A/N: Will wonders never cease.
The Shadow of Angmar
Chapter 28: And Light from Darkness Did Spring
The tunnels beneath Mount Gundabad ran for miles beyond miles. Near the surface the craft of the Dwarves of yore was still clear to see, though much marred by refuse and filth. Everywhere, clumsy attempts had been made to adapt the clean, functional styling common to Dwarf holds to the more harsh preferences of its more recent denizens. As the tunnels delved deeper beneath the mountain, a change came upon them.
The orderly tunnels, and trim, angular shapes gave way to rough-hewn burrows that cut through the stone almost at random, with no planning or forethought evident in their construction. Many of the deeper pits were wet or flooded; others had collapsed. Some had caved in when deeper delvings cut beneath them or else too close to them and the rock surrounding them failed beneath the weight of the mountain above. Others had been left impassable as natural faults in the stone had slipped or subsided, perhaps burying countless numbers of the Orcs who had lived there.
As Harry traversed the deeper tunnels, with Daewen and a small group of Dwarves at his side, he was reminded of the insect called Khôrlekhî which lived in the great dry plains that dominated southern Harad. They built huge towers, taller than a man despite their tiny size. Sometimes they built too high, and the towers would collapse, and the maze of little chaotic shafts and radical tunnels would be exposed to the world. Every tunnel seemed to bend and twist almost at random. Widening in places, constricting in others, there was no rhyme or reason to it, and yet there was undeniably some kind of structure to the whole that was invisible while walking those dark trails.
What it was that the Orcs searched for in the dark, no-one really knew. They would sometimes smelt the iron they found in their excavations, but much of the time it was discarded, tossed atop the mountainous spoil heaps that often grew up around the places where they had come to dwell.
"How deep do these tunnels run?" Daewen asked, though Harry was not sure what form of answer she expected, for no Dwarf had walked the deeps of Gundabad since the sack of Eregion.
"No-one knows," said the Dwarf who led their group. He was Balin, son of Fundin. He was very young in the reckoning of Dwarves, scarcely thirty years old, but he had refused to stay away from the war when Fundin had tried to dissuade him. "They dig and dig, but I think even the Orcs would not have known just how far they had gone."
"Much further and we will surely reach the forges of Mahal himself," said another of the Dwarves, whom Harry thought might be called Frár. He was a close friend of Balin, and could often be found at his side. "And wouldn't that be a sight!"
The last member of their group, Náli spoke then, "We should go no further." As he spoke, he peered into the darkness beyond the reach of their flickering lamps. Dwarves may have had an ability to see in darkness that would have left Harry blind, but the darkness beneath Gundabad was so complete that even they were unsighted. Even the fabled ability of their race to never lose their way was surely challenged in those lightless places. "The lamps are fading, and the air becomes thick. I fear the Athrabu-a'tum lies heavy in these tunnels."
The other Dwarves in their company needed no more reason than that to turn back. All among them knew the danger that could be found in the pockets of bad air so far beneath the surface. The Orcs had given little consideration to proper ventilation in their delvings.
"Wait," said Harry. He tried to peer through the gloom. He could feel something up ahead, or perhaps it was the cooling air, when it had only warmed on their descent to that point.
It was a strange sensation, at once familiar and alien. He was not sure from where the familiarity came, but in his mind he heard the sound of rushing air, or fire, or water, and secret whispers in an unfathomable language. Those whispers were there too, in that place hidden in darkness before him, and yet their cadence was different, their sensation.
He knew not what it was he was sensing, nor what it was that it brought to mind when he lingered upon the thought, but just as he could feel the sucking vastness of the chamber beyond, completely without sight, he could sense the size and shape of something momentous just beyond the limits of thought.
He knew the danger of the blackdamp, as it was sometimes called in the language of Men, and so he went no further. Yet, that feeling drew him on, and he could not turn back. He had to see. Drawing forth his wand, he pointed it into the darkness before him. "Expecto Patronum!"
