As it always will, time passed and the boys continued to grow. Both of them had grown, but it was more marked in the youngest. Kíli had shot up like a little weed, his chubby little limbs stretching and thinning until he was nearly as tall as his brother despite the five years between them. He was tall for his age but he was far too thin for a dwarf. His continued thinness was not through lack of effort on his mother's part to change it. She made sure that there was always food for her sons to eat if they were hungry. If that meant that both she and Thorin had to take on extra jobs . . . so be it. She remembered the gnawing pain of true hunger was determined that her sons would never feel it. Thorin was united with her in this goal. The boys would want for nothing if it was in his ability to provide it for them.
Their diligence showed in Fíli. He had the rosy glow and hearty bulk of a well-fed dwarfling. Any that looked on him knew that he was well cared for. But Kíli . . . It seemed that the more that Dís fed him the lankier he grew, the nutrition translating to length rather than bulk. It was hopeless. Thorin knew that eventually Kíli would have to stop growing taller and would begin to flesh out, but as he watched his nephews playing together on the hearth rug he could only hope that day came soon, for Kíli's sake if nothing else. He knew that children were cruel and Kíli was such a sweet thing that he knew their teasing would hurt him deeply. He had heard no one say anything about his youngest nephew's thin frame but he knew that they would never dare torment the lad under his nose. He could only hope that their family name would protect his nephews when he could not.
One day, the day he had feared came to pass. Thorin was at home, taking a well-deserved day of rest from the forge. They had just filled a large order. It had truly been more than he should have taken on, but the pay was generous enough that he had been unable to turn it down. The forges had all been lit and dwarves had worked them day and night for two weeks to complete the task but it was done and would ensure that none went hungry that winter.
Usually, on the rare occasions that it happened that he was at home during the day, Dís left the boys with him when she went to the market, but that day she had taken pity on him and had taken them with her. Thorin couldn't help but be grateful. He loved his nephews but he was weary from his toils and . . . it seemed that all those two lads had was energy. He still argued that if whatever powered those two dwarflings could be bottled somehow it could power a forge for a month without coal. And what's worse was that they had finally gotten old enough to begin plotting mischief together. No, it was better that they had gone with Dís.
He smiled indulgently as he wondered how his sister was fairing at the marked with both of her little terrors. He let out a small laugh as he heard the front door open followed by the sound of the high laughter of happy children. It was almost as if his thoughts had summoned them to him.
"Do you think that Uncle is awake yet?" Kíli chirped loudly from the hallway.
"If he's not you're going to wake him. You're being too loud, Kíli," Fíli said, his voice little quieter than his brother's despite his critiquing of Kíli's volume. Thorin stood to make his way towards his nephews with a small smile in place.
"Then let's just go wake him!" Kíli replied. Even though Thorin couldn't see it he knew that there would be an adorable pout on Kíli's face. He could hear it in his voice.
"You know we can't," Fíli argued frustrated that his brother wanted to wake their uncle when they had been expressly ordered not to do so. "Mother told us to let him sleep. He's been working hard, remember."
"But I miss him, Fee," Kíli whined. "We haven't gotten to see him in forever!"
"Now surely it hasn't been that long, has it?" Thorin asked with a laugh. Kíli turned, his face splitting into a wide grin at the sight of his uncle leaning against the door frame with mirth in his eyes, before launching himself at Thorin. Seeing the lad coming, Thorin knelt so that it would be easier for Kíli to embrace him before standing with the dwarfling's arms around his neck.
"Uncle!" Kíli cried happily as he was scooped up and placed on his Uncle's hip so that Thorin could better support him. He laid his head on Thorin's shoulder and let out a noise that was almost a contented purr. "I've missed you!" He said looking up at his uncle with sad brown eyes that made Thorin regret his absence even if it was a necessary one.
"I've missed you, too, little one," Thorin replied with a smile as he stroked Kíli's bangs from his eyes with the arm that wasn't around the dwarfling before turning his attention to his eldest nephew. "I've missed you as well, Fíli. Do I not get a hug?" Fíli just looked up at him from the other end of the entry with shame in his eyes.
