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By Blood, By Conquest

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She arrives in the rain, a downpour that blankets the world, deadening sound and leaching colours. She arrives at midday, to a mountain huddled in clouds and a battlefield slick and grey under leaden skies. She arrives alone, atop a shaggy pony, careful hooves picking their way through the mud, the puddles, and the shattered detritus of war; the beast spooks only once, when a raven arises, harsh black wings and brittle caws as it flies from the body of a warg. She soothes the pony with a hand, and they continue, slow, careful, alone.

Her arrival is first noticed by a small group of men, one of the many teams charged with collecting the dead and clearing the ground of its memories of death. They hail her, blinking through the rain at the monochrome figure, wondering who would be journeying on such a day and to such a place. They know better than most that the aftermath of battle is as terrible as the event itself, and that the days after are a far slower horror, of discovering bodies of friends barely recognisable and seeing in the blank eyes of the dead a fate only narrowly avoided.

"Take me to Dáin," she says, reining the pony to a halt in front of them, eyes dark and deep beneath her hood. Her tone accepts only obedience, and one of the men nods, the respectful knuckling of his forehead an instinct. She says nothing more as he takes the lead, and when they approach a regimented collection of tents, she dismisses him with the barest minimum of words and something that is not quite a smile.

The tents sulk under the low sky as she dismounts, leading the pony under an overhang and eying the approaching dwarven guards with disapproval. "You are poorly guarded," she informs them before they can speak. "If you must insist upon living in a tented encampment, then it would be wise to ensure you cannot all be slaughtered in your beds."

"My Lady," the three dwarves say, and kneel.

"Spare me your courtesies: I wish to see Dáin." She waves them up with an elegant hand, and they too obey, leading her through the neat lines of tents until they reach the central one, where the flag of the Iron Hills hangs limp upon a flagpole. More dwarves guard the door, but as she pulls her hood back from her head they merely bow, gesturing her inside; passing underneath the dripping fabric, she enters, the interior of the tent unpleasantly warm against her many layers.

Her entry stops all activity, the numerous dwarves, single hobbit, and lone man seated around the long, low table falling silent and turning to look as she paces forward, deliberate as she is in all her activities. They all rise as she approaches, the dwarf at the head of the table speaking. "My dear Dís. Would that I could offer you better tidings, for -"

"I do not need your tidings," she says, voice deep as a tomb, dark as myrrh, "To know what has befallen my kin. The dragon is slain, Erebor can once more be a great dwarven kingdom, and my brother and my sons lie dead upon the altar of this mountain. A month ago I was gifted," and her tone rings hollow and bitter, "With a dream of truth, and I knew to what end I rode." She stares at those seated at the table, dark swathes of loss and dignity drawn around her, the only light upon her the blade of an axe at her waist. They are silent, their grief exposed and bloody beneath her gaze, raw and undignified against the quiet cloak of tragedy that she bears.

"I would see them," she continues, "I would braid their hair one final time before they rest beneath the mountain that desired their lives, but first I would tell you, Dáin Ironfoot of the Iron Hills, that you are always welcome in the halls of Erebor, welcome and thanked for your service, but you will not sit her throne. My blood is spilled upon her doorstep, and though for the desire of my brother and the duty of my sons the line of Durin is almost lost, it is not yet extinguished."

"Dís," Dáin begins, and then pauses, unsure, for he expected the grief and anger of a mother and a sister, not the command and sorrow of a Queen. "You know that what you ask cannot be. Erebor has never seen a female leader, Dís, and while I respect your sacrifices, I do not believe the time for such change is now, when so much must be done, and -" He falls silent, only his solidly rooted refusal to quail holding him firm when she looks at him with ice in her eyes.

"You did not come when my brother asked for your help, Dáin Ironfoot; instead he won the mountain with thirteen dwarves, a wizard, and a halfling. You did not bring an army until the dragon was defeated, and while you and yours have fought bravely in the battle that followed, I do not believe that you may grant me permission to that which is mine, mine by right of the blood that flows in my veins, and mine by right of conquest, that spilled that same blood upon this hungry mountain. Erebor will have a Queen, and she will prosper." She does not raise her voice, nor does anger colour her words; her tone is flat, and calm, and entirely ruthless. "You may yield now, or you may lose to my axe in a duel for the throne tomorrow."

Dáin is left standing alone when what remains of the Company of Thorin Oakenshield kneel to her, and can only settle back into his seat as Balin meets her eyes with his own and says, "Hail Dís, Daughter of Thráin, Queen Under The Mountain."