Legend of Durin II: Return to Khazad-dûm

Disclaimer: The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings and all characters therein are the property of the Tolkien Estate and Wingnut Films. This story is for entertainment only and the author is in no way profiting from it, nor exercising any claims to The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings.

Historian's Note: This manuscript is a direct translation from notes written during interviews with the participants. Due to the multiple languages common among the dwarrow, some explanation is needed. Spoken Westron is denoted by the standard "speaker marks", spoken Khuzdul with "italics within speaker marks" and the sign language Iglishmêk with 'single speaker marks'. Place names in Khuzdul have been left untranslated unless absolutely necessary for clarity. For non-dwarrow readers unversed in Middle Earth history, the following guide is given for the lives of the seven Durins.

Durin I (the Deathless) – Early First Age to about 590

He vanished in the final battle against Morgoth, presumed slain, though no body was ever located.

Durin II (the Mithril Lord) – Second Age 600 to Second Age 1421

Thrice great-grandson of Durin I

Aid Frér (1329-1421)

Durin III (the Elf Friend) – Second Age 1227 to Second Age 1821

Grandson of Durin II

Given the Greatest Ring of the Seven by Celebrimbor

Durin IV (the Iron Hand) – Second Age 3277 to Third Age 233

Led the Khazad through the Last Alliance and the defeat of Sauron

Durin V (the Wise) – Third Age 1159 to Third Age 1829

Murdered by his son (Durin VI) over leadership of Khazad-dûm

Durin VI (the Fallen) – Third Age 1731 to Third Age 1980

Killed by the Balrog his greed had awoken beneath Khazad-dûm

Durin VII (the Last) – Third Age 2746 to Third Age 2941 / Fourth Age 1 to Present

Originally called Thorin Oakenshield (though this is becoming little known throughout the non-Khazad kingdoms)

Killed at the Battle of the Five Armies and revived after the Fall of Sauron

-Ori II, son of Nori, Scribe of Erebor

Fourth Age, Year 14

What was Before

Thorin Oakenshield reined in his pony to look down upon a valley that would forever be the site of uncounted sorrow for those dwarrow of Durin's Folk, ignoring the restless muttering among the dwarrow of his army at his back. Rock, the dull grey of dwarrow tears, was almost hidden this warm spring day, however, by the bright greens, oranges, and splashes of deep purple of the mountain lichen, blooming in the sun, colors reflected in the still waters of the small pond beyond, as if this place had not once been bathed in blood. It seemed almost a sacrilege, now, to feel the peace here, the beauty, even as an air of solemnity hung about, as if the world paused, waiting for the sound of a single step to set all into motion again. For a long moment, Thorin could not help hesitating, wishing that he could stay within this moment forever more instead of facing what might be, the horrors his dreams had been conjuring for too many nights.

It was the deepest twisting of fate that it was his step, his word, that was awaited now, for this seemingly tranquil place was not only where a king and prince had fallen along with so many others, but where the road that led to madness and ruin had begun, and could be so once again. Would his word bring back the forgotten glories of dwarrow past, or condemn their race to fade and die, as the elves did even now? Was it wind from the peaks whistling in his ears, clean and fresh, or the filthy screams of orcs, come to maim and slaughter? Though he knew it to be impossible, he could almost smell the sickening odor of dwarrow bodies being burned as the bright colors gave way to red and black, the ashes scattered in waters of a nearby lake instead of being returned to rest in the bedrock beneath the mountains from which their race had been made long ago.

Suddenly unable to utter coherent words past a throat choked by emotion, the dwarf silently urged his mount to take a single step forward; the first step upon the path of redemption and healing for a race and a king, toward a goal whispered in dark tales and glorified in ancient song- Azanulbizar, the Eastern Gate of Khazad-dûm. Eyes tracked once more to the pool so still that it reflected the cloudless sky and the peaks towering above, equally famous and familiar from the time he was little more than a babe, listening to the stories of their people read in his grandfather's deep voice beside the fire in Erebor.

Heedless of the voices of his companions and the scramble of his personal guard, the king urged his pony down the slope until he could slip from her back to once again stand upon the shore of Kheled-zaram, the Mirrormere, where countless others of his line had also stood, paying homage to their ultimate ancestor, Durin the Deathless. To him, this bit of water would forever signify the duality of his life- the pain of a prince whose heart had been torn asunder only to be clumsily mended with the fire of anger, the forging invisibly, and fatally, flawed; the promise of a new beginning and the weight of the past in the shadowy forms of six other dwarrow who came before, if only he could release the prince of the past and embrace the king lurking deep within. Thorin closed his eyes and bowed his head as he sank to his knees on the rocks, unable to deny his memories any longer as he was drawn into a past so real that he could still hear the echoes of their cries, the pain of the physically injured mixing with the wail of those whose grief could not be contained.