"What's the matter, lad?" Thorin asked his brow furrowing at Fíli's standoffishness. The blonde's behavior confused him. Surely the boy's feelings were not so hurt that he had been absent that Fíli refused to come near him. He had had no choice but to work. Surely Fíli understood that, he was older than Kíli, after all.
"We woke you," Fíli whispered morosely, looking away in shame from the exhaustion that he knew would be in his uncle's eyes. He knew that their uncle had been working long hours and needed his rest—his mother had said as much—and they had just woken him with their noise. "We were too loud and we woke you. I'm sorry, Uncle. I was supposed to keep Kíli quiet. I can take him to our room and you can go back to sleep."
"You didn't wake me," Thorin replied with a small smile now that he better understood his nephew's mood. Fíli was only afraid that he had failed at a task. For some reason that Thorin could not understand Fíli was always worried that he had failed in some way. It made no sense to him. Fíli was a very bright lad and rarely failed. And even if he had failed to keep Kíli quiet . . . he was only a dwarfling himself. He could not be expected to control his brother. Thorin found it admirable that he was even able to control himself. He knew grown dwarves that were not able of that.
"I was already awake, Fíli," Thorin promised holding his hand out to his young heir. "I was before you left with your mother for the market."
"Really?" Fíli asked, his smile brightening at the reassurance that he had not disobeyed his mother or failed in a task that had been set for him. He had not failed his uncle!
"Would I lie to you?" Thorin asked in return, his smile widening as Fíli shook his head with a shocked expression on his face that his uncle would even think that Fíli believed he was capable of lying to him, before trotting towards him and flinging himself against his uncle to be drawn into the one-armed hug that Thorin had knelt to offer him. When Fíli finally had his fill and pulled away, Thorin stood once more and ruffled the boy's hair affectionately before asking: "Speaking of Dís, where is your mother?"
"She told us to go play while she put up the groceries," Kíli replied squirming in Thorin's hold from his excitement at having been spared the arduous task of putting away the groceries and in an attempt to reclaim Thorin's attention from his brother.
"She told us to play quietly," Fíli added with a glare at his brother. Even if their uncle was awake it had been possible that he had not been and if that had been the case Kíli would have woken him and gotten them both in trouble if their mother ever found out.
"Quietly, Kíli," Fíli repeated. Thorin laughed at the effect Fíli's glare had on Kíli—causing the younger dwarfling to stick his tongue out at his brother from the safety of his beloved uncle's arms—before he glanced down at Fíli and felt his laughter die in his throat. Kíli's antics had caused his brother's features to twist in indignation and the look was so familiar to Thorin that it broke his heart. He had seen the same look on Frerin's face countless times when he was a little more that Fíli's age and then again the last time that he had seen him alive. To see Fíli wearing it at such a tender age . . . it felt as if that look was a spear through his heart. It was as if his own brother were standing there glaring at Kíli. It pained him, but even so, he found that he could not tear his eyes away from Fíli's face.
"—Right, Uncle?" He heard Kíli ask as he felt a small hand pull on one of his braids to get his attention.
"Wh-what?" Thorin asked, looking between the two of them in confusion. When he glanced down at Fíli the dark expression was gone and in its place was his sweet little nephew looking up at him with wide blue eyes rather than the furious brown ones from his memories. It was better but even so he could not quite shake the vision that had just assaulted him, one of Fíli's face twisted in such a way over more than just a petty squabble and dark words falling from his lips.
"I'm sorry, little one," Thorin said, tamping down his own sadness and turning back to Kíli and forcing a smile into place. "I did not hear your question. What did you ask me?"
"I said that Fee is wrong," Kíli repeated, a pout on his face both because Thorin had not been paying attention to him and because his brother was criticizing him for being too loud when Fíli was no quieter. It was not fair. Besides, he reasoned. It wasn't like it mattered. Uncle was awake. There was no need to be quiet. Not anymore.
"What is Fíli wrong about?" Thorin asked trying to get the child to make sense. He knew that he was missing some critical piece of information and refused to take sides before he had received it. "Did your mother not tell you to play quietly?" Kíli's indignant huff revealed that he had been out of the conversation for longer than he had believed. Obviously there had been a shift in the conversation that he had not been privy to.
"That's not what he's talking about, Uncle," Fíli replied quietly from his side trying to fill his Uncle in when it became clear that Kíli had no intention to do so. "He thinks that since you are awake Mother's order is no longer valid. Thinks that we can just do as we will. I told him that we can't."
