Actions

Work Header

Wanderer in a Shadowed Land

Work Text:

It was dark. The dimly-flickering torches did very little to touch the all-consuming darkness that surrounded you. Perhaps that was the whole point of building a prison underground. You tried to ignore the cold stone bench beneath you and the cold stone wall behind your back. Another benefit of the prison's location, you thought to yourself. Somewhere in the distance beneath the sounds of your companions' snoring, you could hear the quiet trickling of water. Some underground stream, perhaps? You had hoped that the sound would fade quickly into the background, but you still heard it most of the time.

It had been at least two days that you'd been in here, maybe more. And it would probably be many many more before you were released. The guards had dragged Thorin away after you'd first been captured, only to bring him back practically frothing with rage, not long after. He'd spoken of some proffered deal, which had raised your hopes, but then proudly spat that he had turned it down. Naturally. He'd said something about there still being hope—Bilbo.

A deep and hopeless hush had fallen over your fellow prisoners when a set of elven guards escorted a very familiar halfling into a cell of his own. So much for Thorin's last hope. What would he say if he knew there was still one last way out?

***

“Take them to the prison. Except this one.”

He'd circled you slowly, putting you very much in mind of the large birds that circled in the air above creatures dead or dying. Though you told yourself it was foolish, you could not shake the feeling—no, the conviction—that you could actually feel his gaze. It seemed as heavy as if he was actually touching you. His eyes raked along your body, nigh-indistinguishable from a boy's in your traveling clothes. You did not allow yourself to shudder.

“And even among the muck and filth, a precious flower blooms.” His voice was low, but so sudden and unexpected in the silence that it made you flinch. One corner of his mouth twitched upwards. He was pleased. “It is not often that I see a daughter of men so far from home. You haven't been kidnapped by the dwarves, have you?”

“No,” you said, a little too sharply. “I've joined them of my own free will. I believe in their journey, and I will help restore them to their rightful home.” You were being foolish. He was not your king, it was true, but he held the very fate of your quest in his hands.

Thankfully, he merely chuckled at your rudeness. It amused him almost as much as your flinch had. “It is a fool's errand, child. If the journey doesn't kill you, the dragon surely will. And if you manage to escape that unscathed—something impossible even for those far more powerful than you—then the dwarven king will undoubtedly succumb to the dragon-sickness and destroy everything he has risked so many lives to reclaim.”

You took a moment to muse over his words. They sounded truthful enough, despite how horrible and smug he was being. “Then...so be it. No potential horror could possibly be as bad as sitting idle and attempting nothing.” The sound he made was still more thoughtful than irritated. So you pressed onward, but softened your voice. “But please. We cannot even try if we are rotting in your prison cells. Let us go. We will leave this place immediately and never return.”

He said nothing as he continued his path around you. You felt a soft tickling, and then a rush of chill air against the back of your neck as he lifted your hair into his hands. It was your one small allowance of vanity on this journey: long and curly and thick. Rather than tie it up into a heavy braid or ponytail, you let it hang free except in the direst of occasions and brushed it carefully each night and each morning. “Your hair is nearly as resplendent as my own,” he hummed. He gathered it into a ponytail at the nape of your neck and tugged just a little too hard. “Is it not unsafe for a lady rider to wear her hair so? It would make a lovely handle for an orc while he sliced through your pretty neck.” He tugged again, even harder this time, and drew the fingers of his free hand across your exposed throat.

You swallowed hard. “Thorin's hair is just as long, and just as free and he has lived this long.”

Another thoughtful hum, and then he released you. He circled back around to stand in front of you. You flinched again when he extended his hand toward you, but he merely took your chin in his hand. “It is rare that I see a human with so delicate a structure.” His eyes were chill as he studied you. “There must be elven blood in your line somewhere. We rarely lower ourselves in such a way, but perhaps your mother caught the eye of a wanderer in the forest?” Many sharp remarks of your own sprung to your lips, but you held them all back. He was...softening, somehow. It would be unwise to insult him, at least if you wanted to hold on to the slightest possibility that you could convince him to free the company. “How old are you, child?”

“Twenty-four.” What choice did you have but to tell him?

The briefest flicker of shock registered across his face before he could compose himself again. “Ah, but to a man you are full-grown, are you not? I forget how quickly your kind wither and die. To me you are but a spark, well on your way to burning out.” He released your chin and stepped back. “Even the dwarves will have to watch you age and die long before their time. And yet...”

“I'm not exactly old and frail just yet,” you snapped. In truth, he was frightening you. Elves could live for thousands of years, dwarves at least hundreds. Your friends would only just be beginning to feel the effects of age long after you were dead and gone.

“You'd do well to control your temper in the presence of kings.” His tone was even more of a warning than his words. “Of course I can see that. And the dwarves see it too. And yet they look at you as they would a glittering gem. Especially your intrepid leader.” He smirked. “In fact, he might value you more than all of the riches under the mountain. Until the dragon-sickness sets in, that is.”

“Don't be ridiculous,” you said, but hastily added “...Your Highness. There is no one he values more than his mountain. Perhaps not even his nephews.” It would have been a lie to say that you had never hoped, but you rarely let yourself entertain the fantasy for very long. There were plenty of other things to concern yourself with.

“Then you will not mind indulging me in an experiment.” He moved behind you once again. “I will grant you the power to free your friends.” Your heart soared for the briefest of moments before you reminded yourself of who was speaking. He slid his arms around you and held you tightly against his body. His arms may as well have been shackles. “I will pluck the dwarven treasure right out from beneath them, and they will sit in my prison all the while, completely unaware.”

There was a tightness in your stomach. He wasn't...what was he talking about? Every muscle in your body was begging for escape, but you didn't dare try. “I don't...”

“You do, child. To free the dwarves, all you must do is bed the elven king. Spread your legs wide for me, and I will send you back to them. Weaker and defiled, perhaps, but clutching their freedom in your trembling hands.”

You couldn't speak. The very idea was unthinkable. His arms tightened almost imperceptibly around you as you searched for something to say. “Why?”

“Your dwarves have stolen something very dear to me. I know that, were I to offer them their freedom in return for your continued imprisonment, they would simply remain lurking nearby, scheming to free you. So I shall have you only for a night, and then send you back to them. Something tells me that you will never be quite free of me again afterward.”

