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lay down your sweet and weary head

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*

The headache caused by this foul week shows little sign of abating. Especially not when Frerin enters Thorin’s study with an uncommonly serious expression on his face, just after Thorin has gone over the preliminary plans of the settlement in the Iron Hills with Farat.

Thorin eyes him warily, keeping his peace as Frerin shuffles about in front of the desk for a while. His brother is fiddling with his belt buckle, and when he finally starts to speak everything comes out in a rush, “I’ve been thinking of leaving Erebor for a while. Travel.”

Thorin stares at him.

“I’ve always wanted to see more of Middle-Earth,” Frerin continues, looking even more nervous at Thorin’s continued silence.

Thorin opens his mouth, then shuts it again. He has never even considered that Frerin might want to… Of course it had never been a possibility in his last life. For many years now Frerin has been able to surprise his older brother left and right, much to Thorin’s delight. This however, Thorin had neither expected nor does he welcome the notion – the thought of letting Frerin go from his sight for so long is enough to make his heart sink right through his toes and into the roots of the mountain.

Thorin regards him carefully, first in an attempt to buy himself time, then because there’s something to Frerin’s stance. There’s nervousness in his brother’s bearing, yes, but beneath it all Thorin can find is determination. “You’ve already made up your mind haven’t you?”

Frerin shrugs, scratching at his beard. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while.”

“I wouldn’t like to see you go,” Thorin says carefully, selfishly. Frerin’s brows draw together, a mirror image of Thorin’s own mulish expression, and in it he recognises a dwarf who has buried his pickaxe into stone and won’t budge.

“You know as well as I do that I’m virtually useless here, Thorin. Let me go out into the world, perhaps I will find my calling there.”

Thorin has never heard Frerin sound so serious and that alone would convince him that his brother is sincere in wishing this.

“I do not wish for you to go, nadad,” he says quietly, “but if you truly believe this to be your path I won’t stop you. Just please promise me to return occasionally that we may know you’re well.”

Frerin’s grin is tinged with his usual humour. “I think I can manage that.”

Be careful. We’ve lost so many already.”

Frerin nods and then draws Thorin into a rough hug. “You take care too, Thorin. I don’t want to return to find that someone has assassinated you.”

He raises a brow. “Why would someone want to assassinate me?”

“I don’t know,” Frerin grins, “but it is you we’re talking about here…”

Thorin sighs, a long-suffering sound long perfected. “Hilarious.”

Frerin is already nearly out the door when he calls, “Oh and Frerin? You can tell Dís and Fíli and Kíli that you’re leaving.”

Frerin’s groan can probably be heard in half the mountain. “You’re a cruel, cruel dwarf, brother.”

But Thorin only sighs, the familiar spark of amusement at his brother’s antics absent. “I may let you go, Frerin, because it is your choice and I would not hold you here against your will, but that does not mean that I am happy about it. Telling Dís is only what you deserve for the worry you’ll put us through.”

“You’re hardly one to talk, Thor,” Frerin points out dryly, but his expression has sobered. “I have thought about this at length, I promise. It is the right thing to do.”

Thorin regards him for a moment, no little stunned at the depth of conviction he finds lurking behind Frerin’s eyes. Perhaps this is the right thing for him – never before has his brother thrown his full being behind an idea to this extent, save for protecting his kin, and that, to a dwarf, is as intrinsic as breathing, and if this is what it takes for Frerin to find that passion? Thorin won’t stand in the way.

“I understand,” he murmurs and Frerin relaxes into a smile again. “We’ll hold a feast for your departure tomorrow, if you can wait that long.”

“Of course, melhekel.”

Thorin waves his hands, fond. “Now shoo. I’ve got work to do.”

 

*

 

Dís… doesn’t take it well. Oh, she nods and smiles and doesn’t punch Frerin when he tells her, but something goes still in her expression in a way they haven’t seen since Víli’s death. After which, incidentally, she became even more protective of her close family than your average dwarf or, say, a mother bear protecting her cubs. Now Frerin is proposing to remove himself from under her watchful eye and Dís hasn’t had two lives to learn how to let go like Thorin.

An overblown streak of protectiveness has always run in the line of Durin.

Fíli and Kíli aren’t exactly happy either to wave their ‘fun’ uncle goodbye, but their eyes at least shine in shared excitement for the many adventures Frerin is bound to have on the road. Thorin foresees a few months of increasingly insistent wheedling for a trip of their own, but he doubts Dís will budge – certainly not until she’s got more used to Frerin’s absence.

