Springtime at the Lonely Mountain, chapter 51
Summary: A story about young-and-not-yet-brooding (well, not much, at least) prince Thorin and his beloved dwarf maiden, Ása. It is set sometime before Smaug’s attack. Have you ever wondered what could have happened if Thorin met the love of his life before succumbing to the Dragon Sickness? Well, then you’re in the right place!
Warnings for this chapter: Angst. Long chapter.
Rating for the whole story: Mature/Explicit
Relationships: Thorin Oakenshield x OC
You can read this story chapter by chapter on AO3 if you prefer.
Yes, it has finally happened! After a long break, the new chapter is out! Thank you everyone for your patience! 💙
Special thanks for beta-ing go to @joyfullynervouscreator and @gwen-ever, and fluffy thanks for support and some ideas to @shrimpsthings 🥰
* * *
Springtime at the Lonely Mountain, Chapter 50: His Golden Gaze, part 3
Ása hated morning sickness. A sudden rush of nausea, and then another, made her stay in bed longer than usual. When the feeling of queasiness subsided, she decided to skip breakfast. Besides, meeting Thorin in Beorn’s hall was the last thing she wanted. After a sleepless night, the thought of spending time beneath the same roof as Thorin was enough to make her feel uneasy. One of his ardent glances from those deep blue eyes would melt her completely, as if she was a stick of butter left in the sun by a reckless cook.
But he didn’t want her any longer. She was not his. Not anymore.
Bombur’s words of the day before echoed in her mind… Ása shook her head sharply, dislodging the small thought. Thorin might have come back, but only for the sake of the baby, that much was clear to her. The House of Durin had always prided themselves on their honour and Thorin was no different; he might not care for her as he once had, but he would never abandon his child…
She froze, sitting straight up in bed. Her feet found the floor almost without notice, and the nausea did not stop her this time. There was someone she needed to talk to.
She found Master Bear by the smithy. The skin-changer was engrossed in sharpening his huge axe, unbothered by any concerns; he was humming in time with passes of his whetstone.
“Good morning, Honeysuckle,” he nodded in greeting, glancing up from his work for a moment.
“Why did you do it?” Ása demanded.
The bear-man rested the weapon against his knee, looking up at her. “How have you been faring?”
“Why did you do it?” she repeated, trying to curb her anger.
“What do you mean?” Beorn tilted his head, innocent like one of the lambs frolicking in the fields.
“Are you going to pretend that you know nothing about Thorin's return?!” She furrowed her brow.
“Ah, Thorin,” the bear-man’s eyes lit up in understanding. ”He came back on his own.”
“Because you told him to!” she kicked a clump of grass in front of her.
Master Bear shook his bushy mane in protest. “I simply had a talk with him,” he pointed at her belly. “He had the right to know.”
“You are not the one to decide!” fury made her voice more resonant than ever. “You had no right!”
“Were you planning to tell him?” Beorn presented his teeth.
“How was I supposed to? He left!”
“Every babe deserves to have a family. Growing up without one’s parents, without knowing them, without their protection...” a dark shadow passed through his eyes and he swiftly looked away from her, scanning the horizon, “it is not a fate one should condemn them to.” He paused, looking back at her. “Be it a fledgling, a cub or even a dwarfling.”
“And do you think the child, my child, would appreciate this?” she spat, gesturing around herself. “Do you think they will be better off seeing how their father doesn’t want anything to do with their mother?”
Beorn sat silently.
“Thorin returned only when you told him about my expectant state, didn’t he?” Ása accused, half-hoping that Beorn would deny her truth, would tell her that Thorin was back because he loved her and – no. She had to stay strong; hoping for his affection or even the slightest crumb of attention would only drive her mad.
The skin-changer opened his mouth to speak, but Ása could clearly see the confirmation in his eyes.
“He does not want to have anything to do with me any longer, does he?” her voice trembled as she spoke. “He came back only for the babe and to do his duty.” There, she said it. From now on, she would have to live both with this tormenting realisation and his presence.
“He does not bear ill will towards you,” Beorn said in a steady voice.
“I don’t want him to be distant towards me and act like a perfect, honorable dwarf!” Ása seethed. “I need a husband, a real husband to raise my child with.” Crossing her arms over her chest, she fumed. “Duty is not everything!” But then her temper fizzled, her hand rubbing gently against the small swell of her belly as though speaking only to herself and her Little One. “I need lo-- closeness too… we both do,” she admitted quietly, almost apologetic.
“His heart is in the right place, Honeysuckle.”
“Wherever that place is, it is beyond my reach,” Ása sighed. “And now I will spend sleepless nights worrying whether he is going to start acting like… not like himself again.” She narrowed her eyes at the bear-man.
He inclined his head slightly, but Ása knew that he would not apologise for his part in her misery.
“He does not bear that smell any longer,” Beorn added after a few moments of silence. “Otherwise he would not enter my house again.”
A question rang in Ása’s mind: What happens if Master Bear smells that scent on Thorin again?
“Which brings me to that other matter.” The skin-changer looked at her intently from under his brow. “Have you taken care of your ‘secret dwarven business’ already?”
“I have given it much thought, and I’m not getting rid of it!” she huffed, resting her hands on her hips, the anger inside her flaring to new heights. The tiny dragon inside the egg, that spark of life, was hers to protect and she didn’t plan to budge, even if that bear of a man twice her size insisted on it. A buzzing sound filled her ears, her blood thrumming in her veins.
Beorn bared his teeth in a snarl, “This is not what we agreed upon.” A growl reverberated in his massive chest.
“Do you remember how we first met?” Ása took a step towards him.
He nodded tightly.
“I thought you were a beast, feral and dangerous. And yet I didn’t abandon you in that forest, because you needed my help. Now it needs my help and I will not abandon it, even if there may be danger involved,” she firmly held her ground and bared her teeth at Beorn in return, her arms wrapped around her belly in a protective gesture.
