AN: Many thanks to chestry007, Kermitty, Gladoo89, Silmarilz1701, maplewind, Estoma, Anon1, caramelcandylover, Bernadette, rodeocat, fiona boyle 5832, LiL PriNCeSs Me, silverwolfneko-chan, elufuir, Autumn, Nalbal, Purestrongpoem, and Cockapoo for your reviews, and to everyone else who read, faved and followed.
So sorry for such a long break! I definitely mean to keep updates for this story coming at a more regular rate. Please drop me a line if you liked it or have any suggestions, because hearing back from you is one of my muse's favorite things! Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you enjoy!
As punishment for their disobedience, Fíli and Kíli were tasked with caring for Uncle's weapons. Fíli accepted his task with as much grace and dignity as he could manage – as was his province as eldest – but Kíli found it dreadfully boring work. He complained loudly as they moved through the armory, cleaning and polishing the blades, oiling the leather of the hilts, adjusting the axes and swords on their cases.
But Uncle was not moved by Kíli's piteous complaints. "If you wish to one day wield a weapon as a warrior would," he said sternly, "you must first know how to care for it."
"Why don't you have servants do this for you?" Kíli complained. "My arm hurts."
"Because I wouldn't have a servant perform a duty that is mine," Uncle said. "I would not drag a servant along on the battlefield to clean a dirty blade, nor would I even if it wasn't wasteful and foolish. There are some things an honorable man must attend to himself." His gaze became speculative. "Don't you wish to be honorable?"
He'd said the right thing; Kíli straightened up and resumed his labor with utmost attention, polishing a great axe as if he had been born to do that alone. Fíli bit his lip to keep from grinning and turned his focus back to the blade he'd been assigned, a sturdy sword with an intricate design on the hilt.
So the next weeks passed in a haze of obligation, lessons, and polishing Uncle's weapons as he saw fit. They were expected to keep the blades immaculate, and as the time passed Fíli grew to see the chore as an indulgence, for there was something calming about buffing out impurities and seeing his face reflected in the gleaming steel. Even Kíli learned to take to the task without complaint at first.
But there was only so much time before Kíli grew restless. He was easily bored on the best of days, to say nothing of the strictures of honorable men and punishments of wayward youngsters. He slumped against the wall of the armory one day with his head buried in his arms, the very picture of contrite misery.
"We still have to polish the axes," Fíli reminded him.
"I hate this," Kíli said mournfully, muffled by his arms. "I'll never be honorable like Uncle."
"You won't if you just sit there," Fíli said, ever the voice of reason.
But far from galvanized by this logic, Kíli slumped even further down the wall until he was hunched over himself in a grotesque display of woe, one single anguished eye peering up at his brother as if through a veil of eternal sorrow. "You don't understand," he complained, fisting his loose hair in his hands.
"What don't I understand?"
"I'll never be honorable!" Kíli shouted, gesturing emphatically. "I was thinking about what happened, how I couldn't handle the blade like you could when we were practicing. That's why I got hurt."
Fíli had grown very tired of this rhapsodizing these last few weeks. "You got hurt because I stumbled, and because we had no business practicing, not without Uncle or Mister Dwalin or someone to make sure we were safe," he explained as patiently as he could manage. With a sigh, he glanced over his shoulder at his brother, now little better than a puddle of misery on the stone floor. "We'll be able to manage soon, Kíli."
"But what if I never can?" Kíli said in a small voice.
Fíli peered closer at his younger brother, slowly realizing that this wasn't Kíli's normal proclivity toward dramatics but a real fear that had churned in his gut for an indeterminate amount of time. "Why wouldn't you be able to?"
"What if I'm always weak?" Kíli asked, pushing his hair out of his face and looking up at Fíli as if he'd been carved from shame. "What if they try to teach me and I drop the sword and get hurt all the time, and no matter how hard I work, I'll never be as good as Uncle or Dwalin or the others?"
"That won't happen," Fíli said, but Kíli was not reassured. If anything, his misery only seemed to increase.
"How do you know?" Kíli demanded. "How can you be sure?"
Fíli was taken aback by his younger brother's sudden vehemence – usually when Kíli got in one of his moods, he would wallow in pathetic misery until he got it out of his system. "I – I suppose I don't know," Fíli said finally, at a loss.
It was the truth, but it was also the wrong thing to say. Kíli buried his head in his arms once again and said no more.
