They made good time the first month, for the roads were good and the nights not yet bitterly cold.
On the first night, Dwalin dubiously eyed the tent Bofur had bought. “On the quest, not even the king had a tent,” he grumbled.
Bofur gestured to the sea of people putting up tents around them. “We’ve got to keep up appearances,” he said lightly.
Dwalin looked even more dubious when he saw the size and complexity of the tent. “It’s bigger than everyone else’s,” he pointed out. “Even the ones for families.”
“Yes,” Bofur sighed. “We’re leaders here, Dwalin.”
He knew his friend well enough to interpret the mulish look combined with the quirked eyebrow as I think you’re being daft but I’m willing to hear you out. Working together, the tent had begun to take form.
“It’s the same as in a war,” Bofur said, holding the canvas up so that Dwalin could get the right angle for the support beam. “You follow the fellow with the best armor and the firmest voice.” He could see Dwalin about to protest that he followed the best warrior, and went on, “I’m not saying there aren’t others who lead just as well, but they aren’t the ones people look to first.”
Dwalin scowled as he mulled this over. Finally he snorted, looking disgusted. “And here I thought that in battle at least I could escape from politics.” He sighed. “I suppose we’ll never be private citizens, not properly. Not after the quest.”
“Not after the Battle of Five Armies,” Bofur agreed. He hadn’t known that Dwalin wanted that, to stop being a hero and just be a dwarf. Bofur’s own job in Erebor was highly political; the King was indulgent of his reforms, but there were a lot of hoops to jump through and meetings with the King’s advisors, regardless. Bofur was always polite and then arranged things the way he’d planned to anyways, but he knew the King’s advisors would rather have a less troublesome dwarf in charge of the western mines. They’d like someone who spoke their language, the language of finance rather than the language of toil and sweat and safety and long hours. They’d like a noble.
It didn’t matter, so long as Bofur kept the King’s favor.
Bofur wondered if Dwalin saw his appointment to the King’s bodyguard as political. Bifur certainly did; <They’re keeping us close to keep an eye on us,> he’d said once.
A blur dashed by them, giggling wildly. Bofur turned toward the source of the shout and saw a harried-looking Enna pelting after his younger brother. “Come back here, by Durin!” When he saw Bofur, he slowed just enough to wave and give a flirtatious wink. Then he was gone, running after the shrieking boy. Bofur grinned and admired the rear view as he ran into the distance.
A moment later, he noticed Dwalin watching his reaction. Bofur ducked his head, blushing. He was grateful to have the work of putting up the tent to hide his confusion.
I’m allowed to look, part of him protested defensively.
Dwalin doesn’t know you’re just looking, another part said. You shouldn’t give him any reason to believe you want anyone other than him.
Bofur groaned inwardly. This was all new to him. He didn’t know how to court Dwalin. He didn’t know how to seduce a dwarf who wasn’t interested in sex. He didn’t know how to tell Dwalin he loved him. Why couldn’t it be easy, like it was in the legends and ballads?
“Will you patronize him, in Erebor?” Dwalin’s voice was a monotone and he seemed to be concentrating all his attention on tying the last fastenings on the tent.
“No, of course not,” Bofur said. Then he frowned and wished he hadn’t said no so readily. It would be a solution, if Dwalin wasn’t able to do anything sexual. But no – Dwalin needed to be his priority; anyone else would muddy the waters.
Dwalin untensed visibly. Bofur felt warmed by his jealousy. So long as it did not become demanding, he was pleased that it spoke to the depth of feeling on Dwalin’s side. Perhaps this seduction wouldn’t be as difficult as he feared.
They moved on to help a family of Stiffbeards nearby who were struggling to both control the little ones and erect their tent. Bofur watched Dwalin, unable to keep the pleased smile off his face. He knew that Dwalin would say yes eventually; it would just take some persuasion.
Dwalin swung one of the toddlers up onto his shoulders and lent a hand bracing the framing beam of the tent while the child’s parents tied the canvas to it. Bofur distracted the boy’s older sister with magic tricks and then with his flute, which he lent to her. Other children drifted his way, and soon he found himself surrounded. Without quite knowing how it had happened, he found himself on informal babysitting duty while the parents busily set up camp, racing to have everything in place before the twilight faded.
Bofur had always liked children, but he’d never spent much time with them, and he felt a bit at a loss now. Was he supposed to keep them entertained until supper? What if they lost interest and wandered off?
