Glóin had always liked to sit as close to the fire as his Amad allowed him to. In the cold evenings of their wanderings to the next town of men where they could find work and shelter, it gave him comfort to let his face and hands glow in the warmth of the fire while his back felt like a solid block of ice. Whenever his Amad’s watchful eyes were turned for a moment, Glóin inched closer to the fire, as close as he could before he felt his face would ignite, or far more often, before his Amad rushed in with panic in her face and scolded him for getting so close to the fire.
The fire sung him lullabies. It crackled, roared, snapped and popped, drowning out the other noises. Wolves and wargs would not dare to come close when he was by the fire. On the days when his Amad started crying while singing Glóin a lullaby about home, safety and comfort and couldn’t continue singing, the fire sang him to sleep until his Adad picked him up late at night and carried Glóin into their tent.
As Glóin grew older and his Amad didn’t keep as close an eye on him anymore, he took to flicking things into the fire. He watched as dry leaves curled up and burnt, orange sparks wandering over their blackened surface before they crumbled to dust. Green leaves hissed and stank before burning as well.
Glóin could spend hours pondering the different ways wood burnt. He loved the way small twigs lit up at the tip, the glowing circle wandering up the twig as the burnt parts curled into spirals and crumbled. He waited with bated breath until the pieces of wood he had thrown onto embers burst into flame with a popping whoosh. Glóin took pride in prodding and tickling a dying fire back to life, to see the flames embrace each piece of wood he added with fiery arms. Most of all, Glóin loved the orangey-red at the center of the fire, sometimes framed by those tiny blue flames that were beautiful in their heat.
When they lived in one of the towns of men, Glóin loved sitting in front of the oven. He figured out how the oven gave him the possibility to control the fire even better than he already could. He loved the knowledge of how to make the fire roar by giving it air and how to just barely keep it alive by reducing the air it got.
Glóin did not know how often he had been warned of the danger of fire. He and the other dwarflings his age listened to the warning and drew their own conclusion: whoever feared fire the least was the bravest.
When nobody was looking, they held contests to see who dared to get closest to the fire. They bore every scar gained by an unexpected spark like a battle scar.
Playing with the older dwarflings was never as much fun and they rarely did, mostly because the older children spent more time helping the older dwarves and much less time laughing. Some of them had no Amad and others had no parents at all, while all the dwarflings who were Glóin’s age at least had an Amad.
Still, they occasionally played with the older dwarflings, usually games like chase or pass-the-stone. It was during one of these games that Glóin won both the admiration of his friends and new insight.
They were playing chase and Thorin was the chaser. This was hardly fair, Glóin thought as he ran from Thorin. Thorin was nearly a fully grown dwarf while Glóin’s legs still were much shorter. Thorin was gaining on him and Glóin did not know how he was supposed to catch one of the older dwarflings should he become chaser and there hardly any dwarflings younger than he.
Thorin was about to catch him when Glóin spotted a nearly extinguished fire pit. Only some embers still glowed in it. Hoping to delay being caught, Glóin took a leap over it. Glóin looked over his shoulder to see how close Thorin was to him now, but to his astonishment, Thorin had stopped in front of the fire pit. For a moment, Glóin saw fear flicker over his face.
Then, Thorin walked off. “Go ahead and play your childish games without me.”
As most of the older dwarflings left, Glóin realised he had bested Thorin, their nearly grown prince. Glóin had been the one to get closer to the fire, so Glóin had to be braver than Thorin.
His friends looked just as stunned as he felt. After the first moment of surprise, they began grinning and congratulating Glóin.
After that, Glóin began watching the older dwarves more closely. He saw the way they took a step back when the fire flickered just a little too high or spread beyond the fire pit. The reflection of the flames and fear in their eyes filled him with fascination.
He watched how some of them tried to throw new wood onto the cooking fires from as far away as possible and others stayed away from the fires altogether. He began to realise that those that bore the greatest fire scars were often most afraid of the flames.
His friends made similar discoveries. As the older dwarves realised how little fear they felt in face of fire, tending to the fires became their task more often. Some of the old greybeards who spent their days bemoaning past glory and grumbling about the disrespectful youth began calling them “dragon brood”.
This new task gave Glóin even more opportunity to watch the flames. He noticed that salt thrown at a cooking pot and missing it turned the flames bright yellow. Glóin tried throwing things into the fire that usually did not get burned to see if anything unusual happened. He quickly realised that some types of rock or soil could change the colour of the flames.
But he got the by far most interesting reaction when he put some clippings of his hair into the fire. He barely had time to watch the hair curl in the heat and go up in flames before the first dwarves came running, sniffing the air and anxiously trying to find out where the smell of burnt hair was coming from. It was then that Glóin realised what power fire gave him over people.
The next afternoon as they were travelling under the overcast sky, Óin fell into step next to him.
“Did Amad or Adad ever tell you about the dragon?”
Glóin shook his head.
“It is the reason we lost our home in Erebor when Amad was pregnant with you.”
Glóin did not like Erebor much. Talking about it always made Amad cry and he hated hearing about great things he didn’t know about and would never see. He knew they had had to leave it because of a catastrophe that had killed all of his grandparents except grandpa Farin, but nobody ever talked about that catastrophe.
“A great fire dragon came from the north. I have never seen anything as large as that dragon, save mountains and perhaps large town. It breathed fire from its mouth. It burnt Dale, the town of men at the gates of Erebor and then it flew to Erebor itself. We managed to flee, but nobody knows how many dwarves and men died that day.”
Glóin realised Óin was shaking. Óin who was always so reasonable, who neither had crying fits like Amad nor bouts of anger like Adad.
“So why do the greybeards call everybody my age ‘dragon brood’?” Glóin asked.
“They think it’s unnatural that anybody can be so unafraid of fire, even though they were the same way before dragon. Seeing that dragon and smelling... all that smoke... nobody who wasn’t there can imagine it,” Óin said haltingly. “And those who were...” he shrugged and fell silent, drawing a shuddering breath.
Part of Glóin’s mind realised the terror an enormous, flame-breathing monster held. But mostly, his pulse raced at the excitement of the thought. He wondered how hot the dragon’s flames were and how the dragon was able to create them. How did the dragon withstand the fire rushing from its throat?
That night, Glóin dreamt of dragon fire, of entire trees going up in flames at once and towns ignited by a single breath. He saw buildings crumble to ashes and the power that dragon held.
He was startled awake by Óin screaming. Glóin had not been the only one to dream of dragon fire, but he was the only one who felt an indescribable thrill at the thought.