To Overcome the Shadow - Chapter 3 -- The Feast
The halls were dark. A hooded and cloaked figure crept silently down the hall and halted in front of a door. A strong, sinewy hand slowly reached for the doorknob and began to turn it, only to find it... locked.
"Ai! I suppose we get to climb through the window now. What fun." The elf turned and walked back the way he had come, soon emerging out into the warm summer night. Three other dark, cloaked figures stood nearby. "Her door was locked," whispered the emerging figure. "We'll have to climb up to her balcony. Hopefully she left that door unlocked."
The four flitted from shadow to shadow through the garden until they reached the garden directly below her balcony.
"Estel," whispered the leader, "stand here and keep watch. Call twice like a grey owl if anyone approaches." Estel nodded. The mortal bent down, locking his fingers together to make a cup. One of the other hooded figures took a running leap into the waiting hands. His hood fell back to reveal blonde hair as he sprung upwards and grabbed the bottom of the balcony. He pulled himself up and swung his leg gracefully over the railing. The twins quickly followed with the help of Estel.
Elladan sighed, "Good, the door is open. Though, I would have left it open myself. This summer breeze is cool and sweet." They filed silently through the door and over to the large bed. Ninque lay in the middle, sound asleep on her back, a peaceful smile on her face. She still wore her dress from the feast. Her hair cascaded around her face and over the covers like rivers of gold. Elrohir grinned at the look of awe on his brother's face. He leaned over and whispered something in Elladan's ear. Legolas could have sworn he saw Elladan blush. Elrohir sat down in a nearby chair and began cutting something into small lengths with his knife. Elladan carefully rolled Ninque over onto her side, then set to work with Legolas. An hour had passed and they were almost done when Ninque began to twitch and murmur softly.
Elladan and Legolas both paused their work, glancing at each other with worried expressions. Ninque sighed and became still once again.
The work continued for another hour, until at last Elladan stood and stretched. "There," he whispered softly, letting his hands linger in Ninque's soft tresses. Legolas, seeing his pause, rolled his eyes and elbowed Elladan softly in the ribs.
"Come on! You don't want her to wake up and find you caressing her hair do you?"
Elladan glared at Legolas, but reluctantly stood up and followed Legolas and his brother to the window. Suddenly, all three elves heard a gasp, and spun around to see Ninque sitting up in bed, glaring at them!
"We're dead." Elrohir moaned.
"Elladan! Don't you dare!" said Ninque loudly. "I swear I'll tell if you so much as touch those muffins!"
All of the three elves looked at each other in confusion.
Legolas slowly approached the dreaming she-elf and passed his hand in front of her face a few times. No reaction whatsoever. He turned around with a sigh of relief. "She's only dreaming. You must really infuriate her, Elladan, if she even dreams about your tricks!" This time, he was sure he saw Elladan's face turn red in embarrassment.
Tanie awoke the next morning not feeling in the least bit refreshed. She had been troubled all night with dreams of a certain elf sweeping her off her feet and carrying her off into the sunset, only to find him dumping her into the river, or dropping her into a tub of soot, or something else less unsavory. Or, they were horseback riding through the woods bordering Imladris. Tanie turned to Elrohir, and found him putting frogs down her back or ink in her hair. With such dreams had Tanie been molested and she was not in a good mood at all. And what was even worse, she had over slept, making her late for breakfast, which meant she did not have time to go see Ninque, which meant her mood was even fouler. Tanie ran a brush through her hair and rushed into the Dining Hall, where the meal was just commencing. After respectfully nodding her greetings to Lord Elrond, the twins, Estel, and Prince Legolas, she plopped down in a seat beside the Mirkwood Elf. Elladan opened his mouth to comment on her late arrival, but was quickly silenced by the murderous glare he received. Legolas was not so easily deterred.
"You look bright and cheerful this morning, Tanie. Might I inquire as to what has put you in such a fine mood?"
