2. Horn o' plenty
Disclaimer: The Hobbit is owned by J.R.R. Tolkien, etc. Not me. I'm only dabbling my unworthy fingers in his magical world.
Credit: Tuckborough dot com, Sindarin dictionary.
Bilbo padded silently behind his quarry for several minutes, inhaling the fragrant smell of rabbit stew with every step he took. At one point, the delicious scent emanating from the tureen had caused his stomach to rumble so loudly, that the blond elf caught the sound and stopped to throw a puzzled glance behind him.
Naturally, he saw nothing, thanks to Bilbo's magic ring; but the hobbit's heart had almost failed him regardless.
"What a thing to happen!" thought the little burglar, trying to avoid the flickering brackets that might cast his tell-tale shadow on the ground as he flattened himself against the cave wall. He took a few deep, calming breaths to steady his rattled nerves. "I've given goblins and spiders and all manner of unpleasant creatures the slip for weeks on end, but am almost betrayed by my own stomach!"
He slapped said stomach lightly as if he were reprimanding a naughty hobbit-lad.
Allowing his quarry a few seconds to gain some distance, the hungry hobbit peeled himself from the cave wall and followed more cautiously. Tunnels twisted left and right before him, and rose up and down, up and down, until Bilbo began to be rather frustrated.
"Good heavens! Where exactly is this Feasting Hall? What a silly idea to have it so far from the kitchens! If I have to walk any farther, I may very well find myself popping out from under the Grey Mountains!"
It was really very annoying! And he had thought the Mirkwood elves such a sensible sort of people, too! They dressed well, kept themselves and their (strange) elven Smials clean and tidy, and were considerate, well-mannered and thoughtful (apart from the fact that they had imprisoned his travelling companions - but even then, they still fed them). They were also learned in lore, and very fond of a song - which was always a good thing, of course. Bilbo himself loved to sing (and rather an excellent voice he had too, even if he did say so himself).
All these attributes should have combined to make them a very civilised sort of people.
But how civilised could they be, if they kept their dining room so far away from the kitchen? Why, his lovely, hot stew would be as cold as an S-B's heart before he ever tasted it!
If he ever tasted it. Because, truth be told, Mr Bilbo Baggins, (reluctant) hobbit adventurer and spider-slayer extraordinaire, had still not thought up a daring enough plan to liberate his hosts from their dinner (despite the fact that his rather long journey to the Feasting Hall was providing him with plenty of time to do so). He had certainly pondered a few options, but did not deem any of them sufficiently … sufficient to achieve his cherished goal.
The elf ahead took another right turn and continued down (yet) another lengthy corridor, giving Bilbo further opportunity to examine his (increasingly desperate) possibilities.
Perhaps he could scatter his hosts somehow? Clear the chamber of them long enough for him to slip inside and stuff his face while they were gone? But how? Perhaps if he started a fire nearby?
No, no, no! Bilbo chastised himself roundly. That would never do! What if someone got hurt?
What else then? Assault by slingshot? He had his nestled at the bottom of his pack …
How ridiculous! That hardly seemed fair. Why attack the elves when they had not attacked him? They were no threat to him (as long as he remained undetected).
Oh! What about rounding up some rats and sending them scurrying into the Feasting Hall? That should certainly work!
Hmm. But where would a hungry hobbit find rats in this (very) clean place? He hadn't seen any during his stay yet; so chances were that his hosts were extremely fastidious in their control over the pests. Which was just as well really. If a plague of rats could frighten mighty elven warriors away from their party, they would certainly frighten one poor little hobbit! And even if desperation did make him overcome his fear, he would then have infinitely more (disgusting) competition for his stew than he would have had prior to their introduction!
So; no rats, then.
And still no master plan to get his hands on that rabbit stew …
Confusticate and bebother!
The sound of high, silvery voices raised in song disturbed Bilbo's ruminations. Ah, it appeared he was finally nearing his goal. He shook his head to clear all thought of rats from it, and found that he was now following his stew (and the accompanying blond elf) down a short, brightly-lit passage. A few metres ahead, the torch-lit walls disappeared completely, giving way to a large, airy chamber that glowed with light and laughter.
