Between the announcement of the Queen's parturiency and the nature of Lord Amri's crimes, his trial had gained little public disparagement. The older Dwarves shook their heads and grumbled; the younger ones, whose families had moved to Erebor in search of a better life, just as the half of the men he saved, weren't hasty to condemn him and his decisions.
He seemed open and honest at his trial - leaving the Queen's participation out just as it had been discussed, of course. He explained that he had calculated that doing it the Dwarven way - going into the Mountains with a small group of volunteers, having refused the Goblins as the traditions prescribed - would bring no result. He had weighed his options; and had made his decision. The gold he'd managed to collect allowed him to hire many strong and skillful warriors; and his own personal history made him a capable leader for the company. The fact that he was a decorated hero of the Battle of the Five Armies made the jury even more lenient towards him.
Thorin presided at the trial. He spoke little and watched attentively. He would have to lie to himself if he said he wasn't still trying to see what made Wrena participate in the scheme.
Thorin concluded that even if partially it had been Amri's charm, and self-assurance as a fighter, the children and wives of the forty men would have been the crucial argument. The rescuees and the company that had gone to the Mountains hadn't been allowed to come to the trial and give their evidence; but Thorin received letters and visitors, begging for the mildest punishment for the conspirators. Nine of the men had sons of Thror's age.
Amri's wife was present at every hearing. She was an older woman; plain and unattractive. She had two children from her first marriage; tall, blonde younglings. Amri's eyes would stray to them most often; and he would give his wife a comforting smile from time to time. She would nod, and smile back. One needed to be blind not to see the love and support the small family was showing to each other. When asked in trial whether she knew of and scorned her husband's actions, which led to her losing her family's trade, she gave Thorin a calm look, and said that she stood behind everything her husband had done, and only regretted she hadn't had more to give to support his cause.
Mid-trial Thorin requested Wrena to come to his study. She sat in the chair in front of him, her hands folded on her lap, eyes lowered. She looked healthy and charming, in a soft velvet dress showing her small round stomach.
"It seems you will not be implicated in his crimes," Thorin said slowly. He wasn't sure what he invited her here for. Perhaps, he wanted her to once again assure him that the calamity that had befallen his marriage had been a simply political matter, not of personal nature.
She nodded, and shifted in the chair.
"He will pay the full price for it though. His wife's trade will be taken away; and they will lose the permits. They will have to move back to Iron Hills, and take to some less profitable trade." Another nod followed.
He realised it was her silence and obedience that were making him uneasy. Before the story with Amri, she had been respectful and reasonable, but she'd never been submissive. As young as she was, she'd taken reins of running his home and his Kingdom with a firm hand. She had been making decisions, soberly and assuredly - and if she had had doubts, she never hesitated to come to him for advice. She had been the perfect wife and the perfect Queen.
And then she had agreed to support Amri; and as maddening and hurtful her secret had been, Thorin felt a tinge of respect towards her. She had been wrong in the eyes of the traditions, but just as she'd told him, she had done what she thought was right. Thorin could understand that.
If indeed that was the reasoning behind her involvement in the scheme, wouldn't it mean that their marriage, their love had been untarnished? Thorin felt shame at how quickly he was ready to put her transgression behind, but there was relief in his heart; and as much as he fought it, he was starting to yearn for her anew.
She didn't seem to feel the same. Just as the last few months, she seemed in even good spirits; attending to her duties; spending time with Thror. Thorin felt some sort of an irritated astonishment: she was the one who committed a crime; she was the one banished from her halls; and it was him suffering from insomnia and loneliness and constant anguish! She was happy and striving! As if being on her own, having gotten rid of him, was a blessing!
He dismissed her, without coming up with anything else to say; and she got up, curtseyed, and left. Thorin growled after the door closed behind her, and snapped a quill in his hand.
Two moons passed after Lord Amri's victorious return; and Thorin found himself in a constant irked and dark mood. The life in the Mountain returned to its prosperous and joyous harmony - except he seemed to be excluded out of it. The Queen was rosy-cheeked, round, and merry, busy with preparations for another child's arrival. Kili had returned from his travels South; and feasts were held to greet him. Fili had chosen a bride; and their courtship had started. Thror started crawling. The Kingdom was flourishing; while the King apparently had grown so disagreeable and moody that people started avoiding him.
