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            Fili was quite sure that he had never been quite so frightened in all his life.

            The battle outside Erebor had been full of tension and fear but it had been tension nand fear that he knew how to tackle. He knew from training with his uncle and Dwalin that you took the anxiety that war generated and molded it to suit your needs. He had done the best he could with that but the fear he felt now was entirely different.

            Taking a deep breath, he let his reflection stare back at him.

            In many ways, he looked the part. Formal but not overwhelming tunic and slacks, hair braided into the symbols of the Line of Durin and his feats as a warrior set amid the firmly set face. He knew that he would not look any better no matter how long he stared. The scars from the battle had healed and their marks would not easily fade.

            He fingered the braid that hung by his face, empty without its mithril bead. While he knew that nothing could be done about it, it still ached his heart each time he saw the empty loose hairs. He hoped, prayed, that they would be able to salvage enough material, of some kind, to recreate it.

            It had been the bead that his Uncle Frerin had left for him after his death and while he had never thought of the implications of it before, the idea that his uncle would not be able to recognize him in Mahal’s Halls without that special bead…it made him weary.

            Turning on his heels, he slipped from his room into his brother’s, slipping through the small connecting hallway. He wasn’t surprised to find Kili flopped face down on the bed, his slacks and undertunic on but his outer shirt and boots flung on the floor. Kili had never been one to hide his emotions and stress reeked off him like a bad fever.

            “Kili, c’mon.” He picked the outer shirt off the ground and gently twapped his brother’s rear with it. “The King Select is going to start soon and I really don’t want to make Uncle any more worried than he already is.”

            After a moment pause, Kili sat up, paused and reached down to scratch Goldfire’s ears where the pup had remained since early that morning. He accepted the tunic from his brother and pulled it over his head. “Do you think the Dwarf Fathers will challenge Uncle?”

            Fili sighed heavily. “I don’t know. The Firebeards are a stubborn lot—“

            “They’ve got no right!” Kili snapped, fumbling with one of his braids. “They don’t know anything about what Uncle did. He’s earned the throne, more than anyone else ever will!” his face was a lovely shade of red and Fili would have not been surprised if steam were to rise from his skull if they’d been caught in the rain outside.

            He spoke the truth though. Fili was glad that he had a younger brother to state what he was thinking. He knew this was tradition, the King Select, but as far as he was concerned, it was the most foolish and wasteful tradition. After all, what did these dwarf families know? They certainly hadn’t thought it necessary to support their Uncle’s claim before the death of Smaug. They had not been here these past few months to watch their Uncle build up from literally nothing. Now, with a lot of the work done, THEY had the right to determine their Uncle’s claim?

            Unfair, all of it but all the same, they needed to support their Uncle, their King, not make it more difficult. “I know that and by the time this silly meeting is over, so will they, Kili.” He added, his voice firm. “We’ll make sure they know it.”

            Frowning still, nerves quite evident in his face, Kili nonetheless nodded and worked, absently, on his left braid. He had done it at least three times already but each time, his nervous fidgeting resulted in more knots than anything. He had never been very good at doing his own braids though he did very well at others’.

            “Here,” Fili took the mithril bead from his sibling and set a foot on the bedframe so he could lean over a bit. “Let me do it.”

            The younger brother reached out, curled his hand over Fili’s. “You should use it, Fili. You’re representing the crown prince. You should use it for yours…” He gestured to the loose braid to his brother’s left side but Fili immediately frowned and shook his head.

            “No. This bead was for you, not me, Kili.”

            “But you’re supposed to be the crown Prince and…”

            “And they can accept that one of my beads was lost on the journey here.” The sharpness to his tone made it clear that they weren’t discussing this anymore. The loss of Uncle Frerin’s bead was a sore spot and he would not accept his little brother’s. If anyone would be denied the acceptance of Uncle Frerin when their time came to move to Mahal’s Halls, it would be him, not Kili.  

The younger dwarf relented, his fingers falling limp to his lap. The gentle lapping of Goldfire’s tongue on his hand was relaxing, in its own weird way, and he gave the small wolf pup a rub to the head in thanks. As childish as it might have been, he wished that they could bring the wolves into the meeting with them. Whether he wanted that because of the support they would bring them or so they could tell them to eat the other dwarf lords should they speak against their Uncle’s good nature he wasn’t sure.

            “There.” Fili finished with a tightening to the bead and smiled, nervously. “Come on, brother. The last thing we want to do is make Thorin wonder if we decided to come late. He is anxious enough.”

            Nodding, Kili stood and after a moment of scrutinizing one another (they both had forgone the more regal clothing as it was not proper until they were crowned; dark blue tunics with slacks and patterns of the Durin line were sufficient) the two dwarf princes left their chambers, nearly colliding with Balin in the hall. The white haired dwarf merely looked them up and down before giving them a warm smile, “You look the part of the Princes of Erebor, laddies.”

            Fili nodded, his face having taken on the stoic look he had been trained into but Kili simply remarked “Good, because we don’t feel like it. Are they here? Where’s Uncle?” He was talking fast, a trait both he and Fili had when they were unnerved.

