NOT a Deathfic! (At least so far. Knowing the Original Muse, I am taking no chances.)
Inspired by Tolkein's quote from Over Hill and Under Hill: "(The Goblins) get other people to make (tools and implements of torture) to their design, prisoners and slaves that have to work till they die for want of air and light."
I do not own The Hobbit or anything related to Tolkein's works.
Searing white light blinded Fili momentarily and he raised his arm to shield his eyes against the garish blast. Thorin shoved him to the ground as though to conceal him from further harm as the towering figure raising his beaming rod high above his head.
"Take up your weapons and fight!"
Gandalf's thunderous voice resonated in the mines, goading the dazed and listless to scramble for their arms and press forward as one against the Goblin hoards. Dis slid to her knees to avoid being trampled, scooping up her battleaxe and tossing one of Fili's swords back to her son. Her eyes were livid with an inborn fire as she swung around and severed the head off a Goblin sneaking behind Fili, a thrill of satisfaction bringing a twitch of a smile to her face as the mutilated corpse slipped over the cliff's edge.
They would not take another son from her this night.
Twin swords flashed in the light of torches, black Goblin's blood tarnishing the steel blades as Fili twirled and parried, his own plight forgotten as the lust for vengeance rose within him in renewed furor. He had a debt to repay this night, and neither wounds nor fatigue would sway his cause.
As one Fili and Dis fought back to back, the penalty of death a petty nuisance in light of their purpose. The fought neither for blood nor for their own lives, but for those whom they guarded and the one whom they had failed to protect.
Thorin led them forward with a war cry that echoed for miles in the bottomless mines, his blue eyes blazing with icy fire as Goblins melted before his wrath. Strengthened by his Uncle's courage Fili renewed his efforts, blocking a notched sword that would have sliced the back of Dis' neck and plunging his other blade deep into the stomach of another Goblin. Instinctively he ducked as Dis' axe whirled over his head, a decapitated runt of a Goblin crumpling at their feet. There was no pity in Fili's heart for the wretched creature. The only emotions he held for their kind was the hatred he nursed for the murder of his brother.
Ori's sling caught a Goblin square between the eyes and Nori's slit the throat of another as it bore down on his sibling. A pang of longing and anger struck deeply against Fili's wishes as he watched the elder protect the younger, and with a shuddering effort he forced himself to concentrate on the task at hand. Images of Kili's terrified, pleading eyes flitted through his mind against his will, however, and the shame of failure encompassed him as memories long buried rose to consume him once more.
Forgive me, brother.
It was a plea for retribution that resounded from the depths of a broken soul. A cry for solice when hope is cast to the four winds like a handful of ashes. He had condemned his own brother to death, and Fili knew he deserved nothing less than judgement. He welcomed the pangs of loss and sorrow that rent his very being until he no longer recognized who he was. They were justice compared to the atrocity he had been too late to prevent.
I vowed to protect you, and I failed.
He could still see the terror in his brother's stricken gaze, hear Kili's screams as he was torn from the safety of his family and his home. He could feel the Goblin's spear stabbing through the back of his knee, his throat raw with screams before Thorin thrust him into Dwalin's arms and ordered the warrior to run. He could still remember the panic he felt as he struggled to escape, shouting his brother's name until his voice was hoarse and he had no more strength left to fight.
He could still feel the crippling anguish that had plunged him into a black pit of despair for years after Thorin returned empty handed.
Fili had killed his little brother, and nothing in the world could ever bring Kili back.
No answer forth came, only mumbled gibberish before Fili turned over and began to snore. Dark eyes pouted and Kili jabbed his brother harder in the arm. "Fiwi!"
Fili grumbled as the warm curtain of sleep was ripped from his grasp. In the lingering effects of his dream he recalled a giant spider creeping out from under the bed and poking him in the arm, testing whether he was a succulent morsel worth its time and poison. With a yelp he smacked away the monster, bolting upright in time to watch Kili tumble to the floor.
"Owwww!" Kili whined, rubbing the back of his hand against his forehead and glaring reproachfully at Fili. "You hit me!"
