A Winter Evening in Imladris
Winter was beginning to spread its frosty breath upon the land of Imladris. The last of the leaves had been stripped down from the trees, and soft snow now coated the valley every night. In the quiet darkness, warm tranquility filled the House of Elrond.
Smiling, the lord of the house closed his eyes in contentment. Nothing was more blissful than a peaceful winter evening by the fire. He narrowly opened his eyes, and chuckled quietly at the intense concentration marked on the face of his companion.
"And as I was saying," he said slowly, raising his hand toward the small table between himself and his partner, "that was when Erestor and I were still young-"
"But you didn't tell us that part last time!"
An outburst from the direction of the fire drew startled eyes from the small table. The two pairs of eyes turned toward the fireplace, where long strands of gold and coal glowed with warmth. Elrond's twin sons, lying on their bellies near the hearth, were grumbling before an amused golden-haired elf.
Glorfindel, elegantly seated upon the carpet by the fire, wore an expression of solemn innocence. In his arms snuggled a wide-eyed elfling, curiously shifting his gaze from the twins to the face above his own.
"You two were too young to hear that part by then." Despite the seriousness of his voice, the balrog slayer, well-loved by elflings for his excellent storytelling skills and infinite patience, had a mischievous gleam in his eye. Elrond knew that gleam well. Smiling to himself, he turned back toward the table.
"...and we had no idea that the part of the forest we had entered was plagued with-"
"But Legolas is younger than we were at the time!"
This protest from the other twin startled Thranduil, who was beginning to listen to Elrond once again. Gracefully pushing back the fabric of his sleeve to move his hand across the table, Elrond simply went on with his tale as if nothing had happened. Distracted, Thranduil turned back to his calm companion, before glancing at the fireplace once more toward the children.
In a grave tone, Glorfindel slowly delivered his contemplative answer. "But dear Elladan, Legolas is so much more mature than you two were at his age."
The elfling in his arms smiled broadly. With a grin, Glorfindel bent down and blew teasingly on the child's sensitive neck, causing him to giggle and squirm. The twins scowled. They clearly thought that the golden-haired warrior was simply enjoying antagonizing them.
"...so we had no choice but to give in. Your move, Thranduil."
Startled out of his dazed stare, the woodland king quickly pulled his gaze away from his elfling and looked toward his companion. "Pardon me," he mumbled absentmindedly. "What did Erestor do again?"
Elrond smiled. Catching the king off guard was a rare and, he decided immediately, worthwhile experience. The blinking stare resembled that of an innocent rabbit caught off guard in a forest. "Nothing important," he mused, his eyes glimmering with mirth. "Nothing important at all."
Berating himself for the inattention, Thranduil scratched his head apologetically and turned his attention toward the chessboard. His eyes darted over the board, and his smooth brows creased slightly into a confused frown. After staring hard for long minutes, he looked up at Elrond, who looked back in perfect calm. But Thranduil had not known Elrond for only a century.
Crossing his arms, he leaned back in his chair and stared at the elf lord. "You did that intentionally."
Elrond raised his eyebrows. "Did what?"
Thranduil made a face. Elrond smiled in spite of himself. Father though he was, the king was a perfect mirror of his innocent elfling when he made that face.
"You told me that incredibly long tale during the game to distract me."
The lord master's face wore an expression of genuine surprise. "My, surely you are not a poor loser, Thranduil?" At seeing the king scowl darkly, he cocked his head with a charming smile. "Besides," he added, crossing his arms, "if a warrior is distracted, it is his fault and no one else's. Surely you, of all elves, should know this." He raised his eyebrows amusedly when the king remained silent, scowling.
"Scheming old weasel," Thranduil grumbled. Elrond burst into laughter.
"I'm waiting." The elven lord waved toward the chessboard.
The young king settled into deep concentration. Chewing on his lip unconsciously, he leaned over the chessboard, staring at the configuration of the pieces. Elrond watched, posture relaxed but eyes alert. Thranduil may have been distracted, but he was nonetheless a formidable opponent when it came to battle tactics.
However, the king's concentration was broken again when the door cracked open. He raised his head, and straightened his face into a smile to greet the raven-haired elf that entered the room with several books tucked under his arm. The slender elf returned the greeting with a genuine smile of his own.
