The English term 'babe in the woods' has little to do with its literal meaning, but instead refers to a person of innocence or inexperience. I thought up the title about a month after I came up with this idea, so the two are not linked in that way.
Babe in the Woods
He was burning with fever and barely alive when Fíli saw him for the very first time, slumped against an old oak tree in the meadow.
Fíli dropped to his knees in front of the young dwarf, taking in the sight of his long, mangled dark hair, his skin a deathly white. His eyes were closed, his lips nearly colorless. The boy's clothes were torn and old – a thin tunic that was a bit too big for him, trousers that were dirty beyond wash, and – was that blood?
Fíli's eyes widened as he saw the cloth on his right leg, just above his knee, soaked through with dark blood. He could tell that the little one had tried to bind it, but it had been a poor job done. He must have been in a hurry. A bow of apparent old age lay by his side, and a quiver with a mere four arrows was slung across his shoulder.
Fíli began to search for any sign of life; he pushed back locks of thick hair and pressed two fingers against the nape of his neck.
He felt nothing.
"No..." He whispered hoarsely. "You can't be..."
He pulled his hand from his neck and leaned his head to his chest, his ear pressing tightly right above his heart.
Then he heard it.
The pulse was there – too weak – but still there. The boy was alive, but only barely. He needed medical attention.
A faint cough made him look back to the child, and Fíli saw his dark lashes flutter as he opened his eyes slowly.
Fíli spoke very softly, "My name is Fíli. I'm going to get you to safety, alright...?"
A soft sound emitted from the boy as he tried to sit up, but Fíli rested his hand on his shoulder. "I'm going to take you back to my home."
With that, Fíli gently lifted him into his arms, and the child's eyes widened slightly as he clutched onto Fíli's jerkin with a grip so weak that Fíli could have easily brushed it away. He saw as his dark eyes slid closed from exhaustion and sickness. His head rested too limply against Fíli's chest as Fíli began a quick stride, careful not to cause any discomfort to the frail, little one in his arms.
"What's your name?" Fíli asked him, glancing down uneasily at the silence that followed. He didn't move, but Fíli could have sworn he saw his fingers curl around the fur of his jerkin a little tighter. Fíli continued quietly, "My uncle knows the best doctor in the village. He'll look you over and you'll be feeling better in no time at all."
Fíli held him a bit closer – who was he trying to convince?
The boy's head fell back as his eyes closed, a soft moan slipping from his lips. Fíli felt a course of panic run through his body. Was it the fever?
The boy's body tensed and trembled as he drifted in and out of delirium, and without breaking pace, Fíli used his hand to keep his head elevated, holding him like a babe. Suddenly the child screamed, his muscles contracting as he lunged for something invisible. Fíli held him down, keeping one hand pressed tightly against his chest.
He's not going to make it in this state...
Fíli felt the sting of unfallen tears, but he clenched his teeth and began to run as fast as he possibly could, the boy sobbing brokenly in his arms.
His house seemed a million miles away as he sprinted, but he dared not to stop. He whispered prayers and pleas to any god that was willing to listen.
Please, please, save him...
Fíli's breath was ragged and rough as he finally, finally arrived. He kicked the front door open with heavy boots, and his mother nearly cried out with surprise when he burst through the house. His uncle rose to his feet immediately, his usual stoic face one of shock. "Fíli, what is the meaning of this?"
"He needs help!" Fíli shouted, "Please, get Óin!"
His uncle froze, his eyes fixed on the crying black-haired boy.
"Now!" Fíli screamed, and his mother nodded quickly before hurrying out of the house.
"Who is he?" His uncle whispered as Fíli knelt to lay the boy down at the leather couch. Every inch of the child's skin was coated in a sheen of sweat, and Fíli set to shredding the shirt from his chest with a knife he produced from his collection he kept on his person at all times. The younger panted heavily, his hand clutched over his heart. Fearful he would tear skin, Fíli took his hand with his own, holding tightly.
