As it always does, time continued to pass. The Borin affair faded in everyone's memories and left no real stain on anyone's reputations. In fact, Borin and his cousins attended Fíli's seventieth birthday, where Dís presented her son with beautiful silver hairclasps (more than she'd intended as two of them had been for Kíli until Thorin had told her that he had already made clasps for her youngest) to hold his braids and twin swords that she had forged herself. None of them seemed to harbor hard feelings for what had happened, and Fíli behaved no differently towards them than he did anyone else. As had become his habit, he was polite and distant to everyone, save his mother and brother.
Too soon for her taste, Fíli's eightieth birthday came and went, his passage into adulthood a cause for great celebration by the general public as it meant that there was one of Durin's line finally able to potentially take a mate and continue the lineage for another generation. And there was no doubt in the minds of the people that Fíli would secure a mate with time. The heir was an excellent example of what it meant to be a dwarf—sturdy, skilled with weapons, shrewd, controlled, and with striking golden hair and beard to boot and the blue eyes found only in his line. No, Fíli would secure a mate. They had no question of that.
The other prince however . . . Kíli was his brother's opposite in every way. Where Fíli was sturdy, Kíli had maintained his lanky adolescent build even into near adulthood. Five years from his own majority and the lad still had yet to grow a proper beard. When he had been younger most people had placed no credence in the rumors that his height and build came from bad breeding. After all, Thorin was one of the tallest dwarves, it only made sense that one of his blood would be tall as well. They knew that Kíli would fill out with time. But he never did. And his beard never grew. Even the most skeptical began to question his parentage—out of earshot of his brother, mother and uncle of course.
His temperament did little to help matters either. In contrast to his brother's stoicism and quiet confidence, Kíli was a whirlwind of energy. Where Fíli sat at meetings beside his uncle and listened to everything, offering up the occasional quiet solution, you were fortunate if Kíli would sit still for ten minutes. Where Fíli would work diligently on any task until it was done—generally well in advance of any deadline—Kíli would fool around only to rush at the end. Even if there was rarely fault to his work, it just wasn't the dwarven way to do things. No one could understand why Thorin seemed to so obviously favor his dark nephew over his golden one when it was clear to them who was the better heir.
But favor Kíli he did. If the boys gave the same suggestion—even in nearly the same words—Thorin would always reject Fíli's while accepting the same thing from Kíli or one of the other councilors. The people too it as a sign of his inner strength that Fíli never once complained as his brother surely would have. It was also clear in other areas. If Fíli presented a newly forged sword to his uncle, Thorin would find the one place that the hammer had hit too hard or too often to criticize. All Fíli ever said was "Yes, Uncle. I should have seen that. I will try harder next time." and all Thorin ever replied was "See that you do."
In another sign of undwarven behavior, Kíli had never taken up the forge. That's not to say that he had no useful skills, but they were not the usual trades of the nobles. When he should have been training to craft, Kíli had spent his time hunting. When Balin had brought this discrepancy to Thorin's attention the king had laughed and asked, "What need has he for a trade? If he hunts he will never want for meat or clothing. And he can sell the skins for money. What more does a dwarf need? He will want for nothing." Balin had shaken his head but said nothing. It wasn't as if he could go against his king where his kin were concerned.
Yet despite these differences, the lads were hardly ever seen apart, save for when duty called them to be. Fíli endured Kíli's hyperactive demeanor in a way that impressed everyone and Kíli seemed to have no issue with his brother's quieter nature. Their differing personalities complimenting and balancing one another much as the sun did the moon. Fíli's cooler head often tempering Kíli's hot one while Kíli's enthusiasm for life provided his reserved brother with diversions that Fíli would never have attempted on his own.
And then the signs began to come. Signs that marked the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophesy that spoke of the reclamation of Erebor. At first they were dismissed as coincidence but as more of them began to appear, there was no denying that the time had come. But still there was doubt. And then a meeting with Gandalf during one of Thorin's searches for work where the wizard gave him his father's map and key solidified it; it was time to reclaim the mountain if they ever wanted to see their homes again. Then, plans began.
Thorin began to petition the people, asking for volunteers to reclaim the wealth of Erebor and the safety offered by the mountain's walls. Too few came forward. What Thorin had failed to take into account when he asked for volunteers was the fact that though he ruled due to his lineage, most of his subjects were not Longbeards; they were Broadbeams. And many of the ones that were Longbeards had never set foot inside the mountain. They did not know the wealth he spoke of save from half-believed legends and songs and saw no need for further protection as the settlement had never been attacked yet. They were content.