Thorin was on his knees, the rocky shore of the Kheled-zaram biting into his knees adding yet one more pain onto an already beaten body, but the young prince made no move to rise. Before him, the ashes he'd just poured silently into the still waters spread in a cloud and began to sink from sight to find their eternal resting place upon the bottom amid the reflection of Durin's Crown, the constellation seen by day or night there. Thrór, King under the Mountain. Frérin, Prince of Durin's Folk. Fundin, Lore Keeper of Erebor and Dwarf Lord in his own right. They were the first of the lords to be given the funerary rights of their people, so hastily arranged lest the orcs press out from the ancient halls once more, but Thorin feared that they would not be the last.

Even now, those still able searched among the countless bodies for those who clung to life…though too many would be found only to breathe their last this day. And those were the lucky one. Some had suffered the same fate as Frérin's patrol the day before the battle, so savaged by the orcs that only their armor and other personal items allowed them to be identified. It was in part those brutal mutilations that had fueled the rage of the attacking dwarrow even before the beheading of their king. Thorin's hands tightened on the rocky ground as he struggled with tears once more, the bloody mess of his baby brother brought back all too sharply by the thought. He could only pray to Mahal that the youngest prince had already been dead before it happened. Gagging on bile, he forced his mind back to what he was doing.

By tradition, only the lords would be consigned to the sacred waters of the Kheled-zâram, as they would have had separate tombs had the dwarrow been able to do so. Those not of Durin's Folk would have their ashes returned to kin and their own rocky halls far to the east and west, but for too many, there was no home to return to beyond a bare encampment of rough tents in the wilds beyond the Anduin, where the refugees of Erebor waited. There would be no triumphant return to their ancient halls, now, though, only the tears of yet more dead. With no proper honorarium to house the ashes, they would be scattered in a small lake just over the rise. An honored place, but not here, where Durin the Deathless had once knelt…

As if summoned by that thought, Thorin passed a hand in front of his eyes as his vision seemed to blur and first one face, then more, rose from the cloud of ash in the water, piercing blue eyes locked upon his own, assessing, judging… The prince's already torn and bloody hands clutched at the rock desperately as he swayed, mind trying to fathom the history rising before him while also attempting to deny this as born of weakness and the horrors of battle overwhelming him, for none but Durin himself had ever seen a reflection here.

Was he going insane, to see such things? There was no need to ask who these strange dwarrow were, six faces, alike to one another, yet each subtly unique, though he could not seem to see details. Did Durin truly show himself to an unworthy descendent, or would he, too, begin to rave and swing a battle ax at friend and foe alike, and even empty air, as witnesses said his father had before disappearing in the midst of the battle? Reeling physically with such fears, Thorin did not realize that he was on the brink of falling headfirst into the waters before him until a hand, warm, solid, alive, gripped his shoulder with bruising strength, pulling him back.

"Thorin!"

The voice centered him, sight clearing once more to lock upon the kindly, worried eyes of Balin, his old friend and tutor in the labyrinth of dwarrow politics. The older dwarf knelt down before his prince as Thorin managed to twist his weary body around, putting his back to the images he'd seen. One of Balin's hands came up to gently brush his hair away from a wound upon his forehead as the other made a sound of dismay.

"They tell me you've not taken food, nor let anyone see to your injuries, let alone rested, my prince."

Thorin didn't bother to enquire as to who 'they' were, memories of the last day too painful, disjointed, for his exhausted mind to make sense of, nor did it truly matter. He ignored the unaccustomed use of formal address from the older dwarf, knowing that Balin spoke so at least partially due to those who may be listening from the other kingdoms, not able to bring himself to care about such things now. Licking dry lips, he could barely force a whisper past a throat made raw with shouting.

"It was my duty to see to the king, and-"

"And you've done so."

Balin cut him off curtly, undoubtedly to mask his own grief, eyes straying to the pool. His own father now rested there, and his sons had not the privilege of seeing it done because Thorin had been in too much of a fog of grief and pain to think that far. Thorin closed his eyes, cursing his own stupidity and blindness as the hand upon his shoulder tightened, giving him a little shake.

"Don't, lad." The more familiar tone and term of endearment automatically causing Thorin to relax somewhat. "Dwalin and I already said our goodbyes when we set him upon the pyre. This was properly done by you alone; 'tis tradition and Fundin would've wanted it that way. Now, though, we need to see you taken care of. Our people will need a leader in the days ahead, and 'tis you they'll look to."

