3. Good Ol' Hospitality
Dwalin followed Talliya's wagon through an iron gate. The woman was correct; the adjoining stone wall was in need of repair. They moved to the small barn. It was well constructed and had good ventilation. It would be a comfortable enough place to stay for a while--not the soft bed for which he might have hoped, but beggars can't be choosers. He was grateful all the same.
Talliya pulled to a stop in front of the barn door. She hopped down from the wagon. Sliding out the wood bar, Talliya shoved one of the large doors open then returned to do the same for the other. Dwalin dismounted taking in everything around him; once a warrior, always warrior and one could never be too careful. Deciding that he was quite safe for the moment, he loosely tied his pony to a post and moved to the back of the wagon.
"The last stall on the left is unused and ready with fresh hay," Talliya said as she exited the barn. "You'll find oa…" her words died on her lips.
"Where?" the Dwarf asked. Two large sacks of grain were set upon his strong shoulders.
Talliya swallowed. She had forgotten the raw strength dwarves possessed. Dwalin stood as if he held nothing but sacks of feathers. Coming to her senses, the woman replied with a blush, "One needs to go in the bin down here, the other to the hay loft. But you needn't trouble yourself. I can manage; I am sure your mount would like some attention."
The words fell on deaf ears. Dwalin pasted her and headed for the ladder. "You hired me to work, so I'm working," the Dwarf stated. He returned to the wagon and finished unloading the grain.
The horse feed was put away while Talliya stood rooted to the spot watching. She found herself mesmerized by her new companion. When Dwalin made to unhitch the wagon, she finally spoke up. "Very well, if you would be so kind to see to this, I will go in and see to supper. You will find brushes and tack in the barn; I am sure your pony will enjoy a rubdown. Also, there's oats and hay and there may still be an apple or two in the bucket.
Dwalin nodded his head in acknowledgement as Talliya walked to the house. The dwarf finished with the wagon and then tended to Talliya's horses. Finally he settled his brown pony in the stall and began to work the dust and burs from the beast's coat. The animal nickered and tossed his tail playfully. Filling the trough with fresh oats and finding the bucket of apples, Dwalin began settling himself. There was a small partial stall in the back of the barn with a decent pile of hay. He set his packs and bedroll there. It really was a very clean barn and he would rest well tonight; no need to be on guard against wolves or worse. Perhaps he could finally get some much-needed rest.
Removing his tattered cloak and weapons, he moved to the water trough. There was little he could do about the grime at the moment, but his mother brought him up with some manners, so he washed as best he could in the cold water and headed to the cottage. He could smell stew and biscuits and his stomach gave a loud growl. It had been many moons since he ate someone else's cooking! He knocked before opening the door; however, when he peered in there was no one in the main room or kitchen. Hearing movement towards the back of the cottage, the dwarf continued. He passed through the kitchen, noticing a bedroom to his right. He came to a room off the back of the kitchen. It was small and cozy. A tub of steaming water sat in a corner. Talliya tended the small fireplace.
The woman gave a small jump as she turned and saw Dwalin standing at the door. "All finished?" she asked, her heart pounding at the unexpected figure.
Dwalin grunted; he eyed the tub. "Didn't mean to disturb you, I will be in the barn if you need me," he added, turning to leave.
"Disturb me?" Rich green eyes suddenly grew wide with understanding. "Oh! You mean the bath. No, it is not for me," she said quickly.
Dwalin gave her a scowl, his muscular arms across his chest. Surely the woman did not intend for *him* to use her bath? Granted, dwarves took baths, but usually in a river or hot underground spring…his mind wandered briefly as he remembered the pleasure he had occasionally found in the hot springs of Erebor. He did miss the days when his people lived in comfort and joy. He cleared his throat and made to object.
Talliya stopped his protests. "I mean no disrespect and if you would rather not...It's just that my Da always enjoyed a soak after a long trip. Said it eased the ache in his bones. I thought that having traveled so far you might…" Talliya grew flustered. She had not meant to offend Dwalin, only offer a little comfort. "Perhaps it's best I just get you settled…" she continued as she glanced about for something.
Dwalin watched as the woman bustled about. She had only been trying to be thoughtful; the gesture was not lost on him. She was a good woman. His flint eyes followed her as she glided past him back to the main room. He made to follow and nearly collided with Talliya when she abruptly turned back into the room she just left. He caught her by the upper arms and steadied her. Startled at his sudden nearness she gave him a quizzical look.
"Where are your packs?"
Taking a step back, Dwalin responded as if the answer should have been obvious, "The barn."
"In the barn? By the stars Master Dwalin! Did you think I was putting you up in the barn?"
Dwalin simply stared at her as if to say, 'Well of course; where else would I stay?'
