Prince Legolas, son of the great Elven-King Thranduil, had recently decided that if everything was more appropriately sized for a creature taller than five feet, he could very contentedly make a permanent home out of the Shire.
He learned quickly that while he might lack for vertical space, he would certainly never be under-fed. In the seven days that he had spent thus far visiting his four Halfling friends, Legolas had been made to partake of no less than thirty elaborate feasts. He wasn't entirely sure if they were meant to celebrate his arrival, or if it was just another ordinary week in Hobbiton, but he had no complaints. The food was delicious, and the company was impeccable.
He could not help but notice that Frodo Baggins was a little reserved, but he knew well the burden the hobbit had carried and the erosion it had caused on his spirit, and so did not hold this against him. Frodo was easily the shortest creature to have earned so much of the elf-prince's respect, and Legolas was incredibly fond of him.
He and the hobbits had just yesterday taken a short trip down the road to the village of Bywater, where the inn they had spoken so lovingly of, Green Dragon, was situated. They had been eager to prove the worth of hobbit-brewed liquors, and although the mead made Legolas wish to purge his stomach, he lied and declared it the best he'd ever tasted, much to the delight of his small hosts.
The five friends had spent many hours catching up on all that had transpired since the Fellowship of the Ring had gone their separate ways. Legolas had done little talking, as these were still the very same hobbits he remembered, but he was perfectly content to merely sit there and listen to their tales, which had been sprinkled generously with embellishments by Pippin, of course.
It was exactly as Legolas had expected: Merry and Pippin battling to be the center of attention, Frodo listening quietly, and Sam hanging on to every word the elf managed to squeeze in. Legolas was pleased to be in the company of the four of them again. He had missed these hobbits very much, and still there was never a dull moment.
For the first week of his visit to the land of the hobbits, Legolas had been staying at Merry's home, Brandy Hall, in Buckland, but had always been interested to see Bag-End for himself, so Frodo had invited him to afternoon tea on the eighth day. Without a moment's hesitation, the elf happily accepted the request.
Tea had commenced several hours prior, but Legolas was loathe to leave. Frodo had gone off to situate himself atop one of the grassy knolls beyond his hole, where he could smoke without disturbing the elf's sensitive nostrils and work on his written account of the quest to destroy the One Ring, the Red Book, and so Sam had offered to remain behind and keep the elf company.
Indeed, Sam had been listening intently for the better part of two hours as Legolas described the progress of his work in Ithilien when a sudden scampering directed his immediate attention, and the hobbit seemed incensed when he realized it was a rabbit, come to destroy his vegetable beds. No more than twenty seconds after this discovery, Sam had excused himself hastily and practically knocked down the door of Bag-End in his rush to get out to the garden he tilled with such love and care before the little cotton-tailed nuisance could steal more of his hard-grown turnips.
This left the elf to his own devices. He currently was occupying himself by exploring further the hobbit-hole that Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, and the latter's family occupied. Even from the uncomfortably bent position his spine was forced to take on in order to navigate the small, low-ceilinged dwelling, Legolas was pleased by what he saw. Frodo had spoken often of his home, mentioning how quaint and warm it was, and so far the elf saw no reason to disagree. He saw touches of Frodo and Sam everywhere, and no small amount of feminine inspiration that was doubtlessly the work of Sam's darling young wife, Rosie.
As he ventured further within, he found that the door to one of the smaller rooms was wide open, and Legolas could not will away his curiosity. He peeked in, and was a bit startled when his eyes locked with another pair. A very small hobbit bestowed with a crown of ringlets the color of the morning sun was curled up angelically on a tiny bed, staring at him through half-lidded eyes that indicated she had not long ago woken from a nap.
"Well, greetings," he said, shaking off his initial surprise at finding another resident in the Baggins-Gamgee home. "I thought I was alone, but I am glad to learn otherwise. Did I wake you?" He was relieved when she shook her pretty head, her bright curls bobbing charmingly.
"Who are you?" the young hobbit inquired as she got up, obviously possessing curiosity in spades and not the least bit afraid of the stranger who entered her nursery. Casually, she walked up to the elf and stared up at his fair face, and seemed pleased by what she saw, but then she frowned in what might have been suspicion. "You're not a hobbit," she informed him with a derisive sniff.
