Oh My Stars

Mar. 3rd, 2015 05:39 pm
nrgburst: (tauriel)
[personal profile] nrgburst
Fandom: The Hobbit/LoTR (Jackson films)
Characters: Kili/Tauriel, Bard, Sigrid, Dain Ironfoot, Oin
Warnings/Rating: none, T
Word Count: 8500
Summary: Because some roles are shaped by both fate and choice.


(If everything you’ve said to me has been true
Then all my stars are leading me to you)


AN: I’m sorry this chapter took so long to write- a whole host of real life problems hit all at once mid-February. And apologies to those surprised by the change in my fic plans: I’ve decided to split this chapter in two (hence the new title on this) because it was just getting too long to digest in a sitting, and I think closing where I do still works pretty well.  


***
Tauriel had always known her place. All her life she’d obeyed: first, the loving guidance of her parents and then as the king’s ward, his benevolent instruction. There was comfort in structure and hierarchy and for six hundred years she’d earned the king’s favor, safety for the realm and respect by carrying out her chosen role.

Now she’s bereft of palace to protect and provide, a lone Elf among Men and Dwarves.

In their long history, this kind of existence is almost unprecedented: Elves have always lived in segregation from both Dwarves and Men. The few that had strayed from the norm had had dim fates; a cautionary tale for others.

She briefly wonders if she should depart for the sea, making her way alone as Legolas now does. Kíli and Bard may welcome her, but the other Men and Dwarves look at her askance, unaware that she can hear their whispers as clearly as if they speak aloud.

Outcast. Rebel. Betrayer. She wonders which label is most apt as she sings a lament for her fallen kin. There are no markers by the graves but she remembers exactly who lies under each covered mound. Their bodies will help give life to flowers and grass come spring, but for now she mourns lives ended too soon and worries for their loved ones. Elves are easily overwhelmed by tragedy: they can perish from despair or remain in its grips for years. Many choose the eternal ease beyond the sea when such hardships prove unendurable.

She is not so weary yet- but the option is tempting now that she feels so lost. She has no role here like the one that Kíli has been thrown into. She wonders if he would have been so unafraid to declare himself if he had known; if she would have been able to walk away if not for that ardent promise.

How different their futures might have been.

She’s jogged out of her reflections by the approach of a woman, who fidgets hesitantly with her skirts before pressing forward determinedly when Tauriel finishes her song.

“Mistress Elf, beggin’ your pardon. My boy is terrible sick and herbs are not easin’ his fever. If you could magic him better like the other elves I’d be much obliged. Please. I can pay.”

Tauriel considers for a moment, not wanting to give false hope. There is fear and desperation there, so she speaks carefully. “I am not a healer by trade, but I do have some skill in the craft. I will see if I can help.”

The woman Astrid wrings her hands as they hurry back to Dale. “It came on sudden in the night- he was out playin’ just yesterday. To think we survived dragonfire and great dirty orcs! It’s the constant draft, it is. He was never so ill when we had a proper roof over our ‘eds.”

Tauriel nods sympathetically. She knows disease isn’t brought on by weather, but constant exposure weakens the body’s defenses. And the humans have caught the worst of recent events, losing their homes before being thrust into war.

As they make their way through the streets, skirting dented helms, broken shields and rubble, she can see many huddled around fires, wrapped in whatever ragged clothing and blankets they’d managed to salvage. That they have young, elderly, and those still recovering from injuries living in such conditions is unconscionable—and surely avoidable.

But she can worry about such things later: as soon as she ducks past the ragged sheet that they’ve hung in lieu of a door, she catches a hint of an unmistakable smell.

“But how…? He took injury in battle?” Tauriel asks, examining the small boy with a frown. His pallor, convulsions and clouded eyes are obvious signs, and she moves immediately to strip him of the blankets they’ve wrapped him in.

“No ma’am! He was with the elders and the other littles. Our men let no orcs through,” she declares defensively, stout and proud.

“…and he would not have survived this long without healing,” Tauriel murmurs, puzzled. She smells the source before she uncovers it, removing the sock and sticky bandage on his left foot to find the wound with its telltale black edges to confirm. “I need Athelas, fresh water and bandages. The poison from a Morghul blade acts at speed.”

Astrid’s eyes go wide at the sight of the festering wound and she immediately turns to the elder child for an explanation. He ducks, shamefaced. “We didn’t know! We were playing Blind Man when he stepped on something. I washed and bandaged it proper- he wasn’t even limping!”

She makes an outraged sound before turning back to Tauriel urgently. “Athelas? Is that feverfew? But we already gave him that!”

“No… Asëa Aranion? A plant with white flowers and small leaves…” She tries to indicate its size with her hands, wishing she’d learned the Westron word. Her eyes widen when she realizes she knows somebody who does. “Sigrid!”

“Bard’s daughter?”

“She worked with us in the healing hall after the battle. Find her and ask her bring Athelas. Tell her this is a wound from a Morghul blade- she will understand.”

Astrid dispatches the older boy to do as instructed, and he goes running before she gives Tauriel the shirt hanging from the line to rip up for bandages.

“Surely we do not have to despoil your clean garment when you have none to spare,” Tauriel says, aghast.

