The next morning, Thorin offered to take the boys on an outing to give Dís a chance to have a moment to herself without two rambunctious dwarflings. The boys were beyond excited at the prospect of getting to leave the house with their uncle. Dís was more than happy to agree to it as well, but she had one stipulation: if they were to go out in public with their uncle they would have to be presentable. That meant clean clothes and braids.
Their excitement evaporated instantly. They didn't want to waste valuable time that they could be playing with their uncle on sitting still and having their hair arranged. Kíli had taken to looking between his guardians with wide, pleading eyes but Fíli was scrambling to find an argument that might liberate them from that hardship. Finally he believed that he had found one.
"Mother?" Fíli asked quietly. "Why do we have to be braided to go out with Uncle but not with you? You didn't make us wear braids to go to the market yesterday. Why is today different?" Dís sighed and tried to think of how to explain the difference to her eldest son. She had intended to keep their family position from them for as long as possible so as to allow them to be children and not princes. It was the same reason that she kept them in their home as much as possible. She wanted them to have the childhood that she had missed out on, not be ogled as the last heirs of a dying line.
"It is different because . . ." she looked to Thorin for help unable to find the words to explain. He merely shrugged. He disagreed with her decision to keep their heritage from the boys but he respected that they were her sons and therefore the decision was hers. She shot him a look at his lack of aid in her time of need before she sighed. She would have to tell them something.
"Your uncle is a very important dwarf," she said finally. "He cannot be seen in public with two wild little dwarflings. What would the people think about him if they see him with his nephews running around in dirty clothes and wild hair?"
"Aren't you important too?" Kíli asked looking at her in confusion. "How can he be important and you not?" He couldn't understand it. To him they were the same. They both loved him and they were both equally important to him. Why were the different to others?
"That's just the way it works, darling," Dís replied just as Thorin cut in with, "Your mother is an important dwarf as well, little one, just important in a different way."
"How is it different?" Fíli asked, curious as to what his uncle meant. If they were both important and were from the same family how could they be important in different ways? Dís shot Thorin an exasperated look that he had interfered and complicated the issue further.
"Your uncle is important because of our father and grandfather," Dís explained. "It is not an importance that I or anyone else can share. It is just for him." Thorin shot her an exasperated glance of his own that said 'Just tell them Dís. It will make more sense that what you are doing.' She ignored him and turned back to Fíli at the sound of his voice.
"What about you? Why are you important if that importance is just for Uncle?" Fíli pressed. "Why can you be seen with us as wild dwarflings but he can't?" He was not trying to be difficult but just to understand what the difference was. Why were the rules different depending on which of them he was with?
"My importance to our people comes from the two of you, my sweet boys," Dís replied. "I am important because I am your mother. It does not matter in what state you are seen with me. My importance stems from the two of you."
"Does that . . . does that mean that . . . are we important?" Kíli asked quietly. "Is that . . . is that why people stare when we go out?" Dís was taken aback. She hadn't realized that the boys realized that people stared at them. With a sigh she realized that she could keep the truth from them no longer.
"Come with me, boys. There's something your uncle and I need to tell you," she sighed as she led them to hearth rug and sat Fíli before her while Kíli climbed into Thorin's lap and leaned against his uncle happily. She lifted the comb off the table where she had left it before they left for the market and started working through the tangles in his blonde hair as she sifted through her thoughts.
"Boys," she began finally, her hands never stopping their work on her eldest son's hair as she spoke, "what do you know of the history of our people. Not how we were created. Where did we come from?"
"We came from Er-erebor," Fíli said hesitantly. It was a word that he had only heard uttered in hushed reverent tones and he was not sure if it was a word that he was allowed to say or if he would be scolded for it. No one had ever said it directly to him. He had only heard it in snatches of conversation between his mother, uncle and older cousins.
"Yes," Dís agreed as she began to meticulously part his golden hair with a sad smile on her face as she recalled doing the same for her dear Gíli and Frerin. Dís supposed that Thorin's statement the day before made some sense. Fíli did have Frerin's hair, even if he had Thorin and Thráin's eyes.
"We came from Erebor," Dís confirmed as she began to braid his hair. "It is where I and your uncles were born."
"Why don't we live there anymore?" Kíli asked quietly looking up at his uncle in confusion as Thorin wrapped an arm around him and pulled him back against his chest enjoying the comfort of his nephew's small warm body in his lap as Dís spoke of their painful history.
