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This Long and Winding Road - Chapter 1

Title: This Long and Winding Road
Chapter 1: Ze'
Pairings: Platonic Kíli/Fíli, and Kíli/Bilbo/Fíli
Rating/Warnings: None for this part unless you count epic amounts of pining.
Word Count: 5943
Disclaimer: If I owned it, there would be more threesomes.
Summary: Fíli and Kíli have spent decades searching for the last piece of their hearts, but meeting Bilbo is just the beginning of the tale.  Because hobbits believe in love, not destiny and someone else catches their burglar's eye.


Years before Fíli and Kíli learn the word for longing, they know that something important is missing from their lives.

However, the brothers never speak of this to their friends or family because they are certain that no one else would understand. Fíli and Kíli aren't supposed to need anyone but each other. Why would they when the gleaming runes upon their wrists bind them together, have bound them from the moment the younger dwarf was born?

Fíli and Kíli are amrâbulnâs, destined lovers marked as such by the hand of their creator, and their people celebrated for an entire week when the princes' runes appeared. It had been two generations since the line of Durin was blessed with such a binding. Thrór himself was the last to bear a name upon his wrist and his great-grandchildren's connection, their ashânumahâl, is seen as a sign that the Sigin-tarâg's long exile will soon be coming to an end.

The princes' bond is considered a good omen even though karrushamrâb do not always bring luck to the dwarves who carry them. Sometimes they lead to sorrow and amongst the Sigin-tarâg, many believe that Thrór's insanity was caused by his failure to find the dwarrowdam whose name was written on his skin. For while the king had married and sired Thráin before the birth of his amrâbulnas, his need drove him to distraction once those runes appeared.

Indeed, if Thrór's queen had not passed on five years prior, she would have stepped down from her position because the ashânumahâl trumps all other vows. Dwarves may marry as they wish while their wrists lack karrushamrâb but to refuse the name that Mahal gives them is a sin by their traditions and a crime by law. The penalty for infidelity is always death when amrâbulnâs are involved.

However, while Thrór's runes only brought him sorrow, the Sigin-tarâg believe that his descendants will find happiness instead. Fíli and Kíli must be living proof of Mahal’s favor; after all, the princes bear each other's names rather than some stranger's and to find their amrâbulnas so young is the greatest gift that any dwarf could want.

There will be no madness in either prince’s future; Fíli will rule long and wisely with Kíli at his side. The lack of children is a pity but dwarven succession often takes a crooked path when Mahal is involved and this would hardly be the first time that a cousin took the crown.

The ashânumahâl cannot be denied and everyone assumes that the princes are happy with their lot in life. The Sigin-tarâg expect Fíli and Kíli to wed each other as soon as they're old enough – with amrâbulnâs the wedding is little more than a formality and the excuse for a grand party, one that Dís started planning as soon as her younger son was born. But no matter how deeply Fíli and Kíli love each other, the thought of getting married in the future just leaves them cold inside.

For years the princes wonder if there is something wrong with their ashânumahâl. Maybe their bond is broken or maybe they're just freaks. Fíli and Kíli should be content with their amrâbulnas, with the love that Mahal gave them. But no matter how hard they try, Fíli and Kíli simply aren't and when Fíli kisses his brother one morning – one last desperate attempt to feel what he's supposed to – the younger dwarf bursts into tears.

This isn't right. Both of the princes know it. The sense of wrongness goes much deeper than Kíli and Fíli's lack of physical attraction. There is a longing branded on their souls, an aching loneliness that they do not understand. They cannot explain it; they just feel it in their bones.

So Fíli and Kíli play the roles assigned to them for lack of other options, watching other couples with desperate jealousy. Those without karrushamrâb are free to follow wherever their hearts lead them and other amrâbulnâs do not seem to share the princes' discontent.

Soon the brothers grow to hate the runes that bind their future, though neither can truly imagine giving their ashânumahâl up. Mahal's gift is more than pretty writing; the ashânumahâl connects Fíli and Kíli's hearts together, allowing the princes to feel each other's emotions and know that, no matter what, they will never be alone. But sometimes the pair still feels as though the whole world is ranged against them and they are too ashamed of their failure to be happy to ask their kinsfolk for advice.

