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The Chaos of War

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“Word from Lord Náin, King Thraín!” the young messenger cried, hurtling into the tent that held the Durin Commanders. She was brandishing a scroll, sealed with the Stars of Durin and the personal seal of Nain of the Iron Hills. Fundin sighed. His brother in law had done as little as he could for the Ereborian refugees after Smaug’s attack, offering only supplies to his cousin-kin. The slight rankled, even if Fundin could understand Náin’s strained relationship with Thrór being the cause of it. He wondered what the Lord of the Iron Hills – conspicuously absent from Thraín’s command tent – had to say that required a messenger.

“Give it here, Æsa 'Udshankhuzd[1],” Thraín said, reaching for the scroll. Haga, one of the other commanders looked up when the King made a pleased sound.

“Good news?” he wondered; the King’s smiles were rare as mithril these days, and after six years of warfare – mostly in the long-abandoned tunnels beneath the Misty Mountains, with a distinct and at times perilous lack of proper maps – Fundin could not blame him. He had never favoured war, being a born diplomat, but he had known that it would be futile to attempt to change Thraín’s mind after Nár brought back the news of Thrór’s ignominious end. He had tried to stop young Thorin from making the attempt, though the Prince had not listened, and King Thraín had ended that discussion by calling his eldest a coward with no family honour.

“Nain’s bringing in another gangbuh[2], led by Lord Fundin’s cousin Gufa. They were unexpectedly delayed by the weather, but they’ll be here by morning, in time for our assault on the vale.” Thraín replied. The tense atmosphere inside the tent lightened slightly. The King’s attention landed on Fundin next, where he was standing next to Balin and the table covered with scout reports and battle-plans. “Your son will be leading his own maznakkâ’, cousin. You should be proud of young Dwalin. I’m certain he will prove himself an able commander in the field.” Thraín’s head was bent to reread the short missive, and missed the slight fear that crossed his advisor’s face at the news. Commanding a maznakkâ at such a young age – for a warrior relatively untested – was a great honour, and though Fundin had no doubt that Dwalin had earned his commission, he could not help but wish that at least one of his children could have stayed away from this war. A futile wish, in all ways; Dwalin was a warrior born, taking after his sigin’amad, and had already fought with Náin’s army in the south near Gladden, joining the Orocarni tribes in routing the Orc-forces there.

 


 

“Dwalin is coming?” Thorin couldn’t help but ask, the name that had been so familiar on his tongue until the day Fundin had sent Dwalin away to the Iron Hills to foster with his aunt and uncle – Lord Náin and his Lady, Rádveig, who was Dwalin’s mother’s twin sister – falling easily from his lips. He had never admitted to anyone how much he missed his friend – and lover, the small voice in his head reminded him – but Thorin suddenly felt a curious sense of uplifting at the thought that he would soon see Dwalin again, for the first time in almost ten years. Beside him, Balin smiled widely. He had gone back to the Iron Hills to visit and carry messages, so he had seen Dwalin more recently, but Thorin knew that his friend missed his brother far more than he let on. The King did not bother to answer, but Thorin hadn’t really expected him to. The Prince rarely got a proper reply from his absentminded Adad even before Smaug had made them homeless wanderers, but Thraín still had not forgiven Thorin for publically speaking against calling the clans for his war of vengeance. His exemplary prowess on any subsequent field of battle he joined had earned Thorin only a measure of forgiveness, though he didn’t much care by this point – at least that’s what he told himself – simply working towards ensuring that he and Frerin made it back to Frís and Dís in as healthy a condition as he could manage. Cousin Fundin was the one who’d clap him on the shoulder in silent pride when he had done well and Thorin told himself it was enough. The conversation ebbed and shifted around Thorin, who was paying it little attention, having heard it all before. Eventually, it turned to the battle they would fight in the morning, going over strategies and battle-plans until Thorin’s head was drooping with tiredness, and Thraín sent him off to join Frerin for supper and a good night’s rest.

