It was a bittersweet task – bitter, perhaps, more than sweet – but a necessary task, nevertheless, to go through all the chambers of Erebor. It was sweet solely for the way they could be in Erebor, at home, and bitter for obvious reasons. It was still necessary to go through the chambers, to make a list about them, to record, if possible, who had owned which chamber. The list had to be done as soon as possible, or there would be a lot of trouble when more dwarves returned – when more than one person, unavoidably, would claim ownership to the same chamber, to the same home.
Thorin, alone, had gone through one hundred and twenty-four chambers in the past few days, writing down his findings and conclusions about who might have lived where. He had encountered several interrupted meals (the rot on the food long since run dry), scattered clothes where someone hadn't had time to get dressed due to Smaug's unexpected attack, abandoned pickaxes and pipes, unmade beds, occasional baths of which the water had evaporated, leaving only traces of soap behind.
In most chambers, there was something that gave clues about the ownership – a name on a chest, a carving on a blade of a knife, parchments that stated clearly who had lived in the chamber – but in some, there were no such things, no traces of the ownership. In those – thankfully few – cases, Thorin simply described what he found: clothes of a reasonably wealthy lady, toys, healing equipment...
Thorin had gone through his own royal chambers as well. The sight of all his things – his old harp and fine clothes, his weapons and all the childish items his younger self had been quite proud to own – had made him smile and wince and snort. He hadn't stayed there for long and had given his chambers to Fili and Kili to do with them as they liked.
Frerin's chambers Thorin had sealed closed; no-one was to go in them. He couldn't go in them himself. Not yet, at least. Perhaps never.
His mother's chambers had remained much like Thorin had remembered them, warm and large and welcoming. They were just like her. Just like the most important lady in Thorin's life.
After a long while of swallowing emotions, Thorin cleared his throat and turned to look at the three figures standing in the hallway waiting patiently for him to allow them inside.
"My mother's chambers," Thorin grumbled and let Fili, Kili and Bilbo enter the chambers, before closing the door firmly behind them. "She was called Lady Aidis. She was... my mother."
Fili, Kili and Bilbo stayed awkwardly near the door, looking around the chambers and at each other and at Thorin, noticeably hesitant of what they should – could – say and do. They looked concerned and sympathetic and curious, and suddenly it felt very important for Thorin to explain, to make them know her, his bearer.
Thorin took a hold of Bilbo's hand and grasped Kili by arm, drawing both of them deeper into the chambers. He knew that Fili was following, without having to make sure.
"Look. Look at the pillars," Thorin prompted and Kili and Bilbo complied, eyeing the marble pillars as they passed by them. Glancing briefly behind his back, Thorin noted that Fili, as well, was studying the pillars, while following Thorin closely behind.
Grey walls and white pillars were covered with carvings portraying mother's life: There was her first battle, the first orc she had slayed, her first battle wound... There was her little brother – Little Uncle Didi – who had died at the age of fourty-two, long before Thorin had been born... There were the births of Thorin, Dis and Frerin... There was mother's (unreasonable,) striped cat, the one that had hated Thorin but loved Dis and Frerin... There was mother's wedding, she and father portrayed in great detail...
"Is that mum?" asked Fili, causing Thorin to halt on his steps. "Our mum, I mean, mine and Kili's. Dis."
Turning around, Thorin saw that Fili was staring intently at a carving of a small dwarfling who was sitting on King Thror's lap.
Thorin leaned in to take a closer look, letting go off Kili and Bilbo.
"No, Fili, it's me," he then admitted with a small smile. "I had just had my first chest hair. It was quite an occasion – I couldn't have been more than twenty, about the same age as you were when you got yours."
Fili, Kili and Bilbo studied the carving with great interest, while Thorin began to walk around the chamber, taking in everything, running his hands on the familiar stone walls, on the carvings, on his mother's Shelf of Axes... He looked around his mother's chambers with shameless greed, with wistfulness, like any son would after being allowed to see a small part of their beloved bearer's life after decades of bitter separation.
The Shelf of Axes was still intact, Thorin noted, as was the desk. Mother's bull fiddle was laying on its side, ready to be played but most likely completely out of tune. The bow was on her carefully made bed, right next to a blue attire she had laid out. Mother probably would have worn the attire that evening on some event or another hadn't Smaug interfered with her plans.