The familiar shape of a stag burst forth, illuminating bleak, bare rock with light of purest white. It took a moment before his eyes could adjust to the sudden light, but he was soon able to see again. The tunnel looked little different than it had looked before, yet the deep shadows that had stalked them for so long had been banished beyond the limits of sight, and the rough-hewn walls seemed less filthy.
Taller than a man, the tips of the stag's impressive antlers extended so high that they disappeared into the ceiling. At his direction, it trotted forward, driving the darkness further back as it did. Soon, not far beyond the limit of their lamplight, it revealed a great void. So distant was it that the light of the stag could not reach the far wall, and instead it was filled only with stars that sparkled in the darkness.
"It is a cavern!" said Daewen, her voice breathless as she gazed into the black void, seeing more than even the Dwarves. "Filled with all manner of crystals of every size. It is larger, surely, than even the grand hall above."
A murmur of surprise passed between the Dwarves, and Frár made to step forward, to explore the newly discovered cave that had taken the breath from even an Elf. He was stopped when Balin placed a hand upon his shoulder and said, "Grand though I do not doubt it is, we go no further. Can you not feel the bad air lingering upon your breath, the weight it sets upon your eyes? The fetters upon your thoughts? It is not safe."
The reluctance in his voice and manner was clear for all to hear. Surely even Daewen, who had seen little of the Dwarves before the beginning of the war would be able to recognise the wistful looks her companions had upon their faces.
Beautiful though the chamber surely was, Harry knew it was not mere beauty that was calling to him from out of the darkness. He needed to see it for himself, he needed to feel it up close.
"Perhaps there is something I can try," said Harry, though even as he said it, he was not sure what it was he intended. He knew of no spells that could purify the air, but perhaps that did not mean it was impossible.
He placed his wand back into the slot near the top of his staff, and held it in both hands before him. His eyes drifted closed, and he listened to the world about him.
So deep beneath the earth, so far from the warming light of the sun, it was quiet, and cold. The muted whispers, the subtle refrains to which he had grown accustomed in the surface world were gone, reduced to little more than distant echoes. The stone around him was silent, and dead. The air too did not dance to the tune of the wind, it lay still and thick within the tunnels, all memory of life gone from it.
Harry wondered if that was what the world had felt like in its earliest days, before the Elves, and Men, and Dwarves had been born into it. Or had it been loud with the joy of youth, as tree and bush, and bird and beetle had grown busily upon its back? Had that joy ever penetrated so deep?
Almost on a whim, Harry drew forth some of the potion ingredients he'd taken to carrying with him everywhere he went. It was not much: flowers and grasses, leaves and cuttings. Together they could create some of his more basic draughts; curatives and salves for the most part. He opened a small satchel, and within it were some of the many seeds he'd found in his travels. Acorns, and other nuts, smaller seeds, dried fruits and pods there were, and Harry's hand hovered over them. For a moment, his hand hovered over a Mallorn nut, yet he knew that it would not love the darkness, and it would not fulfill his purpose.
Perhaps instead he should use the seeds of yew, for they at least did not shy from darkness, and yet even as he considered it, he discounted them for they bore death with them, and would surely not fill the cave with the life needed to awaken the stone from its millennia long slumber.
Then he found it. Larger than many of his other ingredients, nearly the size of a fingernail, and had a white-gold sheen that almost glowed in the distant light of his Patronus.
It had been a gift, such as it was, from the Steward of Gondor to Harry, given in thanks for returning the body of Eärnur, the last King of the line of Anárion so that it might lie in the crypts of his forefathers. It was a single seed from the White Tree that grew in the Court of the Fountain in Minas Tirith, and its worth was more than gold.
When the gift had been given, it had been a gesture only, for seldom indeed did the seeds of that line grow into saplings. In all of the years since Nimloth the Fair, sapling of Celeborn, had been brought to Numenor only thrice had the line flowered, and many believed it never would again, unless perhaps the line of Elendil bloomed anew also.
Harry cared not for the line of kings, but instead his thoughts were upon Celeborn. Not Celeborn of the Golden Wood, but Celeborn of Tol Eressëa, child of Galathilion, Tree of Tirion, which was created in the image of the White Tree of Valinor. It was said that the elder trees of that line bloomed only in darkness, once the sun had passed beyond the western horizon, and in so doing filled the night with life and beauty.
