King Thorin II Oakenshield is, all in all, a good king. He is fair and kind, devoted to his people and to restoring the home he loves. The kingdom of Erebor has flourished since he took the throne, becoming even richer and more prosperous than it was under Thror.
Yes, King Thorin is beloved by his subjects. Which is why they pretend not to notice when he sits on the throne, his face pale and with deep bags under his eyes from yet another night spent without sleep (and truth be told, when they catch him dozing once or twice during an especially long-winded petition). Or when he grimaces and gives his braids a sharp tug. Or when he simply stops and stares, his eyes unfocussed, and they know he is somewhere far, far away.
King Thorin is a good king, whisper his subjects. Such a pity that he’s mad. Just like his grandfather - it runs in the Durin line, you know.
Thorin hears the whispers, and he can only laugh without mirth. They think he suffers from the gold-madness.
It’s much, much worse.
It’s three years to the day that he should have died, and Thorin stands in his room, staring into the looking-glass, his hair dishevelled and unbraided, and his clothes rumpled. He looks like a man on the edge. Which, of course, he is.
Outside, Erebor is preparing for a great feast and celebration in honour of their victory. Thorin knows that soon he will be expected to go out and face his people and pretend for all the world that he’s as joyous as they are, when he is anything but.
For goodness’ sake, Thorin, stop being so dramatic! comes the Voice in his head, the same Voice that has tormenting him for the last three years. The Voice that he got so used to hearing during the months of travel to Erebor.
The voice that he had heard whisper “I love you” just as he woke up to his miraculous recovery.
“Please, stop,” he murmurs for the thousandth time. He’s sat outside the Hobbit’s tomb for hours, apologizing over and over, begging forgiveness, confessing his sins, and yet the Voice in his head, that he is certain is the manifestation of his guilty conscience, will not stop. He longs to just…talk to someone. Maybe if someone he knew and trusted, someone who was living and breathing, could absolve him, maybe then he could finally rest. Maybe he could finally begin to heal, to move on, to live in the present instead of the past, where a cheerful, bright-eyed hobbit was at his side, with an ever-ready smile or an encouraging word…
Honestly, Thorin, an imaginary friend, at your age!
The words bite deep and he winces, even though the tone is more amusement than scorn.
He stares in the mirror again, at his bloodshot, red-rimmed eyes, and for the thousandth time, faster than thought, he envisions himself plunging off the bridge. It would be but the work of an instant, and he could make it look like an accident…
And even as the thought crosses his mind, he draws back with a gasp like physical pain. How dare he, how dare he even contemplate throwing away Bilbo’s gift?
“But I can’t go on like this much longer,” he whispered raggedly, staring at himself in the mirror. Was this what Thror had felt like, when the gold-madness took him? Perhaps it was kinder - at least his grandfather could sit among the object of his desire, hold it in his hands…
Make love to it? came the Voice. I wouldn’t put it past you Dwarves.
He doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
There’s a timid knock at the door and he waves the person in. It’s a young page, younger even than Ori was at the start of their journey. The lad looks terrified to be standing in Thorin’s presence, and even moreso when the King glares blearily at him.
“You’re p-pardon, Majest,” the boy squeaks out. “But there’s a-a…a wizard at the gates!”
Instantly Thorin feels hope bloom in his chest. A wizard! Gandalf! Surely he’d know what to do, to say, to make Thorin well again. Of course he can’t discount the fact that it might, in fact, be Radagast at the gate, but somehow he wonders if even Radagast could help him. He was a wizard too, after all.
But it is in fact Gandalf who is waiting for him in the throne room, and Thorin is so happy to see him he could weep. All during the trip from his quarters to the throne room the Voice had been chiding him for running about with his hair so messily braided and his clothes in disarray. He doesn’t know what to say. He feels as though if he says anything, the whole story will tumble out, and he will start screaming or weeping and he’ll never be able to stop.
Fortunately, Gandalf can see Thorin’s torment writ plainly on his face, and quietly suggests that they go someplace quiet to catch up. Thorin agrees, and they retire to his quarters, and there he does tell Gandalf everything, and he does weep, and claw at himself, pushed at last to the breaking point.
Finally he’s empty, he’s exhausted, on his knees on the cold stone floor, his hair shadowing his face. There’s a long silence, and then Gandalf kneels on the floor in front of him, and pushes his hair back like he would a child’s.
“It seems that you are in a very strange situation indeed, Thorin Oakenshield,” Gandalf says, and though his tone is mild, there is an undercurrent of urgency.
“Please…help me,” he whispers brokenly. If he’d been more in control of his senses he’d be appalled at his weakness, but it’s all he has left.
“Tell me again how you survived,” the wizard instructs.
“I don’t know…they tell me that I was near death. I swore that I could hear the songs of my fathers, as I passed into their halls. But something brought me back to the world of the living, Gandalf. I woke in the tent, with my injuries healed enough that I would live.”
Thorin clenches his jaw. “Dead, beside me. The Arkenstone was in my hand, and his.”