 

Lying in his bedroll, Frerin’s golden curls pale in the darkness of their tent, Thorin wished that Náin’s new troops had arrived at nightfall, as originally planned for. He did not envy those who would be marching through the night, but even more than that, he wished that he had had a chance to speak with his long-absent friend before the horror of battle surrounded them. He wondered if the young warrior would have looked at him with the same fondness he had often dreamt he had seen in Dwalin’s eyes when they parted in the bleak Dunlands where the Erebor diaspora had first settled. In the dark of night, on the cusp of dreams, Thorin allowed himself to see once more that look in Dwalin’s eyes, the look that made him feel warm and tingly even when he was huddled alone under his blankets in the coldest of winters. Soon, they would meet again, and perhaps, after the battle, there’d be time to find out if Dwalin’s kisses were as good as he remembered. Thorin fell asleep with a slight smile on his lips. Soon…

 


 

 

Dwalin was marching through the gathering dark. They had been delayed by a minor blizzard three days ago, and though the Fabarâl had tried to reach the Azanulbizar valley at the agreed-upon time, it had been impossible to catch the wasted hours. Instead, they would arrive in the morning. Dwalin scowled at the thought. Around him, his maznakkâ shared his disgruntled expression. No one liked the situation, but as Dwalin did not have the power to move them faster than their marching feet would take them, there was little release from the annoyance. He had commanded soldiers before, one of the youngest ‘Uzkhâs Durin’s Folk had elected, but he had earned the accolade. His maznakkâ currently consisted of half Iron Hills Dwarrow and half Ereborian refugees, and while he knew that his Durin blood weighed heavily in the minds of his Ereborian soldiers, the Iron Hills Dwarrow respected him for the long line of Iron Hills generals his paternal sigin’amad had married to the Durin blood to spawn his own Adad. Fundin was a diplomat, like Balin, though he was a highly competent ’Azghzabad[3], something probably owed to his amad’s teachings. Dwalin’s sigin’adad, Farin, had been a merchant like his adad, but sigin’amad Geira had been a warrior born and bred, iron in her veins, as they said in the ‘Hills, the daughter and granddaughter of generals and commanders. Farin and Geira had been a peculiar couple to look at; a small, plump dwarf with a shrewd mind for numbers, and a rather tall warrior with a fierce scowl and more muscles than Dwalin had seen on anyone else. In truth, he resembled her greatly, having grown into his own large bulk over the years, something she had foretold on the day of his birth, to believe Balin. Dwalin smiled. Geira had died with Smaug’s attack, her massive axe in hand as she tried to defend her son’s home against the overwhelming odds. It was the way she would have wanted to join Mahal’s Guard, Dwalin knew, the loss of his first Master-at-Arms no longer so raw. He still remembered the lessons she had barked at him, when he was still little more than a pebble, the day she had given him his first axe, teaching him the ancient warrior’s stances and forms he had later passed on to the new recruits he would help train in the Iron Hills as part of his own training for the role of Uzkhas. Someday he might stand as Thorin’s ’Azghzabad, he dreamed, ruthlessly suppressing the joy he felt at his imminent reunion with his friend. His thoughts turned to Thorin, imagining those blue eyes, lit up with his smiles, as they laughed together at one of Frerin’s abominable jokes. He did not let himself dwell on the other ways Thorin’s eyes would smile at him; it had been nearly a decade since he had last seen the Prince, who might have easily found a different bedmate. Stroking the handle of his axe, Thorin’s face swam before his eyes. He had been surprised when Balin brought him the gift, from Thorin – his own work, marked with his raven – for his 50th Name-Day. Letters could not bring the same closeness as actual conversation – Dwalin had never been fond of writing, and his letters usually ended up sounding like terse military missives to him, no matter how long he slaved over the word choices. Flowery words were Balin’s trick, Dwalin knew, content to let his brother handle all such things while he concerned himself with killing the things that needed killing, and protecting those who needed protection. The only time words seemed to flow for him was when he was writing music for his viol, and even then he was better at laments than happy dancing tunes, Dwalin thought wryly.

“Three hours rest!” The command of Gufa Fabarâl – a cousin on his Adad’s side, though distant – meant a chance to sleep, something Dwalin would have appreciated more if it had not also meant that he was three more hours from reuniting with his Adad and brother – and Thorin. He knew better than to grumble, though, and simply set out his bedroll, thankful that he wasn’t on watch-duty tonight and falling asleep almost immediately with the ease of one used to catching sleep whenever the opportunity presented itself.

 


 

It was dark when Thorin woke, Balin shaking him and Frerin both awake and sending them off to fill their bellies. The sky was covered in a dense layer of ominous clouds, the sight settling like a ball of unease on Thorin’s gut. Not for the first time, he wished that he had been able to send Frerin away, that Thraín had not allowed his youngest son to come along and play at war, a terrible sense of foreboding weighting his shoulders.

