A/N: First of all, a big thank you to everyone who encouraged me to post this sequel to "Pass the Dorwinion" and "Welcome to Imladris". You guys know who you are – it's due to you that I posted this story now and not, say, several months from now. This is the last instalment of my little "Young Lords" mini-trilogy, although it can stand alone, and I hope that it lives up to your expectations.
I admit that I am no expert on Tolkien's world, so this story could be AU. However, just like my previous stories, I think it's possible that this could have happened. If you find any inaccuracies, let me know and I will try to fix them. And I'll see you at the end!
The Greenwood Experience
They were lost.
Not three hours had passed since they had ridden through the gates of Oropher's fortress, and already they were lost. Elrond just could not understand it. After all, he had Glorfindel and Erestor with him, one of whom had an infallible sense of direction, and the other who could decipher any sort of map or markings.
Why Oropher had to live in a series of underground caverns and tunnels Elrond just did not understand. Would it have killed the older elf to build a perfectly nice, normal, functional, above-ground home? You know, something lit by sunlight, and not just candles and torches?
Besides, it wasn't as if they had not tried to ask for help. After Thranduil's pithy greeting, the Wood-Elf Prince had obligingly drawn them a map of the main corridors and rooms. But apparently this dwelling was far more complicated than Elrond had foreseen. He had tried vainly to make sense of the map, but the chaotic mess of lines, squiggles, and scrawled details failed to make any sort of sense to him. Tunnels overlapped one another, with numerous twists and turns. In defeat, Elrond had given the map to Erestor, who had only recently realized that he had been holding it upside-down. The three visitors from Imladris blamed their troubles, naturally, on the poor quality of Prince Thranduil's drawing.
"Maybe we should just ask someone", sighed Erestor, glancing surreptitiously at the elves strolling through the halls.
"No! Are you crazy?" Glorfindel hissed. "We will not ask these – these – Wood-Elves for directions!"
Elrond rolled his eyes, then glanced down a corridor. "Wait!" He flung out his hand, stopping his two companions. "Is that the main entrance?"
They peered down the corridor, and were greeted by the sight of the large stone doors in the act of opening.
"Just wonderful", huffed Glorfindel bad-temperedly. "We are back where we started!"
Elrond ignored him and strode confidently out into the hall, trailed by his two friends. He was soon approached by Prince Thranduil, who had been talking to some of the guards. The Prince raised an eyebrow at their appearance. "I thought you had gone to look over your quarters", he said.
"We have found them most satisfactory", Elrond replied, lying through his teeth.
The other elf gave a slight nod, before gesturing at the doors. "Your timing is good. I just came to greet a mutual acquaintance of ours. He will be staying for three nights as well."
Elrond opened his mouth to enquire as to the identity of the visitor, when suddenly a figure dressed all in grey appeared at his side. "Prince Thranduil! Lord Elrond!" A young elf was gazing up at both of them with breathless admiration.
The half-elf fought an intense urge to sigh, and forced a warm smile. "A pleasure to see you again, Galdor of the Havens", he greeted.
The other elf was practically bouncing with excitement. "When Cirdan told me I had received an invitation to the Greenwood, I did not know that you would be here too, Lord Elrond!"
"Yes", the Prince remarked with an ironic twist of his mouth. "It was my father's doing, I assure you. He seems to think that I enjoyed myself far too much at Imladris, and he thought to repay the favour by inviting everyone here." Elrond knew that Thranduil would never have asked them to come of his own volition, and he had suspected Oropher of having a hand in it. Indeed, Thranduil's written invitation had been so cursory, it was almost rude.
"Where shall we go first?" asked Galdor enthusiastically, looked around the hall with eyes the size of teacups.
"Yes, Prince", Glorfindel said merrily, coming up with Erestor at his side. "Why don't you give us all a tour?"
Thranduil's face twitched at hearing Glorfindel's voice, and Elrond knew that the Wood-Elf was doing all in his power to keep from throttling the seneschal. From his sour expression, Elrond knew that the Prince had several more important things to do than give his four guests a tour, but common courtesy held sway.
"What would you like to see?" Thranduil asked with artificial cordiality.
Elrond, Erestor, and Galdor were all cut off in their replies by – who else? – Glorfindel. "The dungeons!" the blond warrior enthused.
Galdor's jaw dropped several inches. "There are dungeons here?" he squeaked.
"Of course not", Elrond snorted, shooting an admonishing glance at Glorfindel for fooling the young Haven elf. "It is merely a rumour. Did you really think that Lord Oropher would have dungeons in his home?"
But Elrond noticed suddenly that the other elves were staring at the Prince, who had a most peculiar expression on his face. "Well… um… actually…" Thranduil muttered, ears going slightly pink.
"So the rumours are true", murmured Erestor, eyes twinkling.
The Wood-Elf nodded, and heaved a long-suffering sigh. "Very well. Follow me."
"You idiot!" Glorfindel roared, practically tearing his hair out in his fury. "What do you mean, we're locked in?"
"I told you!" Thranduil shouted back, green eyes flashing dangerously. "We hardly ever use these cells. Besides, it was your brilliant idea to actually go inside this thing!"
"It's not like I locked the door behind us!" the blond warrior was yelling, gesticulating wildly with his hands. Erestor deftly ducked one of his flailing arms, but Galdor was not so quick, catching a blow full in the face.
"Quiet!" Elrond said sharply, and the two blond elves fell silent, fuming at each other across the cell. Galdor was rubbing his cheek ruefully. "The door closed by accident, and now we are locked in", Elrond summarised with forced calm. "We can simply call for help."
