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Prologue:  Prince in Exile

 

The grave was not deep beneath the mountain as stories later would tell; it was outside on the height under the pines that long ago had blazed in Smaug’s terrible fire. The dwarves had built a mighty stone cairn to lay their fallen King to rest. The deep grey stone was adorned with the Raven on either side, but no other adornment had been placed on it yet except for the runic inscriptions.

 

Thorin Son of Thrain

King under the Mountain

 

No words mentioned that his eldest nephew was resting beside him, having sacrificed his life shielding Thorin as they broke through the ranks of the Orc host. Bard the Bowman and Thranduil of Mirkwood stood a few paces away of the tomb, having placed the Arkenstone and Orcrist with Thorin before the heavy stones had closed over his resting place. They could have left with most of those who had been assembled here hours ago. Yet, this very place had a decision yet to see and both were determined to know which it was to be.

 

A lone figure stood still in front of the dark grave, head bowed, dark hair torn by the wind, not holding back the tears in his eyes. Kili was hardly able to stand at his own feet; the healers had been loath to allow him to get up at all. With Kili stood Balin and Dwalin, giving him support while allowing for the space he needed to grieve. Dwalin frowned deeply when he saw Daín approach. The King of the Iron Mountains had chosen an ill time to approach. The broad-shouldered dwarf stepped away to cut off Daín. Not a man of many words he stared down the shorter dwarf. “Leave him be.”

 

Daín frowned impatiently at Dawlin. “What must be spoke off is not yours to decide.” He said coolly.

 

Before things could escalate Kili woke from his trance and turned around. “Dawlin,” he said softly. “let him come here. If he wishes to speak to me this time is as good as any.”

 

Daín walked past Dwalin, he was a short dwarf, shorter than the rough warrior and even shorter than young Kili. “They said you had a stout heart, lad,” he said to Kili. “it will be easier to speak in the shadow of these stones than down in the halls with their prying ears.”

 

Kili acquiesced and they walked a few steps along the tomb right to the ridge where it overlooked the surrounding land. “Thorin was most distressed to learn of your brother’s death,” Daín began without preamble. “it pained him to know Fili had been killed defending him. He was glad you had at least survived… he must have loved you both dearly.” He cast a glance at the silent young dwarf Prince beside him. “But… he did never name either of you his heir… you were the sons of his sister and maybe in his mind you were meant to take up his mantle. Yet he never named you, not even in the hour of his death. That puts you – his nephew – and me – his cousin – on even footing when it comes to succession.”

 

“I see,” Kili’s eyes followed the flight path of a single eagle streaking across the valley. “and as you already have your army here and have a claim on the throne…”

 

Daín stretched his shoulders, assessing the younger dwarf anew. He seemed to see things more realistic than Daín had expected. “You are barely of age, Kili. In fact, in the Iron Mountains you’d still be a youth…”

 

“But I am not from the Iron Mountains. A dwarf in the Ered Luin will be named adult once he passes 70 and proves he can kill a warg, an orc and forge a decent axe or sword.” It had been a long departure from established dwarven tradition to do so but the great number of orphans left among the Erebor dwarves after Azanulbizar had forced change upon them.

 

“Now there, lad, that may hold true for that Exile home you founded back in the Ered Luin but no one from the proper dwarven lands will take your claim seriously.” Daín pointed out. “And my share in reclaiming Erebor is not a small one either, your and your Uncle did far less, even the dragon was killed by another.”

 

He was suddenly and violently spun around, brought face to face with the thunderously angry face of Dwalin. “How dare you, Daín?” Dwalin growled. “Kili is Thorin’s heir and you know it – he adopted both boys the day Dis died. I should toss you down that ridge that would end your claim nicely.”

 

“Try,” Daín croaked, trying to break the violent grip. “you are barely a dozen, your people are on the other side of the world still. My army will make short work of you.”

 

“Dawlin,” again it was Kili’s voice that brought the warrior to a halt. “set him down. He holds all the cards now.”

 

Angrily Dwalin put down the flustered king. “Kili – we will stand with you, none of us will stand for such treachery.” He said fiercely.

