At first he has the little dowry chest locked up in the most secure vault within his mountain; the same one where he keeps his father’s ax and his grandfather’s formal armor. It’s nearly impregnable and withstood even Smaug’s desultory attempts at getting into the contents judging by the gouges in the stone surrounding the great mithril door.
…but he doesn’t leave it there. Fabric isn’t like metal. It cannot be locked away from greedy fingers and moths lay their eggs everywhere inside Erebor. The chest is a promise of a future for him and his tiny consort; one that might involve children if they are very blessed and Thorin is like his grandfather in this. He sleeps best when his treasures are close at hand and the greatest of them is out of his reach for now. Briar stays in Dis’ apartments for there has yet to be a wedding and his council is forcing him to adhere to the strict chaperonage laws that Durin the First’s son laid down for his own daughters.
They had nearly a year together without the burden of prying eyes. Thorin tries to remember to be grateful for that. It’s more than his father had with their mother.
He isn’t always successful, but he tries.
He commissions a large cedar box from the woodworkers in New Dale and they produce a masterpiece whose mere presence perfumes his entire chamber with a pleasant woodsy aroma and also keeps the damn moths away from his formal robes –and, yes, a little leather case full of hand embroidered linens and little lavender sachets.
Fili and Kili are fascinated by the thing and would have gone through the boxes contents three times already trying to divine its purpose and significance to the woman they will one day call both aunt and Queen, but Thorin doesn’t share well and from what he’s gathered Shire tradition encourages him to be possessive of the wealth and history entrusted to him by his betrothed.
Briar asks to see it on occasion. If she’s testing him to see what care he has taken of her dowry, she gives no sign of it. She seems more interested in checking her work against the old patterns held within.
“I’ve a terrible memory.” She confesses to him one evening (under Dis’ indulgent, yet watchful eye). “I used to have mother’s patterns for a reference, but I left them to Drogo’s wife since she’s marrying in from the Brandybuck clan.”
Took Lace (or Tuck Lace as the accents of the men in Dale render it) is already a valuable commodity within the mountain and outside of it when Briar has produced a piece she feels proud enough to sell. The Shire exports a small amount of the stuff each year and it all bought up by human merchants who re-sell it in places like Gondor for three times its weight in gold. Thorin has been approached by no less than four families, all hopeful that Briar will be declared a Craft Mistress soon enough for their children to apprentice under her.
“Well, I don’t know about that.” Briar demurs when he approaches her on the subject. She’s seated in front of the fire in the communal parlor that serves Dis’ apartments and has a broad flat pillow in her lap that serves as the foundation upon which she’s weaving her current project out of gossamer thin stands silk that will eventually grace the collar of one of the Guild Masters or their wives. “Most of my patterns are Family patterns. I only know a few of the common ones and they’re a bit… floral for Dwarrow tastes.” She looks to Dis, who is seated in front of an embroidery frame. “Tell him.”
“I think your opinion of your own work in unjustly deflated, Sister.” Dis replies without looking up from her work. Dis is a Craft Mistress in her own right, although embroidery is just a hobby for the evenings that keeps her fingers limber and produces useful things. She, like Thorin, is a Master Smith and has no patience for false modesty –something she has steadfastly been trying to root it out one Briar Baggins. “You’re under the mountain now. None of the hens from the Shire will come to peck you if you admit that your work is worthy.”
“So speaks one who never saw my mother’s lace.” Briar replies tartly and places another pin to weave her lace around. “I suppose I could teach them the basic patterns and how to make up your own…” She posits out almost to herself.
“…and what more did you expect to teach them?” Dis asks. She bows he dark head to bite through her thread. “The Master teaches the apprentice, supervises the journeyman, and judges those attempting their own mastery.”
“Huh.” Briar drops her gaze, but Thorin has learned that just means that the idea has been planted in her mind and only needs time to grow.
That said, Thorin’s people are fiercely determined when they find their passion and most will always love their craft above even their spouse. So Briar’s first apprentice decides not to wait upon her pleasure and instead presents herself at Briar’s feet one evening and just watches Briar’s hands with unwavering attention.
Fili and Kili break down laughing when they first hear the news, but do not laugh in Briar’s presence.
(They had better not or Thorin will know the reason why.)
“The first dwarves were born from the stone knowing their crafts.” Thorin says by way of an explanation during one of the rare evenings when he’s allowed to sit alone with his intended without Dis within earshot. She can still see them from the other side of the Atrium so Thorin is forced to keep his hands in his lap, but he doesn’t need hands to make his little burglar blush. “Their children were not.”
