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1
Autumn Festival

Disclaimer: The settigns, the main plot and the known characters all belong to Professor Tolkien, whom I greatly respect. Only the original characters are mine.

Summary: Making preparations for the yearly Autumn Festival, Thranduil and his seneschal, old Galion, discuss the financial problems of the Woodland Kingdom. Thranduil is often portrayed as a greedy Elf. Even by Tolkien himself. I see it differently. Read this chapter, and you might see it differently, too.

Dedication: to JastaElf, with love.

Author’s notes:
I started this as a short vignette in a fuming fit I got after having seen the umpteenth fic about how poor Legolas was abused by his evil father. Until I find the time to write his life story, I felt the need to do something against all the hatred the poor Elvenking has to face nowadays – without any canon facts to support it.

However, in the meantime it developed into a full, multi-chaptered story – actually a re-write of certain parts of “The Hobbit”; more precisely, those telling the adventures of Thorin & Co, from Legolas’ POV. Also, this is a humour fic (well, more or less), containing awful lots of acerbic footnotes. I now some people find that annoying. In that case, may I point out the Back button to them? It’s still not too late.

All the others: enjoy! Oh, and my heartfelt thanks to Judy and Nemis for beta-reading and taking care of the whole grammatical mess. And yes, I know that there is no such word as inventars in English. It’s actually German, but I kept it because it sounded so wonderfully quirky.


~~~

CHAPTER 1: AUTUMN FESTIVAL

[Mirkwood, in the year 2980 of the Third Age]
(1)

Seasonal feasts are usually highly valued among Elves. Even more so among the Silvan folk who are bound to the changes of nature by many roots, right down to changing the colour of their hair with the change of the seasons(2).

Most important of all feasts is for Wood-Elves the Autumn Festival, for this is the time when their beloved forests are the most beautiful, turning into the rich, warm colours of red and brown and gold, the few still edible fruits the darkened forest is able to bring forth ripening, and the new wine arriving from Laketown, the most important trading partner of the woodland realm.

The Elvenking of Mirkwood was sitting in his study on this particular day. It was one of the large caverns of the royal wing, carved into the side of the mountain a very long time ago. It adjoined his throne room on one side, and his bedchamber – a lonely and cold place since the horrible death of his beloved wife – on the other one. It was a beautiful room, and one he had used for many hundreds of years, and it spoke about his scholarly interests. Shelves filled with book after book(3) lined the walls, and a heavy, beautifully carved oaken desk stood in the middle of the airy room, cluttered with parchments and scrolls. A small table sat in front of the balcony doors, which stood wide open to the mountainside, and a light breeze blew the curtains about(4). The table was set with a bottle of wine and two small cups. And it was at this table that King sat pouring the wine.

Unlike his subjects, Thranduil Oropherion was not a Wood-Elf. Well – not entirely, at least. In his veins flowed the noble blood of Sindarin and Nandorin princes, and he was closely related to the Lord Celeborn of Lothlórien(5). He was tall and slender as the Eldar, the noble-Elves usually are, with an elegantly-shaped, fine face and had long, honey-blond hair of a rich, deep colour that rarely could be seen among Elves and was a result of his mixed heritage.

At the moment he was wearing the usual green and brown garb of the woodland folk, his hair braided tightly away from his face so that it did not bother him in his work. For the King was working – doing the most hated work he could ever think of: inventars. Yet disliked as it was, it was also necessary – now, shortly before the Autumn Festival, more so than ever.

Behind the desk of the Elvenking an older Elf sat: his childhood tutor and most valued advisor, the seneschal of his palace, one of the eldest of his whole people. An Elf named Galion. Calling himself humbly the King’s butler, Galion had practically run the day by day business in the whole palace, ever since it had been hewn out of the living stone of the mountain.

Once he had done the same for Thranduil’s grandfather, Elmö, King of the First City of the Quendi, that had been built in the starlight before the Great Journey of the Elves to Valinor. Then he did it for Oropher, Thranduil’s father. And if the Lady Palúrien(6) was merciful, he would do it for Legolas, once he took over the burden of kingship from his father.

Galion was one of those rare Elves who showed fine signs of aging. For one thing, his hair was snow-white, and he wore it unbraided, adorned only by two delicate plaits above his ears. In his forgotten youth, before the making of the Sun and the Moon, he had been pale-haired – not ash blond like those of the Nandor tribe, but pale gold like the young winter sun, for he was very ancient, indeed, born at a time when this rare colour was more common among the Quendi. But after uncounted centuries of grief and all that horror he had seen in his long life, his tresses began to turn white, little by little, almost invisibly, ’til he ended up like a snow-covered mountain peak, as people said in the Wood.

