Sacred Duty, Bleeding Heart

Chapter 11

The weeks leading up to the coronation passed in a flurry of activities. The halls and galleries had to be swept and cleaned, invitations had to be sent, and Thorin, Kili and Fili mostly spent the time in Thorin’s study together with Balin and Ori. The latter because he was the one having found every old text and scripture regarding the coronation rituals in the history of Erebor, the former because he would oversee the coronation as Master of Ceremony due to him being the most experienced of Thorin’s trusted companions.

And yet, not everything would happen as described in the lore of old. The line of Durin might not have been broken, Thorin had said, but it was a new beginning nonetheless, and while he would gladly carry the torch handed to him by his forefathers, he had no intention of carrying every single one of their burdens, too. Times change, he had said, and we with them.

Thus it was that the most skilled gold- and silversmiths had crafted a new crown for Thorin, one that was less massive than Thror’s, one that shone with the beauty of perfect craftsmanship and not due to being studded with gemstones, the true wealth of the dwarrow and something that could never be taken away from them.
That crown, together with a similar golden one that was slightly thinner and lighter and a twin to it that was crafted in silver, now sat on a cushion in Thorin’s study where he and his princes spent the time memorising and practising their words, oaths and moves to perfection.

“He is driving me mad” Kili complained one evening to his brother after they had been given leave to find themselves some supper.
“He is driving everyone around him mad,” Fili replied. “He’s waited for almost two hundred years for this moment, and he wants it to be perfect.”
“I know.” Kili scratched his cheek. “I know.”
“I just hope and pray to Mahal that everything goes according to his plans” Fili said darkly. “I don’t want to be anywhere near him if even the tiniest thing should go awry.”
Kili cast his brother an unhappy look, a look that Fili mirrored.

As with the lengthening days the day of the coronation drew nearer and nearer, the guests slowly began to arrive, and the first ones that Thorin welcomed happily into his halls were Gandalf and Bilbo who had arrived together.

A few days later Lord Elrond arrived with an entourage of sixteen, but rather than stay inside the halls of Erebor, the elves of Rivendell erected a group of elegant, snow-white tents close to the entrance of the city.

The Men Thorin had invited were staying in Dale that they had started to rebuild after the battle and the reclaiming of Erebor and thus needed no quarters.

The dwarrow of the Blue Mountains and of the Iron Hills had their quarters in the best and cleanest part of the city – the maps stating that those had once been the halls of high ranking royal guards.

Yet if Thranduil of the Woodland Realm would come, no one yet knew. Thorin had sent both Fili and Kili there, his princes, to let Thranduil know he was being serious with his desire for peace between the two kingdoms, but they had come back with neither a yes or no from the elfish king.

The evening before Midsummer’s Day, Thorin stood one last time before the throne he remembered his grandfather sitting upon.

They had been forced to move it as the delicate pillars that had supported it had been badly damaged during Smaug’s reign; now it stood on a dais at the far end of the Gallery of the Kings, a fitting place, everyone had agreed upon. Since the failed attempt to smother Smaug with molten gold had coated the floor with a thick layer of the precious metal, the location for the throne seemed more perfect than anyone could have imagined before they had moved it.

Thorin Oakenshield, former exiled prince and soon to be King under the Mountain, stared at his forefathers’ throne with a deeply furrowed forehead and emitted a deep sigh that heaved his shoulders. Then he left, his hands crossed at his back, and slowly headed for the Halls of Wisdom where he and his princes would hold their vigil until sunrise after a day of fasting.
“I am prepared,” he whispered. “Mahal help me, I have done everything in my power to prepare myself. Mahal, let it be sufficient.”

Everything and everyone was in place now, and in the suspense of the last day before the coronation of the new King under the Mountain, even the mountain himself seemed to hold his breath.

Midsummer’s day came with a sunrise of crimson and gold, promising fair weather and a cloudless sky. Everyone was all too ready to accept this as a good sign.

Horns blared in the deep, echoing through the halls and caverns, and at that Thorin and his heirs got up to end their vigil that they had spent on their knees in the darkness, each of them in front of a single candle.

Dwalin entered their hall, dressed in finery that was as unfamiliar on him to look at as it seemed uncomfortable for him to wear. But he wordlessly stepped towards Thorin, carrying his garments, and helped him put these on while Dori did the same for Fili and Bofur for Kili.

Then the six of them headed for the Gallery of Kings accompanied by the Drum of the Ancients, a gigantic instrument located deep in the halls of Wisdom that sounded like the heartbeat of the mountain himself.

Stepping across the golden floor towards the throne they passed the ranks of the honoured guests, their companions taking up their places among them, until at last they halted in front of the throne with Thorin in front of the steps, Fili on his right and Kili to his left.

