Summary: 'He could stand the wild light in his uncle's gaze. He withstood the crazed glint that entered the ravenous stares of his companions. He endured seeing the dragon's greed take them all. But when that madness seeped also into the eyes of his own beloved brother, he knew something had to be done. He just wasn't expecting it to be this.'-The gold sickness of Erebor claims one more, and the path of destiny is irrevocably changed.
Inspired by the following quote from 'The Hobbit': "So grim had Thorin become, that even if they had wished, the others would not have dared to find fault with him; but indeed most of them seemed to share his mind-except perhaps old fat Bombur and Fili and Kili."
/THE HEART OF EREBOR\
-The Empty Throne-
A Mountain of Madness
Was it wrong to wish for madness?
Kíli was certain it could not be right, at least, but was it wrong? Was it wrong to wish to share in the euphoria and happiness that seemed so easily shared between the other members of the Company? Was it wrong to wish that the same odd gleam that had entered their eyes also shone in his own when he met his reflection's gaze in a flawless bauble? Was it wrong to wish that he had felt anything but dread when his brother's laughter rang out in the great treasure rooms of Erebor to a chorus of clinking gold?
It could not be right, but was it wrong?
Troubled by dark thoughts, he had watched them pour over the gold and treasures of Erebor for hours on end, their eyes alight with a fire that would not dim. With a vague and growing sense of unease, he had watched his uncle smile over some trinket with a warmth once reserved for his family, and shuddered as he remembered seeing that same smile on Thorin's face when he stepped forward to take the exiled King's cloak that far-off day when they had gathered in Bag End. A growing hatred of the dragon's treasure festering in his heart, he had watched them all succumb to that which had first brought evil into the mountain, Thror's fall from grace into the sour pit of insanity brushed aside and forgotten.
He had watched, and witnessed, and stood by in silence, knowing it was not his place to intervene. That, no matter how much the dragon's treasure appeared to him as a temptation wrought from shadow, he could not press his own concerns on those who were his elders in both age and experience. Though his heart cried out in protest, and every instinct inside of him commanded him to be away from this place and to take his fellows with him, he could and had done nothing but watch, because the right was not his to declare this madness, and, even as he saw the slow advance of the foreign and unwelcome glint in his uncle's eyes, he still could not bring himself to go against Thorin.
Not, at least, until he lost Fíli to the treasure as well.
His elder brother had at first appeared to be as resilient to its influence as he himself was, and they had shared their mounting concern in hushed tones over the campfire each night. Fíli had even resolved to try and speak with their uncle, to support Bilbo, who was always trying to sway the thoughts of the dwarves from the treasure to matters the hobbit considered more important. But that had never happened, and the final blow to Kíli's strained limit came when Fíli, his own brother, received a beautifully forged blade with a jewel encrusted handle as a gift from their uncle, and promptly fell to the same madness as the rest.
Kíli could do nothing but stand by and watchin horror, any attempt to caution, to warn, to divert stopped, cut off, or simply ignored. His words fell on deaf ears, his pleas received no response but their own echoes in the empty places that lay beneath the hollow mountain, and carved their deep recesses in his own chest. He longed for a warm glance from his uncle. A grin from his brother. A hand on the shoulder as one or the other passed him by. But it was like he had become invisible, as unseen as Bilbo was when wearing his treasured ring, and the others could not see him for the riches that blinded their eyes. He was alone, utterly, utterly alone, and he began to wish desperately to be able to feel what they felt. To share the zealous greed that had overtaken them all. But he could not, and thus he wished for madness, because it seemed the only thing that could make him oblivious to the sickness taking all who surrounded him.
Matters only grew worse when news of Smaug's death reached them. What should have been reason for celebration – the dragon's death, at long, long last – became the very opposite, for the great beast had not been slain by their hand, and Roac spoke of armed men and elves coming to claim their own reward from the mountain. Thorin's rapturous mood had darkened suddenly at the thought of outsiders daring to stake a claim on the great wealth he had promised them for their aid, and Kíli had felt no relief when the uncrowned King's thoughts drifted away from gold and gemstones, because they turned instead to the defence of his reclaimed kingdom. The gates of Erebor had been shattered a second time when Smaug took flight, and were now beyond repair, so Thorin had ordered the bridge spanning the small stream at the great city's entrance destroyed, and the stream itself dammed, creating a large pool before Erebor's face, with only a narrow span of dry land along the southern spur by which an approach could be made, unless one felt inclined to swim. The empty arch where the gates had once stood was then filled with a great wall constructed from the rubble, and Kíli had watched the last block fall into place with a great sense of dread.
