This is a big, big time alternate universe story. It eventually leads to the original quest the way it should so be patient and read if you want to. This will have no slash at all within the tale for those who are not fond of that genre. Please review and let me know what you think, good or bad.
I own nothing. Poop!
Da, why is that boy not inside if he is cold?" a dwarfling asked that would have been considered no older than seven by a son of Man's standards, "If he is cold then he needs to put on his coat. Mother says that wearing your coat is important when the wind is nippy."
"Son, that boy is a Balance," the boy's father admitted with a scowl gazing at the shivering lad, "The poor boy probably doesn't have a coat. Remember what I told you about the Balance system?"
"I do, but he's littler than me," the child whined turning pitying eyes on the tiny Balance huddled against a tree, "Mother says dwarflings are blessings. Why is he not considered a blessing? I don't understand, Da."
"I don't either, Bifur," the father snarled bending to hug his upset son close, "Our House does not follow that barbaric practice. All dwarflings are blessings. Never forget that, Bifur. Protect ones that are weaker and vulnerable than you all your life and Mahal will provide."
"I will, Da," Bifur agreed looking at the Balance, "I hate that bad system. I hate it!"
Bifur remembered seeing a Balance for the first time as a lad while he watched the small boy from the window. Ragged clothing did nothing to hide the fact that the child was cold as he shivered while sitting on the old stump by the woodpile. The lad was so young to have his shoulders hunched with the weight of his woes. Sighing, Bifur went and sat beside his uncle. The very dwarf that he had lost a lot of respect for in the past month and was very disgusted with at the moment.
"Colder than usual this time of year, isn't it?" Bifur asked as he dangled a toy he had carved in front of the carrot-topped baby that sat on the floor.
"He can't come inside. It's forbidden," the older dwarf voiced staring into the fire within the fireplace, "He is a Balance."
"He is a child. A blessing from Mahal," Bofur bit out, "I do not hold to the old ways."
"My wife does," Bifur's uncle sighed, "He is a Balance. Given freely ta balance out my family's happiness so that Mahal will not smite us out of jealousy. Tha boy understands this. His does his duty without complaint."
Bifur gritted his teeth and stood to go to his room. The dwarf sat in his window and watched the child once again. The boy shivered and held his arms tight across his chest as he coughed harshly. His uncle's firstborn son. The family's Balance. A hateful tradition that Bifur loathed with every fiber of his being. Some crazy dwarf generations back had created a system that was thought to keep misfortune from falling on other dwarves. It was then that the Balance system was born. Children were chosen at random to become the Balance for their families. These children knew no comforts and no sense of warmth or safety. Balances were beaten and nearly starved, for at their suffering it was believed that Mahal would not be angered if the rest of the family had good fortune. A trade for a trade.
"A trade of happiness for the pain of babes," Bifur groaned to himself watching as the lad stood to walk a bit to try and warm himself, "You should have been my first cousin, Child. Poor babe doesn't even have a name."
"Bofur," Bifur heard as he looked up to see his uncle holding his sleeping son, "I had wanted ta name tha boy Bofur after your grandfather, my father."
Bifur watched as his uncle walked over to gaze upon the child outside.
"He's so tiny," Bomfur whispered watching as the little one curled tight upon the stump shivering, "I…I don't like tha old ways either."
"Then stop this," Bifur demanded as he rose from his seat, "You know the boy's been ill. He won't survive another winter outside and for the life of me I don't see how he has survived as long as he has. He's your son!"
"He's a Balance," the older dwarf stated turning away, "Ye know that if a Balance dies then that means that Mahal has taken that family's sacrifice ta him ta balance out tha better times."
"That is shite and you know it," Bifur hissed, "Plenty of families have allowed their Balances to suffer and die and still they have the same misfortunes that are a natural part of life. The Balance system was invented by superstitious, child abusers. I have had enough! I would never have allowed this if I had known of Bofur earlier."
Bifur pushed past his uncle and out of the house. He had been planning this from the minute he had seen the little one's suffering and already had his personal things stored at his shop. The child gasped as Bifur swung him up on his hip with one fluid motion.
"You are coming with me, Lad," Bifur said holding the child tight as the poor boy stiffened in obvious fear, "I'm going to take care of you now. Don't be frightened."
"Bifur, what are ye doin'?" Bomfur snarled stomping out of the house, "Put tha Balance down."
