Scruff Factor, the Epilogue:

Elf Eye for the King Guy, or

A Squirrely Evening in Old Imladris

Later that same evening...

The Hall of Fire was not entirely a happy place on the evening following Lord Elrond's astonishing Council session. Of course everyone was present -- mostly because it seemed as if that were the proper thing to do, all things being considered as equal. This made for a VERY crowded Hall, full of tense people of one race or another, all anxious over the upcoming Quest and those chosen to represent each group among the Free Peoples. That was reason enough for Prince Legolas Thranduilion, Estel Aragorn Strider Thorongil Dúnadan "Hey You!" Elessar son of Arathorn, Arwen the Evenstar, and her erstwhile brothers Elladan and Elrohir Elrondion to make their way back out onto the fateful balcony where they had been the previous night, before a Great Many Things Had Happened. Or something like that.

Legolas was in a perilously good mood, given that he had promised to go tromping about the wilds of Ennor with a motley band of adventurers -- one of them bearing the infamous One Ring of Sauron, no less -- and all without having said a thing to his august father. He had absolutely no doubt Silinde and Galdor were sitting in their rooms at this very moment trying to figure out how to accomplish this task themselves without having said august Elven-king hand them their Elfhoods and attached dangly bits on mithril salvers. But to Legolas's way of thinking it was a good couple of months before they were due to set out -- more than time enough to find the right words to wheedle Ada.

Arwen Undómiel and Aragorn (etcetera) were in each other's company, and therefore were about as happy as two beings could possibly be. The Twins, on the other hand, were doing an intricate dance of silent, smirking I told you sos and equally silent, scowling shut UP Elrohir!s, and so were not really very happy at all. Legolas decided it was his duty to fix this.



"Are you still fuming over last night and this morning?" the Prince asked, affecting driven-snow innocence as only he could do.

Elladan, his appearance dramatically mended from the disasters of earlier in the day, dipped his chin and gazed with calm disdain upon the younger Elf. His expression clearly broadcast that it would amuse him greatly to dismember the son of Thranduil by slow degrees and re-assemble him backwards, just because he could, but that it would require WAY too much effort to do so. Given that Elladan was once again meticulously garbed as a proper Elf-Lord, he did indeed look quite formidable. He wore a handsome robe of several different weights and textures of silk, all in variants of Imladris blue. A gorgeously embroidered cincture of black velvet was tucked about his trim waist, and was echoed in the sleeveless over-robe of midnight-blue velvet lined in sky blue, the whole decorated with exquisite burn-out work edged in mithril piping and probably worth the ransom of an entire Gondorian village. With his carefully-groomed hair now restored to its shining, raven-wing-black perfection of braids, mithril beads and discreetly braided-in ribbons, he was almost a rival for Elrond himself.

"Fuming? Heavens no, dear Legolas, I am doing nothing of the sort," he murmured, his voice flat and expressionless, clearly conveying the contents of his thoughts in a way nothing else could do. Legolas raised both eyebrows and widened his blue eyes, blinking slowly with all the guile of a sweet little fawn in the forest. Perched as he was on the wrought-iron railing of the balcony, knees drawn up, arms wrapped around those knees, and clad as he was, he looked easily half his age -- a mere two hundred and fifty if he was an hour --and Elladan was sure he was doing it on purpose.

The formal dining robe — a handsome confection of moss-green silk noile, backed with an ancient and incredibly tasteful wool challis woven in Silvan patterns older than Legolas's father by some years -- had been shed upon departing from the hall, leaving the lithe youngster clad only in a full-cut shirt of softest silk the colour of fresh cream, with the most cunning little mithril hook-clasps the Royal Family's favourite craftsmaster could fashion. It was cinched about his slender waist with a loose belt of beautifully carved leather dyed green to match the robe, with knotwork clearly based on Rohirric designs but with Elvish flair. There was also a pair of emerald-coloured leggings that lovingly hugged every curve of the Prince's well-turned legs, and a pair of soft house-boots, suede of an earthy chocolate brown embroidered with Elven designs in gold and mithril threads, completed the ensemble. But rather than looking every inch an emissary of his Elven-lord as he had at dinner, Legolas now gave the appearance of having escaped Thranduil's nursery.

"Do you honestly think that's going to work, Celair-Heneb?" Elladan asked now, leaning forward with arms crossed athwart his broad chest and addressing the adorable youngster with amused annoyance. Legolas contrived somehow to look several degrees more harmless by the simple metric of tilting his head slightly, like a startled bird on a branch.

"Do I think what is going to work?"

"This." Elladan waved an imperious hand at the whole of Legolas: attire, facial expression, posture and all. "I mean really, just look at you!"

Legolas brought one slender, long-fingered hand up to the centre of his chest as if he were checking to make certain his garment was properly closed. He glanced down at himself then back up at Elladan in some confusion.

"What?" he implored. "Did I spill something on my shirt at dinner? How very like you not to bother telling me!"

Elrohir snickered; Arwen and Aragorn affected to ignore all of them, but their eyes were suspiciously bright as they glanced away. Elladan scoffed.

"Give it up, Legolas, my sweet-faced little Danwaith," he growled with pleasant menace. "We're on to you, Elrohir and me."

Legolas turned the full force of his innocent demeanor on Elrohir, who, to be fair, had hardly ever been able to resist such blandishments ever since Legolas was an abominably cute toddler in leading strings. The younger twin put up both hands to ward off the attack, laughing cheerfully.

"Don't involve me in this," he begged. "I gave up. I've surrendered. Name whatever forfeit you wish, Legolas -- even if you want your silly little squirrel hair-clasp back, you can have it. I've had done with trying to work around you -- you're just too fast and too good."

