Well, here it is. The final chapter. This story has been quite a journey for me. It's the first I've ever finished, and at 142,825 words, I'm quite pleased at the overall result. There are parts that I don't like and will change, but for now, I'm going to take a breather from it. I'll be starting the series of one-shots detailing Talaitha and Thorin's life post-Soul Healing this week if I can but next week for sure. So keep an eye out for that.
One of the healers in this chapter is named Anasztáz. It means "to resurrect," which I think is fitting, considering what he did.
I may have written the story, but you guys were often the catalyst. Your continued interest and reviews encouraged me to write on days when I would have rather snuggled in bed with Armitage (on the telly, obviously). Thank you, and I really do mean that.
The final round of review replies. Kind of bittersweet.
kaia: There will be more on Nifha in the one-shots. I know her general fate but not the details yet. :)
anna pantelarou: Updated. :)
draegon-fire: Talaitha just made a pit-stop in Lothlórien to tell Gandalf about Dain on her way back to Nemere. I'm glad you approve of how Thorin handled him! It took me forever to think of a solution, lol.
SnuggleErika: I don't know if Dain will play a part in the one-shots. I haven't decided yet.
Beloved Daughter: Yes, life can be horrible. I've an absolute awful rest of the week/weekend coming up. :/ Fili's budding romance will blossom in the one-shots. :)
Guest: Thank you! :)
BeatofHisHeart: Thanks! I hope this chapter is a satisfactory end.
LianaDare8: Yes, I structured this story around the previous chapter and this one. They were the first two I wrote, actually. Which made planning the rest so much easier. :)
EroSlackerMicha: Fairy hunting? Oh dear, I hope not!
whiterose02: Oh my goodness. Thank you! :D
BlueRiverSteel: Yes, in the end, Thranduil grew on me, which is why he was the one to tell Thorin. One-shots are coming, with a dash of Fili and Nifha, too.
An Echo In Time: Lots of angst, yes, but this chapter's a true happy ending. Of sorts. ;)
Nicci1234: I'm thrilled so many want the one-shots! :D
BlackBaccaraRose: Read on and see.
girl43: Yes, Thranduil knew all along, which I'd hinted at during their conversation outside Erebor. He's what, 9000-years-old? He's been around the block a few times, lol. That's why I thought it more fitting he tell Thorin, rather than Gandalf.
Cassandra-Jayne: I SHALL.
Queen of Erebor: Yes, it only took 51 chapters to explain soul healing. XD
Jo: The plot thins.
WolfishPennings: Such cute pointless fit? What's fit?
Skatingfaery: Cliffhanger? Is it really, though?
Just4Me: I figured Talaitha needed some maternal affection and advice. Plus, I really wanted to write about her life in Nemere, lol, since her time is limited there. ;)
Disclaimer: As it's the final chapter, I'm not giving one.
Rise with me now,
And we'll walk to the shore;
We'll look over the waves
To the break of day;
And I'll hold your hand;
I'll hold you close;
I'll wipe away your tears,
And no one will know.
Come to me now,
And together we'll go
Where the clearer winds blow,
Far and beyond;
All our sorrow and pride;
Kissing them goodbye
Into another life.
"Morning Tide," Poets of the Fall
Chapter 52: Resolution
Thorin disembarked from the ship, glancing around at his surroundings. The harbor was larger than any he'd seen, full of boats and ships ferrying goods between Nemere and Middle-earth. For a race that didn't venture far from home, the szelemér nevertheless participated in trade with the elves and men living along Middle-earth's southwestern coast. Dwarves, though, were rarely encountered, as evidenced by the fairies' blatant stares.
The second thing Thorin noticed was the szelemér's varying heights. Some were dwarf-sized, while others were as tall as small men. He would have blended in with the crowd had it not been for his physique, which was twice as muscular as most of the men's. Thorin was surprised to note, however, that the males were less effeminate than their elvish counterparts, though few bore facial hair.
During his observation of the people, he'd lost track of his direction and ended up in the city leading from the harbor. Shop signs were written in Szila, the szelemér's strange language, that Thorin only recognized because the letter Talaitha had received was written in it. He must have looked lost, for a woman about his height offered to help.
