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Too Much Ruby

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The forge is warm this day, not as hot as when it is used to fashion steel or mithril but the kind of heat that warms the bones on a wet day in winter. It is not silent, but this room rarely is when it is occupied. It is filled, now, with the delicate clink of hammer and chisel on stone, short sharp taps that call form from the lump of granite. The wall across from the work bench is dominated by a mirror of burnished gold which the owner of the room uses to watch over his children when the mood takes him. Of late, he has been much in the mood for watching and he is not alone in that, though he occasionally wishes that at least one of his companions were more prone to silent watching than a running commentary on the flaws and foibles of his descendants.

It had begun when his wife had stormed into his forge, flowers and grasses bursting through the stone under her bare feet, to demand an answer for the actions of his children, as though he has any control over them at all once their souls leave this forge for the living world until they return upon their death. Which, apparently, is not an excuse for a horde of them terrorising one of her children. He tries not to get involved in what his children get up to on a daily basis, he gets too caught up in carving the new souls and if he gets too fond of one or another he becomes too tempted to interfere. He learnt his lesson there long ago and sometimes the temptation is too much even then. At the insistence of his wife, however, he had watched, just as he had when Erebor fell and hundreds of souls began to pour into his halls, just as he did at Azanulbizar when dozens more joined them. So often when his attention is called to the large events in the lives of his children it ends in the deaths of so many. The last two centuries alone he has been tempted too many times to count so that he might ease the suffering of Durin’s folk.

Which has nothing to do with the dwarf currently cursing up a storm.

Durin is an annoyance at the best of times, no parent should have favourites and Durin is a prime example of why that is the case. He comes and goes from this forge as he pleases and it has been permitted for all the centuries between his reincarnations because as stubborn and annoying as he can be, he is also very entertaining and sometimes it’s nice just to have the company while his wife is in her gardens growing the souls of her children. That very likely explains why hers are so abundant, sprouting from the earth and tended to in rows and fields with the aid of those who have passed before. He should probably pass more of the creating on to the Seven Fathers, they are more than capable after all, but he still likes to keep his hand in, and he finds peace in it.

All of the souls in that smial are those crafted by his hands. Whatever is happening is of world moving importance and so it comes as no surprise that they are on their way to reclaim Erebor of all places. He probably should have used a little bit less mithril and steel in Thorin.

“What the buggering fuck was that?” He hears Durin bellow and he glances up at the mirror. “Did Mahal give you rocks for brains, lad? Fucking bastard’s bloody baiting you and you fall right for it, you fucking imbecile!”

“Well, I didn’t use just any rock,” he shrugs, “if I remember correctly I used a mix of sapphire, sodalite and black onyx.”

“You couldn’t have stuck some jade in there or something?” Durin demands.

“His problem isn’t his head,” he says a little distractedly as his hand hovers between celestite for a calm heart and jade for a balanced one. “It’s his heart, too much diamond and ruby, I could have put as much jade as I wanted in his head, with all the ruby in his heart it would have done little good.”

“Aye, always too much bloody ruby in my line,” Durin grumbles. “Still, at least the wizard apparently has some uses. About time he did something more than wave his staff around and speak cryptically.”

Celestite, he decides, this little one will need a great deal of calmness of heart in the coming years.

“If you don’t like the children I am carving for your direct line, you could always handle it yourself,” he points out. “The others do.”

Durin waves a hand and goes back to his watching, with occasional interjections of well about bloody time and how is that a plan along with more colourful invectives whenever one or other of the Company of Thorin Oakenshield do something particularly foolish. His attention isn’t truly caught again until he has taken four new souls to the pool to cross into the world and their mother’s womb.

“What the ever-loving fuck is that?” Durin snarls. “What pit did that thing crawl out of and why hasn’t the poncy tree-shagging bastard done anything about it?”

“I am inclined to agree,” his wife says in her soft voice that can still be heard over the sound of his hammer and chisel. “He has let the forest grow sicker than I would tolerate from a guardian.”

“It’s not for us to interfere,” he reminds her. She waves a light hand. They are already treading a fine line by watching as it is and he hasn’t missed the way that Durin’s eyes stray towards the birth pool every now and again.

“That’s going too far!” The dwarf father says after a beat. “It’s one thing to flirt with them, but that! What did you put in that one?”

Kili, he thinks, one of his better creations. A mind of sapphire diamond and Durin blue topaz, with just a little white topaz for purity of intentions. A heart of ruby, blue agate, jet and black onyx bound together with mithril instead of the gold used for his uncle and all his forefathers. A healthy amount of steel and granite for hardiness and prowess on the battlefield but a little bit of sandstone so that time might smooth the rougher edges. Jet in his eyes, too, so that he might see the evil as well as be protected from it. Aulë had questioned the call of the jet for both Kili and his older brother, as well as the need for mithril in their hearts instead of gold. Now he understands.

