Tomorrow is my birthday, and for the first time in my life I'm not a happy, giddy ball of sunshine on this day :) So, read at your own discretion ;)
It's going to be a three-part fic (most likely :P I don't trust myself after all these years of one-shots turning into fifty chapter fics :D)
The idea was born out of a conversation with my dear friend and reader citadela; and the 'joke' is that if you're enjoying the angst in my story Thorin's Wife, it's the same angst, but everything is the opposite :D
When Thorin met Wrena, daughter of Lir, only two years passed since Erebor had been reclaimed. The war wounds were healing; the Mountain was bustling with activity. New families were arriving; forges worked day and night; trade was growing stronger with each day, with the cities of Men and the Halls of the Elvenking.
Despite his mature age, Thorin was advised - or more precisely, carefully suggested - to take a wife. Dis threw hints; Balin led long and vague conversations with him, about bloodlines, and the 'bright future of the Durin's line.' Thorin would chuckle and shake his head.
And yet, once his wounds after the Battle stopped bothering him at night, he started catching his own thoughts straying to how cold and wide his bed was; and to how - despite the two hundred years behind him - he still felt virile; and how his victory and having Erebor walls around him seemed to have given him a new hunger for life.
Spring came to Erebor; and he pretended he didn't notice how many feasts were held in the Mountain; and how many maidens and widows were invited to them. He even remained purposefully oblivious to all the tailors and braidmasters Dis was sending his way - and he benevolently allowed them to do their work before the revels.
That evening he was in especially high spirits; and lots of mead was drunk. Bofur and Bombur were present; memories of the Quest were shared; and they talked and laughed. Bombur's wife was expecting their second child; and the day for Bofur's wedding had been chosen. Thorin felt some sort of light envy, without jealousy or malice - and some sort of mischief came over him. He knew they all expected him to sit in the head of the table, regally and gloomily; and instead he decided he would dance with every single woman in the hall. During his fourth dance, he caught Dis astonished eyes on himself. By the sixth, his kin were whispering among themselves. By the tenth, he could hardly hold back laughter.
And then a small hand lay in his - and he met slanted eyes of the colour of fire opal.
"Lady Wrena, daughter of Lir," she introduced herself, and smiled to him widely. There was no flirtiness, or that annoying artfulness many other had laced in their voices and the flutter of their lashes; and he smiled back. She was short, even for a Longbeard; red-haired, and somewhat unattractive. At least, such she would seem to many, he thought - but not to him.
She had an angular face, and her mouth was wide. She seemed constantly eager to laugh. And when she did - despite how clumsy the only jest he could remember was - she wrinkled her nose, and her eyes shone.
He didn't dance with anyone after that. Somewhat awkwardly, cursing his lack of finesse, he led her to the side, to a table with drinks; and they conversed. She was an apprentice of a healer; and he enjoyed her sober mind and her lively manners. She was passionate about her craft; wise beyond her age; curious; and he couldn't tear his eyes off her face. A smile seemed to always hide in her eyes, and the curled up corners of her lips. The lips were red without a rouge - and he wondered what they tasted like; and how the copper strands would feel when running through his fingers.
The next day he found Balin in the library. The Dwarf was bending over the maps; but once Thorin sat in front of him, the old swindler as if by accident pushed a volume of clan registries towards Thorin. The same had been happening for moons; and Thorin smirked.
"So..." he drew out, and tapped his finger on the cover. "That fur merchant, Lir, son of Lori, with two daughters..."
Balin slowly lifted his face, trying to hide his eagerness.
"Aye. Lady Dania and Lady Wrena. Good family, old; only thrice removed from Dain; and the daughters are well-brought up. Many sons for many generations as well." Balin nodded towards the volume. Thorin hummed nonchalantly. Balin held a pause, but then clearly couldn't help himself. "She's a beauty, that's for sure. They say there had been three duels over her by now. One lad almost lost an arm."
"Lady Wrena?" Thorin asked innocently, well aware of the answer.
"What? Lady Dania, of course. The older one, blonde one, the bookkeeper. Skin like snow." Thorin hummed again, enjoying the ridiculous mix-up more than an adult Dwarf should be. The silver laughter of the red-haired woman from the night before seemed to bounce in his head - and he wasn't going to give up this mood of his. "Laddie, are you confusing the sisters? Wrena is the younger one; the small redhead. Dania is the blonde one; with rosy cheeks, and blue eyes. There was a kerfuffle over her last night! Even though it's quite clear what they all arrive at Erebor for, men still can't help it around her."
"Oh?" Thorin lifted his eyebrows. "I haven't noticed her." He shrugged, and got up. "Look into the family for me, would you?"
Balin was gawking at him, clearly wondering if it were a jest.