To the right of the throne was a rectangular, polished block of stone upon which the pillow with the crowns were resting; beside it stood Balin, fine beads of gold tied to the tips of his beard, looking at them with his eyes brimming with moisture. Dís stood at his side, but she made no attempt to hide her tears although otherwise, her face showed no emotion at all.

The drumbeats stopped, Thorin and his heirs sank to their knees and the silence seemed to come alive with the weight of past, present and future.

After a few moments Balin now stepped forth, his long and heavy coat of black fur trailing behind him, on his breast a golden amulet in the shape of a triangle, a symbol of the Mountain, both representing his status as Master of Ceremony.

He spoke at length in Khuzdul, his voice reaching into the farthest corner, and after a moment’s pause, he repeated these words in the common tongue.

“Two hundred years ago, the mighty kingdom of Erebor fell. Two hundred years ago, we lost our home, our past and our future. For two hundred years, we have mourned our loss, and for two hundred years, we have yearned to return. Many of us had lost their hopes that this day would ever come. But there was one...”
His voice the tiniest bit shaky, Balin paused and took a deep breath before he continued.

“There was one who would not give up hope. There was one who had the strength and the will to do what no one had dared. He was the last of the line of Durin, the last prince of Erebor. A prince in exile of a people brought low, but his spirit was never broken, his sword had never failed. And now, after two hundred years, Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror, has returned to reclaim what is rightfully his. The crown of the King under the Mountain. The crown of Erebor.”

Then he walked back to the altar and picked up the crown, and in slow, measured steps, back to Thorin, holding the crown out to him.

It was Thorin who now raised his voice.

“I, Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thrain, son of Thror, hereby swear that I will uphold the rule in this kingdom with the virtues of leadership. Justice. Honour. Loyalty. Honesty. Generosity. These shall be the lights toguide my way, the lodestones that show my path and the weaponry I shall wield. So I swear, by my blood and the blood of my people and by the roots of the mountain.”

With that, he closed his eyes and Balin slowly lowered the crown onto Thorin’s head. When Balin stepped back, Thorin opened his eyes and rose.

“All hail Thorin Oakenshield, King under the Mountain!” Balin called, and the dwarrow answered him as one.
“Hail Thorin, King under the Mountain!” It was a roar that could have shaken the mountain itself.

It was Thorin who then took the oaths from his heirs; he then placed the golden crown on Fili’s head and the silver one on Kili’s.

Yet before Thorin finally took his place on his throne, he waved at Dwalin who now came forth, bearing a small pillow with a delicate, golden tiara adorned with one large and three smaller emeralds.

“Sister” Thorin said and held out his hand.
Dís stepped towards Thorin, her whole posture straight and regal. “My King?”
“Although it has been almost two hundred years, I still remember the title you bore. You shall have it again, my sister.” He raised his voice. “Lady Dís of Erebor, you were known and shall once again be known as the Emerald Princess.” He took the tiara and slowly placed it onto Dís head, a gentle smile on his face.
“And let it be known that until Erebor has a queen once more, it will be the Emerald Princess who will hold the Queen’s Court as the Dowager Queen of Erebor.”

The cheering that followed echoed through the mountain and was audible even outside the great gates and for a moment, Thorin allowed himself to bask in the adoration of his people before he lifted his hands to silence them.

Gandalf was the first to step free from the ranks of onlookers.

“King Thorin” he said, inclining his head. “First, let me bring tidings from Beorn whom you so graciously invited. He asked me to bring you his gratitude, but he also said that knowing him, you would understand why he chose not to attend.”
“I do” Thorin said with a smile.
“But...” Gandalf went on and waved at someone in the crowd, “...he sends you his congratulations and this gift.”
Nori stepped forward and laid at Thorin’s feet a huge, snow-white bear pelt, tanned to perfection. It was lush and thick, and the skin was so soft that it could be used as a blanket.
Thorin looked at Gandalf and nodded. “Tell him I thank him from the bottom of my heart for this gift.”

“And this” Gandalf went on, “ a gift from me, your majesty.” And he handed Thorin a flat, polished stone that easily fitted into the King’s palm. “If you ever find yourself worrying over a problem and unable to get it off your mind, close your fingers around this stone and let it’s smoothness calm your soul.”
“Thank you, Gandalf the Grey. I gather there will be no small amount of things to worry about coming my way.”
With a flourished bow, Gandalf stood back again.

