Sacred Duty, Bleeding Heart

Chapter 24

It was to everyone’s great surprise when Kili came back from another visit to Glegnar shortly after midsummer bearing an invitation from Daín for the royal family to spend the Celebration for Durin’s Day in the Iron Hills.

Since he was family and one of Thorin’s oldest friends there was no question that they would come, and Fili knew he could under no circumstances stay at home with his wife without exposing their dangerous secret.

Of course, Ysona was terrified to go back to her old home again, and Fili did not make light of her fears. He knew, after all, exactly what she was afraid of and neither did he waste time upon telling her everything would be fine. Nothing would, and the only thing he could do was to do his best in keeping her safe.

They set off three weeks before Durin’s Day, as the royal household consisted not only of the Durin family and their servants but also of the dwarrow of the Company plus their respective families. A caravan that size was bound to travel slowly, and they wanted some time to get settled before the celebration, after all.

An honour guard of three dozen warriors led by Daín himself met them a mile away from their destination to accompany them for the rest of the way. A lot of servants stood ready to take care of guests and mounts, but it still was an hour’s chaos and confusion after the party from Erebor had reached the gates of Daín’s Hall, had dismounted and unloaded their luggage.

Ysona kept as close to Fili as she could while trying not to look that way.

“How do you feel, apart from afraid?” Fili asked her in a low voice.
“Strange. I thought I would be homesick, but I never was. And I just realised I don’t want to be here anymore. I want to go home, and home... home is Erebor.”
Fili put an arm around her waist. “We’ll get through this. And with any luck, you will never have to come here again.”
Ysona dropped her head against his shoulder. “Do you have something planned?” she whispered.
“Not exactly, as we weren’t sure what will happen,” Fili whispered back. “But we have a few ideas. I’m afraid we’ll have to improvise.”
“Please be careful.” She closed her eyes. “Please do not get caught.”
“We won’t.”

The chambers for Fili and Ysona were generously spaced and tastefully furnished, something Fili had not really expected. But then, Daín would have been responsible for the assignment of guest quarters rather than Glerin and his wife, and he had a high opinion of the princes.

The welcoming banquet was a lavish affair and Daín proved again that he was a generous host. But Fili could well see that Ysona was not enjoying her food, and when he let his eyes roam across the hall, he could see why. Glegnar was watching her, and was most likely waiting for the opportune moment to try and be alone with her. Fili would not let that happen.

“I gather you must be very tired, so am I,” he said to Ysona. “You could feign exhaustion and being unwell and stay in bed for a few days, or at least in our quarters.”
“He is looking at me,” Ysona whispered back, her voice husky. “I can see how he is looking at me, and... I do not have to feign being unwell, my prince.”
Fili frowned and leaned closer. “I will not stray from your side, unless I go somewhere with him and away from you.”
Ysona nodded mutely.

“Come,” Fili said gently and took her arm. “Let’s get you to bed.”
He helped her up and gave Daín a bow. “I am sorry I can no longer enjoy your generous hospitality, but my wife is not feeling well after the journey.”
“By all means, go get some rest!” Daín gestured friendly at the door.
Fili gave a short nod to his uncle and mother and, taking Ysona’s arm, left the hall with her to head for their quarters.

First when he had locked the door behind them could Ysona breathe again. She sank into a chair and closed her eyes.
“My poor dear.” Fili took one of her hands. “You really look exhausted. I’ll summon your maid and you can get some rest.”
“What about you?” She did not open her eyes but the pressure of her fingers increased.
“I stay here, of course.”

After the maidservant had settled Ysona to bed and had left, Fili settled down at the hearth with his pipe. The door to their quarters was locked, and the door to their bedroom was slightly agape, and with his chair positioned that he could see both doors Fili lost himself in the calming ritual of filling and lighting his pipe with the finest weed of the Shire that Bilbo had brought them for his last visit.

But thinking about the Shire brought other, unwanted memories with it, but for once he did not force them away. He tried to imagine her, see her living in a hobbit house, happily watching her playing child as she went through some domestic tasks. He would have her be happy, but the thought of her finding another man and having children with him made the pipe weed taste sour.

Fili sighed and leaned back in the chair. That he still missed her after so long a time after having been together with her less than a month in all. That it still hurt so much to think of her. He blew a smoke ring and frowned. Not here, not now. He needed to focus on other, more pressing matters.

He spent the rest of the time it took to smoke his pipe to go through several scenarios to get at Glegnar, but none of the things he imagined seemed safe.

He went to bed tired yet restless, and could not fall asleep for a long time.

