"Well past a fortnight," Talagan said. "I beg you to hold still a minute, my Lord."
"I can't abide another banquet with them," growled the king. "How can two dozen dwarves eat and drink so much? They are going through my storehouses like starving rats. We've already had to send out the hunters for a new supply of meat and they've drunk most of my good wine. Their jokes are bad, their songs tiresome, not to mention their atrocious table manners. Since when do dwarves belch to show appreciation for a good meal? I never heard of such a custom! And Náin still hasn't brought up the reason for his visit. Instead, he seems too interested in my warriors and their capabilities. If I didn't know better, I'd swear he was scouting us out for an invasion."
Thranduil paused in his stride and clenched both fists. "Talagan, I may just have to kill him if he doesn't leave soon."
"Not too wise," Talagan said, "King Náin II has many relatives."
"Well then, *you* find me a solution. You're my seneschal and in charge of the household. Isn't this your concern?"
Talagan looked up in alarm. "My Lord, what would you have me do, poison the wine?"
Thranduil threw back his leonine head of blond hair and laughed. "No, but that's a fine idea. Maybe not kill them, just make them very sick."
"You can't be serious," Talagan said.
"Perhaps, perhaps not. You figure out a way to get rid of these confounded dwarves, before I do something I'll regret. And leave that! It looks fine. Who needs to impress the curséd dwarves anyway?"
Talagan noticed a scaly creature with a toothy face, leathery wings, and long tail creep out of a crack and scuttle across the face of the rock. "Sire, look another one," he said.
The king looked up and clapped his hand to his forehead. "Curse of Mandos, a fire lizard! Send someone in here to kill it before it stinks up the place. Then have someone find the nest and get rid of them. Valar, plagues of all kinds: dwarves and lizards. Which is worse, I ask you? "
Talagan sighed as the king swept out of the room. Ah yes, dwarves and lizards. More difficult and embarrassing tasks. Did the king ever get tired of assigning them? How long had he served Thranduil now? Over 1,000 years, and the king was as volatile, brilliant, and indeed, fascinating as ever.
He tapped his finger on his lips. Perhaps, the key to sending Náin on his way home to the Grey Mountains was finding out why he had come in the first place.
Legolas sat slouched in his chair, staring moodily into space as one of his attendants attempted to braid his hair.
"Ai, Ninde, you're pulling," he complained.
"And you've been in a foul mood for several weeks now, my Lord," she said and gave his hair a hard jerk. "I just wanted to see if you even noticed I was here."
"I'm sorry, meleth. It's just that . . ."
"It's just that the king sent Táro away. I know the reason." She pursed her lips as she deftly finished the braid and banded the end.
"I didn't know that was a general subject of conversation," Legolas growled.
"You forget that I know you quite well, my Lord." Ninde smiled. "I have observed your mood over the last few months. I know that the king sent off the captain of the guard rather hastily and that, since then, you have been unbearable."
Legolas pulled her around to sit sideways on his lap, wrapping one arm around her slim waist. "I am sorry. I should not have vented my anger on you. It's just that Father treats me like an elfling still. I can't leave Mirkwood. He has me training at weapons all the time and he has made it impossible for me to indulge in certain, ah, other activities."
Ninde's laugh was like bells. "Are you in need of relief then, Prince? I wish I could help in that regard."
"Perhaps you could." He leaned forward and kissed her. Sighing, she closed her eyes and returned the kiss. Her lips felt soft and warm. Legolas put his other arm around her, drawing her close, and began kissing down her neck.
"Ai gods, what am I doing!" Ninde cried, pulling out of his grasp. She slid off his lap.
"I thought we were just reestablishing an old friendship." Legolas smiled at her.
"Oh, my Lord, we will always be friends, I hope. But those few occasions were a mistake. I know it and so do you. Besides, I certainly don't want to get sent to Lothlórien." She put the hairbrush back in a drawer, slamming it hard.
Legolas frowned, stood, and stalked about his room. He picked up a book and flung it against the wall. Ninde sighed and went over to pick it up.
"Has my father condemned me to celibacy until I make a suitable marriage?" Legolas continued. "I hate this and I hate him, and I won't marry in any case."
"Did you love him?" Ninde asked, her blue eyes sympathetic. She hugged the book to her chest.
"I thought I did," Legolas said. "I miss him dreadfully. But I have a feeling now, a feeling that something else will happen soon I don't know . . ." he broke off and passed a hand over his brow. "Ninde, perhaps it is simply that I am bored. I want to see new landscapes, have adventures."