The Feasting Hall!
Relief and dismay both flooded the Master of Bag End as his stew-wielding escort crossed the threshold and joined the hundreds of graceful elves already present to celebrate the birthday of their prince.
Well, at least his journey was finally at an end, he thought, as he surveyed the fair beings milling around the Hall, all dressed from head to toe in glowing greens or yellows, reds or blues. Blond tresses were worn either in plaits or left to tumble becomingly down shoulders (in the case of the extraordinarily beautiful elf-maidens), and many of their golden locks were decorated with ribbons or flowers. All moved with the ease and grace of poetry as they took their seats for the birthday feast to begin. Bilbo was impressed: they seemed to him like brightly coloured jewels brought to life, all sparkling and shimmering and filled with joy and laughter.
Though, fair or not, they were all obstacles between his empty stomach and the delicious pot of stew he'd been following for the past five minutes! However was he to get at it now?
Bilbo sighed in frustration and took another few steps toward the Feasting Hall. He stopped just outside the entrance and, keeping to dark corners, took a critical look at the chamber proper.
Oh, dear! If he had thought the kitchens to be large, then this grand place was infinitely larger - easily four times its size from end to end. The walls appeared to be composed mainly of tree boles whose mighty, living branches grew up then over the chamber, creating a sort of arched roof from which the elves had suspended glowing lanterns. Two long trestles ran the length of the chamber, and upon a dais at the far end was another, though much shorter in length. For their monarch and his family, if he guessed correctly.
Central to the trestles was a large open space where elves could perform for their king before, during, or after his meal, as was his wont. At present, it was bare, for most of the elves were now seated and readying themselves to commence with the festivities (and eat his dinner). One or two elf maidens floated gracefully behind the seats filling silver goblets from large ewers.
Bilbo gazed longingly at the tables. Every few metres, a pot filled with some delight or other was suspended over a raised copper tray and, as he leaned over the threshold to peer closer, he could just make out small flames dancing inside them.
Aha! So that's how they kept the food hot after the trek from the kitchens. If he wasn't feeling quite so hungry, Bilbo would have thought it very clever indeed.
But he was hungry. Frightfully so. In fact, he couldn't recall having ever felt quite so hungry before in his life - other than the time when, three days before his cousin's pending nuptials, he had wagered Falco Chubb-Baggins a whole day's provisions that he, Bilbo, could drink ten mugs of the Green Dragon's finest ale before Falco finished his fifth. Unfortunately for him, Falco had prevailed. Luckily, Bilbo had been far too delicate (and nauseous) the following morning to care how cleanly Falco picked his well-stocked larder. But it had been an entirely different story a day later, when he was feeling somewhat better, and soon discovered there was nothing left in the larder with which to line his poor, shrivelled stomach.
Oh, if only a gluttonous cousin were all he had to worry about! Tipsy or not, he'd still had a better chance of shooing Falco from his larder then, than he had of shooing all these elves from the Feasting Hall now!
What to do?
His stomach rumbled loudly. Fortunately, the hubbub of talk and laughter in the chamber meant that no one other than Bilbo heard it. He rubbed it consolingly.
"Don't worry, my lad. You'll be fit to bursting with tasty delights before the night is out. I'll make certain of that!"
His stomach was not impressed. It rumbled in protest when Bilbo's eyes tracked the stew-wielding elf. He was depositing its desired dish in front of an imperious-looking elf sitting at the very top table. The king, no doubt. Bilbo scowled when the lordly elf dipped a finger inside, brought it up to his lips, and licked at the rich brown sauce. The king nodded in apparent approval, and Bilbo's former escort suspended the pot on a silver hook before him, then bowed his way from the king's table.
Bother, bother, bother! Of all the people he could have left the stew front of, it had to be the very king himself! What was Bilbo to do now? He could hardly walk up to King Thranduil's table and whip the stew out from under his royal nose. The elves were certain to notice a floating pot (even if they couldn't see its bearer)!
