Sacred Duty, Bleeding Heart

Chapter 16

Dwarrow workers from both Erebor and the Iron Hills had done a lot of work during the last two years in repairing and rebuilding the road between the two locations. It took the Durin brothers no more than a few days to reach their destination, but with the bad weather they had faced during these days they were more than happy when they had at last arrived at the Iron Hills.

Daín bade them a warm and hearty welcome in his halls with a lavish meal and a lot to drink upon their arrival and since it was late in the evening, they were given a chamber for the night to rest before the important day. The day where Fili would begin courting the woman who would become his wife.

Kili awoke in the middle of the night for no apparent reason, and after trying unsuccessfully to go back to sleep he got up and opened the door to the hearth chamber that connected his and his brother’s chambers. He found his brother still sitting in the chair at the hearth, smoking silently and staring blankly into the flames. Deciding that he probably wanted to be left alone Kili did not let on he was there and simply went to bed again, but the haunted look he had seen in his brother’s eyes kept him from falling asleep for a long time.

Dressed in their finest, Kili and Fili attended to Daín the next morning, and Kili could see nothing but a slight reddening of Fili’s eyes that affirmed he must have spent most of the night awake. They made their way through the hall without giving notice to the many people who had come to watch the spectacle of a young man facing Glerin in ritual combat.

“I hope you found everything to your liking,” Daín boomed from his high chair.
“We have rested well under your roof, Daín” Fili replied. “You are a most generous host.”
Daín smiled benevolently. “One aims to please, my Prince. It is not every day that I entertain such high ranking guests.”
Fili inclined his head with a faint tilt and slight rising of his eyebrows, a gesture he had copied from Thorin. It had the desired effect; Daín dropped the empty niceties, gave him a nod and clapped his hands.

“Now then, as I understood you have an interest in one of my kin?” His smile widened. “And a fine choice, I might add. She is a jewel, Lady Ysona, and I would not give her to anyone who asked.”
“I am honoured then, that you deem me worthy of courting her.”
“Well, of course.” Daín waved at someone behind him. “Although it is with a somewhat heavy heart that I inform you that she has a most worthy champion.”

A warrior stepped into view like Fili had never seen before. He was taller even than Dwalin, with a chest like a barrel and arms like tree trunks; they were bulging with muscles and covered in black and red markings. His face was almost invisible behind the mass of a beard and eyebrows, but a pair of near black eyes glared at Fili from the thicket as if he was a deadly enemy and not a partner for a ritual fight.

“My Prince, meet Ysona’s champion – her father, to be precise – Glerin, son of Glaran.”
Fili shed his heavy fur coat and handed it to his brother before approaching Glerin. “I am honoured, Glerin, son of Glaran. Your reputation precedes you.”
The bushy grey eyebrows twitched. “I gather you are aware that I wouldn’t give my daughter to a whelp that cannot protect her, prince or no prince.” His voice sounded as if someone was pouring gravel into a bucket.
“I expected no less.”
“Good. Let us proceed.”

The onlookers now cleared the centre of the hall and retreated towards the walls as a servant brought the mock weapons made from wood; it was a ritual fight, after all, and not intended for bloodshed. There was a set of two blades, one slightly shorter than the other, and a set of two matching axes.
Fili picked up the twin blades and watched as Glerin equipped himself with the axes, each of which a lesser man would have had to use as a single, two-handed weapon.

“Now, my prince...” Daín began. “Since you are aware of Glerin’s reputation I would like to point out that losing against him is no shame. He singlehandedly slew trolls in battle, after all. So this fight is not about winning, but lasting long enough to impress him.”
Fili nodded towards the battle-hardened veteran and saluted him with crossed blades. Glerin hefted his axes and nodded.

“Let the fight begin!” Daín yelled.

It was a spectacle of a fight; this was something everyone had to agree upon. Glerin was many years the prince’s senior, was stronger and had a larger reach, but Fili was a skilled, combat-trained fighter with the agility of youth. Kili stood aside from the crowd and watched his brother fight; he could only admire his iron will. Nothing of what was happening or would happen thereafter was Fili’s will, and still he stood his ground. Kili wasn’t sure that he himself could have been so steadfast.

