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Interrupted Journeys: Part Two--Journeys Perforce

Chapter 10: The fortress of his people

by ellisk

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In a great cave some miles within the edge of Mirkwood on its eastern side there lived at this time their greatest king. Before his huge doors of stone a river ran out of the heights of the forest and flowed on and out into the marshes at the feet of the high wooded lands. This great cave, from which countless smaller ones opened out on every side, wound far underground and had many passages and wide halls; but it was lighter and more wholesome than any goblin-dwelling, and neither so deep nor so dangerous. In fact the subjects of the king mostly lived and hunted in the open woods, and had houses or huts on the ground and in the branches. The beeches were their favourite trees. The king's cave was his palace, and the strong place of his treasure, and the fortress of his people against their enemies. The Hobbit
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Thranduil sat in his office bathed in the morning sunlight that streamed in through the balcony. He was surrounded by his council. Despite the early hour, the King of Greenwood already wore an undeniable scowl on his face that only deepened as his advisors spoke. Over the last week he had met with a seemingly never-ending series of distraught elves from the south. Telling them that he could no longer provide protection for their villages and that they would have to relocate was one of the most difficult tasks he had performed to date as king.

Most of the leaders he had spoken to were sympathetic, understanding that Thranduil and Aradunnon had fought hard to keep the orcs and spiders from pushing north. But the ever-spreading shadow guaranteed the orcs’ progress and, recognizing it for what it was, that was something no one truly expected the king could hold back alone. So the majority of the village leaders tried to show they were grateful that the king had scouted possibilities for new places to settle despite their grief over loosing their current villages. Almost all of them resisted moving north of the mountains, however, and that had concerned the king and the troop commander deeply.

This morning only brought Thranduil the promise of another difficult day.

“Today is the last of the village leaders from the Narrows, my lord,” Golwon was saying.

Thranduil tried to perk up a bit for that welcome news.

“That is good, Golwon. Who is on the agenda for today?” he replied, trying to sound pleased.

Golwon looked at Thranduil nervously. Most of the village leaders had been compliant but there are always some malcontents—those who are not satisfied no matter what they are offered.

“Only one, my lord. Of course I did not dare schedule this one to appear with anyone else lest her attitude corrupt her counterparts from other villages. It is Maethorness, my lord.”

Thranduil cringed openly and several of the councilors looked at Golwon disgustedly.

“I had mercifully forgotten about her. Why would you leave her for last, Golwon?” Thranduil exclaimed. “Valar, she is a demon under the best of circumstances. This will be a nightmare.”

Golwon returned Thranduil’s gaze evenly. “I had tried to schedule her early on, my lord, but she initially refused to come. She only relented after I had Hallion send her an order to appear under your seal.”

Thranduil snorted. “You could leave her in the Narrows for all I care,” he said under his breath before adding in a stronger voice. “Very well, we have an entertaining meeting to look forward to. What else do we have scheduled?”

Hallion smirked. “Only the normal morning petitions. I am not foolish enough to schedule anyone to meet with you after you have dealt with Maethorness, my lord,” he said with a serious tone that made Celonhael and Aradunnon chuckle.

Thranduil only nodded. “Quite right,” he said quietly.

After a moment, Aradunnon spoke. “Thranduil, there is one problem in the south that I have avoided telling you about because I was not certain it really was a problem. But it has not resolved itself and given that you plan to travel again tomorrow, I suppose I should mention it before you leave.”

Aradunnon paused and Thranduil tensed. Nothing his brother was this hesitant to discuss was going to be pleasant. “Simply tell me, Aradunnon,” he prodded.

The prince sighed. “That Man, Radagast, that you had me send south…he has disappeared.”

Thranduil’s eyes flew open as he turned fully to Aradunnon. “What do you mean he has disappeared?” he demanded.

Aradunnon scowled. “The escort took him south as you ordered. But they said that he kept wandering away from them as they traveled and away from camp at night. Eventually one morning he was missing from camp and they could not locate him again. I have had them searching the area they were in. They were not that close yet to Amon Lanc. But they found no trace of him.”

Thranduil stared at his brother. “How could he ‘wander’ out of camp without a trace, Aradunnon? Do your warriors post guards at night? Do the guards stay awake?”

Aradunnon frowned at his brother’s angry countenance and decided it would be best to play this cautiously. He had not understood anything related to that Man. “I am sure they posted a watch, my lord. It seems the Man was very good at disappearing. It was not the first time they had lost him…”

“All the more reason to have kept a better watch over him.”

Aradunnon’s frown deepened. “If he was determined to wander off…. If he refused to listen to the warrior’s warnings about his safety…. What could they really do, my lord? You ordered him treated as an allied lord. Did you expect the escort to tie him to a tree at night?”

“No, but I would like to think that my warriors can keep visiting allied lords safe from harm without misplacing them in the forest. He did not even carry arms.” Thranduil turned a harsh gaze on his brother. “I want him found,” he ordered flatly. “And brought directly back here. That is a top priority, Aradunnon.”

Aradunnon nodded. “Yes, my lord. The patrols are already working on finding him.”

