Bilbo said goodbye. Kili would never forgive him for that. Not until he begged, bribed, and baked Kili all of his favorite foods for a month. Bilbo would have to get better, and quickly, to have even half a hope of Kili’s forgiveness.
Bilbo weighed nothing in Kili’s arms. Nothing at all. He was already gone.
Kili should have answered him. Should have said goodbye. Should have put an arrow in Thorin Oakenshield’s forehead the moment the dwarves set foot in Hobbiton. Bilbo’s last words were to tell Kili not to blame himself. So he didn’t. He wouldn’t. He put the blame where it belonged: with the dwarves.
And he ran.
Much as he wanted to stop, to weep, to turn and murder every last orc until he fell himself, Kili ran. Rivendell was a place of miracles. Rivendell was the place where Bilbo might be saved. They were so close. Gandalf said they were almost there. If Kili was fast enough, good enough, his brother might live. So he ran.
In the distance, a horn sounded. The triumphant fanfare was so incongruous with the orcish shrieks and ringing swords that Kili ignored it at first. Then it sounded once again, clear and strong, accompanied by the thunder of hooves.
The horses that ploughed through the grassland, trampling the wargs and crushing orcish skulls beneath their shoes, had little in common with the simple beasts Kili sometime shod in the Shire. These were not the muscular workhorses one might strap to a plough. They were elegant, graceful, and just as bloodthirsty as their riders.
In the light of Gandalf’s staff, the armor of the riders shone gold and silver, as did the armor of their steeds. The orcs who were not crushed beneath the calvary retreated. Fled in terror might be the way Bilbo described it in one of his stories. Kili did not care. Rushing headlong out of the circle of protective dwarves, he called out to the riders.
“My brother! Please! My brother is hurt! Can you take him to Rivendell? Please!”
The whitest of the horses galloped straight at Kili, stopping inches from his face. He did not flinch. Astride the great stallion was a tall elf with long, dark hair. Unlike the other elves, he wore no helm, only a circlet about his forehead.
“What tale is this?” the elf exclaimed. “That is no dwarf you carry, young master.”
“Nevertheless, he is my brother,” Kili said. “And he is dying.”
“I see this is no time for the telling of stories,” the elf agreed. “Hand him up to me.”
Kili did so at once. Bilbo’s body was so small and limp as the elf gathered him up. Lifeless, Kili thought, then cursed himself for thinking it. He knew he should say something more. Something to spur the elf to save Bilbo. Bilbo would have spouted some elvish pleasantry to instantly endear himself. But Bilbo could not speak. And Kili could only watch as the elf galloped away, disappearing into the darkness.
Other elves rode off following Bilbo. Kili watched them go. Vaguely, he was aware that some remained, walking their horses in a protective way around the injured and exhausted dwarves. At the front of the plodding column, one dismounted to walk alongside Gandalf and speak with the wizard. Bilbo would have understood their words. Bilbo was always so good with languages.
“Here.” Fili was walking next to Kili. Kili did not know how long that had been so. In his hands was Kili’s bow. “You dropped this. I thought you might want it back.”
Kili took it. He could make another, but he liked this one. It had been a bit of an experiment at the time, and no other hobbit in the Shire could draw it. Bilbo puffed and panted when he tried, unable to pull the string back even an inch.
“He was never any good at archery,” Kili said. “Perfect aim, of course, but rubbish at any distance. Not much use in a fight, either, though he was always fighting. Anyone who insulted me also got to black Bilbo’s eye as a bonus. At least that’s how it seemed. He always got hurt defending me, but he never stopped. He should have stopped. He was not made to be a warrior.”
“Is not.” Fili’s voice was steady, and his eyes glittered in the silvery light of the moon. “Bilbo is not made to be a warrior. Your brother is no good in a fight.”
Kili stopped walking to stare at the dwarf helplessly. A tear slipped down his cheek, swiftly followed by others.
Gripping Kili firmly by both shoulders, Fili said, “Bilbo is not strong, but he is as stubborn as cast iron and as loyal as a boar. He will not leave you. He will follow you anywhere, even into the Black Land itself, and complain about the state of your clothing the entire way. Do not lose your faith in him at the first difficulty! To love is to hope.”
Unable to hold Fili’s fierce gaze, Kili bowed his head, sobbing. Then, something warm pressed against his forehead. It was Fili.
They walked on.
Trees rose up from the grassland once more, but Kili took little note of them as he passed beneath their boughs. Nor did he listen to the talk of the dwarves or the singing of the elves. Instead, he put one foot in front of the other and steadfastly did not weep.
After some time they came into an open courtyard with statuary and other embellishments. Much has been said of the beauty of Rivendell, but Kili did not see it. He saw only stones, plants, and the place where his brother was. An elf came forth to greet them.
“Welcome, Gandalf,” he said lightly. “Lord Elrond told us you would be coming soon. Rooms and food have been prepared for all of you to take your rest.”
Before Gandalf could answer, Kili pushed forward, practically knocking Bofur over in his hurry to get to the front of their group. “My brother,” he demanded. “Is my brother here? Does he yet live?”
Stupidly, the elf looked down at Kili, blinking. “You are the first dwarves to arrive.”
“My brother is not a dwarf,” Kili growled. “He was carried here by an elf. Surely he has arrived before us!”
“Ah.” The elf’s brow furrowed. Clearly elves were not as intelligent as Bilbo’s stories indicated. Or perhaps this one was simpler than the rest. “The halfling? Lord Elrond returned with an injured halfling. Even now he is at work with it.”
