This is a Christmas two-shot for Universe 2, the same verse as Thorin's Queen and Another Night, Another Path.
It is NOT a Christmas fluff, it is rather angsty, but it'll end as all Christmas stories do - with a kiss under a mistletoe, and everyone being merry.
The King Under the Mountain has been away from his home for the last five moons, and his wife is crying in their marital bed. She receives ravens from him almost every three days, and she knows he is well, and safe, but the bed is cold, and so is the Queen of the Khazad. The unrest in the High Pass in the Misty Mountains has been keeping her husband away from her, and she fears for him, through his scouting raids with the Skinchanger, and every time a large black bird is brought to her from the Ravenhill Towers to her, her hands are shaking when opening the parchment from around the bird's leg. Her heart is full of terror from the anticipation of bad news, and then her heart soars and rejoices when she reads the familiar handwriting, and then sadness comes. She misses her husband desperately.
Wren stretches on the bed, pressing her face into the pillow, her palms sliding on the sheets. There is nothing but emptiness near her. The linen has been changed so many times since he slept in the bed last, and she is desperate to remember. She has been prohibiting herself to succumb to her misery since such weakness would only bring more ache, but the night is dark, and she has no strength left to stop the tears.
She wonders how other women do it - the wives of warriors, of merchants, of sailors. She asks herself why she just cannot go about her day, like all other Dwarven wives who seems unshaken by the absence of their spouses, all those warriors who left with the King to aid the Skinchanger.
She fulfills her duties, she keeps busy, she takes upon her even more than before, but the melancholy comes, and sometimes it is not just sadness and longing, sometimes she is so aggravated that she almost feels like screaming.
Is it because she is of Men, and her nerves are weaker? Is it because she is so young? She has seen hardly more than two decades of life, while most of those around her have seen ten times more. Is it because she is in love with her husband like a silly girl? They have been wed for over a year, but she had yearned for him for seven years, and had no hope to ever even see him again. When they reunited she promised herself she would cherish and savour every minute with him. And now her promise has brought upon her the most excruciating of tortures.
Sometimes it feels as if she is being cut by many blades at the same time. Her skin is burning, and she feels dizzy, and hot, and cold, and in the middle of most mundane dealings she has to rise and have a walk, to shake off the restlessness, and the agitation. She has started training more, relieving her tension, splashing her pain, and rage, and loneliness into blows and attacks, and sometimes she is so tired after hours and hours in the training court that she falls asleep on her bed in her sweat drenched clothes. Sometimes she is distracted and comes back with bruises, sometimes the knuckles of her hands are bleeding from the fervour of her hits.
Sometimes she feels she cannot go on anymore. She cannot fight her thoughts - thinking of him, fearing for him, longing for him, craving him. She prohibits herself to even think of acting upon her desires, she nips even the smallest consideration of travelling to him at the bud. She is needed in Erebor, he has his duties at the South.
But she has no power over her dreams. And they come, full of the sweetest pictures - of their reunion, of their past, of their love - and alternatively, of her worst nightmares - of his unmoving pale body, of a funeral pyre, of Dwalin's handwriting instead of his on a parchment, informing her that her life is now over.
Wren of Enedwaith knows all too well what true loneliness is. She had been alone all her life, until one cold rainy day in Bree when she lifted her eyes from her patient, and met the blue eyes of the King Under the Mountain. Even more so, she knows what it is like to live without Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror. She remembers the seven years of having only his portrait she drew herself as the only evidence that she had even known him.
She does not touch her parchments and her ink these days. She tells herself she does not need to commemorate his features on the paper, she has him in flesh and bone. Except her bed is empty, and her pillow is wet from her tears.
She had had him for thirteen moons, after the wedding and until his departure. And in the five months that passed since he left she has depleted any strength she had left to fight the coldness and the fatigue. She cannot remember what it feels like to be his wife anymore.
She cannot remember his warmth, his love, his tenderness, his passion. Sobs shake her body, and she cannot fight it anymore. She thrashes and screams, and every muscle in her aches, and she rolls off the bed and rushes to the bathchambers. She wants to rage and break everything that she encounters, and she is almost ready to pick up some essence bottle, but then she sees her reflection in the mirror.
