Of Greatest Value


"Dogs" Beware of Safety

True to Kili's word to meet Rothel within the week, he and Tauriel arrived at the elven encampment just outside of the ruins of Laketown. Kili was startled to realize that they were making use of the remnants of what useable material was left from the floating city, even setting up tarps along the tops of the wooden structures. Something about it didn't seem right to Kili and Tauriel's voice broke through his thoughts to agree with his silent unease.

"This is a strange location for refugees." She said, raising her brow as they stood before the bridge leading to the still-floating, but ragged buildings of Laketown. Wrinkling her nose at the elves who stood guard at the other end of the bridge, Tauriel looked down at Kili. "I don't like this."

Kili felt a pang of pity for the elves that chose to live in these conditions, but he sensed that Tauriel did not share in this sentiment—rather, she seemed suspicious of something.

"Do you think they mean to trap us?" Kili asked, fingers unconsciously twitching toward the handle of his sword.

"I'm not sure." The elf's eyes flickered to the inland trees at their backs. Taking a step away from the bridge and turning around suddenly to address the greenery behind them them, she announced, "We were invited to speak with your leader, Rothel. Please take us to him quickly, as we do not wish to be delayed further."

"You may not approach Rothel so armed." A male voice called back as a dark, elven figure stepped out of the shadows. "Leave your weapons here and you may cross the bridge."

As if on cue, several elves appeared from the shadows and Kili took a step backward, assessing their numbers. It would be useless to resist so many, he mused, but Tauriel did not look so swayed. She merely glared at the dark-haired speaker who approached them.

"Anor." Tauriel nodded in familiarity, but she did not look happy to see this black-haired, dark-skinned male. "We will not be unarmed. If Rothel takes issue with this, then we will be on our way."

That chin, Kili laughed inwardly at Anor, could cut through stone.

"I see you have learned something of dwarven impatience and stubbornness." Anor raised an eyebrow at her.

Kili snorted. "Those were never things she had to learn."

If Tauriel was offended by the humorous jab, she didn't show it, but eyed Anor warily.

"We do not disarm you for Rothel's sake, but in protection of something greater." Anor replied without explaining what he meant. Oh joy, the mysterious demeanor of elves, Kili thought with a roll of his eyes.

Tauriel sighed in exasperation. "If you mean to make us defenseless—"

"Peace, Anor." An aged voice came from behind them. Kili and Tauriel turned to see that another elf was strolling across the bridge toward them. His hair was pure white, bound by a single braid, and his skin was darkened by the sun, a strange transition from his bound, shimmering locks. The elf's blue eyes looked to be glowing with some tranquil nature which immediately convinced Kili he was no threat. "Lest you ward off our prospects too soon."

Prospects? Kili could feel his irritability growing. "Is there something wrong with speaking plainly to each other? Why do elves persist with riddles and mysteries? We could have chosen not to come at all, and yet we are treated like—"

But Kili was further confounded when Tauriel took a step forward and threw her arms around the newcomer with a smile. The only response the confused dwarf could muster was a raising of his brow. Hadn't she explained that touch was something not easily given by elves? Something that was only afforded to immediate family or spouses?

"Rothel," Tauriel grinned warmly as she pulled away from the white-haired elf. "I thought it could not be you, but a namesake which summoned us."

Rothel laughed, a deep, throaty sound that made Kili think of his uncle. "There is much to say, and you have said that you do not wish to be delayed," The elf put a hand on her shoulder. "In truth, it is my intention to see you on your way as soon as can be managed. But here," He waved his arm at the numerous archers in the trees. "We need not speak so carefully guarded. We are friends, here, and on neutral land."

"And why is neutral land necessary for what you have to say?" Kili asked impetuously, stepping closer to his elven beloved.

Rothel looked down at Kili, but it was obvious that this was due to height and not condescension. "He is a good match for you." The elven elder's eyes twinkled as he assessed the dwarf. "Please, walk with me a ways. We will speak as we go."

Coming in-step beside Tauriel, Kili did his best to press against his frustration and listen with an objective ear, something he could almost hear Fili laughing at him for. Being objective wasn't something Kili had mastered quite yet.

"Why do you occupy what is left of Laketown?" Tauriel asked.

"We have permission from the good King Bard." Rothel answered simply, hands clasped behind his back as they all strode together around the lake. "We have something of an alliance with him."

"If he is your ally, why not house in Dale?" Kili wondered aloud.

"There are too many eyes," Rothel shook his head. "And we had hoped to settle at the east footing of the mountain with the permission of the King of Erebor."

