Sacred Duty, Bleeding Heart

Chapter 32

Snowfall had come late that winter, but when the cold came, it came with a vengeance. Within a few days the river and lake were covered in ice, and the snow just kept on falling and falling, covering everything under thick pillows of white.

It was when the snowfall had finally stopped, or maybe only paused for a while, that Dís asked her son to accompany her to the markets of Dale as she needed to shop for fabrics. Fili agreed, and wrapped in furs and heavy wool, Dís, Fili and two servants left Erebor and headed for the city of Men. The sky was a bright, clear blue, and the low-hanging winter sun made the snow gleam and glitter, making it hard to look upon in its blinding whiteness.

Dís acquired several bales of heavy woollen cloth and had taken fancy to a few others, as well. Fine silk it was, coming from far to the south, cool and smooth to the touch and shimmering in many-facetted colours. Dís chose one of dark green and another of golden colour, paid for her purchase and left the shop, leaving her servants to pick up the cloth and carry it back to her halls while she and her son strolled a little through the market and browsed the wares on display.

They finally decided to head home when the cold began to seep through their heavy furs and headed down the stairs and winding streets to the valley floor. They passed a group of playing children, both human and dwarf, chasing each other while laughing despite their red and runny noses.

Dís was just about to comment on the fact that the children of the two people got along much better than the adults when behind them, a dog barked and a horse whinnied in shock.
Fili spun around to see the horse had already thrown off his rider and headed straight for the bridge at full speed. The children screamed and scattered like a flock of chickens.

And suddenly Fili saw that one of the younger dwarf children had lost his footing on a spot of ice and had landed on his backside. He stared at the galloping horse, frozen to the spot. Fili broke into a run.

He reached the boy just as the horse did, throwing himself between the child and the animal, and spooked the horse even more. It reared and caught Fili in the ribs, knocking him over and sending him sprawling over the railing of the bridge.

With a scream, Dís broke into a run as well, only to see Fili’s body sink into the ice cold water, the momentum of his fall having broken the ice.
But several others had seen his fall as well. Half a dozen Men were already on their way down towards the river with a ladder, and within minutes, they had reached the hole in the ice and pulled Fili out again. Dís hurried to his side as fast as she could, and disregarding sludge, mud and snow, fell onto her knees beside her son. His face was white and his lips were blue, but he was still breathing.

The Men who had saved him carried him to the gates where a couple of dwarrow took him and carried him to his chambers.

Dís lost no time, she summoned servants, had them make a hot bath, and throwing her cloak to the ground as soon as she entered Fili’s halls, she headed for his bedchamber to stoke the fire.

Fili and his bath arrived almost at the same time, and a servant helped her undress him and lower him into the bathtub. Dís stood behind him, holding his head as he was still unconscious and murmured endearments and encouragements to her son. Once Fili had been settled in his bed with a hot stone at his feet, Dís had the servants summon Oín, the apothecary, and get a message to the King.

Then she sat beside Fili on the bed and finally, allowed herself a moment of panic. Years of motherhood had taught her this skill, to function first and to worry later. Now, that everything had been taken care of, she allowed herself to let go, and she held on to Fili’s hand while tears trickled down her cheeks.

Thorin entered the chambers a little while later, and he sat down on Fili’s other side, taking his other hand. Oín came with a herbal brew that they were supposed to give him, and told them to keep him warm.

Some hours later, Fili woke up, shivering so hard his teeth clattered. He managed to down something of Oíns brew before closing his eyes again, but he didn’t stop shivering for a very long while. When he finally had fallen asleep again Thorin left them, but Dís stayed at his side throughout the night.

Come morning, Fili was still asleep, but something had change. His face was no longer white, it had a strange flush to it that was a stark contrast to his paleness from the night before. Dís felt his forehead, and shook her head with a sigh. Fili was developing a fever.

The High Pass had been well traversable due to the late snowfall, and with good spirits Kili and his companions headed west for Ered Luin. They took the West-East Road passing through Rhudaur and past the Weathertop, and finally through the Shire where an unsuspecting but very pleasantly surprised Hobbit offered them food, warmth and a place to sleep. They parted with the promise of picking him up on their way back east.

Ered Luin was only a few days away now.