“Then you are endangering yourself, your babe, your friends and my whole household.” Beorn crossed his arms over his chest, glaring at her.
“You said a babe needs family and protection,” she stomped her foot.
“Aye, that is what I said,” he crossed his arms on his chest. “And I stand by it.”
“Well, this… this… creature... It is a babe and I’m the only family it has. I’m not leaving it all alone somewhere in the forest!” she clearly saw the surprise on his face when her words reached him. At that moment, Ása realized she was close to winning. It seemed as if liquid courage ran through her veins, the buzzing in her ears intensified, and she felt stronger than ever before, as strong as a she-wolf in the wilderness. She was a mother. She would protect her little ones, the pebble and the spark, and no one would stop her. Not even a bear-man. She would fight this battle until the end and she would be victorious.
“A babe…?” the bear-man growled, observing her closely. “Another babe…”
“If you want it gone, I will leave with it!” she interrupted him in a streak of boldness, hearing the blood pounding triumphantly in her ears. Looking at Beorn’s face, she noticed how he sucked in air through his nose rapidly and started sniffing like a wild animal catching the scent of a prey.
“Would you truly expose yourself to the dangers of the wilderness?,” he growled with a frown, his fists suddenly clenched. “When winter is upon us? For this… other babe?” A sudden emotion sparked in his eyes, but she was not able to decipher it. “What makes it so important? Tell me, Honeysuckle!”
Ása opened her mouth, but no sound came out. Her eyes rested on Beorn’s face as his gaze bored deep into her core. How would he react if he knew what they brought into his home? In a blink of an eye her thoughts ran back to that night in Erebor, in the secret chamber where she and Th--, him, found the egg and realized what terrible secret had been bestowed upon them by King Thrór. His greatest treasure. An ancient curiosity that somehow turned out to be a dragon egg, sheltering life under its shell. A creature deemed by some the most dangerous and the most terrifying being on Arda. A helpless babe.
“It is…” her voice wavered as doubt seeped into her heart. Doubt, and recollection. She clearly remembered the promise she made, never to speak to anyone about it, anyone except him. Otherwise, the consequences could be dire. “It is not my secret to tell!” she protested vehemently. Dwarves never share their secrets. Neither do dragons.
An inner fire kindled Beorn’s eyes, “Your kind... always so furtive...” he rose to his full height, towering above her. “Have you taken this creature from its parents? Do you keep it against its will?”
“Its parents…” she searched for the answer within her. Sadness came, along with the vivid memories of her dragon dreams. “Its parents are dead. Killed by Men in far away lands. Me and Tho-- We... were safekeeping it until...”
She bit her tongue and scolded herself for revealing too much.
“I see. You are waiting until it awakens, are you not?” The skin-changer's question left her gaping.
“How…?!” she uttered. Did he know the truth? Had he already visited her room and looked at the contents of the chest when she wasn’t there? What if he had already taken it away?! Blood drained from her face.
“Master Bear, I have told you already: you are too curious for your own good,” a new, low voice said, coming from behind her. Thorin. Was that a threat in his words?
Ása closed her eyes, inhaling slowly. She did not dare to turn back towards him; she was not ready to check the color of his eyes and see... Not now. A buzzing sound filled her head once more. It couldn’t happen now.
“And I have told you: I have my reasons,” the bear-man huffed at the newcomer. Ása noticed an unexpected mirthful spark in his eye accompanied by a barely visible smirk. “But what reasons do you have to disturb me?”
“My own reasons as well,” Thorin riposted, the rumbling sound of his voice coming closer. Was there a hint of amusement in the way he spoke his words? Ása wasn’t sure and refused to look at him.
“I will not have you questioning the mother of my child in this manner,” he added.
“Have they not taught you that it is rude to interrupt, Masted Dwarf?” Beorn parried with a snarl. “I have still not finished my conversation with your wife.”
The mother of his child. The wife. Those words kept ringing in her head as they sparred with words around her; only a spectator, the only judge. Wife. Mother.
Her head swam.
“I am not his wife any longer!” Ása lashed out at the astonished bear-man and then finally found enough strength to turn to Thorin, but didn’t dare to look into his eyes. “And I can defend myself, I do not need anyone to save me! Not even if it’s the father of my child!”
Not waiting for their reaction, she directed her steps towards the main house, desperately trying to ignore the sudden movement in the corner of her eye, a blur of color, dark blue, the color of Thorin’s tunic. Ása forbade herself to look in that direction. She even convinced herself that she hadn’t taken a short glance at his face while she was leaving. Thorin was perhaps a shade paler than usual, his lips slightly parted, and there was that stormy look in his eyes. His vividly blue eyes, wide with startlement.
The unbearable weight of Thorin’s gaze on her back followed her, but Ása kept walking. She felt more and more lightheaded with every step, but she kept going forward. One step, and then another. The buzzing in her head was almost unbearable. She swayed.
“Ása? Lass, are you well?” a voice came on a wind as if from somewhere very, very far away. Was that Bofur? Her hands were shaking. Black spots swirled before her eyes. She needed to sit down, she could barely stand. The ground danced beneath her feet. Her ears were ringing. She took one step more and swayed again, and then darkness swooped down on her like a hawk catching its prey.
There were arms around her, and a soothing voice murmuring some reassuring words into her ear, and she was surrounded by that comforting smell of pines and bonfire smoke she could recognize everywhere. Ása realized she was laying down now, but her eyelids refused to open; her head seemed to float somewhere among the clouds, as if it was made of loose strands of uncarded wool. More voices sounded around her, and someone lifted her head, tilting it slightly. A mug was pressed gently against her lips.
“Please, Ása, drink,” a calm voice whispered softly, making her think of freshly baked bread. “You fainted, but you will feel better soon. It will fortify your strength.”
