"Get out of my house! Get out, oh Mahal help me, I will kill you!" He is screaming into your face, a terrifying roar of an enraged wounded animal. You recoil, step back and press your back into the door. He is clenching his teeth, his hand is twitching over the handle of a short broad sword clasped to his belt. "Thorin…" "Do not dare addressing me! You are never to talk to me again! You will leave Erebor and will not come back!" You are shaking but brace yourself. You lift your chin and return his glare. "I will leave but remember this," he turns his back to you. You see his shoulders shaking and you feel tears pooling in your eyes. You will them from spilling and straighten your back. "Remember, Thorin, son of Thrain, that I had something to say and you did not listen." He rasps, "Leave, or I do not know what will happen." You turn and leave the room.

Thorin, son of Thrain was not the first man to capture your attention. Though the proud Dwarf was the first to possess your heart, neither was he the first to claim your body. His name was Aldacar, son of Elendil, and he was a healer from Gondor. He was tall, lithe and graceful. The first time you have encountered him and met his cold grey eyes, his hands were covered in blood of a Gondor soldier wounded in a Haradrim attack in Harondor. You have worked side by side all day, and then overexhausted and distressed from many hours of men suffering and crying out in pain around you, you were sitting by the fire, leading a quiet conversation.

For the first time in your life you felt you met someone who shared your thoughts and interests. The life force of living beings, the healing nature of the world around you, the fragile bodies and the all defeating spirit, you jumped from topic to topic, without noticing that the sun was rising on the horizon. You stayed in the city with him, worked with him, learnt from him, taught him what you knew of herbs and trees. He was attentive, respectful, and distant. He was seemingly unaware of your infatuation with him, but that did not grieve you. Short and thin, with unruly copper curls, pale skin with a cheerful drizzle of freckles on your nose and cheekbones, you were a strange and unalluring little bird for most of Men. But you did not need his affection, you wanted recognition.

You worked hard, learnt a lot, read your books, harvested herbs and assisted him in tending to wounds. You would fall into your narrow bed at the end of the day, exhausted, and no libidinous thoughts would worry you in your sleep. After two years you realized you have learnt everything there was there to learn from Aldacar. Your dextrosity in surgery exceeded his, as well as your knowledge of herbs and a body of Men. Your Gondorian had nothing to teach you, and you decided it was time to leave. You packed your backpack and came to bid your farewell to his study, a tiny room at the back of the infirmary.

He was sitting with a candle burning at his table and a large book on his knee. That is how you always would see him, either working, or reading. He lifted his grey eyes at you and lifted his eyebrows in surprise. You cordially thanked him for the knowledge and the skills you acquired under his guidance, and promised to never forget his kindness. You felt tears running down your cheeks but the sadness was full of light and not pain, mixed with certainty that you were taking fond memories with you, and may be just a hint of regret. And then he got up and having approached you in a few long strides he pressed his mouth to your lips.

You froze, aghast and stupefied, although your inner voice was yelling in your head ordering you to move and enjoy what was obviously your first and last kiss with Aldacar. And then with your usual self-deprecating sarcasm you thought that just as true it might have been your first and last kiss in general, since no other man had ever paid you any mind and hardly would in the future.

You did not have time to react when Aldacar stepped back and started speaking. In his usual calm voice he proclaimed his love to you and asked you not to leave him. He explained though, that his life belonged to medicine and he was not planning to tie it to anybody in matrimony. After which he offered you to stay in your previous capacity of his aid. As confused as you were by the sudden turn of the events, you felt a suspicion that your beloved Gondorian was not revealing all his thoughts. You inquired whether he was already married but he denied the notion. And then in his even, composed tone he offered you his heart and body. He claimed that he had never before felt any desire to associate with a woman but your kindred spirit and exceptional talent had bewitched him.

You stayed. The admiration for his dedication to work, his passion in acquiring new knowledge and his endless compassion to the ailing would clench at your heart when you saw him in the infirmary. You would watch him bandage a wound and think, "The heart and the body of this magnificent man belong to me. It is I, the unimpressive girl from Enedwaith, who has the privilege of comforting and consoling him at the end of a day, after a death on his table, when he is so exhausted that you have to help him to bed pulling the clothes from his drained body. It is I who will support him though his hardships and successes. It is me he shares his life and his gift with."

