Thorin has a Bad Day
It was evening but still Thorin laboured at his forge. He had worked continuously for hours now but he knew he had almost reached his goal and a desire to perfect his creation drove him on. Totally absorbed in his work, he thrust the sword blade once more into the flames and worked the bellows until he knew the metal was at the right heat. He withdrew it and, placing it firmly on his anvil, he hammered skilfully until his heart told him that the sword could not be bettered. The blade steamed and hissed as he plunged it into a trough of water and, with a sigh of pleasure, Thorin examined his finished work. Who would have thought that what had started out as six separate rods of steel, cunningly twisted and hammered together, had now been forged into one perfect, shining piece of metal? There were no seams but, where the rods had been forcefully blended into one, the pattern welding had left a beautiful tracery that flowed down the blade like a rippling river and marked it as a very special weapon.
Tomorrow, Thorin thought, he would make a pommel that would feel so right in the owner's hand that he would think it was an extension of his own limb. As he gazed at this wonderful piece of work, his heart was full. It wasn't often these days that he was asked to create a thing of beauty and power. Too often, he spent his time repairing the broken rims of carts or manufacturing whole boxes of nails or, if he were lucky, making some useful farm implement.
His father, Thrain, had once said that wrought gold created gold but he couldn't remember the last time that he had been asked to make a beautiful piece of jewellery. Instead, he worked with iron –and iron created only a livelihood and not a fortune. All the achingly precious and beautiful things that he and his father and his father's father had forged and made down the long years were now the possessions of the dragon, Smaug, stolen from his family and his kin.
So much had been lost that day when the dragon came: his home, his treasure, his inheritance and many, many comrades, burned and trampled upon and killed before they could escape from their great halls deep in the Lonely Mountain. His grandfather, Thror, was dead, butchered by Azog and his orcs; Thrain had disappeared and now Thorin was left to eke out a living at his forge in the foothills of Ered Luin, dreaming all the time of a return from exile, the destruction of Smaug and the reclaiming of his kingdom.
He sighed and pulled free the rag that held back his long, dark hair so that the black locks fell in a heavy mass down onto his powerful shoulders, framing his strong, harsh features. He came to the door of his forge and paused there a while, breathing in the cool evening air and gazing up at the twilight beauty of the Blue Mountains. He felt weary today, both with the long hours of work and with his life that seemed to stretch endlessly before him, useless and empty. The forge was attached to a small, one-roomed hall - Thorin's Hall, the locals grandly called it - but it was little more than a hut with a central stone fireplace, a home that was substantially different both in style and size from the grandeur of the ancestral halls of Erebor that he had known as a child. However, it was conveniently positioned at a crossroads, handy for passing trade and a number of scattered farmsteads. It was lonely here but also quiet, a place where he could think and brood.
He realised he was hungry and was about to move towards the house when he heard the sound of hooves approaching down the lane. As he listened to the slow clip-clop, he recognised, with a tired and sinking heart, that the horse had lost a shoe. Just what he needed when all he wanted was a quick bite to eat and to fall into bed.
As the horse came into view from behind the bushes and trees, he saw his guess had been correct because its rider was walking by its side and the beast appeared to be limping slightly. As they drew closer, his heart sank even further. An elf! This was going to be a bad end to what had been a satisfying day, he thought. His brows drew together in a glower and he folded his arms across his broad chest, leaning back against the door jamb.
Tauriel was relieved when she saw the forge at last. She had passed this way on her outward journey and remembered that there was a smith at the crossroads. A dwarf, of course, but beggars can't be choosers, she thought, and after walking for miles, she couldn't be fussy over who shoed the horse as long as they did a decent job.
She could see him now, leaning against the entrance to the forge, and looking none too pleased to see her either. She told herself to keep her tongue between her teeth and not to offend him if she wanted the job done. But there was no love lost between the two races and she hoped that this wasn't going to prove too difficult a task.
As she got a good view of him, she felt a little startled. He was surprisingly tall for a dwarf and his muscled torso made him look even bigger. He wore a dirty singlet under a leather apron; his powerful arms were folded across his chest and his posture was aggressive and unwelcoming. She also noted that, although his hair was long and braided before the ears in the style that many dwarves adopted, his beard was unusually short. He looks very arrogant, she thought. This is going to be really difficult.
As he got a good view of her, he felt a little startled. This elf was a woman. She was dressed in men's clothing but she also carried a long, elegant bow on one shoulder and a quiver of arrows whilst he could see the pommels of a pair of long, killing knives poking out from behind her back.
She must be a female warrior. They existed, just as some dwarven women chose to fight but this was the first time he had seen one. In fact, he had never seen an elf of either sex fight. During the dwarf and goblin wars that had been incited by the death of Thror, the elves had refused to come to their aid. His brother had been killed during one dreadful battle fought before the Gates of Moria and he had never forgiven the elves for their failure to help. His glower deepened. She looks very arrogant, he thought. This is going to be really difficult.
"Your horse has lost a shoe," he said brusquely. This was a statement, not a question.
"Yes, I need you to fix it now," she replied, her tone sharp and none too polite.
He looked at her but didn't answer. Instead, he led her horse to a tethering rail and then disappeared into the forge to collect his tools.
She watched him in silence for a while as he worked efficiently at replacing the shoe. He handled the horse gently and his large hands stroked its flanks whilst he murmured softly to it now and again. Tauriel was surprised at how calmly her horse stood there. It had a bad temper and she had been secretly hoping that it would give the dwarf a nip. She needed a laugh. When nothing like that was obviously going to happen, she searched elsewhere for her amusement, casually examining the inside of the forge, then wandering around outside and idly peering through the open front door of the hall. She was amused at how neatly everything was kept and she tried to imagine the hulking smith – and a dwarf at that – sweeping his floors, making the bed and washing up his dishes. Her lips twitched with a little smile at the thought of this strapping man doing such homely tasks. But, there again, she thought, there doesn't appear to be anyone else to do it for him.
Thorin was fuming as he worked on the shoe. He tried to remain calm so as not to spook the horse but it was getting more and more difficult. How dare she poke around in his home as if she owned the place? First of all, she had had a good look at his forge and now she was even peering through his front door. And NOW she was laughing at him! He wanted to ask her what it was she found so amusing, but he bit his tongue. She'd be gone soon and he would never have to look at her again.
Actually, he thought, he didn't mind looking at her. She was quite striking – for an elf. Not so tall as to tower over him - he just hated the way that most elves always seemed to be sneering down their noses at him from their lofty heights – and perhaps she was too skinny for dwarf tastes – but her long hair fell in a great, smooth sheet down her back, reminding him of the pale gold he had so loved to work all those long years ago, and she moved very gracefully and with a quietness that dwarves themselves were famous for. He imagined her stealthily creeping up on an enemy – she could have an arrow through him before he even knew she was there.
"It's done," he said. She untied the purse at her belt and paid him. She dropped the coins into his hand, making sure that their fingers didn't touch and he flinched as they fell into his palm as if he felt the weight of her imagined scorn burning his skin.
"Now, just get on your horse and go," he thought. But she hesitated, fidgeting uncertainly for a moment, and then turned to him and asked how long he thought it would take her to reach the Mountain Eagle inn.
"A few hours."
She stared up at the sky. By now it was nearly dark and clouds covered the rising moon. An elf's eyesight was better than most, but it was dangerous to be out alone after sunset. Thorin knew this too. Small roving bands of goblins raiding down from the north would sometimes attack unwary travellers once the sun went down.
"I would have been there some time ago if it hadn't been for that shoe," she muttered. Then she seemed to make a decision and squared her shoulders. "I'll pay you well to sleep in your hall overnight. I saw another bed in the corner of the forge – you could sleep there."
Her manner affronted him but Thorin felt as if he had no choice. The bed made up on the floor of the forge belonged to a young lad who occasionally came over from a neighbouring farm to help and who then stayed the night. How could he turn away a traveller – and a woman at that? What would be the depth of his guilt if anything happened to her? He felt like telling her that she should be the one to sleep in the forge but, instead, he growled: "Take the bed but keep your money."
A flicker of surprise passed over her face which angered him further. "Of course," he almost said, "we dwarves are so acquisitive, I suppose you expected me to charge double?"
She unbuckled her pack from her horse before following him to the hall. She saw that there was only a single room with a bed and a large chest in one corner and a table and chair in the other. He removed a clean shirt and some night attire from the chest, picked up a loaf of bread and a slab of cheese from the table and stomped out muttering that he would attend to her horse. There goes one bad-tempered dwarf, she thought. But I suppose I did take his bed. She set down her bow and quiver, unstrapped her knives and then sat on the chair and opened her pack. For a moment, she looked inside, then closed it, and, picking it up, took it back to the forge.
As she pushed open the door and walked in, she found Thorin in the process of slipping his shirt over his head, his apron and singlet now discarded on the floor. He flushed and snarled: "Is there no place in my own home where I can have some privacy?"
