"That is a lie," a strange voice said.
Thorin jumped. He had been reading on a stone bench on his grandfather's garden terrace in Erebor, and had believed himself quite alone.
Thorin turned to see who had interrupted him, and saw a belt. He looked up higher, and saw an elf with pale gold hair standing behind him. The elf bent down over the back of the bench and pointed at a passage in Thorin's book.
"The Grey-elves did not drive the petty-dwarves out of the Greenwood after the War of Wrath," the elf said. His long hair fell forward over his shoulders and softly struck Thorin's face. "The Green-elves arrived first, long before the ruin of Beleriand. When the Grey-elves came, the petty-dwarves had been gone for centuries."
"Who are you?" Thorin asked.
[Illustration 1 of 3: Thorin and Thranduil meeting by Kaciart.]
The elf straightened up to his full height. He wore a cloak of faded green and brown, which covered all but his head and his hands. A dull bronze belt around his waist was his only ornament. He was taller than the tallest man Thorin had ever seen, but had no beard. His eyes were blue and cold.
Overall, the elf's appearance was extremely intimidating, but Thorin was not intimidated, for he had been well-taught. Elves might be the Firstborn, but the dwarves were beloved of Aule, and were the equal of elves in all things – except in craftsmanship, where dwarves were superior, whether in the forging of swords or the building of palaces. The only skill elves had which dwarves lacked was shipbuilding, but that was because dwarves had no interest in the sea.
"Are you one of King Thranduil's musicians?" Thorin asked; music was much on his mind. "For Girion of Dale's coronation?"
"I am here for the coronation, yes," the elf said. "You are tall for a dwarf. You must be Prince Thorin."
The elf looked at the slate Thorin had beside him; Thorin's book was in the common tongue, but on his slate Thorin had written in Dwarvish runes.
"Why do you read a book in the common tongue, not Dwarvish?" the elf asked. "Never mind. I imagine there is no book in Dwarvish titled A History Of The Elves."
The elf's inquisitiveness was preventing Thorin from finishing his task, and had to end.
"This is a private garden," Thorin said in his most commanding voice, which he had been practicing all that year.
The elf looked about the terrace, his expression clearly saying You call this a garden? But he bowed slightly to Thorin, and departed without another word. Thorin was unsettled, but returned to his task with a renewed will: his grandfather Thror had asked him to compose a song to play after Girion's coronation feast.
Girion's coronation was an opportunity for Thror to show he was the greatest power in the region; unfortunately, it was also an opportunity for the Elvenking Thranduil to show he was the greatest power in the region. Messengers between Erebor, Dale, and the Greenwood had been kept busy by the ensuing diplomatic battle.
When Thranduil promised to provide the coronation feast for Girion, Thror countered with a gift of commemorative gold coins bearing Girion's likeness, one for each of the coronation guests. Thranduil offered the services of elven musicians; Thror ordered dwarven-made toys for every child in Dale. There Thranduil had let matters rest, but Thror had not been appeased.
Thror wanted to prove dwarves were as musically accomplished as elves, and so Thorin had been given the task of composing a song. The coronation was two days off, and Thorin's song was not yet finished. Thorin had asked his grandfather why he could not sing an old song, and Thror had said, "Because the elves claim to have written them all!"
Thror's insatiable competitiveness seemed unlikely to bring about harmony with Thranduil – or indeed with anyone – and Thorin had cautiously said as much to his grandfather, who had been in a strangely belligerent mood for months. Thror had dismissed Thorin's concern, saying Thranduil had little to offer them anyway – only flimsy cloth woven by elf maids – while in return Thranduil desired weapons and armour of all kinds.
"Besides, Thranduil will have to do as I like," Thror had said. "I have something he wants. But he doesn't know it yet." The angry light in Thror's eyes had been worrying.
At his grandfather's suggestion, Thorin's song was about Moria, the mightiest dwelling built by any race in Middle-earth, which Thror had promised Thorin would see one day. "When we have re-taken it," Thror had said. "Along with everything else that is rightfully ours."
Thorin had not seen his grandfather all day; Thror had been in trade meetings with Thranduil, who had arrived the night before with his son, Legolas. The Elvenking and prince were guests of Thror's, and were staying in Erebor, but Thorin would not meet them until the feast, for which Thorin was thankful.
