A few hours later, Dís was sitting nervously at their table. It was really too early to begin dinner and she had already cleaned everything in the home until it nearly squeaked under her cloth. She was only sitting because Thorin had threatened, playfully, to tie her to the chair if she couldn't sit still on her own. He had laughed as he wondered if Balin had had to make the same threat to Kíli.
Dís hadn't found it the least bit amusing and had sat down with a huff saying, "If he threatened my baby I will tie him to a chair. And it won't just be for lessons." Thorin had wanted to laugh again but stopped at the nearly murderous glint in her eyes, his still tender cheek reminding him that while his sister was not a violent person any threat to her children seemed to bring it out in her. He halfway reconsidered the tradition of dwarowdams not fighting—if half of them were as vicious as his sister they would be more than formidable—before he stopped that line of thinking. War was no place for women. No matter how ferocious they were. His sister didn't need the memories that he, and all that had seen battle, carried. No. Things should remain as they were.
He jerked as she placed a hand on his arm. From the smirk on her face she had asked him a question. He briefly considered trying to answer without admitting that he hadn't heard her, but quickly rejected it. It never did to agree to something that he wasn't sure what he was agreeing to.
"I'm sorry, Dís," he said. "What did you say?" Her smirk only intensified.
"I said, do you think we should go rescue Balin from my little terrors?" Dís repeated, her brown eyes showing just how much she wanted him to say yes.
"I suppose he's had to endure them long enough," Thorin said climbing to his feet. "If I'd just left Fíli I'd say let Balin suffer a bit longer but . . ."
"Kíli can be a bit much, can't he?" Dís said with a laugh as she grabbed her cloak and headed for the door. "Are you coming?"
"I think I'll stay here," Thorin replied shaking his head. "I need to wait until tomorrow to go out at any rate. I can't have made it to a tavern and gotten in a fight since I dropped the lads off this morning, now can I?" Dís gave a sad laugh.
"I really am sorry about hitting you," she said. "I . . . I don't quite know what came over me."
" Don't worry about it, Dís," Thorin said standing and pulling her into another hug."I do not blame you. As I said, I deserved it. If I ever do anything like this again I will take whatever beating you feel like doling out. I truly do love the boys, Sister. I . . . I'm just no good . . ."
"You're fine with Kíli," Dís reminded him. "It's not that you're not good at this. You just need to find common ground with Fíli. I'm sure that you can. He really is an easy child to love, Thorin. And he's quite forgiving, as you once reminded me. He loves you. Apologize to him and do something kind for him and he will forget this ever happened. Trust me." Thorin nodded and freed her, nudging her towards the door.
"Go rescue our poor cousin," Thorin said, his voice a bit huskier than normal. "They may have already tied him to his chair themselves and he may be begging for mercy by now."
"Oh!" she scoffed swatting him before heading out the door at a very brisk walk to collect her children. The path through the market did not clear for her as it had for Thorin earlier but it was of little consequence. She wove between dwarves with a precision born of long practice and made it to Balin's office in next to no time. Despite wanting to charge right in and scoop her children into her arms and lay into Balin for allowing Kíli to stay, she paused outside the open door.
"No, laddie," she heard Balin say gently. "Not like that. Here, hold it more like this. Now try again." She poked her head around the door to see Balin standing over Kíli's shoulder and watching as her youngest held a quill in his tiny hand. She had to muffle a laugh at the look of intense concentration on his face and the way his tongue was poking out the corner of his mouth as he forced his hand to move along the vellum.
Balin caught the sound and looked up at her, raising an eyebrow in question. She shook her head and held her finger up to her lips to tell him to remain silent. She wanted to let Kíli and Fíli finish what they were doing, though she couldn't see her eldest from her position. Then, Balin's attention was pulled from her by a triumphant noise from Kíli. She saw the hope in his bright eyes as he looked up at Balin and her cousin's smile.
"Very good, lad," Balin praised. "Why don't you show it to your mother."
"Mama?" Kíli asked.
"She's at the door," Balin said. Dís smiled and stepped fully into the doorway, having just enough time to kneel before Kíli was flinging himself at her.
"I missed you," he said nuzzling her neck while she stroked his hair. She rubbed her own cheek on the top of his head, taking in the smell of clean dwarfling, as she knew that once she got him home he and Fíli would begin to play and that smell would disappear.
"It was only a couple of hours, Kíli," Dís said with a laugh pulling back to look at him. "Surely you can't have missed me yet."
"Does that mean you didn't miss me?" Kíli asked, his lower lip beginning to quiver.