"Squirrel -- hair clasp?" Legolas repeated, and the hand on his chest moved swiftly up to the end of his kin-braid at the back of his head. Finding something else there, the Prince's expression faded to one of astonished concern -- then he narrowed his lovely blue eyes at Elladan. "I would very much like to have that back," he purred in a dangerous tone.

Elladan chuckled. "I daresay you would, pen-tithen, I daresay you would! But that is the price little Elflings must pay, who sneak out at night to bedevil their elders!"

He held up the very object of their discussion between thumb and forefinger: Legolas's cunning little mithril squirrel hair clasp, sapphire chips for eyes, holding a miniscule bow and arrow in its forepaws.

"I have it right here, safe and sound," the elder Twin jeered happily. "In order to retrieve it you will have to find it after I have hidden it."

"Oh, that's rotten," Arwen protested at last, glancing up from Aragorn's lap. "Legolas's Naneth had that made for his tenth begetting day -- you know how much it means to him! Give it back, you great sore-loser bully!"

Elladan gave a snort of disdain. "I do not think so," he huffed. "After what this doe-eyed Danwaith has put me through over the last two turns of the sun, I think it only fair that I get some of my own back again."

"Some of our own, you mean," Elrohir suggested. His brother looked down his patrician nose at him and shook his head.

"I seem to recall that you have surrendered."


"You have no part in the vengeance," Elladan announced, pardonably ponderous. Legolas turned a twinkling look of devilry on Aragorn and Arwen.

"He sounds like Feänor when he does that, does he not? Yet he cannot even repeat his own words correctly." His announcement was interrupted by a yank at the back of his shirt, and the sensation of being hauled off the railing to dangle some inches off the ground. The Prince of the Greenwood uttered a slightly less than dignified "eeep!" and did not even bother to try turning to view his assailant. "Elladan -- put me down."

"What do you mean, I cannot even repeat my own words?" Elladan demanded, very close to his ear.

Legolas laughed cheerfully. "It's 'doe-eyed Moriquendi git', not 'doe-eyed Danwaith'," the younger Elf mocked. "And in any case, the son of Elrond has not been born that can out-fox a son of Thranduil. Learn that to your everlasting dismay and deal with it."

"Ai! Elladan, you have got to let me in on this!" Elrohir exclaimed, coming around to bracket Legolas between himself and his twin until the Sindar looked a bit like the filling of a Noldor sandwich. "You heard this insult! We must have our vengeance upon him!"

"There will be no vengeance-taking in Adar's house with all these distinguished guests about the place," Arwen insisted, rising to place hands on hips. "It would just not look well to the visitors if there were suddenly to be Elven blood spilled all over the place."

"Such faith you have in my ability to survive," Legolas retorted, squirming just enough that Elladan decided to let him down onto his own two feet again.

Arwen smirked. "Who said I felt it would be your blood, pen-neth?"

"Oh, that's cruel," Aragorn murmured, but he snickered as he spoke. Elladan lowered Legolas to the pavement; he was tall, but the Twins were slightly taller. Bracketing him now, they gazed down at him with amused disdain.

"We will hide the clasp—in a perfectly safe place, you may rest assured!—and you will have to find it," Elladan announced. "Once you have done so, we will consider all axes buried, as the Dwarves might say. No more pranks, no more tricks, no more hiding—and no more nonsense. But we will endeavor to make certain Estel remains a neat and tidy King-In-Exile for the duration. Agreed?"

"Duration?" Aragorn growled, coming to stand next to his beloved. "Last I heard, we had no plans to depart much before Yule-day."

All of the Elves—Arwen included—gazed at him in astonished pique. Aragorn looked startled, realizing precisely how his words might have been taken. He also realized that in a heartbeat he had created a united front among his Elven kindred—not necessarily a good thing, given the topic under discussion. He held his hands out before himself and endeavoured to look placating.

"I do not wish to imply I would consider going two months without bathing," he exclaimed soothingly, going to the heart of the matter as was his wont. "In point of fact, I would like to remind you all that I am quite happy to bathe often when I am home!"

"Often?" Arwen repeated, quirking an eyebrow in a way that left no doubt in anyone's mind whose daughter she was. "You call once or twice a week often?"

Aragorn was not above a bit of subterfuge if it meant taking himself out of the immediate limelight. He spread his hands to either side, palms up, and gave her his most earnest expression—a look he had perfected many years before when barely as high as Elladan's left knee.

"This is not about bathing, my love," he told her forthrightly. "I will bathe as often as needs be. This matter at hand, however, is about the honour of the House of Elrond. I cannot stand by as our brothers wreak havoc on diplomatic matters between us and the Greenwood by running off with heirlooms. In fact, I'm all for tackling them right this very second and restoring unto Legolas that which is his!"

He looked every inch as if he might just do that, too. Elladan stepped back a pace, narrowing his eyes; Elrohir actually moved one hand to his hip, where a sword usually rested, and seemed surprised not to find the weapon present. Blood might have been spilled that very moment, if by no other means than some foolish accident, had Legolas himself not spoken up.

"Nay, Estel, give over," the prince murmured in a thoughtful tone, taking the measure of each Twin in turn with his eyes—eyes that suddenly seemed much older than they had been mere moments before. "All is well, sidhe. I will agree to this piece of folderol."

"You will?" Elladan replied, turning on him like a cat after its own tail. "Splendid! I look forward to the chase!"

