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The night passed; the day was passing too. Periods of fighting, resting and having meals exchanged over and over again. Darri was all right and uninjured, just like his brother. In the morning he ran into Bemir and Mami, and it was a relief to see they were fine.
While in battle, fighting was the only thing he focused on. In the moments of break, however, his thoughts were filled with memories of their father. The pain was so near it had been only a day and it was still hard to understand that he was gone. A few times he even looked around, expecting that Brirvin would appear from some direction. And then he would remember, and the sorrow would become even stronger each time.
Their squad got a longer break around noon, and they were informed that they wouldn't go to battle before the evening. That meant they had enough time for one difficult task... but one he knew they had to do.
They didn't talk much while descending towards the camp next to the lake; each of them was deep into his own thoughts and memories. When they arrived, they looked around. Some were in the camp, resting, while many sleeping bags were empty because many were in action right now. Of course, neither Darri nor Faldur knew if Tali had come here or had stayed in the rear camp. But they started their search, and soon Darri spotted their mother in a big group of women who were occupied with preparing food.
"There." He showed Faldur the position and they both quickened their steps. "Mother!"
Hearing his voice, she lifted her head and started running towards them. She hugged both of them in a tight embrace, and Darri could feel her trembling. When she finally let them go, he saw she was trying to see if there was someone else behind their back. But there was nobody, and she finally lifted her gaze towards Darri. In her eyes he read unuttered question and fear... and at the same time, the hope that Brirvin's absence didn't mean the worst.
There was no easy way to impart such a news. Never.
"He was killed last night," said Darri in a low voice, his throat tightened.
It seemed as if Tali shrank and diminished in front of their very eyes. She lowered her head, her shoulders sagged, and a moment later she just sank down and sat on the ground. Darri and Faldur sat next to her, each at one side; while tears started to roll down her face, Darri put a hand around her shoulders.
"He will always be with us, in our hearts," he said.
It couldn't help much not now that the pain was so fresh. But it was true. They sat in silence, and each of them thought of a dwarf who was no longer with them.
Just as they would always think of him.
By afternoon, Halldis discovered that even at her eighty she still had something new to discover about herself: the sight of blood made her feel sick.
And she had always thought it was not so. But the amounts of blood from everyday life in childhood cuts, or in different ordinary little accidents were small and not worth mentioning, she realized. Even some more serious accidents she had witnessed a few times were insignificant compared to what she was looking now. Deep wounds, open chests and bellies, inner parts of the body exposed to view, partially or completely torn off limbs... although she didn't perform healer's work but only carried out towels and water, she couldn't avoid seeing the wounded. She fought her stomach several times. One time, she lost the battle.
Around mid-day more women arrived to help, just as it was planned, and Halldis got out of the hospital. She didn't go far just a few steps and it was so good to be in the open air. Near her position, several squads were entering through the Gates.
She was breathing deeply, enjoying the fresh air after being surrounded by the smell of blood, sweat and death for the whole day. I probably look white. Or green. She hadn't eaten anything since dawn, but the very thought of food was repulsive. She started to feel a little tired because she was working all the time, but had no intention of taking a break. Because, if the healers perform much harder work than mine, if our soldiers fight and die, I won't complain of my work either.
She resolutely lifted her head and gathered courage to face the next sight whatever it would be and took a step back when she heard the call behind her back.
She jumped; she would recognize that voice among hundreds. Tyra! She quickly turned and saw her friend. Tyra split off from the column going towards entrance and the two friends ran to each other's embrace.
"Well, my moment to enter came," said Tyra when they separated. "I saw you standing here from further away. It is impossible not to notice your hair." She laughed, and then looked towards the tents. "You are helping here in the hospital?"
"Yes," confirmed Halldis. "I took a short pause, and I just meant to go back when you called me."
"You go back, yes. I can't stay and talk either; I have to run back to my squad too. But I am so happy to see you, even if only briefly."
Tyra hugged her one more time and already turned to go back when Halldis stopped her.
"Wait!" she shouted. "Do you know anything about Glorrim? And the others...?"
"I think Glorrim was somewhere in the front part of the squad, and your cousins too. You probably missed them by just a few moments," said Tyra with a grimace of regret on her face. "Lotti is here with me. And I haven't seen the others since yesterday afternoon."
"Oh, so," sighed Halldis. She wished she could have seen her brother... and Darri. "All right, I won't hold you up anymore, go... and be careful. Please, be careful."
"I will," said Tyra firmly, and hurried back to her place in the squad.