"The future is open to you. We cannot know what lies ahead." She came over to him and pressed her lips to his cheek, then giggled. "And I will confess that I miss our trysts, but I have Calimehtar now to think of."
"He had best treat you right or he'll answer to an ‘old friend.'" Legolas smiled at her fondly, then sighed. "I guess I have to go sit through another banquet with my father and our guests. I'd much rather go outside and run under the stars."
"Well, I must be running along myself to clean up those dwarves' rooms before I get in trouble with Talagan," she said. "Be off, now." She gave him a little shove. "Don't forget, we are not always free to do what we wish. You have your duties, the same as I."
"There is good craftsmanship in the delving of this palace," King Náin said, pointing to a tall column that stood near his chair in the banquet hall. "Done by dwarves many ages ago, was it not?"
"Yes, so my father tells me," said Legolas. "I wasn't around to see it." He suppressed a yawn.
"I read it in our histories," said Náin. "I have composed a song about it in honor of your father. Do you think he'd care to hear it?"
Legolas looked at the end of the long banquet table where his father was jesting with Legolas's older brother Feredir and his wife. The king had suggested Legolas sit with Náin this evening "to learn some diplomacy." Legolas wasn't fooled. He was still out of favor due to his defiance over Táro and his subsequent refusal to speak to his father except when duty required it.
The dwarf king was looking at him earnestly.
"I'm sure he'd be most pleased to hear it. Perhaps after dinner." Legolas smiled to himself.
"Ah, Prince, do you know what a magnificent father you have?" Náin said. "I wasn't sure I would like him. His reputation is . . . somewhat erratic. But in these last weeks, I have grown to appreciate him. So strong, so passionate." Legolas looked at the dwarf king sharply. Had he heard a sigh accompanying those words? He pursed his lips together to avoid laughing. Yes, it would serve his father right.
"I think your first assessment was accurate . . . somewhat erratic," Legolas said. "But it is true that he is like no one else I've met or heard of."
"You seem to take after him, Prince, certainly in looks."
"I have heard that said," Legolas replied. "You flatter me."
Náin reached up and touched Legolas's hair, pulling a strand of it through his fingers. "This color is so rare among my people. The color of gold, a dwarf's desire."
The dwarf's face was flushed. He must be getting drunk, Legolas thought, for him to take such liberties. The prince feigned a cough that allowed him to move away from the dwarf king.
There was a stir at the hall entrance.
All the court turned their heads as several guards marched in. They were escorting two tall, dark-haired elves who had their hands tied behind them. Interested, Legolas sat up to get a better look as the guards brought them close. His heart leapt at the sight. They were mirror images of one another, and oh, so beautiful: long silky dark hair, high cheek bones, shapely lips. They each wore a small diamond stud in one ear that caught the light as they moved, one wore it in the right ear, the other in the left. But it was the light within their large wolf-like grey eyes that most captivated the prince.
They had clearly been through some sort of misfortune. Their clothes were stained and wrinkled, their hair disheveled. One wore a surcoat and mailshirt over a long tunic, but the other was wearing only leggings and boots and a cloak that, when he moved, revealed flashes of white skin beneath. Legolas found himself holding his breath waiting for the next glimpse of that lithe body.
"King Thranduil, we captured these two several miles from here. They said they needed to see you as soon as possible," said one of the guards.
The twins scanned the group, then they made a courteous bow toward Thranduil.
"King Thranduil," said one in a rich, musical voice, "We bring greetings from our father."
Thranduil got up and walked toward them, a sardonic smile on his face. "Well now, what a surprise! Elladan and Elrohir, the infamous twin sons of Elrond Peredhel." He twitched aside the long cape and looked at the twin's bare chest. "Is this the new fashion at Imladris?"
"You have me at a disadvantage," said the second twin, in a voice as beautiful as his brother's but slightly higher. "I do not travel this way out of choice. We ran into some brigands at Esgaroth and barely escaped with our lives."
"But not, I see, with your tunic," Thranduil said, and there was a titter of laughter from his court. "I think I know the ruffians you are referring to. They have been harassing the woodmen who live on our borders. It is time we dealt with them. I hope you made them pay for their discourtesy?"
"Not nearly enough," said the first twin.
Thranduil nodded. "You may release them," he said to the guards who cut the twins' bonds. The pair rubbed their wrists and looked at Thranduil expectantly.
