Reveal Their Fate As I Saw It
Reveal Their Fate As I Saw It
It was over. Einar forced himself to keep on thinking it, so that he might start to believe it for himself. For now it felt too surreal, almost as if it could not possibly be true. But here he was, staring out over the battlefield, still in one piece, still breathing, when so many others were not.
He had suffered some minor wounds, but the bleeding had long since stopped. He would be fine. He would have the chance to go back to his brother and he could pick up the pieces and try to build a new life. There would always live people near the Long Lake as long as there was trade to be had, and Einar was an able fisher.
He found himself looking out over the field of battle. All of a sudden the concerns about gold didn't seem all that important anymore, not compared to the enormous loss of life he had witnessed here. Nothing compared. So many had died, but the face that Einar kept seeing was that of the Dwarf whose name he had never even known. The guilt hadn't gone. It was still there.
And yet they had been almost enemies. Neither of them had wanted the alliance. There wasn't much to be told from the conversation they'd had – if it could indeed be called that – but that much even Einar could tell. If truth be told, they had not behaved as allies. They had been like cats snarling at one another, both well and truly distracted from the fight. And the Dwarf had paid for that mistake with his life.
But so many had died. Death was present all around him, and it left him wondering how he was even still alive when so many skilled warriors were now lying dead on the ground. True, he could boast of some skill, albeit not much, but most of it, he feared, was down to luck, ridiculous amounts of luck, more luck than most of the dead could claim. It seemed so unfair that he was still alive while they were not.
The ground was littered with corpses. The Orcs were on the run, running as fast as their legs could carry them, but Einar did not join their pursuers. There were those who were more skilled, more suited to that task. He did not count himself among their number, but neither was he a healer that he could lend a hand to aid the wounded. He could only offer his physical strength in retrieving bodies and carrying the wounded to the healers, of which there were only too few. No doubt a great number of wounded would not live through the night, all for want of medical help.
Einar would do what he could. It was all he could do, all that everyone did, those who were still capable of walking upright. They were a sad sight, all of them. Einar was assigned to carry wounded back to a couple of tents that were being raised at the moment, anyone who still had a chance of being saved. It was an Elf who instructed him, kindly as he could, to only bring those that could be saved. Let the dying be. Einar heard the words that weren't spoken, but there wasn't any need for gentleness or tact. There was only sense in it.
He worked together with one of his former neighbours, a taciturn man in his mid-thirties. The young fisher didn't know how his family had fared in the dragon attack, and he daren't ask either. To his relief his companion didn't ask about his. Inga was still a sore topic of conversation and Einar wasn't all that sure he could talk about her without succumbing to tears. And he would not start crying, for if he did, he probably wouldn't be able to stop.
They worked in companionable silence, carrying Men, Elves and Dwarves alike back to the healers' tents. Soon enough the issue of the gold would be raised anew, now that the greater threat had been removed, but not yet, not today. Einar still stood by his point, that the Dwarves needed to pay, to recompense the Men of the Long Lake for what they had done. You've had your revenge, the Dwarf had said, but Einar now knew from experience that revenge didn't right the wrongs. After all, he had avenged the Dwarf's death – and he still didn't understand his own reaction to his demise – but it had done nothing to ease the guilt he felt. Something more would be needed for that.
He was only just thinking that when he caught sight of a familiar face. The Dwarf, now cradled in the arms of an older Dwarf – he had streaks of grey in his hair at least – was only several yards away from him. To Einar all Dwarves looked alike, but he could have sworn these two looked even more alike than others. Family, he reckoned, maybe even father and son. The older Dwarf was crying.
Einar couldn't say what made him do it. He had not even consciously decided to do it, but his feet carried him towards the Dwarves – dead and alive – all the same. But it weren't his feet that bothered him, as much as his mouth, that seemed to have taken on a life of its own. 'I am sorry,' he said.
The Dwarf looked up, something akin to understanding in his eyes. 'Were you with him, lad?'
