Kili liked Erebor. His chambers were very nice, and not at all gilded as he feared after seeing the accommodations of Lady Dis. Happily, his bed was not gold, but a nice sturdy maple. His wardrobe and writing desk matched it. There was a proper bathroom, with nice copper plumbing just like Bag End, and a sitting room where he might entertain. Not that he spent much time there.
He was also given a forge. Kili would have spent all the day long in there, if he could. It had every tool he could imagine and many more he did not recognize. Thorin promised to instruct him in the use of all, despite being rather busy with princely duties. That was just fine. A blacksmith could entertain himself in a forge full of tools and materials.
Kili’s first project was to make himself all sorts of new arrowheads so that he could experiment with the different styles, shafts, and fletching that he noticed in use upon his journey. For the elves of Rivendell used very different arrows than the elves of the Greenwood, orcs, goblins, hobbits, or dwarves. Kili wanted to try them all out so that he could decide for himself which worked best.
Unfortunately, he did not have much time for this experiment either. Most of his days were spent with Fili and his—Dis.
She was a very unusual dwarf. Whenever they left her golden room, she locked the door with six different locks and hid the keys about her person, trusting one of them to Fili. Asking if this was a symptom of her sickness was a mistake. Fili looked utterly betrayed at the suggestion.
“Of course not,” he said. “She is cured! You have come and cured her. We are touring the city together. She has not left her room in two decades, but now we are touring the city!”
Kili supposed this was so, but Dis also stopped a dwarf in the middle of the thoroughfare and insisted on buying the gaudy necklace he was wearing. The price they eventually agreed upon was far, far lower than what the dwarf initially asked, and Dis paid it very reluctantly. Kili noted that Fili handed the fellow a bag of coin while Dis hurried away with her purchase. Gold in hand, the princess needed to stash it in one of her chests behind many locks and curses.
“She is greatly improved,” Thorin said, more honestly. This was definitely so.
When they took meals in her golden room, she was as composed as any hobbit in the Shire. She poured tea from her gold teapot with perfect manners, and clearly enjoyed tales of Kili’s upbringing among the hobbits. No longer mumbling and muttering, Kili soon learned that Dis could be as charming as her brother. She told stories and sang quite readily, playing upon her golden harp with great skill. Fili provided a pair of violins, and the three of them made a rather excellent trio once they were all in tune.
“Bilbo would have loved to hear that,” Kili said.
“He was fond of music, your brother?” Dis asked. She never belittled Kili’s adoptive family or tried to point to Fili as his true brother. Instead, she listened with honest interest to his stories, and encouraged him to grieve.
They even left the mountain together, which nearly sent Fili into some kind of strange fit. He insisted that the guards who came with them bring blankets, food, bandages, wine, ale, water, a hammer, a tree saw, rope, coal, six different lanterns, and enough armaments for a platoon of soldiers. All of this was for one hour in the sunshine to see Kili shoot at targets with his experimental arrows.
Dis caught her son by his bearded chin. “You have been taking care of me for a long time. That is not how matters between us should be.”
Fili swallowed hard. “I just want you to enjoy the outing, Amâd. You never leave the mountain. Not since—”
Pressing their foreheads together, Dis said, “I am not well. But I will get well. For you.”
Which Kili thought was really rather beautiful. It soon became clear—to him at least—that Dis was making a powerful effort. Whenever Fili was in her room, she looked at him instead of the gold. The amount of time she spent outside of that room lengthened, and Kili caught her measuring it more than once with a golden pocket watch. He wished he could do something more to help her, but he did not know how.
She patted his arm in a matronly way. “You are sweet to worry, but this is for me to do.”
“I thought it was my job, Amâd.”
For a long moment, both Kili and Dis were very still. Kili did not know if he should take back the word, which felt natural to use. Dis seemed to be afraid of reacting. Perhaps she did not want to frighten him off. Finally, she shook her head, and answered only the first part of his declaration.
“No, the prophecy says that I shall see you. So it is up to me to do so. You have already done the hard part. You came back from the dead.”
Once again, Kili’s thoughts turned to his brother. “How I wish that was so!” he said. “If only there was some trick to it, and I could bring back others, similarly lost. But people cannot really come back from the dead.”
So naturally, Bilbo turned up three days later, looking as smug as a cat.
Giving Thorin a chance to be soppy was only kind. Once he was finished, however, Kili claimed his turn. Hugging his brother, he thumped him for good measure. “Bookworm! However did you manage to survive in the wild without me?”
“I might say the same.” Bilbo looked his brother up and down. “Black doesn’t suit you.”
