"Little Lion Man" - Mumford and Sons
Weep for yourself, my man,
You'll never be what is in your heart
Weep, little lion man,
You're not as brave as you were at the start
Rate yourself and rake yourself
Take all the courage you have left
And waste it on fixing all the problems that you made in your own head
Fíli hated these meetings.
Malah was surely punishing him.
He had survived Trolls, Goblin-town, the Mirkwood Jail, climbed through a Laketown privy; and yet he'd still rather be anywhere else than in this meeting.
Each year since their victorious alliance, the respective Kings and Councilmen of Erebor, Dale, and The Woodland Realm gathered together in one of their great cities for the duration of five days. During this time they would spend the daylight hours debating and discussing the maintenance of their alliance, and then by night the people gathered together to celebrate.
During the previous year the Council had been held in Erebor, and it had been nothing short of magnificent. The cavernous stone halls of the Mountain had been festooned with banners of cobalt and gold that proudly proclaimed the emblems of Durin's folk. The very stone itself seemed to shine and sparkle in the golden light of the merrily roaring fires that filled the hearths. But best of all had been the feast held each night. Tables lined the Gallery of Kings from end to end, each one positively groaning under the weight of dishes upon dishes of rich succulent meats, and interspersed with the best array of produce that Dale could offer. The Elves, naturally, supplied the drink.
That year, Fíli had only been required at the opening and closing of the Council meetings, for ceremony rather than participation. This had meant he was free to pass the days with the warriors of the three races; showing off and honing their skills with blade and arrow. But since then Thorin and Balin had decided that in his capacity as heir Fíli needed to take a more active interest in the political operations of Erebor.
And so this year, the third year, Fíli sat beside Thorin at the oversized table in the King's Hall of Dale. The afternoon sun filtered in through high mullioned windows, its lazy beams reflecting off of the restored bell of Dale that hung at the end of the hall, and Fíli wished he was anywhere but here.
"My answer is no!" Bard's fist landed hard on the table as his voice echoed throughout the stone hall. "That land provides my people with the food on their tables and the clothes on their backs; it is the very lifeblood that sustains us! They cannot afford to have it repurposed for a garrison." The King of the renewed Kingdom of Dale glared at the Elvenking.
It was only the first day and somehow the negotiations had already deteriorated into shouting.
"If your kingdom is not protected, you will have no people to feed." Thranduil replied evenly. "You have gold enough to sustain your kingdom for hundreds of years to come, do you not?"
A few of the Dwarves around the table nodded, keenly aware of just how much gold Dale had received, though they harboured no ill will towards the men on that account.
"It's not a simple as that!" Bard exclaimed. "No amount of gold can summon a harvest from soil that is dead. Fire and sickness still choke these lands, and the few fields that have yielded a harvest are only enough to see my people through and maintain our trade with Erebor."
The councillors of Dale, who sat alongside their King, as well as a few chosen representatives of the people of Dale who were seated in chairs along the edge of the room, murmured in assent.
"And yet," Thranduil's curt voice cut through the murmuring. "The problem remains that unless that border is properly guarded you will have no people to feed."
Bard's knuckles whitened as they gripped the edge of the table, and Fíli's interest was briefly sparked at the possibility of having a prime position to view a duel between the two. Surely the Elf would win, but the Man might strike a well-aimed blow.
Sensing the same imminent possibility, Balin hastened to interject. "Perhaps the land by the Lake might yield Dale its subsistence?"
Bard turned his eyes on Balin, their fury abating into sadness. "There are few here who will venture back to the shores of the Lake. They cannot face it."
Nobody spoke to that.
Fíli did not wonder that many of the survivors had no wish to return. During their years of exile, the Dwarves of Erebor had pined for the Mountain because it was still their home. But Laketown wasn't a home anymore, only a memory of flame, and death.
"That is most understandable." Balin acknowledged. "All scars take their time to heal…even the ones we cannot see."
Thorin shifted ever so slightly in his chair as Balin shuffled through the papers before him.
"Well then, it seems that a trade may be our best option; the border plains for another pocket of fertile land."
Sigrid cleared her throat and caught her father's eye meaningfully from where she sat beside her brother and the Dale representatives along the edge of the room. Fíli and the rest of the room looked on curiously.
The Lady Sigrid had grown since they had first met in Laketown. The past three years had brought forth a young woman of keen understanding and fierce spirit, although the kind softness of her youth lingered in her smile and in her heart. Fíli had seldom encountered her in the intervening years, simply because their paths had not crossed, and when they had spoken it had been brief and always in the company of numerous others. But on the night Laketown burned, when they had all come so close to death, the experience had forged a bond between the dwarf and the human. It was an unspoken connection, something that neither of them could articulate. But then again after that night of senseless death and destruction, reason and explanations felt meaningless.
