"Are you in pain?"
"You look like you're hurting."
"Don't lie to me. I can tell you are not fine. I'm your brother after all."
Fíli overheard the brief conversation and it made him sad. The worst part was that it could have taken place between any of the pairs of brothers currently assembled in the kitchen. Fíli clutched his cup of tea tightly until his palm was stinging from the heat. There was still so much pain, even months after the battle.
Fíli downed his tea in one big gulp. It scorched his throat. He shook his head and grimaced. The tea was strong, black and bitter. He got up and thanked Bombur for the meal. Nodding towards the others, he walked towards the low door. He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. In here, he was still mostly Fíli. Out there, he was King under the Mountain. He insisted on breaking his fast with the other members of Thorin's company every morning. Just a little moment of being Fíli before he started his day as king.
A few of the former royal chambers had been restored sufficiently to be inhabitable. Fíli shared the largest with his brother. Apparently it was an important gesture. For Fíli it was mainly a practical matter. The corridors in that part of the mountain were wider and there were no stairs to be overcome. Such things mattered now that Kíli had lost the use of his legs. Next to them, Balin and Dwalin had moved into a second chamber with Dáin squatting in a smaller one, which Balin said had once been a servant's room. Such things did not matter now that they were all much the same, trying to survive the winter and to restore the desolate mountain.
Ori followed him out of the door. He was the only one to accompany Fíli on his daily walks through the mountain. The lack of a proper guard had aggravated Dwalin, but Fíli had insisted that he was among friends here and could very well defend himself if the need should arise. There were only a few hundred dwarves in the mountain, and even counting the Lakemen, the residents numbered less than a thousand. Fíli could not see a danger to himself here. Once more people arrived; he would rethink the matter of his personal security. Hopefully, by then Dwalin would be fit for duty once more.
Ori rattled off a list of the daily duties. Matters were becoming less desperate now. The problems at hand were no longer urgent to ensure their mere survival as so much had been in the early weeks after the battle. The wounded had recovered as far as they ever would. Their basic needs were now met. There were regular food deliveries from the Iron Hills, Mirkwood and a few scattered settlements of Men. The plumbing within the mountain was once again functioning and the plentiful snow had provided sufficient clean water in the meantime. The Elves had departed with a promise to send regular envoys from now on. The alliance seemed to hold so far, which delighted Fíli. Relations with the Men were better than ever. Once the snow had started to melt, Bard had led a small workforce out towards Dale to commence the rebuilding of that city. Fíli had seconded a few of his builders who had experience with over-ground construction. Both Erebor and Dale would flourish once more.
Their first appointment for the day took place far down in the crypts. The stonemasons had reported that they had completed the work on the tombs. Fíli was keen to see the memorial to those who had given their lives in defence of Erebor and the freedom of the people of the North.
They greeted him with low bows. He was still not used to the courtesy everybody showed him, even though he had now been king for more than three months.
"Your majesty, you honour us greatly by inspecting our humble work," said the foreman.
"Just Fíli to you, my good dwarf, we are all working towards the same goal," said Fíli, "I come not to inspect but merely to delight in your craft."
He had not been down here since his rather futile visit to Thorin's tomb. He glanced towards it now, but felt now desire to go over there. Instead he followed the workers towards the far side of the hall where four chambers had been blocked off by large slabs of marble. Each chamber held the bodies of at least three dozen warriors.
The craftsmanship was exquisite. The marble had been polished to a shine and gleamed white in the torch-lit darkness of the crypts. The lines of the engravings were clear and even. Fíli traced a few of the names with his finger.
Ljomi son of Loni
Nithi son of Nyi
Galar son of Lofar
So many had fallen.
Fíli took a step back and praised their work. His words were met with more low bows and appreciative murmurs. A cup was handed to him as he stood and admired the fitting tribute to the dead. His eyes fell on the large runes along the top of the blocks of marble.
"When you go home, tell them of us and say: For your tomorrow, we gave our today," he read and felt tears gather behind his eyes.
Swiftly, he drank his tea. It was even more bitter than Bombur's had been. The taste made the hair on his arms stand on end, but at least it cleared his head. Builder's brew.
The rest of Fíli's day was spent in meetings with various committees. They had received word from the Ered Luin. A caravan of their kin was on its way towards Erebor. If all went well, they should arrive at the Mountain in a few weeks' time. Living quarters were being prepared. Fresh water supplies were being rerouted. The plumbing was once again a concern. Fíli would thank Mahal on the day he did not hear anything about the accursed plumbing any more. The new arrivals should find a home rather than a dragon's abode when they reached Erebor. There was a quiet agreement among all parties that none should ever see the full extent of the damage done by Smaug, nor understand the full impact of the dreadful battle. Their tomorrow should hold as few traces as possible of the struggles of today.