She took a sip of a sickly sweet, but aromatic liquid. Water. Honey. Herbs. She swallowed a few gulps eagerly.
“You promised me you would keep an eye on my wife when I am not there, Master Bear! I did not tell you to upset her!” another voice, deep and strong, demanded, sounding very close to her. This voice she knew very well. She liked to be around this voice and its owner.
“You were the one who upset her, Master Dwarf,” another voice responded in a low gnarr. “She paled as soon as you barged in!”
“Would you stop bickering?! You’re like two fishwifes at a fair!” the soft voice boomed. “Be quiet and let her rest. Poor dear hadn’t had any breakfast…”
“And whose fault is that?!” the first voice growled.
“Clearly I’m not the reason she lost her appetite,” the second voice replied.
“For the love of Mahal, out! Both of you!” someone stomped their foot. After a few moments, all the other sounds finally subsided, the sound of closing door cutting them off for good.
“Will you drink a little bit more?” the soft voice asked again.
The mug was pressed against her lips once again and she took a few more sips.
“Bombur,” she finally recognized the voice and her eyelids fluttered. The ginger-haired Dwarf’s face was hovering above her, a small smile on his lips. “Are they… Is Thorin gone?”
“They will not bother you any longer today. It would be best if you could stay in bed and recuperate. I will bring you some lunch soon,” he patted her shoulder reassuringly and stated with a serious look in his eyes, “and then we’ll have a talk about skipping meals, young lady.”
She groaned. Lady Barba would have been proud to know that she had a worthy successor continuing her work in the middle of the wilderness.
Bombur was true to his word. He made sure her belly was sufficiently filled with food and her ears -- with his lengthy advice about why lack of food may cause fainting spells, especially since she was expecting. Ása kept nodding obediently, stifling a yawn or two. She learned her lessons well: the more enthusiastic she was about a subject, the quicker her tutors, including Lady Barba, would stop nagging her. It wasn’t any different in this case and as much as she was enjoying Bombur’s company, she felt relieved when he turned to other, more interesting and cheerful subjects, helping her to forget about some of her worries for a while.
As soon as the cheerful dwarf left her room for the night, the dark thoughts surrounded her yet again, like a volt of vultures circling their prey. A queasy feeling filled her stomach.
“All will be well, Little One, you will see,” Ása whispered, resting her hand on the slight bump of her belly. She wondered what might happen if Thorin were to rest his hand in the exact same place. Would a smile appear on his face? Would their pebble feel their father’s touch? She shook her head in an attempt to chase away the tears before they had the chance to spill over. This was not the time for despair. Her little spark of happiness was with her. Whatever happened between her and Thorin, it would not taint the feeling that bloomed in her chest every time she thought of her little gem. Something fluttered in her stomach.
“Do not worry, Little One. Daddy could not love mummy, but I’m sure he loves you with all his heart, just like I do,” she said, her hand moving in circles over her belly. “You are loved.”
A small smile appeared on her face as a wave of tenderness came over her and her thoughts drifted towards the time when she would be able to hold her baby in her arms.
Not long after, two more visitors came to her, hand in hand, silence and sleep. Ása welcomed them both with open arms.
“Yûsthelê*,” he murmured into her ear, his breath pleasantly warming her earlobe. Ása slowly opened one eye. She lay on her side, in darkness, her forehead pressed against the familiar warmth of Thorin’s body, their legs intertwined. His lips brushed against her neck, making her shiver with bliss.
“Husband mine,” she murmured into his chest, rubbing her nose against the short coarse hair, breathing in the clean scent of his skin that intermingled with the smell of pine resin and crisp, sun-dried bedsheets.
He let out a low purr in response, a sound that made her think of a wild beast resting peacefully beside her.
“I had the most awful dream…” she continued as her fingertips lightly traced the contours of the geometric tattoos on Thorin’s side, just below his pectoral. His muscles tightened slightly under her touch.
“Do you wish to tell me about it?” Thorin took her curious hand into his and brushed his lips softly against the tips of her fingers.
“We had an awful quarrel… I don’t remember what it was about, I only recall how terrifying it was. You shouted angrily with me. I tried to make you understand but you wouldn’t listen. And then, I said some hurtful words, I didn’t mean them, not really…” her voice trembled and she instinctively nestled closer into him, as if wanting to make sure that he was still there. “But it was too late to explain; you... you said… you renounced me and left me behind, all alone.”
Thorin wrapped his arm around her and held her, stroking her hair in a comforting gesture.
“It was only a dream, nothing more. You are my One and I am yours,” he said and then his embrace tightened slightly. “Can you feel this?”
She hummed a confirmation into his skin.
“Good,” he continued. “I am going to hold you close until the last star goes out in the sky at dawn or until you tell me to stop.”
“What if I never tell you to stop?”
“Then I never will,” he murmured into her hair.
“Perfect,” she blissfully sighed, enjoying his closeness, his skin against her cheek, and the warmth he surrounded her with. It felt astonishingly real. It was real. It had to be.
Ása moved up on the bed, aligning her face with his, her gaze meeting the bright blue depths of his eyes, her forehead pressing against his.
She cupped his cheek, her fingers sinking in his beard. “Bad dreams come and go, but I still want to spend my life by your side.”
“Do you?” he covered her hand with his.
“Just as much as I did on the day we were wed,” she nodded.
“Even if I were to act like a monster?” Thorin asked in a low voice, a slight frown appearing upon his face.
“Not you. My Thorin never would,” she placed their clasped hands over his heart. It beat strongly, unwaveringly, and she felt the same strength filling her own heart.
A shadow passed through his eyes but she hurriedly said, “Nothing would change my mind, Yûsthelê.”
Only then did he speak.
“I love you, Ása, my light in darkness,” his lips enveloped hers in a tender kiss, sweet as wild honey. She responded softly kissing him back, letting herself drown in their intermingling affection, in his caresses, in his endearing whispers. Until that moment she was a lonely flower growing on barren land for what seemed to be an eternity, but now the rain had finally come and she quenched her heart’s thirst, hoping this moment of bliss would never end.
