The air is hot and dry, like before a lightning storm, only there isn't a cloud in the sky to block the harsh sun beating down on the plains. A pervasive, nervous anticipation has settled in Dale. Elves have started to pour into the city of Men, helping to fortify, while women and children of both races retreat behind the walls of Erebor. Also arriving are the forces that Dain Ironfoot has rallied from the Iron Hills, their banners are just cresting the distant rise. Orodir stands on the battlements to watch them, hands braced on the stone.
"Even the mountain is nervous," he mutters, feeling its pent energy flit and crack beneath his palms as if it, like the sky, could generate electricity.
“Thought I might find you out here,” says a voice behind Orodir, startling him. His uncle raises an eyebrow and his mouth quirks up in a wry smile. He gestures at the strung bow resting against the wall, and the quiver of arrows waiting beside it, ready to be shot. “Keeping watch?”
“Thinking,” Orodir replies, shrugging.
“Thinking?” Fíli repeats, chuckling to himself.
“Thinking. Ada and amad go down to the mines,” he explains. “I come out here.”
“That’s a kind sentiment, lad, but something tells me that they don’t do a lot of ‘thinking’ when they go down there.” Fíli laughs again when Orodir makes a face at his statement. “Alright, fine, what about you? Are you thinking about anything in particular?”
“Thorin says I’m not to fight.” The words are out of his mouth before Orodir can even consider biting them back, even though he knows how bitter they sound. He turns back to the wall, letting the wind catch his hair and whip it around his face until he can school his features back into a more neutral expression. Rashness will keep him inside the mountain. The rest of his kin are preparing for battle. He wants to stand beside them.
Fíli joins him at the wall. “Did he say why?” he asks, leaning casually against the stone. His tone is soft, almost jovial. Fíli has a way of putting people at ease. He also has a patience that can outstrip even that of Orodir’s mother, combined with an open, affable nature that makes Orodir feel guilty for not confiding in him. He frowns.
“He says I’m too young.”
“You are,” Fíli replies bluntly.
“No younger than ada when you all journeyed here to the mountain,” Orodir shoots back, but his argument has no effect on his uncle.
“Aye, and Thorin told us we were too young then, too. In hindsight, we probably should have listened to him.” For a moment, Fíli lapses into silence, and Orodir sees his gaze dart toward Ravenhill for the briefest moment before he fixes a smile in place again. “He’s just looking out for you, lad, the only way he knows how.”
“I wish he wouldn’t,” Orodir mutters. “Not like that. I’d rather he treat me like everyone else.”
“You’re not everyone else,” Fíli reminds him, not that he needs any more constant reminding. “You’re our Princeling.”
“So are you, technically,” Orodir replies. “So is ada.”
“Aye, but you’re not like us, either. And I don’t mean because you’re half Elven,” Fíli adds hastily, catching his expression of distaste. “You were born under the Lonely Mountain. I don’t think you know what you mean to the people who lived in exile for so long, to amad, to Thorin. One day you’ll—” He breaks off suddenly, looking momentarily horrified before he forces out a laugh. “I promised myself I’d never say that to you,” he says, shaking his head and turning to leave.
Orodir bites down on his lower lip, but it isn’t enough to contain his curiosity. “Say what?”
Fíli sighs, and makes a rather obvious effort to keep his voice light as he tells him, “One day you will be king, and you will understand.”
“One day you will be king, and you will understand.”
The words echo in his head as Orodir helps Fíli with his armor. The battle has been raging for three days. He hasn’t been back to the wall, but reports from those stationed there are that the Easterlings have now overrun the city of Dale, and that their troops have fallen back to the gates of the mountain. Thorin is calling out the rest of Erebor’s armies to aide them, but still, when the orders came down, it was for Orodir to squire for his uncle, not to ready himself. Not that he had really expected Thorin to change his mind. “One day you will be king, and you will understand.” He doesn’t understand. He still wants to fight.
He checks and double checks the fit of each buckle and clasp from vambrace to greave, and finally hands Fíli his helm before they walk into the hall together. The crowds — civilians, brought down into the safety of the deep parts of the mountain, so the armies can organize above — part to let them through. Orodir isn’t used to seeing so many people this far down in Erebor — mostly Dwarrow, some Men, the occasional Elf standing head-and-shoulders above the rest — and he doesn’t like the way that they all stare at him as he walks up to the war room with Fíli.
