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Just when they were ready to continue the journey the next morning, Halldis heard the horn – seven times – which meant that they'd hear the new important notice. The sound came from her right, and she quickly pushed through the crowd to see and hear better.
When she came forward, she saw one of the King's Guardsmen a few yards away. The murmur died out instantly.
"We will reach the Eastern Gates of Khazad-dûm in three days. Today is the last day of travelling through the plain, and tomorrow morning we start the ascent. Tomorrow evening we will reach the extensive valley in which we'll make the camp. All the fighters will continue the quest immediately, that is, the following morning. All those who will not fight will temporarily stay in that camp; the latter will afterwards get the directions about their own continuation of the journey one day later, and will find out how they can contribute to our goal. Any questions?"
There were none and the Guardsman moved forward to the next group, while Halldis went back to her place next to her brother. They soon moved on.
Three days, the words echoed in her mind while they were walking.
When the King first made his announcement about the quest, the thought of living in Khazad-dûm sounded attractive, but back then, for her it was only a name from the distant past. A very important and special one, of course, but still only a name. It wasn't near, and it wasn't palpable.
Even when she made her decision to go to the new life, which was only a few months ago, Khazad-dûm and the fight for it were still only speculative nouns.
And even when the journey started, when Erebor remained behind them as they were walking mile by mile next to Celduin and through the forest, she still didn't think about the war. Partially because the time was filled with many adventures... and partially because I didn't want to think about it.
It seemed to her that only now, when these words were spoken aloud, the war became reality. And now, she could close her eyes no more. The war was upon them, very close. Three days.
Actually, even less remained before the separation: only two days, she realized when she cast a quick side glance towards Glorrim, who walked next to her. Her brother would be among those going to fight. Tomorrow evening they would reach the location from which he would very soon go further – in the following morning. They would part in just two days.
Were these the last two days she'd have with her brother?
She got the impulse to hug him right away. Of course, she didn't do it; it wouldn't be appropriate in this moment, and besides, Glorrim wasn't a person who expressed his emotions and she knew he expected the same from her. But that didn't change how she felt inside. Fear gripped her and didn't let go.
Think positively. Don't lose hope.
But at the same time, her fear grew. She could run away no more from thinking and facing facts. Those words uttered in the morning changed everything. She felt as if until now she had lived in a dream, after which came a harsh awakening and she found herself in the worst version of reality. Fear filled every part of her heart and mind, choking all other thoughts and emotions.
As she walked on, another thought scared her.
Darri. What if she lost him, too?
No, fear for someone whom she met only recently couldn't compare to the terror paralyzing her at the possibility of losing her brother. But Darri was becoming more and more important to her heart, and the thought she might lose him hurt.
Oh, I really picked the perfect time to fall in love, she sighed and shook her head. I should have been smarter and not get attached...
The journey continued, and her thoughts grew darker.
When the time came for daily break, Halldis had no appetite and she ate only half of her meal. While sitting half-heartedly and waiting to go on, Tyra approached and sat next to her. Her friend looked serious and resolute, and this was one of the rare occasions when Halldis couldn't guess what was on her mind.
"Sister, I want you to take something of mine and guard it," said Tyra and pulled the lace on the leather bracelet she wore on her left hand. Then she offered it to Halldis.
She stared at Tyra's outstretched hands, not making a single move to take the bracelet and not understanding. Refusing to understand.
When they were still very young girls, on one festival they bought two identical leather bracelets and carved their names on the inside, as a sign of eternal friendship. And now Tyra was giving her own bracelet to her.
"Tyra... what... what are you doing? What does this mean?" Halldis asked in a low voice and finally lifted her gaze. No, what crossed her mind couldn't be truth. It shouldn't be truth.
Tyra's eyes were serious, but there was a barely visible smile on her face.
"I will fight too. And if I die, I don't want this to be lost. I want you to wear it, as a memory," she said calmly.
As Halldis still didn't move, Tyra tied the bracelet around her hand, and Halldis kept on sitting motionlessly, not even noticing what her friend was doing. Even now that Tyra said it aloud, she refused to understand.
"No! It can't be... you can't... you can't go..." Her voice died out completely in the end, while she still stared at her friend in shock.
"I am going," said Tyra softly, but mild tone was just a deception. It was clear that her decision was irrevocable.
"But... but... you have never given any indication about going to war... so I thought..." Halldis still couldn't recollect herself and her sentences sounded unfocused and not very coherent.
"I've been thinking about it for a while now," said Tyra. "I didn't speak about it because I didn't know how I'd feel when the moment came. I made the final decision only this morning."
"But why?!" asked Halldis desperately.
The look she got from her friend told her that the question was stupid. But in that moment Halldis was too worried and distraught to care. After all the dark thoughts in the first part of the day, this was the last straw. The only thing that she was aware was war, and she felt as if her whole world was crumbling down and that she'd lose everyone she loved.
"Oh, there are plenty of reasons. Just pick any you like. Because numbers matter. Because any fighter can contribute. Because our common goal is above us individuals. Because we create a future for our people, for those who are not born yet," said Tyra seriously.
Some part of Halldis' heart was aware of all those facts, but the other part, the scared one, was more dominant now. And louder.