"That seems like an odd place to set up camp." Kili murmured. "Is King Thranduil so hateful to you that you prefer to exile yourself to heaps of stone in a dwarven kingdom?"

A soft wince passed over Rothel's face and he paused for a moment before answering. "Yes."

"Why do you say there are too many eyes?" Tauriel pressed, apparently glossing over the comment concerning her former King. "Do you have something to hide?"

"Yes." Rothel answered plainly, pausing again to consider his words. "We have something of great value that the King would rather was not in our possession." Kili was about to open his mouth, but Rothel lifted up a hand. "No, we did not steal anything. What we guard is rightfully ours, by all the powers of Middle-earth, but… he is loath to see them leave his borders." Rothel gave the dwarf an apologetic look. "We must protect what is ours, and thus we are cautious, you see. For now, we will call them a great treasure, of such value that we would lay down our lives to defend them."

"That still doesn't answer why you would choose a settlement beside the mountain." Kili reminded him, letting go of his curiosity for the moment.

"I forget that it was so very long ago for you," Rothel smiled in memory. "But there was a forest at the base of the mountain before the Great Worm came. There are still buds of life deep within the ground and none are better than elves in resurrecting even the wane green of a burnt forest." Rothel winked. But then he sobered a little, and added almost nervously, "And yet, that land resides within Erebor's territory."

"I see." said Kili. But not really— He didn't understand why they were so intent on staying close enough to Mirkwood not to be counted subjects, but far enough that they were separated from its Lord's rule.

As if sensing Kili's further confusion, Rothel chortled a bit to himself. "All will be explained further, if the King of Erebor is amendable to a treaty with us."

"Forgive me if I sound a bit rude, but I fail to see that you have anything to offer us in return for land and protection." It was rude, Kili admitted, but he could not deny reality—He pitied these people who wanted to start new lives for themselves and he wanted to see them succeed. But new life could crumble under the harshness of the world and Kili only wanted to know that they were prepared for it. And though Rothel persisted in keeping a secret from him, Kili somehow knew that it was no threat. The white-haired elf had a calm and understanding presence that would have made for an excellent father. The dwarf could practically see the patience and caring on the older elf's face and he began to wonder just what his relationship with Tauriel was.

"Erebor's rebuilding efforts will be its primary concern for the next decade or so." Rothel said, almost musically. "For Dale, as well. How long shall both of these good halls and cities survive when they struggle to share what little resources they have between them? Would it do them some good, do you think, if there were a third party involved who might supply them with grain and game?"

"Do you mean to say you will become farmers and hunters?" Tauriel asked incredulously.

Rothel met her gaze and nodded. "I mean exactly that."

"If I Had Known It Was the Last (Second Position)" Codes in the Clouds

Perhaps it wasn't the best of arrivals, but Kili could care less—having been on the road for so long and having come from the lake (which still smelled of char, even after a little more than one year later) on horseback (the steed having been provided by the ever-generous Rothel), Kili was looking forward to a bath and a hot meal. It was difficult to leave Tauriel behind, but she had promised to follow as soon as possible, wanting to speak to her old mentor—as Kili could only assume the older elf was.

A horn sounded above the gate and the doors opened to him as his horse trotted up the path, passing into the coolness and closeness of the mountain's walls. The almost inaudible hum of the stone columns and sturdy floor filled Kili's ears, a sound he hadn't heard since last he'd set foot in Erebor.

"Kili!" He heard to his left, and immediately he was approached by a familiar face. The scuffle of rough boots on smooth stone turned the archer's head as the horse stopped, guards stepping forward to usher the animal to an inner stable when Kili dismounted.

"Bofur!" Kili smiled widely, hands in the air as his friend ran forward. Two dwarf bodies collided together with no amount of grace and Kili couldn't hold back his laughter. "Oh, my friend, I'm so glad to be back!"

"Have ye gotten the wandering out of yer system, then?" Bofur patted his shoulder with strength that might have caused a lesser dwarf to stumble forward. "Your brother's become a downright grump in the last few weeks, waiting for you to make good on what you wrote in your letters."

"Is that why you're down here and not in the mines?" Kili cackled. "He's got you playing look-out for me?"

"Oh, no, not him." Bofur smirked. "That'd be the Lady Nur."

"She sent you down here for me?" Kili raised his brows, but his smile didn't lessen. "What, she couldn't greet me herself?"

"Well, she's, er…" The old miner scratched at his head and looked down bashfully. "I'm sure she wants to, but she's a bit…"

"She's not sick, is she?" Kili's smile lowered into a frown.

"Oh, lad, no!" Bofur laughed again. "She's just a bit—" The dwarf held his arms out around his middle as though carrying something large. "—round, is all."