Einar didn't know how he knew. He didn't think it was possible for the Dwarf to know what had happened. For all he knew he was just a sympathetic young man paying his respects. But then, normal young Men would not speak to Dwarves of their own volition.
'I was,' he confirmed. He died because I distracted him and he didn't have the time to defend himself. 'He died bravely.' There was truth in that as well. The Dwarf had never demonstrated anything that even looked like fear. 'But I am afraid I didn't even know his name.'
'Dari,' the Dwarf said. 'He was called Dari.' Until very recently Einar had not believed Dwarves capable of emotions other than anger and jealousy, but he saw the error of his ways now. Tears were mingling with the blood on the Dwarf's face. He cried tears of blood.
It was over. The realisation dawned only very slowly on Aennen, and part of him even felt afraid that it was nothing but a mere dream, and he could come to his senses in the middle of the battle. But this was reality and it was over.
Tales had always told the young Elf of battles won, and the glorious victories achieved, but there was nothing at all glorious about the sight that met his eyes. The ground was littered with corpses, Men, Dwarves and Elves alike. Originally the Elves had kept to themselves – Aennen had not even truly left the spot he had been in when the battle first began – but when it had all become this chaotic, everyone has swarmed out over the field, ending up in places they had not expected to be in.
But not him. He had remained where he was, standing watch over Caran's body. He clenched his fists and bit back the tears that threatened to spill over at the thought of his mentor. Caran had been so old, so experienced, whereas he was only a youngling by the reckoning of their kind, a reckless young fool with more ego than sense. Of course he had laughed at the notion beforehand, but that was before he had lived through this battle. And somehow it seemed terribly unfair that Caran, with all those years of experience under his belt, should have died and he should have lived. Mind you, he had not wanted to die – still didn't have any inclination to – but it wasn't fair. It decidedly wasn't fair.
He carried Caran's lifeless body away from the field. He really didn't know what else to do. It was as Caran had said; he had never before seen real battle. How was he to know what should be done?
In the end one of his kinsmen told him to search the field and look for survivors that still stood a chance at recovery. Everyone he could find, whether they be Elves, Men or even Dwarves. The notion of that made Aennen scowl at the healer. If not for the greed of Dwarves, they would never have been here. They could have been safe inside their woods and they would not be dragged into this dreadful business. Of course it wasn't as if the Dwarves had invited the Orcs to come and fight, but still.
And despite his orders, he steered well clear from the Dwarves. There were many others searching the field of battle, many who could take the Dwarves to the healers. He didn't have to do it. He had his own people to consider, and those were the ones he would help. If it had not been for dwarvish greed, Caran would be alive still.
Tears were burning behind his eyes, but if he dared to cry them, the end would be lost, and that was something he could not do, not yet. Not today. He would save his grief and mourning for a time and a place when he was alone, not surrounded by people he rather would count as enemies than he would count them as friends.
He didn't know how long he had been going on for. It must have been hours. Darkness had fallen a long time ago, but no one mentioned giving up the search for the night. Torches had been brought out and distributed to everyone who could still manage to set one foot in front of the other. To Aennen it seemed like most of the Men were still helping, the very ones he had assumed would give up come nightfall. Caran always had demonstrated some reluctant respect for that race, even if Aennen found himself incapable of sharing it. Now he did though. Their race was weak and short-lived, but here they were, doing all that they could.
The moon rose overhead, bathing the field in a strange mixture of moonlight and the light of the torches. Seeing it like this, it felt surreal, and for some reason far less horrid than it looked by daylight. The dark took the sharp edges off the scene, leaving only forms and shapes. Elves had sharp eyes, that could see very well in this light, so maybe it was only because he chose not to see the things he didn't want to see.
He didn't see a face when he noticed someone sitting on his knees in the middle of the field, clutching another form to his chest. It was difficult to see what race he belonged to, not when this person's back was half turned towards him. Of course there was the risk that he was a Dwarf, but he had never heard of Dwarves mourning their dead so passionately. Were they even capable of emotions other than anger and resentment? Aennen rather doubted it.