Thorin went to the bed and touched the soft fabric gently. He couldn't remember this fluffy dress, perhaps it had been a new one, perhaps mother hadn't ever worn it. The dress must have been of the latest fashion – she had always cared about things like that and had been greatly disappointed when Dis hadn't shown the same tendencies. Mother had always been very careful to look her best, after all.
Mother had been quite vain, at times. Father had teased her about that, but she had simply scowled.
A small hand was put on Thorin's shoulder.
"Your mother must have been a beautiful lady," Bilbo said softly, looking down at the blue dress.
"Most beautiful, indeed," Thorin agreed. "At least to me, she was. She was very tall and stout and had long dark hair and a soft beard and a lot of scars, earned in various battles. Her eyes were gentle, but for the life of me, I cannot remember their colour."
Bilbo opened his mouth, but was interrupted before he managed to utter whatever it was that he might have wanted to say.
"It looks like grandma really knew her axes," Fili noted from where he was admiring the Shelf of Axes with Kili. "Look at this, Thorin – she even had one of the Nighten Singers! Gloin says those are even rarer than Butterfly Besters."
"Gloin does? Really?" Kili asked, intrigued. "And to imagine that our granny had such a rarity!"
Followed by Bilbo, Thorin abandoned the blue dress in order to go stand between his nephews. The lads had a right to know about their grandmother and there weren't many who could tell them about her – Thorin was one of the few ones left.
"Your grandmother was very enthusiastic about axes," Thorin confirmed, while his sister-sons studied the Nighten Singer, neither one of them daring enough to actually take it from the shelf or to even touch it, even though both boys were letting their eyes roam over it, the awe and curiosity bare on their faces.
"She always had an axe with her whenever she left her chambers. She used to say that a queen without an axe was like a king without a consort – unhappy and bound to make mistakes. Axes were her passion, even though she wasn't particularly good at yielding one, as she had no time to train on a regular basis."
"Did she have a favourite axe?" Kili asked, his voice solemn with reverence.
Thorin folded his arms on his chest against the horrible, sudden clench deep in his heart.
"She did," he replied eventually. "The Hair Splitter, it was called. I wasn't allowed to touch it, so I cannot tell you much about it. To my shame, I don't remember much of it. Perhaps it will be found when the renovations begin in earnest; it's not on its usual place on the shelf, so mother must have taken it with her when she left to protect Erebor from Smaug."
"Yes, mum told us about that. She said that... that grandmother's death was quick. That grandmother wasn't in any pain."
Fili's voice was even, far too even, so even that the words sounded almost like a desperate plea for Thorin to believe them – the poor boy had never been good at lying to his uncle. If Fili was trying to lie about a matter like this, the truth had to be worse than horrible.
To change the subject, Thorin put his arms around the shoulders of his nephews.
"Did your mother also tell you," he asked conspiratorially, "that she used to have a lot of trouble with pimples? Dis, I mean, of course. Not my mother. My mother didn't have pimples. Moles, yes, but not pimples. Did Dis mention her... troubles?"
He was offered two identical grins for his words.
"Mum didn't mention her pimples per se," Kili said, "but she did say that if you brought up something like that, something about her 'troubles', we were to remind you that her chest hair is thicker than yours. She also said that if we ever made it this far, we should tell you that grandma's eyes were grey. Mum said that you might wonder."
"Mum also said," Fili continued, "that no-one was to look into the 'green drawers', because that's where grandma used to keep her... private things."
"Like her underclothes," Kili whispered, glancing warily at the green drawer that stood proudly on the other side of the large bed. "And things only ladies need."
Thorin gave his sister-sons a frown. He didn't quite know whether he should have thanked them for telling him the colour of his mother's eyes, or to scold them for talking about his mother's undergarments. In the end, he did neither, ushering them to look around the chambers on their own instead. Bilbo went with them, hesitantly, after some glaring and prompting and actual shoving from Thorin.
The door leading into father's chambers was ajar, had been ajar ever since, and Thorin could almost hear Frerin talking casually with their father on the other side of it. Thorin found himself staring at the door expectantly, waiting for either Frerin or their father to simply push the door open and to walk into the room.