Kili shook his head and chuckled. "Would it make me sound terrible if I said I'd sort of forgotten?"

"Not much chance of you forgetting for much longer," Bofur winked, putting his arm around Kili's shoulders and guiding him toward a set of stairs. "The lass is fit to burst any day now."

As much as it filled Kili with joy at the thought of his niece or nephew making an appearance so soon, he couldn't help but lower his smile again. "I wish… I wish mum could have been here."

Bofur didn't seem to notice the frown or didn't care, but patted Kili's shoulder and continued to urge him up the stairs. "You're here, lad. That's what matters most to 'em."

"What You Love You Must Love Now" The Six Parts Seven

On quick legs, Kili sped over the stairs, intending to find his quarters and bathe before his brother or sister-by-marriage discovered he was in Erebor, but fate was not in agreement with his objectives. No sooner had he cleared one set of stairs when Nur came bounding down another.

"There you are!" She pointed at him with glee, shuffling her feet down the last steps.

Nur was enormous, Kili realized with widening eyes. He attempted to clasp arms with her, unsure of how to manage an embrace with the pregnant swell of her middle in the way, but the Queen of Erebor seemed determined to give him a hug anyway. Swiveling herself sideways, she managed to twist and grab hold of him with her belly jutting out to the side.

Kili closed his eyes and sank into the hold of her arms. "It's so good to be back."

"Thank Mahal you're home, safe and sound." She said as she pulled away and beamed at him.

Kili knew Nur had caught him when his gaze rested on her pregnant stomach, and it passed through his mind that if he knocked on it with his knuckles, it might sound like the thumping of a melon.

"I can see you looking at it, just go ahead and touch it—everyone else does without permission." Nur sighed with a smile and a shake of her head.

Pulling the glove from his hand, Kili reached out tentatively to her belly. He was startled by how soft it was, like an almost-full wineskin, presuming it would feel more like tough hide. Kili jumped a little when he felt something bump against his hand. Grinning widely, he gently pressed against the thing that had done the nudging and was met with an answering kick, Nur laughing at the two of them.

"I haven't been gone that long, have I?" Kili asked, wondering how the time could have passed so quickly.

"According to your brother, you have," Nur said with a slight clench of her teeth. And that was when Kili realized the clench had nothing to do with her reply to him—she crammed her eyes shut and let out a soft, steady breath, with her hand on her rounded belly.

"Nur?" Kili's eyes went wide, understanding that she was in pain and not knowing what it was supposed to mean. "Oh, Mahal! Do you need a healer? What do you want me to do?"

With eyes still closed, Nur raised a hand to silence him and took another low breath. "Don't panic, it's fine." A few more breaths and her grimace relaxed, eyes opening. "I'm sorry about that. It's been ongoing for two days; the physicians tell me I might have another day or so left…" But Kili's face must have looked panicked. "I promise, Kili, it's fine."

Not realizing he'd been holding a breath in, Kili exhaled and rubbed a tired hand over his face. "I guess I have been gone a while. I didn't expect to be an uncle so soon." He was struck by the irony of the situation when she laid a comforting hand on his shoulder—she was practically in labor and soothing him!

"How are you even walking around? Shouldn't you be on bed rest?" He asked incredulously.

Fixing both of her hands on her hips, Nur raised an eyebrow and tilted her head at him. "Honestly, if you were carrying something around your waist for as long as this and it was almost time to be relieved of it, would you be sitting still?"

"Kili!" He heard his name echo through the hall and turned to see his older brother jogging to them. Grinning widely, he took a few steps forward to clap forearms and touch heads with Fili. Oh, Mahal, the ache of it was catching up with him and Kili finally recognized just how much his heart had been heavy without the presence of his brother.

"It's been too long," Fili murmured when they pulled apart, arms crossed despite his smile.

"Admit it; you were glad to be rid of me for a while." Kili smirked, smacking Fili's shoulder.

Nur let out another breath and grimaced, the two dwarves sparing her a look. "Still fine," she waved them off between breaths. "Keep talking."

"Where is your elven companion?" Fili looked around him.

"Just behind by a few hours," Kili said, watching Nur blow out what looked like a painful breath. He considered telling Fili the truth, but wasn't comfortable with the way Nur was puffing and his brain was becoming foggy. No, better to leave that conversation for later when he had Fili's undivided attention. "Our route to Mirkwood forest isn't as quick as I'd like it to be, so we're having to compensate by charting out different paths." It was an easy lie to make, but something nagged at Kili's brain, telling him that it wasn't quite believeable.