Legolas stifled a laugh; clearly, he'd never be able to deceive this one. He knelt so he was eye-to-eye with the tiny daughter of dear Sam. "Nay, I am not a hobbit. I am an elf. I am Legolas, a friend of your father. And who might you be, m'lady?"
"Elanor Gamgee," she answered with a polite curtsy, offering a hand in a most lady-like manner.
She giggled and blushed when the elf took the proferred hand and placed a sweet, chaste kiss upon it. "Charmed, Lady Elanor. I remember you well, although you would not likely recall me." Legolas released her tiny hand as he informed her, "I last visited you when you were but a babe, and my, how you have grown to look just like your mother."
Elanor practically glowed at the compliment.
"I daresay, Lady Elanor, your home is lovely." He was already far under the youth's spell, and wanted to charm her in return.
"Thank you, Le--go--las." She spoke his name experimentally, then seemed to find it to her liking. "Where do you live?"
"I hail from Greenwood the Great," Legolas answered, unable to keep a note of pride from his voice as he straightened into his full, impressive height, taking care not to bump his head on the low ceiling. He had already done that once, and it had been a pain he wished not to experience again. "It is a lovely forest far east of here," he added, "and I am prince of that realm. I have fought for many centuries to make certain it remains glorious, and your father and uncle have played a great role as well. You should be very proud of them, little Elanor."
If some small part of his heart was hoping that touting his title might win over this child instantaneously, it was very disappointed. Elanor was regarding him with a look of complete doubtfulness. "If you are a prince, then where is your crown?" she demanded with all the righteous indignation she could muster.
Legolas answered patiently, delighted at the little hobbit's attention to detail, "A prince of the elves does not wear a crown as you know it, but rather a circlet."
"A...circlet?" she asked, her tone brimming with disbelief, as if she was convinced the elf was deceiving her and that he had just made the word up on the spot.
"Aye, a circlet." Elanor blinked up at him, clearly perplexed. "It rests here," he explained, poking her gently in the forehead. He found himself pleased when he was rewarded with a musical giggle. "Mine is made of mithril, and I suspect you would find it to your liking, little one." He was dismayed to see that the daughter of Samwise was still regarding him with unrestrained skepticism.
"Then where is your circlet?" she asked, her green eyes narrowed dubiously.
"I wear it only on special occasions."
"You are not a prince," the hobbit-lass declared with no lack of conviction.
Fortunately, a bright idea came to Legolas's mind. He brought his kin-braid, which declared his affiliation with the royal House of Oropher, over his right shoulder, tugging on the end for emphasis. "You see this, young Elanor?" At the girl's nod, he explained, smoothing the flaxen plait with long fingers, "This is the braid worn by all who belong to the house of my father the king."
Elanor reached up to take the kin-braid from the fingers of the elf, who amiably indulged the child's curiosity by lowering himself into a crouch so she could get a better look --and grip-- on it. "It is very pretty," the hobbit professed with a curt little nod as she studied it. "But it is not very prince-like," she added to herself in a mumble.
Naturally, Legolas's sharp hearing picked it up, and he had to concentrate rather hard to suppress a grin. "Terrible would it be if the elves of my forest heard you announce such a thing," he told Elanor, his cobalt eyes glittering with mirth as they met hers, which were wide with surprise. Clearly, she did not accept the reality of the elves' ability to hear better than mortals, either, which amused Legolas to no end. It seemed he was becoming the stuff of legend already.
Elanor had the decency to blush as she repeated in a more subdued whisper, "It is very pretty."
As pink was a very becoming color on her, Legolas flicked her gently beneath the chin and smiled at her. "Do not fear, my lady. I will repeat that to no one."
She was still inspecting his blond strands. "You have such pretty hair, although it is awfully long for a prince, but I know how to braid and could make it look very nice indeed." She puffed out her chest with pride. "Mama says I braid very well."
Trying not to bristle at what was quite obviously an emasculation of sorts, the elf contrived somehow to seem appeased by this offer. He managed mostly by reminding himself that the little hobbit probably had never before in her short life seen hair so long on a male. "Why, I would trust the work of no one else, little lady."
