Sacred Duty, Bleeding Heart

Chapter 23

After the guests of the Iron Hills had left Erebor what little routine there was had returned to normal.

Kili had made a right fool of himself on the farewell banquet and thus secured his position amongst the ranks of Glegnar’s friends, so he had been invited to accompany him and stay a while in the halls of the Iron Hills.
Thorin had been reluctant to let him go although he had not shown it, while Fili had told him that his brother needed to sow some wild oats while he still could.

A few of the dwarrow of the Iron Hills had stayed, however, former refugees returning home with their descendants. One of those was an ancient dwarf even older than Balin, who despite having lost his eyesight went back to his old position in the archives where Ori treated him like a deity of some sort. The mind of the old dwarf was still as sharp as you could wish for, and he proved to be a wealth of information, the key to one of the doors hiding the knowledge that had been lost along with Erebor.

After the spring floods, that had followed the snow melt on the mountain and covered the plains beyond Dale, had retreated again, the first signs of life began to return to what had hitherto been the Desolation of Smaug. Patches of green began to show, a few flowers here, a bit of grass there, and in between, the occasional sapling tree braving the barren earth.

The land began to heal.

Inside the mountain, the rebuilding continued. Broken walls and pillars needed to be rebuilt, the plumping and mine pumps needed maintenance and repair, and there were still vast expanses of the city where no dwarf had set foot since Smaug had taken the mountain.

Thorin spent his days organizing the workforces, settling disputes and negotiating for trade rights as well as the establishing of food security. It wasn’t easy to feed that many people in the mountain when the earth that once had been tilled and harvested had been burned to ash. It would take many years and many spring floods carrying silt from the mountains before the ground would be fertile again, so all the food had to be bought and brought to the Mountain.

When Dís was not helping Thorin organise affairs she would be in the Queen’s Hall, a part of the royal quarters, where she, her maidservants and the few ladies that were her court did the sewing for the royal household, as well as gold- and silverworks. There was also music and reading, but it was a long shot from the grandeur of the last queen’s court which suited Dís fine. After having had to work hard for her living for the better part of her life she found it hard to adjust to having servants to do the things for her.

Fili and his wife soon found a routine that was born from the comfort of familiarity, not that they spend much of their days together. Fili attended Thorin, like Thorin had attended Thrain back then, and Ysona spent her days with Dís and the other ladies.

In the evening hours, however, they sat together in the hearth chamber, talking about the events of the day and everything that came to mind.
Fili taught her how to play bakhza, and as she got more and more proficient, they spend many hours playing the ancient war game, and Ysona’s occasional victorious laugh made Fili smile every time he heard it.

And while they did not sleep together every night they did so frequently; as Fili had discovered that after Ysona had lost a bit of her slender frailty he could enjoy her body more and more. Aside from that, the more Ysona freed herself from the suppressing influences of her mother and the habits that had caused, she was very eager to learn how to please him.

Yes, it could have been worse, he kept telling himself that, but as true as it was, he often noticed his mother looking at him with a sadness in her eyes that could only mean one thing: He could fool everyone, pretending to be content and at peace – but not his mother.

Kili returned from the Iron Hills for the Spring Equinox celebration, wearing Glegnar’s colours and declaring proudly that he had been called one of his most steadfast companions. No one but Fili knew that Kili was fooling everyone, too.

A day after his return, Kili and his brother met for a relaxing few hours in the men’s bathhouse.

One of the hands working in the bath house filled up the large tub with hot water, brought them towels and, after bringing them a mug of ale, left them alone again.
Lounging in the warm water, the ale resting on a board that lay across the tub, was one of the few luxuries of Erebor both brothers couldn’t imagine going without again.

“So.” Fili took a sip of his ale. “How was your time with Glegnar?”
Kili opened his eyes and shook his head. “Predictably bothersome.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
Kili snorted softly. “I guess it does me nothing but good to not drink all I can.”
This time, his brother had to chuckle. “Our mother would be delighted.”
“And I’m sure Thorin would be as well,” Kili gave back and had a sip of his ale as well. “He told me I’m irresponsible.”
“Everyone is irresponsible in his eyes. Everyone who does not do more than their duty, at least. He’s working himself to death to keep things running instead of having stewards and accountants run these things.”