"And you don't care how I'll feel!" she cried.
Tyra smiled wistfully.
"That is not true, and you know it very well. And I would really like you to feel better. But there are other things that are important too," she said.
Halldis turned her head to the other side, fighting tears. She couldn't speak any more, and started to gather up her belongings.
The journey soon continued. She put one foot in front of the other, and it was a fortunate thing that the terrain was flat and additionally flattened by thousands walking in front of her, because she didn't see where she was going. Her unfocused gaze lay on the back of the person in front of her, but she didn't see that either. Her eyes were blurred by tears and all she thought about was the possible loss of loved ones.
Glorrim – her brother. Tyra – her sister in everything but blood. Two persons that were most important to her and whom she loved most. The whole extended family – all her cousins. Darri – someone whom she hadn't known for a long time, but who was more and more important from day to day.
If she lost Glorrim or Tyra, she knew she'd be devastated; if something happened to her cousins, it would hurt a lot too. Those were the things she couldn't do anything about. But maybe there was one potential loss that she could prevent, in some way...
If she tried to estrange from Darri... maybe her feelings would lessen. Yes, perhaps it would be best not to see him anymore. If her feelings diminished, maybe the loss would not hurt so much.
As the afternoon advanced, so the direction of the journey slowly changed. For days they had been going straight to the south, and now they started to skirt the slopes they reached and, by doing that, they turned southwest. Their goal was not far away anymore; it lay on the eastern slopes of the mountains, two days of travelling away.
Darri watched southwards, trying to see Lothlorien. But the forest was still too far away. Only tomorrow, when they'd be a little more to the southwest than they were now, they'd come closer to the northern edges of that elvish land.
But what he did see perfectly was Zirakzigil, right in front of them, in the west. Darri observed the mountain in admiration. The top was at least eighty miles distant in a straight line, but because of its height it was easily visible and it dominated above the peaks in the foreground. Watching it, it was very clear how it got its name. The upper part was pointed, with very steep slopes shining in the sun. Silver spear. Absolutely appropriate, he thought. The other two peaks of the Mountains of Khazad-dûm also had suitable names, he concluded. The slopes of Barazinbar were reddish, while a cloud lay above Bundushathûr although most of the sky was clear.
He returned his gaze to Zirkzigil. It was the most special for his people because the tunnels and halls of Khazad-dûm lay beneath it, and on its top once stood the tower of Durin Deathless. Destroyed in the year of the War of the Ring, when the great wizard Tharkun fought the balrog and killed him, Darri remembered history. The tower was the scene of their final fight.
After setting the camp, he ate his supper quickly and went to find Halldis. He tried not to think how little time they had before the war; he also didn't want to think about fighting itself. When his thoughts strayed that way, he felt a little nervous; he kept telling himself that it was normal, that a little bit of fear sharpened the senses and helped surviving, and that only fools weren't afraid of anything. And he decided to postpone the facing with war to the very last moment.
After the short search, he saw her sitting on the ground and looking in front of herself. Next to her there was a dwarf who looked older than her, but not so much that he could be her father. Probably the older brother she told me about, he assumed.
He came fairly close and stopped only three feet from her, and she still didn't lift her head. When he called her name, she looked as if she was startled from deep thought. She watched him for a few moments, her face unreadable. Then she looked towards her brother – who was occupied with his supper, as it seemed – and then to him again. She rose to her feet and gave him a sign to follow her.
And she didn't introduce them to each other, he noticed.
She stopped relatively quickly, after they crossed only a short distance from the place where he had found her. She looked him in the eyes, but it lasted only a very short moment; she immediately lowered her gaze, while an expression of discomfort appeared on her face.
"This is a mistake," she said, still not looking at him.
She acted very strange – not at all like the person she was until now. He didn't understand.
"What is a mistake?" Darri asked.
"We are," came the reply. She frowned. "Everything happened too fast. We rushed headlong into this. And we shouldn't have."
He stared at her, while she continued to avoid his gaze. This was not good. Not good at all.
"Halldis... what are you saying?" he asked, shaking his head. He didn't understand anything. "We didn't rush headlong. I know how I feel... and I believe you know too."
He put a hand on her shoulder and stood close to her, trying to make her look at him. And he was successful – but just for a second, and then she shook her head.
"Do not look for me," she said and lowered her head again, went around him and rushed back to her place. And he stayed and stared. Confused. Surprised.
He couldn't understand what made her act like this. Until now, everything seemed fine. Ever since their first talk, they got to know each other better from day to day, and he liked her more and more. He had never met any girl like her – so fascinating and intelligent. And although they were only in the beginning, he didn't think this was a passing thing.
He remembered all their moments together – conversations, smiles, kisses. Nothing was pointing that this would follow. And she didn't look like the sort of person who was playing with other people's hearts – and that was why this looked even more strange.
He stood there for a little bit more, staring in the direction where she disappeared. And tried to recognize the feeling growing in him.
Do not look for me. The message was short and unequivocal.
They had spent only a short time together... but when he lay on his sleeping bag later that night, he realized that she had left a much bigger emptiness behind her than he could expect.
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