“That sure feels strange,” Bofur said as the mountains grew out of the mist before them. “I know every single peak and it should feel like coming home... but it doesn’t.”
Dwalin shifted in his saddle and shrugged.
“I know, I know.” Bofur flashed him a good natured grin. “You were born in that mountain, but I wasn’t. It still is home, and that’s what feels strange.”
“It’s where we belong,” Dwalin said. “Nothing strange about it.”
“If you put it that way...”

It became increasingly difficult to find decent camp spots as the hills rose up to the mountains and the snowfall caught up with them, but only two days later, around noon, they had finally reached their destination, the old settlement of Ered Luin, the one where the dwarrow had lived before the refugees of Erebor had built a new one that now lay empty.

Dwalin caught up with Kili who had halted his horse. “What is it, laddie?”
Kili shrugged. “I’m worried. What if she’s not here? What if we don’t find her?”
“We will,” the old warrior gave back. “We will.”
Kili tried to share his optimism as he nudged his pony into a walk again.

As the dwarrow of Ered Luin had always had dealings with Men, a part of the settlement was built outside of the mountain gates, namely a large inn where merchants and travellers could stay while they had business with the dwarrow, a few stables for livestock and a few craftsmen and workshops.
As the dwarrow of Erebor passed through the streets they noticed that there had been a fire quite recently that had burned several houses down to the foundations.

Kili hadn’t thought it possible to be more worried, but when he saw the burned houses, he did get more worried. When they had finally reached the small town square in front of the inn and dismounted, Kili was so lost in his self-doubts that he almost failed to notice the small gaggle of children who had been chasing each other and now stood rooted to the spot, their game forgotten, to stare at the strangers that had entered their town.

Bofur waved at them with a friendly grin, and Kili looked up, followed his glance and saw the children, too. All of them were wrapped in thick shawls and hoods, but a few of them had their hoods down the back after their running game. Kili was about to smile at them when he caught sight of one of the smaller boys.

Golden hair framed his face, the braids a little untidy from their wild playing, and a pair of blue eyes stared at him, so familiar that for a split-second, Kili was confused because it felt so wrong to look down into those eyes and not up.
His guts went cold and he took a cautious step towards the children, his eyes on the golden-haired boy. The children parted around him, and Kili cautiously lowered himself onto one knee.

“Are you Frerin?” He asked.
The boy nodded with a frown. “And who are you?”
Kili felt a grin split his face that he couldn’t suppress. “I’m Kili. I’m your uncle!”
“I don’t have an uncle...” the boy replied.
“Well, you have. I’m your father’s brother.”
“I don’t have a father!” The boy – Frerin – took a step back and Kili’s heart jumped. “He died in battle before I was born!”

Kili took a deep breath. “Well, you see, that’s why I’m here. I need to talk to your mother. Can you lead me to your home?”
“I don’t know you.” The boy frowned.
“Well, as I said, I am Kili, your uncle.” Kili got up and presented his companions. “The one with the fierce scowl is your cousin Dwalin. That one, with the silly hat, is Bofur. And that is Bifur.”
Frerin tilted his head and pursed his lips, a gesture utterly familiar to the four dwarrow who all had known Fili since childhood. “He’s got an axe in his head.”
“Yes, he’s got an axe in his head.” Kili nodded.

Childish fascination won over distrust and Frerin jogged over towards Bifur. “Does it hurt?”

The grizzled warrior shook his head. “Lu´!”
“Was that an orc?”
Kun! Rukhas shirumundu!”
Frerin scratched his head. “Why can’t you speak Westron?”
“It’s because of that axe in his head,” Bofur explained.

Frerin turned around again to look at Kili. “Are you really my uncle?”
“I swear upon Durin’s b... beard.” Kili lifted his right hand.
A broad grin spread on Frerin’s face, reminding Kili yet again how much the boy resembled his father. “Amad will be so happy!”

He jogged off and waved at Kili to follow him.

“You go, laddie!” Dwalin dismounted and waved him off. “We’ll see to the ponies!”
“Aye!” Kili waved as well and followed the impatiently waiting Frerin.

