“Yes, my darling?” Bel looked down to her little jewel, who was crawling up onto her lap.
“Why did you come to the Shire?”
Bel chuckled. “You already know why.”
“I want you to tell it again,” he daughter pouted. Her child was growing at the rate of a dwarf, however her size was that of a hobbit. Bel had been concerned at first, but Bungo had said she was the same size as his nephew would have been.
Bel smiled and wrapped her arms around her daughter as the little girl settled on her lap. “I came to the Shire in order to learn the history of hobbits. There are almost no hobbits in the East and they are so very different from the hobbits of the West. I wished to learn of Western hobbits and their ways.”
“Why are Eastern and Western hobbits different?”
“Eastern hobbits know more of war and politics. Western hobbits have found themselves in times of peace for a long time.”
Her daughter scrunched up her nose in thought. “Like dwarrow?”
“Yes. But there are so few Eastern hobbits left. Many have come West and others married dwarrow or men.”
“Do you like it here in the Shire?”
“It’s where I met your papa and had you. I love it here.”
“Would you ever go back to Erebor?”
“Only if you and your papa come with me, my darling, but I prefer it here.”
Bel chuckled. Her daughter was so inquisitive. “Because everyone is so honest here.”
“Are people not honest in Erebor?”
“They… they have different rules in Erebor. Dams play different roles. You cannot always say what you mean and sometimes others do not always mean what they say.”
Bel smiled. “It is. I like that, here in the Shire, everyone is honest. They might tell a fib or two, but it isn’t usually harmful. Hobbits are gentle and honest folk and I think the world would be better for it if more people were like your papa.”
Her daughter gave her a toothy smile. “I’m going to be just like Papa when I grow up.”
“I’m sure you will.”
“Yes, my darling?”
“When will I grow up? Lobelia is already bigger than me.”
“You’ll age a little more slowly,” Bel said, stroking her daughter’s hair. “You’ll age like me. So the people your age will be bigger before you are.”
The little girl sighed dramatically. “I wished there were more people like me.”
Bel smiled sadly and pressed a kiss to the top of her daughter’s head.
The order was redundant since Peony had been dressed and awake for an hour or so already, but she did not allude to such. Those hour or so moments were her sanctuary.
“I will be ready soon, Adrina,” Peony called, setting her book down. It was a history of how the dwarrow fought against the dragon Smaug and defended the mountain against the darkness. It was a fascinating read, even though she had it memorized since she was a child, when her amad had told her the tale orally.
Her late mother had been a lowly scribe, with only one book ever being admitted into the great library of Erebor. The dam’s book was lost amongst the thousands of other first hand accounts of the Battle of Dwarrow and Dragon, but Peony liked her amad’s version the best. It was all she had of her mother now too.
Peony looked at herself in the mirror and did her best to cover her ears with her wild curls.
Being a dwobbit wasn’t looked down soon as much as it used to be, but they were still considered to be rare in the mountain. Most chose to live in the West, and any even close to Erebor usually prefered to live in Dale. Peony, however, was barely sixty and a dam. She wasn’t really allowed to make such a choice, especially when her guardians preferred her to stay as out of sight and out of mind as possible.
Peony had wanted to stay in the Shire, in Bag End, but her father’s family had thought it would be better for her to live with her mother’s sister and husband so she could have a normal childhood and friends who would not outgrow her. She had seen their logic, but she preferred the grass and sunshine to the stone and darkness of the mountain. This place was not her home and she feared nothing would ever make it so.
Covering her pointed ears as much as possible, Peony made her way out of her room in the abandoned maid quarters and scurried to the entrance of her family’s wing where her cousin, Adrina was waiting for her.
Adrina was the epitome of dwarves beauty, or so Peony was told. Her long wavy hair was the color of garnet and her eyes were like sapphires. She had a strong jaw and her figure usually had a few dwarrow take a second glance as they passed. Peony was none of those things. Her hair was the color of clay and eyes of dull grass. Her chin was small and was too curvy and chubby to be considered attractive. She looked too much like her father, everyone told her so, even those who had not known him.
