Not In the Ear, But In the Mind
“You’re an idiot.”
“Get off!” Glóin said angrily, jerking his head away from his brother’s hands. “And get out o’ the way, I’ve got to get back there and teach that damn fool a lesson. I’ve an argument or two here he won’t forget in a hurry…”
“You’re an idiot who’s going nowhere,” Óin said sternly, and he pressed the cloth back to Glóin’s bleeding temple. “You’re going to be one big bruise in the morning as it is.”
“You fuss worse than Ma,” Glóin grumbled, and he made another half-hearted attempt to get away. Óin’s heavy hand on his shoulder stopped him, however.
“You should be glad I’m willing to patch you up at all.”
“Should see the other one,” Glóin said, and he threw out his chest proudly. At only thirty-seven years of age, it was not all that impressive a sight.
“I’m sure,” Óin said, dry as dust. “Why were you fighting, anyway?”
Glóin scowled, bristling. “He gave me insult. I couldn’t let that sort o’ thing slide, could I? Our family honour’s at stake. I had to see him eat his words.”
“Our family honour’s not all that pristine, considering.” Óin took away the cloth and checked the deep cut on his brother’s forehead. It had stopped bleeding, but it would scar. Well, something to impress the ladies, he supposed. “Hold still now, that’s goin’ to need some ointment.”
“Still think it’s a dumb name,” Glóin muttered. Óin ignored him, and scooped a fingerful of his newest concoction from a jar.
If he was a little cavalier in applying it, well, that was only right and proper, wasn’t it?
When Glóin had stopped his complaining (unlikely, but Óin could always hope) and the bandage was well and truly secured around his (empty!) red head, Óin wiped off his hands and asked, as mildly as he was able, “so what was the insult?”
At that, Glóin clammed up like a glowering stone, and would not say another word.
Óin narrowed his eyes at his younger brother, but Glóin’s gaze skittered away. Harrumphing, Óin turned away and began packing his things into their bag. “I’ll be checkin’ on you in a couple of hours. I want to see how that new ointment’s working.”
“I’m not an experiment!”
“No, you’re an idiot, I already said,” Óin said, gruffly. Shouldering his bag, he turned back to where Glóin sat like a belligerent thundercloud. “Get some rest.”
Glóin pressed his lips together, but nodded.
“An’ thank you for defending me, lad,” Óin added, more gently.
Glóin’s head snapped up, and his eyes widened. “Who told…”
“Nobody,” he interrupted. “But it don’t take a genius to figure it out. Now, lie back an’ sleep. I’ll be back in a few hours to check on that ointment.”
“But they were makin’ sport of you! How do you just let that sort o’ talk slide by?” Glóin burst out, all impulsive youth and hair-trigger temper and frustration. “How d’you do it?”
“Easy.” Óin patted his shoulder, and then firmly pushed him back down on the bed. “I don’t listen.”
“You can’t be serious!”
Óin continued to pack, his rucksack open on the table before him. His cousin Dís stood in the doorway, her hair coming out of its braids. “I’m known for a joke or two, but this isn’t one of ‘em,” he said calmly.
“It’s suicide, Óin – please, talk to them! You’re sensible, you’re one of the oldest and wisest. They’ll listen to you!” The once-princess pulled at her beard in frustration. “I’ve shouted ‘til I’m blue in the face, but their hearts and minds are full of the treasure of Thrór, and they won’t hear a thing.”
It was odd, Óin thought, as he pulled the drawstring tight on another bag of herbs, that Dís thought he was more likely to listen than any of the others. After all, he was the deaf one.
“I’ve read the portents,” he said, and with his non-horn hand he lifted a glass vial to his eyes to gauge the level. Hmm. Almost out of tincture of willow-bark. “Everything points our way, cousin. We’d be fools to waste this moment.”
She looked at him helplessly. “Not you too!”
He smiled – kindly, certainly, but without apology. “Sorry, lass.”
She gritted her teeth. “Then can’t you convince Thorin not to take my boys? They’re too young. Far too young to go.”
“Dís, I’ve been hard-pressed to stop Gimli from bundling himself up in my things, or sneaking along behind us. Fíli and Kíli are older, and have reached their majority. They can make their own decisions.” He did not add, and if you believe I can convince Thorin of anything, perhaps you think I can argue with Smaug himself.
“Óin, please, won’t you reconsider?” She had tears standing in her eyes.
He put down his medicines and crossed to her, to give her a warm kiss upon her brow. “No,” he said, and smiled once more. “I’ll watch ‘em though. For you. No matter what befalls us, I’ll keep an eye on ‘em. Pair of daft rascals need watching, that’s Mahal’s own truth.”
She let out a breath between her teeth, deflating in defeat. “Then that’s all I can hope for,” she said, and closed her eyes.
