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"Child, please move. You are in our way."
A male voice that came from behind her wasn't rude, but it sounded impatient.
Again the same thing. Halldis laid aside the backpack she had just been packing, sighed and rolled her eyes. She had been hearing similar statements for about thirty years, ever since she had stopped growing at fifty. And not even until then had she grown much she was much shorter than average women, and sometimes she heard jokes about being related to halflings. Her small stature and slender frame closed the door of some traditional dwarvish occupations; she was simply too short and didn't have enough strength to be a miner or a smith.
She made peace with her small height mostly. She got used to comments like this mostly. But sometimes, she met them with anger.
Rating her current mood, she concluded she was somewhere near the upper end of being irritated. She arose, stretching as much as she could, and started to turn around. While still doing it, she automatically started to lift her gaze because she had to do it in talking to everyone. It was only the children that were shorter than her. But when she turned, she discovered that she had to lift the gaze even more. And more. The lad in front of her towered above her... well, a little more than a foot, it seemed. By Balrog's name, did I really have to meet the tallest dwarf in the procession?
The stretching to full height didn't help. Mildly put.
Yet, she got some satisfaction when she saw that he had blushed after taking a better look at her. Yes, it was clear from her appearance that she was young, and her beard was still not so long and luxuriant like older women had but being eighty meant that she was a grown up. Judging from his own youth-like facial features, he was about the same age as her. The other youngster standing next to him was surely a few years younger. A satisfied smile appeared on her face despite her bent neck and highly lifted gaze.
"You said something?" asked Halldis, tilting her head to one side and rising her eyebrows.
"Err... I noticed that... that you didn't carry weapons! So I thought it had to be someone very young in front of me," said the lad and he smiled. Despite trying to keep a stern expression, Halldis couldn't prevent her own smile. Because she actually found it funny, the way he tried to save himself from the situation. Really nimble, for sure. Her mood improved a little bit. However, she didn't move. Let him stew a little bit more.
"Oh, that," she said and crossed her arms over her chest.
"The thing is, we are trying to catch up with our friends, and it's quite crowded all around," he said. "So if we could pass, please... mistress..." It seemed he was really embarrassed by his words in the beginning; the other lad looked very amused and smiled all the time.
"Well, I suppose you could," she replied and collected her things her backpack and sleeping bag clearing the way. But she didn't hurry at all.
The tall fair-haired young dwarf then nodded, and they both hurried ahead. Halldis was already turning away to finish packing, when she thought the word "Sorry" had reached her ears. But it was so barely audible that she wasn't sure if it was just her imagination. Then she quickly braided her red hair and she was ready to go.
She looked around her and a few feet further she spotted her brother Glorrim and best friend Tyra. The smiles on their faces clearly showed that they hadn't missed the funny situation a few moments ago.
She had two brothers: Glorrim was older than her by forty years, and Asli by a further ten. Halldis was born when her parents already had past their prime, and when she was a little older, she sometimes wondered if she had been born unplanned. But, of course, she never openly asked.
She and Glorrim went on this journey; their parents and the oldest brother remained in Erebor. Mother and father were quite old now, while Asli made a good profit from his trading business with people in Dale and Esgaroth, and he didn't want to leave it at least for now.
Then a horn was heard nearby seven times. The King's sign. Everyone went silent.
"Listen to the message of King Durin," said the earnest, stern male voice. Of course, it didn't belong to the King himself, but to some of his messengers. Halldis automatically turned to that direction, but of course she didn't see anything. The story of my life. Whenever she was in a large group, all she could see were the shoulders and heads of the persons around her. As if I am in a hole beneath them.
"Now we enter Greenwood the Great," continued the messenger, and Halldis quickly paid attention to him. She closed her eyes, for she long ago discovered that it helped her concentration in situations like this, when she couldn't see the speaker. "The way through the forest will most probably last six days. The camps will be set on the road itself. You must not stray from the group and the road. You must not go deeper into the forest. Now that we are next to the Celduin, take as much water as you can carry. There are streams in the forest, and although the water is not poisonous like in the distant past, it could be enchanted so you should avoid it. Hunting is not allowed. Cutting the trees for the fire should also be avoided; you should use the old branches that already fell on the ground. Once we come to the other side, we'll have the Anduin as a water-supply, and we'll also come to villages in which we'll be able to find provisions for the second half of the journey. Is everything clear?"
All this was in fact just a reminder of what they had already heard several times during their preparations, because all things were carefully planned and nothing was left to chance. Some complained about restrictions, but the King's messenger quickly cut off comments of that kind. Finally, they were ready to go.
Halldis cast a glance around. Next to her stood Glorrim, and near them were some of their cousins and friends. And she noticed she was the only one without weapons among all of them just like that tall youngster mentioned earlier. She was one of the few who didn't participate in training and competitions. She tried, but it wasn't just that she couldn't handle weapons like males she couldn't even achieve half as strong blows as most women. Her stature was an obstacle in this case too, so she soon gave up.
However, strength and height were not important for her job, and she knew she was good in it. While still a child, it became clear she had a talent for pottery and ceramics, and ever since she had finished her apprenticeship and opened her own shop, her products were highly prized for their quality and beauty.
Once we settle in Khazad-dûm, I hope my products will continue to be sought after, she dreamed of the future. Her hopes were even bigger because no one carried those things with them; everyone carried only basic provisions like food and drink, spare clothes and sleeping bags. All that was not necessary for the journey, all that could be done or bought afterwards, was left behind. In her mind she saw her new workshop and home, and rejoiced in advance.
Then they set off slowly at first, but soon they started to walk faster, just like in the first three days. The long procession of dwarves crossed the bridge over Celduin. Behind their backs, in the east, there was seemingly endless green plain. In front of them, as far as they could see both northwards and southwards, there was the forest.
Mirkwood. The old, almost forgotten name suddenly popped up in Halldis' head. Well, let's hope that nothing murky or bad awaits us there. Mahal, lead us and protect us.
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