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The Unmaking of a King

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When did this begin for him, truly? How long has he lived with a simmer of jealousy and rage in the pit of his belly, the last glow on the edge of a blade losing its heat?

Thorin, what do you want of us? How can we possibly help you more than we have?

Yes, oh, yes, the Line of Durin is cursed with sickness, but the heavy, shining secret in its heart is not gold. It was never gold. It strikes with a lifetime’s worth of slowly-building jealousy, suspicion insidious as the slow drip of water into an empty sluice. Yes, there is a curse in the line, in their minds, but Smaug and gold are only the excuses used to make its presence less frightening.

And those who have been spared will always believe it to be within his control. They will always draw back, clutching the shallow wounds inflicted by a Dwarf in its clutches, while ignoring the deeper ones seeping blood into every space his body contains.

Dís did not have to lead when barely more than a child. Frerin died before the weight of any responsibility could land on his shoulders, although the thought keeps Thorin afire with guilt. And these Dwarves – Dwalin, Balin, Glóin, Óin, the nobles of Erebor, raised to be the best and the brightest, none of them had to do what he did. None of them understand, although they think they do. And yet…

We don’t know ye, Thorin Oakenshield. You are less a king now than when ye were a smith! The smith of Ered Luin came out o’ himself and considered others.

But the curse grasped Thorin in claws sharper and more deadly than those of a dragon, so that the memories of his sacrifices, of all that he had given to and for his people, of his years degraded and dirty in the lands of Men boiled through his mind and made his only thought but then who will consider me?

For that, he knows, he is King only by name, because his Company will never understand the iron twists of his mind.

He had to watch, helpless, as Balin’s timbre changed from soft, measured condescension to outright disgust. Balin. Balin, you were my first friend and my best adviser, and now there is nothing but disgust in your eyes when you look at me. How have I wronged you? And then the thought came, horrifying in its single-mindedness, who has lauded enough praise on you to drag you away from my court to theirs?

He cannot make them understand, and as time passes, one by one they stop wanting to.

Thorin, I’m not quite sure how to say this, but you’re…you’re embarrassing yourself.

There is no pride left in him now, no reason not to beg anymore, but recriminations rain down on his head when he does. How can he make them see that appreciation, that kindness, that acknowledgement that Thorin can be someone more than Oakenshield the Leader has kept him from crumbling like so much poor-quality tin? And who is the Halfling to act as though his personal moral code places him even higher than the Thain from whom he claims descent?

Who is he, who are they, to say that when a Dwarf breaks, it is more of an embarrassment than the pain of fracture?

What do you want?

He could say love, but it would not be quite right. His fault lines are naked and visible, and what he needs is for skilled Dwarvish hands to fill them with the caulking-silver of contact and closeness and kind words, as if he were not a king of a cursed line, but only a wonderfully ordinary friend. As if he deserved kindness, as if every word were not begrudged.

This is how his mind betrays him.

Only the burglar does not leave his side in body or in spirit, or so he thinks. Only Bilbo’s face doesn’t eventually crumple into disgust when Thorin begs of him tell me, Halfling, tell me this quest has not all been for naught, tell me that I am not to blame. Maybe Hobbits carry a secret curse themselves, to have to listen when they wish they could do otherwise – the thought torments Thorin even as he nearly prostrates himself before Bilbo first in supplication and then in pathetic gratitude.

Then Bilbo betrays him, just as Thorin knew he would, and the rage rises up inside him, incandescent, roaring, hot and scaled as Smaug himself.

I wasn’t worthy of even a Halfling’s attention or regard!

Battle-lust wars with the need to keep his people safe, but oh, the battle-lust makes it so tempting when it whispers why should you care for your people when they care nothing for you? Óin’s disapproving sniff, Dori’s snide comments, even his nephews’ turning away from him, they are all he can see.

So when battle-lust wins, when he charges onto the battlefield with sword in hand and the Dwarves of Erebor finally, finally behind him –

- when Azog cuts him to the bone and his blood flows out to freeze into red ice, Bilbo crying over him for reasons he knows not –

- he thinks that it is no more than he deserves.