Three rabbits lashed to the saddles, Kíli was practically preening about his finer archery skills even an hour later. Fíli was rolling his eyes at his younger brother's blustering, but wore a small, proud smile nonetheless as Kíli went into a third telling of how quickly he was able to shoot the rabbits. Noticing his brother's expression, Kíli was swift to compliment his brother at routing the rabbits from their hiding spots as they approached their next destination for the day.
The last, small dwelling they came to was not as pristine as Glóin's, but neither was it as in such a rundown state as the toy makers had been. A modest building as far as the hastily erected homes that had been scattered along the Blue Mountains were concerned, with a small shop in the front. There were a few dwarrows here and about, but it seemed as if the shop was near empty.
Well, almost empty as the door was flung open with such exuberance it bounced back off the wall. Balin couldn't help but smile as his apprentice waved at them excitedly as they approached. "Master Balin! Good afternoon!"
"Hey ya there Ori!" Kíli grinned as he hopped down off his pony.
"How's the ink running Ori?" Fíli asked as he too jumped down and threw an arm around the other dwarfling.
Ori's excitement fled him and he fidgeted slightly, ducking his head at the sudden attention he was receiving even as he greeted the two dwarrows politely. It was almost easy to forget that Ori was a few years older than the two princes as his quiet nature tended to make him seem younger than he was.
"Leave my apprentice be, you brats!" Balin chastised good-naturedly and he received two identical grins in return.
"Boys, why don't you go take care of those rabbits?" Dwalin urged as he dismounted, accepting the reins of their mounts.
Excited about their catch, the two quickly asked Ori where they could deal with the animals and the other young dwarf pointed them towards a small out table under the shade of a tree.
"You truly have to learn to stand up to them," Balin told his student as the two went off and Dwalin left to tether the ponies. "You will be in charge of their scriptorium and library in due time. You will have to learn how to handle them and better yet, how to tell them to back off."
"I know," Ori replied despondently. "It's just so… hard."
Balin patted the young dwarf on the shoulder. "You'll learn in due time," he assured him. "This trip will be the perfect start for your training."
"Start of my training?" Ori asked bemused.
"On royalty herding," Balin winked. "First off, never let them dictate what it is you write down for kingdom's records. Unless of course they're dictating a letter, then it will be your job to translate it from kingly arrogance to courtly courtesy before sending it off."
Ori looked as if he didn't know whether to laugh at Balin's joke or be completely horrified at the idea.
"Here, what's all this then?" a new voice asked and Balin sighed at the sight of his student's older brother coming down the front steps.
"Good afternoon master Dori."
"Lord Balin." Dori gave a small bow as befitting Balin's station.
Not many still adhered the proprieties with the loss of Erebor, but Balin had quickly learned early on in Ori's apprenticeship that Dori clung to them with a fierce aspiration. Balin presumed that it was due to the fact that Ori once told him that they could trace their line back to Thráin the first. Thought granted it wasn't his wife who they descended from, but rather a young kitchen maid.
Balin had looked through the royal family lineage scrolls upon learning that little tidbit, but it soon became apparent that the first Thráin never claimed the child, as he should have. Even out of wedlock, each child was precious and a blessing of Mahal. If he had, the mother's family would have been granted a higher place in society, especially as the child was still a royal no matter his mother's lineage.
He guessed that Dori and Ori's family was perhaps still bitter at the snub even after all these centuries and did everything they could to finally reach the position they were once denied. Hence the family's fierce commitment of the proper etiquette. Ori claimed that their mother was quite the aspiring socialite in her younger days and Dori was clearly raised to follow in her kid slipper footsteps.
Strangely enough, it was his apprenticeship to Balin that elevated Ori's own status. As a scrivener, a scribe of the court, he was closer to the nobility than his brother who was still a simple tea maker. Odd for the dwarf to be a tea maker when so few dwarrows even drank it, even amongst the nobility, preferring spirits or ale. However, Balin had never gotten the story out of Ori as to his brother's love of the drink.
