The Saga of Vaenomar- Chapter 34 ~Company~

Chapter 34

~Company~

Grey. Everything was grey.
 The low hanging clouds that lazily floated overhead were as drab as the pale lichen covering the stone over which she tread. The smoke that sailed from the stone chimney of the squat Dwarven house, her thick wool cloak, the resealed cracks in the ice of the courtyard’s fountain: all the same, lifeless shade of dust.
  Even the scarce light that barely filtered through the airy, winter canopy was cold and dead.

 A breeze whipped loose strands of her hair across her forehead as she drug her feet over the stones. The birds were gone. Hiding away, warm in their nests. Now and then a dusting of snowflakes would alight on her, coming down from the snow-capped mountains, hidden in the cloud.
 But all she saw was grey. Any other day, she might’ve relished the many different tones and hues of it in nature, but not today. Her mind was filled to the brim with it, like an overused fire pit, overflowing with ashes.
 Listlessly she found herself wandering up the stairs to the Western ramparts.
A familiar spot.
 She leaned her chin on the icy merlons and took in a deep breath of cold air.

 Despite the low clouds, the view still stretched on far to the West- the dark slate of forest and its dormant inhabitants.
 Her eyes saw nothing. Nothing there, at least; but searched deep and delved tirelessly in her soul.

  The understanding slowly unveiled itself, but the will still cowered away.

~~~~~~~~~~~

  “It’s nothing to fret about, alright, just make Grezof and Vahgdûr get the message,” the firm, pointed tone of Bridi ordered, while she distractedly rifled through a large oak chest of gear.
 “Aye, milady,” said the burly Dwarf, trying to hide his confusion.
“And give them these,” she turned and thrust a pair of old, metal shields in his arms and laid an array of Dwarven projectiles on top.
 “Crossbows?” he wondered aloud. “We expectin’ visitors?” his piqued interest hovered between excitement and worry.
“No. Just do it.”
 When Bridi closed a conversation, it was closed. He nodded hastily and exited the room.

 Bridi sighed and folded her arms under her chest as she surveyed the room. The magnificent stone walls rose high up into the darkness until they mingled with the living mountain’s flesh. But below, only a few dust chests and dilapidated armour-stands remained to tell of the glory it once had seen as Azaghâl’s armory.
True, it was in the holding of Durin’s proud heir, but that was all.

 An attempt at expansion…that failed; Bridi’s thoughts drifted in melancholy over the past decade. He tried so hard, wanting nothing more than the good of his people and to restore to them their birthright. Their place as Lords of the Mountains.
But that would not come. Not until Thorin Oakenshield sat on the restored throne of Erebor.

 An ancient heirloom from the line of Thrór, a heavy buckler of once-shiny steel, hung on a rack on the wall. Reverently she dusted off its engraved boss, her breath on the cold metal forming a static cloud that slowly faded away.
 A tired, square-faced woman stared back at her, wisps of coppery hair framing her forehead, and mahogany-red brows lowered over a permanently intense scrutiny of green eyes.
 The edges of her tightly closed lips sunk downwards seriously, set with her jaw in an uninviting frown. A long white scar ran down the length of her brow to lower cheek; it had been there for a good long while. But an inexplicable feeling in her gut told her it was about to have company.

  A patter of footsteps in the outside hall drew her away from the shield. Kjar, no doubt.
Bridi hurredly closed the lid to the chest and stuffed the new whetstone into her belt just before the elderly matron entered the room.

 “Ah, there you are, lass!” she said, her huffing making evident her search for the other. “I was-” A befuddled look on her face interrupted herself, “What are you doing in here?”
Bridi had expected that, “What are you doing in here?”
 The old woman sputtered, “Well, looking for you, of course!”
Bridi shrugged, “I was just making sure nothing was rusting. It’s too damn quiet around here…”
 Kjar gestured clearly that she fully agreed and resumed her previous business.
“I’ve been looking for you for a half hour!” she tossed up her hands, “Because I’ve been looking for Vaenomar even longer! Where’s she got to?”

Bridi’s features paled rapidly. Vaenomar!
 Without even acknowledging the other woman, Thorin’s counselor marched off in a storm, muttering, “Can’t leave that whelp alone one minute without her flying off! Curses on those long legs,” and left Kjar to hobble after her.

  After a quick, unsuccessful search of her room, the kitchen, Thorin’s room and any other sub-mountain haunt of hers, they took to the village.
“Go ask Salfgar and any one else you see on the way.”
“They’re all gone,” said Kjar sadly as she set off towards the tailor’s house at an sturdily wobbling pace.

 Bridi’s metal-toed boots thudded rapidly over stone after stone, eyes darting about, ears piqued for any odd sound. Wind funneling in between two mountain houses caught her in a gust causing her to sway momentarily. She clenched her teeth against the biting chill. A heavy, studded door creaked open behind her and she turned, in one fluid movement on her heel.
“Vahgdûr!”
 He jumped at the intensity of her tone and at her presence; Bridi wasn’t a common sight out from under the Halls.
 “The girl- you seen her?” the King’s right-hand demanded, but not without an unsettling amount of worry in her stern hoarseness.
“Eh- Vaenomar?” the off-duty gate guard stuttered hastily.
 “You’ve seen her?”
“No, no,” he said, waving his palms defensively, “But I-“
 “Help me look for her,” Bridi cut him off and resumed her determined march.

It was far too early to panic, yet. But if that girl was gone…if she’d run off to perform some hair-brained heroics- or worse- if she was taken captive…by him

  Bridi jogged to a halt, her long whip-lash flopping over her shoulder as she quickly surveyed the market area. No one was around in this frigid weather- the trading only took place in summer, when there were new trades to be made from the payment of Mannish villages.

 The breeze eerily stirred a ragged cloth awning over one of the stalls and a dusting of sleet swirled around her feet in the lonely, empty court.
“Vaen?” her voice bounced off the cold rock that surrounded her and came back, dull and out of place. There was no one here.
 Was it Thorin’s absence combined with the oppressive silt-grey of the sky that brought on these sudden bouts of hollow melancholy? But Kjar seemed to feel the same way. Not all was well: every fibre of Bridi’s subconscious being told her so. Even her rational mind worried constantly over the unknown ‘man‘ in Jarlich. The draegk.

  A few blocks down, Bridi heard Vahgdûr calling the girl’s name, muffled by the wind and stone. She took in a generous, numbing breath to slow her escalating heartbeat and clear her mind.
Jaw set like steel, she turned south and strode towards the gate.

  From several dozen paces off she could see the squat forms of the guards, Khin and Narukar, sitting at their posts on either side of the gate. In addition to the great bear furs that draped the cousins’ already bulky forms, they bore the shields Bridi had assigned to them that morning.
 Aulë grant they not need them.

 Along with the shields and the one crossbow and a few spare bolts she’d dug up to give them, they’d also been given the order not to let Vaenomar near the gate. Bridi didn’t really think she would leave, but she was as precautious as Thorin was headstrong.
And young things often fill their heads with rash nonsense, she though to herself in growing nervousness.
 Looking left revealed only a barren, sloped street devoid of life. She turned right to see Vahgdûr emerge from between the buildings and look in her way with a shrug of fruitlessness.
A few more paces brought her in calling distance of the gate. But her name, short and urgent, caused her to glance back at her companion. He pointed West, far behind her, and up.
She whipped around and immediately let a sigh of relief puff like smoke from her nostrils.

 High above, perched like a rock-dove clad in slate-grey, on the massive wall of the bulwark stood Vaenomar. The same spot where Gormna had ‘caught’ her so many months ago.
Her cloak billowed restlessly behind her, a colourless banner for the nameless, houseless one.
 She was motionless, but for her windswept hair and garments. Her dark, still figure could’ve been carved there, thought Bridi, as she motioned silently for her companion to join her.
“Find Kjar. Tell her she’s fine. Look with Salfgar,” she ordered in a low tone.

 The girl was alone too much as was. Contemplating could be dangerous. Very dangerous.