Life and beauty, and the joy of all things that live and grow, within a single seed. Perhaps there was yet a way to awaken the stone to the life that lived so far above.
It pained him to use it, but the longer he considered it, the more he knew that it was surely the only thing that could manage what he sought. Of all his choices, only it could bring joy and light and laughter to the forgotten depths. No ordinary tree or flower or shrub would grow there, but the line of Nimloth was not ordinary. The power, though much of it had long been forgotten, or quenched by the world and the turning of years, yet remained. The memories of Valinor, and the power that resided there, were faded, but they were not altogether forgotten.
For a moment he wondered if perhaps he should allow the darkness its solitude, yet those whispers called to him.
Like a musician who was both blind and deaf, he extended his hand, seed perched atop, into the open air, and felt for the feeble strains of magic that still inhabited even the deep places of the world, though forgotten by all.
The weakest of breezes brushed at his hand, and he felt the seed raise then settle back upon it, teased by the smallest of zephyrs. Instead of grasping at the breeze, Harry instead let himself be carried by it, feeling its twists and turns as it explored the otherwise dead air of the tunnel. Perhaps it was only his own breath, or the breath of his companions, but with his attention and careful tending, it grew into a gust.
It dove towards his hand, and plucked the seed up to tumble through the air, dancing to an unheard melody. In a rush and flurry, it bore the seed into the great cavern until it was set gently upon soft earth collected in a hollow upon the ground. The wind did not die, and instead flitted about the cave, exploring every nook and cleft, every pillar and every stone.
Harry opened his eyes once more, ignoring the wide eyes of his companions. His gaze set upon his great stag patronus, still standing patiently near the entrance to the cave until, hearing his wordless command, it trotted soundlessly into the cavern. When it reached the place where the seed had been deposited, it glanced up, brightly luminous eyes following the path of the breeze Harry had commanded as it gambolled through the darkness.
Then, slowly, it lowered its head, and nuzzled the seed. A flash of light, bright as the sun and pure as the stars, filled the cavern, illuminating the space. As Daewen had said, every wall was covered with crystals, in all pale white and blue. They captured the light, and returned it, and though the flash lasted but an instant, it took near a minute to fade. When it did, darkness rolled back in like a midnight wave to refill the void.
But the darkness felt different now, no longer cold and unfeeling, instead it warmed the breath and welcomed the weary. Something of the Patronus remained within the chamber, and hung upon the air. In the darkness, Harry could feel something awake, and the whispers stirred.
There was a creaking within the darkness, and a rustling like the leaves of Lorien in a westerly breeze. Then, faint glimmers awoke in the void. Pinpricks of pure light, like the first nervous stars to appear after a long day of concealment. First there was one, then two, then a dozen then more than any man could hope to count, filling the cavern ahead of them with a ribbon that glittered more brightly than the wheel of heaven on the clearest mid-winter night.
Then the stars bloomed, spreading lustrous petals wide, and their source was revealed. A tree had grown up in the darkness, with leaves of green and silver and flowers of pale moonlight. It stretched from the floor all the way to the ceiling of the cavern, tall and thin, yet still lush and thickly of canopy.
Harry's hand fell to his side as he released his concentration, and his senses diminished, and looked upon his creation with no small amount of awe. Even as he watched, the light faded from the blooms, but the crystals of the cave captured it, and did not let it escape. Soon, though the light from the tree had faded to little more than a memory of what it once had been, the cavern was still lit, like the land beneath a slim crescent moon.
Under that light, Harry felt the stone and earth, the air and water of the cavern slowly awaken, as if from a long slumber. A great wind rushed about them, like a great inhalation, and Harry could immediately feel the change as his own breathing soon became easier, and the air shed its heaviness.
The Dwarves all drew in deep breaths, savouring the fresh taste that had filled the air, alike to that found upon pristine, snow-tipped mountains on the first dawning morning of spring. In their hands the once weak lamps held flames that burned like new-lit brands, vibrant and bright in the cleared air. Balin looked to Harry, and awe was upon his face. "Never have I heard tale of such magic," he said, breathless. "Surely not since the Elder days have such powers walked the lands."
