Heart of Gold, Chapter 16
Characters: Thorin, Dis, Thrain, Dwalin, Balin, Original Characters
Relationship: Thorin x OC
Setting: Post Azanulbizar, Pre Quest of Erebor
Notes: Hi everyone! I hope you are all well and staying safe!
These notes are becoming redundant, but I will still apologize for the long wait I have imposed on you (again)! I had a crazy finals season, and then I had barely any inspiration or motivation to finish/edit this chapter! I have spent the last week and a half editing, so I would really appreciate any feedback on this chapter. I also promise (I know, big word, but I really promise!) that you won't have to wait as long for the next chapter. Some exciting things are happening in the story, and I could not be more eager to share them with you! Without any further ado, here is the long-awaited 16th chapter. I hope you enjoy it! 💙
This is the 16th chapter to my Thorin Oakenshield fan fiction, Heart of Gold, which can be read in full on ao3. Go check it out there to read from the start! Please consider liking or reblogging if you enjoyed this chapter or if you are enjoying the story so far!
Word Count: 6893
Thorin could not for the life of him concentrate on the council meeting. It felt as though they had been at it for hours. Glancing up at the clock, he saw that it was now four o'clock in the afternoon, only to realize he had no idea when the meeting had started. All he knew was that it was probably too long ago.
Four o'clock. That meant Dania would be sitting with his mother and sister for tea time. Despite all his best intentions, he could not help but think of her at the most inappropriate times.
Being the heir was his duty.
But she was his heart.
Why did his father have to recount their whole eventless journey to Lord Yngvi? It was as though he was inciting Thorin's mind to wander; like he was inviting him to drift down deep, secluded dreams where he and Dania were together, and they faced neither enmity nor aversion.
In this fanciful world, he held her proudly, boldly, and loved her frankly and openly. That was what she deserved. Nothing less. The image of her being his — wearing his clasp in her braid, his colours on her gown, and his hand on her arm — was driving him mad. That image almost made him stand up on his feet at that very moment and profess his undying love for her in front of all these council members — their opinions be damned.
But he knew he could not. He must not because he knew what their reaction would be. He knew the frown that would cover their faces and the scandalized revulsion that would flicker in their eyes. And he knew their opinion did matter, regardless of how much he wished it did not.
Dania deserved nothing less than his undivided devotion and to be adored and respected like the jewel she was. That was why he could not forgo their support and condemn her to a life of shame and shunning because she was not the one their kin approved of. Even though he knew there was no one better for him than her, that there was no one better than her to stand by his side and support him through his life. He had to keep it inside.
He could not stand the fact that she had to suffer because of their closed minds. The sight of her tear-stricken cheeks as she told him of the venture she was forced to undertake to keep their union secret haunted him. He despised all the people in this room because of it.
But he had to keep it inside. Sulking, he pressed his fists into his thighs to stop himself from screaming in rage at the injustice of it all.
A hand on his arm pulled him back to reality. Vili was looking at him; concern etched onto his face. Thorin nodded to let him know he was alright and forced himself to concentrate on the conversation unfolding before him.
"With all due respect, My Lord, we are still recovering from Azanulbizar. At this time of the year especially, our supplies are lower than they have ever been, " one of the council members was saying. He was young, perhaps even younger than Thorin, but already he stood right next to Lord Ynvgi; a sign of the trust his lord had in him, a sign of his influence in this room.
Most of the council members were young, yet already they occupied the most influential positions and already led their families.
We are still recovering from Azanulbizar.
How long would that battle haunt them?
So many people — too many — had perished, had suffered, or had been forced to grow up too fast just as he had, many years ago, on the other side of the world when that wretched worm had attacked his homeland.
"I agree with Master Agnar," one of the eldest members said as he stood up. "However, Lord Thrain, like his ancestors before him, is an ally to the Firebeards*." Thorin looked around at those words, assessing where people's loyalties lay. "He has chosen our Halls for his only daughter's wedding — a most joyous occasion — is it not our duty to lend him our hand?"
Lord Ynvgi gave a slight nod, though whether this was a gesture of agreement or dissent, Thorin did not know.
