Sacred Duty, Bleeding Heart

Chapter 12

The day after the coronation began in the hushed, uncomfortable atmosphere created by a lot of people nursing serious hangovers in various states.
Lord Elrond and his entourage, however, were unaffected and had started to strike down their tents with sunrise. At midmorning, they were ready to leave.

Thorin, flanked by his heirs, whom he had had to kick awake under the table, bid them farewell; the former bearing a regal composure, the latter two blinking painfully and bleary-eyed into the sunlight. Both princes winced when the elfish horns sounded the signal for departure.

At noon they bade Thranduil farewell and shortly after that, the Men of Dale.

Thorin chuckled in unmasked mirth when he looked at his nephews as the three of them made their way back down the stairs.

“I swear I’ll never touch that Iron Hills honey-mead again” Kili muttered. “Not a single drop.”
“How many did you have?” Fili asked, rubbing his temples.
“Uh... I think I lost count after the seventh one.”
Fili shook his head. “I don’t think it was the mead, nor was it the ale. It was that cursed elfish wine that did it.”
Thorin raised his eyebrows. “You had mead, ale and wine all in one evening and blame a single brew for your misery?” He chuckled again. “You still have a lot to learn, I see.”

The two princes exchanged a miserable glare, but Thorin let them be for the rest of the day.

As both princes had avoided the Iron Hills mead like the plague that evening, they were in a decidedly better shape the next morning and, leaning onto the railing of the balcony overlooking the central hall, they enjoyed a quiet a pipe, exchanging their thoughts on the last two days.

“I thought there would be much more drama about it all,” Kili said thoughtfully.
“What exactly do you mean?”
“I don’t know.” Kili looked at his pipe. “More... pomp I guess. Horns, drums, chanting... that sort of thing.”

“Hours of reciting grand deeds of forefathers and omens for the future...” Fili went on. “You know that uncle Thorin hates that.”
“I do, it just seemed so...” Kili broke off and scratched his chin.
“Humble?” offered Fili.

“Yes, I guess humble is the word.” Kili looked at his brother. “But it all... I don’t know. I guess it hasn’t sunken in yet.”
“You could say that twice and it’d be still only half true.” Fili replied with a chuckle under his breath. “I guess it is one thing to grow up on stories and be called a prince if only this and that, and another thing to be suddenly crowned as one.”
Kili felt for his crown as if to make sure it was still there. “But what does it actually mean to be a prince, now that we finally are where we always talked about?” He frowned. “I mean, what is it we do?”
Fili shrugged. “Representing, I suppose. Talking with important people. Mostly not making asses of ourselves.”

They exchanged a glance and grinned, but before either of them could say any more, they could hear steps approaching from behind and they turned to find Thorin bidding them a good morning.

“Thorin!” Fili nodded in greeting. “You are about early.”
“So are you.” Thorin returned the nod, and Kili’s too. “Do you have plans for the day?”
Fili and Kili exchanged a glance. “Well...” Fili said. “In actual fact...”
“Because I have not forgotten that you have a promise to honour” Thorin said with a hint of a smile. “I saw Bofur about downstairs, I’m sure he’ll be glad to accompany you and drive the cart.”
“Uncle...” A grin appeared on Fili’s face. “We’ll ask him! Thank you!”

As he watched them hurry down the stairs, Thorin shook his head with a wistful smile. “To be so young again...” he muttered under his breath. “Young and full of life.”

Since Fili had made his way on foot, and into the opposite direction to boot, it took them a while to find a way they could travel with the cart, and thus it was first on the morning of the fifth day after they had left Erebor that Fili finally recognized a distinct group of rocks. “Just around there!” He could feel his heartbeat pick up speed, not long now, and he would finally see her again. It had been the better part of a year.

He spurred his pony and Kili followed, but as they had rounded the cluster of boulders Fili paused, head cocked.

“Brother?” Kili nudged his pony forward to catch up. “What is it?”
“It’s so quiet...” Fili muttered and urged his pony into a trot. “I should have been able to hear the chickens from here...”

The hut came into view, and there was not a sound in the air. Fili’s eyes widened as he slid out of the saddle.
The latch to the chicken coop was hanging askew and creaking softly in the wind, the door to the goat pen was lying a few feet away from the frame, having been ripped off the hinges. There was not a sign or sound of animals.

