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Rites, Writings and Ris

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     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.
     “Oi, lad!”
     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.
     “What in-?”
     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.”
     Ori stared.
     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?’
     Ori straightened.
     “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.”
     “Oh.”
     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.”
     Ori stared.
     “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.
     “Nori! No!
     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.


          Dear Dori,
          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,
                Ori
                —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.

Chapter Text

     Ori sat on the edge of the plush chair while Captain Dwalin rifled through a large marble cabinet full of scrolls.  With a grunt, he pulled out a group tied together with twine dyed green.  He brought these over to Ori, while untying the twine.  Ori looked through.  Nori had not been too, too much of a bother to the dwarrow guards.  A few petty thefts of trinkets, but mostly bar fights, general mischief of stealing hats (a favorite past-time of Nori’s since a badger, and chalking rude words and pictures on nobles’ house walls and a rather obscure habit of drawing Ori’s badgerhood pet chicken Cluck-cluck as a signature.

     Ori sighed, rolling the scrolls up, grateful the Captain had burnt the lot from the Master of Dale as Nori’s Dale thievery had been prolific and shocking in some cases.  Dwalin took the scrolls back and tossed them into a small covered hole in the wall.  When Ori cocked his head, Dwalin explained that it was a chute that ended in the forges.

     The captain handed a lap desk to Ori and bade him write whatever letter he had been working on before the Incident.  Ori wrote busily, every now and then glancing at Dwalin who was at his desk also writing and signing different reports.  Occasionally he would read one, snort, and throw it into the chute.

    When he had finished his own work, Ori looked about.  The office was pleasant, large and airy with a high ceiling.  The room was richly appointed but not ostentatious.  There were several large candelabras as well as a heavy iron wheel suspended from the ceiling, covered in quartz shards that reflected the candles mounted on it to light the room well.  Maps covered the walls and Ori itched to go and study them.

     There was a row of little tubes in the wall where it met the ceiling.  Ori wondered what they might be for.  In answer, a small brown bat came hurtling through one and landed inelegantly on the Captain’s desk. 

     Dwalin chuckled at it, removed the intricately folded piece of paper it carried, and lifted the bat over to settle on a stand.  There was a circle of fur, a large shallow basin of water and several little pots Ori thought might contain food of some kind for the bats.  The tiny creature peeped at the captain, who snickered, patted the little head with a finger, and left it to drink its fill. 

     He undid the paper, read it, and closed his eyes as though in a headache.

     “Gloin, yeh got a gob th’ size a Mordor.”

     Ori watched as Dwalin turned back to his desk.  He saw Ori looking at him and shrugged.

     “We’ll be getting breakfast at Thorin’s.  Dis wants to met you.”

     Ori felt his stomach fall into his boots.  Dis, the Princess Royal, Amad of the Heir of Erebor.  The only daughter born in the direct line of Durin in 500 years.  He gulped.

     “She’s fine, lad.  She ain’t gonna eat yeh.  I grew up with her an’ Thorin.  Mahal knows I’ve badgersat and trained those two brats of hers often enough.”

     Ori tried to connect all the things he’d heard about the heirs - Fili the Golden and his Lionhearted younger brother Kili - with the captain referring to them as ‘brats’.

     “I hope I won’t embarrass you,” he managed faintly.

     The captain chortled.

     “Not to worry, lad.  The princes’ll embarrass themselves within a moment or two a’ meeting’ yeh.”

     Ori stared, having no reply to this.  Dwalin sat down and began working again.  Ori returned to examining the room.  He reflected that at the moment the captain seemed quite likable and kind.  He hadn’t tried to do anything impolite to Ori or treat him as a servant.  He shuddered a little.  Of course, they were still at the captain’s place of work, there was no saying what he might be like when they went to the house for the evening. 

     He and Sigrid had read enough novels about terrifying trader kings who captured helpless young maidens and took them off to be concubines and dance naked in throne rooms.  That was until handsome heroes came to rescue them and take them away to live happily ever after somewhere.

     Ori knew he couldn’t dance for shit.  He’d look ridiculous dancing naked. 

     Visions assailed Ori: himself dressed in wispy garments, hiding nothing, sitting at Captain Dwalin’s feet while he worked at his desk.  What would he have to do with his hair and beard?  The young maidens in the novels always had long flowing hair.  His was barely down to his shoulders and his beard was still quite sparse.  None of the maidens ever had beards! 

     He started to shake, wondering if the captain would force him to shave it off.  The maidens!  Oh no, he’d have to have his entire body shaved.  He trembled, staring at the captain, terrified at the thought of being shaved, then waxed, and covered in fine perfume then dancing.

     Captain Dwalin looked up, caught his eye, and stared back, incredulous.

     “What’s th’ fuck is wrong, lad?  Yeh look like ye jus’ found an orc army in yer britches.”

     “I…I can’t dance,” Ori blabbered.  “And…and I don’t want to be shaved.  Dori will have a fit then die of shame and it’ll be all my fault and Nori will never forgive me…”

     “What th’ flying’ fuck are yeh talking’ about?”

     “Like the maidens in books, they’re stolen and the evil trader kings…”

     Ori realized he was babbling stupidly and clamped his mouth shut.  Captain Dwalin continued to stare at him like he had three heads.

     “Lad…  Catch me up.  What’s stolen by who?”

     Ori felt his face burn and squirmed in spite of himself.  He felt a fool.

     “Nuthin’,” he mumbled, then recovered himself.  “I-I read a lot.”

     Dwalin turn at his desk to face him.  Ori thought he saw amusement in those bright hazel eyes.

     “Read a lot?  A lot by the famous, ’r should I say infamous, Notathain A. Shire?”

     “You read Shire’s novels, too?” Ori gasped out before he could stop himself. 

     The captain smiled.

     “Have to.”

     “Why?” Ori asked.

     “Self-defense.  Whole bloody royal family reads ‘em.  If I want to have any chat or peace I have to know ‘em.”

     Ori giggled before he could stop himself.

     “Sigrid…I mean Miss Bardsdatter…”

     “I know th’ family,” Dwalin encouraged.

     “Sigrid and I read them together.  They are rather fun.  Shire must do a great deal of traveling to know so much about distant parts.”

     “Or reads a lot and likes maps.”  Dwalin winked at him.  “Don’t you write?”

     “Yes, I…  No!  Don’t you dare accuse me of being Shire.  I couldn’t come up with such adventures even in my wildest dreams.” 

     Ori laughed and Dwalin crossed to his side offering a goblet.  Ori took it and sniffed.  It was a light ale.  He sipped.

     Dwalin regarded him a moment then dropped his voice low.

     “Moo-ha-ha-ha-ha, I’ll get you, my pretty!”

     Ori managed not to choke, but got half a mouthful down his front.

     “Bastard!”  he cried and kicked out at the captain, who leapt aside, laughing at him. 

     Ori remembered his situation and hurriedly got to his feet and bowed.

     “I’m sorry, I-“

     “F’r what, lad?  Nice kick by th’ way.  Nori teach yeh?”

     “No, Dori.  He said most don’t suspect such and, among Men, it’s to our advantage.  Their knees, you know.”

     “He’s right about tha’,” the captain agreed. 

     Ori’s drink made him realize how thirsty he was and he swallowed it, wiping his mouth with his sleeve; the alcohol hit and he cursed as he remembered he’d had nothing since his morning tea.  In answer to his unspoken question, the low call of the evening horn volley sounded.

     “Huh, late as that is it?” the captain commented.  “C’mon, laddie.  Let’s be getting’ home.  Don’t know about you, but I could use a meal.”

     Ori folded the letter he had finished.  He’d have to go and deliver it to Dori’s master tomorrow as he’d promised.

     “Captain?”

     “Let’s start as we mean t’ go on, lad.  Yeh call me Dwalin an’ I’ll call yeh Ori.”

     “Um, Dwalin.  I must get back to the Dale tomorrow.  I promised Dori’s master I would have this letter ready for him.” 

     “Where’s he live?”

     “Master JinGhr, he’s at the Great Forge of Dale.  He lives beside it.”

     Dwalin went to the door and gave a shrill whistle.  In a moment, a large raven swooped in and landed on the desk.  Dwalin took one of the little pots off the stand where the brown bat was still grooming itself.  He offered the pot to the raven who gobbled a few morsels, then looked at him expectantly.  Dwalin repeated the name and address of Dori’s master.  He motioned Ori over.  Ori held the letter out, the raven took it in its beak and flew off.

     Ori got his satchel together while Dwalin put out the lights.  As he shut the office door, he took Ori’s hand and led him out of the building.  Dwalin whistled again, long with two high notes.  There came a clatter of hooves and Dwalin’s goat arrived from around the corner.  Dwalin swung Ori up in front of him again and the goat trotted off at a brisk pace.

Chapter Text

     Ori stared.  The mountain was big enough when seen from the outside but inside its vastness and importance imposed upon him: the soaring walls with beautiful bridges connecting the endless layers.  Some bridges met and joined in large squares where open markets had their pavilions.  Dwarrow were everywhere busy with their lives, talking, laughing, singing, and music swirled all around.  Phosphorus rock lined all the streets and bridges and walls with a mix of yellows, blues and greens.

     Ori was busy looking around and didn’t notice they were making their way upward until the goat struck out on one of the great roads that wound layer by layer up the edge of the mountain.  From here he could see the middle of the kingdom and down to the bottom of the city where the forges over the mines glowed with orange light.

     Looking up and up his eye caught an almost pinkish light coming from the far away peak of Erebor.  Why it was pink he didn’t know but filed that thought away to ask Dwalin later.

     The road became more elaborate and Ori gasped as they passed under a intricately wrought archway.  He’d only read of this place.  This was the entry to the royal living quarters.

     Right next to this, carved from the wall, reaching from the top of the city and down to the gate where they had entered from the Dale was what he knew instinctively to be the great Library of Erebor.

     The goat trotted through the open gate and the edifice was lost from sight as they rode down a tunnel lined with highly wrought phosphorescent lamps.  Suddenly all the sounds of the city were shut out.  Ori felt strange.  He had never been in such a quiet place.

     The goat brought them into a large open cavern.  In the middle of this was a beautiful mosaic covering the groundstone and at its center a mirror-still reflecting pool.  The far wall curved and was lined with separate courtyards behind magnificent iron gates.  Beyond these gates the walls were carved and clad to indicate separate houses set into the rock face.  He saw huge doors in huge walls, each decorated differently.  They passed a house and door of sandstone set with rubies.  When they reached one of red granite with a oak and beaten copper door they stopped.  Dwalin got down and opened the gate.    

     Pathways checkered the courtyard in patterns interspersed with different colors of moss and lichens.  Every now and then various sized and shaped plinths held containers of other plants found in the deep. 

     The goat’s hooves rang loud as Dwalin led the way to another beaten copper door off to the side of the house, a smaller twin to the larger.  He opened it and Ori rode into the smell of hay and leather.  This was the stable.

     Dwalin lifted Ori off the goat, then undid the saddle, and removed it.  The goat hunched its shoulders then stretched its back legs straight out behind, almost putting its belly to the ground, then stepped forward, shaking itself a little.

     Dwalin slapped the goat’s haunch and ruffled the fur.

     “There’s a good lad, Gnasher.  Time f’r yeh t’ get yer feed an’ rest.”

     Dwalin crossed the stable to a matching door opposite the entry and threw it open.  The evening light poured into the stable.  Gnasher trotted out into a vast meadow, snorting, and proceeded to leap about and kick out his back legs like a tiny kid, then fell on his side and legs straight out, rolled ecstatically around for a few moments, scrambled back on his hooves, shook, and scratched his ear with a hind foot. Ori laughed and, at Dwalin’s nod, went outside. 

     The town of Dale was like a badger’s plaything.  He had never been so high up the mountain in all his life.  Huge boulders rose all about and looking upward he could see the snow covered cap of the very top.  A few clouds ringed it and he felt the wind, cooled by the snow, rush down the sides. Ori wrapped his cardigan closer around himself.  Spring was only beginning here, so snow dotted the hollows as well but where the rocks provided shelter Ori saw the tiniest spots of color. 

     The sunset cast the mountain in a pinkish light.  Ori wondered how this had been reflected to the inside of the mountain.  It was beautiful to see it from so high up.

     He went to the closest spot of color in the grass and found a small, newly green plant, showing it’s rich purple-pink blossoms proudly.  From where he stood now he could see a few daisies here and there in the meadow. 

     Ori made his way a little farther down and flopped into the grass.  He was not alone as there were several ponies grazing and they spared him an inquiring look.

     He lay back.  Although somewhat cold and dampish, it was lovely to feel the grass beneath him and the only sounds were the calls of ravens and other birds.

     He was startled out of his daydreams by another shrill whistle.  He sat up.  A large brown pony with a black mane and tail lifted its head, ears up, gave a squeal, and lit out for the stable.  Ori went after it, curious.  He remembered seeing Dwalin riding such a pony through the square in Dale.

     “There yeh be,” Dwalin greeted the pony which shoved its face into his chest nearly knocking him over.

     “Mind out, yeh daft beast!  C’mon in and I’ll get yeh bedded down.  Come away in, yeh great shithead.”  Dwalin ruffled the mane affectionately with a smile.

    Ori giggled and Dwalin winked at him.  They went into the stable and Dwalin shut the back door then proceeded groom the pony before breaking out in another round of swearing.

     “What in th’ name a’ Mahal’s big hairy balls’ve yeh been’ down’, yeh great knob?  Yeh got burrs from one end t’other!  Curse it, Harley, can yeh no’ keep yersel’ outta trouble f’r five bloody minutes?”

      Ori watched as Dwalin continued to scold the pony which wiggled and nosed at him happily.  Dwalin settled Harley in a loose box, amply suppled with hay, gave him a small bag of grain, and twisted a brass spigot in the wall which poured sparkling water into a metal trough.

     All this finished, Dwalin shut the first door, led Ori out and around through the front door of the House of Fundin.

     Ori looked about him at the large, beautiful, octagonal room, walls of shining red granite and polished wood wainscoting from shoulder height to the floor.  The floor was tiled with octagons of different shades of red granite in circular patterns.   A grand fireplace loomed to the left, surrounded by fine, heavy furniture.  A massive table set with chairs balanced it to the right and beyond that a staircase with carved balusters and rail traced the angles of the walls with a sweeping row of glass faced lanterns.  At the landing a red curtain with gold trim graced another arch.

     “What a beautiful sitting room,” Ori sighed.

     “Eh?  This’s th’ receivin’ room. Sittin’ room’s through there.”

      Across from Ori loomed another great door of beaten copper with hexagonal prisms of brass set in a crescent.  Dwalin led the way through this and stopped to kick off his boots, set his axes and other weapons down on the floor, and hang his fur vest on a peg beside the door.  Ori came after and followed suit with his boots, satchel, and scarf as Dwalin shut the door.  The floor was warm!   Ori wiggled his toes.  There was definitely warmth coming through the floor.  Ori looked down and cringed at his mismatched socks again but Dwalin, after lighting the fire, was heading deeper into the apartment.

     Ori followed him through the large but cozy sitting room with its fireplace a twin to the last, but surrounded by a couch and three armchairs, all plush and well worn, with a low, red granite table between the seating and the fireplace.

     A very elegant but sturdy desk sat off to the side of the couch.  It was carved from the rock of both the floor and wall with a comfortable looking leather chair before it.  Another archway opposite the door led to a wide hallway with a high ceiling, but Dwalin went through a smaller archway to the right and into another room.  Ori trotted after him.

     Ori walked into the most beautiful kitchen he had ever seen, a rectangle crowned on each side with cupboards of dark wood, glass fronted, and filled with dishes and all kinds of jars and crocks.  The entire ceiling was covered in a lattice work of steel.  Many chains with hooks fell from it and off these, above anyone’s head, hung bright copper pots, pans, and cooking utensils of all kinds. 

     White marble counters ran to the left and right, each pausing with smaller versions of the door they had just entered.  The wall to the left of him held a vast cooking surface and a cast iron heater containing three ovens. 

     A good sized table with six chairs about it sat in the middle of the room.

     At the far end of the room the ends of twilight still showed through a long, tall halfmoon window filled with circles of highly polished mica. 

     Dwalin opened one of the narrow door on the right.  Cool air wafted through the room. 

     “Eggs?” Dwalin asked.

     “Huh?  Oh!  Yes, please.”

     “How many yeh want?”

     “Four.  if you have enough?”

     Dwalin raised and eyebrow then palmed an enormous egg to Ori.  Ori goggled at it.

     “That’s not from a squab!”

     “Nah, goose.”

     Dwalin brought out six and a pile of other things in his arms.  He dumped these on the table and reached up for a shining frying pan, twirling it in his hand before setting it on the cook top.  He nodded to a big loaf of bread and requested Ori to cut some slices.  Ori busied himself and Dwalin lit the heat under the pan, mixed the eggs in a bowl, then started laying rashers of bacon on the griddle.  He took down a few small jars from the cupboard and brought them to Ori along with a mortar and pestle. 

     Ori took up the pestle and watched as Dwalin dropped in salt, pink pepper corns, and a couple of other powders Ori didn’t know, but smelled delicious.  Dwalin put an knob of butter on a small plate and had Ori pour half his now ground spice mix into it. 

     After combining these, he handed it back to Ori to butter four slices of bread on both sides.  These were added to the griddle.  By now the bacon filled the room with its good scent.  Ori’s mouth was watering.

     In minutes, they both sat down to a dinner of fried bread, bacon, and spiced scrambled eggs.  Dwalin had ale while Ori was on his second mug of cool, fresh water from the spigot over the smaller of three sinks at the end of the left side counter.  The other two, Dwalin had explained, were for washing up and the water was roasting hot from the forges below.

     Ori was so happy, it had been so long since he’d had a big meal like this and it was so good.  He figured out that one of the powders was garlic and the other was the popular spice mixture most dwarrow favored to marinate their meats.  They ate in silence; each paying attention to their meals.  Dwalin rose, Ori assumed it was to get more ale, but he came back in a few moments with more bread, this time soaked in the remaining egg mix and fried with more bacon, all of which he dumped on Ori’s plate.  Dwalin had got himself bacon as well, but was eating it with thick slices of bread liberally plastered with butter.

     Ori sat back, full and very comfortable, and sighed contentedly.  He was about to burp then remembered this was considered impolite among the noble and rich men.  Was it so with noble dwarrow?   He swallowed and looked up.  Dwalin was regarding him with a teasing look in his eyes.

     “The question is, laddie, kin yeh finish the first three lines of the primer?”

     Ori almost choked.  The primer was how every badger started their Khuzdul.  It began with “All Hail to Mahal and to the Seven Stars of Durin Shining Bright.”  It was considered quite a feat to get out the complete ‘All Hail to Mahal”. 

     Ori gave Dwalin as contemptuous a look as he could muster, summoned the best burp he could and intoned, “All Hail to Mahal and the Seven Stars” before he ran out of burp and almost peed his britches. 

     Dwalin threw back his head and roared with laughter, reaching over to clap Ori on the shoulder, nearly knocking him off his chair.

     “Well done, lad!”  Yer better than ol’ Tzlur!  It took him two tankards a’ ale, one a’ soda water and a crock a’ beans t’ get even that much out.”

     Ori laughed with him.  He hadn’t had this much fun since Nori had taken him out to a quiet pub for a boiled dinner.

     “Nori says there’s a dwarf called Old Granda Tz and he’d eat a crock of beans and fart the entire thing in his sleep.”

     “That’s the one and the same.  Thorin an’ me took guard duty with him as youngsters.  Had t’ share a tent with him and three others.  Ol’ Tzlur slept happy an’ th’ rest a’ us nearly died a’ fumes.”

     “Ugh!” Ori commiserated. 

     Dwalin rose and stacked their dishes and put them in the sink and turned on the spigot.  This water came out like a geyser and billowed with steam.  Dwalin only had to hold each item in the stream for a moment before handing it to Ori, sparkling clean.  Ori dried each and Dwalin showed him where they were kept.

     “Tea?”

     “Yes, please.” Ori said quickly.

 

     Dwalin led the way back into the sitting room and placed the large tray on the low red granite table before the hearth, pushed the large sofa closer and dropped into it, slapping the cushion near him for Ori to seat himself.  Ori came over and sat with the cushion between them.  Dwalin parked his feet on the table.  Ori was about to follow suit, saw his socks again, and chose to sit cross legged instead.

     “That the latest fashion?” Dwalin commented in a friendly way.

     “I shouldn’t sit like this?” Ori asked.

     “Sit anyway yeh like, lad.  I meant yer socks.  Is tha’ th’ latest thin’ among th’ young and artsy set down th’ Dale?”

     Ori blushed hotly, briefly considered telling him it was, but shook his head.

     “I was a bit sleepy this morning, when I got dressed.”

     “Thank Mahal.” Dwalin grumbled.  “It it’d been a fad, I’d be off t’ warn Thorin as he’d be havin’ Fili and Kili up his arse trying’ t’ get’ him t’ do it with ‘em.”

     Ori wondered again and caught Dwalin’s eye.  Dwalin’s look narrowed and he seemed fierce, but the laughter was still there.

     “Don’t yeh bloody dare, lad!”

     Ori made a show of cocking his head, then giggled.

     “I promise I won’t.  Sigrid would never forgive me if I made his Royal Highness, Prince Fili the Golden, look foolish.”

     “Oh aye?”

     “She thinks he’s got a nice bum.”  Ori snerked into his tea.  If Tilda could embarrass him in front of Dwalin, Nori, and an entire cadre of soldiers, he could tell Dwalin that Sigrid fancied Fili.

     “Nice as mine?” Dwalin teased. 

     Before he thought, Ori threw the teaspoon at him.  Dwalin only caught it and laughed.  Ori swallowed his fear. 

     Dwalin went through to the kitchen again and returned with a large crock and a plate.  He dumped some of the contents on the plate and passed it to Ori.  Lovely fat biscuits, crisp, smelling of ginger, and full of currants.  Ori grabbed two and crunched blissfully.  Dwalin dropped back down, shoved a very puffy tasseled pillow between them, and leaned his elbow on it.  He dunked the biscuit in his tea before eating it.  Dwalin belched contentedly and rooted out his pipe and pouch.  Ori liked the scent of the smoke.  It was rich and not stinging like so many others he’d come across. 

     “That’s not like the weed men usually smoke or the local field balsam,” Ori commented.

     “This is the good stuff, lad.  Old Toby pipeweed, from the Shire.  Say wha’ yeh like about’ th’ hobbit folk, but they know weed, beer, an’ fortified wine.  Dark stuff kicks yeh right’ in th’ arse.  Not like tha’ twice watered shit th’ tree shaggers pass off as wine.”

     He handed Ori the pipe.  Ori took a draw.  He was deeply impressed with the flavor, dark, rich and with an almost coffee taste to it.

     “That’s very nice,” he praised, returning the pipe. 

     Dwalin grinned and nodded before settling back.  Ori curled agains the other side of the pillow.  It was made of brushed velvet and the firelight was cozy and pleasant.  He was full, warm, and very comfortable.

 

     Ori blinked.  His cardigan was removed and he was lain down against the softest pillow he’d ever felt.  He closed his eyes again.

Chapter Text

Ori woke in a cocoon of comfort.  He had no idea where he was.

Well, yes, he was in a bedroom, in a fine bed with blankets and he lay between cotton sheets.  On the bedside table a carafe of water with a small glass sat beside a wrought iron lantern.  His eye swept over the dresser and matching wardrobe of light colored wood, to the sunlight that poured through a small halfmoon window.  It matched the mica window in the kitch-

  He was married to Captain Dwalin.

He was married to Captain Dwalin!

Ori sat up, put his feet on the floor and sighed.  Warmth soaked through his socks, still mismatched.  He rose and went to a large silver water pitcher sitting in a matching bowl on a stand.  A facecloth and towel hung from the rail. 

Ori quickly gave himself a wash and felt more awake.  He found a comb on the dresser and borrowed it.  He opened the door and peeked out.  Opposite, a long wide hall led to the sitting room where he had sat with Dwalin last night.  To his left and right were more doors all on the same wall as his.  At the very end of the right side, a door opened.  Dwalin appeared in trousers, barefoot, and rubbing his hair with a towel.  He saw Ori and nodded.

“Mornin’, lad.  Was jus’ coming’ t’ wake yeh.  We’re bidden t’ Dis f’r breakfast.”

“Good morning, Capt- Dwalin.  Yes, I remember you mentioning that.  Where might I find the privy?”

Dwalin tapped the door on his immediate right.  Ori hurried down and Dwalin opened the door.

 

Ori emerged feeling a great deal more awake and trotted down to the sitting room.  He noticed that the other door to the kitchen opened into this hall.  That left three other doors around this room and, he thought, an upstairs.

Dwalin was pulling on his boots when he got there.  Ori reached down but Dwalin passed his boots to him.  Ori wasn’t sure what to say, so went with the amusing.

“As you see, I’m once more artistically attired.”

Dwalin snorted, shrugging his weaponry on.

“Aye, fancier than a goldfinch.  You sleep alright?”

“Yes.  I’m sorry I fell asleep on the couch.”  Ori girded his loins.  “Shocking behavior for a newlywed, really.”

Dwalin scoffed.

“Don’t feel too badly, lad.  I woke meself up with me own snorin’ at the second night bell.”

Ori snickered and brushed at himself.

“Hungry?” Dwalin asked. 

Ori was surprised to find he was, even after all he’d put away last evening.

“Yes.  You?”

“Starvin’.  Lucky f’r us, Dis always puts on a good spread.”

Dwalin opened the door, waved Ori through then shut it behind him.

“So do you,” Ori pointed out.

“Soldiers’ fare, lad.  I can cook, but nuthin’ fancy,” as they went through the receiving area.

“It was very good,” Ori insisted, stepping out and Dwalin shut the front door. 

Dwalin chuckled, ruffled Ori’s hair, and took him by the hand.  Dwalin led the way across the Fundin courtyard then out to the main one.   

Ori saw they were heading toward the neighboring home with its lapis lazuli facade, courtyard and wall, the wall inset with stars filed with tiny diamonds. Under the middle and largest star was a gate of rose gold.

Ori gulped and glanced down at himself.

“Yer fine, lad,” Dwalin said quietly.  “Stop worrying’ yersel’.”

They passed through the golden gate.

“There you are,” said a female voice.

Ori jumped, in spite of himself, and turned quickly. 

The dwarrowdam who stood before them was like none Ori had ever seen. 

She was almost his height but wider and exquisitely dressed in Durin blue.  Her dark brown hair and beard were set with mithril beads and sapphires, her hair piled on top of her head with a few curls dropping fetchingly about her neck.  Her black eyes snapped and sparkled as she peered at Ori.

“So, you are the new husband.”

Ori nodded, remembered his manners, and bowed.

Dis straightened him immediately.

“Now, none of that.  I’ve been waiting to meet you since Gloin came and told us he presided over your marriage.  It was too bad of you not to invite us, and with Balin away.  Well, we’ll talk of it later.  Breakfast’s ready.” 

Dis grabbed Ori’s wrist.

“Mornin’ Dis,” Dwalin said laconically.

Dis turned back to look at him.

“Well, don’t just stand there, Dwalin, your new husband must be hungry.”

She hustled Ori inside.

 

Ori was ushered through a wide hallway of lapis into a huge receiving area, all wooden paneling, which opened into a dining room of white marble set with mithril panels: floor, walls and ceiling.  Ori felt like he had been popped into a youth’s snow fort.  The table was set with silver, silver …  everything.  Feeling like a badger at a glass vendor, Ori automatically put his hands behind his back.  In a burst of loud laughter, Dwalin entered with another dwarf.  Ori didn’t need to be told who this was.  He bowed to Prince Thorin Oakenshield.

Thorin was dark like his sister and came forward with a ready smile.

“Ori, is it?”

“Yes, your highness.”

“Yes, Thorin,” the prince gently corrected.

“Yes, Thorin,” Ori repeated and blushed.

Thorn looked him over and smirked at Dwalin. 

“He is very pretty.  No wonder you don’t shut up about him.”

It was Dwalin’s turn to redden. 

“Fuck you, Thorin,” he muttered.

Ori didn’t know where to look.

Thorin chuckled and went to sit at the head of the table.  He waved for Dwalin to sit on his right and Ori to his left.  Ori sat carefully on the ornately carved white marble chair upholstered in white leather.  He swallowed and felt his appetite vanish.  Dwalin and Thorin were already discussing something about a diplomatic trip to Gondor.  The party was due to return shortly.

Dis swished in with two covered platters in her hands, abjuring someone behind to mind out.  After her came two male dwarrow close to Ori’s age or older.  Ori knew them to be Princes Fili and Kili, the sons of Princess Dis and her late husband Vili.  Both also carried platters which they bumped down gracelessly.

Fili was fair, with honey-colored hair like his long dead blacksmith father while Kili looked like a younger Thorin - a younger, very mischievous Thorin.  Kili looked at Ori, pointed and shouted.

“You’re him!”

Kili bounded around the table to Ori, who rose.  Kili genially knocked foreheads with him, and clapped him on the shoulder.

“Well met.  Are you going to soldier with Dwalin or keep house?”

Ori couldn’t answer as he was knocking foreheads with Fili.  Dis ordered the princes to their seats and began to serve.  Dis handed Ori a plate piled high with fried chicken eggs, bacon, spicy sausage, blood sausage, morels, tomatoes, fried bread, and beans in tangy sweet sauce.  Ori swallowed and wondered if he would end his days looking like the magnificent Bombur, son of Ur of the Lake Inn.  Master Bombur was the largest dwarf ever but he was also the handsomest.  Ori might grow large, but he doubted he would ever have Bombur’s charming personality or superb beard.

Thorin and Dwalin continued to talk while the princes shoveled their breakfasts into their mouths.  Ori enjoyed his, but thought he was going to need a nap after.  He was glad when Dis passed him a cup of tea which revived him a little.  Dis was torn between commenting on what Dwalin and Thorin were discussing and scolding her sons for their manners.  Ori was glad everyone was distracted for the time.  The time didn’t last as Fili finished his meal and looked at Ori with a curious air.

“You’re from the Dale, yes.”

“Yes.”

“I don’t remember you scribing for any of the meetings or working in the library.  Who do you scriven for?”

“I free-lance.”

“Nice,” Kili put in on Ori’s left.  “Who do you know in the Dale?  You live in the main square where all those lawyers are?”

“I don’t think we … er … socialize in the same circles.  We don’t live in the square,” Ori began.

“You have a big family?” Fili put in.

“Just three of us.  I have two older brothers.”

“The Dale’s small, you must know Master Calmar,” Kili went on.

Ori felt a surge of rage spurt through him at the mention of the Master.

“I have met him exactly once and I didn’t enjoy it.”  Ori didn’t quite hiss. 

Both princes looked startled, looked at each other, then went back to questioning him.

“What happened to your parents?” asked Fili.

“Are they in the Iron Hills or the Blue Mountains?” asked Kili.

“Our mam is dead.  I have no information on our das.”

“Boys!”

Ori was grateful for Dis’ interruption even if it was merely to tell the princes they needed to be on their way or they would be late for lessons.  Both rose, crossing to their mother, one on either side and simultaneously removed her matching ear cuffs while they bade her and their uncle goodbye, and Dwalin reminded them they had a practice with him that afternoon, making them both groan.  Dis cursed them roundly and took back her jewelry.  Kili looked doubtfully at Ori and Fili clapped him kindly on the shoulder.

“We’ll see you later, Ori-mate!”

Ori smiled in return and watched the princes go out as two dams came in.  Ori wasn’t sure if they were cousins and if he should rise to greet them.  Dis merely smiled and nodded at them as they removed the platters and, as Dis rose, slid away a leaf of the table.  They replaced the tea tray on a table now half the size it had been, bobbed curtsies when Thorin and Dis thanked them, and went out.  Dis drew her chair closer and refilled the cups.  She passed Ori’s cup back to him and smiled.

“I heard you telling my boys that you live with your two brothers in Dale and your amad has passed to the Halls.”

“Yes, she died when I was just a badgerling.  My eldest brother, Dori, raised me and my other older brother Nori.”

“Your adad?”

“I never knew him, ma’am.”

“That’s unusual among our people, what happened?”

“Dis,” Dwalin growled.

“I’m just trying to get to know your new husband, Dwalin!”

“Then try bein’ general.  Yer worse’n me best interrogator!”

“And that’s saying a great deal,” Thorin commented dryly.

Dis huffed at them and smiled warmly back at Ori.

“I’m not interrogating you.  Just wanting to get to know you, so we can have your best interests at heart.  So, when I introduce you-“

“We go by the Brothers Ri,” Ori helped.

“You’re amad’s name was Ri.  Ah, Ri of the Iron Hills?”

“No, Ri short for Rikmha.”

Thorin exchanged a look with Dwalin and Dis looked startled.

“An unusual name for a dam.  What was her craft?”

“She was a cleaning dam in Dale,” Ori told her, waiting for royal disapproval.

“Oh.  Did she work for herself or was she in a union?”

“For herself.”

“She must have been very successful and to have three boys.  A fine family,” Dis approved. “What a pity she died when you were so young.  Was it an accident?”

Ori blushed again.

“Sort of.  She was out … enjoying herself with a group of … er … friends and she fell badly.  She was bedridden for three years before she died.”

Dis looked shocked.

“That’s dreadful.  I am sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.”

Thorin reached over and gave his shoulder a squeeze.

“And your brothers?” Thorin asked.

“Dori is an assistant to a weapons maker.”

“Master JinGhr at the Great Forge of Dale,” Dwalin said.

“I’ve seen their work,” Thorin nodded.  “Excellent.  The knife work is exquisite.”

Ori glowed.

“That’s Dori’s specialty.”

Thorin smiled in return.

“Then I shall have to cultivate your eldest brother’s acquaintance.”

Thorin rose with Dwalin.

“I have a meeting with udad.  Provided he’ll consent to see me outside of the treasury.  Dwalin?”

“Aye, I’m with yeh.  Dis, would yeh keep Ori comp’ny ’til I get back?”

“Certainly.  What are you doing after?”

“Takin’ Ori t’ Balin’s tailor.  He needs a few things.”

Dwalin winked at Ori and followed Thorin out.  Dis rose and bade Ori to accompany her.  She led him through to a sunny room.  The long, tall window was actually a series of six doors, two of which were open and lead out to area paved with lapis.  A scattering of white marble urns held only earth.

Dis settled him in a one of the comfortable oaken chairs upholstered with embroidered black linen.  One of the dams returned with a crystal jug and two glasses.  Dis thanked her, poured out for both of them and passed a glass to Ori.

“I hope my sons didn’t embarrass you.  They are very enthusiastic when meeting new friends.”

“No, I …  I’m just a little on edge.  Sometimes when living among men, one has to be careful with what one says.”

“Of course,” Princess Dis agreed absently, she glared pensively out at her patio. 

Ori sipped at his drink.  Ice-cold water flavored with ginger and lemon balm, and sweetened with honey. 

Princess Dis seemed to debate something in her head, then turned back to him.

“You said your amad’s name was Rikmha?”

“Yes, milady.”

Dis frowned.

“Dis is fine.  I thought I heard Thorin telling you titles were not used among family.”

“He did, but,” Ori searched for a way to explain.  “I am rather new at being married and being er … suddenly royal.”

Dis laughed at that and regarded him curiously.

“Rikmha.”

“My mam?”

“Where was she from before she came to the Dale?”

“As far as I know she was born and bred in the Dale.  I was never told otherwise.  Though she must have spent some of her life in Ered Luin as Dori speaks of it and I think Nori was born there.  I don’t remember her well.  Just her being in the bed and coughing and groaning a lot.  Dori was more my parent that she.  Why does her name cause such curiosity?”

Dis sighed.

“I supposed it became a popular name outside of the mountain as news like that rarely travels beyond the circles in which it happens.”

Ori looked at her incredulously and she rattled her nails against the chair arm.

“Oh, well, I supposed it really doesn’t matter any more.  The family is in disfavor anyway.  Although Lady Klakuna still tries to curry approval with me every times she sees me at open court.”

“What’s open court?” Ori asked, having always heard court among dwarrow referred to in terms of royal names and for the wealthy.

Dis stared at him, incredulous.

“Open court.  Any and all dwarrow are welcome to bring their complaints and questions before the king.  Although udad has not been well the past few times so Thorin has stood for him.”

“Dwarrow in the mountain.”  Ori nodded.

“All dwarrow,” Dis corrected. 

Ori stared at her.

“I’ve never heard of such a thing.  No one I’ve ever spoken to has ever mentioned it either.” 

Dis frowned.

“That is something Thorin will need to know immediately.”

She seemed to ponder again then turned back.

“Are you acquainted with Lady Klakuna or her household?”

“No, this is the first I’ve heard that name.  Does she employ dwarrow from the Dale?  Did my mam work for her?”

Dis sighed, reached out and took Ori’s hand in hers.

“Ori, there has only been one Lady Klakuna, thank Mahal.  And as far as I’ve ever heard one Rikmha. They were both of the House of Rikanta.  Klakuna is the yâsith to the current head of that house and she lives with her younger inùdoy’s yâsith, her nathith-in-law, Riuna.  Klakuna was known for her grandnathith… Rikmha.”

“Are you trying to tell me I’m royal?” Ori asked.

“Um, I don’t know.  Like I said it may have become a popular name in the Dale.  Let me tell you the story first,” Princess Dis hedged.  “Are you familiar with the term ‘bearer’?”

“Yes, though I’ve always heard them referred to as ‘jills’.”

Dis snorted a little, then continued.

“Bearers are considered almost divine amongst our people.  They are very rare now.  In the past when we were a small numbered people, they were responsible for saving the race of Durin.  We would have dwindled and died out long ago.  They are considered in the light of a great gift from the dear wife of Mahal, Yavanna.

“Very occasionally one or two are born into our race nowadays.  Many years ago, the house of Rikanta arrived here from Ered Luin.  With them was their Lord Rikut and Lady Klakuna and their two inùdoy.  The eldest was married and so they had a grandchild, a mere badger at the time, who was a bearer.  A bearer arriving was a time of great rejoicing and King Thror made much of Lord Rikut and his family.  For a time Lord Rikut was considered a rival to the Fundin family as favorites of the king went. 

“I attended schooling with the bearer and we grew up with the other children of nobility.  When we had all come of age, the bearer was presented at court.  The bearer was graceful, charming, a wonderful dancer, and such a social success.  This went on for a number of years.  One Yule, Thror threw a huge party as his favorite cousin, King Nain of the Iron Hills, was visiting.  The bearer was presented and Nain was most struck.  Well, as with many parties and celebrations one thing led to another and you can imagine how that went.

“The following morning there was the most terrible argument between Thror and Nain.  It boiled down to the fact that the bearer wasn’t a bearer at all; she was a dam.

“Lord Rikut claimed his older inùdoy, his inùdoy’s yâsith, and their servants had lied to himself and his wife, Lady Klakuna, and he sent his guards to slaughtered all of them.  Lord Rikut also banished his granddaughter from the mountain.  It was the most horrid scandal.  Turned out Thror had convinced Nain to marry this ‘bearer’ and Nain thought his cousin was making a fool of him.

“Thus Thror now tolerates the Rikanta clan.  Lord Rikut is on the periphery of the court.”

Ori began to realize what he was about to be told and felt his entire body freeze.

“The whole thing was hushed up and only those in the upper court knew about it.  I doubt the story traveled to the Dale.  The reason I’m telling you this, Ori, is that the granddaughter’s name was Rikmha.  Of course, it could be a common name in Dale or Ered Luin.”

Ori sat still.  His mam was the only dwarf he had ever heard of with the name Rikmha.  It had been bad enough that she had born three sons by three different sires but now this.  He hated the thought of Dori ever finding out. 

Dori was on the brink of having Prince Thorin wanting to know of him.  Dori’s career in his craft would be made with the prince as a patron. 

Nori wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about it, that Ori knew immediately.

At first, Ori thought it wouldn’t affect him much then horrid realization crawled into his heart.   

Dwalin was now married to a fatherless whelp of the cast off of the rivals of the House of Fundin.  Ori closed his eyes and took a deep breath.  He had to tell Dwalin.  It might dissolve their marriage and that was easily done as it was unconsummated and came about accidentally, really. 

A part of him was deeply saddened by this thought.  But it would be terrible to force Dwalin and thus Lord Balin to live with such shame.  His mind cleared.  Of course, Dis had told him the story.  The royal family would gently disengage him from Dwalin and hush things up and life would gone on as before.  He hoped Dwalin would remain a nodding acquaintance to him. 

He heard a door slam in the distance, pulled his hand out of Dis’ clasp, and rose.

“I believe that is the return of your nadad and the captain, ma’am.  I must go now.”

“Ori-”

“Thank you for telling me that story and for your gracious hospitality, ma’am.  It was most … illuminating.”

Ori made himself walk out of the room and into the hall where Dwalin and Thorin were talking.

“There yeh are, lad,”  Dwalin greeted him, cheerfully.

Ori smiled and went to him.

Harley waited outside, looking both bouncy and impatient.  Dwalin lifted Ori into the saddle and swung up behind him.  Harley rushed off in the direction of the city.

 

At an imposing facade with a conservative silver name plate, which read simply ‘Greneeld’, Dwalin secured Harley and led Ori inside.  There was a respectably sized room, lined with long narrow shelves.  In these Ori saw many different piles of fabric bolts.  A dwarf arrived from behind a vast cream velvet curtain.  He was thin by most standards, and dressed entirely in grey. 

“Why, Captain Dwalin,” he greeted in a surprisingly soft voice.  “How very lovely to see you.  You look well.”

“Thanks,” Dwalin replied, not his usual dry silent self as Ori had see him behave with merchants in the Dale.

“And Lord Balin; has he returned?”

“Not yet.”  Dwalin grinned at the smaller dwarf.  “So yeh’ll have to wait a little to find out just how many folk in Gondor were blinded by that diamond coat yeh made ‘im.”

The dwarf gave Dwalin a reproving look followed by a small smile. 

Ori stared at the dwarf.  For all he was dressed in the most unremarkable grey, his clothes were beautiful.  The cloth seemed to have grown in the shape of him.  It wasn’t until he was closer that Ori, after squinting a little, finally saw the barest hint of stitching.  So intent was he in admiring the cut and non-existence of the thread that must hold the clothing together, he didn’t register the next time Dwalin spoke.  He startled when Dwalin’s hand rest on his shoulder.

“Ori, lad, this is Master Mahrdin, son of Greneeld.  He’s Balin’s and, when he can put up wi’ me, me tailor.”

“I am delighted to be presented to you, Master Ori,” Master Mahrdin bowed.  “How may I be of service to you?”

Ori looked at the dwarf, realized he had no idea why he was here and looked up at Dwalin.

“He need a few thin’s,” Dwalin responded helpfully.

“And what sort of few things does Master Ori require?” Mahrdin asked, smiling gently at Ori and casting a stink eye at Dwalin.

“Um,” Ori elaborated.

“He needs a bit a’ everythin’,” Dwalin put in.

Master Mahrdin humph-ed and gave Dwalin another disapproving look and gently took Ori’s arm.

“If I may have the privilege of measuring you, Master Ori, then we shall be able to proceed.”

Master Mahrdin snapped his fingers and two assistant scurried out silently.  One rushed over to lock the entry door while the other placed chairs and a table with refreshments to the side and a large round piece of wood in the middle of the floor.  Ori presently found himself standing on this.

The first assistant was a young dam with bushy black hair all pulled to the top of her head and clasped there with several coils of brass, set with black onyx.  The hair then poured down freely rather like the fountain in the center of Dale.  Her beard was twisted into tiny points which stuck out like thorns.  Her clothes, entirely of yellow satin, ballooned hugely about her arms and legs.  She was introduced as Dipfa.  She was very excited about her work.    

The other assistant was a young male dwarf, more conservative and traditional in his dress.  His light brown hair and beard were braided tight all around his skull, to the point he looked like he was wearing a brown hat with chin straps, and he wore a suit, absolutely skin-tight, in shades of brown.  He was introduced as Pika.  He looked terrified.

Ori felt extremely weird being stripped to his combinations by three people, but the way they removed his clothing, folded it carefully, and laid it aside as though it was some priceless silk made him want to giggle.

He looked at the ceiling, so he wouldn’t have to see his socks.  He heard Dwalin snort and settled for glaring at him.

“I’m artistic,” he said in a grumpy tone.

“Aye, that yeh are, lad,” Dwalin teased, relaxing back in one of the chairs looking terribly pleased with himself.

“Mmmm,” Dipfa observed.  “I love those fashion-progressive socks, such a statement!  But that scarf is totally Second Age!  Very lovely stitchery, though.”

“Thank you,” Ori managed.  “My brother made it for me.”

“He’s got matchin’ pair a’ them socks back home.” Dwalin drawled. 

Trapped on the stand, Ori settled for making a face at him.  Dipfa ran around Ori, looking up and down critically.  Ori felt like a public statue.

Master Mahrdin waved the assistants away and stepped forward.  Dipfa and Pika produced notebooks and stood at the ready while Master Mahrdin measured every inch of Ori.  While he did this he talked gently to Ori about himself and how he had come to have his own shop.

“My family and I were in Moria when the orcs came.  I was a mere badger at the time.  I was the only one of my family to survive.  Lord Balin found me wounded and brought me to the healers.  I travelled back to Erebor with him and he had me apprenticed to a dwarf who was then the royal tailor.  Lord Balin noticed my work and began to request me specifically.  In time, I rose to prominence and was able to open my own business.  In honor of his patronage, I added the ‘din’ ending to my name”

“I’ve heard much of Lord Balin’s excellent taste,” Ori ventured, looking around for Dipfa and Pika who had vanished.

“Do you enjoy his company?”

“I have yet to have the honor of being introduced to him.  I look forward to it when he returns,” Ori said.

He planned to remember all his manners when the Lord of Fundin House returned… if he wasn’t back in the Dale, a single lad, by then.

Master Mahrdin turned and looked at Dwalin.

“Married without your brother’s consent?”

“I’m a second son, Mahrdin.  He’s the heir and I’m the spare,” Dwalin replied easily.

“Youth,”  Master Mahrdin scolded gently, despite it was quite obvious he was younger than Dwalin.

The assistants reappeared with armfuls of things.  Ori was shown to a curtained room to change into new underthings then brought out again for a very nice pair of trousers and a matching pale lavender shirt.  Pika disappeared again.  Ori was fitted with an intricately stamped pale leather belt with a silver buckle.  A lilac padded over-tunic was added and Ori was led to a large mirror to approve.  Ori stared.  He had never worn such fine clothes in all his life.  He smoothed his hands down the tunic enjoying the feel of the soft linen.

“Like?” Dipfa asked.

“Oh, yes, it’s beautiful!”

Pika arrived suddenly, puffing and very red in the face.  He carried a large paper-wrapped parcel which Master Mahrdin took, unwrapped and placed before Ori.  It was a pair of sheepskin boots dyed dark purple with nickel trim.  Ori stepped into them while Dipfa adjusted the fit.  She frowned, rifled in her pockets, found what she wanted, and laced the boots up with a braided cotton cord in the most alarming shade of green.

Master Mahrdin raised an eyebrow at this.

“Master, you see,” Dipfa explained, “House of Fundin is dark red, which goes with his pale purple, and green is the Captain’s color.”

“Mmm, no doubt it will fade to the proper shade,” Master Mahrdin observed.  He turned to Dwalin.

“Captain?”

“Bloody brilliant.  Right lad. we’ve got another stop t’ make before heading’ back.  Mahrdin?” He turned back to the tailor, who inclined his head interestedly.  “When yeh’ve go’ some done, send ‘em up t’ the house.” 

Dwalin laid a leather bag on the table beside the refreshment tray.  Ori heard the heavy sound of coins.  

Master Mahrdin ignore this and bowed.

“Serving the House of Fundin is both my honor and pleasure, Captain.  Master Ori, your servant.” 

All three bowed.  Ori ducked his head shyly in return.

Dwalin lifted Ori back on Harley and they galloped back across towards the royal apartments, but they turned aside and rode to the Great Library.  Leaving Harley once more, Ori trotted along with Dwalin as they went in a small side door half way up the edifice.

As they entered an enormous room, Ori looked eagerly around for the books.  They were everywhere: books, maps, scroll, piles of parchment, rocks with etchings in them, paintings, drawings and prints of places and people, all varieties of various historical ephemera, on shelves and in boxes, on carts and on other tables covered in tools related to bindery and preservation.  They left this and went down a long hall.  Dwalin stopped at what turned out to be a large office.

Dwalin led the way in, pulling off one of his knuckle dusters.  A dwarf sat hunched over a large desk piled high with papers, scrolls, and books of every size and color.  The dwarf’s back was to them and all Ori could see was a completely bald head and a mountainous orange robe.

Dwalin rudely knocked his knuckles on top of the head.  The dwarf whipped around with a roar and glared at him.

“You!  Out!” he ordered, his enormous grey beard bristling in every direction.

“Afternoon, Brur,” Dwalin greeted him cheerily.

“Fine.  Sit,” Master Brur growled.

“Yeh look well, friend,” Dwalin complimented.

“Yeh look like a damn pack of trouble.  As usual.  Wha’ yeh done tha’ I’ve got t’ get yeh out of this blasted time?”

“Nuthin’.  Got a scribe for yeh.”

“Bat dung.  All these young scribes suck old cave water.  They can’t write script f’r shit.”

“Try this one,” Dwalin encouraged.

Master Brur glared at Ori, who stood quietly with his hands folded.

“Those journeyman braids yeh got in yer hair, lad?” Master Brur demanded.

“Yes, sir,” Ori replied, keeping his voice even and calm.

Brur snatched a few things from his desk and rose.  He went to a small table, cleared a space with a sweep of his arm and shoved a chair next to it.

“Sit.  Translate this passage from Sindarin to Khuzdul an’ illustrate it, then write about why yeh chose to illustrate it the way yeh did.  If yeh feel ambitious, try guessing what it was like in the original Westron.”

Ori settled himself and sharpened the pen he was given.  The poem was an early work of Shire’s about walking on a road. He remembered the poem well and quickly wrote it out in it’s original form, before translating it into Khuzdul. The Sindarin was easy enough but the poem scanned better when translated from Westron to Khuzdul.  It didn’t take him long to write out the translation.  He decorated it with flowers, a few birds, and a road wandering off into a grassy field.  He wrote briefly about hobbits, their way of life, and the romantic writings of Shire.

Ori rose.  Dwalin was smiling at him and Brur was glaring at Dwalin.  Brur turned when Ori cleared his throat.

“Stuck?”

“No, sir,” Ori responded.  “Finished.”

Brur stared, was beside Ori in a trice and snatched the paper away.  He glanced it over, before raising his eyes to stare at Ori admiringly.

“Well, fuck a duck,” Brur chortled.  “The lad can write.”

“Yeh think I’d a’ brough’ ’m here if he couldn’t?” Dwalin groused.

“Ach well, laddie,” Brur was all smiles and friendliness.  “Yeh an’ tha’ princeling did some daft shit back in the day.”

Ori suddenly wanted desperately to know what possible ‘daft shit’ either Thorin or Dwalin could have got themselves into.  Brur turned to him.

“Brur, son a’ Abjur, lad.  Yeh’ll be getting yer mastery soon enough or I’ll kiss his arse.” nodding to Dwalin.

“Yeh keep yer mouth an’ th’ rest a’ yeh t’ yerself.” Dwalin agreed. 

Ori couldn’t stop his mouth before saying, “As his husband, his arse is my business, so keep your bits away from it.”

Brur and Dwalin roared with laughter and Ori cringed at himself.  His shoulder was grabbed and Dwalin slung an arm around him. 

“He’s me keeper now.  Gotta make sure I do as I’m told,” Dwalin joked. 

Ori tried to slug him in the ribs but couldn’t squirm free.

“His keeper?” Brur looked at Ori.  “Lad, either yeh’ve tied ‘im round yer wee finger or yer as daft as he is.”

Ori peered up at Dwalin, who was grinning at him.

“Bit a’ both, aye?”  Dwalin said. 

Ori snickered.

“Very likely.”

“Right,” Brur was serious once more.  “Enough a’ yer lovely-dovey slop.  Ori of the Brothers Ri, is it?  Fine, we need a cataloguer and someone on th’ reference desk.  Yeh seem th’ right sort.  I’ll look yeh out a desk and th’ rules we go by.  Yeh’ll start tomorrow.  I’ll just have yeh follow me about.  I’ll see yeh back here at eight of th’ morning bell.  Yes?”

“Yes,” Ori said eagerly.

“Aye, he’ll be here,” Dwalin promised.

“Good, good!” Brur grinned at them, frowned, and pointed at the door.

“Out!”

Dwalin drew Ori to the hallway and Brur’s door slammed violently behind them.

“I think I just got hired to work at the greatest library in all dwarrowdom,” Ori said in an awed voice.

Dwalin led the way back.

“Aye yeh did, lad.  Knew yeh would!  C’mon, it’s near dinner an’ I’m gettin’ perishin’ hungry.”

 

 

Ori set the kitchen table, then leaned against it.  Since he’d peeled and chopped several potatoes, he hoped Dwalin knew about chips.

What a strange day it had been, Ori mused.  Hired at the library, new clothes, meeting Dis, finding out his mam had been banished and was the shame….

Ori swallowed and clutched at his stomach.  Why in Mahal’s name had he gone through with everything?  It was ridiculous.  Dis and Thorin realized who he was and were no doubt going to tell Dwalin he had been led astray.

Ori took a deep breath.  No, they were not going to tell Dwalin anything.  They wouldn’t get the damn chance.  He was going to tell Dwalin.  He shivered.  How?  How could Dwalin possibly believe that Ori had been completely ignorant of his parentage? 

Ori shook himself and took a breath.  Well, he had been and that was sad.  He would be honest and tell the captain what he had learned.  Things would be set aside, hushed up, and hopefully, hopefully they might still talk occasionally.

He turned to Dwalin who came in from the cold room carrying a platter with two large pieces of fresh meat.

“How yeh like yer steak, lad?”

“Dwalin I have to tell you something I didn’t know it until today when Princess Dis told me I was in utter ignorance until that time I am not who you think I am I am a fatherless whelp of one of the greatest scandals of Erebor I know you don’t want to be married to such and believe me I’m sure Dis and Thorin will hush things up and I will run away forever to the Dale and Lord Balin will never know it’s all quite fixable I’m sure it will be quite plausible and you will not live in shame for the rest of your life and go on to be a mighty captain and marry an excellent female with whom you may have many, many children I know a dwarf who had fourteen children well his dam did and it was all very nice and I’m sure this can be seen as nothing but I’m sure your men would vouch if you asked them and say you had more to drink in that pub in Dale where I ran into you I do apologize for that I was quite upset about hearing about Nori being executed and that’s another thing he should not have hit you.”

Dwalin put the platter of meat down on the counter, crossed to Ori, grabbed him around the waist, lifted and sat him on the table, so they were at eye level.  Ori stared at Dwalin, who was staring at him.

“What?” Dwalin asked quietly.

Ori burst into tears.  He vaguely felt Dwalin’s hands on his shoulders, rubbing gently.  Ori got his breath back and looked up. 

“Why would Dis an’ Thorin want t’ hush up anything’ an’ I don’t want fourteen brats!” Dwalin said in a more moderate tone.

“Because I’m Rikmha’s child. I-“

“I know tha’, lad.”

“You do?”

“Aye, ‘ve known f’r quite a bit now.”

“But Thorin and Dis won’t like it!”

“Thorin knew I was doing’ some investigation’ and he’ll be filling’ Dis in, too.  He’s fine wi’ it an’ she’ll be, too.”

“Are you sure?”

“Aye, an’ yeh and yer brothers don’t have nuthin’ t’ do with any of it.  That family are no’ one a’ Thror’s favorites.  They got no power in court.  They’re rich enough but no one give a shit abou’ wha’ they think.”

Ori sniffed then realized he was gripping Dwalin by his braces.  He removed his hands and wiped his eyes.

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be, lad.”  Dwalin looked at him then leaned forward and gave Ori a hug.

“No more tears now, lad.  Everythin’s fine.” 

Ori clutched him a moment then let go.

“Thank you.  You’re very kind to me.  I’ll try and be a good husband.”

“Yer a fine husband.”

Ori found his handkerchief and wiped his eyes and nose.

“Right,” Ori said.  “First order of being a good husband, feed him.” 

He smiled up and Dwalin chuckled.

“Aye, how yeh want yer steak?  Warm and bloody on th’ inside?”

“Yes, please,” Ori agreed eagerly.

 

Ori sat back.  The steak and chips were probably the best meal he’d ever had.  He had a feeling he’d eaten most of the chips.  Dwalin was finishing up the steak Ori couldn’t manage.  He glanced over at Ori, who smiled.

“Better, lad?

“Much, thank you.  I’m sorry I made such a fuss.”

‘’S alright’, lad.  Yeh had a bit ’f a shock, tha’s all.  Yeh honestly didn’t know abou’ yer mam?”

“No.  I wonder if Dori or Nori know.  It’s all so strange.  Although Dis wondered if it had become a common name in Dale or Ered Luin.  I never heard of any with even a similar sounding name. I don’t think I want to be related to that family, though.”

“Can’t blame yeh there.  Never liked ’em much.  Rikut always put me hackles up.  No one really made much of ’n effort t’ find out ’bout ‘em.  They came out fra Ered Luin and there wasn’t much correspondence going’ out tha’ way, so who knows.  I did quite a bit a’ checkin when I was finding’ out about yeh.  And yer brothers, a’ course.” Dwalin finished quickly.

Ori raised an eyebrow.

“Don’t worry, lad.  I’ll keep me eye on that family.  They won’t cause yeh no trouble.”

Ori smiled again, picked up the plates, and took them to the sink.  He washed them quickly and took down cups and a pot to make tea.  He poked through the jars trying to decide what tea he wanted.  Dori would love this he thought and stopped dead.  Dori.  Dori was due back late tonight.  He had to write to Dori! 

“Everything’ alright?”

“I need to write a proper note to Dori!  He’ll be worried sick if I don’t tell him more.”

“I though’ Nori…  Aye, yeh better drop Dori a word.  I’ll call yeh a raven t’ take it down.  Kettle’s about ready.”

“I’ll take our tea through to the sitting room.  May I use the desk there?”

“Aye.”

Ori brought the tray through and set it on the red granite table.  He went to the desk and rooted out paper, ink, and a pen which he set to sharpening.

Dwalin came through with a large raven sitting on his shoulder.  Ori started to rise to pour the tea but Dwalin waved him down and the raven hopped onto the table with a loud croak.

Ori tapped the nib for a moment then:

 

Dear Dori, 

By now you will have heard the whole story from Nori.  I do assure you that

I am well and Captain Dwalin has been everything that is polite and kind. 

I now have a job with the Library of Erebor and start tomorrow!

Please be easy that I’m  perfectly safe and very comfortable.

I will come  and see you as soon as I can and, hopefully,

Captain Dwalin will accompany me.

All my love,

Your Ori.

 

Ori folded the letter up and tucked the edges in.  He turned to Dwalin, who was sitting on the couch but hunched forward so he could tease the raven by tapping its beak and pulling his finger away before the bird could catch it.  The raven cackled at Dwalin, dancing about, obviously enjoying their game.  It looked up at Ori when Dwalin did.

“All set, lad?” Dwalin asked.

The raven hopped over.  Ori handed the raven the letter.  It took it and flew out to the reception area.  Dwalin went with it.  Ori moved to the table and poured out the tea.  Dwalin returned and lifted a bag off a shelf.  He sat down on the couch and put the cushion Ori had fallen asleep on last night next to him and patted it.  Ori put Dwalin’s cup near him, took his own and sat down. 

Dwalin opened the bag and removed a beautiful viol.  Ori watched as Dwalin plucked at the strings, listening and tuning, then set it to his arm and drew the bow across the strings. 

Ori sighed, settled against the couch and tucked his feet up.  Dwalin played an old mining tune, then drifted into others about marching and poetry.  Ori drank his tea, staring at the fire while the soft music wrapped him in contentment.

Dwalin stopped and placed the instrument on his knee.

“Ye play, lad?”

“Not strings.  I do have a flute at ho- Dori’s.”  Ori gulped his slip and went on.  “Nori taught me and Dori plays one, too.  Dori’s very good at it.  Sometimes I talk him into playing while I do the knitting.  I know he likes playing it more than knitting.”

“Oh, aye.  Yeh like t’ knit?”

“Very much.  Dori taught me.  He made up a special pattern that only Nori and I know how to do.  It’s on my cardigan.  I-”  He paused.  Where was his cardigan?  The tailors.  Ori leapt to his feet.

“Dwalin!  What will the tailors do with my old clothes?  Do I have to go and get them?  Will they send them back to Dori?  Will they destroy them?”

“They’ll bring ‘em to th’ house t’morrow.”

“Oh.”

“Destroy ‘em?”

“Well…”

“Who in th’ whole a’ Arda does tha’?”

Ori thought of several of the meaner merchant men of Dale and shrugged.  Dwalin gave him a narrow look then put the instrument and bow on the table and looked around with a frown.  He went to the opposite side of the room and started going through the shelves.  Ori followed, skimmed over the titles of the books there, and looked at the many knick-knacks collected by the Fundins over the years.   

He looked over at the sound of Dwalin’s muttered curses and saw him on his haunches, digging through a cupboard.

“What are you looking for?  Perhaps if I looked, too, I-“

“Here we are.”

Dwalin rose, turning to Ori with a grin, and handed over a large round ball of a basket of woven grasses.  It was obviously very old.  Ori looked curiously at it while Dwalin escorted him back to the couch.  They both sat and, at Dwalin’s nod, Ori lifted off the lid. 

The inside swam with beautiful colors.  All different kinds of worsted and other types of yarns.  Ori gasped and touched the ones on top.  Some threads caught as his fingers were rough from cold and working with pens, paper and other chores.  He turned back to Dwalin, who looked satisfied. 

Ori scooted forward and removed skein after skein, feeling and admiring each one before laying it on the table.  Among the skeins was a long packet wrapped in embroidered linen which Ori took out and examined.  Untying the ribbon fastener, he unrolled it, and shining knitting needles of all sizes and dainty crochet hooks revealed themselves.

“Mam liked to knit, too,” Dwalin said.  “Balin hid these away as adad didn’t like either of us doin’ it.  Said it wasn’t a warrior’s craft.  Bloody batshit.  Warriors need socks an’ clothes an’ th’ gumption to mend ‘em.  ’M sure Balin’d be delighted yeh like th’ craft.”

“You don’t think he’ll mind?”

“Nah, lad.  Help yerself t’ it.  Stuff should still be good to work with.”

Ori looked at the bounty all round him  He leaned back against the couch and put his head on Dwalin’s arm and patted it.

“Thank you, Dwalin.”

Dwalin covered Ori’s hand with his own and gave it a squeeze.  Ori couldn’t resist and sat forward again.  He looked carefully and drew out a skein of dark green.

“Shall I make you a scarf, some gloves, or a jumper?”

Dwalin took the skein and felt it.  He looked distant yet pleased.

“Me mam was going to make me a jumper a’ this but she never go’ ’round t’ it.  If yeh could-”

“Of course!” Ori said immediately.  “What pattern would you like?”

“Plain’s fine. Mebbe a bit a’ yer special pattern ‘round th’ collar an’ arm bands.”

“How long?  Do you wants long sleeves, too?”

“Real long, lad.  Like ‘em t’ come down t’ me knees, but no sleeves.”

Ori dug in the basket again and found five more skeins of the same.

“This isn’t sheep’s wool.”

“Nah, goat.  Men call our goats, like my Gnasher, giant kazhmeer goats.”

“It’s lovely,” Ori admired.  He inspected the needles and removed a pair of silver ones,  They were perfectly smooth and highly polished.  The ends were capped with emeralds.  Ori  sat back and dropped the skein in his lap.  He found the end and pulled several lengths free and began to cast on his stitches.  When he thought he’d put on enough he started the bottom hem with the Ri brothers’ pattern.  Dwalin watched him for a few minutes, then took up his viol and began playing again.

Ten lines in, a yawn nearly split Ori’s face.  He rubbed his eyes.  In the distance, he faintly heard the night bell for the hour.  It was quite late.

“Shit,” Dwalin commented and put the viol away.

Ori put everything back in the basket and laid his work on the top.

“Just put it beside the couch.  Nice t’ see it out again,” Dwalin said as he picked up the tea tray and headed to the kitchen.  Ori tidied what little there was to do and went to the fireplace.  He turned the lever as he’d seen Dwalin do, the flames lowered and went out with a hiss.  He heard something close.  Dwalin came back in.

“Is this the right way to do this?” Ori asked. 

Dwalin twitched the knob.

“Aye, lad, yeh go’ it.”

“How exactly . . . What is…?  It’s a lovely fire-“

“Comes up fra’ th’ forges,” Dwalin explained.  “Lets th’ smiths change the height a’ th’ heat, when they’re working’ with different metals.  Every fireplace, cook top an’ oven in th’ mountain’s linked t’ ’em.”

“Ooohh,” Ori sighed with envy.  “How lucky you all are!  It’s such a grind having to fetch from the woods or buy from the coal merchants.” 

Dwalin said nothing but frowned a little. 

“Need t’ get yer rest, lad.   And-” 

Dwalin stopped dead and Ori, who had started to follow him, went nose first into his back.

“Yeh a’riga’, lad?”

“Yes, what is it?”

Dwalin paused, seemed to choose his words, then reddened as he finally said, “Yeh don’t have anythin’?”

“What do you mean?”

“Shit, I shoulda gone t’ yer Dori’s yesterday and go’ yer thin’s.  Yeh’ve no’ even go’ a nightshirt in tha’ scrivener’ bag wee Tilda brought yeh?”

It was Ori’s turn to blush.

“I didn’t think of it either until I wondered about my cardigan.”

“Right,” Dwalin said decisively.  He walked through the hall and opened Ori’s room door.  He went to the wardrobe and lifted a huge chest down from the top.  It was made in the same manner as the wardrobe so Ori had thought it was part of it.  Dwalin opened the chest, which was filled to the brim, rifled through, then nodded.

“Make free with anything’ yeh find.  Was my stuff when I were young.  Was about yer height then.  Yeh’ll need th’ belts f’r th’ britches.”

“Thank you,” Ori brightened. 

There was a wealth of clean, carefully folded clothes.  He could see the finely made linen from where he stood.

  Dwalin turned and went to the door.

“Sleep well,”  he said with a smile. 

Without a thought, Ori rushed to him and, reaching and throwing his arms about Dwalin’s neck, kissed his cheek impulsively.

“Thank you again so much.  You are so kind to me.  Sleep well, too!”

Dwalin looked both surprised and pleased as he scooped Ori into a bear’s hug. 

Embarrassed, Ori slid away and shut the door.

Chapter Text

     The Master laughed horribly as the guard chopped Nori’s head off.  Ori screamed.  There was blood everywhere.  It rose from the floor and welled out of the walls.  The Master’s laughter grew louder and more horrible.  Screaming came from everywhere - Dwarrow, men, elves….

 

     Ori sat up in bed with a small cry, shaking, soaked in sweat and gasping for breath.  He was safe in the House of Fundin, married to Captain Dwalin, who was kind to him, and Nori had gone home safely.  It was just an awful dream.  Ori sighed and gathered his wits. 

     He got out of bed and helped himself to the water in the carafe.  Moonlight shone through the window and he could hear the wind outside.  His borrowed night shirt was so long it brushed his ankles.  He walked back and forth wondering if elves felt this way when they wandered about the trees in their long robes.

     Seized with the desire to get out of his room, Ori silently opened his door and peered out.  There was only darkness broken by the two tiny lines of green phosphorous along the edges of the floors. Ori, overcome with curiosity, peeped into Dwalin’s room.  By the small glow from the low fire he saw Dwalin sprawled face down across a bed big enough for three.  The room was a disaster with weapons covering every wall, things for cleaning, mending and making weapons and bits of clothing strewn everywhere.  There were books, pilled on the nightstand, on a large desk, and more unceremoniously dumped near the hearth. along with several maps and unrolled scrolls.  A raven stood on a stand with its head under its wing.  The only sound was Dwalin snoring. Ori closed the door soundlessly.

     Ori padded down the hall and through to the kitchen.  He sat for a minute then decided he didn’t want any tea and wandered though to the sitting room, then the reception room and all around that.  It was vast and cool although the floor was warm like the back living quarters.  He decided to climb the stair to the second floor. 

     Behind the curtain he found a large room with comfortable seating and two fireplaces.  Three hallways went off from the room.  Ori explored these and only found silent bedrooms and sitting rooms, all unused and empty.  Dwalin’s parents must have entertained many people.  He remembered that Lord Balin was away, so when his lordship returned the rooms would probably be busy again with visiting diplomats.

     Ori looked around the largest room again and realized he was tired.  He went quietly back to his own room and climbed into bed. 

     He suddenly felt very small and alone without Nori and Dori close by.  He tried not to but ended crying himself to sleep.

 

     Ori woke to sunshine glowing pinkly through the window.  He clambered out of bed and looked at himself in the mirror, at the dark circles under his eyes and his hair completely on end and in all directions.  He grabbed the towel and washcloth and scampered to the privy.  After washing up in the sink there, he returned to his room.  He dealt with his hair, put his new trousers back on and went to the chest.  He found some dark green socks and a pair of bright red ones.  Snickering to himself he put on one red and one green.  He pulled on a cream linen shirt on and found the purple tunic.  He glanced at his reflection once more and went out.  The door on his right opened and Dwalin walked out, mumbling.

     “Good morning.”  Ori greeted him.

     “‘Mornin’, lad.” Dwalin managed and peered at him.  “Yer awful chipper this early.”

     Ori giggled at him.  Dwalin blinked, grinned, and tousled Ori’s hair as he went past and down the hall.  The door to the privy slammed.

     Ori padded through to the kitchen and perched at the kitchen table until Dwalin pushed in and smiled at him.

     “Are we going to Dis and Thorin’s again?” Ori asked. “Or shall I make you something?”

     “Goin’ over there.  Ready?“

     Dwalin led the way through to the sitting room, shrugged into his furs and his halberd, sliding the hooded axes into place.  Ori took up his satchel and they went out to the courtyard.

 

     Fili opened the door.

     “Ori-mate!”

     “Good morning, Fili.”

     “Dwalin, our idad Frerin’s here. I think it might get ugly,” Fili said quietly. 

     Dwalin didn’t reply.  Ori cocked his head at Fili. 

     “Frerin’s the youngest and udad’s favorite.  He likes to think he’s the heir, “ Fili remarked dryly.

     Ori drew a little behind Dwalin wondering what if anything he might do to assist Dwalin as Fili led the way to the white dining room. 

     Seated on Thorin’s left was an exceptionally handsome dwarf.  He had the Durin face, like his siblings, but his blond hair fell in ringlets obviously created by the copious use of sugar water and rags followed by a great deal of pomade.  He wore several braids, mostly family and accomplishments like archery, swordsmanship and pony riding.  He was also a journeyman gem inspector.  His hands were covered in rings of gold.  He wore wore his beard tightly braided and adorned with lapis beads. 

     “Fili,” he said and turned to look up as Fili proceeded Dwalin and Ori into the room.  “Come, my child, sit and eat.  Dwalin, you’re late.” 

     Frerin’s voice was pleasant but he spoke with a mincing tone that made Ori’s hackles rise.  He caught sight of Ori and looked down his nose.

     “What’s this?”

     Thorin cuffed Frerin.

     “Manners, little brother.  This is Ori of the Brothers Ri and Dwalin’s new husband.”  Thorin smiled warmly at Ori and nodded to his right side.  Dwalin pulled out the next chair for Ori and sat directly at Thorin’s right.  Dis arrived.

     “Ori!  Dwalin!  Good morning to you both.  You’re just in time.”

     “Good morning.”  Ori greeted her with a smile.

     “Are you alright?” she asked.

     “Yes,” Ori said slowly.

     “You just look a little peaky.”

      Ori made himself shrug.  “Queer dream.  Startled me a little.”

     Dis seated herself.

     “Sleeping in a different place and bed will do that to me, too,” Dis said comfortingly and dished up from the enormous pie in front of her.

     Ori had never had sausage pie before. It was very good as were the pile of scrambled eggs Dis added to his plate.  Thorin and Dwalin were talking about the caravan again.  Fili and Kili were telling their mother about training with Dwalin that day.  Ori enjoyed his breakfast until he felt eyes on him.  He looked up at Frerin staring at him with a look of faint disgust on his face.

     “Dwalin,” Frerin said.

     Dwalin and Thorin looked at each other and both of them looked at Frerin.

     “Wha’?” Dwalin grunted.

     “A scribe?  Really?”

     “Me brother started as a scribe. What of it?”

     “Yes, but look at him.”

     Dwalin turned in his chair and looked Ori over.  Ori blinked prettily at him with a smile and Dwalin chucked him under the chin.

     “He looks finer than a new cut gem, doesn’ he?” Dwalin teased.

     Both Thorin and Dis chuckled as Fili and Kili made kissy noises.  Ori blushed and nudged Dwalin with his knee.  Dwalin nudged back, still grinning.