Not knowing how to respond, Harry instead stepped forward, and into the revealed cavern. He stopped just inside, but was soon passed by Daewen, who was gazing upon the tree in the centre of the cave, and yet it seemed for the first time that her eyes were unseeing, or else they were seeing something entirely further away than Harry could fathom.
"Telperion." Her voice was a mere whisper, reverent and as distant as her gaze. Suddenly, she seemed to come back to herself, and her head whipped around to look upon Harry with an intensity he had never before seen from her. "From the craft of one who would have us believe him to be of the lines of Men alone. How did you do this? How did you create this wonder? That which even Yavanna herself could not recreate, you have birthed anew into the world."
"This is not Telperion reborn," said Harry. He had never seen Telperion, but he'd spoken of it once with Glorfindel of Rivendell, and the mere memory of it had caused the Elf Lord to break into a song of such melancholy beauty that Harry had been moved to tears. "It is but an image or memory of it. The seed was of the line of Galathilion, which once bloomed in that light, and loved it more than even the Golden, and it is that distant memory which we can see now. This light will fade eventually, I am sure, though perhaps with care the tree could be kept from withering in this place so far from the sustaining sun."
"When word of this reaches Imladris, there will surely be a great Pilgrimage to this place," said Daewen, and there were tears in her eyes as she turned once more to gaze upon the tree again. "Lothlórien too, and all of the Havens of Mithlond. There are few of us who saw the Trees in their bloom when the world was yet young, yet as I stand here and gaze upon this, I feel as if some memory of them has come to me and blessed me with that which I long wished I could have known. This place will draw all of our kin who hear of it, of that I have no doubt."
"Dwarves too," said Balin as he stepped into the great cavern, and marvelled at the glittering walls of gem and stone. His eyes were upon a huge flat-topped stone that was upon the floor at the rear of the cavern. It was shaped almost like an anvil, yet made from stone. "It is said that Mahal created the Dwarves first in his halls beneath the earth, and that Durin the Deathless awoke there in the days when the world was still dark. Beneath Gundabad, they said, and yet none knew where. Here, I think, is where they shall say it happened. This, they shall say, is Imhdum. The tree shall never whither, I am sure, for as long as there are Dwarves who would tend it. This will be a place untouched, unless to maintain the grace that is already here, for what hand could carve these walls with more artistry, or grow the tree with more glory than is already here?"
Harry did not miss the surprise that was upon Daewen's face when she heard that, but was pleased to see that she held her tongue. Instead, her gaze flicked momentarily to Harry, and he knew she was remembering his own words regarding the Dwarvish appreciation of beauty.
They took their time, then, to search the great cavern as thoroughly as they could manage when all but Harry were lost in the marvels that it contained. It was clear that though the Orcs of Gundabad had been the ones to reveal it in their aimless diggings, they had never stepped foot into it for long. Perhaps it was the bad air that would have caused the Orcs every bit as much pause as it caused Dwarves, or perhaps it was some lingering power that dwelt there, a recollection of what had once been, in that place.
Unlike the rest of Gundabad, it had been left unsullied. Perhaps it was some bestial apprehension of the power that had once been there, if it truly was the place where Aulë had once made his abode, when the world was yet young and unformed. Perhaps that was why the Orcs had been unwilling to stay long within the grand chamber.
Harry tried to reach out once more to those whispers he'd felt before the tree had bloomed into growth, and yet they were silent. Whether they were drowned out by his magic, and the power that had seemingly come to reside within the tree, or if they had been chased from the secret place by their presence, Harry did not know.
Eventually, their lamps began to fade once more as their fuel dwindled, and they decided that they would need to return to the surface. As the Dwarves and Daewen trailed reluctantly from the cavern, each and every one of them casting poorly-concealed glances back towards the tree, and the grand sanctuary of crystal and stone that surrounded it, Harry too looked back.