"Did you not hear what I said?" Thranduil snapped, his blazing eyes not leaving Glorfindel for a second. "We hardly use these cells. Almost nobody comes down here. A patrol scours the entire fortress at dawn and dusk, but not a soul otherwise."
"Wonderful", Glorfindel responded furiously. "Absolutely wonderful. You mean we're stuck in here until sunset?"
Elrond sank down onto the ground, leaning his head back against the cool stone. "We may as well figure out something to pass the time, then", he wearily said, massaging his throbbing temples. "Any suggestions?"
"Why don't we tell jokes?" Galdor asked innocently.
Thranduil shot the younger elf a very annoyed look. "Is this really the time?" he demanded, hand twitching towards his knives. Thankfully he did not draw them, although it must have been a very near thing.
Glorfindel scowled darkly. "Do you have something better to do?" he shot at the Prince, irritation plain on his face. Thranduil opened his mouth to give a withering reply, but was unexpectedly interrupted:
"What is black and white and red?"
The other elves turned to stare at Erestor, who looked back at them all serenely.
Elrond cleared his throat. "Er – Pardon?"
"It is a joke", the councillor patiently explained. "What is black and white and red?"
The elves were silent for a moment, considering the question. Elrond frowned in thought. Black and white and red… Then Prince Thranduil's head jerked up in sudden realization. "A spider!" he said triumphantly.
"Spiders are only black", Glorfindel snorted, rolling his eyes. "Colour-blind Wood-Elf", he added in an undertone that was missed by no one.
The Prince whipped his head around to glare angrily at the blond warrior. "Have you ever seen the inside of one?" he asked acerbically, and Elrond hid a smile.
"What is white inside a spider?" Galdor wondered, brow furrowing in thought.
Erestor, apparently intent on averting all arguments, said hurriedly, "It is not a spider."
Elrond scratched his head. "A badger with a rash?" he guessed.
"No, my Lord. I'm afraid not."
"I know!" Glorfindel exclaimed, stabbing a finger into the air. "It is Elrond when he gets angry!" What? The half-elf turned to frown at his seneschal.
Erestor evidently decided that it was time to stop the offensive comments. "Actually, it is a scroll", he said. "Black – the ink. And white – the paper. And read."
The four other elves looked cluelessly at one another, then Elrond closed his eyes and leaned back against the wall in realization. "Ah…"
Glorfindel snorted with laughter. "Trust Erestor to come up with a scroll joke", he chortled.
"Who goes next?" Galdor asked excitedly.
Elrond decided to take the plunge. "I have one", he said, and Glorfindel and Erestor looked at him in mild surprise. "What do you call a hundred Dwarves chained together at the bottom of the sea?"
The other elves frowned and looked around the room for inspiration, but eventually conceded defeat. "What?" Galdor asked finally, blue eyes wide.
Elrond grinned. "A good start."
Glorfindel let out a spontaneous bark of laughter. "I never knew that you could be so cruel", he teased.
"You are the one who is always talking about respecting other races, my Lord", Erestor said, nodding his agreement.
Elrond waved his hand dismissively. "If you do not know any Dwarf jokes", he declared, eyes twinkling, "Then you are no Elf."
From where he leaned against the wall, Thranduil raised his hand. "I will share a Dwarf joke, then", he said, quirking an eyebrow. "Let me see… a Dwarf, an Elf, and a Ranger are in a boat in the middle of a lake, and it sinks. The shore is a mile away. The Ranger swims a quarter-mile, gets tired, and drowns. The Elf swims a half-mile, gets tired, and drowns. The Dwarf swims three quarters of a mile, gets tired, swims back, and drowns."
The other elves burst into laughter, with Galdor rolling on the ground in mirth.
"I like it!" Glorfindel admitted, before realizing his mistake in complimenting the Prince. "Except for the Dwarf swimming further than the elf", he added hastily.
Galdor sat up, face red from laughing. "My turn, then!" he said gleefully. "How do you make a Dwarf laugh on yestarë? Tell him a joke on mettarë!"
Erestor rolled his eyes eloquently. "As long as we are on the subject of Dwarf jokes, I may as well contribute one", he said resignedly. "How do you get a Dwarf out of a tree? Wave."
"I have never seen a Dwarf in a tree", the Prince reflected, but shut up when Glorfindel sent a ferocious glare his way.
"My turn?" the blond warrior said once he was sure that Thranduil was not going to say anything more. "All right, then… What do you have when a Dwarf is buried up to his neck in snow? Not enough snow."
Not about to be outdone, Thranduil spoke up. "How about this one: how do you save a drowning Dwarf? Take your foot off his head."
Elrond caught Erestor's eye, and the two dark-haired elves nodded in silent agreement. This was turning into some sort of ridiculous "dwarf joke" competition. Couldn't Glorfindel and Thranduil do anything without changing it into a contest of some sort? It seemed not.
"Here is another", Glorfindel declared before any of the other elves could utter a word. "Why is a Dwarf's brain the size of an acorn in the morning? Because it swells during the night."
"Did you hear about the Dwarf who shot an arrow into the air?" Thranduil countered. "He missed."
Almost before Thranduil had finished speaking, Glorfindel cried, "How do you tell the sex of a Dwarf? By pulling up its beard."
There was a very long, very awkward silence.
"Glorfindel!" Elrond finally yelled. "That was entirely inappropriate!"
Thranduil placed an elegant hand over his eyes. "I do not even want to think about that!" he groaned. "Someone say something to make the vision in my head go away!"
Galdor, however, was looking around at the rest of the elves, blinking his large eyes. "I do not understand."
"Good!" Elrond, Erestor, and Thranduil all exclaimed.
