"Leave the halls and caverns deep,
Leave the northern mountains steep,
Where the forest wide and dim
Stoops in shadow grey and grim!"
- The Hobbit
The night was deep, the fire in the great hall was extinguished and only two torches remained lit, sputtering weakly in their sconces. Upon his carven throne sat Mirkwood’s greatest king, his face cast in shadow, a crown of green leaves dashed at his at his feet. He sat staring sightlessly at a stone column, though in his mind he saw only the past.
The fabled city of Erebor, deep within The Lonely Mountain where ruled Thror, the last great Dwarf Lord. Despite the proximity of the Lonely Mountain to Thranduil’s halls, he had little interest or reason to journey there, for while he had no particular enmity with the Dwarves he bore them no great love either. He had sent a few emissaries when Thror proclaimed himself King under the Mountain to assure the Dwarves his people meant them no ill and to extend offers of trade and alliance, for enemies of the Elves were often enemies of the Dwarves as well. Since that time Thror had amassed great wealth and had proved an agreeable neighbor in that he stayed in his mountain, did not cheat at trade, and did not trouble Thranduil’s people with the presence of his own folk.
Then one day news arrived that the Arkenstone was going on display in the King’s halls. The stone had been kept locked away since the return of Thror and his people to Erebor but the King under the Mountain had suddenly decided to display it openly as a sign to all that his right to rule was divine. Tales of the splendor of the jewel spread and Thranduil’s curiosity was piqued. It was said to possess the brilliance of a Silmaril but had been worked by the Dwarves into an object of greater magnificence than even the legendary gems of Fëanor. Though Thranduil doubted the veracity of such claims he greatly desired to see this much talked about “Heart of the Mountain”, for his father’s stories of the Silmarils had sparked within him a fondness bordering on cupidity for white gems.
Even as he was working out a way to gain access to Thror’s halls without appearing too eager to view the stone, a message arrived from Erebor requesting his attendance at the upcoming Durin’s Day celebration. Peoples from many lands were invited to bring gifts to the king and pay Thror homage. There would be a formal gifting ceremony followed by a massive feast. While Thranduil had no intention of paying homage to a Dwarf he readily accepted the invitation, much to the consternation of his advisors.
“What are you thinking?” Gwaithren, his Chief Advisor and spokesperson for his council, demanded. “To attend will surely appear as if you are confirming the Greenwood subject to Thror. Do you know how this will look to the other realms, how it will look to your people? You cannot afford to be seen as toadying to the wealth of Erebor.”
Thranduil fixed him with a glare. “Is that how it looks to you and the council?” he asked icily.
“No, your majesty, not at all,” his advisor said hastily, dropping his gaze. “But appearances are important, and with the Greenwood growing ever darker and stranger…”
“Enough!” Thranduil said, looking down his regal nose at his fidgeting advisor. “I have made my decision and will hear no further discussion of the matter. You may inform the council and thank them for their concern.”
“As you wish, your majesty,” Gwaithren said, bowing exceptionally low and backing out of the room.
When the door closed, Thranduil sat down heavily and sighed. He did not care what others might think but Gwaithren was right on one score, he could allow nothing to undermine his authority. There was a nameless evil taking over the Greenwood and though it was still far to the south it was creeping ever closer. Did he have the power to hold it at bay? And for how long? Yet this would be his best opportunity to see the Arkenstone. He would call his trip a diplomatic venture to strengthen the bonds of friendship between the Elves of the Greenwood, the Men of Dale and Éothéod, and the folk of Dorwinion. He could see no real harm in such a journey, and many advantages. Yet the objection of his advisors dogged him. His journey might be for good or ill, he could not say, but even he felt there was some portent in it.
The next morning he set out for Erebor with three of his less outspoken councilors and a small guard escort. It was late autumn and the air was sharp, the early morning ground glittering with frost. A pale sun shouldered its way through a cloudless azure sky, trying fruitlessly to enliven the dying plain. The horses trotted along at a brisk pace with a merry spring in their step for their stables were, out of necessity, within the caverns and the poor beasts were always eager for open pastures or to bear their riders upon some journey.
Thranduil was as merry as they to be riding through the open countryside with the bracing autumn wind blowing through his hair, his cloak flowing behind him. He began to hum a tune to the rhythm of the hoof beats resounding off the hard ground and his men soon joined in. Thranduil broke into a song he made up on the spot of trees and starlight, of mountains overflowing with gold, of treasure and wealth and white gems filled with their own radiant light. Before long the Elves were filling the countryside with their faerie music and even the thrushes fell silent to listen to their impromptu concert.
