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When Halldis opened her eyes the next morning, she discovered that the sky was cloudy. Her mind still half-sleeping, in the first split-second she thought it wasn't so bad – because that day she wouldn't have to walk under the hot sun. But in the very next moment she remembered everything: separation, leave-taking, war. This day wouldn't be like the previous ones. For her, the journey was temporarily over. She would be among those who would stay and wait. And worry.
Then she remembered the promise she made to herself yesterday. Be brave and don't lose hope. With that thought she got up and started the morning routine – washing and breakfast. When she finished, she rose to her feet and looked around.
In the final part of the journey, yesterday late afternoon, they finally left the plain behind and started to climb the slopes of the Misty Mountains. They didn't walk much before they reached this wide shallow valley suitable for the large camp – maybe only a thousand feet. Still, even that relatively low altitude opened new horizons. Halldis looked towards east and south, where Lorien wood lay. This was the point where the forest was closest to the mountains, and from what Halldis could judge, there were four or five miles between the foothill and Lothlorien.
Finally, she turned her back to the forest and plain and, taking a deep breath, faced the events around her. Actually, there were not many partings because there wouldn't be many who would stay; many women went to war too, together with their husbands, fathers and brothers. So most of the folks were getting ready to leave.
Glorrim was already prepared. She stood in front of him and lifted her gaze.
I won't cry.
And she didn't, although there was a lump in her throat and her heart was very frightened.
She wanted to hug him, but she knew what he thought of it, especially in public. So, although she was terrified that this was the last time she would see her brother, she decided to honour his wishes and she only firmly squeezed his hand.
"Be careful," she said in a somewhat husky voice.
"You can be sure of it." He nodded seriously and looked around, where their cousins and friends stood. "If possible, I'll keep an eye on them, too," he continued and smiled softly, as if wanting to encourage her. Then he looked at her again, and his smile became just a little wider. "I hope that young lad will also be fine."
Her eyes widened.
"Oh... thank you."
There was no more time; there were more farewells for her, and the two of them had already said all that mattered. But then he surprised her with his next move. He stooped and kissed her brow. This time, her eyes widened even more.
I won't cry.
And again, she made it. Glorrim looked at her one last time, and then took his leave. Halldis turned to Tyra; this time she didn't hesitate a single moment and hugged her friend in a tight embrace.
"Promise that you'll return," whispered Halldis, and tears filled her eyes in spite of all her efforts.
"I'll do my best," replied Tyra, and Halldis noticed that this wasn't the total confirmation she had asked for. But she was aware that it wasn't really possible to give that promise.
"Be careful," Halldis repeated the words she told Glorrim. Then she lowered her gaze to her right wrist. "I'll take care of this for you. And I hope I'll be able to return it as soon as possible."
"I hope so too. And I'll be careful, don't worry about it," said Tyra, and they hugged one more time.
Halldis then greeted all the cousins and friends that stood nearby, and hurried to the place where she and Darri had been last night, and where they were to meet again this morning. It was on the very edge of the camp, behind one big rock that gave at least a little bit of privacy. When she arrived, she saw that he was already there. She quickened her steps and threw herself into his embrace. His lips touched hers, and for a short moment she forgot everything, lost in his kiss.
But the reality returned all to quickly. She looked at his eyes and face, absorbing every detail. There was so much more she wanted to do with him – walk, discover Khazad-dûm, visit places special for their people, talk to him about ores and ceramics and many other things, hold his hand, and even watch the stars and visit the elvish forest... She had a feeling that she would never be bored with him.
"Take care of yourself. And come back to me," she whispered.
"We'll be together again as soon as this is over," said Darri nonchalantly, as if going for a walk and not to war, and she was grateful that he was trying to encourage her with his demeanour.
I won't cry.
And she made it even this time, too. She just rose to her toes and lifted her head again.
He did it more passionately than ever before. She lost her ground, her head was spinning, her heart beat like crazy. She responded with the same fervour, putting her hands around his neck and pulling him close. Every part of her fluttered and burned, and she wished to stay like this forever. For a few moments there was nothing else in the world but the two of them... and then, little by little, they slowed down and separated. Because he had to leave.
They walked back in silence, just holding hands, and stopped a little before she had to go back to her place. He looked at her and smiled.
"We'll see each other again."
The parting kiss was just a light brush of their lips, and then he turned around and left.
All who would participate in the war were leaving – they marched to the opposite side of the valley, towards the mountain. Halldis stood among the few women and children remaining in the camp. She heard someone crying nearby, but didn't look to see who it was. In fact, she avoided anyone's gaze; she didn't want to see the same fear she had felt too. She was afraid that, in that case, she wouldn't be able to supress tears herself, and she didn't want to fall apart in front of everyone.