Her copper hair is scattered on her shoulders, her eyes are red-rimmed and sunken, she is thinned, and pale. She is wearing a white nightgown, and the view of the garment is what stops her. It is his favourite. She realises she has been wearing his most favourite dresses at night, as if holding on to the last memories of what bliss her marriage has always been - there, in their bed, in the darkness, in their own world, just the two of them, not the King and the Queen, but the two lovers, two hearts, two lives... as one.
Wren sinks on her knees on the floor, and large unrestricted tears run her face. They are silent, and so very forlorn.
She then lies on the floor, pressing her burning face into the coldness of the stone tile.
She thinks of the hands that caressed her, of the warm soft lips, and of the heavy scorching body. She cannot protect herself anymore, from the pain, and the memories, but she thinks that perhaps she does not want to. She lets them all in, of all of him, of their nights, and their days, and something hurts dully, between her ribs, but she lets the recollections flood her mind, and her body.
Perhaps that is how other women manage it. Perhaps, they shield themselves, they do not let themselves think of those who are far away from them, they distance themselves. But not Wren, she does not want to. She does not want to live a single day without loving her husband with every fibre of her being. Just like in those seven years, she knows it is better to know him and hopelessly yearn for him, than having her hearty empty of him.
Hours pass, and Wren gets up from the floor. The tears ran out, and she washes her face in cold water, to make sure her eyes are not red the day after, so no one would see the weakness of the Queen of Erebor. She drinks two goblets of water, and climbs into her bed. Tomorrow will be another day of rule, of responsibilities, of duty, and she will perform admirably. She knows she will.
"My Queen, could I have a word?" one of the ladies-in-waiting addresses her, and Wren lifts her face from the infirmary register she was filling in.
"Of course, Arla. How could I help you?"
The girl is young, just over a hundred years old, and her husband had left with the King six moons ago. She enters Wren's study and cautiously closes the door behind her.
"My lady, I have no one else to come for help to... My family is visiting the kin in Ered Luin for the last year, and my friends... I do not think they will understand." The girl wriggles her fingers, and Wren puts her quill aside.
"I will help you, Arla, if I can. What worries you?"
"I cannot..." The girl's voice breaks, and she hides her face in the hands. Wren hears a strangled sob. "I cannot withstand it anymore. My husband... I have not seen him in six moons, and it is a torture! I... I cannot sleep, I cannot eat... Everything aches..." Arla lifts her tear stained face. "I asked other wives, from the King's guard, and they gave me suggestions. To take his tunic to bed, to wash with his soap, but..." Arla loudly draws a shuddered breath in, pulls out a handkerchief, and wipes her face. "It does not help. I feel sick... Forgive me... Forgive my weakness, but I am desperate."
Wren quickly hides her hands under the table, to conceal their shaking.
"What would you have me do, Arla? Surely, you do not want to travel to him?"
"No!" The girl waves her hands in the air frantically. "No, of course not. I have responsibilities here... But I asked around, and women could not give me any more advice, so they suggested I talk to you." Wren gives the girl a confused look. "You are so temperate, so composed! Women say you seem to know some secret. You are unwavering! They say just seeing you go about your day makes them feel less worried, less agitated. They draw strength from your fortitude."
Wren is watching the girl's face, and panic floods her. She has nothing to tell Arla. She is so bewildered by the girl's words, and by the revelation of how she is perceived, and by the acute pain that floods her when she sees her own misery reflected in someone else, that she feels like jumping on her feet, and running, and running, and running… The girl is wan, and Wren knows she is too, but perhaps it is not that obvious to others. Last moon Wren had to make additional two holes in her belts. She hates taking baths these days, and not only for the memories of sharing them with her husband. She does not want to see her thinned, even more angular body. There is desperate greed in Arla's eyes, and Wren has no answer for her.
The Queen takes a deep calming breath in, and smiles to her visitor.
"We are the wives of the Khazad warriors, Arla. We are strong, and we have our lives, and our duties, and we have no time, or right to grieve. And more so, we have nothing to mourn. Our husbands are alive, and well, and will return when they fulfill their duty." Wren's tone is even, and she sees the girl exhale and squeeze the handkerchief in her hands. "But we are also women in love, and our hearts and bodies ache, and demand what is rightfully theirs, so I say, let yourself suffer." Arla's widened eyes fly up to Wren's face. "Give yourself one hour a day. To cry, or to dream, or to... think of your husband." Wren adds suggestiveness into her tone, and she sees the Dwarven maiden blink frantically several times, as if she was not certain she understood her Queen right. "We have bodies, we are flesh, Arla, and we are the Khazad wives. We are lonely, and we are used to pleasures and attentions. Give yourself one hour a day, that is fully yours, and in that hour, in our thoughts be fully his, and make him fully yours. Cry, moan, break things, do whatever you want in that hour. And be the best you can be the other twenty three hours of the day."