“Chin up, lad,” his uncle murmurs, as if guessing his thoughts. “You don’t have to look at them all, you just have to look strong.”
Personally, Orodir doesn’t think he looks half as strong in his richly embroidered coat and vest as Fíli does in his functional maille and leather, but he does as instructed all the same.
They’ve converted an empty part of the old treasury into a command center. It has long since been cleared of gold, in fact it has stood dark and empty for as long as Orodir can remember; now it is lit with flickering lanterns, illuminating several long tables covered in maps of the Lonely Mountain the surrounding plains. Thorin and Dain are already there; like Fíli, they are dressed and armed for battle. Somehow they have managed to get King Brand of Dale inside the gates along with a few of his advisors. Three of them are sporting bandages and one of them is having his leg splinted by an attending Elf. Finished with her work, she draws back to a respectful distance just as Thranduil sweeps into the room, accompanied by Orodir’s mother and father.
“Good news first?” Kíli asks, approaching the table. “Or bad?”
Orodir can practically hear Thorin grind his teeth together. “I have no idea why you think this is even the slightest bit amusing, Kíli, but this is not the time for your games.”
“Bad news: they’ve got trebuchets,” his father continues, unfazed, while Fíli rolls his eyes. “The good news is that we have pitch, torches, and Mirkwood’s best archers on our side.”
“The trebuchets are currently burning,” Tauriel clarifies, and Thranduil draws himself up proudly, even though Orodir is sure he had not been amongst the archers responsible. His mother has a cut across one cheek — product of some flying debris, probably — that is still bleeding sluggishly, and she accepts a clean rag from the Elven healer with a quiet murmur of gratitude before coming to stand next to Orodir.
“Alright?” she asks, in whispered Sindarin, as the rest of the men gather more tightly around the table, watching Kíli lay out the portions of the wall that have taken the heaviest damage. Of course, Orodir wants to say, glancing at the bloody handkerchief and wondering what injuries he cannot see on his father; I am not the one in danger; I am being kept safe inside the mountain. One day you will be king, and you will understand.
“Nervous,” he answers honestly, also in the Elvish tongue. Maybe he imagines it, but he thinks he sees his father’s eyes flick briefly in their direction. He definitely doesn’t imagine Thranduil, who gives him a disparaging sort of look before meeting Tauriel’s gaze and motioning for her to join them. His mother purses her lips tightly together, but puts a comforting hand on his shoulder.
“Be strong, ion nín,” she says, before stepping away. Orodir sighs, wondering why strength is what everyone wants of him when he is not being allowed to show it.
One day you will be king, and you will understand.
The mountain is eerily still.
Like the forests of Mirkwood, the Lonely Mountain has life and voice to Orodir, the unique, steady cadence of a vast city that normally never sleeps. He has never known Erebor to be empty. Wandering the familiar halls and passages, one hand against the smooth granite to find his way in the dark, he wonders if this is what the King Under the Mountain felt upon his return.
Distantly, he is aware of what is happening far above him. He can feel the grinding of stone against stone as the gates open, hear the echo of hundreds of footsteps as Dain, Thorin and Fíli lead Erebor’s armies into the battle still raging beyond. He thinks they must be driving the Easterlings back toward Dale, because slowly, slowly, he looses touch with his sense of them, and finds himself alone in his quarters, holding the shirt of bronzed scale mail his mother had brought him from Mirkwood in one hand, and a more traditional hauberk of sturdy Dwarven rings in the other. He hesitates, then sets aside the heavier of the two and pulls the lighter Elven armor over his head. There is no one around now to tell him not to arm himself. He takes the practice sword that Fíli forged for him down from the rack on the wall and gives them a few swings to let out the tension in his arms.
Half-Elven, the mountain seems to groan in the silence. Heroesson. One day you will be king, and you will understand.
His door is pushed open. He thinks at first that it might be his father, but he turns and finds his grandmother framed in the doorway.
“What’s happened?” he asks, putting the blade aside. “Have you heard anything?”
