Disclaimer: I have no creative rights over the characters and places you can identify in this story and have no way profited from this work.
This story's now passed the century for each of Followers, Favourites, and Reviews – thanks readers.
This chapter carries my usual spoiler warning in relation to The Hobbit trilogy.
Thalion Estel: Obviously both Tolkien and Marvel were inspired by the 'Dark Elves' of Norse Mythology. I couldn't omit the Avari in this story given Malekith's one of the main villains.
Elf With Redbull & Anonymous 1: I'm pretty sure this chapter will, at least in part, answer your questions.
Anonymous 2: In Chapter 3, Gandalf referred to hostile powers attacking Middle-earth via the wormhole. I wonder if he had any particular in mind?
Dan man: LOL. They've always been my favourite characters on the Muppets.
Chapter 13 – A Lightning Round of Diplomacy
The Fellowship and the Avengers divided themselves into groups soon after the attack on the Grand Market.
Sif returned to the Citadel and changed into her battle gear. She volunteered to be part of the heavy security detail protecting Arwen, Eowyn and Steven. Due to her injury, Sif decided to only carry her weapon. Assassins were welcome to find out if this made her any less a combatant.
Banner, Gimli and Stark remained in the armoury. They were desperately trying to discover how the enemy's cloaking devices worked. In that sense, this morning's attack had at least one silver lining. There was now another wristband to experiment with in addition to Zorrgrat's.
Merry, Pippin, Barton and Romanoff teamed up once more. This time it was for the purposes of counter-intelligence. Retracing the assassins' steps was one thing they were investigating. A more important one was finding out if other assassins had infiltrated Minas Tirith.
Aragorn, Boromir, Faramir, Legolas, Rogers and Thor stood in the Tower Hall. All of them participated in the final debate held here four years ago. It was the debate that resulted in the Army of the West marching on the Black Gate. Now they were discussing how to respond against an enemy with seemingly all the initiative.
The Grand Market attack stirred recent and troubling memories for Thor. Like Asgard, Minas Tirith had been the victim of a surprise attack by Malekith's forces. The aftermath in Minas Tirith also had chilling similarities with Asgard's at the time.
The Great Gate had been closed to all but military traffic. Residents had been ordered to stay in their homes until further notice. The Houses of Healing were close to capacity with the injured from this morning's attacks swelling the ranks of its patients. And like Asgard's citizens, Minas Tirith's had been greatly unnerved by Malekith's attack. Not even their rulers were safe from an enemy who could seemingly strike without warning. However, Thor still felt there was one major difference between the two attacks.
This morning's attack hadn't ended in personal tragedy for Aragorn. Thor though couldn't help but compare Aragorn's present composure with the angry defiance Odin displayed. Unlike the All-Father, grief didn't seem to be clouding Aragorn's better judgment. Aragorn's demeanour throughout this meeting was one of quiet contemplation.
Thor was currently doing some contemplating of his own. It was from the disturbing revelation that Svartalfheim wasn't the only realm where Dark Elves could be found.
"They known as the 'Avari'," Legolas referred to the bow-armed assassins. "It means 'the Unwilling'. Unlike the Eldar, they refused to accept the summons to Valinor at the Great Awakening. The Avari chose to remain in Middle-earth instead."
"Sorry, some of that was lost on me, Legolas," Rogers apologised. "But I'm more at a loss about Elves here siding with Malekith. I thought your people have, like, a natural aversion to evil."
"You're not incorrect, Steve," Legolas answered. "But even the greatest of my kind have acted from greed, pride and jealousy. The Avari are unfriendly even to the Eldar. It would be easy for Malekith portray himself as fellow dark elf. Many Avari would welcome the opportunity to rally behind such a powerful figure."
"Why's that?" Boromir quizzed.
"The Avari are like all Elves," Legolas explained. "They will eventually fade to nothing by remaining in Middle-earth. Maybe Malekith's power could help them avoid this fate. Perhaps the Avari believe he can even lead them to dominion over the whole world."
