Thanks to Lalaith and Isis for betaing this, and to all of you for reviewing.
Elrond rolled his eyes as he watched the fangirls jostling each other for positions near to Legolas in the column as they made their way in single file through the passages of Moria. They had only just begun the journey through the dark, and already all sense of sanity had clearly departed with the last of the light, a gloomy reality which was only exacerbated by the excessive cheerfulness of the hobbits, glad indeed to find that they had not been eaten by the Watcher in the water. Finrod Felagund had not been as lucky - almost. He had been so busy examining the construction of the west-gate of Moria, and approving of Celebrimbor's use of ithildin in such a delicate style that he had not noticed the tentacle locked around his ankle until he was dangling upside down by one ankle, thirty feet in the air over the monster's mouth. Only Amarië's judicious application of that wonder of technology known as a very sharp sword had saved the lord of drowned Nargothrond from meeting his second - and considerably less heroic death - at the hands of another fell beast.
Amarië was currently checking him for signs of internal bleeding while keeping up a grumbling monologue on the current running total of times she had had to rescue him from a dire fate. "See? I knew it. No wonder you were eaten by a wolf..."
The Elda grinned. "I know, melmenya, I know."
"Lackwitted Elf..." But no one could have mistaken the tone of her voice for actual exasperation.
Elrond sighed and busied himself with avoiding the boulders and chasms which lay in his path. Somewhere ahead, Gandalf was grumbling, his staff clacking against the floor as he walked. He could hear Celebrían's voice, gentle now, in marked contrast to her earlier acerbic tone, pointing out to the wizard that it was not entirely within his remit as a messenger of the Lords of the West to blast all fangirls into small, sticky puddles, much though it seemed to be in everyone's best interests - except of course the fangirls. But then, their opinions could scarcely be said to count – for if they did, Manwë Sûlimo would be ousted as Lord of Arda by Legolas Thranduilion, and the land of Valinor would become little more than an exceedingly large excuse for a mass orgy.
Somewhere, Glorfindel was teaching a very loud drinking song to the sons of the Steward, draining a flask of miruvor, and surreptitiously groping Erestor. Surprisingly enough, Elrond's chief counsellor did not seem to mind. It had been days since he had been found up a tree hiding from the persistent attention of the Balrog-slayer. Of course, the lack of trees growing in the dank darkness of Khazad-dûm might have something to do with this, but Glorfindel very much doubted this, and his trademark smirk spread across his face. He was a very happy Balrog-slayer indeed. The Steward himself had been foiled in the process of barbecuing his second son again the previous day, caught while basting the seriously unimpressed young man with a noxious mixture of herbs and garlic. Consequently, he was in a mood to deliver bad news to all and sundry, whether they wanted it or not. For the Master of the Last Homely House, he had a special treat: relaying intelligence of every single time that the Lady Arwen had been seen sneaking off into a dwarven storeroom with the heir of Isildur. Catalogued chronologically and cross-referenced with the theoretical alignment of the stars. Updated twice an hour.
Elrond wondered if there might be any remedies for severe nausea stashed somewhere in the ominous depths of the dwarf realm. He really had not needed that piece of news to be relayed to him. Especially not when arranged chronologically, with times of departure and re-emergence noted in the cramped, precise handwriting of the seriously demented.
And behind him, the Elf heard voices raised in a new, but all too familiar altercation.
"...And moreover, I do not see why I must call this wretched pit a city..."
"And I do not see why I must call you aught but an idiot, Master Elf." There was a clatter as Gimli emphasised his point with a well-aimed blow of his axe at an overhanging ledge of rock. What the rock might have done to offend him, no one ever worked out. But it was universally agreed that if he had, in fact, not aimed quite so well, and had actually been intending to do serious damage to the head of Lord Celeborn, it was entirely justified. "This was the great dwarf realm of Khazad-dûm!"
"Great? There were better privies in Menegroth than the greatest of all the halls of Dwarrowdelf. In fact, there were better broom cupboards."
"Well, perhaps if Master Thingol had not spent so much time in them with his wife, he might have had enough energy left not to be a raging idiot and try to keep our Nauglamir from us!"
"Coward!" Celeborn wisely decided on this more general insult, rather than an attempt to refute either allegation. After all, it had been true that the magnificent broom cupbaords of the city of Menegroth had all too frequently contained the King and Queen of Doriath in addition to the more usual assortment of brooms and mops.
With a yell, the Sindarin lord threw himself at his Dwarven challenger, accidentally crushing several fangirls against the walls in the process. The fangirls were too busy ogling Legolas and exclaiming over the blondness of his hair either to notice or to care.
