Of dwarves, dresses and contracts
When I opened my eyes the following morning it took me a moment to gather my thoughts and remember the previous day's events. I groaned while getting in a sitting position. My head didn't hurt so much and the various scrapes and scratches I had on my hands and cheeks were easily forgotten, but my muscles protested loudly when I slowly stood.
I really wasn't used to any kind of physical effort. I was a bookworm at heart and I had spent the previous months with my heads in medical books, attempting and failing to work on my final exams. Well I had worked, but failed the exams so the hard work didn't seem to have much sense.
I sighed. I had decided to take holidays alone in France in order to put it all past me. My aunt and uncle, who had raised me after my parents' death, had been so disappointed in those results it had hurt to see it. I couldn't blame them though. They had paid for all my expenses and the university fees, they had done everything they could to help me, proudly stating to everyone they knew that I would one day be a brilliant surgeon.
Coming back home with the bad news had been one of the worst day of my life, truly. I could easily remember my aunt's face; sad and disappointed. My uncle had just stood up from the couch and left to go in the garden. His silence spoke volume to me. It had hurt me to see them hurt; all because I couldn't do it, because I wasn't good enough.
Well there was no point in dwelling on it and I had been given the possibility to retake the courses anyway so I'll have a second chance. Still, I had to admit that the prospect of retaking all the lessons and exams depressed me greatly. I had somehow, at some point in time, lost the will to follow this path and it disturbed me greatly. It had been something I had wanted since I was a child. I could not picture myself doing anything else, but still, I had lost the will to go through all those exams, courses and long hours spent in the library. It felt pointless and useless now. But there was no avoiding it, after those short holidays, and once I found my way back to the closest city, I would have to go back to university.
It was Ori who stopped all those depressing thoughts, coming to me and asking in a sweet voice.
"Milady, do you wish to join us for breakfast?"
I smiled at him and nodded. I was starving actually and was pleasantly surprised to see the sausages and bacon that were being prepared by Dori.
Nori eyed me suspiciously but I tried to ignore it. I was almost sounding cheerful when I spoke next.
"Hello Dori, Nori. Thanks for yesterday."
"Did you sleep well milady?" Dori asked.
He looked up and offered me a kind smile as I approached them.
"I slept like a log." I nodded, still smiling.
He nodded too and gestured to the food in front of him.
"Are you hungry? As you can see, breakfast will soon be ready."
"I'm starving." I replied as I sat on a nearby log.
And I wasn't lying. The food I had eaten the previous day wasn't nearly enough for my usual appetite. Between the tasteless cup of tea I drank in the morning, and the small bites these men gave me in the evening, I hadn't eaten much at all. My stomach was protesting the harsh treatment I was putting it through. My mouth was already watering at the sight of those juicy sausages.
"Good, good." Dori laughed before Ori asked me if I wanted some bread.
"Oh yes please. And I'd love some sausages too. I love sausages and those look really yummy."
I smiled some more, trying to be both polite and showing my gratitude. But then I realized that Nori's suspicious glance had changed to a true glare. It shocked me, really, because I didn't understand what I could have said.
"I'm sorry." I blurted out. "I didn't mean to ask for more. Bread would be great."
Ori quirked an eyebrow at me and gave me a piece of bread without saying a word. Dori sent me a surprised look, apparently not understanding why I had just changed my mind. Then I saw him glance toward his brother and he huffed, obviously exasperated.
"Oh Nori, for Mahal's sake!" He grumpily said before turning towards me. "Don't worry milady, there's enough sausages for all the four of us, even though my brother here is especially fond of it. I apologize for his rudeness."
I dumbly nodded before glancing at Nori who didn't seem regretful at all. I was unsure of how I was supposed to react. These men were truly odd. As I was slowly replaying Dori's words in my mind, he sighed before muttering to his brother.
"Mother would be ashamed. And think about the example you set for Ori."
I was amazed to see that those two comments made Nori's cheeks slightly blush and he started to look sheepish. He glanced at me and shifted uneasily.
"I apologize for my rudeness milady." He muttered.
I couldn't help but smile back at him. I couldn't tell if it was the star-shaped hairdo, the braided beard or his mischievous grey eyes, that met my hesitant green ones, but there was something about him that made me smile.
