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Darri wasn't aware of anything but the battle – the outside world didn't exist at the moment. All he saw were the opponents in front of him, and he focused on how to overpower them.
There were many orcs, and more than once he avoided the fatal blow by a hair's breadth. Several times he was saved in the last moment by a comrade next to him – and several times he saved the others. The anonymous brothers in arms. But he didn't know where his brother and father were, nor if they were alive.
More dwarves arrived from the Chamber of Records; from the opposite tunnel more orcs arrived. The battle raged in full intensity. The clatter of clashing steel was ear-deafening. The floor was covered with blood and bodies, and the air stank of death.
His muscles were exerted to their limits. It was hot, and the chain-mail became heavier. Sweat poured into his eyes. But stopping was not an option. He had to give his maximum – and more than that. If he faltered, more space would open for the enemies. So he continued to fight with all his strength, as did the others around him.
In this battle, too, the dwarves used all the assets they could prepare, so the orcs were under volleys of flaming projectiles here also. Finally, after lots of efforts, once the dwarves managed to reach the middle of the hall, the progress became just a little quicker: as the orcs had less and less space, there remained fewer and fewer of them. And in the end, the Twenty-first hall was conquered.
"All those who were here from the beginning and fought for the whole time, now have a short break," Darri heard the voice of the commanding officer. "You will be summoned for the next battle in an hour."
Darri paid no attention to the new squads entering and going further to continue fighting in the other caves of this level, but hastily started pushing and shoving between those who remained in the Twenty-first Hall. A step to the left, a step to the right, a quick glance behind one pillar, then behind another. The hall was crowded and he had a feeling that he didn't move a single inch, that he wasn't managing to progress at all. The seconds suddenly became unbearably long. And then, behind the next pillar, he saw Faldur kneeling next to one body. And he didn't have to ask anything; his brother's face told him everything.
As if sensing his approach, Faldur lifted his head and their gazes met. His brother suddenly looked much older to him, and his eyes were immensely sad. Darri knelt next to him.
His first memories, those from his earliest childhood, flashed through his mind. He remembered sitting next to his father and listening to old tales, then descending with his father into the depths of Erebor for the first time, and then all their mining campaigns together... He was kneeling, while images and memories were passing in front of his eyes. He put a hand on his father's chest, and then he knew. This was reality. He wouldn't close his eyes, open them again and find himself a few moments in the past; he wouldn't peer behind the pillar again and discover that everything was all right. His father was dead. He would never again talk to him in this world... and so much more wouldn't happen for his father anymore.
"He will never descend into the mines of Khazad-dûm," said Darri with a hollow voice. He knew very well how much their father had wanted to do it.
Faldur was silent for a few moments, and then looked at him.
"We split very soon after the beginning... and I wasn't able to find him later. If I had been close, maybe..." He didn't finish the sentence. His eyes were full of pain.
Darri laid his hand on brother's shoulder.
"Do not think that way. In that version of the events, maybe you would be the one to die," he said softly. Then he looked at father's body. He'll never open his eyes again. The thought hurt so much.
But he remembered the resolution he so often saw in these eyes. And he knew one thing with absolute certainty. Even if their father had been able to somehow see the future and to see that he would die – he would have gone on this quest anyway. Because he wanted to contribute to their fight – no matter how small the contribution of one person was. Because he wanted to do something for the future of their people. Because he thought it was the right thing to do.
"He was a great role-model," said Darri in a low voice.
"He has taught me everything I know..."
"He is on his way to Mahal's halls now. Mahal will know about his deeds, and he'll know for the bravery of all of them..." Darri moved his hand in an arc, as if trying to encompass the whole space and all the dwarves who fell. "...and they will surely get a special place in his halls."
Faldur slowly nodded. "He will. Yes, he will," he said, his voice trembling.
"One day we'll meet again. And then we'll tell him about the mines of Khazad-dûm," said Darri, gently squeezing his brother's shoulder. Their eyes met, and although sorrow ravaged him, he tried not to think of the present moment and of the fact that he wouldn't see his father in this world anymore, but of the encounter in the future. One day, we'll all be together again. And he saw in his brother's eyes that his words achieved his goal, and that Faldur was thinking the same thing.
Then the words of the old poem came out of him by themselves, without his conscious intention.
"Far are the halls of Mahal,
In that moment he stopped and closed his eyes, and Faldur continued.
"But the journey will end one day,
With a heavy sigh, Darri opened his eyes and became aware of the persons and events in the hall again. Incoming soldiers moved through the middle part of the hall, going to new battles, while the healers used the lateral space and started helping the wounded. Two dwarves carrying the stretchers – quite obviously those in charge of transporting the fallen – approached them. They nodded as a sign of giving condolences, and then one of them spoke.
"Our heroes will be buried in the ancient graveyard with all honours. They will rest next to our ancestors."
Darri tilted his head, thinking. To go to Mahal after fighting for reclaiming Khazad-dûm, and to be buried in the old graveyard with all those who created that kingdom... He nodded. Brirvin would be very satisfied.
He slowly got up onto his feet – feeling weariness and weight much greater than those caused by battle alone – and Faldur rose next to him. Those two dwarves carefully put their father's body on the stretcher and then left towards the Chamber of Records. Darri's gaze followed them.
I wish we had more time together here on Arda, father... you'll be missed.
His throat was tight, his vision blurred.
Farewell... till we meet again.
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