Holding onto anger was impossible once Bilbo woke, but Kili tried. It helped that Thorin did not speak to him. In fact, the dwarven prince would bow and excuse himself from any room Kili entered. As though Kili was the one who ought to apologize.
Overhearing Thorin speaking to Gandalf did not help. “He must be wroth with someone,” Thorin said gruffly. “Better me than his injured brother or himself.”
“Best to put the blame where it lies,” Gandalf said. “With the orcs.”
“But they are not here to be angry at,” Thorin said with an easy sort of acceptance.
After that, clinging to fury was difficult indeed. So other emotions began to fill Kili’s heart. Bilbo was so small and frail in the center of his big white bed. He could be hurt so easily. He certainly wasn’t in a position to protect anyone else.
Cornering Thorin as the dwarf approached to visit Bilbo, Kili said, “You aren’t welcome here.”
Bowing, the prince made to excuse himself again. Then, he paused. “I will not impose my company upon you, my sister son. But I would see him with my own eyes.”
“Absolutely not.” Fear could give the voice just as much vehemence as fury, Kili realized. Hopefully Thorin could not tell the difference. “You will stay away from my brother entirely! We are going home. Home, where he’ll be safe. He doesn’t need you clouding the issue by being handsome at him.”
Thorin’s lips twitched. As though he would laugh at Kili.
“He nearly died!” Kili shouted, finding his anger once again. “He will die, if we keep on this mad journey. Don’t you understand that? Whatever you might think of me, you cannot deny that he is a Baggins of Bag End. That is where he belongs. That is where he is safe. So that is where we are both going.”
Thorin didn’t answer. His opinion didn’t matter. Kili returned to Bilbo’s side, undisturbed by the prince’s silence. Even if Thorin did start some sort of campaign to win Bilbo over, Bilbo wouldn’t choose him. Bilbo wouldn’t go to Erebor without Kili, and Kili was going home. Just to be on the safe side, he warned all of the dwarves not to mention Thorin to Bilbo. Bilbo didn’t need to be upset by his other visitors, any more than he needed a visit from Thorin.
Bilbo deserved every comfort in the world. The elves were even happy to let Kili use their kitchen, if slightly bemused by the request. Working in a larger oven than usual presented an interesting challenge, but Kili could make sweet buns in his sleep. Anyone in Hobbiton could. It was a point of pride for them with the rest of the Shire. Steaming, fresh from the oven, he wrapped them in a cloth napkin, put them in a basket, and delivered them to Bilbo within an hour of the request.
They were not met with the cheer Kili expected. Bilbo smiled very weakly when he accepted the first. Tearing the soft bread in half, Bilbo watched the steam rise. He did not even butter it before putting it in his mouth.
“Is something wrong?”
“Oh, nothing. These are very good. Thank you for making them.”
“You might have mentioned that you don’t intend to continue on toward Erebor.”
“Oh.” Kili straightened his back. “I don’t. I’m going home now. I’ve had enough of adventures.”
“Yes. So I heard.”
“From who?” Kili narrowed his eyes suspiciously.
Bilbo took a second bun. An incongruous tear slid down his cheek, but he quickly brushed it away.
“It’s nothing. I—is there tea?”
Kili instantly fetched the teapot from a side table. “Are you in pain? Should I get a healer?
“No, no, sit down and have a bun while they’re still hot. We can talk about it later.” He did not look up to meet Kili’s eyes.
Unable to help, unable to do anything, Kili obeyed his brother. He poured two cups of tea. Then, he sat and ate a bun. Bilbo did not speak again. Eventually, he fell asleep. Kili did not stay.
Positively out of sorts, the younger Baggins went walking in the garden. It was a lovely place, in full bloom despite the fact that it was a muddy spring, and Kili would not be surprised to see ice along with dew first thing in the morning. One wouldn’t know it to look at the lush chrysanthemums bursting open all over the place, despite the fact that it was far too early for them. Kili plucked some blue delphinium for Bilbo, gripping it tightly as he continued to pace the garden.
Looking down at the flowers, Kili nearly crashed into Lord Elrond. “Sorry, Mister Elrond, sir! I didn’t see you.”