     “Well, I don’t remember having my permission asked for,” Frerin growled.

     “Your permission isn’t required,” Dis snapped.  “Dwalin told us about Ori a long time ago.  We like him.”

     Ori blushed to his toes and squirmed before he could stop himself.

     “Well, it’s of no real matter to me,” Frerin said loftily.  “I have excellent news for all of you, although perhaps not for Fili and Kili.” 

     Frerin smirked at the two princes, who looked at each other, shrugged, and went back to their food.  Frerin didn’t look very pleased with their reaction and went on.

     “I believe I have found the dam who shall be my bride.”

     Thorin picked at his leftover crust and glanced at Dwalin, who obviously didn’t give a shit.  Dis looked a little exasperated with all of them and replied pleasantly.

     “That’s wonderful, Frer!  I didn’t know you were courting.  What’s the dam’s name?  Where did you meet?”

     Frerin leaned forward, delighted to have all the attention.

     “Well as you know I was riding parade yesterday with some of Udad’s guard and we had paused, most kindly, I thought, to let a group of dwarrow coming out of the mines and heading to their various little homes, I suppose.  And there among them was the loveliest dam I have ever laid eyes on.  She was walking aloof and tall and beautiful.  I immediately accosted her and introduced myself.  She was properly impressed, I do assure you, sister, she stared open mouthed up at me on my white pony.”

     Ori sat back.  He could just imagine it.  A group of miners coming out, tired from work, desperately ready for food and rest, and all of a sudden this primped and shiny princeling rides his pony into the center of their group and starts talking at them while his guards circle around.  Poor dam probably thought she was being arrested for something!  He tore himself away from his thoughts as Frerin announced he had asked her to present herself at dinner here some time this week.

     Frerin smiled. 

     “She seemed quite overcome.  I count on you to be friendly to her, namad.”

     Dis smiled faintly, lifting her teacup to drink.  Frerin tossed his napkin down on his plate, rose, and headed for the door.  He waved his hand vaguely in their direction, pulled open the door, demanded of the arriving servant why she hadn’t been on hand to open the door for him and ordered her to clear the table.  The servant entered the room and shut the door, blocking out the rest of whatever Frerin was going on about.

     There was the sound of breaking porcelain as Dis crushed her cup in her hand and the rasp of the chair legs as Thorin got to his feet.

     “Mistress Dazla, I apologize-“ Thorin began. 

     The servant merely shook her head at him.

     “No need, your highness.  I’ve been in this house all his life and he’s never had a piece of manners at all.”

     “True, but you shouldn’t have to put up with his-“

     “I don’t regard him, sir.  I serve you and her highness, I don’t take orders from the likes of him.  And neither does any other dwarf with sense,”  Dazla added.

     Dis laid her hand on Dazla’s arm and the older dam patted it.

     “More’s the pity you have to put up with that, marm.”

     “Oh Dazla, he didn’t used to be this way.  You remember.”

     “Course I do, marm.   Which is why I’ve never broken a kitchen crock over his head.  Unlike the captain there.”

     Dwalin turned, eyebrow raised playfully at Dazla.

     “I ain’t never touched any a’ yer crocks, missus.  Not even th’ one yer married t’.”

     “Oh!  You dreadful wretch!” Dazla scolded and, for the want of anything not breakable, settled for throwing a napkin at Dwalin. 

     Thorn sighed and sat back down heavily.  Dazla went out and shut the door.  Fili and Kili started to laugh.

     Fili flapped his napkin at his uncle.

     “After lessons today I shall accost a poor dam and tell her to present herself at my amad’s then marry me as I haven’t the charm of stuck pig!"

     “Hoink, hoink!  I don’t know her name but I know mine.  Hoink!”  Kill added, snickering. 

     Dwalin roared with laughter.  Thorin tried not to.  Dis tried to frown and settled on telling Kili not to make such noises at the table.  Dis turned to Ori.

     “Really, Ori, he’s isn’t mean at the bone, he’s just, well, Amad hadn’t expected another dwarfling after me and he was a lovely surprise for our parents.”

     “Until he learned to talk,” said Dwalin.

     Dis frowned at Dwalin and continued.  “Udad was so taken with him.  He’s the spit of our Umand, you know.”

     “And wasn’t given the training and discipline you and Prince Thorin did?” Ori guessed.

     “Exactly,” Dis smiled wanly.  “Thus he’s very spoiled and thinks he’s very grand and kingly.  I do hope this dam he speaks of will help bring him around.”

     “She’ll need a bleedin’ warhammer,” Dwalin added.

     Thorin snorted, went to the fireplace and rested his foot on the fender.  “Fili, Kili, off to lessons, the pair of you.” 

     The princes scrambled good naturally out of their seats, kissed their amad, nearly knocking her from her chair, and went off.

     “Later, Ori-mate!” Fili called back and Kili echoed, “Later!”

     Dwalin turned to Ori.

     “Right, I’d better be getting’ yeh t’ th’ library.  Ol’ Brur’ll have a conniption if yer late.”

     “I’m ready.”  Ori got up.  To Dis he said, “Thank you.”

     Dis rose and came and kissed his cheek. 

     “We’ll see you at dinner, then,” she instructed kindly.

 

     Dwalin lifted Ori down from Harley and gave his shoulder a pat.

     “Enjoy yersel’, lad.”

     “I’m sure I will,” Ori said, adjusting his satchel over his shoulder.  “Will you be seeing Dori or are you busy?”

     “I’ll make time to look in on ‘im.” Dwalin promised and rode away.

     Ori went through library’s big main doors and into a vast room at least four floors high.  All the walls were shelves filled with books. There were long tables and chairs for readers and a large desk that made a square of itself in the middle of the room.  Master Brur was there, talking with another dwarf.  Ori trotted over and Master Brur saw him.

     “There yeh be, lad and right on time.  Good.  I’ll take yeh up t’ yer desk.”

     Ori’s desk was on the same floor as Brur’s office, in a great hall full of desks with scribes busily working at each one.  Ori put away his satchel in a small cupboard for personal items under his desk.  Brur left him there to study how the library divided its collections with numbers and rune markings.

     Brur collected Ori for lunch and while eating, Brur discussed what fonts and size of scripts were used for what and how each subject had a bibliographer who organized, collected, and managed each part of the collection.  After lunch, Ori was given a very intensive tour and introduced to each bibliographer.

     Brur brought him back to his desk after that.  Ori nearly gasped when he heard the afternoon bell for two.  He turned back to his perusal of how subject headings were grouped when there was a throat cleared next to him.  He looked up and Tilda threw herself at him.

     “Tilda!  What are you doing…  Hello.”

     Ori saw the soldier who had taken Tilda home the other day.

     “Furh’nk, sir,” the soldier supplied as Ori rose.

     “Master Furh’nk, it was most kind of you to bring Tilda to visit but how…?”  Ori wasn’t sure how to phrase his question.

     “Captain Dwalin’s orders, sir.  He was at your brother’s earlier, still there now, but thought it be best t’ send me along with the lassie.”

     “He’s got a pretty goat,” Tilda put in.  “Its name is Puffball and she’s a girl.”

     “Aye, that she is,” Furh’nk agreed, obviously very amused with Tilda. 

     Ori thought Furh’nk was either a good father or an overly indulgent uncle.

     “We brought you your clothes and Dori put some other stuff in,” Tilda went on.  “He wrote you a letter.  And he pressed really hard on the paper as he was really mad at Nori but there wasn’t much of a point ’cause Nori was really drunk and tried to beat up Dwalin, but Dwalin pushed him away and Nori fell on his butt and then he got up and took off his trousers, climbed on the table and yelled ‘Does anybody want a fight?’.  Dori called him an old baboon then my da lifted him down and he sat on the floor and cried that he was a bad brother and Dori said yes he was and get off the floor and make some tea.  Da told Dori Captain Dwalin was very nice and I told them you like his butt and Sigrid told me to hush which wasn’t fair and she bundled your things while Dori wrote you a letter and told me to bring it to you and Captain Dwalin told this nice soldier to bring me and I got to ride on his goat and I never knew the mountain was so beautiful on the inside.  Do you live right here at this desk now?”

     Ori waited calmly until this barrage of Tilda’s excitement ran out of steam.  Furh’nk was inspecting the ceiling with the most terrible frown on his face.  It was obvious it was the only way he could stop himself from bursting into laughter.  Ori notice a few of the other scribes had peered around their desk to see.

     “You ain’t arresting’ me scribe,” Brur’s growl got the soldier’s attention.

     “I’m sorry for the commotion, Master Brur,” Ori said quickly.  “My young neighbor has just stopped in to give me news and a parcel from my eldest brother.”

     Brur looked at the guard, then turned to Ori, opened his mouth then looked back at the guard.

     “You Missus Helar’s boy?”

     “Aye, Master Brur, that I am.”

     “Weren’t you the one who used to put centipedes in my ink bottle to watch them crawl out and ruin my papers with their little ink tracks?”

     The soldier grinned.

     “Aye, Master Brur, that was me.  Just barely a pebble back then.  You were so good letting’ me play with yer stuff.”  Furh’nk was almost misty-eyed.

     “Aye,” Brur agreed, narrowed his eyes, and gave the soldier a clip round the head with the back of his hand.

     Furh’nk chuckled at this and Tilda’s eyes got big.  Ori quickly turned back to Master Brur.

     “Master Brur, this is my er.. brothers’ young neighbor Miss Tilda Bardsdatter.  Tilda, this is Master Brur, he-“

     “Sooo,” Brur drawled folding his arms and looking as far down at Tilda as he could. “Ye enjoying’ yourself around these scribes are yeh?  D’ yeh  know what scribes do, little lass?”

     “Of course,” replied Tilda loftily.  “I’ve watched Ori loads of times and he taught me stuff and my teacher thinks I’m a genius because I have joined up writing and I don’t need lines on paper to write straight.  I’m going to be a scribe.  I’m sure when I’m old enough I’ll be working here, too.  There’s an empty desk just over there.  That might be my desk and Ori and I will work next to each other!”

     “Indeeeeed,” Master Brur rumbled. 

     He leaned over Ori’s desk and pulled out a blank sheet of paper and a pen.

     “Go on,” he ordered.

     Tilda looked up at Ori, who helped her into the chair and got her started with the ink.

     “Put you full name at the top.  There,” Ori murmured.  “The date goes in that corner.  Now begin with a greeting.”

     Tilda put her tongue between her teeth and carefully wrote ‘Master Brur’.  Beneath this she wrote the Westron alphabet in both small and capitals, wrote her numbers through 30, followed by her teacher’s favorite writing practice sentence.  She finished and, with Ori’s help blotted it, then she handed it proudly to Master Brur.  Master Brur took it and looked the writing over scrupulously.  He looked at Ori.

     “I take it that you taught her.”

     “Letters, numbers and basic reading,” Ori admitted. 

     Master Brur turned his attention back to the paper and frowned.

     “ “The quick brown fox jumps over th’ lazy dog”… ”  Master Brur looked at Tilda.  “That’s one bloody lazy dog.”

     Tilda shrugged.

     “That’s what I said and the teacher made me sit in the corner.  Ori explained that it uses every letter in the Westron alphabet, so it’s just practice and doesn’t mean anything else.  I wish Ori could just be my teacher.  He knows everything.”

     “Mahal, Tilda!” Ori choked.  “No one knows everything!” 

     His demurring was lost on Master Brur, who was shaking soundlessly and Furh’nk almost had to leave the room.

     “Well, young lassie,” Master Brur said when he could speak. “Yeh keep practicing and yer nose in yer books and mebbe we will see yeh up here when yer of age.”

     “Really?” Tilda squealed then clapped her hand over her mouth and whispered “Sorry.” loudly.

     Master Brur chuckled and patted her on the head.

     “We’ll see, lass, we’ll see.  You need to be off home now.  Master Furh’nk here needs to be back at his duties and Ori has work to do.”

     Master Furh’nk took Tilda’s shoulder and began to steer her out.  She yanked away to hug Ori again then trotted off, turning only to wave and shout, “Bye!”

     The door shut behind them and Master Brur turned back to Ori. 

     Ori blushed.

     “Tilda is excitable,” he managed. 

     Master Brur stroked his beard.

     “She’s also very clever,” Master Brur said seriously.  “If she does stick to it, I’d hire her.  I’m not as old fashioned as some.  Knowledge’s something for all who wish to study.  I’ve had a project in the back of me head for a while.  I’d like to see th’ history of dwarrow in other languages.  A full set of our history in Westron or even Sindarin.  The Lord of Imladris would pay dearly for such.  Yeh can translate to Sindarin and having a man-child translating that t’ Westron’d be quite an accomplishment for th’ library.”

     “Are you in earnest, sir?” Ori asked, his mind reeling with possibility.

     “I am, lad.”  Master Brur cleared his throat.  “Well, this is down the road a bit and we need to get yeh trained and doin’.  Yeh’ve got about half a bell and another before yeh leave.  Keep on with that headings work.  I’ll pop in to see how yer doin’ tomorrow.”

     Master Brur left and Ori sat down again, his thoughts all to the winds.  He finally gathered himself and went back to his studies until he heard the last afternoon bell and got up as did all the other scribes.

 

     Ori came out the great doors and saw Dwalin on Harley. Next to him was Dipfa dressed in similar fashion as yesterday except her suit was bright orange.  She was seated on a freshly sheared goat.  The goat’s wool was white with rather garish pink and yellow spots painted all over it.  As he drew closer Ori saw the goat also pulled a small cart.

     “Hello,” Ori said. 

     Dwalin dropped down, Dipfa followed and bowed to Ori.

     “I have some your new wardrobe all ready.”  She was positively beaming. 

     Dwalin chuckled as Ori put his hand into Dwalin’s.

     “None a’ yer new socks match,” Dwalin added. 

     Ori blushed, elbowed Dwalin, and smiled to Dipfa.

     “Really?  So soon?  That’s wonderful.”

     Dwalin put Ori’s parcel into Dipfa’s cart.  He caught Ori around the waist, set him on Harley, and swung up behind.  Harley trotted off and Dipfa brought her goat alongside with some coaxing.

     “Get a wiggle on, Poot-poot.”

     “Poot-poot, “Ori managed.

     “That’s what a little man child called him once.  I was never sure if it was because of the dots or that particular time while I was looking at fabric someone fed him beans.  He’s also a bit fat, so makes a kind of quiet ‘poot-poot’ noise when he has to go up hill,” Dipfa explained.

     “Why’d yeh paint th’ poor thin’?” Dwalin asked.

     “Emotional movement,” Dipfa explained.  “When Poot-poot is in motion, the primary color is randomly blended and thrown into relief by the secondary.  At times this can happen simultaneously.  As living beings our physical state can be a blend or it may cast our emotional state into relief.”

     Dwalin looked at Ori and Ori folded his lips carefully and observed that this was a fascinating concept and asked how had she developed it.  The rest of the ride to the Fundin residence was taken up with Dipfa regaling them with her metaphysical relationship with color.

 

     They stopped at the front door of the Fundin House.  Dwalin let Ori down and Dipfa hopped off Poot-poot.  Dwalin took Harley to the stable while Ori opened the door.  He was about to help Dipfa bring things in, but she winked and let down the back gate of the cart.  Inside was a metal box.  Dipfa pulled on this and as it slid out, metal legs unfolded.  They had little wheels on the ends and she rolled to the door.  She then removed the cart’s wooden back gate, laid it down, and rolled the metal cart up the improvised ramp. 

     Ori led her through to the sitting room, hung up his satchel and took off his boots.  Dipfa looked about and declared the room very cozy.  Ori put the fire on and came to help her unpack.

     Dipfa first handed him the bag Tilda had brought.  This Ori put on the couch.  He saw a flash of paper and grabbed it.  It was the letter from Dori as Tilda had said.  Ori shoved it in his pocket and turned to Dipfa.  Dipfa was admiring his socks.

     “I’m so glad you’re staying with your crossed harmonic color choices.” 

     She pulled the dust cover off the cart. 

     “I tried to incorporate it into your new clothes, but subtly, as you seem to be a dwarf of great subtly and mystery.”

     Dwalin came in on that statement and grinned at Ori.  Ori blushed furiously and created a smile for Dipfa. 

     “I’m very excited to see what you’ve do- created.”

     Dipfa basked in the word created and brought out a complete set of clothes, all draped over a piece of wood with an attached hook to hang it with. There were lilac colored trousers and a coat in a paler shade, inside was a shirt of checkered material containing both colors, each square outlined in the tiniest thread of dark green.  A silk scarf to go with this ensemble was striped again with both colors;   She matched this with a pair of deep purple shoes and dark green socks.  One sock had a lilac strip and the other a lavender stripe.  Ori cringed, but was overcome with joy at such lovely clothing.

     “Dipfa!  It’s perfect!”

     “Oh,” she demurred and laid it across one of the chairs. “It’s just for everyday.  Here’s another.”

     She drew out a second suit.  This had dark green trousers with side slashes filled with a currant colored satin.  Instead of a shirt, this had a long tunic of dark green with bunches of currant berries and leaves embroidered along the edges.  There were soft boots dyed dark green.  These laced from toes to knees and were paired with currant colored socks with two different shades of green dots on them to show through the laces.  This joined the other on the chair.  Dipfa took away a cotton cloth and removed another suit.

     “This is your court dress.”

     Dipfa held up the most amazing suit Ori had ever seen.  It looked black but when the material moved, it showed the darkest green Ori had ever seen.  It was sewn together in red thread with garnets studded along each seam.  There were black boots with tassels of dark green silk, each tied off with emeralds. 

     Dwalin rose from his seat on the back of the couch and came over to look.

     “Aye, this is fine and proper.  Yeh’ll look a treat in this.”

     “It’s…beautiful.” Ori gasped.

     “My pleasure, sir.” Dipfa curtsied low and laid it with the others on the chair.  She went back to the cart and removed a final parcel wrapped in white cotton cloth.  She gave this directly to Ori with a murmur about underpinnings.

     “Thank you so much, Dipfa.” Ori managed.  “You have done amazing work in so little time. I’ll be so proud to wear these.”

     Dipfa blushed and curtsied again.

     “It’s my pleasure and honor to be your tailor and dresser, Master Ori of the House of Fundin.”

     Dwalin chuckled and tossed her a small purse.  She looked at it and frowned.

     “I thought this was-

     “Yeh did a fine job, lass.  Yeh deserve it.”

     Dipfa didn’t squeal but Ori could see it in her face.  She curtsied again, grabbed her cart and headed out.  Dwalin went with her to open the door.

     Ori turned back and stared at all his new finery.  He had never owned so much clothing in all his life.  He was still sitting there, staring when Dwalin came back in.

     “Yeh like ‘em, lad?”

     “Yes…I’ve never owned anything so fine before… I’m almost afraid to touch them.”

     Dwalin chuckled again and scooped the pile into his arms.

     “Right, lad.  Let’s get these t’ yer room so yeh kin put ‘em away.  We’re going’ t’ Dis f’r dinner, yeh want t’ put one on?  How about this purple one?”

“Shall I?” Ori asked.

“Aye, do it.  Yeh kin show off.”

Ori looked up at Dwalin, who was smiling down at him.  He waggled his eyebrows making Ori burst into laughter.

“Oh, alright,” Ori conceded. “The purple one it is!”

     Dwalin went out and Ori opened Dori’s parcel.  His clothing and his little treasures he’d kept in his room were there, and the long leather folder in which he’d kept all his sketches.  And the secret one he had hidden between his mattress and the straw tick.  He shuddered to think Dori had known where that was.  He considered whether Sigrid had put it in as he had shown it to her a few times. 

     He put his own few clothes away.  They were not as fine as his new ones but they had been made with Dori’s love and he still wanted to wear them.  Buried in the middle of all the clothing was his little wooden flute, carved by Nori from birch near the River Running.  Ori was delighted to see it again. 

     Next to this, there was something wrapped in thin paper.  Ori opened it carefully and found the beautiful hairbrush Nori had once brought Dori.  It was very old, an antique.  Dori had said it was from Ered Luin but occasionally Ori wondered who Nori had stolen it from.  Ori placed it carefully on the dresser. 

     Half in eagerness and half dread, Ori sat on the bed and opened Dori’s letter.

          My dear wee badger,

          Nori was not able to apprise me of the situation until I had come home.  I

          stepped around the street corner to Bard’s and he immediately retuned with me,

          bringing both Sigrid and Tilda.  Tilda related all the events she knew. 

               It was then your Captain arrived.  He explained the incident thoroughly and

          was most patient in answering all my questions.  Even although your brother was

          in a disgracefully inebriated state, he did apologize for hitting the Captain. 

               As this had been done I did not foresee the need for me to do so myself.  

          I do wish the Captain had come to a less momentous decision than marriage,

          however what is done is done and unless you tell me you wish it otherwise, I

          shall accustom myself to it.  In his favor, Captain Dwalin seems upright and

          honorable and did state he shall do all in his power to make your happiness complete.

               He also promised that you both shall join us for dinner tomorrow evening. 

          I look forward to seeing you again soon.  And trust me when I say that it shall

          only take from you a word, a look, will be enough to decide  me that this marriage

          will be called quits.

 

                    All my love,

                    Ori’s  very own Dori.

 

     Ori smiled after reading this.  Dori was so good.  He was ready to support Ori no matter how he chose to live.  Well, as long as he didn’t get up to half the things Nori did, Ori reflected.  He folded the letter up and tucked it into the sketching folder and decided he should get washed and dressed.

 

     Ori looked himself over.  He had put the other two suits in the wardrobe and nearly cried with delight at the lovely cotton underclothing now filling the small dresser.  He had put on a new set of combinations then carefully combed his hair and put on the purple suit.  He turned and looked in the mirror.  He looked so different than he had two days ago.  He looked like a well-born dwarf scribe.

     He went out to the sitting room where Dwalin, who had also changed into more comfortable clothing, was waiting for him.  Dwalin looked him over then walked around him.

     “Ahh, lad, yeh look finer than a new cut diamond.”

     “Thank you.  These are so comfortable.  I never thought anything would be so nice to wear.”

     “C’mon then,” Dwalin said clapping Ori’s shoulder.  “Let’s go an’ show yeh off.”

 

     “Look at you!” Dis cried as she greeted them at the door.  “That color suits you, Ori.  Did you take him to Mahrdin, son of Greneeld’s, Dwalin?”

     “Aye, an’ ol’ Mahrdin put ‘im th’ hands a’ his new assistant; lass called Dipfa.  She thinks our Ori’s very fashion progressive.”

     “Well,” Dis giggled.  “I shall have to take care I’m not thrown into the darkness by your husband.”  She looked Ori over then paused.

     “I’m afraid your Dipfa has mismatched the stripes in your socks.”

     Ori swallowed a laugh and tried to look down his nose.

     “They’re not mismatched, your highness, they are in a deep metaphysical state of emotional movement and throwing each other into relief with the rest of my clothes.”

     Dis stared.

     “What in Durin’s name does that mean?”

     Ori grinned.

     “I have no idea.  Dipfa says that’s what’s happening.”

     Dis laughed and pushed the pair of them through to the dining room.  Thorin came through from another door and nodded to Ori.  Ori looked about.

     “Fili and Kili are over with the In’s this evening,“ Dis told him.  “Gloin has a young son they like to spend time with.  I hear he’s quite up and coming with all his lessons.”

     “Not too bad with his axe, either,” Dwalin put in.  “Lad’s got tha’ gift from his da.”

     Dazla entered with a large tray and told Dis she was served.

 

     Ori tucked into his dinner.  Meat dried then stewed in a sweet, spicy sauce served with soft, floury rolls and a large glass bowl filled with two colors of raw cabbage, finely shredded and mixed with carrots, onions, nuts, and raisins, and dressed with a milky spiced sauce.

     “Ori.”

     Ori looked up at Thorin who was regarding at him rather seriously.  Ori swallowed his mouthful and waited.

     “Dis tells me you’ve never heard of open court.”

     “No, I haven’t.  It is something new?”

     “No, it’s something that’s been going on since the time of Durin the Deathless.”

     “Oh.”

     “Does the Master of Dale have such?”

     “No. He just levies a lot of taxes.  It’s a little hard as only certain jobs are open to dwarrow who live in the Dale.  We can’t be hired to do things like accounting or litigation for men.  Of course, this led to dwarrow only working for other dwarrow.  It’s kind of strange.  Ever since I was a mere badger I’ve watched as the Men of Dale seemed to change.  Not change as people but people moving away and different people coming in.”

     Thorin leaned back in his chair, frowning slightly.

     “Have…have I said something amiss?” Ori asked.

     “No, not at all,” Thorin assured him.  “I have been under the impression that things had become rather different in the Dale than what we had thought.  We dwarrow, as you may of noticed,” he said with a slight smile, “are slow to change and very set in our ways.  We are also much longer lived than men, thus we do not always expect them to change as quickly as they do.  I have been slowly over the past five years taking on more responsibility concerning the Dale and our people.  Dwalin has been assisting me in this.  You’ve probably noticed the soldiers are traveling through the town rather than just scouting the outer borders.”

     “Yes,” Ori said quickly.  “Most of the dwarrow left in the Dale noticed.  We weren’t sure why and just thought Calmar had asked for them to patrol.  He thinks everyone is after his money.  Actually that’s how I saw Dwalin for the first time and Sigrid saw Fili.”

     “She think Fili’s go’ a nice bum,” Dwalin supplied unhelpfully, making both Thorin and Dis choke on their tea.

     “He gets it from me,” Thorin commented, smirking.

     “He gets it from Vili, thank you very much.  I should know,” Dis countered.

     “He gets the blond hair from Vili and Amad,” Thorin argued.  “When he was a babe, he had our Umad’s eyes.”

     “’S aright,” Dwalin told Ori.  “We took ‘em outa his mouth right after.”

      “Dwalin!” Dis cried as Thorin roared with laughter.  Ori giggled watching as Dwalin grinned like a fool.  Suddenly he remembered what Master Brur had said.

      “Dis, what did Dwalin and Thorin do when they were young that Master Brur had to get them out of trouble for?”

     Dis looked surprised then sly. 

     “Yes, tell us, boys.  What was it?  I heard amad say something about wargs?”

     “Oh that wasn’t it.  Brur got us out of what we did to the poncey elf King’s robe mess.”

     “Robe mess?” Ori asked, eyes alight.

     “We were naught but badgers,” Dwalin explained.  “They were having a council meeting and we got under the table.  We poured yellow ink on the floor near his feet and they were there f’r a couple hours, talkin’.  When the elf King got up he got this weird look on his face and looked down.  His entire front t’ the waist was wet an’ stained yellow.  Looked like he’d had a huge piss under the table.”

     “Oh Mahal!” Dis cried.  “I never heard that story!  What happened?”

     “Nuthin’.  He glared and marched out and the council stood about.  Me an’ Thorin were stuck under th’ table.  ’Course we started gigglin’.  Thror hauled us out, promising’ a beatin’ but Brur assured Thror he’d told us we could be there t’ listen in.  Good f’r our education, he said.  We got outa there freer than ravens.   Lucky f’r us there was no ink on the floor.  That robe soaked up the lot.”

     Dis fell back in her chair laughing and Ori giggled so hard he could barely breath.  Thorin and Dwalin watched them.  When Ori and Dis got their breath back Thorin and Dwalin exchanged a look.

     “The wargs,” Ori cajoled as Dazla and another dam came in, removed the dinner dishes, set down a pie and a large jug of thickened cream.

     Thorin chuckled and Dwalin encouraged him with a wave of his hand.  Thorin turned his chair, crossed his legs and played with his tea cup as Dis served out slices of the quince and pear pie, ladling the thick sweet cream over them.

     “Dwalin and I were sent out for a summer season to ride with the outer border patrols.  There were a lot more small orc raiding parties then and they mostly went after merchant wagons.  Dwalin and I noticed after being sent to spy on them that the wargs were instantly loyal to their riders.  The orcs encouraged breeding and the pups started out very small but they were quick to learn.  That told us that the wargs were, in some ways, smarter than their orc riders.  It didn’t take much to train the wargs as when they’re pups as they’re eager to please.”

     “Very eager,” Dwalin added.

     “So whenever there was a warg on guard without a rider, we…well, we’d bring them treats.”

     “Treats?” Dis demanded.

     “Piece of meat, something like that,” Thorin said airily.  “We’d teach them little tricks like ‘sit’ or ‘stay’.”

     “‘Roll over, play dead, shit on command,” Dwalin continued.

     “Exactly,” Thorin agreed.  “We’d also name them.”

     “Name them,” Dis repeated.

     “Name them what?” Ori asked, half horrified, half delighted.

     “Silly things,” Thorin said.  “Like there was one with yellow spots so we named her ‘Buttercup’.”

     “Th’ brown one, ‘Shitass’,” Dwalin helped.

     “There there was the white one Azog rode.”

     Both Thorin and Dwalin looked feral.

     “Aye, we named him, ‘Creampot’.”

     " But you killed Azog, how-?” Dis asked frowning.

     “Easy.” Dwalin grinned.  “We gave Creampot lots a’ treats.  He loved us.  Every time we snuck over he’d come t’ us, tail waggin’, all happy.”

     “Yes, so when Azog towered over us on that huge boulder, threatening to kill our entire party, all we had to do was get Creampot’s attention and tell him to ‘sit’.”

     “How in-“ Dis was confused. 

     “Creampot sat and Azog fell right off his back like a lump, toppled off the boulder, ass over tea kettle, and spattered his ugly head all over the ground.  The Orcs didn’t know what to do and we destroyed them.”

     “Durin’s hammer!” Dis cried. 

     Ori laughed until he nearly fell out of his chair.  The picture was ludicrous!

     When he recovered and Dis was wiping her eyes, Dwalin turned thoughtful.

     “They’re not a bad animals, those wargs.  Ugly as shit but damn useful.”

     “I know,” Thorin agreed.  “Think what we could do if we had a few breeding pairs.  Train them to herd the goats and protect them.  Riding them would be a bit of a challenge, they don’t move the same as goats and ponies, but still.”

     There was the sound of doors opening and closing.  Thorin and Dis looked at each other and sighed.

     “An’ here comes th’ bloody floor show,” Dwalin commented dryly.

     The dining room door opened and Frerin swept in.

     “Thorin, her name is Janifur.  You need to tell Udad I want to marry her.  You know he’ll want you and Dis to back me on this.  I found out today.  I stopped her again and asked for her name.  I think she’s quite shy and I need you to convince Udad that this is the real thing.  I love her.”

     Thorin stared.

     “Who?”

     “Janifur!  The miner dam I told you about yesterday!”

     Dis looked up.

     “Frer, If you’ve only just met her-”

     “It’s love!  I love her!” Frerin’s voice raised to a shout. 

     Dwalin rolled his eyes and leaned his elbows on the table. 

     Thorin looked as though he was developing a headache.

     “Little brother,” he began. “I can’t go to Udad to support you in a marriage claim to someone we only have a given name for.  I-“

     “I knew it!  You give Dwalin free rein to marry a nobody and tell me I can’t marry my heartsong.  I can’t believe you of all people would betray me this way!” Frerin yelled.  He stormed out of the room and the slamming of doors marked his passing through the house and out.

     Thorin sighed and looked at Dwalin.

    “Ori isn’t a-“

     “I know and Ori knows, doncha, lad.”

     “I think,” Ori said quietly.  “Prince Frerin will have to do more than what he has done if he wishes to court a miner.  Many mining families are very selective as to where they marry, nobility or not.  They like to know their family members are treated well and are happy.  If she has family, they will wish to examine Frerin’s family and him in particular.”

     Dis pondered this.

     “Then that may teach him a few lessons.  We shall have to hope for the best.  You two come for breakfast again tomorrow.  Fili and Kili will be sorry they missed you, Ori.”   She rose and came to Ori’s side.  He got up and she embraced him.

     “I do apologize you had to witness his outburst.”

     “Don’t,” Ori said quickly.  “I have the advantage of being very close to my brothers and although they do bicker on occasion we never treat each other so.  I hope, as you say, this er…courtship will teach him to appreciate you and Thorin more.”

     “Thank you, Ori,” Thorin said gravely. 

     He rose also as did Dwalin, who clapped Thorin’s shoulder and they laid their brows together, briefly sharing breath as brothers in arms.       The act moved Ori greatly.  It was strange yet beautiful to see these powerful warrior dwarrow clasp each other in tenderness.  He felt his eyes sting and he wanted Nori and Dori there to hold. 

     Dwalin and Thorin drew apart and Thorin patted Dwalin on the back.  Dwalin came to Ori and grinned.

     “C’mon , lad.  Let’s get yeh home and t’ bed.  We’ve both got work in th’ mornin’.”

Chapter Text

     Ori registered the noise in his sleep at first.  It was as though Nori was trying to creep in without waking Dori.  He slipped somewhat clumsily out of bed, clad in his long nightshirt, to help his brother in and make a cup of tea to clear the night’s cold and drunk as usual. 

     The instant Ori’s bare feet touched the heated marble floor his mind set him abruptly back to reality.  He listened again.  He did hear someone moving stealthily in the outer rooms, quietly rummaging.  A sick cold knifed through Ori, then he pulled himself together.  Dori wasn’t there with his strength, nor was Nori here with his fighting skills. 

     Ori took a breath.  He was Dwalin’s husband and this was something they should deal with together.  Ori threw on his old winter coat and yanked the hood up.  Thus prepared against some punches and barefoot so as not to slip, he silently opened his door. 

     A faint light glowed from the sitting room.  Ori slid silently over to Dwalin’s door, which opened under his hand.  The fire still burned in the grate but the raven was gone and Dwalin was clearly not in bed.  Ori choked and wondered how whoever had broken in had managed to overpower Dwalin without a noisy struggle.  Ori’s mind worked.  He had heard noises.  Maybe it had been a distraction to bring Dwalin out of the house.  Balin’s absence was well-known but barely anyone knew Dwalin was now married. 

     Ori tightened his belt and turned.  The walls held quite an array of weaponry.  He selected a manageable sword, as Nori’s voice reminded him that a knife would allow an enemy too close to his body.  Thus armed, Ori chose some hefty–looking manacles. 

     Ori padded noiselessly along the corridor to the sitting room.  The Interloper leaned over the desk opposite, going through a drawer.  The casual blasphemy of the relaxed stance suddenly made Ori’s blood boil.  How dare this … this crook try and pillage the House of Fundin.  His house!

     Ori leapt across the room and thumped the villain across the back with the sword.  With a loud “Ooof!!” the criminal dropped to his knees.  Ori finished the job by whipping out the manacles and fastening them around the burglar’s wrists via the stout front leg of the desk.

     “Right you!” Ori shouted and pointed his blade at the crouched figure.  “Thought you could rob the House of Fundin, did you?  Turn around and face me.  I’m not afraid of one burglar.  You want a tussle?  I’m up for it.  I’ll give you a taste of dwarfish iron!  Right up your jacksie!”

     The villain turned and looked at Ori during this speech.  Ori was surprised to say the least.  The dwarf was a good deal older that Ori expected, dressed in nothing but a rather threadbare set of grimy combinations and a thick pair of wet, muddy socks.  His eyes were bright with a calculating look.  The surprising part was the dwarf’s beard, which if clean and combed would might have been a beautiful white, thick and long to nearly his waist.

     “Well at least you’ve got some sense of propriety seeing as how well you keep your beard,” Ori commented. 

     The dwarf raised a bushy eyebrow at him as Ori glanced over to see what valuables were about to be stolen. 

     There, on the floor, spilling away from Ori's captive was a small waxed paper bag of sweets.  Ori glanced at the dwarf again who looked about to speak.

     “Don’t,” Ori told him shortly with no anger in his voice this time.  He placed the sword out of reach.  “Wait here.”

     Ori went though to the kitchen, but kept an eye on his captive.  He threw off his coat then pushed the kettle back onto cook top and lit it. 

     He went though to the larder and quickly put together butter, bread, cold meat, some cheese and a couple of apples.  The kettle sang as he brought the food through.  He warmed a teapot, added the tea, poured then caught up two mugs and returned to the sitting room laden. 

     The burglar was busily chewing a sweet and trying without success to break the albeit rusted iron manacles against the desk leg.  Ori stifled a chuckle.  Seeing as how the desk was carved out of the wall and floor, the thief would have to work at this a long time to get free.

     “Let be,” Ori ordered gently as he put down the plate of food, teapot and two cups.  He pushed a stool over to the burglar.  Once both were seated, one awkwardly on the stool and Ori on a chair near the red granite table, Ori passed the plate of food over to the captive and proceeded to pour them each a cup of tea.

“Thank yeh, lad,” the dwarf started.

“Don’t try and worm your way out of it,” Ori interrupted.  “And you’ve nothing to be ashamed of by falling on hard times.  Believe me, I know what it is to be poor.  Mahal, if you’d just come to the door and asked, I’d have given you a meal.”

“Hard times?” the prisoner repeated.

  “Well.”  Ori looked over the brim of his mug.  “You’re not exactly dressed for the court and you’ve just broken into the House of Fundin, the elder of whom is the head advisor to the king and the elder prince, and the younger is the captain of the royal guard, and also my husband.”

     Ori briefly wondered if revealing this information was wise, but the dwarf was chained, so if any of his fellows came back, they would be less inclined to kidnap and ransom someone armed and ready.  However, the only reaction was a stunned look that quickly melted into amusement.

     “Yeh’re Captain Dwalin’s husband?”

     “Yes, I am.”

     “Really!”  The prisoner’s lips twitched and his eyes twinkled.  “Well, where’re me manners?  Congratulations, laddie.”

     “Thank you,” Ori replied gravely, feeling somewhat thrown by the burglar’s behavior.   “Are you some drinking fellow of his and lost almost all but your unmentionables in a dice game?  Surely just asking my husband for help would be better than breaking in.  Or are you some highly placed flunky of Lord Balin perhaps?”

     The reception room door banged open and Ori turned as Dwalin barged in.

     “Right, that’s the ponies set.” 

     Dwalin kicked off his boots, stopped short and stared at the tableau before him.  Ori went and tugged shyly on Dwalin’s sleeve.

     “Please don’t be too angry.  I really don’t think he meant any harm by breaking in.”

     “What?” Dwalin managed, staring at the prisoner, who looked both serene and amused.

     “That dwarf broke in and was stealing something for clothing or a gambling debt but only managed some candy before I caught him.”

     Dwalin looked down, Ori had never seen Dwalin look so confused.

     “What?” Dwalin repeated. 

     Ori pointed at the other dwarf.

     “I heard noises, you weren’t in your room and I found him sneaking about, so I caught him.”
“Aye!  Thumped me properly with that blade then chained me up quick as spit,” the prisoner helped, holding his wrist up, so the manacles could be admired yet still managing to balance his half drunk mug of tea.

     Dwalin was frozen in place, gawking.  Ori looked up into his husband’s face then down where Dwalin had covered Ori’s ink-stained fingers with a strong hand.

     “Dwalin?”

     Dwalin’s head came down gently against Ori’s brow and rested there.  Now Ori was confused.   Dwalin’s eyes were shut tight, his face worked and his shoulders were shaking.

     “Dwalin?”

     Ori looked up as his husband threw back his head and roared with laughter.  Ori sighed and decided that either his husband was laughing at a caught friend or that Dwalin had lost his mind.  He looked back at his prisoner.

     “I take it you and my husband are acquainted.”

     “Aye, yeh could say that.”  The other dwarf was all smiles and his eyes crinkled merrily at Ori.

     Dwalin recovered and put his arm across Ori’s shoulders and cocked his head at the captive.

     “Thumped with what blade?”

     Ori fetched it over.

     “This one, Dwalin.”

     Dwalin took the blade.  His grin gave Ori fuzzy squiggles up and down his spine then settled, much to Ori’s chagrin, in his crotch.

     Dwalin looked over the blade then gave the chain on their captive a tug.  He turned back to Ori, his eyes bright with humor.

     “Where yeh get these?”

     “Your room,” Ori answered truthfully.  “They were on the wall.”

     Dwalin laughed again.  “All the arms on the wall’re just f’r decoration.  That blade couldn’t cut butter.”

     “So yer goin’ to open this lock?” the captive inquired and drained his tea with a satisfied sip.

     Dwalin smirked.

     “Nah, I ain’t got keys f’r those.  That’s why they’re hangin’ up.” 

     The captive sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose.

     “Brother, please tell me yer just jokin’.”

     Ori felt his stomach turn over with cold horror.

     “Brother?” he whispered hoarsely.  He bowed as low as he could.  “I am so sorry, Lord Balin…  I…”

     “Now, none o’ that, laddie,” Balin interrupted him right away and reached over to pat Ori’s shoulder with both manacled hands. 

     Ori wanted to sink though the floor. 

     Dwalin stretched.

     “Right, you two sit tight.  I’ll pop ‘round t’ Gloin’s an’ borrow his heavy shears.”

     Ori grabbed Dwalin’s arm.  “Wait!  If you have two or three old key pin shards, I can help.”

     Dwalin looked incredulous but fished said items out of a pocket.

     “Donno what yeh kin do wi’ just spikes, lad.”

     Ori dropped to his knees next to Balin and worked busily at the locks.

     “Dori always locks up tight at night and Nori was suppose to have a key.  I was too young to have one.  Nori lost his key ages ago, so he taught me how to pick the front locks when I had to sneak out and help him home some times.”
There was a crunching click and the locks opened. 

     Ori helped Balin to his feet. 

     “I really am very-”

     “Hush, laddie.  Yeh did very well.”

     Ori stared at Balin.  “But-”

     “Come now.  Yeh’d no idea who I was an’ yeh acted perfectly properly.  Isn’t that right?” Balin looked at Dwalin, eyebrows raised.  Dwalin grinned, tossing the blade from hand to hand.

     “Aye, not bad at the lock picking either.  I’ve had a locksmith mess with those f’r half a day.  He claimed they’d never open if shut again,”

     Ori felt a blush crawl up his neck, but he couldn’t keep a smiling from showing.  He turned back to Balin.

     “But are you alright?  How did you get so… so…?”  Ori trailed off, unsure how to ask Lord Balin why he was sneaking about the place in muddy skivvies.

     “Just so you know, lad,” Dwalin chucked the blade and manacles on the low red granite table with a clatter that made Balin frown.  “there’s a bell in me room; th’ guard can call me an’ I meet up with a runner.  There was a bad storm earlier.  Roads all to mud an’ ruts.  Went up there t’ help ’em get the carts and ponies out.”

     “Oh dear,” Ori sympathized.  “Perhaps some hot food, milord?  You must be chilled through.”

     Balin smiled sweetly.

     “Now laddie, yeh’ve already got me a meal an’ a good hot cuppa.  I’m feelin’ much better.”  Balin poured a second cup for himself and picked up his plate of food.  “Well now, I’ll tell yeh both good night as I’m off f’r a wash an’ a long soak in th’ tub.” 

     With that Lord Balin strolled off down the hall, food laden and muddy, but with the air of a parade marshal.

     “Little brother, if yeh’d be so kind as to’ fetch me my dressing gown that’d be lovely.”

     “Get it yerself.” Dwalin responded without heat. 

     Balin turned and fixed Dwalin with the pin of his eye.

     “Me dear brother, if yeh’d be so kind.”

     Dwalin grunted and Balin sailed off down the hall.

     “Yeh alright?” Dwalin asked Ori.

     “Yes, I hope Lord Balin isn’t too angry.”

     “Nah, lad.  He ain’t angry ’tall.  That’s just his way a’ sayin’ he wants t’ cross examine me about things, mostly likely yeh.”

     “Will he be upset with you after he finds out everything?” Ori asked worriedly. 

     Dwalin looked surprised then chuckled. 

     “Likely no’.  Balin and I’re very close.”  Dwalin was thoughtful a moment.  “We’ve never struck each other.  Well, never in anger.  Was Dori angry with yeh?”

     “No, and he spoke well of you.”  Ori smiled, feeling better.  “Shall I make more tea for you?  Would you like something to eat?”

     “Nah, love.  Get back t’ yer rest.”

     With that, Dwalin escorted him to his room and they hugged briefly.  It was only when Ori was snuggled back under the covers that he recalled the Dwalin had not called him ‘lad’ that last time but ‘love’.

Chapter Text

     Ori woke as his bedroom door eased open and someone came in. 

     First he froze, then he took a breath and forced himself to remain still and calm.  Dwalin was kind and unlikely to hurt him out of cruelty.  Perhaps he was just coming in to wake Ori or refill the carafe of water at the bedside.  Ori peeked out from under the covers with one eye as someone put a tray on the bedside table.  On the tray sat a cup and saucer with a tiny silver cream jug and matching bowl of honey; a teapot smothered in an intricately sewn cozy took up most of the tray.  Ori’s shoulder was gently patted.

     “Wake up, laddie,” Balin greeted him cheerily.  “It’s time f’r tea.”

     Ori struggled out of the blankets and stared at his brother-in-law.  Balin looked very fetching with his hair and beard clean, bright white and immaculately curled.  He wore a quilted red velvet dressing gown with gold tassels around the cuffs, collar and hood.

     “G-good morning,” Ori managed. 

     Balin smiled warmly.

     “Didn’t hear how yeh liked your tea, so I brought both cream an’ honey.”

     Ori looked down to admire the charming round tray.

     “Th-thank you, Lo-  Balin.”

     “Why so surprised, laddie?  Surely-”  Bain paused then shook his head.  “Nah, he’d not bother while I was away.  Really, he ought t’ have now that yer married an’ all.”

     Balin went to the door then turned back.

     “When our adad was away, mam would always make tea an’ we’d each have a tray.  It gives us another hour or so in bed t’ doze or read.  Since she passed t’ th’ Great Halls, Dwalin and I always do this when we’re both home.”

     Ori smiled at the tale, suddenly reminded of an earlier question.

     “Thank you so much for including me.  That’s such a dear story, I would fully understand if either of you preferred to keep it just between you.”

     “Nonsense, laddie.”  Balin beamed at him from the doorway. 

     Ori noticed he had another tray in one hand and was lifting a second off the bureau near the door.

     “If you and Dwalin are going to er … read for a bit, might I trouble you to tell me where I might perhaps have a bath?”  Ori asked quickly as he hopped out of bed.

     “Of course, laddie.  Hold this and I’ll just take Dwalin’s tray to him.  On second thought-” 

     Balin handed Ori very old tray with a faded pattern of barely recognizable small blue flowers.  The lower corner had a chunk out of it.  Ori looked at the chunk wondering and Balin chuckled.

     “Back in th’ day when we were lads, he’d throw it up at th’ ceiling t’ see if he could get it stuck in th’ wall rails.  That chip’s all that’s left now t’ remind the pair of us when he fired it off too blasted hard an’ shattered th’ overhead glass light; fifteen candles - Or was it sixteen? - an’ all blown elfin glass.  Mam hated the thing and just laughed.  When adad found out, he beat Dwalin bloody, but Dwalin never cried an’ adad gave up in a rage.  This tray’s somethin’ of a trophy now.”

     “Mahal,” Ori intoned piously then blurted out, “All I could wonder was what had tried to eat it.” 

     Balin convulsed again.  “If that was the case, yeh can assure yerself it was Dwalin.”

     As though in a dream, Ori followed Balin through into Dwalin’s room.  The raven woke and flapped its wings a little then settled once more.  Ori watched as Balin strode over to the dark and cold fireplace and turned the lever.  The flames leapt up and Ori got a good look at his sleeping husband.

     Dwalin sprawled face down on the enormous bed.  Black tattoos marched from under Dwalin’s hair down his spine to disappear into his drawers.  Ropes of muscle stood out even at rest.  The blankets tangled around his feet.  One pillow lay on the floor, another propped against the headboard and the third under Dwalin’s left armpit.  All was still and silent but for the whispers of the flames and Dwalin's sonorous snoring.

     Ori placed the tray on the bedside table, noting the handless stoneware cup, glazed grass green with bright yellow spots scattered over, and the battered enameled tin teapot of butter yellow with green cornets on the bottom and lid.

     Balin made a shooing motion and Ori followed his method and laid a hand on Dwalin’s well-muscled shoulder.  Dwalin shifted a little, growled deeply then, to Ori’s surprise, smiled, eyes still closed, and muttered.

     “Fuck off, Balin.”

     His tone was so warm and kind, Ori choked and giggled.  Dwalin sat straight up and stared at him wide-eyed.  Ori decided he quite liked his early morning husband, hair and beard askew, eyes wide, and sitting in the middle of a semi-destroyed nest.

     “Good morning,” Ori said pertly. 

     Dwalin dragged a hand over his own face and stared at Ori.

     “Fuck.”

     Balin snickered.

     Dwalin’s gaze whipped to his brother.

     “Wha’ th’ fuck, Balin?”

     “Good mornin’, brother.”  Balin bowed with a flourish. 

     Dwalin squinted at him.

     “Wha’ th’ fuck yeh got on yer feet?”

     Balin lifted his dressing gown hem and Ori goggled at a pair of very elaborate slippers, red velvet, open above the ankle like a two-spouted ewer with gold tassels on each end.  The slipper completely covered the foot and extended upward at the toe into an elegant curl with its own gold tassel.  Balin turned his foot about and pointed his toe.

     “We came back through Mirkwood, an’ th’ Sylvan elves came out t’ trade.  Aren’t these fine?”

     Ori nodded, wordless. 

     Dwalin snorted and rolled over to pour out a cup.

     “Yeh look like a tree-fuckin’ elf.  Yeh gonna do a spring dance or sumthin’ f’r us?”

     Ori clapped a hand over his mouth.  Dwalin took a noisy sip and winked broadly at Ori.  Ori blushed then winked back.  Balin looked at both of them, caught up the hems of both the dressing gown and nightshirt and pranced across the floor to the bed, kicking up one leg then the next.  Ori burst out laughing and scrambled out of the way.  Balin twirled gracefully up to the bedside, turned, bent and fully mooned his younger brother.  Poor Ori was choking by this point.

     “Mahal!” Dwalin barked, slamming the mug down.  “Put that away. I ain’t even had me first cup!”

     Balin chuckled and wagged his rear but hopped nimbly out of range when Dwalin tried to smack the tempting target.  Dwalin missed and tumbled to the floor, cursing.  Ori, still giggling, helped him up.  Balin executed a step dance out of the room, calling after.

     “Ori, come with me an’ I’ll show yeh th’ bath.  Come along, me poor grubby lad.”

     Dwalin smirked, blushed, then rubbed the back of his neck.

     “Better run an’ have yer bath, lad.”  He smirk grew to a rueful smile.  “Sorry, didn’t think of givin’ yeh a proper show around before.  Feel free t’ hog as much hot water as yeh fancy, there’s always plenty.”

     Ori return the smile, thanked him shyly then headed to the door.  At the exit he turned and looked at his husband.  Ori saw the humor in those bright hazel eyes as Dwalin caught him staring.  Dwalin grinned naughtily and sucked in his stomach, raised his arms in a stretch then flamboyantly flexed his arms and chest muscles, swirled with tattooed runes and piercings.   He popped one pec then the next, each accented by a flash of silver from the nipples, followed by a ripple of the abs beneath.  Ori felt his face burn and his stomach flutter.  He shifted, slid through the doorway then quickly turned, ready to run.

     “What nice drawers you wear, husband.  The color suits you.  Dipfa would be so proud.” 

     Ori fled to the sound of Dwalin laughing and calling after that he was a “rascal.”

     Balin, halfway down the hall, held his sides, silently shaking with laughter.  When his eyes met Ori’s, they both snickered.

     “Balin?” Ori managed.

     “Aye, laddie?”

     “The color suits him down to the ground but I never expected Dwalin of all people to wear pink drawers.”

     “Well, our Dwalin gets impatient with servants an’ was making th’ point t’ me that we didn’t need ‘em.  He did th’ wash.  Once.”

     Ori winced and closed his eyes,

     “Aye, lad,” Balin affirmed.  “Boiled it all together.  Ruined most everything we had in th’ clothes baskets.  Needless t’ say, he’s a stubborn so-and-so.  Mind, he won’t be caught dead outside the house in ‘em.  Here’s the bath f’r yeh.”

 

     Ori leaned against the side of the tub, blissfully submerged to his chin in the hottest water he could bear.  It was wonderful to be so clean and in a bath this size.  Sitting with his legs out stretched he could not touch the far end and the sides came up to his ears.   He desperately wanted Nori and Dori there, so they could share.  No!  Better, than that, they could each take a turn!  He sat up a little, straightened, reached out to the small table beside and brought his tea back to finish his second cup with a contented sigh.

     Lord Balin seemed perfectly happy to brush aside the insult of Ori attacking him.  Dwalin had become more flirtatious and playful this morning.  Ori put the playfulness down to the brothers being reunited once again.  They seemed as close to each other as Ori was to Nori and Dori. 

     Today was the day Ori and Dwalin met Dori and Nori for dinner.  Ori wondered what he could say to convince both his brothers that he did want to stay and give his marriage a chance.  Everything he had written to Dori still held true despite Dori offering to ‘rescue’ him.  The sound of movement in the hallway reminded Ori they were, as before, bidden to Lady Dis’ for breakfast.

     Ori regretfully climbed out, pulled the stopper out of the drain, tidied the room and dressed.  He padded down to his bedroom, rubbing the towel in his hair.  Dwalin came out of his own room and grinned at Ori, the former still rumpled and only in his drawers but a great deal more alert.  He stopped and ran a hand over Ori’s hair.

     “Don’t dry it too much.  I’ll redo yer braids f’r yeh.  I won’t be long.”

     “Where should I wait for you?” Ori asked politely. 

     Dwalin gave him a confused look.

     “Where’ver yeh fancy.  I’ll find ye.  Mind, Balin’ll probably want company while I get meself sorted.”

     Dwalin disappeared into the bathroom.  Ori caught himself watching the pink linen clad behind.  The solder had excellent posture and his movements were smooth.  Watching the muscle flex and flow across his back and butt was like watching runes being written.

     Blushing, Ori pulled his attention back to his hair. He drew his fingers down his marriage braid to the end to remove his marriage bead-  that was not there.

     Sick horror plunged him into shock.  Ori took some deep breaths and closed his eyes.  He meticulously cast his mind back then remembered: the wall spigot.  He had washed his hair under the wall spigot before he climbed into the tub.

     Ori burst through the bathroom door and flung himself on the floor, hands out-stretched, searching across the tiles around the drain as hot water coursed down.

     “Bloody fucking Mahal!”

     “My marriage bead,” Ori cried out, searching the floor nearby. 

     Perhaps it was in the tub. 

     He knelt up then was pulled to his feet and turned.  His eyes followed the pointing finger to the two mithril beads tucked safely in the soap dish.  Ori gulped with relief and nearly wept. 

     “Oh, thank Mahal!  Thank you, Dwalin.”  Still gasping, Ori hopped up on tiptoe to kiss Dwalin’s cheek.  “Thank you so much I thought I’d lost it!”

     Dwalin shook his head with a lop-sided smile.

     “Easy love, it’s found, no need t’ fuss.  Now go through and muck with Balin’s brain.  I’ll bring ’em both when I’m done here.”

     With relief still surging through him, Ori went to his bedroom, caught up his hairbrush and trotted through to the living area.  Balin sat at the big desk he had been chained to not many hours ago, writing in a large, scrolling hand.

“Ah, there yeh are, wee brother,” Balin addressed him with a twinkle in his eye.  “Feelin’ better are we now?”

“Much better, Ba- brother, thank you.”

     Balin looked him over then straightened the papers, set the pen back in the tray and clicked shut the lid of the gem studded ink bottle.  Ori noticed there were now several matching bottles along the polished marble shelf above the desk.  Each bottle contained a different hue of ink.   Ori resisted reaching for them as Balin rose.  Balin escorted Ori to the sofa.

     “I take it Dwalin’s going t’ put yer hair an’ beard in order when he comes through.” 

     “Yes.”  Realizing Balin was running a critical eye over him, Ori added quickly.  “He’s got our marriage beads with him.”

     Balin nodded, looking at the brush in Ori’s hand.

     “May I?”

     “It was my eldest brother’s.”

     Ori handed it over a little reluctantly. 

     Balin glanced at him then returned to the desk, twitched open a small side drawer and removed a box shaped object.  Balin flicked it open to reveal a magnifier.  He turned one end and it expanded into a double magnifier.  With this Balin examined the brush carefully.

     “Well, well, well.  Very interestin’.”

     “It was my brother’s!”  Ori insisted.  “He told me Nori didn’t steal it!”

     Balin gave him a flabbergasted look, then cleared his throat and explained.

     “This’s quite th’ treasure, laddie.  It’s an oil brush.  Did yeh know this?”

     Ori shook his head.

     “There was an art t’ makin’ these.  Now look here.”

     Balin came back to the couch and passed the magnifier to Ori and directed it for him.

     “See here how th’ bristles’re hollow an’ th’ inside of th’ brush is soft?  See over here, there’s a wee pommel? It should open an’ yeh’d siphon th’ oil into th’ brush.”

     Ori stared then gasped.

     “How cunning!  You brush and oil your hair and beard perfectly!  That’s why it always smelled so good.  I just associated the scent with my brother.”

     Balin put the magnifier away and regarded the brush.

     “A very rare treasure.  Hmm, we’ll need t’ take it t’ Lady Gridr, Master Gloin’s wife, cousins of ours.  She’s an expert with trinkets an’ novelties such as this.  She can clean an’ refill it with oil f’r yeh.

     “Isn’t that right, brother?”

     Balin turned, as Dwalin plowed into the room and over to the entryway to dumped his weaponry on the floor near the door, grunted in reply to Balin and unceremoniously tucked his linen shirt into his breeches.  Balin tut-tutted at him.

     “Brother, yer not half dressed.”

     Dwalin turned, grinned at Ori then stepped over Ori’s knees to sit on the low red granite table in front of Ori.

“If yer in that much of a tearin’ hurry, do my hair while I do Ori’s.” 

     Ori leaned forward, expecting Dwalin to re-do just his marriage braid, but Dwalin had decided that he was going to brush and comb through Ori’s hair and beard. 

     Balin made quick work of Dwalin’s hair then came around to Ori’s side and started to instruct Dwalin on the intricacies of the differences between a scrivener’s braid and a scrivener who was training as a scholar at the library.

     “It’ll do them all a deal of good t’ see th’ proper braids in yer hair, laddie.”

     Dwalin grunted, busy with Ori’s hair.  “I remember.  I used t’ do yers.”

     “Aye, but I got me scrivening as a scholar working in th’ diplomatic corp.  Our Ori’s a fully-fledged journeyman scrivener working as a scholar toward academics.  Th’ braid starts higher an’ begins with each end twisted t’ th’ right.”

     Ori remained still as the brothers worked on his hair.  Part of him was overwhelmed to think that the captain of the guard and the advisor to the king were doing this for him, nothing more than a poor parentless dwarf from the Dale.  Yet part was thrown back to his childhood when both Dori and Nori would do his hair.  The true difference in this was that unlike Dori’s fast-moving hands tugging through and Nori making the family braids far too tight. Dwalin's hands were so gentle in Ori’s hair and neither brother pulled too tight or worked it too loose.  Their interaction made Ori want to fall over giggling.

     “Aye, lad,” Balin instructed.  “No.  Turn that one under then twist th’ middle to yer left … to yer left …No, yer other left.”

     “Fuck yeh, Balin.”

     “That’s me left.”

     “I’m goin’ t’ bloody kill yeh.”

     “Now yeh have it, lad.  Well done.”

     <grunt>

     “Let’s tie t’em off with th’ teaching library color.  There now … Dwalin, that’s th’ wrong color.”

     “What ye mean?  Is so th’ right color.  See?  It’s blue.”

     “Th’ library color’s meridian blue.  That bead yeh’ve got’s cobalt with gold inlay.”

     “Fuck yeh, Balin!  It’s blue.  Th’ library color is blue; shades of blue f’r scholars.”

     “Wonderful.  Aye, let’s have our Ori go in front of Brur, th’ head of th’ Great Library of Erebor labeled with braids that say he’s a scholar working as a sausage-maker currently employed as a court dancer.  Excellent!”

     “What th’ fuck’re yeh talkin’ ‘bout?”

     “Cobalt in th’ hair on tha’ side’s mixed meat.  Gold inlay’s a court dancer.  Pray, why d’ we even have such beads in our house?”

     “How th’ fuck do I know.  I’m not th’ one spendin’ all ’is time muckin’ about in foreign parts.”

     “I travel f’r-  Don’t tie his journeyman braids that loose, Dwalin!  People’ll think he’s a stable hand!”

     “Fuck yeh t’ Khazad-dûm and back!”

     “Now yer just bein’ shrill.”

     “No, I’m bein’ pissed.  If I were bein’ shrill it’d sound like this!”  On the last words Dwalin lifted the timbre of his voice until he sounded rather like an irate peacock if one could speak. 

     “Fuck yerself, Balin!” said the peacock. 

     Ori snorted louder than he meant to and shoved his hand into his mouth to shut himself up which resulted in a sound rather like a barn animal.  Ori looked up.  Both brothers’ faces were almost in his, opposing eyebrows raised.  The family likeness burst in on Ori and he almost slid off the couch laughing.  He was immediately resettled by one hand from each brother in each of his armpits, hoisting him back up.

     “Well, brother, I’ll leave th’ pair a’ yeh t’ put in yer marriage beads.  Ah, here they are.”  Balin picked up the mithril beads, looked them over frowning.  He puffed on them then held the two beads together and polished them with his sleeve. 

     Dwalin carefully braided Ori’s marriage bead back in.  Ori peered around to look.  Dwalin had a soft smile on his face.  He caught Ori’s glance and winked.

     “Don’t worry.  No one’s going t’ mistake this braid f’r a mastery in button-making.”

     Ori snickered.  “And I’ll do my best not to braid yours up to be mistaken for a paid companion.”

     “Yeh kin try, laddie,” Dwalin chuckled, “but I’m sure as axes wouldn’t be able t’ pick up extra f’r the house-keepin’.”

     “Why not?” Ori asked encouragingly.  “You have a wonderful beard.”

     “Thanks, love. But the ol’ fizz above it?  Not likely!”

     “You could always show ’em your pink skivvies.” 

     Ori felt slightly aghast at his own boldness but Dwalin was highly amused

     “Nah, that’d scare off even a seasoned guard like meself.  Sorry, love, yeh’ll have to’ come up with somethin’ else.”

     Dwalin finished Ori’s braid and turned, so Ori could put in his.  Ori bit his lower lip, and then seeing as how his husband seemed in a mood to joke, asked anyway.

     “Is that why you still insist on wearing pink drawers?” Ori finished Dwalin’s braid quickly.  “To frighten your subordinates?”

     There was a loud snort and both Dwalin and Ori turned to see Balin bent double.  Ori looked back at Dwalin, who smirked at his confusion then licked the tops of his two fingers and tapped them against Ori’s nose.

     “Smart arse,” he said warmly.

     “Are we ready then?” Balin inquired, seemingly fully recovered.

     “Aye, right behind yeh.”  Dwalin rose and offered his hand.  Ori took it and was surprised by the sudden spark as their hands slid into one another.  He’d never felt that before when Dwalin took his hand.  Ori got up, he felt like a flame rising from the strongest spark that could ignite any tinder.  He looked up at Dwalin.  The older dwarf’s eyes were hazel with a fiery burn.

     “Come along th’ pair of yeh,” Balin ordered. 

     Ori stepped out into the courtyard, hand in hand with his husband.

Chapter Text

     “I think it says a great deal that you weren’t attacked on this trip,” Dis put in, helping Balin to more bacon.

     “Oh, but I was, milady!  Quite suddenly, too!  I was completely overpowered an’ taken prisoner.”

     There were several gasps and the crashing of dropped cutlery and food.

     “What?!?” roared Thorin. 

     Dis stifled a slight scream, while Frerin, Fili, and Kili’s eyes were wider than saucers.  Ori wanted to slide under the table but rallied when Dwalin’s hand caught his.  Dwalin leaned close and murmured in Ori’s ear.

     “Balin loves spinnin’ a good tale.  Jus’ look surprised an’ try not t’ laugh.”

     Ori concentrated on his eggs while Balin spun the long, breathlessly exciting tale of his capture by Ori, conveniently not mentioning Ori’s name. 

     Ori snuck looks at the rest of the dwarrow at the table; all but Dwalin were hanging on Balin’s every word.

     “Then,” Balin said after a dramatic pause, “Dwalin stepped into th’ room saw me predicament; saw me capturer, his sword an’ th’ manacles biting into me wrist an’ he said…”  Balin turned to Dwalin. 

     Dwalin glanced around at Balin’s audience now waiting for his part in the drama.  Dwalin took a swig of tea, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

     “I said I ain’t got keys f’r those.”

     Ori almost choked, while everyone else’s agog expressions melted into confusion.

     “No,” Balin complained.

     “Aye, that’s what I said when I saw th’ manacles.”

     Balin sighed gustily and shook his head.

     “Yer never one f’r a good tale, Dwalin.”

     “Dwalin, really!” Lady Dis scolded.  “How can you be so lax about this?  Thorin, don’t you-?  Brother, whatever is so funny?”

     Thorin grinned at Dwalin then leaned across the table to Ori.

     “Let me guess; you woke up alone and heard someone lurching around your home that you knew was not Dwalin.”

     Ori shrugged and saw humor in those deep blue eyes.

     “I didn’t know who he was.”

     “No!” cried Dis, her eyes wide.  “Ori!  You captured Balin?!  Durin’s beard!”  She burst out laughing.

     “That’s brilliant, Ori-mate!” Fili reached over to clap Ori on the shoulder.

     “But,” Kili started.  “Didn’t you notice the sword was blunt?”

     Ori blushed.  “I don’t know much about swords.”

     Balin beamed at him. 

     “Well, yeh’ve got a good arm if yeh ever want t’ take it up, laddie.”

     Ori shook his head.  “Thank you, but I believe I’ll leave the weaponry to Dwalin.  Seeing as how my first attempt led to your … um… imprisonment.”

     Balin chuckled.  “Aye, an’ there I was caught with me hands in a poke of candy; clad in nuthin’ but me skivvies an’ muddy socks.”

This along with Balin’s shaking head and doleful tone set the entire company laughing again.

 

*     *     *      

 

     Dis signaled Dazla who brought out a small bowls of honey and cream covered tiny spring strawberries while Balin finished his tea and asked for the latest court news.  To Ori’s surprise, there was a crash of fists and elbows on the table as Frerin leaned heavily forward.

     “The news, oh great diplomat?  Well, I shall tell you that the most interesting of which is that my elder siblings have, for no solid reasoning, rejected to support my suit to Udad,” Frerin barked angrily. 

     Thorin sighed and squeezed the bridge of his nose.

     “Oh!”  Fili spoke up. “The mine lass, Janifur, the one you met while on parade?”

     “Yes.  Suddenly she’s not good enough!”

     “I didn’t say that!” Thorin roared.

     “You might as well have,”  Frerin yelled back.

     “I said, I would not and, frankly, could not support your suit without being able to speak of her family.”

     “And neiter will I,” Dis agreed. “We must at least meet her!”

     “There’s nothing wrong with her family!” Frerin argued.

     “Now, laddie,” Balin soothed.  “I’m sure we can sort this out.  Who’s she the daughter of?”

     Frerin sulked. 

     Thorin replied, “He doesn’t know her family name.”

     Balin appeared to consider then looked back a Frerin. 

     “Now lad, that’s going t’ be the first thing the King’ll ask.”

     “Why does it matter?  She’s wonderful.  She’d clever and beautiful and strong!  She’d be a wonderful yâsith in this family.  You’d all like her!”

     “I’m sure we would and will, little brother,” Thorin continued, “But until we know her family we can’t…”

     “Stop worming your way out of this!” Frerin shouted.  “You’re just like Adad and Udad!  You just want to marry me off like a tool, not a living being, to the most useful ally you want to because you’re both afraid Udad will leave me the throne.”

     Ori glanced at Thorin and Dis, both looked as though they were developing headaches.  Balin was obviously keeping a patient face on.  Dwalin looked bored.  Ori caught his eye and lifted an inquiring eyebrow.  Dwalin shrugged and rolled his eyes.  Ori calmed, this was obviously an old argument taking a different form.  Ori pondered as the shouting match continued.

     Frerin would be the worst king that could ever happen.  Thror has become so insular and hard times have been descending on all over us and the people of Dale for quite some time.  He will only make this worse.  Janifur.   Ori could think of at least three families who used the suffix ‘fur’ for their children, all with more than one child.  They were all good families. 

     “Frerin,” Ori put in when all participants had stopped to draw breath. “I’ve been thinking-“

     “I’m sure you have,” Frerin bit out.  “Thinking how lucky you are to have snagged Dwalin hard enough that he’d elope with you.”

     Ori gasped as Dwalin snarled and was on his feet.  Balin held out a hand.

     “Hold on, brother.  Here, Frerin, lad, what do yeh mean by that?”

     “Yes, Frerin,” Dis said over Thorin’s growl.  “Tell us.”

     Frerin glared at Ori, leaving the young dwarf puzzled as to what he might have done to earn Frerin’s anger.

     “Well, Ori freely states he’s adadless by going as ‘of the Brothers Ri’ and he’s from the Dale rather than the mountain.  Who of any good standing lives in the Dale rather than the mountain?”

     “Good standing and wealth are not the same things, little brother,” Thorin said quietly.

     “Fine!” Frerin went on.  “Ori, have you brothers and sisters?”

     “Only brothers,” Ori replied, keeping his tone good-natured.  “I have two elder brothers, no sisters.”

     “And you live where?”

     “The end of Steam Alley.”

     “Steam Alley -  well, there are certainly some excellent families there!  Running rag and bone shops, pawn brokers and several extremely dirty pubs.”

     “Frerin, prince or no’!”

     “Let me finish, Dwalin!  And your brothers, what do they do for work?”

     “Dori is a metal smith.  He is first assistant and journeyman to Master JinGhr at the Forge in Dale.”

     “And the other brother?”

     “Nori’s… ” Ori started.

     “Nori does stupid things and gets in trouble.” Dwalin bit out.  “Only he doesn’t had wealthy relatives t’ bail him out all the time.”

     “I’ve paid Nori’s bail the last few times; ever since I got my journeyman’s,” Ori reminded him.

     “Oh, you pay bail for a gaming philanderer, Ori of the Brothers Ri?”  Frerin was back on him.

     “Nori’s not a gaming philanderer,” Ori corrected quickly.  “He’s a trouble-maker and sometimes thief who gets caught every now and then.  It was so we could eat in the beginning, but now it’s his habit.”

     “Brilliant.  A thief in the family,” Frerin shouted.

     “Makes an honest change from our own gaming philanderer,” Dis sniffed. 

     Thorin coughed then pushed Fili’s chair with his foot.

     “Off to lessons, you two, now.”  He reached into his pocket and Ori heard the clink of coins.  Thorin placed some in Fili’s hand.  “Hurry up.  The butchers are at the market center today.  Buy your lunch there.”

     “Thank you, Idad.” Fili said brightly.  Kili opened his hand for his share but Fili put it all in his pocket.  “Don’t worry, Mam, I’ll make sure he eats properly.”

     Kili pouted.

     “Tidy your back, lad,”  Thorin ordered and grabbed Kili by the belt.  Ori saw him push a few coins into Kili’s pocket.

     Kili turned with a huge grin on his face and glomped onto his idad.

     “Thank you, Idad Thorin.  I don’t like being seen with a messy back.”

     Thorin grunted and pushed the young dwarf off him.

     “Off with the pair of you.  Now!”

     Both dwarrow grinned as they barreled over to kiss their amad and shout farewells to everyone else at the table before pushing, arguing, and shoving each other out the door.

     Balin smiled around.  “Now we- ”

     “We were happy with having a thief in the family,” Frerin barked.

     “Give it a rest, Frerin,” Thorin groaned.

     “No.  Ori, what do you do so well that you can afford a thief’s bail every now and then?”

     Dwalin snarled and Ori put a hand on his husband’s beneath the table before he thought.  Ori cocked his head at Frerin then said slowly and clearly.

     “I am a scribe.  You knew that from when we first met.”  Ori finished his fruit, watching Frerin.  The youngest prince showed no sign of letting the subject go even in the plain sight of his elder siblings’ boredom.

     “Yes, an amazing scribe!  Who’s shop do you work out of?  Not any in the mountain.”

     “I free-lanced from home after I finished my journeyman’s at Khujik’s shop.  You know them as they publish all the pamphlets from the court land use cases.” Ori waited to see where Frerin wanted to lead this conversation.

     “Oh, I just bet you work from home.”  Frerin grinned nastily.  “How much do you charge for the Westron letters ‘B’ and ‘J’?”

     Dwalin was almost half way around the table to Frerin before Thorin and Balin grabbed him.  Ori felt the cold stone of shame settle in his stomach, although this was not the first time he’d heard the jokes about working out of his home.

     “Of course not,” he replied frostily and quietly.  “I charge by the hour it takes me to do the entire work and whether or not a translation is involved.  I take it from your statement that the scribes you are used to dealing with only use those letters and have not a care for the character they draw from.  Mind, even such can say they know what it is to earn their bread, unlike you.”

Frerin snarled in reply and Thorin and Dwalin both turned to look at Ori.

“Good one, laddie,” Balin commented as Thorin and Dwalin started to chuckle and returned to their seats.