Kíli and Fíli believe that they are broken until Kíli's twenty-seventh year. Just after dawn one morning, the princes are woken by a strange warmth upon their skin. They throw off their blankets and watch in awe as Bilbo Baggins appears in shining Westron script around their ankles and in this instant, all their worries disappear. Fíli and Kíli are not damaged; they are just a trinity.

The two dwarves leap out of bed, dressing quickly and then running into the kitchen to tell their mother the good news. Fíli and Kíli show Dís the name that appeared on both their ankles, expecting her to share in their excitement. However, the dwarrowdam reacts with shocked dismay instead of the joy her sons expected and a chill of foreboding runs down Fíli's spine when he sees the sorrow in her eyes.

“Don’t you understand, mum?” Kíli asks plaintively. “This is wonderful. As soon as we find our amrâbulnas, we will finally be complete.”

His expression is so hopeful that Dís almost cannot bear to disappoint him and yet she must do exactly that. Better a brief sorrow now than for Fíli and Kíli to discover the truth after years of searching and so the dwarrowdam reaches out to take her children's hands.

“My sons. My dear sons, I am afraid the situation is not as simple as you think,” Dís tells the princes softly. “I know you want to find this Bilbo, but your new karrash are lies. Only the runes upon your wrists came from Mahal because no dwarrow ever has more than one amrâbulnas. All other marks are tricks from Melkor or his brethren and I would not see you pay the price of infidelity. So put Bilbo Baggins from your minds and do not try to find him; that path leads to death and ruin for our family.”

“But... that makes no sense. Why would Melkor give us false ashânumahâl?” Fíli asks, wrapping an arm around his brother's shoulders. The dwarf can feel Kíli's distress as strongly as his own and it has always been his job to make things right. “How can one karashumrâb be better than another? We are supposed to be a trinity – we are – so why can't Uncle Thorin just change the law for us?”

“Things are not that easy, child,” Dís replies with a sad smile. “My brother may be the rightful King Under the Mountain but that doesn't give him the ability to rewrite our laws at whim. Not when the Sigin-tarâg are scattered and all we have is our traditions left to keep us strong. Perhaps if our exile were over and Thorin reigned in Azsâlul'abad once more; perhaps then things would be different, but you would still need to earn the boon you seek. The laws that govern the ashânumahâl were written by Durin III, whose own false karrash betrayed our kin to Melkor's armies, and only a great hero may override a king. So forget this Bilbo Baggins, children. Forget this foolish dream.”

Dís has always been a pragmatic sort of person; she married her husband for his skill and status, not for any great romantic feeling, and while she loves her children, the survival of her family is the most important thing.

So the dwarrowdam opens one of the kitchen drawers and pulls out a piece of linen, cutting it in half and handing the pieces to her sons. “Cover up your false karrash. Cover them up and never show those marks to anyone. We are lucky that our kin do not tend to flaunt our skin in public; this will make it easier for you to hide your shame. But you must promise me that you will never seek out Bilbo Baggins, not while being with him is forbidden by the law.”

“No! No, I won't!” Kíli protests fiercely. “The law can't tell us which of our bonds are valid! The law can't tell us what to feel! Bilbo's name is a true karashumrâb, I am sure of it!”

“He is right, mother,” Fíli adds more quietly. “I don't know what happened with Durin III but there must be some mistake. This bond feels real to me.”

“And that's what makes it dangerous,” Dís retorts. “You are young yet. You do not understand the world's true cruelty. So believe me when I say that many stories are not granted happy endings and while some of our kinsmen share in your delusion, the law is still the law. Those with false karrash know better than to speak of them and you must follow their example. For you are the princes of the Sigin-tarâg. You have a duty to our people and you cannot run off to chase some madcap dream. So promise me that you will not look for Bilbo. Promise me this or I will tell my brother of your karrash and beg him to lock you up this instant. I would rather see you safe and miserable than dead for infidelity.”

