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Chapter 15: The Gathering of the Clouds
Back at Lonely Mountain, Bilbo and the dwarves watch as the number of birds increases. In particular, they notice the old thrush, who tries to tell them something. Unfortunately, none of them can follow its speech. When Balin says that he can understand the talk of ravens, the thrush brings an aged raven who tells them all the news. They learn of Smaug's death, the destruction of Lake-town, and the march of the men and elves to claim a part of the treasure. Thorin enlists the raven as his messenger and sends him to Dain, the leader of dwarves in the Iron Hills of the north. Thorin requests help from them.
The dwarves return to the mountain with Bilbo and fortify it, blocking up the Front Gate and damming the River Running so that the mountain is no longer easy to approach or enter. One night they see lights before them, and the next morning they find the elves and men camped right before the mountain. A small company approaches and they seem surprised to discover Thorin and the dwarves at the gate. Thorin challenges the men, but they merely take stock of the fortifications and leave without replying. During the day, the elves and men move their camp closer to the mountain. Bilbo is enchanted by the lovely music of the elves, and even some of the dwarves wish that there could be peace between them. Thorin, however, does not want peace.
The next day, another company of men, led by Bard, approaches the gate and begins to bargain. Bard gives four reasons for a claim on the treasure: he killed Smaug; Smaug's horde includes much wealth and treasure from Dale, whose descendants are part of Bard's group; Smaug destroyed Lake-Town; and the men of the town helped Thorin and his company when they were in need. Thorin, however, refuses to part with any of the treasure as long as the men, and especially the elves, besiege the mountain. Bard declines to leave or send the elves away, saying that they are his friends. He departs, leaving the dwarves to consider their situation. A few hours later, a messenger is sent with Bard's demands; until Thorin gives one-twelfth of the dragon's treasure to Bard, to dispense as he sees fit, the mountain will be besieged. Thorin answers with an arrow, and the messenger leaves. Bilbo and the dwarves continue to remain under siege.
This is a crucial chapter. The effects of the treasure envelop the dwarves, especially Thorin, to the exclusion of all considerations of justice and fair play. Once the dwarves are told of Smaug's death and the destruction of Lake-town, their one thought is to occupy the mountain and claim all of the treasure for themselves. They have no pity for the people of Lake-town, who have suffered because of them. None of the dwarves are willing to concede that Bard deserves a fair share for slaying Smaug; they will not grant him even the one-twelfth of the treasure that he desires as fair payment. Only Bilbo, who remains free from a mania for gold, is able to see the justice of Bard's demands.
Thorin is pictured in a very unsympathetic way. He is overcome by his lust for wealth and is unable to see reason, dealing unfairly with Bard and the men of Lake-town. In contrast, Bilbo is seen to be in command of himself. He clearly perceives the rights and wrongs of the situation, but since his words will not sway Thorin, he keeps silent. Bilbo is now seen as more than just brave; he is also wise and steadfast. Although the treasure of the dragon's cave attracts him, he is too rational to let it blind him.
A raven, typically a bearer of bad news and a symbol of darkness in literature, ironically brings the "good" news of Smaug's death. The raven is then sent by Thorin to Dain, with the request for help from the dwarves of the north. Since the Bilbo and his friends are under siege, they will need all of the help they can muster. Overall, the chapter carries a mood of foreboding evil, with an impending battle almost unavoidable.