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Purls Beyond Measure

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They made camp that night in a thick stand of trees that grew along the edge of a nearby stream. A good source of clean water was important out here in the wilds, and the stream offered the tantalizing promise of fresh mountain trout for dinner as well--assuming, of course, that any of their party had skill enough to catch one.

Ori privately doubted this was so. Dwarves were masters of many crafts, but swimming and fishing--or anything involving water, really--were not among them. No matter how many years they spent dwelling on the surface of the world, at their heart dwarves were creatures of earth and metal, stone and fire. Cavorting about in water was just plain unnatural.

That didn't seem to matter one whit to Fili and Kili. The brothers had fashioned fishing poles from a pair of long green saplings and a length of string, and even now were heading down to the water's edge at top speed, eager to try their luck. Ori chuckled and shook his head at their antics. "I'll bet you a pouch full of Old Toby that they come back with nothing but wet socks," he said to Bilbo Baggins, whose pony was tethered next to Ori's on the picket line.

When Bilbo did not respond right away, Ori glanced over his shoulder and found the little hobbit still struggling to unload his saddlebags for the night. Bilbo was favoring his right hand in a way that Ori did not like, and it was clear from the halfling's pale, pinched face that he was in pain, though he voiced no word of complaint.

Ori frowned and set his own bags aside, with the intention of assisting Bilbo in whatever way he could. But before he'd taken so much as a step in the hobbit's direction, Thorin appeared.

"Is there a problem, Master Baggins?" Thorin asked.

Bilbo jumped at the sound of Thorin's voice and spun about on his heel, quickly clasping both hands behind his back. "Problem?" he said brightly. "No, no, of course not. The leather's just a bit sticky, is all. Must've been all that rain we ran into earlier. Nasty stuff, rain. Very wet. Gets into everything, you know."

Thorin's expression remained as impassive as ever, but a muscle next to his left eye began to twitch. Ori turned his head away and bit down hard on the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. He knew it was very wrong of him to take pleasure in his king's discomfiture, but Bilbo Baggins had a real talent for getting under Thorin's skin, and it was a rare treat to see the mighty Thorin Oakenshield so flustered.

Thorin was less amused by the halfling's chatter. "Show me your hands," he ordered.

"There's really no need--" Bilbo began.

"Your hands, burglar," Thorin said in a tone that brooked no argument.

Bilbo heaved a great sigh and held out his hands for Thorin to see. Thorin carefully inspected each one in turn before letting out an aggrieved sigh of his own. "Ori!" he called. "Stop hiding behind that animal and bring me your store of healing herbs. Our burglar is in need of tending."

"Yes, Thorin," Ori said.

Ori was the group's chronicler, for word-smithing was as highly prized among the dwarves as the crafting of swords and armor. But he also had a way with herbs and simples, along with a steady touch and a kindly nature, and had become quite adept at healing over the years. He picked up the leather satchel that held his medicines and hurried to Thorin's side.

"Just look at this mess," Thorin said, and thrust Bilbo's right hand beneath Ori's nose.

Now it was Bilbo's turn to look flustered, his cheeks glowing bright pink beneath so much scrutiny. If not for Thorin's iron grip on his wrist, he undoubtedly would have bolted. "It's nothing," he insisted. "Really."

"I'll be the judge of that," Ori said mildly as he examined the hobbit's outstretched palm.

Mess was the right word for it. While the soles of Bilbo's big, hairy feet might be hardy and tough, his hands were those of a gentlehobbit, unused to any sort of hard, physical labor. After so many long days on the road, the tender skin was rubbed raw and covered in blisters. Ori was relieved to see no active signs of infection, but that would not remain the case for long if left untreated.

"It looks worse than it is," Ori announced, as much for Thorin's benefit as for Bilbo's. "Still, those blisters will need to be cleaned and dressed."

Ori rummaged around inside his satchel until he came up with a small bar of oatmeal and goat's milk soap wrapped in a layer of cheesecloth. "Take this down to the stream and wash the injured skin thoroughly," he said. "The cold water should help numb the pain a bit, as well as bring down any swelling. When you're finished, come back, and I'll salve the wounds and bind them for you."

Bilbo took the little bar of soap and cradled it against his chest like it was the most precious thing he'd ever held. Given the scarcity of baths on their journey, and the general rankness anyone developed after weeks in the field, it wasn't all that surprising. "Thank you, Ori," Bilbo said. He shot Thorin a brief, nervous look, said thank you again, then darted off in the direction of the stream as fast as his legs would carry him.

