Sacred Duty, Bleeding Heart

Chapter 13

As they neared the gate of Erebor Kili reined his pony in beside Fili’s. Their journey back had been faster, but the mood had been one of mild anxiety. Kili cast a look at his brother again; Fili’s face was hard to read.

“Hm?” Fili didn’t look at his brother and kept on staring straight ahead.
“Do you think...?” Kili scratched his chin with a frown. “I’m sure mother can keep uncle Thorin in check somehow.”
Fili shrugged. “He’d better keep himself in check. I won’t let him badmouth my son.”
With a sigh, Kili looked ahead again, glad for a change of topic to present itself. “Look, I think they’re bidding goodbye to Bilbo, as it seems.”
“Good” was Fili’s dark reply. “Then I won’t have to look for him to get it over with.”

As it turned out, Thorin had seen them coming as he and Dís and the rest of the Company had accompanied Bilbo outside to bid him farewell, and with crossed arms and a neutral, almost friendly expression he watched them approach. Bilbo stood next to him, the bridle of his pony in his hand, and waved at the approaching princes with a smile.

Kili and Fili reined in their horses and dismounted, and just as Thorin took his first step towards them to greet them, his eyes fell on the wagon and Katla who sat beside Bofur. His look became first one of puzzlement, but when he realised what he was seeing, his face darkened and his eyes turned to black obsidian with anger.

His face and movements radiating barely concealed fury he stepped towards Fili who drew himself up, but before his nephew could even open his mouth Thorin had slapped him so hard across the face that Fili almost lost his balance. He stumbled a step back and stared at Thorin with a pale face.

“What is the meaning of this?” Thorin growled. “How dare you?”
“Thorin...” Fili began, but the King cut him off.
“How dare you? Have you no shame, no sense of decency? Did I fail so utterly in trying to raise you to be a man of honour?”
Fili swallowed hard and crossed his arms. “I did not...”
“Taking advantage of your good looks and the loneliness of a woman living all by herself and then leaving her like that!” Thorin was bristling with fury. “And you a prince of Durin!”
“Thorin it was... I didn’t remember I was a prince until...”
“And you obviously didn’t remember anything else I tried to teach you about honour and decency either!”

“Thorin!” Fili dropped his arms and curled his hands into fists. “I didn’t mean for this to happen...”
“Then obviously you did not listen to me either that evening in Ered Luin when I attempted to teach you about men and women, did you? Or to anything else regarding the consequences of your actions!”
“Silence! I am not even King for a full turn of the moon and already I have a royal bastard to deal with! How could you?”
Fili bared his teeth in sudden anger. “He is not a bastard!” He snarled. “He is my son!”

“And I gather you expect to marry her and claim him as yours?” Thorin’s voice was dangerously calm.
“And if I do, what about it?” Fili straightened up and crossed his arms again.
Thorin stared at him for a moment in utter confusion. “What about it?” Then his voice rose again. “What about it? Have you already forgotten what transpired during the coronation? Do you remember what happened? The line of Durin, stronger than the mountain itself, and you expect me to let you water this line down with the blood of Man?”
Fili stared at his uncle with parted lips.
“I gather you have not thought this through,” Thorin went on, his voice somewhat calmer. “I regret to inform you that this is not going to happen. You are the marked prince, Fili. Do you really expect to rule in the surety of our forefathers when your heir is not a true dwarf?”

Still holding Thorin’s steely gaze Fili was groping for words, but finally, could only look away in defeat.

“She and the child shall be taken care of,” Thorin said after a long moment of stony silence. “A father’s deeds can never be a child’s fault. His existence may be a spot of shame on Durin’s line, but I... strongly doubt he is the first, and I will not allow myself to hope he will be the last.” He took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of his nose, his eyes closed.

“Bofur,” he said after a moment and dropped the hand. He seemed to have aged a few years within the last few minutes.
“Aye?” was the hesitating reply of Bofur who cautiously stepped closer.
“You seemed to get along well with her, didn’t you?”
Bofur stared at Thorin with his mouth agape for a few moments before he stammered out an affirmation.
Thorin crossed his hands at his back. “Will you take her and the child, and raise him as yours? Will you do this for your King and your prince?”
“I...” Panic in his eyes Bofur looked hastily back and forth between his King and his prince. The former looked at him expectantly while the latter stared at nothing with gritted teeth. “I... if that’s your wish, Thorin...”
Thorin gave him a nod. “Then that’s settled.”

