Characters: Kili/Tauriel, Oin, Sigrid, Dwalin, Gloin, Bofur, Ori, Dori, Nori
Rating/Warnings: T, none
Word Count: 4300
Summary: A long-expected journey (among other things)
(Chapter 3 of To Catch a Falling Star, but can be read as a one-shot)
AN: I referred to my LotR books for a map, a copy of which you can find here.
Kíli calls a last meeting of the Company once Dale’s city walls stand completed. Ravens have been winging to Ered Luin with lists of the lodgings available and back to Erebor with lists of those claiming them.
But the route needs planning- they’ll have women, children, wagons of belongings and livestock to get to Erebor. The well-trodden road past Dunland and through Rohan is the one they know best, with plenty of towns used to travelers from which they can obtain supplies enroute. But that route will take months, and Dwalin shakes his head as he looks at the map. “We lost too many out of weariness and exposure last time. Hill People bandits in Rohan as well and Goblins and Trolls always raid the Greenway.”
“Granted, we’ll be ready this time with food and tents, weapons and gold. But I’d hate to spend another winter on the road, watching the women and aged suffer. My Gamad died on the road. So did my wee sister,” Oin says.
They all go solemn. “I too, would rather not chance returning in storm season. We could spend the winter in Ered Luin and leave in spring,” Kíli suggests.
“That’s asking for months of broken axles and getting stuck in the mud. Naw, we should try to keep travel to summer and fall,” Dwalin growls.
“Well, how about taking a short cut through the Misty Mountains? Putting everything on pack beasts? Then we might even make it back before winter this year,” Ori says.
They all consider this, and Gloin taps the map eagerly. “We made a “deposit” round this area as well, if ye recall. Wouldn’t mind collecting it.”
“Could do. Didn’t Gandalf say we’d just had a bit of bad luck, with the storm waking the Stone Giants?” Bofur says, shrugging.
“But we’ll have elderly. Old Hornbori won’t be able to ride, and the children can’t walk or ride long either,” Oin says, perusing the list of migrants and shaking his head.
“And we still don’t have Gandalf with us to show the way to the High Pass. Would have been nice to have some of that Rivendell wine again, though,” Kíli says.
Tauriel gives him a shocked look. “You’ve been to Rivendell? And you’ve never mentioned it?”
Kili shrugs, abashed. “The quest of our company was supposed to be secret. And then I suppose it never came up.”
Ori wrinkles his nose. “Can’t say much about the food there. Or the music.”
There’s a rumble of agreement around the table.
Tauriel blinks and sits back, her expression one of incredulous bemusement. To think the lone Elf here would be the only one here unacquainted with Rivendell’s halls.
Kíli winks at her and she arches a brow and smiles, shaking her head. “Why do you not discuss passing south of Ered Mithrin, and Gundabad? It seems the most straightforward path.”
They all blink in surprise. “The North is the realm of Orcs and Dragons. Too hazardous for travel,” Oin tells her, frowning.
Tauriel tilts her head reflectively. “It was a bleak place when Legolas and I passed through on Bolg’s trail. Fresh water was difficult to find. But we did not spy a single Orc; nor were we attacked. There are no roads, but the land is hard enough for wagons bearing loads. However, I do not know what lies on the other side of the Misty Mountains.”
Dwalin shrugs. “Men territory. Farms and not much else.”
The others all nod and study the map again- it would be the shortest route, almost as straight as the crow flies. But it will be stray far from warmer, populated areas, and there is only wilderness between Orc and Goblin territory.
“We’ve just dealt the Orcs a defeat. They might have retreated north to lick their wounds,” Nori speculates.
Dwalin shakes his head. “Or perhaps they are all the more dangerous having suffered so great a loss. And with no call to arms, some may have slunk back south. Besides, two elves can be easily overlooked. We will be many, and moving slowly.
Nori shrugs. “Might as well scout it out. A good thief always does due diligence before taking the prize.”
Dori frowns and smacks his shoulder, but the rest of them all nod with agreement, including Kíli.
“It seems the best course. We can scout the lands on our way back, and choose a new route if we find a few too many orcs for our liking.”
They all nod agreement.
“Excellent. I’d like to leave as soon as possible, then.”
At that, a few of them eye each other.
