AN: I do not own the rights to anything regarding The Hobbit or the works of the great Professor Tolkien, although both of the above pretty much own me.
This can be read as either a standalone piece or as a companion to my other Hobbit story, the multi-chaptered "With Shield and Body" that presents my take upon the last days of the Line of Durin. It probably works better when read with that other story as context, for some events overlap and different characters' understanding-or misunderstanding, as the case may be-about each other are explored. As some of you know, I originally had planned to include a chapter devoted to Thorin, but ultimately it did not work cohesively enough for my tastes; Thorin is a remarkably difficult voice to pin down properly, and as I love his character so much I wanted to take the time to get it right. This is the result. It is primarily Thorin and Kíli in focus, I'm afraid; I meant there to be more Fíli but he preferred to stay in the peripheral. My next story, which is actually almost finished already, is entirely from Fíli's perspective, so hopefully that will make up for his lack of a central voice here. I'm having great fun writing it. Here's a hint: It involves spiders.
Thank you as always for reading, I really appreciate it, as one Tolkien fan to another.
The evening he sent the emissary from his enemies fleeing back to its camp with an arrow thrumming in the boss of its shield, Thorin takes a torch in his hand and goes alone to the old royal armory at the Western side of the Mountain.
It has been more than a century since he last set foot in this place, and he is surprised by how well he remembers it—the shapes of the long pikes stacked up against the far wall, the shields still hung on their racks of iron, the swords, their blades dulled by dust and dragon-fumes but still—when he jerks one from its crumbling sheath and wipes the steel with the flat of his thumb—sharp and unrusted. He smiles, sets it aside. The work is good, but he has not come here to collect swords; his sister-sons have weapons enough of their own already, crafted by their own hands and by their lady-mother. He is here for armor. Thorin is no fool. It is likely enough, he knows, that there will be battle in the days ahead, and soon, and if his sister-sons are to go to battle with Men and Elves he means them to be arrayed like Dwarves—and not Dwarves only, but as Princes.
There will be no more stained leathers and woolen hoods for his sister's children. Not if he can help it.
And so he digs through the stacks of plate armor and chain mesh and greaves, the cuirasses that shine like water and helms like fire. It is tedious, taxing work, for always he must keep one hand free to bear the torch (and the next and the next after the first burns out) and he goes over each piece with the love and the care and the critical eye of a master craftsman too long kept from his art. He searches nearly a full hour before finding a helmet that passes his harsh inspection; when he raises the helm up slightly to the light, turning it back and forth in his hands, it flashes with bright fire. The bowl is iron-bonded bronze overlaid with gold, the cheekguards inlaid with runes of protection and strength cut from slivers of polished ruby. After examining it narrowly he smiles a little, satisfied, and carefully sets it aside with the other pieces of war-gear he has scavenged. It will look well on Fíli.
Now all he must find is a hauberk or some other form of mail which would fit his elder sister-son, and vambraces for the younger.
Not for the first time, he curses the gift of the mithril coat which he gave to the hobbit. The lads did not begrudge it, for they had thought Bilbo a friend, and even now, he thinks, Kíli is secretly glad that the hobbit left with it still on his back, for it means he is more likely to survive the battle. The thought of it burns like a red coal in his breast, but Thorin doggedly pushes aside his anger, trying to be charitable. Kíli is very young, and he makes friends easily. He is not like Fíli; he does not even have the barest understanding of politics or his place in the world outside of his own family. That he does not is not a fault Thorin can blame his sister-son for, however, no matter how much he wants to, or even lay at the feet of Dís herself. He knows the blame is his alone. It was he who allowed them to grow up surrounded by the peoples and customs of the Blue Mountains, and to be given Western names, and when he introduced them first to the forge and the anvil it was iron that he taught them to work, not gold.