~~~~~~~~~~~

 “He’ll be back soon.”
Those simple words, soft and firm, caused her to nearly jump out of her boots, as she gasped and took a few steps backwards.
 “Bridi!” said Vaenomar breathlessly, as if awoken out of a dream.

 The Dwarf peered off into the distance, leaning against the solid merlons and rubbing her stubbily-nailed fingers over the pocks and cracks of the stone.
 Giving the younger woman a moment to regather her composure, Bridi surveyed the steep, craggy descent from their mountain abode. Even from that height the precarious path was practically invisible.
 A calm settled over the Dwarf woman’s spirits as they both gazed out over the mist-covered expanse.

It was time.

 Her voice, poignant and low, broke the heavy silence, “Before Thorin found you- what were you?”
 It almost seemed as though she expected it, her manner changed so little. Vaenomar didn’t look up, but an unnoticeable shudder coursed down her spine.
 Though silence persisted a few moments longer, Bridi knew she would answer. The cloaked fear of rejection was being cast off and a firm, level resolution being made in that secretive brain of hers. Bridi the mind-reader could see that far.
 At last, Vaenomar breathed in soft and slowly, and answered.
“An Elf.”
 Bridi glanced at her from the corner of her eyes, but said nothing.
“Or so I wished,” continued the younger woman.

 “Deep in those woods lies an Elven city. Taurëmith. City of the Trees. You’d never be able to find it,” she gestured with her head towards the vast sea of forest to the West, “I wouldn’t either. But it is beautiful.”
Bridi thought a sigh escaped her.

 “I was a border scout, along with many others. Tairiel and I…wandered too far from our camp…” her voice took on the old, musical, Elven accent as she spoke.
 “I was foolish, I know well, now, that Taurëmith was in no danger of being found. But then- I would have protected its secret with my life.”

 Bridi nodded thoughtfully. None of this was too surprising news. But she wondered aloud, “None can find it?”
 Vaenomar shrugged, “Except for the Elves. There is a Girdle of ancient magic surrounding it. Nonetheless, we- they- keep their borders safe and pure. Or so they try.”

 “Yet you doubt?” queried Bridi, reading further into the girl’s thoughts.
Vaenomar’s head dropped low and she scraped at some grey-green lichen on the wall. “I- feel something. Something strange…ancient. As old as their magic- yet, stained,” she turned to Bridi, pallid and eyes wide as if from a waking nightmare, “Evil.”

 The Dwarf clenched her teeth and nodded darkly. “Anything like…” she paused, searching for the right words.
“Me, Bridi,” interrupted Vaenomar, feverishly. “Calling nature to my aid, through a word, a thought. Like in the forest…before Tharkûn arrived.”
 “I thought you didn’t know it happened,” said Bridi, mildly suspicious.
Vaenomar shook her head,”I didn’t. But I remember it now. And…with Thorin…the first time. Bridi,” she turned fully towards the Dwarf, “Ever since I met him, I remember. I…” she grimaced confusedly, “I recognized it in him. It’s nothing I was taught. It’s…in my blood…? Spirit- Ach!” she slapped the rock exasperated, “I don’t know.”

 Bridi suddenly seized her wrists firmly, her cold-numbed fingers gripped tightly over Vaenomar’s bare pulse. “But you do know!”
 The girl’s eyes widened in shock.
“You may not know what is it- but what does that matter? You have power. Thorin- Lord Thorin- sensed it in you from the beginning! Why else did he keep you and release the Elf? He could’ve used her for ransom- but no! He chose you! Your power- use it. Against the creature- that thing– that seeks to destroy us. Turn it against him!”

 By now the young woman was trembling and paler than before, droplets of salty water at the corners of her eyelids. Her lips quivered and her chest rose and fell in short breaths.

 It worked. All that- Bridi had made up- just in that instant. But it worked. She had no idea why Thorin had chosen Vaenomar; she doubted if his choice had more to do with rationality than matters of the flesh.
 But in the end, she was right.
Vaenomar could help. The fortress of Azaghâl would have a worthy regiment atop its walls- praying Thorin and the rest returned before anything hit.

 “You can control it, Vaenomar, right?”
The girl bit her lip, still trembling, “I…think.”
 “He may be undead. May be ancient- but not even the forces of Gundabad could stand against the Heir of Durin. If that creature comes here- he will taste the true meaning of ‘cold as the grave’.”
 Vaenomar nodded vehemently, riled by Bridi’s speech.
The Dwarf patted her shoulder and turned to leave, her mission well accomplished.
 “He’ll be back soon,” she added in a softened tone and glanced at the mountain stairs, wishfully hoping to see her lord.

  As the Dwarven metal boots clanked down the stairs, the tear dislodged itself and splashed, alone, onto the cold merlon.
 But it was more than that. She could feel him. Not Thorin, no. The draegk, as Bridi called him. The man from Jarlich. The nameless shadow that haunted her dreams and made her moments of waking into nightmares.

 It had all happened so fast. One day, she had been a happy, pensive Elf-child, carefree and studious in everything. Then she became a Dwarf. Much too tall and awkward, doing her very best to fit in the rigid, stony structure of their culture. And then Thorin. It had started as fear, became fearful respect, mixed ever so slightly with defiance. But she had felt herself falling much deeper than that. The little they had seen of each other had ‘blossomed’, though hardly a fitting word, into the closest thing to love the hardened Dwarf-king could feel. And then he showed up. She wondered what would’ve happened if she hadn’t gone to Jarlich. Would he have found her anyways?
Probably.
 Was his sole intent to entrap her? Or was she only another piece to a larger construct; one that had no relish of good in it.