"That could take some time," Fili said, eyes on Kili and seemingly ignoring the breaths of his wife. Was that a knowing glance? Did he sense the lie? But Kili was too distracted by Nur as she gritted her teeth. If this had been his wife, he would have been frantic at her bouts of pain, but he remembered Fili had already endured two days of seeing her that way. "Would it be faster to chart if you had help?"

"Are you offering?" Kili asked, finally taking his gaze from Nur, who was making low groans now. If he was going to waylay Fili, he might as well commit to it. "Because I won't argue if you are."

"Absolutely, I'm offering." Fili said insistently while his wife groaned a little louder. "If it will get you to visit more often." Kili could hear the disapproval in his brother's voice. He could also hear the snap of Nur's teeth as she clenched them together.

"I know you want me to stay here," Kili said, recalling the argument between him and Fili had when Kili had left a year ago. At least in this, he didn't have to lie. "But I'm not ready just yet."

"Lads," Nur said, and Kili supposed it was to stop the upcoming quarrel before it happened.

"I wasn't ready for what got thrust on my shoulders either, Kili," Fili said condescendingly, taking Nur's hand when she reached out to grip him, but not taking his eyes off of his brother. "You know I could use your help."

"You have so much help already," Kili crossed his arms. "Nur, Dul, Dwalin, Balin—need I go on?"

"Lads," Nur heaved.

"Yes, and they all have the same problem—they're not you." Fili grumbled.

"Lads!" Nur cried out. The hand she outstretched to Fili grasped strongly at him. "I think I need to see a medic…" she murmured, just before her legs began to wobble.

There was nothing to hold back Kili's panic now and he saw Fili mimic what he was sure was his own wide-eyed expression.

With more speed, surety, and strength than Kili thought possible, Fili scooped up his wife and cradled her against him, charging for the set of stairs he'd just descended from. And because he was still completely panicked and unsure what to do, Kili followed.

"You don't need to carry me," Nur said through gritted teeth and a moan, though it looked like she wasn't really objecting.

"I think you wandered a bit too far from the infirmary for my comfort, love," Fili uttered sternly up the steps. "What possessed you to walk three levels of stairs while in labor?" Kili could tell that his brother wasn't really angry when he said this, and he knew Nur was aware of it, too, because she grinned up at him.

"It's Kili's fault—they said he was returning and I wanted to greet him."

"My fault? I never asked you to traverse three sets of—"

"I was joking," Nur said, gripping her husband's tunic until her knuckles were white. "I'm sorry, Fili. Next time I won't go farther than two levels of stairs."

Huffing from exertion, though losing no speed, Kili watched his brother turn the corner for the next set of stairs.

"Next time, my dear, you'll not be allowed to leave the royal chambers, let alone a set of stairs." He said, sparing her a smile though Kili could sense his brother's anxiety…

"Branch" Keith Kennif

"Something is weighing on your mind, selde," Rothel said as he crossed his arms in front of him. He looked stern, but Tauriel knew that it was only in concern. She looked out over the rippling waters of the lake and took in a breath, considering how much she might reveal.

"I have been looking for knowledge, gwadar," she confessed with a sigh. "But it has been eluding me for some time."

"A knowledge of what?"

"Do you of the Morghul wound?"

Rothel blinked and his eyes hardened. "Please, tell me, by all the stars, that you have not been grieved by such a wound."

"No, not I," She said with a shake of her head. "Though it… belongs to me."

"I do not know how to heal such things. Tell me, if you are not afflicted by it, then how does it belong to you?" But an understanding filled his face and he nodded at her with a look of sympathy. "The dark-haired Prince of Erebor…"

"It is not mine, but I am afflicted by it all the same." Tauriel said, head bowing under the weight of her concern. "The Lord Elrond of Rivendell was not there when we passed through, but Lindir assured me he would write to the lord and ask him to return. When Kili and I passed through a second time, Elrond failed still to come and no return letter had been written. I had hoped to write again, but…"

"Selde, what is it?" Rothel ducked his head to peer into her face and gripped her shoulder gently.

Tauriel's green eyes came up to meet his and her jaw clenched. "There is something foul on the road between here and the Misty Mountains. I fear that either my letters were never delivered or that something has happened to Lord Elrond."

Fili startled awake when the soft rap of knuckles sounded on his study-room door. "Yes?" Arms crossed while he slumped in the chair behind his desk, Fili realized he'd dozed off… again. The knocker stepped into the private study while Fili rose on his feet and rubbed his tired face. It had been three days since the birth of his daughter, but already he was feeling the effects of lost sleep.

