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A Road from the Garden

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Welcomed back into the circle of dwarven fellowship, Kili spent his remaining time in Rivendell learning many elvish and dwarven dances, as well as taking his turn fiddling out the music. He could have spent the rest of his life studying music in that place very happily. Bilbo was ecstatic, of course, and they both were safe. Rivendell is the sort of place where anyone can live happily. Unfortunately, all too soon for Kili’s liking, the quest continued.

High beyond the valley loomed the Misty Mountains.

If all know of the hospitality of Rivendell, so too is it known that the mountains just beyond that happy valley are treacherous beyond words. The many paths up those steep, gray slopes are all tricks. They bend and shift with slides of rock and melting snow. Most lead nowhere. An unlucky few lead to the dens of creatures that even the bravest of warriors would not dare to face. Things worse than dragons dwell beneath the Misty Mountains.

Fortunately, the dwarves had Gandalf. The wandering wizard knew his way through the mountains, and could tell which paths were false from the outset. While he could not eliminate the dangers, he mitigated them greatly. Better still, he had quite forgiven Kili for his earlier cowardice, and let the youngest Baggins walk with him near the front of their party. Since Bilbo and Thorin kept grinning soppily at each other and holding hands while trying to climb a mountain, Kili was very grateful for the invitation.

“A dwarf should be able to tell this one,” Gandalf said when they came to a fork in their path. “Which way would you choose?”

On the left hand, the path lead downward and looked normal. The right hand path went up and had a scattering of small stones, as though recently crossed by a rock slide. Kili prodded the path to the left with his walking stick. Something about the ground felt off.

“Right,” he said. “It’s too soon to be going down if we’re going over.” After a pause, he added, “I think the left side is going to rock slide soon. If that makes any sense.”

With a proud smile, Gandalf said, “It does, indeed. That ground is weak, unsupported from beneath. You have the stone sense of one of Durin’s folk, Kili Baggins. Trust your instincts in the mountains. They will serve you well.”

Puffing up proudly, Kili lead the group for a little while, only turning to Gandalf occasionally for help. The wizard would have corrected him if he chose badly, but that wasn’t necessary. Nothing could have prevented the disaster which struck next.

Three days into their crossing of the mountains, a sudden rock slide crashed down unexpectedly from above. Perhaps it was caused by a late snow melt. Perhaps some mountain goat or larger beast passed above them in ignorance. Perhaps it was only the wind brushing one more pebble into a pile of stones that could take no more weight. Whatever the cause, the group had only seconds of warning: a cracking, crashing sound from the slopes above them. Then, rock rained down.

Deftly, Kili dodged out of the way, partly shielded by Gandalf’s glowing staff. Nothing struck either of them. Looking back, he saw Fili spinning deftly around the falling stones. Behind him, Gloin shielded himself and his brother with the flat of his massive ax. Beyond them, an enormous white boulder, as big as a miller’s cart, landed right in the middle of the group. Right where Bilbo and Thorin had been.

Ignoring the small pebbles that bounced off his shoulders, Kili rushed to the massive boulder. “Hello!” he called out. “Is everyone safe?”

“We’re back here,” Bofur answered. “Help us shift this boulder out of the way. Count of three?”

“Is Bilbo with you?” Kili asked.

There was a pause.

“Is Thorin with you?” Balin shouted back.

“One, two, three,” Fili called out, moving with Gloin to lever the boulder up away from the path and down the mountain with the rest of the rock slide.

Beneath it, Thorin and Bilbo were kissing. Kili stared at them. Thorin had clearly pressed Bilbo into a crack in the cliff face beside them, so that the rocks would slide harmlessly past, bouncing off the path and leaving the couple safe. Only the landing of the large rock barred their escape. That was very clear. Kili understood all of that. What he did not understand was why they were now kissing.

“You couldn’t say something to let me know you were okay,” he demanded of his brother.

Cheekily tweaking Kili’s nose, Bilbo said, “Worried about me, were you?”

“As a matter of fact I was!”

Bilbo softened. “Sorry, Kili. It won’t happen again. Only, I had just been saved from death by a very handsome prince, and some opportunities cannot be missed.”

Kili rolled his eyes.

“I think I’ll marry him as a reward.” Clasping his hands to his cheek, Bilbo sighed in the dreamy way a lass on the cusp of her tweens might.

“You are already engaged,” Kili said.

“That saves time, doesn’t it,” Bilbo agreed brightly.

Kili pushed him off the side of the mountain. Unfortunately, his brother only skipped deftly backward, laughing as he went.

As heart stopping as the rock slides could be, the party actually had very good weather for the first week of their journey over the Misty Mountains. Kili only realized as much, though, when the weather turned bad.

The storm began slowly, with just a few drops of rain. “We must find shelter. Quickly,” Gandalf said.

“Surely it’s only a little rain?” Kili looked up at the gray sky. The clouds were rolling in, but they were hardly the black of a great thunderstorm. The dwarves had ridden through worse while they journeyed through the woods between the Shire and Rivendell.