"Master Mundi is right," said a younger Dwarf whom Thorin recognized as Master Airi, the one who had warned them of the orcs' numbers before the battle. "Besides, a wedding would be a welcomed distraction from the hard winter we have suffered."
Several side glances were shared in response. His words rang true, though perhaps they did not form the most persuasive argument.
At the other end of the table, a tall Dwarrow stood and looked to Lord Yngvi.
"Yes, Lady Ragnhildr," Lord Yngvi nodded.
"Perhaps a bargain may be struck, My Lords," she began in a silvery voice. "I believe it is safe to say that I am not the only one who would be honoured for the wedding to take place here in Lord Yngvi's Hall. We may even lend Lord Thrain a hand as he ventures further South and finds a place to settle permanently — "
"Lay Ragnhildr, I usually applaud your council, but this is preposterous. We do not run a charity," the Dwarf right next to Lord Ynvgi interjected.
Thorin heard his father sigh as Lady Ragnhildr smiled scornfully. "Perhaps if you would let me finish speaking my mind, there would be no need to insult my intelligence and hurt your own in the process."
A few, including Vili, had to stifle their snorts.
"As I was saying," she went on with a side glance to the one who had interrupted her, "Perhaps we may strike a deal. The wedding takes place here, and we offer help as you find a place to settle. In exchange, as soon as your forges are up and running, you must give us a third of the weapons produced within the year, and we have your word that if any orcs, or even Men, come to attack us, we can count on your support."
She and Lord Yngvi were staring at each other as she spoke, and he was nodding in approval as she went.
"This is not charity," she said, scanning the table until her eyes landed on Thrain. "Nor is this a favour. This is business. As many of my colleagues have pointed out: times are hard. We will only survive if we can count on one another."
Thorin found himself nodding in approval. Of course, fulfilling such a deal would be a strain on them, but what other choice did they have? They needed their help. And his father, who was intent on Dis being married as soon as possible — "for the good of the line of Durin," as he put it — would find even more cause to agree to this plan.
Thorin had to admire Lady Ragnhildr's negotiation skills. He only had to place himself in her shoes to see that, given the circumstances, this was the best offer she could make and that it was actually an advantage to both parties.
Fortunately, Thrain agreed with his son's unspoken opinions. It only took one glance between them, and the king was nodding. "Very well, Lord Yngvi."
"I am honoured to host your daughter's wedding, Lord Thrain," Lord Yngvi said formerly, but there was something in his tone that hinted at old friends coming together rather than two lords signing an agreement. "Especially since, long ago, I was very close to Lord Viljar, Lord Vili's father," he added for the benefit of the younger council members. "This wedding shall be a celebration of my friendship with him as well as my friendship with you, Lord Thrain.
"There is much planning to get through before that joyous day is upon us," he went on. "But I think this is progress enough for today. I, for one, would like a very large ale." As soon as he said so, the boy sitting next to him stood to fulfill his request. "This meeting is adjourned, for now."
Finally, Thorin thought with a quiet sigh. He was satisfied with how the negotiations had concluded, but all he wanted now was to rest. He still would not get that. There was to be a feast tonight, and then there would be more negotiations tomorrow, and then soon enough, they would be back on the road.
"Are you alright, brother?"
Thorin turned to face Vili and froze. Images of warm Spring days filled with honeycakes and laughter flashed in his mind, juxtaposed with blood and screams. Brother. Frerin always called him that. Not Thorin. Brother.
"I am fine," Thorin said firmly, then, more gently, "I am fine. Thank you."
His father, along with Mimir, Dania's father, and Nar, was still conversing with Lord Yngvi, so Thorin made his way out of the council room. He was halfway down the hallway when he realized Vili was walking next to him.
"So," Vili said tentatively. "How are you, truly?"
"I told you: I am fine."
"I am sorry, I did not mean to offend you by calling you brother, I just thought — "
"You did not offend me," Thorin said as he looked at him. "Really. You did not."
"Alright," Vili said with a tilt of his head. "Then, do you want to talk about it?"
"About what?" Thorin sighed.