Also, there were deep furrows of grief around his mouth and his nose, and permanent dark rings under his eyes, all of which gave his face a hawk-like look. But in those dark eyes there was wisdom and love – love for the young folk among which he was living, but first and foremost for his King and his family. Alas, that there were so very few left of this family whom he still could give his love and support!

Right now, however, his support was very much asked for and very much appreciated. So, while the King continued sipping on his wine, his seneschal was reading the inventory list for him. It was not a very cheerful reading, and the longer Thranduil listened to it, the grimmer his face became.

“At least we have enough wine for the feast,” he finally sighed. “Even if the wild berries have brought an uncommonly low harvest this year. And our hunters have been less than lucky lately.”

Galion nodded, gloomily. Who knew this better than he, who spent his whole life overseeing the daily events of the kingdom?

“I fear that we shall have to buy food from Laketown again,” he answered ill-humouredly.

“And how, pray you, should we pay for it?” the Elvenking asked, raising a sarcastic eyebrow. “They charge us the highest prices, for they firmly believe that all Elves have great riches hoarded in their homes – and even more so their King. Besides, we still are lagging behind with the payment for the last two loads of wine, butter and apples.”

“Ummm…” Galion cleared his throat uncomfortably. “For the last four shipments, actually.”

Thranduil glared at him in utter disbelief. “We have not paid them for four years? And they are still willing to trade with us?”

“Certainly,” Galion answered with a wry face. “For this way they can demand a higher price from us for every new shipment than for the previous one. At the end we have no-one else to turn to, and they know that, alas.”

“What about the Woodmen?” the King asked. “We had little to do with them during the last two hundred years or so, but they used to be friendly towards us.”

Galion shook his head in sorrow. “Ever since the coming of the Dragon, they have had great losses, both in people and in harvests. They can barely feed themselves. Beorn’s people are a little better off, but they are few. They could never provide us enough food, not even if we paid them twice their common price. Which we cannot.”

“I know that,” the Elvenking replied darkly. “Ever since my wife died in Dol Dúgol(7), we have been unable to hold up the further poisoning of the soil. She was the last of the earth-healers of the Silvan folk; and unless those who still have the power to drive the Necromancer out of Dol Dúgol, this forest will slowly become as bad as Mordor itself. If the Lord of the Golden Wood had not provided us with the corn for lembas(8), we could not have made it through the winter season on our own.”

“These are unsettling times, indeed,” Galion agreed with a discouraged nod. “So, what shall we do, my Lord? Empty the last remnants of our treasure chambers – or cancel the Autumn Festival altogether?”

“Neither of those,” the King answered, a stubborn look on his face. “We need what little still remains in our treasure chambers for new, better weapons; for the threat from the Orcs and the Giant Spiders is increasing. We cannot stay defenceless. But we cannot cancel the Festival, either. ’Twould be admitting defeat, and I am not willing to do so just yet. Besides, our people need some merriment, or the darkness will eat up their souls.”

“So what then?” Galion asked, a little impatiently. “Should I try to speak with the Master of Laketown again? I can do so, without hurting my pride. Yet I fear that this time the price would be very high, indeed.”

“Nay, we cannot do that either,” Thranduil sighed. “We are already drowning in our debts as it is. We shall have to send out hunting parties to the South again. This way we shall have at least some meat for the festival.”

Galion gulped. Hunting had become increasingly dangerous in the last two hundred years or so, due to the Orcs, Wargs and Giant Spiders infesting the forest in ever-increasing numbers, despite the best efforts of the Elven archers to hunt down and destroy them. Therefore, the King had strictly limited the hunting trips into the darker, more dangerous southern part of the forest – which, unfortunately, had always been a much better hunting ground than the north of Mirkwood. Since the woodland folk had hunted mostly near their home lately, the deer and wild boar naturally began to flee to the South, leaving less and less prey available for the hungry mouths.

Under normal circumstances Thranduil would never allow his people to cross the Old Forest Road for a hunting trip. Yet the need had become uncommonly great this very year, and having the Autumn Festival cancelled because of the lack of enough food to celebrate would have caused more harm than the likely loss of one or two archers – a loss he would prefer to avoid but did not really hope he could. The woodland folk had suffered so much lately; they needed the feast with its merriment, songs and moonlit dances more than they needed food. Elves could go on without nourishment of the body a long time. Their spirits, however, needed to be nourished. And feasts were the best way to do so.