“Well, expert wage-earner,” Frerin groused. “How did you trap Dwalin into marriage?  I’d heard he was sweet on you but why not just keep you in elfin sheets with your own kind at Steam Alley?  What did you do to force him to bring you up in the world?”

     Ori froze.  He had never thought of their situation in such a way before.  His blood turned to ice as he slowly realized that this was exactly what he had done, though not by original design.  To the noble class, it would look as thought he had trapped Dwalin.  Dwalin was a dwarf of honor and good lineage.  Faced with Frerin’s words Ori knew he had trapped Dwalin in the cruelest manner possible. 

     Ori rose, fists clenched, glaring at Frerin as tears rolled hot down his cheeks.

     “Yes, Frerin, I trapped Dwalin.  I had offered myself in payment to Master Calmar when Calmar decided to execute Nori for his tricks and thefts.  Instead of leaving me to my fate at Master Calmar’s, Dwalin rescued me and instead of accepting my service or my life, Dwalin married me instead.  Nori and Dori are all I have and I would happily have given my life for them.  Instead Dwalin gave me a new life, he freed Nori, burnt his file, married me, got me a job at the library where I can make a good living, and neither Dori nor Nori will have to go hungry. Yes, I trapped him and – ”

     Ori’s words caught in his throat and became sobs.  The next moment he was held tight, sagging into Dwalin’s broad chest, crying hysterically.  Ori clenched Dwalin’s shirt in his fists.

     “I’m sorry, Dwalin!  I’m so sorry!  I jus-”

     “Hush, love.  Ain’t nuthin’ t’ be sorry f’r.”

     Ori choked, he knew that some how he had to make this right.  He had acted dishonorably.  He registered Dwalin’s arm about him with one hand deep in his hair.

     “But Dis,” Frerin’s voice had taken a to a whiney turn.  “Janifur?”

     “Yes, yes, she and her chosen family members.  Bring them to dinner; anytime convenient.”

     Frerin crowed and called back over his retreating footsteps, “I knew you’d support me, namad!”

     Dwalin muttered several curse words Ori didn’t know as Thorin growled in Khuzdul.  Dwalin lifted Ori out of his embrace. Ori swiped at his eyes.  Enough, he told himself.  He had to face what he had done and at least do that as a proper dwarf. 

     Ori was thrown for a moment as now he and Dwalin were seated in a couch before a good fire.  Ori remembered it as the room he and Dis had spent the afternoon in just the other day.  Dis was at the fire and Balin and Thorin were placing chairs opposite Dwalin and Ori.   Thorin pulled his up close in front of Ori.

     “My prince,” Ori began, determined to get though this, “you must free Master Dwalin.  I only- ”

     “Silence,” ordered Thorin.  “Balin, you sit here.  Dis, please come to my other side.”

     As the other two came and seated themselves the prince leaned forward, fixing Ori with his majestic gaze.

     “Ori of the Brothers Ri, son of Rikmha, did you or did you not just claim that you tricked Dwalin to marry you?”

     Ori sat up.  “Yes, my prince.”

     “And do you feel that this is a harmful marriage to Dwalin?”

     Ori nodded, eyes stinging.

     “Answer me,” Thorin ordered.

     “Yes, my prince.”

     “Do you see this marriage as solely for your own benefit with nothing to benefit Dwalin?”

     “Yes, my prince.”

     “Then let this tribunal decide.  You will explain your side and Dwalin shall explain his.  Now repeat, in detail for all present, how you came to be married to Dwalin.”

     Ori straightened his spine and carefully repeated the circumstances from how he had first heard of Nori’s predicament to falling asleep in the Fundin House.

     “Very well,” Thorin said evenly.  “You will now explain why this is harmful to Dwalin.”

     Ori swallowed; it just was. 

     He paused and said slowly, “Dwalin is the captain of the guard, thus with me as being poor and from the Dale and …” 

     Ori trailed off as Thorin raised one eyebrow while Dis looked as though she was trying not to laugh.  Ori realized this argument would lead nowhere, so he tried again.

     “Um… I’m a scribe…  I have nothing to …to improve his, um… well, his life.  And- and he doesn’t know me and Nori’s a thief and hit him.  And we live in Steam Alley.  I don’t know anything about his career as a soldier.  And…”

     Ori wavered then the right words arrived.

     “My past life and associations could only hurt Dwalin’s standing in court and among his peers and men-at-arms,”  Ori finished quickly and paused.  He looked at Thorin, who regarded him calmly.

     “How is this solely for your benefit,” Thorin asked, “and not Dwalin’s?”

     Ori felt back in his element.

     “That’s obvious, my prince.  I have already listed the ways it could damage Dwalin and all of you can readily see I have received all manner of benefits.”  Ori gestured, taking in the room, the company, and his own clothing.

     “Hmph,” Thorin replied.  “Dwalin, did the marriage come about as Ori said?”

     “Aye,” Dwalin agreed.

     “Are you harboring a deep hurt from this marriage?”

     “Nah, me lip’s pretty much all cleared up.”

     Silence.

     “Dwalin?”

     “Wha’?”

     “Attempt to stay with me in this discussion.  Are you hurt in anyway… barring the physical?”

     “Nah.”

     Thorin sighed in unison with Balin.  Ori glanced to his right.  Dwalin leaned against the couch back, looking quite pleased with himself.

     “Do you see this marriage as hurting your standing at court or with your superiors or with your men?”

     “Nah, if they’re in service t’ me, they already know me as a commander an’ they respect me or I wouldn’t be where I am.  They know when it comes t’ family and personal matters I don’t give an elf’s crotch hairs about such matters.”

     Both Balin and Dis choked and Thorin muttered, “Charming.” but Ori saw the deep affection in the prince’s eye.

     “Do you feel you were forced into this marriage under false pretenses?

     “Yeh’ve got to be kidding!”

     “Do you feel you have been in many ways led astray?” Thorin asked with a long-suffering sigh.

     “Led astray?”

     “Captain Dwalin!” Thorin finally shouted, though Ori thought there was a tiny edge of laughter in his voice.

     “Look,” Dwalin leaned forward, obviously ready to give more that a monosyllabic reply.  “I’ll tell yeh sommat about what was going on a’ th’ Master’s court.  I’d bin checkin int’ thin’s there f’r a good while now.  Yeh an’ Balin know why.

     Thorin’s eyebrow raised in query.

     “What we were talkin’ on b’fore Balin went off.”

     Both nodded.

     “Besides I couldn’t’ve shown up in Dale th’ next rest day askin’ t’ see Ori, could I?  What in Mahal’s sight would that’ve looked like?  ‘Good day t’ yeh, Master Ori.  I’m Captain Dwalin.  I left yeh to watch Calmar murder yer brother and even though yer a slave now di’ yeh fancy a long walk down by th’ lake with me?’  That’ve been bloody grand, wouldn’t it?”

     “Good point,” Thorin conceded. “Still do you see yourself as being forced into this marriage?”

     “Mahal, no!  It was th’ only thing I could think a’ do t’ save th’ lad.”

     “Save me,” Ori repeated.  “You saved Nori by taking me.”

     Dwalin paused.  He drew a breath and his expression hardened.

     “Nah, lad.” 

     Ori stared at him puzzled, then Thorin leaned forward.

     “Master Ori, if Dwalin had not come to your rescue, what would you have done?”

     Ori shuddered at the memory.

     “I’d have…”  Ori took a breath.  “I’d have acted no differently. I’m glad Dwalin came, though.”

     “Why?” Dis asked.

     “Calmar was so disgusting,” Ori whispered then made himself shrugged before continuing.  “Dori always said time heals all; cuts, bruises, tears, and in time memory fades…”

     “Lad,” Dwalin cut him off softly.  He laid his hand on Ori’s cheek and bowed his forehead against Ori’s.

     “Oh, lad, didn’t yeh wonder about what Calmar woulda’ done t’ yeh?”

     Ori shuddered again.

     “But I had to save Nori… ”

     “Aye, yeh know once that sort gets a taste they only want more and they share.”

     Ori choked then tried to stifle sobs as the full horror of his situation finally dawned on him.

     “Mahal!  Oh Mahal!”  Ori buried his face in his hands, his body shaking.  Ice curled about his heart but steadied a little as he felt Dwalin’s arms about him.

     “It’s a’right, lad.  I was there an’ I’m here, now.  Yer gonna be safe wi’ me.”

     “But-“ Ori struggled to recover.  “This isn’t your choice.  You don’t want to be married to me. I…”

     “Didn’t I jus’ say I was plannin’ on comin’ down t’ call on yeh?”

     Ori looked up at him.

     “Whatever I can do to-“

     “I don’t want yer pity ‘r gratitude,” said Dwalin sharply.

     “What else could I do to be a good husband?” Ori asked.  “Other than the obvious and I am grateful.”

     “Good point,” Thorin repeated.  “Tell us Dwalin, in what other way does this marriage benefit you, other than, as Ori say, the obvious?”

     Dwalin glared at his prince, who remained aloof and immune.

     “Fine.  He can write and take notes faster then any other I’ve seen.  He can write in different scripts as well as doing fine illustration.  Master Brur hired him on the spot.  He’s got proper manners as yeh’ve seen, so there’s no need to train him up f’r court nonsense  an’- Eh?”

     Dis was making  slight movement of encouragement to Ori, Dwalin snorted.

     “I know he can cook, he told me.  I also know he’s a dab hand at makin’ and knittin’.  He’s also good with maps as I caught him looking over some at the office.   And I’ve seen some a his sketchin’.  Balin and Brur can have him trained up in no time f’r codes and other languages.  And….” Dwalin paused.  “You lot an’ Balin all like him.  He’s a good fit with us.”

     Thorin leaned back in his chair.

     “Ori,” Dis asked gently, “is there a reason why you and Dwalin should not be married?”

     Ori gawped at her, at a loss.

     Balin smiled and leaned forward.

     “Perhaps all this business with Nori aside; if Dwalin had come callin’, would yeh’ve received him?”

     “Of course, but I…” Ori wasn’t sure how to put what he wanted to say politely.

     “Say it, lad.” Dwalin’s voice was resigned but gentle.

     Ori sighed. 

     “I would have, but considering the differences in our statuses, I … I would have been quite suspicious that you were either amusing yourself for some strange reason or trying to get information out of me about Nori, - which would be useless as he never tells me anything like that because if he did Dori would break his head - or that you had lost a bet.”

     “Lost a bet?” Dis cried.  “Ori, you are not allowed to speak so low of yourself!”

     “I hadn’t given courting much thought without my master’s in scrivening.  The only other thing was Dori told me once that your really should attain your mastery before thinking about things like courting and getting married.”

     Balin cleared his throat.

     “Ori, laddie, are we t’ understand that yer only true objections t’ being married t’ Dwalin’re that yeh don’t feel yeh know him well enough t’ trust his interest thus affection an’ attraction t’ yeh.  An’ yeh do not feel yer qualified either as relatin’ t’ yer chosen work or social status?”

     Ori pondered.  “Well, yes, I think so…  I thought, well, I was in for a rough life then suddenly I’m signing contracts in Khuzdul and braiding hair.”

     Thorin snorted. “You’re such a joy to be around, Dwalin.  No wonder Ori’s swept away by your charm.”

     “Fuck yerself, Thorin.”

     Ori giggled before he could stop himself.

     “Ori,” Dis reached out and took his hand.  “Let’s be practical for a moment; do you like Dwalin, the entire concept of games like “hide the sausage” or “What’s in the mine shaft” aside?

     "Namad!”

     “Lady Dis!”

     “Fuck!”

     “Aside!” Dis continued loudly.  ”Do you like him well enough as a companion and want to work together as his partner?”

     Ori looked sidelong at Dwalin, who was as red as hot coals.

     “I – I-  Yes.  I mean these last few days have quite wonderful and both he and Balin were most forgiving of my er… poor decision skills this morning.”

     Both Thorin and Dwalin roared with laughter.

     “An’ that’s another reason Dwalin an’ I benefit,” Balin pointed out.  “He’s quite capable of defending our household!  True, it was defending it against a son of th’ house but it showed great honor an’ courage.”

     “In my note to Dori,” Ori continued.  “I told him that I did intend to give this marriage a try but then I was only thinking of my advantages.”

     Thorin turned to Dwalin.  “So, other than the obvious reasons to marry Ori-“

     “Will yeh stop fuckin’ sayin’ that!”

     “Fine.  Aside from fucking-“

     “I’ll kill yeh!”

     “Do you like Ori?”

     “Are yeh off yer head?  Did I just say that I want’d t’ court him?  Ain’t I bin sayin’ f’r the last year and a bloody half I’m that blind-ass daft about him?” Dwalin roared.

     “Thank yeh, dear brother!  Well said,” Balin praised.  “See how much easier thing are when yeh use yer words!”

     Dis and Thorin stifled their laughter in each other’s shoulders.  Dwalin groaned and looked pleadingly at Ori.  Ori could feel his own face burning and presumed it quite matched Dwalin’s at the moment but at the same time, Ori felt his heart warm and he found himself smiling through new tears of happiness.

     “Oh!  Captain!  I mean Dwalin!  I- I-  No one has-  I mean- I never ever expected such words from anyone in my life.  I can assure you no one has ever expressed such sweetness to me before.  I promise I shall endeavor to do my very best to be an excellent husband, scribe and map specialist for you and the House of Fundin.”

     Ori reached over and took both Dwalin's hands into his, and his heart melted when Dwalin responded by catching him close, an arm about him, a large hand burying itself in Ori’s thick hair, mumbling.

     “Just wantin’ yeh to be happy and have everythin’ yeh need and never goin’ without again.”

     Thorin broke the moment by clearing his throat at a rather unnecessarily loud volume.

     “Since both of you are in agreement in giving your somewhat surprising marriage a try, I shall grant you two years trial period.  We will open this matter again at that time.  For now, barring death or violence against one another, the matter is closed. 

     “Dis and I are late for court, Dwalin needs to be in the Dale.  Balin has a meeting with Brur and thus will be able to escort Ori to the library.”

     Dis bustled off to the kitchen with Balin in tow.  As Thorin told Dwalin to help him get the ponies ready, Dwalin gave Ori’s hand a squeeze.  Ori squeezed back happily.

     “Shall I come and help you both?” he offered.

     “No,”  Dis popped in again.  “You stay here, I’m just going to put on my court shoes.  Hurry up you two.” This to Thorin and Dwalin, both of whom chuckled.  Dwalin let go of Ori’s hand and led the way out.  Thorin chucked Ori under the chin and followed.

     The house seemed suddenly empty even although Ori could hear Dis swearing somewhere about a ‘stupid heel” and in the distance he thought he could hear Balin singing something about birds and bees and sycamore trees.  Whatever a sycamore tree was.

     Ori glanced about then quickly busied himself with putting the room and furniture back to rights.  He pushed the last chair in place when he heard footfalls in the room.

     “Mahal, Dis!  Your court shoes sound very-“

     Ori turned and there was Frerin in the doorway, Ori took a breath.  Everything had been sorted.  There was no need for further enmity between himself and the younger prince.  He smiled

     “Oh!  You’re back quickly, I- ” A thought struck him.  “Nothing’s happened at the court, has it?  If you need Thorin, he and Dwalin are in the stable getting-”

     “Well, aren’t you just making yourself comfortable in this house.”

     Ori sighed, so much for calm family times.

     “I’m just helping put things back to rights before we all leave.  Speaking of which.” Ori decided to change the subject to something less tense.  “Would you happen to know what a sycamore tree is?   I heard Balin-”

     “You.  Balin.  Already counting yourself as our equals then?”

     Ori sighed.

     “Lord Balin invited me to address him as so… your highness.”

     “Better.  Though why Dwalin would hang on the likes of you when he’s been tupping Thorin since they were grubby badgers.”

     Ori shrugged.

     “Don’t care, eh?” Frerin commented.  “As long as you get your full pay in house and home I suppose it matters not.”

     “It’s the tradition of princes and men at arms bond together over time and become comrades in arms.  I think I would be more surprised to learn they were not, your highness.”

     “I bet you would be.  That chair’s aslant.”

     Ori turned.  The next thing he knew he was on the floor with a pounding pain on his jaw.

     “That’s for Dwalin.  I heard what your brother did.  Striking a captain of the royal guard, too.  Your brother should have gone down on his knees and thanked Dwalin.  Dirty street scum.”

     Ori struggled up and looked at Frerin as bravely as he could.

     “I accept this.  My brother hurt a member of your family.  Your act is honorable.  May we put our animosity aside now and at least behave as friends?”

     “Friends?  Friends with you?  Of all the…creatures Dwalin could have chosen.  He should have been mine, you know!  Once Thrain was lost in Azanulbizar and Thorin took his place for Thror, Dwalin ought to have been assigned to me.  Me!  And by Mahal, I would have had him knowing his place and obeying!”

     Ori registered thinking that Frerin was as fruity as a nut cake in Nori’s terms, before Frerin grabbed him by the throat and slammed him against the wall.

     Ori reacted as Nori had taught him, as this was the behavior of men.  He grabbed Frerin’s littlest finger and wrenched it back while kicking Frerin in the crotch as hard as he could. 

     Frerin howled in both pain and rage, dropping Ori.  Ori jumped to his feet, but being unfamiliar with thick carpeting, tripped on the rug and stumbled back on the couch.

     Frerin loomed over Ori.  As quickly as he could, Ori scrunched down on the seat and pulled up his knees.  He grabbed the fabric for leverage and kicked out with both feet as hard as he could.  Frerin toppled back across the room, falling heavily to the floor.  Ori got to his feet, panting. 

     Unfortunately Frerin was a trained warrior who was both taller than and outweighed Ori.  Ori was forced back against the wall.  Frerin’s forearm shoved into his collarbone, holding him there.  Ori pulled up his knees again and kicked out.  Without the proper leverage his feet did not have the accuracy or power of his first kicks.  They were however, effective enough that one landed in Frerin’s thigh and the other on his knee. 

     Frerin landed a breath-stealing punch to Ori’s gut then vanished upward.  A familiar pair of brawny arms lifted Frerin by the belt and hair to a full arm’s outstretch toward the ceiling then body-slammed Frerin to the floor.

     Ori slid to the carpet, gasping; Dis and Balin were on either side immediately

     “Laddie!  Wee brother!  Yeh a’right?”

     “Ori!  Ori, dear-  Mahal, you’re bleeding!”

     Ori looked at Dwalin, who was holding a furious Frerin pinned to the floor, with his boot on Frerin’s face.

     Thorin grabbed Ori, lifted, and passed him bodily to Dwalin.  Ori sank gratefully against Dwalin’s chest as the larger dwarf’s strong arms wrapped him close.  Ori felt safe there.

     “Yeh hurt?” Dwalin murmured in his ear.

     “Not much.  Just a couple of scratches-“

     Thorin started laughing in a most unpleasant manner.

     “Look at you, brother. Both eyes blackened, missing tooth, all scratched and cut from top to bottom.  Perhaps it’s for the best it was here in private.  Now you can safely say you were set upon by a pack of warg-riding Orcs rather than admit you just got your ass beaten by a little scribe half your age and size!”

     Ori started to apologize to Dis about her furniture, but she was more concerned with the blood on him, which turned out to be mostly Frerin’s.

     “It’s all his fault!” Frerin shouted, pointing at Ori as Thorin had finally managed to force Dwalin to get his boot off the dwarf prince’s face.  “If he had behaved in courteous manner towards his betters -”

     “Fuck yerself, Frerin!”

     “But I did, “ Ori protested.  “I called you by your title when speaking to you as you asked.”

     “Family members don’t use titles in private!” Dis scolded.  “Just a moment, Ori, pet.  I’ll get you one of Kili’s shirts.  You can’t go to the library looking like that.”

     Frerin pointed at Ori.

     “You struck a son of the royal house.”

     “I said I accepted your first hit as revenge for what Nori did to Dwalin.  That’s fair – “

     “Fuckin’ Frerin!  I’ll kill yeh!!”

     “But… ” Ori went on, putting his hand on Dwain’s fist.  “When you struck me again I was within my rights to defend myself.”

     “No, you’re not!” Frerin roared,  “You live in the Dale, not under the mountain!  You should have begged for mercy”

     “Frerin!  Don’t talk such idiocy!” Thorin barked.  “All of the race of Durin are equal whether they live beneath the mountain, around it, or high in the vales of Ered Luin.  We as nobles and leaders are born to help our people not demand their worship the way the races of men do.

     “A true king is only as great as the lowest of his people.  We serve.  We do not expect anything more of our people that we are not prepared to do ourselves.  You want to be pandered to?  Go rule among men or elves.”

     Frerin sniffed and Ori rubbed at his throat.  Suddenly Dwalin’s hands were there, lifting his chin.  Ori saw a look pass between Dwalin and Thorin.  Thorin came over and inspected Ori’s throat.

     “Laddie!” Balin gasped.  To Ori’s surprise the older dwarrow reached over and grabbed the youngest prince by his side-whiskers, eliciting a yelp of pain.

     “Leave be, Balin,” Dwalin said suddenly.  The brothers exchanged a look of understanding. 

     “Frerin,” Thorin said quietly.  “You come with me and Dwalin to the stables.  Balin, would you please get Ori to work.”

     Dwalin bowed his head to Ori’s brow with a murmur.

     “I’ll catch yeh up later.”

     Ori, out of sheer gall that Frerin was still watching them, leaned up to press a kiss to Dwalin’s cheek.

     “Remember, we are bidden to Dori’s tonight for dinner.”

     “Aye, I’ll fetch yeh from the library.” Dwalin smiled, an impish look in his eyes as he returned the gentle peck to Ori’s mouth.

Chapter Text

     Ori could still feel himself blush whenever his mind returned to that kiss.  Balin guided the pretty grey pony at a fast trot through the streets and then cantered up to the huge edifice of the library.

     Ori stroked the beautiful bright blue linen shirt he now wore.  Dis had caught him in the hall, on the point of his walking out the door with Balin, stripped off his blood-spattered shirt, then manhandled Ori into this one of Kili’s.  It sat rather longer on Ori than Dipfa would approve of, but he knew he looked very nice.

     Balin drew the pony to a halt at the front steps, hopped out, then held out his hands to Ori.  Ori carefully navigated his way out of the little shay.  He turned and blushed hotly as Master Brur walked up to them.  Brur told one of the young library pages to see to Lord Balin’s pony and, with a sly wink, Balin tossed the badger a little coin bag.

     “So I see yeh’ve each made the acquaintance a’ th’ other,” Brur commented obviously quite amused.

     “Aye, indeed we have.”  Balin smiled and drew Ori’s hand through his arm.  “I couldn’t have chosen better f’r my brother.  Our Ori’s been a joy from th’ start.”

     Ori stared wide-eyed at Balin, who winked at him and laid an expressive finger along the side of his nose.  Ori turned to Brur, hoping his aghast confusion wasn’t showing too much.  Brur looked him up and down and Ori felt as though he was back in his badger days when Dori had once caught him sitting in the middle of a mud puddle in his feast-day clothes.

     “Well, yer a little early, young master Ori,” Brur observed, “but it does rather appear yeh’ve something of a busy morning.”

     Ori swallowed down the comment that rose to his lips.

– Why yes, Master Brur.  I have already ambushed and manacled Lord Balin, teased the Captain of the Royal Guard about the color of his drawers and     interrupted his bathing, had a fist-fight with one prince, and am now roaming abroad in the shirt of another. –

     Ori took a breath.

     “A little complicated perhaps, Master Brur.”

     “Hm.  I’ve had th’ pages supply yeh with th’ books I want yeh t’ start with on yer desk.  Miss Konul here’ll show yeh th’ way up to th’ Scholars’ Hall from this door.  I’m no’ sending yeh t’ lectures, as that’d be a waste of yer time.  I’ve also put yeh down t’ spend th’ afternoon in th’ reference hall t’ familiarize yeh with general searching an’ such.”

     Ori perked right up at the Head Librarian’s words.

     “Miss Konul,” the librarian called. 

     A badger lass raced over, pink-cheeked and eager.  Ori quickly named himself and offered his hand with an “at your service”.

     Konul, daughter of Thul, was thrilled and told him so in a voice so high-pitched Ori decided her parents had put her to work in the center of the mountain so the people of Dale would not suffer hearing damage.

     He turned and bowed to Brur, then to Balin, who tut-tutted and embraced him.  Chucking Ori under the chin, Balin turned to Brur.

     “Please go easy on him t’day, old friend.  He’s only beaten th’ living snot out a’ Frerin this morning.  Just after breakfast, actually.”

     Brur remained motionless in body and expression except for the one large eyebrow, which shot upwards at an alarming speed.

     “Oh, did he now?”

     A clatter of hooves turned all four dwarrow toward the road as Harley galloped up and jumped to a stop.  Dwalin got off and went to Ori.  Ori, not sure what to expect, chose to hold his ground while Dwalin roughly invaded his personal space, gathering him close.

     “Here,” Dwalin shoved a small coin purse into Ori’s hand.  “Yeh’ll need to pop out t’ the market f’r yer lunch.  Both Balin an’ I’ll be back later with th’ ponies t’ get us all t’ yer brothers.”

     “Oh,” Ori turned.  “Are you coming too, Lord Balin?”

     “Of course, laddie.  I’m lookin’ forward to meetin’ me new brothers-in-law very much.”

     Ori, under the guise of hugging Dwalin, whispered, “I’ll probably be paid soon so if you would please buy something extra for Dori’s table, I’ll repay-“

     “I’ll take care of it,” Dwalin murmured. 

     Ori sighed then raised his eyes.

     “We both need to be at our work.” 

     “Aye, I know.  Here, yeh know I-“

     Ori surprised himself by saying, “Yes, and if you keep behaving as you are I shall likely be falling ass over tea kettles in love with you before next week is out.  So never say I didn’t warn you.” 

     Ori felt his cheek burn at his own brashness but Dwalin grinned around a blush of his own.  Ori smiled to Dwalin, who leaned in to kiss him.  Ori delighted in the burn of Dwalin’s lips against his own.

     “Be safe,” Ori said softly and started as he was rewarded for his sauce by a wicked grin and gentle slap on his butt. 

     Harley whickered while Dwalin swung himself back on.  Ori giggled as Dwalin urged the pony forward and the velvety nose snuffled Ori’s ear.  Harley gave a squeal of mischief and, with Dwalin’s encouragement, took off at full speed, up the street leaping lightly and cleanly over a merchant’s cart and vanishing out toward the main gate.

     “Ooooh, Master Ori!” the page sighed in delighted admiration.  “You are so lucky!  Your husband is sooo handsome.”

     Ori smiled to himself. 

     “Yes, Miss Konul, he certainly is.”

     Konul giggled. 

     “Well, I suppose I shall be quite rude and ask you if he has any brothers.”

     Ori turned to Balin, who cocked an eyebrow at the page.  Konul turned purple as Brur rolled his eyes.

     “Let me take you to your desk, Master Ori,” she squeaked and rushed for the door. 

     Ori followed and when they were through, Konul turned.

     “I’m so sorry, Master Ori!  Do you think Lord Balin will be very angry?”

     “I doubt it.”  Ori smiled. 

     Konul bustled forward and she and Ori vanished into the great halls of the library.

 

 

*      *      *

 

     Ori put down the last translation and collected his notes to reread and edit.

     “Master Ori?”

     He looked up at a dam close to his own age standing by his bookshelf.  She was obviously quite passionate about the color pink.  Two large, pink bows perched side by side on the back of her head, holding back a thick cascade of nut brown hair.  Tiny pink ribbons dotted the mass of tiny braids crisscrossing her beard.     

     She was shadowed by another dwarf who was about as round as he was as he was tall, wore an anxious frown, and was clad completely in black.  Something about the way he did his hair made Ori think it was colored that amazing shade of absolute black by copious use of boot polish.

     Ori rose and offered his hand to the dam.

     “Yes, I’m Master Ori, at your service”

     “Omibur, at your service,” she said as she grasped his hand eagerly.  “You’ve just started yes?”

     “Yes, I have, so I may not be able to assist you with much.”

     Omibur laughed, her head ribbons bobbing.

     “You can assist us by coming to the market for lunch, please.”

     Ori was a little shocked at her bubbly manner, but found he liked her right away.  She looked vaguely familiar but Ori couldn’t place her just then.

     “I’m Buj, at your service,” the other young dwarf announced out of the blue.  “I apologize for Omi’s rudeness.  She was raised at an inn.”

     Ori turned at looked at Buj, who glared at Omi, whose sole response was to put out her tongue.

     Buj offered Ori his hand.

     “I’m trying my best, Master Ori, she wasn’t raised in the mountain and I don’t want the other dwarrow to make fun of her.”

      Ori clasped Buj’s hand briefly.

     “Then I’m afraid I’m placing both of you in danger.  I was born and raised around Steam Alley.”

     “How nice!” Omi cried. 

     Ori stared at her. 

     She giggled again.

     “I mean it’s nice because I know Steam Alley.  My mam goes there to see old Dam Rittl.  She makes medicines for dams.”

     Ori smiled. 

     “Mistress Rittl also makes the best current buns if you’re there on first rest day.”

     Omi clapped her hands softly.  “I know!”

     “We’re wasting our lunch time,”  Buj told them.

     Ori corked his ink bottle and laid his pens aside.

     “I’m coming.” 

     He smiled at Buj, who grinned hugely in reply.

 

*     *     *

 

     Ori had seen the area and heard many things about the meat market but to be going about in it was bewildering.  Everything smelled delicious!  The young dwarrow wandered about deciding what to eat.  Ori chose a thick mutton stew served inside a heavy roll and some raspberry cordial.  He found a seat on the broad stone dock set over a decorative pool in the middle of the market.  He looked up to see Omi and Buj making their way over to him.

     “We have a sample tray!” Omi called. She hurried up and showed the woven straw tray with a number of little rolls, each with different fillings.

     “And,” she cried, putting them on the stone, then bumping down opposite Ori.  “My imad gave me these today!”

     In another basket were several quite lovely looking elderberry tarts.

     Buj arrived with four large filled pastries and something wrapped in white paper.  Ori was about to ask about them when suddenly two large dwarrow landed one on either side of him.

     “Hello, Ori, old mate!”  Fili greeted him cheerily then began stuffing his own face with a large chop, using the bone as a handle.

     “Ori!”  Kili stuck his head into Ori’s space.  “What have you got?’

     “Stew.  My friends- ” 

     Kili looked up at Omi and Buj staring at him.  Omi obviously recognized the princes.  Buj was merely startled at the expansion of their little group.

     “I’m Kili, he’s Fili,” Kili stated, smiling. 

     Fili grunted around the bite he’d just taken.

     Omi swallowed her awe and immediately introduced herself and Buj.

     “I’m Omi, he’s Buj.  Do you want some of these samples with us?”

     “Thanks.”  Kili was delighted.  “Here, have some of this bird I’ve got.” 

     He tore off wing and held it out to Buj, who regarded it in the light of something about to bite him.

     “No, thank you.  I’m involved with some research.  I’m proving a theory on myself.  It’s complex.”

     Kili blinked then paled a little.

     “Oi, come on, mate, there’s a dam here and we’re out and about.  You can’t go poking yourself!  Besides the humans say the palms of your hands will grow hair.”

     “He said prove,” Fili bellowed around another mouthful.  “Not poke, you idiot!”

     Kili pointed at Omi. 

     “Dam!  There’s a dam here!  You can’t talk filth like that in front of a dam!  I’m telling Mam!”

     Fili grasped frantically at his belt for weaponry, found nothing large enough to satisfy his outrage and settled for glaring at Kili who, having finished his fried bird, was wolfing down his fourth sample.  Buj busily peeled all the pastry off his food and Omi laughed so hard she curled on the stone, holding her sides.

     “What is your theory?” Ori asked, weakly.

     “What in Mahal’s name are you eating?”  Fili demanded.

     Buj raised a superior eyebrow at the elder prince and laid out all his food items on the tray for their inspection.

     “We have a selection of different items consumed by the various peoples of the realms,” Buj explained.  “These are seed cakes - hobbit food.  Hobbits are smaller than us and have large feet connecting then to the ground in which they grow their grains.  Here we have a custard - food from Men.  They make cheeses, puddings, and butter.  They get their food from animals, mostly as liquid.  Now, here is our food, mostly meat roasted over fire.  Finally, here are some items Elves eat.” 

     Buj opened the paper and displayed a bunch of fresh green leaves and a bunch of dried herbs. 

     “Their food comes from plants, which feed on air.  As the men say ‘you become what you eat’.”

     “If I eat that seed cake, will I shrink?” Kili asked. 

     Buj beamed at Kili.

     “I’m very glad you asked that question, Master Kili.  You show great depth and it is at this depth that my testing begins.  One or two seed cakes here and there aren’t going to matter a whit.  But what if, and I repeat if, you ate nothing but seed cakes?”

     “You’d get the runs!” Omi said firmly.

     “No,” Buj said, tiredly.

     “Yes, you do!” Omi insisted.  “My mam made a whole tray for the dinner crowd and my youngest brother ate the lot!  He spent the whole night on the pot and the noises he made were dreadful!’

     Fili looked up.  “Was he moaning and groaning in pain?”

     “No, he was farting and poo-ing which woke us all up and we thought is was an early spring thunderstorm!”

     “That bad?” Fili gasped.  “Just from seed cakes?  Mah-a-a-al, I wonder how the hobbits cope?”

     “That is just my point!” Buj said loudly.  “If it’s the only things you eat, your body will change and adjust.”

     Fili leaned forward, licking his fingers. 

     “So you’re going to eat all that elf food to grow taller?”

     Buj shrugged. 

     “That may be a side effect but we do know for a fact elves are durable and very light.  Light to the point of walking on top of newly drifted snow.”

     “Yes,” Ori agreed, “but how does that prove your theory of …  er …  your theory?”

     Buj reached onto a deep pocket and withdrew a small book.  His fingers fluttered through pages, riddled with notes in a crabbed hand and violent sketches.

     “Here.”  He dropped the book open on the stone, his forefinger jammed to a picture of a dwarf in what looked like a bird costume.  All looked at the picture, then at Buj, all in a similar state of confusion.  Buj beamed at their attention.

     “Yes, my friends, by eating extreme amounts of elfin food I shall render my person quite light, don this apparatus and, from the top of our mountain, and using the wind …”  He paused for dramatic effect.  “Fly!”

     “Mahal!”  Fili, Kili and Omi gasped together. 

     Ori wasn’t sure about this.

     “Are you certain the apparatus and the wind will be enough?” he asked

     Buj gave another superior smile, tucking his book back into his pocket and patting the outside.

     “No matter.  I have been saving my pay against such projects.  As my inventions require, of course.  If further calculations show more thrust is necessary, I shall petition the king for the use of the military catapult.”

     Ori was assailed by a vision of Buj being hurled via catapult from the top of Erebor in a high east wind.  Such would put Buj straight into Mirkwood.  Having only seen an over-copied print of the king of the Greenwood, Ori could not imagine Thranduil’s reaction to a dwarf in a bird costume suddenly plummeting into his court.

     Ori sighed.  He’d best let Balin know there was such an idea afoot.  Balin would make sure Sylvan elves understood this was a testing of a theory and not King Thror suddenly deciding to turn the joke about dwarf-tossing into a form of active warfare.

     Kili poked him and startled Ori out of his reverie

     “Wha'?”

     Kili looked him over. 

     “I don’t remember you wearing a blue shirt this morning at breakfast.  It looks exactly like one of mine.  Blue really isn't your color, Ori-mate.”

     “I know.  It is your shirt,” Ori supplied.  “Your mam put it on me before I came to work.”

     “Oh.”  Kili pondered.  “Didn’t you like the shirt you were wearing?  I thought you looked well in it.  Didn’t you, Fili?”

     “Aye, aye, suited you fine, Ori!  Don’t remember you getting covered in your own breakfast to have to change it.  What happened?”

     Ori didn’t think it was a good idea to tell them he’d been fighting with their idad.

     “Um …  It’s kind of complicated,” he floundered. 

     Kili nodded compassionately and patted his shoulder.

     “I understand, old fellow.  I have days like that, too.”

 

*     *     *

 

     Brur introduced Ori to the reference librarian, who was heading the main desk that afternoon.  Wobr, tall for a dwarf, carried himself with a military build and manner.  His clothes, all of varying shades of brown velvet, were copiously bejeweled with brown enstatite, his hair heavily oiled and beaded with tourmalines.  His beard coiled tight to his face and braided into a long strand that almost touched his collar button.  His waxed mustache wound into large double curls on both sides.  He didn’t bother to hide that he was unimpressed with Ori.

     After Brur left, Wobr waved Ori off to the stacks area to reshelve the cart of books by the desk, telling him to explore and find his way about.

     Ori studied the file markings on the books and various shelves.  It didn’t take him long to see the pattern of filing and he went about his duty with pleasure.

     He was about to shelve the last book and turned down the area to do so.  On the floor, at the back wall between the shelves, sat a red haired young dwarf paging grumpily through a book and muttering.  There were more books on the floor than on the shelves, many open in various places and others piled recklessly about.    

     He was in the most magnificent sulk Ori had ever seen.

     “Hello,” Ori greeted him and was treated to a frowning yet morose look. 

     The book in use was dumped on the floor.

     “I hate books,” the young dwarf declared in a surprisingly deep voice. 

     His words were childish but his tone was more defeat than anything else. 

     Ori looked at the mess between the two shelves.

     “You appear out-numbered.  May I offer some assistance?”

     He made his way through the piles and offered his hand to the dwarf.

     “I’m Ori, first level librarian on reference duty this afternoon.  At your service.”

     “Gimli, Son of Gloin, at me wits end an’ ready t’ pull out me beard, at yers,” the dwarf replied glumly.

     Ori quickly picked up all the books and put them on his cart.  Gimli gave him a hand once he saw what was happening.

     Ori led Gimli out to a long reading table and sat him down at the head.  He turned the cart and so all the titles from the books showed on the spines and then sat at the corner of that table.

     “How may I assist you, Master Gimli?”

     “I need t’ know some Elvish.”

     “To converse?”

     “I suppose so . . . sort of.”

     “In person?”

     “Nah, letter.”

     “Do you need a translator?”

     “No!”

     “I’m sorry.”  Ori pondered his now crabby client.  “Let’s begin anew.”

     “I jus’ want t’ be able to say a couple of thin’s in elvish.”

     “Oh.”  Ori smiled.  “I know a few phrases-”

     “Yer a pointy-eared, tree-shaggin’ butt-head.”

     “Oh.  Ah.  Unfortunately, those aren’t any of the ones I know.”

     “Aye, well it ain’t in these books neither.”

     Ori arranged his chair to a more conversation oriented set.

     “Perhaps it might be best if you explain how this need to call someone a butthead in elvish came about.  Is it perhaps a one-up game with your friends?”

     ‘One-Up’ was a badgers’ insult game and was annoyingly popular among the richer classes of badgers.

     Gimli shook his head then glared at Ori.

     “Yeh better not tell-”

     “This is a reference interview,” Ori interrupted curtly, “not a gossip session.  Please proceed.”

     This turn of phrase seemed to impress Gimli enough that, after grumbling to himself, he dug out a piece of paper, and handed it to Ori.

     Ori examined the delicate written sheet.  It was not the smooth vellum dwarrow used.  It was soft to the touch and looked as though it was made of birch bark.  He unfolded it and read quite an insulting letter in Westron.  Placing the letter on the table he pondered the insults.  There was no rhyme or reason, no statement of intent, no demand for apology for an insult or injury.

     “Had you met the writer and held conversation with this person before?”

     “No, jus’ smiled an’ handed it to me.”

     “An elf?”

     “Aye.”

     “May I examine this fully?”

     Gimli looked a little confused but nodded.  Ori held the letter up to the oil lamp then crossed to the great fireplace then tried to see if there was another layer between the paper as even bark grew in layers.

     “What in Mahal’s name’re yeh doin’?”


     “Elves are known for codes and riddles.  This could also be his way of trying to play one up but there’s no sense to the insults.”

     Ori laid the letter on the table and placed his hand across, obscuring all but the first letter of each line.

     “Look.”

     As he and Gimli gazed at the first letters, Ori showed Gimli that reading downward, the letter now read, ‘Hello, my name is Legolas.  Would you like to be friends?’

     “It’s called an acrostic,” Ori explained.  “As I said elves are known for riddles especially word games.”

     “Would yeh look at tha’!” Gimli admired. 

     Ori smiled to see the younger dwarf’s eyes light up.

     “So how do I answer back?  How d’ yeh make these thin’s?”

     Ori pondered then looked through the books Gimli had been going through.

     “Well, first off, why are you in code PJ5118?  That’s language and etymology.”

     “Because tha’ oily bonce over there said so.”

     Ori sketched a glance at Wobr, who was busily inspecting the ink bottle label.

     “Come, “ Ori said.  “We need to be in code GV1507 and while we’re at it, probably GV1507 rune break W9.”

     Putting his full cart next to the desk for counting, Ori led the way to the various places and soon had young Gimli supplied with a simple Sindarin to Westron dictionary and three books about making word puzzles.  Ori also raided the references desk while Wobr was mending his pen.

     Gimli stared at the vellum heavily inked with a grid.  The next hour saw Ori and Gimli carefully build a word puzzle with a friendly answering message hidden amongst a jumble of other Westron letters in the shape of a Dwarrow Rune.

     Gimli patted the blotter lightly over his message and beamed at Ori.

     “”This’s brilliant!  I’ll tuck it back in with Da’s letters goin’ t’ th’ West this evenin’.”

     “I hope you had an enjoyable time with this,” Ori replied.  “I’ve made a note here of the codes and the titles, so when you need you can look them out again.”

     “Troll poo!” Gimli grinned. “I’ll just ask f’r another reference interview with Ori th’ first level librarian.  Yeh live ’round here?  What’s yer family name?”

     Ori took a deep breath, deciding on the shortest answer.

     “I’m not long married into the House of Fundin.  We’re quite near-“

     “Fundin?” Gimli barked as his eyebrows shot up.  “Yer Captain Dwalin’s new husband then?

     “Yes, I am.”

     “Sweet golden ore!  What a choice turn!  I’m right glad we’ve met.  My Mam’s first lady in waitin’ t’ Princess Dis an’ th’ pair of ’em were in a huge flutter abou’ th’ whole thing.  Lady Dis thinks gems fall out of yer every orifice an’ Mam’s tha’ eager t’ meet yeh.  She’ll about get her beard in a twist when I tell her we’ve met.  We live next t’ you.  Th’ door Da had done in red sand stone with th’ name plates in rubies.”

     Ori remembered it and nodded.

     “I am happy to know you, Master Gimli.”

     “Right, I’m off,” the younger dwarf announced abruptly.  “Yeh want help puttin’ ‘em all back?  I could probably do it in a hic an’ a half.”

     Ori pictured Brur in a towering rage and demurred politely.

     Gimli marched out, his boots thumping across the stone floor twice as loudly as before, whistling a jolly tune, and slamming the main door for good measure on his way out.  Ori was thankful no one else was about.

     Ori gathered the books and took them to the reference desk.  To his horror, Wobr glared at him and Brur was watching Ori with interest.

     Ori placed the books on the cart and came to stand in front of the desk.

     “I can’t believe you had the gall to conduct a reference interview on someone I had already helped!” Wobr hissed angrily.

     “I’m sorry.  I didn’t know,” Ori replied quietly.  “I was shelving the books you told me to and found him in the PJ section in a rather morose state.  I was only trying to help.”

     Wobr opened his mouth but Brur stopped him.

     “Thank yeh, Master Wobr, yer time f’r reference desk’s finished f’r th’ afternoon.  I believe yer due up in preservation.”

     Wobr stalked off.  Brur sighed and sat down at the desk, motioning Ori to follow suit.

     “I see our young researcher nearly took th’ PJ section apart.  Obviously he wasn’t findin’ what he wanted.”

     “No, Master Brur,” Ori replied honestly.  “We found what he needed in code GV1507.”

     Brur sighed. 

     “I didn’t think he looked th’ sort t’ be wanting a bunch of text books an’ such.”  The older dwarf looked up.  “I’m glad yeh were here.  Did yeh enjoy it?”

     Ori reflected a moment.  Yes, I did.  Doing copy work for others has its own rewards but helping that badger decipher and create a letter in a different code, hopefully meeting a new friend had been, well, it was fun.

     “I’m still finding my way about but, yes, I did enjoy it.”

     “Good.”  Brur smiled, nodding.  “I’ll assign yeh some work yeh can bring t’ this desk.” 

     Brur rose and turned to leave Ori at the desk.

     “An’ by th’ way,” Brur looked faintly displeased.  “We’ve pages t’ shelve an’ keep use count, librarians of any level do not.”   

     Brur drifted off soundlessly.  Ori was inclined to feel angry with Wobr until he remembered Wobr was now going to have to deal with Brur, so it was nothing Ori had to worry about.

     He examined the desk to his satisfaction, going through all the drawers, notes, seeing what instruction books were left about, studying the maps of the floor plans of the reference room and it’s twenty floors of open stacks, to the two hundred and eight floors of closed stacks, offices, workrooms, lectures halls, and storage areas for more unusual items.

     “Sorry I’m late, the lecture-“

     Ori turned to see a dam about his own age hurrying forward.  She reminded him of Omi and he knew he had met her before.  He knew her well.  The dam obviously had the same thought.

     “Ori?”

     “Lolibur?”

     Loli clapped her hands over her mouth to stop a squeal and rushed forward.  Ori was so happy he nearly cried. 

     Lolibur, daughter of Bombur, had been his only friend as a small badger.  Her parents Master Bombur and Mistress Erda had owned a pub at the far corner of Steam Alley on Steam Track. 

     When Ori was just starting to be considered for an apprenticeship, Master Bombur’s older cousin arrived home from the war in Azanulbizar where he had been thought lost years ago.  Master Bifur was fine, he was still a little confused, of course, and could only speak in Khuzdul or sign in iglishmêk as he had the remains of an orc axe stove into his forehead, but was otherwise quite well.  After visiting the military headquarters in the Mountain he also had a hero’s pay.  The whole family, Master Bombur, his wife, his brother, and all thirteen of Loli’s brothers and sisters moved to the far side of Lake Town to a beautiful inn Master Bifur purchased with the pay.

     Loli and Ori had a good, long hug and a good hard forehead thump that left them both giggling.

     “Oh, Ori!  I’ve missed you so!  How are you?” she asked, looking him over, rather like Dori inspecting a roasting swede.  “How are Dori and Nori?  What are you doing here?  Not that I’m surprised!  How long have you been working here since I’ve never seen you!”

     Ori laughed.  “It’s so good to see you, too, Loli!  We’re all fine.  Dori and Nori are in a house in Steam Alley now, not in that horrid rooms to rent place any more.  I only just started here yesterday.  How’s all your family?”

     “Are you in classes?” Loli skipped the family question in her eagerness.

     “No.  Master Brur said study in the mornings, reference desk in the afternoons.”

     Loli stared.  “You must be a genius!  But then you always were the cleverest one.”

     “And you had all the courage,” Ori reminded her. 

     They looked at one another again and laughed.

     “So,” Loli proceeded when they let go.  “I’m here with my younger sister Omi.”

     “I met Omi and Buj!  They invited me to lunch with them today.”

     “Oh Durin’s beard!  Buj!  He’s clever but completely off his nest.  His parents, Broadbeams from the West a few generations back, are very noble.  Don’t know what to make of him.  His elder brother Wobr works here too and pretends they aren’t related.  Their mam feels like the weasel that ate the hen only to lay eggs for the rest of her life.”

     “Buj is a very unusual egg at that,” Ori allowed.  Now that egg has not only hatched but quite determined to fly in truth.  No wonder Buj is so resolute.  To be so inventive and have an elder brother like Wobr?  Nori would never treat me with such pettiness any more than I would treat either Dori or him. 

     Ori had a sudden flash of memory.

     “I remember Omi now!  We used to call her Moth, didn’t we, as she was always chasing shiny things!” Ori recalled.  “No wonder I didn’t recognize her name.”

     A thought shook him.

     “What happened to the lovely inn down near the Lake at Dale?”

     “Nothing,” Loli smiled.  “It’s a vast success!  We’ve even had Elves to stay.  Why?”

     “It’s a long haul to travel every morning for the pair of you.”

     “Oh.  We stay with Mam’s sister’s husband’s brother–in-law and his husband.  He’s Oin, son of Groin and his husband, idad Binni.  Idad Oin’s the Master Healer.  He’s awfully nice, deaf as a stone troll but nice.  We call him idad along with his own brother Gloin and his wife imad Gridr.  They have a –“

     “Son named Gimli,” Ori finished.  “He was just here.”

     “Well, Mahal’s hammer!  Gimli in the library?  Next you’ll be telling me King Thanduil’s gone dry.”

     “The ‘Vigorous Spring’ never dries!” Ori and Loli chorused together in the old joke on the Elf King’s name and ability to consume vast amounts of alcohol without visible effects.

     After another hug, Loli went off with the full cart and Ori settled with the unabridged copy of the Annotated Arrangement of Codes for Research, second revised edition.  He needed to know this before tackling the third revision which was organized with the title Research, Discussion, and Admission.  Master Brur had told him not to bother with the mens’ way of coding, which had been invented by a strange man from Bree names Doowhee Dezimahl.  He had created a coding system using only numbers and had died of a heart attack when he discovered (as dwarrow and elves had always known) the concept of infinity.

Chapter Text

     Ori walked out with Omi, Loli, and Buj to the foyer. Wobr ignored them, talking and posturing at a dwarrowdam with immaculate black curls and heavy green and gold beading in both her hair and beard. Her clothes were expensive green velvet and silk with entirely too much gold and green variscite festooning all the pleats, flounces, rouching, and frills.
     Loli spared the two a glance and told Ori that T’dilla was considered a catch at court and Wobr was baiting himself with everything he had - which, Buj informed them, wasn’t much beyond a vat of hair wax from the wilds of Angmar.
     Omi, Loli, and Ori were still laughing about this when there was a clatter of hooves and Balin arrived. Ori said good evening to his friends and hurried over. Balin, to Ori’s surprise, hopped down from the shay and helped Ori up to his seat. Taking the reins again Balin nodded to the young dwarrow and chirped to start the pony.
     “Very good, laddie. Yeh seem t’ have made a nice group of friends there.”
     “Yes,” Ori replied both surprised and pleased. “Mind, I know Lolibur and Omibur from before. Her parents, Master Bombur and Mistress Erda once owned a pub near us.”
     Balin turned.
     “Master Bombur of th’ Lakeside Inn?”
     “You know them?” Ori asked.
     “Only in passing, lad.”
     Ori glanced at Balin as he guided the pony toward the house.
     “Are we not going up to Dori’s? And where’s Dwalin?”
     “We’ll be meeting up with Dwalin on th’ way, but we need t’ get yeh dressed, laddie.”
     Ori started to worry as Balin merely tied the pony to the handrail near the door. He hurried Ori inside and sent him back to wash.
     Ori had just managed to pull on clean drawers when Balin came and escorted Ori off to Balin’s own rooms.
     Balin’s rooms overwhelmed Ori. Balin explained that as the eldest he was entitled to the main suite, as he called it, which had been his parents’. They entered through a small seating area with large, plumply stuffed furniture the frames of which were elaborately carved from a black marble, set with rubies. From this a flight of four steps led up to a vast circular bed festooned in great swathes of red silk and velvet draperies and all the walls and the very ceiling itself were inset with gold-framed mirrors.
     Balin hurried Ori into a dressing room the size of the ground floor at Dori’s. Off this Ori saw a spacious bathing area beautifully tiled in iridescent blues, greens and gold.
     Balin snatched up some robes and hurriedly dressed Ori. Ori was two blinks away from being horrified when he realized these were noble wedding clothes. He choked but Balin smiled and smoothly explained as he continued to dress, primp, and sort Ori from matching boots to his hair.
     “Well, you see, m’dear, it was all a long time ago. Adad never approved of me bookishness, nor that I was utterly disinterested in any of th’ dams of ‘our set’ as he would say. He contracted a marriage with a Firebeard dam f’r me an’ Mam made these bridal clothes.
     “As everythin’ was ready, we only had t’ wait f’r me wife-t’-be t’ arrive from Mount Dolmed. Amad, Adad an’ King Thror with Dwalin, Thorin an’ meself went f’r th’ ceremony in that beautiful inn by th’ great lake in th’ Dale f’r a final time together before me new wife took me back to th’ Blue Mountains.
     “To our combined surprise, me wife-t’-be was already there. Most unfortunate. Apparently, she’d decided th’ rooms she’d been given wouldn’t do an’ took over th’ rooms reserved f’r King Thror. Needless t’ say th’ marriage was called off when our king was ushered int’ a scene of debauchery between me wife-t’-be an’ her elfin lover. He was half elf, half man from Imladris. Believe his name was ‘Star-dome’ or somethin’.”
     Ori swallowed. Even he had heard of the far off Last Homely House and its mysterious lord.
     “I’m very sorry for you, brother. If these clothes give you sad memories-”
     Ori held out the surcoat he wore.
     “Nonsense, laddie,” Balin beamed. “These robes were made by me amad with great love an’ they mark th’ happiest day of me life. Me adad went int’ a rage an’ told me I was never t’ marry a dam! Such a relief!”
     Balin straightened the collar before placing the medallion of the House of Fundin about Ori’s neck.
     “I was small like yeh back then an’ these robes do look well on yeh, m’dear.”
     Balin turned Ori to face the full-length, three-way mirror at the front of the dressing room. Ori stared at his reflection in disbelief and delight as Balin carefully arranged his hair into the proper braids of accomplishment.
     The bridal clothing was made in the ancient dwarrow traditions. The linen was as soft as breath against his skin. The colors of the Fundin House were deep where they touched his body at the shoulders down to the thighs but faded to the cream of the raw fabric at his heart, as was right, because now he was part of the family but he was new to them so the colors were not completely saturating his entire dress.
     “Balin, what are we . .. ? Why I am-?”
     “Oh, it’s just f’r th’ ceremony, dear.”
     “Ceremony?” Ori felt nauseous. “What ceremony, please? We’re supposed to be going to Dori’s!“
     “We are, m’dear. But ceremony first.”
     “But-”
     “Oh, not t’ worry, m’dear. It’s just a little thing with th’ Guard. Dwalin’s Captain of th’ Royal Guard and Protecter of Dale, so it’s considered a polite gesture on his part to present yeh publicly t’ his main cadre of soldiers. Now don’t look like that, dear. They’re no’ going t’ eat yeh. All that’ll happen is yeh’ll be walked by ‘em, they’ll congratulate yeh, th’ older ones may tease gently but all yeh need do then is blush. It’ll please ’em no end.”
     Balin finished the get-up with some soft, doeskin boots like leather socks. Ori easily felt the floor through them.
     “I think I’m going to be sick,” he whispered, mostly to himself.
“In these clothes, m’love? I don’t think so.”

*      *      *

     Ori wasn’t quite shaking as Balin drove them up to the Dale and towards the main square and court house of the Master where this mad course of action set in motion. Ori’s heart sank. Those who had witnessed his shame before the Master might be present.
     “Balin, this is where I offered myself to Calmar. They’ll know that.”
     “Which is why we’re here, laddie. Now all yeh have t’ do is, when I stop th’ cart, hop out an’ get t’ Dwalin’s side as quick as yeh can, all righ’?”
     “But-“
     “That’s all yeh need t’ do, lad. We’ll take care of everythin’ else.”
     Ori swallowed and sat still, clinging to the side of his seat, as for reason’s known only to himself, Balin set the pony to a gallop.
     The shay hurtled into a square full of excited-looking Dale people, any number of nobility in and out of carts, on and off ponies, milling around, dressed in their finest, and the full cadre of King Thror’s guards, their helms, weapons and standard glowing in the red gold of the evening sun.
     “Right, laddie, there’s Dwalin on th’ pony. See him?”
     “Yes.”
     “Soon as I stop this, off yeh go.”
     The pony hopped to a standstill and Ori leapt free. He focused only on Dwalin as he ran a gauntlet of peers, nobles, townspeople, and military. He felt all their eyes on him. Dwalin seemed a beacon of safety before him.
     “Dwalin!” he rasped out.
     Not only was Dwalin in full dress armor on pony back but those with him included Dis, Thorin, and, judging by the aged and hoary features, King Thror. Dwalin grinned and reached down, catching Ori’s hands.
     “Put yer foot on mine, love.”
     Ori had to lift his foot high to do so but Dwalin was already pulling him up. Ori landed with a gasp in Dwalin’s lap.
     “Hello, me chuck,” Dwalin greeted him. “Yer lookin’ finer than a lava forge.”
     Ori was about to answer when the pony flung up its head to look back at Dwalin and whinnied. Ori clung to Dwalin for dear life as the pony pranced a few steps   then hopped in place a time or two.
     “Quick muckin’ about, Harley!” Dwalin scolded without rancor. “We’re on parade, not at some jacksie pony version of a country dance.”
     Harley flung his head back again, looked at Dwalin, gave a snort and a foot stamp then rolled his eyes to look at Ori. Ori would swear to any who ever questioned him after that Harley winked.
Dwalin guided Harley forward. Ori gulped, staring at the huge chair mounted on a low dray bedecked in gold, mithril and obsidian. Dis stood on one side of the     seated king and Thorin on the other. On the steps of the Dale court house stood the Master, dressed in his most ostentatious clothing, with his thugs around him. Dwalin swung off the pony and held out his arms. Ori slid into them, unable to take his eyes from the aged king. Dwalin walked them forward keeping Ori’s hand firmly in his as they both bowed.
     King Thror stared at them in silence. Ori instinctively pressed himself to Dwalin’s side. Dwalin pulled Ori in front of himself but kept his arms close around Ori’s waist.
     “So,” rumbled King Thror, “the rumors are true. I can see the ink stains. A scribe, Captain Dwalin? Can you do no better?”
     Ori felt Dwalin straighten.
     “Me own brother, yer and yer grandson’s most valued advisor, began as a scribe, sire. I take it as an excellent example.”
     King Thror watched them in a way that made Ori feel cornered.
     “I hear among some, the other title would be ‘pup of a penniless slut’.”
     Red swirled before Ori’s eyes. He felt Dwalin move. Ori remembered that if either of them raised their arms to their king, he and Dwalin would be spending the rest of their married life dead. Ori white-knuckled Dwalin’s arms about him, keeping the larger dwarf from springing, as Dwalin snarled.
     “Then some may be lookin’ t’ have their tongues cut out.”
     King Thror laughed.
     Ori heard himself say, “If it was a true concern of honor in the Court of Erebor, your majesty, why then do ‘some’ not come forward to make their complaint?”
     King Thror snickered and folded his hands then looked directly at Ori.
     “Come here.”
     Ori looked up at Dwalin, who released him but followed closely as Ori went to the edge of the dray.
     King Thror peered down into Ori’s face, searching, rather as Dis had when telling him of his amad.
     “What’s your name then, cosset?”
     “Ori of the Brothers Ri, son of Rikmha, at your service, sire,” Ori stated clearly and automatically held out his hand.
     King Thror looked at the proffered hand, smirked and, leaning forward, grasped Ori’s in a cold, dry clasp. Despite the size and amount of armor and other metals there was little or no strength in the grip. Ori tightened lightly then released. The old monarch regarded him.
     “Ye’ve more spit in ye than old Rikut’s other grandsons.”
     “I have no knowledge of them, sire.
     Thror stared.
     “Who’s your adad?”
     “I don’t know, sire.
     “Who raised yeh? Which of Rikut’s boys?
     “My amad, Rikmha, then my own elder brothers, sire.
     “Who are they?”
     Dori and Nori, sire.”
     “Who were their adads?”
     “I don’t know, sire.”
     King Thror snorted
     “Aye, yer little Rikmha’s spit. An’ freckles. She should have done right by you and taken what was offered. Do any of you blame her, for you should?”
     “I haven’t the pleasure of understanding you, sire.”
     “She should have taken what I offered and at least ye’d have had a proper home. It’d’ve been in prison with a single prisoner to be ada to all a’ yeh, but yeh’d have been in the mountain.”
     Ori clenched his teeth, holding himself in check, wishing he had Dori’s strength to knock this dwarf with all the sensibilities of a goblin off his seat.
     Dwalin growled and moved but Ori grabbed the warrior’s hand again.
     “Amad, with my brothers’ help, always made sure there was a roof over our heads and food on the table and, when she left us for the Great Halls, my brothers saw to it we had a home, sire. Neither Amad nor any of us were anyone’s prisoner.”
     Thror grunted.
     “Aye, she said as much when I offered. Said she’d rather die a in a pauper’s bed with adadless pups to tend her. I told her I’d like to see that.”
     Ori wanted to cry but his tight hold on Dwalin and hearing Dwalin hissing curses helped.
     “Had we known of your wish, sire, my brothers would have sent an invitation for your viewing pleasure over sixty years ago.”
     “I’m sure Rikut, for all his talk-“
     “Did nothing for us, sire. I wouldn’t know this Rikut person to speak to or even recognize in the streets.”
     The king stared at Ori.
     “You speak the truth, pup?”
     “Yes, sire.”
     The old king sighed. He waved his hand to Thorin, saying, “I’m too old to hear such.”
     Thorin didn’t budge.
     “Boy!” the king barked, “be you blind and deaf these days?”
     “Udad,” Thorin pitched his voice for the gathered crowd to hear, “we and the good people of Dale have come together this day to witness you giving your blessing to my dearest friend, cousin, and brother at arms and his new husband. We are all eagerly waiting to celebrate this moment.”
     “As am I, Udad,” Dis added.
     Thror cursed then ordered Ori and Dwalin nearer and told them to stand together.
     As the Khuzdul words of royal blessing were said over himself and Dwalin, Ori tried to appreciate them but on the inside he was still shaking with rage. When he and Dwalin stood back to let the royal dray roll away, Ori managed to calm his breathing. The crowd cheered and shouted congratulations. The court house bell rang out and all children of men ran about tossing handfuls of rolled oats high over the couple as a sign of good fortune.
     Thorin and Dis approached them. Dis pulled Ori into her arms and turned him.
     “Now, Ori, here’s someone much better fun than Udad.”
     Ori turned to the dam before him. She was easily the finest, most beautiful dam Ori had ever laid eyes on. Her hair and beard were a ruddy brown, intricately braided and beaded with gold and rubies. She was almost as wide as she was tall. Her braids marked her as a worker in gold, an accomplished cook and baker, a birthing dam, and amad. Ori recognized her birthplace medallion as Blue Mountains, her husband as the richest dwarf in Erebor, and mischievous eyes as young Gimli’s amad.
     She held out both hands to Ori and he shyly offered his own to be grasped then his left to be tucked firmly across her arm.
     “Well, Sweet Daughter of the Maker! The way this day has been progressing I quite thought I’d never meet you, my little butty! It’s been that busy and here I am stuck. Yes, my lady, stuck!” turning to nod at Lady Dis, who was stifling laughter behind her hands, “hearing what a sweet little chook you’ve turned out to be to her.”
     Dis did giggle at that point and took Ori’s other arm to hold with her own.
     “Ori, this is Gridr, she is officially my first lady-in-waiting but tends more toward my friend, helper, second amad to my boys, and all around keep-me-in-line and behaving when Udad is present.”
     Both dams laughed delightedly at each other. Lady Gridr turned about.
     “Now, Dwalin, stop standing about with Thorin, you both make the place untidy. We need this ceremony done soon or your guards will fall asleep waiting.”
     Dwalin smirked at Lady Gridr.
     “I’ll do th’ damn ceremony as soon as Dis an’ yeh gimme me husband back already.”
     Dis and Gridr looked at each other then at Ori. Gridr flicked the tip of her nose with her thumb at Dwalin.
     “No, we’re keepin’ him! Learn t’ cope and get on with this before Balin there dies of old age.”
     Balin widened his eyes as he stood next to Thorin and Dwalin.
     “Me very, very dear Mistress Gridr, yer settled, married, an’ have a growing son. Why th’ unseemly need f’r hasty action from males?”
 Dwalin and Thorin roared in with the lewdest laughter Ori had ever heard. Gridr and Dis were not far behind. Gridr kissed her fingertips to Balin.
     “Why, my very dearest lord! You know I was speaking to Dwalin as such, being new wed and all. I would never think to ask for any sort of speed from one such as yourself . . . age be damned, of course.”
     Dis shrieked delightedly. Dwalin was about bent double. Ori cottoned on to what was being implied and blushed to his toes.
     Balin winked at Gridr and bowed with a flourish in reply.
     Gridr tucked Ori closer.
     “Now you just never listen to Balin. He’s nowt but a dirty old lecher. You let Dwalin take care of you. Just be your soft little self and he’ll be good and hard until you tell him t’ melt.”
     Ori thought his face was going to boil off and Dwalin removed Ori from the two laughing dams.
     “Enow with yer smut, th’ pair a’ yeh. Gimme him here “
     Ori leaned against Dwalin, horribly embarrassed but now giggling. Dwalin put an arm about his shoulders and led him over to the cavalcade of soldiers.
     The commander at the starting end was a terrifying looking dwarf with muscles like Dwalin, wider and more heavily scarred. He peered in at Ori with his one eye. Dwalin introduced him. Ori bowed his head slightly. To his surprise, the commander grinned, touched his armored glove to his own lips, touched his marriage bead then reached out to run his finger down Ori’s braid while murmuring the seven bridal blessings.
     As though in a dream, Ori was walked along the line of soldiers, introduced and blessed. Furh’nk was there with a huge grin for Ori. Those who were married touched their marriage beads then his in the old symbol of offering their happiness and good fortune to a newlywed.
     Unmarried ones just bowed their heads, blessed Ori and usually made a smart remark to Dwalin. Some older soldiers stood with their offspring and fewer with their grandchildren. Those few times the grandparent would bless then gently tug on Ori’s braid then proceed to tug the hair of the child where their marriage braid may be then tease and tell the younger to hurry up or say this would be ‘luck’ for them.
     The outpouring of respect and caring was overwhelming. Ori was glad of Dwalin’s arm about him as well as the wise-cracking presences of Lady Gridr and Lord Balin behind them. Those guards who had been with Dwalin when Ori was at the Master’s made no remark beyond what others had already said.
     Ori was both sad and relieved when the end of the parade was before him, though he did get quite the surprise when he realized it was Prince Frerin standing before them. The prince bowed slightly and mumbled something before Ori was glomped on by Kili, who erupted from behind his idad. Frerin was rudely shoved aside as the young dwarf pounced at Ori.
     “Ori! Isn’t this a wonderful ceremony?! Did you know I was in the Guard with Dwalin? Isn’t this exciting?! Lady Gridr, we never call her that, only imad, made a cake this afternoon and won’t let Fili and I have any until you’re there, too!“
     “Kee, stop squashing Ori!” Gridr scolded as she pried Kili off Ori.
     Kili looked hurt.
     “I get to hug him! He’s my cousin now! Well, sort of.”
     “Cousin? You and Fee’s cousin? How do you come by that, leveret?”
     “We call Dwalin idad sometimes as he’s like Thorin’s brother. Balin, too.”
     “Laddie, that’d make him yer idad too.” Dwalin pointed out.
     Kili brushed that aside.
     “Ori’s not idad aged, so that makes him a cousin-in-law.” Kili added the ‘in-law’ as an after thought.
     Dwalin and Thorin looked at each other and snorted.
     “My son,” Lady Dis interrupted, “I do not know what to fear more: your concept of family relationships or your complete disregard for common Westron grammar.”
     “I’d stick him with both, Mam,” Fili put in, but that statement didn’t stop the older prince from embracing Ori just as enthusiastically as his brother. Both Fili and Kili stayed clamped to Ori as they were teased and scolded by Lady Gridr, who also thanked Ori for helping her young Gimli that afternoon.
     Ori glanced over to where Dwalin, Balin, and Thorin were having what looked like an important discussion with several of the commanders. Ori wondered what was going on. If a parade was merely for show why use it to have such discussions? Then Ori wondered about the fact that the parade was at the Dale court house in the evening, especially as … Ori’s brain slowed weakly.
     Especially as the Master and his thugs bore witness. When Ori glanced about they were still watching nervously from the court house steps. These same thugs   had see him offer himself to the Master in trade for his brother’s life, offer himself as a plaything to Calmar three days past. Now they saw him back here with Dwalin in the company of the royal family dressed in new bridals as the captain’s husband.
     A strange, fierce pride suddenly bubbled up in Ori. He had left this place in shame but now there was no question he was honorably and properly married. He was acceptable in the highest circles of dwarrow society. Yes, he had come from low beginnings but it was not a matter that his family had no name, he was respectable.
     Ori straightened his shoulders and lifted his eyes to stare back at them, unashamed, the medallion of the House of Fundin against his heart, the mithril marriage bead glowing in the evening light.
     Ori made himself look coldly at those who had derided him and those once sneering gazes dropped with respect and heads bowed with only courteous murmurs to be heard.
     Ori took a deep breath and walked slowly back to his captain’s side. He caught hold of Dwalin’s wrist and held it as he slowly and purposefully slid his hand into Dwalin’s in full view of all. Dwalin other hand covered his.
     “Love?” Ori raised his eyes and smiled. “Our family is waiting for us.”

Chapter Text

     It was strange to watch Dori’s house come into view as the shay turned from Steam Square down Steam Street to Steam Alley.  Dwalin rode beside them on Harley, who gave the impression that he was Middle Earth’s Happiest Pony.

     Ori was slowly getting used to riding in the shay.  He had never done so before today, nor had he ridden a pony.  To be moving so far off the ground was unnerving enough, but Balin’s pony, Ducati, seemed incapable of going any slower than a fast trot.

     Dwalin swung off Harley and looped his reins on the boot scraper at the front door.  He caught Ducati’s reins when Balin tossed them out and put her next to Harley before coming to the cart and lifting Ori down. 

     Balin took a large bunch of carrots from the wide basket mounted behind the seats of the shay and handed them to Dwalin who dropped them down for the ponies.  Balin passed Ori a beautiful little straw cage containing two very intelligent looking birds, one sparrow and one wren.  Dwalin took the three bottles of wine, which came out next, and Ori a pretty box.  The design declared it to be from a bakery and the sweet, sugary scent emerging made Ori’s mouth water.

     Balin closed the shay basket, holding a deep rush bag.  Through the woven grasses Ori thought he saw bread, fruit and what might be a haunch of some kind.

     The front door flew open.

     “Ori!  My dear, dear lad!”

     Hands still full, Ori found himself crushed to Dori’s chest, his feet dangling freely.  Ori stifled a giggle as Dori kissed both his cheeks loudly and sloppily

     “Oh, my little badger, I’ve been that worried!  Are you all right?  Have you been frightened?”

     “Ori, laddie, have yeh not written t’ yer poor brother?” Balin’s friendly tone chimed in.

     Dori put Ori down to look at Balin and Ori managed to squirm into the house, so everyone had to follow.  Ori felt a tad guilty, as he’d never seen Dori so fussy since he left his tweens.

     Their one room of seating and kitchen was just the same.  Ori sniffed.  Granny pie for dinner! 

     Balin put his burden down on the table and proceeded to gently thump foreheads with Dori and embraced him.

     “How dreadful that yeh were worrying needlessly,” said Balin.  “Th’ young’re so thoughtless when they’re in th’ midst of excitement.  If I’d known I’d’ve either stopped ’round ’r at least dropped yeh a note.”

     “Why- he did, but- thank you,” Dori managed, looking both surprised, pleased, and, strangely enough, as though he and Balin had met before.  Ori wondered if Balin patronized the Dale forge.  Dori hadn’t mentioned Lord Balin’s name before, but then, Ori reflected naughtily, Balin was extremely handsome by dwarrow standards.

     “Balin,”  he spread his arms wide and bowed low, the charming smile never leaving his face.  “Son of Fundin an’ this lummox’s elder brother.”

     Balin reached over and caught Dori’s hands again and patted them while Dori beamed at Dwalin. 

     Dwalin put the wine on the kitchen counter and took Ori’s burdens from him.  Ori looked up at Dwalin, who rolled his eyes, then pulled a bratty child’s disgusted face.  Ori giggled.  Dwalin wink at him, turned back to his brother and said in a genial tone,

     “Fuck yeh, Balin.”

     To Ori’s surprised, Dwalin offered his hand and when Dori clasped it, congenially thumped foreheads with him.  Then Dori turned, clasped Ori’s hands and stood a little back, admiring him.  Ori blushed and tears showed in Dori’s eyes.

     “You look beautiful, pet.  Just beautiful.”

     Ori couldn’t stand it any more and pounced on Dori for another hug.   Releasing him, Dori went into full fuss mode and together, with Balin, they removed Ori’s outer robes and popped a clean shirt of Nori’s on him instead.  Satisfied, Dori turned back to the table and gaped at the pile on it.

     “What in Mahal’s name?”

     “I thought it best,” Balin explained, “seeing as th’ original plan was, I think, just Dwalin bringing Ori.  Now you have both of us an’ he,” pausing to raise a dramatic eyebrow in Dwalin’s direction, “can eat half an ox.  I thought I’d save yer larder a little.  By my beard, it does smell quite luscious in here.”

     Balin sniffed about eagerly.  Ori thought he made it look as though he was sniffing Dori.