Thranduil turned to Hallion. “And I suppose we had better send word to Elrond that we have lost one of his guests. I am certain Radagast’s companion, Mithrandir, would want to know that and I have no idea how to contact him other than through Elrond.”

Thranduil sighed and looked at his council. “Does anyone else care to contribute something to improve my outlook on this day?”

Hallion looked at Thranduil blandly. “Well, my lord, you might be interested to know that the party of dwarves we invited to look at the caves with us arrived late yesterday evening.”

Thranduil silently closed his eyes.

“They were still asleep during breakfast since they arrived so late but I invited them to dinner this evening. You will want to review the maps with them this evening since we will be leaving in the morning. Lindomiel is entertaining them until you are free.”

The king was silent for a full minute. Eyes still closed, he did not see the alarmed looks on his mother and uncle’s faces at the prospect of dining with dwarves.

“Wonderful, Hallion,” was Thranduil’s only response.

Engwe snorted softly. “The price one pays for inviting the Naugrim in the first place,” he commented quietly.

Thranduil turned a glare on his uncle. “Govern your tongue, Engwe. Today is not the day to provoke me,” he said in a low voice.

Not doubting that was true, Engwe for once saw wisdom and quickly assumed an apologetic expression. “I beg your pardon, my lord.”

Thranduil nodded once. “Let us go hear the petitions then,” he said tiredly, standing and raising everyone else to their feet.

“Pity the petitioners today,” Celonhael whispered to Golwon as Thranduil turned to leave the office.

Both advisors froze guiltily as Thranduil turned back to face them. “Indeed,” he said coolly, laughing to himself when he heard them release the breath they were holding after he made no further reaction.

*~*~*

As Lindomiel and Amoneth walked through the courtyard with their strange guests, the Silvan elves made way with reactions that ranged from curious stares to open alarm. Honestly, Lindomiel had been a little alarmed herself when Hallion had asked her to entertain the dwarves until Thranduil was free. Not that she harbored any prejudices against them as she knew Thranduil’s family did. She simply did not know what might entertain a dwarf. Thankfully, the dwarves were resourceful and had their own clear ideas about what they wanted to do. After emerging from breakfast, they expressed an interest in inspecting the only stonework in the capital—the stone fountain and benches in the flower garden in the center of the courtyard. They had glimpsed it the night before upon their arrival. It was there that Lindomiel, Amoneth and their elven guards were escorting them.

The fountain was a large basin carved inside and out with a riot of wildflowers—irises, lilies, daisies, pansies, elanor and many others. Amongst the flowers were small creatures such as butterflies, squirrels, finches, mice and frogs. In the basin of the fountain were two swans and some water lilies that appeared to float on the water. They were carved with such detail that the casual observer might think them real. The benches around the fountain were shaped like trees. Their feet were the tree’s roots, their base and seat were the tree’s trunk and their back was formed from the branches and canopy. These decorations had been present long before Lindomiel came to live in the capital but she knew they had been designed by Gelireth, an artist and one of the elves that Oropher had led east. She had been a court painter in Menegroth. The actual carving had been done by Gelireth and another elf, Crithad. He was a toolmaker but in his spare time he sculpted. Lindomiel had always loved this part of the capital. She was responsible for the flower gardens that surrounded the fountain, and though she doubted the dwarves would be particularly interested in gardens, she was all too happy to show them the stonework.

They studied it with great interest, kneeling on the ground or leaning out over the water to better see some of the detail. As they muttered comments amongst themselves, Lindomiel and Amoneth seated themselves on one of the benches and struggled not to laugh. They had only met six dwarves in their entire lives—these three and the three that came to sell Thranduil the swords fifty years earlier. This group was no different from the first given what they had seen thus far. They seemed coarse and rough, proud and bombastic, sturdy and stern and very intelligent in a stubborn sort of way. They treated the noble ladies with the utmost courtesy and formality but were otherwise completely blunt in their responses to them. Lindomiel remembered how the dwarves’ utter honesty had annoyed Thranduil the last time any of their race had ventured into Greenwood and knowing her husband’s personality as she did, his reaction to them simply amused her to no end.

Finally, their inspection completed, Nali, the master stoneworker, stood and faced the ellyth, looking up at them with a severely serious expression. Lindomiel and Amoneth glanced at each other briefly and fought to maintain a sober expression as well.

“This carving is not poor quality,” the dwarf said gruffly.

Aware of the incredulous look on Amoneth’s face, Lindomiel merely nodded. “I will pass on your appraisal to the artist,” she said serenely. “I am certain she will be honored to know that dwarves find her work satisfactory.”

In truth, Lindomiel was certain that Gelireth would be more likely to spit on the dwarves for their cool evaluation of her beautiful work. Like most of the Sindarin elves in Thranduil’s court, she remembered the dwarves’ deeds in Doriath all too well.

Nali snorted quietly into his beard as his eyes returned to the fountain. “When we received your king’s message, we could not imagine how elves planned on converting caves to a stronghold with as little aid from dwarves as lord Thranduil indicated that he wanted. But if you have elves here with that skill,” he said gesturing to the fountain, “you might be able to make your new stronghold more attractive without so much of our help.” He paused and raised his chin slightly. “Of course, it would still be more lovely with our help, which we intend to point out to him.”