He had forgotten how beautiful it was. And Fíli and Kíli, his sister's lively children, born in the cold and the barrenness of exile, Durin's blood and his own heirs—they have never truly seen gold before. To them gold is an ore for tiny baubles and trinkets, something to be heated into a thin paint and spread as a disguise over poorer metals. They do not understand gold—Not as gold is supposed to be seen: raw and bright as molten fire in cavern walls, full and mellow and rich in blazing mounds, glossy in the firelight and warm in the shadows. He can hear its living voice, running like a river through the walls, the slow and sombre song of his fathers. The ancient words make him feel almost young again, cast back to when he was a boy younger than Kíli is now and his father led him down to the mines where the voices ring the clearest. Thráin had set his hand to the exposed vein, smiling. Listen, he had said, in that deep resonant voice that thrummed like a hammerfall in Thorin's bones. This is the history of our people, kept where only we know. The love of gold runs deep, and the memory of stone runs long, and one day, Thorin, they will sing of you.
Of him, yes, though he had almost not dared to hope after so long in the West. He listens to the metal-speech now and already he can hear that he is hailed as Thorin Kingdomclaimer, Thorin Dragonslayer, and the gladness that raises in him is more potent than any wine. But the boys, his Fíli and his Kíli—he sees them in Erebor, the kingdom of their fathers, and sees how lost they look. For the first time the prospect of making proper princes out of Dís' high-spirited children presents itself as challenge rather than pleasure, and the bitterness of it is sharp and self-recriminating. The Shire rat stole the Arkenstone and delivered it to Durin's enemies, and Durin's youngest heir is mourning the thief as though he was his friend, and Thorin loved them too much to prepare them for this, let them love a home that should never have been theirs, and now he is afraid that it means that even now, in his hour of triumph, he has failed his people yet again.
Rarely does he fall deep enough into brooding tempers to lose awareness of his surroundings, but he startles at the sound of his sister-son's youthful voice, and when he looks up to see Kíli standing there a few meters away, looking slightly unsure of himself, with Fíli standing close beside him. Thorin cannot help but feel as though the boys somehow sensed the bent of his thoughts and were summoned to him in response.
"Fíli, Kíli," he says, and that is permission, that is a welcome. He sees how Fíli's shoulders relax at the sound of his own name, and Kíli's response is a wide grin, as they abandon their hesitation and come forward to meet him.
"What are you doing here, Thorin?" Kíli looks up and around, staring over-awed at all the beautiful, precious things. He cannot see even one-fourteenth of it all, the giant mountains of wealth piled up all around them, certainly not in the light of the torches Thorin and Fíli both bear in their hands. But the wonder is blank and wide in his eyes anyway.
"That is my own business," Thorin replies, and his younger nephew's eyes snap back to his own.
"And why have you come seeking me?" He prompts. Fíli shrugs.
"Balin sent us. He wishes us to remind you that there is to be battle soon, and you have eaten nothing all day."
"I was not hungry."
"Perhaps not," Fíli says calmly, "but still the others do eat, and they mark your absence at every meal. It makes them nervous. I've assured them you are kept busy with important affairs, but Balin is right, enough is enough. You must eat both to keep up your strength, and to keep up theirs."
My heir, Thorin thinks, the negotiator, the calm and the politic, fierce with a blade and nigh as good as a wizard with words. Sometimes Thorin worries that Kíli has too much of his mother in him—of Thorin's own bloodline, too much Durin—sometimes he thinks that is why the boy is so wild and impetuous and difficult, that he has too much spirit to know what to do with. But Fíli—
Fíli could be a great king, given time.
"All right," he says at last, beating the dust from his hands against the skirt of his tunic. "I will come. You go back and tell Balin to cease his fretting."
Fíli nods, and steps back a pace. When his brother remains staring fixedly at the floor, unmoving, he hesitates.
"Kíli, are you coming?"
"No," Kíli says, stubbornly not looking up. "I will stay a little."
Fíli looks confused and perhaps a little hurt, but he does not argue, just stands uncertainly a moment. Kíli waves him on impatiently.
"Go on, Fíli! I'll make certain he comes with me back to the Hall."
And Fíli goes without a word. Thorin watches him disappear into the corridor beyond the door, and then frowns at his youngest nephew.
"That," he says harshly, "was unkind."
"Fíli understands," Kíli mutters. "He knew I wanted to talk with you alone, he's not a fool."
"I know, but that might make it worse. Say your piece, then, and quickly, so that we might overtake him before he reaches the Hall and you, sister-son, can make your apologies before we are close enough for the others to hear. Am I understood?"
Kíli nods, still not raising his eyes, but he does not say anything.
He takes a deep, sharp breath.