Amad!” Frerin ran towards the door of a small hut with a chicken coop attached to it. “Amad!
The door opened and a woman, her head covered in a scarf and a large earthenware bowl in her hand, looked out. “Frerin?”
Amad!” The boy increased his speed and grabbed his mother’s hand, tugging at it to make her leave the doorframe. “Amad! Uncle Kili is here!”

The bowl fell out of her hands and shattered on the doorstep, and peeled potatoes rolled unheeded into the snow.

Kili felt relief so intense that he had almost laughed aloud. “Katla?”
Her face almost as white as the snow covering the roof behind her, Katla took a step forward, disregarding the shards and peeled potatoes. “Kili?”
Kili opened his arms with a grin.

“Kili!” Tears brimming in her eyes, she broke into a run and threw herself into his arms. “Mahal be blessed,” she whispered into his shoulder. “Kili...” Then she leaned back, the tears running unheeded down her face. “What in Mahal’s name are you doing here?” Then her face went even paler. “Is Fili with you?”
“No.” Kili put both hands onto her shoulder. “No, he’s still in Erebor. But before you get sad about the fact, how about we pick those potatoes up and go inside? I’ve got a lot to talk to you about.”
Katla nodded and wiped her eyes with a corner of her apron. “Come in, please. I have a pot of dandelion coffee brewing.”

Once two steaming mugs were put onto the table and Frerin sent out again, equipped with a slice of bread with butter and jam, Kili and Katla sat down and Kili took both her hands in his.

“I’ve got a bit of news for you, Katla. Momentous news.”
Katla met his eyes, her eyebrows drawing together. “Yes?”
Kili took a deep breath. “That basket you sent to my mother?”
“Yes?”Katla swallowed. “What about it?”
“Mother found your namestone in it.”

“That piece of slate?” Katla shrugged. “I didn’t want it here. No one knows I’m a half-breed and I intend to keep it that way.”
“See, that namestone...” Kili licked his lips. “That piece of slate... it wasn’t just a piece of slate.”
With her frown deepening, Katla tilted her head. “What do you mean?”

Kili bit his lower lip and after another deep breath, he explained to Katla what had happened, and what they had learned about the stone and then subsequently, about her. Katla grew more and more still, her face becoming paler, her eyes growing wider. When finally, Kili had ended his explanation, he squeezed her hands and held on tight.

“But...” Katla swallowed. “But that...”
“That means,” Kili said gently. “That you are no half-breed, Katla. You are a descendant of dwarrow from Erebor.”
For a few seconds, it was as if Katla had been turned to stone. Then she got up, clutching a fold of her apron, and walked a few steps away from the table. Kili looked at her, unsure what to do, when he noticed that her shoulders began to tremble. He cautiously got up.

“But it’s too late, isn’t it?” Her voice shook. “It can’t be that...”
“Katla...” Kili placed his hand onto her shoulder. “I’m here to take you home.”

He caught her just in time as her legs gave way under her. Holding her in a firm embrace he rocked her as she wept into his shoulder in long, drawn out sobs.
“It’s all right,” he muttered. “Everything is going to be all right again. You’re going home.”

At first, Dís was only mildly concerned about Fili’s fever. But as the days passed by, the fever got worse. It rose, and she and her servants spent days and nights wiping his burning body down with cold, moist cloths to cool it. Oín’s fever draughts had little effect.

A week had passed since his accident now, and no improvement was in sight. Sometimes, he would lie still, his breathing uneven and shallow, and sometimes he would toss and mumble things Dís couldn’t understand. The fever was still rising, and a few days later, Fili suffered from the first fever-spasms. Dís did not leave his side anymore after that and slept beside him in the large double bed.

It got increasingly difficult to get him to drink anything, he was growing weaker with every passing day. Oín was at his wit’s end.
“I don’t understand it.” He shook his head. “He’s a strong, young lad. A fever shouldn’t have such an effect on him. It’s as if he...”
“As if he what?” Dís felt she almost knew the answer, and was proven right when Oín finished his sentence.
“As if he isn’t fighting it.”

Dís closed her eyes and took her son’s hand in hers. Oín left, and she was alone with her firstborn who was about to die of a fever because he had saved a little dwarfling’s life.
“Fili,” she whispered. “We need you. I need you. Please stay with me. Don’t die away from me, please.”

She knew it wouldn’t help, and she knelt at his bed, her forehead resting on his hand, and prayed.

