"We're nearly there."
Thorin gave Dáin a dubious look as he snatched back the hastily sketched map, quickly checking the words that were scrawled on there. "...Right?"
"Oh, sure," Dáin paused and then gave his cousin a shake of his head. "Nearly there."
Thorin grumbled at him as he pushed a grey strand of hair out of his face, reading to himself.
"Cross The Water...we did that. Continue on until you've reached The Hill--"
"This place is only bloody hills," grumbled Dáin, peeking over Thorin's shoulder.
"Not helping," Thorin growled, squinting down at the untidy script. Not because he couldn't read it, Dáin guessed. Dwarves had exceptionally keen eyes, especially on dark nights like this one. He probably just couldn't make heads nor tails of that blasted Wizard's scribbling.
They'd been at this for hours. Traveling to and fro in this peaceful little corner of Muthurkâmin looking for one particular hole--or smial, as Thorin said the locals called them--out of a whole lot of them. Dáin wouldn't have minded much if they weren't on a schedule. The Shire was a quaint place with quiet streams and soft grass. Calm and relaxing down to the earth itself...and the absolute last place he suspected a professional Burglar to come from. He was beginning to wonder just how much help they were really getting fromTharkûn. A poorly drawn map seemed about it. He looked down and read a line out loud.
"Straight to the top with an old oak tree, green door beneath and there you'll be, " Dáin groaned. "No wonder we're lost."
"Not lost," added Thorin, folding the map closed. "He said it would be easy to find. We'll get there eventually, Mahal willing."
"I half suspect we're just being led in circles as some sort of game." retorted Dáin.
Thorin offered him an understanding raise of his brows, "I would not put it past him."
Dáin nodded sagely. "What else can you expect, getting directions from a wizard?" he asked as they continued on in the gathering dusk. "Especially from him of all people? We both know he's not one to give a proper answer to anyone, Thorin, nor help lest it benefits him somehow. Not t'mention he's never been fond of folks that don't heed his every word."
"Us, you mean." Thorin snorted softly, seeming about to continue but catching himself at the last minute.
Dáin sighed, knowing he'd said something wrong but unable to figure out what. Thorin had gotten like this every time Dáin had begun questioning the grey wizard's true intentions since meeting his cousin in Bree: that hard, heavy quiet that Dáin had come to know only too well. It left a sour taste in the dwarf lord's mouth. Thorin looked ahead with glazed eyes and a dour frown, staring at nothing and thinking on everything. His mind on a lone peak crowned with clouds of purple...
"At least he's given us directions, I suppose," Dáin continued, trying to pull his cousin back. "S'better than stooping over every door, looking for this Burglar's Mark."
"We'd be thrown out quick enough," Thorin agreed with a small smile, his shoulders relaxing and his mind returning to the present. Dáin nodded with a smile of his own. It seemed he'd yet to lose his touch.
After a time they passed through what looked like a market place, with empty stalls and nothing locked. That made Dáin pause.
"Trusting folk, these Halflings?" he asked. Was there really a Burglar to be had amongst people like this?
Thorin looked back and cocked his chin forward, "Not as much as we think, it seems."
Dáin subtly followed his cousin's line of sight, spotting a short fellow with a feather stuck in his cap a ways back from where they'd come. It was a long distance, but Dáin could tell by the way the Halfling held themselves that they were being watched with suspicion. Chin down and legs spread wide, with the lantern held a little ahead of them as if about to ward the two dwarves off. Dáin turned back to Thorin, who had an bitter look on his face.
"Do we look like thieves or beggars? " he all but spat. Dáin grabbed his arm. It was stiff beneath his grip
"Well, we are standing in an empty market in the middle of the night," he answered, placating. "Come now, let's find this damnable place already."
Taking a deep breath, Thorin nodded curtly and scanned the horizon.
"There." he said, pointing to the north. High above everything else was a tall hill with a speck of a tree at the top. "That must be it."
Dáin smiled and slapped his palm on Thorin's back.
"Now we're getting somewhere!" he exclaimed." We've only passed by it twice. Better late than never, eh?"
As they began to make their way up to their new destination, Dáin chanced a look behind them. All he caught of their watcher was the tip of a feather disappearing around the bend.
Good. Sod off. We're doing no wrong.
They continued on, talking of family and friends as they went. Dáin was surprised to learn that Thorin's nephews would be coming along on this quest as well.
