Sacred Duty, Bleeding Heart

Chapter 35

Katla spent a long time just looking at the mighty gates of Erebor before stepping through them. She had let go of Fili’s arm and now stood inside the mountain that her father and grandfather had died for in their attempt to reclaim their home. They had done what they could to make sure she was safe, and their last wish had been for her to see their home again.

Katla was shivering, and felt her hairs rise when she looked around the ancient hall. She couldn’t explain it, she had grown up above ground, but seeing these halls before her, she had never felt so right. So grounded.

“I’m home, father, grandfather. I am home.”

She felt someone step to her side, but it was Balin, not Fili.

“We buried everyone we found down in a tomb made for them in an old mine. If you ever want to pay your respects to your departed kin, they will be there.”
“Thank you.” Katla smiled at the old dwarf. “I will. But another time. I’m sure they understand if I want to be with the living first.”
“I’m sure they will.”

Fili stepped to her other side and took her arm again. “Should I show you around?”
Katla leaned her head against his arm. “Not today. Right now, all I want is food and some rest. Tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow it is. We shall find you a place, then.”

“Fili, my lad?”
“Yes, Balin?”
“You’re not supposed to share chambers just yet, you know that.” The old dwarf winked at him. “So better find her a chamber of her own, and be discreet about it, aye?”
Katla blushed fiercely, and Fili laughed under his breath. “How long do you expect me to be able to keep away from her?”
“Oh well, only until the wedding.”
“And how long would that be?”

Balin smiled up at Fili and winked again. “Well... since I know your mother has been busy making preparations it shouldn’t be so long.”
“She has what?” Fili frowned and exchanged a baffled look with Katla.
“Making preparations.” Balin nodded. “Shouldn’t be more than three to four days, I gather.”

Katla looked up at Fili. “Remind me to thank her on my knees for doing all this.”
“She won’t let you kneel, but I will gladly do it with you.” Fili brushed his forehead with hers. “Then let us find you a chamber.”

“Katla?” Balin put his hand on her arm.
“What is it?”
Balin’s eyes shone softly when he looked up at her. “My brother and I have decided to make you an offer. But if you don’t want it, then there will be no harm done.”
“What offer?” Katla felt Fili gently squeeze her arm as he had sensed her nervousness.

“Well, you see,” Balin began. “Since you have no living kin and all, we thought it’d be a shame that there’s no one to stand at your side when you’re getting wed to the prince. And as I am too old to have any bairns of my own, I’d thought I’d make you that offer. I would adopt you formally so you have kin to stand for you and I have someone to lighten up my older days.” He winked again. “Not that my brother does much of the sort.”

It took a few moments for Katla to realise what he had offered her but when she did, gratitude overwhelmed her and she couldn’t stop the tears. “I’d be so honoured,” she whispered. “I’d be so honoured, how have I deserved all this?”
Balin pulled her in a fierce hug and exchanged a small smile with Fili. “It has nothing to do with being deserving, lassie. I liked you from the beginning and thought it a shame you were so alone. Even more so after all this disaster had happened.”

Katla leaned back and wiped her eyes. “Thank you. I accept, and I am honoured. And happy.” She leaned forward and pecked a kiss on Balin’s cheek. “Should I call you Adad, then?”
Balin’s eyes shone with moisture. “You can call me whatever you like, lass.”
“Then maybe you should call him homely, because that’s an apt description,” Fili ventured to lighten the mood.

The three of them shared a laugh, and parted with the promise that Balin would fetch her come morrow and they would go to the Halls of Wisdom to go through with the adoption ceremony.

Katla leaned against Fili’s arm as they made their way to the royal quarters. They met Dís who was on her way to find them, letting them know that Frerin had fallen asleep in her quarters after devouring sweet bread and milk like there was no tomorrow.

After summoning a servant and readying a set of chambers for Katla, Fili gently picked Frerin up into his arms to carry him into his own bed. He spent a while sitting on the edge of the bed watching his son sleep, and after gently brushing a few hairs from the sleeping face, he finally left him rather unwillingly.

