It was a crisp Narquelië morning and the women and older girls were gathered around the well drawing water for the day, when a squat figure with a large pack and a black hood walked down the road. The stranger stopped a short distance into the village green and drew back his hood to reveal the broad forehead and bushy beard of one of Durin’s Folk.
“Greetings Goodwives” He called “Might I draw a pail as it has been a long dry road?”
The women exchanged glances and finally one said “We have sufficient for today and there is no drought here, so take what you need”.
The women returned to their homes or their conversations as the traveller walked over to the well and shrugged out of his pack, placing it beside the the well wall he then dropped the bucket down and started to wind the crank to bring the water up.
The well bucket was large and heavy when full of water, although one woman could raise it by herself it was normal for the villagers to all draw water together with the women working in pairs on the crank. The dwarf wound the crank one-handed and seemingly without effort.
Stopping after a few turns he reached into one of the many pouches on his belt and produced a small bottle, the contents of which he used to oil the bearings silencing the annoying squeak. After he had lifted to bucket onto the wide wall top he took a large metal mug from his pack which he rinsed, filled and drank deeply from.
As he was swilling out and refilling his wooden canteen, one of the women exclaimed “Now I remember you!… In the spring you sold Willam Walker a paper packet of fish-hooks”
“Laketown pattern, gape of five Poppyseeds, one score. I remember too, it’s not often I sell a whole envelope to one man….. Hows he getting on with them?”
“Getting on with them !! My door creaks, my chimney smokes and I have to get my son to chop firewood because my husband spends all his ‘spare’ time with a rod in his hand… I would despair if it wasn’t for the fact he only has three left” here she pauses for breath and at a slightly lower volume continues “So I shall give you six fresh eggs and a loaf of bread baked just this morning …..If, you don’t sell him any more!”
The traveller bobs a small bow of his head with the words “We have a deal Mistress Walker”
One of the other women chips in “All the Menfolk are working in the forest today, so this business need not bother them…… Willam gave my man, Jon Every, a couple of hooks that first month, I’m offering two Thumbs-width from a side of bacon for the same thing as Mav asked”
Again the half bow “A deal, lady”
“Have you got to rush away ?” Mav Walker asks “I’m sure others here will wish to trade for things… And the Men are always keen for news”
“Grant me space under a roof to sleep and I need not leave until morning” the dwarf says. At their hesitation he adds “Even a hut or a shed would be better then a hedge for a wall and the stars for a ceiling”
“The small barn maybe?” suggests one of the older wives. To the dwarf she adds “It is empty and used seldom because it is on the edge of the village and far from most houses, but we keep it in good order and weathertight should we need to store a glut at harvest-time”.
“That sounds suitable. I have needles and pins, thimbles, buttons, buckles, broaches and clothing hooks. Small shears, fine but practical knives and a few arrowheads along with many other trifles…. All made by my People in the forges of Erebor”
And so for the next few hours the dwarf showed the women of the village the items he had to trade and in turn they offered that which they had to spare, many deals were done and at the conclusion of each he gave the same small bow in acknowledgement.
Shortly after noon one of the younger and less worldly of the wives said “Master Dwarf, the wind blows cold and here you still sit. My home is just there, would you not find it pleasant to sit by the fire”
“Goodwoman, I would not wish to discomfort you but as I have travelled I have learned that, be it ever so honest, husbands tend to get upset should they come home and find a stranger at their hearth. So here I shall stay for the now.”
Undeterred she replied.
“In that case, some hot tea then?…… Please, do not deny my hospitality. Have you preference?” she said as she lifted the traveller’s mug from the bench beside him.
“Tea I will accept, and willingly. Mint if you have it”
“My good sir, we have mint aplenty but also Leaf and in good measure, my husband cares for it not and I drink it so seldom that I fear it with go stale before it is used up”
“Lady, I would trade well for tea leaf, but for now mint is sufficient”
When the men and boys returned home and went in for their midday meal each household sent a little something to the trader, a baked turnip with butter from one, a bowl of pottage from another, bacon from a third, another sent out a heel of bread covered in beef dripping, bits of sausage, slabs of cheese, apples and the like. A small share of whatever that family dined upon made its way over, he dined well and none had to bear the weight of feeding another mouth.
In the afternoon it was the turn of the men to talk with the trader, much to the chagrin of some fellows (and the secret delight of their wives) it seemed that there were no fishing hooks of any kind to be had. However news of the land beyond a days travel is always welcome and there were still some deals to be done, one man after completing a trade of two buckles for a battered lamp with no glass said “Why would you want such a thing? Tis broken, dented and far too small to burn all night.”