Now fully awake, Fili stumbled out of bed and helped his little brother to his feet, scanning him quickly for injuries before questioning, "What's wrong, Kili?"
Nightmares, imaginary "globlins", shadow monsters, lightning storms and the very thought of being "alone" often had Kili pattering to his big brother as soon as the darkness set in. Fili was accustomed to the nightly interruptions, though he would not be held accountable for the occasional whacks to the head Kili earned for disrupting his wild dreams. Just as always the child recovered swiftly, however, and without a word Kili leap-frogged onto the bed and snuggled under Fili's covers, burrowing in and twisting around like a puppy until only his eyes and nose could be seen peeking out of the blanket cave.
"I hadda bad dweam," Kili whispered, using the "very, very scared-ded" hush he reserved only for his worst night terrors.
Fili sighed quietly and clambered back into bed, tugging a corner of the blanket free from his caterpillar of a brother and shuffling around until he was more comfortable. From the sound of things, it was going to be a long while before he had a chance to go back to sleep.
"What did you dream, Kili?"
Kili wriggled closer, tiny hands darting out from the impossibly knit cocoon and wrapping around Fili's arm. "I dweamed there was a dwagon, an' it ate Mewy." Tears filled coal bright eyes at the thought of losing his favorite kitten. "An' then it wanted ta eat me, an' I was scared, but you weren't there."
He hunkered into his blanket cave and blinked back rivers of saltwater, looking up at Fili with a pitifully heartbroken expression. "What if it comes ta eat me an' you're not here, Fiwi?"
Fili smiled and reached into the blanket fortress to ruffle his brother's hair. "I won't let the dragon eat you," he played along. "I'll be right here when you need me."
"Pwomise?" Kili pleaded, his gaze uncannily penetrating and fervent.
"Promise," Fili assured, holding back a grin. As though the Dragon Smaug would ever come and attack the Blue Mountains.
"An' the globblers? An' the evil trolls? An' Mummy's spoon?"
"Even Mum's - what?"
Kili ducked down in horror as he realized he had been caught. Furtively he glanced around and then cupped a hand around his mouth to whisper loudly, "I ate her cookies an' I wasn't s'posed to." Instantly he clapped his hands over his mouth and was silent, a flush of shame betraying the 'completely innocent!' plea in his eyes.
Fili took a deep breath and released it slowly, contemplating the matter and formulating a plan. Perhaps he could say he ate the stolen sweets, and then at the worst Mum would dole out a few extra scribes with Mister Balin or ban him from practice for a couple days. Then again, Kili could never endure a guilty secret, and he would blurt out his sins the moment his little heart could take no more of his brother enduring his punishment for him. He really was a terrible liar. Mum was getting better at guessing which criminal was responsible just by peeking at her youngest son's face.
"I'll make sure Mum doesn't smack your hand with a spoon for stealing," Fili agreed with a roll of his eyes. His efforts would hardly be neccessary; Kili managed to weasel his way out of his punishment nine times out of ten just by looking up at Dis and Thorin with that mournful, puppy eyed expression.
"An' you'll keep Mewy safe, too," Kili determined with a satisfied nod.
"Yes, Mewy will be safe from the dragon," Fili agreed languidly, watching the shadows flit on the walls and counting down the minutes before his brother fell asleep.
Kili snuggled closer and curled up at Fili's side, yawning cavernously and smacking his mouth. "Fiwi?" he murmured, pulling his brother's side of the blanket a little tighter around him, "Will you be here if the dwagon comes back?"
"I'll be right here beside you," Fili assured with a nod.
"An' you'll keep it back until Unca Thorin kills it?"
"If I have to fight it off with Mum's wooden spoon," Fili agreed.
Kili sighed in quiet content and closed his eyes. He cuddled closer to his brother, sticking his thumb in his mouth despite his Mother's hopeless attempts to have him break the habit. Fili grinned and shook his head, vowing not to speak a word.
