Disclaimer: I don't own anything - Tolkien gets all the credit.

A/N: The long awaited chapter 17! We see a different side to our favorite dwarf in this one - I'm interested to see what you think. Please review :)

Chapter Seventeen

The smell of flame still filled the air, even after an hour of hiking through the forest with the remainder of the Ered Luin guard. The flash flame used in the mines during the battle had caused large columns of black smoke to rise high into the air, escaping through the vent shafts. Dwalin kept a close eye out for any Dourhands who might be in pursuit, and for any injured Longbeards that may have fallen behind from the main group of escapees. He was tense - with betrayal, failure, and a fear for what he might find when they regrouped to count their number.

A few elders were seen, limping ahead, struggling to keep up. Women with small children as well, having to carry their small burdens over rocks, fallen trees, and across small streams. The mountainside was still wet from the heavy snow of winter, but warm enough that the survivors of the battle should be able to manage in the forest for a time.

Blood, a smell Dwalin knew well, filled the air just as much as smoke. The warriors of Ered Luin had fought hard - many died - but the sheer number of Dourhands had overwhelmed them before they'd even had a chance to react.

"Samman!" Dwalin heard from ahead, as a bulky form emerged from the trees. It was Vim - his dear friend - waving a large arm in greeting. "I thought ye might have been captured!"

"The Dourhand's would need more than a small army of calass kuldjargh to capture me," came Dwalin's gruff reply. "Have the survivors made camp? What is our number?"

"They're moving slowly. We have more injured than not." Nodding gravely, Dwalin brought a hand to his face, weary with guilt for leaving his people unprotected. "Many of the women and children made it out safely, though, and we were lucky to have a caravan of traders about to set out for Bree when the attack began. Food and supplies were loaded into their carts and they've pledged to stay with us until we find shelter.

"Good - better news than I could have hoped for." Picking up his pace, Dwalin barked orders for the guard to keep an eye out for Dourhands while he joined the main group. Once the pair of warriors were more isolated, Dwalin asked again after his most pressing concern. "Any idea of how many we lost?"

"It's not good news, brother. Many that lived in the lower halls never made it out… What few warriors we had to begin with? Perhaps half of them no longer draw breath."

"Have ye made note who is missing from the lower halls?" The tone of Dwalin's voice dropped, "Has anyone seen my wife?"

Fear and panic, Posey decided, were feelings she did not handle well. Clearly incapable of processing her fright, she'd had several moments where she broke down completely, into a heap of tears and blubbering. However, when a moment of clarity did strike, Posey felt it only natural for a Hobbit to react in such a way - Shire-folk aren't built for stressful situations. It simply goes against their nature.

The stinging of the cut on her cheek - a cut that she gave herself by not being careful with Dwalin's ludicrous axes - was driving her to distraction and she hadn't eaten anything all day, on top of being on the move, without rest, since well before dawn. All things considered, however, she was very grateful to have been shoved along through the main hall during the battle by an older dwarf, who'd seen one of her more dramatic breakdowns. The early light of morning when she's crossed through the main gate was a sight that she'd never forget - for a time, she didn't think she'd make it out of the city.

Being directed down a game trail through thick forest had made the process of getting down the mountain slow, but Posey suspected that the dwarves knew fleeing on open ground wasn't a safe choice. The majority of her current travel companions were merchants and a few families. None spoke, none cried. It was a sad procession of people who had just lost their homes… a truly depressing situation.

It took hours - in fact, most of the day - before Posey caught up to what she assumed were the leaders of their group. A few of the Uzbads she recognized, and their joyous greeting upon seeing her shocked the Hobbit quite a bit. Many dwarves asked after Dwalin, but none had seen him since before the battle.

Not wishing to panic further, Posey tried to avoid thoughts of her husband completely - their child needed her to be calm and she'd done a horrible job of that so far. She would cling to hope, and handle any heartache that came once it arrived - for now, she needed rest. Taking care to set down Dwalin's axes in a place where she could keep an eye on them, Posey nibbled on bread and cheese, greeting all that joined their camp.

Sadly, it appeared that many wouldn't be joining them. Stories of capture had made their way through camp - Survivors from the lower halls had watched as their friends and family had been forced to surrender to the Dourhands during the escape. Sadness, anger, betrayal - Posey couldn't decide what to feel.

Of the survivors currently in camp, however, one person's absence stuck out almost as much as Dwalin's - Dis. She dwelt in the upper halls and should had been one of the first to escape - However, no one had seen her since dinner in the feasting hall the night before.

As the light of the sun faded, the sounds of life began to grow, Dwalin increased his pace to an almost run - the encampment lay just ahead. Subdued cheers broke out as the dwarves of Ered Luin saw their returning warriors. They numbered few, and despite their loss during battle, the welcome they received was that of returning heroes.

Looking around to the injured, the old, the young - Dwalin's anger grew. Far fewer than he'd hoped had made it out. The Uzbads, it seemed, had all escaped, and many who lived higher in the mountain. The working class - miners and lower class merchants - didn't fair nearly as well.

It was a head of blonde curls, though, that Dwalin sought most urgently. As dwarves rushed up to welcome him, the lack of his wife among them caused his chest to clench in fear. Vim hadn't known her fate - nor had any he'd come across during the day's travels. Pushing his way through the throng of bodies, Dwalin sought out the sound of her voice - the pale skin of her arms and face - but with the lack of fires in the fear of discovery, every figure seemed to look the same as the next.

