As Kjar was performing her monthly round of linen changing in all the sleeping rooms of the Great Hall, she was startled out of her mindless routine on removing Vaenomar’s furred covering to air out the bed.
“Bless my braids!” she exclaimed. They had never had need of changing before, but now they were filthy! Black marks down where the feet rest and a grey dust-covered the rest of the sheet.
“What has she been up to now?!” wondered the old Dwarf-woman shaking her head. “Young people these days,” she sighed, “No ounce of cleanliness anymore.”
Old Kjar bustled off to finish the rest of the rooms before she trekked around the halls in search of a clean replacement for the girl’s specially elongated bed-clothes.
“After such a fight I’d say we both deserve a drink! What do you say, my lass? You’ll accompany this old man to the tavern, won’t you?” The twinkle in Branbur’s eye was irresistible.
Vaenomar sighed, “Only for a little while. I’ll need to be back in the Hall before dark,” she smiled.
“That’s my lass! I’ll make sure you taste only the finest mead we Dwarves can brew!”
“Oh, I don’t think I’ll be drinking,” she corrected, “Water will do me just as much good.”
Branbur looked disappointed, “Ah well have it your own way then. Just you wait though- I’ll have you rolling on the floor with the rest of us someday.” He winked.
Vaenomar snorted, fat chance. She’d never been to the tavern, oddly enough. Everyone went there some time or other, even lord Thorin when he wasn’t too occupied or off on some warring trek. It was the main source of ale and socializing this small community of migrants had in these lonely lands.
Upon entering they were greeted by a raucous roar of laughter from three Dwarves with mead foam dripping off their moustaches and beards. Who knew what they were laughing at. Probably just happy to be drinking, thought the girl. Two others turned around at their entrance and one excitedly motioned for Branbur to join them with his pretty companion.
“And how is the pretty lady?” inquired the more sober of the two with a flourish.
Vaenomar bowed her head, “I’m well, thank you…” She smirked, “That is- if you were talking to me.”
The Dwarf looked confused for a second as the other two broke into hysterics. Branbur chuckled and roared for four tankards of mead. As the three Dwarves began to chat in boisterous, gritty voices Vaenomar sat back and observed quietly, picking up every last word of Dwarvish that was accidentally dropped in substitute for a Common word. The first Dwarf that had greeted her looked to be in his early 100s: about a half a century younger than the middle-aged Thorin. He had reddish-brown hair, shaved on the side and drawn up on top to look like a sort of crest. He had numerous scars on his scalp and face with a fierce-looking tattoo carved on the top of his head. His curling beard was untied and left to go where it pleased, being about a hand and a half long and very thick. His voice was jovial yet she sensed discontent in his dark green eyes as they darted around the room at intervals. A warrior, she mused, and a fierce one.
The other Dwarf, a little older than his friend, was completely shaved on top. A long line went from one ear, over the top of his head and ended with a slight cleft in the tip of the other ear. It was an old scar, and Vaenomar shuddered thinking of how it must have been dealt. His beard was an indiscriminate colour, neither blonde nor brown with a few touches of grey, and braided tightly with his moustache. His bristling eye brows and broad nose gave him a wild snarling look despite all his laughter. These were dangerous folk she lived among.
And then there was her battle-crazed, berserker of a trainer. With an unconscious grin, she thought to herself, “And Bridi could probably take them all on without a weapon.” She chuckled to herself.
A clap on the back, a bit harder than she was used to, startled her.
“What are you grinning at you little weasel! Come, drink your pint. Don’t let it go to waste!”
Vaenomar sighed; she knew she wasn’t going to get off the hook easily. She sniffed it.
They jeered, “Drink it lass! It’s good for ye!”
-“It’s not poisonous!”
-“In one gulp!”
Summoning her strength, she took a deep breath, mentally ignored her protesting taste buds and chugged the whole thing down. Gulp after gulp amid silence. BANG! They all cheered as she slammed the flagon down on the table. She wanted to throw up now. That had to be the most disgusting taste she’d ever encountered, but she made herself swallow it and keep it down.
