THORIN'S COWARDICE

Two months pass after the trial with Aldacar, and your relationships with the King seemingly go back to how they were before. It is the end of the first year of your betrothal, Nyrnala is a constant heavy weight on your neck, and again you spend every night in the King's arms. You tell yourself that the two of you were fortunate enough for your affinity to survive, and you should hardly question your luck. You feel thinned out, your nerves stretched, and you notice that the King is more gentle and delicate with you. You tell yourself that both of you need more time to forget what has transpired.

Nonetheless, one cannot change their own nature. You are healer and you always search for the symptoms and changes, and the slightest of hints to what is going on underneath the surface of your allegedly restored bond with the King Under the Mountain. Bones do not grow back without leaving a ridge of callus. You tell yourself to be grateful and busk in your happiness, but you find yourself constantly on guard.

The first night after that horrible day you slept in each other arms, fully clothed, clutching to each other, each one of you waking up several times through the night, to reassure yourselves and each other that the other one is still close. You wake up at an early hour of morning and start crying again. The King awakes too, his tender murmurs and caresses lulling you back to sleep. You feel wetness on his cheeks too.

Morning comes, and you quietly divest each other of garments, your kisses chaste, your lovemaking gentle, careful, silent and tender. You fall asleep again and wake up after noon. You open your eyes first, your hand is on his chest, above the strong beating heart, and you feel tears rising again. You take long deep breaths, will the tears from spilling. You close your eyes again and tell yourself that now the King will wake up and will go around his day, and you will let him go. You will rise, get dressed and will go to the infirmary. You will tend to your patients and will later make your rounds. You will return, you will have dinner together and then you will repose together, like you always do. You will take off your garments in your dressing room and will return to the sleeping chambers. The King will be waiting for you in your bed. And everything will be alright.

The King stirs out of his sleep and opens his eyes. They are suddenly panicked, but then he sees you. He pulls you into a crushing embrace. "Mahal, you are here..." He is burying his face into your neck, and you feel him tremble. "We are not leaving this bed today..." His voice is raspy, "I do not wish to..." He chokes on his words and clenches his teeth. Then he roughly pulls you to his mouth, his lips greedy and controlling, and you soften into him, compliant and obedient. He rolls you underneath him and takes you in fast harsh thrusts. You are crying out with each push of his hips, and he collapses on you, his release violent, he is growling and shaking. You are stroking his shoulders and whisper words of love. You spend the day in the chambers.

You hardly talk, coupling again and again, your movements sometimes loving and slow, sometimes quick and harsh, on the bed, against the wall, on the floor, sometimes he is kissing every inch of you body, worshiping you with his lips and words of loyalty and adoration, sometimes he is slamming you into a bedpost, you are biting and scratching him, drawing blood.

The evening comes and he leaves to the kitchen in search for food. He is gone for only a few minutes but you plummet into panic, suffocating and heaving on the bed. When he comes back and places a tray on the floor, you jump at him, hands grasping handfuls of his hair, mouth on his throat. He topples you both on the floor, and in a few minutes you climax with a sharp shout.

The next morning comes, and as you predicted you go back to your usual life. You have the last moment of weakness, when after another lovemaking the King gently kisses you and leaves to the bath chambers. You get up and see your backpack on the floor. It was packed and brought with you when you sneaked into the bedroom to return the necklace before, as you thought, leaving Erebor forever. You are frozen over your bag, not daring to touch it, but wanting the assaulting object out of your sleeping chambers. You call for a servant and ask them to discard of it. No questions are asked, your blanched face and sternly pressed lips a dire warning. Your healer's sack also packed for the road is carried to your study. You also order the study to be cleaned, there are bloodied bandages and balms on the table where you were attending to your bruised hand.

