Chapter 1: Dream
On the night of the tenth new moon, a visitor walked the halls of Thorinutumnu. No one marked his coming; he let himself in. After all, it was his house.
Secure within its walls, his folk slumbered quietly. This made him glad. His journey back to them had been turbulent, obstructed by grief. He thanked Mahal to have arrived during the hour of deepest peace. To visit his kin in their dreams would be less painful, both for them and for him.
Habit steered him first to his old rooms, now unrecognizable. His bed, his possessions, all gone— but he felt no distress. Objects meant less now. Memories rattled around inside them; bits of energy too sparse for nourishment. Stones held more spirit. They, like he, would not be altered so easily.
Someone, he noticed, had reorganized his library. Volumes left scattered about now stood in neat rows, arranged along an unfamiliar (though upon inspection, sound) logic. Fíli’s? Despite his tough exterior, the boy had always hid a scholarly streak. At least he read. Kíli couldn’t be bothered.
The visitor drew his spectral fingers along the leather bindings. Choosing a tome, he pushed against it—weakly at first, then with growing determination. The book finally slid half an inch, and Thorin laughed. Miraculously, he and this world still dovetailed.
Chapter 2: Sister
In Dís’ room he discovered the missing bed and his sister in it, alone.
To close-knit, touch-craving folk like Khazâd, the idea of sleeping alone is anathema. People bunk together for warmth and comfort; family with family, friend with friend. As a child, Dís shared Fenja’s cot as Frerin did Thorin’s; in marriage, she should have slept with her husband Ganin. But no. Preferring to dream undisturbed, she’d literally left him out in the cold.
Still mourning Frerin and needing someone to love, Thorin took his brother-in-law into his bed. They liked and comforted one another; those were good years. When Ganin died, Thorin and Dís grieved for him together, but perhaps not equally. Only one of them suffered the loneliness of empty arms at night.
Now here lay Dís, still alone, but in a bed not her own. Thorin understood that she sought comfort, as Ganin had, as he had. He wished to see her sleep in peace, but oaths taken years ago – many of them to Dís herself – awaited fulfillment. So like a wisp of smoke he slipped into her dream.
Eh, Nan’ith, he greeted her gently, seating himself on the edge of the pallet.
Eh, Nadad, she replied, smiling up from her pillow. You’re late. Did you get lost?
No. But the journey was difficult, and I saw many changes on my way. He leaned forward and rapped his knuckles on the carven headboard. Many things missing from their usual places.
Mischievous as in youth, she pulled the coverlet up until only her sparkling brown eyes showed. I simply had to have it. The wisest, bravest and best slept here, you know.
Which was I?
Oh, all of them. Frerin, two out of three— I won’t say which, so don’t even ask. And Ganin… She sighed and uncovered her face. A sweet man who deserved better from me. He gave me my beautiful sons, and then I handed him off to you.
I was not sorry to have him, and neither should you be to have given. Thorin’s expression softened. He was well-loved.
Yes. He visits sometimes. Frerin, too. And now you. Finally. Her eyes narrowed in sisterly malice. So you understand why I have to sleep in this bed— it’s the only place all three of you ever managed to find in the dark.
Witch! hissed Thorin, laughter bubbling through his sham outrage.
What can I say, Nadad? With catlike satisfaction, Dís rubbed her cheek against the pillow. I like sleeping here; I sense my menfolk around me and I feel safe. Is this wrong?
Of course not, Nan’ith. I’m here to haunt you for other reasons. Two in particular.
Dís’ eyes blazed like breathed-upon embers. Then you know.
Of course I know. I may be far away, but I hear things. I hear all the thoughts clanging around inside this little head. He tucked a stray curl behind her ear. I hear Fíli when he prays—
Do you also hear Kíli crying? You ought to; it’s you he cries for. Dís punched Thorin’s bicep— hard, as he’d taught her. You could answer him now and then.
I’ll go to him tonight; on my honor. I owe him that much and more. He hung his head and sighed deeply. Nan’ith. I vowed to you that I would look after them all their lives. I failed the moment I set my sights on Erebor. I have much to answer for. I come in the hope that you will allow me to atone.