Katla was in his arms the instant he had closed the door to Frerin’s room, demanding a kiss that was only too happily given.
“Will I really have to wait for the wedding night?” Fili whispered into her ear.
Katla rested her face against his neck. “I don’t know why, but I’d really like to.”
“I think I do understand.” Fili rested his cheek against her hair. “It is what should have happened long ago.”

They shared another kiss, making a silent promise that this was the last time they would have to resist. It was actually a sweet sort of pain, a desire that they knew would be fulfilled soon.

Dís had come in somewhat later, accompanied by her ladies, to see what could be done about a proper wardrobe. They had arranged a bath for Katla, fussed about her for a while and managed to fit her into one of Elira´s dresses that had to be let out in the seams because Katla was quite tall for a woman.

“I can see where the thought comes from you’d be a half-breed,” Míl said as she brushed Katla’s hair. “All that business with the namestone, and then you’re one of the tallest women I’ve ever met. Isn’t Fili upset about it?”
“Not that I know of,” Katla replied with a blush.
“Why should he?” Elira inspected the hem of the dress. “Why shouldn’t he enjoy kissing a woman without having to bend his head?”

Katla blushed even more as the other ladies chuckled, but Dís gently patted her shoulder.
“Forgive the old crones for making these jokes. We’re just jealous of your youth and beauty, and the happiness you radiate.”
“Who are you calling a crone?” Míl pressed her fists against her hips in mock anger. “You’re not that old, Dís!”
This time, Katla joined the laughter.

“It will be interesting to see what her stone is,” Skadi said as she took Elira’s place behind Katla and began to braid her hair. “I couldn’t imagine what it might be.”
“My stone?” Katla frowned up at Dís.
“Every woman has an affiliation to a certain gemstone,” Dís explained. “Some know their stone, some never find out. But with a princess it is necessary to know as she will wear her stone in her name, and the qualities of the stone will influence her reign if she should become queen.”

Katla stared at her open-mouthed. “Mahal have mercy,” she breathed.
Dís frowned. “What is the matter, my dear?”
“I just realised that...”
“That you are marrying the marked prince and will be queen someday?” Dís took Katla’s hand with a gentle smile. “Have no fear. We will be there for you. You have many years yet to learn.”

Katla didn’t seem convinced. In actual fact, Dís could see fear in her eyes, and she could understand it. She squeezed her hand and smiled encouragingly. “Honestly, Katla, have no fear. The Queen’s Court is not what it used to be, far from it. You will see that it sounds much grander than it is. And whatever you need to know I shall teach you.”
“Thank you.” Katla stared at her hands. “I feel... I don’t know. All I wanted is Fili, but I didn’t think of the consequences.”
“Now I gather that happened to him, too,” Míl said dryly. “So don’t you worry.”

With dinner that night, Katla sat beside Dís, together with Skadi. She could see Fili from where she sat and tried not to glare at him too obviously, but whenever she looked at him, he gave her a warm smile.
“Three more days,” Dís whispered to her. “I did what I could to prepare everything.”
“I have no idea how I can ever thank you,” Katla whispered back.
“No need.” Dís touched Katla’s forearm. “I am forever in your debt for bringing the smile back onto Fili’s face.”

They exchanged a long look, and Katla found she could understand.

The adoption ceremony, like all dwarven ceremonies, was simple and modest in execution as it was deep in its meaning and as with everything, there was a written contract signed by Katla, Balin and the witnesses. As for the ceremony itself, it was over quickly; three drops of blood drawn from both their palms and added to a cup of mead that was then shared between the two of them. An oath followed, as ancient as the words it was spoken in.

The reverent silence after these words, as Balin and Katla were still holding their outstretched hands, was suddenly interrupted by a childish voice piping up.

“Is Uncle Balin now my sigin’adad?”

Everyone chuckled at that, and even Thorin had to smile.
Balin let go of Katla’s hands and winked at the boy. “I sure look more like one than an uncle, laddie.”
“Besides,” Kili said. “I’m the uncle now.” He grinned at Thorin who shook his head and rolled his eyes. The smile stayed, however.

That concluded, they all went then to the Lair of Gemstones. Fili felt strange entering this room again, as it summoned a lot of memories that he had rather forgotten. But watching Katla sit down and be blindfolded gave him a feeling of sweet anticipation that quickly made him forget his worries.

