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Song inspired by Hedningarna - Täppmarschen.
Chapter 36 - Unexpected Recovery
Hemery's head ached as she sat on the edge of Dwalin's bed. Her posture was heavy like a sleepwalker, her face downturned from shame as well as exhaustion.
"Try to drink somethin'," Dwalin rumbled softly at her.
A cup of water appeared next to her face. Gentle but persistent fingers lifted her chin and guided the cup to her lips.
Hem managed a few sips. The water was cool against dry, bitten lips.
Then hands took charge of her limbs, stripping her of harnesses and hidden daggers. She did not care. Hem knew she was safe here with Dwalin and her sister.
"Is that all of them?" Hanah asked in hushed tones.
Hem felt two more leather sheaths removed from her boots and heard them flung onto the floor with dull thuds.
"That's all of 'em," Dwalin settled.
Hanah unlaced and pulled off Hem's boots as well.
"Get some rest," Dwalin commanded before leaving them alone, pulling the door to the kitchen closed.
Hanah helped her out of her coat and tunic, letting Hem keep her shift on as she was tucked in under the blankets. But Hanah did not leave like Hem expected her to. Instead, she undressed in silence and joined Hem in the bed, settling in for the night together like they did when they were younger. Hanah surprised her again by enclosing Hem in an embrace, wrapping one arm over her torso tightly, as if keeping Hem in her own skin.
"I'm sorry," Hem could not stop herself from repeating.
"Shh," Hanah whispered. "Rest now."
"Are you not afraid of me?" Hem's voiced cracked in the dark, and tears which she thought long cried out once more gathered in her eyes.
Hanah sighed. "No. I'm afraid of what it did to you. What might become of you."
Hemery did not know what she would become now. She only felt hollow in her chest were fear of the unknown still lingered. Fear of what she might do, and what she had already done.
"Forgive me," slipped out of her mouth again, as she was desperate for at least Hanah to know that none of what she had said or done was with the intent to harm.
"There's nothin' to forgive," Hanah said sterner. "If you would ever hurt me––"
"I did hurt you."
Hanah squeezed her chest tighter with her arm for a moment. "If you ever hurt me, I want you to know that I will always forgive you. We are one, you and I. No matter how difficult, you always followed me. I have always taken care of you. And no matter how far you travel, you come back to me. I know you will."
Hem gripped Hanah's wrist and squeezed back. After a long moment of nothing but Hem's wet breaths heard through the stillness, Hanah softly began to sing.
Day moves to its end
Prepare to part ways, my friend
Life lingers, sleeping in your hand
A bird called Grief nests on your land
Life will flee, but Death will stay
You must begin the journey, alone, to Far Away
In the light of a smoky fire in Dwalin's yard, the king uttered careful words to the dwarf who was once his most trusted hand.
"She is well, I assume," Thorin said, though nothing in his countenance showed any assurance of the fact.
Dwalin looked away from the improvised hearth––which he had lit in order for the king, Kíli, Raín, and whatever guards that accompanied them to stay dry and warm during their vigil––and met Thorin's eye.
He said nothing, refusing to answer a question that was not a question.
"Otherwise, you would not let her be, correct?" Thorin challenged. "If she needs a healer, or if––?"
"She needs rest. Peace and quiet," Dwalin interrupted with a pointed look at the king. "She'll recover best if left alone. Hanah will make sure of it."
"You seem very confident," Thorin said, frowning doubtfully.
"Given time, she'll awaken from the infernal influence like a drunk sleeps of his drink. I've seen it before." Another meaningful glance cast toward Thorin.
The king sighed heavily, settling down by the fire.
Kíli appeared then, sitting down next to his uncle. He jostled Thorin with his knee as he sat, gingerly holding a cup of something that was most likely pilfered from Dwalin's pantry. No worries visible on his smooth brow or in his carefree smile.
"This is just like old times, eh, Uncle?" Kíli elbowed Thorin in his side. "Dwalin, bring out your fiddle. Let's make a night of it."
