Disclaimer: It isn't mine.
Author's note: This has been on my PC for a while now but since writer's block is really causing problems atm and because I somehow managed to give myself food poisoning (*tut*) so I'm having a very lazy day, I thought I'd dust it off and see what you made of it. I made a slight mistake when writing this but for the purposes of this story, this happens /after/ they encounter the trolls not before, it doesn't make a lot of difference but it is there so I thought I'd mention it. Also, please excuse any medical/physical inaccuracy - I did research etc. so it should be fine but just in case...
My thanks to Heather for her notes on this piece - I'm sorry I'm so bad at keeping in touch.
I was beginning to think we would spend the rest of our quest soggy, miserable and on edge from the torrential rain and thunderstorms we had so far encountered since leaving the Shire. Though I did not say as much, I had rather hoped Gandalf might have been able to do something about it too as had been suggested a few days before. Between the inclement weather and the fact that we were making slower progress than Gandalf and I had originally hoped, I daresay I was becoming rather more irritable as the days wore on. Besides which, the distant cries of a goblin hunting party last night had forced us to leave far earlier than intended and without breaking our fasts – a point that seemed to be proving particularly troubling to Bombur and our burglar.
A tremendous flash of lightening rent through the air, the resultant roll of thunder deafening overhead. Alarmed shouts and the thunder of rapidly retreating hoof beats were our only warning of the disaster unfolding at the rear of our party. My companions and I barely had time to turn in our saddles before my younger nephew had flown from his own mount and disappeared into the undergrowth in pursuit of a panicking supply pony. Frustration and fear warred within me. Was it too much to ask that my nephews go more than a couple of days without causing mayhem? Had it not been made clear to our entire party after the troll incident that nobody was to leave the party alone under any circumstances – certainly not to pursue a startled pony?! How was I supposed to keep my promises to Fili that nothing would befall him and his brother if they both insisted on such foolery as this?
"Fili!" I cautioned, as my elder nephew dropped from his saddle and made to go after his brother. He spared me one brief look, clearly torn between obeying me or taking off after his younger brother; there was no contest really, he went crashing through the woods as though fleeing for his life. Barking orders for the rest of the group to stay with our mounts, I too went after them, Dwalin, Gloin and Nori jogging along with me, Bombur puffing along behind us.
With a sort of sickening dread, I became aware that the sounds of the flowing river – which we had been more or less paralleling for the past couple of days – were becoming louder as we ran. Putting on speed, we emerged into the more sparsely populated riverside just in time to shout a completely disregarded order to my nephews to halt before Kili lunged for the pony's reins and threw himself to the ground, clearly hoping to slow its progress ere it reached the river itself. Instead of slowing however, the cursed creature reared up, eyes flaring in fear as it lost its footing in the mud and slipped sideways into the gushing water.
"NO!" Fili's cry was echoed by several of my companions – myself included – as both the pony and my nephew were dragged bodily into the river by the swelling currents.
Slipping and sliding the final few feet to the water's edge, I had to hold on to my elder nephew with all my strength in order to prevent him throwing himself in after his brother. Dwalin and Nori, having run further down the river were calling out my younger nephew's name, eyes scanning the muddy waters for some sign of him. Satisfied that he would not hurl himself in, I released my restraining grip on Fili as we both ran along the bank, searching the racing current. The pony – I neither knew nor cared to know its name, though no doubt there were those in our group who would consider me callous to say so – surfaced as we ran. It brayed in fear as the current buffeted it about, several times dragging it back under but, though I had hoped he might have retained his grip on the reins, my nephew was nowhere in sight.
"Ho! Thorin, I see him!" shouted Nori from further down the river, waving us over and unravelling a coil of rope he had had attached to his belt. Sure enough, clinging tightly to a rock near the centre of the flow lay Kili, eyes closed and breath heaving as he fought to keep his grip.
Frightened brown eyes flew open as we called to him, his lips quirking into a relieved smile. He had clearly been submerged several times; his usually pale face was filthy with river mud.
