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The Scruff Factor  by JastaElf

Author's Note:

I wish to profoundly apologize for the length of time it has taken me to update, nay to complete, this little tale of silliness and rampant Elvish insanity. Real Life™ hit me in a big way; the job I did at last find turned out to be one of Those Sorts of Jobs™ that so often crop up in the software and systems engineering world: VERY Busy and Needful of Attention. Then there were Real World commitments of time, and the end result was that I was at my desk by 6:30 in the morning, often getting home rather late, and then having to tend to Everything Else in Life before dropping into bed as heavily as the righteous dead at about 10 PM in order to start all over again.

But here at last is the Sixth and Final Chapter of The Scruff Factor, for which you have all waited so patiently since April... as always, many thanks to my fearless beta, al. More fic will be coming on the heels of this, including an update of "Dark Leaf" on the Other Site mentioned in my author bio, but please don't look for DL 16 until its birth is announced, for it will be long and dark and angsty, and is not quite finished yet.

Thanks for waiting; now please buckle yourselves into the restraining devices, and remember that the Elves in the overhead compartments can be used as flotation devices, should we have to forcibly make a landing over open water. Thank you for flying Gwaihir Airlines, and have a great trip! (grin)


Scruff Factor, Part the Sixth: The Return of the Prince



Earlier, in Rivendell....


Silinde of Mirkwood was not having a good morning. Oh, he considered himself as good a tracker as the next Elf--as long as the next Elf was not the finest of King Thranduil's foresters--but tracking Prince Legolas through a strange venue was not his idea of a good time. He had had good times--fine meals with excellent wines; a day of horseback riding on a fine mount through the loveliness of Greenwood the Great; hours spent in the company of his lover; you name it, he had had good times, and knew one when he experienced one.

This was not a good time. And Galdor was not making it any better.

Ever since the two of them had heard Elladan's outcry of Thranduilion, gerin le si! the previous evening, Silinde and Galdor had been roaming about Imladris--in the dark, mind you, never a happy idea when one has not the slightest idea of where, precisely, one might be going!--and had yet to discover hide nor hair of the Prince they had been sent to protect and keep out of trouble. King Thranduil had been specific--most nerve-wrackingly specific, in point of fact--that he would be rendering his advisors into the most unenviable and painful of physically impossible configurations should any harm befall the adorable bundle of innocence that was his youngest son.

Innocent my eye, Silinde thought darkly, turning to glare as Galdor came slipping down the riverbank behind him yet again, nearly toppling them both into the water. That Elfling is about as innocent as Thranduil was at that age, and we all know how innocent he was...

A sudden and terrible thought occurred to Silinde. Galdor was only able to avoid ploughing into his back by a swift and graceful turn at the last moment, when the other stopped dead in his tracks, staring off into the distance.

"What is it?" Galdor demanded. Silinde turned eyes filled with horror upon his compatriot.

"He did this to get back at us, you know," Silinde announced, poking Galdor in the chest with one long, pale finger. "For all those times when he got into trouble and we did not, because we were behaving and minding our keepers as Elflings ought--"

Galdor looked confused. "I beg your pardon," he murmured, stepping decorously away from Silinde just in case the Elf went entirely mad, right here in the middle of Imladris. "Who, he? I mean, of whom are we speaking? Who did what to get back at us?"

"Thranduil, of course," Silinde practically snarled. "He knows it is about as likely for Prince Legolas to stay out of trouble as it is for roosters to actually make Anor rise, which is to say, impossible and rather feathery to boot. He sent us here with instructions to keep his Elfling out of trouble to get back at us! It has to be so."

"Why?" Galdor demanded. "Because you say so? And anyway, Legolas is not an Elfling. He is nearly five hundred years old, well past his majority, and a fine young warrior in the bargain. Roosters simply do not enter into it. Not in the slightest."

Silinde looked at him as if he had just sprouted feathers out of his forehead. "This should be clear to the veriest dunce," he announced.

Galdor snorted. "Which would explain why it is clear to you," he shot back, and turned with great majesty to head back toward Elrond's house. Silinde had little recourse but to follow, grumbling all the way. They eventually found themselves outside the door to their Prince's guest chamber--from which, to their amazement, the sound of laughter and splashing could be heard issuing forth.

"He's been here all along?" Galdor exclaimed, stunned. Silinde shook his head decisively.