We all ate silently. I smirked when I saw that Nori used his brother's inattention to steal one sausage directly from his plate and ate it quickly. Seeing that I had caught him red handed, the man shrugged and winked at me. I shook my head, smiling to myself. This man clearly loved sausages. He seemed rather cheeky too.
What an odd bunch they were.
When Dori realized the theft, he glared at his brother who was the perfect picture of innocence and it made me laugh softly. Nori's wink in my direction only made me smile more. Some of the uneasiness I felt at being with strangers in the middle of nowhere left me.
Shortly after our meal, the men gathered all their supplies and broke the camp quite efficiently. I was standing there, looking at them, and feeling quite stupid but Dori reassured me that there was nothing for me to do. They were quick as they put everything back in their bags. Then I could see them putting on leather coats and shouldering those strange leather bags. Well I could admit, it was consistent with their fantasies at least.
Then we silently started to walk.
The silence was quickly broken though when the youngest, Ori, came to me and shyly asked.
"Milady, you said you came from another country?"
"Hem, yes. UK." Seeing his puzzled look I elaborated. "You know, the United Kingdom, England, the Queen, the red busses in London, tea, Big Ben…"
Wow, he actually looked like he never heard of it before. Then, to my utter surprise, he took out a small notebook and a piece of what I guessed to be charcoal, and started to write with it in the notebook.
"You have a queen as a ruler? How fascinating. And your clothes are they the normal garb or do they represent a particular cast or clan?"
"Hem, I'm sorry, what?" I wasn't sure I had really understood that question.
"Your clothes. Is it usual for women to wear such garments where you come from?"
I looked at my tattered jeans, shirt and hoodie and then back at him. He was waiting for my answer, his hand hovering over his notebook, and ready to write whatever I would tell him. I noticed too that his cheeks were a bit pink.
"They're quite common actually." I said uncertainly.
I was hesitating between surprise and fondness. This young man was really sweet and so eager to know things about me. But his questions were strange at best. I frowned and then took the time he wrote to ask a question that had been nagging me for awhile.
"What is it you're doing here?"
Dori and Nori, who were walking a few steps ahead, turned to glance at me and Dori answered.
"We're going to Beinne to renew some contracts, milady."
"Contracts?" I barely managed not to sound too derisive as I repeated the word in disbelief.
These men actually worked? I couldn't believe it.
"Aye. We've had some trade agreements there for decades now but the merchant we used to trade with died. We now have to renew the contracts with his son."
His explanation did nothing to silence my disbelief.
"I'm sorry your…partner died." I said hesitatingly.
"Well it is sadly usual for us to see our trading partners die." Dori shrugged.
That comment made me stop. I actually froze on the spot. Who would say something like that? And with such a tone... He actually sounded like it was the most natural thing for their partners to die when working with them. Who were these guys?
Ori looked at me curiously, clearly not understanding what was happening in my mind.
Well I couldn't be surprised by that, my mind was a mess. Were these men part of some sort of sect? Mafia? They seemed so nice, was that an act?
"Milady, are you alright?" Dori asked and I as I looked at him, I saw his eyes widened when he recognized the sudden fear in mine.
"Milady?" He repeated.
"Are you…are you going to kill me?"
In all honesty, that was probably the worst and stupidest question I could have asked. But at the moment it seemed perfectly coherent in my mind.
They seemed shocked, bewildered even, that I dared asked them this.
"What, why? I mean, why would you ask such a thing milady?" Dori was shaking his head.
"Well…you said you're used to people you know dying so…" I didn't really know how to finish this thought.
"Men, milady, we're used to men dying earlier than us."
My eyes were probably as wide as saucers. Did he actually believe this answer would quiet down my anxiety? He said it with such finality too, as if his words were evident, as if this would explain everything. It didn't even start to answer my question.
"Right, so you don't kill women?"
Using irony wasn't probably my best idea but apparently I was in a pretty stupid mood right now. Dori white brows almost disappeared in his hairline.
"I meant men kind milady."
Men kind? What was that suppose to mean? Not even bothering to think about a potential answer I asked.
"Men kind? As opposed to what exactly?"
The three brothers glanced at each other before Dori answered me once more. Nori was observing me and his gaze was making me uneasy, and Ori was just glancing from his brother to me.
"Well, men as opposed to elves, dwarves or hobbits…"
Blank. I think my mind actually went totally blank for a few seconds. Were these guys for real? Apparently they were far sicker than I had previously thought. I guessed that my previous strategy was safe as I hadn't been killed or hurt yet. So once again I played along.