Almost becoming a widower this morning had made Faramir unusually and understandably hawkish.
"Perhaps we should make a dominant display of our own?" Faramir strongly suggested. "If only to restore the morale of our people."
"What do you mean, Faramir?" a slightly concerned Boromir asked.
Faramir firmly put to Rogers and Thor, "Cannot the Avengers make a rapid strike into Mordor? If not to conquer our foes then at least throw their forces into disarray?"
"I thoroughly investigated the Morannon and the Udun," Thor reiterated his earlier report. "I found no trace of any force beside the one that attacked Osgiliath. Minas Morgul is reportedly still abandoned also."
"I think Faramir's referring to somewhere else in Mordor…" Legolas began speculating.
Faramir nodded in confirmation. "An attack on Barad-dur! It's unthinkable Malekith and Saruman would've based themselves in Mordor and not rebuilt the Dark Tower."
"The Men of Nurn are closest to where it stood," Boromir began. "Their latest news was some months ago. It didn't say anything about Barad-dur being rebuilt. They certainly would've told us given they're under the King's protection."
"But didn't Hyaquet say food from Nurn had come to a stop?" Faramir countered. "Perhaps the fell-beasts attacked Near Harad after devastating Nurn? Gandalf once told me about the events leading up to the Battle of the Five Armies. Sauron cast a spell of concealment on Dol Guldur prior to launching his attack from there. Given what we know, Malekith might similarly be able to hide Barad-dur's rebuilding."
"You've actually answered your original question, Faramir," Rogers argued. "For all we know, a huge force of Malekith's could be parked outside the city this moment. The guys in the armoury are working overtime on the problem." Rogers then said as an aside, "What they said about the flamethrowers was scary enough."
"What was that?" Legolas asked.
"Only the enemy could have thousands of them," Rogers dryly advised before linking it to the main discussion. "The point I'm trying to make is, yes, the Avengers could strike Barad-dur right now. But Minas Tirith could be burnt to the ground in our absence."
"We can't do nothing!" Faramir insisted with traces of grief and anger.
Aragorn made his first contribution to the meeting by softly saying; "No, we can't."
The whole meeting gave its attention to Aragorn. His next words reflected the separate advice Rogers and Thor had given him over the last few days.
"You are not alone, Faramir," Aragorn assured him. "I'm personally distressed over this morning's attack as you are. The enemy wanted to break the both of us by murdering our spouses. Everyone in this room, the whole city, shares in our outrage.
"But Steve is right. We can't let our anger dictate strategy. Countless more lives than our loved ones depend on it."
Faramir gave an appreciative and chastened nod. It earned him a supportive hand on the shoulder from his brother.
"What've you got in mind, Aragorn?" Rogers sensed.
"I was about to raise it with you, Steve, just before Tony returned," Aragorn revealed before turning to the other Avenger in the room. "I please need you to embark on another journey, Thor."
"You only need ask," Thor replied.
"Dark lords have feared at least one thing in Middle-earth," Aragorn prefaced. "They fear the Free Peoples uniting against them. Despite their boasts, I have little doubt Malekith and Saruman fear this happening to them as well.
"I've already sent word to Eomer. But we also need to quickly contact our other allies. Namely the Elven and Dwarven realms to our north."
"I sense you're giving me a similar task like after I rescued Frodo and Sam?" Thor guessed.
Aragorn nodded in confirmation. "You're our quickest means to send word, Thor. And none of us knows Malekith better than you do. Our friends must be told of the threat he presents. The Free Peoples must fight as one if we're to defeat him and Saruman."
"I can depart now if you wish," Thor offered.
"I should still write some letters," Aragorn declined the offer.
"You're going to tell them the same thing as Eomer?" Rogers enquired.
"Everything that's happened so far," Aragorn confirmed. "Including Thor's previous struggle against Malekith."
"I will help draft the letters, my liege," Faramir volunteered to Aragorn
Everyone was relieved Faramir was back to being his usual helpful self.
