"nothing so consuming"
Genre: Family, Drama
Time Frame: Pre-Hobbit
Characters: Thorin Oakenshield, Kíli & Fili, Dís
Summary: "The shadow had fallen from the north, red and flaming enough to swallow even the sun from the sky." Kíli and Fíli learn about Smaug from one who lived though the taking of Erebor, while Thorin gains some new insights from his nephews.
Notes: Because I am a sucker for Thorin angst, and Kíli and Fíli are just too cute for words. Top that off with me reading way too many adorable kid!fics for these characters, how could I not add my own contribution to the mix? What started as a simple fluff-fic turned introspective in the end (and I forever endeared Dís to my muse after writing this, that is all I will say), but I think it is better off for being so.
That said, I hope you enjoy reading this tale as much as I enjoyed writing it. :)
Disclaimer: Nothing is mine, but for the words.
"nothing so consuming"
"I'm of that lost race
that lives under the bells of the world
I do not need eyes
Thirst defines my country
and the blind water that feeds me"
~ Pablo Neruda, "The Forest"
"The day had dawned clear, I remembered that much. It was a summer's day, and the air was filled with a hundred green scents – everything from the ripening fruit from the orchards on the slopes to the haymaking in the fields of Dale at the foot of the mountain. Smoke rose from the forges, and it was welcomed by the sun with not a cloud in the sky to step forth against Erebor's might -"
"- wait a minute," was the youthful voice interrupting him mid-sentence, "but you are telling us the boring parts of the story! Why don't you skip to the good parts?"
"The good parts? I am telling the story as it happened, what good parts do you wish for me to skip to?"
"The parts with the dragon," the dwarfling on his lap huffed as if the answer was the most obvious thing in the world.
Snorting ruefully, Thorin shook his head and responded, "Of course, how could I not have known?" in the way of adults when so faced with a child's simple logic.
Pleased, Kíli nodded his head sharply, approving of his Uncle's words, while on the floor, with his elbows propped up on Thorin's knee, Fíli bounced in anticipation. "Although if you wanted to describe the Arkenstone before speaking of the dragon, I wouldn't mind." Five years older than his brother, but no less earnest for stories, Fili looked up at his elder with an admiring gaze, doing his best not to fidget in his earnestness for the rest of the story.
Just barely, Thorin felt the corner of his mouth quirk as he reflected that this was why his sister Dís had agreed to accompany her husband to the forge that evening. It was not to help Rili with his workload, but rather a way to spend an evening of quiet away from their two energetic young ones. Not that Thorin completely minded, really. The silence that would fall in Ered Luin without the children to lighten its weight was a blight that Thorin did not like to consider in the best of times. And on evenings when there was much talk of Erebor and what had been lost there . . .
No, he did not mind spending his time amongst the smiles of children, indeed.
"This is a tale you have heard a hundred times – and from lips better at spinning stories than mine," Thorin finally said, pitching his voice gravely, even though he knew that his humor betrayed him in his eyes. "Why do you not go to Balin for the tale, seeing as he tells it best?"
"He tells it better -" Kíli agreed, chirping as he bounced in his spot on Thorin's lap.
" - but he does not tell it like you," Fíli finished for his brother.
"Even if Bofur tells the dragon parts the best - he makes sounds and everything, -" Kíli reasoned out, his small face scrunched up in thought.
" - and Mother can sing the lament for home the bestest," Fíli continued, looking up at his brother. "She has a very pretty voice," he remarked, to which Kíli nodded in agreement.
"Well, seeing as how I cannot measure to your mother's fair tongue, or Bofur's sound effects," Thorin made to rise, trying to keep from smiling as he did so when two small sets of strong hands immediately moved to hold him down, "I shall have to take my leave of you."
"No, no! We don't want you to leave," they laughed, small hands patting him back down again."We like your tale just fine."
"Just fine?" Thorin repeated incredulously. "Just fine? Son of Thráin, son of Thrór, heir of Durin's line am I, and you say that I am just fine in comparison to a mere matron and a toy whittler?"
"Yep, just fine," Kíli chirped, his words falling to giggles on the last syllable, while Fíli shook his head at the accusation, his braids flying about with the force of his nodding. "We didn't mean it like that at all! You are simply being contrary."
"Now that is a word I know you didn't pick up from Bofur," Thorin snorted. "Aye, Balin has been telling you more tales than I."
"Just a few more," Fíli protested. "He doesn't work as often as most others, and he has more time for tales."