"Will they?" Thorin bit out, anger and doubt dripping off every word. "What has the elder line of Durin brought them save grief? They would have been better off begging for scraps upon bended knee before Nain! At least they'd be alive."

"Would they?" Balin's tone held some heat of its own, censorious of this new darkness his prince had fallen prey to. "Most would not call that truly living, including me! Come, can you stand?"

"I-"

Thorin's eyes dropped to the rock in front of him, ashamed of his own weaknesses being so blatantly displayed. Truthfully, he doubted he could stay upright much longer, let alone climb to his feet; every one of his wounds, mostly minor though they were, burned and throbbed with growing pain. Balin must have made some motion that he did not see, for moments later, more hands were under his arms, gently pulling him upright and supporting his weight as he made several fumbling attempts to walk before his legs and feet consented to follow his commands. As they started across the vast fields to where the tents sheltered the wounded, he turned to see who aided his steps, finding Dwalin upon his right and Gróin upon the left.

"Óin?"

He had the presence of mind to enquire even as he thanked Mahal he'd not have to bring yet more evil tidings to the doorstep of Glóin, his brother Frérin's best friend, and Gróin's younger son. The fiery red head had been deemed too young, barred from the army by his father, a reprieve not granted Frérin, who was of an age with his friend, though Glóin certainly hadn't seen it as such. That one had been in a terrible rage for weeks leading up to their leaving; if tents had come with doors to slam, he doubted there'd have been one left intact! Glóin's older brother, however…

"My son lives, though he took a severe head wound. When he woke earlier, he didn't seem to hear the healer's questions, though they've some hope that it may be temporary."

"It's as well that Glóin shouts most conversations already, then."

Dwalin's dry observation earned a bitter bark of laughter from Gróin, whose endless complaints about his younger son's lack of volume control tended to appear with the least provocation. It was a mark of the depth of tragedy they faced that such poor jokes were the only way some could deal with the emotions set loose. The prince could only nod dumbly, more tears trickling down cheeks already made raw by earlier torrents.

"Nain? Dain?"

Thorin could barely force out the names of his cousins from the Iron Hills, wondering how many more of Durin's blood they would weep for. A grunt from his right answered this time.

"Nain fell before the king did-that white orc. You did well killing that one, Thorin. Need to reinforce that oak with iron, though, might've protected your shield arm a bit more."

It was only then that the prince realized that while his right arm was slung over Dwalin's shoulders, Groin was supporting him on the other side with hands carefully wrapped around his upper arm, his lower sleeve slit to accommodate the massive swelling of the darkly bruised skin from the elbow down. He vaguely recalled the feel of rough wood in his hand as the mace slammed down- Thorin physically flinched away from the memory, forcing the others to halt as his stomach heaved even though there was nothing left there to vomit. Finally, the others aided him to straighten back up, and he spoke once more, trying to sound casual and failing miserably.

"Thing's probably trampled into the ground somewhere."

"No." Balin softly contradicted. "I picked it up. It's with my things, lad. Thought it best kept track of as I've already heard some calling you 'Oakenshield'. 'Tis a worthy name, honorably won."

Thorin's lips twisted sourly as he rinsed his mouth with the water Dwalin offered, turning his head to spit it out upon the mangled remains of an orc. Such 'honors' were not something he could bring himself to think upon yet, mind twisting to latch onto a suitable distraction.

"Dain?"

He repeated, hoping his slightly older cousin, at least, had been spared.

"He will make an adequate lord for the Iron Hills, especially as his grandfather yet lives to guide him."

"I thank you for the words of confidence, Gróin." The dwarf in question seemed to appear before them as Thorin's vision began to waver again, and he sagged a bit more into the support of the others. "Cousins. I see you found him. You look to be one thin support timber away from a full mine collapse, Thorin."

"Was there something you needed, Dain?"

Thorin started, the sharp edge to Balin's question cutting through the fog in his head. What had Dain done to warrant such hostility? Balin had always been tolerant to a fault, a mediating voice as the tension between the two factions of Durin's Folk had grown after Erebor's fall a dozen years earlier. The only thing that the prince could think might lie behind the hostility was the fact that Dain was bothering an injured and exhausted Thorin. If his friend's attitude had been meant to deter the other, however, it didn't work as he stayed stubbornly between them and the tent that was their goal. Dwalin's low growl finally made the Iron Hills dwarf move, but he followed them into the tent anyway. By that time, Thorin was past caring as he was lowered gently onto a cot, his body sagging in relief.

"I'll find a healer."

