If Legolas never saw another spider again in his long life, it would still be too soon. It was bad enough the vile, monstrous beasts wove mighty swaths of webbing that blocked out nearly all the light and cast queer shadows that tricked the eye, but they had also begun poisoning the trees along the southern borders, creeping further and further into the territory Legolas and his people called home.
Having returned home after a long scouting mission, he wanted nothing more than to deliver his report to the king, soak his aches away in the hot springs, and then sleep for a month at least.
“Prince Legolas!” The guards on either side of the King’s chamber entrance straightened as the Prince approached.
Legolas shrugged the bow and quiver from his shoulders, handing them over. “How long has he been in there?”
“Nearly an hour, my prince. He has been waiting since he was told of your return.”
Only years of court training kept his wince from showing as he removed his daggers from their sheathes and handed them to the guard. Thranduil’s moods were mercurial at the best of times, but when he’d been kept waiting, the royal temper ran even shorter. Legolas sighed. “I’ll handle it. You are dismissed.” He waited for the guards to disappear around the corner, then passed through the small antechamber and into the King’s quarters. “Sire.”
“Is that any way to greet your father, my son?” came Thranduil’s cool reply.
The younger elf hesitated. He’d assumed Thranduil would wish to hear his report right away, so he had not bothered to wash up before presenting himself. But that had hardly mattered in the past. He’d come to his king much dirtier than this.
“Legolas.” Thranduil gave him a pointed look, a thread of impatience in his tone.
The young prince looked down at himself. Oops. He stepped out into the antechamber and stripped, folding his clothing neatly. The King of Mirkwood had his fair share of eccentricities, but this particular quirk had taken Legolas the longest to understand.
Thranduil demanded that his son should be naked when addressing him in his chambers.
For much of his youth and early adulthood, Legolas had thought it was something everyone had to do in the presence of the king, to show that you were not armed. Some kings were paranoid like that. Later, when he realized that no, actually, only HE had to appear before his king unclothed, the young elf had resented it, seeing it as merely another way for his father to assert his dominance.
“No, Prince Legolas, that is not it at all,” his attendant had informed him one morning, pulling the brush through his hair before twisting it into his customary braids. “King Thranduil knows that his rule here is absolute, and that none would dare challenge him for it. YOU have not challenged him, have you?”
He twisted to look back at the woman as though she had lost her mind. “Of course not! He is my father! I have no interest in being king until I must.”
She hummed and tugged his head back into position. “Indeed. So what need would he have to remind you of it?”
Legolas huffed. “So why, then? To prove that I am unarmed? You just said that none would dare challenge him for kingship, and it frustrates him to no end when he believes I am shirking my duties as prince, so he cannot possibly think I would be a threat to him! Does he not trust me?”
“Aye and nay.”
The young prince pouted. “You sound like Lord Elrond now, who cannot seem answer a simple question without saying two things at once and then ending up saying nothing at all!”
His attendant laughed. “And YOU are sounding more like your Grandsire, Prince Legolas.” She tied off a braid and started on the next. “But it is the truth nonetheless. He trusts you not to turn on him. He does NOT trust you to tell him the complete truth. He did the same thing with your Nana, and it drove her just as mad.”
Legolas frowned. “I have never lied to him.”
“A lie by omission is still a lie, prince. It is the king’s duty to keep his people safe. And a father’s duty to keep his family healthy.”
The prince turned again. “Wait… you mean all of this is STILL about my arm? It has been a hundred years since that happened, and it was only a slight sprain! He cannot still be upset about that.”
She shrugged. “I am only telling you what I believe to be true, my Prince. You did not tell him about your injury. In fact, you hid it from him. He cannot fix what he does not know is broken, so regardless of how minor your pain was, it went on needlessly.”
“But it was only a sprain, and not even a severe one. I did not want him to think me still a child, begging him to kiss away every little hurt, and it was such a small thing. Hardly worth a king’s attention.”
“But he is not just your king, is he?”
Legolas sighed. “Nay.”
“Right. It may be a slight embarrassment to you, but times are getting more and more treacherous, young one. When there is so much he cannot control, is it such a terrible thing to allow him this small indulgence so that he may assure himself that you are hale?” She finished off the last braid. “Besides, if only issues of earth shattering importance were brought to the king’s attention, our home would have fallen in its infancy. Great kingdoms of Men and Dwarves, and even Elves have fallen to ruin because their Kings were fools, oblivious to the small things going on around them. Your father is many things, Prince Legolas, but a fool is not one of them.”
Legolas had taken his attendant’s words to heart and tried not to become frustrated over the ‘small embarrassment’, as she had put it. And truly, once he’d begun taking on more responsibility and attending the seemingly endless Open Courts, during which the elves of their realm could bring their troubles before the king, he had seen the benefit of paying attention to the small things. I seemed that being king was more about putting out fires while they were tiny sparks, rather than waiting for them to turn into raging infernos threatening to bring the forest down around them.
The morning he’d come to break his fast with Thranduil, only to see the king having his shoulder bound, bloody scraps of cloth laying in a pile on the floor, had been a very rude awakening.
“The guards told me you had returned, but no one told me you had been injured,” Legolas said.
The king arched an eyebrow as if to say ‘and your point?’, only to ruin it with a hissing wince and a glare toward the healer.