His brother, however, did not look quite so sanguine. "Why?" he asked, putting out a hand to restrain Elladan, looking rather strongly at Legolas. The prince stared back as if Elrohir had just that second turned bright blue.

"Come again?"

"It is a simple enough question even for a bratling Sindar babe," Elrohir retorted with a grin, baring his teeth. "Why do you agree to this task that you deem naught but folderol? You are mighty quick to agree, it beseems."

"Why are we suddenly speaking as if we were in some ancient tale of the Valar?" Legolas wondered, dipping his chin and gazing at the Twins with eyes gone half-lidded. "If you absolutely must know, it is because I have no doubt in my entire being—in my ancestral memory even!—that I will best you both. You have proven to be utterly clueless trackers, spending far too much time squabbling betwixt yourselves, ignoring every sign left to point the way—and getting yourselves completely besmirched and embarrassed in the bargain." As he spoke he moved closer to the two, so that by the time he delivered his final flick of the gauntlet Legolas was nearly chest-to-chest with both of the sons of Elrond. "The Thranduilion has not been born who cannot elude you—we proved that much last night. Now today we shall prove that you cannot hide my most prized possession adequately enough to prevent my finding it! Why, I swear I should thank you for the opportunity."

He gave a disdainful sniff that would have done his father proud and stared down his nose at the Twins. "Besides," he fired off, "we have also proven that Arwen and I have much better fashion sense than you. So there."

Elladan and Elrohir looked positively incensed. They stared, first at Legolas then at one another, momentarily speechless. Then the younger Twin found his voice.

"That was perhaps the cruelest salvo of all!" Elrohir growled. "How could you! You—you—Wood-Elf, you! The day has not dawned, no, not in all the long history of the Elves, when a mere slip of a Sindar could claim supremacy over us in such a matter!"

"Rest assured this hair clasp will be so well hidden, it won't be found until the end of the Age!" Elladan added, scowling darkly. "Say namarië to your little squirrel, Thranduilion!"

Together they tromped off in a perfect pet, matched expressions of thunderous annoyance on their handsome faces. A long silence reigned in their wake. Aragorn and Arwen looked surreptitiously at each other sidelong, wondering whether they ought to intervene—and if so, how… wondering if they should speak—and if so, to say… what? They gazed anxiously at Legolas who stood there, arms limp at his sides, simply watching the Twins disappear back into the House.

The silence protracted.

Finally Arwen lost her patience. Placing a cautious hand on Legolas's silk-clad arm, she murmured, "Please, dear friend, say something! Your silence is unnerving!"

Legolas turned slowly and looked at her unblinkingly for a very long moment. Then one elegant dark eyebrow curved eloquently upward over his left eye and he gave a disobliging smile.

"That will be as nothing when compared to my actions for the rest of this night, fair one," he said gently, though there was steel underlaying his tones. "Believe me when I tell you that no one in Imladris will be able to credit what I am about to do. Believe it."

Then Legolas too stalked away, his strides long and silent, the very picture of purpose and focus. Arwen stared, her mouth slightly open, watching him go—and was gratified to see a similar look of shock on Aragorn's face.

"We must do something!" she exclaimed, wringing her fine hands in the fragile loveliness of her pendant sleeves. "Three very angry, focused Elven warriors loose in my father's realm? We cannot just allow this to happen!"

"I agree," Aragorn told her, taking her in his arms to give her comfort. "I think at the very least we should alert Lord Elrond—and perhaps Glorfindel as well. For it is certain the two of us cannot keep track of all three of them alone. Come! We haven't a moment to lose—and all this chaos must be kept from the guests, for things are fraught enough without them thinking there is a rift in Elrond's House!"

Hand in hand they hurried off the balcony, back into the Hall in search of assistance. They did not see the wide, staring, startled eyes that watched their flight—nor did they see Gimli, son of Glóin, stride off in the opposite direction post-haste, eager to tell his father what he had seen and heard….

Elrond's brow furrowed in concentration and just the slightest little hint of dismay. The urge to rub the bridge of his nose had come back with a vengeance.

"Let me see if I have all the facts here," he murmured, taking a deep, quiet, cleansing breath. "The Twins somehow managed to get their hands on an heirloom belonging to Legolas—and they are going to hide it somewhere in my realm and make said Legolas go after it—for what? Because they are upset over being unable to successfully ascertain that Legolas was in the House all night, not wandering all over Imladris as they were?"

"Basically," Aragorn said, trying virtuously not to smirk.

"Exactly," Arwen agreed, smirking quite openly and pleased that it should be so. Erestor, standing behind and a little to the left of Elrond's chair, had to pretend sudden and absorbing interest in the pattern of stars and little forest creatures painted onto the ceiling of the library, lest he break out in untoward amusement. To the right, crouched beside the Lord's chair, Glorfindel did not even bother to hide how vastly funny he was finding the whole matter. Even Mithrandir, who was over by the exterior doors smoking thoughtfully on his pipe, seemed to have just the veriest little bit of a twinkle in his blue eyes.

For his part, Elrond was Officially Not Amused.

"I will put a stop to this at once," he announced, and half-rose. "I cannot have my sons and their dear friend slaughtering one another over a hair-clasp, no matter how well beloved."

He seemed surprised to find Glorfindel's hand on his arm, effectively holding him down into the chair. Elrond lifted an eyebrow at the golden warrior. "Yes?"

"No," Glorfindel said gently, laughing as he shook his head. "The situation has gone beyond that which can be simply settled by a command that it be so."

"Oh," Elrond said levelly, "I do not know about that! I have stopped larger garboils than this one simply by saying 'Enough!' As you should well know!"

