Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain

The Assault on the Great Hall
In which battle is joined on several fronts, and the enemy prove to be led by Foron and his identical twin greybeard enforcers.


AS SOON AS HE HAD DONE WITH THE TOIL OF HAULING HIMSELF UP THE ROPE and gained the balcony, Yngwi leapt to his feet and took command of the situation, striding down the passageway. He stepped ahead of Fjiar and Gymir, who stood ready at the door with axe and shield and cudgel, opened the door a crack and listened for a moment.
    “No, you idiot, get back!” he heard a voice saying in Khuzdul, echoing in a large space. “We have to climb up to you!”
    Throwing the door open he stepped through and bellowed out, “We’re here with the permission of the Dathrins. Show yourselves – you’re trespassing!”
    He was on a gallery that ran around three sides of a lofty hall with two solid pillars up the middle, dimly lit by a couple of lanterns on the floor at the far end. A handful of figures were scurrying about, shocked into activity by his challenge.

Tóki, meanwhile, pulled the lantern up on the rope and shone it down the passageway. It ran straight ahead with no doors or side passages to where his three comrades stood in the doorway at the far end, but halfway along on the left there was what looked like a table with the legs broken off it. He stepped up to this and pulled it aside to reveal a shattered gap in the wall. It was a sniper’s watchpost!
    Bofur had by now reached the top of the mound of rubble. Before him it sloped downwards to the back of the mansion’s entrance chamber, where he spied the tops of a pair of archways through which it looked like a dwarf could clamber to gain the interior of the dwelling.
    He turned back to Toleðr and Thorfinn. “I think we can get thr—” he began, but was interrupted by a crash of stone.
    Leaning forward into the gap he’d found, Tóki had seen that it commanded a view over the expanse of rubble across which his other three companions were making their laborious way. And in that moment more of the structure had given way under his feet. With a yelp of surprise he just leapt backwards as the stone crashed down to the storey below.

“Intruders, give it up!” Yngwi hollered, pressing his advantage as the crash of stone echoed from behind him. He stepped forward for a better view of the hall and Fjiar, switching his shield to his right arm, put himself between Yngwi and any possible bowshots from below.
    “Oy!” he barked, adding his voice to Yngwi’s. “Put down, and get out!” But this did not come out as commandingly as he’d hoped.
    Gymir, meanwhile, was looking ahead rather than down into the main hall. In the gloom at the far end of the gallery he made out a dwarf clambering over the balustrade. His rage up, Gymir charged forth!
    Fjiar took in the situation immediately and charged after his comrade. Yngwi was taken aback but as Tóki ran in and his lantern cast much-needed light on the fracas they too joined the pursuit.

Gymir closed on the startled dwarf, swinging his cudgel. The other dwarf, with only a bow slung on his shoulder (to free his hands for climbing), had nothing with which to defend himself and he desperately jumped back out of the path of the swinging club.
    With Gymir, Yngwi, Fjiar and behind them even Tóki bearing down on him, he turned to flee before Gymir could recover his stroke.
    Yngwi’s long strides took him in hot pursuit past Fjiar and wide of Gymir but he saw that he still wouldn’t easily close with the fleet-footed foe. With a wordless roar he hurled his axe end over end to strike the dwarf in the backside! Howling in pain the dwarf faltered and only just kept his footing.

Fjiar and Tóki left them to the chase. Tóki realised that his lantern was shining back from a section of wall that was largely glass, and he felt suddenly exposed to the hostile dwarves below. He set down the lantern where he was, and hunched down to steal back the way he’d come.
    Fjiar thrust his axe into his belt and his swung his shield round on its strap to cover his back, planning fearlessly to climb down to the floor of the hall. The rest of the interrupted intruders were still in disarray, unsure of the force attacking them and he wanted to deny them the chance to organize their defences.

