The Third Age: Year 3007
The echoes of Dwalin’s roar reached the deepest nooks of Erebor, as if the mountain itself was shaking in his anguish.
Dread had washed over Dwalin before Bofur had even spoke. Bofur, who radiated joy from his eyes, cheeks, smile, and the way he moved like he was always dancing, looked as though a troll had squeezed all the happiness out of him. His approach was slow, shoulders hunched and eyes downcast, hidden underneath the brim of his hat. It seemed like Bofur used all his remaining strength just to meet Dwalin’s gaze, and when their eyes met, Dwalin could see that the usual glimmer was replaced with a lusterless grey.
It was a look Dwalin had not seen since Azanulbizar, when he had lost his father, Fundin. The same blank stare and stone features he had last seen when Thorin and his nephews Fili and Kili had all met their end at the Battle of Five Armies. He knew what words were coming. But this was different from all the other times he had heard them. He had no shield. No adrenaline of battle coursing through his veins. No enemy with whom he could release his rage and fury and pain. Dwalin had been dulled by peace, and he took the full force of the Bofur’s words like a hammer to the skull.
“They’re all dead, Dwalin. Everyone who left for Moria. Ori. Oin...” He couldn’t even say the next name without choking on the word.
There hadn’t been any word from Moria in thirteen years. No one had considered it was cause for alarm. The earliest reports were a joy to read, they told valiant tales of how Balin’s Company arrived at the mountain to find the dwarven city pervaded with orcs, but they stood no chance against the heroic might of a veteran that had lived through Azanulbizar and the Battle of Five Armies. After that, each story they received was of the discoveries being made, of relics and artifacts and secrets that had lain untouched for almost nine centuries. News arrived frequently at first, but the distance between updates increased as they ventured deeper into city. And any letter that arrived was always uplifting; Ori’s expertise with the quill captured the very essence of Balin’s excitement as new treasures were unearthed. There was nothing to suggest the journey had turned out to be anything other than as wonderful as Balin had dreamed it would be.
Despite all the hardships endured to reclaim it, not even Erebor could keep Balin within its mighty halls. No mountain could contain a spirit that thirsted for the world. It was as though a lifetime of exile had created an itch in Balin that intensified the longer he went without seeing what was beyond the horizon. He had only settled down for seven years before leaving with Gandalf to visit Bilbo in the Shire. Not even a decade had passed after that trip before Balin began talking about Moria. As soon the seed had been planted, it grew within him like a verdant grove. His vitality was contagious too, with Ori and Oin unable to keep from swept up by the romance of Durin’s descendants bearing his Axe once again after so long.
It made Dwalin so happy to see the youth in Balin’s eyes again. Even when they all gathered to celebrate Balin’s second century, you could have dyed his beard black and mistaken him for an adolescent. Balin laughed, drank, sung, and danced with merry fervour until the night began to break. That was also the night Balin met Eimi. As the celebration was drawing to a close, and Dwalin was finding the call of sleep very appealing, he caught his brother talking with a dwarrowdam that had recently arrived from Ered Luin. A few decades younger than Balin, her long, crimped hair was decorated by wisps of silver that cut into the darkness of her midnight locks like the crescent moon. Short of stature and heavy of build, she was an adept ironcrafter, and had the muscular curves of one who spent hours at the forge each day, perfecting her art. Her round, cheerful face was cradled by a short, thick chinstrap beard, and her eyes, violet like amethysts, were windows to a playful, friendly soul and an intelligent mind that could best even Balin’s wit.
For Balin, it was love at first sight.
They wed after five blissful years of courting, and Balin had never been happier. Together they planned their adventure to Moria; there was nothing that could stop Eimi from staying at her husband’s side, should the legends of Mithril be true she longed to be among the first dwarves to craft it after a millennium. It seemed like everything was perfect, until a few months before their departure when little Burin entered their lives. Balin was so proud the day his son was born, and not even Dwalin could maintain his stoic demeanour the first time he held the little thing in his arms.
It was three years before Balin and Eimi spoke of Moria again, and they agreed that it was time they stopped prolonging the quest. It was decided that Balin would lead the first expedition to establish a colony and make a new home for his wife and son. From that point, it didn’t take long for the Company to be organised and for preparations to be completed. They celebrated with one last feast, and shared goodbyes, and Balin left for Moria with the same burning passion in his eyes that Thorin had for Erebor all those years ago. The same dream that, like his king, he would never see realised.
It crushed Dwalin to know he would never see that fire again. That his sister-in-law would never see her beloved again. That his nephew would grow up never knowing his father, not even remembering what he looked like. Once Bofur had spoken the name of his brother, Dwalin was enveloped in numbness. Unable to feel anything, he collapsed to his knees and fell forward, arms reaching out instinctively before his body hit the cold, hard floor. He couldn’t feel the stone. Couldn’t taste the air. Couldn’t breathe. Balin. Gone. Forever. He gritted his teeth, slammed his fist against the granite, and released his heartache with an anguished cry.
Dwalin howled until his throat was hoarse, until there was not a breath within his lungs, until it could no longer escape because the grief was strangling him.
And when he could no longer howl, he wept.