Sacred Duty, Bleeding Heart

Chapter 33

The winter was well on its way and Midwinter had long since passed, and while the world was still crusted with ice and dusted with snow, the wind had less of a bite and the crunching of the snow underfoot told of days becoming warm enough to occasionally smelt the uppermost layer of snow even if it froze solid again at night.

After the fever had left him, Fili had been quick to recover and was back in the forges. He needed the heavy work as it was the only thing that helped him sleep, due to simple physical exhaustion. But it also gave his mind the time to roam freely, and mostly, his thoughts went to the near future and what was awaiting him when his brother would come back. Would he bring his new bride with him? Or would Fili have to go travelling again?

He sincerely hoped that if that was the case, he would not be forced to go to Ered Luin and travel through the Shire. He had no idea if he could withstand the temptation.

And then the day came where Ysona had died three years ago. For the last time, Fili placed a sprig of rosemary onto her coffin and left, feeling a strange mix of sadness and relief. His time with her had come to a close, and he knew he would never venture down here again.

It felt strange, after three years, when he put on his old garments the next morning after wearing only white for so long. It felt even stranger to finally braid his hair and moustache again. As he looked into his mirror he felt, for a moment, as if a stranger was looking back at him, but after a few moments, the image in the mirror gave him a faint, lopsided smile.

But as the days passed, the thought about having to marry again began to trouble him more and more until he could finally stand it no longer; he cleaned up after his day in the forge one evening and went to find his mother in her private chambers.

She didn’t answer to his knocking, despite a servant having told him she was in her chamber and still awake. He knocked again, and when she still did not answer, he cautiously opened the door and peeked inside.

Dís was sitting ona chair at the hearth and looked as if she was asleep.

She jumped out of her chair with a little yelp of surprise. “Mahal!” she gasped, clutching her throat. “Fili, you gave me quite a fright there.”
“I can see that.” Fili walked in and closed the door, then noticed that his mother was clutching a piece of paper. “Are you reading secret love letters, that you’re so lost in thoughts you didn’t hear me knock?”

Yet his feeble attempt at a joke fell on barren ground. His mother just stared at him and clutched the little piece of paper in her hand.
Amad?” Fili took a step towards her. “What is wrong?”
Dís shook herself out of her trance. “Nothing.” She tried to smile. “Nothing is wrong, it’s just...”
Fili crossed his arms and lifted one eyebrow.

Still clutching the, by now rather crumpled, note between her fingers, Dís looked down and her shoulders heaved and fell again with a heavy sigh.
“We need to talk,” she said. “Please, sit down.”
Fili sat, a frown appearing on his face.

Dís sat opposite him and still did not meet his eyes. Instead, she focussed on the piece of paper, smoothing it on her thigh. Fili watched this for a while until he lost his patience.
“What is it, then? Is this about my new wife?”
His mother finally looked up. “Isn’t that why you came here?”
Fili blinked a few times. “It is... so it’s as well that you wished to talk about it, too.”

She nodded and after a moment, she got up and put the note on the mantelpiece. “Come, I have something I need to show you.”
Fili got up, his frown turning into puzzlement, as he followed his mother into a corner of the room to a large chest.

“When Bilbo came to visit, the spring after your wedding...” Dís began as she unlocked the chest. “...he brought me a gift.”
“A gift.” Fili’s voice was flat.
Her hands were trembling when she reached into the chest and produced the basket.

Fili instantly recognised it, of course. During the journey from Katla’s little hut to Erebor, the last days he had been allowed to spend with her, he had watched her put the boy to sleep in it every night. His throat went dry, and the memory of the tiny face of his sleeping infant son came back to him more vividly than ever before.

When he met his mother’s eyes again, Dís watched him with a compassionate smile. “My love, I can’t even say how much...” She broke off and shook her head. “Wish that I had known all this sooner.”
“What?” The word was a hoarse rasp, as were those that followed. “Known what?”