"Of course not, you silly thing!" she said pulling him back against her and standing before sitting in the chair that Kíli had vacated and settling him in her lap. "Now, what was it that Balin told you to show me."
"I did it!" he said proudly, pressing the piece of vellum into her hands. She looked at it and saw that there, in careful, halting childish runes was his name. The sight of it made her smile but also made her a bit sad. Her baby was writing his own name.
"Do you know what it means?" she asked gently. She halfway hoped that he would say no. It was possible that he had just copied what Balin had written up above. Maybe Kíli was just duplicating without understanding what he had done. Her hopes were dashed when Kíli nodded eagerly, his braids flopping in his enthusiasm.
"It means me," he chirped.
"That it does," she said, trying to modulate her voice. "And it's well done, Kíli." She turned to find her eldest, surprised that he wasn't over in her lap as well, eager to show her what he had done that day. She saw him bent over his place at a table with a look of frustration on his face. With a sigh, she stood and set Kíli in the chair and pushed it back towards the desk.
"See if you can get Balin to show you something else," Dís said, explaining with her eyes that she was going to see to Fíli.
"Will you, Mr. Balin?" Kíli asked brightly.
"Of course, laddie," Balin said coming to stand behind Kíli and picking up the quill. "I know just the thing." As Balin began showing Kíli a new word, Dís walked over and wrapped her arms around Fíli, pressing a kiss to the top of his head before resting her chin there.
As soon as she had walked up, he had covered his paper with his arms and she could tell from his breathing that he was near tears. Dís felt tears prickle her own eyes at Fíli's sadness. She wondered if Thorin had upset him again before he was dropped off.
"I missed you today, Fíli," she said quietly. "Did you have a good time?" He nodded and sniffled. "Then why do you seem so upset, Darling?" He shook his head, unwilling to admit to his mother that he was failing miserably at this schooling thing. His uncle had been wrong. Fíli couldn't do this.
"You can tell me, Fíli," she promised.
"Can't," he muttered. "You'll be ashamed of me."
"Never," she promised. "I love you. Nothing can change that. Why are you upset?"
"I'm no good at this," Fíli replied. Hearing the same words, said in the same tone, from her son that she had heard from her broken brother only moments before was like a hot poker to her heart. Fíli was far too young to be so morose. Especially when it was just his first day. She could still remember how her first day had gone and judging by the state of the room this had been quite a bit better. She had been a bit of a brat when she was a child.
"I'm sure that's not true," Dís said, stroking his hair gently. "What makes you say that, sweetheart?" Fíli took a couple of deep breaths before he hastily shoved the vellum out from under him and buried his face in his arms.
"Look," he sobbed. "It . . . it's no good!" She looked at what he had trust at her with a critical eye. She couldn't see why he was so upset by this. The words were legible. Clear, neat. True, the hand was a bit unsure in places and there were a few smears and ink spots that weren't meant to be there, but it was a beautiful first effort. Miles better than her own had been.
"Fíli, this is wonderful, Son," she said pressing another kiss to his head.
"No it's not," he muttered. "It's horrible. Looks nothing like the one Mr. Balin gave me to look at."
"It shouldn't," she replied honestly. "Balin has been writing for longer than you have been alive, Fíli. How many times have you held a quill?"
"I don't know," he replied miserably.
"How many days?" she asked going for something a bit easier. Usually that last question was one that Fíli could have answered. Thorin was correct in saying that her son was intelligent, but clearly he was too upset by his perceived failure to answer it now.
"One," he replied looking up at her with sad blue eyes, the beginnings of hope in their sapphire depths.
"One, "she agreed. "You cannot expect to write as well as someone with a lifetime of practice, Fíli. The more you write the better you will become. It is like anything in the world, Fíli. It takes time to develop skills. And you have all the time in the world, my precious son. This is a skill that can wait. If it frustrates you too much . . ."
"No, Mother," Fíli said. "I . . .I want to learn. I want to be better." Dís nodded sadly. She would not discourage him from trying but she would continually remind him that this was his decision and no one else's.
"Are you ready to head back?" she asked petting his cheek. He closed his eyes and leaned into the touch, clearly sleepy. She hoped he wasn't too sleepy. Both he and Kíli might be a bit much for her to carry and Kíli was sure to be fussy about being made to walk. It was well past his usual nap time.
"Come on," she said lifting him and placing him on her hip, realizing as she did that she wouldn't be able to do this much longer. He was getting too big. He rested his head on her shoulder.
"Did I really do well, Mother?" he whispered. She smiled and rested her cheek on his head.
"You did wonderfully, darling," she replied. He gave a contented hum and snuggled deeper into her neck just as Kíli gave an excited squeal.
