Bet you thought you'd seen the last of me!

So, I mean it's been a weird few years for all of us, hasn't it, I hope that you are all safe and healthy since my last chapter. I have always intended to try and complete this fic, so no matter the gaps between chapters, I'll keep trying.

Weirdly, I decided to come back and re-read my reviews to try and get in the writing mood, and for some reason there are loads that I never got notifications for. Not sure if that is a issue but it was actually nice to see that people were still reading and reviewing - so thank you all, I appreciate you sticking with me despite the fact that this fic is like.. 10 years in the making...


Chapter 36

When I wake I feel groggy and aching, my mind slowly returning to me and with it the memory of Toldin's fate. I debate closing my eyes again and going back to sleep, but I am afraid of the dreams that might come now my exhausted body has had time to rest.

With a sigh I slowly start to move, groaning lowly as I force my bruised body into a sitting position. It takes me a few slow blinks to realise that I am not alone. Truin is lying beside me, wrapped in a fur blanket that she must have bought from her own room as I know I own nothing quite as luxurious.

She looks a lot younger in sleep. Her hair fanned around her head like a dulled halo, hands loosely resting in front of her with her quiet, even breathing stirring the furs on her blanket.

I wonder vaguely when she snuck into my room, and am somewhat horrified that I probably didn't even stir at her arrival, something that - after all my recent misfortunes - should concern me more than it does.

I gently ease myself out of bed, both to avoid waking my sister and because my body is too tender for anything else. Once up, I get changed, again going slowly, taking note of the bruised and broken skin that covers me - and the fact that someone has unpacked my belongs for me. I frown at that then turn and start for the door.

With my fingers reaching for the handle I pause and glance over my shoulder to look at Truin. She is still sleeping peacefully on my bed with no sign of waking. I feel bad for leaving without a word as no doubt she has been watching over me during the night, but I don't want her company at the moment. I don't want anyone's company.

I step out into the hall and quietly close the door behind me, nodding to Tybbar and another guard I do not know who are flanking my door. I glance down the corridor and notice there are additional guards stationed further along, and past them more still.

"Where to, my lady?" Tybbar asks, falling into step with me as I begin to move.

I try not to think of Toldin and shake my head to clear it. I could go to the balcony, it has been a long while since I visited, but even that is not as private as I would like. I roll my shoulders, feeling the tension in my ribs, and make my decision. "To the baths."

.

I have been in the water for just over an hour, feeling it go from scalding to luke warm to tepid - and yet I still cannot bring myself to haul my aching body out of the tub. I gaze blankly at the shape of my legs through the water, the zigzag scar across my thigh still stark against the rest of my skin.

My mind keeps being drawn back to Toldin. How young he was. How full of kindness and loyalty he was. How he should still be alive, if not for me.

And yet, why must it always be my fault?

I did not ask to come here. I did not intend to befriend the princes or their uncle, nor did I have any knowledge of the hidden war going on beneath the mountain. I did not ask for guards - in fact, as I recall I was very much against them.

But there is still guilt, and so much pain that I feel like my heart is nothing but an open wound. As much love as I have for Erebor, and the people that call the lonely mountain home - these last few weeks have not been kind to me. I miss the simplicity of my life before coming here.

I sit for a while more before I resign myself to getting out. My body feels slightly better after the soak but my stomach has an awful emptiness that is gnawing at me.

I drag myself from the water and quickly dry myself off, being careful to avoid the still healing wounds across my body. I braid my hair and twist it up on top of my head to avoid getting my clothing damp while it dries and then I get changed.

When I come out I find Tybbar and the new guard waiting for me outside the humid atmosphere of the bathing rooms.

They wait expectantly as I adjust my shirt and belt before falling into step with me as I retrace my steps back to my room. Tybbar pokes his head into my quarters to make sure no one unsavory has snuck in while I have been gone, but only there is only Truin, still sleeping though she has rolled slightly and stolen one of my pillows.

The guard backs out and I step in, closing the door softly behind myself though despite my attempts my sister begins to stir.

"Ruin?" She questions, pushing herself up on one hand and rubbing her eyes with the other. "You're leaving?"

"Coming back, actually," I admit, moving over to sit on the edge of the bed. "I was in desperate need of a bath."

"Oh, you should have woken me. I would have come too." She tells me around a yawn, stretching before letting her eyes settle on me.

"I needed .. some time," I say, shrugging slightly. Truins eyes look back at me with pity and she reaches out to pat my hand in sympathy. "Why were you sleeping in my room, if i might ask?"