You were going to be sick. It was going to happen right here in the throne room. Perhaps some of it would dirty the king's hands. You could only hope. “So you would torture me for their crimes? I've told you, Thorin values the mountain over all others. He will only be glad to be free, he won't care how he came to be that way.”

“Then, if you'll forgive me this liberty, I will demonstrate.” Before you could speak, he'd begun working your hair into a braid. He was surprisingly gentle, all things considered. But foolish. You knew that braids held a certain significance to dwarves, but they knew that humans had no such traditions. Still, you said nothing. When he saw how wrong he was, perhaps he would relent and free you all out of sheepishness alone. Warm lips brushed against your neck. You had just enough time to wonder, dizzily, if he was kissing you.

And then the teeth.

He alternated between biting and sucking at your skin. You had braved pain much worse than this, of course, but the intimacy of this and the way he held you brought tears of shame to your eyes. When it was over (nearly as quickly as it had begun), he released you. You stumbled and nearly fell to your knees. In an instant, guards were flanking you. Thranduil must have summoned them.

“Take her to the others. Place her across from the one they call Thorin.” Cool, impassive eyes came to rest on your face—no, lower. Your neck. “Be sure that he sees my mark before you lock her up.” Then, to you: “You'll see. And then you'll agree.”

You had not been able to look at any of your friends when the guards brought you to them, despite the way they all clamored for your attention. Each demanded to know what the bastard king had done to you. You could not speak. Kili had been the one to point our your hair, and had then shouted about whether elves used courting braids. Thorin alone remained silent. He said not a word, even when one of the guards shoved your forehead painfully against the bars of his cell while the other unlocked yours. When they flung you inside, only the knowledge of your audience kept you from shattering.

***

It wasn't until much later that night, when snoring surrounded you as usual, that Thorin finally spoke. “Did he hurt you?” If his voice was softer than usual, you told yourself, then it was simply because he did not wish to wake the others. “Your neck. Did he try to choke you?”

“No.” Your voice was too loud. Too bright. You ducked your head. “No. Thorin, it was nothing. Thranduil is ruthless. He'll do whatever it takes to get under your skin. Stay the course. Don't worry about me.”

“But what did he do?” In the flickering torchlight, his wide eyes looked almost wild. He clutched the bars. “What is that mark?” You wished the darkness would swallow you whole. He just kept asking, but you had no good answer for him.

“It's a love bite.” Fili's voice came from some distance away. He sounded miserable. You closed your eyes so you would not have to see Thorin's reaction—or lack thereof. He raised his voice, but you tuned him out. He had many questions, as did all the others, whom he soon awakened with his shouting. You assured them all that you were unharmed, but then fell silent.

They could never find out about the deal that Thranduil offered. If they knew, only two things could possibly happen. They would either demand that you accept, or forbid you from doing it. You weren't sure which would be worse.

***

The night the guards brought Bilbo in was a somber night indeed. Thorin sat unmoving on his bench for hours. No one spoke. There were no cheery songs, no bawdy jokes. But there was also very little snoring. It seemed that everyone was awake, letting cold reality sink in. When Bilbo was still free, there was hope. Surely the little burglar could find some way to free you all. Thorin had held out hope to the bitter end. But now there was nothing. Your stomach remained tight and queasy all day and night. Though they had no idea, you had become their captor. Thranduil was no longer responsible for keeping the company in cages: that was your doing now. Every moment that you held out was another moment wasted. You had already lost three days. Three fewer days in which to get to the mountain. Who knew how many more days you would lose on the way if you ever got out of this prison?

Ori's nightmare was the final straw. Not long after the smallest dwarf had finally fallen asleep, you heard him wake up again with a yelp. Dori had called out to him from down the corridor, but Ori's horror was simply too strong for words. All he could do was cry. All anyone else could do was listen.

But not you. You could put a stop to this. You had waited too long already, out of—what? Modesty? You, who gleefully bathed and changed and, yes, farted, in the company of all the others. Was this mission not more important than such a misguided emotion?

There was a guard nearby, drawn by Ori's cries. Steeling your resolve, you waved to him from between the bars. He looked at you but would not come closer. You groaned with frustration. “Tell him yes,” you called, desperate both to stop Ori's crying and to be heard above it. “Tell your king that the girl says yes. I'll do it.” The words came easily, but you might as well have been signing your death warrant. Thorin's curious look was impossible to ignore. The guard gave you a suspicious look of his own, but left. Perhaps he had been told that something like this would happen.

“Yes to what?” Thorin sounded as though he dreaded the very answer that he sought.

You would have liked to ignore him, but he was too close, and you felt guilty enough about things already, and if you were to be completely honest, you were frightened. Still you couldn't make yourself tell him everything. “The king, he... offered me a deal. That first night. He'll release us if I agree to it.” You did not look at him.

“A deal.” Shock had dulled his voice. “He agreed to release us that very night, and you could not find the time to tell us?” Ori had quieted, and you got the sense that he, like many others, was listening in. “It took you this long to agree to it?”

“It's...unpleasant.” You willed yourself not to cry. That was a weakness you could not afford here.

“Unpleasant!” This came from Nori. “Unpleasant, she says.”

“She must have the luxury prison cell,” Fili spat. Each word landed on you like a blow. You wrapped your arms around your middle and leaned against the wall of your cell for support.

“What could possibly be more unpleasant than sitting in these cells counting down the days until our window has passed?” Thorin was growing, and clutching the bars of his door again. You backed up, wishing to disappear into the darkness at the back of your own cell, but his sharp eyes found you with no trouble. “All the things we have done for you,” he continued. “Allowing you to come along in the first place when it was likely you'd only slow us down. Keeping you safe from harm, even at the risk of grave danger to ourselves. Two days Dwalin carried you on his back when you hurt your ankle. The—”

“I never asked for any of those things!” Your voice was shrill and teary. All you wanted to do was drown him out, make him stop. You no longer cared whether they saw you cry.

“And we should not have to ask you to bear a bit of unpleasantness for the sake of the journey!” He slammed his fists against the door and stalked away. “Who knows how long we could have been trapped here! Stupid, selfish woman. I should have left you behind long ago. Or put you out of your misery when you first fell and twisted your delicate ankle. Sliced your throat like a wild hog and left you for the creatures of the forest. Or better yet, your meat could have sustained my people far better than the meager portions of rat stew we've been dining on.”

