Dwalin had never been one for wandering, or so she thought. She had liked being in the Blue Mountains before, not really willing to travel much from the temporary home the Dwarves of Erebor had in Ered Luin.
And yet somehow Dwalin ended up joining each caravan she heard of, and often she didn’t even care for how well they paid her for her service. She was a veteran of Azanulbizar, had been in the war since its start to its end and was a noble, well trained and young and strong in every way. Everyone was glad when she offered her axes.
She travelled back and forth with any group of merchants who needed protection of professionals, towards Rohan and down into the South and up towards the Iron Hills and back and forth between the mountain ranges and settlements.
Dwalin had no preferences, not really. She did like bigger caravans better than small ones, liked it when there were Dwarves from all over the place and not just Longbeards from one small village. Sometimes she preferred caravans without ponies or too many wagons, but when she had to ride she endured though she liked handling beasts.
And when she could, Dwalin preferred to go far. There was nothing in the Blue Mountains for her, and her family could travel as well, wasn’t bound to them at all. Her family was home and comfort, but Dwalin felt nothing about Ered Luin, apart from a sense of safety when she had gone too long without the comfort of solid rock around and underneath her.
Sometimes she nearly hated that place. Too often had she wandered aimlessly and tried to look for Nori, or for her son, and too often had she stopped and cursed herself for knowing how there was no use in that.
Going away gave her comfort, and somehow also the feeble hope of seeing Nori among the Dwarves in the caravans, or of even just hearing about him.
It was silly though. Nothing she could rely on.
Apart from getting away from her own problems, joining caravans also helped her family. It soothed Dwalin’s conscience, on those nights when she wondered whether she only did so to run away and not face her failure.
Thorin was King by now, and both he and Dís tried to work out trade and good connections to all other Dwarf realms. It’d be good for their people to always have a safe trade and travel on the Dwarf roads, and to have capable warriors for protection.
Before long journeys Dwalin would sit in the warm kitchen, and listen silently to Dís and Thorin working over plans. She never said anything about it, only listened and kept her mouth shut and did what was asked of her.
It wasn’t like she could contribute anyway, she didn’t know much about specific trades and which goods needed to be brought where. She’d just follow along when Thorin wanted someone he trusted to protect a specific caravan.
Only once did she have to fight to keep quiet.
Thorin was looking at a list of warriors in their service and experienced Dwarves to join a caravan, trying to decide which he’d call for, when Dís looked up from her own work.
“Do you know about the families of these Dwarves?” she asked her brother, and Thorin raised his eyebrows.
“I know some of them. Why?”
“Make sure that none of them have too young children. Or if they do, demand that they must have their other parent be here with them. Too many have lost one or both of their parents, some nearly their entire family. Don’t let the number of orphans grow, Thorin.”
Thorin’s face fell as he thought about the losses of that battle, and Dwalin felt something clench in her chest.
“I will let them know. You are right, of course…”
Dís nodded, and as Thorin returned to his notes she glanced over at Dwalin, meeting her eyes. Dwalin wanted to say something, one simple ‘thank you’ or ‘I wish you had been there to give me advice all these years ago’, but then her cousin turned to her work as if it was nothing. And Dwalin just kept her mouth shut, as she always had.
At first joining caravans was just something she could do to make herself useful in one of the few ways she knew, but after a while Dwalin felt that she liked the caravans and the journeys. Being among many she didn’t know was soothing, and later she grew to like talking to Dwarves, most of whom weren’t warriors, and escaping the Blue Mountains lead to seeing many interesting places.
Dwalin didn’t love wandering, but she still came to enjoy what came of it.
She met people from all over Middle-Earth, she talked and slowly started to be at ease with just having fun and joking and not being silent all the time. Nobody knew her, nobody wanted to talk about her past, and most didn’t even care that she was barely even 90. She was strong and a capable warrior, gruff but fair and nobody cared for the things she didn’t want them to know.
There were traders and those who had crafts that required wandering. On one journey there was a family who made instruments, and when they found out that Dwalin knew how to play the violin their gifted her a sturdy one they had made, one that she could take traveling without fear of breaking it. Once Dwalin managed to get over her surprise she was glad, as she hadn’t played for years. Having a way to play music was something she had missed without knowing.
Not everything about the caravans and the Dwarves she met was pleasant.
There were thieves and contrabandists among the caravans, and Dwalin recognized them easier than most of the others. There just was something about the way the acted and spoke to one another, gestures she had seen in happier days, between Nori and those others he did not fight with, signs thieves used to communicate quietly.
At first Dwalin didn’t want to intervene, but she did end up doing so over and over. Each time she had even the slightest suspicion that one of them was doing something illegal on her watch, she would intervene and stop them, and each time her suspicion was right.
And sometimes she heard them speak of Nori, heard them speak of a Dwarf who matched his description perfectly, or actually say his name. And it was like it had been with Gerir and Lyk far too often, with these scoundrels insulting Nori, or speaking about how he was a coward or how he had run from them or what they’d do to him when they’d see him next.
So many of them saw Nori as their enemy, and all of them would have Dwalin see them as hers as well. It’d always end with her loosing her composure, hunting them down when they tried to flee from the caravan when she found proof for them being criminals, with them begging for her to stop or offering her gold when her fists clenched around their collars and she slammed them to the ground.
She never cared, and Dwalin had no mercy for those who harmed the caravan or dared to speak of Nori.
It didn’t matter, none of them knew where Nori was, and barely any of them even knew that she snapped or recognized them for who they were for mentioning him. None suspected that Dwalin snapped at Nori’s name because she loved him, if they thought about the connection at all they thought that she had a bone to pick with him as well.
All of that only left Dwalin angry and disappointed, and made the criminals fear her and the other Dwarves admire her. More than once they asked her whether she wanted to join the guard, or whether she wanted to help hunt for criminals who moved between the mountains, but she declined every time.
She didn’t think she could bear it, and she’d rather not give up the wandering. Better to be able to move around, than to be bound to one town she hated and one in which she was alone.
Dwalin remained where she was, following one caravan and then the other and doing what she thought was right.
Still, it made her built a reputation, and soon she heard people talk about how viciously Dwalin hated thieves and scoundrels and how she tolerated no behaviour that was less than honest.
She never bothered to correct them.