Or perhaps Kíli just refused to let insignificant things like mystical rings and violence to sully his outlook.
"And fetch some of your famous juniper-smoked sausage while you're at it," Kíli called after Dwalin.
"Ye can smoke yer own sausage if ye don't quit yer hollerin'," Dwalin replied caustically over his shoulder, much to Kíli's childish amusement.
Whichever the case, Thorin thought, it was going to be a long night.
Hemery slept fitfully, awakened sometimes by nightmares, sometimes by dreams fading with the first blink of her eye. But she slept. And she slept for a long time.
Thorin and Dwalin stayed by the fire in the yard all night, camping out on blankets under the stars. Dwalin's cottage stood empty, had been ever since Hanah and Hemery moved out, but neither dwarf seemed willing to leave the yard, as if unwilling to distance themselves too much from Dwalin's house.
In the morning, Thorin knocked on the door.
"Your Highness," Hanah greeted politely.
"Hanah," he sighed, closing his eyes briefly and raising a hand as if to plead with her, or perhaps physically stop her from using whatever formalities she deemed necessary when the king of Erebor stood outside a shack on a hill to inquire after his wife's health. "Can I see her?" he asked, glancing past Hanah into the dark smithy.
"She's sleepin'," Hanah replied.
Thorin lingered a moment, seemingly wanting to ask something else, demand answers that could not be given by a sleeping woman. Hanah would never stir her sister from sleep just to accommodate the king, and they both knew it. Realising the futility of his wishes, he nodded in resignation. He had to wait.
"Send word as soon as she wakes," he said, turning to leave, Hanah assumed, for Erebor.
When Hemery woke, Hanah fed her bread and sweet tea. Then she slept more. Hanah sent no word to Erebor, knowing Hem would be disturbed as soon as she did.
And so Hanah let her rest, sitting in the smithy, mending Dwalin's leather apron to pass the time. She and Dwalin ate meat stew and sat on the front steps in the afternoon, enjoying what they could of the summer breeze while knowing Hemery lay inside, her fate still uncertain. They talked some and strolled between Dwalin's house and the woods, as much as a dwarf is able to stroll leisurely, Hanah picking flowers and early berries in the wild grass.
"How did you know?" Hanah asked. "That there was somethin' wrong?"
Dwalin shrugged. "Her temper. Shorter than usual. Fidgetin' like a bird flitterin' about. And when you came to me yesterday, it all made sense. Though nothin' of this really makes any kind of sense."
Hanah looked down at her free hand. It was stained by sap and berries, and she wiped it off on her skirt.
"I wasn't sure, though, until the very end," he went on. "Somethin' about the eyes. I knew that look. Madness, cornered and dangerous. I've been on the receivin' end of that before. Almost beastlike. Soulless."
Hanah nodded in understanding. "I try to tell myself that it wasn't her, not really, but the things she said . . ."
"No lies would hurt if they didn't contain some truth," Dwalin said.
Their eyes met in the shade at the edge of a sunlit grove. Hanah smiled despite the grief. Dwalin did not smile, could not, but it was alright.
"What if she doesn't come back . . . ?" Hanah asked. "If she doesn't go back to the way she were?"
"Then she won't," Dwalin stated, kicking at an old stump until it splintered. "And we'll deal with it. But we don't know that she won't, so she might."
They stood silent a moment. Hanah wavered between hope and impatience, fear and resignation.
"Would you really have cut off her hand?" she asked.
He shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe. I find it a rare occasion when I actually need to follow through on a threat. Most of the time, I just do things. And the rest kinda sorts itself out."
Hanah snorted in something like amusement as they turned to slowly walk back to the yard.
"You don't mind us occupyin' your house?" she asked.
"Well, it is my house," he replied, both agreeing and not agreeing at the same time. "It's only a matter of time before Thorin nags her out of her shell and into the mountain again. She'll do it to shut him up if nothin' else."
"Do you think he'll take her back, just like that?" Hanah held fast to her promise, that she would always forgive Hemery any offense, but could the same be said of the king?