"Mother sent me from the healing rooms to rest, but I couldn't," She admits, climbing off the bed and moving to my vanity. I see her pull a face at her reflection and immediately reach for my hairbrush to try and tame her hair. "And you'd been asleep for some time by that point, almost a full day! So I thought I'd check in on you, and then… "

She looks sheepishly over her shoulder but I just smile as she returns to brushing her hair. For a few moments I watch her, listening to her quiet grumbling over a particularly stubborn knot, an odd feeling rises in my chest.

I push to my feet and move to stand beside her, and as she turns to question what I am doing, I pull her into a hug, burying my face in the waves of her nearly brushes hair.

"Thank you," I say, though it is somewhat muffled against her. "For being my sister."

She lets out a noise I can't place and brings her arms up around me to return the embrace. With my damp hair curled up round my head, and Truins face pressed against my neck, I can quite easily feel her tears as she tries - and fails - to keep her feelings under control.

I pull back and so does she, wiping her eyes feverishly.

"I can't remember the last time you hugged me," she says with a laugh, though more tears streak her face as she says it, and her eyes skillfully avoid mine. "You know, I… I thought I had lost you and Bruin both for a while."

I nod slightly, but say nothing.

"I've felt so useless the last few weeks," She admits, still trying to wipe the tears from her eyes to no avail. "I could do nothing to help Bruin - I mean can you imagine me, of all people chasing down his assailant through the halls of Erebor?" She takes a shuddering breath. "O-Or fighting off giant spiders in the Greenwood?"

She looks up then, her eyes red and blotchy and so full of fear and sadness. I might have cried too, if I had any tears left to me.

"Bruin was dying and I could do nothing. A-and you-" She sobs as she lifts one hand to touch the slowly healing split that mars the left side of my face. "Y-you have done so much, suffered so much - I-I I am so sorry, Ruin!"

Truin wipes her eyes on her sleeve as a new wave of sobs wrenches from my fault. "This is all my fault."

"I hardly think that," I say quietly as I pull her back into a hug. She wraps her arms around me tight enough to give Bruins bear hugs a run for their money as I pat her back in an attempt to soothe her.

"It's my fault we're here," Truin gasps out. "I caused this! All for a man that barely knows I exist."

I say nothing, allowing her to let out all the feelings she has bottled up over the past few weeks. I knew Truin had been struggling with what happened to Bruin, knew that she was putting on a brave face, trying to support my parents and allow me to do what I needed to do.

I didn't consider how my own actions might have affected her. How she might see this as her fault, as I do my own.

When my sister has emptied herself of tears she pulls away, looking embarrassed at her actions. I cast around and quickly pick out a clean handkerchief from my things and pass it to her, receiving a nod of thanks.

"Until only a few short hours ago I also felt responsible for all the suffering that has befallen our family, especially Toldin -" From the way my sister's face crumples I assume she is aware of the young guards fate. "- whom I will always feel guilty for. But we are non of us to blame. We are not at fault for coming here. The only people who should bare that burden are those that are out there, hurting people for their own selfish motivations."

It takes a few moments for her to process my words, letting them sink in. Truin gives a firm nod and opens her mouth to speak, just as my stomach lets out the loudest rumble I have ever heard.

She blinks in surprise. Once, twice, and then bursts into laughter.

"Oh Mahal, when was the last time you ate?" She questions, taking my arm and pulling me towards to door that leads to our family common area. "Come on, I'll make us some breakfast."

I don't argue as I can't actually remember the last time I had a proper meal, so I allow Truin to pull me through the door and guide me to a seat while she sets about starting to cook. Despite my sister being almost my mothers double, I will admit that she is a much better cook - which is not saying much, since my mother is terrible.

"How is your face feeling?" She asks as she puts a pot of tea on to boil.

I gingerly touch the cut and give a half hearted shrug. "It doesn't hurt, if that is what you're asking," I tell her. "Thanks to yours and mothers ministrations, I imagine."

"It could probably do with another few days of ointment," She says as she busies about. "Your hands too."

I look down at my hands and admit that they do still feel quite sore, the skin is no longer weeping or bleeding, but it is cracked and red around the splits on my knuckles. I let out an "mmmhmm" of agreement.

Truin continues to chatter to me, more to comfort herself than anything, I think. So I sit and listen until she places a steaming cup of tea in front of me. I wrap my hands around the cup and take a sip.

It's hot enough to burn my tongue but I don't care. I can feel the liquid as it travels through me and let out a sigh. I'm not sure what flavour the tea is, but Truin has put enough honey in it that I don't really care.