“Better the shirt than his life. Bard’s promised us gold enough to buy more once traders arrive. At least the orcs didn’t foul the wells.” She pauses on her way out the door with the bucket, eyes pleading. “Will he- do you think you can save my boy?”

Tauriel tries to reassure her without making rash promises. “I have treated many wounds given by Orc blades. And the young recover quickly.”

But she prays that Sigrid hurries.
***


In retrospect, both Kíli and Bard wish they had invited fewer witnesses.

It was supposed to be a simple matter: take account of their supplies and figure out how to divide the labor of rebuilding. They’d expected it to be straightforward: the Men of Dale and Dwarves of Erebor had lived in accord for hundreds of years. Ori had found and prepared maps and ledgers; Dori and Gloin a tally of the gold and jewels piled in the Great Hall, Bard and Dain lists of those who need rewards. But as everybody pitches their two copper’s worth about the division of land, spoils and fair recompense, tempers rise and actual decisions remain elusive.

It doesn’t help that most of the dwarves are nursing hangovers from the previous night’s feast. A fitting send-off for their glorious dead- oh, the tales that had been told, the songs that had been sung! The halls of Erebor had rung with the voices of Dwarves again, and the feast had continued nigh unto morning.

Naturally, his uncle had had most of the glory: Thorin Oakenshield, King Under the Mountain, who had won back a kingdom for a people in exile and lost his life defeating their vilest foe. But this time Kíli had sustained himself more on memories than drink, knowing his role in giving Fíli remembrance and recognition in fair measure, and as king, in closing the crypts. The responsibility is an unfamiliar burden that can’t be ignored, and it’s sobering to know it will shape his actions for the rest of his life.

Doubt plagues him as he remembers how effortlessly Thorin had held authority, how they had all followed without reservation, trusting his leadership in their very bones. He hardly feels half as commanding, especially since Fíli’s loss hurts like a lost limb, a constant pain that leaves him feeling off kilter. And he’s not used to having to think of his kin before himself, of trying to plan several steps ahead and keep the entire picture in mind. How much simpler it was to carry out orders instead of give them, to have his actions reflect only on himself instead of their entire race.

The company has been encouraging, but the Iron Hills folk look to Dain, and he’s obviously reserving judgement on a young cousin-son as the new leader of Durin’s Folk.

He can’t really blame him for that.

And he has to admire Bard, who has also been newly raised in station. The men of Laketown call him king now, and he fills the role as if he was born to it, leading with valorous words and deeds despite being gloomy and overserious as an elf. He’s obviously used to shouldering responsibility and dealing with fools and dissent, respectful even when the look in his eyes shows that his patience is wearing thin.

Kili’s sorely tempted just to order everybody to clear out so the two of them can get something decided, but he has to admit that there are occasional insights amidst all the petty grievances: the land where the orcs burned will be too polluted for crops and winter snows will likely discourage trade wagons from making the journey here. Any traders brave enough to make it will carry only what can be managed on horseback, and likely charge exorbitant prices.

A growing list of problems that kings must solve. But he’d rather be prepared- doubtless there will be things he’ll miss, some angle or person or cog in all that machinery downstairs overlooked. The fewer of those, the better.

The doors open and everyone looks up in surprise when Tauriel enters, approaching Bard and Kíli urgently. She halts when her passage is barred abruptly by both men and dwarves.

“I was told this was an open meeting.” she says, surprised and wary.

Appalled, Kíli surges to his feet. “This is Tauriel, who fought beside me on Ravenhill! She is always welcome here in Erebor!”

Bard also gestures his men back with irritation. “She also treated some of you in the healing hall- have you such short memories? Milady, you come with news?”

She inhales as those barring the way retreat, striving to ignore the suspicious murmurs as she makes her way forward. “Of a sort. Sigrid and I have just healed a boy with a Morghul wound. He stepped on this when he was playing by his home. It is… lucky chance that I was here. Without an Elven healer, he would certainly have died.”

She places a bundle on the table and unwraps it carefully, revealing a broken black blade.

She looks squarely at Kíli and Bard and lifts her chin. “If memory serves, there are many rooms in the outer halls of Erebor, where Dwarves used to create and sell tools and custom-fit armor. Surely some of them can be used by the displaced people of Escaroth until Dale can be cleansed of such filth and rebuilt.”

Bard’s eyebrows lift with surprise at their cause taken up by such an unlikely champion.

Dain leaps to his feet, incensed. “Well, isn’t that just like an Elf? Telling us to take Men into our homeland! A place we Dwarves have only just reclaimed!”

She doesn’t flinch at the challenge. “I see little good in leaving the elderly, wounded and children amidst such dangers when there is proper shelter to spare.”

“They did no more when Smaug drove us forth,” Dwalin grouses, and there is a rumble of agreement from the dwarves.

Tauriel sighs. “And do you cherish such wrongs so dearly? Escaroth gave safe harbor to all those fleeing Dale. Smaug’s rampage did not affect Dwarves alone.”

Dain scoffs. “And what would a mere she-elf know of such things?”

She looks at him in disbelief. “…This mere she-elf watched Dale and Erebor burn and saw Escaroth overrun with refugees. We brought aid to ease their suffering, but despite our efforts, their town never truly recovered. Under the dragon’s shadow crops failed to thrive, trade strayed to safer, greener routes and this part of the world slipped into decline. Do you think Erebor would fare any better now without the goodwill of Men? Do you also not understand that none of us are islands?”