"He has no breath to spend on games of who blames whom. Nay, he's more likely to understand her situation than any of us."
Hanah had no choice but to believe him.
Thorin came back in the evening. He was told by Hanah that Hemery was still resting and that he would be told when she was fit for visitors. Hanah could tell he was not happy––was he ever?––but he left them in peace.
Resting, perhaps, but Hem was not asleep. She hardly moved from Dwalin's bed, though, only stirring to eat, but mostly staring at the wall, refusing to speak to even Hanah. Sometimes she wept, Hanah holding her close and singing her to stillness, comforting her like the child Hem had adamantly stated she was not. Hemery feared the shame, grief, and poisonous regret would never fade.
And she slept.
Kíli stopped by. He ate Dwalin's biscuits and drank tea with Hanah in Dwalin's kitchen. Dwalin himself sat on the front steps with the door open, seemingly ignoring the visitor while still within hearing range, idly smoking his pipe. The sweet smoke drifted softly through the house, traces of it reaching Hemery where she lay on Dwalin's bed under a blanket, wide awake and listening to the conversation in the other room through a crack in the door.
"You missed a spectacle today," Kíli said loudly to Hanah, but clearly it was for the benefit of all in proximity. "The first day of the trial, and I could hardly sit through the morning's proceedings. Twenty seven accused, and that's just the first batch. The magistrates cannot see above the stacks of parchment in front of them. The town hall is so packed with people that the doors do not even close." He casually sipped at his tea. "A shame Hem isn't there to see her work bear fruit."
She should be there, Hem thought. The trial had slipped her mind, and she grew curious now as to its progress. But she could barely imagine facing Kíli and Dwalin, much less the rest of the world. And least of all Thorin.
He would be busy too, observing everything, adding his opinions at every turn, unable to let the magistrates handle it. She smiled softly at the thought. Then she felt shame sour her stomach. He should focus on his work, not waste his precious time coming to Dwalin's house several times a day just to ask about her wellbeing. He knew she was well. Hanah had informed him of this. But still he came.
Hem pulled the blanket over her head.
"Perhaps . . ." Kíli went on after a moment, unusually somber. "Perhaps it would be best if Hem returned home. To conclude her convalescence in the royal chambers."
Hanah pinned him with a sharp look. "She's perfectly comfortable here."
"I know that," Kíli replied in a reedy tone, one Hem remembered was usually accompanied by an innocent shrug. "It's just . . . The queen cannot stay away from her marriage bed for long without raising suspicion––"
"Suspicion of what?" Hanah asked, incredulous. She knew what the suspicion would be of, naturally. She just wanted to see if the issue was so severe he dared to speak the words.
"––Inciting rumours that we don't need. Especially so soon after the wedding," he went on.
"Aye, we are all affected. And I'm sure Dwalin is keen to have his space to himself once more."
"Nope," came Dwalin's quick and easy response from just outside the door. "I have no troubles. Don't stir any on my behalf."
"Very well. But we must resolve this sooner rather than later. I don't want to sweat under the heat of Uncle's temper any longer than I must. And Fíli is increasingly cranky. The family resemblance is uncanny in this particular case. Not to mention, Híli needs her mother."
"I saw her yesterday. She knows I'm takin' care of her aunt," Hanah defended.
"What if you could take care of her inside Erebor?" Kíli suggested lightly.
"Kíli––" Hanah sighed.
"Just think about it," he said, the reedy, innocent note back in his voice. He drank the last of his tea in silence.
On the third morning, Thorin paced up and Dwalin's yard for an hour before going back to Erebor. Quieter and moodier than ever. He did not ask permission to see Hemery, nor did Hanah offer.
Through the window, she witnessed his departure.
"Is he gone?" Hem asked.
Hanah flinched, startled, and turned. Hem stood in the doorway to the bedroom with a blanket around her, her hair loose and unwashed over her shoulders.
"Aye," Hanah replied. "He's gone. But he'll be back."
"He makes me nervous, stayin' here when I know he can't afford to."
"I'm sure you make him nervous, as well."
