Sacred Duty, Bleeding Heart

Chapter 29

Durin’s Day had passed; Midwinter had arrived and gone again.

Fili had placed a twig of rosemary onto Ysona’s coffin on the day she had died a year ago.

Durin’s Day had come again but Fili, still dressed in the white of mourning, still without his braids and beads, had made no sign of coming out of the deep, dark gloom that had swallowed his soul.

He had placed a twig of rosemary onto Ysona’s coffin again.

Spring had brushed the landscape with green and added sprinkles of colour as flowers blossomed. The heat of the summer rolled by, and Midsummer fires were lit under a honey-coloured moon. The fields turned yellow and the leaves began to turn soon after. The days shortened and the marmots on the mountain slopes ceased their whistling and disappeared to hide from the coming cold.

The year had turned again, and another Durin’s Day had arrived, and while Fili had taken part in the celebration, he had not joined the feast afterwards.

While everyone else was in the Great Hall at the banquet, he stood outside and looked out over the ramparts into the cool autumn night. Stars shone brightly overhead as the moon was only a small sliver of silver in the sky, and no clouds disturbed the sight into the vast infinity above.

Most of the lights of Dale had gone out by now as the city had gone to sleep. The lake was a distant dark spot, visible only if you knew where to look. Mirkwood was a strip of darkness towards the west.

The coldness began to seep through his cloak; it was made from wool and lined with the fur of a snow fox but with him standing so still it could not keep him warm any longer. He was just about to turn around and leave when he heard steps coming up the stairs. He halted and took a step back, he did not wish for company and hoped that whoever it was would leave again.

“You’ve been up here for a long time, brother.” Kili’s voice was low.
“I needed some air.”
“And some solitude?” Kili smiled and was about to turn around again.
“Brother. I don’t mind your company.”

Kili looked up and found the ghost of a smile on Fili’s lips. He strode towards the rampart and put his hands onto the rough stone. Fili stepped beside him and crossed his hands at his back.

“Glad you still enjoy my company,” Kili whispered.
“You’re the only one who doesn’t keep on telling me to get over it and move on.”
Kili cast his brother a worried look, but Fili’s face was expressionless as he stared straight ahead. “It’s almost been three years,” he finally said.
Fili shrugged. “It was an arranged match. No one expected me to grow really fond of her.

With a sigh, Kili leaned onto his arms and let his head drop forward.

A slight breeze picked up and stirred the fur of Fili’s collar. If not for that, he might have been a statue carved of white marble. Kili watched him from the corner of his eye and lifted his head when Fili closed his eyes with a sigh.

“Do you think she will tell him about me?”
Kili did not need to ask whom he meant. “I honestly don’t know. But I could imagine she would, telling him his father was a great warrior who fell in battle. If I remember correctly, she mentioned as much.”
Fili nodded and pressed his lips together. “He won’t be a warrior, will he?”
“He might be.” Kili tried to sound confident.
“Growing up among hobbits?” The bitterness in his voice stung by just hearing it. There was no comfort Kili could offer; the contrary, he could only make it worse.
“Who knows,” he finally said.

Fili sighed, a deep heavy sigh of tired resignation. “If at least he could grow up a dwarf. I said that much to her back when we... when we said farewell. She even said to me she would wish for that, too. And now she is living in the Shire, a peaceful, safe place for sure, but...” He dropped his head.
“I know.” Kili put an arm around his brother’s shoulders. “I know.”

“I keep thinking of the battle,” Fili said suddenly in a raspy voice. “I keep thinking about the orc you shot, the one that was about to cave in my skull with a mace.”
Kili shuddered. “Don’t say it, Fee, please don’t...”
Fili ignored his plea. “I sometimes wish he had succeeded.”
His throat going dry, Kili’s voice was rough as well when he replied. “And I’d have had to watch you die.”
“I know.” Fili squared his shoulders. “It is a selfish wish, and futile to boot. As futile as wishing I had stood my ground back then. Sorry.” Then he turned around without looking at his brother. “I bid you a good night, brother. I’m tired.”

Kili let him go and kept staring down, wondering faintly if one day he would come up here to find Fili’s shattered corpse lying down before the gates below. He shook his head like a wet dog to dislodge that image, and with a heavy heart, he headed for his own quarters.

Early the next morning, too early for most of Erebor’s inhabitants who had gone to bed only two or three hours ago, Fili was already up again and heading purposefully for the private quarters of the king. He entered the antechamber and knocked at the door to Thorin’s private room.

“Who’s there?”
“It’s Fili, Uncle.”
“Come in, lad.”