“No.” The elf’s lips twitched in what might have been a smile and he bowed to Kili. “You see only your own thoughts.”
Kili laughed uncomfortably. “I suppose that’s the problem, yeah.”
Gesturing with an open hand, Elrond indicated the path before them. “May I join your walk?”
“It’s your garden.” Kili shrugged.
“And yet I see some of it in your hand.”
“Oh!” Flushing, Kili looked down at the blue flowers in his clenched fist. “My apologies. I thought, well, for Bilbo. But I know it’s rude to go picking flowers in another person’s garden.”
“Peace,” Elrond said. “You are as welcome to the flowers as you are to everything else in my household, though it is strange as ever to me that a dwarf should value them. Yet once again, I correct my thinking. As I recall, the hobbits of the Shire assign meaning to certain flowers. Why are these appropriate for your brother? Do they wish him good health?”
“Er, no.” Once again, Kili felt his cheeks heating up beneath the short stubble of his beard. Bilbo would have done that. If Kili was the one in a sickbed, Bilbo would have a bouquet of daffodils, chrysanthemums, and baby’s breath done up in a cheerful yellow ribbon within the first hour. All Kili had was a handful of delphinium. “Lighthearted. They’re just to ease worry, you know?”
For a while, they walked in silence. Kili didn’t know what to say to such an ancient, lordly fellow. He’d probably seen all the weather that there would ever be. Even so, a Hobbiton lad only had so many options. “Rain tomorrow, do you think?” he asked politely.
Elrond smiled. “Rain tonight. The flowers need it. But at an hour when all will be abed or in the Hall of Fire. The grounds will dry within the first hour of sunrise.”
Kili stopped walking to stare at the elf. “Do you control the weather, then?”
“I am the master of Rivendell,” the elf said enigmatically. “Tell me, is your brother’s heart heavy with fear? The next step of your journey crosses the Misty Mountains, and he will be the first hobbit to do so in a hundred years.”
“We are not crossing the Misty Mountains.” Kili tried to keep his voice even and friendly. He failed.
Elrond raised an eyebrow. “You have come far to the north if your goal is the Gap of Rohan.”
“We are not going there either,” Kili snapped. “My brother and I are going home. As soon as he is able.”
“Ah.” Folding his hands behind his back, Elrond walked in silence once more.
Kili couldn’t take such censure. “We have to go home! He could have died! It’s not safe outside of the Shire.”
When Elrond looked down at him, Kili had the distinct feeling of being measured. “You are a Prince of the Line of Durin.”
“I am a Hobbiton blacksmith, and happy to be one.”
“Birth is not so easily denied.”
“I don’t care. It doesn’t matter that folk know I’m a dwarf now, and not really a Baggins. All that matters is Bilbo getting home safe.”
“And how safe might your home be?”
Wind rustled through the gorse bushes, sending bright golden petals sailing through the air.
“What do you mean?”
“What prevents the dangers you encountered on your journey here from entering the Shire?”
“Well, they never have before.” The garden path wound toward one of the waterfalls. Kili looked at the cool placid pond full of yellow and orange fish. It seemed placid and protected, until his eyes lifted a little and he saw it hurtling off the cliff into space.
“Not in force, not since what you call the Fell Winter, but you would be surprised to learn some of the things which have drawn close. Only a year ago, a ward of mine rescued a hobbit lass overtaken by serpents in a forest. From what I hear it was a very near thing.” Elrond looked hard at Kili. “Rivendell protects these lands somewhat. We hunt the creatures of darkness who encroach upon our territory, but our numbers are not great. Rivendell is a house, not a kingdom.”
“Then what keeps the Shire safe? If those scorpions found their way to Frogmorton or some place—”
Kili whipped his head around to stare up at the elf. Elrond did not laugh.
“You give the example of the night-bile scorpion, which is a good one. It only takes a single female to come down from the mountains to begin an infestation. Their numbers grow at an astonishing rate in the darkness, as long as they do not swarm. By Gandalf’s report, I judge that five or six days more would have given the scorpions enough time to reach the borders of the Shire. At that point, the swarm could not be dealt with by a small party of travelers, even with a wizard.”
