Sacred Duty, Bleeding Heart

Chapter 19

The morning of the third day after the Midwinter celebration was announced with the sounding of the ceremonial drums, sending the rhythm like the heartbeat of the mountain through the stone walls and galleries. Kili had suffered through his mother’s fussing about his hair and clothes in silence and was now, together with Dís, on the way to Fili’s halls.

They found his brother, already dressed and ready, hair and beard combed and unbraided, sitting at the hearth with a pipe that he was just putting down. He got out of his chair and gave his mother and brother a smile that did not reach his eyes.
“I gather it is time.”
Kili put a hand on his brother’s arm with a sad frown. “How... are you?”
Fili shrugged, cast a quick glance at his mother’s carefully arranged face and looked back at his brother. “I know how I should feel. Nervous, skittish, uneasy. Angry, maybe. Unwilling.” He shrugged again.
“But... what do you feel?” Kili exchanged a look with his mother.
Fili stared past them at the door and smoothed down the fur on his collar. “Strangely enough... nothing. Can we go now?”
Kili exchanged another look with his mother, but there was nothing he found he could say.

Out in the hall they met with Thorin, clad in ceremonial robes, his crown resting on his hair. Dwalin, Bofur, Gloin and Dori accompanied him as guards of honour, and together all of them made their way down into the mountain, into the ancient cave below the Halls of Wisdom.

The almost circular cave was very small compared to the halls and galleries of Erebor, not higher than seven foot and about ten to twelve yards in diameter. According to legend Durin himself had been born in this cave and it was reserved for ceremonial purposes for the royal family only.

A pillar had been carved out of the stone of the mountain towards the back of the cave, but the upper and the lower half did not quite touch as if someone had cut a slice of about the size of an arm’s length out between them. Balin, dressed in his red ceremonial garb, was standing in front of that pillar and Ori, unusually well groomed and dressed in his grey robes, was standing close to him holding a large tray with parchments and writing instruments.

Fili took his place beside the pillar and turned to face the door. The slow, steady drumming was louder and deeper this far down and no one could dispute the name of the drum: Heartbeat of the Mountain.

Not long after the King and his family had entered the cave more guards of honour appeared; Bifur, Bombur, Nori and Oin this time. Thorin had wanted all his old and loyal friends to attend this ceremony, and the last four now entered the cave accompanying Glerin and his family. They all took a place on the opposite side of the cave and Ysona, dressed in blue and grey silk with her golden curls piled up in winding braids and her chin hair still dusted with tiny pearls, stood on the other side of the pillar.

This deep in the mountain in a ritual as old as time, the only words spoken were in the hallowed tongue of the ancients. Balin offered the formal greetings to both families that were to be united and then addressed the bridal couple.
He talked about responsibility and duty.
Talked about blood and family.
And the sacred duty of preserving the line of Durin.

Fili and Ysona then each placed a hand onto the smooth, flat surface of the lower half of the pillar for the exchange of their vows.
Fili’s voice was strong and clear, resonating in the small cave when he swore to her loyalty, fidelity and protection. After him, Ysona’s voice was hardly loud enough to reach those standing closer to the entrance, but her voice was unwavering as she swore loyalty, fidelity and devotedness.

Balin called upon the witnesses. Kili stepped forth, his face uncharacteristically sombre and voice deep, confirming that he had witnessed his brother’s oath. Ysona’s brother then did the same for herself.

The marriage contract had been drafted a while ago and the two fathers, or Thorin in father’s stead, looked the contract resting on the lower half of the pillar over and signed it before inclining their heads towards each other.
Then Fili was given the quill to sign and after him, Ysona; then Kili signed as witness for his brother and Ysona’s brother as a witness for her. With a grave face, Ori collected the contract again and, treating it like a holy artefact, stowed it in leather wrapping before placing it into a wooden case.

Then the moment had arrived when the bridal couple stepped away from the pillar to face each other. They took each other’s hands and their eyes met, and Fili was able to give his new wife a very small and gentle smile of reassurance. Ysona shyly returned that smile.

A beautiful pair they were indeed, the Golden Lion and his Sapphire Princess. The future shone bright for Durin’s line, not a few of the attendees of the wedding celebration said, and that from now, the sons of Durin would be crowned with gold from the moment of their births.

Upon emerging from the Halls of Wisdom into the main hall all the guests, from the Iron Hills, Dale, Laketown and Erebor, even a congregation from Mirkwood, were waiting for the congregation and followed them, led by Fili and his bride, towards the King’s Great Hall for the feast.
Since the dawn of time these sacred rituals had been a private affair for the families that were to be joined, and the royal family being a part in those was no exception. After the ritual, however, there would always be a feast with as many friends and extended family as would fit into the halls.

The banquet was a lavish affair and the tables bend under roasted meats, freshly baked bread, stewed vegetables, cheese, fruit and sauces, and several types of ale were available in addition to wine and mead.

As was customary the bridal couple left the feast after the meal, leaving the guests to get happily drunk while they retired to Fili’s halls, followed only by Ysona’s maidservant who, after arriving, vanished into one of the hitherto unused rooms. The ones adjacent to her room would be the nursery at one point, a thought Fili had managed to avoid thus far.

