A little over an hour later the company was ready to leave. The dwarves, the hobbit and Arya set off for the port escorted by the Master's procession. The girl had decided to accompany them to tell them goodbye: Thorin was the only one aware of her intentions and she couldn't just leave without saying anything to the others.
"You do know we're one short? Where's Bofur?"
Bilbo pointed out along the way. Hearing the question, the young woman looked around, suddenly realising the absence of her friend: that sleepyhead must have still been in the world of dreams! Arya decided she would get him later, in case he didn't reach them in time.
"If he's not here, we leave him behind."
Thorin firmly asserted.
"We'll have to, if we're to find the door before nightfall. We can risk no more delays."
Balin explained in a calmer tone. Once at the dock, the dwarves and the hobbit began to board the longboats, granted to them by the Master, amid the cheers and shouts of the crowd, who wished them the best of luck. Arya was the last in line and kept a little distance from the rest of the group, dreading the moment when she would have had to bid farewell. Just before her, Kili approached the boat to get on it, but was immediately stopped by the arm of his uncle, who forced him to stay on dry land.
"Not you. We must travel at speed, you will slow us down."
Thorin stated, as he helped load the weapons. Kili's eyes widened, his skin becoming even paler than it already was.
"What are you talking about? I'm coming with you."
He replied, cracking a grin, as if it were just a mockery.
The King sighed, pausing for a moment to look him in the eye. Kili stared back at him, astonished.
"I'm going to be there when that door's opened. When we first look upon the halls of our fathers, Thorin."
He asserted firmly. Thorin saw the disappointment and, at the same time, the determination in his nephew's eyes as he pronounced those words, so he placed a hand on his shoulder and gave him a warm smile.
"Kili, stay here. Rest. Join us when you're healed."
He told him in a softer tone. Then, without further ado, he turned and finished loading the last weapons. The young dwarf, deeply hurt by that order, stepped away from the boat to sit on some wooden crates a few meters back. Arya walked over to him and put an arm around his shoulders. Kili looked up sadly at her, meeting her reassuring smile. He didn't know why she was there beside him, instead of on the ship with their companions, but he was grateful.
"I'll stay with the lad. My duty lies with the wounded."
Oin said, climbing back onto the dock and heading towards Kili.
"Uncle, we grew up on tales of the mountain. Tales you told us. You cannot take that away from him!"
Fili protested, realising the situation.
His brother called him to tell him to drop it.
"I will carry him if I must!"
The blond continued, ignoring his comment.
"One day you will be King and you will understand. I cannot risk the fate of this quest for the sake of one dwarf. Not even my own kin."
Thorin explained quietly. There seemed to be wisdom in those words, but for Fili they were more painful than ever: he had to make a choice, the mission or his brother. He didn't need to think about it for a moment, he looked from Thorin to Kili, who was sitting in pain next to Arya, and without delay went back on the dock.
"Fili, don't be a fool. You belong with the company."
His uncle scolded him severely, taking him by the arm.
"I belong with my brother."
He retorted in a resolute tone, freeing himself from the King's iron grip and heading towards Kili. Behind them, the players began to perform a hymn, announcing the Master's speech of good luck, as the boat began to leave the dock for the Mountain, accompanied by the enthusiastic applause of the crowd. Suddenly Bofur appeared out of breath in the middle of the pier. The dwarf looked around, dejected for not having arrived in time, but he smiled as soon as he noticed his companions sitting on some boxes not far away.
"Ah, did you miss the boat as well?"
He asked as he approached them. Kili let out a groan of pain, leaning forward and being immediately supported by his brother. The arrow that had struck him in the knee during their escape from Mirkwood was smeared with Morgul poison, Arya had understood that when she had examined the wound on the river bank. The venom must have made its way into his body quickly, thus it wasn't healing. He had to be treated, immediately.
"He needs help."
Arya asserted serious, holding her friend's other arm. Bofur changed his expression again and began to look at them with concern.
"Let's get him back to the Master, he'll have something to cure him."