"Of course. Dwarves and elves. How silly of me."
Dori and Nori seemed to have a silent conversation and Nori nodded ever so slightly before his older brother turned towards me again and asked.
"Milady, I feel I have to ask you. Are you by any chance entirely foreign to our land and its inhabitants?"
I couldn't tell what it was, his tone or his eyes maybe, but something suddenly made me doubt myself. I hesitated for a moment. These men didn't look sick, yet everything they said and their behaviours just didn't make sense. I took a deep breath and decided to be truthful.
"To be honest mister Dori" I paused a bit, not for dramatic purpose, but simply because I was unsure of what to say. "I'm not entirely certain of what to reply you."
Dori nodded and Nori's suspicious gaze was back, though no sausages were in sight. Ori had stopped scribbling in his notebook since the whole discussion started and simply looked at me and his brothers alternatively.
"Well, I'm sure we'll find more answers for you in Beinne."
And that was it. Dori and Nori started walking once more and Ori followed. Still unsure of what to think but clearly afraid to be left alone I simply joined them.
I was exhausted when we paused for a brief lunch around midday and I could honestly say that I was sleepwalking when we finally stopped that evening.
My mind couldn't get around the fact that I hadn't seen anything even remotely close to civilization during the whole day. No roads, fences, electric or phone cables, streetlight or whatever. Not even did I manage to see a plane in the sky. Nothing was there but the pine forest, muddy and grassy ground with large mountains looming not too far from us.
When the three brothers decided to stop, I actually let myself fall on the ground. Completely exhausted I didn't even try to look around for a log or rock to sit on. I dozed off while they prepared some stew and shamefully accepted a bowl of their tasty food even though I hadn't done anything to earn it.
"Thank you. You're all being very nice." I said softly.
"It's perfectly fine milady, we wouldn't leave you alone in the mountains. We'll be in Beinne in a few days and we'll find somewhere for you to inquire about your kin." Dori kindly replied.
There he went again with the strange speeches. I looked at him, raising my eyebrow and asked.
"What do you mean?"
He seemed genuinely puzzled by my question.
"Milady, surely you hope to meet with your escort or find out what happened to them."
"My escort?" I frowned, unsure of what he was talking about.
"Do you mean to say that you were wandering alone in these parts?" His eyes were wide and he sounded shocked "Without the protection of your kin?"
When I nodded I distinctly heard Nori say something that sounded like a curse, though I didn't understand which language he had used.
I understood easily enough that yet another weird thing was going on, but I really couldn't fathom what it was. Every time I spoke with these men they said weird things and seemed not to understand what I said.
A soft voice in my head was starting to whisper that maybe, just maybe, something far stranger than I thought was going on. I shut that stupid voice down. I was just lost somewhere in France, nothing more. If I started to believe that something else had happened, it would mean I was becoming as ill as those men were. Maybe their illness was contagious?
I shook my head and looked at Nori who seemed angry about something. Quite tired and not used to avoid speaking my mind, I asked them.
"I'm sorry. I feel something's going on. Why are you all so surprised that I travel alone?"
Surprisingly it was Nori who answered this time.
"Our kin takes care of its women. We would never let them wander the wilderness alone. We protect them. It is…shocking for us to think of a woman left to fend for herself."
I blinked stupidly at him. This sounded weird, and I was being extremely polite.
"My uncle and aunt gave me money, and France is quite safe."
He scoffed before replying.
"Money would not save you from wolves' teeth. And what is Furans anyway?"
"France. The country we're currently in. France, where they eat baguette bread and cheese and where the people have an awful temper." I sighed and rolled my eyes. "And seriously I can't believe the French authorities would let that many dangerous wolves wander around freely."
"We are not in that country you speak of milady" Dori intervened. "We're close to the Elvish land of Forlindon."
I shook my head. There was no use speaking with them, they were far to engrossed in their fantasy world. I sighed and saw quite clearly that the elder brothers were as upset as I was with our communications issues.
Even though we spoke the same language it felt as if we weren't. I ate the stew in silence and was asleep soon after, trying not to think too much about all those weird facts my mind was steadily registering; the fact that they spoke flawless English was puzzling me already and I didn't want to think about other oddities.
The next three days were spent in a similar fashion. We walked a lot and spoke together politely but not much. Every time we tried, one of us would say something that either I or they didn't understand.
