When Thorin Met Tauriel—8
Thorin and his comrades leapt out through the Gate of Erebor, fierce and splendid in their borrowed golden armor. The goblins fell back a pace, surprised by their sudden appearance, but after a moment came howling back toward the dwarves and the elf captain.
Thorin pressed forward, swinging his mighty axe like a scythe. Wounded goblins shrieked and fell but fresh ones sprang into their place. The ground became slippery beneath his feet.
To his right, Tauriel fought with a short sword, her daggers reserved for any attackers who got too close. Beyond her, Kili sent arrows flying at a snarling Warg. On Thorin's left, Fili swung his notched blade down into the shoulder of a goblin who was trying to behead Dwalin. Other members of their company were ranged around them, fighting desperately against the relentless, seemingly inexhaustible waves of goblins.
Thorin quickly discovered that Tauriel was every bit as good a fighter as he'd supposed. Better. Still, he found that he was distracted by her presence. She was so precious to him; he couldn't let her be hurt. He kept glancing her way to make sure she was all right, and once or twice he parried a particularly vicious blow aimed at her side. The armor she'd found (the same breastplate she'd tried to stab with her elven blade) was mithril and decorated with gold, but it didn't quite cover her ribs under her arms well enough to satisfy him.
He saw her drop her sword, so he quickly struck at the goblin attacking her. It snarled in pain. Tauriel plunged her left hand-dagger into the enemy before her, then spun to throw her other dagger past Thorin's ear. It sank into the throat of another goblin, whose fingers clawed at Thorin's back as it collapsed.
Tauriel turned to face him, her hands on her hips. "If you'd rather fight the goblins on this side, we should trade places. It's easier than reaching across me all the time."
He nodded and smiled apologetically. The elf he loved clearly could take care of herself. "As you wish," he replied with a little bow, then pivoted to strike at a charging Warg. The beast fell to the ground dead.
"Why, thank you, King Thorin." She gave him a fierce grin. He grinned back.
Her long dark hair was plastered to her head underneath an ornate gold-embellished helmet. Her face was smudged with dirt and blood, but her eyes sparkled. Thorin thought she was the most beautiful creature he'd ever seen, breathtaking in her power and her battle-joy. The light of her spirit shone bright as Gimlunitir, the star-kindler, queen of the Valar.
A guttural roar brought him back to reality, to the bloody chaos around them. Tauriel retrieved her daggers and sword, and returned to the fight.
Thorin hacked and gouged at the enemy with grim determination, ignoring the deafening tumult of battle, the cries and howls and groans. He paid no attention to the stink of blood and the bodies that lay in increasing numbers on the battlefield. He concentrated only on defeating the enemy—or at least he tried. Despite his efforts, his mind and heart were focused on her.
Then he heard it—the sound he had been dreading: Tauriel cried out in pain.
He wheeled around, cursing, in time to see a pike being pulled from the vulnerable open spot under her arm. Over her fallen body stood a hulking goblin. A lightning bolt of rage and pain flashed though Thorin, erasing everything in his mind but the need for revenge and retaliation.
His body seemed to move without his conscious thought. His great axe reached out and swept off the goblin's head.
"Fili! Kili!" he roared, and then he dropped to his knees beside Tauriel. He felt, rather than saw, the other dwarves move to create a protective circle around them on the small hill in the center of the battlefield.
Tauriel's eyes were glazed with pain, but she managed a weak smile as she met his frantic gaze.
"What, are we taking a break already?" she joked. "Did all the goblins run away?"
"Don't move, don't worry. I'll get you someplace safe. We'll get you fixed right up. You'll be fine." He didn't like the pallor of her face. He pressed his hand against her side to stanch the blood welling out of the wound. The sight of the injury wrung his heart. He hadn't taken good enough care of her.
She exhaled a little puff of air, barely a laugh. "Smaug should have stolen better-fitting armor. I don't think this breastplate protected me properly."
"I should have protected you properly," Thorin muttered in an agony of guilt.
"Don't be a fool, melamin." With one hand, she reached up and brushed the hair out of his eyes. "So. You did it."
He frowned. "Did what?"
"You won back the Lonely Mountain for the dwarves. The dragon is dead, and your people can return home."
Bitterness filled him, sharp and burning like acid. "I didn't do anything. I didn't kill the dragon. And I failed my companions—nearly killed one of them! I fell under the spell of the dragon's gold and ruined everything."