His dreams were haunted when he finally had fallen asleep; haunted by jade-green eyes that had lost their light in death. He was back in her hut, but she was lying in a crumpled heap at his feet with a slit throat. Fili still had the knife in his hands. And outside, he could only hear laughter.

A voice called his name, and suddenly he was awake to find Ysona gently tugging at his arm. “My prince. You are dreaming.”
He blinked and took a deep breath. Only a nightmare. He closed his eyes again and let his head drop back onto the pillow.
Ysona’s voice was sad and gentle, so low he almost couldn’t hear what she said next.

“You have been dreaming of Katla.” It was not a question.
At the sound of that name Fili was instantly awake again, turned around and stared at Ysona with a racing heart. Her face betrayed nothing but compassion, however.
“I never spoke her name after... only once, in Thorin’s study. How... who told you her name?”
“You did.” Moisture shimmered in her eyes. “You whisper her name in your sleep.”

The two of them stared at each other, Fili’s eyes wide with alarm and denial, Ysona’s soft with compassion. A sad smile played around her lips and she gently placed a hand on his cheek.
“I wish I was the warrior and you the one I was protecting,” she whispered as she traced her thumb across his cheekbone. “I would bring you to her and make sure you’d never be parted again.”

Fili was at a loss for words and blinked away tears that were burning in his eyes. He took her hand in his, placed a kiss on her fingers and with a sigh, settled down onto the pillow again. Holding hands they looked at each other again, but spoke no more. They needed no words between them now.

Glegnar finally approached Ysona again at dinner the day before Durin’s Day. First he sat at their table, as usual with Kili in his wake, and engaged Fili in a conversation about hunting. At one point he asked his sister if she would like to get some fresh air with him, but Ysona politely refused, stating she would rather stay indoors as the trip had given her enough fresh air already.
Her brother then simply proceeded to invite Fili, together with his brother, for the hunt that was set for the next day. When he left their table, Fili could see Ysona sag with relief.

He kept an eye on him after, even more so than he had already done in the preceding days; but he knew his brother was shadowing him so Glegnar was watched by both of them.

It was late in the night when they retired, and just as Fili was stopped by one of Glerin’s men who was organizing the hunt, and after Ysona went on ahead without him, he noticed Glegnar walking past.

After having answered several questions about position, hunting style and preferred weapons, things that seemed terribly insignificant to Fili, as if it was a ruse to hold him up, he cautiously followed his wife and her brother. He could hear their voices as he rounded a corner, and after a few steps more, he could also understand them.

“No, you won’t scream. For the same reason you didn’t last time. I am not going to do anything anyway, I’m not stupid. Your prince is going to be here anytime now.”
He paused, as if to listen and Fili pressed himself against the wall to remain unheard.
“I just wanted to make sure that you didn’t spill our little secret, little bird.”
Ysona’s voice was shaky, but she was audibly fighting for control. “I do not keep any secrets from my husband,” she said stiffly.

Fili decided to intervene before Glegnar would get aggressive. Stepping around the corner, he saw Glegnar stepping hastily away from his sister. He graced him with a frown and took Ysona’s arm who clung to him as if her legs had no bones anymore.

“I bid you a good night,” Fili said to his brother-in-law. “And look forward to the hunt tomorrow.”
Glegnar nodded, bade them a good night as well and vanished around the corner.

“Don’t leave me alone tomorrow,” Ysona whispered fearfully.
“Glegnar is out hunting with us, you should be safe enough.” Fili settled her onto a chair and took her hands in his. “But go to my mother, and do not leave her side. She will be with your mother, of course, but I still gather a few hours in her company are preferable to...”
“Do not speak of it, please.” Ysona closed her eyes. She seemed to want to say more, so Fili waited, and indeed, she finally opened her eyes and looked at him.

“Will he come back?” she whispered.
Fili exhaled softly. “Not if I can help it.”
Ysona simply nodded and closed her eyes again.

With dawn the next day all the hunters gathered in the hall where they were briefed and divided into several groups. Scouts had been sent out the day before to track the herds, and in a minute plan of which group was to close in on the herd from where, the hunt, if successful, would provide the meat for the celebration and would last long into the winter after that.

Fili and Kili met outside where the groups gathered together. They discovered they were in the same group, but so was Glegnar. Standing side by side, the reins in hands, the two brothers waited for the signal to mount.

“I noticed Glegnar didn’t drink that much last night,” Fili whispered to his brother.
“No.” Kili looked around. “He was talking about nothing but the hunt.”
“I wonder,” Fili began. “I wonder if he plans to shoot me and claim it was an accident.”
Kili shrugged and shook his head. “I’ll be watching your back. And him. You just go and enjoy the hunt while I play the idiot who is too stupid to use a bow.”
Fili was about to thank him but at that moment, the hunters were ordered to mount.

