Orla died simply.
While napping in the passenger seat of her cousin’s car one winter night, headed from the airport to her cousin’s home for the holidays, a driver who had lost control of his vehicle on the black ice coating the asphalt of the interstate. Orly died on impact as the sedan t-boned the passenger-side door of her cousin’s smart car.
She next remembered waking up under an overturned wagon, lying on warm grass, the stench of rotting meat poisoning the air. It was a mercy when blackness overtook her mind once again.
The Dwarves of Erebor had been brought low.
The Men of Dale who managed to survive the dragon’s attack on their city had little in the way of supplies and none to give the dwarves for succor. As for the fair folk of the Greenwood, Thranduil Oathbreaker had turned his back on every dwarf, dam, and bairn. Every death which followed the dragon’s attack was heaped upon his crown of twigs as the cost of his cowardice and pride.
After the Calamity, and the subsequent flight from their kingdom and the shadow of the dragon, the dwarves found themselves wandering. Trekking from village to village, scrounging up any work they could, trading away precious heirlooms and ay coin or jewel to feed their young, and eventually to provide for their full numbers.
Shunned in many villages and towns of Men, the dwarrow of Durin’s line restlessly walked onward. None of the other dwarves settlements had the means to welcome and harbor the refugees, although several Darrow managed to settle with Lord Nain in the Iron Hills, mostly miners and goldsmiths, those whose crafts could not be borne outside of mountain halls. Those lucky few wandered only two terrible years.
The majority of Durin’s folk traced lines across Arda, east to west and north to south, burying more of their kin in the dirt, far from the stones that were intended to use their shrouds, for there was no other choice on the road.
The weak went first. Those with lungs damaged by the smoke did not last three months.Those with severe burns lasted a fortnight at most. One silversmith’s apprentice lived despite the mass of silver that had melted onto his left hand, from palm to elbow. The pain had been excruciating, but now he carried his weight, like all those who hope to survive in the unsheltered wilds.
The bairns born on the March were all so small, too small. Their mother’s breasts ran dry too soon, too often. Only three survived their first year.
Fifteen of the mothers died in childbirth. Seven others simply wandered off in the night.
Several of the eldest of the dwarves spent as much time s possible minding the young ones, teaching the children what they could: history, sewing, knitting, embroidery, wood-carving, fire-building, Khuzdul, hunting, any skill they could pass on before they left for the Halls of Mahal. They knew it would not be long.
The King minded none of the information his advisors delivered, and left his son Thrain to manage the affairs of a leader of such a tribe. Thror was often found, muttering to himself, or glaring viciously at those who approached him. He tolerated only his daughter-in-law Fris and his granddaughter Dis to feed, bathe, and clothe him, as he would not perform these duties himself.
Thorin and Frerin, despite their youth, were pivotal in firming up the morale of their people, their kin. Thorin spent many long hours in discussion with his people, listening to their complaints with his full attention, promising to resolve the issues and upholding his word as swiftly as he was able. Frerin made himself a figure of cheerful nature, getting his people to laugh, to sing, to dance, despite their troubles, despite their dead, despite their poverty, despite their weary feet.
The royal family presented a united front, and led their people with certain, a certainty which translated into hope for their people.
The Darrow moved from dwarven settlement to dwarven stronghold, hoping to house even a handful of their people in a place which would not only house and feed them, but also provide a means for craft and trade and aproper dwarven life. Their numbers had dwindled steadily, more from death or illness than installation in another kingdom, but as the group decreased in size, Thrain and Thorin began discussing the possibility of finding some place which might be able to house their smaller numbers.
And so it was that three thousand Ereborean dwarves began marching towards Ered Luin, the Blue Mountains far to the west.
The dwarves currently inhabiting Ered Luin delivered several warriors in response to the royal ravens Thrain had sent out to seek sanctuary. These warriors, including one Bifur of the line of Ur, were to guide the remainder of Durin’s folk to their refuge.
Knowing their large numbers would slow their progress and draw too much unwanted attention, the caravan was broken into five arms, each intended to pass through a different village of Men to work for whatever they could manage in this last press to their last possible home. Thorin and his father’s cousin Fundin led the northernmost shaft, six hundred dwarves crossing the southernmost slopes of the Misty Mountains. They encountered little in the way of trouble, discounting one small party of Manish bandits.
Thrain led the innermost branch, marching straight around the edge of the woods bordering the elven city of Imladris.
Frerin led the branch in between his father and brother, accompanied by Groin, wending through the pass around the valley of Imladris, since Frerin was the most diplomatic son of Durin and therefore the most likely to sway the First-born into understanding his need for trespassing. This was proved true two days into the march; the dwarves under his banner were given an elven escort and arrived at the meeting place first.