They liked stories, as it turned out. Even more, they liked acting out stories, and for an hour the camp rang with the great deeds of heroes and warriors. Dwalin, who had actual experience with children, had disappeared, and Bofur was exhausted by the time supper was ready and he could give the horde of little ones back to their parents.
Taelin smiled at him from the serving line, and joined him with her bowl once all the caravan had been served. “You looked happy, playing with the dwarflings,” she said.
“Did I? Mostly I just felt anxious.” But yes – it had been fun, too.
Taelin had a lightness to her demeanor that Bofur had never seen before. Usually reserved, she chatted happily with him until the bell sounded for cleanup. Bofur offered to lend a hand, only to be told that he wasn’t in the rotation until week two.
“Mistress Miril’s put Dwalin down for week three. She says that’s when the real complaining will begin.”
Bofur nonetheless helped her gather the plates dwarves had abandoned around the mess tent, listening to her prattle about “Mistress Miril this” and “Mistress Miril that.” That was definitely hero worship in Taelin’s eyes. Bofur grinned.
Miril herself put in an appearance and shooed Bofur out of the mess tent, grumbling that he’d already upset her rotation by taking charge of the little ones. She clapped him on the shoulder and called him a “good lad,” though, so he was pretty sure she wasn’t upset.
There were only so many tents Dwalin could help put up before the camp was ready for the night. Worse, dwarves kept trying to talk to him, and his silence in the face of their chattering didn’t seem to deter them in the least.
He watched Bofur chasing laughing, shrieking dwarflings around for a bit. The sight should have brought a smile to his lips but instead he just felt sad.
What had Bofur meant when he said “of course not” when Dwalin asked if he would patronize Enna? His brain picked at it, spinning out suggestions that Dwalin knew were unfounded, but he couldn’t make himself stop. Was Bofur planning to look for a partner when they got back to Erebor? Now that he’d gotten some closure with Havlin, it made sense. And Bofur did want children so very much…
When Dwalin saw him smiling at Taelin over their supper, he had to leave. The jealousy was irrational, he knew that, but at the same time he couldn’t help picturing Bofur happily married with dwarflings. He headed into the woods to be alone.
Dwalin was a dwarf; it was natural for dwarves to covet their loved ones just as jealously as they did their gold. His every instinct was to steal his jewel away and hide him deep in the heart of the mountain, where firelight and deep dwarven greed would adorn him. He would clothe Bofur in gold and gems, and –
But the memory of the gold sickness was never far away, and this craving felt altogether too similar. Bofur would hate being hoarded away from friends and kin.
Out here in the wilderness, Dwalin could expend his energy throwing his axes. Several trees would never recover, but that was better than losing his temper with Bofur.
It was quite dark when he returned to camp, and the fires had been banked. Snores emerged from tents, wagons, and bedrolls. Dwarves had perfect night vision, so he had no trouble finding the – overlarge – tent he would share with Bofur. He hesitated, seeing a lamp still lit inside, but entered.
Bofur lay on his cot, his flute in his hands, fingering the notes to a song with his good hand. The other was splinted and bandaged in white, and it still hurt to look at. Dwalin knew Bofur was fretting, terrified he’d never have full use of his fingers again, but his friend tried to put a good face on it. It was only because Dwalin had made a careful study of Bofur that he could see the notes that rang false. The surgeon had said there was no way to know until the bones mended.
Bofur nodded a greeting to Dwalin; Dwalin nodded back. He undressed quickly for bed, but when he approached his cot he frowned.
“What’s this?” he asked, picking up the tin lying atop his blanket.
“Open it,” Bofur told him, smiling.
He unscrewed the lid and peeked inside. The tin was full of his favorite oat biscuits, the kind with currants in.
“You missed dinner,” Bofur said.
Dwalin stared at the biscuits, then sat down on the bed abruptly. Already off-balance, he realized he was becoming emotional. Over biscuits! When he was quite sure his voice wouldn’t waver, he said, “Thank you.”
When he reached for the lamp to blow out the flame, Bofur stopped him. His friend’s face was pensive. “Dwalin,” he said seriously, “why did my uncle choose not to come to Erebor?”
Ah. Well, it had been too much to hope that Bofur wouldn’t suss it out.
Dwalin had visited Balur in his terrible little hovel. After looking around, he declared that he’d buy Balur a proper house.
The broken old man eyed him with suspicion. What, he asked, did Dwalin son of Fundin care about where an impoverished warrior was living?
