“Brother…” Tearful, begging brown eyes looked up at him, “Brother, please make the pain go away.”
His brother’s broken bow and an empty quiver lay next to his feet. The mid-Autumn waning crescent moon’s light reflected off of the waters of the lake. A cool breeze gently blew.
He cradled his beloved younger brother in his arms as he cooed gently, “Hush… It will be all right. I am here with you. Nothing will happen. ”
The prince did his best to remain calm for the sake of his dying brother, for he knew that even now, the younger still looked to him for strength. He cannot allow a single tear to betray his resolve and instead he wore a kind smile upon his face.
With the palm of his hand, he did whatever he could to stop the bleeding. It was no use. The boy would die no matter what he did. Death was ever so eminent and unjust.
In his arms, he held not just his brother, but a dear friend, a confidant, a protégé. He loved the poor youth since he first saw him brought into this world by their late-mother. He was like a shadow to him, following him and guarding him from behind, always there beside him. Even though he knew the War had already claimed so many lives, Frerin was still determined to follow Thorin into battle.
The lad survived the loss of their home and lived to endure the years of disgraceful humility with ever a smile upon his face. His beard was but barely growing and yet he already had many women chasing after him. His smile always made the solemn situations better. It never failed to make Thorin happy.
But there was none now. Not even the slightest twinkle that was once so often seen in his eyes. No, his eyes were full of fear, a child-like fear that can only be brought about by Death.
Frerin looked deep into his brother’s ice blue eyes, searching for a way out. Thorin always had the answers. He always found a way out of every sticky situation. He was able to save him from the dragon, starvation, and the cold but alas, not death. He searched in vain.
“It hurts too much, Thorin. Please. Make it stop,” he desperately grasped onto his brother’s arm.
“The healers are on their way. Everything will be fine. Nothing will happen to you so long as I am here,” the smile quickly became sour as he could no longer contain his tears.
It betrayed him. A single drop streaked down his cheek and fell onto his brother’s face. He cursed it.
Damn it! Why now? What good can I be to him if I am mewling?!
Despite his efforts, the tears did not stop. A lump swelled at the back of his throat. His arms began to tremble.
No! Not now!
“Was I a fool to ask to join you?” So came his brother’s solemn voice.
He stiffened his shoulders and with every fiber of his being, he resisted. He swallowed hard to rid himself of that accursed lump. He had to be strong. He must not allow Frerin to go gently into the night. They were dwarves of Durin’s Folk, princes of the glittering caves of Erebor, the Lonely Mountain and heirs to the throne. Durin would sneer at them for being so weak.
“Not at all. This war would not have been won if it was not for your help. I would have died many a time if you weren’t there to watch my back.”
“Yeah. You are always leaving your backside exposed,” Frerin chuckled, but ended up coughing up blood.
“Hush now. Don’t fret about such trivial matters. Just bear it a little longer and they will make you all better.” Thorin pushed back strands of auburn hair off his brother’s forehead.
And yet at this moment, Thorin could care less what their ancient ancestor would have thought. His brother was dying and there was nothing that he could do to stop it. He hated himself for it, but he had to lie and give him false hope as though it was just a trivial matter. Was Mahal so cruel to take away this youth before he has yet the chance to grow his magnificent beard and court the ladies of the Seven Clans?
“Brother, the pain will not stop unless you make it stop.”
Thorin’s eyes widened. Whatever control he once had was now lost. His body trembled fiercely as he held his brother close to his bosom. The boy asked him for the unthinkable. How could he ever do such a thing?
“You do not know what you are asking, you fool! The healers will come and they will-“
“- Brother, please,” his eyes changed. It was full of determination and pain, but not fear. “Let me have your sword and I will never ask you of anything ever again.”
Thorin held him tightly. Was he cruel enough to make his own brother endure such pain? Yet had he the heart to end it so abruptly? He gritted his teeth together. Hot tears now rushed down his cheek as he gripped his brother. He had to force himself to pull away to reach for his sword. His hand trembled as he tightened his grip around the handle. He had to summon all the strength that was left in him to lift it over Frerin’s breast.
“I love you, little brother,” these words surprised the youth quite a bit, for Thorin was not one to say such things lightly. He plunged the blade into his stomach with a quick motion.