Fíli felt a tight knot of guilt form in his gut as he watched his brother in the throes of earnest unhappiness, wracking his brain for something to say or do that would bring Kíli out of his misery and back to normal. It occurred to him that Kíli was not putting on a show to get out of a chore that he found unpleasant; his confession was sincere, and his worries were as real as anything, for Fíli always knew when his brother lied.
The solution came to him in a flash. "Come on," he said, hauling Kíli up by his hand. "I know what will cheer you up."
"What about the blades?" Kíli protested, resisting slightly. "We haven't finished cleaning them."
"I'll come back and finish them later myself."
"That's not fair to you."
"I don't mind it," Fíli reassured his brother. "Not like you do."
Kíli offered up no more protest, though as Fíli dragged him through the halls of their estate and out into the streets, he did not smile or react otherwise, not even when Fíli poked him in the tender ribs, which usually sent him into fits of uncontrolled laugher. Instead, he merely shrugged away, trudging behind as dour as a judge.
But his natural curiosity got the better of him, as it usually did. "Where are we going?" Kíli asked, struggling to keep pace with his elder brother as the marketplace crowd jostled around them.
Fíli grinned. "Somewhere even you'd enjoy," he called in order to be heard over the din.
The place he'd had in mind was a small shop at the outskirts of the marketplace, boasting a collection of finely crafted, colorfully painted toys. Kíli normally was quite fond of toys of all kinds, especially small figurines in the shapes of warriors and dangerous beasts and the like – he'd line them up on their bedroom floor and reenact great battles that he'd heard of that day in history lessons, though his reenactments usually involved more shouting and disarray than the orderly lines of battle their tutor preferred to impress upon them.
To Fíli's dismay, the shop full of fantastic toys failed to cheer Kíli up as he'd hoped; his brother browsed the stall with polite interest, but his lips were pulled downward in a heartbreaking frown, and his brows were furrowed with plain unhappiness. He always did wear his heart on his sleeve, so perhaps it shouldn't have surprised Fíli to see that even the toymaker noticed.
The toymaker in question was a pleased looked fellow, and he wore a leather cap and a bright smile as if he'd been born clothed as such. He peered down at Kíli with a friendly expression. "Can I help you today?"
Kíli scuffed the ground with the toe of his boot. "I'm just looking, sir."
"Sir? There are no sirs around here," said the toymaker, grinning.
Fíli frowned. "Then how might we address you?"
The toymaker swept the hat off his head and sank into an exaggerated bow. "I am Bofur, and I am at your service, and your family's. If I'm not mistaken, you are the young princelings, are you not?"
Fíli drew back. "How do you know that?"
"You're very distinctive," said Bofur the toymaker. "And I'm acquainted with your mother, besides."
Fíli crossed his arms in a forbidding manner. "Acquainted, is that right?"
Far from intimidated however, Bofur laughed, slapping his knee. "Fear not, princelings. You've nothing to fear from me or my intentions. Now, you're Kíli, is that right?"
Kíli nodded, biting his lip.
"You're possibly the unhappiest child I've ever seen at my shop. Tell old Bofur what's bothering you, and I'll see if we can't put it to rights."
Kíli peered up at the strange toymaker. "You're not old," he said, his brow furrowing.
"I'm older than you!"
Kíli seemed to acknowledge this, for he lapsed into thoughtful silence as he attempted to put the reason for his sorrow into words before shooting Fíli a pleading expression. Patting Kíli's shoulder reassuringly, Fíli spoke. "A few weeks ago we were practicing with swords and Kíli got hurt."
Kíli helpfully yanked up the sleeve of his tunic to show Bofur the bandage covering the long wound. Bofur's eyes widened, and the smile that seemed to be nearly a permanent feature of his face faltered slightly. "Mahal above."
"It wasn't too bad," Kíli said, embarrassed, and he scuffed the ground again. "It just bled a lot."
Fíli swallowed the hot shame that bloomed at the pit of his gut, threatening to render him speechless once again. It had been weeks since the accident, and yet he knew that as long as either of them were alive, he would look at that long scar on his brother's arm and know himself utterly responsible for that pain. "It was my fault, but now Kíli thinks that he'll never be strong enough to be a great warrior," Fíli said in a small voice, giving shape to their mutual shame. "Because he grew tired, and couldn't parry my blow."
There was a part of him that marveled he was able to confess such personal thoughts to a stranger, but there was something undoubtedly earnest about Bofur the toymaker: perhaps the openness of his features, or his kind eyes, or the way he looked down at them both as if their unhappiness was distressing to him as well.
"Why is that?" Bofur asked them seriously. "Do you fear you'll always be unable to handle the weight of a sword?"