When their lips finally parted, a small soft smile danced on Thorin’s face and his eyes seemed to shine with starlight.
“Did you know that your lips are as pink as the autumn stonecrops and as sweet as raspberries? One kiss is never enough.”
“You are spoiling me with your compliments,” Ása chuckled in response. “How did you come up with stonecrops? I adore them!”
“It is a secret,” he kissed the tip of her nose.
“You are full of surprises,” she grinned happily. “I hope you will never stop surprising me.”
“I will take it into consideration,” he winked mischievously. A soft giggle escaped Ása’s lips only to turn into a yawn.
“Close your eyes, my sweet. I will be watching over your dreams,” his reassuring murmur lulled her to sleep.
The dream lingered as she rose from her bed; vivid and strikingly real. Too real. Last time her dreams had felt so real, she had been a captive and Thorin… she had thought him buried alive in the deep mines, had lost all hope. And then that shared dream came, giving her comfort where there had been only misery.
The dream was hope, too.
Shared dreams between linked souls; they happened in many of the great legends and stories, proof that two minds were connected by more than mere hearts or the ties of a marriage braid.
Those ties were broken, and yet the dream… did he see it, too, feel her touch in his sleep? Or was she fooling herself into thinking this dream was like the others, was more than her wounded heart attempting to soothe itself by playing pretend with her mind?
Was it real… or merely an echo?
Trying to wrap her mind around the possible explanations of this dream, Ása grabbed for the quickly dissolving wisps of memory while dressing for the day, her fingers mechanically following the usual routine of buttoning up her skirts. She cast a quick glance at the chest in the corner of the room and sighed in relief. As soon as she woke up, she had checked its contents. The dragon egg was still there, intact. It seemed that no one had opened the chest since she locked it on the previous day.
Deep in her thoughts, Ása left her room only to walk into Thorin. Ása gasped, stopping inches before his broad chest. Suddenly, her legs refused to cooperate and as she took a wobbly step back, she tripped over her own foot. A strong hand caught her arm, steadying her. Instinctively, she rested her palm against his forearm, feeling the solid hardness of muscles under the fabric of his tunic.
“Good morning, my lady,” Thorin bowed his head. There was something different about him and it took her a moment to take it all in. He wore his best doublet, black with golden embroideries with a crisp white linen shirt underneath it, along with a matching pair of trousers. His boots looked as clean and fresh as his clothes. But that was not all. Thorin’s hair was washed, his beard was freshly trimmed, oiled and rebraided, just as his head braids were, with one exception. She swallowed. His marriage braid. It was left untouched. Judging by its state, Ása suspected that it had not been attended to in weeks, perhaps even since the day she braided it last. Even her jade bead was still there. Curious. She frowned. Wasn’t he supposed to remove this braid from his hair? He had rejected her as his wife, hadn’t he?
“Morning,” Ása whispered, avoiding his searching gaze and trying to gather her wits. Her heart was beating fast, like a galloping pony.
“Forgive me, I did not mean to startle you,” Thorin said, removing his hand and taking a step back. “I came to see how well you were faring today. I was hoping to accompany you to breakfast.”
With these words, he offered her a small bouquet of mauve stonecrop flowers, one of the sturdiest flowers Ása knew. Their delicate shapes were pleasing to the eye, and her mind immediately provided her with their meaning in the language of flowers. Stonecrops symbolized steadfast affection and unwavering resolve. Her thoughts ran to the dream she had in the night. It had just been a dream, nothing more, hadn’t it? Only a stupid, naive dream.
With her mind in turmoil, Ása realized that she was accepting Thorin’s unexpected gift only when their hands brushed against each other, sending a tingling sensation down her spine. Holding her breath, she lifted her gaze to his face, feeling a sudden rush of heat to her cheeks as their eyes met. She was being drawn into the fathomless depth of his gaze, basking in the warmth it offered. To her surprise, Ása found something more there too, a reassuring glint she knew very well, but she refused to name it.
One heartbeat, two heartbeats, three heartbeats. Neither moved. His skin was pleasantly warm under her touch, just like in her dream. She should move her hands away, take a step back, urge him to stop tormenting her, to leave her alone, but her body didn’t seem to listen.
“Thorin, I…” she started, trying to find all those proper words that she was expected to say, and finding none of them.
“Ása,” he spoke at the exact same moment, his features softening.
“Ása, are you awake?” a voice with a familiar drawl interrupted them. “You’d better be ready! If I don’t bring you to breakfast, Bombur will have my…”
Bofur appeared in the corridor, the ear flaps of his hat merrily jumping up and down. He froze mid-step, forgetting to speak as his widened eyes took in the scene in front of him. “Oh…”
Ása looked down at the flowers in her hands, no, in their hands, since her palms rested on Thorin’s at that very moment. He didn’t make the slightest movement, not breaking their touch.
“Good morning, Bofur!” the former prince of Erebor said in a lighthearted tone. “If we are both very courteous, we can still have a chance of convincing Ása to grace us with her presence during breakfast.”
“Morning,” she whispered with a shy smile to the wide-eyed newcomer, feeling her cheeks burning. Her hands withdrew from Thorin’s, taking the flowers with her.
“I see it’s gettin’ crowded at your door!” the dark-eyed Dwarf replied with a glint in his eye. “Everything alright there, lass?”
“Thank you, Bofur, I’m well,” Ása nodded with a small chuckle. “I was just about to join you all for breakfast.”
“Very well, then! And I can see you’re doing very well yourself, Thorin.” his grin widened and turned to Thorin for a moment. “Can I leave the matter of escorting you in Thorin’s hands, m’lady? Or would you prefer a larger entourage?”