“You fought at Azanulbizar,” Dwalin said.
Balur snorted. “That was ninety years ago, lad. You haven’t decided to care now.”
“All the Broadbeam contingent died that day.”
Balur glared. “Except for me. Aye, you think I haven’t heard it muttered that I must have turned tail? Well, I didn’t. Not that it gained me anything. We won, and the dead were uncountable, and what did we get? The King wouldn’t even take possession of Moria after our sacrifice.”
“Half the survivors would have died securing Moria,” Dwalin said. But he’d always shared Balur’s frustration: they’d lost half their army in the war to regain their homeland, and in the end they were left with hundreds dead and no homeland. It was a bitter victory. To have driven the evil completely out of Khazad-dûm would have taken the lives of almost every fighting dwarf in Middle Earth. Dwalin knew it was the right decision, not to pursue it, but even almost a century later it still rankled. It had rankled Thorin, too – not least because it had been Dain’s wisdom that prevailed that day.
“We fought for your King,” Balur said bitterly. “For your King, not ours, for we have no king over us. We fought for glory and gold and because our brothers had lost their home, and what did we get? My clan will never recover, and the dead were not long buried before the Longbeards forgot all their pretty promises.”
Dwalin had no idea if this were true or not; he’d been off burying his grief in a dozen campaigns spread far across Middle Earth. It had been many years before he’d returned to the Blue Mountains.
Whatever Broadbeam had been promised, Dwalin was wealthy enough to grant it. “Longbeard will honor its promises now,” he grunted. “What does Broadbeam ask of me?”
For a moment, Balur’s eyes glittered with a familiar dwarvish avarice, and Dwalin wondered with a sinking heart just how much he’d regret the offer.
But instead, Balur’s face settled into long-held lines of grief and anger. “Can you give me my clan back?” he demanded. “A dozen Broadbeam warriors, cut down in their prime! Their widows returned to their own clans because I couldn’t provide for them! Will you give me them back?” He was trembling with righteous fury. “My little brother, who took the death blow meant for me – his wife never forgave me for it. Will you give me Balfur back?”
Dwalin had not realized, and should have done, that Bofur’s father had died at Azanulbizar.
The white-haired old warrior glared daggers at Dwalin. “And now, the house of Durin has taken even my son from me.” He narrowed his eyes. “I’ll take nothing from any Longbeard ever again! All you’ve let me keep is my own life, and I’ll reserve that to make sure that your accursed family is never without a thorn in its side.” Face twisted with hatred, he spat at Dwalin, missing him by inches. “That’s what I think of your offer, and that’s what I think of you.”
If any other dwarf had offered him such insult, Dwalin would likely have torn off his head with his bare hands. Nobody had ever dared try. It was the incongruity of this emaciated, broken-down greybeard saying it that tripped up his flash of temper just long enough for him not to lose it completely.
He took deep, deep breaths and reached for the memory of focused calm that came every morning with his axe forms. To his surprise, what came instead was a memory of Bofur’s happy laughter, and it soothed the gnawing anger in his chest enough for him to resheathe the blades he’d drawn at Balur’s insult.
The old warrior was wide-eyed, still and silent as a mouse, sensing he’d crossed a very dangerous line. The silence stretched into long minutes as Dwalin talked himself down from his rage, gradually releasing the tension in different parts of his body until he was left with only a pounding headache. Then he managed to say, carefully: “You won’t be able to be a thorn in Longbeard’s side in Erebor.”
“Your King is in Erebor.”
“Aye. But the punishment for insulting the King is death,” Dwalin lied. “Here, you have much more freedom.”
Balur narrowed his eyes. “You want to steal my nephew from me,” he accused.
“He isn’t yours,” Dwalin returned, though as head of the clan Balur did have a right to Bofur’s obedience. “Yes, I want to take him away from here.” Away from you, he didn’t say.
Balur fiddled with the end of his ragged scarf, looking pensive. The movement was so exactly like Bofur’s nervous fidgeting with his own clothing that Dwalin wanted to slap the gnarled hand away and shout at him for stealing something from Bofur. But it must be one of those family things, like how both Oin and Gloin couldn’t stand to have dirt under their fingernails for long, or how Dori and Nori curled in on themselves when they sneezed. “He’ll break your heart, you know,” Balur said after a long moment. “Bofur’s just like his father; he never could take anything seriously. He’ll do something kind and stupid and get himself killed. Sometimes I think he’s trying to, when he goes down after those cursed miners.”
