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Axe and Bow

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Parental Consent

by Honesty

Category: Romance/humour
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: None
Disclaimer: Property of JRR Tolkien. I will return them when I've finished with them.
Feedback: YES!!! I beg you!
Summary: A pair of star-crossed lovers broach the vexed issue of parental consent. Humour.
A/N: My Sindarin is very limited, but if I've construed it correctly, the name Neldorion (Legs's eldest brother) should translate as 'Son of a Beech'.

The feast had ended - after seven long and sumptuous courses - and now the speeches had begun. It looked like they, too, would go on for some time.

Which was unhelpful. All Legolas had wanted on his arrival back in Mirkwood had been beer, bath and bed - and even if he couldn't share any of them with Gimli, he'd happily have had them alone. But no! Parade through the forest, ceremonial reception, seven-course feast and speeches! Speech after speech from dignitary after dignitary, and all he wanted to do was to lay his head down on his empty plate and go to sleep.

In fact he could feel himself beginning to go glassy-eyed now. He wondered if they'd notice.

It was all because of that business with the Ring, of course - he was now considered a Hero, and therefore had to be honoured as such. And yet he had done as little as any of the Fellowship, and far less than many who had fought in the Battle Under the Trees.

But still .... Father had decided that he deserved all honour for his achievements, and who was he to protest?

Father ... father was going to be something a problem.

He'd always had a good relationship with Thranduil, in a live-and-let-live kind of way. The king had always been fond of him, in a somewhat preoccupied fashion, quite happy to let him do as he pleased, so long as he fulfilled his duties and gave no offence. It was one of those priviledges of being third of three sons - neither 'the heir' or 'the spare'.

Unfortunately, now that he really needed Thranduil's absent-minded indulgence he had suddenly and unfortunately become the very apple of his eye.

He looked up, to see his two older brothers watching him across the table. They appeared to be laughing at something, probably him. He reflected ruefully that they'd probably consider his elevation to the status of favoured son to be fitting revenge for all they years they'd had under father's watchful care while he'd been out and about, and beyond the reach of parental authority. Well, he certainly couldn't deny them that. He gave them a wry smile, and got a pair of sympathetic glances in return. He'd get used to it, somehow.

His head nodded lower, and he jerked it upright again. He would probably be called on to say a few words in a moment.

* * *

"So, m'boy - it's good to have you back."

Legolas gave his father a bright smile. "It's good to be back here, dad. I've missed the old place."

The ceremonial gatherings had finished now; but any relief Legolas might have felt at this had vanished when it became apparent that Thranduil now expected a private audience with him, and whisked him off to his private sitting room.

"That's good to hear. Can't have you forgetting your roots, eh? Especially now you're hob-nobbing with the high and mighty of the world."

Legolas winced slightly. "Oh, no, father!" he said. "I love Mirkwood."

"Now listen, dear boy. I won't keep you long, because I can see you're longing to get some sleep after your long journey, but there's a little matter come up that I need to discuss with you."

Legolas tensed, slightly. His eldest brother, Neldorion, had warned him about this. "He's got great things planned for you," he'd said, his smile faintly mocking. "Quite the golden boy, you are." And then he had slapped Legolas on the back with quite unnecessary bonhommie. "Good luck, our kid."

Thranduil, however, seemed quite oblivious to his son's trepidation. "Do not fret, Legolas! It's nothing to worry about - quite the reverse, in fact. I've had a very advantageous offer for your hand in marriage."

"Oh." He hadn't meant to say that. He certainly hadn't meant it to sound so worried.

"Oh my dear boy! It's wonderful news. She's a lovely lady, and her parents are extremely well-connected, and very wealthy."

"Father ... there's no easy way to tell you this, but - my heart is already pledged."

There. And that was just the easy bit over with. To tell Thranduil that the person to whom his heart was pledged was not only male, but a Dwarf male to boot, not to mention the son of a Dwarf that Thranduil particularly loathed. That would be the hard bit.

"Oh ... so you have found a consort already. Well, that presents no problem. In these enlightened days it's perfectly acceptable to have a mistress as well as a wife."