"We've brought you a map to our meeting place," Balin stated their business clearly. He paused a moment before adding "along with funds for mounts and supplies."
"Of course you did," Dori muttered tetchily.
"Dori," Ori hissed under his breath, a flush already creeping down his neck.
"I still do not see why we need to go on this abysmal vocation at all," Dori hissed back.
"I am to document the journey," the younger insisted as Balin pretended to be engrossed in watching the boys skin the rabbits rather than eavesdropping as he was. "It's my first real assignment as a scrivener."
"There will surely be other, safer expeditions to record."
"You don't have to come you know," Ori returned petulantly. "No one asked you to."
"You are only just into your majority," Dori returned hotly. "You need the proper chaperone."
Ori threw up his arms in frustration. "The princes are younger then me and they don't have a chaperone."
Balin cleared his throat, not wanting to interject himself in the conversation, but knowing he had to say something. "Begging your pardon, but in truth their uncle would be considered their chaperone." He gave Ori a sympathetic smile even as the boy's face fell and Dori looked rather vindicated. "So in truth, the proprieties are being seen too. Not that he really needs to as they're all but married to each other save for the appropriate documentation."
Dori raised an eyebrow in question and Balin nodded the affirmative, causing both Dori's eyebrows to shoot up in surprise. Balin couldn't blame him. It was rather startling when you first realized that the closeness the princes shared wasn't just from a strong brotherly bond.
It was rare for dwarrows to find their other half at such a young age, let alone in their own family, but not unheard of. The moment five-year-old Fíli had first seen Kíli in his tiny bassinet, he had declared firmly and loudly just whom Kíli belonged to with a very vocal "mine!" to the rest of his family. Fíli and Kíli had been One ever since.
Dís and Thorin were both adamant that they wait a few years before having their bond officiated and recognized throughout the realm. However, the boys were hoping that with fighting the dragon and reclaiming their homeland, they could prove they were full-grown adults and capable warriors and receive their king's blessing to marry sooner. Even Thorin could not deny that they would be established adults and strong fighters after facing a dragon.
Dwalin returned, looking between the three dwarrows confused at their silence. "Is there a problem?" he demanded to know. Balin had explained to his brother of Dori's disapproval of Ori joining the quest and it was clear Dwalin thought there was another disagreement being held over the matter.
"No, no issue's at all," Balin reassured him.
"Humph," Dori huffed and Ori groaned, dropping his head in his hands as Dwalin glowered at the tea maker. Balin had to hand it to him. Not many dwarves could withstand his younger brother's scowl let alone be able, and willing, to glare back.
Fíli and Kíli were now looking at Dori in awe while Ori looked to wish he were anywhere but where he was.
"What do you think you're doing?" A livid voice suddenly rose from the small crowd of dwarrows traveling down the lane. More voices rose in protest and annoyance as a figure pushed through them and stomped towards where the four were standing in front of the small home and tea shop.
Balin raised his own eyebrow in surprise, as he finally was able to place the voice as belonging to the thief that Dwalin was always complaining about. Hair pinned in an elaborate three peaks and beard braided to reflect the hairstyle, the dwarf was rather quite distinctive as he stomped towards them.
And quite furious if the scowl on his face was anything to go by. Fíli and Kíli had both risen from the table, Fíli's hand on his sword hilt and Kíli going for his bow. Balin shook his head at them. The thief hadn't done anything yet.
"Nori!" Ori cried out with happy surprise even as the thief pushed himself between Dwalin and Dori, whirling about to glare up at the guardsman unflinchingly.
Wait a minute… Balin recognized that glare! He had just seen it! On -
"What do you think you're doing, intimidating my brothers?" the thief, Nori, who was apparently brother to both Dori and Ori, exclaimed furiously.
Balin could only stare in surprise as a small voice in his head wondered bemusedly how it was that Thorin had been able to see the relation between the thief and Balin's apprentice after only one meeting when apparently no one else had.
