'And what work could you do for me, lad? My tools are in good condition. I've no metalwork wanting done.'
The young man of Rohan stood with his back half turned, shoveling manure from the stables. Dis clenched her fists and tried to temper her tongue that threatened to lash the upstart for his disrespect. One - he did not even turn to face her when he talked. Two - she must've been almost twice his age. Three - she was having to stand on her toes to peer over the half-door to the stable. And four - yet again she was faced with the ignorance of Men. And now she must start the same conversation she had had over in each Rohan township they had stopped at for work.
'Although I am skilled in metalwork and stonework, young horsemaster, I also have a knowledge of horses and their care.'
Before Dis could continue her usual talk of low wages and not asking to be fed, she was cut off with a snort.
'You must be desperate indeed to spin that line. Everyone knows dwarves don't keep horses.'
Dis bristled and her tongue spoke before she could stop it.
'And how do you suppose we carry out sick or injured while we are travelling? Do you think we carry all our people and our supplies on our backs?'
The young man stood from his work and turned a smirk on her.
'I have seen the creatures you use, stunted ponies nothing more. As I said, dwarves have no knowledge of horses.'
The self-satisfied smile was too much. Dis reached over and unlatched the stable door. She marched up to the stable hand and pointed a finger at him.
'It's you that have no knowledge. My cousin was the finest rider in our Kingdom and could best any Man in a horse race. If you saw him ride you wouldn't say what you do!'
Dis breathed heavily and felt herself blushing, she'd sounded like an impetuous child. And Dwalin hadn't raced since their exile. It was only recently they'd even been able to afford ponies. But the Man only leaned on his shovel with a small chuckle and said;
'A dwarf on a horse, now there is a sight to see. I'll tell you what my lad, if your cousin can beat me in a race I'll give him some work and you as well. It does you well to be proud of horse-skill.'
Dis was stunned.
'W-we have no horse to race you with.'
'For a bit of sport, I'll lend you one of mine. Though you'll sore pay for any damage you do it. I'll meet you at the Western edge of the plain. The race begins when the sun sets.'
The man turned his back and it was clear that the conversation was over. Dis turned, faint horror bubbling in her belly. How was she going to explain this to Dwalin and Thorin?
'Thorin, I'm sorry.'
'You wouldn't have to apologise so often if you thought before you spoke.'
'But if Dwalin wins, the man will give us jobs.'
'I am here you know! Don't listen to him Dis, he's just grumpy because I've always been the better rider and he's jealous that I'm getting a chance to show off.'
Dwalin winked and placed one massive hand on Dis' head to ruffle her hair. Dis peered up at him, he was surely the tallest Dwarf she knew - even taller than his father- and she hadn't been exaggerating when she said he was the best rider in the Kingdom. Or at least that's what she could remember. It was only a decade or so since they'd left but memories were hazy and it was to tell what was remembered and what was imagined. Thorin's low voice broke into her thoughts.
'See, I told you they'd bring a proper horse for us.' Dis spoke under her breath as three horsemen and two horses approached.
'A horse, but no tackle, I notice.' Replied Thorin quietly, glancing warily at Dwalin who was trying to look even bigger than he was.
'Well you did show up afterall!' Cried the horseman Dis had spoken to. 'And which one of you will be riding?'
Dwalin stepped forward with the usual swagger he adopted around strangers but said nothing. The young man smiled.
'Aye, I'm not surprise. I thought it'd be a tall dwarf indeed who could ride one of our steeds. Not half-Man by a chance are you?'
The words were said in jest but the insult set a fire in Dwalin's eyes. Dis rushed in front of him before he started a fight.
'Y-you didn't bring any tackle - how can we race without saddle and stirrups?'
The young man smiled with a patronising air.
'A child of five can ride a horse. It takes a man of skill to race bareback. I assumed this was the skill that your cousin held. But if you choose to forfeit...'
'Dwarves do not go back on their word!' Thorin was also fuming now. Dis closed her eyes in frustration. Save her from the pride of her brother. But the man did not seem to sense the anger in Thorin's words and continued to smile with confidence.
'Very well. Then the race is set from this to spot to that far tree and back. We set off when the sun sinks behind the horizon.'
Dis glanced at the red fingernail quickly sinking into night. They had little time, that was good. Once Dwalin was on the horse, maybe there'd be less chance of a fight.
'Very well,' she said quickly, 'and if we win, you will employ myself and my cousin for the duration of our stay.'
The horseman nodded and turned to his companions.
'We agreed that was a fair wager, and that if you lose, you will both work for me for free.'
Humiliation indeed if Dwalin lost then. Dis nodded, what else could she do. One of the men led forward a huge shining black horse and handed the reigns to Thorin. The man who was to race took the other horse and mounted it in one easy swing of the leg. Dis stared up at the horse's flank. So did Dwalin. His head did not even reach it's shoulder.
The men chuckled lightly.
'I'm afraid we did not think to bring you a box!' Their laughter increased.
'Or perhaps they could climb atop one another!'
Dwalin turned his back and, with a grim look at Thorin, walked in the opposite direction from which the race was to be run. Thorin nodded and handed Dis the reigns without even glancing at her. She stared in horror as he began to follow Dwalin. The men stared too.
'It seems we have offended them. So much for the word of Dwarves!'
At these words Thorin spun around and Dis was sure that a fight was unavoidable. But instead of directing a glare at the men he stared straight at the horizon. The sun had set.
Dwalin turned quick as lighting and sprinted towards them. Thorin knelt and Dwalin planted a foot on his back leaping onto the horse's back, grabbing the reigns that Dis threw to him. And he was racing away before the men of Rohan knew what happened.
For a moment they stared open mouthed. Then, with a cry the other rider urged his horse on but the race was already decided. Dwalin's horse was already reaching the far tree and turning back.
Dis and Thorin roared with victory as Dwalin brought the steaming horse to a halt in front of them and jumped down. The second horse came in a fair few strides behind and the rider shook his head as he dismounted.
'I has never seen such a trick as that.' He raised his hand quickly. 'And I meant no offense by that. I know when I'm beaten. And I owe both employment.'
Dis, Dwalin and Thorin bowed and walked quickly away barely able to contain their glee.
'And he leapt so high into the air I thought he would sail clean over the horse's head!' Cried Dis as she retold their adventure around the fire that night.
'Now, now keep to the facts, Dis.' Dwalin chuckled but it was plain to see he was basking in his glory.
'That was a smart thought, using a fighting move like that. Quick thinking was not something I'd ever thought to accuse my brother of but it seems I must here!'
Even Thorin laughed at Balin's joke and Dis smiled to herself. A good story, a lesson taught to Men of the skill of Dwarves and a paid job. It seemed letting her tongue run away with itself sometimes did have good consequences.