Author's note: Thanks to Edhla for being my beta.
Of First Promises
To give one's word has become an antiquated phrase. In our time of plenty and ease, even the most sacred of vows, even those spoken between a man and a woman, may be cast aside. Yet it is not so in the time of our story. In Middle Earth, a promise made is still held in high regard by all but the most wicked folk, and they are not who this tale is about. To those who have very little to treasure, their given word holds a particular power. It was a promise that saw Thorin Oakenshield lead his company to the Lonely Mountain. But he is not the only one in this tale to give his solemn word.
Under skies darkened by innumerable, dark bats, the armies fought. The shrill cries of the bats and the goblins melded with the howling wargs. This cacophony pierced the ears and drove those fighting nearly to madness. It drowned out the throaty war-cries of the dwarves, and the bold men who declared for Esgaroth and Bard the Bowman. Only the clear horns of the wood-elves were heard true.
On the broken ground by the front gate, a company fought. Hard up on three sides, the goblins pressed, but the small band did not yield. There were thirteen; to some an unlucky number, but their bright swords and axes rallied their allies. Even in the unnatural darkness, their armour was bright.
Yet soon the company must yield; there were now foes hemming them on all sides. The set of their grim faces showed that this was known to them, even to the two youngest members of the company. But none among them gave any sign other than to set their mouths and tighten their calloused hands on hilt and haft.
It is a strange thing, than when in battle, the mind can become beautifully free. At least, that is what I am told by those who know it well. It was quite true for the younger members of the majestically doomed company. The oldest of the pair, a dwarf who could count less than a hundred years, did not think of the battle. Though his heavy swords never faltered, his mind had left them. Fili looked past the goblin hoards and the sky that was darkened to gloom; his mind took him far west.
In his mind's eye, Fili remembered the first promise he had made. At least, the first where he understood the solemnity the occasion demanded. It was made with all the seriousness that a small child could muster. So instead of the ravaged slopes of the mountain, Fili saw the Blue Mountains rearing high, tinged with the ore that gave them their name. He looked through them, to a cosy bedchamber where...
...A small dwarf child sat, kicking his heels against the oaken platform of his bed. Not five minutes ago, he had been bid to wait by his uncle Thorin. If he waited patiently, he would receive a nice surprise. This should have been enough to entice him to wait, but to young Fili, the time dragged as it does for the very young.
Behind the thick door, polished oak like the bed, two dwarves conversed in low voices. Their naturally deep pitch ensured all the waiting child could hear was dull rumble. The dwarf now speaking was a picture of grandeur with a golden chain about his neck. It looked heavy, yet he did not notice the weight that would have dragged on another. However, there was black soot from the forge fire ground into the calluses on his hands. Perhaps it would be better to say that he could have been a picture of grandeur.
"Does he know?" the dwarf questioned. He was of course, the Thorin Oakenshield and he waited for an answer, fixing his companion with a stare that would have befitted an eagle. The other dwarf was shorter than he was, with a beard much thinner, for she was a woman. Yet her forearms looked like those of a blacksmith among men. Capability was found in her face, and when she answered Thorin, Hala spoke as one who knew some things very well. She was nanny to young Fili, and carer to his weakened mother.
"Aye, my lord, Fili knows his mother doesn't want to be here anymore. He knows his father's gone too."
"Does Dis truly suffer so?" Thorin asked.
"Yes, this morning she looked right through her son and asked me when Niri would be home from hunting." Hala met Thorin's steely gaze, and there were few in the Blue Mountains who could do so. "You should talk to her, my lord; I fear for her and the child she carries. Dis will not survive her husband long."
"You say this as if you know." Thorin's words were accompanied by the slightest of sighs.
"Aye lord. If a woman cannot be stirred to move by her own child, nor care for her unborn babe, then she is not for this world. I am sorry." Now Hala hesitated a little, "I fear that we can do little for Dis, but I worry for Fili."
Thorin passed one large hand across his face and down to the chain on his neck. His fingers stroked the metal as he did when worried. "I see," he said with forced briskness, as if it were not his sister, or his nephew of whom they spoke. "You have a thought Hala, I see you do."
"Yes lord. I think it best I move into their wing permanently. My daughter is Fili's age, and Mim will provide a good companion for him."
"Very well." Thorin cleared his throat but found he had to study the axe strokes on the ceiling for a moment or two before his eyes stopped burning. "I will see to the order. Fetch your daughter now."
The door swung open easily on its hinges, for it was dwarf made, and that means well made. Fili was forced to scuttle back out of the way. He had heard little with his ear pressed to the wood, and was still anxious to learn of the surprise. He bit his lip, hoping he had waited properly as Thorin said. Though he was only four years old, he stood up very straight before Thorin.
"Fili, lad, we want you to meet Mim." Thorin waved his hand and Hala turned her shy daughter away from her skirts. "Mim is Hala's daughter. They are both going to live in this wing with you."
Fili and Mim regarded each other with the utter seriousness than only young children can manage. "Hala won't go at night?" Fili asked.
"No, Mim and I will stay here," Hala said gently.
Fili digested this fact, and his face lit up with a gleeful smile. "So I have someone to play with!"
Thorin allowed himself a rare smile that lit up the depths of his dark eyes. Fili was one of the few who could force a smile from he who would be king. He got down to the child's level.
"Yes Fili. But you must remember Mim is not as strong as you, or as big. You will have to play gently and look out for her. Can you promise that Fili?"
Thorin tried to address his young nephew not as a general to a soldier, and he tried to make his voice soft. Fili's wide eyed answer made him smile again, though it was nearly concealed in his beard.
A big thank you to Edhla for being my beta on this story!