"That he does," Thorin said softly, his face softening as he thought of the elder. Balin had been the age of his father when they had fled Erebor, and was now grey with his years and wisdoms. He fought to keep his face impassive as he wondered if the elder dwarf would live to see the Lonely Mountain returned to them. His arms tightened about Kíli at the thought, more to keep the youngster from moving about than anything more protective, he told himself. For the ghosts in his mind could do nothing against flesh and bone for the time being.
"But really," Fíli said then, scooting forward and propping his head in his hands. His elbows were a small weight on Thorin's knees. "Tell us - what was it really like, fighting Smaug?"
It wasn't much of a fight, Thorin recalled ruefully, his skin warm with the remembrance of the drake's flames. His ears still rang with the sound of the wyrm's wrath, so vengeful was it as it echoed in the halls of his forefathers. How there had been nothing but screaming . . .
"It is not a tale of glory as you so seek," he warned the youngsters. "It is a sad tale, where our people ran, their backs to the flames. If you want stories of a warrior's might, perhaps I can interest you in the fight against Azog, for the mines of Moria -"
"No, the dragon!" Kíli decided decisively.
"We weren't there," Fíli continued matter-of-factly, "And you won't always let the dragon have your mountain. So, we must learn all we may about him, so that someday we can march by your side and tell him of our injury like one who was there."
He spoke with a child's earnestness. A child's wisdom, and yet Thorin started at his words . . .
. . . you won't always let the dragon have your mountain . . .
The idea of retaking Erebor had always been in the back of his mind, he was honest enough to admit, and over the years the longing for home had lit like a fire in his belly - the blazing of a furnace in his bones. But so many had called it a foolish hope, a useless dream. And yet that useless dream had been the thing to keep his hammer strong during those long years of eking out a living in the settlements of men, had been the thing to keep his pride flagrant and bright as their words had placed him as a prince with no kingdom, a wanderer with no home – here to steal your coin and steal your women. . . Of course, the greed of men made it so they could not turn down the craftsmanship he had provided, but how demeaning it had been to a soul who had once known tribute and prestige as the foremost of the three races under the sun . . . He had known respect. And the land had known prosperity.
. . . you won't always let the dragon have your mountain . . .
Smaug slept upon his horde of gold through borrowed time, Thorin felt the certainty of that then. His certainty rose to fill the hollow places of him, settling about his brow and around his heart like tongues of flame around a superheated crucible, purifying the metal within.
. . . you won't always let the dragon have your mountain . . .
"Yep," Kíli went on, oblivious to his uncle's train of thoughts, "We will stand side by side with you, raising our swords and challenging the dragon for our gold. And then Smaug will fall under the might of Erebor's sons returned -" the dwarfling waved his hands in his excitement, as if imagining that he fought the dragon there and then. His balance faltered for a moment, and the quick reflexes of Thorin's large hands were the only thing keeping the boy from falling to the floor.
"Lad, your hands aren't big enough to wrap around the hilt of a dagger, let alone the hilt of a sword," Thorin teased gently, trying not to laugh as he reached over to splay Kili's small hand against his palm. The boy's fingers scarcely reached the base of his fingers. "How do you think you will fight Smaug as such?"
"Mine are big enough - they are twice as large as Kíli's," Fíli argued brightly, tilting his head up proudly at the superior age he held over his brother. Kíli glared over at his first and stuck his tongue out, letting his brother know exactly what he thought of that.
Solemnly, Thorin reached over to place his other hand over Fíli's face. Playfully, he pushed the youngster back. "There are many a creature who could crush your skull with their hands alone, no matter what age you hold over your brother."
And yet the child pushed against his hold, completely fearless. "But not you!" the boy exclaimed.
"Aye, not I, but that is because I have not of the intent. There are many beings fouler than I afoot beyond these walls."
Finally, Fíli struggled and prevailed in pushing his uncle's hand away from his face. "See, I am not that weak!" he exclaimed.
"Besides," Kíli said, excitement thick in his voice, "We know full well that we are capable of holding a sword. Just yesterday -"
Fíli reached over to elbow his brother in the ribs, smiling sweetly up at his uncle. "Quiet," he hissed at his brother. "You dullard -" he started.
"And when," Thorin interrupted amicably, "Have you had occasion to hold a sword?"
Two sets of pink cheeks instantly met his question, Fíli doing his best to glare levelly at his second. "In the forge," he finally said, unwilling to tell a lie before his elder, "before the finished weapons could be taken away. Mother's back was turned, and . . ."
Thorin sighed, the sound deep and rumbling from his chest. "Some days, I think that Mahal has sent you to be the death of me. Do you know how dangerous it is to handle steel when you know not of it?"
