Autumn Leaves

By: Mary A

Beta: Malinorne

Fandom: The Hobbit with a sprinkling of The Silmarillion

Timeline: During Bilbo Baggins' adventure with the dwarves.

Rated: G

Cast: Mirkwood elves, Lake-town men, dwarves and a hobbit

Summary: During a night of merry-making and song in Mirkwood, thirteen dwarves escape imprisonment from the dungeons of the Elvenking, Thranduil, and make their way to Lake-town, with some unexpected assistance.

From The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien:

"A number of elves came laughing and talking into the cellars and singing snatches of song. They had left a merry feast in one of the halls and were bent on returning as soon as they could. 'Where's old Galion, the butler?' said one. 'I haven't seen him at the tables tonight. He ought to be here now to show us what is to be done.'

'I shall be angry if the old slowcoach is late,' said another. 'I have no wish to waste time down here while the song is up!'

'Ha, ha!' came a cry. 'Here's the old villain with his head on a jug! He's been having a little feast all to himself and his friend the captain.' "

Ch 9, Barrels out of Bond

For nature, autumn in Middle-earth is a time of sowing and of scattering abroad. For mortal men, it is the time of harvest and gathering. But for the elves of Mirkwood, the fading and falling beech leaves signaled the advent of the season of joining inside of the Elvenking Thranduil's caves, instead of out of doors in his woodland, to enjoy the last of the grand feasts of the year before the snows came and the stored provisions had to be meted out more cautiously.

On one particular night each year, when the beech leaves began to turn and the moon rose fat and heavy in the night sky, the elves came together inside of the halls to recall and commemorate one of the most important episodes in their history and to pay tribute to their most revered hero.

Before the singing was started, the tables in the great feasting hall had first been cleared of the meal just eaten and jugs of wine were set out. After everyone had a filled bowl in hand, the Elvenking stood up in front of his high seat and lifted his oaken staff. All fell silent as he spoke:

"We honor this night the great Oromë, who we call Tauron, Lord of Forests. In darkness he once sought our people, bringing them into the light. He taught us the names of the stars that we already loved, and to sing of the water and of the forest, and even the secret songs of bird and beast. The Firstborn of Ilúvatar were lost and forsaken but he alone of the Valar remained among us; his secret songs were a light for us all. Stand and salute!"

The Elvenking lowered his oak staff, and all those who were in the hall stood up and chanted:

"We salute the ancient Waters of Awakening, the stars of Elbereth, and the forest that Oromë loved and taught us to love."

After the response was spoken, the Elvenking smiled broadly, laid his staff aside, and lifted his wine bowl to the harpists, who began to play. And the enchanting sound that the instruments made, in the hands of these masters at them, began to weave a thrilling spell within the carved walls of the great hall with a magic that surpassed mere music. No elf could resist lifting voice in song when the harps were strummed.

Through the night, the harpists led the way of the singing, starting first with a variety of graceful melodies about the elves' love of nature and beauty and then, in an instant, the mood changed, and laughter rang out now between choruses, as the harpists played songs that were merry and jovial. Next they moved on to lilting tunes that soothed the excited spirits before lastly evoking eloquent sorrow with the dirge-like strains for the songs of remembrance, songs of bygone days in Doriath, perhaps, or the consequences of Fëanor's oath with its destructive aftermath.

The wine never stopped flowing as throats were made thirsty from their exertions. After a pause for the musicians to rest their fingers, and wet their own throats, the songs would begin again.

Despite his efforts to join in the singing and merriment, it was obvious to many in the hall that the Elvenking was in low spirits. Most in attendance that night naturally assumed that the presence of unwanted guests in the palace dungeons was the cause of their lord's melancholy. Impetuous decision or not, his command to lock the troublesome dwarves away until they 'learned good sense' seemed reasonable to most of his subjects.

Those who were the happiest to learn of the imprisonment agreed that it should not take long for the bearded folk to admit to the reason they were wandering in the forest without leave and rousing the spiders while they were at it. The dwarves, these elves reckoned, were free to choose their own fate from the moment the cell-doors were slammed and locked in their bearded faces.

