Hello, dear readers, hope you're all well! Thanks to those who read, followed and favourited the story these past days!

Guest 1: You mean Aragorn? If yes, I'm sorry, but his role at least in the second part of the story is over. He might appear in the third one, though nothing is certain yet. Thanks for the review!

DanaFruit: Patience you must have, my young padawan. Until the next Friday.

Hiding in the Shadow: Sometimes anticipation can heighten the... pleasure! (to avoid any misunderstanding, I just quoted Bruce Almighty) And yay for Sebastian! I'm struggling to recover from that lip bite he does in every other picture. If you have found a way to recover, please do share, I'm dying here.

whiteredebony: Let me compensate for the short part in the armoury with the beginning of this one. Thanks for the review!

BBMonkey: The action starts in the end of this one! And I will message you in a few days with a few questions of mine about the next chapter. Thanks for the review!

jkrfan7: She will make amends in this one with actions, rather than words. Hope you'll like it and thanks for your review :)

MidnightTales357, Applejack456, thatirishblond, dorina16able, Prost, Anonnymouse, draegon-fire, Guest 2, Furionknight, MaxRideandPercyJackson4ever: Thank you for your reviews, my dears! They truly make my days brighter!

This one is a real monster regarding the word count. I am sorry, but I couldn't cut it anywhere else. It was writtenespecially towards the end— while listening to 'Closer' by Kings of Leon on loop. Enjoy!

A game of shadows

The last thing Bilbo clearly remembered before the thundering commotion was him, Nori and Thorin passing all kinds of weapons to Kili's arms. The young prince, struggling to keep himself up straight and clearly suffering from lack of prudence, had insisted almost violently to be among the ones who would smuggle the real weapons out of the armoury.

Thorin initially brought no objections to this, while Bilbo fixed Kili with a look signifying that he was trying too much to not show something. It was starting to get to the hobbit's nerves and he was a step away from yelling at the lad to put some sense in his mind. Just when he was about to speak, Thorin got there first.

The king regarded his nephew with a suspicious look, seeing that he was almost hobbling across the room as he gathered the weapons from the rest. "Are you alright?" he asked with concern.

"I can manage," Kili breathed out and looked at his uncle as if Thorin had mortally insulted him. Immediately, he straightened himself up, feeling almost exhausted by this attempt to mask the pain in his leg that was steadily becoming more prominent. "Let's just get out of here."

Bilbo barely held himself back from snorting at this and limited to only roll his eyes. The warning glare Kili was ready to give him was cut short when the lad did the grave mistake of putting his wounded leg forth as he headed for the stairs.

"Bloody hell," the hobbit cursed through his teeth when the prince tottered and the weapons seemed rather inclined to slide off his hands and scatter around, half on the floor and half over other weapons.

All eyes fell on Kili, who grunted from the pain as his leg stretched forcefully under him. He made an attempt to stand up, but couldn't.

Panic. It rose within everyone's gut unanimously and at the same time.

The town guards were alerted to their presence in under a second; their hoarse voices seemed to get closer and closer and, when Thorin noted five swords pointing at him and the others out of nowhere, as well as a knife scraping Kili's neck, he wondered if it had been wise to take his nephews on this quest. Being princes of the line of Durin already put them at stake, and they might as well serve as an extra target for enemies.

Unlike his uncle, Fili wondered if he and Thorin would pay too high a price to see this quest fulfilled as the guards immobilised them outside the armoury and some others escorted the rest of the company out; among those being his half-limping brother. The blond was a step away from smacking the back of his head for being such a pigheaded mule, but instead limited to support him as the guards ordered them to move, despite the mask the younger put on whenever one of the others turned to look at them, trying not to appear weak.

Kili seemed to grow weaker with every passing hour, despite the views he supported so fervently, and as the events turned out, Fili would much more prefer to have stayed back at Bard's home, accept whatever weapons he had to give to them and disappear from the town once and for all than live through this. At least if they had stayed there, they wouldn't be dragged across the town's streets like criminals, under pointing fingers and prying eyes of pretty much the entire population of the town.

They eventually came to a stop in the town square and Braga, the Head of the town's Guard, called out for the Master who furiously stormed out of house enquiring about this late disturbance of his -dull, apart from eating and swigging brandy- day.

The company was consequently accused for robbery, enemies of the state and, last but not least, mercenaries by that ridiculous, slimy little man that served as the Master's advisor or so, which naturally roused a rampage among the dwarves.

"Hold your tongue!" a furious Dwalin stepped forth, ready to spit that greasy worm on his feet. "This is Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror!"

Thorin slowly approached his friend. "We are the dwarves of Erebor," he announced solemnly. "We have come to reclaim our homeland."

That roused a tinny choir of murmurs from the crowd. Some of the town's people were still suspicious about the dwarves' unsavoury nature, while most seemed rather cheerful once Thorin earnestly promised to send wealth and riches flowing from the Halls of Erebor.