The next morning in the early light of dawn, the five young elves saddled up their mounts. They had been released from the dungeons the evening before, and the story had spread like wildfire throughout the cavernous halls. Many obvious glances had been shot their way throughout dinner, and the Wood-Elves whispered amongst themselves whenever they passed, faces alight with laughter. Thranduil bore all of this with a stoical impassiveness that Elrond found quite impressive. Nevertheless, they had decided to leave as early as possible to avoid being seen and gossiped about by too many elves.
"Is this entirely necessary?" Erestor asked as they rode out of Oropher's halls, faces chilled by the early morning air.
"Of course it is", answered the Prince briskly, leading the group into the forest. "Spider-hunting is all a part of the Greenwood experience."
Glorfindel snorted incredulously. "What are we going to do? Stomp on them?"
Thranduil shot an icy glare over his shoulder. "You have not seen spiders like these before", he replied flatly. "Ever."
They rode on through the trees, but not on any path that Elrond could distinguish. They finally came to a dark, dense part of the forest where a small amount of light filtered through the branches. Thranduil called a halt and dismounted lightly from his horse, bending to examine the ground.
Unlike the other mounts, the Prince's horse did not wear a saddle or trappings of any kind. Elrond could not help but think that Thranduil, armed with bow, spear, and knives, and dressed in his usual green and brown, looked very much at home in these woods. He, Erestor, and Glorfindel, with their long scabbarded swords and colourful robes, seemed about as out of place as an oliphaunt on Caradhras. Galdor, dressed all in shining grey, was not much better.
Thranduil straightened and jumped easily onto his horse's back before starting off again. "Show-off", Glorfindel muttered darkly.
"What did you see?" Galdor enquired, staring at the ground in a vain attempt to glimpse whatever the Prince had found.
"Tracks", Thranduil answered pithily.
After a few more minutes of riding, the Wood-Elf motioned for them all to dismount. "We leave the horses here", he said. "They do not like spiders." Elrond saw that Glorfindel was about to protest, and silenced him with a look.
As they tiptoed through the trees, the Prince whispered hushed instructions: "The tracks were fairly fresh, so we will come upon it soon. When we encounter the spider, do not hesitate – we attack as one. Be careful of its pincers and do not get caught by any webs."
"This is ridiculous!" Glorfindel laughed, unable to keep silent any longer. "It is only one little spider…" His voice trailed off when a quick scuffling sound reached their ears. Something very heavy was moving through the loam. "Just some forest animal", Glorfindel breathed, hand twitching nervously.
Thranduil smirked at him. "A forest animal with eight legs?"
They continued on, moving even more silently than before. Finally, they turned a corner and caught sight of their prey: a spider was trundling along between the trees, clicking its pincers. But this spider was big. Its eight bristly legs arced like tree branches, suspending its bulbous black body above the ground. "Oh, good", the Prince muttered. "A young one." Elrond stared at him incredulously. This was a young one? "Well, come on!" hissed Thranduil.
The elves drew their weapons and sprinted forward. The spider spun around with astonishing speed, and Thranduil shoved Elrond to the ground as a jet of sticky rope shot past. "Ugh!" Glorfindel cried, attempting to wipe the gooey mess from his tunic.
Elrond scrambled to his feet in time to see the Prince slashing at the spider's legs. The half-elf charged, and the spider whirled to meet him, its windmilling limbs knocking Erestor, Galdor, and Thranduil off their feet. Elrond raised his sword and struck, and a leg fell, twitching, from where it had been severed. The spider squealed with pain, and Elrond threw himself to the ground as sticky thread was squirted at him. He straightened, spitting leaves, in time to see the spider's hind end disappearing between the trees.
"Quick, after it!" Thranduil cried, and the five elves followed the trail of black blood. They were so intent upon the chase that when the Prince suddenly skidded to a stop, the other elves ran smack into him. It took a brief, frantic struggle to sort everything out, and once Elrond had regained his feet he finally saw why Thranduil had halted: they had stumbled upon a spider colony.
A large mass of webs covered the ground and five tall trees, winding and snaking over the knobbly limbs in intricate walls and tunnels. And worst of all, the remains of the colony's prey hung like horrible fruit from the branches.
"We are too few", Thranduil was saying. "We have to go back and tell the other elves of this colony."
"You mean we are running away?" Glorfindel asked as he impatiently picked twigs and leaves from his golden hair.
"We are retreating", the Prince countered, setting his jaw aggressively.
Elrond was inclined to agree with him – to attack an entire colony of these monsters was nothing short of madness. But then, he had always known Glorfindel to be mad.
"We can handle them", the warrior insisted, that familiar manic gleam in his eyes. Elrond reflected that this was exactly what his seneschal must have looked like when he'd decided to attack a certain Balrog. Impossible odds seemed to be irresistible to this particular elf.
Elrond knew that now his friend was beyond reason, and Erestor knew it too. Thranduil, unfortunately, did not know Glorfindel well enough, and tried to convince the other elf to listen to reason, with a wide-eyed Galdor watching. The Prince could have saved his breath.
Glorfindel merely raised his sword and charged.
Elrond heaved a heavy sigh, ignoring the look of complete and utter shock on the Prince's face, and followed his friend, Erestor at his side.
The spiders were galvanized into action by the appearance of intruders. While some swarmed down to meet them, others set about madly spinning new webs to try to hedge in their prey. Elrond now saw that the spider they had encountered previously was indeed a young one – these creatures were larger than horses!
Deftly ducking one spider's pincers and sinking his sword into another, Elrond watched Glorfindel out of the corner of his eye. The warrior was wreaking havoc on the giant arachnids, laughing crazily as he swung his sword with deadly accuracy. The half-elf knew that his seneschal actually enjoyed this sort of thing, which was completely beyond his understanding.