“Well, I think…” she bit her lower lip, glanced at Bofur, then at Thorin, and then at the fragrant stonecrops in her hands, still feeling the warmth of his skin against hers. It was almost as it felt in the dream, or rather, it was more than that, more vivid, more hopeful. Something fluttered in her chest.
“May I have the honor of walking with you to Beorn’s hall?” Thorin’s rumbly voice interrupted her thoughts.
Bringing the stonecrops towards her nose, she breathed in their crisp, fresh smell. In the corner of her eye, she saw a minuscule smile tugging at the corner of Thorin’s lips, hiding in his lush beard. Once again her thoughts returned to the dream she had, and that smile he had only for her. If only dreams could come true...
“Thank you, my lord,” she nodded, returning to the safety the language of the court offered. It would just be a short walk. Nothing more. An echo of the dream that kept lingering in her head. She could do it, just this once. “I will be honored to have you accompany me.”
“Then all is settled!” Bofur winked at Ása and made one of his usual silly bows. “Forgive me for intruding!”
“But Bofur, you’re not…” Ása started, but he was already gone. A sigh escaped her.
“Allow me, my lady,” Thorin courteously offered his arm. And she took it, rewarding him with a soft smile.
The breakfast passed in an unexpectedly cheerful atmosphere, but Ása couldn’t help but feel tense. From the moment she entered the hall, she felt as if all eyes were directed at her. She mumbled her greetings and sat down as soon as Thorin presented her chair for her and sat beside her, keeping a respectful distance as the propriety dictated.
Ása placed the flowers on the table beside her and looked at the food in front of her, trying to ignore the curious looks her companions kept on giving her, even though each of them was accompanied with a smile.
Even Beorn bared his teeth in a grin, “I do not dare to offer you milk, Honeysuckle. Would you take some fresh spring water instead?”
She nodded, thanking him, but couldn’t help noticing a quick, enigmatic glance Thorin directed at the skin-changer. It looked like the rivalry between them continued even during the meals, but she decided to ignore it this time. Besides, Thorin had already set a plate of freshly baked buns, a piece of honeycomb, golden butter along with a handful of dark red autumn berries and nuts before her. Her stomach rumbled in approval. She would ponder all the recent confusing events later. First, she had herself and her Little One to feed and in order to do it, she would have to focus on the contents of her plate and not on the way Thorin’s eyes rested on her throughout the meal.
“It’s goin’ to be a fine day, I reckon!” Bofur’s voice rang in the air. Ása lifted her gaze from above the dress she was mending and smiled, feeling the warmth of the sun on her cheeks. There were some clouds in the sky in a distance, but she trusted her companion’s instincts. He had seldom been wrong about those things during their travels. Sitting on the bench in front of Beorn’s house, she glanced at the Dwarf who stood in front of her. He wore his coat and held an empty sack in his hand, just like he did every day on his way to the forest.
“You have keen eyes, Bofur, reading the weather as if it was an open book! How do you do it?”
“You just have to keep your eyes open for all the signs. I always say to myself: if the Elves can do it, it can’t be that difficult, can it?” he winked, eliciting a chuckle out of her.
“Speaking of keeping my eyes open, don’t think I haven’t noticed those handfuls of fruits and nuts that started appearing on my plate during the meals. Thank you! You are so kind to me and the Little One…”
Bofur cast her a peculiar glance and replied, “Lass, I truly wish it was me, but it wasn’t.”
“But you go to the forest every day, so I thought…”
“Someone else has brought you all those treats, just as he did with those flowers first thing in the mornin’. He deserves your thanks, not me.”
“Who… Oh. Well, he is doing all those things only for the babe’s sake,” she replied firmly, wondering if she was trying to convince herself of her companion.
Bofur’s gaze rested on her for a few long moments.
“Only for the babe’s sake?”
“He has been so nice, so polite…” she closed her eyes, recalling how it felt to touch his hand once more, surrounded by the sweet scent of freshly picked stonecrops, ignoring the dull ache in her chest. Two conflicting emotions fought within her, doubt and hope, like two elements, stone and fire, one never yielding to the other. How was she supposed to explain to Bofur that Thorin was just doing his duty if her own certainty started wavering since the dream she had last night? Her cheeks burned with a pang of shame at the thought of admitting to the brown-eyed Dwarf that a storm raged in her heart and she was lost within it, torn in two, like the last sail of a ship at sea.
“Sooo... He is polite… and you don’t like it?” Bofur scratched his head under his skewed hat.
“I… I wish he… I care too much for him to... I’m so scared, Bofur. He acts this way towards me today, but what if he pushes me away again tomorrow? I tried ignoring my feelings, Bofur, I really did, but when I look at him... I still feel... I want my old Thorin back. I need him. And I have my babe to think of,” she rested her hand on her belly, trying to blink away the tears that gathered in her eyes.
“Does he know it?”
“We… we had a talk yesterday. He made it clear he wants to stay here out of duty. And maybe that’s for the best. That day we quarrelled, just before he left, he said things…” her voice trembled and Ása found herself unable to continue, refusing to recall those dreadful words and the golden gaze that terrified her so much. But those were the things she promised herself never to share with anyone.
“But then I saw how he looked at you this mornin’, lass. As if he were a raven and you were the biggest chunk of cheese he ever laid his eyes upon,” Bofur spoke calmly and she noticed that a small smile tugged at the corner of his lips.
She shook her head vigorously, not wanting to admit how her heart fluttered, “Surely, you have to be mistaken…”
“If he strayed, if he lost his way, then it’s up to you to decide whether you want to keep your marriage beads. Both for yours and for the babe’s sake.”
Ása’s hand wandered to one of her braids, clasping around the cold metal surface of the bead Thorin had given her on the night of their wedding. The sole thought, the sheer possibility of removing it from her hair filled her with a new wave of conflicting emotions. A small sob escaped her. She had to take a deep breath in an attempt to calm herself down.