“Don’t worry. I will continue to watch over you from the Halls of Waiting, big brother,” the lad smiled with a slight twinkle in his eyes. His beautiful, hazel brown eyes briefly shined with a light full of love but quickly dim as his last breath left him.
Thorin gently brushed his hands over Frerin’s face and closed his eyes. His head then fell onto the lad’s lifeless body as he wept and wailed in agony. His eyes were shut tightly for he could not bear to see the truth before him.
Then, there came a voice from the distance, “Thorin. Thorin, let him go.”
It was his father’s voice, deep and solemn but it quickly faded away into an echo, an indistinct whisper.
“-cleThorin…” The whisper transformed into the sound of a child’s voice.
“Uncle Thorin.” He opened his eyes and in the place of his brother lie a golden haired dwarf toddler. The babe looked up at him with steely blue eyes, full of tears, “Uncle Thorin, where is Mama?”
It was just a dream, a memory from more than half a century ago.
He inhaled deeply and slowly. He was no longer near the shores of Mirrormere of Moria, for he was now within the Blue Mountains in borrowed halls. The scene has changed completely. The Durin’s Folk were no longer fighting and wandering aimlessly. His people had finally settled down in their relatively new lodgings. Now the memories of the fallen were nothing but distant dreams ─ more nightmare than dreams for Thorin─ and those who survived lived on. They lived in a time of peace and plenty.
When did he doze off? He rubbed the tears away from his eyes with the tip of his fingers and yawned. He straightened his back, looked down at the boy and cleared his throat.
“Your mother is on the birthing bed,” he explained. He gently stroked his hair and wiped away his tears. The boy looked back utterly confused one second and then completely frightened the next.
“Bed? But she’s not sick, is she?” Apparently, to the young dwarf, the word “bed” either meant “sleep” or “illness”, for dwarves seldom ever rest that long for any other reason. Even at that age, he knew that they were a very diligent and hardworking folk.
Thorin chuckled as he pat the top of Fíli’s head, “No, child. Your mother is not sick, though she has been working very hard to deliver you a little brother or sister and I would not doubt that she would very much need to rest after that ordeal.”
The boy still looked at him confused, though he no longer was afraid but rather curious.
“How is she getting one of those from the bed?”
At this, Thorin laughed heartily. Never would he have ever imagined this scenario; having to explain to a child the miracles of life. He remembered the last time he tried and utterly failed at doing this, he was fourteen and knew just as little as the person he was describing it to. Frerin too had such innocence in his questions. Back then, the person being brought to the world was his sister, Dís, who was now very much grown, very much pregnant and awfully loud about it.
O how the times have changed indeed. He thought.
“Well, it is not quite that, lad. Babies do not come from the bed─ …” He had to collect himself a bit as the thought of creating children came to mind. He struggled to find an explanation that was both informative but not too detailed for the toddler in fear of what the latter might be spouting around the halls afterwards.
He cleared his throat again, “Fíli, dwarf babies come from the mother’s stomach. Have you not noticed how exceptionally plump your mother has gotten in the past months?” The boy paused for a bit and then nodded. The look in his eyes told Thorin that he still did not quite understand. He knew that he was doing a horrible job of explaining, but he had to make do. In hindsight, he was doing a much better job than he did more than a century ago.
“So my brother-or-sister is what made Mama all puffy?” The boy’s eagerness was almost palpable. Thorin nodded.
“When the time comes, the mother must deliver the baby from her stomach into the world, like what your mother is doing right now. She is giving birth,” he continued.
“Giving birth? Oh! Like giving a present? So is the brother-or-sister going to be like a present?” Fíli was now hungry for information as though Thorin had just promised him he was to get a hound pup for a pet.
“Yes lad. They will be quite a present for us all and especially you,” the king slipped his hands under his nephew’s arms, lifted him effortlessly and placed him on his lap. Fíli now wore a great big smile on his face.
“Like a friend, then?”
“Very much so, lad. He or she will be the best friend you can ever hope for. You will love them with all your heart and they you in return,” a slight twinge of bittersweet pain pulled at Thorin’s heartstrings, but he continued to smile.