There would be no leaving the mountain now. For any of them.
Their work had not been long completed when the first delegation of men and elves arrived and proclaimed both their surprise that the dwarves had survived and their concern as to why Thorin had chosen to seal himself inside his own kingdom. Kíli listened on in incredulous wonder as his uncle accused them all of treachery and attempted thievery, ignored every plea and demand made, no matter that some were well founded, and ordered the withdrawal of all from the valley. He did not need to hear the response of their neighbours to know such a command would not be followed, and it was with a heavy heart that he returned to the blazing fire that lightened one of the alcoves in the great entrance hall, taking a spot a fair distance from the others. Once, Fíli would have moved immediately to his side and sought to discover what was amiss, but his brother did not even glance his way this night, and he was left to his own dark thoughts.
Kíli had always been observant. Growing up in a village where all were larger and most a good deal stronger than he it had been a necessary skill. He had never desired to depend upon his brother for protection, and had learnt to make use of sharp words and swift feet to defend himself from the inevitable tormentors that populated every settlement in the world. He had learnt to spot the places where trouble lingered, and, if he didn't always avoid them, at least he knew they were there. As he grew older and taller he had found himself with less and less concern for those whose taunting and bullying had taught lessons that were swiftly learned, and he had turned his honed observational skills to other pursuits. His archery, tracking skills, and even his ability to navigate a foreign market place had all benefitted from his earlier experiences, and, even if he did not realize the significance of some things until after they had passed, he rarely missed them entirely, the incident with the trolls and the ponies notwithstanding.
He had never been told the story of Thror's descent into madness in its entirety, but young ears are often sharper than the elder generation expect, and Kíli had learnt a great deal by keeping his pricked. He knew that the gold sickness had led Thror to run first to his gold instead of his people when the dragon came. He knew the King's pining for his lost riches and his son's failing attempts to direct his attention to where it rightfully belonged had led to a great deal of responsibility falling on Thorin's shoulders far earlier than it should have. He knew Thror's madness had led him to try and reclaim Moria at the cost of his own life and those of countless numbers of his kin. He knew how heavily the grief and losses of that day still weighed upon his uncle, and could well recall the darkness that took Thorin on the anniversary of that bloody massacre each year.
Which is why he could not understand his uncle's determination to guard his hoard at the risk of a bloody war. Thorin, out of all their company, should have been the least willing to see the reclamation of Erebor tainted by needless violence. Should have known that enough blood had been spilt for the mountain's treasure, that of both man and dwarf, to last an age. But pride – madness – stayed Thorin's hand and refused to bend even in the slightest, not even to save lives, and Kíli looked upon his uncle and no longer saw the great dwarf he had been in awe of since he was old enough to understand the rawness of the exiled King's power, but a dwarf he now both feared of and for. Thorin was hurtling down a steep path to a war they could not possibly hope to win, and Kíli could do nothing but brace himself for the death that was sure to come.
Shifting his weight, he let his gaze wander from the glow of the flames across those who had taken their seats around him. Even here and now, with the threat of an army on their doorstep, they were not free of the lure of the treasure, each of them bearing either a weapon or trinket from the pile to examine in the glow of the blaze, their eyes gleaming with a golden hue. Fíli had his new blade balanced across his knees, his fingers tracing the jewels that were inlaid in the handle, and, seeing the rapt look on his brother's face, Kíli could stand it no longer. Rising swiftly and silently, he abandoned the lit alcove, taking the first passageway he knew for certain would not take him to the treasury, and hastening along its path. At length he found himself standing on a section of the wall set slightly to the side and above the front gate, a stiff breeze flowing between the weatherworn parapets, and throwing loose strands of hair across his face.
He sucked in a sharp, gulping breath, fighting back tears as he stared across the barren lands directly outside the mountain to fires that shone forth from the camps of their enemies. Enemies. Not goblins or orcs, but men and elves, living creatures who should not have been touched by the shadow of darkness, now driven to this senseless quarrel. And for what was this battle to be fought? A pile of gold from which they could easily spare enough to appease their neighbours? Money that could be spent in exchange for food, clothing, and the many other things that would be needed to make the mountain liveable again? They could not eat gold, as Bombur had muttered earlier that night whilst fixing another tasteless meal of cram, and all the riches of Erebor would do them no good if they starved to death.
