Corran couldn't believe what she was hearing. She stared dumbly at the head healer for several moments, feeling more and more confused as the seconds trickled by. Her mouth was slightly open, but no protests and no explanations came. Eventually, she was forced just to say what she was feeling.
"I don't understand."
"You are being suspended."
Corran didn't understand it any better the second time – if anything, it just confused her more because now she knew she couldn't have misheard the first time.
"Why?" she demanded.
No matter how she wracked her brains, she couldn't think of a single reason she should be suspended. She hadn't broken any rules, hadn't allowed anyone to be hurt and she certainly hadn't turned anyone away or refused them treatment. Unless…
Just as her suspicions began to blossom, the head healer confirmed them.
"The recent influx of burns and other injuries due to the orange moss under your supervision has to be fixed. We can't let it continue" she said, smoothing out her skirts in a way that just reminded Corran of carelessness and a satisfaction in authority. Those were two traits she disliked most in people in positions of power.
"Of course. But does that really have anything to do with me?" Corran said, though she pretty much already knew the answer. They were looking for someone to blame and she was a convenient scapegoat. Most of the orange moss injuries had occurred while she was supervising younger and new healers.
The head healer's response was as expected. "The injuries were because you did not pay enough attention to those under your care. Therefore you are being suspended. Clearly your skills are lacking since the return to Erebor."
"They are not-"
"No arguing!" the head healer snapping, raising an authoritative hand to silence her. She hated that it worked. "You are suspended. I do not want to see you anywhere near the healing halls for the foreseeable future. You are dismissed."
Corran wanted to snap some very colorful things at the woman but held her tongue. Instead she swallowed back the majority of her pride, gave a smile that looked a lot more like a grimace and nodded once. There was no sense in arguing. Yet, anyway. She would fight this more once she had gathered her thoughts and appealed to one of those milder mannered head healers. She wouldn't stay suspended. Not if she had anything to say about it.
But the head healer facing her wouldn't let her say anything. She simply gave another dismissive wave and turned away as though something unpleasant had been finally thrown away. Corran had no choice but retreat.
As she walked, Corran could feel her anger slowly ebbing away. But she didn't want it to go, she wanted to keep it and clutch it close to her chest. If she kept the anger, then she didn't have to feel anything else. She didn't have to be hurt, lost, confused or disappointed. She didn't have to feel the blow of being suspended from the only thing she had really done with her life. Being a healer was all she really knew. Now that it had been taken away, she had almost no idea what to do with herself.
Corran looked up, realizing she was wandering.
"It's a terrible habit, all this wandering" she said to herself. "You need to stop."
She took heed of her own advice and stopped. A stone bench had been carved into the wall not far from her so she took a seat. Her shoulders slumped and she looked down at the rock floor beneath her feet. It was perfectly even and smooth, like it had been polished. That disappointed her somewhat. It would be a whole lot easier to stare at the floor in dejection if there was something to actually stare at. Patterns to follow, specks to count, anything but blank and smooth nothingness.
Corran heaved a sigh and pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes until she saw bright patterns of red lights. It didn't help. The shuffling sound of fabrics against one another and the heavy footfalls of boots prompted her to change her position. Within a half moment, her hands where in her lap and her eyes fixed determinedly forward – though she didn't really see anything. The open mine ahead may as well have been hidden by a wall. She didn't even see who was approaching, didn't even look over until he spoke.
"What brings you to the mines?"
She groaned inwardly at the sound of Thorin's voice but not as much as she usually did. Her day couldn't get any worse, no matter what he said or did. And there was always some comfort to be taken from the presence of someone who had known her for more than two centuries – even if they didn't get along. Even so, she decidedly gave no visual indication she had heard him.
Thorin would not be so easily dissuaded.
"Aren't you usually in the healing halls at this time?"
Since when did he know her schedule? His curiosity only reminded her of why she wasn't where she was supposed to be. It must have shown on her face.
"Is something wrong?" Thorin asked, actually sounding concerned as he took a seat on the same bench, though at the other end. He wasn't coming close to her. He wasn't prepared to risk her spotting some imagined injury now that he had finally recovered from everything the battle threw at him.
"Nothing is wrong" she said, her voice tight and controlled.
"That's a lie."
