When the dust settles and the battle is won, Thorin Oakenshield is laid to rest in stone from whence all dwarves are said to have sprung, with Orcrist in his hand and the Arkenstone on his breast. His nephews are burried next to him, Kili with his broken bow and Fili with his twin swords, their tombs so close they are almost touching.
It fits, Dwalin thinks, together even in death.
He stands in front of Thorin's grave, silent and dry-eyed. His friend, his King, dead. Dead because Dwalin could not reach him in time; dead because Dwalin was too slow, because he didn't fight hard enough. Thorin was dead, burried in cold, cold stone, never to see the splendour of Erebor restored. Dead because Dwalin had failed him in battle.
He was supposed to protect him, watch his back. Instead, he allowed the orcs to push him back and away from his King, and no matter how hard he swung his axes he could not break through the enemy ranks. He should have tried harder, should have been there to take the blow that laid down his friend. Fili and Kili took on his role to protect the King and so they perished too.
He has failed and because of his stupid mistakes Thorin and his nephews are dead.
Dwalin lowers his head, crossing his arms on his breast so tight he can barely breathe. There are no tears to wash away his grief – his eyes remain red from exhaustion but dry, empty as if someone had sucked the very life out of him.
He has no purpose now, no duty to uphold. There is no one to whom he could pledge his love and loyalty, no other King could compare to Thorin, least of all Dain.
Dwalin snarls. Treacherous worm, cowardly dog who had refused aid to his own kin when they needed it most. Ironfoot and his armies came only because they believed Thorin had that blasted stone – his loyalty lay with a piece of cold jewel where it should be with Thorin himself, his cousin, Arkenstone or no Arkenstone. Maybe if Dain had not pledged his loyalty to the King's Jewel, Thorin wouldn't be so set on finding it, the madness the gem brought upon him would not fester in his mind as it did, it would not blind him and he would be alive, and whole, and happy...
No. No, he cannot blame Dain. Thorin's death is his fault, only his. Had he been there...
Dwalin grunts in response, his eyes locked on his dear friend's tomb. Balins hand is heavy on his shoulder and he swallows, thick fingers tightening on his armour-clad biceps.
„Come, brother. Our King wants to speak with you.”
Dwalin wants to snap that his King is dead, dead and gone, and Dain can go and throw himself down the battlements for all he cares. But he swallows his anger and nods. He straigthens (he didn't even notice his shoulders were slumped, as if grief was physically pushing him down) and adjusts his armour. It is golden, armour of the King's Guard, and he wants to scream, fall to his knees in front of Thorin's tomb, beg for forgiveness because it was him he was supposed to guard, not Dain. Instead, he nods to his King, his friend, one more time in a final goodbye and leaves, Balin a solid presence behind him. His armour is heavy on his shoulders though he knows it is lighter than his usual garb. He refused to wear it when it was presented to him this morning by the servants but he was told that „His Majesty insists” and so he complied. For now.
Balin's hand rests on his forearm and his older brother gazes at him with knowing eyes. His fingers tighten around the golden gauntlet.
„Do not be foolish,” Balin says. Dwalin averts his gaze, looking firmly ahead.
I'm sorry, brother.
„Do you, Dwalin, son of Fundin, accept His Majesty Dain Ironfoot as your King and swear your allegiance to him and the crown of Erebor?”
There is a complete silence in the court room. Dwalin is kneeling in front of the throne, the throne that's Thorin's by right, armour digging painfully into his skin. The ceremorial garb is uncomfortable, heavy and yet light, and he finds himself almost unable to breathe. Dain looks at him grimly, his expression unreadable. His robes are blue, the kind of blue Dwalin knows Thorin has always favoured, and undilated fury claws at his chest. He can feel his lips twist in a snarl and he is about to say something when a whisper shatters the silence:
He can feel his body go completely still, rigid, blood freezing in his veins. He can see Balin's outraged face, Bifur's aggressive gestures and grunts, Ori's pale face. He closes his eyes, swallows heavily and bows his head. His voice is strong and unyelding when he says:
„I, Dwalin, son of Fundin, pledge loyalty to my King,” his voice cracks at the last word, and Dain narrows his eyes in suspicion, leaning forward on his throne. His robes whisper as he moves, a soft murmur of cloth on stone, and Dwalin lifts his eyes to look at him, „Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror-”
He's interrupted by furious shouts of the crowd, his words drowning in curses and insults thrown his way, but he has little care for them. His eyes are locked on Dain, hard as stone and equaly cold.
„-the rightful heir and King Under the Mountain.”