"Elrond!" a voice called. "Lie flat!"
The half-elf immediately dropped to the ground, and felt something whistle overhead. He raised his head to see a large spider crumpled behind him, a spear through one of its eight beady eyes. He got to his feet as Thranduil hurried towards him, a panicky-looking Galdor in tow.
The Wood-Elf's bow was in his hand, and he nodded cordially at the Elf-Lord. "Cover me, will you?" he said, and without even waiting for an answer he fit an arrow to his bow. Elrond rolled his eyes, but turned to watch the Prince's back, listening to the steady twang of the bowstring.
Beside him, Galdor was dancing up and down in terror. "What are we doing?" the Haven elf cried, voice wavering out of control. "We should leave! We should go back!"
"Too late now", Elrond answered calmly. He handed his sword over to the younger elf, who had apparently lost his knife. "Here."
Galdor stared at the blade. "I cannot use this", he sputtered. "I'm not a warrior! I – I – I make boats!"
"Learn to use it", Elrond grunted as he pulled Thranduil's spear from the dead spider. He spun at Galdor's warning scream in time to impale a spider that had been creeping up on him. The Haven elf, meanwhile, was waving the sword with heedless abandon. In the face of this wild and completely unpredictable attack, the spiders, incredibly, were backing off. "Keep waving your sword!" Elrond encouraged, and the other elf nodded, absolutely terrified.
The half-elf rolled to one side, and a set of pincers sunk into the earth where he had been standing a moment before. Blocking the spider's second attack with the handle of the spear, he then brought it crashing down on the creature's back. The weapon shattered with a resounding crack, and Elrond was left holding two halves of the Prince's spear. Thinking quickly, he jabbed the jagged end of the handle into the spider's belly.
"I am out of arrows", Thranduil announced, slinging the bow onto his back and drawing his daggers. He turned, and his jaw dropped. "What have you done to my spear?"
Elrond looked down at the pitiful weapon, which was now reduced to half its original size, and shrugged apologetically. Erestor suddenly materialized at his side, panting with exertion, but uninjured. Although Elrond's councillor did not like to fight, that did not make him a poor warrior. "Everyone all right?" he asked. He blinked in surprise. "My Lord, what is Galdor doing with your sword?"
"Never mind that", Elrond said hurriedly. "Where is Glorfindel?"
They all looked around wildly, and eventually spotted him in the treetops, duelling recklessly with a spider along a high tree-limb. Elrond had absolutely no idea how he had gotten up there, but that was Glorfindel. More spiders were lowering themselves from higher branches, and others were scuttling up the trunk of the tree.
"He is in trouble", Erestor said with a sigh, "As always."
"Enough is enough", Thranduil snapped, pulling his daggers out of a very dead spider. "Let's get out of here while we still can!"
"I concur with the Prince", Galdor put in hurriedly. Incredibly, he was even now unharmed, although he still trembled like a frightened rabbit.
Elrond bit his lip. "Right. Well, there's nothing for it." He lifted the half-spear, and looked around at the other elves. "We all charge together, climb that tree, grab Glorfindel, and run out of here. Agreed?"
Prince Thranduil stared at him silently for about ten seconds, not even breaking his gaze to slay a spider that had been trying to sneak up on him. "That is one of the stupidest plans I have ever heard", he declared flatly, shaking spider blood from his knives.
"Do you have a better idea?" Elrond countered, close to losing his temper.
The Wood-Elf narrowed his green eyes. "Several", he sneered.
"An idea that does not involve leaving Glorfindel behind", the half-elf clarified, and the Prince merely scowled. "All right, then", said Elrond. "That settles it." He turned to look up at the tree where Glorfindel appeared to be having the time of his life. "Is everyone ready?"
The four elves charged, yelling at the top of their voices, weapons swinging. Elrond ducked a particularly wild swipe of Galdor's – he'd have to watch out for that elf. Against all odds, they reached the base of the tree where Glorfindel was perched without being slain. Several spiders were scurrying up the trunk to take out their biggest threat: Glorfindel. Elrond wasted no time in climbing up one-handed, striking at the creatures with the broken spear. He found that poking at their feet caused them to lose their grip, and a strong shove could send them toppling down to the ground. Erestor climbed at his side, wielding his sword with deadly accuracy. Elrond frankly did not want to think about what Galdor was doing, but he could hear the young elf shouting hysterically at the base of the tree.
Out of the corner of his eye, Elrond spotted the Prince swinging himself up through the branches of the tree next to theirs, bypassing the spiders. Thranduil came to rest on a branch near Glorfindel's, unable to jump to the blond warrior; the tree-limb was entirely covered with spiders.
Elrond and Erestor pulled themselves onto Glorfindel's branch. Erestor, armed with the sword, went first, and the normally serene councillor fought his way through the spiders with frightening efficiency. Due to the narrowness of the limb, it was best to simply bowl the creatures over and watch them fall to the earth. Elrond glanced over his shoulder at his councillor, and breathed a sigh of relief when they finally reached Glorfindel.
Erestor tapped the blond warrior on the shoulder. "Time to go", he announced grimly, looking down at the spiders who had recovered from their falls and were now scampering back up the trunk of the tree.
"Not yet, Erestor, not yet!" Glorfindel replied, waving off the councillor. "I need to teach these vile creatures a lesson!"
"This is not the time for personal vendettas", the dark-haired elf countered steadily. "There are far too many of them, friend. We should get out of here now."
"Just a few more minutes", pleaded the seneschal, taking out two spiders with a single sword-thrust.