But Thranduil was quite sure that the Longbeards would never confess the truth of their mission and were only seeking for a way into the Mirkwood treasury to rob it from its rightful owner, namely him. "They thought to wheedle and cheat their way into my halls by posing as lost, starving travelers merely gadding about in the wild," declared the monarch scornfully to his advisors, directly after he had ordered the dwarves be detained. No one dared to contradict his version of the events.

"My treasure is not for dwarf-plucking," he further informed them, "anymore than is the plunder of the fire-drake, Smaug, under yon mountain." It was evident from the way the king's eyes shone with malice as he spoke that he felt more of a personal kinship to the dragon than with the thieving dwarves.

He did not have to use more than his common sense, the Elvenking declared, while tapping his forehead, to see through their schemes and plans. The current state of impoverishment suffered by the descendants of Thror, since being routed from their kingdom under the Lonely Mountain by Smaug, was well-known throughout the region. It was rumored that some of the scattered dwarves had taken to mining coal to eke out a meager living, while still others depended on small kindnesses to get by. If anything, he had been waiting for something like this to happen, eventually.

And those residing both within and without the caves who believed that Thranduil's low spirits were caused by the dwarves had no reason to think otherwise. For their lord was a good and gracious king, who normally treated those who foolishly strayed from the woodland paths with kindness, as long as the lost ones gave a good accounting of themselves and were willing to pay a toll for using the elf-roads.

However, those few of his lordly councilors who were the closest to him were of a different mind about Thranduil's temperament. They knew that their lord missed his wife, and their Queen, Tatharin, who was off visiting with her sisters in Lothlórien, but was due home soon. Ever since her departure, he had borne a proud and strong façade when out amongst his people but a dour and grim disposition when alone in private meetings with them, which was usually how things were when the royal couple were parted.

For the most part, the Elvenking's subjects were oblivious to his mood and did not recognize the classic signs of a frustrated spouse when he lost his temper with Thorin Oakenshield and the other dwarves who were caught later. Except for those elves that were privy to palace gossip and intrigue, there was no real reason for any of the others to think so. The idea of their stern and faithful lord being upset by his wife's brief absence would never occur to them.

Many high-born ellith were invited each year to visit the Golden Wood during Glaur, or Golden Light, which was that time in the fall when the mallorn leaves had finally all turned a uniform golden color and were at their most magnificent peak of radiance. In some circles amongst the Sindar, it was almost an obligation to visit at least once in a 'long year', which was roughly equal to one hundred and forty four mortal years.

This was an event that most reminded the elves in Middle-earth of their true home in Valinor. The light of the two trees was only a legend for most of the inhabitants of Mirkwood who had never made the Great Journey. The autumn sun's rays shining through the golden leaves gave a unique mellow light to Lórien during the day, and with the colder temperatures and crisp air, the moonlight illuminated the entire forest at night as if it was filtered through a silver veil.

But the early evenings were the best time, when the light of both the rising moon and the setting sun joined to reflect the glittering foliage of the mellyrn and, for an enchanting hour or so, the air would be a dazzling blend of both the silver and gold, imparting a misty glow as if lit by the light from the two legendary trees. It was a rare sight that was almost as far-famed as Galadriel's mirror, and every year a few families from each realm would travel there for the event. The denizens of Mirkwood expected no less from their lord or his lady, and were not alarmed by the Queen's travel.

Also, Tatharin had long expressed her desire to visit Lórien while the granddaughter of Celeborn and Galadriel, Arwen Undómiel, was still visiting there, to pay her respects. The leaves of the beeches had not fallen fifty times since Arwen's mother, the tragic Celebrian, had left her home in Imladris for the Grey Havens, and eventually the Uttermost West, after suffering unspeakable torment at the hands of her orc captors. The tale still horrified every elleth in Middle-earth and all the more so because it was only a year after she was rescued that the injured elleth had abandoned her beloved children and lordly husband, so urgent was her desire to leave behind the frightful memories of her ordeal, forever.

Like her son, Tatharin traveled often, although rarely so far as Lórien. She had been provided with her usual escort of several dozen of the realm's finest spearmen and bowmen, but until she returned to the halls the Elvenking's moody and morose temperament would hold sway. Only old Galion, the butler, had heard a portion of their argument before she had departed, and he only told a part of what he knew, but it was enough to paint a picture of a stubbornly determined wife and her worried husband that needed no further details, although those who loved gossip wanted as much as they could get.