"Of course not. We checked right after dinner--"

"We missed dinner," Galdor was at some pains to point out, and with a great deal of asperity. "We have been wandering Imladris all night, 'doing our duty' as you said. And now we discover that the youngster was right here all along--now he's clearly having a bath with someone or other for company--"

They stared at one another in sudden shock, mutual antipathy disappearing precipitously in the face of what might be happening within. A passer-by would have been able to read it in their wide-open, stunned eyes: their young, unwed, impressionable Prince was in his bathing chamber with someone, splashing about and laughing! In Imladris, no less, under the roof of Elrond, a Noldor lord of great power and prosperity-- a Noldor, dear and blessed Valar, a Noldor, and everyone knew what sorts of things went on in Noldor households....

It did not occur to either of them to knock. As one they charged into the chamber; as one they stared in mounting dismay at the sight of clothing--male and female clothing at that!--flung every which way across the floor-- a bed that looked as if Orcs had been rampaging on it, with coverlets, sheets and pillows flung every which way-- and from within, out of the bath chamber, the sounds of infernal splashing, giggling, and male laughter.

"Prince Legolas? Your highness--are you all right?" Silinde shouted, in tones of great dismay and concern. Silence fell with a great whacking thud in the next room, closely followed by a smothered giggle, as if someone were covering their mouth. Moments later a rather significantly damp Legolas poked his disordered blond head around the doorpost. He stared with regal disdain at the two councilors.

"Can I help you?" he demanded, in singularly icy tones that would have done his father credit on a particularly bad day. Both Elves swallowed audibly; Galdor actually went so far as to bow, hand to heart, as deeply as he would have done had Thranduil himself been present.

"Your majesty--ahh, err, highness, I--umm--beg your pardon for the interruption," he murmured, scarcely daring to look up. "But we were concerned for your welfare, you see--"

"For what reason?"

Galdor blinked. Silinde swallowed again.

"For--what reason, your highness? I fear I do not understand--"

"For what reason," Legolas repeated, frostily enough that one might begin looking for ice crystals on the pleasant autumnal air, "were you concerned for my welfare?"

The two glanced sidelong at one another. "Uhh--well, we--did not see you at dinner," Silinde began, wincing as he remembered they had not been at dinner to be able to see him. Legolas clearly remembered as well, and narrowed his eyes at them.

"I am a guest in the House of Elrond," he informed them, stalking forth from the bathing chamber, clad only in leggings--damp ones at that--and looking nerve-wrackingly regal for all his dishabille. "I am here as a representative of my lord father and you somehow think my welfare would be under threat? I am shocked, do you hear me? Shocked and dismayed, that you two--of all Elves!--would think such a thing. You have known me all my life, my lords, and know I would never do anything that would call into question my father's honour. I demand your apology this instant!"

"But your highness!" Silinde protested. "I--that is to say, we--heard giggling in there!" And he leveled a slightly trembling hand toward the looming Portal to Perdition that was the bathing chamber. Legolas looked down his regal nose at them and laughed scornfully.

"Of course you heard giggling in there. It is a bathing chamber, and one frequently has cause to giggle in bathing chambers." He pointed toward the door through which they had just burst with such vigour. "Now get out of here and get dressed for the Council. We have barely two hours before it begins!"

They hesitated, staring at one another in astounded confusion. Legolas upped the ante, taking a deep breath and bringing forth an impressive Thranduil-like bellow:


Galvanized into action, Silinde and Galdor beat a hasty retreat, only just barely remembering to bow before disappearing into the corridor. The door slammed shut; Legolas stood there for a moment longer, staring angry-eyed at the offending space, then he huffed in piqued amusement and dusted his hands together.

"There. That's that!" he exclaimed, and went back into the bathing chamber.

Waiting for him, clinging to one another and smothering giggles and snorts, were Arwen and Aragorn. The would-be King of Gondor was garbed only in a towel, to which he clung for dear life; Arwen wore a simple house-gown, which clung to her in all the best ways, as it was quite entirely wet. The chamber itself told the rest of the story: a half-filled bathing pool bedecked with fast-fading bubbles, and much water that ought to have been in the pool was instead puddled all over the floor. Wet towels and washing cloths were all over the place in little sodden heaps, and just about everything that had been on a shelf or a windowsill was on the floor in varying stages of wholeness. Legolas leaned against the doorpost and raised an eyebrow at the chortling couple.