Elrond began to wonder if the frown on his face would become permanent. Much more and he would start to bear a striking resemblance to a thunderstorm - and a particularly unhappy thunderstorm at that. Setting the lantern he carried down, he strode forward, and grasped his father-in-law by the scruff of his neck and pulled him upright. With his other hand, he grabbed a fistful of dwarf mail and dangled Gimli in mid-air. The dwarf struggled like a caged ferret. "Lemme go. I'll bite his elf ears off."
"Ha! You would not dare to!"
Elrond shook them vigorously to get their attention, and was rewarded with two startled if rather cross-eyed stares.
"Traitor!" Celeborn wailed. "I knew I should not have let Celebrían marry you."
"As I recall, you did not - but my wife and yours are both possessed of considerable will power, and Brí would not be denied, and her mother agreed." Elrond smiled softly. Even being threatened at swordpoint by his new father-in-law, whose face had begun to fluoresce the colour of slightly stale beetroot salad, had not really been able to ruin his wedding-day. Of course, Celebrían, noticing what was happening, had sicced her mother on Celeborn, and then dragged her new husband off to a secluded niche...
He was shaken back to the rather less pleasant present - quite literally - by his aforesaid father-in-law's attempt to bite him. As he winced, watching the semicircle of red-marks appear on the back of his arm, the dwarf made good use of the distraction to squirm away, shedding his mail shirt like an oddly shaped and very ginger snake. Alas for both the protagonists' intentions, it was not to be. The strength of the lord of Imladris might lie in words and in lore, and not in the weapons of war, but he had not forgotten that once, long ago, he had been the herald of the High King. Strong in hew and in sinew, hale as a warrior in the young strength of his years, he held fast. Perhaps the experience of raising three elflings and numerous Dunedain fosterlings of adventurous ilk might have had something to do with this, but either way, several fangirls of slightly less Legolas-centric tendencies swooned and fell through a gaping hole in the floor at this show of strength and dexterity, never to be seen again.
What a shame.
"Enough. We take the Ring to the fires of Mount Doom. Is it not enough that we are beleaguered by this plague of half-witted girls?" He inclined his head at the fast-disappearing stilettos and heinous nail varnish of Asfula, Diabeta, and RoseDiamond. "Are you determined that Sauron should regain the Ring through the disunity of the company, Gimli, son of Glóin? Lord Celeborn?"
But they never had the chance to answer. Elrond felt a tap on his shoulder and turned, already feeling a great surge of dread.
Legolas stood there, smiling and preening like a particularly offensive parrot. "A problem, my lord?"
"Not at all." Elrond had not yet forgotten that Legolas had crept into Celebrían's bed in his place, nor was he likely to until Morgoth managed to jerry-rig an escaping-from-the-Void device, and brought the end of the world. His eyebrows, rather impressive at the best of times, achieved an angle reminiscent of a crow in flight.
"I thought that you might require some assistance," the princeling continued, shooting Rialiaoaoaoaoa his most charming smile. She fainted - although she stayed right where she was as her corset did not allow for so much movement as a swoon.
"Not at all," Elrond repeated through gritted teeth. Releasing the dwarf, he grabbed the lantern he had set aside, and began to propel the elf-lord to the head of the line. There was but one creature this side of the Dimrill Dale who could constrain the Lord Celeborn.
He complained bitterly, but at last they stood before Celebrían, who greeted her husband with a smile, and her father with rather less affection. "What now?"
"That accursed dwarf..."
"I apologise, hervess, but I have a favour to ask of you." Elrond took her hand, and she squeezed his comfortingly.
"I suppose I am to nursemaid my father?"
"It seems the best possible option. Until we can deliver him up to your mother, trussed up like a dressed goose," he added under his breath.
"That makes three times this week!" Celebrían exclaimed in exasperation, prodding her errant father in the chest. "Why must I always be your guard, Adar?"
Celeborn at least had the grace to look abashed, and soon he was walking before the Lord and Lady of Imladris, with a rope hastily fashioned from his cloak around his neck.
"This way we know where he is," Celebrían pointed out cheerfully.
"This way he is far too close to you and me," Elrond said sourly.
"I thought you had delivered him up to my care..."
"Aye, but I had rather hoped that we might pass the burden off for some space of time," he murmured in her ear. "I would have you alone for an hour or more."
Celebrian shivered happily. "And I you, meleth-nin." She paused, and her eyes were distant, gazing out across the years. "The last time I took passage of the Mines, I knew you only by reputation."
"And what did you expect to find?"
"A grumpy half-elf with his head ever wedged in a book."
"And did he live up to your expectations?"
"Aye," she teased, "and I loved him very much for it."
Elrond linked his arm around her waist, laughing, forgetting even the poisonous stare that Celeborn shot their way, and so they passed onwards, through the ruin of the dwarf kingdom of Dwarrowdelf.
