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As soon as the battle finished and the hall was conquered, Durin could think of only one thing.
He walked in haste from one person to another, looking for his son and daughter. He watched only those standing and walking through the hall, and didn't want to look at the faces of the fallen; he refused the very thought of it.
"Noin! Ernis!" he shouted again. Then, somewhere near the middle of the hall, he noticed someone waving to him. Noin. He breathed a sigh of relief and silently thanked Mahal. He hugged his son, quickly and somewhat clumsily because both were too armoured for the real hug. But his search was only half-finished, and they continued to look for Ernis together.
But she wasn't among those standing around them. And they didn't find her even after passing the bigger part of the hall.
It mustn't be true...
They already reached the abyss and the bridge, but they still didn't see her. Durin looked around feverishly, still not wanting to search among the bodies on the ground. He was just about to start anew, hoping that they had only missed each other, when...
"Stich me up in any way you can, I have to be on my feet and ready to fight as soon as possible! Preferably tomorrow!"
...when he heard the most beautiful news.
The voice of his daughter, though, didn't sound beautiful, but like growling.
She wasn't standing that was why they hadn't noticed her before. She was sitting on the stone floor, her back leaning on the wall of the hall. One dwarf kneeled next to her, bandaging her left thigh.
"Ernis!" Durin exclaimed and approached her quickly, Noin right behind him.
"I am all right, don't worry!" she shouted. "As for me, I want to go to the battle as soon as possible. I will be ready, I promise, count on me! Oh, dirty orc scum, he hit my leg while falling. But that was the last thing he did!" she said through gritted teeth. Her eyes were resolute to fulfil her promise.
Durin's face remained serious, but he smiled inside; in that moment, she reminded him of the little girl who had been decisive ever since her earliest days not to be any inferior than her brother.
"You can't go to battle, Highness, your muscle is cut through," replied the healer in a low voice, while continuing to put the bandage around her leg. "This wound is deeper than you admit. You must not put any weight on this leg. You are forbidden to walk."
"But... but... I have to be ready! I have to be fit to fight!"
Durin squatted on her other side and exchanged a quick glance with the healer, whose eyes and just a slight shake of his head told him all he needed to know.
"You gave your contribution. Now you have to listen to the healer," he said. The King's voice was stern; at the same time, the father's heart was so relieved that the wound was in the leg and not in vital organs.
"But I want to contribute more!" she protested. She moved a little bit and it seemed as if she tried to get up, but in the very next moment her face winced in pain. But right after that she clenched her teeth and regained a normal expression.
Her determination was a trait to be proud of, but there was only one way to end this.
"Soldier! Do I really need to repeat?"
She opened her mouth as if to object, but then closed them. She sat a few moments with her head cast down.
"No. I understand," she said in a low voice.
He nodded, satisfied, and carefully observed her. She removed her helmet, and although it was difficult to be sure in the dim light, it seemed that her brow was beaded with sweat and that she was quite pale. If the cut was deep, it surely hurt. But he knew his daughter, and he knew that what hurt her most was the fact that she couldn't fight any more.
"I feel like I let you down," said Ernis, watching both of them. Her voice was full of remorse now. "I killed only two, and I already have to withdraw. And we are still in the beginning."
"And by killing them, you saved the lives of our soldiers whom those two would kill, if it hadn't been for you," replied Durin, and now his voice was softer too. "You made your contribution and you didn't let anybody down."
Then he stood up. There was so much more he had to do, and it couldn't be delayed any more.
"The Second Hall will be our main base for now," said Durin in the official tone, and he saw her expression change. A daughter vanished, and in her place appeared the princess who carefully listened what the King had to say.
"You know that Loni is in charge of the supply-chain of food, water, weapons, medicaments and everything else for the troops that would progress towards the interior. You will be the head of the messenger-service, sort our messages and pass them over to him. Together, you will solve all the problems that might appear. If something happens which you can't deal with, you will inform me. Everything clear?"
"Yes. Consider it settled, my King," she said seriously and equally official as him, and nodded. "May Mahal watch over you."
He nodded back, and Noin did too. He knew that Ernis would do a good job, and what was also important, she wouldn't feel useless. Then he turned and went to find Nardi.
In the meantime, the cleaning of the hall had already started. For the bodies of the orcs they applied the simplest solution they were thrown into the chasm, where they'd turn into dust. The fallen dwarves would be buried in the ancient graveyard near the lake*, with full honours.
Durin found Nardi talking to one of the officers. Having seen the King, the general immediately approached him. He looked very self-satisfied.
"I am on thirteen. In fact, maybe it is even one or two more, but it was more important to focus on the battle than on counting. So I state only that of which I'm certain." His voice was even more self-satisfied than his facial expression.
And he had every right to be; of course, he lead in their duel.
"Don't celebrate too early. If necessary, I'll imprison you so that you can't progress anymore and the winner will be me." He watched Nardi seemingly sternly for a few more moments, but then he burst into laughter which in fact was releasing the tension after the battle and after the search for his children. Now, knowing they were fine, he could allow himself to laugh.
But he soon became serious again, and Nardi did too.
"We mustn't stop and let the orcs catch their breath," the sturdy dwarf said soberly. "I sent the message outside, that more soldiers should start entering as quickly as possible. We will go on cleaning passages and conquering the Third Hall and other caves of this level.
Durin nodded. He had the scheme of the tunnels and halls in his head and he didn't need a paper-map to visualize the surroundings. All the lateral passages leading further from the Second Hall except for the one towards the Seventh Level stretched horizontally, towards the caves containing houses, workshops and shops. The tunnel on the opposite side of the bridge lead towards the Third Hall. This level had two more big halls named the Fourth and the Fifth. The passages stretching towards the mines in the depths were situated even further away, after the Fifth Hall.
In that moment more dwarves began to arrive from the tunnel, just as Nardi announced, and they started to cross the bridge.
"Excellent. Now each officer can take over his squad and lead them to battles for the other caves, just as we arranged," said Durin and nodded. All that they could plan earlier, they did so; he knew that important things shouldn't be improvised in the very last moment.
Durin then cast a glance around. The busiest ones were now the healers, while those in charge of transporting the fallen unfortunately also had work to do.
"I assume that it is still too early for the numbers of the wounded and killed?" he asked.
"It is. But I will know soon."
Then they heard the new voice.
It was Loni. The supply-chief had just approached them, and Durin turned towards him.
"The scaffolding is here. It will be installed very soon."
"Well done, Loni," said the King.
While planning, they had briefly considered the possibility of installing scaffolding even before the battle, to get the greater width of the bridge and, in that way, to get the greater number of fighters into the hall in the very beginning. But they dismissed the idea very quickly because there wouldn't be enough time for that; they knew that the orcs would return to the hall very soon, which in reality did happen. Even if they had tried, they wouldn't have made it.
But now the bridge would be expanded and their army would enter faster. Hundreds of soldiers would soon start the battles of conquering the other caves of this level.
"We go forward," said Durin decisively.
Nardi came a step closer to him.
"I remain your shadow, my King. Next to you, behind you, and in front of you."
* I didn't find any Tolkien's record about the graveyard, but the dwarves have lived in Khazad-dûm for thousands of years, so it is logical that they had to have a graveyard. As the lake is a very special place for them, I thought that the meadows above the lake could be a well-suited site for the last resting place of their deceased.
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