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The Following Dark

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__________The Following Dark__________

 

Chapter 1

 

A bloody beginning, hidden trouble and the start of a very bad day.

 

 

 


 

 

The dark column of smoke rose over the thick forest, marring the clear blue sky; something burned on the Trade Road. Onar sounded the alarm and the entire patrol lifted their heads, taking in the ominous sight. Nobody waited for orders, they immediately started pushing forward despite their exhaustion after the long mission. Onar heard a few whispers amongst the soldiers, and he could imagine why. They were only a day away from Erebor, but it was too much smoke to come from just a few campfires. Whatever lied ahead would not be pretty.

 

Shortly after they found the first body. In the middle of the road an older merchant dwarf lay sprawling, three arrows sticking out of his back. Onar carefully pulled one out and looked at the arrowhead and fletching, neither of them distinguishable in shape or material. It was just a regular arrow made of goosefeathers and base iron.

 

As they closed in they wearily slowed down, all the dwarfs could smell it now: the ash and the unmistakable stench of death. The caravan lay spread out across the road and the ditches, two broken carriages and seven overloaded wagons overturned. The colorful contents had been thrown out, torn, crushed and set fire to. Pieces of colored glass, small ornaments and overturned baskets full of beads had been scattered around, now crunching under the heavy boots of the patrol.

 

Onar could feel his pulse thudding against thearm-guards. He was on high alert, adrenaline coursing through him. This was somehow worse than orcs and goblins. The merchants and their guards had been slaughtered indiscriminately and with great enthusiasm. Onar looked down on a young dwarrowdam staring unseeing at the sky above. Someone had opened her from the chin down to her groin with one swipe of a large blade, splattering her pretty face with blood. They must have been taken unaware he though, the way the bodies laid it didn't look like they had had time to organize a defense. It was natural to let your guard down this close to the great dwarven city, you were supposed to be safe.

 

Nothing moved amongst the debris except the smoke dancing and swirling from the many fires. Onar stopped and felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, a foreboding quiet laid over the woodland around them like a heavy mantle. The blood on the ground was still fresh. Whoever had dared to attack traders this close to Erebor might still be stupid enough to hang around. But stupid could sometimes be dangerous, as any soldier well knows.

 

The Captain brushed past Onar and stumped into the hazy wreckage, completely impervious to the unease of his soldiers. He stepped over a dead guard before leaning down to remove the dwarfs necklace, weighing it in his hand before pocketing it. Onar looked away, feeling disgusted. Arrogant, petty and suspicious - Fjalar always played up his nobility but never acted with the honor or benevolence of Hornbor, who had been a commoner by birth. After Commander Hornbor was killed during the fights deep in the Grey Hills the Beta soldiers could only look on in dismay as Fjalar named himself Captain, as they themselves had nothing to say in such matters. None of the other Alphas wanted to be the one to explain to their King how their first Commander had died, so they let Fjalar take charge without objection.

 

Recruited as the new Captains second in command against his will, Onar had had to trail after Fjalar the entire way back. Being a Beta he shouldn't even be given such a status, and the Alphas in the Patrol made their views known by generally ignoring anything Onar said or did. Now he just tried to keep their patrol from disintegrating over mere trifles, the last week of the journey had been a trying affair for everyone. It didn't help Onar to know he had to face Thorin at Fjalars side when they got back. He would have to choose between telling the truth or reveal his Alpha brothers rookie mistake - an impossible choice in his mind. Loyalty meant everything amongst the dwarves in the Long Patrol.

 

Now Fjalar let his soldiers mingle about without giving any orders, while he poked in the ruins of the caravan looking for more valuables. Onar gave a few silent orders, signing to three of the Betas to search the outskirts of the area, and the rest that actually paid him any attention to look for anyone still alive. Checking for signs of life amongst the rubble Onar had almost reached the end of the convoy when he heard the sounds. Someone coughing? The sound was quickly strangled but the dwarf made his way towards the source. Not wanting to alert any nearby foes he carefully stepped between the crushed pottery, bits of small furniture and large rolls of expensive cloths littering the last stretch of road. He arrived at the toppled carriage, still attached to the dead horse lying on the ground. Peering in Onar saw it was empty and he scanned the nearby forest for movement. Only a thin veil of spring green crowned the leaf trees but the firs were dark and thick, there could easily be a score of foes hidden right in front of their noses. As Onar stepped closer to the forest he heard another sound from the carriage and he turned back, staring at the crushed woodwork and broken wheel. The backside of the thing was definitely bigger than normal, wasn't it?

 

Now that Onar looked for it he could see the lines forming the hidden hatch at the back of the carriage. He set his dagger to it and with a grunt he poppet it open and nearly fell backwards as two dwarves tumbled out of the secret compartment. The slight nithul had a russet mop of hair covering most of her face, but he caught a flash of her hazel eyes, wide with fear and shock. Even as they lay tangled on the road the khulz tried to push her behind him, his small frame not much of a shield. Short chestnut hair was plastered to his head by sweat, and his gray eyes locked with Onars. The Beta could tell the little dwarf was prepared to die to protect her. Astonished exclamations pulled him back to reality, as the rest of the patrol had come up behind him to see what he had found. Only too late Onar realized what his nose had tried to tell him all the while: the two survivors were Omegas and worse – they were both in heat, shrinking under the gaze of two dozen soldiers who had been away from polite society for what seemed like years.

 

A ripple went through Fjalars ranks as nostrils flared at the smell of the two Omegas. Before a single word had been uttered the Alphas of the patrol were already squaring up to a fight, the Captain himself seemingly taken harder by the surprise than the rest. Onar was not inflicted by the powerful urges overtaking most of the Alpha soldiers, but the Betas being in the minority here this could easily get out of hand. Hell, it already had as Fjalars hands shot to the hilts of his weapons, slowly turning towards the closest dwarf with a glare. Onar could see the nonverbal communication passing between the Alphas; their scent was growing ranker. Over half stepped away from their Captain, showing their respect for his claim to the Omegas. But too many stood their ground, staring back at Fjalar with defiance and greed. Trying to catch some of the remaining soldiers attention Onar signed for them to back him, but few even dared to move. A few Betas drifted towards him behind the group, trying to avoid Fjalars attention. The Captain slowly unhitched one of his axes from his belt and shuffled his feet to a fighting stance. Onar realized there was no waiting, he had to act now. He walked up to him and addressed him in a careful tone:

 

“Captain, we should take these Omegas back to...”

 

He didn't get to finish the sentence before he was hit with a powerful blow to the head, making him stumble to the ground. Small lights danced in front of his eyes. Fjalar held out his axe as a silent threat – anyone coming closer better be ready to fight him. And those idiots would challenge him too, Onar could see it in their faces. He tried to stand up but his legs gave in. Lying in the dust he resigned himself to whatever would come next. These dwarves had been his brothers in arms, he had protected them with his life on the Long Patrol but apparently he wasn't capable of saving them from themselves.

 

“I stake a claim.”

 

The voice cut through the building tension and in the silence that followed a strange dwarf stepped onto the road from the forest. The soldiers stared at him. Was he one of the robbers? Or a hunter? The stranger wore a padded fighters tunic in a patchwork of tattered leathers, and over it two bandoleers crossed over his chest. A headwrap covered his face in the Southern style, a strange garment this far North. His eyes was the only part showing; a golden amber taking in the scene with a serene calmness that made Onar suspect this lad might be crazier then the soldiers. He was facing down over a dozen fully armored dwarves, all mad with the smell of the Omegas. Fjalar measured the stranger with incredulity, clearly coming to the same conclusion as Onar.

 

“Have you lost your wits lad?”

 

The dwarf moved towards them, still at a safe distance but it became clear as he came closer that he must be young. Barely reaching Fjalars hight and much slighter in frame this youngling was no threat to anyone in the patrol. Some even started to grin. Slowly the stranger lifted the bandoleers over his head, dropping them to the ground. The lads only weapons were a short blade and a small warhammer hanging from the thin belt that crisscrossed over his hips. This pipsqueak was clearly set on meeting his end sooner rather than later, as he ignored Fjalars question and continued towards them.

 

“You are soldiers from Erebor?” he asked and continued before he got any answer, “You have the right to back out if you don't want to fight me, I wont judge.”

 

The Captain was clearly riled by the lads cockiness: “But you are just a dwarfling!”

 

“I'm older than I look,” the newcomer replied unfazed, pulling the warhammer from his belt and stroking the metal lovingly.

 

“What do you say grandpa, are we going to do this while the sun is still out?”

 

“You think you can take me with that puny cutlery?!” Fjalar nodded at the rather unimpressive weapons, but his face had started to redden with anger. The jeers from the stranger was getting to him.

 

“I think I can take you in any fight, with or without weapons,” the hunter replied before he looked behind the Captain and addressed the rest of the Alphas, “and I'll take on anyone who thinks they have a right to the Omegas. I challenge you to a Hurmel Uhurud.”

 

The Hurmel Uhurud had been considered old fashioned in the civilized dwarf cities for the past two generations, but it wasn't outlawed as such. There had to be a unanimous vote from all of Erebors Council members to change a law, and they rarely agreed on anything. Thankfully the Omegas living in Erebor these days were free and allowed to choose their own partners, or so it was in theory at least. It was well know the Honor Battles were still fought amongst surface dwarves.

 

The Captain unfastened his cloak wordlessly, heftet his second axe and moved closer to the stranger standing on the road. It was clear to all that there would be a fight now, there was no going back now. Most of the soldiers took some steps back giving them space, but two dwarves drew their weapons and stayed. Flexing in their sturdy battleworn armor they flaunted their advantage, and it really was an advantage: what they were wearing had been made to withstand heavy blows and cuts from large two-handed weapons. The lads leathers would make him more agile but certainly also much more vulnerable to their weapons, made of sharp steel forged by some of the best weapon smiths in the known world.