The elf sniffed and tied off the binding. “Perhaps next time his Highness will remember that he has scouts for a reason and does not need to personally investigate every pack of orc rabble trying to sneak through the forest.”
“That will be all, Galan. You are dismissed.”
“Aye, Sire.” The healer gathered the bloody fabrics and was gone.
The moment the healer left, Legolas was examining the wrapped shoulder carefully. “What happened?”
“Nothing as terrible as you are likely imagining. An orc was simply not as dead as it pretended to be. I remedied the issue, but not before it managed a lucky throw.”
Legolas hummed. “YOU were lucky that it was poorly aimed. You could have died. Is this all of it, or are there more that I have not seen?”
Thranduil gave him an amused look, then tugged off the remains of his tunic and unlaced his leggings. He stood, letting them fall to the ground. “See for yourself.”
From then on, they had an understanding of sorts. Legolas would present himself to Thranduil’s sitting room when he returned from patrols to deliver his report, bare of anything but his braids. In return, on the rare occasion the King chose to leave his realm and join in the hunt, he would return the favor, allowing his son to reassure himself that evil had not stolen another parent from him.
And if eyes (and hands and even lips) lingered on smooth flesh and finely toned muscle longer than strictly necessary…. Well, who could blame them? They were elves in their prime, ageless and beautiful. And as Thranduil was so fond of saying, they were royal. As long as there was no harm being done to their subjects or their lands, they could do as they damned well pleased.
And they did. Frequently.
Legolas placed his leathers and weapons on a shelf, squared his shoulders, and stepped into the room. He bowed to his king, who waited with two glasses of wine. “I apologize for coming to you unprepared, my King. It has been a long day.”
The king nodded and handed him a wine glass. “Then take a moment to refresh yourself, Legolas, if there is not great hurry for you to be elsewhere.”
“Not necessarily.” He took a healthy sip of his wine. “Mmm… I like this vintage. It is milder than the Dorwinion.”
“You are welcome to it then,” his father replied, wrinkling his nose in displeasure. “Its maker is from far to the East of here. It was a gift from the Master of Laketown. I was going to dispose of it, but if you like it, I will be sure to have it included in the next shipment.”
“I think I would like to give it a try for a bit.” Legolas finished his wine and handed it to his father, who placed both now empty glasses on a nearby table. “I am ready.”
“Very well.” Thranduil began to circle him. “Begin.”
Legolas stared ahead, only just barely resisting the urge to look over his shoulder. “We were tracking a party of intruders along the Old Path. They were dwarves, so of course it did not take long for them to stray into the forest.”
“Unsurprising. Dwarves would become lost above ground with a map and a yellow stone path to guide them.” He rubbed at a speck of mud on the younger elf’s shoulder. “Continue.”
“We thought perhaps they were traveling to the Iron Hills and tried to guide them north. But they seemed disoriented and wandered far afield. We lost sight of them for barely a moment. When we found them again, they were being attacked by a group of spiders.”
Thranduil frowned. “I ordered the nests destroyed months ago, Prince.” He reached out to brush hair away from Legolas’ shoulder.
The prince sighed. “We did. We killed every spider within fifty miles of here in all directions. But there is only so much we can do when we are not permitted to enter the fortress where they are breeding.”
“I have already made my wishes quite plain, Legolas. Keep our lands clean of Ungoliant’s spawn, and stay out of Dol Guldur.” Thranduil ran his hands along slender, well-muscled shoulders, inspecting every scratch and scrape he found. “Go on.”
Legolas bit his lip on a retort. “There were twenty spiders attacking them.”
The king’s brow arched. “Twenty? Since when do they attack in packs like that?”
The younger elf shook his head. “In the last six months. They have been growing in number and aggression. This WAS a larger pack than usual, but is becoming more common. The dwarves managed to kill eight of them.”
“Only eight? How many dwarves in the group?”
“Fourteen dwarves only killed eight spiders? I find that difficult to believe.”
Legolas nodded. “Aye, so would I under normal circumstances. But this was not normal. As I said, they seemed disoriented. Muddled. They tried to cross the stream, but one of them fell in. We thought initially he had drowned, but they carried him, and we could have followed his snores from leagues away. It slowed them enough for the spiders to group up and attack. They killed eight, we killed the others and rounded up the dwarves. Or thirteen of them, at least. Of various ages. Ten adults and three youths. There were four younger members originally, but only three when we found them again.”
“What happened to the fourth child? The river?”
Legolas shook his head. “There were still fourteen then. We think it may have been carried off. I have Lormenon looking for it, but I do not have much hope of it being found alive, especially if it became separated from the group.”
“Fools, all of them. Children have no business in the forest, least of all dwarven children.” Thranduil sighed and stepped back, satisfied with his inspection. “Send seven more scouts out to help Lormenon in his search. I want the child found, even if only a body. If there is a dwarrowdam in the group, perhaps she will be grateful enough for the return of her offspring to tell us what we wish to know.”
“And if she chooses to keep her silence?”
“Then at least the spiders will have one less meal, and our new guests one less reason to escape.”
Kili eyed the dark-haired guard through the bars. “Shouldn’t you be out taking care of that pest problem in your forest instead of bothering me?”
The guard sniffed. “Preferably, dwarf, but for the moment my duty lies here. The King has decided to honor you by extending an invitation to take a meal with him.”
