As Good a Reason As Any
The way you overcome shyness is to become so wrapped up in something that you forget to be afraid. – Lady Bird Johnson
Ori is shy. He doesn't remember being any different. He's always been quick to blush, quick to stammer and therefore quick to avoid the centre of the attention. His mother and Dori – but mostly Dori – have made sure that his manners are up to scratch, so he won't run the risk of making a fool of himself in public, but that does nothing to overcome his shyness. He rather sticks his nose in a dusty old tome and loses himself in its pages. He's a scholar and there is no shame in that. He knows the lore of his people inside out.
So no, he's not much of a talker. In their family it's Dori and Nori who are the loudest. Dori is forever fussing about everything and scolding Nori for how he turned out. Nori in turn isn't one for letting all of this pass without a suitable reply of his own, hence the shouting matches they must be able to hear all the way in the Iron Hills. With all that noise filling the house, Ori feels absolutely no need to contribute his own.
While their mother still lived, she always managed to keep them and their arguing somewhat at bay, but since her death there has been no one holding them back. Ori of course could try to be a peacemaker in her stead, but he doubts he could make himself heard over all their racket anyway and it is not as if his interference will change anything. So he picks up whatever book he is reading at the time and blocks out his brothers' voices as best he can.
There are periods that Nori disappears altogether, off on undefined but surely illegal business. Ori isn't sure he appreciates the absence of the shouting or loathes the smothering care Dori rains down on him when there is no one to scold.
At the moment, though, he thinks he would rather take the fussing over the shouting.
'You did what?'
It's a classic picture: Dori and Nori on opposite sides of the living room, bracing themselves for a fight of legendary proportions. Dori is standing in his battle stance: legs spread, hands planted on his hips the way their mother tended to do when she was about to lecture one of them. The recipient of that deadly glare is standing in front of the hearth, where he has been warming his hands in addition to nursing several bruises, a swollen eye and a bleeding lip. He hasn't moved from that spot since the moment he came in, completely ignoring Dori's imminent wrath. Not that he'll be able to maintain that for long; he never has been.
'He had enough of it anyway,' Nori defends himself, true to expectations. As defences go, this is not one of his best. 'And you were the one to tell me I should pay my keep in the first place. Which I am doing now. Why should you care where the coin comes from?'
That question finds Ori easy to answer. Dori cares because it is thievery, a crime that ranks among the most despicable with their people. It's not any craft that will honour their Maker, although it has to be said that Nori has perfected his "craft" into a form of art. Ori knows him to be capable of lifting coins or objects without the owner being any the wiser until the harm has long since been done and the thief has made off with the spoils to Mahal only knows where.
Well, Ori does know where Nori tends to go when he's gotten in too deep: home. Because when push comes to shove Dori will defend his brother to his dying breath. And an enraged Dori is truly a sight to behold and then quickly run away from, lest you have a wish to visit a healer in the very near future. However, all this does not stop him from ranting in private until he drops down for want of air in his lungs.
'He was a noble from the Iron Hills!' Dori explodes. 'Our own kin!'
Nori seems wholly unimpressed. 'I've never seen his face here before. Some kin that is.'
Dori looks like he is about to say a thing or two on the matter, but then thinks better of it, probably because Nori's words ring all too true and there is nothing that can be said against them. Ori has never known anything but exile from Erebor, so he doesn't know what it was like before the dragon came and forced his people to flee a kingdom Ori has never even seen, but there are some among the town's folk who still remember it well and Ori has always loved the tales of wonder they can tell.
And Nori is right; they have never even seen the Iron Hills dwarves here in the Ered Luin, but now they are here for some meeting Thorin Oakenshield has called. Ori does not know what the meeting is for, only that it is Important; the past few weeks important looking dwarves have been arriving, but no one quite knows what for. Something is happening, though, and Ori is long past denying his own curiosity.
Dori opts on a different approach. 'Would you embarrass Thorin with your stealing?' he demands. 'He is our kinsman and our king!' Kinsman, yes, but far removed. And Nori has just demonstrated what he thinks about them. As for the part about Thorin being a king, he has never shown much respect for authority either.
'I seem to be having a lot of kin all of a sudden,' he observes nonchalantly. 'And if Thorin needs embarrassing, he's got enough close kin that'll be wanting to do that for him.' He makes good use of the opportunity Dori's current choking on his own tongue is granting him. 'And you were the one to demand the coin in the first place. It's my business how I obtain it.'