Bombur clears his throat and nudges Nori, who shrugs and nudges Dori, who smiles determinedly, lacing his fingers and sticking out his chin. “Well. See, a few of us feel rather settled here. I’d rather not have to train a replacement down in the vaults. And you know that Nori was having a wee bit of trouble back in the Luin… and that Bombur’s discovered adventure doesn’t agree with him, much.”
Bombur shakes his head sadly.
Kíli inhales and nods slowly. He hadn’t realized any of the company would not want to return to Ered Luin in triumph. “If that is what you wish, you will be missed. Balin will be returning to Erebor while we are away as well. But I need him here- he’s rather more diplomatic than Dain and I’d hate for feuds with the neighbors to start while I’m away.”
Tauriel speaks up. “I will need some time to prepare Sigrid. She is nervous about running the healing hall on her own, especially with Oin leaving as well.”
Oin shakes his head. “Novices must eventually stand on their own. Brunni is an excellent healer. I’ve informed him he is to help Sigrid, and she knows this.”
Kíli meets Tauriel’s eye. “We must be ready to leave sooner than later.”
Tauriel nods. “I will do my best to reassure her. She is ready- merely uncertain.”
“Good.” He exhales and smiles at them all fondly. “We make ready for one last adventure then?”
They smile back with pride and maybe a little wistfulness before their heads all dip in respectful assent.
“I wish I could just use magic like you,” Sigrid sighs. She’s practicing stitches on a chicken thigh that Tauriel has cut neatly near the joint. The silk thread is so fine that it keeps catching on her work-roughened hands, and she’s still rather aghast that they’re using good meat this way. It would have been an unthinkable waste even two months past, but there is an abundance of both silk and meat in the market now, and her father and Tauriel have deemed the silver well spent.
Still, she plans to cook it. Old habits die hard, and the surgical surfaces have all been sterilized- the meat will be fine for a bit of practice.
Which she supposes is the point of it. And as she carefully ties the last stitch, gently prodding the flesh to check her work, she thinks she’s done well enough.
Tauriel smiles faintly as she moves the joint, noting with satisfaction how the stitches pull but do not tear. “You do the same thing with this thread that I do with magic. And this was well done- see how beautifully you have aligned sinew and muscle here, how the stitching is neither too tight or too loose? Save for the chance of infection, this leg would have healed well and been perfectly usable again. And you know how to make salves and tinctures to reduce the odds of that.”
She meets Sigrid’s eyes insistently when the girl quirks her lips and shrugs. “Do not discount your skills so easily. You still surpass me in your knowledge of herbs and their interactions. Your people have survived without magic through much harsher conditions, and I have no doubt your herb lore played no small part in that. Brunni from the Iron Hills will be in Erebor if you require a second opinion or set of hands. And if all goes smoothly we may be back before winter.”
“I still wish I could do magic. Especially if we have another outbreak,” Sigrid says, sighing.
Tauriel tilts her head. “My people have a saying: Ever the other is fairer. It reminds us of two things: that there will always be things out of our grasp. And that discontent can blind us to what we already possess.”
Sigrid is frankly disbelieving. “Even for Elves?”
”Especially us. We are easily consumed by emotion and have an eternity to brood on our mistakes.” She speaks lightly, but Sigrid sees the sadness in her eyes.
“…I’ll miss you, too.”
That does the trick to distract her from her melancholy, and Tauriel turns back and smiles warmly. “And I you. But I have greatly longed for this chance.”
Sigrid smiles knowingly, getting up to wash her hands. “Not every day one gets to ride off on an adventure with a handsome dwarf king.”
Tauriel’s cheeks color, but she has experience enough to give tit for tat now. “I often wonder if all mortals are this impudent. Shall I mention a certain seed seller in the marketplace who made you titter like a thrush in spring?”
Sigrid grins. “That one flatters all the ladies, hoping to entice us to spend more silver. But I like the way his eyes twinkle and he does know his seeds. Bain says he’s a right scamp, though.”
Tauriel lifts her eyes and sighs at Sigrid’s gleeful lack of repentance, but they both turn and give warm greetings when Old Brenna knocks and hobbles in.
