Disclaimer: I don't own them and I make no money from them. I just love them and enjoy writing about them.

Big thanks to al, my beta reader! You are too good to me!

Chapter 1 - The Birthday "Dance"

Galion, the butler of King Thranduil of Mirkwood, stood tensely just outside the private garden, where the king and his three sons were eating breakfast. He could hear their quiet voices lifted on the soft morning air. The king's chiming laughter was heard after some remark made by Celebross.

~Well, ~ he thought, shifting slightly from one foot to the other, ~At least he is in a good humor. ~

This was the one day of the year the butler dreaded above all others. It was the day that a necessary duty had to be performed: one that he put off as long as possible, knowing that the king would take one look at him and know what day this was and why Galion had come before him. Then the fun would begin.

"Ai, Elbereth! Give me strength," he prayed in a low voice, tugging at his dark green velvet doublet, running one slim hand over the stiffly embroidered silver oak and golden beech leaves. When he heard Aralith's light laughter and the sound of chair legs scrapping over flagstones, he knew the meal was over and his moment had come. He had thought to wait until the king was alone this year, but then thought better of it. It was always better with his sons present. The king did not get so upset. Or at least he didn't "act" so upset. The butler smiled slightly at the ingenuity of this thought.

~This is the best strategy, ~ he thought importantly, straightening to his full height. He was the Wood Elf King's butler after all. He strode forward beneath the ivy covered trellis into the small family garden.

Thranduil was speaking quietly to Celebross his eldest son. The king's golden head was bent toward his heir's silvery one the blue eyes sparkling with merriment. Aralith was standing by his chair, clearly impatient to be away as he gazed at the sky, one foot tapping against the stone. Young Legolas was still seated in his chair, but was turned sideways in it, one long slim leg folded before him, knee to his chest, while he tore some freshly baked bread into tiny pieces.

Galion halted, waiting to be acknowledged. Thranduil had seen him, but had chosen to ignore him for the present. Galion sighed softly, keeping his features without expression. His eyes slid to the youngest prince, noting the somewhat furtive glances that the youth was shooting at his father and brothers. As yet he had not noticed that another person had joined them. The butler watched as the young Elf tossed a piece of bread at the nearby bushes. Galion narrowed his eyes suspiciously. What was he up to now?

As he stood waiting, he saw two slender black legs dart out from beneath the bush and grab the piece of bread. Galion's eyes widened, for surely that was a spider's legs - a baby spider at any rate - or he wasn't a Wood Elf! He saw Legolas grin with delight, and then glance hurried at his family members to see if they had noticed at all. They had not, so he grinned again and tossed another piece of bread. Sure enough, the legs darted out again and this time Galion saw the gleam of red eyes within the green of the leaves.

~Great Valar, ~ the butler thought. ~What is he doing?! ~

Everyone knew , of course, about how much the young prince wanted a pet spider, but they also knew how much his father DID NOT want him to have one.

~That little scamp has smuggled one in here! There will be trouble over it! ~

Legolas had thrown several more chunks of bread before Celebross finally stood, his grey gaze going to Galion.

~ Oh, no. Today is the day! ~ he thought with a quick glance at his father.

Thranduil sighed and turned to his butler.

"It cannot have been a year already, Galion," he said, his blue eyes narrowing slightly in accusation.

Galion started, having been watching the antics of the youngest prince of Mirkwood, and the baby spider beneath the bush.

"Oh! Yes, your Majesty, I fear it has been" he said, in a tone meant to convey his own supposed disbelief and annoyance.

Thranduil pursed his lips, and propped an elbow on the table leaning his cheek against his upraised hand.

"What did I send him last year?" He asked in an exasperated voice.

"Some of the wine from Combe, your Majesty."

The king's brows knit and he scowled. The wine he had from Combe was particularly nice.

"He will be expecting something as good or better this year then," he muttered.

Galion nodded slightly, forcing his hands to remain relaxed at his sides. His eyes touched Celebross who shrugged slightly.

~Here we go again, ~ the butler thought. It was the same thing every year. The same words were spoken, the same gestures were made. It was his turn to speak and he did, reciting it like a school boy before his master.

"He did send you a very nice silver circlet set with sapphires, your Majesty."

A frown and a small twitch always followed. Ah, yes. There they were.

"It was very generous of him, Sire," Galion said at exactly the right moment.

Now a deep breath and a noisy release of said breath.

Aralith shook his fair head and sighed. He too knew this little scene, played out at this time every year for as long as he could remember. The Birthday "Dance" he and his brothers called it. They wondered if Lord Elrond went through the same torturous gyrations when choosing what he would send Thranduil on his birthday.

~ I will never get out of here, ~ Aralith thought with another sigh, his gaze wandered to Legolas who was sitting with his back to him, a piece of bread clutched in his fingers. ~Now what is he doing? ~

~Here it comes, ~ Celebross thought, feeling a tension begin in his stomach.

Every year Galion would suggest the same thing, the best thing in the cellars; and every year Thranduil would refuse - vehemently.