On the dark side of the moon, there was also Bard; who was a different matter altogether as he made his way through the crowd, his eyes gleaming of fear and foreshadowing warnings. "Death!" he exclaimed. "That is what you'll bring upon us! If you waken that beast," his voice became lower and grim again, "it will destroy us all."

Thorin pinned his steely glare upon the tall man, almost daring him to contradict him. But then his eyes roamed about the crowd, who seemed to by beyond excited about his return. And what would a mere man's word be against that of a whole town's? "You can listen to this naysayer," he said slowly, "but I promise you that if we succeed, all will share in the wealth of the Mountain. There will be enough gold to rebuild Esgaroth in its old glory!"

"Why should we take you at your word, eh?" Alfrid asked suspiciously. "We know nothing about you. Who here can vouch for your character?"

Whispers spread within the crowd when no one replied, until a little man's hand was raised as he stepped forth.

"Me," said Bilbo. "I'll vouch for him. I have travelled far with these dwarves through great danger, and if Thorin Oakenshield gives his word, then he shall keep it."

Said dwarf might as well be touched by the declaration, if ever so slightly. He gave a grateful nod to the burglar and Bilbo nodded back with determination, while the crowd erupted in praising cries.

"Listen to me!" Bard snapped furiously. "Have you forgotten what happened to Dale? Have you forgotten all those who died in the firestorm?" He was hitting a sensitive spot, he knew that many of the people were descended from Dale as he was, but he would use every way in existence to put some sense into their minds. "The blind ambition of a Mountain King, so blinded by greed, he could not see beyond his own desire!"

Mentioning Thror's gold sickness and the destruction that came with it prompted almost an attack, but it was prevented when a hand was raised and the guards held the dwarves away from Bard.

With eyes shining and sparkling by flowing rivers of gold that were molded in his imagination, the pompous Master of Lake-town decided to open his mouth and act for his self. "We must not be quick to lay blame," he said with his most successful, advising voice, while Alfrid eagerly nodded his head beside him. "Let us not forget that it was Girion, Lord of Dale," he continued, now pointing an accusing finger towards Bard, "your ancestor, who failed to kill the beast!"

There, the company exchanged looks of surprise with each other. They were aware of Dale's history and its rulers' names up until the day the dragon came. Girion was the last Lord which, as the Master pointed out, made Bard and his family heirs to a ghost city that no longer existed.

Thorin stared at Bard with his jaw slightly dropped. This explained a lot; for example, Bard and his son's fervid reaction back to their house when a discussion about Dale and its Lord took place. But the dwarf king was too lost and emerged in his thoughts to realise the resemblances he and Bard shared, instead only focusing on the fact that the man was trying to hinder him and his quest.

His nephews fortunately had minds clear enough to note those resemblances and had one or two words to say as the Master's advisor gave a small speech about Bard's ancestor's failure to kill Smaug, profoundly trying to emphasise it with every possible insulting tone in existence.

"This is madness!" Kili mumbled under his breath, all the while glowering at the greasy man. Even with one leg malfunctioning, the prince was certain that he could take that worm down in under a minute.

"This is politics," Fili replied grimly. He had been present at many councils to know when someone was playing dirty. And both the Master and his servant hardly passed for supporters of fair play, or governance in this case.

And his suspicions were confirmed the moment the Master and his obsequious advisor extended a disturbingly generous welcome, ushering the crowd to follow their lead. Something told Fili that this amiable attitude would be extremely short-termed.

His gaze then fell to the slightly drooping shoulders of Bard as he shook his head in disappointment and turned to walk away with look downcast and heavy steps. Fili wasn't sure how the sight managed to get the better of him. He ought to be happy, for they would be given proper food, supplies and accommodation; even a small feast would be held later in their honour in the town's hall, but the man's sad façade had the not at all desirable effect of wiping out every positive disposition of Fili's.

His brother shared the same sinister feeling; though he had one or two more reasons to be indifferent towards the town's warm reception. Kili felt unease and pain churning his stomach, and even the merriest celebration in the world was not enough to make them go away.

The company had been escorted to the town's inn, finally bathed and cast the smell of fish off them and prepared for the small feast, which would attend only selected people of the town apart from the Master and some of the guards.

The great hall of Esgaroth was partly alive with music and laughter. Men and women drank and danced, while the dwarves occupied a large table and just drank. The glasses were often raised in memory of the dead and, even though the sweet red liquor had a numbing effect on their weariness, the moods did not cease to be acrid. And truth be told, their spirits were low compared to the first merry gathering in Bag End, or even the flaccid dinner at Rivendell. But perhaps that was due to the fact that those were better times where no one was hurt; or dead.

The tables were piled high with mountains of bread, meats and fruits; lines of lambs roasted slowly on spits and the wine flowed freely. For a town that its Master claimed to be poor, this was quite the feast, Fili reckoned. But apparently all these luxuries were only at the Master's disposal and hardly the common folk's.

His glance then fell to Kili. His brother seemed all but festive tonight. He was maintaining his mask, but Fili could tell that it was clearly taking a toll on his strength, though Kili would have everyone believe none of that. He was observing all the courtesies, but there was a tightness in him that Fili had seldom seen before. He said little, looking out over the hall with hooded eyes, as if he'd rather be somewhere else far, far away than here.