"I'll always be here to protect you, Kili," he whispered, wrapping an arm around his brother and pulling him close. "I won't let anything ever harm you. No matter what happens, you'll be safe as long as I'm around."
He had never spoken a crueler lie to his brother.
Tears filled Fili's vision as he remembered Kili's infallible trust, his unshakable belief that his older brother would never lie to him and he would never come to harm if Fili was near. How desperately Fili wished he could have taken back that day in the sunlit grove, when joy crumbled into despair and the light was plunged into a night without end. He would have given everything in the world to have that one day with his brother again.
With a ragged howl of anguish Fili quenched his sorrow, channeling the guilt and heartache into an endless throe of rage. He thrust his blades into the back of another Goblin, ducking below a second one's hatchet and driving his sword into the neck of a third. The only face he saw was that of Kili's, the only voice that of his brother's screams.
Crimson hazed his vision and the Goblins became a blur of foes, the lust for blood overwhelming Fili's thoughts until neither foe nor friend could be discerned. Gloin cursed when Fili's swords almost nicked a vein in his neck, shouting for the boy to watch what he was doing even as he staved off his own onslaught. Bofur's hand might have been swiped off by a careless strike on Fili's part had not Dori shoved him out of the way. Fili was blind to his actions in the commotion, caught up in the throes of battle and the insatiable need to repay in Goblin's blood the debt he owed to his brother. He had sworn that Kili would be avenged for the tragedy that stole his young, innocent life, and Fili always kept his word.
He had broken but one promise in his life. He would not fail Kili again.
Dis' sharp bark of warning shattered Fili's thoughts and he glanced up in time to catch a Goblin's scimitar glittering on the edge of his vision. Whirling to block the killing stroke, Fili did not recognize until too late that he was bordering the edge of the walkway. The Goblin leered in triumph and shoved against Fili's cross swords, catching the Dwarf off balance and driving him a step backwards to teeter on the edge. Panic overwhelmed Fili and he threw out his arms to prevent his fall, instinctively grasping for the first handhold within reach. His fingers closed on the Goblin's wrist, eliciting a yowl of surprise just before Fili lost his footing entirely.
Dis scream echoed above the Goblins' screeches, her battleaxe twirling in the flickering light of torches as she battled to reach the crevice where her son had disappeared. Remorse flooded Fili anew as he realized he was depriving her of her only remaining child. He longed to give her a last farewell, a smile, anything to comfort her in his parting. Endless darkness swallowed him alive, however, the glint of fire and freedom winking from sight before the ground rushed sickeningly to meet him and a different kind of blackness filled his vision.
That same spider was prodding him in the shoulder again, and Fili wanted nothing more than to squish it under his boot and banish it from his nightmares for the pitiful remainder of its creepy-crawly life. Pain spiked in his temples and he let out a low groan, slapping away the persistent creature as it shoved him in the shoulder once more.
A sharp gasp was drawn from his assailant and there was a clamor of stones and metal as something scrambled away. Harsh, rapid breathing sounded in the darkness and warily Fili opened his eyes. Blackness surrounded him and Fili blinked hard, passing a hand over his eyelids to ensure he was truly awake. Slowly the realization filtered in that the blackness surrounding him was no dream, and panic set in as Fili wondered if he had been struck blind.
"W-who ... You're not ..." The tremulous voice was cut short and Fili whirled upright, clapping his hands to his head as the the world spun momentarily.
Who was it that slunk in the darkness close by? It was not the voice of a Goblin so far as Fili could tell, nor did it belong to any of the company. The thought of Goblins struck him with icy chill and he drew a knife from his boot, searching the blackness for the creature he had dragged down with him.
The faintest glimmer of light shone off Fili's blade and the unknown voice shifted with a whimper, shale clattering across the rugged path as it drew further back. Whatever it was, it appeared to hold the same fear that goaded Fili to action, and with a frown of uncertainty Fili lowered the knife to his side.
"Who are you?" he asked in a low voice.
A hiss was given in response. "Y-you're not one of - of them."