A brother is a friend who will always watch your back no matter what.
Ever since that day, he had to keep his pain hidden. No matter how he felt deep inside, he had to be stay collected and calm for all of the Durin’s Folk looked to him for strength in such harsh times. Fíli only knew of this side of Thorin and so he kept on the façade. He did not want to spoil the wonderful moment for his young nephew. The boy need not know what loss was. Hopefully, he never would have to.
Then a voice came from beyond the door.
“Uzbâdinhuh! Shamukh (My Lord! Hail!)!”
One of the midwives came into the room looking rather exhausted. She mopped the sweat off her brow and gave a deep bow to her king. Thorin nod his head and gestured for the woman to take a moment to breathe.
“Shamukh ra ghelekur aimâ (Hail and well met).” It was the proper thing to say in response to her formal greeting.
“Uzbâdinhuh! Joyous news! The princess has given birth to a young prince!” she spoke in Khuzdul, which was reserved chiefly for important matters. She was far too excited to remain calm, even in the presence of the king. Her words were hasty and jumbled.
“Truly?” he responded in the language, and did his best to remain reserved and in control. He looked at his nephew on his lap and smiled, switching back to Westron, “Did you hear that? It seems you now have a little brother. ” The boy looked back slightly confused and then became full of excitement. Thorin forgot that the child was still too young to understand their ancient tongue.
“Can I see Mama? I want to see Mama now, “ Fíli was rocking back and forth with excitement.
“Not yet, Fíli. You will see your mother in time, when she is ready to receive you,” he gave his nephew a mock frown. He knew that birthing was quite a messy business and that a child should not go gallivanting in unaccompanied. The boy pouted and crossed his arms. Thorin rustled his golden locks to cheer him up. He then turned to the midwife.
“And my sister? Is she well?” Again, birthing was a messy and even dangerous business. Often due to the harsh conditions of a life in exile, mothers would succumb to illness or even worse, death. He remembered last time when Fíli was born, Dis was bedridden for weeks.
“Both mother and child are in great health, Uzbâdinhuh. The princess may be fatigued, but she is still able to feed the babe on her own. May Mahal shield them both with his mighty hammer!”
“I am forever at your service, Good Nurse. May your beard continue to grow longer,” Thorin dismissed her with a grateful nod and she responded with smile and a deep bow.
“And I am forever at yours and your families, my Lord.” She turned to leave but then added, “Does my Lord wish to visit the princess?”
“Not before the father. Has Lord Barik heard the news yet?” He raised a brow. Traditionally, the father would be the first to be informed in the family. However, tradition also dictates that in the event that a prince is born, the king, regardless of his relationship to the child, was to receive the news first. Thorin felt rather uncomfortable and thought it was rather inappropriate. Indeed, the child will be a viable heir, but he was first and foremost the son of another man.
“Lord Barik was just outside the birthing chambers. He was the first to hear the news,” the midwife responded. “He is currently by the princess’s side.”
“Good.” The midwife bowed deeply and left the room.
“Why can’t I see Mama yet? I want to see her,” Fíli waited until she was out of earshot and started to whine.
Thorin gave him a stern look, “Fíli.”
The boy pouted and looked away in shame. He did not like it when his uncle gave him that look. “I’m sorry, Uncle.”
“Your time will come, Fíli.” Thorin lifted his nephew off his lap and set him onto the marble floor. The child averted eye contact and began sucking his thumb with his other hand tucked behind his back. His uncle cleared his throat and the boy quickly pulled his finger from his mouth and tucked it neatly behind his back.
Thorin smiled and patted the boy’s head gently, “Come along.” He stood up and offered him his hand. Fíli hesitated and then gently took hold of his uncle’s hand. The two walk out the room in silence.
As they walked through the halls, they passed a number of servants who bowed in congratulations. Thorin nodded with a courteous smile. Fíli realized which direction they were heading and so his solemn steps gradually became excited strides and prances. Near the entrance of the birthing room, the boy seemingly dragged the dwarf king. The maids and attendants were chuckling at the sight as they passed by. Thorin had to pull him back before the child nearly collided with the chamber door, which was cracked open.