Yngwi pushed on, charging down the now-limping dwarf who was making for a hollow of darkness off to one side of the gallery which the light of Tóki’s abandoned lantern did not reach. Just as his quarry turned the corner Yngwi surged up with both hands on his shield, barging into him with his full weight. The dwarf let out a grunt as he was slammed back into the blackness.
    Gymir bounded up behind and swung his club again, high past Yngwi’s shoulder, but the harried dwarf ducked. The club swept scant inches above his head and struck with a ringing thud betraying the fact that the dwarf was backed up to a stout wooden door.
    Caught by the two of them the dwarf screamed out for help. Gymir showed no mercy and put his whole weight into a massive overhand blow. All in darkness there was a chaotic moment as the slippery archer ducked aside from Gymir’s cudgel-blow and got the door behind him open, then lurched back through it just beyond the reach of Yngwi’s flailing fist.

From the moment he had heard Tóki’s crash of rock and Yngwi’s shouted challenge echoing back from the archway ahead of him, Bofur Ironhand knew there was no time to pick a cautious way over the rubble in the entrance chamber. He redoubled his efforts, and gained the archway. Toleðr was not to be outdone and sought to catch him up and Thorfinn brought up the rear, rueing the fact that his kit bag containing the helm and hauberk was still at the foot of the rope behind them.
    Toleðr, following Bofur’s route over the rubble, saw the alchemist stoop and then crawl through the narrow space at the top of the rubble-choked archway. He refused to be daunted by the loss of the light from ahead, but trusted to his balance and made his way onwards.
    When he crawled through the archway himself, he found himself atop a last receding slope of shattered stone that petered out and gave onto the close-set flags of a regular passageway floor at last. Bofur had by now smothered his lantern but was outlined against dim light beyond, unslinging his bow and drawing an arrow. There was a distant noise of fighting, but no ring of steel on steel. Toleðr drew his sword and shield and ran on, as Thorfinn gained the archway behind him.

With his own lantern casting no light Bofur had stepped round the corner in the sure knowledge that no one in the better-lit hall ahead could see him. If they advanced only steadily he would have the leisure to choose his mark.
    But he could say nothing without giving himself away and he silently gritted his teeth as Toleðr and Thorfinn neared his position.
    The dwarves in the hall were all distracted by the fracas that Bofur could hear, all their gazes upwards. He realised with a mix of horror and surprise that two of these were Foron son of Jídli and one of his henchmen who had been in the Gold Hush Inn only yesterday afternoon. The competition had got there before them! Foron seemed flustered, and his henchman was firmly ushering him back behind the high table of the hall, where a couple more dwarves cowered uncertainly. And then another dwarf came into sight, not only clad identically to Foron’s henchman but with the same grey beard and bearing. As the other herded the non-combatants back, this one was making decisively for the corridor where Bofur stood in readiness.
    Toleðr rushed up behind Bofur, rounded the corner and hurtled into the hall with his sword in a back guard, but he had the sense to bear hard left to leave Bofur an open shot. Thorfinn more cautiously drew axe and shield and stood at Bofur’s shoulder, eyeing his bow and arrow with mistrust.
    The target was advancing at a jog straight towards him and Bofur had time to pick a mark well clear of the dwarf’s shield. He opted low, and loosed. A masterful shot! The arrow sprang at the unsuspecting twin and transfixed his foot. He rocked back and collapsed to the floor. Bofur allowed himself a grim smirk and used the barb of his next arrow to scratch a notch into his quiver strap to mark the hit.

The howl of surprised anguish from the greybeard in the middle of the hall drew attention from all quarters.
    Yngwi and Gymir hesitated as their fleeing victim planted the door shut in their faces, the howl from below suggesting that the battle had moved on.
    Tóki had sought to outflank the dwarves below by slinking along the other branch of the gallery to a position above and behind the other intruders, but had been unable to find anything to use as a missile. A daring plan suggested itself and he considered the angles and the distance to the floor below.
    Fjiar let go of the rope to drop the last few feet to the floor of the hall and ran over, sweeping out his axes.
    Toleðr charged. The one dwarf to his right was down, no threat as he dragged himself across the floor and under one of the long tables out of arrow-shot.
    “Dwîm!” cried the other one ahead and left of him, a second dwarf who looked identical to the one Bofur had shot. With no time for puzzling, Toleðr son of Mánkr brandished his sword in an arc around his head and charged the second twin.

