The Lonely Prince and Company by Lillianpost
Chapter 1: Memories and Madness
“Where is grandfather?” Thorin asked in a low voice.
He looked down at his cold and untouched food served on a solid-gold plate. Thror had insisted that food tasted better on gold, and no one dared say different. The prince scowled and looked around resentfully at the sumptuous feasting hall with its gold-plated columns and elaborately bejeweled dining table. Bits of pork wedged between the diamond and ruby inlay, and dried pieces of old potato encrusted the amethysts and emeralds that winked at him in the torchlight. The torches, themselves, were made of solid gold and set in golden wall sconces. His eyes wandered around the room, and he felt a chill as he gazed unhappily at the king’s many and oblivious counselors.
“Father, where is he?” He tried to keep any hint of accusation out of his tone, but the sudden clench of his father’s grip on his tankard told him that he failed. They all knew where he was.
“The king needs a diversion,” Thrain growled, clearly in no mood for another tense dinner. “You don’t understand, son. He’s more himself now since mother died, and we should be grateful.”
Then he shook his head to dismiss any concern and smiled widely.
“Did you see him today?” he asked proudly without waiting for an answer. “Had the energy of 10 dwarves as he reorganized the treasury. Needed to be done for ages anyway. By Durin, he had the old snap back in his eyes!”
Thorin shot a glance to his mother, but she shook her head warningly at him. Thrain closed the subject on how much time the king spent in the treasure rooms. Thror was simply being a responsible king to keep an eye on the financial health of the kingdom, his father said, but Thorin saw something deeper and darker in his grandfather’s eyes, and his mother agreed.
“What do we do?” he asked her quietly after Thrain turned aside to joke with one of his advisors, none of whom expressed any concern about the king. Why should they? Thror mourned long and miserably for his beloved wife, and the dwarves all walked softly around him—that is, until he deigned to leave his chambers after his crafters presented him with a new pendant with his wife’s portrait. He stared at it for hours and watched the inlaid gemstones wink in the light before he left his chambers and strode to the treasury to see other works of golden art.
From there, the king commissioned a frenzy of refurbishment. Foremen urged the miners to work harder and delve deeper, for the king had a grand vision that would not be denied. Erebor was not merely the greatest fortress ever, but it would be the greatest kingdom ever and draped and shaped with such riches that the eye could scarcely behold.
Thorin had watched tired miners, too weary for their usual banter, trudge back to their quarters with a heaviness to their steps. When he went to oversee the jewelry makers, he saw with mounting alarm their frantic arguments and panic over the king’s latest changes to already set designs. Stopping by the schoolrooms, he listened in as dwarflings learned the melting points of the various precious metals and what objects might be crafted from them. All of Erebor was turning, by the king’s order, into one great treasure-house and all its people into greedy hoarders.
“What now, mother?” he repeated, thinking that she did not hear him. Slowly, she held up her hand as her brow furrowed.
“I heard you, my son,” she said softly, “but I was thinking about what would get through to him. Perhaps asking him about your grandmother might loosen his obsession’s hold.”
“Surely not,” he said with a slow shake of his head. “His grief is what caused all this.”
The crown princess gently put her hand on her son’s arm and smiled sadly.
“I know, my dear,” she said, “but your grandmother loved the fresh air and slopes of the mountain just as much as the inner halls. Taking your grandfather to the rock garden on the lower slope might remind him of happier days and how she spurned all his attempts to woo her with riches. Perhaps it would remind him of how little she cared of things and how much she cared for our people. Perhaps that reminder might lessen the grip of his”—and she lowered her voice—”gold sickness.”
Thorin looked around quickly to make sure that no one else had heard. No one was allowed to say those words, by royal order, and Thorin felt for a second that he and his mother had just plotted treason. The air was thick with unspoken words, and it made him sick.
Has it come to this? he asked himself as he nodded to his mother and excused himself. Secrecy and subterfuge? Thrain was deep in his cups, guzzling another goblet of mead, and did not remark his son’s absence.
“More mead!” he shouted as he threw his empty cup on the floor.
Thorin’s steps faltered as he approached his puttering grandfather in the main treasure vaults.
“Beautiful, beautiful,” he heard the king mutter as he eyed a tall and elegant, golden vase with feverish eyes. Then he frowned at a spot of open space on the floor. “What’s this?” he asked through his teeth. “I ordered the larger diamonds here.”
The sparkle of the gold dimmed as Thorin’s shadow fell across it, and Thror’s eyes opened wide. He wheeled around, only to step back and exhale in relief as his grandson carefully approached.
“Thorin, my lad!” Thror boomed with frantic cheer. “You’ve come to help me order my newest acquisitions, I see! Good! Good!”
Thorin sighed internally and braced himself. He bowed and slowly put his hands behind his back as he stepped forward, a wary smile on his face.
“Actually, my lord,” he said, “I wish to ask you something.”
Thror’s face fell, and the corner of his mouth turned down.
“No time, no time for questions,” he said as his eyes pulled the rest of him back toward the treasure, “unless it’s about the yield estimates of that new seam of gold.” He glanced back at Thorin with his eyebrows raised but then waved his hand dismissively when the prince did not answer.
“Later, lad,” he mumbled, “I’m busy.”
Thorin pressed his lips together and then strode toward his grandfather and again blocked his light.
“I wish to ask you about grandmother,” he said seriously. His back stiffened, waiting for a royal rebuke, but Thror stilled and turned slowly toward him.
“You, you wish to hear about … her?” he asked hoarsely. Breath rattled in his chest while he considered the request. Silence filled the space between them. “Why?” he whispered brokenly.