“Uzbâdinhuh!” the maids and midwives exclaimed as they walked out of the chamber with basins of water. They hastily bowed.
“Rise. My nephew wishes to see his mother. Is everything ready?” He announced. He glanced down at Fíli to see the boy’s great big smile.
“Of course, my Lord! The prince may enter as he pleases,” the head nurse stepped aside and gestured to the others to clear the way for the boy.
Fíli looked up at Thorin, almost as though about to ask if he really could, but the words would not come. The king smiled and nodded. He let go of his tiny hand. However, instead of rushing right in as he had expected the boy to do, Fíli remained by his uncle side. The boy tugged at Thorin’s cloak and looked up with his steely blue eyes, suggesting that he wanted to tell his uncle something secret.
He knelt, “What is it lad?” Unexpectedly, instead of a meek whisper in his ear, the boy boldly embraced his uncle and gave him a sweet little kiss on cheek. It was quite a pleasant surprise for Thorin. He responded by kissing his nephew on the forehead and gently urged him towards the door.
“Thank you, Uncle Thorin!” With that, the boy quickly ran off into the room.
Thorin got up and brushed himself off. The nurse approached him and asked, “Does my Lord wish to see the babe prince?”
“Not yet. This is their moment to relish, not mine. I can wait my turn.” At that, he turned and walked away while he caught a glimpse of the happy family inside. This is not my place, he thought.
He decided to walk along the adjacent ramparts as he gazed at the moonlit sky. It was the waning crescent of mid-Autumn, the same moon that shone that night he remembered from long ago. A cool breeze kissed his face and brushed through his beard and dark locks. His eyes glistened with fresh tears as he could now vividly imagine Frerin’s last smile.
If only you were here with us on this joyous night.
“It’s been what? 65 years?” said a familiar voice from behind him. He turned, and for a brief moment, he saw Frerin standing right there.
With a blink, the image changed to someone else he knew very well, someone who also had his share of pain this night. Thorin cleared his throat and let the breeze dry out his tears. The man bowed his head slightly. In his hands were two tankards of what looked like honeyed mead. He was not one for ceremony and was rather inelegant with the way he presented himself. He did not need to. He did not care.
The dwarf had fought many battles beside his king and suffered a great deal of loss as well. The captain of the guard was like a brother to Thorin, his best friend, his confidant in the years after the death of his brother. He had lost his father, Lord Fundin son of Farin, in the Battle of Mirrormere.
“Dwalin,” he responded with a nod and a sad smile. “Yes. It indeed has been.”
Dwalin offered Thorin a tankard, which he gladly took. The two proud dwarves clanked the cups. No words needed be said. The captain’s friendly gesture was enough.
Worries go down better with Ale than without, they both thought as they drank their fill. It was an old saying their people had and it was quite apt for such an occasion. Dwalin stood there beside the king, leaning against the rampart walls and felt the breeze.
“To think the wee devil be born this night, eh?” he finally chuckled to break the silence.
“Nothing fails to get pass your fox-like ears, do they, Dwalin?” Thorin smirked.
“That’s exactly the reason why I’m guardin’ yer sorry backside while ye get to stand here and stargaze the bloody night away,” he punched him in the arm. “How is Dís comin’ along? The little bastard didn’t rob her of her strength, now did he?”
“No. They are both well, mother and child. I would rather you not call my nephew a ‘bastard’, thank you.” Thorin turned to look at his friend with a smirk. Dwalin snorted, shrugged it off and looked at his tankard.
“Ach! Grog’s empty. Wanna fill up?”
“No. One is enough for tonight. I would rather see my nephew sober.”
“Suit yerself. If ye change yer mind, ye know where to find me.” Dwalin patted his back before leaving. He was not very sentimental either. Every year on the same night, he and his brother Balin would have Thorin’s leave to go to the local pub. That was how they honored their fallen-father: neither a word nor tear, but with countless rounds of honeyed mead and ale to ease their sorrows. Every now and then, the king would join them and toasted in silence to their fallen kin.
Thorin could not join him tonight even if he wanted to. It was not a night to mourn, but to celebrate. The child has yet to be formally presented to him. He cannot abandon him before at least having a chance to meet him for the first time. He was not the father, but the newborn was to be his heir after all. He inhaled the night deep into his lungs and sighed.