Dwalin concentrated very hard on not hitting Balur, and at the same time on not suspecting he was right. “His father thought you were worth dying for,” he snapped, and regretted it immediately. He needed to stay on Balur’s good side if he were going to convince him not to come to Erebor.
Balur just nodded, though. “More fool he.”
Dwalin reached for his last weapon. “Your son – ” he began, and stopped.
He meant to say, “Your son doesn’t want you in Erebor.” But he realized he couldn’t be so cruel. Not to a fellow warrior. And not to someone Bofur still, after everything, cared for enough to make his own life miserable.
It didn’t matter that he’d stopped; Balur looked stricken at the mention of Bifur. “My son is ashamed of me,” he whispered, as if to himself. Then his eyes snapped up to meet Dwalin’s. “I pray you never have a son, my lord,” he said. “You love them more than life itself, and they only break your heart.” He glared at the oil portrait on the wall of Bifur as a dwarfling with his parents. “It would have been better if he’d died in that skirmish. My son was a great warrior once, and now he’s half-mad and a burden on his family.”
Dwalin scowled and had to force himself not to reach for his weapons again. Bifur was as much kin to him as Bofur was, and anyone else impugning such a dear friend would have gotten a fist to the face. Yes, it had been hard to understand Bifur until Dwalin learned iglishmêk, and it was difficult to follow his thought processes sometimes, but you couldn’t find a better dwarf than Bifur. “If your son had died in that skirmish,” he snapped, “Erebor would never have been retaken.” It was true: it had taken every last one of them to come through the journey alive, together.
Balur snorted, disbelieving. But he said nothing more, so Dwalin wasn’t obliged to thump him for further insult.
“Why do you want to come to Erebor, if not for your son?” he asked. He could already picture how it would be: Bofur’s face tight and pale, getting progressively more miserable by the day. The old man was poisonous. Dwalin couldn’t let that happen to Bofur.
Balur’s eyes flashed. “So that my kin cannot continue to ignore me!”
And what Dwalin wanted was for Bofur to be able to ignore him. It seemed they were at an impasse.
“And your son?” he demanded, even though he knew it was cruel to remind Balur he’d been forgotten by the person he loved most.
Balur turned away. Dwalin felt dreadful to see the hunched shoulders, so like Bofur when he was upset. “He must be mad,” Balur murmured. “Why else would he forget his own father?”
Dwalin swallowed. This was a family matter, and no business of his. What right did he have to meddle in it?
He hadn’t consulted Bofur, because he knew his friend would protest. Bofur was a better dwarf than Dwalin; Dwalin was struggling to hold on to his temper after a quarter hour, and Bofur had lived his whole life with Balur.
He should honor his friend’s choice in the matter. Balur should be reunited with his family. That was the way things were supposed to work, wasn’t it?
“We leave tomorrow after dawn,” Dwalin said, voice gruff. “Don’t be late; we won’t wait.”
When he turned to leave, though, the old man stopped him. “Mister Dwalin.”
“You offered me a proper house.”
Dwalin turned back and eyed Balur. The gleam of greed was back in the old warrior’s eye.
“I did,” Dwalin said, not daring to hope.
“Any that’s for sale.”
An unpleasant smile spread across Balur’s face. Dwalin hoped that the bargain wouldn’t cost him too dear. Money was no object, but if it came to something political…
But Balur was no politician to think in long-term strategy. He was much more simpleminded in his hatred.
“There’s a fine house on Emerald Way that’s been for sale. The Longbeards there left for Erebor.”
Emerald Way was where Feron Firebeard kept his manor. It was within sight of Dis’s house, as well.
“And I’ll need funds to keep up the house, of course,” Balur said. He narrowed his eyes at Dwalin. “My son has kept me on a pittance.”
“How much do you require?” If Dwalin could buy his way out of this hole, he’d pay anything.
Balur looked startled. He evidently hadn’t expected Dwalin to agree. “I…” He faltered, looking unsure.
“Forty gold pieces a month?” Dwalin suggested, and watched the greybeard’s eyes go wide with astonishment.
“Fifty,” he demanded, his voice breaking in a squeak. He looked horrified by his own temerity.
“I’ll draw up the paperwork this evening,” Dwalin said. He hesitated, then offered his hand. Dazed, Balur shook it.