Katla was very unsure at first, and she didn’t really know what was expected of her. She had no idea what it meant to be affiliated to a gemstone and was afraid she would fail when all of a sudden, she felt a stone on her palm that felt so good and so warm she had to close her fingers around it.

“Does that one talk to you?” Balin asked.
Katla felt the stone in her hand. She wasn’t sure if it talked, but there was something ...“It feels right,” She said hesitantly. I’m not sure if it talks to me, but it feels right.”
“Then that’s what it does. Let me see.”

Balin removed the blindfold and Katla looked nervously around. Fili gave her an encouraging smile.

“Garnet.” Balin looked up and smiled. “We will have a Garnet Princess.”
“Garnet?” Thorin lifted his eyebrows. “I’ve never heard of that before.”
“It’s a very humble stone,” Dwalin muttered, this time partaking in the ceremony as he now was considered Katla’s kin. “Sure fits her, but a princess?”

Katla looked into her lap, feeling the familiar burning of shame at having failed. But then she felt Balin pat her shoulder.

“Just listen.” He cleared his throat. “Garnet is known as the stone for a successful business. Garnets can be used to make a person popular and have self-esteem. The Garnet is a stone of purity and truth as well as a symbol of love and compassion. And furthermore it is used to provide courage, protection and blessings to warriors going into battle.” He looked around, seemingly very satisfied.

“Of course.” Dís laughed gently. “It fits her personality perfectly. And honestly, Thorin...” She turned to face her brother. “What better stone to have than one to help a prospering business? The business of re-building this kingdom? What better queen for this kingdom than one who knows the meaning of want and labour? Maybe in the future Erebor will have the need for a Ruby or Diamond Queen, but the Garnet is what we need now.”
Thorin met his sister’s eyes and finally nodded. “You are right, Sister.”

Dís could see in his eyes that he was maybe not completely agreeing with the aspect of love and compassion, but truth and purity he could not deny, as little as the stone that would help Erebor bloom again. Hopefully the protection in battle would not be needed, but to have it was surely no mistake.
But she also knew a thing that Balin had omitted, as she had her whole life been fascinated in the gemstones and their meanings. The Garnet symbolized the illumination of a darkened soul.

She looked at her son and the smile that was on his face and in his eyes, but her eyes were drawn back to her brother.

Dís and her ladies had made a dress for Katla out of the silk she had bought in Dale. She didn’t have Katla in mind when purchasing it, but she had to admit that the colours were perfect on her, the green and gold perfectly harmonizing with her chestnut hair.

And now, as Dís and her ladies were making Katla ready for the wedding, she could hardly contain her joy as she tried to imagine her son’s face when Katla would enter the chamber. Everything had felt so sad and wrong back then, but looking at Katla now, her beaming face and wide eyes as she looked into a mirror, Dís could not suppress the urge to embrace her.

Their eyes met through the mirror. “I am so happy”, Katla whispered. “I never thought I could be so happy.”
“You deserve it.” Dís placed a kiss onto Katla’s temple. “Both of you.”

There was a knock, and Skadi opened the door. “It is time. Are you ready?”
“Almost,” grumbled Míl who was not satisfied with the train of Katla’s dress.
“Leave it be. It’s not going to hold anyway when we go down the stairs.” Elira patted her friend’s back, and Míl straightened up with a sigh of resignation.

Since Balin would oversee and lead the ceremony it was Dwalin who walked at her side when she entered the chamber with the large pillar. She felt a little claustrophobic upon entering, but when she saw Fili stand beside the pillar, dressed in finery and smiling at her, his hair and beard unbraided, all her fears and worries vanished.

The banquet that night was the grandest affair that Erebor had seen so far since its recapture from Smaug. Dís earned a lot of praise for her preparation and organisation, but in truth, she thought, what made this wedding so special was not the food. It was the bridal couple.
In an environment of arranged matches as was custom in royalty, rarely had two people looked so happy when sharing their first cup of ale and bite of bread as the ritual start of the wedding feast. And their happiness radiating off them was simply infectious to everyone in the hall.