In the end, as both fighters’ breathing was ragged, with sweat pouring down their faces, Fili actually managed to land a blow. By ducking under Glerin’s advancing axe and sliding around him, he narrowly avoided his opponent’s blade and struck Glerin into the hollow of his left knee.
Delivered by a real weapon the blow would have hamstrung Glerin; as it was, he stumbled forward with a roar that instantly turned into a gruff laugh.

He lowered the weapon as he turned around. “He landed a blow on me?” Still laughing, Glerin saluted with his axes. “I must be getting old!”
His shoulders heaving with heavy breaths, Fili returned the salute with his own weapons and took a step back. “Am I deemed worthy, then?”
The old veteran slapped Fili’s shoulder. “A man who managed to land a blow on me? Can’t remember when that last happened. Yes, my prince. You are deemed worthy.”

Fili handed the wooden swords back to the servant and went to take his coat from Kili, who had come to his side. “Well then, now that that’s settled...” He slipped the coat on and turned to Daín again. Kili stood at his brother’s side, matching his pose.
“My prince.” Daín grinned at him. “Let me present to you Lady Ysona, the fairest in all the lands.”

The door at the back end of the hall opened, and flanked by a woman who seemed to be her mother, and along with an old serving maid, a young woman stepped into the hall. She was small and lithe, her face framed by blonde curls, but when she approached Fili, he was taken aback.
His brother spoke his mind. “She is but a child!” Kili whispered into his ear.
Fili drew himself up; there was no going back now. She had to be of age, otherwise he would never have been allowed to court her, but his brother was right. She looked like a child barely at the edge of womanhood.

Fili also noticed, as the trio came to a halt before him and his brother, that the woman he deemed her mother had a very stern, displeased look on her face while Ysona’s eyes were slightly red and puffy. It seemed that she was as eager to engage in the courtship as he was.

“Mylady Ysona.” He bowed deeply. “The descriptions of your beauty fall utterly short of what I see before my eyes.”

Ysona straightened her back and tried to give him a haughty look, but Fili could see she was pleased with the flattering. Mahal save me, he thought to himself. Don’t let her be a spoiled brat.

“May I present you with this gift as a token of my admiration?” He held out his hand and Kili gave him the small box he had been carrying. Fili now opened said box and presented to Ysona a necklace, a delicate weaving of golden wires looking almost like lace with blue and white gemstones woven into it.

“What a beautiful gift, my prince.” Ysona accepted the box with a grave face, a glint in the soft tufts of hair adorning her jaw catching the light. Tiny sweet water pearls had been woven into the strands. “Akhmân, uzbad-dashatmen.” She held out her hand to him and with another bow, Fili took it and lowered his forehead against it. When he straightened up their eyes met, and he could, for a split-second, see a look of utter desolation in her eyes.

There was no denying that she was indeed a beauty with her blonde curls framing her delicate face, her ivory skin and her eyes the colour of honey, although he himself preferred his women stronger and more mature than her. But there was a fear in those eyes that unsettled him as much as her age.

Fili was able to keep his face at the feast that day, but the ale and meat tasted of nothing at all.

The first thing Fili did after returning home to Erebor was to see Thorin. He found the King in his study, now in the King’s Hall in his personal quarters, discussing something with Balin.

“My apologies, Balin.” Fili bowed and met Thorin’s eyes. “We need to talk.”
Thorin lifted his eyebrows, but gave Balin a nod who preceded to leave the room, yet not without giving Fili a quizzical look before closing the door behind him.

“Sit down.” Thorin folded his arms onto the desk. “Whatever is the matter? You look... distraught.”
Fili sat down and took a few breaths to collect his thoughts before meeting Thorin’s eyes. “I wouldn’t call it that, uncle. I’m appalled.”
Thorin frowned. “Is she that unappealing?”
“I am not talking about her looks, uncle. She’s a child! Maybe she’s of age, but if so, then only just. She can’t be more than forty, and she sure looks even younger.”

“Daín assured me she is of age.”Thorin narrowed his eyes. “Have I been lied to?”
“I don’t know.” Fili picked up a quill and twirled it between his fingers. “She could be of age, but she doesn’t look it. And she doesn’t act it, either. But I didn’t get to lay my eyes on her before I had fought her champion, and I gathered it was too late by then.”
His lips a thin line, Thorin shook his head. “You are right, of course. The only honourable way out of this would be to prove that she is, in fact, not of age after all. I fear, however, that it will not be easy.”
Fili stared at the quill between his fingers. “She’s a frightened child, uncle. Is that the queen Erebor needs?”
“No.” Thorin left his chair and walked over to the hearth. “No, of course not. But what am I to do about it now?”