He was sitting in his study, aimlessly shuffling papers on his desk; when a soft knock came to his door. He barked the person to come in, hardly feeling like allowing any visitors; and the door opened slowly, and Wrena stuck her head in.
Just as with Thror, she had gained little weight. She was hefty, firm little round stomach protruding under the velvet; still fast on her feet; buoyant and nimble. Thorin glared at her.
"May I come in?" she asked timidly; and he made a grumbly noise and pointed at the chair in front of his desk. She sat down and smoothed out the skirt of her voluminous home dress. There was a flirty buckle, shaped like a bird, under her bust, with little green gems sparkling in it, and she fidgeted with it.
"I came to ask if there is something I could do to… raise your spirits," she said quietly, and he jerked his face up and gawked at her. She gave him a small sad smile. "I know my presence aggravates you, Thorin. You have been noble and honourable, allowing me to stay. I couldn't have asked for more forbearance from you. Being here with Thror is all I could wish for..." Her voice trembled, and she took a quick breath, taking herself under control. "You've shown me tolerance I didn't deserve. But I can't help but see how much it vexes you, to be under the same roof with me. And I… I truly wish to cause you as little bother as possible." She clasped her hands in front of her chest in a begging gesture. "Please, tell me what I could do. I could leave until the baby arrives, perhaps? I could stay in the Iron Hills, with my kin. It will give you a few moons of… peace."
Thorin watched her silently, not certain what he was feeling. That was the first time they had spoken in more than a fortnight.
Her lips trembled, and she dropped her eyes.
"I wish I could do something..." she whispered.
"Do you regret it?" The words burst out of him, as if without his participation. "Would you have done it differently now?"
She looked up. He'd expected a hasty reassuring answer. Perhaps, he wanted her to give it to him - an excuse for both of them to pretend the matter had been resolved; to reconcile now that it was over. Mahal help him, he wanted to reconcile with her!
For the first time in weeks she was close, warm and radiant; her eyes intent on him; concern and affection glowing in them - and damn him, he couldn't find any strength to doubt that affection any more! Something dully ached behind his ribs.
He saw her frown and ponder the question.
"I have asked myself that... many times," she said quietly. "It would have been so easy, to say I was wrong, and repent, and hope one day you would look at me without disdain… But no, I wouldn't have." She shook her head mournfully. "Had I asked for your help, had I come to you in those moons… and Mahal help me, I nearly had hundreds of times… you would have been implicated in it too."
"I would have put a stop to it," Thorin said.
"No, you wouldn't have." She met his eyes and gave him another soft melancholic smile. "Not the Thorin I know and… admire." He saw her eyes fill with tears, and her throat jerked in a spasmodic swallow. "By the time Amri had come to me, the men had been in captivity for two moons, tortured and abused, no doubt - but given a glimpse of hope. Had the ransom been refused right away, they'd have been slayed; and then… we would mourn them, as the Khazad should. But he had already set his scheme afoot. And you would have agreed just as I have. I couldn't let you take this burden upon yourself." She hastily wiped tears off her cheeks. "You're the King Under the Mountain; and nothing is to sully your honour. I couldn't make you face the choice between breaking the law and disgracing yourself; and killing forty men who had been brutalised unnecessarily, and given a false hope for return home."
"So, you let me believe you were engaged in dalliances with Lord Amri," Thorin drew out; and a sudden strange laugh burst out of her. It had no true joy in it; just some sort of a desperate disbelief.
"I had been dim, I have to admit. I hadn't even thought that you would assume infidelity." She gave him an apologetic look. "We kept holding those meetings, with the families of the abducted, searching for the funds… and it was taking longer and longer… And I knew of course you would notice; you're hardly unobservant." She shook her head, with a hollow chuckle. "But I couldn't believe you would think that I would… take a lover. I had no defence prepared for that. I had come up with a few flimsy excuses, some nonsense about covering for some star-crossed lovers..." She gave him another embarrassed smile. "And then you suddenly asked if I had an affair with Amri, and I had nothing to say."