Glorfindel had the temerity to grin and nod. He did indeed know, all too well—as did Erestor, who decorously shuddered at the very thought—though there was a perfectly visible twinkle in his eyes as well. There was no one in Imladris, beyond a guest or three without cause to stay there for long, who had not at some point experienced Elrond's unique, amazing ability. He could shut down almost any kind of outburst, explosion or hysterical fit simply by raising his eyebrow—or, when the situation was especially loud and difficult, raising his voice to a conversational level and saying "Stop that this instant." Glorfindel was ready, in fact, to swear he had seen four Uruk-hai and three Mordor archer Orcs do precisely that at Dagorlad—and Elrond had not even been speaking directly to them.

He had in fact been speaking to Thranduil… but that is a story for another day.

"But it cannot be so in this case, my dear lord," the Balrog Slayer said now, rising to his full height to punctuate his pronouncement. Elrond's eyebrow climbed a tad higher.

"And why, pray tell, would that be so?" he inquired. Glorfindel raised an eyebrow of his own, careful to do so on the opposite side from Elrond's, lest the room be out of balance somehow.

"Because it will solve nothing," he murmured, and almost—almost!—snickered. "Like plastering a bandage and much padding over an infected wound, it would simply allow the situation to fester until such time as none of us—by which I mean elders, you, my lord, and Erestor and myself—are around to smack the combatants in the head to make them desist. I think we have learned, if nothing else over the centuries, that neither your sons nor Legolas will allow blood to be shed anywhere that the others can see—and they are all so proud, it is unlikely any horrific screams of pain or anger will be uttered anywhere that someone else might hear."

"Ah—so you think they will be quieter because there are guests?" Elrond asked archly.

Glorfindel shrugged elegantly. "We can hope," he suggested.

Elrond actually snorted. "I might also hope that Curunír will suddenly dance around the corner dressed as a rabbit, distributing flowers and candy to deserving Elflings," he retorted scathingly, "but I somehow very much doubt there is any likelihood of that occurring!"

He glanced about at the various expressions of shocked astonishment that met this particular visual, and snorted again. "I think we can assume the nonsense will become fairly loud, based on a single phrase heard last night. Let me see now, how did that go? Ah yes: 'Thranduilion, gerin le si!' That was it!"

There was no arguing with him on that point, so no one even attempted to do so. Arwen giggled behind her hand, turning to examine a nonexistent snag in the shoulder of Aragorn's tunic, and the Ranger had a sudden need to cough. But Glorfindel soldiered on, as was his wont.

"I still think it is best we let them work this out," he said pointedly. "Legolas will, I have no doubt, find his squirrel—and hopefully he will not injure the Twins too badly."

"You assume my sons will not be in position to injure him, I see," Elrond replied pointedly. Glorfindel did not even so much as wince; he merely nodded.

"I happen to know you did not choose Legolas to accompany the Ringbearer because he would improve the scenery all around him—though I know he will," the warrior finished sharply, grinning at both Mithrandir and Aragorn. "I have eyes in my head, and have been happily using them since that child came of age, believe me. But I have also watched him fight and shoot—and I know the son of Thranduil is one extremely dangerous Elf!"

"You have also watched the Twins," Aragorn reminded him. "And presumably myself as well!"

"Oh yes, indeed I have," Glorfindel agreed. "And I know what sets off each and every one of you. So I repeat: Legolas will find the squirrel. And all will be well."

"How, precisely, do you know this thing?" Elrond demanded. Glorfindel's grin widened.

"Because, my lord—sometimes, a squirrel is just a squirrel!"

"And some people have squirrels in their brains," Erestor noted helpfully from behind the chair, as he examined his cuticles and kept his thoughts mostly to himself. Elrond uttered a light sigh.

"Very well—let it play out as it will," he murmured, almost sounding put-upon. "Eru knows, everything else around here seems to do so, frequently and with startling regularity! But I will most emphatically not condone anything that leads to bandages and stitches, do you all understand me?"

There was a ragged chorus of "Yes, my lord!" and "Perfectly!" and "oh of course, Ada!" Elrond gave a harrumph that reminded Erestor of Gil-galad.

"Does anyone know where the Twins are, just now?"

"No, my lord."

"Unfortunately not, Ada!"

"Umm… no."

"I see." Elrond's eyes narrowed. "I take it that likewise, there is no one capable of uttering the phrase 'Thranduilion, gerin le si!' with any sort of accuracy either?"

"No, my lord."

"Err… afraid not, Ada."

"Umm… no."

"Splendid." Elrond exchanged glances with Mithrandir, who raised his grey-clad shoulders in a shrug. "Well then! Glorfindel—you go find the Twins. Just—keep an eye on them, if you please."

"Right, my lord!" Glorfindel bowed and headed out of the chamber. Elrond turned to Aragorn and Arwen.

"You two—find Legolas. I do not care what it takes, but I want him kept as far distant as practical from your brothers. Is that clear?"

"As crystal," Aragorn said, hurrying out with Arwen in tow.

"What about me?" Erestor asked, not entirely without trepidation. Elrond scowled and bared his teeth.

"I want you to find Silinde and Galdor—and make absolutely, completely, utterly certain they do not catch wind, not the tiniest breath of a hint, of anything that is happening concerning their princeling." Elrond rose up from his chair, stalking like a panther. Erestor, who was no slouch as either a diplomat or a warrior, nevertheless stepped back a pace. Then he stepped back another, just in case. "I do not care if you have to lock yourself in the pantry with them and coat them in flour and herbs—just make certain they do not know where Legolas is, what is going on, or that anything even remotely like an heirloom is involved. Is that clear?"

