4. Not the First Dwarf
Dwalin awoke to the smell of smoked meats and eggs. He stretched lazily then rose, splashed water on his face and pulled back the curtains. The sun had just risen and it looked to be a good day to work on the stone wall. After dressing, he entered the kitchen.
Talliya hummed softly as she turned the sausage and ham. A large skillet of scrambled eggs mixed with diced onions and pepper filled the small room with wondrous smells. Hearing the Dwarf enter, the woman turned with a genuine smile.
"Good morrow, Master Dwarf!" she said pleasantly while filling a large plate with food.
Dwalin, never one for many words, gave a slight bow. He sat down at the table and watched as the large dish was set before him. Breakfast also included biscuits and honey, and strong black tea—just the way he liked it.
The woman filled her own plate and sat across from him. "My father always said a hearty breakfast made for a good day's work," she explained.
The burly dwarf responded with a nod of agreement and a grunt, his mouth full of ham. He finished quickly, anxious to get to work earning his keep. Downing his mug of black tea, he wiped his mouth on his sleeve and rose. "I'll see to the wall today. The root cellar can wait till less pleasant weather." With that, he left the cottage.
Talliya watched him go. She was certain he was the most interesting dwarf she'd ever met—not that there had been that many. Now and again one or two passed that way traveling to or from the Blue Mountains. She finished her meal, cleaned the dishes and prepared to start her own chores. It was a fine day for the wash and she needed to finish mending several items for the quarry master's wife. As she worked, her humming floated on the wind.
Dwalin appraised the wall. The damage was due to age and weather, not poor craftsmanship. He was glad to see it was still strong at the juncture near the iron gate. It would have been a bear to remove it. As he examined the workmanship, he caught sight of a small emblem stamped into the metal. He knew that mark, knew it very well. It seems he was not the first dwarf to find work here. He should have spotted Thorin Oakenshield's handy work when he first arrived!
As Dwalin worked, he could hear Talliya singing to herself as she hung the laundry to dry. He could not place it, but there was something familiar about the melody. He caught himself watching her more than once. She was not very tall even for a woman, less than a hand taller than he was. He guessed that both mother and father were of smaller stature, as nothing was overly difficult for Dwalin to reach. The Dwarf wondered briefly about her lack of spouse. She certainly was well into marrying age and a damn fine cook. He figured her husband must have had died and she still mourned. In time, she would find suitors at her door and have no need to hire help. After all, he supposed that she would be pleasing to the eyes of men; he found her pleasing to look upon. Pleasing to look at! Bah! What had gotten into him?
The day grew unseasonably warm and although Dwarves are not greatly bothered by temperatures, perspiration drenched clothing was uncomfortable. Knowing that few—if any—people would happen by, Dwalin removed first his jerkin then his linen shirt as he worked, hauling stones from a pile near the barn to the wall and fitting them together like a large puzzle. It felt good to do work like this, out in the open, away from the flames of a forge and prying eyes. Stonework suited him and Dwalin actually felt happy.
Talliya watched the dwarf work from the kitchen window. She smiled as memories assailed her. She thought back to a time some twelve springs ago when another dwarf sought work in the town. The Blacksmith had taken him on and eventually her Da requested he make the iron gate. Like Dwalin, he had been tall though not quite so broad as Dwalin; he had been handsome even by the standards of men.
He had thick dark hair and neatly trimmed beard. Eyes like deep blue pool held a fire she had never see before; she was convinced that they could consume her if she gazed into them for too long. She found she fancied him and since her Da was friendly with the dwarf she though perhaps…However, when she spoke to her father about the stranger, he was quick to tell her that the dwarf was not a proper match for her; anyway his was a high birth despite his outward appearance. Da had said others would be better suited for her and so she kept her distance. Good thing, too, for Thorin was gone as suddenly as he appeared.
Returning to the present, the woman watched Dwalin move the stones, always seeming to pick the right one. Her Da had been like that. He could look at stones and know just where to place them. Actually, the two were very much alike—master masons, needing few words to speak volumes, men of integrity. However, her Da was not as tall as Dwalin and had considerably more hair, which was saying a lot for a thick mass of sable hair covered Dwalin's powerful chest! Where Dwalin was robust in the chest—Talliya chuckled—her Da was robust in the stomach! Still both had arms strong as oak branches and deep-set eyes that shone with dwarven pride. The woman's smile faded and she sighed. She missed her father. He had been all she had for so long and now, watching another dwarf work on *his* wall made her heartache and loneliness assailed her.