“Bloody nothing,” she answers tensely. Then her shoulders sink and she lets out a breath and tries to smile at him. “I was starting to worry about you, lad. Thought you’d taken after your father. Gotten reckless and slipped out the back door.”
Any response he might have had dies in his throat. He knows that she doesn’t mean it this way, but for all his talk of wanting to fight, the simple fact that he hasn’t gone to do so feels a bit like cowardice. He glances at his sword, polished to a shine, never carried further than the great practice courts.
When he looks up, he sees her eyes have gone in the same direction, and her expression tells Orodir that his grandmother has probably guessed his thoughts, but she doesn't try to scold him. Instead she just makes her way across the room, pushes the sword a little further aside so that she has room to sit on the edge of the bed, and motions for Orodir to join her. "Come here, lad," she says. "You've mussed all your braids pulling that on."
Obediently, he sits beside his grandmother and lets her comb out the already loosened plaits between her fingers. This, at least, isn't about his outward appearance, not really. This is how she has comforted him since he was a small Dwarfling; how she comforted his father and uncle and probably her brother during their years in exile in the Blue Mountains, not that Thorin would ever admit to needing such a thing. She hums while she works, a soft, low sound that compliments the song of the mountain.
Obedient, he thinks. One day you will be king, and you will understand.
She is just finishing the last braid when the people in the hall all start to clamor at once and a sharp, gravelly voice shouts over them, "Make way! Make way for the King!" The people outside fall just as abruptly silent.
Orodir jumps to his feet. He's spent enough time training among the guard to jump when Dwalin says anything, but if Thorin has come with him this deep into the mountain, it can mean only one of two things. Either the battle is over, or else...
His stomach seems to drop into the floor as he pulls the door open again. The crowds have parted, so Orodir has a clear view of the training master supporting Thorin, and the horrible red stain across the king’s chest. He hesitates only a fraction of a second; then he runs forward and ducks down to put his shoulder under Thorin's other arm.
"No," the Dwarrow he privately thinks of as grandfather manages to gasp out. "Orodir— lad— go and find your father. Battlements on the eastern wall.“
He doesn't want to leave. He doesn’t want to be an errand boy or a squire or a prince any longer. But Dís pushes him gently away and takes his place at her brother's side. Orodir's insides do another uncomfortable flip when he sees Thorin accept the help.
Dwalin growls out a swear and a “Come on,” and they start to walk again. For a wild moment, Orodir is left along among the stares of the crowd, and he can do nothing but return them wide eyed, frightened…
Then he takes off in the other direction at a run.
Obedient. One day…
Tauriel steps away from the bed where they have settled Thorin, first meeting Orodir’s gaze, and then Kíli’s as she crosses the room to join them. She looks pale and drawn in the flickering torchlight, and far too serious.
"Is there nothing you can do?" his father asks. She isn't truly a healer, but he has always looked to her in times like this — not that they have ever faced something so grave as they do now. Slowly, sadly, she shakes her head.
"He wishes to speak with you," she tells Kíli instead. He swallows and gets heavily to his feet, and Tauriel takes the now vacant seat. Orodir can't remember if he has ever seen his mother look so exhausted. It makes him feel small and helpless in comparison.
"Budge over," Fíli says, nudging his shoulder lightly. His uncle has a heavy bandage wrapped around his forearm where a blade sliced through his leather vambrace and the padded gambeson underneath; unlike Thorin, he at least had allowed healers to see to his wound. Orodir slides a few inches closer to his mother, making room for Fíli on the settee. It isn’t really made for three people, but Orodir and his mother are both slimmer than most Dwarrow, and the press of his uncle’s shoulder against his own is a comfort in and of itself.
“I hate this,” Orodir bites out. Dwalin glares at him from across the room, but Fíli just nods, and when he speaks, his voice is just as bitter as Orodir’s.
“I know,” he says tightly. “I hate it, too.”
“Why won’t he let a healer see him?” The stone walls seem suddenly oppressive, heavy, the room itself too small, and Orodir feels his voice rising with nerves as well as anger. “How can he just—?”
“Orodir,” Kíli beckons softly, cutting him off.
He is on his feet before he knows what he is doing. There are tears stinging his eyes and he’s embarrassed because weeping publicly isn’t something you do among Khazad. The last thing he hears before he pulls the heavy door closed behind him is his father call his name again, more sharply, and Fíli’s quieter, resigned, “Let him go.”