His loving was gentle, thorough and… cold. The first time you shared a bed he felt it was necessary to discuss the process with you. You laughed and reminded him that you were a healer and familiar with the anatomy of Men and Women. He placed a cup of herbal tea in your hand and explained that although he wished for nothing else than to share his life with you, having children was out of the question. You both had work to do, he said, and had to fully dedicate yourselves to it. You agreed with him completely and drank the bitter liquid in one gulp. Despite all your bravado, you were shaking and could hardly control your fingers enough to unlace the collar of your tunic. He leant in, gently kissed your lips and helped you to undress. Then he undressed himself and for a second you forgot any fear. His body was glorious, lean and muscular, wide shoulder and narrow waist. His skin was smooth and silken, long strong muscles bulging on his upper arms, and the look at his round buttocks and narrow hips made you for the first time feel the hunger for a male body. He covered you with gentle meticulous kisses and your libido rejoiced. His long sensitive fingers started caressing your folds and you arched your back, wet and willing. The pain was acute, but subsided in a few days.

Since then your lovemaking was the same. It would always be initiated by you, never Aldacar, but he never refused if you indicated that you were in the mood. He would caress your body until you would feel sufficiently aroused and then he would thrust in your body in long deep strokes, always making sure that you ended up satisfied, after which he would quickly bring himself to release. When after a few months you decided that your lovemaking lacked diversity, you agonized for two days about how to begin such conversation. As the female healer at the infirmary you were often approached by women regarding their health concerns, and you knew that many other things transpired in people's bedrooms that you had never experienced. You found him in his study as usual and stammering you approached the subject, your cheeks burning. He listened to you calmly and agreed that, as you did not seem to be satisfied by your intimacy, you two were to expand your devices. You rushed to reassure him that you were satisfied but he stopped you and smiled his usual reserved smile. Few changes were made, and you found out that you prefered to be on top to be in control of your lovemaking, which seemed as satisfactory for his as the previous method.

After three years you realized that you could not continue thus. Your knowledge exceeded any challenges you faced on the daily basis, the only work that would catch your interest was midwifery. The man you had by your side was cold, unaffectionate, his caresses and embraces performed only out of duty and necessity. And then one day while sharing a breakfast and discussing the progress of the few new patients you realized that Aldacar never loved you. That he used his body and talent to keep you near, to cage your gift and experience in the infirmary that he held so dear. The old stone building was his true love, while you were the means to an end. You realized that your only joy those day, performing the duties of a midwife, would excite you so as the pregnancy, the birth and the feeding of a child from a woman's own body was the hymn to life, the vibrating, warm breath of nature and love. And the warmth was exactly what was missing from your life, your ever so burning heart caged in a cold indifferent world of the infirmary at the South of Gondor.

You packed your belongings that night while your lover was sleeping and left, never to look back. Years went by, you became stronger, independent, self-assured. You learnt to carry your small body and flaming hair proudly, speak your mind and never let another cage slam its door behind you. You tended to pregnant women, delivered children and prescribed herbs for love itch. You laughed and enjoyed food, travelled from town to town, and the only memory of Aldacar left was a small portrait in a silver case you carried at the bottom of your backpack.

When Erebor became your home, you put the backpack at the bottom of your old trunk and forgot about it. Sometimes your thoughts would return to it, mostly as a tinge of worry that someday your King might find it and you would have to face the unforgiving jealousy of the King Under the Mountain. And then you would think that it was probably long lost, and you would forget about it for many months again.

In the years that passed Aldacar has not changed much, his hair is longer, the eyes the same steely colour. He is clad in the official robes of the Gondor Guard and his tall figure is radiating the same cold serenity that all those years before. You are standing in the middle of a street in Erebor and feel like you are losing your mind. It takes him a second to recognise you and much longer to believe his eyes. "Wren?" You are silent, not knowing what to say. He looks over you, long Dwarven dress in heavy folds around your legs, hair in intricate braids, Nyrnala, the Jewel of Khazad-dum gleaming on your neck. The two Dwarven guards accompanying you stop a few steps behind and allow you some privacy.