 

The youngling drew a dagger so long it could almost have been a shortsword. Unadorned but clearly well kept the strange blade glinted along the edge, divulging the sharpness of it. In his other hand he held the hammer; a dainty thing compared to the warhammers favored amongst soldiers. It had a longer handle then a smiths hammer, but with a curved nasty point to one end as well as a functional metal bulb at the other. He calmly walked up to Fjalar as if to spark a conversation. The Captain didn't hesitate. With a roar he threw himself at the smaller dwarf, slashing at him with his axes in a flurry of blows that most certainly would have been lethal if not for the lads uncanny speed. He was never where he was supposed to be and Fjalars weapons only sliced empty air. Gracefully he backed off, letting the soldier spend his momentum as he kept backing up. Sweatbeads multiplied on the Captains forehead. He grunted and cursed, getting angrier with every missed swing. Eventually he had wasted so much strength his movements slowed. Onar saw it coming a long way, Fjalar was falling for the simplest of tricks. Slow and tired he now furiously blinked sweat out of his eyes and panted like a dog.

 

Suddenly the stranger stuck his neck out, offering it to Fjalar. The big oaf took the bait, savagely aiming at the unprotected head with one axe. The youngling caught his arm and in one movement he leapt up, grappling the Captains waist with his legs and swirling himself around the other dwarfs bulk. The patrol stood in shock as the young hunter shoved his blade up Fjalars throat, through his mouth and into the brain, ending the fight in the blink of an eye. In his own head Onar corrected himself. This youngling was not a hunter, he was a warrior - clever and well-trained to boot.

 

The two soldiers that had hung back rushed forward, more aroused by the smell of blood than the loss of their Captain. Meeting them at a run the warrior dodged the first Alpha and threw out an arm just as he passed him, hooking his hammer into the gorget of the poor sods armor. Launching himself towards the second dwarf the warrior fainted a slash with the blade before his foot met the Alphas knee with a sickening crack. Behind them the first soldier was roughly yanked to the ground by the propulsion. Rolling away from the screaming dwarf the leatherclad stranger sunk his knife into the first Alphas eye socket before he had time to sit up.

 

Onar had been holding his breath, knowing full well he could do little to stop it. But as two more of his brothers drew their weapons, one of them was close enough for Onar to grab. With the help of his fellow Beta soldiers he bore him to the ground. Unfortunately the other one got to rush the warrior unchecked. Adopting a more careful stand this soldiers shield was protecting his vitals and making it more difficult to reach the weak spots in the armor. He managed to force the youngling back using controlled slashes with a shortsword.

 

Trying to weave his way into arms reach the lad eventually had to accept he could not get close enough to stab the Alpha. Suddenly changing tactics he dashed forward and slammed himself into the shield with all his speed and weight, before dropping to the ground between the soldiers legs pulling the shield with him. The larger dwarf was forced to either let the shield drop with his opponent or be pulled down with it. His moment to strike the body below him was cut short as the warrior kicked him in the groin from below, making him miss his intended cut.

 

With a painful grunt he collapsed on top of the shield, the smaller form under him neatly slipping out before the full weight pinned the lad down. He twisted, slid himself over the shield and locked his legs around his opponents shoulders as the soldier tried to roll away. The Alphas sword came up trying to stab the stranger. Dropping his warhammer the youngling grabbed the arm, twisting it until the older dwarf had to drop the blade. With a quick flourish he sliced the soldiers throat open, the sanguine fluid drenching his face and clothes.

 

They all stared at the warrior as he stood up from his last kill, a demon covered in blood. Picking up the hammer the stranger carefully stepped over the slain and walked towards the Omegas, neatly placing himself between them and the soldiers. Onar got to his feet, finally able to take some control of what remained of the patrol, barking orders loudly and seeing even the Alphas following them with a inward sigh of relief. Glancing over at the lad he saw him crouching by the two Omegas. They were still huddled against the remains of the cart, now looking just as terrified of the warrior as of the Alphas. Ignoring his new charges he still faced the patrol, keeping his eye on every movement.

 

Briefly closing his eyes to collect his thoughts Onar took stock of the situation. This youngling had won an unfair fight against four fully armored and seasoned soldiers, who undoubtedly should have showed more self control. He imagined what the King would say when he heard of this debacle. Loosing good dwarves to a joust over Omegas was a disgrace, and the injured fighter would be facing prison or worse. As for the dead, having broken the soldiers oath and even engaged in an unsanctioned Hurmel Uhurud, the fallen Alphas would be left in the forest for the crows to feast on. Their families would have no graves to mourn by. Not having your bones returned to the stone meant your soul was doomed to wander the surface, forever lost to the Gods and to your loved ones.

 

A rustle in the nearby trees made them all turn as a human man lead three horses onto the road. He nodded to Onar and his men as if wandering into a road filled with bodies and burning caravan wagons were an everyday occurrence. He confidently walked towards the blood-drenched warrior and his newly won Omegas, hailing him.

 

“I could only catch one of the horses, I found another that was badly burnt so I put it out of it's misery. The rest has either been taken by the bastards or fled as fast as their hooves could carry them.”

 

The lad nodded solemnly and the tall man walked over to the Omegas handing out the reins of the sooty horse without a saddle. They looked up at him in horror.

 

“It is the only horse I could rescue from the caravan. Here.” Proffering the rains with a smile had no effect, they just kept staring at him. He sighed.

 

“Does my face scare you little ones? It is just a burn.”

 

“Just a burn” was however a bit of an understatement. The skin on the right side of his face shined red and angry against his olive skin, nothing of the ear remained and the surface tightened in places as if it had melted. The Omegas eyes moved from the bad burns on one side to the mangled ear on the other side, roughly cut off with a blunt blade a long time ago. Still, his almond shaped eyes glinted with mirth and the corners of his mouth was permanently turned upwards. Without the burn he would've been handsome, with high cheekbones and eyes a remarkable shade of light green. The raven black hair on the untouched side of his head had a silver streak going along the scalp closest to the burn and was sleek and well kept, and his clothes distinctly less rough then his companions scruffy attire. But all the smiles in the world could not comfort the Omegas at this point, the khulz put his arm around the slighter nithul protectively. Giving up on the Omegas the man lead the horses over to the young warrior and bent the knee, speaking too low for Onar to catch any of what transpired between them, and he finally had to pull his gaze away - he could not afford to loose the attention of his patrol at this time.

 

Not giving any of the soldiers time to think he had organized them into groups and having them scouring the nearby forest for survivors or any clues to the identity of the assailants. They day had wore on and if they didn't get started on the return within a glass they would have to spend the night by the road. Onar was determined to avoid any more confrontations, and he had the injured soldier to think of.

 

He told the rest of the men to gather the bodies, and as they started to pull them towards the forest the stranger stood up.

 

“Where are you taking them?”

 

“Into the forest.”

 

“There is no need, we have an extra horse you can use. Take them home.” the lad offered. Onar realized he didn't understand what had to be done.

 

“They won't get buried. They have broken too many laws by fighting you.”

 

The youngling glanced at the men, who all avoided eye contact. “But..,” he seemed to think for a moment. “... they were only trying to protect their beloved leader?”

 

His voice was persuasive and Onar understood what he was trying to do. The soldiers hesitated with their fallen comrades carried between them. His brothers were staring at Onar now, everyone hoping for a different outcome.

 

“True...true that.” Onar said though he wasn't sure he could pull this off. The stranger ventured on.

 

“So seeing that the dear Captain, who... - clearly thought he was saving the Omegas from a cruel fate – had been defeated, they get so torn by grief they went momentarily mad”.

 

Nobody who had met Fjalar would find the word “beloved” a believable description, least of all the King. But Onar was thinking fast. Nobody at home would WANT to know the truth, or at least they would want to pretend it hadn't happened. So this might actually work though Thorin would never be fooled by it, but he might just let it pass for the sake of the families and more importantly: the reputation of his soldiers. It was worth a try.

 

“You take the words out of my mouth. But as you surely realize, we would need you to come with us to Erebor to bear witness before the King and the Council.”

 

The warrior seemed to consider Onar before he made a decision.

 

“I will agree to that. We can tie the bodies to the horse Tork found. It isn't the most appropriate way of returning fallen soldiers but it should get us back before nightfall.”

 

The relief amongst his men was palpable. Making quick work of it they unceremoniously rolled the dead in cloth from the wagons and then lashed and tied them with various ropes from their packs. The burned man came over with a decent length of sturdy twine, and before long they had attached the cocoons to the horse. They all got on their steeds though the dwarf with the shattered knee was tied to a fellow soldier as they had given him what little they had left of poppy milk. The Omegas, seemingly too scared to sit with the human, was placed in front and behind the warrior. Onar sent one scout ahead to warn the King of the fate of the caravan, giving him the least tired steed.

 

And so they set out on the last stretch of road to Erebor, the Alpha soldiers on their tired ponies sat the pace while the two strangers and the Omegas on the horses followed close behind, surrounded by Betas.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

__________The Following Dark__________

 

Chapter 2

 

Silent words, Erebors gates and a very angry King.

 

 


 

 

Halfway to the great city of Erebor they passed a group of Watchmen, healers and a priest that had been sent out immediately after Onars scout reported to the City Watch. The exhausted patrol was more or less ignored as they pulled to the side of the road, letting the company pass. The Watch didn't pay them any mind, except for the burned man who drew more than a few curious looks. He didn't seem to mind, rather the opposite. He flashed his pearly white teeth to a few of the more handsome dwarves and even got one or two hesitant albeit confused smiles in return.

