5. Arrangements Made
Three weeks passed and although they spoke little both Talliya and Dwalin seemed comfortable with their arrangement. Each morning they shared a hearty breakfast then went off to their respective duties. At mid day, the woman brought the dwarf a tray of dried meats, cheese, and fruit or vegetables and a tall mug of ale. At supper, they ate in relative silence or discussing the projects around the homestead. Dwalin would then close up the barn and enjoy his pipe and Talliya would clean up and retire to her room or finish some sewing by the fire. All and all it was an amicable situation.
Talliya enjoyed Dwalin's company greatly; however, she knew, the longer he stayed the more attached she would become. Although their working relationship grew into what she felt was a friendship, she realized the dwarf, eventually, would decide to leave. She would be alone again and there was nothing she could do about it. Why did he have to be so ruggedly appealing? The half-blood sighed and leaned back in her chair, her stitching forgotten as she thought about Dwalin. He was the strongest being she had ever met yet there was a gentleness about him. She knew others found his markings and scars frightful; she thought they added character. Each one carried a memory she of that she was sure. The life he must lead, the things he must have seen! Deep-set smoldering eyes and a bear of a chest often haunted her dreams and she wondered how it would feel to be wrapped in his strong arms. Mama had implied it was like being cocooned in almost smothering warmth, at least that was how Talliya interpreted what her mother wrote in her journal.
Her mama had kept a very intimate journal, which Talliya had found some years earlier and taken to reading. It gave her insight into her mother and father's relationship and into life in general. Amid the day-to-day entries were some that would have made an orc blush! The half-dwarf found herself now re-reading those passages, suddenly taking more of an interest in what they described. In the solitude of her room, in the dark of the night she laid awake and fantasized. Curiosity awoke and honestly, it left her wanting with no relief in sight. Talliya sighed and returned to her stitching; daydreaming would have to wait. Lost in her thoughts and work, she was unaware that she was the subject of scrutiny.
Dwalin leaned by the window , chewing on his pipe stem and gazing at the stars. The more Dwalin worked, the more at ease he felt. The restlessness in his spirit quieted and he no longer felt the need to move on so quickly. He felt content here, as if he belonged despite the reservations of the townsfolk. His eyes drifted to Talliya and he wondered if her Da had felt this way. Something inside him tingled as he watched her. In the firelight her hair was burnished copper, dark and rich. Aye, she was most appealing and his desire stirred often when he thought of her. She seemed to be taking a respite from her stitching as she leaned back in the chair, eyes closed, her rosy lips relaxed and inviting. He had lain with a wench or two in his time; seems women are fonder of trinkets and baubles than fearful of dwarves. They had serviced him well and he enjoyed such pleasure but it always left him feeling the same as when he arrived. Dwalin began to wonder what it would be like with Talliya. She was a strong lass, but could she handle his passion, his need? He shifted uncomfortably as images of her writhing against him filled his mind…
The dwarf blinked and found questioning green eyes looking at him. He cleared his throat and shifted again. When had his trousers become so snug? "What?" he mumbled.
Talliya smiled. She had caught him looking at her, lost in thought. "You seem many miles away."
"Just thinking." The dwarf noticed that she seemed to expect more of an answer so he continued, "Was thinking about leaving by the first frost and heading back to the Blue Mountains…"
"Oh," the half-blood said, her voice tinged with disappointment. "Well, I will see to your pay..."
The Dwarf spoke on, ignoring her comment. "…But the barn needs work. I'll stay through the winter."
The pronouncement took Talliya by surprise; just like a dwarf to state it as fact, as if she had no choice in the matter. Her heart began to flutter and race. She schooled her features though and replied as calmly as she could, "I see, very well—if you are willing to do the repairs, I am willing to keep you on."
Dwalin nodded then stretched. "Well, best get some rest. Want to get started early." The dwarf gave a nod and vanished into the back room.
Talliya sighed. The thought of wintering with the dwarf made her body tingle but she was only fooling herself. Dwalin would never be interested in her. She sighed and returned to her stitching. She would need to do more work in order to support them and pay him come spring.
Summer stretched in to autumn. The wall was done and the root cellar carved out. Dwalin's and Talliya's relationship seemed to remain unchanged, although the dwarf engaged in conversation more often. Talliya began asking general questions about the dwarf, always making sure to keep from prying too deep. She had always been curious about that part of her heritage and her Da shared little, doing his best to raise her to interact with the humans.
