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the fate of those who are left behind

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Most dwarrow, the ones who are forced to stay behind, think that after the battle is over everyone who was alive came home. Admittedly, Bofur thought that too. It seemed logical. You fight and if you live, you go back. Simple as that.

Except it wasn't as easy as that. Nothing ever was, was it?

Everything stank of death. Rotting flesh and the maggots that came to feast off them. Somehow the scent of copper was so strong in the air you could taste it. It didn't matter the dead was Orc or Dwarrow, everyone smelled the same.

All three of them, Bofur, Bombur and their cousin Bifur had all survived the battle for Azanulbizar. Pointless battle as it was. They hadn't even won.

Their army was marching out, but not with them.

Bofur and his brother were arguing in the medical tent with their cousin's healer. The bastard was packing up, leaving.

"You can't just go!" Bofur yelled as he followed the healer around the small tent as the dwarf put this instruments into a rucksack. "My cousin's got an axe in his head!"

"Not my problem."

"Not your problem?" Bofur repeated back at him, aghast. "Your his assigned healer! If it's not your problem, I'd like to know who's problem it bloody is!"

"Whichever healer decided to stay with you lot."

Bombur decided to cut in, "Excuse me, who would that be?"

"I don't know," the healer answered flippantly. "I'm getting out of here. I suggest you two do the same. Look," he looked both brothers directly. "Your cousin was struck point blank with an Orc blade to his forehead. It's been Mahal's will that he's lasted this long. But he's been unconscious for two weeks. He's not going to wake up. The army is moving out."

With that the healer gave a small wave and left.

Bofur cursed as loud as he could, kicking at a pile of severed limbs on the ground by Bifur's cot.

His brother grasped his hand. "We'll get through this."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bofur had thought that it was always the victories who buried the dead after a battle. Dwarrow certainly did. They all learned very quickly however, that Orcs didn't care. So within days everyone was forced to bury the thousands of bodies.Sometimes, Bofur thought he saw an Orc laughing at them from atop of the mountain.

The weeks went by slow. They took shifts between sleeping, looking after their cousin and helping burying the dead. If Bofur was to be honest, he'd done it all three arse over tit. He'd swapped gravedigging shifts or hard chores for whiskey and a small portions of rations. When he'd sit by Bifur's cot for hours, watching his cousin lay still, why shouldn't be drink and be merry? There was nothing better to do. Therefore at the end of the day when his head hit his own cot, he might be drunk. That was his business. People like Bombur should stick his nose where it didn't belong.

Somehow, Bofur was able to make friends. He liked to make them laugh. It helped to get everyone singing and telling bawdy jokes as they dug the mass graves. He quickly became popular around camp.

It annoyed him and the rest of his mates when a month after the army abandoned them, the wives, sisters, daughters, friends of the fallen and missing came wandering into camp and badgering them constantly wanting to know where their loved one was. Bofur attempted to be gentle. He didn't want to let them know the truth that he had no idea which blackened and bloated corpse their dear heart was and which mass pit he'd thrown them carelessly in. Bofur hoped to Mahal that they weren't looking for someone who had been slightly groaning as he'd picked them up and tossed them in with the rest.

Bofur never saw Bombur's wife come looking for any of them. He felt betrayed. It stung at his heart, but he grabbed his his flask and took another swig and it didn't hurt as much.

Bifur had never so much as twitched. Bofur lost hope a long time ago. He began to wonder if he and his brother should cut their losses and get the fuck out of this shit hole.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Three months after the army left, he was on burial duty once again, when he saw Bombur running toward his group. He dropped his pick-axe and rushed to his kin. "Brother, what are you doing here?"

Bombur was out of breath, his face flushed. "Healer… Bifur… Awake--"

Bofur didn't need to hear anymore. He ran as fast as he could, faster than Bombur (which was saying something). Something, a feeling, was rising up in his chest that warmed him and spread a smile across his face.

Hope.