Word Count: 1536
Disclaimer: If I owned the hobbit no one would die.
Summary: It starts when they ask for a comb.
Nori could really use a comb right now. His hair is a complete mess after being captured by spiders and then forced to march through Mirkwood and even if he is a prisoner, it doesn't seem like an unreasonable request.
However, the prison guard just looks at the dwarf like he's crazy and snaps, “I'm not giving you a weapon!”
“A weapon?! It's a comb!” Nori exclaims. “All I want to do is comb the tangles from my hair.”
“What about your hair?” the elf replies, his tone suddenly far more concerned than it had been before. He takes a closer look at Nori and his whole face goes pale. “What’s wrong? Are you ill? I'll fetch a healer right away.”
The guard dashes off as the dwarf gapes after him in disbelief. Nori’s hair doesn't look that bad, does it? He pats his head, wishing that he'd managed to hide away a mirror.
“What was that about?” Dori asks from the next cell over.
“I have no idea,” Nori tells him honestly. “I just asked for a comb.”
“Oh, that would be lovely. Get one for me too.”
“Get your own damn comb. It's not like the elves said yes,” the dwarf retorts just as his guard comes running back. The elf must have sprinted the whole way in order to find a healer and return so quickly but somehow every single hair is still in place. Nori can't deny that he's a little jealous since his own hair is filthy, tangled, and drooping rather badly and he covers his head somewhat self-consciously when the guard points right at him.
“Oh dear, you were right to call me,” the healer replies, looking at Nori's bedraggled coif. He takes a quick survey of the other prisoners and frowns deeply. “It must be contagious. I've never seen a group this bad before.”
This statement has Nori worried and he really wishes that he could see the rest of his companions now. Dwarves don't normally grow ill but if any place could sicken them, it would be Thranduil's bloody hall. However, before he can ask the elf what the hell is wrong with both his brothers, the healer kneels down by his cell.
“You seem to be the worst affected,” the elf says seriously. “I'm afraid that I don't know much about dwarven physiology so tell me what you require to make your hair shine bright again.”
Nori really doesn't anticipate that question and after a moment of shocked silence, the dwarf stammers, “Well, this cell isn't helping. I've never liked the damp.”
The dwarf has been giving his guards the same complaint for hours and he expects to be ignored like all the times before. However, the healer simply nods his head in reply, “Yes, yes, of course. I really must talk to the king about how he treats his prisoners. I will not have any of you dying on my watch.”
The healer gives Nori’s guard an order in elvish and he runs off again while Nori watches in disbelief. He still doesn't have any idea what is going on here and while he doesn’t like all this talk of dying, he’s somewhat afraid to ask.
“Don't worry,” the healer tells him, patting the dwarf on the shoulder. “We'll get this sorted out.”
Within twenty minutes, every member of Thorin’s company is being handed food and blankets to make their stay more comfortable. The dwarves don’t understand their captors' sudden generosity and the elves offer no explanation, but no one is going to look a gift pony in the mouth. Not even Thorin, though he clearly wishes to.
“This should keep you from deteriorating any further until I deal with your accommodations,” the healer says once every dwarf is fed and watered. He slips off into the palace before Nori can offer any thanks so the dwarf just shrugs and curls up in his blanket. Thranduil is unlikely to change his mind about intruders just because Nori's hair is tangled; the thought is preposterous.
However, the dwarf is woken up by the sound of someone unlocking his cell door; his guard and the healer have come back.
“King Thranduil will see you now,” the younger elf tells Nori and the dwarf has to gulp. He's hardly dressed for royalty. But the elves have yet to give him any clothing and there's still no comb in sight. So Nori goes before the king of Mirkwood in nothing but his under tunic, a blanket wrapped around his shoulders and the points of his hair drooping down across his eyes.
“See, my lord. I told you,” the healer says to Thranduil, speaking common for Nori's benefit. “You cannot treat your guests like this.”
“I did not invite them, Eldir, though you appear to have forgotten the difference between guests and prisoners,” the king retorts, but his words lack sharpness and his eyes keep straying back to Nori's hair. “I suppose it would be a shame if they all perished. I do not have the time or energy to war with vengeful dwarves right now. Fine, do what you must.”
“Thank you, my lord,” the healer says with a low bow. Nori mirrors him – it never hurts to be polite – and then the elf is pulling him from the room.
“Well there we are,” Eldir says with clear satisfaction. “I'll have you and your friends back up to snuff quite soon. We'll get you proper rooms, of course, and new clothes for you to wear. But is there anything else that I can get you? Some dwarvish method of repairing injured spirits so that your hair flows free again?”
What is this obsession with my hair? Nori wonders privately. What he actually says is, “Just a comb, if you don't mind. That's all I wanted in the first place.”
“Of course. Of course,” the healer agrees. “And where might I find such medicine?”
“Med-” the dwarf starts before cutting himself off. At this point it seems safer not to ask. “Well, I had a comb in my coat pockets and several more stashed in my pack. My companions should all have a few as well. No dwarf would travel without at least one spare.”
“Sensible of you,” Eldir says approvingly. “I will see that your belongings are returned.”
The elf is true to his word. Thorin's company is soon led to a suite of guest rooms, their clothes and packs waiting in the entryway.
“Oh, thank the lord!” Dori cries, running forward to grab his things. “You can all do what you like but I am taking a bath this instant. I'm so filthy I could cry.”
The dwarf’s companions share this sentiment and soon all of them are soaking comfortably. Several hours later, after a wash and a scrub and the twenty minutes that it took to comb the tangles from his hair, Nori feels like a proper dwarf again. His friends are similarly pleased by this change in their fortunes and when they’re invited to join Thranduil's court for dinner, the dwarves all dress their best. Their clothes may be travel worn but their beards and hair are perfect, even Kíli's wild mane somewhat tamed for now.
The elves greet their appearance with something like relief washing across their faces and negotiations with Thranduil pass much more smoothly after that. Indeed, the king seems quite apologetic about their earlier treatment and the dwarves leave Mirkwood with their clothes, their weapons, and enough supplies to see them all the way to Erebor.
Bilbo Baggins catches up to his companions twenty yards from the gate, their burglar looking up at Nori with admiration. “How did you manage this? I thought Thranduil was going to keep you there forever.”
“Honesty, Bilbo, I have no idea,” the dwarf replies. “I asked them for a comb and they just gave me everything.”
Sixty years later, Gimli tells this story to his fellowship and his companions laugh until they cry. All but Legolas, who just crosses his arms over his chest with a pout.
“I don't understand what you find so funny,” the elf says, his tone rather sharp. “Father was most hospitable considering the circumstances. Thorin's company was trespassing and we couldn't have been expected to know that dwarves require some strange medicine to survive. For that matter, I've always wondered... what is a comb exactly? No one has ever made that clear.”
His question sends Frodo and Sam into another spate of giggles while Merry and Pippin guffaw so hard that they tumble to the ground. Even Aragorn and Boromir have to fight back chuckles, the two men trading grins at their companion's ignorance.
“Now, now. It's not his fault,” Gandalf says, although the wizard is smiling as well. “Most elves would find your combs and brushes baffling. The only time you'll ever see their hair in tangles is when they're on their deathbeds. Honestly, haven’t you ever wondered how elves always look so perfect? It’s not some secret magic; their hair just grows like that.”