Fili stood up as well and stepped to his uncle’s side. “Something is not right about her. And it’s not just her age.” He crossed his arms and looked at Thorin with his frown deepening. “She is afraid, Uncle. She is afraid of both her mother and her father; it was clear as rain and almost painful to watch. I was seated opposite to her at the feast and I tried not to be too obvious about it, but I watched her interact with her family. She is afraid of them.”
Thorin tore his eyes away from the flames and met Fili’s gaze.

Fili sighed. “I asked her after the meal if she would like to walk with me, and she did... followed by her mother, of course, at a respectful distance. I tried to talk to her about her family, but she was... evasive. And frightened.”
“Maybe she was not... overly zealous to engage in marriage?” Thorin lifted his eyebrows questioningly.
Fili squarely met his eyes. “There is no need to tread lightly, uncle. We both know about my feelings, but I will not let myself be hindered in doing my duty by said feelings. And she... in fact, she asked me how long I would be courting her, as if she was more than eager to get married.”
“To get away from her family,” Thorin said in a low voice.
“It sure seemed so to me.” Fili took a deep breath.

Thorin emitted a deep sigh. “So you are telling me that the woman I have chosen to be your queen is naught more than an abused and frightened girl.”
“I know nothing for sure.” Fili met Thorin’s eyes again. “I only observed her for the better part of a day. But my gut tells me something is not right.”
“And what do you suggest we do about it? There is...”
“No, uncle. I shall marry her, just as planned. Negotiate an earlier date out of Daín, perhaps Spring Equinox. You told me how important this bond is between you and him, the Iron Hills and Erebor. I am sure mother can still groom her into a woman who can become the queen Erebor needs.”

Thorin remained thoughtfully silent for a long time, and when he looked at his nephew and heir again, his eyes had softened and a small smile was on his lips. “And that despite the fact that your feelings for Katla have not changed, as you have admitted mere moments ago?”
“My feelings for Katla are my concern alone, uncle.” Fili held Thorin’s gaze unwaveringly. “They may hinder me in ever loving another woman, but they will not hinder me in performing my duties, and those duties include the responsibility for the welfare of my future wife.”

After a moment of silence, Thorin slowly placed a hand on his nephew’s shoulder. “I do not think I can remember when I have been more proud of you, Fili.”
Fili narrowed his eyebrows. “Am I redeemed, then?” He asked in a low voice.
Thorin shook his head with a sad smile. “You never needed redemption. I have been most harsh with you, and I regretted what my brutal words made you do. Forgive me, please, that I was unable to look past that one single mistake, for I clearly could never wish for a better or more worthy heir to the throne of Erebor.”

Startled to hear these words Fili could only blink in confusion and it took him a moment to be able to meet Thorin’s eyes again.

The King and his heir stood silent for a moment, locked into each other’s eyes. It was Thorin who finally made the first move and embraced his nephew, and Fili clasped his arms around him in return. They remained like this for a while before they broke the embrace.

“I trust your words, and I have learned through journeying with you and fighting at your side that I can also trust your gut. Furthermore, I trust my sister will be able to do exactly as you say.” Thorin weighed his head. “Durin’s Day is the day after tomorrow, so it would be a good long while until Spring Equinox. I shall see if Daín can agree to a wedding around midwinter. What do you think?”
Fili inclined his head. “I think it is a sound idea, uncle.”
“It is settled then. I shall have to confer with your mother, of course, so it will be helpful if you can find her and tell her what you told me. We will then see what can be done.”

Fili bowed once and left the King, feeling strangely empty inside. He would have expected that at some point, the prospect of his upcoming marriage would rouse some sort of feeling but there was nothing apart from mild frustration and anger about the treatment his future wife had likely suffered.

He should be angry at being married off as if he was nothing more than part of a royal breeding scheme. He should be despairing about having to give his oath to a woman he did not care for instead of the one he wanted, the one he loved.
But the only thing he felt was mild satisfaction at having done well in the eyes of his King.

Akhmân, uzbad-dashatmen: Thank you, my prince

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered book publisher, offering an online community for talented authors and book lovers. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books you love the most based on crowd wisdom.