"But it wanted to be picked up," Kíli still muttered under his breath, glaring at his brother as he rubbed at where the other had elbowed him.
"The steel was singing," Fíli agreed, "and we heard its song."
That, at least, Thorin could understand. Whether it be a vein of ore in the rock, or molten liquid in their forge, or an axe in their grip, steel was made for their hands, and their hands were made for steel. It was a fundamental truth of their race, of their very creation, and yet . . .
"How about I talk to your parents, and we will see about having you started on wooden swords soon? Listen carefully to those who would teach you, and you'll be holding a true blade in no time – without taking your fingers off."
Instantly, two sets of euphoric eyes looked up at him, excitement dancing in their matching depths. Fíli was old enough, Thorin knew, to start with a wooden sword. Kíli was not so much, but he would not sit still while the other learned, so Thorin was sure they could find something suitable to train him with to give him the illusion that he was being brought along as his brother was. Their joy at his words was a simple one, shining in their eyes, born as they were of peace, never knowing of blood on their hands, or ash in the sky, or screaming . . .
He forced his smile to hold on his face. Too often of late had his thoughts turned in such ways, and his mind was beginning to burden upon his soul.
Kíli was squirming in his lap, as if ready to get up then and there and appeal to the weapons master for wooden arms. Thorin tightened his arms around the child, just slightly – a warning in the hold as he looked down on Fíli. "But not tonight," he still laughed out when he saw the same eager look in the child's gaze as his brother's. "Proper pupils must be well rested and ready to learn. So, if you would try to quiet your minds before I have to hand you over to your mother . . ."
"Another story, then?" Kíli leaned forward excitedly.
"I believe I can oblige you," Thorin said after a moment of mock consideration.
Eagerly, the children settled in again – Kíli leaning trustingly against his chest, completely boneless, tired for the late hour though he would complain not of it. Fíli too moved closer, laying his head so that it touched both his uncle and his brother, and finding comfort for the contact. Their easy breathing was a cadence of its own in the cavern of the room, a sound even more soothing than that of a forge as it bellowed.
After a moment of consideration, instead of starting another battle of old, he closed his eyes and from his lips he started to sing the song of Aulë, whom his people called Mahal. His deep voice wound around the ancient words of the song, rising and falling with the primitive rhythms of the verse as he told of how the Vala Aulë sought to create children of the forge to whom he could teach his craft, in secret from his brothers and sisters and the father of them all, Eru Ilúvatar . . .
It was like this that Dís found them some time later. Still wiping forge dust on the sturdy grey material of her kirtle, she looked in on her brother, still singing softly under his breath to the two children, who had fallen fast asleep at his song. Her eyes, brightened by her night's labours and the hours she had spent with her husband, were fond as they fell on that which was dearest to her, even as she raised a teasing brow to see the mighty Thorin lowered so – to nursemaid and caretaker both, and all the more amusing for how freely he took to the tasks.
His song came to an end as he held a finger needlessly before his lips, signaling his sister's silence.
With a quiet step she came forward, the iron beads which decorated her braids chimed merrily in time with her movements. Even by more than dwarvish eyes, Dís was beautiful in the face, a true gem to be found amongst their women, as few as they were. She was strong about her shoulders and proud with the added curve of motherhood to her hips and stomach. Her hair was glossy and dark in the spare torchlight of the room, bound back from her face by a dozen plaits, whose ends she lets curl down her back. Her eyes sparkled like mithril, proclaiming her as the daughter of kings through and through. But for all of the regalement of her bearing, her clothing was simple and sturdy, and she wore rings of iron about her fingers rather than those of gold, as she would have before. Thorin remembered a time when silver her been her great delight, silver and sapphire to set off her eyes; how their father and grandfather had delighted in adorning her with every precious thing they could. But that was Erebor, and this was Ered Luin. Gold was needed to make gold, and here they had only iron.
He shifted slightly as Dís came closer, careful to make sure that he didn't disturb the brothers too much as he moved. The sleeping breaths of the youngsters was a soothing thing, like the last embers in the forge of the day, a cooling metal in his hands.
"You had tales to tell this eve," Dís said without asking, looking over the sleeping faces of her sons. "Dark stories of the north, were they, brother?" Her mouth was a thin line. "Tragedies?"
"Histories – you'll notice that there is a very fine difference," Thorin corrected, keeping his voice pitched as low as hers. "And yes, they did beg a tale off of me. How did you know?"