It takes about a week until Thorin judges her ready to talk to him. When he searches her out in her quarters, he finds Dís sitting in front of a mirror, fiddling with the braids that denote her status as a princess of Durin’s line.

“Namad,” he greets quietly.

She acknowledges him with a tired nod, only accentuated by the dark shadows under her eyes.

“You haven’t been to many meals,” Thorin says, careful to keep his tone neutral. “We’re worried about you.”

“I haven’t been hungry.” Her gaze drops to her fidgeting fingers. “All I can think of is Frerin teasing me about being a picky eater when I was young. Oh Thorin, how could you let him go? How?”

The anguish in her voice is near tangible and Thorin has to hold back a wince.

“Perhaps I have finally learned not to try and dictate everyone’s lives,” he observes mildly, but anger is still sparkling from Dís’ eyes, so he puts all levity aside.

“He wanted to,” Thorin says simply. “We both know he hasn’t felt comfortable since I wintered in the Shire, and if leaving is what he needs to find himself? I cannot stand in his way, as King or brother.” He looks at his little sister fondly for a moment. “How much did you yell at him?”

She smiled, watery. “A lot. It’s just… after Víli it was all I could do to cling to this family and stay afloat. And then there was… your story, Thorin, it was so dark.”

Thorin stays silent for a few long moments, eyes fixed on the wall. Then he says quietly, “I never wanted to tell you, or anyone really. I knew it would just lead to unnecessary pain and doubt. But you wouldn’t stop asking, wouldn’t stop noticing things, and I was damaging myself with my silence, too torn between past and present to give you all the care you deserve.” He stretches out a hand towards her, a silent plea. “So I told you. But I never meant for it to make you fear, namadith.”

Perhaps it shouldn’t still be a relief after all these years when she takes his hand in her smaller one, solid and real, but Thorin is grateful nonetheless.

“Did you ever regret having this second life?” Dís asks, her eyes boring into Thorin’s, demanding nothing but honesty.

“No,” he says without hesitation. “I have wished for many things in my lives, some more impossible than others, but I have never wished I hadn’t woken up again.” He smiles at her, with all the love he feels. “Seeing you and Frerin again alone would have made it worthwhile.”

Dís chokes back a sob, and then she’s sitting next to him, leaning into his shoulder as if searching for warmth. He puts his arm around her and draws her close.

“Do you think Frerin will come back?”

He sighs into her silken hair. “I don’t know, namadith, I can only hope. Our brother is strong and smart, he will do his best to survive.”

She nods against his shoulder, not reassured perhaps, but calmer, and they stay leaning against each other until Dís finally succumbs to much-needed slumber. Thorin draws a blanket over her still form and kisses her brow before leaving her in peace. The worst of the wound that their brother’s leaving has opened has been drained.

 

*

 

With Dís asleep, Thorin sets out in search of Balin, determined to settle the next item on his agenda. He finds his old friend in the library – not much of a surprise – with Ori – a little bit of a surprise, but then Thorin dimly remembers the young dwarf having been studying to become a scribe at the time of the Quest and puts his surprise aside. Balin takes one look at the set of Thorin’s face and sends Ori away with a smile and a pat on the shoulder that Thorin echoes. Dori and Nori aren’t the only ones with a soft spot for the shy dwarfling.

Thorin sinks into the chair that Ori abandoned with a quiet sigh.

“Dís?” Balin queries, eyes glittering knowingly.

Thorin nods. “She sleeps now.”

“Good. We were all getting a little worried. I wonder whether Frerin quite thought this plan of his through.”

“I think he did,” Thorin admits quietly. “He may be a bit brash sometimes, but Frerin knows how big a decision this is.”

Balin inclines his head, accepting Thorin’s opinion on the subject. Before his advisor can say anything else, Thorin continues, “Can you arrange for me to be away for a week in a few days, Balin?”

Balin raises a bushy white brow. “The Council usually deals with requests like this from the King.”

“The Council would’ve said no,” Thorin points out through gritted teeth. “They’re still upset with me for leaving for such a long time when I went to the Shire.”

Balin makes a noise that coming from any other dwarf would’ve been a snort. “Dwarves do have a long memory.” He regards Thorin with serious eyes. “Is this because of Frerin?”