Dain's face is a mask of rage, but his eyes are glittering with satisfaction. The court is in an uproar, dwarves yelling and milling about like panicked ants. Guards appear at Dwalin's side, grabbing his arms and he lets them pull him to his feet. He looks at his brother. Balin is pale, almost as white as his beard, and Dwalin wants to laugh. He allows a small smile grace his lips when Balin catches his eye, but his older brother shakes his head slightly, grief clear in his eyes.
Dain rises from the throne and a hush falls over the court room. His gaze sweeps along the crowd of dwarves, cold and calculating, only to stop on Dwalin.
„Thorin Oakenshield is dead, so are his nephews,” he says and the warrior flinches. „I am the rightful heir to the throne of Erebor. If you do not pledge your loyalty to me you will be exiled, Dwalin, son of Fundin, as a traitor to the crown.” There was complete silence. „What say you?”
Dwalin leans forward, the guards' hands tight on his shoulders. His face twists in a parody of a smile. „I say,” he answers, loud enough for everyone to hear, „Ishkhaqwi ai durugnul, you spineless cur!”
The guards' reaction is imidiate – they force Dwalin back onto his knees, dragging his neck forward until his forehead slams against the cold floor. White spots dance in front of his eyes and he grunts in pain. He breathes deeply, his fingers curling into fists. He can easily shrug the guards off, but doesn't. He waits instead, listening to Dain's footsteps and the whisper of his robes as he moves towards him. A pair of polished black boots appears in front of his eyes and he snarls when their iron points touch his bowed head.
„Dwalin, son of Fundin,” Dain says above him, his voice devoid of any emotion, „You are banished forthwith from the Kingdom of Erebor under pain of death.” Dwalin can almost hear the smile in his voice as he says: „Bring me his beard.”
He can hear Balin scream, but he cannot recognize the words – blood is pounding in his ears, horror making him freeze. He closes his eyes tightly, swallows. This is what he wants, he reminds himself. This is what he deserves.
Thorin , he thinks as one of the guards yanks his head back and puts a blade to his chin. Forgive me.
The guard's ceremonial sword is slightly dull and it scrapes aginst his skin painfully as his beard falls at Dain's feet, black and grey hair a stark contrast against the white stone on the ground. He can hear his own heavy breathing as the blade moves, again and again, cutting skin as well as hair. Blood flows down his chin, warm and sticky. It smells like iron, like death, like the tent where Thorin died in the halflings' arms. Dwalin deserves every single second of this torture.
He can feel the cold air on his face and shudders, but his shoulders are rigid, tense. He will not show weakness, not in front of Dain. He will be strong. It is his choice.
„His hair, too.”
He cannot stop a quiet moan that pushes past his tightly closed lips. If Dain hears it he makes no comment, and the guard's sword moves to the back of Dwalin's head. The process begins anew, more painful as the hair on his head is thicker and stronger than those on his chin. The guard presses the blade hard enough to wound, taking his hair together with chunks of skin. Dwalin grunts as agony hits, clenches his teeth defiantly. Dain will not hear him scream. He will not.
Mahal, it hurts.
Thorin's face flashes before his eyes, bloodied and sickly pale. His eyes close so tight he can see white spots dance under his lids.
He deserves this. All of it.
Thorin. Forgive me.
Ered Luin turns him away.
Dwalin is not surprised. He knew Dain will send ravens to all dwarven kingdoms pronoucing him a traitor. Even if Dain's word hadn't been enough, the lack of beard and hair is enough of a message to the other dwarves - enough to mark him as an exile.
The wounds on his chin and head had scarred, as he suspected. Balin tried treating them after the guards released him and he was escorted to his house to get his belongings, but Dwalin refused. He washed off the blood under the guards' watchful eyes, packed only the essentials (it was wiser to travel light after all) and embraced his brother for what would be the last time.
„You fool,” Balin said, his forehead digging painfully into his. Dwalin tried to laugh, but it sounded wrong, like he was choking on air, so he swallowed and closed his eyes instead.
„Forgive me, brother.”
Balin sighed heavily.
„There is nothing to forgive,” he murmured. „You should have told me, I would have...”
Dwalin pushed his brother gently away then, his fingers tight on the other's shoulder.
„No. Erebor needs you, Balin, and you need Erebor. I will be fine. I always am.”
They embraced one more time, Balin's eyes too bright, and Dwalin left. With Grasper and Keeper slung across his back, and his pack, he left the Lonely Mountain and did not look behind.
