Fíli ducked under Dwalin’s axe and rolled forward, surprising the older Dwarf by approaching instead of avoiding him, as he swung his blades up. The move knocked Dwalin’s axe from his hands and the older warrior let out a surprised sound as the axe fell to the ground. Fíli straightened up and put one boot onto his opponent’s weapon while pointing both swords straight at Dwalin’s back.
“You got me, lad.” Dwalin said, effectively ending the fight. “Good job, you’re getting better with those dual blades.”
“Thanks. I learned from the best.” Fíli answered and lifted his foot off the axe and sheathed his swords. Dwalin nodded in response and picked up his axe, inspecting it for damage. When he found none he addressed Fíli once more.
“You’re done for today. Go and find that unruly brother of yours and make sure that your afternoon off is not spent terrorizing Thorin. I don’t want to endure another evening in the tavern hearing your uncle complain about you hooligans.”
“I’ll make sure he behaves.” Fíli said with a grin, knowing full well that it was the two of them combined that caused Thorin the most headaches, not Kíli alone.
Dwalin waved him off with a laugh.
Whistling a merry tune, Fíli made his way home from the training grounds. He was in a good mood. The bright sunlight reflected off his training blades while he greeted the Dwarves he met. His morning had been going quite well so far. Dwalin had been impressed by his progress with dual blades and Fíli knew that compliments from the seasoned warrior were not freely given. What lightened his mood even more was that he had no other obligations for the rest of the day. He and Kíli had planned to spend the afternoon together and he had been looking forward to it all week.
He hoped Kíli’s morning had gone just as well as his own. His younger brother had been on his way to Thorin when they parted ways after breakfast. Thorin had promised to teach his youngest nephew a new song on the fiddle. The older Dwarf’s musical abilities were known by most and he was well equipped to teach the fiddle, even though his main instrument was the harp. The song Kíli would be learning was one that Fíli had learned years ago and he was happy that Thorin had finally decided to teach Kíli as well. He looked forward to playing it together with his brother later that afternoon.
“I’m home.” Fíli called out when he entered the front door of their house. He was slightly disappointed not to be greeted with an enthusiastic welcome from his younger brother. It was always Kíli who greeted him first, most often with the enthusiasm of an over-excited puppy. The blond Dwarf put down his weapons by the door before walking towards the kitchen. He was surprised to find his uncle but not his brother sitting at the kitchen table.
“Where are your manners, Fíli. Sit down before you start a conversation.” Dís reprimanded him. He conceded and sat down with his mother and uncle. Ever since being officially named heir by Thorin, Fíli had been expected to act like royalty at all times. He did not mind most of the time, but it could get quite tedious to act so formally in his own home.
“Hello uncle,” Fíli started again, “How is your day going so far?”
“Fíli,” Thorin nodded at his heir, “Could’ve been better” came the gruff reply.
“So, where’s Kíli?” Fíli tried again, his curiosity peaking since he had expected Kíli and his uncle to be together after their morning lesson.
His uncle sighed heavily and Fíli instantly knew that Kíli and Thorin had had one of their infamous arguments. Their level of stubbornness was only surpassed by their temper, and neither could handle criticism well. These clashes had happened multiple times in the past and it was generally Fíli or Dís (or both) who got them to apologize and reconnect.
“What happened?” Fíli asked, curious what had set them off this time.
“I was teaching him to play a song on his fiddle and he just ran out shouting about how he knew he was ‘inferior in every way’.”
“That sounds kind of.. sudden.” Fíli remarked. He kept his gaze focused on his uncle, silently requesting him to share some more details. Thorin relented after a few moments.
“I told him that he was positioning his fingers all wrong, and that he would never learn to play properly if he didn’t correct it.”
Fíli closed his eyes briefly. His uncle would never learn.
“… So you essentially told him he cannot play properly and doesn’t even have the basics covered?” Fíli summarized. His uncle could be so inconsiderate in expressing his opinions.
Thorin’s expression showed the dawning realization on how Kíli had probably taken his words.
