The rumors began almost immediately, unsubtly, echoing around the common room of the inn as the barmaid circulated with her trays of mugs and her whispering glances. Thorin hated staying in inns for precisely this reason. The town was in desperate need of a skilled hand at the forge; their last smith had fallen ill with a suffocating cough some months ago and perished of it, and no sooner had Thorin propped his hammer against a farmer's fence than he was buried in requests. At least thirty ponies must be shod; hinges and finials stood in high demand; and, as usual, every housewife for twenty miles needed a good set of steel needles.

And yet, although he couldn't hear the content of the whispers, he knew what these Men were saying: dwarves steal, they cheat, they impregnate your daughters and fight your sons... They'd buy every scrap of worked metal he could produce from the town's stash of pig iron, and when that was done he'd be run out of town on trumped-up charges, as he always was.

It wasn't until the barmaid made her way around almost to him again that he caught the words in those whispers: a dwarven prince, she said, and Thorin went cold. A few terrifying seconds passed before he realized that she didn't even believe it, was only making up stories about this bearded stranger, but he made the decision immediately that he would be leaving in the morning. This was the one rumor he could not abide.

He made his way to his quarters early, sighing as he recalled that he'd promised the innkeeper a fixed pump handle in return for a room to himself, and realized that he would be compelled to spend a few of his hoarded coins instead. But the cost to him if he were discovered...

The night was quiet, and Thorin lay half-naked on his bed, carving a bit of wood while the fire crackled by the wolf-rug on the floor. Good room, this; good bed, broad and sturdy to support his powerful frame, and a copper washtub in the corner with the cooling remnants of a hot bath in it. The room smelled like lavender soap, and outside the first lashes of drumming rain rattled on the eaves.

The knock on his door startled him, and in a moment he crouched upright, dagger in one hand and carving knife in the other; but when the door remained closed, and there came another timid knock, he set down the carving knife and stalked to the door. He was no elf, but when he wished he moved silently enough.

It happened quickly: he threw open the door, saw the cloaked figure- no taller than himself, and slim- and in the space of a few efficient movements he had his visitor inside, knife to the throat and snarling at the ear, door kicked closed. His visitor seemed too shocked to struggle, and he kept his grip tight, crushing fragile human shoulderblades against his broad naked chest.

"What is your business," he growled, and he felt a tremor run through his prey. Weak hands rose to clutch at his forearm, which lay across her chest- it was a woman! a female Man!- and a tangle of brown curling hair spilled from the cloak's hood as the woman regained her voice in a sob.

She could not possibly hurt him. Human women are as weak as human men, and this one clearly had no battle training; she was soft, she smelled of clean hair and lye soap, and she seemed unwilling to fight him. He lowered the knife, but he would have his answer, and he asked again: "What are you doing here?"

"I heard- I sought-" She seemed on the verge of tears, but her voice held a darker quaver than he had expected, and Thorin pulled back her hood impatiently to reveal the wife of the farmer he'd first spoken to. He had seen her on the doorstep, watching him as he laid his hammer against the post, but now her hair was half-unbraided from his violence, and a deep flush stained her cheeks.

"You thought what?"

"I was curious," she said, and a shiver ran up her spine where it pressed against Thorin's belly. "I have never seen a dwarf- I thought you would be shorter-"

Thorin laughed at that, and released her; she caught her feet and stood, unconsciously wringing her fingers, eyes downcast as he looked her over. That could only be her best gown, a faded yellow frock with painstaking embroidery on the bodice. And, he realized, she was quite lovely, in the way of farmers' wives: tired in the eyes, strong (for a human) in the shoulders, the shape of past childbirth carried about her hips. She was no blossom of early spring, with the fleeting beauty of maidenhood about her- she was beautiful, with enduring lines of strength and grace, and she was curious, and she was afraid.

She inflamed his blood.

"You thought I would be shorter," repeated Thorin. "And you came to see how... short I truly am?"

She could hardly speak; the blush at her throat and cheeks grew deeper.

"I am no despoiler of farmers' wives," said Thorin, though he longed to say otherwise. "I am a blacksmith, goodwife, poor as a beggar except for my hammer."

"I am prepared," she responded, still unable to meet his eye, "to make a bargain."

"Even a poor man has his honor," began Thorin.

"If I screamed," she said, and her eyes darted up to his at last, terrified and yet determined, "this room would fill quickly, and you would find yourself surrounded."

"You would see your husband and kin killed before your eyes, then?" He kept his tone light, but she spoke truth: he had been driven from more than one city under such accusations, and the women had not been in his room.

"You would so easily become a murderer?" Boldness grew in her voice, and she advanced on him, undoing her cloak and draping it upon the lone chair.