“I… I don’t know what to do. I can’t imagine life without him. Without my Thorin. When he rode off, I felt as if I had a missing limb,” several new sobs left her mouth, her vision blurred and she realized how wet her cheeks were.
“Here, lass,” Bofur handed her a yellow linen handkerchief, slightly wrinkled but clean. As she brought it to her face, her nostrils filled with the smell of lemon thyme and her befuddled mind wandered to one peaceful summer afternoon she spent with Thorin on a nearby meadow, the blades of grass, wildflowers and blooming thyme painted by the orange light, clouds sailing through the sky without a care. She was so happy back then. They were happy.
She closed her eyes forcefully, trying to stop herself from shedding any more tears, her body trembling.
“We, Dwarves, are like ravens, y’know. When our hearts choose a mate for life, the One, it’s final. But no one says that you are expected to spend your life by his side if it makes you feel miserable. You always have a choice. You can always spread your wings and fly away. Do you understand, Ása?” There was a gentle tone in his voice as his hand in a fingerless mitten covered hers in a reassuring gesture.
“I… I think so…” a faint whisper left her lips, as she slowly looked up at Bofur, hoping he wouldn’t notice how messy she looked with her unruly hair and red-rimmed eyes, her gaze reflecting the chaos in her heart.
“Know this, lass,” he gently patted her hand that held his tear-soaked handkerchief. Ása noticed a familiar glint in his dark eyes as he tilted his head. “No matter what you decide, I have to warn you: you’re not goin’ to get rid of me and my kin too easily!”
“Oh, Bofur!” as tears flooded her cheeks once more, Ása threw her arms around his neck and hugged him with all her strength, a white flower of renewed hope blooming in her heart.
“There, there, lass.” Bofur patted her back gently. “We’ll get through it together.”
Bombur decided that it was a good day to make preserves for the winter. Seeing several punnets laid out on the kitchen table, each of them filled with mouth-watering, succulent blueberries, Ása offered her help gladly. Bifur took charge of stirring the pots filled with fruits, honey and herbs; he had always had a terrible sweet tooth. With the amount of work to be done, however, any help was welcome. Well, almost any. Deep inside, Ása was glad that Thorin disappeared into the smithy shortly after breakfast. The look the former prince of Erebor gave her just before he left was burned into her memory. His bright, cerulean eyes searched her face for… she had no idea what Thorin wished to see there, but he slightly tilted his head down in an informal version of a farewell greeting and, to make matters worse, he smiled at her just before he left.
Now, trying to wash blueberry stains from her fingers, she cursed herself inwardly for succumbing to the mood of the moment and not only nodding back at him, but smiling, too. It seemed that every time he was around, her resolve melted like butter at the slightest sign of affection from his side. No, it was not affection, she corrected herself. It was care. He cared for her well-being because she was carrying his child, nothing more. He was just fulfilling his duty. Why was it so difficult to remember? Why did his looks constantly remind her of all the wonderful moments they secretly shared in Erebor? Her hand wandered to her skirt pocket where she kept one of the stonecrops she had received in the morning. The flower was still there. That encounter with Thorin was not a dream.
“Ása, can you hear me? Ása…?”
“I’m so sorry, Bombur, I was lost in my thoughts. What were you saying?”
“We’re done for today. Would you like to taste that leftover blueberry jam?” the Dwarf smiled, passing her a wooden spoon filled with the dark-colored delicacy. Bifur, who stood by the hearth, gave her several energetic nods.
“I’d love to!” she took the spoon and blew on it before putting it into her mouth. The jam was still warm, but the smell made her think of a lazy summer afternoon in a forest. Sweetness erupted on her tongue and Ása closed her eyes, humming in delight.
“So, what do you think?” Bombur asked, stepping from one leg to the other in anticipation.
“It’s hard to say…” she smirked, opening her eyes, “We should make sure it’s edible with freshly baked bread and butter, don’t you think?”
Bifur clapped his hands and reached for the bread while his cousin chuckled.
“My stomach agrees with you! We can’t have the others complaining about our preserves, can we?” Bombur winked at her.
Plates, mugs, thick slices of bread, chunks of butter and a whole pot filled with jam quickly appeared on the table. Soon, all the talking ceased, replaced by the sounds of three hungry Dwarves attacking their food with relish.
“That’s it, I’m full,” Bombur proclaimed, pushing his plate away.
Bifur snorted and put a slice of bread into his mouth, munching loudly.
“How you eat is how you fight!” he signed and grabbed a spoonful of jam.
“You are certainly winning the battle against this loaf,” Ása pointed at the sad remains of the bread laid out on a linen cloth. He grinned triumphantly, showing off his blueberry-colored teeth.
“I think our warrior here has earned a new battle name!” Bombur chortled. “Bifur Bluetooth!”
Bifur’s face contorted in a ferocious grimace and he started swinging the wooden spoon in his hand as if it was a sword, emitting short growls from time to time. Ása couldn’t stop herself from giggling and joined Bombur’s deep laughter. In response, Bifur saluted with his spoon. His glossy blacks beard braids followed his movements, the beads jingling against each other. Quickly he grabbed the last piece of bread and, with a farewell wave of his hand, disappeared from the kitchen, signing something about barrels of mead.
Ása brushed away the tears of joy and took the last sip of water from her mug as Bombur asked her, “Are you ready for a battle of your own?”
“What would that be?” she asked cheerily.
The cook placed a large hamper on the table in front of her.
“Would you carry it to the smithy? I bet Beorn is already hungry. It’s lunchtime, and they’ve been at it for quite a while!”
She took a quick look inside: a round loaf of bread, apples, some cheese wrapped in a linen cloth and a hearty piece of gammon.
“They?” puzzled, she looked at the ginger-haired Dwarf.
“You don’t think the bear-man would work on fixing that roof all by himself, do you? Thorin is helping him.”