 

Gently Kili put a hand on his arm. “I know. You are one of the truest, loyal souls that my house was ever fortunate to meet, Dwalin.”

 

Daín straightened up. “I’d put that to a test – how many of your kind would prefer their home back over another bloody war.” He pointed out somewhat slyly.

 

Balin, who had joined his brother looked at him disbelievingly. “What are you thinking, Daín?”

 

“He thinks that he is the laughing winner,” Kili now spoke more evenly, for a moment the pain for the dead having to take second place over the concerns for the living. “he would not give us an army when we needed it and now, with Thorin dead he can take Erebor for his own.” He raised his hand forestalling Daìn’s words. “Do not protest or claim noble motives here, Daìn. There is no one but us to hear. What was your plan for me, then? Would I have died within a few days either if I did not support your claim?”

 

“I would rather you vanished entirely.” Daín was surprised that it was the young Prince who seemed to have the clear eye for politics. “even with your support there’d be those who’d whisper that you are the true King of the Mountain. No matter where you went among Dwarves… you are too much like your Uncle, you would always be the uncrowned King. And we had enough of that with Thror’s line already.”

 

Kili could sense Balin’s shock and Dwalin’s fierce anger – they both would fight if it came down to a choice and that was why he could not make that call. Thorin had valued each and everyone of his loyal followers highly, he had placed their wellbeing before his own and he’d expect as much from his heir. “On one condition Daín,” he said.

 

“Name it.”

 

“You will allow all of the Erebor dwarves to return should they wish so, their ancestral homes and possessions restored to them. If you want to be King of the Mountain you have to do right by the Mountain’s people.”

 

Daín visibly relaxed at this demand. “You have my word, Kili. A King doing less would be stupid. Your people have proven time and again their strength.”

 

“Kili… no.” Balin tried to intervene. “you can’t let him get away with this.”

 

“He already has, Balin.” Kili turned to him. “my friend… he could as easily burry us beside Thorin and go on with his schemes. My Uncle wanted to give our people back their home. He wanted them to be proud once more, to no longer live in foreign lands, homeless and scorned among men. You, your brother…you all faced death, danger and horrors beside him, out of loyalty, out of friendship… you deserve to gain back what was taken from you so long ago.”

 

Awed Balin looked up at the young dwarf. Where was the mischievous boy? The young wild archer? He had been burned away by fire, by battle and by grief, leaving a young solemn warrior – a young Prince. “I would rather live out the rest of my life in the Ered Luin than under the rule of one who stole the throne from your family, my Prince.”

 

Dwalin nodded approvingly. “He is right, Kili. I won’t have anything to do with that maggot – and neither will the others.”

 

Deeply touched by their unwavering loyalty, Kili still had to caution them. “Leave the others their own choice,” he insisted.

 

Daín weighed what he had just heard. He had hoped that his rule would be uncontested but it seemed Thorin’s house still had a stubborn following. It was something to keep an eye out for in years to come. “Most will chose more wisely,” he said acidly, unable to resist to put a hit or two on that noble façade the young one put up. “they will know where their gold and home is.” He turned walking off stiffly.

 

Bard turned aside seeing Thranduil was leaving. “That was the single most coldest thing I have seen in a long time.” He said to himself before he approached the three dwarves.

 

“And what would you want?” Dwalin was not in the mood to hear any more.

 

“I will not intrude upon you long,” Bard spoke swiftly, he could see the warrior’s patience was already wearing thin. His eyes sought Kili’s gaze. “Your family had a long feud with Smaug and even as I was the one to strike him down – you should have this.” With these words he handed Kili one long glittering dragon’s fang.

 

Closing his hand over the icy cold fang, Kili inclined his head. “You have my thanks, Bard of Laketown. And I wish you luck in rebuilding your city.”

 

Bard’s eyes grew thoughtful. “It seems we have a new King under the Mountain to watch out for. I fear there will be many a day when even I shall wish your Uncle had survived.” With this he bowed slightly and left the gravesite.

 

A cold wind rose from the east sweeping across the mountain and the valley below, snow began slowly to fall from heavy grey clouds. Dwalin’s eyes went to the far of ridge of mountains to the west. It would be a long way home.