The brunet was in his fourth glass of wine in a vain attempt to drink and forget, although he knew that oblivion would be extremely short-termed. His gaze idly travelled from Alfrid, the Master's unctuous servant or whatever he was to him, to the Master himself, making him wonder how the people of this town abided this ruling. If he were honest, he'd fancy himself proclaimed the town's saviour if both the Master and Alfrid happened to be found dead in a dark alley in the morrow. People like these deserved to be hunted down, people who did not care about none but themselves; they may as well deserve death if their exploitation of the common folk was something that barely scratched the surface of their real actions and goals.

As the night dwindled down Bombur and Bifur chose to retire because they were not in the mood to even laugh, while the rest already felt ready to fall asleep right then and there. Kili had half a mind to bribe someone to sneak him out of the hall unseen, until he remembered that he had no gold left. So he continued to suffer in silence, for this was more torture than a feast.

That is, until the blond had had it with this profound charade of display of kindness and welcoming behaviour, and simply announced that he and his brother would take their leave and return to the inn to rest. No sooner than they entered the room, Kili had already sunk down into the chair in the corner, pulled out of his clothes the bottle of wine he had pilfered from one of the large tables, and swallowed a gulp. Fili watched him closely from under the covers of his bed, debating on whether it was prudent for him, and mainly his health, to drink. The brunet's gaze was fixed somewhere out of the window, his look that of asking not to be disturbed, therefore Fili remained silent.

A wistful look flitted across his face as he stared at the night sky, recalling each and every time Arya babbled on about stars and how much delight he took in listening to her. Only in those moments, or when he was telling her stories of his youth did she actually seem genuinely pleased and happy. It was such a rare sight; and it had unfortunately or not become precious to him. As days and weeks came by, more often than not he'd caught himself enjoying observing her. He wanted to learn and memorise her looks, her expressions, moods, movements -everything.

Perhaps those desires might sound crazy to others. The fact that he, a Dwarf Prince, had developed those desires and feelings for a female Ranger would definitely sound nonsensical to the conservative dwarven society. Would that he could make them vanish. Yet what he felt was like an ache; a very much ardent longing for someone he was mostly certain he could never have, whether she was alive or not.

Save the physical pain in his leg, he doubted he had the ability to feel anymore. For it was that ache, that yearning, tangible sadness that tore him apart from the inside and emptied his soul from feelings. Neither she nor Bofur deserved to die; at least not now, not so soon. So, why? Why did bad things happen to good people?

He was overwhelmed with a powerful surge of anger. He hadn't realised he was clutching his wounded leg and squeezing it so hard that a few drops of fresh blood stained the already dirty bandage. Nor that he'd finally allowed himself to cry. It wasn't the bawling he thought that would spring out of him, though. It was the kind that was as silent as his breathing and the hot tears felt as though they were carving prickly lines down his face.

Fili woke in the middle of the night and saw him leaning against the window, lost somewhere in a bad dream. The bottle of wine, now empty, was lying on the floor next to where his hand was hanging loose. There were dark circles under his eyes, his cheeks were wet and his face paler than he ever remembered. Even asleep, his features betrayed a living being so forlorn of all hope that made Fili pray to Mahal to take even some of his pain away. As any brother would, he carried him over to the other bed and stayed by his side until dawn arrived and the small room was illuminated by the first rays of the rising sun.

Kili stirred as soon as the light hit his sealed eyes.

"This will be the last one."


"This is going to be the last sunrise we watch."

Oh the irony. How prescient could her words be back then? Yes, watching the sunrise could be as mundane and unimportant as the morning visit to the loo to one, but to him it meant more. It meant that he had lived to see a new dawn, a new day, a new sunrise. Arya would not get to watch another sunrise again. And this made him sadder.

But this was the point until which he would allow himself to mope around, and did not desire to stretch it further. Crying had helped to relieve some of the tension that accumulated inside his gut and he knew this would remain a quite sore spot for him, yet there was a quest lying ahead that needed to be successful. And there was his king –his uncle- whom he did not wish to disappoint.

Upon seeing that he was awake and lost somewhere in his thoughts, the blond gave him a light pat on his hand. "Ready?"

The brunet did not answer. Instead he turned away and, with pace slow enough to cause him the least amount of pain, walked to the small wash basin on a table in the corner to throw some water on his face. It was when he pulled his boots on that he felt a gentle squeeze on his shoulder.

"I'm with you till the end of the line," a voice cut through the palpable, almost creepy tranquility of the small, cold room.

Come the later hours of morning, the people of Lake-town gathered to bid their farewells to the company as they were ready to depart and proudly made their way through the crowd, dressed up in rather large and unfitting armour the guards had provided them with. One by one they boarded the boat along with the supplies and the weapons, until the line came to a cessation when Thorin blocked Kili's way with his heavy armoured arm.