Balin stands and smiles, stretching out his hands between them in a pacifying gesture. “Begging your pardon, milady. Dain’s folk have not had contact with Elven-kind in many a year. I would wager most of us here were not witness to those days. As one who was, I can attest that she speaks the truth. Unfortunately, those rooms were not left as they were. Smaug’s long residence has left them more foul than fair.”

Bard clears his throat and speaks. “Then perhaps we can help clean out the depredations of the dragon in exchange for a place to sleep out of wind and weather. I had not dared to risk good will for mere comfort, but it seems more danger remains in Dale than I had realized.”

They all look to Kíli, who has been listening with a frown. In truth, he’d been the first to protest when Thorin had decided to wall out Laketown’s survivors. But he’d forgotten their plight in the aftermath of war, and now there are a couple hundred dwarves looking on him to defend their interests.

Their protests are spurious though- they have enough warriors to protect the inner sanctums from possible treachery, and he has not forgotten how Bard opened his home when he was deathly ill with a Morghul wound himself. He can hardly do less in turn, even if Dain looks fit to burst from sheer temper.

Kíli stands and takes a deep breath before speaking. “If not for the true aim of Men, Smaug would make his home here still. We should risk no more of their lives. Many hands will lighten the work of righting these halls, and there are few sons of Durin who relish wielding brooms. Look at the state of this place! I would not bring our people home to such a welcome. And I daresay Erebor will feel brighter with the voices of women and children in her halls again. I say it is a fair bargain.”

Tauriel smiles and Bard bows to Kíli gratefully before inclining his head to her as well. The men greet the announcement with relief, but Kíli notes that Dain and the other dwarves are less than pleased, although they make no further protest.

But with the humans in a more generous spirit, they finally make progress. They have limited resources until the season turns, so a bargain is struck: Men will fish, hunt and procure lumber while Dwarves will forge tools and hew stone to rebuild halls and homes.

Encouraged by the air of cooperation, Tauriel volunteers to stay on to protect and guide those that venture into the forest, and to heal as needed.

“Tauriel- if going into the wood would torment you…” Kíli says, concerned.

“There is nobody better suited,” Tauriel says reflectively. “I know the hazards and secrets of the forest, and the borders of the Woodland Realm even in the dark. Elves do not like to live so far from trees- I think it would comfort more than harm. And I would contribute in the best way I can.”

Bard nods and smiles encouragingly. “You are most welcome. In any capacity.”

She smiles faintly and lowers her eyes. It’s bittersweet, but it eases her mind to know that perhaps there’s a place for her here after all.

In contrast, Kili wonders if he’s made a terrible misstep. The dwarves seem more doubtful of his leadership than ever, especially after his instant show of sympathy for Tauriel. Too shanking careless…

But he’ll have to handle what consequences come: he no longer has a brother and uncle to bail him out of any scrapes. And he’s sure the bargains will make the best of the hard season.

He hopes their support will be less grudging in time.
***


So it is that Laketown’s people make their home within Erebor’s walls before true winter sets in, and Dwarves and Men begin to learn how live together again.

The dwarves immediately set up a jealous watch on the vaults and Great Hall. But they grumble less as Men make good on their bargain, going out in almost any weather to bring back food and wood while those staying behind clear out cobwebs, dust and broken furnishings.

Erebor’s halls go from littered and damaged to something more like its old grandeur, and the smell of cooking, soap, and the stirring industry of its inhabitants slowly drives out Smaug’s sulphurous stench.

The Dwarves make good on their side of the bargain as well, making the daily trek out to Dale to rebuild the town. They begin in the square, toppling gutted buildings and clearing rubble (remaining cautious around odd bits of metal) before starting work on the great hall, marketplace and fountain. It gives the Men heart to see buildings rising anew, and as familiarity between their races grows, it becomes easier to compliment intricate carvings or admire the flawless way dwarves piece stones together.

And in return it becomes more common to see Dwarves giving children toy figures shaped from leftover stone and raising their voices in merry song after a meal. Men clap and stamp their feet in appreciation. Better yet, a few start to offer gold for crafting new homes on the land they have been granted.

Tauriel finds it inspiring, even if carving her place among them holds its own challenges. The room she has cleared for her own use is achingly bare: she’d come away from battle with only her blades and the clothes on her back. It’s humbling to find that most children have more experience with household tasks and trading for goods than she does.

Still, she teaches them much about the forest- how to find and harvest pinenuts and edible mushrooms, track prey and set snares. And Tilda always holds her hand when they leave the wood at sunset. The staunch protectiveness of Bard and his family warms her heart despite moments when she fiercely misses her kin, feels alien and alone amongst mortals and wonders bleakly how Legolas fares wherever he wanders.

She wonders if other Elves could hold themselves so far above mortals if they could witness their resilience and forward momentum in such proximity. The mortality of their bodies belies the strength of their spirits, and she often thinks her own people could learn lessons in how to laugh and live with such fire.


And then there is Kíli.


He does not despair as an Elf might, but grief lingers in his eyes as he listens to counsel, oversees construction and planning, and settles disputes (often in concert with Bard or Dain). He laughs less than he did and looks often to the crypts under the mountain, seeking her out in truly black moments despite the disapproval of his kin.