 Elves, when confronted by a hidden evil, always recognized it and shunned it ruthlessly.
She had felt it, though not immediately, and had been tempted by it. Why?! She was raised in goodness and light. She knew right from wrong as easily as a raven from a hawk.

 Squinting, she tried to make out a small dark shape breaking through the heavy mist.
As the little form slowly grew closer, Vaenomar chided herself. “Maybe that’s what he wants you to think. To question. To doubt…” She growled in frustration. “Curse him! These are my people and I will defend them with my life!”

 She made out a bird of prey, flapping then gliding, in an unbalanced fashion in her general direction. It seemed…wounded, over-tired?
 Her pity aroused, she watched intently as the distance between them shrunk. “Land here…” she muttered, scaling the length of the wall restlessly, “Land…”
Soon enough the bird began to slow and spread its chest and wingspan to land.

 Alighting on a merlon, the nighthawk’s dappled feathers heaved rapidly as it struggled to regain breath.
 Vaenomar approached it slowly, in a non-threatening, slow amble. She greeted him, but no reply came. She asked him where he was from, but he only looked at her with sad, frightened eyes. Something was wrong. He had much to say, but couldn’t.
 Vaenomar held out her finger and the tired bird curiously stretched out his hooked beak and nibbled it.
 “Will you not speak to me?” she asked pitifully, aloud.
The nighthawk sullenly looked at its rock-hewn perch, shook out its soft feathers, and then pecked at its own claw.
 Then she noticed a tight, rolled piece of weathered parchment tied by a strap to the raptor’s scaled talons.
 A messenger bird! No wonder it was so tired, the poor, dear thing.
With tender gentleness, she reached below the bird’s downy body and slipped the tiny note from the leather carrier.
 Despite her attempts at friendliness, rubbing his bony jowls, stroking his underchin, the stately nighthawk seemed indifferent and a hollow tranquility loomed in his black eyes. An emptiness in his thoughts- and he would not speak. Vaenomar thought that he wished to, but, knowing he could not, didn’t even make the attempt.
With consternated brow, her numbed fingers unrolled the parchment.
 On the outward side there was a faded scrawled note, bearing a few sentences in the Common Tongue which were hard to make out, because of the water stain and weather and the curling faint hand.
 An immobilizing frost spell seemed to fall on her as she turned the note over.

 In bold Cirth runes the colour of dried blood, it read:

“I Come.
Or
You.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 The frost fall sparkled and shone as it caught the first light of dawn. A silvery field of tiny shards and prisms; every stalk of grass and slumbering leaf encased in a wintry suit of mithril.

 The cloud of vapour that floated away from the mouth and nostrils of the solitary figure dissipated quickly in the clear, crackling air. Even the axe blade at his hip was covered in a blue brocade of organic swirls and shapes. A blanket of grey clouds barely moved overhead, their soft undersides just beginning to take on the tint of the rising sun, which would soon be lost above their wooly forms.

 With a lung-numbing inhale that came out a sigh, Thorin turned and began an idle march back, the lifeless vegetation crackling underfoot, showering little crystals onto the king’s furred boots.

 He could almost imagine the frosty carpet being of the finest velvet, covering lengths and lengths of black marble streaked with emerald veins. Silver and gold in all forms imaginable, at his feet. Gems so plentiful they were commonplace- but their beauty still unmatched by all the world.
His kingdom.
 But Vaenomar would find all this- the curled leaves, the bent grasses, red berries all covered in the night’s icy tears- to be most lovely. The clouds the colour of her cloak, touched with the cold pale blue of her eyes.

 If she was with him now… But, no. She was gone. Running wild in the woods, cursing the name of his cousin, his family- maybe even his. What if she came back while he was away? Or worse- never came back at all.
 Instinctively his fingers fondled the axe-head restlessly.
It was time to go home.

 It didn’t take the keen sense of a Dwarf to smell something rotten going on. There were no goblins. No bandits. Nothing here. Nor had there been.
 His boot met with a hollow, hard object and sent it rolling several feet ahead. Picking it up, he found a jawless skull, covered in cracks and filled with dried leaves and fur, having served as some small creature’s bed.
 Washed white by many years under sun and sky, its brittle frailty belied the importance it once held. And havoc it once wreaked. An ugly, oversized canine tooth along with a couple others were still rather sharp. Thorin tossed it down.
At least there hadn’t been any goblins for a while.

 When he arrived back at the longhouse after many hours of a sleepless morning out in the countryside, Thorin heard the boisterous chatter of feasting Dwarves, and smelled good, fatty meats, eggs, cheeses and fresh baked bread.
 He had been treated much more hospitably than his actions of the night prior had merited, but the men- it was just what they needed. Good rest, good food, good company. And then a good, quick march home. Then their minds would forget and forgive the mistake.

 Mistake, he sneered inwardly. The trick! A cunning play by a clever enemy. But he had survived worse.

 Quietly he came into the hall where a table had been set up, and took a respectfully-left-open place next to his cousin, Dáin. The same smiling, round face with autumn curls bounced up to him, hands full of breakfast and back again with warm spiced mead.
As he politely smiled his thanks, a less than subtle jab in the ribs came from his onlooking relative.
“Eat up,” Thorin quipped, ignoring the gesture, “Or you might die of starvation. Just look at you.”
Dáin just snorted, patting a robust waistline, and continued to shovel steaming heaps of eggs and sausage into his mouth.
“She is pretty, though,” Thorin admitted, as the friendly Thaneling’s daughter reseated herself between an Iron Hills woman and a doting Gorlath.

 “We get it from our mother,” Thorin heard her say and shake out her fiery hair.
“Like Bridi…except taller. And happier,” he thought.

 “Rúan’s name even means red-headed,” she laughed again and Gorlath refilled her mug.
“Good thing you don’t name after your surroundings like we do,” he said, “Else you’d be a bunch of Browngrasses and Softmuds.”
 The Dwarf woman rolled her eyes and explained to Dána, “Like Ironfoot, Stonefist…and Numbskull- like him,” she gestured to Gorlath.

 Thorin turned back to his food. He’d never seen Vaenomar enjoy herself that much. What had he done to her…
 “What do you got against your food that you’re glaring at is so?” said Dáin, his grating voice making Thorin look up from his thoughts. “If you’re not going to eat that-“
“Get off my food!” Thorin pushed his cousin away, “You’ve got plenty!”