Thorin hesitated and then bent over and gazed solemnly into his grandfather’s face.
“Because I love her, and I want to keep her memory alive,” he said simply.
Thror gazed at him as if trying to remember a face long past.
“Thorin?” he asked finally with clearer eyes.
“Aye, my lord,” he replied eagerly. “We can go to her rock garden to talk.” The young prince stood rigidly, afraid that his excitement might somehow disqualify his request.
Thror’s arm reached out toward the treasure, almost of its own volition, as though his body was not under his control.
“Please,” he begged. Thror grunted in pain as his gaze swung between the gold and his grandson who held his breath.
Finally, through a clenched jaw, Thror threw the words out. “Very well.”
Thorin led him through the Great Hall, and the dwarves stopped and stared at their king. They had not seen him in some time, and the hopeful looks on some of their faces made Thorin’s heart tighten in despair.
They don’t deserve this, he thought morosely, they don’t deserve to serve this madness.
Thror drew a cleansing breath as he stepped through the door to his once-beloved rock garden. Benches made of white marble rested among malachite topiaries and crystal figurines. The sun hung midway in the sky and threw beams of light on the highly polished carvings. The air was unseasonably hot, and Thorin felt its dryness. Thror sat down hard on a bench, and Thorin sat carefully beside him.
“She loved this garden,” the king began, and he looked at the figurines like old friends. “She loved being out here and looking down to the valley.”
Thorin cleared his throat.
“Why did you choose her, grandfather?” he asked as he cast about for something to say.
Thror shot him a shrewd look. “Thinking of joining with someone, my lad?” he asked amused. “Someone caught your fancy? I had heard that plenty of our own hope your eyes will turn their way.”
Shaking his head, Thorin looked down. “There’s no one, my king,” he said. “There was a time when I had considered a wife, but now …” He sighed.
“But now what?” Thror asked. “You’re a handsome dwarrow, and there’s no more skilled warrior. As prince, you can have anyone, my lad, anyone.”
Clearly, Thror did not see how his illness affected his family or even that he was ill.
“Ah,” he said with his finger by his nose, “you’re more like me than Thrain, is that it? Mined from the same rock we are.”
Thorin looked up startled. “What do you mean, my lord?”
Thror looked in the distance. “When I met your grandmother, it didn’t take but a moment before I fell captive,” he said wistfully. Then he chuckled. “She was carrying a stack of books to the archive when she tripped on the hem of her gown. I caught her arm just before she fell, and felt this, this tingle run through me.”
Thorin looked at him perplexed, and Thror laughed. “If it hits, grandson, you’ll know soon enough!”
He rubbed his large nose and continued. “She looked up at me with a smile of thanks and a sparkle in her green eyes, and I knew, I knew then that the passion had struck me.”
Scoffing aloud, Thorin made a face of distaste.
“No, no, it’s true,” Thror said, warming to the memory. “I knew then that I felt the grand passion of the dwarves, and how glad I was of it!” He rubbed his hands together and chuckled.
“There never was a more cheerful captive!”
Thorin raked one hand through his hair.
“How can that be, grandfather?” he asked skeptically. “I’ve heard tales of this, this grand passion as well, but I always thought it a story. Certainly, not all dwarrow feel this for their partners in life.”
“True enough,” Thror said, and he leaned closer, “but for us lucky few who find it, it’s the greatest joy in Middle-earth. Your father loves your mother well enough and with all that he has to give, but he, bless him, just isn’t as deep as you or me, nor does he have as much heart. It takes a big heart to hold such passion, although it never can be contained.”
Thorin was not sure he wanted to hear such things about his father, but they were said nonetheless. Thror grinned at his discomfort.
“Aye,” he said nodding sagely, “when you fall, you’ll fall hard, my lad, and Mahal help you then! I only hope she doesn’t make things too difficult for you.”
Fidgeting on the bench, Thorin cursed his choice of subjects, but the king only laughed.
“Too proud are you then?” he asked. “Too concerned with your own dignity?”
His grandfather and king leaned closer and put his arm around his shoulders.
“When you find her or she finds you, Thorin,” he said sagely, “just give in, laddie, because you won’t be able to stop it.”
He gave another shrug of amusement and then looked down at the pendant he always wore.
“So lovely,” he murmured as he ran his thick fingers over her jeweled face. “Eyes so green, as green as grass in the spring, as green as the emeralds from the old south mine.”
Thorin watched him stroke the pendant and listened to him croon over his grandmother’s likeness.
“My only love,” Thror whispered, “my beloved.” His eyes glazed over, and he held up the pendant and watched the sun catch the gems.
“How beautiful,” he whispered, “and you’ll never leave me.”
Shifting uncomfortably, Thorin felt a hot wind begin to blow.
“Perhaps we’d better go in now,” Thorin said cautiously. “Mother and father would like to see you now in any case. They miss you.”
Thror reared up.
“Miss me?” he asked with chagrin. “Well, then why aren’t they spending more time in the treasury, building the wealth of our people?”
Thorin winced as he saw the change in Thror’s eyes.
“I must get back!” Thror said fiercely. “Why did we come out here? What did you want to talk to me about? Well, it can wait!”
The old dwarf pushed off the bench and hurried through the door, but Thorin turned his face back to the hot wind. Something was very wrong.
“Come! Come, grandson,” Thror said from inside the hall. “I want you to get the latest production figures from Balin.” The he hurried away to the sorting rooms.
“Aye, my king,” Thorin said as he hastened to find Balin. He reached the battlements as searing heat hit his face. He turned and yelled down to all below.