It was in the early afternoon of the third day that Dori said something that forced me to look around.
"Here's Beinne milady. Surely you'll find answers here."
I looked ahead and saw what could only be described as a village, certainly not a town. From afar I couldn't see any electric post, paved roads, parking or supermarket. There weren't even any advertisement signs or tall buildings, just small houses that appeared to be built with wood.
These small houses had mostly one floor, though a few were slightly higher but none were reaching more than three storeys. There were pastures around and I could see horses, goats and sheep.
The closer we got to the village, the more dread I felt.
What was this place?
There was only one way to describe the muddy paths, the dirty roads and shabby walls. Only one word came to my mind. Ancient. It looked like a medieval movie stage, complete with the tall men walking around with swords, bows and guiding cows and pigs in the middle of muddy streets.
I stopped dead in my track.
Yep, something was clearly wrong. My heart started to pound loudly in my chest. As fear started to grow in my chest, my body acted on its own volition.
I extended my hand and strongly gripped Nori's sleeve. The man looked at me with a questioning glance.
I swallowed the lump in my throat and managed to say in a little, unsure voice.
"Mister Nori, I think I'm really, really lost."
He seemed to see something in my face for he gently took my hand in his and squeezed it lightly.
"Come milady, we'll try to help you find your way back home."
I nodded and followed him. I became suddenly aware of many curious glances and insistent stares sent in my direction and it unnerved me greatly. They weren't so much glaring actually as they were leering at me which made my skin crawl.
What was wrong with these people? I was probably going to yell at the folks around to leave me alone when Dori and Nori both started to walk close to me, Dori at my left and Nori at my right.
Ori I noticed was close behind and was sending fierce glares at every man we encountered and who was looking at me.
"I don't understand why are they staring at me?" I breathed out shakily.
"They believe you to be a dwarvish lady, milady, and they're not used to see them." Dori replied as if it made any sense.
"What?" I knew I was short with my 5 feet 1, almost 5 feet 2, but still, it was not a reason to stare at me in such a rude way.
"Your foreign clothes are not helping either milady" Nori told me before looking at his brother. "Maybe we should try to find her something more…suitable for this crowd?"
Dori nodded and I felt hugely offended. Looking around once more I realized I was probably the only woman around who wasn't wearing a heavy dress that covered basically every inch of her body.
Looking at my attire I had to admit it was quite different from this place's trends. Still there was nothing indecent in my clothes.
"My clothes are fine." I said angrily.
Nori glanced at me from the corner of his eye before shrugging.
"They might be alright where you come from milady, but here they're … slightly indecent." He looked away then.
"Indecent? In what way are my clothes indecent?" I was shocked.
My jeans were forms fitting but the waist band was quite high and my shirt and hoodie covered me completely. My shirt's neckline wasn't even low and my hoodie reached almost the middle of my thighs. There was absolutely no skin showing, nothing.
Surprisingly Nori's cheeks coloured slightly and he cleared his throat before glancing at his brother. Dori didn't seem as nervous but was quite obviously uneasy.
"Well, milady, women around here don't usually wear breeches."
"Breeches?" I shook my head and chose to ignore that. "What, why?"
"They, hem, they are too…well you see it's considered indecent that, well, we can pretty much see everything."
I frowned. Were they seriously thinking that jeans were indecent? Wow, that was weird.
"Alright" I drawled, unconvinced.
We walked quickly to an old dingy looking house with a larger window at the front. All the time I tried to avoid looking at the copious amount of dirt, mud and waste that covered the streets and smelt awful.
Dori opened the wooden door and I heard a bell ring inside, an actual bell that hung on the other side of the door. Nori gently pushed me with his large hand between my shoulder blades and I was obliged to enter this strange building.
"Master Dori, master Nori!" A booming voice exclaimed from the other end of the room. "Even master Ori came!"
I didn't pay much attention as I was too busy looking around. This was a shop I realized. They were selling metallic objects of all sorts. There were bowls, plates, spoons and knives. I could see cups, tankards, vases too. The only common factor to all those objects was the materials used to create them.
I gingerly approached a table filled with cups of all sorts and I took one in my hands. It was similar to the ones the three brothers had used during our short journey. I couldn't say which metal had been used but still the design, though simple, was greatly enhanced by the carvings decorating it. It was simple yet really pretty.
