Ori of the Brothers Ri and son of Rikmha was busy at his desk come kitchen table in the little house in Steam Alley in the town of Dale outside of the Great Dwarf Mountain Kingdom of Erebor.
He was proud of the work he could do as a free lance journeyman scribe. True, he and his two elder brothers were amongst the poorest of dwarrow and lived outside the mountain but he was talented in his penmanship, drawing and languages which included Ancient Khuzdul, every day Westron and Sindarin.
He was busy transcribing a letter for the master of his eldest brother Dori. The master was a weapons smith who coveted Dori’s eye and hand for knives. He was fulfilling an order for the current Steward of Gondor, which had required Dori to be away yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Ori was half way through the letter when there came a bang against the door and little Tilda Bardsdatter nearly fell through it.
“Tilda, whatever is the matter?” Ori cried, out of his chair and crossing to help her up.
Tilda scrambled to her feet.
“Oh, Ori! It’s terrible! Nori’s been taken by the Master of Dale and they’re going to execute him!”
Ori felt his heart drop into his stomach. Nori was between Dori and Ori in age and just as dear. Ori flung himself to the kitchen cupboard and reached to the back, fumbled the lock of the strongbox and wrenched out the bag of all the coin he’d saved from his pay for the last six months.
Tilda slammed the door behind them as Ori lead the way down the street toward the main road that lead into the center of Dale.
Ori raced around the corner and crashed into what he thought might be a wall. He almost fell flat on his back but his arms were caught fast in a strong grip.
Ori’s heart sank. Of all the times to run into a dwarf cadre. Nori was a well-known mischief maker among his own, and for Ori to run straight into Dwalin, son of Fundin, Captain of the Royal Guard of Erebor and Protector of the City of Dale at a time like this didn’t bode well.
Ori struggled without success to free himself of the captain, who looked at him with narrowed eyes.
“Please excuse me, Captain Dwalin, sir. I must hurry.”
The captain set him on his feet and looked him over.
“Bit of a rush, Ori-lad?”
“Please! I must go!”
Ori yanked himself free and fled to his goal. He felt sick as he heard the fading voice of Tilda telling the captain that Nori was going to be killed very soon. A part of his brain registered delight in how handsome the captain looked this day and the fact he actually knew Ori’s name!
Ori yanked to a stop in front of the Master’s grand house and High Court of Dale. The guards in front were busy talking to one another. Ori slipped passed. He tried the double doors. They were barred, so he sidled to the right and slid in the open window, and hurried into the opulent meeting room where the Master regularly ‘held court’. There before him was a vile sight. The Master sat heavy in his extravagant, overlarge chair on the raised platform. He was ostentatious in his person and dress. His oily smile ranged over those before him: three of his soldiers, basically hired thugs, two of whom were holding a kneeling Nori.
“Wait!” Ori cried.
Nori turned. Only Ori registered the horror in his older brother’s eyes. The thugs snarled and one reached for Ori. The Master waved an idle hand.
“No, let it come forward. Now who might you be, little rat?”
Ori bristled at the slur but held himself and advanced to stop by Nori.
“Master, I am Ori of the Brothers Ri, Nori’s younger brother. I have brought his fine.”
The thugs sneered and elbowed each other. The Master smirked.
“Oh, indeed, have you? Unfortunately, his fine is his life. Have you enough to buy a life in your little bag?”
The Master nodded and Ori gasped as the bag was snatched from him and its contents dumped out on the floor. The Master leaned forward, regarding the collection of copper, silver and a few gold coins.
“I think not. Not even for this piece of dung. Anything else?”
Ori thought wildly for a moment.
“You said a life? Then I offer myself. I give myself in turn for my brother.”
“Ori, no!” Nori growled.
“Quiet,” Ori hissed and put himself in front of his brother.
The Master seemed nonplussed for a moment then as he looked Ori over slowly, his ugly mouth began to smile. Ori didn’t think this was any improvement whatsoever but stood his ground.
“Well, well, well, I’ve heard of the Ri and you are the youngest. Oh yes, yes I shall like this arrangement much better. Guard, throw this other one away. I’ll keep this little thing as my new pet.”
“No!” Nori shouted and got to his feet.
The thugs he’d throw off leaped back to grab at him but there was loud shouting and crashing outside.
The Master never finished his words as the double doors smashed open and in rode a cadre of Erebor royal guards. Ori was half over-joyed and half horror stricken. In the lead, on a very large, malevolent-looking goat, sat an equally large, malevolent-looking Captain Dwalin.
