Etched Into Stone
It is hard, so hard, to say goodbye. They are so young, so full of dreams, and all she wants is to gather them into the circle of her arms, hold them there against her and keep holding, to never let them go. They are her sons!
But she cannot do that. She must let them go. She knows it, and it is bitter.
Dis knows them so well, knows them in the way of a mother who has watched them, raised them, seen them grow from squalling infants to brave young men who march away, full of hope, in search of adventure and glory. She knows them. She knows Kili's recklessness, and fears for where it will take him. She knows Fili's big heart, and fears for him, too.
It is vain to say she is worried more for one of her sons, or the other. She worries for them in different ways, but the wrench in her heart is all one thing, jumbled and tangled and painful. Fili and Kili. Kili and Fili. The golden head and the dark, bending together over some treasure or puzzle, now as when they were but children.
They say goodbye separately, each coming quietly to be alone with her for a little while, and she is grateful for it.
Kili is first. He puts his head around the door, first, and sees her standing by the window, her finger tracing and re-tracing a knot in the wood of the window frame.
Dis looks up. The golden haze of afternoon is glinting off his face and hair as he slips inside the door. He's making a little, lopsided grimace of a smile, half mischievous and half – something else, and he comes to her and kneels down, a formal request for her blessing.
There's something choking in her throat, and she bends over him swiftly, pulling his face into the crook of her neck and wrapping her arms around him. There's – so much – that she wants – needs – to say to him, her dear laughing boy; but Dis has never been one for speaking many words. Words are too heavy, too clumsy, for some things.
Kili's arms are around her, giving her the breath-squeezing hug of childhood, and she thinks there is a little dampness where his face is resting against her collarbone. She rubs her cheek in his hair, dark and waving as her own, and sheds her own tears, very quietly.
At last they break apart, and she takes him by the shoulders, looking down into his eyes. They share a long clear look, and Dis says, softly, 'You will take care.'
Kili tries to speak – stops – swallows. He tries again, with the smallest of catches in his voice. 'Of – of course, Mother.'
Dis raises a knowing eyebrow. 'You are reckless,' she says, and takes a deep long breath. 'Kili – promise me. Promise me that you will – return.'
'I –' He stops, his gaze falling to the floor, bringing his hands up to clasp her forearms as though for support. Then he looks back up to her face, and says, 'I promise!' His voice is loud, almost as though he is defying fate, and Dis has the sudden sick pang of knowing that she has asked of him a promise that he may not be able to keep.
She would never tell him so, of course. Instead, she says, 'Wait,' and fetches something that she had laid on the windowsill, a smooth polished stone, veined, oval, deep blue where it catches the fading afternoon light.
'A runestone,' Kili says softly, and traces a blunt finger over the runes etched into the surface. 'Return to me.'
'Take it,' she says, almost fiercely. 'Take it – and remember. Remember your promise – my little son.' And she bends and kisses him on his brow, a blessing.
Fili has always been the quieter of the two; a little quieter, a little gentler, a little more prone to reflection than his brother. He comes to her in the evening, comes softly to her side, pauses, and wraps his arms around her. His clasp is different to his brother's; Kili had held her painfully tight, like the child he is, but Fili's firm embrace imparts as much comfort as it obtains. Fili is rather older than his years, on occasion.
Dis finds herself leaning into it, her face damp. She is not usually given to tears, but – this has never happened before. She suddenly hates noble quests and causes and heroic journeys with a bitter hatred. What are these things when weighed against the precious lives of her sons?
They would not understand, though, her sons, or her brother Thorin – bull-headed men that they are – so she does not say it.
'My Fili,' she says instead, her voice warm with all the love in her heart. 'My brave one, my bright-haired boy. Be safe.'
He looks at her, all earnest responsibility and seriousness. 'I will look after Kili, Mother. I swear to you – if any harm comes to him –'
'Oh, Fili,' Dis says, and her voice is very low, and it breaks on the words. 'And you?'
'Oh,' he says, and his smile is brave and bright and trying very hard to be reassuring. 'I will be all right, Mother. Truly.'
She reaches up with both hands and cups his face, fighting for words. 'You – you must take care of yourself. Not only your brother. You.'
Fili swallows, hard, his eyes over-bright. He brings his hands up to cover hers, but there are no more words. It is enough to stand there, together, for tomorrow he will be far away and she will still be here, waiting.
When she moves, it is so she can reach behind her neck and slip off the chain and pendant that hang there. She pools it into her hand, clasps it for a moment, then offers it to him. 'The chain, your father gave to me, long ago when we were very young. The stone – I made for you.'
It had been hard, to decide what to etch into the surface of that smaller stone. Kili's had been far easier; Return to me. Kili was young and sometimes foolish, and needed reminding that someone was waiting for him to come home. Fili, though… Fili knew, in some part, what it was to bind up your soul in the safety of another's life, knew it in a way that Kili had not yet had to learn. Fili did not need another reminder to return to her, for it would be running through his head in every step of the journey.
In the end, she had shed stinging, silent tears over the little stone, and carved the words that were in her heart, simple and ancient and true.
I love you.
For what better reminder for Fili, who always put others before himself, than of the truth of her love for him?
And so, slowly, Dis offers the stone to him, warm with her own warmth, and smiles.
Fili takes it reverentially, using both his strong brown hands to surround it, reading the little inscription. And his eyes are still bright, warm and bright and blue, when he looks up again to meet her gaze; and again, no words are needed.
Goodbye, my sons - farewell. Return to me. I love you.