Fili looked at Bofur who shrugged helplessly. With a shake of his head, the prince lowered his gaze again.

Thorin then rested his eyes on Katla and lifted his hand. “Come here... Katla, was it?”
Holding the swaddled child tightly in her arms, Katla came closer, looking ready to bolt. Her cheeks were wet with tears and her eyes wide in fear.
“You have nothing to fear from me,” Thorin said in a low, almost gentle voice. “I just want you to understand that I have little choice in this matter. If he was anything but the marked prince I would do otherwise. I am not evil at heart. But this, I cannot let happen. I know your blood is no fault of yours, but it cannot be.”
Katla swallowed and her voice was husky as she replied. “I understand.”
“Good. I have given you to a good man; he will take good care of you. You will lack nothing, and your skills will be valued highly here.”

Katla stared at her feet before taking a deep breath. “I have a request, my King,” she said and lifted her head again.
Thorin tilted his head slightly to one side. “Speak.”
“If I remember correctly...” Katla swallowed. “If I remember correctly, then I have a debt I can call in...”
Thorin’s look darkened and he crossed his arms. His voice, when he spoke, was dark as well. “Well?”

Balin, who had been standing close to Thorin all the time, now shook his head as Katla all but gulped for air. She cast a look at the old dwarf, her shoulders heaving with heavy breaths.

“I would ask you not to give me to a man not of my choosing,” Katla said, looking back at Thorin. She straightened up somewhat and adjusted the bundle in her arms. “I have taken care of myself long enough; I can take care of myself and my child. My trade, as you said, will feed us as long as there are those around that are in need of it.”
Thorin took a deep breath. “And you would submit your son to the shame of being a fatherless child, a bastard without a heritage? Is that what you wish?”
“No.” Katla cast a look at the child in her arms. “No. I will tell everyone that I am a widow and my husband fell in the battle for Erebor.”
“You are aware that this is a lie that everyone will recognise as one?” Thorin shook his head.
“Not if I live with people who know neither me nor his father.”
Fili dropped his arms. “Katla... no!”
Fresh tears in her eyes, she looked at him and swallowed. “Fili, I... There is no other way. I don’t want to marry someone else, but the King is right. If I don’t marry, I cannot stay here.”

Fili took a slow step forward and cautiously placed a hand on her cheek.
“There is no other way,” she whispered, her voice thick with unshed tears.
Fili swallowed hard and shook his head. “I know,” he whispered back, even if he rather would have screamed no over and over again. “But where will you go?”
“I don’t know. I’ll find a place somehow.”

Someone behind them cautiously but pointedly cleared their throat. All eyes came to rest on Bilbo.

“If I...” Bilbo timidly began and, when Thorin nodded he continued. “If I could make a suggestion?”
Katla nodded.
“It might be a good idea to come with me. I mean... to live in the Shire. Hobbits are... well they are maybe a bit suspicious of strangers at first...” He smiled crookedly at Thorin. “But I am sure you would be very welcome. Not to mention that while we have a capable midwife in Hobbiton, the next apothecary is in Bywater and that’s a good bit of a walk when someone’s sick.”

Katla looked at Fili who still felt as if he should wake up any moment from this nightmare. “The Shire sure is a friendly and peaceful place,” he said hoarsely. “You could do worse.”
With a nod, Katla turned to Bilbo again. “I think this is a good idea, master Hobbit,” she said with a trembling voice.
“Bilbo,” Bilbo hurried to say and bowed. “Bilbo Baggins. At your service.”

An uncomfortable and heavy silence followed these last words.

Thorin cast a look around and took a deep breath. “Well then,” he said. “If that is how you wish to settle the debt, then so be it.”
“I do,” Katla gave back almost inaudibly.
“Good. Bofur, would you be willing to go with her and Bilbo and make sure they arrive safely?”
“Sure thing,” Bofur replied. “Can’t let a defenceless woman travel the country alone.”
“I’ll go with them, too,” Kili said.
“Kili?” Thorin raised his eyebrows but Kili leaned slightly forward with an air of resolve.
“If the only thing I can do for my brother is make sure she comes to no harm, then that is what I’ll do!”
“Have it your way then,” Thorin replied. “When do you leave?”