"Should I bring you a blanket?" Kili smirked with that lopsided smile Fili had missed so much. It suddenly struck Fili that no matter how many times he'd been in this room in the past year, this was the first time Kili had stepped into it. Perhaps due to sleep-deprivation, a long year without his brother, or any of the other stresses of duty, Fili was overwhelmed with the sudden urge to embrace his brother. Striding across the room in as few as three steps, he threw his arms around the younger dwarf's frame and held tight.

"Mahal, I've missed you." He sighed, pressing his forehead against Kili's.

The brunet was silent, but his mouth quivered into a smile, hands gripping Fili's shoulders tightly. "I'm sorry I took so long in coming back."

"Why did you lie to me about the path to Mirkwood?" Fili uttered, piercing his brother's brown eyes with his blue ones.

Kili shifted and inched away, frowning and shaking his head. "It wasn't time to talk about it, yet."

The King of Erebor fixed his brother with a knowing smile. "That was as pathetic a tale as ever I'd heard. I can't fault your intentions if you meant to put off a discussion until later, but don't you think I would have learned about your termination as emissary to Mirkwood by now?"

Fili could almost see the click in his brother's head.

"Oh, Mahal," He almost face-palmed. "You didn't think about that, did you?"

"Nur was in labor!" Kili threw up his hands in frustration. "I thought I'd have to deliver your child on those marble steps myself! I was just a tad distracted to think properly."

"Well, next time just tell me 'not now'."

"That's never worked in the past," Kili snorted.

"You're still dodging my question. Out with it."

As if on cue, the door clicked and Tauriel appeared in the doorway. She took in the faces of the brothers and made a tentative movement to close the door. "I'm sorry if I interrupted, but you said—"

"You're not interrupting, you're right on time." Fili waved her forward, moving to sit behind his desk as the two of them sat in chairs before it. "You've obviously got a long story to tell."

"Not long," Kili exhaled, crossing his legs and propping his elbows lazily against the arms of the wooden chair. "But it is confusing."

Fili listened while his brother gave an account of their meeting with the young elf in the forest, followed by a detailed dialogue between himself and Rothel when they'd come to the debris at Laketown.

"And how does King Thranduil feel about their leaving?" Fili said as evenly as he was able. His relationship with the elven-king was rocky, at best, but he was always looking for an opportunity to improve it.

"They have permission." Tauriel answered from her chair, which was obviously shorter than it should have been for someone her height, but she showed no signs of discomfort. "In effect, he has disowned them and doesn't care where they go."

"They're wary," Kili added, clasping his hands together in his lap. "Because they say they carry a 'treasure' Thranduil would rather they didn't take away, though they assure us it is rightfully theirs."

"Their leader, Rothel, is an old friend," Tauriel said. "But he would not even tell me what this treasure is. I have a guess, but not a confident one."

Leaning forward in his chair and resting his elbows on his desk, Fili nodded. "Your guess is better than ours."

"It may have something to do with Thranduil's libraries." Tauriel voiced hesitantly. "Not in the sense of a physical archive, but perhaps in its keepers." The elf paused for a moment, obviously wondering if the dwarves understood what she was saying. "The keepers of knowledge have been alive for many centuries and would be invaluable to Thranduil. But if they chose to leave, he wouldn't be able to stop them."

"It's a theory." Fili nodded. "Do they intend to share their secret with us eventually?"

"Rothel prefers that we make them an offer of goodwill, first," Tauriel answered.

An exhale of exasperation left Fili's nose and he cupped his hands together under his chin. "I can't deny that this would work for us. For Erebor and for Dale. We survived the last winter, but just barely. It doesn't matter how much coin we have, the grain sellers can only supply us with what limited stock they can bring up from their damaged fields. And if elves can't coax a good crop from the land, then who can? And Dale becomes empty as more venture out to find fertile soil capable of being tended, but those left in the city become more and more indebted to us."

Fili glared at his desk. "I don't mind helping them, but I'd like to see Bard's people back on their feet again, as prosperous as their city was in the stories uncle told us." Sitting back in his chair, Fili looked from his brother to his brother's beloved, taking in their expressions as though reading what their thoughts were on the matter. "I can't promise anything until I speak to the councilers, but if you'll bring Rothel here tomorrow, to Erebor, I'll speak with him."

He half-expected Tauriel to jump to her feet and thank him, but to her credit, the elf stayed in her seat and kept her response to a creeping smile.

Fili sat in the chair behind his desk, much like the day before, though now he played host to small company of elves. Having made introductions and ushered them into chairs—larger than the ones dwarves were accustomed to, in an effort to make their guests more comfortable—the dwarf King listened to the fatherly Rothel speak.