Seemingly relieved, rejuvenated, and hopeful, the girl leaves Wren's study, and the Queen rises and slowly walks into her bedchambers.
Everything is cleaned and organised, but there are some old chests and trunks by the wall, behind a dressing screen, and she opens one after another. They are full of old clothes, and Wren pulls a garment after garment. They smell of dried herbs, rosemary and lavender, put between the layers of fabric to keep the bugs away, and Wren throws the garments aside. None of them is what she needs.
She goes to the wardrobe, and rummages through shelves and trunks there, but everything is washed, and starched, and she feels livid, and her hands are shaking, and she jerks the door of her own wardrobe, without hope, and then she sees a tunic crumpled at the bottom, it clearly fell behind the boxes of her belts and ribbons, and she stretches her hand, her fingers trembling, and she pulls, feeling the softness of the fabric. She sits on the floor, and slowly moves it to her face.
The smell is faint, almost gone, but it is here. The very smell her linen used to bear, just as her skin did in the morning. And she remembers the heat and the roughness under her palms, and the tender inner side of his wrist, and the black and silver whiskers at the bottom of the beard, and the hollow of the clavicle, and how the pulps of her fingers would slide on the round bone on the shoulder, and down to the inside of the elbow, and to the wrist, and the black hair on the back of his hand. Wren presses her face harder into the tunic, trying to draw lungfuls of the smell. It is almost gone, and she feels greedy, and terrified that it will not last. But even that much is enough for her to feel overwhelmed by the memories, and sensations, and she spends half an hour just sitting in her wardrobe, her opulent white skirts around her.
She then rises, swaying, and still pressing the tunic to her chest, and she goes to the bathrchambers. She opens a small cabinet, and moves bottles and boxes. Hers, put on display by her maids, are pushed aside, and she finds a bar of soap. It is new, untouched, but she takes it and places it on the side of the basin. After dunking her fingers into the bucket of clean water, she gently draws circles on the soap with the tips of her digits. A few bubbles appear, foam is white and soft, and she bring her hand close to her nose. The spicy fragrance of juniper teases her nose, and she closes her eyes.
The night he left, they loved each other, to the point of complete exhaustion, and he fell asleep on his stomach, one long arm hanging off the edge of their bed, and she lay on her side, wide awake, her eyes at the outline of his shoulder, and the dark waves on the pillow, and she kept on telling herself, silently, again and again, that it would only be a few weeks, and surely she would be quite alright. She craved to touch him, she could smell his skin, the warmth was coming off his body, and she moved closer, and pressed her forehead between his shoulder blades. Sleep did not come, and she was grateful. She had all those lonely night ahead of her. Why would she waste the last one with him for such a trivial thing as sleep?
Wren leaves the soap on the basin, and walks back to the bedroom. It is around noon, but she takes off her heavy velvet dress, and petticoat, and climbs under covers. She buries her face into the tunic and closes her eyes.
A week later, a raven arrives, and Wren tears the seal hastily. The letter is the same as usual: a short account of their scouting, the news of the warriors, of the Skinchanger, and a few short but ardents word of love in Khuzdul. Wren rereads the letter thrice, as she customarily does, and she is almost ready to put it away, when she see a small dried branch of holly plant pressed between the two parchments of the letter.
Wren twirls the plant in her fingers, not understanding, and then a rare smile decorates her face. It is Yule time, the Winter Solstice celebrated in Hobbiton and in her native Bree. The Dwarven King has sent her a little token of celebration for the Yuletide. Wren strokes a dark green leaf with her fingers, and then she puts it between two sheets of parchment and hides it in her drawer.
Three days later she is sleeping in her bed, and then the mattress seem to keel on one side, and before she can realise what could be the reason for it, a pair of calloused hands lies on her waist. Wren jolts, and thrashes, and then she turns and realises her husband is half sitting, half lying on the bed, still in his brigandine, but without a waistcoat or cloak.
