Expanded Summary: It's five years after the Great Battles of Gondor and Mordor. Sauron has been defeated, but far away from those places, a young man named Kilian has been left in a small town in the middle of nowhere, terribly injured, and with no memory of who he is or how he'd arrived there. Disturbing dreams of loss and love haunt him and he goes on a journey through Middle Earth, searching for his lost life. On the way, he finds more than he expected, including an angry and nearly faded elf maid.
Note/spoiler: the first couple of chapters may hint at Kili/OC. Do not panic. She's not horrible and not all that major of a character, but totally necessary for the purpose of prompting Kili to figure himself out. He's a bit of a mess. Besides, doesn't every girl crush on him? And it gives an excuse to get his shirt off.
UPDATE: Most chapters have been recently revised. No major changes, just a bit of self-beta work and fixing some continuity issues. Hopefully, it flows more smoothly. Thank you for reading. If interested in doing a beta for future chapters, please PM.
Kili chugged down another ale, feeling in a good mood. It was a good night and he felt like celebrating. The long winter was nearing its end and the small bands of travelers coming into town were a sign that the spring was finally near. He winked at the barmaid, Daria, as she brought fresh mugs to the table and she returned an inviting smile. For the moment, all was good in his world or, at least in the small world of Hillsborough.
To further his good mood, he'd encountered an old friend among the new arrivals, or as old as he could remember and was enjoying swapping stories of the past season's adventures. Callid was a warrior, like himself – someone to whom he could relate far better than the farmers, shepherds and common laborers who lived in the area and Kili found his company a welcome change.
"Still a flirt, I see," Callid said, lifting the mug to his lips, glancing over at the barmaid who kept smiling in Kili's direction.
"She's just an acquaintance," Kilian replied, laughing. "I've been here all winter. I got to know a few people."
Callid smiled knowingly. "Is that what you call it?"
Kilian dropped his gaze and shrugged, looking a bit abashed. Callid wasn't a close friend, but the pair had traveled enough to know of each other's less reputable encounters.
"Not like you to stay in one place so long," the older man commented, pushing his sandy brown fringe of hair out of his eyes so that he could admire the feminine form of the bar maid before turning back to Kili.
"It's as good a place as any to spend the off-season," the younger man said. "I was hoping that someone might pass through this way with information." The words were said casually, but there was no mistaking that he avoided the older man's scrutiny by taking a long sip of ale.
Callid wasn't fooled and understood the sound of disappointment in his friend's voice. "This is the middle of nowhere, Kilian. Nobody passes through here."
"Apparently, I did."
"Well, you were always the odd one. You were probably lost." The mild insult was light-hearted and gave the younger man an opening to change the subject if he wished.
"You pass through here," Kili added, turning the jab back toward its originator.
"Only because I'm well paid," the other said. But, there was a pause and the older man's expression turned serious. "Has there been any word?"
Kili looked at his mug, knowing that Callid was referring to Kili's past. He shook his head. "None."
Callid paused, taking a large swig of ale, then dropped his voice almost as if he were sharing a secret, "I've been hired to lead a group of merchants to the southwest, now that the snows have cleared. I could use a few more hands."
Kili looked about the tavern – not that what Callid was saying was at all objectionable. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Merchant caravans were the lifeblood of the remote area. The trade they accomplished made life possible for the small farming community.
The reason Callid was being secretive was that he was being particular about whom he was looking to hire. Hired escort for the trading markets paid well, and the positions were highly sought, especially in this area, where the risks were relatively low. More importantly, he probably didn't want it known that he was looking to hire Kili away from his current employer.
It was a good opportunity and in the past, Kili might have accepted the offer without question. But, this time, there was a moment of indecision. Hillsborough had become familiar to him in the past few years. It was the first place he could remember. It was comfortable, convenient. He had work. He'd made friends and was well-liked. He could stay there and live a quiet, stable life. Yet, it wasn't home and it never would be.
"I'll think about it," Kili replied, looking down into his tankard to avoid eye-contact.