“I can’t shake the feeling that this is all just a bad dream,” he confesses one night, as they sit in their usual place on Dale’s ruined wall. “The one place I have always belonged is with my brother. Following as he led on some adventure, beside him with sword or tankard; telling the punchline to his jokes. So because Fíli has always been true, this strange life must be false. …And yet I cannot wake, and keep stumbling forward without him. I fear I am leaving him behind. I forgot he was gone today, several times. And I felt as if I’d betrayed him when I realized.”

She nods sympathetically. “Grief runs a painful course. And for a time it is natural to feel immobilized by it. But for most, life eventually runs stronger. It does not mean you love him less when its momentum pulls you back to your feet. Do you believe you will ever truly forget your brother?”

He gives her a scandalized look. “Of course not!”

She smiles wanly. “Then try to forgive yourself for not remaining in agony. Not being able to let go of grief is a weakness of Elves, but not mortals.”

He nods and kicks at a bit of rubble absently, reminded of something else that had been bothering him.

“Did you really see this city burn?”

“Yes. King Thranduil ordered us to stand down. We were too late- both Dale and Erebor were lost, and a dragon in his lair is an unassailable foe. Your kinsmen accomplished what we thought impossible,” she muses wryly.

“So…you are of an age with Balin, then?”

Tauriel turns to him, smiling faintly at the trepidation there. “I am considered one of the young among my people. But that is perhaps not how you will view it: I am six hundred and eighty nine years old.”

His mouth falls open. “Six hundred… and eighty nine?!”

“And still too easily swayed by emotion.” She dimples. “Reckless, even.”

He scoffs at himself, reeling as he stares blindly at the mountain. “You must think me a child.”

She glances at him, remembering the feeling of his bare chest under her hands.

“On the contrary. I think you fully grown.”

That brings a slow smile to his lips, and he studies her blush before he strokes his thumb over her knuckles. “Well, that’s a relief.”

She inhales and swallows before her eyes dart to Erebor and she pulls her hand back abruptly. “Our chaperone arrives.”

He sighs with resignation as they watch Dain march towards them. “Sometimes I wish we weren’t such stubborn folk.”

“Trust is earned, not given,” she reminds him, “And Dain worries about my influence on his king: my first impression on your kinsmen did little to endear me to them. I am sorry if it has made things even more difficult for you.”

He tilts his head and shrugs.

“Nah. Being king was never going to be easy, especially with the majority here from the Iron Hills instead of Ered Luin. And I think they know you were right even if they’ll never admit it- even Dain’s shaped toys for the bairns and greeted a pretty lass in the halls a time or two.” He sighs. “…I’m sorry we get so little time together; that I always ramble about Fíli when I do. It seems I only see you from a distance while my kin clamor loudly around me. But I haven’t forgotten my promise.”

She smiles and looks up at the stars. “Nor I. But you lost your kin and I, my home. You are king and I am no longer a captain of the guard. Those adjustments must come first. So I will keep it here until then,” she says, placing her hand over her heart.

He smiles warmly, picking himself up and holding out his hand to help her up. “I suppose this is more pleasant than speaking to you through bars, anyway.”

She laughs, a silvery sound that makes his heart ache with hope.

So many hurdles to cross and bridges to build.

But he can look forward to what waits.
***


The next meeting she is invited to has far fewer participants: Kíli and Bard meet several times a week after breakfast to discuss necessary changes to their plans, but they now invite only those necessary to make decisions.

Kíli doesn’t stand on ceremony once they’re all seated. “We have been told that we have some dire needs.”

Hilda’s always been outspoken. “The kitchens need vegetables, fruit or seeds to sprout. Nothing green coming from the foragers in winter. We’ll start seeing bleeding gum and winter weakness without.”

Óin takes his turn. “Cloth and medicines are also in very short supply.”

There’s a silence before Bard gestures to stablemaster Golbund, and he gulps and speaks belatedly. “The livestock need grain and fodder, milord. We’ve been rationing, but supplies won’t last the season.”

Hilda speaks up again. “Wool and yarn too, sires. Feels frightful strange not to be able to knit when we’re so short on warm clothing.”

Bard nods gravely. “Well, then. Supplies had best be obtained before blizzards come. Storms blow in quickly here, and can last several days. Travel will be too hazardous to risk,” he explains to the dwarves.

Kili sighs, resigned. The few opportunistic traders that had made it up past the Long Lake had hurried back south with gold aplenty, but they had carried only small amounts of luxury items that had likely been meant for the Master of Laketown. “I would wager the Woodland Realm is the closest place we can trade for all those in quantity.”

They look to Tauriel and she nods, understanding why she had been invited. “Agreed. It should be possible to go and return in the space of a long day.”

“Will gold suffice as payment?” Dori asks.

“I believe so. It is how the king has always paid for wine,” she replies.

Bard frowns. “Is there some way we can communicate our requests to King Thranduil? I recall only Elven messengers conducting business with the Master of Laketown.”

Kíli cocks his head. “We can send a raven with a message, and it will know its way back. But do we have recourse if Thranduil refuses?”