"And of course," Thorin added in an offhanded tone, "We need to make sure that Lady Wrena isn't spoken for." He then turned around and left the library, whistling.
Matchmakers sent to her father returned with favourable news. Thorin then visited the family's hall with his sister and Balin in tow. Everything went according to the customs - a short dinner was held; equivocal conversations were led. Thorin would throw her side glances; she predictably had her eyes down to her plate at all times. And then, just as the customs prescribed, everyone slowly left to the drawing room, living Thorin and the maiden behind.
He stepped to her, and she lifted her eyes at him. He expected shyness - and he found it, but there was also impish laughter dancing in the greenish-hazel irises.
"You seem to enjoy to astonish your kin," she drew out; and he grinned to her widely.
"I'm not doing anything unusual," he answered, and she giggled. The sound was surprisingly pleasing.
"I think, my relations had been certain you'd meant the other sister up until the moment you entered the room. They probably half expected you to scream in panic, 'No, I meant the other one!"
Thorin laughed. "Why would I?" he murmured, and stepped closer. "I know what I desire."
Soft blush spilled on her cheekbones, and coloured small round ears. Her eyes roamed his face, as if to test his truthfulness; and he smiled to her again.
"Well, then..." she started, and then shook her head - and stepped closer.
Her small hand lay on his chest; and he dove in, and pressed his lips to hers. The kiss was hundreds times sweeter and more intoxicating than he had expected, than he'd dreamt. She gasped into the kiss a few instants later - his behaviour was indedent. He was cupping her jaw, with both hands; and enjoying her lips without restraint. And then he pushed his right hand, in the locks at the back of her head; ruining the hairdo; and she jerked in his hands.
He let her go, remembering himself; embarrassed by his own fervour - and she suddenly moved into him, and wrapped her arms around his neck. She had to stand on her toes to reach; and he found it endearing. This time they only stopped because her aunt pointedly was coughing behind the door and rattling the door handle before coming in. The woman gave them an amused look - they both were obviously disheveled; and he didn't know about himself, but Wrena's lips were even redder and obviously swollen.
A week before the final negotiations were to be held between two sides of the matchmakers, Dis came to his study. She looked uneasy and sat down in an awkward jerky movement.
"What is it, namad?" Thorin asked, tearing his eyes off a letter he'd been struggling with for the past hour.
"Thorin, allow me to speak openly. And… please, rein your temper."
Thorin looked at her over his reading glasses.
"I can make no promises," he jested, but she didn't smile back. He immediately felt irked. "Speak up, namad. Time is more dear than mithril."
"It is about your betrothal… About Lady Wrena."
"What about her?" Thorin put aside his quill.
"I never wish to place any judgement, Thorin. And it is, after all, your decision, and your choice… But..." Thorin opened his mouth to rebuke her for even considering to speak about this, but Dis rushed ahead. "She's too young, Thorin! She's hardly older than Fili!"
Thorin stared at her. He couldn't quite believe her insolence and her meddling! For a few moments he didn't know where to start his answer to her. And then she spoke again, leaving him completely speechless this time.
"Thorin, she will not make a good wife for you! Look at the differences between you… And she's an Iron Hills born. She'd never seen Erebor before coming here… And she is too young..."
Dis muttered and muttered; and Thorin slammed his hand into the desk. Dis jerked in her chair.
"Dis..." He was feeling so furious that his voice was nothing but a coarse rasp.
And then his sister's burning eyes peered in his, and he saw her face twist in an anguished grimace. "She loves another!" Dis cried out; and Thorin froze with his mouth half-open. "Mahal help me, I wish I didn't have to tell you this! But her heart isn't free! There have been rumours..."
Thorin closed his mouth, and glared at his sister. She frowned and pursed her lips, shaking her head mournfully.
"Thorin, I hate idle gossip just as the next Dwarf. And it's not like I asked around. It was just a random conversation, with a mutual acquaintance. And it's not well-known; she's young, and the story didn't go far…" Dis sighed. "He married another. There was no scandal; but… That was why her family didn't expect her to marry, not just because of her unattractiveness."
Thorin took a measured breath in.
"She agreed to marry me, Dis. We spoke, and she could have refused me."
"Why would she?" Dis exclaimed. "You're the King!"
"She would not be dishonest," Thorin answered with conviction.
He was certain; he hadn't sensed any deceit - or any doubt - in Wrena. They had spent many hours together, since that first kiss in her family's halls. They took walks; they talked; they kissed. She seemed like an open book - a book he couldn't wait to study from cover to cover. Everything about her excited him - and her openness and guilelessness among other things. She was kindred, direct, affectionate.
He was in love.
"This conversation is over, Dis," Thorin gritted through his teeth. "And we'll both forget your poisonous words; and you will never - do you hear me? - never show my wife a shadow of disrespect."
