Ridiculous curiosity overcame Thorin, and he devised a plan. The anteroom was just behind one door from him - and had a mezzanine on the other side. Normally the room would be closed during the day, but Thorin remembered walking through it once; it had been dark and cool then, with cases covering the furniture. Perhaps, to think of it now, it had been during the first years of his marriage; perhaps even before, when Wren of Bree hadn't yet resided in his halls. It felt amusing to think of the time when she hadn't.

He walked back through the parlours, and into the passage that led to a narrow staircase that would take him to the mezzanine. The walk was short, but he of course had enough time to ask himself whether he was committing a transgression against his wife's trust - and whether it was some sort of a misplaced jealousy that was pushing him to sneak around his own halls like a thief. He quickly decided that the answer to both these questions was 'nay.' After all, he trusted her, and was certain that nothing that could be considered unfaithful against the husbands of Erebor was transpiring there, which meant she wasn't committing a crime, and he wasn't suspecting her of it. He wasn't, was he? He was just curious. After all, no one had ever claimed that only females were invited to the anteroom evenings. It had been implied it seemed, but it hadn't been a given, no matter what other husbands made it sound like.

He as much as ran up the stairs, and then slowed down at the top, making sure his steps wouldn't be overheard - although, considering, the loud music, and shrieky voices there was certainly no danger of it.

He stepped on the top landing, held his breath, and carefully moved the curtain separating him from the mezzanine. He then leaned ahead and peeked. The mezzanine had curtains of its own, covering the windows, and it was dark inside. He slid further, and picked up the heavy tapestry with one finger.

The anteroom was a sparkling cloud of light, fire, and white, which shot like a lightning through the tiny crack he made. He blinked and peered intently.

In the room, illuminated by many torches, the women were sitting and lying on low settees, and on cushions and pillows on the floor - and every single piece of fabric in the room was white. White nightdresses, and all sorts of undershirts and bloomers; white robes; velvet, and silk, and lace; on relaxed and languished bodies.

Wine in goblets and pitchers, like splashes of blood, splattered all over the room.

Three musicians, male, formally attired, sitting in the corner, their instruments at their feet - and with their eyes tied, with white silk scarves.

The Queen in the head of the room, sitting in her habitual manner, her feet tucked under her, on a large sofa.

And the wives of his warriors, and the best artisans of Erebor, their hair unbraided and scattered on their shoulders, drinking, and laughing, and conversing.

And in the center of the room, a male Dwarf, his eyes tied just as the musicians' - in breeches of most peculiar fashion.

The Dwarf was clad in an item of clothing that mostly reminded Thorin of those napkins chambermaids would put on his children before the younglings had learnt to use the bathchamber pots - and he was put on a low wooden platform, like a displayed statue.

And he was posing, bending and straightening up, moving his limbs, flexing his muscles.

Thorin felt his jaw slack - and then he saw Alrun, Orin's wife, the silkmaster, rise. She swayed, but nonetheless decisively headed towards the man. And that was when Thorin recognized him.

His name was Braga; he was a young recruit, recently having arrived from the Iron Hills. Thorin had approved him to join the Erebor Guard himself. The man was indeed in a great physical shape, and very attractive to start with. Thorin, who before his marriage to Wren had taken men to his bed, had fleetingly noted the Dwarf - he had wide shoulders, squarish well-formed torso, and strong legs. He was a redhead, which Thorin found most alluring these days, and he moved with charming grace. Many years ago Thorin would have considered propositioning the Dwarf. Now, he of course simply had appreciated the appearance and forgotten about the man the minute the audition was over.

Alrun stopped in front of the Dwarf, and shifted between her feet. A few women cheered encouragingly.

"No, I can't!" Alrun squealed, and the glass swayed in her hands.

"C'mon, sister, don't be a chicken! He can't see you!" Rora, a renown blacksmith, roared; and other women laughed loudly.