“Finally,” Adrina rolled her eyes and shoved her shopping basket into Peony’s arms.
Peony followed after her cousin as they made their way from their wing of very minor nobles to the market. It wasn’t exactly a festival, but the latest fashions of Erebor were being presented in the stalls, the trending fabrics and patterns, as well as the latest jewelry from the Iron Hills. Adrina always had to have the latest fashion and that was a lot to carry, so Peony always had to come along. Mahal or Yavanna forbid Adrina wore herself out when she didn’t have a job to get to later in the afternoon.
Peony worked in the great library as a bookkeeper. Her father had been apt at restoring books and keeping them in order and she worked as an archivist, usually holed away amongst the books to make certain no one was mishandling them. Dwarrow, as a whole, weren’t exactly a scholarly sort, so her work wasn’t really that hard. Even so, she would prefer to be surrounded by books than the fabric Adrina was currently placing in the basket.
A lot of Durin blue.
Most unattached dams were trying to catch the eye of some lord or another. Adrina probably wanted the prince, but Peony doubted it would be possible. They didn’t really run in similar circles. However, if it meant that her cousin would no longer need her services, Peony would be happy for her cousin to get married to whomever she liked well enough. Perhaps she would be allowed to return to the Shire. Or perhaps she might be able to travel to Rivendell and see their great libraries.
Her attention returned to her cousin who was shoving a dress pattern under her nose. “Yes?”
Adrina scoffed and rolled her eyes. “Well?”
“It would look pretty on you. I’m certain I’ve seen the princess wearing something of a similar cut.”
“I’m sure you’ll look even better.”
“Come along, Ny.” Adrina turned on her heels and kept walking.
Peony tried to keep up and her shoulder knocked into a dwarf’s forearm. She almost tripped when his arm shot out and grabbed her by the elbow. He kept his hand in place until she was able to straighten herself out.
She looked up at her semi-rescuer and found that he was wearing a cloak with his hood up. Probably some lord or royal trying to be one with the people and thinking it helped him blend in. Peony got her bearings and held her items more firmly and gave him a short curtsy. “Thank you, sir.”
“Thank you, sir,” the dam said with a short curtsy.
Before Frerin could even say anything to her, the dam turned on her heels and seemed to follow after someone, although the prince had no idea who. It was as though she had not been there at all, but Frerin could feel the slight warmth of his hand where he had taken her by the elbow. He had only seen a flash of her. Hair like volcanic stone and eyes like uncut emeralds. That was all he had noticed of her. That and her quiet voice.
Frerin blinked and then turned away to continue his exploration of the market. It was more clothes than anything that day, but he was looking for something that his sister or sister-in-law would like. Mahal laughed when he made Dís and Asta on the same bloody day. Thorin could have married anyone, but he married a dam who shared the same birthday as their sister. The two would always say that they did not need to have a big party or extravagant gifts, but Frerin had learned through trial and error that he had to attempt to put some thought in his presents to the two dams. For Dís he would probably buy her a bolt of fabric from the South. Some traders from Gondor had come that week. For Asta he would probably buy a hair pin. She had been particularly interested in those recently, if only to keep her hair from her face and away from her twenty-year-old daughter’s hands. Thank Mahal that Thora had not been born on the same day or they would all die. Three dams born on the same day connected to the Line of Durin. The Valar surely would be laughing at all their expense.
A bolt of deep purple fabric caught Frerin’s eye. He could see his sister wearing a gown of that color. It would look vaguely pretty on her. He had no idea how she would have it patterned. For all he knew she would tailor it into a shirt for sparring. She could have it tailored for anything but underthings for all he cared, but Frerin felt that she would like the color. He gave the merchant the proper amount of money and tucked it away in the pocket of his cloak.
