There was no hiding among the people walking over the wooden ways. Every Man passing by Dwalin made way for her, excited whispers and open curiosity followed her wherever she went, making any attempt to just walk and calm down without being bothered by anyone futile. At least they didn’t try speaking to her all too much, all too nervous or excited to greet her, or whispering because nobody knew what to do with a Dwarf in their midst. Dwalin tried not to scowl too much, but her tall tuft and the scars covering her arms and face gained her some respect from the people whose children were often taller than her.
Though anonymity wasn’t possible it did help to walk through Laketown. The air tasted strange and the smell of fish clung to everything and the buildings were stacked together as if no planning had gone into constructing them and there were ropes and planks between the actual walkways over the water, creating precarious looking shortcuts. The unfamiliar place made Dwalin watch her surroundings with a cautious gaze, always ready for an attack or tense situation when she was in a town of Men.
It eased Dwalin’s mind of her other worries, if only by a little. There was no room to think of the all too familiar ache of guilt while trying to make her way through the town, looking for what, she didn’t know. It did pain her to have kept a secret for this long, though she had her reasons and would have done so again if her situation was the same. But knowing that her family might feel betrayed besides processing what she’d done wasn’t easy to brush off.
None of the Men around her noticed that Dwalin was a woman of Dwarves, too focused on her beard and her gruff demeanour. She never bothered to correct them, as she knew it would only get her more questions and curiosity than her scars and the bearing of a warrior already did.
Dwalin was only occasionally interrupted in her thoughts by Men. They were asking her if the company needed anything in terms of weapons, or if she wished to come to the armoury later, assuming correctly that this was her task. At least that gave her something to do that would both distract her and actually be of use to the company, so she wasn’t wasting time entirely. After Dwalin started glaring at nothing just a little bit angrier she was left alone entirely.
Time went on and hours passed without Dwalin running into anyone who might try and bring her back to the warehouse. After a while she started to regret having stormed off before proper breakfast, and soon her stomach began to growl. She could have asked any of the Men around her for food or directions to where it could be acquired, but she wouldn’t want any of them to interrupt their work for her sake. There might be questions about why she didn’t just go back to where the Dwarves had been given everything they needed anyway.
She sighed and stopped at a quieter part of the walkways, right where it branched out to a pier without any boats docking there for the moment. There was a railing to lean again, encircling a small area where pigs stood, eating without paying any attention to Dwalin, and some chickens moved around to peck at the wooden floor. There weren’t many Men passing by right there, and it was a welcome place to take a break.
The fog that settled over the entire lake didn’t seem to have any plans to disappear, and only the lighter shade of grey spoke of how the sun must have risen high behind the clouds. Looking through a gap between buildings Dwalin couldn’t see the lake’s shore, and somewhere several miles to the north the Lonely Mountain was barely more than the hint of a shadow, with its peak sometimes visible when the fog moved a little.
Seeing the half hidden goal of their quest made Dwalin’s heart clench. She didn’t know if they’d ever even manage to get inside, or whether the dragon was still alive and just waiting for them with his maw wide open to devour them whole… Either way Dwalin would fight for it, would not go without dealing a good deal of damage to Smaug as well. It shouldn’t matter if she actually would get to live in Erebor and be at peace; what mattered was that Thorin took back what was rightfully theirs, and give their people back a safe home and prosperity as he had once vowed.
How different would her life have gone if Erebor had never fallen in the first place. There wouldn’t be any memories of any war clinging to her mind, though perhaps there might have been some other conflict anyway. She wouldn’t know the loss of those who were closest to her, and wouldn’t know how it was like to see the ones who lived broken by grief. Unless fate would have been unkind to them even with the mountain secure.
Would she still have met Nori then? Despite all the grief that Dwalin had gone through because she met and lost the thief, she couldn’t imagine not doing all of it again, if she just could have the certainty that all would be well in the end.