She touched his hair. What do you propose? I’m so far out to sea, I’ll grab at anything that floats.
Strange you should say that. Thorin raised his head. I’ve been to Himling.
She feigned detachment with less than perfect success. Have you now.
Thorin sat further back on the pallet – out of the reach of Dís’ fists – and crossed his legs camp-style. It’s a wild, harsh place, he began. Shelter is scarce, though the makings of it lie scattered everywhere. There’s a wellspring for drinking, but no greenwood, no game. Anyone who means to make a life there will endure much hardship.
Dís’ gaze did not waver. My sons are not soft.
I know. They proved their mettle to me time and again on the road. He gave her blanketed foot a reassuring squeeze. On Himling, they’ll have no foes to fight except the wind and cold. The fortress ruins will shelter them until they can build. There’s fish to catch, and all else can come by boat. Supplies, medicines… mothers… At this, Dís giggled and kicked him. My point is, he concluded, they’ll be safe and happy there together.
Together, Dís murmured, lowering her shield of skepticism. Yes. They must stay together….
I mean to help them do just that. Dís! Thorin lowered his voice to catch her attention. Listen. Many years ago, Frerin and I went to Himling—
Don’t I know it! Another kick. Off you sailed without ever once inviting me—
We claimed it for you, Nan’ith. For you and your heirs, who are also my heirs. He paused to let her absorb the idea. Frerin and I charted the island— the map is somewhere in this house. Find it and show it to Tharkûn. You and he will see a star-shaped mark on the eastern shore. We raised a land-taking stone there. It bears our crests – yours and Frerin's and mine – graven large for all to see. Our hammers drove the chisel deep so that no gale could scour our strikes away. It’s still there. Send scouts to look for it.
Thorin, this is—
Repeat it back to me, sister. What must you do?
She rolled her eyes. Find the map and show it to Tharkûn and send scouts to Himling and look for your stone—
And take the island for Fíli and Kíli.
And take the isle, yes... Dís yawned mightily, stretching out her arms. Cousin Dáin is coming. Can you not speak to him, as you’ve done me?
That hard head of his keeps me out. He will only listen to the living— you, or better yet, Fíli.
You understand what I mean, though. I wish we could… soften the way... A sudden wave of drowsiness overtook Dís; she groaned in vexation. You’re luring me back into sleep now so you can steal away— isn't that so, you old rascal? She punched him once more, weakly this time. You’re leaving. I feel it.
I am. I must. It’s time for me, and so it’s time for you. He pressed a kiss to her soft cheek. I’ll always look after you— like Frerin, like Ganin; all three of us your guardians. Another kiss. I love you so much, Dís. Don’t forget me. Remember what I've told you.
I will… I love you, too, Nadad… She had already begun to slip out of her own dream, just as easily as Thorin had slipped into it. Before you leave, promise me… see Kíli… promise…
Without warning he found himself back outside, looking down upon the silent, deep-breathing Dís, who after all always slept alone.
Chapter 3: Kinsmen
Fíli leaned against the altar room doorway. His smile was close-lipped, his manner casual. It would take more than ghosts at midnight to impress him.
Thorin knew his sister-son as he knew his sister, or his own self— proud and wary, hesitant to show feeling without a smirk or scowl to retreat behind. Durins to the bone, all of them. Only Kíli, that lamb among wolves, loved openly— but then, he took after Ganin.
So stubborn was the Durin detachment that it took dying to finally be shed of it. Alive, Thorin would have done no more than nod at Fíli’s greeting. Now he strode forward and caught his nephew up in a rib-cracking embrace.
Startled, Fíli gripped his uncle’s shoulders hard enough to whiten his knuckles even in a dream. Half-dreading and half-daring him to vanish, he rested his forehead on Thorin’s chest and breathed in his long-lost father-scent. When it did not evaporate, he risked a few unguarded words: You’re real. At least you feel real.
I had better be. I’ve traveled too far to be mistaken for a patch of fog.
I miss you, Fíli muttered against his uncle's breastbone.
Why? We speak every day.
But not up close, like this. Fíli shook his head. How is it that I can even see you?