“If you let the people go south, you cannot hold the young Prince back,” Galion warned his King gravely. Thranduil sighed.

“I know that, mellon nîn. Yet what can I do? My son is no little elfling any more, no matter how much I fear for his safety. He is over three thousand years old and a seasoned warrior. If he wants to go, I have no right nor the power to keep him here."

“What about the Lady Indreâbhan(9) and her people?” Galion asked, trying to change the topic. “Are they coming to the Festival?”

“Indeed, they are,” the King’s mood seemed to lighten a little at this thought; then he became pensive again and added: “And I intend to announce her betrothal to Legolas officially, right after the Ceremony.”

“Would that be wise?” Galion questioned carefully, his pale brow furrowing in concern. “I thought she and the young Prince had an… understanding.”

“They do,” Thranduil said, clearly disliking the fact, “but it concerns their final bond only. Besides, I do have an… understanding with my son, too. He agreed to marry the Princess, while I accepted the delay. So, a betrothal is the middle of the way, where we all meet.”

“Does the Lord Aghavannagh know of your intention?” Galion asked, knowing that the Nandorin Prince, whose subjects lived in scattered settlements between Mirkwood and the Great River, was an extremely proud and headstrong Elf – just like Thranduil himself. “He would wish to witness the betrothal of his only daughter, I deem.”

“He does; and he will,” Thranduil replied. “The whole family is coming. We shall hold the bonding ceremony of his only son among other things, after all.”

“Let us hope they will bring their own food,” Galion commented; with their reluctance to eat meat, Nandor Elves were considered the worst possible guests in Mirkwood where there was not much else to eat.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Having done the burdensome (and very discouraging) inventars, Galion left his King’s study and went over to the chamber of the Home Guards, to find their captain, a tall, dark-haired Elf named Orendil, for they had to discuss the matters of the Autumn Festival in detail. The woodland folk usually celebrated the Festival in the circle of their extended families – clans probably would have been a better word for it – which meant that they had to secure several large clearings near the Elvenking’s hidden city for the festive communities. These feasts had been held in the open ever since the Elder Days, and no amount of peril could have kept the Wood-Elves from following their Ages-old traditions.

“We have to ask for the help of Silinde(10) and her archers,” Orendil said, distractedly. “Fortunately, at least the Spiders seem to behave in this season. We have not seen any of them on this side of the Old Forest Road for many a moon.”

“We cannot count on them, I fear, at least not yet,” Galion shook his head. “The King has decided to allow hunting parties south of the road again.”

“Oh!” Orendil’s eyes lit up in delight. “Do you believe the King would be willing to prepare the meal for the opening ceremony himself? He has not done so for many rounds of the Sun, and I would love to taste his cooking again.”

“So would I,” Galion admitted, “and if the hunters are successful, we might even convince him to do so. If only to annoy the Lord Aghavannagh with his famous roasted venison haunch(11).”

Orendil’s only answer was an evil grin. The cooking skills of Mirkwood’s King were legendary – every single one who had tried his roasted venison haunch (with fried mushrooms and blueberry sauce) discovered a whole new meaning of the word “delicacy” – and the Nandorin Lord’s unwillingness to eat aught but fruits and various plants often led to some very un-kingly bickering between the two of them, despite the fact that the Lord Aghavannagh, leader of the remaining Green-Elves who had somehow found their way back from Ossiriand to the East, was related from afar to Thranduil’s late mother.

The two Lords had been friends for two Ages or even more, and they had spent nearly all that time with arguing over fairly unimportant things. Galion, however, knew all too well how important to his King this constant bickering was – it helped Thranduil to keep his sometimes volatile temper under control, while having someone who was his equal to share his true concerns with – something he had not had on a daily basis since the death of his wife.

“They will find a way to get along,” he murmured with a tired smile, more to himself than to his friend. “They always do. And if I know the Lord Aghavannagh half as well as I hope I do, they will bring their own food… and more. They know our King would never ask, but they also know we are in sore need. Mayhap this Festival will turn out better than we have hoped for.”

“That might be,” Orendil answered slowly, “but what will happen after the Festival? Our people cannot live on song alone.”

“I know not,” Galion sighed. “Yet I hope the Lady Palúrien shall be merciful, as she always has been… or that something happens to change things in the forest for the better.”

Of course, he could have no idea about the changes that were already coming. For a company of thirteen Dwarves, one cranky old wizard and one frightened hobbit had already left Beorn’s house and was approaching the forest.

Fate could take on strange forms, indeed.