Kili awoke in a cold sweat, his pulse racing. He kicked the covers clear, feeling trapped, trying to escape the phantoms of the familiar nightmare. He tried to quell the panic, inhaling a deep breath to clear the sleep from his head and reminding himself that it had only been a dream. But there was little comfort in the thought. He'd had the dream far too often in the past five years, always in the same vivid detail, and always with the same traumatic ending.
He reached for the warm body of the woman next to him, seeking solace and comfort out of habit. Even in sleep, she sighed seductively at his touch and he withdrew his hand before she awoke. The escape he sought wouldn't be satisfied and, as time passed, he realized that no amount of ale or female companionship would dull the pain in his heart.
Callid had been right in saying that he'd been there too long.
Reluctantly, he left the warm bed and tugged on his trousers and a loose shirt, knowing that he wouldn't be sleeping any more that night.
"Kili..." he heard a soft voice call from the direction of the bed.
"Go back to sleep," he said, without emotion. "I'll be back soon."
It was a lie, of course. It took barely an instant to decide that he'd be accepting Callid's offer and would be moving on. The barmaid that currently warmed his bed was becoming attached, he realized, with a sigh of regret. They always did, despite his efforts to warn them otherwise and it left him with a nagging feeling of guilt every time.
Women were his one weakness. Not that he sought out the company, but he was young and not unattractive and it seemed women were drawn to the story about his lost past. It made him seem mysterious and far more exciting than the usual small town farmers and merchants living in the area. But, more than that, Kilian craved the companionship. While he made friends easily, deep down, he was lonely and yearning for a connection and family. The companionship and the warmth of physical contact helped to ease that loneliness, but only for a short time.
Ultimately, he could never erase the image from his nightmares – of a pretty red-haired maid, lying on a cold cliff face, reaching for him as if her life depended on it.
When the nightmares came, he was ruthlessly reminded that something terrible had happened to him and to people that he had loved. He had no memory of their names, just the scattered images that left his heart aching and yearning for something he would never find in his current location. He knew it was time to continue his search, if only to keep his subconscious nagging at bay.
Troubled, he walked downstairs to the inn's main room. The hearth fire in the tavern was little more than coals and all the patrons had long since retired for the night. Kili stared into the dying flames and was struck by a sudden, unexpected image of a burning town and the beautiful flame-haired woman with him as they fled.
The memory was new, and he wondered if it was real or something that had been sparked in his imagination by the recent nightmare. Initially, he wanted to push the images from his mind or drown them with ale, as had become his habit in recent months, but there were no distractions in the quiet room. He had no one else to talk to, it was too late to drink, and too early to bury himself in physical labor.
Without his permission, the memory of the dream once again played in his mind.
He recalled fighting, the smell of blood, the feeling of immeasurable loss at the sight of a blond man who'd fallen in battle. He remembered incredible pain. And then, he saw the sight of that beautiful woman, lying injured and crying as she tried to reach out to him from the cliff edge, all because of him. The last thing he could recall was desperately reaching for her despite searing pain from his wounds, and then being lifted by a force he couldn't see, almost as he he were a child, and carried away.
That was when he always awoke, desperately reaching for her, fearing he'd never see her again, even though he remembered almost nothing else about her. Without thought, his hand moved to his left side, touching the vicious scar that marred him – the only physical clue that his visions in the dream might be more than phantoms in the night.
He shook his head and pounded his fist against the mantle above the fireplace in frustration, hoping to force the thoughts from his head.
It was far, far too cruel. If he had to forget everything of his life, it would have been far more preferable to forget all of it instead of being tortured with bits and pieces of a tragedy that he couldn't fully comprehend.
"Killian," a familiar voice said, pulling him from his morbid brooding.
It was the voice of a friend. Kili turned to see the proprietor of the inn, walking into the room, carrying in a fresh keg of ale toward the bar. Kili licked his lips, wishing it wasn't bad form to ask for a sample.
"A bit late for you, isn't it Iain?" he asked, hoping to distract himself from his thoughts.