Dwalin's low rumble made the prince reopen his eyes in time to see the spike of his hair ducking out the entrance to the tent. It was only as the flap slowly settled closed again that Thorin realized what a beautiful day it was outside, mild warmth and sunshine bathing the dwarrow in a mockery of the rain of tears falling from countless eyes.

"The other clans wish to know if we continue this fight into Khazad-dûm. Cousins, I will be truthful- most wish only to return home, saying such actions would be folly."

"So the death of our king means nothing?" Gróin's outraged rumble marked the old dwarf at his most deadly. "The dead out there? We are upon the doorstep of our goal, and the others would give up!"

Dain had flushed with anger at the other's words, but he did not answer and Thorin narrowed his eyes, forcing his sore body upright once more.

"And what do you say, cousin?"

He asked, trying to recall if he'd had any glimpses of the other after the fighting had begun in earnest. The dwarrow of the Iron Hills had been on the left flank, where they'd pushed forward almost to the very doors of their ancient halls at one point, but the prince had lost track when Azog emerged. There was a heavy sigh from the new lord, but he met the blue of the slightly younger dwarf's eyes resolutely.

"I would say that I have looked into that black abyss and have seen only death. Perhaps one day Durin's Folk will again walk those ancient halls, but it is not this day, cousin. Not while Durin's Bane yet lurks below. Take your people elsewhere, Thorin; build a new life far from dragons and other foul beasts. Have they not suffered enough for the folly of Thrór?"

That had engendered a rage from Gróin that Thorin had thankfully passed out in the middle of, if he recalled correctly, the memory twisting his lips in a bitter smile. Too bad it had not been nearly so simple as Dain's words had made it seem, the king mused as his eyes opened to lock on the bright stars shining in the waters before him. With no clear proof of Thrain's death, he'd been unable to force the hand of the King's council into naming him king before he came of age.

Instead, led by the conservative Gróin, they had bickered away the years while struggling to survive in what had only been meant as a temporary camp in the barren eastern plains known as the Brown Lands. Finally, Thorin had been able to seize control as king-in-exile, leading them to the ruins of Belegost in Ered Luin, but by that time, so many had died that some were advocating submitting to Dain's rule in the Iron Hills and stripping the kingship from the elder Line of Durin. Worse, the mutterings had not stopped as they prospered at last, instead growing stronger as each passing year enhanced the nostalgic memories of Erebor's riches-and the bitterness. It was that, in large part, which had forced Thorin's hand in attempting a return to Erebor to preserve the inheritance of his nephews. Of course, none of the grumblers were willing to face the danger that their words had compelled their king to risk!

It was the deepest irony of all that what he'd fought so hard to prevent had been made inevitable by his death in the Battle of the Five Armies; Dain had become king of all Durin's Folk, Thrór's line seemingly spent. No one had known, then, of the poison slipped into Dain's tea that had killed his wife and left his heir impotent, unable to sire children, threatening to end the bloodline of Durin completely. All who traced their lineage back directly to the eldest dwarrow Father had been urged to have children, Dain going so far as to compel Thorin's widowed sister, Dis, into remarrying. One of the two children of that union was with him now, as Thorin's heir, and he could not help the uneasiness such a trust engendered as the ill-fated quest to retake Erebor entered his thoughts once more.

Restless, and with memories pressing close, the king shifted his gaze to the side, avoiding looking directly into the waters lest the absence of his reflection give lie to his claims. Instead, his Durin blue eyes fell upon the ill-fated portal leading into Khazad-dûm, stone clean and grey in the sunlight, still not at ease with his own decision to return here, even though it had been prophesized long before. Too many times, he'd seen such things go awry to place faith in mumblings, no matter the assurances he mouthed to others. Nowhere had it been said outright that Khazad-dûm could again be returned to the glory it had known, only that the ancient realms would once more be theirs.

It had been upon that slim hope that Balin, his old friend and mentor, had taken a group of dwarrow, including Óin and Ori, to return to the realm, only to meet his doom. A fool's hope… and yet, had Thorin not gambled all upon a similar quest, only to see a dragon fall and a kingdom reclaimed to prosper once more? And had the Arkenstone, the Heart of the Mountain, not revealed itself as more powerful than any had guessed, not only returning Thorin and his nephews to life, but healing Kíli from a deadly poison later? It was that, not any vague signs or portents, which had proclaimed Thorin the last reincarnation of Durin the Deathless, eldest of the Seven Dwarrow Fathers and set his feet upon the path to reclaim their ancient realm! Heart firm once more, the king smoothly swung back around, looking fearlessly into the waters before him.