Prologue to "No Sacrifice", a little one shot that takes places just before Thorin leaves on his quest. I have been thinking about these two a lot and this scene really insisted on being written.
"You are not coming back, are you?"
Thorin looked out over the small town, nestled peacefully between the arms of the mountain. He looked at the great stone door that led to the great hall within the mountain and the living spaces and workshops beyond. More rooms were being excavated every year, but he never had managed to make enough space for everyone. Most of his people were still not living underground as every Dwarf should.
The question lingered between them in the sweet-smelling air of spring. He sighed deeply before replying. "No, I don't think I will. I'm leaving to reclaim our homeland, with or without anybody's aid. I have been waiting and sitting idly for far too long. I shall either end my days sitting on the throne of Erebor, or I shall perish trying to reclaim it."
"I have always admired your resolve."
A small smile tugged at his mouth at that statement. "You have always cursed my stubbornness."
"That as well," Dís admitted. "But for all your shortcomings, you have done admirably by our people. We would not be where we are now without your stubbornness."
"Where are we though? A ragtag assortment of hovels, half of our folk tending to crops and animals instead of pursuing a craft as would be good and proper, trading in iron with no gold in sight..."
"We live in peace and prosperity. Our numbers are growing again after decades of decline. We have allies and trading partners. The quality of our goods and services is respected far and wide among Dwarves and Men. Do not discount all that!"
His unquenchable sister. Thorin drew on his pipe contently. "You always see the best in every situation."
"I see the truth. We have known war and homelessness, sickness and starvation. Those who come of age now barely remember those days. The people are content here."
"They also do not remember the days we knew before the dragon, the halls, the riches, the good food and the many amenities… Few now remember Erebor."
Dís put a hand on his shoulder and looked him in the eye. He wondered if she saw herself mirrored in him as much as he saw himself in her.
"I know, Thorin. If you do not go now, it will get ever harder to find anyone to support you."
He gave a mirthless laugh. "Maybe I have waited too long… I will not exactly be leaving with a host as it is. The masses have hardly flocked to me at my call."
"But the ones who did come… they are loyal to you. I would rather see you with them than with a whole army from the Iron Hills."
Thorin looked at her with some surprise; he had never thought of it that way, he was too disappointed with the small number of his followers to focus on their intentions, but Dís' statement rang true. "You do not think me mad for setting out with so few and uncertain of the support of our kin?"
"I think you mad for many reasons, but not for trusting those who follow you with a willing heart. No army would be able to defeat the dragon. If it is still alive, stealth and cunning will serve you far better than thousands of warriors in full armour. Take your chance while you can still find those who are inspired by the thought of Erebor!"
They both smoked in silence for a few moments. Thorin was mulling over what his sister had just said. There lay wisdom in her words. Numbers had not aided them against Smaug the first time. A whole kingdom in disarray had had little resistance against the great worm. Maybe the disappointingly low numbers of his company would be to their advantage if he could just form them into a cohesive unit. He had to. He wanted this more than anything.
"It is not just that," he said at last. "It is not just about running out of time. It is also about this finally being the right time. The time when I can see that reclaiming Erebor would do us good."
Dís smiled at him at that, even though there was sadness in her eyes. "You are doing it for them."
"I am. They are old enough now to come with me and to be among the first who enter the mountain after all that time."
"They are still very young to face such danger… and such responsibility if you succeed."
"They are very young, but not too young. They are my heirs; they are ready for it. I would gladly perish if I knew that Fíli would be sitting on that throne. He would make a great King under the Mountain."
"He has been taught well, as has Kíli."
"I will always remain in your debt, Dís. You have given me the finest heirs anyone could ask for."
She looked at him earnestly and her voice was grave when she replied. "I have not given you anything. I'm not sacrificing them for you, for your dreams or your crown. I let them go because my head knows that I must let them make their own choices. And their loyalty lies with you. But my heart is heavy, Thorin. Make sure that they at least can return to me."
The weight on his shoulders had nothing to do with the throne, the gold, the lost homeland or even the Arkenstone. The greatest treasure of them all was already in his keeping. He fell to his knees before his sister and grasped her hands. "If by my life or death I can protect them, I will."
The silence stretched between them. Finally, Dís put her hands on his head and gently kissed his brow. "May Mahal guide you and protect you. You go with my blessing, Thorin."