Setting off at a trot the hunters followed their scouts through the foggy dawn heading north.

As Fili cast a look to the west he could see the solitary peak of the Lonely Mountain, and behind it, stretching from west to north, the pale blue ribbon on the horizon that were the mountains of Ered Mithrin. To the west he could more sense than see the faint outline of the Misty Mountains, and his memory was drawn back to the days of their journey.

A sharp cry of warning tore him out of his musings and he looked up to see the scout gesture with Glegnar.

“What is that about?” Kili leaned forward.
Another hunter a few yards ahead had heard his question and turned in the saddle to answer. “The scout apparently has seen orc tracks, but they’re not fresh. The hunt continues as planned.”
“Orcs?” Kili frowned and the two brothers exchanged a worried look. “This far south?”

The rider who had answered Kili’s question had waited for them to close the gap on him. “They’ve always been up in Ered Mithrin, and we quite often find them down here,” he said to the brothers. “They are after the same thing as we are.” He spat out. “The meat.”

The sun rose above the horizon now and cast a golden halo onto the shrouds of fog that drifted across the plains like ghostly shapes. A few shallow streams ran through the heath here and there, marked by small trees and shrubbery lining their banks. They continued riding north, crossing several such streams at places where the shrubbery allowed their ponies passage.

It was midmorning when they finally spotted the herds, and quickly arranged their position. Now all that remained was to wait for the signal of the hunters to the south, to start driving the herds towards their waiting arrows.

They didn’t have to wait long before the thin column of smoke rose far south that told the mounted hunters to let the hunt begin.

The mounted hunters began to move south, and as the scouts guided their groups they began to merge into a long line, herding their prey slowly together and southwards.

Fili had been watching Glegnar as much as he could, but the burly dwarf had not graced him with a single look. Fili wondered if he had done him wrong in suspecting him of trying to kill him or if he was just biding his time, but then the horn blared, the ring was closed, and the hunters sped their ponies into a gallop, screaming and yelling at the top of their lungs. The herds panicked and broke into a stampede, taking the only direction that was left. South, towards the waiting hunters.

Having set the herd in motion the riders had then to make sure they kept their course, they were not to come too close to the other hunters to avoid accidents.

Reining in his pony Fili had a look around to find his brother. They had just passed a copse of firs aside a stream and Fili turned around in the saddle to find his brother heading for him. Just as Fili was about to greet him, Kili’s face went white, and Fili spun around in the saddle. A warg sprang free from the undergrowth off the copse.

Rukhas!” Fili unsheathed his sword and spurred his pony into a gallop. “Rukhas! Remenu! Remenu!!

At that moment Fili and Kili heard screams of alarm from the other side of the copse. Kili felled the warg with two shots and the two brothers galloped around the trees to join the fighting.

A black arrow with black fletching hissed by and buried itself into a tree trunk. Fili, intent on joining the fight, failed to notice at that moment that his brother fell the tiniest bit behind.

Kili was at his side again when they entered the fight and together they hacked their way through their enemies who, outnumbered though they were, had already felled two of the hunters in their surprise attack.

Another arrow hit the pony of the dwarf beside Fili and mount and rider went down screaming.
“Kili!” Fili yelled. “The archer’s behind those trees!”
To get into the cops they had to dismount, and the two of them ran as fast as they could to put down the orcish archer before he could kill any more of their numbers.

The evergreen branches of the northern firs blocked out most of the light and just as Fili looked up to make sure he kept close to his brother, he stumbled over a root and lost his footing. Cursing and swearing he rolled a few feet down the slope towards the stream before he could get his feet under him again.

He stood up and looked directly at the tip of a blade.

“Such a shame.” Glegnar smiled thinly. “That the marked prince of Erebor should fall on Durin’s Day, killed by ambushing orcs.
Breathing heavily, Fili stared at the blade and then at Glegnar. He had lost his own sword in his fall, but just as he wondered if he was fast enough to send a throwing knife into his skull, something black hissed past.

Glegnar’s eyes widened, and a single, thin trickle of blood ran down his throat where the black orcish arrow was buried in his flesh. The sword fell out of unresisting hands and he slowly toppled to the ground, landing face first in the stream.

Fili crouched and very slowly looked up. He had had not forgotten the orcish archer and was acutely aware of his defenceless position. He was next...

...but the next arrow never came.

Hefting a throwing knife Fili slowly got up and very slowly, crept up the slope.
“Fili! Are you all right?”
Fili’s breath escaped him in a huff. “Kili! Durin’s balls, I thought you were the orc.”
“Well... yes and no.”Kili’s face was grim.