“Best not to take chances. A storm in these mountains can be deadly.” As if to punctuate the wizard’s words, a spear of lightning rent the gray sky with a crack. The subsequent low roll of thunder sounded very like one of the rock slides.

Kili straightened his back, blinking the now swiftly falling rain from his eyes. “What do we do?”

“Fili, Kili, as the most dexterous, you must forge ahead to see if you can find any shelter. We will wait here. Be careful! To slip during a storm like this might mean death.”

Just as the wizard ordered, Fili and Kili went slowly and carefully up the path, scouting for a place where their friends could take shelter from the storm. Kili was the one who spotted it, the nice deep cave close to the path. With a narrow entrance facing away from the wind, the cave was both dry and spacious inside. A perfect place to weather a storm, Kili thought.

So everything that happened after that was his fault.

Worn out from a long day’s trek through the mountains even before the cold, wet rain dampened their spirits, the adventurers crawled into the cave, ate a few quick rations, and went to sleep. Not being fools, a watch was posted, but that watching dwarf sat at the entrance to the cave. He did not see the crack opening up behind him until he was falling through the cave floor with everyone else.

Kili woke tumbling down tilted stone, just managing to grab his bow as it smacked him in the forehead. Bouncing off Bifur as he rolled, he noticed the incline was nearly vertical. Then he was falling through the air briefly, before hitting the ground hard.

“Seize them,” someone with a high, nasal voice cried.

“Bring them to Goblin Town!” said someone else.

“I think not.” Between the goblins and the dwarves, Thorin rose. In one hand, he held Orcrist, unsheathed. Upon his other arm was the oaken shield which bore his name. He had never looked more like a hero out of legend, and Kili was surprised once again to remember that Thorin was the prince who killed the dragon.

Throwing himself at the little squad of goblins, Thorin slew three immediately with a single swing of his sword. His great blade crashed against the lesser arms of the goblins, rending their shields and knocking away their blades. Falling back from the ferocity of Thorin’s attack, the goblins left the discombobulated dwarves alone.

A flash of white light illuminated the whole of a large cavern. Kili saw far above a mechanism of iron gears and the massive stone trap door upon which he had been sleeping. Around the cavern, Kili counted six different tunnels.

“Take up arms!” Gandalf’s voice echoed across the stone, waking the stunned dwarves, who suddenly saw how drastically outnumbered their prince was.

Kili rolled to his feet, finding his quiver of arrows nearby. Fitting one to his bow, he sent it flying into the throat of a goblin striking at Thorin’s briefly exposed back. The creature gurgled around the shaft, falling. Finding a second target, then a third, fourth, and fifth was all too easy. More and more goblins came through tunnels, looking to bear the dwarves down by weight of numbers.

“Nori, Bifur, get that door open!” Thorin ordered.

At once, the two dwarves broke off from the fighting, racing back to the mechanism. Nori scrambled up a rickety wooden platform, and Bifur threw himself upon a massive chain. With Nori turning one of the gears and Bifur pulling mightily at the chain, the stone slab slowly went from a flat ceiling to a vertical platform. The base of that platform, however, was at least eight feet above the ground by Kili’s reckoning.

Instantly, the young Baggins turned to look at his brother. Bilbo was, in fact, moving rather stiffly as his little gleaming blue blade crossed with the sword of one of the smaller goblins. A hobbit could not easily shake off the pain of such a long fall, not like a dwarf. More so because Bilbo still refused to wear the leather armor that the dwarves favored for traveling. Kili adopted it gladly when they left Rivendell, but Bilbo called it unfashionable and uncomfortable. After this, Kili planned to insist. No more waistcoats in the wild, Bilbo was going to have some proper protection.

“It’s no good,” Nori shouted. “We’ll be shot trying to climb up there. It’s an entrance, not an exit.”

“If we cannot go back, we must go through,” Gandalf cried. “Thorin, the center tunnel!”

Thorin beheaded one goblin and kicked another in the sternum, making space in the swarming throng. He did not use that space to lead the dwarves to the center tunnel, however. Instead, he ran back to Bilbo. “On my back, ghivâshel. We must go quickly.”

“Thorin!” With a deft twist, Balin cut the swordhand off a goblin trying to backstab the prince. “Not you. Not against armed goblins with arrows. We’ll never make it though unless you’re free to fight. I shall carry the hobbit.”

“The hobbit can carry himself,” Bilbo said, parrying another sword blow from the same small goblin he’d been fighting since the beginning. “I’m getting rather good at this adventuring business.”

Catching an arrow whizzing dangerously close to Bilbo with his oak shield, Thorin twisted Orcrist around to deal neatly with a large, ax wielding enemy in three quick strokes. Then, almost as an afterthought, he brought the pommel of his sword down on the small goblin fighting Bilbo, sending it to the floor. Kili could not tell if it was dead or only unconscious, but it did not move again.

“It would be my honor to remain near him, my prince.” Somehow, in the middle of braining a goblin with his mace, Dori managed a small, respectful bow. He could almost be hobbit-like at times. “Should Master Baggins desire to be carried at any time, I will feel his weight the least. Though naturally no member of this company could consider the privilege of carrying your intended consort a burden.”