I take another sip.

"Do you think I should wake father?" Truin asks, glancing at the door that leads to our parents room.

I realise I can hear the sound of snoring coming from their room, muted almost to nothing by the thickness of the walls and I let out a snort of laughter.

"No, let him sleep," I say, turning my attention back to my tea. "Though perhaps save him some food, in case he wakes in a foul mood!" I say and Truin chuckles.

It doesn't take long before my sister sets down a hearty plate in front of me, with sausages, bacon, eggs and two thick slices of bread layered with a thick swash of butter. She seats herself opposite me with her own plate and wastes no time digging in.

I follow suit and work my way through the food, relishing each bite.

It doesn't take long before both our plates are clear and I am feeling full for the first time in who knows how long. Truin looks similarly content across the table.

"You know I think I might go for a lie down." I manage, yawning despite myself, even though it can only have been a few hours since awoke.

"Yes, you should rest while you can," Truin agrees, pushing to her feet to collect my plate. She deposits both on the side, unwilling to deal with them straight away and plants her hands on her hips. "But first I must fix your hair."

I groan and touch the unwieldy clump that sits atop my head. She is probably right, so I stand and traipse after her back into my room where she sits me down and carefully begins to brush out and plait my hair to her liking.

When she is finally done I am even more tired than I was before, the rhythmic brushing sending me into a dream-like state. I thank her and shuffle to my bed and flop down onto the covers.

No sooner does my face touch the sheets does someone knock purposefully at my door. I grunt in annoyance and begin the arduous task of extracting myself from the bed when I hear the door open and glance over to see Truin answering it.

"Ah, Lady Truin," A rough voice rumbles from the other side of the door. I frown, trying to place it. "I am Dunnold, of the Kings Guard." There is the familiar sound of a fist being clapped against a chest, and no doubt some bowing.

"What can we do for you, Dunnold of the Kings Guard?" My sister asks.

"I- I ah, I apologise for the interruption, but the King has requested the presence of Lady Ruin and Lord Dalkin in the War room," Dunnold explains. "I'm to fetch them."

I watch my sister glance back over her shoulder at me and frown. She turns back to Dunnold.

"My sister is resting, as is my father," She says to my surprise, sounding resolved. "They have been through a lot recently, as his Majesty knows. Perhaps he would not object to letting them sleep?"

There is a pause on the other side of the door where I imagine Dunnold is internally warring with himself on what to do with himself when faced with my sister. I snort back a laugh and climb out of bed to walk up behind my sister.

Dunnold is scratching the back of his head awkwardly, glancing at my sister then away again until I appear. He lets out a sigh. "Lady Ruin, I am sorry to disturb your rest."

"It's fine, Dunnold," I sigh, ignoring the frown Trun shoots me. "What's one more day of exhaustion?"

He goes to open his mouth but Truin cuts him off. "Ruin, you need sleep!" She huffs, putting her hands on my shoulders with the intention of guiding me back to bed, except she doesn't have the muscles to move me without my consent.

I can't help but smirk.

"Don't worry sister, I've slept enough to be getting on with," I say and her frown deepens. "Besides, it's unlike you to deny a request from the King!"

"I only think it is unnecessary for you to always be attending meetings and such," She grumbles. "Especially as you are so worn down - and I haven't even had time to see to your hands yet!"

I look down at my hands and flex them, wincing at the tightness in them. If I am not careful with their recovery I will not be able to draw my bow. I kiss my teeth and glance at Dunnold and Tybbar, who is peering in over his shoulder.

"If you think you can wrap them quickly..?" I say, and Truin nods, jumping into action to gather whatever supplies she needs from her room.

There is silence for a moment before I turn back to the guards. "Perhaps you could return to the King and let him know we will be with him shortly?"

"Aye," Dunnold nods, slapping his fist to his chest. I watch as his eyes flick past me before he turns on his heel and heads off down the corridor.

Tybbar makes a noise in the back of his throat as he watches Dunnold go. I raise my eyebrow.

"Sorry, My Lady," He says, though a chuckle escapes him all the same. "Only I've never seen Dunnold act like that before. As he did with the Lady Truin, that is."

"Oh?" I ponder, leaning forward just in time to see the other guard disappear from view. "I'll admit he did seem a little… flustered."

Tybbar says nothing, only raises his thick eyebrows suggestivly. I huff out a laugh and move out into the corridor to knock hurriedly on my fathers door.