"I'm afraid I enjoyed that a bit too much," he confessed. "Channeling Ada is actually rather amusing!"

"And you do it so well!" Arwen informed him, dissolving once more into hilarity. She attempted to draw herself up to full height, but only partly succeeded; clinging to Aragorn's dripping arm, she said through snorted giggles, "One frequently has cause to giggle in bathing chambers!" Then she completely lost her dignity, collapsing to the floor in a sopping little heap of her own, laughing uproariously.

"Yes, what was that?" Aragorn insisted, laughing as he attempted to keep a hold on his towel and help Arwen up at the same time. He ended up on the floor beside her for his pains, and both of them dangled their feet into the cooling water of the pool. "How exactly does one come to frequently have cause to giggle in bathing chambers, Legolas?"

"When one has pulled off a masterful coup upon two friends who really ought to know better by now, of course," Legolas informed them equably, and ducked back out of the chamber for a pair of unsullied towels, miraculously still dry. He tossed one to each of them. "I speak of the Twins, of course, not of you two."

"Oh, of course," Arwen giggled, and buried her face in the towel, choking back torrents of amusement. "They're going to hunt you down like a dog after this!"

"Considering the job they've done hunting me down so far," Legolas scoffed, "it would be less than accurate of me to say I am trembling in my boots."

He turned to Aragorn with a sweeping bow. "Would your majesty care to come see the clothing we've picked out for you?" he asked deferentially, eyes glinting with devilry. He took a wet towel right in the face, but it was all part of the Plan: the better to lull Aragorn into a false sense of security, and thus have a greater chance of actually getting him cleaned up for the Council meeting. One entirely trashed bathing chamber and a single towel to the face was more than price enough to pay for such a thing!

"I wonder where they are now," Aragorn said, as he hauled himself up onto his feet and graciously assisted Arwen to rise as well. Legolas bowed them out of the chamber and followed at leisure, grinning.

"I daresay they'll show up eventually," he murmured. "Come now, sit down so I can give you a shave and trim your beard. We really do only have about two hours."

"But I shaved yesterday!" Aragorn complained, glancing aside from where Arwen was showing him the handsome clothes laid out on Legolas's bed. The prince gave him a look that would have made Sauron cringe; the Ranger-King of Gondor put up placating hands and backed away. "All right, all right--I'll shave again, just promise you won't kill me!"

"I promise nothing," Legolas said, and advanced on him with razor in hand.


Later, elsewhere in Rivendell....


Elrond of Imladris stared down at his filthy, sodden sons.

"Yes, indeed I believe I would kill you both, and that right cheerfully," Elrond growled. "Fifteen minutes until Council begins, and you two show up like this? What have you been up to? What is the meaning of this? Answer me!"

Twin looks of despair and frozen astonishment were instantly enshrined upon the matched faces of Elladan and Elrohir Elrondion as they gazed upward. They were shocked by the extent to which good fortune had deserted them, such that (of ALL beings!) they should come to be met in this less-than-enviable state by the triple threat of Elrond, Glorfindel, and Erestor. The trio on the stairs, for their part, gazed back in silence, waiting for a response to Elrond's testy commentary.

The silence protracted painfully. Elrond's annoyed calm remained as undisturbed as the imperturbable vault of heaven, whilst Erestor and Glorfindel surveyed the matched set of wreckage before them with varying degrees of amusement and patrician disgust. (Well, truth be told, the amusement was mostly on Glorfindel's part, whilst the disgust was Erestor's purview--but then, they had been honing those skills a great deal longer than the Twins had been alive.) The sound of dripping mud and mucky water only made things worse.

"Well?" Elrond asked at long last, in tones of deep parental sarcasm, also honed over an Age and more. "Any last excuses before I remit you to Mandos?"

"Well--uhh--nín hîr--"

"You see, Adar, we--"

"One at a time, if you please," Elrond cut in rather evenly. The Twins stared at him in dismay, then turned and stared at one another. Something passed between them, and they turned in unison to look upward at the trio, with perfectly matched expressions of bemused, ruptured innocence.