“Uncle!” Two voices sounded immediately, both scandalized. Thorin stopped speaking but you did not look at him. You already knew about the rage that would be burning in his eyes. After a long time, you finally trusted your voice enough to speak.

“You are right. It was selfish of me, and thoughtless. I will be... I will do this for all of you. I can never repay the kindness you have all shown me, but I must try. Thank you, fri—” Your voice cracked. “Dwarves. If you can, I beg you to please forgive me for my imposition.”

There was a long awkward silence. It was only broken by the footsteps of the guards coming to fetch you. Your stomach lurched. You had no idea Thranduil would want to see you so quickly. The two were oddly gentle: they stood patiently at the door to your cell and took your arms lightly rather than yanking you along. As they led you out, you could feel many eyes on you, but you did not meet any of them. The last thing you heard was Dwalin's rough voice: “Thorin, you know it weren't no imposition. The lass weighs less than my heaviest axe.”

Rather than taking you to some lush bedroom, the guards opened the doors to some sort of washroom. A large crystal tub sat in the middle of the room, already filled with water that steamed merrily. Confused, you looked at one of them.

“The king expects that you would wish to bathe before meeting with him. He said that you may have felt dirty, after such a long time on the road.”

Bitterly, you wondered if this tub would be made available to you again after your “meeting” with the king. Though you were tempted to go to him stinking of the woods and of five days with no bath, you did not make the guards tell you again. You removed your clothing and sank beneath the water. It was perfect: absolutely the right temperature. Many bottles—soaps and oils—lined the tub, but you did not move for a long while. Instead, you allowed the heat to soothe and relax your muscles. The journey was hard, and this felt wonderful. But the water did not ease your mind—quite the opposite, in fact. The others still sat on hard stone in their cells. They would not be given baths. Not only had you delayed them this long, but now you relished comforts that would be denied them.

The thought spurred you to action. You began to scrub your hair and skin quickly, and a little too roughly. No, you needed to get this over with: the sooner you were done here, the sooner you would be done there, and the sooner the company would be free. At some point, you must have begun to cry again, because even after you'd gotten out of the tub and dried yourself, your face remained wet. You looked for your clothes, but they were gone, along with one of the guards. The other remained, and held some kind of silken robe. She held it out to you without looking. You took it and put it on. It was comically long on you, but still better than nothing. The fabric was soft against your skin, increasing your shame.

The lone guard—you wanted to ask her name, but couldn't form the words—then led you through the corridors again and stopped before a set of large ornate doors. “Not many step through these doors,” she said. Was there some trace of jealousy in her tone? “Count yourself lucky.” No, not lucky. Obligated. She pushed the doors open and gestured for you to go inside. When you did, she immediately closed the doors behind you, making you jump.

The room was dim, lit by torches and candles and a fire in the corner. There was a tall platform in the middle of the room, with several steps leading up to a large, elegant-looking bed. A high-backed chair sat before the fireplace. Tapestries and paintings—mostly of the same beautiful woman—lined the walls.

“That took less time that I expected.” It was Thranduil's voice, and it came from the chair near the fire. He stood up and slowly turned to face you. “Did you not enjoy the bath, or are you simply that eager to be through with me?”

What was the correct answer? Your mind was racing. Honesty was always the simplest choice: “Er...neither, Your Highness. It's just...the dwarves, they're eager to be free. They still have quite a long journey.”

He made a humming sound, clearly lost in thought, as he approached you. You forced yourself to remain still when he reached to caress your cheek. “You've been crying. Is the prospect of sleeping with a king so bad?”

“It's...they were angry when they found out I've waited so long. We...argued.” Of course, that was not the only reason, but you would die before you let Thranduil know just how badly he frightened you. He laughed.

“When they find out what I've done to you, what you've done for them, they will feel even worse. I hadn't even planned on that.” His smile was at once charming and disquieting. “Now, why don't you get on your knees and show them just how selfless you can truly be?” He applied a gentle but insistent pressure to your shoulder, and you sank to your knees. He held your gaze even as he lowered his robe. Already? You weren't sure exactly what you had been expecting, but this was...very fast.

He was erect already, his cock standing proudly at attention. It was every bit as pale as the rest of his body, and every bit as well-defined. He allowed you your moment of hesitation but then tilted his hips forward so that he was pressing lightly against your lips. You cast a pleading look upwards. His grave face left no room for negotiation. “Surely this is not so different for humans,” he said in a disapproving tone. “Or is this your first time?”

“No.” It wasn't, not really. You knew exactly what he was expecting. He raised his eyebrows and thrust once more.

The moment you parted your lips, he pushed his way into your mouth. He grasped the back of your head and slid between your lips, but it soon became apparent that the difference in your heights was simply too much for either of you to overcome. With a frustrated grunt, he stepped away and gestured for you to follow him. When he dropped into the chair in front of the fire and spread his knees slightly, he motioned to the rug between his feet. This was better than keeping the dwarves locked up forever, you told yourself, and followed his wordless command. As you took him back into your mouth, he gripped the arms of the chair. He murmured something in a language you couldn't quite understand. The tone of his voice seemed good, at least. You continued moving with growing confidence. Your head was swimming, but you kept repeating the word “free them” in your mind like a mantra.

Before long, he closed his hand around the back of your head as before. He used an insistent pressure to push deeper into your mouth. When he touched the back of your throat, you choked and tried to pull away, but he anticipated your panic and held firm. “Breathe deeply, through your nose,” he instructed. Because there was really no other choice, you did as he said. It made it somewhat easier, but no less painful or frightening to allow him to work himself into your throat.

With your eyes clenched so tightly shut, you couldn’t see his face. The sounds he was making, however, made it more than clear that he was pleased. Something about those sounds, or perhaps the fire that warmed your back, eased something within you. Your fear lessened. It was impossible to breathe when he was in your mouth, it was true, but each time he pulled your mouth off of him, he waited long enough for you to draw a much-needed breath. Your fingers, which had been gripping his thighs so tightly that your nails had surely been breaking his skin, relaxed a little. He rewarded you with a sound like a purr and a string of soft foreign words that might have been...encouragement? Not long after that, he gritted out a warning and pushed your head down roughly. He held you there longer than he had before, longer than you could possibly stand. He was throbbing. It made you choke. If you could have made a sound, you might have been whimpering, even begging, but all you could do was claw at his pale thighs.