"She will be here soon," Fíli said with a sigh, briefly massaging his forehead before he turned away from the papers on his desk to look at his brother.
Kíli grinned broadly, leaning against the headboard of the large bed they shared, a whittling knife in his hand.
"I know, I'm so excited!" he exclaimed.
Fíli sighed again and buried his face in his hands. Mahal give me strength.
"How are we going to… she doesn't know yet… how can we ever explain… That!"
"Cheer up, misery guts! Not much you need to explain, I'm sure mum will be able to work out on her own that I didn't just suddenly grow a set of wheels for no particular reason."
"Exactly," Fíli said, pinching the bridge of his nose and closing his eyes briefly so he did not have to look at said set of wheels. "We can't really hide… that."
"Don't you dare go hiding my lovely chair," cried Kíli, the brightness in his voice sounding somewhat forced now.
"We should have told her in a letter."
"She would have worried for months."
"She would have been right to worry!"
"Nah, I'm fine."
"You are not fine!"
"Look who's talking…"
"I saw you at the coronation feast," said Fíli. He had never brought it up so far. "I saw you when the dancing started."
"More importantly, you saw me when the next morning started… I admit it, I admit it, I should not have had that much of the Iron Hills whisky! That stuff burns like a forge fire!"
Would he never lose his cheerful tone?
"It was not just the alcohol. You were devastated."
"All right, all right, you know I like a good dance!"
"So you grabbed a bottle instead."
"It's not like I'll be spinning any lassies around again, now, is it?" Kíli smirked, but sounded a little bit more serious.
"I should have spoken with you that night."
"You had a few other people to talk to."
"You are my brother, I should have made time for you. I could see you were not well."
"I was upset, is all. You've got a kingdom to manage now, not just one glaikit little brother. Bofur and that whisky kept me pretty good company."
"You shouldn't talk about this so lightly…"
"Right, so what do you want me to say? Aye, it hit me like a cart full of iron ore that this is my life now and that it's not what I ever imagined or wanted! Happy now?" Kíli shouted.
"I didn't mean to…" Fíli started in alarm.
He made to stand up and walk over to the bed, but as soon as he moved a muscle, the small whittling knife flew past him and stuck quivering in the pile of papers he had been reading.
"Well, then don't!" Kíli shouted. "Don't treat me like a helpless child. I didn't want this any more than you wanted to be king, but this is who we are now and we both have to deal with it!"
"I'm sorry," Fíli said, looking over at his brother. "I'm still getting used to all of this and I don't think I'm adapting as quickly as you are."
Kíli's features softened and his voice was quiet once more when he spoke again.
"I know you've got lots to worry about. And I want to help you. I can't do much of all that kingly nonsense. But you know how mum always said I could charm the very rock of the mountain? I can do that. I can talk to the people and make sure they see me and they laugh and think about happy things. You do all the serious stuff. But let me be in charge of the fun. Maybe I can help you just a little with morale."
Fíli stared at him. So that was behind his brother's unquenchable spirit and cheerfulness. He swallowed hard. He was not used to having such serious conversations with Kíli. He hoped he would understand all the things he could not put into words.
"You are doing a pretty good job," Fíli said simply.
"We both are," Kíli said with a smile. "Mum is going to be so proud."
"You think so?"
"What's not to be proud of," Kíli declared grandly. "I mean, just look at you all grown up and kingly! She is going to burst with pride."
"And look at you…"
"Still dashingly handsome and charming as ever, and finally putting my talents to good use in supporting you with running the mighty kingdom of Erebor. That's what you were going to say, wasn't it?"
Fíli had to smile at that.
"And still so humble," he teased.
"Exactly the baby boy she missed so much and wants to hug again."
Fíli walked over to the bed and hugged him instead. They sat in silence for a while. When Fíli spoke again, his voice had a contemplative tone.
"I just want it to be good for her… after all those years, after all she has been through, she finally gets to come home again… and it's not really what we hoped for…"
"Mum always said that home is where the family is. And we are here. She'll be just fine."
"It's not just us though."
"She knows Thorin is dead."
There was nothing easy about telling his mother that her last remaining brother had died, but compared to everything else it had not been that difficult. She knew I would not return… Tell her that I love her, that I have always loved her, even when I was too blind to see that at times. Thorin had thought about her near the end. When he had been himself. Fíli hugged Kíli tightly. He was so glad to still have his sibling with him.