"More like a bit early, lad. It's just before dawn. I'm always up this early. The wares don't restock themselves," he said, almost cheerfully. "You can lend a hand, if you're up for it."
Kili nodded, taking a heavy cask and easily moving it to the shelf behind the bar. He was on the shorter side for a man, standing nearly half a head less than average, but he more than made up for it in bulk. Few could match the strength in his broad shoulders and chest, making him well suited for heavy odd jobs in whatever town he chose to inhabit.
Iain was one of the few who could claim to know him well enough to be called a friend. Kili's first memory after his "accident" was of waking up in this very inn, his abdomen and head wrapped in bandages. He'd been left there by a tall stranger in a hooded cloak who'd left payment with Iain and instructions to care for him. The stranger had left no word of where he'd come from, or where he was going, and he'd never returned. Fortunately, Iain was an honest sort and had cared for the injured young man long after the coin to cover costs had run out.
All that the stranger had said was that his name was Kili, which all assumed was short for the common name, Killian. He had no surname, as far as any knew.
It took him several months to recover from the horrendous injuries, doing light work at the inn for Iain to earn his keep. But once he'd recovered enough to move, he felt the urge to leave, to look for someone - anyone- who might seem familiar, but he always came back to Iain's inn, hoping that maybe the stranger had returned.
"You'll be leaving soon, I guess," Iain speculated, his voice sounding kind, almost fatherly.
Kili grunted in affirmation as he hauled another box into its place.
"Daria is a good woman," the innkeeper said, making a poor attempt to sound casual about the remark.
"All the better that I leave, then, so she can find a good man."
Iain stopped his task of stacking mugs on the counter and looked at the shorter man sternly. "It's been five years, lad. I know you have questions, but maybe it's best to let go of your demons and settle down."
The younger man's expression turned into an angry scowl. "Mind your own business, and I'll mind mine."
"No need to get surly with me, lad."
Kili stopped before reaching for the next box and dropped his head, feeling properly chastised. He'd been unnecessarily curt with the older man and it wasn't in his nature to be so disrespectful. "I'm sorry, Iain. You know I appreciate all you've done for me."
"I was hoping you'd want to join me in running the business here. I'm getting older. I could use a partner."
Kili shook his head, a smile coming to his face. "Do I look like an inn keeper to you?"
"You do when you're stocking my shelves for me," the older man said jokingly, pointing Kili to another cask that needed to be moved.
"Callid is planning to leave with a group day after tomorrow," the younger man said, trying to sound casual.
The innkeeper frowned, looking disappointed. "It's still early in the season for travel. Snows have barely cleared."
Kili shrugged. "The merchants are eager to get early trading done. If we get to the trade bazaar first, there's more demand for the woolen products, and they get better choices and prices for the metalwork we need. He's headed west this time."
The older man nodded in understanding. "You'll be going, then," he said sadly.
"Will you take the boy?" the older man asked.
The "boy" was hardly an accurate term. Janis was not yet twenty - about the same age Kili had been when he'd first arrived in Hillsborough. He was an enormous, bulky lad, who towered a full foot taller than Kili. The lad's size suited his aspirations of travel, and there was always a need for armed escort to protect the small merchant caravans that traveled between villages for trade. Kili had been training him in weaponry for most of the winter.
The younger man nodded. "Callid is skeptical about taking him, but he'll be under my guidance. Being new to the job, Callid can hire him for less coin, so it makes for better profit."
"I know you'll look out for him."
Kili nodded, giving his friend a smile. "He'll be back by late-spring."
"But you won't."
The shorter man's smile dropped. Hillsborough had been central to his travels for the past five years. It was where he'd always returned, and part of him thought of it as a second home of sorts, but it was time to move on. "No. I need to find my answers."
Iain nodded and smiled sadly in understanding. "I'll miss you, laddie. But I wish you well."