Their mother is serious, the princes can tell, and once Dís has made up her mind, there's no point in arguing. So Fíli and Kíli take the strips of cloth and wrap them around their ankles, trying not to cry as Bilbo's name disappears. Then the princes promise their mother that they will not go looking for their amrâbulnas, no matter how badly they want to see his face.

However, even as the pair swears this oath to the dwarrowdam, they make another promise to themselves. Fíli and Kíli promise each other that they won’t give up on Bilbo, not when both dwarves are certain that their bonds with him are real. The princes can’t give up when they finally know how to make their hearts stop aching constantly.

After all, Fíli and Kíli may have promised not to search for Bilbo, but they never promised not to travel and surely the Valar will grant them grace in this. Bilbo is theirs; the ashânumahâl calls so strongly that he must be, and once fate leads the princes to their amrâbulnas, everything else is bound to work out somehow. Law or no law, the khazâd cannot be as cruel as their mother claimed.

So Fíli and Kíli go back to their rooms and make a plan. A simple plan, really; from then on, whenever Thorin leaves the Blue Mountains for any reason, the princes ask to come along. The brothers beg and plead until their uncle finally gives in and even Dís cannot argue with her king.

Thus Fíli and Kíli begin to travel around the Westlands, standing by Thorin when he meets his fellow dwarf lords or goes to a distant market with metalwork to sell. The princes' uncle teaches them diplomacy and forging, orienteering, bargaining and how to bite their tongues. The latter comes in handy when Fíli and Kíli find themselves working long hours in human smithies and when the trio hires on with merchant caravans, the brothers always sure that this next trip will be the one.

All Fíli and Kíli want is a glimpse of Bilbo, a single glimpse to prove that their amrâbulnas is out there. He could be another dwarf or a man or even an elf and it wouldn't matter – indeed, a dwarf seems unlikely considering their karrash. But whoever Bilbo is, the princes know he will be perfect because he will be theirs.

Someday they will ride into a town and see their amrâbulnas standing in the sunshine, Bilbo looking up in recognition when they call his name. Or perhaps Kíli and Fíli will simply watch him from a distance, protecting their heart as best they can until they can court him openly.

Neither prince has found a loophole in the laws that bind ashânumahâl; their research has only proven that their mother spoke the truth and while they've thought of trying to find allies, Fíli and Kíli have no way of knowing which dwarves share their pain. But that doesn't mean their cause is hopeless. If Mahal gave them Bilbo then he must agree that his children's rules are wrong and with his blessing, Fíli and Kíli are sure that they can do anything. It's only a matter of time until their lives change for the better and this thought keeps the princes going as they crisscross Middle Earth.

The brothers travel from the Blue Mountains to the northern plains, from the scattered towns of men to the Western settlements of Rohan, and they even pass through the outskirts of the Shire once or twice. However, while both princes sometimes feel their bond with Bilbo flutter, the sensation is too weak to guide them and it always fades again.

Fíli and Kíli discover beauty, wonder, and a fair bit of danger, but they can't find Bilbo Baggins anywhere.

After years of this, of searching without searching, of holding to their oath on a technicality, Kíli and Fíli start to wonder if their mother could be right after all. Maybe Melkor truly was the force behind their markings and what their clan saw as a good omen was only a prelude to cruelty. Or maybe Mahal simply matches dwarven hearts at random and the princes were unlucky in their draw.

In truth, it doesn't matter. Whether blessed or cursed, Fíli and Kíli are bound by the laws of the khazâd and there is no room for leeway in dwarvish punishments. Even if they did stumble on their amrâbulnas in some tiny village, the brothers couldn't court him and that would be the sharpest cut of all. To meet Bilbo and know that they could never touch him would only lead to further heartbreak and the princes have already cried enough.

It is Fíli who finally admits the truth. He's always been the braver of the two, a solid core of strength to balance Kíli's flightier nature, and he's the one who says they have to stop.