“Water! I need water,” she gagged.
Roaring with laughter Branbur ordered water be brought her and the three Dwarves toasted her success with another couple pints. Soon enough the bald one was drooling down his beard and Branbur was telling an outrageously ridiculous tale of one of his battles to the stray cat that purred on the hearth.
Vaenomar watched everything quietly, laughing now and then to herself, but enjoying the relaxation.
“I should go soon,” she told to herself with mild disappointment, “Or Bridi will come looking for me.” Just then she felt arms around her shoulders and a sharply whiskered face rubbing on hers. It was the younger, reddish haired friend of Branbur. He reeked of spiced mead and held on much too tight for comfort. She tried to push him off, thinking it was an accident due to his intoxication. He didn’t budge.
“Come with me upstairs, girl.” He purred roughly in her ear.
“Get off me! You don’t know what you’re doing.”
“Yeah, I do. Now come with me.”
“No- get off!” She kept her voice down but tried to force him off her. “You’re drunk. You need to go home. Now. Let go before I call Branbur”
His head slumped on her shoulder but he still didn’t let go. Prying off his fingers and wriggling off the stool Vaenomar tried to escape the drunken Dwarf’s hold. At that moment the tavern door opened and in it stood the most furious, boiling spit-fire of a Dwarf-woman any had ever seen.
“Saun aln Ha’ak!!!”
This ‘incantation’ broke the spell of intoxication faster than a lightning bolt and the Dwarf snapped into a stiff standing position, dropping the girl to the floor. Quick as a cat she bounced on her feet. The entire room was stalk still. No one dared move. The Dwarf-woman didn’t even look at Vaenomar. Her eyes were riveted on her husband. Without another word the wife stormed out of the tavern into the night leaving the door open behind her. He hung his head in his hands and rushed after her muttering, “Oh what have I done?”
“WHY were you in that rat hole to begin with??” fumed Thorin, pacing back and forth.
Vaenomar stood, head bent and arms behind her, at a distance. “I was thirsty. I was getting ready to leave…”
He ground his teeth and rolled his eyes. Turning on his heel to face her, “Well, my dear,” he cocked his head threateningly, “Something must be done.”
Vaenomar’s eyes widened and she swallowed. What would that be? He marched over to the door and barked orders in Dwarvish. He resumed his pacing, his heavy footsteps clumping softly on the thick hides on the ground.
“He touched you…he dared…” he muttered under his breath moodily. “Son of a bitch…”
The sound of hurried footsteps came from the hall. On hearing them Thorin grabbed a chair, pulled it near a small table with candles on it and motioned for Vaenomar to come. Though she still feared him more than any individual she had ever met, Vaenomar preferred his angry moods to his softened unreadable ones. They were straightforward. And he didn’t give her those piercing looks that poked at her heart when he was angry. A timid knock. “Come in!”
Kjar, the maid, entered on tip-toes carrying a bowl of water in one hand and a small earthen cup of a dark liquid in the other with a towel hung over her arm. These she set down on the candle-lit table and hurredly bustled out of the room.
“Come here.” Thorin ordered, his voice calmed and grey eyes icy.
Vaenomar obeyed, trying not to make eye contact.
She turned as if to sit, “No, the other way. Straddle it.”
She gave him a blank look and then obeyed mechanically.
The air was tense, as it always was when they were alone together. nonchalantly, he took a rope off a hook near the fire and rolled up his sleeves.
“Take off your tunic.”
“Take it off.”
“My lo- What??”
“Do as I say.” His voice was disconcertingly calm. There was no way he meant that.
She didn’t stir, she didn’t even breathe. He walked in front of her, bending down and staring her in the eyes, “Take…off…your…tunic.” He repeated slowly, his gravelly tone began to smoulder like a hornet’s nest ready to burst open.
