The King in the mountain
I had been standing there for at least ten minutes, looking at the…wooden bathtub filled with water that was in the middle of the room. It didn't look dirty per se. it just didn't look clean at all. I could see some dirt floating in it, and a twig too. Wait, was that? Dear lord there even was some kind of dead insect in that water.
I swallowed, wondering whether I should risk it. I suddenly felt like staying dirty and smelly for awhile. It was a middle age area, or so it looked, so I asked myself what exactly I had been expecting to find when I asked to wash. Apparently the water came from a well, an actual well, a hole in the ground really, that was being used by almost half of the population around at least. I had been shocked to say the least when the shop owner asked his sons to bring the water upstairs, one bucket at a time.
I put my hand in the water, it was barely lukewarm. I stifled an annoyed groan and decided to go for it. I was dirty, I hadn't had a shower in days and I stank. Besides I was quite certain I had twigs in my hair from sleeping outside. I silently cursed the brownish mane I called hair and that was probably resembling a vulture's nest right now…yes with the dead animals in it.
I had to wash, this wasn't even an option.
I removed slowly my clothes. I wasn't a neat freak, but this was hard. Stepping in the tub was an actual trial. I muttered a curse when the definitely too cold water hit my bare skin. Seriously could anyone tell me when pipes and heaters would be invented? Or better yet, couldn't anyone invent them already?
I quickly grasped the bar that was supposed to be soap and quickly washed my body, standing in the tub to minimize my contact with the water. It might have been ridiculous of me to behave like this but I really, really couldn't react in any other way. I was used to comfort, and comfort meant heated water in a pristine white tub and scented bubbles and soap.
This soap was scentless, which was really unusual for me, but it did its work fairly well. The hardest part though was yet to come, as I wanted to wash my hair. Seeing twigs and dirt starting to float around in the cloudy water quickly decided me and I almost jumped out of the tub, hair dripping water but still unwashed.
I put the linen towel around me and tilted so that only my hair would touch the water, quickly washed and rinsed them as best as I could. Cringing all the while at the thought of the dirty liquid I was using to clean myself.
I was relatively clean and felt ten times better once it was all over. I dried my body before rolling the towel around my hair. I glanced at my clothes, they were tattered and muddy, yet I had nothing else to wear. I put on my bra and used the little basin full of cold water that was on a table in the room, to wash my panties.
I wouldn't wear them wet though so I grimaced and put on my jeans directly. I hated the sensations and feelings of it against my bare skin, yet I didn't have much choices. Looking at my shirt I put it aside, hoping to keep it and clean it later on and I put directly my hoodie. The neckline was significantly lower than that of my shirt, but you couldn't see anything really.
I took what belonged to me and stepped through the door. Now came the moment of the awkward question to Dori. What should I do with the water? I knew the shop owner had been nice enough to go and pick it for me, but where should we throw it away?
I swear it made my stomach churn when Dori told me they wouldn't throw it and would just use it for themselves. Water, especially for a bath, was a luxury and there was apparently no way they would just bath once and threw the water.
I am still unsure whether I should have been relieved or disgusted when Dori told me that him and his brother wouldn't bath tonight…
After that charming discussion I was sitting by myself in our room, trying to untangle the mess of my hair with my hands, when Nori entered.
He smirked and walked straight toward me. His steps faltered slightly when he came closer and I only saw he was looking in my direction. I quirked an eyebrow at him but he simply cleared his throat and clearly avoided to look in my direction. I wondered what was happening to him but hadn't the time to ask.
He said before holding a comb in front of my face. It was nicely crafted, entirely sculpted in wood and with a nice design on each side that represented flowers. I took it carefully and looked at Nori, amazed.
"It's beautiful! Where did you get that?"
"Here or there, who knows?"
I lifted one eyebrow and looked at him suspiciously which only served to make him chuckle. I swear this man was never taking anything I said seriously.
"I'll give it back to you quickly."
"No need. It's yours."
"Call it a gift for celebrating our new contract." He said punctuating his words with a wink.
I looked at the comb and back at him, uncertain of what to say.
"Are you sure? It's a nice comb and you have a much more complicated hairdo than I have."