“Why? It is well made and glass can be replaced…. Besides” the dwarf said as he balanced it in his palm like an apple “I would say its size to be just right for a traveller”
Later as the evening started to draw in and everyone drifted back to their homes, and while the traveller packed away his trade goods, the food and other items he had gained. There came a shout from the edge of the village “Mav! Mav! Send to fetch Granny Ash!” and Willam Walker staggered up the path carrying another person in his arms who he laid down on the bench in front of his house.
His wife and daughter came out the door, Mav with a raised lantern asked “What goes here?” on seeing that her husband’s burden was her eldest son “How came Willard to be hurt? And where did you find him thus?” she waved at her daughter and the girl took off at a run.
“I was down by the stream… Don’t give me that look Woman, I had no hooks with me I swear.” Willam paused “I all but tripped over him laid face down in the dirt, somebody shot an arrow into him”
Some of the villagers had gathered near to offer aid and support as the girl returned carrying a large satchel and in the company of an old lady leaning on a stick “Ma, Granny was already coming!”
“Thank you child, I can speak for myself. Why would you say he’s been shot Willam?”
Walker brandished a broken arrow shaft with dark greasy fletchings “This was under him like it had snapped off as he fell, the rest still sticks out below his shoulder”
Granny Ash turns to the girl “My bag if you please Ruby. Now run to my house and stoke up the fire, then clear off my table and light all the candles…. Go girl, go”
Then an unfamiliar voice speaks out from the edge of the crowd “Use your strongest herbs Madam Ash. That arrow will be filthy”
“Yes, yes Master Dwarf” the Healer says, while fixing him with her gimlet stare “Will you tell Granny how to suck eggs next?”
The villagers turn to see that the affable, over polite and kindly being they had spent most of the day with was gone and in his place was a creature of granite and steel with eyes as intense as a falcon.
“It will also be about as long as my finger,” he lifts one hand with index finger extended to illustrate “and wickedly barbed.”
“That may make difficulties, however forewarned is forearmed” Granny points to a couple of the larger men “You two carry him to my house on the bench, better to not twist that evil thing around inside of him more then needed. Mav, if Ruby is sure she wishes to follow my path I will welcome her help. Keep the rest of your family here…. Willam, sit down afore ye fall” at this the indicated men lifted the improvised litter and in the company of Granny carried Willard away.
Ashen faced and covered in blood though he was, Willam wanted answers “Dwarf! Ye know who did this! You’ve seen arrows such as these before… Who could do such a thing to a lad?”
“Who did it? I don’t know, but I know what did it” a pause “It was a group of Orc scouts, at least three but no more then six, they were travelling fast and they have now left the area”
“And how would ye know all this?”
“You were not molested, so they are gone. They’re travelling fast because they didn’t make sure of their kill or take trophies, and they’re few in number or they would of already attacked your village”
A woman rushes over “Mav, Willam. Willow says my Rowan was going to walk with your son.. Did you see any sign of her?… I can’t find her!”
The Dwarf clears his throat “Blonde girl, small for her age, you might even say delicate?” at her mother’s nod “I know the one.” He raises his voice and addresses the crowd at large. “Out there,” he waves vaguely towards forest “about two or three days travel, there is an Orc warband. There will be between thirty and fifty of the loathsome creatures, all armed to the teeth and with mayhem in mind. They are lead by their chief who will be the biggest and nastiest of the lot because he rules by fear and violence.” He pauses to ensure that they are listening “The chief will of sent out scouting parties to find places like this to despoil. If that party gets back to him, he will bring the warband here”
One of the younger men asks here “What do you mean ‘If’?”
“The more I’m interrupted the longer this will take.” the dwarf says with a glare “Scouts go missing all the time, they fall off cliffs or stumble into bogs. They are attacked by other beasts or just run away from the chief, and most free Peoples will kill them on sight.” he takes a deep breath to calm himself “Now hear me, and hear me well! Arm everyone who can use weapons and train those who can’t. Bring your livestock close and secure them best you can. Your windows are small, your doors are stout and your roofs are of live turf so your homes are as safe as you could make them. Set a watch all night, do not allow them fire or lights as it makes you night-blind and shows where you are…. And double the guard in the hours before dawn.” He props his pack against the wall of the Walker’s house. “If they haven’t attacked within the month, they won’t be coming” he slings a rolled cloth over his shoulder on a cord “Walker, show me where you found your boy and then come back here”
He turns his eyes towards the girl’s weeping mother “I promise you, I shall bring your daughter back to you”
Willam and another man move forwards “Me and Jon are coming with you, he’s good in the forest and they hurt me boy”
“No Walker, you are not…I have to travel fast and long, and I must go now!” the dwarf settled his flask on its strap “I leave my pack here, if I’ve not returned in a sevenday you can share my chattels out to the village….. Show me please”