Together they laughed, falling into another embrace. “No color in the world suits me less!” Kili declared. “Do not give me cause to wear it again, please.” If that came out a little more sincerely than intended, everyone was kind enough not to call attention to it.
“You must be fatigued after your journey,” Thorin said solicitously. “Are you hungry? Do you want to rest?”
Kili rolled his eyes. “Bilbo is always hungry. But let us have your story, at least in part!”
“Nay,” King Thrain commanded. “I see from the wizard’s face that the hobbit’s story is entwined with intelligence that must be held close. Have food and drink brought to my council chambers. Dwalin and Balin may stand as guard. In their trusted ears, no information is a risk.” For an odd moment, the king seemed to hesitate. Turning to Fili he added, “Ask your mother if she wishes to take part in our conference.”
Fili bowed to the king, then grinned at Kili. Kili punched him in the arm as he went. The dwarf was far too certain of both himself and his mother’s recovery. It could not be allowed to go unchallenged.
“So the Princess Dis is well?” Bilbo asked with studied caution.
“She wants to be,” Kili said casually. “And I think that must be better for her than the alternative, all things considered. Perhaps you can do something for her, now you are here.”
The king looked slightly put out by this discussion of his daughter, but he did not object.
Indeed, as Bilbo said, “Anything within my power,” very warmly, there was nothing to object to.
They adjourned their little party to a very nice sitting room, leaving guards and thrones behind. Bilbo sat up very straight on his chair. He looked thin and uncomfortable. Kili noticed then that the blue velvet cushions on all of the furniture were thin as well. Although it was solid, elegantly built stuff, the chairs, settees, and sofas were not the plush, cozy sort that one would find in the Shire. Without Bilbo there, Kili would not have noticed. It was comfortable enough for a dwarf.
While Kili worried about his brother, Thorin solved the problem. Tugging the hobbit off of his chair, Thorin pulled him into an embrace on the sofa. After a quick, nervous glance at the king, Bilbo’s bones seemed to melt completely. He snuggled into Thorin’s side with his plate in hand, occasionally turning to feed some little tidbit to his new cushion.
Positively disgusted by this display, Kili began composing a song in his mind. Cloying rhymed very nicely with both toying and buoying.
Then Dis entered with Fili.
With neatly braided hair, a red silk tunic, and leather breeches that matched her boots, Dis looked very well. She had only gold earrings, gold beads, a gold belt buckle, and a single gold medallion about her person. It was very restrained, for her. When she saw Bilbo and Thorin cuddled on the sofa, she laughed aloud.
“Oh, you must be Bilbo Baggins,” she cried. “I am so very pleased to meet you! The great kindness your family showed to Kili can never be repaid. But if there is ever any service that I can render you, know that it will be done.”
Rising to greet her, Bilbo bowed formally. “Princess Dis, I am honored to make your acquaintance. Perhaps the conversation with my parents might have gone differently, but you can owe me nothing. Kili is no more or less than my brother, and I shall never treat him otherwise.”
Dis smiled. “I am glad to hear it. Call me sister, then, strange as our family is. For according to Kili, you intend to marry my brother.”
“I do, indeed!” Losing his formality, Bilbo offered Dis his hand. “I have dared great dangers to hold him to his promise, and I shall not let him wriggle off the hook no matter what!”
Although it was not a dwarven gesture, Dis knew what to do with a handshake. The pair shared a smile. Kili thought they would get on well. Their family was strange indeed. Bilbo seemed much closer in age and temperament to the mother of Kili’s birth than the brothers were to one another. Thorin made up for this maturity by tugging Bilbo down into his lap once more.
“Great dangers, in truth,” Gandalf said gravely.
“Yes,” said the king, “let us hear of them.”
Taking this permission, Gandalf began telling a very long story about a bunch of people whose names all sounded the same. One was a lord of werewolves, which sounded promising, but the werewolves didn’t do anything interesting. Now that Kili had met actual wolves, stories about battles that simply recounted winners and losers could not hold his attention.
Listening with one ear, he studied his brother.
Bilbo was too thin. His waistcoat hung loose about his belly, and his belt was cinched by a new notch clearly made for the occasion. Red his cheeks might be—with fire and Thorin’s proximity—but they were not the plump apples of Kili’s memory. He looked hardened by his journey, like steel, purified through a crucible of fire.
“Of course, you will be familiar with the seven rings given to dwarven kings,” Gandalf said.
Apparently, Thrain was. “My father’s was lost at Azanulbizar, however. I know not if any yet remain to the other tribes.”