“Now, now.” Óin shook her gently, and when she looked up at him he gave her an encouraging look. “As I said, I read the portents. Don’t you listen to them naysayers. This is the time, Dís – our time! We’ll have our home again: everything points to it!”
“How can you be so sure?” she demanded tearfully.
“I ain’t sure. Nothing’s sure. But I can hope.” He gave her a one-armed hug, and then drew her into his close, stuffy little room. “Now, can I get you a cuppa or anything?”
“I’m nearly grown!”
Óin hugged the boy tight.
“Why do Fíli an’ Kíli get to go, and not me? S’not fair!”
Gimli sniffled, and wiped his nose upon his sleeve.
“I could go fight dragons. I could. You need every Dwarf! Why’re you leaving me behind?”
Óin stifled a sigh and simply held the boy tighter. It was tempting to lay aside his horn… but Gimli knew that tactic all too well.
“I’m already the best out of all my friends with my axe.”
Gimli’s face, for all his declared maturity, was settling into a decided pout. Óin strangled the urge to laugh at him, and only nodded in sympathy.
“Want to go on a mighty quest,” the boy mumbled rebelliously, and Óin scruffed his messy red hair.
“You will,” he said. “You will. Didn’t I read them portents? Well, this one ain’t your Quest, laddie. Yours will be different… but you’ll do great things, nephew. I know you will.”
“You don’t listen when someone says no to you,” Gimli said, fisting his small hands in Óin’s shirtfront. “Please? Tell them to take me?”
“Now, lad,” was all Óin said in return. Gimli stared up at him, before he slumped. His face, beard still wispy and patchy, began to crumple.
“I’ll bring you back a dragon’s claw,” Óin promised him, “and more gold than you’ve ever dreamed of.”
“Bring me an adventure, and that’ll be twice as good,” Gimli muttered with the sulky flippancy of all adolescents. Óin tugged one of his braids affectionately, before he stood and left the lad’s room.
Glóin was waiting without, shifting from foot to foot. “How’d he take it?”
“Bout as well as you’d expect.” Óin spied the mug of beer on the kitchen bench, and made a beeline for it. Glóin stepped in front of him, all fatherly concern.
“But he’ll stay here?”
“Not happily.” Óin pushed his brother out of the way, and lifted the mug, taking a sip with a sigh. “He’s right about one thing, brother. He’s nearly old enough. You won’t keep him at hearth and home for much longer.”
Glóin blew out a gusty breath, and casually stole the mug from Óin’s hand and took a great swig. “Aye, I know. Still, so long as he listens for now…”
“You can’t eat that!”
The high, frantic shout had come from their Company’s newest member. Óin blinked and straightened, fumbling upon the grass beside him for his horn. “Eh?”
“You’ll get a terrible rash!” Bilbo stumbled away from their little camp, his eyes wide and his hands waving wildly. “That’s stinging nettle, that is! It’ll get into your skin, and you’ll itch terribly for days!”
Óin blinked at him for a moment, and then snorted and turned back to his harvesting.
“Perhaps it might get into Hobbit skin, Mister Baggins,” said Dori kindly.
“It’s tremendously painful and itchy,” Bilbo protested, and he kept giving Óin worried glances that were rather irritating. He didn’t wish to alarm the little fellow, but by Durin’s bald left buttock, he knew what he was doing!
Óin tuned out the Hobbit’s fussing (my word, he could fuss!) and began to hum to himself. It was a large, fine nettle bush, and should make plenty of tea. The rest of the leaves he could give to Bombur, for adding to stews and the like. All in all, a fortuitous find.
Eventually he had what he wanted, and straightened out of his hunched position with a curse and a lengthy stretch. His back protested the move, and he had to concede that perhaps he wasn’t as young as he was.
Gathering his horn, his bag of nettles, and his knife, he trudged over to where the Hobbit sat, watching anxiously. There, he lifted his hands for inspection.
Bilbo’s eyes snapped to his gloved fingers, and he let out a small, “Oh.” Then he scowled. Such an expressive, curious little creature. “Well, why didn’t you say?”
Óin gave him a sly wink. “I know my business, Master Baggins. In fact, you might even say that I’m an expert!”
Bofur chuckled for a good twenty minutes at that, until Bifur got annoyed and threw a bread-roll at him.
(And when they reached Rivendell, all those damned vegetables made nettle tea something of a necessity.)
Speaking of Mister Baggins, it did not totally escape Óin that he wasn’t the most popular of the Company.
Though he couldn’t hear the jokes, he could very well see the stifled laughter on Kíli’s face, the sneer on Nori’s, and the contempt on Dwalin’s, as they watched the Hobbit trying to ride his pony. It was true that he was atrocious, but he was willing to give it a go. Surely that was laudable.