“Thorin? Helping Beorn?” At this point, Ása started to wonder whether she was hallucinating. Imagining a territorial skin-changer and a proud Dwarf cooperating in peace over such a task seemed nearly impossible to her.
“Yes. Who else? Bofur went to check the snares. I hope he’ll bring some nice fat hares. You wouldn’t say no to a hearty stew, would you?” Bombur beamed.
“Stew would be nice,” a strained smile appeared on Ása’s face. Food was the last thing on her mind. Instead, she couldn’t stop thinking about the possibility of seeing Thorin again. Would he look at her the same way he did when they met in the morning? Would he envelop her with the warmth of his sky-blue gaze again? Her heart started beating faster. What was that feeling that was spreading in her chest? Joy? No, not joy. She hid her shaking hand in the folds of her skirt. You can’t feel joy at the thought of seeing someone who had rejected you, can you? Instinctively, she put her hand over her belly in a protective gesture.
“Oh, I see, you’re probably still hungry,” Bombur patted the side of the hamper. “Don’t worry, there’s enough food for you too if you’d like to keep them company at the smithy.”
“I… I was supposed to gather and fold the linen. It should be dry by now,” she tried, averting her gaze.
“I can help you with it when you’re back,” he started chopping a large golden onion, his fingers moving fast as lightning.
“How about I start making dinner instead of you… and… and you can take a break and eat lunch with them?”
The sound of a knife rapidly hitting the cutting board stopped.
“Are you trying to tell me something, Ása?” Bombur tilted his head.
“I just… I don’t think I can face him. It’s probably best if you go there instead.”
“I’m assuming you mean Thorin.”
“Can you tell me why?”
“He… He will look at me.”
“And you don’t like it?”
“He looks at me as if he still…” she searched for a good word, but couldn’t find any, just like she couldn’t find the explanation for her confusion. Her voice wavered, “And I... know he doesn’t. It’s just my imagination. He’s simply being polite.”
Bombur studied her for a few moments with an expression in his eyes that she couldn’t decipher.
“I see. How about this: you carry the hamper to the smithy, leave it at the threshold, and come back here right away? You don’t even need to talk with Thorin if you don’t want to. Unless it is too much?”
A blush spilled over Ása’s cheeks.
“That I can do, I guess. Taking the hamper to the smithy, I mean. Not talking,” she corrected herself, placing her hand on its handle. Her cheeks burned even more than before.
The smithy was silent. There were no voices, no sounds of hammers hitting the wood planks, no sawing. Only a bored cow mooed somewhere nearby. Ása took a step towards the stone building and placed the hamper on the bench by the entrance. Mustering all her courage, she looked inside.
Perhaps they took their break a bit earlier and went to the river to refresh? It was a possibility, she thought hopefully. She was about to return to Bombur when a light breeze brought the sound of two distinctly male voices to her ears.
“- do you know about it?”
Ása froze mid-step. Both her tutors in the Iron Hills and Lady Barba in Erebor often stressed the paramount meaning of respect, especially when it concerned privacy. A lady would never overhear private conversations, it was simply not done. Apparently, she was not a lady any longer. Ása sighed in defeat.
“More than you think!”
The voices came from the other side of the building, the words getting louder and more agitated. Ása dithered for a moment, wanting to return to the warmth of Bombur’s kitchen and pretend that she had heard nothing.
“You do not understand!” The former prince of Erebor said darkly.
Beorn made an annoyed growling sound in response, and Ása took three careful steps towards the corner of the building. Someone had to make sure the exchange would not end in violence.
“What is there to understand?” the bear-man replied slowly, raspily.
Ása pressed her back against the wall, listening intently.
“Have you ever had a dream where you were not able to move nor speak?” A pause. No answer. “Have you?” the Dwarf demanded angrily through clenched teeth. “When the only thing you could do was to watch terrible things happening in front of your eyes, but you could not do anything about it?”
The skin-changer mumbled something and there was the unmistakable sound of a liquid splashing against the walls of a container, perhaps a milking pail.
“Imagine being able only to observe your actions, as if you were a prisoner in your own body,” Thorin’s anger seemed to have burned out, leaving behind ashes of despair, and Ása’s heart hurt in her chest. The liquid splashed again. “As if there was someone, or rather something,” Thorin continued quietly, “controlling it instead. I wanted to stop myself. I wanted to scream, but I-I could not make even a single move of my own will.” He paused. “I could not stop myself from leaving. I could not even look back at her…”
“You are saying you were not yourself,” Beorn articulated his words slowly.
“It does sound like a pathetic excuse, does it not?”
If Ása didn’t know better, she would have thought that a wild bear let out a growling huff at that very moment.
“A sickness runs in my family,” Thorin lowered his voice, a stomping sound followed. She took a step towards the corner of the smithy in order to hear better. “My lineage has been cursed with it for hundreds and hundreds of years. It sometimes manifests itself in older members of my kin. I have never heard of anyone my age succumbing to it before me.”
Ása covered her mouth with her hand, stifling an involuntary gasp.
“Do you understand now, Master Bear? She needs to be safe, her and the babe. I alone cannot offer her that safety any longer. That is why I asked you to watch over her. I do not know when the sickness will strike again.”
Thorin’s words were met with a grunt. “I will tend to her safety, just as I promised. This has not changed.” A pause, more splashing. “And what will you do about you and Ása?”
“I cannot change my actions from that day, no matter my wishes,” Thorin sighed. “And she does not want to accept me back.”
Around her corner, Ása bit her lip, afraid to make even the slightest noise. “If I could take back my words…”
“Did you mean what you said to her?”
“I told you already; it was not me speaking!” Thorin snapped. “She is my wife and I have never stopped thinking of her as such!”
“Have you told her that?” Beorn’s voice resembled the sound of a distant storm.
“I can not be a good husband to Ása,” Thorin said sadly. “I am not worthy of her… what good would there be in offering her such pathetic excuses?”