“We cannot go on like this, resting our hopes on each new journey just to have them dashed. If we are to love Bilbo as we are meant to then we must first change Durin's law,” the older prince whispers, pulling Kíli into his arms when his brother starts to sob. “I want to love both of you openly; I want to scream that we're a three-bond to the world and have our kindred understand. But if that's going to happen then first we must be heroes. We must become the sort of heroes whose deeds are glorified in song.”

“And how are we supposed to do that while guarding caravans from bandits and chasing drunks from market stalls?” Kíli asks brokenly. “This is not an age of heroes, Fíli. There are no great enemies to conquer and the courage that we've shown is only what Thorin expects from warriors of his blood. What could we possibly do to impress our uncle now?”

“That's actually the simple part,” Fíli tells his brother, sending as much certainty as he can through the bond they share. “We are going to help Thorin reclaim Azsâlul'abad. We're going to help him bring our people home.”

“Uncle is going to take back the Lonely Mountain?”

“Of course he is. Remember what mother said when we first told her about Bilbo? Thorin needs to reclaim his throne in order to legitimize his kingship and you know he'll never be able to rest until he's earned his rightful place again. Someday our uncle will call for volunteers to help take back Thrór's kingdom and we must be ready to battle at his side. For that will be a journey worthy of the bards.”

“All right, Fí. You know I'm not good at being patient but I'll try. For you and Bilbo, I'll become the best damn warrior that Thorin has ever seen and I promise I'll be ready when our day arrives.”

So Fíli and Kíli throw themselves into their training with new fervor, practicing with swords and axes daily and studying the accounts of dwarrows who fought dragons in the past. They focus on ranged weapons, anything that might help them kill Smaug the Golden, and their abilities increase by leaps and bounds. Indeed, Kíli finds a previously unknown knack for archery while his brother grows skilled with throwing knives and the other Sigin-tarâg soon learn not to challenge them on either range or training ground.

The princes feel a little better with this new plan and purpose, though that doesn't mean their lives are suddenly bright mithril through and through. Kíli wasn't lying when he said that he was bad at waiting and while the dwarves still travel sometimes, it's not the same without the hope of finding Bilbo somewhere along the way.

To make matters worse, as soon as Fíli comes of age, the Sigin-tarâg start asking the princes how soon until they plan to marry and the other dwarves don't understand why the answer isn't now. Even Dís refuses to support Fíli and Kíli in their denials, telling her sons to accept the inevitable when they ask their mother for her help.

“You will have to marry each other eventually; it might as well be now,” the dwarrowdam says, her words all the more painful because she knows the truth. “Refusing to marry will not allow you to court Bilbo if you find him; infidelity is infidelity and you are amrâbulnâs even if you have not spoken vows. Perhaps if you were commoners, you would be able to live together in the shadows, but you are heirs of Durin and you have no such luxury.”

She will not bend and neither will her children, this endless standoff enough to drive the princes mad. Indeed, the questions only grow more pointed with every year that passes and eventually some of the nobility begin to whisper of Thrór's madness, watching Fíli and Kíli with suspicion in their eyes.

Maybe their stubbornness is foolish when getting married truly wouldn't change their situation. But it feels like giving up on Bilbo, like giving up on any chance of future happiness and there are days when Kíli dreams of running away from everything. Both dwarves dream of running, their frustrations feeding off each other even as their duty holds them fast.

Truthfully, Fíli and Kíli are close to cracking when their uncle finally returns to the Blue Mountains and makes an announcement that changes everything. Because Thorin met a wizard, a wizard who convinced him that his time had come at last. It is time for the Sigin-tarâg to reclaim the Lonely Mountain and the dwarf lord asks his kin for volunteers.

Thorin's sister-sons are the first in line to join him; at least they want to be. But Kíli is still three years shy of his majority and he cannot volunteer. As silly as it sounds, he cannot offer his blade in service without the permission of his mother and so the princes go to Dís to plead their case.

However, despite the eloquence of their entreaty, “Certainly not!” is the dwarrowdam's reply.