"Of which I gladly accept, my friend," Aragorn thanked him.
"I shall also write a note of support for Thor to give to my father," Legolas added.
"Should we ask Gimli to write one as well?" Boromir suggested. "Especially if Thor's going to the Lonely Mountain."
Captain America seemed to veto the idea. It was from something Banner told him prior to this morning's attack.
"Gimli's still flat out in the armoury." Rogers said before dryly explaining, "He and Jarvis have been arguing since yesterday if you can breach mithril armour."
Those present laughed for the first time since this morning's attack.
Thor was ready to commence his diplomatic mission early the following morning. Apart from the letters, Thor would also be taking a duffel bag containing transceivers to place along the way.
Aragorn, Boromir and Legolas stood next to the God of Thunder outside the Tower of Ecthelion. They were waiting on Captain America prior to Thor departing.
"I take Faramir's not joining us?" Thor checked.
"After the letters were finished, I ordered him to do nothing other than spend time with Eowyn and Steven," Aragorn confirmed.
Rogers now joined the group.
"Sorry for being late," Rogers apologised to his friends. "But I've just spoken with Hawkeye's team."
"Did they find anything?" Boromir was eager to know.
"They worked through the night," Rogers confirmed. "They found the inn the assassins were staying at. It seems they got here about a week ago. Not surprisingly, the Avari kept well out of sight. But everything indicates there's no other assassins here."
"What indications?" Boromir interrupted. "Other assassins could simply be waiting for the opportunity to present itself."
Boromir had been outwardly composed at yesterday's meeting. But privately he was enraged about the attempt on his sister-in-law's life. Eowyn being killed would've felt more devastating than Denethor's death. At least Denethor had a long life and watched his sons grow into men.
"I didn't mean to sound complacent, Boromir," an understanding Rogers conceded. "But Clint and Nat know covert operations inside out. A failed assassination often results in the perpetrators being caught or killed. The risk's even higher if the assassins are outsiders with no local support. Which leads me to what else they found.
"All visitors to Minas Tirith have to immediately register at the customs house on arrival. Even we had to." Rogers paused before checking with Aragorn, "Was visitor registration Faramir's idea?"
"How did you know that, Steve?" Aragorn asked in surprise. The policy came a few months after the Avengers last departed Middle-earth.
Rogers softly smiled. "I told him about passports last time I was here. Anyway, visitors also have to sign out on departure. So Merry and Pippin went through the register and made a list of all current visitors. They've all been accounted for and Nat said their stories seem to check out."
Legolas injected a note of caution.
"Natasha proved quite the interrogator in the Shire," Legolas referred to her questioning of Lotho. "But Middle-earth is still quite new to her. A servant of the enemy clever enough could frame their answers accordingly."
Rogers was surprised Thor moved to dispel this doubt. Not so much that he displayed confidence in Romanoff's abilities. But more how he expressed that confidence.
"I would not be alarmed if they tried, Legolas," Thor assured him. "Black Widow has a keen sense if someone's telling her the truth. Not even the God of Lies and Mischief fully escaped her web."
The non-Avengers had all been told about Romanoff's interrogation of Loki.
"Then I'm convinced the city's free of assassins for now," a relieved Aragorn stated. "I'll personally thank our intrepid investigators when I next see them."
"Should we allow people to step outside their homes again?" Boromir suggested. "It would give some reassurance about their safety."
"Yes but keep the Great Gate closed," Aragorn decided. "Until we can detect Malekith's forces, we must prevent them from entering any way we can. And while they'll undoubtedly object, I'll have Arwen and Eowyn remain in the Citadel for now."
Aragorn's decisions received concurring nods.
"I should get going." Thor said before asking Aragorn, "Do you have any final instructions before I depart?"
Aragorn replied with a wink, "Fly, you fool."
All present gave a knowing laugh before the God of Thunder took to the skies.
Thor's first destination was Caras Galadhon. The Galadhrim were of course thrown asunder by his totally unexpected arrival. But it didn't take long for them to accord him their fullest hospitality. Not surprisingly, their Marchwarden was especially effusive in welcoming the God of Thunder.
