The Heir of the Hill

by Lothithil

Chapter 5: Bilbo and Greenleaf
(part 2)

Winter howled through the Shire, but in Bag End, two hobbits sat near a warm hearth, one telling and one listening:

"Well of course all this happened hundred and hundreds of years before Thorin and his company, myself included, ventured into Mirkwood Forest.  The king had done as his wife had asked with her last breath and made a mound for her beneath the very oak tree where she had lain her son and herself down.  He missed her greatly, for she was much beloved of him and had been with him for many many years.  He waited patiently to see if she would someday return..."

When King Thranduil had been told that both his son and wife were found dead, he cast down whatever he had to hand and hurried to their sides.  A search party had discovered them lying together some distance from the walls of the palace.  He knelt with stricken face, but shouted quickly for a healer to be brought, for he saw that his son was not dead, only swooning with venom and grief.  He lifted his wife into his arms and wept with sorrow, but he also wept with joy that his son was yet alive.

Legolas was borne back to the fortress and succored with herb and healing draught, and in time restored to health to the king's great relief.  When he was able, he visited his mother's grave, bringing flowers from sundrenched meadows or wreaths of green leaves from the tops of the mighty trees, mistletoe and holly, to adorn her mound.  After many years had past he still visited there, to be alone with his thoughts and his memories of her.  The fair walls of the palace did close on him as they had upon her, and he longed often for the freer air.

Thranduil frowned upon his frequent ventures outside of the fortress alone, but he could stay the willful son no more ably that he could the mother.  He watched from a distance whenever he learned that Legolas had left the caverns, and he sent stealthful guards that Legolas ignored.

He grew in strength in those long years; mind and body were honed by the skill and wisdom of the father.  Legolas trained with Thranduil's best swordsmen and bowmen, becoming greater in skill than any other of the folk in Mirkwood; He earned justly from his proud father the title of a chief of the guards.

He was on guard during the Festival of Sudden lights, the Elf-feast that was celebrated in the forest, which twelve dwarves interrupted with their untimely arrival, venom-sick and starving.  Thranduil was angered by their intrusion, and also by their leader Thorin, whom he had already taken prisoner for his uncivil tongue and trespass.  Little did he love dwarves, and these were particularly surly and uncooperative.  They refused to answer simple questions, so Thranduil had them locked away in the dungeons until they recalled courtesy.

Winter's breath rattling the windows of the Shire, far away from Mirkwood Forest...

"Now understand, Frodo," said Bilbo, leaning forward and looking into his nephew's eyes, "Remember, the spiders were roused, and Greenleaf and the other guards were hard put to it to fight them off while their folk escaped, leading twelve dizzy dwarves and one invisible hobbit.  I followed unseen their lanterns, and saw that many spiders who had crept up behind us were slain and driven back by the fierceness of the bow of Greenleaf.

"And in the dungeons they stayed for a long while, aye, for still Thorin refused to yield a reason why he was traveling through the Elf-king's territory, and stubborn and obstinate were all his words.  Thranduil said in his wrath that Thorin could wait there for a hundred years, if he chose.  Elves can afford to be very very patient!"

Bilbo chuckled, finishing his tea that had grown cold at his hand.  He set the cup aside, and leaned back, continuing, "None of the other dwarves would speak either, so Thranduil let them alone in their cells, and in this he saved them all.

"For the woods were crawling with wargs and goblins, and the spiders were stirred up and angry.  No Dwarf and hardly any Elf were safe in the forest anymore...

Horns blowing in the fortress, ringing through the caverns…

Thranduil went swiftly to the gate to see that a group of goblins were gathered under a ragged flag of dirty white, begging the King's hearing.  He went forth with a strong guard and his son beside him, and listened to the parley of the goblins.

"How dare you come into the territory of Thranduil, King of Northern Mirkwood, and what have you to say to him?" spoke Legolas, for Thranduil would not speak to any goblin in wrath of the loss of his wife and many of his folk over the long years of struggle.  Legolas's wrath was hardly less, but it was his place as chief of the guard, and he bit back his anger.