He snorted and I could see his grey eyes twinkle with amusement.
"I already have one. Now you got yours.
We remained silent for awhile and I painfully combed my hair, grimacing and wincing each time it got stuck in a knot. Nori was sitting with his back against the wall and he had produced small knives and daggers as well as other indiscernible tools and what looked like a sort of stone. He had carefully disposed them on the floor in front of him and analyzed them intently.
I concentrated on my hair and simply didn't pay attention to him and his doings. I don't know how long it took me to unknot the whole length but I was quite tired by the end of it. I was starting to ask myself whether having hair that reached the middle of my back was such a good idea.
"I probably should tie or braid them like you guys do." I half said to myself half told him.
"Aye, you probably should." He answered absentmindedly.
I glanced at him. He was cleaning or at least taking care of one of his daggers when my eyes drifted to his braided hair and beard.
"Can you braid my hair for me please?"
The dagger fell on the ground in a loud clatter and he looked at me with eyes wide as saucers and his mouth slightly open. I could see a small dust of red colouring his cheeks.
"Did I say something wrong?" I asked him after a long awkward silence.
Apparently my question shook him out of his daze and I watched him shaking his head as if to clear it.
"Yeah, no.' He cleared his throat loudly before frowning.'I mean no, you didn't say anything wrong. Don't you know how to tie your hair?"
Was that what had shocked him? Did he think I wasn't even able to do such a simple thing? I huffed and replied slightly angry.
"Of course I know how. It's just your beard looks nice, and I only know how to do a very basic braid. It'd be nice of you if you would braid my hair in a nice, stylish way.
"Basic is good. Very very good. Do your basic braid and sleep."
Now I was clearly offended. Who did he think I was? Some child that he could order around?
I probably would have started to snap at him if Dori and Ori hadn't entered the room at that moment. I grumpily braided my hair, ignoring the curious glances Dori and Ori sent my way. Muttering a 'good night' I turned my back to them and quickly fell asleep in spite of my angry state of mind.
I woke up alone in the room the following morning and used that alone time to quickly put on the now dried panties. I stepped toward the kitchen area and could hear the men talking together. Well actually Dori and Ori were discussing with the shop owner and Nori was nowhere to be seen.
It took only one glance from afar to the long roll of parchment for me to guess that they were discussing their renewed contract. I didn't even bother to talk to them; they were so busy with their talk that they hadn't even noticed my presence.
I went slowly downstairs to look around the shop in order to pass the time.
Nori was there, going around in the shop and noting things on a small parchment. He smiled at me when I approached and let me look over his shoulder. I couldn't understand what he wrote, he was using some weird symbols, but it did somehow look like a list.
"A list" he simply answered and proceeded to write some more on his parchment.
"I can guess as much. But what are you listing?
"Products we should craft and send here.
"What? What do you mean?"
I looked at him, clearly surprised. Surely he didn't mean to say that he was the one crafting those beautiful cups and bowls?
He glanced at me and laughed at my obvious disbelief.
"Aye. We're one of this shop's main suppliers. We provide them with almost all their copper products.
"Really? You did this?"
He snorted while I held a finely engraved cup in my hand.
"I didn't. But I know the dwarf who did. We're merchants, or at least Dori is. We trade the products crafted by the others and take our share of the income. "
I chose to ignore the dwarf comment. My mind wasn't even close to be ready to start thinking about this. I continued to ask him some more questions though.
"You said 'Dori is'. What are you supposed to do then? And Ori? He looks quite young, what does he do?"
Nori barked a laugh at that. He was even clenching his stomach with one hand leaning on the table next to him. It shocked me to see him being so loud after days of being relatively quiet.
"Don't worry about Ori's age. Trust me, he's old enough to work, he's a clerk, he mostly works with merchants, doing listing, accountings that sort of things, but sometimes he's asked to help write down contracts. Though he writes down almost everything he can think about. I swear that lad cost a fortune in parchment."
Nori's eyes reflected pride as he spoke of his little brother and it was easy to see that he cared greatly about him. I was surprised though by all those information to say the least, but it didn't quench my curiosity so I kept on bothering Nori.
"And what do you do then, besides writing list?