In the end, only ten dwarves agreed to come. Ten, where Throin had hoped for a hundred at least. At the lack of response, Thorin's mood fell and he slipped into one of his melancholies. It took Dís reminding him that they had had hundreds of warriors when the mountain fell and still it fell and suggesting that perhaps stealth would succeed where numbers had failed to pull him out again. Once more, Thorin began to plan and talk with excitement of the wonders of Erebor.
Dís knew as she watched her boys listen with wide eyes that when the time came and her brother left they would follow. And as much as she feared for them, she would have it no other way. They were as ready as they would ever be to make their way in the world and she would be the last person to come between them and what they wanted, even if the thought of what could happen to them made her heart ache in an impossible way. If they died . . . well, she had heard that it was possible to die from grief and if she lost them all there would be nothing left to hold her to this world.
But she voiced none of these thoughts. When the boys spoke to her with bright eyes and awed tones over what they would see or do on the quest, asking her about landmarks between Ered Luin and Erebor that she remembered, she would smile and answer their questions, even as she broke inside. She still remembered that march, even if she no longer remembered the mountain. She remembered the hardships, the hunger, the bone-deep weariness that comes from marching all day, the frustration that comes from seeing little progress towards a destination and the fear from sleeping exposed in the wilds. They would endure all of that and more if they left.
As she watched them sit together by the fire, Fíli carving a model for a new blade and Kíli fletching arrows, she wondered what they would be like when—if—they returned. Would Kíli still laugh at every little thing? Would he still be such a wild thing? Or would time, hardships and trauma erase his smile as it had Thorin's. And Fíli. He'd always been such a serious thing. Would the quest make him more melancholic or would it, perhaps, show him that he didn't have to be so serious all of the time? Would he learn the difficult lesson that had been forced on her family time and again, that life was too short and death too permanent to waste time?
She had no doubt that they would have new scars and stories if she saw them again she could only pray that neither of them paid too high a cost in either life or limb. She knew many old warriors missing limbs, fingers, eyes . . . she could only hope that her boys would fare better. While the thought of seeing her sons dead stopped her heart, the thought of seeing them maimed . . . it broke it. But she never said any of it. Nor did she voice her concerns on her brother. Not to her sons.
That night, after the boys had gone to bed, she turned to her cousins instead. It was to them she went the night before the company was set to depart. It was in Balin and Dwalin, who already knew of Thorin's weaknesses and faults, that she confided. It was them, rather than the son she was placing the burden on, that she told how to pull Thorin from any funk he fell into. As much as it pained her, she told them that they were to use Kíli if that was what it took to keep Thorin sane, just as they had used Fíli for years.
"Dís," Balin called as she walked out the door. "What do we do if Thorin doesn't allow Kíli to come? Can Fíli do this?"
"No," she replied, feeling her heart breaking as she did. "I've already told you why. But don't worry. Kíli will go with you in the morning."
"How do you know?" Dwalin asked. "Thorin has all but said he won't give the lad a contract."
"I'm going to ensure it," Dís said simply before walking into the night, leaving both sons of Fundin wondering just how she was going to do that. As formidable as Dís could be, they knew that Thorin would never risk Kíli's life, regardless of what she said. With that in mind, they returned to their home attempting to make contingency plans to reset Thorin without Kíli. They could only pray that it would work.
When Thorin returned from putting the final touches on his plans for the morning, he knew there was one more thing he had to do before he could rest; tell Dís he was taking her son. He had thought about it many times but could see no way around it. Fíli had to come. And while the lad was an adult and no longer needed his mother's blessing, he knew that Fíli would never agree to come without it. Now he just had to get it. Thorin feared it would be a far greater task than reclaiming the mountain from Smaug.
With a sigh, Thorin approached his sister where she sat by the fire mending one of Kíli's socks. He sat across from her and tried to think of how to tell her that he was taking her favorite child on what could very well be a suicide mission. He could find no way to do so gently and as the silence continued to stretch between them he could feel the tension in the air as though it were about to snap.
Dís didn't feel the same tension, but she could see from the way that Thorin sat and continued to open and close his mouth without saying anything that he wanted to speak of the quest but had no idea how to go about it. She only watched him flounder for a moment before she decided to spare him.
"So," she began without looking up from Kíli's sock, "what is it that you are trying so hard to find the words to tell me about this quest of yours? Have you changed your mind about going? Surely not when everyone is so excited about it."
He snorted at her sarcasm. People were far from excited. In fact, where he had hoped to raise an army, so far only ten dwarves had agreed to come. That could hardly be called excited.
"No," Thorin replied. "I haven't changed my mind due to a few naysayers. I'm still going."
"Then what troubles you?" she asked, knowing that her next words would goad him into it. "You're not usually so timid when it comes to telling me what you want."