 The clear, feminine voice of Dána rang out again, “Little Rúan- he might seem scrawny and young- well, he is. But he’s got some skill. Not as good as I am, of course, or my older sisters… but he can hold his own, well enough. He’s always dreaming of being a warrior- like the tales of my father….when the militia was still around.” She shrugged. “Shining his knives, oiling his armour, always practicing with me and Fían. Silly boy. He’s not even been out of Aldon for five years.”

 Thorin drained his third mug and followed it with a rinse of cold well water, and arose.
Dáin followed him and then a few others, at their own pace. The rest of the table looked up expectantly at their respective leaders.

 “A hearty thanks to you and our family for your hospitality, Lady Dána,” Thorin bowed low. “I’m afraid we must take out leave. Home calls us.”
 Dána bowed respectfully back, “It was good to make your acquaintance, Lord Thorin, and that of your people. You all are welcome here any time. Lord Dáin,” she nodded also to his cousin.

 Wooden plates and bowls, metal tankards, rustic iron cutlery began to clink and clack together as the table was rapidly cleared and the hall restored to proper order.

 The aged Thaneling, Thorin was told, would not be awake and ready for an audience until a few hours later. Dána promised to give him the Dwarf lords’ regards. And relay thanks to her strangely absent brother.
 “It’s quite possible that he over slept, drunk too much, or something of the like. Could be in town, too, with his lady friend,” she shrugged.
 Thorin took her small, white hand and pressed it gently to his bristling moustache. “Take care. We will probably never meet again.”
 The warmth in his deep, smoky voice was like a thrilling caress to her smooth cheek. She blushed the colour of musk rose, but nodded, a little sadly, at his words.
“And you take care, too. Eru keep you.”

 And leaving the proud daughter of Aldon on the steps of the longhouse, he joined his cousin and followers at the gates of the town.

 On approaching, Thorin was met by his wild-maned, broad cousin with outstretched arms and a metallic grin.
 As the tree-trunk thick arms of both men slapped familiarly on each other’s backs, Dáin chuckled, “Well cous, I’m glad you managed to live through my visit. You’ve gotten grumpier since last winter. And worse since the winter before!”
 “And you’ve gotten fatter and uglier,” Thorin tugged his cousin’s white braid back and received a playful punch in the stomach.
 “You get back to that long-legs of yours and tell Bridi there’s still room for two on my throne. I’m not that fat yet.”
 “I can only imagine what she’d say to that,” snorted Thorin and motioned for Gormna and Gorlath to get the others ready.
 Newly laden packs were slung over shoulders and belts loosened for walking with full bellies.

 “You send me word if anything shows up along the way,” Thorin told his cousin seriously. “Anything.”
 “Ah, even, say- a little, white rabbit or something?”
Tossing his black head of hair behind him, Thorin grunted and beckoned for his men to follow him Northward; homeward.
 Dáin and his retinue headed southeast, towards the Old Forest Road and began their long march to the Iron Hills and other stops along the way.

 Gorlath the Scout’s jogging footsteps were much springier than the day before as their sound slowly disappeared ahead.
 Hopefully they would all reach the mountains in good speed and unscathed- no surprises along the way or when they arrived.

 But just as Gorlath’s quicker pace drew out of earshot, a longer stride behind him and the Dwarves caught Thorin’s ears. He whirled around, hair on end, to see a very slim figure with long, lanky legs and the sun blazing on a bright copper head. The satchel at his side bounced wildly as he jogged to catch up, breath puffing away in the frigid morning air.
The others stopped and turned, surprised at their sudden halt.

 Steam puffed violently from Thorin’s flared nostrils as he folded his arms across his thick chest and waited, stoically, for their pursuant.
 Drawing closer to the Dwarf lord, Rúan slowed to a lope and then a walk.
Lungs filled with the nipping cold, he panted a bit to catch his breath, grinning widely, pink cheeks spread with excitement.
 “I didn’t think you’d get far,” he laughed in between breaths.
Thorin eyed him suspiciously, “What is the meaning of this?” he demanded.
  “Did we forget something?” put in Gormna, helpfully.
“Or did you?” Thorin raised his eyebrows.

 The young man was in fur-lined leather armour, very new and very clean looking, gird with a matching brace of daggers and some throwing implements jangling from his belt.
“I am headed to- ah- Old Estenna- to see my sister. Maybe to find our missing hawk, too. So- I thought I could travel with you.” He glanced around, a little less comfortably than before.

 “Is that so?” Thorin said measuredly, “And leave your father?”
Rúan shook his head, “Oh, he’s in the best of hands with Dána. We don’t get many- or any- visitors, anyways.”

“And what about the strange man from the inn? What if he comes back?”

 Rúan’s already pale face blanched from beneath his cold cheeks, and he nodded. “That’s why I want to come.”
 Thorin’s black brows lowered darkly and he huffed, “Very well. To Estenna, then we part ways.” The smile returned to the young man’s face and he gladly fell in line next to Gormna.
 Only one or two Dwarves muttered or grumbled at having the tall, trim fellow obscuring their view.
 His good-natured and genuine excitement was rather infectious, however, and Gormna queried, “So…where were you, lad?”
 “Who, me?” the Thaneling’s son glanced around.
“Nah, him,” Gormna sarcastically nosed towards Thorin in front of him.
 Rúan grinned, “Eh…giving farewells.”
Gormna nodded knowingly, “I see. So…she’s heartbroken now?”
 To his surprise, Rúan threw back his head and chuckled. “Actually she took it quite well…along with the key.”
 “Oh?”
“Had someone else to give it to, I suppose,” Rúan shrugged.
 “You don’t seem too worried about that, lad.”
Rúan’s dark blue eyes twinkled, “I’m not. I’m gone.”

  And so began Thorin’s long walk ahead of a young, energetic human who hadn’t been away for a half a decade.