I looked at the brothers who were discussing with a middle aged man, surely the owner of the shop. So they really were merchants? I had seriously doubted that information. Looking back at the cup in my hand I let my fingers caress the intricate carvings, just lines really, that curved and crisscrossed on the surface.
Ori's voice woke me from my observation and I blinked a few times, looking at him.
"Do you wish to stay here or will you join us upstairs for a drink?"
"Oh, sorry Ori, I'll follow you."
I put back the cup on the table, cautious not to let it fall though I doubted it would break it. I then followed Ori towards wooden stairs and quickly found myself seated between Ori and Nori at a large wooden table.
"Do you want some chamomile milady?"
Dori asked, already serving himself a cup. I nodded and smiled. I wasn't that fond of this drink but my aunt loved it and to simply smell it from afar brought me fond memories of her. I idly wondered how my aunt and uncle were doing. I had left their house without a word or a message. Basically I had run away and was now ashamed of it. I really hoped they wouldn't worry too much about me for I was starting to have this feeling that I wouldn't see them in awhile.
Dori gave me a cup full of warm yellowy liquid and I thanked him with a smile. The man, the owner of the shop, came in at that moment with a plate full of cheeses and bread.
After he sat down, we all drank and ate in silence for a bit. Nori and the man were drinking from tankards what I guessed to be beer, and Ori hadn't been given a choice, his eldest brother giving him a cup of chamomile. I couldn't help but smile when I saw his doubtful look. A short while later Dori spoke.
"We wish to let you know how sorry we were to hear of your father's passing."
"Thank you Master Dori. He had been sick the whole winter, it was no surprise when he passed though we had hoped he'd come through it."
Dori and Nori nodded, both serious and quite grim looking. Dori enquired further a few minutes later.
"How is your family faring Tom?"
"It's been hard these past few years. My wife works with me but we don't sale as much as before. The lads are working in the barns and fields too."
"We hadn't heard the situation was hard for you all."
"T'is not just us. The elves don't come as much in our parts, the trades aren't what they used to be. Without the elves, it's almost half of our sales that are left over. Not many people travel here these days, least of all here."
I listened absentmindedly, quite surprised to hear that no one was shocked at the thought of children working in barns and fields. What was this place? I asked myself for the umpteenth time. This man seemed as crazy as the three others, what with his speech about elves not coming anymore?
I imagined an army of tiny little creatures buying bowls and cups and almost snorted.
When I heard my name though, I forced my brain to concentrate once more on the discussion.
"We'll review the contracts tomorrow if you wish. Today we have to help the lady Amelia."
"Oh I don't want to disturb you all." I intervened blushing.
Nori smirked and Dori gave me a sweet smile.
"Do not worry milady, we promised you we'd help."
"If you want to buy her clothes, you might want to go by Ruth's shop. She's my wife's cousin and does an honest job. She's the best seamstress around." Tom commented, eyeing me uneasily.
"Then we'll go there now." Dori nodded with a sigh, clearly knowing why the man was acting this way.
Seamstress? I sighed wondering why I was still surprised. Until now everything was quite consistently strange, there was no use being constantly surprised. As they kept on talking, an idea came to me and I waited for a lull in their conversation to ask the man.
"Excuse me, but do you have a map of this country?"
"Country?" Tom repeated, tilting his head.
"I believe she means a map of our land." Dori gently provided and I nodded.
Apparently the brothers had understood what I wanted to do and eagerly helped the man when he came with a large parchment that he unrolled on the table. Yes, parchment, there was no other word for it. Apparently, I couldn't avoid being surprised by what they were doing.
It took me maybe a minute to look at the strange map before I glanced toward Dori. He looked at me expectantly and I felt strangely sorry to disappoint him.
"I don't recognize anything on this map." I said sadly.
"Nothing? Nothing at all?" Dori asked, obviously surprised.
"No Mr Dori, I don't recognize the area, the mountains, and the cities. It makes no sense whatsoever to me." I bit my lower lip. I was growing more worried with every minute passing.
"How is that possible? This map represents Middle Earth quite thoroughly, even though the eastern and southern parts are missing."
I shook my head and sighed, rising my hands to cover my eyes. I was starting to grow tired of this whole stunt already. There was no indication as to where I was. People around spoke English, an oddly accented English, but English nonetheless and that was highly incoherent with me being supposedly in the middle of France.
