Sacred Duty, Bleeding Heart

Chapter 37

The night was cool and silent, and Thorin watched the clouds of his pipe drift away with the light breeze as he sat in the window of the western guard room and looked out over the lands before him.
His thoughts roamed freely, back to every mistake he had made, and back to every joy he had felt.

Pictures of Fili’s and Kili’s childhood rose in his mind, only to be replaced by the images of Smaug tearing into Erebor.
Battle cries rang in his mind when it wandered back to Azanulbizar.
Fiery green eyes almost hidden by locks of raven-black hair.

A single candle fought bravely against the darkness in the small room, and a slow veil of smoke rose into the starry infinity above.


Lost in his memories, he could almost hear her voice as if she was standing behind him in the doorframe.


Thorin almost lost his balance on the windowsill as he swung himself around. She was standing in the doorframe. He slowly put his feet down and got up, putting the pipe down where he had been sitting.

Separated by only a few feet distance but by decades full of pain and shame, they silently stared at each other, being unable to breach the gap. It would have required a leap of faith, but Thorin had lost all his faith in himself the day he had realised what had become of him.

Skadi finally walked into the room towards him, but even as she stood directly before him, the void between them remained as deep and as gaping as it had been since the day Thorin had torn it.

This close to her, Thorin could see the faint streaks of silver in her hair, and the tiny bead of onyx that decorated her nose-ring. Just as Fili had promised her, it had been turned from a mark of shame to a sign of wealth and worth.

“What is it you want?” Thorin finally asked, his voice low.
“It is strange,” Skadi gave back. “That after everything, I still felt the need to come and see you after what happened.”
“And should I kneel before you too and beg your forgiveness? I know I have not deserved it.”

“Whether you deserve it or not, it’s not for you to decide.” Skadi’s face was unreadable; her eyes glowing like emeralds in the dim light. “But you were right never to ask me. I would not have been able to, had you just asked me, even had you begged.”
“Then what made you come here?” Thorin met her gaze, wanting to drown in those eyes.

“I came here not because I wanted you to beg, Thorin.” Her face now showed the first signs of emotion as her eyes softened upon speaking his name. “I came here because you regretted, and because you atoned. I know that admitting your shame like you did must have been the hardest thing you have ever done. I came here because as you mentioned, Mahal had punished you, but do not think I came because I want to gloat at your misery.”

Their eyes were locked in silence.

“I witnessed you break your pride and honour to restore mine. I could never have forgiven you, Thorin, had you asked me. But because of what you did, and because you did not ask, believing yourself not worthy, I found that I could.”
Thorin dropped his mask that hid his emotions and swallowed. “Skadi...”
“You asked me what I want here.” She reached out and touched his cheek. “What I want is you. Still, after all those years, after all that happened, I still want you.”

Thorin pressed his lips together and his jaw muscles clenched. “No,” he finally whispered. “You want a memory, not the man standing in front of you now.”
“You do not understand.” Skadi took another step forward. “The man of my memories is the one I could not forgive. The man in front of me is the one I have forgiven. He is the one I... He is my One.”
“I am no one’s,” Thorin rasped hoarsely. “Did you not hear what I admitted about me? I am no man at all, Skadi. Not anymore.”

A faint, soft smile suddenly bloomed on Skadi’s lips. “You stubborn rock of a dwarf. You still do not understand.” Then she reached out and caressed Thorin’s cheek again with her thumb. “You said that Mahal cursed you.”
Thorin closed his eyes at her gentle touch, and the next thing he felt was her breath grazing his lips as she whispered: “Let me break that curse for you.”

Their lips met, their arms closed around each other, and even as the void was about to swallow them, it was gone. The dust motes dancing in the flickering candle light shone like stars that silently rained from the sky like snowflakes. A breeze coming from the open window made them swirl and extinguished the candle, leaving them in darkness.

Skadi broke the kiss gently and with both her hands, pushed against Thorin’s shoulders until he leaned against the wall.

“Absence diminishes small loves,” Skadi whispered against the skin of Thorin’s neck. “And increases great ones...” She moved her hand down below his belt, and Thorin gasped, his eyes springing wide open upon feeling a sensation he had not felt in years. “As the wind that blows out the candle... and fans the bonfire.” She brushed his lips with hers and knelt before him.

