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Upon their return to the camp, the King invited Ellaron and Nardi to his tent. Normally, the tent was more than big enough for him and Dirhild: on one side there was their pallet, and on the other side there was a small collapsible desk and chair which he used for studying maps or for making his notes. But now that six persons were inside Nardi, Ellaron, and both of his elder children entered it looked small and very crowded. They sat on the pallet, ground, chair wherever one could find some space and when everyone got wine and mead, Durin turned towards the elf.
"Has this been happening before? I've visited Thranduil's city quite a few times on some official occasions, but never has something like this been mentioned."
"The Wood of Greenleaves has really been free of dark shadows for a long time," said the elf, having sipped a little bit of wine. "This newest incident is only the fourth such event in all these centuries since the end of the Third Age. We destroyed the spiders to the very last one in all three previous occasions and we are not sure how they manage to come back. Maybe there is some deep hidden den with the eggs... we really don't know." He shook his head. "In any case, I'll inspect this area with my rangers one more time. I hope that the forest will be clear again for a long time..." He stopped and it looked like he was thinking. "...especially because my people won't be here for much more time."
Durin thought about the uttered words, and especially about those in the end. He knew that the number of the elves in The Wood had been slowly decreasing throughout the Fourth age, which he witnessed himself during his visits to the elven city. Middle-earth was changing.
"We will take care of Khazad-dûm," he replied. "The forest will have to become the responsibility of Beornings and Kingdom of Esgaroth."
"It would be great if the orcs were eradicated from the Misty Mountains. However, it won't be an easy task," said Ellaron slowly.
The King looked him with raised eyebrows.
"We are very much aware of the fact that we aren't going on a picnic," he said.
"I didn't think that, no," said Ellaron and shrugged. "But how much do you really know about things in Moria?"
"I would be a very irresponsible ruler if I led my people into a situation of which I knew nothing," answered Durin coldly with somewhat a scathing look.
Nardi, on the other hand, had a very angry look on his face. "Do you think that we haven't sent many scouts in the previous years, who have risked their lives to bring us information?" he asked furiously.
Ellaron opened his mouth as if to say something, but then closed them. He didn't speak for a few moments, and then looked the King in the eyes.
"I apologize for my rash words," he finally said.
Durin observed him; the elf seemed sincere, so he nodded as a sign of accepting the apology.
"Just as my general says, we are very well acquainted with the situation." The King's tone softened now, and as did his expression. "There are enough orcs that we'll have to make a great effort to overpower them, but we can do it because their number is not countless, after all. The interior of the mountain and the gate's surroundings provide only limited possibilities for food production, so the number of the orcs could not grow endlessly. While my people lived there, one of the ways to get food, besides production, was trade; however, that particular possibility is closed for the orcs. The reports from the area also say that orc attacks on the nearest Rohan villages are rare, which is another indicator that there are not enough orcs for marauding actions of a bigger scale. And I have some direct data about their numbers from the scouting in the tunnels."
Yes, just as Nardi mentioned, many brave dwarves crossed all that long way and risked their lives many times by sneaking through the dark tunnels to determine the current status and to estimate the approximate number of the orcs. But he didn't want to reveal any more details to the elf.
"That is good," said Ellaron and gave him a slight formal bow. "May the Valar be with you. I wish you a successful mission," he said solemnly.
"I thank you," replied Durin in the same tone and lifted his chalice. "To our victory!"
The others joined him.
"To the victory!"
Durin drained his mead, and then he wanted some more. And not just that he wanted to go out and celebrate with his soldiers. In that moment, it felt as if tonight's victory or at least a part of it, because they were not the only ones fighting the spiders was a good harbinger for the battles that awaited them.
The cheerful voices and laughter from outside the tent were the sign that the celebration had already started.
"Let us join them," said the King lightly, having abandoned the formal demeanour.
Nardi and Noin enthusiastically jumped on their feet, and Durin knew that his wife and daughter would also drink a few more chalices. And it turned out that neither the elf needed any more persuasion.
"There was a fight with the spiders!"
"We went into battle and won!"
"The King led our fighters and killed two spiders!"
"We defeated the spiders!"
"The King killed several spiders!"
Shouts were loud and cheerful, the news spread in waves. As the number of the killed spiders grew from one moment to the next after the battle was over Darri concluded that the news was changing with every next teller. Or at least after every two or three, he laughed inside. But the basis of the story was the same from the beginning and it was clear that the King and his Guard had participated in the battle started by the elves, and that they had soon defeated the spiders together.
Darri and Faldur soon reached the centre of the events. They heard songs, many goblets were lifted in toasts, and even the two of them got the beer from some generous near-by dwarf who opened his barrel on this occasion. For a while they remained there and joined the celebration. And then, by mere coincidence, Darri looked in the right direction in the right moment and spotted a movement.
More movements, actually, and several shapes.
"Faldur, look!" he said in a low voice and pulled his brother's hand, and showed the direction where to look.
Faldur had to rise up onto his toes; for Darri, his height enabled him to see over the heads of the others around. He gazed and observed what he had never seen in his life before.
About fifteen tall slender figures slowly walked towards the forest. One of them, the one in the back of the group, turned around and nodded to someone behind him, and then continued to walk after the others. All of them had bows and quivers with arrows. Their movements were soft and they walked as if they didn't even touch the ground.
A word that marked something different, something alien. Enemies, some dwarves would say long ago. And some were suspicious even nowadays.
Darri observed, and pondered.
Dwarves. Elves. The two peoples who could hardly be more different than they were. One were immortals, the other were not. One were people of stars, the other of the underground. One were created by Iluvatar, the other by Mahal. The very essence of their fëa was completely different.
Quite unexpectedly and probably quite by chance one of the elves turned his head and looked towards the direction where Darri had stood.
Another lucky coincidence. One of those moments that seems as if many forces joined together so that something extraordinary could happen.
Torch-light was not very bright and the distance was not short, but Darri felt the exact moment when their gazes met, and the elf stopped. And while watching him, Darri suddenly had a feeling that he could see much more than his figure. In the elf's eyes he saw all his past centuries and millennia, all his ancient battles, his sorrow because of loss and changes, his longing for the spaces beyond this world so distant and different that they were incomprehensible to him.
The elf then gave him a barely perceptible nod, and then turned and went after his group. Darri took a deep breath. He had just seen something new and different. And then he thought that new and different were the main concepts that marked their lives now: that was the very essence of this journey. Because their quest was so much more than mere moving from one place to another within the familiar world; this was not like going from one of Erebor's cave to another. Their old homes remained behind them and nothing would ever be the same for them again. They were heading to something completely new and unknown: they set out to create a whole new world.
And now he had the chance to see something very special, something he had never seen before. This was his first discovery of different worlds on this quest. He smiled.
"I am glad I witnessed this," he said pensively, his gaze still fixed to the place where the elves entered the forest, having disappeared from their sight.
"You know... actually, I am too," added his brother in a low voice. They exchanged glances, and then they slowly started to walk back to their places.
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