Tauriel reddened too and began backing out of the door. "I'm sorry. I only thought I'd share some of my supplies with you."
She turned to go and her embarrassment made Thorin feel mean-spirited and uncomfortable. He took two quick steps across the room and touched her arm. As she turned back towards him, he said quietly, "Thank you. It was a kind thought."
Tauriel realised that when he wasn't shouting or snapping at her, he had a deep, rumbling voice that had a certain warmth about it. "It isn't much," she said, "only some lembas bread and a bottle of wine." She glanced down at his hand that still rested lightly on her arm and he hastily withdrew it as if she burned him.
He gestured to a work table and she sat down and produced her supplies from her bag.
He grinned, showing even, white teeth and she suddenly thought how pleasant he looked. "We dwarves produce a form of lembas bread called cram. It'll be interesting to make a comparison."
She handed over the way bread and he divided his loaf and the cheese then found a couple of mugs for the wine. "Quite a feast!" he smiled.
The wine was a good vintage, the cheese was strong and tasty and Thorin acknowledged the superiority of lembas over cram. By the time they had finished the meal and consumed the bottle of wine, both were feeling mellow and wondering why they had taken such an initial dislike to each other.
Tauriel told Thorin about her dangerous journey from the palace of the elven king, Thranduil, in the forest of Mirkwood, bearing messages to the elves of Ered Luin. Thorin felt that he needed to reciprocate with some details about himself. But the story of Smaug and his exile was just too bitter and hung heavy on his heart. He was ashamed that so many years had passed and still he had failed to regain his kingdom. He had cut his beard and sworn never to grow it again until the dragon was dead and the throne of Erebor was restored to his lineage.
And so, Tauriel didn't know that she broke bread with the King under the Mountain. Instead, he made her laugh with amusing tales of various journeys he had taken in search of work between the Blue Mountains and Bree. They smiled at each other across the table and Thorin thought that, for an elf, she was intelligent and very beautiful; and Tauriel felt that, for a rough smith of a dwarf, he was charming and very handsome.
Perhaps the effects of the wine began to wear off and he sobered a little but Thorin's smile slowly disappeared from his face. He looked at her intently and she looked back thinking that his eyes were a remarkable shade of blue. They sat there quietly for a few minutes, just looking at each other. Then Thorin said, "I think you'd better go back to your room." She understood and nodded, rising reluctantly from her chair but, before leaving the forge, she reached out to brush his hand gently with long, cool fingers to show that she appreciated the connection that had been made between elf and dwarf.
Thorin sat there for some time, feeling a confusion of emotions. He closed his eyes and the touch of her fingers still remained on the back of his hand. Then he sighed and got up.
She had left her pack behind on the floor. Better not return it to her tonight, he grinned to himself, in case she's pulling some item of clothing over her head. It was a nice thought to take to his bed, but he picked up the pack to place it on the table in full view in case she forgot it tomorrow morning.
His brow furrowed because, although it looked almost empty, it was surprisingly heavy. Another bottle of wine? A concealed weapon? He wasn't quite sure what made him do it but he took a peek inside: a small bundle of letters - for Thranduil, he supposed - some items of clothing, a few packets of lembas bread and that was it – except for something wrapped in velvet at the bottom of the bundle.
Curiosity overcame him and he unrolled the velvet. Inside was a jewelled dagger in a scabbard. It was the most exquisitely made item he had ever seen and his hands trembled as he held it up to the light of the lantern. Both the dagger and its sheath were made of gold, cunningly wrought and inlaid with patterns of mithril. Precious stones were embedded in the hilt and had been used to trace a delicate pattern down the scabbard. It must be a gift for Thranduil. But Thorin's mouth curled in a sneer. No elf would ever appreciate such workmanship and beauty as he did. And, just for a moment, his desire for it was so great that Thorin thought of stealing it and hiding it so that this treasure could always be his.
But that thought quickly passed. Stealing it might not be a good idea but hiding it, as he intended to hide his new blade, was. He had made it a regular habit to hide anything valuable in a special cubby-hole in his forge. The raids by goblins were becoming more daring and Thorin had been obsessed with protecting his few possessions ever since the depredations of Smaug.
And so he hid the dagger and the blade, then collapsed upon his bed into a very heavy and slightly drunken sleep.
Tauriel was up at dawn and ready to go. She had to make up for lost time and had intended to sneak away before Thorin awoke. After the previous night had aroused in her some unexpectedly tender feelings for him, she thought it best if they never saw each other again. Such emotions were just too strange for her to cope with.
Unfortunately, her pack was still in the forge. This was not a big problem for her and with the stealth that Thorin had observed, she crept back into his room, where he still slept soundly, and removed her bag from the table.
She froze. The bag was so light that she knew immediately that the precious dagger was gone. What had he intended to do? Replace it with a stone or a metal tool so that she would leave without suspecting anything? She had always been told that the avarice of dwarves knew no bounds. Surely he guessed that she would come back for it? Did he mean to kill her? He was only a poor smith without honour who greedily coveted her gold, but he was powerfully built and, for a moment, she doubted her ability to overcome him in a straight fight. Part of her could not believe what she was thinking. But the dagger was gone and, for her own safety, she had to believe that all things were possible. For a moment, she felt sick and swayed slightly but she knew what she had to do.
She slid her bow silently from her shoulder, then drew an arrow and nocked it. Taking aim, she moved forward to the bed where Thorin lay still fully clothed, sprawled on his back with one arm raised above his head. She kicked him in the ribs – hard – then jumped back quickly.
She had to admit, he had a lightning response. He pulled himself out of sleep and was on his feet in a fraction of a second, ready to attack the attacker. "Stay where you are or you're a dead dwarf," she snarled. When he saw the arrow pointing at his heart, he stopped in his tracks.
"I might have known that no elf can trust a dwarf!" she said angrily.
He gave a confused blink that made him look so innocent that, for a moment, she softened; but then she forced herself to harden her heart again. "Where have you hidden the dagger?"
Thorin's eyes slid to a corner of the room. "Get it, "she said. "And move slowly."
He certainly moved slowly, aware all the time of that lethal arrow. He retrieved the dagger, placed it on the table between them and took two paces back. He looked at her steadily and then said: "I hid it, not to steal it, but to keep it safe."
Tauriel wanted to believe him but knew that she couldn't take the risk. "Pick up that pair of manacles," she said coldly, pointing to a set that he had recently made for the local lock-up, "and chain your wrist to that pillar." He wrapped the chain about the pillar and locked himself into the cuffs. "Now throw the key across the room."
"If you leave me like this, how do I set myself free? It might be days before anyone comes to the forge," Thorin said quietly but his eyes pleaded with her.
"That's your problem," she replied, and, feeling like a cold-blooded murderer for abandoning him in this isolated spot, she returned the dagger to her pack and left the room.
Soon, he heard the clatter of hooves as she galloped away. All he could do was sit and wait. He knew that the young farm lad was expected on the following morning, but the hours were long and uncomfortable and gave him plenty of time to think about the treachery of elves and of the treachery of beautiful, female elves in particular. By the time he was freed, his anger was as white hot as his forge on a good day. He would never, never forgive her and, if he should ever meet her again, he would put his hands about that lovely neck... And then he thought a bit about just how lovely her neck was, before going back to making a vengeful list of all the ways in which he would make her sorry for what she had just done.
It was strange, Thorin found himself thinking a few months later, how his life had dragged on for years, day after day, in a seemingly endless stretch of tomorrows. And then suddenly, the wizard had turned up on his doorstep only a week after Tauriel's departure with ideas for defeating Smaug and retrieving the treasure.
His journey back to the Lonely Mountain with a company of dwarves and an irritating hobbit (elves or hobbits – which did he despise more?) had been a succession of crises and dangers. He remembered how horrified he had been that night when Tauriel had told him about the dangers she herself had faced along the same route and he had been deeply concerned for her safety. She had smiled and said she was well able to look after herself. She was a captain of the king's guard, an effective fighter and the type of person who never took chances. Well, she had certainly demonstrated how well she was able to look after herself the following morning. That was months ago and he still felt bruised and hurt by the encounter, going over again and again in his mind everything they had said to each other.
It was like picking at a scab and he thrust such thoughts away. There were far more important things to think about at the moment – like saving his men from dying of thirst and starvation. They were lost deep in the heart of the dark and fearsome forest of Mirkwood. Their only chance of survival was to find the elves of the forest and plead with them for food.
Suddenly, just ahead, Thorin saw lights and could hear the sound of laughter and elven music. There was a group of them, feasting in a magical and protective circle of light. He still hated elves but he felt a responsibility for his men and so he walked boldly into the charmed circle. The startled elves turned to confront him and one stood up and stepped forwards.
"Tauriel!" he said bitterly. She looked into his cold, blue eyes and saw the hatred there before they fluttered and rolled in his head and he fell into an unconscious trance on the ground.
