Title: Paltering

Author: Pentangle

Warnings: none

Rating: K (although perhaps not a good read for mealtimes)

Disclaimer: not mine; done for fun

Aragorn is aprox. 18 years


Summary: Tell the truth and you pay the price. Tell lies and you pay...and pay...and pay.


One morning exactly four days before the winter solstice celebration in the Last Homely House, the eldest scion of its ruler was mulishly refusing to have anything to do with the family's usual activities of that day. His brother tried to convince him to join the others.

"Elladan, it is expected of us! You know there will be repercussions if you avoid it!"

Elladan grabbed a small pack and his quiver and bow, and strode for the balcony of his room. He remained poised on the railing for a moment with both legs hanging down the off side. "Let there be! They could not possibly be worse than what you will endure. Indeed, little brother, I may come back this afternoon and care for you - you will need it!" And with that he dropped lightly to the ground and loped off into the trees surrounding the family wing of the house.

Elrohir sadly turned and walked out the door and into the hallway, his feet dragging, his mouth turned down and a little twisted as if he did not feel well. He stopped outside the largest guest suite and knocked. The door opened and the Prince of Mirkwood stepped forth, dressed for an ordinary day in leather jerkin and leggings, but looking rather apprehensive. Elrohir gave him a sickly smile and together they turned to walk to the dining hall; they were to join the rest of the family at breakfast.

"Where is Elladan?"

Elrohir growled, "He is a knave and a coward."

"Ah." Legolas let that tempting gambit pass him by since he had much experience with the twin sons of Elrond. Eventually he would find out anyway, and one of his main goals in any visit to the Valley was trying to avoid entangling himself in quarrels between the siblings. The fair-haired prince decided to change the subject and said determinedly, "I have been thinking about this morning and it cannot be as bad as you say. It is only breakfast, after all. This is another of your family's many pranks on the innocent visiting elf!"

"You have no idea how dearly I wish that were true. You may still avoid it - I will tell her that you are being princely today and want breakfast in bed."

"Princely! You are a prince as well, mellon nin, and I do not recall Lord Elrond sending you breakfast in bed!"

"Of course not, but it is a way out for you! Take it! I will say things are done differently in Mirkwood. Or I could say you have gone to meet Estel. I could say you died. Anything to avoid breakfast this day!"

Legolas came to a halt, causing Elrohir to pause as well. Legolas placed one hand firmly on Elrohir's shoulder. "I will go with you, mellon nin. After all, if you were summoned to battle Orcs I would gladly wield my bow and knives beside you and Elladan!"

"Oh, Legolas...this will be worse - much worse."

The two continued on to the dining hall and met with Elrond, Erestor, and Glorfindel at the High Table. They all took their seats, grimly saluted each other, and watched as their doom came walking briskly through the wide double doors.


After breakfast Elrond rose, slightly pale, holding a napkin to his lips. "It is done. Going by past years we have an hour, perhaps two, until we can no longer function. I suggest we make the best use of the time we have. I shall be in my study."


The noon meal in Imladris was the most casual of the day. A collation was served for two hours with such simple fare as bread and cheese, soups, and fruit. Elves attended as their schedules allowed and often just gathered a few items to take back to wherever they were working. So it was unusual to see Elrond's table nearly full and all its occupants remaining there to eat. Or not eat as the case may be, for all was not right with the leaders of the valley.

Glorfindel raised a spoonful of clear broth to his mouth but hesitated long seconds before finally sipping at it. He returned the spoon to his bowl and slowly filled it again. Looking much like he must have when he realized the city of Gondolin would fall, he raised the spoon again and drank. Elrohir admired this display of determination but found himself unable to emulate it. His own soup was cold and untouched. He stared at it in resentment and hated his elder brother.