The map didn't make sense, the people didn't make sense. Even the landscape didn't make sense as it didn't look even remotely like it should have been looking.
Ori awkwardly patted my shoulder, trying to cheer me up I imagined. I smiled at him, he was a nice person. His brothers had been nice too. It really wasn't their fault that I was in such a mess.
Looking at them I pondered my next decision for a few minutes. I didn't say a word though until the man left the room once more, going back downstairs. Then I sighed heavily and spoke my mind.
"I'm sorry Mr Dori. I really don't understand where I am. Everything here is unfamiliar. Your clothes, this village, even the way you speak. It's really strange for me and I don't understand how it could be. It shouldn't be. Before I ended up lost in that cave I was in a perfectly known and normal place for me. It's been strange since I got out actually."
The brothers stayed silent until Nori spoke.
"You're strange to us too milady."
"Trust me, I believe that."
They smirked and snorted while I smiled. We all knew something odd was happening, but there truly was nothing I could think about that would change my situation.
"Have you ever met someone like me?" I asked them.
"And you don't know anyone that could help me?" I insisted though I had little hopes.
They looked at each other before Dori answered.
"No one comes to my mind milady."
"Well…" Sighing loudly I rubbed my forehead, there was nothing I could think of adding at this moment.
I stayed silent for a bit and closed my eyes. I could feel many emotions bubbling inside me. I was scared, had been almost constantly scared since I was in that cave. I was nervous and anxious and that feeling of helplessness only worsened it. The lump was back in my throat and I could feel tears starting to burn behind my eyelids.
What was I going to do?
I realized I had spoken aloud when, some moments later, Dori's soft voice told me.
"We understand you're lost and alone milady. If you wished we could talk to the men here and see if you could stay with them."
His answer didn't comfort me in the slightest. I didn't like these people. They stared at me weirdly and were all tall. In my city I was used to be small, but I wasn't the only one. Here the only small people I had met were the three brothers, all the others were towering over me. And the place was beyond dirty. I didn't like it.
My silence must have let them know what I thought of their idea for Ori cleared his throat and talked next.
"Or she could come back home with us."
I opened my eyes and stared at him, utterly surprised. Apparently I wasn't the only one for the two others were staring at the poor Ori who shifted awkwardly on his seat before starting to talk again.
"Well, we found her so she's somehow our responsibility. And she could almost look dwarfish if she had a beard…"
I chose not to pay attention to that last part about a beard and looked at Dori and Nori. Truthfully I didn't know what I was hoping for them to say. I didn't even know if I was hoping for them to say something.
Dori was the first to break the silence.
"T'is true that we are responsible of the lady Amelia."
"How so?" I couldn't help but ask.
Nori pondered before answering.
"We're the ones who found you. You're obviously alone here and we're the only persons you know." He shrugged at the end of his explanation, as if it was the most logical thing to think.
"I don't want to impose on you because of some twisted logic." I grimaced.
"That's not it. We told you, our kin is very protective of his women. Abandoning you here when you're alone would be wrong." He retorted.
"You could come back to the mountains with us milady if you so wish." Dori said finally, nodding to himself as if he had taken a very important decision.
I took some time to think about it. I didn't seem to have much choice; either I stayed there by myself, or I followed them back to wherever their home was. The real question here was whether or not I could really trust them.
They had indeed seemed quite protective of me earlier and seeing that the whole area was apparently stuck in a medieval bubble somehow reassured me about their sanity, even if it was only slightly.
I really couldn't make my mind for both choices seemed absurd in some way. Yet I felt in my bones that I couldn't stay in that village. I shivered, thinking back at the stares. The people around here were probably nice and all. But they really had left me with a very, very bad first impression, whereas Dori, Nori and Ori had been nothing but friendly and nice if slightly strange.
I looked Dori in the eyes and asked him.
"Do you really have no idea where my home could be?"
"No milady." He looked apologetic as he replied. "We share the same impression you do. You're not from these lands, but we don't know anything else than that."
"And you would really offer me to follow you back to your place?" I could hardly believe it.
"Yes milady." He didn't hesitate for one second before answering.
I took a deep breath as my next question might offend them.
"What would me coming with you entail exactly?"
Nori smirked and Dori smiled at that. They didn't seem offended in the slightest, which surprised me greatly. I was even more puzzled when Ori joyously said.
"We could draw a contract!"