Bard nodded at Sigrid, seemingly in acknowledgement of a previous conversation and then cleared his throat. "Perhaps, the valley between Dale and Erebor might-" he began, but Thorin cut him off.
"No. That land was hard fought and won. I will not trade it."
Bard threw his hands up into the air in exasperation. "How are my people supposed to rebuild when they are asked to provide yet receive nothing in return?"
"You forget that yours is not the only Kingdom that is trying to rebuild, nor are your people the only ones to have suffered." The Mountain King replied darkly.
There was a muttering of ascent from the Dwarves and a hiss of malevolence from the Men.
The Elvenking's son cleared his throat, and the condescension in his tone instantly set Fili's teeth on edge. He had never quite forgiven the Elf for returning his weapons in considerably worse condition than they had been in before he was thrown into the Mirkwood dungeons.
All heads turned towards the lithe blond Elf.
"This alliance has always been about sacrifice; my people offer their lives in service of protecting the lands of the three Kingdoms." He proclaimed loud and clear. "Dale and Erebor must play their part."
This got all King's men of Dale on their feet, each one of their faces flaming, their fists clenched.
"Nobody has given more than the people of Dale!" One cried out.
"Our people died for these three kingdoms!"
The corner of Thranduil's mouth curled. "Not by my kingdom was the blood of the men of Dale spilt." And his eyes flicked to Thorin.
"And the blood of Erebor," Fili cried out, fury coursing through his veins at the words. "Was that not spilt when your kingdom did not come to our aid!"
The dwarves beside him nodded and grunted sounds of approval.
"No." Thranduil replied coldly. "The blood of the Dwarves of Erebor was spilt by the greed of their King."
Before Fíli knew it he was on his feet and shouting, white-hot rage pounding in his heart. Yet he had no inkling of what he said because the moment Thranduil had spoken, all the Dwarves were at once upon their feet in an uproar and the Elves rose to match them.
It was chaos. There was pushing and shoving as accusations and insults were cast across the table like arrows. Fíli felt something brush past his shoulder, but he was too busy shouting at the Elvenking's arrogant son to care.
Then suddenly, the deep sonorous sound of a bell punctuated the cacophony of shouts and everyone fell silent. Heads whipped around in shock and eyes locked upon the raised platform at the front of the room to see... the Lady Sigrid, holding the bell-rope in her hand and a dagger in the other… a very familiar looking dagger.
Fili's hand flew automatically to the sheath at his belt. Finding it empty, he stared at the girl with his mouth slightly ajar, realizing that she must have swiped it from him and used it to release the clapper of the newly cast bell.
The last of the gongs reverberated throughout the hall as Sigrid lowered her hand. "That is enough!" She seethed, glaring at the frozen figures before her. "You are the Kings and leaders of your kingdoms. Your people look up to you; they trust you to be their voice. But for all of your shouting, I can't hear anything."
Fíli was taken aback. Sigrid had always struck him as a rather quiet girl, strong and fiercely protective of her family but not one to raise her voice to a Council of Kings. Yet there she stood before Men, Elves, and Dwarves, each battle-hardened and more powerful than her, but all rendered humble by her scathing words.
"Negotiations can be a difficult business, my Lady." Balin offered apologetically. "Sometimes we can get…carried away."
"Correct me if I am wrong, Master Balin." Sigrid said amicably. "But I wasn't aware that the Prince of Erebor shouting that the Prince of the Woodland Realm is a 'beardless, tree-swiving pixie' has anything to do with negotiating a land trade."
There was a snort of hastily stifled laughter from a few of the councilmen and even Balin's lips twitched.
Fili felt his face flame in chagrin.
Sigrid looked down at the crowd soberly. "It has been three years. Three years, and I know that I will never forget those days or those we lost. But if we dwell on those hurts and wrongs then we will never move forwards." She fixed them all with blazing eyes. "You are Kings and leaders. So for the sake of your people, start acting like it!"
She stepped down from the raised platform and was met with a stunned silence.
But Sigrid hesitated a moment, as if she suddenly didn't quite know where to turn. For all the conviction and authority in her voice, her mind whispered that she had just chastised a room full of Kings. Had she shamed her Da? Would they throw her out?
Bard stepped towards her. "My girl." He whispered, pressing a kiss to her brow. At that, Sigrid felt herself start to breathe again and placed her foot firmly on the ground.
There was such pride upon Bard's face as he accompanied her back to her seat at the edge of the room that Fíli felt a slight pang of jealousy amidst his embarrassment.