It takes only a moment for him to answer, throwing open the door with a grunt, chest bare, hair mussed and brandishing and axe.

"Ruin?" He questions, lowering his weapon slightly while he squints at me. "What in Durin's name do you want?"

"Good morning to you too, father," I say, jovially. "The King has requested our presence if you'd like to make yourself presentable."

Truin appears beside me moment later with an arm full of bandages. "I'm read- Father, what in Mahals name are you doing answering your door like that?"

My father grunts and looks down at himself, then to the axe in his hand before closing the door in our faces.

"It's a good thing mother isn't here," Truin huffs, nudging me back to my room. "Now come on, let's not keep his Majesty waiting too long."

I sit patiently while Truin tends to my hands, glancing up only when I hear my father's subtle voice as he converses with the guards outside my room.

"There!" Truin says after she tucks the end of the bandage, her work finished.

"Thank you," I say, wriggling my fingers slightly. Whatever cream she applied is already working its magic, easing the tension in my hands. "Are you coming with us?"

"I-I was not invited," Truin says, though she taps her chin. "No, I think I will go see Bruin and relieve mother of her watch."

"The healing rooms are not far out of our way, we'll walk with you." I say, standing up to reattach my swordbelt from where I had left it.

"It's far enough out of your way that you need not bother," She counters, giving me a pointed look. "You have already delayed too long."

"Well then, what is a few minutes more?" I give her my best grin, and even though it pulls at the cut on my face, she sighs and throws her hands up.

I stride to the door, ushering my sister out in front of me and into the corridor where my father, Tybbar and my unknown guard are standing with various degrees of patience.

"About time." My father says, no doubt thinking he could have remained asleep while I got myself ready. I smile at him.

"We're going to see Truin to the healing rooms, and then-" I begin, but my unknown guard clears his throat and I turn to look at him.

"Beg pardon, Lady Ruin, but his Majesty should not be kept waiting." He tells me.

I watch out of the corner of my eye as Tybbar lets out a long suffering sigh and rubs his hand over his beard.

"I am aware," I say, and he nods to himself. "In which case you will escort my sister to the healing rooms while Tybbar, my father and I continue on to the war room."

He splutters something unintelligible as I turn on my heel and move off, Tybbar jogging a step to catch up and take the lead. My father and sister fall in behind, leaving the other guard to pick up the rear.

When it comes time to part ways with my sister, the unknown guard huffs and frowns at me until my sister starts to walk away. Then he strides off to walk by her side. I resist rolling my eyes and we continue on.

It doesn't take long to reach the war room after that, and Tybbar knocks twice on the door before pushing it open to admit us. He steps back, allowing my father and I to enter before following and closing the door behind him.

"Lord Dalkin, Lady Ruin," The King says, standing straight from where he was leaning over his table, speaking to a seated Balin. "Thank you for joining us, I realise you are still recovering however there are some things that cannot be spoken of outside of this room."

"Aye, we understand." My father surprises me by saying as he pulls a seat out for me which i drop into without complaint. Out of the corner of my eye I see Tybbar take up his place behind me.

The King glances at my guard and frowns. "Tybbar, where is Bardek?"

"Lady Ruin requested he escort Lady Truin to the healing rooms," Tybbar reports, pauses for a second then chuckles. "I don't think she likes him."

I see Thorin raise his eyebrows but I am too busy turning in my seat to frown at my guard who keeps his eyes firmly forward. I huff and turn back.

"You need only ask if you are unhappy with your guard," The King tells me, crossing his arms over his chest. "I will have another assigned to you."

"I had a guard assigned to me, and I'm sure you all recall how that turned out," I say, unable to keep the bitterness from my voice as thoughts of Toldin resurface in my mind.

There is silence for a moment before my father speaks. "What did you need from us, my King?"

Thorin clears his throat and nods, glancing at me before seating himself.

"Firstly, Lady Ruin, Balin tells me that your elf and his steed were safely returned to the forest," The King informs me, his lip only curling slightly at the mention of Alvaldir. "Let us hope he keeps his word and does not speak of our troubles to Thranduil."

"I.. trust Alvaldir," I say, and realise it is true. Perhaps naively of me, but we went through quite a lot together in a very short period of time. I would still not call him a friend, but I would not call him my enemy either. "Thank you Balin, for seeing him home safely."

The old dwarf bobs his head to me with a smile and the King continues.

"Dain will be leaving tonight," He says, resting his hands on the table. "We have made the arrangements quietly, there will be no crowd for his departure this time and I ask that you do not go to see him off."