Erestor closed his eyes and shook his head, trying to get rid of several unpleasant visuals all at the same time. "I hear and obey, my lord. But by the Valar—you'll owe me for this one!"

"Yes, yes, whatever," Elrond said, all but pushing his friend and advisor out the door. He shut the portal firmly behind Erestor; leaning on that door, the Lord of Imladris stared at Mithrandir.

Mithrandir stared back.

Then they both burst out laughing—and Mithrandir poured the drinks.

The rest of the evening was nothing short of quietly, decorously chaotic, as people attempted to do Elrond's will and keep track of the three younger Elven Lords, lest they bring one another to some kind of harm with various forms of mayhem. Glorfindel saw where the mithril squirrel was secreted but kept his own counsel for the sake of the game; he knew that, if the unlikely happened and Legolas could not actually locate his heirloom, he himself could easily go back and fetch it to keep peace between the two realms. He also saw the Twins climb a tree nearby and settle in to wait, hoping to see a certain princely archer running madly about in search of his precious hair clasp. Arwen and Aragorn spent several fruitless hours trying to actually locate Legolas himself—but they spent the time to good effect. Arwen learned even more about tracking from her beloved Ranger—a skill that never went to waste in these dark and dangerous times—and of course, with few others about as the wine and song still flowed in the Hall of Fire, there were many opportunities for the odd snog or clutch behind some friendly tree. All in all, it was a lovely winter's evening for a stroll through Imladris.

Elrond and Mithrandir rejoined their guests and compatriots in the Hall, enjoying the peace of the evening. Lindir was in superb voice, and his staff of musicians and bards were at the peak of their art. Someone would occasionally ask where the Prince of Mirkwood might be, as he was reputed to have a lovely singing voice as well, and curiously enough it was Glóin of Erebor who asked archly where the Twins might be, as surely the sons of the House were accustomed to helping entertain guests…. But Elrond deterred all discussion with cleverly worded comments (or occasionally the lack thereof!) and so the evening passed.

Along about dawn, with nearly everyone gone to bed except Mithrandir and Elrond, the Hall became a very quiet place indeed. Lost in their thoughts, the two—Maia and Lore-Master/Ringbearer—gazed silently into the dying fire and enjoyed the companionable lack of fuss, the pervading, lovely peace of Imladris. The sounds of the Bruinen, rocketing past its banks in riverly fury through the Vale, was distant and curiously lulling. The several waterfalls within sound of the House did their part to send all thoughts of worry or chaos far away, as well. A gentle breeze combed through the treetops, and as Minuial approached various birds awakened to greet the return of the sun with bursts of song and twitters of busy-ness.

A door opened down at the other end of the Hall; both looked up to see who had joined them in the pre-dawn hour. For the first time in a very, very long time, both Mithrandir and Elrond stared, mouths agape, as the literal last person they might have expected came through that door—dressed utterly unlike what they would have speculated upon, had it occurred to them so to speculate.

"Good morning, my lord—Mithrandir," Legolas said, yawning expansively into his words and begging their pardon. He snagged an apple from a bowl on the table as he passed and shined its smooth skin on the lapel of his robe. He looked as if he had just risen from a soothing night's sleep.

"Legolas?" Elrond murmured, somewhat beyond shocked.

The prince curled up on the settee nearby and gazed at him with sleepy cheer. "My lord?"

Elrond's eyebrow obediently fell into its expected routine. "Did you—umm—have a pleasant rest last night?" the Lord asked, struggling for words. "We did not see you in the Hall."

"No, I fear not—and I apologize," the youngster replied, blushing becomingly. "I had other things on my mind last night." At Mithrandir's muttered "I can just imagine!" the prince was at some pains to seem puzzled. "I beg your pardon, Mithrandir?"

The wizard stared at him. Then for good measure, he stared at Elrond. Then he looked back at Legolas. "Where are the Twins?" he demanded, as usual changing the subject—but not really.

Legolas contrived to look taken aback. "I'm quite sure I haven't the faintest notion," he replied. "Is this a riddle? What happens if I guess correctly? I love riddles!"

Mithrandir's own bushy eyebrows climbed high on his noble forehead. "You—do not know where Elladan and Elrohir can be?"

"No." Legolas tilted his head slightly to the right. "Should I?"

"We were under the impression they were looking for you," Elrond supplied helpfully from his chair. He was a tad disconcerted when Legolas only laughed.

"Oh no, my lord—that was the night before last!" he chuckled, and bit into his apple. "They did not manage to find me, of course, but never you mind. It all turned out for the best." He smiled dazzlingly. "They do clean up nicely, do they not?"

"Why yes," Elrond agreed, unable to think of anything else clever to say. "As does Estel."

"Yes, indeed he does." Legolas showed his dimples to devastating effect. "So—why would I be looking for them tonight? Today," he amended, glancing toward the east and the growing light of dawn. "Are they lost? How curious—they live here, yes?"

"Thranduilion, stop that," Mithrandir growled, not quite as effectively as the Voice of Elrond, but quite strongly for all that. "We know what happened last evening—we know about the hair clasp your Naneth gave you, and we know about the Twins hiding it. Indeed, we know about all of it. You were supposed to go looking for the thing last night!" A sudden thought struck him and he slapped his knee in high good humour. "You found it, didn't you! By Eru, I knew you would! And left the Twins out there somewhere, I'll wager, thinking any second they'll see you go by in a dither because you'd lost your heirloom! You young devil!"

Legolas listened in silence, then allowed a very Thranduil-like lopsided smirk to touch his lips. "Are you quite finished?" he asked with ironic politesse.