“Finally getting around to me, is he? Well…” Kili pretended to consider the offer, leaning back on his cot. A number of his companions had already been interrogated by Mirkwood’s king. Most had returned to their cells exhausted and resigned to life spent in a dungeon cell. Dori had come back scratching his head in confusion. (“He’s got it into his head that I’m a dam and kept telling me my children would be well cared for and safe. To be honest, I didn’t know whether to thank him for his kindness, or ask him what mushrooms he’d been eating.”), and Ori had returned to his cell annoyed, but looking much healthier than when he’d left. When asked about his visit, the young scribe had told Kili only that the king had fussed over him, spreading a paste over the spider bite on his shoulder and asking if he had enough blankets. (“He’s as bad as Dori. I think if he hadn’t been interrupted, he’d have reminded me to eat my greens and wash behind my ears!) Kili had only felt a little guilty for laughing.
He glared at the guard “If your King agrees to mind his own business and let us go on our way, I’d be glad to. Otherwise, tell him I’m disinclined to acquiesce to his request. In fact, you can tell him that I would rather be the Goblin King’s mistress than eat at his table.”
The guard bristled, his hand moving to rest on the dagger hilt peeking out of his belt. “You’ll mind your tongue in the presence of your betters, bratling.”
Kili’s grinned with glee. “When I find one, then perhaps I might. But I will bugger Azog on my own Mother’s dinner table before I consider any elf as my better. Go ahead and tell your King I said that too, please.”
From somewhere down the tunnel, Kili heard a groan and a muttered curse. Poor old Balin. He’d been warning Kili for decades that his mouth would get him into more trouble than he could get himself out of. He supposed he should feel a bit guilty, because if they’d had little chance of getting out before, they were certainly going to die in these cells now…
The guard seethed. “Others have said that before, Naugrim. It never ended well for them.”
“Abrad, hurry up!” a female voice barked sharply. “The king is waiting and we have a child gone missing in the forest.”
Abrad straightened. “A child? No elfling would be foolish enough to leave our lands.”
A red-haired she elf approached them, an elegant eyebrow arched. “Indeed not. It is a dwarfling lost in the spider-infested south.”
Abrad sneered. “No great loss, if you ask me.”
“Then it is a good thing we did not.” She frowned impatiently. “But our king feels differently and wants the child found. So unless you would like to be the one to explain why his direct orders were ignored, I suggest you stop letting yourself be baited by an adolescent and move along.” She took the keys from him. “Go. I will see to this one.”
Abrad looked torn between resentment and relief as he bowed. “Yes, Captain Tauriel.” He turned and escaped down the tunnel.
Kili watched Tauriel select a key from the ring and fit it into his lock. “I’m not going to change my answer just because the one asking is prettier. I’m still not hungry enough to eat with your king.”
She smiled, amused. “You misunderstand, young one. The King wishes for your company, and no is not an option.” The lock clicked open.
“Now why doesn’t that surprise me? So there’s a dwarf child out there lost?”
She nodded. “We were watching you from the moment you stepped into our forest. Counting your King, there were fourteen in your group, but only thirteen were brought here. The smallest of you, the bare-faced child, was missing.”
Kili swallowed. Bilbo. They were out looking for Bilbo. Which meant that their poor Hobbit was out there somewhere, lost among the webbed, sickly trees and poisonous air of Mirkwood. Their Hobbit, who was still free and might, by some twist of whatever luck he’d been blessed with, possibly be the one able to spring them from this place, given enough time and distraction.
He rolled to his feet and headed for the barred entrance. “Y’know, I think I’ve changed my mind. If the only way for your king to get company for dinner is to dine with a prisoner, then by all means, take me to meet the gutless bag of bones.”
She pulled the cell door open and allowed him to pass. “You have spirit, Master Dwarf,” she said, amused as she lead him out with a hand on his collar. “It may yet be what saves you.”
Kili blinked. So the Elf King liked a bit of balls and sass in his prisoners. Alright then. He could work with that.
Thranduil peered through a curtain, spying on the young prince wandering around his sitting room. He was quite tall for a dwarf, and certainly built along sleeker lines than most others he’d known. But a Longbeard heir of Durin with no beard…
He watched the dwarf prince slump back down in a chair and fidget. After letting him stew for a bit, the King strolled into the room casually, moving toward a cabinet that held a tray of wine glasses and a bottle of red. He glanced over and held up the bottle. “Drink?”
“Do you make a habit of drinking with your prisoners after you’ve made them wait for over half an hour? It’s a bit rude to summon someone and then be late.”
Thranduil poured two glasses of wine, carrying them over. “On the contrary, I was perfectly on time. You were the one who arrived early.” He sat, placing one glass on the table between them before leaning back in his chair to sip at the other. He rolled the liquid around his tongue with a soft hum. “A bit more floral than I prefer, but you might like it. Try it, Son of Durin.”
The prince gave him a puzzled look, reaching for the glass. He leaned back in his chair, mirroring Thranduil’s own relaxed pose. “Son of Durin? Rather polite of you. I’m surprised it wasn’t ‘naugrim’, like Abrad the guard said.”
Thranduil grunted. “I don’t care for the term. I prefer not to test the patience of a Valar by insulting his craftsmanship.”