"You know," Kíli says, very quickly so that all the words tumble a little over his tongue, as though he speaks before he can change his mind, "I would have shot him for you if you had but asked me to—you did not have to do it—I would have."
Ah. So that is what this is about.
"I know you would have. But I am the King. A dart from my hands will mean more to them than from yours. Do you understand? It is not a question of your skill, Kíli. You have proven yourself many times over on this quest."
He had thought Kíli would brighten up at that, but he does not. Instead he looks up, his eyes dark and wide. He does smile, but there is something a little sickly about it.
"Oh," he says. "I see."
And Thorin is in haste, for he does not want Fíli to have to walk all the long way back to the main Hall alone, but he knows that somehow something he said has wounded his youngest sister-son. It is at moments like this that he feels his helplessness—when he feels anew the loss of their father, and how pitifully poor a surrogate he has been, the king without a kingdom.
"Sit with me a moment," he says, gesturing to the stone floor beside him. After a moment's hesitation, Kíli obeys, cautiously relaxing into the arm Thorin sets carefully around his shoulders.
"Now, then," Thorin says. "What is troubling you, Kíli?"
"Nothing," the boy answers quickly—too quickly. Thorin shoots him a warning look from beneath his lowered brows, and Kíli flushes childishly in response, ducking his head.
"I mean," he amends resignedly, "I only—I could have made that shot."
"I believe you," Thorin says, bewildered by how his sister-son seems fixed upon that point. "Your mother taught you well." A thought strikes him. "Do . . . You miss her?"
"Mother?" Kíli flashes him a startled look that quickly turns pensive and then a little shamefaced. He shrugs. "Fíli misses her, he talks about her sometimes. I just wish that we could send her word, that she could know that we are all right. That we did it after all, that we're here. That the dragon's dead."
"When she hears an arrow struck him down, you know that she will think it was you," Thorin says. Kíli shakes his head.
"She will be disappointed to learn the truth."
"Dís? Disappointed in her son? Come now, Kíli. What of the wargs you slew, or the spiders, or the goblins in their scores? She will have nothing but pride for you, as we all do. To be so young and yet have done so much."
Kíli is quiet a long, ragged moment, and then he says, very quietly: "Truly?"
"Truly." Thorin hesitates and then ventures again.
"Your mother would have been so proud today," he says as gently as he can. "I know you left her thinking that she was against you coming, but know that she would not have given her permission at all if she had not thought it possible to reclaim Erebor."
"Oh, that," Kili says. He smiles faintly. "We did not need her permission, really. Fili set me to fletching new arrows in preparation weeks before she said yes. You're the King; your word counts enough."
"You have been parted from her far too long if you begin to think that," he replies dryly. His nephew chuckles, and then subsides into contented silence. The great pillars stretch up all around them, up and up into darkness, and it is almost like being in Mirkwood again, but that this is his place, at last. This is home. He remembers the flaming of the lamps and the ringing of metal and the singing in the smithies.
"Did she love it here as much as you, Thorin?" Kili asks after a while. He has to take a moment to remember that they had been speaking of Dís, and then another long moment to think.
"I think she did," is his reply, finally. "But its loss was not as hard upon her. She was not the eldest. And she has other things to love, more than she loves her childhood home; she loves you."
He had meant it kindly—he had not meant it to sound so—but he can feel his sister-son go rigid at his side, and silently he curses himself, viciously, in the harshest Khuzdul.
"Kili," he begins, but the boy shakes his head.
"It's all right," he says, very quietly. "You're the King."
Thorin understands what he means: You are the King, the leader of our people. Of course you cannot love me as much as you love Erebor. I know where your duty lies. And so he does not argue, even though he might, secretly, want to.
"Come," he says instead, getting to his feet and wincing at how stiff his knees are after sitting even that short time on the cold stone. Mahal help him, he is growing old.
"Let us go find your brother."
"I wonder, sometimes," he confesses, "if I have done right by them. My sister-sons."
Balin says: "They are good lads, Thorin."
Dwalin grunts: "They are good fighters."