"Don't pressure her," the Queen's voice rang through the room. "It is to be fun! If our sister doesn't want to touch, she can just enjoy the view, and..."

The Queen didn't finish, when the glass fell out of Aldun's hand and rolled on the floor with a clank - and both little hands of Aldun, the wife of Orin were splayed on the man's hairy stomach. She squealed, most women roared approvingly, and Braga emitted a triumphant hoot. The Queen rolled with laughed, falling back on her sofa, spilling her wine on the white cushions she was sitting on.

"He's so coarse!" Aldun screamed shriekily. "My husband is so much softer! Is it because his hair is darker?"

"Forfeiture!" several women hollered. "No talk of the outside life!"

"Oh no, I can't drink anymore!" Aldun begged. "I just mentioned my husband is..."

"Forfeiture!" another raspy voice came. "You let him know you have a husband, sister! And the hair colour!" Bila, one of Thorin's best dam engineers, jerkily rose, a pitcher in her hand.

She was a tall strong Dwarf, on the fuller side, and Thorin couldn't help but throw an appreciative look at the round hips and thick thighs. Bila came up to Aldun, who'd picked up her glass and held it in an outstretched hand. The glass was filled, and she lifted it to her lips. She drank, quickly, with difficulty, and the red wine poured from the corners of her lips, down the long beautiful neck, and into the cut of her lacy undertunic.

"For-fei-ture! For-fei-ture!" the women chanted, clapping their hands.

Aldun finished the drink, and dropped her head, coughing.

"Are you alright, sister?" the Queen asked, and Aldun straightened up and gave her a weak wave of her hand. And then she turned and grabbed Braga's left bicep.

"I've earned this!" she shouted, and a chorus of approving whistles and hoots was a response to her.

Aldun stroked the arm, and then the second one, and finally patted the warrior's stomach. He emitted a bark of laughter.

"I want some too!" a young voice rang, and Ivla, the heiress of the biggest fur trading clan from the Blue Mountains jumped up to her feet.

"Finally, my dove!" Bila stretched her hand to the girl, who walked up to the warrior. Ivla grabbed Bila's fingers, probably for support, and then looked up and down the man's body. "Go ahead! You need to learn the touch of the man's body, before you choose one for yourself."

Ivla, still grasping Bila's palm, lifted her shaking left hand, and Thorin saw her digits, the very tips, brush the warrior's chest. Suddenly the room was quiet. Ivla seemed mesmerized, and Thorin could see Braga's chest rise in sharp inhales.

"How does it feel, sister?" the Queen asked in a merry tone; and the tension was broken. Some women laughed; some exhaled; most took sips of wine.

"Coarse, just like… sister said," Ivla answered to the Queen over her shoulder.

"Get used to it," some other woman answered from the crowd, and snickering filled the room. "Try the beard. You'll need lots of salves for your thighs from those kinds of burns!"

A few woman hollered 'Sister, don't frighten her! Too many details, sister!' but most nodded and loudly agreed.

Ivla stretched her hand and cupped Braga's jaw.

"How does the beard feel?" Braga asked.

"Oh Mahal, look at it, the boy's enjoying it!" an older woman shouted from the back. Thorin looked, and recognized Mara, his treasurer. Thorin clenched his jaw, to stop a guffaw from bursting out. He would now surely have trouble listening to her authoritative monotonous discussions of the Erebor riches, now that he had seen her in gauzy bloomers and a very revealing sheath.

"Of course he is!" the Queen answered. "He did volunteer, sister. And as discussed, he is free to go any time he isn't comfortable. Are you still enjoying yourself, Braga, son of Dor?"

"Very much so!" the Dwarf answered cockily, with a wide grin; and Ivla's hand slid on his stomach.

"Not lower than that, sister," Bila called to the girl, and Ivla jerked her hand back. "We want you to know what to expect from a man, but no inappropriateness is to take place here."

Thorin lifted one eyebrow, although no one could see him - wasn't what was happening here inappropriate enough?