"It was Legolas, Ada," Elladan announced, aggrieved beyond bearing. His lower lip quivered slightly. "He caused this mess!" Elrohir nodded vehemently in agreement, scattering daubs of mud everywhere from the ends of his dark locks. Glorfindel snorted in disdain; behind Elrond, Erestor held out a hand to the golden-haired seneschal.

"Your forfeit, if you please," he murmured, deadpan and yet quite smug. Glorfindel sighed and handed over the required item, a pouch of softest deerskin gorgeously beaded and embroidered in muted colours highlighted by threads of gold and mithril. The Twins looked shocked and annoyed.

"You were wagering on us?" Elrohir demanded, eyes narrowing dangerously. "Why, pray tell? And to what end?"

"If I understand them aright," Elrond said, in a quiet, ironic drawl that clearly meant serious trouble, "they were wagering on whether you would admit your own fault in the nonsense that has been practiced in my halls these past several days--or whether you would attempt to shunt the blame onto some other person. I believe you can figure out the rest from there."

"Oh," Elrohir commented, and had the grace to blush. Elladan, on the other hand, was in no such mood of surrender; he braced his mud-bedecked feet and placed hands on hips, a brief expression of disgust crossing his face as his hands contacted soiled, soggy suede on both sides.

"Well--as far as I am concerned, it was the fault of Legolas," he exploded in righteous wrath. "From the moment he arrived here his only thought was to get poor Estel out of his clothes and into hot water--"

"Elladan," Elrohir exclaimed warningly, eyes widening as he realized just how such a declaration might be taken. But his elder Twin was, as they say, on a roll; stopping him now would have been about as easy as attempting to prevent empty wine barrels from sailing down the ramp toward the river in the undercroft of King Thranduil's caverns, and probably about as painful. With a sense of familiar foreboding, the younger brother stepped back a pace and paid out enough rope that Elladan might metaphorically hang himself.

"And why, pray tell, would Legolas wish to get Estel out of his clothes?" Elrond asked evenly, his luminous grey eyes narrowing in a way that had, from time to time over the centuries, made Orcs and Uruk-hai decide to slit their own throats and save themselves the trouble.

"Because Númenorean royalty have a scruff factor built into their genetics," Elladan huffed, unmindful of the looks of astonishment this announcement received, "and anyway, Estel almost never remembers there are more important things than snogging on the Bridge, and there are visitors here from Gondor, and he really ought to look as if he is royalty, even if he isn't acknowledging it, because it is just shameful the way he shows up everywhere unbathed and messy and unshaven and looking as if he slept with a cave troll!"

Elrond's mind had temporarily taken a quick trip sidewise down That Road at the concept of Estel and anyone snogging on the Bridge, especially given that, under the circumstances, the Lord of Imladris had a far too accurate idea of who the focus of that snogging might be. However, as he pondered these things and kept them in his suddenly rapidly-beating heart, Erestor and Glorfindel had not missed the remainder of the rant. Glorfindel was doubled over laughing, his fair face pink with the effort to breathe; Erestor looked as if he might like to commit some similar act, but was just too dignified to give in. Elrohir just covered his face with both soiled hands and shook his head from relative safety.

"Of the three sons of Elrond whom I have seen this day," the steward said with pardonable pique, "Estel is not the one I would have accused of sleeping with a cave troll. You two, on the other hand...."

Erestor did not need to finish the comment, nor did anyone else, for both Twins suddenly found the damp and soiled floor between their collective feet to be much easier to look upon. Glorfindel, on the other hand, was not planning on letting either Elf off quite so easily.

"Estel looks every inch the king he is and of a right ought to be," the seneschal hooted, taking in great gulps of breath to steady himself from the gales of amusement. "It is his brothers who look as if they not only slept with cave trolls, but possibly snogged them as well, in the mud somewhere near a river, where the ground is particularly mossy and pungent! Do you two realize there are barely ten minutes until your father's Council begins?"

"Where, one might add, the fate of Ennor will be discussed?" Erestor added, shaking his head sadly. "You cannot possibly think to show up there, looking as you do here!"

"No, they shall not," Elrond growled, and turned with a sweep of his handsome burgundy over-robe to head back inside and lead that self-same Council. "I want the two of you to go get into the bathtub this instant, and I do not wish to see either of you until you are far more presentable than you are at the moment. Is that clear? Do you understand me?"