     “Is it granny pie, Dori?” Ori asked.

     “Yes, my love.”  Dori smiled, though he was looking at Balin the entire time. 

     Ori felt relieved that Dori seemed to approve of Balin at least.

     “Where’s Nori?” Ori asked.

     “Upstairs sleeping off his indisposition.”  Dori wrinkled his nose then turned to Balin, who released the two birds onto the window sill and turned his attention back to the table.  “Why, Master Balin!  Is that a venison haunch?”

     “Yes, Master Dori, smoked and ready.  I hope you have a care for venison?”

     “Why, Master Balin, this is too kind of you.  I hardly know how to thank you.”

     “I’m sure th’ pair a yeh’ll think a somethin’,” Dwalin commented.

     “Dori, you’re so good with blade smithing, perhaps you could make him something,” Ori suggested, while he put the haunch in the oven with the pie.  “Balin, you can’t imagine how gifted Dori is with his hands.”

     Ori wanted his new family to know they were exemplary dwarrow.

     “Of that I have no doubt.” Balin smiled at Dori.

     “Well, I certainly hope I would never disappoint, Master Balin.”  Dori favored Balin with a naughty grin.

     “Will the pair a yeh just find a room already.  Me and our Ori’re hungry f’r dinner.”  Dwalin smirked at Ori.

     Ori realized the connotations his helpful suggestion had brought about and blushed furiously.  He busied himself with setting the table and finding dishes for the Balin-enhanced bounty.  He kept his eyes down but he knew Balin and Dori continued to flirt and Dwalin watched them, arms folded, occasionally suggesting they go elsewhere and take full advantage of each other.

     Dori finally excused himself to Balin, on a mission to get Nori, but from the noise upstairs Ori knew Dori had gone to his own room.

     Balin turned to to Ori.

     “Yer brother’s a darling.”

     “Yes he is,” Ori replied, suddenly feeling fiercely protective.  He took a couple of deep breaths and tried to keep his voice calm.  “If you hurt his feelings, I’ll manacle you to the desk permanently.”

     Dwalin laughed. 

     Ori nearly jumped as Balin turned Ori so they faced each other.

     “Laddie, I’d never do such a thin', so no feelin’ angry with me now.” 

     Balin’s face was entirely serious and full of tenderness. 

     Ori hugged him immediately.

     “I-I know.  It’s just, he’s my Dori and he raised me.  I have a very small family, Balin, and-”

     “An' now yeh've more in Dwalin an' meself.”  Balin rested his forehead against Ori’s.  “All right now, laddie?”

     “Yes.  I’m sorry I snapped at you.”

     “Nonsense, laddie.  Just know that, at th' moment, yer Dori an' I're merely amusin' ourselves with flattery.  An' speaking o' flattery,  Master Dori, those beard beads're marvelous!  Wherever did yeh get them?"

     Ori looked, his eyes widening.  Dori had apparently washed, brushed, and changed clothes in a matter of moments; he was now perfectly posed half way down the stair, resplendent in his good tunic and breeches of bright plum with garnet and gold beads intricate braided into his hair and beard.

     Dori stopped, blinked rather confusedly at Balin’s question, then absently patted the adornments on his beard and smiled coyly.

     “Oh!  These old things?  Why I only wear them when I don’t care how I look.”

     “Rogue,” Balin laughed and went forward, offering his hand to escort Dori down the steps. 

     Ori sidled over to Dwalin

     “Those are Dori’s best,” he whispered.

     “Th’ pair of ‘em are just bein’ silly t’ make th’ other laugh.  Watch an’ see.”

     Dori mocked a bow then laid his fingertips on Balin’s wrist and came the rest of the way down the stair all gracefulness until Ori noticed he had Nori by the ear, dragging the other along behind.

     “Lemme go!  I ain’t about to eat with a pair of sodding, cradle-snatching-”

     “Nori!  Dear!

     Ori heard the steely tone in Dori’s voice he only used when he was angry.

     “These are our brothers!  Balin and Dwalin are here for dinner.”

     “I ain't callin’ that prick of a captain brother!”

     “Master Balin, my younger brother Nori.  You must excuse him he’s feeling a trifle out of sorts.”

     “I am not!”

     “Of course, of course.”  Balin smiled, ignoring Nori’s loud protests.

     “Captain Dwalin, you remember Nori.”

     “Nah, never seen ‘im before in me life.”  Dwalin nodded to Ori, who grinned, remembering Dwalin’s promise when he’d burned Nori’s file.

     Dori just tittered and Nori went into full roar.

     “I won’t eat with this dirty great brother-napper!  He’s a rake and a bully and he’s probably bruised our baby brother’s bottom like a cave troll in a well.”

     Dwalin growled, but Dori dragged Nori over to the table and sat him down with such force the sturdy chair creaked dangerously.  Nori whimpered that now his bottom hurt.

     To continue Ori’s surprise, instead of seating himself at the head of the table, Dori sat Balin there, waving Ori to sit with Dwalin, who settled at the foot.  There were only four chairs and Dori perched on the kitchen stool.  He got up a moment later to fetch the pie out of the oven as Balin helped with the haunch.  Ori quickly switched his chair for the stool.

     “Ori, dear,” Dori started, placing the steaming golden pie on the table. 

     Ori just grinned at him and scooted closer to the table and sniffed eagerly at the pie.

     “Where’d yeh want this, Dori?” Dwalin asked, a small keg of ale in his arms.

     Nori rose out of his chair.

     “It goes on the stool, so you better let Ori have your chair.  It’s only proper.”

     “Nori!” said Dori and Balin at once, frowning.   

     Dwalin grinned like a wolf at Nori.  He turned to Ori, putting the keg on the table.

     “It can balance on the sofa back,” Ori said quickly.

     Dwalin gave him a naughty look then offered his hands to Ori.

     “No’ a problem.  Here Ori, we’ll put this on th’ stool jus’ as our Nori insists an’ yeh come sit on me knee.” 

     Dwalin dropped into his chair and swung ’round to face Ori, patting his right knee invitingly while giving Ori a teasing look.

     “C’mon me little nug-humper, sit on your honey-papa’s knee.” 

     Dori gave a horrified gasp and snatched Ori back into his seat.  Nori lunged forward across the table and seized the keg to balance it on the couch back before crashing into his seat.

     “Brother, please!” Balin chided.

     “Honey-what?” Ori asked sliding closer to Dwalin. 

     Dwalin laid his hands on Ori’s waist, drawing the smaller dwarf close and parking him on his right thigh. 

     Ori was first and foremost startled by the heat.  Dwalin’s body was warm.  Very warm.  Ori felt himself blush as Dwalin’s heat smoothed through Ori’s breeches to curl around his butt.  Ori twisted to lean his elbow on Dwalin’s shoulder.

     “Nug-humper?  Since when am I a rabbit trapped in a forge?  And what was the last one?”

     “Ori, don’t encourage him.  Sit down properly,” Dori said.

     “I’ll tell yeh later,” Dwalin promised.

     “No, you won’t!” Dori snapped. 

     Ori glanced at his brothers then looked at Dwalin.

     “Later as in bed?”

     “Ori!

     “Aye, if yeh like.”

     “Dwalin!” Balin scolded.  “This is no’ a dirty low drinking pit in Gondor.  This’s a respectable dwarrow household.  Neither Master Dori nor meself wish t’ hear such language again!  Am I no’ correct, Master Dori?”

     “Oh, you are quite correct, Master Balin.”

     “Thank yeh, Master Dori.”

     “You’re quite welcome, Master Balin.  Your intervention is most appreciated.”

     “Me pleasure, Master Dori.”

     And with that Dori began to serve the pie and bade Balin to carve the roast, if he would be so kind. 

     Nori snorted, “It ain’t right this marriage.”

     “We both agreed to it, Nori,” Ori reminded him.

     “Aye, fine.  What if you fall in love or your Heartsong turns up in a week or so?”

     “Nori, please!” Dori gasped. 

     Balin raised his eyebrows, clearly surprised that Nori would so easily speak of what was so private in the dwarrow world.

     “Well, I’m thinkin’ of our Ori.  What if he does and he’s chained to that arsehole?  Yeh think I want t’ see out Ori’s heart broken?”

     “Nori,” Balin said gravely, “yeh know as well as th’ rest a’ us that th’ marriage law in Erebor an' th’ other dwarrow kingdoms release a spouse if a Heartsong’s found an’ also in th’ case of love outside a’ arranged marriage.  We’ll leave violence an’ other such things out of th’ picture f’r now.  None’d be so cruel as t’ forbid either.”

     “So you’d release him?” Nori demanded of Dwalin who frowned.

     “ ’Course I would, provided the One met me provisions.”

     “What?” Dori and Nori cried together.

     “Ori’d have to ask f’r release,” Dwalin stated firmly and looked straight at Ori.  “Freely an’ of yer own will.  I need t’ know that yeh’d want t’ go an’ be with yer One or love.”

     “Thank you,” Ori replied, wondering how someone would not desire to be with their Heartsong or love.

     “Good,” Balin murmured.

     "Any’d rather be with their One,” Nori snapped.

     Balin and Dwalin looked at each other, then Balin gave the barest of nods and Dwalin sighed and, to Ori’s surprise, clasped his hand.

     “Aye, well, our adad an' mam were Heartsongs.”

     “But that can’t be,” Ori tried. “I heard Balin say he was cruel to you as a badger.“

     “He was, an’ t’ Balin, an’ he’d beat our mam.  An’ that’s why I tell yeh now that I’ll be havin’ a full investigation as t’ how yeh’ll be treated, be it Heartsong or love.”

     Dori cleared his throat.  “Well, Master Dwalin, that’s very thoughtful of you and I have no doubt that you’ll be keeping Nori and myself apprised of whatever you find out.”

     “ ’Course.”  Dwalin nodded.

     “Well then, now we’ve finished with that- ” Dori began.

     “Wait,” cried Ori and colored a little when everyone turned to stare at him.

     “What about you?” Ori looked at Dwalin. 

     Dori tut-tutted.

     “You’d just come back home to us, pet.”

     Dwalin seemed to ponder a moment then looked Ori in the eye.

     “Yeh’ve nothin’ t’ worry ‘bout, a’right?”

     “Fine by us,” Nori barked.

     “But you might find your Heartsong,” Ori insisted. 

     Dwalin just smiled.

     “Which brings us,” Dori chimed in, “to the rather annoying discussion of your being a soldier.  What happens to Ori if you go off fighting and, Mahal forbid naturally, get yourself killed?”

     “Both Balin and Thorin are avowed t’ me that if need be they’d care f’r him.  If he is to come back here t’ yer house, he’s entitled t’ my estate, includin’ wealth, forge, my side of the mines, and the keep up in Blue Mountain.”

     “Oi, Ori.  Want me t’ just, ye’ know!”  Nori mimed a stabbing Dwalin in the ribs. 

     Both Dwalin and Nori laughed but a wave of white hot pain shot through Ori.  He slammed to his feet.

     “You shut right up, Nori!  That’s not funny!”

     Nori stared at him, aghast.

     Dwalin put his hands on Ori’s shoulders, sitting him gently down.

     “Easy, love, he’s only jokin’.”

     “It was mean,” Ori argued, furious with Nori and the tears he could feel burning in his eyes.

     Dwalin took both Ori’s hands and smiled.

     “Oh, c’mon now, love.  Yeh really think f’r one moment our Nori could get th’ drop on me?”

     Ori giggled at that, swiped at his eyes and sniffed.

     “Good point.  You’re right.”

     “Well and we all know the silly badger would never dream of such,” Dori put in with a tender smile to Ori and a blazing stink eye at Nori. 

     Nori gulped, half-laughed and nudged Dwalin’s elbow.

     “Aye, li’le un!  Even Dwalin here knows I was just having me joke.”

     “There ye are.” 

     Dwalin squeezed Ori’s hands once more.

     Dori served Balin first, then Ori, Dwalin and Nori then himself, but then he put more grannie pie on Ori’s plate.

     “Eat up, darling.  Being hungry is making you all silly.”

     Nori tore into the venison as though it was his last meal.   

     Both Dwalin and Balin declared granny pie delicious but wondered at the name.

     “Grannies can make goodness out of anything,” Dori explained. 

     Ori took a bite and savored it.  The crust was oat flour mixed with dripping, inside a delectable mix of chunks of potato, parsnip, onion, leeks, carrot, and turnips with chicken stock thickened with oat flour and flavored with salt, watercress, and plenty of ground pepper root.

     Everyone was tucking in while Balin started discussing forge work with Dori.

     “Master Dori, our Ori here says yeh’ve a gift f’r th’ blade.”

     “Oh, well, Master Balin, I do my best.”

     “May I ask yer indulgence, Master Dori, t’ look over this blade I came across in me travels?  It has a most strange patina.” 

     Balin drew out an impressive dagger, the blade of which was encrusted with a chalky white substance.  Balin used a thumbnail to scrape off some.  Ori watched as the pale flakes, each oddly shaped, fell from the blade.

     “Aren’t these strange, Master Dori?” Balin pushed the various detritus into a line then held the dagger out to Dori.

     Dori stared at the line of flakes, raised an eyebrow at Balin then examined the dagger.  It didn’t look to be that interesting.

     Dori’s face drew into a moue of disinterest as he moved two or three of the flakes into a line beneath the first.

     “I can see why you would think it to be quite exotic, Master Bain.  The artisan has used pig iron as a base to give it that early first age look.  The flakes are known as carrot mold as it turns an orange color over time.  It’s easily cleaned with a solution of vinegar and natron, shaken vigorously.”

     Balin applauded Dori and swept the dagger, holder and flakes into the bag he had brought it in.

     “Wonderful!  Thank yeh most sincerely, m’dear Master Dori.”

     “Oh, please don’t mention it, Master Balin.”

     Dori excused himself to hurry upstairs.  Ori stared as his elder brother returned down with the household strong box.

     “Dori?” Ori started.

     “Well, pet.  I can’t just sit about.  Need to have my knitting with me don’t I?  Nori!  Don’t be such a warg with the venison. I would like at least a small taste of it!”

     Dori sat down again with the box on the floor between his knees, fluffing his long tunic to cover it.

 

*     *     *

 

     “…An' he picked th’ locks quick as quick wide open.  Rusted shut they were.  Dwalin’s best locksmith said there’d be no way t’ open ‘em again,”  Balin ended chuckling. 

     Ori swirled his finger through the remains of the honey topping from the pastry left on his plate.  As chagrined as he felt, he was beginning to think Balin rather liked telling the story of how he and Ori ‘met’.  Ori glanced about.  There was nothing but a few bits of crust left of the grannie pie.  Half the haunch was eaten away.  Dwalin sliced the rest of it, put it onto buttered bread and placed it at Nori’s elbow.  Nori was eating vaguely, totally bound by Balin’s tales.  Dori was similarly taken in and didn’t notice Balin subtly sliding extra food onto his host’s plate.

     A happy warmth filled Ori.  Never had he seen anyone care for himself or his brothers the way Dwalin and Balin were now.

     Ori reflected that along with the public announcement of his marriage this afternoon, not only had the House of Fundin restored Ori’s reputation, but now it was spreading its wealth to enrich Dori and Nori.  Ori pondered that, although he had not been ready to marry, and he still didn’t know Dwalin that well, he was ready to give this his best over the next two years.  He blushed thinking that the time he had spent with Dwalin had not diminished how much he still fancied the older dwarf, especially since he now knew Dwalin also held him in great regard.

     There was one bottle of wine left and Nori pulled the tap out of the barrel to get the last of the ale.  Dori was busy telling Balin that Nori had all the classic symptoms of middle child syndrome and what was Dori to do?

     “Have yeh a cellar?” Balin enquired.

     “I tried that.  He tamed the rats, taught them to race and began to make book.  Highly illegal.”

     “Oi,” said Nori.

     Dwalin rattled a small bag he’d drawn from his pocket and drew Nori’s attention.  When Nori sat down again Dwalin tossed him the bag, Nori’s eyes lit up as he emptied the dice out of the pouch.

     Ori watched them throw but he thought Dwalin looked distracted, as though he was listening or waiting for something to happen.  Then Ori heard tiny rustling     noises.  His mind raced as he tried to think of a way to tell Dwalin without his brothers noticing.  He swallowed and shuffled closer and leaned against Dwalin.

     “I’m sleepy,” he announced and settled himself in a way so he could whisper in Dwalin’s ear.

     “There’s someone or two outside,” he murmured.

     Dwalin hrumphed and cleared his thought before muttering back, “Aye, they’re getting’ in position. Be ready.”

     Ori gave the barest nod and stayed seated.   He adjusted his stance, so Dwalin could move quickly if needed.  Dwalin exchanged a glance with Balin and tossed the dice again with an extra flick of his wrist.  The dice fell in perfect nines.  Nori roared in protest, saying the dice must be uphills.  Both Balin and Dori exclaimed loudly that Nori was being silly.  Ori heard the knock at the front door once then twice.  Balin and Dori continued to talk and laugh loudly at Nori’s arguments.

     The third time someone was obviously getting impatient and banging on the door.

     “Did you hear something?” Dori asked

     “Oh, probably just squirrels, m’dear,” Balin teased.  “I hear they're quite violent this time o' year.” 

     Dori shouted with laughter as Dwalin bellowed over it

     “Don’t be daft, Balin!  Aren’t any about this side a’ town!  Me guard took ’em out last month.”

     “I think it’s the bloody door!” Nori roared, staring at Balin and Dwalin as thought the pair had lost their minds.

     “Oh!” Dori gasped, pink-cheeked and wide-eyed.  “I do believe you’re right, Nori, do be a dear and open it.  I’m all fankled up with my knitting at the moment.”

     Dori hauled out some knitting and, knocking over a wine bottle, made a pile of some of the plates.

     “What?” Nori started.

     “Nori, dear!”

     “Aye, aye!  Hold yer carts.  I’m comin’.”

     Nori opened the door and was knocked over by group of about six men, three of whom Ori recognized as the Master’s thugs.

     “Got yeh this time, bastard.”

     The lead thug grabbed Nori.

     Dori screamed dramatically.  Ori stare at him.  Dori never screamed.

     “Oi.

     The group looked up.  There was Dwalin playing with the dice box, sitting tipped back in his chair, boots now on the table.

     “What yeh lot think yer doin’?”

     The first thug gulped.  “Captain Dwalin!  Er, sir, I-  We’re apprehending this thief, of course, sir…er captain.”

     “Thief?” Dwalin asked genially.  “He’s been here all evening with us.”

     “We know he has evidence leading to a syndicate of thieves, captain.  We’re takin' him in f’r questionin'!”

     “Why?” Dwalin asked, still playing with the dice box.

     “Well.”  The thug looked a little confused the straightened.  “We need to search the place and take all occupants into custody to be questioned with regarding connections to a crime syndicate.”

     “All occupants, soldier?” Dwalin raised his eyebrow with a smile. 

     The group of men laughed a bit uncertainly.

     Dwalin turned to Dori.

     “Our Dori, d’ yeh mind havin’ yer house searched f’r evidence leadin’ t’ a syndicate a’ thieves?”

     Dori tittered, “Oh Mahal, really, captain, how funny you are!’”

       The thugs growled. 

     Dwalin shrugged and Dori finished his line and laughed.

     “Oh, very well.  Be sure you check under my bed for the strong box and don’t forget the false board in Nori’s room, end of the corridor, the squeaky board in the middle.  And do show us the evidence you find.” 

     Dori looked back at Balin.  “Now I am most intrigued, what are we connected with?  Smuggling ponies, perhaps?  Nori, I just thought you were too lazy to clean your room!  How do you keep the ponies so quiet?”

     Nori gaped at his brother then laughed slightly hysterically.

     “Well, ye know, straw, whisky, er… yer mornin’ porridge!”  he flashed at Dori. 

     Dori widened his eyes playfully.

     “Well, now I understand why you weren’t getting fat!  Three bows full every morning!” this to Balin.

     They could all hear the squad rummaging around upstairs, a sprinkling of cuss words then a shout of triumph.

     Nori turned pale and looked pleadingly at Dori.  Dori added a thread of green to the yellow worsted he was knitting.  Ori frowned.  There was no way in all Arda he would wear a scarf that looked like it was made of snot.

     The thugs rushed down with a small thin box and a larger one.

     The lead thug placed them on the table before Dwalin, who ignored them, smiling at Ori.   Ori wasn’t too sure what game was being played so he decided in favor of shyly lowering his eyes and fiddling with the crochet hook and a pretty blue cord Dori had passed him.  Dwalin tickled him under the chin and Ori giggled in spite of himself.

     “Captain?”

     Dwalin stroked one of the family braids in Ori’s beard.

     “Captain?”

     Dwalin chucked Ori under the chin, saying, “Gimme a minute, love.”  Then slammed to his feet. 

     Despite being considerably shorter than the man, the thug still cowered away, fully aware an angry dwarf could make mincemeat of at least three men in an instant.

     “What?  An’ this be’er be good.”

     “We found the evidence, captain.  See?”

     The lead thug tore open the slim box to reveal a sheaf of papers.  Nori looked as though he as going to throw up.  Dwalin went through the papers then threw them on the table.

     “Ye’ve got to be jokin’!” he roared.  “Evidence?  This only show’s tha’ he spends a lot’ a time with a hand down his britches.” 

     The lead thug stared down.  Ori looked, then looked again.  At first he thought he was looking at grossly over colored anatomy prints of dams in rather scanty underclothing, but an instant later Dori cried out in horror and slapped his left hand over Ori’s head to cover his eyes.

     “Put that disgusting pornography away at once!  Nori!  I’m ashamed of you!  How could you allow such filth to be brought into this house?  What if our Ori had seen it?  You could have done terrible damage to his mind.”

     Ori struggled to no avail to get away from Dori.  He was beginning to think it was Dori’s mind that was terribly damaged at this point.  Nori had brought such pictures home long ago and Dori shrugged, then pointed out to Nori that in the ones where the dam’s entrance could be seen meant that the dam had had to shave her area because of infection or infestation.  Dori then told Ori in no uncertain terms that it was unwise to fall with any who had no hair in such areas as he might catch whatever they had.

     Ori struggled away from Dori only to see the outraged thug shoving Nori’s hands full of the crumpled prints.  Nori’s face worked but no clear thought pattern could be seen. 

     The furious searchers started on the other box.

     “Now there’s no need for you to go through that one as you seen from the top it’s just my knitting!” Dori insisted.

     Ori frowned.  Dori’s voice was a shade higher and he wrung his hands as he rose.  He reached out for the box but the thug smirked and snatched up the box and dumped the contents all over the table.  Dori screamed louder than the last time as they all stared.

     The new evidence consisted of material.  In fact, it was his mam’s old underclothing, stockings, stays and some red velvet knickers.

     The searching men gaped at the pile of lace and unmentionables now sloughed through the dinner dishes.

     Dori stood there, fists clenched

     “Well, sir.  Are you finished?"

     The lead thug looked confusedly at him. 

     Ori watched as Dori’s face went purple and there were tears in his eyes.

     “Are you quite finished shaming me before my family and noble guests?  You’ve flung my secrets on the dinner table, now perhaps you’d like to quote a price to my guests?  All my life I’ve worked to put food on this table honestly and this is how people we all trust to keep us safe at night, this is how you thank me, you shame me like this!” 

     Dori’s voice had risen to a shriek at the thugs, all of whom looked horrified.  Whether they were shocked at the ugliness of the revealed underclothing or they were all worried that they hadn’t realized Dori was actually a dam wasn’t clear.  Ori wanted to laugh.  Men were notorious for not being able to tell dwarrow gender apart.  When dams went to sell their crafts in the Dale they always made sure to wear clothing that was recognizably female to the men.

     “Enough!” Dwalin roared. 

     Balin took Dori in his arms and Dori sobbed loudly.

     “If that’s it, yeh pack a’ ijits?” Dwalin glared.

     “No, Captain.  We’ve got a file on that one longer than my arm.  He’s a criminal, sir.”  The leader flailed an accusatory finger in Nori’s direction.

     “Fine.  Prove it,” Dwalin barked. 

     The lead thug and his second slunk to the corner as the rest rushed out to fetch the file, no doubt from the Master.

     Ori and Nori looked at each other then quietly began repacking all their late mam’s dainties back into the large box.  Dori appeared to be still sobbing into Balin’s shoulder but from the way his body was quivering and sniffing loudly, Ori could tell Dori was laughing fit to burst. 

     Balin seemed to cope with his humor by frowning horribly at the two accusers across the room.  Ori wondered what Balin, Dwalin and Dori had planned. 

     Ori was just curious as to how Dori seemed to be ‘in’ on whatever Balin and Dwalin were doing.

     There came a crashing of wheels and feet.  The rest of the group arrived and they were all strangely quiet and white-faced.

     “Ha!”  The lead thug grinned maniacally.  “Now, Captain, ye’ll see the evidence.”

     “Good, ‘cause yer’ wastin’ my time an’ th’ judge’s here.”

     “Not t' mention tramplin' on th' good name o' 'n excellent young dwarf!” Balin snarled, patting Dori’s head a little harder than necessary as Dori made an agonized sound of sorrow more akin to an irritated duck.

     “Well?”  The leader looked to his minions as Dwalin rose, paused to nuzzle Ori’s throat, making him giggle involuntarily, and sauntered over. 

     Ori was feeling a little more in control of whatever it was they were doing and cooed delightedly, “Oooh, Captain!”

     “Well?” Dwalin demanded.

     The leader looked at his men, who settled an entire filing cabinet on the floor.

     “Why in Eru’s name did yeh bring all this?” the leader asked.

     “Because we couldn’t find it,” a minion whispered.

     “Can’t find what?”

     “We can’t find the file on that one, sir.”

     “What do you mean you can’t find the file?!” the leader about screamed. 

     He wrenched open the cabinet and started rummaging.

     “It was here!” he roared.  “I added to it the day the Master called you lot to take that one’s thrice damned head off!  You remember, captain?” to Dwalin

     “Lad, yeh expect me t’ remember every soddin’ fool who’s committed a crime in Dale over me life?”

     “Um.”

     “Look, laddie, either there’s a file or there ain’t.  Now which is it?”

     There was a general murmuring among the guards, then one called out, “Who cares!  We all know!”

     Dwalin looked the group of eight over, then glared at the leader.

     “Well, I know these three t’ be guards.  Who in th' Bloods’re th' rest a’ these an’ why’re they now privy t’ Master Calmar’s files?”

     The leader started to explain as well as argue with his compatriots for a few seconds before Dwalin roared for them all to shut the fuck up.

     Dori rose.

     “I need some tea after this horrific scene.” 

     He moved to the stove. 

     Ori noticed he was tottering and swaying.

     Dori?” Ori moved toward him. 

     Dori turned and, with a hand pressed to his brow and the other to his chest, said in an oddly high pitched way, “Oh Mahal!  I do believe I feel a trifle faint.  Ori, pet, do get me some water, there’s a dear.”

     Ori hurried to comply as Dori gasped, “Oh my!  Oh my heart!  Such spasms!  I never felt so weak.  Oh dear!”

     Dori turned so the men had the full effect of his agony and then Dori promptly fainted dead away into Balin’s amazingly ready arms.

     “Master Dori!” Balin cried out in a voice of horror.  “Master Dori!”

     “Sweet Mahal!”  Nori leapt into action  NO!  Not now!  Yer so young and full of life!!  Sweet brother!  NO!”

     “Don’t stand there li' ijits,” Dwalin bellowed at the thugs.  “Get him a healer!”

     The men all knocked in to each other and one fell into the files, spilling them all over the floor.  Ori flung himself down on the floor next to Dori, calling out his brother’s name.  Nori was beside him, uselessly patting Dori’s hand.

     “Try and cry,” Nori hissed in Ori’s ear. 

     Ori threw him a ‘don’t be stupid’ look but flung himself over Dori and buried his face in Dori’s tummy.

     “Dori!  Dori!” he wailed through the material.

     “Get out a’ th’ way.  Clear a space!  Move!” Dwalin backed the men up.  “Balin!  Call tha' sparrow in th’ yard.  Send a note t’ Oin th’ Chief o' Healing in Erebor.  Let him know what’s happened then yeh an' th’ lads get that poor sufferin' creature t’ Oin as quick as ever yeh can.”

     Dwalin started shoving the guards and the mess into a corner.

     “Master Dori!  Come now, open your eyes,” Balin pleaded. 

     Dori did so with a cry of shock.

     “Oh, where am I?  Am I dead?”

     “Please don’t die, Dori!” Ori shouted. 

     Nori knelt with his face on the floor, yanking his hair and howling like an angry cat.

     Balin and Ori assisted Dori to his feet.  Ori kicked Nori’s boot and he hopped up with a curse.

     “Get him a cloak 'r he’ll take a chill,” Balin ordered.

     Nori threw Dori’s full length rain cloak with the purple hood on the invalid.  Dori, slightly bent, panting laboriously, scooped up the strong box and hid it all under the cloak, out of sight of the men.

     “Nori,” Dori quavered, “you stay here and straighten up like a good lad.  Ori, pet, help me to the cart.  Oh!”

     Ori clutched Dori as they staggered out the front door and Dori landed back in Balin’s arms.

     “Oh, Lord Balin,” Dori gasped, almost weeping again.  “How kind you are!  I don’t like to think what would have happened if I’d been here, all alone with my badgers!  It’s too cruel to think of.”

     “Right now, Master Dori,” Dwalin said gruffly, but with great gentleness, “yeh let me brother here take yeh t’ Master Oin.  He’ll have yeh t’ rights in no time.  Lemme help yeh over th’ wheels.”

     Ori snuffled into his sleeves and collar, stopping at the doorsill to hug Nori.

     Nori patted his back vigorously.

     “Now, now, pip, you be brave for our Dori while he’s not well.  I’ll take care a’ things here.  Don’t you worry your pretty little head at all.”

     Ori sniffed loudly and clenched Nori tight to hiss in his ear, “Fuck you, Nori.”

     Nori resorted to his sleeve to hide a smirk.

     Ori hurried to the cart.  Dwalin turned from helping a rather overly clumsy Dori into the shay.  Dwalin took Ori’s hand.

     “Yeh help Balin take good care a yer Dori now.  I’ll catch yeh up in a little bit after I help Nori here, then I kin escort yeh home.”

     Ori ducked his head in a vain attempt not to giggle at the rather overdone leer and wink Dwalin gave him.

     “Why you!”  Ori paused then smirked. “You naughty captain!” he managed as Nori pushed him into the seat as Balin started the pony.

Chapter Text

     Ori hung onto his seat and Dori as Ducati hurtled along, flashing through the main market toward the gates of the mountain.

     Ori glanced behind.  There was Harley at full gallop and Dwalin in his green hood.  Then he realized that was not Dwalin.  Whomever was on Harley, they were not as good a rider.

     Ori whispered to Dori, who glanced back also.

     “Nori,” he murmured to Ori.  “I can tell.  Never could ride a pony or anything like that.  He gets all funny if it’s between his legs and not the other way around.  Ori, pet, do look like you’re comforting me still.  And try and look a bit more pitiful.  Pretend you’re a badgerling again and Nori’s just spoilt your pen.”

 

     They rode through the first resident gate of the royal living quarters and rolled up to the splendid sandstone and ruby encrusted door which, now looking closer, led to two grand houses occupying the same space.  The rubies in the beaten gold plaque that stated the Sons of Groin lived there.

     The ‘Dwalin’ rider caught up just as a spasming, tottering Dori was tenderly helped from the cart and half carried up the path.  The double front door popped open and three dwarrow hurried out.   A very familiar dwarf with brilliant red hair shouted for his son to take care of the cart and ponies.  Gimli bounded past, nodded to Ori, and went about his work.

     “Come right in,” said the third dwarf in a loud voice.  “The surgery is ready.  I’ve got all my instruments; we can begin the operation immediately.”

     Dori gave a final bellow of sorrow and collapsed carefully backward and full length into three waiting pairs of arms.

 

     Once they were safely inside and the door shut tight, Oin, who was very grey and as hard of hearing as Ori had heard, and his brother Gloin, Gimli’s da, introduced themselves and roared with laughter when Balin gave them an account of the men.

     Gridr ordered them into a quiet, small sitting room.  She took Dori’s cloak.

     “Here we are.  Do sit down, chook, you must be wore to a thread with all this espionage cafuffle.  Now all formality aside, I’m Gridr and I know you’re our Ori’s dear brother Dori.  What kind of tea would you like?  Sit right here by the fire, love.”

     “Oh, my dearest Gridr, such a ridiculous to-do.  I do believe I’d like a little raspberry leaf if you have it.”

     “Oh I do.  You just stay right here, warm up and-” Gridr flashed them a grin from the door, “rest your poor nerves.” 

     Dori laughed delightedly. 

     Ori sank onto the beautifully cushioned settle opposite Dori.  Dori perched comfortably on the small couch, looking terribly pleased with himself.  Balin sat beside Dori and raised Dori’s hand to his lips.  Dori chuckled at him.

     “Was my ‘pretense’ to your standards, Lord Balin?”

     “Oh, m’ very dear Master Dori.   Yer magnificent.  I believe our entrapment t’ be a triumph.”

     Balin turned to Ori just as Nori landed with a thud next to Ori.

     “Ori, lad, don’t worry about a thin',” Balin assured him.  “Dwalin'll be home later this night.  Th’ trap, now sprung, is water-tight, yeh’ll see.”

     Ori folded his hand and looked at the pair.

     “May I ask what’s going on?”

     Dori glared at Nori, who had the gall to look embarrassed.

     “’M sorry, pet,” said Nori.  “It’s sort a’ my fault.”

     “Sort of?” Dori asked, annoyed.

     “Fine It’s all me bloody fault!  Happy?”

     “Not happy until you change your ways!”

     “Well as to that-“

     “Would someone please explain how I became the toss stone in this game?” Ori snapped.

     Dori turned, as did Balin.

     “Now then, laddie-“

     “Darling, you’re not a toss stone, thank Mahal.  You were almost a slave!”

     Balin patted Dori’s hand.

     “Master Nori, perhaps yeh’d like to tell yer brother what yeh’ got yerself into.”

     “Wouldn’t like it ’t all, actually,” Nori barked.

     “Master Nori,” Balin’s voice was suddenly quiet and full of menace.  That was a politely put order, no' a serving suggestion.”

     “Ah, a’right.”  Nori turned to Ori, still shamefaced.  “Look, pet, you know I ain’t too bothersome about how I get money, right?”

     “Gaming, thieving, pick-pocketing, looting, yes, I do.”

     “Well, I got involved with a grand scheme, or so I thought.  It was Calmar’s group who had a system f’r gaming that cheat a player out o’ gold, dagger, an’ boots, then sent ‘em up prison-ward f’r not payin’.  It was easy money.”

     “And?” Ori asked. 

     Nori squirmed.

     “I was goin’ through things t’ get a group of me own started one night an’ found a stack a papers.  I grabbed ’em t’ check f’r treasure holes an’ like.  Turns out th’ Master weren’t locking folk up f’r debts but using it as a cover f’r sellin’ ’em int’ slavery down south t’ Mordor f’r Orcs and such.”

     Ori had to clap both hands to his mouth to stop himself from getting sick.

     “I hid the papers upstairs.”

     “Then they have them now?” Ori gasped

     “No, I have them.”  Dori patted the strong box. 

     Nori stared

     “How’d you know where t’ find ‘em?  Along with me…erm, night-time readin’?”

     “Please,” Dori snorted.  “I know all the hidey-holes in that house.  I even know you taught little Ori to pick the front lock as you lost your key near forty years ago.  I knew he was an honest lad and would never use that knowledge to do anything untoward.”

     “So what’s happening at our house?” Ori asked.

     “Lemme finish,” Nori went on.  “That time yeh came t’ rescue me an’ that arse married yeh, the next day he came down an’ spent most a th’ day gettin’ in me face about what, if anythin’, I might know about the slave ring.  I told him even if I knew anythin’ what the rocks could he really do t’ me an’ you two’d be better off anyway.

     “He called me a fool and said they’d make Dori an’ you suffer f’r sure as you ain’t warriors.  After he left, one o’ them men from the gang told me they knew I’d taken the papers an’ if I didn’t give ‘em back, and keep me mouth shut, they’d see t’ it that you an’ our Dori’d be on the next cart south with the orcs.”

     Ori stared at Nori, who was yanking on his beard braids.

     “I crept out th’ other night an’ came ‘round t’ yer Dwalin’s door an’ told him everythin’ and showed him the papers.  Balin called in some bloke Br-sumthin’.”

     “Brur.”  Balin smiled.

     “Aye, he came an’ copied the papers exactly, then gave me th’ copies.  Then yer Dwalin told me everythin’ would be fine an’ t’ go home an’ he’d take care of everythin’ when yeh all came t’ dinner.  What he’s doin’ now, I couldn’t tell yeh.  Last I saw, he clipped me ’round the ear, called me a pest, threw his cloak on me an’ said t’ ride off w’ yeh an’ do whatever his brother says.”

     “Oh, Nori,” Ori sighed, “you silly, greedy fool.  You do realize if it wasn’t for our marriage he’d have never been able to stop them if that gang had shipped you off!”

     Nori sulked.  “Aye, well, kiss him f’r me.  You’re probably real good at that now.”

     “Dwalin’s never laid a hand on me like that,” Ori paused.  “Never in seriousness or in private, I mean.”

     Nori’s eyes went round.

     “Mahal!  Is he war-wounded and can’t get it up?  Did some enemy whack it off?”

     “No!” Ori snapped.

     “How d’ yeh know then?  If yeh ain’t fallen with him?”

     “I saw him bathing.”

     “Yeh spied on a feller bathin’?  Oi, but yer a dirty wee lad, aren’t yeh!” Nori laughed.

     “No, you idiot!  I thought I’d lost my marriage bead and walked in on him.”   Ori blushed as he recalled.

     “If it was lost, then why not just come home and say it all never happened?”

     “It was in the soap dish.”

     “Aye, but it wasn’t in yer hair.  So why not just say he lied and seduced yeh.  None ’ud think less a’ yeh, yeh being young and romantical.”

     “Nori, that’s wrong!”

     “Why’re yeh defending that ugly ol’ buffalo?  Yeh had an open chance t’ come back t’ us!”

     Ori groaned, he felt a headache coming on.

     “Nori, that would bring dishonor upon our family for lying and dishonor upon the House of Fundin for lying about his intentions.”

     “Is that it?”

     "That and…” Ori paused a moment, recalling his and Dwalin’s meeting with Balin, Dis and Thorin that very morning.

     “And what?” Nori prodded. 

     Ori smiled and felt himself blush.

     “And I happened to rather like my buffalo, who for the record is neither old nor ugly.”

     Balin and Dori smothered chuckles and Nori made a face.

     “I don’t like him.”

     “I imagine the sentiment is mutual,” Ori commented dryly. 

     Nori flung himself back into the settle to sulk.  Balin and Dori ooked pleased.   Dori opened his mouth to say something but then Gridr swept back into the room followed by her three menfolk.

     The dwarrow sat down with teapots, cups, saucers, cream, honey and a plate piled high with buttered toast.  Into the middle of all that Gridr placed a dark-colored cake on a beautiful platter.  Ori thought it must be some sort of molasses, or possibly even coffee .

 

*     *     *

 

     Ori was nearly nodding in his seat when Oin sat up and brushed the crumbs off his knees.

     “Well, that’s a good long time, if they’ve got anyone or a creature watching.  Master Nori, you’ll be stayin’ here with us.  Balin, if you’ll set your brother’s cloak on Master Dori there you’ll be able t’ take him and our young Ori home.”

     “Yes, indeed,” Gridr nodded.  “All of you must be close to dropping.  Gimli, good lad, you show Master Nori there to his room.  Put him in the east wing, so you don’t disturb your cousins.  They have to be up early.  Your Uncle Binni made up the red guest room there.”

     The various party members rose and said good night.  Dori embraced Nori most affectionately but Ori was close enough to hear Dori hissing in Nori’s ear exactly what would happen if Nori dared do anything even slightly criminal at the In residence.

     Once more the shay moved off and Ori was relieved to see the steps of the Fundin House almost immediately.  They drove in to the stabling area.  Balin closed the door behind them.

     Ori relaxed at the sound of the locks clicking shut.  They were safe.  He and Dori helped Balin see to Harley and Ducati.  Ori tried not to yawn too much but he felt it was getting late.  Balin opened a side door half-hidden behind a pile of straw, put out the lanterns and led Dori and Ori along the connecting bare hallway to another door at the end.  Balin opened this.

     “I’m terribly sorry, Master Dori, bringin’ yeh int' th' house through th' side door.  Most improper f'r a guest such as yerself, m’dear.”

     Dori smiled demurely.  “Nonsense, Master Balin.  I much prefer it.  Feels more like family this way.”

     Ori glanced about.  They were in the large hall area next to Dwalin’s bedroom.

     Ori thoroughly enjoyed dragging Dori all around the house -  except for the bedrooms as this made him feel self-conscious.  If Dori noticed the omission, he didn’t comment on it.  Dori praised all he saw but he was only effusive of the cooking equipment, larder, panty and scullery.  Ori smiled and hugged his brother.

     “We can cook together here sometimes.”

     “Oh, Ori, pet, I’d like that very much.”

     Dori held Ori and rested his cheek on Ori’s hair, something he hadn’t done in a long time.  They were standing that way when Balin rejoined them.

     “Ah, there yeh both are, m’dears.  Ori, my lad, would yeh like t’ show our Dori th' bath so he can relax an’ change while yeh an' I make a room ready?  Dori m’dear, may I tempt yeh with a nightcap?  I've some rather good red currant wine.  Nicely fortified an' steel barreled in th' Shire, Late Second Age?”

     Ori had no idea what that all meant but he squeezed Dori’s arm.

     “I think you ought to be tempted, Dori.”

     “As you wish, pet.”  Dori smiled.  “Thank you, Master Balin, you are more than kind.”

     Balin bowed them out.  Ori dragged Dori down the hall again and eagerly showed him a how the bath worked.  Balin had thoughtfully provided clean drawers, a night shift, felted house shoes and a beautiful dressing gown of elfin silk with lovely lavender pastel stripes and creamy satin cuffs and collar.

     Ori left Dori to it and hurried out.  Balin met him half way down the hall with a basin full of water and a cloth bag.

     “Ori, lad, come and help me a moment, please.”

     Ori trotted after Balin into Dwalin’s room.  It was spotlessly clean.  Ori glanced about and Balin chuckled.

     “I got th' cleaners in while th' pair a’ yeh were at work.  F’r one who’s so scrupulous in his military doin’s, forgin’, and weapons, he’s th’ most dreadful slob here at home.”

     Ori snickered.  “Dori says the same thing about my pens and paints.  They’re always perfect and tidy, yet I end up covered in ink.”

     “I think th' pair a’ yeh're well suited, then.”

     Ori blushed then realized what Balin was doing and helped.  He had spent more than enough time patching up Nori after fights to recognize bandages and salves.

     “If he’s badly injured, how shall I get ahold of Master Oin?”

     “He’ll send his own raven, first t' Oin then t' me, if he’s no' well enough t' come home.  If I receive such, I’ll wake yeh, if yeh wish.”

     “Yes, please.”

     Balin patted Ori’s cheek.

     “Don’t look so worried, lad.  It’s usually no more than scratches, scrapes an’ bruises.  Come, let’s go an’ put together something nice f’r our Dori, yes?”

     Balin led Ori to a cozy sitting room right next to Balin’s own suite.  It was smaller than the downstairs room at Dori’s house.  There was only room for four people to sit comfortably.  Balin turned up the fire and smiled as he went out, leaving Ori to inspect the four walls each covered in bookcases to the ceiling.

     Ori had never seen so many books in a residence before.  He guessed that both Balin and his amad had been avid collectors, and maybe Dwalin, if his bedroom floor earlier had been anything to go by.  It appeared the House of Fundin enjoyed poetry, First Age classical drama, Old Púkel burlesque, High Elven literature as well as many satirical works from Gondor, both translated into runes and in the original Westron.

     A deep box contained large maps fixed to thin pieces of slate: maps of villages, forests, mines and lakes, some colored, others solely lines of elevation.  Ori sighed blissfully, one day he would sit here and look at all of them.

     Many shelves held histories of the peoples of Middle Earth as well as great tomes about the properties of that earth, stone, both precious and common, and many about lava.

     It surprised him to discover a high shelf filled with books about the sky and all the constellations.  The study of the stars was not anything he had given a great deal of thought to before.  He paged through, intrigued.

     “Ori!  What in Mahal’s name are you doing up there?” Dori’s voice startled him. 

     Ori nearly fell off the back of the couch but gripped the shelf. 

     Dori stood next to Balin, looking very well in his borrowed clothes.  His hair and beard streamed loose about his shoulders and down his back.

     Balin laughed and stepped forward.  He took the book from Ori and helped him down.

     “Astronomy a favorite of yers, m’dear?” 

     Ori shook his head.  “I know next to nothing about it.  I’m sorry I didn’t mean to pry.”

     Ori took the book again as Balin handed it to him and sat on the couch corner near the fire as Balin indicated.

     “Nonsense, m’dear, this is yer home.  I insist yeh both feel perfectly free to help yerself to our books.  I will tell yeh just to be careful, as we do tend to put in bookmarks or little mementoes and such.  We’ve never had any qualms about writing notes in them either.  As long as it’s neat an’ doesn’t obscure anything already written.”

     Now Ori wanted to check every volume to see what notes and other treasures they might hold.  Balin ushered Dori to the corner opposite Ori and nearest the fire then poured each of them a glass of ruby red wine.  The scent was delicious as they all leaned forward to toast.

     “Welcome home, m’dears,” Balin said gently.

     The wine tasted better than it smelled and the first sip went down like honey. 

     Ori smiled, then it playfully kicked him behind the eyes, and he giggled. 

     Dori turned slightly in his corner and curled his feet underneath.

     “Dear Balin?”

     “Yes, m’dear?”

     “I’m almost frightened to ask but what is happening at my house at the moment?”

     Balin studied the color of his wine then looked up.

     “I sincerely hope nothin’, an’ that th’ entire mess is nice an’ tidy by now.”

     Dori made a non-committal noise. 

     Ori glanced from one to the other.

     “Balin?” he asked.  “Did you tell Dori what was going to happen earlier today?”

     Dori and Balin smiled at each other

     “Do show the lad,” Dori prompted. 

     Balin reached into his tunic pocket and drew out the ornate dagger he had asked Dori about over dinner.  He laid it on the table and arranged the detritus nearby.  Ori peered at the white flakes, each with its own distinct shape.

     “Are those runes of some kind?”

     “Yes, pet.”

     “Very good, laddie.”

     Ori looked up.

     “So you told Dori about the plan when he was looking at the dagger?”

     Dori nodded.  “After a fashion.  I had to, shall we say, improvise somewhat.”

     Balin sighed. 

     “It’s been months in th' works gettin' Gondor, Rohan an' Mirkwood t’ discuss an' share information on th' slave trade, gettin' everyone t' cooperate, first t' find out what Calmar an' Sauron were doin', then how they were doin' it.  Everythin' hinged on t’night as we knew Calmar’s group was plannin’ t’ set out from Erebor with a load o' slaves.  Our plan was t’ replace each load o' slaves leavin' Dale with our soldiers an’ never let th’ evidence leak t’ the next stoppin' point. 

     "At first we thought this whole to-do with Nori'd muck it up, then we realized, we could use th' master's vendetta against Nori as a diversion." 

     Dori looked askance.

     Balin sighed.

     “Yeh have me word whatever’s been broken or lost’ll be repaired or replaced.  In th' meantime, yer quite welcome t’ stay as long as yeh fancy.”

     “Thank you, Master Balin, you’re very kind,” Dori said graciously. 

     Ori tucked his feet up and yawned then tried to cover it but it was too late.

     “Off to bed with you, pet,” Dori commanded. 

     Ori opened his mouth to protest but his face cracked into another yawn.

     “Aye, laddie,” Blain concurred.  “And I’ve left yeh a clean night shirt and house socks.  Do be careful hanging up that wedding tunic. We’re due f’r the market tomorrow and folk always like t’ see the newlywed.  Don’t f’rget yer book either.” 

     Balin handed it to him as Ori leaned in to kiss Dori’s cheek.

     “Good night, Dori.  I hope you’ll be comfortable here, brother.”

     “Oh, I don’t see how I couldn’t be, pet.  Go and get some sleep now like a good badger.  Sweet dreams.” 

     Balin kissed Ori’s cheek and patted his shoulder.

     “Off yeh go, laddie.  Night-night.”

 

*     *     *

 

     Ori padded from the bathroom, the wedding clothes hung carefully in the steamer closet.  He was washed, comfortable in the cream linen nightshirt and long drawers that Balin had left out for him.  Wearing the felt house socks in matching cream, Ori found he could walk silently.  Book in hand he headed back to his room, but voices stopped him dead, listening.

     “Dori, m’dear, if I’ve satisfied yer curiosity about our younger brothers, there’s somethin’ else we must discuss.”

     Dori sighed.  “Must we?”

     “Aye, me darlin’, as it could throw this entire arrangement for Dwalin an’ Ori completely awry.”

     Ori hesitated only a moment before deciding that since it was a discussion about him, he had a right to know.  He dropped to all fours and slipped back into the room, hiding under the table covered in a thin cloth so he could just see them.  Dori and Balin still sat on the couch but Balin was holding Dori’s hand!

     “Jus' tell me th' truth, beloved,” Balin said gently.  “Is Ori mine?”

     “What?”

     “Is he mine?”

     “Balin, you must be aware I’m male.  You have seen me-”

     “Yes, dearest, an' touched you.  Thoroughly.”

     Dori blushed and Balin went on.

     “I also see that yer exceptionally strong in th' hips, yer center is there, an’, though small by dwarrowdam terms, yeh do have enough in th’ breast t' nurse and yeh’ve a very nestin' nature.  All that an' th’ fact that many male dwarrow with mithril hair're bearers.”

     Dori sighed again.  “Yes, I’m a bearer but no, my love, he is not yours, though he should have been.”

     Ori held himself silent with the cuff of his shirt stuffed in his mouth.

     Dori stroked Balin’s hands.

     “Please, my love, hear me out.  The day we met in the town forge in Ered Luin was the second most beautiful day of my life.  Wait.  There was nothing I wanted more that to go with you and be your love.  We are each other’s Ones but I left you in that delightful inn room for a reason.”

     “Yeh said family.”

     “Yes, Mam was still trying to get Nori’s adad to marry her.  She was working in the mines then and Nori was already learning to be a naughty little badger.  It needed both of us working to keep hearth and home together.  You did look lovely but I was not going to drop everything in your hands.

     “I spent the next month full of joy that I knew of you, my One, and that we loved one another.  Mam had taken Nori with her to stay at Nori’s adad’s place.  I had our rooms to myself.  I was happy to distraction.  Believe me, my love, I was.  I had every hope that Mam’s relationship was set and I could get my mastery and then find you again.

     “They did come back and were very happy together.  Mam noticed my joy and one evening we sat down together to talk.  I told her everything.  How I had planned it all out and made a budget for her and Nori’s adad to live comfortable without me.  Mam made a pot of tea and we sat together as I as I explained it all.”

     “Tea?” Balin queried. 

     Ori felt his stomach drop out of him. 

     Balin’s eyes widened in horror.

     “Oh, no, me beloved?”

     Dori held up his hand, shaking his head tiredly.

     “Yes.  Two days later I was sick and had a horribly painful flux that lasted nearly three days.  I don’t know if a child had formed or not but I grieved for the possibility.

     “Mam, when I confronted her, was adamant that I was confused about Heartsongs.  They were only stories and I had been foolish enough to fall with a handsome noble just as she had.  She firmly held that she was protecting me from her fate.”

     Ori felt faint.  Tears burned his eyes.

     “Beloved,” Balin said gently. 

     He moved closer and Dori rested his head against Balin’s shoulder as the other dwarf put an arm around him.

     “Needless to say,” Dori went on, “I was devastated, but there was Nori to help with and Mam left him to me often enough.

     “For all the bad that was in her relationship with Nori’s adad, he was usually a kind sort.  It wasn’t until they’d been together a few years that things began to change for the worse.  Both of them liked to drink and Nori was growing more adventurous and bold in the trouble he was getting into.  Mam and her love were spending more and more time down in the pubs which meant more of my pay went to keep us fed and clothed and a roof over our heads.  It didn’t help matters Nori’s adad liked to gamble occasionally.”

     “So,” Balin put in quietly, “there was no chance t’ follow yer plan t’ save an’ leave?”

     “Mmm, you’d think she’d want me out of the place.  I wasn’t her current love’s child and I was a reminder of her fall from her family.  No one would have been surprised if she had encouraged me to leave or even if she’d thrown me out.  I made a point of saying this to her once while helping her to bed when she was blind drunk.

     “Apparently she held onto hope that we should all travel back to Erebor and one of her noble family or my adad’s family would see me and, being struck by my amazing beauty, take back both of us.  And all would be forgiven.”

     “Yer adad?” Balin asked.

     Dori looked at him a long moment before saying, “The noble Thror tried to marry her to.”

     “Sweet Mahal’s hammer,” Balin moaned.  “Dwalin was righ'.”

     “Dwalin?” Dori raised his eyebrows.

     “He’s a soldier bu’ also a dab hand a' investigation,” Balin explained.  “When he began his work on yeh-“

     “Why?” Dori demanded.

     Balin smiled ruefully.

     “Ori, of course.  When Ori came of age t' be courted, Dwalin felt he’d need t’ know more abou' him, so he could request o' th’ proper head o' th' family th’ permission t’ court him.”

     “Idiot,” Dori muttered.

     Balin chuckled and nodded.

     “Rather delusional o' Rikmha if she though' Lord Rikut'd welcome her back.”

     “Yes it was.  So life went along in Ered Luin until Nori’s adad took a journey to the Iron Hills.”

     “Oh no!”

     “Oh yes.  While he was gone, she met a new one at the pub, a darling young thing.  My age.  And a scribe who wrote plays for a traveling carnival and theater.  He left and she decided to follow him.  She thought he’d said he was going to Erebor.  It took us nearly four months on the road, tinkering and whatever other work we could find to keep us in food and shelter on the way.  Nori’s thieving skills kept us alive often enough.  She took up work cleaning when we arrived in Dale.  She didn’t realize she was carrying until there was an accident at the building she worked in.  She was examined by a healer and put on lighter duties.”

     “I take it this wasn't Nori’s adad’s work?”

     “No, no it wasn’t.  She was furious.  Herbs and tea would kill both herself and the child at this point and no healer would be able to remove it without destroying her ability to have more children.  Then she heard from an old Ered Luin neighbor that Nori’s adad had returned from the Iron Hills and he was on his way to Erebor in search of her.  She was stuck and counting her days to make sure she gave birth before he got there.  Needless to say luck was with her.  A few weeks before he was due to arrive, she gave birth.  She didn’t even want to see the child.  The midder caring for her just handed me the baby and went back to help her settle.  Oh, my darling!  He was the most beautiful little boy and he opened his eyes and looked right up at me!  His were that sweet hazel, just like yours.”

     “Ah, dear love!”

     “He was my baby, my darling Ori.  I would never let him go.  The midder came back to tell me Mam was sleeping and said that Mam had told her to take the brat to the healers for adoption.  I’d bathed and settled my little badger by then and told the midder I’d take care of all of it.  While Mam recovered in bed over the next few days I kept my badger with me and quiet.  Oh, such a good badgerling.  I loved him so within a day I found I was able to nurse him.  He almost never cried and then it was just a wee little noise.

     “When Mam found out she was furious,  She tried to force me to take the child to the healers but I would not be swayed by any amount of talk and there was no way she could physically overpower me.”

     “But Nori’s adad?”

     “Oh, he and I’d had one bout back in Ered Luin and he learn right quick not to cross me.  Well, the days passed and my little Ori grew more and more sweet.  Nori came for a visit and fell head over heels in love.  I would take both of them to the forge with me and they’d play for hours.  Mam met Ori’s adad again and they took up where they had left off.  Fortunately he was of the classic empty-headed sort of writer who cannot focus on anything beyond what Mahal or the Green Lady happen to whisper in their ears at the moment.  He never noticed I was caring for a child, and if he did he probably thought it was mine.

     “Well, three months later Nori’s adad arrived.  He found her in Dale.  The fight was loud and out he walked.  Did you or Dwalin ever hear of the Millgakhin pub murders?”

     “Aye, love, but we were still down in Khazad Dûm a' that time.  Clearin' up after th' battle.  Ori’s adad?”

     “Yes, stinking drunk one night.  Nori’s da and a gang of his equally soused cronies went after Ori’s adad and his brothers.  Burned the place to the ground.  Twenty folk were sent to healers and three dead - two of them Nori and Ori’s adads.”

     “Oh, beloved.”

     “It doesn’t matter now.  Mam was finally resigned.  Nori was helping us again with his skills and I had my Ori.  He may have called her Mam like the rest of us but it was me he came to for praise or comfort.  It did mean I couldn’t come to you, but he’s grown now.”

     “I wished I’d betrayed yer trust, come an' taken yeh all away t’ be with me here.  I don’t like t’ think how yeh suffered, love.” 

     Balin pressed a kiss onto Dori’s temple.

     “We’re here now, aren’t we?”  Dori smiled.

     Ori watched as they came together in a long kiss.  They rose.  Balin closed down the fire and placed the screen.  Dori picked up the tray of glasses as they left, putting out the lamps as they passed.  Ori was sure he could hear Dori crying softly.

Chapter Text

     Ori sat very still under the table, hugging the all but forgotten book to himself.  His mind was empty except for Dori’s voice repeating the tale over and over.  He crept from the room and wandered blindly through the hall.  He went to Dwalin’s room.  He couldn’t absorb all this.  Dwalin would be back soon and he would need medicine and wound cleaning.  Ori sat on the edge of the bed.

     Nori’s adad killed my adad.  Nori and I are only half brothers.  Mam.  Mam killed Dori and Balin’s baby! 

     He curled up on the foot of the bed, staring into the fire glowing before the large armchair there. 

     Dori and Balin were each other’s One but have been forced to live apart most of their lives. 

     Ori fell into an uneasy sleep.  Ori dreamed.  Ori dreamed his One came to the door and swept him away with the promise of love and adoration but only took him back to the squalor of Steam Alley Close, the freezing cold of a winter in a single room in the letting house with nothing but a communal stove at the center of every floor.  There was no rest and no work and the One was drunk and violent.  Ori cried for Dwalin, but in the Alley, Dori’s house was burnt down and there among the ashes the bodies of the Fundin brothers lay dead.

     “Dwalin!”

     Ori jerked awake and stumbled away from the bed.  With a shaking hand, he poured water from the pitcher and drank.  He stared at the fire, willing himself to be calm.

     He nearly fell over when the back part of the high chimney opened seamlessly and Dwalin stepped in.  Ori stared.  Dwalin was disheveled, blood-spattered as were his axes; he clasped them and his hammer in one hand while he closed the door.

     Ori took the kettle from the hearth and poured some hot water into the wash basin.

     “I take it things went well?” Ori asked.

     Dwalin jerked around to look at him.

     “Ori!  What yeh doin’?”

     Ori added some herbs and a few drops of the tincture as Balin had showed him.

     “Waiting for you.  Put those weapons down for now and let me see to the damage.”

     “I‘m a’right, yeh jus’ go off t’ yer bed, love.”

     Dwalin placed the weaponry on a large long table near the others and turned.

     Ori pointed to the chair, cloth in hand.

     “Go and sit down, so I can take care of this.”

     Dwalin smiled gently.

     “I said, I’m a’right, love, really. Go an’ get some sleep.”

     “Don’t patronize me. I am your husband and equal now!  Go. Sit. Down!”

     Dwalin stared blankly at him.

     Ori pointed to the chair.

     Dwalin backed up a few steps and did as he was bid.

     “I’m sittin’.  I’m sittin’,” he said, slowly lowering himself into the chair, never taking his eyes from Ori.

     Ori re-wetted the cloth, warming it.

     “Take off your tunic and shirt.”

     “Aye, love, just lemme-”

     “Take them off!”

     Dwalin struggled out of his belt and shoulder weapons harness, which would have been a great deal easier to do had he been standing up, then stripped to the waist.

     Ori kept his calm by frowning, quickly and efficiently clearing the grime and blood off Dwalin.  Ori forced his hands to remain steady, aware that Dwalin was watching his face intently.  Ori was, somewhere deep down inside, relieved to see it was mostly just grime and someone else’s blood.  Ori finished Dwalin’s torso, dried him and pulled a nightshirt over his husband’s head.

     “Thank yeh.  Love, I-“

     “Boots and britches,” Ori ordered.

     Dwalin opened his mouth, seemed to think the better of it and complied meekly.  Ori tossed all the clothing in the hamper near the bedroom door, took the boots to the fireplace door, opened it and put the boots beside the step, shut the door, then returned to Dwalin.  Really, the only nasty wound was a cut down his left thigh.

     “Sword?” Ori asked in a neutral tone as he cleaned, anointed, and bandaged it.

     “Broken plank.”  Dwalin shrugged.  “Uh, everythin’ a’right, love?”

     “Fine.”

     Ori pulled the footstool closer and busily finished washing and drying Dwalin’s legs and feet.

     Dwalin continued to watch him keenly but otherwise gingerly followed whatever Ori told him to do.

     Ori told himself he was fine and everything would work out well.

     “Here, put on your drawers and tell me how to clean up the weaponry,” Ori instructed.

     Dwalin looked ready to argue but after a moment complied.  Ori then learned about cleaning and oiling weapons by watching.  Whether he would remember any of it was not high on his list of priorities.

     Ori tidied away the medical supplies and put out the lamp.  He crossed to the bed ready to put the final lamp out.  He turned to Dwalin.

     “Come along.  Get into bed.”

     Dwalin crossed to his side.  He started to reach for Ori then paused.

     “Ori, love-“

     “What?” Ori replied brusquely and folded back the covers.

     “I- Wha’ever I’ve done, I’m very, very sorry.  I realize-”

     “You haven’t done anything,” Ori said shorty.  “I’ve been thinking things through.  We’ve both been tiptoeing around each other and playing courting games.  The fact of the matter is we are married and a Royal Triad has given us two years.  It would dishonor both our families if we fail at this.  I refuse to fail.  We are married and we will be a proper married pair.  Now, take off all your clothes!”

     “Wha-?”

     “You heard me.”  Ori proceeded to undress himself and, pushing Dwalin out of the way, climbed into bed, moved over to make room for Dwalin, then sat against the headboard, arms folded, and frowned at Dwalin.  Dwalin was still standing at the bedside watching Ori, only now one eyebrow was raised.

     “Hurry up,” Ori snapped.

     Dwalin removed the nightshirt and slowly sat down beside him in the bed.

     Ori glared

     “Now.  Have sex with me.”

     Dwalin’s other eyebrow shot up and he looked Ori straight in the eye.

     “Right now?”

     “Yes.”

     “Yeh sure?”

     “Yes!”

     “It’s late, love an’ we’re both tired-“

     “I don’t care.  Do it.”

     “Yeh sure yeh wouldn’t like t’ sleep f’r a bit an-“

     “I said: Now!”

     Dwain cocked his head, eyes narrowed.

     Ori frowned and glared at the fireplace for a few moments.

     Dwalin didn’t do anything other than look at him.

     “I’m waiting,” Ori growled.

     “Right.”

     Ori decided to glare at Dwalin again.

     “May we just get on with this?”

     “Aye…right.”

     Dwalin slid nearer and put his arm around Ori’s shoulders.  It was warm and comforting.  Ori felt his throat tighten.  Refusing to cry, Ori shoved Dwalin away.

     “Don’t touch me!”

     Dwalin turned and sat cross-legged opposite Ori.

     “’M sorry, love, but I kinda have t’ if we’re goin’ t’ have sex.”

     Ori blushed hotly, instantly enraged.     

     “I know that!”

     “Righ’.”

     “Oh, will you stop making fun of me and just get this…out of the way so we don’t have to dread it anymore!”

     “Wasn’t makin’ fun of yeh, love, I-”

     “Dwalin!”

     “C’mon, love, we don’t have t’-“

     “Yes we do!  So then it’s over and done with and people can stop hinting and we can get on with life.  We’ll go and adopt a baby that looks like Dori and Balin, so they’ll have one and we’ll get Nori a proper job, so he won’t have to find out his da was a murderer and Dis won’t remember any more about Rikmha and Dori won’t have to think about his baby dying and remembering that Mam-”

     Ori choked. He curled forward, his face in the mattress and wailed into the covers. His insides hurt so much he wanted to rip them out. Dwalin held him tight and settled Ori in his lap, cradling Ori’s head against his shoulder.

     “’M here, love.”

     “This has to work!” Ori sobbed.  “It has to or you’ll leave me.”

     “’M not leavin’ yeh.”

     “I won’t go if my One comes.  I’ll stay, as he’s a drunk and a horrible person.  He’ll kill you and Balin and what’ll Dori do?”

     “I’ve got yeh, love.  ’M not lettin’ yeh go an’ it’ll take more’n some arsehole t’ dust me an’ Balin, don’t yeh worry.”

     Ori sobbed harder.  Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew he was beyond hysterical, but he was crying so hard he was almost throwing up.  He wished he hadn’t had that thought because his body thought that throwing up was a great idea.

     Next thing Ori knew he was lying across one of Dwalin’s thighs, spilling his guts onto the puddle of his own night shirt and drawers on the floor beside the bed.

     “Oh shit,” Ori rasped.

     “Nah, but I’ll carry ye t’ th’ pot if yeh need.”

     Ori laid his cheek against Dwalin’s thigh.  He felt exhausted and useless.

     “I’m sorry,” he offered listlessly.

     Dwalin wiped Ori’s face with his own nightshirt in reply. He tossed it on top of the mess and turned Ori to lie down.

     “Shhh, just rest a minute an’ I’ll get yeh some water.”

     Dwalin rose, covered Ori with a thin cotton quilt and moved away.

     Ori stared at nothing, his cheek against the cool linen underquilt. 

     Dwalin came back.  He easily slid his arm under Ori, raised the smaller dwarf to help him drink a cup of cool water, then eased Ori down to lie on his back.  He folded a wet cloth over Ori’s eyes.  A few moments later, Dwalin removed it, wiped Ori’s face and neck with it before re-soaking it in the pitcher now on the side table.  He folded it again and laid it over Ori’s eyes.  The second time he removed it, Ori reached up to rub his eyes, but Dwalin stopped his hand.

     “Don’t love, yeh’ll bruise ’em.”

     Ori obeyed but did nothing more. After a few more times Dwalin left the cloth in the pitcher and helped Ori into a clean nightshirt.  Ori rose and padded toward the door. He wanted to go to his own bed, pull the covers over his head and sleep, never wake up again.

     Dwalin came to his side and walked him to the bath.

     Ori felt a bit better after washing his face properly.  He looked up at Dwalin, who was leaning against the wall next to the sink.

     “Um…I’m….” Ori didn’t know what to say.

     Dwalin smiled at him.

     “Fancy a walk?”

     “A walk? At this hour? Where?”  Ori was completely thrown by the question.

     “Nowhere.  Up the circle.  Get some air and get out a th’ house.”

     Ori blinked.  “Actually a walk sounds nice.”

     Dwalin slid off the wall with a grin.

     “Grab yer britches an’ socks an’ I’ll meet yeh back in me room with yer boots.”

     Ori came back into Dwalin’s room.  He’d thrown on his old trousers and a long-sleeved tunic.  Dwalin, similarly dressed to Ori, was putting the screen in front of the

fire.  He opened the fireplace door and they sat together on the step pulling on their boots.  Ori found himself smiling.  He liked this part of married life.

     Dwalin led him down a dark cramped hallway and pulled the end door inwards.

     Ori peered around him to see they were in the stable.  Ducati and Harley looked at them sleepily.

     Ori couldn’t resist going over and patting both ponies.  Dwalin handed him an apple for Ducati and gave his to Harley.

     Dwalin shut the stable door behind them silently, locking it as Ori looked about.

     It was completely silent in the cavern. The street was steaming slightly, but beautiful.

     Ori looked questioningly at Dwalin.

     “They flush all th’ streets of th’ city with the geysers below the mines.”

     “How luxurious,” Ori marveled.

     “Aye, that an’ who really wants t’ have th’ job of cleanin’ pony shit an’ th’ like off th’ street every day.”

     “Good point,” Ori agreed.

     He stretched and sniffed the air. It smelled bright with the tang of fresh cut gems and the crisp scent of stone mixed with ore. 

     They walked down the long tunnel and out under the arch that marked the royal residence cavern.  The whole silent city, the entire mountain, stretched before them.  Ori suddenly wanted nothing more than to run.  He had always loved to run as a badger and even now if pressed he could leave Nori far behind. He turned to Dwalin

     “Where are we going?”

     “See that spire up over there?  Right by that arch?”

     “Race you!”

     Ori took off like a deer.  It felt wonderful.  Suddenly, he heard pounding feet behind him.  He risked a glance back.  Dwalin was almost at his heels.  Ori pushed himself as hard as he could.  Dwalin kept up and drew almost abreast.

     “Left at th’ stair,” Dwalin said.

     They barreled under an arch that marked the entry to an ornamental garden with artistic arrangements of cavern plants and carved wooden trees.

     They slowed to a stop, panting, in front of a reflecting pool circled with graceful statuary and benches.

     “Feelin’ a bit better?” Dwalin asked.

     Ori nodded, catching his breath.

     “Much.  You’re the first who’s ever caught up to me.

     “Years a’ trainin’, love.  ‘Sides, we dwarrow’re natural sprinters.”

     Dwalin went over to the pool and flopped down on his stomach, slapping the ground beside him.

     “C’mere.  Show yeh summat.”

     Ori followed suit.  Dwalin pointed into the pool.

     “Now if yeh look careful yeh can see th’ stars from th’ dome in top a’ th’ mountain.”

     Ori peered into the pool, then gasped.  “I do see it!  So beautiful!  I didn’t know the very top of the mountain was open.”

     “Only when it’s safe an’ clear.  Th’ openings just a dwarf’s length across, th’ light’s refracted with crystal and mirrors.”   Dwalin sat up.  “It’s good f’r any livestock folk bring down from th’ surface. S’why we don’t actually build on th’ side of th’ mountain, grazing and such.  Yeh saw part a’ it with th’ meadow outside the house.”

     “This is lovely.  Thank you,” Ori said quietly.

     He scooted a little nearer to Dwalin.  The older dwarf smiled and also moved closer, so their shoulders just touched.  They stayed there looking into the water for a while.  Dwalin told Ori all about the stars they could see sparkling in the mirror-like pool.

     “Yeh see th’ difference between th’ brightness a’ those three an’ th’ little sparklers ’round about?”

     “Yes.  This pool makes it very easy to see.”

     “Aye, yeh don’t get th’ torch light from th’ town t’ interfere.  Now, what yeh kin do if yeh get yerself turned ’round when travelin’ is find that group a’ stars there.  See?”

     “Yes, they look like a ladle.”

     “Aye, th’ one at th’ top of th’ handle always shows north, so yeh kin work out where t’ go on a journey.”

     Ori gaped.

     “Really? I thought the stars moved with the sky.”

     Dwalin turned to look at him.  “No, love, our world moves beneath th’ sky.”

     Ori stared into the pool, his mind spinning with this new line of thinking.  Our world moves beneath the sky?  What’s under our world?  Our world is round; if we are moving, then are the stars all around us?  Is our world alone spinning in the sky?  Are there other worlds?

     Everything had turned on an edge; the sky, the world, who he was, and dear Dori.  Ori blinked hard, determined not to cry.

     “So, “ Dwalin said gently.  “After yeh left with Dori, did Nori catch yeh up quick enough?  I didn’t hear anythin’ about yeh bein’ attacked.”

     “No,” Ori replied, forcing his mind back on present matters.  “No, we made it to Master Oin’s fine.  Dori had more time for spasming and fainting there, too.”

     Dwalin snickered.

     “We had toast, jam, cake, and tea,” Ori counted off on his fingers.  “Then we went home with Dori pretending to be you.  After we got in, Balin got Dori and I nightwear and fed us cakes and wine.”

     Ori paused, his eyes stung.  He stared into the water, trying not to start crying again. 

     Dwalin rolled once again onto his back and turned to face Ori.  He cupped the smaller dwarf’s cheek with his large hand.

     “What’s happened, love?”

     Ori blinked and was temped to laugh it off, saying he was affected by the stars and their beauty, but was stalled when a couple of his tears splashed into the pool, rippling its surface.

     “It’s not my secret to tell.  I’ve a bad habit, Captain Dwalin, since badgerhood.  I like to listen to conversations I am not part of.”

     “Yeh heard Balin an’ Dori say summat that upset yeh?”

     Ori nodded.

     Dwalin frowned, obviously thinking it through, while his hand still rested on Ori’s cheek.

     Ori clutched at the hand as the lump in his throat threatened to choke him.

     Dwalin pulled Ori down to rest his head against Dwalin’s shoulder. Ori wrapped both arms around Dwalin’s thick muscled one and curled against it.  He felt Dwalin roll so they were spooned together.  Ori took a shaky breath.