"I'm not ever timid, Sister," he snapped, his eyes narrowing at her bent head. It was only when she looked up with a smirk and a raised eyebrow that he realized she had been attempting to rile him. With a sigh, he decided to just tell her.
"I'm not going alone, Dís," Thorin told her levelly.
"I know," she replied simply. "You'll have a company to lead. Even you aren't so foolish as to go against Smaug alone."
"That's not what I mean, Dís," he said slowly. "Of course there will be the company but . . . I . . ."
"You're taking my boys with you," she supplied with a shrug, feigning an indifference that she didn't feel. "I knew that you would if you ever decided to attempt this."
"No, Dís," he corrected placing his hand on hers to stop her from working and looking into her brown eyes as if attempting to stare into her soul. "Not your boys. Just Fíli."
"No," she replied firmly, staring into his blue eyes. "You are not just taking one of them. If you take Fíli, you have to take his brother as well. You can't leave Kíli here. You cannot deny him the same chance at glory that you are giving Fíli."
"It isn't glory that I am giving him a chance to earn, Dís. It's death," Thorin snapped, reminding her of the stakes she had so clearly forgotten. "I won't risk our entire line on a fool's errand. Kíli should stay with you. Here. Safe." Where he and his smile will be protected from the horrors of the world, he finished mentally.
"You cannot do that to him, Thorin," Dís argued shaking her head emphatically. "What kind of message does it send to our people about your confidence in him that you would leave him and yet take Fíli? You can't tell me you're deaf to what they say about him. It will solidify their belief that he's a mongrel and that you care nothing for him. But more importantly, what kind of message does it send to Kíli?"
"Fíli's an adult, Dís," Thorin reminded her, his tone edging towards anger that she would argue with him over this. It was not just for Kíli's sake that he intended to spare him the horrors of a quest, but for hers as well. "Kíli is not. It sends no message to anyone other than that I will not risk the lives of children the way our father did!" He was silent for a moment and when he began again his voice was no longer loud, but rather little more than a whisper.
He looked at her sadly before he said, "Dís . . . Frerin . . . he was only a child. He never should have been at the battle that claimed his life. I hold no illusions that this will be safe. I will not put Kíli in the same position."
"Thorin," she sighed, placing her hand on his bearded cheek. She had known that Thorin's obstinacy on the matter stemmed from their brother's death. She knew that many of his issues did but she would not let his insecurities and fears destroy her son.
"Kíli is seventy-seven," she reminded him gently. "He's older than you were at that same battle. And he is better trained than Frerin ever was. You have seen to that. He has the skills that he needs to survive. You cannot leave him here. He may not yet be an adult but he is not a child either. He has to go with you."
"Dís," Thorin sighed, his shoulders drooping in defeat, "I will not take both of your sons. Not when I cannot guarantee that any of us will survive this attempt."
"Then take Kíli and leave Fíli here with me," Dís countered. At Thorin's scoff she raised her hand for silence while glaring at her brother. "Hear me out. Fíli is your heir. The people love him and they do not doubt either his lineage or your trust in him. Leave him here to govern in your place and take Kíli with you."
"I can't do that," Thorin argued. "As you said. Fíli is my heir. If he is to rule Erebor once I'm gone he has to have a hand in reclaiming it. The people will not follow him otherwise."
"Exactly," Dís replied with a triumphant smirk. Thorin had just proved her point for her. "The same is true of Kíli. If—Mahal forbid!—anything happens to you and Fíli, Kíli becomes King. He cannot rule our people in good conscience if there is even a whisper that you left him here due to a distrust of his abilities or heritage. . . they will not follow him. You can't leave him in that position. Take Kíli. Do everything that you can to bring him, both of them, back to me but . . . take them. Both of them."
"Dís," Thorin sighed knowing that this was a battle he would never win. "I will do everything I can to bring them back to you alive but . . . you know that they will not come back the same. Both of them—despite the fact that Fíli is technically an adult . . . they are still children, Dís. This will change that. When I bring them back . . . if I bring them back, they may have shed blood. They may have taken lives. They won't be your children anymore."
"No," Dís agreed. "They will be proud dwarven warriors worthy to be called princes of the line of Durin. No mother could wish for more." Thorin sighed and hoped that she would still feel that way if he had to inform her that one of the boys had died. He knew there was no way either of them would survive it.
The next morning he once more questioned whether or not to bring them. Watching his sister braid their hair for them before gently placing a kiss on both their foreheads, her eyes begging them to come back alive where her lips would not . . . in that moment he vowed to himself that he would do anything to ensure that happened. He would keep them both alive no matter the cost. He would not come to his sister once again with news that she had lost yet another member of her family nor would he lose a member of his. His heart could not bear it.