"Mae govannen, Thor," Haldir greeted him as they warmly embraced.
"It's been too long, noble Haldir," Thor replied.
The pair was alone in Haldir's house, perched atop one of Caras Galadhon's highest telains. Haldir was clad in the grey and brown fabric uniform that Galadhrim sentries wore when patrolling the forests.
"At least you remember Lady Galadriel's advice about your strength," Haldir dryly remarked as they loosened themselves.
"It is hard to forget any words of the lady," Thor agreed. "Indeed, it's very hard to forget anything about her at all."
Haldir simply gave an understanding and somewhat saddened nod. He gestured they sit at a round wooden table.
"You speak the thoughts of all Galadhrim," Haldir said as they pair sat down. "Lady Galadriel and the Golden Wood were as one to us. My people find it hard remaining here without her. I think that's why so many have left for the Undying Lands following her and Lord Celeborn's own departure."
Haldir expressed what Thor sensed on arrival. The Asgardian couldn't help but compare Caras Galadhon to when the Fellowship came here. Like Legolas had observed, hardly any light radiated throughout the glade any more. Caras Galadhon had also been notably depopulated. The current atmosphere of what Haldir once described as 'the heart of Elvendom on earth' was akin to restrained sorrow.
Not that Thor would ever excuse those Avari casting their lot with Malekith. But it was somewhat understandable if their realms were fading like Caras Galadhon. Arda's creators though had always intended for Elves to reside in Valinor so Men could have dominion over Middle-earth. The Galadhrim had come to accept this fate with grace and humility. This compared to the Avari's hubris and violent opposition – not unlike Malekith's ongoing refusal to accept even the very existence of light. Thor's thoughts led to him to broach the main reason for his visit.
"Aragorn has sent me here as his emissary," Thor began. "Unfortunately I come as the bearer of ill tidings."
Thor then passed over Aragorn's letter to Haldir. Haldir reflected on Thor's last visit while opening the letter. None had forgotten how Thor held Galadriel to him before the pair took flight towards Dol Guldur.
Haldir was pleased to read Rogers and Banner had also returned to Middle-earth. He further hoped to meet the other Avengers they and Thor had often spoken of. The letter's remaining contents shook him to the core. After he'd finished reading, Haldir's reaction was the closest he came to swearing.
"By Elbereth!" he sighed perturbed.
"On the way here I stopped by Dol Guldur's ruins," Thor revealed. "Just to be sure Malekith and Saruman haven't laid claim to them." Thor paused before shaking his head. "The summit didn't have the slightest taint of evil. Even the bridge connecting the fortress to the forest remains shattered. I understand spiders and orcs have largely been eradicated from the area as well?"
Haldir nodded in confirmation. "We still encounter isolated pockets. Nothing that can't be handled by a small company, mind. But even with all our warriors, we won't be able to fend off attacks like those against Osgiliath and Ahrakan. I daresay it would be struggle even with the Lady's power behind us."
"We're working tirelessly at unraveling the enemy's foul craft," Thor reiterated one of the letter's key messages. "But nor does Aragorn believe we should idly wait for answers. All evidence suggests Malekith and Saruman's forces are concentrated deep in Mordor. When they're fully unleashed, we must counter with as great a force of our own."
"Hence the request to send warriors to join those of the Kingdom?" Haldir concluded to which Thor gave a confirmatory nod.
Haldir silently pondered a reply. The force he'd led to Helm's Deep was at Galadriel and Elrond's behest. But Haldir was now the highest ranked Galadhrim in Middle-earth. There was no one else he could defer Aragorn's request to. He had to weigh up any response against the lives of all remaining Galadhrim. Haldir had observed and protected Galadriel and Celeborn for countless centuries. The Marchwarden based his decision on the great wisdom that the couple always displayed.