A century ago, Legolas might have accepted that, but things had changed. "My father," he said with all the authority he possessed. "I will not do that - for you or anyone."

"Well, there's no need to get uppity about it. It was but a suggestion. So who *is* the maiden who inspires such devotion. She must be very comely." An image of Gimli's undeniably homely face came into Legolas's mind, and he allowed himself a small, private smile. "Is she a maiden of Lorien, or of Imladris?"

No, he had not been looking forward to this. "Father ... my love is no maiden."

"By Elbereth! You would throw away a good marriage contract for a trollop?"

"No! I mean-" So much for Elven eloquence. Legolas could feel himself starting to stammer.

"Legolas, how dare you? If you mean to ally yourself with a woman of low repute you had better have a good reason for doing so."

This did not get better. The thunderous silence which followed this remark did give Legolas the time to regain coherence and start to gather his wits. "You misunderstand me, father," he said with slow deliberation. "I give my love to neither maiden nor" - he paused, and could find no politer term for it - "trollop. The one I have taken as soul-mate is male."

Thranduil went very pink, and then very pale. These were storm-signals, and Legolas braced himself.

"Male? Oh no, Legolas! Tell me I have not read you right."

"I am sorry, sire, for it is beyond my power to do so."

"No!" The word was roared loud enough to wake the dead. "No son of mine goes mincing through the treetops like that Haldir of Lor-" He broke off, aghast. "Please tell me it's not Haldir of Lorien," he whispered.

In spite of himself, Legolas started laughing. "Father - relax! I can assure you it is *not* Haldir of Lorien. In fact my love is no Elf."

Thranduil sagged back in his chair. "Well ... I suppose it could be worse, my lad. It has not been unknown for Elves to unite with the race of Men - and much good has come of the union. Is he of high birth?"

At last, a question that Legolas could answer with a clear conscience - almost.

"He is accounted a Lord among his people. But my father, I must tell you-"

"That is something, certainly. And who is his lord?"

This was ludicrous. This was absurd; but since the conversation was likely to go on some time anyway... Really, Legolas had nothing left to lose by this point, except possibly his sanity and his life.

"His lord is Thorin Stonehelm III, King of the Dwarves of Erebor. My lover is a Dwarf."

"Oh." Thranduil had suddenly gone very silent. "And *which* Dwarf would this be?"

"His name is Gimli. He is the son of Glóin, who was of the companions of Thorin Oakenshield."

Silence. Long moments of silence, as Thranduil digested this information, ruminated over it, and then fired it forth again in an explosion of furious bile.

"A Dwarf! A dirt-grubbing, gold-loving, hard-handed child of rock - the spawn of one of that accursed party! And you - my own son - have the nerve to stand there calmly before me and tell me that you have taken this - this *thing* as your lover."

Legolas raised his chin, his cheeks very pink. Not from anyone would he hear Gimli maligned so. "I do so dare, father."

"But - but this is preposterous! You must have been ensorcelled, my son, to entertain any such notion. You must have been the victim of some morgul-spell to make you act thus."

"No spells, father. I chose freely, and I do stand by that choice."

Thranduil leapt to his feet, his eyes stormy-bright. "Legolas! May I remind you of the penalty for disobedience to your King! Would you make yourself a traitor for so slight a reason?"

"My King, you command my allegiance in all matters except my heart - and that I alone may govern."

"It seems to me as though your heart - or some other organ - is governing *you*, not you it. Legolas, I insist you break off this alliance - or depart forever from my kingdom."

"If you ask me to leave, I will. Dearly as I love Mirkwood - and my family - I will not sacrifice *him* to remain here."

There was a pause; and Legolas could see his father struggling for control, his face growing purpler and purpler with every moment. Indeed, he was beginning to feel faintly alarmed. He susepcted that steam would shortly start to emerge from his sire's ears if someone did not puncture him.

It was some minutes before Thranduil was able to speak, but when he did, it was with iron self-control.

"You are dismissed, Legolas. I will give you until tomorrow noon to think upon your folly - and I trust you will think better of it. Now go! before I change my mind."

Legolas left, swiftly.