Orodir puts his forehead against the cool stone, sucking in deep, shaking breaths. A traitorous part of his mind thinks that he should have been there, should have fought harder to take his place beside his king, and perhaps he could have prevented this— but there is nothing he can do now—
No, he realizes suddenly. That isn’t entirely true.
He straightens up, and if he isn’t quite sure of his actions, at least he doesn’t show it as he makes his way from the private halls where his family is sitting vigil to the more populated ones he came from initially, and finally to the deep parts of the mines. There is no one working here now, though he can see the flickering glow of the forge fires high above, so he can pick through the rough hewn passageways with relative ease. It’s dark, but he doesn’t need the light. He will never be lost inside the mountain. He knows exactly where he is going, even though he has never been here before.
It takes him longer than he’d like to reach his goal, and longer still to make his way back. When he finally returns to the room, he thinks at first that he’s been gone too long— but then Dwalin touches Thorin’s shoulder, his blue eyes crack open, and seeing Orodir, he pushes himself up onto his elbows as much as he can. Orodir closes the door and crosses the room on silent feet; he is aware of the others watching him, but can’t bring himself to meet any of their gazes. Unable to form the proper greeting past the lump in his throat, he simply unwraps the Arkenstone and places it in his king’s hand.
Fíli and Kíli draw in audible breaths. His grandmother whispers, “By Mahal’s hammer,” in rumbling Khuzdul, while Thorin tries for a more colorful phrase, and only succeeds in coughing so badly that flecks of red dot his too-pale lips. He grimaces and tries again.
“Yavanna’s tits,” he manages. “But we dropped… Where did you find that?”
“I have always known where it is,” Orodir admits. He tries to close Thorin’s fingers around the gem; he doesn’t like the way his larger hand is sitting limply in his. “I thought you should know… you weren’t the only one who felt it. I... thought that you should have it back. It's your legacy.”
For a long moment Thorin simply stares at him, his expression unreadable, then he finally gets a proper grip on the Arkenstone and draws it up to his chest. With his other arm, he reaches out to where Orcrist is sheathed and propped against the side of the bed. Orodir takes it gingerly — under other circumstances, he would never pick up his king’s sword — and tries to hand it to Thorin, but he draws his hand back, and refuses to take it.
“No,” he says, falling back against the bed, as if the effort extended just then had exhausted him. “Yours now.”
It takes a moment, but implication of his words hits Orodir like a hammer blow. “It… it should go to Fíli,” he says, even as his fingers tighten around the hilt. Thorin waves his hand sort of dismissively.
“Orcrist is an Elvish blade. Fíli’s not part Elf.” His eyes search out those of his elder sister-son over Orodir’s shoulder, and Fíli comes to stand beside him. Kíli follows a few steps behind. They each put a hand on one of his arms, and on Thorin’s, a wordless gesture of support and solidarity and love. “Besides,” Thorin chokes out, “you might need it. One day—” He breaks off, coughing again, but Orodir suspects that he knows what Thorin was trying to say.
“One day I will be king, and I will understand?” he asks. Fíli’s fingers tighten almost imperceptibly on his wrist, and Thorin manages a weak laugh.
“Something like that, lad.” He takes a few shallow, labored breaths, and adds, “You are my legacy. You and your father and your uncle. Not some stone. Go on now. Give me some space. Let me talk with Dís.”
The three of them draw back. They can do nothing now but wait.
The next few hours are almost enough to make Orodir forget that there is still a battle raging above them. Almost.
He stands stone-still behind Fíli while the captains report to him on what has happened since they went below, fully aware of the lingering stares and grief-stricken expressions as they notice Orcrist at his side, and realize what it means to see the youngest prince carrying the legendary blade. He keeps his own gaze forward, his face carefully blank, trying to mimic Fíli's cool composure. Broken thoughts tumble through his head, echoes of Thorin's voice that he wants to cling to, even as he tries to focus on the Man before him.
Brand and Dain have also fallen. The Easterlings have pushed them right up against the mountain. They have had to seal the gates to keep them from getting inside. They will have to open them again if Fíli is to lead them forward. It is, unfortunately or not, a familiar tale for the Dwarves of Erebor. They need someone to rally around. They need their king.