That evening, Thorin entered the bedroom again, and Dís could see that he was deeply worried, too. He knelt down at Fili’s other side and took his other hand, and together, Dís and Thorin held on to him, willing him to live through another night. They both knew that his fever-ridden body would not be able to withstand many more of those.

The fever rose again, and Fili began to shake so hard his teeth ground together. Dís couldn’t stop her tears anymore as she wiped his face with a wet cloth to cool it. “My poor love,” she whispered. “My dear boy, please hold on. You can’t just die like this.”

With a heavy sigh, Thorin leaned forward and ran a thumb over the back of Fili’s hand. “Fili, my boy. Listen to me.” He cleared his throat and lowered his head so his mouth was closer to Fili’s ear. “You have to hold on. We are bringing her back, do you understand? She’s coming home, my boy. Don’t let her find you dead.”

Dís straightened up, surprise mingling with confusion in her eyes as she looked at her brother. When Thorin noticed her stare he met her gaze. They looked at each other for a moment, and Thorin was the first to break the gaze again. They focussed on Fili again after the silent exchange, and no further words were spoken that night.

A cave, a dark and cold cave, a giant cave, so huge that she can neither see nor feel the walls or the roof. But she knows she is in a cave, although she does not know how she knows. She is trying to find her way out, but she cannot reach a wall that she could follow to an exit.

She goes forward, hands held out in front of her, but there is no wall.

Instead, the air gets warmer. There is a very faint light ahead, and she walks towards it. The light grows, the air gets warmer. She can see the cave now, high above the ceiling, far away are the walls. The air is so warm now that she starts to sweat.

She walks onward, and the heat becomes oppressive. But there is something ahead, she can see a movement. Then she steps into the light, and looks at a dragon.

A huge dragon, his head easily the size of two fully grown bulls. A long, slender neck, the body so vast it vanishes in the distance behind him. The dragon looks at her without menace.

She comes closer, and sees something between the dragon’s forelegs. There, between the enormous claws, is a large slab of stone, roughly rectangular in shape. Someone is lying on that slab.

As she comes closer, she suddenly recognises him. It is Fili, and he is chained to the stone. The heat is burning her, drying her skin, so hot it is almost impossible to breathe.

Fili is lying still, his eyes are closed, but his chest is still moving. The dragon hovers above, and his breathing is what heats the air. It is almost impossible to bear.

“You are killing him,” she says to the dragon. “Please let him go.”

The dragon looks at her impassively.

She tries to free him, but the chains do not give. She cannot free him, and the dragon above is killing him.

“You are killing him. Let him go, or go away!”

The dragon swivels his eyes and looks at her. His eyelids droop, his nostrils flare, and Fili moans.

“Go away! You’re killing him! Go away!”

The dragon rises onto his forelegs and lowers his head. The heat takes her breath.

He is killing Fili. In desperation, she steps between him and the dragon. “Go away! You shall not have him! Go away! GO AWAY!”

The dragon rears up and roars. And suddenly, the cave is dark and cold.


No answer.


In the darkness, she turns and feels around, but there is nothing. She takes a few steps, and suddenly she steps into nothing, and falls.

Katla jerked awake, shivering with cold. It took her a second to realise she had only dreamt of falling into darkness. But then she remembered the rest of her dream, of Fili and the dragon. She fell back into her pillows and sighed. Of course she would dream of him, now that Kili suddenly had appeared into her life and told her he was going to take her home to Erebor.

Images of the dream were still haunting her, and soon after, she could hear the cockerel announcing the beginning of the new day. Forcing the memory of her strange dream out of her mind, she left her bed. She had a lot to do today.

Thorin and Dís had sat with Fili through the night. They both knew that this was the night that would determine if he would live. Two weeks with fever had weakened his body and the next fever-spasm could easily kill him.
They held on to his hands in silence, willing him to live and silently begging Mahal to save him. Time lost all meaning to them.

It was the sound of the door as a servant entered the main room beyond the bedroom doors that made them realise the new day had arrived, and both Dís and Thorin looked at Fili who was laying very still but was still breathing. Dís leaned over him to feel his forehead and couldn’t suppress a sob of relief.

The fever had finally broken.

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