            Smiling in what he hoped was a reassuring gaze, Balin replied, “Aye, they are here. Rather surprised us by coming as one group. Bilbo had the foresight to start sending in ale and meats almost as soon as we found a room. Hopefully, that will have loosened some of their attitude. They seemed less gruff when we moved them to the Meeting Rooms.” He answered the second question, “Your Uncle has already gone with Dwalin to gather in the King’s Council Chambers.”

            The two younger dwarves nodded but they said nothing verbally, just started to follow the elder down the hall. This was it. This was what their entire quest was laid upon; as much as they didn’t think tradition was necessary (and indeed, how much most of the dwarves living here thought it superfluous) one of the things that being a ruler meant was having the support of your neighbors. That was what this was for; for their uncle to gain their support. For all the other dwarf families to acknowledge that their Uncle was right to lead them, to unite them, to bind them all together, as the Line of Durin had always done.

            He was right for it but getting stubborn, hard-headed Dwarf Fathers to admit to it was another matter entirely.

            Their walk continued without speech and everyone they passed in the halls would pause and give a bow of encouragement before going back to their work. It was both unnerving and encouraging. Perhaps the Dwarf Fathers had seen the devotion of everyone here, the way that everyone had been looked after, how Thorin had done everything he was capable of doing to provide shelter, food. It was impossible NOT to see it.

            They spied Bilbo, just a hint of him, in the distance, sending in all manner of meats, breads and ale to the gathered dwarves. The scent of Bilbo’s famous sweet meat kabobs was unmistakable. Well, they HAD told Bilbo that a dwarf’s stomach was the key to friendships. Leave it to the clever hobbit to attempt to lighten the tension. They gave him a half wave of appreciation as they passed by.

            Balin occasionally glanced back at the two younger ones who followed him without a peep of their usual mischief. While Fili kept his composure as Thorin had hammered into his head, Kili was not quite as good at it. He was being careful about his posture, his stance but the way he would twist his hands and chew at his lower lip, the nervousness was quite apparent.

            They passed the throne slowly and took the pathway to the right. Both Princes looked over their shoulders at the seat where their Uncle would sit, where he would rule. The spot that he had told them about, how one day they would earn it back and that he would show them to wonder of their bloodline. How he would show them what the Dwarven People were capable of when they were not exiled and pursued.

            The Dwarf Fathers _had_ to see that.

            They had to _make_ them see that.

            “Fili. Kili.”

            Balin’s gentle inquiry shook the two princes out of their deep thoughts. The white bearded dwarf had stopped a few feet ahead, leaving the Chamber Door looming ahead, the seal of the House of Durin stamped into its golden sheen.

            “Balin.” Fili answered the inquiry. The older dwarf had been their mentor in many things and much like Dwalin, had proved more than a teacher but an extended member of the family. The look of seriousness on his face demanded attention and while anxiety practically poured off them both like water, they set their eyes and waited.

            “I won’t lie to you, laddies.” The elder dwarf tried to smile reassuringly, “This is not going to be an easy meeting. Your uncle is not without his allies but he is not without his critics as well.”

Frowning, arms folded over his chest, the dark haired Prince remarked, “They don’t have the right to say anything. They don’t know anything about Uncle. Not what’s important anyway. This is stupid.”

Fili nudged his brother with his elbow “But it _is_ tradition and that’s important to Thorin.” He hissed the name of their uncle with reverence.

“I know, I know…” Kili sighed heavily. “I just wish politics were less complicated.”

Chuckling a little, the elder Fundin brother offered, “Don’t we all, laddie.” He looked from KIli to Fili and back again a few times. “I know that my lessons on etiquette were not the most thrilling to either of you but—“ Balin offered.

            “We’ll remember,” Kili insisted.

            Fili added, “We may not have enjoyed them but we did learn, Balin. Anything we can do to help Uncle, we will.”

            Warmth flooded Balin’s eyes and it spread to his smile behind his beard “Aye, aye, I know you will. Do not take their words to heart, particularly the red bearded one. Ol’ Firebeard will be the hardest on your Uncle.”

            Fili nodded, resisting the urge to roll his eyes “We know, Balin. He showed up a few times when we were kids and I wish we had not. Always showed up, asking Uncle’s time and resources. For someone always showing up and asking for a favor, he was rather full of himself…”

            Snorting, Kili remarked, “Full of himself? He was lulkh.”

            Fili set his brother with a look. “Okay, no argument but I doubt calling him that will exactly win us any points, little brother.”

He pouted but nodded in agreement. “He still is one.”

The elder prince remarked softly, “Maybe but we can be better than that.” He addressed their elder with a wide smile. “We will win them over with truth, Balin. Nothing else be needed.”

            Kili eyed his brother out of the corner of his eye. “And if they start dragging Uncle’s name through the mud, you’ll stand there and allow it?” He had seen Firebeard once or twice as a child and he had hated the dwarf both times.

            Teeth clenched at mere thought, Fili retorted, “I will present myself honorably, as will you.” He eyed his younger sibling’s challenging look. “But I make no promises.”

            The King’s advisor shook his head but reminded them, “You two are both strong sons of Durin. The loyalty and ferocity of our forefather burns in you both. You are Princes of Erebor, just as your Uncle is King.” He clasped each of their forearms tight a moment, “All we need do is show it.”

            With that small spark of encouragement, Balin pulled from them, continued the rest of the way to the door and pushed them open.

            The two younger dwarves followed.

