Bofur found out Dwalin’s secret quite by accident, the second (or was it the third?) time Dwalin saved his life.
It was the umpteenth Orc attack; the whole company was beginning to be a bit blasé about them by now, as they neared the relative safety of Mirkwood. A small party of Orcs attacked them in the night, and Bifur gave the alarm. The fight hadn’t lasted long, and Bofur, Dwalin, Kili, and Balin gave chase for a short while just to make sure the damn things would stay away for the rest of the night.
Two of the Orcs turned unexpectedly to fight about a mile out, while the rest fled into the hills before the twanging of Kili’s bow. Dwalin charged the larger one, a war bellow ringing through the clear night, and a beat later Bofur shrugged and ran after him to engage the smaller. "Smaller" was still half again his size, but he managed to hold his own pretty well, for all he wasn’t much of a warrior. He knew he wouldn’t be able to dispatch the Orc by himself, but as soon as Dwalin dealt with his own, he’d be there to help. And out of the corner of his eye, Bofur saw Balin circling back around from where he'd followed Kili; he only had to keep the creature busy for a few minutes.
The Orc realized it too, however, which became a problem faster than Bofur had anticipated. Cornered animals could be vicious. Cornered Orcs – well, Bofur rather thought he may have met his last cornered Orc. The combat was close, and Bofur’s swordplay had never been developed enough to merit the use of the word “rusty.” Also he hadn’t teeth nor claws. When the Orc wrested away Bofur’s mattock and went for his neck, the dwarf closed his eyes and waited to meet his maker. At least he would not be ashamed to join the ranks of his ancestors, having met his death in combat.
Just as hot death sliced into his neck, a roar sounded in his ears and the Orc was torn away from him. Bofur’s eyes flew open, and he panted his surprise. The Orc lay crumpled against the far wall where Dwalin had hurled him.
There was no time for thanks. “Look out!” he shouted, and Dwalin spun to meet the Orc he’d been fighting earlier, just a moment too late. The Orc’s scimitar sliced across the front of the burly dwarf, and Dwalin crumpled.
Bofur didn’t remember much about the next few moments, but he came to to find his sword in the Orc’s chest. His eyes stung in the sudden silence. This was what came of being blasé. Thorin would never forgive him for losing him one of his oldest friends.
Balin arrived a moment, wild-eyed with panic. “Dwalin!” he howled. Bofur shook off his numbness to help Balin turn over his brother’s limp body.
He expected a bloody mess, and steeled himself for it; eviscerations were never pretty. He was determined not to throw up, no matter how bad it might prove.
Instead, he found himself blinking in confusion. “What the…”
Aye, there was blood all right, but the wound wasn’t deep. The fabric of Dwalin’s tunic and undershirt had parted under the blade, but the blade itself must have been deflected by the metal stays… Bofur frowned.
He’d seen ladies wearing these. Corsets, they called them, and sometimes there was bone or steel in them. Bofur had never understood why women would want to make their bodies other than they were. Humans were strange creatures, and no dwarf would be caught dead in such a thing.
Except here was Dwalin, caught dead in one.
No, not dead, and Bofur felt the air whoosh out of him in relief to see Dwalin’s chest rise and fall. Next to him, Balin gave a short sob. “Thank Mahal,” he whispered.
The – thing, for it couldn’t be a corset, and it wasn’t fitted to Dwalin’s waist – was barely hanging by a thread, and Bofur needed to see if the wound was deep enough to need immediate attention. He tore the remnants of the heavy linen, pushing the garment away, then reared back in surprise.
Oh. Well, that explained something, at least. Bofur felt blood rushing to his face, and he immediately dropped his hands away. Under the linen and steel, Dwalin had breasts.
“The wound – is it deep?” Balin demanded, pushing Bofur out of the way. Then he, too, froze. Bofur watched him carefully, thinking dully that perhaps this was some strange magic. Perhaps Gandalf would need to be called on.
“Durin’s beard,” Balin whispered. His eyes flew to Bofur’s, and Bofur could tell that, though surprised, Balin had known. Which only made sense, of course; Balin had to know, as Dwalin's brother.
They heard a shout, and both scrabbled for their swords – what had they been thinking, turning their backs on the darkness when there were Orcs about? – but it was just Kili, far up the hill. “Dwalin’s wounded!” Bofur shouted, and Kili started scrambling down the slope towards them.
As if in answer to his name, Dwalin twitched. Balin bent over him, inspecting the gash that started at his breastbone – her breastbone? – and ended at the navel. “He can travel,” Balin told Bofur shortly. “Let’s get him to Oin.”
Dwalin groaned, and opened his eyes. Above them, Kili skidded down through scrub and scree, yelping when branches scratched at his bare arms. Dwalin’s eyes met Bofur’s and he stiffened in realization. He looked down at his naked chest, and looked back at Bofur.
Kili was twenty yards away now, and closing fast. Bofur was amazed, looking into Dwalin’s eyes, to see despair there. Dwalin closed his eyes.
Without even thinking, Bofur pulled off his cloak, and spread it like a blanket across Dwalin. The dwarf's eyes sprang open again, startled.
“Can you walk?” Balin asked.
“Yes,” Dwalin growled. Sweat stood out on his forehead when they helped him to stand, and Bofur helped him to fasten the cloak to hide his nakedness. Dwalin’s left temple was bloody where the Orc had knocked him out.
Kili joined them. “Killed two, four fled,” he said shortly. “I see you two got another two.”
“That’s all of them accounted for, but now we’ve two wounded,” Balin said.
“Two?” Bofur asked, looking around.
Balin reached out and touched Bofur’s throat. His fingers came away covered in blood.
“Ah,” Bofur said faintly. “Two wounded. Thorin will not be pleased.”