Tears of Blood

You Asked Me to Tell You the Truth

Chapter 3

You Asked Me to Tell You the Truth

The wall was falling, crumbling. Lóni only gave himself a very short time to determine what was happening, before he returned his full attention to the battle he was now in the thick of. And he was doing battle with his foes as much as he was doing battle with himself, with his own memories. There were far too many similarities between this fight and the Battle of Azanulbizar, and they were frightening, even more so because his son was out there somewhere, and Lóni had lost sight of him. He had lost sight of his father, too. The next time Lóni had seen him was when two of his kin were carrying his lifeless body to a pyre.

His kind didn't shy away from war, didn't shy away from bloodshed. Maybe the fact that he now did was what made him different from his kin. Maybe it were only the memories holding him back. There were so many Orcs, Lóni couldn't even begin to count them. He doubted he would want to count them. It would only make him lose heart, and that he could not afford. His son was still out there. He had sworn that he would keep a very close eye on the lad, but it was a promise he had ended up breaking, even though he had not broken it willingly. But such was the nature of battle.

Having said that, this battle seemed particularly chaotic. All battles were, people said, but even Azanulbizar had known a semblance of order. There had been front lines and rear guards. There weren't here. Everything had descended into absolute chaos. The enemy was everywhere, his allies were everywhere too. Somehow this had turned into a mess when he had not noticed, when he was too busy fighting for his life and those of his friends and allies. He had ended up fighting side by side with a young Man. When this battle was over, they would be on different sides again, but for now they would risk their lives for the other. It was one of those rules that applied to battles, something that was understood without saying it. Lóni knew it well. He didn't know if Dari knew, or that he felt how things were, even if he had not been told. As his father, he could only pray that someone out there was doing the same thing for Dari as Lóni was doing for his companion.

'It looks like there're more Orcs coming onto the field,' the Man reported. He was tall, towering over Lóni, and therefore in a better position to see what was happening further away from them. 'From the north,' he added, answering Lóni's unspoken question.

The Dwarf nodded. 'Good.' It wasn't good, but it was good to know what was coming, so that he could be prepared. The fight was ugly, extremely so, but here there were fewer Orcs. It didn't mean there wasn't any fighting, but not many Orcs made it to this place, not this close to the Mountain, even though they were still quite a distance away from the gate itself. 'What of the wall?'

'Fallen,' the Man replied. 'The fighting's heavier there, but I can't see much.'

Lóni hadn't expected it. He just battled on. Wasn't that all he could do? Sometime even this battle would end. He had a lingering suspicion that it would be a while still though.

Dari watched with grim satisfaction as the severed Orc head rolled downhill, making another Orc trip, allowing the Man nearby to end the appalling creature's existence. Good, he thought, even as he was trying to make sense of his own thoughts, and even more so of the anger that had seized him so unexpectedly. It seemed to be linked to the old Man's sudden and violent death, but that was strange. He hadn't cared for him. If truth be told, he had thought him rather annoying. But he had saved his life, and there was no question that he had paid for that bravery with his own life.

The rational part of Dari's mind knew that this Man was unlikely to have lived through the battle. He was too old, too weak, too feeble to be a real part of this. He would never have made it out alive and there was the truth of that. Still, it was the manner of the Man's death that confused Dari so much. They would have been enemies had this Orc army not come and changed everything, yet he had thrown himself at the Orc blade so that Dari would live. And he had seen in the Man's eyes that had been a conscious decision. And he didn't understand, not for the life of him.

And he didn't have any time to sit back and think it all over. There was a battle to be fought, and he was no coward that he would hide away until the fight was over and done with. That was not who he was. And so he threw himself back into the fray, fighting with renewed energy. It was not for revenge, he told himself. That Man had been nothing to him. It was only the manner of his death that made Dari's blood approach boiling point. Orcs were vile creatures and this only proved it.

He began to suspect that his Maker had a sense of irony though. There was no other reasonable explanation for the fact that he ended up fighting side by side with another Man. This one wasn't old. Quite the contrary, he was relatively young still, probably of a mental age with Dari himself. He sure wasn't used to fighting, if the way he held and swung his sword was any indication. Dari had to duck a few times to make sure his head remained on his shoulders. Not that he thought the Man could swing that weapon forcefully enough to cut off a Dwarf's head, but it would be messy and bloody, and he could ill afford an injury now.

'Watch it, lad!' he shouted as the sword came dangerously close to his face again. If he hadn't known any better, he would have though it the Man's aim to kill him. It wasn't that far-fetched a theory, considering the conflict that had brought them here in the first place.

'It's not your business how I fight!' Anger. That was all Dari could see and hear.

