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Reclaiming Khazad-dûm  by Ellynn

It was the evening chill that woke Darri up. Vestri told him that the burns healed best if they were left uncovered – not in touch with the clothes or blankets. While helping the healer, Darri was dressed only in his trousers, and when he lay down to sleep, he didn't cover himself. That was why he felt a little cold now, after a few hours of lying still.

He sat and looked at his chest and stomach. They were still a little reddish, but that was all; there were no blisters or any other signs that something had been wrong. Quite the contrary – it seemed to him that the redness was receding, and he felt much better than a day ago, when the burns were fresh. And not just better than last night, but also noticeably better than this morning, he concluded. Again he made a few testing movements, as if with a sword in his hand, and was very satisfied to see that the pain and prickling had almost disappeared.

I am ready. Tonight I'm going to battle, he thought. At the same time, he decided not to see Vestri, even though the healer said he wanted to check on him one more time. Darri didn't want to hear that he was forbidden to go into battle. Because that was what he would surely do, and he didn't want to pretend he'd listen to the healer's advice, and to do the opposite later. He would see that as cheating, and he liked the healer and didn't want to lie to him. And that which he doesn't know, won't hurt him.

However, as the salve obviously did a great job, Darri took the jar Vestri had given him. There, at least in one thing I'll be the obedient patient and I'll do what he told me to do, he grinned. He put the cream on his skin, and while waiting until it absorbed, he looked around. Faldur wasn't anywhere near, and neither were Bemir and Mami. They all lay down to sleep at about the same time, in the early afternoon, and now he didn't know if they had already gone to battle or to get supper. At the thought of the food his appetite awoke and he decided to eat first, and then to go in.

He had just put on his tunic when he saw Halldis walking towards him. She smiled, and at the sight of her, a big smile appeared on his face too. It was always great to see her. His heart jumped and he quickly rose to his feet. She ran into his embrace and their lips joined in a long, passionate kiss.

"Oh Darri, finally!" whispered Halldis. Then she paused for a moment, looking confused – as if she remembered something – and put her palm on his chest. "Does it hurt? I mean, did I hug you too tight? I passed next to you earlier, while you were sleeping, and saw that you were burned too..."

"Come on, don't worry," he waved his head dismissing her concern, although his chest and stomach did feel a little more sensitive than usually. "I am just fine." Now that she was with him, he felt great and forgot everything else. "And even if I couldn't hug you with all my strength – which I can – I could still kiss you."

And immediately he switched from words to action and kissed her again.

"Mmmm, I am starting to feel dizzy," she said when they separated.

They looked at each other for a few more moments, holding hands and smiling. Yes, everything is just perfect now, he thought, watching her face and eyes. Then they sat on his sleeping bag, close to each other, and he kept her hands in his.

"And you? Are you all right? Do you have any news about your brother?" asked Darri.

"Yes, he is fine!" exclaimed Halldis with a huge smile. "Actually, I'm just coming from him." She told him in short about her afternoon, and looked at him seriously. "Faldur is all right too, I hope?"

"Yes. I saw him before we both went to sleep," he nodded. "I don't know where he is now, though. I woke up a little while ago and didn't see him here. But as I hungry, I'd be very glad to find out he went to get supper and brought one plate for me," he laughed. "And you? Are you very busy?"

"Yes, I am," she answered. "But I don't mind. I won't complain. My work can't compare to what you are going through in battles. And it's very difficult for the healers too." She shook her head, and her face became frowned and sad. "Oh, there are so many sights of blood..."

She fell silent, and he squeezed her hand a little tighter. Yes, the reality was full of ugly images and death – so unlike songs of war which described only moments of glory. In songs, there were no rivers of blood, no sweat pouring down into eyes, no screams of the wounded, no cut off body parts and ripped open bellies. And there were no fiery explosions burning everything in front of them.

"You'll be better once this is behind us," he said in a low voice, hoping that the same would apply to him too. But he knew that he would not forget what he had seen any time soon.

She lifted her gaze towards him, fear and hope mixing in her eyes. He caressed her cheek and she managed to smile a little. He stooped towards her and kissed – this time just gently, barely brushing her lips.