Elrond's eyes widened as he saw more spiders scurrying along the branch. In seconds the three of them would be surrounded. "No time to argue", he said to Erestor, who nodded in grave agreement. The councillor and the half-elf each seized one of Glorfindel's arms, and launched themselves onto the branch of the tree next to theirs. Thranduil caught and steadied them, before leading the mad scramble back down to the ground. Glorfindel, however, was most uncooperative.
"Let me go!" he yelled, struggling against the two dark-haired elves who were dragging him away from the colony. "Just one more! Let me kill just one more!"
"NO!" shouted Elrond, Erestor, and Thranduil.
Galdor scurried up from where he had been fighting at the base of the tree, spider blood and guts coating his sword and robes. It was hard to realize that there was an elf under all of that gore. "I think I understand that joke now", he gasped, nearly hyperventilating with fright. "About spiders being black and white and red."
"No time to talk", Thranduil said shortly. He pointed his thumb over his shoulder at the spiders who were giving chase. Elrond saw with a thrill of horror that webs had been spun all around the clearing, and they were nearly hemmed in. There was only one narrowing gap available for escape.
The elves fled into the trees, slashing through the sticky webs, with Elrond and Erestor heaving a resisting Glorfindel between them. They crashed through the undergrowth, tripping over roots and stones in their haste, clothing getting caught on brambles.
Elrond did not know how long they dashed through the forest in their crazy getaway, before Thranduil suddenly flung out his hands and they all stumbled to a halt. They were at the edge of a black, fast-flowing stream. "Do not go into the water", Thranduil warned them. "It is enchanted."
Glorfindel raised one eyebrow in obvious scepticism, but refrained from comment. He had since calmed down from his battle-rage, Elrond was glad to see, and they could not hear the spiders anymore.
"What do we do now?" Galdor asked, looking around nervously. His hand was clenched tight on the handle of Elrond's sword, and the half-elf pried it gently out of his grasp.
"We could call for our horses", Erestor suggested, and they spent the next half-hour whistling for their mounts and calling their names. But to no avail.
"Brilliant", Glorfindel said bitterly. "No horses, and I bet we are lost too."
"Excuse me?" Thranduil planted his hands on his hips and glowered at the other elf. "I am the Prince of the Greenwood. There is no way that I could get lost among these trees. We are not too far from the fortress, and we can reach it by sundown if we start walking immediately."
"Sundown?" Elrond said at the same time that Glorfindel cried, "Walking?"
"Yes", Thranduil snapped in answer to both of them.
"These woods are dangerous at night", Erestor said quietly. "Could we perhaps make camp instead and wait for dawn?"
"Now that sounds like a good idea", Glorfindel approved heartily.
The Prince, however, did not agree. "We should get back to my father and tell the others about the spider colony as soon as possible. And… I do not wish to spend the night out here." Elrond supposed that was as far as Thranduil would go to admitting that he was afraid.
"What sorts of things live in these woods?" Galdor asked anxiously, peering about him.
The corner of Thranduil's mouth lifted in a mirthless smile. "You do not want to know", he answered witheringly.
Elrond could see that the Haven elf was starting to panic again. "Look, let us start walking now, and try to reach the gates before sundown", he reasoned.
"If we wait for a patrol, we will not have to walk", Glorfindel countered.
Galdor chose that moment to completely lose it. "Oh, just get us out of here!" he shrieked, jumping up and down in alarm. As the four other elves tried to calm him down, Galdor's thrashing arm caught Glorfindel in the chin – and knocked him into the stream.
Elrond made as if to jump in after him, but Thranduil grabbed his arm. "Do not touch the water!" the Wood-Elf hissed at him. He grabbed the broken spear from Elrond and extended it to Glorfindel. The other elf's hand closed around the handle, and they pulled him out of the stream.
Glorfindel's eyes were open, but they held a very vacant expression. "Er – Glorfindel?" Elrond asked hesitantly.
His seneschal turned his head slightly, eyes very hazy and unfocused.
"He is enchanted", Thranduil said gravely.
Erestor frowned, leaning down to examine the warrior. "What do we do?"
The Prince shrugged. "It will wear off in time."
Using their belts, cloaks, and weapons, they managed to fashion litter of sorts to carry the dazed elf between them.
It was hours after nightfall when they finally stumbled across the bridge and up to the stone doors of Oropher's fortress. Guards were awaiting them, and they were escorted immediately into a vast pillared hall. Elrond gulped when he saw Oropher sitting on his great chair of carved wood, and tried to shake off the feeling that he was a naughty little elfling caught straying out of bounds.
"Are any of you harmed?" were the first words out of the Elf-Lord's mouth. Elrond seriously wished that they were so that they could be sent to the healers. It would be better than standing before Lord Oropher and all of his council, covered in spider guts and bits of web, with Glorfindel about as helpful as a sack of flour.
"No, my Lord", Thranduil answered for all of them. "We are not injured. Lord Glorfindel is merely enchanted."
Oropher's brows drew together. "Explain yourselves", he commanded.
The Prince stepped forward, clearing his throat. "I took my guests out to hunt spiders, my Lord", he answered steadily. "We stumbled upon an unknown colony, just south of the enchanted stream near the beech grove."
The elf attendants who stood between the carved pillars whispered amongst themselves at this piece of news. Oropher nodded at an armoured elf by his side, who bowed and left the hall, presumably to organize a proper hunting party.
"Why did you not immediately return to tell us of this?" the Elf-Lord demanded sternly, leaning forward in his chair.
Thranduil glanced at Glorfindel, who was still incoherent and propped up between Elrond and Erestor. "It was my idea", he said finally.
Elrond stepped forward, dropping Glorfindel's arm and inadvertently letting his seneschal collapse onto the ground. "That is not true, Lord Oropher", he announced. "Your son tried to convince us to turn back, but we would not hear of it." He ignored Thranduil's glare, which said plainly 'I can take care of myself', and continued. "The Prince was outnumbered, and had little choice in the matter."
