“Elladan, wake up!”
Vaguely conscious of someone’s hand on his shoulder, roughly jostling him, Elladan became slowly aware of a blinding light piercing through the shadows of sleep in which he was emerged, and he blinked, throwing up a hand to shield his eyes as he slowly came back to the waking world, groggy and short-nerved.
“Elrohir, are you mad?” He groaned, shoving his younger twin’s arm aside, reducing the cruel glare of the bright lamp Elrohir carried as he sat on the edge of his older twin’s bed. Elladan glanced out his wide window into the starlit night beyond. A soft wind wafted in through the gauzy curtains, bringing with it, the scent of new spring blossoms. “It’s the middle of the night! What in all of Arda do you want?”
“What?” Elrohir returned, the lamplight casting off of his lean features, etched with mockery and sarcasm. “You’re not angry are you? Did I waken you from a sweet dream inhabited by none but you and a pretty maiden?”
“Shut that abomination of a hole in the middle of your face, until you are ready to tell me why you are here!” Fumed Elladan, lifting his head.
Elrohir, far from being intimidated, took in Elladan’s fuming, half sleepy countenance, and threw his head back in merry laughter.
“Elrohir!” Elladan burst, thrusting himself upward, and seizing the nearest object to which he could lay his hands upon, and drew his arm back, as if he intended to throw it.
With a squawk, reminiscent of a large, awkward bird, Elrohir leaped away from the edge of his brother’s bed, and ducked behind a wooden screen. His eyes held a delighted sparkle in them as he peered through the ribboned wood that had been carved to imitate weaving, trailing vines. It would not provide him adequate shielding, and would shatter like kindling, were Elladan to launch the prospective projectile he still held within his hand.
“Think of mother!” Elrohir cried in a voice that failed to hide his laughter. “That was one of hers, from Lothlórien!”
Elladan glanced at the small figure in his hand, an elven minstrel with a tiny harp in his motionless hands. With a groan of fury and frustration, he brought it down upon the wooden stand at his bedside with a resounding slam, where the small marble statue rocked dangerously, but then came to a shuddering halt, and stood still.
“Very well!” Elladan seethed through clenched teeth as his brother came smiling, out from behind the screen. “So tell me! What are you doing in my room, fully dressed, in the middle of the night?”
“Those tiny tadpoles in that little inlet at the bottom of the cliff?” Elrohir said in a soft voice, coming back to sit tentatively upon the edge of his brother’s bed again.
“What of them?” Elladan demanded, drawing his knees up, and resting his elbows wearily upon them.
“They’ve grown into little frogs. About this size.” Elrohir hissed in a low, secretive voice, holding his thumb and forefinger a mere finger’s span apart, to show the size of the small frogs. “Thousands of them.”
“Why in all of Arda and of all the Blessed Realm did you come to me in the middle of the night to tell me that, for?” Elladan groaned, letting his face fall into his hands, and shaking his head in despair.
“I’ve already collected a huge bag of them.” Elrohir breathed, pointing with his thumb over his shoulder toward the door of Elladan’s night darkened room. “They’re waiting just outside your door.”
“You abominable fool.” Elladan muttered, falling back against his pillow, and throwing one arm over his eyes. “Go back to bed.”
“And-,” Elrohir said in a low, wicked voice that caused Elladan to raise his arm and glance up at his brother, upon whose face had formed a sinister grin. “I checked Lalaith’s door.”
Elladan thrust himself upward again. “And?” He demanded.
Cocking one eyebrow mischievously, Elrohir finished, “She forgot to lock it.”
Lalaith shifted in her sleep, and sighed softly, where she lay upon her stomach, sensing within her fading dreams, that morning was coming. She furrowed her brow as she slept, staring out at nothing but her muted dreamscape. When had the voices of Elrohir and Elladan entered her dreams?
“What do you think you’re doing?” Elladan’s voice once again hissed. “What if Father catches you?”
“He won’t catch us if you stay quiet!” Elrohir’s voice hissed back.