Fíli nods tightly, looks to his brother (as much stone as Fíli, cold determination in his eyes), looks to Tauriel (barely restrained, like the river before it breaks free of the winter ice), looks to Dwalin (hard and angry and maybe even a little bit excited to avenge all of the Dwarven blood that’s been spilled)— and finally, he looks to Orodir.
You were born under the mountain.
One day you will be king.
You don't know what you mean to them.
"Steady, lad," Fíli says, and it's a good thing he does, because suddenly Orodir's knees feel like jelly, but he knows a command when he hears one. One day...
Yes, he thinks. One day; not today.
He straightens up to his full height, and draws Orcrist out of its sheath. The blade gleams, even in the weak light of the vast cavern. The barest hint of a grim smile pulls at Fíli's mouth, and he looks at them all again before he turns back to the captain.
"Open the gates."
It takes four days to see to all of their dead. Thorin’s funeral is the last. They need a king to oversee a king’s burial.
Fíli stands before the throne, takes the golden crown that he has worn these last seventy-seven years, and hands it to his brother, now the heir. Then he kneels, and Dwalin settles the new crown on his brow. There is a moment of reverent silence as he gets to his feet and ascends the two steps to the throne itself, and then someone in the crowd shouts, “Hail, King Fíli!” and someone else follows with, “Long live the King!” and, “Hail, Fíli, King Under the Mountain!” and more people join in until the chant is a deafening roar in the cavernous hall. Orodir watches his uncle, and for the first time he feels some of the weight of what it would mean to be in his place.
They take only a few moments in relative privacy between the coronation and the funeral. Thorin’s body lies in an elegantly carved sarcophagus, borne by the surviving memories of the original company that followed him to Erebor. Fíli leads the procession. Orodir walks beside his father, and steps in when he nearly stumbles, rubbing at the old arrow wound with his off hand.
They send Thorin Oakenshield to Mandos’ Halls with low, wavering songs that echo up through the mountain, resound among the pillars of the world, thrum along each vein of gold; somber, Orodir thinks, but beautiful. They tell tales of his great victories at Azanulbizar and Ravenhill, of how he lead their people to Ered Luin and established them there, and of his quest to reclaim the mountain they now call home. They wish him a peaceful rest until the world is remade, and then they seal the tomb.
Three days later, he finds his uncle back before the door, all but invisible were it not for the slight fracture line where the masons had struck the first blow. Orodir pauses in the hall, not sure whether or not to intrude, not sure even what lead him down into this part of the mountain— but then Fíli says, “I know you’re over there, lad. If stealth was your goal, you should take some lessons from your mother. Right now you stomp like your da.”
Embarrassed, but pleased to hear Fíli sound like Fíli again — he hasn’t had that smile in his voice since the day they lost Thorin — Orodir sighs and goes to join him. “What are you doing down here?”
“Could ask you the same,” Fíli counters. “But I won’t. I don’t think it needs saying.”
They are silent for a long moment before Orodir works up the courage to ask the question that has been eating at him since the coronation. “Uncle? Do you… understand?”
Fíli ducks his head, the light from the high-above windows catching on the polished crown, and breathes out an answer that is almost a sigh. “No.” He hesitates, takes a shaky sort of breath, and adds, “I was just… thinking.”
“Thinking?” Orodir asks, before realizing the trap he’s fallen into. Fíli gives him a sideways sort of grin.
“Thinking,” he confirms. “You and your da have your places for it, I have mine.”
“I hope you won’t mind me intruding on it from time to time,” Orodir replies. “I miss him.”
“So do I, lad,” Fíli says quietly. “And I think I’d like that. But maybe… not just now. I need some time.”
“Of course.” Orodir turns to go, but stops after a few steps and looks back at his uncle. “Promise me something?” he asks, and Fíli raises an eyebrow, inviting him to continue. “I know that one day ada will be in your place, and then me, and I’ll do everything I can to live up to Thorin’s name and to yours, but… promise me that ‘one day’ will be a long, long time from now?”
Fíli’s laugh echoes down the passage, and Orodir smiles properly for what feels like the first time in days. “I’ll do my best, lad,” he says, still chuckling to himself. “I’ll do my best.”