A/N: It's Tolkien's. Orla is not in the books, but her existence is not rejected outright, so you could say it's canon friendly... I just wanted to do a female dwarf story set during The Hobbit.
Little bitty edit to correct a canon error… Never trust what you read off the internet.
I still think back to those days in the old caves, before the Lonely Mountain, when we were all together. I was so young then, knowing so little beyond the low-ceilinged tunnels where I had been born. Ours was not a rich life, but our parents did their best to keep us well-fed and comfortable, and my cousins and I all helped out, as best we could, even the little ones like Gimli Fili, Kili, and me. The halls were dark, crude, and dim, but it was all we knew. We could dig forever in those tunnels, it seemed.
And yet, there were always the oldsters' stories. Thorin spoke of the fight in which he had earned his title, the battle he'd won when he was little older than the four of us. Old Norin would sigh and tell of the lost riches of the Lonely Mountain, and of Moria. They made us dream, made us wish for a chance to explore the bright valleys beyond our home. The boys would swing their axes with more flair than necessary, and Gimli confessed to dreaming of an adventure, a great journey from which he could earn such wealth for the mines that none of us would ever have to go digging again. I told him that I was quite happy mining, thank you ever so much, and that he was a stupid little boy for wanting to go out amongst all those awful orcs and elves and goblins. I should know better than him. I was three whole years older, now wasn't I? And yet the older boys would glance at one another and nod, and then show Gimli a better way to hold his axe.
Then, one day, Thorin decided to do more than tell stories. He had a few quiet words with my father and uncle, and then they spoke with cousins Bifur and Bofur, who told their cousin Bombur, then he called upon Dwalin, who told his brother, and Balin talked with Nori, who invited his brothers. Fili, Kili, Gimli, and I hated to be left out of the loop. Gimli pestered Uncle Gloin to allow him to be included in the group, I tried to convince my father to let me know what was going on, and the older boys went to work on Thorin himself. None of this worked, but then Fili had the idea to go after their mother. Cousin Dis was Lord Thorin's sister, and she could convince her brother of nearly anything. She had the whole story out of her brother in no time flat, and when her sons became so excited, she persuaded Thorin to take them along, at that.
We were happy for Fili and Kili, since they were getting the chance to do what we had all secretly wished to at last. Perhaps Gimli and I were a bit jealous, but I tried not to let it show. After all, I was sixty-five and a full-grown woman, or so I told myself. I should be above such petty jealousy, even if Gimli was begging his father twice as hard now to be included. I didn't even want to go on an adventure, did I? All those trolls and dragons and humans out there, who knows what could happen? I asked my father, just because I was curious, not because I wanted to go, why he was going to leave without me.
"My little Orla," he had said, "You are my favorite jewel, my most precious ruby." He had stroked my hair, which was really too frizzy to deserve comparison to any sort of stone, red or not. "I want to have a better place for you than this weary cave, somewhere where you can sparkle in the sunlight."
"Father, it's fine. I'm happy here. Aren't you?" I wanted him to contradict me, to see the restlessness that grew within me as more talk of the journey leaked down to my ears. Yet, when I looked into my father's eyes, all I saw was my own wanderlust reflected.
"It is… well enough here," Father said awkwardly. "But there are better places for young dwarves to grow up. Better places where an old dwarf might spend his time in peace and prosperity."
I was never known for my wisdom. I could never easily read the faces of those I knew and loved, even my little cousin. Yet even I could see my father's urge, his visceral need to leave this place. Our people are not known for their great adventures, our distant travels, but part of this is because our great journeys take place underground. This cave's walls were solid. It gave us a secure home, but also a cramped one. There was no room to expand, no place for a young dwarf to seek his fortune. Although I, a mere slip of a girl at sixty-five, considered myself an adult, I knew that my father was still in his prime, still wishing for an adventure as much as we young ones were. He was merely better at hiding it.
"But if it is better there, shouldn't I come along?" I'd wheedled. "Better to start sooner rather than later there."
Father had laughed, dark eyes shining. "We have to take care of the dragons and elves and big men first. I wouldn't want the likes of them to scare my daughter."
"I'm not afraid," I had insisted halfheartedly, even though I was. Even now, after I've crossed paths with them, elves still frighten me, even if they aren't the terrible monsters the old tales made them out to be. Not exactly. But it's true about them sleeping with their eyes open. I've seen one do it.
"Then, my brave daughter," my father replied, "You must stay here until we send for you and help your mother and your aunt and Lady Dis care for the younger ones and get ready to join us once we send for you."
I sighed in frustrated defeat. "All right, Father. But why do Fili and Kili get to go? They're not that much older than me."
"Ah, but they are older. I cannot say that it would have been my choice, nor that it is a fair one, but life often puts us into unfair situations that we did not choose. We must simply bow our heads, sharpen our axes, and put on a thicker helmet. Give it time, Orla, and you may have an adventure of your own." Father tapped my mining helmet affectionately.
"All right, Father." I had smiled in spite of myself. He had all but promised me an adventure. Someday…
Someday I would regret adventures, and yet, our family could never truly resist one. My last year in the Iron Hills had been spent awaiting his word with frustrated impatience; eager to get to see this lost treasure cavern, this Lonely Mountain, for myself. I had little enthusiasm for mining, spending most of my time creating lilies out of stone and steel scraps, fervently promising myself that I would have a gift to give my father that was worthy of the promised adventure. I was by no means ready to pay off my debts and set up my own household, but I knew that this journey to a new home would be too great a gift to go unrequited.
I didn't understand why my mother cried when she at last received the letter from my father that things had at last calmed down enough that we might join them at the former stronghold of the dragon. So many gems had been found! (I still wear the little ruby pin that Father tucked in the package for me.) There would be tales of wizards and Wargs, trolls and burglars! And a great battle, like the one Thorin Oakenshield had fought in when he was about my age. Fili and Kili would be as great a pair of heroes as their uncle. That was when my mother explained the rest of it. Fili and Kili were heroes, she said, but they were never coming home. Lord Thorin would not be there to greet us.
"Why not?" I asked.
"There are some adventures," my mother explained, "That a dwarf cannot turn away from. Mahal made us so that we care survive great punishment, but he also gave us a gift. When we cannot bear anymore, we may leave our bodies and go to the deepest cavern of all."
"What's it like? Are there many jewels down there?" If I met myself now as I had been then, I'd kick the little me for being such a grasping bratling.
Mother, however, had just smiled sadly. "No one knows. Those who have gone in cannot speak to us outside, and the cavern is too deep for us to peer into it without going in ourselves."
"But we'll get to see them someday." I had hugged her, then. I was never very keen on showing affection, but my mother always seemed cheered by it, and I didn't want to see her cry anymore. "It will be our adventure."