This, Ori thinks, is not entirely true. The theft has been discovered, after all, and judging on the way Nori looks – clothes torn, hair askew, battered and bruised and with one eye knocked shut – it has resulted in quite the fight. He must have been able to make a narrow escape, but it was a close thing without doubt. Ori is surprised no official has come knocking on the door to demand Nori's surrender yet.
Dori's thought have evidently been running along the same lines. 'And when the king's guards come here and command me to yield you to them, what then would you have me do?' His hands have left their position at his hips only so that he can throw them in the air in exasperation. 'I cannot fight them off!'
Physically he probably could; Dori is one of the strongest dwarves Ori has ever seen. But defending someone from royalty, even if it is on behalf of his own brother, that is enough to make even Dori think twice. Both parties have a claim to his loyalty, even if in slightly different ways, and he'll have trouble working out which one outranks the other.
'You won't have to,' Nori declares. There's that grin that says he's still got a trick up his sleeve, one that will solve the problem and vex Dori beyond measure at the same time. Ori has witnessed this before and Nori's "solutions" only very seldom meet with Dori's approval.
His eyes have narrowed and his hands are once again on his hips as he stares Nori down. 'And why is that?' What his younger brothers hear sounds more like this had better be good or there will be dire consequences.
'I'm exiled from the Ered Luin,' Nori announces, way too cheerful. 'I'll have to be gone within three weeks.'
Predictably, what follows is one long rant about how they have already lost Erebor, that this is the last safe haven for their people and how does he think he will ever be welcomed in any of the remaining dwarf kingdoms with what he has done – and right under the nose of every dwarf who means anything no less – and where does he think he'll be going now? Nori's sarcastic remark that he can always try his luck with one of the elven kingdoms is fortunately lost in the noise of Dori's shouting and Ori hides his face behind a book to make sure his grin does not alert his brother after all.
Deep down he is just as displeased with the news as Dori is, though. He's never had the problems with Nori that Dori had and still has and Nori has always been as good a brother as he is capable of being. Of course the presents he brings home are almost never paid for nor crafted by his own hands, but he is at least thoughtful enough to think of presents at all. And Ori loves his stories and his good humour and he'll miss him sorely when he leaves.
But he has a feeling that Nori is still not quite done. There's more to this solution of his than he has said. Otherwise he would not be standing there as calmly as he is now. Normally he would be defending himself and insulting Dori in equal measure. Now he is only waiting for Dori to stop talking long enough so that he can drop his latest surprise on them. And if Dori had been slightly less upset, he would surely have noticed this too.
Eventually he runs out of words and air, concluding his lengthy lecture with one last query as to where he will be going now that he is no longer welcome here.
Nori's answer stuns them both. 'Erebor.'
The silence that follows that announcement is deafening. Ori has given up pretending to read altogether and Dori's jaw is practically on the floor. He is staring at Nori in a very unflattering kind of way, the way that suggests he thinks Nori has taken a complete leave of his senses. As it is, Ori is not all that certain that isn't the case. The notion is just as ludicrous as his suggestion he will go and live with the elves.
Because what dwarf in his right mind would ever venture near Erebor these days? Everyone knows a live dragon is lurking in the Lonely Mountain, a dragon responsible for the deaths of so many of their kin. No one would even think of living anywhere near it. Could this be one of Nori's more tasteless jokes?
Once Dori has found his tongue again he shouts his disbelief for the second time that day. 'You what?'
'Thorin is of a mind to take it back,' Nori says. 'That's why there's so many of them important "kin" about; he's going to ask them to help.'
Whatever interest remained in the tome on his lap is now gone. Thorin is going to take back the Lonely Mountain? To Ori's ears it sounds like one of those valiant quests the heroes of old used to go on, a desperate attempt to free a kingdom from a monster. He wouldn't be who he was if he didn't know at least a dozen tales based on such themes.
Dori's reaction is slightly different; he resembles a fish on dry land. His mouth is opening and closing, but no sound leaves it and he is flapping his hands about in a manner that suggests he is torn between slapping some sense into Nori or holding him here and never letting him go anywhere. He's one to avoid risks, not to seek them out and this scheme certainly sounds like inviting danger. Of course he is shocked.
Years of experience on the matter have taught Nori how to make use of his brother's temporary silence. 'The dragon has not been seen for over sixty years and there'll be a handsome reward for those willing to join once all's been said and done. So when I found myself so inconveniently exiled, I volunteered my services.'
