Disclaimer: Everything here is credited to Mr. Tolkien. I do not profit from it.
Note: Thanks to Redheredh for most excellent beta-reading.
It was the time of the Watchful Peace, and for young soldiers of Mirkwood that meant nothing except watchful boredom. The great spiders had retreated into hiding, and the wargs kept such a distance from settlements as to be not worth chasing. Delicious excitement such as a lucky stumble into a spider nest were few and far between. However, after one did occur, the older warriors would grimly shake their heads at the young ones' eagerness, and rub places of ancient wounds whilst they gulped the peaceful air with relief. The newest soldiers, young Thindorn one among them, envied those emblems and thought: what was a battle but a chance for glory and excitement?
"It is unfair, in truth, that we should be passed over," said Thindorn to a gathering of youthful soldiers, several who should have been patrolling the corridors. "Look how we have no share in the tributes – and could, given the chance."
The youths had convened in one of the unused cellars, smelling spicy and musty from wine and straw. Cracked barrels served as seats, and a single lamp on a balance of spare wood lit the room, giving an impression of grave conversation. It was not the most elegant of arrangements, but it was convenient, their own place to talk as loosely as they wished. Thindorn's topic was one of the more used ones, and one that never failed to receive a hail of cheers and nods.
"But," Thindorn continue, waving wide his hand. "As a battle cannot always be had, excitement can be found in the chase or in one's own explorations."
"Not on duty, though," moaned one soldier.
Thindorn dropped his arms to his sides as though maimed. "These are days for craftsmen. What is the use of guarding when naught threatens? Yet, for myself, crafting – to whittle forever at a chair – would unhinge my mind."
Thindorn was non-contested as the head of their ideas and discussion. He was easy-going and frivolous, and if he ever took something seriously is was with a fanatic's frenzy. Yet he was also blind in many matters, at least in matters close to hand. For instance, he often brought his younger brother, Legolas, to their gatherings. This was with sincere devotion, but as one of his friends pointed out that may not be… prudent. But Thindorn shrugged it off: "He is no trouble." And the objection was utterly forgotten. Legolas was not as irritating as some other small Elves, and when he did say something, it was to their general delight to answer him.
Legolas knew well that he was highly privileged to be in their retreat, and was careful not to seem the childish, stupid sort, preferring to listen anyway. He sat on a cracked barrel, his legs dangling from the sides.
"The chase is among the greatest crafts!" bellowed one, holding a mug of milder ale never missed by the cellar-keepers. "Now, the Naugrim can work metals, but they cannot hold a hunting bow rightside forward, let alone follow a quarry." Everyone laughed; Naugrim did few things useful, everyone knew, and Legolas none the least. He still wore a broad grin, though had to wrinkle his nose, as a pitcher of Dorwinion second-rate passed by his head.
"Yet even an Orc can pursue a scent!" another fellow shouted from the corner.
"Beast or Orc, one and the same. There is no wit behind their ability, only love of kill, painful kill," said Borgil, the loudest of all Thindorn's friends. Borgil's father was a huntsman, so he held unquestionable authority over the particulars of Mirkwood's fouler fauna.
Legolas lost his grin and his eyes widened; seldom did he hear anyone talk that frankly of Orcs, and then he was never allowed to venture in the topic. That was what was so wonderful about being with his older brother: Thindorn was honest to his inquiries and never seemed to think he was too young to understand.
"Have they snouts like pigs? And walk they on four legs or two? And are they really very ugly?" he asked, straining to sit higher on his barrel.
"Lob's legs, yes!" replied Borgil. "There is no comparison for their foulness. They are like dead things come to life still in rot. As to their walking, they use four as well as two, deftly as an ill squirrel." The others murmured in grim agreement – never minding none of them had ever seen an Orc up close.
Legolas, who had never seen an Orc at all, thought this was an unhappy picture, but he was still thrilled by being answered straight.
Thindorn was the only one who had not given a sign of support. He tipped his cup toward the Orc-expert with a playful smirk. "Ha! You may talk, Borgil!"
"That I may!"
"Then tell us of their stench."
"Tor'g-la'ther, speak not of that!" Borgil slapped the makeshift table holding the lamp, causing the shadows to vibrate.