Under his heavy dark glare, Dis nodded, slowly rose, and left his study.
Next time he saw Wrena, doubt was still lurking in the corners of his mind - but it dissipated like a smoke ring just a few minutes into their meeting. She had a book on the history of Erebor with her, and she asked questions and pointed at the schematics; and he couldn't tear his eyes off her. What if, he thought, what if Dis had been right? What if the small fingers dancing on the page had touched another? What if the red lips, sweet and warm, had been offered and given to another, willingly? What if... And then she suddenly tapped the tip of his nose with her finger.
"You aren't listening to me, my lord." Laughter shook her voice. "Are the talks of plumbing boring you?"
He stared at her for a few seconds; and to his own astonishment, he decided he'd just ask.
"Do you wish to marry me, Wrena?"
She tilted her head, in a strange bird like gesture, and then smiled to him softly.
"Aye, I do."
The answer was simple; and he studied her eyes. She then put the book aside and leaned in and kissed his tenderly. He immediately forgot all his preposterous worries - and after all, what sort of idiocy it was, to listen to his sister, and to some thrice repeated gossip! The woman in his arms arched into him; he could feel her strong dry hand on his nape. And then she exhaled and moved away, and their eyes met.
"Do you wish to marry me?" she asked, and he nodded. His head felt pleasantly empty. "What a fortunate coincidence," she sing-songed; and they both laughed.
Thorin's marital bliss lasted thirty eight moons. They wed; and she came to his halls. The thirteen months of the traditional celebration of a new marriage - that maudlin period when nothing else seemed to matter to the newlyweds - flashed by; and yet, his excitement, and infatuation, and tenderness, and passion didn't ebb, or even lessen. He still felt a burst of happiness each morning waking up with her; and a passing touch, or a glance through the day made him smile.
She made a fair queen. She quickly busied herself with state matters; in her usual sober manner. He appreciated her sound judgement; inquisitive, but never intrusive. On many occasions, he heard the Elders praising her respectfulness, and reverence towards the older and more knowledgeable Dwarves. She took charge of the infirmary; and the housekeeping; but he could see that Dis wasn't set aside in her duties; and he thought with a vindictive amusement that clearly now Dis was prepared to take back any ill words towards Wrena. The women became obvious friends. Thorin's home was peaceful and merry.
And just six moons after the wedding, in their bedchamber, which they shared, unlike many other Dwarven couples, Wrena tenderly wrapped her arms around his neck, and whispered in his ear. His heart soared at the news; and he moved away and searched her face.
"A babe?" he whispered; and she nodded, her eyes brilliant, tears in them; and he pulled her in, and laughed, feeling his eyes prickle as well.
Thror was a healthy, robust infant; quickly growing into a strong tot, with Thorin's dark locks and blue eyes. Thorin felt proud and joyous, making sure to always find several hours a day to spend with his son.
Through the first two moons after the birth, he couldn't help but laugh at his own suffering - by then he'd fully accepted that his well-being and his mood were utterly dependent on Wrena's presence and the pleasures of bedding her. For the time she'd stayed in their son's nursery; and he would gripe in jest; and she'd laugh and pretend to be taken aback.
The first night after her return, she jumped at him even before he took off his tunic, and they fell into sheets, laughing, and grabbing, and kissing. She fell asleep first; and he lay on his side, lightly running his palm on the silky skin of her back, feeling a smile tug at the corners of his lips - and feeling no shame or embarrassment at such mawkishness.
The blow was as unexpected as it was devastating. Later, he couldn't even remember what he was doing that morning. There were some matters to attend; something to do with the trade with Esgaroth - but otherwise, his memory would fail him. Everything was hazy, up until that moment when his secretary entered his study and placed the list of names of visitors expecting him in the Audience Hall.
He picked up a letter he had trouble finishing all morning - and later he wouldn't remember whom it was from and what it concerned - and he walked through the passages. He was turning around the corner, when Dis called to him. He threw her a quick absentminded look; and she seemed to say something distressed to him; and he beckoned her to follow him into the hall. He thought he'd listen to her while he was sitting down at his usual desk; and he pushed the door open; Dis rushed after him in an uncharacteristic fretty manner - and he entered and threw the look over the room.
Wrena stood in the corner, in the company of one Dwarf. He was tall, about Wrena's age; dark haired. Thorin realized something was wrong right away. Wrena seemed to be wincing away from the man, while he had his hand wrapped around her forearm. It wasn't just their bodies, in such a strange intimate position, that made Thorin stop in his tracks - it was Dis' gasp behind him as well.
Wrens pulled her arm out of the man's grasp, twisting out of it - and saw Thorin. He could see how pale and panicked her face was; and then she rushed to the second door to the hall. Her small frame, the dark red dress, the copper waves of hair - she dashed to the door, like a bright bird; and Thorin looked at the man.
