Fíli was alone. He could hear the noise of the crowd that had assembled on the other side of the great stone doors. There were hundreds of people. Dwarves, Elves and Men, as well as a Hobbit and a Wizard had come together. The date was Yule, the year 2941 of the Third Age. They had come together for his coronation.
So many had come before him. Thorin. Thráin. Thrór. Dáin. Náin. Óin. Glóin. Thorin. Thráin. Náin. Durin… So many. He was destined to be the latest in a long line of rulers. Fíli, son of Dís, heir of Thorin Oakenshield, King under the Mountain. That was what he had been declared a few weeks ago, in the aftermath of that dreadful battle, mere minutes after Thorin had breathed his last. King Fíli. It sounded like a bad joke.
He wondered how long they would wait for him before they gave up. Who would even come after him if he ran away now? Dáin and Balin probably. He could easily outrun them. But where would he go? Outside of the mountain snow had fallen and only a few hours of weak daylight penetrated the perpetual darkness of midwinter. Without shelter, he would not last long. A king on the run from his kingship. Where would he find refuge? He could stay, of course, he could just refuse to enter the throne room. Would they force the crown upon his head? He doubted it. But as Dwalin had said, his refusal would only mean that the burden of kingship would be heaped upon Kíli. Kíli would follow him wherever Fíli led him. But there was nowhere that Kíli could go now. Kíli was bound to Erebor. Fíli would not leave him behind, so he too was bound to Erebor.
He had not slept the previous night. That was good. Not sleeping helped him avoid the dreams that would inevitably come. Dreams of his failure. Dreams that reality seemed to replicate even when he did not sleep. There was no escape from his mediocrity.
Dori had presented him with formal garments. Fíli did not know how he had managed to procure these, and he did not find it in himself to care. With the help of Dori and Ori, he had donned his full armour. Not the one he had worn into battle. This one was ornate and looked very old, studded with diamonds and polished to a shine. Dreadfully impractical in battle. Just as impractical as this whole day of ceremonies. He also wore a long cloak of darkest blue. His personal sigil and that of the line of Durin had been stitched onto it in elaborate patterns.
He felt like a child dressed up in his father's clothes. His father had never owned anything like this though. His father had been a lowly woodworker. A jovial and genuinely friendly person, but certainly no king. He wondered what his father would think or say about his current situation. Fíli would never know. His father had died many decades previously, the first one to abandon him.
Fíli was alone.
He fingered the small wooden figure in the pocket of his cloak. The little lion Kíli had carved for him. The courageous king of the animals. For the craven king of the Dwarves. Kíli believed in him. Kíli thought he would be a great king. Fíli did not see why. Still, the little lion was a reminder that somebody believed in him, even if he could not accompany him now.
Kíli had been at his side in the morning. He had been sat in the front row when Fíli said the sacred Khuzdul vows to Mahal. Only a small group of nobles had been present then, only Dwarves of course. They had taken a light lunch with that same group. Fíli had hardly touched his food. But Kíli had been there. Kíli had slipped him the little lion underneath the table. He could probably feel Fíli tense up. Fíli had not said a word of his anxieties. If Kíli could be strong, so could Fíli. There was no need to worry his brother.
Now Fíli was completely alone. Everybody was in the throne room. He was to wait here until the trumpets called him in. He was to walk down the long aisle amidst the crowd all the way to the throne. There was no question of Kíli accompanying him. Fíli would have carried him gladly, but everybody involved with planning the ceremony had insisted that while a guard of honour was traditional, the king could under no circumstances carry his guard of honour. Fíli did not take a guard of honour. The only ones he would have liked to have with him were unable to walk. And at any rate, he had no honour to be guarded.
Thorin had never been crowned and neither had Thráin. They had been exiled kings. None now remained who could remember Thrór's coronation. They had been left to reconstruct the appropriate customs from old accounts and vague hearsay. Fíli had struggled to show much interest in these debates, but Ori had excelled at the task. Fíli could not begrudge him his excitement. Ori had been an invaluable source of aid and information since the battle.
Lately, life had been full of dark days. The many adventures of their quest had only resulted in madness. Failed negotiation had nearly resulted in a war. Then battle had commenced and afterwards all had been swallowed by the darkness. Death and despair, injury and inability, was all that remained. But this was to be the darkest day. The darkest day of the year, the darkest day of the Dwarves.
