and overgrown, trade has slowed to a trickle and the guards grow indolent, more accustomed to boredom than vigilance as the king cloaks their realm in isolation.
She hears him stir a split second before he speaks.
“I never thanked you for saving my life,” he says quietly, and she regards him with cautious surprise before looking away.
“No thanks is necessary, Dwarf. It was my duty.”
He raises his eyebrows reflectively. “As you will. It was a rare treat though, seeing you leap the backs of giant spiders as though they were but stepping stones.”
Her lips quirk into a half-smile before she can stop herself. “I have had enough experience to know where to put my feet—or my blade—on any sort of foe.”
He smiles at the implication, but he doesn’t rise to the bait. “Of that I have no doubt. Our womenfolk do not learn to wield blades or bows. Your skill was a marvel; I’ve never seen its equal.”
She smiles coolly, superior and dismissive. “You have known few elves.”
He grins cheekily and tilts his head to the side, thinking of the hospitality they were offered in Rivendell. “Fewer than you, I am sure,” he agrees carefully.
Her brow furrows as she studies the mischievous twinkle in his eye. An odd statement- surely other Elves live in the same seclusion they do? But she schools her expression again resolutely. “Sleep, Dwarf. You must be weary. Passage through the Wood is not what it once was.”
“My name is Kili,” he says quietly. But he lies down obediently on the floor of the cell, and she ponders uneasily the things she has heard of dwarves when she turns away from his thoughtful gaze.
The next time they speak is when she hands him a meal. It’s simple food: bread, cheese and water, but they all fall to eating with gusto.
She raises her brows in surprise as she watches. “It is only bread and cheese.”
Kili tilts his head back with wry amusement, swallowing. “You have never gone hungry, then.”
She considers that before she angles her head slightly in assent. “We want for little here. Once the needs of the body are fulfilled, we can turn our energies to more important matters. Music and healing, art and the movements of stars.”
He nods, chewing slowly. “My people were like that once. We made wondrous things—great halls and fine jewelry and powerful weapons. But I was born in exile. And food was not always available, so we have learned to appreciate it.”
He grins suddenly. “I tell you, the best meal I ever had you would not recognize as such. We had been making our way across the Enedwaith plains. You could place your whole Mirkwood in it- wide and dry, windswept and endless. Not a fit place for dwarves, but we’d hoped to find shelter with our kin in the Blue Mountains. Because of the season there was still naught to eat but insects and the occasional snake. Weeks we pressed on, on rations of water and stale bread. And then by chance, I spotted an early bird’s nest and managed to shoot both cock and hen when they returned to tend their eggs. They were small- we each got only a mouthful or two once they were cooked. But I remember it so vividly- the flavor of it, the delight on my mother’s face! I swear even the finest food I have been given since does not compare.”
She can’t help returning the smile that flashes like quicksilver across his face. It’s hard to understand how he can tell such a tale with such a lighthearted spirit, and she looks at him with new eyes as she takes the empty plate and cup he offers.
She savors her own meals after that with fresh appreciation and she can’t stop thinking about him. He is obviously young, the only one of their company without a full beard. Dwarves live not even half as long as she has had years. And yet he’s already journeyed far and wide, persevered through suffering without the tragic melancholy her kin are so prone to.
It’s both sobering and illuminating. But if she realizes that it draws her like a moth to the flame, she endeavors not to show it.
Still, she’s the one who speaks first the next time she stands watch.
“Have you ever journeyed to the sea?”
Kili smiles with delight and moves closer to the bars. Not only is this she-elf (and he’s almost sure it’s a she) lovely to look at, but she treats them a sight better than the other guards. “A couple times. At first we were looking for pearls to set in jewelry. Never found them, but we found something almost as beautiful along the shore. All the colors of the rainbow inside shells scattered like children’s playthings in the sand. We used them to make pretty pieces to sell at Faires and the like. Not jewels, but close.”
She smiles. “They sound lovely. And the water? Was it much like a lake?”
He pauses and thinks back. “No. Moodier and more restless—the waves never stop, even if there’s no wind. It could be as calm as glass one day and white tipped and violent the next. And undrinkable-- salty as tears, with a wild sort of smell. There were fish in it as big as men, but we rarely saw any come close to shore.” He gives her a curious look. There’s a kind of longing on her face that he didn’t expect.
“Why don’t you go? I can’t imagine any trouble you couldn’t overcome on a journey.”
She stiffens and lowers her eyes. “I owe my allegiance to King Thranduil. My place is here.”
He blinks in surprise and looks down at his hands, nodding.
She frowns. He’s said nothing but his body language speaks volumes. “You do not respect loyalty?”
“It just… sounds as though you’re not much freer here than we are.”
She’s shocked into silence for a moment before she blusters. “Of course we are free to leave. We simply choose not to. Do you rebuke a bird for returning to its nest?”
“Of course not. But neither do you bind it when it longs to fly south for winter.”
She can find no easy answer for that, and she turns her back on him abruptly.
He speaks quickly. “Please. I don’t mean to anger you.”