"HOLD!" Dwalin and I bellowed as one as Kili attempted to drag himself closer to our side of the river. Ceasing immediately, I felt my chest constrict at the look of utter terror and confusion that he shot me.
"Kili, do not move!" commanded Fili in perhaps the sternest tone I had ever heard him use when addressing his brother, taking several steps towards the water, arm thrown out ahead of in a 'halt' gesture. Kili's wide-eyed stare swivelled to meet his brother's eyes then and my elder nephew added more gently, "Please…Kili, just wait. All will be well."
Nodding reluctantly, Kili clung tighter to the rock though his strength was clearly beginning to fail him, his gaze fixed upon his brother.
"Thorin, Fili!" Dwalin shouted, gesturing us over to where he and the others were standing and preparing to hurl an end of rope into the water with which to haul my nephew to safety. Taking up our positions with Bombur weighing us down at the back, we watched as Dwalin swung the rope out, falling just short of his target. Several more failed attempts and Nori took up the task, swinging it high overhead to land just beyond Kili. He grabbed for it, slipping further into the water as he did so but the cursed rope slipped from his grasp like silk. Beside me, Fili gave a huffed sob of frustration as Nori tried again to the same result.
"He keeps this up, he'll be back into the current," warned Gloin quietly as Kili again scrabbled for purchase. I nodded, desperately trying to think of any alternative to the one I had in mind – namely, to tie the line around another of our party and send them in after him.
"This is folly," muttered Dwalin wretchedly, shaking his head at me. "The lad's exhausted, the more we do this, the less strength he'll have to – "
"What else are we to do?" demanded Fili, glaring furiously at his old weapons master. "Would you have us watch him drown, Dwalin?"
His face dangerously blank – though it was clear to me that my old friend was incensed – Dwalin again took up the line and took aim.
"Thorin," Nori spoke up, impassively watching Kili sob in desperation as the rope was whipped away from him once more. "I am the lightest – the two of us would not be a struggle to bear."
I met his gaze as he turned back to me, eyes burning with grim determination, and I knew he too had thought of the same solution as myself. It was a desperate idea, one that would almost certainly fail and could not be repeated if it should but it was our only plan. I barely knew him except for the times when he had been brought before me in my halls – such times could hardly have endeared me to him – and yet here he was, offering himself up for this fool's errand on my nephew's behalf. All the same, I hesitated. Nori had kin of his own – and was, for all his questionable past deeds, a valuable part of our company – how could I ask of him what I was unwilling to ask of my own kin? Had I not been the leader of our company, I would have gone in myself and gladly. I was sorely tempted to do so anyway.
"He will need to fight the current, Thorin, I am stronger," reasoned Dwalin, who was promptly challenged by Gloin. I would have been touched at their fierce determination – their loyalty – but time was running out for my nephew; he would not be able to hold on much longer and a decision needed to be made.
"No," I said, shaking my head, "No, Nori is right. Your strength will be of no use if we haven't the strength to haul you back out."
"I'm going," Fili announced suddenly, already fixing the coil about his waist, "I may not be the strongest of us, but I have strength enough for this."
"No!" I commanded immediately, jerking him towards me as I struggled to pull his knots loose again. I was already in danger of losing one sister-son; I did not intend to risk the other.
Fili gave a strange little laugh, smirking at me disbelievingly. "Thorin," he said almost mockingly, "You cannot stop me – Kili is my brother."
And he is my nephew. I vow I nearly screamed it at him. I would have stopped him – I would have knocked him to the ground and had fat old Bombur sit on him if it meant he would not risk himself so – but suddenly there came a panicked cry from the waters.
"Fili! Uncle! I cannot hold on!"
His publicly screaming for me by that title pained me so intensely I should not be surprised if I had stopped breathing for a moment. I very nearly threw myself into the waters after him – rope or no rope. Certainly, my grip on my elder nephew slackened sufficiently for him to twist away from me and fly across the bank to the water's edge, shouting words of encouragement and threats of painful retribution upon his brother if Kili did let go.
