Dwalin, contrary to popular belief, was a very patient dwarf. Not on the surface, perhaps – he had never suffered fools, gladly or otherwise – but at bottom he was a warrior. Most of being a warrior was the travel between battlegrounds, and much of the rest was training and caring for his weapons. Actual combat was so infrequent that bards could still write songs about all the battles Dwalin had been in.
He was a patient dwarf, and he did what he set out to do. He’d told Bofur he would regain his trust, and he meant to do just that. If the only way to regain Bofur’s trust was to refrain from committing violence upon his person for a few decades until Bofur believed it, Dwalin would wait out the decades. He wouldn’t like it, but he would do it.
Dwalin could admit to relief when he heard Bofur take up his flute again; the silence had been awful beyond the bearing. Dwalin had spent the night before going over the options if it turned out he’d ruined everything between them. There were always Orcs to kill, campaigns to join, glory to be earned – but all that had lost a bit of its luster. Dwalin had a home now, and for all he thought his King a bit silly and graceless, it was the first home he’d ever had. He didn’t want to leave it. He didn’t want to leave Balin and he didn’t want to leave Bofur.
Bofur was so damned determined to act as if nothing had changed, as if nothing had happened at Bag End between them, and Dwalin didn’t see that he had much choice in the matter. Dwalin couldn’t fix this awkwardness between them any more than he could fix his body. He could bind away the most offending bits and try to pretend the rest didn’t exist… which must be what Bofur was trying to do.
So he would be patient. And thank Mahal, they would be among other dwarves again soon. Bofur would regain his equilibrium when he had other dwarves to laugh with, and Dwalin was looking forward to Ered Luin for a very different reason.
Where there were dwarves, there were ink-artists. Dwalin had wished for decades that he could tattoo his chest, and he meant to do so as soon as the incisions from surgery had healed completely.
My dearest Balin,
We have arrived at Ered Luin at long last. The innkeeper tells me that the quarterly mail will depart in two days, so tonight I write the unofficial letter, and tomorrow I will write the official letter for the King. The journey took longer than planned for reasons better discussed in person, but you can tell the King that Bofur has mended any insult felt by Lord Elrond for Thorin’s mistrust of him.
Both Lord Elrond and our burglar send greetings to all of Thorin’s company. The Halfling is now uncle to a wee sprog with a healthy set of lungs and sticky paws. My beard may never recover.
The Council of Fourteen feasted in our honor tonight. Bofur and I met too many people to remember. They were deadly dull, so I’m sure they were very important people. After watching him tonight, I think Bofur would make a good diplomat. I fear he was not a wise choice to send for this business, however, since they know him only as a simple miner. They forget that he proved himself a dozen times over on the quest and in battle.
By rights it should have Bifur who came instead of Bofur; they’d never underestimate Bifur. And by rights, it should have been you to come instead of me. I know you can’t be spared for something of so little importance, but diplomacy runs in your veins the way scholarship runs in Ori’s. I’ve no talent for polite words and careful maneuvering. I will be blunt: I think these dwarves cowards and weaklings. They deserted Thorin when he needed them most, and try to wheedle their way back into our good graces now.
We don’t know yet how many will choose to return to Erebor with us. Possibly none, which truth to tell would be a relief; a caravan will be a target for thieves and Orcs alike. I hope we will be home by harvest time, but will be content if we manage it before the first snow.
In health, I remain, your affectionate brother,
As evening fell, they were escorted with much honor to the Council Hall. Dwalin longed for his brother. Balin was a master of polite small talk, where Dwalin had never had either the inclination or the patience for it. Not for the first time, Dwalin wished he’d paid attention to the advice Balin had heaped on him before they embarked.
Dwalin didn’t recognize most of the greybeards who welcomed them with words of respect and praise, but he despised them already. The Council of Ered Luin had refused to aid Thorin in his quest; when the company departed for Erebor, these dwarves had jeered.
Dwalin had been in Ered Luin only seldom, and only with Thorin. Thorin had not stayed long after he’d gotten the refugees settled; he had been furious to be relegated to simply one of fourteen clan heads on the Council, with no recognition of his royal title. Some of the dwarves, indeed, had taken a malicious delight in calling him Mister instead of King. Thorin only ever returned because his kin was there, and he took the duty of training his sister-sons and heirs seriously. Balin had served as the Longbeard clan head in his stead for many years.
