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Deciding Moment

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Deciding Moment

King Thranduil of the Woodland Realm did not suffer affronts to his dignity lightly. He was a Sindarin elf, raised in the greatest kingdoms Middle Earth had ever known. He had fought beside Gil-galad when the world seemed young still, rather than old and weary as it did now. As Thranduil often felt now.

All of this, however, seemed to mean nothing to the dwarf standing before him, playing with words and refusing to give Thranduil a straight answer in his own throne room! Thranduil remembered the insolence of the dwarf’s grandfather, his casual contempt for his betters, and felt his blood boil. That the dwarf quickly thought better of his recalcitrance did not improve Thranduil’s mood.

The story was preposterous, of course. For Mithrandir to travel to Erebor, even part of the way, on a mission to slay a dragon; for Elrond to give away heirlooms of their people to a dwarf; none of it made the least sense. Thranduil would not be cozened.

He was slightly amused by the muttered exchange of words between Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror and one of his companions however. Just slightly. It was satisfying to see the leader of Erebor’s exiles given some cheek by one of his own, especially when said leader underestimated elven hearing. The fact that Thorin apparently had a terrible sense of direction might even come in handy one day… in a rather bizarre set of circumstances, admittedly. Perhaps if Thranduil grew tired of his visitors he could eject them back into the forest and let them wander for a hundred years or so. They might even be eaten by the spiders. Such a tragedy it would be.

The conversation followed predictable lines for some time after that. Thranduil was pleased to see that Legolas was no more gullible than he. His son had been well-taught and his distrust of dwarves was pleasing. Thranduil grew no less angry as the dwarf tried to dress up his quest to retake Erebor’s gold in fine clothes, to present it as concern for his people. He was angry enough that he thought less about what he was saying, let words trip from his tongue that he might not have uttered in other circumstances. Not that he was not furious still at Thror’s demand that Thranduil pit his people against a dragon so that he might regain his throne. Thranduil had nothing but contempt for Thror’s weakness and disregard for his own people. The mention of Erebor’s children, however, was a low blow. Even against an enemy.

Thranduil had still greater cause to regret it moments later. The grey-haired dwarf with the fussy braids had occasioned little notice up until that point. He was just another dwarf and seemed far less dangerous than some of the others. The one who was nearly bald and covered in outlandish ink seemed far more likely to pose a threat. The arms revealed when the grey-haired dwarf tried to strangle him, and the difficulty his comrades had in restraining him, told a different story. Eru, but the dwarf was strong.

For some seconds Thranduil stood still with shock. He had never been threatened so within his realm. In fact it had been centuries since he had been threatened like this at all. Though his attacker had been caught before he had succeeded in getting hold of Thranduil, he still felt a phantom grasp around his throat, a shortness of breath which had no physical cause.

What happened next only made the feeling worse. Even as his guards moved to apprehend the… assassin, they stopped dead. When Thranduil looked for the cause, for the one who had had the temerity to order his guards not to seize the dwarf, what he saw astounded him. Not since the days of Thror’s ancestors had he seen such a sight. The dwarf before him, golden-haired and standing taller than his true height, was born to lead. He fair blazed with command, completely sure of himself in that moment. It was gone as soon as it had come, but it was not a sight Thranduil would forget any time soon. Here was a rival he would need to fear in the years to come.

Dimly, Thranduil heard Thorin’s exchange with his attacker. Inwardly he was as furious with himself for his carelessness and his current inability to focus on what was happening as he was with the dwarves. He finally snapped back to himself when the dwarven leader exonerated his companion of guilt.

‘Which is very generous of you, I am sure,’ Thranduil heard himself snarl. He had not used such a tone in years. Had not needed to until these dwarves had invaded his kingdom. ‘I, however, will not be so forgiving of an attack upon my person by one who claimed to be a guest in my halls.’

Now he was certain again. This could not be allowed to go unpunished. Thranduil would not be seen as weak. Not before enemies and not before his people.

His determination would have held longer if he had not been scolded by another dwarf, this one with his hair gathered into high points that ought to have made him obvious, yet whom Thranduil had not previously noticed at all.

‘And I would like to know,’ the red-haired dwarf snapped, ‘when it became acceptable to speak to your guests without giving a single thought to the troubles they might have suffered. You speak a lot of the damage Smaug has caused, King of the Woodland Realm, but it was not your sister who starved to death wandering the world because no one would aid our people.’

Thranduil’s first response died on his tongue. Sister. The grey-haired dwarf before him could not have been much more than a child when Erebor fell and he had lost his sister afterwards. Soon afterwards, possibly, if they blamed it directly on the dragon. It could have been years later, of course, but something in Thranduil did not believe that. Not if his careless comment had caused this great a reaction.

Sorrow filled him, though he tried to push it away. All those years ago he had had rage as a barrier against this knowledge, that people had died because Thranduil had not offered his aid to the dwarves after Thror’s demand. Thranduil was angry now as well, but perhaps time and weariness had lessened his fury. This time the sadness was not so easily forced away. He hoped it had not shown upon his face, but from the look on Thorin’s he suspected it had.

Could he still punish the dwarf when his actions had, in some way, caused the other’s pain? Could he treat the attack as anything other than a grief so deep it overcame even reason? Suddenly Thranduil was all too aware of their audience.

‘Leave us,’ he ordered his people. At least they obeyed swiftly. He still had that.

What else he would have left, if the dwarves were not turned from their purpose, he did not know. Thranduil feared it would not be much. There were too many wounds here. Too much pain. And he was too tired to deal with it tonight.