She comes in once a week for treatment for her rheumatism now that her family is farming land on the south side of Dale. And she happily passes on gossip about the folks in the surrounding area, her coins tucked in a basket of fresh eggs as a gift with payment. Tauriel guides her to a chair and props her legs on another, applying cool cloths to her knees and ankles while Sigrid measures and grinds primrose, ginger and celery seed for her to take home, filtering advice through the gossip the old lady craves.
“I know it’s hard to get fish out on the farm, but you know Colborn-“
“Dustin’s boy? The blond one with freckles?”
“That’s him. He sells his Da’s catch in the market here, and prices are decent seeing as how the fancy hams and muttons from down south are all the rage now. Eat a bit of herring every day and put on the cold compresses at night. And the pain should be better in the mornings for it.”
“Oh, I’m just stiff because I’m too old to be chasing chickens around! Those hens keep trying to hide their eggs in odd crannies, and I’m not used to keeping such a big place.”
There’s a knock and Bard enters once bidden.
Old Brenna flutters, checking that Tauriel has covered up her legs modestly before she beams up at him. “Well, if it isn’t the King. You’re looking as grand as your Sigrid in such bright colors. And I see you’ve got a crown now!”
He dips his head respectfully, smiling. He’s still not entirely used to the feel of it, but he supposes it’s a symbol of the people’s support and an authority strangers automatically respect. “Dale prospers as we do, Mistress Brenna. How fares your family?”
“Good, good- Ingrid’s sent along some of our eggs and I’ve just told Sigrid how the fields are all sown and sprouting. It’s nice to hear the rain on a roof again.”
Bard smiles. “I’m glad to hear it.”
There’s a perfunctory knock before Tilda dashes in, her basket full of fresh greens, sunbonnet dangling uselessly down her back and the edge of her skirts smeared with dirt. “Hello, Mistress Brenna, Da,” she chirps breezily before plopping her basket on the worktable. “Well here’s the herbs you wanted, Sig, and I thinned the carrots and picked some peas. But Da says we’re to go to the goodbye feast in Erebor tonight! Do you think there’ll be dancing on the tables again?”
Brenna eavesdrops avidly while Bard nods, resigned to her exuberant ways.
“It wouldn’t be much like a Dwarf feast without, now would it? Which reminds me: Milady Tauriel, I have been asked to inform you that there are several horses to choose from in the stables. The stablemaster says they are all good, biddable beasts, with clever footing. You simply have to choose the one you would prefer for your journey- King Kili’s already arranged for payment.”
Tauriel straightens, eyes lighting up with excitement. “I will go to the stables then, if it all right with you, Sigrid.”
Sigrid glances nervously around the hall before inhaling and smiling determinedly. “I can finish treating Mistress Brenna and sort out the herbs with Tilda’s help. Might as well get used to doing this without you.”
Bard hugs Sigrid’s shoulders and gives Tauriel a nod, and Tauriel smiles gratefully before excusing herself.
The Company sets off after breakfast, with the people of both Erebor and Dale sending them off in cheerful procession. Tauriel is incredibly touched by the warm farewells and small gifts pressed upon them as they ride past Dale towards Ravenhill- dried mint leaves for tea from Sigrid and Tilda; from Bombur, her favorite cookies. The farmers in the fields they pass wave and call out their well wishes, and they can hear the bells of both cities sounding as they crest the hill that will take them out of sight.
It helps them all start the journey feeling enthusiastic and hopeful.
Well, most of them. A few are still nursing dreadful hangovers. They won’t see much drink until they get to Ered Luin, and Bofur and Ori especially had seemed determined to make up for it.
However, it seems that luck is on their side as they journey North of Mirkwood and south of the Grey Mountains. They are doubly careful when they reach the Misty Mountains—the pass south of Gundabad is the most dangerous territory they will journey through, and there is little cover to be had. Ori carefully notes every water source they find on the map, they investigate all signs of Goblin and Orc activity, make campfires sparingly and maintain two watchers on both night shifts.
But their progress remains steady and unremarkable. There are more streams and water holes than Tauriel had remembered due to the turn in season, and they find no fresh enemy trails or kills, although there is plenty of evidence of the armies’ retreat. They are seasoned enough travelers, and Tauriel is a dab hand at hunting, tracking, and finding water. Her mare seems to find her rider little burden, and Kíli swears her cheeks grow pink and eyes sparkle as they never have despite eschewing sleep. She takes every night watch, both early and late shifts, and yet does not drowse or falter during the day as they journey westward. Most of them accept (and appreciate) this “Elvish trick”, but Kíli worries.