"No," she soothed. "You are free from the spell now. And by going on your quest, you took the first step toward a better future for all of us. You opened the way for the dragon to be killed and for your people to return to their home."
Thorin shook his head. "Even the quest was mostly Gandalf's idea. He put the thought in my head."
"It doesn't matter whose idea it was. What matters is who takes action on it. If you hadn't done anything, fear of the dragon would still rule us all. You changed that."
He stared at her, his heart so full of love it ached. How had he earned such sweet forgiveness and trust? He didn't deserve it.
She winced in pain, and he stroked her hair in a vain effort to comfort her. He wished desperately that he'd learned the healing arts instead of war—at that moment, he would have given anything for the skill to help her. She didn't love fighting; he knew she would rather be at play in her beloved forest. How had they ended up here, where they didn't belong?
With an effort, she smiled up at him. "Now tell me the truth. Did you miss me, after you left the palace?"
He drew in a shaky breath. "No," he said. He tried to smile back at her, but the expression came out twisted and wry.
"No, because you were always in my heart. You were my first thought when I woke and my last before I slept. You never left me, not for a moment."
"Oh." The word was a sigh of pleasure and joy. Her strength was fading, but a brief sparkle lit her eyes. "Then I am greedier than you, Thorin, because I missed you so much it hurt. I longed to be with you, and my memory of our time together was not nearly enough to satisfy me."
He licked his lips, struggling to hold his emotions at bay. "Then you had better plan on staying with me from now on, elf lady. I love you too much to let you go."
"And I love you, always and forever."
He glanced up, looking for a way to get her off the battlefield. The other dwarves were still fighting, defending the two of them from the goblins and wargs. To his dismay, he saw that they were surrounded. The blood from her wound was still seeping out between his fingers. He pressed harder. "We will heal you. Don't doubt it."
But her face had gone gray as ash, and her eyes dimmed. "Thorin," she whispered. "Mela en' coiamin." *
Then Tauriel's spirit fled. Thorin knelt at her side, and wept.
"Uncle Thorin!" Fili's notched blade clanged against a goblin's scimitar as the battle raged closer to Thorin, who still knelt over Tauriel's body.
"Thorin Oakenshield, King under the Mountain!" Kili shouted. "The dwarves need you! You must fight! Look!"
Thorin looked up. A massive goblin warrior stood before him, wearing a battered helmet decorated with scraps of gold. Larger and more bestial than the others, this goblin's heavy underjaw was thrust forward. Oversize canine teeth curved up, protruding over the upper lip.
"Little dwarf fight," the creature said with a growl. "Come fight Bolg."
Blinded by grief and rage, Thorin swept up his axe and surged to his feet. "Guard her," he shouted to Kili and Fili. Without hesitating, he swung at Bolg.
The giant goblin struck back. Thorin swung again, and this time felt his axe connect with goblin flesh. From somewhere far away, Thorin heard Kili or Fili shouting.
"No, uncle! Wait—"
Then Thorin heard no more.
Slowly, Thorin swam up from black unconsciousness into a world of searing pain. He heard a babble of voices and felt, rather than saw, people moving around. He discovered that he was lying on his back, looking up at the canvas ceiling of a tent. Pain throbbed in his head and left arm. He couldn't feel his legs. That bothered him for a moment, and he tried to reason out what it meant, but thinking made his head hurt worse.
Cautiously he looked around. He was lying on a cot, surrounded by others who were injured far worse than he was. Perhaps he should get up and help them. Strangely, he didn't seem to be able to gather the will to move.
Gandalf's seamed and weathered face appeared within his field of vision. "Rest, Thorin. Do not try to rise."
"I am resting," Thorin replied irritably. "Where is—"
"Hush, my friend," the wizard said.
Thorin glowered at him. "If you're calling me 'friend' after all that's happened over the last few days, then I must be in worse shape than I thought."
Gandalf smiled a little sadly.
"Some wizard you are." Thorin squeezed his eyes shut. He didn't like this. So many things left undone, unfinished! Life was sweet, and now that he felt it was slipping away, he wanted more. What had happened? Suddenly the events of the battle came flooding back into his mind. He jerked his eyes open and looked at Gandalf. "What of the others? Are they all safe?"
The wizard's gaze shifted away from him. "Most of them, yes. They are with Dain's company."
"Dain Ironfoot? Good. Good. He's a good leader, seasoned…" Dain would lead his kinsmen, now that they had come home to the Mountain, as Tauriel had said. Tauriel. The memory of her, lying on the battlefield mortally injured, flooded his mind.