"Not you," he commanded. "We must travel at speed and you will slow us down."

"What are you talking about? I'm coming with you."


At that moment Kili's smile died a quick death. "I am going to be there when that door is opened," he insisted, "when we first look upon the Halls of our Fathers, Thorin-"

"Kili, stay here," the king advised and gently patted his head. "Rest. Join us when you're healed."

The brunet staggered a few steps backwards, debating on whether this was a tasteless joke. It was the last thread of hope in his chest; a thread that prevented him from breaking down, and that thread had just snapped. And at that moment, he couldn't have felt more useless or a greater disappointment to his own blood. Beads of cold sweat began to form on his forehead and every single one of them rolled down his temples. He started to feel iffy.

Fili, an audience of this quiet exchange, was left there staring speechless. Thorin's persistence to go on with this quest didn't make nearly as much impression on him as did his priorities. If he'd set Kili's quick mend as an excuse, rather than basically call him a liability, Kili would be less inclined to follow and likely comply with the order. But it was just a matter of perception and Thorin apparently had problem to figure out which way would be wiser and would have less hurtful effect. Fili shook his head in frustration. Almost eight decades treading this world, give or take two years, and their uncle still didn't know a thing about them.

"I'll stay with the lad," Oin offered immediately, only to be stopped by Gloin's hand and stunned look. The healer was not to be convinced otherwise, though. "My duty lies with the wounded," he declared and determinedly stepped out of the boat.

Gloin almost fumed from his ears, yet Thorin did not make any move to stop Oin, for he knew it would be like trying to argue with a wall. He prepared himself only when Fili weaved his way through the rest of the company to come and stand before him.

"Uncle," he said defensively, "we grew up on tales of the Mountain, tales you told us- You cannot take that away from him!"

"Fili," his brother called from where he was, trying to push himself away from Oin, who had finally decided to disregard any of his warnings and examine him, "don't."

The blond ignored both words and glare all the same, making a grimace that magnificently signaled for Kili to shut up. He then furiously turned back to their uncle. "I will carry him if I must!"

"One day you will be king and you will understand," said Thorin gravely. "I cannot risk the fate of this quest for the sake of one dwarf," his tone was hard and unyielding, "not even my own kin."

At that moment, Fili did not recognise the person in front of him. Thorin was their king, both he and his brother knew and respected that, yet he was their uncle as well. This wasn't their uncle. This wasn't the dwarf who helped their mother raise them, not their father figure since their real father died.

Fili was groomed to be a king all his life, aye, but it would need something more than kingship to separate him from his brother. Had the time and situation been different, he was sure that Thorin would do the same if it were Frerin instead of Kili. Thus, he had no regrets whatsoever when he stepped out of the boat.

"Fili, don't be a fool," Thorin warned, hauling him from the arm to pull him back. "You belong with the company."

"I belong with my brother," the blond said in earnest and flounced to Kili's side.

Thorin let a frustrated huff, which would definitely be rather audible had not the quartet started to play a farewell tune to see the company off. The Master had climbed on a small platform and was now waving his hand, while the crowd cheered and clapped their hands as the boat began to float in the canal.

Bilbo gave a faint nod at the dwarves that remained behind, pulling the extremely large for his head hat out of his eyes' way. The crestfallen look on younger prince's face as he stared at the boat that drifted further away made whatever spirits the hobbit had completely vanish.

"You're a bloody idiot," Kili groaned. "You should have gone with them, Fi-"

Fili refrained from smacking the back of his brother's head. He had endangered Kili's health far too long now. He only hoped he had time to rectify that mistake. "Till the end of the line, remember?" he murmured and gave him a pat on the back. "And we're not even in the middle yet," he said then, more in a commanding than a comforting tone, as though he forbid anything from happening to Kili.

All the blood suddenly drained from the younger's face as he was ready to reply, but he only closed his eyes with a tendency to slump forward.

"Kili?" the blond asked in agony, thankfully managing to catch him before he could collapse on the ground. "Oin, do something!"

"I don't-" Oin exclaimed as he frantically searched his pockets for the supplies he had packed with him. All in all, they were practically nonexistent. "I have nothing to- We need to find the town's healer," he said and looked up, pleading the people around to help them.

Yet all men and women had turned their backs and retrieved to their homes' warmth.

"Please, wait!" cried Fili behind the guards who escorted the Master. "Please, we need your help! My brother is sick-"

"Sick?" the Master shrilled in disgust. "Is it infectious? Get back!" he shooed them away with a rude wave of his hand. "Alfrid, don't let them come any closer!"

"Please," Oin piped up in despair, "we need medicine-"

"Do I look like an apothecary?" Alfrid replied with disdain. "Haven't we given you enough? The Master's a busy man, he hasn't got time to worry about sick dwarves. Begone, you lot. Clear off!"

