Fic: The Apprentice – Part 2 of 4

When he hears metal clashing on metal once more, Thorin retires to the common table with a ledger book, a pencil and an abacus.

At the noon meal, he presents his findings to the apprentices. “Well, my friends,” he says, “I have reviewed my accounts. And we have two choices before us. Either I go and chase after that great lump, and kiss up to him so he’ll come back. Or –” He puts the numbers to them – how much they must each do per day, if they are to fulfil their contract without the big fellow to help.

“I can do it!” pipes the cinder boy, bold as brass. Thorin nods, trying not to smile.

“And you?” he says to Dervil. “You are stronger every day. But this is more than you have ever done to date.”

Dervil hesitates. It is only, Thorin thinks, the burning look on the cinder boy’s face that makes him finally say: “Yes. Yes, I can.”


It’s wondrous, in the end, how well they come together – like a machine freed of a sticky cog. There is no griping now, no hesitating, no crossing of purposes. Each of them knows the moment he finishes a task, there is another pair of hands at the ready, eager to receive the product – and this makes him eager to finish quickly. By the end of the first day, they are only a fraction behind where they would have been had the Lout stayed. By the second, they’re a fraction ahead. Dervil and the little fellow are actually racing each other, Thorin realises, when he sees the cinder boy empty a cooling rack faster than Dervil can fill it, then stand with his hand jauntily on his hip in a silent taunt.

Still, there are limits to what mortal bodies can do. Before midday on the fourth day, Thorin turns away from the forge for a moment to scratch an itch, and catches Dervil quietly crouching over to pant, hands braced on his knees. He calls them to the table to eat early, and watches them both tear into their bread like frenzied wolves.

“I see I must manage you, lest you gallop yourselves to death like ponies,” Thorin says, and fetches them more to eat from his personal stores.

When they’ve finished, and calmed themselves, Thorin sends the cinder boy into town for more bread and a new wheel of cheese. Once he’s gone, Thorin says to Dervil, “How are you bearing up, young man?”

“Well enough,” Dervil says, eyes down.

Thorin goes to him and touches the back of his shoulders. But it’s too difficult to feel anything through the leather jerkin, so Thorin unbuttons it until he can spread the neckline open and insert his hands. As expected, the muscles of Dervil’s shoulder are raised, hot and ropey to the touch. The lad leans his head back against Thorin’s chest.

“To push yourself is a fine thing, and will make you stronger,” Thorin says. “But you must stop pushing before you reach exhaustion. What good is it if you do much today, but then you can do nothing for days afterward?”

“I don’t want to fall behind,” Dervil says.

“If you’re falling behind, I’ll tell you,” Thorin says, and pats him – gently.

Thorin institutes a new regime then, that very afternoon: they will break briefly on the hour, every hour, to rest and stretch, and they will eat a small meal at mid-morning and mid-afternoon in addition to the large one at midday.

The new regime comes too late for Dervil, that first day: he has already done for himself in high style. Thorin feeds him supper that night, then puts him in a hot bath. Before he can doze off in there, Thorin drags him out, then adds another pan of hot water and gets in himself.

He is re-braiding his hair afterwards when he feels a weight slump onto his thigh. He thinks Dervil is being affectionate, but then he realises the lad has fallen asleep with his head in Thorin’s lap, without ever managing to put his clothes back on.

The burn on Dervil’s ribs has scabbed into a leathery patch the colour of a wine spill, Thorin notes. He rubs some ointment into it.


They are hard and fast at work, one afternoon, when the girl comes back. “Fancy meeting you fellows here,” she calls, loud enough to be heard over hammer blows.

Thorin barely spares her a scowl. Surely she knows they cannot pause while beating hot metal?

He is pleased to hear that the rhythm of Dervil’s hammer remains steady, too.

The cinder boy’s voice pipes up: “Begging your pardon, Miss –” Thorin cannot make out the rest, but he trusts the little one is explaining the case to her.

When he looks up a while later, he sees she has sat herself down on a bench to wait, twirling an artfully straying lock of her hair around her finger. She has much the same, self-satisfied air as she always does – as if she is the only one in on a joke. He feels a surge of pure and pointed irritation.

When they have finished on the anvil for now, courtesy obliges him to speak. “Madam,” he says forcefully, “I regret we are hard at work and unable to entertain callers.”

Dervil is virtually scuttling on his way to his next task. Thorin should perhaps reassure him later that he does not hold him to blame; clearly the wench is ungovernable.

“That’s all right,” she says. “I’ll just enjoy the view.”

He cannot think what else to do, short of threatening her with a weapon. So he turns his back, and makes for the storeroom to fetch new rods for the next batch of blades.

He is inspecting a pair of them by holding them up to the light from the storeroom door when, abruptly, the light is extinguished. Someone has closed the door.