"Thorin..." she breathes out, and in the moonlight streaming through the window she can see a smile bloom on his face. "Thorin!" Her shout is ringing in the room, and she rushes to him, her arms go around his neck, tightly, and she is shaking, and some strangled noises fall off her lips.
"You are choking me, my heart." He is raspy, and then he laughs loudly, and she is only closing the circle of her arms more firmly, pulling him in.
"Aye, my heart, it is I," he is openly jesting now, and she pushes away from him, and her hands cup his face.
The beard is longer. It is preposterous but it seems to be all she notices, and then she is suddenly painfully bashful, and her arms drop, and she does not know how to look at him.
He is suddenly foreign, and she shortly wonders if she has indeed forgotten him. She slowly lifts her eyes and looks at him.
His face is confused, he does not understand her mood, and she slowly lifts her hand and brushes the tips of her fingers to his cheek.
"I am scared, it is a dream..." she whispers, and he catches her hand in his large hot palm, and pulls it to his lips.
He kisses the center of her palm, in his habitual caress, and suddenly her body is on fire. She jumps at him, toppling him on the bed, and she kisses him greedily, and her hand grab handfuls of his hair, and teeth scrape at teeth, and he rolls her underneath him. And then he stops, although he is breathing heavily, and her hands have almost found their way under the layers of the garments on his torso.
"Give me a jiffy, my heart," he speaks softly, pressing his finger across her lips. She is staring at him with widened eyes. "I am overtired. And need a bath." He is frowning, and she is confused, and all she does is nods weakly.
He rolls off the bed and leaves to the bath chambers. Wren sits up on the bed and pulls her knees to her nose. If not for the noises coming from the bath chambers, she would say it is nothing but a dream.
"Wren! I cannot find my soap..." the King's voice comes from behind the door, and she slowly slides off the bed and cautiously approaches the bath chambers.
He is standing in the middle of it, his brigandine and legwear on the floor, just a soft undertunic and breeches left on him, and he is staring into the linen cabinet.
"These are linens..." she says quietly, and he turns to her.
"I have forgotten where everything is..." he says, and then his face wavers, and suddenly Wren is running to him, sobbing loudly, and her body smashes into his. She is crying, and almost screaming, and clawing at his shoulders, and he is crushing her into him.
"I did not think it would feel so strange," he mutters, and she is stroking his hair at the back of his head with one hand, and her other palm is pressed to the side of his neck, his strong pulse beating under it.
"I cannot believe you are here… Please, tell me you are here..." she whispers into his temple, and he nods.
"I am here..."
"I could not… I could not live without you..." Her voice is breaking, and he inhales sharply. "I cannot believe it is over..."
She takes a spasmodic breath in, and then another one, and then she thinks she needs to save him from her mawkishness, just as always, she needs to be composed and understanding, and direct their conversation, and let him know she is joyous to see him, and help him through this unease, as she has always done. She has always been a good wife to him.
But suddenly she has no strength left, and her knees give in, and he catches her at the floor.
"Wren?" he asks, his voice panicked.
"I need to lie down..." she mumbles. "I just cannot right now..."
He picks her up, as he has so many times, and carries her to the bedchambers. He places her on the ebd, and lies down as well, but there is distance between their bodies. His head is on the pillow, and she takes four measured breaths, reining nausea, and then opens her eyes.
They lie in silence, just looking at each other, and she realises he is studying her face, just as she is studying his. He is the first to move, which is unusual on its own. He always leaves it to her to deal with situations of emotional tension. The tips of his fingers run her eyebrows, then down the bridge of the nose, and then slightly up, to the turn up tip. Then the thumb brushes the bottom lip.
"That is not the reunion I imagined..." he whispers.
"Forgive me," she habitually rushes to take the blame, and then he smiles to her melancholically.
"For what? I was the one to stay away for seven moons."
"It has been six..." she whispers now.
"It felt like years," he answers almost immediately.
"For me too," she tries to reassure, but he frowns almost unnoticeably.
They grow quiet again, but now his hand is on her shoulder, thumb stroking the bone there, and she hesitantly moves closer, and her hand lie on his chest. There, under the tunic, she can feel the heart, and the coarse scratching of the chesthair, and she does not want it to be so awkward, but it is like the first time.
"Please, kiss me," she whispers, and he shifts his eyes from her cheek he seemed to have been studying, and meets hers.
"You do not have to..." he starts, but stops, and exhales sharply, and leans in, to her lips.
