The Heir of the Hill

by Lothithil

 Chapter 5:  Bilbo and Greenleaf
 (Part 3)

Bilbo patted his excited nephew on the head.  "Well!  I was beside myself with fear for Greenleaf, as I knew little of the ways of goblins, it seemed to me that Thranduil had forsaken his son, and that made me angry.  I had grown fond of Greenleaf in the time I had spent in the caverns.  I slipped from the fortress and followed the party of goblins back to their camp, tagging along just within sight of their torches.  I was afraid that they would have wolves about them, but they had none.  When we reached their camp I saw that Greenleaf was indeed still alive, gagged and bound to a tree.

"The goblins reported that their leader had been slain by the king, and called for Greenleaf's blood to repay it, but the chieftain refused, claiming that this action proved that the Elves had the Dwarves in keeping.  He insisted that the Elf would be useful still.  An argument started and the goblin messenger and the chieftain began to fight.

"I, of course, took full advantage of the situation, and slipped behind the bound Elf and cut his ropes with Sting.  He couldn't see me, but as soon as he was free he was running, and I hurried on behind as fast as I could.  It was some time before the goblins noticed that he was gone!  Some how I managed to keep the running elf in sight, and made it back to he fortress just as the great doors opened, King Thranduil at the head of the column of warriors.  They were just riding out with battle to come to the goblins.  Greenleaf collapsed in the arms of his own father, and I slipped into the fortress through the open gates.

"Thranduil ordered his soldiers to attack, for a great band of angry goblins could be heard following, howling and yammering and coming to revenge themselves.  The goblins met a wall of spears and were destroyed.  If any survived that attack, it was because they had tripped and gotten lost in the forest!  Thranduil won the day, and his son was alive and save."

Frodo's eyes were round and wondering.  Surely his uncle was the bravest and most resourceful adventurer in the entire world!  "You rescued him!  And he never knew that you helped him?"

"No, my boy.  Discretion being the better part of burglary, I failed to mention it, and simply headed for the kitchen to steal some bread and a mug of wine to recover myself.  That was when I got the Idea... and the key to Thorin's escape."

Bilbo cleaned out his pipe, glancing through the ice-coated window at the thick fall of snow outside.  "Well, it was not this cold when we made our escape, but that water felt as though it were, to this old hobbit!  Let me tell you, Frodo, it was a cold drink indeed!

"In the king's private pantry, which I had long discovered contained the very best of foodstuffs.  Many beautiful platters and goblets were there stored, studded with precious gems.  Wares of silver and gold and piles of silken napkins and linen... a great wealth of finery.  And all deserving of the most excellent foods; bread so fair and white it tasted like cake, and roasted meats and fruits, vegetables steamed and baked and fried..."

"Uncle!  You are making me hungry," complained Frodo with a laugh.

"Let's go and see about getting our supper going.  I will need some hearty food to see me through this telling to the end, as your appetite for stories is less easily satisfied than your need for dinner!"

Frodo stood and stretched.  He went to the round window and wiped a circle with his sleeve, peering through the frosted glass at the anonymous landscape beyond.  He gathered up the teacups and went into the kitchen where Bilbo was shaping a loaf of bread that had been rising.  He set the china down with a clatter, almost dropping a saucer.

"Careful, by boy!  You are as bad as a Dwarf with my good china!"

"Chip the glasses, crack the plates... that's what Bilbo Baggins hates!" sang Frodo in a low squeaky voice, the closest he could come to the booming baritone of a Dwarf-singer.  Bilbo laughed and filled the basin with warm water, washing up the teacups and service.  He handed Frodo a dish to dry, and carried on his tale...

"As I said, the king's pantry was well stocked, ad less well tended that day, for Thranduil was busy with is son, and killing goblins and all.  I went in for a morsel to refresh and reward myself after my adventure in the forest, and found that the butler had in his haste left open a cupboard that was usually closed and locked.

"Inside were rows and rows of small bottles with corks, each containing a little liquid or a portion of any of a hundred marvelous things; leaves and stones, tiny insects like living jewels, and... other less pleasant things, too.  I guessed that this must be a storage place for the magical medicines that Elves make and use.

"Now, the Elves of Mirkwood are civilized folk, and wise as is all their race is wise; living for Ages and forgetting nothing.  These Elves however, do not use writing and runes, thought they occasionally do learn the letters and languages of other races.  So all these bottles were labeled with artful pictures, and one bottle that caught my eye had a sketch of an elf, fast asleep beneath a big mushroom.