"You know how close she is to Dwalin…"
"He is a warrior. He lives. That is probably more than mum ever hoped for, more than Dwalin ever hoped for."
Dwalin had been so desperate to die. So eager to follow Thorin. No, not you. You are alive. He lived, but he was not the same dwarf who had hugged their mother goodbye all those months ago.
"I hope she is going to like Erebor."
"I'm sure she will."
"Do you like it?" Fíli asked.
"Sure. Bit dusty and crumbly and still stinks of dragon, but it's quite decent," his brother answered with a shrug.
"Not much to look at though, is it?"
"It's her home. I'm sure it's different for her," Kíli stated confidently.
"She was only a little girl when Smaug came," Fíli said with a sigh. He really was not sure about any of this.
"She liked it," Kíli said, "She told us stories about it, remember? She loved her room."
"And the canopy," Fíli said, joining in with the nostalgic mood.
"The darkest blue velvet with silver embroidery," Kíli repeated their mother's words, "At night it would sparkle and the whole starry sky was stretched out above her when she slept."
"She loved that canopy."
"Is it still there?"
"Don't be silly. That would have rotted long ago."
"Would be great to give her her room back," Kíli mused.
"It would be," Fíli said, "but Balin told me it was down the corridor to the east of our chamber. The one that's missing the central support column."
"Ah, shame," Kíli sighed, knowing full well that that meant that it was not safe to enter the corridor, much less the room.
"We still have time," he continued, "we could get it all sorted out. And we could make her a new canopy."
"Don't know where you have been living," Fíli teased, "but last I checked there was no velvet being sold at the cloth merchant's stand at the central market."
"Mainly because there is neither a central market nor a cloth merchant," Kíli responded dryly. "It would be marvellous though," he said, "I wish we could do that."
"There are more important things to be done," Fíli said to shut him down, "we will soon have even more people to look after."
Despite his dismissal of his brother's idea, it stayed with Fíli. To restore their mother's room to its former glory and to give her beloved starry canopy back to her, would certainly make her feel welcome and at home in Erebor, despite everything else.
Late the next night, when everyone in the mountain lay fast asleep and his brother was snoring softly at his side, Fíli got up and left their shared room on silent stocking feet. He closed the heavy stone door carefully and turned towards the left. He stepped over the low barrier the builders had put up to keep people from wandering off into the unsafe corridors. It did not take him long to find the room. Even if his mother's name had not been carved into the door that hung loosely in its frame, he would have realised that this was the correct room, as soon as he raised his torch to see more clearly.
Everything was covered in a thick layer of dust. There was rubble in the corner, but most of the items that had undoubtedly once been in the room, had long since disappeared. A few colourless rags lay on the intricately carved four-poster bed. By now, Fíli knew from experience that they would disintegrate at the slightest touch. Dust. Everything was crumbling, turning into dust. But on the rags there was the eerie white porcelain head of a doll. Its body long since gone, it seemed to stare out at him unseeingly.
His foot hit something small that rolled away noisily across the stone floor. Marbles. Many colourful glass marbles. He put the torch into a steel bracket next to the door. His mother had been a child here. Dís, princess of the House of Durin, youngest of Thráin's children. A happy, carefree childhood surrounded by a loving family and every amenity gold could procure. In here, his mother had been happy.
One of the walls had caved in and there was a large crack running diagonally across the floor. Two of the bedposts had crumbled; the remaining ones sticking out like the arms of a drowning man. Drowning, or burning. It had all ended in fire. The stone was blackened in places. Furnishings he knew would have been present had left no trace. No decorations, nor even a lamp, remained. All had turned to darkness.
Darkness and dust were all that remained of his mother's happy childhood. Dís, mother of the King under the Mountain, daughter of dead parents, wife of a dead husband, sister of dead brothers. After all of her suffering, he wanted to give her something back. Even if it was just something small like a room. At least he could give her something.
Fíli gathered the rags from the bed. As he had predicted, they fell apart at his touch. But somebody had to clean up here. And he could not spare the manpower. He knew they had more important things to do. His mother could find a dwelling in another, less damaged part of the mountain. But he wanted to give her a home, not a dwelling. Furiously, Fíli brushed the dirt from the stone bedstead. He could do this. He could fix this.
He must have been a bit too energetic. With a sharp crack, one of the remaining pillars fell. Several large pieces tumbled onto the bed, the noise echoing loudly in the nearly empty room. Fíli had quickly jumped backwards, but could not escape the falling rocks entirely. One piece hit his shoulder and he could not suppress a hiss of pain.
