When Thorin had said an outing, he meant an outing. He had not simply meant that he was going to take them out of the house, he meant that he was going to take them out of Ered Luin. It took them some time to get through town, more so than it took when it was just Dís and the boys or Thorin by himself. None of their people had ever seen the King out of the house with the boys in tow with Dís nowhere to be seen.
Everyone wanted to offer them compliments, wish them well. Despite the increase in dwarflings since Thorin had settled them in Ered Luin, they were still a rare sight and to see their King walking among them with his tiny heirs . . . it warmed their hearts. Especially young Fíli. He was such a bright eyed child with such striking coloration. His golden hair rare enough on its own but when coupled with the strange blue eyes of the line of Durin . . . he was a gorgeous child. They had also never seen his hair braided before and had to admit that the traditional braids of the line of Durin became him. He looked every inch a prince as he stood beside their king, clinging to Thorin's cloak and looking up at the warily.
But even if Fíli drew their attention better, Kíli was not to be ignored in the admiration either. He was no less heartwarming. None of them could hold in their fond smiles at the way that the youngest heir clung to his uncle as the crowds pressed in on them and looked through the curtain of Thorin's hair with shy brown eyes. It was clear that there was love there as the king unconsciously soothed the overwhelmed child.
Thorin tried to wait patiently for the crowd to disperse on their own, but in the end it took Thorin's firm statement that he had promised the boys that they were going on an outing not that they were leaving the house to be gawked at to clear the crowds and allow them to pass through the market and continue their trip to the front gate.
"There were so many people," Kíli breathed once they were clear, still clinging to Thorin desperately. "They don't get that close when we come to market with Mother."
"They meant no harm, Kíli," Fíli said simply reaching up to pat his brother's back comfortingly. "They were just curious. Mother warned us this might happen, remember? Uncle is King, after all."
"It wasn't him they were staring at," Kíli argued. "It was us. I could tell."
"It was not, Kíli," the blonde argued. "You're being oversensitive. Isn't he, Uncle? That never happens when we go to market. If it was us they were staring at it would be a normal thing not just because are with you. Right, Uncle?"
"He's not being oversensitive," Thorin corrected. "It was because the two of you were with me that they reacted the way they did. I am not mobbed every time I leave the house. I would never get anything done if that were the case. However the three of us together . . . we are a peculiarity—the King and his two heirs without their Lady Mother—and that is what drew the crowd." Thorin sighed at the fact that the crowds had upset his nephews so but he had known that it was a possibility. He had told Dís that keeping the boys sequestered in the house as much as she did would be a mistake as they grew too large to do it. Their visits outside were too infrequent for the people to get their fill and allow them to be children rather than oddities. He would have to speak to Dís about taking the boys on more frequent outings. He had a small excursion coming up, perhaps they should come with him.
It was simply trade negotiations in Bree. Surely they would enjoy a few days camping. The risk of danger was low, there had been no orc sightings for months. And it would give Dís a bit longer of a break from their antics. He saw no problem with his plan. Fíli was old enough to begin to learn how to negotiate and Kíli . . . well Thorin could not in good conscience leave him with Dís after the promise he had just given the lad. With a sigh he realized that that particular excursion would have to wait. He could not take Fíli from Kíli for such a long time and Kíli was not yet old enough to make such a trip. Dís would skin him alive for even suggesting that he take her boys with him to Bree. He shuddered slightly at the image his mind conjured of his sister wielding an axe.
"It's not that cold out, Thorin," Dwalin said with a laugh clapping his king on the shoulder that did not have Kíli clinging to it. "In fact it is a nice day. What brings you to the gate. I'd thought that you were planning to spend the next few days at home with Dís and the lads."
"I may not be at home but I am spending time with the lads," Thorin laughed nudging Fíli out from behind him and towards his cousin. "They and I are going out today. Giving Dís a bit of time to herself."
"And time free from the menace of young sons," Dwalin said ruffling Fíli's hair despite his braids. He was a bit too rough, not accustomed to being around children, and nearly knocked Fíli over. At the child's shocked cry Dwalin steadied him before he scooped him up and placed him on his hip just as Thorin had Kíli.
"So," he said to the dwarfling in his arms, "your mother thought you needed braids, eh?" When Fíli wrinkled his nose in displeasure at his newest adornment, Dwalin laughed and tugged gently on one of them. "Don't worry, lad. You'll get used to them and in time come to love them. They may save your life someday, Fíli. Hair in your eyes is a dangerous thing in battle. That's what I keep trying to tell your uncle. But he never listens to me."
"Is that why you have no hair, Mister Dwalin?" Kíli asked shyly. His eyes wide with the innocence of a child that does not realize he has asked an impolite question.
"Kíli!" Fíli hissed from his position in Dwalin's arms before looking up at the warrior with pleading blue eyes. "He didn't mean it, Mister Dwalin. Please don't be offended." But Fíli needn't have worried. Dwalin was not offended by Kíli's question, rather, he found it amusing. That child had spirit. Most of the other children in the village were at least a bit intimidated by him.
