Sacred Duty, Bleeding Heart

Chapter 6

The next day was a crisp and clear autumn day, cool and dry with a sun that warmed the face but not the air anymore.

Having found a long staff of ash wood that had been meant to replace the shaft of a broom or a hoe, Fili now worked on turning that staff into a makeshift weapon. He had wound straps of leather around the middle for a grip and had studded both ends with nails, and while he proclaimed it a poor defence against an orc attack, it was definitely better than a kitchen knife.

Katla had joined him with another set of sewing and now sat on the bench beside the door, watching as Fili practised moves and steps, swinging attacks and blocks with the staff. He was being adamant about it, and soon had shed his shirt despite the cool autumn air.
He had just finished fighting another round of invisible foes when he looked at Katla and found her watching him with a small, sensuous smile on her face, her sewing lying idly in her lap.

“I see you are still admiring me,” he said with a smug, little grin.
Katla blinked and then blushed, but kept on smiling. “Oh, of course. You could just stand there doing nothing, wearing a dirty old sack, and I still would admire you.”
Fili raised his eyebrows, feigning indignation. “Are you saying I could have spared myself the trouble?”
At this, Katla had to laugh. Fili joined her and walked over to the bench to pick up his shirt.

“What are you doing?” he asked after having pulled it over his head, pointing at her needlework.
Katla’s smile dwindled. “I had this woollen cloth I planned for a new cloak, but now I am making a tunic instead. It is... more suited for travelling.”
Fili slowly sat down beside her, and after looking at her for a moment, put an arm around her shoulders. “I will come back,” he said gently. “I will not leave you alone out here. I will come back, I promise.”

She looked up at him and sighed. “It will be very lonely here without you.”
“But not for long.” He touched her temple with his forehead. “Not for long. I promise...”
“Please, don’t promise things when you have no way of knowing if you can actually keep them.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Fili gave back, sounding slightly hurt. “No matter what comes, I will be back for you.”
“That I can accept. But you have no way of knowing how far you will have to go yet and what will happen on the way.”
Fili breathed out a deep sigh. “No,” he admitted. “You’re right.”

Katla looked at her sewing again and sighed as well. Then she stood up and shook it a few times. “Here,” she said. “It’s almost finished; I just haven’t done the hems yet.”
Fili slipped the tunic on and looked down at himself. “Fits.” He smiled at her. “You’ve got a good eye.”
“I measured your shirt,” Katla replied, returning the smile.

Crossing his arms, Fili then looked at the sun that was beginning to disappear behind the ridge, his lengthening shadow pointed directly away from the door. “Right,” he said slowly. “Now I have a weapon, of sorts at least, I have something warm to wear, and I am healed enough to travel. The only thing I need now is to know where I am meant to go...”

Katla slowly got up and stepped to his side. He wordlessly pulled her into an embrace and they stood there for a while as the sun vanished behind the hills, leaving them in the cooling shadows of the approaching night.

“I remember the others who were with you went north,” Katla finally said. “Heading for the lake.”
They both turned to face that direction, where the faraway lake was usually only visible during daylight, nothing more but a misty spot of murky blue.

The lake was on fire.

“Fili,” Katla whispered hoarsely.
Fili did not reply, he did not move at all.
He kept on staring ahead, eyes wide, lips parted, as rigid as a statue.

“Fili?”Katla’s voice was trembling as she turned to look at him.
He kept on staring ahead, his lips moving, forming words only he could hear.
Katla swallowed and laid a hand on his arm.

“Fire,” he whispered.
“Fili?” It was hardly audible anymore.

Katla took a step back, her eyes wide with fear.

“The dragon... the mountain...” He violently shook his head as if to dislodge something. “The mountain...” Then he stumbled, almost losing his balance. “The mountain!”

Katla grabbed him by the elbow, and when he looked up at her, his face was as pale as a shroud.

“The mountain,” he said again, his voice hoarse. “I need to reach the mountain!”
“What mountain?” Katla asked, her voice trembling.
“The Lonely Mountain.” Fili swallowed, he was breathing heavily. “They need... I need to be there. They must have awoken Smaug!”
“Fili what are you talking about?”