            They had seen the room. Thorin had shown it to them when they had begun to renovate the Throne Room but they’d never spent a lot of time in the Council Room. It was a wide open room with a broad table that was split into two half circles, with an elevated stone platform in between the two halves and three chairs on each half. It was where the King Select occurred and when it concluded, the selected would rise to the platform and the six clans would swear their support to him.

            The strongest feature that stood out though was the carvings on the wall. Made of stone and created with all kinds of gems, there were faces of all kinds of Dwarves decorating the room. Past Kings, from Thror all the way back to Durin the Deathless. They circled towards the ceiling where a visage of Mahal gazed down at them.

            It gave weight to the room.

            The spied Thorin right away. He was dressed in the same dark blue that they wore, the colors of Durin’s line, but he had not worn the cloak nor the crown. Simple tunics, slacks, over tunics. Nothing regal about it and the type of look they had always associated with the strong energy of their line. Thorin was not seated but rather stood between the two tables, with the platform opposite him, to his back.

            To his left, sat three dwarven lords and to the right three more. There was ol’ Firebeard, to the far left, looking as disagreeable as always. Fili suspected the old dwarf was incapable of being happy. Every time they saw him when they were little, he had that same look of sourness. The way he looked at Thorin though made Fili hiss through clenched teeth. This was going to be a lot harder than he initially thought.

Dwalin stood to Thorin’s left and while he wasn’t saying anything, you could feel the tension. The bald warrior looked like he was looking for any excuse to clobber one of the bickering Lords.

As the doors closed behind them, Thorin lifted his head and calmness flowed from him.

            “Ah, here they are. Balin, my wisest and most trusted advisor and my two sister-sons!” He offered to the Dwarf Lords, “Fili and Kili, Sons of Durin’s Line.”

            “Sons of Dis and Kalin,” Firebeard corrected Thorin with harshness. “Linked to you through your sister they may be, Thorin but it remains to be seen if we bestow the title of Durin’s Line upon them or you before the day is done.”

            Thorin clenched his jaw. An insult no graver there was. This dwarf meant to imply his sister-sons were not worthy of the blood that flowed through their veins?! Especially after what they had done on this quest? The names they had earned? The feats that would have historians arguing over which moniker to grace them with? Oh, he would like to show him that which he dared insult…

            “We may proceed,” Thorin finally voiced.

            “Good.” The tallest of the visiting dwarves (though he still would likely only come to Thorin’s chin) with a long winding beard of dark black woven with wooden and ivory beads remarked, “Balin, son of Fundin, if you would.” Though neither Fili or Kili recognized this dwarf, judging by his attitude and overall, well, ‘short but to the point yet polite’ness, it was probably Ironfist.

            As one, the group of six stood and Balin gestured the boys to take their spot by their Uncle’s left. There was significance to it. Only on the right of the King would they be shown as having power. To stand on the left was a sign that as far as these Dwarven Families were concerned, they were sons of Dis, Thorin’s nephews and little more.

There was a formality about the room but Thorin, Mahal bless him, still took each of his nephews by the shoulders and gently rested his forehead on theirs for a moment. Parting, the two boys stood to Thorin’s left, Fili being closest and Kili nearly on top of his brother’s foot.

            Balin stepped forward and he had that formality to him that he always carried when performing an official ceremony as he addressed the room. “Sons of Mahal, we are gathered for the betterment of the Dwarven Race. While we have Lords and soldiers and commanders that are full of spirit and fire, it is through our King that we are united. It is through our King that we are one. It is through our King that Mahal guides us. It is for that reason that we are gathered. Thorin II Oakenshield, son of Thrain, is the closest blood heir of Thror, son of Dain I. He lays claim to the throne of the line of Durin through both blood right and earned right. What say you, Lords of the Dwarven Clans?”

            The red haired dwarf, grumpy Firebeard was as predictable as always. He had been looking at all of them with nothing but contempt since they had entered, set his eyes on Thorin directly. “You don’t have the King’s Jewel, do you?”

            Well, no pause here. The patriarch of the Durin Line took a heavy breath and settled himself. He knew this was coming but like Balin had told him, he could only present his case and deal with the outcome. Standing tall, Thorin met his accuser’s eyes with strong sights of his own. “No. I destroyed it.”

            Oh, if the room did not erupt into frenzy, at least until Dwalin slammed his ax onto the stone floor with a “Hush, the lot of you! Listen, don’t just prattle on like a buncha ol’ hens!” His eyes were full of barely contained fire and judging by the way Balin looked at him, that was not exactly the best way to address the Dwarf Lords.

            It was effective though.

            “The very thing you set out to claim and you smashed it?” The gruffness in his voice, if it were possible, rose several levels and he stood to his feet as if the very ground was alive with molten rock beneath him. “That was the prize Jewel of your Grandfather! You have such gall to stand here and claim the throne when you not only failed in your mission but actively sabotaged it?!”

            Fili took a step forward, pausing in his step only when Dwalin and Thorin each lay a hand on his shoulder. His mouth was not silenced though, “Thorin failed at nothing, Lord Firebeard. It was YOU all who demanded the King’s Jewel, despite the fact that it was not always a part of Durin’s Line. Thorin destroyed it because he recognized it for what it was.” He bit his lower lip at that point, not trusting his tongue to not assault this maznaslatdurzu.