"Perhaps I am already a murderer, and you have walked into my den," retorted Thorin. She had clearly removed her shoes in the hall, or perhaps downstairs; her feet were bare, small and white and clean, and her ankles gracefully became calves, disappearing beneath her skirts before the first hint of a curve was demonstrated. Thorin swallowed.

"A murderer would already have his hands full of me," she said, and she began to undo her bodice, deftly unlacing as she stopped by the fire. "A man with so little honor would have already taken what he wanted."

"And if I am exhausted from the road, and what I want is sleep?"

"You need not take long about it," she replied. "I am only curious. I know that men do not care to prolong the act. I will consider it fair payment for the sight of you, to allay my curiosity, to give me something to ponder when my husband requires that I be ready for him. And, blacksmith, I suspect that the image will be all that I need; even now I am... I am ready, just from the sight of you." Once again, she could not raise her eyes, and the firelight did not disguise the burning of her cheeks. "You would not need to take long."

Thorin stood aghast. "Do not care," he said, incredulous, "to prolong the act? Goodwife- I do not know your name- is it such a strange thing, that you should be... prepared for love? If I lay with you- and I do not say that I will- I would require hours to properly enjoy you."

"Hours? What could you possibly do for hours?" She laughed, derisively, though her hand hesitated on her laces. "Paw my breasts, like a hungry child? Lie very still and wait for half a candle between each thrust? Are you impotent? What could you do?"

This was past all bearing. Thorin crossed the room in two strides and took her by the arm, lifting her just enough that her heels left the ground and she looked up at him in apprehension and trembling. With his other hand, he laid a single broad finger at the juncture of her laces, hooking it beneath the dyed wool to feel the linen chemise and the warm skin beyond. "I could devour you," he said, and his voice sank into a snarl. "I could suckle you and torment you until you came apart in my hands, good wife. I could use you as you have clearly never been used in your life."

Her lips parted as he spoke, and her pupils spilled like ink to fill her eyes. "Will you," she breathed.

"No," muttered Thorin, smirking. "You would scream."

Even as he spoke, Thorin's broad fingers explored the cleft of her bodice, straining at the half-unlaced ties while her hands rose to grasp at his forearms.

"I can hold my tongue when I wish," she said, but her voice belied the bravado of her words, and Thorin- torn by his honor and by his need to touch her- bent to breathe in the scent of her hair at the crook of her neck, imagining himself drawing his breath over her skin like silk, like the roughness of his beard.

"Ah, but you would not wish for long," replied Thorin, feeling the hum of his voice against her neck.

"I would if you told me to," she replied, scarcely able to form the words as shivers spread across her skin, and Thorin heard the willingness and the surrender in her voice and knew himself utterly lost.

"Be silent then," said Thorin, and he thrust his hand into her bodice- snapping the laces like string- and closed his great thumb and finger upon her nipple.

He half expected her to cry out immediately, ending their game; but she held her tongue, though a hiss escaped her lips, and to reward her he flicked the nub of flesh once or twice, gently.

"Is this your great dwarven secret of lovemaking," she said, smirking at him, though her eyes were hooded. "This is a shepherd-lad's play in the barn- oh-" For he had taken her bodice in hand and opened it as if he were shelling nutmeats, utterly ruining the laces and letting her heavy breasts fall to take their natural shape inside her chemise.

"I have been a shepherd too," he said, "when there was no smithing to be done." With one hand he cupped the weight of her breast, resisting the urge to knead and squeeze; this was for her pleasure, not his own. What he longed for was the sweet length of her on his bed, her thighs spread, her body defenseless against his seeking mouth- but even now, as ready as she claimed to be, she held her body stiffly, too conscious of her posture and her appearance to give herself over to enjoyment.

So he kissed her instead, cradling the nape of her neck with one massive hand and with the other pressing her to him, spreading fingers across her lower back, against the brittle delicacy of her shoulderblades, at the curve of her spine where the force of his hand pulled her up into him and spilled her breasts across his chest. She made a soft sound of startlement and pleasure.

And he kissed her, taking each of her lips in turn to feel their softness between his own, following the line of her teeth with his tongue, tasting her palate as she opened to him; and he kissed her until her hands fisted in his hair and her hips rocked into him and he could not help groaning into her starved mouth.

"And now which of us can hold her tongue?" She withdrew from the kiss, smiling wolfishly, and he laughed in astonishment.

"Woman," he said, "you have tried me beyond what I can bear," and he swept her up over his shoulder- it was no difficult feat- and toppled her onto the bed, gripping one ankle as she went and slipping his hand up her calf until it caught her tight under her skirts, just above the knee.

"You-" She kicked at him, and he saw in her eyes the faintest shadow of the misery of her own shared bed, the rush to completion and the isolation of her coupling from her own body and even from pleasure, and he saw that this night might bear grave emotional consequences for her. And he did not care. Let me have only this, he prayed, looking down at her and feeling the heat in his eyes grow; let me have this, and I will leave this town on the morrow, and leave this woman to her husband and her children and whatever other lover she may find who brings her pleasure instead of guilt.

