Wren spent a restless night, through which her body still exhausted after the fever was demanding repose, while her mind would whirl, not allowing her an instant of peace. She tossed and turned, and in the morning she felt groggy, her joints ached and her head felt heavy. Her apprentice brought her a pot of porridge with cream and dried fruit from the Big House, and after thanking the girl and taking her draught, Wren sat in the small kitchen above her infirmary and was slowly working her way through her breakfast. The decisive knock at the front door came, then the bell above it rang, and through the open window Wren could hear voices coming from the threshold. Wren turned her face to the fresh light breeze coming through the window, bringing the smell of wet leaves and grass, after the small rain that had just stopped rustling through the bushes of lilacs in the backyard of her infirmary.
The voices from below rose, and she recognised the low demanding rumble of the King Under the Mountain. Wren had half a thought of cowardly staying in her kitchen and finishing her oatmeal, but then she got up, threw a shawl over her shoulders and hastily went down the stairs.
She saw her apprentice stubbornly glaring at the Dwarf, quite clearly having just refused him entrance, and Wren came from behind the girl and softly patted her shoulder.
"It is quite alright, I will take it from here." The girl was two heads taller than Wren, strong and lithe in her sixteen, and she threw a doubtful look at Wren. The healer smiled to her and then turned and met the eyes of the Dwarven King.
"Good morning, my lord." He gave her a low decorous bow, his lips pressed in a stern line. "Would you mind joining me outside?" Wren did not want to lead any conversations with him inside, the girl was a curious one, and whichever way Wren's life was to proceed, she did not need rumours to spread through the village.
They stepped to the yard, Wren shivered from the morning freshness and pulled the shawl around her shoulders more tightly. The King still had not pronounced a word, but then his cloak suddenly lay on her shoulders. She looked at him sideways and nodded with gratitude.
The rough heavy fabric bore the smell of the woods, the road, and the campfire smoke, as well as pipeweed and leather, and something indubitably his, the fresh spicy fragrance of his skin, and Wren sighed. Every instant they spent together, everything she touched or smelt, only reminded her of the difference between her dreams and that what was transpiring now.
She headed to a bench under a large oak tree and brushing off the water drops from it, she sat down inviting him to join her with a gesture of her hand. He followed, and they sat in silence. She was fidgeting with the embroidered hem of his cloak, he had his unseeing eyes fixed somewhere on the horizon.
"I apologise for my hasty judgement yesterday, Wren," his voice was even and hollow. She assumed he had practised the following in his head. "I should have asked for your consent and not decide for you… whether you are to travel back with me… We should have discussed it before I had announced it to Master Beorn..." The words were pronounced slowly, with difficulty, as if under compulsion.
Wren sighed again. His polite and seemingly considerate words brought no more relief or clarity than his yesterday's overbearing behaviour.
"I accept your apology, my lord," she did not sound any more lively than he did. She had had a whole night to think of it. She had had no strength left.
"I just thought it went without saying..." Clearly unprepared words fell off his lips, and she whipped her head to look at him. Muscles danced on his jaw, he was already regretting his careless words.
"That I would come back to Dale with you?"
"To Erebor! Why would you go to Dale?" He asked frowning. Wren returned the expression.
"What would I do in Erebor?" She asked stubbornly, and he suddenly made a distressed half growl, half groan like noise.
"Wren, what sort of conversation is this? Are we children? You are well aware what I am saying."
"I am not! I do not understand..." Wren exhaled in frustration. "And neither do you… All this is so odd..." Suddenly he chuckled.
"Well, I came back from my grave, and you robbed my family of its most precious heirloom in order to put me to eternal rest. 'Odd' is not exactly the word I would use." Wren could not help but give him a small smile. He after all was not wrong even a bit. His face grew serious again. "Wren, let us seize this palaver. What changed? It is still us..."
"Everything changed! You are alive! And not in my head! And a King!"
"I am the same man, and you are still… you." The King was growing impatient. "Are you not joyous I am alive and not in your head?" He gave her a grim smirk, and she clapped her hand to her knee in agitation.
