Sacred Duty, Bleeding Heart

Chapter 8

In the first two weeks following the battle it was Fili everyone turned to as Thorin was still unconscious and his life hanging by a thread. It was Fili who, despite his own injuries, had to oversee the cleaning of the battlefield although Balin, his brother and his cousin Daín assisted with that.

And it was Fili who had to negotiate the first, tentative attempts at diplomacy for peace and reparations, planting the tiny, tender seedlings of friendship and alliance into the blood-soaked soil of war and hatred.

Balin was at his side the whole time, guiding him and counselling him, and more than once he let the young prince know that he thought highly of him and his skills.

“Don’t you dare to think this is working,” Fili snapped at the older dwarf one night as they headed for his tent. “You can praise me all you like, but it isn’t working. I know what you are thinking. What you all are thinking.”
“And what is it that I am thinking?” Balin’s voice was calm and almost gentle, his eyes betraying nothing.
“That you all doubt Thorin’s ability to rule,” Fili snarled. “That you do not trust him anymore after having seen him succumb to the dragon sickness. I know, I was not here, but my brother has told me all about it, and I trust his words as much as I do my own eyes. I say this now, and I say this only once.” His voice lowered into a dangerous growl. “I shall not take Thorin’s crown before he gives it to me, and I shall not go and try to persuade him to do so before the time he sees fit.”

Balin looked at Fili out of sorrowful eyes, a long, silent moment before the old warrior shook his head with a sigh. “You are shouting dragon where there is none, my prince. Yes, Thorin fell victim to the same madness that claimed his grandfather. Yes, it almost destroyed him, and us, who followed him. But in the end, he overcame it. He proved to be stronger than his curse, Fili, and we are all proud to call him our king. What under the earth made you think we would want you to succeed him before his time?”

Fili stared at his old mentor for a moment, and then shook his head. “Forgive me, Balin,” he said. “I have so much on my mind...I worry too much.”
“Aye, that you do, my lad.” Balin placed a gentle hand onto Fili’s shoulder and blinked in surprise when the latter let his head fall forward with a tired groan.
“I’m so tired,” Fili muttered. “I keep running around all day and keeping a straight face at the demands of elves and men alike... I broke my ribs twice in as many weeks and I feel the pain with every single breath...”
“Then I beg your forgiveness, too, my prince,” Balin replied softly. “I did not allow myself to see that the battle has left its mark on you, too. Rest for a day or two, the negotiations can well wait that long.”

Fili nodded, his face deeply lined with tiredness and worry, and sank down onto his bedroll. He was asleep even before the old dwarf had left his tent.

When he awoke it was bright daylight outside, and Kili was sitting on his bedroll next to him, whittling on a piece of wood. But the moment Fili tried to sit up he dropped both the wood and the knife.
“Oh no, brother. You are to stay in bed. Strict orders from the royal steward. And I’m here to make sure that his orders are heeded.”
“Royal steward?”Fili blinked sleepily.
“That would be Master Balin,” Kili muttered in a conspiratorial tone, giving his brother a wink.
Fili rolled his eyes. “Oh come on, brother, I just need to piss.”
“Well, I guess having you widdle your pants like a dwarfling is not part of his plan. Come on.”

Kili helped him up and out of the tent, but also made sure he lay back down directly afterwards.

“I’ve got some good news, by the way,” Kili said conversationally as he picked up his piece of carving again. “Thorin woke up this morning, but according to Master Balin, no one is to see him yet apart from the healer because he is still very weak.” A shadow of worry flew over Kili’s otherwise cheerful features. “But he’s awake, and that’s a good sign, isn’t it?”
“It sure is,” Fili replied and stared at the cloth of the tent above.
“What is it?” Kili cocked his head, giving his brother a worried look.
“I’m just tired. My ribs hurt, and my leg does, too, and I’ve talked to none but elves these last few days.”

“Well, that explains it, then.”Kili pointed the knife at him. “No more elves for you.”
“Gladly,” muttered Fili and closed his eyes. “I’d rather listen to Ori lecturing me about the virtues of different kinds of parchment for the rest of the day.”

Kili was just about to make a remark to that when the tent flap opened and someone outside said: “Quick! Hurry up!”
A group of dwarves, lead by Dwalin bearing a rather large backpack, hurried into the tent, the last being Bofur who dropped the flap behind him. Fili sat up with a confused look, letting his eyes roam over Bofur, Bifur, Dwalin, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin and Gloin shuffling around, stepping on each other’s feet, grumbling and complaining and cursing until they finally had all seated themselves to their satisfaction in the small tent.
“What in all the...?” Fili cast a look at his brother, but Kili looked as perplexed as Fili was.

“We thought you could use a little distraction,” Dwalin said and produced a little barrel from his spacious pack. “And since none of us has had any chance to properly celebrate the fact we’re still alive we thought we’d take the chance.”
Fili sat up with a smile, but then his eyes narrowed. “Where are the others?”
“Well, Balin is fretting over Thorin, and not letting the tent out of sight,” Nori said.
“And Bombur?”

A stony silence answered him before Dori spoke. “He... a warg got him and tore his right arm clean off, they said. He didn’t make it, we heard the news this morning.”

“And I can’t even make a song for him,” Bofur said finally into the despondent silence, his voice trembling. “I tried, but I can’t. He fell in battle, he was torn apart by wargs, but the truth is, he was always only...” Bofur broke off, the sadness in his eyes so uncharacteristic and out of place for him that no one knew what to say.

“He was Bombur, the great,” Fili finally said. “And no matter what anyone thinks, make a song about him, Bofur. Make a song about Bombur the mighty, he who could devour whole mountains of food that would let a lesser dwarf despair. Let us remember Bombur as a dwarf who loved life and the good things it held in store. Surely he would not want us to lament his passing. He would want us to celebrate his life!”

