Thorin, son of Thráin, son of Thrór was mightily concerned that his father was seconds away from vanishing. He’d done it before, it stood to reason he could do it again. As he lay in the darkness of the nursery, he heard his parents voices murmuring within their connected chamber and knew they were exactly where they were meant to be. For now.
It had not been so, recently. When he woke in the mornings, his father was nowhere to be seen. That was not so unusual, but he did not see him all day either, not at mealtimes nor before he slept. The first day, he asked his mother where his father was. And the second. And the third.
“Away at battle, my lad,” Ama replied each time, tossing him in the air and catching him to make him laugh and forget for a moment. “Far away. Where I cannot follow, but you will, someday.”
By the evening of the fourth day, he was no longer asking, he was crying for him, his small round face going red as he twisted and kicked in his mother’s arms. “I want Ada,” he shrieked, pulling his mother’s beard and unraveling her plaits.
Ama wrenched his hands out of her hair and beard, but held him close and let him beat his rage out on her arms until he exhausted himself so much he could do nothing but hiccup and sniffle. “I know,” she repeated over and over again as he wailed. “I know you do. So do I.”
Other mothers might have consoled their little dwarflings with a thousand sweet lies, Ada will be home soon, my darling, you must be patient. The fathers, when they did return, scarred and triumphant would hold their children close and reassure them that they would stay at home forever. Freya was a new mother and a young one, but already she thought it folly to lie to her children. She made no guarantee that her husband would come home and when he did, tired, but victorious in dented armor, neither promised their son any forevers.
When he saw his father again in the mead hall Thorin practically fell out of his mother’s arms reaching for him. Small arms went tight around Thráin’s neck and he buried his face in the space between jaw and shoulder half-hidden in his beard and hair. He smelt of sweat and horses and the road, but Thorin was so happy he was home at last that he held on tighter and did not even raise his head to respond when he was asked a question
“Missed me, did you?” Thrain chuckled, somewhat puzzled when Thorin only reacted by trying to burrow under his skin, it seemed.
Folding her arms and raising an eyebrow Freya asked rhetorically, “Missed you? That’s one way to put it; nearly went blue screaming for you nights.” But her sour expression gave way to pleasure and she was kissing her husband over her son’s head.
Try as he might to stay awake, the menfolk were late in their coming home and though their sore arms hungered for tankards of mead to hoist, their sons and daughters were soon falling asleep in laps on shoulders and at table. Thorin was one of their number, he knew not who bore him back to his family’s suite of rooms within the mountain, but when he woke alone he sat bolt upright in his cot until he heard his parents’ voices and relaxed back into slumber.
It was not of long duration; again he woke and was troubled for all was silence and darkness about him. Had Ada gone away again? Would he come back this time?
Unable to bear lying in the dark with worries fluttering heavy in his mind like bat’s wings, Thorin made up his mind to search his father out for himself. The sides of his cot were high, but he knew how to stretch and grasp and wiggle just so that he could slide to the ground with minimal trouble; tossing his quilted blanket down before him certainly help lessen the effect of the impact on his bottom.
Taking his blanket up in one small fist while the thumb of his opposite hand took up residence in his mouth, Thorin padded to the doorway of his room, squeezing past the gap in the door that led to his parents’ chamber. Because their rooms were located deep within the mountain, no light penetrated within and it was black as pitch inside. Thorin did not need to see his parents’ bed to know that his mother slept alone, he did not hear any hearty snores to accompany her deep, heavy breathing. He was about to run to her side, shouting that Ada was gone again, when he was distracted by a thin beam of flickering light shining under the bedroom door.
A fire? Who would stoke a fire this late at night? Thorin tip-toed to the door that led into their public rooms, those used for visitors. The door handle was too high for him to reach, but dragging over a chair from his mother’s vanity was sufficient to bridge the gap. Once, his mother’s breath hitched as the legs of the chair made the transition from carpet to stone. Thorin froze in his tracks, but she merely sighed and rolled over in her sleep. The door hinges were well-oiled and after a few tugs, he managed to open the door wide enough to walk through.