“Us? There is no us!” Elladan grumbled. “I’m not the one who fetched those things! I’m not the one spreading them across the foot of her bed!”
“Yes, and you are the one who is reasoning with me to give up this mad venture.” Elrohir’s voice answered back. “How brotherly of you. And I speak most sincerely, for both myself and Lalaith when I say this.” Elrohir breathed a prolonged sigh of long-suffering. “You mean well, dear brother, but I think being the first born, has made you a bit stuffy. Remember, it has been over a century, since we tried this last. And that time, it was Arwen’s turn. It’s time we gifted Lalaith some new pets. She hasn’t gotten any since she was near five hundred. She’ll have no idea that it was us who were her benefactors.”
“Us? We? You confounded simpleton!” Elladan cursed. “There is no us! There is no we! Who else but Elrohir of Imladris would be so daring and may I add, stupid as to put frogs into the bed of Lalaith Elerrina, the Ward of Elrond, Lord of Imladris? You will be lucky if Father doesn’t massacre you-,”
Her cousins’ words, muffled by the fog of sleep, passed through Lalaith’s slumbering mind as of something entirely unimportant. Yet the word frogs shot a spark of alarm through her slumbering mind, and her fading dreamscape vanished like a mist before a wind, bringing the light of the morning suddenly into her eyes. And with a burst of sudden energy, she sat up.
In the blur of an instant, Lalaith took them both in, her two grown cousins, caught in their crime, their identical faces ashen with guilt as she gaped open mouthed at them and the tiny thumb sized frogs spread across the foot of her bed, a vast, hopping green mat of little legs, bodies, and yellow bulging eyes.
A moment later, the calm of the sleeping vale of Imladris, infused with soft morning light, and the peaceful calls of morning birds, was torn asunder by a shrill scream of fury and anger, the shrill piercing tones rivaling even the cry of the Nazgûl.
Legolas reined his cream white mount to a skittered, dancing halt in the courtyard within the arching gate of Imladris, and lifted his eyes upward toward the steep sloping roofs, and smiled. He had come alone, with no entourage, and his arrival was entirely unexpected.
His father, Thranduil, had suggested sending word ahead, so that lodgings would be ready for him, and servants would be waiting. But Legolas had insisted he go unannounced this time. He would finally catch a glimpse of what life was like in Imladris without the fanfare of royal arrivals, with everything in order and readiness. And most importantly, Legolas eagerly anticipated the look of surprised delight he was sure to see upon Lalaith’s face, when he came to her, unlooked for.
He closed his eyes momentarily, and breathed in the cool, fragrant scent of Imladris in the spring, and was glad he had come. He would come more often in the future, he promised himself. Thoughts of her face as he remembered Lalaith had been when they had been here together surrounded by the mists of the falls, set his heart to pounding fiercely, and he wondered again at the feeling as if his heart had taken sudden flight.
A piercing scream that echoed long off of the walls and the cliffs above him, brought his eyes open with a snap. A flock of cheerful, twittering birds in the tree nearest him, were as startled as he, and their happy avian speech was brought to an abrupt end as they took to flight, their many hundreds of wings beating at the air as they lifted out of the tree, and rose up and away, out of fear from the sharp, unexpected noise.
Whose voice had that been? Legolas wondered, his heart pounding again, but now out of uncertainty and fear as he stood in the stirrups and cast his eyes up toward the living quarters of Elrond’s house, from where the sound seemed to come. The echo had scarcely died away, when a new sound came to his ears coming again, from up beyond the balustrade that guarded the porch upon which the rooms of Elrond’s children, emptied.
“Come back here, you cowards!” A feminine voice screeched, fraught with wrath, followed by the sound of running feet, and men’s voices, one in laughter, and one pleading vehemently in protest.
His brow furrowed, Legolas’ jaw dropped slightly as he saw Elrohir, followed quickly behind by Elladan, come careening against the fluted balustrade, at the corner of the porch, as if they were running for their lives from some fearsome creature yet unseen, and had been unable to navigate the corner in their hurry.