The dwarf took a sip and immediately pulled a disgusted face. “Ugh… tastes like I’m drinking those scented oils Men make their wives bathe in.” He huffed. “No, you’d rather promise them aid and then leave them to starve.”
“Ah yes, it did not take you long to drag that out, did it? One little mistake,” he added with a dramatic roll of his eyes, just to see his reaction.
“A little mistake? A little MISTAKE!” The dwarf prince snarled. “You spawn of a warg bitch! Do you even know how many of our people di-“
Thranduil savored the tiny, shocked squeak from the young dwarf as he cut off the rant with a sudden kiss. He knew it was a risky move, but the prince’s eyes had snapped so brilliantly and he looked so lively flushed in righteous anger that Thranduil had been unable to resist pushing him a bit further.
Stars exploded behind his eyes as a fist connected with his nose, sending him reeling back. He blinked and gingerly felt his nose, distantly aware of his guest pounding on the door and demanding to be let out.
“My Lord!” Tauriel’s face appeared in front of him, her expression appalled. She turned to Kili, angry. “You attacked him, Dwarf?!”
Thranduil held his hand up. “It was deserved, Tauriel. He is not to be punished for it. Take him back to his cell as he requested.”
Tauriel glanced from him to the dwarf at the door and sighed. “Yes, my King. Do you require a healer?”
“It was well done, but I think not. Nothing is broken.” He winced and touched his nose gingerly. “Dismissed.”
Kili sat in his cell and seethed for days (or possibly hours, it was hard to tell, but it felt like days), occasionally fending off questions from his kin on what the king had said to him, what he had said to the king, and was he SURE he hadn’t spoken about their quest to anyone who ought not know?
He threw a bread crumb through the bars. The bastard elf had kissed him! KISSED him! Shoved those ridiculously thin elf lips against his RIGHT as he was building up to a proper vent, and completely threw him off!
Kili sulked. Not only had he been denied his chance to tell the stupid elf off, but it had been done with one of the best kisses of his life. For all its brevity, it had definitely been among his top ten nicest, not like the over-eager, slobbering attempts from others his age, or the greedy grasping of dwarves looking for a boost up the royal ladder.
He sighed. “Fili, I told you, I didn’t tell him anything!”
“I know, Kili. I believe you. But you’ve been very quiet since your return. Did HE say anything?”
“No, not really. He just gave me wine and talked some nonsense about not wanting to insult the Valar’s craftsmanship.”
A snort came from the direction of his uncle’s cell.
“I know, that’s what I said, too. That was it, really. But the she-elf guard did mention something about them looking for a missing child. One of ours.”
“A child?” Kili could hear the puzzled frown in Thorin’s voice. “We had no children with us.”
“No, we didn’t. But this is an elf assuming he was a child. And they only brought in thirteen of us, so someone is missing!”
Bilbo appeared before them. “Nope, wrong again.”
Kili beamed. “Bilbo!”
The hobbit took a moment to bask in the relieved exclamations from his companions. “Yes, yes, I’m fine. I was a little woozy at first after our ordeal with the spiders, but I managed to slip in behind the elves before they locked everything down.”
“That was days ago,” Nori said. “How have you managed to stay free?”
Bilbo hesitated for half a second, his hand squeezing tightly around something. “Well, just… Burglar practice, I suppose. Like Gandalf said, quiet and unseen when I want to be.”
“Can you get us out?” their leader asked.
He sighed. “Still working on that bit, actually. I’ve mostly been hiding and learning my way around. I’m looking for a way out, but like I said, the kingdom is closed. I need time.”
“Which we don’t have much of,” Thorin said on a sigh.
“Right. So I’ll stop wasting what time I do have and get gone. I’ll be back when I know something. Until then… try not to get yourselves executed. From what I’ve heard, the King here is rather unpredictable.” With that, Bilbo ran down the tunnel and disappeared.
Kili chewed his lip in thought.
“Kiilii,” his brother whined. “Don’t.”
“I can hear you planning something from all the way over here. Just don’t.”
“You worry too much, Fi. I’ve got this.” Kili started banging on his cell bars.
“Kili! Kili, stop it! As your future king, I expressly FORBID you to do this, whatever it is!”
Kili hated it when his brother tried to pull rank. It usually meant he was desperate. “Look, when you’re king you can punish me for it all you want. But until then, Bilbo needs time and to be able to move around without getting caught. So that’s what I’m going to get him.” He pounded his hands against the bars again, shouting for the guard captain.
The lady in question stormed down the corridor, coming to a stop at his cell. “Stop this at once, I am here!”
Kili gave her his brightest grin, though it quickly morphed into a cheeky leer when he noticed the mark on her neck. “Did I interrupt a bit of mischief, Captain? I didn’t know you elves did anything as normal as a quick tup in the dungeons.”
She flushed. “What do you want, dwarf?”
He cleared his throat. “Well, actually, I would like to respectfully request an audience with your king. Just to see how he’s doing, you know. He seemed a bit nasal the last time we chatted.”
“Strange you should say that, actually.” She reached for the ring of keys at her waist. “He has requested that I escort you to his receiving chambers. To continue your previous conversation.”
“Well it looks like my diary is clear for a while, so I suppose I could oblige.”
