It was the day of the guests' arrival, and the elflings had yet to cause any mischief. It was nothing short of a miracle. A worrisome one.
Excusing himself from the distressed advisor of the guest wing, Elladan joined Elrohir in the stables, and headed toward the healing ward. They found Legolas in the preparation room, with Arwen scowling from the other side of the table. "But Elladan and Elrohir aren't grownups either!" she was saying. "And they try your potions all the time!"
Legolas hesitated. "But they're a-do-les-cents," he pronounced carefully. "They're allowed."
Arwen stomped. "But I need to try it – that's the whole point!"
Legolas peered pensively into the bowl. "All right," he said, resolutely. "I will try it."
Arwen gave an exasperated huff. "You're already yellow-haired." She pointed at his head. "It won't make a difference on you at all."
Legolas was at a loss.
"I won't be ready on time," Arwen said, suddenly hit with a realization. "The king will be here any minute and I'll be ugly!" Her voice rose with anguish.
With a glance at each other, the twins stepped into the room. "What is this?" Elladan said mildly, and Legolas started, looking guilty.
Arwen turned to them with a tearful look. "I'm going to be round and dark and ugly," she wailed, holding out her arms. "The king isn't going to like me!"
"Hush, Arwen, hush. Of course the king will like you." Elrohir picked up the elfling while Elladan examined the mixing table.
"Golden Tiger, Willowmirth, Honeycomb." Elladan picked up the bowl and sniffed, eying the contents carefully. "Terula, Morning Sun, and – Yellow Eye?" He turned to the nervous elfling. "Have you tried any of these before, Legolas?"
"Only the honeycomb," fidgeted the little elf. "I thought they might make her yellow-haired."
Elladan covered his face with a hand. Elrohir wisely refrained from comment.
"Well, at least you didn't let her drink it." Elladan's voice was resigned. "And no, you cannot drink it either. Yellow Eye is too strong for little ones like you. And Willowmirth makes you...too happy." He gathered up the remainder of the herbs. "And Arwen, you cannot change the way you look by eating plants, however powerful they may be."
Arwen looked ready to cry.
"Can't you do something with your magic?" Legolas said hopefully. "You have lots of healing magic. Like Lord Elrond."
Elladan turned to Legolas to pronounce a flat No, but then he was struck by the Hopeful Stare. He glanced at Elrohir, who also looked cornered against Arwen's tearful version. Elladan slowly looked up at the ceiling, helpless. "Well," he sighed, "we may be able to do something..."
Elrohir shot a wary look. "We?" he echoed.
"Yes, she gave it to me, but she answered the door clad in her bathrobe."
Elrond's feet caught mid-stride. Were those his sons' voices? He signaled for the advisor of the guest wing to wait – the poor elf wrung his hands restlessly as Elrond frowned at the door of the healing wing.
"...and I think I called her Sariel, instead of Miriel."
"Well, I can't tell her apart from the others next door. Dimwen, Nitwen, Adlanniel, Ariel, L'Oriel, Orielle..."
A dry chuckle followed, and it was definitely Elladan's. With a severe look, Elrond turned fully toward the door. Elladan was supposed to be in his place this very moment, aiding the advisor of the guest wing. And Elrohir was not supposed to be anywhere near the lady's wing, now or ever.
"And I thought you were the courteous one."
"Not if I had to be the one warding off their antics all the time. Sometimes I wonder how you can go on smiling. I'm glad I'm not the older one."
"Did I mention I tell them I'm Elrohir?"
"Valar, I hate you."
Elrond remembered the presence of his advisor. He glanced at the elf, who dutifully pretended that he had not heard a thing, though his hands were no longer impatiently wringing. Elrond reached for the doorknob.
"So her dress wasn't torn?"
"You know, it's the new trend. Torn dresses, loose hairs, a sword, things like that."
...maybe it would be better to send the councilor to go on ahead.
"You never saw? They insist on going orc hunting with you, and when you decline, they fly into a rage and stalk off, only to sneak into your party later – and then they go on a killing spree to prove their superior swordsmanship." Elladan paused. "Except they also somehow find the most inconvenient dangers to get trapped in, and expect you to rescue them if they scream loud enough."
Was...was this what his adolescent demographic was up to nowadays?
Elrond leaned in, and saw through the open crack that Elladan was working away on a mixture on the table while Elrohir stood fiddling with something hidden in his sleeve.