"I'm sure your brother has explained our thoughts," The white-haired elf began, "and I would gladly answer any questions you have."

"Perhaps you should start by explaining why you appealed to my brother before appealing to me." Fili prompted.

The elder elf shifted in his seat—a display of nerves which Fili had never seen in any of the elves he'd come across, so composed was their appearance that he would have thought they always had an answer for everything.

"We were uncertain if you were quite as reasonable as your predecessor." A dark-haired elf said from where he stood behind Rothel's chair.

Holding back his start at such an honest answer, Fili blinked for a moment. "Do you mean Thorin Oakenshield?"

"You'll have to forgive my son, Anor," Rothel tilted his head to look up at the dark-haired elf before returning his glance to the dwarf King. "But it is a fair assessment when we risk making agreements with the heir to a dwarf who started a war."

"I don't disagree with you," Fili said with honesty, waving away any offense he might have felt. "But that was as concise and truthful an answer as ever I have heard from a race who speaks primarily in riddles."

Rothel nodded. "I will stick to the truth as much as I am able, but you must understand: our secrets are for your protection and ours. I cannot reveal the entirety of it until we have a working agreement."

Fili leaned forward to rest his elbows on his desk, hands clasped before him as he narrowed his eyes at the elf. "I'm sure you can understand how that sounds. You want me to take you at your word, but you won't share that trust with me until I've granted you your petition. Master Rothel, if our roles were reversed, would your advisors council you to take such an offer?"

"No," Rothel laughed. Fili was amused by his reaction and couldn't help but smile as Rothel added, "I'd call you a fool to accept such at the hands of former enemies." And then Rothel sobered with a smile that looked more sorrowful than joyful. "I understand you delivered your first child a few days ago. I believe congratulations are in order."

"My thanks." Fili tilted his head slightly, wondering how such a transition had come over the old elf.

"She is only a few days old and yet I'll wager you would do anything for her."

Fili cocked an eyebrow. "I would," He answered hesitantly. Where was Rothel going with this?

"And if someone were to try and steal her away?" Rothel said slowly.

Deep from within an unknown cavern in Fili's chest, a fire erupted. The blaze worked through his lungs until the furnace of his temper had been aroused, much quicker than normal. Was the elf implying something? Was it a threat?

"Peace," Rothel held up a hand when he saw the dwarf King's reaction. "I did not mean to anger you so. But your response is much the same as ours—and this is the heart of the matter. We cannot know who to trust for fear of putting in danger that which we value most."

Fili couldn't hold back a snort. "This thing that you value cannot be as important to you as dwarrows are to us, so I fail to see the comparison."

"Do you?" Rothel looked as though he were expecting Fili to catch on to something. But Fili came up short.

"This is why relations are so shaky with elves," He grimaced. "I wish you would come out and say exactly what you mean, instead of buying land from me with veiled answers and cloaked intentions."

There was no answer from the elf who sat across from him, but Rothel stared at him in such a way that Fili felt he was being pierced into his very soul. The elf's gaze was like hand shifting through papers, looking for information and discarding the rest. It unsettled him, but he felt that the old father was searching for a reason to trust him implicitly.

"It is not the same with dwarves as it is with elves," Rothel began slowly, and normally where Fili would have been irked at this stating of the obvious, now he understood that Rothel was beginning to unveil something. "It is difficult for us to conceive, and even more so when a century-old prospect fatherling has become accustomed to living alone, with no desire to rear anything but his own ambitions. Offspring are cherished, then, because they are so rare. Tell me, my Lord, what happens to a dwarrow when the mother and father have died."

Fili felt his shoulders tensing up, but he answered anyway. "We do what we can do find an adoptive family."

"How do you determine which family that will be?"

"Bloodlines. And if there are none, we find the most willing and suitable candidates." Fili quirked a brow. "Is it not the same for elves?"

"No," Rothel shook his head with remorse. "We are bound by laws of territory rather than blood."

Fili blinked. "You'll have to explain."

"If an elven child is visiting a realm other than the one he was born into and his family is killed, the legal guardianship falls to the ruler of that realm. Just as it was for Tauriel."

Fili blinked again. "She mentioned she wasn't born in Mirkwood, I had wondered…" But then his voice trailed off as his mind began to pick up the pieces. "Are you trying to tell me you have elven youths with you?"

Rothel looked torn between relief and dismay. "Yes."

"I still don't understand—why all the secrecy? How is it that you're protecting your youth when you've given up service to King Thranduil?"