Chastened, Elrohir nodded and murmured a shamefast "Yes, Adar." Elladan grumbled something under his breath. Elrond paused mid-step and turned, looking far more dangerous than either son had seen him look in quite some time. Their matched gulps were almost audible.

"Excuse me, Elladan? I did not quite catch that."

Elladan blushed crimson, staring at the ground. "It was unworthy of me, nín Adar," he muttered, in hopes he would not be called upon the repeat the comment. Elrond curved an annoyed eyebrow at him.

"And that unworthy comment was--?"

Elladan sighed. "I said, Legolas is a doe-eyed little Moriquendi git," he said, sounding distinctly put-upon. "And I said I'm going to get him for this."

"Legolas is barely any Moriquendi at all," Erestor sniffed. "His lord father is half Vanyar and half Sindar, and his mother--"

"Thank you, Erestor, that will do," Elrond said flatly.

"But Adar, you don't understand!" Elladan exclaimed, setting his feet right back into it, even as Elrohir simply gave up and headed toward the house, carefully choosing a way that would not have him encountering every summoned member of Elrond's Council as he went to clean up. "All we wanted was for Estel to clean up so he wouldn't look scruffy for your Council! Legolas got all odd and started talking about Plans, and you know how he can get, talking so that you can actually hear the capital letters in things--and then he maneuvered us into taking the fall for it, by getting us to mention his messiness--"

"Legolas's messiness?" Glorfindel exclaimed, as if such were a totally foreign concept (which of course it was). Elladan looked as if he wished he could explode on the spot.

"No, Estel's messiness! Really--Adar, if you had seen the look in his eyes, you would have known he wasn't sane--"

"I think I am miscalled," came a comment from off to one side, in tones of lilting pain and innocence. Elladan turned and leveled a finger at the speaker.

"You! You--you--"

"Doe-eyed Moriquendi git," finished Legolas Thranduilion, and came down the steps to stand next to Lord Elrond. His blue eyes, wide with astonishment, were all but brimming with embarrassment and pain--and a peculiarly devilish amusement, though he was careful to keep that well hidden from the imposing and annoyed Elf-Lord beside him. "Was that not the pejorative you pinned onto me? Elladan, I--I barely know what to think. You wound me, my friend, truly you do! I scarce know what to say."

Beside himself, Elladan stared at the Mirkwood Prince in open-mouthed, bemused astonishment. Legolas had clearly opted for the "Studly Wayfarer" look in preparation for the Council session, for he wore much the same outfit in which he had arrived the other day (though there was absolutely no doubt in Elladan's mind that said outfit had been cleaned within an inch of its life since then). The boots were immaculately brushed, and the leggings clung lovingly to every curve of Legolas's calves; the hem of his neatly tailored suede over-tunic peeked out from beneath the handsome cloak, shifting from a grayish-fawn to a curious overtone of silvery blue in the sunlight whenever the Prince moved. The hair of his head was immaculately combed and braided with the sidelock braids of a Mirkwood warrior, and the neat plait signifying his relationship to the House of Oropher hung down the back of his head in perfect order.

His face, of course, was the picture of wounded sweetness....

But what dropped Elladan's jaw in amazement was the vision of courtly, Manly regality standing beside him. From the top of his washed and combed hair (every strand perfectly in place, with a neat and comely curl just slightly threading throughout), to the immaculately trimmed beard, to the silken black velvet and mithril-embellished damask of his tunic, to the perfectly fitted leggings and the handsomely turned boots, Estel--no, Aragorn, son of Arathorn!--was turned out in a manner perfectly befitting a Human King of Gondor-in-exile, yet with a style and flair that bespoke his Elven heritage in a manner calculated toward understatement. The outfit had the marks of Legolas all over it, though Elladan suspected the Prince had gotten some of his ideas from a certain deeply prejudiced sister.

Aragorn, bless his heart, was completely guileless; one hand came up to the neck of the handsome tunic, and he stared at his brother in dismay. "Is something wrong?" he asked anxiously. "Do you not like this choice of attire? Legolas and Arwen both said--"

"Oh yes, I daresay they did," Elladan growled, casting a very Elrondesque look of 'later for you!' at the Mirkwood Prince. Driven snow could not possible have looked as untouched and innocent as Legolas appeared in that instant, and Elladan could have sworn he batted his dark lashes. "Nay, Estel, the outfit is perfect. You look--astonishingly well-groomed and every inch a masterful Man. My congratulations."