You're not in your real body, Nephew. Maybe your soul wanders at night. I'm wandering, too. Your Mother saw me; I wonder if she ever sees you?
By reflex, suspicion returned; Fíli jerked his head up like a buck at a snapped twig. You've talked to Mother?
I have. Thorin draped his arm around Fíli’s neck to set his mind at ease. She doesn't wander. I had to go to her. And then I came here to see what you and your naddith made for me.
They surveyed the altar together, Fíli perhaps more anxious to please Thorin than he wanted to admit. What do you think?
It’s humble… like me. A muffled snicker from alongside. Encouraged, Thorin continued to pick his way along the rocky path: You must show this to Dáin when he comes. He'll like it, and that will make talking to him about difficult things easier for you.
Almost imperceptibly, Fíli tensed. You know, then.
Just what your mother said, and in exactly the same tone! Thorin gave Fíli a light shake. It warms my heart to see that you share a likeness.
I thought I resembled my father.
You have his hair, his height, his strong arm, and his loyalty. As for your temperament – another shake – blame your mother.
That’s funny; she blames you. Fíli let out a strange laugh. You both tried your best to bring me up. And I repay you with disappointed hopes.
Thorin looked long at his kinsman’s profile. Fíli’s scar glimmered faintly in the lamplight; he reached over to touch it.
You’re wrong, Fíli, he said. Every morning now, you tell me how you feel about the future. You never dared open your heart to me when I was alive, because I wasn’t listening. But you must know I’m listening now; otherwise you wouldn’t keep talking to me. He squeezed the nape of his sister-son’s neck. You don’t disappoint me. You make me glad. Have my replies left that unclear?
Silence, but also a subtle leaning closer.
Nothing tethers us to Erebor, Thorin went on. You may not believe me; even I had to be persuaded. Do you know who convinced me? He paused. The very ones who told me I could aspire to nothing greater: Thráin and Thrór. We live now together in the halls everlasting, close to Mahal, happy and free. But Fíli. He turned his nephew to face him. Why did we have to die in order to be thus? Why should you and Kíli not be happy and free while you live?
Fíli bowed his head, as did his uncle; their temples touched. Silence settled over the chamber as they shared breath.
Presently Thorin spoke. Will you help me carry out an oath I took? I need to make peace with your brother. Will you take me to him?
Arrow-quick, blade-sharp: Don’t make him cry.
Thorin chuckled. You know he might anyway, regardless of what I do. But we could stand to shed some tears together.
Chapter 4: Lovers
Well Thorin knew love's blessing, the boundless joy and security it bestowed. To be granted it once is a supreme gift from Mahal. Thorin had received this grace twice: Frerin; Ganin. Each his opposite; each his equal; both cherished beyond words.
Well Thorin also knew the hammer-blow of loss, which always falls too soon. Again: Frerin; Ganin. How sere and empty their passings left him— and then how swiftly the love-killing parasite named Erebor invaded him to the root.
Time corrodes metal, eats away stone, rots even the strongest trees from the center outward. But such pleasure and pain as the lover has known remains undiminished, the only truly deathless thing.
Skin to skin they lay, belly pressed to hip, head pillowed on heart. One lifted his face and nuzzled it deep into the warm hollow of the other's throat. Possessive arms unconsciously tightened in sleep. Mine, they declared. My Kíli. My Fíli. Mine. They could be a mirror vision of two earlier brothers: one painfully shy, hobbled by duty and destiny; the other generous and daring, with courage enough for them both...
Defiance - courage's brooding, angry twin - drew Fíli's spirit taut now. He expected condemnation; instead he received the gift of a truth yet untold. For Thorin whispered, Like Frerin and me. And all at once, Fíli comprehended.
Uncle, he uttered. You, too.
Yes, Thorin nodded, calmly meeting his nephew's surprised gaze. Yes. He squeezed Fíli's hand, then carefully seated himself on the bed next to Kíli. Stay with us?
Fíli said nothing in reply, only nodded and took a respectful step back.
Chapter 5: Mourning Dove
I always think of how annoyed I’ll be if Kíli cries, Dís once told Thorin. Yet when he does cry, I forget my annoyance. Something melts it clean away.