'It is my business when you're endangering my life, and the lives of your own people at that,' Dari countered. They may be of a mental age, but Dari at least had been trained to handle weapons, and he handled his axe with deadly precision as he killed an Orc that seemed to have been going for the Man's head.

'Aye, you'd know all about endangering my people's lives,' his companion snarled. 'Why should I believe you care now?'

Dwarves didn't generally hold with deceit, and Dari's control over his temper had always been very far from perfect, and so he answered true. 'I don't care.' And if he had been given a good excuse, he would have fought these Men and these Elves who were so arrogant as to presume that they were owed a share of the wealth that had never been theirs and would never be theirs either if he had anything to say in the matter. If these Orcs hadn't come, he would have faced this Man on the battlefield, as a foe.

'Was that why you set a dragon on my little sister?'

Dari hadn't strictly speaking anything to do with any dragon-related problem, but he knew enough to say with absolute certainty that no one had meant to set a dragon on anything, least of all little girls. What happened to the town of the Men of the Long Lake had been a tragic accident, nothing more and nothing less. In Dari's opinion it was no one's fault but the dragon's. And at least that beast had been killed. The Men had been granted their revenge on the drake and that should have been the end of it. How they got that ridiculous notion into their heads that this would give them a right to the wealth of Erebor was far beyond Dari's comprehension.

'The dragon set itself on your town,' Dari snapped. He was getting distracted by this whole pointless argument, and so, he feared, was the lad, whose already bad fighting skills were decreasing even further very rapidly. 'My people had nothing to do with what happened. And you got your revenge, didn't you?' And that was as far as it should go. But Men were greedy, maybe even more so than they claimed Dwarves were.

The Man's mouth opened in response, but Dari never heard the answer that came out of it. All he heard was a fierce battle cry, the way Orcish battle cries were, and he swivelled around to face the threat. But there was nothing he could do. He had been too distracted. He could only take the blow.

'Is that why you set a dragon on my little sister?' Einar snapped. How it had come to this – him arguing with a Dwarf whose name he didn't know over the tragedy that had befallen his people as a result of Dwarves' actions, and that in the middle of an ongoing battle – he'd never know, but it had happened and now the rage was taking over again. Chances were that this particular Dwarf had nought to do with it; he didn't look like one of the thirteen that had stayed in town for a few weeks. Of course there was no way to be absolutely certain; to him all Dwarves looked alike. But he had certainly come here to defend his precious gold, and that made him as bad as the so-called King under the thrice-cursed Mountain in Einar's eyes.

'The dragon set itself on your town!' the Dwarf retorted, anger marring his features. His kind may be small, but Einar for one would never make the mistake of thinking them harmless, especially not now, faced with the undeniable wrath in this one's eyes. 'My people had nothing to do with what happened. And you got your revenge, didn't you?'

Was that all these gem-crazy Dwarves could care about? Gold, blood and revenge. It seemed to be all they were capable of caring for. Ilúvatar should never have permitted them to live, not if this was the result.

He meant to say that, meant to hurl all his anger, all his rage and grief at this one Dwarf who represented everything he so despised, but the words died on his lips. The Dwarf was only small, and he could look over his head easily enough, well enough to see the Orc approaching. It was in that moment that Einar realised he had made a rather grave mistake. He had gotten distracted, had turned his attention away from the battle. Oh, he had been dealing blows as well, but more and more of his mind had been taken up with blaming this Dwarf for everything that had gone wrong with his life of late. And that was something he should have saved for after the battle.

And he wasn't the one to pay the price for this mistake. He could rest assured in the knowledge that his back was still covered by his own people, battling on behind him. The same could not be said about the Dwarf, who had turned to face Einar and had therefore left his back completely unguarded. The Orc approached, raised the sword and cried out in that tone and tongue that gave Einar a desperate impulse to run for cover.

The Dwarf heard, of course he did. For all his many faults – and Einar had little trouble finding faults, and much trouble finding good – he was probably a battle-hardened warrior and he turned around to face the threat. He was too late, and Einar could only watch as the Orc's blade cut seemingly effortlessly through armour and flesh, grinning a grin that revealed terrifying and very sharp, if blood-stained and dirty, teeth.

It was that sight that spurred Einar into action. He had a sword in his hand, and at least some basic knowledge of how to use one. While the Orc's sword was still embedded in the Dwarf's body, and he was therefore in no danger of being subjected to the same treatment, he thrust his weapon forward. It went over the Dwarf's head and into the Orc's throat. Black blood came out of it, a reflection of the darkness of the soul, if Orcs even had souls to speak of, something Einar rather doubted.