Back to the Lonely Mountain
In which they steal out of Dale and return to the Mountain, but on venturing into the ruined Hall of the Dathrins find their enemies already ahead of them!

THORFINN OF THE HOUSE OF DATHRIN INVITED HIMSELF TO STAY THE NIGHT in the sleeping loft above the toymaker’s shop that Tóki shared with the apprentice. Fearing that they may have made some ruthless enemies that day—and that his master’s stock was mostly of softwoods, seasoned and tinder-dry—Tóki was glad of the company.
    The rest of the group left town and made their way up to the Mountain. The road up Dale crossed the bridge over the River Running and passed the two waterfalls up to the Front Gate and they were back underground without event.
    Before they parted to go to their respective lodgings, Bofur Ironhand bade Toleðr Son of Mánkr visit with him to get those bruises seen to. Bofur’s apartment was largely given over to workshop space, the walls lined with shelves full of earthenware and dwarf-glass jars of all shapes and sizes, and oil burners keeping a days-long heat under retorts of coloured liquids for whatever secret purpose. From what he knew of the potioner’s arts, Toleðr saw that Bofur was accomplished, but also that most of his store of jars were nearing empty.
    Bofur produced dressings and a mix of poultice-herbs from a small casket, with which he ministered to Toleðr’s aches and pains before they each took their rest.


The next morning Toleðr’s head was clear and he could shrug off the dull aches of his bruises, though he didn’t think the herbs had helped one bit and he couldn’t hide the fact that he still limped a little. He set forth and met the others at the appointed hour.
    They had arranged an early start in order to be away before Foron thought to send any spy after them, and to appear to be setting out for the mines of the South Spur. Everyone arrived at the hostel laden with tools, bedrolls and travelling gear.

Down in Dale-town, the toymaker’s shop had gone unmolested and Thorfinn and Tóki, with a busy morning ahead of them, had been away before the dawn. There had been no sign of anyone following them up the road to The Mountain.
    Before meeting the others they made a number of calls, hiring tools and materials and rousting out the last two members of the company. Yngwi Sandstone, a huge blond-bearded young dwarf born in the Lonely Mountain and raised on tales of dwarvish loyalty, was aggrieved at having wasted a trip down to the Gold Hush Inn the previous evening. He told how he’d sat quietly by whilst Thorfinn’s merchant rival had been hiring on some fellow in a mason’s apron. But sensing a tale in the offing, he took down his hood and cloak and went with Thorfinn and Tóki to meet the others.

“So here we are,” announced Thorfinn. “Fjiar and I are warrior-defenders of our folks. We can but hope our skills are not needed. Of the three craftsmen, Tóki has a toymaker’s skill with fine mechanisms, Bofur has collected much lore of what door-magicks were commanded by our forefathers and Toleðr has a particular interest in the lores lost in the Coming of Smaug. And Yngwi knows the Mountain as only one born here can know it, and,” he grinned, “it will be good for someone to make a tale of our accomplishments.”
    “But of course,” agreed Toleðr. “And glorious accomplishments will they be!”
    “The only thing we might want for would be someone with the eye and the touch for stone-work,” *noted Fjiar.
    Yngwi cursed softly. *“That’s exactly how a fellow called Mêgrim was describing himself in the Gold Hush yestereve—”

    “So that makes seven,” announced Thorfinn, cutting across them in a firm tone. Several of the dwarves bobbed their beards in perfunctory nods, anxious to be off, but Bofur looked at him askance.
    “Permit me to introduce the seventh, Gymir Snorri’s son,” said Thorfinn.
    Looking round, they saw that a white-bearded dwarf had quietly slipped in at the back of the company. His name already having been given, Gymir didn’t speak but gave a slight bow. Each was suddenly struck that this one’s beard was not white with age, but shared its milky pallor with his skin itself; beneath white brows his eyes glinted a curious red.
    Thorfinn repeated the plan devised in secret the previous night and they shouldered packs and tools and set forth.