"But I don't wanna play quietly!" Kíli said looking at Thorin with wide eyes that were pleading for Thorin to side with him. "There's nothin' fun to play that's quiet!" Thorin chuckled at his nephew. The lad did have a point, few fun games were quite ones. In fact, there were few fun things in general that were quiet. But Fíli's argument was the more valid in this case. Just because it was less fun did not mean that they were allowed to disregard their mother's rules.
"But Mother said to play quietly, Kee!" Fíli retorted glaring at his brother once more as Kíli behaved petulantly. Yes, it was less fun but it was still more fun that being in trouble for defying their mother. Why couldn't Kíli see that?
"Fíli," Thorin said gently, "Aren't you a bit old to be using that version of his name? It saves you no time, lad. Shouldn't you switch back to using his given name?"
"Yes, Uncle," Fíli replied looking down in shame at behaving childishly in front of his uncle and being called out on it. "I won't use it anymore." Thorin nodded and ruffled his hair gently before placing a finger under his chin and gently tipping his face up to look into his eyes.
"You were making a point, lad," Thorin reminded him. At the words Fíli smiled gratefully at Thorin for the encouragement to continue his argument with his brother before turning back to Kíli.
"That's what she said, Kíli," Fíli added. "Her order didn't include the words 'because your Uncle is asleep.' All she said was 'play quietly.' It may be less fun, but isn't that better than being in trouble? Do you want to disobey Mother? 'Cause I know that I don't."
"No," Kíli mumbled. He didn't want to disobey his mother but he was upset that she had made the order she had. It was no fun. Even if he did see that Fíli was right and that less fun was better than no fun. And no matter how little fun they could have quietly it was better than being in trouble with their mother.
Fíli nodded triumphantly, his features twisted in a smirk. He had won this argument and was quite pleased with himself. The pride that he could see in his uncle's eyes as he looked at him made his heart swell and he knew that he had done well even before Thorin said that he had.
"That was well reasoned, lad," Thorin praised patting his shoulder. "I am glad to see that at least one of you realizes that your mother's orders do stand unless they are countermanded." He watched as Kíli bowed his head in defeat as he realized that their uncle was going to side with Fíli. His last chance at fun had been ruined.
"Which I am about to do," Thorin added with a smirk as he set Kíli down next to his brother and planted a kiss on the top of both of their heads before nudging them gently towards the main room. "You too go play. Don't worry about the noise. If your mother has a problem with it she can take it up with me, deal?"
"Thank you, Uncle!" they both chirped as they took off, racing each other down the hall with wild peals of childish laughter. Thorin smiled warmly after them before his smile fell and he went in search of his sister. He knew Dís. If she had sent the boys to play rather than help her with the groceries she was either angry, upset, or both.
He found her sitting on a crate in the pantry with her elbows on her knees and her face in her hands. He knelt in front of her before pulling her against him, her hands coming up to cling to the front of his shirt while she sobbed into his shoulder.
"Hush, Dís," he soothed, stroking her hair. "It can't be that bad, now can it? What happened?"
"Kíli . . . he . . ." she tried to tell him what had happened in the market but it only increased her tears. And soon she gave up and just sobbed.
"What about Kíli," Thorin asked, his brows coming together in confusion as he tried to remember if there had been anything wrong with his youngest nephew. He didn't remember seeing anything. "I just saw him, Dís. He's fine. What has you so upset?"
"In the market," Dís said in a voice that was little more than a whisper, she pulled back at him and her brown eyes were so filled with pain that it broke his heart. "The other children . . . Thorin . . . he laughed them off this time but . . ."
"They were teasing him," Thorin said with a sigh. "About his height and thinness?" Dís nodded.
"And his lack of even the beginnings of a beard," Dís added. "They said . . . they said that he could not be a true dwarf. That we must have adopted him or that I . . . that I . . ." Dís trailed off at the shame of what the children had implied that she had done. She had known that rumors would fly with her giving birth to a child so far after her husband's death but she had never heard them before and for it to have come from children. For such sweet, innocent little things to say that she had . . . it broke her heart to hear it said in such a way.