After his encounter with the nosy elven musician, Thorin decided to expand the reference to elves in his song. He turned again to his book, A History Of The Elves, and took notes on his slate. By nightfall, his song was complete.
Two days later
To grant him time to practice his song, Thorin was given leave by Thror to skip the coronation ceremonies, which involved dozens of notables making speech after speech to the people of Dale. But Thorin could not escape the feast following, where he was expected to dine with Thror, the newly-crowned King Girion, and King Thranduil.
Thorin's father Thrain was visiting their family in the Iron Hills, but Thorin's favorite cousin, Balin, would be at the feast in Thrain's stead, so Thorin would have at least one person other than his grandfather to talk to. Afraid he was late, Thorin hurried into Dale's greatest hall, where the feast would be held. It was thronged with dwarves, the people of Dale, and elves from the Greenwood.
Girion's table was atop a dais; thankfully, no one was yet seated. On the dais, a tall elf, his back to Thorin, stood beside Girion; that would be Thranduil. Thorin mounted the dais, and stood at his grandfather's side.
"Thranduil," Thror said, calling to the elf.
The elf turned around. Thorin froze. It was the elf he had met on the terrace.
"My grandson, Thorin," Thror said. "Thorin, King Thranduil."
Thranduil was no longer plainly dressed in green and brown, but wore a robe of silver and a towering crown. A sword nearly as long as Thorin was tall was on Thranduil's belt, and his fingers were heavy with rings bearing marvelous gems.
Thror elbowed Thorin, who was still frozen.
Thorin bowed to Thranduil. "At your service and at your family's."
Thranduil inclined his head, a slight smile on his face. To Thorin's great relief, the Elvenking said nothing of their meeting two days before.
They took their seats at the table. Girion was at the head; along one side were Thror, Thorin, and Balin, and on the opposite side were the Master of Lake-town, Thranduil, and another elf so like to Thranduil that Thorin assumed he was Legolas, Thranduil's son. No one sat at the foot of the table, allowing the common folk, who were at tables running the length of the hall, to gawk at the nobility.
Thorin sat between Thror and Balin, Thranduil between the Master of Lake-town and Legolas, so Thorin and Thranduil were opposite each other. By rights, Thranduil should have been opposite Thror, and next to Girion. Thorin worried the slight had been engineered by his grandfather, and that Thranduil might take offense, but the Elvenking seemed satisfied with the arrangements, even though their chairs had been cunningly designed by dwarven craftsmen so Thranduil did not appear taller than Thror.
Course after course was brought to their table. Thorin had the nearly unquenchable appetite of a growing dwarf, and the feast Thranduil had provided was delicious, but even Thorin was eventually daunted. Wine was served with each course, but he drank little of it. If he was to sing later, he should be clear-headed – particularly if he must sing before the Elvenking.
In a lull between courses, Thranduil turned in his seat to watch the elven musicians, who were extremely accomplished, adding to Thorin's fears about his performance later.
"My grandson Thorin is quite a musician," Thror said, not missing Thranduil's glance. Then Thror said, as if the idea had just occurred to him, "Perhaps Thorin can give us a song later!"
Thranduil turned to look at Thorin. "Which instrument do you play?"
Thorin opened his mouth, but no words came out. It was the first thing Thranduil had said to him all evening.
"The harp," Thror said. "I believe you play the harp as well, Thranduil?"
Thranduil nodded, his slight smile back.
Aule save me, thought Thorin. Why had his grandfather not told him?
When they reached the last course, guards of Dale gently shoved the common folk out of the hall and into the street, where they continued to loudly celebrate Girion's coronation. The elven musicians, who had been playing for hours, packed up their instruments and sat down to eat a late supper at the far end of the hall.
Thror nudged Thorin's shoulder. "Perhaps a song, Thorin? Seeing as the elves have grown weary."
Thorin stood, bowed to his grandfather, and went to fetch his harp, which he had brought with him to the hall. With the harp in his hands, he seated himself on the edge of the dais the elven musicians had occupied. His feet did not reach the floor, but that was the least of his worries.
That morning, he had performed the song for Balin, who had assured him it was excellent, but now Thorin regretted not seeking additional listeners before exposing his creation to the elves. He told himself his fear didn't matter; what mattered was making Thror proud of him.