"That," Elrohir muttered, "sounds like a badly written adolescent love story. Written by an adolescent."
"I think it is," Elladan said distractedly. "I've seen them circulating the same book – maybe they all contribute to writing it. No single elf could possibly come up with all that – the flowing hair, the sword, and the weird speeches, not to mention the torn dresses hiked up to their knees and declaring their undying love for you or me, or both."
"I... I think I need to un-hear that."
Elrond glanced at his councilor, praying that he had gone away in his haste. Of course, the elf stayed exactly where he was, no longer bothering to feign disinterest.
"You know," Elladan said casually, still working, "you should hear them squeal about the undead ghosts who stalk them. Or werecats. I've even seen some of those maidens thinking they're Valar incarnate." He frowned. "Or Ada's long-lost lover's daughter, or his long-lost niece who is in love with you or me. Or both."
Elrohir blanched. "I did not just hear that."
Elrond could not agree more.
"Besides," Elrohir said, weary, "it's probably just an adolescent thing. Female thing. Adolescent female thing."
"Let us pray it passes, then." Inspecting his work, Elladan began to add the finishing touches. "At least she gave us the formula to... whatever it is that she uses."
"She stared at me for the longest time when I asked her for the full kit." Elrohir blinked as Elladan gave him a long look. "What?"
"You told him you were Elladan, didn't you?"
Elrohir grinned sheepishly. "Oops?"
And then they were back to the awkward situation in which his adolescent son had wandered purposefully into the lady's wing to ask a compromisingly-clad lady for something personal of hers, which was now presumably hidden in his sleeve. Elrond was beginning to have doubts about listening to this. He turned, and noted with dismay that his advisor was latched onto the crack, oblivious to pointed stares and subtle coughs.
"Since when did scandals involving either of us not spread like wildfire?" Elrohir was saying wryly. "At least it won't be that you're, er, you know. With Lindir."
"Please leave Lindir out of this." Elladan looked vaguely ill. "He's our tutor, for Eru's sake, and that wasn't even me they found locked in the closet with him – it was you!"
"But what could I do? You were out in the gardens pretending to be me." Elrohir grimaced. "At least this time no one else will be paired with you in their gossip. Just you and your, er, tastes." He paused. "I think she rather liked what she was picturing."
Elrond had a feeling he would not like what he was picturing. Not that he was picturing anything.
"On the bright side, Elladan, you'll have less maidens with torn dresses following you with swords – "
"I don't need a reminder, thank you."
"-it will just be some harmless giggles and whispers whenever you pass by with a – "
Elrond quickly turned and left the healing ward, ushering his lingering advisor ahead. He had heard quite enough.
"Holy warg, Elladan! Was that the shade of pink you were going for? Do you think it will match the lace and frills?"
"Shut up, Elrohir."
He really didn't want to know.
The green banner was already visible when Elrond gathered up his welcoming party in the courtyard, noting with dismay that it was missing obvious persons, such as his sons. As he was not inclined to go catch his sons doing... whatever it was that they were doing, Erestor had gone instead to breathe fire upon the tardy. All too soon, a youthful smile came into view, and Elrond found himself smiling in return.
"Hail King Thranduil." He stretched out his arms. Thranduil clasped them firmly.
"You're supposed to let me hail you first," he said, "and then welcome me to the valley."
Elrond smirked. "You're welcome."
Amid the laughter and introductions, Erestor returned unnoticed, followed by harried stragglers. If Thranduil noticed, he didn't show it. As Elrond began to lead the party back to the house, a pattering of footsteps could be heard. Both lords turned immediately.
A yellow-haired elfling peeked around the corner, stepping on the hem of an overflowing pink dress. She stared at Thranduil in awe. Both elvenlords stared.
And then another yellow-haired elfling tumbled into view, and launched himself into Thranduil's instantly open arms. "Ada!"
Elrond continued to stare at the pink-clad elfling while father and son embraced and laughed. Golden curls tumbled down lace-lined shoulders, and black globs of ... something ... lined her eyelashes, and...Valar, was that lipstick?
Elrond realized that the elfling was glancing at him nervously, and also that he did not trust himself to speak, aside from obvious comments such as 'where did you find your mother's nightgown?' or 'that is one red lipstick.' So he stood frozen until his sons appeared, and was relieved that they looked normal, and then was irritated for feeling so. The twins had the decency to look sheepish as they bowed to Thranduil, murmuring their greetings.