Lindomiel’s eyebrows rose slightly of their own volition as she contemplated that remark. Firstly, she was not certain if it would be amusing or frightening to watch this dwarf inform Thranduil of the superior skill of dwarves over elves. Secondly, she could not honestly imagine how anyone, elf or dwarf, could make a cave lovely. She was smart enough not to say that, however, knowing such a comment would certainly insult the dwarves.

Unfortunately, Amoneth was not that sensible.

“Regardless of what is done to them, they will still be caves,” she replied. “I cannot imagine a cave that the term ‘lovely’ might describe.”

Lindomiel flashed a look at her friend that began as astonishment and quickly turned to irritation as the dwarves glowered at Amoneth.

“You are Sindarin, are you not? You cannot imagine a beautiful cave? You did not think the work my kind did in Menegroth was worthy? Khazad-dûm began as a cave. Are you insulting my home?” Nali asked icily.

Amoneth drew a breath to respond but Lindomiel silenced her with a glare worthy of her husband. Then she spoke to the dwarves herself.

“Neither Amoneth nor myself are old enough to remember Menegroth, Master Nali. Nor have we ever seen Khazad-dûm, of course. Though I have heard it described as the finest dwelling of any age—more beautiful than the mansions in Valinor. Such a thing is simply very difficult for us to imagine since we have lived our entire lives in the forest.”

“Hmm,” harrumphed the dwarf. “Forest. The forest is certainly a fine place for a squirrel or a bird. But your king has shown himself wise to move to this stronghold. A good, solid fortress carved into the living stone—that is a kingly abode. Not some platform on a tree.” He looked at the flets scornfully. “They are nothing more than wooden planks. No decoration, no possibility to adorn them. Plain, not beautiful.”

Amoneth was frowning by the end of that speech. “I could not disagree more with you or with the king,” she replied hotly before Lindomiel could silence her. “The trees require no adornment—they are beautiful in themselves. Living, delicate, intricate—each leaf different from the next and changing through out the year from fresh greens in the spring, to rich greens in the summer, to bright reds and golds in the fall. No cave could be as beautiful as a living tree. I think the king’s decision to move these people…”

“Avo bedo, Amoneth,” Lindomiel hissed, cutting her off in a low voice before switching back to the Common Tongue to address the dwarves. They were obviously angry but their smirks told her that they understood at least that much Sindarin. “Clearly my friend and I have a great deal to learn about the art of converting a cave into a home,” she said in a calm voice, despite the dwarves’ argumentative stance. “Perhaps you would be so kind as to tell us a little about Khazad-dûm, so that we might have a better understanding. We must certainly acquire one since we clearly support the king’s decision to move the people to a safer location.”

Nali looked at her with a knowing gleam in his eyes, clearly recognizing her obvious attempts to be diplomatic and correct her friend. Despite that, a genuine and proud smile appeared on his face at her suggestion. “I would be happy to describe Khazad-dûm to you, my lady. It is a grand place—a city, not just a dwelling and certainly not a cave. It is over forty miles from gate to gate. And the halls between the gates are glorious—bright and ornate. We have lived there for many an age. As an elf, you can surely imagine the result of thousands of years of constant improvements. Nearly every surface bears some sort of adornment…”

Lindomiel sat back in on the bench, listening attentively to Nali’s enthusiastic description of the beauty of his home. Initially, she only hoped to distract the dwarves from Amoneth’s less than sensitive commentary with this topic of conversation, but as they spoke, she found herself drawn into their description. She began asking questions and soon one of Nali’s assistants produced a small pad of paper bound between two pieces of leather from his jerkin. It contained sketches—samples of carvings that could be done on pillars and walls and thresholds and fireplaces. The elves passing through the courtyard pursuing their daily tasks shook their heads in wonder at their queen, conversing animatedly with the three dwarves.

Lindomiel’s opinion of her guests only increased when Nali took the pad of paper and, on a few blank pages, added some sketches of the Niphredil she had transplanted from Lorien and carefully suffered to grow in the garden around the fountain. The dwarves had never seen that plant and Nali thought his wife, a gem worker, might like to make a brooch in its shape. Lindomiel smiled at that though she thought the drawing he made of the delicate plant was much too angular and well, dwarven. But his interest piqued her curiosity as had his description of Khazad-dûm.

Next to her, Amoneth seethed silently at her friend’s reproach and apparent fascination with dwarves as their voices droned in her ears.

*~*~*

Late that afternoon, Thranduil sat with his advisors around a table in the Great Hall, waiting as the guards went to fetch the king’s last interview of the day—Maethorness. Hallion studiously sifted through the papers in front of him, looking at the notes he had taken throughout the day and trying to avoid the king’s gaze. Celonhael spoken quietly but intently with Golwon about how to finance the purchase of some item one of the petitioners had requested and been granted that day. They also appeared desperate to not catch Thranduil’s eye.

The advisors’ efforts were wasted, however. Thranduil had no desire to look for argument with his own council. He only wanted to sit quietly and prepare for the inevitable battle to come. Eyes on the doors, hands carefully not balled into fists, Thranduil waited for the guards he had sent after Maethorness to return.

