Dis surveyed the wreckage of Erebor with a critical eye. Her own memories of their home were forever marred by the terrible day Smaug appeared and drove them out to the wilds. The walls were blackened and the land burnt and torn up from the great battle. Burial pits for the dead rounded the hills, while fires still spat blackened smoke of the burning of the bodies of the enemy armies.
Dis rode at the head of their company, as her place as Princess Royal, sister to the great King Under the Mountain and the mother of the Heir Apparent.
She was about ready to smack some heads together if someone didn’t bring her sons to her, this bloody instant.
“Mother! Mother!” It was faint, but it was Kili. Dis reined her pony to a halt and twisted around, trying to spot her son. Movement out of the corner of her eye made her turn – and there he was, a bandage wrapped around his head, arm in a dirty sling, but he was alive, there in front of her.
Dignity be damned, Dis slid off the pony as Kili made it to the progression’s side. She grabbed a hold of his shoulders, feeling tremors start in her fingers. “You,” she started and had to stop.
“I’m alright,” her wild, beautiful child was battered, cuts and bruises still marring his skin, but he smiled, curling his good arm around her. “I’m alright. Fili is too, he just broke his leg like an idiot and couldn’t get up to meet you.”
“As well he should. What were you thinking, being up and around like this?” She pushed him back, taking a swift wipe at her eyes. “Your arm, young man. Don’t tell me no one has set it?”
“That’s what I thought,” Dis tsked and set her hands on her hips. Their progression was starting to unravel around them as healers and others who had come to their kin’s aid started to disperse. Tents had flowered in front of the great cracked gates, full of the injured and recovering. A steady stream of what looked like miners and workers flowed in and out of the mountain. “Where is Thorin?”
“I’ll show you,” Kili took her arm and guided her through the throng. A great blue tent rose up before them that had armed guards posted at the door. Dis glimpsed Balin as they ducked inside, the older dwarf in the center of a knot of their elders, paper littering every surface around him.
“My lady!” Balin’s cry stopped the chorus of raised voices. Dis arched an eyebrow at him, but bowed her head at the advisers clustered thick around the dwarf. A flurry of bows and murmured acknowledgements came from the group. Dis felt her other eyebrow lift as Balin slipped free of the rabble to come to her other side.
“Are we ever glad to see you,” Balin’s murmur was low enough to only reach her ears.
“He is alive,” there was a grim note to Balin’s voice she did not like. “For now.”
Dis narrowed her eyes, taking one last look at the crowd of dwarves behind them. “Take me to him,” she commanded. “Now.”
“Dis,” Thorin’s voice was a whisper of what it was. “You came.”
“Of course I bloody well came, you twit,” she shooed the woman at his side away, even as the dwarf-lass gaped at her. “What are you doing?”
Thorin squinted at her. “Dying.”
“Don’t be absurd. You – no, you,” she snapped her fingers at the dwarf-lass. “Open that panel. It’s like a cave in here, I can barely see. You – no the other you – get me a bowl of water, nice and hot. And you – yes, the one left staring at me – get me a nice cup of broth, not too warm. Well? Go.” Dis turned her back on the gaping idiots to focus her attention on her brother. “And you. Dying. Honestly, you’re being as dramatic as Great Aunt Narni.”
“I am not.”
“Bollocks,” she waved a hand in front of her face. “What is that? Incense? Have they already decided you’re dead? Get this out of here,” she shoved the burner at Kili. “And go tell your brother I’m here and I’ll see him when I am done with your uncle. Go,” she gave her son a nudge. “And make sure they get me that water!”
“Good. Now you,” she rounded on Thorin. “Sit up.”
He gaped at her. “I can’t!”
“Thorin,” she leaned in, keeping their gazes locked. “Sit. Up.”
Thorin blinked first, fumbling with the blankets. “Ah. I may…need some help with that.”
Dis leaned back, nodding once. “There’s nothing wrong with a little help from time to time, now is there?” She paused as Thorin looked away, a strange expression passing over his face. Balin, too, looked down, the curve of his shoulders telling her that there was some tale she would have to drag out of them, be it kicking or screaming.
Dwarves, she stifled a sigh and yanked at her brother’s furs. They’re always such babies about everything.