“Come back here!” A voice Legolas could now vaguely identify as Lalaith’s, ripped again through the quiet of the air, and the two elven twins glanced behind them before they once again took to flight, their booted feet pounding down the portico. Soft slaps, as of bare feet, pursued mercilessly after them, and Legolas fell again against his mount’s saddle, at a complete loss as to what to make of such a clamor.
“Please, Lalaith!” Elladan’s voice begged breathlessly as the footsteps pounded along. “I had nothing to do with it! It was all Elrohir! By the Valar, I swear it!”
“Liar!” Lalaith’s voice, livid and unreasoning, screamed in return. “You’re both liars!”
The clattering of feet pounded down the stone steps, of the long stairway carved beyond the corner of the house, and Legolas waited with unsure trepidation, not knowing what to expect.
“I am no liar, sweet cousin!” Elrohir’s voice protested brightly, “For I deny nothing!”
He gasped amidst a bout of laughter. “Nor do I regret anything! The look upon your face when you awoke, Lalaith, with those frogs spread across your feet! Oh, sweet Elbereth!” Elrohir cried, choking on laughter, and fighting for breath in the same motion. “I shall savor that memory for as long as Arda endures!”
At this, Lalaith’s scream, impossible as it seemed, only increased in intensity. “Just wait until I catch you, you imbeciles! I’ll tear your hair out!”
And then the twins appeared, ducking beneath the low hanging branch of a tree as they came rushing toward Legolas, stopping in sudden shock as they saw him, still seated upon his mount, beneath the arching gate.
Elrohir’s face gaped in surprise, but Elladan’s took on sudden look of sheer panic, and he turned suddenly, darting back several steps, the way he had come.
“No, Lalaith! Stop!” He cried. “Go back to your room! You’re not properly attired for-,”
A figure slender and delicate, clad in a white, almost sheer sleeping gown, burst through the trees, and tackled Elladan to the ground with a cry of victory that died away into silence as her eyes lifted, took in the sight of Legolas, and filled with sudden terror.
“Ai!” She gasped, her face coloring a bright pink as she leaped to her feet and cast her eyes about, seeking for some way to escape his gaze.
“Here,” Elladan choked as he staggered to his feet, shrugged off his earth covered outer robe, and tossed it to his young cousin.
“Ai. Legolas had to come now.” Elrohir mumbled guiltily as if to himself.
Only as Lalaith hurriedly shrugged on Elladan’s heavy robe, much too large for her, over her thinly clad form, did Legolas once again come to his senses, and glance discreetly away.
“By all the powers of the Valar!” Thundered another familiar voice as Elrond came into view, fully dressed, though his hair hung about his shoulders unbound, as if he had only just risen from sleep, and dressed hurriedly. Arwen, also fully dressed, though her long dark hair hung in a tangled array about her shoulders and down her back, came behind her father, her mouth opening in silent amazement, her eyes growing large at the sight before her.
“I was beginning to think the valley was collapsing around us!” Boomed Elrond. “What business gives my own children cause to be making such a din, and in front of an honored guest?”
“Lord Elrond.” Legolas gulped, leaping from the saddle at last, and coming forward to offer the Lord of Imladris a low bow. “They are not to be faulted. Perhaps I should have sent word ahead-,”
“It is quite acceptable, as you are, Prince Legolas.” Elrond returned a nod to the Mirkwood Prince, then turned quickly back to his sons and Lalaith, taking in Elrohir’s guilt stricken expression, Lalaith’s incomplete attire, Elladan’s soil covered robe flung hurriedly about her small shoulders with much of its length trailing behind her in the dirt, and Elladan himself, as dirty as his robe. Elrond said nothing, but the three visibly quavered under his heavy gaze as his mouth pursed into a fine line, and one eyebrow lifted somberly.
