Sacred Duty, Bleeding Heart

Chapter 22

Later that evening, after Dís had settled Ysona in bed with a relaxing draught, Fili left his wife in the charge of his mother and went to seek out his brother. He found Kili in his own halls, in an armchair at the hearth, but his full-throated snore and the faint smell of ale told Fili he need not wake him up.
He left Kili a note to come and see him once he had sobered up.

Fili spent the night worried and restless, managing only a few hours’ sleep during the small hours of the morning before he settled down in the hearth chamber again, staring into the fire while he waited for his brother. It was quite early, earlier than Fili had expected, in fact, when there was a knock at the door.

“Who’s there?”
“It’s me.”
“Come in, brother.”

Kili, his hair and beard still moist from the cold bath he had treated himself with, walked in and closed the door behind him. A worried expression lay on his features as he sat down in the other armchair facing his brother.

“Something tells me this is important.”
“What does?” Fili lifted his eyebrows.
“That you didn’t wake me up but instead told me to see you once I’m sober. Has to be something darn important.”

Fili nodded and met his brother’s eyes before leaning forward. “Kili, I need your word that nothing I say to you now will ever leave your lips again unless you speak to me in private.”
Mildly unnerved by his brother’s dark and sombre attitude, Kili’s worried expression deepened and his eyebrows drew together in a deep frown. “What under the earth is the matter with you?”
“I can’t tell unless you swear.”

Kili’s eyes widened, but then he swallowed and squared his shoulders. “I swear on Durin’s blood that nothing we will now speak about shall ever leave my lips again, unless to you and in private.”
Fili nodded, his expression somewhat relieved. “Forgive me, but you will understand.”
His brother leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. “I’m listening.”

“You do remember, don’t you, after the coronation. Our coronation, I mean. When you promised me you would be my right hand. My shield. My guardian and protector.”
“I do.” Kili’s voice was low.
“The question is,” Fili began, holding his brother’s gaze, “will you also be my assassin?”

Kili froze, but kept his eyes on his brother’s. He was silent for a very long time before he took a deep breath. “You would not have asked me this if this wasn’t a matter of life and death.”
“Indeed not. And I would not ask you this if I didn’t trust you with my life and soul.”
Kili leaned forward again. “If I ask who, will you tell me why?”
“Of course I will.” Fili reached out and took his brother’s hands in his. “I wouldn’t keep you in the dark about this. You’re my brother, not a paid cutthroat.”

A tiny smile grazed Kili’s lips for a second. “Who?”
“Ysona’s brother.”
“What?” Kili stared at his brother as if Fili had suddenly sprouted a second head. “Durin’s balls... why?”
“Because he lusts after his sister and believes that now, after she is no longer a virgin, he can have her. And I want him gone because the only alternative is pretending he never tried to assault her in the very halls of Erebor on the day of her coronation.”

“Fili...” Kili shook his head like a wet dog. “Is she... was he...”
“No,” Fili interrupted him. “They were interrupted, and I have yet to find the man who interrupted them. She said she could not see him in the darkness of that abandoned and dimly lit tunnel, only that he was tall and had crested hair, or wearing headgear.”
Kili narrowed his eyes. “That does not ring a bell” He blinked slowly, then crossed his arms again. “Back to Glegnar. Why not accuse him? You do have a witness, after all.”
“I know.” Fili stared into the fire for a moment. “He’d be banned, his family’s reputation and ranks would be forever lost... and my marriage would be void.”

“I see,” Kili said after a long, thoughtful silence.
“You do?” Fili lifted his eyebrows as he looked at his brother again.
Kili tilted his head. “I’m not blind, brother. You may not love her, and neither does she love you, but I’ve seen you together. You’re only married for a couple of days, but there are already those looks you’re giving each other that hold a whole conversation. From what we’ve both been expecting when we first visited Daín’s hall, I’d say you could have done worse. A lot worse.”
Fili’s face was empty of feeling. “Is that so?”
“Is it not?” Kili’s voice had a sudden sharpness to it. “A woman you could bond with after the first night... If I were you I’d keep her, too.”

Fili’s lips twitched into a smile. “Seems like my little brother has grown up since his beard has come in last summer.”
Kili snorted with mild indignation.
“You are right, brother.” Fili’s face was serious again. “Even though a year ago I could not have imagined myself saying this.”
“You’re at least better than me in accepting the inevitable.”Kili shrugged.
Fili frowned. “Is it still that...”
“We’re here to talk about you, brother,” Kili interrupted him. “And while I can say I know how to kill, I’m not sure I know how to assassinate someone.”
“I’m not sure either.” Fili shook his head and stared into the flames of the hearth. “All I know is that it has to look like an accident.”

Kili thought about this for a while. Finally, he pulled himself upright in his chair and folded his hands. “I had a bit of a drinking contest with him last night, hence me being incapacitated when you came to talk to me.”
“I fail to see how this is relevant,” Fili replied with a frown.
“I could try and befriend him.” Kili opened his hands and stretched his palms forward. “I could imagine he’d love to have a friend who can’t keep up with him when it comes to food and drink.”
“I’d dare say,” Fili said darkly.
“Anyway.” Kili was warming up to the subject. “If I befriend him, then maybe we find ourselves out hunting together. Can be dangerous, hunting in the mountains.”

The two brothers exchanged another long look before rising from their chairs.

“I can only be grateful that you would willingly do this for me.”
“Kill him?”
“That too.”
Kili chuckled mirthlessly. “You’d do the same for me, wouldn’t you?”
Fili pulled his brother into an embrace. “Without a moment’s hesitation.”
They slapped each other’s back, and Kili left again, to find Glegnar at breakfast and humiliate himself before him for the sake of his brother, and his brother’s wife.

Fili was still staring into the fire when he heard the sound of a door opening, and looked up to find Ysona leaving her room.

“My prince,” she said gently. “Did you not sleep at all last night?”
“I did.” Fili tried to smile. “But not that much.”

Ysona picked at the collar of her dressing gown. “I’m sorry I cost you sleep.”
Fili got up with a sigh. “It is not you, it is him who does.” He held out his arm and Ysona hesitatingly stepped into his embrace. “Fear not. I will keep you safe. I shall protect you at all costs.”
“Even if I am not your One?” Ysona’s voice was soft and low.

After a shake of his head, Fili rested his chin atop of her curls. “My dear, I would be a very poor husband, a very poor dwarf, indeed, if I thought the only woman worth protecting is the one I love.I like to think myself better than that.”
“I never meant that.” She looked up and met his eyes. “I thought... well, I used to think you would not care. You are kind, and kindness is in our power... yet fondness is not.”
Holding her gaze, Fili shook his head again. “But I am fond of you, my dear.”

And even as he said it, he realised it was true. He would never love her, and both of them knew it; she would never fill the empty void in his soul, but she already had brought a little bit or warmth and light with her. He embraced her then, wishing she could be the one to heal his sometimes still bleeding heart, but he knew that she never could.

In his mind, jade green eyes gave him a look of deepest sorrow.

All warmth vanished from him when he suddenly realised that he did not want to be healed. He did not want to lose that part of him that belonged to her.

For he feared what would become of him if he did.

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