Later, after Thorin’s wounds were dressed and the correct medications were slapped on – and she did mean slap, there was no reason Thorin should have been laying there like some swooning human maiden, honestly – she found Fili in his tent terrorizing his healers into setting Kili’s arm.
“Hello, Mum,” Fili waved at her. “No, not the blue herbs. No – the white flowers, yes, that one, do I have to do this all myself? I get knocked out for the better part of two days and you let my baby brother wander around with a broken arm and crusty wounds and who knows what else? No, wrap it the other way – the other way. Yes, exactly, like that.”
Satisfied that at least one of her progeny was getting the job done, Dis moved on to take stock of the camp at large. Balin trailed after her, shooing off fluttering advisors as she moved from tent to tent. Dain’s army was camped around theirs, buffering them from the armies of elves and men still nearby.
“What do we know of them?” Dis asked Balin as she climbed a small hill, surveying the constellation of campfires dotting the land.
“Dain supports Thorin as King Under the Mountain,” Balin clasped his hands behind him. “The elves I have not met with, as per Thorin’s order. The men grow restless as well, from what our scouts tell me.”
“I see,” Dis snorted. “Right. As of right now, I am Regent in Thorin’s stead until he regains his health. I will meet with the weed-eaters and you can extend that offer to the humans as well – you’ll find better language for it all, I hope. I’ll see them the day after tomorrow,” she looked around. “And find some place for a treaty-tent and perhaps some food. Maybe wine, if we have any. Clean water, if nothing else. What else has my beloved brother been stubborn about?”
“Ah,” Balin coughed, ducking his head. Dis narrowed her eyes at him.
“There’s the matter of our Mister Baggins, you see.”
“The Hobbit that we took as the fourteenth member of our company.”
“What of him?”
“Well,” Balin sighed and out came the whole sad story – of her brother’s stubborn pride, the madness of the line of Durin, the gold, the dragon and that bloody stone that had haunted their kin for generations.
“I see,” Dis clasped her hands behind her back and sighed. “I knew I should have come with my brother on this madcap quest.”
“My lady,” Balin sputtered.
“Just look at this mess.” She shook her head. “All for the want of a silly stone. Get our most trusted miners to put their share of gold in the best chests we have – that can also be used as part of their treasure,” she sniffed, flicking her fingers at the flickering campfires.
“My lady, Thorin will not be pleased.”
“My brother will smile and accept my decision or I’ll box his ears myself,” she said through gritted teeth. “This is Erebor. We sit atop the richest mines in the world and he worries over a paltry sum of gold? Please,” she turned and started back down her hill. “What became of our Mister Baggins?”
“Ah,” again she noted the strange twist to their old friend’s face. “You see. Your brother…”
“Oh, bother,” Dis wanted to strangle him. “What has he gone and done, now?”
Bilbo sat alone in his small tent, turning his ring over and over in his fingers. He had so wanted to run away during the battle, to flee the rage of war going on all around him. The memory of Thorin’s words was harder to escape; it sat there in his mind when he tried to sleep at night, hanging heavy every time he heard the harsh cadence of the dwarfish language outside his tent.
“Bilbo?” A whisper came from just outside his tent’s opening. A hand pushed back the flap. “Are you there?”
“Here, Bofur,” he slid the ring into his pocket and stood. His pack was tied up, ready to go. “I’m ready.”
“Ready?” Bofur blinked at him. “Whatever do you mean?”
“To go,” Bilbo frowned back at him. “I can’t stay here. Thorin said -,”
“About that,” came a different voice. Bilbo had time to see Bofur squeak and then he was yanked back out of the opening. Bilbo felt his breath catch as a dwarf-woman stepped inside. Her hair was dark, like Thorin’s, falling in waves down her back. Two braids framed her face, twined with gold and silver and bound with jeweled clasps at the end.
“I am Dis,” she said, giving him a slow nod of a bow. “The sister of Thorin, mother of Fili and Kili.”
“I am Bilbo Baggins. At your service,” he bowed low, feeling small and clumsy next to her. She stood tall, like her brother, pride and presence coming off of her in almost physical waves.
“You certainly have been, if half of the stories I’ve been told of you are true,” pale blue eyes studied him. “Were you going somewhere?”