Kili took his seat across from Thranduil. “I see you decided not to keep me waiting this time.”
The elf king gave an elegant shrug. “I was recently made to understand that it is quite rude to do so. Of course, it is also rude to seat yourself without first being invited, but I suppose one can only expect so much from the likes of you.” He watched the young dwarf bristle for a moment, then poured frothy ale into a pair of wine glasses and slid one over. “Stop puffing, child, I only meant that manners and etiquette are wasted on the young. My son Legolas was the same way.”
“I met him on the way in,” Kili grumbled. “I can’t say his are any better. And he’s a thief besides.”
Thranduil snorted. “If you are referring to the Orcrist blade, it is an elvish blade made for elvish hands.”
The prince’s eyes narrowed. “And given to us by an elvish Lord, so I’ll thank you to return my Uncle’s sword when we leave this place.”
“You are quite the presumptuous little prince, are you not? You are hardly in a place to demand anything of me.”
“But you seem to have no problems molesting your prisoners. How’s your nose feeling today, by the way?” Kili picked up his glass and took a drink.
“Just fine. A bit of bruising, but no harm done.”
“That’s a shame. I was hoping to fix that pretty maiden nose of yours, but it was a bad angle.”
Thranduil took a sip of his drink. “So tell me, Son of Dis, why should I not have you whipped for the assault upon my person?”
Kili sneered. “Because you’re not that stupid. The moment word got out that you whipped one of Durin’s heirs for defending himself against your unwanted advances, Dain would burn your forest down around your pointed ears. So no, you won’t touch me.”
The king sniffed and took another drink. “Dain Ironfoot would do well to remember who controls the trade ports in this region. But trading threats is not why I summoned you here. Your Uncle is much more fun at that game.”
The dwarf prince frowned. “Then why am I here?”
“Boredom. You seem like the type to grow troublesome with inactivity, so I thought in order to keep the peace in my dungeons, it would be wise to distract you with a game.”
Kili tilted his head. “What sort of game?”
“The only sort of game worth being played between and elf and a dwarf.” He gestured toward a table before the fire. “Strategy.”
“Are you sure you want to do that?” Kili smirked.
Thranduil inclined his head. “Prepare to lose, Son of Dis.”
Losing to a dwarf was… unexpected. Losing spectacularly to a dwarf who had likely not even seen his first century was humiliating. Impossible! The elf king stared at the board, wondering where he’d gone wrong. His positioning had been perfect. He’d been poised to crush the opposing commander’s force, and then… chaos.
Thranduil looked over at his opponent, eyes narrowed. “You cheated.”
Kili smirked. “We both know that’s beneath you.”
The elf king huffed. “Shall we play again?”
Kili’s grin grew wider. “I’ll even let you go first.”
“Do not get too cocky, young one. I have you now.”
“We’ll see about that.” Kili reset the board. “Your move.”
What ensued could only be described as a blood bath of earth shattering proportions, and it was only by luck that Thranduil managed his win. He sat back, draining his glass. “That was well played. How is it someone your age has such a grasp on battle tactics?”
Kili shrugged. “I’m going to be Fili’s Master of the Guard one day, so I needed to.” He winced and sighed. “Shouldn’t have said that. Dammit.”
“So you are the younger prince. Kili, yes?”
The young dwarf sighed, his shoulders slumping. “Yes.”
Thranduil found himself wanting to take pity on the dejected prince. “You gave nothing away, Prince Kili. I already knew you were one of Oakenshield’s heirs, just not which one.”
Kili gave him a wary look. “So what now?”
“Now, we drink ale out of wine glasses like civilized beings.” Thranduil refilled their glasses.
The young prince snorted. “Ale in wine glasses is civilized?”
“Ale is not a commonly served beverage here, young Kili. If you want a mug of ale in a pub, I suggest you try Imladris. Otherwise, here you get ale in a wine glass.”
Kili huffed and downed his ale. “Rivendell was boring. The music was mind numbing. I felt like I was at a funeral.”
“Being that close to the West, they do tend to be more… reflective.” Thranduil poured him another. “And boring. But there are some very lovely sights.” He smirked, remembering a particularly handsome soldier with a penchant for sex under the sky.
The prince snorted. “Somehow, I don’t think you mean the waterfalls or the statues.”
“Perhaps, or perhaps not. That is a secret between me, a very well-endowed member of Elrond’s scouting forces, and a maid in the east wing.”
Kili giggled, the ale finally starting to relax him. “How could you tell the difference? You elves look the same to me. Couldn’t tell the difference between a maid or a bloke to save my soul.”
“There are many who would say the same about dwarves.”
Kili shrugged. “It’s the beards that throw folks off, I think.”
“Perhaps,” Thranduil nodded thoughtfully before steering the conversation to Kili’s family, expressing his regret at hearing that not even lucky hair saved young Frerin from an orc’s spear in the same battle that took Fili and Kili’s father and great grandfather. “Your Mother is strong to have raised two young sons after suffering such losses.”
“She is,” Kili agreed. “She worries about us, though. Especially me. She thinks I’m reckless and holds me personally responsible for the silver in her beard.”
“And are you?”
“Probably at least half of it. I do feel a bit bad for that, actually. Sometimes. I can’t help it, though. There’s so much to do and see.” The dwarf tried to look appropriately regretful, then gave up with a sigh. “Maybe that’s what sent Bilbo out his door after us.”