Dís ran her hand over the blanket. “I had it for years, Fili, and it was only a few months ago that I found... under the blanket... her namestone.”
“Her namestone.” Fili crossed his arms. “She told me about it once. It had her name on it, and her father’s.”
“In fact, it is her mother’s name.” Dís went over to a chest of drawers and opened the top drawer from which she took a small package of cloth. “The humans got that wrong. But that is irrelevant.”

She turned around to face her son again and unwrapped the cloth, revealing the namestone that she had carefully reassembled.
“Slate?” Fili shook his head, and his cheekbones protruded as he gritted his teeth. “What kind of heartless bastard gives their child a namestone of slate? Better to give her none at all!”

“I thought that too,” Dís replied in a low voice. “But there is more to this stone than meets the eye.”

Fili narrowed his eyes and felt his pulse begin to pick up speed. “What?”
“Well, for one, I noticed that there was a piece missing, a chip from the outer layer where presumably, her father’s name would have been.” She held the stone between two fingers and showed it to her son, indicating the faint fracture line that was hardly visible to the naked eye.

“I talked to Balin about it, but he could only confirm , using his pocket magnifier, that there was indeed a piece missing. But of course, there was no telling what would have been on it.”
Fili’s face was tight, his cheeks white and his mouth a narrow line.
“But she has a namestone, and I went to Thorin to ask him... I asked him to... to give her name an entry into the Archives of Blood.”
Her son’s face seemed chiselled of stone.

“He agreed to that, but he also said that without a father, she would not be entitled to...”
“To marry someone of high standing,” Fili finished for her, his voice bar of all emotion.
“Yes.” Dís looked at the stone again. “And I got angry with him for his heartlessness and stubbornness. We... we had an argument, and all in front of your brother, Balin and Ori whom I had ordered along with me to talk to the king.”

She looked up again into Fili’s impassionate face. But she could see that his outer calm was only that; a shield to let nothing out of what he really felt. She could see his jugular vein throb rather fast.
“I got very angry,” she went on. “And I came to slam the stone onto the table. And then this happened.”

She nudged the stone with her thumb, and beneath her fingers, the layers came apart like a stack of cards. Fili inhaled sharply and his eyes went wide.

Dís had to collect her thoughts and paused for a moment. She could hear that Fili’s breathing had picked up speed.

“There were runes. Ori said that using slate as a means to carry secret messages had been devised by Durin the sixth.” She removed the upper layer with the names on it, showing the tiny carved runes to her son. “He deciphered them and wrote down what they said.”

She took the piece of parchment from the drawer and handed it to Fili. Finding herself unable to watch his face as he read, she wrapped the stone again and put it back into the drawer. As she did so, her eyes fell onto another piece of folded parchment. She took it and turned around again, to see Fili stare at the parchment with a pale face and an expression of utter bewilderment mingling with something she could not name. When he looked up, his eyes were wide and he swallowed hard.

Amad...” he whispered. “What is the meaning of this?”
Dís blinked slowly and looked at the folded parchment in her hands. “It means that she was mistaken her whole life about her blood, Fili.”
Fili stumbled a step back and the parchment slid to the ground. “She’s no half-breed,” he whispered hoarsely.
“She is no half-breed.” Dís reached out to him, but Fili took another step and was already on his way to the door.

“Fili wait! Where are you going?”
He stopped, curled his fists at his side and squared his shoulders. “To get a pony.”
“You will do no such thing!” Dís hurried to his side and took his arm. “You have not heard everything.”

She regretted her words instantly as a sudden expression of utter panic appeared on Fili’s face. He grabbed the collar of her dress and pulled her almost off her feet. “What happened to her? Mother what happened to her? WHAT?”
“Fili, for Mahal’s sake you’re choking me!”
His face horror-stricken he let go of his mother and stared at her, his breathing ragged. “Amad... please tell me what happened to her...”

“I was about to.” Dís straightened her dress and found herself unable to take her son’s behaviour amiss. “Please listen.”
“I am listening.” Fili kept curling and uncurling his fists.