In the darkness left behind by their retreating lamps, the outline of the tree could still be seen. It was a ghostly shape within the blackness. The blooms had not faded completely, even after as long as they had searched, and they shone like the last faint light of a lone, reflected star within the morning dew before the sun rose in its fiery splendour. Far above the uppermost limbs, points of silver light glittered in the darkness. As they left it there in its now welcoming back embrace, Harry wondered how long it would endure so far from the life-giving sun.
The return journey to the surface was much shorter than the descent. One by one their lamps failed, until they came at last to the grand halls where the Dwarves of Thráin's host thronged all about. Propping and shoring, cleaning and scouring, they worked tirelessly to return the first home of their people to its long forgotten majesty.
Balin sought out his father first. Fundin was directing many of the work-teams that were so busily consumed by their work. At the same time, Daewen broke off from the group, and Harry knew without the need to ask that she was going to seek her own kin, so that they too could see the wonder that now resided leagues beneath their feet.
"You are returned!" said Fundin, as he glanced up to see the serious expression upon his son's face. "What is the state of the deeps beneath the mountain?"
"The Orcs delved deep and far. Their tunnels run much longer than those of our ancestors," said Balin after greeting his father with a fierce hug. "We thought it impossible to find the end of them, but we did and it is a place you must see to believe, father."
"They uncovered gold, gems?" Fundin asked, his thick, dark brows knitting together. "Perhaps if that is the case then we might be able to convince Nari of the need to leave more than the smallest force to hold this place."
"The worth of this place is surely greater than mere gold or gems," said Balin, and the Dwarves that had accompanied them nodded rapidly, emphatic. "It is something I do not have words to describe, but you may be assured that once it becomes known, there will be no difficulty convincing anyone of the need to leave this place with a proper defence."
Fundin glanced across at Harry, as if disbelieving of his son's words. Harry merely dipped his head in the smallest of nods. Quite apart from the tree, if that cavern truly was the place where Durin and the other fathers of the Dwarves had first been formed by Aulë when the world was still young, then it would surely be as Balin said.
"If you would not believe us, then perhaps you should see it for yourself," said Balin, sharply. "But if you go, bring with you all of the Lords of Durin's folk, and the sons of Elrond too."
"They are yet occupied upon the field," said Fundin, though he looked a little shaken, as if he could feel just how important their discovery might be, even if he had not yet seen it himself. "I shall send word to them of what you have told me here, and when they are ready to travel so deep into the earth, I will call you again and you can have the honour of leading them to your great find."
They parted ways then, and Harry saw both Frár and Náli depart back in the direction they had come, determined expressions upon both their faces. Surely they were set upon returning to the cavern, but Harry decided against it. There was much on his mind.
He knew of Nimloth the Fair, the tree which had bloomed in the King's Court of Armenelos in Numenor across the sea. It was said that it had bloomed every night. As the sun set, its pale white flowers had opened, and the night had been filled with their delicate perfume. Those days were gone, though. Nimloth had been cut down by the followers of Sauron, and its wood used to light the first fires in the new temple to Morgoth. Isildur had stolen a fruit, though, and Nimloth's children became the symbol of his line after their flight to Middle-earth.
The last of Nimloth's line grew still in the Court of the Fountain in Minas Tirith, and it was not nearly so grand as the one that bloomed beneath his feet. The new tree was a wonder out of time, and what troubled Harry was that he did not understand it. He knew the power he felt within his Patronus well, it was a memory that had warmed him on cold nights, in places far from the sight of the sun, but he had never imagined it to hold such a power that had somehow been imparted to the White Tree's seed.
It had been the joy, the life and the vibrancy of the Patronus that he had hoped to direct to the task of coaxing the seed into life, and yet it had done so much more than that. He had wanted nothing more than to bring some small growing thing into the darkness, to kindle the flame that had warmed the earth and air and water of the surface of the world. He would have used it to awaken the stone, and through that the air to sweep the dead miasma from the deep caverns.
Yet he had not needed to. The tree had not only sprouted, but it had bloomed into magnificent maturity, a form and likeness not seen for thousands of years, and with it had come more than Harry had ever imagined.
