Dís is a good dwarf, and a good mother. Her hands are as sure at her anvil as they are at her hearth, and as capable in the twisting of precious metals as in the twisting of hair into traditional plaits. Even when her sons are less malleable than her metals.
"Still yourself!" she scolds Fíli, whose attention is focused on his brother's rambunctious play rather than her efforts to make him presentable. "You must show your brother how to stand and remain still."
"You plait them too tight, Mama," Fíli complains, twisting his face in disgust. "Why can we not leave our hair free?"
"Ah, and let the others believe you are nothing more than common dwarf children, let to run wild?" Dís clucks her tongue at him in a gentle scold. "You are the heirs of the line of Durin, my son. On this day, above all others, you must hold your head high and show pride in who you are born to be."
Fíli wiggles impatiently, but only below the shoulders. His hands clasp the air, though Dís can see that he is trying with all the patience of an eight year old to remain still. "Because of Papa?" he asks quietly.
"Because of Papa," she agrees. She does not allow her hands to shake, or to loosen their grip of the fine strands of golden hair in her fingers. "He will go to the dwellings of Mahal, the Maker, when he is laid to rest. You and Kíli will carry on his line and legacy."
Kíli turns to stare at her, wide dark eyes burning into her with an intensity that she never knows how to deal with. He has not spoken since word came that his father had been slain by goblins. Fíli stares back at him for a moment.
"Kíli doesn't want to go to bury Papa," he tells her quietly. "Can he not stay behind? He is only a babe."
Dis finishes the last of the elaborate plaits, tying off the end and tucking everything neatly into place. "Even babes must learn of death," she says gently. She puts a hand on Fíli's shoulder, turning him gently to face her, knowing in her heart that the slim shoulder was yet too small and frail to take the weights placed upon it. "You look so like your father," she says gently. She does not weep.
"Come, Kíli," Fíli calls after a moment, face brightening as his brother turns to face him. They are never so much themselves as when they are together. Kíli is by his brother's side in an instant, with the energy of the very young, and Dís reaches out to grasp his hair in her hands, already beginning to detangle the knots that his wild, dark hair is so prone to form.
They are nothing alike, her two small sons; one fair, the other dark, and as different in temperaments as any two dwarfs may be. But Fíli stands taller and more certain with his brother's eyes upon him, and Kíli will heed his brother when her own words fall upon his ears like water on stone. He wriggles and dances beneath her hands as his hair is tamed into the same plaits that his brother wears. She will not force this ritual upon them at any time but when the utmost dignity is required, though she remembers being forced to stand and have her own hair forced into careful conformity every day in Erebor that was. Her sons do not live like princes here in exile – and she suspects they are happier for it.
Her brother enters as she is finishing up the work of making Kíli's hair acceptable for the public ceremony that will follow, and he scowls at them.
"Not yet finished? The grave-makers will not like to be kept waiting."
"The grave-makers do not have to trouble themselves with the disposition of my sons' hair," Dís snaps back. She tugs a little at the end of the last plait, then smooths the flyaway hairs around his face that already lend him an aura of disheveled childishness. His cheeks are still round and his eyes wide.
Thorin softens a bit, allowing himself to sit. Fíli is immediately by his side, looking up at his uncle with adoring eyes, and Thorin favors his nephew with a small smile. "You are a good mother, my sister," he says quietly. "Your sons will bring great honor and glory to you, and to our line."
"As their father's death has brought us honor and glory?" Thorin does not answer, and Dís stands, stretching the aches out of her bones. "Come, brother. We are called to another burial."
"Mahal preserve us," Thorin breathes. He stands and lifts Fíli easily, and Dís draws Kíli up into her arms. The heirs of the line of Durin will stand to see their father entombed in the rock – but for the moment, they are her babes, now fatherless in the land of their exile. Bright hair, and then dark, pass under the lintel of the door, and she sees another heaping of weight on Fíli's shoulders, and Kíli's eyes grow darker. She is too much their mother not to mourn.
Dís is a good dwarf, and she hopes she is a good mother. She has offered no protest to her brother's wild scheme, and no resistance to his proposal that her sons accompany him. The reasons are clear.
"We must go, mother," Kíli says passionately, leaning in close to speak to her. He is taller than she, these days. "Thorin says we must prove ourselves, or who will ever follow us?"
"We have never even seen Erebor," Fíli continues. They speak as one mind, one taking up where the other leaves off. "But we must go, and we must fight the dragon, and reclaim our home!"
"You must go," she says firmly, "because Thorin is your king, and because he is my brother." They stop, faces identical in this moment as they freeze in surprise. They have clearly expected that she will argue and plead and try to stop them from leaving. She smiles wryly at them, and reaches out to grab a lock of Kíli's unruly hair. "But you must not go like this. My sons will leave their home looking like the descendants of Durin, not the spawn of coal-miners."