Dwalin sighs, adjusting the strap digging into his shoulders. Since no dwarven kingdom would allow him to live in their halls the only option he has is to live among Men. He scowls, an ugly grimace of anger and grief twisting his features. Clenching his teeth, he breaths out through his nose, rolling his shoulders to relax tense muscles. It is what he deserves for failing his King, after all. King-slayer, his mind whispers and he shudders violently.
Bree is the closest town of Men in these parts of the Middle-Earth and he knows that the people there are in need of a good blacksmith, or at least were when he stopped at the Prancing Pony on his way to Ered Luin. He nods to himself: yes, that could work. With no beard (his heart clenches painfuly at the thought) and hair he could easily pass as a Man – a rather short Man, yes, but a Man nonetheless.
He will have to cross the Shire again, the green, peaceful Shire that has never experienced war or hardship. He considers stopping by and visiting the Burglar, but banishes the thought quickly. They were never close, not even when they were traveling together, and it would not do to burden the halfling with his presence.
„Bree it is,” he murmurs to himself and winces at the sound of his own voice. It's gruff, scratchy, almost unaudible and he realizes he has not spoken to anyone for nearly a month. He tended to keep away from the main roads on his way to the Blue Mountains, traveling across fields instead, avoiding merchants and travelers going to and from Ered Luin. He clears his throat, shakes his head. It makes no difference. He has never been one for talking anyway, speaking only when he has something relevant to say. Idle chatter about nothing holds no appeal to him.
He reaches behind, touching lightly the very edge of Keeper's sharp blade. It comforts him somewhat, the cold iron soothing his ragged nerves. He takes a deep breath and sets out for Bree, leaving Ered Luin behind him.
„Is that a dwarf?”
„Don't be stupid, Sam, he doesn't have a beard. Uncle says all dwarves have 'em!”
Dwalin continues to work, striking the hot iron with his hammer. His arms ache a little after whole day of work at the smithy and he can feel cool sweat gather on his flushed forehead. He glances over to the entrance of the workshop – there are two boys peeking around the door at him, hobbit children judging by their tiny bodies and curly hair. One of them is blackhaired, his thick, healthy curls falling into his eyes with every bounce as he tries to get a better look. The other's hair is very light brown, like a fawn's coat, and his pudgy cheeks redden when he realizes Dwalin has caught them looking. He squeaks like a mouse and darts out of sight, tugging the other with him.
Dwalin shakes his head, smiling a little. They remind him of the princes when they were but wee dwarflings, innocent and mischievous, always full of questions that noone seemed to know the answer to. They used to pester him constantly, trotting after him like particularly loud and hairy puppies, watching him train with wide awe-struck eyes.
He clenches his teeth at the pain, the memories resurfacing despite his best efforts to not think, to forget, drown himself in work and get tired enough to simply collapse onto his bedding and sleep dreamlessly for once. It never works, but he doesn't stop trying.
He puts down the hammer, leaning against the worktop as he wipes the sweat off with the back of his hand. His landlord's wife has left a pitcher of cool ale near the door and he drinks in long great gulps. It's bitter and watered down but he doesn't mind. He's had worse.
There is an unmistakable giggle coming from behind the door and he turns his head slightly to look – the lads are still there, watching his every move and nudging each other, whispering heatedly.
Dwalin leaves them to it, picking up his hammer again.
He had been in Bree for months now, working at the local smithy. He was right – the people of Bree needed a good blacksmith, since their old one became... well, old. Dwalin took over his workshop and rented a room above it for the little gold he had left. As he suspected, the Men mistook him for one of their own and he has been treated warily but with respect – he's sure they would not be so kind to him have they known he's a Dwarf. His race, after all, is thought to be greedy and overly proud, and others were highly suspicious of his kind.
Elven propaganda, no doubt.
Another high giggle interrupts his mussing and he sighs heavily.
„'Scuse me, Master Smith, sir,” comes a little voice and he peers down over the counter only to look right into bright blue eyes set in a small, flushed hobbit face. The lad is shuffling his feet, his hands clasped in front of him. He gazes at Dwalin with wide eyes, wary but curious.
„What is it, lad?” he asks and winces. His voice sounds harsh and unpleasant, and the boy looks down, abashed. Mahal damn it.
„Sir,” he says with his eyes fixed on his large feet. The tips of his ears are flushed pink, „are you a dwarf?”
Dwalin gazes at the lad in silence, unsure what to say. The little hobbit lifts his head and stares back, almost bouncing on his heels with impatience. He is not a dwarf, not anymore, not since he lost his honour along with his beard and hair. He's nobody.
