A/N: I am so sorry for the long wait! So far, 2013 has been a trying year, with some new problem popping up every week. This one month has been more stressful than all 12 months of 2012 combined :-/
Enough of my drama, on to the fic! I really struggled with this one, so it may not be up to par with the others. I still hope you enjoy it though!
Gasping, Thorin awoke. Each breath felt like an icy blade raking his wounded throat, but breathing in the sweet air was worth the pain. There was not an inch of him that wasn't hurt. Lungs ached, head throbbed, and his limbs were sore from his battle against the river.
The frigid water had pounded his body until he could hardly take it anymore, the powerful current dragging him mercilessly through the silt and muck on the riverbed. Bruises and cuts riddled his flesh, parting gifts from the many rocks he had been driven against. Blood mingled with the water that dripped from his sodden clothes.
What had happened? The grey sky overhead offered no answer, nor did the swiftly rushing river. The dwarf was covered in filth and laying on the muddy bank. There was something important he should remember, Thorin knew. At last, the disorientation slowly faded, but with his new clarity of mind came gripping panic.
He had lost them.
Against the power of the river, his own strength had been nothing. Fili and Kili had been ripped from his arms and lost in the boiling, raging water. The current had beat his arms until they lost their strength and then stolen his nephews from him, replacing their bodies with a mocking nothingness.
Grinding his teeth, Thorin heaved his stiff body into a sitting position, his eyes searching the riverbank. There was no sign of Fili's golden hair or of the dark red cloak Kili had been wearing. A lump formed in Thorin's throat and suddenly he couldn't breathe.
What would he do if they were dead? Had they perished frightened and alone in the icy waters? Images of Fili's serene blue eyes, their light extinguished, filled Thorin's mind. The dwarf tried to remember Kili as he was—always moving, always talking—but all he could see was a tiny lifeless body.
Sickened, Thorin stumbled down to the river's edge. Pushing the horrifying images from his mind, he tried to focus on a logical course of action.
The other dwarves must not have made it this far down the river yet, else they would have found him. Should he go upstream and meet them, or go downstream and search on his own? Since there was no way to tell if Fili and Kili had washed up before or after him, Thorin struggled to decide. What if he the direction he chose led him away from them? What if they were only a few feet to one side, hidden from sight?
What if they haven't washed up at all? Thorin stubbornly resisted despair and instead made his decision. He would go downstream. Dwalin and Balin would search thoroughly, he knew, and they were on ponies so they would go faster. Likely they would catch up to him at some point during the day.
Scuffing his feet deeply in the mud, Thorin made sure that his footprints were as deep and obvious as possible. If the others were being as thorough as they should be, they would know he had been here.
Determination winning against infirmity, the dwarf set off.
It was the first time he had ever woken up first. Kili huddled against the cold, wrapping his arms around his legs and hugging his knees close to his chest. Chin nested in the small valley between his kneecaps, the child examined his brother with a mixture of curiosity and fear.
Fili was always awake before him. Always meeting him with a smile, always laughing at his mussed hair, always teasing him and calling him "squirrel".
Golden hair had become tangled and filthy, two conditions that Fili would never allow it to become. Half of his face was swollen and covered in a large purple bruise and his arm lay twisted in an unnatural angle. Kili's own arm twinged in sympathy whenever he looked at the damaged limb.
More than anything, Kili wanted his brother's eyes to open. In them, he knew he'd see the light that had shone on him every day of his life. If Fili would only wake up and smile at him, then the cold would not bite so, the world would no longer seem big and unfriendly, and that small aching loneliness that had taken up residence in Kili's soul would be banished.
If only Fili would wake up.
Scooting a little closer to his unconscious brother, Kili grabbed a handful of his shirt and gave it a sharp tug. No response. The pull became more insistent, and Fili sighed in his sleep. When an even harder jerk yielded no results, Kili resorted to dirty tactics.
Grabbing a fistful of golden hair, Kili yanked it as hard as he could.
Fili's hand closed around his brother's arm a split second before his eyes opened. The pain and anger in the older dwarfling's eyes immediately caused Kili to shrink back.
"I'm s-sorry, Fili, but it's just so cold and you wouldn't wake up."
Trying to sit up caused pain to shoot through Fili's right arm, causing his whole body to ache. "Don't worry about it." Fili managed to gasp out through gritted teeth. Right now, he was hurting too badly to stay angry.
Teeth chattering, Kili huddled close to his brother again. "Can we go home now? I'm cold."
"I don't know where home is, Kili." Fili replied, panic edging into his voice. Another ripple of fiery pain in his arm caused him to hold it close with a sharp gasp.
"Uncle's looking for us though, he'll find us!" In a world that was suddenly impossibly large, Thorin was the one thing that remained strong enough to protect them. Kili knew with every fiber of his being that he would find them, just as he knew that Fili would keep him safe until then.