Fili looked around in shock. “What happened here?”
The door to the hut was undamaged, but locked. Fili slammed his fist onto the door. “Katla?”
No one answered.
“Katla!”His voice rose and he hammered his fist against the door again and again. Behind him, Kili dismounted, looking around with a worried frown.
“Katla! Open the door! It’s me, Fili! Katla, I’m back! Open the door!” Breathing fast, Fili stepped back from the door.

“What’s the matter?” Bofur reined the cart in and hopped from the seat. “What is... oh no.”
“Break the door, Bofur” Fili said, his voice hoarse. “Now!”
Bofur spun around on his heel to fetch his mattock but at that moment, they heard the sound of a key being turned in a lock. The door creaked and opened a crack.
“Katla?” Fili called and dashed towards the door. “Katla? Are you all right?”
The door opened completely. “Fili? Is that really you?”
“It is me, alive and well” Fili said, his relief unmistakable.

Katla stumbled over the doorframe and fell into his arms with a sob. “Thank the Allmaker,” she gasped. “I thought I would never see you again!”
Fili closed his arms around her as tightly as he could and pressed his face into her hair. “I promised, remember? I promised I’d be back, and here I am. I’m sorry it took me so long.”

They held onto each other for a moment until Fili released her from his embrace to look at her. His smile instantly turned into a frown. “Katla... what happened?” Her face was gaunt and pale, her eyes sunken and shadowed; Fili hesitatingly cupped her cheek in his hand.
“I think... I don’t really know, but I think it was these creatures, these wolf-like creatures...”
“Wargs?” Fili’s eyes widened in a flash of worry. “Did they...”
“No.” Katla shuddered. “They came... it must have been close to midwinter. They must have smelled the animals and... they were hungry. They weren’t interested in the door to my hut, they only plundered the housings.”

Fili exchanged a worried look with his brother. “But you are unharmed?” He then asked Katla.
“They were not interested in me,” Katla said again. “But without the animals I had scarcely any food left, and with all the snow I couldn’t forage, and when spring came I didn’t dare to go out anymore and...” She tried to stifle a sob, and Fili hastily pulled her close again.
“Here,” he muttered softly. “It’s all right. I’ve come to take you away from this place. I’m a prince now, you see, so you will never know hunger again.”
Katla stiffened in his arms and when she looked up, her eyes were wide. “A... prince?”

Fili smiled, but his smile faltered upon seeing her expression. “Katla, what... what is wrong with me being a prince? It doesn’t change anything! It’s still me!”
Katla swallowed. “I know but... but it does. It does change everything.” Her voice trembled. “It changes everything, because...” She broke off and covered her face with her hands.

“Katla?” Fili exchanged a panicked glance with Bofur and Kili, but before he could say more, another sound, coming from the hut, pierced the silence.

It was the pitiful, thin wail of an infant, and all colour drained from Fili’s face.

Katla’s desperate sobs tore Fili out of his shock and he hurriedly pulled her into an embrace again. “Oh Mahal, what have I done to you?” He buried his face into her hair again, his voice shaky. “What have I done?”

The wail rose in intensity and Katla tore herself away from him and vanished hastily into the hut.

“He’s going to skin me alive,” Fili whispered tonelessly.
Kili stepped hesitatingly to his side and placed a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “He’s going to skin you alive.”

Fili’s face was grey and his hands were trembling. “Durin’s Beard, Kili, what do I do now?”
“I’ve no idea,” his brother replied. “But maybe uncle Thorin won’t skin you, on account of you being his heir and all, and will just nail you to his door by the ears and wait until you fall off.”
“Very funny,” Fili snapped in reply and looked at him, but his anger vanished when he saw Kili’s expression.

At that moment Katla stepped out of the hut again, a small bundle in her arms. She searched Fili’s eyes with a look of anxiety in her own.
Feeling like the ground was about to swallow him, Fili walked up to her and looked down at the blanket in her arms. A tiny hand stuck out of the wrapping, and with his face lighting up in awe, Fili reached out with a trembling forefinger and touched it.

“Is it... Did we...” He looked at Katla’s face again.
“Of course he’s yours. Who else’s could he be?”
Fili’s eyes widened. “He?”
Katla nodded and blinked back her tears. “Your son. He was born a fortnight ago.”
Fili hesitatingly held out his arms, and Katla gently handed him the child.

His face awestruck and his eyes shiny with moisture, Fili looked down at the face of his son and the wisps of blonde hair that stuck out from under the blanket. The world came to a halt around him.

“Kili,” he whispered. “Brother, look... I have a son!”
Kili stepped beside him and put an arm around his shoulders. “And he’s just as ugly as you...”
Fili cast him a glance out of the corners of his eyes, only for a second, before he returned them to the face of the infant in his arms. “I have a son...”