"Tie him up and take him to the dungeons!" she ordered.
Thorin gained full consciousness after a guard dug him with the shaft of his spear. He felt as if he had the world's worst hangover without having experienced any of the benefits of a good night out. He groaned and sat up, clutching his head and squinting painfully through half-closed eyes.
He was sitting on a cold, stone floor, leaning against an equally cold, stone wall. He seemed to be in some kind of guardhouse. Two elves stood close by with spears; one of his wrists was chained to a metal ring in the floor; and Tauriel sat opposite him behind a wooden table, looking rather officious, he thought.
"Well, whatever that was, you should bottle it," he grimaced, pinching the bridge of his nose and trying to shake the mists from his eyes. The guards grinned until Tauriel cast them an admonitory look at which their faces regained their original blank expression.
"Is this a hobby of yours?" he asked.
"A hobby?" She looked puzzled.
"Chaining up strange men. That's twice you've cornered me. What's the attraction?"
Again, the elves' mouths twitched and Tauriel realised that there were a number of reasons why she didn't want them present in the room. She dismissed them and they went outside to guard the door.
Thorin was gradually assessing, as his wits returned, that all his weapons and most of his outer clothing, including his boots, had been stripped from him. He could understand why his sword, Orcrist, and his bow were missing, and even perhaps his chain mail, but they had also taken his furs, his fine velvet surcoat, his beautiful silver and mithril belt and his heavy rings. Dressed only in a dark blue shirt and breeches, he no longer looked like Thorin Oakenshield, King under the Mountain, but like the humble smith that she had first seen.
"Why have you taken my clothes?" he asked.
Tauriel leaned back in her chair and smiled sweetly.
"Ah, yes. We find there are a number of reasons for stripping a prisoner. If he's cold, the fight goes out of him. If he has no boots, he is less likely to run away."
"And a prisoner's valuables? Like his rings and mithril belt?"
Tauriel leaned forward again and gave Thorin a hard look.
"Well, we confiscate items that have obviously been stolen by known thieves."
Thorin's mouth opened and closed again. Yes, he could see why she would think that: one day a poor country blacksmith from the wilds of the Blue Mountains, the next, a well-dressed, beringed warrior dwarf running around Mirkwood with a band of companions. He could understand why the she was suspicious but he felt relieved that he had told her nothing about himself when they'd first met. And the elves would find out nothing from him now either - neither about his origins nor his quest.
It galled him to think how many labelled the dwarves as greedy. Yet Thranduil and the Wood-elves were known to lust after silver and white stones. And although the hoard of the elven king was great, he was always eager for more since he had less than the other elf lords. One cause for bad feeling between the elves and dwarves in ages past involved an incident when Thranduil had bargained with the dwarves of Erebor to shape their raw gold and silver into precious objects and had afterwards refused to pay them. The dwarves had kept the elven treasures and a war had been fought over it. Ultimately, Smaug was the only winner. But if Thranduil found out that Thorin had a plan to reclaim his kingdom and his gold, then he would want a share and the dwarves would have to pay heavily for their release.
So, he thought, it all went back to that misunderstanding over the golden dagger, did it? Once more, Thorin felt the pain and anger of that day. He was insulted by her opinion of him and yet knew he couldn't and shouldn't say anything in his own defence. He glared up at her from under his dark brows whilst she seemed to stare arrogantly down at him. My, he would like to wipe that look from her face, but he would have to let her win this round. He had looked in her pack and found the dagger but she had obviously not opened the lid of his chest because the chest contained all the items from a previous life, including furs and fine clothing. And in his hiding-place in the forge were weapons, the rings, his mithril belt and a bag of gold that had been saved carefully over the years of his exile. After Gandalf's visit, he had rounded up his 12 companions, dressed himself once more as Thorin Oakenshield, bought horses and provisions and set off at last for the Lonely Mountain.
And now, one beautiful elf warrior was trying to thwart him.
In fact, Tauriel was not feeling in the least bit arrogant. She was, instead, feeling very confused. It had been disturbing to see Thorin again after all these months – and so unexpectedly too. As he had marched so confidently into their magic circle with his sword and bow strapped across his back, his fine mail shirt and his valuable accessories, he looked like a great dwarven war-lord and, for a moment, she almost didn't recognise him – until he said her name. She had reacted to his presence with the utmost suspicion particularly after his men were also captured. What were they doing here? Why were they dressed so well? Where were they going? She had no answer to these questions. But, for some reason, those dark blue eyes which now glared at her with such contempt, were making her feel very uncomfortable.
There was a knock at the door and one of the guards entered. "The king is ready to see him now," he said.
They unchained him but bound his hands with ropes behind his back instead. He was escorted up several flights of stairs and into the presence of Thranduil.
Thranduil's palace was a vast, natural cave system, made beautiful through the creativity of the elves. The caves were set on the banks of a river and although they provided shelter, particularly in winter, many of the elves preferred to live outdoors, in their large and intricate tree houses.
Thranduil's hall was a fine space and Thorin looked around with genuine interest comparing it to the dwarven halls of Erebor. The king was tall and elegant and sat on a throne made of twisted gold that looked almost as if it grew and was a living thing.
Thorin and Thranduil looked at each other for a few long moments, trying to assess each other. It was Thorin who broke the silence first with his most pressing question.
"Where are my men?" The other dwarves had been holding back some distance behind him when he had entered the circle but he hadn't seen them since he lost consciousness and they were nowhere in the hall.
"It is for me to ask the questions and for you to answer," retorted Thranduil sharply. "You will tell me why you attacked my people."
Thorin snorted. "I think if I meant to attack anyone, I would have had my sword in my hand and not strapped to my back. We were lost and starving in the forest and only wanted to beg for food."
"And what were you doing in the forest?"
"Looking for food because we were starving."
"But what brought you to the forest in the first place?" Thranduil was beginning to get angry.
Thorin thought it was time to shut his mouth and refused to answer.
"Very well," said the king, "take him away and keep him safe until he feels inclined to tell the truth, even if he waits a hundred years."
It was at that moment that Tauriel stepped foward. She was also annoyed that they seemed no closer to finding out what Thorin had been doing in Mirkwood. She had a piece of extra information and had been mulling over whether or not she should tell Thranduil. Of course, she persuaded herself, it was her duty, but a secret little something deep down inside of her wanted to hurt Thorin. She wasn't quite sure why and was afraid to examine her motives.
"My lord, I know this dwarf," she said loudly and with authority. All eyes turned towards her, including Thorin's. The king nodded for her to continue. "He is a blacksmith from Ered Luin. I stopped at his forge when my horse cast a shoe." She could have ended there but she didn't. "This dwarf is a thief. He tried to steal the gift of the golden dagger from my pack but I discovered the theft, chained him up in his forge and left him." An amused ripple of laughter ran around the room as the elves looked at their slender captain and the muscular Thorin. Tauriel continued: "He was a poor dwarf, living simply. Now he possesses furs and velvets, gold and mithril, and a superb sword which appears to have been crafted by the elves."
She gestured to one of her men to bring forward the sword and Thranduil examined it.
"This is a Sindarin blade – a great sword of my people," he said angrily. "Where did you get this from?"
Thorin compressed his lips but still refused to answer. Orcrist was, indeed, a famed sword of elven make, taken legitimately from a troll hoard. But, perhaps it was for the best that they thought that he and his company were a band of thieves and brigands. However, it didn't get him any closer to freedom. What shocked him was the pain he had felt when Tauriel had said her piece. He had no reason to expect her to say otherwise, but somehow it had felt like a betrayal.
"Take him to a cell," said the king. And as Thorin was led away, he sent Tauriel such a look that she felt as if he had punched her and she took a step backwards. Thranduil gestured her to his side and spoke quietly in her ear. "There is more to this dwarf, I believe, than we yet know. It will be your especial duty to guard him and question him. Engage him in casual conversation and see if he lets anything slip."
She bowed and followed Thorin back down to the cell block. Part of her welcomed this duty and part of her feared it...And she didn't know why.
The cell allotted to Thorin was on the lowest level and the only one there. The immediate area was also used to store barrels of wine that were shipped up the river from Lake Town. The mouth of the cave opened here upon a small quay and watching the coming and going of boats and barrels on the river would afford Thorin some means to idle away the time over the next few days.
After they had descended from Thranduil's hall, Tauriel made sure that his cell was secured, sent the two guards off to fetch blankets, food and water and then took a seat opposite him again.
"Well done, Tauriel," he said when they were alone. "You must feel a lot better for that. What have I done to deserve your spite?" When she returned no answer, only a cool stare, he continued: "I kept your dagger safe, along with my own valuables, but get accused of theft. You leave me chained up in my own forge after I gave you shelter for the night, without any concern that I might have died there. I took you into my home when you were too afraid to go on in the dark. But, when I turn up starving on your doorstep, you render me unconscious, chain and bind me once more, strip me of nearly everything and encourage your king to imprison me for some unnamed length of time..." He paused and then said, "I thought you were a friend...You touched my hand," and this came out more bitterly than any of the rest.
