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Only when the King turned his back to the lake to return to his army, he became aware of the presence of Noin and Ernis again; Kheled-zâram had completely seized his attention. When he looked the faces of his children – who looked like they had just woken up from deep sleep – he assumed that they had experienced the same as he had.
Coming back to his army, he saw Bofi and Ragir and the others who had gone on the last scouting mission. He quickly approached them and they sat on the ground all together, forming a circle: Durin, prince and princess, Nardi and a few more officers of the Guard, and the scouts. This was the time for the final plans. And right after that, for the action.
"Report," said the King briefly.
The Senior scouts exchanged glances, and the older of the two spoke first.
"There was no time for long searching. Nor for detailed observation. What we saw was in accordance with the last status. The one from three months ago. Orcs dwell on the First level and above it," said Bofi, in quick and succinct sentences as always.
That last information was known to them from before. Ever since the ancient times, Khazad-dûm had been arranged in a way that residential units, shops, storerooms, workshops and big halls for social gatherings were situated in the caves from the First Level up. The First Level was named so because the main passage – the Main Road, as they called it – between western and eastern entrance passed through it. There were six more levels above it. On the opposite side – towards the depths – there were tunnels leading into the mines. Some went directly downwards, and some extended diagonally: the main deposits of mithril didn't lie here beneath Zirakzigil, but more to the north, beneath Barazinbar.
When he heard for the first time from his scouts that the orcs lived in the former houses of the dwarves, Durin's blood boiled. The thought that orcs presence polluted the homes of their ancestors maddened him. "But it is no surprise," the scouts told him, because it was logical that the orcs would use the easiest option, that is, use the houses already in existence. The mines were only a working space and they weren't really appropriate for everyday life. Durin couldn't wait for the moment when they'll clean up their homes from Morgoth's spawn.
"The bridge?" asked the King.
"Unchanged," answered Bofi.
The first missions, about fifteen years ago, revealed that the bridge, half-destroyed back in time of the War of the Ring, had been repaired: the orcs put scaffolding and panels over the abyss. At first, the King was very surprised by the fact that the orcs repaired anything; he linked only destruction with the name of that race. But then he realized that the reconstruction of the bridge was not only logical move, but absolutely necessary one. If the orcs hadn't repaired the bridge, they would have been cut off the outside world, and deprived of the possibility to find food in the forests on the mountain slopes.
"Illumination?" asked Durin further.
"The tunnel between the First and Second Hall unlit. Second Hall – two torches," came Bofi's reply.
Durin slowly nodded and lifted his head, observing the sun's position. It was mid-day, and as the beginning of the summer was only a few days away, they'd have plenty more hours of daylight – and enough time to accomplish all they planned for the start. The Eastern Gates were the direct entrance into the First Hall, and orcs didn't dwell in it during the day because of sunlight. He knew that the tunnel between the First and Second Hall was not very long – about a quarter of a mile – and that unlit passage would not represent a big difficulty. It was short enough, and they'd carry torches. After that, when they reach the hall, the plan was to toss them away into the chasm, because right after crossing the bridge they'd need both hands for carrying weapons and shields.
The two torches in the Second Hall would not give them much light. But anything is better than nothing, concluded Durin. The orcs were able to see better than dwarves, humans and elves in dark spaces, but not even they could see anything in the complete darkness. It meant that along different tunnels and in the halls there would surely be torches here and there, and that fact would ease their progress at least a little, once they occupied the Second Hall.
Once we occupy it, he sighed. Much easier said than done, he knew. When they come out of the tunnel into the Second Hall, the poor light would be the smallest of their problems. Yes, fire and smoke they'd use would make their entrance a little easier, but in the moment when they set foot into the hall the fire would already be extinguished, and the orcs would start to return quickly enough to sour their lives. Because, what awaited them only a few yards after the tunnel, was the Bridge of Khazad-dûm – wide just enough for one person. It was a great defence and strategic advantage for the ones inside – for their ancestors who carved out a bridge like that with that particular purpose on their minds.
Was it not ironic that the creation of their ancestors was the one that complicated their conquering now? Because now his army was the invader trying to get in and defeat those inside. And they'd have to deal with the problem inflicted by none other than their forefathers.
"I thought a little more about the things that we had already talked about. We who go in first should all carry torches, and not just some of us," said Nardi, and Durin turned to him with a question in his eyes.
"Because of additional light?"
"Not only because of that," Nardi started explaining. "Also, we shouldn't throw away our torches into the chasm. As each of us crosses the bridge, he or she should hurl the torch forward, towards the orcs. There are several benefits we'll get by that. Many torches at once can briefly blind the orcs coming out from the tunnels, whose eyes are adapted to darker space. Some torches will land on them and distract them for a few moments. Some will fall in front of them and complicate their advance. All that I reccoment will not kill them, but will trouble them at least a little bit. Every moment in which we divert their attention from us, increases the chance that more of us cross the bridge."
The King nodded.
"That is a great idea," Durin said. They already had a lot of torches, but he then thought it wouldn't harm to prepare more so that they didn't run out. He turned to one of the Guardsmen who stood closest. "Garrdar, take as many soldiers you need, and let them start preparing more torches."
He didn't worry that they wouldn't make it in time; he knew that it would take at least one hour to prepare everything, which meant enough time for making more torches. He turned to his council again.
"The rock above the shaft over Second Hall?" asked Durin, remembering Thirkal's instructions.
"Moved," confirmed Thorfi. "The circulation will be enhanced."
The King nodded, satisfied, and looked at the two Senior scouts again.
"The status on the Seventh Level?" he asked seriously, knowing that so much depended on the news he'd hear next.
Ragir leaned a little forward and cleared his throat. This time he was the one to speak.
"That status is also unchanged," he said after a slight bow with his head. "The passage between the Chamber of Records on the Seventh Level and the Second Hall is still unlit so we can assume that the orcs don't use it. As soon as our army arrives at the entrance to the Chamber of Records it can start going in by using the ladders and at the same time we'll widen the opening so that we can enter faster, because it would be too slow to enter one by one."
Durin nodded; it was a relief to hear that the orcs didn't use the passage. While working on plans together with Nardi, Thirkal and other officers, they immediately concluded that they had to attack from two sides, pressuring the orcs from both lowest and highest level at the same time. The plan was to conquer hall by hall, level by level, and to push the orcs to smaller and smaller space. So they decided to enter both the First and Seventh Level simultaneously. Free passage between them meant that the part of the army could descend to the Second Hall from above, which would be a significant help for those crossing the narrow bridge.
"What?! We'll destroy the dome of the Chamber of Records?!" shouted Norik, the highest-ranked officer after Nardi. "That will surely be the destruction of the chamber itself, and the graves of our heroes are in it!" The tone of his voice clearly showed he thought the move was a sacrilege.
"We must. Ragir is right. Our advance would be much to slow if we entered one by one," replied the King. He wasn't happy about it either, but he was aware that it was a necessity. "One day both the chamber and the dome will be renewed, I promise."
Norik continued to frown, obviously still concerned about their heritage, but in the end he nodded. The King turned to Koddi, the officer assigned to lead the attack from the upper side.
"Altogether, we have about five thousand soldiers..." He paused and considered. "You will take a thousand." He thought it could be enough for the initial attack on the Seventh Level; he exchanged glance with Nardi, and the general nodded as a sign of agreement. Then Durin spoke to Koddi again. "Start your ascent right now. May Mahal lead your steps."
The officer quickly turned away and hurried to carry out the order, and Durin rose to his feet.
"We start. It is time to enter."
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