“Stay near me, Frerin. Promise,” Thorin implored, catching his brother’s sleeve as the younger dwarf was in the middle of telling a joke to the appreciative audience of three pretty dwarrowdams.

“Always, Thorin,” Frerin smiled, knocking his forehead against his oft-too-serious older brother’s. “My place is always beside you.” Thorin gave him a rare smile. His unease had not lifted, but he felt better for the small comfort. They would be part of the Vanguard, directly under Fundin’s command, following Thraín into battle.

 


 

Marching into the valley that Dwarrowkind would forever call nothing but Azanulbizar when they left it, Thorin felt proud of his kin. Around him, rank upon rank of heavily armoured soldiers marched, silent until they reached the East-Gate, where they cried their challenge as one voice, the sound shaking the very earth beneath them. Thorin would not have been surprised to hear that their war-cry had caused an avalanche in the mountains far above his head, but when they looked up it was not cascading snow they saw, but thousands upon thousands of Orcs, all along the western slopes. Before them, multitudes of the ugly beasts – he no longer remembered how many he had killed over the last six years – were pouring from the Gate, their jeers loud in the crisp morning air. No sun lit the valley, giving the Orcs the mercy of hiding its face which Thorin considered another poor omen – or would have, if he had been inclined to believe in omens. Of course, the Dwarrow could see fine, some of them actually better in this half-dark than in bright sunshine, their Darksight eyes inherently suited to the lightless life under ground, after all. Still, the sight was a worrying one. They had not expected the enemy to be able to muster such numbers still, after the decimation they had suffered in their ranks since the war began, and Thorin knew that the Dwarrow were outnumbered. What was worse was that the Orcs currently possessed the significant advantage of high ground, which meant that their own army had to move quickly to seize the slopes. Just as Thorin thought that, the horn blew; his Adad’s signal.

Baruk khazad!” They cried, as they launched the assault, “Khazad ai-menu!” Bellowing along with his fellows, Thorin charged, pushing through the sparse trees that lined the valley. Keeping his promise, Frerin stayed right beside him, his bow twanging as he aimed for the archers above. It was rare for ranged attackers to fight in the Vanguard itself, but Frerin would never leave his beloved bow behind, and his arrows felled many before he had to abandon it for his sword, forged during the three years it took to gather their forces before the War against Orcs truly began.

Thorin gave himself over to the bloodlust, barely noting the scrapes he received as he snarled, felling his enemies with impunity. His shield took most of the damage, the left arm absorbing the brunt of any blow he was not quick enough to dodge. Another forceful blow of a mace splintered the shield, and Thorin threw the pieces down with a roar of annoyance. He knew, however, that they weren’t winning, seeing dwarrow fall on either side of him with an almost detached mind; his only focus on the next enemy to kill, the next attack to evade or parry and return in ferocious blows of vengeance. Thinking quickly in the unexpected lull of the battle – they were retreating back through the trees slowly – Thorin picked up a large oaken branch, broken off in a storm perhaps, but the branch had broken in such a way as to form a natural handle as it lay along his forearm, taking the place of his splintered shield.

“FRERIN! NO!”

Thorin heard the cry, though it did not register at first. His heart filled with dread as he dispatched his current enemy to whatever awaited Orcs in the hereafter. Turning, an act that felt like it took an age, he watched the smile that still lingered on his brother’s face, even as he stared in horror at the bloodied spear that pierced his chest from behind.

“Frerin,” Thorin croaked, catching Frerin’s body as the younger Prince of Durin’s Folk collapsed, bringing them both to their knees. “No, nononono,” he moaned, trying to stem the gushing blood, even as he knew that it was pointless; Frerin was already gone. “Frerin! Frerin, please!” he wailed, paying no attention to the battle around him as his hands were stained crimson with his brother’s blood. He vaguely heard a growl, but the sound was far away and did not concern him, watching the life leave the golden-haired dwarf he had loved since he was no more than a bump under Frís’s jewel-toned gowns. He didn’t register the legs that stood like tree trunks on either side of him, firm against the swarming Orcs. He did not hear the thunks and the snicks and all the other sounds an axe makes when it cleaves flesh from bone, when it rends armour, when it is wielded by a master in berserker rage.