"Thorin, what sort of nonsense is that?! How can you?!.. Of course I am. It is just that it changes everything..." She turned to him, trying to delegate her thoughts, and suddenly he snarled.
"Do you not want me? Now that it is different, do you not want to..?"
"To what?!" She cried out. "It cannot be the same! We cannot just… We cannot do what we did then. It was just the two of us, and it was not even true! Just a dream! It was… just a dream..." Her voice broke, and she hid her face in her hands.
She stayed still for a few instants, and then having gathered her will she straightened up and looked at the Dwarven King. He was pale, immobile, face dark and distant.
"So will you go to Erebor with me or not?"
"I cannot..." Wren breathed out, and his body jolted. She saw a grimace of pain run through his features, and she expected him to rise and leave. She doubted Dwarven warriors asked twice, but he remained seated.
"Is there another?" He asked, through gritted teeth, and her heart clenched. "Other responsibilities? Have you promised yourself to another? Or a service?" She shook her head, and stared at her hands. "What then?"
"I cannot… What am I to do there? To be there?.."
"My wife, Wren. You would be my wife." The answer fell gravely between then, and she gasped. His stone cold expression finally wavered, and he gave her an exasperated look. "I do not see what surprises you. Dwarves do not take such matters lightly, and we have already had this conversation. Before that night, I do not know if you recall..." His tone was venomous, and she groaned in frustration.
"There was no night, Thorin! It did not happen! None of it! And no, I cannot be your wife. It is simply not done! I have seen Erebor, I have seen its bigoted, narrow-minded reactionary ways! I was not allowed to come in with a letter into your Mountain! How do you expect me to enter it as a Queen?!" She only realised that she had jumped on her feet and stood in front of him, when she finally stopped speaking. She had also been rather loud, and now she clasped a hand over her mouth, panting and shaking.
"I expected you would be willing to tolerate resistance from my people for the chance to be my wife!" He growled sarcastically.
"Maiar help me, Thorin! You do not know me! Why would you marry me?"
"I do not know you?!" He jumped up on his feet and now stood in front of her, his eyes burning, black brows drawn together, and she winced away from him. "I know you better than anybody, Wren of Enedwaith. I have abiden in your mind! I have known your body!"
"You have not! It was not..."
"If you say it was not true, Mahal help me, I will strangle you!" He suddenly roared, grabbed her shoulders and gave her a good shake. "Why are you so intent on negating all we had?!"
"Because you had no choice!" She screamed shriekily into his face, and he released her. His arms hung along his body, and she jerked her chin up, in a futile attempt to hide the tears rolling onto her eyes. "You had no choice… Had we met... In your halls, or in the infirmary… Or… Had you lived then, survived the Battle, and met me in my service in Dale..." She suddenly found her ground and gave him a direct firm look. "Look me in the eyes now and tell me you would have spared me a glance."
His face was wan, his eyes roamed her face, and she felt she had found the right arguments.
"I am the woman who brought you back from behind the veil now. I have bled and went through a lot for you, and I am the woman who..." She stumbled over her words, but pushed herself to continue, "The woman you bedded, but had you lived you would have seen in me only what you saw in me the very first time we met. Just a scrap of a girl."
His own words, pronounced in the first night he had come to her dreams, lay between them like an impenetrable barrier, and she saw she won. Except it did not feel as a victory. She heavily sat on the bench again.
"If I go with you to Erebor, no one will be happy. Your people will hate me, and soon you will regret… I will be locked in a stone cage of the Mountain… And… You will hate me, Thorin… If not tomorrow, then in four years… I will become a burden..." Tears ran, but her mind was set. She could not lift her eyes, but she did not need to. Seeing him leave would be too painful.
"Be it your way," he muttered, and there was a rustle of steps, and then she was alone.
A/N: Before you throw rotten vegetables at me, tell me Wren was wrong! If you think he won't lose interest in her, allow me to refer you to "Thorin's Spring" Chapter 4.