He swallows around a lump that suddenly appears in his throat. The lad is still waiting and he opens his mouth to say something when another voice interrupts him. A voice he knows, a voice that wakes old memories. The last time he had heard that voice had been back in Erebor, the Burglar sitting on a log outside Thor... the King's tent and weeping, his heartbreaking sobs interrupted only by the King's name repeated over and over again as he cried.
„Frodo! Frodo, m'boy, where are you? Sam? Oh, confound it...”
The boy with tawny hair darts into the smithy and tuggs on his friend's sleeve.
„It's Master Bilbo! He's lookin' for us!”
Dwalin turns around swiftly, standing with his back towards the door. Taking the half-forged blade out of the fire, he lays it on the anvil, rises the hammer above his head and swings it in one powerful move. Again and again he strikes the red-hot steel, drowning out the lads' high voices. He concentrates on his breathing, trying not to panic. The Burglar will surely not recognize him, not with his scars and the lack of beard. But what is that blasted hobbit doing in Bree anyway? Did he not complain during their quest how he disliked the town, how he avoided the Men's settlements if he could help it?
Curse his Mahal forsaken luck.
„Ah, here you are!”
Dwalin does not turn around to face the Burglar. Even if he looks more like a Man now rather than a Dwarf it would be wiser not to tempt fate – the hobbit has always been too clever for his own good.
„Frodo Baggins, what did I tell you about wandering off on your own?”
The lad mumbles something that sounds like „'m not alone” and the halfling berates him again: „Samwise is not an adult, Frodo, shame on you for dragging your friend away and getting him into trouble”. But soon his attention turns onto Dwalin who still refuses to face the halflings.
„I am so sorry, sir, I hope the boys weren't troubling you. Too curious for their own good, these two.”
Dwalin only grunts in answer, trying to be as dismissive as possible without saying a word, but the Burglar keeps talking.
„You know, Master Sagwyn, the old smith that is, he used to fix my gardening tools and a fine job he did too-”
He babbles on about rakes and bloody spades, and Dwalin would really rather prefer the Halfling to just leave. So he rises the hammer high above his head and swings it harder than neccessary, the loud clang of metal hitting metal interrupting the hobbit mid-word. Heavy silence settles in the workshop and Dwalin freezes, feeling the Burglar's eyes focus on him intently. A sharp intake of breath tells him all he needs to know and the blacksmith closes his eyes, waiting.
He lets the hammer slip from his slack grip and land on the floor near his heavy boot, and wipes his sweaty brow again before turning to face the hobbit. Bilbo Baggins looks exactly the same as he did when they had seen each other in Erebor some years ago. True, there are more wrinkles on his face, especially around his eyes, and a few lines around his mouth, whether from grief or laughter Dwalin cannot tell. But his hair is still curly, thick and healthy as it used to be. His eyes are still as green as he remembers, vibrant and bright.
„Burglar,” he greets him gruffly, crossing his arms in front of him. Bilbo Baggins stares at him as if he were an apparition of some sort and Dwalin scowls. A smile blooms on the hobbit's face then, joyous and so honest the dwarf doesn't quite know what to do. The halfling moves, stepping around the counter quickly and then there are arms around his waist as Bilbo embraces him. He freezes, eyes widening. Bilbo's arms are tight around him, his face smashed against Dwalin's shoulder, and a feeling of blissful comfort washes over the dwarf. He automatically reaches out to return the embrace. Thori... his King's face flashes before his eyes then, bloodied and still in death. He breathes out harshly, shaking his head at the sudden pain in his chest. No, no, he does not deserve comfort, not after... after...
His fingers curl around the Halfling's biceps and he pushes him away gently. There are tears in the Burglar's eyes but he's smiling, wide and happy.
„My dear friend, I'm so glad to see you! Whatever are you doing here, in Bree of all places?”
Dwalin takes a step back, looking over the Burglar. He looks well – his waistcoat is clean, buttons polished to high shine, a handkerchief peeking from his pocket. What little softness he had lost during the quest is back around his middle, a clear indicator of indulgement in good food and sweets. His cheeks are rosy, skin glowing healthily. But there is something about him that is not quite right. He is genuinely happy to see the dwarf, but his eyes are bright with joy and pained at the same time.
„Workin',” Dwalin answers, nodding at the hammer lying at his feet. Bilbo rolls his eyes, his smile widening.
„Yes, I see that. But why are you not in Erebor? How is the mountain? And the rest of our Company? You must tell me eveything.”