The blond prince was disgusted beyond measure. There was a sole moment that he deigned to let go of Kili, if only to punch one of the guards that violently shoved them away. Without a second thought the Master had retreated back to his halls, shutting the door and forgetting all about the help he had promised to give them the day before. Apparently the aid from him had drawn to a close. Any more of it would come only with the share of the Mountain's treasure. And Thorin had showed no qualms to leave Kili behind, in the hands of these vultures, all alone. Fili almost laughed at the outrage of the situation.

Oin had thankfully found a root of a plant somewhere in his pockets and put it under Kili's nose. It must have been quite smelly, Fili reckoned, for his brother snapped out of his semi-unconscious state with a grimace of disgust.

"Oin, we need to go," the prince advised, while Kili gave a groan of pain beside him. "The bastard wouldn't offer help unless we presented him with a chest full of gold in advance."

"And where do you suggest we head to?" asked the older dwarf. "We have no money- I cannot treat him here in the street! We don't know anyone-"

"Well..." Fili trailed off, eyes beaming with various sentiments and thoughts as he supported more of Kili's weight, "that is not entirely true."

"Bard?" Oin immediately figured. "Lad, we didn't exactly make the best impression on hi-"

"If you have a better idea, please, be my guest."

Oin let a resigned sigh and tried to haul Kili to his feet as gently as he could, yet even that prompted a strained whimper from him. On their way to Bard's, what constantly nagged Fili's mind was their mother and her warnings.

Someone could claim that it was a nice day that had set this very morning. A dark-haired female Ranger would certainly argue different. She really did not like the fact that they were taking so much time to reach Esgaroth. And if things went well for the others, she didn't trust Thorin not to leave the town as soon as they gathered the necessary supplies. The only problem was that she had no bloody idea what the others did or where they were; but, since there was no dragon hovering over the horizon, she supposed they hadn't entered the Mountain yet. Even better, they hadn't left Esgaroth yet; although she didn't hold her hopes high.

It had been another of those mornings, silent and sinister, and both her and the dwarf's impatience to finally join the others grew bigger and bigger. Obvious example, Bofur's constant shuffling up and down the rock, which obviously caused interference with her trying to hearken to the ground beneath her ear.

"Can you hear anything?" the dwarf asked in agony.

The Ranger let a weary huff. "That wasn't funny the first eight times you asked it either."

Bofur rolled his eyes impatiently. "Can you-?"

"I will, if you stop talking and shuffling your feet."

A few more minutes of wanted utter silence passed before her whole body jumped upright and she braced herself for Bofur's imminent panic attack. Hers was already making her bristle.

"What's happening?" Bofur demanded, seeing that she gave no response as soon as she got up. "Are they close?"

Arya fixed him with blank look, failing to give a convincing smile. "Basically, run," was the sole words she said to him before darting forward.

"What?" he exclaimed, his hand pressing down on his hat so as not to have it fly back from the wind. "Where are they?"

"Less than two hours behind us," she warned, already a few strides forward. "And the bridge is less than a few hours ahead-"

"What if they catch up?"

"Some will live, some will die," she called over her shoulder.

"And which category do we fall under?" he squeaked wide-eyed. "They outnumber us by quite far!"

Arya lowered her pace and walked back to where he was standing. "They are already rude enough to follow us without an invitation, ergo for some of them a possible encounter will be a bright educational lesson about manners," she mumbled dryly. "However, until that happens, fly! Run as if the devil himself is upon us!"

Before he had time to even grimace at the words the dwarf felt like all life was fleeing out of his body. His feet almost grew wings upon realising that she had grabbed his hand and pulled him along with her.

An urgent knock found its way on the wooden door and the moment it opened, the owner saw three awaiting faces marred with panic and he winced. "No," he said angrily. "I'm done with dwarves, go away."

"No, no!" Fili and Oin yelled in unison and scrambled to hold the door before Bard could bolt it down.

The blond felt his heart sink. Kili was barely able to walk anymore and Fili was the one practically dragging him along. "Please!" he begged. "No one will help us! Kili's sick." He glanced at his brother and then back at Bard.

Bard still hesitated.

In the fairly painful state he was, Kili caught a glimpse of brown hair and a round face as Tilda sprang behind the tall figure of her father. Her eyes narrowed when she noticed the three familiar dwarves standing –or more accurately the two of them standing and trying to support the third- but quickly widened as she realised that the third was the polite one that had been injured. He fought really hard to pull off a smile for her.

"Kili-" she began to say and walk closer to him, but her father's hand held her back.

"Sigrid," Bard called and his other daughter appeared behind the young one, "take her inside."

"But-" Tilda went to object, although Sigrid was quick enough to pull her into the house. She tried to settle her back to the table when one of the dwarves' voices bellowed again and drew her attention to the door.

"Please!" Fili couldn't care less anymore if he sounded like a beggar. Pride or not, his brother needed help. "Please, he's very sick. I think he may d- Please... help us!"

Bard took a deep breath, taking a closer look at Kili this time. The dwarf was paler than ash, trembling, and could barely stand on his own feet. "Fine," he sighed resignedly, "Bain, fetch some water," he said and the boy immediately grabbed a pot. "Sigrid, Tilda, empty the bed," he then turned back to the dwarves, "you can lay him there."