Sure enough there was a fire blazing high in the hearth, but more than the cackling of the logs and the flames, Thorin was gratified beyond measure to hear his father’s rumbling snores. Smiling around the thumb in his mouth, he was forced to use one hand to grip the stone rail as he walked down the stairs, slowly, as he’d been repeatedly told.
Ada was lying on his back on a long, deep, comfortably padded lounge, a sheaf of papers fallen to the floor beside him. His coat was rolled up and tucked beneath his head and his boots were abandoned on the floor. Thorin padded close beside him, watching the steady rise and fall of his chest beneath his beard.
Thráin was on the tall side for one of their race and barrel-chested, almost too broad to lay on the plush furniture. One shoulder hung half-off and a heavy arm trailed against the floor, rings of his thick fingers scraping the carpet while his other side was wedged as far against the low back of the chair as it could go. Not a comfortable position for sleeping, but exhaustion cared not for comfort and, anyway, a too-small lounge was miles better than a thin pallet beneath a tent on the return journey home.
Thorin, looking over his dozing father critically, thought he might be able to do more to ensure his comfort. Ada had no blanket and once the fire guttered he would surely be cold. Hoisting himself on to bare patch near his father’s legs, he sat down on his stomach and began to arrange his own blanket over him. It was far too small to cover Thráin, crafted as it was for a tiny child, but he did his level best, spreading the cloth out as far as it would go and tucking it under his beard.
If asked what he liked best about his father, Thorin would promptly reply, “His beard!” It was thick and dark, soft, but scratchy at the same time, like a wolf’s pelt. It was nearly as long as Thorin himself was tall and happened to make the perfect pillow for a tired child to rest against. So inviting was it to touch, so warm and broad was his father’s chest beneath it that Thorin lay his head down, yawning and snuggling his face into the coarse locks even as Thráin woke and shifted.
Dimly, with an instinct that could only be paternal, he realized his son was lying atop him and he lay a hand gently against the child’s back, engulfing it in the span of his palm and fingers. “Hallo,” he said groggily, blinking down at Thorin with one hazy blue eye. “What’s this, then?”
Thorin responded by nuzzling his beard again, drawing tremendous comfort from the feel of it on his soft round cheek. “I thought you disappeared,” he said, his words high-pitched, soft and slow with the careful pronunciation common among the very young. His small fingers traced a thick braid, loosely gripping it. “I thought you went away again.”
“Nah, still here. As you see,” his father reassured him, glancing down at the floor where the paperwork that had piled up in his absence had fallen. “You ought to get back to bed - unless you’re of a mind to translate some Elvish for me.”
Thorin shook his head stubbornly even as he yawned again, eyelashes fluttering with the effort of keeping his eyes open. “No,” he refused.
“No, eh?” Thráin asked, far more amused by that blatant disobedience than he ought to be. As someone who did not consider himself a natural father, this clear sign that his son missed him, that he wanted to be close to him was deeply touching and affirming that he was doing something right in raising him.
“I want to stay with you,” the dwarfling insisted, crawling a little higher on his father’s chest and tucking his head beneath his chin.
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“You promise?” Thorin asked sleepily. The thumb of his right hand unconsciously drifted toward this mouth, but his left hand remained curled firmly around a handful of his father’s beard. In the near-silence of the room, if he listened very closely, he could hear the strong, steady beat of his heart, like a drum beneath his ear. "Forever?"
“I can’t promise you forever,” Thráin admitted, tracing one finger down the wispy scratches of hair on Thorin’s cheek. “But I can promise I’ll be here tomorrow.”
Lulled by his father’s reassurances and the soothing tattoo of his heartbeat, Thorin drifted off, feeling safe and content. Thráin knew he really ought to pick his son up and place him back in his cot, but all of a sudden the too-small furniture seemed ideal for sleeping on. Bending his head just enough to press a soft kiss to the top of his Thorin’s dark hair, Thráin shifted slightly and closed his eye. In the light of the dying fire, father and son slept peacefully in the heart of the Kingdom Under the Mountain.