The boys were indeed standing next to the small lean-to where the ponies were kept and, quite fittingly, horsing around. Clearly, they had gotten into another squabble over nothing and were shoving each other while Dwalin was looking over the ponies tack. Thorin was sure this was at least the fourth time this exact situation had occurred in the past hour if Balin’s expression was anything to go by. Only when Kíli pushed Fíli into Thorin’s mount as Dwalin was checking the hooves did the large dwarf finally grab them by the scruffs of their necks and give them a firm shake.
Thorin simply watched the pair for a moment, drinking in the sight of them young, enthusiastic and alive. It was all he could do not to succumb to the urge to seize them in a tight embrace and never let go. They were here and he was not dreaming. He could save them.
Kíli pouted at Balin for a bit until he saw Thorin coming down the path. Expression brightening, he immediately started jogging towards his uncle. Fíli, for his part, just looked miffed at the reprimand and went to his own pony to fiddle with the saddle. He must not have felt too angered with his brother however as Thorin saw he also looked over Kíli’s saddle.
“Uncle Thorin! Dwalin’s being mean!” Kíli instantly announced, eager for sympathy. “I didn’t push Fíli into the pony on purpose. He just fell in that direction.”
He tensed as Kíli reached him and had to remind himself that it would look odd to just drag his youngest nephew into a hug and not let go till winter set in. Instead, he made a show of dropping his shoulders and sighing loudly before jerking a thumb behind him. “If you wish to complain, there’s your mother. Speak to her.” Kíli let out a squeak as he finally noticed Dís who was already frowning at him.
Leaving Dís to it, Thorin headed towards Balin who was leaning against a water trough as he smoked his pipe.
Balin, who was always at his side, even when Thorin was on his last journey to Mahal’s great hall. Another Durin, that Balin had practically raised, dying from his own foolishness.
Thorin, Frerin and Dís had always been more like younger siblings to Balin then royal betters and distant cousins. Especially with Thorin and Frerin practically the precursor to Fíli and Kíli in mischief making in their younger days. Thorin’s death had to have hit the older dwarf hard.
He could only hope that with Fíli and Kíli to look after, Balin and Dwalin both would better endure his death better this time around. ‘And hopefully I’ll be able die with no regrets this time,’ he thought to himself.
Thorin was not so dull-witted to believe that he himself would survive the coming year. The voice told him specifically he had, but the one to live again and so Thorin would make the best of it. He would ensure that Fíli and Kíli would not fall due to his foolishness and the line of Durin would carry on as it has before. ‘Kings Fíli and Kíli,’ he thought absently, for they would be crowned together as they were wont to do all things. ‘I almost feel sorry for Balin now that I think about it.’
“Morning,” the older dwarf’s voice greeted and Thorin was surprised to find somewhere during his pondering, he had reached his destination. He was only glad he had managed to stop himself before he tripped into the trough.
“Balin,” Thorin nodded back as he tried his best to compose himself. He frowned as he realized that Balin himself had lowered his pipe as he stared up at Thorin, his mouth slightly open in surprise.
Thorin’s expression became one of puzzlement as he set his axes and pack down on the ground. “What?”
Balin shoved his pipe back in his mouth and shut it with a click of his teeth on the wood. “What are you thinking ‘bout laddie?”
“Thinking?” Thorin was puzzled as he wasn't really thinking about anything that moment except what Balin could possibly find so interesting.
Balin looked as if he were trying to puzzle out some great riddle as he examined Thorin closely from his boots upwards. There was an eyebrow raised at the small money pouch but he didn’t comment. Instead, Balin simply continued with his inspection until he was meeting Thorin’s eyes with his own.
Thorin was firmly becoming vexed by the scrutiny. “What?”
“Feeling confident today?” Balin finally asked him.
Thrown by the strange question, Thorin waited for Balin to elaborate.
“You were anxious yesterday. Worried not only of your meeting with Dáin and the others but also of the journey itself. Concerned of what perils we’ll meet on the road.” Balin finished his pipe before dumping out the ashes and tucking it away. Today, you’re looking more… relaxed.”
Thorin merely shrugged. “Nothing I can do about anything now. I’ve prepared as much as I can for today.” Which was true. He had repacked his entire luggage.
Balin followed him as Thorin brought his saddlebag to his pony and started strapping it on before checking the girth again. One thing he had learned the last time was that the ponies loved to puff out their bellies as much as they could when being saddled only to suck it back in when the dwarrows tried to mount. Poor Ori had gone sideways more than once before he learned to balance himself properly. Nori’s doing no doubt.