“Oh, that’s who your Captain said you were looking for. The youngest one of us. His name is Bilbo. He was never even supposed to come, but he followed us, and it wasn’t until we were well past being able to turn around that he caught up with us. Clever little thing he is, but he’s only fifty one, and he’s never even been far from home. And now he’s lost in your forest. Or worse.”
Thranduil sighed. “We have scouts out searching every inch of the forest. He will be found and returned to you. And if, by some cruel fate, he is not, then we will purge every last one of them from the forest. It will not bring him back, but at least those who took him from you will pay.”
“I’m sure his family will take great comfort in that.”
“We will find him, Prince Kili.” Thranduil reached for a bell pull to summon a guard. “Until then, do enjoy your stay.”
The summons to the king’s chambers came frequently, two or three times a week, at least. More often than not, Thranduil had some game or another ready that forced them both to sharpen their wits and battle skills. And always an update on the search for their missing Company member, delivered by Thranduil himself, or on the rare occasion he was home, by Legolas.
Who hated Kili more and more as the days passed and the king’s familiarity with him grew. The suspicious looks turned to possessive jealousy with each week, though Kili could not guess why. The conversations between himself and Thranduil were never what could be called familial. In fact, what had started as a way to escape the boredom of his cell and to keep the elves off Bilbo’s trail, had turned into companionship and increasingly heavy flirting.
Kili wasn’t sure what to make of it. Perhaps he was over-thinking and reading too much into the elf king’s casual touches and friendly banter. Seeing smoke where there was none. After all, why would an elf, especially this elf, show any interest in a dwarf? It was not until he’d seen the jealousy flare bright in Legolas’ eyes when Thranduil touched his wrist that he began to wonder if perhaps he wasn’t wrong at all.
And then he’d felt a booted foot sliding up his leg and nearly choked on his wine, glancing up at Thranduil with wide eyes. Thranduil, who evidently couldn’t pull off an innocent look even if he wanted to. Though judging by the foot that continued to glide up and down Kili’s leg even while its owner politely asked after his health, perhaps he didn’t want to.
The moment a seething Legolas had excused himself and left them, Kili squawked, standing. “Are you mad?”
The king shrugged and sipped his wine. “That depends on who you ask. But I think we both knew where this was heading, so I suppose the real question is: are you objecting?”
Kili answered by invading his lap and kissing him until they were both dizzy.
Thranduil sat back in his chair, content to sip his wine and watch Kili finish his dinner. “Are you enjoying your dessert?”
He polished off the flaky pastry full of honey and nuts. “It’s tasty. I like the nuts. But what was the fruit in there again?”
“The trader called them dates. They are grown by the Men of the East. Do you like them?”
Kili shrugged. “They’re not bad. The flavor takes a bit of getting used to.” He sucked the honey residue from his fingers. “Aren’t you hungry? You never eat… or is it just that you never eat with me?”
“I have usually shared a meal with my son by the time we have our games.” The King sipped his wine.
“Well, at least it’s not me.” Kili pushed his plate away.
Thranduil tilted his head. “Why would it be you?”
“Well, other than the fact that I beat your pants off in our last strategy game?” The young prince shrugged. “Everyone thinks that every meal with a dwarf ends up turning into a drunken food battle.”
“First,” the elf king replied, “I was not the one without his pants last time. And to be fair, eating with dwarves does often end that way.” He held up his hand to forestall Kili’s grin. “In thrown food. Though in some of the grander days of King Thror’s rule, the other option was not unheard of.”
Kili sniffed his wine before taking a sip. “It depends on the Host, actually. The uptight ones are the most fun to wind up. Though sometimes it doesn’t have to be the Host. We visited Rivendell once. The lord himself was decent enough and would have gotten better with some proper ale in him. But there was this one stuffy elf standing behind him – maybe some kind of assistant? Servant? Play toy? I’m not sure. Anyway, the music was as dull and lifeless as a grave yard, so one of our group got up and changed the mood a bit. It was a clean tune, and completely appropriate for the occasion. But from the look on that elf’s face, you’d have thought it was some bawdy tavern song!”
Thranduil snorted. He knew exactly who Kili was referring to. “So what did you do then, little Prince?”
“We showed our appreciation for a job done well. We might have gotten a wee bit out of hand, but Lord Elrond didn’t seem to mind, and the look on that stuffy elf’s face when my curd-filled thingy hit the statue beside him was totally worth it. I truly thought he would either cry like a babe or pitch us off the nearest waterfall.”
The king nodded. “The second option, most likely. Lindir is Elrond’s… Head of Staff. It is his duty to ensure the Last Homely House runs smoothly, guests have what they need, and schedules are kept. He is efficient at his duties, but he does not handle mortal chaos well. The statue… was it at the head of the room? To the left of Elrond’s seat?”
“It was! And it was of an elf maid dressed in something I can’t imagine seeing outside of the bedroom…or a brothel.”
“The lady Celebrian thought the same, from what Elrond told me. She hated it, but the statue was a gift from a young crafter from Rohan who fancied himself in love with her.”
“Lady Celebrian… wait… I know that name.” Kili thought back to his history lessons. “She… died, didn’t she?”