"I told Prince Kili that we have taken what is ours, but I didn't say that the King knew about it." Rothel said with a small amount of guilt. "Unless we are situated on a plot of land and established as our own governors, Thranduil can still call our children his subjects."

"I do hope you're joking," Fili searched the older man's eyes. "Oh, Mahal, you're not. That's why you refused to go to Dale—if word got out that you had elven children with you, King Thranduil might come for them."

The dismay was loosened from Rothel's face and pure relief took its place. "I surprise myself—but my heart his lighter in telling you of this. I had not anticipated that."

"King Thranduil will be very angry with me if I give you what you've asked for."

"You are only selling land and making a trade agreement." Rothel shrugged. "It is us the King's anger will rest with. And none that he can act on, as we will be within your jurisdiction."

"Why here? Why at the side of the mountain? That ground is charred beyond use."

"It's proximity is such that those who could not come with us are still nearby and may visit their loved ones. You cannot fault us for being sentimental."

"No, but I can fault you for a story meant to play on my emotions as a father, when in reality you seek to find a way into the mountain under our noses." Fili leveled his gaze at the older elf.

"I understand." Rothel nodded, sitting back in his chair, but looking no less confident. "You must look at it through all eyes: King, Commander, Economist… but if you doubt my story, then speak to Tauriel about it. I withheld it from her before because it was your privilege as King to hear it first."

"Are these your quarters?" Tauriel said, stopping before the thick chamber door and glancing sideways at her beloved.

Kili nodded with a chortle. "I forgot—the last time we were here, I got to see yours, but you never ventured into mine."

"I don't see that it makes any difference." She said, taking in a small breath and blowing it out.

Kili looked at her quizzically with a touch of amusement and smiled. "Apparently, it does. Tell me what you're thinking."

Tauriel shrugged, but she knew Kili would see past it. "It shouldn't matter so much," She huffed in aggravation, mostly with herself for feeling so sentimental. "This will be the first home I've known since I left Mirkwood."

"Why wouldn't that be important?" Kili cocked his head at her. "I lived on the road between Ered Luin and the Lonely Mountain for so long that I never thought I'd belong anywhere. I understand."

Though she nodded, relieved that he had something for comparison, but she was still struggling to lift her foot to step into the dwarf's chambers. And because he was her One, Kili appeared to hear her inward battle and decided to fight it for her.

Coming behind her with startling speed and pressing his toe against the heel of her boot, he dislodged her footing and caused her to fall backward, landing in his arms as easily as if she had been his height or shorter. After a shriek of surprise, Tauriel unloosed a giggle, reminding herself that though he was shorter than herself, he was definitely stronger than she was.

"What was that for?" Tauriel said as she tightened her grip around his neck, her legs dangling over his arm as he strode forward through the doorway.

"Well, there's only one way to carry your wife through the threshold." He muttered.

A deep blush filled Tauriel's cheeks like fire and she bit her lip, waiting for him to release her. "All right, duty done—you can set me down now."

His signature mischievous smile crept onto Kili's face and he continued forward until he was able to fling the elf's body onto the enormous mattress at the other end of the room. The four-post bed was large enough to fit several bodies and Tauriel couldn't keep herself from laughter as Kili leapt onto the bed beside her. But as soon as he began to devour her neck, a knock came from the door.

Kili cursed and growled into Tauriel's neck, a new sensation that had her curling her toes, but the knocking became more insistent.

"Kili," Tauriel prompted, trying to push him away from her, but the dwarf's heavy arms continued to pin her down.

"Shh," He held a finger to her lips before replacing it with his own lips. "Maybe they'll go away."

"You'll have to wait until later to christen your new living space," came Fili's voice from the other side of the door. "I need to borrow your wife."

"You can't have her, she's mine." Kili growled at the door, but Tauriel managed to wriggle away from him. The frustrated Kili groaned with his face in the mattress before Tauriel opened the door to admit his brother in.

"What can I help you with, my lord?"

"I, er, need to ask a few personal questions about your childhood." Fili looked apologetic, confusing Tauriel to the point where she backed away warily.

"What about?" She asked slowly.

"You couldn't wait?" Kili moaned, rising from the bed and crossing his arms.

"No, I can't." Fili replied sternly, fixing his brother with a glare that Tauriel didn't understand. But when he turned his face back to Tauriel, his expression became gentle. He seemed to know this was a subject no one broached lightly. "Please, I need to know your customs regarding elf-children."

Adopting the same hardened features she would don for a scuffle, Tauriel steadied herself with a breath. "A parentless child becomes subject to the land which they stand on. If the ruler of that land makes no claim on them, another may step forward to take up guardianship. My family was not subject to Thranduil, but because we were visiting a family friend and because I was so young when orphaned, I automatically belonged to the King of Mirkwood."