Dwalin shakes his head and finally the halfling notices the lack of beard and the scars. His eyes are wide like saucers and he reaches out, his small fingers almost brushing against the thickest scar that runs down his cheek. Dwalin jerks away, taking a step back. His eyes flicker to the lads still standing at the door watching them with their mouths hanging open. Bilbo startles as he moves away, but turns when he notices the dwarf is looking at the boys.
„Ah, yes!”, he cries, mentioning for the lads to come closer. They approach, cautious but curious, and Bilbo clasps his hands on their shoulders. They reach no further than Dwalin's mid-tight and the sudden realization that he could probably crush their little skulls in his hands with no effort fills him with dread. „This is Frodo, my nephew, and Samwise Gamgee, our gardener's boy. Lads, say hello to Mister Dwalin.”
They look up at him with their mouths hanging open. Frodo is the first to move, reaching out with his tiny hand for a shake.
„I'm Frodo Baggins,” he says politely, „at your service.” He bows, his black curls bouncing with the movement around his pointy ears. The other boy hides behind an amused Bilbo, red as a tomato. Dwalin hesitates, but grasps the delicate hand in his scarred and rough one gently, giving it a few slow pumps. The lad beams.
„Dwalin, at yours,” he murmurs, inclining his head in the tiniest of bows.
„Are you one of the dwarves from Uncle's stories? You are, aren't you, Mister Dwalin? Uncle said you have lots and lots of tattoos, and two axes, and that you killed all those orcs and goblins, and then King Thorin-”
Dwalin shudders at the mention of his King's name, closing his eyes and breathing out harshly through his nose. The lad continues to babble, his tiny hands moving restlessly as he reenacts some of the scenes from his Uncle's stories, jumping about and fighting with his imaginary foes, and Dwalin looks at him, unseeing.
His King in armour, swinging Orcrist and slashing their enemies' ranks like through warm butter, all grace and deadly force, his face twisted in rage...
His King surrounded by the orcs, fighting his way over to his nephews, bellowing their names as he goes...
His King's mournful scream when he sees Kili lying so still on the ground, Fili next to him...
His King pierced by orcish spears and arrows, falling to his knees right in front of Dwalin's eyes...
His King dead before his time, pale and bloody, never to see the glory of Erebor restored...
It is his fault, all of it, and Dwalin staggers under the weight of grief pushing on his shoulder. He feels himself collapse onto a nearby chair, hears Bilbo's concerned babbling, but he cannot see the Burglar, the memory of his King dying right before his eyes.
His hands clench into fists so tight he can feel blood well under his nails. King-slayer they had called him and they were right – it might not have been his blade that struck the King, but it was his duty to protect him, to be there and watch his back ever since the King was a lad. He had failed and now his King, his friend, his kin lays in cold stone because of him.
There are fingers on his clenched fists and he blinks, looks down. Bilbo is kneeling in front of him, his face marred by a worried frown. His hand is warm on Dwalin's, soft and delicate.
„Dwalin,” he mutters, his fingers stroking the dwarf's knuckles comfortingly. Dwalin shakes him off and stands.
„You should leave,” he says gruffly, not caring he sounds rude. He looks over at the lads, but they're nowhere to be seen. „Now.”
The Burglar opens his mouth to argue and Dwalin glares in warning. The Halfling's mouth shut with a click of teeth against teeth and he narrows his eyes.
„You, Master Dwarf, owe me explanation,” he snaps, stretching up to his full, rather unimpressive height.
Dwalin can feel his face flush in anger when he growls: „I owe you nothing, Halfling.”
Bilbo doesn't seem frightened. Indeed, he puts his hands on his hips, his face thunderous.
„Oh, yes you do! You come to Bree without sending word first, even though you know I would be delighted to see any of my dear companions again, you work here and away from Erebor, you have no beard,” Dwalin flinches at that and Bilbo's face softens, ”and you just scared the living daylights out of me.”
Silence falls between them, thick and uncomfortable. Bilbo is still staring at him, his eyes wandering from his scarred face to his bald head. „Please,” he says. „Please, let me visit again without the lads and we'll talk.”
Dwalin sighs, resigned, and nods shortly. Bilbo pats his forearm, turns away to go.
„You know,” he says, a small smile tugging at the corner of his lips,”Frodo seems quite taken with you. It will be a challenge to keep him away, now that he knows who you are.”
„The Men-” Dwalin begins but the Burglar shakes his head with a chuckle.
„Don't worry, he'll tell no one. Neither will I.”
Dwalin nods in thanks, and then the Halfling is gone. Dwalin stares after him for a while, deep in thought. He shakes his head, stands and picks up the hammer. He has work to do, after all.