"And how would you know?"
"You have been close with Dis since you were both very small. My nephews call you their aunt and were as much raised by you as their mother. Whether I remember everything or not, you have always been around. I'd like to think that means I can recognize when you're being deceptive."
Corran huffed out a breath that almost sounded like a sarcastic laugh. "Your eyes are so bad you wouldn't even recognize your own mother unless you were nose to nose with her."
Thorin wasn't entirely sure whether to be offended or not. She wasn't exactly wrong. He did have trouble seeing things that were far away now that he was older but his eyes weren't as bad as she claimed. Not quite. In the end, he decided to shrug it off and not let her distract him from the matter at hand. Something was clearly bothering her. She was sitting so rigid with her back straight and hands tightly clasped on her lap. Her knuckles were almost white.
"What is bothering you?"
"Why are you so determined that something is bothering me? And why should I tell you?"
"Because you will tell Dis is something is bothering you and if she finds out I did nothing about it, I won't hear the end of it for weeks."
"So your motives are purely selfish" Corran said.
Thorin shrugged, watching the miners moving back and forth. If anyone asked what he was doing there, he could always claim he was just observing the work. Given their contentious relationship was relatively widely known, no one would really believe he would sit and talk to Corran there. He wasn't sure anyone would really believe Corran had been there as well. Where she was sitting was just out of sight of any miners.
"No, the well-being of my subjects is always important."
Corran screwed up her nose at the sentiment, but only for a moment. "I'm still not convinced you're just saving your skin from Dis" she said.
"Either way, I'm still asking. So why aren't you in the healing halls?"
"Because I've been suspended" Corran finally snapped. The bite in her voice was enough to make Thorin pause for a moment. He had never heard her speak so harshly. Clearly she was more bothered that she was letting on. It took a lot of effort to conceal that amount of emotion. It was a wonder it hadn't burst out sooner under his prying.
"Why?" he couldn't stop himself from asking.
Corran fixed him with a calculating look, as though she were sizing up exactly what information he could be trusted with. The anger was coming back. The injustice at the suspension and frustration that she didn't have a voice to defend herself from those looking to escape criticism themselves all rolled up. And it was dangerously close to rolling up into tears, but she refused to let that happen. She would not be so pathetic as to cry in front of Thorin.
Finally, she spoke.
"There has been a rise in fairly serious injuries due to some poisonous moss in a few tunnels and halls. We were unable to prevent lasting consequences of said injuries and I was the supervising healer. Naturally the responsibility rests with me."
Those were the bare facts of the matter. She didn't say anything about how they did not have sufficient supplies to actually treat such injuries or that she should not be held accountable for the limited skills of young healers. She didn't want to complain or appear bitter. Strength in the face of adversity was a quality admired and expected of all dwarves, whether it be on a battlefield, in the depths of a mine or simply when treated unfairly. She had to be stoic.
"And that results in suspension?"
"It does" she answered simply, once again fixing her gaze forwards. "And I will remain suspended until they assess my conduct. If I am at fault, I will be punished accordingly."
Once again, Corran had left out a detail or two. In her mind, there was no 'if' about it. She would be found at fault simply so the higher-ups could resolve the issue. She was almost resigned to it – almost. She still had every intention of going to one of the other, more reasonable head healers, but she had no intention of pulling the king into her problems. And so the details were omitted.
Thorin had no further comment to make. "I see" was all he said as he got to his feet. "I will leave you be then."
He walked away, continuing on from the way he had come. Corran was left alone on the bench, surrounded by a tense bubble of emotion and the distant sounds of the mine. She tuned into the clangs of picks and grind of chains and let her mind go blank.
Corran looked down at the tangle of threads, all knotted impossibly against the fabric. Clearly she had little skill for embroidery, even though she had the neatest stitch when it came to gaping wounds. She sighed and tossed it aside in a heap.
"You know, if there was any light in here, I might be able to see what I'm doing" she said, leaning back in the armchair.
Her grandfather didn't even look up. "There's a fire right there."
"With no fire in it."
"Then set one."