            The red bearded dwarf snorted and narrowed his eyes but he was not as dismissive as one would have thought he would have been. “I trust you will enlighten us to your reasoning, Thorin, son of Thrain?”

            “Gladly.” The dark haired dwarf stepped forward. “I started out this quest to reclaim the mountain. It was only through the aid of my company, including a small Hobbit, that was I was able to do so. I nearly lost it because of the lure of the Arkenstone. The tainted gold from a Dragon carries a heavy call to it alone but the call and hum of the Arkenstone drowned out all the singing of the gold. All I could hear was its call.”

            It was a white haired dwarf nursing his ale that asked, “Yet you broke out of it, unless the rumors are untrue?”

            Shaking his head, Thorin replied, “I did. I nearly lost everything most dear to me. But it was my sister-son, my heir, who struck through its spell and I found myself again. I was not going to risk forgetting who I was and what was dear to me again. So, I struck the stone to shards myself.”

            Firebeard scoffed to himself but he did not make a comment. Whether or not it was because he was being respectful or because Dwalin was fingering the hilt of his ax, they were unsure. Perhaps it mattered little.

            The others looked to their neighbors, chattering lightly in Khuzdul until there was a slam of palms to the table.

            It was a blond colored dwarf, beard bundled in tight ringlets and various colored stones that rose. He stepped forward first from the right. Fili slightly recognized him as a dwarf he had seen a few times in his childhood, though always from afar. The Dwarf Lord clasped his shorthanded ax across his chest and bowed to Thorin,

“To pull one’s self from the grip of Gold Sickness, no matter its source, is not a minor effort. Valin, son of Valu, Lord of the Stiffbeard Name, will stand behind Thorin II Oakenshield. His acts speak for themselves and the clan of Stiffbeard will stand firm with him and Erebor, Mahal as my witness.”

Fili’s heart lightened.

Kili failed to hide a smile.

Thorin, while he stayed formal, had gratitude in his dark eyes.

Balin nodded formally, “Your allegiance is noted, Father of Stiffbeard.”

A dwarf lord in the middle of the right handed table stood and Kili immediately knew who he was though he’d never seen him. This had to be the Broadbeam family. Bofur and Bifur had the same dark shade of hair but his stance was all Bombur. Distant relation or not, the blood link was apparent. He was a heavy set dwarf but not too fat. It looked more muscle than anything.

His words told them more than anything else that his heart was just as strong as Bofur’s family line. “I, Rangvald Broadbeam, the eldest of the lineage of the Broadbeams, from our first Father Raggard Broadbeam, have had the pleasure of seeing Thorin II Oakenshield work amongst his people in the Blue Mountains. I have seen his heart, his passion. My spirit sang to hear of his survival and of his devotion to my own distant relations, Bofur, Bifur and Bombur. To hear this only reinforces my stance. I stand by Thorin II Oakenshield’s claim and the family of Broadbeam will stand by his side in all future endeavors, Mahal as my witness.” He did a kneel and bow to Thorin, fisted hand over his heart.

Balin nodded in gratitude, “Your allegiance is noted, Father of Broadbeam.”

From the right table, the dwarf that had been sitting next to Broadbeam, an elderly dwarf whose hair had long turned silver and was braided with all manner of battle symbols, stood. His eyes, a deep green shade, looked not only at Thorin but at the two heirs of Thorin, with scrutiny. He made his way forward, bowed lightly, and stated, “I, Hagen, Father of the Clan Stonefoot, beseech our allegiance to Thorin II Oakenshield, Mahal as my witness.” It was short, formal but traditional. Expected from a dwarf leader who easily had seen more war than most.

Nodding once again, the white haired advisor remarked, “Your allegiance is noted, Father of Stonefoot.”

That left three other dwarves. Kili, while he tried to keep his face as stoic as his uncle and brother’s, couldn’t help but look them over with nerves peering out of his eyes. His uncle had kept his explanation short and Kili was beginning to see why. If you gave too much information, Mahal only knew what would come of it.

Ironfist did not rise but he looked to Thorin and inquired, “Thorin, son of Thrain, your grandfather fell to the Gold Sickness and he never pulled himself free. To say you have done so is a feat worthy of praise.” He added, “Your destruction of Azog and your sister-sons’ conquest over Bolg is another task not easily done.” He stood and remarked, “I commend and thank you for that.” He gave a half bow which the three Sons of Durin returned.

            When he did not move from his spot, he asked, “Your hard work ethic is not unknown, Thorin Oakenshield. It precedes you. However, that may not be enough to maintain your sanity. It did not save your grandfather.”

            Dwalin spoke out, breaking his silence. “And Thorin is not his grandfather, Lord Ironfist. I knew Thror and while he was a dwarf worthy of his status, he pales in comparison to his grandson. Thorin’s sole objective has always been for his people, no matter where he stands. Wilderness, battle, captivity. It has always been for his people.”

            Ironfist eyed Thorin. “So I have heard. It’s a noble feat. How do you intend to keep your people safe Thorin?”