Dwalin awoke with the sun on a crisp autumn morning. As he washed and dressed, he smelled no breakfast. That was odd. Talliya always woke early! He moved to the kitchen, only embers remained, the cook fire almost out. The dwarf glanced towards Talliya's room and noticed the door open, the bed made. Finally, he caught a glimpse of a slender hand hanging from the arm of the big chair. Quietly he made his way into the main room and around the chair. It seems the lass never got herself to bed and fell asleep where she sat, a half mended skirt still in her lap. The dwarf watched her for a moment, her breathing relaxed. She looked so peaceful, so vulnerable, so desirable. Dwalin reached out to touch her cheek, but pulled his rough hand back. If he woke her, she would begin her day franticly fussing because breakfast was not ready. She worked hard enough, seeing to his meals and wash, and then spent her evenings sewing for others; she deserved a quiet morning.
Leaving silently, Dwalin hitched the wagon, loaded a sack of corn and headed to the mill. He had a few things to acquire in town and from the quarry so he could finish the root cellar. He figured he would be back at the homestead just past midday. Pulling up to the mill, he noticed the miller shin-deep in the river. Hopping from the wagon, the dwarf approached him.
The man looked up. "Ah, Master Dwarf! What can I do for you?" He began to climb up the small embankment.
"Brought a bag of corn; Talliya said to grind it fine."
"Well, come then, let's get it weighed and marked."
The dwarf grabbed the sack and followed the miller into the mill. He set it on the scale and watched with a careful eye. This man seemed honest and rather friendly but still, a dwarf is a dwarf. Once everything was squared away, Dwalin thanked the man and made to leave.
"A moment, if you can," the miller called after the dwarf.
Dwalin turned, strong arms folded across his chest, and waited for him to approach. The miller hastened toward the waiting dwarf.
"I know you work for Talliya but, if you could spare a day or two before the river starts to freeze, I could use some help fortifying the wall that supports the wheel. The summer storms and rising river weakened it. I am willing to pay well."
Dwalin considered the offer. He did not really need the money however, Talliya did. The dwarf knew her coffers had to be running low. He could give the money to her, although he guessed she would refuse it. Then he had an idea.
"I will help you but whatever you would pay me, see that Talliya gets that amount in feed instead."
The Miller smiled. That was a fair trade. He and his wife were fond of Talliya and happily helped any way they could. He was please to see the dwarf was not milking her generosity. "Agreed," he said extending his hand. They shook on it, Dwalin agreeing to come by in three days' time, weather willing.
Talliya awoke, squinting in the morning sun. She was stiff but rested. Realizing she slept in the chair, she quickly looked around, noticing how late it was. She sprang from the chair, rushed to the kitchen to stoke the cook fire back to life. There was no sound from the back of the cottage and she assumed Dwalin had already risen. The half-dwarf could not fathom why he had not woken her. She went to her room, changed and headed to the barn. The wagon was gone as was the sack of corn. The dwarf went to the mill for her and most likely to pick up supplies for the root cellar. It was nearing midday so Talliya returned to the kitchen to prepare a meal. Dwalin would most likely be hungry when he returned.
Dwalin returned as expected just as the sun moved from the highest point. He entered the cottage just asTalliya finished setting the table.
"Oh Dwalin, I'm so sorry! I can't imagine how I over slept. You should have woken me."
"You needed rest." Dwalin took a seat at the table.
"But what of your breakfast?"
Helping himself, Dwalin answered, "Managed."
"I feel terrible…"
"Let it go, lassie."
Talliya made to speak again but the look he gave her stopped her. The extra few hours of sleep had done wonders. Perhaps Dwalin was right. Moving the conversation along, she said, "Thank you for taking the grain. Were you able to get what you needed to finish the cellar?"
"Aye. Should have it finished in a few days."
"That will be good. I am almost ready to start stocking for winter."
"Made an arrangement with the miller. He needs help with his retaining wall; told him I'd help."
Talliya got up and hurried to her room. Moments later, she returned with a small pouch. It was set before the Dwarf.
"What's this?" Dwalin asked, already knowing the answer.
"You needn't take another job; I said I would pay. You've been working nearly a two moons."
Dwalin pushed the coin pouch away and regarded her. Taking his usual position of arms crossed over his massive chest he replied, "I have a roof and bed and fine food to eat. I don't need the coin; we're even."
"No, we agreed…"
Dwalin stood, snatched the coin and came before the half-dwarf. Firmly he grasped her hand turning the palm up and deposited the small bundle. "You said you could not pay what the quarry or mill could but offered food and bed. I accepted." The look on his face brooked no argument. Dwalin gave a nod and left, leaving Talliya stunned.