Dís was sitting at the table with her head in her hands wondering just what she had done in her life to make the gods punish her so. She thought that she had been a good daughter, a good sister, a good wife and a good mother. What could she have possibly done to so offend the gods that her sons had to be punished for it? The loss of her father, grandfather and brother . . . while she couldn't understand it, she could bear it. But the loss of her husband, her boys' father, had nearly destroyed her, especially over something so senseless as a mining accident.
He hadn't even had the honor of a swift death in combat. Instead he had died slowly, painfully in his own bed after being crushed due to the negligence or error of another. Or perhaps his own. She never did learn who was supposed to have shorn up that passageway. Not that it truly mattered. He was still dead regardless of who had been at fault. His death had left a hole in her heart that she felt every day as she watched her dear, sweet boys learn things from her brother that they should have learned from their own father if the world was a fair one. But it wasn't. It never had been and it would never change. Dís had learned that lesson long ago. Hardship and loss were excellent teachers.
Even so, it was difficult to see her boys growing and to know just how much Gíli would have enjoyed seeing the wonderful dwarves they were shaping into. They did not seem to miss him overmuch, if at all. Though she supposed that it made sense. Fíli had only been five and Kíli barely conceived when their father had died. It made sense that Thorin would be the only father they knew. And she could not truly fault her brother for stepping into the role. She could not even blame him if occasionally he seemed to forget that they were his nephews and not his sons. Not when he would never have children of his own. Even so, she couldn't stop the resentment that bubbled within her when her brother tried to make decisions for her sons.
She always felt guilty for it later, as she did at the moment, when she remembered the way his shoulders had fallen when they had received news that Dwís, the dwarrowdam he had been intending to court, had decided to wed another. The look on his face as he was asked to preside over the ceremony . . . it was on that she would never forget. Unconsciously she stroked the ring that he had given her that day: the one that he had crafted with his own hand for Dwís. That had been forty-four years ago. Thorin had planned to propose to her on his eightieth birthday. It was one of the many things that they never spoke of.
No, most of the time she did not resent allowing her brother the little bit of happiness that her sons could provide him. It was less than he deserved after all that he had done for them. And she knew that she was being foolish in opposing him in this. Schooling would do Fíli no harm. She knew that Balin loved his little cousins and would pace things so that her son was not overly pressed by his lessons but that was beside the point. Fíli . . . he and Kíli were her world. She loved her brother but Thorin was already damaged. She could not protect him. But her boys . . . she knew that she could not do it forever but she wanted to shelter them for as long as she could from the cruelties the world was capable of. School . . . it was but the first step to adulthood, to kingship, that her son would take.
Not for the first time she wished that she was anyone besides who she was. That any blood but that of Durin the Deathless ran through her veins. She wished that she was nothing more than a simple dwarrowdam and that the most pressing choices her sons would ever have to make would be what metal to smith a trinket from, or what wood to carve from to create their children's cribs, not that they would one day have to swim the treacherous sea of politics for the good or ill of all. She had watched Thorin struggle under the weight of the crown for years and did not want that for her sweet Fíli or, Mahal forbid, her wild little Kíli. She knew that she was being foolish and could no more change their fates than she could bring back her dear Gíli.
Though if she could, she would. She would give everything she had to ensure them a beautiful future and though it would pain her, she would fight Thorin on this. He would not put pressure on her dear children before it was absolutely necessary. Once more she wished that her dear Gíli was there with her. Even if he had agreed with her brother—which she knew that he would have—she knew that it would have been easier for her to bear with him there beside her. Swallowing around the lump in her throat that his memory brought up she rested her head on her folded arms and tried to convince herself that she was doing right by her sons.
Dís was not aware that she had fallen asleep until she was awakened abruptly by the sound of her door opening and booted feet on the stone floor. Too many feet walking too heavily to be her brother and her sons. As silently as she was able, Dís crept towards the fireplace and the axe that hung over the mantle there. She had a small knife at her waist, she always did, but she could hear three distinct treads and knew that her small knife would never be enough.
She let out a hiss and silently cursed as the axe rasped against the holder as she removed it and prayed to Mahal that the intruders hadn't heard. She was as ferocious as any other in battle but knew that if the intruders were all male she would be at a disadvantage. Not to say that she would not stand a chance, but the element of surprise would be her best ally. Especially if it was Men that were invading her home, as it almost had to be. No dwarf would invade the home of her brother, their king, if only out of fear of his ferocious reputation in battle. But Thorin's not here, is he? her mind whispered. He was seen leaving the settlement with your children. They know that you're alone. She shook her head sharply to clear that thought from her mind and set herself up against the wall beside the door that led to the main hallway.