 

Around them the bright greens of spring seemed almost luminous in the sharp afternoon light, and the birds were chattering happily in the birch trees. The sickening smells of the caravan was finally left behind, but their clothes still smelled of smoke and was a grim reminder. Shrubs and the thickest vegetation had withdrawn further from the road, and wedged between islands of thickets a few farms was scattered along the last miles to the dwarven city. On the large horse Magni sat behind the warrior and held on to his Omega mate, despite being bone-weary. He could tell she struggled to sit up straight so he made sure she didn't slip. The damned Alpha didn't seem to notice nor care. It would have been comforting to have her in his arms but the silent stranger was sandwiched between them. He hated that the human had placed Idun with her face toward the warrior, meaning she was sitting with her entire front flush to his. At least they had been able to sign each other undetected. Slumbering against the shoulder of the stranger Idun looked more peaceful than she ever did awake, but now she opened her eyes and looked at Magni with bloodshot eyes. Her cheek had the stitched pattern from the warriors dirty leather tunic pressed into it.

 

Magni,” he looked down at her hand, she was signing to him right below his elbow to keep it hidden.

 

What can you see?”

 

He looked past her onto the road ahead, which wound along far ahead until it vanished into the woodland. It was hard to tell how close they were to Erebor. The huge mountain towered over the forest, the rays of the sun chiseling out the sharp features of the cliffs and ridges. Something this big could seem deceptively close, when in fact it was days away. Please be close, he thought. Magni couldn't say how much longer they would manage to stay in the saddle. He released Idun with one hand and carefully placed it so she could see his reply.

 

We must be nearly there, I see more of the mountain than sky. How are you?”

 

I am fine. We have been saved!” She smiled then wrinkled her nose. “But he smells bad...”

 

And that was certainly true. The warrior smelled of dirt, sweat and most nauseating of all; blood. But Magni couldn't stop trying to get a scent from the dwarf who now seemed to own them. Not being able to distinguish the warriors personal scent worried him, as it would tell him a lot about what to expect from the stranger. Idun had been so sheltered before they run away, she did not understand what had just happened. The dwarf saved them from being ravaged there and then by whoever had been left standing of the soldiers - that was true. But trusting this Alpha not to take advantage of his price showed her innocence. Magni squeezed her hand reassuringly and leaned in so he could rest his forehead against hers for a short moment, there was no need to worry her. She lifted her hand again.

 

I think he is hurt.”

 

How so?”

 

My thigh feels wet and sticky. I think he is bleeding.”

 

Magnis eyes glanced at the back head of the warrior. He was sitting as straight and firm as he did when they started out.

 

Do not draw attention to it. As long has he stays alive until we reach Erebor...”

 

She looked shocked at his reply, but said no more except giving him a slight nod. He could tell that she had been rattled though, he had scared her after all. Turning he saw that the Captain had slowed his horse and was looking at them. After meeting Magnis eyes he faced the road, casually informing everyone that they were less than five glasses from reaching the gates. The Omega suddenly realized the Captain might understand iglishmêk. It hadn't occurred to him but now that he was thinking about it it made sense to be able to communicate in silence while in the field. He cursed himself, it was possible he just alerted the soldiers. But the Captain didn't say anything else, he just rode on looking straight ahead.

 

Trying to relax in the little space Magni had at his disposal was useless, as his muscles were stiff and every inch of him ached. And it didn't help to have this rigid person sitting in front of him either. A part of Magni just wanted to give up and give in to the urge of just letting himself slide off the horse and fall asleep as soon as he hit the ground. But he couldn't, he had to make sure Idun got through this. Forcing his body to lean in he accepted the warriors back as a rest. Breathing through his mouth to avoid the smell the Omega rested his head on the strangers shoulder, getting a less strained grasp on Iduns tunic. The spring air was fresh and chilly when the sun didn't warm Magnis back, so the slight heat from the Alpha turned out to be a welcome relief, despite feeling awkward about the closeness.

 

The silence overcoming the patrol after the Captains announcement was strained. Four glasses seemed an eternity. The ponies trotted on but the soldiers drooped in their saddles, one even hunched over the saddle to embrace the the neck of his ride. After a short time two Alphas started bickering and the Captain seemed to be the only dwarf still capable of doing more than just staring ahead and rode forth and back along the patrol, keeping everyone in line and encouraging the soldiers that lagged behind to keep up. Still, the mountain seemed just as distant, time moved slowly and the ponies even slower.

 

Suddenly a clear baritone voice rang out among them, singing a well known ditty in old Khuzdul. It was a sentimental and sweet melody about returning to your homestead after a long journey, wondering if your loved ones will remember you still. The closest dwarfs in the little group looked around and the utter disbelief on their faces was echoed on every face that turned as the burned man went on to sing the chorus. A human singing in dwarfish was unheard of! Idun stared at the disfigured man who, if anything, seemed to thoroughly enjoy all the gaping mouths. Some of the soldiers seemed angry, but before anyone could interrupt the song the Captain joined in, making a nice harmony with his husky bass. After a stunned moment a few more added their voices. And that was how they managed to finish the last stretch of road, everyone at their last tethers – the human leading them on with songs.

 

Eventually the forest around the patrol thinned somewhat, with more leaf trees spread amongst the firs. Dusk turned the shadows into hues of blue as a few early fireflies occasionally illuminated the road and the statues who silently guarded the way to the city. Magni looked up as he heard the water rushing in front of them. If it was the Celduin river, it meant they were almost there! As they passed the last bend in the road the entrance of Erebor came into view and Magni gasped. The entire front of the giant gates was richly embellished and the carved stone surrounding it might be almost 2000 foot tall and lit with hundreds of torches. Even in the dusk Magni could see the craftsmanship and skill it had taken to chisel out these enormous adornments. Over the gates towered a giant statue of a dwarf King, his hands resting on a double bladed axe made of real steel glinting in the firelight. Magni woke Idun with a gentle tug so she could see. She blinked sleepily at him before realizing what he meant, twisting her head as far as she could to take in the sight in front of them. The incredible scale of the doors became apparent as they passed the bridge crossing the river. A group of armored Watchmen awaited them on the other side, wordlessly lining up and escorting them through the colossal gateway and into the mountain itself.

 

The sheer height of the city's raw stone ceiling was overwhelming. The two Omegas craned their necks as they passed through the first watch post. It should have been pitch black up there, instead there were millions of smoldering luminous dots sprinkled like stars above them. The whole dome seemed to pulsate with translucent light in shades of yellow, blues and greens. The hundreds of roads and thousands of houses that made up Erebor itself was lit up by torches and lanterns, the city rose up from the common market closes to the main gate and ascended up three hills. On the East peak the temple of Mehal towered, made of black, white and grey stone. Both Omegas recognized his symbol on the many banners hanging along the path up to the large building, and the hill it stood on looked like a termite nest. It was holed out with countless passages leading to the tombs and further down into the deep where the old catacombs lay.

The North peak seemed to have many workshops as well as large storefronts and fine buildings. This must be where you could find all the finest metalwork that the dwarven kingdom had to offer, and that was saying something though Magni. On the top of the West peak there was a strange but beautiful palace made entirely out of wood. It overlooked the most colourful district and it was the only section fenced in with tall walls. It might be the Omega Quarter guessed Magni, if so the wooden mansion must be the Temple of Yavanna.

 

The sides surrounding the ginormous cave of Erebor had thousands of walkways carved into them. Uniformed Watchmen and workers walked along many these high roads, but Magni couldn't tell what they were doing. In front of them the Captain of the Long Patrol exchanged a few words with the Commander of the City Watch, who let them pass. They continued through the coach yard and stables, which even after sunset was buzzing with activity. Taverns squeezed in between the warehouses close to the Low Market entrance spilled out laughter and music, shouts and a few loud arguments. Many dwarves were sitting outside the establishments enjoying pipes and ale, some of them playing Hnefatafl or dice. The smell of spit roast and summerpie made Magnis mouth water, but they kept moving through another passageway that took them to yet another guard post.

 

The Watchmen lead them along a winding and dingy street hidden behind rows upon rows of houses, muffling the sounds of the city's bustle and cutting the patrol off from the the warm glow of the street lanterns. A shout made them all holt, and Magni tried to see what happened at the front. They had reached a dead end of the street. A sudden clank and a loud bang made the two Omegas jump in the saddle, and a huge door was lowered into the ground where it disappeared completely from view to reveal a big, walled in courtyard. Torches blazed, voices rang out and suddenly there were armored dwarves everywhere, grabbing the rains of the ponies and horses and leading them into the middle of the yard. The Watchmen had fallen back, and these new soldiers were making Magni very nervous. Much larger than the average dwarf, with shiny breastplates and ring mail, all having emblazed shields strapped to their backs. He looked around and saw many suspicious eyes staring at them from battlements and guard towers.

 

What Magni first thought was an elaborate high-relief carving for decorative purposes turned out to be the royal palace - cut straight into the mountain itself. It was something he would normally long to marvel at but there was to much happening around them. The lights blurred in front of his eyes as the burned man had unexpectedly come up beside the horse and lifted Magni up like a baby before setting the him down. Dizzy and legs trembling he was thankful to feel the ground under his feet. Idun was sat a bit more careful down next to him and the human bent down closer, to their shared discomfort.

 

“Don't go anywhere until we say so. You understand? You only go if we say so.”

 

Magni nodded in acknowledgment and the human patted him comradely on the shoulder with a bearlike hand, nearly buckling the dwarfs knees.

 

“Good good.”

 

 

Tork had no idea how this would unfold, they certainly had not planned to end up in Erebor - not yet. His friend was wounded from the honor fight though Tork knew not to remark upon it; their situation was a precarious one. Trying to hide his concern he turned and looked for the Captain, the only one of the patrol soldiers that had seemed to have some wits about him. The dwarf called Onar was currently talking with a superior of some sort, head bowed in respect. With many eyes upon them and more dwarves trickling in from every gateway of the crescent shaped courtyard, there was very little he could do to fade into the background. His height and size in itself made him stand out like a sore thumb, so he avoided meeting eyes and kept his head down. At the front of the patrol the horse with the dead bodies was taken away by robed and hooded dwarves, probably priests. The poor idiot having suffered a broken leg was unceremoniously transported out of view, Tork winced watching him bounce on the stretcher. Hopefully he would be out if it until he got to a healer.

