Durin’s Day – coronation day. The time had finally come, and had been long in coming. Out of the charred skeleton of the once-mighty Erebor a new kingdom was arising under the Mountain, forged from strength, sweat, and hope. It and its people would forever bear the scars of dragon and Orc attack, but like a broken bone, they were strongest at the mended places. And one of those places was the heart of its King, Thorin II Oakenshield.
As he readied himself for the ceremony, Thorin thought back on the past months. The days had been filled with hard work, the nights with exhausted sleep that was not always easy or restful. Much had weighed on the minds of the King and his heirs, and few would ever know how close this day had come to not happening at all …
Thorin stood before the table that held the simple wooden box, willing his heart to slow down, his breathing to stop sounding so harsh in his ears. Bard’s ransom price had been paid, and he had kept his word to return the Arkenstone. Since that day the Heart of the Mountain had remained in this room, in the unopened box. Thorin had not been able to bring himself to even look at it in the weeks that followed, and had considered more than once destroying it. How something so beautiful could have been the catalyst of so much suffering, he did not understand. His grandfather Thror had been bewitched by it, goaded by greed to the disastrous battle that had claimed his life. His father Thrain, driven mad by grief, was as much a victim of it as Thror had been. And because of his own single-minded desire to possess it, Thorin had opened the floodgates to death and destruction. The spell was strong, and he feared it as he had never feared a mortal foe. He knew how to deal with a flesh and blood enemy; how did you defeat what attacked your soul?
He couldn’t bear to see it, yet here he was, intent on doing just that. It would continue to have a hold over him if he did not face the fear. It was the one thing that had stayed his hand from turning it into shimmering dust. And it was the reason he was here alone. His sister-sons had sworn an oath to protect the kingdom at all costs, even if that meant protecting it from its King. He would not let it come to that while Durin blood flowed in his veins – if the need arose, and the madness returned, he would hold it at bay long enough to use the dagger at his belt. He would not let them carry that pain.
Taking a deep breath, he tipped back the lid of the box. Even in the dim light of the chamber, the stone glowed with a hypnotic shimmer, as if lit from within. He picked it up from its nest of straw, rolling it in his hand. He made himself stare into its depths, noting the fire of its shifting colors, imagining the heat of it searing his hand like the dragon’s flame seared the walls of Erebor. His other hand removed the dagger from its sheath and laid it on the table next to him.
Memories assailed him unbidden – the feverish light in Thror’s eyes as he stood surrounded by gold and jewels in the treasure room; his mad scramble to retrieve the Arkenstone from the firedrake, heedless of the danger; the way he kept looking back, resisting his grandson’s attempts to get him to safety. The nights spent planning the attack on Moria, ignoring the advisors who told him it was folly. Azog’s mad laugh as he lifted Thror’s severed head, and the sickening thud as it landed at Thorin’s feet, dead eyes staring up at the blackened sky.
The scene shifted – now it was memories of himself, a proud smile on his face as he heaved the doors open and saw the treasure within. The cold touch of a phantom hand on his heart, and a fire ablaze in his brain. Ordering the Company to search for the Arkenstone, deaf to the murmurs and protests. His icy fury at Bilbo’s perceived betrayal and his threat to fling the Hobbit off the parapet. The sound of the Orc horns and the clash of battle. The screaming pain of the spear, and the shouts of his sister-sons as the darkness surrounded him.
For untold minutes he stood with the Arkenstone in his hand. Then his hand tilted, nearly of its own accord, and the glittering gem fell back into the box with a dull thunk. Thorin shut the lid and leaned with his hands on the table, head bowed, face burning with shame. There was a slight sound behind him. Without raising his head, he asked, “How long have you been standing there?”
“Long enough.” Fili came into the room. “I could lie and say I’d just been passing by, but … I saw you coming down this way and I followed you.”
Thorin should have been angry, and once he would have been, but no longer. Now there was a flutter of relief. He masked it with a gruff, “Why didn’t you come in?”
“If you’d wanted me here, you’d have asked me.”
“Then why did you follow me?”
“Because I made a promise.” Fili picked up the dagger from the table and handed it hilt-first to his uncle, in tacit acknowledgement of its intended purpose. Thorin replaced it in the sheath, not meeting his nephew’s eyes. “So, did you find out what you needed to know? How did it feel?”