"I don't know." Fíli glanced up at his uncle, struggling to find his words. "I just found him... I-I went hunting two miles out, and.. he... I-I found him in this state."
Dís returned with Óin just moment later, and Fíli stumbled to his feet to make room for the doctor as he set to quickly looking over the child. Tears fell from Fíli's eyes and down his cheeks as he watched helplessly, and he felt his mother's gentle embrace.
"Fíli, you did the right thing." She told him softly, a comforting hand resting against his hair.
"It doesn't matter," Fíli choked out, his hands shaking as he desperately tried wiping his eyes. "H-he's not going to survive... o-oh, mum, I swear, I got here as fast I could... h-he was crying, he couldn't breathe..."
Fíli broke down sobbing and Dís held him close. She rubbed his back slowly, saying quietly, "I know you did everything you could, my darling. This is not your fault, do you understand?"
Fíli did not respond, and Dís pulled away to match his gaze. "Understand?" She repeated herself, her gaze gentle but expectant. Fíli managed a weak nod. "I-I understand..."
The sobs and cries from the boy had gradually died down, and Fíli struggled to look at him. His eyes half-lidded eyes focused on nothing, his chest heaved with every breath he fought for. He was barely clinging to life.
Fíli had never felt more useless in his entire life as he watched Óin hurriedly open his leather pouch of supplies and tonics. Using a steel knife, he carefully sliced the binding that was wrapped tightly over his leg. The child cried out as he pulled it away, and Fíli nearly felt his heart stop.
"You fool, you let it get infected." Fíli breathed, his eyes fixed on the wound. It was a shredded gash, and he felt sick to his stomach when he saw the white of bone beneath broken, flaking flesh. The entire area was an angry red-raw color, and his veins were darkened.
"Arrow." Óin murmured, his eyes narrowing as he reached for a different tool – what looked to be a pair of especially thin pliers. "Drenched in poison, by the looks of it."
Fíli's hands shook with fear. "W-what sort of poison?"
"Can't tell yet. By the looks of it, the lad tried to pull out the arrowhead on his own, but pieces broke off and are still left in his leg."
Óin looked wearily to my uncle. "This was no hunting accident, Thorin. He was attacked."
"By orc?" Thorin demanded, taking a step forward.
Fíli felt a cold tremor run through his body. 'What if we were followed?'
"It could have been anything." Óin admitted, taking a bottle of chalky, dry substance from his pouch. "But these shards need to be removed. I see about three."
The child gasped loudly and tried sitting up. Thorin shoved his shoulders down again, and he choked out as his back collided with the couch again. He sputtered out a weak cough, then another one, before he was nearly retching with violent coughs as they racked his body.
Fíli couldn't watch. He hurried out of the room and out the front door, the door slamming shut behind him. He nearly collapsed against the ground as he stumbled against the door, and he slid to his knees. He pressed his palms against his ears tightly, his eyes shutting. He couldn't listen to the screams and sobs of complete agony any longer, he couldn't witness the child in such pain.
He's not going to make it, the words rang through his head. He's going to die. What were you thinking, bringing him here?
Fíli lost track of how long he was outside. The sun had dipped beneath the mountain range, and a night chill was beginning to set in. He hesitantly lowered his hands, stiff with disuse, and slowly rose to his feet. The house was quiet, and he pushed the door open and stepped inside.
The house smelled sweet of freshly-lit candles, and he could hear his heart pounding in his chest as he dared to hope. There was a quiet murmur coming from inside the living room, and he quietly walked in.
Óin had one hand rested over the boy's forehead while the other measured his pulse through his wrist. Thorin was completing a new bandage around his leg, which had been thoroughly cleansed. Fíli spotted the little one's belongings, such as his quiver, leather wristband and a thin gold necklace, in a neat pile at the foot of the couch. His mother's eyes softened as Fíli stepped into the room but lingered in the doorway, and she crossed the room to meet him.
"Everything's alright," She whispered, touching his cheek gently. "Óin says he will pull through."