Elrond had some plain oat porridge rather than soup and he was apparently trying to create complicated designs in it as he slowly swirled his spoon about. He looked up and ruefully met Glorfindel's eyes. "I know, as a healer, that we should force ourselves to eat something. It is the same instruction that I have given many times to those suffering as we are, yet I find myself greatly disinclined to follow my own advice." Glorfindel drank another spoonful of soup and looked sternly at his liege. Elrond sighed and ate a little porridge.

Legolas was sitting before a plate of bread adorned with the smallest possible amount of butter. He slowly tore off tiny pieces and ate them doggedly. Mirkwood elves had survived against the tide of evil because of their daring, courage, and strength of will. He would not be beaten by breakfast in Imladris. So he grimly chewed and hated Elrond, Elrohir, and all the Noldor: his father had been right about them all along.

Erestor, meanwhile, made no attempt to eat anything and leaned his forehead against the fingers of one elegant hand. When anyone directed a comment in his direction he just waved the other hand vaguely as if at a moth or some other flying distraction.


That afternoon the experience reached its wretched peak. Erestor sat on the wide, marble edge to his bath, slumped in misery with both hands holding a slop basin on his lap. Elrond made it to his study to attempt to get some work done, but mostly just sat at his desk, staring into space and occasionally swallowing convulsively. Glorfindel, after lying on his bed for an hour or so with no improvement to show for it, decided in his pragmatic fashion to take matters into his own hands. He slowly stood and walked unflinchingly into his bathroom. He leaned over the garderobe and firmly thrust a finger down his throat.

Legolas and Elrohir spent the afternoon hours curled into the fetal position on Elrohir's bed. They looked like nothing so much as two tightly curled hedgehogs lying back to back. Their conversation was suitably prickly.

"I hate you."

"I told you not to go."

"You did not tell me forcefully enough. Where is Elladan?"

"He ran away - he is not sick."

"I hate him, too."

"Not as much as I do."


Time heals all wounds, so they say, and as afternoon became early evening, the stricken family of the Last Homely House began to believe they would live. They shuffled their way to the dining hall yet again, greeting each other with tentative smiles. Elrond asked if anyone cared for supper. Elrohir said he thought he could now eat something and the others agreed. Erestor sighed, "The worst is over for another year."

Legolas and Elrohir were not ready to put it all behind them just yet. "Adar, it is not fair that Elladan was able to escape so easily. You must make him regret his decision!"

Legolas nodded. "Indeed, Elrond, if even your guests must submit, then I agree. And what of Estel? Why was he absent this morning?"

Elrond frowned. "You surely do not imagine I would put him through such an ordeal? My youngest son? His constitution is not as strong as ours; I shudder to think what condition he would be in by now!"

Legolas goggled at the elf lord. "His constitution? He eats like a goat! I have seen him down things I would not feed an Orc - with no harmful effects!"

Elrond soothed his young friend. "No doubt it appears so, but I could not take the chance. What we ingested this morning was lethal."

Glorfindel agreed. "Yes, much better that the boy is altogether out of it. We sent him out on a long list of 'benevolence visits' to some cots far from the House. Whoever he ends up with at this time of night will feed him before he returns home. We do the same every year so he has never had to endure our trial. He will return later tonight and you must be careful not to mention this to him."

Legolas was stunned. "Every year! How long has this been going on!"

Erestor, feeling much better, assumed his role of chief statistician. "I think at least 110 years, is it not, Elrond?"

Elrond agreed and Legolas looked around at his surroundings with renewed respect. If his father knew about this he would revise his estimation of the courage and fortitude of the elves of Imladris!

Elrond rubbed his hands lightly together with satisfaction. "Now we just have one last, minor ordeal tomorrow morning and we can put all this behind us. Although we could put it behind us forever, if she could just be induced to sail!"

The group served themselves from the simple and soothing dishes the kitchen had known would be required and by the time they retired for the night, their harrowing experience was fading into memory for another year.