"So, what do you think?" Halda, Dwalin's wife asked from her settee. She was sitting, hugging her sister, Olin. Thorin had noticed plates of Halda's famous pastries, on the floor and the tables all over the room.

"I don't know..." Ivla was still studying the warrior's body. "I imagined it differently. And… Well, he's just standing. The man I choose… he will be moving."

"I can move!" Braga readily answered; and a few of 'sisters' shouted for him to 'rein his cockiness' and 'do as he's told.'

"We will talk of the movements when the first half of the night is over, and the man leaves; you know the rules," the Queen answered. Women nodded, and murmured between themselves. "Worry not, sister, this is just for you to look and learn. There is no obligation on you."

The Queen rose from her sofa. Thorin saw a tight bodice, just a corset with no undertunic; and a petticoat. A heavy diamond necklace he'd gifted her last Yule was sparkling on her neck. Blush dusted her cheeks and the tops of her breasts, pushed up by the corset; the regal posture; and something sensual to her step - she was mouth-watering. He also saw she was rather inebriated. She walked slowly towards the center of the room; and a few women, sitting on the floor, giggled. There was no malice in their frolics, and the Queen winked to them.

"This is your time to rid yourself of fears, sister," the Queen said, and took a sip from the goblet in her hand. Thorin knew the expression on her face, calm, eyes half lidded. His Queen was feeling luscious. "You are the daughter of Khazad. You can take lovers; you will be choosing a husband. You need not be afraid of a male physique."

"It's their brains you should worry about," someone screamed from the crowd, and all women laughed and stomped, shouting 'aye, aye.'

"Listen to your sisters," Bila said in a clear firm voice, and the room grew silent. "They're right. It's a man's mind you should be worried about."

The Queen nodded, and then exchanged the looks with Bila. It seemed the two women were in an agreement on what was to be said - or perhaps, it wasn't the first time this had been happening. Altogether, it looked like sort of a ritual to Thorin, and he couldn't tear his eyes off his wife, who was slowly circling Ivla and Braga, while Bila moved in the opposite direction, around them as well.

"There are two things to remember, sister," Bila continued. "Firstly, you need to remember they are the same beings as us, there under their clothes. And this..." She gestured around Braga's body, without touching him. "What we prohibited you to touch." A few quiet laughs echoed. "It doesn't give them power over you. Neither your body, nor your mind."

The Queen stopped in front of Ivla, catching her eyes. "And secondly, sister…" the Queen pronounced, and leaned ahead, her face suddenly close to the maiden's. Thorin saw the Queen's red lips part softly. She tenderly picked up the girl's arm, fingers wrapping around the wrist - and then she lifted it and placed the girl's hand onto Braga's sternum. "They truly can't use their brains when you know how to handle their body." And then she forcefully pushed Ivla's hand down, on the Dwarf's stomach, on the very edge of his breeches. And Braga jerked and made a throaty noise.

There was a moment of silence, and then women started roaring, and stomping, and whooping. Ivla pulled her hand back, her cheeks red, uncertain smile on her lips - and the smirk - the one Thorin was so intimately familiar with - sated and self-assured - played on the Queen's lips.

"And now some music!" she shouted, clapped her hands, and the musicians picked up their instruments. The Queen twirled on the spot and headed back to her sofa.

Women were rising, some with a bounce, some slowly, wobbly on their feet - and dancing started.

To be continued...

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Thorin and Wren in chitons a.k.a. Aphrodite and Hephaestus need your support! I'm running a Kickstarter for my second novel Hammer Up! and by pre-ordering the book you can help me to raise the funds for editing and publishing it on Amazon. Please, consider supporting it! You can find it on Kickstarter; on my blog kolmakov dot ca; or on my professional Facebook facebook dot com slash katyakolmakov. The story started here and was quite popular, so you might enjoy the book ;) Also, you can get the prints of my art, or at least watch the video, which was quite an achievement to record, with all my social anxieties ;) Thank you in advance!


Katya Kolmakov