"I'm in trades too…sort of.
As he clearly didn't want to talk more I simply hummed and let him alone to his work. I was quite occupied really, looking at the beautiful craft. Each cup, bowl and vase had lots of details, each time different than the others. I felt like I was in a museum and time flied without me taking notice of it.
It was already late in the morning when Dori came up next to me, a package rolled in his left hand and a seemingly empty leather backpack in the other.
"Hello Miss Amelia. Here are the clothes we bought yesterday. I thought you might wish to change before we leave. And here's a backpack for you too.
"Are we leaving now?" I asked him simply while taking the package and then the back pack he was holding out to me.
"We'll take some lunch and leave soon after. We have a long walk back home.
"I thank you for the clothes Dori, and the bag, really. But when it's just the three of us on the road, would you mind if I keep wearing my current clothes? It'll be more comfortable to walk with my jeans than with a dress."
The older man seemed to hesitate a bit before looking over at my clothes.
"I guess it'll be easier for you to walk with these indeed. You'll have to change quickly before we enter the first town though.
"I don't mind, really, I'd rather walk in jeans than in a dress." I quickly said, nervous that he'd change his mind.
It might sound silly for me to ask for his advice about my clothes, but I really didn't want to disturb them about such a stupid thing. I somehow felt kind of indebted toward the three brothers. I didn't particularly like the feeling, but it was true that I owed them a lot, so I decided now to do my best not to bother them…too much.
I was exhausted. The three brothers were as short as I was, but they were walking fast, really fast compared to me. I was at least thankful that my backpack only contained my clothes and a cup, bowl and spoon they had insisted to buy for me.
We had been on the road for the past four or five days, I didn't actually remember which was scary, and we were supposed to arrive in a few days in another town that had established itself close to their home. I was starting to get used to the brothers' antics and it was quite entertaining to observe them.
We had been following small paths and then a larger way they called a road and that had brought us to the feet of the magnificent mountains before making us cross them to their other side without much difficulty. The landscape was simply amazing and, had I not been so tired all the time, I would have greatly enjoyed it.
The mountains' tops were high and there was snow and ice on them that glinted blue in the sunlight. We didn't go high before crossing to the other side though and I remember being grateful for that. The rocks around had a very nice blue tinge to them which gave the whole area a peculiar atmosphere. Forests of pine trees mostly covered the plains nearby and I remember stopping at some point simply to take in the scenery.
It had been an amazing and breathtaking sight.
Though it had been scary to see so far away, and not being able to pinpoint anything that could be related to any sort of technology.
I might be a fool and I might come to regret it, but I was seriously starting to trust my three companions. In all honesty I appreciated their company. They even managed to make me forget about my home, though that never lasted.
During our wandering days I had had quite a lot of free time to think about my situation. I had no idea where I was and the clear absence of civilization was quite scary. But more than the actual fact that I was lost, it was the thoughts of my uncle and aunt that haunted me.
I didn't know when I'd meet with them again and I deeply regretted to have run away without saying goodbye. They were amazing people, they had taken care of me as if was their own child and I was ashamed of how I had repaid them their kindness. First failing my exams and letting them down, and then this; running away wordlessly and getting myself in such a situation…
Oh god, I would become one of those disappearing people who came back decades later and couldn't adapt to their previous habits anymore.
I shook my head. I missed them. I missed them terribly.
They were my parents, my family.
It was my aunt who had taught me how to put make up, how to brush and braid my hair in a basic way but still, how to cook sweets and pastries. She had been the one to listen to me when I had troubles in school and the one to hold me when I cried. She had always been a calm, peaceful person and I could always find an attentive listener to my thoughts in her. She had replaced my mother.
My uncle on the other hand had always been a cheerful presence in my life, encouraging me with small gestures instead of long speeches. He had brought me snacks at midnight when I was preparing my exams; he had taught me how to drive, shown me all his favourite movies, brought me to the library every week and bought me all the books I wanted to read. It had become our private joke that I should open a library of my own with all the books I already had.
I couldn't even start to imagine what life could be like without them close to me. I felt like an awful person to have abandoned them like I did. It was ungrateful and cruel of me.