“What are you doing?” Dwalin asked as he suddenly appeared next to them.
“Re-cinching this… girth,” Thorin gritted out as he tugged at the leather.
Sure enough, he was able tighten another good two inches. He glared at the gelding as it glanced back at him. “Furry menace,” he muttered, shoving the head away before he could be nipped. He really should give the animal a name this time around. It wasn’t fair that pony he rode to reclaim Erebor didn’t even have a name.
He never even noticed the look Dwalin and Balin shared behind him as he snagged the rains and tugged the pony into walking towards Dís and her mount for the trip to meet Dáin and the other representatives of the seven kingdoms. Fíli had moved to assist Kíli in strapping down his own pack while Kíli cleaned his pony’s hoof.
All three looked up as Throin approached. Sharing a confused look with his mother, Fíli turned towards his own mare. “Are we leaving already?”
“Oh, no. Not as yet.” He looked over both his nephew’s gear. “Unless you want Kíli to lose that pack the second his mount moves?”
Kíli broke off as Thorin suddenly turned around and grabbed the cinch again. His pony hadn’t even managed to come to a complete halt, but the girth was raised another three inches. Satisfied that his gelding wasn’t holding his breath any more, Thorin finished off securing the girth, giving the saddle a small tug to check. Glóin had taught him that trick. Ponies, for all their smarts, were simple creatures.
He turned towards the others and practically backed up into his nameless pony in surprise as he found himself being stared at by all five of them. He did his best to look as if nothing was amiss as he went back to checking his saddlebag, turning away from the gaping group. “First lesson,” he directed at the boys. “Make sure your gear is secure.” He shot Kíli a look. “At all times.”
Dís let out a snort, but she did give her own pony’s girth a small tug. The look of surprise on her face when it went up a few inches Thorin wished Ori could have seen so he could draw it for Thorin later. Even Dwalin looked surprised when his own girth could be tightened.
His best friend shot him a suspicious look. “Since when are you such a equestrian?”
“Since when do you know such large words like ‘equestrian’?” Thorin shot back.
“You live with Balin and we’ll see how many big words you absorbed.”
“Children,” Dís drawled and Fíli and Kíli started snickering by their own ponies.
Thorin couldn’t help himself. He shot his sister a rather cheeky grin.
He wasn’t sure whose jaw hit the ground the fastest, but it was a close thing between Dís and Kíli. Fíli had done a double take while Dwalin was looking at him as if he had come down with some sort of pox. Balin had simply let out a small snort of amusement. Again, Thorin couldn’t stop himself as he shot Balin another grin.
“I’m surrounded by dwarflings,” Balin muttered as he headed towards his own pony.
Thorin just snickered as he double-checked his pony’s tack for the last time. ‘Ah the joys of being an old sod,’ he thought with a laugh as he watched Balin check his own girth as if it was something he did everyday. ‘Nothing fazes you.’
Fíli and Kíli were whispering frantically by their ponies while Dís was still shooting Thorin curious side-glances. 'And why shouldn't I smile?' he reasoned to himself. 'It's a lovely day, no one is dead and there are no elves with their blasted leaf meals called "salads" lurking behind the corners.' He paused at that. 'Must remember to pack more smoked meat.'
He was brought out of his musing by Dwalin who was staring pointedly at Thorin. “This is not a picnic,” he finally growled at Thorin’s inquisitive look
“I know it’s not,” Thorin frowned at him. “Why would you say that?”
A myriad of expressions crossed Dwalin’s face and Thorin watched as frustration, confusion, and even annoyance flashed across his best friend’s eyes. Bewilderment finally won out. “You’re different today.”
Thorin paused in fiddling with the stirrups as he thought that statement over. “I suppose I am,” he admitted, surprised more of himself then at Dwalin's acute observation. He couldn’t’ help it however. He was different. Dying tended to change a person’s outlook on life.
Dwalin clearly was flummoxed by Thorin’s answer. “Why?” he couldn’t help asking as Balin joined them, listening for Thorin’s answer just as intently as his brother.
“Whatever happens- Dáin refusing help, orcs, wargs, the damned dragon… I know that every one of us who leaves for Erebor and the unknown will meet anything that is thrown at us head on. That is something I know I can count on without question.”
“And you are sure of that?” Balin asked curiously. “Some of those who signed the contract are… unusual, to say the least. My apprentice, I know, has no idea what he’s in for and I’m not so sure Fíli and Kíli do either.”
“Not to mention the thief,” Dwalin muttered. “He’ll head for the hills the moment our journey becomes even slightly difficult.”