But the real damage had been done. The Orc collapsed to the ground, but so did the Dwarf. Guilt washed over Einar, and that was something he had not expected to feel for one of that kind. If he hadn't picked a fight with this Dwarf, he might yet be standing. He wasn't standing now and, by the looks of it, would never stand again. He may hate his people for the dragon and for their love of gold, but he had never meant to cause anything of this magnitude to happen. He might as well given the Orcs a hand, he might as well have wielded the sword himself. He had been the one to distract the Dwarf.

The Dwarf, had he still been alive to say it, would probably have said that he'd had his revenge and that would have been the end of it. And yes, he'd had his revenge. But it was not the end of it. It didn't ease his guilty conscience, which he didn't even understand since the Dwarf had been labelled as a foe in his mind. Or maybe that was exactly why this was so difficult to handle. Because he hadn't cared for him, he may or may not have done everything in his power to prevent this from happening.

Either way, sometimes revenge just wasn't enough. And there was nothing he could do now, save fight. And as giant Eagles soared overhead, that was exactly what he did.

'The Eagles are coming!' Aennen couldn't say who first picked up the call, but he knew that suddenly many were calling it, and it was true. If he looked up – which he didn't dare to do too much for fear some Orc would cut his throat when he wasn't paying attention – he could see them. And they were huge, huge and very impressive. Aennen had seen Eagles in his three hundred years, but he had never seen ones that were so huge. He had heard of their existence, of course, but never once had he himself laid eyes on them. He did that day, as he stood watch over Caran's injured body, fighting off any Orc that attempted to deal his mentor the final blow.

He had lost track of time long ago, just as he had lost his bow a little later. Now he had taken up Caran's sword, dropped by the older Elf when he had fallen, wielding it as best he could against the ever-growing number of Orcs. But there were so many of them, and Aennen's arms were getting ever heavier. Elves may be strong, but we are not invincible. It was one of Caran's often repeated lines. And even the most skilled and strongest of our kind can be overwhelmed by numbers, or by exhaustion and lapses of judgement.

How ironic that a lapse of judgement had been Caran's own undoing. When the wall had come down, he had looked, and in that time an Orc had run him through. Caran was still drawing breath when Aennen last looked, but even though he was no experienced healer, he knew that it was only a matter of time before his heart would stop beating.

And this had terrified him more than anything else he had seen today. His mentor had been right in saying that this was nothing like fighting spiders, which he in his arrogance had not believed for even a second. And so it had come to this: him standing to defend Caran's body.

It was the best thing he could do. He had never been in a battle before, but he knew enough to know for certain that this battle had turned against them. There were too many Orcs, and too few of the Free Folk. And their numbers were decreasing. Whatever advantage – however small – the crumbling of the wall and the emergence of the small company of Dwarves of Erebor had given them was long gone. If there was any hope at all, it came in the form of the Eagles that were now swooping down, picking up Orcs and throwing them down from great height on others of that vile race, scattering them, breaking their lines, coming to the aid of the Free Folk.

Meanwhile all he could do was fight. And if he had to choose a spot to make a stand, then this was it. Caran may be beyond help, even if there had been healers nearby, but he would not let his corpse be defiled by these beasts. But his strength was running out, and it was running out fast. He was not sure how long he could still hold on. The Eagles were helping in turning the tide of the battle, but would it be sufficient? Aennen could not tell. How was he supposed to; he had never seen a real battle before.

He was panting now, fighting for breath now as well as he was trying to keep the Orcs at arm's length. It was not very elvish of him, he supposed, but it happened all the same. Where all these Orcs kept coming from he didn't know and he wasn't sure he wanted to know. Either way, it mattered not. The only thing he cared about right now was to keep them as far away from him as possible.

And then it was over, just like that. He heard a sound like a strong wind coming down from somewhere behind him. It went over him and then a shadow followed. The next moment the attacking Orcs were gone, caught in talons so big that Aennen would have fit in them thrice over, if not more. There was screeching and screaming, but it died away soon as the Eagle took the Orcs higher and higher.

Aennen didn't bother to look where they were taken; as long as it was far away, he was content. He merely knelt next to Caran, choosing not to look at the bleeding wound. Caran's face was deathly pale, but he was breathing and still hanging on to consciousness.

'How bad?' he asked. 'Tell me the truth.'

Aennen had been about to soften the blow by saying that it looked bad, but that there was still a chance of recovery. Wasn't that the kind of thing one said to a dying warrior? Was he not supposed to keep Caran's spirit up, to help him hang on to life? That might have been in vain anyway. Caran had seen so many battles, so many injuries and deaths that he could in all likelihood tell the truth of the situation for himself.

'Bad,' he said. 'Too bad.' The whole truth, you're dying, he couldn't speak. But truth it was. And as Aennen watched over his old friend he quite missed the fact that a gigantic black bear finally turned the tide of the battle.

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