"You have no right to bother my family," Nori was continuing loudly, "they have nothing to do with my way of life! This is harassment! They know nothing about anything I do! They're law abiding citizens!"
Dori was groaning in the background. "Mahal's hammer, Nori. What have you done now?"
"Nothing!" Nori shot back resentfully. His gaze moved from Dwalin to Balin and his spine straightened defiantly. "If this is about honoring that contract, I signed didn't I? I'm a dwarf of my word." He turned to glare up at Dwalin. "Even if I was coerced into it!"
Dwalin didn't even react at the accusation, still staring down at the thief in complete shock as he had since the other dwarf first appeared from the crowd. "Brothers? You have brothers? They're your brothers?"
"Well of course I have brothers!" Nori shot back. "I have family same as anybody else!"
"Wait a moment! You signed a contract? The king's contract?" Ori exclaimed excitedly.
"Say it isn't so," Dori moaned dramatically.
Dwalin looked from thief to tea maker and back again before a small smirk appeared on his face. "It was either that or be locked up for instigating that bar brawl," he offered helpfully and the thief glared at him so hard Balin was surprised Dwalin didn't burst into flames. Balin still didn't know why Dwalin had suggested Thorin present that choice to the thief when he had been caught yet again or why the thief had even accepted the offer, as it seemed he was of the opinion the whole quest a fool's errand.
"Nori!" Dori gasped appalled.
"What? I didn't start the brawl!"
"No, that would be the two whom you pickpocket, blaming each other for their missing coins," Dwalin supplied rather cheerfully.
"Nori!" Dori shouted again infuriated.
"They got their money back, didn't they?" Nori huffed before he turned back to Balin. "You didn't have to have this lout hunt me down to ensure I'll show up for the damn trip, you know. I would have shown up at the meeting place."
"You don't even know when and where we're gathering!" Dwalin disputed.
"Mersday, isn't it? At that hobbit's hill down in the valley." Nori drawled and left Dwalin sputtering.
"We didn't come here for you actually," Balin picked up the conversation when it was clear his brother was unable to.
Nori now looked at Balin confused. "Then… why are you here?"
"The contract!" Ori proclaimed happily, grabbing Nori's sleeve and tugging at it in excitement. "And you signed it?" he asked eagerly. "You're going then? On the quest?"
Nori turned towards his brothers bewildered. "What do you know about it?"
Ori had on the largest smile Balin had ever seen on the boy. "Because we signed it too! We're all going together! Isn't that wonderful?"
Dori looked as if he was being asked to eat Thorin's infamous fish carcasses, scales, guts and all, instead of reveling at the prospect of a long journey with his own brother.
Nori was now staring at his younger brother in mounting, abject horror. "You signed it?"
Ori nodded so fast his few small braid beads were clicking together. "Yes!"
Nori stared for a few seconds longer before he whirled to look at Dori. "He signed it? How could you let him sign it?"
"What do you mean 'let him'?" Dori shouted back. "I didn't let him do anything!"
"You could have forbidden it! You're the eldest!" Nori reminded him.
"What? Now wait a minute! I'm an adult now!" Ori was protesting crossly.
"There was no letting him do anything! He had already signed it by the time I even learned about it!"
"There's no letting me do anything at all!" Ori bellowed. The deafening pitch Ori had achieved for his declaration surprised even Dwalin. Who knew Ori could give even Glóin a run for his gold in sheer thundering volume? "I can decide for myself what I'm to do!"
Clearly, Dori and Nori were used to tuning out their younger brother as both continued on as if he hadn't said anything at all as Nori focused on the eldest. "I left for five years, at your insistence mind you, and look what happened anyway! He's going to get himself killed!"
"Who could have predicted this situation would even ever come up?"
"That's why you haven't been to visit? Dori! How could you do that?"
"Couldn't you get him out of it? What about stating preceding obligations of the family?" Nori was demanding.
"This is my obligation!" Ori protested. "I have to go with them! I'm the chronicler!"