"You had his portrait in your study. And there had been rumours, even before our wedding," Thorin said defensively.
"The portrait…" She tangled and untangled her fingers. "I… I wish I could tell you why I kept it. But I can't. I didn't even remember it was there; I'd just… push it aside when I needed something from the box; and then lock it again, without another thought..." She looked up at him pleadingly. "It doesn't mean anything. Sometimes, people just do silly things." Her mouth twisted; and she sniffled. "It's just a portrait… A forgotten memento of a childish infatuation…"
He looked at her, and couldn't find a shred of stubbornness in himself, the stubbornness that for two moons kept him from coming to her; from telling her he had forgiven her crime; from letting her know he still loved her.
"Where is it now?" he asked, in the last desperate effort to hold on to his anger and to his pride.
Her eyes widened, and she gasped.
"Oh no… It's still there..." Some sort of childish terror coloured her face; and she jumped to her feet. "I'll go now!" she exclaimed, and her hands flew up in a begging gesture. "I'll throw it out right away!"
"Wrena, stop!" he called, rising sharply as well. "What are you even..?"
"I haven't opened the box since then. It's still there!" She looked panicked; and dashed to the door, her heavy skirts whooshing through the air.
"It doesn't matter! Wrena!" he almost shouted. Somehow he felt she wasn't to be allowed to leave now. He took a large step ahead, and slammed the hand into the door, closing it again, jerking the handle out of her fingers.
She looked up at him; her flushed face right in front of him; her chest heaving. There was but a foot of distance between their bodies.
Suddenly her face scrunched in a pained grimace, and she sobbed. She lifted a hand as if to touch him; and swayed. He could imagine how she would press into him - he could remember how her body fit into his, so very vividly - and then she jerked back and covered her face with her hands.
Her heard several desperate sobs; her shoulders shook.
"It's so painful..." she mewled behind her hands. "Seeing you every day… Knowing it will never… That I lost you… That I will never be allowed to touch you again… Pretending to be content..." She stumbled a small step backwards. "I'm sorry… I'm sorry to lose my composure… You don't want to hear this..."
He wrapped his arms around her and jerked her into him, pressing her so tightly that he was probably hurting her. A loud sharp cry burst out of her.
"It's alright... alright..." he muttered. He didn't know what else to say. That he loved her? He never stopped. That he forgave her? There was no use pretending; at some point, gradually and unnoticeably, he had come to the realization that he felt there was nothing to forgive. Once he knew she had been faithful to him as a man, none of her crimes against his people and his crown mattered. It was time to admit that despite his mature age and his life of duty, he was a man and a lover first; and the King only second.
She was still and quiet in his embrace; and he stroked the silky hair at the back of her head.
"I want you back, Wrena. I want you to come back." It was surprisingly easy to say. He took a sharp breath in, air rushing into his chest, as if for the first time in moons without an obstacle.
She looked up, giant brilliant eyes were full of tears.
"You do?" she asked in a small voice. Thorin nodded, unsure of his voice. Her face broke in a beaming smile. "Truly?" He felt some sort of ridiculous laugh bubble in him. She looked so endearingly hopeful. He nodded again. "Now?" He felt a smile to tug at his lips as well. "Right away?" she asked; and he decided she'd probably come up with another dozen questions before she decided to believe him - so he just leaned in and pressed his lips to hers.
She made a loud surprised noise; and then hopped, and wrapped her arms around his neck; twisting it almost painfully. She hung on him; and her stomach pressed into him. He bent, putting her small feet on the ground; and she clawed at his shoulders, and pulled at the handfuls of his doublet she was clutching.
"Oh Thorin… Please… Please…" she muttered, and pulled some more; and he realised she was trying to lead him out of the room. Judging by her immediate attempts to unbutton his doublet as well, he assumed she was trying to head to the bedchambers; and he guffawed.
He felt drunk, light, happy...
She pushed him, his back slammed into the wall, near the door; which she jerkily opened; and then she grabbed his doublet on his chest again; and pulled him in; kissing him again, while trying to walk him backwards into the passage. Her greedy hot lips on his and the deft small hands were making his head spin; and it took him a few seconds to gather enough wits - and do her bidding.