"Oh come on, what is this?!" a merry voice behind their backs spoke. "I know that you would like a nice private cave just for yourselves, but you'll have to endure my company!"

Faldur stood in front of them, grinning from ear to ear. He held two plates in his hands.

"Yes, we do mind your presence," replied Darri, but even as he started to utter those words, a big smile appeared on his face too.

"And that is thank you for bringing you supper?" asked Faldur with raised eyebrows, pretending to be offended.

"Oh, you are the best brother in the whole Arda!" said Darri cheerfully. The sight of fresh bread and stew aroused his appetite even more.

"All right, all right, I forgive you..." said Faldur and sat on his sleeping bag, opposite of Darri and Halldis, and handed him the plate. "I am sorry, Halldis, I didn't know you'd be here too. So I didn't bring anything for you," he added, apologizing.

"Oh, don't worry," she replied quickly. "I'll easily have a snack later."

"Did you have some rest too?" asked Darri, looking at his brother.

"Yes," answered Faldur between two bites. "I woke up a little earlier than you, so I went to take supper."

"Any news?" Darri continued with questions.

"From what I heard while waiting in the queue, almost the whole Sixth Level is in our hands, and we progressed a little more on the Fifth," responded Faldur. He ate in silence for a few moments, and then he frowned. "Surely we would have progressed even better had it not been for that hapless start..."

"You, uhm..." started Halldis, and Darri saw she was looking him with concern. "You were very close to that fire? As I said, I passed this way earlier and saw you when you were sleeping, and I saw your burns. And I see that your hair and beard were caught in the fire too..."

Her expression was scared and Darri immediately smiled to chase her fears away.

"Hey, don't worry, it's nothing serious. It's just superficial and it doesn't hurt at all anymore," he said nonchalantly. "Also, hair and beard will grow again," he added cheerfully.

"Oh, I see," she replied, obviously still a little dubious, and then she continued, "and what really happened? I heard there was an explosion, but I haven't had the chance to talk to anybody who was there. I only heard rumours, second- and third-hand talking."

While eating, Darri told her very shortly about the trap involving fire and hot grease; he didn't describe the flame filling a big part of the hall, nor how it swallowed several bodies. In the end, he told her about his participation in the transport of the wounded, and how he stayed in the hospital helping Vestri.

Soon they finished eating and got up. Darri put on his chainmail and vambraces, and prepared his helmet and sword. Standing next to him, Halldis yawned and stretched.

"Will you rest a little more?" he asked.

"No," she shook her head. For a moment she looked towards the darkening sky, and then to him again. "My break is over, too. The fact that I didn't spend it resting, but paced down and up, is my problem. But I am fine, I am not very tired. Now I'll go back to work."

"Probably nobody would bear a grudge against you if you returned a little later," noted Faldur while he also got ready. "You have the right to rest a little bit."

"Indeed, probably nobody would – except for myself. The same rules apply to all of us. I can't – I mustn't – rest while the others work," she said resolutely.

Darri looked at her and smiled.

"You are awesome", he said in a low voice, with respect.

"You are too," she replied. "All of you are."

She abruptly spread her arms and hugged him. "Be careful," she whispered.

He held her close for a few moments.

"I will. Don't worry. Just a little more, and everything will be over."

He kissed her. And then came the time for each of them to take their own way.

-x-x-x-

Personal diary of King Durin VII
Day 22nd of the Ninth month – evening, Year 672, Fourth Age of Middle-earth

I have just received the news that we can proclaim the whole First Level conquered. True, there are a few more caves still unchecked, but from what the scouts say, it seems they are empty. We are slowly progressing through the Second Level, too. It is a good thing that we are many and that the fresh squads can continuously replace tired fighters and go to new battles.

About two hours ago I got the message that Nardi regained consciousness during the afternoon. I hurried to the hall in which he was situated, but by the time I arrived, he was sleeping again. Frur told me that Nardi was awake for a very short while and that he didn't understand much of what was going on around him. He added that it was normal for severe head injuries, and that recovery would be slow. But even that short awaking is a good sign and I hope that things will go for the better from now.

Noin is well and uninjured. Every day I pray to Mahal that he stays that way.

I'm going to have a short rest, and then to battle again.

D.





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