Perhaps things would have been easier in Erebor. Perhaps Nori wouldn’t have been a thief but rather just a troublemaker. If their carelessness and Dwalin being with child had happened in Erebor, then maybe they would have had their families right there to help, and they could have stayed together with no duty calling to war…
All wistful thinking, Dwalin knew that there was little use in imagining how things might have been different. All that mattered was thinking of how she could change their future.
The creaking of wood close by alerted Dwalin to the fact that someone was stepping closer than the Men around her had before. Turing she half expected it to be one of her company, looking for her to bring her back to the warehouse, or ask her more than she wanted to speak about. What she didn’t expect was to see Nori there, watching her and keeping a cautious distance as he tried to decide whether Dwalin even wanted to be approached.
“Are they talking?” Dwalin asked, thinking about how her family would surely be talking about the situation in her absence. Nori might have overheard.
“Wouldn’t know, I left only a little while after you.”
Deciding that Dwalin wouldn’t object to his presence Nori stepped closer, right to the edge of the walkway. The sleeve of his borrowed coat brushed against Dwalin’s arm, and she knew he wouldn’t step any closer than that while they weren’t in private. And certainly not with Men around, even if nobody was near or looking their way right now. Having the Men react badly to Dwarves getting too friendly with each other was the last thing they needed, and Dwalin was not about to explain her being a woman to avoid that sort of situation.
“Did anyone say anything to you then?”
Nori didn’t answer right away as he reached into one of his roomy pockets and pulled out a few scones, which he handed over to Dwalin. She accepted gladly, wanting something to eat and not wishing to return even now. They most likely had been handed over to Nori, but even if he’d nicked them somewhere Dwalin found that she didn’t care.
Neither said anything as Dwalin ate and both looked out towards the Lonely Mountain. When Nori finally spoke his voice was quiet enough that Dwalin had to strain to hear it at first, but was in no danger of being heard by any Man unless they stood as close to Nori as Dwalin did.
“Balin did come to me, asking about what happened. Whether I really tried to do my best with everything back then. He also apologized for assuming the worst of me before.”
Dwalin snorted, even as she felt another wave of regret. Nori had done nothing to deserve scorn in the first place, not from her family at least. It was partially her fault that her brother and cousins had assumed that a thief had done something to her that warranted a desire for revenge, and that this thief was Nori. They couldn’t have known that her scorn was directed at anyone who had heard of Nori and double-crossed him, at those who’d forced him to run. Why else would a warrior search for a thief if not to catch and incarcerate them after all?
“I should speak to him eventually,” Dwalin said, hoping that she could avoid it for just a while longer still. “There’s no use in hiding from my own guilt for lying like that.”
“He didn’t make the impression as if he was upset about you doing that,” Nori told her. “They probably all feel like one can’t blame someone who’s made our mistakes at that age.”
They stood quietly as the noises of the town around them went on near unchanging.
“Balin also made some assumptions about troubles we would have had if things hadn’t turned out they did. Asked me how I felt about you really,” Nori said, smirking. “You might have Dori approach you with similar questions.”
Dwalin looked at the mountain for a few moments longer, before turning to Nori, her heart strangely heavy once more.
“What did you answer?”
The smirk dropped and as Nori’s gaze met Dwalin’s he looked lost. She didn’t expect the sudden vulnerability in his wide golden eyes, the sudden uncertainty. Nori parted his lips but didn’t say anything more.
It took Dwalin aback for a moment, as she couldn’t imagine what Nori might have said besides hinting at the truth. He wasn’t one to speak about his feelings openly, and certainly not about his feelings regarding Dwalin in front of her older brother. She wanted to know the cause of that strange expression, but she knew that this was no place to talk about things like that.
“Lets return to the warehouse,” Dwalin said with a sigh and Nori’s face fell back into his usual calm watchfulness. There was no need to try and drag the time before she inevitably would have to speak to her family again.