"But—but—" Mithrandir fumbled. Elrond leaned out of his chair, suddenly inspired to ask:

"Legolas. Where have you been all night?"

The prince looked down at his comfortable robe, the soft linen of his nightshirt, the tips of his house slippers peeking out from under his thighs as he sat there curled up on the settee. For half a moment he considered saying, heavy on the sarcasm, why, I've been wading in the Dead Marshes my lord, isn't it obvious? But he had not gotten to be nearly five hundred years old by smarting off to lords of Elrond's stature, so he settled for a rather pointed look at his attire and a quiet, politely voiced response: "I retired early, my lord, and read a book about Lothlórien. Then I slept quite peacefully until about half an hour ago—when my empty stomach drove me forth to forage for breakfast. Why do you ask?"

"Blessed Elbereth," Mithrandir murmured, and began to chuckle. Elrond actually allowed himself to smile.

"I see," he said, and suddenly, he quite clearly did. "Do my sons know this?"

"I could not say, my lord," Legolas replied with gentle courtesy, the brilliant blue of his eyes glittering with amusement. "Nor could I say if Aragorn and the lovely Arwen know. But it was a delightful book, and a very comfortable bed—for both of which you have my complete thanks!"

The two elders might have said more, but at that moment the door came open again—far more precipitously and noisily. Erestor exploded into the chamber; behind him were Silinde and Galdor. None of them were dressed fetchingly in their sleeping clothes, and apparently none of them wanted an apple—though Elrond was a good host and did ask. Erestor, looking extremely harried and utterly unamused, waved his arms about and exclaimed:

"Someone must find Legolas this instant! I weary unto the utmost of dealing with these pernicious Sindar!"

The two pernicious Sindar in question—for it was indeed of Silinde and Galdor that Erestor spoke—gave him pretty evenly matched stares of complete acrimony.

"You have your nerve!" Silinde growled, fists balled up at his sides. "You knew all night that our poor young prince was in the hands of those rough-housing boys—"

"Rough-housing!" Erestor bellowed. "The very idea! My young lords do NOT rough-house! There are not two more polite, well-spoken young Elves in all Ennor! There are mothers and fathers lining up all over the place to ask for their hands in marriage for their daughters! There is nothing you can say to convince me that Elladan and Elrohir are not absolutely without fault! There is—LEGOLAS?"

He paused at Elrond's disbelieving exclamation of "What are you on about?" and glanced that way—when his gaze fell on the lovely sight of a certain person on the settee. The Certain Person raised a hand and waggled his fingers in a gesture of hello.

"'Morning, Master Erestor," the Prince said disingenuously. "How are you this day?"

"I'm f-f-flabbergasted!" Erestor retorted, unable to make his mouth say 'fine' when he so clearly was not. "Legolas—pardon my asking, but what are you doing here?"

"Eating an apple?" the princely archer asked, affecting that innocent look, even as his eyes practically watered with the effort not to laugh. "Chatting with my host, and with Mithrandir?"

"Your highness!" Galdor exclaimed, as he and Silinde stared. "What—"

"Do not ask me what am I doing here," Legolas shot back, going from merry to Thranduilion all in one fell swoop without stopping for the roundabout. "We have been over that already. What in Eru's blessed name is this all about?"

As if drawn by the very question, there came a sound of several voices from the corridor—Arwen's dulcet tones, the cool purr of Aragorn; Glorfindel, voice raised (somewhat curiously) in song; the Twins, laughing angrily and sounding somewhat snappish, like bears who have missed their winter's nap—and one Dwarven voice, if not more. Legolas bit his lip and smirked, sitting up decorously to arrange his robe more neatly about his person; arrayed there on the settee, his straight back and golden hair making him appear every inch a royal personage, he looked entirely ready to happily take on the world. Elrond almost laughed, having figured out what was afoot—but he was more than willing to let the masque play itself out for his amusement.

"Come in, all of you—is it not a lovely morning?" he called. Silence fell with a thud in the hallway; then everyone began to speak at the same time, and they all attempted to come through the doorway in the same fashion. Glóin and his son Gimli, being shorter, slipped under the elbows of taller beings and made it through first—only to approach Elrond somewhat hurriedly.

"You must allow my son to speak, Elrond!" Glóin exclaimed, shoving Gimli forward. "He has heard something you needs must know—or there will be bloodshed in your halls this morning!"

Gimli just looked horribly embarrassed and harrumphed a great deal. The Twins boiled into the room right after the Dwarves, claiming right of way by dint of knowing the room so well; Glorfindel was right behind them, snickering indecorously. Arwen and Aragorn came last, hand in hand and smiling way too much.

Just as Gimli found his voice to begin telling Elrond what he had chanced—completely accidentally, of course!—to overhear, the Twins both began talking at once. Silinde tried to shush them, Galdor tried to shush him, and Erestor commenced to tell anyone willing to listen that he was tired of these shenanigans. Legolas smothered a laugh and re-arranged his face to look innocent—but it was too late. Dwarves, Twins and Balrog Slayer, they had all caught sight of him—Arwen and Aragorn had too, but they did not seem either surprised or annoyed.

"What is he doing here?" Elladan demanded, pointing. Elrond slapped his hand lightly.

"Do not point. It is rude."

"But—Legolas is here, Adar!" Elrohir exclaimed.

"I was aware of that," Elrond replied with withering calm. "But thank you. You know how I depend on you and your brother to be my eyes and ears in the realm."

"Would someone please tell me what is going on?" Erestor shouted over all the noise. "If I recall, we were most explicitly told that there was all sorts of badness about to happen! Yet here sits Legolas in his night-clothes, and everyone else is in an uproar!"

