Chapter One: Decisions
A/N: I have taken some dialogue verbatim from Tolkien. I am referring to the conversation between Thranduil and Thorin, which comes from Chapter 8 "Flies and Spiders," specifically page 153 of Houghton Mifflin's paperback edition of The Hobbit.
"Explain to me again why the dwarf must be kept imprisoned."
Thranduil sighed at his fourth child. The Elven-King had been scouring his own mind for an answer to this very question, but he did not like to be pressed by his children. What else am I supposed to do with it? Thranduil demanded of himself. He could not very well let the dwarf go crashing mindlessly through the forest, attracting spiders and Valar knew what else near the settlements of his people, much as this particular dwarf and his group of half-witted companions had already accomplished the previous night. He would eat his staff before he actually accorded a dwarf the honor and respect of being a guest in his halls. Furthermore, the dwarf was lying to him.
Elves are keenly observant beings and can readily spot falseness in the voice and manner of those treating with them. Thranduil was an elven king and so had honed his perceptiveness to a truly frightening caliber. The King of the Woodland Realm knew without a flicker of doubt that this dwarf was hiding information. Still prevaricating on an answer to his son's question, Thranduil recalled to mind the events of the night before.
Thranduil had not yet been asleep, but had nevertheless been peeved to be disturbed so late at night by an urgent summons from his guards. He had been informed that a group of naugrim had been brash enough to three times surprise a party of wood-elves making merry below the stars. This circumstance alone was enough to annoy the king. He had expressly forbidden such gatherings of his people beyond a safe distance from their settlement, especially so late at night. Thranduil was aware that certain of the younger elves thought themselves invincible and so took it upon themselves to make mischief in the dark. He had had choice words for those individuals last night, especially as he discovered that certain of the bolder youths had thought that impersonating the Elven-King had been a commendable activity.
Then, came the reality that the dwarves had not been marked until they had entered the light thrown by the elves' fire. Dwarves are not capable of stealth or silent maneuvering. This was a fact. Furthermore, elves are gifted with exceptional hearing and sight. This was another fact. And yet, to Thranduil's intense mortification, the naugrim had managed to steal upon the wood-elves unawares. The logic presented itself in his mind that the young elves engaged in the foolish business had been drinking heavily and so might have had their senses slightly dulled by strong wine. Nevertheless, the Elven-King was incensed that not only had the stunted creatures managed stealth, but also that the rest of them had escaped.
For it was only too true. The elves—elflings, Thranduil corrected himself—in the forest had only managed to return one dwarf to the king's halls. Oropher's son surmised this was because the dwarf had helpfully fallen asleep and the wood-elves had practically tripped over the creature in their haste to flee. Thranduil had borne impatient witness to the group of elflings as they had fearfully described, "countless dwarves attacking them" in the dark of night. His guard had already corrected the estimate to a mere twelve dwarves. The young elves had been reprimanded and were no doubt enjoying further punishment courtesy of their parents. Despite their successful capture of one dwarf, the merry-making youths were hardly worthy of congratulations.
And this left Thranduil with one lying dwarf. An honest dwarf would be a contradiction in terms, the king mused. His eyes narrowed as he remembered the conversation between himself and the creature in question.
"Why did you and your folk three times try to attack my people at their merrymaking?" Thranduil had decided to omit extraneous information, such as the age of the merry elves in question, as well as the unlikeliness of the dwarves' staging an attack at all. The Elven-King had inherited a particularly low opinion of the children of Aulë, but he did not yet believe them mad enough to propose to assail a group of elves within their own land. Nevertheless, Thranduil often thought it best to begin interrogations with an especially black circumstance and see if the victim could manage a redeeming explanation.
"We did not attack them," the dwarf had replied, "we came to beg, because we were starving."
It was thusly that the creature had begun to lie. Thranduil knew that above all else, dwarves were proud and stubborn beings. As such, he was certain that a dwarf would never beg unless death was the only option. The king considered a moment and revised that opinion: dwarves would never beg from elves despite death being the only alternative. Satisfied with this conclusion, Thranduil had regarded the creature in front of him. True, it looked slightly emaciated for a dwarf, which may have supported its claim to lack of food. However, despite the impression made from the dwarf's slightness, greater still was the mark of its pride.
For this particular dwarf would not be cowed. The creature had puffed itself up to its full height, or lack thereof, and pride had blazed out of its eyes and in the commanding ring of its voice. Thranduil had wondered whether the creature was indeed a leader of others, and how he dared presume to assert his authority here, in the halls of an elven king, whilst a prisoner. Intrigued despite the circumstances, Thranduil had pressed the dwarf further.