Aragorn glanced sidelong at Legolas and grinned. "Thank you, nín mellon," he murmured. "I could not have done it without you and Arwen."

"Oh, you probably could have done," Legolas murmured graciously. "But I was glad to assist. You are entirely welcome!"

Elrond crooked a finger at Prince and Ranger. "Come along, you two--we do not want to keep everyone else waiting," he said, in his best command tones. "Elladan--go clean up. Now." He swept regally past and disappeared into the House, heading for the place appointed for the Council meeting; Erestor and Glorfindel followed in his wake, the seneschal pausing to wink conspiratorially at Legolas as he passed. Elladan did not miss the interplay; he stalked up the stairs toward the Prince of Mirkwood, and death was in his eye. It complimented rather well the twigs and mud and dirt in his hair....

"You tricked me, Danwaith!" the elder Twin growled, leveling a finger at Legolas. The Prince gazed guilelessly at him.

"I never did anything of the sort, you cloth-eared idiot," Legolas scoffed with a grin. "I neither said nor did anything that I did not tell you straight out I would do. If you chose to not hear me, then how is that my fault?"

"Neither said nor did"-- Elladan looked as if he were ready to have some sort of stroke. "How--what--you cannot say that!"

"I just did," Legolas pointed out, smiling sweetly. Then he leaned in toward the elder Elf, challenge leaking from every pore of him. "Tell me one thing--just one!--that I said I would do, or said I would not do, then failed to keep my word."

"You said you had a Plan to neaten up Estel, so he would not be all scruffy for the Council!" Elladan accused.

"So I did," Legolas agreed cheerfully. He placed one hand on Aragorn's shoulder, and gestured expansively with the other. "And so I have done; just look at him! Is he not clean, neat, tidy even, and dressed every inch as one would expect a King to be? Is he not, then?"

The Ranger struck an heroic pose, one hand fisted on his hip, the other clutching at the hilt of his battle-tested sword. Elladan swore harshly in Khuzdűl, something he and others of his generation had happily copied from their elders as just exactly the right language in which one could curse and make every nuance of the annoyance understood (although Thranduil Oropherion had long since insisted his language of choice for such things was Rohirric, and if one swore fast enough and angrily enough in it, it was impressive...). There was no way around it: he had to admit Legolas had come through with flying colours in terms of Aragorn's appearance.

"Well--but--then what was all that nonsense about you having a Plan, and everything was going exactly as you wished it?" Elladan growled. Legolas was at some pains not to laugh in his face.

"Were you intellectually present at the conversation we all had after dinner last night?" he asked, chortling. "You even went so far as to ask me whose side I was on--do you recall what I replied?"

"I do," Aragorn said with a grin. Elladan scowled at him.

"I do not know," he snarled. "Something about--"

He paused, face blank, and stared at Legolas as if he were seeing him for the very first time ever, and had no idea what to make of the apparition before him. The terrace conversation replayed itself for several moments in his mind's ear; he was oblivious to the fact that Legolas and Aragorn both, eyes glittering with barely-checked amusement, were tracking the memories as they played out across their comrade's face....

"Silly boy," Legolas chuckled. "Little do you realize! Did you not mark how the assumption was all on you two? Not a smitch of suspicion rests on my golden head, thank you very much, and he himself gave me leave to pick his clothes."

A look came into those calculating blue eyes, then, and it occurred to Elrohir that Sauron himself might have access to such an expression when plotting something dire and terrible. "Nothing is suspected," said the youngest Prince of Mirkwood, staring off the way Aragorn had gone. "Everything is right on schedule."

"What in the name of the Valar have we unleashed here?" Elrohir asked, just a little nervously. Elladan gave a shrug of disdain, but his eyes were wary.

"I have an awful feeling I know precisely what we have unleashed," he replied, "and I think we will wait a long time in Mandos's Halls before we are forgiven for this. Legolas--I feel I needs must ask. What are you going to do to our brother?"

The son of Thranduil shortened his gaze back to the present time and place, and put on a look of unalloyed innocence. "Absolutely nothing," he said, and there showed nary a hint of dissembling that either of the Twins (past masters at dissembling if ever there were such a thing!) could see. "Why do you ask?"