Dís watched the bridal couple withdraw from the feast after the food was cleared, a sensible custom, she thought, as it ensured the groom would not be too inebriated to perform his duties on the wedding night. But she could hardly imagine that her son even wanted to wait for a single pint of ale. She smiled wistfully as she remembered her own wedding and again, prayed to Mahal that he might bless them with everything they wished for.

But just as Fili and Katla were about to depart, Thorin got up and called out for them, bidding them to wait.

Dís froze, and felt something cold creep down her spine. He wouldn’t... he couldn’t actually stop them now?

“Uncle...” Kili stood up, his voice holding an undertone of warning.

Fili’s face had gone blank and Katla held on to his arm as if she was about to faint. A heavy silence hung in the hall.

“Fili my prince.”Thorin met Fili’s eyes and inclined his head. “And Katla. And everyone else who wishes to partake. I ask you to meet me in the Gallery of Kings.”
“Now?” Fili blinked in surprise. “Shouldn’t the coronation...”
“Now.” Thorin stood up. “Your wife has already given the line of Durin a healthy heir. I wish to give her what is due to her.”
Fili bowed his head. “As you wish, my King.”

Dís looked at her brother as she got up from her chair; she sensed that something else was on Thorin’s mind. Something heavy, but she dared not ask. She could only pray to Mahal that whatever she suspected, she would be mistaken.

It hadn’t taken them long to fill the Gallery of Kings where Thorin was standing in front of his forefathers’ throne, his arms crossed and his face unreadable, as he watched Fili and Katla approach him.

When the two had reached Thorin and knelt down he uncrossed his arms and nodded.

“Katla, daughter of Balin, son of Fundin”, he began, his voice ringing through the hushed silence. “I know that the traditions of our people say the coronation of a princess should happen after the wedding night. But through your body you have already given Durin’s line another son. You are already a woman of the line of Durin. So what is due to you would be the crown of the Garnet Princess. But I won’t give that to you.”

Dís could not suppress a gasp and a few urgent whispers rose up from the crowds. Beside her, Kili had gritted his teeth and looked as if he was ready to drag Thorin behind the throne and gut him.
Katla began to tremble, and beside her, Fili had gone still as a stone, his face pale.

Thorin regarded his sister with a glance, his eyes strangely soft, before looking at Fili and Katla again.

“I have had to learn a bitter lesson these last years. Even more bitter as I refused to learn it until it was almost too late. The times have changed, and we with them. I was holding on to a past that can no longer exist, and I clung to laws and traditions that we no longer need. And I learned...” Here he paused and gave his sister a long, intense look before resting his eyes on Katla again. “I learned that while you cannot rule a kingdom with your heart alone, you cannot rule it without one, either.”

He looked at Fili and held out his hand. “Give me your crown, sister-son. You should no longer wear it.”

With trembling hands, Fili removed the golden crest marking him as heir to the throne and handed it to Thorin.

Thorin nodded and all of a sudden, Balin walked beside him, having stood behind the throne. He carried a large, flat pillow with whatever was upon it covered with a red cloth. Thorin handed him Fili’s crown and a gasp went through the crowd when he removed the cloth.

“I realised that this kingdom needs no bitter old warrior unwilling or unable to accept the changes that fate brings. Erebor needs a King willing to face the challenge of building something new and prospering out of the ashes of the old. A King unburdened by a past that cannot be brought back to life.”

With a slow and deliberate movement Thorin reached up and took the crown that rested on his own head. He looked at it for a moment, and with an almost gentle smile, slowly lowered it onto Fili’s head.
“A King with hope for the future, not regrets from the past.”

Fili stared at Thorin as if the latter had lost his mind. But Thorin just smiled and took the crown from Balin’s pillow. It was akin to the crown of the King but more delicate, and it was decorated with a myriad of tiny red garnets, and a set of three large ones at the front.

“And a Queen who will bring us prosperity,” Thorin went on. “A symbol of purity, of truth of compassion. And of Love.”

Katla closed her eyes when Thorin lowered the crown onto her head, and her mind reeled. She couldn’t quite grasp what was happening.

“Rise now”, Thorin said. “And face your people.” Then he lifted his voice. “Iishmikhi uzbad undu ‘urdel, Filid ashatû Felin, thanu Ereborû!”
Thorin’s voice echoed in the large hall and seemed to reach the tip of the mountain.
Ishmikhi Katla nathû Balin, nud’aban athane Ereborû!”

