Our land had once been called Greenwood the Great, I knew from old songs. But nearly two thousand years before my time, the shadow fell over it, and it was then that folk began to call it Mirkwood. Still, the elves were determined to dwell there, for it had been their home long ages, and it was my fate to dwell wherever my lord Legolas did.
In the South of Mirkwood was a place called Dol Guldur. It was a foul place, the one place the elves never set foot. My prince long ago had thwarted my curiosity, forbidding me from riding near enough to see it. From time to time, shadows would stir at Dol Guldur, and wiser folk than I would whisper a foul name: “Sauron!” I did not know who Sauron might be, but the thought of him was the only thing I knew that stirred fear in the eyes of the deathless Eldar.
There had been such a stirring that year, and the inexplicable arrival of the thirteen dwarves caused even more alarm. Were they, perhaps, a bad omen? I had not seen them myself, for never did I venture into those parts of the Halls where prisoners were kept, but I was told they had drawn King Thranduil's wrath by refusing to tell him the purpose of their trespass.
Though the king was terrible to anger, it was never his purpose to be cruel; and had not the shadows of Dol Guldur fretted him so, I do not think he would have been so harsh on those dwarves.
But now even I, with my inferior human senses, could feel that something was happening. In fact, I knew there was something stirring within the Halls themselves. The king laughed when I told him I'd felt something unseen pass by me more than once. Laughed because it was impossible that a human might notice something that escaped the elves. I told Legolas about this presence, and he warned me to stay close by.
This gladdened me some. It seemed he had forgiven my outburst in the garden, though it was plain he did not wish to speak of it again, of how my mortality would creep up on me very soon, of how I had questioned what we were, he and I. I did not wish to speak of it again, either, for I knew far greater worries were at hand.
They escaped. No one knew how, and it drove the elves to greater distress. For if thirteen loud, clumsy dwarves could slip out of Thranduil's Halls undetected, who knew what might slip in?
“Come now, child,” the king said, “tell us what it was you saw?” He had at last decided my words might bear heeding.
“I saw nothing, my king, that was what alarmed me. I felt only a motion, a disturbance in the air as if someone were walking by me. Someone ... rather small.”
The king frowned.
“Your majesty!” came a messenger, breathless. “The dwarves have been discovered. They are in Lake-town, and at last their errand is known: They seek to slay the dragon of Lonely Mountain, the old home of their ancestors.”
King Thranduil raised an eyebrow. “Indeed?” he said slowly, his questions to me forgotten. “They no doubt will perish in this endeavor, but we shall keep watch, at any rate.”
I heard through the whispers of the court that the thirteen dwarves stayed a week or more at Lake-town, then continued toward Lonely Mountain. I was sure that would be the end of it, but Legolas was not so certain.
“There is more to this tale than we know, my dear,” he said. “The beginning we have not heard, which makes guessing its end all the more impossible.” His sad eyes turned to gaze into the endless sky. “If Mithrandir were here, he might tell us what these omens foreshadow.”
“Mithrandir?” I asked. I had never heard this name.
“He is the Grey Wanderer, and he knows much that is otherwise hidden." He shook his head. "I suppose those dwarves will stir up more than they ever expected, and I would not be surprised if it all led back to Dol Guldur.”
| Part IV |
| Index |