They took a southerly route through the dwarf-city and then skirted back through outer tunnels to head for their true goal. The mansion of the House of Dathrin was in a tunnel in the northward deeper outskirts of the old city where few dwarves had yet resettled.
    As the company left the last well-travelled crossway Yngwi and Tóki slipped aside, ducked into a side-tunnel and covered their lantern. In pitch darkness they lurked for a goodly spell before seeing a soul. The first they saw was a dwarf carrying a torch, with spares thrust into his belt and a flask of hot tea. Yngwi dimly recognised him for a miner he’d seen once or twice but whom he could not connect with Foron son of Jídli in any way. Later still a company of dwarves passed in the other direction, drawing three handcarts of newly-delved stone back to the city.
    Tóki and Yngwi agreed to rejoin the rest of their company.
    “You were shuffling your feet something terrible,” muttered Yngwi as they hurried along.
    “Well you farted!” Tóki bit back.

After some walking, Thorfinn announced to the company that they were nearing his ancestral home. Not far to the west a stair headed down to the Bottommost Cellar that Smaug had taken for his lair, but the tunnel-road carried along on the same level to the heart of the mountain and beyond to the mines and workings in the Northern Spur.
    The House of Dathrin itself was a dwarf-mansion delved into the wall of the tunnel that had once been a main thoroughfare of the Kingdom, but its outer parts lay in ruins. Two wings constructed of cut stone had once jutted into the tunnelway like mighty buttresses marking out a front yard leading to the entrance, but one whole wing, the main entrance and the whole chamber beyond had been reduced to charred rubble by the wrathful Smaug.
    A great lamp still hung on its chain from the roof above the yard but its light was long-dead. Playing a lantern beam over the devastated face of the hall, they could make out once-beautiful carvings, but it revealed no sign of life beyond a flutter of agitated bats.
    “The deepest chambers will not have been harmed,” asserted Thorfinn. “Smaug, curse his name, was too huge to have done more than damage the outer parts of the mansion. We need to get in there and find the chamber where my father kept his papers.”
    Toleðr regarded the slopes of the blackened rubble sceptically. “That rubble isn’t safe to climb,” he said. “We’re going to have to clear a way in.”
    “What about up there?” asked Fjiar. Bofur shone a lantern where he pointed. One end of what looked originally to have been an open gallery above the entrance, overlooking the yard, still remained intact.
    “Yes,” said Fjiar. “You can just make out the top of a door in that recess at the right-hand end. Let’s get a rope up there and see if we can get in that way.”

A rope was found, and a crude great grapnel fashioned from two pickaxes. Fjiar cast, pulled back the rope, and the pickaxes held against the remaining section of parapet. As he was halfway up the rope Yngwi and Tóki arrived and reassured the others than no one had followed their company here.
    Reaching the top and rolling over the parapet, Fjiar nearly stumbled as he planted his foot in a neat coil of rope and a grappling iron that had been carefully positioned up there.
    There’s a rope up here, he signed to the others, using his Blue Mountains iglishmêk.
    “He’s found a rope,” Bofur hissed to the others. “They must be inside, already ahead of us!”
    Ready to jump the first person to come up after them, flickered Fjiar’s fingers. That’s what I’d do.
    Yngwi’s first thought was to unsling his shield, but if there had ever been windows onto the gallery they had been lost in the destruction. No vantage point overlooked the company where they stood.
    Signalling, Quietly!, Fjiar hurriedly lodged the better grapnel and lowered the rope, beckoning the others to hasten up to join him while he held it fast.
    Toleðr thought little of this prospect, and instead started to lead the way in clearing the rubble from the entranceway, impervious to Thorfinn’s protest that such an approach would take days.
    Tóki carefully climbed up, then he held onto the grapnel for Gymir as Fjiar strapped on his shield and drew his shorter axe from his belt. Not daring to trust their weight to the ragged end of the damaged gallery, the three of them were beginning to find the space cramped.
    Bofur tried the rope, but realising that he would only make slow progress he let Yngwi climb ahead of him.
    Fjiar opened the door with as quiet a shove as he could manage, and guided Gymir in through the opening to be the vanguard of the exploration. The pitch black beyond it was untouched by the light of the lanterns below, and Gymir hesitated.
    Fingers flashed as Tóki asked those below to get a lamp up to him, but Yngwi was already climbing, so Tóki tried to aid him by hauling up the rope and the ponderous bulk of the minstrel at the same time.