He headed for the jewelry, trying to find something for Asta. His sister-in-law wasn’t too picky, but he didn’t want to give her anything she wouldn’t use or wear. She had practically raised him and Dís after their parents and grandfather had been killed during the battle against Smaug. While Frerin and Dís had been of age, they had still needed guidance and care that Thorin couldn’t give with his duties as king and the reconstruction of the mountain.
“Pretty sure you aren’t supposed to be here, Frerin.”
The prince tisked and turned to look at Dwalin. “I’m not not supposed to be here,” Frerin countered.
“You’re supposed to tell someone when you want to go out,” the guard said, crossing his arms over his chest.
“I’m just buying Dís and Asta a present for their birthday.” He smirked. “You don’t want me to tell them you stopped me from getting them their present, so you?”
To his credit, Dwalin only paled slightly. “And did you buy one for both?”
“I have Dís’ present. I need to get something for Asta. I’m thinking a hairpin.”
Dwalin looked up in thought for a moment. “She’d like that. My sister has been talking about them for a while now. Saw the queen of Gondor wearing one when she and her husband visited the mountain.” The guard paused for a moment. “I suppose they were on the way I would have taken you back to the studies. Thorin wants to see you.”
Frerin grimaced. “About?”
Dwalin just shrugged.
The prince sighed. “Lead the way.”
The voice came from just over the stack of books surrounding her that the dwobbit has to stand in order to see who was speaking. “Hello, Ori.”
The dam smiled.
Peony and Ori had become fast friends after they both began working in the library. Ori was a scribe, and she had wanted Peony to be the one to bind her works. The two often ate together during their lunch breaks. They could also spend hours talking about history and books, which Peony’s ain’t and uncle barely tolerated and Ori’s older brother approved. The two were thick as thieves in a way. They were both small and a little odd by dwarrow standards, but their friendship was strong and true.
“Have you got something new for me, Ori?”
“No,” the dam smiled, “I just wanted to see how you were doing.”
“I’m rebinding one of the old tales of Durin the Deathless. It’s a fascinating read, especially the part of his wife. I think I might have found her name, but I’m not sure if it’s her name or a title. I’ll have to keep reading and working to find out.”
Ori’s eyes grew large. “You might have found the name of Durin’s wife?!”
“Possibly. Again, it could just be a title.”
“It would still be more than just referring to her as Durin’s wife .”
Peony smiled. “It would. I hope I’m right, but I’m not trying to get too hopeful.” She glanced at Ori. “And how are things with a certain guard?”
The dam blushed. “It’s not really going. We just talk.”
“Talking is good. It’s a start, isn’t it?”
“It is. I’m just worried about rambling or saying something that isn’t interesting or maybe saying something stupid or accidentally insulting him or accidentally complimenting him or even maybe—”
“Right, sorry.” She blushed. “See! This is what I’m worried about.”
“It just means you’re comfortable around him but still a little nervous. Although I suppose him bringing in your brother isn’t exactly the most operating time to flirt.”
“How is Nori these days?”
“Oh, you know, getting in trouble as always. Dori is so very close to just tying him to the kitchen table, but I doubt he ever will.”
“You never know, Dori is strong enough.”
“He truly is.” Ori paused. “I think he knows I’m in lo… I like Dwalin. He’s been talking to Nori about something when I’m not around and then go quiet whenever I get close enough to hear.”
“That is suspicious.” Peony nodded. “Better than them speaking badly of you when you can hear though.”
Ori winced. “Adrina again?”
“Oh, she was never one to hide her disdain for me. I ruin the picture she likes to paint when I have to go out with her.”
“You aren’t ugly, Peony.”
“I’m not exactly pretty by dwarvish standards either, Ori. I’m not sturdy at all. I wouldn’t even called my body shape a build.”
“There are plenty of dwarrow who are interested in you if you got your head out of your books.”