Just as he was settling in for a good long glower, something caught the corner of Bilbo's eye. He quirked his head to the side and saw, standing at the far left of the dais, what appeared to be a rather elaborate, but beautifully constructed carving of a giant horn. It rested on its conical bore atop a small wooden base. The slender tip rose slightly to the left, and the great, circular bell to the right; and two short poles protruded from either end of the base
What a very odd thing to have at a feast! Surely the elves weren't thinking about playing it? It was far too big for that! But what, then, was it for?
He debated the matter for a few seconds, but could think of no practical reason for an oversized horn to be at the prince's birthday celebrations. Perhaps it was nothing more than a rather peculiar decoration. Or a gift for the king's son, put to the side until after the feast? For all he knew, it was quite possible that the elven prince was fond of giant horns. Perhaps he collected them? What a very odd pastime for an elf! Then again, Bilbo was only a hobbit. What did he know of the ways of elves?
Decoration or not, the horn was an ideal hiding place. And if he were lucky, he might even be able to steal out from behind it and pinch a morsel or two from the far corner of king's table while they were busy caught up in the celebrations!
The thought spurred the hungry hobbit into action, and Bilbo slipped into the Feasting Hall, losing himself amidst the shadows of the tree boles on his left as he crept towards the dais. Fortunately for him, hobbits' feet could tread as lightly over grass or ground as elves, when they had a mind to (which he definitely did). Even were that not the case, the unsuspecting elves were far too busy talking amongst themselves, waiting for their monarch to give the official word to begin the feast, to notice that their party had acquired an uninvited guest. And so it was that, after less than a minute, Bilbo had covered the length of the chamber and now found himself creeping towards the massive carving of the horn. Within seconds, he arrived at his goal.
Hmm. What now? Should he remain hidden behind it? If he did, it would mean having to navigate his way around the horn in order to mount the dais and slip toward the nearest unsuspecting plate.
No. He didn't like the thought of that very much. Boldly mounting the dais in front of all and sundry in this well-lit chamber would leave him feeling ... exposed. His magic ring might afford him invisibility, but it would not prevent the casting of his shadow. No, he would simply have to think of another solution.
What about climbing up onto the base of the wooden horn? That way, he'd only have to step onto the dais, instead of circling the horn and mounting it! And he'd also save time that would be much better invested in sneaking tasty morsels from the table.
A splendid idea! Worthy of Gandalf, even. Well, maybe not. Gandalf would simply have used his magic to clear the Hall, leaving him free to feast in peace. Or have introduced himself as a wizard, and been cordially invited to join the king and his son - he must surely know these elves after all, as old as he was.
A flicker of irritation stirred in Bilbo at the thought of the absent wizard. If Gandalf had not left them at the borders of the forest, then thirteen dwarves and one lonely hobbit would not be in this predicament. But Gandalf had left; to see to 'pressing business' in the south (and with a full complement of their supplies, at that) - though what could be more important than helping fourteen weary travellers through the hostile environment of Mirkwood he couldn't tell.
Pressing business indeed!
Quashing all further thought of Gandalf, Bilbo used his rusty climbing skills to scale the base of the wooden structure. Though it wasn't very high, it was still taller than it had first appeared from the front of the Hall, and the poor little hobbit was soon puffing and blowing as he endeavoured to pull himself up. Finally, with one great heave, he hooked a leg over one of the short poles and used it to anchor himself as he dragged himself over the base.
Good heavens! What a to do! Why, he was quite exhausted after that.
Bilbo flopped down on top of the narrow bore and rested his curly head against the wider curve leading up to the bell. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, closed his eyes, and dabbed away the moisture from his glistening brow, trying desperately to ignore the tempting smells around him, and wishing for all the world that he was back in the cosy kitchen of Bag End enjoying a tart or three. This stew of his had better be worth all the trouble he had gone to get it, or else he would be writing a strongly worded letter of complaint to the cook (from the safety of his own Smial, of course)!
So wrapped up in his musings was he, that Bilbo didn't notice that the king had risen until the stately elf's voice pierced his thoughts. He opened his eyes, pocketed his handkerchief, and looked to the left.
