"I didn't tell Uncle," Kili said, unexpectedly, "But they might let me play tomorrow night."

They had finished their supper, and Kili was now lounging across Fili's bed, idly waxing his neglected bow string while his brother looked over a map of Middle Earth that had been given to him by Thorin a few days earlier.

"Who?" Fili asked, abandoning his examination of an odd little place called 'Hobbiton' that he had discovered to the east of their home.

"The band. Let's see, it's Bombur on the drum, Ori on flute, and Dwalin on the viol. Bombur says that they could use a fiddle to round things off."

"Are you sure you want to get close enough to Dwalin to be on stage together?"

"You mean after the boot? Oh, he's got over it now. All's forgiven." Fili snorted. It always was, with his brother. Kili had the magical ability to wipe any slate clean with just a bit of time and a friendly smile. Fili himself still received a suspicious glare from the giant dwarf every time they passed in the halls.

"I'm going up tonight to try out with them. They want to see if I've learned enough to keep up. Want to come?"

Fili had no doubt that his brother would be more than up to their standards. He would never say it out loud, but Orris had been right, Kili really did have an amazing knack for the instrument. "Shall we head up now? Maybe I can help with some of the clearing while you play."

"An excellent notion!" Kili exclaimed, already in motion and preparing to depart. He darted into his room to grab his fiddle while Fili snatched up both of their coats and trotted after him down the hall.

Work on the plateau was well under way when the boys arrived; the bandstand had already been erected, and was being enthusiastically decorated by a group of giggling girls. The weeds and brush that had sprung up since the last gathering were being cleared by a few dwarves of Fili and Kili's age, who were swinging scythes and pulling out small shrubs and saplings by their roots with vigor.

Fili looked about with interest. It had been years since he had last come here, back when he and Kili had been very young. His favorite thing, he remembered, had been the small grove of linden trees that had grown in the protective lee of the mountain. Looking at them now, he saw that they had mostly died off, although many of them still stood or leaned against one another for support. At the center formed by their hollow trunks was a tiny, hidden glade, sheltered and secluded by the ghosts of the old trees. There was still a certain magic to that secret place, Fili thought.

Kili elbowed his brother and leaned over to hiss in his ear. "Look who's here," he said, his lip curled in distaste.

Fili scanned the small field and spotted among those clearing the brush a particularly muscular dwarf with a shock of black hair and an ornately plaited long beard. "Bain," he mouthed back, matching Kili's disgust. Bain was a broad dwarf of Fili's year, and no favorite of either brother. He had a tendency to make cruel jests at the expense of those who were weaker than him, which was almost everyone, and the brothers couldn't stand the sight of him. Bain was arrogant and strong, and the only thing that he had in greater abundance than his muscles was his facial hair, which was another strike against him in Kili's eyes. Worse still, he was constantly hanging around Brede, and he was half the reason that Kili had never managed to approach her. Even as they watched, Bain tossed down the scythe that he had been using and sauntered over to the stage where Brede sat contentedly twining a garland of heather and gorse bunches. Fili didn't think it was just his imagination that Brede looked a trifle irked when Bain sat down uninvited beside her.

Ori, Bombur and Dwalin were already on stage tuning their instruments, and Bombur beckoned for Kili to come over with a wave of his meaty arm.

"I'll see you later. Try to hit Bain with a scythe if you can at all help it." Kili grinned and dashed off. As he passed Brede on the stage he waved and shot her a shy smile, which, in Fili's opinion, was a vast improvement over his usual practice of awkwardly avoiding eye contact. Brede smiled back, and there was nothing tentative in her looks.

Fili thought Kili looked a little anxious as he climbed the stage, but his brother was never one to let nerves hold him back. Well, almost never, he amended as he picked up an unused scythe and chanced a sideways glance at Brede, who was giving Kili her undivided attention to the great chagrin of Bain. Bain rose with a grimace and stalked off, returning to the others in the field without even excusing himself. Fili also went to join them, although he tried to keep his distance from the fuming Bain.

Up on the bandstand, Bombur started in with his drum and Kili listened attentively, attuning himself to the beat.

"Ye can jes' improvise a bit to get the hang of layerin' over the other instruments. We'll join in one by one, and ye can go last. Alrigh'?" Bombur explained to Kili, who nodded happily. He was far better at improvising than he was at following a song by rote memorization. "Ye can sing, too, I hear?" Again Kili nodded.

"A bit. I don't know how good my pitch is, but I'm good and loud, Fili always says." He laughed affably.