But then he seemed to grow softer, and slid easily out of your throat. As soon as he released you, you lowered your head, panting despite yourself to try to catch your breath. He lifted your chin to get a better look at you. You did not look at him, until he brushed at your cheeks with gentle thumbs. He was wiping at your tears. “You performed beautifully, pet.”

But you did not trust your voice, so you could only nod. Thankfully, he did not seem to expect a response: he only reached to take your hand. When he rose to his feet, he pulled you to yours as well, and then guided you up the stairs to the bed. You wanted to pull away. He'd just...did it take elves less time to recover? How much more would he demand from you?

When you reached the side of the bed, he stopped and turned to face you. Without speaking, he tugged at the belt of the robe you wore. It fell open and at an agonizing pace, he slid it down over your shoulders. “I knew there lurked beneath those riding clothes the figure of a woman.” As he spoke, a smug smile broke across his face. He smoothed his hand against your rounded belly. Riding with the dwarves, you had rarely given its ampleness a second thought. The extra weight you carried mean that your body carried surplus energy, which was beneficial on the long rides. Anyway, the lingering looks that you occasionally caught from one dwarf or another had left no doubt in your mind that they appreciated your body. Now that he stood there, tall and slim and regal, all you could think about was hiding yourself. But he spoke before you could do anything.

“Lie down on your back with your legs at the edge here.” He indicated on the bed where he wanted you. Your eyes must have gone wide, because he smirked. “I'm not taking you yet, little spark. I'm simply returning the favor. Lie down.” The last command left no room for argument. Though you wished he would just get it over with, you did as he said. When you were finally lying down, he lifted your legs to prop your feet on the edge of the bed and forced your knees apart. You were completely exposed and open to him. He settled himself on the floor between your legs, much as you had done for him. “Relax,” he said in a coaxing tone. “How many do you know who may say that a king—an elven king, no less—has knelt before them?

No response. What could you say? He touched you softly, more of a ticklish brush of a fingertip than anything else. You tried to press your legs together, but he stopped you with his other hand and a disapproving tut-tut.

“If your body is not ready to accept me, this won't be any good,” he said. “And if I am disappointed, I may change my mind about letting you all go.” You bristled at this. Your freedom had not previously depended on your performance. Before you could protest, he slid two fingers inside you. Despite the strange ease you'd felt before the fire, you were not ready for such an intrusion. The friction, rough and burning, made you cry out. “See?”

“Please don't...” It was a whimper. He drew back.

“If you're not willing, then I am more than happy to send you back to your cell. I will not force myself onto an unwilling partner. Would you prefer to leave?” He was silent as though waiting for a response. “Of course, you'll have to explain to your friends why they'll be here for the rest of their lives.”

Absolutely not. You had come this far. There was no turning back now. You closed your eyes and spoke with great difficulty. “No, Your Highness. I'm sorry. Please...make me ready for you?”

“With pleasure.” And then his lips were closing around you where you were most sensitive. You drew in a sharp breath and tensed, expecting him to pinch or bite or find some other way to inflict pain upon you, but he only drew his tongue around your clit and sucked gently. Without meaning to, you bucked your hips higher against his mouth. It had been so long since you'd last been able to touch yourself (you didn't dare try it while traveling—someone was always awake and keeping watch at night, and during the day you had plenty to keep you busy), and even longer since someone else had touched you like this. He slid a finger inside you again, but this time there was no pain. He murmured something against you and curled his finger upward. You bucked again and just barely managed to hold back a cry.

He drew you ever closer, but never quite close enough. By the time he had slipped a third finger inside of you, you were biting down, hard, on the heel of your palm. You weren't sure whether you were more likely to scream or beg if you didn't. He slowed down. You could have sobbed.

But he only reached up to draw your hand away from your mouth. “Let the world hear you,” he ordered. “Let the dwarves in their cells hear you, if you can.”

The dwarves. Their memory was like cold water washing over you. What right did you have to be taking pleasure in this, while they waited deep below the earth, likely cursing your very name? For as long as you had made them wait, you deserved all of the pain that Thranduil could offer you, but surely not pleasure. No, you would have no release this night. How could you? You forced yourself to relax back against the bed with a heavy sigh. Release was close, within reach, but you could not take it.

The king must have known your mind, because he pressed you open still wider and redoubled his efforts. Your muscles protested dearly. When you still did not come, he began dragging his teeth against your clit and pinching as he moved his fingers within you. The sweet edge of pain was a mixed blessing: you choked out you protests even as your muscles began that familiar tightening. He didn't stop, not when your back arched high off of the bed, not when your hands came down to grip in his hair, and not even when you heard yourself begging him to stop.

When he did finally pull away, your entire body went limp with relief. You heard nothing for a moment or two, but then he stood up. He towered over you in this position, and though he was just as nude as you were, you couldn't help but feel...exposed.

“That wasn't so bad, was it?” That same disquieting smile, and then he stretched out on the bed. You sat up and turned to look at him. His eyes were darker than you remembered, and he was watching you closely. He took a moment to make a show of making himself comfortable amongst the pillows. When he was finished, he wrapped his hand around his cock and beckoned you closer. “You're doing just fine. We're nearly done here. In no time at all, you'll be tripping back down to the dungeons to release your friends.”

Friends. That was, perhaps, an overly-strong word for the feelings many of them probably had for you now. Thorin would certainly never forgive you. Some of the others might, in time, but you weren't sure you wanted to wait around for that to happen. It was probably too late to try to turn back, and you certainly had no interest in remaining here in Mirkwood.

Thranduil cooed, but the sound had an edge of threat to it. “Such a long face. Come here and forget all your troubles, little one.” He held out his arms to you. On legs already sore and shaky, you crawled across the bed to him. He rested his hands on your shoulders for a moment, but then moved to tug one of your legs across his lap before lying back. You wound up straddling him, bracing against his naked chest, looking down at him with wide eyes.

It was childish to remain so frightened of this. You had already partaken of his body, and he of yours. This was merely the next logical step. Just on the other side of this discomfort rested the entirety of Erebor. Surely that was worth it. He canted his hips against you as though you needed reminding of your mission. Without a word, you lifted up just enough to allow him to press against your entrance, and then slowly took him into your body. He mumbled something in that same language as before, and you even recognized a word or two, but you were not able to spend long attempting to interpret them. He had clamped his hands onto your hips with bruising force and was already moving you, instructing you as to his preferred rhythm.