"The thought of you hanging by your thumbs over a roaring fire, sweat dripping off your charming little face and smoke dimming your shining golden locks." Tanie maliciously replied, in no mood for the princeling's jokes.
Lord Elrond looked reprovingly at the she-elf. "Erutánië! That is no way to speak to the Prince of Mirkwood!"
Tanie lowered her head in apology. "My apologies, Lord Elrond." He raised his eyebrow and nodded towards Legolas, who was smugly grinning.
She glanced at the twins and mortal, who were sitting across from her. They all avoided her gaze, concentrating hard on their plates, yet she could see that they were hard put to contain their mirth.
Tanie inwardly sighed. "And also to you, Legolas, my apologies." "Next time I will let my actions betray my thoughts." She added, muttering for his ears alone. He softly snorted and continued eating.
Estel hurriedly finished eating, then quickly got up and, nodding his respects to Lord Elrond, departed from the hall in apparent haste.
It wasn't until after breakfast and the dishes were being cleared by Tanie and the twins, as part of their punishment from the previous day, (and also Legolas, who, having nothing better to do, had agreed to help) that Tanie noticed Ninque had not been at breakfast.
"Did any of you guys see Ninque?" she asked, turning to the trio fighting over who got to wash, rinse, or dry.
"I-I don't know." Elladan said, staring intently at the cobbled floor. "Maybe she's tied up in something."
Elrohir elbowed him in the ribs. "Idiot," he thought, "she'll catch us for sure!"
Tanie stared at the apparent innocent faces of the elves. "Well, I'll go make sure she's alright. Start on the dishes. Ninque and I will sweep and wipe off the tables."
"Yeah," Elladan started. "If she'll even leave her..." This time both Legolas and Elrohir jammed him in the ribs, smiling at Tanie as if nothing were out of the ordinary.
Tanie raised her eyebrow and left the kitchen. She heard the trio start yelling at each other again.
"You idiot! For that stunt you get to wash and rinse!" Elladan's protests became faint, then were lost altogether as Tanie turned a corner.
She knocked on Ninque's door. "Ninque!" she called. "Are you all right? Why weren't you at breakfast?" The door opened a crack. "Tanie? Is that you?" a fearful voice asked.
"Of course it's me!"
A hand reached out into the hall and hauled Tanie into the room, slamming the door behind her.
"What the..." Tanie began, then stopped as she encountered a sight she would never forget. She chuckled, not quite sure if she could believe what she was seeing. She held her hand over her mouth in a vain attempt to stop her escalating mirth. Ninque glared at her friend, as if daring her to continue. At that, as if from a dam that has burst forth, Tanie began to roar with pent up laughter.
"It's not funny!"
"Yes it is!" Tanie hooted.
"No it's not! Stop laughing at me!"
Tanie only laughed harder, holding her stomach.
Ninque glared at Tanie, hands on her hips.
"Stop it, right now! Some friend you are!"
Tanie slapped her hand over her mouth and tried desperately to look at Ninque without...
Fresh peals of laughter flowed from Tanie's lips as she beheld Ninque's head, covered brow to tip, in millions of pink ribbons! "Oh, Ninque!" she declared, wiping her eyes. "You have eased my troubled heart, how did you know I would need some humor today?"
"WOMP!" Tanie flew back and hit the floor as Ninque whapped her with a pillow.
"Be quiet! This is serious! How can I walk around Imladris, like this? Everyone knows how I hate ribbons, and pink ones at that!"
"Well, you could always wear your hood up." Tanie chortled, grinning up at Ninque from the floor.
Ninque whapped her again. "For the last time, wipe that silly grin off your face!"
"All right! All right!" Tanie batted away the pillow. "Where is your knife?" Tanie asked, picking herself off the floor. Her hair was a mess from her bout with Ninque's pillow. "And I'll need your brush too." She added.
"Right now? We need to get the ribbons out first."
At the mention of ribbons, Tanie snorted, then shut up at a menacing wave from Ninque's pillow. "It's not for you! I'm not leaving this room with my hair the way it is!" Tanie said with a shocked look on her face.