“She sailed, actually.” Thranduil finished his wine. “She was returning from visiting her parents in the Golden Wood when her caravan was attacked by orcs. Her sons were able to come to her aid, but she was never able to recover fully and began to fade.”
“So fading is not the same as dying?”
The king shook his head. “Completely different. Assuming we are not killed in battle, an elf could live forever. But fading… can be caused by many things. Grief from losing a loved one, inability to cope, sometimes simple exhaustion. But while it CAN lead to death, fading is… a piece of silk left in the sun for too long. The fabric… the elf is still there, but the color is gone, the life leeched out of it until there is nothing left but a shade.”
“I’m guessing that’s where the ghost stories come from.”
“Of course!” Kili finished off his wine. “The Mistress of the Moors, who weeps for her dead children so she takes yours. The spectre lurking in the mist, eager to tempt the unwary traveler off the path. Men have them about almost every valley and forest in Middle Earth. They’ve got a hundred of them about yours.”
“I can imagine, now that it has become so shrouded.” Thranduil shrugged off the morose mood and refilled their glasses. “So, I thought we could play a different game this evening.”
“Tired of losing to someone a hundred times younger than you?” Kili teased.
//More like a thousand, actually.// Thranduil sighed, feeling exceptionally old. “Something like that.” He leaned in. “So I thought tonight we would play a game of questions.” He waved his hand upon seeing the wariness returning to Kili’s eyes after so many weeks. “Unruffle your feathers, young Prince, not those kinds of questions. Personal ones. Secrets.”
“But what if we don’t want to answer?”
“Then we must suffer the consequences. A full glass of it, I think. Perhaps tonight we’ll see if a dwarf truly can out drink an elf.”
Kili snorted. “Of course we can. Ground rules, though. First, only our own personal secrets. No betraying trusts. And if it applies to you, you have to answer it as well.”
“Obviously,” Thranduil said with a nod. “No state secrets, either. Or forcing penalty drinks by asking questions you know the other will not answer.”
The prince took half a second to pout, then nodded. “Agreed. Since you suggested the game, I ask the first question. So what’s your favorite color? Mine’s green. Not like an emerald though, but like the piece of malachite a merchant showed me once. It had odd swirls in it that made it look like waves.”
Thranduil blinked. “My favorite color? Of all of the questions you could think to ask, THAT is what you came up with?”
Kili huffed. “You can’t just jump into the deep end! You have to lead up to the hard questions! Now answer it, Your Highness, or suffer the consequence.”
The king smiled. “Blue. My favorite color is blue.”
“See? Was that so hard? Now it’s your turn. Ask me a question.”
“Yes, I do understand how this game works. It was my idea, if you’ll recall. So tell me, young prince, what was…” And so passed their game of questions, with such earth shattering secrets as ‘what was your most embarrassing moment’, and ‘what would you want to do if you were not you’, which Thranduil flat out refused to answer.
“Oh, come on,” Kili huffed as Thranduil downed his glass of wine. “I cannot imagine you don’t have something you’ve been embarrassed about in the last 10 million years or so.”
The elf king scowled. “I am nine thousand and seventy two.”
“See? Now was that truly so hard to admit?” Kili’s grin was pure cheek. “Though I feel a bit cheated, since I had to pry it out of you. For that, you should have to take two drinks.”
“Gladly.” Thranduil bared his teeth and poured himself another glass. “You would drive even the Valar to drink.”
“So my uncle tells me. Often and at great volume.”
“I can imagine.” He sipped his wine and pondered. “So, now my question… you are the second son. The younger prince. Aren’t you jealous of your brother?”
Kili rolled his eyes and heaved a very put-upon sigh. “Do you know how many times I am asked that? Why would I be jealous of him?”
Thranduil tilted his head. “He is the Heir. Future king. His life is-”
“Boring! So many rules and schedules from sun up to sun down! Lessons on how to act in a court that doesn’t even EXIST anymore, or which old family brassed off which other old family so they shouldn’t be in the same room together but sometimes they HAVE to be and you just hope they can keep from killing everyone and then there’s ME! I’m the younger prince, like you said. I mean yeah, nobody really expects me to do much with my life. Stay alive. Try not to start any major wars, protect Fili’s back, maybe marry well, and if I have to, lead the sons of Durin into great and glorious battle in defense of our home and allies.”
“It sounds nice.”
“I imagine you would think that. It’s not so bad, but I mean it when I say nobody really expects much out of me. Bit boring, really, but it could be worse. Not like a king of dwarves could be seen swinging anything but a sword or axe or hammer.”
Thranduil admitted that he had indeed not seen a leader of dwarves wielding anything else. “During our games, I could not help but notice that you do not have the hands of a swordsman. What is your weapon of choice?”
Kili shrugged. “I’m fair enough with a blade, but our arms instructor had quite the fit when Mum informed him I would be taking up archery as my primary weapon. He tried to overrule her and force me to learn the axe.”
The king snorted. “I cannot picture that ending well. Did he survive the discussion with your Mother?”
“Not with his position intact. Though Uncle did manage to talk her into letting him resign his post instead of ripping off his beard or killing him.” Kili grinned and sipped his wine.
“Your mother was always quite spirited in the defense of her loved ones. So, you are an archer.” He reached for one of Kili’s hands, stroking the callused fingertips. “I thought these seemed familiar. Legolas’ mother was quite skilled with a bow. He inherited her love for it.”