Somewhere behind them, there was a cackle and squawk as Legolas made another only too willing conquest from the massed ranks of his fangirls. Further yet beyond that, there came the sound of the Lady Éowyn defending her claim to the Lord Faramir at swordpoint. Some of the fangirls who had gravitated towards the Steward's second son were awfully insistent in their conviction that he could not possibly be in love with anyone who did not have three-inch long fingernails lacquered in an interesting shade of mauve which defied description, and quite possibly the laws of physics. Unfortunately for them, it was a conviction which neither Éowyn nor Faramir shared. And while the Gondorian tended simply to back away muttering and blushing, Éowyn was rather more direct and … ah … strenuous in her methods. And her sword, unlike those of the fangirls, was not so laden done with encrusted gems and ornately pointless twiddles as to be useless as anything other than a bludgeon. And, unlike them, she knew which end you held, and which end you stuck in people. Which is always an advantage. SilveryLisa's attempt to draw her particularly garish piece of tack-o-rama had merely resulted in a large hole in the floor, a bruise to Gandalf's crinkled forehead, and an even larger hole in her foot. Meanwhile, the only consequence that Éowyn had felt was a severe attack of the hiccups from laughing without pause for three hours.
As the motley band staggered its way along in various states of confusion, desperation, and undress, the hobbits began to sing, loudly, and with no reference to any conceivable tune whatsoever. They had, it was determined, discovered the secret stash of brandy laid down by Dúrin the Deathless. Miraculously, it had survived the depredations of time, and of the orc-host. But even the cunning of the eldest dwarf could not match a ravening hobbit-horde, and the Ringbearer and his companions were soon bouncing from wall to wall in a state of extreme inebriation, and playing hopscotch over the lesser chasms. Occasionally, they would fall silent, and some luckless Elf would have to retrieve them from some dank hole into which they had wandered in their perpetual search for mushrooms. In fact, all they ever found were growths of luminous green fungus of the same noxious colour as Retifilisasma's eyes, and one extremely dead Dwarf with a mug of beer in one skeletal hand and an expression of extreme surprise on his face.
Elrond was vaguely perplexed to notice how many times the task of retrieval fell to him, and seriously contemplated the idea of forsaking stoic endurance in favour of a good old-fashioned grumble.
Of course, the procession was extremely noisy and about as interested in stealthy cautions as a herd of stampeding oliphaunts being chased by men with red-hot pokers, and so the inevitable happened. The orcs attacked.
Strangely enough, it almost seemed to be a relief from the antics of the fangirls. And at least Pippin stopped rattling off some of Tom Bombadil's more gobsmackingly awful poetry in a drunken falsetto and busied himself with hiding. Admittedly, he chose to hide inside Balin's tomb, and began to scream hoarsely as he realised that tombs do indeed contain dead things, but then that was his choice, and who are we to argue? And anyway, in between awe-inspiringly awful verses, he had done a great service to all Middle-earth by dropping random fangirls down a deserted shaft.
Meanwhile, several of the fangirls performed their only known service to the Free Peoples by blinding several dozen orcs each with their amazing multi-coloured hair. The goblins fled wailing into the night, except for one, who decided that the hue of Matrioshka's hellish eyes was an exact complement to his own, and fell rather desperately in love with her.
Celeborn was let off his leash to work off some of his excess spleen, and mercifully the swing of the battle kept him very far away from Maglor.
A few fangirls decided that the hue and cry of battle was precisely the cover they needed to dispose of the inconvenience known as Celebrían. They were confronted with the prospect of an Elrond who was seriously unamused, and a short, sharp collision with a wall.
Eventually, the orcs gave up. Their leader was in luuurve with a fangirl, and they had an assortment of bruises in tasteful shades of aubergine and mauve. And even orcs could only stand a certain amount of exposure to the wonder which was Leggykins in his best seduce-and-destroy mode. It could be said that they crept away whimpering like a pack of kicked rabbits. But only if bunnies were evil and scabrous, with teeth in serious need of attention from a dentist, and the tendency to spit and swear at the drop of a hobbit.
Dusting bits of broken orc off the brim of his extremely silly hat, Gandalf stomped ahead, muttering about getting to the great bridge of Khazad-dûm before anyone thought of anything else stupid to do or the world ended. His flailing staff concussed a score of fangirls, but as this made no difference to their intellectual capacity, which had the combined power of that of a dying halibut, no one really noticed.
Yet as he drew level with Elrond, the peredhel felt a melodramatically precise pang of cold dread. But to stop where they were would mean spending even more time in Moria's darkness with drunken hobbits, lecherous fangirls, and the Abominable Elfman … ah, we mean Legolas.
So they went on as before, a grumbling, slightly bloodied and bruised procession, and suddenly the great chasm loomed before them, the Bridge spanning it like a thread of spider-silk, although mercifully rather less likely to end in the maw of one of the children of Ungoliant, unless something had gone seriously wrong with Vairë's knitting.