The noise from the throne room indicated that all had come to gawk. Fíli had not wanted a ceremony at all. If anything, the swearing-in this morning should have been enough to satisfy traditions. But Balin and Dáin had insisted that a public coronation was necessary, that it would send a signal of strength and unity into the world, that it would be a reward for all those who had suffered. To Fíli, it seemed more like a punishment.
But it had to be done.
Another noise roused Fíli from his thoughts. It came from behind him rather than from the throne room. His right hand flew to the hilt of his sword. This was a vulnerable time. He did not even want to imagine the consequences of enemies entering the mountain now.
No enemies were making that noise. Two figures were approaching at an achingly slow pace. Both were smiling broadly.
Kíli and Dwalin. Fíli hardly dared to trust his eyes. Kíli was sitting in an armchair that had been attached to a frame, which sported three large wheels, one between his feet and one on either side of the chair. He too was dressed in sparkling armour with a sword placed across his knees. He had even braided his hair though not nearly as intricately as he had styled Fíli's that morning. Behind the wheeled chair stood Dwalin, leaning heavily upon the backrest, flushed with exertion, but smiling.
Fíli felt a lump in his throat and some traitorous tears in his eyes. They had come. They had come to be with him despite their injuries and despite his inability to lead them properly.
"Your honour guard is reporting for duty," Kíli stated as they stopped their slow procession in front of him.
Fíli just stared at them.
"You shouldn't have," he finally said, struggling to hide his emotions. "I'm… fine."
Kíli looked at him like he had lost his wits.
"I'm paralysed, not blind, you know. You are far from fine."
"We may not be much to look at, and I dare say Balin was not too fond of this change of plans," said Dwalin. "But we thought you could use some company."
Fíli could not imagine anyone he would rather have by his side. He felt he might be able to be king as long as those two were there to support him.
"Thank you," he said, his voice pressed. "Your injuries simply mark your valour in battle. We are not going to build a society in Erebor that shuns those who have lost their health in battle. You symbolise the strength of our people."
They smiled. Then Dwalin stepped forward, favouring his injured leg, but upright despite the pain he must be suffering. He picked up the blade from Kíli's lap and Fíli recognised his own left-hand falchion.
"Allow me to complete your arms," Dwalin said, bowing his head.
"It's not customary," said Fíli, repeating an argument he had had multiple times already, though his eyes lingered longingly on his second sword. He had felt oddly unbalanced with only one.
Dwalin shook his head as he carefully placed the weapon on Fíli's right hip.
"It's not customary, but it is who you are, laddie. You possess a rare skill with these blades. Erebor can only benefit from it."
Fíli hugged both Kíli and Dwalin. A few tears found their way downwards from his eyes. He swallowed a few times and breathed deeply. He was not alone.
The clear notes of trumpets shattered the silence.
Fíli took one last deep breath, and then he squared his shoulders. He touched the small lion and the crumpled letter in his pocket, then the two swords at his belt. He was still anxious about the coronation.
But it could be done.
He pushed open the heavy stone doors.
The crowd greeted him with raucous applause. They were all here. Hundreds of Dwarves, Elves and Men. All cheering him on as he slowly made his way down the hall. He took great care with every step, not wanting to put undue strain on Dwalin who was pushing Kíli in his chair just a short distance behind him. This way his march took longer than anticipated. At first Fíli kept his glance fixed on the dark throne raised high upon the opposite end of the grand room. With every step he gained confidence. He cast shy glances into the crowd, but when he found them all smiling and waving, he let his gaze linger. Different cultures were assembled here, each group still bearing the signs of great damage done in battle, but in the eyes of each of them there was a spark, a hope.
Balin and Dáin awaited them at the foot of the steps that led to the throne, both smiling with unconcealed pride.
The crowd was densely packed on either side of the path between the door and the throne. To the left and the right of the walkway, dwarven warriors stood at attention as Fíli passed. However, the last quarter of his way was not lined with soldiers. The children of Laketown occupied those places. Each had been given a handful of flowers that they were now spreading on the floor before Fíli. Fíli spotted golden-haired Per whose acquaintance he had made during his visit to the camp of the Lakemen. He smiled at him, causing the boy to go wide-eyed and forget all about the flowers in his hand. He did remember eventually and launched them at Fíli's face with full force. Fíli smiled as he brushed a blossom from his brow. Yule roses.