As his eyes adjusted to the dim light Fili could barely make out the crouched shadow of the one who was speaking. Ratted, tangled hair curtained its - his - face, judging by the voice, bony limbs jutting out from a small frame as he shrunk deeper into the shadows. Several feet away the crumpled corpse of a Goblin stared wide-eyed at the ceiling, limbs askew in the throes of a violent and sudden death.
Vaguely Fili recalled the manner of his fall and wondered that he had not met a similar fate. He had the impression his collision had been broken somehow, first by the smaller crags he remembered striking on his way down, and then cushioned by something other than unforgiving stone. The brush with death brought a flash of humor against all reason, and with a snort of mortified amusement Fili inquired,
"I suppose I fell on you during my little 'unanticipated adventure?'"
The shadow cringed and retorted with a light growl. He was clearly favoring his left shoulder, and a flash of guilt caused Fili to bite his tongue against any further comments.
"Are you hurt?" he questioned, concern overriding self-preservation as he took a step towards the shadow.
The clink of iron was a sound Fili knew well from the forges, and he could not mistake the heavy drag of manacles as the shadow flitted away. A cold wave of revelation slammed into him as he recognized the implications. A slave of the mines, then, trapped in the darkness to carve away stone and precious metals until his hands broke under the chisel and he wasted away for the brokenness of his spirit. Grim tales of the Goblin mines still caused Fili to shudder in horror, for few ever escaped the pitch darkness and those who did were never the same.
"D-don't ... don't come any closer!"
Frantic bursts testified of the shadow's terror and with a start Fili backed away a few steps. He raised his hands to imply he meant no ill intent, however, in his haste he neglected to think about the knife still brandished in his grasp. The subsequent reaction haunted him for months afterwards.
"No - no wait - please!" Haunted eyes were captured by the glittering blade poised in the air as though to strike, and with a yelp the shadow stumbled back and pressed against the wall, thin arms flung over his head to ward off a blow. "I'm sorry!" he garbled, his words tumbling in a flood of panic as he curled up tighter to make himself appear less of a target. "I won't - I won't do it again! - I-I'll get back to work! - I won't slack off anymore! - I - I d-didn't kill him, either, I swear! I wasn't trying to escape! - I - I'm sorry! I - I won't do it again! - Please! - I'm sorry! - Just don't - "
His pleas broke off in sobs of terror and he shuddered in apprehension of whatever punishment awaited him. The blood drained from Fili's face as he watched the pitiful display. Never before had he envisioned himself as such a monster.
The knife slipped from his slack fingers and clanged off the rugged stone floor. The crumpled form quivered at the sound and let out a soft keen, shuddering in agonized horror as the suspense dragged on. Compassion warred with reason in Fili's heart, and he wondered if it would be a merciful act on his part just to put the slave out of his misery. He was small enough that he could not be more than a boy in Man's years, far too young to be suffering such a cruel and inescapable fate.
An image of Kili, so vibrant and carefree before the Goblins took him away, brought a lump to Fili's throat and he realized he could not seal the boy's death sentence even for the sake of mercy. No slave deserved to be cut down in cold bloodshed in a tomb he had hewn with his own hands, never to see the stars or the sun emblazoning the mountains in a wreath of flame or to feel the wind calling his name.
Kili loved those things, Fili remembered with a pang. It was then and there that his mind was made up. He was too late for his brother, but perhaps this one slave could be granted the chance to live. Fili had no idea if he could even find his way out of the darkness, but if he escaped it would not be on his own. No one deserved to die alone in these wretched caverns.
Cautiously Fili approaching the cowering slave, wincing at the soft scuffing his boots made on the floor. The shadow flinched at the sound but did not run. Fili knew not whether it was because he was incapable of flight or because he knew it would be futile. He forced the thought from his mind and banished the anger that accompanied it, kneeling in the dusty grime of the tunnel to meet the slave's eye level.
"I am not here to hurt you," Fili promised in a muted undertone, speaking carefully so as not to frighten the boy further. "I am not one of the Goblins, or in any way allied with them. My family... they are out there looking for me right now." Or so he hoped, for if they had given up on the search it would only mean they had been captured or killed.
