Skaro heard the alarm echoing through the stone corridors from his place in the Great Forges. The goldsmith dropped his tools and began running. With him came the other smiths, those who were not immediately needed to quench the forge-fires as proper protocol demanded.
Everything in the hallways was chaos. People were running to and fro, screaming in pain or calling for lost loved ones. When he came to an intersection, and spotted the first burnt corpses, Skaro knew that this was no ordinary enemy attack. This was escaping certain doom as best you could.
He tried to close off his heart from the fear of what might have become of his beloved Balin, even as he began to make his way through the crowded halls. Panic raged.
He spotted Lady Frís hurrying past him, two dwarflings in her arms, and turned to follow her towards the Main Gate – if Balin was anywhere in the chaos, he’d be with the Royals, this time of day – but he did not even get to hail her name as the shadow fell upon him.
There was a smell of death; decaying meat and brimstone…
“I am dead, then.” Skaro blinked, staring at the intricate carvings on the ceiling – far more delicate than any he had seen wrought in Erebor, evidence of a skill so beyond what they now called Mastery that he nearly wanted to weep at the beauty of it. When his own voice registered, the tears did fall, sliding down his face and into his beard.
“Yes, Child.” Skaro startled, sitting up at once and staring at the sympathetic smile on Her face. He gaped. Flowers bloomed in her hair, her head encircled by a golden crown of a distinctly Dwarven appearance, and her skin looked like smooth bark.
“Yavanna…” he breathed, at once reverent and surprised. He had expected the Maker, not the Fruit-Giver to greet him when he had considered what waking up in the Halls would be like. Somehow, he felt slightly cheated.
“Welcome to Itdendûm,” she smiled, “Skaro, son of Ragnhild.”
Skaro’s mouth opened and closed a few times, but no words escaped him. Yavanna simply waited, surprisingly comfortable company.
“Why am I dead?” he asked, finally, trying not to accuse her of usurping the place of Mahal. Yavanna smiled gently, but her eyes were sad; Skaro felt slightly surprised he was able to read her face so easily – Balin was the keen diplomat, he tended towards emotional obliviousness as his One had once teased.
“One of the many Children lost to Smaug.” He flinched, involuntary, but Yavanna’s face lost the harsh anger she had worn speaking of it with her next breath.
“Smaug?” Skaro asked, confused. He didn’t remember his death, which on second thought might have been a blessing. A door that had not previously existed suddenly opened, looking as though it had always been there.
“What the survivors call the beast,” Yavanna explained, turning her face to accept the kiss Mahal dropped on her cheek. He looked angry, and so terribly sad Skaro felt his tears begin once more. “A great fire-drake from the North.” Taking Mahal’s hand, the Giver of Fruit turned back to look at him once more, that same terribly sad sympathy mixed with anger in her gaze. For a moment, e felt pleased not to be the true target of her ire, wondering how long someone who had angered the Queen of Earth could expect to live.
“It ate me…” he said, “Didn’t it?”
Mahal nodded, shrugging his massive shoulders as his eyes burned like fiery coal. Yavanna’s hand seemed so delicate against his granite skin, but the touch calmed his angry Creator, which made Skaro feel less cheated that he had woken up to her kindness rather than the anger that still seemed to spark off the Maker.
“It did,” Mahal replied. “Erebor has been lost, and my Children once more displaced in the wake of tragedy.” He seemed to calm slightly, wrapping one arm around his wife, and Skaro suddenly wondered how much it pained him to watch the lives of his Children, powerless to help. He shuddered, wondering why he was so calm himself; he had died, after all. Balin would have laughed to see him – Balin… was Balin still alive?
“My- my family?” he asked. Mahal sighed, shaking his head slowly.
“I cannot tell you of those who do not dwell in my Halls,” he said, looking honestly sorry for that fact. Skaro nodded.
“The future is veiled to all.” Yavanna said softly. Another ornate door appeared.
“What… what happens now?” Skaro wondered, suddenly frightened of what awaited him.
“Those who are here already will welcome you,” Mahal said, “and you will get to know your kin; speak to those who dwell in my Halls.” He smiled, and Skaro wondered if this was what it felt like to have a Father. “Eventually, you will find others who share your Craft, build your skills, and spent your time doing what you love best.”
“Is…” he hardly dared ask, but, somehow, he needed to know before he stepped through the door, “is Balin here, too?”
“No,” Mahal said, his voice quite but rumbling like a rockslide, “those who are waiting for you were not killed in the attack.”
Skaro felt a wave of relief wash over him, enough to start the tears spilling from his eyes once more, dripping into his lap and revealing his nakedness. Startled by sudden awareness, Skaro knew his cheeks were aflame, thanking the dark skin of his unknown sire for hiding his embarrassment.
“Here,” Yavanna’s soft voice reminded him of his Amad, numbly taking the knitted blanket she held out, touched to see that the yarn had been dyed his favourite purple colour. Wrapping it around himself, Skaro nodded to her, feeling grateful for the return of modesty, even if it had not bothered him to be naked before the Maker.
“Thank you,” he murmured belatedly, feeling amused at the thought that his Amad would have clouted him round the ear if she’d caught him being so rude in accepting a gift. Yavanna smiled brightly, one of the buds in her hair opening slowly.
“Are you ready to meet those who would welcome you?” Mahal asked solemnly. Skaro nodded, equally solemn, and hopped down from the stone plinth he had been lying on when he woke. He took a step towards the door, gripping his blanket more securely.
“I’m ready,” he said, steeling himself.
“Welcome, my Son, to the Halls of Waiting,” Mahal said behind him, a large hand passing over his shoulder to push open the Dwarf-sized door.
Skaro stepped through.