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Holding a torch in his hand, Durin entered the tunnel. After only a few steps he realized that this was actually advancing blindly; in the tunnel still partially filled with smoke the torch was of no particular use. The fabric of the mask was semi-transparent, true, but that description could be applied only for a space well lit, and not for the dark tunnel. The visibility was very poor and he had to stretch his other arm in front of himself as a protection – not to hit the walls of the tunnel while running.
Despite the mask, the smoke started to irritate his lungs. While trying to catch some air, his forehead got beaded with sweat, and it felt as if his gear suddenly became twice as heavy. Even if this was a slow walk, it wouldn't be easy – and he had to run. A quarter of a mile, which was the length of the tunnel, seemed endlessly long.
And then he finally noticed that the blackness became just a little brighter, and after a few more steps the tunnel walls pulled away from him. He entered the Second Hall and quickly threw away the mask.
From the old records, he knew that it was about fifty feet wide and almost one hundred and seventy feet long, but because of the remaining smoke and poor illumination he could see only about the half of that length. Just as the scouts had said, there were two torches – one at each longer wall, and the dark openings in the walls were the tunnels leading to other caves.
Upon coming out of the tunnel, there was about ten feet before the bridge, and the bridge itself was about twenty-five feet long. The half on his side was the original stony bridge; the farther part of the abyss was crossed by scaffolding and panels.
Knowing he mustn't waste a single moment – because the hall was still empty, the orcs hadn't started to return yet – this time he didn't stop to admire the hall or the elegant arch of the bridge. The right time for that would be some day in the future; certainly not now. He rushed over the bridge.
It was only about three feet wide and it was quite awkward to run over it. The black chasm around him made him nervous and Durin quickly moved his gaze from the abyss to the other side of the bridge, to his target destination. After a few more steps he was on the other side, and he continued running towards the middle of the hall.
The clumping of heavy boots right behind him meant that Nardi was very close to him, and the others were coming too. As each of them arrived, he or she took their place in the shield-wall. But then came the end to their undisturbed crossing of the bridge. From side tunnels and from the tunnel on the opposite side – the one leading towards the east through the mountain – they first heard growls, and then the orcs swarmed into the hall.
"Throw the torches!" shouted Nardi, and in the next moment the torches of those dwarves who had already crossed the bridge flew towards the orcs. They landed on them and in front of them.
A few gained seconds. A few more soldiers crossed the bridge. A few more shields filled their position in the wall.
"Throw the spikes!" echoed the next order.
Durin could well remember the day when, a few months ago, Nardi and one of the blacksmiths working for his Guard approached him. The blacksmith had a perfect idea, and at the same time very simple and easily feasible.
"Two thin sharp spikes, about one inch in length, and both of them bent at the right angle in their middle. Welded to each other in the central flexion. When you throw such an item on the ground, however it lands, at least one of the four points will always be directed upwards. Very inconvenient for the person stepping on it," the smith explained. Durin was delighted.
Said, done. There was more than enough time to produce as many as they needed, and by the start of their journey, they had quite a big quantity of these useful items. There was also enough time to prepare one more thing. All the soldiers wore boots with double soles; they wouldn't have problems walking over the spikes.
Small, thin spikes flying through the air were not visible in the dim light of the hall. But a few moments later chinking was heard when they landed on the stone floor, and painful cries and orcs slowing down meant that the small weapon obtained the big results.
More gained seconds. More shields arriving to the wall.
Durin then felt the not so gentle jolting from his right and found himself pushed back to the interior of the formation, and the armoured giant – his Guard general – filled his field of view. But there was no time to protest or to push forward again. In that moment some of the orcs managed to pass over the torches and spikes. The battle began. Sounds of swords and axes clashing filled the air.
The pace was quick, and when they climbed to the entrance into the Seventh Level, Darri was quite breathless. After stopping, he turned and looked around. From this height, a thousand feet higher than the Eastern Gates, new sights opened up to him. Lorien wood – huge, lush and brilliant-green – extended on the big area towards south-east, and further south there was a wide vast plain.
When he looked down, towards where they came from, he saw his compatriots around the Eastern Gates; from this distance, they were just tiny spots. A little further from them, Kheled-zâram looked so beautiful with its dark-blue colour. His gaze followed Kibil-nâla, from the lake and downwards; the little river flew among the slopes and disappeared from his sight into Lothlorien. Next to it, halfway between the plain and the lake, there was a plateau where women and children temporarily remained.
He looked that way for a few moments and sent silent greetings to his mother and Halldis, but there was no more time for thinking or enjoying the panorama. He turned back towards the most important place for them – to the entrance into the Chamber of Records.
The entrance was narrow – wide enough for only one dwarf. That would mean too slow advance, and pickaxes had already been busily working. The opening was quickly widened, so they installed ladders and started to go in. Darri observed how the others descended and disappeared from his side, and as they slowly moved forward, soon came his turn to enter. Coming down, he found himself in a relatively small square chamber; he judged that the walls were not longer than fifteen feet. Faldur and Brirvin descended right after him, and the chamber was almost full. Two of the Guardsmen directed the soldiers coming down the ladders: most were sent into the passage towards the First Level, and part of them remained in the Chamber of Records.
After coming from bright daylight, it took Darri's eyes a few moments to adapt to the somewhat darker place, and then he noticed that almost all of the inscriptions and images, chiselled and decorated several thousand years ago, were ruined. But about one third of one wall was completely different – it was a different colour and was made of different sort of stone, obviously very new and quite evidently raised for protection and not to represent a decoration. The deed of Gimli son of Glóin, hero of the War of the Ring, who came here after the war to protect the chamber and restore the grave, he reminded himself*. He moved a little bit towards the middle of the chamber and looked over the heads of the others. There was a white stone sarcophagus. Balin's grave. Next to it was one more, the one in which Gimli and his assistants laid the bones of the others who had died here.*
You will be avenged now, he sent a silent thought to his long-ago dead compatriots.
And then the voice of one Guard-officer startled him from his thoughts.
"Our task is to conquer the Twenty-first Hall. It will become our base to continue conquering the passages and caves of this levels, and after that, for our advancement towards the Sixth level."
"Are there any more levels above us?" somebody asked.
"No," replied the officer. "All the tunnels spreading from the Twenty-first Hall go either horizontally – towards the other caves of this level – or down. This is the only big hall of the Seventh Level. The other caves are somewhat smaller and they served as housing-units, and there aren't many of them. When we occupy the Twenty-first, it will be a big step to occupying the whole level."
"Fight as fierce as you can!" added another officer, lifting his axe. "For the King, for our people, for our ancestors, for Khazad-dûm!"
Many shouts responded, and Darri realized he was shouting with the others. Then he heard the loud booming that seemed to have shaken the whole chamber, and then another. Heavy hammers started hitting the new part of the wall, and it didn't last for a long time. In front of them opened the passage into the Twenty-first hall.
"May Mahal be with us," said Brirvin in a low voice, observing his sons.
"May Mahal be with us," he and Faldur repeated in unison.
* References to my story "The Last Visit to Moria".
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