Five years later, Kíli's first day of training, Dwalin was still wondering if he'd made the right decision. It was a question that had been haunting him off and on ever since the night he'd made it, but it came to a head once more when Thorin brought the lads. He hadn't spent much time around the younger lad and was worried that it would only be a repeat of the beginning of Fíli's training. His concern only grew when Kíli gravitated towards the bow on the rack.
"No, laddie," Dwalin said, gently taking the bow from him and putting it back on the rack and handing him a sword instead, remembering how poorly Thorin had reacted to Fíli using the bow. It was no secret to him that Kíli was Thorin's favorite and if he'd reacted so poorly to Fíli lifting a bow he hated to think what the sight of Kíli with one would do to him. It was this that caused him to start when Thorin spoke.
"Let the lad try," Thorin said, replacing the bow in his nephew's hands and nudging him towards the target and following after him. Dwalin watched with his blood boiling as Thorin knelt down and gently placed Kíli's hands in the proper places before watching the lad take his first shot, which went very wide. In five years of training he'd never seen Thorin take a hands-on approach to Fíli's training and the blatant favoritism irked him. But that anger was nothing compared to the rage that he felt when Thorin laughed and placed a hand on Kíli's shoulder.
"That was a good first shot, little one," the king said, drawing another arrow and handing it to his nephew. "Try again. I'm sure you'll hit it this time." Promise to Dís or no, this was more that Dwalin could tolerate. The lad hadn't even hit the target and was receiving praise where his brother, who had hit it from more than three times the distance, had been given only criticism, but before he could rage at Thorin, Fíli's hand on his arm stopped him.
"Will you . . . can I . . ." Fíli asked, looking between him and the rack of training weapons.
"Course I will, laddie," Dwalin said, answering the unasked question. "Swords, axes or knives?"
"Swords versus axes," Fíli replied, knowing that while he favored the twin swords his uncle had suggested, Dwalin preferred twin axes.
"Sounds fair," the elder agreed, grabbing the training axes off the rack and nodding towards the rack to signify that Fíli should take the swords before moving into the empty area set aside for sparring. As he always was, he was shocked at the change that came over the young dwarf when there was a weapon in his hand. While sparing, Fíli looked as he always should, proud, sure of himself, a true son of Durin. It was times like this that made Dwalin believe that he had done the right thing five years before. After all, even if he was normally a bit too timid and self-depreciating, the ability to be self-assured was still in there and a little bit of humility could be good for a king. Fíli hadn't truly been sacrificed for Thorin's sake. Or at least that was what he tried to tell himself, even as Kíli's laughter at his uncle's gentle teasing taunted him, whispering that he was lying to himself. It was a whisper that grew louder with every year that passed, and as the differences in the lads became yet more pronounced.
The summer of Fíli's fiftieth year, famine hit Ered Luin. Initially, work was still coming in, and through that, money, but the cost of food was such that despite the abundance of work, food was scarce. And as it had grown more scarce, so had jobs just as prices increased exponentially. Competition for available food and coin had become fierce as everyone tried to feed their families. Despite the best efforts of both Thorin and Dís, they couldn't find enough work and there just wasn't enough to go around. It was an uncomfortable truth, but one that they had been forced to face.
Dís swore as she stood from digging thorough the pantry. There was no way around it; she was going to have to go to the market before she could attempt lunch. What little she had in the pot would never feed them all, especially not with the way Kíli was still growing. She sighed as she walked back into the kitchen. She hadn't wanted to go that day. Money was getting tight once more but there was no avoiding it. They had to eat. She only hoped that either she or Thorin would find more work soon.
"Fíli," she called softly, prompting him to look up from the book he was reading. "Watch the pot, Darling. Do not let it burn. There. . . there's nothing else if it does. I . . . I need to . . . I need to go to the market."
"We can go, Mother," Fíli offered, sensing her reluctance if not understanding the reason behind it.
"No, Darling," she replied. "I have to do this. it's not just a simple trip, I'm afraid."
"What do you need?" Kíli asked, wondering what she could need from the market that would make her sound so weary.
"Oats, barley, something to add to the pot," Dís replied, feeling her cheeks color with embarrassment. She knew that the boys were old enough now to know what that meant, as would the vender. Not that she hadn't spent most of her life in poverty, but it still stung her pride to have to resort to fillers to ensure that her boys' stomachs didn't go empty.
"Which one?" Kíli asked. "We can get it."
"I don't know yet," she said feeling a bit agitated that she was having to explain it. And she felt horrible for feeling agitated when none of this was their fault any more than it was her own. There was just no work to be had nearby and there was a large treaty coming up that meant that Thorin couldn't leave.
"Whichever's cheaper, right?" Fíli chimed in, trying to give the right answer and feeling bad when his mother flinched.
"Yes," Dís said in a strangled sort of voice, her heart aching that Fíli knew that answer. "I going to buy whichever's cheaper. I may be gone a while."
"I can handle that, Mother," Fíli said simply, wanting to spare his mother having to see the knowing look in the vender's eyes. "Mr. Balin has been teaching me about bartering. Can I try?"
"Fíli," she sighed. She didn't want to shoot him down, but this was not the time for him to practice skills. Not when every coin was so precious. But it was so rare for him to be so assertive. She was torn.
"Please, Mother," he said simply. "I can do this. You don't have to go. I can do this." He waited patiently as she thought it over.
"Fine," she said eventually, the knowledge that Fíli was intelligent and keen deciding her. "Take Kíli. Get him to help you carry what you buy. But, Fíli, if they want too much . . . don't buy it. I'll think of something else, alright?"
"Alright, Mother," Fíli said standing and taking the coins she offered him. "I won't let you down." She offered him a sad smile and placed a hand on his cheek.
"You never could, Darling," she promised. He kissed her cheek in farewell and turned to put on his boots, Kíli right on his heels.
"Kíli," Dís called as an after-thought. He turned and looked at her, his brown eyes far too wide and innocent looking for her to trust. Even so she couldn't help by smile at him.
"Keep out of trouble, my little terror," she said with a laugh.
"Always," he said, offering her a crooked smile before putting on his own boots and following his brother out the door. Once they'd left, she sat down at the table wondering just what she'd done to deserve such considerate children.