By the time Thorin went to the boys, there were no signs of his earlier distress. He had washed his face and had pushed down his pain. When he opened the door and walked into the yard to find them, he was even able to smile at their antics as Kíli tried to scramble out from under his brother while Fíli pinned him.
"I'll let you up when you admit you lost," Fíli was saying.
"I haven't lost yet!" Kíli was shrieking as he squirmed. "I can still move. I haven't lost yet!"
"You have too, Kíli!" Fíli snarled trying to pin his brother's swinging limbs and nearly allowing Kíli to escape in the process.
"I have not!" Kíli replied. "Uncle always says that if you can move you aren't beat and Mother says if you're still alive it's not over. I refuse to give up!"
"And just how do you plan to get free, little one?" Thorin asked inserting himself into the conversation as he leaned against the doorframe with his arms crossed and an indulgent smile on his face.
"Uncle!" Kíli cried happily squirming more forcefully to be free from Fíli's hold, which Fíli allowed with a wry smile as Kíli scrambled to his feet and sprinted to Thorin's waiting arms.
"You didn't come to dinner," Kíli pouted resting his head on Thorin's shoulder. "I thought Mother was wrong and that you had left without saying goodbye."
"I'd never leave without saying goodbye to you, Kíli," Thorin promised placing his cheek on the top of his nephew's head. "Though I am a bit disappointed that I missed dinner. I hear that you gave quite a performance last night."
"He sure did!" Fíli laughed coming over to them cautiously, wondering if his uncle was still angry with him. Thorin seemed calmer but Fíli knew that he could still be angry since he hadn't figured out what he's done wrong to apologize for it yet.
"I didn't know Kíli could be that color!" Fíli added. Kíli grimaced and went a bit green just from the memory, squirming deeper into Thorin's hold and gripping his stomach at the memory of feeling too full.
"I'm sure your poor brother doesn't appreciate that reminder, lad," Thorin said patting Kíli comfortingly and giving Fíli a disapproving look.
"I'm sorry, Uncle, Kíli," Fíli whispered. "I shouldn't have brought it up."
"Apology accepted," Thorin replied patting Fíli's shoulder. "Right, little one?" He bounced Kíli to encourage him to speak at which Kíli muttered, "Apology accepted."
"Tell me, little one," Thorin said, trying to draw Kíli out of the pout he had fallen into, "did you at least learn something?"
"Greens are bad," Kíli said resolutely, his little face crinkled into a scowl.
"Not quite," Thorin said with a laugh. "Try again, Kíli."
"I'm never eating greens again?" Kíli tried hopefully, his brown eyes wide with hope.
"Not that either," Thorin said. "I thought you were determined to eat them to stave off baldness. Which there is no real link to, by the way, little one. To my knowledge greens have nothing to do with hair growth."
"I don't know," Kíli muttered burying his head once more.
"Fíli," Thorin asked turning to the eldest. "Do you know what the lesson should have been, lad?"
"Moderation, Uncle," Fíli answered quietly. "Kíli should have learned that even good things are bad for you if you eat too much of them." Thorin nodded and reached over to ruffle Fíli's blonde hair.
"Aye, lad, that was the lesson," Thorin said with a gentle smile. "Such a bright lad." Fíli practically glowed at the praise. Thorin smiled at him a moment more before clearing his throat and composing his features as he took on the role of King rather than Uncle and began discussing lessons with his heir.
"Speaking of lessons," Thorin said by meaning of transition, "I hear that you've decided to go today." Fíli nodded, his features pinched as he hoped for another smile but his uncle's face remained grave. "Your mother asked me to remind you that you do not have to do this."
"I know that, Uncle," Fíli said quietly. "I want to." Thorin hummed quietly in his throat, pleased at the answer.
"That is very mature of you, Fíli," Thorin said offering his nephews another smile and placing a hand on his cheek. "I am proud of you for making this decision. Your education will be your most important weapon as a King. Swords and axes are important, yes, but if you have the right education you may be able to avoid needing the other two in the first place. This is my first lesson to you, Fíli, as a King to his heir: war is something to be avoided. There are no real winners. Even the victors will have losses. However, if war is unavoidable it is far better to be victorious than to be defeated. Do you understand?"
"Don't seek out a fight but if one happens win?" Fíli asked, his mouth pulling up in a half-grimace as he tried to think through his uncle's logic.
"Very good," Thorin said. "Keep that in mind, lad. It may save your life someday. You too, little one." Kíli nodded and Thorin turned his attention back to Fíli. "Since today is your first day, I will take you to Balin after lunch. In a few hours, no more than three, either I or your mother and Kíli will come for you. You are not to leave without either your mother or me. Do you understand me?"
"Yes, Uncle," Fíli replied, nodding to show his complete understanding of the order.
"Uncle," Kíli said suddenly, pulling one of Thorin's braids to get his attention.
"Yes, little one?" Thorin replied turning his attention to Kíli with a wry smile.