Such was Fili's relief that he was a step away from hugging the man. "Thank you," he said gratefully. "Valar bless you and your family-"

"If we are still alive after king Thorin wakes the beast, I would gladly accept that blessing," Bard quipped under his breath as he helped the dwarves carry Kili and place him on the bed.

Sigrid and Bain were waiting side by side for the water to boil, while Tilda was standing beside the bed with some long strands of clean cloth in her hands, watching how the two dwarves and her father deposited Kili down. Her father's almost inaudible words, though, were not inaudible to her ears.

"Da, Kili is injured!" she scolded and four heads turned at her direction. "It's not his fault that the grumpy dwarf wants to wake the dragon!"

"Tilda!" Sigrid almost yelped in embarrassment. That sister of hers really did not know how to hold her tongue.

Again, the adjective which the little girl had chosen to describe Thorin did not fail to lighten the atmosphere a bit.

Bard fixed her with a scolding look, although deep inside felt a tad amused, and then swiveled to face the injured dwarf in earnest. He was better than that; than let someone die out of his door, either that was a Man or Dwarf. He wouldn't follow the Master's shameful example. "Forgive me, master Kili," he apologised. "I meant no offence to you or your king."

"Please," Kili dismissed easily. "You have given me a bed to lay. At least if I die," he half-joked, "I am going to die comfortable."

His words did not seem to have the effect he hoped they would. The family cringed, Oin likely didn't listen seeing as his trumpet was not near his ear, while two bright fires shone in his brother's blue eyes as he wildly turned to him.

The older prince noticed the thick sheen of sweat on his brow, as well as how paler his face looked, despite the smile he was trying to pull off. Suddenly it occurred to him that Kili's tasteless joke might as well come true. "Kili?" he fumed under his breath, choosing to eliminate the aforementioned possibility from his mind.


"Shut up," Fili commanded.

The younger tried to laugh again, but this time it wasn't without a toll. A sharp pain swallowed the sound, followed by an agonising scream. Fili almost lost it there.

Without further ado, Oin stripped the old bandage off his leg, only to give a frustrated shake of his head at the sight. "And why didn't ye let us see the wound earlier, if ye please?" he reprimanded. "There is still a shard of the arrow inside, laddie, and the wound has been infected!"

Fili wanted to tear down his eye sockets with his bare hands. He didn't know if that was even humanly possible, but he was a moment away from attempting it. "You are-"

"What, reckless?" Kili chimed in, although in the next moment wished he'd said nothing.

"You've been strolling about for three days with a serious wound from a bloody poisoned arrow in your leg," Fili snapped, not caring if the whole town heard him anymore, "and you refuse to let Oin even see it?"

All those present, apart from Oin, wondered in a union how these smaller in stature people could reach such volumes in their voices.

"You know why I did-"

"If you don't like 'reckless'," Fili barked, "I could maybe use 'out of your bloody mind'!"

"Now," Oin interrupted, pulling the blond away from his brother, "this is no time for arguments. We must focus on healing him, not yelling at him."

Bard nodded and strode across the room to their little storage to see what herbs and supplies they had that could help. As soon as steam began to rise from the boiling pot, Sigrid grabbed it and approached the bed, with Bain following in tow.

Oin was preparing to pull the shard out of the wound. "This will hurt," he warned and then turned to the others around him. "I need ye to hold him down."

Bain put pressure on the other leg, Fili was already there, so Kili simply tightened his grip on his hand when he felt the healer's hand touching the wound. He couldn't help to choke an ear-shattering cry when he felt something that was embedded in the muscle slicing through marred skin and finally coming out of it. It might have felt slightly better, but it lasted only for a second. A new prickly wave of pain washed over his body when hot water touched the injured area, followed by a damnably stronger one once the healer juiced a few drops of a lemon onto the wet cloth to sterilise the wound.

Bard appeared beside them to pass a washed root to Oin, who broke it in two smaller pieces trying to feed the one to Kili. "Chew on this, it'll numb the pain somewhat."

Kili eagerly grabbed the root and shoved it into his mouth, only to cringe at the taste. "What-" he coughed, "... you tryin' to do?" he then spat the piece out. "Kill me faster?"

"It's not the time to have a preference over flavours, laddie!" Oin yelled and passed the other half of the root to him.

Before Kili would take another chance to destroy whatever supplies they possessed by spitting them out, Fili grabbed the smelly root and all but shoved it into Kili's mouth, clapping a hand over to ensure that he would chew on it. Kili made a face at him and frantically tossed his arms about, motioning that he was choking. Fili took his hand away and the brunet took in a sharp breath, unfortunately enhancing the existing flavour in his palate.

Even after he swallowed it, he couldn't help the grimace of utter disgust, feeling himself mere minutes away from retching. "Bloody hell," he coughed out, "this is what evil must taste like."

Sigrid and Bain tried to offer convincing smiles. Only Tilda stood there still, with those examining eyes of her narrowed in mild fear. She didn't want the dwarf to die. Kili was fairly amiable compared to some others, and a good-looking one at that.