To Balin, Thorin has always been predictable, so he doesn’t even try to deny it. “I want to take the boys out for a trip.” He scratches his head just below where the crown rests, a nervous habit that’s been coming on for years now. He hates the heavy Raven crown that he’s required to wear for any official events. It’s heavy and sits on his head like a vice, and that’s disregarding the less than pleasant memories he still associated with the damned thing. Even when he wears the lighter one that was made specifically for him, he often experiences a phantom itch. “I’m not spending enough time with them.”

Balin, equally as predictable as Thorin, softens. “You’re a good uncle to them, Thorin. They understand that as the King your time is limited.”

Thorin sighs and lets his hand drop back to the desk. “And I am grateful, but that doesn’t make it right. They’re my blood, Balin.”

He can see the exact moment when Balin gives in, an almost noiseless sigh escaping the other dwarf.

“Very well then. I will sort out your affairs for a week.”

Thorin is around the desk in three quick strides and grasps Balin’s arm like they used to all the time. Their foreheads touch in a gentler tap than the imitation of two boulders crashing together that Balin and Dwalin usually execute, but he knows his smile and the warmth in his voice will tell Balin all that he needs to know.

“Thank you, bâhâl.”

Balin pats his arm. “Don’t think on it, laddie. The princes will be thrilled to spend more time with you.”

 

*

 

Breaking the news to Fíli and Kíli leads to predictable but still heart-warming broad beams and excited babbling.

“We won’t go very far from Erebor,” Thorin warns, but the tide of enthusiasm can’t be stemmed at this point.

“Are we going to go to Dale – ” Kíli begins,

“ – or north or south – ” Fíli continues,

“ – or west?” Kíli finishes, the whole exchange a seamless flow of words between the two brothers.

Thorin can’t help but chuckle. “We’ll go into the woods along the northern slope.”

Kíli’s beam, impossibly, gets wider. “Will there be hunting? Can I bring my bow”?

“And fishing?” Fíli chimes in. “And gathering berries?”

“Yes, we can hunt and fish, and yes you should bring your bow Kíli,” Thorin answered patiently. “I don’t think most berries are in season, Fíli, but we’ll do our best.”

Fíli has an incurable sweet tooth, especially for the blueberries that grow on the slopes in early autumn, and not even Kíli’s teasing that he might as well be an elf with such preferences has dissuaded him so far.

It takes him a while to persuade the two balls of energy to go to bed at the usual time – it was a bit of a strategic error to make this announcement just before bed time, Thorin now realises – but once they’re both fast asleep Thorin is free to start making arrangements for their trip.

 

Thorin catches Kíli alone first, when Fíli is out gathering wood for their small fire.

“Why didn’t you tell Frerin to stay?” Kíli asks, before Thorin can even broach the subject.

He smiles ruefully – neither of his nephews lacks the smartness to realise why he suddenly made time for this little expedition now.

“It wasn’t my right.”

“You’re the King.”

Thorin’s lip curls wryly. “And yet I do not dictate my every subject’s movement. As a brother, I could plead with him not to go, but I wouldn’t deny him his heart’s wish.”

“But we’re here,” Kíli says, a lost note echoing in his voice.

“Family is the most important thing a dwarrow can have,” Thorin nods, leaning closer. “But it isn’t always enough. Frerin never found his craft, and while he loves us all very much, he needs to find himself before he can return for good.”

Kíli chews on his lower lip, thinking this through. “But he will return?”

Thorin opens his mouth to utter an emphatic yes, and hesitates. “I think his heart will eventually lead him home, yes,” he finally murmurs. If he’s still alive to follow it. Thorin knows better than most how dangerous the roads are, and will become. The shadow would not spare Frerin, a lone dwarrow in the wilderness of Middle-earth. He can only hope. “But when, or under what circumstances I cannot say. It might be a long time from now.”

Kíli nods, messy braids swinging. After a moment he says, “It hit Fíli harder than me, I think.”

“I’ll talk to Fíli as well,” Thorin agrees. Kíli knows his brother better than anyone else in the world – if he says Fíli is sorrowing, then it is a certainty. Dís once commented that she found it strange that Thorin had gravitated towards Kíli, the young carefree one, and Frerin towards Fíli, the older calmer one, but it had always made perfect sense to Thorin. He adores both his nephews equally, but Fíli doesn’t need him to amplify his already sometimes startling severity, much like Kíli doesn’t need Frerin encouraging him to be even more mischievous. This way, balance is found.

Thorin comes back to himself to find Kíli gazing at him with serious eyes, head cocked, but then the moment passes and a smile flits over his nephews face as he suddenly changes the topic with the startling alacrity of youth. “I can’t wait till you’ll let me go on adventures.”