Fíli felt limp with relief, and Dís pulled him into a gentle hug. "I'm so proud of you... You saved his life."
"No, I didn't." Fíli mumbled, slowly pulling away. "Óin did."
"Just doin' my job, my lad." Came the chuckle from the older dwarf as he stood up. He shook his arm lightly, and Fíli gave a weak grin and turned to see the boy.
"Is he sleeping now...?" Fíli asked Óin hesitantly, but he shook his head. "'fraid not. The poor boy's unconscious; fell under when I was removing the last piece of the arrowhead."
Óin tapped the edge of the end-table that had been moved over to the couch for his convenience, where three broken shards lay. Fíli shuddered to think of such a lethal thing being embedded into flesh.
Only Thorin hadn't moved. His eyes were narrow as he seemed to study the child.
Fíli frowned. "What is it, Thorin?"
"... Nothing." He turned away from him and matched his gaze. "But when he awakens, he needs to be questioned. I want to know where he came from, and what he was doing in our land."
"Can we not just give him some peace?" To Fíli's surprise, Dís had spoke up. She looked to Thorin sternly. "Could you possible imagine what he had gone through? Save the interrogation for once he's feeling well enough."
"That's not for you to decide," Thorin answered rather irritably.
"Nor is it for you." Dís snapped, her arms crossing over her chest. "Let us just focus on his health for now."
Fíli was silent – he didn't want to intrude on an argument he had no cause to join in.
"We shall see." Was Thorin's gruff and final answer, and he left the room.
"Thank you," Fíli said quietly to his mother, glancing up at her. She nodded briskly, then said, "We'll need to set up a place for him to sleep. It's not a good idea to keep him on the couch-"
"He can use my bed." Fíli interrupted. Dís raised an eyebrow. "And where will you sleep?"
"... I don't know. On the floor."
Dís chuckled softly, and shook her head. "Very well, Fíli." She kissed his forehead, then murmured, "He's in your hands now. Take good care of him."
"I will, mum." He promised, feeling as if a weight of a hundred pounds being lifted from his shoulders. His attention turned suddenly to a white cloth that lay on the ground, and he knelt to pick it up.
"What's this...?" He turned the rag in his hand, swallowing when he saw a thin line of blood stained into it.
"He nearly bit out his tongue when Óin was working," Dís gently took the cloth from his hand. "It was to keep him from causing further damage."
"I see." Fíli whispered. He took a deep breath, trying to calm his racing heartbeat.
'It's okay,' He reminded himself. 'Óin said he would live... he's going to be fine...'
Dís quietly left the room, leaving Fíli alone with the stranger and his own swarming thoughts.
'Who is he? What's his name? What was he doing in the middle of nowhere? Do his parents know where he is? Does he have parents?'
"I'm sorry, little one." Fíli said softly, touching the boy's warm cheek. "But you will have just a couple of questions to answer tomorrow."
Lifting him into his arms once more, Fíli was grateful that he no longer burned with quite a fever. Granted, he could still feel it lingering in his body, but he knew it was much weaker than that of just hours ago.
With ease, Fíli carried him upstairs and through a short hallway to his own bedroom. Every so gently, he laid him down at his bed and took the warmest, thickest blanket he found in his wardrobe and carefully draped it over his lithe form, mindful of his injured leg.
Fíli hesitantly pressed his palm against the boy's forehead, and closed his eyes when he felt the coolness.
"Thank Mahal..." He whispered, withdrawing his hand. He took a step back and slumped against the wall of, running a hand over his face tiredly. He slowly sat down, leaning his head back and reluctantly closed his eyes.
His head was racing, thoughts jumbled together so tightly he could hardly make sense of a single one of them. What would happen tomorrow? What would Thorin say to the explanation the boy would give? Would the child be soft-spoken and respectful, or would he be aggressive and immediately try to leave?
Fíli shifted slowly to lay on his side, feeling his head beginning to pound dully with emotional and physical exhaustion.
Only the sunrise of tomorrow would give the answer to his endless number of questions.