Suddenly there was a thrum somewhere in the darkness ahead of Gymir. An arrow struck him in the leg. The light behind him did not pierce the darkness of the passageway, but was enough to have outlined him as a target. “I’m shot!” he yelled out in surprise, nearly startling Yngwi into losing his grip on the rope.
    Fjiar knew all about the threat of archers. He thrust himself ahead of Gymir with his shield raised his shield in front of his face and, unsighted, strode straight forward to close down the unseen attacker. Gymir flattened himself against the wall and advanced more slowly in Fjiar’s tracks.
    With a grunt Tóki abandoned his hope of pulling Yngwi upwards and cast down the second rope, urging Thorfinn or Toleðr to tie on a lantern for him to draw up.
    Frustrated and concerned, Bofur suddenly started to scramble up the pile of rubble, ignoring the argument between Thorfinn and the resolute Toleðr, who was still looking like he was trying to tunnel his way in. Unstable rubble suddenly seemed less hazardous if the alternative was being shot at.

There was a shuffle of feet, and Fjiar heard a door slam shut somewhere ahead.
    “I saw ’em!” hissed Gymir, “Dead ahead.” Fjiar surged onwards, until a dozen paces later his shield thudded resoundingly against the wooden door.

The Fight at the Gold Hush Inn
In which young Toleðr picks a tavern fight, and on leaving the place they pick up a tail...


IN BAVOR’S GOLD HUSH INN, Thorfinn of the Dathrins was still confronting Foron son of Jídli about his unlicensed search of the House of Dathrin when Tóki the Toymaker made a hasty entrance and apologised to Thorfinn and company for being late. The interruption gave Foron the merchant the opportunity to slip back to his own table where his henchmen were uneasily looking on.
    In low voices the others explained to Tóki what had passed, but before they could finish he cut them short, and drained off his whole pint of ale. One of the men at Foron’s table had got up and made his way to the door, and without a word of explanation Tóki set off after him.
    Foron and the rest of his company shrewdly noted this but didn’t offer any obvious reaction.

A reaction, however, was exactly what Toleðr son of Mánkr the artisan weapon-crafter wanted. He stood up and stepped to the side of the nearest of Foron’s mannish henchmen.
    “I love you,” he exclaimed, and laid a hand on the rough man’s thigh.
    “Get out of it!” came the response, the ruffian irritably shrugging him off.
    Toleðr was not to be dissuaded. He abruptly tried to push the man off his stool, but his thrust had little force in it. The others behind him fell quiet, gawping at Toleðr’s actions.
    “Piss off!” came the man’s rejoinder as he shoved Toleðr back and away.
    Toleðr took a couple of steps and then barrelled straight back into the man, who fended him off and pushed him back again towards his own table. This time Fjiar was on his feet, shielding the precious beers on the table by catching Toleðr and bowling him back at Foron’s table with extra force.
    Toleðr’s second impact shunted his man into the table to send it scraping backwards, drinks spilling in every direction, wedge Foron’s two dwarven companions against the wall and the bar and knock Foron himself back off his stool and through the curtained doorway into the tavern’s other room.
    Before the pinned man could right himself Toleðr started beating at him, but the weight of his fists made little impression. The man responded with a brawler’s side-kick to the shin, but Toleðr kept his footing and continued to flail away.
    ‘Captain’ Beil, the dwarven self-styled mercenary leader within Foron’s group, regained his feet and stepped forward to try and stop the affray, his advance matched by Fjiar stepping up to Toleðr’s side.
    “Come on, let’s leave off this and drink each other’s health, eh?” Beil said, or tried to say, but he spluttered as he spoke and the result was barely coherent.
    “I’ll give you bloody ‘elf’…” retorted Fjiar, wilfully misunderstanding him (for he knew Beil by reputation to be nothing even so wholesome as a mercenary). He thrust his open hand at Beil’s bearded chin and shoved him to thud backwards against the bar a second time.
    Toleðr continued his assault undeterred until his adversary responded first with a punch to the neck and then with another bruising blow to the arm.
    As a mercy to the relentless Toleðr, Fjiar grabbed him by the back of his greatcoat and hauled him out of the reach of the tall man’s fists and planted him back on his stool.