At that, Nori produced a stack of earthenware cups and Dwalin proceeded to fill them all from his barrel. It was good, dark ale from the Iron Hills, and they drank the first to Bombur.
The second, to all the others who had fallen.
The third to the King’s health and recovery.

With the fourth, dedicated to Erebor and its glory to be restored, Bofur was already grinning again.
“Give me a sausage as big as my arm... and a barrel of spirit to keep meself warm...” He wiped his eyes as the others laughed.

With nightfall Balin joined them, telling them that Thorin was on the mend, even if it would take some time yet until he would be fully recovered, he was out of immediate danger of dying. They emptied the barrel at midnight, and the healers who came to check on the prince the next morning were not a little baffled when, instead of two, they found eleven sleeping dwarves and an empty barrel in the small, two-person tent.

<b>x-x-x</b>

Within the next days, the dwarves began reclaiming Erebor. Tentatively at first, cautious, and more to assess the damage that Smaug had done during his time. But since the great wyrm had only been able to move about freely in the great, spacious main halls there was little damage to the galleries and hallways.

The first thing they did was gather up the dead that still lay scattered throughout the city; huddled mummified corpses in small side rooms and in collapsed halls where there had been no escape, charred and brittle skeletons wherever Smaug in his wrath had happened to encounter them.

It was a grim task, and it took far longer than anyone would have liked.

An abandoned mine shaft deep down in the mountain was used as their tomb, and it was on the day that this tomb was sealed, putting the last of the dead of the fallen of Erebor to rest, that Thorin left his sickbed for the first time. He was still pale and weak and leaned heavily on Dwalin for support, but his voice was strong when he spoke the final blessings.

“Rest now, for you have lain unburied long enough. Be at peace, for you have been avenged. Rejoice, for we have finally reclaimed what is ours and will restore what once was. You shall not be forgotten.”

Thorin’s words echoed through the silent caverns of old and the wind sighed as if the ancient dead finally breathed in relief. Not a few of the dwarfs in attendance shuddered at the sound.

It was good to be back in sun and daylight again after that, even for a dwarf.

Ori had been the last to leave the tomb, after having placed a handful of tiny autumn flowers and fragrant herbs in front of the tomb.
Now he stood aside from the others, in tears but visibly struggling not to make a sound.

“Tears, lad?” Dwalin shook his head and grabbed his arm to pull the younger dwarf towards the fire where the others were sitting. “What good will tears do to those who’ve been dead longer than you’ve been alive?”
“I’m... I’m sorry Mister Dwalin,” Ori muttered as he sat down beside his brother. “It’s just... In one of the upper galleries we found a small chamber and the door was blocked by a broken pillar. And inside... inside was the body of a woman and two children...” He swallowed audibly. “And she was cuddling them, but they both had their throats slit, and...” He shook his head. “They were so small... it was so terrible to look at.”
Dori patted his brother’s shoulder. “Was it for them you put the flowers there?”
Ori nodded silently, staring into the flames.

“Flowers...” Dwalin began, but Thorin sitting on a boulder rather than on the ground due to his wound, lifted his hand.
“Leave him be, Dwalin,” he said. “Kindness is not a weakness, especially in times like these. Mahal knows there’s little enough of it in this world as it is.”

Fili tore his eyes away from the flickering flames and looked at Bofur. “Sing us a song,” he said. “Maybe something about... about coming home?”
Bofur thought for a while and then hummed a tune, a tune all of the dwarfs around the fire knew. One they had been weaned on, in the case of the younger ones, one that still carried memories of dragon fire and exile to the older ones.

“Oh ro soon shall I see them;
Oh he ro see them oh see them.
Oh ro soon shall I see them the
Mist covered mountains of home.

There shall I visit the place of my birth
And they'll give me a welcome the warmest on earth
All so loving and kind full of music and mirth,
In the sweet sounding language of home.”

All the others joined him for the second chorus, clear tenors of the younger dwarfs mingling with the deep bass of the older.

“There shall I gaze on the mountains again,
On the fields and the woods and the burns and the glens,
Away 'mong the valleys beyond human ken
In the caves of the deep I will roam

Hail to the mountains with summits of blue,
To the caves with their jewels of red, white and blue.
To the women and men ever constant and true,
Ever ready to welcome one home.”

“How often have we not sat around a fire, in front of a hearth, and listened to this tune,” Thorin said softly. “And now we sit here at the very gates of that home we so have longed for. You all stood by me through my darkest hours, and I am proud that you are with me here today. May I never fail your trust again.”

Beads of wetness clung to his beard as he held out his arms. “Come to me, my sister-sons.”

Fili and Kili exchanged a glance before getting up, and both stepped towards the boulder Thorin was sitting on. He put an arm around each nephew and finally opened his eyes. “I know, if only from hearsay, that you defended me with your lives out there.”
“We couldn’t have done otherwise...” Kili interjected.
“And that you, Fili, kept your presence a secret from me to make me hold on,” Thorin continued. “I know not if that was a necessary thing to do or not, but I appreciate the notion. Know this, my boys: I am proud of you, and I never could have loved you more than if you had been the fruit of my own loins.”

“Now those are the words of a true king!” Dwalin said and wiped his eyes.
“Tears, lad?,” Gloin teased and immediately ducked under the fake blow.
“That’s nae tears, ye blockhead, it’s... it’s liquid pride!”

Everyone grinned or chuckled at that, and Thorin even grinned as he tousled his sister-sons’ hair. “Nori,” he called. “Find us something to drink to drive the damp cold from our bones and the gloom out of our minds! Bofur, another tune if you please, but something merrier!”

The only lasting drop of bitterness was the empty space in their midst and the mug sitting there that no one emptied.




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