"I want to go too," Kíli said, a small whine in his voice.
"What?" Thorin asked completely shocked by this move by his youngest. "What are you saying, Kíli?"
"I want to go with, Fee," Kíli said. "I don't want to be alone all afternoon. I want to go to lessons with Fíli."
"Kíli, you're too young, lad," Thorin said soothingly, though he was more than distressed by Kíli's request. Kíli couldn't go to lessons yet. He was just a child. There was no need for him to learn of the cruelties of the world just yet: even if that cruelty was just mathematics.
"But I want to go," Kíli said. "Mother said that was why Fíli gets to. He wants to go and he gets to, why can't I?" Thorin floundered. He wanted to give Kíli anything he could possibly want but he knew that his sister would use that axe if he told her six-year-old son that he was allowed to go to school.
"Dís!" Thorin called suddenly, trying to push the matter off on her. She was their mother. She could tell the lad 'no.' She was better at that than Thorin at any rate, or so he tried to convince himself. He wished that he hadn't sounded so panicked when he called her as he heard the pot clatter to the table and she appeared in the doorway looking clearly terrified.
"Thorin!?" she called as she rounded the corner. "Thorin, what happened!?" She took in the sight of both of her sons, healthy, fine and with no visible wounds and her heart began to restart.
"Thorin," she breathed, fury just below the surface that her brother had scared her like that for nothing. "What was so important that it merited scaring me nearly to death?"
"I thought you should hear this and deal with it yourself," Thorin said. "Bear in mind, Dís, I did not put him up to it and would like you to talk some sense into him. Tell your mother what you just told me, little one," he said setting Kíli down and nudging him towards Dís. Kíli looked at Thorin, beseeching his uncle to tell his mother for him.
"No, Kíli," Thorin said shaking his head with an indulgent smile. "If you think you're old enough to do this, then you are old enough to ask for permission."
"What are you wanting to do, my darling?" Dís asked kneeling down beside her son and extending a hand in welcome. He placed his own small hand in hers and looked into her eyes.
"I want to go with Fee, Mother," Kíli whispered, looking up at her through his hair. "I . . . I don't want to be alone. If Fee goes then I want to go too. We've . . . we've never been apart before and . . . I don't want to be apart."
"Kíli," Dís sighed pulling Kíli against her. "He'll be back, Son. No more than a couple of hours. You won't even miss him if we time your nap right. You'll never even know he's gone."
"Will too," Kíli muttered nuzzling his mother's neck. "I need Fee to nap, Mother. I can't sleep without him."
"You've never tried, Kíli," Dís replied. "I'll bet you can if you try."
"But what if I can't?!" Kíli asked clearly distressed by the prospect of being without his brother. Dís stroked his hair in an attempt to soothe him and looked to Thorin for help. Kíli idolized his uncle, if Thorin would come down on Dís' side she knew that the battle was won. And she could see that he wanted to forbid it. 'Please', she mouthed. Thorin sighed.
"You can't go, little one," Thorin said firmly. "I'm sorry but you can't."
"Why not?" Kíli demanded.
"Balin won't have anything planned for you to do," Thorin said truthfully. "I only asked him to plan for your brother. Do you want to upset Balin?"
"No," Kíli replied bitterly. "But, Uncle, can't we just ask him? What if he doesn't mind?" Thorin and Dís exchanged a look at the question, Thorin waiting for Dís' approval before he agreed to anything, her threat the day before ringing in his ears. Dís gave him a small curt nod, knowing that Balin would turn Kíli down. He hadn't wanted Fíli to go, there was no way he would accept her youngest.
"Alright," Thorin said. "We can ask Balin. But, Kíli, the moment he says no, if he does, you are coming straight home. You're not to argue with him. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Uncle," Kíli said, knowing that if he had convinced his mother and uncle then Mr. Balin would be no problem. And then Dís thought of the one thing that would discourage Kíli from even attempting it in the first place without her having to forbid it.
"Kíli," Dís said, fighting to keep the triumph from her voice a failing a bit. He looked at her, his brown eyes showing apprehension at his mother's tone.
"Yes, Mother?" Kíli said edging towards his uncle. Thorin smirked knowing where Dís was going with this and knowing that she had just singlehandedly won this round without either of them having to upset him. Kíli would refuse to go once she was done. Dís winked at him as she caught his smirk.
"Kíli, if you are going to go to lessons as your uncle's heir—which is what this would be, Son—you have to look the part," Dís said gently. Kíli was shaking his head even before his mother had finished her statement knowing where this was going. "That means braids."
"No, Mother," Kíli whined. "Please?"
"If you don't want to wear them, then I'm afraid you can't go," Dís replied with a shrug and a triumphant glint in her brown eyes.
"Uncle?" Kíli asked turning to Thorin with a plea for clemency in his brown eyes to which Thorin shrugged, fighting the urge to laugh at just how easy Kíli was to defeat.