"Prince Thor," Haldir formally addressed him. "Hear now my response to King Elessar's request. A small company of our warriors will remain guarding our borders. The rest I will personally lead to Minas Tirith in aid of all the Free Peoples."
A large smile burst across Thor's face. He paraphrased Gandalf's response when Thor volunteered to return to Middle-earth.
"I never doubted your response being otherwise, good Haldir!" Thor happily greeted the offer. "But I thank you and all your kin nonetheless."
Haldir similarly declared, "We are proud to fight alongside the God of Thunder once more."
Thor reached his second destination in quick time. The Woodland Realm was a very different Elven domain compared to Lothlorien.
The heart of the Woodland Realm was a great cave some miles within the edge of the Greenwood's eastern side. Before its huge doors of stone a river ran out of the heights of the forest and flowed on and out into the marshes at the feet of the high wooded land. This great cave, from which countless smaller ones opened out on every side, wound far underground and had many passages and wide halls. The cave's interior was naturally illuminated throughout the day. But the biggest contrast for Thor was how he'd been received here.
Thranduil gave audience before his throne. Legolas's father wore his wooden crown and was dressed in a fine silver robe. He stood while impassively reading Aragorn's letter. The Elven king's face betrayed no emotion once he'd finished. Thranduil began pacing the floor while voicing his thoughts.
"So Saruman and this 'Malekith' intend unleashing a weapon they believe will destroy all before it?" he dispassionately asked.
"It's not the first time Malekith's wielded such power," Thor confirmed. "Through the Aether he almost plunged all the realms into darkness."
"Such is the nature of evil, Prince Thor," Thranduil articulated a closely held truth. "A sleepless malice as black as the oncoming wall of night. So it ever was. So will it always be." Thranduil then personally reflected, "After nearly six millennia, it's a battle I've grown weary of."
Thor was slightly unsettled by this. Thranduil's words were eerily similar to ones Odin had recently spoken. Thor thought it best to return discussion to the here and now.
"The Free Peoples should avoid Asgard's mistake in preparing for Malekith's next attack," Thor argued from experience. "We should be of one mind how we defend ourselves from it. Victory can be ours if all our forces fight under Aragorn's standard."
"Can even the God of Thunder make so confident a claim?" Thranduil coolly retorted. "A hobbit once passed unseen within these walls to free a company of dwarves. Now I read Malekith can similarly conceal legions of orcs from us. Orcs armed with weapons more deadly than Sauron's ever had."
"And a united force is our best hope of defeating such legions," Thor reiterated.
Thranduil began outlining his concerns about this strategy.
"The borders of my realm have grown since Sauron's fall," he started. "But I have fewer warriors than ever to protect them. Can you guarantee Malekith's forces won't attack my kingdom later today or any time after? Perhaps as deadly an attack as the one he launched against your father's?"
Thor slightly furrowed his brow. He knew Thranduil wasn't personally insulting him. But reading between the lines, Thranduil's message was clear – I'm not sending any forces until Malekith's can be detected.
Thor had resolved not to let his temper get the better of him like it did on Jotunheim. The task he'd been given was similar to one the Valar gave Gandalf. It was persuading the Free Peoples to stand as one against an evil that threatened them all. Thor intended to carry out this mission in a manner his dear friend would be proud of.
"I can't give that guarantee to you or any ruler," Thor truthfully replied. "You are correct, Thranduil-King. Currently, Malekith's forces can strike anywhere without warning. Yesterday his forces attacked within the very walls of Minas Tirith. Tomorrow they could make an attempt on your life right where we're standing. "
"If that is indeed the case," Thranduil interrupted. "Why then do you ask me to send forces elsewhere?"
Thor remembered asking a similar question once. He also remembered Fury's reply at the time.
"King Elessar is asking, what are you prepared to do?" he clarified to his host.
Thranduil simply chose to read from Legolas's letter.