She rolls her eyes, giving him an arch look over her shoulder. “And yet you pose vexing questions.”
He smiles, all repentant charm. “I apologize. I’m told I don’t think enough before speaking.”
Whoever heard of enjoying an argument with a Dwarf? It’s absurd.
And yet she can’t help feeling amusement bubble up, and she smiles. “Perhaps you are tired. Your companions sleep.”
He shrugs. “This is more invigorating than sleep. …You see things in a different way than I am used to,” he says, meeting her eyes.
She raises a brow reflectively. “I could say the same.”
They share a smile, and another sort of feeling flares in her chest. Startled, she looks away and inhales, stepping further away from the bars. “Tell me about your Faires then, if you are not yet weary.”
He blinks and nods, wondering if her heart is also suddenly thudding the way his is. But this is a delicate truce, so he keeps his tone light as he tries to describe memories half a world and lifetime away.
Tauriel is the only guard who keeps an active watch in the lower levels, the others preferring to spend the their watches up by the entrance with the occasional patrol past their cells. And with his burglar skills, Bilbo finds it easy to slip past such guards and report the things he’s discovered, such as the number of guards on the gates and the colossal size of the Elvenking’s halls. Thorin is getting more and more impatient as days pass, wanting Bilbo to burgle the keys from the guard and release them already, but the hobbit disagrees vehemently.
“To go where? You’d be caught again in an instant and my jig would be up! We must wait for an opportunity! Besides, I’m still trying to discover what they’ve done with your weapons- I’m assuming you’ll want them when we make our escape attempt?” he hisses, hands on his hips.
Kili doesn’t hear what his uncle replies, but Bilbo sputters with outrage and gestures wildly a moment later.
“You think this is easy? I’ve had barely anything to eat, snatching and sneaking a few nuts or a bit of bread while you lot get served! Like clockwork! I’ve barely slept a wink since we got here- curling up in corners like a stray, worrying one of them will stumble over—upon me! After all, I don’t have anybody to keep watch now, do I? I assure you I’d much rather-”
They never find out what he would much rather do though. He suddenly looks up and dashes off. They all fall silent and affect boredom- they know what that means.
Tauriel comes hurrying down with several other guards, blades drawn and eyes darting around the caverns. She could have sworn she heard an unfamiliar, high-pitched voice, wholly unlike that of the dwarves.
But she finds nothing, despite two thorough sweeps.
She pauses by his cell on her third sweep, speaking softly but urgently. “Kili, did you see anything odd down here?”
He looks down before shaking his head. Bilbo’s presence isn’t odd at all, so it’s not exactly a lie.
But she realizes with a chill that he’s hiding something. And he knows she knows it, and curses silently.
They each have their own loyalties.
A kind of cold disdain settles over her features as she stares at him. “Of course you didn’t,” she says, brittle and biting.
She has nothing more than suspicion and she still needs to ensure the security of the other halls, so she signals two guards into the cellars and runs to check the throne room herself. As she leaves she mentally chastises herself for her own foolishness— Kili is a prisoner, not a friend. She can only be angry at herself.
No matter what it feels like, it’s not betrayal when they aren’t on the same side.
On the night of Mereth Nuin Giliath she assigns herself to guard the dungeons again, to the delight of her subordinates. There will be special wines served tonight, and the trees have been persuaded to stretch their boughs to the side so that they can have a clearer view of the stars. She tells herself working is the smart move to keep up morale, but in truth she doesn’t feel much like mingling.
Tauriel no longer stands watch outside of Kili’s cell, maintaining a steady patrol of the dungeons through her shifts instead. She’s learned her lesson.
So she’s cold when she spots Kili playing with an object he’s somehow smuggled in.
But it’s just a talisman, a sentimental memento. And as she continues to talk with him about stars and shapes of the moon, she wonders why this warms her more than the philosophy and poetry everybody else is enjoying as they bask in the starlight. She’s missed these little talks.
“I still don’t know your name.”
Her smile falls and she visibly withdraws, straightening. “And you don’t need to.”
“Well, I know I don’t need to. But I’d like to. In case I ever have the chance to send you a seashell. Wouldn’t want the king to think it was for him.”
She shakes her head and huffs a laugh. “You are outrageous.”
He raises his eyebrows as he grins back, unrepentant, waiting.
She rolls her eyes and relents- what’s the harm? “Tauriel.”
“Tauriel,” he says, as if tasting it and she curses the way her heart leaps.
Maybe he isn’t the only reckless one here.
And that is the last thing he says to her, for an instant later Legolas calls her name and she snaps to attention, surprised by the command in his tone.
But he’s more congenial when he approaches, insisting that she come up for wine and a bit of starlight, for she’s been spending too much time working in the dungeons and he misses her company. He’s ordered one of her subordinates to take over for the rest of the night, and she lets him usher her back upstairs.
The next time she sees Kili he’s fallen, an Orc arrow in his leg.
She doesn’t even think, dispatching first one, than another Orc as they leap to finish the kill.
She’s too busy fending for herself in the next moments, but she still recognizes his shout of pain and turns to find him, heedless of her own peril.
And then he’s gone.