"Well—not exactly everyone," Mithrandir muttered good-naturedly, winking at Legolas. The prince blushed becomingly and looked away, grinning.

"Look, you lot," Gimli suddenly expostulated, unnerved by the noise. "It was entirely unintentional, but I happened to hear that one there—" he leveled a finger at the Prince of Mirkwood—"tell the Lady, here, that he was going to shed blood because someone had taken his little trinket. Not, of course, that there isn't a history of that sort of thing where he comes from!"

"No, you look, Naugrim," Silinde snarled, waving an annoyed finger under Gimli's nose. "I won't go over this with you again! We have all decided there will be no mention of the past in terms of Dwarf-Elf relations during this Council, now haven't we?"

"Stop it!" Legolas bellowed, sounding so entirely like his father that both of Thranduil's watch-dogs dropped to their knees and bowed their heads. "We will not be solving any of that here and now, so let us not even get into it. Galdor—Silinde—do get up off the floor."

As they did so, their faces red, Legolas rose up, stalked past them and glared down at the younger Dwarf. "What I actually said, Master Dwarf, was that no one in Imladris will be able to credit what I was about to do. It would appear that I was eminently successful in that regard!" He smiled at the couple in the corner. "Lady Arwen mentioned blood—but did so quite facetiously. Anything else, I suspect, became a miscommunication because of other factors."

He turned regally to give those other factors a hard look, but a grin lurked in his expression—making Factor Number One scowl and Factor Number Two sigh, lifting shoulders in a shrug.

"I believe I told you this would happen," Elrohir said wearily, almost chuckling. "I knew he was too quick to agree to the search!"

"Let us not start that again," Elladan growled, and turned on Legolas. The prince stood his ground, allowing the elder Twin to come almost nose to nose with him. Then Legolas snickered.

"We've been here before," he said, and snickered again.

"That is neither here nor there," Elladan retorted, not even looking at Elrohir as he reached to unerringly cuff him in the shoulder, eliciting a muffled 'Heia!' from the younger Twin, who had indeed—as always—been looking 'here' and 'there' in mime behind Elladan. "You were supposed to retrieve your hair clasp, Danwaith. You said you agreed to do it. What do you have to say for yourself?"

"Why—nothing, beyond that I have done as I said I would do," Legolas replied virtuously. "I am, after all, an Elf of my word!"

"What?" Elrohir exclaimed, just as surprised as his brother. Even Arwen and Aragorn stopped smiling at one another to come closer, the better to comprehend this strange utterance. "But—we never saw you! You couldn't have done! We watched and waited—"

Legolas turned slowly and looked at him, at first blankly, then with dawning merriment. "You sat up that tree all night?" he asked—and burst out laughing. "Ai! I would have given much to see that! The two loveliest ravens nesting in all Imladris, I swear!"

"But you never came!" Elladan shouted, waving his arms about in unwitting imitation of Erestor's motions a short while before. "That's the whole point—you did not retrieve your hair clasp! How then are you an Elf of your word?"

In response, Legolas reached into the pocket of his robe and drew forth something small. Deftly, he reached behind his own head and swiftly braided his golden hair; then he closed the braid with that something, and turned about to show it off. It glittered in the dawn light: Mithril with little winking chips of sapphire. Without a doubt it was the squirrel hair clasp.

"That is how I am an Elf of my word," he said, pardonably smug as he grinned over one shoulder at the Twins and the rest of the startled company (save for Elrond, Glorfindel and Mithrandir, who of course—as always—had figured it out first).

"How—what—when—" Aragorn sputtered. But it was Glóin who suddenly brayed with laughter and slapped his thighs.

"You young devil!" the Dwarf-lord exclaimed, delighted. Legolas bowed deeply, which made Glóin laugh even harder. "What a good trick! Most excellent!" Glóin turned and smirked at the still-bemused among them. "There were two clasps!" he announced, spreading his arms out to either side. "I daresay that he did retrieve his clasp—from his pack or his chamber, it matters not which! You lot never specified—and if you'd bothered to ask us, we could have told you never to put anything past a Mirkwood Elf!"

Legolas's nostrils flared and his smile was not quite genuine; he very much disliked hearing his home mis-named so, regardless of its current condition. But he was more than happy to allow the old Dwarf his moment; the gaping mouths of the Twins made it all worth it.

"Indeed," he said instead, and smiled more normally at Elladan and Elrohir. "You did not specify which clasp; the one you hid is a fair copy, this in my braid is the original. I never part with it, either by accident or design. It is precious to me!"

"Then it was a trick!" Elladan snarled.

Elrohir, too tired to be angry, started to chuckle and could not stop. "How many do you own?" he asked through his laughter. "Copies, I mean?"

Legolas smirked. "Several. Let's leave it at that."

"But—how did the Twins get the copy, then?" Erestor asked, confused. Legolas started to laugh, his mood infected by Elrohir's.

"Well—it was a ruse from the other night, Master Erestor," he sputtered through his amusement. "I left it where they found it, because it very nearly did slip out of my hair when I passed by in my effort to mislead them so Aragorn and Arwen could have a little peaceful time together. It seemed the sort of accidental thing that a tracker might find, were he fortunate. Knowing as they do how I prize my dear naneth's gift, they could never have guessed it was not the genuine clasp—and so it seemed the perfect thing to make them think they were still on my trail!"

"I will get you back for this, Thranduilion, you just wait and see," Elladan growled, starting back toward him across the short distance until Elrohir seized him and hauled him toward the door. "I do not know how, or when, or where—but watch your back, Danwaith! Ai!"

