MOON LETTERS : CREATIVE WRITING
Shadow and Flame - By Lyrian
"Thalin! Have you finished the survey of the new delving site yet?"
Thalin turned around and shouted back up the shaft. "Not yet! There's still a few more feet to go!"
"Well, hurry up! I've got the supervisor breathing down my neck! If we don't strike a new vein of mithril soon then there'll be Morgoth to pay!"
Thalin grumbled under his breath. Urin was so pushy lately. It wasn't the supervisor who was putting pressure on everyone; it was Thalin's overseer, desperate to get the glory of finding a new shaft for King Durin VI.
Mithril was becoming more and more scarce, regardless of the fact that the dwarves now coveted it for themselves alone. Kazad-dum's doors had been closed for as long as he could remember and while there had been many hardships and those who wanted to plunder the precious metals that lay within its halls, the Dwarves had always stood strong against these difficulties and triumphed.
But lately, word had filtered in about the orc attacks further up in the Misty Mountains becoming more frequent. This vaguely worried Thalin and in doing so caused him even more concern. He was a young dwarf, barely a hundred and twenty, and still content in the belief of his people's invulnerability especially against orcs. But the dwarven people who called Kazad-dum home were steadily growing fewer every decade and the increased attacks left an obscure, disconcerting feeling within him.
Perhaps it was just this place, giving him the crawls. He looked at the rock surrounding him uneasily. There was something about this place that made Thalin edgy. The walls seemed more encroaching, more forbidding than any other mine shaft he's been down before. He wondered if he was getting that disease that he heard the some People were infected with - a fear of being underground. But that was absurd. He never felt it anywhere else in the Dwarrowdelf and he had been down further than this shaft many times before.
Thalin shook off the feeling. Structurally there was nothing wrong with beginning a new shaft here. The rock was stronger than usual but that would simply mean more work and the dwarves were certainly not afraid of that. There was actually a good chance of finding mithril here and that would certainly please everyone.
He drummed his fingers against his book of notes and considered the wall ahead of him. It was his job to make sure of the safety of the new shafts being built. One word from him would cancel the mining of this place indefinitely. But even a student surveyor could take one look at this tunnel and realise it was structurally sound. All he really had to go on to prevent the digging was a funny feeling he had. That justification certainly wouldn't hold with someone like Urin, not when mithril could be at stake. And when had a dwarf ever stopped a new mine shaft going ahead because he had what was most likely a simple case of indigestion?
Thalin marked down an approval in his book and made his way back up to the city.
The new mine shaft was progressing nicely when Thalin arrived to check on it a few weeks later. He had heard the excited news of tiny rivulets of mithril being found in the tunnel walls and had endured Urin's crowing about how soon they would strike the lode.
It was going well -- even Thalin had to admit that in Urin's favour and he couldn't help a surge of excitement at the thought of a new vein to mine. King Durin was said to be pleased and the metalsmiths were already stoking their forges in preparation. The busy-ness around him pleased the young surveyor and he was happy that he hadn't said anything about his misgivings. But under the chink of pick axes and the trundle of carts, Thalin could vaguely hear another sound. It was more like a sonic undertone rather than an actual noise. Sort of an expectant thrumming. It didn't look like anyone else had heard it. Maybe it was just his imagination.
He looked around the shaft one last time. They were fine, he told himself. They didn't need a supervisor anymore. Everything was going so well. They had everything under control.
He kept repeating this to himself as he hurried back out of the shaft towards the city.
Dwarrowdelf was celebrating.
The new mine shaft had opened up onto the biggest lode of mithril that could be remembered and the King had ordered great feasting to mark this illustrious occasion. It was so big apparently that the miners worked day and night to gather the precious metal and the smiths were provided with an embarrassment of materials to choose from. Everyone in Kazad-dum was delighted and many had decided to take full advantage of the generosity of the King and proceeded to get as royally drunk as only dwarves could.
Thalin and his best friend Dwali were two of these revelers and were happily quaffing their beer while they discussed the future of the seam.
Dwali, who couldn't hold his beer as well as Thalin, was explaining in a very loud and slurred voice that the mithril from this mine would finally set their kingdom to rights.