He stood there, gripping the bars. Tauriel felt glad that the bars separated them because she could feel the heat of his anger even at this distance. When he put things like that, he made her feel like the worst elf to walk Middle-earth. Had she misjudged him? She didn't know and there was no way he could prove what he was saying. But a little well of misery bubbled up inside her and she remembered how she had touched his hand because she had been drawn to him. Suddenly, she wanted to apologise. Of course, she didn't. But she did say quietly: "I think you would have behaved the same way if our positions had been reversed."
For a moment, he continued to glare at her, but suddenly he threw back his handsome head with its black, shaggy mane and laughed. She was startled but he grinned, his mood completely changed. "Yes, you're right, I think I would have done. Perhaps we're more alike than either of us think."
The food and water arrived then and Tauriel felt even more guilty as he gulped down the water and wolfed the food. He really had been starving.
Suddenly, there was a shout from the quay as a new cargo arrived and Tauriel went outside to make sure that everything was being overseen properly.
"Thank goodness for that! I thought she'd never go," said Bilbo's voice close to Thorin's ear. Thorin jumped. But it was indeed the hobbit wearing his ring of invisibility. "They've captured all the other dwarves and they're being held in cells on the next floor up," he continued.
Thorin heaved a sigh of relief. "Have they been interviewed by Thranduil yet?" he asked urgently. "Tell them they mustn't say a thing about who we are and where we're going."
"Don't worry," said Bilbo, "Balin's got that all under control. Just give me a few days and I'll think up a plan to get us out of here – although that could prove tricky with such a big, strong gate and so many guards. Now just get that captain involved in casual conversation. Make her relax. Don't let her think we're up to something." With that, Bilbo saw Tauriel heading back to the cell area and Thorin could hear his little furry feet go pattering away and back up the stairs.
"I'll get you some more food," she said genially. His laughter had somehow improved the atmosphere between them greatly. "And, now that the new supplies have come in, you might even get a cup of wine. We don't mistreat our prisoners, even if you're under the impression that we do."
The food and wine arrived and Tauriel sat down to join him. Apart from the bars separating them, it was almost like the evening they had spent together in his forge. She told him about her life as a captain of the guard, the different journeys she had made to all the corners of Middle-earth in the king's service, and, more immediately, the forays into the forest to do battle with the fearsome spiders of Mirkwood. He did his best to appear to be sharing confidences but without giving anything important away. He told her how his grandfather had been killed by orcs and how his father, suffering from depression, had set out on a journey in recent years but had never returned. His mother was dead too and now he only had a sister and two nephews whom he saw infrequently. He didn't tell her that these nephews were languishing in the cells upstairs. Nor did he mention Smaug or the Lonely Mountain but led her to believe that his family had lived all their lives in Ered Luin.
She began to feel that strange tenderness towards him that she had felt before. He seemed such a lonely man and she wondered if he had chosen the isolated position of his forge on purpose. "Why did you build your forge at that crossroads? Wouldn't you have been better off nearer some small town or village? You'll never find yourself a dwarf wife right out there in the middle of nowhere." She said this last jokingly but for a reason. She wanted to know if there was someone he loved and who loved him.
Thorin considered her remark with a furrowed brow. "I don't think I'll ever find a wife no matter where I live," he said. "There are so few dwarf women that not many of us get the chance of marriage. My sister, Dis, was greatly sought after and married a dwarf that she loved very dearly. But he died when the boys were young. She could have been married again a hundred times over, but she has remained true to her first love."
"We really shouldn't drink together," thought Tauriel, beginning to feel maudlin. Thorin was gazing at the floor, remembering things past. He looked up and was startled to see tears in Tauriel's eyes. "That is such a sad story," she said and he thought she cried for Dis when, in fact, she cried for him. Trying to smile, she said, "So what do you unmarried boys do with your time, then?"
"Well, we make things," he said seriously.
"Make things?" she laughed.
"Yes, that's why so many of us work as smiths. If we cannot find a beautiful dwarf woman, then we must make beauty for ourselves. Our love of wrought silver and gold and precious stones burns fiercely within us. When I saw that dagger, my hands shook with emotion because it was so wonderful to behold."
At this, Tauriel nearly wept again. Thorin had no wife or family and little hope of any and so he completely immersed himself in his craft, making cold metal a substitute for love and warmth and laughter. She wasn't quite sure if she could continue with this conversation and so she busied herself with the platters and poured him another cup of wine. As he reached through the bars to take it, she suddenly took his hand and squeezed it gently. "There WILL be someone," she said.
"You know this?" he asked softly, returning the pressure and pulling her closer. He contemplated yanking her arm through the bars and pulling the long knife from its scabbard on her back. But what then? The keys were on the far side of the room and there were still all his comrades imprisoned upstairs. He knew he had to wait for Bilbo to find a way.
Her face was very close to his. "Yes, I know," she replied.
His eyes glittered and suddenly she was afraid. She let go of his hand and thrust the mug at him. The relief guard came then and she disappeared for some hours, but she was back before dawn, sleeping for the rest of the night on a small truckle bed.
"Well, I don't know what idea Bilbo will come up with," Thorin mused, "but it had better be a clever one. I'm never left alone and I bet the lads upstairs aren't either. We could all do with magic rings."
The morning came and Tauriel went out on the terrace to breathe in the fresh, cool air.
"It's me," said Bilbo in Thorin's ear. "I've got a plan. It will be impossible to escape through the main gate – too many guards and they would overwhelm us immediately, even if I could get you out of your cells. But, see those empty barrels of wine..." Thorin looked and there were many barrels on the quay waiting to be floated back to Lake Town. "If I can help you get out of your cells, then you can climb in those barrels – and away you go!"
"And we'll all probably drown!" exclaimed Thorin.
"All right," said Bilbo sharply. "Sit in your nice cell if you wish until you can think of a better idea!"
Thorin finally had to agree that there was probably no better way. That day there would be a shipment of very fine and famously potent wine. The dwarves had somehow to get their gaolers drunk and then Bilbo would steal the keys and let them out.
Would Tauriel be so easy to manipulate, Thorin wondered?
Tauriel found Thorin morose and withdrawn that day. She wasn't surprised. He must be feeling impatient with his imprisonment. Well, he knew what he had to do to resolve that.
But Thorin was laying plans. He was stretched out on his bunk with his back to the room, working out how he and Bilbo could pull off an escape later that night. And, if they managed to get as far as Lake Town, would the men there welcome them or turn them over to the elves who would, in all probability, pursue them?
Before the dragon came, the men had lived in Dale, a town built close to the dwarven halls deep in the Mountain. They had worked surprisingly well together and both races had grown rich off each other and from their position on the trade routes of Middle-earth. They not only worked with each other but drank with each other and many who visited Dale remarked upon the apparent brotherhood that existed between man and dwarf. Smaug put an end to all that, totally destroying Dale and taking up residence in the Lonely Mountain. The surviving men had decamped with their families to what they thought was a safe distance on the far side of the Lake where they continued to trade from another town that they built there on stilts over the water, whilst the dwarves had left the area entirely, becoming the poor relations of other groups of dwarves and finally settling and working as smiths in the far west beyond the Shire.
The men had never associated much with the elves whom they considered aloof but, they were prepared to sell their wines to them, and regular shipments went up and down the river from Lake Town to Thranduil's palace, twenty miles away. There was no way of knowing how they would respond to the dwarves and Thorin would have to take his chances.
Later that afternoon, the new barrels of wine arrived. Thorin recognised it from all those years ago and grinned to himself as he remembered some inappropriate carousing from his youth when he had suddenly been felled in the middle of a sentence...almost as if he had been smitten by an elven spell, he thought.
When it was time for the evening meal, Tauriel joined him again, pleased to see that he now seemed a lot more cheerful. As he hoped, she offered him a cup of the newly-arrived wine. He laughed and talked, trying to distract her, guessing that Bilbo was often in the room and probably splitting his time between the two cell blocks. He persuaded her to drink another cup with him and then another. But, when Tauriel's back was turned, he would pour much of his into a slop bucket whilst the invisible Bilbo surreptitiously topped up her cup, a little at a time.
Well, she could hold her liquor, he thought as the night wore on, and he began to doubt the success of their plan. Tauriel was feeling very happy. She had laughed so much and Thorin's company made her feel warm and womanly rather than like a captain of the guard. When he smiled at her, his blue eyes crinkled delightfully at the edges. When he sang some mournful dwarven songs in his deep baritone, she was moved and felt his love of beautiful things. In return, she produced a lute and sang an elven song in a sweet, pretty voice and he complimented her on her skill. When she poured him yet another cup of wine and came close to the bars, he suddenly reached out and touched her hair, murmuring that it was like molten gold. She had blushed and downed her own cup of wine very quickly in order to cover her embarrassment.