He looked at the wizard. "The elf Tauriel. The Captain of the Guard. Is she—"
Gandalf shook his head, his eyes reddening with tears.
Thorin let his head sink back onto the cot, his heart like lead in his chest. Emptiness howled through him. No reason to struggle now.
He wondered if it had all been worth it. Around his cot lay the golden armor he'd appropriated from the dragon's hoard. Although it was dented and tarnished, a few deep scratches revealed the sparkle of gold winking at him. Beautiful though it was, gold no longer held any power over him. Tauriel had done that for him—she had shown him that some things were more important than gold.
At least, as Tauriel had said, the dwarves could now return to Erebor. And if he had not embarked upon this mad quest, he would never have met her.
She had brought light and joy to his existence, but now she was gone. Apparently, he was leaving this life too. When he had been young, he'd learned about the halls of waiting, to which the spirits of all dwarves returned. Without her, he doubted whether such an afterlife would offer him any peace. He wondered if the Ainur ever took pity on the shades of mortals and elves.
But he had something to take care of before he found out. Thorin turned his head toward Gandalf. "Bilbo. Bring Bilbo the hobbit to me."
The wizard departed and Thorin relaxed. Perhaps he dozed, but it seemed only a moment had passed before he heard his name spoken. At the entrance to the tent, he saw an elf speaking with Bilbo Baggins. The elf placed something in the hobbit's hand, clapped him on the shoulder, and left. Bilbo came slowly over to his side.
"Farewell, good thief," Thorin said. "I go now to the halls of waiting to sit beside my fathers until the world is renewed. Since I leave now all gold and silver, and go where it is of little worth, I wish to part in friendship from you and I would take back my words and deeds at the Gate."
It was a long speech and Thorin was out of breath by the time he'd finished. But he knew Tauriel would have wished it. She hadn't held any grudges against Bilbo, even though the hobbit's rescue of the dwarves had caused her much difficulty with her King—and her conscience.
Bilbo's face crumpled in sorrow, and he knelt on one knee beside Thorin's cot. "Farewell, King Under the Mountain. I—Oh, dear me, I nearly forgot! I have something here for you." The hobbit held out a narrow leather pouch. "Legolas the elf said this was yours."
Thorin smiled a little at Bilbo's sudden change of subject. This hobbit! One moment, he was dwelling on the deepest of life's mysteries, and the next, he was fussing about some trivial errand. He let Bilbo place the pouch in his hand, but said, "I don't recognize this. What is it?"
"Well, Legolas says it has your runes marked on it, but the Captain of the Guard was wearing it on a cord around her neck," Bilbo explained. "It was tucked beneath her tunic, so they didn't see it right away."
Thorin opened the drawstring. Inside the pouch was his whetstone—the one Tauriel had taken from him in the dungeon. Foolish elf, why had she worn this chunk of rock around her neck instead of tied to her belt, as he had done? It was only a whetstone, not a precious jewel to be worn so close to her heart.
He drew it out and held it tight in his hand, wondering if the rough stone felt warm to the touch and whether it might still hold some lingering warmth from her. It didn't, of course. He rested the hand holding the whetstone against his chest and looked at Bilbo.
"Thank you." His voice sounded rough in his own ears, because his throat was clogged. He felt so weary.
How different life would be, if whetstones were used only to sharpen tools and not swords! Tauriel herself was not a warrior by nature, though she could and did put her skills to that purpose. But she had been meant for peaceful things—for friendship, happiness, and fun.
Bilbo was talking. "…yet I am glad that I have shared your perils—that has been more than any Baggins deserves."
Thorin looked at the hobbit. If anyone had been made for peace and plenty, for ease and laughter and second breakfasts, it was this small, honest, stout-hearted person. But he had risen to the challenges life had cast at him.
"No! There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave it now. Farewell."
Thorin sank back. Odd that just saying a few words could wear him out like this. He felt stretched thin, as if the substance of his body were metal beaten by a smith into the flimsiest sheet.
He was glad he'd spoken to Bilbo. The hobbit would have grieved unnecessarily, if Thorin hadn't given him a little talk. But now it was time. He was ready to go to the halls of waiting. Perhaps after he'd waited long enough, he would once again see a pair of sparkling eyes, green streaked with golden brown, like the changing leaves of the forest.
Darkness enfolded him in its welcoming embrace.
Note: melamin - Elvish for "my love" ; mela en' coiamin - Elvish for "love of my life"