“Impossible.” Kili forced his neck to turn back toward the pond. One of the yellow fish blew a little bubble. An orange one began nibbling at the stem of a water lily.
“The Rangers of the North patrol the borders of the Shire, and they are strong. Strong enough to rescue children that wander too far into the forests. Yet like the elves, their numbers are diminishing. There may come a time for the strength of men to grow once more, but I see that like a shadow on a road at a great distance, and I do not trust such visions.”
“You are saying that you and the rangers are not enough to keep the Shire safe. That something awful might wander into the Shire at any moment. But what can we do? I don’t think even the bounders would have much of a chance against those trolls.”
Elrond looked out over the waterfall, and then up at the big gray clouds gathering in one corner of the blue sky. “I would not say this to a hobbit, for you are correct. A Hobbiton blacksmith could do nothing about these events, except practice his archery and hope that he passes peacefully before the approaching calamity.”
Kili’s hand tightened on the flowers in his fist. At least he could probably keep Bilbo safe. They could go to Tuckborough. Great Smials was a fortress. If they closed up the doors and shot arrows through the slots, the Tooks could easily outlast any darkness.
“A Prince of the line of Durin might do much,” Elrond said.
The elf did not look at Kili. He seemed to be talking to the wind.
“Dwarves have forgotten their strength. As elves retreat to the safety of their forests, so too the dwarve hide away within their mountains, and all of us let the darkness grow. I wonder sometimes if these western lands would be safer if there were more dwarves in Ered Luin. Or if the roads were sturdy enough to encourage more to travel for commerce.”
Kili didn’t know the answer to that. Bilbo might have, with his maps and histories. For all that he did not belong in the wide world, Bilbo Baggins knew much more about it than his brother did.
“Do you not even wonder why Thorin Oakenshield, great hero of his people, travels with an entourage of eleven?”
“I, well, given all these dangers and things, doesn’t it make sense to have a few friends on the road?”
“Only eleven? A dwarf of his station should have an honor guard of fifty, at least.”
From one of the balconies, a bird took wing. Kili squinted at it, but all he could make out was a flash of red. Perhaps it was a robin. Perhaps not. “I don’t know. Why don’t you ask him?”
“It is because of you, Kili Baggins. Roads are not safe. The dwarves of Erebor know it well. I do not even call it cowardice, for dwarves are not a craven folk. Say instead that they weigh what might be gained in trade and travel against the danger and remain within their mountains. But as fewer folk travel the roads, the darkness in the wild festers and grows. What will happen when the blood of the rangers is spent? What will happen when even valiant dwarves like Thorin cease to turn their attention outward?”
Kili bit his lip. He did not like any of the answers that came to mind. A spring breeze blew across the surface of the pond, creating ripples that seemed to move toward land, belying the true direction of the current. “It can’t be my fault,” he said. “I was only a baby.”
“Fault lies only with the darkness.” Elrond stretched out a hand slowly, and a blue butterfly came to land on him. It fanned its wings a little, seemed to realize that an elven finger was not a flower, then flew away.
“What could I do, even in Erebor? I’m not half the fighter Fili is. I’d have been dead three times over just coming here if Bilbo didn’t keep rescuing me.”
“Remind them that there are things beyond the mountains worth seeking. There are places in the world beyond their homes worth protecting. That quests, even those long thought impossible, can come to fruition. The dwarves are strong. Strong enough to turn the tide of darkness that I see rising even now. But only if they act.”
Kili looked down into the water once more. There were more orange fish gathered there now, like ducklings begging for breadcrumbs at Elrond’s feet. “What about Bilbo?”
“Your brother’s path is more difficult for me to see. Yet he is unlike any hobbit I have ever met. If he desires it, he would be welcome to remain in Rivendell. All are safe here.”
Kili frowned. Bending down, he picked up a smooth, flat stone from the edge of the pond. Then he dropped it among the fish with a loud plunk. They scattered instantly, darting away from Elrond and into the deeper water.
“You will not separate us,” he declared, stomping away. Retreating into a bad temper seemed the only way to keep himself from thinking awful things.