When Bard returned he cleared his throat. "My daughter is correct. We have forgotten ourselves in our pride, and so our purpose in these chambers. I invite you all to be seated once more and we will endeavour to remember our duty and our privilege."
They took their seats in silence.
"This does not resolve the issue at hand." Thranduil spoke up at last, straightening his robes as if Sigrid's scorching censure had not affected him. "The defence of our Kingdoms is of the utmost importance."
Bard closed his eyes and drew in a sharp breath.
"Perhaps we might return to the issue on another day." Balin suggested quickly. "We have five days after all."
There was some muttering around the table, but Thranduil nodded his head curtly and so the matter was put to rest for the time being.
As the meeting wore on Fíli could not wrangle his thoughts into concentration. Embarrassment and anger simmered beneath his skin.
Sigrid had shamed him, before the Kings of the Alliance, before the leaders of his people... Before Thorin…
After everything that had happened, after he had openly defied his uncle repeatedly at the final stages of their quest, Fili no longer knew where he stood with Thorin. There was a veiled uncertainty in his uncles' eyes when he looked at him that had never been there before. In all honesty, Fili wondered if Thorin saw the same thing in his eyes; the disillusionment. All he knew for certain was that Sigrid had not helped matters.
Fíli clenched his hands beneath the table as Bard outlined a new proposed route between Dale and the Mountain, while Sigrid listened with rapt attention, Fili's dagger still clutched in her hand.
Hadn't he once thrown himself between her and an Orc blade back in Laketown? Shouldn't she be grateful instead of proving herself at his expense?
These untamed thoughts chased each other in circles throughout his mind.
Soon enough, as the glow of the afternoon sun shifted into deep crimson, Bard cleared his throat. "That will be all for today, but I invite you to join my family and our people later this evening for a feast."
There was a murmur of appreciative anticipation as chairs were drawn back from the wooden table and the delegates began to gather their papers and possessions.
Fíli rose swiftly to his feet, scanning the room.
The Lady Sigrid stood by the door, his dagger still in her hand as the departing men of Dale spoke to her of their eagerness for the coming feast.
Sigrid smiled as one of her father's men counted on two hands the number of cakes the baker had prepared for the occasion when she felt a sudden tingling as the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She looked around.
His eyes met hers before moving pointedly to the dagger still in her hand. Sigrid excused herself and began to make her way towards Prince Fíli, pushing gently past Balin as she did.
"I believe this is yours." She held up the dagger, her expression contrite.
"You stole it from me." He accused bluntly.
"Borrowed." Sigrid corrected, frowning slightly. "I was always going to give it back."
Fíli glowered and held out his hand for it.
Sigrid returned the dagger and Fíli took it back swiftly, stowing it back in its rightful place while she watched.
"You know, it would be harder to steal if you had it clipped in." She suggested a hint of a smirk on her lips.
That struck a nerve.
"I don't need any advice from you." He snapped furiously. "This was a meeting for The Kings and their advisors, not ungrateful thieves."
Fili regretted the words the instant he had said them. He watched her face transform from confused, to hurt, and then to anger.
Sigrid drew herself up and Fíli almost stepped backwards, such was the malediction in her words. "If that is what you truly think, then I am not the only one who doesn't belong in a room of Kings." She spat before turning on her heels and leaving through the double doors, leaving Fíli feeling worse than he had before.
And he didn't know why, but hearing those words from her lips was far worse than hearing his own voice repeat them in his head.
Breathing deeply he turned around, only to come face to face with Balin. The old dwarf regarded him with such disappointment that Fíli was made to feel as small as he had when being chastised in his youth.
"I thought better of you, lad." Balin said sadly.
"She stole from me and then humiliated me." He attested weakly. "Was I not right to be angry?"
"Angry; perhaps. But not rude and unkind."
Fíli hung his head.
"Sometimes I wonder what happened to the young dwarf who once refused to eat his supper unless it was shared amongst the poorest of our exiles?" Balin asked.
All around them the Councillors continued to exchange formalities.
What had happened? The dwarf he had once been was a distant memory now; same face, same voice, but a different spirit.
The old advisor reached out a kind hand to his shoulder. "Seek her out, make amends."
Fíli looked up, about to protest, but at the memory of the hurt in Sigrid's eyes, his mouth closed and he nodded.
Balin's mouth stretched into a smile. "There's a good lad. Now," he rubbed his hands together. "I do believe that we have a feast to attend." And with that, he turned away to join Thorin and the rest of the delegates, leaving Fíli to follow along in their wake, pondering what on earth he could say to make up for what he had done.