“Extraordinary,” Gandalf breathes. “That is a supreme act of love, Thorin Oakenshield. To give one’s life for another,” and now there is a mild reproach in his tone, and Thorin shudders.
“I do not deserve it,” he whispers. “I did not then, and I do not now.”
“Evidently, Bilbo disagreed. And this Voice that has been plaguing you?”
“It’s his!” Thorin says raggedly. “It’s his voice, Gandalf! Everywhere I go, day and night…I have gone mad. My mind speaks to me in his voice, because I still bear the guilt, and I always will.”
But the wizard is not listening. His expression deepens into a frown, and then he rises from the floor. He crosses the room to retrieve his staff and, to Thorin’s surprise, removes the blue crystal from the top of it.
“While I do not doubt you have a guilty conscience, Thorin Oakenshield,” Gandalf says, “I think there is another explanation yet for what has become of you.”
Thorin lifts his head as Gandalf sits before him once more. The wizard closes his eyes and murmurs in the ancient language of magic, then lays his hands on the King’s face.
A wash of coolness comes over Thorin, a feeling of comfort, of respite, and he basks in it. All too soon it recedes, and he opens his eyes to find Gandalf staring at him, a very odd expression on his face.
“Extraordinary,” he whispers again. “Thorin…you are not mad, although I do not blame you for thinking and feeling that you are.”
“What do you mean?” Thorin asks wearily. “Don’t play games with me, wizard.”
“Did you love Bilbo?” Gandalf asks abruptly.
Thorin nods wordlessly, shame washing over him as he remembers how he treated the only person he’s ever truly loved. “Aye, I did. I still do.”
“It is that loved that saved you, Thorin. And your love that saved him. It seems that Bilbo did not fade away when his body died. His soul, his life essence, was transferred into yours.”
Thorin blinks, trying to process the wizard’s words. “He is…in me?”
“Yes. That voice you hear - it speaks in his voice because it is him.”
Despite himself, a smile splits his face, although he’s not sure that he’s happy. All these years, longing to talk to Bilbo one last time, and all these years Bilbo had been talking to him!
“Gandalf!” he gasps, as an idea occurs to him. “Can it be…reversed? If I got the Arkenstone, if I held it in his hand, perhaps…?”
He does not wait for the wizard’s answer; instead he flies from his rooms, through the wide streets, to the throne room, ignoring the strange looks and quiet comments of his people as the observe their King, running at an undignifed mad dash - until he gets to the throne room and almost punches the hidden button in his haste to get at the gem. The Arkenstone falls into his hands and he’s trembling all over. Then he’s gone again, deep down under the mountain, to the crypts.
“The halfling’s tomb!” he orders the guards breathlessly. “Open it!”
“Majesty, the halfling has been dead in the tomb for three years…” the first one says, uncertainly, and Thorin draws Orcrist halfway from it’s sheath.
That is all the encouragement they need, and he waits, barely able to contain himself, as the seal is chipped away. He knows, logically, rationally, that this is folly, that there will be nothing but bones left in the tomb. But he feels like he is on fire, and he won’t - can’t - let this go until he knows for sure. If there are just bones in the tomb, then he will adjust, will learn to live with the fact that he is two souls in one body. But until then…!
Finally the seal is broken. Swallowing, Thorin shoves the door aside and steps into the tomb. The air is stale and dusty, but there is no smell of rot. He lifts his torch and there, there is the halfling’s body…there is Bilbo, exactly as they left it, dressed in that ridiculous waistcoat and a dwarven circlet of mithril. Bilbo’s eyes are closed, like he’s in a peaceful sleep.
Thorin is shaking so hard he can barely walk. Dimly, he’s aware that Gandalf has followed him, and takes the torch from him as he stumbles the last few feet to the body. He draws the Arkenstone from his pocket, and places it in Bilbo’s hand, as cold as ice. Then he closes his own large hand around it
And then Thorin is lying flat on his back, drained, exhausted, but feeling lighter than he has in years, and Bilbo is…
Bilbo is sitting up, blinking, staring at his hands and feet in wonder.
Thorin cannot hold back a sound that’s halfway between a laugh and a sob as he throws his arms around Bilbo, trying to warm him up and kiss him and beg his forgiveness and explain everything all at once. Bilbo clings to his shirt and shushes him and tells him that he already knows, and their voices come together in the shared refrain I love you I love you I love you…
“It seems you’re becoming something of a religious icon, dear,” Bilbo says mildly, taking a sip of his tea.
Thorin grumbles something unintelligible, as another chorus of a song in praise of “King Thorin II Raises-the-Dead” starts up from below. But there’s no malice in his grumbles; while he might have gotten used to the epithet Oakenshield, Raises-the-Dead means so much more.
Even if it does mean that there are suddenly more envoys than ever coming to Erebor, some filled with alarmingly zealous dwarves seeking his favour. But with these envoys come new allies and new trade routes, and suddenly Erebor is ten times richer than ever, and the future is bright.
Yes, Thorin II Raises-the-Dead is, all in all, an excellent king. And he isn’t even mad.