Ori strongly suspects that the real reason for joining has been mentioned right around the same time as the words "handsome reward"; Nori has never been one to pass up an chance to get his hands on more riches and if there's any truth in all the rumours, Erebor is full of those. And apparently he doesn't think there's really a dragon alive in there. Given the limited options he would have after being caught in the act of thieving, this would have been the better option.
And the longer Ori thinks about it, the more he too begins to see the appeal of it. Maybe it is because he has heard and read so many tales that he can see this as one of those noble quests that happened in ancient times, but that he could never see happening in his own lifetime. And what cause could be nobler than reclaiming a kingdom that has long since been lost?
'And anyone can come?' he asks, not entirely sure where that question is coming from. He is the farthest thing from a warrior that a dwarf can be, but the idea of it all calls to him, lures him in.
It's only when Dori and Nori cease their bickering at one another to stare at him that he remembers that he doesn't normally speak when they are arguing. By the look of it, they had forgotten he was even in the room. And since Ori is usually too shy to make himself heard at times like this – generally pretends to really not be present at all – they may even have a point of some kind.
Having to suffer so much unexpected business in one day, Dori is clearly at his wit's end. 'Ori, what in Mahal's name are you thinking of?'
Nori on the other hand puts a reluctant admiration on display and answers the question put to him. 'Yes. That's what Thorin said.'
It is only because Ori has a little skill at lip-reading that he knows what Nori says, because Dori has reverted right back to shouting mood, easily drowning out the voice of his younger sibling. 'Ori, you are not allowed to join!'
'I'm of age,' Ori reminds him and what does he even think he is doing? Since when is he in the habit of even disagreeing with Dori out loud rather than in the privacy of his own mind? 'I'm allowed to make my own decisions.'
Only a blind dwarf would miss the look of deep hurt in Dori's eyes. 'You are no warrior, Ori.' His voice betrays none of this unhappiness, though. It's as commanding and displeased as it always is during an argument.
'But I am a scribe,' he points out. The plan is taking shape in his mind and so he turns back to Nori. 'Does Thorin have a scribe yet? That you know of?'
Someone needs to record the events for future generations and surely there will be throngs of dwarves begging for that honour, but it is worth a try, is it not? His script is as neat as any of them, better than some. He has a keen eye for details, too. It might as well be him, right? He knows he's good enough, even though his natural shyness generally forbids him from commenting on his own skills.
In his own way this is his shot for glory and he finds himself strangely determined to take it. Dori is right that he is no warrior, but he doesn't need to come near the fray, he reasons, he only needs to record what happens. And that he can do. It is sudden, but it is also the chance he didn't even know he has been waiting for. And yes, a good part of this quest's appeal finds its roots in the comparisons that can be drawn between this mission and the old tales, something that he will decidedly not tell Dori for fear of being called a naïve little dwarfling who doesn't understand the ways of this world. The handsome reward that convinced Nori to throw his lot in with Thorin and whoever else decides to come could not interest him less.
If he had any insight in the workings of his eldest brother's mind, he might have admitted that Dori is indeed having a very trying day. And deep down he can acknowledge that Dori's biggest concern is to keep his younger siblings safe now that their mother is no longer alive to do that. And now both Nori and Ori seem determined to court danger. If his hair had not greyed already, it might do today.
The truth is that Ori is rather desperate to get out from under Dori's fussing thumb and Thorin does need a scribe, doesn't he? This quest sounds more promising with every passing moment and if that dragon really has not been seen for decades, then maybe the danger is not so great at all…
Everyone has reasons to go out there and risk it, and Ori rather thinks that his is as good a reason as any to leave home.
Three weeks, several shouting matches and seemingly endless preparations later, they are looking back at their house for the last time, all locked and boarded up now. They are going, all three of them, because of course Dori can't possibly stay behind now that his brothers have become the most suicidal dwarves to have ever been created. Someone needs to look after them, he declared once it finally became clear to him that neither Nori nor Ori had any intention to actually back down. Theirs is a race known for their stubbornness after all; they do not back down. Of course Nori actually wrinkled his nose when he heard the news that Dori would be coming too, but nothing is to be done about it. Dori's mind has been made up as well.
And now they are ready to go. The house is sold. Either they succeed in their quest and they will dwell in Erebor for the rest of their days – or, in Nori's case, until he does something that will get him exiled from the Lonely Mountain – or they'll be dead, reduced to a dragon's supper, in which case they won't need the house anymore either.
But Ori is not afraid, he can only feel excitement. He has been taken on as an official scribe by Thorin Oakenshield himself; it says so in his contract. In fact, he's so excited that he has quite forgotten to be shy at all.
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