At that moment Tóki returned, still breathing hard from his exertions in the streets, and took in the scene in one glance.
    “Bavor, drinks for everyone!” he bellowed, and the tension of the moment was broken. Scowling at Toleðr, Foron’s people took their seats again, looking unlikely to forget the grudge, but unwilling to depart the tavern.
    Tóki sat down and made a great fuss over lighting his pipe until he had his breath back and was able to explain what had happened outside.
    The ruffian he followed had gone some way towards the centre of Dale-town but then chanced to look back and Tóki had just known that he had been unable to mask a stricken look at being discovered. His quarry had taken to his heels at a full run, past shop fronts and townsfolk, heading in the direction of the river-docks, and then skidded to a halt before rounding a corner at a suddenly nonchalant walk. Tóki had broken into a run to follow him and likewise slowed at the corner to walk around it at a more normal pace, only to find that the lanky man had had the advantage of him. The side-street before him had been completely empty. Tóki had run on, looking left and right as he passed the buildings on either side, but to no avail: the blaggard had made good his escape.
    The eyes of Bofur the alchemist were on the fire, blazing away against the chill Rethe afternoon. He suddenly realised that not all of Foron’s companions had retaken their seats after all. The tavern had a fireplace that was open to both bar-rooms, and the big greybeard bodyguard who had previously been sitting to Foron’s left was now crouching in the other room to watch them acutely through the flames.
    “That’s enough from you,” called out Bofur in a commanding tone. The look of intense watching left the greybeard’s eyes and though he gave no sign of realising he was addressed, he casually straightened up and drifted aside. He waited long enough for dignity to be served before returning to his seat, but steadfastly refused to look in Bofur’s direction again.

When Tóki’s quarry returned a little later he also made a straight line for his own table, without acknowledging that Tóki and the rest of the company were there.
    The toymaker narrowed his eyes. “My friends,” he announced to those around his table, “that man doesn’t just have the mud of the streets on his shoes. If you observe, you will see fresh sawdust stuck to the mud, or I’m a blind bat. And there can’t be more than a couple of workshops by the river-docks where sawdust is swept out into the street.” He sat back and sagely took a puff of pipeweed, immensely satisfied with his powers of deduction.
    And then at that moment there came the sound of a door being opened and a gang of fellows trooping into the other bar.
    “Reinforcements,” commented Thorfinn. “That’s exactly what I would have done.”
    Toleðr winced slightly as he leaned in across the table. “Well if you don’t want us to see ’em off in here, what ‘exactly’ is our plan now?”
    Thorfinn gave Foron’s group an appraising glance and met the pointedly placid gaze of the merchant. He decided that he didn’t want to trust merely to lowered voices for keeping his plans secret.
    “We should get out of here and go somewhere we can discuss more freely,” he said. Tóki volunteered his absent master’s toy shop as the nearest most suitable place to talk and the company finished their drinks and filed out.
    When they left, Fjiar behaved as oblivious as the rest, but at an opportune moment he glanced back in the direction of the Gold Hush. He was rewarded with a glimpse of the man Tóki had followed before, nonchalantly heading up the road in the same direction as they themselves had taken.