            “With anything I must.” Thorin’s voice did not waver. “I have bled and starved for my folk and I will continue to do it. My grandfather lost sight of the purpose of a king. The purpose of a king is to serve, to protect his people. Even…amid my Gold Sickness, I like to think that I maintained some sense of that.” He meant that. His paranoia had always been about someone coming for his kingdom, his people, his treasure. Never for just him. Never just for his gain or loss. “I have gained true battle brothers and in them I place my trust. If I should falter, if I should begin to fail, I know they shall guide me straight once more, as we correct metal when it warps.”

            Ironfist considered this. “You place a great deal of trust in them,”

            “I could do no other. I said when I began my quest that I would take each of them over an army from the Iron Hills and I stand by that.” He lifted his head high and his voice rang with the strength of ten battalions, “They came to my cause, without any promise of success except their faith in me. It was their faith in me, their trust in me that let me preserve. I return their faith by trusting them to keep me true.”

            A warm smile finally seeped from Ironfist’s face, peeking out from behind his beard. He stepped around the table and took a knee before Thorin, “And so, I shall return faith as well, Thorin II Oakenshield. You have the allegiance of the Ironfist Family, so I, Halvarn Ironfist, declare with Mahal as my witness.”

            After a moment, the brown haired dwarf, who had remained silent the entire meeting, rose, leaving only Firebeard sitting. The brown bearded dwarf approached Thorin and advised, “Ironfist has never steered me wrong and your words ring with conviction.” He narrowed his eyes, “Do not make me regret my support, Thorin Oakenshield.”

            A bright smile spread over his face and with a nod, Thorin grasped the dwarf’s forearm. “If your faith in me is ever not rewarded, I shall relinquish the throne myself.”

            Bowing, falling to one knee, the dwarf Lord intoned, “I, Jerrik Blacklock, patriarch of the Blacklock clan, do decree our allegiance to Thorin II Oakenshield, Mahal as my witness.” Rising from his bow, Blacklock took his stance among the other Dwarf Lords, now five in number standing before Thorin.

            Firebeard made no move to rise. He puffed his pipe and remarked, “I am unconvinced.”

            Of course, Fili pondered. Firebeard has always been hard headed, worse so than an orc. All pride and hot air, he is.

            The blond haired prince reached over and gently brushed his younger brother’s fingers, giving a soft command of ‘Calm’ in Khuzdul. Everyone knew that Kili had a passionate temper and nothing ignited it more than insult to family.

            Given Fili was near exploding himself, he thought it best to intervene early.

            Kili’s tight muscles were apparent from a distance but he took a breath in to still his heart as their uncle addressed his final opponent, calm as could be. Was that something you obtained over time or with training? Kili had never understood their uncle’s ability to do so.

            “What might I offer to change your doubts, Lord Firebeard?” Thorin’s inquiry felt genuine even though everyone who knew him was well aware that any interactions with Firebeard had always been short nerved.

            Fili was beginning to consider if it would be worth it to just punch the arrogant dwarf. The way he looked at his uncle, puffed at his pipe and leaned back, as if they were discussing mere weather and not the fate of their race’s leadership. The utter smugness to his eyes made Fili sick. It always had. Every single time this dwarf had ventured into the Blue Mountains, had appeared in their Uncle’s Halls, it was always with that look and yet he always came begging for something, never to offer.

            “I doubt you can offer anything, Thorin Longbeard.” Firebeard remarked.

            It was a simple thing, using the name Longbeard. Granted, it was the official family name for those descended from Durin’s Line but everyone knew that when you had earned a new moniker, a name given for your feats in battle, it was an insult to be called otherwise. Fili and Kili were too young to be addressed formally with their earned moniker of ‘Dragonsbane’ (a century worth of life was required for it to be an everyday occurrence) but Thorin never failed to praise them for it and it had become commonplace with the Company.

            Thorin’s feats were well established. They were well earned.

            He spat on the Dwarf King-to-be’s name by disregarding it. To do so, so suddenly, was obviously deliberate.

            Dwalin finally spoke up, “Ya got any sense of honor to you? You’d disrespect the blood Thorin shed before Moria?”

            Firebeard, while he did push back a bit, retorted, “Aye, blood that was shed for naught. Do we reside in Moria? No. So what was it for, eh?”

            Kili looked ready to snap.

            Balin was biting his lip.

            Dwalin was beginning to look on the verge of a madness rage.

            Thorin, among all things, looked hurt. It was very faint, only noticeable to those who knew him well. Fili had only seen that look a few times in his life and it was haunting each time. He hid it well but it was there. The pain that came from the heart.

            Fili broke.

            “You’re the elder.” The blond haired prince remarked. “I’m rather insulted that you’d need a ‘youngling’ not even a century old to educate you but since you are inquiring, I’ll be glad to answer.”

            Thorin turned his head sharply, “Fili…”

            “No, Irak’Adad,” Fili addressed his uncle by his family title and continued, “We do not inquire if we do not wish to hear the answer. Lord Firebeard obviously does.”

            The red bearded dwarf looked like he wanted to stand up and make a noose out of Fili’s braids but the blond haired prince pressed on.

            “As you are obviously unaware, Lord Firebeard, the battle of Moria occurred not only to try and reclaim a home but as a defense to the Orcs that were loyal to Azog. The battle itself was going to be fought, regardless. Engaging within the valley before the birthplace of Durin himself was advantageous to us, the dwarves who were crafted from the rock and knew it as we knew our own breath. It was at a great cost, to all involved, but we survived it. Thorin was a major part of that and it is to him that a majority of the dwarves who thrive within Ered Luin owe their prosperity.” He added, “Within and outside of his Halls.”