The next morning Elrond, Elrohir, Glorfindel, Erestor, and Legolas met together a little before breakfast. Before anyone else could be expected to enter the dining hall, they held a brief council of war. Glorfindel, as master strategist, led off. "Legolas, you will not be aware of this but she makes an appearance the day afterwards to hear further assurances that it was well received. It is imperative that we are prepared. We barely managed to avoid disaster four years ago. We must say the same things we said last year but without using the exact same phrases. Let me hear what you all intend to say. Elrond?"

"Ahem...Thank you, Mordinel, it was a very nice one this year."

"Good; add nothing at all. Erestor?"

"For once my famed reticence will stand me in good stead; I intend to simply smile and nod."

"Only you could carry it off, but it is certainly a safe strategy. Elrohir?"

The younger elf stuttered a bit with nervousness. "It - it was a th-thoughtful gift, thank you."

"Excellent! You are your father's son; a born diplomat. Legolas? Have you something prepared?"

"I thought perhaps along the lines of: Thank you, hiril, it was delicious! How lucky Imladris is to have you!"

The others looked at him aghast. Glorfindel, however, was not one to easily lose his head. He darted a glance at the doorway and then corrected the prince. "NO! What are you thinking! That is much too much! Tone it down - way down! Just say 'Thank you, hiril, it was so colorful.' "

Legolas, chastened, repeated the phrase over and over, trying for a natural tone of voice. Elrohir was not impressed with his delivery and suggested, "Perhaps we should say that Silvans do not speak Sindarin."

"No, no, he will be fine." Glorfindel glanced again at the door. "We should take our places."

Elladan showed up at that point and there was a brief diversion as his loving brother attempted to force several eating utensils down his throat.

Elrond snarled, "Stop it, both of you! So help me, Elladan, if you endanger us when we are so close to putting this behind us...!" the threat was unspoken but dire and both twins subsided and their eyes flew to the door. Elrond tapped his spoon upon the table to gain the attention of everyone and then made urgent signs for them to begin. Within moments the six elves were eating and chatting in an attempt to appear normal. They were prepared; they had taken everything into account. Nothing could go wrong. So, of course disaster struck - disaster in the shape of a young, attractive human.

Estel came breezily into the dining hall, full of news from his visits the day before. As he crossed the hall to join his family, he nearly collided with an elleth who was also heading in that direction. He apologized and offered her his arm to complete her journey (for he was a very well brought up young man). She looked at his smiling face, tittered a bit, and then it happened.

"My dear boy, how nice to see you! I rarely get a chance to speak with you. Now, tell me, how did you like the treat I made for your family? Lord Elrond assured me that you would get your portion later, since you were not at breakfast. I put so much work into them and I always like to hear that they are enjoyed!"

Estel looked into the hopeful eyes of what was surely a very nice she-elf and wondered what on Arda she was talking about. The inexperienced young man took rather an unfortunate amount of time searching for a reply. He watched as her face fell at his hesitation and a shimmer of tears could be seen. Panicking, Estel began to babble "Why, of course we enjoyed it! Very nice! We have never had one so fine!" /One what! Never mind! Keep talking/ "We were all speaking about how much we liked it, I assure you!"

The elleth questioned further, "It was not too sweet? I always think people tend to make them too sweet."

"No, no it was just right! And the color! The fragrance! It was superb! We were so disappointed when it was gone!"

Several yards away, the six at the High Table watched as their carefully laid plans came to naught. Elrond made as though to jump across the table and stop his son, but Erestor grabbed his arm. "It is too late, my lord."

Elrohir groaned, "Legolas, shoot him! Shoot him now!"

The elleth gushed on "You were? My dear, that is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me! I must make you another! I will get started right after breakfast!"

Uncomprehending of what he had just done, Estel smiled and mumbled, "Thank you. We will look forward to it." He bowed and left her to make his way to his seat beside Elrohir, who with great self-control managed to not grab his little brother by the throat.



"I hate you."