Suddenly, the doors to the Great Hall burst open and before the guards could even draw breath to announce her, Maethorness pushed past them and strode into the room. She walked without pause towards the table where the king was seated with his advisors. Her mouth was set in a hard line and her eyes burned, reflecting her hot temper.

Thranduil’s mouth turned down irritably on one side as he braced himself to confront Maethorness. He did not relish the idea of delivering bad news to this argumentative, surly elleth.

The guards at the door looked apologetically at Thranduil and he dismissed them with a wave of his hand, his expression communicating that he had expected no less.

Maethorness did not stop walking until she reached the table. Then she glared at Thranduil.

“What could possibly be so important that I should travel a week to the capital and then be made to wait over half a day to speak to you?” she demanded without preamble. “I cannot even begin my return trip today since I sat here doing nothing until after mid day.”

Thranduil tried to focus on the levity offered by his uncle’s completely astonished expression as he struggled to respond in a more polite manner than he had been addressed. Engwe had never been present for any of the few previous encounters Thranduil had with Maethorness.

Maethorness’ husband, Milion, had been the leader of their village before dying in the War of the Last Alliance. Thranduil knew him well—he had been a very soft spoken, compassionate elf. An excellent leader, beloved by his villagers and by everyone else who met him. How he had been married to this battleaxe, Thranduil could never fathom. He had been completely shocked when he first met Milion’s widow.

“We assure you, Maethorness, you would not be asked to make such a journey unless it would clearly benefit your village and the realm, as we are sure you recognize,” Thranduil replied formally, in a cool, firm voice. Knowing from past experience not to expect the courtesy of any sort of obeisance from this elleth, he chose to ignore her lack of respect and indicated a chair at the opposite end of the table. “Please sit down so that we can begin and therefore conclude our business as quickly as possible.” She was not the only one anxious to part company.

She sat in the indicated chair, brows furrowing severely. “What would benefit my village, my lord, would be more regular patrols. Or better still, a permanently appointed guard. The orcs that you cannot seem to keep out of the forest are ever more bold in their approach towards my village. And the spiders are now our constant companions. I expect better protection.”

Engwe’s jaw dropped and he openly stared at Maethorness with an outraged expression. Amusement danced in Thranduil’s eyes for a moment as Celonhael responded to Engwe’s reaction by covering a snort of laughter with a cough. Maethorness stared angrily at him for this unusual behavior.

Thranduil turned his most formidable glare on Maethorness, drawing her attention. It had enough effect to subdue her somewhat. “It is the security of your village and the advance of the orcs and spiders that you are here to discuss, Madam.” He paused, a dare to her to speak. Wisely, she chose not to so Thranduil continued, diving directly into the heart of the matter. Preliminaries would be lost on this elleth. “The orcs and spiders are multiplying beyond our ability to control. We have decided to move the capital north of the mountains and the warriors north of the Narrows. We will no longer defend the territory where your village lies and we recommend you move north of the mountains for the safety of your people.”

Maethorness’ reaction to that pronouncement was not disappointing. “What!” she practically screeched. Thranduil watched her with an outwardly bland expression, thinking to himself that she looked liked a fish caught in a bear’s jaws—eyes wide, jaw hanging open. “You expect us to move again? Between you and your adar, that will make four times that our people have been forced to move!”

That was a statement of fact. Thranduil saw no benefit in responding to it, so he did not.

“What did we gain in any of the previous moves? What will be the benefit of this one?”

Thranduil gazed at her coolly for a moment. “The benefit is that there are no orcs or spiders north of the mountains—they are concentrated around Amon Lanc and the mountains are far enough north of Amon Lanc to be safe. The benefit is that our scouts have found very rich places to resettle in the safety north of the mountains. You will be safer and more prosperous in the new location.”

“Scouts?” she exclaimed, voice rising. “Have you already chosen the location of my village for me? Do we have any choice in this matter? You seem to be assuming it is a foregone conclusion that we will agree to move.”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows slightly. “I would not force any of my subjects to an action they truly opposed, Madam, any more than you could force the elves in your village to do something against their will. You may certainly choose to stay in the Narrows if you wish. However, that would be poor leadership because you could not hope to defend yourselves against the orcs and spiders. Therefore, assuming that you will encourage your people to make the logical choice, I have scouted the land north of the mountains in an attempt to provide you with as much assistance as possible.”

Maethorness narrowed her eyes at him. “You speak of the safety of my people. You claim to protect this realm. You and your adar have done nothing but retreat. It is not a matter of running away to keep the elves safe. The forest—the trees and all the creatures that live in them, not just the elves, are part of this realm. You Sindarin elves just do not understand that. Are you protecting this realm? No. You are leaving the trees to rot or burn in the care of spiders and orcs. You are forcing all the creatures, elves and animals to loose their homes. That hurts my people. They suffer seeing the forest and its creatures suffer. You and your adar have always ignored that. Well, I will not ignore it. Nor will the elves in my village. We will not move.”