"Are you searching for a particular shop?" she asked. Her accent was heavier than Talaitha's, but at least she spoke the Common Tongue.
"No, I'm on my way to Lelle," he replied. "Do you know which way it is?"
"North, but it is too far to walk. You must take a horse," she said. "Turn left at the end of this street, and you will find the stables."
The woman smiled. "No, thank you. I've never met a dwarf before." Then she picked up her satchel and continued towards the docks.
It occurred to him that he should have asked where to buy food, but through trial and error, he managed to find a tavern, and soon, he was ready to go.
As the horse galloped north along the road, Thorin lost himself in his thoughts. He had no idea what sort of welcome he would receive at journey's end.
Four days later
Talaitha rubbed a healing salve onto the boy's arm, wincing as a layer of dead skin flaked off from the worst of the burns. Though she was gentle, they still oozed and bled. She'd already tended to his torso, which was peppered with angry, red welts, and was about to begin wrapping his arm, when she heard someone enter the room.
Looking up, she breathed in sharply and nearly dropped the ceramic bowl containing the ointment.
"What happened to him?" Thorin asked, nodding towards the boy. His eyes shone with sympathy, for he recognized those wounds.
She stared at him in disbelief, mouth slightly open, before she realized he'd asked her a question.
"He... His home caught fire, with him and his parents still inside it." Talaitha set down the bowl and began wrapping a clean, white bandage around the boy's arm. She had to keep her hands occupied to stop herself from rushing into his arms. "Some of his burns are quite severe. I've given him an herbal mixture that will keep him asleep during much of his recovery, or else the pain would be unbearable."
"So the burns will heal?" asked Thorin, walking closer.
"There will be scarring. But yes, they'll heal." Talaitha did not look at him. "It's a powerful balm."
"As is the healer," Thorin remarked, his voice tinged with admiration.
Talaitha's eyebrows furrowed in confusion, then she frowned. "Gandalf told you."
"Really?" she wondered. "That's unexpected."
"The messenger is of no consequence," said Thorin, his voice suddenly hard. "Why did you do it?"
She sighed, wiping her hands on her apron, and finally looked at Thorin. "Why do you think? You were so close."
"So close to what?"
"To Erebor. To becoming King under the Mountain." Talaitha sat on the edge of the boy's bed. "To finally reaping the rewards of what you sacrificed so much for."
Long, determined strides had him looming over her, his eyes alight with fury. "How could I reap any rewards knowing you'd lost half your remaining years saving me?"
"There was a reason I didn't tell you," she murmured, staring at his boots. "I swear that wizard's penchant for meddling is contagious."
He grasped her arms roughly and pulled her up. "Tell me the truth," he growled. "Why did you save me?"
"I just told you," she snapped. "I didn't want your quest to have been in vain. You'd dedicated your life to it, and it seemed too cruel a fate to be denied its completion."
"That's not all, though."
Thorin's hold tightened, not out of anger, but out of something akin to desperation. He had to know if what Thranduil said was true.
Talaitha looked up at him, the green eyes he'd missed so much shining with tears.
"Please..." she whispered.
The soft plea pained him, twisting his heart like a vise. In that moment, she looked so fragile and small, nothing like the strong, spirited healer he'd gotten to know on the journey. He released her and stepped back, watching carefully for her reaction. But she didn't move, didn't rub her arms where he'd gripped her. The fear he'd seen on her face had not been because of him.
"I am sorry," he said, shaking his head slowly. "Ever since you left, I have felt incomplete. An ache has settled in my chest, and I needed to know why. But I see that my coming here was a mistake."
He turned to leave, but her fingers on his wrist stopped him.
"You feel that way because a part of my soul now resides within you." She offered him a weak smile. "I feel it, too. It is the price I paid to save the man I love."
Though Thranduil had suggested the same thing, hearing the confession from Talaitha's lips sent Thorin reeling. His head felt light, like it would float away if he weren't careful. His heart beat with a renewed hope that seared through his body. And, unsurprisingly, the pain in his chest was gone.