"My lord!" a dwarf called out - a merchant named Gor - "What next? Where do we go?" Many assenting voices broke out, all asking questions or their fate now that they had no place to call home.

"The Firebeards have always been our friends - they lie only a week's travel to the North." Dwalin replied, "We will sleep tonight and begin the journey in the morning." Many more questions rang out in the night, but Dwalin ignored them as he continued his journey through the camp. He could hear Vim's voice calming any who weren't satisfied with Dwalin's brief pronouncement, and for that he was thankful. The morning would bring even more demands and questions, but for now, Dwalin needed to learn of his wife's fate.

Several minutes later Dwalin reached the far edge of the camp. He tried to swallow his panic, but as he failed to find his little wife, he couldn't help but assume the worst. Circling back around, Dwalin focused on the sleeping forms of the injured - perhaps she'd been hurt during the escape?

Minutes turned into an hour with no luck. Resigning to the idea that he may have lost her, Dwalin sat on a small log along the edge of camp, head in his hands. His fear of not protecting the city was one thing - but to not protect his own wife? Their unborn child? It was a feeling he couldn't handle - far worse than even the death of Thorin.

Waking from a small nap, Posey saw that night had swallowed the camp in darkness. Voices surrounded her, all talking about a journey north - they were to leave in the morning. Panic, once again, came over her - Dwalin had not returned! They couldn't leave without him - she couldn't leave without him!

Standing quickly, Posey sought out the Uzbads she'd seen when she first arrived. Perhaps something had changed in the last hour? How long had she slept? Gathering Dwalin's silly axes, which she now felt weren't worth the trouble they caused, she walked slowly around the edge of the camp, keeping an eye out for a familiar face - any familiar face.

Tripping slightly on the root of tree, Posey set down Dwalin's axes on a fallen log and sat quickly, checking her feet for injury. This had been, by far, the worst day of her entire life. The last thing she needed was a broken toe on top of everything else. "Oh dear," she muttered, seeing a cut along the side of her foot - it was hard to injure one's foot when you had the feet of a Hobbit, so any cut at all was never a good sign.

But, before she could assess the injury, Posey suddenly found herself lifted in the air, her entire body surrounded by bulky arms. Yelping in alarm, Posey fought the embrace, kicking her legs in an attempt to free herself. She did this only until she heard the most welcome word in the entirety of Middle Earth, "Taerin."

Never one for display of emotion - even in the most extreme of circumstances - Dwalin didn't care to stop the trails of tears as they made their way from his eyes into his beard. The desperation of feeling - of needing to see his wife - was a greater urge than anything he'd ever felt before. Imagining where she could be at this very moment - scared, injured, captured… dead. Weeping silently, the dwarven warrior immersed himself in the feeling of loss. His kvinn, azgal - gone.

Not aware of how long he sat within his misery, the nearby sound of metal hitting wood called him out of his daze. Something had fallen onto the other end of the log on which he sat - glancing that way, Dwalin saw a most welcome and unbelievable sight - Gasper and Keeper - his beloved battle axes. How had they gotten there?

"Oh dear," like the sound of the most beautiful song, his wife's favorite phrase, said in her voice. She had collapsed gracelessly next to his axes, leaning over to look her feet. Her hair was a fright, her cheek marred by the red line of a recently closed wound, dressed only in a cloak and the nightgown she'd worn to bed the evening before.

Reacting without thought, Dwalin leaped to her side, picking her up and clasping her to him in a tight embrace. She struggled, clearly not realizing who he was - so he said the first thing that came to mind. "Taerin."

Her body stilled and her breath caught in her throat. "Dwalin?" Her voice cracked, her arms weaved around his neck, and she began to sob.

As tears continued to leak from his own eyes, Dwalin lowered them to the ground, his legs surrounding her body while she collapsed on top of him. "I thought I'd lost ye, lass."

"I did too!" She was crying harder now, her hands reaching to his face as she pulled back to look at him, "Are you hurt?"

"I'll have a few more scars for ye to look at, but I'll recover."

She hiccuped a small, sad laugh as she wiped her thumbs across his cheeks. "You're crying, Dwalin."

"Aye, I thought ye were dead. I thought our bairn was dead."

"We're fine." She was talking to him a soft and tender voice that only made him weep more.

"Ye might not have been and it would have been my fault."

"How would it have been your fault? You didn't attack the city." Her fingers were weaving through his beard now, her nose rubbing along his, her lips nearly touching his own.

"I didn't protect ye. I didn't protect the city."

"But you did, Dwalin. We're all alive because of you."

"No, I let too many leave at once. We didn't have enough soldiers."

"No, Dwalin. Stop it." Her hands were back at his cheeks again, hold his face firmly in her grasp. "You were betrayed, and then you saved us."

Hearing her talk, feeling her warmth, it was too much and he didn't care to hide his feelings anymore. "Oh, Taerin, I'd be lost without ye. I can't imagine living a day without ye near me. Ye bring me to my knees, ye do."


Samman: friend, trusted shield-brother or battle companion

kvinn, azgal: lady, treasure.

Taerin: My love

Calass: Miscreant, Untrustworthy one.

Kuldjargh: Berserker, one who is uncontrollable in battle

Uzbads: Lords

A/N: Review, review, review! :)