"Of course he will, squirrel." Fili faked a smile for his little brother. No sense in showing Kili how scared he was right now.
Fear briefly assuaged, Kili turned a curious eye on the world around them. Trees towered over them, rainwater slowly dripping from their bright green leaves. The wind blew the low grey clouds quickly across the sky, and the birds sang out joyfully after the storm. The river was still dangerously swollen, however, and the banks around it were extremely muddy.
"What's 'at?" Kili asked, pointing downstream. Jumping up, he began to move towards it.
Fili stood up slowly and staggered after his brother. When the river had separated them from their uncle, Fili had wrapped himself tightly around his brother, therefore taking all the abuse onto his own body. While he was covered in bumps and bruises, Kili remained unharmed. Looking at his arm made him feel sick, so he avoided glancing down at it. He was positive it was broken, though.
Pushing through the tall grass, Fili finally saw what had caught Kili's attention. It was an old dock, the wood rotting in places and riddled with holes. Half of the dilapidated structure was completely submerged. But Kili's wandering eyes had already noticed something else even more interesting.
Up ahead, a collection of low buildings squatted next to the river, dark and drab against the color of the lush grass around them. It was a town, but not of dwarvish make.
Grabbing his brother's hand, Kili attempted to drag Fili forward. "Come on, we can ask for help!"
Pulling him back sharply, Fili scolded the excited boy. "No, Kili, we shouldn't go there."
"Because… because we don't know anyone there. The people there may be dangerous."
"But I'm hungry! And they probably know how to find Uncle. Please can we go, please?"
As he always did, Fili caved in to his brother's pleading expression. Oddly enough, Kili's argument made sense for once. Besides, he didn't want to be caught outside when night fell, and his arm was in so much pain.
Thankfully the path to the town was an easy one, and Fili was able to navigate it without jostling his arm too much. Beside him, Kili impatiently bounced up and down, anxious to reach the small settlement.
As they entered the human village, Fili clutched his brother closer to him in panic. Everything here was huge. The buildings glowered down at them menacingly, tall and obscure against the sky. The dwarf children had to crane their necks to see the faces of the people who towered above them. Never had Fili felt so tiny.
Kili, on the other hand, was completely unfazed. To him, this was a scene from one of his daydreams, unfolding before his very eyes. He and his brother were pilgrims stranded in a land of giants, on an adventure that was sure to become a thing of legend.
Up close, humans were even funnier looking than they were from a distance. How they managed to keep their balance on such spindly legs was beyond his understanding. Questions filled the dwarfling's inquisitive mind, and he started to ask a woman why she had no beard, when Fili pulled him back.
"Kili, you should know better! Didn't Dala explain to us that human women can't grow beards? Do you want to shame that woman by asking her such a question?"
Toeing the mud with a downcast expression, Kili mumbled "Sorry."
"No harm done, but try not to ask too many questions."
Spotting a group of children, Fili felt a little bit more hopeful. Children wouldn't be nearly as tall or as intimidating as the other humans. Even if they were still bigger. Kili was more than happy to lead the way over.
They were a ragged, misbegotten tribe; dressed in tattered clothes and covered in grime from playing in the streets. Their game was a noisy one, and they were an altogether brash and unruly lot. The leader of them, a tall, loudmouthed boy with a wide, plain face well endowed with freckles, gave the two newcomers a long once-over.
This boy's name was Col, and while he was not a cruel sort of child, he did not generally approve of folks that were very different from himself. And these two little waifs were very different from him. The pair of them were quite short for their age, Col discerned. The older boy was probably only a year or two younger than him, but was a good foot and a half shorter. The smaller boy was a tiny thing, though not as young as his size might suggest.
Dwarves, Col realized with a smirk.
It was the last difference, however, that rankled the boy the most. While his own clothes were mere rags, and his feet were bare, these two were dressed well, and wore sturdy boots. Whoever these dwarves were, they were well-cared for, and that stirred greater resentment in Col's soul.
"Well, well, lads. Look what we 'ave 'ere." Col crossed his bony arms across his narrow chest and looked down at the dwarflings with a superior air. "Two little 'uns what shouldn't 'ave been left on their own. These two are too little t' be away from their mum." The other boys left their game and surrounded Fili and Kili, taunting and looking down on the brothers.
Fili may have been hurt and scared, but he wasn't dead, and he was a son of Durin; no one would adopt such a tone with him. One eyebrow raising in a majestic manner, the young dwarf straightened himself and placed his uninjured arm on Kili's shoulder.
Fixing an impressive glare on Col, Fili spoke quietly. "My brother and I have been separated from our uncle. We need help."
The human boy felt intimidated by Fili, but masked it with an easy smile. "Did ye hear that one? Says they've gone and lost their uncle. Should we help 'em, lads?"