He raised his tankard to the moon and said quietly, “To Frerin, son of Thrain, son of Thror, prince of Erebor.” He emptied it and walked back inside.
How long has he been wandering about the ramparts, standing with Dwalin, he did not know, but by now, the majority of the halls were left empty. He slowly headed towards the birthing room as he walked passed his sister’s husband, Barik. The dwarf had a now-sleeping Fíli tucked into the crook of his arms. He stopped and did his best to bow towards the king while trying to keep Fíli from falling. Thorin shook his head with a smile.
“The boy has worked himself up quite a bit. Poor thing is now exhausted,” Barik responded to the king’s look towards the child. He then had a concerned look on his face, “Uzbâduh, she is now resting. The babe has also taken a toll out of her. Would it not be wise to return in the morn? Dís has not the strength for the presentation.”
“I am merely paying a short visit. Nothing more. I just want to see the child,” Thorin assured. The dwarf was not too happy of the idea but had no choice but to reluctantly bow and leave. He was the king, after all. He had every right to see whomever whenever he wished to. Thorin nodded his head and dismissed his brother-in-law.
He then slowly and quietly crept into the dimly lit chamber. Aside from the pale moonlight, a fire blazing in a lone brazier near the entrance was the only thing that kept it from being completely blanketed in darkness. He could see his sister lying there, absolutely exhausted with disheveled hair and soaked brow. She held a bundle in her arms and looked at it with all the love a mother could offer. She looked up and was pleasantly surprised to see her oldest brother standing meekly at the doorway.
“Thorin-nadadinh!” she exclaimed with what he could see were tears in her eyes. She held out a beckoning hand to him, “Where have you been?”
“You look well, dearest sister. “ He slowly went to her side and took her hand into his own. He could not get himself to ask to see the child. He just looked at him with a sad smile. “What is the child’s name?”
“Kíli, my Lord. Fíli insisted on naming him. The little one seemed to respond to it quite well,” she presented the infant to him with both arms. Thorin took hold and then brought him close to his bosom.
“Black of hair, like his mother. Fair skin, like his father. He has a very strong voice indeed. I heard him from the ramparts. He will be a fine warrior some day.” The child cooed and was squirming about as he took firm hold of his finger, “Ah! He has quite the grip as well.”
“A grip meant for a bow,” Dís stated solemnly. Thorin’s eyes widened. He looked at her in confusion. She smiled and glanced down at the babe,“And his eyes, my Lord?”
He looked back at the child and saw that he now was gazing deep into his own eyes. The boy’s eyes were shut before, but now they were wide open. As their eyes met, little Kíli smiled and giggled. Tears streaked the king’s cheek. A lump grew in his throat and his arms began to tremble. The same beautiful, hazel brown eyes twinkled up at him, the very eyes that he thought he would never see again in his lifetime. The same smile shone with such delight, the very smile that haunted him so for 65 years.
Thorin smiled in return, tears gently falling onto the blanket. He blessed the child with a kiss on his forehead and held him close.
“He has his eyes. You knew?”
“After all these years…” Dís was now trying her best to keep her composure, “After all these years, Thorin. Of all the days for him to be brought into this world… Do you think… Do you think he was sent here?”
Thorin took hold of his sister’s hand and kissed it. “’I will continue to watch over you from the Halls of Waiting,’ he said once. It seems he was not lying after all. He is beautiful, Dís.”
“Oh Thorin!” They wept together silently as pressed their foreheads together. After a long while, the king returned the child to his sister, not before giving him a blessing kiss again. He straightened up and subdued the lump in his throat.
He held firmly onto her hand and said, “I, Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thrain, son of Thror, hereby vow to be Kíli’s godfather, if you shall grant it, my Lady.”
She nodded with a smile, “I do.”
“I vow that, as long as I live, I shall do whatever in my power to protect and watch over your son, Kíli, as if he was my own. Do you accept?”
“I do. And I hope that one day, he will be able to watch over you with his eyes and shield you with his sword. Do you accept?”
“That, I humbly shall.” He now looked at Kíli, “Let us hope that he will never have to.”