“Ah,” Bilbo stuttered. “Well. There is this matter of Thorin telling me to go. When I. You know. Stole his Arkenstone and…traded it away for help.”
“I know,” she took another step into the tent. Bilbo tugged at his tattered coat, wishing for his vest and its bright brass buttons for one long, silly moment. “I dare say you could have bartered a better deal for it, but,” she made a strange tossing motion. “It’s gold. We have plenty of it.”
Bilbo squinted at her, words vanishing on his tongue as he groped for something to say. “I. That’s. Not exactly the most dwarfish thing I had expected to hear from you.”
“Is it?” She tilted her head to one side. A faint smile touched her mouth. “I think you’ll find, Mr. Baggins, that dwarves do not hoard gold like dragons. Our treasures are the things we hold most dear; our families, our kin and our companions we have fought and bled with.”
Bilbo flinched at that, he couldn’t help it. He certainly thought of the others as his companions – his dearest, dearest companions. It was for their stake he had smuggled that stone out of Erebor – even he could see that thirteen dwarves and one Hobbit had no chance against and army of Elves and Men. It was impossible. He’d had to do something, even if that something caused Thorin to curse him and cast him out, like he had been nothing to them. To him.
Bilbo started at the touch to his chin. He blinked up at her, this woman who was Thorin’s dearest sister and felt his breath catch in his throat. She smiled, faint lines appearing around her eyes. “You are our savior, Mr. Baggins. I will not have you sneak away, like a thief in the night. We owe you our lives.”
“But I didn’t - ”
“And I most certainly owe you the lives of my sons. Now,” her touch disappeared and Bilbo floundered for a moment. “Why are you staying in this wreck of a tent?”
“I – because I – there wasn’t – I mean. I’m little,” he blurted, feeling a flush steal over his face. “I don’t need a lot of space.”
Dis made a soft sound in the back of her throat. Bilbo held very still as she began to circle him. “Are you wounded?”
“Ah. No?” He yelped as a poke to his side caused fiery pain to shoot through his body.
“I see,” she finished her circuit and pinned him in place with a stare. “Off to the healers with you, then. Balin,” she raised her voice as she turned. “It seems our Mr. Baggins is hurt.”
“But I’m not -,” was all Bilbo got out before Bofur and Bifur swarmed through the door, scowls set on their faces.
“See to it that he has a tent near my sons,” was Dis’ parting shot as she left. Bilbo could do nothing but gape at her as Bofur and Bifur began arguing about who got the right to carry Bilbo to the healers. “I can walk! No – don’t do that – put me down! Bofur! PUT ME DOWN!”
Dis scrubbed at her hands, the hot water going pink with dried blood. “You’re an idiot,” she told her brother as he groaned on the bed.
“You had no right to bring that creature -”
“Bilbo,” she snapped his name. “His name is Bilbo and he, unlike the rest of you, seems to have a decent head on his shoulders.”
Thorin glowered at her. “He betrayed us.”
“He saved your hide,” she snarled right back at him. She splashed water over the rim of the bowl as she scrubbed at her nails.
“He took the Arkenstone from me – from us! From Fili -”
“Oh, yes, let’s talk about Fili,” she spun on him, water going everywhere. Thorin froze on the bed. “My son. My sons,” she corrected. “Two of them, with you and a company of ten other dwarves against an army – oh, forgive me, two armies – of Elves and Men. You took my sons to war over a stupid, pretty stone.” She shoved a finger into his chest. “I should box your ears from here to Ered Lindon for your foolhardy, stubborn, bloody minded idiocy.”
“But what,” she hissed at him.
“The honor of our family –”
“Bollocks the honor of our family,” she gave in and slapped him upside the head. “They are my sons. You almost got them killed. If not for the quick thinking of one Mr. Bilbo Baggins, I would be standing here in front of your tombs instead of your sickbed!” She smacked him again for good measure. “You could have died, you idiot! You could have – you almost,” she stopped, pressing her mouth to a thin line. Her eyes burned.