That appeared to be all the encouragement Elanor needed. She circled unhesitatingly around him, eyeing the thick plait the held much of his hair from his face. After fingering it thoughtfully for a moment, she made short work of undoing it, and then released his hair also from the sidelock braids at each temple. After these steps of the process were completed to the hobbit's satisfaction, she began swiftly braiding the full fall of golden hair into a thick, heavy plait that fell nearly halfway down his back, and Legolas could not help but be surprised at how deft her small, chubby fingers were with such an intricate process. He was less than pleased, however, when she plucked from her night-table a large bejeweled hair-clasp and fastened it with care onto the end to secure the braid in place.
"Finished!" Elanor trilled, obviously very pleased with her craft.
Legolas indulged her by reaching back and running his fingers appreciatively down the length of her artistry. "Very nice," he announced politely, offering her a dazzling smile. He carefully arranged it over one shoulder to get a better look at her handiwork, and realized with an inward sigh that he had underestimated the hair-clasp. It was in the shape of a flower. A rather enormous flower. The petals were lavishly set with hundreds of bright rubies, and the leaves were encrusted with emeralds. If Elanor deemed that appropriate for a prince, he decided, she was gravely mistaken, but he would bend over backwards to please this little hobbit and so shared with her absolutely no part of that conclusion.
"Much better," she replied importantly, beaming with pride at her accomplishment, and Legolas knew then that he would suffer himself to wear that clasp for the next five centuries if it ensured the daughter of Samwise's approval.
A knock on the door a few minutes later, however, gave Legolas reason to doubt.
"Mister Legolas, sir?"
The elf squeezed his eyes shut as he sighed heavily. Oh, please, Sam, stay on that side of the door...
"Elanor? Is Legolas in there with you?" Sam's voice was a bit firmer now.
The little hobbit looked up at the elf her father was referring to, who was furiously shaking his head, his newly-aquired blond braid trembling with the fervent motion. He placed a finger against his lips and gazed at her meaningfully.
To his horror, he found that she had obviously inherited Sam's dedication to honesty, and was not about to abandon that tendency now. "Yes, Papa, he is here," she replied dutifully, and Legolas could only watch helplessly as she hastened to the door of her nursery and opened it graciously for her father.
The honest hobbit himself appeared in the doorway, then began to approach the elven friend he had been seeking, who rose and straightened to his full height in hopes that it might bolster his courage to tower above his audience and so give him the dignity to be able to face them. The attempt was wildly unsuccessful, and Legolas knew the meaning of shame as Sam skidded to a screeching halt about two steps into the room, his mouth falling open slightly as his startled eyes beheld the great warrior-prince in his current state.
"Good afternoon, Samwise," the elf drawled dryly, trying very hard to appear casual.
Sam, for his part, only seemed able to begin to stammer. "What...how...why..."
Gesturing helplessly to Elanor, who was the picture of childish innocence as she rushed delightedly to her father and reached her arms imploringly up to him, Legolas explained, "Your daughter seems to have inherited your fascination for Elf-kind." He gritted his teeth as he added, "Mostly our hair, obviously."
"Elanor," Sam murmured as he scooped his daughter obediently into his arms, all the while studying the elf as he tried valiantly to keep a straight face, "did you do this to Prince Legolas?" His strained voice betrayed the fact that he was walking a dangerously thin line between deference and hilarity, and Legolas doubted not that only Sam's respect for elves in general and a working knowledge of this particular elf's prowess in battle kept the hobbit from exploding into hysterics.
Had the elf in question not been avoiding the stares of both father and daughter, he might have turned a pointed look on Elanor at the word "prince." As it was, however, he was paralyzed with embarrassment, and his royal title --although perhaps finally proving to the younger of the two hobbits that he was indeed what he claimed to be-- could not save him. While it offered him due credit for his honesty, it was doing nothing to remedy the situation.
Apparently not mollified in the least bit, Elanor insisted brightly, "I only wished to braid it! He has such pretty hair, Papa!"
A strangled sound that hovered somewhere between a cough and a chuckle escaped her father's lips, and he cleared his throat. "Indeed."