"Oh, Dís," Thorin sighed pulling her back against him and placing his chin on top of her head as she wept again. It hurt him to see his sister in such pain and again he cursed the cruelness of fate that had reduced her to this point. She had once been so strong, so proud, but the hurts of this life had taken their toll on her. He hoped that she would recover in time but he did understand why she was so upset by this. Not only had those children dishonored her late-husband's memory by implying that she would lie with another but they had insulted her own honor and her son. Her pride was triply hurt by their actions.
"They were only children, Dís," Thorin whispered into her hair. "They know no better. They did not know how their words would hurt you, my sister. We know the truth of the matter. Do not let them upset you so. We know who Kíli's father is and that he is a true son of Durin. Do not let their words bother you so, my dear little sister."
"We know," she agreed darkly. "But, Thorin, Kíli . . . what will he think of me once he understands what they mean? He . . . He never even got to meet his father and he looks nothing like Gíli and everyone knows it. Thorin, when he understands what they are actually saying . . . Kíli . . . he'll . . ."
"He will still love you, Dís," Thorin cut in. "You are his mother, no rumors will change that." Thorin let a sad laugh escape his lips. "He might even exact vengeance for your sake. He's got fire in him, that one!" He heard a ghost of a laugh escape her lips and knew that this would soon pass.
"What of himself, Thorin?" Dís asked. "What will he think of himself if they continue to speak about him in such a way? What will he think when they stop being vague and begin to call him a . . . a bastard?"
"By the time that he is old enough to know what that word means he will know better than to believe it. Dís, you are worrying too much over this. He's only six! He won't remember this once he's grown," Thorin laughed. "He's only a child!"
"I remember Erebor," Dís replied pulling back to look him in the eye once more. "Not well, but I remember it. I remember the food and the music and the. . . the drops on the other side of the balconies that seemed to go down forever. I . . . I remember beautifully carved rock with veins of something that glittered. I can't remember what color the glitter was only that I loved to watch the torchlight dance off of it. And I . . . I remember our mother . . ." she bit her lip as she tried to dredge up old memories and put a face back to the woman that had given birth to her. She couldn't seem to accomplish it and her words were slow, stunted and hesitant as she hoped that she was right.
"I don't remember much," she admitted with a sad smile before her face became a mask of concentration once more. "I . . . I remember that she was . . . she was blonde. Like Fíli and Frerin and her eyes . . . they were . . . they were . . . her eyes were . . ."
"Brown, Dís," Thorin said with a sad smile as he stroked a tear from her cheek. "Mother had brown eyes, just like you. I was the only one of us that has none of her features. I look just like Father did."
"It's alright," Dís replied sadly. "You may not have gotten any of her features but are the only one alive who still remembers her well. I . . . I can't even remember what she sounded like. But I do remember that she always smelled of the forge. Just like you do." With that she nuzzled against her brother for a moment before she stood and cleared her throat. She gave a sad, breathy laugh before dusting herself off and bending to pick up the groceries from where she had dropped them when she came in.
"They won't put themselves up, will they?" she asked giving him a weak smile. She was a bit embarrassed by her outburst and for losing herself in her memories. She hoped that such a simple task as storing groceries away would allow her to overcome her melancholy.
"Dís," Thorin said reaching for her. She dodged his hand with an agility that spoke of her years of weapons training and went back to putting things in their proper places.
"I'm fine, Thorin," she said in a tone filled with forced cheer. "Go play with the boys. They've missed you. I can take care of this." He knew that it was a lie but he did not challenge her on it. She had vented the worst of her insecurities and that even though she was not yet fine she would be. With a nod he turned and left her to the groceries and her memories. His grim expression lasted until he made it to the doorway of the main room where it was replaced by a gentle smile at the sight that greeted him.
He had feared that he would be ambushed by dwarflings when he reached the door. Despite Kíli's protests of quiet play being no fun there were no sounds emanating from the room and Thorin knew from experience that if the boys were being quite they were up to something. He was prepared for mischief but need not have been. They were not plotting mischief, they were sleeping.
Fíli and Kíli were tangled up together on the hearth rug, Kíli's arms wrapped around his brother and his head pillowed on Fíli's small shoulder. Fíli had his left arm around his brother and his right tangled in Kíli's dark hair. So much for playing loudly, Thorin thought before moving into the room and covering the boys with a blanket that was kept there just for this purpose. They often took impromptu naps on the hearth rug, especially in cold months where that was the warmest place in the house.