The shock of seeing him leaves you tongue-tied and you are grasping for something to say. "Aldacar," you give him a gracious bow, having adopted the male Dwarven manner of greeting. "How are you in Erebor? And in the armour of a Guard of Citadel no less." "I have accepted service in Minas Tirith. They say a war is coming and many will be wounded protecting the White City. I wish to be there to assist." Noble and cold as always. You nod and ask yourself whether he is even going to inquire of your present life if you do not start talking yourself. "Where did you go all those years ago, Wren?" His face contorts and he makes a long step towards you, just like all those years ago. He places his hands on your shoulders and you realize the unrighteousness of what is happening. You recoil from him and the guards step forward unsheathing their swords. You stop them with a gesture of your hand and turn to Aldacar. "I left to build a new life for myself and I have it now, here in Erebor. I belong to another now, Aldacar." "The Wren I know would not belong to anyone or anything but her calling," he disdainfully point at your necklace with his eyes. Your hand flies to the heavy opulent jewel and you lift your chin proudly. "It is the token of devotion from the King Under the Mountain, not a collar." He smiles coldly and bestows you a mocking bow. "When we arrived for the negotiations we heard that the King is to take a wife from Men but we did not believe this preposterous prate," he shakes his head. "To think that you would allow a boorish gold-obsessed savage to lock you up underground, with gems and jewels surrounding you, in place of your beloved herbs and patients who require your help!" You clench your fists, shaking from anger and hurt. "How is it worse than being locked up in your infirmary and your bedroom so that you could utilise my talents?" "I taught you to tend to wounds and brew herbal essences, surely, you could have found better application for this knowledge. But I suppose my teaching in the bedroom was very fruitful," he hisses through his teeth, and you punch him in the face, aiming for the nose, skidding your fist along the cheekbone to afflict most pain. His teeth clank and at the next moment the guards are twisting his arms, forcing him to kneel. You stand in front him, regal and proud, and ask, "When did you become so bitter, Aldacar, son of Elendil? Was it when you lost your obedient, docile menial? Or was it when you yourself gave up your calling and exchanged the healer's robe for the shining Mithril armour?" He gives you a glare and you turn to leave. "Leave him," the guards release him but judging by a muffled grunt not without a little hustle. You do not turn back to check.

You tend to your knuckles in your study, your hand swollen and painful, and a servant arrives informing that the King requires your presence. A tinge of worry prickles your mind as the servant is pale and trembling, never before have you seen the immaculate schooling of castleservants to waver so. The King is sitting at his table in the study, clenched fists on the table, head low, unseeing eyes fixed on the polished stone of his desk. Between his hands you see the familiar portrait in the silver case.

The feeling of impending disaster is flooding you, and you make a frightened step back when the King lifts his burning eyes at you. His face is dark ,and pure undiluted rage is dancing in his eyes. "This man has been seen among the envoys from Gondor. Which is curious since he claims to be a healer, a man of your trade." "Thorin..." "Quiet!" You flinch. "If you were planning to smuggle your lover into Erebor under the disguise of a Minas Tirith guard, you should have at least hidden his portrait better so he is not so easily recognized." Your breathing is laboured, panic meddling your thoughts, and you are not sure which of his misconceptions to correct first. "It is not what you think..." "No?!" His snarl is ferocious and he jumps on his feet behind the desk. He grabs the portrait and throws it under your feet. "Have you not been hiding the portrait of your lover all these years you spend in my house? He is that man, is he not? You did not come to my bed a maiden! You did not make a secret of it either, as far as I remember." He is baring his teeth in a hateful smirk.

"Do you want to know how I found out? A few months ago I decided it would be a chivalrous gesture to restore the old travel trunk of my future wife," he spits the word like bitter mouthful of poison, "so that she would not feel like she ever needs to wander again, as her home is here in Erebor. I was planning to turn in into a storage for your herbs. Imagine my surprise when this little trinket fell out of your old undergarments, chaste and demure." He walks around the desk and you recoil. He is terrifying, the veins bulging on his neck, eyes wild and one hand on the handle of his sword. "It is not what you think, my King." He steps forward and his hot breath scorches your face. He is not touching you but his face is so close that you can physically feel the hatred radiating from him. And it is indeed hatred, pain driven and unadulterated. "Do not dare calling me that! I am not your King! A subject is loyal to the King! You know nothing of loyalty!" He steps back and growls, "Get out." "Thorin, you have to listen to me..." He snaps and raises his hand above your face. "Get out of my house! Get out, oh Mahal help me, I will kill you!"

You are running through passages and fall on your knees in your study. You wrap your arms around your middle, bite your lip to prevent crying. You need to think, you need a plan. Make the guards drag Aldacar to Thorin and force him to tell the truth? He might lie out of revenge. Seek out Dwalin or Balin, ask for their support, ask them to accompany you to Thorin, make him listen? He will disregard them or even worse, in his mind they will be implicated in your treason. Wait until he calms down and beg him to listen to you? It will never happen. You are staring at your blooded hand and the cold despair envelops your heart as you understand that there is nothing to be done. The King is lost to you. Sharp pain claws in your chest, and you understand why it is called a heartbreak.

That night you pack few of your belongings, throw a hood over your head and prepare to leave the castle. With your old backpack secured on your shoulders, you have only one task to fulfil. Nyrnala, the Jewel of Khazad-dum is laid in front of you on your formal desk and you consider sending a servant to return it to the King. But that would start gossiping, and you realize that once you are gone the King will have to come up with a proper explanation for a cancelled wedding and a missing Queen. Adding to the King's anguish blabbering servants, telling everyone who would listen how the Queen fled the castle in the middle of the night clad in her old cloak, seems hardly fair.