"'Night, Adar—'night, everyone!" Elrohir called, laughing as he dragged his brother away. "Face it, Elladan—he's bested us! Twice in the same week to boot!"

"Just remember what we decided last night!" Legolas called after them. "All axes buried, no more shenanigans, and we endeavor to make certain Estel remains neat and tidy for the duration!"

Aragorn blushed crimson, for there were several more people in the room now than had been in on that particular portion of the discussion last evening. Glorfindel hooted with laughter, nearly doubling over.

"It isn't your fault, Estel," he exclaimed. "After all, even Elladan knows you have a genetic scruff factor that gives mess an advantage!"

Aragorn shuffled his feet and stared at the floor, avoiding everyone's eyes. Outside of the chamber, Elladan's tone was clear, even if his words faded into the tapestries along the corridor as they disappeared toward their bedchambers; clearly this was not yet over for the eldest of Elrond's sons. Legolas chuckled, shaking his head; Gimli eyed him in silence, then harrumphed.

"Yes, Master Dwarf?"

"Well—it was a good trick," Gimli admitted somewhat grumpily. He had been taken in by it all himself, and was rather at some pains not to have that fact come to light; Elven eyes glittered at him from all sides, but he chose to believe they had all been headed off. "If those two come along when we head to Mordor, mayhap I shall have to assist in watching your back!"

"No one watches my prince's back-end," Galdor growled. Everyone turned and stared at him; Galdor blushed. "That—did not come out as intended," he admitted, and stared at the floor. Arwen came, laughing heartily, and kissed Legolas on the cheek.

"I'll watch his back-end any time I want to," she announced, and pressed his wrist. "Nicely played, dear friend—but believe me when I tell you, they will be out for vengeance for this! The other day was bad enough. You know they hate to be tricked—and you got them SO well!"

"I'll be careful," Legolas promised, and kissed her forehead. "You and Estel had better get some sleep now—if you were up all night too!"

"We were," Aragorn admitted, clasping forearms with Legolas before moving to lead Arwen back to her chambers. "Way past time for bed now, though!"

"Separately," Erestor said warningly, to save Elrond from having to say it.

The Ranger looked virtuous and innocent—and pulled both off nearly as well as Legolas. "Well—of course separately!" he replied, as if anything else was utterly absurd. They both bowed to Elrond—and then they too were gone.

Silinde and Galdor made their excuses and likewise disappeared; the Dwarves were next, laughing and murmuring to themselves in Khuzdul as they turned the corner out of the Hall. Erestor was not far behind, though he pointedly went in the very opposite direction lest he have to spend the smallest iota of time longer in their company. Elrond raised an eyebrow and made a mental note to ask how the evening had gone, later on when Erestor had put some distance between himself and the experience.

That left Legolas, Mithrandir, Elrond and Glorfindel. The warrior lord of Gondolin was shaking his head and grinning at their princely guest; Legolas raised his shoulders in a shrug and smiled, then bowed to his host.

"I shall venture to the kitchens for a good, substantial breakfast," he said, "for I shall have to spend my day with my father's advisors—they still have not figured out how to inform King Thranduil of my joining the Fellowship."

"It will require some diplomacy, no doubt," Elrond said wryly.

Legolas laughed. "That would be one word for it!" he agreed. Then, bidding them all a good day, the prince wandered off in search of sustenance. Mithrandir sucked on his unlit pipe and gazed contemplatively at Glorfindel.

"What amuses you then, my friend?" he asked.

Glorfindel laughed merrily. "Oh, I was just thinking," he told them, "how all this began when it was decided Estel must look kingly—but not too much so, and clean, though not burdensomely so, and sufficiently Elvish in attire as to speak to his alliance with this House, but not so unlike a Man that he would unwittingly annoy the Humans from Gondor. What a business! How very Elvish of the young ones, to draw it out into such a pother!"

"Sometimes," Elrond said, winking at Mithrandir, "a Ranger is just a Ranger—and a squirrel is just a squirrel!"

Amid their laughter, Mithrandir said, "Right! Who's on for breakfast, then!"

It was, all things considered, a very fine start to a lovely winter's day.

The End

Author's Note:

Well! Finished at last…. I do apologize for how long it took! The mention of Legolas as the filling in a Noldor sandwich is dedicated to the estimable Ithilien, who was the first to use the term; The chapter title of "Elf Eye for the King Guy" is courtesy of Jamie, father of those two fine young writers, Kingmaker and Nevalkarion. And yes… for those of you who sense a sequel, there will indeed be a Return of the Scruff. It will take place during the festivities surrounding a Certain Coronation and Wedding in a Certain Human Kingdom Not Very Far Away… but it won't be started until way later this year, as "Dark Leaf" and some other promised projects come first in the great List of Intended Fics. Thanks for all your patience, and I hope to hear from you all in Reviews! Oh look, is that a review link down there? grin So long 'til next time….


celair-heneb basically "bright-eyes", an epithet leveled at Legolas

Danwaith an old name for the Nandor Elves

pen-tithen little one

Naneth Mother

Adar Father

Ada Daddy

pen-neth young one

sidhe peace

namarië farewell, in Quenya

Curunír Sindarin for Saruman

'Thranduilion, gerin le si!' Son of Thranduil, I have you now! (A remark made in an earlier chapter, which Elladan utterly regrets at this point…)

Minuial the period shortly before dawn when the sky is beginning to lighten toward sunrise

Naugrim Sindarin term for the Dwarves as a race—not very nice, means "stunted ones"

Ai! Oh