Every dwarf had a secret name, and with it a duty to ensure that name would never be revealed to anyone of a non-dwarf race. Since dwarves so often had dealings with Men, and sometime even elves, it became necessary to adopt a supplementary name to identify themselves for such transactions. These names were usually chosen by the individual dwarves themselves, usually while they were still children.
The elder of two brother dwarves had a name in mind for himself, but the younger brother had thought of one too: "Nori".
The elder brother protested: "But brothers' names are supposed to rhyme with each other. Nori doesn't rhyme with the name I thought of. I'm older, so I should get to pick."
He didn't care; he had to have the name Nori. He didn't know why, he didn't even remember where he had heard it or what had made him come up with it. He just felt that it suited him.
Finally the elder brother relented and let him have the name Nori, if he really wanted it that badly. He took the name Dori for himself in order to adhere to the tradition of brother dwarves with rhyming names.
Some years later, another brother was born, and he took the name Ori. Thus, the three of them came to be known as The Brothers Ri.
Even from a very young age, Nori knew that he was different.
There didn't seem to be any one, single thing that he was good at.
As far as he could tell, other dwarves didn't appear to have any trouble when it came to choosing a craft, or honing a skill in a particular field that was customary for dwarves. Nori didn't have it quite so easy.
He lacked any real competence for metalwork, and he wasn't interested in mining. The whole idea of boring into the earth for treasures was exactly that-boring. He didn't have the aptitude for toymaking, an occupation his friend Bofur had learned from his cousin Bifur, or the knack for cooking like Bombur, Bofur's brother. He wished he had the same kind of artistic talent that his little brother Ori had, especially when it came to writing and drawing pictures, but that turned out to be yet another area where he wasn't suited.
For a time he actually served as an apprentice for Mister Oin, the healer, and even though it made him feel good to know that he was helping people, he soon found that the whole laborious process involved in using your hands to heal someone who was hurt was a lot more painstaking than it looked at first.
"And just how else would ya heal someone besides usin' yer hands, Master Nori?" the grey-haired old dwarf spluttered in exasperation. "Yer feet?"
"No, that…" Nori stammered. "That's not what I meant."
"Well, what did ya mean, then? I'd really like to know."
"Honestly, these young types, always thinkin' they know a better way. Gives me a headache."
"I'm sorry, Mister Oin. I don't mean to cause you any bother. I'll get out of your way."
"No, don' go, lad. I didna mean it. I already had a headache before you came in. It's this incessant ringing in my ears."
"Is there something you'd like me to do? Help you mix ointments?"
"No, I'll mix 'em. You just sit there and sing for me. Yer singin' always makes me feel better."
It was getting dark. Another day had come and gone. He'd be returning home empty-handed, having earned not a single coin that day. He'd have to face his brothers, endure their looks of disappointment, and in Dori's case, ever-growing resentment. He'd have to sit and hear a lecture about how he never contributed anything to the household, how it wasn't fair for him to constantly depend on his brothers for support, how he would find a purpose if only he would apply himself and show some real dedication for a change.
And, of course, he would be accused of being "lazy".
He hated that word.
More to the point, he hated that his older brother, the person whom he loved probably more than anyone else in the world, actually had that opinion of him.
It wasn't always that way. There was a time when Dori would have demonstrated a lot more patience and understanding for Nori, but that time had passed. At the rate things were going, he wouldn't be at all surprised if one day, Dori just threw him out.
He trudged on sullenly through the streets of town, having failed yet again at finding any work. It was one of the towns of Men built near the borders of Ered Luin, the dwarven kingdom where The Brothers Ri lived. It was easy to pass through this sort of place unnoticed, as Men tended not to pay much mind to dwarves in general. As he ambled by a pair of Men standing outside the inn and talking to each other, he noticed that one of them, the one with his back turned to Nori, had a small coin pouch hanging from his belt, just below Nori's eyeline. Without thinking, Nori reached for it, pulled it off, and kept walking.
His heart pounded like an iron hammer. He tried his best to concentrate on keeping an even pace, despite his urge to break into a run. He dared not look back. He expected to hear a shouting voice and running footsteps any moment, but no such sounds ever came.
The closer he got to home, the giddier he felt. Had he actually stolen something from somebody? And gotten away with it? So much for arriving home empty-handed. Dori would want to know what he'd done to earn it, of course. Nori would have to become a liar, as well as a thief. Fat chance of that lasting very long. As apt to pry as Dori was, he always managed to coax out the truth sooner or later.
For the moment, Nori tightened his grasp on the coin pouch he had stuffed up under his armpit, relishing the feeling of accomplishment. It worried him...he couldn't go on like this, taking things that didn't belong to him. He knew it was wrong, and he would surely be caught eventually if he kept doing it.
The coin pouch was just the first of many things that Nori would steal as time went by. The fear of getting caught lessened each time, but so too did the giddy rush. Thievery simply became a habit for Nori, or a hobby, perhaps.
Nori stood in front of a cracked mirror, admiring his fractured reflection as he combed through his long, red hair with a bent fork.
A second later he spun around in surprise as the door to the shed abruptly opened and Dori stepped in. Nori concealed the utensil behind his back and smiled sheepishly. Dori scowled, his eyes roaming over the whole interior of Nori's secret shed that was not so secret anymore, surveying the myriad scattering of items covering every inch of space. In one corner there was an assortment of pots, pans, and tea kettles piled together, beside a small table laden with such random items as a candlestick, a spool of thread, a brass goblet, an hourglass, and a crossbow. There were some tattered, old books stacked on the floor and a fishing pole and a spade leaning against the wall. Several pipes (but no leaf) lay in a row on a shelf, and there were several leather bags, boots, and slippers strewn all about the floor.