Oropher frowned at his son, who stared stolidly back. Finally, the older elf inclined his head. "Very well", he announced. "You will not be punished. But I forbid you – all five of you – from venturing outside of my doors for the remainder of your stay. Do I make myself clear?"
The four fully conscious elves bowed in compliance.
Oropher settled back in his chair. "Now", he said, "Enlighten us all as to how you came to be covered in spider blood, carrying an enchanted companion between you."
Elrond and Thranduil exchanged glances. Apparently it was not enough to have the entire fortress talking about them locking themselves in the dungeons. Now they had to relate their foolhardy spider hunt, and Glorfindel was not even awake to take the greater part of the blame that he deserved. Elrond's thoughts were reflected in the Prince's eyes: it was simply not fair.
The five young elves had decided to keep out of Oropher's way for the time being. So the next morning, Thranduil took them all down into a half-forgotten corner of the fortress.
"What is down here?" Galdor asked.
"Storerooms", the Prince replied, lighting the torches around the walls. "This is where we put all of the useless gifts we receive. I have found many interesting things in these cupboards."
The five elves set about to explore the contents of the crates, sacks, and chests that filled the room. A lot of it was man-made junk which even Erestor was at a loss to identify.
"Hey!" Galdor exclaimed after a few minutes of searching. "What is this?" The Haven elf emerged from the darkness of a cupboard clutching a small barrel.
The Prince frowned as he peered at the worn label. "I am not sure", he said reluctantly, obviously unwilling to admit any shortage of knowledge here in his home. "It is probably a gift from the Men downriver."
Glorfindel, meanwhile, had drawn his dagger and was prying eagerly at the lid. Everyone gathered around curiously to see what was inside. As soon as the barrel was opened, Galdor dropped it to the floor and the five elves recoiled from the pungent smell.
"I know what that is", Elrond said, gagging. "It is pipeweed."
"Pipeweed? What in Arda do you do with it?" coughed Galdor, his normally bright eyes watering uncontrollably.
Elrond shielded his face with his sleeve, trying to smother the stench. "Men put it into an instrument called a pipe, light it one fire, and inhale the smoke", he explained.
"Are you serious?" Thranduil choked.
Erestor, meanwhile, had a most peculiar expression on his face. He began to rummage frantically through his robes while the other elves watched with a mixture of concern and puzzlement. Finally, from one of his countless hidden pockets, he produced what looked like a small clay bowl attached to a very long stem. "Is this a pipe?" he asked innocently.
"Erestor!" exclaimed Glorfindel, seizing the object. "You have been holding out on us! Where did you get this?"
"I bought it as a curiosity item", the councillor shrugged, "In one of the villages we passed through."
"Let's try it", the blond warrior said eagerly, blue eyes sparkling.
Silence greeted his words.
"Ex – excuse me?" Elrond finally spluttered, having regained his powers of speech. "Did I hear you right, Glorfindel?"
The Prince was shaking his blond head, and his expression was one of mixed disbelief and scorn. "Forgive me", he said dryly, "But your ideas have not been very good, of late."
Glorfindel was staring around at the other elves incredulously. "Come on, are you not curious about why Men do these things?" he pressed, waving his arms.
Elrond was beginning to get very annoyed. "Listen", he said with as much patience as he could muster. "We are practically asphyxiating from the mere smell of that vile stuff! What sort of an effect would inhaling the smoke have on us?"
"Well, I am going to try it", his seneschal insisted. He gave a sudden reckless grin that filled Elrond with foreboding. "Really, Men do it all the time. How bad could it be?"
The half-elf sighed, resisting the urge to bang his head against the wall, and watched resignedly as his seneschal stuffed a stinking tobacco leaf into the pipe bowl. The sight filled him with a sense of impending doom, but he knew from long experience that once Glorfindel was set on something, there was little anyone could do to stop him.
The golden-haired warrior looked around at his companions. "Does anybody have a light?"
Thranduil slowly handed over his tinderbox, clearly going against his better judgement. Glorfindel took it and promptly lit the pipeweed. Soon the other elves had retreated even further, noses stinging from the trail of white smoke that was rising into the air.
"So, you – er – just inhale it, right?" asked Glorfindel, not looking as confident as he had before.
"That's right", Elrond managed to answer as he sneezed into his sleeve.
The warrior hesitated for a second or two, and then placed his mouth over the smoking bowl of the pipe. Immediately he pulled away, spluttering. "Eugh!" he shrieked, spitting profusely.
"Come on, Glorfindel", Erestor smiled. "You fought a Balrog. Surely this can be no worse?"
"It's worse", the seneschal confirmed grimly between coughs. "This time it feels like I tried to swallow the Balrog."
Elrond, however, could barely hold back his laughter. "You did it wrong", he sniggered, eyes tearing with mirth – or maybe it was the smoke. "You are supposed to inhale through the stem of the pipe. The thin part."
Glorfindel looked at him, and then looked down at the pipe in his tobacco-stained fingers. "Oh."
Prince Thranduil let out an involuntary snort of laughter, and Glorfindel's eyes narrowed wickedly. "All right, Prince" he rasped, having finally gotten his breathing under control once more. "Your turn."
The smirk rapidly faded from the Wood-Elf's fair face. "Ah – no, thank you."
"Come on", Glorfindel urged, waving the pipe. "I did it."
"Glorfindel…" Elrond said in a warning tone that any intelligent elf would have taken heed of. But then, Elrond did not number his seneschal among the most intelligent elves in his employ. Besides, the gauntlet had already been thrown. The elven lord knew that it was useless to try to dissuade Prince Thranduil from accepting a challenge from Glorfindel – especially on his home ground.