I think these last words are for me, as I have no doubt my father wouldn't bother to do so. I nod.

"What of the Princes?" I ask. Last time Dain was due to leave, Fili, Kili and myself we supposed to go with him.

Thorin runs a hand through his hair, an annoyed sigh escaping him.

"My nephews have made it clear to me that their place is here," He says, irritation leaking from his words. He looks up at me. "They will not go, especially if you stay, Lady Ruin. I assume there is nothing I can say to make you do so?"

"Not as long as my brother lays in your healing wing." I tell him, and he nods.

"I had thought as much." He says, and even though he must have known I would say no, he still seems unhappy with my answer.

My father pats my hand where it rests on the table. Thorin nods his head to Balin and stands, starting to pace again as the white bearded dwarf takes over.

"Our guards have made good progress in hunting out dissidents," Balin begins, leaning forward. "In no small part to you, Lady Ruin. Thanks to the parchment you found during your capture and those you subdued, we have gathered a substantial amount of information on our enemy."

I nod, glad that something good came out of the ordeal.

"Including the one that gave you those bruises," Thorin growls out, stopping his pacing long enough to glare towards my neck. My hand comes up to touch the skin, still slightly sore though only one of my many aches and pains.

"Ah, the delightful Khune," I say with a smile, though perhaps it is more of a snarl. I feel my father stiffen angrily beside me and sigh. "I would certainly not mind the chance to have a .. conversation with him again."

"Aye, you and me both lass." My father rumbles out, though I imagine his idea of conversation would involve fists and pointy things.

"Perhaps, in time," Thorin says, tilting his head towards me. "For now, they are in Dwalins care."

"Aye, best place for 'em." My father grunts.

"Indeed," The King says. He pauses for a moment then exhales. "If we uncover anything else that I think will be of interest to your family, I inform you, though again I must ask that you do not discuss these matters outside of this room."

"Of course," I say, and my father grunts in agreement. "You have our word."

The King nods again and clears his throat. "If there is nothing else to be said, I will leave you to your day -" Thorin says as my father and I push to our feet. "- though, if you have a moment, Lady Ruin, I would speak with you privately."

My father gives me what he probably thinks to be a knowing look, that really just makes it look like he has gas, before sketching a bow to the King and making his way from the room. Balin follows along with the guards.

"And what would you like to speak to me regarding?" I ask as his Majesty comes around the table to stand before me.

He tilts his head, his eyes running the length of the cut on my face. "You look well rested." He tells me.

"Well enough, though I was about to rest some more before you summoned me," I say, smiling despite myself.

"You have my apologies, I thought you would like to know the progress we had made with the rebels." He says, one hand lifting carefully to cup my cheek, his thumb gently grazing the sliced skin.

"You were correct," I tell him, and have to stop myself from leaning into his touch. "Though perhaps next time leave it until evening."

He exhales a laugh and nods. "Aye, if you wish it."

There is silence for a moment before Thorin leans forward to press his forehead against mine, the scent of him filling my nose with pipesmoke and steel.

He pulls away.

"Now, why don't you like Bardek?" He askes, face serious and I can't help but roll my eyes and laugh a little at his swift change in demenor.

"I do not dislike Bardek, I just do not know him - and he does not know me," I say, allowing the King to tangle his fingers in mine. "And he is not the guard I want to see when I turn around, though that is no fault of his own."

"I am sorry, for Toldin," Thorin says, his voice rough but sincere. "I know you cared for him, I know his passing is hard for you."

I nod again, not trusting myself to speak. Thorin draws me close to him, wrapping an arm around me as I lean my head against his chest. I feel him press a kiss to the top of my head and the warm of his breath stirs my hair.

After a few minutes I pull away, not allowing myself to indulge in the safe embrace of the King under the Mountain for too long. And a thought comes to me.

"Perhaps Dunnold could be my guard," I say, suppressing a grin. Thorin steps back, putting space between us as he nods his head.

"Aye, Dunnold is a fine guard. I will see it done." He tells me, leading me to the door and opening it for me. My father and Tybbar are waiting outside, with no sign of Balin. "Thank you both for your time."

"Yer Majesty," Dalkin grunts, turning and heading off in the direction of the healing rooms. I offer Thorin a grin with my curtsey and follow after my father.


Thank you again for everyone who has stuck with the story, please read/review/like/follow as you see fit.

Also - for those of you that don't use anymore, shall I add the story to AO3? I've never used it before but I know is a bit antiquated now. Thoughts and feelings?