"Don't worry, laddie," Dwalin assured Fíli as he reached across to ruffle Kíli's untidy mop of hair, "I'm not so easily offended that a curious dwarfling can do it. And that's part of the reason, lad. The other is a bit more vain, I'm afraid. How else am I supposed to show off my tattoos?" Thorin snorted at Dwalin's lie. He knew that the other dwarf had gone bald through no choice of his own and had gotten the tattoos as a way of making up for his baldness, but if Dwalin wanted to lie to the lads. . . well, in truth Kíli should not have asked such a personal question.
"Anyway," Dwalin continued turning back to Thorin, "what brings you to the gate? I know you said that you and the boys are going out but did you mean out."
"I did," Thorin replied. "I think that a little time outside the walls would do them some good. It's been quiet lately and I am sure that I can protect two dwarflings. The most ferocious thing that has been reported lately was a squirrel." The boys exchanged excited looks. They were going outside? They'd never been outside before.
"Give me a moment to talk to Balin and I'll come with you," Dwalin said with a smile. "It's about time for another patrol and it will be far more interesting with you three than alone. You and I may even find time to slip in a bit of a spar. You wear that thing all the time but I do have to wonder if you still know how to use it or if the only thing that you know how to wield anymore is a hammer."
"I can still use a sword," Thorin replied testily. "If I didn't have the boys with me I would be more than happy to show you just how skilled I still am." In response, Dwalin snorted.
"Fine, Thorin," he said snidely, "use the lads as an excuse. We all know the truth about you, don't we lads?"
"What truth is that, Mister Dwalin?" Fíli asked in confusion. He knew many truths about his uncle and wasn't sure just which one Dwalin was referring to.
"Why that your uncle is unable to defeat me!" Dwalin replied with a laugh. "It is understandable, of course. He is getting up in years. How old are you now, Thorin?"
"My age is irrelevant," Thorin growled wondering why he had decided to take the boys out of the city at all. He should have known that Dwalin would take this as an invitation to tease him, knowing that he would be hampered in his ability to respond by the presence of his two young, impressionable nephews.
"And they are not an excuse, they are a responsibility," Thorin countered. "If I was to consent to spar with you who would watch the boys and make sure that they stay out of trouble while we're occupied, hm? Do you want to be the one to tell Dís that her boys—the things that she prizes most in this world—were injured on your watch? I know that I don't."
Dwalin had to admit that he did not relish the idea of telling Dís that he had allowed her boys to be injured. Thorin's sister had a temper where her boys were concerned. His own mother had been the same way. All dwarf mothers were. And fathers for that matter. Even though Thorin spoke of responsibility to Dís, he knew that Dís' reaction was truly only secondary. Thorin would never forgive himself if something happened to the boys on his watch. Not after Frerin. Dwalin knew that Thorin still carried guilt for his younger brother's death and knew that if anything happened to the boys Thorin would never recover.
"Nor do I," Dwalin replied. "What if I convinced Balin to come with us and watch the boys?" Thorin sighed at his friend.
"That doesn't solve the problem, Dwalin," Thorin said. "I came here to spend time with the boys, not you. I can't leave them to play with Balin while you and I do as we will. That is not what I promised them. You are welcome to come with us but there will be no sparring." Dwalin nodded, not willing to fight with Thorin .
"I will still come," Dwalin replied setting Fíli back on the ground. "And I'll still convince Balin to come along. It's been too long since he got away from his desk and relaxed. The boys will be good for him."
"They will," Thorin agreed. "We'll go on ahead and you two can catch up with us. We're only going to the tree line." With that, Thorin placed Kíli next to his brother and moved to the smaller gate that was designed for the passage of dwarves rather than wagons and slid back the bolt before opening it and preparing to lead his nephews out of the city.
"I need the two of you to promise me something," Thorin said kneeling before them and taking one of each of their small hands in his own. "I need for both of you to agree to stay in sight of me or Dwalin at all times. You can't go wandering off. Agreed?" The boys shared a look knowing that their outing—and all future outings—was contingent on them agreeing to this arrangement.
"Yes, Uncle," they said in unison.
"Good lads," he said patting Kíli's cheek and Fíli's shoulder before standing and gesturing to the open door in blessing. With twin peals of laughter, the boys were out the gate and into the sunshine. He had no choice but to smile as they frolicked in grass that was nearly as tall as they were; the only thing giving their positions away Fíli's golden braids and Kíli's dark wild mop. When they finally reached the tree line, Thorin sat against a tree and watched as the boys played. It was a bit rough, as boys that are outside and out of sight of their mother are wont to play but there was no harm in it. Fíli was being careful with Kíli, cognizant of his large size and strength, and Thorin saw no harm in letting the boys play however they wished without Dís hovering over them. He was just allowing himself to relax when the sounds of footsteps alerted him to the approach of another.
Before he thought about it, he was on his feet between the boys and the new arrivals, sword in hand. He sighed as he saw Balin and Dwalin standing there with amused expressions on their faces.
