Thordis didn’t know what to make of the second knock at the door, but she was more than slightly pleased to see her best friend, Elsie.
“Someone’s cheeks are rosy,” Elsie observed.
Thordis blushed, but swatted her friend on the arm.
“Is he up yet or did you wear him out?” The human woman asked, peering over Thordis’ head.
“I haven’t finished your dress yet!” the dwarf blurted, trying shove her friend back out of the door.
“I didn’t expect you to make any progress on the dress,” Elsie scoffed. “Bette said she saw your errant husband in the market and he was ever so handsome. Brought you some milk and butter, by the way.”
Thordis gave up trying to oust Elsie from the house.
“Luc is upstairs, getting dressed. He had a very long journey and slept late. You know you don’t have to bring me milk and butter; your affianced has provided more than enough gold to cover the dress.”
“Has Liam been in for his fitting yet?” Elsie asked, putting a jar of milk and a round of butter on the table. “The wedding is in a fortnight.”
“No, he says he can wear any old thing; your dress is what’s important.”
Thordis hadn’t caught her own reflection in a mirror while Luc was standing up for their family, but it was likely similar to the look Elsie wore now: fluttery and smitten and hardly believing her own luck. The dwarven seamstress had to smile. She and Elsie had made fast friends when she arrived in the village.
Short and shapely (for a human), the blonde milkmaid claimed that they must be sisters. The dairy woman’s own husband had disappeared before the Great War, leaving Elsie in poverty with a single hungry cow. Elsie had built up her herd and business, becoming, if not rich, then at least financially comfortable.
Then Sir Liam settled into the village.
The knight had earned his title and fortune in battle. He was tall and fierce and stern, with piercing blue eyes that looked straight through you. Most of the townspeople were rightly terrified of him, but admitted having a decorated war hero around kept the peace. He was deemed tough but fair.
What on earth the genial, giggling Elsie saw in such a hard man was an utter mystery. He stopped into the tavern for a meal, when the dairy woman, already deep in her cups, approached him.
“Hello! It’s my birthday today!” (It wasn’t.) “How about a kiss?”
Those acquainted with Sir Liam and his ferocity were stunned to see him staring at the little blonde with something like panic. Elsie didn’t wait for an answer, just tilted her head back and closed her eyes.
After a moment, Sir Liam placed a chaste kiss on her lips, blushing behind his graying beard.
Elsie beamed at him, thanked him for the birthday kiss, then left him be and launched into her ‘life of the pub’ routine. She may not have been a classical beauty, but the gods had blessed her with an endless sense of humor, a head for japes, stories, and extremely rude songs.
Perhaps such a fountain of laughter spoke to a lonely, neglected part of Sir Liam. Whatever the reason, the two quickly became sweethearts. Sir Liam would set out to ride his great war horse in the morning, the beast’s steel shoes striking sparks on the cobblestones, only to be seen walking along a cow path as Elsie took her herd to pasture. The fiery steed would compete for grazing with the red and white cows. Elsie usually brushed down her cattle and tended them while they grazed. Sometimes Sir Liam distracted her so a cow would gently set her lyre curved horns against his chest and push him away so she could get her fair share of petting and brushing. Eventually he learned to bring apples for the cows and they tolerated his distraction of their mistress better.
The knight’s ferocity softened around Elsie like butter on a hearth. The town agreed that while they made an odd pair, they complimented each other well. It was to the surprise of absolutely no one when the announcement was made that they were to be married.
Thordis was still half afraid of Sir Liam, but she was happy for her friend. Wait . . . Sir Liam was . . . tolerable, she supposed, but what would happen when Elsie feasted her eyes on Luc? He was far, far more handsome than the graying knight! And far more gentle and kind . . . and funny! Luc could crack a joke in the midst of telling someone off! And Elsie had a heart of laughter . . . and she was bolder! She could give Luc proper kisses in no time at all! Of the Mountain, what was Thordis to do?!
Luc was descending the stairs, now properly dressed in a few spare things Thordis kept around for selling. And oh, he looked so handsome in that green tunic; it brought out the green in his hazel eyes.
Elsie dipped into a curtsy.
“Elsie Ourfille, at your service,” she said. “I’m Thordis’ best friend, but I doubt she’s been talking about me all night.”
“Your name hasn’t been mentioned,” Luc admitted, bowing back.
“I’d think it odd if it was!”
Elsie turned back towards Thordis, waggled her hand and made a face that could only be described as: ‘meh’. Now the dwarf matron gave her friend a thoroughly affronted look. She actually thought Sir Liam was better looking than Luc?!
“Let me show you how your dress is coming along, Elsie!” Thordis said in a loud voice, taking her friend’s arm. “Though I don’t know why I’m bothering; I didn’t realize your eyesight was so poor,” she added in a normal tone.
Elsie snickered as she was led into Thordis’s workshop.
“I expect he looks much better from your angle,” she offered. “Liam’s so tall he’s probably just the wrong end of a pair of nostrils from where you’re standing.”
“Don’t even try to tell me Liam’s better because he’s taller.”
“Not at all; they’re all the same height laying down.”
Thordis blushed and shoved Elsie’s hip. Elsie swung her hip back, catching Thordis in the ribs.
“As long as he’s worth the climb to you . . .”
Elsie’s hip check barely threw Thordis off- balance, while the human was shoved a few steps over by the dwarf’s playful swat.
Luc followed the pair, pretending not to hear the friendly comparison of better halves. It was nice to see Thordis laughing and giggling. She had been as tense as a bowstring for much of the previous day. Even this morning saw her defending her family against idiots. Luc much preferred her as he saw her now; snickering with her friend like a school girl telling an off-color joke. Of course, he really liked how he had seen her last night. Cuddly and warm and soft; that was the kind of thing he liked to see in his wife. It was grand that she could stand her ground and fight, but she had done that for far too long. She needed a rest and a chance to be soft. Luc would do the fighting for her.
Thordis pulled aside a screen and gestured to a cream and white dress with accents of red. Elsie’s hands went to her mouth. A line appeared between her brows.
“Do you like it?” Thordis asked worriedly.
Elsie sniffled hard and loud. Her eyes took on a shine.
“I never thought I’d have anything so fine,” she whispered, tears glistening in her eyes.
“Oh Elsie . . . .” Thordis gave her friend a hug.