“I do not care how much you've trained; this quest is much too dangerous. You have never tested your skills against anything but bandits and you are not even old enough to make this choice yourself. Smaug destroyed Azsâlul'abad in hours, he would slaughter you in minutes and I cannot let my children run off to die like that.”

“Mother, we are not dwarrowlings. We will always be your sons, but we are no longer yours to guard. For Mahal's sake, Kíli will come of age in less than three years and you know that we can beat any of Thorin's warriors in a fight. How can we sit this battle out when our uncle is trying to restore our people’s honor and we have the skill to help?”

Fíli's arguments are reasonable but Dís will not be swayed by logic. She has seen far too much dwarven blood spilled for stone and glory and she does not wish to be the last Durin left alive. The more her eldest argues, the more stubborn her denials and eventually Kíli cannot stay silent anymore.

“Mother, please! You have to help us. This is our only chance to change the l-”

Fíli slams a hand across Kíli's mouth, trying to cut his brother off before he can give the game away. But it's already too late. Their mother is not an idiot and Kíli made it obvious.

“Change the law. Is that what you mean?” Dís asks, narrowing her eyes. “I told you to stop dreaming. You promised to stop dreaming of things that cannot be. Bilbo is not your amrâbulnas, no matter what you feel. Someone whom you've never met cannot be worth your futures and the Valar are all out of miracles. Be happy with each other and put this madness from your mind.”

“We can't!” Fíli shouts, his voice echoing loudly off the stone. For a moment there is silence and then the dwarf slumps down to the floor. Kíli follows him, wrapping his arms around his brother and hugging him tightly as he murmurs once again, “We can't.”

“Don't you understand, mother?” Kíli asks quietly. “You are asking us to suffer for the remainder of our lives. Even if we never left these mountains; even if we took a knife and sliced our karrash right off our skin, it would not make a difference. You keep telling us that Bilbo cannot be our amrâbulnas because some ancient king decreed it, but we both know the law is wrong.”

“Without Bilbo, we are broken,” Fíli whispers when the younger prince falls silent. “Without him you might as well just let us die right now.”

His voice is filled with conviction and despair in equal measure and while Dís still does not understand the need that drives her children, she finally listens when they speak. The dwarrowdam had hoped that denying Bilbo's existence would allow Fíli and Kíli to be happy – to be content with their restrictions – but it seems that she has only added to their misery instead.

“If I cannot sway you from this course, then I guess you have my blessing,” Dís replies wearily. “But in return I ask that you do one thing for me.”

She looks down at her sons and for a moment, all she can see is the fragile babies that she brought into the world. They were so helpless, so trusting, and Dís doesn't know where those dwarrowlings have gone. Time has slipped like ashes through her fingers; her sons are leaving and she doesn't know if they will ever make it back. Hence her singular demand.

“If you are determined to join my brother's quest, then I would first see you wed,” Dís tells her children firmly, forestalling their protests with a glance. “You know that being married will not affect your search for Bilbo and our people need the hope that your ashânumahâl represents. Let them have their celebration; one last celebration in case this journey ends with funerals instead of victory. Give me this, my children. Give me this memory and I will give your foolishness my blessing in return.”

Fíli and Kíli still do not want to marry without Bilbo at their side. But what else can they do when this is their only chance? Their amrâbulnas will forgive them. He has to forgive them because they are fighting for a future where they can be together and what is a wedding next to that?

So the princes agree to Dís' bargain despite their reservations and then go to tell their uncle that they'll join his company. Thorin accepts their service gratefully, almost desperately, and his sister-sons are surprised to learn that they are the first to join his cause.

Indeed, the Sigin-tarâg seem more excited about Fíli and Kíli's marriage than about their coming journey and their uncle only receives ten other volunteers. Even with good omens and a wizard on their side, few dwarves want to risk their lives against the dragon and the princes might have been worried about their chances if they’d had any time to think.

As it is, Fíli and Kíli barely have time enough to pack because the announcement of their wedding makes their kindred go insane. Every dwarf in Ered Luin suddenly wants to offer them advice on marriage and after the third time some old dwarrowdam corners the princes in the market, Fíli and Kíli start shopping in disguise. Unfortunately, escaping their mother is much harder and it’s all the pair can do to keep from drowning as Dís plans out their wedding celebration, the grandest celebration that the Blue Mountains have ever seen.