For the first time in nearly a year, he felt whole again.
But Talaitha knew none of what he was experiencing. All she saw was the stunned expression on his face. She wrung her soiled apron in her hands in a habit that indicated unease.
He smiled so brightly that Talaitha's lips parted in surprise. Standing there in her simple healer's dress and apron smeared with blood and balms, with her fiery hair in a braid over her shoulder, Thorin thought she'd never been more beautiful. He couldn't resist any longer. He pulled her to him and kissed her.
The movement was so sudden that, for a few seconds, Talaitha was rigid against him. Then slowly, she kissed him back, her mouth moving against his. Her head spun from the sensations, of his warm lips upon hers, of his beard scraping lightly against her chin. She had missed this, had missed him, far more than she'd allowed herself to admit.
After a while, Thorin reluctantly pulled away, suppressing the urge to continue kissing her. He knew where his desire would lead them, and though he longed to follow it, there were things they needed to discuss.
"I still do not understand completely," he said, contenting himself with holding her hands.
Talaitha arched a skeptical brow. "I think you just want to hear my confession again."
"I do," he smiled. "But I also speak the truth."
"Very well," she relented, growing serious. "I presume Thranduil explained soul healing?"
Thorin nodded and squeezed her hands in what he hoped was a reassuring manner. She smiled slightly, as some of the tension left her.
"Well, obviously my body doesn't want me expending all of my energy, so there's a safeguard in place. If healing someone could harm me, my gift will hesitate. It's a warning, but I can overcome it."
She paused, looking up at him nervously.
"If, however, healing someone could kill me, my ability will refuse to work, no matter how hard I force it. But there is an exception."
"You must love that person," he said softly.
"Yes," she nodded. "More than I love myself. That is why I fell unconscious after tending to you. Bringing you back from near-death required sharing a large part of my soul."
She breathed deeply, no longer caring that she'd laid herself figuratively bare before Thorin. Ever since she'd awoken in Bard's tent, she had stringently avoided reflecting on her actions. She had denied their significance to herself and to others, though annoyingly, both Gandalf and Thranduil seemed aware of it. But Thorin was not, and she'd taken care to keep it that way. This was as much an admission to herself as it was to him, and she felt like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
"Thank you," he said, his gaze meeting hers. His eyes held such unrestrained joy that Talaitha's chest tightened with emotion. She had admitted the truth to him, but had that changed anything?
Her mind raced with questions, as she and Thorin watched each other. Why had he come? Had Gandalf told him of Dain's plan, like she'd requested? Or had Thorin already married Nifha? If he had, then why had he kissed her? If he hadn't, then what did that kiss mean?
But she asked none of those, for she didn't think she could bear the answers.
"Now that your curiosity's been sated, you can return to Erebor."
She tried to remain impassive, but when he brought her hands to his lips, a small sound escaped her throat.
"I shall return to Erebor," he said, smiling. "But not without the woman I love."
Talaitha longed to throw her arms around his neck, but Dain's words still rang in her ears. No matter how self-serving his motives were, she could not deny their underlying truth.
"You must," she said, pulling away from Thorin. The flash of disappointment in his eyes was like a kick to the gut. "As king, you are expected to sire heirs, which I cannot give you."
He regarded her with affectionate amusement. "I see no reason why not. You are female, and I am male."
"I'm serious, Thorin. Dain made it very clear that our offspring, should they even be possible, would muddy the Line of Durin."
"He had no authority to say that to you," Thorin hissed. "It is my choice whom I love. Not Dain's, not my kin's, and not even yours. I had a right to know, Talaitha. You should have come to me, instead of fabricating that story about your ill sister."
Talaitha winced, staring down at the ground. "That story was the only believable reason I could think of to leave Erebor. I did what I had to."
"You lied!" He gripped her chin and forced her to look at him.
"I had no choice! Dain threatened to kill you if I told you. I had to lie, and I had to leave."
She wrenched away from his hold and turned her back to him. "You have no idea how it felt, Thorin. It was the hardest thing I've ever done."
