Kili stayed on the battlements. Long after all the orcs were dead or fled, Kili stood at his post. Every other archer save Tauriel went down into the mountain. They would rest and help the wounded. Kili could only watch.
Down below, dwarves piled the bodies of the orcs to be burnt. Fallen pirates were tossed into a pit and would be buried all together. Just piling up bodies was so much work, but it had to be done. One could not leave corpses to rot on the doorstep, after all.
There were no corpses in the Shire. Hobbits died one at a time. Only a phenomenal tragedy would take two folk at once. There was no need for a plural. One simply used names. An awful fever took Lily and Bill Cotton one winter. Brother and sister were buried side by side on the green hill when spring came. Kili hadn’t known them well, but he made a silver wreath for the grave all the same, embellished with lilies and rosemary for remembrance. All of Hobbiton mourned. It was a devastating sorrow, to lose two members of the community at once.
Each dwarven body on the field was born into the mountain upon a white stretcher, as if missing heads and pallid skin were wounds to be treated by a healer. Kili did not know their names. He did not know the names of any of the Dale Men or Greenwood Elves who were born respectfully by their own people, either. He knew the name of Thrain, his grandfather, and he hoped against all reason that he knew the names of no other fallen heroes.
Tauriel took his hand. There was no joy in the gesture. There could be no joy in such a place or time.
“Is it strange that I remember him?”
“In memory, we honor the fallen.”
Without feeling it, Kili smiled. “That is not how I remember him. All I have of Adâd are nightmares. I don’t remember Amâd at all. When I try, I just see my mother in her place. But Udâd? He used to sing to me. I remember it so well now. His arms were warm. His face was funny. I remember him.”
“He was your grandfather.”
“What did he sing?”
All the screaming was at an end. No wounded soldiers cried out for aid. No more deceptive orcs leapt up from the bodies of the dead to attack the unwary. The burning ships smoldered and sank into the lake. Other fires dwindled to ash. Kili sang.
“Slumber sweet my golden boy
Let fall your burdens and your toys
Diamonds, emeralds, rubies fine
Anything you like is thine
Stars that dance like fireflies
Crystal jewels adorn your eyes
These the dreams I wish for you
All that’s beautiful and true
Sleep so deep my golden boy
Leave all your cares and all your joy
Beneath the mountain rest your head
There’s no fear and naught to dread
Enter now the land of dreams
Troubles only as it seems
Something now to leave behind
Gentle rest you shall soon find”
“Your brother asks for you,” Balin said softly. He stood in the stairwell at Kili’s back. The young Baggins knew not how long he stood there. Even so, he was glad of the summons. If anyone could make sense of so much pain and death, if anyone could help Kili understand his own feelings, it was his brother.
With Tauriel at his side, Kili descended once more into the mountain. Passing through the rows of cots, he marveled at how many were still full. After so much time, those whose injuries were light ought to have gone home. Indeed, he saw a dwarf with a bloody stump in place of her left leg leaning on two young, beardless children to help her along. It was better to rest and recover in comfort. Within the mountain, no dwarf’s home was far. Then he noticed most of the occupied cots did not shake with fever or writhe with pain. Instead, they were covered with silver cloth. Shrouded.
“So many?” He stopped walking.
Balin’s strong, calloused hand landed softly on Kili’s shoulder. “And not a one who would have chosen any other death. Erebor is our home. Here are our children and our elderly. Here are our crafts and our history. Here are our teacups and our memories. For each and every dwarf who fell, Erebor was Bag End. Can you not understand their choice?”
Tears spilled from Kili’s eyes unhindered. “I can understand and wish it had been otherwise all at once.”
“Aye lad,” Balin said, pulling him into a warm embrace. “As can I.”
Only one of the three beds in the smaller sickroom was occupied, for Dis sat at Fili’s side, holding his hand. Fili’s skin was sallow and pale beneath his beard, but his eyes were bright and grew still brighter when he saw Kili.
“Brother.” His voice was weak. The hand reaching out to Kili trembled with exertion. “Brother, I must ask you—”
“Anything.” Crossing the room quickly, Kili took the hand in both of his own to warm it.
“Teach me to shoot arrows from a safe position,” Fili whispered. “I cannot bear the valor of actual combat.”
Astounded, Kili punched him lightly in the arm before laughing. The hands which grabbed him then were weak. Tossing Fili to the floor would have been terribly easy. However, Kili happily allowed himself to be put into a headlock.
“You were a bit brave,” he admitted. “I should have liked to be down there with you.”
“I am very glad you were not,” said Dis. She looked so well that Kili barely recognized her. Apples blushed in her cheeks which had never been there before, and there was a light in her eyes which gave him great heart. Clearly, there had been heroes enough to face the evil. Kili was honored to be the son of the greatest of that number.
“Thorin wouldn’t allow it,” Fili said plainly. “If you were in the crush, there’d be no keeping Bilbo out.”
Giving a pointed nod toward Thorin’s empty bed, Kili said, “I suppose they’re back on their newly-wedded agenda?”
Dis frowned. “I know not. My brother and I rose at the same time. We broke our fast together. Thereafter, he left to find his husband while I waited here for Fili’s surgery to end.”