He was large, but, as wet as you were from his earlier ministrations, the stretch was not entirely uncomfortable. It hurt just enough to remind you that you were not doing this for your own pleasure. Your job here was to move as he wanted. As he demanded. All the while, your heart continued to pound. What if this was not actually what he wanted? What if he was growing bored? What if he never planned to free any of you in the first place? What if you had gone through all this only to be laughed at and thrown back into a cell for the rest of time? You closed your eyes against the tears that threatened to fall. The faces of the dwarves rose, one by one, into your mind as you moved, but you couldn't be sure whether they were more comforting or condemning. You fixed on one in particular—the sight of Thorin glaring at you through the bars of his cell—and it spurred you on. Perhaps this was a cruel joke and there was no hope at the end of all this, but you had to try anyway.

“Open your eyes, little spark. Let me see you.”

You obeyed without thinking twice, and could only hope that he would not notice your unshed tears. If he did, he let them pass without comment. He moved one hand from your hip to your face. When he cupped your cheek, it was...tender? Soothing? You couldn't stop your mouth from falling open, just slightly, at the way he was looking at you.

He smirked, and then, in one fluid movement, knocked your arms out from under you and rolled you onto your stomach. You barely had time to yelp with surprise before he was driving himself deeper inside of you than he'd been before. He was relentless, thrusting with a brutal evenness and consistency even as you tried to catch your breath. Just when you thought you had, he pulled on your hair until your head was tilted back, and then dragged you up to your knees. It hurt, but wasn't pain the price of freedom?

He slipped his hand between your legs to touch you as he continued to move, and his other arm became a brace against your chest. He held you against his body, kept you upright and steady as he moved within you. You let your head tip backwards, resting it against his shoulder. When his grip grew tighter, almost crushing, you dug your fingernails into his forearm and did your best to give in to him. He rewarded you with a groan that sounded as though it came from the very depths of his being and a quick nip to your shoulder. But he did not withdraw from you. If anything, he held you even tighter as he continued to touch you. Even through the exhausted haze that had taken over your mind, you were bewildered. It was over, was it not? You had done what he'd asked, given him your body, and he had climaxed not once but twice. Why concern himself with you now?

If he knew your thoughts, he did not let on. Instead, he dug his teeth even deeper into the flesh of your shoulder and kept at it, growling low in his throat in response to the noises you were making. It was as if he knew you needed the pain in order to feel release. You came again that night, trapped in the elven king's embrace with your blood dripping from around his teeth, keening out all of your fear and grief and uncertainties about the path that lie ahead of you.

He held you long after you'd regained your breath and your heartbeat had returned to normal. You let him. Every part of your body ached. Your eyelids had never felt so heavy. Allowing another to support your weight was a welcome respite from the labor of holding yourself together, no matter who it happened to be. After a while, he let himself slide out of you, followed by the strange warm rush of his seed. He lowered you down to the mattress. But you could not allow yourself to sleep. You had wasted so much time already. The others would be furious. You tried to sit up, but he stopped you easily by placing one hand on your chest.

“Lie still for a moment. The dwarves' quest for Erebor will not fail if you take a moment or two to rest.” He slid off of the bed and disappeared. The fire had died down somewhat, allowing a slight chill to kiss your feverish skin. If you had not been so exhausted, you might have tried to cover yourself with a blanket or even your discarded robe, but you could not move. Thranduil returned and parted your legs. Again? Did he mean to kill you? Rather than protesting, you took in a breath to strengthen yourself, but he only ran a warm cloth across the apex of your thighs.

“If I send you away stinking so plainly of sex, you're sure to attract any number of predators,” he said. The explanation seemed just a little too convenient, but no less far-fetched than any other you could come up with, and so you simply laid back and allowed it to happen. The warmth seeped into your very bones, already so heavy... You closed your eyes, and it felt so good that you could think of no reason to open them again. You dozed while a king, a king of the elves, the very same king who had just pleasured and tormented you, washed himself off of you.

***

The next time you opened your eyes, the fire was even closer to dying. How much time had you wasted? You sat up with a jolt, your heart racing. What would the dwarves think? You searched the room with wild eyes, and saw Thranduil back in his chair. He looked over at you.

“I fell asleep.” Though your heart was racing and your body was all but buzzing with adrenaline, your mind was still foggy. He almost smiled.

“Indeed, little spark, and I let you.”

You thought of the rest of the company still sitting in their cold damp cells. Was this yet another way for Thranduil to put them in their place? You held your tongue even as he stood up gracefully (he'd donned his robe again) and practically floated up the staircase to you.

“Sit up. Face away from me. I've one last thing before I send you back to them.”

Curious, you did as you were told. As he'd done the first time you'd met him, he worked your hair into a braid. “This means nothing to elves, of course,” he said. His voice was as cool and aloof as ever. “And, if I know my history, it means nothing to man, either.” You felt him clip something to the end of the braid, and then he nudged your back. “But to the dwarrow... Suffice it to say that this is a message.” You pulled your hair over your shoulder and examined it. He'd used a large jeweled band to hold the braid in place: intricate silver vines looped and knotted around three brilliant green stones. He took your hair in his hands now and gave one last tug, not nearly as rough as the previous ones had been. “You may also find that the trinket opens doors to you. There are many who would recognize it.”

“Thank you...?” Your voice trailed upwards at the end, more out of shock and surprise than anything else. He just nodded, with a face as impassive as ever.

After you had dressed, (a guard had returned your clean traveling clothes and laid them just outside Thanduil's doors) the king himself led you back through the winding corridors to the prison. Several of the dwarves had been arguing amongst themselves over one thing or another, but when they saw you, they all stopped. Someone—Kili again?—mumbled something about your hair, but apart from that, the only noise that sounded in the prison was the jangle of the keys. You unlocked each cell as quickly as your trembling hands could manage.

“You were gone all night,” Fili said after you'd freed him. His voice was more than curious, but not quite accusatory. You ducked your head. Kili was the first to notice Thranduil standing in the doorway. You could feel his dark eyes on you, searching you for answers, but you turned away from him as well, under the guise of unlocking Bifur's cell.