“Mister Dwalin,” Balur said faintly when he was preparing to leave. Dwalin tensed and turned back; he’d not be easy until he had Balur’s signature on the paperwork.
“Will you – would you be so kind as to give my regards to my son?”
Dwalin stopped himself from heaving a sigh of relief. “Aye, of course.”
Balur bit his lip, and nodded. “Thank you,” he said. “Fair travels, Mister Dwalin.”
Now, looking at Bofur, Dwalin wasn’t sure what to say. “I think he was afraid to see his son again,” Dwalin said after a long silence. “I think he couldn’t imagine what place he would have in Erebor.” Sometimes the known, even if it were as terrible as Balur’s dank, miserable life, was preferable to the unknown.
Bofur was watching him, face held completely neutral. “Did you give him money to stay?” he asked. “Or did you just loom menacingly at him?”
It had not occurred to Dwalin to try threatening Balur. He couldn’t threaten Bofur’s kin. “I gave him gold.” He wished he knew how to lie to Bofur.
Bofur sighed, and Dwalin felt the tension lessen a little. At least Bofur didn’t seem angry. “Broadbeam will reimburse you, of course,” his friend said heavily. “And then, if all goes well, we’ll never have to see him or even think about him again.” He gave Dwalin a small smile. “Thank you, my friend. My heart is lighter for it.”
Dwalin’s was, too. He sat on the little cot next to Bofur’s, munching on an oat biscuit and listening to the comforting sound of Bofur’s voice. If he could look forward to this every night, he would pray that the journey never ended.
The caravan quickly fell into a routine. At dawn, the dwarves assigned to mess duty built up the fires and started breakfast. Dwalin led the guards and any interested dwarves in sparring practice. After breakfast, the caravan would break camp and get underway.
Fortunately the roads were decent, thought there was no direct road to the Lonely Mountain. With thirty wagons, they had to move slowly and stay on established paths. They were ever on the outlook for Orcs, but the real danger would be bandits. A slow-moving wagon train, almost a mile long when traveling, would be easy pickings.
Their progress felt almost glacial to Dwalin, even used as he was to moving with armies. When the dragon first came, the resulting diaspora had wandered for more than a year, he reminded himself. The caravan would cross the same distance in three months. Things were not as slow as they seemed.
Mistress Miril chased Bofur out of the mess tent the first day he reported for duty, telling him that he couldn’t cook with a broken hand. He was assigned to minding the dwarflings instead.
“They’re exhausting,” he told Dwalin one night after supper. “How can anything that small have so much energy?”
Dwalin chuckled, remembering the hellions Kili and Fili had been when they were young – and even as they grew older. “You like children, though,” he said.
“Yes,” Bofur moaned, flopping back onto his cot, “but not so many at once!”
Whenever it was Bofur’s turn to drive their wagon, at least one or two little ones would visit. Dwalin told his heart sternly to behave, and tried to enjoy Bofur’s laughter and storytelling.
Bofur was happier than Dwalin had ever seen him. On good days – days when Bofur woke before Dwalin left for early morning training, and gave him that gentle smile reserved just for him – on those days, Dwalin could convince himself it was because Bofur had laid the memories of Ered Luin and his uncle to rest. On other days, he was convinced it was because of the dwarflings.
Two weeks after they’d left Ered Luin, Dwalin woke in the middle of the night with a dull, throbbing pain in his belly. He felt ill. Shifting restlessly on the cot, he made an awful discovery: his inner thighs were slick with what could only be blood.
He lay stock-still on the cot for some time, the twin urges of relief and panic duking it out in his mind. He was relieved that his menses had shown up at last, however late – but the timing was terrible. He always tried to time his traveling in the months between bleeding, and it would have worked if it hadn’t come so late.
He would have to risk a visit to the communal latrines, and hope that no one else needed them while he was cleaning up. Or there was a stream nearby – perhaps he could bathe? But if someone saw him…
The pain in his belly gnawed at him, unceasing. Sometimes he got a dull ache, but it had never been like this before. How on earth was he going to sit a horse tomorrow?
And what if he’d already bled all over the cot? Then Bofur would find out, and Bofur couldn’t know about this.
Every nerve in him was tense as he got out of bed. He waited until he was outside to light the lamp, not wanting to wake Bofur.
Fortunately, his supplies were in his pack in the wagon. Unfortunately, he was dismayed to realize that he’d bled through his trousers. He had another pair, but he wasn’t exactly in a place where he could find a tailor easily to replace the ruined ones. Worse, he’d probably bled on the cot.
