Sacred Duty, Bleeding Heart

Chapter 21

No sooner had they retired to Fili’s halls that Fili took Ysona gently by the arm and turned her to face him. Her face was pale and her eyes were wide with fear.

“Please, my prince...”
“Ysona.” Fili tried to keep his voice calm. “I can see that whatever happened when you had that walk with your brother has scared you.”
“My prince, please, it is nothing...”
“And now you are lying to me?” Fili slowly crossed his arms. “Have we not promised each other honesty?”

Ysona lowered her head and her shoulders trembled. “Forgive me, my prince.”
“Please.” Fili heaved a heavy sigh at the sight of her. He gently placed a finger under her chin and lifted her head to look at her. Tears were trickling down her cheeks.
“Please, my prince, I beg you...”
“You beg me to leave it alone?” Fili shook his head. “You go away with your brother, a man whom you are afraid of, as I have noticed before, and you come back in fear and expect me to leave it at that?”
Ysona shook her head, but her voice was a toneless whisper. “I know you cannot.”
“Then why don’t you tell me?”
She stared at him in mute despair.

“What has he threatened you with?” Fili felt a surge of anger rise. He despised her brother, not because he had done anything to harm him but because he was the kind of man who rubbed Filithe wrong waywith his complacency and lack of manners, not to mention his lack of personal hygiene. “Ysona, I know he has done something that scared you badly, and I will have you know that you are safe here. But if you will not talk to me then I cannot protect you!”

A small sob escaped Ysona’s lips and she covered her mouth with a hand as if she could push it back in. She shook her head, tears still spilling from her eyes. “And if I tell you,” she choked out, “then you will no longer want to protect me.”
Fili stared at his wife for a moment in utter disconcertment. “What? What do you mean? What do you mean I will no longer want to protect you, you are my wife!”
Ysona shook her head, and took a few steps towards the nearest armchair. She sank into it and covered her face in both hands as sudden, violent sobs began to shake her.

Fili stared at her and was torn between trying to comfort her and going to find her brother and strangling him. He finally settled for the former and knelt down in front of Ysona, placing both of his hands onto her knees.

Uzbadnâthaê. I know our marriage was not one made of love, but do you really think so low of me? That I would cast you out for something you have no fault in?”
Ysona suddenly looked up, her eyes burning. “Who says I have no fault in this?” Her voice was hoarse and full of pain.
Fili took her hands onto a firm grip and did not let go of them even as Ysona tried to pull them back. “For some reason I am sure your fault, if there is indeed one, is not as heavy as you believe. Tell me. Please, Ysona, tell me the truth.”

He felt her stop trying to tear her hands from his grip and instead, hold on to his hands with a force that surprised him. He returned the grip and gave her an encouraging nod. “Tell me.”

Ysona met his eyes again, her look so full of fear and despair that he could not help but lift her fingers to his lips. “Tell me, uzbadnâthaê. I am on your side. We are in this together, remember?”
Finally, Ysona nodded and took a few deep, shaky breaths to steady her voice.

Her arm slipped through her brother’s they walked down the main hall and walked past several side galleries. He asked her about those, but Ysona didn’t know herself yet, so she could only shrug.
Glegnar began to talk about everything and nothing, about the hunt he had planned with his comrades when he was back, the weather in winter, the spring floods, all the while leading her further and further away from the King’s Halls.

“Where does this lead?”
They were standing at the entrance to a seemingly abandoned and not very well lit corridor.
“I have no idea, Glegnar.”
“I’m curious, how about you?”
“I’d rather be on my way back. It is cold down here.” Ysona was beginning to feel very uncomfortable, and she was sure her brother noticed. “Please, can we not go back?”
“Just a peek. What can it hurt?”

Ysona felt his grip tightened on her arm as he tugged her along into the dark corridor. It was even colder in there than in the main hall, and the torches were much further apart. There were no side doors or branch-offs, just a long, dark corridor smelling of dust and disuse.