That night’s camp was a rather tiresome repeat of the usual mockery and betting, coin changing hands and laughter filling the air. To be frank, Óin was sick to the teeth of this particular source of merriment. Grabbing his bowl from Bombur’s hand, he marched straight past his brother and plunked himself heavily next to the Hobbit.
Glóin, never soft-spoken at the best of times, had been loudly guffawing at Bofur’s mimicry of Bilbo’s riding. He stopped mid-word, his mouth hanging open.
“What are you doing?” Bilbo hissed.
“I said… oh, never mind,” huffed Bilbo, and he darted a glance back at the rest of the Company.
Óin didn’t bother asking again. After all, if it had been important, Bilbo would have repeated it. He stretched out his legs, stiff from so many hours in the saddle, and began to shovel his stew into his mouth. The Hobbit gave him another quizzical look, before tentatively bending to his own meal once more.
Óin ignored the lot of them – the gormless looks of his people, the puzzlement of Bilbo, the smugness of the bloody Wizard – and concentrated on his food. “Good this,” he said aloud to Bombur, who nodded wordlessly.
The next day it appeared that Balin had taken it upon himself to teach the Hobbit how to ride his pony properly, rather than like a sack of gravel.
It seemed that it was Óin’s fate to be interrupted by busybody royals when he was trying to pack his bags.
“You too?” Dáin said, and a flash of weary sorrow crossed his face before it was swiftly hidden.
“Aye.” Óin didn’t bother elaborating. He squinted at the chest of medical and herblore books that took up most of his luggage. The rest of the party would complain about the weight of it, but it would need to come along anyway.
“Suppose you wouldn’t listen to me if I asked you not to.” Dáin leaned against the doorjamb, his arms folding. He’d grown grey and tired since unexpectedly assuming the crown, and his once-brash ways had become softer and calmer. Peace reigned in the North between Elf and Dwarf… but for some, it was not enough.
Óin grasped for his horn (now made of solid silver, and ringed with rubies and emeralds) and pointedly put it to his ear with a flourish. “Now, want to repeat whatever that was?”
“What’s the point?” Dáin tugged on the boar-tusk in his moustache, squinting at Óin thoughtfully. “I suppose you’ve heard my answer to Balin, then.”
“Aye, I heard.” Óin gave his cousin a wry grin. “But I don’t always listen.”
“You know that it’s nigh-impossible. That you’re likely walking to your death.”
“People have said that to me before,” Óin’s sidelong glance was loaded, “as well you know, King of Erebor.”
Dáin huffed a laugh, sour and unhappy. “So Balin reminded me. I’m trying to save your fool lives, and I won’t give my permission or blessing. But you’ll go anyway?”
“I’m not packin’ to go to the seaside here, your Highness,” Óin said, turning to face the King fully. “I know the portents are mixed: on the one hand they speak of a new age in Durin’s Halls, soon to arise… on the other, of fire and ruin and shadow. The Orcs are scattered since the battle, and Khazad-dûm is no longer the realm of Azog and his foul kin. Despite all the danger and uncertainty, we’ve got to try, before we lose all hope of regaining our first and greatest home.” And before I’m too old for such things, he thought ruefully but did not add.
“You bought us Erebor, wasn’t that enough?” Dáin said, and he shook his grizzled head. “Óin. Cousin.”
“Balin’s also my cousin, Dáin, an’ I’ll be staying by his side and following his lead even without your say-so.” Óin raised his chin. “An’ if you think you can out-stubborn me, you don’t know much about our branch o’ the family.”
Dáin grinned. “Anything like the rest?”
The King let out a soft laugh, before he stepped away from the door and crossed to grip Óin by the forearm. “Stay. Don’t go throwing your life away.”
Óin rolled his eyes. “If you’re going to jabber at me, Majesty, you might as well be useful. Put those glass vials into that case, and be gentle about it. They cost a pretty penny from the glassblower’s guild, let me tell you.”
Dáin’s eyes closed for a split second. Then he did as he was bid.
“GO!” Óin roared, and he whirled back to the West-Gate once more. “Run, back to the records-chamber! I shall hold the gate, buy you more time!”
“Óin, you have to run – run now!” cried another member of his party. “There’s still the stairs, it can’t move far from the water and we could blockade…”
Óin shook away the blurred, indistinct words, his staff twirling around his head and his sword dripping in his hand. “Get out of here!” he barked, and hacked at a tentacle. “NOW!”
But Óin didn’t listen. His attention was locked onto the monstrous, stinking thing that rose out of the waters and lunged for him, showing a ring of gaping, yellowing teeth. “Run!” he screamed, and his sword bit into the creature again and again.
The faint sound of booted feet retreating sent relief coursing through him, and he raised his staff and sword in defiance. “Du Bekâr!” he roared, and charged at the monster. A few seconds, he could buy a few more seconds…
His horn clattered to the ground, and was crushed flat beneath the vile bloated bag of its body.