"I need to find them," Fili implored gently. "I am trying to escape this place ... the same as you." He added the last part tentatively, waiting for the shadow's response.
The boy had cautiously raised his head while Fili spoke, but at the word "escape" a shudder jolted through him and he shook his head frantically. "No - Not escape - Can't escape - They'll brand me again!" He pressed his hand against his left cheek, scrambling away like a skittish animal that has been caged and tormented until it grew wild from fear and pain.
"They said they would take an eye next time!" he pleaded, the frenzied pitch in his tone begging for Fili to leave him be and cease to tempt him with half-forgotten dreams that would only render him further agony.
The implications smote Fili with a wave of revulsion and he could not speak for a long moment. This slave had tried to escape on his own, perhaps more than once if such drastic measures had been taken. Goblins were hideously cruel, however, and even if he had made the attempt but once they might have determined to quench the spirit of rebellion before it had a chance to take full flight.
Again his little brother flitted to his mind and Fili could not batten down the image. In the darkness it could be Kili begging for his life in the suffocating darkness of the Goblin mines. It could be Kili cowering at the slightest sounds, dreading the opportunity to flee his prison for fear of worse punishments that could follow.
Kili was dead, but in this moment an overwhelming protectiveness rose up in Fili for this one that his mind coupled with the face of his kid brother. He would not leave him to suffer further torment at the hands of the Goblins. Fili had been unable to rescue his brother before, but he would not fail to do so now. Whether by cajoling or by force, he would not leave the caverns without him.
"They will not capture us if we escape together," Fili encouraged. He glanced behind him, striving to make out the pale sheen of his swords dropped during his fall. "I have weapons." The knife, at least. "They will be distracted by the others right now; they will not notice us."
"No," the shadow whispered, trembling as shrank away. "They'll find us. We won't get far. I don't ... I don't want to go!"
"You said you tried to escape before," Fili pointed out. "You must know your way around the tunnels. I don't know where I am going. I need you to show me the way out."
"They'll bring me back!" the shadow sobbed in despair. "They'll bring me back again and they'll do it again - worse this time! They never forget their threats!"
"I won't let them harm you," Fili assured with grim fervency. "You'll be safe as long as I am here."
The shadow stiffened with a sharp breath and Fili's mouth went dry as he realized he had spoken almost the exact same words to Kili decades before. A cold shiver coursed through him and he sat down hard, an invisible hand clenching around his heart so tightly that for a moment he could not breathe.
For an instant Fili had been so caught up in the illusion that he half believed it was Kili he was speaking to, that it was Kili he would guide out of the darkness and back into the arms of the family who had lost him so long ago. For a minute it was Kili he comforted in the pitch black of the tunnels, offering the same terrible lie that he would protect him when it was true they might never leave this horrific place alive. The thought brought a dry sob to Fili's lips and he pressed the back of his hand against his mouth to choke back a cry of longing.
Then the moment was past and it was the unnamed shadow he spoke to once more. For an instant the slave seemed to draw closer, the slightest glimmer of hope reflected in the straightening of his bony shoulders and the lifting of his head. A second later he drew back into himself once more, wrapping thin arms around his knees and tucking his head into the pillow of imagined security.
"No," he determined in a tremulous gasp. "No."
His heart sank as Fili was made painfully aware once more that this was not his brother he was trying to assist. Kili was dead. It was only a wound to his memory to imagine him being cooped up in these garish tombs until he wasted away just like this slave. Even so Fili could not let go of his resolve. He could not abandon the boy to his torment until death mercifully stole him away.
"If you stay here," Fili explained hesitantly at first, and then with grimmer firmness, "You think they will not notice the body?" He glanced back in the direction of the Goblin's corpse, the shadow instinctively following his gaze. "I will try and make my way out, whether you come or not. You will be the only one left in the tunnels. Who will they blame for their comrade's death?"
It was a low, brutal tactic and Fili felt like a bully for resorting to such measures. He could not afford to take any chances, however. There was always the option of knocking the slave out and carrying him through the maze, but Fili had no idea where to go and the extra weight would slow him down. If he could gain the shadow's cooperation they both stood a better chance of breaking for freedom.