The brothers exchanged a sad and somewhat worried look.
“I honestly thought he’d be happier,” Kili said with a sigh. “I mean, it’s not as if he had ever been a merry one, but he has stopped smiling altogether since he took that crown.”
“He has taken up great responsibilities.”
“And don’t I know that?” Kili sat up and looked at his brother over the board. “But why doesn’t he at least try and share the load? There are lots of dwarrow here in the mountain who could help him, not at least his sister!”
Fili could only shrug. “I wish I could see inside his head as much as you do.”

Kili took his mug again and had a bigger sip.
“Do you think talking to Balin would make a difference?” Fili lowered deeper into the water.
“I don’t know.”
“It’s because Balin is the only one he has always listened to.”
“True.” Kili brushed a hair that clung to his cheek away. “Or maybe you should talk to him and ask him to give that burden to you.”

Fili narrowed his eyes. “To give me what burden? The crown?”
Kili shrugged.
“What makes you think I’d be a better king than him?”
“I didn’t say that. But when Thorin never lets anyone take anything from him, what will become of affairs when he’s no longer there?”
“I see that.” Fili sighed and took another sip of ale. “He’s trying to keep everything together, and in the end, everything will fall apart.”
“Maybe not apart... but just think. If something happened to Thorin now, would you know what to do?”
“Not by a long shot.”

“This is what I mean.” Kili leaned forward. “If he had people to do these things, if not for him then at least with him, you could rely on them. But as it is, you’re on your own.”
“Just like Thorin is now.”
“Just that.” Kili rested his arms on the rim of the tub.

“I doubt he would listen to me.” Fili wiped a few droplets of sweat from his temples. “You know how he is.”
“Well, maybe we should talk to Balin then, but I doubt very much that he isn’t already aware of it.”
“I doubt that, too.”

Their conversation ground to a halt then, and Kili slid a little deeper into the water to let it warm and relax his muscles that were still a little sore from the trip back home.

“Oh, and I asked Glegnar about women,” he said to Fili after a moment.
Fili tensed. “What did he say?”
Kili opened his eyes and met his brother’s. “That his One is married, but he intends to win her back.”
“Win her back?” Fili ran his wet hands through his hair to smooth it back. “How can he win her back if she’s married? Is he going to challenge me?”
“I doubt that,” Kili replied. His eyes were full of concern and worry. “But if I were you, I’d be careful what I eat and drink next time he comes to visit.”

A foul curse emerged from Fili’s lips before he could stop himself. “Would he really stoop so low?”
“How would I know?” Kili shrugged. “He lusts after his own sister, how can anyone predict what he will do?”
Fili shook his head with a low groan. “And I guess you haven’t come closer yet to what we talked about?” Not even here, in the privacy of the bath, would he talk openly about that.
“Maybe.” Kili brought his tankard to his lips. “He told me they always go hunting in the northern plains in autumn as large herds of mountain goats come down from Ered Mithrin for the winter.”
They exchanged a silent look and in unspoken agreement, let the topic rest for the time being.

A very excited Kili bounced into Fili’s hall the next mid-morning just as the latter was about to leave and meet with Thorin.

“We have a visitor!”
Fili couldn’t suppress a grin, his brother suddenly seemed the young dwarf again he had been before they had set off for their quest from Ered Luin. “Have we?”
“Come on, Fili!”
“I am coming, young dwarfling.” Fili grinned at his brother’s half-hearted attempt at feigning indignation.

After they had passed the gates into the sunlight of a late spring morning, they were greeted by Thorin and Dís who had already welcomed their visitor. Two ponies stood peacefully a few steps away, one with a saddle and another laden with bundles.
And from behind the latter pony now emerged what had to be the rider of the other.