"He should take better care of his hands if he's going to be of any use as a burglar," Thorin grumbled, his gaze never leaving the hobbit's narrow back.

"Master Baggins is new to life on the road," Ori reminded him. "Give him time, he'll learn."

"He'd better," Thorin said darkly. "In the meantime, he'll need something to protect his hands while they heal. Have you yarn of a light enough weight to make him a pair of gloves?"

"Um," Ori said. "Perhaps?"

Thorin chuckled, his stern mouth softened by one of his rare smiles. "You forget, dear Ori, my sister is a knitter, too. If you don't have at least three unfinished projects and a half-dozen extra skeins squirreled away in your packs, I'll eat my boots."

Ori flushed and offered Thorin a sheepish smile in return, because what the king said was very true. "I'll see what I can come up with."

"Good lad," Thorin said, and clapped him hard on the back.

#

Ori carried both his belongings and Bilbo's to the campsite. He set up his own bedroll between his brothers Nori and Dori, but hesitated over where to place Bilbo's things. The hobbit tended to keep himself a little apart from the rest of the company at night. Whether this was from preference or shyness, Ori couldn't say, though he suspected the latter, coupled with a healthy respect for Thorin's uncertain temper.

In the end he chose a spot beneath the branches of a great, sprawling oak. It was close enough to the warmth and light of the campfire that Bilbo needn't fear any predators that might lurk in the woods beyond, but still far enough away to afford him at least the illusion of privacy.

Once that was finished, he set out everything he would need to treat Bilbo's injured hands once the hobbit returned from bathing. It wasn't much, just pot of salve and a few bandages made from strips of clean linen. The real trick would be keeping the torn skin clean, and protecting Bilbo's hands from further blisters until proper calluses could form.

That was where gloves came into play. Thorin was absolutely right: Ori did indeed have the perfect yarn for them hidden down in the bottom of his pack. He'd gotten it months ago from a trader who had sworn it was spun from the downy undercoat of a special breed of goat found only in the wild, hot lands south of the Bay of Belfalas. Whatever the source, the yarn was softer and more sumptuous than the finest lambswool, very nearly as soft as pure Rivendell silk.

Ori had originally intended to knit himself a pair of cushy bed socks from it, but that was before he'd joined Thorin's quest to retake Erebor. Right now, poor Bilbo's need for gloves far outweighed Ori's need for bed socks. Besides, all the rest of the yarn he had with him was spun from coarser fibers in much heavier weights, intended as it was for thick cabled scarves, hooded cowls, and other such wintertime gear.

All that remained was to come up with just the right pattern. Fingerless mitts were easy enough, and could conceivably be knit in a single evening if he kept his stitches simple. Sizing, now, that was a trickier thing. A fully-grown hobbit was roughly the same height as a half-grown dwarf, but their bones were not nearly so heavy. After a good deal of thought, Ori eventually settled on a pair of mitts made from simple ribbing. It would allow him to work with a lighter weight yarn on smaller needles, while still providing the flexibility needed for nimble hobbit fingers.

With the pattern thus decided, Ori unpacked his special ball of yarn and a set of rosewood double-point needles, then cast on what he hoped was an appropriate number of stitches. By the time Bilbo returned from his bath, Ori had knit close to dozen rounds of the first mitt; not as far as he would have liked, but respectable enough.

Bilbo dropped down to sit beside him on the bedroll, looking (and smelling) a fair bit cleaner than he had before. "Who unpacked my pony and set up my bed for the night?" he asked.

"I did," Ori said.

"Thank you," Bilbo said. "That was very kind of you, very kind, indeed."

Ori shrugged. "I'd do the same for any member of our company who needed help," he said. "Even if they were too proud to ask for it."

"It's not pride," Bilbo said. "Well. Not entirely." He turned his head, his gaze drawn unerringly to where Thorin stood talking with Gandalf on the opposite side of the camp. "I just want to be useful."

"You will be," Ori said. He finished off his current row, then set yarn and needles aside. "Let me see your hands."

Bilbo held out his hands. Ori carefully examined each one, and nodded in approval. "Good, good," he said, then reached for the little clay jar of salve.

Bilbo watched curiously as Ori applied a generous layer of salve to the abused skin of the hobbit's palms. "Is that lavender and...arnica?"

Ori nodded. "You know your herbs."

"Of course, I do," Bilbo said. "I'm a hobbit!"

"That you are," Ori agreed. "I'm curious, can you tell what else is in it?"