Peony laughed. “You are one to talk.” She shook her head. “It’s probably more because I’m cousin to Adrina and they just want a closer look at her. I doubt any dwarrow would be interested in me. I’m just not the dwarrow type.”
“I hate it when you talk about yourself like that.”
“Well, I forbid you to talk about yourself like that either.” The two giggled. “Let’s to get lunch.”
“You’re getting rusty, nadad,” Frerin smirked as he brought his practice sword down on his brother’s shield. “You’ve gotten worse in your old age.”
Thorin rolled his eyes and pushed Frerin off of him, swinging his sword, barely clipping his younger brother’s sleeve. “You talk too much, nadadith.”
“”I talk just enough to get a better chance at beating you, my king.”
“I still won’t send you out to make a campaign for Moria, even if you do beat me.”
“Come on, Thorin! You can’t deny that my idea is brilliant! Think of what we would be able to do if we reclaimed Moria from the orcs! All that we could gain’”
“I am thinking of the cost, Frerin. It’s too high right now. Maybe in fifty years or so, but not now. We’re still trying to strengthen Erebor.”
“You worry too much about this mountain, Thorin.” He blocked a hit from his brother. “Moria is ours by right.”
“You’ll understand when you have a child of your own someday. Dís agreed with me too.”
“The boys are of age, they can come if they will as well.”
“Don’t let her hear you say that. She’ll skin you alive.”
“Rather like my skin intact.” Frerin hit Thorin’s shield one more time and they ceased their sparring. “Now, I doubt you called me here just to request a match.”
“I do want to talk to you about a match.”
Frerin groaned. “Thorin, I’ve told you a hundred times I don’t want to get married. I want to go out and reclaim lands we have lost and fight against the orcs who wander the East like a plague.”
“You’re a prince, your duty is to help strengthen our ties with other noble families.”
“Asta is of the Line of Durin and Víli was one of the elected lords of Ered Luin. We’ve enough strong ties.”
“Frerin, a prince’s duty isn’t always to do what his heart desires.”
“None of the dam’s here have caught my fancy. I’m not interested in any of them. Besides Asta and Dís, they’re all so vapid.”
“I’m fourth in line for the throne, I don’t have to feel a sense of duty to wear the crown and carry on like the rest of you.”
“You’re still a part of this family and while you might think of yourself that way, others do not.” Thorin sighed. “I already have fifteen petitions for you to meet lords’ daughters from around the mountain during chaperoned visits. I can’t just keep turning them away.”
“Yes, you can.”
“No, I cannot.”
“You’re the king.”
“And as the king I have to think of what’s best for my family and our people and our mountain all at the same time.”
“Thorin, I want to go out and fight. I won’t be able to do that if I have some wife who is determined to keep me at home so we might have a child.”
“It is not such a bad life and Asta is not like that with me. It’s my own choice.”
Frerin crosses his arms. “I don’t want to marry, Thorin.”
His brother sighed. “Fine, let's make a deal, then. If you don’t get married by the end of the year, I will let you plan a siege to Moria and allow you to partake in the ranging parties East where you might be able to fight some orcs.”
Frerin grinned and threw an arm around his brother’s neck. “Thank you, Thorin! You won’t regret it!”
“I already am.”
Peony straightened up her working station. She had finished relatively early that day, or at least all that she could. Rebinding a book was a long and slow process, especially with one as old as she was dealing with. It could only be handled for a certain amount of time before it needed to rest. However, she should be able to finish the book by tomorrow. Peony was very close to piecing together if the word she kept reading over and over was the name of Durin’s wife or just a title she had been given.
If only her mother could see her now.
Peony froze and looked up. She saw a tiny hand waving on top of one of the shelves. The ladder had slid a little ways away from the hand. In an instant, Peony climbed up the ladder and found a small girl sitting on the shelf with her knees tucked under her chin.
Although Peony has never seen the little princess in person, there was no mistaking the Durin blue eyes.
