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So started the last phase of the journey. Darri climbed the slope, knowing that now there were only a few hours before reaching their goal. Of course, not all of them could enter at once, and he had no idea how quickly he'd be engaged. Would he be among those who would attack on this day? Or tomorrow?
He'd find out soon enough.
Now that Khazad-dûm was so near, now that the shadow of war lay above them, he couldn't help feeling a little bit of discomfort. He wanted to live. He wanted to do so much more: to see all the most important places of Khazad-dûm, to descend to its depths, to feel its rocks under his fingers, to dig and explore, to mine ores, to feel the soul of that magnificent kingdom... and to be with Halldis. The thought of her warmed his heart.
But at the same time, he was determined. Khazad-dûm was theirs. In all those long centuries since they had been banished from it, not one dwarf had ever stopped considering Khazad-dûm their home. It always had the special place in their hearts, and all of them had dreamed of reclaiming it ever since.
Many centuries passed, and so many hadn't seen that dream come true. Despite the danger, Darri considered himself lucky for living in the time of King Durin VII, and for the fact that this quest happened in his lifetime. And if it was his fate to go to Mahal now, at least he'd go knowing that he had contributed to making a better future for their people.
He looked around. Faldur was next to him, and their father behind them; mother stayed in the camp. Observing them, he saw that they were equally determined as him – just like everyone else around them.
Mahal, lead our steps.
We climb. Every step carries us closer to the Eastern Gates. My heart is excited, and my hand squeezes the handle of the sword. Just a little bit more.
But before everything, before the final consultations and attack, I'll go to the shores of Kheled-zâram. Oh, how many times have I imagined coming here! I will stand next to the same shore as my distant ancestor – the very first one of my kin and of all our people – and I'll see the same surface and stars that he did. And if I send my thoughts across space and time, maybe he will be able, from his place in Mahal's halls, to see that I lead our people into reclaiming the ancient kingdom he had founded. After all, he and I are connected by a special bond, and I believe that he'll be able to feel my spirit. And I'm sure that the discovery that Khazad-dûm will be ours again will bring great joy to him... and this time, it will be ours for as long as the Arda itself will exist.
One more step, and here I am, at the edge of the valley. I stopped. It is green and large. In front of us, in the west, slopes continue to rise, and between them there is a small river flowing into the lake, which occupies about one third of the valley. I watch it, and I am breathless.
The surface is completely still and dark-blue, almost the colour of the night, although light blue daytime sky is above us. Unreal, incredible, and special. There is no similar place in the whole Middle-earth.
I knew how it looked, I read about it, I listened to stories and dreamed of it many times. But even the most beautiful descriptions are one thing, and quite another is to see the scene with my own eyes.
The lake calls me, drags me towards it with irresistible strength. "Come, son of Durin," it tells me.
I am coming.
We'll be here from now on; everyone will have the chance to come near and see it; but I go first, this very moment. I signalled Nardi and the others to wait, and I go. But I am not alone; I hear steps right behind me. I am not surprised, and I smile. And I don't have to turn around to see who follows. I know. After all, Noin and Ernis are also Durin's children, and I believe that the call in their hearts is equally intense as the one in mine.
There is the old stony monument on the shore and I stand next to it. The whole upper part is broken off, and the elements did their part during millennia. The runes are almost completely erased, the inscriptions unreadable. But once all this is behind us, I'll renew it.
I close my eyes. So, this is the place where my distant ancestor first looked into the lake. Now I'll do it too.
I open my eyes and look... and I feel odd. As if the whole of Arda tremored for a moment and as if I am no longer in the present, but travelled through time to the day when he had stood here. As if I am no longer myself, but the first of the dwarves and I discover Khazad-dûm.
I am Durin the First, and he is me.
The sun in the sky is the only thing reminding me that we are not in the age of the stars, but that I am in the much later age of sun and moon. Although the sky is light blue, the surface of the water is dark as if it is night and not day. And albeit there are no stars in the sky – the sun hides them with its glare – they are clearly visible on the surface of the lake.
Oh, how long have I waited for this moment! I stand next to this shore and see the same sight he saw thousands of years ago – he, the very first of all Mahal's children.
In the middle of the lake shine seven bright stars. The crown. Just like the one made and worn for a long time by my forefather, which is the symbol of our house. The brightest represents the top of the crown, and as my eyes follow the direction it shows, I am not surprised to discover that it points exactly towards the Eastern Gates – towards the entrance into Khazad-dûm.
I feel the elation – the same that he must have felt at the first sight of the entrance. I watch the Eastern Gates and my heart flutters. True, I can't discern details, but only the outline of the two pillars and the arch above the entrance. Undoubtedly, the time has taken its toll on them too. But my mind sees much further than my eyes can; it has seen them in dreams... or are those memories? I know how they looked. And they will be renewed, they'll look just as they once did.
My gaze returns to the lake, and after one more look at the crown, I feel it is time to go. I blinked, and everything became clear again. My spirit is no longer intertwined with the spirit of my ancestor and I am in my own time. It is the twentieth day of the Ninth month, year 672 of the Fourth Age. The day in which we'll enter our home.
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