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Halldis thought about the encounter with Grimbar the whole evening, and couldn't stop thinking about it even the next morning when they continued the journey; she was still impressed and considered herself very honoured by meeting such a special being. Last night, after their return to the camp, she and Tyra excitedly told their families and friends about what had happened to them. A few reactions were somewhat concerned, but Halldis had the feeling that most of them were almost envious.
The forest remained behind them, but she still thought about it. Until now, she had not travelled further than the city of Esgaroth, and she hadn't been there many times; she spent most of her days in her home in Erebor. Now, in just ten days, she experienced more peculiar things – better to say, totally unbelievable, she thought – than in the whole previous eighty years. Travelling through time and learning the history of the forest while walking through the stream; seeing the giant spider-web; and finally, on the top of everything, meeting the shape-shifter.
Reading books and listening to the stories of magic, unusual creatures and all other interesting things in Middle-earth was one thing; experiencing them first-hand was quite another. She felt as if she was not the same person who started this journey just ten days ago. She felt enriched by the new experiences, and at the same time, more humble when thinking of the wonders of Middle-earth.
The Wood of Greenleaves, I thank you.
The long blue line stretched through the surrounding green of the plain as far as the eye could reach, all the way from the northern horizon on one side, to the southern on another. The biggest, mightiest river of Middle-earth, whose sources were far north on the slopes of Misty and Grey Mountains, and its end almost a thousand and four hundred miles further. Darri realized it was difficult to envisage such a distance.
For now, it was not a wide mighty river as in the lower part in Gondor, where it was enriched by numerous tributaries. Still, even here it was bigger than Celduin, the only real river Darri had seen so far; small streams on the slopes of Erebor were not counted as rivers.
By early evening they neared the location where Anduin widened, and was therefore very shallow: that was the Old Ford, which had served as a crossing since distant times. They made a camp near the river.
After the quick refreshment and changing clothes, Darri sat down with his brother and friends to have supper. While slowly eating, he caught himself hoping – again – that a familiar face would emerge from the crowd. It didn't happen last night, and in some moments during the day, he admitted to himself that he it saddened him a little. And he really wanted to see her again.
But it was not just about liking her face and beautiful red hair. More important were her words and reactions; after seeing the elves, when talking about his impressions about them, some of those he spoke to just couldn't understand that he was glad for having the chance to see them. "They are too weird and alien," some commented. "They are not our friends," said the others. Maybe they are not friends, thought Darri, but they are not our enemies either. They were an important part of this world – especially in the past – and worthy of knowing.
It seemed that Halldis understood it. He remembered their first talk too, the one after her experience with the stream, and thought that they were similar in some way: open-minded and eager for the new knowledge. He wanted to find out more about her... hoping to discover they have even more things in common.
After supper, the lads took out their flasks and put them in the middle of small circle they formed. There were fires and torches around, so it was not too dark. Numerous voices echoed and it was quite lively. Darri looked on all sides.
"The last reserves of mead," commented Mami, watching the flasks dolefully. "And we reached only half-way."
Darri turned to his friend.
"We'll come across some of the villages while travelling, so we'll hopefully be able to buy," he replied. He was also a fan of that drink.
"So, what will be the first thing that you'll do once everything is over and once we settle in Khazad-dûm?" Bemir asked merrily. "I'll make the first figure of the new collection. And put it on the first shelf of the new home."
Darri laughed, not surprised at all. Bemir was a smith, and his passion was making small brass figures. He had a great collection of them; some were realistically shaped ancient heroes, and some were funny – with exaggerated belly, double chin or other detail, that served for amusement of visitors. He made some statues for his clients, but most of them he kept as decoration for his home. Leaving the collection behind was really hard for him, but several dozen of brass figures, about a foot high each and quite heavy, would be much too big a burden. It was possible to carry only basic things on a journey like this.
"I'll celebrate and eat and drink three days in a row without stopping," laughed Mami. "If I survive that, I'll sleep for three days, and then I can start thinking about work." Like Darri and Faldur, he was a miner.
"I still can't tell. I'll see when we get there," said Faldur, and turned to Darri. "And you?"
He didn't answer at once; he thought about the books he had read and pictures he had seen in them.
"I'd like to walk through the Twenty-first hall. See Balin's grave. And visit the resting place of Durin Deathless, next to Kheled-zâram," he said musingly.
His words were followed by several moment of silence. Everyone looked almost confused.
"Really?" gasped Mami.
"Really!" replied Darri. "Those are important things from our history."
"Well, all right, they are, but they won't go away. We should celebrate first, and we can easily see those places later," said Mami, still amazed.