Next came a slightly nervous Bilbo.
“Your majesty...” He bowed and cleared his throat. “What can I say... you know me. I am a simple hobbit from the Shire, and I am sure there are not many gifts the Shirefolk could give that are worthy of a King, but...” He broke off with a smile and dug into his pack. “But the one thing I am sure is worthy of a King is a bag of Horfindle Gold.” He handed Thorin a small leather pouch, tastefully decorated with embroidery. “You won’t find a better pipe weed this side of the borders of the Shire, or anywhere else.”
“My heartfelt thanks, Master Baggins” Thorin said, and for the first time that day his smile let the wrinkles around his eyes disappear.
Bilbo bowed again, then produced two more bags like the one he had handed Thorin which he offered to the princes. He was rewarded with warm smiles for his gesture.

Bilbo padded back to Gandalf’s side and took a few deep breaths to calm his nerves. Gandalf patted his shoulder with a benevolent smile.

The next was Lord Elrond who brought Thorin the congratulations of the Eldar.
“I, too, have a gift for you, Thorin, son of Thrain” Elrond said slowly. “And although I know that there has been unease between us, I hope that this gift will be received well, and the manner in which it was given understood.” He nodded at his entourage and two of his elfish guards stepped towards the throne, carrying something wrapped in blue silk.
“Our hunters found it in the mountains, not far from a hidden entrance to the goblin caverns” Elrond said and cast Thorin a knowing look. Thorin, in turn, leaned slightly forward, eyebrows lifted.

Elrond then removed the cloth to reveal an elongated shield. The centre was aged oak wood, but the elfish smiths of Rivendell had set it into a frame of steel inlaid with gold. Using a style that was neither elfish or dwarrow they had created a beautiful piece of armour that despite its look was more than just decoration, but it was still and unmistakably the oaken branch that Thorin had carried ever since the Battle of Azanulbizar.

Thorin took a deep breath and bowed his head before looking at Elrond again. “A great and thoughtful gift, Mylord Elrond” he said gravely. “You have my deepest and most heartfelt thanks.”
Elrond likewise bowed his head and stood back again, his guards at his side.

The dwarrow of the Iron Hills came with gold, gemstones and mithril, the ones of Ered Luin came with weapons crafted with such skill that they were fit for a king, even without inlaid gold or gemstones.

Bard from the folk of Men offered the alliance and the friendship of Dale, together with a dozen of the finest, strongest bows made from yew, fitted in their length for the dwarrow folk.

Thorin thanked them accordingly and was about to call an end to the ceremonies when the doors at the other end of the gallery opened.

A figure clad in white and silver entered, tall and slim, and he was accompanied by a group of elves dressed in green. He walked up to the throne and stopped, looking Thorin straight in the eyes.
“Thranduil” Thorin said, inclining his head. “Welcome to my halls, King of the Woodland Realm.”
Thranduil inclined his head as well. “My thanks, King under the Mountain, for inviting me to attend.”

The kings looked at one another, and the age-old hatred and enmity enveloped them like an aura of ill-will.

It was Thorin who finally broke the silence. “Long ago, in bygone ages, there was friendship between our people, but only old scriptures remember this now.”
Thranduil lifted one eyebrow. “I remember.”
“Dwarrow memory does not reach that far back” Thorin gave back. “But despite not being as long lived as you and yours we have our way to ensure things are not forgotten. I know of the old friendship. And I know why it broke, although I am sure that your accounts differ from what our scholars have written down.”
“I am sure they do.” Thranduil did not move a muscle in his face.

“I know a hatred as old as this cannot easily be cast aside.” Thorin went on. “But since I have sworn not to repeat old mistakes of the past and to learn from my forefathers’ failures, I will extend my hand to you so that one day, peace and prosperity can abound between our people.
Then he lifted a hand, and Balin picked up a small chest from the ground he had kept out of sight behind the altar stone.
Thranduil tilted his head and lifted both eyebrows.

When Balin stepped before the elfish king he opened the chest that was filled with glimmering, blindingly white gemstones. Thranduil’s head flew up and he regarded Thorin with widened eyes, his lips twitching ever so slightly.
“The root of all ill-will” the elfish King said. “And what would you ask of me in return?”
Balin closed the chest again and a small smile tugged at the left corner of Thorin’s lips. “Nothing.”
Thranduil blinked a few times as he realised Balin was still holding the chest out to him.
“Nothing.” Thorin repeated. “I know well that this is what lies at the heart of the enmity between our people, Thranduil of the Woodland Realm. But I swore that generosity be one of the virtues of my rule, so I ask you to accept this as a gift from the King under the Mountain. When I was talking about peace and prosperity, I meant it.”