“Oh Mahal,” Kili breathed in sudden shock.
“What?” Fili lifted his head.
“I just realised what that means!” Kili’s eyes were almost impossibly wide.
“What?” Fili said again, decidedly more nervous this time.
Kili stared at his brother and suddenly grinned like a madman. “It means that I am the uncle now!”

The brothers’ sudden laugh quickly ebbed off into a chuckle as Fili returned his eyes once more to the face of his son. “I have a son,” he said again. “My firstborn son. Thorin can’t take him away from me.”

He did not notice Bofur and Kili exchanging a very unhappy look behind his back.

They shared a meal sitting outside in the grass, apart from Fili who was far too engrossed in his son to think of something as mundane as food.
He would not let go of the child as the others ate, and first when the boy became restless and started whimpering he tore his eyes away from him, giving Katla an almost panicked look.

“Am I doing something wrong?”
Katla shook her head, her expression a mixture of amusement and mild exasperation, and held out her arms. “Unless you count having no breasts to feed him as doing it wrong then no.”
Kili and Bofur exchanged a glance and snickered as Fili handed Katla the boy with burning cheeks.

After sitting down beside him Katla put the baby to her breast and the whimpering instantly stopped. Katla winced.
“Are you all right?” Fili asked anxiously.
Shaking her head, Katla chuckled. “I am fine. Your son just has a voracious appetite, is all. And he is a biter.”
“A what?”
“He bites. And believe me, there is no need for teeth for it to hurt.”
Fili lifted his eyebrows and pursed his lips as he stared at the tiny form of his son.

“So then...” Bofur clapped his hands. “I guess we’d better start packing. What do you need?”
Katla looked up at him. “Everything from the kitchen...” she said thoughtfully. “And everything from the shelves in the other room, all the herbs, pots, jugs, bags and packages. But start in the kitchen, I shall join you shortly.”
Kili and Bofur got up and got to work packing the kitchenware into a sack.

Katla looked up at Fili who was staring at his son at her breast. She could not help but laugh softly.
“Aren’t you going to help?”
Fili blinked as if waking up from a daydream. “Hm? Oh, Sorry. Yes, I’d better.”
Katla shook her head, the smile dimming on her face as she watched him go inside.

Since she had only few possessions the packing was done in less than an hour, and they decided to get on their way instead of spending the night at her hut. With nightfall, they reached a small grove of trees where they spread their bedrolls and lit a fire.

As soon as Katla stepped down from the coach box Fili was at her side, and while she was sitting on a rug with her back to a tree to nurse her son, Fili sat down next to her to tell her that she should not worry about anything anymore.

“Everything will be fine once we’ve settled you in,” he said brightly. “You and Oin could probably open a school for healers between the two of you. And when you are my wife, no one will dare to look down at you because of your blood.”

“Fili.” Katla looked up at him in concern. “Are you that sure that the King will let his prince marry a half-breed?”

Fili took her hand in his. “You have given me a son, do you think he can ignore that?”
“No, not ignore, but I could imagine he would not be very happy about it.”

“He can be as unhappy as he chooses.” His voice was suddenly dark. “And even though I know that this... this is maybe not in the best of circumstances, my son is not growing up a bastard. I will restore your honour, Katla. You will be my princess, and our son will grow up an honoured warrior in the halls of his forefathers.”

Before Katla could reply anything else Fili had placed a gentle kiss onto her lips. “Is he finished?” He asked then. “Can I hold him again?”

Katla looked down and after a few moments lifted the baby up to her shoulder and patted his back; and after he had rid himself of air and a little excess milk she handed him to Fili, absentmindedly wiping the milk from her shirt with a rag.

Fili sat down with his back against the tree beside Katla and pulled up his knees. Resting the boy on his thighs and cupping his head in his hands he marvelled at the perfection of this tiny being that was his son.

“My son.” He whispered. “My son.”
Katla rested her head against his shoulder and Fili turned his head to place a kiss onto her temple before his eyes moved back to the child.
“I can easily imagine what kind of mischief you and your uncle will concoct once you’re old enough.” A gentle smile played around his mouth. “And your grandmother will spoil you absolutely rotten, I’m sure. But maybe with my help and uncle Thorin’s, we can make a man out of you anyway.”

Katla opened her eyes again and realised that Kili and Bofur were watching him talking to his son and exchange an unhappy look. When Bofur realised she was looking at them he tried to give her a reassuring smile, but failed utterly.

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