He swallowed as he rose and slowly took his seat next to her again. He had done little to deserve this.
"I have not always been the brother you deserve," he stated flatly. When she remained silent, he took that as a sign of assent. "You should have been a princess."
"I was a princess… and yet… I was happiest when I was nothing but the wife of a simple carpenter with barely the means to feed two hungry little mouths."
Thorin hung his head. "When I had told you that you were no sister of mine, that you were not fit to bear the name of Durin."
They had never talked much about that time. It had been difficult enough to manage the present without lingering in the past. Years had passed in silence. A silence that Thorin now felt could not stretch any longer.
"I was wrong."
Dís slowly nodded her head. "You finally find the words for what your actions have been saying all these decades."
"Jóli was a good Dwarf."
"A Dwarf that was no fit husband for your sister; a Dwarf that was no fit father for your heirs."
Thorin brushed a hand over his eyes, as if to chase away the veils of the past. "I was blinded by ideals of nobility and rank. I have learned my lesson. No Dwarf could ask for a finer husband for his sister, nor a finer father for his heirs."
"I hope you take that lesson you learned with you to Erebor. Make it a homeland for all."
His astonishing sister, always compassionate, always thinking of others first and foremost. "My company should give you some indication as to my intentions."
She smiled at that. "Miners, tinkers and toy makers, but all good Dwarves at heart. I trust them to protect my sons. That should give you some indication of my thoughts."
They sat in silence for a few minutes, watching the sun slowly creep towards the mountains. The last sunset Thorin would see here. He was leaving the town that he had helped build, as a leader of his people and often enough as just another labourer on a construction site; the town that had been named for him.
"Thank you, Dís. I know I'm leaving the Ered Luin in the most capable of hands."
"I have had plenty of practice over the years."
"Your work here shall not be forgotten. What prosperity we have achieved here was as much your accomplishment as mine."
"They are our people. You once had a mind to banish me from the line of Durin, but you cannot banish the nature we share."
"And I am glad of it," Thorin said with a sigh, remembering all his harsh words, all of their arguments.
"Do not let the past burden you unduly, Thorin. You have repented many times over. You have been a great leader to our people. You have shared your home with me, however grudgingly at first. You have been like a father to my boys. They admire you and strive to be like you one day. And I am glad of it."
Thorin felt a traitorous sting in his eyes and breathed deeply a few times to calm himself. Durin tempers had always reigned supreme in their household. With two young dwarrows there had been little room for quiet reflection. To hear that his sister wanted her sons to follow his example was an honour he felt entirely unprepared for. And yet there was a lingering doubt…
"You would have preferred for me to die instead of Frerin."
Dís did not deny it, but her voice was low and measured as she spoke. "I would have. And you would have preferred to find me dead instead of him."
There was little more to be said. It was a shameful admission, after so many years of living and governing together, after raising two children together. But Dís continued, "Yet now, I am glad of it. We were never close. As children I had little use for you, and you even less for me. Then we were forced together in our exile and we bore it because there was no choice. After Azanulbizar, I resented you. After father's disappearance, I was left with the only family member I did not feel connected to, the one I thought I had nothing in common with."
She puffed on her pipe thoughtfully. After a while, Thorin inserted, "Maybe we had too much in common. We both wanted what was best for our people. We just had… different ideas of what that was."
Dís drew in a big mouth full of smoke and released it slowly. "The people looked up to you. You were their leader. You were so sure in what you wanted and needed to do. Nobody needed me. When Jóli came along, it was a relief for me."
"I needed you!" What might once have been a painful admission now felt as necessary as breathing. "I thought you had abandoned me, that you did not believe in my capability as a leader."
"I always believed in you, even then. And I am proud of the leader you have become."
She grasped his hands. Thorin lowered his head and stated in a low voice the truth he had known for so long but had never had the courage to admit. "I would not be that leader without you."
Their clasped hands between them, they leaned towards each other on the wooden bench until their foreheads touched. The setting sun bathed the hillside in light the colour of rubies, as they glanced into each others eyes for the last time. This time Thorin had no doubt that they each saw their mirror image in the other.
"I'm proud of you, big brother."
"And I of you, little sister.
"Go with my blessing."
"Thank you. I will see to it that you can be a princess again. You deserve it."
"Just see to it that I can still be a mother."
"Aye, I will do that."
"May Mahal shield you until we meet again, Dís. In his halls or in those of our fathers."