Gloin, upon his release, clasped you on your shoulder—the very shoulder that Thranduil had bled. You sucked in a quick burst of air through your teeth (it wasn't the pain, but the sudden shock) and cringed away from him. “Are ye hurt, lass?” He reached for you again, perhaps to pull your tunic away from your skin to get a better look, but even on your aching legs you were fast enough to get away from him.

“What have you done?” That was certainly Kili, and you knew without looking that he had spun to face Thranduil. “You've hurt her?”

Neither you nor Thranduil said a word as you set about unlocking the rest of the dwarves. Even Bilbo, who usually had a choice word or twelve to say about any given lodging, was apparently stunned into silence. Finally there was only one door left to unlock. You clenched your hands into fists, trying desperately to regain control of your fingers. Perhaps you should have unlocked this door first. You owed him enough.

But even once you swung the door open, he did not step through. Your stomach churned. As stubborn as he was, and as nasty as he could be, he would not remain here, would he? He could not be so spiteful, not at the expense of his mission. You swallowed hard. If he refused to lead the dwarves to the mountain now, after what you had just done...

Still without looking at him, you took several clumsy steps backwards. Perhaps he simply did not want to risk touching you as he exited his cell. Perhaps he did not trust himself not to make good on his earlier promise and kill you where you stood. What a mess. It took everything you had not to let yourself cry. It was done. It was over. Tears would do nothing to change any of it.

“We continue on,” he finally said, addressing the rest of the company. “Our journey continues.” The dwarves cheered and congratulated each other, all but dancing with joy. You almost smiled. They had not changed. Perhaps things could soon go back to normal.

“If there is to be a child,” Thranduil called to you over the din. The company silenced immediately. “You will return here at once. You will both have a place here for the rest of your days.”

And there it was. That was how he ensured the entire company knew of your disgrace. Your face burned. Would it be a mistake to simply lock yourself up into one of those dark empty cells? As quickly as they'd fallen silent, the dwarves began shouting. Half of them turned their fury on the king, while the others bombarded you with questions. You slipped out of their grasp and approached the king to return the ring of keys. He allowed his fingers to brush against yours, a satisfied smile on his face. Fine. So everyone had gotten what they wanted. Technically.

Despite the demands and shouts of the others, Thorin was silent. He said nothing as the guards brought back everyone's belongings. He said nothing as he returned his weapons to their rightful places. He said nothing as the guards and, inexplicably, the king, led you all to the doors. He wouldn't even look at you. You felt sick again.

Thranduil caught your arm and pulled you in close as you tried to slip past him. Dimly, you heard Kili's protest and the flurry of activity as the guards moved to restrain him. “He is shattered, little spark. Just as I have said.”

You shook your head. But who, exactly, were you trying to convince? “He is frustrated that it took me so long to free the company. That's all. If you please, sir...” You tried to wrench yourself free. He only pulled you closer and dropped his lips to your neck. You ignored the outcry from the company and closed your eyes tightly against the pain that was sure to come. But there was only slight discomfort. He was sucking on your neck, leaving a twin for the first love bite on the other side of your throat. When he was finished, he let your skin slide from his mouth with an audible pop. You cringed.

“Even if there is to be no child, you are welcome to return here whenever you wish. There will always be a home for you here, lirimaer.” You didn't recognize the foreign word, but Thorin stiffened and the princes all but snarled at the elven king. Perhaps he had insulted you. It didn't matter anymore. The only thing you cared about was getting out of there. “Until next we meet.”

The company was as silent as the grave for much of the rest of the day. You could not bring yourself to look any of them in the face, and for all you could tell, they did not look at you either. That was fine. You just wished someone would say something. What you'd done, was it truly so shameful? It had been the company's only hope, the only chance they had of possibly completing their mission. Couldn't they see that? Anyway, even if it was something as dark and filthy as they were making it out to be, their king had told you to do it. If nothing else, Thorin could at least speak to you.

Though you tried to ignore it, the tension began to fray your nerves. Sometimes at night, when you were able to get to sleep at all, you dreamed about going back to Mirkwood. Thranduil might actually speak to you once in a while. Even if he didn't, and even if the elves were just as disgusted by you as the dwarves were, at least they had never been your friends. At least you had no memories of talking and laughing easily with them. Their disgust would not sting you the way the dwarves' did.

One night, someone shook you awake. Your heart all but froze in your chest until you realized it was only Ori peering down at you. Since leaving the elves, you had not been asked—or permitted—to keep watch during the night. If it was meant as a punishment, it worked surprisingly well: knowing that the dwarves had to stay up even longer to cover what would—should—have been your shift made it even harder to sleep.

“What is it?” You were alert instantly. The one good part about being riddled with anxiety: you were ready for action at a moment's notice.

Ori seemed guilty—for having woken you up? “You were cryin'.”

When you brought your hands up to your cheeks, they came away wet. In a way, it made sense. All you could do during those long silent rides was keep yourself together. Sometimes the stress made you want to cry, but you wouldn't allow it. Apparently, your body needed the release. Still, you looked away from him, ashamed.

“I'm sorry.” You wiped savagely at the cooling tracks and sniffled. Perfect. Ori rocked backwards but didn't leave. He seemed like he wanted to say more, ask you something. You sat up. “What is it? Are you tired? Would you like me to keep watch for a while?”

He shook his head quickly and looked around to see if anyone had heard your offer. “No. No thank you. Thorin says—” But he cut himself off.

“Thorin says what?” If you stood a chance of forcing anyone to break this tortuous silence, it was Ori. Sweet Ori. Kind Ori. He shook his head again but you reached for his hands, clutching them with every ounce of desperation you currently felt. “Please. What did he say? You don't know how lonely it is when no one will even look at you.” Fresh tears sprang to your eyes, but you did not fight them. It was dark. You were alone. No one could see. “Is this Thorin's doing? Does he want me to leave?”

“No! Not at all!” Ori looked horrified. “He says you've done more than enough for us already. He says that the least we can do is give you peace and let you sleep.”

Relief flooded through you, and you almost giggled. Almost. “So you're not...disgusted?” You kept your voice low.