And it seemed that he had made the right call. The one he approached sported a beard, but only a very short one, the way some Men had them. He was small, admittedly, but that must be because he was sitting on the ground. No one was tall then.
It was only when he had come to close to turn away, when the person on the ground actually looked up at him, that he saw that he had made a mistake. The beard may be short, but this was a Dwarf looking up at him, holding the lifeless body of another Dwarf. Aennen's first impulse was to turn tail and run, but he was no coward. He didn't run, especially not from Dwarves.
And he didn't even think that he could run, even if he wanted to. There was something in the eyes of this Dwarf that grounded him in place, a sadness so deep that Aennen felt his hurt in the aching of his own chest. Had he been wrong about Dwarves and their emotions? Were they capable of it after all? It turned Aennen's entire world upside down. Had he been wrong? No, he had been right about dwarvish greed. There was no escaping that notion; the facts spoke for themselves. It was just that maybe not all dwarves were as greedy as he had assumed. That in itself was quite enough to process.
It was over, Lóni told himself. The sad thing was that it didn't just apply to the battle. There was a pain in his chest that made it hard to breathe, hard to think. Not that Lóni was of a mind to think overly much, but he couldn't seem to help himself. His mind kept going round and round in circles, in comparing the now and the then, finding far too much similarities between the two. He recalled only too well the body he'd cradled in his arms then. Only this time it felt like the heartbreak was worse. This time he was holding his own son, and not just his younger brother. Dari wasn't any older than Róni had been either, and Lóni cursed himself for the worst father in Middle Earth for ever losing sight of his lad.
At the same time he knew there was nothing to be done. It was the nature of battle. It didn't make the loss any easier to bear. Some people might worry about what to say to their wives, but he could not even think beyond his own grief yet, never mind that he could face the grief of others. His boy, his little lad, was gone, and somehow that was all that mattered.
He'd cut his beard the moment he found the body, on the very spot. It had been a long one, and it had taken decades to make it what it was. It was gone in less than a minute, half cut, half torn out in grief when he found he could no longer coordinate his movements as he ought to.
He died bravely, the Mannish lad had said. It should have been a comfort to know that his only child had died with honour, and so it would be to many parents. Once Lóni might have counted it as one of the greatest compliments to be paid to the fallen and their families. The words sounded hollow and empty now. Could they bring his boy back to life? Did they offer any real consolation? Lóni rather doubted it. Maybe he would be consoled by that knowledge later, be grateful for the fact that Dari had died a hero and not a coward. He just couldn't feel it yet.
Time passed, but Lóni hardly noticed its passing. He might have turned into stone, into one of the statues still gracing the mountain sides, albeit they were not still in one piece. Lóni was, although he didn't feel like it.
He must have been there for hours, he reckoned, for it was dark when he heard the footsteps. They were too softly to belong to either Dwarves or Men. This was the way Elves moved, and he couldn't think of one reason why any of them would venture near him of their own volition. Lóni would never go as far as to blame the Elves for that battle and its consequences – that fault was the Orcs' and theirs alone – but he didn't want to see them either. He didn't want to see anyone.
Nevertheless he looked up, right into the face of an Elf. A warrior, he reckoned, going by his blood-stained armour. It was black blood, though, so clearly not his own. Age was difficult to guess, even less so with only the light of the torch the Elf held in his hands to go by. Elves were so hard to read; Lóni could hardly ever make anything of them, never mind that he could guess at their ages. Their faces were as ageless as they were beardless. They were said to be beautiful as well, although if there was beauty to be found in Elves, Lóni had yet to see it.
This Elf was a little less difficult to read than others of his kind though. There was something that had made that mask of indifference and arrogance slip, just enough to reveal something akin to shock. That was what it looked like to him.