Thranduil stood tall and proud as he surveyed his guests. In his golden hair he wore a finely wrought silver circlet shaped like leaves, which appeared to cling delicately to his head. Silver was also the colour of his tunic, which caught the light of the lamps above, so that he glimmered like earthbound starlight. He lifted both hands in one smooth motion, and silence fell immediately on his command.
"Greetings, my people," he began in a melodic voice. "We are gathered here in joy to celebrate the birthing date of one whom I love dearly."
"Would you be referring to the vintner from Dale, Adar?" queried an elf sitting at his right-hand side. The remark raised merry laughter from the crowd (except poor Bilbo, who was far too famished for laughter). "I did not know he and I shared a birthday. I must send him my regards."
"I will send him your tongue if you interrupt me again, Legolas!" quipped the monarch humorously, eliciting more laughter from his guests. "As I was saying; today we celebrate the birthing date of my youngest son, Prince Legolas …"
A cheer broke out, and when it died down, Thranduil continued.
"… who has enriched my days - and plagued them more often than not - for one thousand years. To mark his first full millennia, I hereby declare that we shall begin a week of feasting and celebrating!"
Another cheer rose in the chamber, for which Bilbo was exceedingly thankful: his stomach had chosen precisely that moment to issue its loudest rumble yet - one which the sharp-eared elves could not have failed to miss otherwise. Oh, when would the king stop talking and start eating (his stew)? He'd never be able to pinch anything if everyone was looking at the regal elf's table!
But Thranduil was not quite finished yet …
"Yet ere we commence with our merrymaking, there is a millennial tradition to be upheld. One which all who reside in these Halls hold dear to their hearts: Galu i Faroth. Many long years we have lived in hope that the legend of this ceremony may one day come true: for it is said that if Valaróma answers our plea, that all the evil in Arda shall quail in fear! That our enemies shall fall within the next hundred years, and that all the Peoples of Middle-Earth will know peace for a thousand generations of Men thereafter."
In spite of his empty stomach, Bilbo was intrigued. A thousand generations of peace? That sounded rather splendid! Not that hobbits would be affected, of course. The Shire was always at peace, if one discounted the uproar created by Otho Sackville-Baggins the previous summer when he trampled all over Bilbo's best begonias in a fit of anger (because Bilbo would not conveniently drop dead and leave him Bag End). His gardener, Holman, had been so furious, that he'd actually dragged Otho out of the garden and onto Bagshot Row lane before telling him to 'Clear off, yer silly old good fer nuthin'!'. But Otho, incandescent with anger, launched himself into Holman's stomach, and a very loud (and very un-hobbit-like) brawl had thusly ensued, drawing Gamgees and Twofoots (or was it Twofeet? He could never remember) and all manner of hobbits out from their holes and ready to speculate on the outcome. Odds were placed and wagers were taken as the pair tumbled down the slope and onto the Party Field below, where the fisticuffs had lasted for almost half an hour thereafter (which was precisely how long it had taken Lobelia to prise Holman away from her husband's throat).
Bilbo grinned at the recollection of the S-B's fury when he refused to admonish his gardener for behaving 'like a vicious Bree-lander'. Lobelia had huffed and growled before waggling her finger at him crossly, and dragging her (bleeding) husband past the very amused crowd. As for Holman? Well, he'd given his faithful gardener an extra week's wages for providing the best entertainment of that whole year.
The smile was still on his face when Bilbo shook the memory from his head and returned his attention to the king.
"Yet even if legend does not become reality this evening, do not dismay! For with this ceremony, we may still call for the blessing of Oromë upon our newest millenarian, my son, Legolas Greenleaf: that he may he ever know fortune in his travels, that his bow may ever sing keenly, and his arrows fly ever truly in hunt and battle both."
Heavens! Hunt and battle?
Of course, Bilbo's study of elves (from the few books in the Shire that dealt with that particular subject) had alluded to the great battles of old they had partaken in, specifically during the War of Wrath and the War of the Last Alliance. Even so, it was one thing to read about their warrior ways, but it was another thing altogether to hear that the elegant people actually relished the conflict (if the elf king's hearty declaration was anything to go by).