The day passed swiftly in this way and when night began to fall, the company made camp and set a watch. Though the night passed uneventfully, Thranduil found sleep elusive and was glad when morning came and they could continue. It took three days to reach the Lonely Mountain but they arrived in fine spirits and were greeted warmly by their hosts, though less warmly when they discovered the Elves had brought no ceremonial gift for Thror. While Thranduil’s advisor explained that the purpose of the Elven-king’s visit was to renew bonds of friendship between the Elves and Dwarves and to show his continued respect to the King under the Mountain, Thranduil took in the massive columns of green marble, banded at the tops and bases with gold and patterned with white and red gems. It was truly an impressive sight and made Thranduil fall into reverie. Though he had never seen the fabled caves of Menegroth he had hearkened with fascination to his father’s stories, poured over his illustrations, and sometimes he longed to have been part of that world, of the glories of the High Kings of old.
Once the wrangling over gifts was over the Dwarves took them to their lodgings to freshen up before their audience with the king. Thranduil found his rooms to be comfortable with furnishings scaled to his size, which he found a bit surprising. He supposed since the Dwarves had many dealings with Men, they kept quarters such as this to accommodate their guests. The craftsmanship of the chairs and tables was serviceable but the stonework of the rooms and fireplaces was stunning, far more ornate than his own halls, though not as fair and merry.
When he and his advisors had been given the time to rest from their journey a page appeared to take them to an audience with Thror so Thranduil could make his official greeting. They were shown into the throne room and the first object that caught Thranduil’s attention was the Arkenstone. It was set into the back of the king’s throne, its facets absorbing the torchlight and throwing it back in prismatic slivers of pure light. Thranduil stared at it with secret longing as though struck by an enchantment. If this was not a Silmaril, Thranduil thought, his eyes could not have beheld the real thing. He had never seen a gem more beautiful, more powerful. He took a step forward, mesmerized, his eyes fixed on the remarkable jewel as though drawn by some unseen power, then he forced himself to look away, to slide his gaze down. He gave a gracious nod to Thror.
“Welcome to Erebor at last, O great Elven-king,” Thror said in his rough Dwarven accent. The beauty of the Sindarin language sounded like pebbles in a tin pot upon the Dwarf’s tongue but Thranduil did not show how the words grated upon his ears. “Ever have I desired you should visit my halls.” His words were fair but Thranduil could see the canny glint in his eye. He knew the effect of the Arkenstone.
“My thanks for your invitation O King under the Mountain,” Thranduil replied, his Khuzdul accent flawless. “May your rule be as infinite as your wealth is vast.”
Thror’s beard split in a wide smile. Thranduil had chosen his words carefully for he knew that Thror was proud of his treasure. His amassed wealth was not merely the keys to power and prosperity for the Dwarves, it was an obsession, and Thranduil’s words had played well to his vanity.
Thror motioned to two Dwarves who stood beside the throne. “Allow me to introduce to you my son, Thrain II, and my grandson Thorin.”
Thranduil glanced at them intending to give them a nod of acknowledgement and nothing more, but when he locked eyes with Thorin he forgot the Arkenstone, which had so enchanted him mere moments ago, existed. The young Dwarf prince presented a striking figure in his sky blue tunic, which matched his eyes, and belt bejeweled with sapphires and rubies, standing straight and proud beside his grandfather’s throne. His short beard and long braids were black as a raven’s wing and he wore a sword at his side, marking him as a warrior. Thranduil had seen many Dwarven warriors and even a few Dwarf princes but never one as noble or majestic as this young man. He stared for a moment, spellbound, then gave them the nod of greeting he had all but forgotten.
They nodded in return but did not speak and Thranduil found himself imagining what Thorin’s voice might sound like. Would it be deep and resonant or gravelly, or grim? Thorin held his gaze boldly and the two stared at each other for a long moment before Thranduil found his voice at last and turned again to the king.
“Good health to you and your kin,” Thranduil said. “May your beards grow ever longer.”
“And may the light of Eärendil shine ever upon your people,” Thror returned. “Since you have not been to Erebor before, King Thranduil, I have arranged an escort to show you around the city before the ceremony tomorrow.”
Thranduil inclined his head again and smiled. “Our thanks, King Thror. That will be most agreeable.”
“Excellent! I have asked Thorin to act as a guide to your party while you are in the city. He is most anxious to show you around.”