Kíli nodded, miserable. "If I can't be a warrior, then I'll never be honorable like Uncle," he said.
"But you know you don't need to wield a sword or an axe to be a great warrior, don't you?"
Fíli and Kíli shook their heads in unison.
"Aye. Some of the bravest warriors felled the greatest enemies you could possible imagine with nothing more than a bow and arrow."
Kíli wrinkled his nose at the picture. "That's an elf's weapon," he said disdainfully. "That's the weapon of a coward."
"Is it indeed? I've always found the bow to be a wise man's weapon, myself."
"If you've a sharp eye and steady hands, it is the weapon that you'd do well with. You can strike quick and deadly, and if you're able to find a vantage point, you can defend an entire village with nothing more than a quiver full of arrows and the stamina with which to see them to their targets."
"That's impossible," Kíli said, crossing his arms.
"But it's happened before," said Bofur, and he rummaged through his pockets until he produced a little carving of a bowman. At first glance Fíli dismissed the figure as a man, but closer examination revealed proportions very similar to Uncle's: broad shoulders, a stout frame, and large hands that almost seemed too unwieldy for a bow. The dwarf had drawn his bow back, with an arrow nocked and ready to fire, his gaze narrowed and steady, perhaps trained on a deadly foe. "Haven't you heard the story of Gsíl?"
Fíli crossed his arms again, skeptical. "You making this up. I've never heard of a dwarf by that name before."
"Aye, it's not a very common name, is it? These days we take the names of our late fathers and not the names of the weapons we wield. But it's just as I said – Gsíl was a master of the bow. Though his people were proud and acquitted themselves well with axes and swords and other solid things, he believed that there should be no stigma in the weapons we carry. If you chose a bow or a staff or a club, you were still a warrior, and all that truly mattered was the result."
Fíli frowned as he considered this. "But it's not as effective as a sword or axe … isn't it?"
Bofur the toymaker shrugged, gazing at the carving of Gsíl and wiping away a bit of dust off its finely carved features. "Each are strong in their own ways, don't you know? Maybe that bow won't work so well when you've got an orc only an armspan away, but if you're nice and high up, I understand that you can do quite a bit of damage.
"Gsíl's people made the same error of assumption that you did. They believed a bow to be a child's weapon and refused to take Gsíl seriously, but he was not deterred. He knew that the bow was a worthy weapon, and nothing could convince him otherwise.
"And as fate would have it, he was soon given the chance to prove this. One day as he stood guard over the gates of his village, he heard the faint strains of an orcish warhorn, and in the distance he saw a great host of them marching over the hill. He sounded the alarm and the guard sprung to the village's defense, but the orcish horde was vicious and prepared, and they killed every dwarf they met in battle until only Gsíl was left. It seemed as if the village would be destroyed, but Gsíl killed them all one by one before they could breech the gates, for his aim was sharp and his hands were steady."
"How many did he kill?" Fíli wondered.
"At least a hundred, or so the tales say."
"All with just one bow?" Kíli breathed.
"Aye, you got it. Those who survived had learned not to question the worth of the bow, and you would do well not to repeat their mistake, for though it's not made of steel and steady stone, it is no less powerful in the right hands."
Bofur had said the right thing; Kíli looked mightily encouraged, perhaps even enamored with the story that the toymaker had told, and Fíli wondered if his younger brother now saw himself in Gsíl's place, wielding a strong bow and felling many enemies where the reach of an axe would fail. "Thank you for the story, Mr. Bofur," he said, and for the first time that day he broke into a wide grin.
"It was my pleasure," Bofur said, smiling in response. Glancing over his shoulder for a moment, he leaned closer to them and pressed the carving of Gsíl into Kíli's hands. "You may keep that, so that if you ever feel as if you're too weak for a sword, as unlikely as I believe that is, you'll remember that axes and swords are not the only path open to you."
Kíli hugged the figure to his chest, nearly beside himself with glee. "Thank you," he whispered.
And though the toymaker did not have anything for Fíli, he felt his own heart lift at the sight of his brother's happiness. The pair of them bid Bofur a fine day before cutting through the marketplace once again, and this time Fíli struggled to keep pace with Kíli as he ran through the streets, holding the toy aloft over his head like some offering to a heathen spirit of battle.
From that day on, Gsíl the bowman took a prominent position in Kíli's battle play, perched high atop the desk, his fierce gaze trained on the horde of orcs below. No arrows were fired, but the orcs would soon be swept aside regardless.