She raised a dark brow as she scooted one of the wooden chairs of the room closer to his. She sat down before leaning closer, lifting a hand so that she could run her first finger over the curve of Kíli's cheek. Her hands were large, accustomed to the heat of a smithy and the teeth of the mountain's belly as all her people were, but they reached over to smooth the hair of her son's brows with the same delicacy as if she handled gold. "They sleep with smiles," she said softly. "Such smiles always accompany the thought of heroism."
"Aye, that they do," he said softly, his eyes falling to follow her caress. He felt as the brothers breathed deeper at their mother's touch, so content were they in the embrace of family.
Her gaze was long and slow when she looked up. It weighed upon him. "But such smiles only accompany the thought. How can one describe a dragon's scream? How can one explain the pain of an arrow through flesh to those who have not lived it? Your tales can only tell so much."
"I am glad they were born in peace-time," Thorin said instead of answering her. "They have no need of such realizations yet."
"And will it stay that way?" she countered. "I see the restlessness in you – it burns, just as it did in our father before he left. You should remember as well as I how unsettled he was with the life we managed to build . . . No matter how much we reclaimed, he still carried his greed and his vengeance in his heart, held as tightly as he held that thrice cursed Ring of his. Now only Mahal himself knows where he is in this world - or whether or not he has passed beyond it . . . I see it in your eyes, Thorin - that same restless spirit, that same vengeful mind. You wish to challenge the dragon, to take back his horde -"
" - our horde," Thorin countered. "It was never Smaug's wealth to be had."
"Indeed, it was an unparalleled sum," she said, and just barely he heard the hint of mockery in her voice.
"An unparalleled sum?" he repeated, incredulous. "It was the wealth of Erebor."
"Wealth," she echoed hollowly. "Is that what you remember it for? Gold and mithril and jewels? What is so wrong with an honest dwelling, Thorin? What is so wrong with forging iron and setting smooth stones, rather than shaping gold and precious gems?"
"It was ours," he said, his voice a low hiss in his mouth. As if that should have explained everything, meant everything . . .
"Are you truly so unhappy here, Thorin?" she asked next, nothing unkind in her voice. There was only a worry in her eyes as she held his gaze – his clear eyes a mirror of her own, taken as they were from the same mother. "Our people are safe and well fed. No longer do you need to toil in human smithies. We are building a good name here; a good home. And the people are content -"
" - but do they thrive?" he interrupted, the feeling in his voice fierce. "We were once a might unparalleled, a wealth unmatched. It is a lost song, a missing rhythm that beats in the hearts of our people - as surly as it burns in mine. I have simply gone a step further and have given my hollowness a name. Look around you, sister - these stones above your head are not our stones. This mountain shelters us, but it does not give us sustenance. It does not succor us. The rock here is not an extension of our hands, an extension of our hearts as Erebor was."
He had held the children more tightly as he spoke, as if by doing so he could protect them from the emptiness of which he spoke. Born under the Blue Mountains were they, the sons of his sister's flesh . . . But would they too feel the longing that gnawed at his heart when they were old enough to understand such things? Or would their hands be content with nothing but iron to shape for the rest of their lives? Would that be enough, existing where they could instead thrive?
"I will not know a peaceful night's sleep until Erebor is ours once more," he said lowly, and in the cavern of the room, his voice rang as a promise.
And Dís sucked in a breath. "At what cost?" she finally asked. "Truly, brother, who would survive such an outright assault on the drake? I remember as well as you, the day that Smaug descended – I remember the flames and the smell of burned clothes . . . the way hair and flesh smoked as it was chared from the bone. I remember the screams. Not only of our people and the men of Dale, but the screams of the mountain herself. She mourned as a mother mourned, and I . . . I do not know if I can handle such an offering being made to the dragon again. He is not worthy such a sacrifice of lips and blood. And so, yes, brother, I will be content with iron and foreign hills if it means that all I love is safe and fed under those hills."
"But, sister . . . I am not," and with that he laid bare a simple truth. An unforgiving certainty. "If a way ever presents itself, know that I will march upon Smaug – should my life be forfeit in the attempt or not."
Sighing, Dís closed her eyes long and slow. In his arms, the breathing of her son's lightened. They would awaken soon, he knew. "Aye, that I know of your heart's yearning, brother," she finally said. "And I will not stop you. Just know . . . know that I have already mourned our father in his death, for surely that is what has befallen him. And I have mourned our father's father and kin and friends both - even more than I shall now list. But, brother, if lives must be forfeit for the taking of Erebor . . . do not make me say farewell to all I hold dear."