Thorin wonders where he went so wrong to have made adventures sound like something one should aspire to, instead of the occasional necessity to be avoided. They’ve never served the dwarves well, have adventures.

“Wait till you’re old enough to grow a real beard, hmm, little one?” he says lightly, brushing Kíli’s sparsely bristled cheek with a gentle knuckle.

Kíli giggles, squirming away from his touch. “It won’t ever be as long as yours, Uncle.”

Thorin thinks of the decades he spent with a beard almost shorn to the skin, and only shrugs. For a long time he didn’t know how long his beard might grow, for it had never been given the chance in his last life. Now, he has found, that the thick hair on his chin with its rare streaks of silver lighting the black tends towards a low middling length as far as dwarf beards go – respectable, certainly, but not magnificent by any means – and he is entirely happy for it, no matter how undwarfish the notion. It had been hard enough to get used to a beard of actual weight, one as full and long as Glóin’s would’ve proved impractical.

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that, azyungal,” he finally says. “Though certainly, if you continue to specialise in archery you might never grow a beard a like Uncle Balin.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Kíli murmurs, faintly startled.

Thorin smiles, poking at Kíli’s cheek once more. “Well, it hasn’t been a concern yet. You have some time yet to decide.”

With a nimble scoot Kíli moves close enough to lean against Thorin’s side, a warm weight against the evening’s chill. “But you’ll be there, Uncle, right? You won’t leave like Uncle Frerin?”

Thorin tugs him closer with his free arm, until Kíli rests comfortable below his shoulder. “I’ll be there,” he swears quietly, looks at the earth to send his promise into the very rock of the land, and then, after only a heartbeat’s worth of hesitation, looks up into the sky and sends his promise to the stars too.

 

*

 

They spent the next few days pleasantly engaged trawling the woods for game, playfighting and telling stories far into the night. They even find some early forest strawberries, much to Fíli’s delight.

Kíli is off hunting game for their evening meal, leaving Thorin free to look engage Fíli in conversation.

 “You’re almost grown, my little lion,” is what comes out, impossibly fond – and he realises that perhaps he’s feeling a bit more maudlin than usual.

Fíli looks up from where he’s stoking the fire, looking surprised and pleased all at once. Thorin doesn’t always call him that, but he knows that his older nephew adores the endearment whenever it does pass his lips.

“Not quite yet, Uncle,” he returns. Where most young dwarrows are impatient to grow up, Fíli seems content to let time pass in its usual manners – Thorin certainly wasn’t as wise at his age.

“And I’m quite selfishly glad for it,” Thorin admits. “Soon enough you’ll be clamouring to leave too, and that’s always hard. Your mother, too, appreciates your presence more than she can say.”

Fíli nods, a gleam of gold in dusk. “Do you know why Uncle Frerin wanted to leave? It didn’t have anything to do with us, did it?”

“No, of course not,” Thorin immediately says, startled that Fíli would even entertain such a ridiculous notion. “You know Frerin adores you. No, if anything I pushed him into leaving, if accidentally.” He pauses, sorting through his thoughts. “I think being pushed into kingship for a while disturbed him more than I realised at the time. He was very unhappy in those months, and he fears having to do it again. And your uncle hasn’t found his craft yet, to soothe his heart when he’s upset, nor has he found his One.”

“But wouldn’t his One be in Erebor?” Fíli asks, eyes wide.

Thorin shakes his head. “Not necessarily. As you know, mine isn’t. Besides I think that is only a secondary motivation for Frerin. I just meant that there’s no One here to keep him at home. As much as we all love him, it’s not quite the same.”

Fíli’s face pulls into a dubious frown, but he is young yet, probably still has years before he meets his own One if his heart is so inclined. He’ll understand one day.

Later, wrapped into bedrolls, Fíli whispers from his right while Kíli continues to snore peacefully on his right, “Do you think adad would be proud of me?”

Thorin smiles up into the dark sky lit by stars. “I know he would, little lion. I certainly am.”

 

On their last morning Thorin is woken by enthusiastic hands shaking his shoulder where it peeks out of his bedroll.

“Wake up, Uncle Thorin! We need to get going?”

Thorin futilely attempts to rub the sleepiness from his eyes – the first rays of sunlight have barely even crested the Misty Mountains – and grumbles, “Why the sudden hurry?”

“We need to be back for dinner!” Kíli tells him loudly. “Bombur invited us, or have you forgotten? And he makes the best food!”