Thorin softened, regretting his anger towards her. Her reason for leaving him had been false, but the emotion he'd seen outside Mirkwood had been genuine. He stepped up behind her and leaned in close.
"That is why I am not leaving without you," he whispered. "I love you, Talaitha Borvirág."
"Is not and will never be my wife." He kissed her neck, smiling at her answering shiver.
"But I'm not a dwarf."
"I am well aware of that." He wrapped his arms around her middle and rested his chin on her shoulder. "There is no law that says the king must wed a dwarf maiden. And if there were, I would change it."
"I am also no maiden," she murmured, bringing another smile to his lips. "The only reason that law doesn't exist is because you're the first dwarf king to entertain thoughts of marrying outside his race."
"I intend to do more than just entertain them. And before you suggest it," said Thorin, correctly ascertaining her thoughts. "Dain is powerless to draft such a law."
Talaitha turned in his arms, looking up at him warily. "Not powerless because he's dead, I hope."
"No. Merely stripped of title," Thorin replied. He kissed her forehead. "Have you finished protesting now?"
"These are legitimate concerns, Thorin. Don't mock me for them."
"I know they are," he said. "I, too, have deliberated over them. But the Line of Durin will endure through Fili and Kili. And if we have children, it will endure through them."
"Only partly. They will be half szelemér."
"And is that so bad?"
"I'm sure your kin would think so."
Thorin sighed and released her. "Some may," he agreed. "But I shall remind them that were it not for you, they would be calling Dain king now."
"It is not that simple," she said, exasperated.
"Yes, it is." He started to reach for her hand, then stopped, watching her closely, almost apprehensively. "Unless, of course, this is merely a convoluted way to tell me you do not want me."
Talaitha was about to refute the suggestion, when she realized he had good reason to doubt her. He had traveled nearly a thousand miles to see her, to bring her back to Erebor, and all she'd done was argue with him.
Her expression softened, as she cupped his cheek. "Then I am wrong to make you think that. I want you, Thorin." She kissed him, allowing her lips to linger. "And I love you."
His eyes closed, and he rested his forehead against hers. "I have done all I can to reassure you, Talaitha. What more do you want?"
"If you truly do not wish to be queen, I will crown Fili as my heir apparent and step down."
"No! I would never want that," she objected, eyes widening.
"Then what can I do?" Thorin demanded harshly, but the slump of his proud shoulders belied his desperation.
"Nothing." He looked at her, startled. "You can do nothing, for you have already done everything."
"What are you saying?" he asked, gazing down at her with such hope that her eyes prickled with tears.
"I am saying that I have been a pessimistic fool," she replied. "And I am saying that you will not return to Erebor alone."
"Thank Mahal," he breathed and pulled her into his strong arms.
He held her against his body so tightly that her ribs protested. But she clung to him just as fiercely, as if expecting the fates to cruelly pluck him away in punishment for daring to challenge them. A dwarf and a szelemér should never have met, let alone fallen in love, and Thorin should have died on the battlefield. Talaitha had paid the price for her interference with half her life. But had that been enough?
They were so lost in each other's warmth that they didn't notice their audience until she cleared her throat. Thorin nearly toppled a chair in his haste to put distance between him and Talaitha.
"Alina!" Talaitha blushed. "This is Thorin. He was just...visiting."
"Hello, Thorin," greeted the healer. Her eyes sparkled with amusement as she turned to Talaitha. "I just came to tell you that I can take over your shift for the rest of the day."
"Oh, that's not necessary." Talaitha's guilty gaze flitted to the dwarf.
"Of course it is," Alina insisted. "Consider it repayment for when I had to leave early last week."
Talaitha hesitated, but her friend was already untying her apron and pushing her gently towards the door.
"All right, I'm going," she laughed.
"And you'd better not be in before noon tomorrow!"
Talaitha shot Alina a mock-glare, before she pulled Thorin from the room.
"Are all szelemér women so assertive?" he asked, smirking.
"No. You just seem to attract them."
Thorin laughed. "There are worse things to attract."