“Pray tell, my sons and my dear niece, why-,” Elrond suddenly seemed at a loss for words as he gestured at the three of them, and their deplorable state.
A moment of silence passed. And then as one, the three of them broke into rapid words, each gesturing frantically at the others.
“Hold!” Elrond thundered, lifting a hand, and silencing the three of them.
Legolas gulped, his eyes finding Lalaith’s. Her glance moved over his momentarily, before a blush darkened her cheeks, and she glanced rapidly at the ground once again.
“Lalaith,” Elrond ordered with authority deepening his voice as Lalaith’s eyes darted up again, “speak.”
“They, they,” she spluttered, clutching Elladan’s robe to herself with one had as she waved her other accusingly at the twins, “they put frogs in my bed!”
Elrohir snorted on a chuckle at this, and shifted his stance, his eyes ever upon the ground, while Elladan shook his head furiously. “I had no part in it, Father!” He cried. “It was all Elrohir’s idea-,”
Elladan fell silent at a wave from his father’s hand. The corners of Elrond’s mouth twitched momentarily, giving Legolas the suspicion that he was withholding a smile, but it quickly faded.
“Therefore,” he said, his eyes firmly fixing upon Lalaith, “you felt you had been given just cause to race through Imladris in naught but your night dress?”
“They put frogs in my bed!” She wailed, to which Elrohir could no longer hold back, and burst out into peels of laughter, bending almost double as he clutched his ribs.
“We did nothing!” Elladan continued to insist, pointing frenetically at his twin. “Elrohir-,”
“I have not given you leave to speak yet, my first born.” Elrond seethed, glancing at his dirt covered eldest son.
“Father, Father, please.” Elrohir gasped through his laughter. “May I be granted permission to speak?”
Elrond eyed his gasping youngest son, red faced from laughter. Elrond drew in a deep breath. “If you can restrain your emotions, then yes.” He said in a quiet hiss.
“Do not fault them.” Elrohir chuckled, forcing himself to straighten, though tears of laughter were still streaming from his eyes, and bursts of uncontrollable bliss continued to erupt in short bursts from his lips. “Elladan and Lalaith both speak the truth. Elladan tried to convince me to give up the prank, and I provoked Lalaith. The entirety of the blame lies with me.”
“Indeed?” Elrond asked slowly, to which Elrohir slowly nodded, his smile fading as he gazed into the unwavering eyes of his father.
“Yes, Father.” Elrohir muttered in a voice that sounded more like the voice of a young Elfling, than of the mature man he was.
Elrond cleared his throat. “Arwen,” he said, turning to his dark haired daughter who came to his shoulder, “take Lalaith back to her room, and draw her a bath.”
“Yes, father.” Arwen murmured, then stepped forward, gesturing to her younger cousin who stepped toward her, clearly grateful to have her older female cousin near, from whom she could draw much needed sympathy. She allowed herself to be enveloped beneath Arwen’s comforting arm, and led quietly away. Legolas watched after her, but she did not glance back.
“Elladan, do the same for yourself.” Elrond ordered his eldest. “Retrieve your robe from Arwen once Lalaith is safe in her room, and see that it and your other clothes are thoroughly washed.”
“Yes, Father.” Elladan muttered with a bow, clearly relieved.
“And you, my second born son.” Elrond said with a sigh, turning on Elrohir as Elladan made a hurried exit.
Elrohir visibly gulped beneath his father’s gaze.
“You my son,” Elrond sighed, “may muck out the stables.”
The color rushed from Elrohir’s face. “But Father-,”
At a wave from Elrond’s hand, Elrohir fell silent. “And once you are finished, you too, may draw yourself a bath.” Elrohir made a low sound in his throat that sounded far from laughter, and began to turn away before Elrond added, “In fact, consider it an order that you bathe thoroughly once you have finished. For you will need it.”
Elrohir offered a half hearted nod, and began to tromp away in the direction of the stables, before Elrond called, “My son, you forget something.”
Elrohir turned weary eyes back to his father.