He gently ran a finger along Kíli's smooth cheek. "Don't worry, little one," he whispered. "You will grow a beard yet. In time all the cruel words will cease. Just try not to take them to heart." Kíli moaned softly in his sleep and Thorin stopped his petting so as to not wake the sleeping dwarfling. He turned to go back to his chair when he heard a quiet voice call him back. He turned, halfway expecting to see Kíli's brown eyes looking at him so was shocked when he saw that it was Fíli that had woken.
"What is it, lad?" Thorin asked moving back to kneel beside them so that Fíli would not wake his brother by speaking too loudly.
"What they said today about Kíli . . . it's not true is it?" Fíli asked quietly. "I mean . . . Mother would never have . . . He is all dwarf, isn't he? I mean . . . I know that he is too tall and skinny but . . . It's not true, is it?" Thorin sighed and placed a hand on Fíli's cheek, the beginnings of a downy beard just beginning to appear there.
"No, Fíli," Thorin finally said. "It's not true. Kíli . . . he is your brother. A true dwarf and an heir of Durin. They . . . they do not know what it is that they said, lad. They . . . they didn't understand how much it would hurt you or your mother to hear." Fíli nodded sadly. He had thought as much but had needed to hear it from his uncle. He knew that his uncle would never lie to him. But there was something else that bothered him. If they had not spoken the truth . . .
"Then why did they say it, Uncle?" Fíli asked quietly, his voice barely audible. "Why did they talk about things they don't understand? Was it just to cause us pain?"
"I can't answer that, Fíli," Thorin said stroking through Fíli's soft golden hair as he stared off into the distance, unable to look at Fíli while he introduced him to one of the first cruelties the world had revealed to him: the cruelty of words being turned into weapons. Thorin had hoped to protect Fíli from this for a while longer but the choice had been taken from him that day and the only comfort that he could offer the lad was an explanation.
"Sometimes people say things that they do not mean or that they do not mean to be taken as they came across and inadvertently cause pain," Thorin explained, his hand still stroking Fíli's hair absently as he searched for the appropriate words to explain something like this to a child. "But sometimes," he had to swallow before he could continue as memories of his last, harsh, thoughtless words with his brother floated to the surface once more. "Well . . . sometimes . . . sometimes people say things with the intention of causing another pain. Sometimes it is because they are hurting themselves and are trying to ease their own pain by hurting another—which I can promise you does not work, by the way—and sometimes . . . sometimes there is no reason other than cruelty." Thorin had to pause again at the end as he wondered which of those reasons had led to his cross words with his brother. Had he been in pain himself or had he merely been seeking to cause his brother pain? With a deep sigh he pulled himself out of his memories and smiled sadly down at his nephew.
"I cannot tell you which of those situations this was, Fíli," he whispered. "I was not there. But I doubt that those children had malicious intentions. I believe that it was ignorance, not cruelty, on their parts that led them to say such things about your brother."
"Have you ever done that, Uncle?" Fíli asked looking up at him with innocent blue eyes. "Have you ever said something just to hurt someone?" Thorin sighed and he had to close his eyes against the pureness of the trust that he was about to shatter. For someone who looked so much like Frerin to look at him with such trust and ask about the most shameful thing that Thorin had ever done in his life . . . it nearly broke him.
"Aye," Thorin replied in a choked voice. "That I have."
"Who?" Fíli asked, his tone filled with curiosity as to who his Uncle would have tried to hurt just to hurt. Surely it had been an enemy or someone that had deserved it. His uncle would never have been cruel to someone without reason. They had to have done something to him first. They had to have hurt him somehow to merit such a reaction. When it was clear that his Uncle was not going to answer him, Fíli wondered if he had perhaps gotten lost in his memories once more and repeated himself.
"Who did you say something cruel to, Uncle?" Rather than reply, Thorin bent and pressed a kiss to Fíli's forehead before he stood. That was not a question that he could answer. Not to Fíli. Not to his innocent nephew. He could not bear to tell Fíli that he had lashed out at his own brother over a slight to his pride. He could not bear the idea of destroying the trust that Fíli had in him and knew that with as dear a Fíli held his own brother he could never understand what had led Thorin to lash out at his.