"Mahal," he cursed. His shoulder was still tender where the spear had pierced it, even now, four months after the battle. To make matters worse, he could hear the noise of a door being thrown open. It would be a real pleasure to explain his little nighttime excursion to an unsafe part of the mountain to the guards.
Heavy steps and torchlight in the corridor.
"Who's there? Show yourself!"
Dwalin. For a moment Fíli considered crawling underneath the bed and hiding. He felt like a dwarfling again, caught red-handed at something he knew he should not be doing.
"It's me, Fíli!" he called out just as Dwalin entered the room, torch in one hand and a long dagger in the other.
Dwalin stopped in his tracks and raised an eyebrow, but at least had the good grace to not comment on the state Fíli was in, in his nightclothes and covered in dust. A thoroughly kingly appearance.
"What are you doing here, laddie?" Dwalin asked, sitting down heavily on the bed, his bad leg stretched out in front of him.
"Just looking 'round," Fíli mumbled, hoping that the dim torchlight would hide that he was blushing.
"I know you're king and can go anywhere, but going into an unstable room at night doesn't sound like the smartest of ideas to me," Dwalin said, wagging his finger. Oh great, next he was going to tell him that he was certainly not too old for a good walloping. Not that Dwalin had usually been in charge of that, but he would not put it past him to pick up from where Thorin had left off.
"It will not happen again," Fíli said, hoping to close the matter.
"This is Dís' room," Dwalin stated.
"I know," Fíli admitted.
"She loved this room."
"And her canopy."
"The darkest blue velvet with sparkling silver stars."
"That's the one."
"I wish it was here now," Fíli said. "I wish it was still her room."
"She will be her soon, and she will make sure it becomes her room again," Dwalin replied.
Fíli remained silent, but walked over to the bed, careful to not stumble on any of the new debris, and picked up the doll's head. It had not been damaged. He stared at it. White porcelain. A child's toy. Abandoned. Lost. Lost like so many others. And just like he was with everything else, he was powerless to make it better, to alleviate the grievances.
"I want her to be happy," he whispered almost inaudibly.
Dwalin caught his glance and held it. There was a deep sadness in the old warrior's eyes.
"Aye, you and me both," he finally said gravely.
"She should have a home to return to," declared Fíli. "Not… this!"
He made an all-encompassing gesture around the room. Smaug and the Orcs. They had destroyed everything. Everything.
Dwalin looked around the room as well. For a while they remained silent and lost in their own thoughts. Then Dwalin heaved himself upright and made his way along the walls, surveying, tapping gently here and there. It was a slow process. His bad leg was still barely able to carry him, but he had obviously left his cane behind in his haste to find the source of the nocturnal disturbance. Fíli watched him carefully.
"I'm no architect or miner," Dwalin finally said. "But to me it looks like there was no unredeemable structural damage done in here. That can all be cleaned up, repaired and replaced."
"Not now, though."
"We still have time. They won't be here for another few weeks yet."
"We cannot spare the manpower," Fíli stated decisively. "There are more urgent issues to tackle. Restoring one room when the same effort could restore a row of houses in less-damaged areas, I cannot justify that."
"Aye," Dwalin agreed reluctantly. They both knew that Fíli was right. There was no space for nostalgia and romanticism when the lives and livelihoods of so many would soon depend on Erebor. But Dwalin was not so easily defeated. "But what if we restored it without using any of the work crews?" he suggested.
"I appreciate your offer, Dwalin," Fíli said. "But there is only so much you and I can do. Neither of us works in stone. We would do more damage than we would do good."
"Aye," Dwalin agreed. "But I'm not the only one who has been kept off the official work rota. There are a few more who are eager to contribute to Erebor's renewal in whatever way they can."
"Everyone who has not been assigned work has very good reasons to put recovery above work for the time being," Fíli said, staring poignantly at Dwalin's side. A nasty wound that had become infected despite their best efforts and still caused his friend significant trouble.
"I'm not talking about full shifts of heavy mining duties here," Dwalin clarified. "But what is there to lose? Let me try and find out what a few determined hands can do to this one room."
Eventually, Fíli agreed to let Dwalin recruit as many willing invalids as he could find to try and restore Dís' old room to its former glory. He was reluctant to let anyone help with such a personal project, but at the same time he desperately wanted to be able to offer his mother something that was actually good about Erebor.
 This is the Kohima epitaph by John Maxwell Edmonds, written for a memorial to those who fell in the Battle of Kohima, India, in 1944.