"I see my son and heir chooses to remain in Gondor," Thranduil noted. "He says it's for the same reason he joined the Fellowship. To serve his father and people by helping destroy the evil we face at its source…"
Thranduil's voiced trailed off as he recalled when Tauriel said similar words to him. She'd argued for a strike on Dol Guldur to kill the spiders at their source. Dol Guldur, the source of much of the evil Thranduil had fought against throughout his life. It was then that the King of the Woodland Realm had a revelation.
The Greenwood finally returned only after Dol Guldur had been permanently destroyed. One of the main reasons for Dol Guldur's destruction now stood less than a few feet away. And it was at Elessar's behest that Thor had aided the Eldar that day. At this moment, it was though the light of Earendil had illuminated the only proper course of action. Thranduil returned his attention to Thor before speaking.
"Tell Elessar that I'm prepared to repay my debt to him," Thranduil regally declared. "One king to another. Four years ago he sent the God of Thunder to aid in the destruction of Dol Guldur. His decision saved the lives of countless Eldar, possibly including my own. The fortress's destruction finally allowed light to return to the Greenwood." Thranduil concluded with a pointed reference to yesterday's events. "Unlike Malekith, all light is sacred to the Eldar. This includes the light of Evenstar. Tell this to her lord and husband: Thranduil and his warriors go to Minas Tirith and will defend that light with their very lives."
"I gladly accept your repayment on his behalf," a relieved Thor replied. "I'll eagerly await on your arrival at the White City. As will your son once I tell him."
Thor respectfully bowed to Thranduil with their audience ended. As a pair of guards escorted the Asgardian out of his palace, Thranduil reflected on something that Legolas once told him about Tauriel. It was her reply when Legolas argued the Quest for Erebor wasn't the Woodland Realm's fight.
Tell me, Mellon, when did we allow evil to become stronger than us?
Thranduil softly smiled as he whispered, "We were the stronger this day, Tauriel…"
Thorin Stonehelm wore the crown that signified his current position as King under the Mountain. He had had long, brown hair and a bushy beard of similar length and colour. His reign began four years ago when his father Dain Ironfoot fell defending their home, the Lonely Mountain.
Thorin and Thor now sat across a table resolutely staring at one another. Thorin was flanked by two of the most revered dwarves in his realm. Gloin, Gimli's father, sat to Thorin's right. Another member of Oakenshield's company, Dori, sat to his left.
At a nod from Thorin, the four each started gulping a mug of ale. They violently threw their mugs to the floor once they'd finished.
"ANOTHER!" they cried in unison before laughing.
"Our gratitude for indulging us, Odinson," Thorin wheezed.
"It was a compromise, Thorin-King," Thor similarly responded. "I drank your ale, you used my gesture of appreciation."
"I agreed to that for my people's safety," Thorin chuckled. "A belch from the God of Thunder could knock down the Gates of Erebor."
"And I won't follow my son's mistake of challenging you to drinking game," Gloin told Thor with a wink. "Although Bombur might if he was here."
"I've heard of Lord Bombur," Thor said. "I believe he and my friend Volstagg would get along well. Where is his lordship?"
"Having his afternoon nap," Dori respectfully advised. "As are the six dwarves that have to carry him everywhere."
Thor joined in the Dwarven lords' laughter while privately trying to guess the size of Bombur's appetite.
Thorin had originally welcomed Thor while seated on his throne. Gloin and Dori had also been in attendance. The trio greeted the contents of Aragorn's letter with anger, sorrow and relief. Gloin especially given what Gimli had been through. But Thorin reacted by reconvening discussions to his private dining room. Tradition dictated a guest like the God of Thunder be shown the greatest of Dwarven hospitality. Thor happily accepted the invitation to share thoughts over a meal. Obliging Thorin this courtesy was only fair given the courtesy Aragorn was asking of Thorin.
The meal Thor shared with his hosts matched the one Gimli promised the Fellowship when entering Moria. Large plates of roast beef and pork were laid out on the table before them. They were also being served with some of Thorin's best ale.
"I'll say one thing having read that letter," Thorin returned to the main topic of discussion. "Malekith sounds like the type of Elvish sorcerer we'd long mistaken Lady Galadriel for."