     “Never tell.  Promise.”

     “Promise.  We’re married.  Our secrets’re jus’ ours an’ we’ve no secrets from each other.  Yeh kin tell me anythin’.  I’ll no’ judge yeh.”

     Ori held on tight while he related what he’d heard under the table of the little sitting room.  By the time he got to the end, he was crying again.

     “So everything I thought I knew about me is a lie,” he finished in a whisper.

     Dwalin hugged him tighter and Ori felt a kiss pressed into his hair.

     “Nah, yer still yerself.”

     Ori squirmed loose then settled on his side, facing Dwalin.

     "But I’m not. ”

     “Yeh still love both yer brothers the same, right?”

     “Of course.”

     “Then they’re still yer brothers.  Doesn’t matter th’ blood part.  Balin an’ Dis accept each other as siblings since they know Thorin an’ I’re brothers at arms.  I jus’ wish I’d had th’ chance t’ finish my investigation’, so I could’a told yeh an’ mabbe spared yeh a bit a’ pain.”

     Ori sighed.  “It’s alright I suppose, but poor, poor Dori and Balin.”

     “Aye, that’s an iniquitous thing.  If Rikmha was alive th’ only thing keepin’ me from hatin’ her is yeh, but I’d be more f’r thankin’ yer Dori f’r that.  Poor shit, wha’ a life.  Wha’ he’s like makes a lo’ more sense now.”

     Ori nodded, thinking back on Dori’s words and his own actions.

     “Dwalin?”

     “Aye, love?”

     “I’m so sorry for the way I behaved and for what I said this evening.”

     Dwalin laid his forehead against Ori’s and ruffled his hair.

     “No harm done, love.  I knew yeh were upset when I first got in.”

     “How?  I thought I was calm.”

     “Aye, very calm, with a face whiter than mountain snow an’ eyes all but screamin’ with pain.  All I could wonder was wha’ in Durin’s name I’d done.  I really thought yeh were gonna slit me throat from eyes t’ crotch.”

     “I’d never-“

     “I know, love.  Yeh jus’ looked that upset.”

     Ori sighed and shook his head.

     “I’m still sorry for-”

     Dwalin rubbed his knuckles against Ori’s cheek.  Ori grabbed the hand and held it there.

     “C’mere,” Dwalin rumbled and drew him in for a hug then rolled onto his back, pulling Ori on top and murmured an old cradle song.

     Ori sighed and laid his head on Dwalin’s chest.  He heard the steady, strong beat of the older dwarf’s heart.  Ori closed his eyes to listen as, unbidden, the song of his own heart rose in his mind.  Ori treasured and found comfort in the low, deep tones.  It had always made him feel stronger and protected.  He smiled as the song grew louder and almost rang in his ears, well mostly his left ear.  That was against Dwalin’s chest.  Ori paused his thoughts. 

     His song, the song of his heart, was coming from…Dwalin?

     He raised his head.  Dwalin looked sleepily at him, still humming.  Ori stared at Dwalin.  Dwalin’s eyes snapped into focus.  He stopped the old tune and crinkled his mouth into a fond smile.  Ori’s brain grasped desperately at what was going on.  How can a heart song be heard with the ears? 

     Dwalin grinned and stroked Ori’s face with both hands.

     “Hear it?” Dwalin whispered.

     “I thought only I- Can you- hear me?”

     “Ever since we won th’ day at Khazad Dûm.”   

     “I was born that day.”

     A bubble of happiness formed inside him and he grinned back.

     “It’s you!  You’re my One!  We’ve found each other!”

     “Aye, love.”

     Ori flung himself over Dwalin, shoved his arms around and underneath Dwalin’s neck and held on hard, squeezing as fiercely as he could.  He felt Dwalin chuckling as he hugged back.  Ori let go to lean up and peer into Dwalin’s face, nose to nose.  Dwalin was still grinning but there was a glisten of moisture in his eyes.

     “You said since Khazad Dûm,” Ori whispered.  “Is that why you were waiting and not coming ’round to walk out with me? You were waiting for me to notice?”

     “Aye, sort of.  I kept plannin’ t’ ask yeh to court but every time I had a day t’ spare and a decent interval’d passed, yer brother would go and do summat stupid and yeh’d have t’ come and get him and I’d be back at square one.”

     Ori smiled.  “I wish I’d been able to hear you earlier.  It must have been very hard for you to see that I couldn’t.”

     “Nah, just tried t’ be about an’ see what I could do an’ mebbe if yeh’d notice.”

     “I’ve noticed now,” Ori offered and leaned in to kiss him

     Dwalin’s lips were warm and as gentle as before and it thrilled Ori more than ever.

     Suddenly shy, he buried his face in Dwalin’s beard.

     “I always did like the way you behaved and you are very handsome,” Ori mumbled.

     Dwalin made a noise between a purr and a growl as he slid a hand into Ori’s hair.  Ori sighed as the kisses and nibbles at his throat made him shiver.  Ori murmured in delight.

     “I don’t know how you do it.  It’s always so nice when you kiss me or hold me.  I never did like it before.”

     Ori felt a minuscule pause in Dwalin’s attentions the larger dwarf drew away but only far enough to rest their foreheads together.

     “Love, I had lovers a’fore yeh were born an’ that can’t be undone, so I’ll never fault yeh fra havin’ yer own before this.  But if some arsehole treated yeh bad when yeh were expectin’ sweetness, name ’em an’ so help me I’ll hunt ’em down an’ skin ‘em alive.”

     Ori surprised himself by chuckling.

     “No, I never loved anyone that way and Mam being who she was, no one was interested in me.  The other times?  Well, the first was in a pub when I was fetching Nori home.  The adad of the publican, who was a nice old fellow, it was his name day I think.  He was kissing each of the bar maids goodnight and I was standing there and it was quite funny, actually, but he tasted horrid.

     “The second was one of Nori’s drinking cronies.  He grabbed me and kissed me.  Nori punched him in the nose.  That was disgusting.  His mouth was all wet and slimy and cold.  I felt like it took weeks to wash the feel and taste of him out of my mouth.

     “The only other one was a stable boy in Lake Town, who thought slamming his mouth into mine was a good idea before throwing me down in a stall and telling me to open my legs.  I did. I  kicked him in the crotch with one foot and the throat with the other when he bent over.  I never really liked the idea since.  As I said, but you’re different.”

     Ori looked into Dwalin’s dark eyes, which were full of sympathy and barely suppressed rage.

     “They weren’t thinkin’ a’ yeh, love, just themselves, curse ’em.”

     “I know, but still it’s strange to think it can be nice.”

     Dwalin grinned and pulled Ori in close and was extremely nice to him for a while.

     When they drew apart to breathe, Dwalin smirked and said,  “I hate t’say it, love, but it’s about time we think o’ heading’ home.”

     They walked toward home hand in hand.

     “So,” said Ori playfully.  “What do you want to do when we get home?”

     “I can show yeh how to do somethin’ else nice.”

     Ori wrinkled his nose and grinned.

     “Too late!  Nori taught me to jerk off when I was a tween.”

     Dwalin roared with laughter.

     “No, he did!  Dori had to go to a mastering session overnight, so Nori had to watch me.  He invited his friends around to play cards.  He wanted, apparently, to talk shop with them, so I couldn’t stay in the room but he would not let me take a light to read upstairs.  I think he figured if he showed me I would be occupied for the rest of my life or at least until I attained a semblance of adulthood.”

     Ori kissed Dwalin on the end of his nose.

     “Even that should wait until we get inside,” said Ori, though he did kiss Dwalin on the lips and Dwalin kissed him back, and then they kissed each other rather passionately and Ori pulled a bit away.  “We really should not be out here rolling around having sex in the street.”

     Dwalin snorted.

     “We are not rolling around in the street.  This is rolling around in the street.”

     Ori gasped as Dwalin covered the back of Ori’s head with his hand and clamped the other around Ori’s waist, dropped them to the ground, then rolled them off somewhere.  Nor could Ori stop laughing when they finally slowed to a stop with Ori sprawled across Dwalin’s chest.

     “See?” Dwalin said.  “Now that was rolling in the street.”

     “You great silly!” Ori managed, looking about. 

     They were at the entrance to the royal cavern.  Dwalin leered, pulled him in for another long kiss, and roll them over once more which started Ori laughing and made kissing rather ineffective.

     “Oi,” a male dwarf’s voice said.  “Get yourselves a room, yeh drunks.”

     Ori was not quite sure how Dwalin managed to spring from lying flat to being on his feet in one smooth movement and keep hold of Ori while he was doing it.  Dwalin was in the other dwarf’s face instantly.

     “Who wants t’ repeat what they just said?  No’ t’ mention what business they go’ in th’ royal caverns a’ this time a’ nigh’?”

     Ori peered around Dwalin.

     The other dwarf was obviously a miner, pleasant featured and amused about catching them.  Ori knew that familiar face and funny hat anywhere.

     “Master Bofur.  How lovely to see you again after all this time!”

     “Well bless my beard!  If it ain’t young Ori, Rikmha’s son!  Grand t’ see yeh, laddie!”

     Master Bofur offered his hand immediately then chuckled and ruffled Ori’s hair. 

     Dwalin stepped closer with growl.  Ori put his hand on Dwalin’s chest and put himself in between the dwarrow.

     “Dwalin, please.  This is an old friend of my family.  Master Bofur and his brother, Master Bombur, used to run the Steam Circle Pub.  They were always very good to us.”

     Dwalin grunted assent and glared at Bofur but kept Ori’s back flush to his chest and leaned his arm casually under Ori’s chin.  Ori blushed and smiled weakly.  Master Bofur looked Dwalin over then narrowed his eyes.

     “Ori, lad, does yer Dori know yer here with him at this time of night?”

     “Well, no, but it’s alright.”

     “Oh, really?”  Master Bofur frowned.  “Here you!  I think it’s time this young dwarf was home safe with his brothers.”

     “This young dwarf’s me husband an’ he’s perfectly safe,” Dwalin snarled. 

     Master Bofur’s eyes bugged slightly as he gasped out, “Master Ori!  Yer married?  Durin bless us all!  Truly?”

     Ori grinned and nodded enthusiastically.  Master Bofur dropped his pack and tools at his feet with a huge grin.

     “Well, then I’ll shut my scolding and offer yeh my hand instead!  Married our Ori, did you?  Bless us all, that is fine news.”

     Dwalin unbent enough to take the other dwarf’s hand

     “Dwalin, son of Fundin.  I’m Captain of the City guard.”

     “And Prince Thorin’s personal guard.  Our Ori’s flying high.  Bofur, son of Scur, miner an’ toy maker dependin’ on the market, at yers. My congratulations to both of yeh.”

     “Bit late t’ be diggin’ ain’t it?” Dwalin asked conversationally.  “Hit a vein good enough t’ rouse the royal family?”

     Bofur chuckled.

     “Nah.  Was havin’ a chat down the Central Pub, then…well, jus’ came up to, er… take in th’ lay of th’ land, as it were.”

     “Lay of the land?” Ori asked.

     “Aye,” Bofur sighed.  “Ori, lad, you remember our Janifur, yes?”

     Ori and Dwalin looked at each other then Ori said, “So it is your younger sister Frerin is trying to court?”

     Bofur groaned.

     “I knew it!  I told her th’ princeling was after her, bu’ she jus’ kept saying she don’t know him from nowt.  Came home all excited t’ other night.  Been invited to Princess Dis’ house f’r dinner.  I’m not happy about thin’s.  Came up t’ find the blessed place, so we wouldn’t be late!   Oi, how d’ yeh know about it?”

     “We had breakfast with Princess Dis the other day and Prince Frerin told us,” Ori explained.

     “Aye,” Dwalin concurred.  “Wanted Thorin t’ support his suite t’ Thror.”

     Bofur picked up his pack and the three dwarrow walked beneath the arch way and strolled up through the tunnel to the royal cavern.

     “Bollocks!” Bofur frowned.  “He’s not already done that has he?”

     “Nah,” Dwalin shrugged.  “Idiot badger f’rgot to ask f’r her family name, so no one’ll say nowt as that’ll be first thing Thror’ll want t’ know.”

     Bofur rolled his eyes.

     “Should be an interestin’ dinner party then.  I’ll tell Bom what’s t’ do.”

     “How are Master Bombur and Dam Erda?” Ori asked.

     “Very well, very well indeed, laddie.  May I tell ’em of yer good fortune?”

     “Oh yes,” Ori blushed again.  “Please do.  Will any other of your family members be attending the dinner with your sister?”

     “Aye, me an’ Bom’ll be there.  Prob’ly our cousin Bifur, if he fancies it.

     Dwalin frowned.  “Yeh talkin’ a’ Bifur, son o’ Ozur?”

     “Aye.  Yeh know my cousin?”

     “An’ well.  He was with us down in Khazad Dûm.  Still no’ acceptin’ his key t’ the Great Halls, eh?”

     “Aye, both his sight an’ hearing’ve returned an’ he can get about as fine as any of us.”

     Dwalin grinned.

     “That’s good news, Master Bofur.  Tell ’im I’m lookin’ forward t’ meetin’ up with him a’ dinner.  I know both Balin an’ Thorin’ll be thrilled t' see ’im.  It’s th’ lapis house you’ll be wantin’ to show at, by th’ way.”

     Bofur looked.

     “Fuckin’ eh,” he commented. 

     Bofur grinned back at Dwalin and started digging through the pack.

     “Master Dwalin, it’s been a right pleasure makin’ yer acquaintance an’ seein’ our Ori again, lookin’ finer than a new smelter.  Now here we are.  Jus’ lemme give me blessin’s here.”

     “No, yeh don’t have t’!” Dwalin started.

     Ori blinked as Master Bofur started tossing liberal amounts of gold dust over them, saying the ancient seven blessings in Khuzdul.  After the last cloud landed over them Bofur saluted them and sloped off.

     “Bloody bless his tools up his arse,” Dwalin growled.

     A little shocked, Ori started, “Dwalin! It was very kind of him to bless us and he’ll hear you!”

     “Good!” Dwalin said louder.

     Bofur popped out from behind the first turn of the tunnel to the city.

     “Don’t want yer business known, don’t do yer business in th’ street!” the miner called jauntily.

     “I’ll teach ye some business,” Dwalin threatened and Bofur ducked out of sight but they could still hear him laughing.

     “Dwalin,” Ori pleaded.  “He’s a friend!”

     “Aye, who jus’ covered us in gold dust.  We walk anywhere, we’ll trail it after us.”

     “Oh!” Ori realized.  “Oh.  Slag!  What should we do?  We can’t walk about and the streets are already washed.”

     “Son of a barrow-wight!” Dwalin griped, then he caught hold of Ori and leaned him over.

     “Here.” 

     Dwalin ruffled Ori’s hair and beard.  Gold dust showered down.  Ori giggled in spite of himself and swiped at his clothes.

     After bushing themselves off for some time they were finally able to walk away unmarked.  Ori looked back at the mess then glanced at the houses then realized they had been exactly in front of the Sons of Groin household.

     “Dwalin, look where we were.”

     Ori pointed.  Dwalin said “fuck” and led the way back the center of the courtyard were there was another, smaller reflecting pool.

     Ori bent and touched the water to see it ripple.

     “Ye kin play an’ stick yer feet in but it ain’t potable,” Dwalin commented idly.

     “I love to watch it ripple,” Ori confided.  “It’s what I imagine lava to be like.”

     “Lava’s a bit different.  Here, wha’ ye mean ‘imagine’?”

     Ori looked up at Dwalin’s incredulous face.

     “I know about lava from what I’ve read.“

     “Ye’ve never seen it?”

     “In pictures.”

     “Can’t have that.  C’mon.”

     Dwalin offered his hand and Ori grabbed it, allowing himself to be pulled to his feet and back down the tunnel.  Half way along Dwalin turned and placed both hands on the wall.  A door just large enough for a dwarf to pass through slid open.  Dwalin ushered Ori into a room the size of a closet. The entire tiny room was paneled in blue-green jewels. Ori felt like he’d been popped into a lake-themed trinket box. 

     Dwalin told him to hold onto a think glass handle on the wall.  Ori did so and watched Dwalin pull an ornate glass lever.  Ori nearly jumped out of his skin when he felt the box slide downwards.  He had to hang on tightly which was difficult as the downward speed made it feel as though his tummy was trying to fly into his head.  Dwalin pulled on the lever and the box slowed and gently slid to a stop.  Dwalin opened the door and Ori hurried after him down the long, curving spiral staircase.

     They reached the bottom and walked out a big porcelain door into what looked like Mahal’s own forge, but in reality was the work and mining levels of the mountain.

     “Where’re we going?” Ori asked.

     “T’ me family’s forge.”

     Ori about swallowed his tongue.  He had only read stories about the old Noble Forges.

     At the end of an enormous long hallway, Ori saw a huge door, the family crest of the Fundins emblazoned on it.

     Dwalin pulled out several keys all chained together and undid a sequence of tiny locks then pushed the door open.  Ori padded into an open area surrounded by doorways screened by panels of glowing red phosphorous, the sole lighting in the room.  Dwalin slid back a screen and Ori saw each of these doorways gave access to rooms stuffed with treasure.  Ori had never seen so many riches in all his life, or even imagined so much.

     Though these dazzled briefly, they paled in comparison to the scent that seemed to physically draw him forward.  He vaguely heard Dwalin close and lock the doors behind them.  Ori reached the far wall and the only other solid door in the room and laid his hand on it.  It was warm, an alloy of steel and mithril.  He rested his cheek against the metal.  The scent drew him to press himself against the smooth surface.  His fingers sought something along the metal.

     He turned as Dwalin chuckled.

     “Lemme open that.”

     Ori stood back as Dwalin unlocked and hauled the door back into its recess.  Despite being of a hand’s length thickness, the door glided sideways soundlessly.

     Ori stepped through and peered into the gloom. Dwalin slid the door closed and locked it again, tossing the keys on the floor.

     “Wha’ yeh think?” he murmured gruffly, crossing to lay his hands on Ori’s shoulders.

     “I can’t see much but there’s a scent, a feeling.”

     Dwalin walked him over to what looked like a vast stone trough running clear around the room. In the middle of the room sat the anvil, blackened by centuries of use but the edges and surface were flawless. To Ori, it was the size of a full bed.  The rounded point jutted out over the trough.

     Ori turned at the scrape of a lever.  Dwalin had his foot braced against the trough and he was pulling on a huge chain.  Ori watched as a stone lifted at the back of the trough.

     Lava poured through.  The hot scent titillated and the ripe heat flowed across his face and skin.  It rolled and billowed out, soundless, until it touched the trough then it sputtered and hissed.  It spilled through with all the beauty and colors of fire.  It spread over the stone and the flames leapt up and danced as in a seer’s flame bowl.

     Ori was entranced and moved to the side of the trough.  The moist bubbling rose into his face.  He took a deep breath: sweet, salt and heavy like syrup.  Ori leaned closer.

     “Mmm, so good,” he murmured.

     “Aye, there’s naught like it,” Dwalin agreed.  “Dwarves alone can revel in that scent.  If they smell it close enough men and elves’ll be overcome and die.  Orcs and goblins, too.  Nor can they stand this close and no’ burn.”

     “I never dreamed it would be so beautiful,” Ori breathed.  “Look how it moves. It’s like poetry.”

     He gasped, eyes glued to the element before him. “No it’s- it’s like runes!”

     Ori felt Dwalin draw closer.

     “Yeh know the legend then?”

     “Yes,” Ori said.  “Durin the Deathless watched the lava move about his forge.  He listened for the voice of Mahal to command his hammer, but as he stood in the beauty, a song of Yavanna came to him in the dancing flames.  He was overcome with the melding of flames and lava.  He took up his splinter of mithril and poured the lava upon his anvil and as it cooled it traced the first runes which gave us the words of Khuzdul and he spoke them there in the forge.”

     Dwalin slid his arms about Ori’s waist from behind.  Ori felt the warmth at his back and leaned on Dwalin’s chest.

     “I never had th’ steady hand like yeh an’ Balin.  I got so far with me studies before adad came home an’ put an end to ’em.”

     Ori felt the sorrow in his mate and folded his hands over Dwalin’s.

     “I can help you, if you’d like.”

     “Thanks, love.  If yeh could read me some of th’ old poets sometime, I’d like that.”

     “Of course I will.”

     Ori enjoyed the silence between them.

     The lava roiled in the trough before them.  Runes formed and changed in the trough, casting their light.  Reflected sigils flowed over the walls all around them.

     As the runes came and went, ancient words and poetry sprang forward.  Ori felt he could hear the songs playing for him.  He fumbled to speak, to sing as they rushed into his sight.

     “And so they dig the depths of the Arkenstone.  The star within our star.  Breath of our breath.  The One of…”

     Ori felt Dwalin catch him as his knees gave way.

Chapter Text

     Ori opened his eyes.  He lay flat on his back on a bed.  The ceiling told him it was in Dwalin’s room.  The vague light from the window told him it wasn’t quite dawn.  He glanced about and counted one pillow on the floor, one up against the headboard.  He himself was tucked under Dwalin’s armpit. He heard only the flames hissing in the fireplace and the sonorous sound of Dwalin’s snoring.

     Dwalin’s face at rest was more telling than awake.  The scar across his eye crinkled, his skin was tanned from the sun, toil, and battle to the texture of oiled leather. The tattoos tracked across his pate.

     Ori craned for a better look at them, the runes for the battle cries of their people faded with time but still easily seen.  His shoulders bore the marks of the triumphs of the House of Durin.  Ori smiled, this was his house now.  The Rikanta line had a distant kinship.  He started to wonder when and what the rest of the Rikanta clan would think of his marriage.  What would they say?  What would they do?  He knew that both Balin and Dwalin, and most likely Thorin, would stand behind him.  Thror had already given them the royal blessing, so there was no argument there.  Added to that, he and Dori were Dwalin’s and Balin’s Ones.

     Dwalin rumbled and shifted closer.  Ori smiled.  Dwalin stirred again and opened his eyes.  He looked at Ori

     “Ah, there now. Yer awake.”

     “Yes.  Thank you for tucking me up.” 

     Ori wiggled a little, enjoying the heat of the furs.

     “Mmmm.  Jus’ so yeh know, love, I should’a put yeh back in yer room, but seein’ as yeh’d been that upset t’ the point a’ bein’ sick, it made me feel better t’ put yeh here where I could keep an eye on yeh.”

     Ori looked back up at the ceiling and grinned remembering.

     “I heard the tea tray knocked out fifteen candles before destroying an entire light of elfin blown glass.”

     Dwalin snorted.

     “Sixteen candles, love.”

     “Are you sure it wasn’t fifteen?”  Ori tried to keep his voice steady.

     Dwalin started chuckling.

     “Sixteen an’ Thorin was stayin’ over an’ Balin was relegated t’ this room as Dis was in his.”

     Ori started giggling.

     “Oh well, seeing as you had witnesses.” Ori attempted to sound demure but failed.

     He snuggled into his furs again, wrapped to the point he felt rather like a moth still in its cocoon.  He’d never slept in furs before. They were so soft compared to the woolens he was used to.  Then again, the past few nights he had been enamored of his cotton sheets.  He smiled to himself and burrowed in again.

     “So soft,” he murmured.  “Furs and a cotton quilt below.  You have the best bed in the world.”

     “Like it?” Dwalin asked.

     “Yes.”

     “Anytime yeh like.”

     “Oh- I- ”

     “I don’t mean that, love.  I mean, if yeh like sleepin’ here, yer more then welcome.  An’ I do mean just’ sleep.”

     Ori turned to face Dwalin, who lay stretched out on his belly beside him.

     “I do like it,” he said truthfully.

     “I like yeh here.  Yer good t’ talk to.”

     Ori smiled shyly.

     “You’re very good to me, Dwalin.”

     “I’m yer husband.  An’ speakin’ a which, yer a pretty damn good husband yerself.”

     Ori blinked in surprise.

     “Really?  How so?  I haven’t done much.”

     “Well, as Balin says, yeh put up with me an’ he says me temper’s improved.”

     Ori laughed.  “If this is you good tempered I’d hate to see you sulk.”

     Dwalin chuckled.

     Ori had been going to roll and put part of his fur over Dwalin but found he was found he was wrapped far tighter than he had thought.

     “How do I get out of this?”

     Dwalin knelt up and got ahold of the end of Ori’s other side and started to pull.  Ori rolled onto his side.  Ori looked up at Dwalin, who grinned wickedly.

     “Don’t you dare!” Ori gasped out.

     Too late.  Dwalin was on his feet in a flash and yanked the wrapping upward.  Ori flew into the air and spun around before landing back in the bed on his belly.

     “Dwalin!”  Ori choked, laughing and reeling with dizziness.

     Dwalin dropped down beside him, laughing quietly.  Ori sat up, grabbed a pillow to swat Dwalin, but was still too dizzy and fell over.  Dwalin laughed harder.  Ori sat up again, got a good hold of the pillow, and swatted Dwalin upside the head.  Dwalin nearly fell off the bed but didn’t stop laughing.

     “Nice shot, love!”

     “You made me dizzy, you- you buffalo!”

     Dwalin raised an eyebrow then put both his fists to his brow and pointed his forefingers like horns then made a snort noise.

     Ori squeaked and swung the pillow into a ready position, having a terrible time trying not to giggle.  They fenced, then Dwalin charged, knocking both of them to the end of the bed.  Ori smothered a shout, lest he awaken the house.  With the pillow between them, Dwalin rolled to them back up to the top of the bed then freed Ori, snickering.  Ori tried to frown but couldn’t.

     He settled on “Daft!”, reached out and ruffled the hair around Dwalin’s ear.

     “Snort, snort, bellow,” Dwalin replied cheerfully then settled back about the pillows. He pulled up the furs and patted the space beside him

     “C’mon, love.  Back t’ sleep.”

     Ori laughed, scooted over and settled beside Dwalin, automatically turning on his side.  He was pleasantly surprised as Dwalin spooned behind him and pulled the furs in close.  Ori drifted back to sleep with a smile on his face.

 


     Ori felt warm, curled on his side, with a heavy arm around him and a large breathing furnace behind him.  Ori licked his lips and tasted powder.  His eyes popped open and he groaned at the sight.  He and Dwalin cuddled together in the middle of the bed and completely covered in gold dust.

     “Fuck you both, Balin and Dori,” Ori muttered to himself, spitting quietly to get the dust out of his mouth.

     “Just swallow, love,” Dwalin grunted.  “It’s considered good luck if yeh shit gold th’ next day.”

     Ori sat up and looked down at Dwalin, who flopped over on his back and laced his fingers across his chest.  He looked like he had been dropped in a bin of gold dust.  Ori glanced down and saw he had fared the same.

     Dwalin snorted in good humor.

     “Apparently some people think we need a shit full of luck,” Ori groused.  As bits and pieces of the night before came back to him, Ori groaned, “Please don’t tell me I fainted in the forge.”

     “Nah, yeh fell asleep readin’ fire runes on th’ wall.”

     Dwalin rolled over and grabbed a small bound notebook while Ori tried not stare at Dwalin’s ass.

     “Here.”  Dwalin handed Ori the book and opened it to about a quarter of the way through.  “I wrote down all yeh said when yeh started readin’.”

     Ori was at a loss for words, so he settled on, “Thank you, Dwalin. That was so good of you.”

     Dwalin smirked at him.

     “Can’t yeh thank a body better than that?”

     Ori considered, then decided he was fine.

     “Alright then.”  He smiled.  “Just let me take off my britches.”

     “Ori!”

     “What?” Ori asked in surprised.

     “Durin’s arse, love.  I were only hintin’ f’r a kiss!”

     “Oh!”  Ori blushed then realized how silly the situation was and giggled. “Sorry.”

     He crawled over to Dwalin and puckered up.  Dwalin caught his chin and kissed him.

     Once free Ori giggled again and stood upright on the bed.  Gold dust streamed off him.  He struggled to keep his feet. The bed was remarkable springy.  Curious, he hopped a little.  The bed bounced him back higher than before.  Ori couldn’t suppress a crow of delight as he bounced up and down as hard as he could.  Covers went every which way, the pillows toppled off, clouds of gold dust went everywhere, and the headboard knocked against the wall.  The bed made a distinct squeak noise.

     “Springs, metal.  A mannish idea,” Dwalin explained as he kept himself on the bed with both hands on the underquilt.

     Ori was about to reply when he heard voices in the hallway.

     “Leave them be, lad.”

     “Yes, Nori, dear Balin has the right of it.  Let them get up in their own time. “

     “Hush up!  Couple a cooshy-doos the pair a yeh.  I’m just checkin’ on our wee Ori.”

     “Nori!  Leave them be!”

     Ori looked at Dwalin, who rolled his eyes, got off the bed, and rose to his feet.  Ori couldn’t help himself.  He bounced violently on the bed.  Dwalin turned and stared.  The voices in the hall died at the sound of the metal springs and the headboard doing a regular beat against the wall.  Ori grinned at Dwalin.

     “Oooooh Dwalin!” he moaned loudly.

     Dwalin bent double with a hand clapped over his mouth.

     Ori felt creative as he bounced.

     “Oh! Oh, Dwalin! You’re so wonderful!  And so big!”  Ori stopped for a breath.  “The cocks of men and Elves could never compare!  Oh!  Oh!  Oh!  Yes!  Ye-e-e-e-e-s!”

     Ori watched as Dwalin staggered back on the bed and buried his face in the under quilt, shoulders shaking.

     “You’re a huge bear,” Ori cried, delighted with his mate’s reaction.  “Oh!  By all the gods, I’m being fucked by the Lord of the Carrock, Beorn himself.  Yessss!  Ooze within me, my beloved!”

     There came a horrible roar and something Nori-sized crashed against the door, a scolding protest from Dori, then the unwelcome noise of Nori retching.
Ori fell back against the mattress and stuffed the hem of his night shirt into his mouth.  Dwalin came into his line of vision and dropped a pillow on his face.  Ori desperately tried to laugh quietly.  Dwalin’s face came under the pillow and Ori felt the furs being pulled over the both of them.

     “Nori! That’s disgusting!” Dori scolded.  “And Sweet Yavannah!  What have you being eating, you horrid badger?”

     “I’ll get the bucket from the stable,” said Balin.

     Dwalin and Ori giggled harder into each other’s necks.

     “I’m so fuckin proud a’ yeh!” Dwalin managed to hiss into Ori’s ear.

     “I’m not going out there before Nori cleans up his sick,” Ori replied.

     He snuggled closer to Dwalin as they listened to Dori scold while Nori cleaned and swore.  Ori smiled.  It sounded like home.

     A bit later, the noises faded and Ori lifted his head.  Dwalin seemed to be dozing off again.  Pleased with the lack of bodies outside the door, Ori sat up carefully but woke Dwalin anyway.

     “Oi!  Where ye off to, me wee nug-humper?”

     Ori turned and made a face at Dwalin’s naughty grin.

     “To pee, oh great cock of the north.”

     Dwalin snorted.

     “That’s right.  Th’ envy a men an’ elves.”

     “Aren’t you lucky then,” Ori teased, putting out his tongue.

     Dwalin caught him close and kissed him deeply.  First Ori was startled, but the warmth and sweetness of Dwalin’s tongue exploring his mouth quickly turned him boneless.

     It was so gentle, yet teasing.  Ori wasn’t sure how to respond, but clung to Dwalin and tried to mimic what he’d enjoyed earlier.  It must have been right as Dwalin made a pleased growl and laid Ori back against the mattress, sliding his arm around Ori as he did.  Ori wrapped his arms around Dwalin’s neck and couldn’t stifle a murmur of pleasure of his own.  Dwalin worked around to kiss along his cheeks and his eyelids, light feathery kisses, before trailing down to Ori’s neck.  Ori gasped and clutched Dwalin’s shoulders as Dwalin left a trail of hot kisses and little nips.  Even though Ori hadn’t done this before his body seemed to know what to do as he relaxed and drew his left knee up to clasp against Dwalin’s hip.

     Dwalin was heavy on him, nuzzling his collarbone, nipping hard, then soothing with his tongue and more kisses.

     “Dwalin,” Ori managed and hugged him tighter.

     Ori squirmed round to get another kiss and Dwalin obliged, worrying Ori’s lower lip gently between his teeth. Ori felt the heat and pleasure down in his crotch.  He moaned for more and his stomach growled loudly.

     Ori blushed and Dwalin fell away laughing.

     “Some ane needs their breakfast.”

     “Sorry,”  Ori chuckled at himself.

     Dwalin rolled off the bed and offered Ori his hand.  Ori let Dwalin take his weight as he was pulled off the bed.  Dwalin drew him close for another kiss.

     “I’ll be right back,” Ori said with a smile.

     “Go eat. I’ll be through in a bit,” Dwalin said.

     Ori turned but squeaked when he received a light smack on his butt.  He made a face at Dwalin, who grinned.

 

     After visiting the bathroom, Ori romped through to the kitchen.  On the hob, there was a kettle on the side plate and on the steady heat was a large pan bubbling with porridge.  Honey and cream were set on the counter.  Ori found himself a bowl and spoon.  He helped himself to porridge and the consistency told him Dori had made it, creamy and salty.  He greedily poured cream over the surface, he was about to stuff the first loaded spoonful into his mouth when he saw an open door leading to a small, beautiful eating area. He went through and there were Dori and Balin having tea.  Ori bounced forward, and dumped his bowl on the table.

     “Ori’s Dori!” he shouted and pounced into Dori’s lap.

     “Oomph!” Dori managed, immediately squashed.  “Sweet Yavanna, my love!  You’re far too big to sit in my lap!”

     “ORI’S DORI!” Ori laughed and hugged harder, shoving his mop of hair into Dori’s face and rubbing.

     As of old, Dori burst out laughing and hugged back then tickled Ori until Ori fell on the floor in helpless giggles.

     “Honestly!” Dori pretended to scold.  “In front of Lord Balin in your nightwear.  Barefoot, too!  I declare, Lord Balin, I did my best.”

     Balin chuckled as Ori clambered to his feet and glomped onto him.

     “Good morning brother,” Ori cried out in Balin’s ear.

     Balin laughed ad patted Ori’s back with both hands

     “Sleep well, laddie?” he asked with a sly wink.

     “Brilliantly,” Ori answered with a grin.

     “Sit down properly and eat your porridge.  I’ll pour your tea,” Dori ordered.  “Such a carry-on and before breakfast on first rest day.”

     Ori plumped down on a chair and shoved a spoonful of porridge into his mouth.  Dori filled another cup, adding cream and honey before putting it before Ori.

     “Chew, badgerling, don’t inhale.”

     “Eth, Duthee,” Ori managed.  He hadn’t realized how hungry was was.

     “Aye, lad.” Balin agreed.  “You’re missing a treat.”

     “Where’s th’ tea?” Dwalin strode in, wearing nothing but his pink drawers.

     Dori had to suppress a shriek of mirth.

     “Good morning to you, too, brother,” Balin said dryly.  “Ask Master Dori.”

     Dori had both hands clapped over his mouth, eyes dancing with laughter.  Dwalin reached across between Balin and Dori to put his bowl of porridge next to Ori then put his mug down next to Dori.

     “Wha’?” Dwalin asked as Dori was still attempting to control himself but failing miserably

     “Dori’s never boiled the reds with the whites.” Ori explained around his last mouthful of porridge.

     Dwalin rolled his eyes and a tinge of a blush appeared in his cheeks.  Dori fell back in his chair and roared with laughter.  Balin took mercy on his brother and filled the waiting mug.  Dwalin grunted thanks.  Nori entered, grunted a greeting, and poured himself some tea.  Ori pushed his bowl aside, came over to Dori and climbed back into his lap.

     “Ooof, pet,” Dori huffed.  “Whatever’s the matter?”

     “Nothing,” Ori said.  “Ori’s Dori.  Always Ori’s Dori.“

     Dori chuckled and cuddled Ori close.

     “I take it you want to go in the other room and tell me something,” Dori stated with the innate knowledge of a parent.

     Ori nodded, climbed off, and, grasping Dori’s hand, pulled him into the kitchen.  Dori smiled and held both Ori’s hands across his belly.

     “What is it, pet?  Was your first time nice?”

     Ori blushed.

     “Not that, Dori.  I - I have something to tell you.  I - I’m sorry.  Dori, pleased don’t be angry...well, too angry.”

     Dori’s eyes widened.

     “Whatever’s happened, pet?”

     Ori took a breath.

     “You know I have a bad habit of...”

     Dori paled then said, “You heard Balin and I talking last night.”

     “Yes.  And I don’t care, Dori!  You’ve always been more to me than Mam.  I’ve always loved you best that way and please don’t ever think that I don’t.  I-”

     Dori hugged him close

     “Oh, pet, I know.  I just don’t like you knowing about your adad and Nori’s.”

     “Does Nori know?” Ori asked tucking his head under Dori’s chin.

     “Oh yes, pet.  He does.  Don’t worry, I’ll tell him you know now.”

     “I-I’m sorry about the baby, Dori.  I wish-“

     “I know, dear one but I have you, don’t I?”

     “Oh yes!  Dori there’s something else.  It’s Princess Dis.”

     “What in all the mines does the princess have to do with anything?” Dori asked.

     “She and Mam knew one another as badgers.  She’s hinted she knows who your adad was.”

     To Ori’s surprise, Dori smiled and patted his hair.

     “Oh, that’s no secret to me, pet.  I know fine well who my sire was.”

     Ori popped up. “You know?”

     “Of course, pet, it was Nain, adad to Dain Ironfoot.”

     Ori goggled at Dori’s shrewd smile a moment.

     “Dain rules the Ironhills.” Ori started.

     “I know pet, that’s why Nain had to, shall we say, to return to his own mountains so quickly.”

     Ori pondered a moment then, “Dain is Thorin’s second cousin, is there something-?”

     Dori shrugged and cuddled Ori closer, saying, “It’s no doubt why this Dis is so interested in me.”

     “Dori, what about Mam’s family?  We’re going to have to face them at some point.”

     Dori chuckled, “Now pet.  They cast our mam out.  How can we three possibly expect to be recognize by any of them at all?”

     Ori frowned.

     “You mean just pretend we don’t know them?”

     “Do you know any of them?” Dori asked with a smile.

     “Well, no,” Ori was forced to admit.  “Not really and I was still quite small when Mam died.”

     Dori patted his cheek.  “Then there we are, pet.”

     “Nori-

     “He’s of the same opinion as I am, pet.  So not to worry.”

     Ori was about to comment when there was a noise at the front door.

     “Hello, we’re here!” Dis’ voice caroled down the hall.

     Ori froze and Balin came swiftly through just as Dis entered the kitchen.

     “Balin,” Dis greeted him, then caught sight of Dori.

     “Durin’s beard. Balin!  You have been lucky!  Marvelous time out at a Dale pub?”

     Ori gasped and heard Dwalin mutter “shit” in chorus with Nori.  Before Balin could say a word Dori laughed brittlely.

     “Oh good. I’m glad you’re here before I’m dressed.  You may take the dirty laundry with you.  Ori, Nori, come with me so I can do your hair.  Oh, and you may start with the kitchen.”

     Dori, with a hand on Ori and Nori swept out leaving stunned looks behind them as they went to Balin’s rooms.

 

     Dori shut the door behind the, humming and smiling.

     Nori flung himself on a couch.

     “Pretty dressed up f’r a housekeeper.  Hope she brought herself a pinnie ‘r she’ll ’be a mess before long,” Nori commented.

     “Dori!” Ori gasped. “That was Princess Dis!”

     Nori fell off the couch in a coughing fit that quickly turned to smothered laughter.

     Dori started going through Balin’s clothes.

     “I know, pet,” Dori said in soothing tones.  “But if I’m just something Balin picked up at a pub, why can’t she be a cleaning dam?”

     Ori sighed and hoped to Mahal that Balin and Dis would understand and there would not be any dead bodies in the kitchen.

     Dori was resplendent in a few moments and was just finishing his beard braids when Balin came in.  He closed the door and leant against it.  Ori saw his eyes were twinkling and felt better.

     “Love?”

     “Yes, my One.” Dori peeped into the mirror, put the brush down and turned to smile teasingly at Balin.

     “That was very naughty o’ yeh, me darlin’,” Balin said lightly.

     Dori laughed.

     “Well, my dear, if you are happy as being my ‘latest’.”

     “No, dear.  I’ve explained. Now come along in yer finery an’ we can have a proper breakfast.”

     Dori laughed again and sailed forward into Balin’s arms.

     “How fortunate for you that I’m a bearer and it is the law that we may not be slaughtered.”

     Balin snorted and enveloped Dori in his arms, murmuring, “Foolish one.”

     Nori sat up looking from Dori to Ori and back.

     “Dor!  That’s your One?”

     Ori nodded vigorously as Dori smiled.

     “Yes, Nori, Balin’s my One.”

     Nori stared a moment then started to grin which quickly slid to feral.

     “Mahal’s big-assed bouncing balls!  This is rich!”  Nori laughed uproariously at them.  “Thank Mahal, I’m a single lad yet!”

 

     Balin ushered them back into the sitting room.  Ori saw that not only was Dis there but also Thorin, Fili and Kili.  The young dwarrow looking puzzled as Balin drew Dori close.

     “Prince Thorin, Princess Dis, here is Dori, son of Rikmha, my One.  We have found one another again.”

     Ori watched as Dis jumped up and held out her hands to Dori.

     “I am so pleased to finally meet you, Dori.  Balin has missed you greatly.  I do hope we shall be great friends.”

     Dori took the hands offered him.

     “Oh, I know we shall, my dear Princess, and more so for you have already done so much for my Ori.”

     Dori and Dis came together and bumped foreheads.  Dis released Dori as Thorin came forward to also bump foreheads with Dori.

     “I’m glad you’re here, Dori. It’s been too long for both you and Balin,” Thorin said graciously.

     Dori widened his eyes and fluttered his lashes at the prince.

     “Why, thank you, dear prince. You are too good.”

     Thorin briefly looked as though he’d swallowed his own tongue but recovered and bowed gracefully.

     Dis introduced Fili and Kili.  Ori almost groaned aloud as both princes puffed out their chests and tried to out do each other in charm.

     “Ori-mate!” Fili almost shouted as he laid eyes on Ori.

     Ori took the easy way out and introduced them to Nori.

     Kili was quick to ask if Nori played cards.

     “Oh now, lads, I haven’t played cards in ages.  Ye’ll prob’ly have t’ teach me again,” Nori drawled.

     “Oh no, you don’t!” Ori said elbowing Nori sharply. “You play most card games just fine.”

     The other three laughed.

     “Ori,” Dori called.  “Come and help me scratch a few things together for a light breakfast, pet.”

     Ori followed Dori through and chopped and mixed while Dori flew about to produce more porridge, eggs cooked in cream and dill. paper thin pancakes with shaved ham, onions, and sharp cheese rolled inside, hand pies filled with dried herbs stewed in wine and strained with curds.  Ori made more tea and toasted an entire loaf of egg bread and kept an eye on the vast skillet piled with bacon and sausage while a huge platter of mushroom and tomatoes, roasted dark, sizzled in the side oven.

 

     Dori spooned plum compote onto the last piece of toast and passed it to Kili.  Fili and Kili were seated opposite Dori and had behaved like well-mannered puppies for the entire meal.  Ori glanced down the table to see Nori between Balin and Thorin with Dwalin.  The four were in deep conversation.  This had been the case most of the meal with Nori being closed off at first then slowly opening up and all four were now talking heads together very seriously.  Ori wondered if Dwalin and Balin had convinced Nori that his knowledge and underworld connections would be of use to the prince.

     Dori and Dis seemed to have become instant bosom bows.  They chattered about cooking, food, and metal work.  Ori swiped the last of the jam from his plate with a forefinger, watching everyone.  He sucked the jam and savored the rich flavor on his tongue.  Dwalin caught his eye and winked.  Ori winked back then realized the connotations and blushed.

     “Right,” Dori said loudly.  “Ori, pet, come and get ready.  We’re all to go marketing.  Now I might need a small bit of help with the clearing and washing up-”

     Kili leapt to his feet.

     “I shall help you gladly, Master Dori.”

     Fili was on his feet, also.

     “I’ll come, too, dear Master Dori.  Kili can be clumsy, so I’ll make sure he doesn’t break anything.”

     “Oi, I do not!” Kili argued

     “You go and take your time getting ready.  We’ll take care of everything,” Fili promised.

     “Yes,” Kili agreed, not to be outdone.  “You won’t have to lift a finger!” and began piling up dishes.

     Dori smiled sweetly at both princes.

     “Oh, dear Dis!  What excellent young dwarrow you have raised.  Thank you so much!  You’re both too kind.”

     Ori stifled a laugh as both princes almost wriggled at the attention from the Bearer.  Dori rose and didn’t even notice the frenzied rush to get to his side to pull his chair out.  Dis did and winked at Dori as Fili triumphantly opened the door for Dori to leave.  Ori didn’t quite roll his eyes.  Balin, Thorin, and Dwalin were still talking to Nori.

     Dori took Ori’s hand and led him out.

     Ori was glad it didn’t take Dori long to get Ori back into his wedding clothes.  Ori felt a little worried about going through the market in such finery, while Dori sighed over it a few times.

     “Dori?”

     “Yes, pet?”

     “When will you and Balin get married?”

     “Oh, not for a bit yet, pet.  As the eldest, Balin will have to put on quite a show.”  Dori smiled.  “Which should amuse the entire mountain at the very least.”

     Ori giggled at the thought.  Dori guided him to a chair, then Dori went and washed his own face and rechecked himself in the mirror.

     “Come along, pet,” he said to Ori.

     When they reached the sitting room everyone was waiting.  Dwalin was in his full uniform and looked very well.  Dis had several string shopping bags.  Thorin, Nori, and Balin looked amused and Fili and Kili looked damp.

Chapter Text

     Ori had never been to this market before.  Along with carts, barrow, stalls, and tables lining the walkways, the shop fronts were built into the mountainside, each huge building that towered above was one shop with more than just a sales floor.

     Balin led the way into one of these called iKrôth.  Ori brightened.  The place smelled rather like the library with the added scents of oils, waxes and pigments.  Balin went straight to the counter and asked for the owner.  While an underling rushed away, Balin had others pull out reams of different kinds of paper from thick cushiony parchment to vellum so fine, it was transparent.  Balin turned to Ori.

     “Now, lad, some canvases, I think.  An’ take time t’ practice outside as well.  Th’ river’s quite lovely any season depending on th’ weather.”

     Ori gasped as the owner, Kujur, son of Tajur, arrived, bowed deeply and called for canvas.  Several rolls of canvas were brought out, different widths as well as different sizes and others already stretched on frames of every proportion.  Ori was almost dizzy as Balin chose several of each.

     Dwalin took Ori’s hand and walked him up the spun brass spiral staircase in the middle of the shop that reached all four of the floors. They stopped at the third.

     The entire space was devoted to writing implements, pens of feathers, some of steel, ornate with gems or scrollwork, and others of blown glass with colors swirled into them.  The shelves held thousands of tiny glass jars of ink every color imaginable.  There were pallets of stone, holding mortars and pestles of all kinds, materials and discs of colors, if you chose to grind your own ink.

     Balin arrived with the others and began advising Ori on what pens he would need for different types of work.  Ori stared as Balin ordered out boxes of different colors including the ones needing to be ground.  Handfuls of different pens, charcoal sticks, brushes of all kinds, and graphite wands were added.  There were various shades of putty and exquisite glass templates for drawing shapes and lines.

     Dwalin put his foot down when it came to selecting the small bottles for carry ink for daily use.  He insisted on plain round glass as he informed the group Dwalin himself would be doing the scroll work that would make them a matching set and exclusively Ori’s.  Ori sidled closer and squeezed his husband’s hand, receiving a grin in reply.

     The owner had three underlings with him now and all were scampering about wrapping and packing all of the things into crates to be sent to the house.  Ori wasn’t allowed to protest.  He looked to Dori for assistance but Dori only smiled at him, then preened as Balin looked his way.  Ori began to wonder about Dori and Balin’s wedding.  At this rate, it would be a huge affair.

 

     Outside of the stationary shop they re-grouped with Thorin, Nori, Fili and Kili.  Ori was firmly tucked under Dwalin’s arm as he looked about.

     He saw an overdressed house guard shepherding three other dwarrow.  Two middle aged dwarrowdams trailed after one very elderly, very elaborately dressed dwarrowdam.  There was something about that elderly dam that made Ori nervous.

     He turned and caught Dori’s eye. Dori glanced over at the group looked back at Ori and winked.  Then he tucked his arm into Balin’s.  Ori shrugged inwardly and laced his fingers with Dwalin’s hand resting on his shoulder.

     Dis was telling them that they needed to see to Dori and Nori’s other clothes. Nori was refusing, as his contacts would suspect something.  In his peripheral vision, Ori saw the elderly lady noticed Dis and Thorin and began to make her way over to them to pay her respects.  Ori took a deep breath and forced himself to relax.

     “Your Highnesses! A most pleasant rest day to you and all your lovely family,” the elderly lady greeted Dis.

     Dis turned and nodded politely as the family before her bowed low.

     “Lady Klakuna, daughter of Rikanta's house.  And to your family,” Dis responded coolly.

     Lady Klakuna hurriedly asked after Dis’ dear sons.  Ori saw Lady Klakuna was trying overly hard to be regally charming but her air of desperation did nothing for her.  She greeted Balin, who smiled and introduced Dori as his mate.  Dori deigned to notice Lady Klakuna, who promptly screamed and fainted dead away at the sight of him.

     Her family hurriedly picked her up, quickly explaining that the dear lady had probably had too much excitement and took her away across the market to an ornate cart drawn by a rather garishly blue dyed sheep.

     Dis turned and grinned at Dori, saying softly, “So what do you think of your lovely great umad?”

     “Oh dear,” Dori sighed.  “She does seem a bit high-strung to be wandering about.  I do hope her family will take good care of her.”

     Ori nudged Dwalin as the warrior choked and swallowed his laughter.  Both Thorin and Balin had trouble schooling their features.

     Fili and Kili were chatting with two young dams in a cart.  Ori recognized Omi and Loli.  Buj approached Fili and Kili from around the cart, making vast gestures.  Ori grinned and hurried over.

     “Ori!” Loli called.

     The young dams alit and the three friends bumped heads happily.

     “Come meet everyone!” Ori said, tugging on Loli’s arm.

     The young group hurried over and Dori was delighted to see the girls again.

     Ori made special care to introduce Buj to Thorin and Balin.

     “Buj does experiments,” Ori urged, nodding at the younger dwarf.

     Buj turned raspberry and looked very pleased.

     “Show ‘em your flying one!” Kili urged.

     Buj happily took out his notebook and explained the plan to the prince and the lord.  Balin’s expression of polite interest never changed but his eyebrows flew into his hairline.  Thorin affected great attention while politely clamping a hand over his mouth.

     Dori took Dis and Ori off with him to shop for clothing leaving the chatting group behind.  They ran into Lady Gridr and Oin who were also delighted to see them again and explained they had just lost Gimli to Fili and the youngsters.

     Ori was tired by the time Dis and Dori decided they had done enough for the day.  Dis had introduced them to scores of people, some pleasant, some too noble to show disappointment that their daughters were now out of luck where Captain Dwalin was concerned.

 

*     *     *

 

     It was late in the afternoon when they finally returned home from the markets.  Thankfully Ori was sent to remove the wedding robes.  It was a relief to change into his plain tunic and comfortable breeches.  He slipped on his house shoes and carefully hung up the robes back in the steamer closet before he padded back into the sitting room.  Thorin, Balin and Dwalin had gone but Fill and Kili lingered, trying to get Nori to play cards with them as Nori was suggesting they play dice instead. 

     Ori went to the kitchen where Dori and Dis were putting together tea and some cakes.  Ori could see that there were several simmering pots on the cook surface and good smells came from both large ovens.

     “I thought we were going to your house, Dis, for the dinner with Janifur and her brothers?” Ori asked.

     “Oh, we are, dear.”   She smiled.

     “I just thought we’d prepare a few dishes now,” Dori said, “so it will be less of a chore when we go over.”

     Ori looked about at the ‘few’ dishes.  The ovens were obviously loaded and every cooking surface covered.

     “Dwalin said he met Master Bofur,” said Dori.

     “Yes, he and and Master Bombur will be accompanying their sister.”  Ori grinned.  Master Bombur’s ability at the table was legend.  “Is there anything I can do, Dori?”

     “Yes.  Go through and tell those boys we’ll need help to ferry all this over to dear Dis’ home.”

     Ori nodded, popped a tiny raspberry tart into his mouth and pranced out of reach as Dori threatened him with a small wooden dough docker.  He went out to the sound of Dis’ and Dori’s laughter.   Back in the sitting room Fill and Kili watched as Thorin and Dwalin adjusted a movable twin of Balin’s desk.  Balin held a straight backed, leather padded chair at the ready.

     Dwalin got to his feet and grinned at Ori.

     “C’mere, love, and see if it’ll suit.”

     Ori trotted over.  The desk was beautiful, just like Balin’s, large and full of drawers and cubby-holes for storing things.  Ori admired it.

     “It’s lovely, Dwalin.”

     “Try it out, love.”

     Ori stared.

     “For me?”

     “Aye, wee brother,” Balin assured. 

     Dwalin pulled the chair around and Ori slid into it.  It was perfect.  Everything was in reach and the correct height for him.  The chair was so comfortable yet supported his seat and back well. 

     “Dwalin, it’s splendid!  I don’t know how to thank you!”

     “Kiss him, you pillock,” Kili supplied then yelped as Thorin cuffed him. 

     Ori rose with a blush and stepped into Dwalin’s arms for a quick kiss and a long hug. 

Chapter Text

     “You want us to bring in all the shopping, sister?” Thorin asked in an oddly light tone as he stood in the receiving area of the Durin household. 

     Between helping Dori and Dis organize the food and seeing the Fundin side of the family all dressed for the special dinner with the Urs, Ori had yet to be able to wrench his eyes from his husband.  Thorin, his nephews, and Dwalin were in dress battle uniform.  With his usual weapons and boots, Dwalin was dressed in the green tartan with red stripes of the Fundin House and kilt.  The sash was caught at his shoulder with an old fashion brass medallion.   Thorin and his nephews were similarly attired in the plaid of the Durin blue.

     Dis poked her head around the hallway door from the kitchen where she and Dori were setting down the last of the food they had made.

     “Yes, brother, bring in all the shopping.  Thank you!” 

     She vanished with a huff and Ori could hear her telling Dori and Dori commiserating. 

     Thorn turned with an evil grin to Dwalin and Nori.

     “Well, lads, you heard.  All of it.”

     Dwalin straightened his shoulders and Nori snickered and rolled up his sleeves.  Ori had a bad feeling about it.  He opened his mouth to ask Dwalin if this was wise but Dwalin stopped him with a swift kiss.

     “Jus’ stay here, love.  We’ll take care a’ all of it.”

     The three dwarrow went out and returned with all the cloth, food and supplies.  These were parked near the far wall of the receiving room.  Ori was about to breathe a sigh of relief but the three trooped out again, mischief on their faces. 

     Ori groaned as the double doors opened and the three returned carrying Ori’s new pony, Honda.  Ori was so glad he and Honda had liked one another instantly.  She was a little nervous being carried into a house but she saw Ori and he couldn’t stop himself from giving the pony a guilty yet non-committed shrug.  Ori could have sworn she rolled her eyes.

     Thorin, Dwalin and Nori carried the now placid Honda into the middle of the room.  Thorin patted her head as Dwalin and Nori maneuvered her into position.  Dwalin grinned like a fool at Ori, who shook his head.  As if Nori needed help pulling pranks and causing trouble.  Ori was quite sure Fili and Kili got their streak of naughtiness form their idad.

     “All in, dear sister,” Thorin almost crowed.

     “Thank you,” Dis called. 

     Ori watched as the three snickered together.

     There was a heavy knock at the front door.  Ori realized the Ur family had arrived. 

     Mistress Dazla hurried in from the kitchen, having shed her apron.  She sidestepped the dwarrow and the pony with barely a quirk of her brow and opened the door with a flourish.

     “Welcome, honored guests!”

     Ori smiled weakly as Bofur, Bombur and Master Bifur trooped in first.

     Their friendly smiles dissolved as they stared at Thorin, Nori, and Dwalin standing beside Honda.  Honda regarded the guests with a banal expression and whinnied politely.

     “Mahal’s arse!” Bofur said.  “Bif, when yeh said the royals were a tad daft I din’t think yeh meant this daft!”

     Dis hurried in with swish of skirt and a flash of blue. 

     “Come in, come in!  Welcome.  Please make yourselves comf-”

     Master Bifur looked at the pony, threw back his head and roared with laughter.  This galvanized Thorin and Balin, who recognized Bifur immediately.

     “Master Bifur!” Thorin shouted.  “Well met, old friend!  It’s good to see you so well.”

     The prince greeted his old man-at-arms with a hearty embrace and an enthusiastic forehead thump.  Balin was not far behind in exclaiming his pleasure at seeing Master Bifur again after so long.  Thorin turned.

     “Sister, look!  Here’s-”

     “Dear brother.”  Dis had her arms akimbo and turned the full force of the Durin glare on Thorin.

     “What?” Thorin asked, confused.

     “What? What!” Dis’ voice rose.  “There’s a pony in my receiving room and you have the nerve to stand there and say ‘what’?”

     Fili and Kili popped in on either side of their amad

     “Oi,” Fili announced.  “There’s a pony in here?”

     “Where?” Kili demanded.  “Amad, why’s there a pony in the room?”

     “I don’t know,” Dis hissed.  “Ask your idad.”

     Put on the spot, Thorin cleared this throat, took a nonchalant stance, and shrugged.

     “Well sister, you did tell us to bring in all the shopping.  We simply did as you asked.”

     The Ur family all chuckled.

     “There’s a tease for yeh, mistress,” Bofur commented genially.

     Thorin looked pleased at this. 

     Dis pinned Bofur with her eye then scowled at Thorin.

     “Thorin Oakenshield, Prince of Dwarrow, get that pony out of my house or I swear I’ll take you out in the square and beat you with it!”

     “Well said, dear,” Dori chimed in, appearing at the door.

     “Hear that, Bif?” Bofur quipped.  “Lass is going t’ beat ‘im with a pony.  I want t’ see this!”

     “Thorin!” Dis didn’t quite scream but Fili and Kili dove for cover and the Ur family backed up.

     “Right, lads,” Balin said soothingly.  “Excellent fun for all, now let’s get our Ori’s poor pony out to the stable.”

     Ori suddenly felt his moment had arrived.  He hurried over.

     “I’ll do it.” 

     He caught the reins from the back and hopped up as Dwalin had taught him earlier.  He nudged Honda’s flank with his heel and Honda trotted gaily toward the door.

     Fili and Kili rushed to the door but only succeeded in knocking into a young dam which sent all three of them ass over tea kettle.  Honda watched unimpressed.

     Fill was up first and helped the dam to her feet, which was difficult as she was laughing so hard.

     Kill held open the double doors.  Ori urged Honda forward a bit too vigorously.  Honda barreled through the open doors and bowled Frerin off the front step.  Honda buzzed into the square and reared happily, rolling Ori off onto his butt.  Ori squawked but wasn’t hurt.  Honda was beside him instantly, snuffling in his hair.

     Ori started to pick himself up, part of him horrified at what he had done, but he couldn’t stop the giggles.  He’d got to his knees when a pair of familiar hands hoisted him up.

     “I’m fine.”  He beamed up at an extremely amused Dwalin.

     “Aye, love, jus’ ride a bloody pony through the royal household.”

     Ori smiled sweetly.

     “It wasn’t through the household, just the receiving room.”

     “Smartarse.”

     Ori turned and saw Balin and Thorin solicitously picking up and brushing off Frerin, while Dis, her boys and the Ur family watched.

     Ori caught a hold of Honda’s reins and Dwalin called over a young badger who was employed in Thorin’s stable and gave him a gold coin to take Honda back to Fundin House.  Dwalin led Ori back in time to see Bombur hand Dis a large box tied with pink string.  Master Bombur had made his famous strawberry tarts.

     Dis thanked him profusely and Dori whisked the box off to the kitchen. 

     Ori finally had a chance to have a look at Frerin’s ‘miner lass’.

     Janifur was as tall as Bofur and as wide as Bombur, crossed across her back were the tools of her trade, a mattock and a pickaxe.  Her red-blond hair was caught up in series top knots from her forehead to her neck then the rest poured freely down her back to below her waist.  Her beard was intricately divided and braided upwards into her eyebrows and hair.  She wore brown breeches and copper-toed boots.  Her rose-colored, lace-trimmed tunic showed off her cleavage most advantageously.  Ori slapped himself mentally for thinking that Frerin could easily asphyxiate in those enormous, round pillows of boobage and die happy.     

 

 

*     *     *

 

     The food was sumptuous and so good.  It was the first time Ori ever attended a dinner so fancy that it included a gravy course. 

     He glanced about.  Thorin sat at the head of the table with Bifur on his left and, as always, Balin on his right.  Dori was cozily next to Balin and across from Dwalin.  Ori smiled, very happy to be seated next to his husband and opposite Fili.  Bofur was on Ori’s other side and bantering across the table with Nori.  Bombur sat easily between Nori and his younger sister, smiling benignly across the table at Kili who seemed vaguely uncomfortable with his Idad Frerin between himself and his amad at the foot.  Frerin gazed dreamily over the table at Jani, who was chatting animatedly with Dis. 

     First course consisted of several different kinds of mushrooms cooked with bacon and flavored with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.

     Ori ate and watched the two dams laughing and talking.  Jani often reached over and grasped Dis’ hand when making a point.  It hadn’t taken Ori long to realize not only would Frerin and Janifur make a terrible match, but their likes were far from similar. 

     At this point the second course arrived.  Ori was rather disappointed at all the vegetables: roasted ramps, morels, wood sorrel, nettles, fiddle heads, and fried pickles.  He shook his head when Dori passed him the dish of fiddleheads, drenched in butter and fried with bacon.

     “Try it,” Dori murmured to him.  “Just a mouthful.”

     Ori shook his head.

     “I don't like green food.”

     Dori heaved a sigh and rolled his eyes.  He put half a spoonful on Ori’s plate anyway along with one fried pickle.  Ori tried the pickle and refused to admit it was quite nice.  He smiled hugely at Dwalin when his kind husband swiped the fiddleheads off his plate and ate them while Dori wasn’t looking.

     Frerin liked the idea of the mines but his love was the court and nobles.  He was quick-witted but at the same time short tempered and spoiled by his position in society. 

     Ori thoroughly enjoyed the third course which got him a good bowl of rich goat stew, deep brown and redolent with chunks of meat.

     Janifur was on par with Frerin’s wit but she was temperate, even in the greatest passion about her work.  She and Dis were equals when it came to matching gems to gold.  Ori overheard Dis exclaim when Janifur admitted it had been she who had left small ingots of rose gold on Dis’ supply table.

     The fourth course was chrain which Ori had never tasted and decided that for a vegetable item it was rather good.  It was served with boiled beef tongue, the meat dark and very tender but with Nori and Bofur joking about the meat that tastes you back, he had a hard time enjoying it.

     Ori glanced back at Janifur and caught himself from gasping.  On Janifur’s face he saw the same dizzy look of love Ori remembered on Frerin’s except instead of directing it at the young prince, Janifur was looking at the princess.

     “Oh no, “ Ori thought.  “But it does make sense as to why she happily agreed to come to have dinner.  Now what?  Frerin’s too enamored to notice how Janifur is looking at Dis. I wonder…”

     Ori was utterly distracted by the gravy course which was excellent and warmed his tummy through and through.

     Ori went back to watching Dis under his lashes.  Dis was quite unaffected and obviously enjoyed talking with another who shared her passion.

     A movement caught Ori’s eye and he followed from the hand to Dori’s eyes.  Dori raised an eyebrow.  Ori glanced back at Dis and Janifur.  Dori didn’t have to look long.  The adoration in Janifur’s face was obvious.

     Dori smiled like an overindulged cat who had just eaten the pet songbird.  Always quick, Nori widened his eyes and his grin became feral as he turned to Bofur.  Bofur grinned back and shrugged.  Bombur took a long sip of wine and winked at Bifur, who snickered and signed in Ingleshmek to the upper table ‘beguiled, besotted, and befuddled.’

     “Fuck,” hissed Dwalin in Ori’s ear. 

     Ori nodded with his mouth full. 

     Fill and Kili slowly became cognizant of what was happening while the sixth course was served. Lecsó with bread and hard boiled pigeon eggs.

     Dis caught her older brother’s eye and realized that, except for Frerin and Janifur, the entire table was smiling knowingly at her.  Her mouth opened then she turned to Janifur and saw the dam’s smitten gaze.  Dis swallowed and blushed.  Janifur realized her brothers and cousin were watching and turned scarlet.  She fervently tried to admire the ceiling rather than face anyone.

     Everyone was reduced to silence by the main course which was grilled elk chop smothered with morels, topinambour, roasted potatoes, parsnips, honeyed carrots and mashed turnips.

     Dis recovered and bit her lip a little then neatly turned to Frerin to ask his opinion of the work in the mines.

     Frerin grinned triumphantly at his sister.

     “See, sis, I told you she’d fit right in with us.  Thorin!” he called loudly.  “Now you and Balin have no reason not to see udad about her!”

     “WHAT?” squawked Dis and Janifur together.

     “Durin’s balls, Frerin!” Janifur barked, making him stare at her like a kicked puppy.

     “What Janifur?  I just-“

     “I said I admired and liked your sister.  That doesn’t give you the right to barge in before I get a chance to ask if she’d like to court!”

     Janifur’s face froze when she caught up with what had been coming out of her mouth.  She clapped both hands over it and turned horrified eyes on Dis.  Dis recovered her composure.  Frerin was still trying to get his jaw off the table.

     “Nice one, Jani!” Bofur called as Bombur and Bifur could no longer contained their laughter

     Frerin refitted his jaw.

     “You mean you don’t fancy me?”

     Janifur gaped.

     “You?  You’ve said you’ve seen me before and never noticed I don’t fancy males?”

     “You don’t fancy any males?” Frerin paused. 

     Janifur rolled her eyes.

     “Oh, honestly Frerin!  How can you be so dense?  I’ve got a dam to dam bead in my beard and another in my hair, not a dam to dwarf!”

     Frerin looked abashed then blurted out.

     “I just thought you were poor and it didn’t matter so much in the lower classes.”

     Silence.

     Ori grumbled inwardly.  The Ur family went stone-faced.  Thorin groaned aloud and buried his face in his hands.  Balin squeezed the bridge his nose and muttered about years of teaching wasted.  Dis was mortified and Fili and Kili shifted embarrassment.

     “Frerin, yeh dumb-fuck,” Dwalin said. 

     The tension broke at that and everyone except Frerin chuckled. 

     Janifur looked at Dis, mumbling.

     “ ’M sorry.  Wasn’t supposed to come out like that.”

     Dis laughed.

     “Things like that never do, dear.”

     Frerin leapt to his feet.

     “So you just used me to get to my sister and get yourself a place in the nobility, did you?  And make me a laughing stock of the place!  Well, I hope you’re happy that you succeeded in making both me and my family look like fools!”

     “You did that fine on your own,” Thorin commented dryly.  “Bifur, old friend-”

     “I hope you’re pleased, you above-ground spiderling!” shouted Frerin.  “Going to find a nice tree-shagger next?”

     Dis and Bombur grabbed Janifur as she lunged across the table in her rage.  An instant later Balin and Dwalin forcibly escorted Frerin out.

     Dis and Thorin started to apologize but both Bifur and Bombur waved the whole matter away and Bofur made a few jokes about youth and hot heads.

     When the Fundin brothers returned with a still furious Frerin, the rest of the dinner passed merrily except for Frerin who refused any more food and openly seethed in silence.  The Ur family ignored him.  They finished with diplomat pudding and figgy duff.

 

     They had all risen from the table and Dis was leading the way back through the reception area when Dazla met them and smiled.

     “The families of the Sons of Groin, marm.”

     “Here we are!”  Gridr cried.

     Janifur gave a shout of delight and rushed to her aunt.  The two dams hugged ecstatically.  Gloin and Gimli called welcome to both the Urs and the Durins, followed by Oin and Binni. 

     Ori had not met Binni before.  He was of a height with Oin but built along the lines of Marhdin.  His hair and beard were mithril like Dori’s, both tied back in leather thongs.  The two long braids of his mustache swung heavily, completely beaded with jade to match his eyes. 

     He dressed in an unadorned deep orange suit with boots dyed to match.  They had open lacings which sported his bright yellow socks.

     When he was presented to Dori they saluted each other on the lips then Binni pulled Nori’s ear and patted Ori on the head.   

     Ori was delighted to knock foreheads with both Omi and Loli, both of them in very fancy party dresses.  The dresses had puffed sleeves (the latest thing, Loli told him later, from West Farthing) and the hems dropped to a little below the knee.  Both were in white with foaming lace at their throats, their sleeves and the hems of their skirts.  Both wore white kidskin boots, tied with lace ribbons, which reminded Ori of his wedding boots.

     Gimli also greeted Ori with a forehead thump of some violence and was obviously quite pleased with his own new suit of fawn brown leather adorned with iolite.

     Dis brought Ori, Dori, Gridr, Binni, Omi, Loli, and Jani with her to a small parlor with a wonderfully figured curtained archway opposite and a lovely fire in a small marble brazier in the middle.  There were seats around the fire and Dis bade them make themselves comfortable and served them frozen dessert of mixed fruit and strong liquor along with the raspberry tarts.  Gridr had brought cupcakes with pink icing and honey cakes.  Binni added a platter of iced cookies.  Dori was kind enough to bring out his little silver flute and played for them while Binni sang.  Dis, Gridr, and Jani shared a pipe and Ori, Loli and Omi thoroughly enjoyed their dessert.

     Soon, Ori became aware of some rather strange noises from beyond the curtained archway.  Gridr started up at a loud thump and went to the arch.  She drew the curtain open and there was Bofur.

     “There yeh are, mistress!  Just coming’ through t’ fetch yeh ladies.”

     “Why thank you Master Bofur,” Dori said with a dazzling smile.  “How kind you are.  May I request the pleasure of your arm to escort me through?”

     Ori choked on a giggle as Bofur blushed and almost bounded across the room to do as he was bid.  He gamely offered his other arm to Binni, who smiled ferally and sidled close to the miner.  Jani and Dis giggled like school dams and Gridr had to hold the princess up.

     Ori hopped up, a touch dizzy but in a very pleasant way and went through to the bigger room, Loli and Omi scampering after him.  While he and the others enjoyed dessert, the Urs, the Fundins, the Sons of Groin, and the Durins were busy (Frerin had obviously stomped off in high dudgeon.) for the low table by the hearth overflowed with empty tankards around a large, tapped keg. 

     Master Bombur beat his fingers on a large drum between his knees and adjusted the tension to his liking.  Bifur bent over a box, fitting his pipes together.  Ori gasped as Thorin uncovered a beautiful harp.  Kili and Fili had produced fiddles and the Fundin brothers their viols.  Dwalin looked up and grinned at Ori, who was walking quite steadily thank you very much.  Dwalin started to cross to him but Bombur struck the drum and began to keep a beat.  Bifur swung the bagpipes to his shoulder and the drone rasped out under the first notes.  Dwalin turned and glared at them, but the pipes and drum were insistent.  Bombur laughed.  Dwalin blew out a breath and chuckled. 

     “Bash on with it, Dwalin!” Thorin called.  “Do what you’re called to!”

     Kili gave a shout, seconded by Gimli, and Loli and Omi squealed delightedly.

     Dwalin cussed but removed his axes and tossed aside his shoulder plaid.  Removing the hoods, he laid the axes crossed on the floor then turned and bowed to Ori with the others behind him.  Ori’s mouth dropped open as Dwalin turned and, with a lightness Ori had never expected, Dwalin stepped up to the axe heads and began to dance.

     Ori had heard of, but never seen, the warriors’ axe dance.  Dwalin crossed and circled his weapons, his boots pounded against the floor and the kilt swung with his movements. but never once, no matter how close he seemed to come, did any part of his boots ever touch the weapons.  With a final leap, Dwalin finished and bowed to his audience.  Bombur gave the drum a last blow and shouted in triumph as everyone else clapped and cheered.

     “Oi, Jani, “ Bifur called, he pointed at another case.  Jani grinned at Dis and went over and produced a balalaika.  She spun a silver plectrum and strummed a chord.  Balin twirled on his heel and bowed low to Dori.  Dori went off into a peal of laughter and allowed himself to be led to the middle of the floor which Dwalin had vacated along with his axes.  They bowed to each other and began to clap.  Everyone but Bombur on the drum, Fili on the fiddle and Jani strumming a country tune joined in. 

     Balin and Dori lifted their hands and began to do the forward kicks in time with the clapping.  They whirled and bowed to each other then caught their hands high and hopped deftly about in a circle. 

     Ori loved to watch Dori dance.  He was so light on his feet.  Dori was laughing and beaming at Balin who glowed back at him in perfect love.  

     Ori clapped until his palms tingled.

     Balin finished by lifting Dori in a spin then they bowed together. 

     Dwalin shouted for more and Nori and Bofur seconded him.