We all followed after him, lining up ready to haul them back in – myself, Dwalin, then Gloin, Nori and finally Bombur, his great weight acting as our anchor. Casting one very brief look over his shoulder at us, Fili took an almighty leap into the raging water, his usually bright hair coming up sodden and black with silt. We watched as Fili fought valiantly against the current that tried to drag him faster and faster away from his brother; I thanked Mahal that Fili had had the forethought to dive in upriver as opposed to parallel with his brother. After what seemed like an age, I let go a breath I had barely realised I was holding as Fili's arm reached out to cling to the dark stone. From behind me, I heard my companions cheer. Kili frantically latched on to his brother with one arm, allowing his brother to hold them both fast to their shelter.
"On three, gentlemen," Dwalin instructed and I could hear the smile in his voice. "One…two…thr – "
We all of us gave a great cry of surprise as the change in balance caused Nori and Bombur to stagger on the mud-slicked ground and fall to it, taking the rest of us with them. I barely had time to register that I had loosed my grip on the rope before there came two cries of alarm as my nephews were left abandoned in the waters. I wheeled back around just in time to see them seized by the current, both groping blindly for the rock once more.
"NO!" I lurched to my feet and staggered towards the water, attempting to throw off the strong hands that heaved me back from it ere I could go in.
I could scarcely breathe from the fear that clutched at my heart as I saw not one but both of my beloved nephews dragged down into the murky depths and away from me. We took off again, keeping pace with them as best we could whilst the raging river buffeted them about, one or both descending beneath the water's surface more than once. My only consolation was that they somehow managed to keep a hold of one another despite nature's best efforts to separate them. Fighting against the current, I could see Fili desperately trying to steer them towards the bank nearest us and, looking ahead, I saw the river widening and twisting away west – the curve crossing our path. Putting on speed, I bellowed:
"Fili! The rope! Throw it!"
Struggling to hold on to his younger brother – who, now that I could see him clearer, lay clutched in Fili's right arm, head and limbs lolling uselessly against him as they were swept along – Fili eventually managed to hurl the rope towards us. Dwalin, bearing a disturbing resemblance to Kili earlier on, fell upon the rope just before it was ripped out of his reach, sliding several feet along the ground before the rest of us flung ourselves on top of him to weigh it down.
Fili cried out as the sudden jerk no doubt near cut him in two; he briefly lost his grip on Kili before snatching his arm back and heaving his brother back towards himself and wrapping both arms about him. From what I could see, Kili remained largely unresponsive to his brother's difficulties.
Lying there, I suddenly realised that we could not heave my nephews in without getting up and that we could not get up without losing our hold upon them; as the wretchedness of that thought began to dawn upon me, several more sets of booted feet appeared in front of us.
"Don't worry, lads," came Bofur's slightly forcedly cheerful voice, "We'll have you back here in a jiffy."
As the rest of our party took up the line, the others and I stood, also taking up a grip and beginning to haul Fili and Kili back in. The task seemed to become easier somehow and I looked away to see Gandalf, head bowed and seeming in deep concentration, muttering his strange words under his breath. Though I doubted I would keep such a promise, I swore to myself to be more respectful of the old man in future. At his side stood the Halfling, looking fit to faint with worry, blankets clutched in a white-knuckled grip as he watched us draw my nephews in the last few feet to the shore.
I confess my knees near buckled with relief as both Dwalin and Balin thumped me on the back as Bofur and Dori rushed forwards to heave my nephews from the water. I stumbled forwards on shaking legs, pushing my way through the company until I was at my nephews' sides.
"You're all right now, lad," Bofur was saying, thumping Fili on the back as he lay splayed out on the muddy ground and coughing up great mouthfuls of filthy water. "You're all right."