Kili’s stomach lurched. “Bilbo was not here when you woke?”
“He was on the battlements with you,” Fili said.
“Only until Thorin was brought into the mountain.”
“I’m sure he is resting,” Tauriel said soothingly. “It was a trying day for all, especially those who have not known war before.”
Kili wanted to believe that. In his mind’s eye, he could almost see it. Bilbo, exhausted from the grief of so much loss, violence so far beyond the scale of anything a Shire childhood could prepare someone for, curling around himself in his marriage bed. Thorin, newly healed and healthy, would join him there. They’d do the things that Kili did not think about regarding his brother. Or they wouldn’t. Perhaps the newly married couple would simply hold fast against the tragedy. Thorin would bury his head against Bilbo’s chest and weep for his father as Kili used to do so many nights after Bungo passed. Kili knew well that Bilbo was an expert at the art of comforting.
Yet if that were so, why would Bilbo not wait with Thorin until he woke? Kili tried to think of reasons that would be sufficient to keep his brother from his side in a time of such grief. None came to mind.
As if on cue, Thorin appeared in the doorway. “Kili.” Worry smoothed from his brow. “There you are. Uninjured?”
“Where is Bilbo?”
Kili could not say. He wanted very much to believe he did not know. How did Bilbo put it? Kili promised to introduce him to Tauriel when the battle was over, but that was not Bilbo’s plan. “When the danger passed.” That was Bilbo’s plan. How stupid Kili had been not to understand his own brother’s meaning! How foolish to give him a map! Bilbo was gone. Hero or not, he was gone to a place from which there was no coming back. Where the Shadows Lie. Where eight more of those terrible wraiths waited for him. Where the Eye watched all roads. How could Bilbo go alone?
It was Kili’s fault, of course. Kili spent his entire childhood waiting for Bilbo to fight the battles. Waiting to be protected. Now, when the danger was at its greatest, Bilbo was off to face it alone. As he always had. To protect his brother. Selfish tears pricked Kili’s eyes. He was always so selfish. So safe. Everyone around him fell, Bilbo walked in darkness alone, and Kili remained behind unhurt.
Tauriel embraced him. At any other time, it would have been a joyous occasion. Kili took no pleasure in it now. “We will find him,” she said soothingly. “I am sure he is perfectly fine. He was not in the battle.”
“Every able bodied dwarf is to join the search.” Thorin’s eyes were wild. Balin’s face was worried.
“He’ll be with the wizard.” Nori stood in the doorway. His arm was in a sling and a bloody bandage ringed his upper arm. “Dori and I found him on the battlefield. When Dori took that gut wound, nearly died I might add, we left him with the wizard. Best protection a hobbit could have, since Dori wasn’t up to the job anymore.”
“What was he doing on the battlefield?” Thorin demanded.
“Gandalf went with him?”
For the first time, a spark of hope kindled in Kili’s breast. Gandalf’s magic could make the impossible come true. Perhaps, with the wizard to light his way, the darkness of those terrible shadows would not be entirely impassable.
“Went where?” Whirling on Kili, Thorin looked as desperate as the Baggins felt.
Kili met his eyes. “You know where.”
All color left Thorin’s face as he slumped against Fili’s bed. Balin reached out with both hands to steady him. Shrugging him away, Thorin began pacing the room. “I must—no. The army—we can’t. A messenger—a raven—he won’t listen. He won’t come back.”
“He will.” Swiping at his own eyes with a clean handkerchief, placed in his pocket by his brother, no doubt, Kili tried to give Thorin hope. “You’ll see. He’s Bilbo.”
“He doesn’t lose,” said Thorin, but it was not an agreement. “You forget, Kili. I know what your brother will do against overwhelming odds. I have known it since our first meeting. I do not doubt his triumph. I do not doubt that he will do what he must to save those of us lucky enough to have his love. I only know—”
Thorin said nothing more. What could be said to the memory of the Gamgee Still? What argument could be made that Bilbo might value his own life and happiness over others? He never had before.
Burying his face in Tauriel’s shoulder, Kili wept shamelessly.
“He’ll be fine,” Nori said. “He’s with the wizard. They’ll be just down by the lake finishing up the fires. Gandalf won’t let any harm come to him.”
“Nori.” Balin silenced the dwarf with a word.
“There must be something we can do to aid them,” said Dis.
Balin shook his head. “Dori took his wound six hours ago. The wizard can travel at speed with only Bilbo for a burden. No dwarf could hope to catch them now.”
“Gimli was with them as well,” Nori said. “I ordered him to stay with Bilbo.”
“Gloin’s son?” Something distant flickered through Dis’s eyes. Gloin was her cousin, her neighbor, and her close kin. Yet she did not know his son. The years of his life were spent in a golden haze, but that no longer clouded her vision. Despite the desolation filling his heart, Kili reached out to take her hand in his.
“Ravens,” said Thorin firmly. “I know they were hit hard by the crebain, but the healthy must go South. Determine Bilbo’s position. Tell us who is with him. Bilbo alone might be hard to spot, but surely the wizard can be found.”
“The sun has set, my king,” Balin said respectfully.
“At dawn then.” Thorin grit his teeth. “They must go at dawn.”