“Master Baggins!” Fili felt a true smile tug at his lips. “Welcome to Erebor!”
He and the hobbit embraced warmly.
“What brings you here, if I may ask?”
Bilbo gave him his good-natured grin. “Visiting old friends, of course.”
“And did you bring pipe weed?” Kili asked, excited as a child on Durin’s day.
This time, Bilbo had to laugh. “More than even you can smoke, I trust!”

Kili realized what he had been doing and flashed him a sheepish grin.

The hobbit was settled in one of the guest chambers in the royal quarters and dinner for that night extended into a lavish feast of welcome.

“Good thing you didn’t come marching in here with a dozen hobbits looking for someone to help you claim back an orchard!” A huge burst of laughter followed Bofur’s words and Fili realised that they had started the feast a little earlier than he himself, who had just now entered the hall with his wife.

Fili didn’t fail to notice Bilbo’s grin becoming a little less radiant when he noticed Ysona and the realisation dawned on him who she had to be, but it either didn’t bother him or he was good at hiding his feelings, for he was nothing but smiles and grins for the rest of the evening.

There was only one person in Erebor who learned of Bilbo’s true feelings that night, as he knocked on the door of her private chamber long after the feast had ended. A chamber maid opened, on Dís orders, let him in.

“Lady Dís.” Bilbo bowed deeply despite the bulky bundle in his arms. “I... could I have a few words with you? In...private?”
Dís nodded and gestured at her chamber maid to go.

“Now, my dear Master Hobbit. What can I do for you?”
“My lady...”
“Please, call me Dís.”
“As you wish, of course. I have... well, I think it is a gift, but I don’t really know. It was given to me with a notice that it should go to you, and while I know whom it is from, I do not know what it is.”

Dís gave the hobbit a puzzled look and accepted the bundle. “Who is it from then?” She asked as she unfolded the cloth.
Bilbo didn’t answer at once, and then, he didn’t need to any more. What it was, was a basket, a woven basked of reeds, sealed with wax and inside, an old and threadbare blanket.
Dís hands began to tremble ever so slightly. “Is this... is this what I think it is?”
“If you think this is the basket of... ah... a foundling abandoned to a river then... yes.”

She ran her hand over the surface of the faded cloth of the blanket. “A keepsake.”
“I guess so.”

Their eyes met and Dís heaved a heavy sigh. “Does Fili know you brought this?”
“I had intended to inform him until... I saw him tonight at supper. He seems to be...”
“Married, yes.”
Bilbo looked at his feet. “Was it by his choice?”
“No. He did his duty and married the one the king had chosen for him.”

They exchanged a look of sadness. “I thank you for this,” Dís said softly. “For it is indeed the only keepsake of my grandson I will ever have. And please... do not tell Katla about Fili’s marriage. I would hate to hurt her more.”

Bilbo swallowed.

“What is it?” Alarmed, Dís put the basket down. “What happened to her?”
“I...” Bilbo began. “I honestly do not know. I found this on my doorstep with a note to give it to you. I went to her house to ask her about it... but it was empty.”
“There was only the furniture left behind. She left, and not in a hurry, as it seemed. She took everything she could carry and her child and left. And she must have done so at night because no one has seen her leave. I did a good bit of asking around, but no one has seen her. It seems she has left the Shire completely.”
“But... but why?” Dís stared at her trembling fingers. “Why would she do such a thing?”

Of course, Bilbo didn’t know the answer to that, he could only shrug.

“Fili must never know,” Dís whispered. “He will go insane with worry.”
“I figured that.” Bilbo sighed. “That’s why I came here in secrecy.”
“I thank you for your prudence.”

“Would she try to come back here?” Bilbo asked after a moment.
“I would hope she has more sense than that. She would never make it, alone and with an infant.”

Bilbo and Dís looked at each other for a moment longer before the hobbit departed again on silent feet.

Dís stared at the small basket and only now noticed a piece of parchment sticking out from between the folds. She picked it up and unfolded it, her vision blurring with tears the instant she did so.

Wrapped in the piece of blank parchment was a small lock of golden hair.

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