“There are a few farms to the south, but trading with them would take several trips and time we may not have. Why the concern? The Elven King seemed pleased by settlement after battle,” Bard says, puzzled.

Kíli shakes his head grudgingly, glancing at Tauriel. “Not enough, by my measure.”

Bard raises his brows and sighs with exasperation. “Anger will not serve us, Master Dwarf.”

Kíli considers and shakes his head. “No, but you had best write the missive. Dwarves find forgiveness even in times of need difficult. I would likely say something regrettable.”

Bard leans back, eyeing Kili’s stubborn expression with resignation. “A pinch of prevention then. I will write the official request if you handle sending it.”

“Done.”

“Good.” Bard looks around the table. “Thank you all for coming. Rest assured that your kings have heard you.”

Noticing the troubled look on Tauriel’s face, Kíli quickly places a hand on her arm before she stands to leave. “Tauriel. I am sure Bard and his men can find the way on their own. Please. Do not volunteer to guide them.”

She eyes him wryly. “Do you think anybody here knows the way better than I do?”

“No. But I think any would rather a longer route than force you before a border you cannot cross,” he says.

She nods once to acknowledge the truth there, and he relaxes. Neither notices the way Oin frowns at the casual contact as he departs, or the knowing smile on Bard’s lips as he takes his leave.

“Also, you’ve been going out without a bow,” Kili continues. “We all assumed you fought for Thranduil. I can reward you personally for fighting by my side if you would like gold for a weaponsmaker.”

Remembering her desperate threats and the feel of cold steel at her throat, she inhales shakily and looks away.

“No …I am not accustomed to the bows available. And it seems Dol Guldur’s power has been broken- the giant spiders have retreated. Blades and snares suffice, and Bard and Bain can use their bows at need.”

He frowns, but any further conversation is cut short by Dain’s predictable arrival.

“Kíli! There’s work to do and the days are too short to waste.”

Tauriel stands briskly. “The sleigh will be waiting for me as well. Good day to you both.”

She brushes past Dain and he scowls before glaring at Kíli. “You listen too much to men and elves. Coddling them does not make us stronger. This is our chance to take the upper hand!”

Kíli meets his eye, frowning. “I listen to all before making my own decisions, as my uncle did. And we get food and gold and the chance to make things again. We are not Orcs. I seek balance and our fair share, not dominance.”

Dain blusters indignantly “Well- of course we’re not! But I still think I’d like them better outside Erebor.”

Kíli smiles with satisfaction, clapping him on the shoulder. “Fair enough. So let’s get their houses built. Come, I have to see Bard and send a raven before we head out.”
***


The trade goes uneventfully a couple days later, with Bard setting out with a few of his men at dawn with the gold Thranduil requested.

Upon their return, the sleighs are met outside Dale by both Dwarves and Men wanting a first look at the goods.

Kíli makes his way to Bard eagerly through the snow. “You got the lot?”

Bard leaps to the ground so they can speak more privately. “Yes. With a caveat: the elf Feren says the bow is only for my use, a boon to the Dragonslayer from the Woodland Realm.”

Kili’s face darkens and Bard places a restraining hand on his shoulder. “Feren was present when Tauriel threatened her king for, as he put it, ‘the lives of mere mortals’.”

Bard obviously finds the Elf’s arrogance rather amusing, but his expression becomes grave again when he continues. “Thranduil himself stripped her of a bow raised in treason. I suspect Tauriel accepts the price of her actions, and would not use this bow even if I gave it to her. ”

Kíli grimaces and clenches his fists in frustration. “I owe her my life.”

“And I am no less grateful,” Bard assures him. “Had she not defied her king, my children would also have perished. And without Bain, I could not have slain that dragon. She did more good by saving a few mere mortals than her kin might deign to recognize. …That said, I am somewhat accustomed to working around regulations. You say she prefers bows of Elven make. Suppose your craftsmen study this bow I was given out of… professional curiosity,” he says, shrugging.

Kíli smiles slowly at the studiously innocent expression on Bard’s face before he claps him on the back. “I like you,” he declares.

Bard looks at the happy faces on those surrounding the sleighs and then to Dale, more new buildings than ruins now. And he turns to Kíli with a wry smile. “It seems bright souls teach even cautious ones to hope.”
***


There’s a feast of sorts that night, with everybody rejoicing over the fresh new food. Even the dwarves enjoy the greens after monotonous weeks of mostly oats, bread and fish.

But Kíli notices immediately that Tauriel is absent from Bard’s table.

So when he spots Sigrid leaving the hall with a tray of food, he pretends to need the toilet and hurries after her.

“Sigrid! You go to Tauriel?”

She quirks her mouth. “The kitchens found bundles of her things hidden under the vegetables. She says she doesn’t feel like celebrating, but I thought she should eat.”

He understands instantly. “If they were hidden, they were sent without malice. But she must be saddened- may I come with you?”

She hesitates. “Da says the dwarves don’t like you talking to her.”

He frowns belligerently. “They can boil their heads before I leave her alone in sorrow.”

She can’t help smiling at that image, and tilts her head to indicate he should follow.

And she knows she’s done right when he immediately hugs her and Tauriel only hesitates an instant before she leans into the comfort he offers.

“I should feel grateful for their return- some of these things are all I have left of my parents. But all I feel is irrevocable loss. It defies reason,” she gasps, shaking her head.