 

 

On the other side of the yard Onar was reporting to Thorin in a clear and concise way, which still did nothing to improve the Kings rising anger. That goatsass Fjalar had always been a thorn in his side and even more so dead it would seem. As if the King didn't have enough to deal with. He held up a hand and made Onar stop mid-sentence. He was looking over at the little group standing to the side behind the patrol. The human with the scarred face was looking straight at Thorin. Behind him the covered warrior slipped his leg over the saddle and jumped down from a horse that was quite frankly ludicrously large for a dwarf to ride. Hitting the ground he seemed to spend just a second too long to regain his balance, still holding on to the horse. The King could see Brynjar make a beeline for the stranger with a certain expression Thorin had come to know well. So he started towards them to intercept him, whilst signaling to Dori so he would follow with the Beta servants, with the Kingsguard and Onar at his heels.

 

As the King closed in on them the unknown warriors hand flew to his belt and moved so fast it took the guards a second to draw their own weapons. He had placed himself so he hindered the King coming any closer to the Omegas. The human next to him also put his hand to the hilt of his sword. Breathing slowly Thorin smelled them clearly now, the two slighter dwarves were both in heat. Their dirty faces, hollow cheeks and sallow skin told of the tolls the trip had taken.

 

The King could respect the dwarfs wish to keep the Omegas from other Alphas, but then again he was the King and not to be denied – especially in front of half of his guard and several of the Council who had mysteriously “just showed up” in the palace courtyard. However, it seemed that having over fifty swords, axes and crossbows pointed at him personally was not changing this lads mind. Brave but stupid. Quite typical of a Alpha just come of age, though Thorin had a sneaking suspicion this youngling hadn't quite picked up on who he was yet. He decided to give this one a chance.

 

“ Shamukh, let there be peace under the mountain.”

 

The warrior didn't move a muscle.

 

“Do you know who I am, friend?”

 

This was an warning and at first it didn't seem to register as two amber eyes stared into his, not giving an inch. But behind Thorin Onar mouthed “ THE KING ” indicating Thorin, and the warrior finally seemed to understand. Dropping his stance he reluctantly moved to the side so Thorin could approach the Omegas. He proceeded and looked down on a little nithul dwarf and a slightly larger one, more khulz in looks and demeanor. They were both sickly pale, their hair hacked off, clothes ragged and hanging off gaunt frames smaller than most Omegas born in Erebor. Likely they were from a tiny village with too little food to keep everyone's belly full.

 

“What are your names?”

 

They both had their gazes downcast, but it was the khulz replying as he bowed.

 

Melhekhul, we are honored. My name is Magni, son of Bjornar the smith. This is Idun, daughter of Alfsig the weaver, both of Vinjeheim.”

 

So, they were faster on the uptake than their guardian, Thorin thought. And from Vinjeheim, not such a small village after all.

 

“Well met Magni Bjornsson and Idun Alfsigsdottir. This,” he turned and gestured towards Dori “is Dori, the Majordomo of the Omega Court. Because of your condition, he has suggested we take you directly to the Temple of Yavanna. There is nowhere safer and you can get all the care you need. Dori will take you there himself to make sure you get settled.”

 

The khulz omega glanced at the shrouded warrior, so Thorin turned towards him.

 

“I presume this is acceptable to you?”

 

It did not seem to be agreeable to the youngling at all. He was considering Dori as if the flamboyant dwarf were hiding sinister intents in his impeccable robes. Eventually the Kings patience was wearing thin.

 

“That was a rhetorical question.”

 

Reluctantly giving in the warrior nodded to the Omegas giving them permission to leave. They were immediately rounded up by Dori who shot the stranger a disapproving look while the little dwarfs were helped into a litter and swiftly carried off towards the Omega Quarter. They disappeared from view, and suddenly it was as if the last of the warriors strength left him. He fell to one knee trying to catch himself, but his leg gave way and he collapsed on the seamless cobblestones. The burned man leapt forward and lifted him up in his arms. There was a dark patch on the stone where the dwarf had stood. Thorin winked at Brynjar and everyone moved to the side to let the Kingsguard Commander step forward.

 

“Take a dozen soldiers and lead the human and his friend to Oin the healer. Don't let them out of your sight. Onar, follow them to see they get there without incident, then report back to me.”

 

Brynjar and Onar bowed, and the human dipped his head to the King as much as he could with the warrior in his arms.

 

Dolzekh menu, Melhekhul.”

 

Thorin stared after him. A human speaking Khuzdul? What dwarf would dare to share such knowledge with a mere man. He narrowed his eyes. It had become more and more obvious that there were more to these two then just regular trouble. The King changed his mind.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

__________The Following Dark__________

 

Chapter 3

 

In the House of Healing.

 

 


 

 

 

After leaving palace courtyard Tork turned and hurried after the Commander and Onar, who didn't waste time. “Please stay with me ”, he thought as he held the limp body close to him. Normally he would have been careful about memorizing the way when moving through an unknown place but he was much too distracted to really notice. Brynjar took them trough a several dank alleyways and any dwarves they met moved quickly out of the way, staring after the line of Kingsguards and the human in their midst. Reached an main street Brynjar lead them to the left and Tork thanked whatever Gods were listening when he realized they had already reached the infirmary. The large sign above the entrance showed the healers hand painted in dark green and silver. They didn't even slow down as Onar burst through the doors, nearly knocking over the old healer standing right inside.

 

“Don't run in my house lad! Ah I see.”

 

With no hesitation Oin waved Tork in the moment he saw the human emerge with the lifeless form in his arms.

 

“This way.”

 

He showed them into a small chamber set up with a stone slab and some rather disconcerting metal tools displayed on a side table. He asked Tork to lay his companion down but the Kingsguard started pouring in after them, crowding the room. Oin sent them out, having to shame Brynjar into leaving.

 

“Commander, there is only one door into this room, so unless they can move through stone they wont get away. Besides, I need space enough to move my arms if I am to do my job. Please do your guarding outside so I can get started.”

 

Brynjar finally stomped out, but Onar still hovered in the doorway, trying to ignore the dark looks from the Alpha soldiers.

 

“Oin, do you need me for anything? I am expected to make a full report to the King, and he is not in a good mood.”

 

“When is he ever...” mumbled the old dwarf. “Yes yes, go. Go!”

 

The Captain left the room too and Tork was hoovering over the slab, trying not to fidget or otherwise distract the healer. Oin ignored him and immediately started a quick examination. He picked up a small knife and cut open the leather over the warriors upper thigh and hip, revealing a deep cut bleeding copiously.

 

Tork had seen many injuries in his time and this didn't look too bad, but then again it had been left untreated for an entire day. Besides the blood loss there was the possibilities of festering. Oin removed the bandoleers and sword belt from the dwarf, then unfastening the sheath from the back and dropped it all on the ground.

 

“How long since the injury?” the old dwarf asked, checking for fractures or other wounds.

 

“Maybe ten glasses? It was past midday but not much more.”

 

“And what weapon was she struck with?”

 

“There was four. I'm not sure who actually hit her. They had axes, shortsword and...”

 

To late he realized his mistake and he faltered. The healer didn't seem to notice but a sound behind him made him whirl around.

 

She?

 

The King had entered the room making less noise than anyone wearing that much metal had the right to. Thorin locked eyes with Tork and he knew it was too late. But it was Oin who replied.

 

“Yes, she certainly is. If you will excuse me,” he turned with bloody hands and gestured at a box standing on a table near the King who hesitantly grabbed it and went to hand it over.

 

“Please, would you take out the needle and the thread. I am rather sticky.”

 

Thorin opened it up and grasped at the small curved needle with his big hand. Tork leaned over and though his hands were larger than the dwarfs his fingers was more nimble. He picked it up and put it in Oins waiting hand.

 

“Much appreciated.”

 

Thorin was reeling. It was bad enough that he had to deal with two dead Captains, an unauthorized Hurmel Uhurud, a human speaking Khuzdul and an illegally appointed Beta Captain. He would have to tell the Council that four of his soldiers was bested by a dwarrowdam. He went to uncover her face, and the humans arm shot out grabbing his wrist. Thorin stared at the offending hand until Oin calmly addressed the human:

 

“You don't seem to be suicidal to me young man, so unless you want to loose that hand I suggest you take it off the King as it is punishable by death. I'm sure he will accept that you are unfamiliar with our customs and in general distress.”

 

Tork immediately let go, scowling at the King undoing the dwarfs headwrap.

 

She was young. Her face was not beautiful, she didn't have the square lines the dwarves favoured. A heart shaped face without any facial hair, freckles drizzled over her cheeks and nose, her dirty skin was deathly pale from the blood loss. On her cheek a scar run from under an eye towards her jaw. As Thorin pulled the cowl completely from her head a messy well of bronze tresses fell out over the slab and a sharp intake of breath made even Oin look up.

 

Thorin slammed Tork to the wall so tools cascaded down and littered the floor.

 

“YOU BROUGHT AN ELFLING INTO MY MOUNTAIN?”

 

“She is not an elfling,” Tork wheezed. The King stared at him in disbelief, then pointed at the ears on the lass.

 

“Her past is her story to tell, not mine. But her mother was a dwarf, and her father... might have been an elf.”

 

Now both Oin and Thorin both stared at him and he couldn't help but grin. Fern had known it would have to come out eventually, though he wished she was at least conscious to see the effect it had.

 

“How...”

 

The King seemed momentarily speechless. Tork was starting to enjoy this now, his brain was drunk on adrenaline and pure exhaustion and he couldn't stop himself.