Thor was pleased hearing the rapprochement between Elves and Dwarves had continued during his absence from Middle-earth.
"That's a very good way of putting it, my friend," Thor agreed. "Malekith's a lord of darkness as much as Galadriel being the Lady of Light. He won't stop until all the realms are covered in it. Starting with this one."
"I say the villain's already started with Durin's Folk!" Gloin characteristically huffed. "Not just Gimli's captivity mind. But also all the lads killed at Osgiliath. As far as I'm concerned, he's as much an enemy as Azog was."
"We all feel the same, Gloin." Dori reassured him before tactfully suggesting to Thorin, "Milord, if I may. I think we have the men to bring Bofur's company back to its original size."
It was no coincidence Thorin had Gloin and Dori with him. Gloin was blunt and uncompromising whereas Dori was refined and diplomatic. The pair's contrasting styles indirectly allowed him to test the other party's position while keeping his own options open.
"Mm," Thorin concurred with Dori's suggestion. "But I think Elessar's asking us to send a few more than that. Am I right, Odinson?"
Thor nodded. "He also seeks the Men of Dale's assistance."
"Well I'll have a chat about it with Bard the day after next," Thorin promised in relation to Dale's ruler. "I'd certainly love to help. But I've currently got an enemy myself to worry about."
"Goblins?" Thor guessed from what Gimli had said about them.
Thorin shook his head. "It's those thousands of blasted Easterlings on our border."
"Are you concerned about them laying siege here again?" Thor asked. "I would've thought them reluctant given how Hulk defeated their last attempt."
"T'was a glorious day Erebor will never forget." Gloin quietly reflected before saying, "They wouldn't besiege us even without the Avengers to worry about. The Lonely Mountain's defences are now stronger than ever. The Easterling's couldn't breach them even with an army as big as their last one."
"Apologies, Gloin, but I still don't see the problem," Thor said.
"The problem, Prince Thor, is the Easterling's changing tactics," Dori respectfully intervened. "Rather than attack Erebor, they now raid up and down the Celduin."
"I recall Gimli mentioning the river," Thor remarked upon hearing its name. "He said it was an important trade route for your people."
"It's easier to grab the Mountain's wealth outside than in," Gloin picked up where he left off. "A quarter of boats are lost even with our warrior's protecting them."
"And we're heading into summer when raids hit their peak," Thorin concluded.
Thor took a few moments to considering what he should say in reply. It some ways, it was easier persuading Thranduil than Thorin.
The Dwarves of Erebor were courageous, honourable, proud and resolute to a fault. But they also had a more pragmatic outlook on life than the Eldar. An outsider was unlikely to move Durin's Folk by appealing to esoteric ideals. They needed be persuaded by something more tangible. The way the Fellowship helped Gimli keep up over the Wold exemplified this. The playful taunts Gimli received about his stamina motivated him to prove otherwise. Now Thor had to find a similar way to motivate a whole Dwarven kingdom.
Thor could offer to make a show of force against the Easterlings. Aragorn and Rogers gave him their fullest trust for this mission. But the pair certainly wouldn't approve of Thor unilaterally using 'extreme prejudice' against the Easterlings just to secure Erebor's aid. There was no evidence the Easterlings were in league with Malekith for one thing. And Thor's conscience wouldn't allow him to kill mortals unless he had no other choice.
Thor then had a wily thought. Perhaps Thorin could be persuaded by the prospect of wealth from elsewhere? It was something that would also give Minas Tirith a much-needed boost. Thor broached his offer by playing on Dwarves' fondness for recounting deeds in battle.
"Thorin-King," Thor began, "I understand you and your father once led a group of warriors here. It was in aid your namesake's company was it not?"
The three dwarves grinned and nodded in affirmation.
"Aye, more than three score years ago," Thorin proudly recalled. "I remember it like yesterday. We marched day and night upon receiving our kin's call for aid."