Slowly Fili and Katla turned around and as one, the dwarrow in the crowd began to cheer and hail them.
Fili began to smile a little hesitantly, and as he took Katla’s arm, their eyes met. Together, they faced the crowd once, more and the exultation made the pillars tremble with the echo of joy.

Kili was the first to jump free of the crowd and he embraced his brother in a fierce bear-hug that made Fili gasp for breath. Then he stole a tiny kiss from Katla which made her blush furiously, but laugh as well.
“I know you two are eager to see your bedroom again,” Kili whispered. “But this surely needs to be celebrated as well?”
“How could we not, brother?” Fili shook his head in disbelief, but with a smile. “How could we not?”
“Oh and lest I forget.” Kili made a little bow. “Frerin and I have made some sleeping arrangements. He will be staying with his uncle for the next few days.”
“I’m in your debt.” Fili had to laugh as he shook his head. “Kili, what would I do without you?”
Kili bowed with a grin. “At your service.”

Bilbo hurried over now to congratulate as well. “This is really embarrassing,” the hobbit muttered. “If I had known about this I’d have brought more pipe weed!”
“Just come visit us again soon,” Katla laughed. “And bring a few barrels.”
Bilbo bowed as well and exchanged a grin with Kili. “At your service.”

Thorin had stepped back to the place beside Dís who looked at him with tears in her eyes. “Brother. You didn’t... how could you just give up your crown after everything you went through to gain it?”
“It was time,” Thorin said in a low, rough voice. “Fili will wear it with much more grace and justice than I could ever have hoped to. It was time.”

Dís looked at her brother and could only throw her arms around him. Thorin embraced her as well and they held on tight for a very long time.

When Thorin leaned back he gave his sister a sad and gentle smile as he wiped the tears from her face. “Go tell them I have made room for them and moved out of the King’s chambers, it is theirs now, after all.”
“When did you do that?” Dís asked him with widening eyes.
“During the last two days. I will take Fili’s chambers once they are cleared and presently sleep in one of the guest rooms.”
Dís touched his cheek and blinked her tears away. “Why don’t you tell them yourself?”
He shook his head. “You are better at these kinds of things. And I... I need some solitude right now.”
“I understand.” Dís leaned forward and touched her forehead against his.

When she left him, Thorin remained and watched everyone file out of the Gallery, following the new King and his Queen. He cast a long look at the throne and discovered, against all expectations, that he did not feel sadness or anger or regret. He felt only relief.

Both Fili and Katla were still trying to catch up with events through another short boast of celebration, and even more so when Dís informed them that they would have the King’s chambers from now on.
Fili could not deny a feeling of relief upon hearing those words. As little as he could understand his uncle’s change of mind, he was glad he wouldn’t have to lie in the same bed with Katla on their wedding night as he had done with Ysona.

But all worries, insecurities and all confusion vanished when Fili finally closed the door behind him and he and Katla were alone at last. Carefully and respectfully they removed their crowns and put them onto a pillow on a low, carved table of stone.

“My Queen,” Fili whispered as he closed his arms around Katla and pulled her close. “My lovely gemstone.”
Katla closed her eyes and let him claim her lips in a kiss full of passion and hunger. She was gasping for breath when he released her, but so was he.

In the soft candle light of the bedroom they undressed, each bit of skin that was uncovered greeted with soft caresses and kisses. But as Fili was about to head for the bed, Katla took his hand.
He paused, but his smile widened when he watched her take the heavy quilted blanket form the bed and place it onto the floor in front of the hearth.

“I have so many fond memories...” She knelt down and smiled. “Come and share them with me.”

Fili knelt down and kissed her again, pushing her gently down as he did so. The firelight cast their entangled limbs in a golden sheen.
But this time, there was no pain, only pleasure.

Iishmikhi uzbad undu ‘urdel, Fili dashatû Felin, thanu Ereborû: Hail the King under the Mountain, Fili, son of Felin, King of Erebor
Ishmikhi Katla nathû Balin, nud’aban athane Ereborû
: Hail Katla, daughter of Balin, Garnet Queen of Erebor

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