The gauntleted fist that pounded on the door to their home sounded like thunder.
It had startled Ori badly enough that he'd nearly spilled his bottle of ink all over the parchment he was transcribing. Heart pounding, he righted the bottle, set his quill down inside of it, and then shouted for Dori before remembering that his brother hadn't returned home yet. Sucking in a deep breath, he was about to wrap his robe more firmly around himself when the door pounded again in three sharp strikes, causing him to yelp. "I'm coming!"
He scampered for the door, opening it to reveal three uniformed dwarves, complete with shining, distinctive helms. Ori's eyes widened.
"How can we help the city watch?" he asked in a polite, if squeaky voice.
"We've come for Nori, son of Haldi," the brawniest one snapped. His beard was loose and black against his uniform. "Where is he?"
Eyes still wide, Ori shook his head. "Nori isn't here. He hasn't been here for a week."
The other two dwarves traded a look. Or, at least, Ori thought they did -- their helms covered everything except their noses and beards.
"Where is he?" the first dwarf snapped again.
Ori jumped. "I don't know! He and Dori got into a fight, and then Nori stormed out! He hasn't been back to eat or sleep or anything!" He clenched his teeth to stop them from chattering.
"He's got some brains on him, at least," the second dwarf grunted.
"Or some loyal family," the third one growled. "Stand aside, boy."
"No," Ori said as firmly as he could.
"No?" the second one asked in a deceptively mild tone. "You already know we're the city watch. You want to rot in a dungeon for harboring a fugitive?"
The other two were eying him warily, their hands moving towards the axes on their belts.
Ori felt his cheeks burn. "No, I don't, but I'm not a boy," he said, his wavering voice belying his words. "And you have my word that Nori's not here."
"You'll forgive us if we don't take the word of a young Erebor refugee," the third one said snidely.
Then all three dwarves pushed right past him as if he weren't there.
"Hey!" Ori yelped. "Just a moment!"
The first one stopped in his tracks, his helm moving as he very deliberately looked at Ori from head to toe and back up slowly, taking in the slight frame swallowed by Dori's old robe; the shaking, ink-stained fingers; the rough-hewn haircut adorned with four small, ginger braids. Ori straightened up, desperately trying to look like he was older than fifty-seven and failing miserably. For a moment, the dwarf seemed focused on his shoulders, and then he shook his helmeted head once, hard.
The other two, finished with their search of the house, returned to the front door. "He's not here."
Ori glared at them, though it was about as useful as glaring at a mountain. "I told you not five minutes ago--"
The first dwarf grunted and jerked his head at the door. "He'll be back sooner or later. Blood's thicker than water, especially for us Erebor folk," he said stingingly to the third dwarf." He spared a glance at Ori. "Sorry to have troubled you."
Ori drew himself up indignantly. "Always glad to help the city watch," he blurted out angrily.
The third one bristled, but the first one grabbed the angry dwarf by the shoulder and shoved him out the open door. As they headed down the hall and away from the refugee section of the residential levels, Ori could hear two of them muttering about impertinent dwarflings, and the first one growling at them to shut up.
Ori closed the door quickly, locked it, and sagged against it, the surge of adrenaline he'd gotten from the startlement gone.
With any luck, he'd never have to deal with them again.
And then he remembered that this was Nori they were trying to arrest.
Sighing heavily, Ori headed back to his writing desk, and hoped that he could get some more work done.