     “No,” cried Dori.  “You two shall sing to us!”

     Nori and Bofur exchanged bows and wicked looks.

     “Now here we go,” Bofur began then he and Nori gave the company a silly, rather rude song about dragons and maidens.  Fili, Kili and Jani shrieked with laughter while Dis and Dori scolded.  Loli and Omi were giggling but very red.

     Ori was beyond delight when Dwalin fetched him to join the others in a circle dance.  Bombur, Bifur and Kili teased the dancers by playing faster and faster until they were all breathless and almost falling over one another.

     Balin took over the drum, Kili the fiddle, and Dori played the flute for a reel.  Again the musicians raced the dancers.  Dwalin tossed Ori in the air, making him shout, and Jani swung Dis so hard she crashed into Thorin and kicked the pair of them head over haunches and when the tune finally ended they fell about, panting and laughing.  Mistress Dazla came in with iced liquors and they refreshed themselves. 

     Thorin played them some soft beautiful melodies on the harp while they rested.  Ori sat cross-legged on the floor before the hearth.  Strangely enough Fili, Kili, Gimli, Loli, and Omi joined him there. 

     Gridr, Gloin, Oin and Binni sang some old ballads with Thorin.  Dis, Balin and Dwalin joined in.  Nori and Bofur played their flutes with Thorin’s harp.  Ori sighed, he was warm and the air full of music.  Sounding through, the voice of his heartsong thrilled him.  He was full of food and the iced liquors were so delicious.  He turned to look up at Dwalin who was seated in a deep arm chair beside him.  Dwalin looked down to him and grinned fondly.  Ori clambered to his knees and then up into Dwalin’s chair.  Dwalin helped Ori sit in his lap.  Ori snuggled his head into Dwalin’s shoulder.

     “I’m sooooo happy,” he crooned into his husband’s ear.

     “Oh, aye?  Are yeh now?”

     “Yes, yes completely.  I wish I was a bearer.”

     “Huh?”

     Ori lifted his head and smiled at Dwalin, who was staring at him confused.

     “Yes,” he said, grinning.  “I wish I was a bearer and I’d give you lots and lots and lots of badgers!  Yes, I would and I don’t particularly like looking after young ones.  Oh, Tilda was alright because she would go home after a bit.  You know we’d have to get the stone masons in.”

     “Why?” Dwalin asked very carefully for some reason.

     “If I was a bearer and gave you lots and lots and lots of badgers, we’d have to convert the upstairs into a huge nursery.  Imagine that!  You might have to expand the house!  There I’d be, popping out badger after badger like a bubble mud geyser.  Mind,” Ori frowned in thought, “I really don’t know how I’d get any of my work at the library done as I’d be having to run back and forth popping out badgers.  I’m not sure I’d like that,” he reflected.   “What little I’ve read about pregnancy, it sounds too much like being constipated and badgers aren’t poop.  They’re much larger and that would hurt.”

     Dwalin was shaking.  Ori examined him.  Dwalin was definitely shaking, had his face in the hand that wasn’t holding Ori.  Ori took the hand away from his husband’s face.

     “Don’t cry, beloved,” he comforted.  “Neither of us are bearers so we can always adopt or simply enjoy any badgers produced by Balin and Dori.”

     Dwalin grinned up at Ori. 

     “Love, yer a’ least three parts drunk.”

     Ori eyed him owlishly.

     “No, I’m not.  I know I’m not.  I’m rather happy but I know I’m not drunk.  I got drunk with Nori.  He took me to a pub and we had a boiled dinner and he gave me all the ale I wanted as Dori was away and doesn’t approve of me having lots of ale.  Nori was sitting opposite me and I downed my eighth ale, I felt sick and tried to get up and accidentally threw up all over Nori’s drink, his front, and in his lap.  He had to carry me home.  Don’t laugh.  He was most annoyed with me!”

     Dwalin choked and re-arranged their seating so Ori was straddling Dwalin’s knees facing him.

     “So you see,” Ori continued, “I know I’m not drunk as I don’t feel in the least bit queasy and I know I’m not going to throw up.”

     “I’ll put yer head over th’ side a’ th’ chair, if I see yeh lookin’ that way, love.”

     “Would you?” Ori asked, raising his eyebrows interestedly.  “You know, I think that is a very wise idea.  Floors are much easier to clean that chairs.”

     Ori paused and sighed.  He really was the luckiest dwarf ever to live.  Dwalin was so handsome.

     “You are beautiful,” he said simply.

     Dwalin blinked, swallowed then chucked Ori under the chin.

     “Aye, an’ yer lovelier than any I’ve ever seen.”

     Ori wrapped his arms somewhat awkwardly around Dwalin’s neck and kissed him.  He knew this was a good idea as Dwalin made a pleased noise and leaned back in the chair.  One of Dwalin’s hands clamped around Ori’s butt and Dwalin’s other hand slid up into Ori’s thick hair, pulling him closer into the kiss.

     “Oi,” Bofur said.  “Get yerselves a room, yeh drunks.”

     Enraged, Ori sat up so quickly he overbalanced.  If it hadn’t been for Dwalin’s grip on him, he’d have continued back and landed smack on the floor.

     “I’m not sex and we’re not having drunk!” Ori snapped angrily.

     Dwalin roared with laugher. 

     Bofur grinned down at Ori.

     “Are yeh sure, laddie?  Want t’ run that by us again?”

     “Huh?” Ori inquired.

     Dori swam into his eyesight and handed him a cup.

     “Drink this, pet.  No more frozen drinks for you.”

     Ori obediently knocked back the contents.  He almost wailed as the bitter, oily taste hit his tongue.

     “Dori!” 

     Ori felt the inside of his stomach burn then the fuzzy feeling in his head cleared.  He blinked and looked around.  Gimli lay flat on his back and snoring on the floor before the hearth.  Loli and Omi curled on either side of him using his belly as a pillow.  Kili and Fili played cards beside them.  Bombur and Bifur chatted quietly with Nori and Binni, smoking their pipes.  Thorin strummed his harp idly, while he had a discussion with Gridr and Gloin.  Balin and Oin stood with Dori.  Dis and Janifur were squeezed together in a chair, examining each others hands and whispering.

     “Better?” asked Dori.

     “Yes.”  Ori rubbed his eyes.  “Yes, thank you.  What a disgusting concoction.”

     “I know, pet.  Look on the bright side.  It’s the first time I’ve ever had to make it for you.  I’m rather proud that you’ve never come home drunk.”  Dori paused to send a glare Nori-ward.  “Unlike our brother.”

     “Nori gets sing-y and staggerish, when he gets under the mine hatches with ale,” Ori admitted.  “Unfortunately, I just throw up.”

     Dori looked startled.

     “I don’t ever remember that happening, pet.”

     Ori smiled sweetly up at Dori.

     “Well, Nori was trying to teach me how to handle myself and thought I should at least know how to drink.”

     “Why, I never!”

     “He’s been punished,” Ori forestalled the rapidly angering Dori. 

     Dori raised an eyebrow.

     “Has he?”

     “Yes, every time he took me out and got me drunk, no matter where he placed himself I always threw up all over him.”

     Dori choked, then patted Ori’s cheek.

     “That’s my good badger.”

     “Sons of Erebor!  Arise!” shouted Gimli, sitting straight up.

     Omi and Loli squawked as they were rolled aside.

     “What’s got into you, our Gimmers?” Fili asked casually.

     “Eh?  Nuthin’.  Dreaming, I suppose.”  He glared at his cousins.  “All that weight on me belly!”

     “Oh hush,” Loli replied and yawned.  “What are you doing up there, Ori?”

     “Recovering,” Ori giggled as Dwalin gave his butt a squeeze. 

     “And that’s that,” commented Oin.  “Brother!”

     Gloin and Gridr got to their feet as did Thorin.  The other party guests grouped around the fireplace except for Dis and Jani still deep in very serious conversation.

     “Oi, Jani,” Bofur called. 

     Jani and Dis looked up and both tried to struggle out of the chair at the same time.  They managed but there was a lot of struggling, gasping and squeaking noises and Jani ended up on her knees with her front in Dis’ lap.  This sent the pair of them into giggles.  Binni and Nori had to help them up.  The party moved slowly into the receiving room and toward the door.  Ori put his arm about Dwalin’s waist, whether to keep himself on his feet or because Dwalin had a lovely warm hard waist he didn’t know.

     They spilled out into the courtyard and Balin immediately invited the Urs to stay the night at the House of Fundin.  After demurs and arguments, it was agreed. 

     There were hugs, forehead thumps, and promises of meeting again at breakfast.  Ori saw Dis and Jani standing a little away.  Jani held both the princess’ hands, speaking quite earnestly to her.  Dis was being very regal but smiled with pink cheeks.  She nodded and Jani squeezed her hands again and moved toward her brothers.

     The Urs and the Fundins trotted off in flurries of well wishes, waving, and lewd commentary back at the Sons of Groin and the Durins.  The Sons of Groin and the Ur young ladies went to their residence.  Balin, arm in arm with Dori, chatting amicably with Bifur and Bombur, while Nori and Bofur lagged behind.  Ori leaned against Dwalin.  Dwain was so nice and warm and strong.  Ori smiled and felt his eyes close.

Chapter Text

         Ori woke in the warmth of Dwalin’s arms. He wondered how that had happened then bits and pieces of the end of the evening came back to him. He felt his face heat. Dwalin chuckled.

         “Aye, love, yer a funny drunk. An’ yeh didn’t even brin’ up yer dinner on me.”

         Ori giggled.

         “Perhaps that’s something my drunk mind only does to Nori.”

         Dwalin roared with laughter.

         “Oh, lad, I hope so. That’s too precious. Yeh got t’ tell ‘im.”

         “No. If I did, he’d try and get me drunk then go and dump me all over you when I do get sick.”

         There was a tapping on the door and Dori came bustling in.

         “Oh, good, you’re awake, pet. And good morning to you too, dearie,” this to Dwalin. “I do need help with getting breakfast together and Nori isn’t in his bed, so it seemed simple enough to come and find you as the Ur family is still abed upstairs.”

         “Yeh try Bofur’s bed?” Dwalin asked, yawning, as he sat up and stretched.

         “Don’t be disgusting, dearie.” Dori admonished.

         Dwalin leaned back o the pillow his arms folded looking at Dori from under a raised brow.

         “Disgustin’?”

         “You are a very determined, dominating dwarf,” Dori said, actually waving his finger at the warrior. “You might, even with the best of intentions, teach our Ori or influence him to the detriment of his still-forming character.”

         “Aye, righ’!” Dwalin grumped then pointed out, “an’ unlike me equally determined an’ dominatin’ brother a’ leas’ I’d th’ manners t’ marry Ori b’fore I bounced int’ bed wi’ ‘im.”

         “Don’t be absurd, you provoking creature!” Dori whisked out to hide his glowing cheeks.

         Ori leaned over and kissed his husband.

         “He’s gone an’ bloody called me ‘dearie’,” said Dwalin.  His face was a study.

         “You should hear what he’s calls Nori, even when he’s not upset,” Ori giggled, clambered out of bed, and scampered after Dori via the bathroom and his old room to dress himself.

         By the time he romped into the kitchen, Dori was busy and Dis, Gridr, and Binni were all at various employments.

         “There you are, pet,” Dori smiled at him while hefting a bowl of creamy, fluffy eggs, pouring all of it into a heavy iron skillet and shoving it into the top oven.

         “Please go and set the table in the breakfast parlor. Put everything on the sideboard as, no doubt, we’ll have people bobbing in and out.  Enough plates and things for nineteen, pet.”

         Ori went about his chore.  The sideboard had one end piled with plates and closely followed by many platters of breads, rolls, pastries.  The long hob at the end of the room was keeping hot pans of hash, fried potatoes, flapjacks, sausages, bacon and slices of meat puddings.  Ori made sure there were enough chairs as Balin brought through more.  The table bore several pots of tea and Ori put out mugs and spoons.  The scent of all the food was almost making him drool.

         He heard noises from the sitting room and saw Dwalin hurrying through, still tucking his shirt in and fastening his braces.  Ori tore after him and was pounced upon by Fili and Kili, who had dragged young Gimli, Gloin, the cousins and their uncles along with them.  Thorin brought up the rear looking rather amused.  All the younger ones were chattering nineteen to the dozen.

         In the receiving room, the Urs were descending the stairs, dressed and looking refreshed.  Bofur had quite the spring in his step and Nori followed closely, appearing to be running his hands over pretty much everything within his reach, including Bofur.

         Ori noticed that the Durins, Fundins, Urs, and Groinsons were all accounted for – minus Frerin, of course.  Ori didn’t know what Frerin actually did with his time when he wasn’t bullying people and Ori wasn’t sad for the lack of his company.

         Dwalin and Balin shepherded their guests into the now tiny-seeming breakfast parlor.

         Ori and Dwalin seated themselves in the middle of the long side of the table, facing Bofur and Nori who had their backs to four long, tall windows, two of which were doors now open to let in the spring sun and pleasant breezes from the meadow.  To the right of Dwalin sat the older generation and to the left of Ori the younger.  It was rather amusing to see the occupations.

         Gimli, the princes, and their cousins were all eating and writing notes to their friends.  A small peregrine falcon sat on Gimli’s forearm, tweeting occasionally, and helped him eat sausages while Gimli was busy with his letter, which started in the middle and spread outwards and circularly on the paper.  Ori supposed the falcon belonged to the elf named Legolas.

         Loli and Omi were scribbling notes on ribbons and wrapping them about their bats’ legs.  The bats, perfectly used to this morning routine, stood idle on one leg and drank their fill, one of the fruit syrup and the other out of the cream jug, twittering at each other now and then.

         Fili and Kili took turns adding text to a letter to their second cousin, who lived in the Iron Hills and named Thorin.

         Bats, ravens and other birds, including an extremely small owl at one point, flew in and out of the doors opposite Ori.

         Watching them all reminded Ori of those times Dori chided him for sitting at the table with his face in a book.

         Well, except for he never had any correspondence with friends and unlike Gimli he never had that elf thing happen to him.

         Ori called out to him, “Gimli, how did you fare with the acrostic?”

         Gimli chuckled.  “He wrote to tell me it took him most of the night to figure out. He thinks I’m very clever.”

         Gridr beamed and Gloin looked proud, but troubled.

         Dis asked, “With whom does he correspond?”

         “Legolas of Mirkwood,” said Gridr.

         “The crown prince?” Dis asked, amazed.  “Thranduil’s son?”

         “Gimli has slain him with a single axe blow from his eyes,” said Gridr.  Gloin choked on his breakfast.  Gridr patted his back and refilled his cup.

         “His first flirt,” said Gridr, sighing with sentimental smile.

          Gimli listened to this, his face the color of raspberry compote.

          “Amad!” he protested, at the same time exceedingly pleased with himself.

          Fili and Kili stared at him, appalled.

          Kili said, “Imagine wanting to flirt with an elf!”

          “He’s not that bad,” Gimli protested.

          Kili thought on it and shrugged.

          “Legolas’s an excellent bowman” he allowed.

           Fili muttered, “I’m sure his aim will be perfect.”

           Gimli threw a roll at his head.

 

         The older generation were entertaining each other for the most part.  Balin had his arm across the back of Dori’s chair, feeding him fresh strawberries dipped in honeyed cream.

         Gridr, Dis, and Binni had their heads together over the plate of scones which Dori had made.  Ori suspected them of attempting to deconstruct the recipe by taste and minute examination.

         Oin and his brother were applying themselves to hearty breakfasts.

         Thorin brooded over a cup of tea.

         Bofur, Nori, (who Ori suspected, had his hand in Bofur’s trousers) and Bombur discussed the excellence of the ham with Jani, who was seated close to Dis. Dwalin sat like his brother, with his arm across the back of Ori’s chair, his fingers occasionally brushing and flicking Ori’s hair.

         Roak perched on Thorin’s chair back and Dwalin’s own raven was finishing Dwalin’s hash for him.  Binni got up to call in the oddest looking bird, (Binni later told Ori it was called a parrot) which was swooping around the meadow in a confused way.  This brightly colored creature landed on the table and after helping itself to an entire sausage walked over to Balin and spoke.  Its voice was guttural and it accented its phrases with whistles.

         “Greetings Lord Balin (whistle).  Lady Hoondah of Angmar wishes to know if perhaps this year you shall grace her ladyship with your presence (whistle).  You haven’t visited since your most delightful acquaintance was made by her ladyship (whistle).” 

         The parrot cocked its eye at Balin. Balin smiled serenely and bowed his heads slightly.

         “Greetings Great Lady of Angmar.  I regret that I shall not be visiting this year as I have lately become engaged.  I do hope however her ladyship will be so kind as to receive my betrothed and I once we have celebrated our nuptials.”

         The parrot did a double take, glared at Balin and made the most horrid crackling screech noise.

         “Bugger,” the bird croaked clearly and flew away the last rasher of bacon in its claws.

 

         When most of the serving dishes were empty and the breakfast group had sat back with communal, contented sighs, Thorin raised his demeanor from beverage contemplation.

         “Dori?”

         “Yes, dear Thorin?” cooed Dori, all quite at one with the world. 

         Thorin smirked and went on.

         “As you are the…er…unknown son of my udad’s nephew, Nain-“

         “I thought Nain was his cousin,” Dori interrupted.

         “As did I,” Dis said, putting down her third scone.

         “It’s the name and closeness in age,” Thorin explained.  “Nain was Thror’s nephew, which makes Dain my cousin.”

         “A cousin once removed,” elaborated Balin.

         “Ye’d have t’ remove him lot more then tha’ before ye couldn’t hear ’im,” Dwalin added making Ori giggle and Bofur frown.

         “Ye’d have to go all the way to Dale,” he muttered.  “That’s where it starts.”

         “Oi,” Nori said. “D’yer mind? I’m workin’ here.”

         “To continue,” said Thorin, eyebrow raised. “Dori, Balin is sixth in line for the throne and he is a public figure.  Whether or not you’re actually presented to the king, people will wonder who you are.”

         Though Thorin’s tone was gentle Dori still looked anxious.  He put his hand into Balin’s.

         “My mother’s people may now realize who I am,” said Dori.  “I’m not concerned with them.”

         “But your brother in the Iron Hills doesn’t know about you,” said Thorin, “and I’d rather he heard about you from us, not from the Rikanta.”

         “I have considered that,” said Dori.

         “Then, may I please have your permission to write to him?”

         “It’s not as though I can stop you.”

         Balin squeezed Dori’s hand.

         “M’dear, please.”

         Ori glanced at Dwalin.

         “What sort of person is Lord Dain?” he asked.  “Will he be angry about Dori?  Will he see Dori as a threat?”

         Dwalin and Thorin exchanged looks of pure glee.

         “Well, Thorin?” Dwalin drawled.  “Do tell us.  Wha’ sort a’ person is Dain?”

         “Loud,” Thorin supplied.

         Dori muttered, “Hardly a complete picture.”

         Dis, on Dori’s other side, patted his arm and struggled to elaborate.

         “He’s not entirely like us in his manners,” she said.

         “He doesn’t have any,” Thorin added.

         She frowned at her brother, who chuckled to himself, unrepentant.

         “But he isn’t really so different from us either,” she finished.

          Kili added helpfully, “He has a family.  His wife is a lot like Imad Gridr, except even more patient.  And he has a son.  His name is Thorin, too.”

         “I told him not to do that,” said Thorin, half to himself, but still looking pleased.

         “Very well,” said Dori, resigned.  “Thorin, if you would contact Lord Dain and, of course, send him my and my younger brothers regards.”

         Balin kissed Dori.

         “It’ll be f’r th’ best, beloved.  Yeh’ll see.”

         “Thank you, Dori,” said Thorin.  I’ll send a raven as soon as I’m able.”

         Ori looked out over the meadow, clear to the wall at the far end. He saw a movement at the top of the rocks.  A blond head hopped up to stand there, closely followed by another, redheaded.

         “Who’s that?” he asked, quickly.  “There’s someone climbing over the great rock wall into the meadow.”

         Everyone rose to the open doors.  Swords, axes, and knives appeared out of nowhere.

         Dwalin flung himself out, closely followed by Gimli, both of them armed and roaring.  Ori slipped around behind them in time to hear Gimli roar again, this time in greeting.

         By now everyone else had clambered through, save for Dis and Gridr, hampered by their dresses, and Bombur who stood by the dams, ably protecting them with the carving knife.

         Gimli sprinted down the meadow as the blond jumped down to land by him.

         Gimli shouted and grabbed the elf around the waist in a hug, bellowing that he was welcome and must get inside before he got his head cut off.

         The redhead dropped down gracefully beside them.

         In his enthusiasm, Gimli grasped the blond by the hand and half dragged him up the way.  The blond elf looked confused but happy to be dragged by the hand and at speed.  It was obvious to Ori, the elf had never been lead by hand at speed anywhere.  The other elf, terribly amused, followed gamely.

         Excited by the arrival of his friend, Gimli immediately forgot all manners and introduced Legolas first to his mam, then to his adad.  Gloin looked appalled and Gridr pleased, but also appalled.

         “Gimli!” she cried.

         Gimli instantly remembered his manners and properly introduced Legolas to Thorin.

         With a raised eyebrow, already acquainted with the prince, Thorin greeted him.

         Dis also greeted him from the other side of the doors.  Dori invited them in to breakfast.

         Fili and Kili discovered two more chairs and drew them up to the table as Dwalin and Gimli brought the elves into the breakfast parlor.  Dori politely asked them to sit.  Dis introduced the rest of the party and the elven prince introduced his companion, his close friend Captain Tauriel.

         Ori sat again, this time with Gimli at his side, and Fili and Kili opposite.  Kili looked the elven prince over and turned a teasing eye at Gimli.

         “I don’t care much for elf maids myself, too thin, and all creamy skin and high cheekbones.  Not enough facial hair for my taste.”

         He smiled at Legolas.

         “But you’re not bad.”

         “He’s no’ an elf maid!” Gimli thundered and threw the butter at Kili.

         “What brings you to the Wall of Erebor?” Thorin asked Legolas.

         “Three things, the first of which is that Ada is on the outs with me.  He found Gimli’s letter and he’s furious and warns me I’ll catch a beard.”

         Nori snickered.

         “Looks like you’ve already caught one, laddie.”

         Legolas gave a wisp of Gimli’s beard a small tug with a smile.  Gimli flushed darker than a ruby, Gloin sputtered on the verge of exploding.  The older dwarrow gasped in shock, except for Dwalin, who threw his head back and roared with laughter, and Balin, Dori and Binni all chuckled.

         Gimli muttered, “We don’t do that lad, at least not in front of other people, like my parents.”

         “Most of us don’t,” said Nori, shrugging.

         Legolas realized he’d breached conduct and apologized profusely to Gloin and Gridr.

         Balin cleared his throat.

         “The other two things, your highness?”

         Legolas frowned, a worried look on his face, which melted into surprise as Gridr put a nourishing bowl of oatmeal in front of him and filled a mug with tea.

         Ori noticed Kili staring open-mouthed at Captain Tauriel as she gingerly sampled her oatmeal, appeared to find it tasty and started to tuck in.

         Ori nudged Dwalin

         “Look.”

         Dwalin murmured loud enough for the table to hear, “Mahal’s hairy arse, I thin’ I jus’ heard th’ lad’s testicles drop.”

         Fili, Bofur and Nori cackled maniacally.

         It was Kili’s turn to blush red.

         The captain looked up and smiled sweetly at him.

         “Hello,” she said.

         “Grch,” Kili responded politely.

         “The second thing?” Dori prompted gently.

         “Lord Balin, were you able to put an end to the slave trade as you discussed with my father?”

         “Aye, your highness.”

         “Then why are there still wagons leaving Dale for Mordor?  We have heard nothing from King Thror and my father grows wary.”

         Balin and Thorin exchanged looks.

         “The third has come to our ears that Gondor will march on Mordor to free the slaves there.  Gondor intends to call on Rohan.  The Ents of Fangorn grow restless.  Has King Thror not received word from Gondor?”

         Thorin’s hands gripped the arms of his chair hard enough that the wood creaked.

         Balin stepped in smoothly.

         “This is the first we’ve heard of it, Prince Legolas.  The message must have gone astray, ”

         Ori thought it must have strayed into King Thror’s fireplace along with many another vital letters.

 

Chapter Text

     Legolas' aquamarine eyes gazed steadily into Thorin’s.

     Thorin remained cool in the princeling's stare. 

     "Quite so," he stated quietly. 

     There was a horn volley in the distance and Ori heard the clock tower bell faintly from Dale. 

     Gimli grumbled that he was due in the armory for a practice in hand to hand combat with Furh’nk.  He rose, grabbed Legolas by the shoulder and knocked his forehead into the princeling’s and gave him a pat on the back. He headed out while Legolas rubbed his forehead, a little confused.

     Ori leaned over and said, “That’s a gesture of friendship, your highness.”

     “Oh, good,” Legolas observed.

     Loli and Omi groaned simultaneously as Gridr reminded them they had a tutor coming for their illuminated script practice from their last lectures.  

     They shooed their bats off with their messages and bade everyone farewell for the day.

     With the removal of the youngsters, Dwalin turned to the elves. 

     "So," he drawled in a conversational tone. "How'd the pair a' yeh get over th' wall?”

     The prince and captain exchanged glances. Tauriel rose fluidly and removed something from her belt. She handed it to Thorin. 

     "These are from Lórien from our Lady Galadriel. They are only made there and allow the wearer to keep out of sight of any eyes. Well," she smiled ruefully at the ravens, "most eyes."

     The assembled dwarrow glared at Roäc, son of Carc, Garnet and Sapphire, who was Gloin’s raven.  The ravens continued to help themselves to table scraps.  Ori thought they looked quite pleased.

     “Lemme guess,” said Dwalin dryly. “The ravens told me guards on the wall t’ let th’ elves pass an then didn’t bother t’ tell us wha’ they told th’ guards. Some sentries yeh be.”

     Roäc gave the raven equivalent of a shrug.

     “It was Thranduil’s egg, not an orc.”

     There was some giggling at this, particularly from Captain Tauriel.

     Dis came to her brother's side and together they unrolled the strange fabric Tauriel had given them. Ori thought it looked rather like a grey, green cobweb.  

     "How clever," Thorin allowed in a level tone. 

     "But can it keep the rain out?" Dis asked, fingering the material. 

     "No," Tauriel allowed.  "But they do hold heat so you cannot freeze, even if you would fall a slept midst snow and ice. Yet they are so light you can wear them in the hottest weather so that your skin will not burn from the sun."

     "Fascinating," Gridr allowed, an eyebrow raised, as she held the fabric up towards the window. 

     Balin hurmphed, 

     "Do go on yer highness; yeh mentioned wagons leaving th’ warehouses.”

     "Yes," Legolas nodded.  "It's built as though it might house a barge or a few small boats but we noticed that miners and other workers, both men and dwarf, were being let in the back.  They look very shabby so they are no doubt the poor of both peoples.”

     Balin and Groin both groaned.

     “We need to keep an eye on this,” Thorin said to Roäc.

     “I’m rather obvious,” Roäc reminded him.

     Dis said, “Roäc, can one of your people take Rutile down into the mine?”

     Roäc looked to Sapphire, who hopped forward.

     Dis swished out.

     Thorin suggested to Roäc, “Perhaps some songbirds, thrushes, would be willing to keep their eyes open for us?”

     Roäc cocked his head, considering, and croaked in agreement.
    

     Dis returned with a small gilded box. She opened the box, which Ori noticed had air holes. It appeared sumptuously cushioned inside.  Dis smiled down at the contents saying, “We have work for you, Rutile my dear.”

     To Ori’s surprise, the largest, hairiest spider he had ever seen climbed jauntily from the box. It was dark brown, but appeared to wear red and yellow socks. It was bigger than Dwalin’s hand. All its eyes appeared to look up at the princess and it waved two forelegs eagerly at her.

     “Oh, how pretty!” cried Jani and reached over to tickle the spider’s abdomen.

     The spider’s back legs arched up like a cat’s and its wiggled its pincers happily.

     Dis brought out a black handkerchief and Rutile scampered in to the middle and curled up.  Dis tied the ends of the handkerchief together and Sapphire, taking the ends in her beak, flew off.

     Ori frowned briefly, then said, “How will Rutile tell us what’s going on?”

     Dis smiled brilliantly.

     “Rutile can write runes.”

     “Oh, famous!” said Dori, much pleased.

     They seated themselves again and Binni came back from the kitchen with two plates full of scones and another pot of tea.

     Balin went out and returned with a lap desk and placed it before Thorin.  Thorin sighed, drew out ink, paper and pen and began to write.

     The scones and tea were passed around and everyone tucked in.     

     “I never realized dwarrow ate this much,” said Legolas, “but you eat like hobbits do. You eat seven meals a day as well.”

     “I ain’t never seen a hobbit,” said Nori. “Are they huge like men?”

     “No, actually. They are smaller in height than dwarrow.”

     “Where do they put all the food?” asked Kili.

     “No one knows,” Tauriel said with a mysterious smile.

     Thorin finished his letter, blotted it, sanded it and handed it Balin who read it aloud.

 

          Dear Dain,

          I hope this finds you well, and your queen and Prince Thorin (I still haven't forgiven you for that) equally so.

          You recall the unfortunate incident between King Thror and your father.  I would not stir up such pain again

          but to give you a balm for it.  The union of your late father and Rikmha of Rikanta produced a dwarfing, Dori

          of Rikmha, a bearer who has been living, impoverished, in Dale.

          It would never have been known but that Dori's younger brother Ori is heartsong and husband to Dwalin. 

          Yes, that Dwalin.

          Theirs was a marriage of expediency and the families had not previously met, or so we thought.

          You will recall Cousin Balin long ago briefly met his One but they were separated.  This was Dori of Rikmha,

          your half sibling.  Dori and Balin are promised to each other and Dori is also living at Fundin House. 

          A middle brother, Nori, is dear to his siblings, but far harder to pin down.  He comes and goes as he will.

          Dori sends his kindest regards and, along with myself, invites you to visit if you are so inclined.  Please let us know. 

          You are, as always, most welcome.

           Yours,

               Thorin.

 

     "Will it do?" Thorin asked.

     "It will,” said Dori slowly. “As long as he understands I have nothing to do with the Rikanta clan. I even made my dear umadel faint.  And that I have no interest in Dain's throne, nor do any of my brothers.”

     "Well," Nori started.

     Dori smacked him hard across the back of the head.

     "Oi!" Nori cried.

     Ori said, "It's so strange being suddenly noble.  I keep expecting that I fell asleep over Dori's letter and I'm drooling on it and when I wake up I'll have to rewrite it."

     Dwalin gathered him up, laughing, and kissed him.

     "Not a dream, love, I promise."

     Nori grimaced.

     "For those who don't care for syrupy sweetness it's more on the order of a nightmare."

     Dori smacked him again.

     "Cut it out!" Nori growled.

     Ori looked at Nori askance.

     "And you're not syrupy sweet with Bofur?"

     Nori sputtered.  He actually sputtered.

     Ori jumped up and pointed.

     "Dori!  Look!  Nori's blushing!  Hold on to everything, the mountain's about to fall!"

     "Shuddup," Nori grumbled.  "I'll make gloves out ye, ye little mole."

     He frowned so terribly, so hard, that his hair moved.

     Ori giggled.

     "Braided your eyebrows too tight again."

     Nori gave a bellow of rage.

     Dori said, "That's enough out of both of you."

     Ori snuggled up to Dwalin, who was still chuckling.

     Dori admonished, "Don't tease your brother, pet.  You know he's sensitive about these things."

     "Aye!  That's right.  I'm-  I'm what?"

     Dori shrugged and said, "Well?"

     Bofur looked up from his tea.

     Ori called out, "Careful, Bofur, Nori's in a sensitive mood."

     Nori threw a scone at him.  Ori tried and failed to catch it in his mouth.  Dwalin caught it in his hand instead and split it with him.

     "He's what now?" Bofur asked.  "Don't worry, Dori, I know our Nori and I'll take care of him.  Won't I, Ducky?"

     Nori's face turned the same color as his hair.

     "Ducky?" Dwalin asked.

     Ori said, "Bofur always called Nori 'Ducky' when we were all together in Steam Alley.  Nori was Ducky, Dori was Mother Goose and I was Chick."

     "Why were you called Chick?"

     "I had a pet chicken.  Lovely, speckled thing.  Nori gave her to me.  I called her Cluck-cluck and she laid the best eggs."

     "Speckled?" Dwalin asked, eyes narrowing.  "With white patches on each leg?"

     "Yes!" Ori cried.  Then dread stole over him.  "Yes?"

     "She always laid exactly five eggs every mornin’?"

     "Yes, always brown, with double yolks."

     Dwalin rounded on Nori.

     "Yeh stole Chicken!  Yeh shithead!"

     Nori cackled helplessly, all the while he leaned up against Bofur.

     Thorin broke in.  "I remember Chicken."

     Balin face-palmed.

     "Oh, Mahal."

     "She followed Dwalin everywhere," Thorin continued.  "She sat on Gnasher's arse when he rode.  Even laid an egg or two there."

     Ori put a placating hand on Dwalin's arm.

     "I took very good care of her," Ori promised.  You don't mind that I called her Cluck-cluck, do you?"

     Dwalin deflated.

     "Nah, love.  I'm glad she went t’ yeh.  Wha’ happened t’ her?"

     "She stole a nest and brought off thirteen chicks.  We gave them to Bard.  His late wife Matilde had a flock.  He shared the eggs.  Eventually Cluck-cluck died of old age.  Sigrid helped me bury her under the doorstep."

     "Mahal wept," Balin groaned.

     "And Nori was kind enough to sing the funeral song for her."

     Bofur fell back in his chair, roaring with laughter.

     "Nori, yeh sang a dirge… f-fer a chicken?"

     "Shuddup, arsehole," Nori hissed.

     The table had dissolved into snickering.

     Ori said to Dwalin, "I'm sure if we asked Sigrid would give you one of her great-great-great-great grandchicks."

     "That's kind o' yeh, love, but I'm set."

     "I had a kitten after that. I named her Sassafras," said Ori, "though, Nori brought me that too.  Mahal, Nori, you didn't steal that as well?"

     Nori said, highly offended, "I found that kitten."

     "That's what you said about Cluck-cluck," Ori protested.  "It's the same thing where you're concerned.  Is Sassy still around the house, Dori?  We should go get her, though I'm sure Sigrid's looking after her."

     "Of course, pet," Dori soothed.

     “You had a chicken?” Legolas asked Dwalin, his eyes full of curiosity.  “Why?”

     “She was a pet,” Dwalin explained dismissively.

     Captain Tauriel nodded.  “I have heard chickens are wonderfully docile.”

     “You ain’t bin pecked by one.” Dwalin assured her.

     Thorin rose and withdrew from his pocket a silver key. He held it up before Tauriel and Legolas.

     “To save you some climbing I’m entrusting you with this. Roäc will show you the door. It will bring you to the meadow and down to the end of the lake. The ravens guard it, no one else knows of it. If you see any other strange goings on please feel free to tell us. And should we or Roäc’s people see danger approaching your lands we will send a warning to Mirkwood immediately.”

     The captain and the prince bowed politely and thanked the dwarrow for the breakfast.

     Gridr hurried to Legolas and smiled up at him.

     "Ach, wee badger, you're just so thin. Not to worry, I'll get you nice and fattened up."

     She patted his tummy.  The elf prince did nothing beyond widen his eyes in amazement.

     Both elves stifled laughter and went to the door.

     Gridr followed, gave them each a maternal swat on the bottom and told them to be off.

     Ori thought he could hear them giggle as they went back out to the meadow.

Chapter Text

     While they waited for Rutile and Garnet to return Ori helped Dori gather the plates.  The talk around the table grew more serious, and not just because of the scones, which were Dori’s best and not to be taken lightly.

     Ori wasn’t sure if he belonged at the table.  It seemed more of a political discussion and he didn’t know anything about that but his seat beside Dwalin remained empty. 

     He considered staying in the kitchen where Dori was washing up but Binni, despite he was company, had insisted on doing the drying.  The two of them talked and laughed with their mithril silver braids close together.  They had only just met, yet to Ori they acted like old friends.  They felt alike somehow and it occurred to Ori that they might actually be very much the same, that perhaps Binni was a Bearer as well, though he knew Binni and Oin didn’t have dwarflings of their own.

     “I’m finished here, Dori,” Ori said.

     “Thank you, pet.  Run along now and have fun.”

     Ori swithered and trailed out to the breakfast parlor again.  People seemed reluctant to move from this pleasant spot and seeing as how Ori thought he had over heard Dori and Binni talking about more food and tea, it was unlikely anyone would.  Ori pondered about the situation. He had the feeling Dori would not be best pleased if he was involved.  He knew he was determined to be involved no matter what the outcome was.  He needed an ally first.

     Ori went to his husband and put a hand on Dwalin’s arm.

     “Bin shooed outa the kitchen, love?”

     “May I speak to you a moment?  In private?”

     “A’ course, love.”

     Dwalin rose with a nod to Thorin.  He slid his arm about Ori’s waist and they left the parlor.  Ori led the way to Dwalin’s room.  Ori shut the door and leaned against it for a moment.  Then he sighed and came forward.  Dwalin ran gentle hands down Ori’s shoulders.

     “What’s wrong, love?”

     “Dwalin, what’s going on?”

     “Th’ Ur’ve stayed t’ talk business.”

     “But not the business with Frerin.”

     “Mahal, no, tha’ won’t be ’n issue now.”

     “Then, what is it?”  Ori took a breath then, “I think I understand some of it but not all.”

      Dwalin looked troubled.

      “I don’t like t’ tell yeh, no’ ’cause I don’t think yeh’d understand.  It’s jus’ no’ information it’s safe t’have.”

      “It’s about the king, isn’t it.”

      “Aye.”

     “Then I should be there.”

      He expected Dwalin to laugh or pat him on the shoulder and tell him not to worry himself.  He didn’t expect Dwalin to look at him with such thoughtfulness.

     “Love, it’s reached th’ point where there’s no goin’ back.  Wha’s said in tha’ room could get every one o’ us killed.  Tha’s not what I want fer yeh.”

     “It’s not what I want for you either.”

     “Then, let me ask yeh this.  Why do yeh want t’ be there?”

     Ori heard himself say, “I want to help Thorin.  I can’t do it the same way you do.  I’m not a soldier, but if there’s anything I can do for him, I want to be there to do it.  I know you need to be ready day or night.  I know whatever happens could take minutes or it could take days.  Whatever it takes, even if it means… I guess that was the shortest library career in history.”

     “Yeh’d give that up for the Durins?  For Thorin?”

     “What good would it do me if you and Balin and Thorin and everyone else is gone?  If everything goes to Mordor?”

     “Yeh’re already in, aren’t yeh,” said Dwalin and he sighed.  “Mahal’s blessed balls.  Look, don’t worry abou’ Brur.  Yeh know he’s in this, too.  If it comes to it, we’ll send him a note t’ say yer absent on account’ve ‘official business’.  If Brur’s angry with any it’ll be me an’ Thorin an’ it sure won’t be th’ first time.”

     Ori nodded then impulsively pushed forward and wrapped himself around Dwalin.  Dwalin folded him into his arms and kissed the top of his head.  They stood that way for a few moments.  Then Ori looked up.

     “What exciting lives we live, husband.”

     Dwalin roared with laughter

     “Aye, love, an’ wha' a gift f’r understatement yeh've got.  C’mon, we best get back b’fore Thorin finds a way t’ hang himself with out anyone noticing.”

     It was only when they returned to the breakfast room that Ori realized he’d forgotten something important.

     Dori was there and by the look on the eldest Ri brother’s face it was obvious he hadn’t expected Ori to be as well.

     Ori stepped between Dwalin and the angry Dori as he’d so often stepped between Nori and Dori, because of all the dwarrow in Arda, Ori was the one Dori could never hurt. 

     Balin, wisely Ori thought, had not moved to become involved.

     “Dori,” said Ori, “we’ll talk about this later.”

     Dori turned his glare from Dwalin to look at Ori and froze.

     Ori had been practicing his ‘Dori Has Spoken’ imitation for decades.  Judging by the look on Dori’s face, he had finally gotten it right.

     They held this gaze for what seemed like an hour before Dori said emphatically, “We will talk about this later.”

     Ori took this as the sum total of Dori’s surrender.

     They had work to do.

     Ori felt the atmosphere of the room seemed far more serious than before.  Even Fili and Kili sat at the table, looking unusually grim.

     Thorin said, “Bofur, you have something we need to discuss?”

     “Aye.  Tell the truth now.  Is your Udad Thror mad?”

     Instead of leaping across the table for Bofur’s throat, Nori would have done it.  Mahal at the forge, Bofur himself would have done it. Ori thought, Thorin answered the question with another question.

     “Why do you ask?”

     “Because if he’s not, then he’s a tyrant and, to dwarrow, that’s a whole lot worse.”

     It was, Ori knew.  The mad were sick and sickness happened, just like breaking an arm or leg happened.  A mad dwarf was locked away, but given every comfort no matter their station.

     If Thror was mad it was pitiable, but not punishable.

     Tyrants were overthrown and executed out of hand, generally tossed to the mob.

     In the end, though, among dwarrow the same consequences applied.  The old king’s line was weakened, easily toppled by a stronger rival house, and at best dwarven society was thrown into chaos.  If the style of the incoming monarch was to quell the chaos with violence, the chaos could spread to engulf other dwarf states and leave the dwarrow open to conquest by men or elves or even orcs.

     It was the greatest weakness of their society, as far as Ori was concerned, to leave the security of the entire race in the hands of one dwarf.  Historically speaking, the Longbeards, the people of Durin, had flirted with disaster from the day they stepped from the stone.

     “You are suggesting that Thror is unfit to rule?” Thorin asked evenly.  “That the descendent of Durin himself is not fit to rule?”

     “The way things are going?  I’d say no, he’s not.  In which case, he oughter be removed for his own good as well as ours.”

     “You realize this is treason?”

     “Someone has to say it,” said Bofur with deceptive cheer.  “Better to execute a miner or two than us all bleed out slowly, ain’t it?  From what I seen, plenty of folk’re already pretty much bleeding out as it is.  Or wishing they were.  Or they’d do it themselves if they had a choice.”

     "The true treason," Bombur said in his quiet voice. "Is the treason being committed by Thror.  The way he is taking the life, taking food out of the mouths of other children of Durin, is treason against the laws of Durin the Deathless.  Those were given to him by Mahal.  Thror is no longer following the ways of Mahal.  To me, this is treason."

     “I said it was treason,” Thorin replied.  “I didn’t say I disagreed with you.”

     It seemed to be the best answer Bofur was going to get and he knew it.  So he changed the subject.

     “As it stands, if you wanted to become king right now, the miners of Erebor will support you… to point.  But if you’re to be king, you’d best be ready to right some terrible wrongs the minute that crown hits yer head.”

     “Tell me.”

     “Been in the mines lately?”  Bofur asked.  It seemed almost conversational.  “I don’t mean the royal mines.  Yer brother has charge of ‘em and he’s a git but he don’t mess where he eats.  And he knows you an’ Dwalin and the lot’ve you are down there tolerably often.  I’m talkin’ the private mines, the ones held by Thror’s cronies, the ones not controlled by the guild.

     “Go have a look, yer highness.  I think you’ll fin it ed-oo-cashnul.  Specially as that’s now the work done by half the dwarrow who live down in Dale.  Even the master owns a mine.”

     Thorin blinked.

     “It’s illegal for anyone who isn’t a dwarf to own a mine in Erebor.”

     “Oh, it ain’t obvious,” put in Jani. “He’s what ye call a silent partner, and I expect he’ll soon have bigger problems than lode yields, courtesy of yerself.”

     “If the mines are tainted Erebor will collapse around them,” said Thorin.

     “Best get busy with the shorin’ timbers then,” said Bofur.

     “Where do you suggest I start?”

     Bofur sat back, considering. 

     “Yeh plan on movin’ on this now?”

     “Yes.  As soon as possible.  If I’m going to rush down there to find rot I don’t want anyone to have time to cover it up.”

     “Best start with Lord Vors’ zinc mine then.”

     Gloin spoke up.

     “Vors owns a zinc mine?  I have no records for that.”

     “Yeh won’t.  That’s the one the master owns.  I worked it meself last week without me guild badge – heh, even without me hat – just to see.  Every miner down there lives in Dale, has for the past six-month.”

     “I also have all the numbers of dwarrow who go down the mines every day,” said Gloin.  “They’ve steadily risen for years, but no sudden increases by a few hundred miners.”

     “You can’t count these,” said Bofur.  “They don’t come through Erebor.  They come through the tunnel adit under the warehouse in Dale.”

     Dwalin jumped up, enraged.

     “They come through a wha’?”

     He and Thorin exchanged looks of horror.

     “You knew,” Thorin accused Bofur.  “You knew what Rutile will find in Dale.”

     “Couldn’t expect you to just take my word for it,” said Bofur with a shrug.  “I ain’t official.”

     “Bofur,” said Thorin, not quite calm, “you’re telling me there is an unguarded tunnel that leads from Dale, right under the heart of this mountain.  Whether you think I believed you or not is immaterial.”

     “Oh, aye, but it is guarded, y’see,” said Bofur, “by the master’s thugs.  Not like they hang around outside or anythin’, but they keep our miner folk quiet and in line.  Y’don’t want to be the one to rat ’em out.”

     “But you are doing so,” said Thorin.

     “Like I said, better one miner than the rest all bleedin’ out.”

     “And all that zinc,” said Gloin asked.  “Erebor is supplying zinc to Mordor.

     Balin groaned.

     “No wonder those wagons t’ Mordor were so dashed heavy.”

     Slowly Dwalin sunk back into his chair, muscles tight.

     Ori put a hand over his on the table and carefully rubbed over his fingers, attempting to soothe his husband without crowding him.  Dwalin let out a pent up breath, and with it some of the tension bled from his shoulders.  He turned his hand under Ori’s and held it.

     “I don’t understand,” said Ori.  “Why does Mordor need zinc?  What is it for?”

     Jani said, “Zinc’s used to stabilize iron, turn it into steel.  Right now the orcs have shite weapons of pure iron, brittle, easily forged but just as easily broken.  Better steel means orcs with better weapons.”

     Ori sucked in a horrified breath as his brain glibly remarked Really, what was next?  Forging better orcs?

      Thorin said, “Then this is where we start, with the worst of it.  This is the worst?  You’re not holding back anything, Bofur, Jani?  Once I’ve tipped my hand the others will have time to protect themselves.”

     “Vors is the worst I know,” said Bofur.

     Bifur, who had not spoken before, did so now, his deep voice rolling in the poetic, ancient Khuzdul.

     “If I may?  Thorin, thou will needs have to make an example of the Lord Vors, with or without the king’s sanction.  Unfortunately, thou be at a crosstunnel.  If thou do naught and find thyrself king, thou shalt be complicit in this unholiness.  If thou act, thou wilt bring down the wrath of King Thror, or at least they who would call Frerin his heir.”

     “You’ve forced my hand,” said Thorin.

     “Indeed, we have.  I’m sorry, mine friend.  And I do remain thy friend, no matter the cost.  I, and many others who fought with thee at Dimrill Dale, will stand with thee now, in this, which shalt be the beginning of thy mighty rule of honor among dwarrow.  Thy support there hast never wavered.”

     “Nor has that of the merchants,” said Bombur.  “Princess Dis has been tireless in finding us new trading partners.  Our markets are the most diverse in Arda, and our trade routes the safest and best patrolled.”

     “Yes,” said Thorin, “all the while I’ve been protecting the dwarrow abroad I’ve been letting the ground collapse under my feet.  I’ve done a proper job of it.”

     The Urs exchanged looks but said no more, the room grew quiet.  They all turned to Thorin.  Ori thought he could hear the thoughts reforming in Thorin’s head. 

     Garnet and Sapphire all but blew in the open doors. Sapphire once more carrying the handkerchief,  The material was bowing out as though a tiny but mighty struggle was going on inside.  Ori quickly laid several pieces of paper next to the one sheet Dis had laid out and poured ink into a saucer.  Rutile leapt free and dropped to the table.  Every hair on the spider twitched with obvious agitation.

     “Rutile…?” Dis gasped.

     Rutile flung herself onto the paper thrusting four of her legs into the ink.  Ori watched as runes appears.  Each leg made a stroke and Rutile turned as she made the mark.  She appeared to dance, spinning across the paper at high speed.

     “Blessed silks of all!  That utter inedible dirty fly!!  His acts towards little hairy half-legged spiderlings just tears my web!  May his dinner always break loose and get away!!”

     There were gasps all around as Dis read out the message.

     “What spiderlings?  Does she mean badgers?” Thorin asked, horrified.

     “Yes,” Dis returned as shocked as her brother.

     “Hairy half-legged adults and spiderlings in that deep hole.  No paths, oozing water!  Smelly!  Not good for any to find dinner in!  Dig!  Scrape!  Dig!  Scrape!  Adults and spiderlings!  Not getting fat at all.  Never stopping! Nasty adult shouting, No rest!  Nasty adult with long leather snake hitting them!”

     There was a sharp grinding as Thorin leapt out of his chair and began to pace the room, then, abruptly, the piercing blue eyes looked straight into Ori’s.

     “Ori, I need a favor.”

     “Of course, Thorin.”

     “I need you to come with me into the mine.  I’ll need a scribe.”

     Ori swallowed, aware of the enormity of the responsibility.

     “You don’t want to take a royal scribe with you?”

     “Royal scribes report everything I do and say to the king,” said Thorin.  “I need someone I can trust.”

     Gloin said, “You’ll want Vors’ mine records, he owns several, though I suspect Calmar has all the real and useful information.”

     Thorin nodded.  “Dwalin, put together enough units to take the building in Dale, and also everything, every paper, every rug, every lamp from Vors’ home and office, but hold back awaiting my signal.  I don’t want Vors to be able to say he knew nothing, even if he can say Calmar forced this on him.”

     “And Vors himself?” Dwalin asked.

     “Pick him up now, quick and clean.  Put him in solitary in the common lock up in Erebor.  No one talks to him, not his family, not other nobles, no one but me.”

     Dwalin made a smirk of disgust.

     “As a nobleman he’ll have the right to plead his case before the king.”

     “He’ll get it, just not right away.”

      Thorin turned to Bofur.

     “I hope for your sake you’re right about all this, Bofur.  If you aren’t, you’ve just toppled the House of Durin.”

Chapter Text

     Thorin sat, thinking a moment.  Gloin muttered an excuse and went out, taking Gridr with him.  The Urs looked at each other, remaining quiet while the Crown prince considered.

     “I need to make an ostensible inspection of the mines.  It hasn’t been done in decades.  One of the duties my grandfather has neglected and I wasn’t even aware of it until Bofur mentioned it.  This can be the official reason should any question be raised.”  Thorin’s gaze fixed upon Ori.  “You’re sure you want to go with me?  Remember, it’s up to you, Ori.  As I said, this is a favor.  I can’t just order someone into the mines.”

     To Ori it was obvious Thorin could do just that, but Thorin didn’t do things that way.  Ori really could refuse if he didn’t want to do it.

     “I’m sure, Thorin.”

     “Thank you, Ori.”

     Ori went to prepare and Thorin left the room as well.  Dwalin followed Ori back to the small room where Ori’s old clothes still sat.  Dwalin pulled from the trunk again to place a stout leader jerkin over Ori’s shirt and strapped on some leather elbow braces and vambrances.  Ori also added some woolen breeches over his own and Dwalin made sure his knees and shins were also protected before Ori put on his oldest cardigan. 

     Ori reflected that although it was meant to be a rest day, the mines never stopped.  There were always miners who longed to be in the depths.  The mines were the place they felt complete.  It was those forced to mine just to eat the Durins worried over, and so it must be today that Thorin went to Vors’ zinc mine.

     Dwalin gave him a quick kiss and went off to complete his various tasks.

     Ori found Dori sitting alone in the kitchen over a cup of tea.  Even though Ori felt nervous and keyed up it cheered him to see how Dori was so immediately at home here, how quickly this kitchen was becoming Dori’s kitchen.  Dori poured a second cup with milk and honey and pushed it toward the seat next to his.  Ori sat and sipped.  They drank in silence.

     Finally Dori said, “There was a time, not so long ago, that I could say I forbade this and you would simply obey.”
     “You did what you thought best, Dori, but now I have an obligation to my husband’s family.”
     “You’re far too young, Ori, you only have a husband because our Nori is such a rat.”
     Ori’s face must have shown some of the hurt he felt.
     Dori sighed, his shoulders rounding.
     “I’m sorry, pet.  I shouldn’t have said that.  Not the thing about your husband, anyway.  We all know Nori is a rat.”
     “But he’s our rat,” Ori concluded.

     “If only Dwalin had the opportunity to court you properly.  It might have given you time to grow into yourself a little more.  You’ve always been so impressionable.  Dwalin is a very domineering dwarf, he could easily manipulate you even with the best intentions.”
     Ori thought about pots calling kettles black, but let it pass.
     Dori muttered something about “too many Shire novels”

      Now Ori huffed in frustration.
     “I may be young, and I may read tunic-rippers for fun, but I’m not some opal-eyed romantic idiot.  He didn’t seduce me.  We’ve barely had time to kiss.”
     Dori reared back, fire in his eyes.
      “He leaves you alone every night?”
     “Calm down, Dori.  It’s not like he’s down at the pub.  He’s busy.  Mahal’s blessed forge, I’ve been busy.  When I imagined married life, it never include worry over the fate of Erebor.”
      “The Durins do run amok,” said Dori, setting back into his seat.  “You know other noble families aren’t like this, don’t you?”
     “Or so Balin claims?” Ori teased.
      “Or so he claims.  It’s not as though I’ve taken tea with the queen of Gondor recently.  If Thorin has his way I may do so, sooner rather than later.”
      “You’d love it,” said Ori slyly.  “You’d wear a plum velvet tunic with jeweled gilt lace at the cuffs and terrify them all.”
     Dori’s whole face lit in an evil smile and it set Ori off giggling.  Dori laughed softly.  He reached and smoothed Ori’s hair.
     “If only it were all like that, pet.”
     Balin bustled in.  He kissed Dori soundly and turned to Ori.
     “Here, wee brother.  I’ve got somethin’ that’ll come in handy in th’ mines.”
     It turned out to be a wooden desk contraption worn around the waist and easily closed in tight spaces, all without spilling a drop of ink.  There were compartments fitted with lids for more ink, his penknife and spare nibs.
     “This is beautiful, Balin, but my night vision will only carry me so far.  How do I see to write?”
     “Turn th’ lids of the nib an’ pen compartment all th’ way over.”
     Each was backed with the thinnest veneer of phosphorescent stone and settled perfectly into place upside down.
     “Oh, that’s clever,” said Ori.  “Where did this come from?”
     “One of Gridr’s trinkets.  She’s got quite th’ collection.  Yeh can give it back when you go visit Gloin.”

     Ori gathered his courage and his equipment and went in search of Thorin’s study.
     Nothing in it or about it surprised the scribe.
     It was a large, square room, almost entirely blue granite, with a few old rugs on the floor and tapestries on the walls for insulation.  Overflowing bookshelves backed the desk to the left.  An ornate hearth dominated the wall to the right.  The room itself was filled with well-worn furniture, and heavily decorated with ancient implements of mayhem, both real and… imaginary.
     Ori tipped his head.

     “Is that a wooden sword?”
     “That was Fili’s," said Thorin at the desk, scratching his signature on some orders.  "His shield is around here somewhere as well, probably under the couch.  That’s where he hid all his important possessions.  I think his toy raven is still under there too.”
        Ori imagined Fili and Kili as badgers, leaping around this room, dueling and shrieking and knocking over piles of documents while their Idad Thorin tried to work at his desk.
      “I got most of my work done after they wore themselves out,” said Thorin, as if reading his mind.  “They would nap on that couch just like I used to.”
     “This was your father’s office,” Ori guessed.
     “It’s where I feel closest to him.  I find myself wondering what he would have done with this situation.  Now I won’t know until I get to the Halls.”

     “I never thought much about the Halls,” said Ori.  “I supposed it’s different when you’ll have someone there to meet you.”
     “You will have,” said Thorin, “but we’ll try to keep that for many years in the future.  Right now, we’re meeting Bofur at the warehouse.  He’ll bring us down into the mine itself and hopefully keep us from falling into an open mine shaft.”
     Ori swallowed.
     “There’s an open mind shaft?  No rail?”
     “There are at least six open mine shafts.  The floors of two have fallen so they’re considered bottomless.”
     “How jolly,” said Ori dryly.
     “When we get back to the surface a guard will be there to bring you to Gloin’s house.  Whatever you’ve written down, give it all to Gloin.  Don’t keep any of it.
     “I won’t, Thorin.”
     Thorin regarded him with a small grin.
     “You’re so calm.”
     Ori laughed.
     “Ask poor Dwalin how calm I am.  He’s there when I’m not calm.  I’m sure he’s told you.”
     “He’s told me when you’ve been very upset, but no details, Ori.  Those are between you and Dwalin.  Given how you came into this family, you’re entitled to be upset every now and then.”
     “Do you get really upset?”
      “Lately the top of my head blows off at least once a day, but very few people have ever seen it.  The crown prince has to have his royal upsets in private.  It’s a good thing Dwalin has such broad shoulders.”

     They rode unrecognized, or at least with discretion, hooded against a sudden fine spring rain.  Their escort – Furh’k and another warrior named Targ – rode a little ways behind them, but in ready enough reach.
     Honda seemed to enjoy the outing despite the weather.  She’d been chosen in part for her easy, placid nature, and Ori was grateful.  This was not the time or place to come blazing in on a war stallion, axes whirling overhead.
      Draped in an old oilskin cloak of Fili’s, he didn’t feel terribly heroic.
     Thorin wore a plain blue tunic over black leggings and boots, his clothes of excellent quality but unadorned, and he had removed his jewelry, even the rings from his fingers.  He wore his hair in a long queue with a single smaller braid wrapped around it and capped with the family bead that marked him as both Clan Longbeard and of the line of Durin.  Identical to Dwalin's, the bead was mithril, engraved and without gems, but there was no need to make it any fancier.  This was the one bead Thorin would not remove, Ori knew.
     Except when bathing, for fear of losing it down the drain, Ori recalled with an inner smirk.
     Idly he wondered if Dori would have one, if Balin would give him one, or even if he already had.  Dori's hair was complicated.  The beads were decorated with glass, not gems, but it was all so shiny it was hard to rest the eye on any one of them.
     Ori knew that Thorin was humbling himself by taking off his jewels and beads, but if he was looking to be approachable, he had failed.  Unadorned he looked fiercer than ever, as if the customary noble details had simply softened and blunted the sharp edges of a trained dwarf warrior.
     He wasn’t a solid wall of muscle, like Dwalin, but his broad shoulders dominated his rawboned frame.  With his height he seemed to loom in from above.
     Nori would have said, “Now that ain’t half intimidatin’.”
     The prince wore a simple dagger at his belt, under a black coat, but otherwise went unarmed.
     Ori ,along with his trusty slingshot, carried a knife in his boot, which Nori had long ago forced into his hand and taught him to use, but right now it was more of a security blanket.  He was not a trained dwarf warrior.  He hoped it wouldn’t come to a fight with anyone.  He needed space to use the slingshot with any accuracy.
     They dismounted and paused under a porch overhang at the side of a pub where Ori thought he had been sick a time or two, and waited for Dwalin’s signal.
     Around them the city sat eerily quiet, except for the plash of rain as it drained from the roofs into barrels.  The quiet unnerved him.  He grew up in this city and it was almost never like this.  Unless there was a howling blizzard there was always a todo.
     Dwalin gave them the all clear and they entered a big, weatherbeaten warehouse like a dozen others around it.  Ori saw a small smear of blood on a bin and some scuffing across the dirt, the only signs of struggle.  Bofur was there, but all the other dwarrow in the building wore the uniforms of the city patrol.
     Ori looked his husband up and down for possible injuries, relieved to see him unhurt.  Ori would have liked to hug him.

     Dwalin gave him a wide grin and a saucy wink.

     “The mine bosses from this shift’ve been ‘detained’,” he said.  “Yeh shouldn’t run inta tha’ kinda trouble.”
      “Does the mine go all the way back to Erebor?” Thorin asked.
      “Aye,” said Dwalin sourly.  “We grabbed all Calmar’s men before they could leave th’ warehouse.  The ones still in the mine nearly got away.  Turns out they have an escape hatch and a lift into the mountain.”

     Ori thought he could hear Thorin grind his teeth.

     “Where does the lift leave them?” Thorin asked.
     Bofur snorted.

     “An old side tunnel at the central textiles market.  Not by accident neither.  Twenty orcs, kick-dancing in their skivvies, could probably go unnoticed there, never mind a coupla men coming out of a crack in a back wall.”
     Ori tried very hard not to imaging orcs in skivvies.  Sadly, he failed.
     “They won’t care about a few men passing through,” Ori said, “but a few dozen dirt covered miners?”
     “Mebbe if the miners promise not to handle the velvets?”

     Thorin, wisely, didn’t touch that comment.
     “This will work out better than what we’d planned,” he said, “It’s safer to evacuate the miners directly into the mountain than try to smuggled them through the streets.  Dwalin, send a raven, warn the unit on patrol in the market that we’re coming through.”

     “Aye, I’m on it.”

     “The ponies?” Ori asked.  “If we won’t be coming back.”

     “Someone’ll take ‘em back t’ th’ stables, love,” Dwalin assured him.

     Thorin turned to Bofur.

     “Were any of the miners hurt when the soldiers raided the mine?”
     “Naw,” said Bofur.  “They’re used to scuffles breakin’ out ’tween the master’s men.  They just went along with their business.  Still doing it now.”
     “They’re still working?” Thorin asked, eyebrows high.
     “They’re afraid to stop,” said Bofur.  “The mine bosses’re gone, but the Master’ll just send more.”
     “If he does it won’t do him any good,” said Thorin.  “This mine is now forfeit to the crown.”

     As they descended in a rickety lift that seemed cobbled together from old fish barrels, Ori remembered what Bofur told him about mines.
     “They’re supposed t’ be our birthright as dwarrow, but, y’know, there’s some who just can’t do it, can’t go down in the mines without thinkin’ th’ whole mountain’s gonna crush ’em.  Only, they don’t know it ’til the lift opens an’ they go t’ step out an’ they freeze.  Just like statues.  No way around that.  Only thing left t’ do is ship ’em back up topside.”
     “That must be really embarrassing.”
     “Oh, they’re teased a little by their mates down th' pub, but there’s naught anybody can do about it.  Just the way they’re made.”
     Ori had been to the forges with Dwalin, but he had never been in a working mine and the fear of freezing up when he was needed was, ironically, the thing that nearly paralyzed him.
     At the bottom they stepped out into a large anteroom carved from the stone, lit with bare phosphorescent lanterns, and not many of them.  In the gloom ragged dwarrow and a few men sorted raw ore into bins.
     Bofur stepped forward and one of the dwarrow saw him and waved absently before bending back to his task – then whipped his head back up to gawp at the cloaked figures behind Bofur and the uniformed soldiers who flanked them.
     No one else stopped working, their hands sorting ceaselessly, but Ori could see they stared at the newcomers from under lashes and fringes of hair.
     Bofur approached the dwarf who had hailed him and they spoke in low, urgent voices.  The grizzled worker wore a braid that gave his original craft as brewer of ale and mead.  He looked over Bofur's shoulder at the prince with fear in his eyes and bowed his head.
     Thorin returned his bow.
     Bofur drew the dwarf forward.
     “This is Tin, son of Tanis.  He’ll take us through.”
     Thorin raised his voice just enough that everyone in the room could hear him.
     “Thorin, son of Thrain, at your service, Master Tin.  It’s very kind of you to do this.”
     “Eh… erm… are we under arrest, yer highness?”
     “No, you haven’t done anything wrong.  These soldiers and the ones above in the warehouse are here to protect you.”
     “Above us?”  Tin looked up as if he could see through a mile of stone before he turned back to Thorin.  “Where are the mine bosses?”
      “In the lockup in Erebor.”
     “I see,” said Tin.  “And, um, when’re they gettin’ out?”
     “They’re not.”
     “And the rest of ‘em?”
     “Will be dealt with, but you won’t see them again either.”
     Now the mine workers looked at one another openly, shaking their heads, as if they couldn't understand what this strange, delusional dwarf was saying.  Ori could hear them thinking: Poor sod thinks he’s the prince if Erebor.

     Later Ori was glad he'd written down his impressions as well as recorded what happened.  He could only recall the mine itself as a string of nightmarish sights, sounds, and smells.  It was dark, but unlike men dwarrow didn’t need much light.  It stank, and not just of stale air and exposed minerals.  The uneven stones beneath them, flat only in the tracks of the mine cart, tripped him up every other step.
     “Water on the floor,” Thorin muttered.  “Most of it's been stagnant but here it's running and fast.  There’s a bad seep someplace.”
     Ori shuddered.  Water was dangerous.  It cracked and broke rock like the heaviest hammer, then it rolled through and filled tunnels and drowned miners.
     Dwarrow could breathe mine gasses, even coal dust, and absorb it all happily, but they couldn’t breathe water.
     “The walls are compromised too,” Thorin said.
     Ori felt it, the strain on the shoring timbers, far too few and flimsy.
     Sweat ran down his back in rivulets as he looked around, increasingly wide-eyed.
     He reminded himself like a chant: I am a dwarf.  I belong here.
     If he wasn’t convinced, at least it burned some nervous energy.

     They saw dwarrow all along the path, thin, ragged figures moving frantically, if not carefully.  Most never even looked up as the party passed.  If anything the sound of approaching footsteps made them busier.
     The first large knot of miners they ran into was pulling a full ore cart by dint of sweat toward the sorting room.
     Ori knew next to nothing about how mines worked, but he knew carts were traditionally hauled by stout ponies, bred especially for that work.  Nowadays dwarf mines had mechanical systems that ran on pulleys run remotely by steam.  Dwarrow did not pull mine carts.
     Master Tin halted them.
     "Alright lads.  Time to knock off."
     They looked up at him in amazement and kept moving.
     "Yeh lost yer mind, Tin?" asked the dwarf at the lead.
     "Years ago, Jat, as yer so fond've tellin' me, but it don't change that it's time to go."
     "Go where?  Next shift hasn’t come.”
     “They ain't comin'," said Tin. 
     Silently, ominously, everyone in earshot stopped and turned to look at them, expressions bleak.
     The cart came to a screeking stop.
     "They didn't all get taken away in the wagons?" Jat asked in a low, desperate whisper.

     Ori frowned.  Did these dwarrow not know the slave carts had been halted?
     "No,” said Tin, “they ain't been taken away, but they ain't comin' back and we can't be here neither."
     "Why not?" Jat demanded.  He seemed to notice Thorin and the soldiers for the first time and looked them up and down, with a shiver.
     "The mine's been closed," said Master Tin.  "Fer, um, repairs."
     "Repairs?  Repair what?" someone out in the darkness asked.  “Where would yeh bloody start?”
     He was shushed viciously.  The tension in the air only tightened another notch.
     “Never mind repairs.  Where will we go?"Jat demanded, his voice cracking.  "If we can’t work, we’ll starve.”
     Someone started crying in long, exhausted jags.
     “You will not starve," said Thorin, finally.  "You’ll be paid while repairs are made.”
     The voice in the dark snorted in disgust.
     “Who’ll pay us for no’ workin’?  No one!”
     “The crown prince of Erebor will pay you.”
     “Oh aye?  D’yeh know ’im?”
     Low, bitter laughter swept the miners.
     “That would be me,” said Thorin.
     The laughter stopped.
     “He serious?” a young dwarf asked.  “The prince of bloody Erebor?  In this mine?”
     Ori’s head shot up.  He wasn’t sure if he was allowed to speak, but he felt compelled.
     “Lor, son of Tor, is that you?” he asked.
     “An’ who wants t’ know?”
     “Ori of the Brothers Ri, you dip.”
     A young miner rounded the edge of the cart and peered at him.
     “Mahal’s hairy hind end!  It’s Scribe Ori from Steam Alley, right enough."

     Abruptly, oddly, the tension was broken, as if Ori's presence meant there couldn't possibly be any danger.  If this was the case, Ori, thought, the miners were the victims of disorganized thinking.
     They surged forward suddenly and a babble of voices boiled over:
     "Ori, Dori's brother?"

     “Oi!  Ori!  How’s tricks?”
     "Can’t be him.  I heard he went and worked in Gondor."
     "Naw, I seen the king come and marry ’im off t' that great lummox of a dwarf who runs the city guard."
     "Wait, Ori, son o' Rikhma?  His brother Nori owes me twenny silver coins, th' rat."

     Finally Lor got another word in edgewise.
     "What’s this really about, Ori?" he asked.  "The master payin’ this joker t’ trick us?”
     “No, he really is the crown prince of Erebor.”
      “Where’s ’is crown?”
     Ori rolled his eyes.
     “He’s not going to wear it in a mine any more than you’d wear your mam’s knickers.”
     Someone gave a saucy whistle and the miners snickered.
     A female voice shot out, "Here, yeh leave me underpinnin's outa this!"
     “So, yeh say he’s good to ’is word?” Lor asked.
     “Yes, he is," said Ori, startled into realizing that he had blithely assured Lor after having known Thorin all of a week.  Of course, Ori had also known his own husband all of a week.  A tiny part of him wondered how he could trust so easily after a lifetime of distrust as self-defense.  "Besides that, prince or not, it’s rude to talk about him like he’s not standing right there.  If you did it to me I’d thrash you flat.  You know I can.”
     Lor sniffed.
     “Yeh got lucky th’ one time.”
     Jat rolled his eyes.
     "Aw, shuddup Lor.  He flattened yeh fair an' square."
     Lor subsided and just as well. Ori thought.  He and Lor had been going round and round about that fight since they were badgers.

     Once the miners recognized Ori it was easy to get them to agree to go up the lift, but they weren’t going without him, as if he were the security knife in their boot.  They insisted on traveling with the prince’s party in an ever-increasing parade.

     Ori shrugged to Thorin apologetically.  As they moved deeper into newer parts of the excavation the roof pitched dramatically lower, and in a side mine where Tin led Thorin’s party, it was barely shoulder height and they had to stoop, the water rising around their ankles.  The light was almost non-existent and Ori used the panels in his kit as much to see where he was going as to see to write.  He heard the ring of handpicks and mattocks ahead in the darkness, but by the time they approached the worksite the roof had dipped to waist height.  If they continued they’d be crawling through the water on their hands and knees.
     Thorin called a halt.
     “What are they doing in there?” Thorin asked Bofur.  “They can’t even stand up.  Shouldn’t the rest of the wall been carved out as they pursued this vein?”
     “Bosses didn’t want to waste time,” said Bofur.  “Instead o’ digging it all out they just jammed some supports in and called it good.”
     “No full grown dwarf could move under there, never mind work.”
     “No full grown dwarf could,” Bofur agreed.
     Ori felt sick.
     He watched comprehension slide over Thorin’s face and the mask of calm slid just a little.
     “Mebbe yeh’d like t’meet ‘em?” Bofur suggested.
     “Please.”
     “Alright, you lot.  Knock off and come out.”  He turned to Thorin.  “Might want t’ back up a little.  Give ‘em some room.”
     Somehow a dozen tiny miners and their gear had squeezed into that space and when they made their way back toward the main tunnel Ori saw they were badgerlings, not even tweens.
     “This here’s Prince Thorin,” said Bofur.  “He come t’ meet yeh and see where yeh work.”
     “Are you really Prince Thorin?” one of them asked, eyes wide.  From the voice Ori could tell it was a young dam.
     “At your service,” said Thorin, and he bowed as well as he could in the cramped space.  “And what is your name?”
     The badgerling swallowed, but she quickly found her feet and introduced herself.
     “Caris, daughter of Nadaris, at your service and your family’s, Prince Thorin.”
     “Are these your siblings?” Thorin asked.
     “Some of ‘em are.” 
     Obviously the ringleader and the boldest, she introduced each one of them properly by their name and a parent’s name.  Ori wrote everything down.
     “Here, Caris, who’re you talkin’ to?”
     A great strapping dam struggled down the passage, visibly alarmed.  Bofur caught her up and whatever he told her made the dam’s eyes enormous in her dirt-caked face.
     “No!” she gasped.  “What would he want with us?”
     “What do you want with us, Prince Thorin?” Caris asked.
     Thorin said honestly and directly, “I want to take you all out of here.”
     “To do what?” Nadaris demanded.  “If we leave now we’ll lose our jobs.  It ain’t like they’re thick on the ground.  We ain’t Erebor dwarrow.”
     “But you are,” said Thorin.  “For a long time a lot of very powerful people pretended you weren’t until everyone, including you, believed it.  Truly, no matter where you are from, you don’t belong here in this mine.  It's a disaster in the making.  But you all specifically, you deserve better.  Caris, you and your siblings belong in school.  Your parents deserve work that earns them enough that you can go to school and no one goes hungry.”
     Nadaris snorted.  “Well, that’s a nice fairy tale.”
     “It’s not a fairy tale.  It’s the way the dwarrow under the mountain live.  It’s their birthright as dwarrow.  It’s yours as well.”
     Nadaris didn’t look convinced.
     "You Durins abandoned the dwarrow in Dale," said Nadaris.  "Now you say you want to fix this?"
     "I will fix this, or I will offer you something better.  I give my word."
     "What does your word mean to us?" she demanded.
     Thorin looked down.  Ori watched every emotion cross his face, from shame to despair to resolve, his royal mask not serving him well.  When he looked up again, it was directly at Caris.  He unwrapped the smaller of his braids from the larger, took his dagger and cut it off, bead and all, and offered it to the dwarfling.
     "We are dwarrow," he said.  "When words mean nothing, this still means everything."
     Caris took it, open-mouthed, before regaining her composure with admirable speed.
     Even as the other dwarrow burst into exclamations of shock and urgent whispering, Caris fixed him with a look far older than her years.
     "We'll hold you t' this, yeh know, Prince Thorin."
     "I expect you to, Caris.  If I fail you, with that bead you can demand my life."
     She opened her mouth again, and closed it, looking to her amad.
     Ori slid his gaze over to Nadaris, even as he wrote faster than he ever had in his life.  His heart pumped at a painful speed, all fear of the mine forgotten.
     Nadaris lifted her chin, assent, if not quite agreement.
     Caris tucked the braid into her tunic.
     "I guess we'll see then," said the dwarfling and offered her hand to Thorin.
     They clasped wrists in the universal dwarf symbol of 'deal made'.
     "Now, we all need to leave," said Thorin.  "You know far better than I that this is no place for the living."
     Caris asked, "So where do we go?"
     "We can't go home," said Nadaris, "and wait for the mine bosses to pick us off in our beds."
     "For now, you aren't going home," said Thorin.  "There's a back way into the mountain and we're taking it.  Plans are already in motion to round up those responsible for this mine.  You have someplace safe to stay until then."
     Tin groaned.
     "I have a dam and my son's dwarflings still at home.  What of our kin still in town?"
     "Furh’nk,” Thorin signalled.
     The young guardsmen came forward.
     "Master Tin, you know Master Furh’nk?"
     "Aye, grew up with his udad.  Yeh've grown tall an’ broad, Master Furh’nk.  Mahal’s blessed yeh."
     "Thank yeh, Master Tin."
     "Ori," Thorin called,  "take down the information on the families still topside.  Furh’nk, organize a unit to get them to safety."
     "But, where are we going?" Caris repeated.
     "The miners' commons," said Thorin.
     Nadaris shook her head.
     "Those are for guild miners.  Dwarrow who live in Erebor."
     "That's not true," said Thorin.  Ori saw the tightness in his jaw, the frustration building.  "They're for any miner who needs them.  Garnet?"
     The bird swooped down to land on Thorin's outstretched arm.  Ori realized she must have been with them the entire time, waiting.
     Thorin and Garnet had a brief, clicking, scraping conversation in the language of the Erebor ravens, then Garnet flew away, disappearing back into the darkness, although Ori didn't know how she saw where she was flying.     

