The Hobbit 15 | The Gathering of the Clouds

by Glenn on November 11, 2019

The dwarves and Bilbo were in a bit of a predicament. The fourteen of them were sitting high atop The Lonely Mountain in a look-out station. If Smaug came back, they were probably in some trouble. But what do they do now? The original agreement that the dwarves made with Bilbo was “cash on delivery, up to and not exceeding one fourteenth of total profits (if any).” The question no one really seemed to think through was what did “delivery” mean. Bilbo had retrieved one item and that had made the dwarves really happy. (Did that fulfill Bilbo’s job as burglar?) Later, when Smaug had apparently gone away, the whole company picked out some things for themselves. A few noteworthy acquisitions: Thorin was looking very regal in chain mail and with a sword; Bilbo was given a child-sized coat of mithril, a very light coat of elf-made armor; and Bilbo pocketed the Arkenstone, which was desired most of all by Thorin.

As the party sat in the look-out station on the mountain, they noticed flocks of birds were moving into the area. These were the kinds of birds that gathered when “a battle were afoot.” And then the old thrush appeared again. He appeared very excited as though he was attempting to communicate with them. But no one could understand him. Balin wished he was a raven, because he could understand their speech. He mentioned, in particular, a raven pair, “old Carc and his wife,” who used to live in the area. At this the thrush flew off and brought back the son of Carc, who was quite aged and who explained that his father was long dead. He explained that the birds were gathering because Smaug was dead. This brought great joy to the dwarves who concluded that there was no reason to fear and that the treasure was theirs. Thorin had to quiet the dwarves down because the old raven was not through speaking. He said they “could go back to [their] hall in safety; all the treasure is [theirs]—for the moment.” The news of the death of Smaug had spread throughout the land and everyone’s thoughts had turned to the gold that was up in The Mountain. Everyone wanted a share. The lake men, in particular, were upset at the dwarves because their mission to climb the mountain resulted in the destruction of their town and the deaths of many of their people. The son of Carc was careful to say that the dwarves’ “own wisdom must decide [their] course,” but that he recommended they “not trust the Master of the Lake-men, but rather him that shot the dragon with his bow.” The raven’s concluding statement,

“We would see peace once more among dwarves and men and elves after the long desolation; but it may cost you dear in gold.”

The dwarves rushed back to the great hall where they immediately began fortifications. All the other entrances had been closed up by the dragon, except of course for the secret entrance. The birds told the dwarves they had a little time, because the men and elves were rebuilding their town. The dwarves were able to create a wall in front of the main entrance and they had food for at least some time. Then an army approached, led by Bard. Bard was surprised that the dwarves were alive. He said,

“Hail Thorin! Why do you fence yourself like a robber in his hold? We are not yet foes, and we rejoice that you are alive beyond our hope. We came expecting to find none living here; yet now that we are met there is matter for a parley and a council.”

Bard’s belief was that the fact that he had killed the dragon and that his people had suffered so much with the dragon’s attack warranted some recompense. Our narrator tells us “these were fair words and true, if proudly and grimly spoken; and Bilbo thought that Thorin would at once admit what justice was in them.” Thorin didn’t, for the simple fact that the dragon had taken the gold from his people and no one else was entitled to it. He said they would recompense the men of Lake-town for their supplies and help,

“But nothing will we give, not even a loaf’s worth, under threat of force. While an armed host lies before our doors, we look on you as foes and thieves.”

Thorin asked Bard how much they intended to give his people if they had found him dead. Bard declared it a “just question,” but since the dwarves “are not dead, and we are not robbers” it only seems fair that they help the people who “befriended them when they were in want.”

Thorin decided there would be no negotiations “with armed men at my gate.”
Bard left for a time and sent back representatives to announce that the dwarves should hand over 1/12 of their treasure to Bard and that in the interest of “friendship and honour of the lands about” he should give something of his own for the men of the Lake. Thorin said no with an arrow shot that stuck in the shield of Bard’s representative who then announced that they should consider themselves besieged.

Thorin had become quite grim and no one dared speak to him, though presumably some were questioning the wisdom of his course of action. We are told, “Bilbo, of course, disapproved of the whole turn of affairs.” He didn’t like the smell of dragon or the food they had to live on.