The branch just south of Thrain’s was led by Thror and Fris and Dis, accompanied by Bifur. Moving just north of Bree, a Manish way-stop, the group paused for three days to acquire much-needed goods, and trade their own crafts for food.
The final branch was led by Farin, father to Fundin and Groin. Their caravan marched just into the Shire, near the Old Forest on the edges of Buckland.
Thror’s group was the fourth to reach the meeting point, two days past the appointed time due to sustaining attacks.
Firebeards had ambushed the group and began slaughtering any Longbeards in their paths in an attempt to assassinate the King. Bifur stood guard by the princesses and took an axe to the head before his assailants struck Fris down.
Thrain roared his grief as a wagon brought the bier of his wife into the center of the camp. Thorin and Frerin ran to embrace their sister and watched as their grandfather wept for the first time since long before the dragon had turned their lives beard-side-down.
Bifur and several other dwarves were moved from an additional wagon and laid out into a swiftly constructed healing tent. Most with serious injuries didn’t last the night. Bifur woke around third watch, bellowing in Khuzdul, mind in a berserker rage. It took four dwarves to hold him down as the stem of the axe was removed and his wound cleaned and treated. All that was left at that point was to ask Mahal to keep the warrior who defended Fris and Disin his halls, or to return him to his kin where they might honor him.
After one more day, and still no sign of the fifth branch, Thorin sent the order for scouts to seek their absent brethren. Three days later, the scouts returned by midday, bearing the helmet and beads of Farin and a single stretcher.
A lass, barely forty if the healer was any judge, bering a large and bloody bruise on her temple.
The healers could find no other injury on the girl. When questioned, the scouts described the scene they had discovered, a field of blood, bodies torn to pieces by scavengers. Except the lass, whom they had found beneath an overturned wagon. She had called out for help, or they might never have found her. They got some water down her throat, but once she had been lifted onto the hastily made stretcher, she had fallen unconscious and had remained so for the remainder of the journey.
The healers cleaned her wound and bound her head, lying her on a cot near BIfur. Thorin, speaking in his grieving father’s stead, had granted the healer’s one week’s stay as their location was an easily defendable one. But once the week was up, they marched for Ered Luin. He prayed to Mahal that the warrior who nearly died defending his mother and sister, and the little girl who had finally lost everything else she’d had, would both recover quickly. It would not be an easy march, even for those not wounded.
Bifur woke fully the following afternoon.
His words were slurred but discernible Khuzdul Proper, and the healers expressed great relief and anticipation for the swiftness of his further recovery. Dwarven skulls were strong and it took much to knock a stubborn mind about!
Bifur was fed a hearty stew with an ale for supper, but he seemed disinterested in its contents. When one healer’s apprentice suggested a lighter meal, a thin and watery vegetable broth with a pitcher of water, it was tried and found suitable to the injured dwarf.
It was in the process of eating his meager meal that Bifur finally noticed the presence of the young dam on the cot several meters to his left. Further inquiry detailed her journey to her current bed.
The pie-bald Broadbeam slipped into a melancholic mood, and he shifted his focus from rebuilding his strength to tending for the nameless dwarfling.
He spent the remainder of his time in the encampment pouring water and thin broth past her lips incrementally, speaking to her, telling her every story he could think of including many involving his young cousins Bombur and Bofur, cleaning her injury, and changing her bandages until they were cleared to come off entirely. Thus it was that he was the first dwarf to notice that her bruised temple was no longer swollen and that at the center of her injury was a rune, the mark of Mahal.
Bifur spoke of his discovery to no one, except young Dis, who had come and shared some of his time spent waiting at the lass’ bedside in companionable silence, and who happened to be with him at the moment of its discovery. The princess swore to her protector to remain silent until the girl was awake to decide the course of action for herself.
Bifur agreed and moved and braided the young dam’s hair in such a way as to hide the mark from those who might peek in on the lass. In the course of their private conversation, Bifur told Dis, “I would claim her as mine. No lass should be without kin. Especially above ground.”
Dis had hummed, “Agreed. But what called out to you that she should call you kin?” For while children were precious to dwarrow, adoption was a rare occurrence, even for orphans. Typically, kin would claim the child, and nothing official need be done. For an adoption outside of kin, however, the king himself needed to be involved.
Bifur raised a slow hand to his axe-laden brow before gesturing to the girl’s own marked forehead. Dis smiled. “I see. You will be good for her, and she for you, I believe.” Her voice was matter-of-fact, and free of any other judgement.
“I will wait for her to wake, before I speak of it formally. That she may choose freely.” He bit the words out tersely, head pounding with emotion, determined to speak clearly.
“I expected no less of you.” Dis’ voice was soothing in its regularity of tone and volume. She was a quit princess, or at least had been since her mother’s death.
Bifur nodded at the princess and nothing more was said on the matter.
On the last day before the camp was packed up to move on, Orla woke.