Despite Thorin's knowledge that dwelling on the past accomplished nothing, he found that he was unable to shake himself from the memories that had be dredged up that day. He was still sitting in the same chair, staring into the dead fire when Dís came into the kitchen to begin preparations for dinner. She smiled at her sleeping sons and bent to place a gentle kiss on both of their foreheads before threading her fingers into their unbound hair and resting her forehead against both of theirs.
"No matter what the rest of the world says to you, never forget that I love you more than life itself, my precious sons," she whispered before standing once more, not noticing the twin tears that had fallen from her eyes and landed on her sons' cheeks. Once more, she forced down her pain. Thorin had been right. Her boys, while children, were true dwarves and heirs of Durin. They were resilient. Neither of them would take the taunting to heart, though it might enrage them as they aged. She was being a sentimental fool.
"Did you wear them out so quickly, Brother?" she called, her tone light as she attempted to forget her fears for her children in banter with her brother. "I need you to teach me your technique. Takes me ages to get them to sleep." Her smile fell when he did not even give any indication that he had heard her. Instead he continued to stare into the ashes of the fireplace with a pained expression and haunted eyes. Dís sighed as she approached him. She knew that Thorin has seen too much at much too young an age and that occasionally something would trigger a memory and drive him into a melancholy state. She felt regret wash through her as she realized that this time it had probably been she that triggered his painful memories when she had spoken of Erebor and their mother.
"Thorin?" she called softly, hoping to shake him free of the memories without startling him. He tended to react poorly when startled even when he wasn't trapped in remembrance. The boys had yet to see him like this to her knowledge and she hoped that she could bring him back to them without waking Fíli and Kíli in the process. When he did not respond, she moved into his line of sight and knelt so that she could see his eyes before placing one hand on his knee and the other on the side of his face.
He jumped slightly when she touched him and his hand twitched as if going for the hilt of a sword that he was not wearing before he managed to focus on her face. Only then did the panic that had filled his eyes fade only to be replaced by infinite sadness.
"I left you again, didn't I Dís?" he whispered pressing his cheek into her hand, seeking the comfort that she offered.
"You did," she agreed. "What was it this time? Erebor again?" He shook his head sadly and looked away from the pity in her eyes. He knew that he was not worthy of it, not when he was the reason they no longer had Frerin.
"Azanulbizar," he replied still unable to meet her eyes. He felt her flinch, though she tried to cover it up. He hated bringing it up. For their family that had been the single bloodiest day in their lives. True, the loss of Erebor had been devastating—as had the loss of their mother in the attack—but Azanulbizar had seen greater loss of younger lives and had seen the loss of two of their remaining kin. Two-fifths of their remaining line had died that day. Even if Dís did not bear the bloody memories of it that he did, she bore the pain of the loss they had suffered.
Dís sighed; now the haunted look in Thorin's eyes made sense. Not only had he seen countless numbers of their people fall but he had witnessed their grandfather beheaded and had been unable to protect Frerin from the same fate. She wasn't sure which of those memories was haunting him at the moment and she wondered what had managed to trigger memories of that bloody battle. Surely nothing that she had said could have done it. Had one of the boys said something?
"Oh, Thorin," she sighed pulling him against her and offering him what little comfort she could, at first he was stiff in her arms but slowly he relaxed and allowed her to hold him as silent tears poured down his cheeks. "Why do you dwell on such painful memories, Brother? Why do your torture yourself so? There was nothing that you could have done differently. You were only a child, Thorin."
"I shouldn't have spoken to him like that, Dís," Thorin muttered his hold on her shoulders tightening to the point that it was nearly painful but she did not complain. She just listened. This was the only way that she had found to help him. If it required her to experience a bit of the pain that he felt, well that was a price that she was willing to pay to see him smile.
"As I said, you were a child, Thorin," Dís replied firmly stroking his hair gently with one hand while holding him in place with the other. "A scared child. You shouldn't have but you did. You can't change that by dwelling on it. I'm not sure that it would have changed things even if you hadn't. Frerin was too young to be there, Thorin. He was only forty-eight. He wasn't ready for a battle of that magnitude. Besides, you know as well as I do that Frerin was never much of a fighter. He never had your skill with weapons, or even mine. He had not business there, Thorin. It is through no fault of your own that he died. If you and he had been together on the field it is highly possible that you would have died trying to prevent his death and then he be killed anyway. None of us can know what might have happened, Thorin. No one. You cannot change the past and you shouldn't seek to try. Is the present that we have truly so bad that you would risk it?"