Ása bit into her hand to stop a sob from leaving her mouth. Why hadn’t he told her?
“Not worthy… It’s always about gold and what something is worth for you dwarves,” Beorn rumbled derisively. “It is much simpler than that, Master Dwarf. Do you still care for her the way a husband should?”
Ása turned around and pressed her burning forehead to the cool stone wall. Closing her eyes, she cursed herself. Why hadn’t she returned to Bombur right away? Now it was too late. She wanted to disappear; she didn’t want to hear his reply - she felt the pain and the despair that would come with it.
“Are you truly asking me about my feelings?” Thorin spat, his words ringing in her ears. “What do you think I felt when I realized what I had done to my One, the one I wed?” Thorin continued in a more solemn tone. “Are you wondering what I felt when I returned and found that my wife barely tolerates my presence?”
There was no reply; or at least Ása couldn’t hear one. The ringing in her ears intensified. Wisps of thoughts swirled in her head, like morning mists over a meadow, including the silver thread that shone among them. He called her his wife.
The idea was too slippery to grasp, darting away from her tormented mind like a silver-scaled fish in a forest stream.
“Or are you wondering how I felt to see her faint and fall to the ground in front of my eyes, unable to help her?” His voice wavered. “I do not know what I would do if anything were to… If she…”
A dull thud reverberated through the walls of the building. Ása trembled, but she didn’t move. She could not. He said… Thorin said… But he came back only for the child, didn’t he? She needed to be certain, needed to know... Had she really heard him say that he still felt something for her? Taking in shallow breaths, she strained her hearing, but Thorin did not continue to speak, and Ása knew she had to leave, needed to be away from the risk of discovery as she tried to make sense of what she had overheard.
A pony neighed loudly behind Ása, making her jump. Whirling, she saw Fang quickly loping away from Clover, the chestnut mare, his tail between his hind legs. The pony thumped his hooves into the ground in agitation and neighed after the retreating wolfdog.
For a moment, Ása stared at the tableau before her. How could the world around her continue to function as if nothing happened?
With Thorin’s last words churning in her mind, Ása took a step towards the house, managing three before she was caught by the low rumble of Beorn’s voice once more. “... with your wife, but she refused. She said she would leave with your ‘secret dwarven business’ alone if she has to,” the bear-man huffed, “but she would not abandon it.”
“Did she truly say that?” Thorin asked, an odd timbre to the words. Concern? No, surely not...
“Aye,” Beorn replied. “I heard about the stubbornness of your kind, but I never knew it could be so fierce. She would rather put her own life in danger than…”
“Impossible,” Thorin protested. “Ása is no ranger; she would not survive in the wilderness on her own.” He paused, his voice softening slightly. “And there is our babe... you must be mistaken.”
“You are free to ask her yourself, Master Dwarf.” Beorn replied. Ása felt frozen to the ground, puzzled by the careful tone in the skin-changer’s voice. “I have never seen her so determined before. It was very unlike her.”
“Perhaps she simply meant that it needed to be protected?” Thorin tried, and she could picture the frown on his face so easily.
“I heard these words from her as well,” Beorn rumbled solemnly, “I suspect she didn’t hear me when I said that I have my household to protect.” He paused, but there was no hesitation in his next words. “I will not have this... creature under my roof. It poses too great a threat.”
In the silence that followed Beorn’s proclamation, Ása felt cold. Clover grazing nearby snorted, oblivious to the turmoil she felt.
“You would have us leave,” Thorin stated after a while.
“This household is a safe haven for my animals and everyone else who needs it,” Beorn’s voice was loud and clear now. “This creature is not welcome here any longer. It is becoming more and more dangerous. If you choose to part with it, you may stay. If not...”
“We are taking precautions,” Thorin retorted confidently.
“And yet you both were touched by it. I could smell it,” Beorn growled.
Ása’s eyes widened in disbelief.
“What are you saying?!” Thorin raised his voice. “When you found me in the forest, you said that only I had been affected.”
“And that was true... until yesterday,” Beorn told him gravely. “When Ása came to see me here, I sensed a faint scent about her - almost indistinguishable from her usual smell. At first, I thought I was mistaken, but as she continued in her vehemence, it clung to her.” He paused. “Until she fainted. Then it disappeared.”
Something hit the ground with a thud. Ása flinched back to the safety of the wall, pressing herself against it as she tried not to tremble. Her heart beat so loudly she felt sure they would hear it any moment now.
“Why would you keep this from me?!” Thorin shouted.
“I had to be certain you were still unaffected by it,” Beorn replied, unintimidated by Thorin’s temper. “When we parted, I still was not; now I know.”
A very foul curse in Khuzdul reached Ása’s ears. She clenched her hands into fists to keep them from shaking with sudden fear.
“My wife…” Thorin moaned. “It cannot be. She can’t be touched by the sickness. Not her!”
Ása could bear it no longer, fleeing from the words that followed, the world around her a blur of indeterminate colours as blood rushed in her ears, drowning out whatever else might be said between the two.
A branch snapped under her foot with a loud crack. She froze for a moment, and then ran blindly onwards, her feet pounding the hard ground as tears spilled warmly down her cheeks.
This could not be true, could not be real. Beorn – ha! – what did the skin-changer know of anything!
She was not touched by that sickness! Impossible! Not her!
“Ása! Wait!” an echo of a beloved voice chased after her but she didn’t dare to stop.
* * *
Like it? Reblog it! Thanks! ☺️
Tag list: @shrimpsthings @fizzyxcustard @xmly-xo @dark-angel-is-back @rachel1959 @sherala007 @amelia307 @rachel1959 @anyaspidergirl-blog @jotink78 @saltwater-in-the-afternoon @linasofia @bitter-sweet-farmgirl @yourqueenunderthemountain @tschrist1 @i-am-the-raven-queen
12 notes · View notes