Three hours later I was still sitting with the three men, an impossibly long parchment unrolled in front of Ori who was happily scribbling on it.
"So, we have already covered the issues of lodging, food, daily expenses and bonds and boundaries between the two parties and their interactions." Dori recapitulated before Ori spoke.
"Should we add a paragraph for the funeral arrangements?" He enquired.
"Absolutely not!" I exclaimed.
"Sure" Dori replied at the same time.
I stared wide eyed at Dori who wanted to add this paragraph and I couldn't help but ask
"Do you plan to kill me?" It would be odd to go through all this painful contract writing process to just kill me at the end, but who was I to know what crazy people could do?
Somehow I doubted that the three brothers were sick, but one could never be too sure about such things. Though I had to admit that asking this question was entirely pointless; I was certain he wouldn't tell me if he did plan my death.
"No but we should cover all grounds milady." Dori replied with a kind smile. "Don't worry; we dwarves are quite efficient at drawing sound contracts."
"I'm sure you are." I sighed.
I was starting to have a headache and the three brothers were clearly enjoying themselves. Well Dori and Ori were enjoying themselves, Nori was simply amused.
After two more hours we finally decided that the contract was ready to be signed. It did cover everything that came to mind when thinking about the close future. They even had added a part about petty money and a special paragraph stating that any additional paragraph could be added under the strict agreement of all four concerned persons…
Whatever… I had studied to become a surgeon, not a lawyer. Anyway I was happy to sign their contract and be done with it, even though I slightly felt like I had just agreed to be a kept house wife…without the wife part. Basically they'd take care of me and wouldn't ask anything of me in exchange of a private room in their house except keeping it clean or taking care of the daily shopping.
They hadn't been disturbed by the idea that I could live with them without paying them anything for the lodging or food. It had been quite the opposite actually; they had looked offended when I had asked how I could earn money to pay them for their help.
When I had inquired and insisted about that they had simply repeated that they had grown up learning that women should be pampered. That was probably supposed to explain as well the line that went saying that they would not abandon me under any condition and will care for me until one of my kin or a potential suitor presented itself.
Well I was not such a feminist anyway and in this unknown environment I didn't mind much our agreement. Though the 'suitor' part had me laugh for a good ten minutes. I had refused to explain to them that it was unlikely that such a person would pop out here, seeing as none had been interested where I came from.
After all I was considered a prude by my acquaintances. Well they called it prude, I called it shy and study focused.
After my signature was written next to Dori's, Nori's and Ori's I strangely felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulder.
I didn't really understand why I felt like this. After all many people would not trust a piece of paper to protect them and they would be right not to. Still I had this feeling that I could trust the three brothers not to break our contract.
They then decided that it was high time for me to buy some appropriate clothes so I followed them back outside.
We walked past a small market where the main merchandises were fruits and vegetables. I saw some sorts of wooden objects and furs too from afar but didn't pay much attention. Dori lead the way toward a small house nearby the market and gestured toward me to enter.
The tiny bell rang above the door and a middle aged woman appeared from behind heavy curtains in the back.
"Hello there. What can I do for you Masters Dwarves?"
"Would you have some dresses fit for our kin?" Dori asked immediately after bowing his head slightly.
"I might have some dresses I made for the baker's daughter." The woman said pensively. "She didn't take them all though so I guess I could show you a few I have left."
"May we see them please?"
I had stayed hidden behind Dori during the whole exchange. Turning my gaze toward Nori I frowned. He was eating an apple, yet I couldn't remember seeing him buy one. Apparently Dori had seen the fruit too for he started to whisper angrily.
"Nori, can't you stop these awful habits for a minute? We've been here merrily a few hours and outside only a few minutes and you're already doing it!"
Nori simply shrugged and bit in the fruit, a smile gracing his lips. He winked at me when he saw I had observed them. I shook my head and my attention turned to the woman who was coming back to us. Dori was still admonishing his brother who clearly didn't even bother listening.
"Here Master Dwarves…oh! I'm sorry milady, I hadn't seen you. Oh…I see. Do you wish to try them?"
The way she had looked at my clothes had me blush furiously. Seriously was it so wrong around here to wear trousers when you were a woman?