“No, a home lost needs mourning. Any dwarf knows that. And these things are a fresh reminder.”

She nods. His fervent support and solid strength feel so right and good, even if it’s unlike the Elven way of comforting with soothing words and wisdom.

Sigrid sets down the tray before edging back towards the door, feeling awkward at their unthinking show of familiarity. She’s seen how they look at each other when they think nobody is watching, even if they maintain a careful distance in the halls. But it’s still so odd to see their stern, strong Elf friend and the fiery young dwarf king embracing each other.

Tauriel gives her a grateful look and mouths “Thank you” before Sigrid slips out the door with a sympathetic smile. It’s nice to be able to give her something back, even if it’s just a shoulder to cry on and a bit of privacy.

So when she returns to the hall she tells Óin she’s sent Kíli to bed with a tincture for stomach trouble.

He frowns and gives her a suspicious look.

“This wouldn’t be a bit of, say- Elvish stomach trouble?”

She shrugs, refusing to meet his eye, and he sighs and shakes his head.

“Kili’s always been too headstrong for his own good. They’re different races, lass. No point in encouraging the impossible.”

“Why is their being friends so bad? Aren’t we friends?” she asks.

“Not the same thing- and I suspect you know it. Ah! They’ll come to the bitter truth of it sooner or later I suppose.” He grudgingly relays her story when Dain asks after Kíli, and the whole matter is soon forgotten when life continues unchanged the next day.

But as it happens, the unexpected gifts soon prove to be worth more than mere sentiment.
***


When blizzard season finally gives way to warmer weather, all of them are hopeful and relieved. Dwarves and Men may have a better appreciation of the other after surviving a cold, lean season together, but they’ve all had enough of living in each other’s pockets. Some human families eagerly move into their new homes even though it still drops below freezing at night and Erebor remains the only place for meals. The dwarves redouble their efforts to finish the remaining homes, even working past dark.

And with roads emerging from under snow and rivers freed from ice, the opportunity to spend their rewards also arrives.

Kíli especially has worried all winter about living over so much dragon-tainted gold. As soon as the threat of storms passes, he encourages bands of dwarves to make the trek back to the Iron Hills with their rewards.

Supplies, livestock and dwarves aplenty make the return journey.

The influx of more Iron Hills folk is not just the curious and those drawn by the lure of well paid work: Kili soon realizes that every one of Dain’s unmarried female kin have made the journey. After weeks of introductions and awkward conversations, he finally begs for a reprieve.

“Dain! I’ve just lost my brother and uncle and I’m still getting Erebor in order. I would appreciate if you could let your lovely kinswomen know that I’m in no state to think of love.” Even for the one who already holds my heart, he adds silently.

Dain beams benevolently. “Of course, Kíli, of course. But plenty of lovely choices when that changes, eh? You know my daughter Dura can make boar twenty different ways? And have you noticed the fine beard on my cousin Thra? Renowned for her beauty, as I’m sure you can tell.”

Kíli heaves a sigh and doesn’t answer. At least Tauriel is more amused by the simpering flirtations and thinly veiled propositions than anything. Her elvish hearing is keen, and spotting her bright eyes and dimples as he strikes about desperately to end  uncomfortable conversations is becoming all too common. If he didn’t think it would create more problems than it would solve, he’d make his attachment to her public, and that would be the end of it.

If only Fíli were here. The women would have been chasing after him and he could have enjoyed the teasing instead.

And he realizes belatedly that the pain of thinking on his brother has dulled somewhat. Time and work have made a little distance there, even if the ever-growing population and increasing number of strangers bring more problems to solve than ever. Human traders have started arriving from the south, and the bargain Men and Dwarves struck grows less relevant as rebuilding in Dale comes at last to the city walls and food becomes readily available in the marketplace. Withdrawals from the vaults have increased ten-fold and Erebor’s dining hall sees fewer and fewer Men; charges of fraud and theft are also on the rise.

But it makes him proud to see Dwarves pressing on to uphold their end of the bargain- they will not default, even if they consume rather more of the pastries, cheeses and hams from the market than the tender new greens and boring old fish the Men of Dale dutifully provide Erebor’s kitchens.

And soon enough there are much more pressing matters than his personal issues. For there are also deadly troubles that come with a bustling population.
***


It’s just an upswing in colds at first- runny noses and sneezing. But as more start seeking treatment for terrible fevers and sores, those responsible for healing all start to worry.

Bard’s late wife had been an apothecary, so he understands well the need for healing herbs in times of sickness. But with spring just arrived, there are more patients than they have even imported stock for, and unchecked, ailments start to spread through the population like wildfire.

To their dismay, Tauriel knows no magical cures for disease.

They struggle along as best they can, but when Gima, the youngest of Dain’s issue, looks likely to succumb to unrelenting fever, both Óin and Kíli beg her to help.

“Can’t you try the spell you used to heal Kili’s chest?” Óin pleads. “The cough is the greatest evil. Without it she could keep down the kingsfoil tea.”