“I thought you were going to teach him that song from Erebor?” Fíli continued, not understanding why Kíli’s technique had been discussed instead of the song to be learned.
“We didn’t get very far with that.” Thorin admitted.
Dís patted Thorin’s hand and rose from her chair.
“I’ll go find him.” Fíli stated, standing up as well. He quickly grabbed his own fiddle and accepted the package of food his mother had made for him and Kíli. They both knew that it would take Fíli a few hours at least to get Kíli to come home.
Fíli first checked two of Kíli’s favorite hiding places within the blue mountains. He had not really expected Kíli to be there, but had inspected them just to be sure. His next destination was a little further away. The forest had always calmed Kíli and Fíli knew exactly where to look for his wayward brother on this sunny afternoon.
During his walk to the woods, he could not help but contemplate his uncle and brother. Thorin had always been difficult. Not unkind or unhelpful, just difficult to manage and to understand. Thorin had grown up with stern teachers and role models, Dís had once told him, and he believed that being strict and direct conveyed his willingness to teach you.
When Fíli was younger, he had been hurt by his uncle’s harsh comments on more than one occasion. Thorin had made him feel like he was never good enough. It had pushed him to try even harder though, and he had eventually learned that Thorin’s feedback, no matter how brutal, was a compliment in itself. It meant he thought you were good enough to spend his time and attention on.
Kíli had never taken to Thorin’s way of teaching quite the same way Fíli had. Where Fíli had increased his efforts under Thorin’s strict teachings, Kíli generally chose to do the exact opposite and quit the subject matter that Thorin was trying to teach him altogether. Thorin’s ‘lessons’ with Kíli on his axe-work were actually the main reason Kíli had picked up the bow: the only weapon that Thorin was not able to teach him. Dwalin had taken over Kíli’s sword-training from then on, unwilling to let Kíli give up on all close-combat weapons.
But there was another aspect that put a strain on Kíli’s relationship with Thorin. Ever since Thorin had named Fíli his heir, Kíli had felt a need to prove himself beyond the normal brotherly competition: He was not only the youngest, but now the only male in their family without a formal role in the succession to the Throne. Fíli had made it his goal to ensure Kíli never felt like a spare. He involved Kíli in most of his official tasks and even though Kíli complained loudly about being dragged to all the ‘boring’ meetings and obligations, Fíli knew he was happy to be involved instead of left behind.
But despite Fíli’s efforts, Kíli’s need to prove himself never lessened. The direct result was that he could not handle harsh criticism, especially from Thorin. Unfortunately, Thorin was just not adept at handling Kíli’s insecurities and Thorin’s comments always hit the youngest prince hard. Today was a perfect example of how their interactions regarding teaching usually ended. Fíli hoped Kíli would grow out of this need to demonstrate his abilities and that he would grow to be proud of himself, regardless of other’s opinions.
Fíli’s feet had brought him to his destination during his ruminations. He had arrived in the forest that surrounded the Blue Mountains. It had been Kíli’s refuge ever since he was old enough to explore outside the mountain. And indeed, this is where he found him.
Kíli sat in the middle of a natural clearing in the forest and he made a stunning picture that took Fíli’s breath away. The sun filtered through the surrounding trees and it made his brother’s dark hair shine. The young Dwarf sat cross-legged on the ground, surrounded by spring flowers and lush green grass. The bright surroundings contrasted with his dark hair and clothes. He was truly a picture of beauty and Fíli could not understand how anyone could think Kíli was not the most handsome Dwarf in the Blue Mountains.
However, the beautiful spring picture belied Kíli’s dark mood, which was obvious to Fíli even from where he was standing. Although Kíli had not been crying, the set of his shoulders and the faraway look in his eyes gave the younger Dwarf away.
“Why such a sour mood on a beautiful day like today, brother?” Fíli asked teasingly, attempting to lighten Kíli’s mood while making his way into the meadow and towards his stubborn sibling.
Kíli glanced up and shrugged with one shoulder. He did not look surprised to see him, so he had probably expected his older brother to show up at some point.