“That is for the best,” Gandalf said firmly. “For the Lord of Gifts was ever a deceiver. One Ring, he crafted, to master all the others. ‘One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them. One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.’ Thus he spake beside the fires of Mount Doom where he forged it. With the One Ring, he could unmake all of the good things crafted with the three elven rings. He could control the will of those who wore the rings he gifted to dwarves and men, thus would he rule the greatest kingdoms of the world without conquest. And so all the good people of Middle Earth went to war.”
As Gandalf continued on with his story about people Kili didn’t know fighting wars in long ago places that didn’t exist anymore, the young Baggins watched Thorin. The prince listened carefully to Gandalf, but he kept finding little ways to pet the hobbit in his arms. He stroked a thumb against Bilbo’s shoulder. He refilled Bilbo’s tea when it emptied. Once, notably, he even pressed a kiss to the hobbit’s hair. So Thorin didn’t have any illusions regarding Bilbo’s time alone in the wild, either.
“At which point, the Ring went to the bottom of the river Anduin, and there passed out of history,” Gandalf said, ending his story.
Kili yawned and clapped politely. He was the only one to do so. Bilbo cast him an amused glance.
“And it was the remnants of Sauron in Dol Guldur all this time?” asked King Thrain, politely ignoring Kili’s misstep.
“Indeed,” Gandalf said. “He has been gathering his strength, preparing to move, and now he has moved. He is in the Black Land now. There, his power will grow exponentially.”
“But he will never be as strong as once he was,” Dis suggested hopefully. “You said he put too much of himself into the Ring.”
Gandalf looked at Dis for a long time. “Yes. His essence is locked in the Ring. If it were to be destroyed, then so too, it might be hoped, the Dark Lord would fall completely.”
“Then we must find this Ring.” Thorin frowned. “We must find it, destroy it, and rid the world of this evil before it can threaten our people or our allies.”
Smiling for the first time since he began his story, Gandalf said, “You speak the words of a hero, Thorin Oakenshield. Yet the effort will be great.”
Thorin’s eyes slid over to Kili. “I have found impossibly lost things before.”
At that, the wizard laughed. “Indeed you have! And the finding will not be nearly as troublesome as you imagine. Bilbo, my friend, if you have eaten your fill it is time for your story.”
“Finally!” Kili cried. “What happened to you when you went over that ledge? How did you survive?”
Grinning cheekily, Bilbo leaned forward to meet Kili’s eyes. “I have absolutely no idea.” Laughing, he dropped back into the circle of Thorin’s arms. “Is that not ridiculous? I completely lost consciousness after my little tumble, and woke in an odd little tunnel with no idea of how much time had passed.”
Kili shook his head in disbelief.
“Fortunately,” Bilbo said, “it was a very pleasant place compared to those awful goblin tunnels up above. I followed the stone path down to a lovely little underground lake. The water was delightfully refreshing, and I was able to get cleaned up. Near the shore, I found a nice patch of brown mushrooms. They could have made a lovely omelette, had I just a bit of butter and a few eggs. Even so, it was a pleasant meal, and I found another little something among them, though it was too dark for me to see what it was. Putting it in my pocket, I continued on my way.”
Leaning back in his chair, Kili settled in to listen to the story. It was a great relief to know that Bilbo had been just fine from the moment he woke up. Of course, it also made Kili feel supremely foolish not to have realized the possibility much sooner.
“Now,” Bilbo continued, “while there were no goblins down there, the lake was not wholly uninhabited. It was full of little black fish with no eyes at all. Deep underground, where there is no light, I suppose fish do not need eyes. I found them very interesting, though I could not see them very well in the darkness either. Naturally, where there are fish there is a fisherman. He was a funny little boatman named Gollum. I might call him frog-like in appearance, but recently I have heard hobbits described as rabbit-like and I did not enjoy it at all. Instead of comparing him to an animal, then, I shall say that he had large eyes, and large hands and feet which he used to paddle his boat through the water.”
“Was he friendly?” Kili asked.
“Oh, very,” Bilbo said. “He would have quite willingly shown me the way out of the caves, but he did not like to leave his lake for so long, you know. So he proposed a game of riddles. If I won, he would show me the way out, and also let me keep the little trinket which I found in his mushroom patch.”
“Bilbo.” Gandalf’s voice broke into the story like a warning rumble of thunder. “The real stakes.”
Casting a rather nervous glance toward Kili, Bilbo corrected his story. “Well, perhaps not that friendly,” he admitted. “It was agreed that he would show me the way out if I won. Nothing was said of the trinket I found. And, er, well, I was to let him eat me if I lost.”