Once the door had shut behind him, he leant against the wall, trying to get his breath back and fighting down the urge to start laughing - or perhaps screaming - hysterically. Poor father! His own son, and the son of an old enemy!

Really, it had gone better than he'd had any right to expect. He was still alive, whole, and probably still sane, and with any luck Thranduil would have begun to cool before they next spoke.

Gathering his wits, he headed off in search of his chambers, wondering whether Gimli was faring any better with Glóin.

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CHAPTER 2

"What on earth is going on in there?"

The second watcher shrugged eloquently, not taking his ear from the keyhole. "What does it sound like? Family feud, minor war, end of Eä - how should I know? They all sound pretty much the same."

"But shouldn't we intervene?"

"And get an axe thrown at us? No way!"

"But Gróin! He's his son. He wouldn't want to hurt his own son, surely?"

"That's not how it sounds from here, Grís." The phrase was spoken with the typical ill-disguised impatience of the older brother. "They wouldn't be throwing axes about if they didn't want to hurt each other."

"But that is terrible! Surely we must get help!"

Trust a younger sister to state the obvious. "Grís! Of *course* we've got to get help. Or rather *you* will. I'd better stay here - we can't just leave them to kill each other."

Grís did not move. "It won't come to that, will it?" she asked nervously.

"It will if you don't get a move on. I'll wait here. Now hurry!" Grís scuttled off nervously, and Gróin edged a little closer to the door, wondering what had gone wrong. Uncle Glóin had always been such a sweet old codger. What could possibly have made him so angry?

An enraged shout filtered through the stone door, followed by the loud ring of axe on stone. Gróin sighed. The militia, he thought, had better arrive *quickly*.

* * *

It had all started so very well.

As in Mirkwood, there had been a ceremonial welcome, and an interminably long evening of celebrating. Fair enough: Gimli was always up for a party; though he generally preferred to be nearer the beer kegs than the dignitaries, and so far he had managed to acquire but a modest four pints of ale. The food had been good, though, and plentiful. Being Dwarves, of course, there had been fewer courses, but larger, and the speeches were even more interminable than in Mirkwood. Endurable when drunk, of course; but after only four pints Gimli was still all but sober. And he was missing Legolas something chronic.

A shame, really. It looked like everyone else had been enjoying themselves.

It had been gone six in the morning before the party had broken up - or rather, when the musicians had flatly refused to play yet another encore of 'Orc heads and Axes'. They had been threatened in a variety of interesting and unusual ways, mostly involving large metallic objects in conjunction with various bodily orifices - but they had held firm. In the end they had simply packed up their instruments and walked out, in spite of the rain of thrown ironmongery they'd endured on the way to the exit.

The party-goers had eventually accepted it, the party had ended, and those still conscious had walked, limped, staggered or crawled home to their tunnels. Gimli had been finally been free to leave, and Glóin had escorted his son back to the family cavern, his head held high with pride.

It did not take long, on their return, for *that* subject to come up. Glóin broached it himself, in fact, studying him under one of the lamps in the large main hall of their burrow.

"You're looking well, my son," he said, his voice slightly louder than usual. "Life above ground suits you well."

Gimli shrugged. An explanation would simply take too long. "It's not the same," he said.

"No ... It never is. But you *do* look uncommonly well - most unusually so. In fact I'd almost say you'd found yourself a Dwarf-maid at last." He laughed, again slightly too loudly, and Gimli tried to remember how much Glóin had drunk. He suddenly felt depressingly sober.

"Well? Tell on. What's her name, where's she from, what's her craft?" Gimli said nothing, and Glóin hiccuped loudly. "Come on! It's not every day my only son finds a mate! I was beginning to think you'd never would."

Gimli suppressed a sigh. He had not meant to come to this quite so quickly. Actually he had hoped not to come to this at all. "I have found love," he said as forbiddingly as he could. "But you're not going to like it."

"Oh come, my boy! Dwarves love but once, and none of us can choose the direction our hearts take. And besides, at 140 years of age you hardly need a parent's approval."

"You are not going to like it," Gimli said firmly. "My lover is male." He gave that a few seconds to sink in, before dropping his bombshell. "And he is an Elf."

