“WHAT??” Kili burst out, not caring who heard.
“You can’t mean that!” Fili’s protest overlapped his brother’s. He was aghast – never in an age would he ever have expected to hear those words from his King. “Abdicate? If this is about your wounds, you’re healing well; it’s simply a matter of time before you’re back to your old self.”
“It’s not that.” Thorin’s voice was low and sad. “I’ve had a good deal of time to think in these last weeks. If I had not been such a fool, if I had not let the dragon sickness take me, hundreds would still be alive. I shut everyone out, thinking only of the gold and the Arkenstone.”
“Hundreds would likely have died anyway, and with no chance to fight. The Orcs were coming for vengeance, and to take the treasure. If Dain’s people hadn’t been here, and the Men and the Elves, they’d have taken it and slaughtered at will. It may have been a fool’s luck that they were here, but it was luck all the same. And it was you our people followed, you who rallied them.”
“Too little, too late,” Thorin said. “If I had treated with the Men and the Elves, and the Orcs had come anyway, at least I could have met my death with head held high. As it is, I live because of my madness. I have brought shame on my House when I should have honored it.” His eyes were dark with sorrow. “I am my grandfather all over again.”
“You say that Iike it’s a bad thing,” Kili said with a quiet urgency. “Thror was a great king, just as you will be … as you’ve already been. You led us when we had no one, when you yourself didn’t know the way.”
“I forfeited the right to lead when I abused that leadership.”
“So you’d give over the crown to an untried King, at a time when your people need your strength the most?” Fili protested. “I’m not ready, and we all know it.”
“If I had died, would you have been ready then?”
“If you had died, I would have taken the throne, ready or not, and muddled through the best I could. I would not have had a choice. But there is a choice now.” Fili’s eyes were fire and ice as they locked with Thorin’s. “Through decades of exile, you put your people first, with little thought of yourself. If you simply felt you couldn’t do it anymore, I could understand. Seeing us through from day to day took a toll, and took more courage than any battle. But this? This is the act of a coward, and I would never have believed that of Thorin Oakenshield.”
The silence that followed was palpable. Kili’s eyes were like saucers, and they flicked between his brother and his uncle. “Fili … “ he started to say in gentle warning, only to be quelled by the darkest look he’d ever seen. He held his tongue, swallowing hard, every muscle tense, terrified there would be a fight, and more terrified that he’d have to choose a side.
After a long moment, Thorin’s voice broke the silence, low and threatening as he said, “You would speak to your King in this manner?”
“Whether by your abdication or my banishment, you may not be my King for much longer, so I’ll speak as I wish,” Fili retorted, his gaze never wavering. “You believe you’ve lost your honor. If you want it back, fight for it. You fought for it in the great battle, and the Orcs were defeated once and for all. Fight for it again. Give our people the King they deserve, not the one they have to settle for. Rebuild Erebor, bring them home. Show them a King who can rise above the mistakes of the past, and reach to the future. That is where your honor lies. If you walk away now, you’ve lost it for all time. And if you can do that, maybe we are better off without you.”
Something in Thorin’s eyes and body language shifted, from fury to a bleak hopelessness, and he sank into a chair, head in his hands. Fili barely heard a muffled, “I couldn’t stop it.”
Understanding flashed over Fili, and he closed his eyes, all anger draining from him. He glanced at his brother and saw the same dawning realization, and a hint of tears. Thorin wasn’t like Thror – he didn’t believe his right to rule was divine. Any such notion had been killed by a hardscrabble existence as exile and outcast. He had always put up a good front, always showed a strong face, and even in the worst times believed that things would come right in the end. He had seen the effects of the dragon sickness, knew it could fall on him, knew the cost if it did. He had felt his mind was strong enough to conquer anything; losing that confidence, that control, cut deeper than the spear that had nearly killed him. It went past mere pride to the core of who he was. He could no longer trust himself, trust his own mind, and for the first time he was soul-chillingly afraid.
Fili came forward and knelt in front of his uncle. Kili stood behind Thorin, placing gentle hands on the bowed shoulders. Fili’s voice was thick as he said, “Thorin, you’ve carried the weight for so long, and carried it alone. You don’t have to anymore. We can do this together, all of us. We’re with you. And we need you – I need you. There is so much I need to learn. Teach me, help me to be the King I need to be one day. And we’ll help you be the King you need to be now.”
Slowly Thorin’s head came up, and his hands fell loosely into his lap. “What if … “ he said and stopped.
He didn’t need to finish, Fili knew. “If the madness comes again, I promise you I will take the crown from you myself, by force if need be, though it will break my heart. You have my pledge as a son of Durin.”
“And mine,” Kili echoed softly, his grip tightening on his uncle’s shoulders, his usually cheerful countenance uncharacteristically somber.
They held this pose for several moments, then Thorin straightened in his chair, his shoulders squaring again. One hand reached up and laid on Kili’s, and the other hand reached out and gently gripped the side of Fili’s neck. The blue eyes were still clouded, but a near-smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as he looked over his shoulder at his younger nephew, then back to the elder. “Stubborn, both of you, just like your mother,” he said in a voice that was still tired but more alive than it had been earlier.
“Family failing, I’m afraid,” Fili said with a small smile of his own. “Mustn’t complain, though, it’s gotten us through a lot – all of us.”
“It has, and will get us through more. We’ll need it before this is done.” He rose from his chair, and Fili started to rise, grunting involuntarily at a pain in his side. Still-healing wounds were protesting. Strong hands reached from either side to assist, and he looked into blue and hazel eyes. Working together – as family should.
“It’s time for you to rest a bit – both of you.” Fili gazed at Thorin steadily, and the older Dwarf added, “Yes, and me too. There is much I … we have to do later.” The brothers’ eyes met, and there was a shared smile at the amended ‘we’. “Out now, both of you. You’ve left me a lot to think about.”
“I thought you said you were going to rest,” Kili chided with a cheeky grin.
Thorin didn’t reply, at least not in words. He pulled them all together in a gentle embrace, touching each of their foreheads with his own. With a small but genuine smile he shooed them out, went toward his bed, then turned back. “Fili.”
“I dispute your claim that you’re not ready. Rest well.”
Fili was silent as the brothers headed to their own rooms. At the door he turned to Kili. “I was thinking … ”
“No one needs to know about this, not even Mum,” Kili cut him off, and Fili nodded, glad that he understood. Their task of protecting the King wasn’t over yet. But at least now the enemy was known.