I didn't like dresses much and these ones especially were not to my taste. They were made from thick wool and didn't look comfortable at all. One was in dark blue colour, the second mud brown and the third was dark green. Such cheerful colours…
I followed the woman to the back of the shop, still hearing Dori complaining about his brother's behaviour in ushered tones. She asked me to strip and brought me some sort of white linen dress and underpants. Were those supposed to be underwear? I bet even my grandmother never had to wear such…things.
I point blank refused to strip from my panties and bra and just gingerly put the linen dress and the underpants on top of them before trying the dresses. I wondered silently when and even if they had been washed, and if so how, for their smell was… not quite fresh. Everything was a little tight; the dresses were too small for me and highly uncomfortable, clearly not suited for my silhouette.
They compressed my chest and stomach uncomfortably and I could barely move my arms for fear of tearing the sleeves.
The seamstress tried to smile at me, but failed, and told me to put on my own clothes back before leaving me to go and talk with Dori again. I could hear her explaining she had some work to do on the dresses and that they'd be ready for the next day in the late morning.
I walked back toward the brothers, my hand already in my hoodie's pocket, ready to retrieve one of the only objects I had with me; my wallet which contained a few bills and coins. I had some pounds left and some euro. Though I had the feeling those currencies would be useless here. I was right when I saw Dori give a few metallic coins to the woman. Those had been copper or maybe silver, I hadn't seen properly and I didn't feel like asking.
"You don't look really happy milady. I thought all women liked to buy new things."
Nori's voice behind me startled me and I would have fallen flat on my face after ungracefully stumbling on my feet if he hadn't catch my waist just in time. The idiot even dared to chuckle while I glared at him.
He asked once more after letting me take a few steps back.
"Nori, we just signed a contract that stipulate I'm quite basically dependant on you guys. Plus your brother is currently paying for my clothes and what is apparently considered underwear here. I think you can forget the 'milady'."
He laughed softly. I was starting to realize that Nori was always moving around fairly noiselessly, didn't speak loudly and didn't even laugh loudly. His brothers were quiet too but not to his extent. I was pondering on this new thought when he winked once more at me. Was it going to become a habit, I wondered.
"Aye. T'is true." He smirked. "What shall I call you then?"
"Amelia, it's my name you know." I deadpanned.
He chuckled some more while Ori made his way towards us.
"What is it brother, Milady?"
"I was just telling your brother that you could all call me simply Amelia." I explained evenly. "It's really strange for me to hear all the 'milady this' and 'lady that'."
"Don't you use such terms in your lands, mi…Amelia?" Ori asked curiously.
"Not really no. we just use our names, sometimes we add a title but as I pointed to your brother, we signed a contract so…"
"You mentioned us seeing your underwear too." Nori interrupted.
I have to say, the deep red blush that covered poor Ori's face was quite cute and fun to observe. Yet I did glare at his brother.
"I don't recall mentioning you seeing anything." I retorted.
"Well paying, seeing, same thing." He shrugged dismissively.
"Not really." I snorted in reply.
Dori's arrival stopped our discussion and I let a blubbering Ori trying to explain his blush to his oldest brother while Nori and I sneaked back outside.
The four of us spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around in the town and the market. Well actually I wanted to wander around and the brothers had to buy supplies. Nothing major happened and I felt like I was in some sort of medieval fair, except these guys were for real.
The intense staring crept me out quickly though and I didn't leave Nori's side, oddly enough I found his presence reassuring. Ori was always close by and Dori was busy talking with suppliers and buying food for our travel back to their home.
Later that day we went back toward the first house we'd been in and Dori didn't wait for the shop owner to welcome us and directly went upstairs. I followed while he explained the owner usually let them use a room when they happened to pass by.
We entered a small room with just one small bed as Dori explained that they usually took bets to know who'd be using the bed. Yet, he said, this time they'd let me use it while they'd sleep on the floor.
I am not ashamed to admit I didn't even try to fight their gracious decision. After three nights spent sleeping on the floor, I was really glad to have a bed.
Now I had just one thing to ask Dori and I was slightly nervous. He must have realized that something was bothering me for he directly came to ask me.
"What is it Miss Amelia."
I tried not to smile, I really did. Yet the fact that the sweet Dori just couldn't help but be somehow polite and formal was funny. I knew he didn't mean anything with it. It was apparently just deeply ingrained in his skull that he had to be polite with women. Weird for someone like me but fun nonetheless.
"Dori, I'd like to know. Is there a place where I could…you know…wash?"
And this simple sentence had me a short hour later in quite an unpleasant situation.