Sacred Duty, Bleeding Heart

Chapter 18

Having observed Ysona during the last two days, Dís could only agree with her son that she seemed to be hardly more than a child. At times, though, she could see the woman this child promised to become, and those moments reassured her that, given time, Ysona would become the queen she needed to be. She had, after all, a good many years yet before Fili would become king, and that gave Dís time to groom her into shape, as Fili had so fittingly put it.

Right now, however, she had to focus on the wedding and the conjunction of the two families which was challenging enough.

Ysona herself was a sweet and silent person, shy and soft-spoken, in all the complete opposite of her father and brother.
And not really akin to her mother either, to be honest, Dís thought to herself as she compared the two.

Lady Bradda was of the same slight and slender build as her daughter and they shared the blonde and curly hair, yet age had not been kind to her. Bradda might have been beautiful in her youth, but now lines were deeply engraved around her mouth and eyes, giving her the air of being permanently disgruntled.

But when Dís thought about her husband and the kind of marriage she would most likely be in, she could hardly hold the bitter disposition against her.

Forcing her mind onto the task at hand, which was showing the ladies of the Iron Hills around, Dís, Bradda and Ysona headed for the large double door leading to the Gallery of Kings. After ordering the two guards to open, she and her two attendants entered what was now the throne hall of Erebor.
A knowing smile on her lips, Dís waited until the initial overwhelming impression ebbed off. Seeing the large gallery for the first time, with its massive carved pillars, tapestries, the golden floor and the throne tended to provoke such reactions.

“The Gallery of Kings,” Ysona said in a reverential whisper.
“I heard about the golden floor.” Bradda bit her lower lip. “But seeing it with my own eyes is something different.”
“But where is the King?” Ysona gave Dís a questioning look.
“He tends to work from his study in his halls,” Dís replied. “Currently, we use the Gallery of Kings only for ceremonial purposes. There is still so much to do, and so much to re-build, and a lot of things will most likely never be again like they were in the days of yore. We think it would be foolish to try and re-establish everything like it was before, as if the two hundred years of Smaug’s reign had never happened.”
Bradda nodded and looked up at the ceiling.

Dís turned to her future daughter-in-law. “You have something to look forward to, Ysona,” she said with a smile. “It is here you will be crowned as princess, the day after the wedding.”
“Why not on the wedding day?”Bradda pursed her lips. “She is a princess after the wedding, is she not?”
Dís kept her smile firmly in place. “She is a princess once the wedding is concluded and the marriage is consummated.”
Ysona blushed and looked at her feet.

Dís made a mental note to try and see if she couldn’t get a private moment with Ysona, to see if she truly knew all she had to know about the wedding night, before leading her and her mother back towards the main hall. Someone hailed them.

“The Master of Ceremonies.” Dís waved and they met halfway across the hall.
“Greetings, Lady Dís.” Balin offered her a deep bow and repeated it for Bradda and Ysona as well. “Balin, Son of Fundin.”
“Well met.” Bradda nodded.
Dís graced Balin with a warm smile. “Is this about finding Ysona’s affinity?”
“It is indeed, Lady Dís.” Balin smiled at her, then turned to Ysona and her mother. “If you will follow me.”

The four of them made their way towards the Halls of Wisdom.
“The archives,” Balin explained as they passed a large door. “Thankfully untouched by the reign of Smaug.”
They ascended a flight of stairs and followed another hallway through pillars interspersed with doors.
“The ceremonial chambers. I doubt you will find yourself here very often, Lady Ysona, but if you like, I can give you a more detailed tour once the dust of the Midwinter Celebration and the wedding has settled.” He gave her an avuncular wink. “It’d be my pleasure.”
“Thank you.” Ysona smiled shyly. “I find this very fascinating.”

“And here we are,” Balin finally said. “The Lair of Gemstones.”
They entered a large, octagonal room, at each wall a shelf filled with books. In the centre of the room was an octagonal table with eight chairs and on the table several likewise octagonal flat, wooden boxes that were intricately decorated with carvings and inlaid with gold.

“Take a seat, my ladies.” Balin indicated towards the chairs. “I gather the King will be here shortly.”
“The Lair of Gemstones.” Ysona reverentially touched one of the boxes. “Are the stones in there?”
“They are indeed.” Balin opened one and showed her the contents.

The box was separated in thirty-two identical triangular compartments, the pattern reminiscent of a star-shaped kaleidoscope. A polished gemstone sat in each of these compartments, each a different one and yet, all of them in various shades of red.