The King comes out of the bath and sits near you at the bed. He looks exhausted, shadows under his eyes, and you stroke the side of his face. He presses his cheek into your palm. "You need to put it back." You look at him puzzled. "Nyrnala. I need you to put it back on." His voice is hollow but there is a hidden plea in it. You smile shakily to him and get up. The jewel is still resting on the vanity and you take it out of the cloth wrap. He takes it from your hands and you turn your back to him. The gems lie on your clavicles and neck, cold and weighty, and the King halts. You are waiting, holding your hair up. He is silent and then he leans and places a small kiss on the back of your neck. The clasp clicks and his hands lie on your shoulders. You stay still together for a few seconds, and then he kisses your temple and leaves the chambers.

Two months later you are still wondering, unreasonable mistrust towards the ostensible peace in your house torturing you. You notice that more and more as the days pass you are questioning every little detail in your life. Have you always slept like that, wrapped around each other, desperately clinging to the other's body? Have you caught the King's eyes on you so often before? Is he more gentle in his lovemaking or, as sometimes it seems, is he more demanding in bed? You feel like slipping into madness.

Why can you not just accept your luck? And then a thought comes, and you are scared of it. You run from it, hide from it, but it is persistent, and you find yourself fearing going to bed, as it is waiting for you there, in the darkness of your bedchambers, in the sleepless hours, when the King is evenly breathing by your side. You toss and turn.

After a week it becomes hard to those around you to ignore the purple shadows around your eyes and your shaky demeanour. The food loses its taste, you become apathetic, absent-minded, you have to ask other healers to attend to your patients, concerned for them as your attention seems to be slipping, but you are fighting your urge nonetheless.

You are lying in your bed, your jaws clenched, every minute of the day fighting the urge to demand the King to talk to you about Aldacar. You want to yell into his face, "Don't you want to know? Don't you need my explanation, my defense, my innocence? Don't you want at least an illusion of knowing what happened, some sort of understanding?" You know Thorin, son of Thrain too well now to doubt that he thinks back to what happened every day.

He carried his suspicions with him for months after finding the portrait in your trunk. He was silent and you did not suspect a thing. What is on his mind now? You realize that is your fear, your nightmare that does not allow your peace and rest is your incomprehension of his mind. You could have taken his forgiveness even though there was no fault on you, you would have accepted his silence, if only you could be certain that they are unwavering and eternal. How can you be sure in it if your King's mind is closed for you?

You often think how could you not have seen the pain he was carrying in his heart. You went on with your life, happy and undisturbed, what must he have thought about you at those weeks? That you were pretending, your smiles and caresses a deceit. He thought you were preparing circumstances for your lover's visit, organizing, plotting. How could he caress and kiss you in return if he thought other man was in your heart? You feel nausea rising sometimes. All those nights were a lie for him, full of suspicion, while you were busking in what you thought was his loving warmth. Sometimes you grab and pull at your hair just to stop recollecting every single of those nights. You bury your face in the pillow and will yourself to succumb to sleep. It does not come.

The king jumps out of the bed and jerks the canopy. The moonlight floods the bed and you are staring at him. "Stop it right now! Cease it or I do not know what I will do!" His face is contorted in rage, teeth bared, and he slams a fist into a bedpost. The memories of the day when he banished you from Erebor rush back, and you whimper and scamper away from him to the wall. You are pulling the covers to your chest and sob. He takes a deep breath in and stretches his hand to you. "Forgive me, my heart. I shouldn't have..." You are shaking. "I should not have screamed. I apologise..." You whine and put your trembling hand into his palm. He sits back on the bed and covers your hand with his other warm palm. You are taking short sharp breaths.

"You have to stop torturing yourself and me, kurdu. Just say it already." "Say what?" You voice is raspy, the movements of your throat painful. "Whatever it is that is eating at you. That you can't forgive me and want to break our betrothal. That you love another. Or that you never loved another but can't forgive me for doubting you. That you want your freedom. That you want us to wed tomorrow, I don't know!" By the end of his talking he is yelling again, and you recoil. "Forgive me," he is rubbing his face with his palms now.