            Standing abruptly, Firebeard hissed, “You’ve the same hubris as your uncle! The same fault that won’t be—“

            Kili pushed forward and pointed, fiercely, pressing against his brother’s shoulder. “You’ve no room to talk of pride, Lord Firebeard! No room!”

            Balin looked nervously at his younger brother but Dwalin was smirking at the two lads like a proud Papa. Granted, they said nothing untrue, but this could easily turn sour and while Balin did not doubt the boys’ ability to defend themselves, he’d rather it not turn bloody.

            “You insolent bintarg—“

            It was Lord Ironfist that spoke out, “None of that, Lord Firebeard. The young ones bring up points. Only one afraid to listen to them is one that has something to hide.” He narrowed his eyes, “I know you are strong spoken, but you do not lie to yourself on plain truths, do you?”

            There was a pause, reluctance but then…“Of course not.” That was probably the only truth Fili suspected had come from his mouth the whole meeting.

            Thorin addressed the room, “I do not deny I suffered from pride. Pride that the Arkenstone and the treasure hoard preyed upon. I have never denied that. I am not proud of it but I have sought to correct it and I will continue to mind it.”

            “Pride like yours, like your grandfather’s cannot be so easily tamed,” Firebeard accused, panting a bit and still looking at Kili and Fili like they were pieces of meat to be skewered. He was not blind to how Dwalin had taken both his axes from his sheath nor how Thorin had shifted so that he might put himself in-between his sister-sons at any time.

            All the same, Lord Ironfist’s words had struck a chord and he resolved to not let his anger blind him. After all, he was a representative of his family name and it would do no good to let them be known as intolerant braggarts.

            He set his eyes on the Durin Line once more.

            “And like I said,” Kili spoke out again, ignoring the look from Balin. “You have no room to speak of pride.”

            Fili, his own anger incensed, added, “Your grandmother was one of those lost during Smaug’s attack, was she not, Lord Firebeard?” Thorin, once the boys had been old enough, had not spared them details of the fury of that attack. He had remembered every dwarf lost, every life claimed. As soon as he had been able, he had set up memorials to each of them and his sister-sons had learned them well. It had never been just about the gold nor the land. It was the people who made it. People who had been slaughtered. Burned alive. People who had families, names, stories of their own.

“Was she not?” Fili repeated at the long pause.

            The Lord was taken off guard for a moment, surprised by the boy’s knowledge as well as the seemingly unconnected inquiry. “Aye. A tragedy it was—‘

            “And when Thorin called for aid, to go and remove the Dragon that had unfairly taken our homeland and the lives of our people, you refused his call. You refused the chance to avenge your blood.” Kili’s tone was even and through clenched teeth. “Your father’s mother.”

            “I…did not…answer.” Firebeard confessed. “That does not mean—“

            “When the Fell Winter was upon us all,” Fili interrupted, “You came to Ered Luin, begging for aid, did you not?”

            Again, surprise colored the Lord’s eyes. “I did. We were lacking in supplies, food…”

            “And obviously,” Kili folded his arms, “Thorin turned you away.”

            “…No. He did not.”

            “He did not.” Fili purposely heightened his tone, feigning surprise. “What did he say?”

            Some of the wind blown from his sails, Firebeard remarked, “He said he would pledge as many men as he could to help us ready shelters. He would send food from his own stores.”

            “And was our Uncle full on his own stores?” Kili asked, catching on all too easily to Fili’s purpose. If either of them saw the look their uncle was bestowing upon them, they gave it no thought. It was a look of surprise, shock and utter pride rolled into a simple glance of his eyes.

            His sister-sons paid it no mind as they had only sights for the final Dwarf Lord.

            “Nay, not that I saw.” The red bearded dwarf admitted.

            “Yet he gave anyway.” Fili offered. “What did he say when you asked how he would manage?”

            “I…did not inquire.”

            “No.” Kili offered. “You didn’t ask. You had what you needed. Your people would be taken care of and that was you were presently concerned with.” Kili added, “Thorin was concerned with every dwarf he was made aware of.”

            “Thorin took to work in the villages of Men.” Fili countered. “Doing the work that would please kings for horsemen, for leathermakers and for less than half of what he should have. Any gold meant food and clothing and shelter. He had made you a promise which he kept. He had also given his people a promise.”

            “That they would not want throughout the winter.” Kili chimed in. “And it mattered not what he would need to do to keep that promise.”

            “Surely,” Fili inquired, pushing his hair back, “You understand, Lord Firebeard. As I recall, your own people were nearly starved many decades ago from a horrific plague that crippled the dwarrowdams and children. The food was sour and brought illness to even the hardy dwarven folk. You naturally accepted any work you could to find healers, did you not?”

            The Dwarf Lord was silent. “I…”

            “No.” Kili answered. “You refused to work for Men, even as your own people lay dying. You sent word to the other Dwarf Families, claiming you had no means to support your people, nor combat the sickness when MenFolk regularly passed by, commenting and wanting the word of Dwarven Folk.” He narrowed his eyes, “But, no, that kind of work…you would not do.”