Fili blinked and looked at Katla again as if he was seeing her for the first time.
“Katla...” He pulled her close and pressed his face into her hair. “The mountain. The Lonely Mountain. That’s where we were headed. We set out to reclaim our homeland that was taken from us. The dragon has taken it from us. And now they have awoken him... Katla I must go! I must go at once! My brother, Thorin, they need me!”
“But... you cannot fight a dragon...” Katla stepped back, clutching her throat. “You cannot fight a dragon!”
Fili’s face tightened until his mouth was a sharp, thin line. “We will. And we will win.”

Katla stared at him in silent horror. “Fili, please...”
Fili squared his shoulders. “I must. Katla, I belong with my brother... and Thorin... I cannot forsake them now.”
A silent tear trickled down Katla’s cheek. With a sigh, Fili stepped closer and brushed it away with his thumb.
“Forgive me. But I must go.”
“I know.”

He pulled her into an embrace and held her as tightly as he could. “Forgive me. But I cannot stay here while the others fight and need my help...”
“Of course you cannot,” Katla whispered into his shoulder. “But... a dragon? Fili, I will never see you again...”
“No.” He pressed a kiss onto the top of her head. “No, I will be back. I promise. I swear. I will come back for you, laden with riches from the dragon’s hoard, and you will never want for anything in your life again.”
“I don’t care for any riches. I care for you!”

Fili leaned back and put a finger under her chin, pressing gently so she would look at him. “And I care for you, Azbaduê. And with or without riches, I will be back.” Then he winked. “I might be a little singed around the edges, though.”
Katla shook her head while attempting to smile through her tears. Fili’s smile softened and he pulled her close to kiss her. They held on to each other for a while longer, before Katla broke free from his embrace.
“Wait here,” she said and vanished into the house.

When she emerged again she handed him a small leather bag. “Here. Wayfarer’s food. You will need your strength when...”
“Thank you.” Fili took the bag and slipped it over his shoulder. Then he picked up his staff and squared his shoulders again. “I’m coming, Kili, Thorin. I’m coming.”

He turned again at the sound of her voice. “Yes?”
She tried to smile, but failed. “Farewell.” Her voice was thick with tears she was desperately fighting.

He pulled her close yet again and placed a kiss onto her forehead. “Tak natu yenet. Until we meet again, my gemstone.”
“Go,” Katla whispered, her voice close to breaking. “Go, and do not look back.”

Fili nodded and with a sigh, turned away and left, trotting down the hill with swift, fast steps. Katla watched him go until he vanished out of sight before she returned into the hut. She walked over to the hearth, knelt down on the quilt that was still lying there as crumpled as they had left it that morning and, after running a hand over a few of the folds, she threw back her head and let her feelings run free in desolate, anguished sobs.

Fili trotted through the darkening night, always heading north for the lake, a task made easy by the foreboding light of dragon fire. Once the ground levelled out and he got closer to the lake he had to slow down into a walk as his not yet fully healed leg was beginning to cause him discomfort, but with his practised hill walker stride he was still able to cover a lot of ground as he was carrying nothing but a small bag and his staff.

Alternating between jogging and walking enabled him to reach the lake quicker than he had initially believed. Keeping close to the shore, he continued heading north, towards the mountain rising from the foggy morning dew.

Midmorning on his fifth day had him climbing up a rise where he paused to eat some of the bread and dried fruit from Katla’s bag. Then came the descent, and he drank deeply from the cold stream after crossing it and before topping the rise on the other side. It was then, as he stood at the summit, that he heard it.

A sound like distant thunder, or a roaring mountain stream after the snowmelt in spring. Then the wind shifted and for once, blew his hair out of his face instead of pushing it into his eyes from behind. And then he could smell it, too.

Blood. Fire. Terror. Death.

His grip around the ashen staff tightened and he set off at an even faster pace now.

There was a battle raging right below the mountain, and he was not at his brother’s side.

Azbaduê: My Lady

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