"Oh you poor dear." Ninque answered sarcastically.
Tanie sat down on the edge of Ninque's bed and pulled Ninque down to her knees in front of her, a large grin still inerasably glued to her face. She carefully began to cut away each ribbon that Elladan and Legolas has so painstakingly woven throughout Ninque's golden locks.
It was at this time, as the trio watched Tanie leave the kitchen, that they realized that their brilliant plan was flawed.
"Wait a minute, how can Ninque never live this one down..." Elrohir asked.
"If she never leaves her room!" Elladan finished, smacking his forehead with an "Argh!" Of course, they had all supposed that Ninque would have at least made an appearance before breakfast, unaware of the ribbons, but apparently this had not been the case.
"We need to flush her out before she and Tanie take them all out." Elladan said, glancing at his brother with a knowing twinkle in his eye. Elrohir caught on immediately.
"Yes, someone needs to draw her out into public..
"Someone with charm and wit..." Elladan added thoughtfully.
"And still in her good graces."
"That she doesn't suspect was ever part of last night."
Legolas turned and found the twins grinning at him. "Oh no. No way!" he protested. "There is no way I will invade the private chambers of a she-elf, even if it is Ninque!"
"Now, Legolas, you said you would help us, and besides, you are the only one she doesn't suspect!" Elrohir argued.
"No! Do you know how much trouble I could get in? First from Lord Elrond when he finds me in Ninque's room, second from my father when he hears the tale from Lord Elrond, and third from the she-elf herself! I would never be able to visit here in safety again!"
"You are leaving in a few days anyway. What could she possibly do in that time?" Elrohir reasoned.
Legolas winced. "Plenty," he thought. He had just gotten back into the girls' good graces from the last time he had helped the twins in a prank.
Elladan put on his best puppy-dog face.
"No!" Legolas cried, throwing his hands before is eyes. "Don't even try that trick! I'm not doing it! Do your own dirty work! End of discussion!"
Elladan crossed his arms in front of is chest and pouted. Elrohir followed suit by slumping his shoulders and looking like his best horse had just died. Legolas peeked through his fingers, and groaned. Caught again.
"They must have gotten through the window." Tanie mused.
"I said they must have gotten through the window, your door was locked."
"Oh. By the way, how did I get to bed last night? I don't remember."
Tanie smiled mischievously. "Apparently, the trio, plus Estel I might add, did not want to disturb your deep sleep. They all tried very hard to get you tired last night. Didn't you notice how they all wanted to dance with you and only you all night? Anyway, Elladan did not want you to awaken as it might hinder their apparent plans, so..." Ninque groaned. "He carried you to bed."
Ninque buried her face in her hands. "How embarrassing! That little sneak! Now all Imladris thinks he has feelings for me just because he didn't want his plans to go awry!"
Tanie decided to keep the matter of the look on Elladan's face till later, when Ninque wasn't so distraught and irrational.
"He said we were even! That there would be no more pranks!" Ninque fumed.
"Well, there's Elladan for you. You should know him by now, Ninque. He will never outgrow tormenting poor innocent elves!" Tanie reasoned. She turned Ninque's head and began to work on the left side. Pink ribbon was beginning to litter the floor, blowing about in the westward wind coming through the open window.
"He lied to me!"
"By the Valar! Why do I even listen to them?" Legolas muttered, stalking down the hall. He stopped in front of Ninque's door. He sighed. "So ends my peaceful reprieves in Imladris." Legolas slowly raised his hand, and knocked.
"Who is it?" Tanie asked, pausing in her cutting.
Ninque shrieked, "Don't come in!" and leaped up, narrowly missing skewering her head on the knife in Tanie's hand. She glanced around frantically for a place to hide, then dove head first under the bed. Tanie pressed herself against the door.
"Now is really not a good time, Legolas!" she called as sweetly as possible through the wooden door.
"Well, the twins are getting upset because you two are not down in the kitchen helping."