Hillsborough was a small place, not even a village, really. Just a community of farmers, many sheep, and a few buildings to process meat and wool and grain that they grew in the fertile soil. The inn was a central location for the community to gather, sharing drinks and tales. Kili's sudden appearance five years prior was possibly the most interesting thing to have happened in recent memory, but his lost past was now old news. Now, there was more interest in tales being brought by merchants and travelers, bringing new tales from the great cities of Gondor, the king and his elven wife, and the beginning of a new Age. The world was changing and it was bringing new hope to many who had fled from the south. There was much talk from those wanting to return.
Kilian walked down the narrow path through the community, looking at the now familiar farm houses with fondness and a little regret. He stopped at the seamstress, to purchase a new pair of trousers, seeing that he preferred keeping a second pair, and his old ones were getting a bit too worn to last through a long ride. He waved to a few people along the way, until he reached the field where Callid was staging his convoy.
There were only six wagons so far, although Callid had assured him there would be at least a dozen. It was a small group, but the road to the west was relatively safe – unlike the eastward journeys near the mountains, where a few stubborn remnants of goblins and orcs still hid, awaiting any opportunity for ambush.
He was surveying the preparationswhen a young lad bounded up to him, clearly excited about all the activity.
"Isn't it grand?" he squeaked eagerly. "We're going on a journey!"
Kili smiled at the fair-haired child. "It is. "
The boy continued without prompting, "Da says we're going to Rohan, to see the great riders . He says that I can learn to ride like them, if I eat all my vegetables."
Kili smiled at the boy, cheered by his enthusiasm. Rohan, the home of the best horsemen in Middle Earth. "I'm sure you'll be among the best."
The child chattered on, talking about horses and toys and his annoying sister as Kili walked among the provisions and packages and wares all in various stages of being properly stored for the upcoming journey. As he had learned to expect from Callid, all was in order. Such trips were fairly common occurrences. The wool and linens grown over last summer and processed over the winter months would be taken to market and sold and, in return, the merchants would bring back spices and metalwork and preserved foods that were rare in this region.
"Shouldn't you be helping your da?" Kili asked the boy, who was still bouncing around him, holding up a toy wooden sword.
"I'm practicing!" the boy said proudly.
Kili chuckled. "Practicing what?"
"Fighting! Da says I can help protect us, with Master Callid."
"Ahh!" Kili acknowledged. "And where is Master Callid?"
"He's over there, talking with my sister," the boy said pointing with authority toward the far end of the encampment.
Kili looked in the appointed direction to see Callid talking with a rather pretty girl. Such an action wasn't unusual for the man, Kili mused. Callid was quite fond of women, probably even more so than Kili. "Well, I'll wait then," he said. "What is your name?" he asked the boy.
"I'm Aranar," the child stated proudly. "Son of Tanager, the master weaver."
Kili wasn't familiar with the name, but it was possible they'd joined up from Bree, or possibly even one of the eastern settlements of the Angle, where coal mines eked out a small profit.
"I'm Kilian," he said, greeting the child most seriously. If others among the group were as enjoyable as this child, it was going to be a pleasant journey.
Saying goodbye was not easy for Kilian. Hillsborough had become the closest thing he could call to home and Iain had been, if not quite a father figure, something of an uncle. These were the only people he knew.
Yet, with the exception of Iain, part of him felt detached as he bid farewell to them, probably for the last time. He realized that, although he'd made friends easily enough, that there was always something that held him back from truly connecting with the people around him. They always seemed like nothing more than shadows. Which was probably why, in every village, he never seemed to have difficulty leaving the women that had attempted to form a bond with him.
Only traveling seemed to satisfy something within. It was familiar, comfortable.
As he checked his packs and his weapons one final time and mounted his horse, he found himself once again puzzling through facts that might hint at where he'd originated. He was a fair rider, although hardly unusual for anyone who traveled as much as he. His skill with weapons indicated that he might have been a warrior, or perhaps even a ranger. His scattered nightmares implied that the scar on his left side happened during a battle or an attack, but the cliffs in his dreams looked nothing like the rolling hills of the South Downs, or even the foothills of the Misty Mountains, where he'd traveled in the past five years. Whatever had happened to him in his dreams, had happened very, very far away.