            “You would not “lower yourself” to Men for coin, at the cost of your own people.” Fili narrowed his eyes. “Except…”

            “Again, Uncle Thorin answered your call.” Kili spat. “He sent healers, he sent coin to villages for healers he could not provide. And asked you for nothing in return.”

            There was nary a sound in the room.

            “Yes, Thorin fell to pride.” Fili remarked. “He has never denied that. But even in his pride, even trapped in the gold sickness, he gave of his treasure to his people. He spoke of showing what we were worthy of. He gave a ruby to me the size of both my hands. He bestowed upon us armor of gold. He gave a shirt of Mithril rings to Bilbo, our Hobbit burglar, as thanks for his friendship.” He purposely paused because the murmurs about the room needed to quiet.

            “Thorin has only ever sought to give us what he thought his people deserved.” Kili spoke up again once the voices went still. “He would work night and day until he collapsed on the chair in the kitchen from weariness simply so that the dwarven child down the hall might have one new doll for her name day. He gave himself to the judgement of men so that there would not be a belly that burned with hunger. The curse of Dragon seeks out whatever it can. Thorin wished to give to his people. I doubt you would have done much better if you suddenly had the means to give what you had been fighting to provide for over a century.”

            The blond haired prince took over again, pacing forward and leaning over the table, “I do not deny my Uncle has made mistakes. Large mistakes even. But all of us have. You could argue even Mahal himself made one by not asking Sulladad permission before he made our Seven Fathers. But, as we have to Thorin, he was forgiven because his heart was made of nothing but good intent.”

            Fili set his eyes on his uncle for a long moment, a warm smile in his deep blue eyes before turning back to the red haired dwarf and all but spitting his final stance as if it tasted foul.

            “Thorin has pride. But it is pride he uses for his people, for the betterment of his people. To protect and serve his people. THAT is what this quest was for.” Fili took a breath. “It was about justice. It was about heritage. It was about our people. And I see no wrong in that pride.”

            He stepped back, rejoined his brother and the two princes went silent.

            Firebeard, who had slightly stood during the two Princes’ triade, slumped back to his seat and looked to Balin. Clearing his throat, he stated, “Clan Firebeard requests a reprieve.”

            Balin sighed, though it was hard to tell if it was from relief or frustration. “I agree. We will dismiss for a time. What do you require?”

            “Half an hour will suffice, Lord Balin.”

            Nodding to the rest of the gathered dwarves, Balin decreed, “So be it.”

Thorin addressed the gathered clansmen, “The kitchens are firmly stocked, my Lords. I do welcome you to retrieve what you may need.”

            Silently, the groups slipped from the room with the Line of Durin being last to leave. Lord Firebeard insisted on remaining and taking time within the silence. Closing the door behind them, Dwalin beat his brother to the punch by slinging his arm around first Fili and Kili.

            “Ha! Best damn speech you could have given, laddies!”

            Kili grinned sheepishly as Fili retorted, “It wasn’t a speech—“

            “Close enough,” Dwalin insisted. “Takes a lot to shut up that ol’ Firebeard! Figures it was you two that did it.”

            “I just wanted to get him to stop talking trash,” Fili insisted. Setting his eyes on Thorin, he clarified, “He has no right.”

            Smiling brightly, Thorin approached his eldest heir and rested his forehead on his. “I do not know what I did to earn such loyalty from you two but I remain grateful for it. You flatter me, both of you, though I do wonder how you knew of the dire straits we were in during the winter. Much as you were indeed involved as you got older, your mother and I strove to keep it from you when you were young.”

            “We were there for the Fell Winter one, Uncle.” Kili insisted.

            Thorin drew from Fili and inquired of his younger nephew, “Kili, you two were both young at the time. Fili was barely in his fifties. I know that I told you what I could but—“

            Shaking his head, Kili clarified, “No, I mean, we were in the room when you told him that you’d send him supplies.”

            Balin eyed the two, “That was quite late at night, lads.”

            Fili winced a bit but laughed. “Kili woke up and insisted I go with him to alcoves. Something about protecting him from orcs or something…”

            “I did NOT say I needed protection—“

            “Anyway, we were on our way back when we saw the council room open.” Fili smirked, “Never had a chance to go in there without adults tellin’ us what to do so we crept in.”

            “Then, we heard you, Uncle,” Kili explained with a small smile “And we thought we were gonna get in trouble so Fili pushed us into the cabinet where you used to keep the old wine.” Kili rubbed his neck. “So, when you and old Firebeard came in, it was a little hard not to overhear.”

            Fili remarked, “Wanted to tell him off then too but I was worried you’d be mad we snuck in.”

            Thorin, surprisingly, laughed. “I wondered why those bottles were so overturned the next morning. Dis was convinced we had acquired humongous rats.”

            “You did, apparently.” Balin chuckled. “With blond and brown hair.”

            Looking to each of his nephews in turn, Thorin gently stroked their hair, one hand on each, “I suppose it should not surprise me. You have always stood by side, intervened even when you do not necessarily need to—“

            “If it involves you, we need to.” Fili corrected, his eyes focused. “You’re our King, our leader but more than that.”