"And this must be," Thranduil said after a lingering pause, casting a glance at Elrond. Who still could not bring himself to do the introductions.
Legolas tugged on the other elfling's hand, and she shyly shuffled closer to Thranduil, arms full of pink frills and train. "This is Arwen, Ada," announced Legolas. "She is my friend."
With a smile, Thranduil bent to meet her eye to eye. "Thranduil of the Woodland Realm at your service." He took her plump hand and planted a small kiss on it. "'Tis an honor to make your acquaintance at last, Lady Arwen."
Elrond found his voice at last. "Thranduil," he snapped, "stop charming my daughter."
He did not need to see to know that Erestor was snickering.
"Really, it's no use trying to pin the blame," Elladan said, spreading his arms. "It's no one's fault in particular, Ada."
"Something must have been responsible for this," Elrond all but snapped, quiet enough to be unnoticed amid the clatter of supper. "It isn't as if she stands out - everyone has dark hair here!"
"Exactly," Elrohir said patiently. "Look at Nana's portraits, or the admiration Glorfindel gets for his hair. The unattainable is coveted, just by the virtue of being unattainable; it feeds the illusion of perfection. It's foolish, but what would a little girl know? Even her doll looks like that."
"Doll? What doll?" Elrond glanced across the dining table, where Arwen – who was back to normal, at Elrond's insistence and her dismay – was giggling at something Thranduil had said. The bleakness she had initially worn after showing up bathed and changed for supper was nowhere to be found.
"Elladan did it," she was saying. "He invented a potion to make my hair change color!" She looked back at her father and brothers, who quickly grinned in unison. "And Elrohir did my face."
"A true work of art," Thranduil said solemnly. Elrond fought the urge to kick him under the table.
But then Thranduil sobered somewhat. "So, my lady, what ever compelled you to change your hair color?"
Arwen's face fell. "I wanted to be pretty," she said, dejected.
"You are quite pretty as you are," Elrond said firmly. Arwen fiddled with her fork.
Thranduil glanced at father and daughter. "You do not believe your father," he observed.
"He says that because he's my Ada," Arwen said wisely. "So do my brothers."
Thranduil glanced at Elrond, who was too busy staring to comment. He slowly bent toward the elfling. "But Lady Arwen," he said, "I have had yellow hair all my life, and I must say I find your dark hair enchanting. It is as alluring as the shadow of my whispering woods at twilight."
Arwen peered up. "Really?" Then she remembered herself, and frowned. "But your hair is so bright and pretty. Like the sun."
Thranduil made a melancholy face. "Ai, but what use is the sun is there are no mysterious shades of the night to counter it?"
Arwen blinked, thinking hard. A tentative smile began to spread on her face, and Thranduil was not one to miss a chance. "I have been king for many years, and my kingdom is immense. I have seen many beautiful maidens during my life at court." His voice dropped a notch as Arwen looked up, wide-eyed. "However, you are by far the most beautiful maiden I have ever beheld on Arda."
Arwen stared in disbelief. "Really?" she whispered.
Thranduil brought a hand solemnly up to his heart. "Greenwood Honor."
Arwen squealed, and threw her arms around Legolas, who hugged her back. She excitedly turned to her father, who smiled and nodded in agreement. She nearly bounced onto Elladan's lap and began to attack her food with renewed vigor.
Legolas sighed with relief. Arwen was happy again. All was well.
He couldn't shake the lingering doubt in his mind, so he tugged at his father's sleeve. When Thranduil turned, he whispered, "Really?"
The king gave a secretive smile. "Except for your mother."
Legolas beamed. All was well.
Elrond stared at the huge blue eyes. Glorfindel shrugged, leaning casually against the leg of Elrond's writing table. "Well, I brought you one, as you asked. It's the new craze all over the human towns. No doubt it was given as a gift from the trade."
"Oh. Dear. Valar." Elrond dropped his face into a hand. "Another Marileth Suen doll."
"New and improved," supplied Glorfindel, ever helpful.
"If I see another one of these ever again I swear there will be violen– " Elrond paused, casting a suspicious glance at Erestor, who stood behind Glorfindel with an innocent look. "What are you hiding there, Erestor?"
Erestor took out a small package from behind his back. "Just a little gift from the human trade," he sang, with a gleam in his eye. "Have you been acquainted with their newest model, Elrond? His name is Garias Stuhil."