“The Prince’s horse.” Elrond nodded to Legolas’ cream white mount. “Give him the best oats and the crispest carrots.”
“Yes, Father.” Elrohir muttered flatly, and marched forward, catching the reins in his hands as he thumped heavily away in the direction of the stables.
“Elrohir.” Elrond called after him before his second son had disappeared down the trail that led to the stables.
“Thank you. For telling me the truth.” Elrond called after him.
Elrohir brightened a little at this, and turned his eyes back to his father, offered a small nod, and then turned forward again, and led Legolas’ mount beyond a tree blooming with young white blossoms.
“And now for you, my young prince.” Elrond said, turning now upon Legolas. “You are an unexpected, though not unwelcome surprise. Come. I will show you to a spare room.” At last a smile curved up the corners of Elrond’s mouth as he gestured with his hand, and Legolas willingly followed his lead as they turned aside, and mounted the steps up to a low, pillar lined porch. “It is good to see you so soon after your last visit. Lalaith, I am certain, though she did not show it, is glad to have you, as well.”
“I hope so, my lord.” Legolas murmured, tightening his jaw at the slim smile that Elrond threw over his shoulder at him. The sound of their boots were soft and muffled in the newly regained quiet of the valley.
“She is, I trust, the reason for your visit?” Elrond queried, and to this Legolas nodded, though slowly.
“Is there anything you wish to speak of, with me?”
“My father does send his greetings.” Legolas muttered hurriedly in response to Elrond’s thoughtful words, and he thrust forward toward him a rolled letter set with the seal of Thranduil.
“Ah, yes. Thank you.” Elrond returned, taking the letter into his hands, and thoughtfully pursing his lips as he studied it, lost in his own thoughts. “Your arrival was well timed. There is to be a feast tonight.”
“Indeed? ” Legolas breathed, sounding thoughtful, as if he had only now remembered it. “Ah, I remember now. Your Mid-Spring Festival.”
Elrond cast a thoughtful glance at the young Elf, but Legolas ducked his head, fearing that Elrond would guess that he had known the day of the Festival all along, and had thus intentionally timed his arrival.
A soft laugh rose from Elrond’s lips, and Legolas glanced swiftly up, fearing that the Lord of Imladris had guessed at his charade. But he was not looking at the young Mirkwood Prince, and was staring off ahead along the path upon which he was leading the young Elf. “Did you see their faces?” Elrond muttered softly, another soft laugh breaking forth from his lips. “My sons, and Lalaith?”
Legolas smiled at the memory. “Like little Elflings caught in the midst of a prank.”
At this, Elrond stopped upon the path, and bent his head, chuckling heartily. “Like Elflings.” He echoed, and shook his head, his laughter fading to a smile. “How Celebrian would laugh.”
Elrond sighed, and glanced away, his lips pursing as another thought entered his mind, and he asked, almost seriously, “You do not think less of Lalaith for this childish discrepancy, do you?”
“Not at all, my lord.” Legolas assured him as the two men began walking again. “If anything, I only love her all the more for it.”
At his words, Elrond cast a sharp glance back at him, and Legolas found himself suddenly groping for words.
“As Elladan and Elrohir love her, as if they were her own brothers.” He managed to stammer, relieved that he had not choked upon his words.
“They do, though, like brothers, they would be loath to admit it aloud.” Elrond sighed. “Yet your friendship with her is a thing apart. Its like I have rarely seen.” The Lord of Imladris stopped fully now, and turned to Legolas, searching his eyes with a thoughtful gaze. “You are good for her, Legolas. She merely has but to speak of you, and her whole countenance brightens.”
“I pray that is so, for she is good for me as well, my lord.”
“Indeed.” Elrond murmured thoughtfully, glancing away as if at some distant scene that brought him a memory of something hopeful before he glanced again into Legolas’ eyes. “I am glad of that.” Elrond smiled. “Come.”
And as the Lord of Imladris turned and continued along the portico, Legolas followed, silently musing over Elrond’s words.