Sitting down across from him, he noticed that Kíli’s fingers were stained green from plucking and tearing grass and flowers. He had made a small mound of flowers and grass next to his leg. It was a nervous habit that Fíli had observed very often and generally meant Kíli was overthinking the situation.
“Dwalin has finished his new axe.” Fíli started, deciding that distraction was the best strategy right now. If he directly addressed Kíli’s hurt feelings, chances were that Kíli would close himself off and sulk for at least another day.
“Did he use it in your spar?” Kíli asked. He looked up again and his fingers stopped their abuse of the grass and flowers.
“Yeah. It has a strange swing which caught me off-guard. Nearly cut off a braid.”
“He’s just jealous of your golden locks.” Kíli teased. “Probably wished he hadn’t shaved all his own hair off.”
Fíli laughed. “I can’t fault him for being envious. I mean.. I do look rather dashing, don’t I?” Fíli said jokingly. He threw his hair back and feigned preening while pretending to use his hand as a mirror.
Kíli smiled at Fíli’s antics, but nodded anyway. “Yeah, you do.” They smiled at each other, Kíli’s mood brightening significantly. They sat together and ate the lunch Fíli had brought while talking about anything except Kíli’s morning. It was a testament to their bond that Kíli was able to forget about his problems for a short while when he was spending time with his big brother.
“So you probably didn’t come here to talk about your face and Dwalin’s axe.” Kíli said after they had finished their meal. It was the signal Fíli had been waiting for: Kíli was ready to talk about it.
“I came to spend the afternoon with you, like we agreed.” Fíli replied. “But I heard you and uncle didn’t have such a pleasant morning together.”
“Understatement.” Kíli mumbled.
“Thorin gave you a hard time?” Fíli enquired, wanting to hear Kíli’s side of the story.
“He basically said I was shit at it.” Kíli replied, nudging the fiddle next to him with his foot as he resumed ripping out flowers and grass around his legs. “Stupid Thorin with his stupid harp.”
“He doesn’t mean it like that.” Fíli tried to reason.
“Then he shouldn’t say it.” Kíli shot back, temper flaring.
Fíli held up his hands to show he meant no harm or insult. He needed to handle Kíli with kid gloves to get anywhere with him right now.
“Show me how you play.” Fíli requested. Addressing Kíli’s problem in playing the fiddle might be more effective in solving his insecurities right now.
“No, I’m doing it wrong.” Kíli pouted, crossing his arms. Fíli tried his best to keep the smile off his face at Kíli’s childish behavior. Kíli was young and hurt, he was allowed to act like a kid once in a while.
“Please? You know I would never laugh at you or make you feel bad.” Fíli promted.
Kíli contemplated it for a few seconds before slowly reaching for his fiddle. He positioned his instrument and started playing an old song, which Fíli recognized as one of the first he had learned when he started playing a few years ago.
Looking at his brother’s form, Fíli immediately spotted what Thorin had meant. He silently cursed his uncle for not just giving Kíli the simple solution for it. Kíli’s right hand was moving the bow over the strings perfectly. It was the left hand that was the problem. Kíli used his thumb to hook over the side of the neck of his fiddle, close to the top string, but this caused his whole hand to change position and his fingers would probably cramp up after only a few songs. It made his playing slightly stilted, although it was not noticeable to the untrained ear.
“Try placing your thumb at the back of the neck instead of over it.” Fíli suggested when Kíli had finished his song.
“Like this?” Kíli asked while repositioning his fingers.
“A little lower, try putting it in the middle.” He helped Kíli arrange his fingers. His hand was now visibly more relaxed.
“Wow, that feels a lot better.” Kíli exclaimed after playing a few notes. His face lit up and he smiled at his brother.
“I’m glad it helps.” Fíli smiled and laid back in the grass, closing his eyes and relishing in the music his brother played for him. It always made him happy when Kíli was happy.
“Was this what Thorin meant about my fingers being wrong?” Kíli enquired, continuing to play.
“Yeah, he should’ve just told you how to solve it. And it’s not really wrong, just uncomfortable.” Fíli answered, enjoying his free afternoon now that he had increased Kíli’s confidence again. Kíli played a few of his favorite songs and Fíli had nearly been lulled to sleep by the music when Kíli stopped playing.