"About what is making you so irritable — so . . . distracted," he said.
Thorin frowned, his jaw set. "I am not — "
"Come now, Thorin," Vili chuckled. "I practically had to push you so that you'd listen in there. And your jaw was clenched so tight I was worried you would break your teeth."
How insolent, Thorin thought. He hadn't realized it was Vili's place to study him like he was some sick animal. He had half a mind to tell him off, but then his anger might be interpreted as a sign that there was some truth to Vili's observations. There was truth to it, Thorin did not deny that, but he would not admit it aloud either.
"Is this about Dania?"
Thorin could not hold back his outburst this time.
"What does she have to do with any of this?" he demanded, looking down at him.
His need to protect her — and their secret — mingled with the fear of being discovered, and what that would bring about fogged his mind. He could not let anyone take her away from him. He would not.
"I — I do not know," Vili stammered. "I just thought — "
Looking around, Vili took a deep breath, then looked back to Thorin with softness and determination in his eyes. "Listen, Thorin, I spoke with Dis and from the things she said — I gathered there might be something between you two."
Thorin eyed him intently for a moment. "You mean Dis told you?"
Vili sighed. "Yes, she told me," he admitted as he scratched his pale beard. At least he had the decency to sound embarrassed.
Exasperation stretched Thorin's already overloaded mind. Leaning toward Vili to avoid behind overhead, he groaned, "you cannot tell anyone." He did not even wait for an answer before moving away, though he heard Vili trailing after him.
Staring at the soaked leaves at the bottom of her cup, Dania sighed inwardly. The afternoon was passing away slowly, and with each minute, the respite it had promised was diluted like the taste of honey she chased in her tea.
Dania was sick of tea. And most of all, she was sick of the idle chat. Dis didn't seem to mind too much. After all, she was being bombarded with questions about her upcoming wedding, which kept her mind occupied and her cheeks warm and red. Dania, on the other hand, felt out of place.
Sitting on a luxurious, currant red sofa, Dania found herself more easily invested in her surroundings than in the conversation. After all, it went on as it usually did. Ester gossiped, Nal laughed, and Illiana scolded them when they went too far, though a smirk always tugged at her lips. Beside Dania, Lady Adis was silent, while Ester's mother, Lady Inger, and Lady Vigga, Lord Yngvi's wife, participated in the conversation enthusiastically.
Lady Vigga was also quite the gossiper, though everything else about her was still a mystery. The many beads and jewels in her hair and beard marked her as a lady of high standing. She had a handsome face, though her thin lips and her wide-set eyes made her appear stern. The dark red of her dress did nothing to counter that impression.
She obviously had expensive taste, if this room was anything to go by. A stone table stood between the sofa Dania and the queen sat on and the other on which Dis, Illiana, and Nal were sitting. Ester, her mother and Lady Vigga occupied three of the four other chairs, made of some dark wood of which Dania should have remembered the name, and upholstered in faded golden damask. Covering the stone floor was a thick rug, its colours similar to those on the tapestries on the walls. One depicted a large figure with a long beard adorned with dozens of intricate, coloured beads. Dania recognized him as Mahal, their maker. In front of him were seven Dwarves looking up, cowering before him as he raised his hammer.*
Lady Yngvi had offered this sitting room, along with its adjacent chambers, to Lady Adis and Lord Thrain as long as they remained in his Hall. Lord Thrain, however, had insisted on them remaining in their encampment just outside the gates. Whether this was because of pride or simply because he did not wish to abuse their hospitality, Dania was not sure, but she was grateful for it.
When they had first entered the sitting room, Lady Vigga warmly welcomed them, but her eyes soon halted on Dania.
"You must be Dania," Lady Vigga had said with a wry smile. "I have heard a lot about you."
Dania had no idea how to respond to such a greeting. Of course, she was used to people giving her odd looks and whispering behind her back, but that did not make it pleasant. And while she was used to it, it was clear that Lady Adis was not, and somehow she seemed to have taken personally the looks Dania had received.
"Yes, Dania is quite the accomplished young lady," Lady Adis had responded in the same tone as she placed an arm around Dania's shoulders.