Elanor squirmed a bit, veritably hopped out of Sam's secure embrace, and then rushed to stand beside Legolas, whose high cheekbones and pointed ears were now turning a very interesting shade of red. "He looks more like a prince now," she announced matter-of-factly, apparently unaware of the fact that the pretty-haired elf was praying for the ground to open up and swallow him whole.
"Princess is more like it," her father muttered, catching the elf's glare and wincing slightly. Legolas frowned at him. He could easily forgive Elanor her ignorance, but Sam of all people should know better than to try to pitch his voice at a lower level in hopes that an elf would be unable to hear it.
"Little sun-star, you are fortunate indeed that you are so endearing," Legolas declared as he ruffled the young hobbit-lass's golden curls, "and that I am so enamored with you that I could not hold a grudge against you if I wished to." In reply, Elanor simply offered a radiant smile to the prince, knowing full well that it never failed to justify his unwavering adoration for her. Indeed, this time it was as well an effort that was not wasted, and the elf's face lit with a wonderful smile of his own. "Truly you have no shame," he laughed, "tugging on my heart-strings so!"
Legolas was just beginning to find himself capable of ignoring Sam's obvious amusement at his predicament when the sound of bickering reached his keen ears, and his expression twisted in a grimace. His mind clouded with confusion. What are they doing here? Only two hobbits he knew so enjoyed a hearty battle of wits.
Sure enough, Merry and Pippin entered the room, still arguing, but upon feeling the almost palpable tension that hung heavy in the air, their banter met with a quick death. They each looked about, puzzled. Merry was the first to lock eyes on the elf, who was standing far from the group and appearing ready to die of shame. "Ah! Hello--" He stopped mid-sentence, blinking in surprise.
"...Legolas," Pippin finished helpfully after the silence had stretched into minutes, earning a sharp jab in the ribs from his cousin.
"Meriadoc, Peregrin," Legolas greeted them each slowly, a touch of sarcasm in his tone even as he decorously inclined his head. His pride shriveled as the thick braid swung merrily about his face, eliciting a snort of laughter that Sam --ever the diplomat-- tried to disguise as a sneeze.
The addressed hobbits looked at each other in utter bewilderment. Merry opened his mouth as if to voice one or two of what surely was over a million questions running through his mind, but no sound came out. Pippin, for his part, was just gaping at the renowned elf with unbridled shock. Had he not been silently withering of embarrassment, Legolas might have been greatly inspired to mark this occasion as the very first time he had ever known Merry and Pippin to both be at a complete loss for words.
The elf forced a strained smile to his lips as he clarified the details of his dilemma to the two newest members of his rapidly growing audience, "The darling daughter of your friend Master Gamgee saw fit to...re-style my hair. She decided my warrior-plaits were not fit for a prince."
A lull fell over the group huddled in the nursery, and Legolas finally decided that the worst of it might have passed.
But again, he was wrong. Incredibly.
"Sam?" Frodo's soft voice shattered the silence that had fallen over the hobbit-dwelling. "Is Legolas with you?"
Oh, for the love of all that is good and pure in Arda! Legolas cursed his foul luck mentally. Now where are Aragorn and Mithrandir? They ought to be here to complete my assemblage.
"I...think so..." Sam replied haltingly.
Confused, Frodo opened the door, peering in curiously as Legolas rolled his eyes skyward, half out of frustration and half out of a plea to the Valar to help him realize what he had done to warrant this vexing predicament.
"You think so?" Frodo came to a stop beside his cousins, and his eyebrows nearly touched his hairline as they shot up in surprise. "Legolas? What--" He trailed off, forcing his eyes from the braid-adorned prince lest he somehow become even more perplexed. Seeking an account as to why the aloof Prince of the Greenwood was sporting such an effeminate coiffure, he let his wide blue eyes travel over each of the other occupants of the room. He looked first to Sam, who shrugged as if to say he did not have the slightest idea how to explain the situation, then to Merry and Pippin, who still looked as if they did not quite understand how this all had come to be, and finally to Elanor, who was not confused in the least and rather appeared extremely proud of her elaborate braid-work. Then, to Legolas's eternal mortification, the former Ringbearer did something he had not done in months and months.
He threw his head back and began to laugh uproariously.