“If the passion in his heart were given to an elf would that be so truly terrible?” He asks in reply. Durin splutters for a long moment.

“Thorin won’t allow it,” he says finally.

“Should have used more sandstone for that one,” is the muttered reply.

The longer he spends watching the more he questions his choices when it comes to so many of these children. Too much sandstone in Ori for him to stand strong against Dori, too much of everything that Thorin has and not enough other to soften it. The others, so much steel and mithril and granite and ruby in one place that it is little wonder that so much difficulty has plagued the group.

But then he looks at Fili and Kili and sees the culmination of his experience, sees the corrections in these two for the mistakes he has made in so many of the others. He rarely knows where these souls will end up, much of it is down to chance. With these two, he knew and while he might not be permitted to obviously interfere that didn’t mean he couldn’t give things the appropriate nudge. Mithril in their hearts for strength but without the calling of greed that comes with the gold, a calling too often enhanced by dragon curses and Sauron’s thrice damned rings. In Fili a mind of sapphire, jade, jet and aquamarine, a heart of fire opal, ruby, diamond and blue agate surrounded by all the hard stone, steel and mithril that make up his brother. A complicated one to build and yet he shows so much more potential than Aulë could have ever hoped he would. As does Kili. With these two in line for the throne the line of Durin could well recover all of its glory.

“That one’s almost as bad,” Durin hisses. “Letting his brother carry on over an elf like that. What were you thinking?”

Actually, he’d had no idea that the changes he had made with these two, and subsequently with one of every five souls he carved, would have changed quite this much. Fili clearly isn’t happy with his brother’s choice but the fire opal in him means that he will accept it with far more grace than Thorin will.

“I agree,” his wife adds, “she’s hardly out of her first millennium.”

“He’s barely of age himself, hasn’t even got his proper beard yet. Too young to be deciding to tie himself to an elf. And what’s his One going to say when they turn up and that leggy red-headed thing has her claws in him?”

A prickle of something runs through Aulë, the same prickle he had felt just before Smaug came for Erebor and Azanulbizar and any number of the other battles and tragedies that have befallen his children over the millennia.

“I don’t think that is going to be a problem,” he whispers, “and I very sincerely hope that I am wrong.”

He isn’t.

“That fucking gold!” Durin snarls. “Always the fucking gold! Haven’t you fixed it yet?”

“I have, in the young ones,” he replies blandly.

“Aye, the young ones, that’s fucking fantastic that is,” history paints a very different sort of Durin to the one that invades Aulë’s workshop on a regular basis. History is always written by those with a specific goal in mind, if Durin were a poor leader or inclined towards mistreating his people the images would never be so favourable. Durin is painted as the greatest of them, and he is, but they always gloss over his liberal sprinkling of curses into his vocabulary. “And what are the young ones going to do about their uncle who is now an anvil short of a working forge? And don’t you give me any orc shit about Thorin being strong enough of mind to break the hold. Thror never did and Thrain fell to battle madness.”

He wasn’t going to say anything of the sort. That dark prickle is stronger now and gets stronger the longer that Thorin is in thrall to the gold. It is tempting, so tempting, to reach out and touch the image of Thorin and whisper to him to snap out of it. It isn’t permitted, even when his wife is making all manner of threats over Thorin’s treatment of Bilbo. Battle is coming, he has been able to sense it since Lake Town burnt, the only thing that is now uncertain is the outcome. He has a feeling that neither he nor Durin will like it.

When the battle comes Durin huffs irritably, able to see it coming  from the way that goblins and orcs have dogged the Company’s footsteps from the start and more annoyed than anything else at his decedent’s blindly stubborn belief that they could reach the mountain and take it and not be challenged by every dark thing out there. The last thing the orcs, and Sauron, will want is stability and strength in the north.

“Oh, come on!” Durin snaps. “It’s obviously a trap! You don’t send wee dwarflings in to spring a trap, you do it yourself! Rocks, I don’t give a shit what you claim to have given him, you gave him rocks and they were shitty cracked ones at that.” Aulë arches an eyebrow at his eldest son and shakes his head. Only Durin would talk to him like that. The others at least attempt some respect, not that they’re all that successful at it either. After a few centuries here certain things start to wear thin. “No, lad, don’t split up, you can’t protect him that way. You’re good, but you won’t be enough on your own, that bastard’s taken out stronger and older that you.”