Thorin’s head fell back against the wall.

When he later had collapsed and she had gathered him into her lap, he opened his eyes and asked her to marry him in a voice husky with unfamiliar feelings.

“No,” Skadi replied with a smile. “I will not marry you, Thorin Oakenshield. For I need no witness and no contract and no vows of blood to know that you are mine.”
Thorin smiled and buried his hand into her hair to pull her into another kiss.

It was a very heated discussion in the large conference room that day, and Katla listened to various points of reasoning but did not feel like she really belonged here. True, Fili had meant it when he had said they would rule together, but this was practically a council of war, and was that really a place for her?

“There will be no second Azanulbizar,” Dwalin said again, slamming his fist down so hard it made a few cups dance. “We are not people on the run this time, tired and disheartened by the terror we fled from!”
“But the Halls of Moria are still full of evil.” Balin shook his head thoughtfully. “We need a large army, a very large army, and we don’t have that at present. Not yet, in any case.”

“Maybe Daín will be with us this time,” Fili said slowly. “For if he is, then nothing could stop us. Then there are the dwarrow of Ered Luin and the Grey Mountains.”
“And we have allies!” Dwalin stood up and shook his fist. “As much as I dislike admitting it, think what we could do with only a hundred of Thranduil’s archers behind us!”
“If he would be willing to give them to us,” Balin fell in.
“Of course, now.” Dwalin sat down again. “But he owes us,” he added in a mutter. “So he’d better.”

Katla felt her thoughts go adrift as the discussion turned towards allies. She had heard many stories about the battle of Azanulbizar, and about the terrible price the dwarrow had paid that day. She could almost see the gates before her inner eyes, spilling forth enemies, goblin and orc alike, like an unstoppable flood.

The dark halls of Moria... twelve times twelve giant pillars rising from the bedrock below to reach for the bedrock above, the mighty hall of Kings in darkness since the day it has been lost. Evil lurks there, hiding in the shadows, crawling down the pillars like a swarm of hungry beasts, devouring all and everything in its way.

She shuddered with a gasp, unaware that the table around her had fallen silent.

Helplessly she watches the black swarm of evil flood the hall, only to suddenly vanish again like oil on water to which a drop of soap has been added. And then she sees it, the dim glow coming at her in the darkness.

Fear. It clutches her heart in coldness as she watches the glow coming nearer.
Terror. It paralyzes her like a small animal before the eyes of a viper.
Death. A shadow in the glow is coming for her. A shadow of dark and terrible power and of unspeakable evil

The dwarrow at the table watched Katla with concern. She had grown pale, staring at nothing, and seemed to be in the clutches of a horror that only she could see.

“Katla...” Fili laid a hand onto her arm and almost flinched. It was hard as wood. “Katla!”

And suddenly, she spoke. A voice so full of terror it made everyone’s hairs stand on edge. A voice coming from the darkest abyss of discreation.

“Durin’s Bane...”

“Katla!” Fili shook her gently, appalled by the sight of her.

And suddenly she was back, gasping for air and shuddering fear. She slowly became aware that everyone was watching her with concern.

“What about Durin’s Bane?” Balin asked gently after a while.
Katla looked around, and finally met his eyes. “Don’t go to Moria...” She whispered. “Adad Balin, Irak’adad Dwalin, Fili... don’t go to Moria! You only find your deaths there. Please, please don’t go to Moria!”

The warriors around the table exchanged concerned looks with each other. It was obvious that Katla just had had a vision, and with her bearing the Garnet, a stone that offers light and hope on the path that leads to your dreams and goals, a stone that blessed warriors before the battle, her words gave no hope for the path they were about to tread.

“Katla, my Queen...” Fili placed an arm around her and pulled his trembling woman close. “Please calm down, no decision has yet been made.”
Katla closed her eyes, but as soon as she did, another vision came to plague her. She had no means to stop it.

“It seems that the Garnet has given her not only the gift of insight...” Balin frowned thoughtfully and addressed her again. “Katla?” He leaned forward as she opened her eyes again, tears streaming down her face as she saw what no one else could see. “What do you see?”