"Sleep, lad," Thorin said instead. "Kíli will want a playmate when he wakes and if you do not sleep there is no way that you will be able to keep up with him. I will still be here when you wake."
"Yes, Uncle," Fíli replied and made a show of closing his eyes. He waited until he heard his uncle sit before opening his eyes just enough to see and glancing toward Thorin's chair where his uncle was seated with his elbows on his knees and his chin on his interlocked hands staring into the embers of the cooking fire as if it held all the secrets of the world. He stared at his uncle for a moment wondering what he was thinking before his eyes grew heavy and sleep claimed him once more.
Thorin glanced at Fíli to make sure that he was truly sleeping once more before he let the memory that had been pressing on his mind all day to flow to the surface and he once more relived the conversation that he had shared with his brother in the war camp at the East Gates of Moria the night before the Battle of Azanulbizar. It was not a memory that he tried to dwell on but the events of the day had called it to mind and he knew from experience that this was one that he would have to allow to play out before he could push it away once more.
Frerin and Thorin were sitting in their shared tent sharing stories and memories as they waited for sleep to take them. This was to be their first major battle and though neither of them were adults yet their father and grandfather had insisted that all dwarves that could fight should be present, regardless of if they had reached maturity. Numbers would be their only hope against the horrors that had taken over their ancient kingdom. Their nerves were running high and they knew that sleep would be difficult to find that evening.
"Thorin?" Frerin had asked from where he was sitting on his bed with his knees pulled up to his chest and his arms around them. Thorin had glanced up from the axe he was sharpening and regarded his brother carefully.
"Are you afraid of what might happen tomorrow?" Frerin asked in a small voice, his brown eyes filled with fear. "That you might die. That it might hurt?" Thorin had shrugged.
"I haven't really thought about it," Thorin lied. In truth, he was terrified. All his life he had heard tales about the ferocity of Orcs and what they were capable of both in battle and outside it. He knew that if the battle went poorly that death was the most merciful option that he could hope for. He had heard tell of the atrocities that Orcs committed on prisoners, atrocities that left them as shells of their former selves. He hoped that if it came down to it he would die an honorable death rather than a slow one in the fortresses of the Orcs.
"Liar," Frerin snapped with a snort. "I can see it in your eyes, Thorin. You're terrified. You can lie to everyone else but you can't lie to me, Brother."
"So what if I am?" Thorin snapped back, hurt that his brother would throw his fear in his face like that. What good would it do either of them to have it out there in the open? Just because he was afraid . . . what did it matter? He would still do as he needed to for the good of their people. His own fear was irrelevant.
"We don't have to fight, you know?" Frerin whispered, knowing that what he said could be seen as treason if overheard by the wrong ears. "The laws of our people are clear. We're still children, Thorin. They can't force us to fight. Not if we say no. There are so many children here, brother. It is wrong. We . . . we shouldn't have to fight. I know that if you speak out against it then—"
"You would have me go against our father and grandfather?" Thorin snapped. "Frerin, I can't do that, brother. I can't go against them. Not now. Not when so many are already against this campaign in the first place. If their heir was to come out against it . . . no, I can't do it, brother."
"Did it ever occur to you that if so many are against it that we probably shouldn't be doing it in the first place?" Frerin asked incredulously. "Thorin, I love our grandfather but . . . he is not thinking clearly, Thorin. This . . . this is foolishness. What will we actually gain from this?"
"We will regain what is rightfully ours!" Thorin snarled. "Where is your pride as an heir of Durin? Durin ruled here at one point. It only makes sense that we should retake it now that our home has been taken from us."
"And what of Durin's Bane, Thorin?" Frerin snapped. "What do we intend to do about that even assuming that we do win tomorrow? What is there in Khazad-dûm that is worth the lives that we will lose to claim it?"
"Mithril," Thorin replied, his tone implying that he thought his brother was slow. "There is mithril there."
"Was," Frerin corrected, his tone suggesting that he thought the same of Thorin. "There was mithril there, Thorin. But even if it is still there, so what? The secrets of how to mine and forge it were lost. It is useless to us. We will just be throwing lives away for a useless bit of shiny metal. I love beautiful things as much as the next dwarf but this . . . Thorin, this is folly. You have to come out against it. For me."