"Yes, Legolas dear, I understand." Tanie pleaded. "But be a good lad and go tell those treacherous wargs that they can go to the Abyss for all I care!"
"Ah, good," Legolas thought. "She thinks it was only the twins. Is she in for a surprise!"
"What did they do to so merit your wrath, m'lady?" he asked, feigning a concerned tone. "May I come in? Perhaps I may be of assistance?"
Tanie was tempted to let him in. The cutting would go faster with two.
"But remember last time he was here? He helped them." Her little voice warned.
"Yes, but we taught him not to do that again." Tanie countered, remembering with glee his embarrassment. "He would not dare throw in his league with them again."
She turned and addressed the pair of feet sticking out from underneath the bed. "Should I let him... Ahhhhhhhhh!" As Tanie had turned, she had slightly released her pressure on the door. That was all Legolas needed. He threw himself against the heavy oaken door. Tanie yelped as the door flew half way open.
"Legolas Thranduilion! Release this door this instant!"
"Oh." Legolas' voice took on a different tone. "But the young lords of Imladris would very much like to show off their handiwork in the light of day." Tanie gasped and her eyes widened in astonishment as she began to realize the real reason for Legolas' wanting to enter. Tanie vainly threw her weight against the ever-widening door. Legolas stuck his head into the room. One look into his eyes and Tanie's fears were confirmed.
"You helped them." She growled through clenched teeth. "You lying, treacherous, slavering, hobgoblin!" she cried. Legolas only smiled wickedly and grabbed Tanie's forearm. Dragging her off the door and into the hallway, he pushed her away, then slipped into the room, slamming and locking the door before Tanie could reach it.
Ninque scrunched herself under the bed, trying to be as still as possible. She could hear Tanie's and Legolas's muffled arguing, followed by a door slamming and the clicking of the lock, then -- silence. Ninque lay there, heart beating loudly, when suddenly someone grabbed her ankle. She gasped and tried to twist around to see who it was. A familiar pair of boots came into view and she began to struggle madly, groping for some handhold under her bed. "Why ever would you be hiding, my dear?" said a silky voice. "Prince," replied Ninque, momentarily giving up her struggles as she was pulled completely out from under the bed, "you also would be hiding if such a prank were pulled on you." Legolas burst into hysteric laughter at the sight of Ninque. Ninque started as a fierce banging began on her door, followed by the screaming voice of Tanie. Looking from the door to the smug face of the Prince of Mirkwood, the truth dawned on her. Legolas was not here on a visit of peace. Panicking, she flipped over and tried desperately to claw herself back under the bed.
"Come, my dear. Your public awaits." He said, bending down to haul Ninque to her feet. She kicked him hard in the shins, knocking him off balance and sending him crashing down on top of her.
Tanie beat furiously on the door, screaming at Legolas. She was so upset, she did not hear the footsteps nor the swish of robes come up behind her. "Erutanie!" Her fist froze in midair and she spun slowly around, only to come face to face with an angry Lord Elrond. "What is the matter with you the morning?" he asked, raising one eyebrow. Tanie's shock disappeared and she pointed at the locked door angrily, "Legolas locked himself in Ninque's room!" Elrond's other eyebrow shot upwards and his hand flew to a pocket where he kept a master key. He hurriedly unlocked the door and swung it open, shocked at the sight that met his eyes. Ninque, skirts awry and one sleeve falling off her shoulder, and the Prince of Mirkwood in a jumble on the floor. Elrond stood there speechless.
Tanie entered behind Elrond and gasped when she beheld her best friend pinned underneath the Prince of Mirkwood, who was trying to untangle himself from her dress. He finally scrambled to his feet, helping Ninque up beside him. "My Lord Elrond!" he gasped, his face turning bright red. "I can explain."
Tanie, however, was way beyond listening to the elf's pleas. "You...You..." she cried, marching up to him, fists clenched. She searched for a word that would accurately describe the miscreant. Unable to, she cocked back her fist and let fly.