She hauled herself to her place and sat, looking in front of herself. What should she do now? Yes, according to preliminary directions, tomorrow they would climb to the camp next to the Eastern Gates and start helping the healers and the army, but today, for the most part of the day they'd be idle. Halldis sighed. In front of her was a tedious day of waiting... and worrying.
While Halldis and Darri bid farewell, the last arrangements were made in front of the King's tent. Durin looked around. His whole Guard was ready, just waiting for his sign. Noin and Ernis were ready to leave too.
The King first turned to his wife.
"The fighters will make the camp in the afternoon, next to Kheled-zâram. During the afternoon and night we will slowly enter and advance into Khazad-dûm, and if all goes according to plan, part of the troops will ascend towards the upper entrance. Consequently, meadows around the lake will partially empty, so tomorrow morning you can send the women towards us. There will be a lot of work – preparing meals, helping the healers, and everything else that will come up."
"Of course," she nodded.
Durin then signalled Fari to come nearer, and addressed both of them.
"You two will start the negotiations about the future trade," he said. "As for our current status, we have a good amount of everything, but we can buy more food from the Rohirrim if the siege prolongs."
"Let us hope it will not be necessary," said his trade counsellor quickly. "I hope that Mahal will watch over you and that you will soon destroy the orc-scum."
"We all hope for that," replied the King and looked at his wife. He had no doubts that she'd conduct the negotiations perfectly, as well as she'd be a great leader in his absence. For a moment, he again saw the young girl who seized his attention long ago on one evening of a festivity in Erebor. By chance, he overheard the discussion about production of glass items from the neighbouring table; the young daughter of one of the counsellors boldly told the guild-master that she had discovered another method for processing the glass, better than those used by the members of his guild. The old dwarf nearly choked and almost dropped his chalice in shock. Durin always smiled when remembering that. On that day long ago, the passion in the girl's voice, while talking about her work and discovery, won his heart.
And it turned out that her words were not mere swagger; today, together with all the old methods, the apprentices learned one new method of glass-making. Hers.
"This is the most important event in the history of our people in many, many centuries. I am looking forward to the moment when I'll set foot into Khazad-dûm," said the Queen with a solemn voice.
"When everything is over, I'll wait for you at the Gates and lead you in," replied Durin in a same tone. "Now we go to fulfil our destiny."
They firmly squeezed each other's hands, and then he turned to Nardi and his elite troop. But there was one more farewell for him.
Bergvi then appeared behind one of the tents, and the King had to put all his efforts into not laughing. The boy obviously took advantage of the moments when the adults were busy with preparatory arrangements, and had his own preparations. He wore chainmail, in one hand he held a helmet and an axe in another – not the one he used for training, but a real one. Judging by the size of the gear, Durin concluded that Bergvi had sacked his sister's spare equipment. He cast a quick glance to his daughter; her furious expression, which messaged "you will pay for this, little brat", confirmed his assumption. But as Bergvi still didn't reach his sister's height, all that he wore was just a little too big for him, so the overall impression was even funnier. It wasn't easy to remain serious.
Bergvi held his head high, not wanting accept the constraints that went with his age. True, he was near the transition from boy to young adult, but he was still a child.
"I am sorry, Bergvi, but this time you cannot go with us," said the King softly, but not allowing any opposition. "However, there are other tasks to be done. Can I entrust you with some of them?"
In the boy's eyes appeared the disappointment at first, but he quickly nodded, watching his father in expectation. It seemed he was glad that he'd get some responsibility.
"You will go with the delegation to negotiate with the Rohirrim. I expect you'll memorize everything that is important."
Although the boy was only third in the line of succession, he had already attended several business conferences with people from Esgaroth, and it was important to continue learning about these things.
"And you will protect your mother, who will also stay here. She will be in your care. Can you do that?"
Not that Dirhild needed any protector. But there would pass a few more years before the boy realized that. Anyway, this was the moment in conversation when Durin was almost shaking in his attempts to hold back laughter.
"Yes, father, your Highness," said Bergvi solemnly, giving a twofold promise at the same time.
"Then we agreed," said Durin to the boy, and winked to his wife. She, too, looked amused, obviously having recognized her husband's tactics.
And then it was really high time to leave. The King stood in front of everyone and started to ascend. He didn't even notice that this morning he had set a quicker pace; he wanted to arrive at his goal as quickly as possible. His gaze was directed upwards, where he knew that Kheled-zâram and the Eastern Gates were, and his heart beat excitedly, wanting to reach Khazad-dûm as soon as possible.
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