"You attract those, too," she quipped, deadpan.
"I did not travel almost a thousand miles to endure your cheek." He saw her raised eyebrows and added, "Well, not only."
"Then let me show you my city." She took his hand and laced their fingers together.
He smiled. "I would like that."
The first place she led him was the market, which was bustling with so much activity that Thorin didn't know where to look. Vendors sold everything from traditional szelemér food and goods to more exotic pieces, such as elvish books and mithril jewelry. But Talaitha was not distracted by the shiny objects, unlike Thorin. She headed towards a particular stall and returned with a tray of red sausage, something flat and bread-like, and a goblet for each of them.
"Mangalica sausage, lángos, and raspberry water," she explained, as they sat down on a bench.
"I can guess what raspberry water is."
He bit into the fried, golden bread and was pleasantly surprised. He'd expected plain bread, but it was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. And when Talaitha sprinkled salt on it, he decided it was far superior to any doughy foods the dwarves had.
That's lángos," said Talaitha. She cut a piece of the sausage. "And this is made from pigs that are only found in Nemere."
Thorin tried that next, and if he thought the lángos was good, the mangalica sausage was possibly the most delicious thing he'd ever tasted. It was full of garlic and spices, but the meat was not overwhelmed by them. He knew he was eating pork, yet it was more nuanced and delicate.
"I may have to abdicate the throne, after all," he remarked.
Talaitha grinned. When they'd finished eating, she took him to the center of the market, where women in colorful, voluminous skirts danced to music from flutes and drums. On their thumbs and middle fingers, they wore zils, which clinked to the beat. A few of the dancers cartwheeled and flipped, as the audience clapped.
"Their stomachs are bared," Thorin observed, with wide eyes. He remembered Talaitha's dress with the sheer midriff. "Is this common attire for szelemér females?"
"Not really. It is ceremonial," she replied. "Both the clothing and the movements symbolize freedom and playfulness."
He watched as two of the nearest women undulated their hips, their abdomens rippling fluidly and gracefully.
"Or sensuality," he murmured.
"That, too," Talaitha smirked. "Many szelemér girls learn this type of dance. It is a part of our folk heritage."
Thorin's eyes darkened as he looked at Talaitha. "Did you learn it?"
"I did, but it has been decades since I'd danced it."
"I see," he said.
"Come, there is more I wish to show you."
She took his hand and pulled him away from the crowd, but not before he'd begun imaging her swaying nearly half-naked to earthy music.
They passed statues of famous szelemér, whose histories Talaitha seemed to know by heart. Thorin was initially surprised at how many of them were healers, but then he recalled her saying that Nemere was home to a disproportionate number of them, due to the island's abundance of medicinal plants.
Talaitha stopped in front of a white marble statue of a man. "This is Anasztáz, one of the first soul healers." She touched the bust and bowed her head in reverence. "He gave his life to save his daughter, who was dying from a terrible illness."
"Is Alina like you?" Thorin asked.
"A soul healer, you mean?" He nodded. "No, but she's one of Lelle's best healers."
"How many soul healers are there in Nemere?"
Talaitha shrugged. "Not many. I'm sure our council has records of us, but I've never checked them."
As they continued their walk through the city, Thorin admired the clean, cobblestone streets and the stone architecture. Some of the buildings were adorned with colorful tiles, while others were monochrome. Signs were written in both Szila and the Common Tongue, which Talaitha explained was a rarity in Nemere, since few outsiders visited.
"I probably should've asked this sooner, but where did you stable your horse?"
"Not far from the entrance into the city," he replied. "It was near the bridge that spanned the river."
"Good, it's on our way, then."
It didn't take them long to arrive at the stables, where Talaitha instructed Thorin to saddle his gelding. When he inquired about Szélvész, Talaitha told him that after returning to Nemere, she had rejoined her herd. They still saw each other almost daily, and the mare often spent days in the city with the fairy. Just like in Middle-earth, she enjoyed the attention the children lavished on her, and Talaitha would find her with her mane and tail braided and reluctant to come home.