"Where are your friends now, and what are they doing?" The Elven-King was actually well aware of the location and activities of the rest of the group, as he had set spies upon them as soon as he had been apprised of the situation. He knew that twelve dwarves were still asleep, huddled together under the trees. He was curious to test the creature and discover if it would continue in falsehood.
"I don't know, but I expect starving in the forest." The dwarf had glared angrily at Thranduil.
The King of the Woodland Realm had raised an eyebrow. He sincerely doubted whether the greedy creatures would actually succumb to total starvation and expire in the forest. True, game was scarce, but there were nuts and berries aplenty if one knew where to look. Dwarves had obviously never bothered with basic survival techniques, and Thranduil could not say he pitied them. Still, the dwarf's answer was not entirely misleading, and so the Elven-King chose to relieve his most urgent doubt.
"What were you doing in the forest?" For this problem had been nagging Thranduil ever since the first word of the naugrim's invasion had come to his attention. Dwarves did not travel through Mirkwood, and they never, ever came from the south. If a dwarven party should brave the forest, as every few odd decade or so they happened to do, then they would venture from the east and creep cautiously along the elven path running west to east through the trees. Or they would be spotted much farther north, on the very borders of the forest, skirting furtively and avoiding the goblins and orcs hailing from the Grey Mountains.
But to come from the south…this should not be. Thranduil deeply mistrusted the purpose of these creatures to be discovered so far east in the forest, and yet clearly working their way northwards. Perhaps the group had been waylaid on the Old Forest Road and scattered from their original direction? Thranduil's mind refused to accept this possibility. That Road had become impassable almost two-score years ago and the dwarves were well aware of this fact. Nay, to come from the south could only suggest one origin: Dol Guldur.
The name itself was painful to Thranduil and he could feel the whispers of darkness in the edges of his mind. He knew what force lived in the dark tower and bred the spreading evil that poisoned what once was Greenwood and had become Mirkwood. The White Council had denied reality for longer than Thranduil had had patience to accept. Saruman had hesitated too long. Mithrandir, Elrond, Celeborn, Galadriel, Radagast…all of them had trusted too long. Dwarves had allied with the Enemy before, and as far as Thranduil could see, they had done so once more.
All of these thoughts had raced through the Elven-King's mind in the barest of seconds it took for the dwarf to answer his question.
"Looking for food and drink, because we were starving," the dwarf had challenged.
Thranduil's eyes had narrowed, and he had gifted the dwarf with one of his darker and more piercing glares.
"But what brought you into the forest at all?" the king had demanded with his last shred of patience and goodwill in actually accepting the dwarf's story.
The dwarf had remained silent. His eyes had glinted with an unspoken threat, and beneath their fiery gaze, Thranduil had discerned a flicker of mockery, of fear, and most puzzling of all, of longing. The dwarf's obstinacy had pushed the King of the Woodland Realm to his decision.
"Very well!" Thranduil had barked to his captive. "Take him away and keep him safe, until he feels inclined to tell the truth, even if he waits a hundred years." He had motioned to the guards, who had quickly bound the dwarf's hands behind his back and had led him from the hall.
Who are you and what is your purpose, dwarf? Thranduil had silently asked the creature's receding figure as it was taken from his presence. More alarming was the information being kept from him, and the Elven-King did not relish surprises in these darkening days. This was why the dwarf was now being kept in the lower halls, locked in an empty storeroom.
Jerking his mind away from the events of the night before, Thranduil forced himself to focus on his fourth child. To his credit, Hananuir was waiting patiently for his father's answer.
"The dwarf is withholding information. He lied to me last night and if his purpose were indeed honest, he would have had no need for concealment."
Hananuir snorted, "Adar, would you make a clean breast of your actions if you had been captured in a dwarven realm?"
Beside Hananuir, his elder brother Girithron rolled his eyes. "The situation could not possibly ever be reversed, muindor."
As Hananuir shifted his glare to his brother, Thranduil smiled for the support of his third-born, and, after Dagorlad, his heir. An elf would never be caught anywhere near a dwarven realm, much less would an elf actually be captured by the loud and clumsy earth-diggers.
"No matter," Hananuir continued, "if the dwarf is not telling us all, then is keeping him locked up going to improve his humor? Perhaps if we released him, he would be more willing to provide information?"
Thranduil had already thought of this and ultimately decided against it. The dwarf's pride would not be easily smoothed with a change of rooms and a sudden smattering of courtesy.