A somber atmosphere settled on the room that even Kili's previous playful nature couldn't penetrate. "Why do you need to know that?" He said, almost defensively.

The blond dwarf looked up into Tauriel's eyes and uttered, "Rothel says they're harboring younglings."

Shocked and confused, Tauriel took a step away from him. "Is that what he meant by 'a treasure'."

Fili nodded, but Tauriel's mind couldn't seem to wrap around the information.

"Will he allow us to see for ourselves?" Tauriel murmured.

"I hadn't thought to ask, but do you think that would confirm his story?"

Narrowing her eyes at the much-shorter King, Tauriel hesitantly asked, "Do you doubt him?"

"As an outsider to elven ways," Fili held up a hand, "What he's proposed to me sounds suspicious. How do I know they're not trying to find a way to infiltrate the mountain under the cover of this tall tale? It almost sounds too good to be true—elves that want to farm the land beside the mountain, providing us with food so that we can focus our efforts on rebuilding and on defense from the goblin remnant. And in return, we grant them property rights and protection, as well as a safe haven for their children, who are in something of a political dispute." Taking a step forward, Fili reached up and grasped Tauriel's hand, patting it with his other while he looked up with crystal blue eyes. "I cannot take his word for it. But I can take yours. I trust you, Tauriel, and if you can verify that he is being honest, then there is nothing to stop me from granting them their petition."

"The council?" Kili uttered from where he stood at the foot of the bed.

"I'll deal with them." Fili said without breaking his gaze from Tauriel. "Will you go to Old Laketown and see if these children are truly there?"

Tauriel didn't need to think twice about it and nodded eagerly.

"I'm going with you," Kili said as he came to stand beside her.

Fili released Tauriel's hand and sent his brother a sneer. "You're not going anywhere, I just got you back."

"If it's just a matter of being witness to some elflings, then I don't see why I can't—"

"Kili, no."

The sternness in Fili's voice caught Kili and Tauriel by surprise and immediately she understood why he hadn't offered to come with. "You think it could still be a trap."

Fili's blue eyes darted to hers once more and he nodded. There was no shame in his expression, no regret that she'd seen through his motives. "I need proof and I doubt they'd take captive one of their own." He sighed and rubbed his face, an action he'd done often since Tauriel and Kili's return. "But even if they did, I'd pay a ransom of half our vaults to get you back, lass."

"That's comforting," Kili snorted, glaring at his brother. "But I'm still going. Her fate is mine."

The brothers shared a silent, but tense conversation with their eyes before the both of them nodded and Fili left the chamber with a slam of the door.

Tauriel blew out a breath. "I had forgotten how heated things can get between you two."

Kili, of a singular mind lately, was already pulling her back into his lap on the bed and turning her words around. "The only heat I'm interested in right now is between your body and mine."




Again, I haven't edited this chapter in an effort to get it uploaded as soon as possible (if you find any errors, please let me know!)

You had to wait so long for that chapter that I thought I'd give you twice as long of a chapter. Hopefully everyone understands

what's going on (if you have any questions, please message me:) I'd be happy to answer them!)

The next chapter will be the last one of Stars and Hammers and then we'll begin a new story:

Erebor: The Goblin Wars

What will happen when Sauron's servants emerge from their hiding places and attack Erebor?

Will the straining kingdom survive under pressure from the Dark Lord?

And what will King Fili do when Sauron reveals his most instrumental servant: Prince Kili of Erebor!


Want a Kili and OC humorous parody? Try HOW TO WRECK A MARY SUE

Kili and Danika are tired of being pushed around in fan fiction stories and make a pact to defy writer's prompts, but do they have any idea what will happen if they don't play by the rules? Guest appearances from Luna Lovegood, The Doctor, Sherlock, and others!


Want some Fili/OC romance/adventure? Try GOLD AND FIRE

Fili and Princess Nur of the Iron Hills marry in secret just before he leaves for Erebor, but what is a lonely wife to do while her husband is braving life and death for their future? Covers the Battle of Five Armies and afterward. Explanations for some of the actions within the movies as well as some behind the scenes! A sequel to GEMS AND POISON- the first big adventure of Fili and Kili!


Want some Thorin/OC romance/angst?TryJEWELS AND DAGGERS

Just as Thorin becomes engaged to be married, the dragon attacks Erebor and all is thrown into chaos! Men with wicked intent take captive some of the wandering dwarves- will Thorin, Frerin, and Dwalin be able to rescue the enslaved dwarves, including Runa, Thorin's beloved?