"Well, Sire, there is always the Dorwinion vintage."

Celebross' brows knit as if he were in pain and his gaze slipped to his father, his hands tightening on the carved back of the chair.

The hand Thranduil had been leaning against thumped to the table in a fist, the eyes narrowed as the king glared up at his butler.

"The Dorwinion vintage?! The Dorwinion vintage!! Don't be ridiculous, Galion! I would never send that good stuff to Elrond of Imladris!"

Aralith had been mouthing the words silently along with his father, who happened to look at him at just that moment. The Elf prince started slightly and managed a sickly smile. He shrugged and looked away, his face reddening.

Thranduil scowled at his middle son and shot a look at Celebross, who shrugged, keeping the expression on his face carefully neutral. Then Thranduil's eyes moved to his youngest who had also been mouthing the words, but had not been caught at it. But he was unaware of his father's gaze as he crumbled more bread. He spoke in a soft singsong, mocking voice the next words Thranduil always spoke, not realizing that the king wasn't saying them yet, and his was the only voice uttering any sound at all.

"If I had my way I would never send him anything at all that belongs to me. He has enough of his own things. Why does he need mine as well?" The look on his face, from the lowered brows to the pouting lips as he spoke, was a perfect mimicry of his sire.

Thranduil raised his one brow and Celebross flinched in sympathy, though Aralith smirked, knowing that for now at least his own little imitation was forgotten.

"What did you say, Little Greenleaf?" Thranduil asked quietly.

"I said 'If I had my way I would never send him anything at all that belongs to me. He has enough - ' " Legolas choked slightly on the words as he turned to look at his father. "I - I said that out loud?" His face contorted in an attempt at an innocent smile, but he failed miserably.

"Of course you said it out loud, tithen gwador (little brother)," Aralith said, a sardonic grin on his lips.

The king shot an annoyed glare at his other son, and then turned back to "Little Greenleaf".

"Why did you say that?" He asked him, staring down imperiously.

Galion felt sorry for the lad and wished now that he had faced the king alone on this. But truly, there was nothing he could do now. The well used, practiced scene had been interrupted for once, and who knew what could happen!

Legolas looked to his brothers and the butler for some sort of help, but none came. He swallowed.

"I - I really don't know, Adar."

"Don't you?"

The youth's brows knit as he grimaced helplessly.

"Well -"

"Well, what?"

Bright blue eyes suddenly looked up.

"You say that every year, Adar. We 'all' know it. We know what you will say and what you will do and I was just - well -"

Thranduil stroked his chin and looked at Galion who promptly was engrossed in the sky overhead.

"I see," the king said slowly. "So if you 'all' know what I am going to say and do then what was I going to suggest I send to Elrond this year?"

Silence was his only answer.

"I see. Well, that has been a great help indeed. Stop playing with your food, Legolas!" Thranduil pressed his long fingers to his temples, feeling the beginnings of a headache.

"Why have you been throwing it on the ground anyway?" Aralith said, hoping to shift the attention away from the problem at hand.

Legolas' eyes flew open guiltily, and the bread fell from his fingers to the ground at the feet.

The baby spider who had become emboldened by all the other pieces it had gotten safely, crept from beneath the bush. It was about the size of a cat, covered with soft black fur, slightly silvered. Its fat body floated above overlong furry legs, red eyes gleaming greedily as it lunged at the bread.

"Spider!" Aralith gasped, staggering backwards, fear written over his features. "Spider!"

"Oh, for Elbereth's sake, Aralith!" Thranduil growled standing up and advancing toward the little spinner.

But Legolas was faster. He grabbed the arachnid and began to back away from his father. The long legs thrashed and it bit the youth's hand, causing him to grimace slightly.

"I'll get rid of it, Adar. I really will!" Then he turned and fled, glad that the spider was too young to be poisonous yet. "And I will figure out what you can send to Lord Elrond, too!" He promised, calling over his shoulder. He nearly ran into Tanglinna the Master Archer, who had heard Aralith's terrified shout and was coming to see what was wrong.

"What have you done now?!" He yelled after the lithe form as it disappeared, ducking through some screening bushes. He shook his head and advanced into the garden. He took in the look on the faces there, and turned to Galion.

"Ah! So it is the Birthday "Dance" day, is it? I should have known. What are we sending him this year? The Dorwinion stuff?"

Tanglinna knew from the look on his king's face that he had misspoken.

"Oh! Of course not. How silly of me to say that," he countered, folding his arms over his chest.

"Legolas will decide. He has said as much." Thranduil said, thinking that now he would need an entire pot of Vandal Root tea to conquer this headache. "I just hope it isn't that spider."

Tanglinna raised one brow.

"Prince Legolas will decide? Is - that a good idea, your Majesty?"

Thranduil brushed past his butler and the Master Archer.

"Of course it is. He will pick some silly thing that I won't miss and Elrond won't be offended knowing that Little Greenleaf was the one who chose it. There is no more perfect solution. What could possibly go wrong?"