Thranduil did not bother to try to conceal the anger and pain that he felt in reaction to that speech. “Do not presume to tell me that I do not understand the suffering of this forest or this realm, Madam. The greatest gift I have ever received was the healing song of this forest and the kindness of the Silvan when my people came here as refugees after being driven from three previous homes. My adar acknowledged that debt when he accepted the Silvan’s invitation to lead them and protect this forest. There is an army protecting this forest because my adar and I ordered and command it. There are foresters tending the forest and its creatures because my adar and I organized them. My adar gave his life defending you. This forest would not have experienced the prosperity of the last millennium if the Evil One had not been defeated in Mordor. Now that Evil is rising again in Amon Lanc and I must respond in a way that keeps the most citizens of this realm safe and allows us to continue fighting. For fifty years we have tried to drive the orcs from the forest without success. Their presence in the south is too strong to resist. I could gather us all together and kill us all by marching on Amon Lanc. That would be the end of this realm and its suffering for certain,” he said with heavy sarcasm. “The only way I can keep these people safe is by moving them. I am not abandoning the forest or its creatures. I will protect it. But neither you nor I can serve this forest if we are dead. Choose to stay in the Narrows and you choose to die and end your service to this forest. Choose to move north and you may continue to protect this forest. But the choice is yours. Try to make the one that will demonstrate good leadership.” He paused. “If you would care to see the maps the scouts made, we are prepared to show them to you.”

Maethorness scowled at him and stood. “I have not decided to ask the people in my village to move. If I do, it will not be north of the mountains. And I can scout my own settlement.”

Thranduil regarded her coolly. “The choice is yours. But be warned—I am defending no territory south of the Narrows. I would not consider you safe if you stay south of the mountains. I certainly would not consider any territory south of the Forest Road inhabitable. If you choose to stay in the south, you will be endangering your people.”

Maethorness glared at him a moment and then with a snort, turned and marched from the room. Again, Engwe’s jaw fell open.

“You are dismissed,” Thranduil said acerbically as the doors to the Great Hall closed behind her.

Engwe, mouth still hanging open, turned to Thranduil. “Since when is anything that I just saw here an appropriate manner in which to conduct oneself in the presence of the king?”

Thranduil laughed and raised his eyebrows. “I suppose you have never treated me in a similar manner?”

“I am your uncle,” Engwe responded irritably.

“And that matters?” Thranduil replied.

Engwe’s expression turned sour as Hallion and Dieneryn struggled not to laugh.

Thranduil shook his head and adopted a more serious expression. “There is no way to force her to respect me when she does not, Engwe. She will move and that is all that matters. She will also express her displeasure about the necessity of doing so. As Golwon said earlier, that is why he brought her in alone—so no one else is exposed to her disrespect and her attitude.” Thranduil frowned at Engwe’s continued incredulity. “What would you have me do, Engwe? Lock her in a cell for her impudence?”

“Tempting,” Hallion said softly. Everyone laughed quietly at that.

“Your adar would have,” Engwe added.

Thranduil laughed heartily. “Maethorness would be lucky if she only got locked in a cell for behaving that way with ada. That sort of cheek would likely have earned me a smack had I ever been foolish enough to conduct myself in such a manner,” he replied as Dieneryn and Aradunnon nodded knowingly. Then Thranduil grew more serious. “But, I cannot argue with all of Maethorness’ points. I agree with her about abandoning the forest. Aradunnon has made the exact same argument. We all have as we debated this move. We are angry about the choices we have made. I respect her right to be angry as well.” He shook his head slightly and adopted a sterner expression. “If that is all for the evening, let us go prepare for dinner.” He fixed them all with a cold glare. “Anyone who does not appear for dinner—anyone who abandons their king to dinner alone with dwarves—may very well spend some time in a cell. Or better still, in the north working on those caves for the next years with the dwarves.”

That elicited a round of laughter from everyone in the room as they proceeded out the Great Hall to the family quarters. Hallion and Dieneryn held back, flanking Thranduil.

“You have made the right choice, ion nin,” Dieneryn said quietly as they walked. “I am no military strategist, but even I can see that. You are doing what is best for these people.”

Hallion nodded. “I know you do not like the choice, Thranduil. It may comfort you to know that your adar always agonized over the choice of moving the people further into the forest. It is not an easy decision but it is the right one. Especially given that we found a place for a stronghold. You were very wise to seek out such a place.”

Thranduil frowned slightly. “And very lucky to find one.” He sighed. “I appreciate the support. I only wish I had better options.”

Hallion smiled sadly at Thranduil. “Anyone can lead people when all the choices are easy ones, my lord. Good leadership is proven by making the best of difficult choices. I truly believe history will prove that you have done so.”

“I hope you are right,” Thranduil replied softly.

*~*~*

Less than an hour later, Thranduil and his council walked into the family sitting room, forewarned that Lindomiel was already waiting for them while entertaining the dwarves there. Upon crossing the threshold into the room, the king immediately scowled. Lindomiel, alone save for her guards, was seated on the cushions in the room surrounded by dwarves. One had a mithril ring in his hands and was inspecting it closely. Both Thranduil and Dieneryn froze and stiffened at that sight.

“This is truly exquisite work,” the dwarf commented, not noticing the new arrivals. “Leaves are not the most interesting subject I could think of to engrave on a ring, but I will grant you it is probably fitting for a Woodland queen and they are strikingly detailed.” The dwarf squinted at the ring and then looked up at Lindomiel. “Are those runes amongst the leaves?”