Talliya could not suppress a small laugh and tried to cover it with her hand. "When I said you would have a roof over your head, I did not mean a hayloft! There is a spare room right through there." She pointed to a door off to the left. "What kind of work will I get from you if you cannot rest properly?" She regarded him, a gentle smile on her pink lips. "Please, I can see the weariness in your eyes…" She pulled a partition to the tub, affording a bather privacy. "…relax yourself. I will fetch your things from the barn and set them in your room. When you are finished we will have supper." She set down a large towel and a block of soap then left out the back door.
Dwalin scrutinized the tub. It had been a long time since he had been in a human's tub and they always made him feel—uncomfortably…small. Still, he was grimy and his muscles did ache; anyway, it was the least he could do since she was allowing him to sleep in the main house, in a real bed. A small smile crossed his face. No one had shown such kindness to him in a very long time. He did not know why Talliya was so generous but it touched him; he would not disrespect her. He dropped his belt on the floor, toed off his boots, stripped out of his garments and stepped into the tub with a sigh. It was just long enough for him to stretch his legs and sink down a bit. Dwalin thought the small size odd till he remembered that his hostess was not all that tall herself. The woman was right, it did feel good. Dwalin closed his eyes and began to relax. For a moment he could almost imagine he was back in Ered Luin, in the mineral springs in the lower caverns. He startled from his memories when the door opened. His sudden movement caused water to slosh loudly.
"Forgive me," Talliya said as she passed, the partition hiding her from view. "I did not mean to startle you. I brought your packs although I left your axes. They are heavy and I did not wish to drop them."
"I'll fetch them later."
"I have wash to do tomorrow if the weather holds; I will wash your cloak and anything else you have as well."
"You needn't bother; I can manage."
Talliya smiled. Dwalin's voice was still gruff, but some of the edge was gone. It was a smooth bass with a thick dwarvish accent, which she loved. Talliya was happy to know he accepted her hospitality. She was keenly aware of their distrust of others. "It is no bother I assure you and consider it part of your compensation. I will be in the front room when you are ready for supper." She left the dwarf to his bath.
Dwalin felt a little bit of the bitterness melt away as the warm water caressed his sore muscles. Over the years he had become jaded and distrustful; quick to anger and more silent than was the norm. He had little contact with others, preferring his solitude and although Thorin had found them a fine home in Ered Luin and they began to prosper, Dwalin still felt unsatisfied and restless. He heard tell that some dwarves were just like that. He did not want to be 'just like that'; he wanted to find the illusive key to his happiness.
He slid under the water and resurfaced with a sputter. The rumbling of this stomach made him finish up before the water cooled. Wrapping the towel around his hips he peered beyond the partition before lumbering to his room. It was comfortably furnished, not the sparse servant-style quarters he was expecting. There was a plush bed with a beautifully crafted headboard. If it had been stone, Dwalin would have sworn it was dwarf-made. Maps hung on the walls and curtains over the windows. It was the homiest room the old warrior had stayed in since he fled Erebor for his room in Ered Luin held less comforts. He rummaged through his pack for his clean garments; then dressed in breeches with a linen shirt and leather jerkin.
When he entered the kitchen, he found Talliya humming to herself as she pulled fresh biscuits from the oven. Not wanting to startle her, Dwalin cleared his throat, successfully getting her attention.
"Ah, Master Dwalin! How do you feel?"
"Better. Pulled the plug for the tub; fine bit of pipe work."
"Thank you," she replied. "My Da rigged it for Mama. It really is such a simple thing but it makes draining water much easier. The pipe takes it out the garden." She pointed to a seat at the table and Dwalin obediently sat.
A large crock of stew was set before him and a plate of steaming biscuits. Nodding his head in thanks, the famished dwarf dug in. A tankard of ale soon appeared before him and Dwalin ate and drank his fill. As his bowl was filled again, he realized that the woman had been serving him nonstop and taken no supper for herself.
"You not eating?" he asked between mouthfuls.
"I'll eat," Talliya answered, green eyes twinkling. "Just want to take the apple tart out of the oven first."
After more food than he'd eaten in a month and the best apple tart ever, the tall dwarf pushed away from the table. "Fine cooking, lassie," he said, a loud burp escaping his lips.
Talliya grinned; Da always said a burp was the best compliment when it came to supper! Dwalin wiped sleeve across his month and muttered an apology before standing. "Need to fetch my axes and have a little smoke."
"Very well," the woman replied. "I will clean up and head to bed. I've thrown the bolt on front, so use the back. Make yourself at home and feel free to light your pipe in the house. It won't bother me."
Dwalin gave her a half smile and a nod before leaving the cottage. That woman was the first person who did not treat him like some kind of stray animal or dimwit. Treated him with respect and genuine kindness, she did. World would be a better place with more like her. The dwarf retrieved his axes then settled on the back step for a smoke and some thinking.