"Things we lost to the flame,
Things we'll never see again.
All that we've amassed,
Sits before us, shattered into ash."
The sky burned, hues of ochre and crimson filtering through plumes of thick black smoke. Thorin, son of Thrain and grandson to King Thror, looked to the mountain and winced as the great red dragon descended upon his home. The Kingdom of Erebor. He had been returning from Dale when the dragon first struck, with not a care in the world save for what royal obligation awaited him upon his return. Now his home was burning, his people pouring out from the mountain like ants from a nest, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. But he had to try, as was his duty. Thorin rallied the party that had been accompanying him and made a hasty return to the mountain, where he came upon his younger brother, Frerin, at the main gate. The young dwarf pulled him into a crushing hug.
"Brother, you're alive!" He bellowed, clapping a hand on his sibling's shoulder. "We thought you were still in the mountain. Father's gone to look for you!"
Thorin's heart plummeted. His father had gone looking for him where he would not be found. Had he even informed anyone of his visit into Dale? He couldn't recall, but now guilt began to seep in and he needed to do something about it.
"Where did he go?" he asked, drawing his sword in preparation of defending himself. It would be futile against the dragon of course, but Thorin wasn't the type to go down without a fight, no matter the odds. Frerin laid his eyes upon Thorin's weapon and realisation dawned on him.
"Thorin, no! You can't go in there! The dragon's broken through the gate, there's no chance of you coming out alive!"
"And even less chance of our father, who's in there because of me! Now tell me, which way did he go?"
"The forges, someone told him they'd seen you there..."
Thorin swallowed the bile that rose to his throat. The forges were deep under the mountain, by the time he reached them the dragon would be well on his way to settling in to his new keep. There'd be no chance of returning then. He took a deep breath and turned to leave, but Frerin caught his arm.
"At least let me come with you."
Thorin admired his brother's courage, but he couldn't let him enter the mountain and face the dragon when he doubted he'd be successful himself. His father had already risked his life, he couldn't let Frerin do the same. Especially when the King was nowhere to be seen and Frerin would be the only heir should anything happen to his predecessors. With a heavy heart Thorin put a hand on his brothers shoulder.
“That would not be wise, brother. Our people will need you to lead them.”
Frerin nodded solemnly and loosened his grip. “Be safe,” he pleaded, water filling his eyes.
“You too little brother,” they shared a sad smile, before Thorin turned and made his way in to the mountain.
Thorin had once believed that the forges of Erebor were one of the hottest places in Middle Earth, but as soon as he felt the heat of the dragons flames he realised he’d been wrong.
So very wrong.
His skin burned, sweat pouring from him and soaking his clothes. He became disoriented, the way ahead distorted by the heat emanating from the floor and walls and suffocating him with every step he took. Every fibre in him wanted to turn back, wanted to flee the mountain and breathe the cool, fresh air of outside once more. To feel the sweet release from the excruciating furnace the mountain had become. But he had a duty to uphold, and so he pressed on.
He could have cried out with relief when he saw his father and grandfather hobbling out of the throne room, and he bolted towards them with renewed vigour, desperate to get out of the mountain and to safety.
“Thorin, my son! I thought I had lost you!” Thrain cried, and another wave of guilt swept over Thorin as he saw the despair in his father’s eyes. But he couldn’t dwell on that now, they needed to get out.
As if on cue, the dragon crashed through the wall and slithered down the hall towards them, knocking aside any that opposed him with a flick of his tail. The heirs of Durin took cover behind a stone pillar and waited for the beast to slink past before moving on.
“The Arkenstone!” Thror howled as the dragon entered the treasure room. The King broke free from his son’s grasp and clawed at Thorin to get away. The Prince maintained a firm grip on his grandfather, who’s efforts to break free became futile against his younger, much stronger, heir.
“Do not be such a fool!” Thorin roared, shocking the old man in to submission. He gripped Thror on the shoulder and looked him square in the eye, ignoring the glazed expression of the King that confirmed he was well and truly lost to the sickness. “The Arkenstone is lost, we need to get out before we are too!”
