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Darri awoke because someone was hitting a hammer against his head.
It took him several moments to realize that the hammer was actually inside his head, and that he had a terrible headache.
Opening his eyes was a more difficult task than usual his eyelids just didn't want to separate. And when they finally did, he wished they hadn't. Daylight was much stronger than normally. Surely there was something wrong with the sun this morning, wasn't there? But when he squinted through his eyelashes again, Darri realized that the sky was in fact cloudy and grey. Oh well, obviously it was his head that was the problem, and not the sun.
His throat burned with thirst and he hoped that somewhere in the close vicinity there was a barrel of water and nothing less than that.
But then he smiled, in spite of everything. Last night they had a fantastic time. The roasted meat was great, and the beer even better. Those lads from the town were a great company; they joked and sang together, and time flew. And he won the contest. Now that he thought about it, he'd do it all over again, no matter the fact that he now felt as if all the mining wagons of Erebor had run over him. It was worth it.
When he got up, one glance at his brother and friends showed that they felt equally wrecked like him, and looking around, he discovered many red eyes and yawning. But this was the last opportunity and the only real one, actually to have fun on this journey. The closer they'd be to their destination, the closer they'd be to war; later, they wouldn't be so relaxed and carefree any more.
Battles. War. He frowned for a moment, and his heart was upset. But still, they had a whole week more before that, and he decided not to think about it especially because right now he had bigger and closer problems. They'd continue the march soon, and he'd have to deal with his hangover.
He quickly washed his face and decided to skip breakfast this morning, having concluded that his stomach wouldn't be so happy if it got food now; he just drank a lot of water and tea. When they set off, it was a relief to discover that today the pace was much slower than in the previous days. The King was obviously aware of the intensity of last night's partying and mercifully allowed slower walking. And that was not the only difference in comparison to the last two days.
"How come we are not going next to the Anduin anymore?" asked his brother.
After the Old Ford they had gone directly to the south for two days; now, however, they turned towards the southwest, moving away from the river.
"You don't remember geography?" replied Darri. "If we had continued towards the south, very soon we would've reached the beginning of the marsh. Southwards of our current position there is a river Gladden, which branches and pours into the Anduin through several smaller flows, making a delta. In between all of them is a marshland. We wouldn't be able to pass through it."
"Aha," nodded Faldur, yawning. "Now that you mention... yes, it sounds familiar. So, now we are going around the marsh."
"That's right," confirmed Darri, and then yawned himself. Obviously, it was contagious. Or he was simply sleep deprived due to going to sleep late last night. Or both. Whatever. "We'll cross the Gladden somewhere upstream of the delta, and then continue to the south."
Then they fell silent, and for most of the first part of the day they didn't speak much. Darri preserved what little strength he had for walking, just like Faldur and the others. After the usual daily break, it became a little easier. By that time, the headache abated and his stomach calmed, so lunch gave him new strength for continuing the march.
And when the night would come and they stop... he smiled. Last night was not an ordinary one; it was perfect for having so much fun in a big company. But this evening, he wanted to spend time with one special person talk to her and get to know her.
Personal diary of King Durin VII
Day 14th of the Ninth month, Year 672, Fourth Age of Middle-earth
Despite a little late start this morning and a slow pace in the beginning, we managed to reach the Gladden; we've just made camp. The river will serve perfectly for one more supplement of our water reserves.
I watch the mountains. They are still far away and I don't discern them well, especially because of the darkness that is falling. But they are closer, hour by hour and day by day. The flame in me grows stronger and I can't wait for the moment when I'll set my foot in Khazad-dûm.
I see it as it will be. Cleaned and renewed, lit by many torches, with our homes built. Hits of hammers and pickaxes echo around, as well as our voices and songs. As long as Arda endures.
The two companies gathered again that night. They settled relatively close to the river, which looked like a long black stripe in the plain. Darri looked at the silhouettes sitting around him, lit by neighbouring fires. His brother and friends still had circles around their eyes, and he assumed that he did too. Lotti looked very tired, and only the girls seemed to be full of energy. Halldis sat next to him, and he noticed that in the firelight her hair appeared even more brilliant and red than usually.
Tyra opened her backpack and took out biscuits, flagons and goblets.
"Beer and mead," she said with a very satisfied smile. "We renewed our supplies yesterday. Those who didn't destroy themselves yesterday, can enjoy drinking today too!"
"Who says that we can't?" exclaimed Faldur. In fact, all of them bought some beer for days to come. Though, Darri had to admit that drink seemed a little less attractive to him today, but he had no intention of saying that loud. I am not some baby girl.
"I'll take some beer too," said Darri, in accordance with his last thought. Still, he decided that this night the pace should be somewhat slower.
"So lads, how did you survive waking up and this day?" asked Halldis joyfully, with a bantering tone in her voice. Her gaze lingered on him a little longer.
"Oh well, if we are going to be completely honest, we have to say that we were just a little more sleepy," answered Darri. "But that is only because we went to sleep later than usual. And that was the only problem."
"Ha-ha, we don't buy it!" exclaimed Halldis, and the giggling of both girls said that they were not fooled by his statement. But he discovered that he didn't mind at all because her words were followed by merry laughing and twinkle in her eyes that he liked so much.
Tyra made a few more jokes on their account, and then she stopped; after that, the conversation switched to other topics, like in the previous nights. Faldur, Mami and Tyra started a discussion about the methods of processing metals, while Bemir and Lotti were just listening and nodding now and then; it was obvious that all of their attention was focused just on staying awake. Not quite successful, judging by how their heads occasionally would have drooped.
Darri turned to Halldis.