Her feelings for this dwarf were very troubling but his steady gaze through long, dark eyelashes seemed to say that he returned those feelings. She suddenly found the need to lay her head on the table whilst she thought seriously about these difficult matters... And Thorin and Bilbo both let out an audible sigh of relief as she began to snore gently.
"Phew! She's got a lot more stamina than the guard upstairs," exclaimed Bilbo softly. "Our friends are free and waiting." He unlocked Thorin and the other dwarves crept into the room. They greeted him silently with raised salutes and punches to the shoulder. Faint streaks of light were showing in the sky as they passed out of the cave and onto the quay. Thorin paused and gently caressed Tauriel's hair which was spilled across the table. "It was no lie," he thought. "It IS like molten gold." He tried not to think about her reaction when she woke up or the trouble he had doubtless got her into.
Tauriel was brought to her senses by a violent shaking.
"They've gone! They've gone, sir!"
She was immediately alert and her heart sank to the pit of her stomach when she saw Thorin's empty cell. An agitated quay man rushed her outside and pointed down the river where she could see in the far distance a barrel bobbing in the water.
"They've escaped in the barrels, sir! I'd just come on duty when I saw the last one pushing off!"
Leaving instructions that the man should get an audience with Thranduil as soon as possible so that he could tell the king what had happened and what his captain of the guard had decided to do about it, she grabbed her weapons and ran to the main gate where several horses were always kept ready for messengers.
She was pleased to see that the grumpy horse who had carried her to Ered Luin and back again was one of the group. In her mind, she had called him Thorin because, not only was he black-haired and bad-tempered, he was bloody-minded and determined too. If any horse could get her quickly to Lake Town over 20 miles of rough ground, it was this one.
It was a bad road because it was so little used. Boats were a smoother and more convenient mode of transport, particularly favoured by the elves. Its one advantage was that it took a less winding and tortuous path than the river and so was usually faster. Tauriel urged her horse at a fair speed along the path. It ran in quite a straight line, occasionally touching the river, but more often the river wound its way out of sight as it curved its way to the lake. When the river did touch the road, she caught brief glimpses of the barrels, sometimes bobbing along erratically in quite rough water. "And I hope he breaks his neck!"
She really meant it. She couldn't believe that the delightful, charming dwarf who had sung her songs and complimented her and touched her hair so gently had done this to her. It was not so much that she would be reduced to the ranks for letting her prisoner escape, but that she had been tricked and deceived by someone she had learned to like. And, perhaps it was a bit more than mere liking too. There was a painful sensation around her heart that she had never felt before. Had it all been a tissue of lies and pretence just to catch her off-guard and to assist him in his escape? She had to allow that it must have been and it was a bitter pill to swallow.
It was three hours before she was on the last straight stretch to Lake Town. Tauriel could see them quite clearly now, and all the barrels had survived. They were still ahead of her but she wasn't far behind and she would round them up once she reached the town. By the time she had arrived at the main square of the town which was adjacent to the quay, she could see the last dwarves scrambling out of the water. A large crowd was beginning to assemble and she was forced to watch the events unfold from the rear. Her position on the horse gave her a good view and she was suddenly aware of another horse sidling up next to her own.
"Good morning, Captain! To what do we owe the pleasure?" It was Bard who held an equivalent position to her own among the men of the town. He had a stern face but she knew him to be a decent man, an excellent officer and a bowman as accurate as any that Mirkwood could produce.
"I've come to collect some escaped prisoners," she said, nodding towards the dwarves who, led by Thorin, were mounting an auction podium, apparently about to address the crowd. "I'd appreciate your cooperation."
Bard didn't answer but raised his hand to show that he wanted to listen to what the dwarves had to say.
The dwarves looked a bedraggled and rag-tag bunch. Like Thorin, they had all been stripped down to their shirts and breeches. They were now soaking wet and some of them were bruised and bleeding from their rough passage. Thorin stepped forward and mounted the auctioneer's block so that everyone could see him. He drew himself up and flung back his head proudly. His eyes were dark and flashing as they swept the crowd and, even without his fine clothes, he looked like the war-lord that Tauriel had seen when he had suddenly appeared at their feasting.
There was an expectant hush and Thorin announced in a loud and thrilling voice:
"I am Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror, King under the Mountain! I have returned!"
There was a stunned silence and Tauriel believed that she was more stunned than anyone.
A king! How dare he! How dare he pretend all this time that he was nothing but a poor smith! Letting her think he was a thief! Allowing her to chain him up – twice! Letting Thranduil imprison him without revealing his status! Once she got her hands on him...
"I want you to arrest those dwarves!" she snapped at Bard.
"I think that might be a bit of a problem," he replied and an unaccustomed grin spread slowly across his face. The crowd had erupted into explosive cheers. Caps were being tossed in the air and the dwarves were being hoisted onto willing shoulders and were even now being paraded down the street to the grand house of the Master of Lake Town.
Tauriel didn't understand their response and she looked wonderingly at Bard. "Well, you see," he smiled, "when the King under the Mountain returns:
His wealth shall flow in fountains
And the rivers golden run.
And I don't think you'll be able to take the people's golden king away from them." He bowed to Tauriel and rode off down the street to the Master's House.
A few hours later, in the local inn, Tauriel was writing a letter to Thranduil, informing him of the unexpected turn of events in Lake Town and asking for permission to stay on and keep an eye on the situation. Her thoughts were so disordered and her emotions in such disarray that she could hardly hold the pen.
Things moved quickly in the next few days. The greedy Master of the town saw his way to wealth and riches. He clothed the dwarves and equipped them with weapons, food and ponies and talked to everyone enthusiastically about the end of the dragon's reign. The townsfolk were behind him and the dwarves all the way. Many of them could often be found on the quay, staring at the water, as if the river of gold was about to manifest itself any minute. And when Tauriel tried to get an audience with the Master, she was refused. The people, discovering her purpose in the town, glared at her in the street. But, Thranduil sent her messages encouraging her to stay on there. Now that he knew Thorin's purpose, he too was very interested in the dragon's treasure.
Failing to gain an interview with the Master, Tauriel visited Bard. He was polite and gracious but told her to give up all idea of re-arresting the dwarves. "They are not who you thought they were. Tomorrow, they will set off to confront Smaug in the Lonely Mountain. Their plans are not completely foolhardy. They organised this quest on the advice of the wizard, Gandalf; Thorin has his father's map which will take them into the heart of the Mountain by a secret door; and they have the help of a hobbit, a creature, so it is said, who has skill in retrieving treasure stolen by a dragon. You should return home to Mirkwood, Tauriel. There is nothing for you here."
"But how can thirteen dwarves and one hobbit overcome Smaug. Surely they will all be killed?"
"And if they die, then that is the risk they have chosen to take." Bard shrugged. "Our town will then get over its gold-fever and return to making money in harder ways. Apart from the cost of equipping them, it will be of little loss to us."
Tauriel walked through the streets that evening until she came to the mansion that had been handed over to the dwarves for their use whilst they were in Lake Town. She asked the servant who opened the door to inform Thorin that she wanted to speak with him. She almost expected to be turned away as she had been at the Master's House but first she was asked politely to wait in the hall and then she was shown upstairs to an attractive room that overlooked the town. It was hung with elegant tapestries and furnished with highly polished furniture that smelled of beeswax and a large, curtained bed filled a whole corner. It was empty and, while she waited for him, she gazed out of the window and wondered what she was doing there. Perhaps it was her duty to find out as much as possible before the dwarves left so that she could report back to Thranduil. Perhaps she wanted an explanation from him as to why everything he had told her about himself had been a lie. Perhaps she just wanted a damned good row with him so that she could get a few things off her chest. Or perhaps what she really wanted was to be told that those gentle touches and piercing looks and soft words had all meant something.
Tauriel felt sad and miserable – and she also felt afraid. He was a fool if he thought he could defeat Smaug and soon he would be dead. She wondered if there was any way in which she could stop him. Surely it was better to be a live smith than a dead king?
As Thorin walked down the corridor to his room, he smiled to himself. She had come at last and he was almost looking forward to the row he was confident would erupt between them. Why else would she come? It was just like a woman to want the last word. Well, he would let her have the last word if it meant he would see her again. He owed her that, at least. He expected her to storm across the room spitting blood and ready to tear his eyes out. There would be a tussle and he would pick her up and whirl her around and kiss her. And then she would forgive him.
But, when he entered, she was standing with her forehead leaning against the glass of the window. She looked sad and fragile and he wanted to fold her to his broad chest where he could protect her and keep her safe.
"Tauriel," he said. She turned and looked across the room at him with her large eyes.
"You go to your death tomorrow. Your life is worth more than all the yellow gold in a thousand mountains. Why do you cast it away so cheaply?"
"I do not risk death for a dragon's hoard," he answered her. "I risk it for my people and for my father and my father's father and to wipe out the memory of my friends burning and dying and to stop my ears so that I can no longer hear their screams. I have lived in shame since the day the dragon came and now the time has come for me to win back my honour and the honour of my house."