Lady Adis and Lady Vigga had glared at one another for a moment as the hand on Dania's shoulder tightened its grip. It was a protective gesture, Dania had realized with embarrassment.
Lady Adis had been quiet since then, and Dania felt terribly guilty. Always, her presence seemed to be asking people to pick a side, as it had now. Dania hated it. Yet, at the same time, she could hardly believe Lady Adis had taken her defence. Did she feel obligated to do so? Or did she actually care? Dania knew her enough to know that the answer probably resided in the latter, but she still could not believe someone would go so far as to ruin their afternoon to defend her. Once again, she was immeasurably indebted to Lady Adis, but even more than this, she was profoundly touched.
As though sensing her inner turmoil, Lady Adis squeezed Dania's hand, a gesture that made her feel like a child, but not in a bad way. It told her that it was alright for her to be upset, that she was not weak for feeling so, and that she was allowed to seek comfort — comfort which Lady Adis wanted to give her.
Promise me that you will tell me if you are feeling scared or lonely ever again. I am here for you, she had said the night the soldiers had returned from Azanulbizar.
Her touch was a reminder of that conversation they'd had, and Dania was so grateful for it.
It was the mention of Thorin's name that brought Dania's attention back to the Dwarrows before her.
"I almost did not recognize him when I saw him yesterday," Lady Vigga said. "He has grown into a very fine young Dwarf. And he looks so much like you, Lady Adis."
"Yes, he does," Lady Adis replied with a small smile.
"I imagine it must be odd for him to see his younger sister married before him," Lady Vigga said.
So they had come to it that quickly. Ester shifted in her seat at those words; that alone was enough to provoke the monster inside Dania.
"Not at all," Lady Adis replied. "I see no reason to rush him into an unwanted marriage. When he finds the right person, he will be ready."
From the corner of her eye, Dania saw Dis glance at her quickly. Dania left her face a blank canvas, yet she could feel moisture forming in her hands, and the ever-present ache she'd fought so hard to bury bloomed again in her stomach.
Whatever Lady Adis said, Lord Thrain did appear to be in a hurry to marry his daughter. Dis, like Dania, was only forty-five years old, and that thought did nothing to ease Dania's worries. Of course, they could not force Thorin to marry, but they could very well place him in a position where he had little choice but to consent to it. Dania hoped it would not come to this because she would have no right to get in the way if it did.
She would not let him sacrifice everything for her.
"Who said anything about 'unwanted'?" Lady Inger said with a chuckle, sounding as though she was attempting to lighten the mood, yet her eyes spoke a different language entirely. She wanted something. "So many young Dwarrows must have their eyes set on him."
Dania hated the way they talked about Thorin. She hated how they talked about him as though he was a piece of meat; a pawn in their grand game of chess.
"I do not think my brother would be overjoyed to learn you were using his personal life as tea time entertainment," Dis said dispassionately. Dania wanted to kiss her in thanks for voicing her thoughts.
"Oh, my dear," Lady Vigga said with a laugh, "this has nothing to do with his personal life."
"You are talking about his marriage prospects — that has everything to do with his personal life!" Dis retorted.
"Not if you are the heir to the throne of Erebor," Lady Vigga said. "Whomever he marries will be a queen one day. This is politics; not love."
"Perhaps these two concepts are not mutually exclusive," Illiana said. "Dis and Vili's upcoming marriage is a political one, but they do love each other."
Smiling softly, Dania and Illiana exchanged a glance. Dis' cheeks had turned a bright red.
"If the prince has his sister's sense then, yes; he will learn to love the one who will make the right queen," Lady Vigga said with a wave of her hand as though they were discussing whether one should wear red or blue to a feast.
"Ah, and the prince is so devoted to his duties. He will make the right choice," Lady Inger said as she shared a look with her daughter. The monster inside Dania coiled its tail and roared.
Nevertheless, Dania could not help but notice that Lady Adis was silent. Everything — or, almost everything — Laddy Vigga had said was true, and yet the queen's silence appeared to Dania as a small beacon of hope. Perhaps it was foolish. It probably was. Yet Dania clung to it like it was a ray of sun, and she was a flower that had bloomed too early in the Spring and found itself in a dark and barren world.