Thorin frowned, killed another goblin, then gave a tight nod. “Thank you, Dori.” Turning, he would have gone to lead the group once more, but Bilbo caught his arm.

A quick, stealthy kiss was pressed to the prince’s beard, because Bilbo was the sappiest hobbit in the entire world. “For luck,” he said, winking.

So Thorin went to the head of the party grinning instead of frowning. Kili couldn’t really find fault with that.

The tunnel was long, narrow, and poorly lit. This last was not an impediment to dwarves or hobbits, for both live underground naturally and see very well in the dark. The narrow nature of the tunnel, however, meant that only those toward the front and at the rear of their group wound up fighting goblins. Safely in the middle with Bilbo, Kili need do no more than jog lightly.

“This isn’t so bad at all,” he said conversationally. He had his sword in hand, but it went unused. Shooting might have been possible, but it would have to be over the heads of several dwarves, and that felt terribly unsafe. Better to conserve his arrows for when he had room to breathe.

“Bracing, I’d call it,” Bilbo agreed, but Kili noticed he was huffing. And why shouldn’t he be? For every two strides Kili took, Bilbo had to take three. A gentle jog for Kili was racing to Bilbo.

“Keep up, little brother,” Kili warned.

Bilbo looked at him in absolute shock.

“If you will prove yourself little, I shall call you it.” Kili grinned.

“Sheer cheek!” Bilbo’s face went red, and not with exertion. “I’ll box your ears when we get out of this, Kili Baggins. See if I don’t!”

Laughing, Kili ran on, slightly ahead of Bilbo, now being chased by something much more pleasant than goblins.

In truth, even once the tunnel opened up into a broader cavern and the dwarves were forced to fight while running along sheer ledge, Kili did not feel threatened by the goblins. Mountain goblins were much smaller and less clever than the large orcs who haunted Kili’s nightmares. Certainly, they numbered many, but they died so easily. All Kili had to do was put an arrow through a foot or kick one off their spindly ladders, and the goblin fell down the vast crevice to its death. Fighting while racing was almost fun.

And it was a race. The dwarves ran along a winding cliff edge, over rickety bridges, and through hazards of all kinds. Growing up in the little holes of Hobbiton, Kili had never imagined that there could be such spaces beneath a mountain. Many of the crevasses and pits their path crossed over were so deep and dark they seemed bottomless. Perhaps they were. Perhaps they went all the way down to the center of the world, but Kili did not have time to ponder it. Goblins with hammers and chisels knocked stalactites down to crash among the running dwarves, and more attacked with swords, spears, arrows, and clubs.

Every moment brought a new obstacle, but they were only obstacles, not dangers. Kili privately suspected that being struck by one of the little arrows would not drop him. It would certainly not hurt as much as the scorpion sting he suffered in the wilds near Rivendell. Nothing could happen beneath the Misty Mountains which he was not prepared to face.

Snatching the club from one goblin’s hand as he kicked it down into the bottomless pit, Kili threw it into the face of another snarling creature, felling that one as well. Pleased with his own cleverness, the young Baggins turned to grin at his brother. Bilbo was indeed watching. Watching Kili’s proud face enough to roll his eyes, at least.

That was when it happened. Dori smacked a goblin away from Bilbo with his mace. As it bowled backward over the edge, it caught the hobbit’s ankle with a clawed hand. Jerked toward the ledge, Bilbo’s feet went out from under him. His chin bounced against the hard stone, and he slid. He slid. Time seemed to slow. Kili could not move his body. No more than a second passed, but that second when their eyes met stretched into eternity.

Then Bilbo was the one falling. Down he went into that black, bottomless pit.

Time resumed its normal pace. Kili raced to the edge of the path, leaping out into space. He would follow his brother. Always.

Something jerked hard at his neck, nearly choking him. Arrested in midair, Kili’s back slammed hard against the cliff face. Below him stretched the black, bottomless pit. Twisting, the young Baggins saw Fili. Lying on his belly at the top of the cliff, Fili had one hand on the collar of Kili’s jacket. It was a poor grip, easily broken.

“Please, Kili.” Fili seemed very pale in the half light of goblin torches. There was dirt on his face, and blood in his yellow beard. “This is my fault. I promised to protect him. I failed.”

“No,” Kili said, hating the hurt in the dwarf’s eyes. “No, we haven’t failed. He’s down there, somewhere. He’ll be alright. I just have to fetch him.”

“Kili.” Tears gleamed in the corners of Fili’s eyes. “Bilbo would not want you to follow him into such darkness.”

Facing forward once more, Kili looked down. He could see nothing below. Nothing at all. No hobbit could survive such a fall. And Kili did not want to die. Reaching blindly backward, Kili found his hand caught firmly. Dori hauled him up as easily as a hobbit might pick a strawberry from the garden. Fili did not release his hold on the collar of Kili’s jacket for several long minutes. Around them, the fighting continued.

Kili saw darkness. In that darkness, the dwarves blazed.