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A Splintered Light

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When Dwalin was told to meet and befriend the Young Prince of Erebor, he said no.

Actually, he scoffed and told his dear brother Balin he’d rather frolic with Wargs. That earned him a good smack upside his head from Balin’s hand, but it also made him more stubborn about it. He had started training earnestly already and there was less and less time for anything else. He would not waste any of his precious summer on a little royal brat, even if they were supposedly distantly-related, and et cetera, et cetera.

But he said yes later, grudgingly, because that was the best, and sometimes the only way to get Balin off his back. Then when it was time to go out and bow and greet the Young Prince and his entourage, Dwalin had already long disappeared into the tangled streets and alleys of outer Erebor. He was twenty-five and the world was vast before his eyes; he could do whatever he wanted.

Dwalin had just slipped into the Festive Market, a bazaar of noise and colour and crammed with peddlers' wares for every whim and fancy you could conjure up. That was when he saw that dagger hung up on a measly string in Old Dror’s Shop of Sharps. Even with his unschooled, stripling eyes, he could see the worth of it. The make of the blade was fine, the hilt inlaid with exquisite engravings beneath the grime.

He had to have it.

So, he clambered up to the old Dwarf, intent on bargaining for that dagger. And he was just raising one arm to point to it, when someone else’s hand beat him to it.

“I want that!”

“That one!”

He found himself glaring at the other – Dwarfling. There was a difference between them, mind. He was a stripling himself. The other was definitely a little Dwarf – a small boy. And that was not all. Dwalin figured he was at least two inches taller, and at least one-and-a-half times bigger than his challenger.

“I laid claim to it first,” the Dwarfling said in a very high voice. He looked like the way his voice sounded – babyish.

Dwalin just laughed as he rounded upon his enemy. “And you think you’re good enough to wield it?”

“How dare you!”

They snarled at each other. Now, as they were circling each other, he could see that the Dwarfling had black hair, like him. But that was where their similarities ended. The Dwarfling had a very girlish face – thickly-lashed eyes, long nose, tiny mouth, and very unbecoming dark fluff at his cheeks. And he had dainty little braids too, how dreadful.

Dwalin’s own face already had something closer to a beard, a sort of bristly scruff. Muscles were cording around his shoulders and chest. Even just a stripling, his demeanor was swarthy and he would grow up big and fierce-looking. Balin always said he looked so much like their father.

“You’re a wee creature,” Dwalin said disdainfully, but half-seriously. He was not scared of scrapes and he’d fought off his share of much-older and much-bigger arses who had dared provoke him. But he had never fought anyone younger and smaller than himself. There was something very wrong about that, and as much as he wanted the dagger, if he could just talk his way into getting it, he would.

“Go, before I hurt you,” Dwalin finished graciously. Well, it sounded gracious to his own ears.

“Not if I hurt you first,” the Dwarfling shrieked, standing his ground.

Dwalin’s temper rose like a storm.

They leapt up and reached each other at about the same time. Dwalin caught the Dwarfling’s arms in his own, and suddenly, they were wrestling across the grounds in the market square. It might sound a little trifling now, but Dwalin found himself surprised by the Dwarfling. Although slight in stature, he had startling strength and he was clearly well-trained as he twisted quickly out of Dwalin’s hold, and attacked Dwalin every opportunity he got, actually managing to snag one hand into Dwalin’s wild-flying locks. The stripling hollered and lashed out, catching the Dwarfling across his cheek.

Neither would give, nor would they surrender, and they thrashed like two wild pups before the gathering crowds of amused, bewildered onlookers. In a sudden moment of respite, their tangled limbs separated and distance opened up between them. They readied their stances and squared their shoulders. Dwalin was fuming now, his anger further goaded by the retaliating hiss from the Dwarfling.

Oh, by Mahal’s beard, he was going to pummel the snot out of that Dwarfling’s nose!

Yelling, they lowered their heads and charged.

At least, that was Dwalin’s plan. What happened was that his collar was suddenly seized in an iron grip and he found himself held back by a strong arm, and glared upon by a very disapproving gaze.

There was a sharp cry from the other end, and Dwalin took savage delight in seeing the Dwarfling similarly restrained at the shirt by a large, towering, and vaguely-familiar figure. Now they both couldn’t attack.

“You little rascal,” Balin growled at him, his voice hard, with none of its usual patient tones. “You dare fight that boy! If you’ve hurt him, even I wouldn’t be able to save you from the dungeons.”