 

“Oh the usual way I'm pretty sure, you know when you stick your c...”

 

He was interrupted by Oin.

 

“YES thank you, we are well aware of the general mechanics of reproduction. I think what the King is somewhat surprised to learn is that there firstly has been an elf and a dwarf willing to couple and secondly that there would come an offspring from it.”

 

“Oin?”

 

Thorin was looking to the healer for answers.

 

“The man is right, she is no elfling” he replied, starting to sow her flesh together again.

 

“How do you know?”

 

“Well her hips and breasts gives it away. She is young but no child.”

 

“But she has no breasts?!” Thorin blurted.

 

“They are bound. I felt the bandages when I examined her. Clever, they can very often get in the way” Oin said, as if the old dwarf had great personal experience in bosoms being a nuisance.

 

A small moan from the female on the table stopped the argument from going further, her eyes flickered open and Oin immediately asked Tork to find Poppy milk on a shelf littered with small glass bottles. The labels was written in Khuzdul but by the time the healer realized the man couldn't possibly read them Tork had already located the bottle and held it out.

 

“Give her a sip,” the old dwarf commanded.

 

She had started to shake now, making it impossible for Oin to work. Tork tried to talk to her but her eyes rolled back in her head and her jaws was clamped shut. The man used his weight to hold her body down, looking pleadingly at the King, all cockiness gone. Thorin grabbed a wooden spoon from the chemist bench and managed to force her jaws apart and push the spoon between her teeth so Tork could pour some of the Poppy milk down her throat. It didn't take long for the concoction to send her back to sleep. Oin sat about finishing his task.

 

“Thank you.”

 

The King didn't reply to Tork, just picked up Ferns weapons and walked to the door where he turned.

 

“You will not leave this infirmary. Thank Mahal the guards stayed outside, this...,” he gestured vaguely at the sleeping lass, “...information can not leave this room. There will be guards posted here until I return. I need to get back to the palace so I can put out any rumours before they have time to flourish.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

__________The Following Dark__________

 

Chapter 4

 

Herbs, hugs and a forlorn Omega.


 

 

 

Thorin left, and the healer took a deep breath.

 

“That went well. Have you always had such a flair for making friends?”

 

“It's a knack. I though we got on.”

 

“Like a house on fire?”

 

“Exactly like a house on fire.”

 

The healer stifled a smile. Tork took it as a good sign, Oin didn't seem like he generally wasted time on mirth. He studied the healer as the old dwarf worked on Ferns leg. Oins stern face was brought to a point by a beak-like nose and bushy eyebrows that couldn't hide the sharp gleam in the eyes below. He was built like an oxen despite his profession, and Tork guessed he hadn't spent his entire life in the infirmary. His large gray mane of bristly hair was combed away from the face, but only the long mustache and front of the beard had been properly groomed and braided up to the sides to keep out of the way. Oins attire had the same non-fuzzy appearance, under his apron he wore simple and functional garments of light colors. The healers hands were wide and powerful, but he had unusually long fingers which currently worked with precision. After staring at Oin sowing flesh for some time Tork eventually felt the need to say something, he had never been good with silences.

 

“So is the King ever in a good mood?”

 

“Hah! I haven't seen him this engaged since that bastard Greylock had him out and about fighting. Thorin is a decent politician, but his soul is not in it.

He is a warrior to the bone. Being cooped up here dealing with petty nobles and greedy guilds is slowly breaking his spirit.”

 

Oin finished his last stitch and snipped the silk thread with shears. After washing the leg with a clean cloth and water he picked out a large bottle from a cupboard, uncorked it and held it out letting Tork sniff the contents. He jerked his head back, eyes watering. Oin nodded in agreement:

 

“It is pure rotgut. Makes it hard for the wound to fester.”

 

He pored it over the entire thigh and a sharp smell filled the room. Moving over to a wooden cabinet full of little racks and drawers Oin opened one and picked out a small silver knife. Starting to pull down bundles of herbs that had been hung to dry over the chemist bench, the old dwarf carefully selected leaves before cutting and dropping them in a big stone mortar. The apothecary instruments, bundles of ingredients and unlabeled bottles and jars filled almost every available surface, as well as pieces of papers with scribbled notes and medical tomes. There was probably a system here, but Tork couldn't see it. He leaned in over the table interested, picking up some of the herbs Oin had chosen and smelling them.

 

“Is that Lions Foot?”

 

“Yes indeed. I will make a poultice to help her heal.”

 

“Do you have Yarrow?”

 

“Of course!” Oin scoffed, then he held out his hand. “Now hand me that oil.”

 

Tork did before he went back to the shelf with the bottles. Behind him Oin commented:

 

“So you read Khuzdul. How did you learn that?”

 

“Oh, it's another knack. I am good at languages.”

 

“I have never heard of an outsider speaking Khuzdul before?”

 

Oin left the question hanging but Tork didn't reply, only picked out a jar and went back to the bench proffering it to the old dwarf. He stared at the label.

 

“You mean you want me to put this in?”

 

“Only a pinch or so.”

 

The dwarf didn't make a move to take the jar. Tork rolled up his sleeve and showed the healer a tan arm full of old scars. Taking the humans large arm in his hands Oin looked closely.

 

“I was mauled by a boar. See here,” Tork pointed to the thickest lines, “this is where it punctured the skin by the elbow and split it all the way up here.”

 

“It has healed remarkably well. You can't really feel the scar tissue.” Oin commented, while he felt the surface of Torks skin, clearly impressed.

 

“The elves use this for just that effect. You know them, they are fickle about their appearance.”

 

The healer seemed to think about it, weighing the jar in his hand. Then he came to a conclusion.

 

“Well, it can't hurt. It's not poisonous”, he decided and drizzled a small pinch over the contents in the mortar and started mushing it together with the pestle, before transferring the poultice it to a wooden bowl. With great care he slowly covered the entire area of the wound with a generous layer of the thick paste before proceeding to bandage the leg with clean linen rags. Tork had started to relax a little by now, though his head still felt abuzz from the days many unexpected events. Fern was clearly getting the best treatment he could have hoped for, and right now there was little else for him to do but wait and try not to make too many enemies. Though in hindsight riling up the King had probably been a bad idea. “Oh well” he though, he would have to work his charms on the rest of Erebor, and Alpha dwarves had turned out to be so... deliciously prickly, and he loved a challenge. Oin finished and brought Tork back to the last tasks at hand:

 

“If you could lift her and cover her ears – careful with the leg – now follow me.”

 

Oin led on, opening the door to reveal the grumpy face of Brynjar, who seemed somewhat disappointed that the prisoners hadn't tried to escape. Tork had to stop so he didn't walk straight into two of the Kingsguard who was unwilling to move out of his way. The healer had to clear his throat for them to finally give in and sidestep so Tork could pass. These soldiers would be a harder nut to crack than the Long Patrol he realized, seeing their grim expressions as he moved on. Several inches taller than the average height of a dwarf, all of the Royal Guard had been handpicked from numerous young and hopeful Alpha recruits. It was the greatest honor for a soldier to be chosen to tend to the King. Getting the hardest training and equipped with the finest gear the Kingsguard were ruthless warriors with only one purpose – to heed any order given by the King. Though it seemed their Commander Brynjar was currently having a hard time accepting that he had been asked to chaperon two lowly prisoners. He had pure hate written on his face, and Tork was glad Oin kept walking them further away from the guards.

 

The old dwarf led the man to the end of the ward where he could lay the female down to rest properly in a made up bed. A large open fireplace in the middle of the room made the temperature comfortable even this far into the corner. Still, Oin pulled a blanket and a big fur over her to keep her warm while Tork dumped down on a low stool beside the bed, looking thankful to finally get to sit down. The healer pulled a thick curtain out to shield the bed from the rest of the room, and the soldiers voices became a muffled buzz in the background. Oin straightened up and looked over at Tork who had closed his eyes. Now that his patient was tended to and was safe in her bed, he could fully absorb the state of her companion. Taking his way with the King into account Oin left the question about the humans intelligence to be determined later.

 

It was hard to overlook the burns that covered almost half of Torks head and face. He was maybe in his early 30's though guessing the age of humans was hard for the dwarves who lived centuries longer. He had a pleasant face, his light green eyes and olive skin quite exotic in the healers eyes. And the hair was a deep inky black – almost blue, but with that one inch wide stripe of white hair running along the burn from the forehead to the neck. The unusual coloring was probably caused by the trauma to the skin.

 

“Who did this to you?” he asked and gently touched the humans burned face, making him open his eyes and shy away alarmed. Sitting on the tiny footrest Tork was almost taller than the old dwarf, but he seemed to shrink at the question, looking away.

 

“Dwarves.”

 

“Oh.”

 

Not letting the man off that easy he took Torks head in both his hands and scrutinized the burns and the mangled ear. It really was a terrible injury and in Oins professional opinion it was quite remarkable that he had even survived. Such cruelty amongst his own people made the healer feel contrition, he had always though humans to be the barbarians amongst the races of Middle Earth.

 

“Can you hear on this side at all?”

 

Leaning in he stared hard at the mans knobbly flesh where the ear would have been.

 

“No.”

 

“Cover your other ear.”

 

Tork did as he was told. Then Oin lay one hand over the burned ear and tapped it with the fingers on his other hand.

 

“Could you hear that?”

 

Tork looked at him in astonishment.

 

“Yes!”

 

“Good! It means you still can hear but the flesh has molded over the hole that normally would let you perceive sound. If you are willing to endure a small procedure I would be able to open it up for you so you could listen to the King rage at you in full force.”

 

To be able to hear properly again... to enjoy song and music like he used to? Tork would have given his right arm for that. He threw out his arms and grabbed the old dwarf in a crushing embrace. Oin spluttered in surprise and indignation, smacking Tork over the head with a flat hand. The man let the healer go, grinning like an idiot.