Corran chose not to dignify that with a response. Even though she had been sitting with him since breakfast, he had yet to ask why she wasn't working. She had the sneaking suspicion he already knew. He always already knew. She had no idea how though. As far as she was aware, he hadn't had any visitors. Though that had never stopped him before. A small part of her was convinced that he was somehow just connected to the knowledge of the mountain. Whatever Erebor knew, so did he.
In any case, she was grateful he hadn't asked any questions. She didn't want to answer them and she didn't want to stir up all those feelings again. She had only just gotten them all under control.
A knock on the door reverberated around the dark room.
"I'll get it" Corran said, though it was a meaningless statement. Her grandfather hadn't answered a door since she was old enough to do it for him. She could understand why. The last time he had answered a door, his son and daughter in law were dead.
Corran opened the door to see two of the head healers waiting there. In front was Gar, the oldest and therefore the highest ranking healer. Behind him was the healer who had suspended her. Corran thought her name was Bara. Bara was looked somewhat sulky and refused to meet her eye.
"What's going on?" Corran asked. She didn't invite them in and they didn't try to come in. They were clearly there on some kind of official business and she was in no mood to prolong it with pleasantries.
"I am here to lift your suspension" Gar said. "It was a mistake and we are hoping you will return to your normal schedule tomorrow."
Bara glowered and Corran was simply confused. "My suspension is lifted?"
"Yes" Gar said. She noticed he was paying almost no attention to Bara. It seemed to was only there to witness the undoing of her erroneous decision. His next comment seemed intended as a jab to her. "Most of us are of the understanding that injuries due to the moss are no one's fault. Even the most experienced working to the best of their ability are not able to prevent lasting effects. Your suspension is lifted."
A flood of relief washed over Corran and she couldn't help but break into a smile. She hadn't even needed to appeal to Gar or any of the others herself. Everything had worked out on its own.
"Then of course I will return tomorrow" she said.
Gar nodded once. "Good."
With nothing more to say, he turned on his heel and strode away. Bara followed close behind him, shooting baleful glances over her shoulder. Corran couldn't have cared less. She closed the door with a snap.
Fili stepped back to let Corran in after opening the door. "Are you looking for Mother?" he asked as she came in, as comfortable in their home as she was in her own.
"No, I was actually bringing something for your brother. He mentioned he had burned himself so I brought a salve for it."
"He burned himself? Again?" Fili asked, not sounding all that surprised. Kili had a notorious skill for injuring himself in the most unlikely ways and places.
"Nothing serious so don't worry. If it starts bothering him, he should come see me tomorrow though."
"In your rooms or…?" he said, not wanting to confront her suspension directly. He had known Corran his entire life and knew her temper could flare up very quickly. She was in a good mood and he didn't want to ruin that with a poorly thought out question. He had no way of knowing whether anything had changed yet.
Fortunately, she didn't seem at all bothered.
"No, I will be back in the halls" she said. "The suspension was lifted."
"So Thorin found the time to talk to them."
"What was that?"
Fili paused for a moment. He didn't know what to say. "Nothing."
"No, what did you say?" Corran said, her tone more insistent.
"Thorin must have talked to them. He said he would when you told him about the suspension."
"I see" she said, making sure to keep her voice mild and unbothered. "I wasn't aware he had involved himself. Thank you for letting me know."
Fili nodded. "You're welcome. I'll make sure Kili gets that salve."
"Good lad" Corran said before taking her leave.
Once by herself in the hallway, she let her composure slip. The walls and hanging tapestries got bewildered looks and heard confused sentence starters. She never made it to the end of a sentence. Before long, she gave up completely and stalked off down the corridor.
Why had he gotten involved? Had he really been the one to get the suspension lifted? Why had he defended her? Had he actually defended her specifically or was he just determined to keep things moving smoothly?
She couldn't believe it – but she could.
Corran sighed and stopped, looking between the different paths. One would take her back towards her own room, the other towards Thorin's. If he really had helped her by getting the suspension lifted, she should thank him. She didn't want to, but it didn't feel right to say nothing. Though it didn't appear she was supposed to know about his involvement. He hadn't said anything to her and based on Fili's reaction, he wasn't supposed to say anything either. But now she knew, so she had to say something or spend however long feeling indebted to him.
With yet another sigh, she made up her mind. She turned and started walking towards Thorin's rooms.
Whether he liked it or not, he was getting a thank you.