“Dis,” Thorin reached for her, panic written large over his face. He never could stand it when she cried. For she rarely did, even as a small child, when they would play in the treasure room in Erebor. Thorin and Frerin and she would race around, playing heroes and dragons, fighting over the heaps of gold scattered around them. And, as children were wont to do, sometimes they would fall and hurt themselves, scraping palms and knees and knocking each other about with toy swords that sometimes smacked too hard in soft places. Dis had never cried when her brothers had smacked her, nor when she fell from the pillars after Frerin dared her to climb as far as she could. They would always cry for her, until their father told them dwarf-lads did not cry, and to shape up this instant.
“I’m sorry. I am so, so sorry,” she let him have her hand, clasped tight between his own. She dashed at her cheeks, sucking in a sharp breath.
“Oh, you will be,” she promised him, ignoring the way her voice wavered. “I’m meeting with the king of the elves and the leader of the men tomorrow. We are going to honor our word,” she added when he drew in breath to argue. “And I’m taking Mr. Baggins with me, to help negotiate.”
“You are not.”
She lifted an eyebrow. Thorin growled something she couldn’t make out. “You’ll find, brother-dear, that I will do exactly as I see fit until you stand up out of that bed, healed and whole.”
“Then I should get up,” he let go of her hand, but not before he gave her one final squeeze.
“You go ahead and try, brother-dear. I’ll even help you up. But only when you ask me for help, yourself.” She ignored his sputters and turned her back on him, busying herself with the herbs and medicines the other countless injured where sure to need.
And when he fell out of bed, being a stubborn idiot? She kept her word and came to help him up.
After a while. Just a bit, really. It would be good for him. Builds character, just like their mother used to say.
Bilbo smoothed a hand over his new finery, not quite sure where to look. In front of him sat Thranduil and Bard the Bowman, both of whom looked uncomfortable on their dwarven-crafted seats. Bilbo felt a little silly, himself, for he found that his feet did not quite touch the ground. Next to him, Dis sat with all the regal authority that the great queens from his books were so famous for – though, if Bilbo were to be honest, it felt more than a little terrifying, being so close to her side.
“My lords,” Dis began, giving each of them a solemn nod. Thranduil’s eyebrow arched, but he answered in kind, leaving Bard to stand and fumble with an awkward bow.
“My lady,” said Bard. “Thank you for meeting with us.”
“The line of Durin pays their debts,” she said with a smile. Bilbo noticed Thranduil going very still, his strange eyes focused on Dis.
“And we thank you for it,” Bard broke the odd silence. He reached into his vest – a motion that made the guards around Bilbo twitch – and drew out a cloth covered lump. “As we negotiated,” Bard added, placing the Arkenstone on the table between them.
Bilbo frowned as Thranduil’s odd stare transferred to the Arkenstone. The elven king had been silent the entire time, coldly imperious, refusing all that was offered to him.
“You are kind,” Dis pushed the stone to one side, which meant it ended up right in front of Bilbo. “And you, King Thranduil? Are all debts paid?”
The elven king still had yet to blink. “As we have filled the terms of our negotiations, I have nothing to comment on.”
“I see,” Dis sighed. Bilbo couldn’t help but glance up at her. He felt singularly out of place at this meeting of Kings and Queens. Well, Regent, he supposed, but surely it would sound better if he put it down as Queen Dis – it had a rather nice ring to it, really…
“Do you agree, Mr. Baggins?”
Bilbo jerked to attention, turning to stare at the lady in question. “Um.”
“For you were injured. By an elven arrow, were you not?” She smiled down at him. For some reason, her smile sent a cold tingle down his spine.
“I’m fine. Really. It was just a scratch.”
“One that required stitches,” she corrected, voice gentle. “If it not been for you, this mess of a battle could have been far, far worse. Don’t you agree, King Thranduil?” She turned back to the elf, a small smile on her face. “And since your archers were the only elves on the field, I believe that those reparations belong to you.”
“I’m fine, really,” Bilbo winced when his voice cracked.
“We acknowledge a debt of honor to be repaid,” it sounded like King Thranduil spoke through gritted teeth. “What are your terms, Halfling?”
“Mr. Baggins,” Dis’ correction was soft. Bilbo saw Bard flinch.
“Ah,” Bilbo stuttered. Then he had an idea.
“He did what?”