He hadn’t had such a mishap since he first got his menses. The bleeding was regular enough that he just had to wait for the waxing of every fourth moon. And it had never been like this, a lot of blood all at once.
He couldn’t risk the latrines, he decided. He’d bathe in the stream, and hope that the night guards posted didn’t try to spy on him. He’d stick to the shadows.
The stream was icy cold, but at least it washed away the damning evidence. Dwalin kept his axes close at hand; with his present luck, he was likely to run into an Orc!
The next two weeks, he knew from experience, would be a miserable dance of trying to find enough privacy to change out the blood-soaked bandages and find an adequate place to dispose of them. At home he usually burned them, but that would attract notice here.
He scrubbed at the stain on his trousers, washing it enough that it could plausibly be something other than blood, but he didn’t dare try and wear them. Nobody could be allowed to suspect.
Even when he was safely dressed again, Dwalin couldn’t bring himself to return to the tent. Bofur might be awake – he might ask. Dwalin’s face burned with rage and frustration. He’d always hated his menses, but he’d had it under control. Now, he didn’t know if the heavy bleeding would soak through the bandages before the end of the day, wrecking his second pair of trousers. He didn’t know if the throbbing pain would go away. And he didn’t know if the bleeding would last the customary two weeks or if it would go on longer, since it had been so late in coming.
Sometimes, Dwalin really hated his body.
Mahal, how he longed for a proper mountain! He missed the stone like nothing else; a dwarf could breathe easier underground. And in the Lonely Mountain, he had his own quarters where his secret was not in danger of exposure.
He curled up at the base of a tree, axes in hand, trying to find a position that made the throbbing through his belly just a little less intense. There he stayed until just before dawn, when he made himself rise to go lead morning training. If he was more sluggish and stiff than usual today, there were few expert enough to notice.
To his alarm, when he returned to the tent after breakfast, he found that Bofur had already stowed their luggage and cots and taken the tent down. Dwalin prayed his friend hadn’t seen anything suspicious. He looked around for Bofur himself, who was helping others break camp.
He caught Bofur’s eye, and he knew immediately that the other dwarf knew. Bofur only paused very slightly, and his smile didn’t dim, but there was no doubt.
Dwalin wanted very badly to be able to hit something. He’d love to be able to have a tantrum like the dwarfling Taelin was comforting. He’d especially love it if Mahal would just take pity on him and open up the ground and swallow him.
Dwalin was still frozen when Bofur returned to the wagon. “Good morning,” Bofur said, as if nothing whatsoever had happened.
Dwalin could not have replied if his life depended on it.
“You didn’t get much sleep last night, so I made up a bed in the wagon if you want it,” Bofur said. He reached in his pocket and brought out two of Beorn’s honey candies, which he’d been hoarding. He gave them both to Dwalin.
Dwalin blinked at him, as much off guard from the candies – Bofur seemed to have brought a lot of sweets with him for the journey, for he offered Dwalin something almost every day – as by the casual offer.
“I’ll tie your pony behind the wagon if you’re not riding,” Bofur said.
Numb, Dwalin nodded.
The wagon was still quite full so there wasn’t much room for the bedding, but Dwalin was able to lie down and pull the blanket over his head. He didn’t think he’d be able to sleep with the pain, but the rocking of the wagon once they got underway was soothing enough that he dozed fitfully.
“Are you in pain?” Bofur asked when they stopped briefly at midday to refill their water stocks.
Dwalin, who had decided that the world was too horrible a place to waste any energy talking, nodded.
Bofur bit his lip, looking uncertain. It made Dwalin feel a little bit better to see his friend at a loss; at least he wasn’t the only one. “There’s a crate under the tent,” Bofur muttered, pointing. “You might find something in there that would help.” He scowled and grabbed their waterskins, heading toward the waterfall to fill them.
Dwalin understood Bofur’s unusually grim expression when he pried open the crate. It was filled with carefully-packed bottles of liquor. Bofur must have bought it for his uncle, and he must have agonized about it.
The alcohol did indeed numb the pain, and Dwalin slept all afternoon. In the evening, he felt enough better that he didn’t balk at cleanup duty in the mess tent. Some of the dwarves assigned to the shift had been muttering before Dwalin joined them, but it seemed that if the job was not beneath the son of Fundin, it was not beneath them either.