The captain rode forward to stop directly behind Ori. Ori glanced to his side and found he was eye to eye with the goat. He’d never realized goat pupils were square.
“Afternoon, Master Calmar,” the captain began in a conversational tone. “Heard you were havin’ a hearin’ concernin’ one of our folk, so I’m here t’ represent His Majesty Under the Mountain.”
The Master turned ingratiating.
“No, never, of course not, my good captain. I would never hold a case against one of your people without first consulting your Liege Lord. This is merely a matter of payment.”
“Payment?” The captain laid his war hammer across his knees and regarded the Master with a disarming smile that fooled no one. The rest of soldiers and goats seemed to stray about aimlessly but quickly hemmed the six persons in the room into a circle. The Master looked about in shock as he realized he was surrounded. His thugs muttered amongst each other in fear. Nori grabbed Ori’s arm and pulled him nearer.
“An’ what sort a’ payment would this be?” the captain prodded.
The Master licked his lips then began plaintively.
“That evil dwarf with the three prong beard robbed me! I wish re-payment and a fine of course!”
“Did he now?”
The captain eyed Nori, who had the manners to flush slightly before shrugging and grinning. Captain Dwalin pointed at the scattering of Ori’s pay. Nori swooped in to scoop it back up. Dwalin rolled his eyes and turned his attention back to the Master.
“I take it, then, yer thinkin’ that lovely pile a’ coin is reimbursement?”
“Ye… No! You don’t understand, my good captain! We have a file on this one. All his thievery.”
The Master snatched up a thick pile of papers from his lap and waved them about for good measure.
Captain Dwalin rode forward with his hand out. The Master placed the file in the captain’s hand. Captain Dwalin leafed through it with a disinterested air. His goat leaned down to have a taste of the rug on the platform.
“And,” the Master continued, eyeing the goat worriedly, “that other one has just pledge his life as payment for it. So, you see, it was all but a small matter and it is clean and tidy now. There’s nothing for you to do here.”
The Master rose with another oily smile.
Dwalin’s goat spat out the pieces of rug, looking unimpressed.
“Right ye’ are, Master Calmar.” Dwalin smirked back. “Come along, lads. Let’s be getting’ back.”
The captain reached Ori’s side and held out his hand.
“Up yeh get, lad.”
The Master stared forward crying, “Wait! He’s mine!”
Captain Dwalin looked piercingly down at Ori.
“Ori of the Brothers Ri, did yeh just say yeh’d stand as payment f’r yer brother’s deeds?”
“I did,” Ori said and shivered.
“Well, then I accept yer payment f’r yer brother. Up ye get.”
“But-“ the Master began.
Captain Dwalin swung round, goat and all, facing the Master.
“Unless it’s f’r goods ‘r in gold, payment a’ dwarrow goes t’ dwarrow same as payment f’r men goes t’ men. Yeh sayin’ th’ treaty between our folk’s no’ honored by yeh, Calmar, Master a’ Laketown?”
The Master’s mouth opened and shut helplessly.
Ori’s arm was taken in a firm grasp and he flopped as he was swung bodily up and seated before Captain Dwalin.
Next thing he knew they were out in the sunshine and riding up the road that lead to the Great Gate of Erebor. One of the guards was talking to a raven which flew off at speed to the mountain. Ori glanced about. He was crushed against the captain’s chest. The feeling of the goat trotting beneath him was most unsettling and strangely enough most of the streets were empty here.
The captain slowed, and when they reached stone open courtyard before the gate, Ori noticed they were right before the door of the Mountain. It towered above them. The vast statues of warrior dwarrow on either side carved from the sold green granite of the lonely mountain itself.
A large brasier sat on either side of the open door before them. Being still early spring and after the noon hour, there were no merchants or deliveries coming in or out. The captain dismounted and set Ori on his feet. Nori rushed up from another goat and tried to seize hold of Ori. The captain stopped him with a large hand against his chest. The captain reached into his tunic and brought out the sheaf of papers he had taken from the Master and gave Nori a look. Nori swallowed whatever he had been about to say and watched.
There was the sound of hurrying hooves. Ori looked up. Another dwarf emerged from the mountain on pony back. The dwarf hailed the cadre and cheerfully alit.
“Captain Dwalin, son of Fundin. I’m at your service.”
“Gloin, son of Groin. Well met, old friend. Glad yeh were able t’ get here right quick.”
“Yes, your raven was most prompt.”