Could it be that the strange behaviour of his magic was due to the feeling he'd gained from the place before he'd so much as cast a single spell? It was not until he came to the Great Gate of Gundabad, and saw the Gatefall Stream beyond, which fell in a thin waterfall wreathed by a glittering rainbow, that he remembered where he'd felt that sensation before.
It had been in the place beyond, after he'd fallen into the darkness beneath Moria, after his battle with the Balrog that dwelt there. The whispers in the dark were kin, perhaps, to the same whispers and forgotten powers he'd felt then.
Was there some connection, then, between the being that had worn the face of Dumbledore, and Aulë, if indeed that chamber was Imhdum? Long had Harry thought it to be a dream, or the desperate imaginings of a dying mind. What if it was more than that?
Once, when he'd spoken of it with Saruman, there had been a flicker in his attention, as if there was something he knew, but could not impart to Harry. There were secrets, Harry knew, that the Istari could not impart to any, but just what was it that Saruman had thought at that moment?
Had it been one of the Valar, clothed in the appearance of Dumbledore? For a moment he wondered if it had perhaps been Aulë himself, and yet even as that thought formed, he discarded it. The feeling had been familiar, but not alike. What other of the Valar might have purpose with Harry? And what might that purpose be?
Troubled, he passed the Great Gate of Gundabad, into the wasteland beyond. Here and there all across the landscape, Dwarves and Men were working together. The Elves that had joined Elladan and Elrohir were mostly beyond his sight, scouting upon distant hilltops, watching for any possible attacks by their enemies. Gundabad had fallen, and that was a grievous blow to the Orcs of the Misty Mountains, Harry knew, but their numbers were still akin to the blades of grass in a meadow.
Fewer than one hundred Dwarves had died in the battle, though thrice that number had been injured by arrow and thrown spear. At last accounting, the riders of Haleth had suffered more casualties relative to their numbers, with nearly sixty of them falling in the battle that had come to be known as the Battle of the Flame. None among the Elves had fallen, though one had been injured by an arrow, fired wild into the darkness.
In all, the leaders of the allied forces had called it a great victory, and there had been loud voices that had called for the army to march once more as soon as it was ready. They had gotten a taste of glory, and they immediately knew they wanted more. Harry wondered if perhaps his magics wasn't as much a curse to their armies as it was a boon. Their victory had come easily, yes, but soon there would be another battle to fight, and another after that. How long would the war last, when the Orcs were nearly numberless in their caves beneath the mountains?
He could not reflect on those thoughts for long, for soon an Elf ran up to him, passing easily over the broken, rocky ground that surrounded Gundabad. Harry found he could not recall his name.
"A host nears," he said as soon as he reached Harry. "They come from out of the East. Dwarves, a thousand strong."
Those were unexpected tidings, there had been no word that another force of Dwarves was heeding Thráin's summons. From all the Clans that lived in the East there had been fewer than a thousand who had answered the call to arms, and all of those had been travellers among the northern holds.
"How far are they?" Harry asked.
"Ten leagues, maybe more. It will be at least two days before they are able to reach us here," said the Elf. "Perhaps more, for the march of a Dwarf-host is slow indeed."
"The Commanders are occupied upon the field," said Harry, looking out towards the battlefield, where plumes of smoke rose into the air from the great pyres built to consume the Orcish dead. He was sure they would know no more than he, but they would surely wish to know of an army so large encroaching upon their lands, even if they were almost certainly allies. "We should bear this news to them."
It was not a short walk to the battlefield, and so Harry passed the time getting to know the Elf who accompanied him. He was Aegnor, a son of one of the lesser houses that still inhabited Imladris, and named for a hero of the Elves who had died many years passed in the battles against Morgoth.
"Why did you choose to join Elrond's sons in their choice to fight in a war that is not theirs?" Harry asked him as they walked.
"Long have I desired to explore the world beyond the limits of Elvish land," said Aegnor, his voice wistful and distant. "Many times did I make the journey to gaze into the Elostirion Stone in Emyn Beraid, and many times did it show me the white shores of Tol Eressëa, yet I wanted to see more."