“A room, a small room, with a single window high above...” Her toneless whisper made her words even worse. “Remains of dead warriors are scattered here, around a large stone slab... there is a skeleton sitting against it... pierced with arrows, clutching an open book... a scribe... not a warrior...”

Ori shrunk a little in his chair and paled.

“Can you read the book?” Balin asked.

Katla’s unseeing eyes widened. “We cannot get out. The end comes...drums, drums in the deep...they are coming...”

Fili watched her in deep concern. What was it that had touched her? “Katla... come back to us,” he urged her gently. But there seemed to be no stopping the vision.

“No...” Katla shook her head forcefully, making her tears fly. “It is a coffin... it is a coffin... this room is a tomb!”
“A tomb...” Balin pressed his lips together and cast a look at his brother. “A coffin...Is it empty?”
“No... The lid is closed... there are runes on the lid...”

After a moment, Dwalin leaned forward, trying to keep his voice calm. “What do the runes say?”

Her lips moved, but no sound emerged. Then Katla sobbed again, a lost, forlorn sound of desolation. “No... no... not that! Not that!”

“What do the runes say?” Dwalin asked again.

Katla went still as a stone, her face white as a sheet but unmoving, as if chiselled from stone. Only her lips moved, her voice sounding as if it came from far away. From beyond the grave, even.

“Here lies Balin, son of Fundin, King of Moria...”

The silence was as heavy as the bedrock around them.

As suddenly as it had come, the vision left her again, and sunk into Fili’s waiting arms with a sob. He held her until she had calmed down a little, looking around from face to face in the room. It was impossible to read Balin’s face, and Dwalin was gritting his teeth so hard that it was audible.

Finally, Balin and his king exchanged a slow nod.

“We shall not go for Moria,” Fili said after a deep, heavy intake of breath.

Katla had left the hall after the evening meal for some fresh air, and she was watching the stars above, tiny specks of light in the darkness, like myriads of tiny diamonds strewn onto midnight-blue silk.

Bits and pieces of her vision still haunted her, but then she heard steps coming from behind, and heard Fili’s voice call her name.

“I am here.”
“What are you doing here in this cold?”
Katla managed a smile. “It’s not cold. It is a pleasant cool after the heart in the hall downstairs.”
“Still.” He removed his fur coat and placed it around her shoulders. “You have gooseflesh on your arms.”

Smiling to herself, Katla buried her face in the heavy fur smelling of wood smoke, pipe weed and Fili.

“I was watching the stars,” Katla said after a moment, not wanting to relieve the memories of the visions. She leaned against Fili when he stepped behind her and closed his arms around her. “There are so many of them...”
Fili followed her gaze. “Only Mahal knows how many...” Then he brushed her cheeks with his lips. “But I’d rather watch you in candle light right now.”
Katla chuckled softly and turned around to offer her lips for a kiss.

Fili buried his hands into her hair and she opened her lips to him, all thoughts of distant stars and hauting visions forgotten.

She burrowed into his embrace after the kiss and sighed contently.

“Are you happy, my love?” Fili asked her as he sifted his fingers through her hair.
“Why do you even ask that?” Katla looked up at him and noticed a small trace of worry in his eyes.
“You have been so... distant these last few days. Looking inward as if something was amiss. Not to speak of....”
“Do not speak of earlier, please.” Katla touched his cheek.

“But something else is troubling you, too. It has been for days.”
“You know me too well, Fili.”
“And still I cannot decipher what is wrong with you.”
“There is nothing wrong with me.” Then she took one of Fili’s hands and placed a kiss onto each fingertip.

“I have never been so happy, to be here with you, with our son, with your mother and your brother.”
Fili smiled. “Kili and his nephew are happy too, as it seems. They’re almost as close as brothers but for the age difference.”
“Yes,” Katla said softly. “A man should have a brother.”
Fili met her eyes, and with a gentle smile, Katla moved his hand to rest it onto her belly.

Closing his arms around her, Fili buried his face into her hair. A single shooting star suddenly fell from the sky, silently and swiftly, like a soul send down into the mortal world as a gift from Mahal.

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