You do not quite understand what you feel towards Thorin at this time. You know that many would say that if he truly loved you, he would believe you. He would listen and would trust you. His temper is short, his rage uncontrollable, once overcome with it he does not listen to reason. He did not give you a chance to explain and probably would not have believed you anyway. The evidence was compelling, and Thorin's distrustfulness has a long history. However, you are hurting for him, when imagining his pain and anguish at the moment. He chose you as his Queen, defended his choice in front of his people, and in his eyes you committed the worst of crimes. You betrayed his trust and that of his people. He has been tormenting himself with suspicions for months, since he found the treacherous portrait. What agony he must be in now when the man with the loathsome face of your betrayal is in his city! The walking breathing proof that your heart and your body belong to another man.

You need to return the jewel, but you know not where. Is he still in his study? Has he gone to your bedchambers? Probably not, everything in them must remind him of you and the suffering you inflicted on him. The bedchamber it is. You tell yourself you will come in, put the necklace on the vanity and leave. You will not look at the bed you shared with your King, because that will break you. You will not look at his cloak you saw this morning, thrown on a settee by the window. You will not see and you will not feel. You will leave Erebor, find a cave to crawl into and lick your wounds. Then you will cry, lament and curse the unfairness of life. But while you are here you are still the Queen of Erebor. You will hold your head high, and you will endure.

You slip into the thankfully dark bedchamber and take the parcel with Nyrnala out of your pocket. The King's voice makes you jump and you swirl on your heels. He is sitting on the edge of the bed, fully concealed by shadows of the canopy. "Why did you do it?" You are shaking, a sudden desire to fall at his feet and plead to take you back flashing in your mind. He still might take you back. "But he will never trust you again," your inner voice whispers. You argue, "But he will be mine again." "He will never be yours again." You clench your fists. "Why did you do it?" he repeats, his voice lifeless. "I am returning Nyrnala to you." Please, let me leave with dignity. "Forget the jewel," he gets up and you see that he is shaky on his feet. Your first thought is that he is drunk, but you know that would be a sign of weakness, and Thorin Oakenshield never shows any weakness. "Why did you do it to me? Was I not enough?" You open your mouth, not even knowing what you are going to say, but he goes on, seemingly talking to himself. "I thought we were happy. How can it all be a lie? All these years, all what we had, all that happened. It all was a lie." "It was not!" You suddenly get your voice back and you are screaming. "It was not. I would never lie to you!" He starts shaking and looks at you in disbelief as if only now noticing that you are in the room. You understand that he has been leading this inner conversation with you for a few hours now. You are standing in front of each other, and your spirit shatters.

You pounce on him, all pain and despair, punches and kicks raining on him, you scratch and bite. You hate him, at that moment you probably hate him more than he hates you. You are shouting obscene curses in Khuzdul, the raspy throaty language flowing out of you effortlessly, its angry biting consonants carrying your rage and your grief. He hardly shields himself, he does not try to catch your hands, does not cover himself from your blows. You are screaming in his face, "It is all your fault! You are a traitor, do you hear me?! You betrayed me! You betrayed us! Not me, you! You are betraying everything we had by believing in that sickening lie! You are sick! You are murdering me!" You wail and claw at him, your hits weaker and weaker, and finally with no strength left in you, you sink on the floor, but he sinks with you, and somehow you end up in his arms, dry heaving and sobbing. He holds you through your hysterics, silent tears rolling down his face.

You are sitting on the floor, wrapped around each other, you are pressing your face into his chest, listening to his frantically beating heart. "Do not leave," he whispers, and you grasp his tunic with your fingers. "Do not leave me, my heart. I will not bear it." And then the wisdom of many generation of women dawns on you. You cannot prove the negative. You cannot prove that you did not do it. You can explain endlessly or you can bring forward the most reliable evidence, but trust is built on untenable, absolute faith. All you can hope for is his trust no matter what comes and no matter what transpired between you in the past. Trusting is believing that the other person will not hurt you, and the King is offering you his belief. It is not about proof, or explanation, or previous demonstrations of loyalty. It is about trusting the other with your defenseless heart. It is about letting the guard down and baring yourself helplessly. And Thorin is brave enough to do as much. No questions asked, no proof required, despite his mistrustful nature, despite the hardened shell around his heart, he opens up his arms and you fall, in him and with him. Tears run down you face again, and you whisper, "Never."