He rode in the back of the caravan, eyes and ears attentive to any movement that might signal an attack. As expected, his young friend Janis had been paired with him and Kili amused himself by observing the large boy's excitement.
"So, they say the back is the most dangerous position," Janis said, attempting to sound casual, but failing miserably.
"It can be, if you fail to keep watch of the surroundings," Kili replied, amused by the lad's apprehension – the area was far from dangerous. He found himself unable to resist teasing the boy a bit. "Best to watch your back. Orcs like to strike from behind, quick and quiet – hardly a sound, just lots of blood."
The younger man cringed and looked behind him nervously, although they were still passing through farmland on the outskirts of Hillsborough.
Kili smiled, and then felt a nudge of guilt for frightening his friend. Knowing that Janis was trying his best, and backed away from his teasing to reassure the lad. "Relax a bit. We're still near the town and in open country. If an orc was around, we'd see him miles away. Besides, there are hardly any left after the defeat of Mordor, unless you go far north or into the Misty Mountains. Mostly, we need to guard against wolves or the like, or the worst might be a few thieves."
The lad heaved a sigh, nodding nervously. "Callid says he only let me join because you were coming. He told me to listen to you."
"Callid is a smart man. He knows what he's doing. You'd do well to learn from him too."
"He also says you're part dwarf," Janis joked, half teasing, half taunting as they rode along.
Kili rolled his eyes at the leader's usual jibe. Granted, Kili didn't have the tallest stature, but he was well within normal height for the average man and had twice the strength. He'd heard the taunt before and blamed his unknown parents for the abnormally large ears and broad chest that made him look somewhat dwarvish.
"He's just upset because, when we were along the Loudwater, he was interested in a girl who decided to fancy me instead of him. It's been almost two years and he still holds a grudge."
"Have you ever followed the Loudwater north to Rivendell?" Janis asked.
Kili smiled and shook his head. "Nah. I've only been into the foothills of the Misty Mountains though," Kili replied, amused by the young man's admiration. As far as travel around Middle Earth, it was hardly a noteworthy journey, but for a young man such as Janis, who had likely never traveled beyond South Downs, it was the edge of the world.
"What are the mountains like? I hear they are so tall that they scrape the sky."
"Yes, I suppose they are grand in their own way, but mostly dark, treacherous."
"Have you ever traveled across the mountains?"
Kili thought of the mountains, unsure of how to answer. Then, a memory flashed in his mind of wind, rain, and he recalled desperately reaching for someone across an impossible, widening chasm. A feeling of loss swept over him like a wave but he pushed it aside, not knowing who or what he might have lost along that rainy path, and not wanting his companion to see his sudden lack of concentration.
He shook his head negatively. "There are enough foul creatures that come down from the mountains, there's no need to go searching for trouble."
The lad looked disappointed with the response, clearly hoping to hear about adventure. Kili felt a sense of melancholy. He knew, deep down, that he'd been like Janis once, before he'd lost everything.
Wanting to lighten the mood, Kili prodded the young man. "So, Callid is calling me a dwarf," he prompted.
The boy brightened noticeably. "I think he fancies some girl in one of the forward wagons and he's hoping to paint you in as poor a light as possible for her."
Kili chuckled. The leader of their expedition was reputable enough to not insult Kili's abilities, but picking on physical traits was more than fair game. Not that it mattered, really. Callid needed little help when it came to impressing women, but Kili found it rather funny that the confident and handsome leader found Kili to be a rival in such things.
"I don't know why. It's not like I go looking for trouble." It was true, more often than not, the maids in question approached him, not the other way around.
"Well, I'm guessing that's why he assigned you to the back," Janis said with a cheeky grin.
"He assigned me to the back because he's afraid of orcs and he wants me to keep you out of trouble," Kili replied, grinning as his companion slouched in his saddle with a rather annoyed pout.
That evening as the group settled for the night, Kili sat off to the side with his stew, watching the perimeter and paying little mind to the people within the encampment. It didn't take long before Janis came to sit by him, looking a bit annoyed.