“Don’t pull,” Dis slapped at Thorin’s ear. He snarled at her, but she snarled back, louder. “And don’t be such a baby about this.”
“He made peace with the elves?”
“They wounded him!”
Dis pulled the stitch taut, hearing Thorin grunt as she knotted the end. “I believe it was just yesterday that you were saying I was to throw the Hobbit out of our camp with naught but the clothes on his back?”
“Yes, but I – must you pull so?”
“I am not.”
“Do stop whining, brother-dear,” Dis began on the next cut. The wounds were cleared of infection, but deep enough so they required stitches to close. Thorin’s color had improved greatly and his breath did not come as shallow as it had when she’d first arrived.
“I am not whining. And the Hobbit had no right to do that.”
“What, claim that the elves of Mirkwood, in payment for the debt they owe him, declare that all feuds between Erebor and their kingdom over and done? That in his name, Mirkwood and Erebor are at peace, for now and evermore?”
“He can’t – it shouldn’t – why was he even there?”
“Because I brought him there. Oh, and Bard brought back the Arkenstone, but I gave it to our Mr. Baggins for a job well done.”
“Don’t yelp so.”
“HOW COULD YOU?”
“Thorin. You’ll pull your stitches.”
“I don’t care! It ours!”
“It’s a rock,” she slapped at his ear. “Get over it.”
“It’s the Arkenstone.”
“And yet it still, at the very heart of it, is just a stone.”
Thorin sputtered, face going red.
“And besides, he was ever so delightful, sitting there next to me. King Thranduil couldn’t take his eyes off the lad.”
She bit back a smile as Thorin went still under her hands.
“Bard was also quite taken with him, by the time we left. Bard was quite polite, by the way, he offered me his arm, can you believe it? Quite handsome, if you like that sort of thing. He is a Man,” she shrugged. “I heard Bard offering our Mr. Baggins a tour of Dale, when he recovered.”
“Who? Bard or Bilbo? Oh, excuse me. The halfling,” she tugged the stitches taut and snipped the thread. “The one you supposedly don’t care about.”
“I don’t,” but it was said softly, his head turned from her. “I am King Under the Mountain, now. Not some king in exile.”
“A King with two very alive heirs,” she tugged on his shoulder until he turned to face her. “What are you really so angry about? That he took some old stone or that he left you, before you could prove to him just how capable in battle you are?”
Thorin didn’t meet her gaze. “He had no right.”
But he wouldn’t answer her. Dis sighed and shook her head, leaving her stubborn brother to his thoughts.
“I’m telling you, I saw Bilbo go in there,” Kili shoved at Bofur, the both of them peering around the edge of the tent flap. “And he had it with him.”
“I thought he was off to see that Bard, from Dale,” Bofur tugged at the flaps of his hat, even as he craned his neck for a better look.
“No, no, Uncle got into a shouting match with Mum about it,” Kili bit his lip as he got into place. The outer room of his uncle’s tent was empty, which meant they could creep closer to the inner sanctum. His mother had been out of sorts for days as she tended their uncle and Fili – not that Fili needed the tending, Kili was forced to admit. Fili had always taken after their mother, more than anyone else.
Kili stilled as he heard a strange sound from somewhere inside. He crept closer, tugging the flap aside for a clear view into the room. There was a strange light playing over the fabric of the tent, coming from a single point on the ground. The Arkenstone lay on a piece of crumpled cloth, as if it had been shoved aside, forgotten, unwanted…
Kili shoved a hand over Bofur’s mouth and yanked them both back before either occupants inside the room could notice them. He hustled them out of the tent, waiting until they were past the healer’s camp before let out a loud whoop of joy. “Did you see that? Bofur? Did you?”
“Aye,” the miner sounded a bit dazed as he scrubbed at his face. “I don’t think our Mr. Baggins will be leaving anytime soon, now.”
“No, I think not,” Kili crowed again, pumping a fist into the air. “Come on, let’s tell Fili. He’ll never believe it. And Mum! She’s going to be so smug.” Kili grabbed Bofur’s arm and dragged him off. The sight of Bilbo sitting astride his uncle, their arms curled around each other, Arkenstone lying forgotten on the floor, was not a sight he was going to forget any time soon.