'Was he your son?' the Elf asked. It sounded hesitant, as if the speaker wasn't entirely sure he wanted to ask the question, as if he wanted to run away. Young, Lóni judged.
Having said that, he was equally uncertain that he wanted to answer the question. He did it all the same. 'Aye, he was.'
And he was proud to have been Dari's father. He could never feel ashamed of that, not when his lad was everything a father could possibly wish for in a son. 'He died with honour.' The words did nothing to ease his pain, that was so intense that it was almost physical. Only when he spoke the words for himself was he able to gain some comfort from them. Nothing could replace Dari, not if he lived to be a thousand years, but they added to the pride and love he felt for his son. Dari had been brave in the face of danger, and how could Lóni ever fault him for that when courage was ranked so highly among his people?
'I am sorry,' the Elf said.
The reaction was instant. 'I need none of your pity.' He had not yet sunken so low that he was to be pitied by Elves.
Most Elves would have turned his back on him, complaining of the stubbornness and pride of Dwarves, but not this one. He must be younger than Lóni had thought. Either that or he was more shocked than he let on at first. 'I do not offer you pity, Master Dwarf.' The words were haughty, but the eyes were sending a different message. I understand, I sympathise. He really was young then. One older would never have shown such vulnerability to one they considered an enemy not all that long ago, whereas this one had clearly had his world turned upside down.
'Who was it then?' Lóni demanded. He tried not to sound unkind, but grief had turned his voice rough, and he sounded angrier than he had intended.
One eyebrow arched almost elegantly. 'I do not understand your meaning, I fear.'
'Who did you lose?' Lóni asked, in different words.
Understanding dawned, or that was what he thought. This Elf may be easier to read than others, but that didn't mean it was suddenly easy. 'My mentor. His name was Caran.'
Lóni only nodded. To offer his sympathies now that he had so forcefully dismissed the Elf's would be nothing short of hypocrisy and Dwarves didn't hold with that.
The Elf hesitated for a moment, but then spoke again. 'I didn't mean insult to either you or your son, Master Dwarf, when I spoke before.'
'I know, lad. I know that you did not.' This was one of the strangest conversations he'd ever had, but for some reason this Elf reminded him of Dari. He usually acted before he thought, and was uncertain about his actions once he'd had the time to have a think. 'I did not take offence.'
'How did you know?' the Elf demanded, somewhat haughty now. 'How did you know that I'd lost someone?' It sounded like it was something he did not want himself to ask, but he couldn't stop himself from doing exactly that either.
'It's not the first battle I've seen,' Lóni replied curtly. Hopefully the lad knew his history and would leave it at that.
He should have known Elves were never that obliging, meddlesome creatures that they were. 'Then you have lost people before, sir?' The respectful sir was a surprise to Lóni. The Elf looked at him as if he was his elder, which he probably was not.
'Aye, I have.' Lóni couldn't even say why he replied. Strictly speaking they were probably enemies again, now that the battle was over and done with. 'My father and brother died burned Dwarves.' When he realised that this did not hold the same meaning to the Elf as it did to Dwarves, he added: 'They fell before the gates of Khazad-dûm, which you know as Moria.'
The name Moria finally made the Elf understand. 'The Battle of Nanduhirion,' he said. 'I have heard of it.' He hesitated. 'I do not condone the actions of your people, but I am sorry for your losses.' He looked at Dari, and Lóni almost instinctively wanted to cover his son's body from the inquisitive gaze the Elf directed at him. Dari was not something to be stared at, especially not by Elves; he had been worth more than that. Something stopped him from doing that, though. There didn't seem to be any malice in this Elf's eyes, just loss and bewilderment. 'How do you cope, sir?'
The question was so unexpected that Lóni answered true. 'We remember,' he replied. 'And we go on.' What else was there to be done? After all, battles did not have happy endings.
"And for those who will never come home,
We'll write their names on stones.
A million reluctant heroes."
Tears of Blood, Karliene
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