“Him.” Kili’s vision clouded with red. “My brother is Bilbo Baggins of Bag End and he is not half of anything! He is a hobbit known throughout the Shire for his manners and eloquence. He is not an it!”
“I see.” Since the elf took a wary step backward, he might not be as moronic as he seemed.
“Yes, thank you Lindir,” Gandalf said, putting a restraining hand on Kili’s shoulder. “As I’m sure you understand, we are all overtired from our many trials. Last night we had a swarm of scorpions and three trolls. Tonight, we had orcs! Indeed, the peace of Imladris is a welcome respite. We are deeply grateful for your hospitality.”
Lindir nodded to Gandalf, but his eyes remained on Kili.
“Can I see him?” the younger Baggins demanded. “Can I see Bilbo?”
It was Gandalf who answered, not Lindir. “Would you put yourself in the way of Lord Elrond’s work? No, Kili. While Elrond toils, there is hope for Bilbo. Try to content yourself with that. Lindir will show you to a place just outside of Bilbo’s room where you may wait and know the instant a conclusion is reached, one way or the other. But you must be still and silent so as not to disturb the healers.”
“Yes,” Kili agreed instantly. “They will not even know I am there.”
Lindir looked reluctant, but he showed Kili through the winding stairs and paths of Rivendell to a bench which faced a door. It looked no different than other doors in that place, but Kili would not call it plain. The wood was carved with swirling patterns of leaves and wind. Some in the Shire might call it ostentatious, but Kili appreciated good craftsmanship. Bilbo would like it. He liked ornate things.
After a time, someone sat beside Kili on the bench. He also stared at the door with hard, unblinking eyes. As though he was worried about Bilbo. As though he had any right to worry about Bilbo.
Unable to suffer such an affront to his brother, Kili seized Thorin by the arm and dragged him some distance away. Finding an open garden full of fireflies where his voice would not disturb the healers, Kili said, “Stay away from my brother.”
“No! Stay away from him. You were supposed to be a hero. He trusted you to be a hero, and you know how easily he trusts! Where is he now? What use was your protection?”
Thorin’s sad eyes had no effect on Kili’s temper. “I tried.”
“I don’t care! I don’t! He only came out here for you, you know. He would never have agreed to leave the Shire if you were not the handsome prince who slayed a dragon. Never! You seduced him!”
“Kili, you know that is not so.”
“He told me it was.” Kili’s breath came in pants and his eyes were full of tears once more. “His last words were that he’d only come into the wild to chase after you. So just you stay away from him now. Once he’s well, we’re going home. We’re going home, and he’ll be safe. I don’t care what happens to the rest of you, but stay well clear of the Shire!”
Understanding dawned over Thorin’s face. Furious, Kili hoped the dwarf would be hurt by knowing how bad he was for Bilbo, but Thorin only looked accepting. Bowing his head, he said, “As you say. The fault lies with me and no other. I will not burden you with my presence further.” Then he turned and walked away.
Part of Kili wished he would argue. Shouting at Thorin felt much better than worrying or waiting, but in the end he returned to the bench.
The sun rose before the door moved, casting golden light across the pale wood. Eventually, the shadows were banished to the corners and the door opened. Out came the tall elf who first accepted charge of Bilbo. Seeing Kili on the bench, he smiled. “Your brother will live.”
Leaping to his feet, Kili threw his arms about the elf’s middle, squeezing him with the affection born of joy. “Thank you!” he cried. “Thank you, good sir!”
The elf patted him a bit awkwardly. Kili quickly drew back. Fortunately, his eyes were soft and held no offense. “You are welcome. Rivendell will always stand against the darkness, and try to heal those wounded by it. Your brother is fortunate. Well do I know that hobbits are a hardy folk, but I should not have thought one could lose so much blood and live. Perhaps some power greater than I looks after him.”
Wiping the tears from his eyes, Kili said, “Aw, he’s as stubborn as bindweed, that’s all. Roots ten feet deep and just as suffocating when he’s trying to take care of you. But it’s my turn to take care of him now, and he’ll just have to cope! Can I see him?”
“You may.” The elf opened the door wide to show Bilbo resting peacefully in a large bed with white linens. His face was too pale, but his breath was slow and even.
At once, Kili rushed to his side. Taking his brother by the hand, he felt the warmth of Bilbo’s skin. He was sleeping. Only sleeping.
“Do not wake him,” the elf advised quietly. “His body has a great deal of healing left to do. I can stitch together skin and muscle. Strength is another matter. It will return in time, with care, but he must rest to recover.”
Nodding, Kili wiped away a few more tears. “Thank you. Yes, I’ll let him rest. Of course I will. He’s a right badger if you wake him too early, you know. Especially in winter.”
Once again, the elf smiled kindly. “You need rest yourself, my friend. Come. I will show you to a place nearby where you may lay your head.”
“No need,” Kili said, gesturing to a chair in one corner of the room. “I’ll do just fine in here with my brother.”
Smile fading, the elf looked at Kili like a stern father. “You will not. Covered in orc filth and road dust, you endanger his health. Others will guard your brother’s rest. When you have bathed, slept, and eaten, you may return to his side. Not before!”
Too tired and relieved to fight, Kili bowed his head. “As I am forever in your debt, I will not argue. May I know the name of one to whom I am so indebted?”
Surprised, the elf smiled again. “I am Elrond, master of this house.”
“Oh.” Staggering after him on weary feet, Kili remembered to be polite. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Lord Elrond. I believe you knew my mother.”