The Anduin was untrustworthy at this stormy time of year, Thranduil had claimed in vain, and furthermore, he insisted, the woodland paths were becoming increasingly fraught with peril under the ever-growing influence of the Necromancer from his foul southern tower. Although he and his subjects had managed to keep the immediate area outside of his great gates free of many of the loathsome creatures that infested the southern part of his realm, this protection did not extend through the forest all the way to the Anduin.

Still, she would not be stopped, laughing off all of his objections, as she usually did, while reminding him that she had seen with her own eyes the terrible corruption the woodland had suffered under the Necromancer's wicked spell.

"Who will be the more victorious if I cower in these halls while my sisters wait for me?" Tatharin's question remained unanswered, and to her other remarks the Elvenking had no immediate reply, and so his wife made ready to go.

But then he had finally admitted his suspicions about the true motives underlying the invitation from her sisters and Galadriel to visit with the lovely Evenstar, who was reportedly the very image of Lúthien Tinúviel.

"They conspire against me, perhaps," the Elvenking had said, "your sisters and Galadriel. They may think that if you see this last elf child born in Middle-earth, you will press me further for a daughter of our own." There were not many married couples left among the high born and Thranduil had long suffered being teased by his wife and her sisters about them having more children, besides their only son, but so far they had not pressed their cause beyond mentioning it now and then during family visits. Galion had reported this part of the overhead royal conversation to his eager listeners in whispers.

The Queen had laughed even harder before she swore to her husband that he had nothing to fear from her exposure to Galadriel's grand-daughter, who was not a tempting babe in arms after all. Her own child-bearing years were long over, claimed Tatharin, and nothing and no one, even he, she promised, could persuade her to bear another child.

Nonetheless, Thranduil had countered, there was no guarantee that she could not be swayed to think again, especially a Queen such as she who often mourned about the lack of another female within the royal chambers.

"And with you for her father," the Elfqueen had supposedly retorted with a yearning sigh, belying her previous objections, "a daughter of ours would be even more beautiful than Lúthien, and would you not enjoy dandling a darling elleth on your knee?"

"I would indeed," answered the king. "And I intend to do that right now."

It was at this point in the conversation that the gallant butler had discreetly withdrawn himself from hearing range of the royal couple, and his audience of gossip-loving elves had to be left disappointed.

When those who knew of the disagreement between the royal couple had assembled to say farewell to Tatharin, they paid more attention to Thranduil than to her. If not for the stories from the butler, no one would have suspected that he was in opposition to his wife's travel. The couple did not part bitterly and all who watched her leave-taking saw pride shining in her husband's eyes as he kissed her and bid her to have a safe journey

And yet those who knew him best understood the effort the Elvenking made that day to remain serenely calm while he watched his wife embark on her pilgrimage to view the leaves of Lórien in Glaur and pay homage to the peredhel grand-child of the Lady of the Wood. Perhaps, his subjects whispered, Tatharin's displayed courage momentarily outweighed the Elvenking's reported suspicions about Galadriel's motives? None could say.

During the night of the feast, the high-born ellith in the song-filled hall agreed, with sly shared smiles, that it was possibly beyond the masculine mind of the Elvenking to understand how his wife felt a common bond of foster-motherhood, along with her sisters, for the Evenstar, this last child born of the Eldar. Within her worthy veins were carried the bloodlines of each noble house of both the elves and men of Middle-earth, and she was prophesied to be the last hope of both the Eldar and the Edain. Although it remained a mystery how the daughter of Elrond and Celebrian would have a hand in all of their fates.

But, there were many who believed, whether they knew of the royal argument or not, that it would have been better if the Mirkwood Queen had been at home within the halls when the dwarves had arrived and that was the chief reason for their lord's moodiness. Tatharin would have known what to do about the accused trespassers. Not every elf who lived in Mirkwood felt animosity toward the stunted folk and some were disturbed by their hasty imprisonment for more practical reasons.

What if they never learned proper manners? Not only did that sort of lesson seem a lost cause but some even murmured that those beards could grow to cover the dungeon floors before their stubborn owners displayed having any sense at all. Was the palace then to become a permanent sanctuary for this group of witless wandering dwarves? When the sensible Queen returned, she would set this impossible arrangement right, and their king's vexation would be soothed.