"It is getting late," Lady Adis said as she rose from her seat, "and we must get ready for the feast tonight."
"Yes, and what an event that will be," Lady Vigga replied with a too-wide smile. "I look forward to seeing you there."
Lady Adis nodded, then turned to Dania. "Are you coming, dear?"
Dania smiled shyly at the term of endearment and stood. She gave a quick curtsy to Lady Vigga then gladly followed Lady Adis and Dis out of the sitting room. A long sigh escaped her lips when the door closed behind her.
"Yes, I quite agree with that sentiment," Lady Adis said in response.
Dania blushed, having hoped her most improper display of irritation would go unnoticed, but the queen did not seem to mind.
"I hope you girls will excuse my behaviour," Lady Adis said as they walked down the curved hallway. "It is not like me to lose my temper in this way. But, then again, I have always despised Lady Vigga, and she was particularly bothersome today."
"You mean to say she was an absolute wretch," Dis said with a grimace, causing Dania to snicker.
"Dis!" Lady Adis hissed in reproach, but there was an amused gleam in her eyes. Then a dry cough escaped her lips, causing Dis and Dania to stare at her in concern. "I'm alright — the air was just — quite stuffy in there." When her breathing recovered, she went on, "Dania, I do hope you will not let that viper's words get to you."
"It's alright," Dania said with a shrug. "I'm used to it."
"That does not mean you should accept it," Lady Adis replied.
They had made it back to the crowded entrance hall. Beyond the large stone gate, the sun was beginning to set so that the whole room basked in its warmth.
"Vili!" Dis suddenly called out and walked ahead to where her betrothed had appeared. He smiled widely when he saw her, and the two exchanged a warm embrace, without a care for the stares they were attracting from the crowd of people around them.
"Listen to me carefully, Dania," Lady Adis' voice called her attention away from the couple. "You are a wonderful girl; smart, brave, and above all, you have a kindness that can warm even the coldest of hearts. Many people in this world are close-minded and will seek to tear you down because they refuse to challenge their beliefs. You must not let their words reach your heart."
Dania stared at her with wide eyes, silent as she let the motherly care in Lady Adis' eyes wash over her, feeding her the courage to speak.
"My Lady," she said hesitantly. "What is it that they say?" Lady Adis frowned. Taking this as a sign of misunderstanding, Dania went on. "Lady Vigga said she had heard a lot about me. . . ."
Closing her eyes for an instant, Lady Adis took a deep breath. "Some — like Lady Vigga — believe that you are not one of us; that you are — "
"An outlander," Dania said flatly, looking down at the ground. She only looked up when she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"We are all outlanders in this part of the world," Lady Adis said. "And you are one of us. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. Besides, in what world is it acceptable to scorn someone based on where they come from — something that is out of your control?"
Dania nodded slowly. Lady Adis' words seemed contradictory to her. She was one of them, but she could not be proud of the blood that flowed through her. The blood of their enemies.
As though she heard these thoughts, Lady Adis' grip on her shoulder tightened. "You have nothing to be ashamed of, my dear. You must know that we cannot judge an entire race based on the actions of a single individual. Whatever words you might have heard thrown around behind your back, know that your mother — she did not bewitch your father or do anything ridiculous of the sort; they loved each other, and you carry their love within you every day.
"Lady Vigga was wrong about many things, but about this in particular: not everything is about politics; and in times such as these where grief has its claws on us all, it is more important than ever to cling to love."
Tears stung Dania's eyes, and she knew Lady Adis would have understood — perhaps even more than she did herself — but they were in a crowded space; the last thing Dania wanted was to give these people more cause to stare at her.
"Are you alright, Dania?" spoke the deep voice she knew so well and loved dearly.
She curtsied before nodding, but he could read her eyes better than anyone. Concern marked his features as his mother spoke, but neither of them was really listening. All Dania could think of was the conspiring looks Ester and Lady Inger had shared earlier. Don't let them take you from me, she begged him wordlessly.