“When Bilbo brought me this basket, he also brought some news of her. Namely, that she had taken her child and what possessions she could carry and had left the Shire.”
“What? She... She has what?” Dís could see he forced himself not to grab her by the yokes again. “Mother I... why didn’t you tell me? How could you keep that from me?”
“And worry you half to death?” She shook her head. “I believed it was better that you didn’t know, Fili. You had such a load to carry already.”

His fists were still curling and uncurling, and by now he was gritting his teeth so hard that the sinews in his neck became visible. A sheen of moisture had appeared on his temples.

“We didn’t know where she was,” Dís went on gently, placing a hand on his upper arm. His muscles felt like wood under his shirt. “But then your brother remembered a conversation he had had with you about... about the boy not growing up a proper dwarf.”
If not for the blinking of his eyes Fili could have been a statue.
“So when he left...” She nervously licked her lips. “When Kili left, he went to look for her in Ered Luin.”

Fili kept staring at his mother for a long time, not a single muscle moving but his eyelids. When he finally spoke, his voice sounded as if it was coming from far away. It sounded like it came from a grave.

“He didn’t find her.” His head dropped back. “He didn’t find her, did he? I knew I would never see her again mother, but why tell me now?” He looked at her again, his eyes reddening. “Why tell me now? So I wouldn’t resist when you shove the next wife into my bed? I won’t, do not fret! Or are you telling me this to keep me from looking for her myself now that I am finally free to do so? Is she really gone? Are you hiding any more from me? Are there any more keepsakes you have that could have given me comfort through the last years but you chose to withhold from me to spare me the pain? Or was it so I could more easily forget her? I have...”
“Fili!” Dís had tried to interrupt his outburst but only when she yelled at him did he stop. He stared at her with a look of utter betrayal in his eyes that hurt Dís to the soul.

“My love... I’m sorry if I did the wrong thing again with the intention of meaning well. I really am.” She placed a hand on his shoulder and handed him the folded parchment. “Yes, I do have another keepsake that I did not tell you about to spare you the pain because I could not imagine it would give you comfort, and I ask your forgiveness for that. I did not do it so you would forget her, please never believe that.”
Without taking his eyes off hers, Fili took the parchment and opened it.

He lowered his head to look at what he expected to be a letter. What he saw instead was a lock of golden hair, the colour if his own but softer. After staring at it for a long moment, he reached out with a trembling forefinger and touched it.

Dís felt a sob catch in her throat and her vision blurred as she watched him take the lock and hold it in his hands. Then he slowly sank onto his knees. His head fell forward as he pressed the lock of hair to his heart, and Dís fruitlessly fought her tears when she heard the hoarse sob coming from her son. His shoulders shook, and after another desperate chocking sob, he began to cry, rocking his body back and forth as he pressed his hands to his heart.

Her own tears flowing, Dís hurried to his side and knelt down beside him. “Fili, please. Please listen to me.”
Fili gasped for air and looked up. Dís’s heart broke to pieces when she looked at his tear-stained face, and she took a corner of her skirt and tenderly tried to wipe some of the tears away. “My love, listen to me. The letter I was sitting with when you came? It was sent by Lord Elrond of Rivendell.”
Fili gave her an empty, desolate stare.

Dís leaned forward and placed both her hands on her son’s cheeks, meeting his eyes, their bright blue light clouded with pain and tears. “Kili found her,” she whispered softly. “He found her, and he brings her back. They stayed in Rivendell to wait out a late winter storm, and Lord Elrond sent a messenger bird to Erebor. They will be crossing the mountains now, Fili. She’s coming back to you.” She brushed her thumbs across his cheeks. “She’s coming home.”

He was still pressing his hands holding the lock of his son’s hair to his heart, still staring at his mother as if he hadn’t understood a single word of what she had said. But after a few heartbeats, he gulped for air, and slowly crumpled into a heap to go very slowly and very utterly to pieces.

Dís knelt on the floor, holding his head in her lap and let him cry as she tenderly ran her hands through his hair. Her own tears flowed unheeded, and she knew that the next weeks would be the longest of their lives.

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