"There is certainly much to see in the world," said Harry, understanding the desire. "It seems strange to me, though, that you'd go to war for that chance, rather than travel as the sons of Elrond sometimes do."
"I have travelled with them on occasion," said Aegnor, and he smiled at some memory Harry did not know, "but even they usually stay within the North, and seldom stray further south than Lothlórien. I am sure you know of the potential dangers to be found in Calenardhon. The people there are wary of all outsiders, and mistrust Elves more than any. It is said you have travelled further than any Man. I had hoped I might hear some of your tales."
Harry smiled, for while he seldom enjoyed hearing the inflated legends of his own deeds, there was a joy in meeting those who sought after knowledge of the lands too distant for them to travel. It seemed to him that the world grew ever smaller as shadows lengthened and light faded. People who once would have travelled far, now stayed closer to home. Caravans from the East became more and more seldom, news from the South came more seldom still, except when Gandalf would return from one of his own lengthy journeys.
"Then hear them you shall, if that is what you wish." An idea occurred to him. "Perhaps I will tell you this evening of some of my time among the Dwarves of Ironhaunt, and of their great Gardens, the Sakdîth Bazzun, or the Dumu Zirin-Aklum where the King of Ironhaunt sits atop his throne."
"You believe the new host is of Ironhaunt?"
"I do," said Harry. There was little other option that made sense. Of the Dwarf holds in the East, Ironhaunt was the strongest, and the only one still unthreatened by the rising power of the Men to their south. "Unless much has changed in the long years of my absence from their lands, they would not leave us to this war alone."
"Then it would please me greatly to hear your stories of their home," said Aegnor as his gaze turned east.
Soon, they came upon the Commanders of the Dwarvish host. The camp that had been constructed to lure in the Orcs was being broken down much more slowly than it had been created. Many of the tents were still erected, and through them, issuing orders to all who came near, walked Thráin with his advisors at his side.
"The losses are few enough," Thráin was saying to Nari who was one who walked in attendance. There too was Thorin, son of the King, and Náin of Ironhills. "Those who have fallen deserve to be placed properly to rest."
"To construct even one hundred tombs is no short task," said Nari. "We would be better served burning them with honour, and continuing our campaign before the Orcs can gather a force to face us in strength. With Gundabad broken, their power in the North is greatly weakened. They are scattered."
It was clear to Harry that his argument was not being well received by the other Dwarves in Thráin's company.
"If you thought it might speed your path to greater renown, you'd see them buried in dirt," said Náin, and the distaste in his tone was clear for all to hear. "How many among your people fell last night?"
Nari's people had a greater affinity with bow and sling than most of those among Durin's Folk, and had been at the rear of the fighting. Unless things had changed, Harry was not aware of anything more than a few minor injuries sustained by either the Firebeards or Broadbeams.
Still, Nari looked insulted by the insinuation. "If you would call me kâmnul, then have the courage to say it directly." His hand rested meaningfully upon the axe that hung at his side. "That way I can respond in the proper manner."
"Enough," said Thráin, his voice firm. His dark eyes shifted between Nari and Náin, quelling them, at least for a time. "They will be laid to rest in the manner that befits their sacrifice. More than that, so will the Men who fell alongside us. If their compatriots would wish it, I would have them set down beside our own, before the gates of Gundabad."
That caused even Náin's heavy brow to rise in surprise.
"That would be a fitting thanks for their sacrifice," said Harry, choosing that moment to make his voice known. "The Éothéod have long entombed their dead in burial mounds. They would surely see the honour that you do them by setting them down beside your own. In this war, we are all brothers in arms, are we not?"
"That we are," said Thráin. He nodded once to Harry, either in recognition or thanks, Harry was not sure. "How goes the scouring of Gundabad?"
"So far as we know, the Orcs have been driven from the mountain completely," said Harry, falling into step with the rest of the group following Thráin as he toured about the battlefield. "A few remained after the battle, some attempted to fight us but they were soon put down and we suffered no casualties. The rest must have fled when they saw how the battle went."
