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Foxes and Geese

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The first time Dwalin, son of Fundin, met Nori, daughter of Kori, she completely fooled him.

He'd been on patrol in the great market of Ered Luin, watching for pickpockets and thieves. Almost insultingly easy duty for a veteran warrior like Dwalin, but he'd been new to the City Watch then and hadn't yet had a chance to prove himself.

The market was always crowded with vendors and customers, with stalls selling everything from fresh-made loaves of bread, to musical instruments, to precious gems. Dwalin moved through the crowd easily despite his bulk, people automatically giving way to a dwarf wearing the sigil of the Watch on his armor.

There was a sudden commotion and shouts of "Thief!" in the next aisle. Dwalin rounded the corner and sized up the situation. A fabric merchant, shouting and shaking his fist. "What's going on?" Dwalin demanded.

"Guardsman! A thief just stole three bolts of my finest sapphire silk," the merchant said. "A little red-headed boy, young and beardless. He ran down the Washer Way towards Lowtown just a minute ago. Go, you still might catch him!"

Dwalin ran in the direction the merchant had indicated. There was no time to waste. If the thief reached Lowtown before Dwalin, there was no way he'd catch the thief in that warren of crooked streets.

Washer Way was a horrible place to try to chase someone. Lines of laundry were strung across the street, often low enough that a tall dwarf like Dwalin had to duck or risk being slapped in the face by someone's wet sheets. Smart move on the part of the thief, Dwalin admitted grudgingly.

But due to his longer legs, Dwalin could run surprisingly quickly for a dwarf of his size. He started to gain on the thief, a slight figure in a long, tattered brown coat. The thief's hair was styled in a strange, three-peaked hairstyle.

A block ahead, the thief disappeared around a corner into Lowtown and Dwalin cursed. He put on a final burst of speed and turned the corner, only to find that the thief had apparently vanished.

Dwalin looked around, panting. The street split five ways at an uneven intersection, and there was no indication of which direction the thief might have run.

There was a woman sitting on a low balcony nearby, combing her fingers through the length of her long hair pulled forward over her shoulder. She wore a veil covering her face below the eyes in the Eastern fashion, matching the blue of her loose gown.

"Pardon me, my lady," Dwalin said, feeling awkward. He wasn't sure if he was even allowed to talk to an Eastern woman without first asking for her permission through her harem of husbands. (The dwarves of the far eastern mountains had dealt with the scarcity of dwarven women by allowing them to take multiple husbands. Dwalin had heard that a single woman could have a dozen husbands, if she chose! And no males but their husbands were allowed to admire the beauty of their faces.)

"Yes? May I assist you in some manner, master guardsman?" she asked, still combing through her hair. Even her accent was beautiful.

Dwalin couldn't help but notice that her hair was gorgeous--long and slightly wavy, and a lustrous red-brown. He'd always had a weakness for redheads.

Dwalin fought the urge to cough and shuffle like a bashful schoolboy. "Did you see a young lad dressed in brown go running through here a moment ago?"

"I did, in fact. He went that way," she said, pointing with one long, delicate hand.

"Thank you, my lady," Dwalin said with a bow that was slightly lower than necessary.

She nodded, the corners of her eyes crinkling as if she smiled behind her veil, and said, "Best of luck in your chase, master guardsman."

Dwalin was three blocks down the road when it struck him--when she'd pointed out the direction, the silk draped over her arm had shifted a little and he'd seen dark fabric underneath. And she'd been draped in blue silk. Sapphire blue silk.

Cursing, Dwalin ran back to the intersection where he'd seen the "Eastern woman." Of course, she--or rather, he--was long gone.

Fooled by long red hair and a few bolts of stolen silk. Mahal's hammers, he was an idiot. Dwalin swore to himself at that moment that he'd never be fooled by the red-haired thief again.

But that, of course, was only the first time.