"Thorin, love, are you listening to me?" Lady Adis said, causing both Dania and Thorin to blush.
"Sorry, amad, I have a lot on my mind," Thorin said as he tore his gaze away from Dania. "What did you say?"
Lady Adis stared at him for a moment before speaking. "I asked you if all was well? I have not seen your father anywhere."
"Yes, all is well. There are still many things to discuss, but, so far, we have struck a good deal with Lord Yngvi. Father is still with Nar and Master Mimir; I imagine they were finalizing some arrangements with Lord Yngvi."
Dis and Vili reappeared at that moment. Dania frowned as Dis looked at her brother for a moment, then at her, a guilty expression on her face.
"Are you coming to the feast tonight, Dania?" Thorin asked her. She could not read his mind, but it seemed to her as though he was deliberately avoiding his sister's eyes.
"Yes, I am, Lord Thorin," she replied.
"Speaking of which," Dis interjected, "we should go and get ready, don't you think?" she asked her.
"Yes, I suppose," Dania said hesitantly. She barely had time to curtsy to Thorin and the queen and give Vili a small smile before Dis dragged her away from the crowd.
They scurried along the path just outside the gates, passed by the guards, and cut across the encampment until they entered their tent.
"Mahal, what's your hurry?" Dania said breathlessly as Dis started pacing in the small space between the two makeshift beds.
"Oh, Dania I'm sorry — so sorry — I didn't think — I thought it would not matter — but of course it does; you told me it was a secret — "
The world froze around Dania. "What?"
"Thorin already chastised me for it so," — she waved her hands in the air in defence — "there's no need to do it again. It is only that — well, we are going to be married, I should not keep secrets from him. But then Thorin went on and on about how it was not my secret but yours and — "
"You told Vili," Dania said with a relieved sigh.
"Yes and — "
"Well, start with that next time! You had me worried!"
It was Dis' turn to freeze. "You mean — you mean you are not mad?"
Dania did not know what she was feeling. How had Vili reacted? He certainly had not taken the first opportunity to divulge the secret to King Thrain — and she doubted he ever would — yet instead of being relieved — if not outright happy — that someone else knew of their love for each other and was not repulsed by it, Dania felt even more dejected.
Judging by the bits and pieces of information she had gathered, Thorin did not seem overjoyed that Vili knew their secret. She knew how important it was for them to take their time before they could try and convince their kin of the viability of their union and the strength of their bond, but this was Vili, not the whole council chamber. Yet letting even one person know, someone they knew well, and that would soon be part of his family, appeared to Thorin as one stroke too many on the battered barrier that protected their shared heart. That only reminded Dania of how little they could trust anyone with their secret, and by extension, just how fanciful was the idea of their parents blessing their union.
But Dania was not mad. Despite her befuddled thoughts, despite how much she wanted to scream at Mahal for placing the other half of her soul so close to her yet so beyond her reach, that foolish and naive part of her mind was glad that Vili knew. He was her friend, and he would soon be her best friend's husband. It felt . . . right for him to know.
Shaking her head, Dania frowned. "No it's — it's Vili. I trust him. You trust him."
"Thank Mahal," Dis exclaimed, relief flooding her every word. Dania wished she could feel the same relief.
Dania let herself fall onto her makeshift bed. They were silent for a while before Dis sat down beside her, their knees touching, and she gently grabbed her hand.
"Amad was right, Dania," she said. "Don't listen to what Lady Vigga says."
Bitting her lips as a cascade of emotions climbed up her throat, Dania shrugged. "But Dis — she was right. Whoever Thorin marries one day, she'll be a queen — "
"You mean you will be — "
"Dis — " Dania said breathlessly, shaking her head. She opened her mouth to speak but then resigned herself to the fact that she knew not how to translate her feelings into words. "I don't want to talk about this for now, alright? Let's just get ready for the feast."
The dining room was even more imposing than the sitting room they had visited earlier. Columns and complex geometric patterns were carved directly into the stone walls and had been polished so skilfully that they shone like marble. Most remarkable were the blue streaks of colour that gave these mountains their name gleaming in the candlelight, rippling through the stones like the waves Dania had once admired on the Long Lake.