Briar tilts her head in polite confusion, which just so happens to bring her temple into brief contact with his shoulder. She lets it rest there for a moment with a secret smile just for him so that he knows it was deliberate. One day soon he’ll be able to touch her cheek once more and tuck her inside his coat to share his heat with her, but that day is not today so he remains on his good behavior.
“In the early days crafts were passed from a master to their children with no regard to the talents or interests of the child.” Thorin goes on. “It was not until Hemyn of the Firebeards was orphaned that things changed.” He pretends not to notice when Briar gently leans her side against his arm. This is a touch within the boundaries of courtship, but Thorin knows himself too well to believe he could keep his response equally appropriate were he to respond. “Hemyn was the youngest of five and his oldest sister had already mastered their father’s art of wire weaving. We were still flush with the power of creation and bore children more easily in those days. She had her hands full, I think, with teaching her younger siblings all at once and Hemyn’s education became neglected.”
“From the direction this story is going, I’m not sure Hemyn minded.” Briar guesses and Thorin barks a laugh.
“Good gods, no.” He shakes his head and thinks fondly of the murals painted on his walls as a child. The tale of Hemyn was one of them because it is part of the Children’s Eddas and because even then he was known for his stubborn pride. Hemyn was featured on the wall of the school room he eventually shared with Dis and Frerin. The artist portrayed him in the middle of a tantrum, all red-faced and angry as he rejected his sister’s art with the lights of Arun’s forge featured in the background.
Briar pokes him in the ribs. “Don’t stop.” She orders him. “Keep going.”
“The story has it that Hemyn was fascinated by the forge of Arun, the master swordsmith of that age. Arun was stone, even in those fruitful early days and dedicated himself to his craft: heart, mind, and body. He did not marry and sought no comfort in the arms of other dwarves. His parents were long since dead and he never craved children of his own blood. He was as alone in the world as it is possible for a dwarf to be among other dwarves.” Thorin ignores Dis’s keen stare from across the stone garden. “Hemyn would venture out of his cot early in the morning and sneak away to hide in the rafters over Arun’s bellows. There he watched the Master of his heart forge the swords and battle-axes that our soldier used to keep dark things at bay.”
“So it went for many weeks and eventually Hemyn noticed that Arun never blocked his view of the forge, even though it would be easier for him to stand elsewhere. He never turned his back to Hemyn and always held up his tools to examine them before work.” Thorin continues, warming to the story. “So one day, Hemyn descended from the rafters and approached Arun when he knew from his observations that the smith would not be disturbed by questions.”
“Arun did not look up as Hemyn approached, but rather spoke instead. ‘Little one.’ He said. ‘It is well past time that you should have come down from my roof. My art cannot be learned by watching. You must learn it through your hands.’ Hemyn’s heart soared in his chest, but even though he was willful he was still a dutiful son and brother. ‘Master.’ He said. ‘I wish with all my heart to learn at your feet, but my sister wishes that I learn our father’s art.’”
“Hemyn hung his head in grief after he finished speaking for he knew that his dream was over, that Arun would send him away, and he would return to his sisters feet to learn a craft that was not within his heart –but Arun only shook his head. ‘I am the Master.’ He said. ‘You are my student. Leave your sister to me. I will make it well, but from here on after you will leave her house openly and with respect to her. No more will you sneak away before breaking bread with your family. Am I understood?’ Hemyn fell to his knees and agreed.”
“So Arun ventured forth and requested an audience with Hemyn’s sister, Hild. He brought with him a fine pair of hardened steel clippers forged by his own hand and of his own design. These he gave to Hild as a gift when she admitted him into her workshop. ‘I am taking from you a valuable apprentice out of my own selfishness.’ He said to her. ‘However, I would not also take from you your brother. Let him learn from me and I will ensure that he will no longer be a stranger among you. Let this gift be a token of my sincerity.’”
“Hild accepted the clippers and tucked them into her pocket. ‘My brother has been unhappy these long months.’ She said to Arun. ‘I could have stopped him from going to you at any time, but I chose not to. I love the craft taught to me by my father, but he gave his heart to a sword. I cannot deny my deloved brother his heart. Teach him all that you know and join us at meals and hearth as a most precious uncle.’ So it was that Hemyn was apprenticed to Arun and that Arun -who was alone amongst all his kind- gained a second family –for the bonds of craft are every bit as tight as those of blood because they are both forged from love.”