He inspected his cot when he returned to the tent. There were no bloodstains on the bedding. How had Bofur known, then?
Bofur entered the tent and tossed him a bundle. Dwalin caught it automatically. “Good thing Balur didn’t end up coming,” Bofur said cheerfully. It was a bundle of clean sheets, evidently meant originally for Bofur’s uncle.
Dwalin wished he could curl up and die of embarrassment.
Just before Bofur blew out the lamp, he said, “Be careful if you go out tonight. One of the night guards asked me this morning where you’d gone.”
Dwalin wondered if this day could get any worse. He decided that today’s trend of not talking would serve him well. Trying to keep from shaking, he left the tent.
They were camped by a river this time, and the bend in the river was some distance away. One of the guards saw him and ran over.
“We’d like everyone to stay close, my lord,” he said. “Surely you’ve heard the wolves howling?”
Dwalin glared at him and stalked right by.
In deference to the warning, he chose a place where he could keep his axes at hand.
The blood flow was much less today, thank Mahal. Heavier than normal, but not so heavy that it had saturated the bandages. He might be able to sit a horse tomorrow.
The cold of the water was unexpectedly comforting, cooling his heated cheeks and reminding him that Bofur was only trying to be kind.
It was just that he never wanted Bofur to see him like this. He wanted Bofur to see him as a man, always, and yet again his body had betrayed him. Bofur shouldn’t have to be kind to him about this. This shouldn’t even be happening.
Lord Elrond had given him half of what he craved, but there was no Elven magic that could give him the rest. Dwalin wished he could come to some sort of peace with it – he’d thought he had – but this was a reminder that his body was wrong, always. And it always would be.
Dwalin was used to being self-sufficient. Having to ask help from anyone, even Bofur, would have been difficult under any circumstances. But this…
When his toes began to feel numb, he knew he couldn’t continue to avoid Bofur. So he dressed and made his way back to camp.
He looked immediately for the guard, and found that the dwarf was not alone. Bofur sat next to him, evidently telling him funny stories, for the guard was laughing. Affection and annoyance warred in Dwalin’s heart.
Bofur had a piece of wood in his hands, and was trying to carve it left-handed while clutching it in the bandage-wrapped right hand. He wasn’t using his new tools, but instead held one of the iron knives he’d made in Rivendell. Dwalin was surprised to see it; he’d thought Bofur had gotten rid of it long ago.
Anger and worry, he’d dubbed the two knives. Dwalin still felt guilty when he saw them. They were artifacts of the assault. He wished Bofur had gotten rid of them.
At his questioning glance, Bofur held up the carving. Dwalin decided it must be a horse, though it was nowhere near as good as Bofur’s usual work.
His friend grimaced. “Hopefully, the hand will mend true,” he said. Then he added, “Clumsy as I am, I’d be liable to slice off a finger if I used the tools you gave me.”
Dwalin felt a bit better for this explanation. He offered his hand and pulled Bofur to his feet.
The next night there was no bathing, for they camped several miles from the river. After supper, Bofur headed for the campfire to add his voice to the singing. Right before he left, he popped his head back in the tent to say, “I won’t return for an hour or so.” Dwalin tied the tent door closed with knots that later took hours to unpick.
He bled for two and a half weeks, and the pain faded after the first week. On nights when Dwalin couldn’t bathe, Bofur stayed at the campfire. Dwalin eventually relaxed a little when he realized that Bofur wasn’t going to try to talk about it. At the same time it bothered him, Bofur being so blasé about something that was clearly wrong. Still, he could not have borne it if Bofur said something, so he was grateful for the silence.
When the bleeding stopped, Dwalin noted the date and the waning of the moon. If all went well, he wouldn’t have to think about this again for at least four months.
Now that the mental weight of struggling against the wrongness was gone, Dwalin’s mood lifted considerably. He was able to enjoy morning training, rather than clinging to it as a crutch to regulate his temper. Bofur’s jokes were funny again. He even found himself sharing song and drink around the campfire, something he’d avoided since Thorin’s death.
For two glorious weeks, there was peace. Bofur continued to surprise him with little gifts: once the biscuits ran out, he seemed to have a neverending supply of sweets to share with Dwalin and the little ones. Bofur was as happy as Dwalin had ever seen him. There was something right about greeting Bofur’s irrepressible grin every morning.
Cautiously, he began to let himself enjoy the journey.