He gropes for the head of a battle-axe above his shoulder. But of course it is not there.

It’s the blighted girl.

“Madam,” he says, as rudely as he dares.

“Hello,” she says.

“Can I help you?”

“I’m not sure,” she says. She sits herself down on a barrel, between him and the door. “I was hoping you’d come to see me.”

“Why would I come to see you?”

“I just thought you might.”

“I don’t know where you live,” he protests.

“Of course you do,” she says. “Where I met you in the street, that time.”

He is stymied. His eyes have adjusted to the gloom now – he sees there is a new, satin ribbon tied around her dress beneath the bust, and another in her hair.

“I have no cause to be visiting young women,” he says. His voice is rather limp to his own ears.

She gets up, steps within arm’s reach of him. “None at all?”

He is a fool. He has just now realised what she wants.

A confused rush of fantasy. He has never actually had the opportunity – there are so few Dwarven women, and he has been cautious with the good name of his House, and busy with his crafts besides. But he has certainly thought on it – indeed, a great deal, especially when he was younger.

This girl – how tall her knees would be, if she were on her back, spreading them. And perhaps it is the women of this race who are as beardless below as they are above? Perverse, to think of it.

He has heard Men’s cocks are not as thick as Dwarves’ – it is true of Dervil’s, in the bath, to be sure. Would it hurt her? He thinks of her bent over that barrel, skirts up, stricken and flushed, as he squeezes himself in. That would repay her pertness, no?

She moves – a step back.

He is startled from a reverie in which he has been assessing the shape of her body rather intently.

Her face is pinched. Is she frightened?

He lifts a hand to reassure.

She steps back twice more, quickly. “I shall be on my way, then,” she says, voice quivering.

She is groping at the catch of the door, struggling in her haste. Then she is out, and gone.

He barks a single laugh. He supposes he is a strange and beastly creature to the Mannish eye, apt to cause alarm if caught leering at maidens.

He will have no more unwanted visits from her, he thinks. Which is a relief.

Still, that short moment of leering has stirred him as he does not recall being stirred for years. He is obliged to sit a while in the storeroom, embarrassed, waiting for the blood to subside.


When he returns to the yard, Dervil is belting the blocksplitter into a stump over and over, frenzied as a wind-up toy. “Lad?” Thorin says.

“What?” Dervil says, strained – though whether from breathlessness or some other cause, Thorin cannot tell.

“Are you well?”

“Fine.” His action does not slow.

Thorin leaves him to it a while, and goes in to put the rods for the next billets in the fire to heat.

When they’re ready, he calls, “Lad?”

Dervil comes in flushed, rope-end hair sticking to his forehead. He clangs the metal down on the anvil and beats it ringingly hard.

“Dervil!” Thorin says. “Settle down. You’ll do yourself in.”

Dervil steps back, letting the end of his billet drop onto the anvil with a clang. “Did you lie with her, then?” he demands.

“No.” Thorin is too startled to know what else to say.

“Really?”

“Really,” Thorin says. He wants to say it would have taken longer than the time he was in the storeroom. But absent personal experience, he is not entirely sure of his facts.

“Don’t you like girls?”

“Go back to work,” Thorin says.

“What were you doing in there then?” Dervil says.

“Fetching new rods. What do you think?” Thorin puts his own billet down. They stare at each other.

Dervil consents to return to the anvil and pick up his billet. But he strikes his work only once before he stops again. “She says you took her up to the bluff.”

Thorin loses control of himself so far as to sigh.

“Did you?” Dervil says.

“I went for a walk,” Thorin says. “She happened to invite herself along. That is all.” He feels he ought to protest this interrogation – certainly, that he ought not be answering. But the whole thing is so unexpected, he is quite wrong-footed by it.

“And what did you do when you were there?”

“Looked at the view,” Thorin says, helplessly.

“The one under her skirts?”

“The one over the township at sundown.” Thorin manages to squeeze a touch of authority back into his voice, at last. “Now will you go back to work?”

Dervil does, but he carries on in the same, impossible mood all day. He says not another word, only works fast as a spinning top at whatever his current task is, until he’s winded and needs to spin away into the yard a while. Then he staggers back in and starts again at the same breakneck pace.

One of the times that he’s out in the yard, Thorin says in an undertone to the cinder boy, “What’s wrong with him?”

But the boy only looks a little shifty – though perhaps Thorin is imagining this – and shrugs his shoulders.


Not unpredictably, by the end of the day Dervil is a wreck – eyes barely focussed, muscles twitching all over his body. “You are staying for a bath, I take it,” Thorin says, and claps him on the back. Dervil almost falls before he can take a seat on the bench at the common table.