Lindomiel merely nodded, smiling.

The dwarf raised his eyebrows dramatically and studied the ring again. “Clever,” he said with an openly admiring tone. “I do not know enough Sindarin to read them. I can get that ‘o Eryn Galen’ is ‘of Greenwood.’ What is Bereth?”

“Queen,” Lindomiel responded. “It says Queen of Greenwood.”

The dwarf looked appropriately impressed and handed the ring back to Lindomiel. “Very striking work. You cannot expect me to believe an elf could have done this,” the dwarf said skeptically.

Thranduil had heard and seen enough. “An elf did make it,” he said with a cold tone. “My father made it for his queen when he became king of these people. As he made the ring I now wear for himself.”

Lindomiel’s eyes widened and flew back to meet her husband’s icy expression. She stood as the dwarves spun around to face the person speaking to them so harshly. Easily guessing who this newcomer might be, they drew themselves to their full heights and returned his glare coolly.

“My lord, this is Nali, a master stoneworker from Khazad-dûm and his assistants, Kror and Bomil,” Lindomiel said softly by way of introduction, stepping over to her husband’s side. He took her hand firmly, studying her briefly before greeting the dwarves.

“Welcome to Greenwood,” Thranduil said somewhat stiffly.

Nali bowed slightly. “We are pleased to be here. It has been a long time since any of us delved a new stronghold. The task you described in your message is intriguing to us.”

Thranduil took a slow breath and tried to blow out the tension he was feeling. “We appreciate your willingness to travel here to help appraise the caves,” he said in a calm tone.

Nali looked at the King of Greenwood coolly and harrumphed into his beard. “Naturally you will need our help. You cannot just go carving out passages into a mountain. It will collapse on you,” he replied firmly.

Lindomiel felt her husband tense and saw his eyes narrow almost imperceptibly.

“Then we should be all the more thankful for your presence,” he replied, only marginally succeeding in keeping the sarcasm from his voice. The day had been difficult without adding the natural arrogance of dwarves to the mix.

Hallion frowned, wondering if the king had indeed intended to make an effort to conceal his irritation. If he had, it had not been entirely successful. The dwarves were glaring at him openly.

Lindomiel intervened before Hallion could speak, recognizing the storm brewing between her husband and his guests and anxious to divert it. “Collapse perhaps, but not lack for decoration, is that not correct Master Nali? I believe that I have finally convinced you that some of us have some skill with fine stonework. And even metalwork,” she said indicating her ring.

Nali turned cold eyes to Lindomiel but they quickly softened. “Yes, my lady, I admit we might be able to work with your elven artists. Including you,” he said with dramatic gallantry.

Lindomiel blushed slightly at that and Thranduil raised his eyebrows questioningly. Lindomiel laughed self-consciously. “We spent some time looking at the fountain in the courtyard and I explained that Gelerith and Crithad made it. Then we had a fascinating discussion about the manner in which the dwarves have decorated the walls in Khazad-dûm. That led to the mention of the tapestries we use to decorate here, so I showed them some of mine and Lady Dieneryn’s.”

“They had potential,” Nali said with a smile.

Thranduil glared at the dwarf for a moment before a rueful smile formed on his lips. “My lady mother and wife’s tapestries are beautiful beyond compare Master Nali and while you are in my realm you would be wise not to gainsay me on that assertion.”

Nali snorted good-naturedly. “I will concede your point, lord Thranduil. And if you ever have an occasion to be my guest in Khazad-dûm I will expect you to demonstrate the same wisdom with regards to my wife’s gem work.”

Thranduil nodded with a smile and gestured towards the dining room. “If I ever come to Khazad-dûm, I will,” he said amicably enough but everyone in the room knew it was an empty promise. The King of Greenwood could not be dragged into Khazad-dûm. “In the meantime, perhaps you would like to describe your lady wife’s work to me. It has been a very long time since I obtained any new jewelry for my wife.”

Lindomiel looked at Thranduil with amusement. She was not overly fond of jewelry and he knew that. He also knew this was a topic that would likely occupy the dwarf throughout dinner. They could limit themselves to it and the business of the caves and avoid any disastrous social blunders. Hallion recognized this strategy as well and smiled. Thranduil would never be a good diplomat, but he was improving.

As they walked to the dining room with Nali already well into a description of his wife’s favorite design, Thranduil frowned slightly. “Where is Amoneth?” he said quietly into Lindomiel’s ear. He spoke so that dwarven ears would not hear the question but Aradunnon did. He looked over at Lindomiel as well.

Lindomiel adopted a neutral expression that anyone in the family could properly interpret. “Amoneth and I agreed it might be better for her to join her friends in the public dining room this evening,” she said vaguely.

Aradunnon scowled.

*~*~*

Late that evening, Thranduil and Lindomiel entered their private chambers. Thranduil immediately dismissed the servants and drew his wife into his arms.

“Valar, this day was terrible,” he whispered, enjoying the feel of his wife’s slender, soft hands on his back as she slid them under his robes and across his thin silk shirt.

Lindomiel smiled. “You did not have to entertain three dwarves for the entire day,” she joked.