Tauriel shakes her head with regret. The child coughs so hard that there are spans of time where she cannot draw breath, and deep, healing sleep is impossible. Dwarves are hardier than humans, and she’s never seen one so ill without some dark magic at play. “I cannot answer that- I am not a true healer. I have only the training to heal wounds sustained in battle, and this craft has many more branches. Perhaps you can appeal to the Woodland Realm for-”

She stops and tilts her head for a long moment before she suddenly stands.

“My parents were healers. Perhaps a more immediate solution is at hand,” she says, departing abruptly.

She races back to her room, already knowing the volume she must open. And as she flips through the pages, she can remember scraps of conversation; debates her parents held. The entries are mostly for diseases suffered by Men, but her breath quickens when she finds the section on dwarves.

When she finally finds an entry that matches the symptoms, her heart fills with worry and doubt. The notes, in her mother’s script, are about a single patient treated in Rivendell. If the case was atypical, if there were other spells or potions used that her mother had somehow failed to record…


But a little hope is better than none.


She studies and repeats the incantation under her breath until she’s confident she won’t stumble, able to keep her breathing in rhythm with the words for whatever length of time may be required.

But once she returns to Oin’s healing hall she looks at the dwarves gathered with trepidation. “I can only try- I have some innate skill, and my parents were conscientious in their healing records. But it may not be enough.”

Dain nods, voice gruff with worry. “Will it hurt?”

“It should be painless for her,” Tauriel says carefully.

“But you’ve not done this before?”

This is no time for the protective half-truths of elves- indeed, she would hardly dare to try if not for the desperate condition of the girl. “When I was a child I studied theory and observed my parents at work. And all captains must learn to heal traumatic injuries for the sake of their soldiers. But this will be my first attempt to heal disease.”

“We don’t have any other choice, Dain. She wouldn’t survive the trip to the Woodland Realm even if their king gave permission,” Óin says, shaking his head.

He nods grimly before he gestures toward his daughter.

“Then do what you can. Please.”

She nods and opens the book to review again before she begins.

Healing trauma is straightforward repair, knitting rent flesh or bone back into place. And there is an element of that here as well, although the damage done is widespread and uneven.

But in practice she realizes this is more like training and directing soldiers in battle, teaching the body’s own defenses to fight the contagion that infests her lungs and nasal cavities.

As she chants she sustains the beleaguered forces where the battle rages hardest, directs different groups to rout dangerous pockets of infection. And her confidence grows.


She understands battle. She can do this.



It’s a long healing, and she’s weary when she finally closes the incantation. Kíli shouts when she sways, and she quickly catches herself, leaning against the shoulder he offers until the dizziness recedes. But she smiles when her mundane senses confirm what internal vision the spell had conferred: the invaders have been vanquished and the girl sleeps easily now.

Kíli guides her to another patient bed while Óin checks over Gima, reporting to Dain with relief that her fever has broken and her chest sounds clear.

“You did not tell us this would harm you,” Kíli says, brushing her hair back from her face as he studies her eyes anxiously.

“There is always a cost. And I am a novice. A little sleep will recover my strength,” she murmurs, squeezing his hand reassuringly.

Dain approaches, his helm in his hands. “I thank you. Truly. I am in your debt.”

“It gladdens me to help. Indeed, it is as if light shines on a path I had spurned. I thought my parents knew nothing of battle. How wrong I was,” she muses, laughing softly before she gives in to sleep.




When she wakes, Kíli has been called away but Dain keeps vigil, seated between the two beds.

“Lord Dain. Have I been asleep long?”

“Naw. About an hour. Would you like some water?” he asks gruffly.

“Please.”

She sits up and takes the glass he offers, sipping slowly as she assesses her own condition and critically reviews her work. She’d overextended herself unnecessarily- she could have left some healing for the girl to do on her own, mustered far fewer “soldiers” near the end. But with training and practice…

Dain interrupts her thoughts. “Óin says you left the wood to save Kili’s life.”

She nods cautiously. It would be unwise to reveal too much, but she can sense his willingness to put aside suspicion at last.

“Why?”

She speaks carefully. “…Elves have hearts just as men and dwarves do. And I could not justify leaving him to die. Not after knowing him.”

His eyebrows knit as he studies her face. “He’s my kinsman and king. But that was hardly wise, lassie.”

“It is perhaps the most foolish thing I have ever done. But I would still choose to do it again,” she admits.

He shakes his head and sighs. “S’pose we’re all built a bit foolish that way. …For what it’s worth though, I think it turned out all right.”

She considers the events of the past months before she meets his eye again and smiles.

“It seems we agree,” she says teasingly, and Dain laughs aloud and claps her on the shoulder.
***


“King Kíli, a good morning to you! Have you time for a question?”

Kíli glances down at Bard from his perch atop the ladder, keeping careful hold of the rope he has to hang. “Sounds ominous. But ask away.”

“…I was hoping you could point me towards a craftsman who can make me a crown. I’ve had one too many a trader wonder at my authority when they’d last known me as Bargeman. And if I would do the work of a king, I suppose I should look it.”

Kíli smiles with delight. “In that case, I would be honored to fashion it myself.”

“I thank you,” Bard replies, bowing respectfully before he quickly adds, “not too ornate or heavy, please. I think one such as your uncle’s would suit me ill.”

Kíli grins mischievously. “What? No great writhing dragon about the brow of the Dragonslayer King?”

