Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lord of the Rings belong to their respective creators, Joss Whedon and J.R.R. Tolkien.
The Man that Thorir had carried on his back since the Easterlings rammed open the Gate of Erebor died of his wounds before the cliffs of the Withered Heath.
Gudrun, Hrafn's wife, helped him lay the Man out on the rocks. They had had to strip him of his armor for the weight, but Gudrun had kept his sword, and now laid it on his breast.
“Mahal keep him,” she whispered.
Thorir did not know the lad's name. Young, even for Men, and dark-haired, he had been one of the Dalesmen who had come with the Mannish King when the people of Dale were forced from their own holds and into the Mountain, and he had fought with them when the Easterlings finally breached the Gate.
“Mahal keep him,” said Thorir, but his prayer was empty.
His shoulder ached where an axe had bitten him. The cap of his helm was dented over the left temple, and the articulated beard-sheath broken off. His beard was matted with gore, and his back ached, was damp where the Man had bled through the chain and the shirt.
Gudrun walked away, was stooping down to look at the bleeding arm of a Khuzd
child. There were a number of them, some still babes in their mothers' arms. Their faces were white with shock, and they clutched at the sleeves of the few Dwarf women and elderly who were close. Many of the children were without their mothers or fathers, having lost them to the killing or the dark.
They were perhaps two hundred, only a fraction of those that had fled when the Mountain was taken. Most were Dwarves, though there were among them Dalefolk, including eight children. The flight from the Mountain had been panicked and disarrayed, with irregular fighting as those despoilers not taken up with the sacking turned to harrowing those fleeing.
For two days they had walked, and at the edge of the Withered Heath, in the hills below the desolate cliffs, had finally been forced to stop.
Thorir turned to look for his shield-mates, and found them already gathering on the slope of the hill, below where the women, children, and aged huddled. Many of the Khazad
were grievously hurt, one whitebeard missing his arm below the elbow, but no one denied any man his place. Assembling with them were what few of the Dalesmen still lived and could walk, and these formed their ranks beside those of the Dwarves.
Twenty-four Dwarves, and twenty-three Men. Thorir met Gudrun's eyes where she stood with the other Dwarf-women, a knife in her hand.
Axe on his shoulder, he went down to take his own place in the line, and found himself standing next to a Dalesman.
This Man was larger and older than the boy had been, and still wore his armor, much rended by blows. Black-haired, he was wide in his shoulders, and wore the tabard of the King of Dale.
“I am Haln,” said the Man. A terrible cut marred his left eye, and he put his weight to the left. “A sword-bearer of Brand the King.”
Thorir scratched at his beard. “Thorir son of Thorgrim.” Then, without thinking, “At your service, and your clan's.”
“And mine at yours,” replied Haln.
They stood for a moment, somewhat awkwardly, as the ranks straightened itself out around them.
The light was weak and gray, the Sun a silver coin obscured by the smoke that still drifted dark out of the South. Thorir glared into the distance, over the rock-strewn fields they had staggered through only hours earlier.
that came were not many. A warband of a hundred, perhaps, the White Hand at helm and shield. They came at a Wargish lope that seemed to swallow the miles, and when the Orcs nearest caught sight of the prey they tracked, a hundred orcish throats opened with howls that filled the air.
Regret tightened Thorir's gut. If only he had died in Erebor, defending the halls of his ancestors! If only he had stayed and fought, rather than abandoned his home! Why had he come? Why had he lived?
“We must hold,” someone said. A Dwarf-lord in a red cloak, his winged helm slick with blood. “We must give the women time.”
A grumble of understanding from the Khazad
, bleak looks from the Men.
came on, shrieking and charging in berserker manner, shields low for knowing their quarry had no arrows. They came arms flailing, gnashing their teeth, barely half a mile away—
—and then one stumbled, staggered, collapsed, and was still.
The warband stopped, their yowls dying in their throats. The Rakhas
stared, as Thorir stared, as they all stared, at the Rukhs
that had fallen.
At the long, white-fletched arrow in its eye.
Thorir's mouth opened. He turned, abruptly, along with all the other Dwarves, with the Men, with the women, children, and elderly, to look, eyes wide, toward the cliffs of the Withered Heath.
The sky was the gray of winter and smoke. On the cliffs, there, at the top, and below, where the rocks sloped narrowly down—
—and among the hills to the left and right of the one the Dwarves and Men had picked to make their stand, stepping now, out from among the stones—
—were tall, silver-helmed figures, clad in green and gray, bows in their hands and leaf-swords at their hips.
Haln gasped, his voice a strangled whisper, “Elves—”
Thorir closed his mouth. He looked from the Elves on the cliffs, to the ones on the slope, and then, in the rocks at the foot—
—and his eyes were caught by a figure there.
A small figure, coming not even to the shoulders of the Elves. A leaf-blade in each hand, wearing a gray cowl, a long tunic, and a girdle of silver stars—
Raising, now, a sword—
—and three hundred white-feathered arrows took flight.
, pl. Khazad
| Dwarf, DwarvesRukhs
, pl. Rakhas
| Orc, Orcs