Kili’s lungs collapsed.
“But!” Bilbo added hastily, “That was because he knew he could not get me any other way! I had my Sting, and he was completely unarmed. He could not have done me any real harm, except in failing to show me the way out.”
Bilbo went through the riddles he exchanged with the creature one by one. They were very good riddles, if slightly ordinary. Listening to them gave Kili the space to remember how to breathe. Slowly, Kili managed to put the fact that he’d left his brother to be eaten alive beneath a dark mountain out of his mind.
“Gollum was right, of course. ‘What have I got in my pocket?’ is not a fair riddle, but I did give him three guesses. He might have shown me the way out. I would have been very happy to leave the whole matter there. Unfortunately, he attacked me. Although I could have bested him very easily, having a sword to his utter lack of weapons, I did not want to hurt him. He was not a goblin, after all. He was just a fisherman living a very hard life in an unforgiving place. So I ran away. In so doing, I tripped and wound up putting on the ring in my pocket. To my absolute surprise, this turned me invisible! I was able to follow Gollum to the back door and out of the mountain quite safely.”
“A Ring?” Dis asked.
“Yes,” Bilbo said, meeting her gaze. “I found a Ring under the Misty Mountains.”
“I see,” said King Thrain.
Kili did not.
Apparently, just outside of the mountain, Bilbo met a tremendously generous fellow named Beorn. Kind, gracious, and possessed of every virtue including the ability to turn into a bear at will, Beorn took Bilbo to his home for a nice rest.
“For I had an injury or two after my fall.” Bilbo waved a hand dismissively. “I would have been quite well continuing on, but Beorn is a very soft fellow and insisted on feeding me up for a bit before sending me into Mirkwood.”
“You mean the Greenwood,” Kili said.
Bilbo looked at him curiously. “Did you find it so? Then I am glad for you. To me, it was a little dark. Not a very nice forest at all. But then, I have always been the hungry one between us. That bit about not being able to eat or drink anything other than what I brought into the forest with me was rather hard, I must say.”
“Oh,” Kili said helplessly. “We were with the elves. We feasted.”
“Good!” Bilbo grinned. “How wonderful! I should like to meet the elves of the Woodland Realm someday, see their buildings, and smell their flowers. Sadly, I was further south than you, and I did not see the palace of their king. Instead, I saw the tower of Dol Guldur, where Gandalf was having his battle. Since he is such a dear friend, I thought I had better go and save him.”
“I’m not saying I did save you,” Bilbo objected, “only that it was for that purpose which I left the path. Leaving the path was rather foolish, I admit. Going to Dol Guldur was more so. As soon as I arrived, my little Ring proved significantly less useful than expected. Not only did it not render me invisible to the wicked undead kings, it rather attracted the attention of that Sauron fellow. I dread to think what would have happened without that lovely Lady Galadriel. Beautiful as the dawn of the world, she stood between me and the darkness like a pillar of light. According to her, she is not a match for Sauron, but I saw no evidence of that. She cast him out quite easily.”
“Not easily,” Gandalf said. “And it would not have been possible at all had he not already begun the process of removing to Mordor. Where he grows now in strength.”
“You were wise to bring this thing to the dwarves of Erebor,” King Thrain said proudly. “We will see it destroyed in our forges. No gold band can fail to melt in our flames.”
Gandalf hesitated. “That is worth a try,” he said. “Though wisdom holds that only dragon fire can destroy a ring of power, and the One Ring can only be unmade in the fires of Mount Doom whence it came.”
“You will destroy the gold.” Dis’s voice was soft. Thin.
“We will,” Thorin said firmly.
Smiling bravely, Dis said, “That is good. After this tale, I cannot question that course of action. But I pray you will excuse me from witnessing that portion of events.”
“Of course!” Fili leapt to his feet. “You are overtired, and we have been talking too long. Let me see you back to your room at once.” He offered her his arm gallantly.
Dis accepted the gesture gracefully.
To Kili’s surprise, Bilbo rose as well. “Would it be a terrible burden if I accompanied you?” he asked. “Although I know as well as anyone how awful the Ring is, it did also save me from having to hurt Gollum. I do not care to take part in the destruction.”
“You would be most welcome,” Dis said.
Drawing the Ring from his pocket, Bilbo took a moment to look at the gleaming gold in his palm. Something strange passed over his face, but he quickly turned, pressed the Ring into Thorin’s palm, and kissed him for good measure. “This, I will leave to the greatest smith in all of Erebor,” he said. “Destroy it for me, will you?”
“I will,” Thorin vowed.