Master Gloin undid a saddle bag and pulled out a rather blocky-looking something wrapped in a bright red cloth. He tossed the cloth back over the pony’s saddle and Ori watched in delight as Master Gloin unfolded and set up a cunningly wrought wooden desk stand. Gloin readied a parchment on it, uncorked an ink bottle, sharpened a pen and stood at the ready.
The captain turned to Ori.
“Did yeh offer tha’ bag a’ coin as fine f’r yer brother?’
“Yes, I did, captain.”
“An’ did yeh pledge yer life as payment f’r yer brother’s deeds?”
“Yes, I did, captain.”
“Yeh heard me say t’ Calmar that payment other than goods or gold a’ dwarrow goes t’ dwarrow same as payment f’r men goes t’ men?”
“Yes I did, captain. I accept being your indentured servant.”
“Yeh know we dwarrow don’t do that, lad.”
Ori puzzled a moment then untied his neck scarf and opened his collar.
“I accept my brother’s execution order, captain.”
Dwalin raised a quizzical eyebrow.
“I ain’t killing’ a dwarf over that, lad.”
“What are you going to do, captain?”
“Th’ only thin’ I can, lad.”
“Say ‘no’, Ori!” Nori interjected.
Captain Dwalin turned and told Master Gloin to write a basic contract. Master Gloin wrote busily while Captain Dwalin rummaged in his inner pockets.
He found what he wanted and, taking Ori’s arm, drew him to Master Gloin’s desk. Gloin finished what he was writing with a flourish and turned the desk to the captain. Dwalin signed it and Ori added his name without bothering to read it. He turned back to the captain who smiled and nodded curtly then began putting a braid into Ori’s hair.
Am I being adopted? Ori wondered.
Maybe he should have read that contract after all.
Dwalin finished the braid and, to Ori’s shock, attached a mithril bead set with emeralds in the braid. He turned Ori to face him and handed him a matching bead.
“Better put it in me beard, lad. I ain’t got enough on top anymore.”
This brought laughter and a few cracked jokes from the squad, which the captain shushed with a glare. Ori braided carefully with shaking hands and attached the bead he was given. When that was accomplished, Master Gloin beamed and spoke the ancient words of Khuzdul that declared them married.
Married? Ori thought wildly. I’m married to Captain Dwalin. Blessed Mahal! Dear Lady Yevanna! Dori’s going to kill me!!
Ori felt himself reel a little and Nori swore.
“I’m fine, Nori” Ori said the first thing that occurred to him.
Nori came to his side, almost shaking with rage.
The captain looked cooly at him.
“What else could I ha’ done. You saw-”
“It’s fine, captain,” Nori hissed. “May I salute you as my brother?”
Captain Dwalin raised an eyebrow.
Ori gasped as Nori’s fist flew passed his head.
To Ori’s surprise, the captain only staggered back a step and put his hand to his mouth. Ori and Nori were instantly at the sharp end of every soldier’s weapon. Nori growled, but the captain waved them away. Ori cringed as a small trickle of blood showed in the captain’s beard.
“Leave ’m be,” the captain ordered, then chuckled as he turned back to Nori.
“I accept this. Yeh see it that I’ve hurt yer brother. Yer act’s honorable.”
Nori looked flabbergasted and Ori shuddered with relief. The captain reached out to his second and took the sheaf of papers removed from the Master of Dale. He walked to the brazier and tossed the papers in. They caught instantly and were gone within moments.
The captain came back and stood before Nori.
“I ain’t never seen yeh before and I better no’ again.”
“What’s that supposed t’ mean?” Nori demanded with a side look at Ori.
“It means stay th’ fuck outa trouble, pebble brain.”
Nori pondered this silently. A shout flew up from the bottom of the road. The group turned to see little Tilda running up to them, panting.
She handed Ori his worn leather satchel.
“Here,” she rattled off. “I know you were finishing an important letter and I didn’t know when you’d be back, so I brought it. And I corked your ink really tight, so it wouldn’t spill and I grabbed your pens and sharpening knife, but I couldn’t find the cover, so please be careful. Are you coming back soon? What should I tell Mister Dori when he gets back? Shall I tell my Da anything?”
“Um…” Nori began.
“I won’t be back for a while, pet. I’ve married Captain Dwalin, so-“
“You’ve married Captain Dwalin?!” Tilda squealed and clapped her hands. “That’s so wonderful, ‘cose he is the one you like best, isn’t he? I heard you tell Sigrid he’s got a nice bum. Isn’t that him?”
Tilda pointed at the captain, who was obviously trying very hard not to laugh. Ori wished the ground would swallow him. Nori groaned and raised his eyes to the sky, muttering about mouthy badgers. The collected soldiers were also trying not to laugh as they covered their mouths or turned away. Master Gloin looked terribly pleased and patted Tilda on the head.