The Wood-Elf squared his shoulders and reached for the pipe. Placing the stem defiantly between his lips, he looked straight at Glorfindel and sucked in a mouthful of smoke. Instantly, his green eyes began to water. The other elves watched with interest as his face grew progressively redder and redder, until finally he burst out into a fit of hacking coughs.
Erestor swiftly took the pipe from the Prince's faltering hands, and Thranduil bent over double, supporting himself with a hand on the wall.
Glorfindel, incredibly, was beaming and he clapped his hands together cheerfully. "Good!" he said brightly. "Erestor, you next."
The councillor raised a dark eyebrow. "I do not think so", he replied. "I have seen enough of what it has done to you and the Prince."
"That was because we inhaled too much", Glorfindel argued. "Erestor, in that scholarly little mind of yours, do you not wonder what it is like to smoke a pipe like one of the Edain?"
"Erestor", Elrond broke in hurriedly before this went all out of hand, "You do not have to–"
"No, he is right, my Lord", the councillor answered quietly. He was looking thoughtfully at the pipe, which Elrond was beginning to suspect of being an instrument of evil created by Men to wipe out all elven-kind. But before he could object further, Erestor had lifted the pipe and taken a tiny puff. He gave only one or two small coughs, and closed his eyes.
"What is it like?" Galdor demanded, wide-eyed.
Erestor's mouth twisted, and he wrinkled his nose. "It tastes abominable, but it does make you feel a little warm."
Galdor snatched the pipe and took an eager puff himself, but perhaps he was a little too eager – soon he was curled up on the ground, hacking his lungs out. "How do Men do this stuff?" he cried between bouts of violent coughing.
"Perhaps they build up immunity", mused Erestor as he picked up the pipe. He turned it over pensively in his hands, before offering it to Elrond with a questioning glance.
The half-elf sighed, and took it. "Seeing as none of you have dropped dead yet…" he remarked sarcastically, before taking a small puff. The smoke scalded his throat right down to the lungs, and his nose and eyes began to sting. But as these unpleasant feelings faded, a lingering warmth seemed to spread throughout his body.
"Elrond!" Glorfindel was exclaiming. "You did not cough!"
"I suppose it is because he is only a half-elf", stated Prince Thranduil casually.
"That is quite possible", Elrond conceded, trying to keep Glorfindel from slitting the Wood-Elf's throat for the implied insult. He looked down at the pipe, and took another puff. The smoke went down easier, that time.
The five elves sat down on crates and sacks in the storeroom, and passed the pipe around, following Elrond's example. After a while, Elrond began to doubt his vision. The colours were all wrong, for one thing.
"Really", Glorfindel remarked with an uncharacteristic giggle, "Once you get used to it, it is not all that bad."
"Aside from the taste", shot back Thranduil, making a face.
There came a clattering sound, and then Galdor chirped, "Perhaps this will help!" He had been rummaging through the cupboards, and emerged with a very dark, moist cake wrapped in brown paper.
"That is made by Men, too", Thranduil informed them. "Father pronounced it unfit to eat because it contains large amounts of …um… brandy."
Glorfindel shrugged cheerfully. "Cake is cake."
They divided it into five large pieces, and Thranduil unearthed a cask of what Men called "whisky" to wash it down with. Very soon Elrond was feeling extremely light-headed, but he attributed that to the foul-smelling smoke that filled the room. Their conversation picked up at that point, and all of a sudden everything seemed so much funnier.
"So I was taking off her garters", Glorfindel was saying loudly amidst hearty snickers, when the door of the storeroom was flung wide open.
Elrond's heart thudded with terror when he looked up to see a tall, distorted figure wreathed in smoke standing in the doorway. "A Balrog!" he shouted without thinking.
Galdor screamed and fell backwards off his crate. "Balrog? Where? Will it kill us? Should we give it a peace offering? Do Balrogs like cake?"
"Do not worry", Erestor cried. "Florgindel has killed one before!"
The Balrog took a menacing step forward, and the heavy smoke cleared somewhat to reveal the pale face of – Oropher?
"I am in trouble", someone said, and it took Elrond quite a while to recognize the squeaky voice as Thranduil's.
"You most certainly are!" thundered Oropher, and the five young elves winced. The tall elf stepped further into the room, waving a hand before his nose to freshen the air. "Smoking?" he bellowed, looking and sounding as threatening as an impending storm. His flashing eyes took in the near-empty casket of whisky, the remains of the brandy cake, and the open barrel of pipeweed before coming to rest on his son.
Thranduil, who was paler than marble, gulped visibly and got unsteadily to his feet. Elrond did not know how he did it; if Gil-Galad had been looking at him like that, he would have crawled away to some dark corner to shrivel up and expire.
"Follow me", Lord Oropher said in a deceptively calm voice that was so much worse than shouting. "All of you."
It did not even occur to Elrond to disobey. His feet automatically carried him out of the door, up the winding stone steps, past Oropher's attendants, and back into the torchlit passageway. Here, surrounded by fresher air, his mind started to clear somewhat (the colours returned to normal, at least) – but that only caused him to become more aware of the dreadful situation that they were in.
Lord Oropher and his attendants led them down the winding corridors, and into – the laundry room? Elrond briefly wondered if his eyes were playing tricks on him again. Several elves were hard at work, stirring tablecloths and pillowcases in large wooden vats of soapy water. The workers paused to gape at them curiously, whispering to each other. Elrond did not even want to think about what this looked like. Trust Oropher to start the elves gossiping about why Thranduil and his guests were swaying on their feet and stinking of pipeweed.
Elrond dimly noticed that they had stopped.