"No, he would never help us: that man thinks only of power and wealth, he doesn't care about the lives of others."
The girl replied, slightly shaking her head.
"So, what do we do?"
Fili intervened, looking up at her. The concern on his face was evident, but in his eyes Arya saw determination and hope: yes, there was still hope for Kili, they could still save him and they would.
"Perhaps there is someone who'd still help us."
Murmured the young woman.
Bofur exclaimed, guessing her thoughts. The five then headed towards the bargeman's house and, once there, they knocked vigorously on the door. The man opened it and gave them a stunned look.
"No. I'm done with dwarves, go away!"
He asserted resolute, but, before he could close the door in front of them, he was stopped by Bofur
"No! No! No one will help us. Kili's sick. He is very sick."
The dwarf begged him, nodding his head in the direction of his friend who, behind him, was barely standing, clinging to his brother's and Arya's arms. The man gave him a pitiful look and let them in.
"Put him down there."
He told them, pointing to a bed placed against the right wall of the room.
"Da, what's going on?"
Sigrid asked concerned, seeing the four dwarves and the woman enter.
"Fetch some cold water and clean cloths."
He said hastily, without giving further explanations. The girl nodded and left the room with her sister, returning shortly after with what she had been asked for. Bofur rushed to take the bowl with the water and a cloth, and then took them to Kili's bedside to pass them to Arya. She wet the cloth and placed it gently on the forehead of the dwarf, who continued to moan in pain.
"Is there anything you can do?"
Fili then asked Oin, the only doctor in the company, looking at his brother with anguish.
"I need herbs, something to bring down his fever."
He replied, shaking his head. Bard began to open some wooden boxes and fabric wrappers on the kitchen table.
"We have nightshade, feverfew..."
The bargeman said, listing the medicinal herbs laid out in front of him.
Arya murmured, not taking her eyes off Kili. Athelas was the Sindarin name for a plant with great healing properties, the only one that could have been useful.
"Kingsfoil. Do you have any Kingsfoil?"
She explained herself better, raising her head towards the man.
"No, it's a weed. We feed it to the pigs."
He answered, a little bewildered by that question.
"Pigs. Weed. Right."
Bofur asserted, before turning one last time to Kili.
He ordered him, then ran out the door in search of the plant. Kili, in response, let go another painful moan. Arya continued to hold a damp cloth on his forehead with her left hand, while she gently stroked his hair with her right, in a desperate attempt to give him a minimum of relief. Fili, at her side, was looking at him with a sorrowful gaze as he held his hand in his own. He could do nothing to help him, he was completely useless against his brother's pain, and that was devastating him.
A sudden shaking of the floor beneath their feet called everyone back from their thoughts.
Sigrid exclaimed frightened, turning to Bard, who was intent on putting the herbs back into the appropriate containers.
"It's coming from the mountain."
Bain said from the window. The bargeman looked at his worried son and nodded. His worst fear had come true: the dwarves had awakened the dragon.
"You should leave us. Take your children and get out of here."
Fili told him with apprehension, moving away from his brother's bedside for a moment and heading towards the man.
"And go where? There is nowhere to go."
He replied disconsolately.
"Are we going to die, Da?"
The youngest of his daughters asked him sadly.
He answered her gently, smiling to reassure her.
"The dragon, it's going to kill us."
The little girl continued.
"Not if I kill it first."
The man asserted firmly, before recovering the Black Arrow from a hidden net between the ceiling boards. Bard immediately rushed out the front door, followed by his son, before Arya could do anything to stop them.
The Black Arrow was no ordinary arrow, it had been forged from dwarven steel by the King Under Mountain, Thror, for Girion, King of Dale, who had used it in the fight against Smaug. It had the particularity of being able to always be found, even if thrown very far, and never missed the target. After the fall of Erebor, it had been passed down from generation to generation to Bard, who had kept it hidden and safe in case one day it ever needed to be used.
The woman, however, feared that even such a weapon would not be able to bring down Smaug, and it wouldn't have been the first time.