Kili blinked in surprise. “I thought all elves were archers.”
“No more so than all dwarves are axe-swinging beasts. I prefer the long sword, like my brother.”
The dwarf prince perked. “You have a brother? I didn’t know that!”
“Had a brother. He was older, and his name was Beleg.” His smile was thin. “He died attempting to defend our king against the Firebeards.”
Kili winced. “Of course he did. You have the worst luck when it comes to dwarves and necklaces, don’t you? I suppose that explains why you hate us.”
“I don’t hate dwarves. I have simply learned not to trust them with what is important to me.”
Then young prince tilted his head. “I have wanted to ask about that. Uncle said you tried to make a deal with him: your help against the dragon in Erebor in return for a necklace of white gems. Why?”
Thranduil leaned back in his chair. “They are not just white stones, Prince. It is as though starlight burns within them. My wife loved them, and I missed her. Her name was Nimeleni. White Star.” He downed his wine, poured himself another glass, and quickly emptied it again. “So, this game has turned unexpectedly morose. Ask your next question, Prince Kili.”
Kili pondered for a long moment, then grinned. “I have one. Oh, this is brilliant. And definitely not depressing unless you’re boring. Are you boring? I hope not, you’re too old to be dull.”
“Ask your question, princeling.”
“Fine, fine, Boring One. What is your…” He leaned in closer. “Favorite sexual position?”
Thranduil laughed and saluted him with his wine glass. “Bold little dwarf. Very well. If you truly want to know… On my knees with my mouth full.” He sipped his wine. “Or on my back, depending on my mood.”
After a long moment of wide eyed staring, Thranduil leaned forward, snapping his fingers. “Your turn. Tell yours or take your drink.”
Kili blinked, banishing the image of the elf king kneeling between his legs with great effort. “What? Oh, right. Sorry. I’m rather flexible, really. So if it feels good, I’m most likely going to give it a shot.”
Thranduil tsked. “That was a dull answer, young Prince. I expected better from you. Take your drink.”
“I am not dull. I was just… distracted by imagining you on your knees. It’s a pretty image.”
The king smirked and put his drink aside. “Understandable, I suppose. Allow me to demonstrate. Then you can decide if your imagination is as good as I am.” With that, he slipped to his knees and proved that an eighty year old imagination could not hold a candle to almost nine millennia of practice.
Much later, as they lay sprawled across Thranduil’s bed, exhausted and sated, Kili tucked a strand of hair behind a pointed ear. He stared at the perfect elven face for a moment. “One more question? Not part of our game, but something I noticed.”
Thranduil blinked at him lazily, one fine brow arching. “Ask.”
Kili chewed his lip, thinking on how to word his questions. “I have noticed that, especially when you are tired, the skin on one side of your face moves strangely. Actually, it doesn’t move at all. Not always, though. Like I said, I only really notice it when you seem at your most tired. Were you injured?”
The king stared at him for a moment, then huffed a small laugh. “You archers and your eyes. Always seeing too much.” He sat up and leaned back against the headboard with a heavy sigh. “I told your Uncle once that I knew well the ruin of dragon fire.”
Kili nodded. “He mentioned it, and something about dragons in the north?”
“Indeed. There was a war at the end of the First Age. One of many, but perhaps also the greatest of them. Greater even than the war that ended the Deceiver’s reign.”
The young dwarf nodded. “I’ve heard of it. Balin called it a war of wrath.”
“It was certainly that. Wrath so great the world was reshaped: mountains were broken and great swaths of land fell into the sea. The Enemy sent a number of serpents – generals all of them – to burn our forests and cut us off from our Allies. It was during one such attack that I was injured. It was a glancing blow, really. I was standing too close to the fire and the radiating heat began to melt the cheek guard of the helm I wore.” He gestured to his right cheek.
Kili winced in sympathy. “Were you able to get it off before it fused to your skin?”
“For the most part. The healers kept me from going into shock and did what they could to heal my wounds, but they were quite severe.”
Kili nodded. “I can imagine. I’ve seen enough forge fire burns and a few who were lucky enough to survive Smaug’s attack, but not lucky enough to survive unscathed. So you’ve got muscle damage? Scarring?”
Thranduil gave a slight nod, startled at Kili’s calm acceptance. “Both, starting from just above my eye down to the middle of my neck.”
Kili frowned. “I don’t see any, though. Did it heal after so long? Or are you using magic?”
“Magic. The sylvan elves of the Green Wood were skilled at glamours and enchantments.”
“Yah, we noticed that on our way in,” the dwarf grumped.
Thranduil hummed. “It is becoming harder to syphon off the excess magic these days, now that the forest has darkened. It is like rubbing cooking oil or animal fat into your skin.”
“Oh. Will you show me some day? Doesn’t have to be now, but I’d like to see you some day.”
The elf king sighed, feeling as if he’d been given a reprieve. “Perhaps. But for now, I think it is best you return to the safety of your cell before your kin start asking too many questions.”
Kili sighed and nodded, reaching for his clothing. “I suppose you’re right. Don’t think Uncle would react well to… whatever this is between us.”
“You have a fine gift for understatement, Princeling. Now go, before I change my mind and keep you here anyway.”