After the dragon, Kili did not scout ahead with Tauriel. Thorin’s ill temper meant he refused to ride in a cart and rest his cracked ribs properly. Instead, the stubborn king insisted on riding on a goat or marching with his soldiers to make a show of pointless heroism. That is, he insisted with everyone but Kili. Threatening to tell Bilbo was enough to get Thorin into the cart. Pretending he preferred riding to walking himself was enough to keep him there.
“I am not fooled,” Thorin grumbled. “Even in the depths of a Shire winter, you did not take to stillness or placid reading like your brother. Go walk. Join the scouts as your heart so clearly desires.”
Playing up to Thorin’s expectations, as he always did when he was annoyed with someone, Kili sighed. “Yes, I, uh, I suppose I should. Tauriel is out there. I should be with her.”
The dark scowl upon the king’s face deepened. “I bid thee go.”
“Bumping along over tree roots in a cart is hardly as pleasant as walking under your own power. And I shall be with the elves. Perfectly safe.”
“Kili, I order you to go. I need no nursemaid.”
Biting his lower lip and widening his eyes, Kili arranged his chin so that he was looking up at Thorin, despite the dwarf’s reclined position in the cart. “I will go then. We’re probably done with dragons for now. All the other monsters are on the smallish side.” Wondering if it was pressing the matter too far, he tacked on, “I’m not afraid of the big ones, though. Obviously.”
Like a well oiled block and tackle, the second Kili made to rise, Thorin’s hand upon his arm pulled him back down. “Stay,” the king ordered firmly. “Your brother would have it so.”
Offering up a shy, sheepish smile, Kili agreed. “I suppose he would. You need looking after; you’re hurt.”
“I am,” Thorin said freely. “My injuries are a great inconvenience. Please, speak to me of lighter things that I need not linger here in unnecessary pain.”
Very happy to oblige, Kili road comfortably alongside Thorin in the cart for hours before realizing that his little untruth had convinced more folk than his brother’s husband. Bilbo would have noticed at once, of course, but Kili was not his brother. When Dwalin and a phalanx of guards in full armor closed in about the cart, the young prince thought nothing of it. Naturally, he smiled when Thorin gave Balin very specific orders about seeing to the safety of the injured and those dwarves who marched in the center column, but he didn’t catch the way the old dwarf’s eyes softened when they met his own.
Understanding dawned when Balin brought him a blueberry scone. Marching through Mirkwood with three armies involved better rations than crossing the Misty Mountains in a small company, but Kili wouldn’t have thought there was a blueberry on offer this late in the year. Jam might be available, but a scone seemed too much like magic.
“You’re comfortable then, lad?” Balin pressed, and Kili almost laughed.
In truth, leaving the kind fellow to labor under such a misapprehension during a time of so many other difficulties gave a rather leaden taste to the otherwise sweet scone on Kili’s tongue. Keeping up the pretense smacked of base ingratitude. A Baggins had no choice.
“Perfectly comfortable, thank you,” he said. “After all, the safest place in the world is wherever Thorin Oakenshield happens to be. That’s two dragons he’s slain now, you know.” Subtly, keeping his face well turned away from the king, Kili winked at Balin.
The old dwarf’s face lit up with a brilliant grin, and he quite clearly swallowed a laugh. With twinkling eyes and tremendous warmth in his voice, Balin said, “Aye, lad. You’re right where you ought to be.”
As he returned to his duties overseeing the marching dwarves, Thorin spoke. “I thought your brother to be the liar in the family.”
Kili met his gaze, which was steady and not at all accusatory. Then he let his own eyes fall to the silk tunic Thorin wore in place of his acid scorched armor. Mentioning the bandages beneath that shirt was unnecessary. Instead, the young prince smiled. “I dare say he’s better at it than I,” he admitted. “Bilbo thinks on his feet. Still, he taught me a thing or two about how to get my way when we were children.”
Thorin snorted. “By showing weakness to a family member who would do much to please you?”
Kili laughed. “Not in the least! I’ve never needed to use any of it on him. Probably wouldn’t work if I tried. He’s always been able to read my real feelings at a glance. But if people expect things from me, Bilbo taught me how to turn those expectations to my own amusement or profit. Usually it was just laughing at aunts who thought of me as the Hobbiton simpleton.”
“I see.” Ice melted within Thorin’s blue eyes. “Tell me of those days,” he said, and nothing more about Kili’s deception. They bounced along very pleasantly discussing the little jokes and teases shared by two brothers incapable of properly fitting in with their neighbors. Thorin’s enjoyment of stories about Bilbo was boundless, and fortunately Kili’s supply was similar. His childhood had been longer than most in the Shire, and Bilbo’s personality was larger than any in the world, Kili was sure.
Even when night fell over the forest, returning the Greenwood to a semblance of Mirkwood, Kili remained at the side of the king, and for all the following days as well. Thorin’s humor waned like the moon above, bright between the baring branches of the trees. Sometimes, Kili’s did the same. When he noted that one of the leaves the cart wheels crunched over was precisely the shade of Tauriel’s hair, he desired greatly to be at her side. He resented the slow, plodding ride, but he remained.
One morning they woke with a soft dusting of snow over all the tents, but it faded in the sunlight like a shadow. Only then did it occur to Kili that he’d known Thorin for over a year. That night, their last night in the Greenwood, Kili searched out a particular fire in the camp. He did so not for his own amusement, but because it was the only fire in the camp which burned hot enough to suit his needs.