"Kíli!" she said, wincing at the shrillness of the noise. "Surely that's not necessary, dear."
"I don't mind, Dís," Balin replied with a laugh. "Your little one sure is energetic."
"That's one word for it," she muttered with a wry smile. "Come, let's get you home. I'm sure your uncle will love to see what the two of you learned today." Kíli beamed at the prospect of showing Thorin what Balin had taught him and eagerly took her hand to be led out the door, practically bouncing.
"Um, Dís," Balin said as she was almost out the door. She stopped and turned back to see him looking at her anxiously. "Can I talk to you for a moment. Alone?" She nodded and sat Fíli down, kneeling to place a hand on both of their faces.
"There's an empty room next door," she said simply. "Go in there and wait for me. You can play if you'd like but do it gently and don't break anything." They nodded their understanding and walked out of the room. She waited until she heard the neighboring door close before she turned back to Balin.
"Sit, Dís," he said gesturing to Kíli's chair. She sat, wondering what her cousin could possibly want.
"Ale?" he asked filling a mug for himself and offering her one. She shook her head and he sat down across from her with a sigh.
"Dís, this is none of my business, not really," Balin began, "but is everything alright at home?"
"What do you mean?" she asked breathlessly. It was one thing if she knew that her son and brother were having difficulties but for Balin to know it. . .
"Fíli," Balin said. "I didn't notice it yesterday when the lads were playing together but today . . . he's much too quiet and serious for a dwarfling his age. He grew so easily frustrated when he did not grasp things immediately. and Kíli . . . he seemed content with whatever he could manage. I understand that there are differences in children but . . . I don't think it can account for this much variation. Not that I'm saying that you are mistreating Fíli," he added quickly seeing her dark stare. "I can tell that you aren't from how he interacts with you but . . . " Balin trailed off uncomfortably. He had come as close to the issue as he would. He had debated talking to her about this at all and refused to go as far as to accuse Thorin of harming the little ones. If he made the accusation and it was false . . . well, when word of it reached Thorin even their kinship would not spare him the king's rage. Children were a gift from the maker, to harm one . . . it was an affront to Mahal himself.
"Thorin's never put a hand on him," Dís said aggressively. "Not like you're implying. Thorin loves both of my children. And of course Fíli's more serious than Kíli. Kíli's never known loss. Not of any kind. Fíli has. In case you've forgotten, Fíli was there the night Víli died. He heard his father's screams of pain as he slowly died. Kíli didn't have that experience. In fact, I think he thinks Thorin is his father. But Fíli . . . he's never believed that what he does is good enough. Never. And he's always been terrified of failure. We've tried to tell him that it's alright but . . . just . . . just be gentle with him. He needs reassurance, praise. He's just a bit insecure."
"If you're certain," Balin said, his expression making his skepticism clear. "You do know that—"
"Just stop," Dís said sharply. "I would know, Balin. I bathe them. If Fíli was being injured I would know. Thorin has never laid a hand on him that way and he never will. So you just put that thought out of your head."
"Alright, Dís," Balin said, nodding and offering her a small smile. "I thought that was the case, I just had to make sure."
"Do you honestly think that I would allow something like that to happen?" Dís asked seriously. "When just last night you took an axe from me to keep me from killing him over sending them to school?"
"I just had to be sure, Dís," Balin repeated. "I'd . . . um . . . I'd appreciate it if you didn't mention this conversation to Thorin, if you don't mind."
"I don't mind," she replied. "He would be devastated that you could think so little of him. I would never do anything to hurt him like that. Not when it will never happen again." He heard the hint of threat in her final words and was reminded again that she was his king's sister and had the same regal blood in her veins as he did. Dís didn't often radiate power like Thorin did but when she did, it was quite impressive.
"It will not happen again, Dís. I swear it," Balin promised. "I won't accuse Thorin of harming your son again. Even indirectly." She nodded, satisfied and the hardness faded to be replaced by a warm smile.
"In that case, I'll take my boys home," she said standing. "Thank you again for putting up with them."
"They are welcome here any day they would like to come," Balin assured her as he walked her to the door and closed it behind her.
"You may regret that," she said with a laugh before walking away and collecting her children from the next room over. Balin watched until she came out with Kíli on one hip and Fíli on the other.
"Would you like a bit of help?" he offered. "I can carry one of them." Dís shook her head, still angry with her cousin for what he had implied about her brother and feeling unreasonably reluctant to hand him one of her sons, needing to hold them to reassure herself. He nodded and watched until she had passed through the front door before he turned and went back to his study and straightened up from their lessons. He wondered if he would be seeing them the next day.