Once he reached the front, he stood with his back to the crowd to wait for Kíli and Dwalin to take their places on either side of the throne. Dwalin turned Kíli's chair around and for a moment the brothers looked at each other. Kíli was smiling. He did not say a word, but Fíli could see the utter joy and pride radiating from him. He was so glad Kíli was here. He had been the first to follow him and it was only right that he should be the first among Fíli's followers now.
Dwalin positioned himself on the other side of the steps that led up to the throne. He was leaning on his war hammer, back straight, alert eyes scanning the crowd. He nodded encouragingly at Fíli when their eyes met. It was not much, but Fíli knew that it was all the encouragement he would get. It was enough. Dwalin had seen him at his lowest, but he had still come. His presence and support here were invaluable.
Dáin and Balin stepped forward and the official coronation began. Fíli would remember little of it. The Khuzdul vows he had spoken in the morning had been binding, but he repeated all of them in the common tongue. All those who had supported him had a right to see him come into his own and to understand his promises to them and to Erebor. Fíli raised his voice as much as he could without actually bellowing the words at his cousins. Everybody had a right to hear.
Fíli was only too aware that he was being crowned in a mountain that was still mostly desolate and entirely dependent on outside aid for survival. His vows outlined a brighter future. He was confident that they could achieve it. His goal was not to return Erebor to its former glory. He had insisted on removing any reference to treasure and gold from the proceedings. He would not fall prey to the same weakness that had conquered his ancestors. Erebor's real wealth lay in its people.
As the highest-ranking among the dwarven nobles, Dáin was the one to put the crown on Fíli's head. The crown was heavy. Fíli could feel the pressure on his skull as he slowly, deliberately rose from his kneeling position. Once he was standing, he turned on the spot and Dáin shouted the official proclamation:
"Fíli, son of Dís, daughter of Thráin, son of Thrór; heir of Thorin Oakenshield, King under the Mountain!"
"King Fíli," cried the crowd.
Fíli looked at them and he was glad. Three of the five armies were gathered here, but they were no longer separate armies. Dwarf stood next to Man, stood next to Elf. In the front row there was Bard next to Thranduil next to Gandalf. The wizard had a hand on the shoulder of the Hobbit who was dabbing at his eyes with a silken handkerchief. In the places of honour directly in front of him stood the remaining members of the company of Thorin Oakenshield. Trader and miner, noble and lowborn, wounded and unscathed, they all stood there together to witness Fíli's coronation.
And then they bowed. Dáin and Balin started it, giving the signal for everybody else to follow suit. Thranduil sank to his knees in one fluid motion, followed by Gandalf and Bard who were somewhat less graceful. The movement spread like a wave through the crowd. Fíli could see Bofur struggle with his crutches, and was tempted to come to his aid, but had not yet had time to take a step when Bifur and Bombur intervened instead. At last, Nori seemed to be the only one left standing. He flashed Fíli a mischievous grin and his nimble fingers signed in rapid Iglishmêk:
"Only for you!"
Then he too sank to his knees and Fíli looked out over a sea of bowed backs. His people. Even though he was only king of the Dwarves, he knew in his heart that a reprise of the isolationism of earlier times was not just impossible but undesirable. He would work closely with those around him to achieve peace and prosperity for all.
"Our freedom," Fíli whispered to himself. The freedom they had won in battle had seemed faulty to him, but he now realised that it was merely incomplete. There was much potential to build upon what they had won.
Fíli slowly climbed the steps to the throne. It was the last part of the coronation. He had to actually sit upon the throne. He had tried to resist, but now that the time had come, he actually felt ready for this final step.
"Thorin, I wish you could see me now. I wish I could show you that you will have reason to be proud of me," Fíli thought as he reached the final step.
In that moment, unexpectedly, he felt warmth upon his neck and a warm light appeared all around him. The last light of midwinter had hit a light shaft that directed it precisely to the throne. A golden glow spread through the hall and in its centre was Fíli.
The light encompassed him and made him feel strong. He was standing in the light and he knew that once he turned around there was no going back. He would have to face reality and it would be difficult. He felt ready to face it. He wanted to be there for his people and become the king that he was born to be.
Fíli relished the light.