     Ori noted angrily that the lift to the tunnel behind the market was much smaller, but much safer..  They could only go two and three at once and the rest had to wait, but in that time Thorin stood and talked to the miners who waited.  Or, the miners talked and Thorin listened.
     Bofur leaned on Ori's shoulder and chuckled.
     "That's miners fer yeh.  Never say a bloody word, then when they do start talkin' they never shut up."
     "Bofur, what are the miners' commons?"
     "Safe place to rest, wash, get somethin' t' eat.  Erebor's got seven in all, the main commons and six smaller ones supplied off've it.  Guild dues pay for some of it, but mostly it's the mine owners' get, and the crown chips in."  He lowered his voice to a murmur, expression grim once more.  "Or it usedta.  Food still comes from the royal kitchens anyway."

     When it his turn came Ori stepped in with Bofur.  He waited until they were well on their way to turn to the miner.
     "You don't know what to think of Thorin, do you.  You don't trust him."
     Bofur gave him a 'Who? Me?' look, then chuckled self-consciously.
     "Not a matter o' trust.  Me cousin Bifur's hero pay that bought us the inn?  That didn't come outa the royal treasury.  That come out of Thorin's pocket.  He's got a good heart, aye, but he's in a bad spot, an' no tellin' what a dwarf in a spot like that'll do.  Mark me words, Ori lad.  Whether his grandad's alive or not Thorin'll be wearin' Thror's crown by Durin's Day."

     Ori watched with shameful relief as Bofur and the last of the miners disappear into the main commons dormitory.  His hand was cramping and his eyes watered from writing endlessly in poor light, but he had done good work that day, he knew.  He wished he could lay down and sleep, but at the same time he couldn’t get what he’d seen and heard out of his mind.

     He turned to follow Thorin on their borrowed rams to take them back home.

     Thorin’s expression had grown distant and hard.  He was obviously deep inside himself and it wasn’t a peaceful place.

     They returned to the royal quarters in silence, Ori increasingly worried over Thorin’s state.  The prince had gone from merely withdrawn, to agitated, to drumming his fingers on his thigh and breathing through his teeth.

     An explosion was imminent.

     Finally they halted in front of the prince’s house and dismounted.  Ori wanted to take his leave, but a jaunty ‘toodles’ wasn’t going to cut it and he was afraid for Thorin – and anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path.  Ori screwed up his courage finally and asked,
     “Thorin, are you so angry you can’t speak right now?”

     The prince nodded.

     “Would you like to be left alone?”

     Another nod.

     “Are you going to throw things, brood over a past you can’t change and refuse to eat or sleep?”

     Thorin stared at him, startled.

     “Just a guess,” Ori said dryly.  “I’m not going to tell you not to blame yourself because you’ll blame yourself no matter what.  I won’t tell you to get some sleep, because I don’t think I could right now either, but at least eat something while you’re blaming yourself and not sleeping or you’ll be sick and Dwalin will kick your arse.”
     Thorin nodded, still a bit shocked.
     Ori realized he was standing with his hands on his hips like Dori on a tear and was this far from waving a finger at the crown prince of Erebor as if Thorin were a puppy who had peed on the kitchen floor.
     “Alright, then.  I have to go.  Please take care of yourself?”
     Thorin shrugged somewhat helplessly, but at least he looked less homicidal, or maybe that was just Ori’s wishful thinking.  He watched Thorin disappear into the house just as Dwalin arrived on Harley.

     “Dwalin!”

     Finally Ori got that hug he had wanted, and a kiss in the bargain.

     Dwalin pulled back a little, and looked down at him with a frown.

     “Ori, love.  What’s wrong?”
     “With me, nothing.  I think you need to go and see Thorin.”
     Dwalin looked over at the lapis house.
     “Upset by things in the mine?”
     “I think if King Thror had been there, Thorin would be under arrest right now.”
     “He so mad he can’t talk?”
     “Yes.”
     Dwalin rubbed his face.
     “Mahal’s hairy arse.  Have you gone to Gloin with yer notes yet?”
     “I’m on my way, but I couldn’t just leave Thorin like that and not tell anyone.”
     “Right, I’ll take care of it,” said Dwalin.

     “It sounds like you always do,” said Ori as he stole just one more hug. Dwalin rode off.

     Ori ran into the Fundin House and dumped the desk on the low stone table in the sitting room then hurried out again to ride his borrowed ram down to meet Gimli, only to find the ram missing.  Wondering if it had decided to make its own way home, he ran into the long tunnel leading to the city. 

     He stopped.  All the lanterns that usually lit the way were out.  He frowned then turned to go back to the house for a lamp.

     A crowd of ravens blocked his way.  He began to back away and then looked toward the darkened tunnel.

     He was now completely surrounded by ravens.

Chapter Text

     The ravens dove at him.  He cried out, covering his head, but instead of falling on him they and wheeled and squawked all around him, forced him to move and drove him forward toward the wall, up against the wall, and through a crevice he had not even seen.  It was Ori-sized.  A larger dwarf would never have fit.

     He tripped on loose debris, fell forward, tried to catch himself.  His hand caught a rock, which skittered away and he went sprawling.

     Stunned, he lay absolutely still and let his eyes adjust to the gloom and his heart slow from its gallop.

     The soft breath of wings sent his shoulders up around his ears, but the noises settled around him in croaks and squeaks.

     He knew he was in a side tunnel, the mountain was riddled with them.  Some were used as shortcuts, but many others were forgotten as the dwarrow carved the inside of Erebor into ever new dwellings, businesses and offices and quicker, more permanent routes were mapped.

     This was an old tunnel, filled with undisturbed debris until he’d so gracelessly slid through it, but the debris was small and probably mixed with raven droppings.  He turned his thoughts to the structure of the walls, what the stone itself could tell him.  The rock around him did not groan under stress and he doubted the ravens would use the tunnel if they thought it might collapse.

     Slowly he stood, reaching with his arms over his head.  He couldn’t touch the ceiling.  He looked up, carefully shading his eyes in case of falling stone.  The remnants of the phosphorescent lamps were only enough to show the roof of the passage disappeared somewhere far above in the gloom.

     Wings brushed his head and talons grazed his hair.  He might have thought it an accident, but he suspected nothing here had happened without the ravens’ intent.    They were urging him forward, down the passage, away from the entrance.

     He lost track of time, slowly picking his way down the path, fearing he would tumble down some sink hole or long abandoned mine pit.  Dwalin would never find him.  No one would.

     Finally a lamp far ahead, slightly brighter and yellower than the others, grew into a doorway.

     He should have been happy, or at least relieved, but instead anxiety bloomed in his chest and confusing smells assaulted his memory.

     Metals of all kinds, gold, silver and steel, but mostly gold.

     Dread seized him all at once.  He did not want to see where this tunnel led.  He might have turned back, but a huge black shape descended before him and cawed.

     Slowly he walked toward the light and saw that this wasn’t just any raven.  By the mithril message tethers on his legs, Ori saw this was Roäc.

     The tunnel ended just beyond, in a shallow walkway running left and right and backed by a crumbling wall.  The wall rose to about chest height, and above he saw the carved and decorated ceiling of a vast, torchlit cavern.

     Unsure what lurked behind the wall he hunkered down between two broken sections and looked.

     The golden light was not just the torches, but fire reflecting off a sea of gold.

     He’d been led to the great treasury room of Erebor.

     Ori did not like this, not the feel in his gut or the scent on the air.  It smelled of gold and cut gems, but also rot, though not the dead-mouse-under-the-floorboards decay.  This was the smell of evil.

     Coins clinked and slid and a vague, unmusical humming heralded the appearance of King Thror from around the back of a huge, obsidian pillar.  The old king waded through gold chains and crowns and other trinkets up to his knees, though he hardly seemed to notice, as if years had been stripped from his limbs.  He was counting coins.

     Thror piled the shiny discs in columns on the tilted surface of an emerald-covered coffer.  When the coins rolled off Thror simply laughed and started counting again.  Ori watched this happen five times, six times, seven.

     Abruptly Thror froze.

     He swept the remaining coins off the coffer, opened it and drew out a cut gem so large he held it in both his hands.

     It glittered like an opal, but with the smoke of obsidian underneath the sheen.  Black shifted to red, then violet, independent of the torchlight.

     It must have been heavy, for the king’s arms soon trembled under the weight and he was forced to close the lid of the coffer with his forearm and place the gem on top.  There he caressed it and murmured at it as though it were a child.

     A weird glow formed around it, pulsed outward about a foot and back on a heartbeat, then out again a little further and back, and every time it retreated more gold surrounded the coffer.  Every time the wave rose in length and height and violence.

     The skin on the back of Ori’s neck prickled as the waves of - something - rolled across the room in all directions, including his.

     Surely it couldn’t reach the broken wall, he thought, but it did, and it kept coming, leaping, breaking on the stone and spraying a flume of something horrible over the wall, over him.

     He gagged on the filth, his eyes streaming, his stomach rebelling.

     He didn’t scream but the fear of being swamped again pushed it up his throat.

     The wave retreated once more, and a little farther, and a little farther.

     He turned back to look.  In his wavering sight he watched the king put the evil thing back into its coffer and close the lid with satisfaction, all the while freeing his legs and robe from under the new piles of treasure.

     Thror was talking to someone Ori couldn’t see.

     Too far away to hear Thror clearly, Ori leaned forward, still dizzy, still sick.

     Then he leaned a little too far.

     He dislodged a chunk of stone.

     It fell thirty feet, picked up speed, careened off to the left, bounced off a pillar of rose quartz, knocked over a teetering stack of gem-encrusted bucklers and the chain of falling treasure fell inevitably toward unsuspecting the king.

     Rather than engulfing him in a mass it threw forth a ruby-studded goblet that struck Thror across the back of the head and knocked him face down in the gold.

     He lay there unmoving.

     Blood roared in Ori’s ears.

     Mahal’s hairy arse.  He’d killed the king.

     He killed the king.

     He wanted to cry.  He wanted to scream.  He wanted-

     It was then he finally threw up, right over the edge and into the gold.

     The raven at his shoulder cawed uproariously.

     Ori turned and fell with his back to the broken wall as the cavern echoed with the harsh scrape of mockery.

     Dozens of ravens had exited the tunnel and were laughing - rolling around, beating their wings in the dirt, falling down laughing.

     Because Ori killed the king.

     A sound, low and deeper than the ravens filtered through to him, then the clink of displaced coins.

     Ori turned to peer back into the treasury.

     Thror rolled over in the gold, rubbed the back of his ill-used skull and looked right up at Ori’s hiding place.

     “Shut up, you little bastards!” Thror barked.  “That wasn’t funny!”

     The ravens disagreed.

     Ori had reached the end.

     He crawled back toward the tunnel, staggered to his feet and back the way he had come.

     Eventually he found his entry point and walked toward home.

     As he exited the tunnel he heard a great uproar ahead.

     A crowd of dwarrow, many of them soldiers, had gathered in front of Fundin House, and Dwalin stood at the center, barking orders, his face like a storm.

     Ori swallowed and slowed.

     A dozen horrible possibilities swirled around in his head.  The masters’ men had somehow got into the house and kidnapped Dori or even killed him.  The king had discovered what Thorin did in the mine and had him dragged away to the dungeons.  Frerin had declared himself king and they were all in danger.

     He dismissed the second and third choices almost immediately.  Unless full scale rebellion was imminent the soldiers wouldn't be here, armed and grim and ready to march.

     That left-

     Ori rushed forward.

     "Dwalin!  Dwalin, what's happened to Dori?"

     Dwalin's eyes flew open.

     "Ori!"

     To a dwarf, the soldiers turned and stared at him.

     Furh’nk deflated in what looked suspiciously like relief and growled, "Oh, thank blessed frickin' Mahal."

     Dwalin was on Ori in three large strides and gathered him up, dirt, blood and feathers, and all.  Ori's feet left the ground and he was held agreeably tight, though the thundering beat of Dwalin's heart did nothing to calm Ori's fears.

     "Dwalin, what's the matter?"

     "Wha's th'-  Love, yeh never went to meet Gimli, yer notes were still sittin' on the table in th' sitting’ room and yer battle ram was grazin' at Dis' herb boxes.  Yeh vanished off th' face o' Arda!  The Durins're all over Erebor and Dale lookin' fer yeh!"

     Dori appeared in the doorway and reached them without seeming to even open the gate.

     "Ori!  Put him down, you oliphant.  He could be injured!"

     "Aw, love, look at yeh!" said Dwalin mournfully.  "Tell me the other fella got the worse of it!"

     "Uhm... Um, no.” Ori buried his face in Dwalin’s front.  Feeling Dwalin’s strength and breathing in his scent made the moments of remembered horror leave Ori’s brain for the moment. 

     “Take me home, Dwalin, please,” he mumbled.

     Dwalin turned to shout over his shoulder.

     "Gimli!"

     Gimli appeared at the door of his father's house, gawped at what he saw, turned and ran back inside, presumably in search of Oin.

     Dwalin scooped Ori up so he looked less like a kitten dangling from a branch and rushed into Fundin House, Dori at his heels berating him in endless, creative ways. 

     Dwalin carried him into the washroom and set Ori carefully down on a stool.

     Ori looked up at Dwalin’s face, it was hardened and grim but his eyes were full of worry as he peeled back the layers of clothing.

     “Wha’ hurts, love?"

     “Nothing, but kind of everything.  I don’t think I broke anything, just stumbled a lot.” 

     “An' wha' happened?"

     Ori opened his mouth to reply, but he couldn’t string the words together and Dori jumped in.

     “May we wait to make sure he’s unharmed before you interrogate him?”

     “If someone’s after him?  No.”

     “No one’s after me,” said Ori wearily.

     “Pet, you look like someone dumped an aerie over your head,” Dori insisted.  “How did you get this way?”

     “Ravens.  I tripped.”

     “Over what?” Dori demanded.  “The entire mountain?”

     “Dori, please” Ori started, then the door opened again. 

     Balin came in with Oin, who immediately made sure Ori’s pupils were the same size.  He helped Dori and Dwalin clean Ori up, put a nightshirt on him and then nodded approvingly.

     “He’s not in acute pain.  He’ll bruise like a patchful of crushed blackberries, but he ain’t complainin’ of particular injuries.  Heh, give him some of this spirea to chew to cut the ache.  Sorry, laddie, it tastes disgusting.  Make sure you lot paint any cuts with this salve, give him some water and put him to bed,” said Oin.

     Dori went off to let Oin out and get the water.

     Dwalin returned to Ori’s knee.

     “What else, love?” he urged.

     “When we’re alone,” said Ori.

     He had no idea who knew the truth about Thror.  Some part of him understood he was lying to Dori, which he had never done.  At the same time he suspected it wouldn’t be long until everyone knew.

     The king was not simply mad, he was playing with something far too dangerous to hide.

     Dori returned and made him drink the entire mug of water, chew the spirea root which made him grimace, and drink more water to get rid of the horrid taste.

     “Now, pet, into bed, by yourself,” said Dori, in a tone that brooked no argument.

     “Aye,” Dwalin argued.  “He’s comin’ with me, so I can watch him.”

     Dori demanded.  “Where were you when he was injured?”

     “Where were you?” Dwalin asked.

     “Please, Dori,” said Ori.  “You’ve patched me up.  Dwalin will take care of the rest.”

     Dori opened his mouth, but when Balin put a hand on his arm, he shut it again and went out, muttering about making tea.

     Dwalin lifted Ori and took him to what Ori considered to be their bedroom now.  He put Ori down on the bed, kicked off his boots and tossed aside his tunic before sitting down and taking Ori into his lap.

     Ori finally felt safe and embarrassed himself by starting to cry.  

     “I’m sorry," he said in a watery voice.  “It’s foolish-”

     “Nah, love.  Yeh’ve had a bad time.  Let yerself get through it.”

     “I’m always crying on you,” Ori said, trying vainly to be stalwart.

     “’S why Mahal gave me broad shoulders, love.  Jus’ f’r yeh.”

     With that, Ori let himself weep for a little, while Dwalin held him close and stroked his hair, murmuring comfortingly. 

     In a while Ori was able to pull himself together and sit up a little.

     “There now,” said Dwalin.  “Kin yeh tell me what happened?  Last I saw of yeh, was when yeh were about to see about our Gimmers.”

     Slowly, Ori told him the whole, shuddering over the part about the king. 

     Dwalin listened without comment.

     “I saw him,” said Ori.  “I saw the king in the treasury.  I don’t know what that gem - thing in the box was.  I suppose one could say it was very pretty, but to me it was horrible.  Just evil.” 

     Dwalin was obviously thinking deeply, then his eyes went to the door. 

     Ori turned. 

     Thorin came into the room, closing the door after him.  He crossed to the bedside and sat down next to them.  He sighed, then reached over and laid his hand on the back of Ori’s neck, pulling the younger dwarf to him, touching their brows together.

     “I’m sorry for what happened to you.” he said quietly, then released Ori. 

     He and Dwalin caught each other’s hands for a moment.

     “I’m alright, now,” Ori assured him, feeling almost himself again, except for a lingering fatigue. 

     “Good.” Thorin looked him over.  “Rest.  You’ve earned it.” 

     Thorin rose and left the room. 

     Dwalin settled Ori beside him.  Ori closed his eyes and knew nothing more.

     Ori woke up alone, rested though a little sore.  He crawled out of the big bed, went to the dresser, looked in the mirror above and shook his head.  That bruise on his cheek had bloomed magnificently and the scratch through it, though not deep, would bear watching.  Likely it would scar and wouldn’t that be something, to gain his first battle mark because of a bunch of rude birds.

     He looked about.  Someone had left clothes over the arm of the chair for him.  He put on the old, soft tunic and breeches.  His stomach rumbled.  He decided to go and find Dori and ask for something to eat.  Feeding Ori always made Dori happy.

     When he opened the door he heard hushed, urgent voices down the hall.  He picked out Dwalin’s, Balin’s, Dori’s and Dis’ and… his heart sank.

     Thorin was there.

     “- miners having someplace to go will tip the balance," he said.  "We’re not tossing them out into the street.  They’ll still have jobs, it will just be a while until the mine reopens.”

     “An’ what if it can’t be reopened?” Bofur asked.

     “There’s legitimate work within the guild.”

     “That costs money.  Yeh have to pay a fee, then yer dues, and yeh have to be sponsored by a member t’ join.  Yeh might pay their way, Thorin, but yeh ain’t a guild member.”

     “No, but you are.”

     Bofur drew a breath of surprise, then he laughed in delight.

     “Yeh want me to put me standing in th’ guild on the line by sponsorin’ dwarrow I don’t know?”

     “Yes.”

     “Alright.”

     “Alright?  Just like that?”

     “Aye, well, I sorta owe yeh fer talkin’ business at yer breakfast table.  Not t' mention puttin' yer entire family line at risk.”

     Ori took a deep breath and gathered up his courage.

     When he appeared at the sitting room doorway, everyone stopped talking and started at him.

     Ori made his way to Dwalin and held his hand.

     Thorin recovered first.

     "I apologize again, Ori.”

     “It wasn’t your fault, Thorin.  I’m glad you’re here.  We need to talk about the king.  He really is mad.  I saw him in the treasury.  The ravens showed me.”

     The prince’s eyebrows shot straight up and Ori took that as permission enough to continue.

     “They just swooped down on me and herded me off the street and down this passage I couldn’t see.  It was scary, but If I didn’t know they were your ravens it would have been worse.”

     “Roäc and his family?”

     “Yes.”

     Dwalin muttered to himself, something about ravens on a spit.

     Dis cocked an eyebrow at him before turning to Ori.

     “You were still very brave,” she said.  “We trust them, yes, but they aren’t always gentle when they help.”

     “But they are the eyes and ears of Mahal, aren’t they,” said Ori.

     He turned back to Thorin.

     “I had no idea that much gold existed, never mind in one place.”

     Thorin’s shoulders sagged.

     “Unfortunately, it does, and it’s sitting in the middle of Erebor, just waiting for a dragon to fall on it – and us.”

     Ori’s hand tightened in Dwalin’s.

     “We can’t defend the mountain against a dragon!”

     “But we would be duty bound to try,” said Thorin, “and countless dwarrow would die in the effort.  My grandfather knows it, but in his gold sickness he will not part with a single coin.  Dis and I and Dwalin and Balin and Oin and Gloin have been emptying our own troves, both to stave off a wyrm and to support the dwarrow and men abandoned by royal greed.  It seems Thror accumulates it faster than we can get rid of it.”

     “It did seem to grow as I watched,” said Ori.

     Thorin sighed.

     “I don’t know what Udad has done or what sorcerous bargains he’s struck, but whatever they are they’re exacting their price.  As time goes on it grows harder to keep what Thror has become from the people.  There are so many traps and pitfalls.  What if a dragon comes?  What if our people starve through the Durins’ neglect?  What if Thror is deposed and our family isn’t strong enough to hold the throne?”

     Ori took the last to mean: What if Frerin becomes king and then becomes his grandfather? 

     Thror had been a mighty king in his time.  If gold sickness happened to the strongest of dwarrow, it might certainly happen to one of the most foolish.  And what of Thorin himself?

     Thorin smiled humorlessly.

     “If I fall to the gold sickness, your husband is under orders to make sure no one ever finds the body.”

     Ori looked up at Dwalin with his mouth hanging open. 

     Dwalin had Thorin fixed with a hard stare.

     “Aye, an’ yer under orders t’ make sure it don’ ever come t’ tha’.”

     “I hear and obey,” said Thorin.

     “But, I don’t understand why Roäc showed me the treasure trove,” said Ori.  “It’s not like I can help you.”

     Dis smile warmly.

     “You don't think so?  You've done nothing but help since the day you arrived.  In this case... I suppose it was a foolish attempt to limit the number of people who know about the gold sickness."

     "I don't think it's foolish," said Ori.

     “We were tryin' t' protect yeh, love,” said Dwalin.  “But thin's're movin' fast now, and ye're far better able t' handle yerself than we first thought."

     “It would seem” said Dis, “the ravens knew better than the rest of us.  The eyes and ears of Mahal indeed.”

     “Do Fili and Kili know?” Ori asked.

     “Yes,” said Thorin, even more troubled.  “Fili has to know.  Despite what Frerin thinks, Fili is my heir.  If the worst happens, Fili may have to become king long before he’s ready, possibly even in exile.  And what Fili knows, Kili knows.  I always wondered how that was, since Fili is often sworn to secrecy and I know Fili to be a dwarf of his word, brother or not.”

     “Do you think Roäc tells Kili things too?” Ori ventured.

     “It’s beginning to look that way, isn’t it,” said Thorin.

     “Aye, a spit,” said Dwalin darkly.  “An’ mebbe a nice birdie pie.”

     “Thorin, I’m really sorry.”

     “You have nothing to be sorry for.”

     “Actually, I might have…  It was such a long way down from where I could see and this rock fell and then a cup hit the king in the head and I thought for a moment I’d killed him and i was sick and dizzy and I threw up.”

     The strangest look crossed Thorin’s face, as if he wore a mask of pure marble.

     “You thought you’d killed King Thror?”

     “Yes, with a cup.  Then I got sick.”

     “On what, Ori?”

     “I don’t know,” said Ori in a tiny voice.  “The ravens were laughing, and then he got up and he must have a head made of granite!  Um, that is… I didn’t mean it, and I’m really sorry, and I’m so embarrassed because I threw up again!”

     Thorin didn’t seem to be able to speak. 

     Ori thought he must be furious until Thorin choked and managed, “No matter.” before his composure broke entirely. 

     Ori turned to Dwalin for support but his husband was clenching the back of a chair and visibly shaking.         

     “Dwalin!  Husband!  Are you laughing at me again?” Ori demanded fiercely.         

     “No.” Dwalin managed before completely giving way to guffaws of laughter.  “People’ve fainted at th’ sight of the treasury, laughed, cried, screamed. But yeh, love… Yer th’ first t’ vomit on it!”

     Fili and Kili burst in, talking excitedly to each other, but then they caught sight of Ori.

     Kili slowed to a stop.

     “Oi, Ori-mate, did you beat up Idad Frerin again?”

     “Again?” said Dori, in accents frozen.

Chapter Text

     Ori didn’t quite know what to say, but that didn’t stop Nori from appearing like smoke to do it for him.

     “Naw, the ravens just roughed him up a bit.”

     “Nori!” Ori hissed.  “That’s not true.”

     “Well, yeh almost did kill the king.”

     While the princes gaped, speechless, Dwalin reached over and smacked Nori across the back of the head.

     “Tha’s enough o’ tha’, nuisance!”

     “Ow!  Hey!  Leave off, you.  Only Dori’s allowed t’ do that.”

     Dori said coldly,

     “I consider that as perpetual permission, brother.”

     Nori groaned at Dwalin.

     “See, now look what yeh done.”

     “Pet,” Dori said gently to Ori.  “I have some tea here for you and Gloin.  He mentioned you have notes to go over?”

     Oh, the notes!  Ori bolted his tea and got up.  He had completely forgotten in the face of everything else.  The mine felt like days ago, yet it was only this morning.

     Ori and Gloin adjourned to the Fundin’s library. 

     Gloin opened the little folding scribe’s desk and took out the notes, each piece of paper written thoroughly in official black, but many pages rotated ninety degrees and written across again.  Each version was legible and Gloin turned a pages this way and that, fascinated.

     “I haven’t seen paper used this way in years,” he said.

     “Paper is expensive,” said Ori.  “What’s crosswise are my own observations, nothing important.”

     “No?”

     “No, though it turned out to be a good idea anyway.  I used every single sheet I had.”

     Even professing to be fascinated, Gloin took what Ori considered an inordinate amount of time on each page, reading the actual notes, then Ori’s own. 

     Ori didn’t mind Gloin reading his personal notes of course, but Gloin’s increasingly perplexed expression was making him nervous and they spent so long over the whole, sad mess that, by the time they had finished Ori realized he’d taken most of the pot of tea for himself.

     “I need to step out for a moment,” said Ori.

     “Hm?  Oh, certainly.”

     He went and returned, much relieved, at least until he heard the voices coming from the study.  Thorin and Gloin were discussing something that had them both agitated.

     Ori heard his name and his heart abruptly started to pound.

     He reached the doorway and cleared his throat.

     Thorin turned with Ori's notes in his hand.

     "Ori?  What in Arda did you write?"

     "Er... my raw notes weren't supposed to see the light of day," said Ori.  "I used the the cross through space for a scholarly exercise."

     "Yes, but what is that for?”

     "A scribe writes what he's told but a scholar writes what he sees and thinks as well.  I'm sorry, Thorin, it won't happen again."

     "It would be a shame if it didn't," said Thorin.  "These insights are valuable.  You saw things I missed and you saw meaning in things I wouldn't know anything about.  I didn't grow up with these dwarrow, you did."

     "So, it's helpful?"

     "Yes, it will help me reach people.  It's just what I need, though, you may want to carry more paper when possible.”

     “As I was telling Gloin, I know paper is expensive.”

     “But this is the best use for it,” said Thorin.  “For a kingdom of stone, Erebor goes through a lot of paper and ink.”

      

     It was just as well Ori had worked up an appetite.

     Dori served him a joint of beef larger than his head and half a field each of potatoes and carrots roasted and swimming in sweet glaze.

     “Dori!  Not so much veg!”

     “It’s not green, pet.  Think of the potatoes as chips in their natural state.”

     The eldest Ri was making such a fuss, Ori feared Dori might go so far as to cut him his meat for him, but Balin swooped down to draw Dori into a discussion with Dis, Gloin and Gridr at the far end of the table.  Ori was left with Fili and Kili, both still happily shoveling food into their mouths.

     “Dwalin and Thorin didn’t come in with you?” he asked.

     “Last minute planning,” said Fili.  “Happens a lot.  They’ll be here.”

     “Thanks for helping out today, Ori-mate,” said Kili

     “You’re welcome, but I only wrote things down.”

     And attempted, with limited success, to comfort a furious Durin.

     “What we found really hit Thorin hard,” said Ori.  “He never faltered while we were down in the mines with people, but afterwards… All those poor badgers working down   there beside their parents.”

     The brothers looked at him, then at each other.  Kili rubbed his eyes with his free hand.  Fili glared down at his plate.

     “It was just as bad as Bofur said,” Fili muttered.  “No wonder Thorin had locked himself in his office.”

     “He shouldn’t blame himself,” said Ori.  Even he heard the pleading tone in his voice.

     “Of course he’s blaming himself,” said Fili.  “What you saw goes against everything idad’s taught us, everything that being a Durin is about.”

     Kili breathed out in frustration.

     “I’m amazed Thorin didn’t go looking for Udadel Thror,” he said.

     “Ori sent Dwalin to look after him,” said Fili.  “Dwalin keeps him from doing things he’ll regret.  It’s getting to be his whole job lately.  Here, Ori-mate, see this plate of food?”

     Before Ori could reply or Fili go on Dori bustled forward and refilled Fili’s plate, Kili’s plate and topped up Ori’s plate with a murmur and a pat on the shoulder, then he hastened back to Balin’s side.

     “He does that,” Ori assured them. 

     Kili muttered something about Dori being related to Mistress Dazla or Rutile.

     “Why Rutile?” Ori asked. 

     Fili laughed and Kili grimaced.

     “Rutile’s very maternal,” Fili snickered.  “When we’re home, Amad lets Rutile run loose during the night.  Rutile goes to Kili’s room and tries to untangle his hair.  Before that she comes to my room and takes all my beard and hair beads out of the dish and lines them up by color value.  She used to visit Idad Thorin but he doesn’t like it when she starts recleaning his toenails for him.”

     Ori giggled.

     “Please go on,” Ori prompted Fili.  “You were telling me about Thorin.”

     “See this plate of food?” Fili repeated.  “If you’re a Durin, it’s not enough just to be thankful you have it.”

     “Though we are,” Kili assured him.  “A lot.”

     “You also need to ask: Who doesn’t have it?  Then you make sure they do.  We’re, y’know, responsible.”

     Ori said, “He can’t fix problems he doesn’t know about.”

     “No, he can’t,” said Fili.  “He can’t fix the whole mountain by himself either, but until pretty recently he thought he should.  Balin and Amad and everyone else have always tried to help, but just now he’s started actually asking for help.  Like he asked you.”

     Gimli burst in, apparently having dined with friends, judging by the state of his tunic.  Ori watched him bump foreheads with Gloin, startled once more by how similar they were.

     Well, except for the elf thing.

     Binni and Oin arrived directly after, each carrying a mysterious and extremely scrumptious-smelling parcel.

     All excitement, Dori took Oin’s and, with Binni, disappeared into the kitchen, already talking at speed.

     Soon the elder Durins withdrew to the sitting room while the younger lingered at table.  Gimli restlessly moved between the rooms, still at the age where a badger could not sit still in company.

     Or perhaps, Ori thought, it was just Gimli.  After all, Ori had seen him stationary at the library, but only in low spirits.

     Fili swirled a finger through the sheen of gravy on his plate and licked his finger clean.  Ori looked around, sure Dis must be lurking.

     “Y’know,” Fili said, “Balin thinks he’s being subtle, assigning us history lessons about which dwarf kings were most successful and what they all had in common.”

     “We figured it out,” said Kili with an eyeroll.  “They didn’t work themselves to death.”

     “Balin is still your tutor?” Ori asked.

     “One of ‘em,” said Kili.  “Dwalin teaches us fighting and tactics and weaponry.  He even taught me the bow, though Udadel Thror doesn’t think it’s a proper weapon for a ‘prince of Durin’.”

     He said the last in such a way that Ori had to smile.

     Kili gulped down half a cup of watered mead before he continued. 

     “Bow comes in handy when Idad takes us to Mirkwood.  For some reason Prince Legolas spends a lot of time outside the palace.”

     “For some reason,” Fili echoed with a snort.

     “We go hunting.”

     “Arrow diplomacy,” said Ori.

     “Oi!  I like that, Ori-mate,” said Kili.  “Definitely writing that down.  Anyway, it’s widened my range as an archer.  We aren’t always at war, but we always have to eat.”

     Fili sat back in his chair, arms crossed.

     “Maybe this whole thing with the mines’ll be good in a way.  Maybe Idad will let Kili and me help him more.  We aren’t shaleheads.  Well, not complete shaleheads anyway.  We can do things for him.  He protects us too much.”

     Ori debated his own coin’s worth, then shrugged to himself and tossed it in.

     “Maybe because he was younger than you when he became crown prince?  He doesn’t want you to miss out on actually being young.”

     “I’ve thought of that,” Fili agreed.

     “Fi’s the responsible one,” said Kili as he chased the last chunk of potato across his plate and onto the table.

     “I’m not that responsible,” Fili protested.  “Just shows you how bad it’s gotten if even I think I should spend more time in boring meetings.”

     Dori entered with a cake on a platter and fresh plates and silverware.

     Having only just put the final morsel of his own dinner in his mouth, Ori wondered once more over Dori’s secret power that allowed him to know when pudding was truly necessary.

     Like, right this moment.

     Dori gave him a wink.

     Ori, Flii and Kili hurriedly stacked up the dirty dishes to take back and Ori stood to remove the tray when Dori waved him off and swept out with it.

     Ori was left to sit back down and consider the bounty before them.

     “This looks like the same kind of cake we had at Gridr’s,” said Ori.  “Xocolātl?”

     “Xocolātl,” Fili affirmed.  “From the far southeast.”

     He sliced off a slab for Ori and one for himself while Kili attacked it from the opposite side.

     Fili refilled Ori’s cup.

     “Ever since Amad hosted that Ironfist delegation we’ve been getting ‘gifts’, all kinds of things we never heard of before.  Even Balin had to do research to figure out what to do with the xocolātl seed pods.”

     “This came from a tree?” Ori asked, amazed.

     Kili grinned.

     “Yep, and you should have seen King Thranduil’s face when Idad Thorin gave him one of the pods.  Imagine a dwarf gifting an elf something that grew on a tree.  For a moment Thranduil’s expression actually changed.

     “To what?” Ori asked.  “Did he smile?  Has anyone ever seen him smile?”

     “I did once,” said Fili, “but it was only his ‘very funny, peasant, now I’m going to eat you’ smile.”

     “To be fair,” said Kili, “we were running around with his favorite bottles of wine on our foreheads, pretending to be elk.”

     “But you were very young badgers, of course,” said Ori

     Fili grinned maniacally.

     “Two months ago, actually.  He hasn’t had us back since, though he did invite Amad to take tea.”

     Ori had a brief, terrible vision of Dori and Thranduil taking tea together.  He shook it off with a shudder.

     “Anyway,” said Kili, “it was a great gift, even to the elves.  I mean, they like to say they’ve seen everything and nothing surprises them.”

     Fili snickered.

     “His face was all ‘surprise-happiness-horror’.”       

     Dwalin entered, grimfaced, kissed his husband, and sat beside him in a graceless sprawl.

     “Is Idad Thorin coming to eat?” Fili asked.

     “Aye, he made it a point t’ say he would.”  Dwalin smiled at Ori.  “He said he had t’, seein’ as he was under orders.”

     Ori sank a little in his chair.

     “I didn’t mean it like that.”

     “He took it in th’ spirit it was intended, love,” said Dwalin.  “Is tha’ xocolātl cake?”

     Fili cut him off a slice.

     “What happens now?” Ori asked.

     “Now our friend Bofur gets t’ see wha’ it takes t’ fix this mess.  Thorin’s made him his personal mine inspector an’ informant which, considerin’ Thror’s appointed inspectors never set foot in th’ mines, shouldn’t be th’ hard to pull off.

     “Getting’ around Thror’s cronies who own th’ mines, tha’s another problem f’r th’ list.”

     Dwalin took a bite of cake, chewed and swallowed, his face transformed in ecstasy.  The sight of it made Ori squirm a little in his seat, pleased and warm and mortified.

     Kili pushed over a cup of mead to Dwalin.

     Ori cleared his throat and tried to sound stern.

     “Husband, you have not had your supper yet.”

     “Puddin’ first,” said Dwalin.  “Pattin’ mehself on th’ back f’r talkin’ ‘round his royal broodiness this afternoon.”

     “His royal what?” Ori cried as the brothers laughed.

     “His royal broodiness,” said Dwalin.  “Tha’s wha’ I called him when we were badgers.  He used t’ call me a few thin’s too, none o’ ‘em tha’ nice.”

     “Do you have to go back on duty?”

     “No, I’m stayin’ close ’til we ride out tonight.”  Dwalin slid a grin at Ori.  “There’s someone else I gotta take care o’ besides Thorin, someone else’s who’s had a tough day.”

     “Really,” Ori protested once more, “all I did was write things down.”

     “An’ yeh knew somethin’ was wrong with our Thorin, or yeh wouldn’t’ve said so t’ me.  An’ yeh got roughed up by them talkin’ vultures.  Home’s where I need t’ be.”  He turned a warning eye on the princes.  “Bu’ don’t go thinkin’ me gettin’ married’s made me any less’ve a bastard.”

     Fili nodded.

     “We think it’s made you a much better bastard.  Don’t we, Ki?”

     “Uh-huh,” said Kili, as he cut another piece of cake.

Chapter Text

     Ori sighed tiredly and leaned back against Dwalin's chest.

     "Yeh wantin' yer bed, love?" was the quiet rumble behind him.

     "I- no not quite yet. I think I need some fresh air."

     "Go through to the breakfast parlor, pet," Dori said, still bustling about between the kitchen and the sitting room.  "I'll bring you and our deary a nice cup of tea and some little cakes so light you won't know you're eating them."

     "Then wha's th' fuckin' point?" Dwalin muttered, escorting Ori through. 

     Ori giggled at this.

     "You still haven't reconciled yourself to being called ‘deary’ have you?"

     Dwalin chuckled.

     "Could be worse I s'pose.  Least ways, he ain't called me darlin' yet."

     "Shhh!" Ori gasped in a whisper. "He'll hear you!"

     "He's in the kitchen, love."

     "Dori's ears go 'round corners!"

     Dwalin opened the mica-paned doors out to the meadow and Ori took a deep breath.  The ponies and goats grazed peacefully and all traces of snow were gone. Spring had arrived. The meadow was dotted with bright colors. Along the paved area, beautiful sky blue flowers shaped like trumpets were closing for the day.  White ones were starting to open.  All around wafted the light scent of the mint that tangled through the grass. 

     Ori sighed and Dwalin slid his arms around Ori from behind.  Ori leaned back against his chest.  Dwalin rubbed his face in Ori’s hair pressing kisses into it.  Ori giggled as Dwalin leaned lower and nibbled at his neck.  

     “’Bout bleedin’ time we got t’ take a shared breath,” he muttered into Ori’s ear.

     “I know.  Everything’s running at the highest speed.  I used to think my life was quite quiet and dull.”

     Ori turned and grinned up at Dwalin.

     “What a terrible influence you Durins are.”

     “Yeah, I notice our Dori’s jus’ so shocked he’s runnin’ you away from us.”

     Ori laughed again and hugged Dwalin.  They stood together in silence enjoying the peaceful evening light and each other.

     Honda looked up, gave a happy whinny and cantered over.  Ori smiled and Dwalin released him with a chuckle.  Ori moved to the edge of the walkway and reached out.  The pony put her head across his shoulder making snuffling sounds in his ear. Ori patted the warm, fuzzy face and scritched gently down the line of the pony's mane.  Honda whinnied and drew her head back. The velvety lips nipped Ori's sleeves.  Ori bowed his head to the pony's forelock. 

     "There," he whispered.  "Do you know how many adventures I've been having since you came here and I didn't get to ride you except for once. You've just been here in the field playing with Harley and Ducati!"

     "An' gettin' fat!" Dwalin added. 

     "Who's getting fat?" Thorin asked as he, Balin and Dis joined them. 

     "I hope it's my Ori," Dori said, bringing a large tray and setting it on the low stone table Fili and Kili brought out.

     The Sons of Groin and the Urs join them, Omi and Loli and Buj following.  Dori brought over two large mugs of sweet tea and two cakes. Ori took a tiny bite of cake and frowned. It was cake but it tasted like lavender blossom but it was cake. Ori decided Dori had given up on making him eat green food and now was trying to make him eat flowers.  Buj was not so nice. 

     "These cakes are fascinating.  They have the consistency of traditional tea cakes, yet they smell and taste like my amad's linen closet."

     Ori looked at Dwalin, who had an eyebrow raised at Buj.  Ori murmured, "I don't want to know how he knows what a linen closet tastes like."

     Dwalin snorted. “Probably tried eatin’ it t’ see if he could turn int’ a kite ‘r somethin’.”

     Ori fell into giggles and had to separate himself from the group in case he was asked what was amusing him so much. 

     His gaze went beyond the meadow and rock barricade, far off to the east and north to the Iron Hills. The last of the setting sun made the distant peaks just visible.  Ori wondered how King Dain was taking Thorin's news.  Roäc had made no comment that Ori had heard when the King of Ravens delivered Thorin’s message. 

     Ori's eyes caught a faint movement out there.  Idly, he wondered at it.  At first, it just seemed to be a faint wisp of smoke. Then Ori realized it was something moving, something moving toward Erebor.  Whatever it was, it was moving very quickly. 

     "What's that?" Ori asked, pulling at Dwalin's sleeve. 

     "Eh, love?" Dwalin turned, catching the attention of Thorin as well as Balin, Dori and Buj. 

     Buj climbed on the low stone table for a better look. 

     "Mahal's hammer!" Dwalin said, slowly.  "That's Dain on his way or I'll eat Bofur's hat."

     “Yeh bloody well, won’t,” Bofur put in and he and Nori began having a tug of war over the hat, making Dis and Jani giggle.

     Balin smiled. 

     "Aye, that'll be our Dain for sure.  Doesn't care f’r letter writin’, would much rather speak in person, so here he comes."

     "He's coming awfully fast," Thorin observed.  "Who knew his pigs had such speed in them."

     "Is that pig even touching the ground?” Dori asked.  “Thorin, didn’t you send that letter…”

     “This morning,” said Thorin blankly.

     “Fuck,” said Dwalin.

     Dori chuckled.

     "A dwarf on a pig in flight!"

     "Flight?" burst out Buj. "Curse it!  I wanted to be the first!"

     The entire company turned to stare at him as he jumped down from the stone table in the deepest disgust.

     Ori over heard Thorin asking Dwalin, “Where did he come from?  Isn’t he a librarian?”

     “Aye,” Dwalin responded. “Prob’ly testin’ wind currents ’r somethin’.” 

     “He’s going to fall on his head, “ Thorin observed as Buj tried to climb up the doorframe for a better look.

     “Won’t hurt him,” Dwalin commented with a grin at Ori. 

     Ori gave a sign of strangulation at his husband and went over to assist Buj down from standing on one of the door handles before he broke it.

     "It's the pig. He's not doing it unassisted.  It’s just galloping,” Ori said, comfortingly.

     Buj rewarded him with a sweet smile, which quickly lapsed back into perturbed brooding.

     "I must resume my research," Buj grumbled. "If he has perfected flying pigs, he is only a step away from my own ideas.  Excuse me."

     Buj wandered out, notebook in hand, chewing on the end of his pen.

     Kili and Dis looked at each other. 

     "Pigs can't fly," Kili said.

     Fili snorted.  "Well, not yet they can’t, but no doubt Buj will make that a lie."  

     Gloin went halfway back indoors and roared for “Our Gimmers!”  Ori faintly heard the adad instructing his badger to go to such and such tunnel.

     Ori peered again.  The plume of smoke had become larger and there was definitely something tearing along at full speed and something else on top with a red cloak flapping wildly like a much fraught battle standard. Ori worried a little.  If King Dain was coming this quickly, it might be the he was angry.  Perhaps, despite Thorin’s assurances in his letter, King Dain still wanted Dori ‘out of the way’ or saw him as competition for inheritance or perhaps King Dain had wanted someone else to marry Balin or Dwalin.

     Ori frowned as the tiny, high-speed shape reached the foot of the mountain and disappeared.

     Dis came out.

     “If that’s Dain, he’ll be here in a shake of a ram’s tail.  I asked Dazla to bring more dishes over for a sizable tea.  Shall I ask her to stay?”

     “Dis, dear, how kind you are,” Dori replied with a warm smile.  “Please tell Mistress Dazla she is quite welcome to go home and rest.  I’m sure she’s tired after today’s labors.  If we’re having tea, I imagine we must get out the stoneware, from what I’ve heard of King Dain.  I do hope he’s not in a temper.”

     Dori and Dis went back into the kitchen.  Leaving the doors open in the breakfast parlor, the company went into the sitting room.  Balin was just telling Dwalin that he may want to go and meet Dain as he entered the courtyard to put the pig out to graze when there was a thundering racket coming from, it seemed to Ori, behind the sitting room wall.  A hidden door in the wall seamlessly crashed open and a gigantic mass erupted into the room.

     “Halt, Chopper!’ bellowed a deep voice, pitched to the battlefield.

     The biggest, hairiest, sharp-tusked, most savage-looking battle-boar Ori had ever dreamed of, stopped so suddenly it slid along the carpet, rucking it up into several folds and leaving skid marks on the stone floor.  Ori stared.  The vast dwarf on its back allowed the force of the speed to carry him over the pig’s head and land firmly before them all.

     This dwarf was of a height with Thorin and, although he sported muscles like Dwalin, he was wider.  He had the brilliant blue Durin eyes but his hair was as red as Ori’s own.  It was streaked with grey and left long like his vast beard.  The top of his hair was drawn away from his eyes and ears, being caught up in a topknot that gave him the appearance of a pissed-off rooster and his mustache was twisted on both sides of his mouth to hold a ferocious tusk on each side.

     It was at that moment Dori entered the room followed by Dis.  Ori noticed that his eldest brother had not only put on his best plum-colored tunic but had also redone his hair with rubies.  Dori assumed an elegant pose, looked about the room, and finally allowed his eyes to come to rest on the newcomer, who was staring at him, eyes positively bulging.

     “Ahhh,” Dori crooned, with a winsome smile. “Your Majesty, King Dain, I presume. I am Dori, betrothed to Balin and I do bid you be welcome in the House of Fundin.”

     The King of the Iron Hills gawped for a moment longer then in two strides crossed the room, scooped Dori under the armpits and hoisted him in the air at arm’s length, and began spinning them both about and roaring joyously.  The massive hog flung its tail in the air and squealed in delight.

     “Sister!” Dain bellowed.

     “Um-“ Dori began.

     “Brother!” Dain shouted, not even pausing for breath, continuing to carry Dori high and capering about the room, the pig bouncing after, grunting and oinking in a merry way.

     “Actually-“ Dori tried again. 

     Dain stood still, looking up at him.

     “Sibling?” he offered.

     “Yes,” Dori acceded.  “That will do.”

     Dain put Dori down only to seize him into a crushing hug, which ended with Dain giving Dori a large, loud kiss on the cheek.   Dain held Dori out at arm’s length to look him over.  Dori looked rather piqued as his lovely tunic was now unduly creased and his beard a little skew-whiff.  Dain looked immensely pleased and rudely patted Dori’s belly, gave him what might have been for Dain a gentle shake, further fluffing Dori’s tunic, and tucked Dori back under his arm.

     “How fine yeh look, me dumplin’!” Dain brayed jovially.  “So lovely an’ ripe for any flirtin’ possible.”

     “Really-,” Dori gasped, hovering on the edge of being offended.

     “An’ marryin’ Balin!” Dain continued at volume.  “Well, he’s a prosy old windbag f’r all he's th’ best advisor any could wish f’r.  But if he keeps yeh happy in th’ bottom bits, me dumplin’, I've nothing t’ say on th’ matter.”

     “Well, thank Mahal for small favors,” Dori snapped and frowned terribly at Dain, who looked down at him, raised an eyebrow then laughed again and gave Dori another hearty kiss on the cheek.  Ori sneaked a glance at Balin, who was quietly seething.  Ori almost fancied he could see smoke rising in wisps from Balin’s ears.  Gimli, with Fili and Kili’s help, was giving Chopper a mighty tummy rub.  The pig was rolling on its back, enjoying itself hugely, and squealing in delight.

     Dori managed to free himself and grabbed Nori by the shoulder.  

     “Dain, dear brother, here is my younger brother Nori-”

     Nori was mightily clapped on upper arms and there was a crash as Dain brought his forehead into resounding contact with Nori’s.  Ori’s heart sank as he saw Nori’s hand whip out and slip instantly in and out of Dain’s outer coat pocket.  Dain freed him and looked Nori over in great interest.  Nori grinned like the holder of an undiscovered loaded die.  Dain frowned, grabbed Nori’s hand, and twitched it open. Ori groaned. Nori appeared to have relieved the King of the Iron Hills of a remarkably fine pocket time-piece.  

     “Nori!  Dear!” Dori started but Dain just threw back his head and roared with laughter. 

     He clapped Nori on the shoulders again.

     “Well done!  Well done!”  Dain put the timepiece back in Nori’s hand. 

     Nori stared at him with a brow raised.

     “No, no,” Dain assured him at volume.  “Yeh found it an’ thus yeh keep it.  Was me an’ our Dori’s father’s.  Very proper yeh should have such.”

     “I ain’t related, sunshine,” Nori said politely.

     “Nonsense,” Dain barked, frowning.  “Dori said yer his brother.  Tha’ makes yeh me half-brother as well.  By the way, yeh’ll like this watch.  Lookee here.”

     Dain opened Nori’s hand and popped the lid on the watch.  Ori could see that it was gold, round, and flat, but there were tiny spokes all around the edge.  Dain removed one and Ori saw it was the smallest knife he had ever seen.

     “Mahal’s arse!”  Nori was impressed.

     “Wait,” Dain bellowed eagerly. He withdrew another.  This one was obviously a lock pick.  The others were all different tiny tools.  Nori was practically salivating by the end of Dain’s exhibition.

     “Dain, dear,” Dori interposed. 

     Dain gave the appearance of forgetting all about Nori, which was fine as Nori was so delighted with his newest acquisition he had forgotten Dain’s presence.

     Ori took a breath and fortified himself.  Dori smiled at him

     “Dain, dear, here is my youngest brother who-”

     Ori steeled himself as Dain launched himself at Ori.  Ori was also swung, dizzily into the air and hugged to the point he feared his ribs would crack.  Dain put him back on his feet and held him also at arm’s length to look him over.  Close to, Ori could see that Dain was perhaps a few years younger than Thorin and Dwalin.  His hair had greyed earlier than theirs and there were a remarkable number of crowsfeet that crinkled merrily at the corners of his eyes.  Dain huffed a laugh and thumped foreheads with Ori quite gently then turned to Dori.

     “Well, me dumplin’, yeh must be full o’ pride with this one.  Look how young an’ got his journeyman braids in scrivenin’ already.  With those big eyes an’ sweet little fluff of a beard, he’s as cute as a new farrowed piglet!”

     Ori didn’t really fancy being compared to a piglet.

     “He’s sweeter than a nut an’ as fancy lookin’ as th’ King of Gondor’s wee spaniel!” Dain continued.

     A little ticked off and feeling mischievous, Ori, as Dain was busily patting his cheek, turned his head slightly and bit Dain’s finger.

     “Ooop!” Dain yelped, staring in surprise and good humor.  “Feisty, too!  No’ a wonder tha’ our Dwalin’s took up with him.”

     Ori turned to see his husband’s reaction but sighed and shook his head at the sight of Thorin and Dwalin laughing so hard they had to hold one another up.

     Dori saved the situation by quickly inviting Dain to come have some tea and something to eat.  Dain chortled and agreed, patting Dori’s arm but excused himself to the washroom as he needed to refresh himself, tidy his clothes and, as he candidly told the room at volume, take a good dump. 

     Fili, Kili, and Gimli helped Chopper out of the saddle and bridle.  After an extreme amount of shaking and some pleased grunting, Chopper trotted off to stand outside the washroom, squealed impatiently, and occasionally kicked the door.

     Everyone had removed to the breakfast parlor once more.  Dain returned with Chopper frisking happily at his heels.  

     Ori saw that Dain walked with a barely noticeable limp, though Ori knew he had been wounded at the Khazad-dûm battle.  Dain greeted the Sons of Gloin, pinched Binni’s ass, grabbed Gimli and turned him upside down before dropping him on the couch, then kissed Gridr noisily on the back of her hand. He embraced Loli and Omi loudly and pinched their cheeks, declaring them to be quite the sweetest, fuzziest peaches ever and gave them both candy.  Dain didn’t appear to realize that Buj was not part of the family, patted him violently on the head, and handed him a dagger.  Buj examined it as though it was a new kind of centipede.  

     Thorin, Dwalin, and Dain cuffed each other good naturally.  Dain was then introduced to the Urs, who he greeted cheerily and took time to ruthlessly tease Dis and Jani.  At being reunited with Bifur, the joyful volume rose to amazing heights.

     Once more everyone sat down.  Dori and Binni had created a light late night supper and Dori helped his elder brother to goat stew redolent with carrots, onions, raisins, apricots and smoky spices.  Dain was a thorough eater and polished off everything Dori set before him.  Everyone else took tea and more of Dori’s scones, cheese, dried fruit, and fried chicken.  Dori gingerly put down a saucepan of porridge for Chopper, who immediately thrust his nose all the way in and the sound of chewing went on for some time.

     After all that, Dori brought through a hot dish of bread pudding that looked as though it was made with the left-over xocolātl cake, cherries soaked in brandy, and whipped, sweetened cream.  Everyone partook of this treat.

     Ori leaned back in his chair.  His brain registered that the day had begun in this room with breakfast and a visit from two elves.  Ori sighed.  No wonder he felt tired, the day had been quite ridiculous with events and some remarkably frightening in their intensity.  

     Ori looked up.  There in the meadow were two quickly moving tall figures.

     Gimli bellowed a welcome as Legolas and Tauriel came in. The elves made their bows and answered the greetings given them by all present.  Legolas seated himself next to Gimli and was immediately provided with pudding and chucked under the chin by Gridr.  Tauriel seated herself gracefully next to Kili, who gazed worshipfully at her as he shoved his half-eaten bowl of pudding in front of her.  She smiled, confused, but once she tasted the pudding, polished it off happily.   

     Dain regarded Legolas.

     “So it’s yourself, is it Greenleaf? Yer lookin’ well enough.”

     “Thank you, King Dain,” Legolas responded formally

     “An’ how is tha’ snockered old woodland sprite, anyway?” Dain returned around a mouthful of pudding. 

     Tauriel twitched and Legolas fought a smile.

     “If, by that honorific, you are referring to my royal father, your majesty, he is in excellent health, I thank you.”

     Thorin turned to Legolas,

     “If you think King Thranduil will allow it, I’d like you both to stay this evening.  We muster at midnight tonight to scour Dale before dawn.”

     “My captain and I are quite at your service, King Thorin,” Legolas returned gravely but with the light of unholy glee in his eyes.

     “My grandfather’s not dead yet, elf.”

     “Oh.  When may I tell my royal father to expect to hear of his abdication?” Legolas inquired in an innocent tone. 

     Dain and Dwalin roared with laughter making the rest of the table join in.

     Thorin frowned then relented.

     "Brought yeh a present, cous’,” said Dain.  He waved to the open doorway. "Take a look." 

     Thorin went to and stood upon the paving and looked toward the east and north.  He chuckled.  Ori, curious, slid out to stand beside him.  Hidden from Dale in the lee of the mountain were an awful lot of torches.

     “Rather a lot of light for a camp of one,” Thorn said casually.

     Dain grinned.

     "Thought yeh'd like a nice army."

     Thorin turned to him, eyes lit brighter than any beacon.

     “Why, Dain!  You spoil me.  So, does this mean-"

     The secret sitting room door crashed open and then the door to the breakfast parlor was completely filled with a single dwarrowdam, Dain's equal in height and girth, with jet black hair and beard in a thousand tiny, spangled plates.

     "Hullooooo!  We're arrived at LAST!"

     "Sculdis!  Me delicate jewel of a bride," Dain announced.  "Come give us a kiss and meet yer new brothers!"

     She swept in like the queen she was, exquisitely graceful, with hands the size of stove lids and her eyes the color of iron.  Behind her, looking very amused and patient, stood a miniature copy of Dain.

     Ori thought this must be Young Thorin.

     Dain and his queen crashed together in the middle of the room like two headlong mine carts.  There were several loud sloppy noises, and they parted, though somewhat slowly as they had to disentangle themselves from now locked together braids, beard beads and leather lacings.  Dain swooped an arm about her and drew her over to Dori.

     Dori and Sculdis embraced tightly and rapturously, with plenty of giggling.  Sculdis kissed Nori’s cheek, slapped his bottom, and called him her naughty badger, which made him blush.  Ori steeled himself for another hug like Dain’s, but she simply enfolded him warmly and kissed both his cheeks, beaming proudly at him.

     Once she released him, Fili, Kili, Omi, Loli and Gimli all pounced on her immediately.  She hugged and grappled with all of them, laughing uproariously.

     “All me little goats!  How lovely t’ see yeh all again!  An’ this time we get t’ go into battle t’gether!!  Go greet yer cousin!”

     With that she left them all to crack heads with young Thorin, who was quite good at it.  They all referred to him as Stonehelm.

     Sculdis hugged Gridr and Dis at the same time, squeezed Binni, slapped Gloin on the nose, making him chortle and reached for Oin’s mustache braids.  Oin wasn’t in the mood to have his mustache yanked and there was a little chase around the room.  She relented and he deigned to hug her.  She got to twitch the mustache anyway making him sputter and Binni giggle.  She finally hugged both Thorin and Balin then turned to Dwalin.

     “You!” she snapped then pointed to the door.  “Out!”

     Dwalin grinned maniacally, turned, whipped up his tunic, and made as though he was going to treat her to a view of the full moon.

     “Eugh!,” she cried.  “Don’t!  Ugh, the things you see when you haven’t got an axe!”

     Balin politely introduced the Urs and Buj, all of whom she also embraced.  She greeted Jani, caught Dis’ eye, and winked.  Dis clicked her tongue and huffed, hissing under her breath that she was not obvious and people were gossips, that’s what.

     Thorin went over to greet Stonehelm.

     “How are things in the Iron Hills, little cousin?”

     “Oh, yeh know, loud.”

     Thorin nodded, trying hard not to snort.

     Stonehelm narrowed his eyes.

     “Aye, cousin, lots o’ tha’, too."

     Which just caused Thorin to laugh uncontrollably in a very unkingly fashion.

     Soon everyone was seated again in the sitting room. The younger dwarrow sat on the floor near the hearth, both elves gamely with them and the older generation all over the furniture at hand as well as several additions from other parts of the house.  Dori brought young Thorin and his mother each a large bowl of stew and after that, some pudding. Ori wondered how Dori instinctively knew to keep some back so both had plenty.  Sculdis praised the stew and Stonehelm was quite blissful over his pudding.

     The talk quickly turned back to the plans for midnight.  Dain and Sculdis declared themselves and their army ready to march whenever Thorin gave the word.  Thorin finally rose and, going to the hearth, stood before them all.

     “My dear friends, I cannot begin to thank all of you for standing with me.  Bifur, my brother at arms, my thanks to you and your family for bringing these difficulties to my attention.  Through your good work many, many dwarrow will soon be able to partake amply of the riches of Erebor and we shall be prosperous as Great Durin the Deathless decreed we should be.”

     Dwalin and Dain rose and everyone followed, raising their drinks to toast Thorin.

     “My king, we art with thee now and indeed always,” Bifur stated. 

     The company drank to that and as a one they all bowed.  Thorin raised his glass to them.

     “May Mahal make me always worthy of your respect and may He always remember those who pledge to follow me.  Loyalty. Honor. A willing heart... I can ask no more than that.”

     He bowed to all assembled.  He broke the formality with a ruefully look and a smile.

     “And now, my friends, those involved in the muster should get some sleep before we go,” Thorin finished quietly. 

Chapter Text

     Ori saw Dwalin go off to the bath to wash and get ready for bed.  He took a deep breathe and decided.  Silently, he slipped into the kitchen and hunted through the cupboards for the wine goblets he had seen once.  He frowned and finally located them.  There were only two and he silently scolded Dori as he likely had used the other two for himself and Balin.

     Carefully bringing them to the table he added a bottle of sweet wine and put it all on a silver tray.  Another deep breath and he picked up the full tray and trotted through to Dwalin’s and his bedroom.

     The door was ajar and firelight danced through.  Ori slipped in and stopped dead.  There, leaning an arm on the mantle shelf was Dwalin.  He was dressed only in a pair of deep green drawers.  His hair and beard were brushed to shining and loose, all but for his marriage bead in his beard.  The firelight glinted off Dwalin’s tattoos and piercings.  Ori’s breath caught.  He was swamped once more by the reaction he had had years ago when he had first seen Captain Dwalin.  He was so handsome and strong and….  Ori shook himself and grinned.  Who could have guessed that now Captain Dwalin would be his husband?  Ori stepped forward and Dwalin turned with a soft smile.

     “There yeh be, love.”  Dwalin looked at the burden in Ori’s hand and laughed.  “Looks as though we both had the same idea.”

     Ori cocked his head and Dwalin nodded towards a table.  There was a matching silver tray with the other two goblets and a bottle of the same wine.  Ori giggled then his eyes went to the floor before the fire.  In front of it lay what looked like a great quilt with fur.

     “What’s that?” he asked.

     “Snow bear pelt,” Dwalin said.  “Dropped it myself.”

     “Where did it come from?” 

     He had heard of bears but they were usually black or brown.

     “Up north. We’d gone t’ see Dain f’r a Yule party an’ he took Thorin an’ me hunting.  We then had t’ stay until both Thorin and Dain got one each.”

     Ori laughed.

     “That doesn’t surprise me in the least.”

     Ori put his tray next to Dwalin’s and crossed to examine the enormous white pelt on the floor.

     “It’s very beautiful,” he marveled and squatted down and patted it reverently.  He tried to wrap his mind around the size of the creature.   “It must have been quite fierce!”

     Dwalin laughed.

     “Aye, aye, yeh could say that.  Have a seat on it, love.”

     Ori didn’t have to be told twice as he clambered on it with delight and then flopped down and rolled, rubblng his face in the softness.

     “So wonderful!” he managed around a mouthful of fur.

     “Here,” said Dwalin as Ori slowly removed his face from the fur.

     Ori sat up, took the goblet Dwalin held out, and gave Dwalin an enquiring look.

     Dwalin touched his glass to Ori's.

     "To us."

     Ori smiled.

     "And all the wild, careening rides that entails."

     Dwalin laughed.

     "Aye, seems like we never get a moment's peace does it."

     "And we only have a few hours until you and your soldiers... er, clean up Dale."

     "I ain't talkin' about that, love.”

     "Ah, so now I should take off my pants."

     Dwalin choked on the wine.

     "Only if yeh want to."

     "Dori would say you're trying to seduce me."

     "Nah, just want t' spend some quiet time with yeh."

     Dwalin reached over and pulled some cushions closer and lay on his side, leaning against them.  Ori followed suit and stretched out a hand to stroke his braid in Dwalin's beard.  They kissed gently, leaning in a little, then a little more, soft and light and sweet.  Ori felt Dwalin’s tongue on his lip and opened to it, giddy and pleased and slightly ticklish with the beard.  He wondered what that beard would feel like on his-

     “Oh!” Ori cried.

     “Love?”

     “You spilled wine down my back.”

     “What?  Aw!”

     Ori grimaced mirthfully.

     “It’s cold!”

     Dwalin laughed.

     “Now there’s romance.”

     “I’m afraid your nice white rug is going to have a few spots,” said Ori.  “I don’t regard my tunic, since it’s dark, but you’ll have to take a wet cloth to the rug right now, or it will stain.”

     “So me snow bear rug has a few spots?  It’ll be inked jus’ like me.  I’m no’ inclined to get up an’ leave yeh right now.”

     “You’re so sweet.”

     “I’m sweet?” Dwalin asked, and huffed out a laugh.  “There’s no’ many who’d go along wi’ yeh.”

     “You’ve been nothing but sweet to me since the day we got married.”

     “If I am, it’s ’cause yeh make it easy t’ be sweet,” said Dwalin.  "That was quite a day, our weddin’,”

     Ori giggled.

     "Yes, and I suppose we will have to thank Nori at some point, when things calm down.  When he sees how happy we are, he'll take full credit for it."

     Dwalin chuckled.

     "Hopefully he'll be too busy wi' Bofur t' notice."

     "That's true.  I think they make a lovely couple."

     "Couple o' wha'?"

     Ori shoved Dwalin's shoulder and laughed.

     "Exactly, but not as sweet as Balin and Dori.  I often wondered who would be the best person for Dori.  I sometimes wondered if Bard would do, but I see now that Balin is quite perfect."

     Dwalin raised his brows.

     "Did Dori ever fancy Bard?"

     Ori pondered.

     "I don't think so, but I do know it was quite a few years before Bard realized Dori wasn't a dam.  Dori was always so good to Bard's children, you see, and I believe he was well-acquainted with Bard's late wife.  I'm not sure if Matilde ever realized Dori wasn't a dam either.

     "I mostly played with Loli and Omi when I was very young.  I didn't make friends with the man children.  Then I was training to be a scribe.  Once I had my apprentice braid and started my jouneyman’s, I used to look after Tilda.  Her mother died when she was born.  Dori always tried to help with Sigrid when she was growing up.  She is quite like Dori in some ways now.  He taught her to cook and market like he had taught her mother.  Sigrid is very good, but she doesn't have Dori's knack with pastry."

     "That granny pie was bloody good," Dwalin put in.

     Ori chuckled.

     "Dori's way of getting us to eat vegetables."

     "Aye, not partial to 'em meself, but those spring ones Dis made were fine.”

     "It was the butter and bacon, wasn't it?" Ori teased.

     Dwalin grinned.

     “Mind,” Ori went on, “I’m not allowed to say I don’t like green food, as Dori says the Bardlings will copy me.”

     “Bardlings?”

     “That’s what we always called Bard’s children.  Matilde though it was funny.  Bard gets vaguely embarrassed when we say it.  On that, what will happen to all the women and children of the men of Dale when you go to clean up?”

     “Furh’nk’s got that charge.  He’s good with ’em.”

     “Tilda certainly likes him,” said Ori, “and his goat named Puffball.”

     Dwalin laughed.

     “It’s actually the old Khuzdul term for Thistledown.”

     “Well, that does make more sense.”

     Ori pondered a moment.

     Dwalin reached out and drew Ori’s brow to his own.

     Ori blurted, “I’m scared for you.”

     “Don’t be, love.  It’s not like we’re goin’ up against orcs.”

     “I know but I- I don’t want you to get hurt.”

     “I’ll do me best not to.”

     Ori recalled himself.

     “We only have a few hours as you leave at midnight.  You should rest.”

     Dwalin finished his wine, as did Ori.  Dwalin put the goblets aside and took Ori in his arms and laid him down on his back against the cushions.

     Ori raised an eyebrow and Dwalin grinned.

     “Wanted t’ kiss yeh some more wi’ out tha’ dangerous weapon in me hand.”

     “I thought you were going to rest?” Ori teased.

     “In a minute.  Got somethin’ t’ see t’ first.”

     Ori tasted the wine again on Dwalin’s lips, pleased to feel how his own mouth had learned to fit against Dwalin’s.  Now that his mouth knew what to do, his hands could roam at will, over broad shoulders and down the nape of the thick, muscular neck.  Ori’s fingers traced the edges of Dwalin’s large ears, one rounded and cuffed with iron, the other flat over the top from an old wound.

     Ori pulled back and frowned.

     “Does that still hurt to the touch?”

     “Naw, no’ anymore,” said Dwalin idly, his own hands busy under Ori’s tunic.  “Now it jus’ looks like the wors’ piercing job in the history o’ Arda.”

     “Warrior piercings,” said Ori.  “Promise you’ll to teach me what to do and not do to those.”

     Dwalin’s smile took on a wolfish cast and Ori felt himself mimic it.

     “If it’s wha’ yeh want, love.”

     “It is what I want,” said Ori.  He breathed in exasperation.  “When will we have time?”

     “We’ll make time,” said Dwalin.

     “Right now you need to sleep.”

     Dwalin sighed.

     “Aye.”

     He pillowed his head on Ori’s chest, over his heart.

     Ori wrapped his arms around his husband and stroked the hair flowing down Dwalin’s back.

     Dwalin held him tight and sighed deeply.

     Ori kissed the bald pate and tightened his knees around Dwalin’s waist.

     “My love,” Ori began.

     “Shhhh, me darlin’.  Just lemme me hold yeh.  I ain’t got pretty words.”

     Ori sighed with happiness.  He remembered the time in the city garden when he first heard Dwalin singing softly to him in the voice of his heart.

     Firelight danced as Ori gazed idly around the room, still gently stroking Dwalin’s hair.

     How strange, he thought.  Dwalin and I have only been married for six days as of today, and since that day the fortunes of my brothers and I have changed to the point of standing on our heads.  I fancied Dwalin for so long and soon found out he’d been fancying me and that he is my heartsong.  I don’t know how how I could have been so lucky.  I’m half scared of him a little but I can’t stop myself from jumping to his arms whenever I see him.  He’s so good to me.   Mind, his parents where heartsongs but they really didn’t get along very well.  Poor Dwalin and Balin.  How difficult it must have been for them.  They are very close but when I think on it, Dori always made sure we had a loving home.  He and Nori bickered a lot but they both lavished love on me. 

     How beautiful Dwalin is, so tall and strong and his beard is perfectly magnificent.  How I wish I was not so small and scrawny and was beautiful for him too.  I wish I knew all kinds of things about seduction and flirting so he would be enraptured with me.  I never thought this would happen so I contented myself with books and took vicarious pleasure in Shire’s novels.

     Maybe I should ask Dori to teach me to dance and then dress up in filmy material and sway around the bedroom until he was half mad with lust.  Oh, but I can just imagine.

     ‘Dori, would you teach me to dance?’

     ‘I’ve already taught you to dance, pet.  You know ever so many: the round dance, the-‘

     ‘No, I mean, like a bearer, so I can dance for-‘

     ‘For Dwalin?  Certainly not!  How could I live with myself knowing what you were doing in there with him?’

     ‘I imagine you’d distract yourself by doing the same thing with Balin.’

     ‘No, pet, I couldn’t concentrate knowing you were in there dancing for that… that buffalo!’