"I took that to mean that it contained a sleeping draught rather than a shrinking draught, though by that time I was so desperate I would not have hesitated to shrink each dwarf down to the size of a mushroom cap and walk out with them all in my pockets!"  Bilbo laughed and passed Frodo another dish.  He went on, "But luck was mine that day, and a few days later again, when another opportunity rose that led to a chilly adventure..."

Dark tunnels of stone, licked with torchlight...

Legolas had no stomach for feasting.  He touched his hand to his bandaged ribs and walked his remaining paces, glad to be on guard duty again and not listening to his father harangue him about risking himself by visiting his mother's grave alone.  He knew that his father was glad he was alive and mostly unhurt, but coming so close to losing his son a second time had made the Thranduil stern and sharp-tongued.  He had tried to get from Legolas a promise not to venture alone out if the palace again.  A ridiculous request of a grown Elf!  Legolas refused to swear it, and Thranduil was still annoyed with him.

Still, a feast was held to celebrate his return and the victory over the goblins.  Legolas traded duty with another guard to ensure he had something else to do during the festivities.

He nodded to the Elf waiting at the end of the corridor.  Legolas handed him his spear, such as all the guards carried.  He sighed and walked toward his chambers, rotating his stiff arm wounded by the goblins.  They had handled him roughly indeed, but he was mending, and had a thirst on him he meant to sate with a draught of wine, if there was any to be had without entering the feast hall.

As Chance would have it (for good or ill) he passed the lowest cellar, avoiding all the corridors where he might meet merrymakers, and found the door was open.  Quiriki, the King's butler hailed him as he looked inside.

He was sitting at a table, a large cask of wine newly broached, a fluted decanter sitting on the board, filled with pale yellow wine.  In the floor nearby yawned the open trapdoors that led to the river, flowing noisily below.  Many barrels lay around, stacked and empty, ready to be sent floating back to Long Lake.

The butler rose and beckoned to Legolas.  "Greetings, Thranduilion!  Great is my pleasure in seeing you on your feet again!  We had given up hope that you would be restored to us!  I have a treat in store to celebrate your escape from the jaws of captivity!"

"I am in no mood for celebrations, Quiriki.  If I were, at my father's side I would now be.  And I deserve no praise for my foolishness, as I was freed by chance and some odd magic."

"All the more reason to celebrate, dear Legolas!  Please come!  A cask of new wine has arrived from distant Dorwinion, and it has yet to be sampled to see if it is fit for the table of the King.  Try some with me?"

Legolas laughed and agreed.  "We must make sure his Majesty receives only the finest wines... would not do to send on poor stuff!"  He fastened the ring of keys to his belt and sat with Quiriki.  The butler filled two large flagons with wine from the decanter, and they drank each other's health.

Glasses clinking as a table is set, leagues of miles and time away from Mirkwood Forest...

Bilbo sighed as he set two clear wineglasses on the board, "I regret having to trick the Elves, and I had rather become fond of Greenleaf, but sadly it was he and one other that were in the cellar that night, and he had the keys to my Dwarves' cells.  I had no choice!  This opportunity would not come again, for the barrels would be gone and the doors closed next time, perhaps.  I held my breath and poured all of the tiny bottle into the breathing wine, while the Elves bantered in the doorway.

"A flagon each they drank, and then I saw my first sleeping Elf; two of them!  I took the keys from Greenleaf's belt and rounded up my Dwarves as quick as I could, praying that all the guards were making rounds past the feasting tables, and hurried them into their barrels of freedom.

"Now, I never stole anything I did not need or use, and I used the keys to free Thorin and my friends.  I did replace them on his belt, hoping that it would be believed that the Dwarves had been magicked away somehow.

"I wondered after how much trouble poor Greenleaf got into, after being discovered bent with wine and thirteen dwarves short.  Many a guilty night I have had!  But I reckon his punishment had not been too severe.  I did what I had to do, and Thorin and the Dwarves escaped and Smaug was slain.  But I do often wonder what became of dear Greenleaf.  I wish I could see him again!"

"Maybe you will, Bilbo!"  Frodo's eyes were shining in the firelight, and the spatter of wet snow struck the windows with a musical sound, hissing down the flue to make the flames dance.  The storm deepened outside, and Frodo shivered with delight and excitement.  "Maybe we will both meet him someday!  Would not that be a grand adventure?"

Bilbo smiled, tapping the ashes from his pipe carefully.  There was nothing like telling tales to pass a winter day.

The End~~~