Thranduil relaxed in his seat and reread Celebrian’s letter for the tenth time in three weeks.
Misfortune has befallen my husband and he finds himself injured, and in need of my attentions for a while to come before he recovers and is ready to take up the reins of the family again. While he lies abed, and I am nursing him, we cannot possibly look after the twins. As Glorfindel and Erestor will be busy filling in our places, and I do not feel comfortable leaving my sons to the care of the servants, I ask you to please take care of Elladan and Elrohir until Elrond is better.
I know my sons can be trying, and their mischief is hard to contend with, while they disobedience is sometimes difficult to deal with. Should the occasion arise, whatever punishment you deem fit to reprimand them will be, I am sure, just and fit to the occasion.
I am hopeful you will agree to care for the twins.
“One can only imagine the state Rivendell is in if Elrond cannot trust his sons in the hands of his people,” Harune remarked.
Thranduil smiled. “Now, ada, I am not sure that is the case. But perhaps Celebrian feels they will be able to take their minds off their father here, in a new, never before visited realm.”
Harune nodded. “It may be so. The wording of the letter is a little strange. I cannot place it but it has a peculiar ring to it. Especially the bit about punishment.”
Thranduil shrugged. “I know Legolas is excited at the thought of seeing the twins again. They will be here soon.”
“Landion is thrilled,” Harune admitted.
“And what about you?” Thranduil asked.
“I am, on the whole, bracing myself for the hurricane. For elflings running through these halls will cause the trees from which it was carved to shake.”
Thranduil grinned. “And no doubt the list of damaged and destroyed property pinned to my office wall will soon expand dramatically.”
“It is nothing to joke about,” Harune frowned.
“While in Rivendell, Legolas and I both felt as though something was off about the twins,” Thranduil continued, “Something about them did not quite add up . . . their auras were off. Perhaps you will be able to place it.”
“I will try,” Harune promised.
The dullness of the long trip from Rivendell faded as the grand, twisted trees of Mirkwood spread out their boughs above the party of Rivendell elves. Elladan and Elrohir straightened in their saddles, shaking away their gloom.
“I have never been,” one elven guard remarked as he ran his eyes over the trees. “But it is . . . interesting. Quite primitive.”
“I think it is beautiful,” Elrohir volunteered, taking in the fresh air and mossy woodland scent.
“We are all entitled to our opinions,” the guard replied.
Elrohir slumped. The whole journey had been one long boring ride, with every conversation he had ever attempted cut short in the same abrupt way. It was almost as if their guards thought they were below intelligent discussion.
“When will be reach the palace?” Elladan asked.
“Tomorrow,” the guard replied.
“I wonder what it looks like,” Elladan said to his twin.
“It must be grand,” Elrohir said enthusiastically. “Ada does not have a palace.”
“Ada is not a king,” Elladan said. “He is a lord.”
“Do not talk about your father like that!”
Elladan winced at the snap of the guard and lapsed into silence. One peaceful night later, in the bright light of mid-noon, the palace finally came into view, reaching up to the blue sky above, its grand doors gleaming in the light. After a day of riding through the spread out houses and spirited atmosphere, the palace met all expectations, possessing an air of grace and stature.
Thranduil himself was standing at the end of the bridge stretching across the river behind him, leaning back against the tall pillar built into the end of the edges of the bridge. Legolas was sitting and dangling his legs over the edge of the flat, wide stone railing with another elfling beside him but both jumped up at the sound of the horses.
Elladan and Elrohir flung themselves off their horses as soon as the animals came to a halt and dashed into Thranduil’s arms, the stiffness running out of their legs, overwhelmed with relief to finally be somewhere safe and interesting.
“It is good to see you to,” Thranduil said as he ran a hand over each of the brown heads. As the twins stepped back, he said, “You know Legolas, but I would like to introduce to my little brother, Landion.”
Landion looked at the twins from beside Legolas, not looking to be much older then the prince, and grinned. Elladan promised he would have to find out how Landion happened when Thranduil was centuries older then him.
Thranduil turned to welcome the six Rivendell guards as stable hands emerged from the woods to take their horses behind and send the luggage to the palace servants.
“Welcome to Mirkwood,” he said. “I trust you had a safe journey?”
“Thank the valar,” the head guard replied. “I am Juriel Felicion.”
“I am glad the orcs have stepped down for now,” Thranduil said. “Come inside and join us for lunch. Harune should have it ready be now, and he despises those who make it their business to be late, me included.”
Juriel thought Harune must a palace servant or the butler or something but he did think it a little odd that any servant would have the audacity to include his king in the people he despised for being late! He followed after Thranduil, gesturing for his guards to follow after him.
The long table in the dining room was covered in platters of food, wisps of smoke curling off them. Legolas made a dash for his place with Landion beside him. Thranduil looked down at the twins. “You may sit wherever you like. And this is my father, Harune.”
Harune glanced up at the elflings and smiled a warm welcome, his eyes kind and gentle. “It is my pleasure to make your acquaintance. You must be tired and hungry after your long journey.”
Elladan and Elrohir thought about the long hours spent riding. “Yes,” they both agreed.
Behind them, Juriel made a hasty effort to control his shocked features as he eyed up the elf sitting at the foot of the long table, digesting the fact he was supposed to be Thranduil’s father but wondering what had gone wrong in the family that the king had ended up with a servant as his ada. What had happened to Oropher?
“He is not like Elrond,” Esrestil said.
Both Noldor elves belonged to the Rivendell escort. Esrestil stood tall and lean, dressed in a comfortable brown tunic and leggings, having gotten out of his armor and heavy cloak. He had left his black hair plaited into a thick braid. His companion, Nix, wore similar clothing, the yellow of his shirt setting off the hazel of his hair.
“Quite,” he agreed, clasping his hands behind his back as he and Esrestil strolled along under the trees, following the footpaths winding through Mirkwood.
“Have you nothing more to say?” Esrestil teased, a cool breeze blowing through the trees.
Nix shrugged. “I see nothing more to say. King Thranduil is, as you say, cut from different cloth. He seems kinder, more open and understanding.”
“I hope he is,” Esrestil said.
Nix smiled. “I have seen him frown only five times today, and Legolas appeared undaunted.”
“Gracious!” said Esrestil, his head turning as he caught sight of Thranduil hurrying along a path through a gap in the trees. “What is he doing out?”
“Well, I do not see why you think he should stay inside all day,” Nix replied.
“I am used to Elrond,” Esrestil said, with a shake of his head, as the elf king disappeared. “I have not seen him out without full dress robes, and at least a few elves accompanying him.”
“I do not think the wild Sindar elves here Elrond turns his nose up at are quite as refined as we like to think ourselves,” Nix said, pushed sideways as Esrestil punched him on the arm.
And I think Esrestil is right. Thranduil is not like Elrond at all.
Thank you all so much for reading; I appreciate you all.