“Do you want to teach me the song?”
“You don’t want Thorin to teach you?” Fíli asked, slowly sitting up again and stretching his arms.
“No. I don’t like the way he corrects me. It’s humiliating.” Kíli confessed.
Fíli nodded in understanding. “I’ll help you.”
After unpacking his own fiddle and tuning it, Fíli quickly lost himself in playing, teaching and helping his sibling. Kíli was a quick study and now that he had corrected the setting of his fingers, he could indeed practice a lot longer than he normally could.
“Try that again, but slide your finger slightly upward during the second note in the fourth measure .” Fíli commented, showing Kíli what he meant by playing it for him.
“Like this?” Kíli copied his brother and added some quick notes in between.
“Oh, I like those extra notes. Keep them in, it gives the slower part something extra.”
They continued practicing well into the afternoon and by the time the sun was casting long shadows on the grass, Kíli had the whole piece down.
“Brilliant, Kíli. It took me way longer to learn it.” Fíli complimented, packing away his fiddle and eating some of the nuts that their mother had packed.
“That’s because Thorin was your teacher.” Kíli joked.
“That’s mean.” Fíli said, trying to hold his laughter.
“You are just so much better at teaching than Thorin is.” Kíli told him.
“Not really, just different. Thorin is a good teacher.”
“You are way better.” Kíli stated, seating himself right in front of his brother.
“Better for me.” Kíli concluded decisively when Fíli gave him an amused look.
Fíli smiled and copied Kíli’s movement, touching their foreheads together. They closed their eyes for a few seconds, basking in their closeness.
“I’m glad you feel better.” Fíli said when Kíli moved away from him again.
“I always feel good when you’re around.”
Fíli could not decide if Kíli was joking or not and decided against replying, instead suggesting they go home for dinner.
That evening, Fíli made sure that he and Kíli were playing Kíli’s newly studied piece when uncle Thorin entered their home. It gave him great satisfaction to watch his uncle’s surprised face when he realized that Kíli was playing the song perfectly and that his young nephew’s technique was now flawless.
He clapped slowly when they had finished and Kíli smiled at Thorin’s praise.
“That was really good, Kíli.” Thorin complimented.
“Thanks. Fíli taught me.” Kíli said defiantly. Ah, there it was. The expected conflict-seeking attitude.
“I realize that.” Thorin replied. “I’ve also realized that I was wrong to speak to you the way I did this morning.” Fíli was glad Thorin did not take Kíli’s bait, he really did not feel like solving another fight.
Kíli backed down at Thorin’s apologetic attitude. Fíli had counted on that. If one of them showed remorse, the other quickly followed. It was the reason the two of them were never at odds for long periods of time.
“But I see that Fíli has done a tremendous job in teaching you.” Thorin continued. Both brothers smiled at that, compliments were a rare commodity with Thorin.
“Fíli’s the best teacher.” Kíli replied. And this time he did not say it to insult Thorin, but because he genuinely meant it.
“Maybe he should teach you more often.” Thorin said thoughtfully.
“That would be great!” Kíli enthusiastically responded.
“Would that be agreeable to you as well?” Thorin said, addressing his heir. “It’s a big responsibility to tutor somebody. It should be done with love and dedication. You should not treat such a decision lightly.”
“I would be honored.” Fíli answered without hesitation. Both him and his uncle knew that nobody could handle Kíli’s mood swings and peculiarities as well as Fíli could. After all, he knew his brother better than anyone.
“Then it’s settled. Fíli will take over your lessons with the fiddle.” Thorin said to Kíli.
Fíli’s takeover of Kíli’s fiddle lessons turned out the be the first of many teachings that Fíli took over in the years thereafter. This caused the bond between Thorin and Kíli to improve significantly. But that was not Fíli’s ultimate reward, nor was it the fact that he spent significantly more time in the company of his brother. Fíli’s biggest reward was the beaming smile directed at him each time Kíli had mastered a new skill. Kíli was happy, and that was the most important thing in the world.