“I’ll fight whoever I want,” Dwalin retorted fiercely, refusing to back down, never mind that he was still dangling embarrassingly from his brother’s grasp. He kicked, trying to free himself.

But Balin would have none of it. Instead, he marched towards the other pair, towing Dwalin along like a sack of struggling potatoes. Balin bowed deeply to the other Dwarf, and said most apologetically, “I beg your forgiveness, my lord. My imbecile of a brother knows not what he is doing.”

Lord? Dwalin blinked, despite his injured sense of justice, and studied the big Dwarf’s crimson robes, magnificent hair, and the runic tattoos upon that great forehead. Oh. That. Well. That would be Thrain, their Crown Prince, and heir to the throne. Which meant that the Dwarfling wriggling in Thrain’s steely grip was –

Well. Bollocks.

“I scarcely think my son here knows what he is doing either,” Thrain said in a deep, bellowing voice, his fearsome gaze lancing down at the boy he was holding. “Getting into fights in public is not part of his education. And neither is sneaking away behind his father’s back.”

At his father’s displeased tone, the wee Dwarf stopped moving then, and hung sulkily from Thrain’s hand, his eyes glowering in his young face.

“Your brother, you say, Balin?” Thrain continued, looking up with interest at Dwalin. “What of your name, son?”

It was rather intimidating, having that steely gaze riveted upon him, but Dwalin was not one to tremble in the face of fear. “Dwalin, son of Fundin,” he replied without hesitation, pride searing his voice. “My lord,” he added, remembering etiquette, though a little belatedly.

Thrain’s beard twitched a little, and his expression was not quite decipherable. He looked austere, yet he seemed amused, but his bearing spoke of regal authority and even Dwalin felt that he really must behave like a proper stripling before the Crown Prince. At least, he would behave better than the mad little boy prince.

“Dwalin,” Thrain nodded slowly, as if committing his name to memory and for future remembrance. “You would serve us well, as your brother has done. But before that, you would tell me now what your quarrel is with Thorin here.”

Ah, so the little brat was called Thorin. Now Dwalin recalled that he’d been told the name before, but he’d clean forgotten it. Taking a deep breath, and one moment to collect himself, Dwalin plunged ahead. “We saw the same dagger, and we both wanted it.”

“I claimed it first,” Thorin interrupted indignantly, hands clenched into small fists by his sides. There was a bruise forming on his cheek from their earlier tussling, and his braids were all over his head. He looked a right mess.

Dwalin stared at him. Now that he was calmer, he was noticing other things about the Dwarfling. Thorin was still a puny thing with a too-sharp tongue, but he was also a child, and he barely looked over fifteen years of age. Dwalin – well – really shouldn’t have fought him. Balin might be right about his nasty temper, not that he’d ever admit it.

Awkwardly and very reluctantly, Dwalin acknowledged what the Dwarfling said. “He’s right,” he told Thrain. “He did claim it first.”

The Dwarfling’s eyes widened in surprise at that admission of defeat from Dwalin. Balin made a grunt that sounded like he was chortling and trying not to show it. Thrain just stared at Dwalin with a definite twinkle in his dark gaze, understanding the stripling’s efforts at giving into the little prince’s childish demands.

“So it is mine?” Thorin said then, lifting his chin and looking right at Dwalin.

“Yes,” Dwalin growled, dangerously close to sulking himself. He might have lost this round because he couldn’t bring himself to challenge Thorin over something trivial, but somehow, that did not ease his urge to pound the little brat on his stupid head. “Yours.”

Abruptly, the Dwarfling’s scowl disappeared and he grinned up triumphantly at his father, who then distinctly rolled his eyes towards Balin in a most long-suffering manner. The two older Dwarves shared a mutually-sympathetic, wry look. Not long after, the little prince claimed his dagger and the royal clan made to leave, heading towards their waiting carriage.

Dwalin sighed crossly to himself as he watched their departure. He did not get that beautiful dagger, he fought with a little prince – his prince, bollocks – and later, he was likely to be whipped by his brother once they reached home. And then, he would probably be lectured for weeks after.

To top it off, just before that ridiculous Dwarfling got into his carriage, he turned his head and made a face at Dwalin. The insufferable little worm.

Dwalin just glared up at the sky. He did not want to have anything to do with princes ever again in his life, if Mahal would help him.