Without a word, Oropher grabbed Thranduil and Glorfindel by the scruffs of their necks and flung them into the nearest vat of water.
The two blond elves resurfaced, sputtering and coughing. "It's bloody freezing!" Glorfindel shrieked as he and the Prince splashed about in the sudsy water, getting tangled in wet bedsheets. Lord Oropher did not even blink, and pitched Erestor right on top of them, causing another frantic underwater tussle. The three sodden elves were struggling to swim out of the way when Oropher grabbed Elrond and Galdor.
As the half-elf sailed through the air, ears filled with the shrill screams of the Haven elf, he reflected that it would be long indeed before he ever listened to another one of Glorfindel's "ideas".
Their hair was still very damp when they gathered outside for the farewell feast. Sawn-off rings of tree trunks were placed around large bonfires for seats, torches were flickering from the trees around them, and meat was roasting over the fire. The Wood-Elves, all dressed in their usual woodland garb, passed bowls of food and drink from hand to hand. More elves were singing and playing on harps. Elrond suspected that some of the songs had been made up for that very occasion – he caught words that sounded suspiciously like "pipeweed" and "laundry", as well as "dungeon", "spiders", and – to Glorfindel's shame – "enchanted stream". The Wood-Elves, at least, seemed to be enjoying the songs, bent over double with hilarity at some of the lyrics.
Elrond and the other guests had feasted at the long oak table in places of honour, despite the disgrace that they were all in from their behaviour. After all, it was their farewell feast, and they would all have to part ways early the next morning. But now that they had eaten their fill, the five young elves retreated to find quiet seats around one of the bonfires, away from the mirth and merriment.
Thranduil sat himself down between Elrond and Glorfindel and handed them all drinks. Glorfindel stared doubtfully into his own cup. "You have got to be joking", he declared.
The Prince's eyes twinkled as he pushed damp, soap-smelling hair out of his eyes. "Dorwinion", he acknowledged with a wicked grin.
Erestor shook his head, trying to hide a smile. "This stuff is dangerous, you know", he remarked conversationally.
"Are you serious?" exclaimed Galdor, taking an exuberant swig. "I think it's great!"
"Maybe you had better slow down", Elrond warned the younger elf kindly, before taking a sip of his own. Their conversation was interrupted by a burst of gleeful laughter from the group of elves surrounding the singers.
Thranduil's eyes darkened. "I heard that chorus!" he shouted menacingly, but that only caused the Wood-Elves to laugh even harder. The Prince's hand tightened on his cup. "It seems we have established quite a reputation in the Greenwood", he muttered resentfully. "Once I am King, I will see to it personally that those songs are erased from all records."
"Oh, come on, Thranduil!" Glorfindel exclaimed, slapping the Prince's back and causing him to spill half of his drink down his front. "You have to admit that it was fun!"
"Fun?" the Wood-Elf repeated, deadpan. "You might have had fun getting carried through the forest in the dark, but I assure you that I did not."
"Maybe not that part", Elrond admitted. "But I did learn some new Dwarf jokes."
"And I never hunted spiders before!" Galdor put in, eyes shining in the firelight.
"And we got to try pipeweed", Glorfindel declared jubilantly. "You have to admit, that experience in itself would make this entire stay worthwhile – although I did not enjoy the consequences quite as much."
"Glorfindel detests anything involving soap", Elrond observed, and Glorfindel climbed carelessly over the Prince in order to swipe at his Lord's head. Thranduil shoved the seneschal back, and soon the two of them were involved in an all-out brawl by the fireside. Elrond, Erestor, and Galdor leaped to their feet in alarm.
"What will we do?" Galdor squeaked, hopping on the spot. "Oh, they are going to kill each other!" Elrond silently agreed – it had only been a matter of time, really, before something like this was bound to break out.
Erestor watched with growing concern. "They are getting awfully close to the fire", he noted.
The three of them dove in to separate the two wrestling elves, which turned out to be much harder than they had originally thought. Thranduil and Glorfindel were clearly the best fighters of them all, and threw off the other elves with hardly any effort. When it was finally over, the five of them sat on the ground by the fire, covered in dirt and leaves, cheeks smudged with soot from the fire.
Elrond half-expected Thranduil to draw one of his knives and go for Glorfindel's throat. He was therefore exceedingly shocked when the Wood-Elf gave a sudden grin and said, "That was great!"
Glorfindel laughed with surprise, and pulled the Prince into a rough one-armed hug, messing up Thranduil's hair with his free hand. "I knew our little Sindarin prig would come around sooner or later!" he exclaimed gleefully as the Wood-Elf struggled.
The five young elves did not know that a war at the close of the Second Age would tear their newfound friendship asunder. Blissfully ignorant of whatever the future held for them, they spent the rest of the evening in high-spirited revelry. Meat was passed from hand to hand, the Dorwinion flowed freely, and conversation was merry. They even joined the other Woodland Elves in a rendition of the newly-composed song, "The Prince and the Pipeweed".
Despite what fate had in store for them, despite impending war looming over their bright futures, Lord Elrond, Glorfindel, Erestor, Galdor, and Prince Thranduil were at that brief moment in time young, innocent, and purely happy.
A/N: I hope you enjoyed the story. The Dwarf jokes are mostly corruptions of "blond jokes" and "lawyer jokes". Glorfindel's last joke was inspired by a Robert Service poem called "A Sourdough Story", although there are no Dwarfs in it.
Thank you all for reading! I'm sorry to say that this might be my last LOTR fanfic. If you haven't yet, check out the two earlier instalments in my mini-trilogy: "Pass the Dorwinion" and "Welcome to Imladris". As always, reviews make me exceedingly happy – hint, hint!