"I am so tired of this uncertainty, you are withering in front of me, you are obviously afraid of me. Do you think I do not notice your cautious looks? You are constantly observing me. What are you afraid of? That I will harm you in my rage?" You open your mouth to reassure him, but he does not let you speak. "I would be scared too, if I were you. I am not the most observant of men, but even I understand how hard it is to live with me and my temper. But you have to realize that I would never hurt you." He looks at you pleadingly and picks up your hands again.

"I am not afraid of you, Thorin. I am afraid of your thoughts." "My thoughts?" You breathe out a shuddering sigh. "You kept your suspicions to yourself for months, and I was blind to them, what is to tell me that you are not harbouring some dark thoughts now?" He lowers his head. "I am not." "You just shouted about half a dozen into my face." He gives it a thought. "I did, didn't I?" He looks surprised. "Should we maybe just talk about what our fears are and save each other from this agony?" He looks at your hopefully. If you were not so drenched and bedraggled you would feel a bit proud of yourself. You taught a chauvinistic obstinate Dwarf the value of talking about feelings.

But at that moment all you can do is hide your face in your hands and attempt to reign your sobbing. He is sitting on the edge of the bed, his face confused and miserable. "Kurdu?.." His voice is so uncommonly insecure and weak. You lift your face. He frowns at what he sees. You momentarily think that your eyes are probably red and puffy, but whatever beauty he seemed to find in you before, it probably has been gone for a while, you are thin and pale, after two months of sleepless nights and no nourishment. If he still thinks you attractive after that, you will know he loves you for your inner qualities.

"I do want to talk," you sniff. "Ask me anything you want, my Lord." "Why was your hand bruised that day?" The question shocks you, asked without a pause, his voice taut and gruff. Out of all things… "I punched him in the face when we met each other in the street." You cannot pronounce Aldacar's name. "For what?" "He insulted me. He assumed I was your concubine, that I sold my body and skills for your gold."

The King is pondering it. "After knowing you for so many years, how could he think?.." He trails away. "He had not seen me in more than ten years, he hardly knew the person I am now and probably forgot the person I was then." The King is looking at your with a strange expression on his face. His brows are hiked up, giving him a surprised look. "Have you not kept in touch?" You cannot hold back a hysterical chuckle. "In touch? I hardly remembered he existed. I even forgot the cursed portrait in my trunk..." You press your fingers to your eyes. "If only I threw it out from the start..."

You remember the King and lift your eyes at him again. His face is reserved, cold, but you have loved that man for years, and the slightest twitches of his lips and brows, his eyes widening, unnoticeable for most, are an open book for you. You can see how in him the desire to believe you and hope are fighting with jealousy and suspicion and the darkest images he created in his own mind.

"What happened between the two of you?" You sigh. "I was a healer in Gondor, he was my mentor. We were..." You bite your lip. "Lovers." "Is he that first one, the only one?" "Yes." For a second the King is lost in his thoughts, his eyes narrowed , lips pressed together. You wait. Somehow you are certain that he is imagining a bloody and slow death for Aldacar. You have no strength left for hatred or forgiveness, you just want for Aldacar to never have existed. But the past is not to be altered.

"What happened?" "We ran into each other in the street, and he was saying all those things..." "No, all those years ago." It still hurts to think about that time. "We served together. It was his infirmary, and I just packed my things and left." "Why?" His stare is heavy. You can see that he is hoping you would say that you never loved Aldacar, but that would be a lie, and one cannot build a life on a lie. "Because he did not love me. He wanted my knowledge and skills, but not me."

"Did you love him?" You lift your chin. "I was in love with him. But now I know that I did not love him." You put your hand on his and he doesn't move it away. "I misjudged then. I thought admiring a man is enough to build a life with him. And I understand now, my illusions were very convenient for him," you exhale sharply, "I do not hate him, my Lord. But I pity him. And despise him."