"No," Thorin said. "The present is not so bad. That is part of the cause for my guilt. We may not have much here, but Frerin would have loved what we do. And your boys . . . I deprived him of seeing your boys when I failed to protect him. When I drove him away from me. When I said that I never wanted to see him again." With a frustrated sound he tried to push her away from him. "Leave me, Dís. I do not deserve your comfort. I murdered our brother. His blood is on my hands as surely as if I killed him myself." Rather than follow his order, she clung to him all the more tightly.
"You did nothing of the sort, Thorin," she whispered into his ear. "Frerin's death was a tragic accident. A consequence of battle that was not your fault. I do not blame you for it. Stop blaming yourself. It is not healthy. I know that everyone believes it was the loss of Grandfather that drove Father mad but I know that is not the truth: it was the knowledge that he was the one that gave the order that ended his youngest son's life. Do not let Father's mistakes ruin your life as well, Thorin. Do not let grief consume you." He said nothing in response but had gone limp in her arms once more. With a sigh she stood once more and gazed down at him sadly before asking, "May I ask what triggered it this time?" she made it sound like an idle question but it was anything but. She wanted to know what caused these trips so that she could do everything in her power to avoid them.
"Fíli," Thorin replied sadly. "He asked me about what happened in the market today. About why they did it. In the course of the answer he . . . he asked me if I had ever said anything just to cause another pain. He looks so much like Frerin did at his age, Dís. It . . . I . . ."
"He's not Frerin, Thorin," Dís said harshly. She knew where her brother was going with this and would not allow him to superimpose Frerin over Fíli. They were two totally different people with totally different personalities. It would not be fair of Thorin to expect from Fíli what he had of their brother. Especially with the grief that Thorin still carried. Fíli deserved love from his family. Mahal knew that the world would not give it to him and she would be damned if she allowed her brother to mistreat her son as he worked through his own issues.
"I know that, Dís," Thorin replied quickly, his tone placating. Even he knew better that to butt heads with his sister when she feared for her children's well-being. A dwarf mother was a dangerous thing to contend with. "Fíli is . . . he's such a sweet child, Dís. Frerin was never that sweet. There are more differences than that and I know that they are not the same person. You do have to admit that the similarities in their appearance are striking."
"Actually I don't," she said with a wry smile. "I don't remember what Frerin looked like at Fíli's age. In case you have forgotten, there were nine years between us. I was only two when Frerin was Fíli's age. Ask me again if they look similar in about ten years and I will be more than willing to compare and contrast them with you."
Despite himself, Thorin laughed. It was a quiet and weak laugh but it was a laugh all the same. "I will hold you to that, Dís," he said with a small smile. "Should we begin dinner? I don't know about you, but I do not particularly wish to contend with hungry dwarflings fresh from a nap. They are quite ferocious." She smiled at the memory of her sons 'ferociously' attacking her brother one evening a few months ago and him allowing them to win before directing Thorin towards the table.
"You get started on those vegetables—I know that you and the boys hate them but they are good for them—and I'll get this fire going," Dís ordered in a no-nonsense voice that she seemed to have perfected since Fíli was born and Thorin had to smile as he wondered what the others would think about him taking orders from his baby sister. Orders that led to him chopping vegetables no less! He shook his head indulgently at the idea as he began preparing the vegetables. None of them ever needed to know. To the rest of the world he may be a king but here . . . here he was simply Thorin: Brother and Uncle and that was also something that they had no need to know.
By the time the boys awoke, all signs of the distress that their mother and uncle had gone through that day had been suppressed once more and they were teasing one another just as they always did. Dinner was just as light as it always was—even if there were dreaded vegetables on the plate. As always happened when Dís decided that she was going to serve vegetables, there was a bit of negotiation that had to take place before they were eaten. This time, Thorin got pulled into the middle of it—much to his displeasure.
He and Dís had long ago reached an understanding when it came to vegetables—which for some strange reason Dís actually liked—and that was that she could put them on the table if she wished and that she could force the boys to eat them if she wanted but that Thorin would not eat them. There was one stipulation to her agreement to his terms and that was that if at any time the boys attempted to use the fact that he did not eat them against her their agreement would be nullified and vegetables would find their way onto his plate and he would eat them if she had to pry his jaw open and force them down his throat herself. That night, it happened for the first time.
Fíli was glaring at the vegetables on his plate and stabbing at them savagely with his fork before he stopped and his sharp eyes roamed around the table and fell on his uncle's plate, completely devoid of the vegetation that marred his, Kíli's and his mother's plates. As he thought through it he realized that he had never seen vegetables on his uncle's plate.