As she heard the footsteps near, she took a deep breath to ground herself and then leapt out of hiding, axe raised and prepared to deliver an attack only to stop with a huff as she recognized the dwarves in her hall.
"Balin," she breathed before letting out a breathless, mirthless laugh. "What . . . Why . . . Thorin's not here. He left with the boys this morning."
"Dís?" She heard her brother ask and looked up to see Thorin eyeing her with amusement. "Why do you have that axe?" His amusement enraged her and she shouldered past Balin, the axe still in her hands, its wicked edge gleaming deadly.
"You think this is amusing, do you?!" she demanded, holding the axe in front of her, her brown eyes flashing with a rage that took Dwalin and Balin by surprise, though Thorin seemed unaffected by it. "You think it's funny to nearly scare me to death?! Because that's what you did, Thorin."
"You were napping, weren't you Dís?" Thorin replied unconsciously shifting Kíli so that his mother could see that to kill her brother might harm her little one.
"What if I was?" Dís demanded, her voice a bit quieter, though no less livid, at the sight of her sleeping child. "I think that I am entitled to a nap occasionally, Thorin! Especially one that doesn't end in me fearing for my life! Every time I try to take a nap you . . ." she trailed off as she realized that Thorin was quivering with laughter instead of fear, as he should have been. She let the axe fall to her side and her shoulders slumped in defeat as she realized that she was being foolish.
"I hate you," she whispered but there was no heat in the words and Thorin smiled gently at her as he placed a kiss on her brow.
"I love you too, Sister," he whispered, shifting Kíli to one arm so that he could wrap the other around her. "And I am sorry that I frightened you." She rested her head on his shoulder before she sighed.
"Don't do that to me again," she threatened. "Or next time I will use the axe. I swear it!"
"I'll keep that in mind," Thorin replied before stepping away from her. Dís jumped as she felt a hand land on her wrist and turned to see Balin standing there with a sheepish expression on his face.
"Didn't mean to startle you," he said quietly. "I . . . well, I was going to put the axe back over the mantle before you decided that you want to use it on your brother, lass. As irritating as he is, we do need him. At least until young Fíli is grown. Once that happens, I won't stand between you if you want to exact vengeance on Thorin for everything he has ever done to you."
"Do you hear that, Brother?" Dís laughed, allowing Balin to take the axe. "You may only have another sixty-nine years to live. If Balin won't defend you from me . . . none of your subjects will."
"Don't speak such nonsense," Thorin replied curtly, though his smirk revealed that he was not truly upset. "You cannot kill me. Now stand aside. I'd like to put this little one to bed for a moment. That'll give us time to prepare to feed them without them under our feet for once. What with your nap, the food I promised them you would have is likely non-existent." Dís scoffed at her brother but stood aside all the same, her sharp eyes scanning the hallway and missing the sight of her golden-haired eldest.
"Where's Fíli?" she demanded.
"Don't worry, Dís," Dwalin replied moving out from behind Thorin so that she could see her son curled up in his arms. "I've got him." She smiled at her cousin and nodded to him in thanks. She knew that Thorin loved Fíli but she also knew that her brother had recently begun to overestimate her son's abilities. Thorin seemed to forget that Fíli was still a child. Sighing, she stepped aside and allowed Dwalin to follow her brother into the boys' room.
"Are you and Dwalin going to stay for dinner?" Dís asked looking at Balin with a slightly forced smile. She had missed her cousins but she hadn't planned for so many. There was food enough, but it would be a bit tight on the meat. She knew that Dwalin and Balin would not have any interest whatsoever in the greens .
"No, lass," Balin replied with a sigh of his own. "We have shirked our duties for longer than we should have already to spend the day with Thorin and the boys. Your brother's treaties don't write themselves after all and it is for the good of us all that I don't make our allies try to decipher Thorin's hand more than they already have to. There is that negotiation with Bree next month and I need to get back to drawing up the starting terms for it."
"I understand," Dís replied in a light tone with a smile on her face. "Thorin's nearly useless without us, isn't he?"
"Now, Dís, you know I can't agree with you," Balin replied with a smirk. "Much as I might sometimes like to. Especially when he springs the necessity of lesson plans on me on top of the treaties and agreements he already has me drafting."
"Lesson plans?" Dís asked, her brown eyes narrowing dangerously. Balin suddenly found himself very glad that he had taken the axe from her; she looked nearly murderous.