Briar smiles for him as Thorin finishes his story. “You know, the next time someone tells me that dwarves have no poetry in their souls I think I might end up laughing in their face.” She tells him softly. “Is this why Fili and Kili start shaking and hiding their faces every time Amata comes to visit?”
“Perhaps.” Thorin sighs and wishes he was still ignorant of that particular fact. “When a dwarf truly wants something we cannot resist its call.” He takes a chance and winds one of her curls around his index finger. “Or someone.” He adds huskily just as Dis reaches them to smack the back of his head and separate them.
The next time he is allowed to visit Briar –which is many days and several formal apologies later- Amata is seated on a little stool by Briar’s side and is seated in front of a basket of woolen fibers, a pair of needle-studded paddles, and a dogged expression. She also has the glow of a craftswoman in her element and Thorin accepts that his wife-to-be has accepted her first apprentice.
Briar, for her part, has learned early on the best way to motivate a student: to work in front of them. Today the lace pillow is nowhere to be seen. In its place a pair of the thinnest little rosewood needles Thorin has ever laid eyes on. He sits for a bit and watches Briar knit what can only be called a cloud. Little Amata eyes it with naked longing writ all over her face, but keeps the majority of her attention focused on her task.
“Balin says I must present a masterwork to the council of Guild Masters.” Briar says at length once Thorin has sat entranced by her hands for what is probably too long. “This isn’t my actual masterpiece as I understand these things, but it will do for an example.”
Thorin frowns. “Where is your true masterpiece then?” He asks. “Is it still in the Shire? I would have it fetched for you.” He’d do almost anything for her is the sad truth, but Briar doesn’t ask for what she wants the way a dwarf would. He’s learned to pay attention and guess the way he imagines a hobbit husband would.
She gives him a smile. “It’s different in the Shire. Needlework is for the family so my… masterpiece isn’t really for strangers. It’s meant to show my husband what skills I have learned from my family and what I have to teach our daughter.” Here she turns a pretty shade of pink. “It’s my wedding veil.”
That… should not make Thorin’s blood go hot, but it does. His eyes drop down to the gossamer lace spread out on Briar’s lap. He can just make out the angular shapes of… He tilts his head. “This is the pattern on my old vambraces; the ones Thranduil’s men confiscated from me.” …and never returned, but that is not the point. Briar can’t have seen that design in over two years.
“Yes.” She agrees and eyes her work with a critical eye. “I’ve altered it slightly and added corners inspired by the stonework on the statues of your grandfather. The pattern will be more visible once I’ve blocked it out properly. This is to be a long shawl rather than a veil. When it’s complete it will be fine enough that you can draw the entire thing through a ring.” A wicked smile tugs at her mouth and she leans a bit closer so that her words cannot be overheard. “You’ll do the same on our wedding day, although I beg you to use one of your rings instead of mine. I was barely twenty when I made that.”
“I will draw it through a bracelet if it pleases you.” Thorin replies and ducks Dis’ fan before she can hit him with it. He’s developing that sixth sense shared by all dwarves who have suffered through a long courtship. It’s no wonder that conventional wisdom has it that a married dwarf fights harder and better than a single one.
Briar is kind enough not to laugh at him outright, but her earrings jingle like bells as she turns her head in a somewhat theatrical cough. In a fortnight he’ll be permitted to present her with a length of fine golden chain to string from her earlobe to a ring on her lip. He’s already come up with a design that means she will not have to suffer through a piercing and the final design impressed Balin (who is acting in the stead of Briar’s deceased father) enough that he’s actually deigned to look at a first draft of their marriage contract.
If you had asked him three years ago what he envisioned his future as, Thorin thinks that even his wildest imaginings couldn’t come close to the truth. His family is strong, happy, and growing by the moment. His people have resurrected arts and techniques thought lost forever. Dwarves from the other nations arrive daily to learn from his craftspeople. The men of Dale have made the valley green again and the river runs thick with trade.
Sometimes he thinks about the Battle of Five Armies, of his wounds, and what would have happened if he had clung to his own sickened pride to the very end. How would he be received in the halls of his ancestors?
There is honor in giving one’s life for the glory of one’s people, but now Thorin thinks his death would have been a hollow one for all that his people would have sung of it for generations to come.
Erebor is thriving …and so is he.