Queenly at the Window
Queenly at the Window
It is fully a day and night before any of the cousins surface from grief sufficiently to remember their princess.
Then its oh my, and she must be told, and yes, but who to carry such dire news
Bofur volunteers, but its agreed that one of the nearer relations should shoulder the burden.
Dwalin categorically refuses; he has a mighty fear of Thraíns daughter, and would not tell her of the deaths of her sons for all the riches in Moria.
Bombur wonders whether it mightnt be easier to tell Dís husband and let him risk her wrath (Bifur agrees that it would be the fellows husbandly duty).
Oín suggests they draw lots, and that whatever unfortunate dwarf draws the short stick should get his funeral arrangements out of the way before departing.
Several days they spend in this way, arguing and accusing, while halls are hastily cleaned and makeshift buildings hastily raised while tombs are appointed in grand and solemn fashion.
In the end, Balin tearfully calls them all cowardssave kind-hearted Bofurand assumes the responsibility himself.
Bard gifts him with pack and pony, provisioned before the day is out. Daín bids him hurry back, for his counsel is and ever was a boon to the dwarf-lords. The elf-king offers flowery condolences and apologies for his hospitality, and sends one of his delicate-looking hunters to escort Balin by the swiftest and safest roads toward the Blue Mountains.
When he leaves the elf at the borders of Thranduils realm, the world seems very grim indeed. There is the matter to come, of course, but for now he bends his focus upon the journey itself, which is no leisure-ride when attempting to make all speed at the frosty edges of the northern wastes.
Many of them were wanderers beforetinkers and handy-folk and odd-job-fellowsbut not so their princess. Dís holds court in her very own smithy, hard-won by the labours of her husband and brother, and by her own talent for jewellery and clever head for numbers. In the forge-fires glow, her word is law, and Balin has seen her take hammer and tongs to a fellow who forgot that.
At this season, with the sun barely up, Balin sees no other travellers, no shoppers, no tradesmen or merchants. A lone baker is yawning over an armload of firewood, but all else is crowing fowl and snowy silence. A wisp of smoke tells him that either Dís is in poor enough temper to have set her apprentices working at such a chill hour, or else she is working herself, perhaps too restless with worry to stay abed.
Balin stands at her door, and he would rather face fifty dragons than give her this news. There is no ringing of hammer on anvil, so he knocks.
The lady herself answers, eyes full of hope for only a moment. Then she sees that Balin has come alone. Will you come in, cousin? she offers.
He would very much prefer not to have her in arms-reach of smithing tools. Ive only just arrived. Perhaps a spot of breakfast first?
She leads him through the yard to the house, where her apprentices snore by the stove. Each of the pair she catches by an ear, yanking the young dwarves upright. Up, you layabouts! The forge is hot and there are orders waitingGilhin, you were meant to have mended Mrs Bethnys stewing pot day before yesterday.
Amid yelps and protests, the two hastily dress and stumble out the door.
For her part, Dís unhurriedly slices leftover meat from a roast, settles it beside neat slices of cheese, tears some bread from a round loaf. Will you have tea? Or something stronger?
Its a bit early in the day
You look like you could do with some bracing, she says, and pours a mug of local mead for him.
He hardly touches the food, but does indeed take a long, bracing draught of the mead. Perhaps
Perhaps I should sit? she finishes for him, raising her dark brows. Thank you, Ill stand. Suiting action to words, she goes to the window over the sink and stares out at the morning, every bit as lovely and regal as her brother.
Somewhat flustered, Balin takes another sip. When all else fails, good news first. Erebor has been retaken.
Dís raises her chin and folds her hands together. Which one?
Which one of them is dead, the princess clarifies ruthlessly. Her eyes are dry and her brow is smooth. Is it a brother or a son that I have lost?
Balin feels again that stirring of pride and grief, and presses his hand over his heart. I worry how to say it, my lady.
I fear Ill break your heart.
He can see the sadness then, a flicker like lightning before she closes her eyes and nods. All three.
Yes, he admits with a quiet sob.
And, Tell me how, she commands in a voice as strong as the mountains.
So Balin tells her of the spears that pierced her brother, of the arrow Fíli took to the shoulder, of Kílis sword breaking and Fílis terrible cries of woe. He doesnt mention Beorns tardiness, or that the great bear likely could have saved at least her sons had he arrived but moments sooner. He speaks of the grand tomb, instead; of the treasures returned and of the succession falling to Daín.
Good, she says. Daín has no small amount of experience in ruling a kingdom. Are they together?
Together, my lady?
She looks at him, and her gaze is so chill and distant that it reminds him of Thranduils utter dispassion at the gate. But beneath that gemstone-hardness, he can see the glint of a deep sorrow that will doubtless be with her all her life long. My sons, she says. Have they been buried together, or has some fool put them into separate caskets?
Oh, he says. He cannot recall. Er
See to it upon your return, and give King Daín my regards. For my part, I must think how I can tell my husband; my heart is of the mountain, but I fear his is of softer stuff.
Looking at her now, Balin wonders how he could have thought she would be so easy to break.
For there she stands, proud and queenly at the window. The pale sun highlights the grey in her braids, like a crown of mithril.
If ever I can be of service, my lady
I am not your lady, Balin, she tells him. Daín has a sonyoung Thorin is now prince, and so I am nothing.
Balin takes offense to the implication. He stands and presses her hand between his. You are everything, he says. And if our laws permitted it, I would demand they give you Daíns crown. I can think of nine others who would also.
Dís smiles at him a little. My brother spoke truly; you lot are the most embarrassingly loyal dwarves on this Middle-Earth. You could all of you go so much farther if only youd forget the children of Thraín.
He draws himself up with great dignity. Then, my lady, I am sure we would all rather be nearer.
Flattering old fool, she huffs fondly. Just you rememberand be sure to tell othersany friend of Thorin Oakenshield is welcome in the house of Dís.
You could return with me, he says hesitantly. He doubts very much she would give up the house her brother and husband built stone-by-stone for her.
I could not, she denies, confirming his suspicion. For the same reasons I could not come with you on your quest. This is my home now, and has been for almost a century. My husband is here, and my trade. This is the place where my children laughed, and where my brother snuck treats to them when he thought I wouldnt know. This is where all my gladness dwells, Balin, and I will not leave it while some measure of cheer remains within.
I thought as much.
She seems to surface from some reverie then, blinking at him in the dawnlight. Listen to me, carrying on as though I intend to push you out the door! Sit, Balin, eat your breakfast. Rest the night and take what provisioning you need. And tell me how the journey was, and whether your oafish brother acquitted himself as well as he boasted he would.