"I just hope that those orc scum didn't destroy them," muttered Faldur and shook his head.
"History books say that at the beginning the Fourth Age Gimli son of Gloin returned to Khazad-dûm after the War of the Ring and walled up the chamber with Balin's grave, so that it orcs couldn't ravage it further," said Darri. "So I hope that it is preserved."*
He lifted his head and cast a glance around again. And then he saw her – red-haired short figure walking between a dwarf and a dwarfess and looking over the crowd, as if searching for something... or someone.
Could he hope that he was the one she was looking for...?
Her gaze then fell on him, and she smiled. Then she lifted her head towards her friends and he saw she was telling them something. Finally, they moved towards him and his friends.
He realized he was smiling too; this evening just became great. He lifted his hand and waved to her.
"Halldis! Hello!" he shouted to the group coming nearer. "Will you join us? Here, we'll make some space for you."
Darri gave a sign to his brother and friends to move a little bit so that the three newcomers could sit down. He quickly observed the other two; the dark-haired girl seemed to be the same age as Halldis, while the lad with them looked a few years younger.
"Hello to you too," responded Halldis when they came near.
He watched her for a moment or two, staring at her smile and fiery hair, and then he turned to his company.
"Faldur, Mami, Bemir, this is Halldis," he introduced her. "We met in the beginning of the journey, and then ran into each other again later. As it is always merrier in a bigger company, I told her to call her friends and join us."
Mami and Bemir just nodded and smiled as a sign of a welcome. Faldur's expression was different, however, and it was clear that he had recognized her.
"Hmmm... isn't that...?" Then the impish look appeared on his face. "I remember certain words my brother told you..." His smile turned into wide grinning, and Darri got a wish to strangle him for mentioning his gaffe. He markedly coughed and Faldur then got a little more serious – but only a little – and bowed to her. "I am glad to see you again. I remember... your red hair," he said in the end.
Watching his brother giving Halldis his most dazzling smile, Darri suddenly became aware of a new emotion. One that was unknown to him until that moment. But now it was here.
He was confused.
"Yes, you surely remember that and nothing else," replied Halldis to Faldur, her face saying "oh surely".
Bemir and Mami both leaned a little forward; in an instant, their expressions changed from neutral to very interested, and they looked at him with the attention of dog who sniffed a trail.
"Hmmmm, what is it that you told her?" asked Bemir with raised eyebrows, and his eyes ablaze with curiosity.
Darri didn't manage to think of a quick answer to get himself out of this, and he didn't feel like recounting his mistake. He felt a touch of panic because it seemed that the beginning of this meeting would turn into a disaster for him, and he was really angry at his brother in that moment. But even before he said anything, Halldis spoke.
"He mistook me for someone else so the first encounter turned out funny, but the confusion was immediately resolved," she said and waved her hand in a gesture of dismissing the whole thing, and Darri wished to hug her for her words. Oh, how neatly you solved this... He let himself a small sigh of relief; it looked like the catastrophe would be avoided, and he was very grateful to her.
She then turned to her friends. "This is Tyra, and this is Lotti."
With that, the introductions were over and all three of them sat down. Halldis settled next to him, and that lifted his mood.
"Hey, I'm afraid that we don't have much drink," said Mami next, and it seemed that the topic of Darri's and Halldis' first encounter was forgotten. "We have just been mourning our last supplies, that are going to disappear tonight. I hope you are equipped better than we are. And if you brought some drink with you – that would be great!!!" Although he just met them, he wasn't the least restrained.
"Well, I'm afraid we didn't – at least not if we are talking about drinks," responded the dark-haired dwarfess. Tyra, Darri repeated the name, and then one more time. And that is Lotti. When meeting someone new, he had to reiterate their names in his mind several times; if he didn't do that, he'd forget in just a few moments.
"But we have a dish of gingerbread biscuits, made by my mother," continued the girl and smiled. "The best biscuits in Erebor, I swear by Mahal's name."
"They are surely not better than those of my sister!" exclaimed Bemir. "But never mind, bring them on anyway! I'm sure they'll be great. And you can help yourselves to our mead – with what's left of it, anyway."
Tyra opened her bag full of delicious snacks, and everyone was delighted. The ice was broken, and the group continued to talk lively. They talked about their work, about what they liked to do in their free time, about songs and plans and merry-making – just like numerous other youngsters. The time flew, and they arranged to meet all together in the following evenings too.
Darri enjoyed the conversation... and even more, the occasional smiles and glances he had been exchanging with Halldis. Yes, the evening was really great.
* Reference to my story "The Last Visit to Moria".
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