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The Saga of Vaenomar- Chapter 29 ~Dáin~

Chapter 29 ~Dáin~

  The antic flames of the roaring blaze in the center of the Hall of Feasting licked the blackened beams thrown in their midst and matched the bustle and busy movement of the party around. Surrounding the central fire of the hall was a massive stone table with a large cut hole in its center for the enlivening blaze. Rectangular, in Dwarven fashion, it was decorated by the finest stone-carving and smoothed to the softness of a maiden’s cheek.
 Centuries of unuse had not touched the superb masonry of this room, and when Thorin and his followers had arrived here, eleven years ago, it had entreated for feasting to be held within its walls. Perhaps it was the ghosts of those that used to dwell and revel here many long years past, but thus was begun the rather new, at least by Dwarven standards, cousins’ reunion.
  Dáin, Lord of the Iron Hills, by virtue of the relative safety of his own lands at the time, made the journey on pony-back to the Halls of Azaghâl and was greatly impressed by the works. Thus also was rekindled the brotherly competition between he and his cousin Thorin, son of the Kings. It was too much danger for Thorin to leave his fledgling settlement and visit his cousin’s realm, but now arose a new matter for judgment. While at home, Dáin was far too busy dealing with matters of order and state to take time for other more primal passions, but Thorin had told him of a beauty in his scope whom he’d been dallying with over the past year and a half. Not that Dáin was jealous. By the beard! No, that was Thorin’s trait. But a certain, delectable red-haired lass had caught his eye and held it ever since first he met her on his first visit to Thorin’s new ‘kingdom’. She was the counselor, the steward, if you will, and never a sharper wit or tongue had he seen on any before or since. Due to a bout of drunken rowdiness the last time or two he’d visited, Bridi Flame-braid had advised him to mind his tongue and manners in her presence and her lord’s. With the stubborn pride of all Dwarves, Dáin had at first shrugged off her scolding, but now he was determined to so charm and win her that Thorin got jealous.
  Then again, Thorin had his own little strumpet to munch on. But where were those two. He itched to see the woman that had finally caught his cousin’s roving and choosy eye, for not only had he never chosen one in all his 181 years, but was known to have a highly unorthodox and peculiar taste in these matters.

  On surveying the rowdy, joyous, moving room Dáin’s eye was unarrested. A few Dwarf-women were at the table, but they had come with him- all excepting Dor, and the rest were men. His cousin’s bellowing roar of a laugh snapped him out of his reverie, especially on being accompanied by a slap on the back.
 “Your nephew here says ‘tether’ means-” he coughed, “Something completely different to the Carniens! Is it true?”
 Without answering the less interesting question put forward by Thorin from a young Dwarf who was not his nephew, Dáin whispered gruffly to his cousin, “Where are they, eh? Your lass?”
Thorin’s eyes lost a minute degree of their merriment and he looked into his dwindling mug of mead. He exhaled heavily, “Vaenomar is…possibly detained. Bridi should be in soon enough.”
“Possibly detained?” Dáin wheezed, “What’s that supposed to mean? You said I was going to meet your little tidbit and I-“
 Thorin interrupted him by standing up majestically. Surprised, Dáin followed his cousin’s locked gaze to the far end of the hall. A pair of newcomers walked slow and unobtrusively into the bustle of the room. The fire’s blaze melded like hot copper with the hair of one and flickered already in the eyes of the other.
 The other: skin like mother-of-pearl, with shimmers of colour running through her veins or a shy blush tinging the cheeks. A neck with a graceful curve, but strong and rippling like that of a steed. The smooth hills that barely arose from the top of her bodice required another few looks and sturdy shoulders led to a gripable, narrow waist. Powerful thighs and true Dwarf-crafted hips accentuated the small waist and melted into the rich black folds of the gown enveloping them. Eyes like hoarfrost beneath shapely, expressive brows darted subtly here and there, taking in all, weighing and measuring their surroundings. A nose chiseled from fine alabaster, soft round cheeks and lips the colour of fresh blood formed their relaxed, natural pout.
In short: she was beautiful. But all of those things were among the last to catch Dáin’s notice.

“She’s-“
 “Gorgeous. I know,” Thorin grinned radiantly and beckoned for the women to join them at the head of the table.
 His cousin turned full towards him, “Thorin! You whoreson! You never said she was a long-leg!!”
 Trying his best to ignore the outrage and unpleasant surprise of the other, Thorin shrugged, “Didn’t I? Ah, my mistake. Guess it didn’t even strike me…”
The gurgle in Dáin’s throat could not but force his attention, “If that doesn’t strike you then maybe I should! What are you thinking?! She’s- practically an El-“
“One of us,” Thorin snapped, “So treat her that way.”
“I can’t believe this,” he could hear his cousin mutter, “You’re how old and still refuse to follow your real head.”
 Thorin took a deep breath to calm himself and prepared to greet the woman he’d not seen for a month now. “Before you judge blindly, cous, like to many of our folk, test her. If she wasn’t born to be a Dwarf then neither was I.”
“Wishful thinking.”
 “Dammit! She’s been here for a year! You give her a fair chance or I’ll smash your balls on the anvil!”
 Dáin was about to reply when he felt the shadow cast by the stature and person of this specimen of womanhood.
 Thorin’s casual, familiar grin belied the excitement in his breast. She had actually come! Not a day too early or too late. And here she was, more elegantly beautiful than ever he’d beheld her.   All he wanted was for the entire roomful of people to vanish and she be left alone, wrapped tight in his warm embrace. His digits tingled with anticipation to touch that skin, looking so delicate and cold in its bareness. Heretofore many had accused him of cold-heartedness, a determination driven only by revenge or gain, not one with true passions of the body. Thanks to the same creature before him now, had he proven those accusations false: to them and to himself.

  When all he desired was to simply embrace the woman he loved, Thorin refrained…somehow. Her proud but shy eyes studied the designs on his brushed leather tunic, avoiding him and the less welcoming individual at his side.
“I see you managed to drag her in here then. Well done, Bridi,” chuckled Thorin taking Vaenomar’s clammy hand and pressing a bearded kiss on it.
 Turning to Dáin he said, “Bridi, you know this rogue already. Vaenomar-” he pronounced her name dramatically, “My cousin, Dáin Ironfoot, Lord of the Iron Hills.”
 The young woman only briefly met his eyes as she bowed politely, hand on her chest.
The Dwarf cringed, “I’ve heard a bit about you, quendil. Better get eating, lest the wind blow your lanky figure back up into an Elf tree.” He stuck his chin in the air and turned to Bridi, “Now you…have we met?” His manner was all charm now. The bolt shot at Vaenomar had not failed to graze Bridi’s tough skin as well.
 “A good thing we haven’t,” she retorted coolly, and motioned for Vaenomar to take her seat on Thorin’s right, while she placed herself between the cousins.
 The king had let Dáin’s rude remark slip, though it pained him deeply to do so. Vaenomar had a hard shell and he had confidence that by the end of the evening his cousin would be at least half as enamoured by her as he. The four took their seats and Thorin gave her a lingering glance, “Thank you for coming, love.”
 As if startled out of a dream Vaenomar gave a little jump, a fog clearing from her eyes, “Of course…my lord. Don’t think I didn’t want to.”
His lip twisted and he stroked her back. “Ravishing…” his whisper made her shiver and blush.
  A low groan issued from the kitchen door hinges as a line of three paraded out laden with platters full of savory odors that even to remember it would get the gut roaring in hunger. Kjar’s cooking at its finest.
“Eat up, love. Mahal knows you don’t eat enough out there.”
She smiled pleasantly, “I will. Not sure how I couldn’t.”
  For all her smiles and blushes, Vaenomar had no mirth. It was good to be home, but not like this. It was deafening after the tranquility of the woods. Too many judging faces eyeing her up and down. It was that first judgment day all over again. Thorin seemed to be enjoying himself indifferently, she was glad, and every one else as well.
 But that Dáin! What a pig-headed cockerel! If she was a Dwarf, perhaps like Bridi, she would’ve knocked him upside the head. But she wasn’t: and thus was the very origin of the problem.
 Stifling a sigh, she pushed some straggling hairs out of her face. The dizzy haze that had warmed her at Dain’s insult had begun to melt from her vision and her hot cheeks tried to cool, though constantly thwarted by the blaring fire in the middle of the room. She looked around, surveying the new visages and moving slowly from one to the next of the familiar ones. Some eyes made contact with her own and a sweet smile always followed on her part. The entire town had been invited, of course. Not a large number, to be true, but no one had any reason to miss it.
No one.