They kneel, one at a time, as she works their hair carefully into the elaborate plaits they had worn once before, as children going to their father's tomb. Their hair is longer now, and they can remain still, but Fíli's hair is still golden and baby-fine, and Kíli's will still tangle and knot as though it has a will of it's own. Before she lets them stand, she carefully places on each beloved head one of the matched silver clasps that are all she has left of Erebor.
"These were mine, when I was the granddaughter of the King Under the Mountain," she says quietly, fingers lingering on intricate woven metal patterns. The burnished silver shines bright, but not as bright as the candlelight gleaming from their hair, golden and dark. "Wear them and think of me, my sons."
They leave together, as they do all things, and she wonders sometimes if there had ever been a Fíli before there was Kíli. Fíli bids her farewell with the solemnity and dignity that befits his role as Thorin's heir, but Kíli catches her up in a wild embrace that sweeps her from her feet. He spins her around until they are both laughing, and Dís does him the honor of pretending she cannot see how bright his eyes have become.
The world is cold, and large, and dangerous. They walk out together, under the intricate carvings on her lintel, and Fíli squares his broad shoulders, and Kíli glances back at her with dark eyes gleaming. Dís sends them away with a traditional blessing, the Khuzdul words heavy on her tongue. She is a good dwarf, and the mother of good dwarfs, and only time will tell the rest.
Dís is a good dwarf, but she is not a good mother. She is no longer a mother at all.
She does not remember how she came to be at the edge of the battlefield, with reclaimed, broken Erebor reeking and looming above her. The wizard had come for her, bearing the news, and she does not recall if wizardry or eagle flight or some other method has brought her to this fell place, not a day after her last brother and her only sons have fallen in battle.
Their bodies have been washed clean and laid out in a cruel semblance of sleep, though she could tell at a glance that that kind fate was not theirs. She could have told them that Fíli always slept with his arms crossed, a blade in one hand, or that Kíli curled up to sleep, always inclined toward whatever fire or warmth he could find. They are cold, and pale, and still.
Dís does not weep. There will be time for that later, when loss and emptiness come creeping in. For now, she looks at the task ahead of her, as her sons must be prepared for the journey to the halls of Mahal, where their father and uncle already sleep. She calls for light.
She plaits their hair once more, lingering over the task, letting her hands run through their bright hair for a last time. The bright gold of her eldest son has faded a bit, with time and care, but it is still fine and soft, and shines dully in the flickering light. She murmurs as she works, snatches of the songs of heroism that he had always loved, and knows as she does so that her sons will be figures of song for the dwarf babes as yet unborn. It is a pale comfort. She eases the silver clasp back into his hair, and lays his head down, crossing his arms gently across his chest.
Kíli's hair takes longer, as ever. Only Mahal can say how it came to be in such a state, tangled and matted – but her clasp still shines brightly at the back of his dark head. She cannot bear to sing to him now – not with the sure knowledge that he will never join her again, eyes shining with an unbridled joy. She whispers to him of home, of the solid earth and sure places of the home he will never see again. When she is finished, the last strands of his dark hair slipping from between her fingers as she slides them away for the last time, she cannot bear to look at his face. His dark eyes, the very mirror of her father and grandfather, in the days that had been, will never look upon her again.
"Now you have taken them all," she murmurs, folding her empty hands against her bosom. "Keep them in your halls, oh Maker."
Dís does not look back as she leaves the small tent where their bodies lie, now crowned with her handiwork – her last gift to the children she loves. She will visit her brother before they are entombed together, and she will speak no ill to him, place no blame for the deaths of her children. With Thorin's help, she has raised them to be everything a good dwarf is meant to be. They were loyal and true, with willing hearts and boundless courage, and they went to the aid of their kinsman, and died defending him. They were the dwarfs she had raised them to be.
Dís knows she has been a good dwarf. Her name will go down in the annals, honored for the lives and deaths of her sons. But she cannot help but wish, as she leaves her sons behind, that she had been a worse dwarf and a better mother – for then she might yet be a mother.
Her hands are still sure and steady, but her heart is no longer firm. She has sent everyone she has loved into the halls of Mahal, and she prays that she will join them soon. Erebor looms above her, proof that her brother's quest has succeeded. She only wishes they had met with less success, or more.
Her sons, golden and dark, lie now with their uncle in the halls of their ancestral home, and there Dís will remain until Mahal take her to join them. She will not return to the comforts of her home in Ered Luin, where her children grew into heroes. She will haunt Erebor like the wraith that she has become, waiting for the last battle to take her. Her last comfort, though she dares not voice it to any, is that her sons had died together, striding into that last adventure at one another's sides, forever strengthened by their inexplicable bond. They have gone together, entwined, into the houses of the dead – and Dís is a good enough dwarf and mother to give thanks.