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The orcs didn't pursue them all the way and into the hall they were probably aware that they wouldn't have a chance there. When the dwarves were near the tunnel end, the orcs turned around and ran to the upper level.
Durin was the last to go out of the tunnel and he beheld the situation in the Fifth Hall. The majority stood near the walls of the hall, leaving the large middle space free for the wounded. All around, there were a lot of stones because most of them were rounded and smooth, so the avalanche rolled all the way to this level; in fact, only a small part of the debris remained in the tunnel.
"Light more torches and call several healers from the Fourth Hall at once! And help them in carrying the equipment!" shouts were heard, and about a dozen dwarves instantly ran towards the Fourth Hall. The orders came from Norik, and Durin went his way. The officer noticed him and made a quick formal bow before speaking. "As there are many urgent cases here, I think it's better that the healers come here, instead of carrying all the wounded there, moreover because it's better not to move much those with most serious injuries," said Norik.
Durin nodded without a word, and went to inspect the situation in the hall. Some started to help the wounded, while the others pushed the rocks away to make more free space. Soon he found Nardi. The sturdy dwarf lay motionlessly, his eyes closed, and the King stopped next to him, worried.
Nardi. His general, and his friend... who saved him there in the tunnel. And who tried to warn him about potential risks before the beginning.
This time at least he didn't have to worry about his son, because Noin was among those who currently had a pause between two battles and he was not in this fatal tunnel. But Nardi was injured... and it was serious, it seemed.
Soon although to Durin's subjective feeling for time it seemed as if it had lasted very long several healers arrived in the Fifth Hall. Durin was exceptionally glad to see that among them was Frur the oldest and the most experienced healer they had. He hastened towards the old dwarf.
"Frur. Come. Nardi is hurt," he said to the healer.
The old healer had white hair and beard and had been doing this job longer than Durin was alive. If Nardi's life was threatened, the King couldn't think of anyone else whom he'd trust more. He'll know what to do.
In the meantime more torches were lit, so the hall was well illuminated now. Durin led Frur to Nardi; the healer kneeled over the general's body, and Durin just stood and watched. One assistant helped Frur take of Nardi's armour and helmet. They did it very carefully, to move the wounded dwarf as less as possible.
Nardi's left leg was slightly bent below the knee, and Durin needed no medical knowledge to realize that its lower part was broken. The moment when it happened was surely the one when he had lost his balance, he concluded, remembering the events in the tunnel. The broken leg was not life-threatening, but obviously there were other reasons to worry, because Nardi was unconscious.
Durin observed them just a few moments more, and then left. First of all, standing above the healer's head wouldn't be of any help at all, although he wanted to hear the news as soon as possible. Second, he had work to do.
He approached Norik, who was in the tunnel earlier too. But except for looking a little untidy and dust-covered, everything was all right with him he was uninjured.
"I am still collecting information. For now, I know there are six dead. About twenty wounded."
Durin nodded, his face glum. "Organize the cleaning of the tunnel, if some rocks remained there. Then send a scout to sneak to the upper level as close as possible to check if the orcs have more rocks."
Norik already wanted to leave to execute the orders, but Durin stopped him.
"Norik, Nardi is seriously injured. I don't know how soon he will recover." Saying that he didn't know if Nardi would recover was out of the question; he rejected the very thought of it. "You are the next-ranked officer. During his recovery, you are the commander of the Guard and perform all of his duties."
Norik nodded and then left, while Durin remained standing on the same spot, gazing at the walls of the hall.
Six dead. He sighed. For these deaths he was directly responsible. As everything went relatively well till now, he became too relaxed, too overconfident. And that was why he had rushed and disregarded the basic rules of warfare. He should have sent the scout. He should have been more cautious.
If only I had listened to you, my friend...
However, he knew one thing. He would never make that mistake again.
The minutes passed slowly. Most of those in the hall were on the move: some were still cleaning it, while the others were helping the healers. Some were waiting just like him; it was maddening to just stand and wait, and not being able to do anything. But at the moment, there was nothing he could do; he was no healer so he couldn't help the wounded, and he couldn't go back in the action before getting new information. But finally Norik appeared and stood in front of him.
"The tunnel is cleaned. In the upper hall no more rocks are visible."
The King nodded.