Thorin was already up and dressed as Fili entered, and he indicated towards the door to his private study with a friendly nod.

“I can see you have something important on your mind if you are up and about this early,” Thorin said as he closed the door behind them.
“I have.” Fili’s voice was flat and without emotion. “I cannot go on like this any longer, Thorin. I have to see her, I have to...”
“You have to what?” Thorin interrupted him. “Fili, you are still in mourning, how can you...”
“I know!” Fili crossed his arms. “I know, all right? But I still...”
“Stop it right here, lad.” Thorin’s voice was surprisingly gentle. “I can see you are upset, and I know why. I understand, and...

“No!” Fili dropped his arms and curled his fists. “No, you don’t understand! I’m going to pieces and I will not be parted from her any longer! I have...”
“Fili my lad, we have been through this many times. We need you here, and we need your...”
“My semen is what you need, don’t you?” Fili snapped, his voice rising and anger glowing in his eyes. “That’s all I am to you! An heir to continue your precious rein! A stud for the royal breeding programme!”
Now Thorin’s anger awoke, as well. “I will not be spoken to in that way! And you know as well as I do what will happen if the line of Durin...”
“If I hear the words Line of Durin once more I’m going to...”

“You are going to?” Thorin narrowed his eyes. “Drop it, Fili, I thought we had settled this. Your heirs...”
“Heirs! There’s nothing in your mind but that! If you are so keen on heirs, where are yours, then?” Ignoring Thorin’s paling face; Fili went on, his voice maturing into an angry shout. “Where are your sons, Thorin Oakenshield? Where is your Contribution to Durin’s line? Where?”

“Careful, Fili.” Thorin’s voice was a low growl. “You are about to cross a line.”
“Durin’s line, I presume.” Fili snarled at him, baring his teeth. “If you weren’t my kin I’d...”
“You’d what?” Thorin crossed his arms and glared. “Draw on me?”

His eyes went pointedly to the hilt of Fili’s dagger and one of his hands that had unconsciously reached for it. Fili dropped the hand and heaved a heavy breath.
They kept staring into each other’s eyes in fury, both refusing to be the first to budge.

“Fili,” Thorin finally said, his voice low and gentle. “Fili, my boy, please, listen to me. I know how you hurt right now, I can see that yon woman was not a mere passing fancy. But you know why it could not be. I am sorry you had to sacrifice so much, but do not let it all have been in vain, the fight for our people. You are stronger than that.”
“No longer, I’m afraid.” Fili’s voice was a hoarse rasp.
Thorin shook his head with a sad, gentle smile. “You are. You will not succumb to this. You are of Durin’s blood, and even if we both have been under the spell of Durin’s curse, I know you are strong enough to shed it again.”

Fili frowned at his King and uncle, his anger mingling with confusion.

“I know, Fili.” Thorin laid a gentle hand on his nephew’s shoulder. “This fierce desire, this deep, dark longing. I had hoped you would be spared by the sickness, but it has gotten hold of you, even if it is not the gold you crave. I know, because I have been there, too. I know that bitterness, that hunger, the emptiness that nothing seems to be able to fill.”

His shoulder’s drooping, Fili gave Thorin a helpless stare. “But uncle...”

“I’m sorry, Fili.” Thorin embraced him and sighed. “I’m sorry you could not be spared. Don’t get me wrong, Fili, I am sure you love her. But that this desire should take such a hold of your soul... I wish you would not hurt that much. But you are strong. Find that strength in you, and you can overcome it, just like I did.”
He touched Fili’s forehead with his. “I believe in you, Fili. And so does your brother and mother, but they don’t understand. They don’t know what you are going through. But I do. And I am here for you, always.”

Fili’s shoulders began to tremble. “I’m sorry, uncle...”
“I know you are.” Thorin embraced him again, closing his arms around his nephew. “I know. I do not blame you, and I have already forgiven you. Now you have to forgive yourself and start fighting it. This sickness will not give in without fighting back, but I know you are strong enough. I have no doubt that one day you will rule these halls in a just and fair rein.”

They remained like this for a while until Fili peeled himself away from Thorin. After a last goodbye he left him, using the door that went straight to the main hall, and Thorin sat down at his desk and shook his head as he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.

Yet behind the other door leading to Thorin’s quarters, someone had become an unwitting eavesdropper. Dís had meant to talk to her brother, seeing if he was already up. When he was not in his chamber she was about to enter his study when she heard the voice of her son accusing Thorin of only wanting him for his semen. Shock froze her, and she witnessed every word after that.