The hobbits were picked up and lobbed across the void, with three points being awarded if the throw knocked a fangirl unconscious, and two if it only broke her nails. Celebrían surprised everybody by managing to render three insensible with one throw, and the expression on her face was one of gleeful triumph.
The fangirls trooped dutifully across with their eyes fixed on Legolas who walked ahead of them. Aall except one, who decided to impress the princeling with her prowess at tapdancing and failed to notice the fact that there was actually a fall of several thousand feet beneath her. So ended Depressia in a small, damp mark on the rocks far below, rather like strawberry jam, in fact.
And then it all went horribly, horribly wrong – so horribly wrong that Morgoth put aside his Giant Evil Dark Lord's Bumper Puzzle with only Utumno left unfinished, and settle down for some quality viewing, giggling to himself occasionally.
Pear-shaped. The peariest of pear-shapes. The shape of Yavanna's giant prize pear which was the prototype for all other pears.
Telia saw her chance for glory, to really make a difference, to do something special. And, of course, to have soppy songs composed about her elfin beauty by Legolas. She even had a sheaf of paper at the ready for him to write them down on, and several suggestions as to possible tunes. She turned, grinning wildly, teetering on her high-heeled patent crimson leather boots, which clashed horribly with her violet lace ballgown. Her smile focused itself on Boromir, who blinked worriedly at her. She took a few steps towards him, rested her hands on his shoulders, and pushed.
But Telia had little in the way of sense, her sight was obscured by her false lashes, and she had failed to notice another figure moving in the gloom. To be honest, she would not have noticed an oliphaunt trampling her to death when her thoughts were fixated on Legolas and his … ah … bow.
Denethor has shouldered his way forwards looking for Faramir, who was currently entirely unaware of the fact that he had once more become the target of his father's barbecue fixation. And so the Steward caught the force of the fangirl's blow, toppling head over arrogant heels into the abyss, a seriously petulant expression on his face.
"How dare you?" he squawked resentfully, clutching at her sleeve. And as he fell, he thought he saw baleful red eyes in the darkness, and shared a look of mutual comprehension with the demon of Morgoth, grinning deviantly.
The sons of the Steward watched his abrupt descent with wide, horrified eyes. But they did not have long, as the scarlet eyes that Denethor had seen were coming closer. In fact, the Balrog had overslept, and was hurrying through the darkness, trying to disentangle his flaming whip from his wings at the same time as applying Evil Aftershave and drinking a cup of Evil Coffee.
"Hello," the Balrog said cheerfully, brushing Evil Muesli from his chest and casually setting fire to one particularly obnoxious fangirl, to no one's dismay. "Who would like to be eaten first?"
"Go away," Gandalf snapped.
"What, no 'secret fire' talk?" the Balrog asked.
"Go away," Gandalf repeated irritably, rolling his eyes. "Bugger off. Shoo. Scram. Skidaddle."
"Hmmm…" The Balrog ignored him pointedly and looked about. "I think I shall eat … you first." He stared at Elrond. "Yes, you look particularly edible."
Elrond raised an eyebrow.
"He is mine to eat, and mine alone," Celebrían hissed, a remark which Elrond would never tire of reminding her of, no matter how many years passed. However, as it provided her with plenty of opportunities involving Elrond, honey, and cream, she did not complain that much. Or at all, come to think of it.
The Balrog giggled. "Tough luck."
"You shall take none among us, foul fiend."
"Oh, be quiet, Olórin. It is entirely my own business if I chose to eat a few of your pet Elves."
"You shall not pass." Gandalf placed himself squarely between the Balrog and the Company, and smote the bridge with his staff. "Oh, bloody Mandos, I might as well…" He grimaced. "I am the servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. The dark fire shall not avail you, flame of Udûn. You shall not pass."*
The bridge crumbled at his feet, and the Balrog toppled into the chasm, swearing profusely. But as the world is not really a very pleasant place, and the demands of storytelling are even nastier, his lash curled around Gandalf's ankle and hauled him over the brink in a whirl of grey cloak and very pissed-off wizard.
The Company stood in shocked silence, and Elrond found that he was trembling.
And then, on the farther side of the great chamber, a clear, white light kindled itself, growing brighter and ever brighter. Everyone's grip on their weapons tightened, but soon a figure of majesty was revealed.
The Lord of the Winds, the greatest of the Valar, was gazing into the pit with an expression of sheer exasperation on his fair face. "Oh! Bugger! I told him to be careful, but would he listen?" His words rang through the chamber, and when the echoes had faded, he was gone, leaving a sacramental whiff of irritation behind.
* Direct quotation from Fellowship of the Ring.