"Seven dead. Twenty-three wounded. Eight seriously."
Now came the moment to counteract the orcs for what they did. But not before he found out one more thing. First, he went to the place where Nardi lay.
He saw Frur bending over his patient. While the attention of the old healer was directed towards Nardi's head and chest, one assistant was fixing the broken leg and putting the splint.
"He has a chest contusion and probably some of his ribs are broken," said Frur, not lifting his head. "He also got at least one heavy hit in his head, maybe more. That could be a problem." Only then, he straightened his back and looked the King. "Severe head injuries are often life-threatening."
Those were not the news he wanted to hear.
"It is still too early, Your Highness. We'll see how things will develop during the first twenty-four hours, which will be critical. I hope that I'll be able to be more precise in a day or two."
Only then?! He knew that he'd be very worried throughout that time. Nardi's injury was one more thing he considered to be his own fault; if he had listened to his general, if he had acted more cautiously, things would have happened in a different way and now he wouldn't fear for his life.
"Thank you," he nodded to the healer and left, and then stood in front of his soldiers.
The moment came for the new attempt. And this time, and all the other times that would come, he would leave nothing to chance.
Having finished his supper, Darri looked towards the sky. It was getting darker, which meant that their break was near its end; soon, they'd go to battle again. The Sixth Level was not completely won yet, but they conquered the hall from which led the tunnel towards the Fifth Level. Darri's and Faldur's squad was to make the first attack on the Fifth Level.
He looked at his brother. Faldur seemed calm, but there was sorrow in his eyes that was not there before. Not surprising at all; Darri supposed he looked the same. Death became part of their everyday life, and brushed them personally, too. He sent a prayer to Mahal to watch over Faldur. Although he was only seven years younger and he was an adult now, Faldur had always been his little brother and Darri often behaved protectively. After losing his father, he couldn't imagine how he would endure the loss of his little brother too. And he knew that their mother would also be completely devastated.
They didn't talk much while going towards the interior. After passing the Chamber of Records, they entered the Twenty-first Hall, which served as a hospital. There were many lamps around, the floor was filled with pallets and the wounded dwarves to the very last inch, and in the middle of the hall there was a passage for the healers, their assistants and soldiers. When he was somewhere near the middle of the hall, he heard a shout.
He knew that voice, but in the first split-second he couldn't believe. How could she be here? But when he turned around, he realized he wasn't dreaming close by, there was a short red-haired figure who watched him with her eyes wide open and a big smile on her face. She carried a huge pile of towels and bandages it almost seemed bigger than herself. She quickly delivered them to the healers, and then ran to him. He made a step towards her, spread his arms, and she ran into his embrace. A tiny part of his mind noticed the gleeful whistling behind his back, but he paid no attention to teasing. He held her close and kissed her.
"You are all right, you are all right..." whispered Halldis when they finally separated. But he didn't let her go yet he kept her in his arms, separating just a little bit. Only then he took a better look of her. Her hair was braided, she had circles around her eyes and her freckles contrasted on her somewhat pale face. But her eyes shone and she was smiling.
"Yes, I am," he replied, and gestured back, to the direction where his brother and friends stood. "See, there are Faldur, Mami and Bemir, they are fine too..."
Yet, something in his voice or expression must have betrayed him, because he noticed her smile had waned.
"They are all right, but...?" she asked seriously.
Her face saddened. "Oh Darri, I am so sorry..." she said in a low voice and hugged him again.
They stood like that for a few more moments, and then split again.
"I hope everything is all right with you," said Darri.
"Well, yes, I am fine, as you see," she said. "I help here now, as many other civilians do, too. As for my family..." Her voice trembled a little. "I know they entered, but I haven't seen them since the beginning, and I have no news. Not knowing is the worst thing."
"I understand. I hope for the best," he said, frowning. He understood that the uncertainty must have been killing her.
This time, the shout came from his brother. While he stood next to Halldis their squad continued on their way, and his brother wanted to tell him it was time to go. They had to it was their duty. There was no more time to be with her.
But there will be later, he thought.
"I must go," he said in a low voice. "But now I know you're here. When I get the next break, I'll look for you. We'll have some time just for ourselves."
She put her palms on his face.
"Be careful," she said.
One more kiss... and then he had to leave.
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