Ysona looked around in the main hearth chamber with its thick braided rugs on the floor and the large fireplace with two armchairs.

“Let me show you around.” Fili took her arm.

The hearth was just opposite the door to the main chamber, and two doors to the left led into the servant’s chamber and nursery, the one beside it into the necessities. On the right side of the room there was a door close to the entrance and one on the other end close to the hearth. Fili opened the one close to the entrance door and revealed a spacious room furnished with wardrobes, chairs and a table, a commode and other things, making the room something between a sitting room and a dressing room.

“This would be your personal room,” Fili said. “If you find anything not matching your needs or wishes, please let me know.”
“No.” Ysona smiled. “No, it is fine.”

With a smile, Fili then opened the door on the left that led into the bedroom, a large chamber with a hearth of its own and a large canopy bed, intricately carved, the red and brown drapes made from heavy brocade.

They headed back to the hearth chamber and Fili bade Ysona sit in one of the armchairs close to the fire. A small kettle sat on the hearthstone and beside it, two polished brass cups. After shedding his heavy leather tunic with its massive fur collar Fili filled the cups from the kettle and handed one to Ysona who took it with a nervous smile.

Hot milk blended with spices and strong liquor made from honey, a sweet and mild beverage only served to a bridal couple for the wedding night, it was meant to relax and warm the soul, reduce inhibition and enhance the senses.
They sipped this in silence for a while.

“Tell me,” Fili began and leaned back in his chair. “You are only fifty-nine years; of age, but very young to marry. I have observed, but I might be mistaken, that you seemed to be very eager to get married, too. Why?”
Ysona clutched her cup and stared into her milk
“Ysona, you have nothing to fear from me, I swear.” Fili leaned forward and touched one of her hands. “But there is so little between us, so can I ask honesty of you? We have nothing else to begin with, and I promise you will have the same from me.”
At this, his wife looked up and dared to meet his eyes. “Are the rumours true, then? About a child?”
Fili took a deep breath. “Yes, they are. I am sorry, but I swear, there is no threat to you. She is gone, the child as well, and I gave you an oath. I have no intention to break it.”

Ysona removed one hand from the stem of her cup and, for the first time, touched him of her own accord, closing her hand around his. “I am sorry, too.” Her voice was low and gentle. “Did you love her?”
Fili met her eyes again and it took him a while to answer. “I still do.”
The pressure of her fingers increased. “Forgive me for taking her place.”
“You have not taken her place.” Fili forced himself not to frown as he looked at their entwined hands. “I am the marked prince, meant to rule as a king and she...” He sighed. “She is a half-breed. It was never meant to be.”

After a moment’s silence, Fili looked up again, searching Ysona’s eyes. “We should not speak about her. Not tonight. Maybe never again.”
Ysona accepted his wish for a change of topic. “What should we speak about, my prince?”
“Maybe you could satisfy my curiosity and answer my question?”
Ysona blushed and looked very uncomfortable. Fili gently squeezed her fingers and she sighed. “You have met my father, you know my mother. It took years for my mother to conceive, and she lost the babes several times. My brother was born almost twenty years after their marriage.”
“Your father seems very fond of him, is that why?”

A soft snort escaped Ysona. “He is the apple of his eye, and mother’s, too. It took them another fifteen years, and mother never forgave me that I happened to be a girl. Father more or less left her after that, they had separate sleeping chambers ever since I can remember. I could swear he wasn’t even aware he had a daughter until you started courting me.” A deep frown had appeared on her forehead.

“So they never had any kind feelings for you.”
“No.” Ysona met his eyes again. “No, or at least they never showed me.”
Fili sighed, and felt a faint surge of anger. “Every child is a blessing, to be treasured.”
Ysona’s voice trembled slightly. “I am glad you think so. My father wanted many sons, and my mother couldn’t give them to him. I suppose she had hopes of winning his affection back, but when I was not the son she had hoped for...” She broke off and pressed her lips together for a moment before she continued in a whisper. “The only use she had for me was that my marriage would gain them privilege. She put me through endless lessons about being the perfect lady and the perfect wife, she dressed and decorated me like a doll and she...” Ysona shrugged. “She said I should look like the virgin I was,” she whispered.

Fili felt the frown deepen. “And what did she mean by that?”
Ysona hesitated and worried her lower lip.
“What?” Fili leaned forward. “Please, tell me. I will not judge you or think ill of you.”
“She...” Ysona swallowed. “She just kept me short on food.”
“Short on food.” Fili put his cup down and, after removing hers from her unresisting fingers, placed hers beside it. Then he took both of Ysona’s hands and pulled her up. Standing before him, her eyes were level with his collarbone and she looked up at him, eyes misty with tears.
“She starved you, didn’t she? That is why you are so fragile. She starved you of food and of love.” Anger bubbled up in him and he had to force his voice to remain calm. “I suspected something akin, but... I wish I had been wrong.”