Halldis looked after her for a few more moments, and then returned to her duty. She delivered more towels and bandages to the healers trying to fix her gaze only on the ground she walked on or the healers she talked to, and not to look at the wounded when in the passage between two big tents she ran into Anfrid.
"Halldis! Come," the healer told her. "Everything is under control here and we have enough auxiliary workers. However, another temporary hospital is set up near the upper entrance for all those wounded on the Seventh Level. I am just organizing the assistants for that location. There, next to our main tent, you'll see a group of women who'll go to the other hospital. Go with them. You'll settle in the upper camp."
"I understand. I'm on my way," said Halldis and nodded. She took her backpack and went to the main tent. A group of about fifty women soon set out up the mountain, to their new duty.
Personal diary of King Durin VII
Day 21st of the Ninth month evening, Year 672, Fourth Age of Middle-earth
The night is falling outside, and I have just entered the Fifth Hall, conquered a little while ago; I write these sentences in it. I make these notes on plain pieces of paper and I'll copy them into my book once everything is over. But I want to write down all that happened every day, so that I don't omit anything later.
A little more than a half of the First Level is now in our hands, and I got news that a part of the Sixth was conquered too. We slowly overpower orcs on both sides.
I am proud and satisfied. We progress well. But at the same time I grieve for all the fallen.
I don't have much time for writing; I must go further. From here, from the Fifth Hall, there is a tunnel towards the Second Level. We'll go upwards now, and all the orcs remaining in the other caves of the First Level are now cut off from the rest of their troops. We now have to clear cave by cave.
I go the next battle. The Second Level awaits me.
The King folded the piece of paper and put it in one of his inner pockets. Then he got up and went towards Nardi.
"Report?" asked Durin.
"Eleven dead and fourteen wounded in this Fifth Hall. The resistance was not strong in the end because the orcs obviously thought more of the escape to the Second Level than of the fight," said the general.
Durin nodded, satisfied. These last numbers were the smallest when compared to the other battles. But he knew that the current numbers were not final for the First Level; there would be more casualties in cleaning up the other caves.
"Now we'll set up a hospital in the Fourth Hall as well," continued Nardi. "As we'll progress, the newly conquered big halls will serve for treating the wounded. Depending on the circumstances and lack of free space, those with minor injuries can be transported to the more distant locations, but the serious cases must get help as soon as possible. That is why we need a greater number of hospitals in a larger area."
"Of course. Are there any problems with supplying? Or with anything else?"
"No. Everything goes quite smoothly. Ernis and Loni are doing a great job."
The King smiled. It was great to get another acknowledgement that his daughter was a capable young woman.
"Great. Well then, we can move forward. I will now lead the attack on the Second Level," he said decisively.
"You would go right now?" asked Nardi.
"Yes. We won't give them a break to catch their breath. I'm one of those who rested in the afternoon, so now I'm fresh for the new battle. If the orcs escaped from the battle, as you said, and if they are exhausted, it increases our chances."
"True. But..." Nardi stopped and suspiciously shook his head. "Your Highness, don't go first. It really isn't required. You were the first to enter Khazad-dûm, you were the first to cross the bridge, and you led the first battles. It truly isn't necessary that you are in the first line any more."
The King rolled his eyes.
"By Balrog's horns, Nardi, we've already had this conversation! Must we have it again? Are you my general my comrade in arms or are you imagining you are the mother-hen watching over her chick?! Because I am certainly not the latter!" he growled in the end.
Nardi shook his head.
"I know you are not, but the King's life continues to be the main concern of the general," he replied seriously. "The fact that the greatest challenge of the First Level crossing the bridge is now behind us, doesn't mean that you can't find yourself in new, very dangerous situations. It is this: conquering the caves of some level be they smaller or bigger happens horizontally. Now, in front of us is the tunnel going upwards." From the way he was emphasizing words it was clear what he considered critical. "Personally, if I was in the orcs' place, I could think of at least five different traps even on the ordinary horizontal terrain. And for the attackers who have to climb, while I wait in a higher, more favourable position, I could come up with at least ten. And that is why I don't want you to be in the first line. We have to check if there are any traps in front of us."
Hearing that, Durin just laughed.
"I don't have the slightest doubt that you could. But the orcs are not as clever as you. If they could come up with any trickery, they would have done so in the beginning. We conquered five bigger halls and some smaller caves, and they didn't present anything special." He waved his hand. "I go to collect my weapons. The whole squad of fresh fighters is ready for the new battle. Let's go!"
With these words he went forward. Behind his back remained his general, frowned and worried. His expression showed that he wasn't happy at all.
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