Bard gives him a pained look and Kili chuckles before nodding in assent.  And he knows him well enough now to understand the unspoken question when Bard raises his brows.

“No…not until I bring my people home and finish the task my uncle began.”

Bard nods gravely. “…I understand. But I would say you carry the weight of one well enough already.”

The unexpected praise makes his cheeks warm, and he swallows. “I…thank you. I admit I have struggled with it. Without your support and Dain’s I might have been lost.”

Bard shakes his head, observing the activity below. “You give yourself too little credit. I think we could not have accomplished so much without your open heart and honest words. Although- I suppose it might have been foreordained,” he muses philosophically. “Look.”

Kili gives him a questioning look before he complies. “Marketplace looks busy despite the early hour- ha! There’s Mister Bombur getting the first taste. The new fountains that Tauriel wanted seem to be working well. Balin’s wagon train is heading out of Erebor- he wants trees on the mountain again, so he’s headed southwest to see Beorn, who will hopefully not bite his head off and actually take the gold. Be nice to have fresh apples. Those barges that brought up all the wine are leaving as well, and I’d wager they are carrying a lot more gold than you ever did,” he adds teasingly.

Bard smiles. But he’s oddly emotional as he meets Kili’s eyes. “Silver fountains, gold streaming from the mountain. And you, here, hanging bells as the sun reflects off the lake.”

Kili gives him a puzzled look. “Well, I thought Balin would like to hear them as a sendoff, so I put them first on today’s list.”

Bard laughs, resigned. “You don’t believe in fate, Master Dwarf.”

Kili grins and scoffs. “Nah. I make my own decisions. Both bad and good.”

Bard smiles. “Well I suppose you’ve chosen well enough, then.”
***


If Tauriel is surprised by the shift in general dwarf opinion that comes with Dain’s  approval, she’s wise enough not to show it. They may view her as more “useful” and “helpful” than “friend”, but it certainly makes it more comfortable to be the last foreign guest living in Erebor.

Still, she spends most of her days with Sigrid, either in the forest gathering barks and medicinal herbs or in Dale’s new healing hall. And as she enters this morning, she gratefully notes that they have no patients waiting. As rewarding as it is to practice healing magic, she still only employs it as a last resort. Perhaps one day she can journey to Rivendell as her parents did and complete enough training to feel more confident, but for now, the additional fountains and city ordinances on handwashing have greatly reduced the spread of illness.

She blinks in surprise and smiles warmly when she sees Kíli seated beside Sigrid as she bundles herbs for drying- odd that he didn’t let her know he would visit today.

But her eyes go wide and she gasps when he stands and she sees what he is holding.

An Elven bow- but not, somehow. And her old quiver filled with new arrows.

He grins, obviously pleased by her reaction. “You lost your bow in our defense. And I know you’ve rediscovered a part of yourself in the wake of that. But I did not think you should have to give this part up,” he explains.

She takes it reverently as tears fill her eyes. It’s the perfect size and weight, made in the style of all Elven bows, although the silvered Dwarvish runes carved into its grip reflect the true makers.

She’s so eager to head outside to test it that she shoves the basket containing her lunch onto the table rather carelessly, and Sigrid and Kíli both have to laugh. .


And oh, how her heart sings at the familiar feel of the bowstring as she draws, as she sees the arrow fly straight and true to its mark!


“Oh Kíli. I accept this with joy and thanks,” she finally gasps, almost too moved to speak.

“I am just sorry it took so long. Finding the right wood and then seasoning it took time.” He draws a hopeful breath. “…I was thinking as well, that you might have need of it. For I have a request.”

She pulls her eyes from the bow, brow furrowing with curiosity

“We spoke once, of travel. And I know that you have just started to put down roots here anew. But rebuilding winds to a close, and the roads are most favorable in summer. So I will go back to Ered Luin to lead my people home. Will you come? See the other side of the mountains, and perhaps even the sea? I would like to introduce you to my mother sooner than later,” he says carefully.

She smiles, understanding.


He’s ready to venture forward, if she is.


And seeing the excited promise in her eyes, he can’t help grinning before he even hears her answer.


“I will.”
***
AN: Tolkien maintains that Elves are immune to sickness, so I assumed that they must practice healing on mortals, as Rivendell is supposed to be a cosmopolitan center of healing and study.

Also: I really don't think Dain "just go bugger off" Ironfoot would be the right choice to be King Under the Mountain. In PJ's canon he doesn't even kill Azog and outright refuses to help on the Quest in AUJ, plus we have zero emotional attachment to him- awarding him Erebor and leadership of Durin's Folk by default just feels hollow and unjust. Gandalf judges him less reasonable than Thorin: how exactly is Dale/Erebor supposed to go back to a symbiotic relationship? (Poor Bard.) And we already have a young idealist  from the senior line of Durin who consistently fights for what is right as opposed to what is best for himself and the dwarves alone. How is one NOT supposed to live in AU denial, I tell ya.

Feedback is always, always appreciated!

Date: 2017-02-13 03:47 am (UTC)
shadowcat: ([Character] Claudia Promise You ...)
From: [personal profile] shadowcat
AU denial is always my jam.

Date: 2017-02-13 07:16 am (UTC)
shadowcat: ([OTP] Danny/Sarah)
From: [personal profile] shadowcat
Exactly!

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