Thorin was silent for a long moment, then in a voice tinged with wonder, he replied, “It felt like … nothing. It was a rock – a beautiful rock, like nothing else in this world or any other, but a rock all the same. The Heart of the Mountain has ceased beating.” He turned to look at Fili, and the younger Dwarf saw the first genuine smile to grace his uncle’s face in many a long day. “I’m free of it,” he whispered, blue eyes shining.
The tension went out of Fili’s shoulders and he closed his eyes. “Thank Mahal,” he breathed. “I was so afraid … “
“I know, lad,” Thorin said, laying a hand on his shoulder. “You’ve held up your end of the bargain for long enough – it’s time for me to start holding up mine. And now I think I can.” They exited the room together and Thorin locked the door behind them.
“Come on,” Fili said, regaining his composure. “We’d better get back upstairs before Dwalin decides we’ve been kidnapped and sends a raiding party against the Elves.”
“Try explaining that to Thranduil,” Thorin muttered. “And I expect there is a committee or three waiting for my decision on something.”
“So what will you do with it – the Arkenstone?” Fili asked as they walked. “Will it go back into its place above the throne?”
“No – it tainted the throne for long enough. The days of its worship are over. It can remain in its box until the Mountain falls down around it and reclaims it.” A glimmer of mischief appeared in Thorin’s eyes. “Or the next king can deal with it in his time.”
“Oh, no – if that’s going to be the case, I beg you to find a queen, start raising heirs of your own, and leave me out of it,” Fili protested, only half-joking.
“Not to worry – it’s safe where it is, we need never concern ourselves with it again. And besides,” and here Thorin looked directly into his nephew’s eyes, “I could never raise better heirs than the ones I already have.” Fili ducked his head, trying to hide the flush of pleasure at the praise.
There was a cluster of people, Men and Dwarves, waiting at the doors of Thorin’s chamber. He sighed inwardly, but inclined his head to acknowledge their bows. “Are you ready for this?” Fili asked quietly, not moving from his side. Thorin glanced his way and saw no apprehension, just the honest query of a tired nephew to his equally weary uncle. Thorin felt a calm settle over him, and a slight smile quirked his lips. “Yes,” he said, and never before had so much truth gone into one syllable. “Yes, I’m ready …”
“Are you ready for this?” Fili asked.
Thorin turned to look at his sister-sons, standing straight and proud in the doorway. He had questioned the wisdom of even having a coronation ceremony – the time, effort and expense that could have been used to more constructive purpose seemed like a waste. Balin had been the one to finally bring him around. After the years of wandering, the battles, and the destruction, a celebration of rebirth was in order. “It may be a symbolic gesture,” Balin said, “but it is a necessary one for our people to see their King back on a throne that has been empty for far too long.”
Thorin had agreed grudgingly, but now, seeing Fili and Kili looking every inch the princes they were born to be, he was glad he’d given in. They had been working as hard as he these past months, and they had earned this. Fili, growing every day into his role as heir, by his side at every meeting, every planning session, backing him up or disagreeing with him as the occasion called for it. Sometimes the discussions had gotten heated, but there was always a reason for his dissent. Even if Thorin didn’t always agree he would always listen and consider, and that seemed to please Fili. Kili was outwardly as irrepressible as ever, but those who knew him best could see the change in him during quiet moments – his gaze would get distant, and a shadow of memory would cloud his face. Then he’d catch someone looking at him, and there would be a smile, or a joke. Through pain and blood, the child had become an adult, and part of Thorin grieved for the loss of his innocence.
There was no sadness this day, however – Kili’s eyes were twinkling merrily, at odds with the serious cast of his face. “My lord, your people await their King.”
“They’ll wait a moment longer,” Thorin said as he came forward to lay a hand on each of their shoulders. “I just wanted to tell you that I’m proud of you both. I haven’t said that enough, and Mahal forgive me. “ He’d spent so much time being King and leader, sometimes he forgot how to be family. He thanked whatever powers might be listening that he had been granted time to rectify that mistake. “Thank you for helping to make this day happen. Now, let’s get this over with – there’s work to be done.”