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Legolas felt his ears burn as the Lady’s cool starlit gaze inspected him. It had been many years – centuries – since anyone had been able to make him square his shoulders and stiffen his spine, ready to endure the kind of scarification at which his adar had specialised during his reckless adolescence, and he was amazed that the elegantly ethereal Galadriel could achieve it with no more than a look.
Experience told him that silence would be the wisest response – requiring the Lady to state her displeasure in simple terms – but, somehow, the whirling constellations that sparkled in her eyes rendered him unable to act wisely.
‘You cannot have wanted me to allow my offspring – and theirs – to pick up that kind of language!’ he protested, knowing, even as he spoke, that his argument would not melt the frost on her face.
‘It never occurred to you,’ she enquired coolly, ‘to mention to my daughter or her husband that you intended to reveal something that had remained unspoken over more than twice your lifetime?’ She allowed Legolas to shift uncomfortably, reverting unconsciously to the status of a naughty elfling. ‘Despite your presence in Imladris, when I daresay you heard both Elrond and Glorfindel speak to Gimli and his father in their own tongue? Despite Gimli’s keeping of the confidence? Or had you, perhaps, not thought your friend intelligent enough to play a game with my grandsons?’
A flash of temper ignited in the usually amiable prince, smouldering in his veins like a fire in peat. His eyes narrowed. ‘A cruel game, my lady,’ he declared, refusing to wilt under her stare, ‘to make your grandsons look foolish for your entertainment.’
‘In whose eyes were they foolish?’ she retorted, a hint of colour tinting her cheekbones. ‘None knew save those whose care for them is beyond dispute!’
Legolas lifted a haughty eyebrow. ‘If Gimli knew of their – errors – then I am certain he cannot have been the only one. Their avoidable ignorance exposed your grandsons to the mockery of many whose derision would, I thought, have been unwelcome.’
‘Gimli Elvellon was the only dwarf in their lifetime to associate freely enough with elves to hear their words,’ she retaliated, ‘and he had enough sense to keep his discovery to himself!’ The sparks in her eyes sharpened to daggers before she sheathed them with obvious deliberation. ‘It has long been a family jest,’ she snubbed him, ‘that has now been spoiled.’
‘A jest, my lady,’ Legolas said courteously, ‘requires all parties to share in the amusement. I do not consider this to have been a jest.’
Galadriel caught herself opening her mouth to explain that the game had, in the end, had more to do with their grief for the twins’ naneth than with her grandsons themselves, but clenched her teeth. Her intention was to bring this ellon to a sense of his own folly – not to apologise to him for something that was none of his business. She shrugged. ‘You have created a situation that will take much unravelling,’ she said accusingly.
‘I, my lady, have created nothing,’ Legolas replied. ‘The situation is – and probably always has been – far more complex than you would allow. It has long since passed any definition of a family joke.’ He met her eyes resolutely. ‘I am sure that my children are not the only elflings to have absorbed elements of your grandsons’ vocabulary,’ he said. ‘And I do not intend – either for their own dignity or for that of Aulë’s children – that they should make a habit of using words that are, to my mind, insulting to both races.’ His lips stretched in a tight, dangerous smile. ‘I think you might find, my lady,’ he added, ‘that Elladan and Elrohir’s vocabulary is in rather more extensive use than you might think. Gimli’s additions – and I think I knew him well enough to tell which they are – tend to be amusing rather than offensive, but I have heard warriors and younger ellyn talking when they would not expect to be overheard by their lords and commanders – or their naneths and sisters – and I can assure you that this is not an isolated problem.’ His smile widened. ‘You could, I suggest, start by asking Lord Celeborn to speak to Haldir. The conversation might prove illuminating.’
He bowed with finality and withdrew, leaving Galadriel unexpectedly disconcerted.
‘That,’ Celeborn grinned from behind her, ‘did not go as you had expected.’
Galadriel turned swiftly, assuming her usual mask of serene control. ‘I do not know what you mean,’ she asserted.
Her husband laughed. ‘It is a very long time,’ he said appreciatively, ‘since I have seen anybody speak to you in that way. And even then, it took someone of Elu’s authority to stun you to silence. I am surprised that Thranduil’s son had it in him to face you down.’
‘So am I,’ she admitted. ‘Astounded. He is little more than an elfling himself.’
‘Ah.’ Celeborn took her hand, using his thumb to massage her palm. ‘But he had the advantage of being right, my love. We should never have kept this from the twins for so long. And,’ he added ruefully, ‘it would seem that Elladan was right in saying that their words have had a wider influence than I had ever suspected.’
Galadriel sighed. ‘We cannot,’ she remarked, ‘re-educate every elf of Arda who has picked up our grandsons’ less savoury vocabulary. Not without making public how they were deceived in the first place.’
‘It may not be as bad as all that,’ her husband reflected. ‘Legolas is not, after all, fluent in the dwarves’ language. Khuzdul is not an easy tongue to pronounce – and the twins have generally used it when under stress. If Haldir’s example is anything to go by, then not all those who have adopted the terms are saying anything that would be recognised by the average dwarf.’ He combed his fingers through her hair, pushing it back over her shoulder. ‘Or even,’ he added, ‘by the most exceptional dwarf. I am not saying that what he repeated was any better, mind you, just that much of it bore little relationship to a recognisable language. If we are very lucky, my love, our grandsons might yet find the outcome of this situation entertaining enough to forgive us our oversight.’
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