Ignoring his brother's comment, Girithron addressed his father. "Perhaps one of the other naugrim might have a looser tongue?"
Thranduil did not need to be goaded, as he had been debating this particular decision since yesterday night. For now, he had been content to let the other dwarves remain unknowingly guarded since he had not been quite sure what to do with the lot of them. He had been hoping that their leader would have provided some reason upon which Thranduil could act, but the dwarf had remained stubbornly mute. Still undecided, the elven king turned to his only daughter.
"Gwiwileth, what say you?"
Greenwood's princess had once been fair, full of light and beauty. Yet, she had been born long before the tumultuous events that ended the Second Age, and sorrow was writ clearly in all her features.
"The naugrim were found heading north," she replied quietly. "It would not be prudent to let them leave without first understanding their purpose."
Gwiwileth often spoke in riddles and subtle hints. Thranduil suspected that she could no longer bear to confront the harsh truths of their existence, and he lamented that he would soon lose her to Valinor.
The king nodded at his daughter before turning his attention to his youngest son. The last prince of the Greenwood was substantially younger than the rest of his siblings, and Thranduil knew this last son often complained of having three fathers and one mother, rather than one father, two brothers, and a sister.
"Legolas?" the Elven-King inquired. "What are your thoughts on this matter?"
The fair-haired elf started at being included in the discussion. He scanned his family members, and with apparent reluctance, addressed his father.
"It is strange to find a group of dwarves wandering through the forest without keeping to the path," he admitted, "but were they truly in service to the Enemy, they would not have behaved as they had."
"Oh no? You think that it was not their intent to attack the youths who were feasting?" Girithron challenged.
"But they did not attack!" Hananuir gestured impatiently.
"Know you their purpose, muindor?" Mirkwood's Crown Prince suggested darkly.
"Nay, but— "
"Then how can you conclude they mean us no ill?
"I made no such assertion! My idea is simply that whatever the dwarves are up to, we will not find it out if we keep their leader locked in a storeroom!"
"Enough!" Thranduil silenced Hananuir and Girithron, who usually ended up at odds in any debate.
In the quiet that followed, Legolas spoke again. "Perhaps the scouts have learned aught of their intentions or plans in the time since the watch was set."
Thranduil nodded at his youngest. It had not escaped the Elven-King that Legolas often betrayed an insight at odds with his relatively youthful experience. Having not quite reached his first millennia, Greenwood's third prince was usually overlooked in important matters, and Thranduil had recently begun a campaign to end that neglect. It was the father's belief that evil aged elves faster than the course of time.
Thranduil was about to open his mouth in praise when the captain of his guard strode into the small breakfast chamber the family usually occupied for private discussions.
"My lords, my lady," Malaithlon nodded tersely and spoke rapidly. "We have pulled our watch from the naugrim for we have been beset by many spiders. Seeking to distract the main body, our scouts have led them north, but they were too many for us. Apparently, a group split off from the host with which we battled and returned to the dwarves. They have been captured. Further, before we could kill all the spiders that we fought, the creatures suddenly abandoned the fight and retreated. We dared not pursue them, for our numbers were too few. I await your orders."
Thranduil stiffened upon hearing the news and quickly sought Girithron's gaze. The time for discussions was over. As the Crown Prince, his third-born commanded Mirkwood's warriors.
"How many spiders?" Girithron demanded Malaithlon.
"From what we observed, not less than two hundred."
Girithron cursed, sharing Thranduil's horror that so many spiders had amassed unchecked this close to the king's halls. However, explanations would have to wait.
"Malaithlon, gather your scouts, as well as the auxiliary guard company and meet us at the bridge." The elf nodded and departed immediately. "Hananuir and Legolas, group your patrols and be at the Gate ready for battle. I will do the same. We will leave none alive." Girithron pounded his fist on the wooden dining table.
"To the Gate, then." Thranduil rose fluidly as he sons sprang into action. The proud dwarf would have to wait. As for the dwarf's companions, Thranduil grimaced. He was not about to risk the lives of his people to save a few odd dwarves. However, he could not let such a large army of spiders remain unchallenged, and he would not allow the dark creatures to feed and grow stronger. As was usual in dark times, Thranduil's decisions were being made for him. It seemed that ere nightfall, the wood-elves would have to empty twelve more storerooms, as they would soon be holding thirteen dwarves captive.
ORIGINAL CHARACTER GUIDE:
Celeguir—Thranduil's firstborn, was killed at Dagorlad.
Gwiwileth—second child and only daughter
Girithron—third child, the crown prince of Mirkwood, and chief military commander
Malaithlon—captain of the guard