"When I was a child just older than Kíli," Dís said sadly. "We lost our home and were forced to move."
"How did we lose it?" Fíli asked glancing at his uncle since he couldn't move his head to look at his mother. He was shocked at the coldness and distance in Thorin's gaze as he stared at nothing. He had never seen that look in his uncle's eyes before.
"We didn't lose it," Thorin cut in harshly his gaze shifting to Fíli and causing his nephew to flinch away from the pain there. "It was stolen from us."
"Who took it?" Kíli asked still staring up at Thorin uncowed despite his uncle's angry outburst. He saw no reason to fear his uncle, Thorin had never hurt him. Thorin exchanged a look with Dís, wondering just how much she wanted the boys to know, and she smiled sadly at him in permission. Even with her blessing he paused a moment before deciding that if Dís was going to tell them the truth they may as well know the entire truth.
"Our home was taken from us because a dragon named Smaug coveted the wealth of my Grandfather and our people," Thorin explained sadly. "I can still remember the sound of his flight and the heat of his flames. In addition to taking our home and gold, Smaug also took the life of your grandmother. Once he took the mountain, we were forced to wander homeless because none would aid us. In our quest for a new home, countless more lives were lost either to starvation, the elements or war. It was the final thing that most decimated our numbers. It was war that took my grandfather and brother from this world."
"But, Uncle, what does that have to do wi—" Fíli began only to be cut off in a sharp cry by a tug on the braid that his mother was working on.
"Hush, dear heart," Dís whispered into his ear as she gently rubbed the spot that she thought had pulled with her freehand. "I am sorry if I hurt you but this is difficult enough for him to talk about this without interruptions. He'll get there. Just give him time." Fíli nodded and resisted the urge to rub his scalp where his mother had actually pulled his hair. He knew that she had truly meant nothing by it. She had not actually meant to hurt him. She would never do that.
"The loss of nearly half of our line drove my father mad," Thorin continued as he unconsciously pulled Kíli even more firmly against him only losing his hold when the dwrafling gave a little squeak of discomfort. "I am sorry, little one," Thorin whispered before turning back to Fíli to finish his explanation. "He . . . he disappeared many years ago. A year after he left, he was presumed dead. That was when I truly became an important dwarf." He sighed and tried to decide the best way to say the next part before deciding that the truth was the best.
"When Smaug took Erebor it was not just gold or a home or lives that he robbed us of," Thorin said sadly. "For the rest of the dwarves that was all—even though that is more than enough to be robbed of. But for us, for me, your mother and the rest of our family—including you boys—he robbed us of a kingdom. We had meant to wait to tell you this until you were older however the time has come."
"You boys know that occasionally I have to leave for trips for months at a time," Thorin said and waited for them to nod before he continued. "That is because I have to take part in negotiations to make sure that our people are cared for. I have to go and negotiate treaties and contracts to ensure that we are able to get the food we need and avoid war to the best of our abilities."
"But why do you have to do it, Uncle?" Fíli asked quietly hoping that his mother would not protest his questions this time.
"Because I am King," Thorin replied simply. "Most of the people I deal with will negotiate with nothing less, though some are willing to treat with Balin. For some reason they find him less confrontational," Thorin finished with a laugh.
"What's a king?" Kíli asked slowly, his forehead wrinkled in concentration as he tried out the strange word. It was a word that he had never heard before and it confused him.
"That is a hard question, lad," Thorin sighed. "A king is many things depending on what it is that his people need at any given time. Sometimes I am a warrior, sometimes a mediator, sometimes a judge others little more than a broker and sometimes I am noting more than a smith. But above all else, a king is a leader."
"So that is why you are special," Fíli said nodding in understanding. "You are the leader of our people. There is one thing that I still do not understand. Why would Mother being our mother make her special? I understand now why she is special in a different way than you are but what do we do to make her important?"
"You are my heirs," Thorin replied simply. "When I pass beyond this world you will become King. And if, Mahal forbid, something should happen to you before you have a son of your own the title will pass to Kíli. Fíli, you are the next in line for the throne. That is what makes you special and your mother special for having given birth to you."
As Fíli tried to think of a response to his uncle's words, he felt a gentle tap to his cheek. Instead of saying anything to his uncle he turned to look at his mother who looked at him appraisingly for a moment before she nodded her approval and made a small shooing motion with her hand.
"I've finished," Dís said with a soft smile and gentle kiss on the forehead for her eldest. "Now trade places with your brother."