Fili smiled back at the children. At least, even in this state, Kili's spirits were up; disturbingly so, for that matter. There was a flitting moment where he wondered how Arya would react had she been there. No doubt, she could have possibly broken a plate or two. Whether against a wall or Kili's head, he couldn't decide.

"We need something to bring down his fever!" Oin said urgently as he pressed a hot compress over the wound.

"I have nightshade," Bard spread the herbs he had dug up from their stores on the table, "I have feverfew-"

"Aye, bring them both!" Oin exclaimed and beckoned him to hurry.

Bard scrambled next to the bed, threw the leaves into the boiling pot and watched as the dwarf healer soaked a new cloth taken from Tilda's hands to press it over Kili's brow.

Large white clouds loomed above the Long Lake, concealing the moon's reflection on the water entirely. A brisk breeze weathered whoever dared to cross the bridge that connected the shore with the stranded town, and prompted boisterous waves to form on the surface of the previously calm waters. The night was velvety black; unnervingly peaceful and quiet, speckled with the first snowflakes of the forthcoming winter which would fail to cover the ground, for a rain was bound to melt them.

All things considered, someone could say it was quite a spooky scenery.

Bofur, at least, supported that view wholeheartedly. In his prayers he was thanking Mahal for making it to the bridge at last, yet just when he was ready to make a cheerful comment, angry howls and grunts and, most importantly, a few dozen arrows convinced him not to.

"They must have caught our scent!" Arya had panted out beside him, coercing her feet to go faster.

"Ye think?" Bofur grumbled sarcastically, though mindful not to let the wind blow his hat off his head.

And now they couldn't feel their feet from all the intense running. Their limbs were numb, they were exhausted and ready to collapse, and luck apparently chose not to be on their side.

There were one or two thoughts nagging Arya's head as they sprinted across the bridge. First of all, the orcs had caught their scent and probably mistook it for that of the entire company, for that she was almost certain. Secondly, there were two outcomes of this. Either the rest of the company was still in Lake-town and a rather glorious hunt was about to take place, or they had already departed for the Mountain and she and Bofur were luring an orc pack to a populated area. Arya awaited the fireworks any moment now to commemorate the brilliance of that idea.

"I can't-" Bofur breathed out, ushering a cough after it, "...nymore, stop-"

Arya transcended every known level of panic when she noticed he'd fallen a few steps behind. Only two hundred yards or so separated them from the town, they couldn't give up now.

"Run, Bofur," she said in between pants, lingering to take only one deep breath before darting forward again, "run!"

She seized him by the hand and gave him a push to run ahead, feeling the wooden boards of the bridge suddenly starting to tremble and creak from a violent stampede a few hundred yards back. Horror wrinkled her already flustered face; even at that distance, their arrows were perfectly able to cover the distance in under a few seconds. Their hearts leaped up to their mouths as the brutal stampede drew closer, and every strand of hope started to snap painfully fast.

In the fraction of the second that she dared to twist her neck, what could Arya only discern in the midst of the tinny snarls a few dozen yards behind was a bow being raised. Damn you, you filthy little gobshites. They were so close... so close to an opportunity of finding the rest again that it would be a terrible shame to waste it. They were also very close to the town and alert the guards about the orc pack on their trail.

The thought of looking back hardly crossed the dwarf's mind, although he was fairly frightened when he heard a husky growl right next to his ear. In the space of two seconds, only a few strides away from the town's entrance, he found himself blinking and seeing nothing but pitch-black instead of running across that blasted bridge.

Darkness engulfed him, along with the sensation of his lungs being compressed, and he thought death was trying to choke him under his dark cloak.

However... something seemed to be off.

Could there possibly be water involved? For there were bubbles escaping his nose and mouth and something, or rather someone pulling him in uknown direction. He didn't want to follow whomever that was, he only wanted to breathe air and not water if possible. After a forceful attempt to get away the person struggled to hold him there with them. That was it, he decided. That was death and he was just about to embrace it.

Arya had mustered all her strength to pull him up to the surface with her, but he weighed them both down. Why on earth did the dwarves have to be so heavy? She wasn't Beorn, for goodness' sake, to be able to load a whole tree trunk on her back and carry it around with ease. And on top of all, Bofur must have swallowed a bunch of water and was in the verge of drowning.

When they miraculously made it to the surface, he wasn't breathing and had gone limp. Panic overwhelmed her again. No, he could not afford dying right now. No sky or houses could be seen above them, only wooden boards standing a few inches away from their heads -probably ended up floating under a dock or something of that sort.

She continued to drag him along with her, with little care if either of them bumped their head on the boards above, until she could see the sky again and found a safe place to dock -pun intended. Bofur ended up sprawled next to a few sacks of potatoes -an unsuspecting inhabitant might as well mistake him for one- while Arya was trying to catch her breath beside him.