But that is not what Thorin means at all, not really, so he tries again. "I think that perhaps I have been too selfish. I have been so unhappy for so long, feeling like an exile in my own skin. I should have raised the boys to know that the Blue Mountains were not their home, that they belonged here. And I did not. I wanted them to be happy because they were my sister's children and because I loved them, but now Kíli thinks I love him not at all, and Fíli does not sleep. Never have I seen him so ill at ease, not in the Goblin tunnels, not at Beorn's house, not in the Elf king's accursed halls! This is not why I brought them, this is not what I wanted for them—"
It is deep night the evening after he so horribly botched his conversation with Kíli, and the words spoken then still haunt him. From where he sits with his oldest friends he can see the shape of the boys' bedrolls as huddled darkness in the greater dark of the Hall: Kíli curled up asleep with one hand tossed restlessly out towards where his brother's blankets lie, and Fíli's space empty and cold. Thorin had watched them furtively all evening, trying to read their thoughts in their behavior, and so had seen how Fíli had remained abed only long enough for Kíli to fall asleep and then had slipped away without a word.
He realizes belatedly that he has fallen into a similar silence, and that Balin is shaking his head, his white beard wagging.
"All they need is a little time. They are young, they will learn."
"Not if I am denied the teaching," Thorin growls back, and there it is at last, out in the open, a truth he cannot close his teeth over, not anymore. He buries his face in his hands.
"The dragon is dead," he says at last, "and I want to show them, I want to—to rebuild, with them, to fix all that Smaug broke and reshape these halls into something new, grander even than they were of old, and if we do it together then maybe they will be able to understand, to feel how they are a part of Erebor as I am, and it will be all right. We cannot give up the Mountain. We cannot give up the gold, not before I can teach them, I have to show them—show them everything—"
Every coin, stamped with the graven images of their forefathers, every precious cup or anklet or necklace worn by sons and daughters of Durin before them, every cut jewel, every statue, every mail shirt, and how dare they? How dare the Elves and the Lakemen try to lay claim on what is theirs?
"I can't fail them," he says, the words low and fierce in his throat, and Balin pats him gently on the arm, and Dwalin stands up with a creak of leather and metal and rumbles: "You shall not," before striding away.
The next night, he presents the boys with his gifts. Fíli lights up like a yellow flame, speechless as he cradles the bright armor in his arms, but Thorin can read the adoration burning in his heir's eyes clearer than any words, and he is pleased. Perhaps tonight, at least, Fíli will be able to sleep peacefully.
Kíli is speechless too, at first. He runs his long fingers lightly over the shining silver, and then he laughs, and sets it all carefully down at his feet before leaping to Thorin in a single bound and wrapping his arms tightly around his shoulders in a crushing hug.
"Thank you," his sister-son says, again and again. "Thank you, thank you—"
"It is only what you have a right to," Thorin replies, slightly embarrassed. He can just make out Balin smiling into his beard as he watches, and can only imagine the look on Dwalin's face. "Indeed, you deserve finer. But at such a short notice, I hope this will do?"
"It's fantastic," Kíli assures him. Suddenly Fíli is there too, knocking his brother affectionately aside to hug Thorin in turn.
"I suppose this is what you have been busy with all this time," Fíli says. "Finding these for us."
"You are princes of Durin." Thorin shakes his head. "It is only right you go to war looking as such, not like the ragged vagabonds Thranduil will remember from his dungeons—nor as the starving water-rats the Lakemen knew." He ruffles Kíli's hair and his youngest sister-son looks up, and laughs again.
"They will not know us."
"Nor will they harm you. Fíli, Kíli . . . I want you to be safe."
"You don't need to worry about us," Kili says earnestly, yearning forwards with the full eagerness that he always throws into everything he says. It is easy to know when Fili is being serious because he settles solidly around his center, shoulders straight and brows low. When Kili is serious about something he always looks like he is about to topple over.
"We'll stay right with you, Thorin. Nothing will get close enough."
Fíli sounds confident, and Kíli is grinning, looking truly happy for the first time in weeks, and so Thorin gives up and just holds them close, heart hammering, and presses his lips ever so lightly into their braided hair. The last of Durin's blood will fight together for what is Durin's own, and he could laugh with the wild sickening joy of it, of holding all that is his secure in his hands at last. Mountain, gold, and his sister's fierce children. So much has been stolen from him, so much taken and ruined before its time, and he looks into their faces and he is glad because this time, this last time, he knows that it will not happen again.