My feelings must have shown on my face because Ori decided to come and talk with me a bit.
"Amelia I wanted to ask you something.
"Hmm" I nodded, waiting for the ever curious Ori to speak his mind.
"You said you were wandering alone in the wild, why is that?
"Again with the alone part?" It was starting to become a tad too repetitive for my taste.
"No, I'm wondering about why you would wish to wander in the wild. Where you looking for something in particular?
"No, I told you I was on holiday.
"You don't have those?" I was stunned when he shook his head.
That was harsh. I couldn't imagine I would enjoy working every day of my life without ever having the prospect of nice holidays in some sunny parts of the world.
When I saw him taking his notebook out of one of his pockets I smiled and started to explain what holidays were, where people would go, what they'd do, those sorts of things. We were still talking about it when Dori and Nori decided we ought to stop and prepare to camp for the night.
"So you were there to enjoy the scenery and some time by yourself. Fascinating. Your people have very strange habits."
I laughed at his comment and nodded, I guessed it would appear strange to them.
"And what do you do when you are not on holiday?
"Well, people in general are working.
"Yes, I understand that, but what were you doing? Did you work?
"I was studying. I wanted to become a surgeon but it didn't really work out.
"What's a surgeon?
"A doctor. You know, those people you go to when you're sick and they patch you up, help you heal." I was certain he hadn't understood all the words I had said, but apparently 'heal' was a word they all knew for Dori and Nori looked at me slightly impressed.
"You're a healer in training?" Dori asked me with wide eyes.
"Well you could put it like that, yes. But I failed the last part of my training so I was depressed and decided to go see some new places and…you found me." I resumed head held low. I was still upset about the whole exams failure apparently.
"Did you, you know, kill someone?" Ori inquired in a whisper.
"Ori, you don't ask such things!" Dori admonished him while I reacted in a rather strong way.
I jumped away from the stone I'd been sitting on and looked at Ori with horrified eyes, answering quickly.
"God no! I wouldn't talk about it so casually if I had killed someone!
"But, you said you failed the last part of your training…
"My exams, it consists of questions asked on paper and discussions and other stuff…nothing to do with actually healing someone.
"But how can you train to heal if you just read and discuss?"
I opened my mouth to answer to Ori's honest question but no sounds came out. I closed it back and frowned, starting to check in my mind all the arguments I could come up with. I had the feeling it would be a pain to try and explain med school to them, especially the whole intern and then thesis parts, and I wasn't sure they'd understand. I was also certain they wouldn't agree with my points, so I simply shrugged and didn't bother to answer.
After a while Dori spoke softly to me
"Well, if you wish to continue your training, we could introduce you to one of our healers back at home. He'd take you as an apprentice."
I pondered on this new information for a bit. It could be interesting and it would certainly be a more useful activity than simply cleaning their house. Besides if I cleaned the house every day it would soon shine and I couldn't believe that three men could dirty it quickly enough for me to be occupied all day long and all week long.
"That would be really nice Dori. I'd love to continue my, hem, training here."
He nodded and we stayed silent as I helped him prepare some vegetables we had for a soup. Nori and Ori groaned. None of them looked particularly happy that evening which surprised me as they were usually quite merry during dinner times.
I was quickly adapting to this sort of life and it scared me a bit, but on the other hand wasn't the ability to adapt a particularity of humanity?
The following days were all so similar that I couldn't at some point remember for exactly how long we'd been walking.
I was trying to recall each day that had passed when Dori and Nori stopped and turned towards me.
"Miss Amelia, you should go change into your dress now, we'll soon arrive in the town that's close to our home.
I looked around and found some bushes big enough to hide me from view while I'll basically be stripping. I adjusted the bag on my shoulder and went to hide myself.
"Don't hesitate to shout if anything happen.' Dori told me as I walked away from them.
"Don't worry." I reassured him while Nori muttered something that sounded like "stop fussing…"
It didn't take me long to change, mostly because I wasn't exactly fond of parading around naked, and we were soon back on the road.
I soon realized I had been totally right in deciding to wear my jeans until now. The dress was adjusted to my side but its hem kept on brushing on the floor, getting stuck in twigs and other tall grass. It hindered my movements greatly and considerably slowed me down. It was a pain to walk with it in such an environment.