“Should I ask the little one if he wants one too, I wonder,” Thorin says. He is half thinking aloud.

“His name,” Dervil says, with sudden outrage, “is Oswald.”

“All right,” Thorin says, “all right!”

“And no,” Dervil says, urgently. “Just give him a copper for the landlady. We’ll be up all night if he stays here.”

“All right,” Thorin says again. It seems he must placate this youth all night and day. Oddly, his usual temper has gone into hiding. “Oswald?” he calls.

“Yes, Master?” The cinder boy seems to stand a foot taller at being called by name, which makes Thorin suitably embarrassed.

“Coins for a hot bath tonight,” Thorin says, and hands them over.

“Thank you, sir,” the boy – Oswald – says, beaming.

“Off you go, then,” Thorin says.


Later, in the bath, Dervil quakes like a leaf. Thorin strokes him, long and gentle, up and down his arms and the planes of his back, which leap with tension. He eases the lad down deep into the water, up to his chin, to get the heat into the tightest parts, and reaches in to carry on rubbing under the water. Dervil stares into the middle distance, gasping.

But even when the worst of the knots have softened under Thorin’s hands, Dervil is still shaking. At a loss, Thorin pats him as he might a hound. Dervil leans the side of his face pitifully against Thorin’s chest.

When the bath has cooled, and Dervil’s fingertips are water-logged craggy as granite, Thorin gets him up. For a moment it seems he will refuse to stand on his own feet. But he recovers, and gets himself out unaided, clamping the sheet over his groin – a strange, belated modesty.

Thorin’s shirt is soaked in the sleeves and front, so he removes it and sets it to hang. With a huff, Dervil sits down on the sleeping pallet. His gaze rolls like a frightened animal’s. Thorin sits down beside him and puts an arm around him. “You are not well, are you?” Thorin says. Dervil only hunches and tilts in response, laying his head on Thorin’s shoulder.

Thorin explores Dervil’s back with his hand. The right shoulder is hottest, which is to be expected. He can just reach the pot of ointment on the upturned crate by the bedside. He applies a generous smear to Dervil’s shoulder, and rubs it in – firmly, as is most healing for a muscular injury. Also most painful – Dervil’s breath comes heavily. “It’s all right,” Thorin says.

When he is finished, he gentles Dervil, running his fingers down the shallow divot of his spine, neck to base and back again. How curious, Thorin thinks, to be hairless all over one’s back. He rather wishes he might examine the lad more closely all over.

Dervil whimpers, and begins to wilt towards Thorin’s lap.

His hand is on Thorin’s groin, squeezing. “May I not do something for you?” he moans.

Heat spears Thorin. He has never been touched so intimately before.

Dervil pushes him onto his back, strips his trousers to his ankles, and Thorin lets him, meek as a lamb. His cock is like a blade straight from the furnace.

Dervil casts the sheet aside, revealing his own cock, red and rampant.

It is Dervil who strokes Thorin now, combing the pelt of his chest hair, rolling his nipples slow and luxurious. And his hand – that ring of tight, clever fingers – blissful fingers. Right where Thorin needs it – up and down, slow and wonderful. It is mad how good it is to be touched by another. His body has become a different body, no longer its workaday self at all. He is on fire, bucking like a spooked pony.

Dervil leans hard down on Thorin’s hip, makes a sound both chiding and pleased, and swallows his cock.

Thorin is wild, caught in the sinuous clasp of a sucking mouth. They are fighting, almost, in fits and starts – Thorin trying to insinuate himself deeper into that sweet throat, or sometimes to try to pull out, escape the intensity of it, and Dervil trying to control how deep and rude he shoves himself, and other times trying to prevent his escape.

Thorin hears someone bellow like a bull – it is him. He is shooting his seed violently down Dervil’s hot gullet. Dervil makes no protest, only a soft, involuntary sound of choking, abject and delicious. Thorin forgets himself a long moment and holds the lad’s head down so he cannot withdraw, loving how his throat flutters.

Thorin lets go at last, belly shuddering with shame. But Dervil is up, wild-eyed, hurling himself across Thorin’s lap, scoring Thorin’s palm with his nails in haste to bring it to bear on his small, hot cock.

Thorin goes as fast and hard as he is bade. He would not dare do otherwise – the look on Dervil’s face is terrible. Six, seven strokes is enough. Dervil cries out, thrusts, spills himself in jets.

How charmingly it fits in his hand, this little thing – Thorin is reluctant to give it up.

The hair on the front of Thorin’s body has always, since he was a boy, grown inwards to a crest that is not quite centred on his body. Slantways across this crest there are now draped great ropes of another man’s seed. Dervil, who is still rocking his hips a fraction against Thorin’s belly, gazes upon this as if on all the gold in Erebor.

Thorin’s ears are very warm.

 

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