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Attack, blow, defence, blow... and again and again, in different order. Stony floor was soon slippery with blood. Durin was focused on the battle and all he thought of was the next move. For dwarves, this phase was a race with time. Orcs were releasing arrows from the background of the hall towards the bridge, trying to bring down the dwarves crossing it. The dwarves fought with all their strength to advance as much as they could in the shortest time possible – to push back the orcs and save the lives of those crossing the bridge.
Attack, strike, defence, block.
Orcs weren't the only ones using bows; the Guardsmen had them too. Some of them positioned themselves left and right of the tunnel exit – before the bridge – and from there they were shooting the orcs on the other side of the hall, over their own troops. Torches of the dwarves kept on landing on the orcs, as well as specially prepared projectiles – cloth-balls impregnated with oil and lit a few moments before throwing. As they were falling down on the orcs, the fire caught their clothes and panic spread among them. Each orc cut down by sword or axe or hit by an arrow, each orc distracted in any way, meant that one more dwarf could cross the bridge. Meant a new inch of conquered space. The dwarves were achieving their intentions and were slowly progressing.
But the orcs fought as hard as they could, knowing that, in the moment of losing the Second Hall, the entrance into the mountain would be wide open and that the dwarves would keep coming in more and more. Despair made them fight even more vigorously. The battle raged on.
The clamour from the Chamber of Records announced presence of the dwarves, so when they rushed into the Twenty-first Hall, the enemies already waited, ready to fight. Just like the Second Hall, this one was also lit by torches, but there was no time to look around and to admire the black walls, polished and smooth as glass, or the many mighty pillars, or the arc of the roof*. As soon as he was in the hall, Darri lifted his shield and sword and charged against the nearest orc.
He had been learning and training for about fifteen years. He was tall and strong, and his movements were quick and nimble. After so many years of practice, the muscles knew all the moves and he almost didn't have to think what to do. His body moved fluidly from one movement to another.
But this was something completely different from the training. This was unpredictable. Now, he had to improvise. Here, he had to fight two opponents at once. Or three. Here, the mistakes were fatal.
Soon he didn't know any more where his father and brother were. All around echoed sounds of steel clashing. Blows. Cries. Rattles of the dying.
He whirled with his sword, trying to cut down the orcs, and trying to stay alive.
The afternoon slowly advanced, and the sun sank behind the Misty Mountains. Halldis sat on the ground, leaning on her backpack. A little while ago she heard a call to all the women who didn't have to stay in this camp because of caring for small children or for other reasons. They were summoned to climb to the camp near Kheled-zâram tomorrow morning, and to help the army and the healers.
She was actually very impatient to go there; apart from the fact that idly sitting was unbearable, she hoped that – once closer to the centre of the events – she would occasionally see her family and friends in their moments of respite. That thought gave her some comfort.
She observed the slopes above their plateau. She couldn't see the valley where the lake was nor the Eastern Gates – they were hidden from view from her position. But she thought about them. Our soldiers are entering just now. She shuddered. What happened so far? How much did they progress? How many casualties by now?
She wasn't the only one looking upwards – she noticed that many other girls and older women did the same. Up there in the mountain were those they loved. The ones they feared for.
She wondered how she'd fall asleep that night.
Durin took advantage of the split-second in which there were no orcs near him and he cast a quick glance around. But in the dim light, in the chaos of movement and entangled figures, there was no chance to spot those he wanted to see. He didn't know where his children were nor if they were all right. He only knew that earlier, while still in the tunnel, they had been relatively close to him, but he hadn't seen them since the battle had started. He sent a silent prayer to Mahal to take care of them, and then looked at Nardi who fought next to him.
"We have to advance faster!" shouted Durin. They slowly pushed the orcs towards the tunnels, but they still held on. Just like new dwarves were coming over the bridge, so the new orcs were coming from the tunnels and took the places of those who had fallen.
In that moment another orc attacked him. The orc was tall and sturdy, and quite agile for his height. Durin found himself in an inferior position and it wasn't easy to fend off the fast and powerful blows. The yellow eyes shone with hatred, and a victorious grin appeared on his grotesque face when he drove his opponent to retreat. The orc lifted his arm to deal the next blow – the fatal one.
But he stopped in the middle of the movement. His grin froze and the glare in his eyes quenched, as he was cut down by the opponent he hadn't even seen. Nardi gave Durin a quick glance to be sure that everything was all right with him, and then turned to the next orc.
"Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!" roared the general's battle cry, louder even than battle noise around him. He threw himself forward, and his call motivated everyone around him. They found new strength in themselves; the dwarvish formation moved into another charge, and the orcs lost some more space.
And then Durin noticed that more burning projectiles started to fall on the orcs – but now, they were not only thrown from behind his back, but also from his right side. The Dwarvish forces which entered the Chamber of Records finally descended through the passage connecting the First and the Seventh Level, and now entered the Second Hall. The dwarves were entering through the tunnel closest to the bridge and the chasm, and now attacked the orcs moving along the northern wall. The orcs were now under attack from two sides.
Durin rushed forward with newly found strength. The victory is ours now!!!
"Charge!!!" he shouted.
And they advanced – foot by foot, yard by yard. Some of them fell, but there were so many more casualties among the orcs. And finally, a little later, they pushed the orcs to the end of the hall. When they realized they didn't have a single inch of space left, those few remaining didn't try to fight any more but turned around and escaped into the tunnels.
The Second Hall was conquered.
* "...and for a second they saw a vast roof far above their heads upheld by many mighty pillars hewn of stone. Before them and on either side stretched a huge empty hall; its black walls, polished and smooth as glass, flashed and glittered." (FotR, A Journey in the Dark)
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