The boys all spoke at once, their voices mingling together and becoming unintelligible. But their meaning was clear; they had no intention of aiding the dwarf children. Fili felt himself becoming angrier and angrier. Beside him, Kili was becoming frightened of these tall, mocking boys who were all laughing at him.
Tears of frustration threatened to spill from Fili's eyes, and he valiantly tried to keep them in check. His pride, which was unusually well-developed for a boy of his age, was taking a horrible beating. It didn't help that his arm was beginning to hurt worse and worse.
Fili was almost to the end of his endurance when a wild-eyed, begrimed creature threw herself in between the dwarf and Col with an indignant shout.
"Now, Col, why must ye go an' treat 'em that way? Ain't ye got any feelins'? Ye best leave 'em be or I'll tell yer mum it was you what took that meat pie last Thursday!"
Face turning crimson in embarrassment, Col backed away from the verbal barrage being leveled his way by th newcomer. "Now, Brida, ye know we didn't mean nothin'." He said sullenly.
'Brida', a gangly female specimen with thin, pale hair and large blue eyes, merely folded her arms and pursed her lips. "I don't care what ye meant, can't ye see ye was scarin' the little 'uns?"
Now it was Fili's turn to blush in shame.
"Ye'd best apologize, Col, and if I see yez afflictin' anymore poor little 'uns, I'll box yer ears and tell yer mum 'bout that meat pie."
With this ominous threat hanging over him, Col mumbled an apology, eyes glued to the ground in front of him. Fili remained silent, unwilling to let it go so easily.
"Now, scram, the lot of ye!" Brida commanded, bidding them depart by flinging her hands away from herself in a dramatic fashion. The scraggly boys swiftly departed, smarting under the girl's superior attitude. Besides, they'd only been having a little fun, no harm done.
Brida turned around and bestowed a bright and cheery smile upon the dwarves. "What's yer name, dearie?" She asked Fili in a motherly tone.
Would the shame never end? Mustering what little of his pride remained, Fili answered in a steady voice. "Fili, and this is my brother Kili."
"Oh, ye poor little things! That arm looks t' be quite hurt. Come along with me and me mum will have a good look at it, and offer ye some good, warm food besides."
Turning a kind eye on Kili, Brida leaned over so that she was face to face with the dwarfling. "What a darling! Such a precious lamb! Would ye like me t' carry ye?"
Before Kili could reply, Brida had swept him up into her arms and settled him on her bony hip. "Such a precious lamb!" She repeated loudly, planting a kiss on Kili's face. Behavior of this kind was quite uncommon to Kili, and he stared at the girl in confusion.
Taking Fili by the hand, Brida set off at a brisk pace, chattering nonstop the entire way. Fili didn't catch most of what she said, but he kept on hearing about Col "pinching some meat pies" and how some people had no decency, and how surprised her mum would be when she showed up with two lost dwarf children in tow.
Brida's parents owned one of the only two inns in town, the Blue Fox. It was the better of the two establishments, famous far and wide for the extraordinary meat pies that were served there. Though opposite in appearance, Brida and her mother shared an affinity for sheltering the poor and downtrodden of the world with their magnanimous hearts. Therefore, upon arriving at the Blue Fox, Fili was distressed to find he had two women fussing over him.
The innkeeper's wife was a tall, rotund woman with a jolly laugh, a wide smile, and bright red cheeks. Maintaining a steady stream of condolences towards the dwarflings, she fed them, bathed them, and sat them before the fire to dry off.
With practiced hands, she took care of Fili's wounds, surprisingly gentle for one who seemed so loud and rough. Brida persisted in holding Kili on her lap and talking to him, calling him a "poor lamb" and kissing him on the forehead.
With great difficulty, Fili was finally able to relate his entire story. Throughout his story, Brida and her mother would occasionally wipe tears from their eyes and bemoan the ill fortune of the dwarflings.
"'Ere now, I'll put the two of yez up for the night, and tomorrow we'll send out word that ye've been found. Me husband—'e's a good sort, if a little slow—knows most of the people what travel nearby. We'll find yer uncle, lads."
Thus assured, the brothers were tucked into a bed in one of the empty rooms. Wrapping his arms around his little brother, Fili pulled him close and whispered into his ear, "Don't worry, squirrel, Uncle will find us tomorrow, we only have to wait a little longer."
The two boys slowly drifted off to sleep, sure that tomorrow Thorin would rescue them from this foreign and frightening world they had found themselves in.
A/N: I hope this chapter didn't seem rushed, it was sooo hard to write! :-(
In the next chapter, we'll check in with Balin, Dwalin, Dala, and Co., plus another familiar (cannon) face will make an appearance. Can you guess who it will be? ;-) We'll also see more of the Pikes.
Next update should be in a couple of days, see you then!