She put everything out of her mind and forced herself to obey. She knew the results of not doing so were much worse. She stripped off her tunic, leaving her trembling torso in a thin sleeveless chemise that barely reached past her hips.
Without moving a muscle in his face, Thorin took the tunic from her and tossed it on the bed. Then, walking in front of her, he took both her hands and bound them.
She tried to stop him, “My lord! What are you going to do to me?!”
“Just sit still,” he growled.
“You don’t have to tie me! My lord, please!”
He shot one stony glance at her and lashed her hands to the legs of the chair with the end of the rope.
A beating? Hoped the girl, holding back the tears of fear.
She held her breath as the Dwarf walked behind her in silence. On a sudden he pulled her shirt up to her shoulders and bared her smooth, slender back and lower shoulders, exacting a gasp from the girl. Dark bruises on her ribs contrasted sharply with her white skin and Thorin grunted suspiciously. After a good look he rested the shirt over her shoulders. Her ribbed sides heaved and sleek muscles rippled up and down her back as it contracted with each short, troubled breath. The ring of a knife being drawn from its sheath made Vaenomar poise herself tensely. She clenched her teeth, hands gripping each other for strength. Then she felt his rough warm hand press on her naked shoulder-blade, while the other he drew almost as a caress down her back. She shuddered and groaned, but bit her tongue. What was he doing to her. He pushed her head forward and she felt his hot breath down her spine. Then without a warning came a prick from the knife just below the nape of her neck followed by a slow deliberate slicing that sent a sear of pain though her chest and shoulders. Not a sound. She trembled, bracing against the pain. He could feel her body, warm and supple. But he kept moving the knife, ripping delicately through skin and a thin layer of flesh. The knife came up. Then down again in between each shoulder-blade. It stung and ached and she could feel the trickle of warm blood down her back. Grabbing the towel, Thorin gently stopped the flow and cleaned his knife. He dipped his hand in the blue mixture and then in some salve and rubbed it gently, into the carved lines. Salve, dye and blood all ran purple down her spine and around her ribs. He wiped her body off again and dabbed the wounds. The salve burned but it began to lessen the pain of open slices. Thorin casually wiped his hands clean of the deep hued mixture and pulled her chemise loosely over her back again. Like an ancient Elvish door revealed by a spell, the dark blue symbol appeared as it soaked through between her shoulder blades and beneath her neck. Stepping back, he grunted approval and cut Vaenomar’s bonds.
At first she didn’t want to move. She couldn’t. Was that all? She wondered, waiting for him to command her to be still. Gently, she felt his hand on her arm. She looked up and he nodded with kindness in his now tranquil grey eyes.
He took her soft jaw in his hand and gazed intently at her, “You see, you belong to me. You understand? You are marked. You’ll never forget, never leave me and none other shall possess you. You swear this?”
The girl grit her teeth, “It’s signed in flesh and blood, what more do you want?”
He smiled and nodded, looking satisfied. “It is not a mark of shame, but of honour. Bear it as such.”
His look was so serious and full of meaning that Vaenomar almost forgot her pain and nodded solemnly. “Yes, my lord.”
Silence ensued for a moment, their gazes locked. He stroked her sleek hair. She broke the gaze and looked away.
He straightened, “Now off with you! And mind you take care of your back.”
The next morning Kjar, upon realizing her memory of yesterday had cheated her, making her forget about Vaenomar’s dreadfully needed linen change, scurried up the stairs to the Hall of Chambers. As she stripped off the still warm blankets she noticed a strange blue mark, repeatedly, stained on the bed-clothes.
She held it close for examination. In the clearest place it looked very similar to the carvings in Thorin’s shoulders and his father’s before him. A two-sided, angular P, with the sideways triangles being about half-way down the stem. They were Thorin’s initials alright, but what they were doing on Vaenomar’s bed sheets was a mystery.
“That young woman is almost as full of surprises as the boy king himself,” she muttered, gathering up the linen. “The dirty children they are….”