Whatever happened to all the songs and poetry they were supposed to be fond of?
Hunting and battle, indeed!
He shivered at the thought of his hosts' fair faces twisted in the thrill of the fight as they slew spider after orc after dragon. Their skill in combat made him feel quite insignificant. Hobbits, as a rule, were not made for such great deeds. In fact, Bilbo's own hunting prowess extended only to searching for a fourth pork pie in his larder (apart from today, when it extended to searching for his very first plate of stew in an elf king's hall). And battling? Well, any battles that he partook of were usually reserved for the lamentably frequent visits of the S-B's; and even then they were only verbal (unless Holman got to them; in which case the chance of bloodshed increased significantly).
Still, perhaps he was mistaken. Of course elves would fight, if they were forced to do so. And, given the amount of orcs and spiders he had encountered since leaving the Shire, they were doubtless forced to do so constantly. So there was nothing at all wrong with the stately elf wishing his son good fortune in battle. He could hardly wish him less than that (unless the boy really did plague his father a lot, as the king had mentioned earlier; in which case, Thranduil may very well be rather relieved to be rid of him).
Well, whether the king wished his son's imminent doom or not was of little concern to Bilbo at the moment. His only concern was the immediate stuffing of his face. Whenever would the blasted elf stop talking?
His eyes travelled from the fair features of his (sort of) host to the pot suspended over the little copper tray and he sighed wistfully.
Rabbit stew …
Even from this distance, Bilbo could see steam curling delicately from the silver pot. He took a deep breath and almost fell off his perch when his nose was assailed with the delicious aromas of not only stew, but venison, hot rolls, spiced mead …
It was more than a poor hobbit should have to endure! To be so near so much, and still have so little (or even nothing at all. This must be how the S-B's felt every time they saw him). And dear, oh dear! but how strongly tempted he was to just run up to that silver pot and stick his head in it! True, such behaviour would be frowned upon by any respectable hobbit, including himself - under normal circumstances. But circumstances were not normal, and there were no respectable hobbits present to witness his disgrace, so why should he care? Even the sharp-eyed elves would have difficulty spotting him.
Though, said elves could certainly talk as much as any respectable hobbit. Thranduil was still going strong.
"Let us now commence with the ceremony of Galu i Faroth!" declared the elf king loudly. He clapped his hands twice. "Bring forth the tribute! Bring forth the minstrels! Let us once more tempt legend into life. May Valaróma sound its call this very eve!"
Hope sprang up in Mr Bilbo Baggins' heart when the elf lord took his seat and two tall elves moved from the other end of the Hall towards the dais. Splendid! The welcoming speech was (finally) over. Not only that, but there was to be some sort of ceremony which would certainly distract everyone long enough for him to practice his burglary skills!
He rubbed his hands in glee as he thought of hot rolls, sweet fruits and (if he was very lucky) some of that delicious rabbit stew he'd been stalking all evening.
But his hope turned to confusion when the two elves paused only long enough at the dais to bow - and then made their swift way to the very place he was hiding!
And it turned to horror when they stopped, one at each end of the horn he was perched upon, and grasped the short poles sticking out from the base.
Oh, no! The horn was Valaróma?
Shock held him fast, and Bilbo had no time to scrabble off his perch before it was lifted into the air. He could only hold his breath and cling on for dear life as they carried it (and him) across to the large open space between the long trestles, where they set it down carefully. He threw a wild glance at the only open space between the long tables - at the front of the Hall where he had hidden in the doorway - and considered making a dash for it. But to his dismay, four elves carrying dainty silver instruments were now blocking his path.
And as those same four elves struck up a delicate tune, every single elf in the Feasting Hall rose as one and faced the giant horn expectantly. Bilbo's heart sank.
Bother, bother, bother! He was trapped!
Author's Note: The term Galu I Faroth is my sorry attempt to translate the phrase 'Hunter's Blessing' from English to Sindarin. As for Legolas' actual age, I haven't a scooby. Couldn't find it anywhere, so I selected a nice, round 1,000 years old (which suited the purpose of the chapter).
Hope you enjoyed,
Kara's Aunty :)
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.