"Nori…" Dori held out his hands in front of him, palms up. "What is all this?"
"Well, it's...my collection."
Ori poked his head timidly out from behind Dori's large frame.
Nori frowned. "I see you back there, you rascal. Don't try to hide. You promised you wouldn't tell him!"
"Don't yell at me," Ori said, stepping into view. "Besides, I didn't mean to tell, it was an accident!"
"Still up to your old habits, I see," Dori said, squinting balefully at Nori.
"No, Dori," Ori said, moving to stand between his two older brothers inside of the small shed. "It isn't like that. None of these things are stolen. He found all of them."
"Oh, honestly, you don't really believe that, do you? You can't possibly be that naive."
"It's the truth," Nori said defiantly. He picked up a small, wooden horse from where it sat next to an actual horse's bridle, and waved it around. "You think I would steal something like this? A child's toy? You think I would rob a child? What kind of monster do you think I am? At least give me some credit, brother dear."
"Say…" Ori reached for the object. "Mister Bifur said he was looking for that."
Nori yanked it away. "Yes, well, I happen to like it, is that such a crime?"
Dori folded his arms. "All right, then, so you found all of these items. In that case, I suppose you won't mind if I load them all into a cart and deposit them in the middle of town so that all the townsfolk can paw through everything and retrieve whatever belongs to them. I'm sure they'll be grateful to you for finding their lost items."
Dori nodded. "I thought so." He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Nori, we can't go on like this. I can't keep bailing you out every time you get in trouble with the law, and very soon Dwalin isn't going to be around any longer to make sure the other guards are lenient with you."
Nori cocked an eyebrow. "Where's he going?"
"Erebor," Ori answered. "He and Thorin and Balin and some others."
"Apparently Gandalf the Grey convinced Thorin that now is the time to take back the Lonely Mountain from the dragon," Dori explained. "They're leaving tomorrow."
"And we're going too," Ori stated rather gaily.
"We? As in…"
"As in you, me, and Ori," Dori finished for him. "It'll be good for us, you especially. This way, maybe you'll learn the value of earning something honestly for a change, and as much gold as there is to be had in Erebor, the reward for this venture will far exceed the investment and expended effort."
Dori took Ori by the arm and guided him out of the shed. "I suppose I'll let you say your goodbyes to all of your treasures before you're parted from them," he said to Nori on their way out. "Oh, yes, I was serious about taking them into town. I'll let you leave first, of course, before I do that. Give you a couple hours' head start. I wouldn't want you to be swarmed by an angry mob. I can't imagine you would be much good on the quest if both of your hands had been chopped off."
Once his brothers were gone, Nori picked up a small trinket off of a nearby shelf: a pewter ornament shaped like a starfish and attached to a chain, most likely meant to be worn as a necklace. He traced the outline of the ornament absentmindedly with his fingers, looking at himself in the mirror once again.
Erebor. So far away. How long would it take to get there? Months, no doubt.
He looked down at the ornament in his hands. He'd never seen a real starfish before, he'd merely heard of the simple creatures that could be found in the tidepools along the seaside. A part of him had always wanted to visit the seaside, he'd simply never spoken about it because...well...it was an odd thing for a dwarf to want to do. He'd never ventured very far from the mountains before. Soon at last he would be venturing far, but eastward, in the opposite direction of the seashore.
Nori held the starfish necklace up higher, close to his face, closing one eye and looking at it so that it blocked his view of his own head in the mirror. Suddenly an idea came to him.
You've always been odd, Nori, he thought to himself. Why not see how far you can take it?
"Wait for us!" Ori called out, trotting forward to meet the others and leaving his brothers trailing along behind him. Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur were just arriving at the front gate of the hobbit's smial at the same time as Oin and Gloin, as well as the wizard Gandalf himself. Even from a distance, Nori could see the glowing rune scratched onto the front door by the wizard's staff, placed there to let all the dwarves know where they could expect to find supper and accommodations for the night.
Bofur's eyes grew wide when he noticed Nori walking up to the gate.
"What have you done to your hair?"
The other dwarves all turned towards him with similar expressions on their faces.
Nori had styled his hair so that it stuck out flamboyantly in three distinct, triangular points-one on top, with two more on either side-which, along with the three braided sections of his beard hanging below his cheeks and chin, created a look that resembled the starfish necklace from which he had drawn inspiration.
"Isn't it something?" he said with a grin, running his hand along one of the smooth, meticulously combed points. "It's a new style I invented. The way I see it, once we retake Erebor and all the dwarves from the Iron Hills return to the kingdom, they'll all be so impressed by our bravery and admire us so much that they'll want to emulate us. So I thought, why not take the opportunity to become a trendsetter? Just wait, pretty soon everybody in Erebor will be wearing their hair like this. Well...what do you think?"
No one said anything. Bofur looked at Dori, who responded merely by shaking his head and rolling his eyes.
Bifur made the Iglishmek hand signal for "I like it!" and laughed.
Ultimately, the dwarves cared less about Nori's hair than their own stomachs, and they crowded close to the round, green door, each of them wanting to be the first to get inside and help himself to a plate or six of free food.
"Ring the bell!" Bombur demanded. "I'm starvin' to death!"