“No he won’t,” Thorin countered automatically as he walked the pony back to where he left his pack and axes, the other two following close behind. “His brother’s won’t let him.” Another dubious look was shared behind him at the soft statement, but Thorin was distracted with securing his pack to the saddle and never saw it.
“You seem to have great faith in the strange band of misfits you’ve been able to collect for this quest,” Balin stated and Thorin could here the question the old dwarf had hidden in his observation.
Thorin thought about Fíli and Kíli fighting the trolls. Óin and Glóin battling wargs. Bifur, Bofur and Bombur helping others keep their feet on that tiny ledge during the thunder battle. Dori, Nori and Ori taking out goblins as they fled for their lives.
Bilbo Baggins… tackling Azog the Pale Orc just before he could bring down the killing blow on Thorin.
“I do,” he stated firmly and if Balin was surprised by his confidence, he hid it well. Dwalin just looked skeptical.
“So, are we ready to go?” Dís demanded as she appeared next to Dwalin. “Or are we going to be standing around gossiping all day?”
“The sun has been up for quite some time,” Balin agreed as the mood around them became tranquil once more. “And if I remember correctly, our illustrious leader wanted us on our way by first light. We are already behind schedule.”
Thorin let out a small laugh. “If your illustrious leader complains, just blame me like always.”
“I’ll be sure to do that,” Dwalin snickered.
Thorin and Dís said goodbye to the others, as they would not be accompanying them to the meeting. Instead, Dwalin and the others were going to visit with each of the dwarrows who signed contracts to inform them of date they were to set off and give them a copy of the map to the Shire and one Bilbo Baggins that Gandalf had given Balin. Thorin was given his own map as he was arriving from a different direction where he and Dís were to meet with Dáin and the others.
Finally giving into temptation, Thorin pulled Fíli into a quick hug. “Watch your brother,” he instructed firmly.
Fíli smirked back at him. “So, carry on as usual, huh?”
“Hey!” Kíli was pouting again and Thorin pulled him into the small hug.
“Safe journey,” Dwalin thumped Thorin on the shoulder when he released the boys as Balin gave Dís a quick hug.
“To you as well. Though, try not to frighten the Wizard's friend too much,” Thorin smiled as he mounted. The saddle, he was pleased to note, stayed where it was suppose to and he turned back to Dwalin. Even without his knowledge of the coming events, Dwalin always went into a new situation first to ensure there were no traps or other dangers.
"Think he's of a delicate constitution do you? I heard those halflings were easily startled."
"That might be true, but I would hate to see what Gadalf would do to you in retaliation for scaring the hobbit out of his wits."
Dwalin just let out a laugh even as Balin gave Thorin another curious look. "I'd like to see the wizard try something!" he declared.
Farewells were said all around and the two groups turned towards different roads leading away from the mountains.
A thought occurred suddenly to Thorin and he turned back towards Kíli who was turning his pony to follow Dwalin’s. “Kíli!” he barked to catch the boy’s attention.
The young dwarf instantly halted his pony even as Fíli gave him a small sympathetic smile as he passed. “Yes uncle?”
“What do we do before we enter someone else’s home?”
Kíli looked blank for a moment before he shot a helpless look towards Fíli who had turned around on his pony to watch curiously. “Um… check for threats?”
A good answer, but not the one he was looking for. “And when we enter as a guest?” Thorin prompted.
“Er…” Fíli looked just as confused when Kíli glanced at him again for help.
“We wipe our feet!” Thorin declared as he steered his pony towards the opposite road, both his nephews now looking utterly flummoxed. He twisted in the saddle to add “and not on the furniture!” just to be clear.
Fíli and Kíli looked even more confused as Dwalin spun around in his own saddle to stare at Thorin disbelievingly. Thorin just shrugged at his friend before he waved goodbye at all of them.
Dís was looking at him critically again when he turned forward again. He frowned at her, confused as to why she was looking at him like that. “What? You’re the one who’s always saying the boys need more lessons in manners.”
“And you’re going to teach them?” she asked skeptically. He nodded, still slightly puzzled. “You?”
Oh now he was just insulted. “Why not me?”
She stared at him for another moment before she turned forward herself. “Well, why not you? After all, you did such a fine job teaching them how to fish.”
Thorin let out a groan as he dropped his head against his pony’s neck. “I leave fish carcasses on the table one time…”
“They were fish carcasses! Heads, tails, guts! All over my nice, clean table dining table! They were staring at me Thorin! Staring!”
This was going to be a long trip…