"I'm sure you'll do fine laddie. Alrigh', on three!" Bombur counted them down, and one by one they started in; Drum, flute, and viol, finally followed by the playful strains of a fiddle rising above them all. Kili played a few rollicking licks, then dove into a gently meandering melody that wound gaily in and out of the other instruments. He missed a note here and there, but overall his inexperience was more than made up for by his showmanship and spirit. Ori smiled, pleased to see that Kili would work out, and even Dwalin looked marginally impressed.

On the step below the stage, Brede absently set the garland that she had been weaving aside and turned her rapt face to Kili, who was swaying to the music with his eyes closed. Launching into a familiar tune, he broke into song. He had a clear, strong voice, and he used it well to fill in the gaps where his playing was still a bit rocky. Fili stopped and leaned on the handle of his scythe to watch, and chuckled as he saw Brede staring almost open-mouthed. It appeared that his brother had found the chink in the maiden's armor.

"He's good," grunted a grudging voice to Fili's side. Fili turned and saw that Bain had also stopped to watch the performance.

"He's just learning, too." Fili said, with a touch of warm pride.

"An idiot savant, then!" Bain roared, laughing.

Fili frowned. "Watch yourself," he growled, his face flushing scarlet. "My brother is no idiot."

Bain shrugged. "I meant nothing by it. I'm only glad that he's found his place under the mountain. He was only ever good for a bit of a laugh before." he sneered.

Fili started angrily toward him, but Bain never even saw the fist that flew from out of nowhere and hit him square in the face.

Fili looked up in surprise as Kili stepped over Bain's splayed legs, shaking out his hand with a wince. Bain was lying on the ground, groaning and clutching at his nose. Neither he nor Fili had noticed when the music had stopped and Kili had come up to them and caught the tail end of their conversation.

One of Kili's knuckles was split and bleeding. "You didn't break it, did you?" Fili asked with concern, although secretly impressed.

Kili shook his head. "Nah. Not my hand. His nose, maybe. Thought I felt a crunch."

Bain was climbing unsteadily to his feet. "Thorin will hear about this," he growled, swiping at a dribble of blood that oozed from one nostril. When he took his hand away, Fili was pleased to see that his nose had taken on a decided lean to the left. "You'll be lucky if you ever leave the hall again, royal brat."

Kili glared, but said nothing, and over his shoulder, Fili saw Brede coming up behind them with an angry, worried look on her face. Perhaps she had cared for Bain more than it had appeared.

Or perhaps not.

Brede tapped Bain on the shoulder and stood staring crossly up at him when he turned. "What're you goin' to tell Thorin, then? Ye think he'll keep Kili from comin' to the dance tomorrow for hittin' the likes of you? It served y'right, ye great bully! I'm glad someone's finally put ye in yer place, for ye've done naught but pick on everyone since the day ye set foot in Ered Luin." Brede had a healthy country accent that came in very thick when she was riled, and when the 'ye's and 'yer's started flying, people knew that she had worked herself into one of her grand passions. It was this tendency that had earned her the 'spitfire' reputation that Bofur had spoke of.

Bain sputtered. "I've never said a bad word to you, Brede!"

"D'y'think that I should be grateful? That I should swoon at yer feet because I'm the only one that ye've never said an unkind word to? I've heard the things ye say about everyone else, and that's enough to turn my stomach!" Blazing eyes stared up at him, and Bain actually cowered.

During this exchange, Kili had been fixedly staring at Brede as if she were a cool glass of water on a sweltering summer's day. Now she startled him out of his reverie by taking his arm and pulling him after her.

"Come on, Kili. If Thorin gets the wrong end of the stick on this, I'll tell him exactly what happened. Ye'll not get in any trouble for giving that lout his comeuppance."

By now, a small crowd had gathered, and Bain uneasily glanced around at the ring of smug faces. It was obvious that not a single person there was on his side, and he turned and stalked away with a sneer. Fili smirked, delighted with the entire situation, then returned to his work, whistling happily. Eventually the others followed his lead and laughed and talked over the recent excitement.

Brede led Kili over to a low outcropping of rock beside the little linden grove. They sat down together and it seemed to Kili that she was very close. She gently took his injured hand in hers to examine. "How is it?" she asked with solicitous concern, her endearing twang fading now that she had calmed herself.

With an air of bravado, Kili shrugged. "It'll be good enough to play for the dance tomorrow." He gulped as she moved closer, rather ruining the effect he had been striving for.

"Good! I love to hear you play. My Da plays the fiddle, you know."

They sat in silence for a moment, and Brede noticed a shadow fall across Kili's usually open features. "What's wrong?" she asked.

He hesitated, staring down at his bruised fist that Brede still held between her own delicate hands. She was softly tracing her fingers in circles around his bloodied knuckle and a pleasant shiver ran down the back of his neck.