Ysona swallowed hard and with a sigh, Fili pulled her into his embrace. “Fear no more,” he said. “I swear I shall never willingly harm you, yet if I do unwillingly, will you tell me?”
She nodded and pressed her head against his shoulder.
“Good. I have sworn I would take care of you and protect you. So for Durin’s sake, eat your fill or I shall feed you like a bird its chicks.”
A tiny chuckle escaped Ysona and she looked up at Fili, a small smile on her lips. “Thank you, my prince.”
Fili cupped her face in his hands. He had to admit she was adorable when she smiled that way, and he wished he could feel more than fondness for her. “Your mother might think you should look like a girl, but I like women who look... like women.” He placed a kiss onto her forehead.

Ysona rested her head against his shoulder again and closed her eyes. “My prince?”
“I know you would rather I was someone else,” she whispered. “But I count myself lucky I was given to a kind and handsome man.”
Fili chuckled softly under his breath. “I suppose the prospect of some of your father’s acquaintances was not appealing.”
Ysona looked up at him again. “Have you met some of them?”
“I have. No need to elaborate.”

Their eyes met again, and Ysona swallowed hard. “I am lucky,” she said again. “Even more so now than before I first saw you.”
Fili questioningly tilted his head, and Ysona blushed. “I cannot imagine that you have the need to...” The blush deepened. “To... that you would...”
“That I would use you and not care what you feel?”
Mute from embarrassment, Ysona could only nod.

“Fear not. But I fear that your mother may have given you the wrong ideas about tonight.”
At that, the smile appeared, despite the blush deepening even further. “She has. But... your mother was so kind and asked me to a private audience, just to make sure I know what I need to know. And after I spoke to her I felt... less afraid.”
Fili mentally blessed and thanked his mother for her foresight. “Have no hesitation to trust my mother. If you ever find yourself in need of advice or help that you could not ask of your man, go to her.”
Ysona nodded slowly.

After a moment of silence, Fili took a deep breath. “Now that we have talked about it... I will have you know that I feel uncomfortable about this, too. Not because of... my past, but I, too, have my reservations to do what lovers do with a woman I do not know.” Not that he had known Katla any better.

Ysona hesitated for a moment, and her voice was trembling, but her face was determined when she answered. “I would have it behind me, as much as you.”
Fili nodded slowly, it was inevitable, after all. “Ring for your maid.”

He headed for his own room where he undressed down to his trousers, then he sat down and tried to think not of warm embraces in front of a dying fire.

When Ysona entered the bed chamber, clad in a long, white shift with a low neckline and a small bit of lacing in front, she found Fili sitting at the foot end of the bed, bare-chested and barefoot, smoking a pipe. He looked up at her with a crooked smile and patted the mattress beside him.
Moving stiffly, Ysona sat down beside him and stared into the hearth, watching the flames. Her hair was undone, all the braids removed, and the mass of curls was framing her face and shoulders.

“You smoke a fine pipe weed,” She whispered after a while. “It smells lovely.”
“Do you smoke?”
She mutely shook her head.
“Ysona, is there anything I can do to make this easier for you?”
She looked up and met his eyes. Tears filled her eyes, but she smiled. “No.” She hesitantly reached for his hand and he closed his fingers around hers, squeezing gently. “You already do it.”

Fili smiled and got up to place the pipe on the mantelpiece. He held out his arms to her and Ysona shyly stepped into his embrace. They stood like this for a long time before Fili stood back and undid the lacing of his trousers. After shedding these along with his small clothes he straightened up again to find her staring at him with wide, fearful eyes. Trying to calm her with a smile he reached out and undid the lacing of her shift; it slid down her shoulders and pooled at her ankles.

She stiffened in shame and fear, and Fili pulled her into another embrace.

He could not help it, his body responded to her nakedness in the only way it knew. He held her until she stopped trembling and tried not to think. Warm, firm hands closing around his shoulders.

He led her to the bed and gently pulled her down with him. She was rigid with fear. A body, so warm and supple, melting into his.

He kissed her, though her lips remained unresponsive and dry. Opening to his, welcoming him, warm and full of desire.

She finally began to relax and lifted a hand to his face as he buried both of his into her golden curls that smelled of musk and sandalwood. A chestnut cascade of silk sifting through his fingers with the earthy smell of woman and wood smoke.

Fili knew how to please a woman, and at one point he let his body simply take over, knowing that he could not help hurting her. It will be but this once.

He held her afterwards as she wept, glad for the fact that the fire had burned down and in the murky darkness, she could not see the tears he was desperate not to shed.
“Did I hurt you that much?” His voice was husky but steady.
“No.” Ysona turned towards him and tried to calm her voice. “No, you hurt me much less than I expected. I... I honestly cannot say why I am weeping like this.”
“There is no way back.” Fili felt the weight of his words both in body and soul. “I took you and made you mine, leaving the bloodstains on the sheets to prove it. It is as well that you mark me as yours. After that, we should no longer look back.”

Ysona took a deep breath and slowly sat up, kneeling in front of Fili who sat cross-legged, facing her. He had to close his eyes as she reached out and started to gently comb her fingers through his beard. The fire crackled and sizzled softly in the hearth as she braided his moustache, but with all the force of his will, Fili closed his mind and his heart. He no longer looked back.

He felt nothing. And it was better like this.

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