“Why don’t you sleep through the first watch tonight? We have always rotated night watches and surely you could use the rest. I can easily stand watch with Oin or you can wake me to do the second half with Dwalin,” Kíli offers. They’re eating their evening meal of cram and the prairie hen she had shot, sitting a little apart from the others gathered around the campfire.
She smiles, turning her gaze from the stars on the horizon to him. “But you have watch tomorrow, and should not lose sleep two nights in a row. Whereas starlight and sunlight can sustain an Elf almost indefinitely. I have the keenest senses among us, especially in the dark. And I was the one who suggested this course-- I would do my best to keep us safe while we are on it.”
Kíli touches her shoulder. “Even the finest swords sometimes need sharpening. We all agreed to this course, and you have more than done your part.”
She curls her fingers around his lightly. “I can sleep once we reach our destination. Do not fret. I am far from weary. Such wonders we behold every day, Kíli! I have never seen some of the plants and animals save for illustrations in books. And to be here with you under different stars is wish turned truth-- I would savor every moment. Even if we must also remain alert for Orcs and Trolls,” she adds, eyes bright with humor.
“Well, I’ve never seen anybody get as excited over humble prairie gophers. Or mere tumbleweed,” he chuckles.
She slants him a look, smiling to show she doesn’t mind the teasing. Away from Erebor things are so much simpler: no politics or pressing demands beyond searching for the next place to water their mounts or make camp. They’ve both been reveling in the freedom to enjoy each other’s company, riding side-by-side and sharing experiences and stories.
And that smoldering something that sometimes ignites in her eyes when she looks at him is both encouraging and maddening.
There’s no real privacy when traveling with others, which has never bothered Kili until now. Indeed, his friends had worried over her womanly sensibilities when he’d announced that he’d invited her along. But she takes care of her needs quickly and discreetly, and she’s matter of fact about turning around or walking a short distance away if a bit of privacy is needed.
Still, there are some things he’d rather try away from the eyes and ears of his kin.
So he contents himself with bringing her wildflowers and grinning when she braids them into her hair. Enjoys feeling her hand brush against his or simply sitting together at meals and making her laugh.
And he looks forward to night watch rather more than he ever has. Some chances are worth missing sleep for.
“Gundabad’s shadow seems even longer at night. I will feel easier when we have left these parts,” she says, scanning the mountains looming in the north.
“You’re thinking of him again.”
She regards him in surprise, and he shrugs. “Your eyes reflect your sadness.”
She hesitates before explaining. “This was as far as we came together. Legolas is strong and fast --he taught me much of what I know-- but even the greatest warrior can be slain. Especially when alone and unaided. And he departed to the North. I cannot help but worry.”
Kíli studies the guilt on her face, troubled. He suspects the pretty prince had more than friendship in mind, or he would never have left Tauriel alone among dwarves and men.
But there’s no chance to offer her comfort-- they both turn as Óin approaches.
“You should sleep, Kíli. Nights are short enough in this season. Tauriel, shall we?”
She nods, standing. Watches with Óin are the least awkward-- they know each other well enough to chat easily while the others sleep.
But tonight Óin fidgets endlessly with his ear trumpet and squints off into the distance until Kíli seems to be asleep. “Tauriel. Those of us in the company have been feeling… a little uneasy. We’ve noticed certain things. And I thought it best to bring them up with you directly: are you aware of Dwarvish courting customs?”
Her eyes widen. “…You speak of Kili’s gifts.”
Óin exhales heavily. “So. He has informed you of his intentions.”
Tauriel smiles faintly. “No, but I had surmised as much. Elves have similar customs, but we usually offer songs or poetry. Dwarves seem to prefer something more tangible. I have yet to find anything that suits him”
Óin waves a hand dismissively. “Males court females, not the other way around. I was not sure that you welcomed his court?”
She stills, dismayed. “You do not approve.”
Óin lifts his brows. “You know well how different our ways are-- we often speak on that very topic.”