Ysona’s fear grew when they reached a bend, from there on there were no more torches and the corridor vanished into the darkness. “Please, Glegnar, let us turn around.”
Her stomach dropped and she tried to tear herself loose, but his grip on her arms had turned into iron.
“No, my beloved little sister. You will listen to me, and we will not be interrupted.”
Ysona pressed her back against the cold wall and closed her eyes.
“You need not be afraid of me, my little bird.” He gently cupped her face with his large and calloused hand. “Why are you afraid of me?”
“What are you doing?” Ysona could hardly recognise her own voice. “Glegnar, let me go.”
“No.” He kissed her forehead. “No, you have to understand. I have been waiting so long, so long... and now, I cannot wait any longer.”

“What for?” Ysona felt his thumb running across her cheek. “Glegnar, stop this madness. Mahal will damn us both if you do not stop!”
“I’d rather be damned than live like this any longer. I love you, Ysona, can’t you see that? I love you, and I have loved you from the moment you became a woman. Please, give me this, just this once, my sweet, little bird...”
He tried to kiss her and shuddering with revulsion Ysona flung her head around. “No, Glegnar, stop!”
“I have waited too long...” Gregnar growled as he pressed her against the wall. I couldn’t have you until now, because of that precious virginity of yours. But now that doesn’t matter anymore, and no one will know. Please, Ysona, please, just this once! No one will know!”

“Let go of me...” Ysona pleaded, her voice raw with terror. “Glegnar, let me go, you are drunk, you don’t know what you are talking about! Please...”
“Ysona...” His breath was hot against the skin of her neck. “Ysona... please, please, I beg you, just this once...”
“No! No! Get away from me!”

“I guess you’d better do what the lady says.”

Glegnar froze as the cold steel of a blade lightly touched the skin of his neck.

Ysona dared to open her eyes, but in the darkness around her she could hardly make out the outline of another man standing behind her brother. All she could make out was what looked like crested hair, but maybe he was wearing a headdress of some sorts.

“Go away.” Glegnar’s voice was a dangerous growl. “This doesn’t concern you.”
“I disagree.” The stranger’s voice was cold. “Someone is trying to rape the wife of a dwarf I call friend. A princess. His own sister, Mahal damn you! Get away from her.”

“Or else?”Glegnar didn’t move and his voice was still dangerously low. “Slit my throat? What do you think happens when they find me? You think she will tell I’ve tried to have her and someone rescued her? Don’t you think I don’t know how I am damned? I know exactly what I am doing, and I know I will burn in the hottest fires of Mahal’s furnace. But if I am, I might as well take what I am being damned for.”
“Not on my watch, I’m afraid.”
“Get away from me.” Glegnar turned his head and growled at the stranger over his shoulder. “What will she tell when they find me? That her brother tried to rape her? She’d be cutting her own flesh, the King would have her cast out faster than she could say Mahal’s prayer, and all of our cursed godforsaken family with her.”

The stranger in the darkness was silent for a long moment, then the blade at Glegnar’s throat disappeared. “Go back into the Halls, then. I see I can’t just kill you, since I would never harm the princess. But I’ll be watching you.”

With an angry grunt, Glegnar spun around, using his full weight to throw his adversary off balance. The man stumbled a few steps back and Glegnar slowly pulled his sword. “What about I kill you and say you’ve tried to rape her?”
“You are welcome to try.”
“Or maybe I won’t’ kill you but drag you out alive, telling everyone you tried to rape the princess while I was having a piss in a corner. And what would you do then? No one would believe you, and my sweet little sister wouldn’t befoul her family’s name in agreeing with your version.” Now it was Glegnar’s sword against the stranger’s throat, and Ysona clutched her throat in fear.

“You’d have to catch me first,” the stranger said. “But even if you did, I believe I could handle being shorn and cast out of the mountain better than she can.” He pressed himself against the wall and sidled a few steps away. A sudden scraping sound of stone on stone, and the stranger had vanished into the wall.
Glegnar jumped forward, but the hidden door was already closed, and the stranger was gone.

“That took all the time I planned!” Glegnar’s voice was a frustrated howl. “That piss-poor beardless excuse for a dwarf!”
He grabbed Ysona’s arm and stifled her shriek with clamping one of his paws across her mouth. “Need to get back before someone comes searching. But this remains our secret, doesn’t it?”
Ysona could only nod, too shocked to speak.

