Here’s my second fic for the Back to Middle-earth Month challenge, written for the “archetypes” challenge. After the Battle of the Five Armies, Bilbo and Gloin consider legend’s due. (Major spoilers for the Hobbit book.)
Bilbo stood in an alcove off the Hall of the Fathers, where the dwarves of Erebor had always placed their honored dead. Behind him, Thorin’s tomb was set in the place of honor, where it would most likely stay until Dáin himself met his end. But it was not Thorin that Bilbo kept coming back to see.
He’d stood beside Gandalf three days ago as the Elvenking had laid the Arkenstone in Thorin’s cold hands and Bard had slid the stone lid shut for the final time. He’d even been invited to say a few words as one who had traveled long with Thorin, although when the time came he couldn’t bring himself to speak. He’d loved Thorin, he told himself – he tried to love him – but he couldn’t simply say nice words and leave the rest unsaid. He blamed him for too much: the children of Laketown left cold and hungry in the wilds, his false dealings with Bard, even his churlishness toward the Elvenking. When Glóin had seen his struggles and stepped in to speak for both of them, he’d been truly glad.
Yet he kept coming back here. Not for Thorin, but for Kili. Day after day he would return to this chamber, steel himself as he ran past the tomb at the center of the hall and find himself on one side or the other. Twin chambers with matching tables exactly opposite each other, each with the tomb of one of Thorin’s companions. Rising up on the balls of his feet, he ran his fingers over the runes atop this casket and wept. Kibil. The first word he’d ever learned in the Dwarves’ true tongue. Kili’s true name.
“The dead have few answers for the living,” Bilbo spun around, losing his balance and bracing himself against the stone table. Glóin stood a half-step behind him, smiling sorrowfully. Just how had he crossed the catacombs so quietly? Bilbo guessed that he’d been more lost in thought than he had thought. “Would you speak with me instead?” Glóin asked. “I am not so good at lightening a friend’s heart as Kili was, but I still draw breath.”
Bilbo nodded but found he was at a loss for words. He swallowed against the lump in his throat, licked his preternaturally chapped lips. “This is not right,” he finally said. “Not the battle and the death – I mean that too, but – ” He raised a hand to massage his temple against the ache building inside his head, wondering if that explained his befuddled state. Somehow he doubted it. At last he said in a quiet voice: “They should be together. Fili and Kili, I mean. I’ve tried, but I can’t see past it. Why did Dáin lay them apart like this?”
“Legend’s due,” Glóin said, quietly almost as if to himself. Then, a little more loudly, he asked Bilbo, “It’s a bit odd, isn’t it, how well our adventures fit into the old models? The last scion of a noble line, driven from his ancestral home. The eagles arriving just when needed. The ancient swords found along the road. You’d be hard-pressed to devise a better tale if you tried.”
Glóin thought seemed strangely disjointed from his question, but he was glad to think of anything other than Kili for a moment. He turned the thought over in his mind. “It’s not so peculiar, if you think about it. You remember the thrush knocking thrice on the secret door but you forget the hundreds of other birds doing nothing of the sort. It’s almost as if we hope to find a story and, by searching, make it that much more likely we’ll find it.”
“Aye,” Glóin agreed. “But more than that: we long for a story, and stories need a fall. All the great tales come back to it: the stolen gold, the lost home. If a fiend isn’t readily at hand we’ll make our own. The same goes for heroes and fools. Those hearing of our deeds will fit us into those well-worn molds, whether they fit us or not.”
“I do not see what that has to do with Kili,” Bilbo said, “or why Dáin laid him where he did.”
“Don’t you?” Glóin asked. Then, more gently: “What do you know about how they fell? What have you heard?”
Bilbo thought about that question. He’d certainly been in the room when Balin had sung of Thorin’s death, and also when Nori got a bit too far in his cups that first knight and started whispering darker tales about great gaping wounds holes in Kili’s flank, In those moments, though, he’d quickly turned in to himself and counted the sparks flying out from the fire or sung a tune inside his head, anything to keep from hearing those things he guessed he couldn’t bear. Now, perhaps, there was no escaping it. But he was the Ringwinner, the stinging fly, the Barrel-rider no less, and now he might add the name burglar as a badge of honor. He’d not look away.
“I’ve heard what Dáin’s minstrels sang,” Bilbo said, “after he laid Thorin to rest. That Fili and Kili had fallen defending the king with shield and body, for he was their mother’s kin. But I’d guess you know more.”