Thranduil pulled back slightly to look at his wife. “Surely my wife, who is fascinated by all beings, did not find entertaining our guests to be a strain?” he asked teasingly.

Lindomiel frowned at him playfully. “I found their company very educational and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Hadhodrond. After speaking to them, I am almost convinced that living in a cave might be tolerable.”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows dramatically and assumed a mock-offended expression. “I, your husband of nearly a millennium, have been telling you for weeks that Menegroth was beautiful but my words do not win you over. A dwarf, who you met this morning, tells you a few tales about a mine and you fall for his words readily. That frightens me, meleth.”

Lindomiel burst into laughter and kissed her husband lightly on the lips. “You should simply be glad I listened, Thranduil.”

“Indeed,” he laughed. Then he paused and looked at her a bit more seriously. “So it was not too difficult entertaining them? They behaved acceptably?”

Lindomiel looked at her husband indulgently. “They are the very picture of courteous behavior, Thranduil. I have never been treated with such gallantry, not even by you.” She fought back her laughter at his sincerely offended expression. “Pity Amoneth’s behavior was not equally courteous,” she concluded meaningfully.

Thranduil frowned at her. “What did she do?” He knew she would not criticize her friend simply to gossip about her. If she had brought up her behavior, it was because she felt he should know about it.

“I think you should speak to her yourself, Thranduil, and explain to her in detail the limits of acceptable behavior. I have done so. I know Aradunnon has as well. Even Dieneryn has had some words with her. But she refuses to learn.”

Thranduil raised his eyebrows. “What did she do?” he repeated more forcefully.

Lindomiel scowled. “She spoke offensively about underground dwellings in the dwarves’ presence. That was ignorance, I imagine. But she began to criticize your decision to move to the caves in their presence. I cut her off but they knew exactly what she was going to say.” She paused and laughed bitterly. “If it makes you feel better, they openly corrected her as they described Hadhodrond to us and they said you were ‘wise’ to move your people to such a ‘kingly’ abode.”

Thranduil rolled his eyes. “Well, now that I have the approval of dwarves I feel completely confident about my decision,” he replied with dripping sarcasm. “I will speak to Amoneth when we return from the caves. She will learn from that discussion that she will not gainsay me publicly. Or she will return to Lorien. It is that simple. It is bad enough that I have citizens like Maethorness angry and criticizing this move. I cannot censor them but I will not tolerate such behavior from my own family.”

Lindomiel simply nodded and he looked at her sidelong.

“Are you serious about feeling a little more disposed towards living in the stronghold,” he asked cautiously. He knew his wife well enough to know not to push her.

She smiled. “Yes, Thranduil. The dwarves described some beautiful things. I know we will not have the means to do what they have done, but I suppose there is some challenge in making the caves beautiful. And I do like a challenge.”

Thranduil grinned at her. “You married me. You must.”

*~*~*

The next day, Thranduil along with his wife, mother, steward and Golwon traveled north to see the caves. The entire family had wanted to join them but that was clearly not possible—someone had to rule Greenwood. It was decided that Hallion and Golwon should go with Thranduil first so that they could begin handling the move with the village leaders and citizens in the capital. Engwe, Aradunnon, Amoneth and Celonhael could go north after Thranduil and Hallion returned.

Accompanying them were the dwarves, a few scouts and Gelireth, Crithad and their apprentices. Thranduil remained firm that he intended to employ the dwarves only to do any rough work that would be needed in the caves, leaving his own people to do the finishing work. The dwarves argued that they would do a better job of all the work and Thranduil did not doubt that. He did doubt his ability to pay for such a thing. He needed a functional stronghold, not Menegroth, as Celonhael had become fond of reminding him. He would use the dwarves as little as possible and conserve funds.

All the elves were impressed by the forest as they traveled north. Almost completely untouched, it was lush and full of foodstuffs and game. The scouts led them along the river so the king could see the locations they recommended for villages. They would have traveled on the river itself, but out of respect for the dwarves who hated water travel, they elected to travel by land. The trees and the river were seemingly eager to welcome more elves to the north and Thranduil took comfort in that. Lindomiel could not deny that she enjoyed exploring the new territory, especially the river since she so loved the water.

When they reached the hill that Thranduil intended to convert into a stronghold, Lindomiel and many of the Silvan elves were plainly awed. The opening cave seemed large and ominous—a great gaping mouth in the side of the small mountain. Thranduil could not help but laugh at her reaction and it earned him a scathing look.

The very day they arrived, the scouts led the king and his party for a tour of the cave system. They moved from cavern to cavern, discussing that this cavern might be used for a Great Hall since it is large enough and close to the entrance and that one might be used for a kitchen since it is close to the underground river and smaller ones might be used for personal apartments or offices or what have you. Gelireth was openly excited the moment they entered the cave. She immediately began describing to Thranduil her ideas for decorating the walls and natural pillars in the caverns. The dwarves debated with her and also made recommendations for which passages and caverns might be enlarged. Their enthusiasm was infectious and soon the Silvan artists, Crithad and the apprentices, began to argue as well, suggesting decorations that reflected the forest in counterpoint to Gelerith’s ideas that stemmed from her memories of Menegreth and the dwarves’ suggestions that reflected Khazad-dûm. Soon they were debating merrily amongst themselves. Nothing makes an artist happier than having an entire structure as a canvas.