Once they reached the toy shop, Tóki gave the mannish apprentice, Klerkur, the rest of the day off and they pulled up assorted sticks of furniture to hold a council around a workbench cluttered with miniature soldiers and a tray of tiny mechanical springs.
    “If we’re going to be discussing this for some time, who fancies another jar of ale?” said Fjiar in a loud voice.
    Everyone seemed engrossed in the conversation so Fjiar repeated his question, fluttering his fingers in the Blue Mountains iglishmêk, directing Toleðr and Bofur to agree to a drink. Everyone was soon in agreement that ale would be very welcome and Fjiar set off on his errand.
    A crock of ale in his arms he returned by a different route, and noted the eavesdropper still there, ducking too slowly under the shadow of an outside staircase.
    With the ale served, Fjiar and Thorfinn led the others in a very vocal discussion of their forthcoming trip to Thorfinn’s mines in the South Spur of the Lonely Mountain, which they would be making in about a week’s time. The truth, shared only in a whisper, was that they would convene the next morning at the hostel-hall where Thorfinn was boarding, and head immediately for his forefathers’ mansion in the depths of the Mountain in order to seek records giving the location of the secret vault in the mines in Erebor’s North Spur.

The Gold Hush Inn
In which the young dwarves confront Foron about his designs on the fortune of the Dathrins


BAVOR THE BROADBEAM-DWARF KEEPS A TAVERN IN DALE-TOWN, ‘The Gold Hush Inn’, where he welcomes not only the men of Dale and the Longbeard dwarves of the Lonely Mountain, but dwarven travellers of any tribe from far and wide. The tavern is named for a mining process called a “hush”, but the Dalefolk joke about Bavor’s being a hush-hush place for dwarves; the lack of windows onto the street only adds to this impression.

A dwarven merchant-trader by the name of Foron son of Jidli and his cronies were the customers in the lull in trade after the midday rush. In low tones they were plotting the ‘reclamation’ of the rumoured wealth of the noble house of Dathrin, that had gone unclaimed by any descendant in the half-century since the Death of Smaug and the refounding of the Kingdom Under the Mountain.
    Then a high-born young dwarf and a trio of the motley craftsman and warrior fellows he’d attracted to his cause burst into the room and accused the merchant of planning theft.
    “Oy, you—” exclaimed Fjiar son of Mhutli, a Firebeard dwarf with a pair of axes in his belt. “My boss wants a word with you.”
    “Yes,” said Thorfinn, a high-born young dwarf of the house of Dathrin, stepping to the fore. “The word in the tunnels is that you mean to steal the gold of my forefathers!”
    Unruffled, the merchant stepped out from amongst his henchmen to reply quietly, low enough for Bavor and his staff not to hear. “Any such rumour is baseless and untrue. And your claim that such rumours are abroad does not give you the right to come out of the Iron Hills to Dale and burst in here acting like you own the place.” Though they have never met, and each has pointedly not given his name to the other, Foron clearly knows who his accuser is.
    “As far as the Lonely Mountain is concerned, I do own the place, or at least part of it,” Thorfinn replied. He has to raise his voice over the guffaws of his own followers to continue, “And if I find you or your lickspittles on my property you’ll regret it!”
    “Ho, ho!” Bofur Ironhand, a potioner and a historian of the old dwarven magicks, with a comically tall peaked cap, laughed loudest amongst Thorfinn’s throng.
    Fjiar sensed the anger amongst the merchant’s henchmen at the table just across the room. His hand moved to his axe-helve but Toleðr son of Mánkr, a dapper beardling from the Blue Mountains, stepped up behind him and nudged him in the ribs. “You can’t draw steel in Dale,” he hissed. “Bain Bard’s son would have your axes off you and cast you out of town.”
    “So it’s going to be like that, is it?” Fjiar replied grimly, flexing his knuckles. “Let’s see if everyone fancies a tankard of Bavor’s strongest…”
    There was every likelihood that Thorfinn’s other recruits would finish with their other business as the afternoon wore on. If Tóki the Toymaker and the strapping great Lonely Mountain minstrel, Yngwi Sandstone, arrived it would put the odds more in their favour. And it was hardly going to be wasted time, whatever happened — Fjiar never yet minded passing time in the company of strong ale!


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