            “You’re Uncle.” Kili clarified. “We know your heart more than those old maznaslatdurzuz—“

            “Kili!” Balin admonished lightly but given Dwalin snorted to hide his laughter and Thorin just smiled, his reprimand was hardly noted.

            “And if they think we’ll just sit back and let them act like they know ANYTHING about why you did the things you did, they know nothing.” Fili finished. “And if they’re fit to judge anything, they need to KNOW.”

            Dwalin’s smile broadened and he folded his arms, “You two take after your Uncle, that’s for certain.” Shaking his head, he declared “Stubborn as the stone itself but I’d not have anyone else at my side.”

            Thorin found himself a bit at a loss for words. For all his nephews’ hijinks, their loyalty to him had never faltered, even when perhaps it should have. Hearing them state their reasons, their understanding of him, their defense of his motive, it had warmed him from core outward. There were Kings in both of them, youth notwithstanding. He leaned inward again, rested his head on each of theirs. “No matter what comes of this meeting, my lads, we will endure. No matter what they say, you are of Durin’s Line and Father Durin smiles upon you for bringing such honor to his blood.”

            Not much else needed to be said. The two boys gave their love to their uncle through a deep embrace and he whispered encouragement into their ears to ease the nerves that were building as one by one, the Dwarf Lords filed back into the room.

            The three Durins came last, with Balin and Dwalin flanking them. Nothing was said but the five Dwarf Lords took their positions, standing, before the platform. Thorin stood before it but did not yet rise to it, his nephews to his left. Dwalin retook his position, Balin his and all was quiet.

            Lord Firebeard had left his position at the table and stood before the assembled group. His eyes were downtrodden and full of untamed fury. He looked to each member, in turn, before his eyes settled on the two Princes. His stance seemed suddenly weary, as if he had been working all day amid the mines.

            “Sharp tongues they have, the Princes of Erebor.”

            The distinction was clear.

            It was the first time they had been addressed by their potential titles and each of the two young dwarfs jerked a bit in shock of it.

            “But they don’t spread lies with them.” Firebeard continued. “Nothing they have said was untrue, much as I would like to claim it to be. I have my doubts, Thorin II Oakenshield but your lads are right. You have never failed to come to the aid of your people. Of my own people when I could not…would not…stand up for them when I should have. I have not been free of pride’s sting myself.”

            “As none of us are.” Thorin advised simply. “It is the nature of our people. We are a mighty people, forged by Mahal’s mighty hand. We all lose sight at times.”

            “All the same,” The dwarf continued, “I will not allow myself to lose sight now, nor will I allow my own pride to blind me.” He drew his sword from his side and presented it to Thorin, his voice high, “I, Lord Odin Firebeard, Father of the Firebeard Family Line, pledge my line’s allegiance to Thorin II Oakenshield, King of our Kind by blood and act. Mahal strike me down if I speak untrue.”

            One by one, each of the other Dwarf Fathers stepped forward, flanking Firebeard and presented their own swords before declaring together in the tongue of the Dwarves, “ < Mahal as our witness, we decree Thorin II Oakenshield, rightful King Under the Mountain and pledge our support to his claim. >”

            Balin smiled, a wide, beaming look and he turned to Thorin and nodded once.

            Stepping upward onto the platform, Thorin stood tall, his chest heaving a bit and he recited, “ < I stake that I will not do poorly on your trust, My Lords. I accept the title of King Under the Mountain will all the duty it entails. >” He added, “ < I will strive to never lose sight of where my purpose lies…to defend and lift up our people. >”

            One by one, the Dwarf Fathers fell to one knee, declaring “ <The King Select is fulfilled. Thorin II Oakenshield, son of Thrain, son of Thror, is rightful King Under the Mountain, by blood right and earned right. >”

            Balin began to speak when Firebeard spoke out again, “ < If I may. >”

            This was most unusual. Balin still had accept the Select (very formal, as most Dwarf ceremonies were) but given that there was no law forbidding an addition, he gave a delayed but firm “ < As you would. > “

            The red haired Lord look from Thorin to the two Princes, whom had stayed silent since their return. “ < It takes nerves of mithril, young lads, to stand before a Dwarf Lord and tell him that he is wrong. That he is not only wrong but wrong on all kinds of levels. But you did not hesitate. Much as I wish I could say I would have done the same, I’m not sure I would have. > “ He lifted his sword to the two Princes and after a moment, the other Dwarf Lords did the same, “ < And I pledge my allegiance to Fili, sister-son of Thorin II Oakenshield and to Kili, sister-son of Thorin II Oakenshield, Princes Under the Mountain, by blood right and earned right. >”

            “ < By blood right and earned right! >”

            “ < Princes Under the Mountain! >”

            Both Princes stood stock still a long time, with Kili finally shifting his eyes to look at their Uncle, a simple ‘what do we do’ question in them.

            Thorin held out a hand, his smile shining through his eyes, and one by one, he pulled them each up to stand beside him, to his right.

            Balin gathered his breath, “ < So, let it be known. The Dwarf Fathers have selected Thorin II Oakenshield worthy to be King Under the Mountain. The Dwarf Fathers have selected Fili, sister-son of Thorin II Oakenshield worthy to be Prince Under the Mountain. The Dwarf Fathers have selected Kili, sister-son of Thorin II Oakenshield worthy to be Prince Under the Mountain. So shall it be. > "