"I have to admit that I don't know much about later processing of ores, once they are dug out," he said in a low voice, talking only to her. But the others at least those who were awake immersed into their own talk and paid no attention to the two of them. "Of course, I know basic things. But my field is recognizing rocks, judging the possibilities of finding precious metals, digging, and similar." He stopped and smiled, because as soon as he started to talk about it, he imagined himself underground. And that was where he was happiest. "In fact, digging is what gives me greatest joy. To be in touch with rocks, to feel them under my hands some smooth and some rugged, and all of them ancient... that is a wonderful experience."
She watched him pensively for a few moments, and then nodded.
"I understand. I feel the same in my workshop," she said. "I love the act of creation itself. In the beginning you have nothing but raw material, and then, step by step, you come to the finished product. And when I sell them..." She stopped and looked confused for a moment.
"What?" he asked, encouraging her to go on.
"You're going to laugh." Now she seemed embarrassed.
"I won't. Really," he promised.
"While I work, I am completely engaged in that process. Yes, I live of what I sell, but in fact, err... in a way, I always regret parting with any of the items I make. Because I have a feeling that I embedded a part of my soul in them."
She lowered her gaze, and he nodded. He liked very much what she had said.
"I don't know why I would laugh," he told her. "I think that your words say much about your dedication to work."
She smiled shyly.
"Well, I am glad you say that... some people don't understand when I describe how I feel about it. Anyway, I just can't wait to start again. Once this is over... I'll have to have all my equipment made anew. Of course, it wasn't possible to carry it with me. Fortunately, my brother can make almost all of it."
"Once this is over". These words reminded him that this morning he, too, had thought about what was ahead. War and death were closer and closer.
But they had a few more days until then, and just like this morning, he dismissed the thoughts about war. Right now, he was sitting next to the river in the beautiful summer evening... with her.
"I studied all the books about mines and tunnels of Khazad-dûm I could find," said Darri. "They are probably in bad shape now... but I believe that we can renew them quickly when we start working. I hope we'll soon find truesilver too."
"That would be great for the trade. Everybody would want it, in all the kingdoms. I believe even the elves would be interested in it, those who still live in Middle-earth," nodded Halldis and then tilted her head, and it seemed she was thinking. "I wonder if there are still any in Lothlorien. But I'm afraid not."
He looked at her, intrigued by the last sentence. It appeared she was saddened because of it.
"And you would like that there are?" he asked.
"Well... yes. I have to admit that I have never really thought about them much. I can't say that I've seen them as enemies, because conflicts between our peoples are matter of ancient past and today we don't think much about it. Besides, nowadays there are so few elves remaining in Middle-earth that they almost stopped being a part of its everyday life." She paused and lifted her head towards him. Their gazes met, and while looking into her eyes, his heart suddenly beat much faster.
"And, uhm..." she continued, still looking at him, "that description I heard from you was very interesting and beautiful, and it made me wish to see them. But I doubt that they still live there," she ended with a tone of regret in her voice.
"You never know," he replied, although he also assumed that the probability was very small. From what he had heard about the elves, it seemed that the only remaining group in Middle-earth was the one in The Wood of Greenleaves.
He thought of what she had said. Yes, some among their people were suspicious about the elves even today, but he now got a confirmation of what he had sensed before that she was open-minded.
Indeed, he liked her words and attitude a lot... more and more.
"But I, too, had one very special encounter," she continued and startled him from thinking, and although it was quite dark, he saw how her face and eyes shone. "I didn't tell you about it because we hadn't had much time to talk after coming out of the forest, but now you'll hear what happened to Tyra and me that evening when we went out of The Wood."
Then he heard the incredible tale of the man who could change his shape into bear; in fact, about such men, because, from what he found out, there was the whole ancient family-line of them. When she finished, he slowly nodded, amazed by what he learned.
"You know, my grandfather often told us stories when we were small, and one of our favourites was the tale about Thorin Oakenshield and reclaiming Erebor," said Darri, and childhood images emerged from his childhood memories. Grey-haired grandfather in the armchair next to the hearth, while he and Faldur sat on the floor next to him and absorbed his every word. "We've heard it many times, and every time when he described the adventures before entering The Wood, I mean then-Mirkwood, he spoke of a man-bear named Beorn. I remember the name even today. I thought that it was impossible and that it was just a garnish to the tale you know how story-tellers add different details with time, to make the stories more interesting. However..." He stopped and shook his head. He was still trying to grasp what he had just heard.
"However, what you heard from your grandfather was the truth," Halldis finished his sentence.
He looked at her.
"I wish I had been there with you, I really do. It must have been an extraordinary experience."
"It really was," she nodded. "But you never know it might come true for you too. Maybe you'll travel to Erebor one day because of some business, and you'll pass that way again... and now you know what to look for, and where."
"I will certainly do that," he said.
Then he noticed that Lotti had dozed off, and Mami also looked as if he hardly kept his eyes open. The conversation among the others almost died off, and it seemed that Tyra was about to leave, which probably meant that their whole company would go. And he just couldn't take his eyes off Halldis. She was so beautiful and special, with that red hair and beard... and so much more than that. He liked the person beneath the surface, and he wanted to know her even better. He would so much like to ask her to go for a walk, this very moment, only the two of them... but maybe right now wasn't the best time for that. But tomorrow...
"Look, hm, tomorrow evening, when we halt..." he started in a very low voice, so that only she could hear him. She observed him seriously, and those eyes gave him courage to ask the question and made him nervous, all at the same time. "Maybe you would like to go for a walk around with me to see the surroundings?"
What is there to be seen in the middle of the plain? Nothing but the grass, some voice inside of him spoke and laughed at him.
Halldis smiled softly and nodded.
"I would love that."
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