The knowledge of what must be done did not make his task any easier, however.
The shadow began to breathe faster, horror racing through him in convulsive shudders as he tried to defend himself. "But I didn't kill him! He - h-he fell! I nev-never t-touched him! I-I didn't do it!" He let out a high pitched keen, raking his hands through his hair and bending his forehead down to his knees. "It wasn't my fault!" he pleaded.
"They will not listen if they find you," Fili responded, forcing himself to appear calm and in control. He loathed himself for what he was doing to the boy, but he could not stop now. "It could be more than an eye this time. They could take both eyes, or even a hand - whatever they feel you can afford to lose."
Harsh, racking sobs coursed through the skeletal frame and the shadow rocked back in forth, terror as Fili had never witnessed or experienced driving the slave to his knees. He could stand the piteous display no longer. Gently Fili laid a hand on the boy's shoulder, almost driving him into a panic attack at the unexpected contact.
"It will be all right," Fili reassured softly, imploring the slave to trust him. "Come with me. I will not let them find you. Show me the way out, and they will never harm you again."
"Y-you're lying," the shadow stuttered desolately. "Just like - like the other one... Baldor. Y-you'll t-t-turn me in a-and run when you have the ch-chance."
"I could have run long ago." Foolishness without a guide, but had Fili not run into the slave he would have had no other choice. "Or I could have taken my knife and forced you to show me the way out."
The muffled cries stilled and Fili knew the shadow was listening. "I won't leave without you," he vowed. "I will not let them hurt you any longer; not while I am still alive."
The boy's shoulders slumped in defeat and he reluctantly nodded. Fili closed his eyes momentarily in relief and rose slowly to his feet, taking care not to move sparatically and lose the slave's confidence. He swept his feet around the floor of the cavern, grimacing as he kicked the Goblin's stiffened corpse. Whether or not it may have been true, his threat regarding the body had been a cruel trick to pull on the boy and Fili despised himself for stooping to their level to get what he wanted.
His boot scraped over the steel and Fili bent to retrieve his swords, relieved to find both relatively close to one another. He thought he could make out a notch in one blade and chided himself for his carelessness. Your weapons are your life, Thorin would tell him over and over in the forges. A flawed blade could determine whether or not the wielder survived; there was no room for error.
Nothing could be done to resolve the issue now, however, and with a sigh of resignation Fili sheathed his swords and returned to the shadow's side. The slave had risen to his feet and Fili was struck once more with how young he must be. Slumped with exhaustion and dread, he appeared smaller than he really was, but even had he stood ramrod straight he would barely have reached over Fili's head. How long had he been trapped in this endless nightmare, with no hope of ever seeing his family again?
Once more Kili was brought to Fili's mind and he forced himself to concentrate on anything save his brother. He could mourn for Kili at a later time, but at this moment he could no longer allow himself to be distracted with the dark memories of the past.
Gesturing to the open passage with a wave of his hand and pretending he did not witness the boy's flinch, Fili stepped back and allowed the shadow to guide the way.
Mini-muse points to Original Muse and holds up a sign stating 'I is not with It!'
'Sigh.' Those two have been bickering since the second to last chapter of A Prince's Disgrace. As some of my readers may have already guessed, food alone will satiate the rabid monsters and inspire them to type more frantically for this story. So, without further ado,
Feed the Muses!
(Or else they will collaborate against a certain author and her attempts to preserve the remaining lineage of Durin. Shame on them!)
A Little Side-Note: Yes! Dis is officially a member of the company! Kili is gone, after all, and since they needed a 13th Dwarf for the count (or else not invite Bilbo along) I slipped her in to avoid the painful progress of scrounging up a random Dwarf or inventing a passable OC. (Which I hate adding to my stories. Other people can pull it off well enough, but me? Eh, I tend to hate my characters eventually. Unless they're intentionally aggravating to the readers, the other characters and myself. That part can be kind of fun, actually...) :/