Between a bear and a dark place

Chapter 11

Dwalin felt a sinking pit in his stomach as he glanced around the makeshift battlefield yet again. There had been more orcs than he had expected in the ambush, yet half of them were now dead on the forest floor. Several of the dwarves that had been with him were also motionless, a few more supporting grievous wounds.

Whipping up the axe in his hand to block a blow aimed for his head, the seasoned warrior tried to determine who was still standing and who was not. There were the faces of Bergin and Haram, eyes seeing nothing as the pools of blood beneath their sword-pierced chests began to dry. Lennon too had fallen, slain by an orc that now laid broken at the feet of the dwarves. Grief pricked Dwalin's heart at each loss, for Bergin had been near his end of service, both Haram and Lennon barely started. Their faces, however, were not the ones that Dwalin was searching for.

Durin's beard, Thorin! Where are you?

"Is this all they can muster up to throw at us?" Gloin barked with a savageness awakened by the battle. His weapons were silver streaks in the air around him as he continued to cut through the remaining orcs.

Dwalin ignored him, eyes set and determined as he landed a killing blow on another orc, crushing its chest and slicing deeply through its skin at the same time. Allowing the body to fall to the ground as he withdrew his axe, Dwalin continued in his mad search for his leader, moving swifter than before due to the diminishing number of orcs in his way.

It was the heavy breathing that gave him away. As the last stretch of the battle began to die down, Dwalin turned a moment too late as the sword came bearing down on him amidst the warning shout of Gloin and several others. The seasoned warrior flicked his wrist up, beginning to bring his axe into place between him and the orc though in his mind he knew it was a helpless cause. Then the orc halted all movement, choking on the blade protruding from its throat.

"You need to watch your back more," Guerin said with a shaky humour, the dwarf's orange hair half out of his usually neat braids. The warrior's appearance looked disheveled at best.

"Thanks," Dwalin said with a nod before turning to move towards Gloin.

"I think we're done here," the red haired dwarf said as Dwalin drew close. The taller dwarf shook his head solemnly.

"Did you see Thorin at all after the ambush?" Dwalin asked, trying his best to keep fear for the wellbeing of the dwarfish leader out of his voice. To that tattooed dwarf's immense horror, however, Gloin frowned and shook his head.

"Not since that first wave of orcs came at us," he replied.

Dwalin rubbed his face with one hand, almost ready to lose it from all the stress that had been piled onto him of late.

"You take the wounded back to the village," the seasoned warrior finally said, staring at a point above Gloin's head as he spoke, "I'll gather up some of those who are unharmed and begin a search party for Thorin."

Dis will more than just kill me if I also cause her to lose Thorin too.

"There's no need," a voice said beside the tall dwarf and Dwalin turned only to find himself staring down at none other than Thorin Oakenshield. The tattooed dwarf blinked once and then twice, the muscles in his jaw working to move it up and down. Gloin looked precariously from one dwarf to the other before excusing himself silently.

"What happened to you?" Dwalin half growled, his previous anxiety now working up into anger. Thorin merely held his hands aloft, signing for peace.

"I got caught up in the fighting," the dwarfish leader replied, "After the orc floored me, I managed to snap the bastard's neck. Then I got caught up in the fighting with several others on the other side of the fighting. I am unharmed," Thorin finished, catching the way Dwalin was regarding his form. The tattooed dwarf grunted in response.

"Good," Dwalin said bluntly, "Dis and Fili do not need to return only to be informed that both you and Kili were both injured in the time they were gone." Thorin's face blanched at the thought and Dwalin cursed himself for his lack of tact.

"Any casualties?" Thorin asked, clearly not wanting to dwell on what Dwalin had just said. The seasoned warrior inhaled deeply before exhaling his answer a moment later.

"Bergin, Haram and Lennon are dead. Several others are injured; Thereon is severely wounded. He may or may not last the night, even with Oin working on him."

Dwalin watched his friend appear to deflate, his face growing more haggard and wearied in a heartbeat.

"Their families will be devastated," the dwarfish leader said quietly, mind distant. Dwalin merely blinked, his face hard and impassive.

"It is the way of things," the seasoned warrior said, his voice gruff, "And there is nothing anyone can do about it. We were ambushed and caught off guard."

"We need to get the wounded back to the healers. We also need to get the dead back as well," Thorin cut in, beginning to form a list of what needed to be done, "A party will also need to be sent to ensure no further orcs are hiding. Fresh patrolmen can be sent once we return."

Dwalin shifted his weight to his other leg, a slight crease of thought furrowed on his brow.

"Will you be joining the search party or-?"

"I will be returning," Thorin said in answer, his mind made up, "Gloin will head off the search party, unless of course you want-"

"I will return as well," Dwalin told his friend and leader, "And I will also inform the families of Bergin, Haram and Lennon." He shook his head as Thorin opened his mouth to cut in. "No," the tattooed dwarf insisted, "You need to get back to Kili. I am more than able to take care of this and discuss any matters of immediate concern with my brother."

Thorin stared at him, speechless.

"Thank you," the dwarfish leader finally managed to whisper, his blue-grey eyes shinning with an unspoken gratitude. Dwalin only tweaked the corner of his mouth sadly in return.

After all, you do not know how much time he has left.

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