"Thalin, we don' hafta worry about anyfing anymore!" he exclaimed. "Th' Elves'll wannit but we won' givit to'em. And them orcs'll wannit but we won' givit to'em cause we'll kill'em. And the Big People'll wannit but --"
There was a muffled boom in the distance and the floor began to judder. Dwali watched as his beer mug moved off the table and fell with a loud clank on the ground before he and Thalin followed suit. Far-off screams of fear could be heard and the sound of falling masonry punctuated the air as the noise ceased and an ominous silence settled over the city.
Thalin and Dwali stared at each other for a moment, stone cold sober.
A quake like that could only mean one thing -- a cave-in. They picked themselves up and headed towards the central meeting place.
The King and his son were already there and those who had gathered were quickly organised into rescue teams. Apparently something had gone wrong in the new mithril shaft. Thalin kept his gaze ahead but he knew that others were looking at him accusingly. As the original surveyor, he was responsible for the shaft even when the mining had proceeded further than the area that the surveyor had originally approved. There would be questions asked and he had to be prepared for them. But they would come later and right now, their main task was to discover if any dwarves were alive.
When they reached the entrance of the shaft, all present were shocked at the extent of the damage that had occurred. Thalin and Dwali stared, mouths gaping at the rubble that lay before them.
"It's so far up," his best friend whispered in a stunned voice.
"Dwarves," the King told them in a grim voice. "If the cave-in occurred this far up the shaft then chances are the miners working at the far end of the tunnel have been spared. We must reach them as soon as possible."
The dwarves nodded and set about their tasks, clearing the rock and propping the ceiling as they advanced. The work was slow and silent. Thalin could feel the tension around him. Most of the night (as much as night could occur underground) was spent digging and clearing away the crushed bodies that they found. There were many near the entrance which was unusual in a cave-in of this magnitude. Usually the miners didn't have time to run.
The rescue parties had gotten perhaps halfway down the mithril shaft when Thalin noticed something else that was odd.
He had been waiting for the others to clear the remains a dwarf found near the beams supporting the ceiling when he had seen it -- one strut cut completely through. Cleanly, as though hewn with a blade. He called to Dwali to see for himself and he in turn went to the King.
The regal dwarf crouched for a moment by the beam, scrutinising it as the other rescuers gathered around, mutely waiting his decision. He stood up, scowling at the wood in front of him before turning to the others.
"This beam was cut through," he told them all. "By a dwarf. When this section of the shaft collapsed, there was a chain reaction that took down the rest of it all the way up to the entrance. This was no natural cave-in."
He felt Dwali squeeze his arm and let his own face show some of the relief that he was feeling. The cave-in hadn't been his fault. But another question begged to be asked -- why had a dwarf brought down a support strut when it would obviously lead to his death?
"When you found the bodies," the King asked, turning towards the groups involved. "Which way were their heads pointing?"
"Towards the entrance of the shaft, Sire."
The King stared at the sliced beam. It was his son who spoke first.
"They were running away," he breathed. His father nodded.
"Yes, Nain. They were. And that dwarf cut through the support strut to stop whatever it was down there from entering the city."
A cold silence filled the shaft and all the dwarves present stared at the pile of rocks still to clear with apprehension.
"What do we do, Sire?" Dwali whispered.
"Whatever was down there has obviously been stopped. The rescue mission will cease as of now. All dwarves are hereby forbidden to enter this shaft. There shall be a guard placed at the entrance every night and mining will stop. We shall hold memorials for those who have died on the morrow." He glared at them all.
"You will not speak of what you have seen," he told them. "Not even to the families of the dead. We do not want to cause a panic. If any ask, say that the shaft was cleared but it is too unstable for further delving -- say that and only that. I will hear of any who disobey me and they will be cast out of Dwarrowdelf forever."
He held everyone's gaze for a few seconds before he turned and strode out of the shaft, his son following him. All the dwarves stared after their monarch and then finally at each other, trying to make sense of what was going on. It was Urin who spoke first.
"All right. You heard His Majesty. Let's start packing up." He began to follow the King. Dwali called him back.