All eyes fell on Katla who swallowed and looked at Thorin after having cast a hasty glance at Fili. “I think we’d best go. We’ve got a few hours of daylight yet.”
“Agreed.” Thorin nodded gravely. “There is no need to drag this out longer than necessary. I wish you safe travels, Katla. Fili, you come with me.”
“No.” Fili squared his shoulders.
Thorin drew another breath that promised ill, but before he could say something Fili continued.
“I am going to say farewell to her. And my son.”

All of those who had been unwilling witnesses to the drama having taken place now slowly began to withdraw, Thorin and Dís included.
Dís looked at Thorin as they retreated out of earshot and her brother sighed. “You know I had no choice, don’t you?”
“Of course I do,” she replied. “But that does not make it easier to watch.”

Fili looked at Katla and swallowed. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I am so sorry... I have shamed you and now... Can you ever forgive me?”
Katla placed a hand on his cheek. “Forgive you for loving me?” A sad smile appeared on her lips. “No, Fili, there is nothing to forgive. It just was not meant to be...”
Fili closed his arms around her and buried his face into her hair. They stood like this for a while until he leaned back and held out his arms. Katla wordlessly handed him the child and let her tears flow as Fili kissed the child’s forehead, eyes squeezed shut.

“You are my son,” he whispered. “You are my firstborn son, and I shall never forget that.” He touched his forehead to that of his infant son’s and remained like this. “My son, flesh of my flesh, and blood of my blood.” He forced himself to hand the child back to her.
“I would...” Fili’s voice almost broke and he cleared his throat. “I would have liked to give him my uncle’s – Thorin’s brother’s – name... Frerin.”
“Frerin it shall be.” Katla whispered through her tears.

For a few agonizing moments Fili and Katla stared at each other.

“I wish I could give him more than a name,” Fili whispered. “But he won’t even grow up like a dwarf now.”
Katla lowered her eyes and blinked her tears away. “I wish he could. I really do.”
Fili leaned forward and touched her forehead with his.

When he looked up, he found Bofur already standing beside the cart and Bilbo sitting on his pony next to it. He took Katla’s arm and walked her towards the cart.

When they had reached it, Bofur gave both Katla and Fili a sad look. “’S not right, if you ask me.”
“But it is.” Fili’s voice was toneless. “Thorin’s right. It’s about the blood.”
Bofur shook his head. “It’s only ever always about blood.”

After looking at the child in her arms with a sigh, Katla held him out to Bofur. Understanding dawning in his eyes Bofur took the small bundle and turned around, heading for the seat of the cart.

Katla fell into Fili’s arms for one last, desperate kiss. Fili buried his hands into her hair, willing this moment to last forever, pretending for a precious moment that he was not about to never see her and his son again.

But then Katla tore away from him with a sob and climbed hastily onto the seat beside Bofur.

Fili stared at the cart as it began to move away from him and didn’t move when his brother stepped up beside him, acknowledging his presence only after Kili had placed a hand onto his shoulder. He slowly lifted his head to look at him, and Kili’s eyes widened when he realised he was seeing tears running down Fili’s cheeks. It wasn’t before Fili saw his brother’s eyes that he became aware of his tears himself.

With a grunt Kili threw his arms around his brother and held him as tightly as he could. “I swear I’ll see her there safely,” he muttered. “I swear I won’t let her come to harm, brother. I’d die first.”
Then he let go and Fili gave his brother a nod of thanks. “Thank you, brother.”

Kili nodded as well and hurried towards his pony to catch up with the wagon.

A heavy weight slowly began to crush Fili as he turned around and walked back to Thorin with heavy steps. Most of the others had taken their leave, not wishing to witness the farewell so it was just the King and his mother waiting for him. A strange, heavy coldness settled inside him.

“Tears?”Thorin’s voice was icy. “Do you have no pride left at all?”
Dís cast him a scalding look. “Thorin have mercy; just this once!”
“No, mother, he is right.” Fili wiped his eyes. “My apologies, Thorin. It won’t happen again.”
Thorin shook his head. “Fili, you know I haven’t done this to spite you, or out of cruelty, do you?”
“Of course I do.”Fili met his eyes. “I just let myself be blinded by... by emotions that should have no place in the heart of a future King.”
Dís put a hand on his arm, but he shook it off.