The King is deep in his thoughts and you are sitting, the turbulence of the previous hour receding, leaving you trembling and weak. The King stirs and takes your hands in his. "Forgive me, my heart, I should have..." "No, please, do not ask for forgiveness!" You interrupt and clasp his hands. "You were torturing yourself for weeks and then made hasty but unfortunately logical assumptions. You have forgiven me and let me stay..." "I tortured you for two moons!" You pause and stare at him. "I could see you were in pain but I could not bring myself to talk to you. I thought you were mourning your lover..." He lowers his head again, his voice grave.

"No, I was… What do you mean by mourning?" A horrible suspicion floods you. "Thorin, tell me he is alive!" "I haven't touched him," his tone is defensive. "He is alive, the guards were thorough but merciful." You jerk your hands out of his grip and press them to your mouth. "I do not know what happened, but there was a brawl in a tavern. I suppose the guards who were with you then started it. They threw him out of Erebor. He was hardly scathed," there is a slight disappointment in his voice. "Probably couple of ribs and an arm." You groan. "Well, probably both arms."

"He is a healer, Thorin, he needs his hands!" Are you defending him now?" "I never wished him harm! He is cold and incapable of love but he is not malevolent!" "Didn't you just tell me that he used your feelings for him to keep you as his assistant?!" You halt. "And besides," the King sounds disdainful, "wasn't he a Minas Tirith Guard and not a healer?" "He said he wanted to serve in the White Citadel to be of medical service if there were a war." "A noble endeavor," the King's tone is venomous, "and while the peace still reigns he gets to wear the Mithril armour and enjoy the privileges of the Citadel Guard."

"I do not wish to discuss him any more," the King says decisively. You nod, you are tired of the subject as well. You suddenly feel exhausted, your eyes are closing, and you sway. The King supports you and then carefully lays you into the pillows and covers. You are drifting, everything is blurry. "We haven't talked about everything yet..." Your speech is slurred. "We have our whole life for talking. Sleep, kurdu," there is smile in the King's voice, or so it seems. It is hard to tell, as dark void is already enveloping you.

The morning comes and you wake up in the King's tight embrace. You are pressed into him, your head on his shoulder, both his massive arms wrapped around you. You try to move but he only squeezes you harder. Even in his sleep there is frown on his face. You are peering at his face. The smooth black brows drawn together, the lips you love so much pressed in a hard bitter line. You slide the tips of your fingers to smooth out the wrinkle between the brows. They twitch but he is still asleep. You follow the bridge of his long nose with the pulp of your index finger, caress the upper lip. The lashes flutter and he opens his remarkable blue eyes. Your heads are on the same pillow, you are facing each other, and you chuckle.

"What is the reason for your merriment, my Queen?" His voice is gruff from sleep and grouchy. "I'm ogling you, my King. I am infuriated with you, but I'm still ogling you." He continues to frown but his lips twitch in a shadow of a smile. His voice has a hint of mirth in it too, "Then there is still hope for me." You lean in and kiss him gently. It feels as if it is your first kiss. The sensations flood you, your breath hitches, a wave of thrill runs through your body. He seems equally affected. He moans and pulls you closer, hand grabbing the back of your head, leading you into a deeper kiss. You moan as well and press into him.

"Forgive me, azyungel, forgive me," he is hotly whispering into your mouth. He rolls over you, "Please, I'm begging you, my heart, my ghivashel, I was a coward. I just couldn't face your resentment, your pain..." You are kissing him fervently. "I forgive you." He slides his lips to your neck, but notices the undertone of your answer. He lifts his eyes at you. "But?.." "But you have to promise me you will remember this day, Thorin, son of Thrain." He nods solemnly. "You almost broke me, my Lord..." You feel your lips tremble and his face contorts in remorse. "Forgive me, forgive me…" He is kissing your eyes, your cheeks, your lips. "I forgive you. And now please, make love to me." You look shyly at him and he presses his lips to yours, gently, adoringly, as a seal of trust and loyalty, as a promise and an oath of courage and devotion.