The three brothers were patient enough, but Nori couldn't help but smirk mockingly at me which caused me to glare at him endlessly.
I was relieved to see the first smoke from chimneys when we arrived close to the town. I expected to find another creepy village with people starring at me in odd ways. I was happy to see I'd been wrong.
This village was significantly bigger and, though I did receive some surprised and curious stare, they weren't nearly as bad as what they'd been in the other place.
The first thing that caught my sight though, was that this time we weren't the only shorter people around. There were quite a lot of us actually and all of them had massive and impressive braided hair and beards. And somehow seemed for most of them to have impressive bellies too…
"Home isn't far now, just a little walk left." Dori informed me while we didn't even slow down in the town.
"Is it on the other side of this town?' I asked curious
"It's in the mountain. It's a city independent from this town. This is a men's town, we live within our own halls." Dori explained with a smile.
I didn't really understand what he had meant, but didn't ask further for I'd soon see the answers for myself anyway. I kept on glancing around the town we crossed, slightly amazed when I saw stands with amazing jewels on display. Looking around I realized that metallic items and jewels were present everywhere.
I followed them along a paved road, the first I had seen so far, that went all the way to the mountain. As I glanced forward I startled and stumbled. Hadn't it been for Ori's very good reflexes I would have fallen flat on the road.
"Are you alright Amelia?' Ori asked me worried.
"There's a door in the mountain!" I couldn't help but exclaim, pointing at the massive door I could already see from afar.
Nori and Dori laughed and the eldest one took me by the arm, gently forcing me to follow him while he explained.
"Aye. I told you we leave in the mountain. Not outside but below the ground. It's the way of dwarves, though the halls here are fairly smaller than in our other realms.
"Inside. Dwarves. Right.' I was completely stunned but Dori didn't stop his explanations.
"You are about to enter Thorin's Halls. He's our King. We'll have to meet with him as soon as we enter for our agreement might not please him much.
"You're not a dwarf, or at least we don't think you are, even if you are really short for the race of men. It's unheard of, a man leaving in one of our halls."
I decided to ignore the whole 'race' part and concentrate on this new problem. Did this mean what I thought it meant?
"Are you telling me that your King might forbid me from staying with you?"
Dori's face was deadly serious, bordering on grim, when he nodded and answered.
"He could very well do so.
"But…but what then?" I was actually scared to think the brothers might in the end abandon me at the entrance of their home.
How stupid and unlucky would it be for me to have walked so far to end up facing a closed door? I was starting to get nervous and anxious. I bit my lower lips and clenched my fists. Dori had no difficulties to find out those news had upset me and he patted my shoulder softly.
"Don't worry missy, Thorin is fair. He will understand.
"What if he doesn't?' I couldn't help but ask.
"Then we'll just have to find another solution. He might ask you to live in the men town we just crossed."
Obviously this would be a nice compromise but it didn't sit well with me. I didn't really understand it myself, but I had in a short time span come to trust and appreciate the three brothers. They were the first and only really friendly faces I had met and I didn't like the idea of being kicked out simply because I wasn't part of their fantasy world of dwarves and elves.
The closer we got to the massive door, the more anxious I got. I didn't even pay attention to the impressive display of mastery those doors and their immediate surrounding presented. I didn't even see the stone statues on each side that were as high as the stone and wooden doors, that is, at least ten meters high if not more.
I didn't look up to see the carved ceiling; neither did I look around to observe the richly decorated walls and columns. The blue tinge of the rocks was more pronounced in there but I didn't pay any attention to it for the three brothers took me straight toward large doors and then walked me up decorated stairs and through some more corridors and stone bridges to an enormous room.
At the other end of the room, just facing the entrance, was a throne like carved stone and in front of it I could see men discussing together. Their talk stopped though when they saw us enter the room.
Dori walked straightforward, putting my left hand in the crook of his elbow and patting it reassuringly. Nori was walking on my other side and I could feel Ori's presence in my back.
When we stopped a few steps away from the group of men, Dori, Nori and probably Ori too, bowed slightly, which encouraged me to do the same. I had no idea who I was bowing to though.