"Why were you at Esgaroth?" Thranduil asked.
"On our father's orders, we were scouting in the Grey Mountains and the Withered Heath. We'd planned to replenish our supplies in Esgaroth before taking the Old Forest Road through Mirkwood toward home," said the first twin.
"Elladan, is it?" asked Thranduil.
The peredhel inclined his head. "You remember well, King."
Thranduil said. "As I recall, you abused my hospitality when last you were here. I told you not to return."
"Our sincere apologies, King Thranduil. It was never our intention to trouble you," said Elladan. He paused and lowered his voice. "We have made some discoveries in the northern wastes and have information you may find interesting. We are willing to trade it in return for your help getting supplies for the journey back to Imladris."
"You hardly seem in a position to bargain." Thranduil stroked his chin thoughtfully, then turned to look at King Náin. "You hear that Náin? They've been in your country and have news worth hearing."
"I would learn it also, Thranduil," Náin said. "I imagine it concerns me and my people even more than yours."
"Very well, I'll hear your information and see whether it corresponds with my knowledge," Thranduil said. "I've been thinking of sending some scouts that way myself." The king walked around them, looking them over.
Legolas barely remembered Elrond's sons as he had been an elfling, in his late 20s, when last they were here, but he had heard of them. They were said to be scholars and artists as well as skilled warriors and, curiously, that they were never apart from each other. The rumor spoke of surpassing beauty even among elves, although they were not of pure blood. Legolas thought the rumor didn't do the reality justice.
But something else about them intrigued him now: an amused air of self-assurance. They were carrying themselves very haughtily for supplicants to the king. Their bows were not nearly low enough and they stood proudly, even in their disreputable condition, meeting his father's gaze. Did they actually imagine themselves equals? He had rarely seen anyone who was not afraid of his father and this, almost more than anything else, caught his interest. What had they done before to invoke the king's wrath? Knowing his father, it could have been almost anything.
"Never let it be said that I am less than generous or that I can't forgive past wrongs," the king addressed the twins. "It is time your father and I forged a stronger alliance. Change is coming and not for the better."
He flashed a white smile and even Legolas had to admit that his father could be charming.
"As I recall, you two were fairly good with your swords," Thranduil continued slyly. "King Náin has been quite interested in elven battle skills. Perhaps you could earn your keep by entertaining him with a demonstration."
"Whatever you wish, King Thranduil," said Elladan.
"We are yours to command," said the bare-chested one who must be Elrohir.
"I have my own champions here," Thranduil said. "My two sons are quite skilled themselves." He turned and addressed the dwarf king. "Perhaps, Náin, it would make a good contest: the sons of Elrond against the sons of Thranduil?"
"I look forward to it eagerly," Náin said, rising and bowing.
"Maybe your coming was fortuitous," Thranduil continued. "I would imagine that you'd want to get cleaned up and take food and some rest before such a demonstration. We'll put it off until tomorrow."
"That would be most welcome," said Elladan while Elrohir nodded, his shoulders sagging visibly.
Thranduil’s voice rose in command, "Talagan, assign these two lodgings and get them some clothes, especially that one." He gestured at Elrohir.
"You have earned the gratitude of Imladris," said Elladan. The twins bowed, deeper this time.
"Yes, of course," said Thranduil impatiently and he waved his hand in dismissal as Talagan rose to escort the twins out.
Legolas saw Elrohir slide his eyes in his direction. They locked glances and Elrohir winked. Legolas felt a jolt in his gut. It happened so quickly that he couldn't even be sure of it. He blinked and looked again, but the twins had turned their backs to leave the room.
Such impertinence, the prince thought. He could well imagine they had done something to make his father banish them, but now his curiosity was thoroughly piqued.
"Will you excuse me?" He said to Náin, and rose.
Náin stood and bowed, his thick sable beard brushing the table. "I look forward to your demonstration tomorrow, Prince." Then he turned to Thranduil and said in a loud voice, "My good and dear King, once again we are deep in your debt for providing such a sumptuous banquet. Allow me to express my delight."
He laid a hand on his belly and his lips moved sideways as a tremendous belch echoed through the hall. Like a chorus of bull frogs, the rest of his entourage followed suit.
Náin looked around and nodded. "And now, in thanks for your hospitality, I would like to sing a song I composed about the building of your great halls."
A look of utter horror flashed across his father's face. Legolas covered his mouth and fled the hall quickly before bursting into laughter.
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.