The traveling forge of Erebor was drawn by two enormous pigs during the march, but at every stop it unfolded great slabs of stone, heaps of coal, and a bellows as tall as any elf. Dwarves swarmed around it like dancers in a reel, moving in perfect synchronicity, hammers ringing out as musically as any of the drums at other fires. Knowing his way around his own forge didn’t make Kili qualified to join the dance. Even so, his birth was enough to break one of the dancers away. A burly smith with soot in her grey beard stepped away from an anvil to greet him with a bow.
“Prince Kili! Agi daughter of Bragi at your service.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Master Agi,” Kili said with a bow of his own. He knew from Fili that a prince ought to meet a subject with something more in the way of a nod, but as a Baggins, he could only bow.
“Has your uncle sent you for his armor?”
“We understood from Balin that it will not be ready for three more days,” Kili said carefully. “As I learned from Master Oin that my uncle should not put weight upon his ribs until at least tomorrow, I would be grateful to continue to understand the same.”
Master Agi’s laugh was gruff but her eyes twinkled merrily in the firelight. “Aye, Lord Balin has given us instructions to a similar effect. But we’ll not deny our king his armor if he asks it, and we wouldn’t have for the last four days, either!”
Grinning at her gratefully, Kili said, “I shall simply make sure he does not ask directly. He recovers very quickly, and I’m sure he’ll be ready for it soon.”
“What can I do for you, my prince? Some repairs to your own armor perhaps?”
Cheeks going hot, Kili thanked her for the offer. “My own armor has been undamaged,” he admitted. “Other than a scuff or two that I can buff out easily enough.”
“A blessing.” The dwarf’s voice was firm and full of kindness. “One that I am sure your uncle is most grateful for.”
“I was hoping I could impose for a little place at the forge.” Biting his lip he quickly added, “Just an out of the way corner. It isn’t for anything important, only a quick bit of iron work. You must tell me no if I would be at all in the way. Obviously the needs of the soldiers come first.”
Agi smiled and bowed again. “I would never. We’re all only playing today anyhow. There were a few necessary repairs. One of the goats ate part of her rig. An axle on a supply wagon needs to be replaced, but most of us are simply stockpiling disposables: daggers, arrows, rivets, vambraces, and other things that might be wanting after the first bit of fighting breaks out. Work as you like right over there and let me know if you need anything.”
True to his word, Kili needed only a few minutes in the fire with his little piece of iron. After that, he settled quietly into a corner with wax, water, acid, and a few readily available tools. Too long had the scent of coal and the heat of glowing iron been absent from his days. Working with both, even in such a small way, was more restful than sleep. Fortunately so, because he did not notice the sun rising until Agi kindly informed him that the time had come to pack away the forge. Thanking the master smith one last time for her welcome, the prince returned to his uncle.
Arrayed with his long fur cloak over his tunic, the king was three steps away from mounting the back of a goat. At the sight of Kili, he raised an eyebrow. “I presumed you were with your Tauriel.”
“Oh, no. I went to the forge.”
Thorin smiled. “I can see that. And smell it. What business had you there?”
“I missed my birthday this year,” Kili explained. It fell shortly after Bilbo’s departure, during the first days of the army’s march, so Kili had said nothing about it to anyone. Keeping a birthday without his brother felt wrong, but at least Kili was not wearing black.
Thorin shook his head. “Little could you ask of me that I would not indulge, Kili Baggins, but some sort of hobbit feast in the middle of a marching army may not be practical.”
Laughing, Kili steered him away from the goat and toward the cushioned carriage where they rode. Merely being allowed to do so underpinned the truth of Thorin’s words more fully than any speech or promise could. “Never would I ask,” the young Baggins declared. “That bit was always for Bilbo. I’m happiest at a party in a corner with my fiddle. I do like presents, though.”
The king smiled. “What present would you have of me?”
“How silly!” Kili laughed again. “For my own birthday? No, I have made a present for you. Just a mathom, you understand, though I’ve a thought that you and Bilbo might use it to trellis snap peas in the garden some day. It is about the right height.”
With a suddenly solemn face, Thorin accepted the iron statue. Sliding the rough work cloth wrappings away, he inspected first the dragon’s mouth, touching the sharp teeth of the wyrm’s snarl. Then he ran his fingers down the scales, feeling them etched across every inch of the twisting iron. He smiled. “It is very true to life.”
“Good!” Since it had never once occurred to Kili that Thorin might not like the great weight of such a present during a time when swift marching was of the highest importance, his anxiety over the acceptance of his gift lasted barely seconds. Even so, his relief was potent. “Bilbo will want to see what it was like, you know. He’ll be ever so put out that I saw a dragon and he didn’t, but now you may show it to him.”
“I will.” Grabbing Kili suddenly, Thorin engulfed him in a hug so warm and fierce it felt like an assault. Returning the gesture, Kili tried to take a little care with Thorin’s still injured ribs.
“Balin will tell the story,” Thorin said, “and Bilbo will learn that if he wishes to see his husband slay dragons he must stay by my side.”
Kili forced another laugh, doing his very best to pretend he could not see the tears in Thorin’s eyes. “Exactly. I am so very glad you like it.”
“Bilbo will want it in his garden—our garden?”
“Of course he will,” said Kili. “Just you see how well everything grows at the conclusion of this adventure.”
How he hoped it would be so!