Thorin’s brow knit in a frown but he gave a little bow. “It will be my pleasure,” he said and, to his credit, his tone did not reveal his lie.
‘Deep and resonant,’ thought Thranduil. He smiled.
A time was arranged for them to meet but once Thranduil was again alone with his advisors they began to chatter amongst themselves.
“He is having his grandson escort us? What is he playing at?” said one.
“He doesn’t trust us; he wants us kept under watch,” said another.
“It is an insult to have us chaperoned thus,” said the third. “It was a mistake to come here, just as Gwaithren said.”
“Enough!” Thranduil broke in. “He is offering us the courtesy of a royal escort. What more would you have him do? If we are to prevent the mistakes of the past, we must learn to trust each other.”
The three stared at him in open mouthed astonishment. Their king, who had few kind words for Dwarves, who rarely spoke of the creatures at all unless forced to by circumstance, who considered the Dwarves of Erebor “useful fools” as he often put it in council meetings, was defending Thror’s actions?
“Your majesty,” one ventured at last, “have you fallen under some enchantment?”
Thranduil opened his mouth for an angry reply, but their looks of concern and disbelief were so comical he found himself stifling a laugh instead.
“Of course not. But we are here and will be for several more days so I suggest we all try to make the best of it. Seeing insult around every corner will only make our stay dreary and difficult. He gave them a smile and a wink. They all smiled in return and relaxed.
“I suppose it could not hurt to see how the Dwarves brew their ale,” the third advisor finally said, and their collective laugh broke through the last of their reserve.
When they went to meet Thorin at the appointed time they were all in a fey mood, for nothing could dampen the merriment of Wood-elves for long. Thorin saw them coming and shook his head. Thranduil caught his look, which seemed to say he thought Elves the most frivolous creatures imaginable, but by the time they reached him he had schooled his features into a more neutral expression and he greeted them graciously.
“We can go wherever you like, but grandfather thought you might be interested in the gem houses first,” he said.
“That will be fine, young prince,” Thranduil said, “lead on.”
So Thorin escorted them from gem houses to metal works, to tinker shops, and even to ale houses. Around every corner there was a sight more remarkable than the last and before long even the advisors were forced to admit the grandeur of the Dwarven city was quite impressive. Despite the splendor surrounding them, however, Thranduil could not take his eyes off their escort. Thorin was very young and had not yet the hard stockiness of his race. His tunic matched the blue of his eyes and his long, thick hair and beard were meticulously kept. He wore jewels like one made to wear them, like one born with an innate nobility his title could only give name to not bestow.
When the tour finished and Thorin had given them directions on how to get around on their own without getting lost, he walked them to their rooms, ending with Thranduil, strengthening the suspicions of his advisors that Thror did not trust them. Thranduil still refused to take insult and when they arrived at his door, he thought of asking Thorin if he would like to come into his rooms, just to talk, but he refrained. It would be unseemly and was sure to cause the wrong sort of talk. Thorin left him at the door and he pretended to close it then opened it and looked out in the hall to watch him go. Halfway down the hall, Thorin turned and looked back, a curious expression on his face. Thranduil ducked back and closed the door quickly but was sure the prince must have seen him. He went to bed that night without his customary glass of wine, all his thoughts on Thorin.
The next day was the gifting ceremony and Thranduil and the Elves watched as the Men of Dale, Lake-Town and Éothéod, and Dwarves of the Iron Hills and Blue Mountains presented Thror with treasures made by their greatest artists and craftsmen and paid him homage with fine speeches. Thorin was in attendance and he and Thranduil spent most of the ceremony exchanging glances, Thranduil’s of scrutiny and Thorin’s of exasperation.
When the ceremony was ended and the participants dismissed from the royal presence, Thranduil gave his advisors leave to go out on their own while he headed back to his rooms to change into less formal attire. While the city had many places yet to explore, he wanted nothing more than to go for a ride in the woods and think. He told neither his advisors nor his guard escort lest they want to accompany him. He would have none of that. After all, what could happen to him in the wood between two great cities where no orc or foul beast could pass unnoticed or unmolested?
He had his horse readied and rode from the arms of the mountain into the woods toward the city of Dale. The forest was carpeted with the last leaves of autumn while the trees were going bare. The sky was a remarkable blue, the blue of Thorin’s eyes, Thranduil thought, then chastised himself for allowing his thoughts to wander that path. It wasn’t as though he wanted or expected anything to happen with a Dwarf, but he could not seem to stop himself from thinking about Thorin, no matter how hard he tried to think of anything else. The red leaves of an oak reminded him of the rubies on Thorin’s belt, the sturdy tree boles made him think of Thorin’s hearty strength.