“Different yes, but not insurmountably so. I am not the first Elf to count Dwarves and Men among my friends, nor do I expect to be the last.” She had not expected his objections. Sigrid, Bard and Tilda wholly support their relationship, and even Dain had urged Kíli to ask her to dance at the farewell feast.
“Friendship is not what we speak of though, Tauriel. And you yourself told me Elves have lived apart from mortals since the First Age. What you and Kíli are doing feels strange. Unnatural. And I worry for both of you. Tell me you will think this over carefully. We all know how reckless stubborn Kíli can be. And some of our kin will not take kindly to even an Elf-friend, nonetheless an Elf-queen. Surely nipping this messy business in the bud will prevent a bad end.”
He meets her eyes insistently until she swallows and nods, looking away.
It’s disturbing to hear an echo of Legolas’ words after so many months.
But despite the warnings, she can hardly turn away from Kíli the next morning. They’re a small group and they all have their preferred traveling companions. It’s natural for the two of them to ride out first: she has the keenest eyes and fastest mount, and he is not only eager to move forward and fearless, but also their king and leader. Ori, Gloin and Bofur follow, spiritedly debating issues like ideal amounts of malt in ale and which Longbeard was actually the greatest warrior, and Óin, Bifur and Dwalin guard the rear in mostly companionable silence.
Besides, it’s hard to resist Kili’s warm and fascinating company when they both yearn to be closer; when there are finally fewer restrictions and responsibilities keeping them apart. And despite another night of careful consideration, she believes what had spurred her to leave the realm, to abandon even Legolas and defy her king has only grown the stronger.
Surely if even those from the Iron Hills can learn to accept her, those who love him can do so as well.
They have the relative privacy of a shared watch tonight. And she knows Kíli well enough to see that he is anticipating those hours as keenly as she is.
So she avoids Oin’s searching looks as they sit a short distance from where the others are stretching out to sleep. But she doesn’t really relax until she hears his snores join the chorus, sighing and smiling up at the sky. The cloud cover from earlier has cleared and there are unfamiliar stars wheeling into view.
“I still prefer cloudy nights when traveling. Clear ones are cold,” Kíli says, staring up into the night.
“But the stars are so beautiful,” she objects.
“Well, you know, I don’t usually see much when I’m sleeping,” he counters, chuckling, and she laughs softly, brushing her hand against his.
Her cheeks flush when he takes it, and she squeezes. “You feel warm enough, anyway.”
“Ah, my heart’s on fire. Keeps the rest of me toasty,” he says easily, edging closer. And when she turns to him with a shy smile at that declaration, he cups her cheek and searches her eyes.
And seeing the longing mirrored there, he raises himself to press his lips to hers, questing, tasting for a long moment.
Everything else seems to perish in the heat of that contact.
Every inch of her skin feels flushed when he pulls back, and she’s intensely aware of his scent, the taste of him still on her lips and then of the way she’s unconsciously grabbed a handful of his clothing to pull him closer. “How you make me burn,” she gasps.
He laughs softly in triumph before he kisses her again, and they both revel in the heady pleasure of it for the next few minutes. She notes hazily the way his facial hair feels against her skin; that both their pulses are racing; that their mouths fit perfectly together no matter what anybody thinks. And he thinks quite plainly that this far surpasses any of his fantasies, staggered by the ardor she’s kept banked behind all that patient Elvish restraint.
The watch passes too quickly. He wishes that she were a little less disciplined-- she breaks off the kissing so they can catch their breath and talk instead; trying to pay proper attention to the task they’re expected to perform. And he cooperates reluctantly—there could be Orcs or Goblins out there in the dark waiting for an opportunity to strike, but he’d still rather kiss her again.
He can tell she’s still rather affected as they chat and keep an eye out for movement in the darkness. She keeps her hand in his and they sit closer than they had, her eyes straying to his lips in a way that makes him grin.
It’s not difficult to persuade her into a few more kisses in the hours before his shift is over. But all too soon she sends him off to wake Ori after one last, lingering kiss.
As he stretches out on the ground next to the others, feeling a curious mixture of buoyancy and fatigue, his first impulsive thought is of a need to tell Fíli.
And then he remembers and has to swallow against the ache in his chest. So he turns to watch Tauriel serenely apprise Ori of the quiet conditions as the scribe scratches and yawns, nodding sleepily.
And he falls asleep smiling anyway.