Thorin came to himself slowly, awakening to lamplight and blessed quiet. The stink of battle still hung in the air, but it was removed from this place, a lingering memory of nightmare bereft of its terror. He lay on a pallet of cast off furs and cloaks, which did little to ease the pain in his torn body. So, not yet dead, but …. soon.
His eyes focused in the dim light and he saw a form beside the pallet. Balin, filthy, battered, his splendid armor from the dragon hoard all but destroyed, but blessedly alive. “Balin,” he whispered hoarsely, “tell me ….”
“Hush, laddie, don’t talk,” the older dwarf admonished. “Save your strength.”
A smile ghosted across Thorin’s face. “To what purpose? I must speak now, while I still can.” Balin’s gaze dropped away for a moment, then met his in acknowledgement of the unspoken truth. “The battle, is it over?”
“It is, and Erebor is ours again.”
Little thanks to me, Thorin thought, shame at his actions burning in his soul. “What of our company? How many still live?”
“Many a wound between them, and scars that will be shown with pride in days to come, but …. “ and here Balin’s voice faltered, just for a heartbeat, “only two were lost.”
A half-memory, little more than a fleeting image, surfaced in Thorin’s mind – on the edge of consciousness, lying on the battlefield, and two forms standing on either side of him, chanting his name and taunting their enemy. “Fili, Kili …?” he asked.
Balin did not reply – he didn’t need to, the sorrow on his face said everything Thorin had been afraid to hear. Balin had aided in raising the two young dwarves, providing the patience that Thorin had sometimes lacked. He closed his eyes for a moment, the ache in his heart outstripping the pain in his body. “It’s as well I die now, rather than have to tell Dis that her sons are no more.” A cowardly admission, but no less true for that.
“They fell as warriors would wish, defending their king. Their mother would understand.”
“No, she would not, and will not. But tell her that, and ask her not to curse my memory.” A spasm of fire wracked his body, and it was a moment before he could continue. “See that they are buried with honor, as befit the heirs of Durin. They do not deserve to share in my shame.”
“There is no shame to share,” came a quiet voice from the other side of the pallet. Thorin turned his head and saw Dain Ironfoot come forward from the shadows. The grizzled warrior looked exhausted, but stood proud and straight …. as became a king. “I will see it done … for all the heirs of Durin.” Thorin nodded his thanks – his line was ended, but Erebor had been reclaimed, and his people would live on and prosper under their new lord. That would have to be enough.
He could feel his time growing ever shorter, but there was one last thing to be done. “The halfling, did he survive the battle?”
Balin shook his head. “No one knows, none have seen him, but Gandalf and others are searching.”
“Find him if he still lives and bring him here. We parted badly, and the fault was mine. Perhaps if I had listened to him …. but what’s done is done. I would speak to him one last time.” Please, he begged any power that might be listening, just a little longer ….
His plea was granted, and the hobbit was found in time. Their words together were few, but healed places in both hearts. After Bilbo left, Thorin felt a weight lift from him. The burden of kingship that had pressed so long on him had been passed to another, and all that could be done had been done. It was time.
He called Balin’s name, barely more than a whisper. His friend came to sit by his side one more time and took Thorin’s hand in his. “No tears,” Thorin told him with a soft smile. “And remember me as I should have been, rather than as I was.”
Balin’s voice was thick but steady. “I will remember a true friend, a valiant warrior, and one I was proud to call king …always.”
At that, and with a slight squeeze of his hand, Thorin II Oakenshield, King Under the Mountain, was at peace.
“They buried Thorin deep beneath the Mountain … Upon his tomb the Elvenking then laid Orcrist … It is said in songs that it gleamed ever in the dark if foes approached, and the fortress of the dwarves could not be taken by surprise.”
-- JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit