Fic: The Apprentice – Part 1 of 4

At this time, Thorin has taken work in a town of Men in a stony river valley, where the broken bridge on a Númenórean road forms a ford over a wide, grey river. The House of Durin is working its way westward to the Blue Mountains, to see what ruins of the ancient Dwarven cities there might suit as a footing to build themselves a hall – a home, at last. But they have stalled here for now, west of Dunland, for want of coin. Unusually, Thorin has come alone, after Fíli and Kíli took another contract in a town upriver. Thorin found a notice seeking metal-workers in that town’s square, and followed it here.

This is an unfriendly place, and ill-kempt. Nothing has been made with care. The public hall of the aldermen, where Thorin sought his audience, was made of plain, oiled slats, the joinery barely square. There was no waiting chamber – he was made to stand on the street to await admittance. The cobbles beneath his feet were not even grouted. A grey, windblown crowd gathered to look at him as he stood. When he nodded to them, he got no reply. He was a beggar, but with his buffed and tooled leathers, his dyed linens, his carven-hilted tools, he looked, next to them, precisely the prince he had used to be.

The town makes its living from toll-collecting on the ford, and also by panning for gold in the river’s quartz-rock shallows, which Thorin considers to be a mining game for children. The spidery veins of gold in the surface quartz suggest a deep seam beneath the earth, if only the Men here had the wit to dig. If this were a Dwarven city, well – Thorin thinks of Dale, and Erebor.

Prospectors have suffered a series of bandit attacks, and the aldermen are arming a small militia. On the notice Thorin answered, he assumed the use of the Mannish words for worker of metal, rather than smith, was just a way of speaking. But the first short falchion he forged to show them his craft took twenty days: it was folded and re-beaten fifteen times, quenched, and then tempered four times, hotter at the tip for hardness, cooler at the tang for flexibility.

By the second week, the alderman who sought to hire him was stalking past the smithy several times a day, glowering. Upon presentation of the blade at last, he gazed down its shimmering length, swung it pre-emptorily downwards through the air, and barked a bitter laugh. “Are we princes here, Master Dwarf?” the alderman said. “Are we kings?”

“I am,” Thorin Oakenshield, King Under the Mountain, refrained from saying.

So Thorin has agreed to fold the steel twice only – the quality of the rods is so mixed, he cannot justify less – and to temper only once. And he has accepted the hindrance of three Mannish apprentices, although what he is to do with them, Aulë only knows. He will deliver ten blades each turn of the moon. When the moon has turned three times, he will be free of this low place, with its loose-stoned streets and ill-stitched thatch. The only thing well-made here is the ancient road by which he will depart.


The three apprentices are lined up in the yard, the first day, with identical gawps on their faces, like three nesting dolls: large, medium and small. One great, big lout like three-quarters of a Gundabad Orc; one middling-tall string-bean of a youth; one child, shorter than Thorin, who would barely tip the scales against two stout dogs.

“Gentlemen,” Thorin says.

“Sir,” the middling youth says, anxious, but polite enough.

“Sir,” the child squeaks hurriedly.

There is nothing to do but shout at them. Just shout, and tell them exactly what they are to do. He sees no cause for faith in the judgement of people who wear sackcloth for clothes.

The big fellow – Thorin thinks of him as the Lout – can beat on an anvil like a ram on the gates of an enemy, but has about the same amount of finesse. Over the course of the first three days, he over-beats every single billet Thorin leaves him alone with, so that Thorin must reforge them. Thorin finally concludes he cannot be left alone with beating or finishing at all.

The little boy, when asked to beat hot metal, leaves only a pattern of stipples down its length like a flutter of insect’s wings. As predicted, he will be the cinder boy.

It is the third one, Dervil, who was the old smith’s apprentice before his master was taken by a fever, who shows the most promise. He is freckled and tousle-headed; he wears a loose, undyed smock and breeches kept up with a rope girdle. Alas, he is lanky with youth, and yet to find his adult strength. The first time he folds and beats out a billet, Thorin can barely see the fold, and the contour of the surface is lovely – a soft-curved fall from the stouter core to the slender edge. Thorin turns to compliment him, but sees the lad is bent over, panting, his hammer hanging from his hand like lead – he will work no more that day.

By the end of the first week, they have brought only one blade fully to completion at a standard that satisfies Thorin, and Thorin is feeling intense regret that it would be physically impossible to do the whole job alone.

Clearly he must somehow improve young Dervil. He begins by setting him to chop wood for charcoal one morning, a task that previously Thorin himself and the Lout split between them.

When he comes to fetch the lad for the noonday meal, he sees he has erred. There is a mess of multiple cuts on each piece of wood, and Dervil’s axe is wavering in the air on the upswing. “Come in to eat,” he calls, and the boy’s whole body bows with relief.

Dervil’s shoulders and arms are jumping as he ducks his head to pass Thorin and come in. He has sweated through his smock to the waist.

“Sit,” Thorin says as they reach the common table, and Dervil goes to take his place on the place at the bench beside the other two. “No, here,” Thorin says, motioning to a stump of wood that is lower to the ground.

Dervil complies, and Thorin goes to work soothing the twitching out of him. He picks up his arms one at a time, and gently rotates the wrist, bends and unbends the elbow, then rotates the shoulder – this last, especially, makes Dervil hiss, panicked. “Hush, you’re all right,” Thorin says, and firmly strokes his arm up, down and around its girth. Then it’s up again and across the shoulder blades, and down his back, then over to the other arm. It’s much like grooming a pony to warm it down. Soon enough Dervil’s twitching settles, and they join the others at the table.

“Weak as a lamb,” the Lout scoffs under his breath. The cinder boy’s eyes widen.

“The skill of the two of you together barely adds to one good smith. At least he’s trying to improve,” Thorin declares, surprised at his own thunder. “I suppose you’ve beaten that blade too wide again?”

Thorin gets up, tearing a hunk of bread in half with his teeth as he goes, and stamps away to the cooling rack, where he confirms that his accusation is just.

“Well,” he says, returning to the table, “looks like I’ll be fixing your errors this afternoon, while you chop the rest of that wood.”

The Lout exhales loudly.

“Unless you want to chop the wood?” Thorin asks the cinder boy.

“No!” the boy squeaks.

“You wouldn’t have to get in such a state as all that,” Thorin says. He points his thumb at Dervil. “I let this one go on too long, is all.”

At the look on the cinder boy’s face, Thorin says, “Maybe another time,” and tries very hard not to smile.

As they are closing up that night, Thorin says to Dervil, “Tell your mother to give you a hot bath.”

“I don’t have a mother, begging your pardon,” Dervil says. He is using a hooked poker to scrape up the coals in the forge fire and bank them for the night – there is still a slight tremble in his hand. He speaks softly, and the scraping noise makes it difficult to hear him.

“Your father, then,” Thorin says, idly annoyed – he is rehanging the tools the Lout never puts away.

It takes him a moment to notice the silence in response. “Or whoever there is,” he says.

“Landlady charges two coppers a bath. Which I don’t happen to have,” Dervil replies. His tone is the closest to disrespectful he has ever been to Thorin.

Thorin uncinches his coin purse and fumbles for two small coins. When he looks at them in the light, both are copper, but one is Mannish and one Dwarven. “See if she’ll take that,” he says, and proffers them.

“I’m not a pauper,” Dervil says hotly, letting the poker fall to the bricked floor with a clang.

“I’m your master,” Thorin says. “It’s my fault I worked you too hard. If you’re too sore tomorrow, I can’t make use of you.”

The lad stares at the floor.

“Do as you’re told and take it,” Thorin says. “And pick up that poker.”


One morning, a young woman flicks the gate open carelessly and sidles up the smithy. She’s blonde – a pretty one, at least in the mode of these long-shanked, hairless folk – a full-grown woman at an age when a girl of his people would still be an infant.

“Well, then, Dervil,” she says. “How’s your new master treating you, then?”

Dervil sets his hammer down and splits his freckled face in a grin. “Well enough,” he says, flicking a glance at Thorin.

They are still well-behind schedule since the disaster of the first week. Thorin strikes the red-hot rods on the anvil with a clash.

“Does he talk, then?” she says, dimpling.

“When he needs to,” Dervil says. He was already flushed from the heat of the forge before she arrived, but now the flush has spread to his neck.

“Doesn’t he say hello to a person when he meets her?” She turns to look directly at Thorin. Her hands are on her hips; her head is tilted.

Thorin assesses her. Her clothes are rough-spun but clean, modest in cut but girdled to cleave to her figure. The daughter of a humbler sort of shopkeep?

He notes that both the other apprentices have set down their tasks to watch. Every moment they spend on this is a moment Thorin’s people cannot depart to the west.

“You’ll have to ask him yourself,” Dervil mumbles. Embarrassment and pleasure battle in his voice.

The girl raises one scanty, pale eyebrow.

Thorin meets her eye steadily, and strikes the anvil hard, throwing up sparks.


The Lout has already been banned from folding and beating unless supervised. Then, one day, he leaves a shocking warp on a blade by clanging it on the way into the quenching water. So he is no longer allowed to quench either. He is left only with welding the initial billets, where if his work is poor, it can be beaten out in the forging later.

But this leaves not enough heavy work for Dervil to do to build his strength. So Thorin rotates them frequently in their tasks, using his own time to supervise the Lout closely when required.

He sets Dervil three sessions of woodchopping a day – he is to work each time until his muscles begin twitching, then stop and move to the next task. The cinder boy clearly envies his progress, so Thorin sets him a small program as well: each time Dervil finishes, the little one may take over and split three pre-sectioned logs. As the weeks pass, he progresses to four, then five, and struts around like a prize rooster with each increase.

All this slows them down, of course: Dervil takes longer with heavy tasks, and Thorin’s supervision of the Lout slows the finishing work down to a crawl.

The Lout grows ever more irritated. Clearly he would rather, in his stolid way, be set a single thing to do and dumbly do it all day, till his strength or the materials at hand ran out.

One day, at last, the Lout swings the blocksplitter vengefully deep into the earth, lays a hand on his hip and brays the ugly truth of his real concern: “He’s paid the same as me. And you let him work less.” He means Dervil.

“You’re paid to turn up and do what I tell you,” Thorin says. “Same as him. I’m telling him to improve himself, so he is. He’s keeping his bargain, same as you. It’s no skin off your nose.”

“If we don’t have the swords on time, we’ll all get docked.”

“If we cannot deliver on account of some failing of my leadership,” Thorin booms, “I will pay you all you are owed.”

The Lout drops his gaze. “All right,” he mutters, and turns to go inside.

“I will teach you,” Thorin offers, with as much grace as he can muster. “I will teach you as I teach him, if you wish it.”

The fellow turns back towards him.

“But I do not think you do wish it,” Thorin says. “I fear you do not love your craft enough to make it worthwhile.”

The Lout laughs. “I save my love for a bit of skirt, mate. You ought to try it.”

Thorin smiles politely.

Through the open wall of the smithy, Thorin catches the eye of Dervil, inside at the forge with his hammer hovering in mid-air. Thorin raises an eyebrow. Dervil ducks his head and goes back to pacing an even spread of light, careful blows down the outer edge of a blade.


The girl catches Thorin again, several days later, when he goes for a walk up the stamped-dirt street that leads uphill from the smithy, just before sundown. She darts out from a lane between two low cottages, into his path. “Where are you going, then?”

“For a walk,” he says.

“Well,” she says, “I shall come with you.” She falls into step beside him.

Alarm flits in his breast. Clearly her kin let her roam as she will, but if she should be seen by some acquaintance, chasing after him? He thinks of the sour-faced crowd outside the public hall on his first day.

He carries on, making an effort not to speed up. He knows how his stride frustrates longer-legged folk if they walk beside him for long. She, however, rocks herself from foot to foot as she walks to slow herself down, and remains placid.

“Where are we going for a walk to, though?” she says.

“You should carry on to wherever you were going before you met me.”

“I was following you from the smithy when I met you. So I’ll just be carrying on wherever you’re going.” The smile in her voice only brightens.

He can see from the corner of his eye that she is craning her neck to look down at him. He looks resolutely ahead.

“You don’t like to talk much, do you?” she says.

A number of replies leap to mind. He quashes them all.

The cottages are poorer and further apart, the further they venture from the main street.

“We’ve never seen your kind in town before,” she says. “Where did you come from?”

“Before this, I was working downriver,” he replies.

“And what about before that?”

“Even further downriver.”

“Yes, but where did you come from?”

He allows a full ten steps to pass in silence. “Far away,” he says.

They trudge on uphill. Soon they have left the town, and are climbing among sparse, windblown scrub.

Suddenly she stops and laughs. “Is that where you’re taking me?”

It’s a small granite bluff protruding from the hillside, amid a stand of bent, yellowish trees.

“Yes.” He cannot bring himself to ask what is funny.

There is a kind of path up the side of the bluff, where the block-ended shards eroding off the edge of the granite have been used as stairs by many feet. He motions her to go first, as he would any woman at a threshold, but then sees his error. The climb exposes her legs beneath her skirt. He turns his face aside and waits for her to reach the top. When he judges it safe to resume his own ascent, he looks up, only to see her sitting on the top step, dimple-cheeked, with her skirt pulled up to her knees, swinging her bare calves out into space. There is nothing to do but carry on climbing and studiously watch his footholds.

The earth on top is thick with bracken. Here and there, roundish patches of the bracken have been crushed flat, as though animals have been lying there.

They have arrived just at the right moment. He stands at the stony crest of the bluff, at the highest vantage point. The drear, grey land below lies soft under a golden haze. The falling light turns the river to a sword of living mithril.

“Oh,” she says, moving up to stand beside him.

He tries to remember what he felt when he last came up here alone. The deep drop into the valley below, and the beauty shining there, the flinty scent on the breeze – he recalls that the clenched fist that lives always inside his chest eased open a fraction.

“Just now I think this must be the most beautiful place in the world,” she says, dreamy.

His heart moves for her for the first time – in pity. He could so easily tell her of a city beneath a mountain where the carven vaulted halls are deep as mountains themselves, where whole rooms flash silver and gold from every surface, where vats of gems may be poured out in a shower, bright as stars. It is a subject on which he has a great deal to say. But it would be unkind.

Then the light fades, and they are merely looking down upon a grey, unlovely place while the wind tears down cold from the heights above.

She speaks again, tension in her voice. “Did you know this is where boys bring girls to lie with them?”

“No,” he says.

“No,” she echoes. “I don’t suppose you would.”

He is annoyed. It means he cannot come here again, and he has enjoyed coming here. He tries to imagine his frustration as a stream that springs from beneath his ribcage and pours away freely down the hillside to disperse.


Now that his old walks to the bluff are denied him, Thorin has nowhere to go of an evening. His departure on the walk used to announce the end of the workday for the apprentices. Now the Lout and the cinder boy take to leaving at sunset. But Dervil tends to hang around later. By rights Thorin ought to defend his leisure against this incursion, but in truth he has little better to do with the hours after dark but various smallcrafts, and it is not unpleasant to teach them to Dervil as he goes. Dervil, being quite in awe of him, is certainly a fair better behaved audience than Thorin’s nephews ever were.

When they carve a set of dice to be inlaid with silver, Dervil makes sample number pips all up and down a scrap piece of timber. Still not satisfied, he shadows his hands over Thorin’s as Thorin demonstrates his own technique. “I think I’m just not strong enough to be so controlled,” Dervil says at last, tragically.

“Nonsense. Look how you’ve improved,” Thorin says, holding up the scrap timber.

Privately, Thorin thinks Dervil’s final die could have been made by a Dwarf – though perhaps on a bad day.

The tooling of a tan leather belt, which Thorin intends to replace Dervil’s rope girdle, goes especially well, right up until Dervil realises it is a gift and he the recipient, whereupon he goes quite pink and cross, and repeats his old protest, “I’ve told you, I’m not a bloody pauper!”

At this time in Thorin’s life, an exile and a pauper himself, he would rather die than accept charity. And yet, he means to make Dervil do so with all his might. He asserts the master’s prerogative of scolding. “Young man, I have no wish to insult you, but you must know you run errands for me about the town, and it does nothing to ornament the reputation of your master to see you go about dressed like some mendicant.” He flips the end of Dervil’s girdle rudely.

Dervil is stunned by outrage, and Thorin seizes the moment to thread the belt about his bony hips.

“Besides,” Thorin says, “I’ve nothing better to do of an evening than keep my hands busy. I have no use for the thing now I’ve made it. You do me a kindness to take it off my hands.”

“Well,” the lad says at last, angrily, miserably, his face aflame, “thank you.”

“It’s supper-time,” Thorin said. “Come and help.” He stalks off to the living quarters of the smithy-house. When Dervil does not follow fast enough, he thunders back at him, “There’s an onion and a turnip as needs cutting, and hurry up about it.”


Thorin soon devises a plan for Dervil, and begins to take the necessary steps. Matters come to a head one afternoon, more quickly than he planned, when Dervil is burned very nastily with a large, flying flake of iron that singes straight through his rough shirt. By the time Thorin gets to him and helps him off with the shirt, a welt above his ribcage is already florid and blistering. Thorin has him kneel over the firebucket, and splashes the burn with water for him until he can do it himself. In the meantime, he has the cinder boy, wide-eyed, draw water up from the well and fill a cold bath in the living quarters. When it’s done, he brings Dervil in, strips him and ushers him into the water, where he sighs with relief, but immediately begins shaking like a leaf from the cold.

“Stay in as long as you can stand,” Thorin says. “I’ve some ointment, but the best thing at first is cold water.”

“All right,” Dervil says, voice chattering. Thorin tousles his head.

Then Thorin has a thought. “Are your legs long enough to hang out the sides? You might be less cold.” He helps Dervil swing his legs out. Above the rim of the bath there now protrude one tassel of grubby flaxen hair like a frayed end of rope, and two skinny legs with big, jutting feet. “You look like a goose that fought back halfway into the pot,” Thorin says, and tousles his hair again for good measure. Dervil’s spirits must be improving – he swats Thorin’s hand.

“I’ll be back shortly,” Thorin says. “Stay in if you can.”

He goes back out to the others, who have flagrantly downed tools in favour of craning their necks. “He’ll be fine,” he announces. “There’s a good hour till sundown. Back to work, thank you.”

He pulls the shade-cloths down around the forge fire and heats the billet Dervil had just begun to beat, to examine it. There’s a persistent shadow in the red heat of one of the rods – an unevenness that could easily have made a hammer blow stutter. Wrath rises in his heart.

He goes to the storeroom, and the rack that holds their stock of rods. At Thorin’s command, the cinder boy has inspected them and sorted them into piles by quality. The pile of the poor ones is the largest. A full half of them would be as dangerous to work with as the one that injured Dervil today.

He counts the rods in each pile, and acknowledges the truth: there is no way to fulfil their contract without the poor ones. Of course, he has counted them several times before, and come to the same conclusion – but somehow his anger aroused some new, mad hope.

He pinches the bridge of his nose, and goes back in to Dervil.

In the cold bath, the lad’s face is marble-white beneath his freckles, with spots of magenta on his cheeks. Thorin has to lift him out bodily, under the arms, like a child. He’s lost circulation to his legs, which hang, pigeon-toed. He’s far too tall for Thorin to lift him off his feet, but he can’t take his own weight just now, so they are left staggering until Thorin can tumble him down onto the sheet he laid on the sleeping pallet earlier. Dervil huffs happily when Thorin wraps the edges around him and begins to pat him dry. A moment later, the relative warmth of the air awakens the burn again. He whimpers, wide-eyed.

“All right,” Thorin says, “time for that ointment.” He fetches it from among his things – a small lidded pot of red, patinated steel, engraved and embossed, of his own make.

The scent is cool and herbal – a smell of Thorin’s childhood hearth. But Dervil can barely sit still to tolerate the first fingerful. “Shall I hold you down?” Thorin asks.

Dervil lies back, accepting Thorin’s forearm across his chest. Thorin gets the ointment on easily enough then, though Dervil’s ribs are heaving.

“There,” Thorin says. “This is the worst part. It’ll settle down soon.”

Dervil takes a few breaths still lying on his back, then smiles wanly and sits himself up.

Today has at least satisfied a longstanding curiosity of Thorin’s about the bodies of Men. He was not sure if perhaps they were bald all over – but no, Dervil’s groin and thighs are quite satisfactorily hairy, and the patches on his chest and belly show a pattern that suggests more will yet grow as he advances further into manhood.

“Stay a while till the pain eases,” Thorin says. “I’ll make supper.”

“Thank you,” Dervil says.

Thorin goes outside and dismisses the others, then closes up the shop for the night.

When he returns, he brings in a shovel of coals for the stove, and puts some soaked beans and beef bones on to boil. He looks at the bath. “Might as well have one myself,” he says, and puts another pot on to boil for hot to add to the cold bathwater later.

“Now, young man,” he says, as he begins to cut some vegetables, “I’ve a matter to discuss with you, and this injury of yours, though unfortunate, is also serendipitous.”

Seren-what-imus?” Dervil says, pert.

“Never mind that,” Thorin says. “The point is, you need a suit of leather clothes, at minimum, to carry on in your profession.”

Dervil’s face flickers, bleak. Thorin hurries on. “I know you have no coin for it. But the tanner across the river needs a cauldron. And we have the bronze for it in the storeroom, and we have a cauldron cast. So –”

“So you’ve got it all worked out, have you?” Dervil says, bitter. “You’ve let him know my business. Let him know I’m a beggar. And all before you spoke to me.”

Thorin exhales slowly, quashing the urge to shout. “You are the best man I have available to assist me with this contract, and I need you to be appropriately equipped.”

“You’ve always got a story ready, haven’t you,” Dervil says.

“I am little better than a wandering tinker, begging at your aldermen’s table for crumbs. Are you so grand you will not take a favour from a tinker?”

“You’re not a tinker!” Dervil says. He picks up the decorated ointment pot. “Look at this!” He gestures to Thorin’s battle-axe where it hangs on the wall. “Look at that!”

Thorin holds his face still, trying not to smile. Dervil’s own smile suggests he is not succeeding.

“This needs a parsnip, I think,” Thorin says, turning back to the soup.

“I hate parsnips,” Dervil says.

Thorin chops the parsnip with particular relish before slopping it into the pot.

They’ve almost finishing eating when Thorin asks, finally, “Will you go and speak to the tanner tomorrow, then?”

At length, Dervil says, “Yes. You win.”

The bathing water has boiled. “I’ll need that sheet back, I am afraid,” Thorin says, rising. “Can you bend enough to put your breeches back on?”

Dervil hesitates. “I shall take that for a no,” Thorin says, and helps the young man to his feet, the sheet dropping behind him.

Thorin goes to his knees and holds the legholes of the breeches open. Dervil’s neck and chest have suddenly flushed livid. Thorin is amused. Dervil steps into the breeches and Thorin pulls them up for him.

Thorin bathes himself. When he has finished, he stands up in the tub to let the water stream out of the pelt of his body hair, then begins to wring out the hair of his head. There is no mistaking that Dervil is staring.

“Have I something in my trousers to which you are not accustomed, young man?” Thorin says drily.

“No,” Dervil says, and puts his hand over his mouth.

Thorin wraps himself in the sheet perhaps sooner than he might have otherwise.

He sits on the pallet to oil, comb and braid his hair. Sitting side by side with Dervil, it is easier to ignore that the lad is once again staring.


The Lout is shirty when Dervil heads off on an errand for the morning. He is shirtier still when, over the next week, Dervil drags out the cauldron mould, cleans it, damps and sands it, and then occupies most of the furnace with a large crucible.

Watching Dervil pour the molten metal into the mould, the Lout cannot contain himself any longer. “This doesn’t look much like swordsmithing,” he says to Thorin. His voice, at least, is an undertone, pitched to avoid startling the man with the boiling liquid.

“I thought I had made it clear,” Thorin says, “that I do not explain myself to you.”

The Lout strides away. He swings the blocksplitter at a tree in the yard, and lodges it there. When he yanks it out again and goes back to work, Thorin decides not to comment.

The cat is out of the bag when the carter comes to collect the cauldron, and then, two days later, Dervil arrives at work in a brand new leather jerkin and breeches.

Dervil is too pleased with himself to scent the danger on the air. “What do you think, then?” he says to Thorin, brushing imaginary dust from his chest.

“Too early in the morning to go digging for compliments, thank you,” Thorin says.

Dervil grins.

The Lout snorts, and stamps off into the yard.

“What’s up his jumper?” Dervil says.

“Get to work,” Thorin says. To the cinder boy, whose face is like a spectator’s at a ball game, he says, “And you.”

They do, with reluctance.

The Lout is striding back and forth in the yard. When he makes to return to the smithy, Thorin steps out into his path.

“This is what’s bloody well going on, then?” the man spits. “You’re outfitting your sodding catamite.”

“Watch your mouth,” Thorin says.

The Lout comes close to Thorin. He’s a full two heads taller than him, broad as a bull, and blowing like one. He’s holding the blocksplitter two hands’ breadth from the head.

“If you don’t like it,” Thorin says quietly, “you know what to do.”

Their eyes are locked. The man’s breath is hot and stale on Thorin’s face.

“Sod this,” the Lout says, at last. He throws the blocksplitter away towards the fence, and stalks from the yard, leaving the gate open behind him.

As the man’s back grows smaller on the road, Thorin becomes aware of the absence of sound from within the smithy. “Do we not recall what work is?” he shouts.

 

Part 2 >>

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