He came upon a stream and paused to let his horse drink when he heard a rustling off to his left. In an instant he had his bow strung and an arrow nocked and ready. If it was a deer it would be supper for the Dwarves, if it was an orc it would be supper for the vultures.
“Don’t shoot!” a deep voice, with just a hint of panic, called.
Thranduil lowered his bow as Thorin stepped from the surrounding trees, his arms raised, his sword sheathed in its belt.
“What are you doing here?” Thranduil asked in surprise.
“Following you, though not as stealthily as I thought, damn your Elven ears,” Thorin said, lowering his arms.
Thranduil chuckled. “Dwarves and stealth, two words I do not often hear in association with one another.”
Thorin frowned. “Why have you been staring at me? What do you want?” he demanded.
Thranduil regarded him thoughtfully before answering. “I will tell you the truth, young prince. I do not know. I find myself fascinated with you, captivated. Your grandfather has dragon sickness but there is no name for what I have.”
“Are you saying you’re in love with me?” Thorin asked with a derisive snort, but his eyes betrayed something else.
“Not as such,” Thranduil said, “though I cannot seem get you out of my thoughts and I cannot say why. Perhaps it is your youth. You do not seem as… stony as your kin.” He was still trying to work out his feelings and feared he was going to cause a diplomatic incident in the process.
“Perhaps it is because this captivation you claim is for the jewels I wear and not for me at all. Maybe it is the Arkenstone you really want, the heirloom of my house. I saw the desire in your gaze when you looked upon it. Your reputation is well known O Elven-king. Perhaps you think playing upon my feelings will gain you access to what you really want,” Thorin stormed. Clearly this talk was making him uncomfortable.
Though stung by the accusation Thranduil had the wit to ask, “Playing upon your feelings? What feelings?”
Thorin’s cheeks beneath his beard colored red. “I… I… My feelings are of no importance!” Thorin cried.
“I will admit with all honesty that it is not your wealth that draws me, but you yourself. Will you admit that perhaps you have equally confusing feelings concerning me?”
Thorin looked as if he had been caught in a trap. A spectrum of emotions flickered upon his face before he said at last, “In the face of your honesty I will not deny it.” He drew himself up to his full height. “You are the most beautiful creature I have ever seen and since I first laid eyes on you, all I have wanted to do is to touch you and see if you are real.” Despite the deepening of his blush at this admission, Thorin held Thranduil’s gaze.
Thranduil dismounted and went down on one knee, extending his hand, “Then touch me,” he said softly.
Thorin, never taking his eyes off Thranduil, moved forward slowly. They were eye to eye now and their nearness made both of their hearts beat faster. Thorin reached out. Their fingers met, glided together, entwined. Thranduil's fingers were long and slender but Thorin's hand was broader and rougher. They sighed in tandem at the contact.
“Your eyes are as blue as this autumn sky,” Thranduil said.
“I thought Elves revered only starlight,” Thorin countered.
“Elves revere beauty in all forms,” Thranduil said.
“Is that how Elves get by, with foolish flattery?” Thorin said gruffly.
Thranduil only smiled and squeezed Thorin’s hand and the prince’s face turned as red as the rubies on his belt.
“Is it working?” Thranduil asked.
“You know the answer to that,” Thorin said with a suddenly shy grin. A thought seemed to strike him and he said, “Let me show you something,”
Thranduil stood and Thorin retrieved his pony from behind the trees. He led Thranduil to a place by the river where a cluster of late autumn flowers still bloomed.
He pointed them out to Thranduil who admired them for a moment. “They are very beautiful,” he said at last.
“I have heard it said Elves like flowers,” Thorin said self-consciously.
“We do," Thranduil said. "So tell me, what do Dwarves like?”
They spent the rest of the afternoon in the woods together, talking and learning about each other. Thranduil thought his attraction might wane once he actually got to know Thorin but the Dwarf prince was intelligent, well read, and though of a serious bent of mind, became quite poetic when talking about his people and their skills. He also knew a bit about fine wine and the various vintages of Dorwinion.
When night began to fall they rode back to the city, Thranduil on his horse and Thorin on his pony. They went to the stables and left their mounts with the grooms then went to their respective chambers to make ready for the great feast.