Lindomiel laughed slightly when Dieneryn joined in, arguing certain areas would be better for tapestries than for paintings or carvings. She could not deny that she could imagine in her mind the ideas that the dwarves, Gelireth and Dieneryn were describing. They even seemed attractive. And Lindomiel was very surprised at the way the caves made her feel. She expected to feel as if she was buried alive and she did to some extent. Being underground where there was no sunlight or breeze made her feel strange. But she could still hear Iluvatar’s song in the rock surrounding her. That new perspective amazed her, forcing her to recognize that even the rock was a living part of the world. It pained her slightly to hear Thranduil, the dwarves and Crithad discuss carving it out.

“Could these passages be widened safely?” the king was asking.

The dwarves all nodded. “These are very stable passages and caverns. Some of the lower ones, I have less faith in, but the upper one are ideal for working.”

Thranduil nodded, obviously pleased. He turned to Crithad. “How much of this can we do ourselves?”

The dwarves frowned as Crithad looked at the walls skeptically. “I think we could do some of it, my lord. This is only a limestone cave. Limestone is relatively soft.”

“Excellent for carving. Shows details well,” Gelireth, chimed in.

Crithad brightened at that and turned to her. “Indeed. Some of these surfaces just beg to be carved, do they not?”

Gelireth smiled. “Oh yes,” she began and drew a breath, obvious ready to attack that topic.

Thranduil waved her silent. “I understand that we can decorate it ourselves. The two of you can argue over who will do the carvings later. Our goal now is to determine how much help we need from the dwarves.”

Crithad nodded. “I think we would need them to at least advise us on what is safe to cut and to do some of the deeper and more delicate work. And if you want stone gates, as you indicated, you certainly want the dwarves to do that. What they would make would be far superior to anything I could.”

Nali snorted angrily. “We could do all of the work involved far better than you, Master Crithad. I fail to understand your hesitance to employ us after you brought us here, lord Thranduil.”

Thranduil sighed. “Then I will explain it frankly to you, Master Nali. I simply do not have the funds to pay you what you would ask for delving the caves and making the doors and doing the decoration. I remember Menegroth very well. I know the quality of your work. I simply cannot afford it so I must determine what I can do myself in order to use my funds in the wisest manner.”

The dwarves nodded to this. They were nothing if not practical. “Have you considered the wealth you might find in these caves? Perhaps you would be willing to expend some of it in exchange for our labor?”

Thranduil’s brow furrowed slightly in confusion. “This is a limestone cave, Master Nali. There will be no valuable ores or metals in it.”

The dwarf smiled at Thranduil in a superior manner, causing the king to fight not to bristle openly. “Lord Thranduil, that is why you need dwarves. Limestone in itself is valuable. You will want to use some of what we remove from the cave for fences and other structures. I imagine you could sell some of it as well. But there will be more than limestone to remove. Will you humor us for a moment’s demonstration?”

Thranduil regarded the dwarf coolly. “By all means,” he finally replied.

With that, Nali nodded to his assistants. One raised the torch he was carrying higher as the other and Nali began to walk quickly, deeper into the cave, knocking along the walls as they went. The elves followed them silently, glancing at one another at this dramatically mysterious behavior. Finally, Nali stopped and held out his hand. Bomil handed him a chisel and hammer. He made a few deep cuts into the wall until a large chunk of it fell to the ground. Everyone present gaped at the stone he exposed—it was embedded with green gems, like emeralds but deeper green.

Thranduil’s eyes finally turned to the dwarf.

Nali smiled. “They are not emeralds. They are called copper emerald or poor man’s emerald in the Common Tongue. They grow in voids in limestone formations usually along with malachite, which I am certain we will also find here. They are only semi-precious. Not as hard as emeralds and very difficult to cut. Not nearly as valuable as true emeralds but they will fetch some price. We would accept some as payment—in addition to the fee we have already discussed for additional work if you chose to give it to us. For example, we could find the formations of this gem for you in exchange for part of them.”

Thranduil laughed shortly and forced his eyes from the gems. “I must admit I am impressed, Master Nali. I will certainly allow you to locate the gem deposits. And perhaps we could discuss the delving of some additional passages. Let us go back to camp and look at the maps. We can discuss the details of our plans.”

He turned and indicated for the scouts to lead them from the caves, feeling better about the move to the north than he had previously. As they emerged from the caves, two of his guards were waiting for him anxiously.

“My lord, we have…guests. Men. We found them near our camp as we patrolled.”

*~*~*

Naugrim--Elvish name for the dwarves. It is less than flattering, meaning 'stunted ones.'
Elleth/ellyth--Female elf(s)
Avo bedo--Do not speak/Be silent
Adar/ada--Father/dad
Ion-nin--My son
Hadhodrond--the canonical elvish name for Khazad-dûm and an attempt to render the dwarvish name to elvish sounds. Khazad-dûm did not become known as Moria—the Black Pit—until TA 1980, when the dwarves accidentally unleashed Durin’s Bane, the Balrog of Morgoth.

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Chapter name
The fortress of his people
Created
07 Nov 2004
Last Edited
07 Nov 2004
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