"What about the other miners? What if they're still alive under there?"
Urin turned angrily on him. "Use your head! Do you really want to release whatever it was onto the city if it's not dead? No, I didn't think so. And what if there are still dwarves alive? How long do you think that they'll last with something down there? The King was right. Leave the shaft as it is, inscribe their names on the memorial pillar and speak no more of it."
"That's unusual for you, Urin," Thalin told him, disliking the way he was speaking to his friend. "I thought you'd be the first in to get to the mithril."
His overseer scowled at him. "I would Thalin son of Dorin, but something made more than twenty full grown, armed dwarves flee for their lives and bring down a mine shaft to stop it. Call me a coward if you wish, but I wouldn't want to face that. Would you?"
Thalin couldn't say anything to that. He watched his overseer walk away, with others trailing after him. Dwali was staring at the rubble and it was only through Thalin's urging that he allowed himself to be led away.
A fortnight later, Thalin and Dwali stood outside the mithril shaft, trying not to look at each other. The past two weeks had been strained between the best friends; Dwali was still against the King's decision of silence and Thalin didn't know what to think about it all. His indecision made Dwali irritated and himself uncomfortable.
He could see the king's reasoning on this situation, that if there was something down there then it was a very good thing that it was stopped. But a feeling of some parts guilt, some parts fear made Thalin uneasy. Perhaps if he had spoken up against the mining going ahead, about the sounds he had heard or just done something, then perhaps they wouldn't have to be here, guarding the thrice-damned tunnel in the middle of the night. And regardless of how much he tried to convince himself that no one would have paid him any attention, it did nothing to quell the emotions.
Guard duty had been dull. The bereaved families had wished to honour their dead more personally and curiosity seekers visited the site constantly so the King was forced to issue an edict forbidding anyone to go near and a guard had been placed outside.
It was Thalin and Dwali's turn and the pair of them were grateful of the fact that it was nearly over. It had been quiet which in Thalin's mind was worse than it being busy. When you had something to do, the time passed quickly; when you didn't, there was plenty of time for crawls to creep up on you.
"Do you hear that?" Dwali asked him suddenly. Thalin jerked himself out of his reverie. He was about to reply "Hear what?" when there it was. The sound of something rasping against stone. The two stared into the darkness down the tunnel then at each other.
"What should we do?" Dwali whispered. Thalin noticed the hands that held his father's ax were shaking.
"Should we go for help?"
"I don't know. It could just be rocks moving around."
"You think so?" Thalin asked.
"Not really, no." His friend admitted.
Thalin swallowed. "Maybe we should have a look."
"That's a good idea," Dwali agreed and together they stepped warily into the tunnel.
The sounds increased with the darkness and Thalin couldn't help thinking that perhaps it would have been better to go back for support but it was too late for that now. He could hear Dwali's breath coming in short bursts and was about to say something funny to lighten the situation when the sounds stopped.
The two dwarves looked at each other, the tension palpable. Thalin took one step back and the rubble exploded. The two dwarves screamed as a huge arm like living fire shot through the rock and seized Dwali. Thalin moved instinctively forward to help him but the heat was too great. Dwali shrieked in unspeakable pain, reaching out towards his friend but as he did, his body charred black. Thalin watched in horror as it turned to cinders before him and crumbled away.
And the dwarf did something that would live with him for the rest of his life.
He ran as fast as he could back up the shaft and into the open of Dwarrowdelf.
Thalin couldn't remember much of what happened after that. He remembered returning to the great halls where other dwarves took hold of him. He remembered trying to tell them what happened but only being able to babble incoherently. He remembered Urin's face and the King's and the King's son's. He felt as though he was watching from afar, completely detached from everything around him.
A party had been dispatched to see to Thalin's claim and only one was able to return. The horror on his face was like a mirror of Thalin's own and immediately the King evacuated the citizens around the area and issuing marshalling order. The surviving warrior had described a huge beast made of flames that was digging its way out of the stone. Trying to get more out of the dwarf was impossible so King Durin had been left to scramble forces as best he could.