As a soldier, she understood honour. And she now knew there was no arguing with him. She crossed the room and laid her hand upon his chest, bowing her head in defeat. He placed his huge hand on top of hers and with the other gently lifted her chin. For a long time they looked into each others' eyes and they knew that no explanations were needed. She bent forward a little. It was a signal and he touched his lips to hers.
Thorin had never kissed a woman before and he felt like a fumbling youth. His lips brushed feather-light and tentative over hers, and he was afraid that his rough, dwarven ways would offend her. But, she seized the plaits that hung before his ears and smilingly pulled his mouth down hard upon her own.
As their kisses deepened, his hand ran down her long fall of silken hair to her slender waist. It finally came to rest in the delicate small of her back and he pulled her fiercely to him. "I shall break you," he whispered against her mouth. Her lips curved under his in a laugh. "It's more difficult to break a captain of the guard than you might think," she said. And so he kissed her harder and held her more tightly within the circle of his powerful arms.
At last, he set her from him with a long exhalation of breath. This moment had happened before, back in his forge. "Time to go home, Tauriel," he said gently.
She remembered that last time and regretted it. If she hadn't gone to her room, all that stupid misunderstanding over the dagger would never have happened.
"I have no home, Thorin," she said quietly, "unless it is with you."
He put his hands upon her shoulders, his penetrating eyes gazing seriously into her own. "You know you cannot come with us tomorrow?" She nodded. "Any home you have with me will only be for this night or if I return from the Mountain."
"I choose this night," she said. "And I pray for many other nights."
With a tender sigh, he pulled her to him again. His lips closed over her mouth and he kissed her passionately, thinking that a life spent with her was worth all the treasures in a dragon's hoard.
And yet, he knew his quest must first be fulfilled.
"The morning will come too soon," he said. And he drew her to his bed.
The dawn had come and now Tauriel watched him depart. She stood at the window again as he and his troop of dwarves rode out of the town. At the bend in the road, he turned and looked back at her, raising his hand in a salute. The townspeople cheered and ran after them, seeing them well on their way.
Just before dawn, as he had showered hot kisses on her face and her long, white throat, he had made her promise that she would return to her people in Mirkwood. "Wait for me there. It's best not to be alone..." Just in case, he might have added.
But now, another letter had come from Thranduil telling her to remain in the town, even though the dwarves had gone. She wondered why; but the elven king was secretly mustering his forces for his own hidden purposes. And so Tauriel kicked her heels at the inn, waiting, worrying and wondering as the days dragged by, longing for Thorin's return but desperately fearing the outcome of his mission.
When the horror finally happened, it came swooping down from the Mountain out of a blue sky. Years later, she would still remember the clanging bells, the screaming, the fire and smoke, the burning houses, the confusion, the blackened dead, the horribly wounded. And, just as suddenly, it was all over. She had been running to join the group of archers on the quay who were desperately trying to bring the dragon down. Through the thick smoke, she saw Bard calmly and steadily draw back his bow and Smaug fell, plunging and jerking into the lake, disappearing under the churning water in a great hiss of steam.
But the horror continued. The town was totally destroyed. Many of the survivors were wounded and supplies of food were very low. Miserably, in the cold and wet autumnal weather, the refugees tried to build shelters on the shores of the lake and scavenged for berries in the woods. Bard was everywhere, trying to organise the encampment while Tauriel worked with a group of women tending the injured. Many of the townspeople just sat listlessly on the ground in shock.
Help came from an unexpected quarter when Thranduil arrived with an elven force. The soldiers set about erecting wooden huts and shared their supplies with the hungry people. Thranduil called Tauriel to a meeting with the Master and Bard and their conclusions wrung her heart with misery. The dwarves must be dead. Somehow, they had stirred up Smaug's fury and he had descended upon the town. The leaders decided that they would march on the Mountain and claim the treasure which would make reparation for all the suffering they had endured over the years.
It seemed to Tauriel that the following days of preparation and then the march with the two armies of elves and men to the Mountain passed in a nightmarish dream.
And then the ecstasy and the joy as she discovered that Thorin was still alive, walled in with his men behind the Gate of their ancestral home!
The armies were encamped some distance from the Gate and, although she longed to see Thorin, she had to wait whilst Bard and Thranduil marched backwards and forwards negotiating with the dwarves. But, to her horror, hard words turned to threats, then to anger and then to violence. The arrival of the dwarf, Dain, with an army at his back, finally tipped the balance and, suddenly, they were all lined up for battle.
And battle would have been joined if it had not been for the arrival of Gandalf with even more terrifying news: a huge army of goblins and wargs, also in search of the dragon's hoard, was approaching and the wizard urged them to put aside their differences and join forces against a common foe.
From behind his wall, Thorin brooded on events. The threats offered by the two armies and the way they had tried to force his hand with strength of arms and blackmail had made him angrier than he had felt in a long time. The destruction of the town was a tragedy for the lake dwellers, but he could not consider reparation whilst two armies were camped on his doorstep. Thank goodness he had told Tauriel to go back to Mirkwood and she had not had to endure the attack of the dragon or any of the misery of the past few weeks.
Suddenly Dain approached the Wall and called up to him the news of the fast approaching goblin hordes.
"Come out and join us, Thorin," he cried, but the king withdrew from the Wall and refused to talk about it further.
The armies took up their battle lines on two spurs that jutted out from near the Gate, the elves on one, the men and dwarves on the other whilst a line of brave men acted as a lure in the valley between. Thorin watched these preparations with sullen obduracy but just when it seemed his mood was intractable, vast numbers of goblins and wargs came pouring into the valley and he could see that they would be an overwhelming force. He knew that he could stand by no longer.
"Arm yourselves!" he suddenly called to his men and they cheered and rushed to the armoury to select the best from the dragon's hoard.
The combined forces of men, elves and dwarves were slowly being pushed back when the wall in front of the Gate suddenly crashed down and Thorin and his company emerged, splendid in their battle gear, fearsome and menacing, amed with axes and swords. The sun glittered on Thorin's golden armour as he stood on the pile of rubble and, in a great voice, rallied all the allies to his side.
"To me! To me! Elves and Men! To me, my kin!" he cried, and his voice sounded like a horn in the valley.
On the southern spur, Tauriel had used up her arrows long ago and now fought with her two long knives. When she heard his shout and the answering roar from the armies, her heart lifted and she steadily began to fight her way down the spur and across the valley hoping to reach his side.
The appearance of the dwarves gave the allies new courage and, following Thorin, they burst through the ranks of the goblins and the wargs, leaving a trail of destruction behind them. As the day wore on and the piles of the dead grew higher, the advantage swayed first with one side and then with the other until at last the orcs and goblins, under their great leader, Bolg, began to close in behind Thorin so that all those who were with him were surrounded.
Fili and Kili, Thorin's nephews, fought alongside their uncle and, together, they were a terrifying force, their swords and axes rising and falling and their faces fierce and shining with the joy of battle. They steadily got nearer and nearer to Bolg and Thorin thought that, if only he could kill the huge goblin chieftain, then his army, confused and leaderless, would disperse. Bolg was surrounded by a bodyguard of equally large orcs but the three kinsmen were slaughtering everyone who crossed their path. Then, suddenly, Fili was pierced with an arrow and Kili, falling on his knees in dismay beside his dying brother, was run through with an orcish blade.
Thorin, reckless with anger and grief, drove straight through the bodyguard in his rage and finally found himself confronting Bolg. The goblin was a skilful and powerful opponent but he fell back before Thorin's onslaught. Thorin raised his sword to deliver the killing blow but, suddenly, a wounded bodyguard, seeing his leader's plight, made a last, desperate attempt to save him and Thorin fell, pierced by a spear.
Bolg yelled triumphantly and drew back his sword to decapitate the fallen dwarf when a screaming elven warrior, her knives spinning at dazzling speed, knocked the blade from his hand. Behind her came lumbering Beorn, the shapeshifter, who seized the goblin chieftain with his great paws and, clutching him in a fearsome bear hug, crushed him to a pulp, discarding his limp body on the ground. The goblins, seeing their master's lifeless corpse, began to wail and retreat, but Tauriel knelt by Thorin's side, protecting him with her body as the battle ebbed and flowed around them.
The great bear bent and, gently lifting Thorin in his arms, carried him safely from the fray, setting him down on the hillside in the shade of a tree. Tauriel desperately removed his helm and breastplate so that she could examine his injury. Thorin's face was grey and covered with a slick sheen. The spear point had pierced his side at a joint in the armour and the wound was bleeding profusely.
"Thranduil!" she yelled as she saw the elf king examining his own wounded lying stricken and slain on the hillside. He came to her and saw that it was Thorin. "Help him!" she pleaded.