"What are you going to do to our brother?" Elladan repeated, as if he walked in a dream.

"Absolutely nothing," Legolas said, giving him exactly the same response he had given at that time. "And absolutely nothing, at least in terms of what you were worried I might do, is precisely what I have done. I appealed to his better nature and got him to both bathe and shave twice in the same round of the sun; with Arwen's assistance I convinced him that he should dress like a Man and a King of Men but not overdo it, and not completely set aside his connection to the Firstborn."

The look on the younger Elf's face was pure, devilish smugness. "And the answer to my former question, nín mellon, is this: I am on my own side. Which I do believe I told you at the time, straight out and with no hint of dishonesty."

"And--the point of all this was--what?"

"To keep you and Elrohir out of Aragorn's hair--quite literally--until Arwen and I could repair his appearance," Legolas admitted without a second's hesitation. "And I think you must admit we succeeded rather admirably!"

Elladan raised his eyes to those of the Prince; one eyebrow curved up in ironic salute. "You misbegotten little Moriquendi git," he said, in tones approaching amused reverence.

"Excuse me, that was 'doe-eyed little Moriquendi git'," Aragorn pointed out, and placed a hand under Legolas's nearer elbow. "Come along then, Greenleaf; there is a world to be saved, and you and I need to be there."

Legolas grinned at him, and cast a glance back over one shoulder as they departed.



"You realize I fully expect you and Elrohir to retaliate, at some point," the Prince said, and had the temerity to wink at him.

Elladan fumed, but there was little help to be had for it: Legolas had gotten them fair and square (well, square at any rate, 'fair' was still a matter for discussion...) and there was no way out of it. He watched as Legolas and Aragorn disappeared back into the House; Elladan disconsolately shouldered his belongings and tromped after them, following Elrohir's muddy footprints toward the same aim of avoiding any councilors (especially the Naugrim!) along the way.

"Retaliate," he grumbled aloud to himself, blissfully unaware of the stares he was receiving from the servants as he passed. "I'll give him 'retaliate'--sweet-faced little Elfling that he is..."

But as he tromped, a nerve-wracking thought came to him: what if that was precisely what Legolas wanted to have happen? The Valar knew, he had more than proven over the last several days that he was as sneaky, tricky, and dangerous as ever his sire had been--if not moreso. What if Legolas wanted the Twins to retaliate because he had some further trap laid out for them, to further humiliate them? Suppose he had planned this all along, revenge for any of a number of small (but amusing) annoyances they had practiced on him over the centuries? Suppose--

"Suppose he has no such plan at all, but merely wants us to think he does!" Elladan exclaimed, slipping over to a balcony to glare down at the assemblage of Elrond's Council. He caught sight of Legolas, seated there as calm as you please a few chairs down from Mithrandir, smiling almost paternally at the handsome Ranger across the circle from him as the last latecomers arrived to take their places.

"Tricky little Wood-Elf," the elder Twin muttered, narrowing his eyes at the Mirkwood Prince. "You just wait until I figure out which way you'll jump with this--trap? No trap, just intellectual warfare? Just you wait--I'll figure it out! And then I'll have you right where I want you!"

Just at that moment, something said by young Baggins made Legolas laugh brightly, the pleasant sound carrying on the air as if in response to Elladan's expostulation. Growling and tracking mud, the son of Elrond disappeared into the connecting corridor and headed for his bedchamber for a change of clothes.

He slipped a hand into the pouch at his waist, in the attempt to see if any of his other belongings had suffered major damage. Fingers connected with something small and hard; Elladan drew forth the little mithril hair ornament shaped like a blue-eyed squirrel, and suddenly his lips curled into a grin. The beginnings of a Plan of his own were taking shape in his fertile imagination....

"Thranduilion, gerin le si!" Elladan murmured, this time careful to keep his voice down. "I'll get you yet...."



(Yes, there will be an epilogue. Who will win? Will the Twins get revenge, or will Legolas be already waiting for them around that corner when they turn it? Tune in soon and see...)


'Thranduilion, gerin le si!' = Son of Thranduil, I have you now! (A remark made in an earlier chapter, which Elladan has already had numerous occasions to regret...)
Adar = Father
Ada = Daddy
Danwaith= an old name for the Nandor Elves
Naugrim = Sindarin term for the Dwarves as a race

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