So easily, in truth, did Kíli cry (and for so many reasons, from rage to remorse to plain fellow-feeling) that the family coined nicknames for him according to how and why he wept. Cloudburst. Tender Heart. Sun-shower. Hurricane. Unable to shed tears of his own, Thorin had no patience for anyone else’s; consequently his nicknames bit with sharper teeth. Sniveler. Baby. Milksop. Weakling.
How many times had he shamed the boy thus? How many times had Fíli echoed him? Thorin winced to imagine Kíli’s heart in their careless hands, breaking one tiny hairline crack at a time.
There is a name given to one who cries like a dove at twilight, softly, wordlessly: I am sad, I am sad. Contempt cannot survive that lonely sound, nor bitterness, nor spite. Thorin ignored it, but Fíli – who dwelt closer to his naddith’s chipped and cracked heart – could not. I am sad, I am sad, he heard Kíli cry; after that, he never again spoke to his brother except with tenderness. Somehow he – a mere boy – had learnt to say the name that Thorin – a man; a king, even – could not.
Magahhûn: mourning dove. A strange thing to call a boychild; an even stranger thing to call a warrior like Kíli had become. Tall and mighty, formidable in anger, distant in repose; a man very like a mountain. One could not imagine Kíli crying now, though Thorin knew he did. If someone did not answer him soon, he might cease to cry altogether. That may have been what Thorin wanted of him in life, but Thorin as he was now - purged of petty opinions about what made a man - could not bear the thought.
To melt, a thing must first be frozen like ice, hard like metal. Thorin’s heart had been both. A thrust from a cold steel blade had pierced his armor and let death in; at the same time, it split open his beating heart to let empathy out. Too late, of course; always too late. But a chance might still be granted; with one word, he might halt the hard, cold, fateful carapace from sealing Kíli inside. It sounded thick and foreign on his unaccustomed tongue, but he would learn to pronounce it with tenderness, as Fíli before him had done.
In the midst of his dream, Kíli’s lips quivered; his brows drew together.
Magahhûn. Thorin kissed his sister-son’s closed eyelids, again and again, until they fluttered open.
Of course came tears; would it be Kíli otherwise? Yet the surprising thing to Thorin was the sensation of fracture within his own self, followed close by exhilarating thaw. The sword had only put a crack in the ice wall; a dove's cry shattered it. Blessings everlasting be to Mahal.
He embraced Fíli once more and tenderly. Never, never forget how much Thorin loves you, he said. Go to Kíli now, my son. I'll talk to you in the morning.
His nephew's happy Yes, Father! alone was worth the journey.
Like a kinglet in flight, Fíli's soul darted back into his body, which bolted upright with a juddering gasp. For many heartbeats he stared at the ink-black place where Thorin last stood. Then his shoulders lowered; he gave a small, melancholy sigh and turned to gather up his Kíli.
When sleep at length took Fíli under, Thorin made to go. On his way, he halted in wonderment before his nephews' small altar.
Mahal, is that...?
But he had no more strength; no matter how he clenched his teeth and strained to concentrate, he could not lift the map of Himling in its heavy pewter frame.
Chapter 6: The Watcher
Wide awake at this hour, you old devil?
By the hearth, its daytime blaze now reduced to embers, sat Fenja— not her dream self, but real and alert. To Thorin's greeting, she responded with a withering look of triumph. On your best day, did you ever manage to sneak past me?
Never, Tardûna. Thorin drifted further into the kitchen.
So, then. His old foster-mother leant forward to rewrap the flannel blanket she’d pressed into service as a shawl. You look tired, Thorin. Worn thin. She gestured at his legs, or what remained of them; he was fading from the feet up.
I’ve come just in time then, he smirked. You look well. Considering.
Oh, I’ll be toddling along eventually. Only… She tipped back in the rocking chair, studying him. I can’t think about going until I’m sure about the boys.
Thorin nodded, gliding closer. As he neared, Fenja turned to retrieve a plate of buttered bread and a cup of cider: the traditional offering to house-ghosts. She slapped it down on the fender between them. Get that in you.