In the silence that followed Thorin dared to cast a hasty glance at Gandalf and when their eyes met, Gandalf, a twitch on his lips, mouthed three words that Thorin could easily read: A shrewd move. Thorin allowed himself a tiny smile before focussing on Thranduil again.

Thranduil stared at Thorin for a long while before he inclined his head again. “It does not happen often that Thranduil is taken unawares, Thorin, son of Thrain.” He took the chest from Balin’s hand and handed it to one of his followers before facing the throne again. “I accept your gift, Thorin, son of Thrain, King under the Mountain. And I hope that with this, I can gift you with something of similar significance for yourself.”
And with these words, he produced something from his robes. Then he held out his hand to Thorin, and the onlookers held their breath.

Resting in Thranduil’s palm, white and shimmering in an ever-shifting light of unearthly colours, was the Arkenstone.

“I understand that your grandfather claimed this stone to be the proof that his right to rule was divine.”

Slowly, Thorin got up from his throne and descended the steps. He took the stone from Thranduil’s hand and took a very deep breath. “So he said.” he said darkly. “And ever since the day it was found, the madness began to take hold of his soul.” He looked up, first at Thranduil, then at Elrond and finally, at Gandalf who was watching him with a very intense gaze.

Thorin stared at the Arkenstone in his hand and raised his voice. “Thror, King under the Mountain, claimed that the Arkenstone was the proof that his right to rule was divine. He claimed that it was the jewel that blessed the line of Durin, never to fade.” Then he looked up and let his eyes sweep over the crowd. “But I watched him suffer from the dragon sickness, ever since it was found.,” Thorin went on, his voice thundering through the gallery. “I watched the sickness destroy him, and with him everything we ever held dear when the dragon came. It consumed him, it destroyed my father, and in the end, it almost consumed me.”

He placed the Arkenstone onto the empty stone altar, but despite his words, had to struggle visibly to force his fingers to release the stone. Then he exchanged a look with Balin, the old warrior returning the look with visible confusion in his eyes.

“It was the Arkenstone that buried itself so deeply in my mind that I almost forgot who I was.” Thorin continued, curling his fists. “It almost made me destroy my honour and my very soul.” He stared at the jewel. “My grandfather believed it to be a blessing, but by now, I know better. The Arkenstone was never a blessing. It was a curse. The curse of Durin’s line.”
He took a step back. “Bofur.” He flicked his hand, and Bofur hurried to his side. “Your mattock.”

Thorin closed his hands around the grip of the heavy weapon and raised his voice again. “The Arkenstone was never a blessing, for ever since its discovery, Durin’s line suffered. And I, Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thrain, son of Thor, will end this curse today!”

And with pure rage in his eyes he brought the mattock down and shattered the Arkenstone into a thousand shards.

As the pieces fell apart, the glow vanished and all that remained were grains and flakes of pale, white stone.

Thorin set the hammer down, breathing hard and fast. The rage had vanished, and he stared at the shattered remains of what once had been the jewel of jewels with a face that was impossible to read.

He first tore his eyes away from them when Elrond stepped to his side. “A greater deed has seldom been done by any king.” he said slowly. “And nothing you have ever done has taken greater strength, or deserves greater respect.”
“You have done well, Thorin Oakenshield.” That was the voice of Gandalf’s voice who had stepped beside Lord Elrond. “Today you have proven yourself wiser and stronger than I ever could have imagined.”
“A better King under the Mountain could never have been crowned.” Lord Elrond intoned. “For it has been proven today that Durin’s line is stronger than even the Mountain itself.”

Thorin inclined his head. “I pray to Mahal that your words are true, Mylord Elrond.” he said.

Then he looked up yet again, for Thranduil had stepped to Elrond’s other side. He bowed his head. “Had I known what would transpire I would have brought another gift.” he said, a trace of humour in his voice.
“I have no need for further gifts.”Thorin replied, his lips twitching in response. Yet his face became serious again as he went on. “But if you wish to give me something of value and of meaning, then all it takes are a few, simple words.”

Thranduil lifted his eyebrows, and with another twitch of his lips he raised his arms halfway up and stretched his fingers, his palms facing forward. “Then let me say them, Thorin, King under the Mountain. I would have peace between us.”
“I would have peace, Thranduil, King of the Woodland Realm.” Thorin replied gravely, mirroring the gesture. “We shall embark on a long and perilous journey.”Thranduil replied.
“I know.” Thorin squared his shoulders and let his eyes roam over the onlookers who still stared at him, disbelief and shock in so many eyes.
“But now…” Thorin went on, raising his voice. “Now it is time to celebrate!”

The banquet had been prepared in the King’s Halls, and it lasted well into the night. A celebration that would remain in the memories of the Mountain himself.

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