 

“Do not do that again. I was going to say,” Oin straightened his apron flustered, “I might also be able to do something about your burn. I can't make you pretty, but I can make you a mixture that will soften the skin, it should feel less tight and give you a lot more comfort in daily tasks.” Slipping out of arms reach to avoid any more bouts of affection the healer said he would get Tork a jug of water and maybe some food. He was welcome to use the bed next to his companion if he wanted to rest while Oin was away.

 

In the quietness that followed the healers exit Tork stayed on the little stool but pulled himself closer to Fern. Putting his head down on the mattress next to hers he stroked her unkempt hair away from her face, something he would never have dared to do it if she was awake. The smell of the burning logs in the fireplace mixed with the aroma of the clean bed and the pelt as he started blinking slowly, feeling himself loosing consciousness. “So it begins” he thought sleepily, managing to take her strong little hand in his. “And I will be by your side until it is finished”.

 

 


 

 

In a tiny room in the Omega Quarters Magni and Idun lay in a soft bed. They had been carried all the way into the temple in the litter, the rocking movements of the running servants and no possibilities to see where they were heading had made Magni feel nauseous. His empty insides heaved and gurgled as they were carried uphill in a fast pace, while the dwarf Dori were trying to tell them the entire history of Erebor in the short time it took them to reach the Temple. Magni just barely managed to nod and seem interested, while Idun just sat staring at the Majordomo like he was some sort of exotic creature. Her eyes trailed his exquisite clothes, made of two-colored silks, some sort of velvet weaved in a geometric pattern and a cascade of embroideries with beading. Even in the glumness of the closed litter he glittered in the faint light penetrating the curtains, like a strange dwarf-sized bug. Thankfully Idun seemed to be too tired to do anything impulsive, otherwise Magni was sure she would be sitting on Doris lap trying to feel the luxurious fabrics and inspect the stitching.

 

Voices called out to the servants outside, and the creak of large doors being opened was followed by darkness until their eyes adjusted. The litter was sat down and Dori, still talking about the wonders of the High Market, exited. Magni helped Idun crawl out after him and they stood in a large hall; they had been carried all the way into the Temple itself. The next events went by in a haze. They were introduced to several dwarves in robes, and neither of the Omegas was paying much attention at that point. A few words were exchanged between Dori and a priestess before Magni and Idun were rushed through to a quiet hallway by a kind elderly Omega. Magnificent rooms had flashed by as they moved through the building, but Magni no longer cared for the beauty of Erebor, Idun needed a bed and needed it soon. Finally they reached the kitchens where a rather robust dwarrowdam saw to it that they were fed. To the Omegas relief she didn't ask them any questions, only served them the best meal they had ever had in their lives. It was a simple supper of large slices of fresh bread soaked in crunchy pork drippings, with cups of warm ale. And to round it off they got two bowls of fruit compote with a dollop of whipped cream. Eating like ravenous beasts all table manners had been forgotten in their haste to fill their empty bellies. In the meantime the Cook was keeping herself busy around the kitchen, but finding time to coo and tutt over the two Omegas, urging them to eat more. Too soon they were both so stuffed they could hardly sit properly, and the priestess got up and lead them further into the depths of the Temple.

 

Magni had hoped to see beds when the priestess showed them through the entrance to the room in front of them, but instead it turned out to be baths. Huge tubs were spread out, only separated by thin curtains of colorful fabrics. There were tables decked out with bowls full of dried flower petals and herbs, bottled oils and stacks of different soaps. Benches along the walls was meant for undressing, and in the middle of the room a copper pipe in the ceiling gushed a shower of water down to a wide shallow basin on the floor. Idun seemed to wake up a bit from this new discovery, and as soon as the priestess left the room they stripped and tentatively explored the rooms content. After sniffing and prodding all the strange accessories for the baths they started scrubbing themselves to remove months worth of grime and dirt. Magni helped Idun before tending to himself. The pain from scrubbing his raw skin was almost unbearable, but he clenched his teeth together and kept it up until the water sloshing around his feet was clear. After the cold shower the steaming hot tubs with looked tempting, but Magni worried they would fall asleep and drown if they got in. The two Omegas were drying off and found nightshirts pout out for them by the door. Soon after the priestess came back and lead them to a small bedchamber.

 

Magni had though they finally would be left alone to sleep, only to see the Majordomo Dori bustle in and expecting them to retell everything they had heard and seen when the caravan was ambushed. Magni tried to remember if he actually had heard anything that could help, but they had been shut in that little box for days. As soon as the screaming began blood started pounding in his ears, making it even harder to make out what was going on outside. There had been the rumbling of the wheels as the driver had tried to outrun whoever were attacking, loud voices and the roaring of the flames from the carts set alight, horses screaming in pain and finally the shocking jolt as the whole cart was turned over. They had been trapped. Desperate to stay undetected they listened as footsteps circled the carts, the crashes as the robbers went through the cargo and the final struggles from the dying faded. Dori seemed disappointed and kept asking the same questions over and over until the priestess told him to stop. She ushered the Majordomo out of their room like a naughty dwarfling, and told the two Omegas to get some sleep.

 

Idun had barely touched her head to the pillow before she was unconscious, not even waking up during her usual coughing fits. Magni turned her onto her side so she could breathe easier and then tried to find a comfortable position in the unfamiliar softness for himself, watching the contours of Iduns form painted by the lights from the lanterns outside the window. Sounds sifted through to him, he could hear distant voices and strange noises. Someone was singing in a clear sweet voice somewhere further down in the city, Magni couldn't make out the words. Soft footsteps passed their door several times and he couldn't help but hold his breath until they had passed and he no longer could hear them.

 

Every time he closed his eyes he saw the mangled bodies of the poor merchants that had hid them away, and the madness in the Alphas eyes when they found their hiding place. Unable to stop it the dread he had felt watching the warrior fighting the soldiers came back. Fat tears rolled down Magnis cheeks and he stilled a sob. For months they had been traveling in fear for their lives, though he had tried to shield Idun from the worst of it. All the dangers and anxiety, the worry that someone would give them up, the fear that they would run out of money before making it to safety, the hard work to gather more coin. Now they were in Erebor, but not free like Magni had planned. Yet again they had been left to the devices of others, their future dependent on a stranger. Drying his tears Magni scooted closer to Idun and embraced her gently. He felt so lonely. The warmth of her body chased some of the darkness away from his mind. Eventually the Omega sank into a deep and dreamless sleep.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

______________________________The Following Dark______________________________

 

Chapter 5

 

 

Bristling feathers and an interesting letter.

 

 

 

The door slammed open and Thorin strode into his large chambers with a grim expression, dismissing all guards and servants before dropping the elflings weapons on his desk. In one end of the room was a beautifully carved fireplace and under the high ceiling several decorative chandeliers hung so it lit every nook and cranny. Onar had been trying to stand off the luxurious carpets covering most of the floor, as his boots was coated with dust and mud after months on the road. He fiddled with his sword hilt, being too agitated to actually take in the fine details of the many wonders he was surrounded by. The moment Thorin entered Onar immediately stood to attention, almost relieved that the time to face the King had come. Thorin gave him no time to collect his thoughts however.

 

“Did you know about her?”

 

Already dazed, Onar felt his brain trying to catch up to what was being asked.

 

“About whom my King?”

 

Thorin ignored the question and continued.

 

“Tell me everything again. No detail too small: every thought you had, every impression you got.”

 

Onar swallowed and started on the tale again, adding any tidbit he could think of. He knew there was no need to try to cover for Fjalar, though he tried to put the soldiers in a marginally better light than they deserved. Retelling the challenge the King asked many questions, making him repeat himself again and again. Finally he felt frustrated enough to speak up.

 

“My Lord, I only tell you what I saw. I have added nothing to the tale and held nothing back. The warrior won because he used every advantage he got, and those were plenty; our soldiers were tired and greatly affected by the Omegas presence. Without armor to weigh him down he was just too fast for them. I don't know what else to say, he might not fight traditionally but he saved the Omegas from the...”

 

He stopped and regretted saying as much, it must have been clear to Thorin what he meant. The King moved around the big desk to stare Onar down with those piercing blue eyes.

 

“You know of our laws, still you disobeyed by assuming the Captains place.”

 

“I apologize Melhekhul.”

 

“Let me speak plainly. Nobody will know you ever lead a Long Patrol, or that they called you Captain - even if it was only for a day. No doubt you could get some gold for telling tales to my opposition. If you know what is good for you you will keep your tongue. If I hear otherwise, you will permanently loose it. Do I make myself clear?”

 

Onar kept his eyes on a point above the Kings head.

 

“Yes your Majesty.”

 

“You will resign and leave my service. Hand over all your gear at the City Watch.”

 

Onar nearly staggered.

 

“But...”

 

He looked at Thorin and saw no compassion there, so he pulled himself together.

 

“Yes of course. Your majesty,” he said bowing. Then he left the chamber, his pride making him walk out with a straight back, even though his legs felt like they would collapse under him any minute.

 

Thorin had hardly time to sit down before he heard a commotion outside his doors. Quickly he scooped up the strange weaponry from his desk and dumped them in a chest. The voices was getting louder now, Lord Mindors being easiest to distinguish from the cacophony. It was to be expected he thought, Fjalar was his son after all. Walking over he wrenched open the door, immediately quenching the shoutingmatch between the three members of the Council and Thorins Kingsguard.

 

“Ah, my Lords. I was just about to send for you. Please, join me in my study.”

 

With a face like a thundercloud the first dwarf stepped in, closely followed by Lord Aslak and Lord Harmke. Thorin called for refreshments and walked back in to see Mindor standing in the middle of the room clenching his fist in innate rage. It couldn't have been brought on by grief, as there was no love lost between father and son. Lord Mindor had disowned Fjalar the moment he got another Alpha son. A servant came in with a large platter of crystallized fruit, offering the guests drinks which they all declined. As soon as they were alone with the King, Mindor opened his mouth.