"Aye," he said slowly. "For Fíli. Thorin asked me to plan lessons for tomorrow, as if I didn't have enough to do what with that treaty." The last was said in a voice that was little more than a whisper and Dís half-imagined that she hadn't heard it at all.
"He did, did he?" She said in a flat tone that was all the more dangerous for its lack of emotion.
"He did," Balin replied hoping that she wasn't going to loose her temper on him. He was only just now realizing that he had been dragged into a fight between Thorin and his sister over her sons. It was a place he had no desire to be; only a fool wanted to be between a dwarrowdam and her children.
"And did my brother happen to mention if I had approved of these lessons?" Dís demanded in the same flat tone. But no matter how she modulated her voice, she couldn't mask the raw furry burning in her brown eyes at the realization that Thorin had had no intention of giving her a vote in this. He had intended to do as he pleased and her desires be damned. The small part of her that had been admitting that he was actually right to send her eldest to lessons was savagely murdered within her by the larger part that was wanting to hurt her brother for daring to make decisions for her sons without bothering to even consider what she wanted for them. They might be his heirs but they were her sons.
"He . . . he didn't," Balin replied just barely fighting the urge to back down the hall rather than face Dís in her fury. "But I can see that he should have. I doubted that you were in agreement on the matter but I was unsure." Dís scoffed in response.
"I do not agree," she said eventually, locking eyes with her brother over Balin's head. "And Thorin is well aware of my position on the matter of the education of my son." Thorin flinched internally at both the ice in her words and the heat in her glare and wondered how two such conflicting states could exist within one person.
"We can discuss this later, Dís," Thorin told her. "The boys are asleep but I don't know how long they'll remain that way. We need to feed them when they wake, Sister."
"There is no reason that we cannot both discuss this and prepare food for my children, Thorin," Dís said, her words dripping with mock sweetness. "I believe that you and I have put off this conversation long enough already, Brother." Thorin was silent, returning Dís' glare with one of his own that she would be so cruel as to pull that card as if he wasn't aware every moment of every day that Fíli and Kíli were her sons and not his own. It hurt that she would cite that in the middle of this argument.
"Well," Balin said clearing his throat uncomfortably at the fury wafting off the siblings, "thank you for letting us spend time with the you and the boys today, Thorin. I think that I'd best be getting back to that treaty now. Dís, always a pleasure," Balin paused to dip his head to her and began edging for the door, push Dwalin forward in front of him. He was almost out when he heard Dís call his name and felt his shoulders droop in disappointment. He'd almost made it.
"Yes, Dís?" he asked turning reluctantly to face the enraged female. "What can I do for you?"
"You can let me have my axe back," she replied with the ghost of a smile. Balin glanced down in shock, only just realizing that he still held her axe in his hand. He only hesitated for a moment before he handed it to her.
"Lass," he whispered before he relinquished his hold entirely, "you do know that I was not serious when I said that you could kill your brother, yes?"
"He'll still be alive when I'm done with him," she promised. "That's all I can guarantee you, but you will still have your king come dawn." Balin nodded in reply and allowed her to take the axe.
"Good luck," he whispered as he closed the door behind him. As he walked away with Dwalin he could only hope that Dís would be victorious. Fíli truly was too young, even if Thorin didn't think so. But if Thorin won . . . well, he was the King. Balin would do as he was asked. After all, it never really hurt to learn something. He would just make sure that something would be easy until he felt that Fíli was old enough to be burdened with more difficult subjects. He may not be able to defy Thorin, but he could always modulate the order to better fit Fíli's tender age.
No sooner had the door closed behind Balin than Dís rounded on her brother. Her breath came heavy as she attempted to control her rage at what Thorin had done that day. Remembering her promise to Balin, and her own lack of true desire to attack him, she leaned the axe against the wall before she began advancing on him.
"I cannot believe you did that, Thorin," she snarled. "What happened to "we'll talk about this later, Dís,"? That didn't seem like you wanted to talk about it later. Asking Balin to plan lessons! That sounds like you will do whatever you like and my views on the matter don't count for anything!"
"Dís," Thorin tried to say making small shushing motions with his hands. "The boys, they're sleeping, Dís."
"That's right, Thorin," Dís snapped. "They're sleeping! You had them outside for little more than half a day and they're sleeping. Fíli is sleeping. The same little dwarfling that you want to confine to a classroom tomorrow for an indeterminate amount of time is sleeping after half a day playing with his brother. Durin's beard, Thorin! What are you thinking!?"