"An Elf!" Glóin paused to chew the idea over, but did not seem to be about to explode. "Well, that *is* strange - but it can hardly be accounted a crime. The Elves of Rivendell are honourable folk, in their own strange way. Mind you," he added after a pause. "Elves vary."

Gimli tensed at that, expecting him to bring up the unfortunate business in Mirkwood, but Glóin had drifted off into reminiscences.

"They can be a strange bunch if they put their minds to it," he had said, absently, running his fingers through his white beard. "I remember one very odd fellow who was visiting Rivendell back when I was there with Thorin Oakenshield. An Elf from some wood down south, I forget the name - and he was in the habit of painting his eyelids blue and his lips red. He had the strangest walk I have ever seen - as if he was trying to polish a gem between his buttocks. What was his name, now? Hilda? Ah, yes! Haldir, that was it. *Most* strange." Glóin froze suddenly, his eyes wide with horror. "I hope it is not him!"

"By my beard, no!" Very much no, in fact. No need to tell him how Haldir had made a pass at Legolas, shortly before they had left the Golden Wood, and had to be threatened with an axe before he would discard the idea. Haldir's limited knowledge of Dwarves, alas, had not extended to their fabled jealous streaks in matters of the heart. It did now.

"You set my heart at rest! That poncing, primping pretty-boy for a son-in-law! I should sooner have died." Glóin gave a low chuckle; a bead of cold sweat made its way down Gimli's spine. "But I still do not know who your loved one is. Was it one of those we met at Rivendell?"

"It was." Gimli paused, and reminded himself that he had survived Wargs, a Balrog, multiple Nazgul and rather a lot of orcs and Easterlings in the last year. This could hardly be worse than they. "His name is Legolas."

There was a sudden, uncomfortable silence. Gimli reminded himself again about the Wargs, Balrog, Nazgul, orcs and Easterlings, but the feeling of impending doom did not recede.

"Legolas." Glóin's voice was low and dangerous. "I remember him all right. He was an Elf of Mirkwood." Glóin's voice rose, and the last word sent a spray of spittle over Gimli, who just managed to stop himself flinching. "He was the son of their King - that greedy, grasping, selfish little elfling lord that held us prisoner for all those weeks in his dungeon."

"He is different from his sire."

"Not - different - enough!" Glóin clambered heavily to his feet, leaning on the hilt of his axe. "You are my son - and you take that - that whoreson to be your mate! How dare you? How *dare* you?" He had the axe raised over his shoulder by now, his face contorted with rage.

Gimli leapt to his feet angrily. There were things he would not take. "Take back your words!"

"Do not speak to me so!" The axe had begun to tremble in his hands as his rage increased. "Ingrate! Traitor to our house! Betrayer of your father."

He swung the axe down in a wild, and fortunately innacurate swipe that nonetheless only narrowly failed to Gimli's nose off.

Gimli retreated rapidly, wondering if drawing his own axe would make the situation worse. Almost certainly, he decided, as Glóin lapsed in to a stream of Khuzdul invective, and raised the axe again. But on the other hand, *not* drawing his axe was likely to leave him very dead. Assuming, of course, that he had time to draw the thing before his father took his head off.

Another roar of rage; another semicontrolled swing with the axe. Gimli was almost out of range, but it still came within inches of shaving his scalp; and its backswing caught him a glancing blow on the temple, the impact of the blunt haft sending sparks up before his eyes.

All thought of non-retaliation vanished. He rolled out of reach, and came back to his feet, axe in hand.

"Do not make me do this," he growled, raising his axe - and then ducking frantically as his father's axe once more swung down upon him.

* * *

"Hold! HOLD!"

King Thorin Stonehelm. Here. *Now*.

Gimli froze instantly, frantically jerking his arm forward in an effort to stop his axe's backswing hitting the King on the forehead. Then he felt himself hurled forward, as his father's axe-blade caught him heavily just below the elbow. The axe fell from his hand, and a second later he heard Glóin's axe clatter onto the floor.

Just typical. Trust a monarch to choose the most embarrassing moment imaginable to interfere in family politics - especially at a moment when the fight had not been going at all in his favour. To receive a thrashing in combat was always a blow to the pride - but to be hammered by your own decidedly elderly father in front of your King-! *That* hurt more than the damage to his arm.