     And, of course, Dwalin would be standing right behind him when he said it.  What a row!

     So, no, not dancing.

     Perhaps I should wait until I know he’ll be home early one day and bathe and perfume myself then languish on the bed and throw my underwear at him when he comes in the bedroom.  Or maybe leave a trail of clothing leading up to the bedroom?  That would be naughty.  But then Dori would find it and pick it all up and Dwalin wouldn’t think to come to the bedroom and I’d be languishing naughtily and Dori would walk in and demand why I was late for dinner. 

     Perhaps I could climb in the bath tub with him.  I could bounce in and fling off my clothes then climb in.  Water would go everywhere and then we’d have to do an awful lot of mopping after. 

     Hmmm, perhaps if I accosted him in the armory.  He could shove me against the wall and have his way with me.  Someone might walk in and there’d I’d be up against the wall with my trousers hanging off my boots, Dwalin having his way and what does one say at such a moment?  ‘Hello’?  ‘Excuse us’?  How very awkward that would be for Dwalin.

     All these scenarios were getting him nowhere but they were making him slightly uncomfortable in the crotch and that was nothing he could do anything about at the moment so he let his mind drift to other things.

     Dori is Balin’s heartsong and they’ve been apart for years and years.  It’s almost like a Shire novel.  So much romance and court intrigue.  Perhaps, since I’m noble now, I may meet Shire and give him permission to write the story like one of his novels.  Names changed, of course.  We’ll have to be the Sisters Ri.  What laugh!  All the silly things will have to be left out, as nobles have to be terribly formal and reserved.

     Ori frowned.

     Shire would have to rewrite Dwalin as Balin’s cousin, because the way Shire writes it would be very important that I was Dori and Balin’s secret child.

     I wonder how Shire would make me look.  Hmmmm, I think I should have curls instead of what I have now, and I shall have violet eyes and dark brows.  Yes.  Those eyes and brows and curly hair would be our family trademark.  How mysterious Shire would make us!

     Ori’s attention went back to his husband, whose breathing had grown low and steady.

     He’s asleep.  Good.  He needs to rest.  I mustn’t worry so much.  Dwalin is a fine soldier, and perfectly accomplished at fighting orcs.  Dealing with Calmar and his thugs shouldn’t be too difficult.  Bofur has the dwarrow miners loyal to him.  I can’t think of anything that’s been left undug.    

     Those dwarrrow and men in the zinc mine are jut like we were back in Steam Alley, just trying to make enough to eat and be sheltered.  I know I did plenty of copy work for some who had left lessons early to go and help their families.  I don’t like to think how many of the men folk didn’t have any money to send their badgers to school rooms.  Those poor tutors receive nothing from Calmar for their work, and like their parents they barely had anything in the way of true schooling themselves.

     Everything is so wrong in Dale.  If Bard was king, things would be so different.

      Mind, if everything goes to plan, Bard will be king.  I’m so glad nothing came of my and Nori’s attempts to see he and Dori married.  Dear Yavanna, how silly we were!

     Ori’s thoughts drifted as he dozed lightly.

     Bard is like many men folk and would feel funny about marrying another male.  Men as a race seem to be funny about gender.  I have read this is not so in Rohan or Gondor, but in Dale and other settlements like Bree.  I wonder if hobbits are similar, or if they are like dwarrow and elves.  Admittedly, from what I’ve seen of elves I can’t tell who is male and who is female, until we’ve been properly introduced.  I wonder if they have bearers too.

 

     A slight noise brought him to awareness again.  His eyes slid to the door.  Balin and Dori entered silently with their arms full of Dwalin’s armor.

     Ori deliberately closed his eyes and feigned sleep.  He heard them place the gear upon the bed.

     Ori heard a firm tread he knew to be Thorin’s.  Why was Thorin here?  He peeked out from under his lashes and Dori leaned over him, smiled and winked.

     Ori sighed and glanced up.  He heard the soft toll of the midnight bell.

     Dwalin stirred, lifted his head, leaned up, and kissed Ori thoroughly.

     Ori wished the others would go away and leave the pair of them for the rest of the night.

     Dwalin stood and helped Ori up too.

     In silence, the warrior went and sat on the edge of the bed and pulled on his socks.

     Balin beckoned Ori over and handed him the armor a piece at a time, teaching Ori how to help Dwalin put it on.  They were nearly finished when Thorin stepped forward with a box in one hand and a long piece of cloth over his arm.

     He put the box on the bed and unfolded the cloth to reveal several long chains of mithril.  Thorin himself crossed and recrossed the chains over Dwalin’s chest and back.

     “You have a husband now,” Thorin said quietly.  “While I ask you to take many risks for me, the least I can do is offer you protection for him.”

     Thorin smiled at Ori, who tried very hard not to cry.

     Then Thorin took the cloth itself, a surcoat to go over Dwalin’s armor, dark blue with the simple seven stars of Durin, not the ornate silver runes that Thror’s soldiers usually wore.  These were the arms of Durin the Deathless.  Ori understood the gesture, a sign that Thorin intended for Erebor to return to the trust of Mahal.

     Thorin placed the surcoat over Dwalin’s head and settled it on his shoulders and helped him close the belt around it.  Thorin beckoned to Balin who brought the box and opened it.  The prince removed mithril knuckledusters, beautiful and shining.  Dwalin drew a startled breath.

     “Durin the First forged these himself,” said Thorin.

     He handed each to Ori, who with Dwalin’s help, secured them on the warrior’s large hands where they fit perfectly.  Ori stroked them carefully.  Dwalin gathered Ori close and embraced him, his husband of barely a week, then drew back and kissed him firmly.  They parted and Ori took Dwalin’s hands and placed them in Thorin’s.

     “My heart and hands are yours to command,” said Ori.  “Use us well… my king.”

     Thorin’s eyes glistened.

     “Thank you.  May Mahal see that I am always worthy of them.”

     Dwalin stepped back and bowed to Thorin, who drew Ori to his side.

     “My shield brother, if I send you to your death, know that your heart will remain always in my care and I will see him crowned my consort should it be his will.”

     Thorin and Dwalin clasped wrists and touched foreheads, then Dwalin’s gave Ori a last, quick kiss before turning.  Furh’nk, Fili, and Kili stood in the doorway with Dain and Sculdis, each wearing Durin’s colors.  Sculdis came and folded Ori in her arms.

     “Stay safe,” Ori whispered.

     “I will,” Sculdis replied. 

     The soldiers made their way silently out into the night.

     Dori turned to Ori.

     “Did you sleep, pet?”

     “A little.”

     “They’ll be fine, wee brother,” Balin encouraged him.

     “I know,” Ori sighed.

     Dori hugged him.

     “Do you want to go back to bed?”

     “No, I’ll just lie there and worry.”

     “Well then, pet, come with me to the kitchen.  We have a deal of baking to do.”

     “I’ll be off, makin’ sure no one who shouldn’t sees anything,” said Balin.

     He kissed Dori and strode out.

     Dori and Ori went to the kitchen and started taking out implements, dishware and staples.

     Once more they had work to do.

Chapter Text

     Nori came into the kitchen while Ori was measuring ten pounds of flour into a huge vat for Dori’s scones.

     Dori was in the vast larders of Durin House, supervising the bringing up of even more barrels of flour.  The plotters had already commandeered every egg in Erebor.  Dori had said to expect ‘all hands’ imminently to help with preparations.

     Nori wasn’t terribly helpful, though he did look well pleased with himself.

     “Old Vors’s had ‘is hearing, for all the good it done ‘im,” said Nori.

     He stole a chip off Ori’s plate.

     Dori had made Ori a snack to fortify him for baking.  Only Dori would fry chips while waiting for two hundred people to arrive for tea.  Two hundred people, as he’d informed Ori earlier.  Ori still wasn’t over that news.

     “You were there when Vors went before the king?” Ori asked.

     “Not where anyone could see, but close enough.”

     Ori pictured Nori hunkered down under the throne.

     “Oh, it was a treat,” said Nori.

     He reached for another chip.  Ori smacked his hand.

     “Get your own!”

     Nori looked put out, but he did so, then sat with the plateful.  He poured liberal amounts of spiced vinegar over all of it, peered into the bottle, shrugged. and swigged the rest.

     “Ew!’ Ori gasped. 

     Nori fixed a stare at him

     “Wha’?  ’S good f’r the blood.  Cleanses it.  Yeh should drink a tablespoonful everyday.”

     Ori made a face and Nori and continued his tale, while eating.

     “There’s old Vors, all rumpled and havin' the hysterics after only a few hours in the lockup, sputterin’ and whinin’ and demandin’ his rights.  And there’s Thror, lookin’ like he’d rather be somewhere else.  And Thror says, ‘I don’t have time for this shite’.”

     “He did not!”

     “I’m, whatyacall, paraphrasin’.”

     Ori’s eyebrows shot up.

     Nori shrugged.

     “That’s the word, ain’t it?”

     “It is, go on.”

     “Then Thorin, cool as they come, says, ‘Oi, grandad, yeh want me t’ make this problem disappear?’ and Thror says, ‘Aye, go make yerself useful fer once.’ and the king just up and leaves old Vors standin’ there with Thorin, who looks like a ferret with a field mouse.  I swear Vors about pissed hisself.”

     “What did Thorin do?” Ori demanded.

     “Wait a mo’, I ain’t half finished.  Then Vors says, ‘Where’s Prince Frerin?’ and Thorin says, ‘No place that’ll save you.  Yeh’re for the razor and the mob, my lad.’  An' Vors falls on his face, grovelin’, swearin’ he’ll go into exile, he’ll give Thorin half o’ everything he owns.”

     Ori winced.

     “That was exactly the wrong thing to say.”

     “Bet yer arse it was.  So there I am thinkin’ Vors ain’t gonna get as far as the mob, mebbe Thorin’ll take him out right there in th’ throne room, but then your Dwalin’s soldier, that Furh’nk, he rushes up to Balin, whisperin’ like he found out Princess Dis’s laid a egg, and Balin whispers t’ Thorin, and Thorin says t’ the guards, ‘Take Lord Vors back t’ the cells.’.  I guess Thorin’s gonna finish ’im off later.”

     “I hope Vors doesn’t get to Frerin before then.”

     Nori leaned back, smile cold.

     “No worries about the git prince, little brother.  He’s busy eatin’ at a new trough just now.  Seems he tore out o' dinner the other night and smack int’ T’dillah of Rikanta, the choicest cut on the noble meat market.  They’re awful cozy.  Sickenin’.”

     “Do you want more chips?"

     "Silly question."

     Ori fetched more for himself and for Nori along with a new bottle of the vinegar.

     "Where did Thorin go when he left the throne room?" Ori wondered.

     Nori snorted.

     "Where d'ye think?  A certain scribe married t' a certain prince's shield brother just -Pop!- disappeared off the face o' Arda."

     "Ooooh," said Ori.  His face burned all the way to the tops of his ears.  "I seem to have impeded progress."

     "So Vors spends a couple few more hours in the lockup, stewin' over his fate.  Sounds like progress t' me."

     Except that it made Ori an unwitting party to passive torture.

     Nori shot him a stinkeye.

     "Oi, I know that look.  That's the 'I broke Dori's teapot' look.  It was dumb when yeh was twenny and it's dumber now.  Yeh didn't do nothin'.  Yeh didn't even know.  Not that the bastard don't deserve it."

     Ori sighed, then cursed.

     He'd lost count on the measuring.  If he messed up Dori's scones the 'teapot affair' would be nothing in comparison.

 

*********

 

     Binni and Gridr arrived with Omi and Loli, and Buj was in there too, though Ori didn’t know why or how, all carrying huge baskets of bread and crocks of butter and endless platters of jam tarts.

     “Only six different kinds,” Binni apologized.  “Short on time.”

     “We helped,” said Loli.

     “Everyone else is out fighting or guarding the doors,” said Omi, around a mouthful of cheese scone.

     It seemed no time at all passed before the heavy knocker at the front door sounded and he heard Dori answered it.

     Dori quickly returned.

     “The guests are here, pet.”

     As Gridr flipped flat cake after flat cake directly onto a plate Omi smeared each with jam or butter or both and Loli rolled them and stacked them on a growing mountain on the largest platter the Durins owned.  Mistress Dazla directed a cadre of dwarrow toward the back door with huge urns of tea and jugs of honey and cream.

     “More blankets,” someone said.  “We’ve cleared about as much shite as we’re going to out of the top of the meadow.”

     Dori directed, “Take the table out of the receiving room if you need it.  Dis, dear, do you have some to spare?”

     Ori’s world, meanwhile, had shrunk to scrambling vats of eggs and frying rashers of bacon.

     “Gimli and Young Thorin are with the unit holding the gates,” said Gridr merrily.  “What terrible faces!  They want to be down in the city.”

     Binni laughed.

     “Stuck up here with the badgers and the codgers.  Their times will come.  Impatient tweens.”

     Ori realized Oin wasn’t here and his heart sank.  Of course, Oin would be at Dale to see to any wounded.  They would be treated first at the fighting itself, then at the royal infirmary.  Who-

     “Ori!”

     A storm of braids and skirts nearly knocked him into the hob.

     “Tilda!” he cried.

     “Ori!  Furh’nk came’n got us and said we were to take tea in the meadow and there’s ever so many badgers and their parents and tea and juice and lovely cakes and Princess Dis is soooo pretty and I want my beard to look like that someday only Sigrid is mean and says I won’t have one and Furh’nk is so strong and he gave me a piggyback ride and he ran all over with me and I didn’t get sick once!”

     Ori put down his spoon and placed a hand on each of her shoulders.

     “What?”

     She clicked her tongue and cried out in strangled annoyance.

     “Furh’nk got a whole bunch’ve us from Dale and we’re all here in the meadow for tea.”  She grabbed his forearm and tried, without success, to drag him away.  “Come on now, we’re missing cake.”

     Bain arrived, dodging trays and pans.

     “Sorry, Ori,” said the youth.  “She ran off to find you before I could catch her and your eggs are gonna burn.”

     “Oh, mahumb,” he muttered, then clapped his hand over his mouth, but it was too late.

     “What does ‘mahumb’ mean?” Tilda asked sharply.

     “It’s a bad word, so don’t you repeat it,” Ori warned, stirring for all he was worth.  "Tilda, can you go and save me some cake?  I won’t be finished here for a while and I'm afraid I’ll miss out.”

     “Oh, alright!”

     She darted away, happy to have a mission of her own.

     Bain looked tired, and now that Tilda was gone, he looked scared too.

     “I should be back in the city,” Bain said.  “They won’t tell us what’s going on, but Da’s down there and I should be with him.”

     Ori wanted to cheer him up, but the best he could come up with was, “If you aren’t here, who’s going to protect me from your little sister?”

     Bain shrugged, at a loss, but then Dori noticed that he was there and standing still with empty hands.

     “Bain, my dear, take a tray and gather any empty plates and cups and silver you find on the lawn.  We’re running low, there’s a lad.  Ori, pet, I’ll take over the eggs for right now.  The platter of rolled flat cakes needs to go out.”

     For such lights cakes they nearly staggered him with their weight.  Must have been all the jam.

     “Where do I put them down?” he asked.

     “You won’t have to, pet.  The lot of them out there are vicious."

     Ori had read of locusts, how they descended on field and farm, turned day to night and ate every stalk and blade in their path, leaving only desolation.  Now he saw it firsthand.

     He thought he heard some of them say ‘thank you’ but it was hard to tell with their mouths full.

     Ori took a moment to stand with his empty tray and look at their guests: men and dwarrow, the very old and very young, harried looking women surrounded by man badgers and Dis was somehow everywhere, asking after the young and coaxing someone to have another cup of tea, and soothing someone else’s fears over not knowing what happened in the Dale.

     For adults the fear seemed to war with stunned fascination at taking tea with the dwarf princess, a beautiful bearded whirlwind of kindness no taller than most of the children.

     Ori saw her speaking to a dam surrounded by badgers.  The dam's hair was already streaked grey and he saw she carried one shoulder lower than the other.  He recalled Nadaris, in Vors' zinc mine, had stood in such a way.

     “-what I’m supposed t’ tell her,” said the dam.  “At least she’ll be fed today.  Regular spoiled she is.  And blackberry jam!  But, I s’pose you have that every day under the mountain.”

     “We’re thankful for it every day, Mistress Nadaris, believe me.  I’ve just been telling the dwarflings that there are far too many ponies and goats in the streets for Dale to be safe right now and most of them simply shrug and run off.”

     “But not my Caris?” Nadaris asked slyly.

     Dis laughed and shook her head.

     “Your Caris gave me the first, second and third degrees and I don’t think she’s happy with my answers yet.”

     “Aye, welcome to me life.”

     Dis looked over at Ori, her smile widening.

     “Here’s Master Ori.  How are you faring?”

     “Glad to step out of the kitchen for a moment, your highness.  It’s a lovely day.”

     Nadaris cocked her head at him.

     “I know you,” she said.  “You’re Ori of the Brothers Ri, who was at the mine yesterday.”

     Dis excused herself to bring a cup of tea to an elderly man who sat nearby on one of the Fundins’ receiving room chairs.

     “I hope you’re well, mistress,” said Ori.

     “Fair t’ middlin’.  We wondered what become of you all.  The house in Steam Alley is shut.”

     “We live here now.”

     Her eyes flew open in amazement.

     “You work for the swells too?  Ain’t you the clever one.”

     “Er… actually, I live here.  I’m married to Captain Dwalin, the head of the city guard.”

     The old man laughed.  He was so elderly his eyes were blind white and a cane leaned on the arm of his chair.

     “I remember him.  He’s th’ one with all that scribblin’ on his head.  He still got that mess of a coxcomb for hair?”

     “Master Arim!” Nadaris cried, then cackled.

     “No,” said Ori, “it’s all migrated down and hangs from about his ears.”

     “Ah!” Master Arim cried happily.  “A fellow sufferer!  Well, there’s more room for his pate scribblin’ now I daresay.”

     Nadaris peered sharply at the bruise on Ori’s cheek.

     “He’s a hard one, that Captain Dwalin.  And you with a mark.  He knockin’ you around?”

     “No, mistress, I lost a fight with some ravens.”

     She didn’t seem to know what to do with that, her expression moving from horror to sympathy to mirth.

     Finally she settled for, “Since yesterday we saw you?  You do have a busy life.”

     “Mam!  Mam!  Look!”

     A badger ran up to her with what seemed to be a disgruntled rock lizard in his hands.

     Nadaris sighed.

     “And so do I.”

     He took leave and wandered back toward the house with his tray, thinking about what he saw and heard.

     So the badgers of either race had mostly accepted this strange circumstance, as they accepted their circumstances in Dale, and ate like piglets and drank juice.  For them, at least, Ori was relieved.  He remembered what it was like to worry over things he didn’t understand, or understood all too well at too young an age.

     Here in the meadow, those badgers who wished to ran wild.  Furh’nk led them in playing games (Furh’nk had a dozen nephews, nearly all pre-tweens) or the badgers wrestled in the grass.  For others, Brur had a table surrounded by benches and the older badgers and children practiced their letters and those who didn’t want to, or were too young, used the clever, colored pieces of wax Brur had invented to draw on paper scraps.

     One small daughter of men ran up to Brur with a brightly rendered picture of something or other and tugged on the old dwarf’s sleeve.

     “Look, Idad Brur!  I drew you!”

     Ori jerked back in surprise.

     Had she just called Brur ‘uncle’ in Khuzdul?

     Ori held his breath at what was usually a trespass, but gruff, dour Brur only approved and encouraged and didn’t correct her.

     The longer Ori stood, the more he realized they all called him that, dwarfling and child alike.

     He turned, distracted, and walked right into Sigrid.

     “Sigrid!  Sorry!”

     Her face like thunder, she glowered down on him with her hands on her hips and a smear of jam on her chin.

     “Ori!” she hissed.  “What is really going on in Dale?”

     “I haven’t a clue, Sig.”

     “You’re a lousy liar, Ori.  Your husband’s the captain, you must know.”

     “Oh, look!” he cried.  “Prince Fili has returned!”

     She spun around to look behind her and he quickly slipped away.

 

 ******************

 

     When Ori returned to the kitchen Dori met him with a full plate and a cup of ale.

     “Here, pet.  Balin’s in the sitting room.”

     “You want me to take these to him?”

     “He already has his.  I want you to take this for yourself and go sit and eat it.”

     Ori sagged.

     “I love you, Dori.”

     “As well you should,” said Dori haughtily.  He nudged Ori along.  “I love you too, pet, so eat while you can.  The lunch rush is coming.”

     Ori groaned and fled.

     He found Balin, impeccably dressed as always, happily consuming eggs, bacon and fried potatoes smothered in onions and garlic.

     “Mornin’, wee brother.  How’re yeh holdin’ up?”

     Ori sat beside him on the couch and put his plate down on the table.

     “I have a stomach ache I can’t get rid of, but I’m still hungry enough to eat a bat.”

     “That’ll be nerves,” said Balin.  “Not surprisin’.  Even seasoned warriors get those before a fight.”

     “Even Dain?” asked Ori slyly.

     “Mebbe not Dain,” Balin admitted.  “He’s hovered so close to death he could smell meat roastin’ in the ancestors’ halls.  Nothin’ seems t’ frighten him.”

     Ori was half afraid to ask and half afraid not to know, but he ventured, “Have we heard from the city?”

     “Thin’s’re proceedin’ apace.  No casualties, no serious injury.”

     “There’s that at least,” said Ori, though it didn’t bring him the relief he sought.  He knew anything could happen at any time.  “Meanwhile, I’ve been scrambling eggs.”

     “We all do wha’ we can, laddie.  Meself, I’ve been out an’ about makin’ sure tha’ no one who shouldn’t know anythin’ doesn’t know anythin’.”

     “And do they?”

     “The lords who’re smart enough t’ know’re afraid they’ll be sharin’ th’ lockup wi’ Vors if they talk.  The king only cares f’r his treasure an’ Frerin pays court t’ T’dillah o’ Rikanta, a pretty dam, rather vacuous an’ a little too young, even if she is o’ age, if yeh take me meanin’.  Her family can think only o’ Frerin’s interest in their daughter an’ Frerin himself thinks his sister’s havin’ a tea party an’ couldn’t care less.  Though, t’ be fair, Fili an’ Kili wouldn’t willingly attend a tea party either, unless it was f’r th’ cake.”

     “So, everyone is either afraid or doesn’t care?” Ori asked, astonished and appalled.

     “So it seems,” said Balin.

     “How is this kingdom still functioning?”

     “On th’ backs o’ th’ common people, wee brother, as always.  Yeh can administrate an’ delegate an’ be as lordly as yeh like, but at th’ end o’ th’ day, all yeh’ve done is help or hinder th’ dwarf who really keeps th’ mountain alive.”

     “Because authority isn’t about power, it’s about service,” said Ori.

     “Got it in one,” said Balin slyly.

     Ori recalled that, among many other things, Balin was a teacher.  Ori chewed thoughtfully.

     “Balin, about Dain… He seems familiar, but I don’t know why.”

     “Reminds yeh a little o’ Bombur?”

     “Yes, actually, though I can’t say exactly how, except for the red hair.”

     “Dain’s amad was a Broadbeam like th’ Ur.  They get their red hair from Firebeard stock.”

     Ori couldn’t imagine two clans so different: the cheerful, practical, hardworking Broadbeams and the proud, wrathful warrior Firebeards, who had nearly been wiped out in retaliation for the sacking of the elven city of Doriath.  He supposed if you folded all that together you might equally get Bombur or Dain.

     “From which side does Dain get his volume?” Ori teased.

     Balin grinned impishly.

     “That’s all Durin blood, laddie.  Yeh never met me adad or Dain’s.  Even Thrain in his cups could rattle th’ mine braces.  Dwalin manages it when he’s barkin’ out orders.  I never had th’ need fer it m’self.”

     “Thorin doesn’t seem to do a lot of shouting.”

     “Thorin’s sort o’ deadly quiet like his amad Freris.  Terrifying dam.  She could silence a guild meeting with a look.  Dis is very like her, though she’s gained th’ sort o’ grace a princess needs if she’s t’ be more than a warrior an’ more than just a means t’ get an heir.  Dis is a great axe wielder, just like Freris.”

     “I would never have imagined that,” said Ori.  “Dis always looks so elegant, and it can’t be easy to fight in a brocade gown.”

     “Make no mistake, even if she don’ haul th’ axe about, our Dis is heavily armed no matter th’ occasion.  Fili got tha’ from her.  Amazin’ the lad don’ rattle when he walks.  One time when Fili was a badger Dwalin saw him walkin’ out o’ th’ armory lookin’ rather fat, so Dwalin grabbed him up by th’ ankles an’ shook him upside down.  Soon enough there was a grea’ pile o’ knives under him.  Oh, the wee lad went pale when he was brought before his mam, an’ was she angry.”

     “Because he stole them.”

     “Because he did such a sloppy job tryin’ t’ smuggle them out!”

     The memory obviously tickled Balin no end.

     “Aye, she’s a tough one, our Dis.  She could’ve gone t’ Dale wi’ her brother last night, but she serves him better here.”

     “So, she was trained like Dwalin and Thorin.”

     “Durins are raised t’ fight from th’ cradle, wi’ no thought t’gender.   Oh, she was angry t’ be left behind when we marched t’ take back Khazad Dum.  It was a very unpopular campaign, a suicide mission.  Yet she would have gone.  She was the next in line, yeh see, if Thorin didn’t come home, an’ someone had t’ be here in case Thror was overthrown, t’ get wee Frerin t’ safety.  Thror didn’t go.  O’ course.”

     Balin drained his cup, and then frowned at it, even as he continued his story.

     “Tha’ was when th’ trouble between Thror an’ Thorin really started, at Khazad Dum, when th’ crown prince was killed.  Thrain, an’ Dain’s adad, an’ both me parents, all o’ them burned dwarrow.  No time t’ entomb them proper in th’ stone, too far t’ bring th’ bodies home in th’ hot sun.  I remember stragglin’ in off th’ trail.  Dwalin had t’ hold Thorin back from killin’ Thror himself.  Mahal help me, but sometimes I wish he’d just let Thorin do it.

     “Thror demanded Thorin pick up th’ crown prince’s duties from the day he returned, though Thorin wasn’t exactly in his right mind either.  He’d brought Dain back to Erebor, yeh see, rather than returnin’ him t’ th’ Iron Hills alone.  Dain was little more than a badger.  He’d lost his adad an’ he’d lost his leg, nearly bled out from it an’ he was in constant, horrible pain.  Thorin couldn’t stand it.”

     “Wait,” said Ori.  “Dain lost a leg?  I wouldn’t have known that either.  He barely limps.  I’ve seen miners with mangled legs.  The ruined one drags after them if it moves at all.”

     “Dain an’ Thorin designed and built tha’ contraption Dain’s walkin’ on an’ Dain’s been makin’ improvements ever since.  Tha’s his craft.  Th’ lunatic’s a mechanical engineer.”

     Balin laughed.

     “Oh, laddie, yer face is a picture.  Aye, Thorin helped him learn t’ walk, then helped him figure out how t’ fight on it.  Then Thorin an’ Dwalin an’ an army of volunteers rode at Dain’s back t’ th’ Iron Hills t’ claim Nain’s crown from the regent.”

     Ori chewed and swallowed, Dain’s words from last night coming back to him.

     “Thorin brought Dain an army, so Dain brought Thorin an army.”

     “The pair a’ them’re ridiculous but dead loyal.  Tha’ was a long, horrible year between Khazad Dum an’ ridin’ on th’ Iron Hills.  All th’ while Thror complained tha’ Thorin was neglectin’ his duty to his own people.”

     Ori frowned.

     “But Dain is one of his people.”

     “Aye, an’ family besides.  Thorin wasn’t even as old as Kili is now, but he always did have an outsized responsibility to save th’ entire bloody dwarven world.

     “I watched him throw himself into helpin’ th’ soldiers, th’ refugees, anyone touched by wha’ happened at Khazad-dûm, an’ there weren’t many who lived at th’ time who weren’t.  Tha’s when I first thought: There is one I could call king.”

     “King Thror never noticed,” said Ori.

     “No, too busy seethin’ an’ countin’ his gold.  He couldn’t outright take Thorin’s title away.  Thorin was a hero.  But from tha’ very first day I could see Thror groomin’ Frerin’ t’ take Thorin’s place.  It never happened, thankfully.   Thror’s mind’s been crumblin’ fer decades.  Half th’ time he can’t remember who Frerin is.  If Thror had a plan for th’ crown o’ Erebor it’s gone by th’ wayside now.   Hah!  I almost feel sorry f’r Frerin.”

     “Do you?  Really?”

     “Imagine if yeh’d been told all yer life tha’ yeh’d be king someday, an’ when tha’ day came th’ crown went t’ another, even though tha’ other was th’ rightful heir.”

     Ori thought about it and decided Balin was right in a way.  It did sound like a painful turn of affairs.  Still, Frerin would remain a prince of Erebor.  He would have more power and more wealth than Ori could even imagine.  So, what was Frerin’s disappointment compared to that of a miner, expecting the tiny pay that kept many mouths fed, only to discover the pay wouldn’t come?  Ori shook his head.

     “I’ll never be able to sympathize with him.  I’ve seen too many good dwarrow and men go without.”

     Balin huffed out a laugh.

     “I said I almost felt sorry for Frerin.  I’ve never quite managed to finish th’ journey.”

     Their cups and plates were empty by now.  Ori started to gather them up.  Balin rose and stretched.

     “Don’ get old, laddie.  I’ll be flexible as granite in short order.”

     “Balin, you’re only twenty years older than Dwalin.”

     “It’s no’ th’ years.  It’s how yeh use ‘em.  Besides, look at me hair.  Yer darlin’ husband’s th’ one who put every white strand on me head.”

     “All of them?” asked Ori with a grin.

     “All right, he put half o’ them there.  Thorin put in th’ others.”

     “Balin, Dain brought Thorin an army.  How did Dain know to bring one?  Thorin’s letter didn’t say anything about Dale or what Thorin was planning.”

     “I guarantee tha’ was Roac’s doin’.  He can never jus’ deliver a message.  He’s got to hang around an’ gossip after.  Ravens are terrible gossips, laddie, keep tha’ in mind.  Almost as bad as dwarrow.”

 

 

Notes

Mahumb - in Khuzdul, literally 'droppings'.  In Westron, basically 'Oh, shit.'

Chapter Text

     Ori washed his hands a final time and glanced around the kitchen.  Everyone else was now out in the meadow talking and eating.  Ori had come in needing some quiet to think.  The longer this went on the more he couldn’t stop wondering what was going on and worrying about Dwalin.  Not being capable of making light conversation, he had retreated to the kitchen and, needing something to do, he cleaned it. 

     He wiped down the table one last time.  There was a cauldron taking up most of the bottom oven filled with beef stew bubbling with potatoes, onions, with a stock of dark beer, spiced with mustard and a dash of strawberry jelly.  The middle oven was full of more bread and the top one full of rich dark honey loaf cakes filled with berries and nuts. The cook top was covered with a huge pot of peppery fish stew of trout, bass, perch, eel, leeks, garlic, and parsley simmering in white wine and tomatoes.  Ori wasn’t sure about the fish but the stew did smell quite good.

     Everything was ready if things progressed to the dinner hour.  Ori sighed wondering what to occupy himself with next.  If people were going to eat here he had best light the fires in the receiving room. 

     He trailed through, lit both and then began lighting each of the huge lanterns hanging from every panel edge around the room.  He lit the ones on the stairway also. 

     This took some time and he paused at the top, looking around to make sure he had got all the lights. He couldn’t help admiring the room.  It was enormous and unlike the other times when they just walked through it, it looked both elegant and welcoming.  Ori imagined people would bring in the tables and chairs in when they came to eat. 

     There wasn’t anything else to do.  All the dishes and flatware were in use and all the cooking and baking implements were now washed and piled neatly along the counter.

     “Yer worryin’ ‘bout yer buffalo, ain’t ya?”

     “Nori!”  Ori turned and pushed Nori, who had somehow arrived behind him on the top step.

     “Aw, don’t get all het up ’cause yer happy I’m fine, pet.” Nori teased.

     “I am happy you’re fine, but this sneaking up on me-”

     “Yeh make it too easy, pet.”

     “Shithead.” Ori decided.

     “Language, pet.”

     The front door opened and in came Gimli, Legolas, and Stonehelm.  Ori hurried down.

     “Is everything-”

     “Done!” Gimli bellowed happily.  “All Calmar’s dirty rats’ve been rounded up and’re bein’ stuffed down th’ dungeons.”

     “Not stuffed,” Legolas frowned, puzzled.  “It looked as though they had a cell each.”

     “Yeh know wha’ I mean, khuzsh!”

     “Do you want something to eat?” Ori asked.  “There’s stew in the kitchen or snacks out on the meadow with the people of Dale?”

     The little cadre headed to the kitchen

     “Toldja,” Nori grinned. 

     Ori made a face at him then pounced for a hug.

 

     Ori ladled out four bowls of the beef stew and turned as Sigrid’s voice sounded.

     “Ori!”

     He sighed.  Sigrid was pissed at him. 

     “Stew?” he offered.

     “Up your bum!”

     Nori snickered.  “Not a good thing unless there’s a carrot or two in it, lassie.”

     “Shut up, Nori!” Ori and Sigrid shouted in unison, which made them giggle.

     Gimli industriously tried to shove his entire chunk of bread into his half eaten stew making the gravy puddle up and dribble over the sides.  He squished the bread in half and raised the messy improvised sandwich to his mouth and consumed half of it in one mouthful. 

     Legolas watched interestedly, apparently thought this was the correct way of eating stew if one was a dwarf, and copied him.  Unfortunately Legolas’ mouth lacked the capacity of Gimli’s and shortly there was gravy on the table and all down the elfin prince’s tunic. 

     Stonehelm actually cackled at him.

     “Tha’s it!” Gimli praised Legolas, who was obviously horrified at the state of his front.  “Yeh’re a proper trencher now!”

     “Does trencher mean I’m a mess?” Legolas asked.

     “Nah, means yeh know how t’ eat.”

     “Among my people, knowing how to eat means you don’t miss your mouth.”  Legolas sighed, taking the damp dishcloth Ori handed him and wiping ineffectually at his clothing.

     “Yeh just need t’ open yer mouth more,” Gimli consoled.  “Practice, lad, that’s all.”

     Legolas said nothing and, grinning, Nori slammed his empty ale mug down on the table and shouted.

     “All Hail to Mahal and to the Seven Stars of Durin Shining Bright!”

     Stonehelm managed ‘all hail-‘ in his belch.  Nori got ‘to Mahal’ and Gimli threw back his head and got out

     “All hail to Mahal and-” before he ended.

     Stonehelm and Nori cheered and Legolas stared wide-eyed.

     “You can talk and burp at the same time?”

     “Aye, laddie,” said Gimli.  “It’s an art!”

     At this moment, Kili and Tauriel wandered into the kitchen.  Tauriel was smiling and Kili was holding her hand and obviously telling her something very wonderful. 

     “Dwarrow can burp and talk at the same time.” Legolas informed her. 

     Tauriel blinked and considered.

     “Why?”

     Legolas shrugged and Nori helped.

     “It’s a gift of Mahal, lassie.”

     “What strange gifts your valar gives.”

     “It’s fun,” Kili told her and made a grabbing motion at Nori who poured out two fresh mugs of ale and fired them off, sliding down the table.  Kili caught one in one hand, spun, and caught the other then passed the first to Tauriel with a grin.

     “The trick is to take a gulp of air, hold it and drink the ale down,” he instructed.

     “Don’t tell her that!” Nori shouted indignantly.

     Tauriel sniffed the ale, licked her lips, and chugged the entire mug.  She concentrated and sucked in her stomach.  She frowned and concentrated again.  The noise was impressive.

     “Wrong end, lassie.” Nori informed her as the rest of the table dissolved into howls of laugher and she turned raspberry. 

     Kili who had been right beside her, rolled his eyes up into his skull, and fell over backward, flat on the floor. 

     Tauriel cried out and knelt beside him.

     “Kili!  My prince!”

     "I used to be ‘my prince’,” Legolas informed Gimli.

     “She aint yer sort, laddie,” was the reply.

     “Don’t just sit there!”  Tauriel rose and waved them to do something.  “Get a healer.”

     Kili opened his eyes, saw the tableau, grinned naughtily and winked, then hurriedly feigned unconsciousness again.

     “Maybe you need to kiss him,” suggested Sigrid.  “That’s how you cure things in the stories.”

     Tauriel stared blankly at her, turned, and knelt to do so.  Kili made the mistake of puckering up.  She gasped then bapped him on the nose.

     “You- you arrogant rabbit!” she raged, choking on her own laughter.

     “And we all know what rabbits’er like.” Nori added.

     “Shut up, Nori.” chorused Ori and Sigrid again, this time joined by Tauriel.

     Tauriel sat down on the last chair, stretching her long legs under the table as Legolas did.  Kili jumped to his feet, sidled up to her, and sat on her knee.  She giggled and shifted to make them both more comfortable.  Gimli made a decisive grunt, pushed his chair back a little and proceeded to wrestle a puzzled Legolas into his lap.  Both elves looked at each other and startled to laugh.

     Sigrid turned to Ori as the raucous laughter and drinking continued at the table.

     “So, how’s life?”

     “Oh, Sig!  It’s - it’s so-  so busy and in the most insane ways.  I love it.”  Ori grinned at her.

     “Is his bum as nice as you hoped?”

     Ori giggled and blushed.

     “Sig!  We haven’t, well, done…everything.”

     “Why not?” she asked, hushing her voice. 

     Ori felt his face still burning.

     “He’s so good to me, Sig.  From the start he was just like a good friend and we’d talk about anything and everything and if I got upset he’d always be there to calm me down and hug me and…”  Ori paused then grinned shyly.  “It sound so silly to say it but we’ve fallen in love, Sig.”

     “Ooo, Ori!  That’s so wonderful!  He’s so fierce-looking but he’s really good to you?”

     “Oh yes.  We’ll have to sit and talk it all over soon.  I have so much to tell you and-”

     Ori heard the front door open again.

     Fili swaggered in a moment later, walked directly up to Sigrid and bowed low.

     “Your highness,” he said with a grin.

     Sigrid looked at him, dumbfounded, then around at the others coming in.

     “Er… what?”

     He straightened, his grin warmer and fonder.

     “You don’t know?” he asked.

     “Know what?”  She looked past him, stabbed Bard with a look and shouted, “Da!”

     “Ah, Sigrid.  I’m glad you’re here.”

     “Not for long,” she promised.  She darted forward, grabbed his sleeve and pulled him aside. 

     Ori could chart the course of the conversation by how rapidly the color drained from Sigrid’s cheeks.

     “Da, are you out of your mind?” she cried.

     “Possibly.  It seems I’m now a king.”

     Tilda flew through and right into her father’s arms.

     “Da!  Where’ve you been?  You missed the cake!”

     “I’ve been out with our friends, scouring Dale.”

     “You scrubbed the street?  Did you use our mop?”

     Dain roared with laughter.

     “Aye, she’s darlin’.”

     Tilda glared up at him, frowned, and put her hands on her hips, looking scarily enough like Dori.

     “Who’re you?  You’d best have helped Da with the mopping!”

     “Aye, Chopper used his tail.”

     “Who’s ‘Chopper’?”

     Dain brayed over his shoulder, “ChoPPER!”

     The boar squeed and frisked in, tail in the air.  Ori could swear he looked pleased with himself.

     “This here’s Chopper,” said Dain to Tilda.

     Furh’nk gestured to Dain.  “An’ this here is Chopper’s daddy.”

     Tilda looked between the dwarf and the pig, entirely unsure if Furh’nk was serious.

     “This is a pig,” she said.  “Isn’t it?”

     “He’s a battle boar, lassie,” said Dain.  “He likes his ears scratched.”

     Tilda looked over at Bard, who couldn’t seem to find the words and ended in a shrug.

     Dain said, “See, like this, lassie.  He won’ bite ‘less I tell him t’.”

     Tilda very carefully reached out and scratched Chopper’s head as she was directed.

     The pig immediately leaned into her hand and tilted his head, to take full advantage of the scratching on offer.  The flat nose snuffled at her and he made happy grunting noises.

     Tilda’s eyes brightened and she laughed.

     “He likes that!”

     “Of course he likes it,” said Dain.  “He’s a very intelligent boar.”

     Dori and Balin entered from the meadow and Dori went to Dain immediately.

     “Ah, brother, back and in one piece, I see.”

     “You have another brother?” Tilda asked.  “That makes three!  I only have one!”

     Bard sighed.

     “It’s not a competition, Tilda, and no, I’m not making you another brother.”

     “That’s alright, Da, I think I want a Chopper instead.”

     “You’ll have plenty of room,” said Thorin.

     “Why will we have plenty of room?” Tilda asked.  “Are we moving house?”

     “In a manner of speaking,” said Bard.  “I seem to have become king of Dale.”

     “What?  With a crown and everything?”

     “Not yet.”

     “We’ll work on that,” said Thorin.

     Bard shot him a wary look.

     “Tilda, I thought you wanted a goat,” Bard said.

     “I do.  If you’re going to be king we can probably have both.”

     “At least she hasn’t mentioned a pony,” said Thorin, lightly, smiling at a glare from Bard.

     Bain arrived and hugged his father without the usual adolescent embarrassment.

     “Da, are you alright?”

     “I’m fine, Bain.  Master Calmar and his men are locked up.  He can’t hurt the people anymore.”

     “But, what’s happened?”

     Bard sighed.  He turned to Thorin.

     “You’re going to make me announce this, aren’t you.”

     “I can’t make you do anything,” said Thorin.

     “Mmm.  Alright, for everyone present, someone,” he nodded in Thorin’s direction, “has talked me into taking back my grandfather’s crown.  I will henceforth be King Bard of Dale, at least until my neighbors wise up and run me out of town at the point of a pitchfork.”

     While most present shouted out congratulations, Bain only looked concerned.

     “Um, Da, does that mean I’m going to have to be crown prince or something?”

     “No, Bain, Sigrid will be the crown princess.”

     Bain looked relieved.

     “That’s alright then.  Being the heir means having to do all the boring stuff she likes to do anyway.”

     “I’m going to have you executed,” Sigrid growled.

     Dori bustled forward and immediately took her in hand.

     “Oh, dearie, what a shock this must be for you.  Come sit down now.  We’ll have tea and you can rest your nerves and we’ll work this out, just like always.”

     “Mother Goose,” said Bofur as he entered.

     Ori looked around as people arrived, increasingly uneasy.  If Thorin was here, then where-

     “Has anyone seen my husband?” he asked, a little more desperately than he intended.

     Thorin went to him with a smile and bumped foreheads with him.

     “He said he had something to take care of in the city before he came home.  He’s fine, Ori.  No one was killed.”

     “Kili did try,” said Fili.  “He fell off his pony.”

     Kili made a ‘snerk’ and turned scarlet.

     “Tattler!”

     Fili clicked his tongue, “No one’s ever died of embarrassment.”

     “Considering the lecture Oin gave him, he could try for dying of mortification,” said Thorin.

     Binni shooed them out of the kitchen.

     “Go on with you, out into the receiving room.  Look what you’ve done to the table!  And the benches… and the floor.  Piglets!”

     Chopper squealed indignantly.

     Dain was offended on Chopper’s behalf.

     “I’ll have yeh know his manners’re far finer than this lot’s.  An’ mine, come t’ think o’ it.”

     Ori made to grab a damp rag but Binni snatched it up and bustled him along with the others.

     The front door opened just as Ori reached the receiving room.  It was Dwalin.

     Ori’s heart bounced in his boots.

     Dwalin was hunched forward with his arms crossed over his stomach.

     “Dwalin!”

     Ori ran to embrace him.

     “Easy, love.”

     “You’re hurt?”

     “Naw.  Went looking for yer old cat.  Sorry, love, but she must’ve lost a fight.  She did leave yeh presents.”

     They cleared a path to the fire place.

     “Here, put tha’ blanket on th’ rug.”

     Ori did so and Dwalin gently withdrew three tiny balls of fur from under his surcoat and put them down on the blanket.  They made peeping noises and squinted at their new surroundings.

     “Kittens!” Ori cried.

     One was grey, one was orange with stripes and one was all brown and black patchwork over cream with a dark patch bisecting its face perfectly from ears to chin.

     Bofur said, “I suppose you’ll name them ‘Tassy, Kassy and Nassy’.”

     “I’m naming this orange one Nori.  It matches his hair.  See how it staggers?  Just like he does when he’s drunk.”

     “Oi!” said Nori.

     Tilda viciously elbowed Nori aside to get to the kittens.

     “Can I pat them?” she asked longingly.

     “Gently,” said Ori.  “Remember, they’re babies.”

     Dori said, “I’ll warm some goats’ milk, shall I?  I’ll have to search to find some teaspoons to feed them.”

     “Here,” said Bain.  Absently he removed a handful from his pocket.  “You had me on dish patrol, remember?”

     Ori turned to Dwalin, glowing with happiness, and threw himself into Dwalin’s arms.

     “Thank you!”

     “Only took a minute, love.  Thought it might brighten yer day.”

     Nori looked at Bofur.

     “Mush,” he pronounced solemnly.

     “Oh, yeh love it,” said Bofur.

     “Nah,” Nori denied, but with a goofy grin.

     Dori said, “Speaking of our day, we do still have over a hundred people in the meadow and Dis is out there being supreme hostess with very little support.  I know the starlight is very beautiful and the night balmy, but someone is going to have to sleep eventually.”

     “Now, m’dear,” Balin interposed, “it’s not a problem, we’ll jus’ move everyone int’ th’ receivin’ room.  plenty o’ space and seating’ in there an’ tha’ lovely stew yeh’ve been keepin’ on th’ back oven will do nicely f’r everyone.  Dwalin an’ I will roll out a few o’ th’ kegs an’ we’ll have a nice wee party t’ finish th’ day.”

     Dori went out to inform Dis and in few moments all the guests from the meadow happily strolled through from the breakfast parlor through the sitting room to the receiving room.  Fili, Kili, Dain and Scudis had led a squad to the receiving room bringing in the chairs and tables.  People, mostly the returning menfolk of Dale, exclaimed at the sight of the food and Dori bade them help themselves which they did with gusto.  Bofur took the lead then.  He and Bombur gathered people from the meadow into the open center of the room laughing and clapping as Bofur piped a dance tune and Bombur accompanied him on his drum.  A round dance stated.  Fili and Kili reappeared with their fiddles and Jani with her balalaika and soon there was a jolly celebration going on.

     Dori and Binni piled two tables high with more clean dishes and dinner time food and Dwalin, Thorin and Dain tapped a hogshead of Shire brown ale.

     When Binni called him, Ori went back to the kitchen, his arms full of sleeping kittens, Dwalin and Tilda at his heel.  He hadn’t felt so blissfully happy in ages.  His husband was safe and although missing Sassy hurt, her kittens were his.  He looked up to ask Dori about more milk but saw his eldest brother had other business as Furh’nk wavered a little from his post at the kitchen door.

     Dori honed in on him like a lightning strike.

     “Master Furh’nk!  When was the last time you slept?”

     “Uh-“

     Furh’nk looked over at Dwalin in panic.

     Dwalin winced apologetically.

     Finding he was on his own, Furh’nk tried to straighten his spine.

     “I can’t remember, Bearer.  I’ve been busy.”

     “Busy!  Honestly!  Our Dwalin, you aren’t looking after your badgers.”

     “He’s not my badger!” Dwalin protested.

     Dori waved his hand in violent dismissal.

     “Here, Master Furh’nk, you march right down the hall and second door on your left.”

     Since this was technically Ori’s room, Ori considered his options and retired from the field of battle.

     Furh’nk was still trying.

     “But, Bearer-“

     “Don’t you give me ‘but’.  You get yourself to bed.”

     “I wouldn’t want t’ put anyone out, Bearer.”

     “No one is using that room right now,” said Dori.  He shot Ori a pointed look.

     “Er, if yeh don’t need me right now, Captain Dwalin?”

     “Go t’ bed, Furh’nk.  It’s not worth me life or yers t’ disobey a direct order.”

     “Just so,” said Dori dismissively.  He turned to Ori.  “Now, pet, I found a nice basket in the scullery and some rather odd pink dish towels to use as a lining.”

     “Oh,” said Ori, biting his tongue so it hurt.

     “And when we’ve tucked them up we’ll start bringing out the stew.”

     They carried in the kettles and people began ladling out for themselves.

     Ori saw Master Tin helping Master Arim along as the elder hobbled to a chair.  Master Tin poured him some ale and the two chatted amiably as the music played.

     Ori brought over a bowls of stew.  He gave one to Master Tin before he turned to the elder.

     “Here, Master Arim,” said Ori, “there’s a bowl for you on the table and here’s a spoon.”

     “Thank you, lad.”

     Master Tin turned to speak to Bard.

     Ori said to the old man, “You and Master Tin are great friends.”

     “Oh, aye, his brother and my brother were close.  They were also great friends and, er, they shared a room and …”  The old man heaved a sigh and a laugh.  “They were married.  I think I can say that now, can’t I?  They’ve been gone for many a year and it won’t matter to you what they were.”

     “Actually, it makes me very happy to hear, Master Arim.  I’m sorry they aren’t still with you.”

     “I kinda wish they’d been around to see this, truth to tell.  Great Eru, I’m around and I rather wish I could see it.  I’ll have to settle for hearing it, I suppose.  At the moment it’s quite tuneful.”

     Kili had approached Tauriel with his fiddle, playing a jig and capered around her.  She caught up with him and quickly they were dancing together, Tauriel graceful and Kili sometimes out of step, making her laugh and him redden, but then laughing at himself.

     Ori saw Thorin watching them dance from over the rim of his cup.  Ori lost a breath or two in apprehension but Thorin seemed perfectly at ease.  When he caught Ori staring Thorin winked.

Chapter Text

     The people of Dale departed with their new king, Bard. There was a good deal of laughter in the talk along with some side long glances and whispers at Prince Fili and the new Crown Princess Sigrid. They were apart from the crowd, sitting on one of the long tables now clear of dishes in the receiving room, Fili cross-legged on the table and Sigrid beside him her feet on a chair seat, and talking quite seriously to each other in low tones. 
     Ori went through and sat down on the sitting room sofa, quite pooped. Thorin’s Company drifted through in ones and twos until they were able to shut up the receiving room and everyone had settled in the sitting room and only quiet talk was heard. Dori, Binni and Gridr once again produced tea and, as Binni called them, snackies.
     The door popped open and Omi and Loli barged back in with Buj and made their way to the snacks and the bookshelf to sit about. They were soon followed by Mahdrin and his two favorite assistants. The tailors came forward and bowed to Thorin. 
     "My king," Mahdrin murmured, "I am here as I understand there will soon be a presentation of a bearer to the court."
     Thorin stared at Mahdrin.  "I am the crown prince. King Thror is in his treasury."
     Mahdrin widened his eyes and bowed again. 
     "Just so, sire."
     Mahdrin, with another bow, moved on to speak to Binni.
     Dain threw an arm around Thorin’s shoulders.
     “Lemme give yeh some advice, 'cous.  If yeh announce yehrself wi’ a bonfire on a mountaintop, yeh can’t put it out by pissin’ on it.”
     “It was Bard’s bonfire,” Thorin argued.
     Dain snorted and smacked him lightly on the back of the head.
     “Idjit.”
     Thorin laughed, a genuine laugh that made his demeanor lighter and his face more handsome. Ori could see just how much care had worn Thorin down.
     A movement caught Ori’s eye and he looked at Pika. The young dwarf was staring at Omi who had just turned from her inspection of the books on the far shelves; she was singing softly to herself.  She stopped, stared back at him, tossed her be-ribboned beard, and pointed her left boot toe outward in a decidedly flirtatious gesture.  Ori was amused that little Moth had grown up fully absorbed with Loli's courage. 
     Pika bowed with such a swoop, his right knee hit the floor.  He made the Iglishmêk sign for 'heart'.  Omi blushed and giggled behind her hand and fluttered her fingers for 'song'.  Pika amazed Ori by prancing across the intervening floor in a step dance. Omi hopped in place until they were close enough to clasp hands.  They stood gazing into each other's eyes.  Their foreheads bowed and touched.
     Ori smiled at the sweet scene. They turned away from the rest of the company, quite in their own world.  
     Dori came bustling through at that point. Balin introduced his tailor to his betrothed.  Mahdrin was obviously most taken and called his assistants but there was no response. 
     Omi and Pika were seated close together, sharing a chair. Their fingers danced in Iglishmêk.  Ori watched them then blushed hotly.  He was married and well read, but some of the things they were saying to each other were shocking and rather interesting 
     There was a crash and Ori looked around at Buj and Dipfa.  Buj had dropped his books, notes, and pens in a heap around his feet.  Dipfa stood in a similar pool of fabric and haberdashery.  They stared at one another in open mouthed silence. By now everyone had noticed them and watched most interestedly.  Dipfa gave out a sudden, delighted scream of joy and rushed at Buj. 
     "My heartsong!" Buj managed to bellow before the force of Dipfa landed on him, knocking them both to the floor where they rolled energetically, rapturously kissing. 
     The Urs chuckled and the sons of Groin almost as loudly.  Thorin face palmed and shook his head. Dwalin winked at Ori. Fili and Kili watched with interest as their mother and aunt tried to pull the boys away. 
     Dori looked highly amused and Balin put his arm around Dori's waist. 
     "Ah, lovely memories, eh, m'dear?"
     "Yes, but at least we waited until we were not quite so public." 
     "Aye, nothin’ as shockin’ as a sittin’ room floor. We were very discreet in tha’ lovely pub's airin’ cupboard "
     "Oi," Nori cried.  "The pair a' ye pounced on each other and had yer first tup in an airing cupboard. Well, that's romance!"
     Dori rounded on him. 
     "You and Bofur aren't to talk. I caught the pair of you in my bed!"
     Nori looked vaguely guilty and Bofur came to his rescue. 
     "Now then, we changed the bedding f'r yeh, yeh know we did!  Even after yeh chased both of us up th’ street with a mop!"
     “Yes,” said Dori, “and left me the laundry to do, you dirty badgers!”
     Mahdrin cleared his throat with extreme volume and Dipfa and Pika recalled themselves. 
     "Master Mahdrin!"
     Pika stood at attention, red to his hair and Omi sat fanning herself with both hands, panting slightly. 
     Dipfa rushed over and stood ready, now oblivious to Buj, who was still in a somewhat confused heap on the floor. He blinked, rolled a little and pulled out his notebook. He flipped a few pages and began to make copious notes. 
     Ori could not decide if he wanted to know what Buj was writing. 
     Dwalin dropped onto the sofa beside him. 
     "Well, love, Balin and Dori went at it in an airin’ cupboard. Bofur an’ Nori borrowed Dori's bed. Yeh know, everyone who's sayin our marriage were sudden an’ shockin're full a shit."
     Ori giggled.
     "Except they think that I think you're Beorn of the Valley."
     Dwalin snorted
     "Aye, true enough."
     A worry float across Ori’s mind. 
     "Dwalin, are you disappointed in me?"
     Dwalin stared
     "Eh?  Wha'?  Why th' fuck would I be?"
     "Well, because we really haven't...done anything yet."
     "Di' yeh like wha' we've done?"
     "Oh, yes, but-"
     "Then tha's wha' matters."
     "But you...um..."  Ori wasn't sure how to frame what he wanted to say. "Do you like what we've done?" he said finally.
     Dwalin shot him a feral grin and put his arm about Ori’s shoulders. Ori pressed closer instinctively. 
     "I donno, love. Wha yeh think?"
     Ori chuckled. “Sometimes I worry..."
     "Don't. Keepin’ yeh happy makes me happy. Don't ever forget tha’.”
     Ori turned to lean into Dwalin's lap and laid his head over Dwalin's heart. 
     "I'm so happy it frightens me sometimes. We have all this intrigue and things rushing around us and all I think about is that it must be a lovely dream that I married you." 
     "Even when there're ravens draggin’ yeh through Mahal knows wha’?”
     Ori giggled again. 
     "Well, it may have slipped my mind for a moment or two at that point,” he said. 
     Nori came over with Bofur and the pair of them sat on the low stone table. Nori looked at Ori thoughtfully for a moment then reached over and tweaked Ori's family braid. 
     "Yeh happy, pet?"
     Ori smile and lazily brought his leg around to kick Nori's boot. 
     "Yes, I am. So there "
     Nori kicked at Ori's and they thumped their boots together back and forth for a few moments. Nori grunted and pulled Ori's braid again. 
     "Alright, wee pet. If yeh’re happy then I'm happy f'r yeh.”
     Nori kicked Dwalin's boot. Dwalin leaned forward, Ori scooped in his arm, and smacked Nori around the head affectionately.  Nori snorted and kicked Dwalin's boot again.
     Bofur winked at Ori and removed Nori's vest knife. Nori looked at Bofur with raised brows and then snatched Bofur's hat away. Bofur tried to get it back but Nori threw it to Ori. Intrigued, Ori tried it on. It was nice and warm but it was too big and the front slid down covering his eyes.  Amused, Ori sat up and folded his arms against his sides then flapped his elbows. 
     "Quack! Quack! Quack!" he said, slightly muffled by the hat.
     Bofur and Nori roared with laughter. The hat was removed and Ori turned to see Dwalin try it on. Dwalin's head was too big and the hat perched on top like a hedgehog.
     Ori yipped happily, grabbed the hat and jammed it down on Nori's head. Nori yowled and tried to free himself. Ori half climbed on the table attempting to keep the hat squashed on Nori's head.  Nori's hand shot out and rippled along Ori's sides, tickling him.  Ori screamed and fell on Dwalin, laughing.
     "Oi!  Don't you two go spoiling my hat!" Bofur shouted and rescued it.
     Nori's amazing hairdo was utterly wrecked. The top point was bent down to where the tip pointed at Nori's nose. Nori swore and tried in vain to fix it. Dwalin stood, neatly put Nori in a headlock and wound the point tightly around his fingers then let go. 
     Nori glared. 
     "Bastard," he said as Ori and Bofur laughed helplessly.  Nori's once perfectly triangular point was now a long stiff coil winding straight out from his forehead. 
     Bofur recovered and managed, "it's not all that bad, duck. Looks like yer off t’ a fancy party."
     Ori giggled. 
     "You look like Poofy, the Magic Horned Horse from Tilda's old story book.” 
     Nori stood up on the table and started to sing an old traditional dwarrow marching song using his deepest voice and his own lyrics. 

"I'm a horned horsey
I'm a horned horsey
What's having a horn all about?
I'm a horned horsey
I'm a horned horsey
Having a horn is magic!"

     Bofur pulled out his flute and kept the tune for him. 

"I'm a horned horsey
I used to wonder what kind of hay I'd eat at night. 
I'm a horned horsey
Until the goats shared their pasture grass with me!"

     Dwalin was completely flopped back against the sofa, laughing so hard, he just shook soundlessly. Ori put his face in his husband's line of vision. Dwalin silently jerked a thumb towards the back. Ori looked over. Dis, Thorin, Fili and Kili all stood behind the sofa, staring at Nori.  Thorin's face hadn't worked out what he was feeling. Dis and her sons had eyes like saucers. 
     Nori noticed them and finished in a bullfrog's voice. 


     "Yes, I'm a horned horsey!"


     Nori bowed low, removed Bofur's hat from the miner’s head and waved it for a flourish. Ori glanced around to see the reactions. Gloin in the other chair shook his head. Oin opposite his brother, snored while Omi slept at his knee. Buj was still on the floor writing busily. 
     Dori swept back into the room with his entourage of Binni, Gridr, Jani, Mahdrin and his assistants. 
     Dori looked up. 
     "Nori, get off the table."
     Nori hopped off and started going around with the hat held out in solicitation. 
     Both Fili and Kili happily dropped a couple of silver coins in.
     Nori went to Dis. 
     "Go away," she said with a giggle.
     Nori looked offended.
     "Wicked princess!  I'll have yeh know I'm a happy horned horsey an’ if yeh don't put silver in my happy horsey hat, I'll impale yeh with my magic horn!"
     Dis laughed harder.
     Nori grinned and danced forward and made as though to poke her with his hair. Dis grabbed the horn and yanked on it. Nori grabbed Dis and hoisted her over his shoulder. 
     "The Happy Horned Horsey has a prisoner!  I shall gallop around!" Nori shouted as he started to rush around the room recklessly leaping and climbing over furniture.          The young princes shouted and tore after Nori and their hopelessly laughing mother. There was a whoop from Bofur and Jani as they joined the race.
     Ori stood up on the sofa to watch. Dwalin rose and stood with Thorin, Balin and Dori. 
     "How nice," Dori said, smiling. "Nori has always missed the days when I played with him."
     Thorin snickered.
     "Well Dis always did enjoy it when Dwalin and I used to rough house with her.” 
     Dwalin turned to Ori. Ori snatched up a tasseled cushion and grabbed at Dwalin's shoulder.  Ori had been planning on a pig-a-back but Dwalin hoisted him up to sit on his shoulders.  
     Nori saw what was in the wind and fumbled Dis to sit on his shoulders. She was laughing so hard she wasn’t much help and her skirts were bumfled up and everywhere. Nori rushed toward Dwalin and Ori, hollering it was time for a joust. Half-way there Dis’ skirts fell over his face, blinding him. Nori careened forward anyway. Dwalin dodged and Nori rammed into Oin’s chair. Nori fell over the chair arm and Dis crashed down on Oin.
     Omi and Oin shrieked awake.
     “What in Durin’s name?” the old dwarf roared.
     “It’s all Nori’s fault,’ cried Dis and she frantically tried to get herself together and ended rolling off the other arm.
     “I don’t care if it’s all for naught. The pair of you should watch what you’re doing,” Oin scolded.
     “Her skirts got in me eyes,” said Nori as he tried to shift the blame.
     “Dessert was lovely!  I’ll tell your poor brother you said there was only shit for pies,” Oin vowed dangerously and rose.
     Ori leaned on Dwalin’s head.  He was laughing so hard his ribs hurt.
     Dwalin reached up and slowly took Ori down sliding him against Dwalin’s body which Ori enjoyed.  Mahdrin and Dipfa were having a last minute discussion with Dori.  Binni, Bombur, and Bofur began to clean up.  Fili and Kili were sent through to the kitchen to wash dishes.  Thorin was talking quietly with Bifur.  Dain and Sculdis were talking to Stonehelm and the other younger dwarrow.  Ori trip to suppress a yawn.  Jane and Dis were sitting on the sofa arm hand in hand.
     Ori went back into the kitchen to check on his kittens.  They were still in their basket, curled together sound asleep.  One cracked an eye open, saw him and began to mew.  This woke the other two.  Soon Ori was seated beside them on the floor, feeding them warm milk from a teaspoon again.  He pondered that it might be best if he took them to the bedroom that night.  They would probably get hungry again in a few hours.
     Ori found a stone flask for carrying tea and soup.  He carefully filled this with more warm milk and stoppering it tightly, put it in his pocket; carrying the basket of now-sleeping kittens, he went through to the bedroom.  Dwalin came through a moment later.

     “Yeh beat me t’ it, love.”
     “I’ve got milk for them, too, if they wake up in a few hours.  Where do you think would be the best place?”
     They decided the safest spot was by bedside on the floor, nearest the headboard, so there was no danger of the little fur balls tumbling off the bed and no danger of stepping on them.  Ori put the flask and spoon on the bedside table.
     Garnet came to inspect.
     "Tha's no' a snack," Dwalin warned her.
     She gave him what Ori could swear was a raven 'I'm not impressed' look.
     Dwalin put a screen before the fire and attached it securely.  He stretched and yawned.
     “I’m off f’r a wash and a salt soak.  Somethin’ abou’ Calmar’s thugs makes me feel like I bin tussling with orcs.  Filthy bastards.”
     “I’ll bring you some vinegar and natron to scrub yourself.  Mind, with that lot I’d be tempted to offer lye,” Ori suggested.
     Dwalin snickered as he left the room.
     Garnet whisked out the window on some mission of her own.
     Ori made the kittens comfortable, turned down the bed covers and washed his face in the basin before pulling on his drawers and night shirt.  He scrunched down on hands and knees for a bit, watching Sassy’s babies.
     The orange one was definitely Nori.  This might cause difficulty if he was calling for either one as cats didn’t usually come when called, but then neither did Nori.  A naughty smile crossed his face.  The kitten could be Nori-pori, very singsong-y.  Bofur would laugh his head off, Nori would growl but if Ori was lucky the kitten would come when called and with the suffix Nori would pointedly ignore him.
     The grey kitten he thought would be Powder and the three-colored one, Mask.  He got up again, a little stiff from being in that position for so long, and glanced at the timepiece on the bedside table.  An hour had passed since Dwalin went to bathe.  Ori frowned.  He must have got caught up talking to someone.  If that was Thorin, Ori decided he’d better interfere.
     He peeked out the bedroom door and looked about the hallway.  Only the phosphorescent light showed.  Ori padded barefoot through to the bathroom and saw the door ajar.  He pushed it open.  Dwalin sat in the tub in the light of a single torchiere.  The water was a thin, milky color for the salts.  Dwalin’s head was bent forward.  He looked to be asleep.  Ori came into the room and stopped half way, remembering that one should never startle a warrior from sleep as it was a good way to be strangled.
     “Dwalin?" he whispered.
     The only reply was a whoof of an out breath.
     He tried again.
     “Dwalin?  Husband, wake up.”
     Dwalin’s head lifted slowly.  He blinked, turned and saw Ori.
     “Love?  Shit, I must a’ been’ dozin’.”
     Ori came to the side of the tub.
     “It would be an ignominious thing to drown in the tub after such a triumph.”
     Dwalin chuckled,
     “Aye, it would.  How long I bin here?”
     “Nearly an hour.”
     “Fuck.”
     Ori was turned by a sudden idea.  Half eager, half terrified, he dropped his drawers and, grabbing hold of the tub sides, carefully climbed in.  Dwalin looked surprised then feral.  The bathwater was not steaming hot as it must have been but the stone tub, the warmth of the surrounding water pipes and chunks of salt held the heat so it was not chilled.  Ori put a foot down near the edge and his foot slid past the outside of Dwalin's leg.  He stood warily and started to put the other foot down.  The salts had made the bottom of the tub slippery and down he went.
     Dwalin let out an ‘oof’ as Ori landed clumsily on his chest and water splashed and poured over the tub’s sides.
     “Shards!” Ori muttered, feeling his face flame.
     He would have scrambled up, but the weight of his soaked nightshirt made it hard to move quickly.  He was such an orc.  He should have paid attention to the side of his brain said this was bound to happen.  He should have-
     Dwalin was laughing, not mockingly, but a fond and happy laugh, and to Ori’s surprise Dwalin caught him close and, sliding his hands under Ori’s hips, pulled him up to straddle Dwalin lap.
     “Well!" Dwalin said, eyes bright.  "Fancy findin’ yeh here, love!"
     Ori giggled nervously before he found his courage again.  He didn't quite know where to look as he pulled off the sodden nightshirt and dropped it in the puddle at the side of the tub.  Naked, he leaned back and grinned shyly up.  Dwalin looked extremely pleased, both at what he'd done and how he looked.
     Dwalin trailed blunt, gentle fingers down his cheek, down his chest, and lingeringly caressed a nipple.
     Ori drew in a sharp breath of surprise.  He had never thought to touch himself there.
     When Dwalin moved his hand Ori caught it and put it back, biting his lower lip, completely flustered.
     Dwalin growled.
     “Yeh like tha’, do yeh?”
     Dwalin ducked forward for a kiss and Ori was happy to oblige.  Now that his mouth knew Dwalin’s it heightened the pleasure and made him sure of what he had dared to do.  Well, that made him sure and Dwalin’s growing hardness confirmed it.  No voice in his head would stop him now.
     The salts clouded the water, so Ori went by feel and hoped to Mahal that he would do this right.  He slid hands down through the slick hair on Dwalin’s chest and stomach, under the water and around Dwalin’s cock.
     He only knew what had worked for himself the few times he’d stolen moments to do so, but Dwalin was bigger.  Ori shrugged inwardly and used both hands.
     A breath caught in Dwalin’s throat.  Ori stole a glance, not quite daring to look his husband in the eye.
     It seemed that what had worked for him did fine for Dwalin.  His eyes lost focus and  his head fell back and he grinned foolishly.
     “Ahhh, love,” he murmured, “yer hands’er perfect!”
     Encouraged Ori concentrated on his work.  Dwalin’s own hand rubbed up and down his back in rhythm with his own.  Abruptly Dwalin sat up and seized hold of Ori’s hands and tightened them.  They locked eyes as Dwalin let out a gasp and a long groan of pleasure and slow, deep shudder.
     Ori released him, smiling, elated.  Dwalin pulled him up hard and they kissed.
     “How’d yeh know jus’ wha’ I were needin’?” Dwalin murmured in his ear when he got his breath back.
     “I didn’t.  I just wanted to.”
     “Anytime, love,” Dwalin chuckled.  “Yeh get wantin’ yeh jus’ come an’ find me I’ll see t’ yeh.”
     “Or I’ll see to you,” Ori teased.
     Dwalin laughed.
     "Right, love.  Let’s get this salt offa us.”
     Dwalin rose, lifting Ori clear of the water and stepped out of the tub.  Ori leaned over his arm and pulled the chain of the stopper.  He expected Dwalin to set him down but Dwalin carried him over to the limestone enclosure where the spigot emerged from the wall above them.  He put Ori down and the spigot gushed pleasantly hot water over the pair of them.  Dwalin soaped a washcloth and rubbed Ori down with it, taking his time, and when Ori was covered with suds Dwalin tossed the cloth aside and did the same with his big, powerful hands.
     Ori closed his eyes, his breath coming quicker.  He didn’t know how he was keeping his feet as Dwalin’s hands slid over his skin.  The lather made the movement smooth and slick and Ori moaned aloud before he could stop himself.  He shook his head to clear it, but then he was in Dwalin’s arms and the lather made a tease of all that friction.  Ori really felt he could do this forever.
     “So beautiful,” he said, “I love touching you.”
     Dwalin grunted impatiently.
     He muttered something about touch, but he had aleady pulled Ori under the spray and rinsed the pair of them.  Ori was about to step out but Dwalin backed him against the wall with a naughty grin.
     “No’ finished, love,” he said.
     He dropped to his knees and caught Ori's hips firmly in his hands.
     “Dwalin?  What?  Oooooh!”
     Dwalin’s mouth sucked in his cock and held him firmly in perfect, tight heat.  Ori had never dreamed anything could feel this amazing.  He couldn’t feel his legs and he didn’t really miss them.  He was almost drowning in the sheer delight of Dwalin’s tongue swirling around him.
     Then there was no thinking anymore, no room to think.  He moaned Dwalin’s name, clutching a double handful of Dwalin’s hair, gasped and babbled that he was going to come and Dwalin ought to-
     His knees gave out and he was vaguely aware of sliding down the wall in a blissful haze.  He heard Dwalin chuckle and felt the room move around him as he was sat on the stool, Dwalin drying him with a towel.
     “I love you,” Ori said, grinning and wondering how he would ever manage to walk again.
     Dwalin hoisted him easily once more and walked out of the bathroom into the hall.  Ori nuzzled his neck mumbling that Dwalin was beautiful and must be the very image of Mahal and he was perfect in every way.  Dwalin hugged him closer.  Ori was faintly aware of Nori’s voice telling them to get a room.
     “Not t’ worry, nuisance.  It’s where we’re headed,” Dwalin answered cheerily.
     Dwalin laid Ori down on their bed.  Ori sighed with happiness.  He reached up as Dwalin lay beside him and enclosed Ori in a hug.
     “I love yeh, too, me darlin’, me ghivashel,” Dwalin whispered.
     Ghivashel.  Treasure of treasures.
     He turned Ori on his side and spooned behind him.  Ori closed his eyes, warm and content in his husband’s arms.

 

Chapter Text

     Ori jolted awake at the first morning volley going off in the center of the mountain.  Oh, Mahal!  He’d be late to the library.  He hopped out of bed, waking Dwalin.

     “Love?  Shit!  Was tha’ th’ first volley?”

     “Yes, I’m going to be late,” Ori gasped, splashing water on his face and throwing on some clothes, the nearest he could find.  

     “The kittens!” he remembered as one mewed and the other two were stretching.

     “I’ll tend ’em. Get yourself gone, love.”

     Ori rushed over, kissed Dwalin, and tore out of the room.  He galloped into the kitchen, grabbed a roll stuffed with egg, cheese and bacon off the plate, and yelled something with his mouth full back at a disgusted Dori and laughing Balin.

     He sped along the corridor to the city and caught up with Omi and Loli, who were also rushing along, bits of breakfast in their hands.

     “I can’t believe all three of us will be late,” wailed Loli, swallowing down the last bite of cheese scone and trying to re-tie a ribbon in her beard.  

     “But such a day yesterday!” bubbled Omi.

     “Hush,” warned Ori. “No one’s supposed to know.  At least, I don’t think they are.”

     “How can they not?” Loli wondered.  

     “I’m in love with a beautiful dwarf named Pika,” Omi crooned.  “He’s so accomplished