"He's not as frail as you seem to think, Dís," Thorin countered. "Yes, he's sleeping but their play was rather rambunctious. Schooling will hardly tire him out as much. It is much less stressful."
"Physically!" Dís retorted. "Thorin, he's not going. He's too young and I won't allow it. I don't care if you are king, as far as my sons are concerned I am god and a god trumps a king. You will not do this, Brother."
"I was younger," Thorin countered not liking that she would remind him yet again that they were her children and not his anymore than he had the first time that she had done it that evening. "I was Kíli's age when Father set me to lessons the first time."
"Father did many questionable things when it came to what he should allow children to do, in case you have forgotten," Dís replied coldly despite the anger that was flooding hotly through her veins and causing a flush to rise up her face. "Do not cite him to me as a role model when it comes to what you intend to do with my children, Thorin. Would you also tell me that Kíli is old enough? Or that Fíli should begin training with a sword as you did at his age?"
"Dís, you can hardly compare me sending Fíli to lessons to what our father set children too," Thorin snarled, angered that she would dare to compare him to the dwarf that had sent children into battle and led to the death of his own son in the process. "I would never—"
"I know you wouldn't!" Dís thundered. "I would never allow it! Just as I won't allow this, Thorin! Fíli is not going to lessons. Not until he is fifteen. I will not budge on this. You will not force this on him before he is ready."
"Damn it, Dís!" Thorin shouted in reply. "I understand that you fear for him. I do. But you cannot delay this forever. What will happen when he turns fifteen? Will you ask me to wait until he is twenty? You're doing him no favors, Sister. Delaying his education will only make it more difficult for you both when the time comes."
"Don't you dare tell me how to raise my children, Brother," Dís breathed. "I neither want nor need your advice. I will make the choices for them that I feel are the best and you will respect my wishes. If not, I am sure that Dáin would be more than willing to allow us to live with him in the Iron Hills. He will not dare to try to impose his will on my sons." She regretted the words the moment they left her mouth and she saw her brother flinch as if she had struck him. She knew that he loved her boys and that what she had said had been below the belt, but she did not take it back. Instead, she stood there, staring at him levelly and trying to pretend that the pain in his eyes as her threat did not rip out her heart.
"Would you truly take them from me, Dís?" Thorin finally breathed. "Is this truly so important to you that if I forced your hand you would leave me? Would you truly take children across the breadth of Arda to the Iron Hills just to protect them from me?"
"Do you really have to ask?" Dís asked, not willing to say that she would not but unable to say that she would not. They both knew that she wouldn't do it, but the threat still hung between them. As she watched her brother's shoulders slump in defeat she felt no satisfaction at her victory, only nausea coiling within her at the tactic she had used to win. She had never thought that she would use her children as a bargaining chip against Thorin and she hated that she had.
"Then have you way in this matter," Thorin whispered, turning to go to his own room. Dís saw him wipe angrily at his eyes and wondered, with a pain that bordered on physical, if she had made him cry. "I will not fight you in this. Fíli will go to lessons when you deem him ready and not a day before. I will not lose you, even if I do believe you are making a grave error."
"Thorin," Dís breathed reaching for him, her eyes soft once more in penance. "I—"
"No, Dís," Thorin replied batting her hand away. "I understand. I overstepped myself and you showed me the error of my ways. Thank you for allowing me what privileges you do where your children are concerned. Forgive me for occasionally forgetting that I have no real claim to them. I will just have to remind myself more often that they are not actually my sons. Good night, Dís." She winced as she heard his door slam shut behind him and the bolt slide into place. He only rarely bolted the door and it was never good when he did. Cursing herself vehemently for her indelicate treatment of her brother, Dís walked slowly into the kitchen and began preparing food for dinner.
She was so distracted that she managed to cut herself for the first time in years. Rather than immediately stop the flow, she instead watched the ruby liquid flow from the gash. Strange, she thought dismally. Strange that so much fuss is raised over so simple a thing. She thought about all the blood she had seen over the years, most memorably that of her dear Gíli as he lay dying in their bed. His blood hadn't looked any different than hers did. And hers looked just like Thorin's and her sons. If all of their blood had been the same, despite Gíli's lack of lineage, she couldn't understand what all the fuss was about with the blood of Durin flowing in their veins. Was it not red just as any other dwarf's? What was so special about it that it would cause her family such pain? As she watched her own heart's blood flow, she couldn't help but despise it.