Glóin looked down, and at first Bilbo thought the memory was too heavy for him to easily bear repeating. But no; after a while he saw Glóin’s eyes were tracing an etched line in the floor, following an angle from Kili’s tomb until it met another such line in front of Thorin’s tomb. In front of, but not touching. From the angle he guessed the other line came from Fili’s tomb, and Bilbo had a sudden image of the brothers reaching out, grasping each other’s hands just beyond Thorin’s reach.
“You should have seen it, Bilbo. When Thorin at last burst onto the battlefield with the light of battle in his eyes. It was glorious; he swung his axe like a dwarf of half his age and twice his stature. But dragon-fire can be catching, and soon the orcs and wargs had surrounded us. I saw an archer fire his arrow straight through Kili’s throat, and. I saw him open his mouth to cry, and grasp at his throat in vain.”
Bilbo squeaked in shock at this tale. He’d seen a little of this, from his perch on the Ravenhill with the Elves and Gandalf, but one could only see so much from that distance. To hear it laid out so plainly… Of a sudden he was glad he had the stone table behind him, so he had some support to hold on to.
Glóin looked over at him, concerned. “Some comfort I am,” he said, a forced smile on his face. “I offer solace and give you battle-tales.”
“No,” Bilbo assured him, “you caught me by surprise, that’s all. I wish to know. Will you go on?”
“As you will.” He sat down at the base of the table and helped ease Bilbo to the ground. “I would have run to Kili if I could, just then. I am no great healer, but it’s a poor friend who lets his fellow die alone. Yet Bolg’s guard was all around, and I knew my duty to Thorin. I looked upon him when I could, saw his chest had stopped rising, but we were busy enough with our own foes. So I did not see the wargs circling around, making a meal out of him.” Bilbo’s breathing grew shallow, and Glóin quickly added, “It seems frightful, and it should be. But such deeds are not unheard of with those foul folk.
“I heard an arrow fly just past my ear, from one of our own number, and of course I heard the great hiss when it found the warg’s chest. Then there was the clang of metal as Fili let his ax drop and ran to his brother. To protect him, you see. Those wargs, despoiling his body – that would have overcome any of us at his age. And I took a step toward him, to bear him back to safety if I could. But no. The wargs turned on him and bit through his armor into his chest. By the time we drove them off, Fili lay still atop his brother. Even I could see he was beyond help.”
Bilbo smiled wanly, much to his surprise. That tale was a grizzly story, no doubt, but in the end, Fili had died for his brother’s sake. He could think of worse ways to die. But then… “You make it sound as though you were ashamed of Fili. And you set them apart in death. Why?”
Glóin ran his toe along the line connecting the brothers, almost caressing it. “Legend’s due. A part of me would honor that deep a love, but what of those who never know Fili in life? When he laid himself across Kili he turned away from his king. Some might call that treason.”
“If you had placed them side by side, Dáin’s folks would have asked questions,” Bilbo said.
“Aye. And Bard’s, and the Elvenking’s. Dáin’s folk might understand, though perhaps not. But men and elves? What can they know of these deep bonds? Those who know little enough of our company will fit us into their tales, and I’d have them remember our friends well. As heroes. They were, you know.”
“The elves might surprise you on that count,” Bilbo said. “I stood with the Elvenking’s guard in that battle, and I could see them acting like Fili. But you may be right to set Fili and Kili apart like this. Those without eyes will see them as loyal companions, which is true enough, and those who might see the true state of things will manage without an obvious cue.” He rubbed his chin in reflection. “I can’t help regretting the need of such arrangement, though. It makes me miss my hole back in the Shire all the more.”
“Well, how do you like that!” Glóin laughed. “Have the accommodations not been to your liking on our adventure, Master Baggins?”
“Oh, I’ll miss you and the rest, and no mistake. It’s just as Gandalf said that night before we left Hobbiton: we’ve no warriors there, or even great heroes, so we tend not to think about things like this. We bury our share of young hobbits, but we don’t have to consider those deaths quite like you do. And it wears on you after a while, to always be thinking in those terms. I’ll be glad to leave those questions to folks more suited to it.”
Glóin laid a hand on Bilbo’s shoulder, and the hobbit laid his head against the dwarf’s chest. “No one truly is, at heart.” Bilbo guessed he would have said no, but when Glóin spoke his chest rose under Bilbo’s head, and he made such a good pillow otherwise.
So Bilbo shushed him and simply laid there silently, breathing in Glóin’s scent of pipeweed and pine. Perhaps the world had gone mad, and perhaps there was little enough place for a burglar in a world suited to heroes and warriors. He knew a part of him was best suited to Bag End – longed to get back there, even. But just now, with Glóin at his back and his mind more at peace than it had been since he first set foot in the Lonely Mountain, he found he could rest here as well.