The dwarrowdam does not ask for her sons’ opinions because they do not matter. This wedding is for Dís and for their people, not for the princes, and the quiet ceremony that Fíli and Kíli would have preferred has been sacrificed on the altar of political maneuvering.

Indeed, the guest list reads like a list of the richest and most important dwarves in Ered Luin, Kíli and Fíli pledging their love for each other in front of far too many strangers instead of friends and family. The ceremony is long and boring – Thorin gives a speech about blood and honor, one full of none-too-subtle digs at the other warriors' cowardice. The dwarf lord does include some nice passages about love and destiny in-between his bursts of fury, every snarl of “faithless kin who will not join me” balanced with a smile at the princes. Thorin truly is happy for his sister-sons, his thoughts are just focused on Azsâlul'abad.

Of course, Fíli and Kíli can hardly blame their uncle for his inattention when they share it, the elder dwarf forced to nudge his brother when it's finally time to speak their vows. Kíli had been trying to remember where he left his lucky grindstone instead of watching for his cue. However, once reminded, Kíli speaks his piece without faltering, only his brother knowing how sour the words taste inside his mouth.

“Next time we'll do this right,” Fíli whispers softly when the younger prince has finished, too low for anyone else to hear.

“I take Kíli, son of Hothor, son of Halthi, as my husband before the eyes of Mahal, Kaminzabdûna, and our kin,” the dwarf continues louder, looking out across their gathered clan. “I will ensure that his forges never lack for fire and that his weapons never dull; I will fight at his side whenever danger threatens and guard the living stone in which we make our home. He is my amrâbulnas; he and I are bound by love and destiny and we shall never be apart.”

Fíli should have ended this speech with a bit about fidelity, swearing that he would find solace in no other touch but Kíli's for the remainder of their days. But the prince can’t bring himself to say it, not when the thought of denying Bilbo makes his heart curl up with shame.

So he leans in to kiss the archer instead, knowing that their audience will simply think him too impatient to wait any longer. Kissing Kíli feels just as wrong now as it did the first time but no one notices their discomfort with the roles they're forced to play.

Indeed, the princes receive a wave of thunderous applause, the roar growing louder when they turn and raise their hands. The dwarves of Ered Luin send the new couple off to their wedding chamber with a chorus of drunken cheers – the drinking started early and will continue late – their well-meaning congratulations setting the brothers' teeth on edge. Fíli and Kíli are relieved when they don't have to keep up their facade any longer, the smiles dropping off their faces as soon as they're alone.

Their uncle will be leaving in the morning, heading north to try to convince the other dwarf lords to pledge their axes to his cause. The princes would like to join him, but newlyweds are expected to remain within their chambers for at least a day of consummation before they can rejoin the clan again.

Fíli and Kíli will leave the following morning instead – the soonest that their mother will allow it – and then make their slow way toward the Shire after that. They aren't due to meet Thorin and the rest of their companions for another week but they don't want to stay in the Blue Mountains any longer than they have to and this will give them some time to enjoy themselves before the real journey starts. Fíli and Kíli could use some space to breathe.

Honestly, they're exhausted, too exhausted to do anything but sleep even if they were a normal couple. So the princes just trade weary smiles and start to remove their wedding finery, hanging up their clothing and then climbing into bed. Kíli and Fíli wrap their arms around each other tightly, trying to ignore the empty space where Bilbo should have been.

This is not how the dwarves had hoped to spend their wedding night; they had dreamed of far brighter days than this. But even though their sleep is fitful, the next day passes quickly. The princes spend hours in games and talk and last minute planning, only going to sleep once they've packed and packed again. Everything has to be perfect and when Kíli wakes at dawn on the day of their departure, there is hope blooming in his heart for the first time in many years.

We're finally going to do it, the archer thinks, smiling at his brother who's still snoring on the bed. We'll finally have a chance to win our uncle's favor and ask him to change the law.