"Dís must be beside herself," Dáin commented, expecting his other cousin to be pacing holes in the ground of Ered Luin as they spoke. Thorin just shook his head.
"They are both old enough to make their own decisions on the matter," he said in a stiff, rehearsed voice. Dáin suspected he'd had plenty of practice at it before going to his sister. "They are the heirs to Erebor. They deserve to see their homeland."
Dáin grunted in agreement, mulling over whether now would be a good a time as any to ask. It had plagued him since leaving Bree. Since leaving his home, even.
"So," Dáin began slowly, watching Thorin carefully. "Are you finally g'nna to tell me how that old wizard managed to convince you to do this? I did come all the way from the Iron Hills to find out."
There was an awkward silence between them. They'd reached the base of the tall hill by then, and were climbing the path curving up the slope when Thorin spoke again, his voice small.
"Did you pass by it?" he asked, unexpectedly. Thorin didn't have to name it for Dáin to know what he spoke of. The pain and want in the words was more than enough. 'Erebor' suddenly seemed to hang like a reaper above their heads.
"No," answered Dáin, casting the spectre from his mind. "I took the trade road south, through Dunland an' the Brownlands, as I always have." He looked Thorin up and down. "You spoke of returning to Erebor in your letters."
"I did." Thorin said.
Dáin harrumphed, abandoning beating around the bush. "You say things like that. How the wyrm has left! But a dragon unseen isn't a dragon gone, Thorin, an' how d'you think you're getting in? What exactly has the grey wizard promised you?"
There didn't need to be any more said between the two on the matter of that wizard. Though each respected and feared him--as anyone with a lick of sense did when it came to wizards-- neither had the best opinion of him. Nor did they trust him completely. What if what he'd promised Thorin was a lie to make up for all the times they'd taken his words unheeded? Dáin especially began to recall every instance he'd told the old sorcerer to bugger off when his advice had begun to sound too much like the oily whispers of a Council member looking to help themselves. He'd already lost count as they passed the first door in the hill, painted a garish yellow.
Thorin didn't speak. They passed the second door, the third, with a small light in the window, the fourth, and the fifth.
"Thorin." said Dáin.
He didn't reply
The sixth and the seventh passed by, followed by the eighth. When the oak tree was finally beginning to look like a proper tree, Thorin paused in the road.
"He promised me hope," he finally answered. "Not a trick. A hope I haven't had for over two centuries." He turned to Dáin with a grim look, as if suspecting an argument. Dáin wished to, more than he could say he wished he could convince his cousin how foolish this entire venture was.
But it wasn't his place. It wasn't his loss. If it were his home that had been taken, would he be able to listen to reason if told he could get it back?
Not a bloody chance.
Digging the foot his iron leg into the dirt for purchase, Dáin winked as he strutted ahead of his cousin, "Then let's get heading there already."
He heard an exhale and the thumping of boots as Thorin ran up after him. He was smiling, wider and truer than Dáin could recall. For some odd reason, that made him feel troubled more than anything.
"I knew I could count on you, Dáin," said Thorin. "I'm glad to have you here."
Dáin waved a hand, "Yes, yes. We're family, Thorin. An' I'm not about to let you go off an' do something foolish without me...Now, is this the place?"
They'd finally reached the crest of the hill, and stood before a gate with a well-kept garden behind it. Even further back, hidden among flowers and eaves, was a round green door. A bright square of light shown outside the window next to it, and loud familiar voices floated toward them in the dark.
"Indeed it is," said Thorin, already pushing the gate open and walking up the steps as Dáin followed close behind.
"Don't be nervous now." Dáin said.
Thorin scoffed, pulling himself together as they reached the door. True to their guess, near the bottom right glowed a cirth rune like a small bit of moonlight stuck fast in the wood. "I don't get nervous." he stated, matter-of-factly.
"Just like you don't get lost, aye?" remarked Dáin wryly.
Thorin knocked hard and quick with the side of his fist on the round green door, ignoring Dáin's little quip. There was a sudden hush from inside.
"There's a door-bell, y'know," commented Dáin. He was treated to an amusing flush creeping up his cousin's neck and a withering look.
"I take it back," said Thorin, calmly. "Make sure to send a raven when you return to the Iron Hills, Lord Ironfoot."
"You're glad to have me here, don't deny it," laughed Dáin.
And the door opened.