"Join us, Erestor." Elrond pointed to a third chair of the square table. Thranduil was once again staring at the chessboard, leaning forward on his crossed arms, one hand distractedly pulling at a braid. Elrond smiled wickedly. This was too much fun.
"I see you have been pulling one of your tricks on innocent King Thranduil here," observed Erestor as he seated himself at the table. Ignoring the beginnings of Elrond's indignant protest, he put down the books he was carrying, and absentmindedly flipped through the pages of one of them.
The elf jolted at the ecstatic outburst from Legolas. He turned toward the hearth, and smiled warmly. "Why, greetings, Legolas." He cocked his head when he met Glorfindel's smiling gaze. "You are lucky tonight. Glorfindel usually does not tell stories anymore." His eyes twinkled in sync with those of his golden-haired friend.
Wide-eyed, an even more excited Legolas turned to look up at Glorfindel's face. The mighty lord scratched his chin embarrassedly as the elfling stared up in awe.
Elrond raised his eyebrow. "Are you going to move sometime, Thranduil?"
Breaking out of his stare, Thranduil quickly turned away from the fireplace and looked back toward the chessboard. A dark scowl set on his features once more. Elrond chuckled.
Slowly, the blonde king's hand rose to touch one of his pieces –
"Tell us another story!"
– until the excited voice of his elfling broke his concentration once again. Sighing, Thranduil rubbed his neck distractedly.
"Yes, tell us a story, Glorfindel," called out Erestor nonchalantly, eyes locked on the book as he flipped through the pages and scoured through the writing. "Tell us that episode about Elrond's encounter with pipe weed."
Elrond's head shot up. "You wouldn't dare."
The twins looked up at their father, shocked, and the elfling widened his eyes as well. Elrond stared intensely at Erestor, who simply delved his gaze further into his book, humming softly. Glorfindel looked toward the lore master's horror-stricken face, and a slow smile lit across his face.
"Glorfindel!" Elrond's face twisted in further horror.
The twins quickly sat up, excitement evident in their features. Their eyes hungrily devoured the unusual expression on their father's face. "Tell us," they chimed. Legolas giggled and tugged on the balrog slayer's sleeve as well.
The golden-haired lord smiled broadly toward Elrond. His eyes twinkled with that mischievous gleam again. Elrond had a sinking feeling of dread in his stomach. "Glorfindel," he warned, in a low and menacing tone. But it did not have an effect on his friend.
The balrog slayer shrugged innocently. "Ah, but how can I refuse so many expectant wishes?" he hugged the elfling tighter, who giggled enthusiastically. "And furthermore, I must indulge our guests."
Exasperated, Elrond turned and saw in the corner of his eye that Erestor was smirking into his book. He glared at the lithe elf. "Why did I invite you in here?" he growled.
With a sparkle in his eye, Thanduil reached over to place a hand on Erestor's shoulder. "Why, I think his idea is marvelous," he commented, laughter outlining his light, vibrant voice. Deftly moving a piece on the chessboard, he turned toward the balrog slayer as well. When the two pairs of mischievous eyes met, Elrond could not help but hear a scream of doom in his head.
"Glorfindel, if you tell them, I swear I will kill you myself and gut you with my lance-"
"Come, Lord Glorfindel, tell us. I will protect you from his wrath, though it is unlikely that you would need it."
"-and tie your corpse up a tree, throw you in a river, strip your family glory-"
"Tell us, Glorfindel! What happened when Ada came across pipe weed?"
"-throw you to the wargs, stuff you in a dwarf's cave, starve you in my dungeon-"
"For the sake of Eru, Elrond. Sit down." Erestor's voice lazily interrupted his ranting. Glaring at the smirking advisor, Elrond seated himself, briefly wondering when he stood up in the first place.
Glorfindel, who was watching silently with a glint in his eyes, suddenly broke into a smile. It was the sweetest smile Elrond had seen in a long time. And that meant disaster.
With terror evident in his eyes, the lord clutched the table.
"By the way, Elrond," interrupted Thranduil, his shoulders shaking with silent laughter, "I believe it's your move."