Nori looked to Dori for confirmation who just waved a hand in Balin's general direction. "It's part of his apprenticeship apparently."
Nori turned his gaze towards Balin in surprise. "Wait, you're Ori's teacher?"
"I am," Balin hesitantly admitted and braced himself.
"How could you be bringing him with us on this madness?"
"Here now! It's not madness!" Dwalin objected. "It's a legitimate endeavor. Something I'm sure you know nothing about."
Nori just glared at him. "If he's here for my brother, then why are you here, guardsman?" he asked instead.
Dwalin let out a snort as he jerked a thumb in Balin's direction. "That's my brother."
"Your brother?" Nori yelped aghast. "You have an elder brother?"
"Of course I have a brother," Dwalin bit back. "I have family same as anybody else, don't I?"
Nori flushed red in anger as his own words were shot back at him. His eyes darted to Balin before shooting back to Dwalin. "Your older brother is my younger brothers master?" he asked incredulously.
"Small world, ain't it?"
Nori whirled back to Balin. "He's not going!"
"Hey!" Ori shouted.
Balin simply looked at the other dwarf. "They signed the contract, same as you. Or are they not dwarrows of their word… unlike you?"
"He doesn't know what he's getting himself into. Ori doesn't know what's out there! He's never been outside Ered Luin! He-" Nori's voice chocked off as his eyes widened. "What do you mean 'they'?"
"Dori signed the contract too!" Ori informed him rather gleefully and Balin winced at the tattling tone.
"You signed it?" Nori whirled on his elder brother.
"Of course I did!" Dori told him point-blank.
"What were you thinking?" Nori shouted. "You don't know what's out there! You'll be taken out by a sheep let alone an actual wild animal!"
"Well, I couldn't very well let Ori go off by himself, now could I?"
"I'm not going by myself! Master Balin is going as well! Along with mister Dwalin and a whole group of others! You didn't need to come!"
"Yes I did! Going off without the proper accompaniment!"
"Oh here we go again!" Ori threw up his hands in annoyance. "What about Nori! He was going without a minder!"
"He is practically a lost cause as it is," Dori decreed. "You are not." Bizarrely enough, Nori was nodding in agreement, until Dori turned towards him. "Though I do not appreciate having my work doubled if not tripled! Ori at least is biddable! You, on the other hand, are a complete menace! You will behave on this journey and refrain from embarrassing our family or so help me Mahal I will turn you over my knee!"
"What?" Nori nearly shrieked in horror.
"Hah!" Ori laughed.
"Ori! Do not think you are getting out of this either!"
"What did I do?" Ori wanted to know. "I haven't done anything! That's the whole point! I've never done anything with my life!"
"And we're not saying what you can or can not do with your life, you just can't go on this trip!" Nori proclaimed.
"You're both obstinate idiots!" Ori declared. "I do not need to be coddle!"
"Clearly you do if you're going about signing contracts for ridiculous quests!" Nori shouted.
"You signed it too!"
"And I'm going to be eaten! We're all going to be eaten! I thought you were smarter than that!"
"Um…" All five turned to stare at the slightly nervous Fíli, Kíli cowering behind him. "We're attracting a crowd."
And so they were. Dwarrows were staring at them from the surrounding homes, shops or just standing in the lane gaping. Balin groaned.
Ori just sniffed and before anyone could even twitch, his hands shot out and he snagged an ear each of his brothers. Ignoring their squalling he turned towards Balin. "Master Balin, we will see you on Mersday! All three of us!" and he proceeded to drag his older brothers towards the shop. A rather loud "we're closed!" had what few tea patrons there were scrambled for the door and it was slammed behind them so hard the frame shook.
"That was moderately horrifying," Fíli stated wide-eyed as the crowd began to disperse.
"Who knew Ori's family was so…" Kíli struggled for the right word, "eccentric?"
Balin just groaned again while Dwalin went to retrieve the ponies in a daze. He could only hope that Thorin was having a better time of it than he was.