The first light of dawn was crawling up the wall of the bedchamber; and he was nodding off, when a warm small hand gingerly brushed at his hip - again. Thorin burst into laughter.
"Calm yourself, woman," he feigned a grumble, and heard a small giggle. He smiled without opening his eyes. "Haven't you had enough?"
She shifted, and the firm round stomach pressed into his bare side. "It's the parturiency. All hungers are heightened. And..." She rubbed her nose to his shoulder. "And I've been starved for many moons."
He peeked at her with one eye. She was grinning from ear to ear, copper springs of her hair surrounding the face, like a ball of flame.
"How were you coping with your hungers through those moons?" he asked teasingly. And she clapped her hand to her forehead in a dramatic gesture, the corners of her lips twitching in a hidden smile.
"I wasn't! It was a horrible torment!" She giggled again, and looked at him with brilliant eyes. "I had to leave a room every time you entered! I had trouble sleeping; and simply seeing you would make me flustered beyond capacity to perform my daily duties. I had fantasies, day dreams even. They were turning bizarre, I have to say."
"Oh?" He cupped the back of her head and led her to his lips. After a few minutes of languished kisses, he smiled and asked, "What bizarre fantasies did my Queen have?"
"One time I almost feigned a stumble, so you would support me and I could… sniff you," she whispered in a conspiratory voice, and chewed her lip, clear bashment written on her face. "My body's desires were truly overpowering my reason. I knew you wouldn't accept me, but so many times I was close to coming to you and… begging." She blushed, and her nose twitched. "It was surely some sort of madness of an expectant mother, but my lust was utterly torturous."
She couldn't know it, but after thinking he had been thrown aside for the sake of a younger lover, her embarrassed mumbling was a wonderful salve to his bruised male ego.
"I probably would have accepted you," he made a sudden admission.
"You would?!" Her eyebrows jumped up in disbelief. "You've always looked at me with so much animosity."
"And you didn't seem to even notice me. I reckon, we both saw what we expected to see," he offered an explanation. She gave it a thought, leaned in, and quickly kissed his lips. She then looked at him, with sudden gravity.
"I'm very grateful for your forgiveness, Thorin," she said. "A rare Dwarf would look past the prescriptions of the tradition when the questions of honour and pride were concerned."
"You have," he reminded her softly. "You chose the lives of forty men over your honour and your marriage." There was no reproach in his voice; he felt none.
"I'm their Queen. I had to," she answered simply, and he nodded. "And I gave my word. It was too late to renegade. But it was hard," she added in a small voice. "Especially with the babe. When I realized I was depriving our child of his or her father, and you - of knowing them..." She sighed.
"He shouldn't have put you in this position," Thorin grumbled; and she lay down, her cheek pressing to his chest.
"I think… I would have done the same if it were you in those Mountains," she whispered. "Traditions and laws are in the blood and the bone of the Khazad, but when it comes to those we love… Wouldn't you waver? Wouldn't you do everything possible, however unlawful it were, to bring your kin back?"
"Perhaps," he agreed, unwilling to even try to imagine himself in such desperate position. The war was over; he had his family and his Kingdom. He'd rather enjoy the peace and happiness than dwell on hypotheticals.
He looked and saw that she was asleep, her left hand curled in a small fist on his chest. He pulled the covers over them, pressed a light kiss to the top of her head, and closed his eyes.
Thorin woke up the next morning; and emitted a surprised chuckle since a pair of unblinking amber coloured eyes were staring at him.
"What are you doing, my treasure?" he asked; and she smiled to him widely.
"I'm ogling you," she answered in a pleased tone. She had her fists stacked on his chest, and her chin was resting on the top one. She lay half on her side, accommodating her stomach.
"Is that an appropriate behaviour towards a King, I wonder?" he asked impishly, and patted a buttock under the covers.
"How would I know?" she giggled. "Kings interest me not. I'm ogling my husband."
He lunged, and grabbed her, and rolled her underneath him, mindful of her roundness.
"Aye, that you are," he murmured, and kissed her greedily.