  The hum with occasional outbursts of yelling or laughter morphed into a mass of slurping, crunching and cracking, with a coughs and a few chinks of little used utensils. Thorin sunk his teeth into a dripping, saucy leg of a fat tussock hen. Before he could swallow it or even chew it up enough to, he felt a soft nudge in his right arm. Quickly wiping the grease off his black beard, he turned to find Vaenomar’s well-loaded plate untouched and her with the look of a lost fawn.
“Vaen!” he exclaimed with a full cheek, “Eat! Durin’s eyes, why are you so pale?”

“Where’s Branbur?”

~~~~~~~

  Vaenomar’s velvety voice drowned in the wave of resurging bustle in the Hall. But Thorin’s sharp ears had picked up one word: where.
The question he’d been dreading for weeks now. The ruddy tinge of his cheek drained ever so slightly as he pretended not to hear her query.
“Pass the keg this way, iron-bollocks,” he instead shouted to his cousin and tried, with a forced, laboursome gulp, to wash down the bitter taste brought by Vaenomar’s question.

  In a daze, Vaenomar ripped a juicy bite off her drumstick with her teeth and chewed it slowly. The noise began to fade and melt into one big empty space. A black, fitful cloud writhed around her eyes and the meat lost its flavour. Time ceased to past and she sat in a pit of nothingness and dread. Then a thin sharp jab in the back startled her. She turned and saw a long, three tined fork-like utensil reached behind Thorin’s back.
“You look like you’ve seen your own ghost,” came Bridi’s hoarse yell-whisper in an attempt to avoid the men’s hearing.
“Bridi,” the wan face murmured, “Where’s-“
  Again she was interrupted in this question, now by Bridi standing up. Both the King and his cousin halted their conversation abruptly.
“Where are you going, lass?” asked Dáin trying unsuccessfully to grope Bridi’s arm. But Thorin only hung his head and stared darkly into his empty tankard as the younger woman followed Bridi’s jerk of the head and left her seat beside him. He felt the sad light of Vaenomar’s gaze bent on his back, but he didn’t turn.
 This was one job, men might call ‘dirty work’, he was happy to leave to Bridi. The time Vaenomar had known the old swordsmith was short in years compared to his own span of acquaintance, but what difference did it make? So too was her own age span shorter.
That thought made his throat constrict and he sputtered suddenly, choking on his gingerly sipped mead.
 A hard thump on his shoulder from his cousin’s fist helped only to bring him back, not the feeling in his throat or stomach.
“Eh, what’s gotten into ye? You’re going soft!”
 Unperturbed, Thorin shook his head, “There’s not one part of this that’s soft,” said he, gesturing to his body.
 “It’s that Elf-wench,” muttered Dáin, plenty loud, and gulped down large mouthfuls of ale.
Instead of replying Thorin backhanded the mug into his cousin’s face, spilling the drink all over his wild, greying beard.
 “Spawn of a-” wiping the liquid out of his eyes, he turned to retaliate, but no one was there. On looking around he spotted the knotted raven locks just over the heads of those at table.
“Following the women…the dog,” he thought, shaking his head disapprovingly. “She cannot and will not come to good!”

   They had retreated to the kitchen, Kjar’s den of savoury smells and scattered scraps. As he trailed them, Thorin’s feet grew heavier and his jaw tightened and pulsed.
Like a shade that haunts its final resting place to watch its dear ones in life, he hovered at the edge of the doorway in the gloom cast by the corner between the hall and kitchen.
The noise behind him consumed the solemn voices of the trio in the kitchen, but looks sufficed abundantly. Bridi’s back was to him while Vaenomar and Kjar faced the entrance, the latter stroking the young one’s back with motherly tenderness.
 The flushed rosebuds of Vaenomar’s cheeks had long vanished. Wide, cold eyes slowly gathered pools of crystalline moisture at their edges. Bloodless lips trembled as laboured breath came in short spasms. A tremulous moved through her defined neck muscles as they flexed and she shook her head in disbelief.
 Bridi’s shoulders limply hung and her head was downcast, the news, at last, painfully delivered. Kjar folded the girl in her arms, racked with weeping.
 He hated to see her suffer. Every time he witnessed her pain he hated it more. He turned away from the scene and leaned his head against the cold, mountain stone.
“She’ll be right in the morning,” a low voice soothed his ears and a strong hand patted his shoulder.
“Thank you, Bridi. I don’t think I could’ve done it.”
 She shrugged, “We all have to be soft for someone.” As the Dwarf-woman left him he heard her add, “Except me.”

~~~~~~~~~~~

   “Aye lass, that be the truth,” chuckled the old Dwarf between hammer strokes as he mended a very dented metal shield. “But the only way you can tell is- oh never mind. You’re too young.”
 “Ach, Bran!” she jumped up, “I hate when people say that! I’m plenty old enough for anything. You’ve probably got more years left than I do, anyhow.”
 “Din’t ye dare start blitherin’ in such manner, young lady. Now pick your sword up and practice changing weapons: bow to sword, and back again…”
 “But I’m tired. I want to sleep,” she heard herself mutter again and again.
“Wake up! Vaenomar, wake up!” Branbur’s raspy, expressive tone gradually was replaced by one of similar accent, but of a smoother more fluid quality. “You’ve slept plenty long. It’s nearly midday!”
She rubbed her sticky eyes and wet her dry throat. No Branbur. It was Bridi.
 How she ever managed to fall asleep the night before was only due to the exhaustion of travel, shock and a sea of tears. Her head throbbed violently upon sitting up, but relaxed soon after.