The ghost of recognition flashed in Thror's eyes as his grandson’s words sank in. Finally he nodded, allowing Thorin to support him, and together the three of them made their way out of the mountain, leaving behind the treasure, the mountain, their home.
"Olena, I do hope you're not going to the woods!"
Olena sighed and rolled her eyes, turning to face her mother who'd followed her out of the house. She smiled innocently at the middle aged woman and shook her head.
"Of course not," she said brightly, her hands behind her back with crossed fingers as she rocked on her toes. "I'm going to visit Bryn."
Her mother studied her with a dubious expression, before nodding her head in submission. "Very well, then. But make sure you're home in time for supper!"
With a nod Olena hurried off along the path. She knew her mother would be watching so she turned on to the path that led to her friend Bryn's house, ducking behind some empty wine barrels until she went back inside. She hadn't completely lied; she was going to visit Bryn, just after she'd been to the woods.
The woods. Her mother hated her going there. She told her stories of orcs and goblins lurking in the shadows in an attempt to keep her away, but they were never any use. Olena had always been too curious for her own good (and almost as stubborn as a dwarf, as her father often reminded her), so naturally anything her mother warned her against only piqued her interest all the more.
It was a beautiful spring day, the sun breaking through the trees in soft beams that provided a dim yet comforting light, and Olena breathed the earthy scents with a fond smile. She sought out her usual spot - an old trunk that had twisted with age and hung over the path, its long branches providing a secluded shelter where she could hide away from the world for a few hours. She'd found it purely by accident when she'd been climbing and had fallen into it, and had since claimed it as her own. It was her shelter, a sanctuary to simply enjoy the nature around her. She had not shared its location with anyone, not even Bryn - she doubted he'd forgive her if he ever found out. She settled herself down on a nest of leaves and pulled a book from the satchel she'd brought along with her. It was one of her favourites, filled with tales of heroes of old, those who’d defended Middle Earth from the evil that once lurked there, and soon she was lost within its pages, battling alongside the heroes and slaying the enemies.
She wrinkled her nose when the smell of smoke drifted in on the breeze, the sickly sweet aroma an unwelcome assault on her senses. Curious of its source, she packed away her book and left her shelter to investigate. The sky was dark, though it was far from nightfall, and when Olena reached the treeline she discovered why. Her village, her beloved home, was engulfed in flames, thick black smoke rising in deadly plumes that blocked out the sun. For a moment she stood still, frozen by the shock of the sight before her, but she quickly came to her senses and ran, heart racing as she bounded down the hill towards the village, barely able to keep her feet as she willed herself to go faster. As she drew closer, however, she wished she hadn't been so hasty, for she found the place swarming with orcs, burning and killing everything in their path, their weapons glistening with blood. Olena managed to jump behind the barrels she'd tricked her mother with earlier just as an orc came running past. Peeking between two barrels, she watched in horror as her home was destroyed, people she'd known all her life tortured and taunted before being slaughtered in the streets. What a terrible coincidence it was that the very woods her mother had spent so long warning her against were what had saved her from burning with everyone else. But she wasn't safe just yet - she may have managed to arrive unnoticed, but there was still the matter of getting out.
Taking a few deep breaths for courage she prepared to make a break for freedom. However, just as she leaped forward to start running a flash of blinding white light filled her vision, accompanied by a deafening CRACK! that threw her off balance and sent her tumbling to the ground with a scream. She knew her mistake as soon as it had happened and she clapped a hand to her mouth and squeezed her eyes shut, preparing for the worst now that she'd given herself away.
A moment of silence passed in which nothing terrible happened, which was soon broken when a kindly voice addressed her. "It's quite alright, you may open your eyes now."
Olena did as instructed and found herself in front of an old man. His beard, hat and cloak were varying shades of grey, and he carried a staff that reminded Olena of the twisted branches from her woodland shelter. She assessed her surroundings and found the fires extinguished, no sign of the orcs save for the mass of bodies littering the scorched earth. Now that the air had cleared she could see the full extent of the devastation the raiders had caused, and despite her intentions of bombarding the old man with questions when she turned back to face him, she instead vomited at his feet and passed out.