"Hush," he growled, "not a sound." Then he swept her skirts up, following the line of her thigh with his palm, until his thumb rested on the shivering flesh where the swell of shapely leg gave way to tendon and sinew.

Her skirt was tight at the waist. With his free hand- for he would not give up the pleasure of fondling her, gently, inches from the treasure he sought- he wrapped his arm around her, found the skirt-placket, and simply ripped it down the seam until the whole skirt came away, torn to the knee. An easy repair; he knew the work of sewing well, and the cost of fabric, but even the learned exigencies of poverty could not dissuade him from tasting her.

Now she lay in her chemise, cradling herself with her arms to prevent his eyes from penetrating the worn, thin fabric; and he pulled himself upright to fix her with his most ferocious gaze.

"Will you have me tear your chemise from neck to hem? No? Uncover yourself, woman."

Only a moment ago, she had been bold, brazen in her pursuit of adulterous pleasure. Now, at the prospect of being bared to his gaze, she hesitated until Thorin worried that she might not wish to continue; but then her arms straightened, and her hands tightened to fists and settled stiffly at her sides, revealing her body through the chemise. A high flush settled across her cheeks as Thorin undid the draw-lace at her breast, then slipped the hem of her chemise upward- only a moment, a wriggle of accommodation, and he pulled the cloth off from her entirely, revealing her naked body at last.

Glorious, all beautiful, a white goddess, exotic in her bareness and her smoothness; the plunging line of her throat pulsing with her heartbeat (so swift, like a bird, like all humans in a hurry to live and die); heavy breasts with great rose-brown areolae and nipples tightening in anticipation; a strong belly, proud with the battle-scars of fertility, so rare and precious in dwarven women and so wantonly borne by the daughters of Men; thighs sweet and round, and at the juncture of them a shock of dark curls to rival even the tresses of a dwarven lover, which set his mouth to watering.

Thorin could have looked at her all night, but already he could see her growing self-conscious under his scrutiny, and sweeter fruits awaited him than this. He bent and kissed her upon the breastbone, letting his braided locks fall across her breasts and drag along her skin; then lower, above her navel, and below her navel, and he felt the shocked intake of her breath as he pressed his mouth to the tangled curls at the arch of bone above her quim.

Now she trembled, holding herself still by main force of will, and he presumed that she would continue, and the scent of her was a drug that drowned his senses; gripping her hips with his hands, he darted the tip of his tongue between, a sweep that revealed melting-soft reticulations of sensitive skin in the split second before she scrambled away from him, further up the bed.

He must have gripped her too tightly, he thought in confusion. "Did I hurt you?"

"What on the face of all Arda- have you no shame-" She seemed to be feeling enough shame for the both of them, and he apologized in earnest and knelt upon the foot of the bed, palms outstretched to show benign intent.

"Do you not enjoy being pleasured by a man's mouth?"

"I honestly- I had heard of things like this, but I thought... surely it cannot be wise?"

He raised an eyebrow at her. "Wise?"

"Wouldn't it be... dirty?"

Thorin laughed at that, a bright incredulous sound. "Dirty? Oh aye, it would be dirty; but so is smoking, and working, and fucking, and beer. In fact my favorite things on earth are dirty, and I hope by the beards of my fathers that you will let me eat you until you have forgotten the meaning of words like dirty, though I hope for your sake you remember the word quiet." With this he laid one great hand on her ankle and, gently, slid her back down the bed toward him; she made no protest, and he lifted her easily to sling her thighs over his shoulders as he lay belly-down on the bed and began to kiss her, a chaste mockery, with closed and articulate lips upon the outermost veils of her flesh.

Had she been less shy, he would have devoured her without restraint; but he contented himself to kiss, to press the flat of his tongue with broad pressure into her curls, until she was so quivering and so wet that even without the shuddering of her thighs and the creak of sheets between her straining fingers he would have known her in desperate need- and still she kept her silence, only the faintest keening whimper on each exhalation of breath.

Now he opened her, with gentle teeth and tongue, darting between the slick velvet of her inner wings, following the faint texture of secret skin from the tiny soft knurl of flesh that was her piss-slit up to the sloping hood that caught his tongue. Here he suckled the skin up into his mouth, keeping her taut, and pressed his tongue until he found the rounded tip of her clit, and let his teeth rest against the root of that small hidden shaft through the cushion of his lip until even in the throes of her trembling and the jerking of her hips she could not wrest her most precious secret from him.