"Lord Amri of the Iron Hills," a courtier near Thorin introduced the man; and the latter stepped ahead. His companions, previously standing by the way, purposefully pretending to be busy with their papers, stepped forward as well. They were Lord Amri's kin; but he was obviously in charge. He recovered his composure during the time it took him to cross the room and approach Thorin - and by the time he bent in a respectful bow, Thorin wouldn't have thought anything out of the ordinary had transpired - hadn't he seen with his own eyes the scene between the Dwarf and Thorin's wife.
The matters Lord Amri came to discuss were ordinary; as was the conversation; and the result of it. Permissions he was after were given to him. Thorin led the conversation without listening - watching the man instead.
Lord Amri was confident, well-prepared, and exceptionally clever. He had dark brown eyes, intelligent, with some sort of impudence and humour hiding in them - the kind women found attractive, and insecure men hated.
Thorin was informed that Lord Amri was planning to stay in Erebor for three seasons, with his wife and her family's trading company. His kin were warriors, residing in Iron Hills. Nothing was said of Lord Amri's previous connection - or even acquaintance - with the queen.
Once Thorin signed all necessary permits, he dismissed the man and his companions. Dis, who'd been sitting through the conversation in Wrena's usual chair, remained silent and tense until the door closed behind the visitors.
Thorin found his voice only after a few long excruciating minutes.
"Is this the man?" he asked; and looked at his sister. She nodded. Clearly, his questions hadn't required clarification.
Thorin jumped to his feet, and rushed out in search of his wife.
She was in the nursery. Her voluminous skirts pooling around her, she was sitting on the floor, near Thror. He was banging a wooden block to another; she didn't seem to notice anything around her.
Thorin suddenly didn't know what to say, or what to ask.
"Wrena..." She lifted her eyes at him. They were glassy and red-rimmed. "What is going on?" he asked, and she blinked and focused her attention on him.
"Nothing… What do you mean?" she muttered.
"I saw you with Lord Amri, before the audience. Is something wrong?"
Her lips twisted in a distraught grimace. "No, no, nothing is… We knew each other as children, in the Iron Hills. We just… spoke of mutual acquaintances." She apparently was a poor liar. He'd never before had a chance to find out.
She rose, unstable on her feet.
"Do you mind staying with Thror, for a moment? I'll go call the maid." She quickly walked to the door, without waiting for his answer.
The following two moons Thorin's suspicions grew, and with them, the dark rage enveloped his heart more and more fully. Each day Wrena seemed paler, and more and more forlorn. Each day more and more often she would disappear somewhere, without anyone knowing where she was. First, it was an hour in the middle of the day, when he would come to ask her to share his meal - and she wouldn't be in her study. Then, she started missing dinners. When asked she'd come up with clumsy explanations. With time they became smoother and easier to believe - he assumed whomever she was meeting during those hours was now helping her to come up with excuses.
It was the day when she said she was spending the night in Dale, with her ladies-in-waiting, when something snapped in Thorin.
He wished he could have blamed his following actions on some mad outburst of his infamous temper - but he had no habit of lying to himself. The fury and the ache he was feelings were white, cold, and calculative.
After dark, he went into a small workshop, set up for his son, for the time when the boy could hold something heavier than a rattle in his hands. The room was a gift from Oin and Gloin, decorated and fully equipped. Thorin took a small set of picks and needles, and went to Wrena's study. He knew the door would be locked - and he also knew how to pick a lock.
He went through the papers on the shelf by the window, and through the drawers of her desk. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary - but again, she wouldn't keep letters from her lover in plain view, would she? He took out every book from a shelf, and flipped through every page. He knew she had a small safe box - after all, he'd given it to her himself, as a warming gift when she was settling up in the study.
It was smartly hidden behind a stone panel, low by the floor, in the wall of the wood stove. He was prepared again; he'd brought the spare keys, which she'd given to him for safekeeping. The password, which one was to enter in Old Khuzdul runes on the wheel on the lid, confused him for a moment. It was too long for any of their names, but the combination of two names didn't match either. And then he knew. The runes of the words 'azghzars' and 'markh' - 'oak' and 'shield' - clicked into grooves, and the lock sprung open.
There were no letters inside. He saw gems, state papers, contacts, and bonds - and a small silver case with a portrait. The younger, soft featured face of Lord Amri was intricately etched of a silver plate inside.
He now knew why Dwarves in his position were called heartbroken. It indeed felt as if something shattered in his chest.
He put all her belongings back, exactly where they had been - vigilance and tense attention to details had saved his life on the road and in a fight so many times before. And then he walked back into their bedchamber, sat down on their bed - made of a giant tree stump of a single ancient oak - and he dropped his face into his open palms.