"Why should I help a dwarf in the evening who was prepared to do battle with me in the morning? I have enough of my own wounded to tend to," he said coldly, and he prepared to walk away.
"I ask you because of all that has been between us...And because he is a king, and a great leader," she said desperately, "and because he could have stayed safely behind his wall but he came to help us and turned the tide of battle." She saw that Thranduil hesitated and so, for good measure, she added: "And it might be considered wisdom by some to win the gratitude of the king who owns the dragon's hoard."
Thranduil hesitated no longer but examined Thorin, gesturing to his squire to bring water and clean cloths. He packed the wound with athelas and, then, with the healing plant and with elvish spells he worked on Thorin until he was breathing quietly and a little colour had returned to his face.
Balin and Bilbo and some others of the dwarven company found them then and tenderly they lifted their king and carried him to their halls, deep in the mountain. Tauriel sat by his bed for three days until finally his lids fluttered and he opened his eyes. "Tauriel!" he breathed and then he fell into a deep sleep for two more days.
When Thorin finally gained full consciousness, he found Tauriel sitting by his bed, holding his hand in hers. She looked haggard and full of care. He was so weak he could hardly speak but he pressed her hand and asked for Dain. Now that his nephews were dead, this dwarf, a thoughtful and powerful leader from the Iron Hills, was Thorin's heir and he asked him to take upon himself all decisions that needed to be made whilst he regained his health.
This took some time. He had lost a lot of blood and his wound was slow to heal. When he had first come to his senses and remembered his sister's sons, he had turned his face to the wall and wept. That grief was with him night and day and Tauriel was afraid that his anguish would hinder his recovery.
At last, she was able to help him slowly into the hall of feasting where his company gathered daily. They leapt to their feet and their eyes grew bright and they cheered him until the lofty caverns echoed. He sat at the head of the great table with Dain on his right and Bilbo to his left because he acknowledged that they all owed the hobbit a great debt; for it was he who had found the weak spot in the dragon's armour. But the hobbit was about to depart at last the following day and, although much treasure was pressed upon him, he would take very little.
And so, slowly, Thorin gathered his strength whilst Dain made peace with elves and men, allotting them a fair share of the treasure and offering their dwarven skills which would help to rebuild Dale larger and finer than it had ever been.
But, as each day passed, Thorin grew more and more distant towards Tauriel.
Tauriel's relief and joy that Thorin had survived gradually changed to distress as he withdrew from her. He told her he was well now and no longer needed her sleeping on a pallet in his room. During the evening meal, he was surrounded by people like Dain and was often in deep discussion with them. When he went out riding, he went alone. If they accidentally met, he was polite but aloof, giving her a distant smile – just like an elf, she thought – and, when she had a fever and was ill for days, he never visited her once...Nor had he kissed her since the morning the dwarves had set out for the Mountain.
At first, she tried to excuse him: he was a king with many demands upon his time; he was still getting over the death of his nephews; his wound was painful and left him weak. But, in the end, she knew his avoidance of her was deliberate. She didn't understand and she knew she had to confront him.
She looked for an opportunity and when, one morning, he set out for a ride – alone as usual – she got her horse and followed him. Thorin knew that this moment would have to come and, when he entered a green glade, he brought his horse to a halt and dismounted. She caught up with him and dismounted too. They tethered their horses to a tree and then he bowed courteously and, gesturing towards the banks of a stream that ran close by, he said, "Will you walk with me a little?"
They walked side by side without touching. He's like an acquaintance, she thought, not even a good friend.
In the same polite tones he asked, as if it were no concern of his: "Will you be returning to Mirkwood soon? You must have many duties there."
Thranduil had, in fact, released her temporarily from her duties after the great battle so that she could nurse Thorin. The elven king thought that it was to his advantage to leave Tauriel as an observer in the dwarven stronghold and that the elves would be well rewarded for saving Thorin's life. He wanted no relapses without Tauriel's skilled care.
"Thranduil has given me leave to remain here for as long as you need me," she said. And then she turned to face him. "DO you still need me?" she asked pointedly.
He smiled that awful polite smile again: "My dear Tauriel," he said, like a kindly uncle talking to a young niece, "how could I ever NOT need you? You tended me on the battle-field, have nursed me through my wounds and have been at hand to help me in any way you can."
To Tauriel, it sounded like a form of words.
"But surely we should be considering your needs too and those of your king?" he continued. "You should be home amongst your own people and taking up your guard duties once more."
She made no answer and so he continued again: "You will always have my undying gratitude."
Still she made no answer. She couldn't because her heart had turned to stone.
He pressed on: "My gratitude is such that I have selected a chest of treasure with my own hands for you to take home with you – a mithril shirt, a fine bow, necklaces and rings of great beauty. It is yours when you leave."
He was PAYING her! She looked at him for a moment, her eyes searching his face for the Thorin she had known that night in Lake Town. And then she struck him once, very hard, on the face, strode back to her horse and rode back to the Mountain.
Thorin stood there for a long time. It was best that it ended this way, he thought.
When Thorin got back to the dwarven halls, he called Dain and his company to him. He told them how he was setting out for Ered Luin in a few days. He had to tell his sister about the death of her two sons – and then he would stay in the Blue Mountains where he could be a comfort to her and where he could return to his old life as a smith. He resigned the crown and pronounced Dain King under the Mountain in his place. He would take some of the dragon's gold with him and share it with his sister but the news of his abdication should be kept secret for a week or so until he had personally sent messages to Bard and Thranduil who had returned to their homes.
The next day, Tauriel left for Mirkwood. She didn't see Thorin before she rode out but he had ordered Balin to accompany her as far as Lake Town where he had business. She refused to take the chest of gold which gave Thorin something to think about.
Thorin, in fact, thought too much. Lying on his sick bed, unable to move, he had spent his time thinking about Tauriel. He would lie awake at night and gaze at her beautiful sleeping face as she lay curled up on her pallet. Her nearness tormented him and, at first, he waited for the day when he was strong enough to hold her in his arms once more. But then he had decided to resign his crown. He was a good warrior but not a good king. He had mismanaged events before the Gate and men, elves and dwarves had nearly finished up killing each other.
His thoughts began spiralling off in a host of directions. What would Tauriel think of this decision? Would she want to return with him to Ered Luin to become the wife of a blacksmith when she had thought she would be a queen? In fact, when had she developed a sudden passion for him? Only after she had known he was King under the Mountain in Lake Town? Why had she come to his house? She had practically thrown herself at him. Had she thought that a relationship with Thorin would offer her a chance to get her hands on the dragon's hoard? He had told her to go back to Mirkwood and yet she had stayed in Lake Town. Why? She must have known that Thranduil was gathering an army together and yet she had kept it a secret from him. So, this gave her two chances: if Thorin won, she would become a queen; if Thranduil won, she would doubtless get a cut. And, when he was injured on the battlefield, she must have worked hard to save his life because, with his death, went the opportunity of becoming Queen under the Mountain. He had loved her and now, realising the truth behind her actions, his heart was broken.
Thorin thought until his head hurt and decided that there were only two things he could do. Either he told her about his decision to return to Ered Luin and then ask her if she still wanted to be his wife or he could pay her for her services and wash his hands of her. He imagined himself telling her that he would be a smith once more. He could see her face drop as her dreams of wealth and power slipped from her grasp; he could see a look of contempt come into her eyes. And he couldn't bear to witness it. Better to pay her off and forget her.
Now she was gone, he would start working on forgetting her straight away. The trouble was, it was proving quite difficult. After he had watched her ride off with Balin, he found himself thinking about her for the rest of the day and haunting his dreams at night.
Some days after Tauriel's departure, Thorin set off on his journey to the far west. It had been a hard parting with his company. They had been through so much together and two of them had died. But Dain was a good leader and he would make a good king. Much better than me, he thought. But Thorin knew he was a good smith. Moreover, he now had the raw gold to work into fine things and perhaps wrought gold would make gold, as his father had always told him.
But, Thorin was angry with himself. Every day he thought of Tauriel and every night he dreamed about her. Dreams or nightmares? She knelt by his bed, laughing at him and letting her long, golden hair tumble down in a great swathe so that it seemed to touch his bare chest. But just when he was sure he could feel its silkiness upon his skin, causing him to shiver and groan, he would wake up alone and in his empty room. Yes, he was fated to be alone all his life, he knew it. He would be glad to get back to his isolated forge. Perhaps then she would no longer haunt him.
Tauriel, meanwhile, was only a few miles away from Lake Town. It had been a quiet, sad journey for her, lost as she was in her own thoughts, and with Balin being more taciturn than usual. She planned to stay overnight in the town before continuing. It was a bit of a shanty, she had been told, but the elves had done a good job of constructing temporary homes for those who still remained there. Many families had already moved to Dale and were working enthusiastically on building a new town with the help of the dwarves. Balin had messages for Bard and the Master – they needed to be informed of Thorin's departure and Dain's new office – and then he would head back once more to the Mountain.