Dozens of early Spring flowers and candles decorated the long stone table; an effort made to make the guests feel welcomed, but all it did was make them feel slightly out of place. Dania knew this was not just her own impression. Dis had not let go of her arm since they had walked inside, except to let Dania curtsy.
When the doors opened to reveal Lady Vigga, holding onto Lord Yngvi's arm, all Dania wanted to do was shrink up and disappear, but she was already at the back of the room, and no one paid her any mind. Lady Vigga looked even more imposing than she had a few hours before. She wore purple this time, and the cuffs and neckline of her gown were adorned with golden embroidery that matched the ornamental belt at her waist, attached with a large clasp bearing the sigil of the Firebeards.
Despite having had the chance to discard her travel-worn dress and don her only other gown, which Lady Adis had a seamstress restore to a suitable state, the other Dwarrows' fine attire intimidated Dania. She should have known better than to feel this way. With everything that had befallen them in the past year, fabrics and accoutrements should have been the least of her worries, but they became one of the many things that reminded her that she simply did not belong to this life. Her gown was a dull ash grey where the Dwarrows around her wore bright fabrics, embroidered and bejewelled, and her braids were plain compared to the precious beads that adorned their hair and beards. Even Dis was not so richly dressed, for they could not afford it, but then again, the princess did not require such embellishments to appear more elegant and regal than all the people in this room. Something in her countenance spoke more about her status than any jewel ever could.
"There you are!"
Dania and Dis turned around to see Ester, Nal, and Illiana walking towards them. They all wore their prettiest gowns, but only Ester looked like she belonged with the Firebeard ladies. Dania wondered how Ester could wear such expensive fabrics and so many jewels and not feel guilty when most of them had barely had anything to eat during their journey from Dunland.
"Oh, Dis, you look beautiful!" Ester said. Then, without giving anyone else the chance to speak, she asked, "is your brother here?"
Dis' hold on Dania's arm tightened. "Er — well, if he is not, he should be here any minute," the princess said.
"Ester has been talking about him our whole way here," Nal said teasingly. "I do not think I could stand another minute of it!" Me neither, Dania thought.
"Look, there's Dwalin!" Dis said in an attempt to change the topic. Something flickered in Ester's eyes, but she looked away, perhaps to appear uninterested or perhaps because she truly was indifferent to the warrior's presence. Dania was having more and more trouble understanding her motives. But then she remembered the look in Lady Inger's eyes, and she realized that it was possible that a union with Thorin was not something Ester wanted but that her parents wanted for her. Dania did not know which of these two scenarios bothered her more.
Illiana was talking about Lady Vigga's offer to give them a tour of the Hall the next day when Dania's attention was stolen by a group of people entering the room, or rather, by one Dwarf in particular. Thorin was standing next to his father and mother, along with Balin, Nar, and Mimir, looking as handsome as ever. His hair appeared to have been freshly washed and braided, and he was dressed in the deep blue tunic he usually wore to such occasions. The colours were more faded than Dania remembered, but nothing could affect the majesty of his presence.
As she slowly made her way toward her father, Thorin's eyes met her own, conjuring a deep blush from her cheeks. When she was finally close enough to the group, she curtsied, then grabbed the arm her father was extending toward her, but all she could think of was escaping this room to be alone with Thorin and feel his soft lips scorching her skin. As though he could hear her most improper thoughts, the corner of his lips curled up in a smile. That only made the heat inside Dania grow. Damn that Dwarf!
She was glad when they finally took their seats, if only because it might be easier for her to control herself while they sat at different tables. Mimir led her to a table near the main one where the king and his family were sitting with Lord Ygnvi and his wife, so Dania could still see Thorin quite clearly, but she forced herself not to look, or at least, not look as often as she wished to. Her father sat on her right and immediately began conversing with one of Lord Yngvi's advisors while she turned to another young Dwarf who had just pulled up her chair.
"Oh, thank you," Dania said, startled by his kindness.