"You never gave me so much as a glance before I picked up that fiddle," he said slowly, still staring at their entwined hands. He sounded sad, but determined to hear the truth, and Brede felt a small stab of guilt, even though her previous lack of interest in him had been completely innocent.

"Well, we never had anything in common before! What are archery and sword-fights to me? But music I love! I'm sorry that it took that to catch my attention, but now I can see all the things that I ne'er would have noticed before. You're quick, and funny, and kind... and you can sing and dance like a whirlin' banshee!" She looked at Kili askance. "Wait, are ye sayin' that ye think I'm shallow?" Her eyes twinkled mischievously, knowing that she had him wrong-footed again.

"Wha- No, no! Of course not! It's just that you've only ever seemed interested in Gimli and, well, dwarves with beards, who aren't tall enough to scrape the ceilings when they pass." He mumbled this last bit into his shoulder as he looked down at her nervously.

"Gimli, I'll have you know, excels at cooking, which I happen to enjoy very much myself. We can talk for hours about spices. And," she continued, striving for a straight face, "Beards are quite overrated. They tickle too much."

"Tickle? Oh!" Kili blushed. "Well, I promise, I'll never tickle."

Brede grinned. "So I'll definitely see you at the dance tomorrow?" She raised her impossibly blue eyes up to his, and Kili thought he might drown in their deep pools.

"Yes," he breathed. "Oh, definitely, yes!"

"Good." she said, leaping up from the rock. Kili copied her movement without thinking. "Don't do anything too awful between now and then that might make Thorin keep you from comin'! I hate to be disappointed." Kili's eyes widened and he thought that he might sink into the ground when Brede stood on her very tip toes and planted a soft kiss on his cheek.

"I- I- Um, yes, I'll behave!" He winced as his words insisted on stumbling all over themselves.

"Goodnight, Kili," she whispered. Her fragrant lips still hovered near his ear and her eyes were closed. It looked as though she expected something from him, but Kili's overwrought brain refused to reveal what that something might be.

Brede opened her eyes as the moment passed, and he saw that they were dancing with amusement. "Tomorrow, then," she said huskily, and turned and walked away with her hips swaying fetchingly.

Fili sauntered over to his brother's side and crossed his arms as they both watched Brede go. "You're supposed to kiss them when they do that," he remarked casually.

"Shut up!"

"Just sayin'. You'll know better next time." He laughed, then cursed as Kili's elbow caught him in the ribs. "Now don't go getting too big for your britches, little brother. You may be able to take down the likes of Bain, but you'll not best me!"

"Bain was twice your size!"

"He wasn't! I'd have had him down myself if you hadn't come over just when you did."

The bickering and jabs continued until they reached the great hall, where Thorin sat with his boots propped before a roaring fire. He was studying an ancient looking map that he hastily folded and tucked away as the boys entered. News of Kili's altercation with Bain had already reached him, and he watched his youngest nephew with interest.

"Erm. So..." Kili began, looking at the floor.

"Been in a fight, have we?" Thorin prompted.

"Here's the thing-"

"Save it. Your little Brede already stopped by and told me what happened." Thorin eyed Kili in an appraising manner before seeming to decide upon approval as his dominant feeling on the matter.

"Brede was here?" Kili stammered, and Thorin fought back a chuckle. The lad was starry-eyed, no doubt about it.

"Yes, and she was very anxious that I not kill you before the dance. Apparently, she harbors some silly notion that you're to see her there tomorrow night."

Panic spread across Kili's face. "But I can still go, right?"

"Will you apologize to Bain?" Thorin asked with an oddly veiled expression.

Anger flared up behind Kili's eyes, and although he warred with his desire to see Brede at the dance, he lifted his chin in defiance. "Absolutely not. The lout got exactly what was coming to him, and I'm not sorry for a second."

Thorin nodded, pleased, and Fili and Kili blinked in surprise. "Then you can still go. No nephew of mine will ever lower himself to apologize to that worthless layabout. Go and enjoy yourselves, and if Bain gives you anymore trouble, well... Just make sure that I never have to hear about it. Now go to bed." he finished, tacking on a harsh tone at the end just to feel that he had done his proper duty by the lads.

The boys trotted obediently off, mystified and relieved by their unexpected reprieve.

"Oh, and Kili," Thorin called out after him, once again shaking out his map over his lap, "Brede is truly something."

"That she is!" Kili grinned ecstatically and bound up the stairs for his bed, eager to court whatever dreams of tomorrow awaited him there.


AN: Alright, it wasn't colossal, but it was a big enough chapter by my standards. And Kili finally said a full sentence to Brede!