"Hm," Bilbo said. "Well, there's lavender and arnica, as I mentioned before, plus comfrey and--" He bent his head and sniffed delicately at the salve coating his palms. "Calendula, if I'm not mistaken, all suspended in a beeswax base."

"You have a most impressive nose, Master Hobbit," Ori said. "Do you think you would be able to identify these and other plants in the wild should I need to replenish my stores?"

"Yes. Yes, of course!" said Bilbo. "Both medicinal and culinary. And I'm a fair hand at gathering mushrooms, if I do say so myself."

"Then I will keep that in mind for the future." He finished tying the last of the bandages around Bilbo's hands. "There we are, all done."

"Oh, that feels so much better," Bilbo said. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," said Ori.

#

After extracting a promise from Bilbo to keep the wounds clean and dry, and have the dressings changed at least once a day, Ori made his way back to his own bedroll and settled down to work on his knitting until it was time for dinner.

The yarn was so soft and such a joy to knit with, it almost seemed a pity to make something so plain. Even the color was luxurious, a rich golden brown that put him in mind of oak leaves in autumn. It also put him in mind of the Shire, with its lush green fields and rambling country gardens, and the way Bilbo's whole countenance had lit up with happiness and pride when displaying his knowledge of plants.

That in turn gave him an idea, one that would, with luck, both please Bilbo and satisfy his own need as a craftsman to make something worthy of the yarn in his hands. Yes, it would mean more work, but only a little, and the result would be well worth the loss of sleep.

Ori volunteered for first watch that night. Thorin was surprised by the request, until he spotted the unfinished mitts sitting on Ori's bedroll and nodded in understanding.

"Mind you don't get so engrossed in your stitches that you lose track of the world around you," Thorin warned. "The purpose of a night watch is watching, not staying up all night to finish your work!"

In the end, it didn't take quite that long, and he had Gandalf for company through most of it. Ori found the old wizard uncanny at the best of times, but Gandalf seemed content to sit quietly beside him and smoke his pipe while Ori worked.

"That's a pretty pair of gloves you're making," Gandalf said. "Though, they do look a bit small for a dwarf."

Ori handed over the first finished mitt so that the wizard could examine the stitching closer. "They're for Mister Baggins," he explained, "to help protect his hands from the rigors of the road. It was Thorin's idea."

"Was it really?" Gandalf said. He sounded pleased. "And was it also Thorin's idea to use pure cashmere from Far Harad to make them?"

"No," Ori said. "That was mine. And before you ask, it's no hardship at all. Mitts this small don't take much yarn; there will be plenty left over for a pair of socks when I'm done. They'll just be a wee bit shorter than originally planned."

Gandalf laughed at that. "Dwarven pragmatism at its finest," he said, and clapped Ori warmly on the shoulder.

#

Ori presented the finished mitts to Bilbo over breakfast the next morning. "These should help keep your bandages clean."

"Wait, you mean you made these for me?" Bilbo asked. "I saw you working on them last night, but I never thought--" He shook his head. "Thank you."

"You should try them on before you thank me," Ori warned. "I've never knit for a hobbit before."

"Oh, I'm sure they'll be fine," said Bilbo. He eased the mitts on over his bandaged hands, and then held them up to study them in the sunlight. "Yes, yes, right as rain. And oh, look at that! You've shaped the thumb gussets to look like leaves, how lovely!"

"So, you like them?"

"They're perfect," Bilbo said. "It's almost like having a little piece of the Shire with me. Thank you. Thank you, so much!"

Ori smiled and ducked his head, pleased that his work was so appreciated. "You should be sure to thank Thorin as well," he said, "for it was he who bade me make them for you."

That brought Bilbo up short. "Wait," he said. "Thorin asked you to make me gloves? Our Thorin?"

"The very same," Ori said. "He was concerned when he saw how badly you had hurt your hands. I'm sure he would have made them himself were he able, but his skill lies in shaping metal, not fiber."

"Well," Bilbo said. "Well, I should probably go and thank him, shouldn't I."

"You should," Ori agreed. "He was seeing to his pony when last I looked."

"Right," Bilbo said, and headed off across the camp looking simultaneously pleased and dazed by this turn of events.

"That was nobly done," said a quiet voice.

Ori glanced over his shoulder and found Gandalf standing behind him, an all too knowing look in the wizard's keen blue eyes.

"Dwarven pragmatism at its finest," Ori said, and set about packing up his gear for the day.