Thorin had, in fact, forgotten Bombur’s invitation for a group meal when they returned.

“Knowing Bombur he probably invited the whole company,” he says, mostly to himself, but Fíli and Kíli beam in agreement.

“Don’t worry Uncle, Bombur always makes enough food for everyone!”

That Thorin can’t argue with, and so he lets himself be dragged along behind his two whirlwinds of a nephew and prepares himself for an evening of chatter and warm feelings.

 

*

 

He is standing on the ramparts, quiet safe for a few guards standing at either end at a respectful distance, looking out over the valley and the great gate with a stiff breeze ruffling his braids when a squeaky sort of noise draws his gaze to the pillar near the steps. A young dwarrow meets his gaze, frozen in mid-step and looking entirely mortified. He looks vaguely familiar, stocky and red-haired and sporting a fairly sizeable beard already, something familiar about his nose and eyes. Thorin draws in a startles breath when he places the lad as Glóin’s son, Gimli.

A stab of shame crawls behind his eyes – he’s been neglectful, so focused on his company of old that he’d entirely failed to take notice of the new generation growing into fine dwarrows. He has little more than one or two hazy memories of a young fire-topped dwarfling in Ered Luin, begging to be allowed to come on the quest. The Gimli he sees now is young and confident and clearly not a dwarfling anymore. He’s also looking at Thorin with an unwarranted amount of awe shining from his eyes.

In this life he has caught the occasional glimpse of Glóin and Gimhala’s son, but he’d often been away in the Blue Mountains with his parents, following Glóin’s capacity as an ambassador. He dimly remembers something about promising axemanship but little more.

“Well met, Gimli Gloinul,” Thorin says, with just the right amount of graveness not to sound forbidding but still lend the proceedings a sense of gravity.

“Melekh,” Gimli returns, almost shy, and he bows deep enough that Thorin can’t help but wince in sympathy for the young dwarf’s back.

“What has brought you to the ramparts today?”

Gimli looks startled, as if he expected Thorin to greet him and then not make any effort at conversation. “I like the open air sometimes,” he says hesitantly, no doubt aware that it’s a bit of an undwarvish answer.

Thorin nods, eyes flickering back over the long valley gently sloping down towards the Long Lake. “You are quite used to travelling, are you not?”

“Yes, my lord.”

“There’s no shame in it,” Thorin says, rather gently. “Tell me, how does your apprenticeship to the axe fare?”

A bright smile spreads over Gimli’s face, filled with an enthusiasm barely matched in intensity by the firebrand of hair atop his head, and Thorin listens to his stories of training and admiration of Mister Dwalin’s skill with gladness

Thus Gimli, son of Glóin, all of 50 years old, presents Thorin with another lesson he should’ve learned long ago (though he feels that his unique situation excuses some of his stubbornness in this) – the past may be instructive in shaping the future, but it is still the future one must look to first and foremost. It has taken many years and many doubts, but Thorin can finally see an Erebor that shines bright enough to weather even the grimmest darkness that fate may have in store.

 

 

Epilogue

 

It has been pointed out to him by several individuals (Gandalf, Balin, Frerin, Darla, and Gandalf again) that perhaps he should make plans to come clean about his strange fate – if not now, then as a precaution for the future.

Thorin takes their point, and starts writing down everything he remembers from his first life that hasn’t come to pass yet. It would be a help, he hopes, if something were to happen to him. He does not, however, plan to tell any more people about his first life than already know. Several elves know for Mahal’s sake.

He can already hear the whispers of Twice-born replacing Dragonslayer and it would be in no way more palatable. He reasons that everyone who needs to know does – or at least he has told Gandalf all the details he can remember and if there’s anyone Thorin would trust beside himself to set the future right, the old wizard is certainly near the top of the list of candidates.

Perhaps he’s just tired of people poking into his private business. Still, the pile of parchments filled with his tale grows thicker and thicker, and when he finally hands the bundle to Dís, she takes one look at the first page and gasps quietly. She sets it aside gently and without a word embraces him with all the strength of a dwarrowdam who spends as much time in the forges as she does in the training yards.

“If only we all had your bravery, nadad,” she whispers, and draws back to pierce his soul with blue-crystal eyes. “This tale will pass into legend one day, mark my words.”

By Mahal, Thorin hopes not. He’s got all the notoriety he could possibly need and more already. But then no one’s ever asked him if he wanted to be talked about, so there isn’t much he can do about it either way. So he hugs her back and for a few precious seconds manages to set the future aside.