The talk went to unpleasant smells, and then to swapping of insults and untrue stories, Thindorn being the loudest of them. Legolas only listened now, as he already had been given much to think about. The light had burnt down to a flickering tongue before Thindorn crashed down his cup and slapped his forehead. "Dinner! I forgot!" He grasped Legolas's arm and raced them into the upper halls.
The dining room was decked with tapestries and many lamps; it was bright and warm, very unlike the cellars. Father (who was important in those parts), Mother, and two older siblings had already sat down when Legolas and Thindorn entered, after waiting half a minute by the door to stop panting. "Tell not what detained us," whispered Thindorn, winking slowly. Legolas nodded with an arching grin. They took their seats while Thindorn offered a vague excuse.
Also unlike the cellars, the meal's conversation was dull, dominated by the eldest sibling. He had recently been put in charge of overseeing the roads and settlements in the eastern parts. Legolas did not know what the problems of transport and crowding were and did not care to. He watched Thindorn yawn from across the table, and tried not to himself as he finished a slice of honey-sweetened bread.
"Tor'g-la'ther! Please pass the bread!"
Legolas received no answer, save for rigid silence. His father and mother sat stiffer than their chairs; the eldest of his siblings, with bulging eyes, held his fork in his mouth, as though he had bitten clean through. Even the figures in the wall-hangings seemed to hunch up and stare. Only Thindorn was not in a state of shock – he was choking so hard on laughter his face had turned red. This was all too strange, and why were they all looking at him?
"Legolas!" He looked up to his father, who, jaw set firm, looked none too pleased. Legolas felt more confused than before. "Where did you learn that word?"
"What word?" A loud snort came from Thindorn, his face now so red it glowed.
Father took a deep breath. "Tor'g…" Mother gave a cutting glance. "That word." Thindorn fell out of his chair.
"From Thindorn and his friends. Why, Ada?"
"It is not a good word, and I want not to hear it from you again. Thindorn, leave if you cannot control yourself," Father said with a frown.
"But they say it," Legolas asserted, partially crossing his arms.
"As they should not." Father frowned deeper. "Perhaps you should no longer keep their company."
"Legolas," warned Mother.
"You will, at least, stay away from them till they are spoken to. Is that understood?" Father creased his brows in a manner that allowed only agreement.
"Yes," said Legolas, and picked at his plate, still confused. "But Ada, what does that word mean?"
"You need not mind that." Father glanced at Thindorn, who had reseated himself and regained some composure.
"Oh!" Legolas beamed toward his parents. "Is it troll wa-"
Mother and Father jumped up. "Legolas!"
After dinner, Mother took Legolas to bath and bed. As Thindorn rose take his leave, Father held up his hand and drew the two of them alone into the hall as the servants swooped into the room. Thindorn seldom recognized the warning signs of a lecture, for had he, he may have been able to escape soon after the disturbance. Now was too late and he stood eye to eye with his father, he half-smiling with a pre-storm calm and Father unyielding as an approaching tempest.
"Thindorn, I dread thinking of what other fouleries your brother has heard and has still to reveal. But more, I am disappointed by your lack of judgment."
Proving his father's point, Thindorn misjudged his stance. He shook his head.
"The others meant naught by it. They only grow bored on duty…"
"I will not have these words be used even as a jest. Soon enough the young ones will flavor every comment over the weather with them. It should not even be thought of. It is Orc talk! You will not take Legolas with you to them unless that habit is quitted of. You must be more prudent." Father dropped his gaze for a moment and when he raised it again, his eyes were still hard, though his tone carried more gentleness. "As you are my son, you must set an example for others to follow. And as you are also a warrior of the Wood, you must show discipline – the emblem of a true warrior."
Thindorn at last began to feel a sting of guilt. He shifted his legs and looked at his toes.
"Yes, Father. I hear you. I will speak with them. I will not allow it to happen again."
Father sighed, pleased to have gotten a response. He pat his son's shoulder and went to tell Legolas a story of his own younger days that he had promised the night before. Most certainly, thought he, we were more discreet in our youth.
Next day, Thindorn exploded into their quarters, catching his friends in the middle of another colorful conversation. He boxed their ears and in his zeal, lectured them on Orc talk, finding many bright terms to describe their ignorance as he did so.