"It is not as simple as that, Frerin," Thorin sighed. "I cannot do as you ask, Brother. You do not understand the burdens that come from being the next in line for the throne. I cannot just do as I wish whenever I wish. I have to think of the good of our people before my own fears."
"The good of our people!" Frerin scoffed shooting to his feet and gesturing wildly. "Thorin, how is allowing children to be marched off to an unnecessary war with orcs for the good of our people!?"
"You couldn't understand," Thorin replied sadly, looking away from his brother. "There are more forces at play here that you know of, Brother. It is not as simple as you make it seem."
"No, Thorin," Frerin replied. "You're the one that doesn't understand. You are so absorbed in what you should do as their heir to see what you should do as the next leader of our people. If you do not come out against the battle . . . I thought that I knew you, Thorin, but if you can let this happen without saying a word against it I'm not sure that you are the person I thought that you were."
"Do not lecture me on the difficulties of balancing duty to family with duty to the crown!" Thorin yelled rising to his own feet to glare down at his brother. Frerin's words had wounded his pride and he spoke without taking the time to consider his words, his own stress and fear adding fuel to the fire until what left his mouth was the cruelest thing to have ever passed his lips, the words dropping in volume until they were little more than a venomous hiss.
"You are the one who clearly does not understand what he should be doing," Thorin snarled into his brother's face. "You should not be standing here attempting to sway me from the path that our father and grandfather have set out for us! They know what they're doing, Frerin. As do I. Though if you don't want to fight, remain here. Show them all that the second son of Thráin is a coward and unworthy of his place in the succession. Good luck taking over as our king if Grandfather, Father and I all fall in battle tomorrow. I cannot see our people follow a spoiled princeling who would not even raise an axe in the name of his kin." Frerin's eyes had filled with tears at Thorin's harsh words before they hardened and hatred took the place of pain in their brown depths.
"You think you're so much better than me because you are the first born,"Frerin said, his face twisted into a mask of pain and fury. "But you're nothing but a fool, Thorin. I can't believe that I used to look up to you. I'm ashamed of you. I can't believe that we are actually brothers. Even if we do both survive tomorrow I want nothing more to do with you." When he had finished speaking, Frerin turned on his heel and stormed out of the tent, not even glancing over his shoulder as he walked into the darkness. Thorin ran to the flap of the tent, waiting for Frerin to turn and apologize for his words but it never came. As he began to lose sight of his brother in the gloom, he called after him.
"I'm not sure that we are!" Thorin yelled at his brother's retreating form, his anger and pain at the words causing him to lash out. "No brother of mine could be such a coward! I'm glad that you are done with me because I never want to see you again!" Frerin had stopped but did not turn. After a brief pause he continued into the darkness, his pale hair the last thing to fade from Thorin's sight.
That had been the last time that Thorin had seen his brother alive. Frerin hadn't survived the battle. He had been dead when Thorin had found him. To this day, Thorin wondered what might have happened if he had taken Frerin's advice that night and protested the battle. Or if he hadn't lost his temper and driven his brother away. Would Frerin have survived if he and Thorin had been together on the field of battle? He felt a tear slide down his cheek at the fact that he had been responsible for his brother's death. He allowed himself to feel the regret for a moment longer before he forced it down. It would do no good to dwell on the past. He may not be able to have a second chance to make things right with his brother but he could avoid making the same mistakes twice.
He glanced over at his sleeping nephews and swore to himself that no harm would ever come to them through any action of his own. He would not be responsible for another member of his family looking at him with hatred before dying for his mistakes. He knew that someday they would see battle but he vowed that they would have the best training that he could provide them. And Fíli . . . Thorin swore that he would teach him the lessons that he had never learned from his father or grandfather—the lessons that Frerin had known so well: that sometimes inaction was the best course of action.
Unbeknownst to him, he also made another promise that night: one that he would never see Fíli look at him the same way that he had seen Frerin look at him so long ago. Fíli would never hurt him the way that Frerin had. Fíli would never wound him as deeply as Frerin had despite the similarities between them. He unconsciously swore to do everything in his power to prevent it. That was when things began to change between them though Thorin would only realize it much later.