Now Ori's eyes were the ones to fill with tears. “We're...we're...honored. We're...awestruck. And very, very guilty. At least I am.” Poor Ori. You wondered if he blamed himself, if he knew that his nightmare had been the final straw for you. You hadn't spent even a second blaming him, or any of the other dwarves, for what you'd done. It had been your choice. But his eyes, when they caught the light, were filled with woe. “Did he...hurt you very much?”

You drew a steadying breath and searched for the best answer. “It was more...frightening than painful. He's a king, you know, and used to getting what he wants. He wasn't patient. Or gentle. But it's because he's never had to be. I think.” You rubbed absently at the bite on your shoulder. It still wasn't healing right. You would need to find more leaves while travelling tomorrow. “He did hurt me, a little. But I'd do it all again if I had to. It set you all free.” Now you forced the tears away. No sense in making the young dwarf feel even worse. “What hurt more was being ignored by everyone I love.”

“How could we possibly look you in the face?” came another voice in the darkness. Kili sat up on his bedroll nearby. “Knowing what you'd done for us. What we'd said to you.” Fear stabbed through you: were you being loud enough to wake the whole camp? The younger dwarves—Ori, Kili, perhaps even Fili—would not mind as much, but you shuddered at the thought of waking Dwalin or Dori or, the gods forbid, Thorin.

“You are on a quest to take back your mountain from a vicious dragon, but lack the courage to look a girl in her face.” You shook your head. He was telling the truth, you knew, but it sounded unbelievable.

“You are more important than the mountain,” Kili said. If you thought his words before were unbelievable... You scoffed.

“It's true,” Ori insisted. “The mountain, the treasure...even the Arkenstone.”

“Stop,” you said. Your voice was somewhat sharper than you'd intended. “Don't joke so. I'm not a fool. Even I know that this quest is more important than any one of us, especially some stupid human girl.” You lay back down and pulled your coat up over your shoulders. Which was worse—the teasing, or the silence? You heard Kili lay back down as well, but Ori lingered beside you a moment longer.

“It's not a joke,” he said in a voice scarcely loud enough for you to hear. “Smaug can keep the Arkenstone, or else Thorin can choke on it. Look what it's done to us already.”

You didn't answer, and, after a few moments, he stood up and went back to his post.

You must have woken more dwarves than just Kili, because the next morning, Dori greeted you with cheerfulness that was almost completely sincere, Bofur smiled skittishly and gave you half an awkward wave, and even Bifur muttered some friendly nonsense in your direction. You were able to eat breakfast with much more appetite than usual.

When Kili swiped one of your bags and hid it up high in a tree, you could have thrown your arms around him and kissed him, you were so relieved. You even found yourself laughing as you climbed up to retrieve it, and your vow to get him back was surely made less menacing by the beaming grin you wore. Fili, who had seen it all, cast a worried look at his brother. He still wouldn't look at you.

Kili must have picked up on your disappointment, because he slung an arm around your shoulder and pulled you in close. “It weighs more heavily on him than on me. He's guilty, love, nothing more.”

Slowly, things returned to normal. You were nearly in the shadow of the mountain by the time most of the company finally began speaking to you again. You no longer had much of a reason to cry in your sleep, though you did occasionally wake up to the feeling of the Elven king's teeth sinking into your shoulders or his cool fingers gliding across your skin. Thorin had yet to look at you for any length of time, and the only words he spoke to you were the same gruff, barked orders he gave everyone else. After a while, you had resigned yourself to the fact that the rest of this company could forgive you, or themselves, but the king simply could not.

Things changed one evening while you were bathing by yourself in a small creek. Few of the dwarves would bathe with you—usually only the princes and Ori—and that evening, you were alone. You had already scrubbed your dirty clothes under the water, and waded deeper to wash yourself. The water was cold and made your teeth chatter, but you were getting so itchy and uncomfortable that it was worth it.

Logically, there was no reason for you to have looked toward the shore: camp was nearby and you hadn't heard anything to alarm you. But you did, and, standing there, holding a bundle of cloth, was Thorin. He didn't move. Neither did you, for a while, until you shook yourself out of your daze. He wanted to bathe, but not with you. Well, fine. You'd finished, anyway. You trudged back up onto shore, keeping your distance from the sullen king.

“The water's cold,” You called as you dried yourself. “Good, though. Bracing.”

“I didn't mean...” His voice sounded rusty. No small wonder, as little as he had been speaking lately. “I don't want to run you off.”

On the one hand, this was more words than he'd said to you since the dungeon. On the other hand, you didn't want to subject yourself to any more of him than you had to. “But we both know, Your Highness, that you don't want to be anywhere near me.” To avoid looking at him, you pulled your spare set of clothing from your pack and yanked your trousers up your legs.

“Is that...” His words were barely audible. The next time he spoke, however, he was right beside you. On instinct, you cringed away and held your shirt in front of your chest, protectively. “You should have told me what he wanted.”

You shrugged. “It was...unspeakable. I could barely think the words, let alone speak them aloud.”

“And so you let me threaten and humiliate you, and send you off to...him.” His lips curled into a snarl as he spat that last word.

“And then he set us all free. If I hadn't gone to him, we would still be in his prison. Or worse.” You sounded more practical, more nonchalant, than you actually felt. “I had to. You were right to be angry with me for waiting so long.” You weren't sure you actually believed that last bit, but you did not feel like agreeing with Thorin at the moment, no matter the subject.

He didn't answer, only lifted his hand to trace the bite mark on your shoulder. It was half wound, half scar at this point. Not long after you'd been released, a fierce infection had set in, making it weep and burn. You couldn't go to the dwarves. They wouldn't look at you as it was, without you forcing them to look at the injury the king had given you. Instead, you'd searched for the right leaves on your own, and chewed them up and applied them in the dead of night to draw the infection out. It was clean now, but your skin would never be the same. “This has healed poorly.” It almost sounded like an admonition. “Did you not go to Balin?”

He was too close. He was too close and he was touching you. You couldn't look at him. You couldn't even breathe. “I thought he hated me.” Tears threatened to fall but you set your jaw and held firm. You pulled away from him and continued to dress. “I thought they all did. I thought you were punishing me. All I needed was my...my friends, if that's not too bold a presumption, and you took them away from me.” Your voice cracked, and the humiliation finally broke you. You ducked your head, hoping to hide your shame, and picked up your pack. “Enjoy the water, Your Highness.”