"No," Bifur denied touching the child's forehead that he carried and grimaced at the heat of the boy, "He's ill. I'm taking him from here. I moved in to help you, Uncle, but I will not be privy to the neglect of a child. How could you have allowed your own wife to torment a babe?"
"Ye know Bartha belives very much in the old ways ta try and protect our House. Once promised ta Mahal no one has tha right ta claim kinship ta a Balance," Bomfur stated calmly, "He is a Balance pledged ta Mahal. His sufferin' is ta protect tha House of Ur."
"This protects our House?" Bifur growled lifting the boy's ragged shirt to expose the scarred back for his uncle to see as the boy flinched and lowered his head to hide in his unbound hair, "This is torture and the Balance system is wrong. This boy is my cousin and I will allow this no more. Bofur comes with me."
"Bifur!" Bomfur bellowed, "Ye have no right!"
"I have paid this family's bills with my own coin even before I moved here!" Bifur roared back, "I want my compensation! Give it to me!"
"Nephew," Bomfur breathed stepping back in shock, "Ye know tha work at tha mines have run dry until spring. I have no way ta compensate ye."
"Bofur is my compensation," Bifur snarled, "You call him a Balance. His fate is tied to this House of yours, you say. You owe me so I take the boy which clears this house of all debt. End of story. Only seek me out when you have grown a set. Good day, Uncle."
Bifur left his speechless kin as he hurried away with the boy in his arms.
"No," Bifur corrected himself in his mind, "I've got Bofur in my arms. This is my wee cousin Bofur."
Bifur stripped out of his cloak and wrapped the silent child inside the folds of the cloth.
"I've got you now," Bifur soothed rubbing the small boy's back, "Let's get you to a healer."
The child hissed and curled into himself with obvious fright.
"Don't kill me. I can still serve ye," the boy whispered softly, "Not tha poisons. Please don't."
Bifur froze at the small plea. The older dwarf closed his eyes in remembrance that ill Balances were usually put down by healers with fast-acting poisons. Bifur gently sat the dwarfling on a nearby fence and tilted his too thin face up to look into his eyes. Saddened, green eyes stared back at him with pleading.
"I'm never going to allow anything to hurt you anymore, Bofur," Bifur vowed as the boy blinked up at him.
"B-Bofur?" the child stuttered, "I…I don't understand ye."
"That is your name," Bifur continued, "Your name is Bofur. You are my cousin, Little One."
"No," Bofur denied shaking his head in fear, "B-balances are forbidden names or family. I have ta go back ta tha House of Ur. I…I have ta accept my fate for tha baby. Tha baby might come ta harm if I don't do my job. I balance tha House. Mahal might hurt tha baby."
"No, Bofur," Bifur reassured as the child shivered from probable cold mixed with fear, "Mahal does not punish anyone unless they have done horrible deeds. Our Father did not invent the Balance system. That was set up by bad dwarves that convinced others that it was needed. Nothing will happen to your baby brother."
"No!" Bofur wailed trembling in earnest, "I have no baby brother. I am just a Balance. I have no family. I live only ta serve or…or…."
"Or, what?" Bifur pushed as the child whimpered.
"Or the baby and Master and Mistress will be punished," Bofur sighed looking away, "Told I Balance and must not ask for anythin'. Always tired, hungry, pain. No soft touches. No warm bed. No gentle words. Not get ta play like others. Always bad. Always punished. Try so hard ta do right, but always bein' whipped. Always fists. No tears from a Balance or Mahal angry. I not cry. Have ta serve with pride. One day die…d-die for House with pride like a good dwarrow. When Mahal takes me way, I've done duty. That's what born ta do and then finally might be allowed ta rest."
"No, Bofur, you were born to be cared for," Bifur denied, "You should never have been forced into the life of a Balance and worked until you are so worn down. I won't allow anyone to hurt you or mistreat you anymore. I promise you, Child."
"I don't understand," Bofur whimpered, "Told Mahal choose me ta be Balance. Ye say not. Why…why Master and Mistress hurt me if I not Balance?"
"I don't know," Bifur admitted closing his eyes for a moment, "I didn't know about you until I moved back here a month ago to help with what I thought was my first cousin's care. I was never told of your birth, Bofur. Bombur's birth was announced to me, but not yours. I would have taken you away from this sooner and have been saving up to do just that ever since I arrived. I'm not going to allow you to hurt anymore. You're sick and need to see a healer. It's going to be okay now."
