2. The King of the Dwarves
Many years ago, the roads east of the Great Forest were not as good as they are now. Nonetheless, there was a woman who weekly made the trip to Esgaroth, there buying pottery which she took back to her village to sell, thus earning a living. She would often leave early in the morning, often not returning until after nightfall.
One time she stayed in Esgaroth longer than usual, not leaving until twilight. Nonetheless, she had no hesitation in setting out, as she knew every step of the way. So she lifted her pack filled with pottery, and proceeded merrily on her way. It was slow going in the darkness, but at last she reached the meadow.
Tired from her heavy load and her long walk, she determined to sit down and take a decent rest. Just then, though, she saw a fire spring up. Thinking that it must have been started by charcoal-burners or woodcutters, she went over to it, intended to ask them for a drink of water. Alas for her assumption! when she stepped into the circle of firelight, she saw that it was the Elvenking and his hunt – a terrifying and perilous sight for mortal eyes to behold.
The Elves were roasting a huge stag on a spit over the fire; around them lay their hounds, red tongues lolling as they waited for their share. Suddenly, they caught sight or scent of the woman, and chased up to her, their hot breath spewing on her face; they snapped at her coat as if they would tear it – and her! – apart. The Elves seemed to take no notice of what was going on; they spoke no words, and the furious hounds neither bayed nor growled. Everything was so quiet, it was uncanny.
The terrified woman ran from the fire in order to escape from the hounds. She ran until it seemed as if her heart must burst from exertion and fright; then swooning, she fell to the ground and lay unconscious beneath her pack.
When she came, she saw a little man, almost a midget, standing over her. He was dressed as a miner, with a green hood and a leather jacket, and carried a large torch in his hand. He helped her rise, and in a deep, harsh voice asked what had happened. She tearfully told him the story, and said that because of her running and her fall, the pottery in her pack must all have been broken. She was very poor, and all that she owned was invested in this trade, and in particular, on this day, in the contents of her pack. Now that it was all broken to pieces, she didn't know what to do.
The miner – for so it seemed to her that he must be – told her in a gruff voice not to weep before the iron had even been poured, let alone spilt. Then he opened her pack and, peering inside with the aid of his torch, told her that all was in order, and that she should proceed without worry. Then, wishing her luck, he set off on the direction of Esgaroth.
The woman, filled with weariness and feeling like she had been beaten after her flight, continued on her way home, arriving after daybreak. She went in to her little kitchen, set her pack on the table, and sank exhausted onto the bench. But she soon got up again, and looked in her pack, to see if anything could be salvaged. Looking inside, she was astonished to see not shards, or even whole pots and jars, but shiny silver coins! She ran to tell her landlady, a clever old woman. After hearing the tale, the landlady said, "You have seen the Elvenking, and that is perilous indeed. But that miner, as you thought him – that could have been none other than the King of the Dwarves! You are lucky indeed, not least because you have come out of this alive!"
The woman used the money to buy a small house and a few cows. But from that time forth she never went to Esgaroth to buy pottery.
No, the King under the Mountain does not wander the banks of the River Running dressed as a common miner, looking for people mistreated by Thranduil and helping them. The Woodmen would like to believe that, however.