The next morning, the elleth appeared bright and early with another one. As two days before, she was not content to deliver it but brought along lovely thin stoneware plates and sliced it herself. Beaming, she passed the treat around and watched with expectation. Six elves lifted forks with hands that trembled and placed a small bite in their mouths. Six jaws chewed, and six throats swallowed manfully. Six mouths smiled and spoke the carefully tempered praise that had been prepared the previous day. The elleth moved flutteringly about, asking if anyone wanted more and refusing to leave until each had eaten his entire generous slice. Only the human did not eat and Elrond carefully explained that his son was being punished and the treat withheld. Frowning, she extracted a promise that Estel would have his portion saved for him, and then she finally took herself off to regale her friends with tales of how much the ruler of Imladris liked her recipe.

Estel hesitantly poked a fork at the stuff on the plate before him. He spoke into a doom-laden silence. "It does not look horrible. The cake part looks dark and moist and rich. These shiny red and green things look, well, I do not know what they are but how bad can they be? And surely those are walnuts and chestnuts? I am quite fond of them."

Elrond used the sad occasion to instruct his son, for he was a diligent parent. "We have not much time until the effects begin to manifest themselves, but I would be remiss if I did not point out an axiom that is demonstrated here, Estel. The lesson is this: you should never judge by appearances. Many have been fooled by a fruitcake's uncanny resemblance to food." He shook his head and trembled as the first wave of nausea struck him. "Mordinel's are particularly deceptive."

Elrohir had not forgotten the previous betrayal. "Ada, I think Elladan should eat Estel's piece, as well."

His brother turned disbelieving eyes to him. "I hate you," he said.

Elrond rose to signal that the 'meal' was at an end. He turned to Estel. "Ion, we have tried to keep this terrible event from you, but now the truth has come out. We -" He gestured at the group. "- will be unavailable the entire day for anything except a direct attack upon the House itself. I am leaving everything in your hands. Come to my study within the next hour and I may still be capable of instructing you in what needs to be done to complete the festival preparations." Then, head erect, stride smooth and controlled, the lord of Imladris left the dining hall. His co-sufferers followed his example as best they could but, except for Glorfindel's martial air, presented a very sorry spectacle.

Estel watched his family leave with some concern, but before following them to demand more answers, he pulled the plate that Elrohir had left at Elladan's chair towards him. Honestly, sometimes Elrond treated him like he was still a child. All that fuss for a, what was it? Oh yes, a fruitcake. Just to be safe, he took a very small bite. He contemplated the taste. A little chewy perhaps, and the red and green things were a bit slimy, but he had eaten far worse in the wild. Since most of the other breakfast dishes were depleted, he finished Mordinel's treat. Then he drank Elladan's water, finished the half muffin on Glorfindel's plate, helped himself to the lone strip of bacon at his father's place, and carefully wiped his mouth on a napkin. He stood, stretched, and yawned; he had put in a very full day yesterday.

He had nearly reached Elrond's quarters when the first cramp hit. He staggered the rest of the way and slumped against the door, groaning and praying he would not be sick on the spot. His father, hearing a thump and dragging sound at his door, walked slowly over to open it. He saw his youngest son bent over and groaning. Estel raised a green face and cried desperately, "Ada! Help me! I think I have been poisoned!"

"Oh, Estel! You did not -!" The groans became more urgent. The elf lord interrupted himself, put an arm around his son, and dragged him ruthlessly toward his bathing chamber.


In the prince's well-appointed suite, two lay upon the bed atop a dark green quilt. They lay on their backs, holding very still, breathing shallowly to cause as little disturbance to their mid-sections as possible. Their eyes were fixed on the ceiling and their hands held fistfuls of the quilt. A third elf was curled upon himself on the hearthrug, whining. "Why do I have to stay down here? There is room for all of us on that bed."

Through stiff lips Elrohir replied, "I do not care if the bed were as big as Imladris. Legolas and I have already suffered one full day already. Did you really think you could blithely skirt our tribulations and suffer no consequences?"

Legolas answered Elladan more directly. "Because we hate you."




A/N I do not care for fruitcake