~~~

(1) Yes! There actually is a counting of years in Tolkien’s universe. Good grief, events even take time to happen, regardless of what the movie might suggest.

(2) Actually, this is not a canon fact. Just something I came up for my other story, "Innocence", and I liked the idea so much that I kept it.

(3) Yes! He actually could read and – merciful Valar! – even liked to read. Whenever the Orcs, the Giant Spiders and other friendly neighbours allowed him some spare time to do so.

(4) Now, you don’t really believe that someone who adapted to the lifestyle of the Silvan Elves would live in a dark, windowless cavern? Well, I don’t. So I took some liberty here, presuming that Thranduil’s palace had windows and balconies that looked out of the mountain. The original idea comes from Dwimordene, BTW, and I used it with her friendly consent.

(5) It’s complicated. Let me just say that I created a family tree for Thranduil which makes him the first cousin of Celeborn, both being the grandsons of Thingol’s brother, Elmö.

(6) Older name for Yavanna. I assumed the woodland folk would keep using it.

(7) Earlier, abandoned name of Dol Guldur which I imagined a traditionalist like Thranduil would still be using. In my stories, Thranduil’s wife, a Silvan woman, died about a hundred years before the Ring War.

(8) Since the corn of lembas is supposed to grow under starlight, I see not why Mirkwood Elves would not know it.

(9) The Lady Indreâbhan and her family are the remnants of the once numerous Nandor Elves of Ossiriand. They are adopted from an original story of mine (where they were the Elves of the Moon), and all their names are actually Scandinavian settlements. No genuine Elvish here. Sorry.

(10) According to the Customized Card Game, Silinde was an Elf of Mirkwood in the movie. I made her a female Nandor Elf and captain of the Mirkwood archers. None of this is canon, of course. I just liked the idea of a female archer captain. I might change the name later, though.

(11) The Great Maker said that Elven Men were very good at cooking. Thranduil’s speciality was envisioned by Ithilwen.


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