Was this, he wondered, what his uncle had meant when he expressed his doubts that Kíli was old enough to accompany him on this quest? Had it not been doubt of his abilities in the field, but rather a question as to his devotion to the gold that had stolen the hearts of the entire Company with a single glance? Was he, then, not a true heir of Durin, because he did not heed the siren call of a treasure that would be the death of them all? He did not know. The answers eluded him, and he wanted nothing more than to have never set eyes on Erebor. It was not a feeling fit for an heir of Durin to entertain, but he felt it nonetheless, and could no more stop himself from feeling it than he could stop the others from trading their lives for a pile of precious metal that would be useless to them once they had passed on.
Stepping to the edge of the wall, he turned his back to the horizon, sliding down the parapets until he was seated with his back to the roughened stone as he buried his face in his hands and wept silently. He had never felt so lost as he did now, so small in comparison to the events unfolding around him. They had been hunted, attacked, thwarted, and imprisoned at every turn on their quest to reach the mountain, and now that they were here, at the end of their journey, they faced a danger far greater than any they had surpassed thus far. If Dain came and this turned to war… Kíli could not even imagine what might become of them all, but he knew any path that led to bloodshed between them and those who should have been their allies would not give way to a happy ending.
When Thorin had called all those willing to answer together to march upon Erebor, Kíli had been as eager as any other to be at the exiled King's right hand. He had been young and foolish, unable to foresee the many dangers that would come, and he could look back now and almost smile at his own naivety in thinking the journey would be an easy one. But, even with all he had faced, if given the opportunity to travel back through time Kíli would still not have remained behind in Erud Luin as Thorin had once suggested. He would happily go up against the trolls a second time, dodge stone giants in the Misty Mountains, face the threat of the Goblin King and his minions, fight the spiders of Mirkwood, escape the elven King's dungeon, and even challenge Smaug himself. All these things he would face, and face willingly, but the idea of war… the very thought of it unleashed a fear within him stronger than any he had ever felt before. Any he had thought it possible to feel.
It was a paralysing feeling. A terror so great it formed a dark and bottomless hole that effortlessly swallowed every shred of courage he possessed, and left him trembling like a frightened child without a soul to comfort him. He wanted Thorin. He wanted Fíli. But most of all he wanted to be away from this mountain, and the crushing weight of the dragon's curse that had fallen upon it and the riches it held. He would have paid any price for that. For the chance to see his kin and friends free of the bewitchment.
Deep in his own misery, he did not heed the slight scuffle of unshod feet on stone, nor did he notice the shadow that fell across his seated position, and it was not until a soft voice interrupted his solitude that he pulled himself far enough from his dolour to register the presence of another.
He lowered his hands and opened his eyes, staring blankly at the lower half of the hobbit's waistcoat. For a brief moment, he had almost dared to hope it was his brother who had come in search of him, as it should have been, but the madness had gripped Fíli in a hold as tight as that it held over Thorin, and gold lingered more often now in his brother's thoughts than Kíli himself. He choked on that thought, fighting another exhibition of his grief, and the fabric obscuring his vision shifted as Bilbo edged his weight from foot to foot, breaking the silence again a moment later.
"I… That is to say… Are you alright?"
"Are any of us?" he retorted blankly, letting his head fall back against the stone as he closed his eyes, hoping the coolness radiating off the mountain's roots would ease the unrelenting, throbbing ache in his head. He could already hear the beat of war drums inside his skull, and thought he might be going mad himself. Mad with fear. "An army sits on our doorstep, Master Burglar, and, unless that magic ring of yours has more tricks than you have told, I doubt even you can make them disappear."
It occurred to him then that even Bilbo had his trinket, even if not taken from the hoard of Erebor. The thought did not bring him comfort.
"Is it really going to come to war, though?" Bilbo asked, traces of the more nervous personality he had been when he joined their Company showing through in that single question. "Over a little gold? I mean, that bowman did kill the dragon, after all. There should be a reward for that, shouldn't there?"
"There should." Kíli agreed listlessly, willing to give up his own share of the treasures of Erebor, or more, to make this entire mess go away. He just wanted this to stop. All of it.
"And it's not like there isn't gold enough to spare," Bilbo continued, as though speaking to himself. "Thorin could pay them enough to build their city thrice over and still be one of the richest kings in Middle Earth, I'm sure."