She looked down at the boys he held, their faces innocent, both smiling in a sleep full of grand dreams - of heroes of old and their mighty deeds, dragon's fire nothing more than the sun's warm light to the naïvety and innocence of youth.
"I will guard them with my life, if and when that time should come," Thorin promised, the vow on his tongue deeper than when he had sworn to the desire of his heart. He did not say that he would keep them from joining him when the time came, but he promised, that if there was a way, he would send them home safe and sound – no matter the cost.
Dís moved her hand from her son's brow to clasp tightly over his hand as best as she could while he still held Kíli in sleep. "I thank-you, brother. It is all I can ask of you."
"And, on that note," Thorin started on a lighter tongue, trying to pierce through the black veil that had befallen them. "I have told the lads that I would speak to you and your husband about getting wooden swords made for them. They were handling naked steel in the smithy the other day -"
"By the Seven Fathers," Dís swore, rolling her eyes up for long-suffering at the news, "But those two are going to do my heart a harm one day."
"No blood was spilled," Thorin said past a smile. "And it may do us well to curb their curiosity for arms by starting their training early. It will do them well - for any future they may face," he added, needing her to be sure that he was not raising her sons for a dragon's slaying. It was more than that.
"That may be wise," she said softly. "I will speak to Rili about it and answer you on the morrow."
"They will be overjoyed by the graciousness of their mother," Thorin inclined his head, a small smile tugging on the grim line of his mouth.
Dís raised a brow and swatted playfully at his arm. "Aye, though they may not thank me after their first night of sore muscles. I remembered how stern father was with your own training, and something tells me you will not be half so lenient."
"Carrying arms is a responsibility, not a privilege," Thorin agreed. "They will have fully earned the steel they wield in the end."
"In such an age, it is wise," she finally said, her eyes falling to rest on her sons again. A moment passed, and the mood in the air shifted, once again coming to rest on things dark.
"It is a dark age we live in," she finally whispered, "With shadow reaching, even under the earth where there is only shadow to be known. I know I cannot hide them from every horror under the sun, nor can I keep you from such things - but please, my brother, think long and hard about this venture of yours before it is undertaken."
"I will do nothing else," he finally said, a promise in his eyes. Dís held his gaze a moment longer before nodding, not a moment too soon when her sons started to stir in Thorin's arm, drifting steadily upon wakefulness at the sound of their mother's voice.
"Mother," now fully alert, but still drowsy for the hour, Kíli reached out his hands for her. A wide smile upon her mouth, Dís rose in order to pick up her son, one strong arm carrying him, while her other hand helped Fíli up, and then hugged him to her side - the elder child being now too large for her to carry in such as she did the younger. She turned, ready to take them to their own rooms for the night.
"Uncle Thorin says that we are to be taught the sword," Kíli still managed to say, excitement shaping his words, even so close as he was to sleep.
"So he told me," Dís shushed her son. She looked behind her, to where Thorin was rolling his arms gingerly in order to restore circulation, winking at the faces of his nephews as they were turned from him.
"We will grow and be strong, and someday we will fight orcs and wargs, with nothing but our swords and driftwood for shields, just like Uncle . . ." Fíli dreamed aloud.
"And dragons!" Kíli saw fit to chime in. "We will fight orcs and wargs and dragons."
"How about you focus on the dragon slaying, and I will see about making a finer shield for you than that of wood? And if I see fit to set my skills to casting such wares for you, don't be as careless as your Uncle in loosing such gifts in battle," she turned to Thorin with a smirk on her face, who obliged her by holding a hand to his heart as if wounded.
"But that will not happen for many moons to come," Thorin added as they passed from the chamber into the hall beyond, sweeping an arm about his sister's shoulders so that he could ruffle Kíli's hair.
"Not for many, many moons, if I have anything to say about it," Dís said over the Kíli's delighted giggles.
"Aye, many moons indeed," Thorin agreed, and together he walked with what remained of his family. For now the shadows of Ered Luin were home enough to shelter such a growth, to nurture what was left of his people. He could listen to the children's laughter and Dís' mothering voice, both as steady as stones . . . He could convince himself that that meant more than the burning in his heart, the consumption in his soul . . .
For a moment, a very brief moment, he closed his eyes, and could imagine that he was home, and it was the shadows of Erebor closing in around him. He imagined that it was Erebor and her stones who learned to memorize the sound of her children's laughter. He imagined that it was Erebor, where the mountain would hold the youngest of her own tight and nurture them with her shadows. He imagined that they were home. For a moment, he let himself find comfort in that lie . . .
For now, that would have to be enough.