 

Darla is the first to slip away, quiet and peaceful in the night, an old dwarrowdam. Few eyes are dry when they consign her to the stone, and not even Dori objects when Nori gets Ori rip-roaring drunk that evening and they all end up blubbering in each other’s arms in shared grief.

Thorin watches them with a quiet tangle of sorrow settling behind his heart and he can’t help but think that this is the beginning of the end. He has done his best to keep them all safe with his knowledge, but some things even hard-won wisdom cannot halt. Ultimately, he is as powerless as everyone else against the promise of death that their Maker has laid on all dwarves.

Taking slow sips of the single tankard of ale he’s been nursing for the evening, Thorin’s mind wanders.

 

Orcs are still amassing. The year of their quest grows closer, and more and more often he finds himself wondering if the battle at its end would still take place, even with Erebor strong and the dragon long defeated.

 

Very occasionally a raven arrives with small pieces of parchment filled with Frerin’s barely legible scrawl, reassuring them of his continued state of living. Apparently he has run into some rangers of the north in Tharbad, and is enjoying their company immensely. Even more occasionally Frerin finds his way back to the mountain, usually leaving again a few months later. They get used to that too, are glad even for the short visits. It seems that Thorin’s little brother has found his craft after all, and if travelling to far off places is what he wishes, no one will stand in his way.

(More concerning is that Frerin seems to have run into the sons of Elrond when making his way through Eriador, and appears to have got on with them smashingly. Even the notion of those three trouble makers in one place makes Thorin’s head spin.)

The latest missive from Rivendell corroborates the story. There has always been some measure of communication between most realms (politics), but these days Lord Elrond deems it necessary to inform Thorin – with all the long-suffering forbearance of a parent – of the current tally in his sons’ prank war with Glorfindel, and the Lady Galadriel regularly assures him that the last resting place of the dwarves fallen in the Battle of Azanulbizar is still peaceful and untouched.

Thorin can’t say that he minds the change. The letters are certainly more interesting to read now, and even Thranduil’s missives sound less dismissive and cold than they used to.

 

Bard, now a grown man, tall and dark-haired and steel-eyed, comes on his first official visit to the mountain, less dour than Thorin has ever known him before. Unofficially he’s visited several times already (and got into more than one scrap with Kíli over their respective archery prowess) and doesn’t have to pretend not to be intimidated by the glittery splendour that is Erebor when it flourishes.

 

Not long after, Legolas Thranduillion arranges a state visit, ostensibly to talk about existing trade agreements between the mountain and the Greenwood (which, Thorin can’t help but point out in the privacy of his own mind, is starting to look more and more like Mirkwood these days), but Thorin gets the impression that the Prince is somewhat curious about Erebor and dwarves in general – a curiosity that wasn’t sated on his few, shorter previous visits. Thorin is one of the few unsurprised when they find Legolas buried under a troupe of dwarflings a week into his stay. (Then again, he’s had some forewarning now, that elves have a fondness for the young that rivals the dwarves’ own.)

 

Much like Frerin Gandalf flits in and out of their lives in what the wizard adamantly refuses to call ‘checking up’ on Erebor and Thorin half irritably, half fondly calls ‘making certain that his meddling is bearing fruit’.

“You have come a long way,” Gandalf remarks on one of these visits, puffing on his pipe contentedly. After a day of meetings, Thorin had suggested a retreat to the little hollow that guards the secret door, and Gandalf had acquiesced readily.

The wizard is looking at the newly paved road towards Dale, not at Thorin, but he feels dissected nonetheless. He wants to bristle – whilst Gandalf may be the person whom he told the most about his last life, even he was not there and should not judge quite so readily.

In the end Thorin only sighs. “Life has a way of shooing us all along.”

Gandalf raises a bushy eyebrow. “And yet from what you told me it seems you were never very inclined to let yourself be shooed.”

“Even the rock is worn away by a trickle of water, in time,” he says, and Gandalf laughs, for even the wise cannot argue with that.

 

Thorin Dragonslayer, once Oakenshield, King Under the Mountain is exactly 195 years old in this life when Bilbo Baggins appears at the gates of his kingdom with a wizard in tow, a shy smile on his face, a ring hidden in his pocket next to a token shining with green fire, and the promise of a shifting future.

 

*

Don’t say
‘We’ve come now to the end’
White shores are calling
You and I will meet again

***