She had no husband, no suitor; the men of the town never got past her more dwarvish attributes although she did not really look like a she-dwarf if what her father told her was true. Talliya lacked the telltale sign--a beard. Furthermore, one would have to get quite familiar with her to encounter her dwarfish aspects and the quarry master's son had been the last one willing to go beyond a mere kiss. When he discovered what lay beneath her blouse, he turned tail and the whispers began. As such, the town's men did not look her way again and the few dwarves and travelers that passed through never stayed log enough to take notice. Well, at least she had some company for a time; that was better than nothing.
She turned back to the oven. The meat and vegetables would be ready just about sundown. She could not pay much in coin, but she would see Dwalin well fed. She found her mind often wandering to the large dwarf with the scared face and marked body. Something about him touched her. He was like a bear on the outside, but when she looked in his eyes, she saw a weariness and loneliness that matched her own. She sighed; she was being foolish again. He either already had a spouse or like most dwarves desired none. 'Anyway,' she scolded herself, 'you just met him; it's only loneliness that caused such interest!'
Come evening, they ate in comfortable silence; Dwalin, expressing his pleasure in the meal with a single word here and there. After supper he lingered at the table as Talia cleared things away. He has been noticing things about the house and barn. There seemed to be an awful lot of dwarven craftsmanship on this homestead and it peaked his curiosity. As far as he knew, this was not an area frequented by his people. Finally, he spoke up.
"It seems I am not the first Dwarf to find work here, lassie," he said with a deep rumble. He watched her carefully.
"No, anther came through some twelve years ago. He found some work with the blacksmith. My father asked him to make the iron gate out front. He did a fine job; left right after he finished, well before the heat of the summer. My father said he was a dwarf of some importance."
"Aye," Dwalin agreed quietly, taking a swig of ale.
"You know of him?" the woman asked excitedly.
"Aye. He is Thorin Oakenshield, whom I call king."
Talliya stared openly. King? So that is why her father discouraged her interest. At first she had been hurt and then cross. Now, she was glad. Where would that have gone? Nowhere. No respectable King of the Dwarves would want a half- breed for a wife.
"He is well?" she asked, feeling the silence draw uncomfortably long.
"As well as can be expected," the dwarf replied. Dwalin took a long draw from his tankard, finishing the amber liquid. Talliya took and refilled it. Again Dwalin watched her. She was very comfortable in his presence, which really was unusual for humans, especially the female kind. Seems short, gruff, hairy males made them feel all ill at ease. Not this woman, though. There was something about her, about this homestead.
"Who did the rest?" he finally asked knowing that Thorin did not do it.
"My father," Talliya replied with a sigh. She glanced at Dwalin and gave a sad smile. "He was a Broadbeam."
That news left the stoic dwarf stunned. Her father was a dwarf? While that explained much, she was clearly not a she –dwarf. She lacked even the barest hint of a beard…unless she shaved or plucked it! Dwalin had heard of some exiled she-dwarves pulling the whiskers from their face to better blend with the humans when they sought work. The notion disturbed him greatly. Beards for both males and females were a matter of pride!
"And your mother?"
The woman took a deep breath and leaned back against the counter. "A woman, from this town actually." Talliya moved to sit across from Dwalin and continued, "My father came to the village to search for work and because, according to him, his heart was restless. They met at a summer festival. They married; Da built this homestead for her and never returned to his people. Even after she died, he did not want to leave here. I think he was unsure how welcomed I would be among his people. I would not pass for a she-dwarf. So, he stayed here and raised me himself. He passed five summers ago." Talia stared into her mug of tea. She did not want to see the disgust in Dwalin's eyes. Her father told her that dwarves rarely joined with outsiders, even other clans did not often mix. Too marry a human was almost unheard of.
Dwalin sat silently for some time. He looked at Talliya with a scrutinizing glaze. She sat with her head down, cheeks colored. He had not meant to make her uncomfortable nor bring up painful losses. He was only curious. Now that he really looked at her, he could see traces of dwarf in her—apple cheeks and slightly turned up nose. Her hair was thick and her eyes like faceted gems. She had the curves of a she-dwarf that was for sure—full bosom and softly rounded hips. Dwalin had admitted to himself earlier that she was 'pretty' now he admitted she was attractive.
That night, as Dwalin drifted to sleep, a peace settled over him. For the first time since he left, he felt his belly full of fine food and his rest better than ever and even contentment seeped into his weary bones. Best of all, that bitterness, that dark bile taste that resided deep within him lessened. Just before sleep claimed him, the old warrior's thoughts turned to Talliya. She was a fine bit of dwarf—even without a beard!