"If they have fled, then the other Orc nests will surely hear of our coming and be more prepared than that which we found here," said Náin. He spoke reluctantly, as if he knew Nari would agree with him, and did not wish to give him that satisfaction.
Thorin, eldest son of Thráin, stepped forward to stand by his father. He had acquitted himself well during the battle, leading a section of the perimeter ably, and killing more than two-dozen Orcs with his axe. It had gained him enough standing that the other Lords of the Dwarves now listened to his thoughts, though it would likely yet be some time before they were considered to hold much weight. He was, after-all, still young in the reckoning of his people. "Let them prepare. It will not avail them," he said, filled with the confidence of youth.
"There is other news," said Harry, and he gestured Aegnor forward to speak.
"Another host marches towards us," he said. He glanced between Harry and Thráin as he spoke, as if he was uncertain who he was meant to be addressing. "Dwarves from the East, at least one thousand strong."
That drew forth some sounds of mild surprise from Nari and Náin both, for there had been no hint of another force marching to meet them.
Thráin was the first to speak, "How long before they arrive?"
"Two days, at the least," Aegnor responded. "Riders could surely reach them in less than a day, but if we wait here, I think they will reach us either late on the second day, or early on the third."
"This is good news," said Náin, and he indeed looked very pleased. "If they are so close, and with such numbers then surely it would be best to await their arrival. In that time we can work to set our dead properly to rest, and fortify Gundabad against any attempts to retake it."
"Aye." Nari looked like he'd swallowed something disagreeable, but he could not argue with the necessity to wait. "I would still counsel in favour of using the horse folk to scout for nearby Orc burrows. We should not remain idle if we do not wish to lose our advantage."
"We will await them, then," said Thráin, and he nodded to Aegnor politely. "You have my thanks for bringing us this news." His gaze then returned to Harry. "I also heard that something of note has been discovered beneath the mountain? Something that young Balin thinks it is important I see?"
Harry was uncertain about what to say to that. The importance of the cavern could not be understated, and yet Harry could not escape the feeling that perhaps Daewen and the Dwarves both were focusing on the wrong things. That what was important was not what had been found or created in that place, but instead what had once been there. "I think it is important that all of you see it," he said eventually, glancing at Nari as he did so. "Perhaps it will change some minds."
A/N: This chapter veered somewhat towards the lore-y. Here's some info on things that were mentioned:
Khôrlekhî = Termites. Khôr - lekhî: From 'Taw' (wood) in primitive Elvish, and 'lewek' (worm) in primitive Elvish, mutated to Adunaic. Thus, literally, they are called 'woodworm', which is one of the source words that 'termite' came from ('termes' in Latin, meaning woodworm).
Athrabu-a'tum = Khuzdul for Blackdamp, literally 'the stealer of breaths'.
Telperion was the White Tree of Valinor. In the days before the Sun and Moon the land of Valinor was lit by two trees. Laurelin, which bloomed for half the day, and filled the continent with golden light, and Telperion, which bloomed the other half of the day, casting silver light across the land. They were eventually destroyed, and the last fruit of Laurelin was placed in a vessel and into the sky, the sun. The last bloom of Telperion was similarly placed into the sky and it become the Moon.
Galathilion was created in the image of Telperion, though it did not glow. From Galathilion came Celeborn (no relation to the Elf), and from Celeborn came Nimloth, which was gifted to the kings of Numenor. The White Tree of Gondor is a descendant of Nimloth. Harry's tree is something of a throw-back to Nimloth, empowered by his own magic to grant it a tiny portion of the power that Telperion had once had which is what results in the faint glow.
Aule was the Valar who created the Dwarves (also called Mahal in Khuzdul). He wished to create beings who would craft things of beauty from the stone, but the ability to create life lay only with Eru (God) and so his creations, the Dwarves, were little more than automatons. Eru came to Aule and basically told him off for trying to create life of his own, and to destroy them. When Aule raised his hammer to do so, the Dwarves cringed and shied away, for Eru had given them true life. They became the adoptive children of Eru, alongside the 'true' children, Men and Elves.