"I have to ride with you until we reach Szélvész," said Talaitha. She allowed Thorin to help her onto the horse. "You don't mind, do you?"
He sat in the saddle behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist.
"I definitely do not mind," he whispered into her nape.
The horse trotted from the stables, gradually picking up speed as the cobblestones became grass. In the distance, Thorin spied a herd of horses and directed his gelding towards it. A black and white mare broke off from the group, whinnying loudly in greeting. Before the gelding had even stopped, Talaitha slid from the saddle and met Szélvész, wasting no time in pulling herself onto the mare's back.
They rode through golden fields of wheat and sunflowers, through flower-speckled meadows and bright red poppies. There was life and vibrant color everywhere Thorin looked. And as he glanced up at the cloudless sky, he understood why Nemere meant "on the meadows of the sun."
After an hour, they stopped near a small stream to allow the horses to drink and graze. While Talaitha removed the gelding's tack, Szélvész eyed Thorin curiously between bites of grass. The dwarf plucked a light blue flower, then offered it to the mare, who began to follow him as he searched for something in the meadow.
"What are you doing?" Talaitha asked, amused. "And why is Szélvész trailing you like a lost puppy?"
At the mention of her name, the mare lifted her head. There was a half-chewed flower in her mouth.
Thorin shrugged. "Maybe she likes me."
"Not you," Talaitha laughed. "The cornflowers you're feeding her." She walked over to him, smiling at the plant he held. "But that's not a cornflower."
"No, it's not." He smiled, too, and tucked the blue borage into her hair. "It's your epithet."
She touched the flower, her heart warmed by the sweetly simple gesture.
"I would find you an oak branch, but I fear I cannot fashion it into a shield."
Thorin laughed, gazing down at her fondly.
"I think you were always meant to save me," he said, as he stroked her cheek. "And I don't mean from death."
"Do you mean from permanently becoming a cantankerous dwarf, then?"
"Watch your tongue, fairy," he warned, though the corners of his lips twitched ever so slightly.
"Or you'll do what?"
He leaned forward, his nose brushing hers. "Or I'll put it to better use."
"Bold words," she challenged. Her breath fluttered over his lips. "Prove it."
Before Thorin could do just that, Talaitha gathered up the skirt of her dress and took off through the meadow, leaving a somewhat disgruntled dwarf in her wake. He ran after her, secretly enjoying the chase, especially when Szélvész and the gelding joined in the game. Talaitha would allow Thorin to nearly catch her, then she'd suddenly veer in a different direction, so that he, with his heavier and wider frame, would turn too late. She'd used the same tactic on Dwalin when they'd sparred in Rivendell, and on Thorin. But like in Rivendell, he began to anticipate her movements.
On her next feint, he caught her around the waist and hoisted her over his shoulder, smirking at her indignant protests. The horses followed them, eyeing the laughing, squirming woman curiously, until Thorin set her down.
"I believe I win," he teased, but when he looked at her, his playful demeanor faltered.
Her hair had come loose from its braid, trailing wavy and wild in the breeze. Her cheeks, pink from the exertion of their chase, flushed even further under his warm gaze, and her breast heaved as she tried to catch her breath.
"You are beautiful," he whispered, cupping the back of her neck.
Talaitha watched him, noticing how his pupils dilated slightly, despite the sunlight. His usual, stern countenance had softened, transforming his face in a way that even now amazed her. She didn't need to touch his soul to see it, for in moments like these, he willingly revealed it to her.
"You really came for me."
"Did you think I would not?"
"I hoped you would," she replied. "But I also hoped you wouldn't."
Thorin sighed, though the affection had not left his gaze. "Nothing is ever straightfoward with you."
"No, and I doubt it ever shall be." Her expression was one of mock gravity as she said, "You should probably leave while you still can."
"Not even if you were Thranduil's daughter would I leave you."
A wry smile graced Talaitha's lips. "That is saying something indeed."
"Yes," he said, kissing her forehead. "It says that you have prevented me from permanently becoming a cantankerous dwarf."
She wrapped her arms around his neck, as his hands settled on her waist.
"Then I am much relieved."