 

“The remains of my son was brought back strapped onto a horse like a sack of potatoes! His life ended less than a days travel from Erebor. He survived a Long Patrol just to be enticed into an illegal Hurmul Uhurud, slaughtered by some dishonorable highwayman!”

 

Lord Harmke put a hand on his shoulder, either in support or asking for temperance. Whichever it was the farce of it sickened Thorin. No alliances survived for long amongst the members of the Council. Each generation spent their lives scrabbling for more gold and power, their nature capricious and any allegiance forged between them was fickle at best. Lord Harmke and Lord Mindor being two of the most successful and dominant families in Erebor they loathed each other, and was prone to squabble over anything in the Council meetings – however insignificant the detail was. There was only one cause that could put them in the same room without a fight, and it was the opportunity to express their shared resentment of the King.

 

Thorins claim to the throne was indisputable. H e was a direct descendant of Durin the Deathless himself, but his family certainly wasn't the only one with royal blood. With no Alpha son to succeed him the next in line was Thorins nephew Fili, and he only had royal blood on his mother side. Several families was capable of contesting his claim to the throne with enough support from other Council members. Erebor might be carved out of stone, but the foundations that kept the city from turning into chaos was frail.

 

“Your son - a Captain trained and equipped by the finest dwarven army - engaged in an unsanctioned Honor Battle against a lone youngling in leathers who bested him with a dagger and a small hammer. Fjalar ignored his oath and let himself be goaded into breaking our laws. He should have known better.”

 

“And where is this lad now? They say he was brought to the House of Healing, being treated by Oin himself. Why is he getting our best healer and a comfortable bed when he should be rotting in the dungeons?”

 

“Oin has deemed it necessary to keep the dwarf until he can be sure the wound is healed properly. And our dungeons are reserved for condemned prisoners. This one is unconscious and as there is still no new evidence we will have to wait before we can assemble the Council to question this youngling, which I assure you will happen as soon as she is able to.”

 

The silence rang out following Thorins words. Mindors face looked even uglier than normal as he tried to work out if the King had misspoken or if he had heard him right.

 

“You... She?”

 

“Oin confirmed it and I think he has enough experience for us to trust his judgment when it comes to the corporal aspects.”

 

“There was a human too, I will assume that you haven't locked him up either?”

 

He continued without waiting for a reply; “You trust a human above your own kin!?”

 

Mindor spat the words out, hardly keeping his temper in check now. His smell was changing too, becoming bitter with a sting to it. Thorin walked over to him, meeting his eyes without blinking.

 

“No, I didn't. So far I have gotten detailed reports from every soldier in the Patrol, and their recount of the events leading to your sons death are all the same. Fjalar accepted the challenge from the lass and he lost the fight. The other soldiers was slain in self defense. We will assemble the Council and make a decision on what the consequences should be for an illegal Honor Battle, but in the meantime we keep searching for the robbers. And I would remind you that addressing the King properly is also amongst our laws.”

 

He was stepping even closer to Mindor whilst talking, with the sound of his leathers, hauberk and armor plate letting the dwarfs appreciate that the King was not lounging about in satin robes. He was a warrior King, not a soft aristocrat. Some silence followed, and almost imperceptibly Mindors posture changed. He was standing down, and it was he who eventually dropped his gaze first.

 

“Yes, Melhekhul .”

 

He suddenly bowed and asked for permission to leave so he could start arranging the funeral.

 

“By all means, Lord Mindor, and my deepest condolences for your great loss.”

 

“Thank you Emulhekh .” he replied stiffly.

 

The King was finally left alone to pour himself a glass of manmade brandy, taking it back to the desk. He opened the chest, picking up the things he took from the elfling and got back in his chair. Sipping the strong liquor he started opening the pockets on the bandoleers, pulling out a variety of objects. Pouches, small bottles, coins he didn't recognize, several letters as well as unused papers, quills, some small flaying and leather tools. Two of the pockets was entirely filled with dried herbs, mainly medicinal as far as Thorin could tell. In the pouches he found some semi-precious stones, salt, over a handful of indistinct disks made of polished clay and a large, ugly ring.

 

Unfolding them he discovered the papers were mainly letters of passage, duly sealed and signed. He was impressed as he read one from Thranduil and even one from the Steward of Gondor, a human not prone to give advantages to foreigners. Though his eyes narrowed as he found one from himself, written in what could easily pass as his hand at first glance. He read it carefully. For all it's intents and purposes it was correct, being written on monogrammed parchment and stating all the necessary phrases as well as his seal at the bottom. He rummaged in the pile of documents on his desk and fishing out one with his own seal he compared them. It was a very good forgery, but he could see the minute differences. Well well he thought, more secrets. He folded the letters and put everything back in the bandoleers.

 

Thorin picked up the dagger and unsheathed it. It reminded him a bit of a niibi, a blade crafted by the nomads in the north. Being neither this nor that, it was an unusual shape. Thicker than the elfish dagger, but longer than the dwarves normally would prefer. The spine was straight, but the edge had a long curve. It lacked any kind of embellishments, though he found some strange runes carved into the pommel made of bone. A guard separated the grip and blade, something mostly humans preferred to use. It was useful though, it kept your hands from getting cut when you fought against foes with bigger blades. Thorin put it back in the sheath and slid it into his belt. He would have to ask Ori about the runes.

 

Lastly it was the hammer. It was only as long as his lower arm if he included his hand in the measurement, so she could easily use it as a two handed weapon as her hands was smaller. The entire handle was wrapped in soft leather, giving it a good grip. What seemed like a very simple weapon really had some nice details now that he could study it. The squared bulb had a plain but elegant pattern encircling the head. The long and slightly curved spike at the other end was as sharp as if it was forged yesterday. In fact it seemed to be in pristine condition to have been used in a fight, not a single scratch or indentation as far as he could detect. As he put it close to his face he got a whiff of something familiar. Mithril? He frowned. There hadn't been a smith capable of forging mithril for centuries, the art was as lost as the mines of Moria. No, he was just too tired and the brandy had made his head spin.

 

Looking over at the pile of unread missives, reports and other papers Thorin still hadn't finished signing he sighed and put the hammer and bandoleers back in the chest. His hands used to be stained by dirt, sweat and blood. These days they were mainly stained by ink. Emptying the glass of brandy he cursed and started on the paperwork.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

__________The Following Darkness__________

 

Chapter 6

In the Temple of Life

 

 

Magnis eyelids were glued together from the long sleep when he woke after midday, he fought to get his arms up from under the heavy bedcover to rub his eyes. Someone had been in their room to swaddle them with an extra woolen blanket during the night, and now it was almost too warm. He struggled up to sit so he could take in his surroundings in the daylight, and for a brief moment he wondered if he had dreamt that he was inside a mountain. Then he remembered hearing about the sunmirrors of Erebor; gigantic bronze discs that reflected the sun all the way into the heart of the mountain, he hadn't seen them last night because it had already been dark. The previous day had been so full of events he felt numb. Their entire journey had taken them months but it had felt so much longer, finally being here seemed almost unreal. Groggily he recalled the trip in the litter that took them from the palace where they met the King, through the Omega Quarters all the way up to the Temple overlooking the city.

 

As he brushed the hair out of his face Magni could fully appreciate the elegance of the room. Every surface was made out of various wood sorts, polished and oiled to bring out the natural beauty of the material. By using different colored timber the builders had created beautiful patterns along the walls, and the beams under the high ceiling was carved to look like natural branches with scores of individual leaves shaped of semi precious stones. The light from the tall windows with the lattice panes filtered through the many shades of green and colored the high ceiling, making it feel like he was sitting under trees. The furniture was painted in rich colors of autumn, with metal work added to corners and legs. Both he and Idun had nightstands on each side of the bed, with small oil lamps and the tiniest little ornamental vases with a few fresh violets in it. In one corner was an enormous wardrobe inlaid with metal plates so polished Magni could see his own pale face staring back at him.

 

On a side table someone had left a tray with two small meat pies peaking out from under a cloth, a plate full of stuffed dates and a large water jug. It was tempting to have a taste now, but Magni scolded himself at the thought - he would wait for Idun to wake up. Looking down himself he admired the nightshirt he had donned last evening, wondering if they were allowed to keep them. Even though his family had done well for themselves the children were never given anything as fine as this. Magni let his fingers stroke over the garment, enjoying the the feel of the soft cotton. Suddenly he remembered that they had left their old clothes in the bath, worried he got up in his knees staring around the room. Thankfully the tattered garments was neatly folded and put on a low bench by the end of the bed. He sighed with relief and climbed across the bed to get them. Magni located the hem they had used as a secret pocket and carefully undid Iduns stitches, one by one. Pulling the thin, long parcel out he wondered where to hide it. For now he stuffed it under the mattress.

 

Idun woke by his sudden moves and rolled towards him.

 

Good morning, how did you sleep?”, he signed.

 

She smiled drowsily and replied “This bed is so soft, it feels like I slept on a cloud...

 

Her belly rumbled loudly in the silence, and Magni slid out of bed to get the tray with food so they could sit on the bed having a little picnic. The meatpies looked very small, but they turned out to be both delicious and filling. As they bit into the crunchy pastry the juice from the meat inside dripped down their chins, and he had to grab for the decorative cloth on the tray to wipe it off and stop it from staining their clothes and bedding. The stuffed dates was a strange delicacy to them both, the dried fruits had been slit open and filled with roasted chopped nuts and onion bits caramelized in salty butter. Magni had only tried dried fruit once in his life, and never prepared like this. Iduns expression told him it was her first taste of the sweetness too, her eyes widened in pleasure and she chewed the tidbits with great enthusiasm. He gave her the last three to enjoy while he plodded over to the washbasin to clean his sticky face and hands.