"Not at all," he said with a warm smile before sitting down. "My name is Airi."
Dania bowed her head in reverence. "It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Master Airi. I am Dania."
"Airi will do; not Master Airi," he said with a chuckle. "And the pleasure is all mine, Lady Dania."
It was Dania's turn to chuckle. "I am no Lady."
"Really? Well, you have the countenance of one," Airi replied.
Blushing, Dania looked away, only to find Thorin staring at her through the many people separating them. He looked at her questioningly, but she could do nothing but give a short, almost imperceptible nod and tear her gaze away from him.
Dania had not thought she could be more confounded by her surroundings until the food was served. There was chicken, roast beef, and sausages, too many kinds of cheese to choose from, freshly baked bread, roasted potatoes, and enough wine to drown in. She had not seen this much food in years.
"Have you been enjoying your stay in the Blue Mountains so far?" Airi asked her as she delved into the dishes. One taste of the potatoes was enough to convince her to fill her entire plate with them.
Dania thought of her afternoon with Lady Vigga, but the delicious taste of the wine made her nod in response. "Yes, it is lovely here."
"Have you had a chance to take a tour of the Hall?" Airi asked.
"No yet, I am afraid," Dania said.
"It would be my honour to accompany you around the place."
"I would be honoured, whenever that may be," Dania replied as she took another mouthful of sausages.
"Well, there should be plenty of time for that, given that you will be staying here for a while, I gather," Airi said. "I am certain there are many things that would interest you. The ballroom for one — "
"Is there a library?" Dania asked before she could stop and think twice about interrupting him. She needed to look for other plants to help with her . . . problem, and a library was the place she would find information.
"Yes, of course there is. I could show you, if you would like," he said with a smile.
"I would like that very much," Dania replied in the same tone.
"What would you like?" Dania's father asked as he leaned in toward her.
"I was just telling your daughter that I would be more than happy to accompany her to the library, Master Mimir," Airi explained.
"You know my father?" Dania asked.
"I was at the council meeting today," Airi said, nodding.
Dania turned to her father. "Yes, about that — How did it go?"
"Quite well, I would say, given the king's fixed ambition." He spoke using courtly equivocations to avoid being misunderstood by overeager ears, but Dania knew he was talking of Lord Thrain's hurry to marry Dis to Vili. "Besides, the important thing is that Lord Ygnvi will lend us a hand when we are ready to make our way further South along the mountains. And he has extended his hospitality so that those who are not fit to travel may stay behind in the meantime."
Dania knew that "those not fit to travel" probably included Dwarrows, meaning she would have to stay behind while Thorin left with his father's chosen companions, for Mahal knows how long. The thought left a bittersweet taste in her mouth.
"You will have plenty of things to do while we are gone," Mimir said as he noted the slight frown on her face. "There is also much to look forward to before that moment is upon us. Do not fret, gehyith."
Dania gave her father a small smile to ease his worries, but she stopped listening to what her table companions were saying. Glancing up toward Thorin, she saw that he was now conversing with Ester and a Dwarf Dania recognized as her father. They were standing next to the seat Thorin had just vacated to greet them, and she was smiling and laughing at every little thing he said. Somehow, Ester looked even prettier than she usually did. Grinding her teeth, Dania tried to look away, but it was as though an invisible hand was holding her head in place, forcing her to watch as her heart was slowly being ripped away from her. Don't let them take you from me.
When the desserts were served, she regained some of her spirits — that was the power of a perfect trifle — but her mind was still preoccupied with Thorin and the dismay the thought of their separation was causing her. Mimir noticed his daughter's change of mood, and as soon as the first opportunity presented itself, he excused them and led her toward the exit. Dania was both thankful for and annoyed by this gesture, for now, she would not even be able to steal a glance at Thorin, who would undoubtedly be stuck at the feast for at least another hour.
Before stepping out of the room, Dania daringly glanced back to the main table, and she noticed Thorin staring back at her, evidently not listening to a word Ester was saying. Even from this distance, she recognized the fiery look he was giving her, full of promises for their next secret meeting. Perhaps her father was right; she did have much to look forward to.