Before he began, Thorin made the mistake of looking at his audience. Thranduil had a stiff smile fixed on his face, as if determined to live through what was no doubt going to be agony; Legolas looked mildly curious, as if a dwarf making music was a spectacle he had never imagined, but was willing to witness at least once. Thorin vowed not to look again at either elf during his performance.
Thorin plucked his harp, and sang.
The world was young, the mountains green,
No stain yet on the Moon was seen,
No words were laid on stream or stone
When Durin woke and walked alone.
Thorin cringed inwardly. His voice sounded flat, weak, terrible. He had always sung in the vast spaces of Erebor; Girion's hall was tiny in comparison. He would have to adjust his voice, and pitch it to the ceiling beams above.
He named the nameless hills and dells;
He drank from yet untasted wells;
He stooped and looked in Mirrormere,
And saw a crown of stars appear,
As gems upon a silver thread,
Above the shadow of his head.
In spite of his earlier vow, Thorin's gaze landed on Thranduil. Thranduil's polite smile was gone, his mouth was slightly open, and his blue eyes were no longer cold; were they furious? Thorin wanted to look away, but could not.
The world was fair, the mountains tall,
In Elder Days before the fall
Of mighty kings in Nargothrond
And Gondolin, who now beyond
The Western Seas have passed away:
The world was fair in Durin’s Day.
Thranduil looked stricken, as if Thorin's singing was an ordeal beyond imagining. Thorin wished to disappear from sight, but he had to keep going.
No harp is wrung, no hammer falls:
The darkness dwells in Durin’s halls;
The shadow lies upon his tomb
In Moria, in Khazad-dum.
But still the sunken stars appear
In dark and windless Mirrormere;
There lies his crown in water deep,
Till Durin wakes again from sleep.
As soon as Thorin finished, he slid off the dais. He could at last disappear, using putting away his harp as an excuse. He halted when he heard loud clapping, and looked up to see Thranduil applauding. Everyone else enthusiastically joined in the applause. Thror beamed at Thorin.
Thorin made a small bow, walked back to the table, placed his harp where it would not be trod upon, and sat in his chair.
Balin set a tall goblet of wine before him. "Go on, laddie, you've earned it." Balin patted his shoulder.
Thorin sipped the wine, set down the goblet, and finally looked at Thranduil again. The Elvenking had not looked pleased during Thorin's performance, but had for some reason been generous with his applause, and Thorin was grateful. The last thing Thorin had expected from an elf was kindness.
"What do you say to that, Thranduil?" Thror said.
"I say: remarkable." Thranduil smiled at Thorin. "Most remarkable to see so fair a face, and to hear so fair a voice, from one of the Naugrim."
Thorin had doubted Thranduil's applause was genuine, but Thranduil's voice was without question sincere – and no one had ever called Thorin fair. Thorin flushed with pride and embarrassment, but his grandfather and Balin stiffened beside him.
"I have only one criticism, Thorin," Thranduil said. "This hall is too small for your voice. I must hear you sing somewhere more fitting. My caverns–"
"Did you say my grandson is good for a dwarf?" Thror said with quiet anger.
A tense silence fell. Thorin's pleasure at the compliment wilted.
"No," Thranduil said.
Immediately, the Master of Lake-town said, "Hear, hear!" as if Thranduil had delivered a lengthy and eloquent response. "Steward, more wine!"
Thankfully, the topic of Thorin's singing was dropped. More wine was brought. Thorin drank no more than Legolas or Thranduil, as he had been instructed by Balin, because elves looked down on those who over-imbibed. The restriction turned out to be unhelpful; the elves drank wine as if it were water.
[Illustration 2 of 3: Thorin and Thranduil drinking at the feast by Kaciart.]
During Thorin's third goblet of wine, his head began to swim, and the rich food he had eaten stirred uneasily within him. Still, he was doing better than King Girion, who was face down on the table.
"Legolas." Thranduil took his son's wine goblet, poured the wine in it into his own goblet, and turned Legolas's goblet upside-down. "I believe you've had quite enough."
Legolas looked at Thranduil, his face perplexed. "Father, I–" Legolas flinched. "Yes, Father. I almost feel… unwell." Legolas rose from his chair, and circled the table to Thorin. "Thorin, if you would lead me back to Erebor, you would have my thanks. I am not sure of the way."
Out in the cool night air, Thorin rapidly felt better.
"How bright the stars are!" Legolas said.