"You would be going as my heir," Thorin said. "Braids are part of the position, little one. But if you don't want to wear them . . ." Kíli thought about it a moment before he nodded.
"I'll wear them," Kíli said, looking at Thorin. "If you'll do them for me."
"You want me to braid your hair?" Thorin breathed. Kíli nodded. Thorin shook his head with a smile on his face.
"Fine, little one," he agreed. "I'll braid your hair for you. Now, keep in mind that it doesn't mean that Balin will let you stay." Kíli nodded and crawled happily into his Uncle's lap once more. Crisis averted, Dís stood again and walked back into the house, shaking her head and wondering what the people would think of their King if they knew that he could be cowed by a brown-eyed dwarfling. She had just left when she heard something that almost made her go back out and beat her brother senseless.
"Uncle?" Fíli asked his voice bright enough that Dís could nearly hear the smile in his voice. She heard her brother hum his acknowledgment before her son spoke again, "will you redo my braids as well?" There was a pause and Dís nearly sobbed as she knew what Thorin's answer would be before he gave it. Even though she knew that her brother was going to refuse, it still hurt to hear it. The short clipped tone he used with Fíli nearly broke her heart and she understood now what Fíli had meant when he said that Thorin seemed mad at him.
"No, lad," Thorin said. "I'm not very good at braiding, I'm afraid. It'll take me too long to do both yours and Kíli's. See if your mother will."
"Yes, Uncle," Fíli whispered. Dís could tell by his tone that her son was nearly in tears at his uncle's rejection and Thorin didn't even seem to notice. If she didn't know that seeing her drag Thorin through the door and yell at him would only upset Fíli further—and Kíli along with him—she would have done it. As it was, she filed it away for later. She and Thorin would talk about this, even if she did risk driving him away from himself again so soon in the process.
"I . . . I'm going to go in and help Mother with lunch, if that's alright," Fíli said. Thorin must have nodded because only seconds later she heard Fíli's small boots on the steps. He was just inside the door when she heard the first sniffle. Before the first tear could fall, Dís was there scooping her son into her arms and moving towards the kitchen.
"Hush," she whispered into his golden-hair. "Hush, darling. It'll be fine."
"What did I do?" Fíli sobbed. "Why is he cross with me? I . . . I'm going to class like he wanted. What more does he want from me? I . . . what did I do?" The last four words contained such anguish that Dís rethought her position on yelling at her brother right now.
"You did nothing, darling," Dís replied setting him on the counter so that she could stroke his back. Fíli was getting too large for her to hold and pet and he needed petting at the moment. When his sobs had calmed a bit, she pulled back a bit and bent so that she could look into his eyes, putting a hand on both sides of his face. The pain and confusion in his blue eyes and tears clinging to his lashes did break her heart. She instantly rethought her plan to simply yell at her brother: she was going to beat him bloody for hurting her son like this.
"Listen to me, Fíli," she said firmly. "You have done nothing wrong, dear heart. Your uncle . . . Mahal bless him . . . Thorin, he goes through spells where he is short with everyone. Even me. This will pass, darling. You'll see."
"Never Kíli," Fíli whispered.
"What?" Dís asked, feeling her eyebrows come together in confusion.
"Uncle's never short with Kíli," Fíli repeated. "You said he's been short with you, and he's been short with me, but not Kíli. He likes him better than he does me. I . . . I don't know what I did to cause it but it must have been something."
"You. Have. Done. Nothing," Dís whispered. "You have behaved just as you should. Any problem Thorin has with you is his own. You've done nothing, Fíli. You have to trust me on this. Your uncle loves you just as much as he loves Kíli. I know it."
"The why has he been so cold to me the past couple of days?" Fíli asked desperately. If he hadn't done anything wrong then what other reason could his mother offer him for his uncle's sudden change. Dís stood and continued to set the table for lunch as she tried to think of an explanation that Fíli would understand as she couldn't see telling him that her brother—his dear uncle—was broken. Finally she came up with an answer. It was a poor one but it was true enough and would convince Fíli until she could convince Thorin he was being an idiot.
"That is just the way of these things, my darling," she said turning back to him with a sad smile. "Thorin . . . he loves you and your brother equally. I know he does. He's only treated you differently the past couple of days because you now know your future. Now he is trying to prepare you for the burden you will someday be forced to carry. A burden that will never be Kíli's; just as it would never have been mine."
"What if I don't want to carry it, Mother?" Fíli asked looking at his hands in his lap. She smiled gently at him and placed her hands on either side of his head and tipped his face up so that she could look into his eyes once more.
"I am afraid that you have no choice in the matter, Fíli," she had replied placing a gentle kiss on his brow. "You are the eldest child of the next generation of the line of Durin. One day you will be king. All that Thorin and I can do is prepare you to take up the mantle when the time comes. If he ever seems too cold or distant . . . bear in mind that he does love you, my darling son. Your uncle loves you more than he loves life itself and he is only doing what he believes he must to make you a good king." Even if he breaks both of our hearts in the process, she mentally added.