Fili frowned, then he slowly turned his head to look at Glegnar’s corpse. The black arrow stuck in his throat, a neat shot that had killed him instantly. The brother’s eyes met again, and Fili slowly walked to his brother and embraced him.

“It’s over now,” Kili whispered. “And no one will ever know.”
Fili nodded and after a moment of silence, the two of them retrieved Glegnar’s corpse and dragged him out of the copse.

The hunters returned before sunset, but the lack of victorious smiles and cheering alarmed the dwarrow who had been waiting for their return. Fili and Kili sped up their ponies and dismounted close to the gates. Daín came hurrying towards them.

“What is wrong? What happened?”
Fili turned around with a sigh. Daín, of course, had seen his hair, messed and full of dirt and twigs, and he also saw four ponies were being led by the reins and had their riders lying across the saddle.
“We were ambushed by orcs, Daín.” Fili brushed a few hairs from his face. “They were hiding in a copse of firs and they had wargs, too.”

“Mahal have mercy.” Daín shook his head. “There will be no merriment in my halls tonight.”

“My prince!”
Fili looked up to find Ysona running up to him. She threw herself into his arms and embraced him, but immediately leaned back to check if he was hurt. “Are you wounded? Are you hurt?”
“I am all right, Ysona.” Fili looked back to where the four fallen dwarrow were being gently lifted to the ground. “But I’m afraid your brother didn’t make it.”

He could feel Ysona go to pieces in his embrace, but he knew that her tears were not shed from sorrow. He still held her and let her weep, feeling finally safe in the knowledge that her worst nightmare had finally ended.

Fili lifted his head to see Dís and Bradda who had been following Ysona. Bradda was close to panic. “Glegnar? Where is my son? Fili, where is my son?”
Fili took a deep breath. No, he did not feel glee about Glegnar’s death. And while he didn’t particularly like Bradda, he would not have willingly hurt her that way. But he had been given no choice.

“I’m sorry, mother Bradda.” He swallowed. “There was... they had an archer. I tried, but I was too late.”
Dís managed to catch Bradda who collapsed into her arms with loud, keening sobs of sorrow.

Fili and Ysona remained in their tight embrace, watching her parents kneel beside their only son and heir, listening to Bradda’s and Glerin’s desperate sobs. Glerin’s bloodline had been ended that day.

After the dead had been carried inside and wounds had been treated, Dís, Fili and Ysona also made their way back in when Thorin walked up to them.
“Fili. A word in private, if I may.”
Dís took Ysona’s arm and gave her son a nod before leading her away.

Thorin remained silent until they were alone. Then he looked at Fili as if searching his face for something.

Thorin crossed his hands behind his back. “Are you still bedding her?”
“What?” Fili crossed his arms. “Is that your business?”
“Partly. Because a man I have tasked with charting secret doors and hidden tunnels has brought something very unpleasant to my attention.”
Fili felt his face drain of all colour. “And what will you do now?” he asked hoarsely.

Thorin placed a hand onto Fili’s shoulder. “What I have done so far. Nothing.”
“But then why...” Fili swallowed. “If you knew...”
“I wanted to see how you would handle this situation. When Nori...”
“Nori?” Despite himself, Fili had to chuckle. “Nori was the one who saved her?”

“He is a dwarf who knows right from wrong, even if he at times chooses to ignore it.” Thorin tilted his head. “When he told me what had transpired, I waited for the scandal, but that scandal never happened. So I knew you had decided to keep it a secret, and I was eager to see what kind of solution you would come up with. Tell me, Fili... did Glegnar die by an orcish arrow?”
“He did, Thorin. But that arrow was not shot by an orc.”
“I see.”

The wind tugged at Fili’s hair and it tickled his face, but he could only look at Thorin. His King, clad in robes of fur and leather, the crown resting on his brow. His uncle, having been a father to him ever since his own father had died. He had always thought he knew him, but at that moment, he realised that he had no idea who this dwarf in front of him was. Not any longer.

“It is a dire thing, the broken end of a bloodline. Glerin’s pain will never leave him, for there is no one to carry on the torch handed to him by his forefathers.” He paused, and met Fili’s eyes again. “But I have to admit, Glegnar’s death makes the world a better place.”

Fili met Thorin’s gaze and squared his shoulders. “Yes, it does. And while I understand Glerin’s grief, I had to do what I did to protect my own family.”

A faint smile showed on Thorin’s face. “We all do what we think is best. Yet only time will tell if we were right.”

Fili sensed that there was more to Thorin’s words, and then realised what he meant. But before he could say anything, Thorin had draped an arm around his shoulder and they were walking back towards the gates in silence.

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