 “I didn’t want to wake you, but Thorin’s been anxious to talk with you. Try to forget about last night, eh?”
 As her eyes cleared, so did Bridi’s face, stoic and calm as usual.
Vaenomar drug herself to her feet, wobbling on stiff joints and a heavy head. “You’d think I drank too much,” she gave a melancholy smile as Bridi handed her some clothes.
“Or not enough. I’ve never seen so many tears. Not even from Kjar,” Bridi snorted, “And he was my kin…”
“What?”
 “In so many ways,” the Dwarf shrugged.
“I had no idea, Bridi…”
 “Makes no difference now. Come on, get dressed,” she concluded hastily.

   At every turn Vaenomar’s mind and memory tried to draw her back. Branbur’s words, his faces, his tricks, his stories. When she thought Bridi wasn’t watching she, with closed eyes, violently shook her head to try and dispel the tormenting memories.
Bridi sighed through flared nostrils, “Have you any idea how many family members and friends Lord Thorin has lost?”
 Vaenomar looked away with a gulp. “I’m sorry, Bridi. I just wish I had been there.”
“He was seasoned for his passing. And he knew it was coming, the old codger…”
Brushing a silent stream of water from her cheek, Vaenomar nodded.
 “So don’t weep for him anymore. If you’re to be a true warrior, to follow in his footsteps, he won’t be the last that you’ll lose.”
  Vaenomar swallowed down a hot, salty gulp of tears and nodded. Bridi was right. And if Bran could see her now he’d most surely not be happy with her state. With solemn resignation steeled by a deep breath Vaenomar forced away all outward shows of grief, resolving, from then on, to live the warrior’s life. A familiar oath; one sworn to herself before the flaming bier on the ‘death’ of her first bow.
 “Anyways,” added Bridi, folding her arms as Vaenomar belted her tunic, “You’ll need a warrior’s balls to face Dáin. He doesn’t get any better than last night.”
 With a gurgle of frustration, Vaenomar rolled her eyes, “Well, let’s say Bran willed his to me.”

     As was his wont to do when waiting impatiently, which was more often than not, the King Under the Mountain paced fitfully back and forth before the hearth of his chamber.
Vaenomar, he hoped, would have sufficiently recovered from the night’s shock enough to relay her own news. Most importantly he just wanted to see her well. And safe.
The ‘chat’ he’d had with his counselor a week ago had proved most informative and worrisome. The usual Bridi; in relating the events of Jarlich she’d kept the details scarce and vague as possible. They had, while at the Full Moons Inn, espied a man- Elf- creature that very like matched Thorin’s own somewhat limited description. Despite the lack of words in Bridi’s tale, her language and attitude filled in many blanks.
  The creature had given both women a very strange feeling, according to Bridi. He’d seemed especially interested in the younger woman and Bridi remarked that Vaenomar had unwittingly found him quite attractive. Yet another detail Thorin sensed was left out was that she had agreed. Hastily Bridi assured him there was no cause for jealousy.
   What mattered most was that this thing seemed to have an unhealthy interest in Thorin’s jewel. Though his supposed second appearance outside of Old Estenna could well have been coincidence, or not even him, the gut feeling that he’d always trusted without failure told Thorin something was amiss. Now the words of Tharkûn resonated clearly with him, where before they had seemed needless precaution. “Nowhere is safer than the forest for her. Not even your Dwarven battlements and stone walls. Though you see it not now, in time, you will come to know the wisdom of my words. I only hope it is not too late.”
  Still Bridi knew more than she told him, and though he would let it go for now, the grey wizard’s olden council would not be lost on him again. As much as it went against his own judgment and desires, Vaenomar’s home and safety lie among the trees. One would have to be a cleverer woodsman and hunter to find her there, and not to mention persistent.
She was a wonderful asset as well, keeping a watchful eye of a large part of their borders. Whatever Dáin or anyone said, he trusted her, and never had second thoughts when it came to Elves. Or so he told himself.
  What could they do anyways? She was a grown, capable woman. Happy where she was and with real attachments here. Not as if they could just drag her back…like he did.
  Something too much of this, he thought, throwing back his mane of coarse hair. Was this what ‘love’ was like? Always fretting about the other. Or was that just him being an old man… Dáin would have a thing or two to say if he could read his thoughts now.
“Gah! Thorin growled exasperated between his teeth, kicking a loose log across the wide hearth stones. “Blast him if he knows anything about anything!”
  Elves, ancient vampires, bothersome relatives; he wondered if he was going senile, too.
Vaenomar was and would be safe in the forest; her trust in the protection of the trees was infectious and his trust and faith in her, he hoped, would only grow by her report. As for the safety of his town and people, he would double the watch guard by night and warn the southerly patrols of the strange creature’s appearance and danger. Otherwise, there was not much more he could do. He didn’t have the troops or the resources to hunt the thing. The bulwark and fortress had never been breached, or so went the legends, and as of now, none knew of its location other than the Dwarves themselves. He planned it to stay that way.

   Short-spaced, brisk pattering grew louder as Dwarf feet moved down the hall. They were followed by lighter and fewer footsteps with a sort of reluctant slowness in their gait.
“Here they come,” muttered Thorin and halted his restless pacing directly in front of the fire.
The heavy door creaked open and in walked the autumn head of Bridi, followed soon after by a very solemn and tired faced Vaenomar. He was beginning to wish she hadn’t come, for her sake, of course. It was a soothing balm to see her face after such an absence, but not in this less than cheerful state.
“Vaenomar,” he began right away and beckoned her with open arms, “Come.”

  She had sworn to herself to be strong. She knew what he would say, and it was probably true.

“He didn’t want you to mourn for him, Vaen. He knew his time had come…”
His hands stroked her back, while her tongue grew raw from the violent chewing: her desperate attempt to keep closed the floodgate of tears. “Even before he left. The farewell he gave you on your departure was his last.”
  On his shoulder he could feel her trembling body shudder and she swallowed hard many times.
Several feet away, Bridi hung her head in respectful silence to honour the dead.
With a mute chant on her lips Vaenomar finally calmed herself, “For him, I will weep no longer.  To avenge his death by doing my duty and honour his life by doing his wishes.” With such heroic and calming words, she regained the same brooding composure that a long night of mourning had inducted her into.
  Taking a deep breath and stepping stiffly back from the comforting warmth of Thorin’s embrace, Vaenomar began her report.