Hem looked down and returned to bed, but not before Hanah could see her frown.
"You'll dress and eat breakfast at the table with me today," Hanah said before Hem could close the door.
There was no reply, but Hanah could hear her move around in there. As Hanah set out bread, cheese, and tea, Hem appeared and sat down at the kitchen table.
"You dawdle to have me wait on you," Hanah challenged, calling her sister out. Hem glanced sheepishly up at her. "I will only allow it this once."
Hem smirked a bit. "You have people waitin' on you hand and foot at home."
"Aye, and so do you. But they get paid for their trouble."
"You don't have to stay here, you know," Hem said, looking down into her cup, serious now.
"I'm not leavin' until you tell me to," Hanah simply said.
Their eyes met over the table, and Hem managed a small smile which Hanah answered.
"Eat," Hanah ordered. "Then you can help me with Dwalin's gloves."
Híli came too, herded by Fíli and Sethie. Sethie's countenance was hard set. Fíli was tired, or perhaps just wary.
Their voices were muted through the window panes, but Hemery could see them outside in the sunshine, speaking with Hanah and Dwalin, while she stayed watching in the shadows of the smithy.
Hanah embraced Híli and spoke close to her ear, but the child would not be held back. First chance she got, Híli sprinted to the door, throwing it open and blinding Hem with the sudden burst of light.
Instinctively, she shielded her eyes from the first rays, as if they might harm her. She backed away, shrinking from the visitor.
Híli paused in the middle of the floor. Hanah had hurried after her but stopped on the threshold, determined not to show any fear of Hemery or her actions. What importance would her promise hold if she could not trust Hem to be in the same room as Híli? Hanah would trust Hem with her life, yes, but what of her daughter's?
Hanah stilled, tightening her hand into a fist next to her heart, and watched.
"Irak'amad?" Híli greeted timidly.
It was strange for Hem to see her so careful.
"What are you doin' here, pet?" Hem asked with a forced lightness. "Your father couldn't have been happy about lettin' you down here."
"Amad says you're sick," Híli said, looking Hem up and down hesitantly, as if unsure of what to think.
Hem felt her fingers twitch to grasp a thing that was not there.
"Aye, pet," she replied. "I have been. Don't rightly know just what I am at the moment."
"You don't look sick. Are you hurt?" Híli took a step forward.
Hem backed up farther. Híli stopped in surprise. Then confusion overtook her small, round face.
Hem did not want to injure anyone like she had attempted to do with Dwalin and Hanah, and she could not trust herself. Not with Híli. Anyone but the child.
"No, nothin' hurts," she said. Nothing on the outside.
"When will you come home? You were going to help me read about subterranean architecture for class. You know I don't read well." The pout Híli produced was half theatre, half truth.
Hem huffed a laugh that died quickly. "You read fine, lass. You just want me there to praise you when you finish. And engineering logic is boring. I don't blame you."
Híli was silent a long moment. Then she looked down at floor.
"You're going away for a long time again, aren't you?"
A knot formed in Hem's throat, and she could not stop her eyes from watering.
She honestly could not say. What could she say that was not a lie? She did not know. Hem really did not know.
"I––" Hem's voice broke. But she did not have time to utter anymore before Híli crossed the distance in two bounds and threw herself into Hemery's arms.
"Please, don't go away again," Híli sobbed. "Please."
Hem squeezed her eyes shut against the tears, the lump in her throat expanding. But feeling the forceful arms of the headstrong lass around her waist, she was helpless to resist.
She could never hurt Híli. Not even if she was drunk and bewitched. Hem felt it in her marrow. How could she even have considered such a thing? Not Híli. Anyone but the child.
So she held on tightly and said, "I'm not goin' anywhere. I promise." And knew she meant it.
That night, Hemery had just finished washing, using a small basin in the kitchen, when there was a loud knock on the door.
Hemery looked at Hanah who was sitting at the table. Their eyes met. Hemery frowned, and Hanah's eyebrows rose in surprise.