The dwarf still made no attempt to even breathe, let alone move. Arya rushed to his side and rhythmically started to press her fists over his chest, until a small fountain of water sprang out of his mouth. He violently coughed out the rest of it and then took a greedy, sharp breath, feeling that he had just returned from another world. With a relieved sigh she slumped back onto the ground, glad that he was still alive.

Bofur frantically glanced around until his respiratory system began to function normally again. "What- What happened?" he stammered. "I- I remember us running and then... then nothing- Only darkness and water..."

The Ranger fixed him with a rueful look and quickly turned away.

His blood froze and this was definitely not caused by the icy water. The fact that she did not meet his eyes was ill-boding in itself.

"They fired arrows," she revealed. "I pushed you into the water and jumped in after you to make them think they hit us. I am sorry, it was the first thing that came to mind so we could get out of this... well, relatively unharmed."

Bofur processed the words one by one and, at the end of it, something else dawned on him. "I feel... I feel violated," he breathed out, then turned to her with a suspicious look. "Ye didn't kiss me to wake up, did ye?" She shot him a glare. "I don't think Kili would appreciate-"

"No one violated your personal space, Bofur," she reassured him. "If you, of course, exclude the arrow that blew a hole in your hat."

Two eyes almost popped out of their sockets as his hands wildly reached to grab said hat. He held it in his hands so dearly that the moment he faced the hole proceeded to unleash a string of curses, claiming that he would shove the arrow in places that Arya really didn't want to think about.

"What are ye still doing here?" he suddenly burst as soon as the rant was over. "Off ye go to rip them into pieces!"

"I can't leave you alo-!"

"I have no weapons to fight!" the dwarf objected. "I'll be of no more use than a burden. Go find the others!" With that he gave her a push to move ahead, although she lingered a while to secure that he'd be alright alone. "I'll find a weapon if I can and follow ye!"

Only when he practically shoved her to move did she comply. She gingerly stepped out of the shadows, lurking around the corner of a house, and scanned the nearest docks. Her hands clenched around the hilts of the daggers and she mentally cursed not having bow and arrow with her as her gaze strayed from the docks and the small alleys, moving upwards, where two dozen hunched figures jumped quietly from one rooftop to another, towards the north-western edge of the city.

A gloomy look made the Ranger's face even darker than the lack of light already made it. They must have found the company, she thought, or else they would have spread around the entire town and wouldn't have everyone head to the same direction.

But she could, too, play the game of shadows.

Fili had refused to abandon his brother's side for the past two hours. Despite how many compresses of hot water he or Sigrid pressed on Kili's brow, the fever did not abate; neither did his painful groans. Sweat had drenched his hair and whole body due to the fever -even the pillow under his head was soaked- and, no matter how many times Oin cleaned the oozing pus that gushed out of the wound, the skin around it maintained the unearthly purplish-black hue that made everyone's skin crawl.

Sigrid had retreated beside the bench in the kitchen and watched them from a distance, not really comfortable to be further involved. The dwarf healer had used whatever herbs and salves they had on hand, but none of them seemed to bring the desired results and the supplies were running dangerously low. Her father had left a few minutes prior to go in search of any other herbs someone in town might be willing to offer.

An itchy gut feeling had the blond on pins and needles. Had more of Kili's leg been exposed, Fili was almost certain they'd find similarly darkened veins going at every direction; meaning that the poison was spreading. Hence-

No. That aspect was not an option.

And he fervently refused to believe that there was nothing he could do to save his brother. He would gladly give up all the gold in Erebor and every potential to become the glorious king everyone was grooming him to be, if it helped his brother got out of this alive. He savagely rubbed his throbbing temples, feeling something ready to burst out of him that there was no way to control or hold back. His head swiveled again to his brother, who was gritting his teeth and had grabbed the blanket with his fists so hard that the knuckles were ready to rip through the skin and pop out.

Yet Fili should better start to contemplate the unthinkable since Oin admitted that he had never encountered this kind of poison before, with a consoling pat on his shoulder. As if that would take all the pain away.

Surges of anger had always been a rare occurence for Fili. But when they happened, it was wiser for everyone to take their distance.

His hands clenched into fists and he shrugged Oin's gesture off as he walked away from the bed. For the first time in quite a while, he felt all hope abandoning him. His gaze strayed somewhere out of the small window that looked north-east, toward the Mountain. It was late dusk; the deep of the night was still far away.

Heavy dark clouds were brewing not too far in the horizon and were slowly covering the sky like a grey veil. An invisible, nippy wind blew from the north and led the cloudy billows closer and closer to the town. Everything was suddenly illuminated by a bright lightning, followed by a loud rumbling sound not long after. So sharp it was and cracked through the air, the wooden floor and walls of the house screeched creepily in response.

A storm was coming.

If you've seen the film and noticed the quote, yes, I openly admit it. The Winter Soldier has taken over my very existence and I'm not even sorry. Saw it yesterday for the second time and it's legit the best Marvel film so far. Never thought a Marvel film, of all things, would make me tear up, but it happened both times. Hats off to them.

On a brighter note, we're only a chapter away from the reunion. Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate it around this time of year, see ya next time. Cheers!