  To his relief there were no concerning occurrences to deal with issuing from the ‘Enchanted forest’. Her method in relating her activity, in as brief a manner as she might, intrigued him more. Now and again she would slip and mention things told her by the birds of the forest and the incredible details that she picked up just from walking astounded him. She, literally, saw everything, or so it seemed to Thorin…and Bridi, though she refused to be impressed by it.
 The markings on the map were enough for her; and were they plentiful! Most of them only a very slight chance could they prove helpful. It seemed by the delicate swirling hand and descriptive lines used that the scout had taken more interest in the artistry than anything else.   But that long, North-South, unbroken line through the Eastern third of the woods piqued her curiosity.
 “‘Unfriendly territory?'” she asked aloud.
“How so? Thorin too wondered.
 “Other…settlements, perhaps,” Vaenomar said quickly, her heart beat rapidly picking up. “It was just a feeling I had when I was there…” she added.
 Thorin stole a confirming glance from his counselor, then asked gently, “Elves, perhaps?” There was a hesitation in her answer, but she cleared her throat non-challantly, “Oh…I don’t think so. It’s pretty far North.”
“So were you,” his voice was soft and he stroked her hair.

 “Elves?!” a hoarse, wheezing voice bellowed, startling the three. “Well that’s unpleasant!”

“Dáin,” growled Thorin, “Eavesdropping?”
The other snorted, “You’ve always had a loud voice.”
“And you haven’t…” muttered Bridi sarcastically.
 Attempting to ignore the interruption, Thorin turned to Vaenomar again, though with dampened spirits. Bridi’s ear was turned to Vaenomar’s news, but she kept her eyes on Dáin as he wandered, seemingly oblivious, around the room. Having imbibed an impressive quantity of liquor not so many hours before, Dáin was visibly under this influence still. Visibly to a Dwarf, as their kind held and carried their drink differently than others. Not that it would change his disposition much towards the long-leg, being without alcohol in his blood. She foresaw this going nowhere good.

“Have you noticed anyone…sharing the woods with you?” Thorin’s thunderous voice was a mellow rumble as he spoke to his lovely scout.
 She looked puzzled, “My lord?”
“What he means is: have you been back to see your pointy-eared friends and relatives, girl.”
  A flood of hot blood rushed to Vaenomar’s cheeks and Thorin whipped around, “No. That’s not a bit what I meant. Thank you for your worthless input, cousin. Bite your tongue, will you?”
 Her sorrow slowly turning to anger, Vaenomar stiffened in her seat and went on the defensive. Wariness of Dáin’s unsubtle suspicion had grown in her. She didn’t like him any more than he liked her, however hard she was trying for Thorin’s sake.
 Their frigid, electric glares locked in a proud mental combat of silence. With every attempted insult her defiance rose and burned with vigilance.
 “I’ve noted no one, my lord, and that’s the whole truth.” Vaenomar drew her eyes from her opponent’s stare and gave her attention to her lord.
“I believe you, Vaen, only…” No! There was an easy entrance for Dáin- “I’m sure you’re right. But that worries me.”
“Thorin, why?”
 Bridi’s attention was momentarily drawn to Vaenomar on the usage of her lord’s name. Was that out of affection or to spite his cousin?
 “You remember Darzûn??”
“The Copperscale?”
 “Aye-“
“She sold him to the pointy-ears for information. Or better yet, killed him herself,” Dáin said in a very fake whisper into Bridi’s ear as he paced around the room. She sat still, but watched Vaenomar’s jaw muscle pulse like a wave and a pale rage grip ever so gradually her features.
 Thorin took her hand and held it firmly, “Look at me, Vaen. Darzûn- you saw him not?”
“Was he following me?” her voice trembled distractedly.
 “Just to make sure you were safely reunited with the woods, love. But I expected him to lose you and come back by now…”
 “I’ll search for him if you-“
“Aye! That she will,” Dáin blurted in, “For his corpse. See if you can find it again, girl-“
“My lord!” Bridi hissed.
  Thorin stood up so fast his chair clattered over behind him. Steam practically issued from his nostrils and his face was livid. “Leave her alone or you’ll wish you had, cousin!”
 “Thorin! You can’t seriously trust her? Have you eyes? Or has lust blinded you? An Elf spy in your midst and your bed?!”
Narageldumû!!” Thorin erupted in a volley of molten choler, “Atkâtel!
   Without a word Vaenomar, unable to stand any more, jumped up, cheeks flushed, eyes bloodshot, and, like a maddened hind, stormed out of the room, leaving an icy wave in her wake.
“Vaenomar!” called Thorin urgently, taking a few steps towards the door. But there was no answer. A fierce rumble emanated from the depths of his chest as he turned threateningly towards his cousin.
 “Typical woman,” shrugged Dáin, with the dignity of just having exposed a wound, “She’s obviously hiding something, Thorin, or are you actually blind?”
 “Mind your tongue before the king,” Bridi’s voice commanded venomously, aloud for the first time.
  Both men looked at her. Then Dáin turned to his cousin, “But you’re not really the king, though, are you?”
Thorin seethed, “Bastard!! You come to my house and insult my people and me! If I trust her, then so should you! I’m going to talk to her, and you’d better be ready to apologize on your cursed knees when we return!”
“And if I have no intention of apologizing to the ‘king’s’ whore?”

  The final straw. Before Thorin, who looked to have been kicked below the belt, could move, the simmering temper of Bridi burst like a geyser. She marched over to her lord’s cousin and with a fist as solid as his skull, gave him a punch up into his jaw, sending him flying over backwards.
  The men were stunned for a moment, one blanched with astonishment and rage, the other boiling with humiliation and shock. No words were needed. As Dáin pulled himself to his feet, Thorin pushed the Flame-braid to the side and met his cousin with angry blows to shake a mountain. They fell to the floor, hammering each other’s stony skulls and bellowing curses at the other.
The best way to work something out, the Dwarven way.
 Bridi left the brawl, her knuckles throbbing with the pleasure of having done that herself. He’d likely not forget that blow any time soon; especially at her hands.

   Thorin’s nose dripped crimson and Dáin spat out a bloody piece of his own cheek. They grappled and Dáin pulled Thorin’s hair, yanking his head back violently. A knee to the gut released that hold and Thorin threw his cousin to the floor. The other kicked his shins, sending him to the stone. More steel punches ensued, grunting and painful thuds replacing the angry curses.
 Then, as suddenly as it began, the fight was shattered by a full bucket of icy, spring water.
The men sat breathless on the ground, dripping with water and blood. Kjar held the empty bucket and shook her head.
 Bridi entered behind her, bearing a grim scowl.

“Lord Thorin… Vaenomar is gone.”

 

 

quendil: Elf-friend

Narageldumû: ‘black-blood’
Atkâtel!: Silence!