“Princess, what are you doing here?”
“Uncle Frerin forgot to come play with me,” she pouted. “He was going to show me around the forge even though my adad said I wasn’t big enough yet.”
Peony wasn’t sure if that was something the princess should be saying around someone she didn’t know, but the girl was only twenty. “Do you need help down?”
Peony smiled and helped the princess wrap her arms around Peony’s neck and her legs around her waist. The Princess, who had officially introduced herself as Thora, ripped the sleeve of Peony’s sleeve, but it was nothing she couldn’t fix later. They carefully made their way down the ladder and, when they finally reached the floor, Peony helped Thora down, although still held her hand.
“I’m finished working today, Princess Thora. Is there some place you would like me to take you?”
“Could you take me to my Uncle Frerin? He should be in his room now.”
Peony chewed her lip. “I think I can at least take you to the entrance of the royal wing.”
She followed behind Thora as the girl lead her confidently towards the royal wing. Peony kept her head down, as it would have been rude to just stare. She thought she would be stopped when they neared the royal wing, but no one did. She couldn’t just leave the princess alone. Even in the royal wing there could be dangerous people, so Peony continued to follow the girl until the reached a door she supposed was to Prince Frerin’s room.
Before Peony could say anything, the girl threw open the door. “Uncle Frerin!” Thora stepped in and Peony could see her looking around the room for a person who was apparently not there. Peony watched as the princess’ lip began to tremble and tears began to bubble in her eyes. “He’s supposed to be here !”
“Perhaps he’ll be here in a—”
Thora stomped further into the room and Peony came in to try and talk to her, but the girl opened a door, Peony could see led to the bath, and slammed it behind her.
“Princess,” the dwobbit carefully entered the room and knocked on the bath door. “Princess, I’m sure he will be here soon, perhaps you should stay with your mother until your Uncle Frerin comes for you. I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten his promise.” When Thora didn’t answer, Peony continued, “Please, sweetling.”
The door handle jiggled slightly, then stopped. “The door’s stuck.”
Panic began to rise in Peony’s throat. She rushed out the door but couldn’t see anyone in the hall. She had no idea where the closest person was. The bath had been steaming slightly. What if the princess had a heat stroke while Peony was looking for someone?
“Hold on!” she called. “I’ll try to find something to pick the lock!”
Quickly and carefully, Peony began to search the prince’s room for something to help the princess.
Frerin had his shirt off by the time he turned the corner of the hall to his room. He was exhausted and sweaty and no one would see him so it didn’t matter. He was finally free. Frerin was not going to marry before the year was out and he would be allowed to go on ranging missions against orcs and even plan a siege on Moria. Life was going his way and he wasn’t going to let anyone stop him.
His smile slipped off his face when he saw that his door was open. Frerin narrowed his eyes and entered the room. He saw a dam searching around his room. Not wanting her to escape, he closed the door behind him.
“What are you doing?”
The dam froze and looked up at him with wide eyes. She opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out, seemingly in shock.
“What are you doing in here?” Frerin rounded on her until he stood in front of her and began to stalk forward.
She backed up away from him as he continued to press forward. “I–I was just–the princess she—” The back of her legs apparently hit the edge of his bed and she reclined back away from him. “The princess is stuck in the—”
Frerin was standing in front of her and he could see that she was trembling, her hand over her breast.
The two turned towards the door and they saw three maids coming into the room. The three dams looked at Frerin and then their eyes went to the dam leaning against his bed with him towering over her. Just then, it dawned on him what this might look like.
“Excuse us, your grace.” The three curtsied and quickly retreated and closed the door behind them.
Neither of them moved for a long, awkward moment.
The door to the bath banged open, catching the prince’s attention. “Uncle Frerin!” His niece shrieked.
He turned to look back at the dam who had been leaning against his bed, only to find her gone and the main door shutting very quickly behind a flurry of skirt.