Back at the camp, many of the other must have noticed that something was wrong, but only Kili had the courage to do anything about it. He joined you before the burgeoning fire and held you close. Before long, you let your head droop and rest against his shoulder. Fili and Ori joined you not long after that, one sharpening a knife and the other sketching or writing something in that big old leather book. You must have dozed, because you didn't hear Thorin return, but when supper was ready, a growling lump in his bedroll staunchly refused it.

He didn't speak to you again until the following night, when you were finally taking your turn on watch duty. If it were up to you, you would have been on watch for about three nights straight to make up for all the shifts you had missed, but none of the company would allow that.

The night was quiet except for the snoring of the company, and the sounds of the night animals and insects in the trees around you. As it so often did during quiet, lonely moments, your mind flickered back to the Elven king. It was practically involuntary—you didn't want to think about it but there was really no stopping it either. In the dark, his teeth pierced your skin over and over again. He pulled your hair. He choked you. He held your body tightly—too tightly—and forced you to fall apart against your will. The memories always made your cheeks burn and your breath come a little faster, but the shame always made you draw your coat more tightly around you.

“Are you cold?”

The voice would have been a welcome distraction from your own mind, except for who it came from. When you didn't answer, you heard Thorin remove his coat and drape it around you. It was much heavier than your own, and already infused with the warmth of his body.

“Thank you.”

He settled himself on the boulder beside you, his shoulders just barely touching yours. Silence drew in around you both again. That was familiar enough, anyway. And it was probably for the best: the last time you'd spoken to each other, you'd fought, and you couldn't exactly storm off tonight. Just when you were starting to think he planned to sit there like a stone all night, the low rumble of his voice startled you.

“I spoke in anger. In the prison. What I said had more to do with my frustration and hopelessness, not...you.”

It was as close to an apology as you were likely to get from the king. Your eyes widened in the darkness but you didn't voice your surprise. All you could really do was clear your throat quietly.

“So you wouldn't have sliced my throat like...like a wild hog and cooked me in a soup for dinner?” Perhaps it wasn't fair of you to bring that up, but the words had haunted you since he'd spoken them and you were just about through with being magnanimous with him. Sure enough, he ducked his head.

“I don't expect you to forgive me,” he said. His voice sounded heavy. Was that regret? “I just thought I should speak my piece. If any of the others had spoken to you the way I did...” He trailed off again.

“It wasn't your fault,” you finally said. “It was bad for everyone. It was, you know. Pressure. Stress. I wouldn't think that a king has ever had much occasion to feel as hopeless as we all felt in the prison.”

“I haven't had much occasion to be patient, either. Or gentle, but still I know how.” He was echoing your words to Ori. Which meant that he'd heard you. Your face felt hot, and your ears began to ring. “And I know that bedding a woman—” He coughed. “Or a dwarrowdam, or a dwarf, or anyone, should not leave the marks that he has left on you. It should not cause someone to startle awake at night and have to stifle her cries for days and weeks after.”

Surely your face could not possibly burn any hotter. You cast about for something to say, but there was nothing. Instead, you studied your fingers in the dim light from the embers of the fire. “I would never have taken you for such a light sleeper, Thorin.”

He said nothing either. You strained your ears, almost wishing that an orc would come crashing through the forest. Despite the cold night breeze, the air felt stifling. There was too much unsaid between you. How could you sit here, side by side, holding such depths within but not breathing a word of them? Because, whatever conflicting feelings you felt for Thorin, you were certain that he did not hate you. Perhaps that was as good as you'd get from him. So all you could do was sit there choking on your unformed words.

“When we take back the mountain. When Erebor is mine again, I want you to stay. Don't go back to him. Stay with us. Is that—will you?” When you didn't answer right away, he continued speaking. “You won't go back to the elves, will you?”

You shook your head. “I won't. I can't. I will stay with the dwarves, if I am welcome.” A thought occurred to you, one of the things that Thranduil had said. “Even if I survive the dragon, I shall die long before any of you.”

“Did he tell you that? What foul bedroom talk. There's still years before that happens. A lifetime.” He chafed his hands together, blew on them to warm them. “The North wind may well take us all long before that happens.”

“Your coat.” You began to remove it so you could hand it back to him, but he placed one clumsy hand over yours.

“Keep it. Please.”

The word—and the unfamiliarity of it coming from Thorin's mouth—was shocking enough that you didn't argue. The coat was not large enough that you could suggest he join you beneath it, not that he would do such a thing anyway.

“You have withstood enough discomfort on our behalf. Allow me to withstand this. For you.”

His words weighed heavily upon you. It was true that you were loath to give up the little extra warmth that his coat afforded you, but at the same time you were uncomfortable. “You can't do this forever. Torture yourself. Hold yourself responsible. I don't blame you for what I did. I...” Try as you might, you could not quite bring yourself to say that you had wanted to do it. “I did what had to be done. You have to accept that.”

Once again he was quiet for long enough that you had already resigned yourself to his lack of response. He was stubborn. He'd never believe you.

“The dwarrow believe that our women are precious. There are so few, and yet it is they upon whom we rely for the survival of our race.” He cleared his throat. “Ah—and...sex...it is a celebration, never a...transaction. What you did on our behalf is unthinkable. None of us could have ever conceived of such a proposition. That you did it even after we—I—spit such foulness at you... It is at once the most horrifying and the most precious act that any of us—that I—have ever seen. So I must ask for your patience in this. Man may have no such traditions, but ours are important to us. In the light of day, I will ignore my own nature in order to comply with your wishes, but by the fire's glow I ask only that you allow me to ease my conscience.

It was more words in a row than you perhaps had ever heard from Thorin. It was hard not to gape at him. When he fixed those cool blue eyes on yours, something inside of you gave way. You nodded. The ever-present tension in his face and shoulders lessened somewhat, and he nodded back.

“Your watch is over for the night,” he said, suddenly gruff again. “Sleep well.”

And just like that, the moment was gone. There was probably no point in arguing that you still had an hour or more left in your shift, so you merely stood up. You started to shrug his coat off of your shoulders, but the sharp look he fixed you with made you stop. Right. You lowered your eyes. “Thank you, Thorin.”

That night, curled up on your bedroll with the strangely-comforting scent of Thorin all around you, you slept peacefully. There were no nightmares.