Durin almost sounds like the blade has gone into his own back when the white orc stabs Fili in the back, even as Aulë mentally promises himself that he will find some way to ensure that the creature is dealt with. Fili was one of his greatest creations and could have done incredible things. He touches large, work worn, fingers to the gold mirror and Fili’s soul manifests in the forge. Durin wraps his arms around the young one fiercely, for all the boy stiffens in shock and bafflement at the greeting. He obeys the quiet order to watch and Aulë hopes rather than believes that they will be showing him that his death has been worth it. Kili falls next, no thanks to the elf and Aulë knows that she is not what he had intended for the bright soul he had worked so hard on, the soul he calls to join them as soon as the last breath leaves his body and they turn away as the second white orc falls. Thorin must now be their focus, even as the young brothers cling to each other. When Thorin falls that urge to turn things back and interfere is greater than it has ever been, and he wishes that he had not watched this group of his children. He wishes he had not grown attached.

“Turn it back!” Durin demands before Thorin has even passed. “Reincarnate me and turn it back!” Durin hates being reincarnated, hates having the new bodies that have to be taught to do the things his mind already knows how to do. He hates building up the muscles and the muscle memory, hates being treated as a helpless and ignorant dwarfling when he is anything but. For him to demand this speaks to his anguish.

“I cannot.”

“You bloody well can, you’ve done it before!”

“Because you spent so long evading me the last time I needed to bring you back.”

“Which went bloody great for me,” Durin snaps back, “killed by a fucking Balrog! You owe me!”

“I do not,” Aulë has reached the end of his patience by now. He’s accustomed to Durin’s demands and questions, he’s always been the most difficult of his children and he both treasures that and is endlessly frustrated by it. “You forget who made you.”

“I haven’t and I never will,” Durin replies. “But we lose much, and we lose more every year. Everything is taken from us and those of us who deserve the happiness and long life the most are the ones denied it. These boys should have had decades more, their bravery should have been rewarded, and instead they’re here. They’re hardly more than children.”

“I cannot go against my Father’s will,” Aulë replies seriously. “If you wish to try and persuade him to your point of view you know the way, as you always have being the first born.”

Durin glares up at him, then turns his gaze onto Fili, Kili and Thorin, who has now joined them and all of whom are watching the altercation with some trepidation.

“You, lad” he grabs the middle of the three, “come with me.” The older and younger move to object. “Thorin, I don’t have words to say to you right now. This was an entire cluster of fuck ups that I’m not sure I can look past just now. I mean, there have been some truly spectacular cock ups the last few months. You might want to take some time to think about them before we speak next. As for you, lad, an elf? Really?” Then he marches from the forge dragging Fili behind him.

Aulë writes this off as Durin being about as dramatic as he usually is when he doesn’t get his way and turns his mind back to is work. Perhaps it is time that his first son was reincarnated, at least to get him out of the Halls for a time and thus out of his father’s hair. He has become altogether too comfortable with arguing, perhaps he needs reminding of the world and the delicate balances that Aulë tries not to mess with.

This comes back to haunt him some time later, although he doesn’t really keep track of the years as such, when he returns from some time spent with his wife to hear a yelp from inside the forge and the distinctive tones of his eldest.

“Don’t fuck it up this time, boy!”

He shoves the door open with a speed and strength that impresses even him as a head of blond hair vanishes into the birth pool. Fili. As though realising that his father has come, and that there is still time to yank Fili back if he is quick enough, Durin shoves his hands in and pushes down, speeding Fili’s passage through and back to where ever Durin has decided to try and send him. This could all go very wrong, could leave Fili’s soul trapped in an already decayed body or floating through the world with nothing to anchor it. He isn’t sure if he is relieved or incandescent with rage when he calls the sense of the boy onto the golden mirror and finds the soul right where it should be, inside the body that was grown for it at the base of the tower on Ravenhill. His head is tilted back, face paler than it should be, and his hand has fisted into the back of his brother’s coat.

“This is a trap,” he hears Fili say. “I won’t have us go in there to spring it. The two of us alone cannot defeat Azog.”

“We can find their numbers,” Kili replies.

“Let me worry about that, we need to go back to uncle.” Fili shakes his head. “Let me do the talking.”

Like that the feeling of several souls in his halls vanish. His Father is going to be furious, but hopefully he won’t undo this, because seeing those boys and their uncle fight together to end the white orc and his son, seeing Fili’s vicious determination not to die again on that vile blade and the way he channels and uses that anger is almost beautiful though it is savage and brutal as well. Fili is skilled, and with this second chance he may well have the chance to grow those skills into something of legend. They are injured, of course, but none of them will die from it which he supposes was Durin’s aim in the first place. The heavy presence of his Father enters Aulë’s halls. This is going to be so much fun to explain.

“You did well, lad,” he whispers, laying a finger to the gold so that the boy might hear the praise before he turns to take the fall for the actions of his most stubborn child. At least Durin has chosen to stand beside him and face the music.