 

She joined him after finishing off the last treats in a moment, Magni suspected she might have put them all in her mouth at once. Standing on tiptoe and lifting her chin she was expecting Magni to clean her up. He smiled at that, she was so childlike at times but it felt good to be able to be there for her. Mehal knew she hadn't been cared for by anyone else in her life. Wiping her face after washing it, he kissed her forehead before they returned to bed and crawled back down under the covers. Idun fell asleep at once, but Magni had been in a perpetual state of caution and threat for so long it was hard for him to relax, unable not to worry there was something bad waiting for them on the other side of the door. He had so many questions about this place; the Temple and about Erebor. What would happen to them now? How long did they have before the stranger came for them? The contentment of a full belly made his mind mushy and it was so warm and snug under the bedlinen. Eventually even his frantic thoughts couldn't stop his eyes falling shut.

 


 

A mellow voice brought Magni and Idun out of their sleep. Blinking owlishly they saw the priestess who had helped them settle in last night standing by the bed. Odine wasn't half as old as he had first thought, looking at her in the golden afternoon light he saw it was her silver streaked hair that had made him assume her age. Her olive skin and dark eyes made for a striking look, but her face was open and friendly.

 

“We wanted to let you have your rest, but it is soon dinnertime and our healer wanted to visit you. How are you doing?”

 

“We feel good, thank you for the food left for us.”

 

Idun looked to Magni, signing to him rather than to Odine so he could speak for her.

 

“Idun wondered of she can use the washroom first?”

 

“Of course my dear! I'll take her there, it is just down the hall. Jardar is already waiting outside but he can perhaps see you first?

 

Magni didn't remember much from yesterdays conversation with the priestesses of the Temple, for all he knew they had already agreed to this. Being examined by a healer sounded sensible but he felt uneasy about having to be touched by someone he didn't know. Then again this was Erebor, they might be able to help them in ways nobody in Vinjeheim could. Odine led Idun out to show her the way to the privy, and the healer called Jardar entered the room. The tall and lanky Omega had red hair twisted back from his face, and countless freckles covering every inch of his skin. The plain green robes all of the priestesses wore suited him very well, mimicking the deep emerald green of his eyes. With a kind expression and a lively, endearing air about him he sat down a small woven basket and looked down at the little dwarf.

 

“My name is Jardar. I hope you have slept well, you two seemed dead on your feet when you arrived yesterday.”

 

Strange objects was sticking out of the basket, distracting Magni.

 

“Please don't be alarmed, these are just the helpful tools of my trade. Like this one,” he picked up a smooth long wooden tube, tapered in one end, “which is used to listen to someones heart or lungs. Here.”

 

He handed it to Magni who looked at it wonderingly. Indicating that Magni should try it he pointed at his own chest. Awkwardly placing it over the healers heart the little Omega put his ears to the narrow end, listening. And there the beat was, clear and strong as if it was his own heart. His eyes widened in astonishment.

 

“I know, it is quite something. May I have a listen at your heart?”

 

“Yes, thank you Master Jardar.”

 

“Please, just call me Jardar.”

 

Feeling less tense Magni scooted closer, so Jardar wouldn't have to lean over the bed. The healer gently folded back the neckline of the nightshirt, placing the tube and listened. He moved it around on his chest a couple of times, then he asked the little Omega to sit facing the other way so he could do the same to his back. He told Magni to breathe slowly and deeply, all the while Jardar giving him a constant string of encouragement and explanation of what he was doing.

 

“I would like to do a full physical exam. Have you had one after you presented?”

 

“No, never in my life I think. My father didn't want to spend money on... on such things and there was no healer at our Temple.”

 

He hoped Jardar wouldn't ask more questions, and just get on with whatever he intended to do.

 

“I want to do this thoroughly so we can determine your overall condition. That way we can make sure you both get the right food and maybe some ointments for your well being.”

 

He smiled warmly to Magni and patted the bed to show him he had to lie down. He felt his stomach drop. Jardar went over to the wash basin and cleaned his hands thoroughly with soap.

 

“I'm going to do this as quickly as I can. I just want to make sure we haven't overlooked any injuries. Keep your shirt on for now, just take off your smallclothes.”

 

Starting to coldsweat Magni did as asked, staring at the ceiling and mashing his teeth together. Cold air rushed around his genitals and he jolted as the healers warm, dry hands touched him the first time. It didn't take long, though it was uncomfortable and he felt ashamed without knowing why. Jardar examined him both inside and out, always being respectful and asking him about strange things, like “What is your favorite color?” and “Have you ever tried fishing from a boat?” making Magni so distracted he was pleasantly surprised when the healer said he was done.

 

“Everything is as it should be, you can put your smallclothes back on and then I'd just like to have a quick look under your nightshirt.”

 

Relieved he did as asked while Jardar washed his hands again. The healer came back and tutted at the sight of him. Magni hadn't seen himself without clothes for a long time, he stared at his own reflection in the wardrobe doors. He must have lost a lot of weight as his greyish skin almost hanged off him, and the abdomen and armpits was covered in angry scabies. As Jardar started to apply salve to them Idun and Odine reentered the room. The nithul went over to the bed and climbed up, pulling her legs up to her chin. Odine still stood in the door.

 

“I'll come back in a bit.”

 

She took the empty tray from the side table and left while Jardar finished with his care for Magni. He moved over to Iduns side of the bed and sat down next to her.

 

“I will need your friends help to translate for me, it is a long time since I used iglishmêk. ”

 

The healer smiled at her and she smiled shyly back, trying to look at ease though she was sitting as rigid as a tree. Next to her Magni leaned over and took her hand squeezing it reassuringly, though her palms was already sweaty. Seeing her uneasiness Jardar rummaged around in his basket, casually asking her:

 

“Do you know how the bear got his stubby tale?”

 

Idun shook her head. He took out the wooden tube again and handed it to Magni, gesturing him to show Idun how it worked. He let her listen to his heart, and she grabbed his hand wanting to listen for longer. After a while she reluctantly let go and handed it back to Jardar who ventured on the story while he started his examination.

 

“Once upon a time the bear met a fox who was slinking through the snow with a small bundle of fish he had stolen from a fisherman. “What you got there?” the bear asked for he was always hungry, and the fish was fat and tempting.

“I have been fishing Lord Bear” the fox replied. This peaked the bears interest, he wanted to know how to get such a good catch.”

 

The healer went on to listen to Iduns back, telling her to take deep breaths. He spent more time then he had done on Magni. Jardar continued:

 

“The fox seemed only to happy to oblige, he said “Oh it will be a very simple task for you, and wont take long to learn. All you have to do is to go out on the ice, dig a hole and stick your backside in it. Don't worry if it starts stinging after a while, it only means the fish is biting! The longer you can hold it, the more fish you will get, and when you are done you should just jerk it out with all your might.””

 

Idun was grinning now and Magni couldn't help but join in, because Jardar was telling the fairytale with gusto and even different voices for the two animals.

 

“So the bear did as the fox had told him, he held his arse in the hole for a long time and when it had frozen over and he though he must have a lot of fish, he jerked his backside out breaking his tale straight off. And that is why the bear has a stubby tale to this very day.”

 

Getting to the more delicate part of the examination Jardar let Magni explain to Idun what was to happen and she looked even more terrified, clutching his hand and digging her nails in. It was helped along with the telling of a new story, this time of how the fox got his white tipped tale. She was still squishing his hand so Magni was surprised but delighted at Iduns silent giggles as the healer bellowed and howled to mimic the bear and the wolfs attempt at doing the shepherds call. When had he last seen her laugh like that? Weeks? Months?

 

“When the shepherdess came back and saw that the fox ha d eaten the entire heard he was supposed to look after she got so angry she threw the butter churn after him, only to have the last of the cream hit him as he ran off. And that is how the fox got his white tip!”, Jardar finished.

 

Finally done with this part of the examination Idun had put her smallclothes back on and taken her shirt off. She had less scabies than Magni, but she was so skinny it was painful to watch. Her elbows and knees was wider than her arms and thighs, and her bones stood out everywhere: collarbones, ribs and hips pressed against her taught skin. Jardar finished rubbing her wounds with the same ointment he had used on Magni, and he left a jar on the side table for them to apply three times a day.

 

“I am going to find our Odine and let her know you are ready for some dinner! Get dressed and come down the hall to the common room.”

 

He got up, smiled at them and left. Magni was a bit giddy after the laughs, so it just occurred to him a little later that they didn't have any clean clothes. He signed to Idun before leaving, intending to find a priestess. At the end of the hallway he could hear Jardar talking to someone right around the corner so he walked towards the sound. Getting closer he picked up on their conversation and he slowed to a halt.

 

 

...very worried. Her lungs sounds like they belong to an old miner, and there was dried blood on her pillow.”

 

It was Odines voice replying, wobbling a bit:

 

Her body is as frail as a birds. I don't think I have seen anything as bad in my time here.”

 

Jardar took a deep breath.

 

Yes. It is bad. It's...”, the healer paused as if he didn't want to continue.

 

“I don't think she has much time left.”

 

This was met by mostly silence and someones muffled sniffles, before another priestess spoke up.

 

If you need to examine her again, let us give them a day at least? They have been through so much.”

 

I will seek advice from Oin, if there is anything to be done for her he will know.”

 

Magni heard the soft steps too late and suddenly he was face to face with Odine, Jardar and third, elderly priestess. The healer seemed sad and Odine was still dabbing her tears away with a handkerchief.

 

Magni!”, she exclaimed but he turned on his heel and ran back to the room. Closing the door he just climbed back into the bed and stared at the wall unseeing. Idun signed at him, asking if he found anyone.

 

Yes... Yes they are coming back.”

 

She seemed content and leaned her head against his shoulder. Magni was on a downward spiral, trying to focus on his breath so she wouldn't perceive the black hole opening up in his chest.