It took her a while to get herself back together after Fili had left, and she knocked softly on the door.


She entered and saw Thorin smile at her. It was beyond her, though. He noticed her facial expression and furrowed his brow. “Dís, what is it?”
“I... Thorin, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but when I heard Fili talk about semen I...”
Thorin’s face went blank. “I’m sorry about it, too, Dís. But he has the strength to overcome it. It will pass.”

Hearing these last words, something inside Dís finally snapped. Despite her brother’s calm attitude, and despite the fact that she knew he only did what he thought was best and only meant well, she felt her fury rising up in her like porridge in an over boiling kettle.

“No, it will not pass!” She stepped directly in front of her brother and leaned forward. “It did not pass during the first two years before he married, and now he almost has his third year of mourning behind him and no matter who you are going to marry him to after this, it will not change anything! Thorin, you cannot be so blind as to...”
“I am not blind in the slightest.”

Dís forced her voice to remain calm. “Yes, you are. You are refusing to see that his dark durthel is going to destroy him! He has given up, Thorin! If we don’t get Katla back we will lose him!”
Thorin finally got up and crossed his arms. “We won’t, Fili is stronger than that.”
“He has been strong for far too long, can’t you see? But you do, don’t you. You just don’t want to see it. You cannot stand that your heir...” She broke off and ran her hands down her face.

“My heir?” Thorin dropped his arms and curled his fists. “Yes, please finish. What about him? He is my heir, and I trained him and formed him into...”
“Into another you! Thorin, Fili may be your heir, but he is my son! I will not stand by any longer while these notions of duty that you ingrained in him destroy his very soul!”
“And do you expect me to stand by while the two of you disgrace and impurify Durin’s line? That is never going to happen!” Thorin’s voice had risen as well.

“Did it ever cross your mind, brother, that her human blood might be nothing of the sort?” She knew pleading would not help, but she had to say it, at least. “Did it ever cross your mind that Mahal could frown upon him now? He has very clearly given him his One, and he cast her away for notions of duty that you have taught him! What if her blood was not an impurity but an enrichment to the blood of Durin’s Line? Half the mountain is already related to us, after all!”

Thorin’s anger burst free and a vein in his left temple began to throb “Do not speak of Durin’s blood in such a way!”
“I am of Durin’s blood, too! And I speak about it as I please! You are blind with your pride, Thorin, blind for anything else but the crown on your head!”
“The crown that I won so your son could wear it someday! Paid for in blood and...”

“A crown that you won for him without ever wasting a second to wonder if he wants it or not!” By now Dís was shouting in anger, and she didn’t care anymore who could hear her. “You took him from me, Thorin, and formed him into another you! You formed him with all the bitterness and hate and fury and desperation in your heart, and now...” She took a deep breath and tried reason once more.
“I am your sister, Thorin. I know about the sacrifices you made. I know, because I was there when you forced yourself away from whom I still believe was your One, and if you didn’t know that as well, then you would not be so furious right now. But I was never sure if that sacrifice was necessary, and now you are repeating the same with your heir. You are turning him into another you in more than one aspect, and you refuse to see it.”

Thorin’s anger had not abated, and it was only fanned when Dís mentioned something she had promised never to speak of again.“Do you know what you speak of?” He bellowed. “Of how you make a king? What it means to be king? Sacrifices need to be made!”
“A sacrifice is only one if it is given freely!” Dís was back to shouting too, her anger taking control. “You have never given my son a choice in the matter! You trained him like a dog to heed your will and now it destroys him! You made his sacrifices for him and still do! What right do you have to part him from the One Mahal has sent his way?”
“Stop that nonsense about his One! The Kingdom is more important than the lovesickness of a young prince! You cannot rule a kingdom with your heart alone!”
“And you sure cannot rule it without one, either!”

There they stood, brother and sister of the line of Durin, and glared at one another with raised hackles and bared teeth.

“That you would talk to my son about the dragon sickness,” Dís finally snarled. “It is you who is still in its grip, even though it’s not the gold anymore. Then, you saw only gold, and now, you only see duty, no longer a life worth living.”

She turned around and left him to stare at her back, mindless of the tears that streamed down her face. She entered her chambers, locked the door behind her and unlocked the chest that hid the keepsakes of her grandson.

Pressing the blanket to her chest she let herself go in a way she hadn’t since she had lost her husband. She wept and wept as she cradled the blanket to her breasts, and when her tears finally had abated, she sat down into a chair at her heart, her fingers smoothing and teasing the old and threadbare cloth as she silently stared into the flames.

durthel: gloom of all glooms = mourning, desperation

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