The feast was a magnificent affair and the wine and ale flowed freely. Thranduil spoke with many of the dignitaries in attendance and offered to send envoys for trade talks in the spring. At the end of a most profitable evening, Thranduil went back to his rooms and undressed. He put on a long, emerald green dressing gown and sat in front of the fire with a book he had brought, intending to do a little reading before bed. Suddenly a knock came upon his door.
He answered it to find Thorin standing there. The prince was obviously quite drunk but he retained his regal bearing as he entered Thranduil’s rooms.
“Would it be possible for you to extend your stay?” he asked. “I would like to spend more time with you.”
One of Thorin’s attractions, Thranduil decided, was that he always said exactly what he thought.
“I am afraid that is not possible, though you are welcome to visit the Greenwood anytime you like.”
Thorin’s face fell. “But I thought after today you and I might… have more time to talk.”
'Almost always exactly what he thinks,' Thranduil amended to himself.
“I would like nothing better, but winter is almost upon us and I must return to see that our stores are laid in for the coming months,” Thranduil said. “Do you think your grandfather would allow you to come to the wood in the spring? We could have as much time then as both of us would like.”
Thorin’s eyes gleamed with eagerness. “Yes, if you send the invitation through official channels I will come. And I might even stay until the first snows.”
“Very well, I will let Thror know before I leave that I would like for you to be an envoy between our peoples and will be sending you an invitation to come to the Greenwood this coming spring.”
Silence fell between them for a moment then Thorin reached up and took the front of Thranduil’s robe in his hand and tugged. Thranduil bent over and Thorin kissed him gently, tentatively on the mouth. Thranduil could smell the ale and the scent of the woods in Thorin’s hair. His lips were amazingly soft and his beard tickled in a strange but delightful fashion. The kiss was sweet but brief and when they parted Thorin turned and left quickly, though not quickly enough that Thranduil didn’t notice his dreamy expression and reddened cheeks.
That was the last time Thranduil had seen Thorin, though the Dwarf prince had been in his thoughts nearly every day since then. He had sent his invitation to Thror but, to his anger, Thror had refused to let Thorin come. His suspicion of the Elves and their motives had grown to monstrous proportions throughout the winter and the dragon sickness had taken over his mind at last.
Angered at the Dwarf’s arrogance and harshly worded missive, Thranduil gathered his troops and went to march on Erebor to demand that Thorin be allowed to speak his own mind. Just as they were coming over the hill they saw the dragon’s attack. Dale had already been destroyed and the dragon was bringing down the mountain right before their eyes. Thranduil and his men stood looking on in shock and horror as panicked Dwarves fled the city, the dragon roasting them alive as they ran screaming from the mountain.
High above on the king’s terrace was Thorin. He was shouting for help and struggling to get his grandfather out of harm’s way when he saw the Elves. He shouted and waved but just then the dragon entered the mountain and a great rumbling shook the earth to its very foundation. Thranduil knew his small contingent of soldiers could never reach Thorin in time, and even if they could their small number would be no match for Smaug. Faced with the choice of devastating losses of his own or attempting to aid the Dwarves, Thranduil was forced to turn aside.
He hoped Thorin and the king had survived and managed to flee the mountain. Perhaps they would lead the Dwarven refugees the Greenwood. He hoped they would, but he had no time to send out a party to look for them, for when he reached the Greenwood he discovered Smaug had gotten there first. Trees were burning everywhere and the Elves had lost an entire community of talan dwellers on the easternmost edge of the wood. It was days before the Elves were able to get the fire under control and for Thranduil to put wards around the periphery of their borders that would discourage travelers from entering the woods where his people lived.
Now he was weary and sick at heart as he sat upon his throne, thinking back, replaying the events over again and wondering where Thorin had gone and if they would ever see each other again. He promised himself if that time ever came he would make things right between them, he would explain himself and Thorin would forgive him and all would be well…
Far away, on the other side of Mirkwood, Radagast was up early picking herbs from his garden when a thrush lit on a branch nearby. The bird began to sing the most beautiful tune, of trees and starlight, of mountains overflowing with gold, of treasure and wealth and white gems filled with their own radiant light. Curious, Radagast said to the bird. “Where did you hear that song, my dear?”
“On the plain between the Lonely Mountain and the wood,” the bird replied. “I heard Elves sing it and the song was so beautiful I have made it my own. I taught it to my kin who now sing it to herald the spring in the North where the great dragon dwells."
Written for My Slashy Valentine 2013.
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