"But Mother, I really don't like braids," Kíli whined clinging to the front of Thorin's shirt desperately. "Do you really have to braid my hair?"
"Didn't you hear your uncle?" Dís replied exasperated with the stubbornness of her youngest. "He's a king and you're a prince. You can't be seen out with him with your hair flying free. Now come here!" Kíli said nothing as he wiggled off his uncle's lap and moved towards his mother, but the droop in his shoulders reminded Thorin more of a man walking to his execution than a dwarfling preparing to have his hair braided. He had to laugh at Kíli's dejectedness.
"Let the lad be, Dís," Thorin said scooping Kíli back into his lap and ruffling his untidy hair affectionately. "He is fine just as he is. He's only a small child after all. None can fault him for having slightly unruly hair. They do not need better clothing either. I am taking them for a playday not a parade."
"He's still a prince of Durin, Thorin," Dís reminded her brother. "And one of your heirs. He should be presentable if he is to be seen with you in public."
"A small prince of Durin," Thorin countered. "I seem to recall a young princess running around the halls of Erebor with loose tresses and torn skirts when she was Kíli's age. Let him be a child a while longer, Dís. There will be time later for you to force him to sit still and let you braid his hair. There will be time later for him to be a prince of Durin, let him be Kíli for a while longer."
"Does that mean that I can take these out?" Fíli asked hopefully his small hand already going for the tie that held one of the braids his mother had just put in. He didn't like the braids. They pulled strangely on his scalp and where the ties hung down they tickled his face and neck. He wanted them out! His hopes of being free of them were dashed as the smile that Thorin had while looking at Kíli faded and became tight as he looked at Fíli.
The boy had the sudden desire to apologize even though he was unsure what he had done wrong. His uncle had never looked at him so dispassionately before. And then Thorin spoke and there was a distance in his tone that had never been there before. That more than anything else made him know that he had done something wrong, even if he didn't know what it was. For some reason, his uncle was displeased with him. The thought of it broke his heart and made him feel cold. He had never managed to displease his uncle before, not like this. His uncle had never been cold towards him before. Angry, yes. Cold, never.
"No, lad," Thorin said shaking his head. "Your mother already has yours in. It will take longer to take them out than to leave them in. And at any rate they become you. In fact, I believe that it is time that you began wearing them full time. Now that you are aware of your place in society you should behave in a manner becoming to it."
"Thorin!" Dís breathed scandalized. "He's still a child! You . . . you can't . . . he's little more than a babe!"
"He's eleven, Dís," Thorin replied with a sad smile. "He is old enough to begin taking on his role as my heir. He's older than I was when my training began. I will speak with Balin about setting up lessons for him." Dís felt her heart constrict in her chest. This had been why she had tried to put this off. She knew that once Fíli knew the truth that she would have little chance of stopping her brother from taking her son and making him his heir.
"And what of Kíli?" She demanded harshly. "You yourself just said that he is only a child. What do you intend to do about him? He can't go to lessons yet and they've never been separated, Thorin. What will he do while his brother is at lessons?"
"You . . . you want to separate us?" Kíli breathed desperately clutching at Thorin's shirt as tears began to fill his brown eyes at the prospect. "Uncle? You . . . you won't separate us, will you? You're not going to take Fíli from me, are you? I . . . I need Fee, Uncle. I . . . I . . . " Thorin pulled Kíli's head down to rest on his shoulder and stroked his wild hair in an attempt to soothe him.
"Hush, Kíli," he whispered. "I will not separate you permanently. Only a short period of time each day or perhaps even every other day. You will still see him. Do not worry. I will never come between the two of you. I swear it."
"They're too young, Thorin," Dís repeated fury in her voice. "You shouldn't—"
"We will discuss this later, Dís," Thorin cut her off with a pointed look at the boys—Kíli who was glancing between the two of them in shock and Fíli who was staring at the floor with a blank expression on his face. Dís felt remorse flood her veins for her boys. They had never seen their mother and uncle fight. Not truly. They had seen banter, mock arguments but nothing heated. Nothing like this. Dís looked at her boys and sighed. While she wanted to have it out with Thorin right then and there she knew that she could not make her boys witness that so rather than argue, she nodded curtly.
"We will discuss this later, Thorin," she promised darkly. He nodded before standing and shifting Kíli from his arms to his hip before taking Fíli's hand in his own and leading the stunned dwarfling out of the house.