And here he lashed her, groaning into her as she soaked his beard and rutted against his mouth, riding his tongue against her with the rocking precision of a smith shaping a copper bowl, and still- a worthy opponent, this woman- she made no sound above a whimper, though her breath came ragged and quick and her thighs shuddered with each roll of his tongue. Finally he released her, judging by the soft agony of her strangled gasps that she was very close indeed to the cusp of climax, and plunged his tongue into her, tasting copper and iron and fresh sweat and his own dark hunger.

Now Thorin had to hold her hips tightly, smirking as he fucked her with his mouth and tongue; he knew what he had done, forsaking her so rudely, and he did not torment her for long lest she lose her momentum, seizing her hood up into his mouth in a torment of suckling and swift tongue-aching hard strokes that undid her completely.

She came under his mouth in convulsions like death-throes, heels kicking into his sides, a catastrophe of pleasure; nor did he relent, maintaining the punishing pace until she was twisting sideways, pulling away from him, too tender to allow more and too proud to speak lest her voice emerge in a scream.

"You cannot have enjoyed that," she said, when she had her voice back; the flush of arousal was deep and dark upon her breast, and tremors ran through her still almost constantly. "By all the gods, blacksmith, you cannot have taken even a grain of pleasure in that act."

"How could I not," said Thorin, heaving himself up the bed to lie beside her, broad chest against the fall of her breast upon her side. "When I am buried in you to the hilt, plowing you without a thought but for my own pleasure, and my eyes are dark with wicked lust and my breath comes short;" and here he laid one hand upon the mound of her quim, testing with gentle pressure the sensitivity of her flesh, and finding it recovered set to circling her clit with his finger; "Then there will be no mouth upon you and none of my fingers, either, and will you find the act completely without pleasure?"

"No," she mouthed, once again not trusting her voice. "Even the words- will you-"

"Hush," said Thorin, and his circling turned into a sure rolling stroke that convulsed her in exhausted ecstasy. He worked her until he saw in her the tell-tales of orgasm, violent shudders and arching spine, and once again he gentled his assault, holding her there upon the edge with delicate circles and flickering strokes while she struggled to breathe and bit at her lips.

Steady and slow he touched her, longing to see her break, but the aggression of lust would not answer his command, and he turned his focus to kissing her, devouring her mouth as he had eaten her quim. She moaned into his mouth, animal sounds of need and distress.

He could not bear this torment. He was still half-dressed, cock straining at his trousers in throbbing agony. He must fuck her, must feel the excruciation of her orgasm around him while he spent himself in her; he fumbled at his laces, snapping the leather, and his cock sprang heavy into his hand.

His other hand would not maintain its ministrations, not now that he rutted against her hip and left wet trails against her skin from his dripping cockhead, and she keened in protestation for a moment as he withdrew his fingers-

-only to twist himself over her, settling between her thighs, the muscle of his belly scraping his rough hair and the edges of his trousers against her soft skin; he held her pinned, her legs parted in careless abandon, and he entered her as forcefully as he dared, sinking into that rippling heat with a groan that reverberated in the very walls. Her mouth opened wide, her tongue curled up in panic and bliss; then he rocked himself against her, flexing within her, grinding his flesh against hers until he felt her spasming around him.

She would not take much of this, he knew, and he did not hold back. Angling himself within her, he moved- he pulled back, he thrust, he felt in a delirious bestial way the roll of his cockhead against the silken inner pleats, and he groaned again, a tormented sound that drained from his lips like water in a drowning man's throat; and as he rejoined her, buried at his deepest, the muscle of his buttocks and belly working in desperate self-restraint as he rode against her wet and sensitive flesh, she begged him.

Begged and grasped his arms with her white-knuckled hands, hissed and choked, a high rising whine building in her voice. Please, she was saying, I can't, I must, and other, sweeter, fouler things: fuck me and fill me and yes, a strangled moan that swelled and could not be contained, a wrecking quake in her body that became a sublime convulsion around his cock, and with that her voice joined his own in cries and groans of satisfaction and completion and spending and right.

Afterward he lay tangled with her, still within her, breathing in the scent of her hair and her sweat, lassitude weighing upon him like a mountain. They exchanged kisses, meaningless murmurs; they stretched the long moment until the sweat dried on their skin.

Then Thorin remembered that he must depart in the morning before dawn, fleeing the history that he had come so close to forgetting in these few precious minutes of nameless lust; and she, the farmer's wife, recalled aloud and with burning cheeks her own exclamations, marveling that her own body could be the source of such overriding pleasure. She washed in the copper tub, now cooling, and it took on the scent of her skin; she dressed, drawing her cloak over the rip in her skirt and the ruins of her bodice, while Thorin stripped out of his trousers entirely and watched her with a pleasant ache in his chest; and she departed, all the more surreptitious for her earlier abandon, trusting him to wake before cock-crow and carry away her guilty, insatiable, kindling secret.