The elf seemed as glad to escape the feast as Thorin was. They might be elf and dwarf, but they were both kings' sons.
In the morning, Thorin went out onto the garden terrace with his book. His distress from a surfeit of wine had been cured by a night's sleep, a hot bath, and a huge breakfast. He sat on a stone bench and opened A History Of The Elves. An hour passed quickly; he was engrossed.
"More lies?" said an amused voice behind him.
This time, Thorin did not jump, but closed his book and turned toward Thranduil, who was crownless, but finely dressed in his silver robe and a cloak of flame-colored silk.
Thranduil bowed his head in greeting, and sat on the bench next to Thorin. The bench was dwarf height, forcing Thranduil to move this way and that to find a comfortable position. Thranduil's robe fell open in front, revealing he wore tight leggings and tall boots beneath it. Eventually, Thranduil partially tucked his legs under the bench.
"I trust I did not give offense last night," Thranduil said.
Thorin shook his head.
"Not to you, perhaps," Thranduil said. "But to your grandfather?"
Thorin did not reply; a foreboding sensation came over him. Now that he had met Thranduil, he understood his grandfather's hostility toward the Elvenking even less.
"Was the song your own composition?" Thranduil asked.
Thorin nodded. The sun had risen behind the Lonely Mountain, and her rays fell upon Thranduil's pale hair and silver robe, so the Elvenking gleamed like precious metal.
"What you sang of is true," Thranduil said. "The world was fairer in Durin's Day. It has been an age since I looked into the Mirrormere – into Kheled-zaram by Khazad-dum. Have you seen it?"
Thorin shook his head.
"Your song nearly made me weep," Thranduil said. "In more sympathetic company, it would have."
Thorin recalled Thranduil's stricken expression during his performance. He had thought Thranduil had disliked his mention of the elven kingdoms Nargothrond and Gondolin, but instead his song had deeply affected Thranduil. Pride swelled again in Thorin's chest.
"You do not speak," Thranduil said. "But you spoke to me three days ago, when you believed me to be merely a musician, come to entertain. Why?"
Thorin was unsure how to answer. Learning who Thranduil was, Thorin had become shy. But a prince could not admit to shyness.
"I read about you in my book," Thorin said. "You fought in the Battle of Dagorlad, with the High King Gil-galad."
"You were alive when Gondolin fell," Thorin said.
"Yes," Thranduil said gravely. "If it is a history lesson you seek–"
"But you have no beard!" Thorin said. "You appear to be as young as your son. I have more of a beard than you! How can that be?"
"It must be perplexing," Thranduil said with a smile. "No doubt you have been taught a beard is a sign of…" Thranduil looked enquiringly at Thorin.
"Wisdom," Thorin said. "Courage. Honour."
"All that?" Thranduil's smile left him "It is well I do not have a beard," Thranduil said quietly.
Moved by a sudden impulse, Thorin stood up before Thranduil, and touched Thranduil's left cheek. Thranduil did not show surprise or alarm, but looked back at Thorin with great seriousness.
[Illustration 3 of 3: Fascination: Thorin and Thranduil by Kaciart.]
Thranduil's cheek, below Thorin's hand, was utterly smooth, and surprisingly hot – almost it seemed to glow, as if from a fire within. A large cool hand landed on Thorin's back and drew Thorin closer. Thorin touched the strands of pale gold hair which streamed over the Elvenking's chest. The hand on Thorin's back slid lower, and drew Thorin closer still, until Thorin stood between Thranduil's knees. Thranduil's mouth was less than a hand's breadth from Thorin's. Thorin imagined wrapping the long pale hair around his fist, and tugging it to close the distance.
Embarrassed, Thorin pulled away and took two steps backward, breaking contact. He could think of nothing to say in apology; he was not yet twenty, and he had, without permission, laid hands on Thranduil, a warrior ages old.
"Do not forget my invitation, Thorin," Thranduil said, as if Thorin's transgression had not occurred. "To sing in my halls in the Greenwood."
"Thank you," Thorin said. His face burned hot. "But I have not traveled anywhere yet, not even to the Iron Hills."
He had spoken nervously, saying the first thing that came to mind, and was surprised to see what looked like disappointment on Thranduil's face.
"Perhaps… when I am older," Thorin said. "I shall come."
"Yes. When you are older," Thranduil said, and smiled. "I'm patient. I can wait."