She forgot the taste. She was pressing his tunic to her nose, and washed with his soap, and sat in his study for hours, just to catch, or perhaps imagine his fragrance, but she somehow did not think of the taste. Perhaps because where would she has gotten it? And now it almost assaults her senses, and she gasps and pulls away. It only lasted an instant and was chaste and close-mouthed. And so very tender.
Her head is spinning. They speak at the same time.
"It is like the first time..." she repeats.
"Do you want me to take a bath?" he asks.
She indeed has been insistent on his washing before coming to their bed.
"No. I want you to be patient with me." She cups his jaw. The beard, at least, does not strike her as an unfamiliar sensation. "I cannot seem to… Everything is so strange."
"Wren, I..." he starts, but she interrupts.
"Have you eaten? Should I call the maid?"
He smiles, with just the corners of lips, and his eyes grow warmer.
"I have. We had to stop in Dale, I had dinner with the King." Wren nods.
Her fingers slide down his neck, and to the laces on the collar of his undertunic. He covers her hand with his.
"We do not have to."
She laughs at his considerate tone. It indeed seems very funny to her, and after the first burst of laughter, which, as she herself can hear, is sincere and light, she allows herself to be merry, and she moves forward, and presses her forehead to his chest. Her arm goes around his waist.
"I was less anxious on our wedding night," she mutters, and he cradles the back of her head in his hand.
"We could just repose..." He sounds uncertain, and she laughs again.
"We could, of course, but..."
Talking to him now is like walking through marshes. Each step is like feeling the ground, looking for a safe place to put your foot, and then there is a terrifying moment of uncertainty whether the step was right.
"I need..." the King starts, and then clears his throat. "I will be back." He starts moving away from her, and she looks into his face. He is frowning. "Give me a jiffy." He has already said it once this night, and Wren feels blood rush from her cheeks. And then he leans in, presses his lips to her forehead, and chuckles. "I have had quite a lot of ale at dinner."
Wren smiles back to him, with the same degree of uncertainty in her expression, and he rises from the bed. She suppresses the desire to give him directions. It is absurd, these are his halls. Also, she has just realised how many times they rose and lay down and rose again since he arrived, and she snorts. It is hysterical, it is surely not funny. But then she realises she has not asked.
"When did you arrive?" she shouts to him from the bed, but he cannot hear her. Or does not want to answer.
Wren climbs under the covers again, her body is shaking. There are all the usual sounds - water pouring, clinking of a glass, when he drinks water and rinses his mouth, couple cupboard doors open and shut - and he comes back.
He stops by the bed. He is lit from behind by the moonlight. She lifts her arms to him, in a clear invitation.
He complies, and this time their embrace is tight, and she closes her eyes, letting his warmth seep into her.
There is still no frenzy, no lust, and she sighs, and then he yawns. That gains him a snort from her. She moves closer, looking for a familiar position, and finding it. He shifts, reciprocating, following her lead, and soon she is settled in his arms.
Just as always.
She feels drowsy as well, and she wonders whether she should try to shake it off, but then he threads his fingers in her hair, and her lids grow heavy. She notices that his fingers hardly move. She cannot see his face, but she is starting to think he is not inclined to ravish her tonight.
She wonders what a proper wifely thing would be to do, when he yawns again. She cannot help but follow his example.
"It is funny..." he mumbles, and yawns again. "After moons of inappropriate dreams, all I want is to sleep..."
She wants to lift her head to see his face, but she cannot. Her body feels full of lead.
"Mahal, it is good to be home," he whispers, and she realises both of them have seconds left.
She is forgetting something important, though. She has a small urge to address the nightmare of these moons, to summarise, to tell him how hard it was, and how she is never letting this happen again. She needs to tell him she will not survive another torture like that. She will go with him anywhere, or he cannot leave, but never again… But then she yawns, and her eyes are closed, and she feels him wrap around her in his habitual manner, and she is warm, and serene.
"Never again..." he whispers, clearly half asleep, and she decides that is enough.
To be continued in Part 2. Yule Morning...
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Betrayed, incarcerated, and about to be hanged, the infamous criminal known as the Black Smith accepts the lifelong servitude under the Oath of the Red Ribbon from a mysterious redhead. Bound to his new mistress by magic, the Smith is now to follow her every order. Katya Kolmakov's new novella "The Black Smith and His Wife" is a story of revenge, clashing wills, and acceptance.