By Mahal, if these people would just stop offering condolences about Thorin, Dwalin would be fine. Sodding hypocrites wouldn’t send anyone to help retake the Mountain, and Dwalin could smell the guilt and fear on them. None of these dwarves would dare to show himself in Erebor, no matter what the invitation in King Dain’s scroll.
He knew he’d likely offend somebody gravely by forgetting their name or saying something rude. He could hear his answers become shorter and curter as his irritation increased, but he couldn’t help himself. He was no good at this sort of thing, and Bofur had disappeared –
He felt a hand on his shoulder, and turned to snarl at such presumption. Instead, he sighed in grateful relief. Bofur had not abandoned him after all.
“Mister Krevlin,” Dwalin said to the fidgety dwarf whose head he’d just been fantasizing tearing from his shoulders, “may I present my good friend Bofur of clan Broadbeam.”
“Krevlin!” Bofur bowed. There was a broad grin on his face, and he looked utterly relaxed in the crush of people. “How go the silver mines, my good fellow?”
“Producing, producing…” the dwarf hemmed. He rolled forward on the balls of his feet nervously. He looked tired, harried; as if a strong wind would blow him over. “You are much missed in these parts.”
Bofur laughed. “I very much doubt that,” he said, slapping Krevlin on the back like an old friend – which for all Dwalin knew, he was. “I’m sure there were many grateful prayers offered to Mahal when I left off my troublemaking.”
“I won’t deny it,” Krevlin admitted with a nervous smile. “But just as many who wish you had not left.”
Bofur sobered. “The east passage, then, under the shale… surely no one was mad enough to try to expand so dangerous a vein?”
Krevlin fidgeted and did not answer.
“How many dead?” Bofur asked tightly.
“Seventeen?!” The shout took Dwalin by surprise, as did the fury on Bofur’s face. He glanced around; heads were turning. An old greybeard, the Firebeard clan head if he remembered correctly, made his way over to them, a look of grim distaste on his face.
“Ah, Bofur. Em, Mister Bofur,” the greybeard corrected when Dwalin glared. “We are delighted to see you again. It seems the good Mister Krevlin has told you of our recent tragedy.”
“So it seems.” Bofur’s voice was icy.
“Seventeen dead?” Dwalin asked. “What happened?” Bofur had been upset for months after three of his men were buried in a collapsed mine tunnel. Seventeen!
“Mining is dangerous work,” the Firebeard clan head said. The answer was rote; clearly it had been given many times. “The lads know the risks.” He sighed and tried to change the subject. “Come, Mister Dwalin, let us speak of happier things. I am told you are personal guard to the King Under the Mountain? My congratulations. How is King Dain? It’s been years since we last saw each other.”
“The King is well,” Dwalin said, and noted how the Firebeard angled his body to exclude Krevlin and Bofur from the conversation. Abruptly, he tired of this oily man. “Forgive me, sir. Bofur and I have many more people to greet before the feast can get started.”
The greybeard was left openmouthed at the insult, and Dwalin strode away. Bofur followed a moment later. “You should not have done that,” he said, a smile playing on his lips.
“Seventeen men?” Dwalin demanded.
The smile disappeared. “Aye. You’d think they’d learn, but they never do.”
Dwalin didn’t like the flinty edge to Bofur’s tone. “How much longer before this is done?” he growled to change the subject.
Ah, there was Bofur’s smile again. The more surly Dwalin became, the more cheerful Bofur seemed to get. “Another half hour of pleasantries before the feast,” Bofur said. “The feast itself? Three or four hours. There will be little sleep for us tonight, my friend.”
Something hungry in Dwalin’s chest stopped gnawing for a moment when he heard Bofur say the word “friend.” Some of the tension in Dwalin’s shoulders and jaw relaxed as well, and he straightened. He could face these petty men, maybe even bring some of the people they ruled home to Erebor at last. It wasn’t the chieftains and clan heads whose skills were needed at the Lonely Mountain, after all.
Bofur leaned in and murmured, “Right flank,” and Dwalin glanced right. He was grateful that Bofur was with him, for the sight almost took his legs out from under him.
Indeed, he went down on his knees in front of the regal dwarf who strode towards him, skirts sweeping the stone tiles.
“Lady Dis,” he whispered, and bowed his head.