A large hairy and obscenely twisted goblin stepped forward, holding the filthy white rag like a shield against the cutting glare of the Elf King.  "O mighty king of all the Forest," began the goblin, sniveling with attempted flattery, "We come from the Mountains, hunting murderous dwarves that have slain the Great Goblin!  They snuck into our tunnels like thieves and robbed us, and by wizardcraft have ended our great leader!  We desire only revenge for our chieftain.  We offer no harm to any Elf, or any who have friendship with the Great King of Mirkwood."  The goblin ducked in a parody of a bow, and his snarling face would have smiled, if such an exercise were able so foul a creature.

"Begone, spawn of Morgoth!" said Legolas harshly, unable to contain his ire further.  "No satisfaction will you find here, nor will you find ought in this forest except your own deaths, if you linger here.  You have no business in the Forest!  Go back to your holes."

"Let the Lord King of Mirkwood speak his own words, snaga," snarled the goblin to Legolas, and he laughed at the Elf's flushed face.  His laughter was cut short as a feathered shaft appeared piercing the scrap of white cloth he held.  He dropped it and turned to hurry away, looking back over his itching shoulders.  The other goblins spat and cursed the elves, shaking their fists and growling.

"Well said, son of Thranduil," spoke the King, for he was greatly pleased to hear that the Great Goblin was dead, though doubtless he would soon be replaced with some other greedy and tyrannical orc.  He ordered the guards doubled, and sent a strong party to assure that the goblins departed the area.

Green forest fades to red fireside...

Frodo sat up, his legs crossed and his elbow set on them, attending Bilbo's words most avidly.  When his uncle paused in his tale, he stood and filled the tea cups, noting that the drifts of snow outside were piling up so that the holes and housed of Hobbiton seemed so many mounds with little curls of smoke seeping from their peaks.  He placed another log on the fire, then resumed his place, nodding for Bilbo to continue.

Bilbo chuckled.  "I think the Elf King then figured out for himself why Thorin  was there, and what might follow if he was released.  Thranduil could handle a mob of angry goblins, but the wrath of Smaug would destroy his forest and his people.  He had a truce with the foul lizard, bought with gold and treasure from his own vaults, to spare the trees from his draconic appetite so long as no Elf raised a hand or bow against the wurm.

"Greatly did he disdain that truce, but rulers must do what they can to protect their people, even if it is very distasteful.  He aided the Men of Long Lake and secretly sent them arms of superior workmanship, but the men were long past the strength and will to fight openly against the dragon.  Only a few would carry the strange and fair weapons of the Elves, for they feared and envied their grace and long lives."

Frodo interrupted his uncle, his face bright with excitement, "Did King Thranduil then make the Black Arrow that Bard the Bowman did slay the dragon with?"

"Now!  No jumping ahead in the story!  You would think that you have heard it all before, the way you carry on!"  Bilbo laughed and patted Frodo's head, and the young hobbit chuckled.

"The king would not sell the Dwarves, you see; while he was not friendly with them, he did honour their deed and respect them their lives as he did all living things.  But soon the goblins returned, and this time they said they had captured an Elf, and that they would ransom his life only for the Dwarves.  Thranduil cast about for his son who was absent from his usual place, and he knew who the goblins had captured."

Frodo gasped and sat up sharply.  "Not Greenleaf?  Oh, no!"

"Oh, yes, I am afraid.  They took him by surprise when he went to visit his mother's grave.  Lay in wait for him in that place, they did, having no respect for a resting-place.

"Stricken was the king, but he granted no parley.  A captive of the goblins is a victim of the goblins, as is oft said, for they slay their captives cruelly rather than allow them to be rescued.  Thranduil knew that his son was likely already dead, and his heart mourned.  Taking his own sword in hand, he came out through the gates and slew the foul messenger, and ordered that all guardsmen prepare for battle, for they would on the marrow march against the goblins and drive them from the forest at last."

~~~to  be continued~~~