In the distance Thalin could hear echoes of screams and the ground quivered slightly under his feet. He felt numb and dreaded when feeling would return to him, when he would have to face the death his best friend. His only relief was that Dwali hadn't any family left living who would mourn him. Only himself.
It was decided, in order to stop the monster's advance, the tunnels around the mithril shaft would be collapsed to impede and hopefully stop it. Thalin left with a heavy heart to help his fellow miners.
Thalin sat in a secluded corner and let the tears roll down his face in silence.
The King was dead. He had been slain while trying to defend one of the entrances to Dwarrowdelf.
It had been eight months since the demon had come and all their woes had started. Thalin's numb brain marveled at this -- eight months. Just over half a year and at the same time it felt as though every day was a year all by itself and hundreds had passed since that night in the tunnel.
In his heart he knew that he was one of the last generation of dwarves to know the glory of Dwarrowdelf. Even if they recovered from this carnage, they would never be able to bring back what once was. In order to stop the monster they had pulled down tunnel after tunnel, created barrier after barrier of stone to stand against it but still it came. The sculptures and buildings that his ancestors created long ago had been lost forever in the battle.
He raised his head to look at his new King. Nain was pale but composed. He had been with his father at the end. He had tried to go back for the body but it was too late. The demon had destroyed it as it had Dwali's. The survivors had escaped but lost the area to the enemy.
Thalin blinked back exhaustion. He had been in every fray possible since it had begun with barely a moment's respite. He found that if he didn't drive himself to collapse, he would dream and when he dreamed, he saw Dwali's face; the look in his eyes as the beast reached out its hand and took him. He heard his screams and the roar of the monster and he felt the cool wind in his face as he fled. He bit the corner of his cheek, trying to counteract the pain in his chest.
King Nain began to speak.
"My father spoke often of the glory of our city and his pride in the dwarven people. We have withstood so much since the time of the Seven Fathers and while we have lost much, we have never faltered in our resolutions. Those past trials are reflections of what we are facing now. My father died fighting to preserve our home and I have no intention of dishonouring him by retreating before our enemy. I will continue his battle until we have vanquished this foe and sent it fleeing before us. We will set about restoring our home to a glory beyond all reckoning and our deeds will be remembered forever in the annals of history as a glorious triumph against evil!"
The dwarves surrounding Thalin cheered their new king and the feeling of hope and determination rose like a tide before him. Only Thalin saw the uneasiness in his new king's eyes and the grim set of his jaw belied his stirring words.
Two months passed like decades and Thalin once again found himself before his king. The mood however could not have been more different. The gathering was anxious and desperate. They were a pale remnant of what was once a thriving city; weary, battered and despairing.
Thalin marveled at the change that had occurred in their king in the past months. Nain had fought as much as possible and when there was a lull in the assault, he was often seen poring over maps of the city with his generals, desperately trying to find some way of driving the monster out of Dwarrowdelf. But all his strategies had been in vain and battle after battle, the dwarves had been forced to retreat.
Finally, the king had called all his remaining people together to speak to them about the crisis.
"Dwarves of Dwarrowdelf," he began. "This past year we have faced a trial beyond reckoning. We have lost loved ones and watched the city of the Seven Fathers crumble into ruins around us. We have fallen back against the monster's advances again and again while our ranks have been decimated. Look around you. We are all that is left."
Thalin stared at the ground. Around him, the remaining dwarves shuffled their feet.
"This shall be our last stand. We can go no further. We owe our ancestors and ourselves to make one last effort against this beast of Morgoth. We shall go into battle tonight, for the last time. One way or another, this struggle shall end here.
"But if I should fall, I want you to take my son and every dwarf in Dwarrowdelf and flee. Flee for your lives. Take nothing that can be spared. Get out of the city as fast as you can and bar the gates behind you. Do not look back for that will be your doom."
Many dwarves wept and the weight of the coming battle settled on each and every shoulder. For those who went to battle with the monster and for those who survived to retreat from the home they had inhabited since Ages past, none would escape despair. Even if they did succeed in defeating this devil that they had unearthed - and no one held much hope of that - the damage had been done. Kazad-dum had been scarred, in some places beyond recognition and the dwarves would never be able to recover what they had lost.