 


 

“FRERIN! NO!” Dwalin screamed. Gufa had split their gangbuh in two, sending five maznakkâ to aid the retreat of Thraín’s forces while the other followed Lord Nain to the East Gate. Dwalin had seen what Frerin had too: the orc who was aiming to cut off Thorin’s head as he stooped to pick something up off the ground. Dwalin, however, had also seen what Frerin had not. Dwalin had already been running, but even as he screamed the warning, he knew it would do no good; he would not been swift enough to take the head of the Orc whose spear was aimed at the young Prince’s chest as he turned to defend his brother. His sword described a perfect deadly arc as Frerin cut off the large Orc’s head before it could take Thorin’s. Dwalin’s feet had wings, he was sure, as he sped towards the brothers – one he had called brother himself, and one he would call so much more if he’d let him – but it was too late. With a bellow, his axes swung, his legs firmly planted on either side of Thorin, who seemed entirely subsumed by grief. Dwalin did not care. In his hands, Grasper and Keeper were living entities, whirling death at the end of his arms. Dwalin saw nothing but the red haze of fury. He vaguely heard Thorin’s whimpers, his pleas, his cries of agony, but as he stood there, the vengeful protector incarnate, he only cared for the next Orc to come at them, ending up hacked to pieces before him.

 

 

 

 

 

notes:

[1] dwarf (about to reach battle ready age) who is the personal assistant to a lord, general or army commander, often carries messages and weapons or armour on his behalf (like a squire)

[2] March-company, a force consisting of 10 maznakkâ’(fist-force) of 49 Dwarrow.

[3] War-lord – battle tactician and right hand of the Uzbad, the Army’s top commander(Uzbad is also the word for lord & king, who usually filled that role)

Chapter Text

From the Official Account of the Battle of Azanulbizar and the Burned Dwarrow:

The battle swayed back and forth across the floor of the valley. The youngest Prince of Durin’s Line, Frerin, was slain among the trees near Mirrormere, along with Lord Fundin, son of Farin, son of Borin. King Thraín of Durin’s Folk had been wounded in the first assault of the Vanguard upon the western slope, as had his son, Prince Thorin, whose shield splintered so that his only means of defence was an oaken branch; henceforth he was deed-named Oakenshield.

Lord Náin from the Iron Hills arrived near midday at the head of a force of fresh troops. Náin and his Dwarrow cut through the Orc lines with their mattocks, chanting, "AZOG! AZOG! AZOG!" until they had reached the steps of the gate, where Náin called for Azog to come out and fight. When Azog emerged from the inner gate with his guards, Náin was already exhausted and half-blind with rage. He tried to swing as hard as he could, but Azog darted aside and Náin missed, splintering his mattock on the ground. The orc kicked Náin in the leg when he dodged the Dwarf's blow, making him stumble. The momentary distraction was enough for Azog to try to behead Náin, like he had done his uncle, but his thrust was blocked by Náin’s mail. The protection was so thick that the blade did not penetrate, though the massive force of the blow broke the dwarf’s neck. Náin died instantly.

Even as Azog gloated over his win, he looked out over the valley before him, and came to the realization that his entire force was routed. Those that could were fleeing southwards, and all his guard was dead. With that knowledge, he fled back to the gate. Náin's son, Dáin, whose foot had been crushed by an Orc’s mace, ignored his pain and leaped up the steps with his red axe. Before Azog could retreat into the darkness of Khazad-dûm, Dáin took his head with a mighty swing, bellowing his grief and rage. The Orc fell, and the Battle of Azanubizar was ended. The slaying of Azog, remarkable as Lord Dáin was only 32 years of age, and the later replacement of his foot earned Lord Dáin the deed-name Ironfoot.

 

The Dwarrow stood victorious, but when they began to tally the bodies that littered the field, half of our forces were dead or mortally wounded. The wounded were lying in tents, in the care of harried healers who would ultimately be too few to save all those they might have been able to if there had been more knowledgeable hands. The Orcs suffered even worse casualties, with ten thousand dead, but it was little comfort.

After the battle, King Thraín wanted to enter and reclaim Moria, the ancestral home of Durin's folk. However, due to their losses, the other Houses were not willing to participate in ousting the last Orc stragglers, and since young Lord Dáin claimed he had seen Durin's Bane beyond the East-gate, King Thraín refrained from entering.

The Dwarrow stripped their dead so the Orcs could not plunder them, and cut down all the trees in the valley, which would remain bare ever after. They made many pyres on which to burn their dead. They could not bury them all in tombs of stone, as was their custom, because it would take too long. From then on those that died in Dimrill Dale were known proudly as Burned Dwarrow.

