Thorin was a warrior, and being a warrior meant that he slept with his ears open, ready to spring to wakefulness at the slightest alarm, the faintest rustle or clink of enemy armour, the smallest of crackles from twigs being broken underfoot.
Or, for that matter, the tiniest of frightened whimpers.
The sound – the sound that had woken him – came again. Yes. It was definitely a whimper, a small terrified child’s whimper, and it was coming from the doorway to his room.
Thorin swung his legs over the side of the bed. ‘Fili?’ he said quietly.
There was a gulp and a tiny sniff, and the patter of feet, and Fili barrelled into him, clutching at Thorin’s nightshirt as he bent down and lifted him onto his lap. The child was shaking.
Thorin lit the candle, in its holder by his bedside, and the wavering light glinted off Fili’s wildly tangled golden hair. His blue eyes were huge and frantic, terrified, and he was clinging to Thorin as though he would never let go.
‘Fili. What is wrong?’ Thorin gripped the child’s shoulder with a steadying grasp, and gently brushed the golden tangles out of his eyes. ‘Tell me.’
’You – were – dead.’ Fili’s voice was small and held-back and wavering. ‘You were – dead – just like Father! Just like… just like…’
His voice cracked, and he thudded his forehead down fiercely against Thorin’s chest, as though to feel that he was truly there. He was not crying, only shivering and shivering like a small tree in a great wind.
Thorin looked down at the small tangled head, and then wrapped his arms strongly around him. ‘I’m not dead,’ he said, his voice firm and reassuring. ‘Just a dream, Fili – just a nightmare. I’m not going to die. I’m here.’
Fili made a funny little noise into his shirt, a noise on the brink of tears, and Thorin slowly soothed his back with his hand. Best if the child cried, let go of the fear and pain. He rubbed his thumb in caressing circles over Fili’s shoulder blades, and it was as though the gentleness of the action broke some barrier inside the child, and he wept softly, gaspingly, into Thorin’s chest.
‘Shall I tell you a story?’ Thorin said quietly at last.
Fili moved his head a little, but kept his face buried in his chest. Thorin held him a little tighter, and began.
‘Once, long ago, when the mountains were young and the world was new and brave, a Dwarvish princeling set out on a mighty quest…’
‘And that is the tale of how the Dwarves became the greatest craftsmen in gold and silver and precious gems in all Middle-Earth, and how all races of Men and Elves came to praise and acclaim their mighty skill.’
‘I’m glad – I’m a Dwarf,’ Fili whispered, so quiet that Thorin could hardly hear him. It was the first time he had spoken through the story.
Thorin chuckled. ‘Aye,’ he said. ‘We’re lucky, you and I – born into the greatest of peoples. It’s a proud heritage, and a brave one, Fili, to be a Dwarf.’
He smoothed Fili’s hair. ‘And tomorrow, Fili – tomorrow we will begin to teach you to use the weapons of Dwarven-kind. The sword and the axe, the hand-knife and the throwing-axe. I will teach you all of them, till you are a great Dwarven warrior, and you and I will stand together in battles.’
Fili smiled, a sleepy smile, his eyelids drooping, and Thorin smiled slightly, too. ‘And now, I think, it is time for you to sleep.’
‘With you,’ Fili murmured. ‘Want to sleep – with you.’
So he snuggled warmly into Thorin’s side, and was asleep in moments.
Thorin watched him for a little, before pinching out the candle-flame. And, softly, into the darkness, he said, ‘I will try to be the father you need, Fili. I swear it to you.’