Bifur lifted the child in his arms and wanted to curse at how light he felt. Bofur was malnourished and exhausted. He was also feverish and very frightened. The older dwarf hurried towards a new healer that had set up in town.
"Hope he doesn't follow the old ways," Bifur thought to himself as he quickened his pace and stepped into the new building, "Excuse me?"
"Eh? What?" Bifur heard as a grey-headed dwarf peeked around a corner, "Speak up. I can't hear as well as I used to."
"My boy here is ill," Bifur said loud and clear, "I need some help with him. Bofur has recently come under my guardianship and I warn you his previous home was not kind to the lad."
The healer blinked and narrowed his eyes as a red-haired dwarf came around the corner.
"Let me see him," the healer ordered reaching and lifting Bofur into his arms, "Why…this boy is burning up!"
"And too thin," the second dwarf barked growling at Bifur, "What has been done to this wee laddie?"
"My uncle follows the old ways of the Balance system," Bifur huffed, "I knew not of my cousin until recently. Bofur is not a Balance anymore. If you won't treat him then I will find someone else, but be gentle. Bofur is scared. Give him back to me."
"I am Oin and this is my younger brother Gloin," the healer stated holding Bofur closer, "I despise the Balance system and applaud you for getting this boy away from your kin. I will treat him. Follow me."
Bifur hurried after the two dwarves as they marched away while his cousin turned frightened eyes to him.
"It's okay, Bofur," Bifur soothed as the child whimpered, "I'm here."
Oin settled Bofur on a raised table and pulled the cloak back to get a look at him.
"Not tha poisons," Bofur whispered hiding his face in his hair, "I can still serve."
"Poisons?" Gloin huffed, "Mahal Almighty! What kind of a place did Thorin lead us to?"
"Hush, Brother, your scaring the child," Oin ordered, "Not a single drop of poison on me, Laddie. So you're Bofur. Who is your guardian?"
"I am Bifur son of Binfur, at your service," Bifur began, "This is my cousin Bofur and I just took him under my care less than an hour ago. Bofur, Child, you have no one to serve anymore. You are not a Balance at all, okay?"
Bofur looked up at his cousin and then back down quickly. None of this was true. It couldn't be true. All the boy had ever dreamed of was to have someone, anyone, to care for him. He was being tested by Mahal over his dedication to balance the House of Ur. He knew he shouldn't have wished to be cared for. Mahal must be angry with a Balance dreaming and wishing for what he should not be allowed to have.
"Malnourished," Oin listed beginning his exam before pausing as Bofur coughed deeply, "Lungs sound full of congestions. Was he outside for too long?"
"Bofur was not allowed inside at all except for some chores he was forced into doing," Bifur admitted with a shudder, "Slept behind the woodpile to try and escape the wind. He had only the rags upon his back to keep him warm."
Oin snapped his eyes up to Bifur with a scowl and obvious tense set of his shoulders.
"What are your intentions towards the boy?" Oin asked coolly.
"To care for him as my own," Bifur voiced with a raised chin, "Bofur will be my son now. He is my child. I claim him as my own."
"Ye do?" Bofur gasped looking up at Bifur in shock, "Me?"
"You, Bofur, you are my son now," Bifur soothed before looking back at Oin, "Can you help him? I'll pay whatever is necessary to help Bofur get well."
"I'll take no coin from a good dwarf," Oin insisted, "Go buy this child some new clothes and let me work. Now don't look at me like that, Laddie. I'll allow no harm to come to you, Bofur. Bifur will be back shortly. Gloin, help Bifur shop."
"Um?" Bifur hummed as he was pushed out of the healer's door, "I think I know this town a little better than you since I've been here longer."
"I'm taking you to Dori's place," Gloin mentioned, "I'm thinking that there will be quite a blow up when word gets out that you have taken that wee lad from the House he was chosen to balance, am I right?"
"Yes," Bifur agreed, "I plan on moving Bofur and I to Ered Luin once he is well. That community does not allow the Balance system."
"Good to hear. That is where we Erebor refugees will be going to settle down in this spring," Gloin pointed out, "Come with us. No one will question another set of dwarves among our people. That way wee Bofur can get a fresh start. Come. Dori will be able to outfit that lad in no time."
"Then take me to this Dori," Bifur decided, "My boy is scared and I need to return to him quickly."
To be continued…