"A bit tense, Thoirn?" Dwalin asked nudging the flat of Thorin's sword as he walked past and integrated himself in the game by scooping Kíli up from behind and dangling him upside down causing a startled squeal to come from the dwarfling.
"Help!" Kíli cried in mock fear. "Save me Fíli!" Thorin smirked as Dwalin then found himself assailed by a vicious little golden blur of dwarfling attempting to 'save' Kíli. He could have told Dwalin that would be the outcome of 'attacking' Kíli. Fíli was quite protective of his brother even when there was no real danger, as was Kíli with Fíli. Their mutual protectiveness would serve them well when they did eventually see battle. His face fell at that last thought and suddenly his nephews'' antics no longer held the same amusement they had moments before.
"They'll be alright, Thorin," Balin said looking up at his cousin with a smile. "They've got you. Dís. Even Dwalin is enamored with them. They'll be alright."
"They might," Thorin agreed with a snort as he watched Dwalin trip and fall as he tried to avoid stepping on Fíli—only managing to roll himself in the air at the last moment so as not to squish Kíli and releasing the dwarfling in the process. At which point Dwalin then had to contend with twin blurs of dwarflings.
"They might be fine but what of your brother?" Thorin smirked as he watched the warrior cower from two dwarflings. He knew that Dwalin could easily escape but that he only restrained himself for fear of hurting the little ones attacking him.
"Thorin!" Dwalin said desperately as they began to tickle him, "call them off!" Thorin waited another moment before he ruined their fun. He was enjoying the sight of Dwalin being defeated too much to end it. He was still a bit agitated with his friend for his comments at the gate and it only seemed fair to Thorin to get his revenge vicariously through Fíli and Kíli as he was unable to take it himself. It was only when Dwalin called his name once more that Thorin sighed.
"Alright, lads, that's enough," Thorin said firmly. "He's had enough. You two play with one another for a bit and give poor old Dwalin a rest." Kíli and Fíli immediately left the warrior alone and turned their attention back on one another, Kíli launching himself at his brother and pulling them both down with his momentum only for Fíli to end up on top, pinning the smaller brother below him and tickling him causing Kíli to squeal.
"Are they always so . . . " Dwalin gestured at the two wrestling dwarflings to allow them to say what he was unable to put into words. Thorin snorted.
"This is tame," Thorin scoffed. Watching as Fíli freed his brother and allowed Kíli to try to attack him again. "Usually Fíli is worse than Kíli when it comes to energy levels. Those two . . . they could power a forge."
"Try the entire settlement," Balin said with an indulgent smile as Fíli took down his brother once more. "I don't ever recall having that much energy."
"We didn't," Thorin replied sadly. "Well, you and I might have but Dwalin never had that luxury. Uncertain times don't make for energetic dwarflings when dwarflings do happen. So much stress and uncertainty. That is no way for a child to grow up. Nor should any child ever have to go hungry. Far too many did when we were growing up."
"None of ours do now, Thorin," Balin replied gently. "You see to that. None of our children go hungry. Even if some of them look like they do." That last was said with a pointed glance at Kíli, who currently had one spindly little leg in the air trying in vain to wrap it around his brother and roll Fíli off of him again.
"I swear that we feed him," Thorin sighed. "He . . . he just won't put on weight. He eats more than I do and he just . . ." he gestured at his nephew with a frustrated sigh. "He is just so thin especially next to his brother. The people are going that think that Dís and I only feed Fíli."
"They'll think nothing of the sort!" Balin replied affronted. "They know better than that! They know you to be a good King and a good uncle besides. They know you wouldn't starve one of those lads! Besides, even if they didn't know you they know Dís. She would never allow it."
"Speaking of things that Dís won't allow," Thorin said changing the track of the conversation away from his skills as a king and uncle as the topic made him uncomfortable, "you and I need to discuss setting up lessons for Fíli."
"Lessons?" Balin asked in shock. "But the lad's only eleven, Thorin. Surely it's a bit young to start lessons."
"I disagree, Balin," Thorin said simply. "He's quite intelligent. Very mature. He is ready for lessons. I can warn you that he will be a bit of a handful. He thinks remarkably well for one his age. Reasons things through. Don't get into a debate with him like you would a normal child. He will back you into a corner. Does it to Dís and me all the time. If he tries it, acknowledge that it was well reasoned but tell him that is not what you are going to do."
"Intelligent or not he's still a child, Thorin," Balin argued. "How old were you when Thráin began your lessons."
"Kíli's age," Thorin countered. "True, it was mostly to get me out of my mother's hair but I was still Kíli's age."
"So will Kíli be joining Fíli?" Balin asked. "Do I need to plan lessons for the both of them?"
"Of course not!" Thorin thundered. "Kíli's a child! He can delay lessons a while longer. Fíli has delayed them long enough. I will bring him to your office tomorrow." Balin sighed but said nothing. Thorin's tone had left no room for disagreement. Even if he disliked Thorin's decision, Thorin was both his King and Fíli's uncle. Balin could not challenge him in this. He only hoped that Dís could. Fíli was far too young to begin the long trek to adulthood.