"You're probably right." Kíli didn't know any more of the wealth of kings than Bilbo, but Erebor's had always been legendary, and he doubted the tribute the people of Laketown sought would cause it to cease being so.
Bilbo, actually heeding his response this time, was silent for a moment, then spoke, "You haven't… haven't got what the others have, do you?"
Lifting his head slightly, Kíli finally met Bilbo's anxious gaze, trying not to sound as bitter as he felt as he responded, "Why? What exactly do they have, Master Baggins?"
"Well, I don't know, exactly," Bilbo admitted hesitantly. "But the way they look at that treasure…. and talk about it… and hoard it. It… it reminds me of a dragon, really, meaning no offense, of course."
"Of course," Kíli mocked wearily. "It is not at all offensive to be compared to the scaled reptile that burned our home and threw us out of it before either myself or my brother was born."
"I didn't meant it like that." The hobbit frowned. "I just…"
"I know what you 'just', Bilbo," Kíli sighed, taking pity on the hobbit, and deciding sharing his misery around was not making him feel any better. "You are not wrong." Staring past the Halfling and into the darkness, Kíli tried to picture what his uncle's face had looked like before the gold fervour hit him. What the smile his brother reserved especially for him had reminded him of whenever it lit Fíli's face. He could not recall either, and despair washed back in to claim him. "It is the gold sickness, I believe, though I have never seen it before myself, and I was never told it took to dwarves in droves. Thror had it, though Thorin spoke very little of what it did to him."
"Drove him to make enemies where he could made friends, perhaps?" Bilbo suggested subduedly. To war?"
"Nothing so drastic." Kíli offered him a wry smile. "That was saved for us."
"Isn't there something we can do, though?" the hobbit asked, always the optimist. "Some way we can convince them to change their minds before it's too late?"
"I don't think there's a cure, Bilbo," Kíli whispered quietly, lowering his gaze to the stone beneath him. "I don't think we can fix this. In a few days or less, Dain will be here, and there will be war."
Cold spread through him like a winter chill, and he shivered, feeling much younger than he had a right to. He was an heir of Durin, third in line to the throne, and nephew to Thorin Oakenshield, but he was scared. Scared beyond reckoning. He had seen battle before the quest to Erebor, and plenty on the road, yet the thought of an outright war, and not just a skirmish with a rogue band of orcs or goblins, was enough to almost make him quake in terror.
"Well, there must be something Thorin would be willing to trade for peace," Bilbo persisted, not so easily deterred. "Something he values enough that it would shake him out of this madness."
"The Arkenstone," Kíli breathed in slowly, considering that perhaps he was not so free of madness as he thought. "He might…" His words tasted like treachery, but he uttered them nonetheless. Any price, he had told himself. But this? Could he pay this? "He might be willing to trade for that, but the men and elves do not possess it, and, knowing my uncle as I do, he could just as likely grow all the more stubborn if they did."
"But there's a chance?"
The question sounded innocent enough, but there was an odd light in Bilbo's eyes. It was not the gold sickness Kíli constantly saw in the eyes of the others, but a different kind of madness, and the archer swallowed uncomfortably, wondering what he had just unleashed.
"A small one, maybe."
Bilbo nodded to himself, turning away from Kíli to look out across the plain. His face was pulled into a deep, pensive frown, and Kíli thought it best to leave him to his thoughts as he turned to his own. He should have returned to the others by now, ready for the doling out of the night-time watch, but he could not bring himself to move, struck by an utter weariness that was more of the heart than the body.
"Kíli?" Bilbo's voice, soft but determined, cleaved through the silence, sounding very small beneath the utter stillness that had reigned of late over the mountain. "Would you?"
Confused, he turned to stare up at the Company's burglar, who was now leaning against the damaged parapets. "Would I what?"
"Trade the Arkenstone for peace?"
It was a momentous question, and he considered it carefully before making any sort of response. Fíli, had he been himself, would no doubt have laughed at Kíli taking the time to think his answer through, but this quest and the danger involved had curbed much of his youthful brashness, and what he had still possessed when they reached the mountain, which, to be fair, had still been a goodly amount, had been swallowed swiftly by the grim depths he could not escape. But, how to answer Bilbo?