“That’s right, little lassie. Splendid news, yes?”
Tilda looked Master Gloin over with a wondering stare.
“My! You do have an awfully bushy beard!”
“Why, thank you, my dear!” Gloin looked fit to burst with pride. “You are most kind to notice that. What a clever little lass, you are!”
Tilda turned back to the captain,
“You better be nice to our Ori, ‘cose he’s my best friend,” she stated in an authoritative tone.
Captain Dwalin folded his arms and looked down at her.
“An’ who might yeh be, wee ‘un?”
“I’m Tilda Bardsdatter. He’s the bowman. He’s got a posh barge boat.”
“Bard th’ Bowman, grandson a’ Girion, eh. Fine man, he is.”
“Yes, he is. So you better be nice an’ all proper gentlemanly and romantic and stuff.”
She drew herself up, folding her arms and trying hard to mimic Dwalin’s stern stance.
The captain looked amused.
“Are we making’ a bargain then, lass?”
Tilda paused, then nodded firmly.
“Yes, yes we are.”
She marched up to the captain, spat on the palm of her right hand and offered it to him. Without missing a beat, Captain Dwalin spat on his right palm and they exchanged a firm handshake.
“We set?” the captain asked.
“Yes,” Tilda confirmed then turned to Ori as she wiped her hand on the back of her dress. “You’ll be alright.”
“Thank you, pet, “ Ori managed weakly.
“Why do boys do that?” She indicated her hand. “It’s gross.”
“Yer supposed t’ lick it,” the captain told her.
“Eww!” Tilda objected.
Ori palmed his face before he could stop himself. This day simply could not get any more silly or frightening or both. He pulled himself together as best he could.
“Master Gloin, might I trouble you for a small scrap of paper? I need to scratch a note to my eldest brother.”
Master Gloin was happy to oblige. He produced a cream colored piece of textured notepaper, moved aside, and adjusted the desk to Ori’s needs.
I hope this finds you well. I regret to inform you
I have been obliged to marry Captain Dwalin, the circumstances
of which I leave Nori to advise you.
Young Tilda has restored my writing satchel and pens to me,
so I shall finish your Master’s letter a soon as I may.
I shall do my very best to inform you of my further actions, when
I discover what they might be.
All my love,
—Please don’t kill Nori, he didn’t do anything this time, at least
he didn’t do anything I’m aware of this time.
Ori started to blow gently to dry the ink, but Master Gloin rescued him by amply a blotter and sanding the paper with some rosemary scented powder. He folded it, attached an unmarked white wafer, and handed it, smiling, back to Ori.
Ori shoved the sealed letter into Tilda’s hands and requested Nori to escort her home. Nori said what he thought. Ori attempted to glare at him the way Dori would have. Ori must have succeeded somewhat as Nori looked horror-struck then stomped off. Tilda paused to hug Ori fiercely then tore after Nori. The captain nodded to one of his soldiers who turned his goat, scooped up Tilda, and proceeded to follow Nori, who appear to be heading to a pub. Ori knew Tilda was clever enough to instruct the guard to take her home.
Ori sighed and looked down at himself. Everyday clothes, wrapped in woolens as he had only managed to get himself out of bed before doing the household chores then working on the letter. His face was still unwashed, his hair unbrushed, and his socks didn’t match. He looked like an old, ill-used laundry bag.
“Right, lad,” Captain Dwalin said. “Let’s be getting’ back t’ th’ barrack offices. I got reports t’ write.”
Ori shook himself. He had to concentrate on what was happening. He had to make his way in a new life without Dori, but with his husband. His husband, the handsome, strong, experienced warrior. Handsome….
Ori felt the blush rising again. He had once buried a feather and a red cotton ribbon to Yevanna, when he had first clapped eyes on Dwalin. He’d just come of age at the time and nearly swooned at the sight of the captain. He and Sigrid spent many happy hours discussing the merits of Captain Dwalin compared to Sigrid’s favorite, Prince Fili. Every single compliment from light to downright rude came back to his mind in a rush.
He had read the Queen of the Fertile Land had a sense of humor, but this was a bit much.
He looked at the captain who was standing beside his goat obviously waiting for Ori to come over. The rest of the soldiers were back on their mounts and ready. Ori hurried to Dwalin’s side. Dwalin swung up easily then offered Ori his hand. Ori was effortlessly brought up before him and the goat trotted through the gate and into the mountain.