Tauriel liked the elderly dwarf. He had a kindly and a wise face and, in the immediate weeks after the battle, he had often sat with her in Thorin's room as they waited for his recovery, keeping her company and telling her all that he could remember about Thorin – his childhood, his exile, his family, the battles he had fought against the goblins, how he had acquired the name of "Oakenshield".
Balin sensed that Tauriel had stronger feelings for Thorin than that of a concerned nurse and had seen her enter the house and go to his room on the night before they had left Lake Town. He had also noted her pale face at the window as they had ridden away and had seen the look in his leader's eyes as he had turned and, raising himself in his stirrups, had waved farewell to her. And that was why, at the moment, he was feeling rather confused.
The night before Tauriel had left, Thorin had summoned Balin and asked him to accompany her part of the way. "She's returning to Mirkwood," he had said. "Her job is finished here."
"Her job?" Balin had exclaimed. "But I thought..."
"Yes, I thought you thought something different," Thorin snapped. Then seeing that his old friend was not going to let it lie, he added tersely: "Perhaps life with a smith does not hold the same attractions as life with a king."
Balin gaped. He found it difficult to believe what Thorin was implying. Had Tauriel rejected him because he was no longer a king? Impossible, he thought, and began to question him more. But Thorin held up his hand. "Enough! It is finished! Just do your duty and remove her from my sight." There was such pain in Thorin's eyes that Balin had to look away.
Now, soon he and Tauriel would be at the parting of their ways and Balin felt that he had to know.
"Tauriel," he said. The beautiful elf raised sad eyes to his face. "I think we understand each other quite well, don't we?" She nodded in agreement. "And so I hope you don't mind me asking why, if you love Thorin, you do not consider life with him as a smith just as welcome as that with him as a king."
Tauriel looked confused. "I'm sorry, Balin," she said, "but I don't understand. Thorin's no longer a smith – he's a king. And, if he had wanted me, I would have been his queen."
"If he had wanted you? If he...?" The well-oiled cogs in Balin's mind suddenly engaged and he began to laugh. He laughed so much, he nearly fell from his horse. "Oh," he spluttered finally. "I always knew that boy was a fool!"
He swung his horse around to face her and, managing to keep a straight face at last, he asked: "He did tell you that he has given up his throne to Dain and that he is returning to Ered Luin to be a smith again...didn't he? And he did give you the choice of going with him?"
Tauriel looked stunned and then angry: "No, he didn't. He just told me that my home was in Mirkwood and my duty lay with Thranduil."
Balin reached out and touched her arm. "Oh, my poor girl. What must you have thought? And what must HE have thought?"
"That's the bit that bothers me," she said grimly. "He offered to PAY me for my services!"
"Oh, my," said Balin. "He went that far, did he? And what did you do?"
"I hit him."
"Good girl,"chuckled Balin. "I hope that made you feel better."
"It did for a bit, but then..." To Balin's dismay, she suddenly burst into tears. He dismounted and, helping her from her horse, he gave her a hug and patted her back ineffectually.
They sat by the lake whilst he dabbed her eyes and said sternly: "Come, child. Tears won't mend anything. You must decide what you're going to do."
"Take my bow and shoot him?" she suggested, trying to smile through the tears. "Chain him up and leave him in an isolated spot? Throw him in a dark dungeon and forget all about him? Seize him by his plaits and kiss him to death?"
"That last one sounds like a plan," laughed Balin. "But you've got to find him first. And then you've got to persuade him that marrying a smith is in your interests. If you turn around and ride back the way we came, he should have set out from the Mountain by now."
She kissed the old man on the forehead. "Thank you so much, Balin. I hope one day to see you again. In Ered Luin."
She got back on her horse and, with a look of determination on her face, set out once more towards the Lonely Mountain.
Thorin was roaring drunk. As the night had closed in, he had found a spot suitable to set up camp, lit a fire, toyed with some food and then had got through a few bottles of that powerful local wine. He had dreamed about her last night again. Tonight he was determined that he would be so dead to the world that nothing would penetrate his misery. He sat with his back to a tree; his horse cropped the grass next to him and he reached up to stroke its neck. "Did you know, you're my only frien'," he slurred, suddenly feeling excessively sorry for himself.
"Damn!" he muttered, as Tauriel came walking through the trees towards him. The wine hadn't worked. She sat down across the fire from him and the shadows danced and played across her beautiful face. He wanted to touch her; he wanted to kiss her. But he knew that if he tried to do that, she would disappear and then he would wake up. Instead, he would torment himself by gazing at her and remembering every feature. Because a time would come when she would fade from his memory and then he would be truly alone.
Tauriel could see that Thorin was drunk. It perhaps wasn't the right time to say what she had to say to him. When she sat down, he seemed unable to focus on her and she wondered if he realised that she was even there. He turned towards his horse to continue his conversation.
"Look, itsh the dream lady again. Comes ev'y night, y'know. Won't let me alone. But, tell you a li'l secret." He raised an unsteady finger to his lips, missed, hit his nose and tried again. "Don't want her to le' me alone. 'Cos I love her, y'see. Waited all these years, and then have to fall in love with an elf. Boo'ful elf, though."
He gazed unsteadily at the raised finger hovering in front of his face and then poked his horse with it. The horse tossed its mane and edged away. "I was a king, y'know. Don't b'lieve me, do you? She would've been my queen. Gave it a-a-l-l-l away." And he threw his arms wide in an expansive gesture so that the horse sidled even further away from its master who seemed to be slightly deranged this evening.
"Coul'n't ask her to come to Lered Uin – Neled Ruin – the Blue Moun'ains to be my wife, could I? Wha' would a boo'ful girl like that do inna hut inna middle of nowhere? Soon get bored, tha's what. Leave me. Break my heart." Thorin thought about this for a moment and then continued: "No, forgot. Can't do tha'. Heart's broken already. Hurts, y'know. Really hurts."
For a moment, he gently laid his hand upon his breast. "She pu' her han' there. Came to my room and pu' her han' there. Said she loved me." Thorin remembered the moment and then frowned. "But p'r'aps she di'n't love me - loved the dragon's gol'. Norra king now. No gol'." He sighed mournfully. "Knew she'd say no, so di'n't ask her."
He looked across the fire at Tauriel and her face was wet with tears. "Why you cryin', dream lady?" he asked sadly. And before she could answer, he keeled over sideways and went out like a light.
Tauriel got up and, taking off her cloak, laid it over him. She tenderly stroked his hair back from his forehead and kissed him on the lips. His mouth twitched as he tried to respond, so she kissed him again, laughing quietly as Thorin began to snore. "You just wait until tomorrow," she said and curled herself in behind his back.
Thorin dreamed that Tauriel had come to him again. She had sat opposite him and she had cried. Then she had stroked his hair and kissed him - twice – full on the mouth. After that, she had pressed herself into his back and they had slept like that all night. He could almost have convinced himself that she was really there.
But, when he woke up, he was alone on the cold ground with his horse cropping the grass nearby. He wondered if he would ever get over her and he clutched his aching head between his hands. He looked up and stared across the clearing. She was there again, standing with that bad-tempered horse of hers. He rubbed his eyes but she refused to go away. For a moment, he wondered if she now intended to haunt his waking hours as well but as she came closer and tethered her horse to a tree he finally realised that the cloak he clutched about himself was hers.
"Tauriel?" he asked tentatively.
"Thorin?" she teased him back.
And then she strode purposefully across the clearing, grabbed his plaits firmly and shouted: "You stupid, stupid, STUPID dwarf!"
She yanked him to her and kissed him hard on the mouth but as he leaned forward to return the kiss, she pushed him away from her and strode back to her horse. She was just in the act of mounting when he seized her by the waist and pulled her back down into his arms.
"Where are you going?" he asked, looking puzzled.
"Where you told me to go. Back to Mirkwood," she snapped. "Isn't that where you want me to go now that my task is done?"
"No – yes – no!" he stuttered.
"And while you're making up your mind, "she said sharply, "this is for you." And she dropped some gold coins into his startled hand.
"What are these for?" he asked, looking confused.
"For your services," she responded.
"Services?" She was making him feel like an idiot.
"Yes, for two – no, three – kisses and for keeping me warm all night."
Suddenly, his cruelty to her, his lack of understanding and his stupidity washed over him like a giant wave and he realised what he had done. She was punishing him now but would she ever forgive him?
He took her hand tenderly and, opening it, he pressed a gentle kiss into her palm. "That kiss is for free," he said quietly. Then he kissed her on the throat: "And that one as well." And then, locking her tightly in his arms, he kissed her on the mouth. "And that one's for free too," he whispered, "as are any other kisses you have of me for the rest of our lives together."
For a moment, Tauriel's eyes searched his face and then, with a gurgle of laughter, she grabbed his plaits again and kissed him until he felt dizzy with desire. "You STUPID dwarf!" she murmured once more.
"Not so stupid," he retorted softly, "not since I have you."