They had of course expected Thorin to call on Hem again this evening but had given up on the idea due to the late hour. It was well after night fall by now. And the force behind those bangs––
"Hemery!" a thunderous voice reached them through the door. "Open this door."
The king had come to demand her presence, after all.
Hem's hands turned cold, and she clutched her used towel tightly. On unfeeling feet, she followed Hanah to the doorway between the kitchen and the smithy, but stopped there, watching as Hanah approached the door and the irate dwarf on the other side.
"I want to see her," Thorin said as soon as Hanah opened the door. There were no pleasantries or formalities here.
Hanah regarded him, saying nothing, before she turned to Hem, questioning without words.
Hem could not hide forever. Whatever Thorin thought of her actions and words, whatever judgement he had come to bestow, it was best to hear it now and be done. Her fingertips prickled and her stomach churned, but she nodded to her sister.
Hanah moved aside, opening the door wider, eyes still on Thorin.
His eyes were dark when they found Hemery. She stayed in the doorway, leaning on the frame, hiding a little behind it perhaps. She had at least had time to dress before he was let in, but her hair was still wet, hanging loose at her back.
Slowly but purposefully, Thorin took a step inside, and when he spoke, his tone was calm and not directed at her.
"Will you give us the room, please," he glanced at Hanah before focusing on Hem again.
Hanah ignored him in favour of awaiting direction from Hem. Again, Hem nodded, turning her eyes on the floor after seeing Hanah leave the house.
"Dwalin and I will be just outside," Hanah said before closing the door behind her, either to assure hem or to caution Thorin. Hem wagered both options were equally true.
He said nothing for a moment, stretching Hem's nerves into fear. She did not think she would accidentally harm him. She was unlikely to succeed even if she tried; Thorin was as good a fighter as Dwalin. And she had felt safe in Híli's company, which was a great initial test she was immensely happy to have passed, but Híli had not been there on the riverbank receiving the sharp end of Hemery's tongue. So even though she might not fear for the safety of those around her, Hem feared his opinion and his conclusion, whatever they might be.
"Will you come home tonight?" he asked at last, his gruff voice cutting the silence.
She said nothing. She did not know what to say. She did not want to return to Erebor to just pack up her things and be removed from the royal chambers, just to be reprimanded. She would rather have it done here where she could just shut the door on him if it became to much.
She did not meet his eyes.
"You will grant me the respect of an answer," he said. "I am owed that much."
To avoid his gaze, she looked at his hands which were closed into fists at his sides.
"I don't know that I have the strength just yet," she confessed.
"The strength for what?" he challenged.
"To come back." To Erebor. To him. To the way things used to be but can never be again. "To . . . life."
Thorin sighed. "But I need you to."
His frustration seeped out into his limbs as he began to move, pace, back and forth in the room.
"I cannot stand to sleep on the wet ground when I know our feather bed is a stone's throw away, when I know I could be enjoying your warmth next to me. The mountain is empty, the halls all empty like my hand whenever I reach out and you're not there. I cannot stand to not know your mind, that you're out here, gone once again, and once again unknown to me, like a stranger. But you're not a stranger, and I will not let this divide deepen for one more day. You are my wife. And why––for the love of Mahal––why will you not come home with me?"
Hem stared at him in shock. She had expected yelling, sure, but not of this sort.
"You will answer me." He was determined, but his short breath suggested he was anticipating more fighting to come.
After a long, silent moment, she found her words. "You really want me back? You want me? Still?"
He frowned, confused suddenly. "Why would I not?"
"Because you can't know for sure I'm actually me." Her fingers twitched again, but this time, Thorin was there to clasp them in his own, stopping her nervous fidgeting.
"Are you?" he asked, simply. Naively, perhaps.
She looked at their hands. "I think so."
"Then I believe you." As sure and steadfast as ever.
Hem met his open gaze, still disbelieving. "But how can you know?" She could not even know herself.
He kissed her. His lips were softer than usual, but his grip was firm, his intent familiar.
"I believe you," he said, his breath hot and earnest on her cheek.