"I don't know," he said at last, in a hushed tone. "It is the crowning glory of Erebor, the Heart of the Mountain, the King's stone. To Thorin it is worth more than any of the gold we have yet seen. I do not know if I could simply give it away as a means of pacifying our neighbours, no matter how righteous some of their grievances might be."
"And what about what you said before?" Bilbo's mind was running swiftly, Kíli could tell just from seeing that familiar spark in the hobbit's eyes, but he daren't yet guess what the little fellow was planning. "About Thorin perhaps granting gold to the men of Laketown if it was in exchange for the Arkenstone?"
"Maybe," he emphasized. "I said maybe, and this is all for naught regardless. They do not have the stone."
Bilbo shook his head, waving his hands in impatient agitation. "But what if they did? You said yourself it is worth more to Thorin than all the gold in the mountain. If those men had the Arkenstone, Thorin would pay for it with gold. The men would have their treasure, Thorin would have the Heart of the Mountain, and all would be well."
Kíli doubted things would be resolved so easily, but refrained from saying as much.
"What are you saying, Bilbo?" he asked cautiously, wary of the reply.
"Look," the hobbit began pragmatically. "So far as I can tell, this 'sickness' that has stricken the others is going to make them quite happy to sit here beneath the mountain until the day their food runs out and they all die of starvation atop beds of gold, or until Dain arrives and there is a lot of fighting and death. That doesn't seem to me a good way to found a kingdom, or even to reclaim one."
"Blood is never a good way to buy power," Kíli answered, certain he had heard the words uttered somewhere before, though he could not recall by whom. "I still do not understand how you mean to remedy that."
"Well," Bilbo hesitated, and the gaze he pinned Kíli with was obviously searching, assessing. The young dwarf waited out the hobbit's scrutiny, refusing to lower his gaze, and, at length, Bilbo spoke again. "What if I told you I had in my possession something that could quite easily turn the tide of this whole sorry affair?"
Fíli may have accused his brother on numerous occasions of lacking tact, subtlety, and all round common sense at times, but Kíli was not dull of mind, and he had connected the dots in a matter of seconds, his mouth falling open in astonishment as he gasped.
"Do you mean to tell me…?"
"Yes," Bilbo replied uncomfortably.
"And you never…?"
"Of course not!" the hobbit scoffed. "If he did I'm quite certain he'd have had me strung up by now."
"The Arkenstone," Kíli said the word reverently, knowing what power the very name of the jewel held over his uncle. "And you want to give it to the army sitting on our doorstep?"
"So that they in turn can trade it for a fair share of the gold," Bilbo explained, his chin set stubbornly. "Something must be done, Kíli, or we're all going to end up as dead as that dragon."
It was treachery. It was worse than treachery. It was treason to the dwarf who had all but raised him. To his brother. To every member of the Company and their forefathers before them. The very thought of handing such a prize, the value of which was unnameable, to their enemy was unthinkable, and yet… and yet Kíli could not do nothing. He could not sit by and watch the growing madness in the faces of all his companions. He could not simply let them die for a pile of cold coins and gemstones that would be worth nothing at all to them once they had passed into the next life.
"What..." he croaked the word, sick to his very stomach, but forced himself to continue. "What do you plan to do?"
"I'll take it to their camp," Bilbo said quickly. "There's no need for you to be involved. I just need you to turn a blind eye during your watch so I can get out unseen. I'll be back long before you're due to wake the next watchman, I promise, and I wouldn't involve you at all if I didn't need a rope to get down. The Ring doesn't hide rope you see, and…"
"I'll go with you, Master Baggins."
"What?" Bilbo stopped in midsentence, clearly surprised, and Kíli was equally astonished at his own sudden resolve.
"I'll go with you," he repeated firmly. "The Arkenstone is the heirloom of the House of Durin, that which grants the right to rule, and, if it is to be handed over to men and elves, even if only for a little while, it should be done properly."
"Are you sure?" Bilbo peered at him uncertainly through the gloom. "You don't need to have a part in this, Kíli."
"He's my mother's brother," Kíli reminded him, rising to his own feet and gazing down at the brave little hobbit. "And this dragon's hoard has changed him, changed them all. I do need to have a part in this."
"Well, if you're sure…" Bilbo trailed away, still eyeing him uncertainly.
"I am sure," Kíli declared with a confidence that was wholly absent inside of him. "Now, come. We'd best go down, or I may end up having no watch at all tonight."
Was it wrong to wish for madness?
Yes, it was.
For madness had already taken him.