Fili stared down at his wife not knowing what to say. He didn’t even know what to feel. Ysona sat doubled over in the chair and wept into her hands, most likely expecting him to be ready to cast her out because after all, who would want to be married to a woman from a cursed family?

And yet, none of this was her fault, having been caught between an uncaring father, a bitter, unloving mother and a brother who was quite clearly sick in his mind. How could he punish her for that? But what could he do now?
Fili realised he was out of his depth. He needed a confidant, and there was only one person he could think of right now.

He went over to the door, rang for a servant, and when a maid appeared, he told her to discreetly summon his mother to his quarters.

It did not take long for Dís to appear, and she silently closed the door behind her, looking worriedly back and forth between her son and Ysona who had not moved since she had finished her tale.

“Mother.” Fili ran his hands through his hair. “We have a... slight problem.”
“I can see that.” Dís swiftly walked over to the armchair and knelt down in front of Ysona. “My dear child, was has befallen you?”
It took a long time before Ysona answered, and the words sounded as if she was forcing them out against her will. “I am cursed.” Her voice was hardly intelligible through her tears.
Dís slowly turned to look up at her son, her eyebrows rising almost into her hairline.

Fili dragged both hands down his face and after a moment’s hesitation, gave his mother a quick summary of what Ysona had told him. When he had finished, he realised that he had never seen his mother so shaken, but she forced her face under control and got up.

“What are we going to do now, Amad?”
Dís cast a look at Ysona and looked back at her son again. “That ultimately depends on how you want to handle it. You can find this man she spoke of, use him as witness to her accounts and accuse her brother. That abrogates the marriage, but I would understand if the poor thing would not want to dig her own grave in doing so.”

Fili looked at his wife, a woman he neither loved nor wanted, but to whom he already felt a deep connection since their wedding night, not because of what had happened in their bed but of what happened before and after.

Once she had been done braiding his beard they had lain down together, side by side and skin against skin, and talked, about so many things that Fili could not remember them all. But it had created a sense of togetherness, a delicate bond of trust, a fondness that he could and would not deny. He did not want to repudiate her to see her shamed and disgraced. And the more he thought about it, the more he wanted to protect her. His eyes met his mother’s, and the way she smiled, he felt that she had succeeded yet again in reading his mind.

He stepped over to Ysona and gently but firmly closed a hand around one of her shoulders. He felt her stiffen under his touch, but after a few heartbeats, she finally dared to look up at him. He gave her a gentle smile and could see a tiny spark of hope flicker in her red-rimmed eyes.

“The other alternative is to find this man, assure his silence and discretion and pretend the whole incident never happened, thus retaining her and her family’s reputation. But that also implies that you need to find a way to keep her brother away from her. Apart from that, Thorin must never know.”
Fili nodded slowly. “In all, the fewer people know this, the better. I just can’t see a way to keep her brother away from her forever.”

Dís thoughtfully pursed her lips. “Maybe that is not necessary. If we can think of one person more to get involved into this, then you can assign him as your wife’s personal protector. He would be at her side at all times when she is not in your presence.”
“Would it have to be a man? Could we not find her a maidservant or a lady as a chaperone?”
His mother shook her head. “Glegnar could send her away on account of being her brother and wanting to have a private word. But her personal guard, he could not send away. Not if you assign him to her, and he wears her colours.”

“I understand,” Fili said after a moment’s thought. “Too bad we cannot simply do away with him.” He looked down at Ysona, but her face was empty. “Can we?”
“I know I should not say this about my blood kin.” Her voice was a thin, lifeless whisper. “He is my brother, but I hate him. And I fear him even more.” She lowered her eyes again and anxiously kneaded her fingers. “He will destroy me if he is not stopped. He believes he loves me and has a right to my body. If he were to...” She swallowed. “I would not mourn his passing.”
Fili looked at his mother again.

“That is the third possibility.” Dís face betrayed nothing, but somehow Fili could feel that she, too, seemed to be in favour of this particular solution. “Glegnar would have to have... an accident.”

Fili looked down at Ysona again and closed her eyes as she laid her hand atop his that was still resting on her shoulder. She then rested her cheek on their joined hands and more tears slipped free of her eyelids.

Dís and Fili exchanged another look and after a moment, a hardly perceptible nod.

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