The Houses parted ways, returning to their homes to the North, East, and West. Thráin, with what was left of the Longbeard contingent, went back to Dunland and eventually wandered into Eriador, settling in the Southern Blue Mountains. There Durin's folk repopulated slowly, waiting for the day when they could take back the halls of Erebor and Khazad-dum.

A yearly memorial celebration is held in the honour of the Burned Dwarrow, on the day of the battle, 27 Af’dush[1], a sombre day spent telling stories with family and remembering those who died in the Valley.

 

[1] early/mid December

Chapter Text

Thorin felt numb, staring at the flames. They had collected all the wood they could find, and the smoke stung his eyes, tearless as he stared in horror at the pyre that would consign his brother’s body to ash, never to be laid to rest in the stone, and he thought he would have crumbled if Dwalin had not been standing beside him.

 

Dwalin could hardly think. He had stood on the field of battle, and he had known that death was coming for him, had greeted it with a snarl on his face and axes in his fists. He had known that he would die here, defending his Prince, his friend, and the golden-haired lad who had grown more than he had expected since they had last met, but who would grow no more. Thorin had wailed, had whimpered, had roared in pained rage, and Dwalin had followed, protecting his back as he sought vengeance, a mad explosion of metal, wielded against any who’d dare to stand against them. In the rage, he had found a strange serenity, as though he was only nominally in control of himself, watching himself hack and slash and parry and whirl with a sort of detached awe at the death he left in his wake. He had watched Thorin throw himself headlong into the battle, ignoring the wounds he had already taken, ignoring the scratches and bruises he earned as they fought their way across the blood-soaked field.

Surviving had been a surprise.

Finding Balin alive had been equally unexpected, but the look on his brother’s face had told him clearly that he should not expect to see his Adad until Itdendûm beckoned. The pain had been muted, and Dwalin still did not truly believe – and yet he had to, for the fire had caught Fundin’s tunic now, and he wished he could not smell this, he really wished he could hide his face in Balin’s shoulder or Thorin’s hair… anywhere.

Dwalin stood, still as a statue. Not a muscle twitched, bar his painfully tight grip on Balin’s and Thorin’s hands, but their fingers were squeezing his just as tightly, so tight a distant part wondered if any of them would regain use of their fingers come morning.

 

Thorin had looked to his Adad for comfort, but Thraín had none to give, had few words to spare for his son, whose praises the common soldiers were already singing, and Thorin knew that Thraín blamed him for Frerin’s death. He blamed himself, too, but he wished… oh, he wished… Wishing didn’t bring back the dead, Thorin thought, viciously, as he stared at the leaping flames. He saw without seeing, heard without hearing, stood there, straight and proud, determined to honour the sacrifice that had bought his life by at least watching as the one who had paid the price burned before him, burning his heart to ashes along with him. His fingers hand found Dwalin’s, almost accidentally, and that was all the comfort Thorin allowed himself to crave, ruthlessly stomping down his desire to wail and cry. He was a Prince of the Line of Durin, and he had never hated it more than he did this day, knowing that any tear he felled for Frerin would be a stain on their reputation in his Adad’s eyes. For royalty, grief was private, he had been told, even as they marched away from Erebor and he had been unable to hold back his tears when he realised how many friends and family had not made it out. In public, he must be strong, must carry the hopes of a people on his shoulders, and, oh, how he hated it.

The flames leapt against the star-studded blackness beyond the mountains.

 

Balin was angry. Angry at the world, at his King, at his Adad, at his Maker. He had seen his Adad fall, had briefly caught a glimpse of Dwalin charging across the field, and he had had no time to speak his last to either of them before a blow to the head had knocked him unconscious. It was sheer luck that he was not among those who were burning as those who could still stand stood watch, their eyes dead and empty, as those who could cry, cried tears of anguish and grief. They could hear the screams and whimpers from his far left, the healers’ tents overflowing with wounded and dying. Balin was angry, because anger was preferable to the crushing grief that waited around the corner as he watched his last true family burn. Now, all that was left was Dwalin and himself, and Balin wondered how this could be the Maker’s plan.

“He is with Amad, now…” he heard himself croak, almost too low to be heard, but Dwalin’s firm squeeze of his fingers told him that his little brother had heard.

“Perhaps… perhaps she will make him laugh again,” Dwalin whispered, as the flames mercifully obscured Fundin’s face from their sight. On his other side, Thorin shuddered.

“Frerin will make them both laugh,” he said, an oath and a plea in one. Balin and Dwalin both nodded.

 

None of them said another word through the long hours of vigil, watching their loved ones turned to ash.