Thalin stood silent at the back of the crowd. This was the final moment. In this last push would be the dwarves final battle, one way or another. He moved mechanically forward to join the rest of the warriors at the king's side and they marched away together, leaving behind the cries of those who could not fight.
When they reached the Great Hall, the king called a halt and they began to prepare. This was the place where the monster would most likely break through, the area being big enough to give it access to the city beyond. It was here that they would build the barricades and make their ultimate opposition against the beast. In silence they prepared and when all was completed, in silence they waited.
The Great Hall magnified all sounds, from the shuffling of feet to the clatter of unstable rocks on the barriers. It was because of these echoes that at first, they did not hear the beast's approach until the great doors shuddered and debris began to fall from the ceiling. Thalin felt all those around him tense and he gripped his axe even tighter. Now he would remove the stain of guilt over Dwali's death forever. One way or another, it would end here. Thalin felt grim determination course through him and as the monster broke down the doors and burst into the Great Hall, he screamed his defiance and launched himself at the creature.
His fellow dwarves attacked as it struggled through the fortifications, its bulk too large to fit through completely. The dwarves took advantage of this and fell upon the monster's arms and shoulders. It snarled in fury and clawed them from itself, crushing their flaming bodies into ashes. Thalin focussed solely on bringing the creature down and as his axe sliced its arm, it let out a roar. The echoes magnified the sound a hundred times and filled the cavern, momentarily deafening all dwarves.
Thalin shook his head to stop the ringing in his ears and heard another sound. The sound of many running footsteps and high-pitched shrieks.
"Orcs!" roared Thalin, wrenching his axe out of the creature's arm and spinning around. The echoes came from all sides but Thalin had been listening for the source of echoes all his life and these were coming from a side tunnel that they had deemed too small for the monster to pass through.
Other dwarves that had heard his cry turned and joined his sprint into the tunnel. Around the corner ahead of them came what seemed to be a wall of orcs and goblins, fully armed and slavering for blood. Thalin let out a war cry and swung his axe into the first he encountered and he chopped his way into the vanguard as if felling trees. But while Thalin and his comrades fought like the demon that was destroying their home, the sheer number of orcs overwhelmed them.
As the orc spear ran through him and Thalin sagged, mortally wounded to the floor of the tunnel, he heard the despairing sound of the horn, signaling their king's death and the defenders retreat. Those dwarves still standing turned and fled; some reluctantly, some eagerly. Thalin closed his eyes against his despair as he felt his blood seep from his body.
He only prayed his people would be able to escape. The last ancient realm of the Dwarf Kings had fallen to impenetrable darkness. Thalin's tears mingled with the blood that was leaking onto the grit of the tunnel. He heard the clatter of orc feet as they charged past him, intent on slaughtering the fleeing warriors and felt taloned hands stripping his weapons and mail from his body. Thalin had not the strength to stop his enemies from pillaging his inert form and their shrill laughter filled him with a rage that burned fitfully inside him until finally, surrounded by destruction and darkness he fell into the purifying embrace of death.
The Balrog surveyed its new kingdom with satisfaction. Its slumber had been long and tedious, trapped in the bowels of the mountains after the War of Wrath. When it had been awakened by the subtle noises of mining, it eagerly awaited the sundering of its stone cage and afterwards, enjoyed the destruction it had caused, if only briefly.
It had not been difficult after that to gouge through the rock regardless of the valiant attempts by the miners to prevent it. It had been surprised however at the defenses that these insignificant creatures had erected and the perseverance of the tiny warriors. They had stood a year against it, which in itself was a shock. It had been hampered by the narrow corridors and caves in its routing of the inferior beings so the summoning of the orcs to its command had proved a helpful addition to its campaign
As the dwarves finally scattered following their king's perishing, its foot soldiers were providing welcome entertainment after a slightly fatiguing battle. It smiled to itself and settled down to enjoy its newly conquered realm.
And the darkness spread a little further into the world, and the doors of Moria were frantically barred as the dwarves fled from the hordes pursuing them and in his tower at Dol Guldur, Sauron smiled as well.