Thorin found it strange to eat without eating, to take what he required from food that remained on the plate. Still, the offering came from Fenja’s own hands; her energy gave it richness. When he was finished, she tipped the now-spiritless food into the embers, where the butter sizzled and smoked. The cider she downed herself in one quaff.
You’re more here now, she observed. And it was true; he and the material world intersected again, even if only briefly. He took a seat on a fireside bench and felt its sturdiness, its density, its rough texture under his hands.
So, he said.
So, Fenja replied.
A silent standoff commenced. Their conversations had always gone along these lines, which Thorin – now as then – found perversely enjoyable. He’d had fighting masters, statecraft tutors, and Thráin himself to drill him in kingship, but ultimately it had been Fenja who schooled him never to crack.
Eventually (and with ample eye-rolling) she knuckled under: What’s the plan?
A propitious sign, that. A pfffft or a tchk! would have doomed the venture from the start.
It has promise, he added. Dís likes it.
As will the boys. Not sure about Dáin, though.
He doesn’t have to like it; he just has to give in. Thorin looked towards the fire. Do you like it?
Me? I don’t have a say in these matters, Fenja demurred, knowing full well that she did. It pleased her to be asked for her opinion, even if she inevitably gave it in the form of a jibe.
Will you do something for me? Thorin asked.
The boys have a map of Himling that Frerin and I made long ago. I want Dís to see it, but I don’t have enough strength left to carry it to her. Could you? It’s in their room.
More eye-rolling. Oh, we don’t just go traipsing into other people’s bedchambers nowadays. For all sorts of reasons. You can just imagine.
Wait until they’re at the forge, then. You’re good at picking moments; you always were with me.
I suppose. Though if I could go back and pick one more, I’d have distracted you and Frerin from gallivanting after your fool father. Tell him that. Tell him Fenja said he was a damned fool.
He says it himself these days.
Or I’d have kept you and the boys from going off on your ridiculous quest. Fenja shot forward in her chair and halted dramatically on the tips of its rockers. You have no idea how angry I am with you.
Yes, I do, Mother. For months you’ve scorched my ears off every time you pray.
‘Mother’, now, am I? Well, I can’t be much of one, because I raised an idiot. No— TWO idiots, you and Frerin. Dís is not an idiot. She’s the sanest one of your benighted family, yet she married an idiot and gave birth to two more. What is the matter with you Durins?
All this uttered with immense, deep-dyed love, believe it or not.
It being a question Fenja asked for years, Thorin had actually thought out an answer on his way to Thorinutumnu. We Durins think ahead, but too far ahead, he stated. We see the end of the journey before we even consider the road. Every twist and fork throws us off, and we get more and more muddled. And then we tell our sons to pick up where we left off and do the exact same thing.
At least your daughters have the sense to stay at home. Here Fenja regarded him with a rare but true sympathy. One more moment I’d choose to change: when Ganin decided to go orc-hunting. I would have had him stay at home, too.
He will appreciate that. Sometimes he thought no one cared much about him, except me.
Now came the tchk!— but a fond one. You see? An idiot. Tell him Fenja said that.
Of course. Thorin felt himself wavering, blurring; the dregs of his energy spun out to the finest thread. He loved every soul within this stone enclosure, but he was tired, tired in every particle. He'd fulfilled his oaths, and the mention of Ganin now made him homesick for the halls. As greatly as he had desired to make this journey, he now longed to end it.
Fenja saw this, too. Only Thorin’s fire-lit contours still hinted at substance; the parts of him in shadow were simply clear as glass. Already he was halfway gone. If she wept and told him, I love you, son, he wouldn’t recognize the sentiment. The thing was to tell him in their very own language— the jarring, prickly, mock-angry one they had spoken from the start.
Look here, sunshine, you’re completely spent, she announced with a brisk handclap. And that was the last of the bread, so you’re out of luck. Now get. Go. You’ve done well. Your name is blessed in this house, even if it sometimes comes out sounding like a curse.
When it does, I’ll know that it comes from you, Thorin said.
They smiled into one another’s eyes until there was nothing left of him to see.