"Mother?" he asked suddenly waiting patiently for her to look at him before he finished his question. "Why does Uncle have no vegetables on his plate?" He wondered at the smug glance that his mother shot his uncle but said nothing as he waited for her to respond.
Rather than answer she asked a question of her own. "Would you care to answer that question, Dear Brother?" she asked, her words dripping with amusement as she watched Thorin scramble to come up with an answer to the question that would not lead to him have vegetables put onto his plate. She couldn't contain her smile at the panic that briefly flared in his eyes before he glared at her as if this were all her fault.
"Well, Fíli," Thorin began slowly as he tried to think. He briefly considered lying and saying that he had already eaten his but the glare and slight shake of Dís' head rapidly dissuaded him. As did the fact that he did not want to lie to his nephews. With lying out of the question he sighed, defeated and only hoped that the boys would take his answer as it came and not try to use it as a way to get out of eating their own. He had no intention of eating them willingly and knew that Dís would go through with her threat to force-feed them to him if she thought that it would be for the good of her sons.
"I . . . there are no vegetables because . . . because they do not . . . because I . . . I do not like them," he said finally. "I do not like them so I choose not to eat them." He smiled as Fíli nodded in response and turned back to his own plate with his curiosity satisfied. He had just begun to relax as the fact that Fíli was not going to make an issue of it became apparent and sent his own smug glance at Dís. He had won this round. Then his victory was pulled from his grasp by another small voice.
"I don't like them either," Kíli said from his place across the table from his uncle. "I chose not to eat them too!"
"I am afraid that you do not have that right, my darling," Dís said, her smug smile back in place. "You must eat them. You are far too thin as it is. You cannot refuse food."
"Then why does Uncle get to?" Kíli pouted. "That's not fair, Mother. Why does he get to choose what he wants to eat and I don't?"
"Do you want to explain it to him, O Brother Mine?" Dís asked in a sickly sweet tone that Thorin hated because it was one that she only used to taunt him. Thorin sighed before he tried the only tactic that might work and save him from his terrible fate.
"Kíli," Thorin said firmly, "I am allowed to choose because I am grown. You are still a growing dwarfling . . . a rapidly growing dwarfling. They are good for you so you must eat them. I no longer need them."
"But they would be good for you too, right Uncle?" Kíli asked innocently, staring across the table at Thorin with wide brown eyes. Thorin could see no way out of it. He knew that his next answer would seal his fate but he could give no other.
"Aye, little one," Thorin agreed with a heavy sigh. "They would be good for me as well."
"Then why won't you eat them?" Kíli asked his eyes going impossibly wider. "Are they poisoned? Will they kill us?" Dís burst out laughing at her son's ludicrous suggestion.
"Darling, do you honestly think that I would poison you?" Dís asked with a fond smile on her face.
"Then why won't he eat them?!" Kíli asked in shock. The idea that his mother would feed them all poison refusing to be dismissed. "If they are good for him and not poisoned why won't he eat them? I won't eat them if he won't!"
"Darling," Dís said standing and trying to soothe her now frantic child, "they are not poisoned. You will be fine. Watch, your uncle will eat some of them and prove to you that they are not poisoned. Won't you, Thorin?"
Thorin nearly flinched at the glare that she leveled at him over Kíli's head: a glare that clearly said 'this is your fault. I told you that this would happen.' With a sigh he reached for the bowl of vegetables in the middle of the table and placed a hearty serving on his plate. With a grimace he picked up a piece of the vegetation—one that looked like a small tree—and popped it into his mouth chewing it determinately before he swallowed it. As soon as it was gone he picked up his tankard and washed the vile taste from his mouth with a large amount of mead.
"See," he said encouragingly once he was done. "Not poisoned." Kíli still looked unconvinced and Dís looked at him pointedly. So he picked up another of the trees and ate it as well. The taste was no better the second time. It took a third piece before Kíli cautiously picked up his fork and speared one of the little trees and eyed is suspiciously before putting it in his mouth and chewed it with a surly look on his small features.
"That's good my little one," Dís praised kissing the top of his head before returning to her seat. "Just like that." Fíli had watched the entire thing in amusement, eating all of his vegetables while they were otherwise occupied. He did not share his uncle and Kíli's distaste for them and—like his mother—almost found that he liked them, though he would never admit it to another soul as he had heard his uncle and mother arguing more than once and knew that true dwarves did not like green food. Due to that, he pulled faces and protested as any good dwarf would while secretly savoring the taste of them on his tongue. He occasionally caught his mother looking at him oddly almost as if she could sense that his protests were half-hearted, but if she knew . . . well that was their little secret.