“We have everything here, from achroite to zultanite.” Balin seemed quite proud of the fact. “From the holy diamond to the humble feldspar.”

Ysona’s smile brightened as she looked into the box. “And these all grew in this mountain?”
Balin smiled. “No, not all of them. Quite a few have been collected from all over Middle Earth.”

Before Ysona could ask another question, the door opened and Thorin entered, followed by Fili, Glerin and Glegnar, Glerin’s son.

“Ah, we are complete.” Balin greeted the newcomers and bade everyone taka a seat.
“And don’t be nervous.” He winked again ad Ysona. “I’ll be doing this for the first time, too. Between the two of us, we shall find your stone, no worries.”
He then produced a silken scarf from his pocket which he used to blindfold Ysona.
“Just a word of advice,” Balin said before placing the first gemstone into her hand. “The stones come to you in no particular order. They are sorted after colour, not after worth or purity. Just listen to each stone, and find the one you understand.”

Ysona nodded, and held out her hand to him.

They had to go through several boxes before finally, exploring the box containing the blue stones, Ysona smiled and closed her fingers around the stone in her palm. “This one.”
“You seem quite certain.” Balin nodded to himself and removed the blindfold. “Is this what you expected?”
Ysona looked at the blue stone in her hand. “Sapphire?” She shook her head. “No. I expected something more... humble?”
“Ysona!” Her mother’s voice was a whiplash. “Be mindful of what your rank will hold. You will be a queen, there is nothing humble about that!”

Thorin gave Bradda a scalding look and rested his eyes on Balin. “Sapphire?”
“Increases mental clarity and perception.” Balin gently placed the stone back into the box. “The sapphire is called a stone of destiny.” Then the old Dwarf looked up and met Thorin’s eyes. “I have heard it being said that if Thror had had a Sapphire Queen, maybe the gold sickness would never have befallen him.”

Thorin took a deep breath and exchanged a quick look with Fili. Bradda seemed quite pleased, while Ysona was visibly terrified.

Dís could understand her; it seemed a terribly heavy responsibility for one so young to bear.

The first time of Midwinter in Erebor after the Reclaiming had been challenging for all of them; the younger ones had never seen the rituals involved and the older ones barely remembered them after so long a time. Ori and Balin had spent weeks in the archives digging out knowledge and putting together the rituals, not necessarily exactly as they had been but as they needed to be now.

By now, the third year after the Reclaiming, Thorin was able to go through the routines conversantly and easily, the words coming on their own as if he had spoken them a hundred times before.
Deep down, in the holy Lair of the Roots of the Mountain, Thorin sacrificed his blood to appease the mountain, asking for protection and prosperity.
Up on the mountain’s peak Thorin recited the age-old prayers to Mahal, asking Mahal to give Durin’s people his blessing. That being done, Thorin declared the festivities to be opened and the feasting began.

The Great Hall was where Kings had entertained guests and feasts in the times before, and it was there that the feast was still held. And with the size of the hall, the entire population of Erebor was able to partake in the feast.

From his chair at the head of the main table Thorin let his eyes wander over his people and he wondered how many more years it would be until the feast in the great hall would be exclusive to his kin and friends and the other inhabitants of his kingdom would gather on their own. Two years, maybe three. People still kept coming to Erebor, even those who had no ancestry here, and the first child born in the mountain had been a cause of great joy. Thorin himself had witnessed the naming and declared himself the child’s warden.

Thinking of the girl who was his ward made him think of the boy who was his nephew’s child; he who was his son in all but blood. A grandson he would never see again. And while he knew that it was better the way things were he could not deny that the pain it had inflicted on his beloved nephew had not spared himself, either. Sometimes, Thorin wished that no one had ever told him that the woman was a half-breed.

Fili, aware of being watched, lifted his eyes from his tankard and found Thorin watching him. They exchanged a look and lifted their tankards for a toast, but when Fili put his back down his eyes wandered across the hall to the table where his future family-in-law was seated.

Flanked by her father and her brother Ysona looked like a wren caught between two fat cats that happened to be too gorged to take notice of her for now.

Her brother now covered Ysona’s hand in his and leaned closer to whisper something into her ear. Whatever it was, it neither made her smile nor frown, but it somehow amplified the impression of her being a trapped bird. And it wasn’t so much as it angered him, but somehow the sight of her looking so afraid rubbed Fili the wrong way. It took him a while to identify the source of this feeling as him already feeling protective towards her.

It wasn’t before the meal had been cleared away that Fili realised Ysona hadn’t touched her food ever since her brother had spoken to he3.

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