They, of course, weren't alive to do that any more.
Thorin missed them.
Oh, how he missed them, all of them.
He tore his gaze forcefully away from the door and went to look at mother's desk.
There was an overturned bottle of red ink on mother's desk. Thorin picked up the bottle, ignoring the sharp ripping sound, caused by the bottle being torn from the desk to which it had been glued for decades by dried ink.
The dried ink formed a large red stain that covered almost fourth of the desk, a bit of the chair and some of the floor. There were red footprints going from the desk to the Shelf of Axes and from the Shelf of Axes towards the door, fading gradually away before they managed to reach the threshold. The footprints were far apart like the person leaving them had been running.
It was easy enough for Thorin to conclude what had happened: Mother had been writing at her desk when she had heard all the commotion about "a dragon" coming from the hallway. She had left her usually so carefully kept writing stools in a haste, accidentally knocking over the ink bottle. The ink had spread out onto the table, dribbling down onto the chair and onto the floor. It had stained mother's boots, but she hadn't cared, hurrying to take one of her various fighting axes from the shelf instead, in order to prepare to face the attacking dragon.
Mother had died not ten minutes after leaving her chambers, Thorin knew. She had died shortly after abandoning her writing stools, the same writing stools Thorin was now looking at. She had hurried straight to her death. Dis had been there to see her die, but she had never told Thorin any details, simply telling him that mother's death had been "quick and painless", that mother couldn't have felt a thing.
Thorin couldn't find it in himself to believe Dis, but he never said as much to her, letting her take comfort from thinking that she had managed to spare him from at least some pain.
With a heavy heart, Thorin placed the ink bottle back onto the table, being careful to put it into an upright position.
Next to the ink bottle, there was a fine quill and an ink-stained parchment. Thorin stroke the quill with a finger as affectionately as he could, before reading the words that had been written on the parchment with the painfully familiar handwriting.
"Balm for Dis' pimples (no fragrances)
A new pair of boots for my silly little Thorin (black leather, silver buckles, size seventeen, double insoles)
Frerin's tooth – make an appointment!
Talk with husband about the"
Those were the last words mother had ever written. Thorin stared at them with a lump in his throat, reading them over and over again in his mind, until he knew them by heart.
my silly little Thorin
Thorin didn't know how long he had been staring at his mother's last note when Bilbo, blurry Bilbo, was suddenly standing in front of him, his eyes red and full of tears, a look of utter sadness on his pretty, gentle face.
Bilbo looked up at Thorin and the tears on Bilbo's eyes began to run down his cheeks. Thorin lifted a hand to wipe them away, but the tears were insistent and kept flowing, one after another.
It wasn't until Bilbo twined his arms around Thorin and rested his face against Thorin's chest that Thorin realized that it wasn't just Bilbo who was weeping. It was him that had burst into tears and Bilbo – kind, gold-hearted Bilbo – had began to cry simply from empathy. In actuality, Bilbo was the one offering comfort, while Thorin was the one taking it.
When the realization hit Thorin, he couldn't help the angry sob that escaped his lips.
"Frerin had an inflamed tooth!"
It felt important to snarl that, although Thorin didn't really know why.
"Father said that he would hire an elf, of all creatures, to brush our teeth for us, if we – at our age – couldn't do it properly by ourselves."
Thorin couldn't help but laugh at the memory.
He shook with his laughter, crying, and Bilbo hugged him through it all. Fili and Kili were hovering somewhere behind his back – Thorin could tell, as he heard familiar sniffling, even though he didn't actually see his nephews.
Eventually, Thorin took a few deep calming breaths, before he pushed Bilbo gently away from him. He wiped his face on his coarse sleeve and proceeded to dry the tears from Bilbo's face as well.
"I believe that I shall leave the closer inspections of mother's chambers till later," Thorin decided. "There are many other chambers to go through, after all. There is no time to linger in one."
Determinedly, Thorin guided Bilbo towards the door that led into father's chambers, motioning for Fili and Kili to follow.
AN: Must have been difficult for the dwarves to go into the chambers of their deceased relatives.