"If only you could've seen Dain's force, Odinson," Gloin enthused. "Five hundred of the Iron Hills' finest all fully armed and filthy!"
With his hosts taking the bait, Thor began reeling them in.
"If you send a similar force to Minas Tirith," Thor began promising, "they will receive a very special trophy on arrival."
Thor restrained from laughing at the puzzled looks his hosts were giving him.
"What trophy are you talking about, Odinson?" Thorin finally asked.
Gloin and Dori started drinking while Thor responded. What the Asgardian said caused both to violently spray the ale out of their mouths.
"I take my advisors are in broad agreement…" Thorin dryly observed.
Thor stood outside the Gates of Erebor. He had to take a call before departure.
"Thor, it's Steve," Thor's earpiece transmitted. "I'm not interrupting anything?"
"Not at all, my friend," Thor happily advised. "You've actually contacted me at an opportune moment. You'll be pleased to know Lothlorien and the Woodland Realm have both agreed to send forces. Erebor's also sending warriors but I needed to pledge them something first."
"What was that?" Rogers queried.
"A small favour," Thor assured him. "I'll have taken care of it by the time I've returned to you."
"Sure," Rogers accepted given Thor was a man of his word. "Great job by the way. I'll tell Aragorn as soon as we're finished."
"You've called to speak about another matter?" Thor cautiously asked hoping it wasn't bad news.
Rogers's news was the exact opposite. "The guys in the armoury said they've had a breakthrough on the cloaking devices. We'll wait until you're back before getting them to tell us about it."
"I'll be there in about an hour," Thor estimated given his promise to Thorin.
"No problem," Rogers began signing off. "I'll meet you at the Drill Square."
With the conversation ended, Thor took off and immediately flew south-west. The Greenwood rapidly passed beneath him as a large green blur. Thor crossed over the Misty Mountains, their snow capped peaks glinting in the late afternoon sun. Thor gently landed upon reaching his intended destination.
Thor now stood before the western entrance of Moria. Hardly anything had changed from when the Fellowship came here. The pile of rubble that was the Doors of Durin still blocked access to the mines. The large pool of water cresting the entrance still had a dark and foreboding feel.
Thor promised Thorin he'd clear the entrance in exchange for Erebor dispatching a contingent to Gondor. The God of Thunder immediately started work by following in Pippin's footsteps. He swung Mjolnir and sent a large piece of rubble flying into the water. He quickly followed up his action a second and third time.
An enraged Watcher in the Water burst through the pool's surface. It immediately recognised who'd disturbed it.
"Hello…again," Thor casually greeted it. "I accept your surrender."
The Watcher surged towards Thor intent on killing him. It suddenly halted when the pool's surface was struck by a series of powerful lightning bolts.
Rogers stood in the Drill Square waiting on Thor's arrival at the agreed time. When he spotted Thor over Minas Tirith, Rogers wondered if the Asgardian's left hand was caught in a large steel trap. Curiosity quickly turned to astonishment when Thor landed a few feet in front of him.
The 'trophy' Thor promised Thorin was the jaws of the Watcher in the Water. Thor pulled them out of the Watcher's electrocuted corpse with his bare hands. Thor also hoped the death this infamous monster would be a fillip to morale within the White City. Just like his defeat of the Nazgul boosted spirits within Edoras.
Captain America slowly began remembering where he'd seen those jaws.
"Are…they…" Rogers tentatively started.
"On Midgard I believe they're called 'sweetening the deal'," Thor smugly advised.
In this crossover, I wanted to close the loose end of the Watcher found in canon.
The Woodland Realm's description largely copies the one written in The Hobbit.
Mirkwood, Golden Wood, Caras Galadhon and the Woodland Realm all go through name changes following Sauron's defeat in the book. I didn't go into the details this chapter for simplicity's sake. Likewise, I felt Thor and Thorin discussing similar names would come across as a bit contrived.
I've hinted in a previous chapter my theory about Tauriel's eventual fate. But I couldn't avoid mentioning her in this one given Thranduil's apperance.