The long years of loneliness seem a distant thing this morning as future possibilities stretch out before Kíli in a bright and shining road. The prince is certain that he and Fíli will prove themselves heroes over the course of their journey to reclaim the Lonely Mountain and in so doing, they will change everything. Fíli and Kíli will earn the right to seek out Bilbo Baggins in whatever corner of the world he has been hiding and court him as the last piece of their trinity deserves.

So the younger dwarf shoves his brother awake, meeting Fíli's glare with a slightly manic grin. “Wake up, Fíli! It's time to start our journey and you can't be lagging now! We're off to kill a dragon and win our fair maiden's hand in marriage like the stories that mother always used to tell.”

“I'm pretty sure that Bilbo's not a maiden, brother,” Fíli grumbles back, though he can't keep from smiling. Kíli's excitement glows with warmth inside his heart, an effervescent joy that he hasn't felt in far too long.

The swell of emotion carries the elder prince to his feet, where he promptly turns around and tackles his brother back to the bed again. This impromptu wrestling match is streaked with laughter, Kíli grinning down at Fíli when he finally pins him, and the older dwarf knows that he would fight much worse than Smaug to keep the archer smiling. Fíli would fight Melkor himself to create a world where he and his brother can acknowledge both of their amrâbulnâs openly.

“Come on, Kíli. Let's go eat breakfast,” Fíli says, ruffling the archer's hair. “We have a long road ahead of us if we mean to change the world.”

The princes set out from Ered Luin an hour later, only their mother and their cousin Gimli waiting at the gate to say farewell. Fíli and Kíli promise to come back as heroes and Dís pretends that she believes them, though the look in her eyes gives lie to the smile on her face. The dwarrowdam hugs her children tightly and then she lets them go because that is the bargain that they made.

Win or lose, things are going to be different, Dís thinks as she watches the princes ride away. She wants Fíli and Kíli to succeed; how can she not when the alternative is either death or misery? But at the same time she is frightened.

The dwarrowdam was born a princess and saw her people fall to ruin. She watched her brothers, her father, and her husband march into battle and only one of those dwarrows ever made it home again. Her family was shattered by Azanulbizar, her heart grief-stricken as so many others were. The only thing that kept the Sigin-tarâg together through their darkest days was the power of tradition and amrâbulnâs are part of what makes khazâd khazâd instead of the petty dwarves of old.

Dís knows that Kíli and Fíli believe that Bilbo's name came from Mahal, but the dwarrowdam doesn't know if they are right. She doesn't know if acknowledging such karrash will make her people stronger or if the Sigin-tarâg will crumble from within.

So Dís is afraid. She is afraid of what will happen if Fíli and Kíli manage to change this foundation of their people's culture and she is afraid of what will happen if they don't. But her sons are old enough to make their own decisions. Whatever trials are to come, the princes must face them without their mother's help.

Please watch over them. Please keep my children safe. Dís sends this one heartfelt prayer to Mahal and then pats Gimli on the shoulder as she turns away. She does not need to watch Fíli and Kíli disappear into the distance – it will not make this better – and her duties will not wait.

If the princes had looked back, they would have seen their mother vanish into the tunnels, leaving only Gimli still waving a farewell. Perhaps the sight would have hurt the dwarves, reminded them of the rift within their family that bears Bilbo Baggins' name. But even though Fíli and Kíli would have regretted Dís' sorrow, they would not have faltered and, indeed, her sons do not look back at all.

The Blue Mountains have come to represent too many years of loneliness, too many years of pain. Those caves and caverns were as much a prison as a shelter to the princes and if given the choice, Fíli and Kíli will not be coming back again. Not without their Bilbo anyway.

Indeed, the archer hasn't been this excited since the first time that he and Fíli left Ered Luin to travel at their uncle's side. Kíli feels like that young dwarf again, the one who was certain their amrâbulnas was waiting just around the corner and would soon make their trio whole. No more pain. No more sorrow. No more gaping emptiness carved within their souls. Things are going to be different after this.


Chapter 2: Nu'