Thorin crossed his hands behind his back. “You are rather smitten with her, I see that. But in the end, she is only a woman. You were together in that hut for what? Less than two weeks? I know it does not feel that way now, but the hottest flames are the soonest burnt out.”
“If you say so.” Fili’s voice was toneless.

Thorin gave him a calculating stare. “Was she a virgin?”
Fili met his eyes again, a trace of anger in his voice when he replied: “Is that your business?”
“By the way you presented her to me today you have made it my business.”
“Very well” Fili said through gritted teeth. “If you must know, yes, she was a virgin.”
“And that didn’t give you pause?”
Fili took a deep breath. “We never talked about it, you know. Could you have stopped yourself upon... discovering it that way?”
“Most likely not,” Thorin chuckled sadly.“As long as she didn’t braid your beard as well.”
“Thorin!” Dís snapped at him, utterly scandalized, and Fili hastily looked away.

“What?” Thorin looked at his nephew, crossed his arms and his voice swelled with anger. “Look at me!”
Fili did so, but very reluctantly.
“Tell me she didn’t.”
“With all respect, Dís, keep out of this. Tell me!”
Fili remained stubbornly mute.
“I would like to know right now...” Thorin began “...if you are silent out of shame or because you do not wish to lie to me.”

The silence was palpable.

Finally, Fili looked up again with discomfiture in his eyes. “You know I could not lie to you, uncle.”

That answer instantly earned him another slap across the face. “I should shear that head and face of yours as bald as an egg for that!” Thorin growled, and Fili’s face went white.
“Brother, that’s quite enough.”
“Did you listen to him?” Thorin barked out. “He confesses as bold as brass to having taken a woman’s virginity and having let her braid his... I can’t believe that this is supposed to be the nephew I’ve raised!”

Fili swallowed hard before he spoke, and his voice was cracked and hoarse. “Is that what you want, Thorin? Is that what you want to do to me for having fallen in love with the wrong woman? To see me humiliated beyond redemption?”
“It is not the falling in love,” Thorin replied harshly, crossing his arms. “It is the having made an utter disgrace out of yourself because of it!”
With his mouth a thin line Fili drew his dagger and held it out to Thorin. “Well, what are you waiting for? I won’t stop you!”
“Fili!” Dís wrung her hands.
“Don’t tempt me,” Thorin said in a dangerously low growl.
“Or am I supposed to do it myself, is it that?” With that, Fili slung one of his moustache braids around a finger and rested the knife on his upper lip.
“Fili, no!”

Thorin dropped his hands again and leaned forward. “You should listen to yourself, whelp. As if you could cut off your own beard because of a woman, even if you truly deserve it!”

“Watch me,” Fili replied tonelessly and sliced. Dís stifled a scream as he dropped the severed braid at his feet. Before Thorin could react, he had cut off the other braid as well and grabbed a fistful of his hair.

It was as if he was watching himself from afar. He should feel appalled, horrified even, but he felt nothing. Nothing at all.

“ENOUGH!” Thorin yanked the knife out of his hand. “Get to your halls and don’t show your face again until the damage you’ve done is no longer visible, do you hear me?!”
Fili bowed his head. “Yes, my King,” he replied, his voice still devoid of any emotion. He turned on his heel and left, leaving a trembling Dís to pick up his braids.

“Mahal, what have you done to yourself?” She whispered shakily as she cradled the severed braids in her hands. “How could you do this?”
“Dispose of that before someone sees it,” Thorin said coldly and turned to go.
“What?” Dís grabbed his shoulder and bodily spun him around. “I don’t... who...who are you? My brother, or a heartless old man jealous of a young one’s love? You dared him do it, you beast! You made him do this to himself!”
This time, it was Dís who slapped Thorin, and with a sob, she ran after her son, leaving Thorin gingerly touching his cheek and staring at her as she vanished inside.

With a deep and heavy sigh, the King under the Mountain sat down on a rock and shook his head. “Crowned me a King,” he muttered. “A man who can’t even keep the peace in his own family.” He looked up again, a deep furrow of pain creasing his forehead.

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