Title: The Wealth of Kingdoms
Character: Thranduil, Dwarves of Erebor
Summary: Economic imperialism does Middle-earth. Five drabbles on how Thranduil came to be sitting on a beetling crag with an army, and then just walked away.
Source: Movieverse!The Hobbit
Disclaimer: I am not JRRT, nor related to him, nor to PJ (and I'm not PJ, either). Please don't sue.
The Wealth of Kingdoms
The mountain had long lain silent. Thranduil remembered when the first Dwarves had come there, settling above the little trading camps of Men. And in the blink of an elven eye, they’d fixed themselves there.
Doriath was a bitter memory, but not so bitter as the Necromancer to the south that preyed upon his people. Not so bitter as the distance of Lorien and Imladris. Dwarves, in the end, will honor trade – and so Thranduil had traded. Fine timber, harps, such herbs to cure hurt as no Dwarf understood, and Erebor answered: against Dol Guldur, they sent swords and armor.
Erebor prospered, and its people increased. Far and wide they went, and brought home riches for the works they wrought.
Thranduil little noticed for a while; the darkness was growing thicker, spreading like weeds in the underbrush. But in time, each sword grew dearer, and each shield, each hauberk.
The honor-price, Thrór’s people claimed. A smith of Erebor is not a farmer, nor a fumbling apprentice, but if Thranduil objected, he could seek south in Gondor.
And for a time, Thranduil had – the steel was not so fine, unless it were Dwarf-make, but his forest, like his people, surrendered less.
Yet nothing lasts in Middle-earth. Over time, the shadow in the west was matched by threat in the east. Gondor grew more stinting of its steel, needing swords against the Corsairs and the Haradrim, against orcs innumerable.
And still the Shadow of Dol Guldur lengthened.
His people need arms. His people need aid. But honor once slighted must be twice paid.
The terms are clear: he can pay tribute, thrice as much as ever before.
“Your skill is not trebled,” Thranduil argues.
“You preferred Gondorians, and they with a third our skill,” he is answered. “Pay. Or forge your own.”
And so he pays. And each year appears with the riches of his kingdom - O bitter blessings! - to argue. Ever the answer is the same, and the honor-price rises ‘til there's no honor in it, Thranduil thinks.
Shall Erebor hold Mirkwood’s treasures? Shall his people, his forest surrender so much, when they must bleed and die alone in the darkness?
“Demand men,” his council urges. “Let them honor us with blood and brotherhood!”
But Doriath haunts his dreams: Thranduil shall not invite them in. He will instead show Dwarven friendship: they hold what is his. He will take it back.
The Kingdom of Ash
Yet in the end, they come too late. One has come whom Dwarves have long feared: the dragon, Smaug, cares naught of honor, nor right. The wealth of kingdoms in Erebor’s vaults, tribute of many princes – and all of it beneath the dragon’s talons.
Thranduil sees the Dwarves fleeing, knows the cause is futile. Likely it was anyway – raids are ever desperate.
One Dwarf looks up, sees him, and beckons: Come down, come down! Thranduil looks to the burning mountain, thinking of his long, friendless fight, and makes a choice.
If the Dwarves will have help, then let them pay.
Notes: So, I gather people hate what was done with movie!Thranduil, because it makes him look like a greedy S.O.B. This is an interpretation with which I disagree, actually, because I don't think that his actions should be read as having anything to do with personal character flaws. I think there's evidence that he likely has political-economic reasons for marching an army over to Erebor, then turning around and leaving the Dwarves to their fate.
In the book, Thorin claims that people paid a lot for even the shoddiest of Dwarven craftworks, and that the Dwarves never bothered to farm. They got other people to do that for them. Hm. That kind of reeks of exploitation in a couple of dimensions, especially considering the amount of surplus in the Dwarves' treasury. Enter movie!Thranduil, who, if I recall correctly, is said to pay tribute to the King Under the Mountain. While I'm sure PJ et al were creating a dynamic of personal dislike between the Elves and the Dwarves, I think the more interesting point is that tribute is extortion, and canonically, given the Dol Guldur situation, Thranduil and his people are in a prime position to be extorted.
Of course, this makes the Dwarves look really bad, and since the Dwarves get the crap end of every interpretation, I feel rather bad about contributing to that. Poor Dwarves! There just ain't no justice in the world, guys.