"Why are you sitting out here all alone?" the boy asked. "You should come and join the others."
"It's easier to hear if anything is amiss if I'm away from the noise of the camp," he responded. It was still light, but they made themselves an easier target if everyone was distracted by settling in.
Janis pursed his lips, as if to say something, then stopped himself. After a moment, seeming to come to an internal conclusion, he said, "Don't you want to see the girl that Callid likes?"
"Callid likes any girl that pays him any mind," Kili responded dryly, focusing on taking another bite of his stew.
"But she really is quite pretty," Janis added persuasively.
"And traveling with her father, or an uncle, no doubt?"
"How did you know?"
Kili chuckled. "Because no respectable family would send a pretty daughter out on a fortnight-long journey alone. "She's off-limits, and Callid should know that. Our job is to keep our wares and our lives safe on the journey, not flirt with a girl."
Janis gave him a pleading look.
"You have a wager on this, don't you," Kili stated accusingly.
The young man paled visibly, even in the dim light of the camp fire. "All the guards do," he responded sheepishly. "It seems you have a bit of a reputation."
Kili sighed. "Is Callid aware of this?"
"Not sure. He might have started it."
Kili dropped his head in defeat.
The next morning, he saddled his horse and caught a glimpse of Callid, cheerfully helping a blond woman pack away her belongings for the day's journey. The girl was indeed quite pretty and it was no wonder why Callid had purposely assigned Kili the mid-night watch, so there was little chance that Kili would cross paths with the girl. Kili chuckled as he lashed his pack to the saddle. If anything, it was going to be an entertaining two weeks. News of the "wager" made him all the more amused. It was a welcome distraction and hardly uncommon to place such things to pass the time while traveling.
It wasn't hard to catch glimpses of Callid talking with the female after that and she seemed to be friendly enough in return. Kili and Janis made small bets on the side on the lead guard's attempts to appear gallant and chivalrous toward both the girl and her father by helping them with their wagon, pointing them to the best site to set their tent for the night, or directing them to the easiest tasks during group meals.
"Bet you a half-silver that they don't have to wash the cooking pot and utensils even once for the whole trip," Janis said as they gathered up their sleeping rolls on the third morning.
"Nah," Kili said. "Too many will notice, and it's not that terrible a task. I say he assigns it to them once, about the eighth day. "
The pair chuckled as they walked over to the horses, going through the usual routine of checking weapons and making sure that nothing in the packs had worked loose.
Always on alert, he turned at the sound of footsteps behind him, only to see the blond girl approaching, holding a small cloth sack. She gave him a shy smile.
"Can I help you?" he asked. He heard Janis snort to hide a laugh and he fought the urge to hit the lad, lady present, or not.
"I made a few extra honey cakes this morning. I thought you... umm... you both might like some for your travels today."
As much as he wished he could say no, to avoid any friction between himself and Callid, he couldn't turn down a fresh honey cake. His mouth was already watering at the thought. He couldn't help himself, and gave the girl a friendly smile as he accepted the gift. "Thank you."
"You are most welcome, Master..." she paused waiting for him to supply his name.
"Kilian," he said, "And, my shy friend over there," he said, pointing, "Is Janis."
But she made no effort to acknowledge the younger guard. "Master Kilian. I'm Aligrine, by the way."
After she trotted off to rejoin her father and their wagon, Janis just about fell on the ground laughing. "I can't believe it. She fancies you, and you haven't even said so much as a 'good morning' to her."
Kili grumbled something incoherent under his breath. He truly did not understand why women always seemed to approach him – he'd never really thought of himself as handsome, although he did admit that he had some charm. The last thing he needed was a complication while he was on duty. There were enough creatures along the road willing to kill them, he didn't need an angry father from inside the caravan looking for his head as well.
"She brought them over for the both of us and if you don't stop bothering me, I won't share," Kili warned his companion, hoping to stop any further comment on the matter.
Janis immediately quieted, but the gleam of amusement stayed in his eye for most of the morning.