"Master Dori, Nori, Ori, how is the trade faring in the south?"
The man who spoke had barely glanced at me with his cold blue eyes.
He was scary. Really scary. I guessed he was the King and all my hopes flew out the windows, this man would never bend his traditions for good old me. I cast my eyes downwards, not even paying attention to their discussion and trying to imagine what my solitary life would be like.
I hoped Dori, Nori and Ori would visit me from time to time, but I had to be realistic, I would have to live by myself in this foreign land without their help to try and adapt. The sound of my name brought my attention back to the present moment.
"This is the Lady Amelia. We met her some time before we arrived in Beinne. She was hurt and alone in the mountains." Dori explained.
I was slightly surprised to hear hisses and several whispers when he said that though I really shouldn't have; what with all their talks about woman being protected and so on.
"She's entirely alone and foreign to our lands. None of her kin followed her here."
I think this time I heard a curse and I glanced around. There were three other men aside from the one I thought to be the King. Dori continued.
"When we arrived in Beinne, the men were especially rude to her due to her size and she was scared and upset."
At this the men frowned, one with an impressive white beard nodded sadly.
"Thus we thought it our responsibility to take her in our care. Here is the contract we drew and signed."
At this Dori produced the roll of parchment we had signed and handed it to the white bearded man who quickly unrolled it and skimmed through it after putting some strange looking glasses.
"It's a thorough contract Thorin and
there is the possibility to add new binding paragraphs if all the parties agree to it." He commented.
"Aye" Said Dori before adding "and we were thinking about adding another already. The Lady Amelia had been a healer in training before coming to our lands and she would agree, even wish, to continue her training here."
All the men stared at me then, slightly impressed though I couldn't understand what was so impressive. The King, Thorin, was staring at me and gestured me to come forward. I swallowed the lump in my throat and let Dori's reassuring arm go, taking a few steps toward the King.
His presence was intimidating and I didn't like it one bit, but his stern face became slightly softer quite suddenly and he asked me in a deep rumbling voice.
"Why don't you wish to go back to your home?
"I do. Wish to go back there that is, but I can't. I don't know the way back."
I had stated the truth I had known all along but it somehow broke my heart to hear it aloud for the first time. I didn't know the way back home. I had no way to go back. I was truly lost.
I hadn't pay attention to the hurtful glances the men exchanged. I didn't know that I had said something that would tug at their heartstring quite strongly. I didn't know they longed for their own home, far away in the east.
I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder and brought my head back up to stare in the cold blue eyes. They were slightly warmer now.
"I would agree for you to stay here, but you will have to swear an oath to me and sign a contract. I cannot accept you in my halls without some reassurances."
I thought about it and I think they appreciated that I took the time to ponder this new information before talking. I had to clear my throat several times though and it was quite embarrassing.
"I wouldn't mind swearing an oath and signing a contract, but I cannot promise you I will do it until I know exactly what conditions it will entail."
Strangely enough they all seemed pleased by my reaction. I would have thought they'd feel offended by my lack of trust. Yet the King nodded ever so slightly and I could see approval in the other's eyes.
"The young lass has the mind of a dwarf." The white bearded one chuckled.
Dori and Nori seemed especially proud and pleased. Then the King spoke once more, but to the white bearded man, not to me.
"Balin, take her to your study and start to draw a contract with her.' Turning back towards me he added 'You can ask one of the brothers to accompany you if you so wish."
I nodded and glanced at Dori who simply smiled proudly. I was certain I hadn't understood everything that had happened for a lot of unsaid information had apparently been exchanged under my nose. Yet the confidence in Dori's eyes made me realize the King would actually allow me to stay after some formalities had been taken care of.
Suddenly I could breathe with more ease and the ever present lump in my throat lessened.
These men were imposing and scary, even though they were all just as short as me. But even if I found them slightly weird, I had to admit they were nice enough. Yes, these people had been nothing but kind with me so far.
As I walked behind Balin and Dori I realized I had just talked to a King in quite a casual way.
The lump and scare were brutally back with a vengeance.
Will they punish me for being so unceremonious?