Fili was breathing harshly, hands grasping at the earth like a lifeline but he looked up briefly, casting me a relieved grin before collapsing again in a shivering heap. Breathing a sigh of relief, I turned to my other nephew. Kili lay on his side, eyes closed. He did not shiver, did not cast me his usual glittering smirk, did not seem to breathe.
I felt all the breath leave me. My heart stopped. I could not have said how I stayed upright in that moment, certainly everything in me wanted to drop to my knees and howl. Yet, somehow, I remained on my feet staring blankly at my youngest nephew and wondering how, when there were so many evils in the world, I could have allowed him to fall foul of this of all things.
"No. Kili…" I had not intended to say it allowed but once I had my elder nephew's head shot up, eyes wide and once more filled with terror.
"Out of my way, out of my way!" demanded Gandalf, descending upon us and knocking my companions aside with his staff, the hobbit trailing in his wake. I could not find the strength in myself to so much as scowl at the wizard when he slapped Fili's hands away from where they had been cradling his younger brother's face.
Gandalf placed on large hand upon Kili's forehead, once more murmuring under his breath and brows creased in concentration. Unable to so much as look at them any longer, I turned my attention to Fili. It did not improve my anguish.
I had not seen such unconcealed sorrow upon his face in nigh on seventy-five years – I had hoped never to see such a look upon my heir's face again. I wondered if I had ever shown such grief myself. Such innocent confusion as though he could not fathom how so vibrant a light as his little brother could be snuffed so easily – how well I sympathised with that feeling – and such open terror as though all his world was crashing down about him. He turned his gaze to me; there were no tears upon his face, no tell-tale glimmer in my sister's eyes, only so plaintive a look that I could scarcely bear to look at him. I knew that look – had known it since his infancy – 'do something!' it begged. Feeling my throat tighten, I stood and rounded our dwarf huddle to him.
"Uncle?" he said in so small a voice I wondered that anyone else heard it at all. Still, I felt several sets of eyes turn to me as though expecting me to somehow resurrect the foolish boy myself. Shaking my head slightly, I placed my hands upon Fili's shoulders and he turned back to his brother, one hand coming up to clutch almost painfully at one of mine.
"Well?" I heard Dwalin ask, his voice sounding gravelly.
Gandalf sighed heavily, sitting back from Kili and I found myself tightening my grip on my nephew's shoulders as I willed the wizard to break the news as gently as he could.
"He is coming back to himself," Gandalf said eventually, smiling grimly.
"What?" Fili's voice was tight and this time I could hear the tears threatening, "What does that mean?"
Gandalf made no reply, but smiled once more and stood, thanking Dori as he held out the wizard's cloak and staff. I exchanged bewildered glances with my cousins, several of whom looked outright furious at the wizard's mystifying answer.
"Uncle?" Fili repeated, craning his head around to me, "What does he mean?"
Before I could answer, there came a tremendous cough, followed by a splash of water and several shocked cries from our companions. Leaning over, supported by Nori, Kili heaved and expelled mouthfuls of filthy water.
"Kili!" Fili threw himself from my grasp, the hobbit's blanket lying forgotten on the sodden earth as we all crowded forwards. "Kili," he repeated, throwing one arm around his brother's shoulders. Kili collapsed into him, eyes unfocussed and still breathing very strangely.
"What in Durin's name were you thinking of?" I began harshly, taking half a step towards them but stopped as I felt all eyes turn to me. Hardest to bear of all was the beseeching looks being bestowed upon me by my nephews who both stared at me like children lost in a wood – too relieved at being found to even begin to comprehend my anger towards them. Briefly, I thought to reach out to them both – as much for my own benefit as theirs – but thought better of it as I felt my other companions looking to me for direction. "We rest here," I said hoarsely, my eyes not leaving my nephews, "Gloin, get a fire going. The rest of you lead the ponies back. We'll start at first light."
Our party disappeared in twos and threes to do as I ordered until eventually it was only Dwalin, Gandalf, the hobbit and my nephews left. After the commotion and frantic activity of the past couple of hours, it suddenly seemed very still and very quiet – even the rain had blessedly stopped.