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Reclaiming Khazad-dûm  by Ellynn

Upon the arrival to the entrance into the Seventh Level with other women, Halldis discovered that there was no hospital outside, unlike the situation around the Eastern Gates. When she looked at the entrance, she realized why. Although the opening in the rocks was significantly widened, it was necessary to use ladders for going in and out, and that route would be unsuited to transport the wounded.

She descended into the Chamber of Records and stopped for a moment. I am inside. Her heart quivered. It was an extraordinary feeling to be in this special place. When she entered the Twenty-first Hall, she was amazed with the beauty of the walls and pillars, and stared with mouth open. But then she reminded herself that this was not the right time for enjoying the view. The healers needed help.

One day. One day I'll visit all of the halls, she promised herself. With a shiver, she sent a prayer to Mahal for all those she loved, and then started to work.

-x-x-x-

Durin stood in front of the big squad. He remembered Nardi's words for just a short moment, and then he shrugged. The most difficult part – crossing the narrow bridge under the orcish arrows and conquering the Second Hall – was successfully mastered on the first day. All that happened since then, as well as everything that would still happen, he considered ordinary battles. Of course, he was aware that much more time would pass until the final victory, and that there would be many more victims. But now that the hardest part is behind us, nothing should go wrong anymore.

Tense as a bowstring and ready to lead the new attack, he spoke to the crowd in front of him.

"Sons and daughters of Mahal, charge!!!" he shouted, and many fierce cries answered. Everyone was as resolute as he was.

He turned around and with a sword in his hand stepped into the tunnel leading from the Fifth towards the Sixth Hall, located on the Second Level. It was about twelve feet wide, so four of them could walk side by side. He couldn't see far ahead because there weren't many torches, but he remembered from the maps that it was about three hundred feet long, and that it made a wide curve while slowly ascending towards the higher level.

Nardi walked next to him, occasionally going quicker and leading the way. Which was very irritating. Each time it happened, Durin accelerated too, to be the leading figure again. Yes, they had to be very focused during the battles because some orcs were quite skilful with the blades, and some orcs had bows and arrows, which was one more reason to be careful. But Nardi is surely exaggerating...

And then, when they crossed about one half of the tunnel length – which also meant that they were on the half of the big curve – he heard some sort of restrained rumble. At first, he thought it was the stamp of many boots, and his next thought was that a great number of the orcs ran through the Sixth Level to meet them in battle.

But the rumble was getting stronger and it was too loud to be explained only with the steps – it sounded like many rocks collided each other. And it was coming nearer.

His hand automatically lifted the sword, but only a moment later he realized that weapons would be of no use against this threat. Because, as they were coming out of the curve into the straight part of the tunnel, an avalanche of rocks rolling towards them entered his field of view. The stones were rounded and rolled quite quickly, and the dwarves just wouldn't be fast enough to escape back to the First Level. And the stones were big enough – somewhere between a foot or two – to inflict serious damage.

He froze in mid-movement, desperately searching for the solution. And not finding it.

"Watch out! Take cover!" yelled Nardi, but all his shouts were in vain. Due to the thunder, only the nearest few were able to hear him, and even if everyone had heard, they wouldn't be able to do anything because there was no cover.

A moment before the avalanche reached them Nardi threw himself on Durin and pinned him against the tunnel wall, protecting him with his own body, and quickly put a shield in front of his legs. Behind the broad shoulders of his general Durin couldn't see anything. He almost couldn't breathe, he was pinned so hard, and each hit of the rocks to Nardi transferred vibrations onto him too – pushing him to the wall even more.

Feeling those hits, for a moment he wondered how Nardi – who received them directly – was feeling, and he wanted to move somehow and to pull Nardi closer to the tunnel wall so that he was not so exposed. But he couldn't move, and there was no room for cover anyway.

He managed to turn his head just a little bit to look backwards, into the tunnel, and with a corner of his eye he saw the rocks hitting those on the way. Some fell, and the avalanche continued over them. Screams intertwined with the noise of the rolling stones. He wanted to scream, angry with himself and the orcs.

Cursed orcs, cursed orcs, cursed orcs!!!

And then the pressure became even greater, and Nardi lost his balance after one powerful hit in his leg.

"Nardi!!!" shouted Durin while the sturdy dwarf started to fall down. Durin grabbed his shoulders, but managed only to alleviate his fall, and not to prevent it. Nardi was down, and the rocks kept coming. Several large pieces hit his chest and two hit his head.

Durin tried to pull him back, closer to the tunnel wall, but was unsuccessful because now he was completely exposed and stones hit him too. Then he tried to shelter them both with his shield, but with a poor result. He was hit again, just like Nardi, who now lay completely motionless.

And then, at last, he realized that the noise and blows had stopped. The avalanche finally passed – there were no more rocks. But there was no time to inspect Nardi's wounds nor to help him, and not even for catching his breath. Because, while the dwarves still started to rise on their feet, battered and hurt, a squad of the orcs ran towards them from the upper level.

"Next to me! Form the wall!" shouted Durin as loud as he could.

The nearest two standing on their feet jumped to him and raised their shields – not a second too late, because right in that moment the orcs arrived and attacked them.

"Pull out the wounded!" He managed to shout that too before directing all his strength and focus into fighting. It was difficult to block the attack – not so much because of the orcs' skills, because it was not particular in most of cases – but because he and the two beside him were still shaken from what happened just a little while ago. The muscles simply still didn't listen and didn't work properly.

He was gripping his shield, defending from the orcs' blows, and was trying to attack. Another soldier stood next to him, strengthening their wall.

They progressed a foot.

But another soldier, on the opposite side, fell.

They were driven two feet back.

"Pull out the wounded!" he shouted one more time and risked a quick glance backwards. It was a relief to see that his order was carried out. He looked in front again and put all his strength into the fight.

A foot conquered, a foot lost.

A few more dwarves came closer as soon as it was possible, forming the second and third row of the formation. But they were not fighting to win the tunnel or to advance – not now. Right now, they were only buying time for those carrying away the bodies of the wounded. The new attempt of ascent and conquering the Second Level would happen some other time.

They fought with all their power and soon managed to set up their rhythm. The blades were clashing, the blows were falling. And finally, a shout came from behind which Durin and everyone around him had waited for – that the wounded were transported to safety.

"Retreat!!!"

And so they went back, step by step, still defending themselves from the attacks of the orcs who pursued them for a good part of the tunnel towards the Fifth Hall. Durin brandished his sword, while so many questions echoed in his mind. Is Nardi alive? How serious are his wounds? How many wounded there are? How many killed?

And above everything, he was angry. With himself.





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