Talking of which -

He reached down gingerly to examine the extent of the damage. By some miracle his arm did not appear to be actually broken, though it was all but useless, and there was blood *everywhere*. The gash burned like fire, but he clenched his fingers firmly over the cut and squeezing it closed in an attempt to stanch the flow of blood. He pulled himself cautiously upright to sit on the floor, his back set firmly against the wall as he surveyed the scene before him.

Glóin stood directly facing the King, breathing heavily from his recent exertions. Thorin stared back, grim-faced and grave. A little behind him stood Gimli's cousin Gróin and his sister Grís, their faces chalk-white behind their bushy fox-red beards.

*More* witnesses - to what could only be construed as an ignominious defeat.

"And what, I *shudder* to ask, is the meaning of this most disgraceful display?" the King asked darkly. "Glóin? Explain yourself."

Glóin did not seem to hear the King's words, though. He had turned to stare down at Gimli, his eyes filled with tears.

"How could you, my son? How could you? And with the son of Mirkwood's King at that."

"Gimli, explain yourself," Thorin Stonehelm's gaze was turned on Gimli now, seemingly somewhat perplexed by Glóin's words. Gimli gripped the cut on his arm a little more firmly, and did not attempt to rise from the floor. He was not about to make himself even more ridiculous by passing out while attempting to bow.

Gimli sighed. Best to get this over with. "I have declared my love for Legolas, son of King Thranduil. He has returned it, and we have chosen to unite," he said sullenly. "That is all."

With any luck they would stop talking soon enough for him to find a medic without any further loss of face, or significantly more loss of blood. Unfortunately the leeches (as the Dwarf-doctors were universally known) kept their halls a good half-hour's walk away. Right now the thought did not appeal.

"That is *all*?" Glóin gave a despairing wail. "My only son! And the son of the Elven-King! He must have been bewitched even to contemplate such a thing!" He paused a moment, to get his voice a little more under control. "It must be stopped, your Majesty. We *cannot* allow him to do this." He stepped forward and knelt before the King, his eyes suddenly uncertain. "Please?"

"You know our laws, Glóin," Thorin said gravely. "No Dwarf chooses the direction of his heart. You do not have the right to come between a Dwarf and his mate. No Dwarf does."

"But-"

"The laws do not change, Glóin. You know that." Thorin paused a moment. "However, I do give you leave to raise your grievance with the King of Mirkwood. If, as seems most likely, some kind of enchantment has been placed on Gimli, he is the only one who could force his son to relinquish it-"

*No!* Gimli clambered heavily to his feet, gritting his teeth at the jolt it gave his arm. "My Lord, I must protest..."

Yes. Standing up had definitely been a mistake. Gróin had to elbow his way past the King and seize Gimli by the collar to stop him falling ignominiously onto his face. "Come with me, coz," he muttered, seemingly oblivious of the breech of etiquette he had just perpetrated. "I'll get you to a leech."

Gimli's wish for dignity was granted: he made it out of the door and a dozen steps down the corridor before he passed out.

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CHAPTER 3

"...without sparing so much as a thought for the political ramifications of your folly, or the effect it would have upon your kin.  If you were not so damnably ignorant of the facts of diplomatic life you would surely have acted..."

The undulating song of a blackbird floated down from the treetops above them, but Thranduil was in full flow and paid it no heed ... setting forth in lengthy if irritable prose the damage to his reputation and standing in the Elven communities, and in the human communities (who generally aped their betters), the potential knock-on effect where trade was concerned, the volatile state of the market and direct fiscal damage this would bring to the kingdom.  The blackbird's second call, and its third, were also unheeded, save, perhaps, by his bedraggled and haggard-looking youngest son, whom he was dragging along by the arm.
Ninety foot above them, Neldorion abandoned his pretences at subtlety, inserted two fingers between his teeth and whistled shrilly.  Amazingly, Thranduil managed to ignore the whistle as he had the blackbird calls, and merely started again about the iniquities of Dwarfkind, a subject on which he could speak at almost incredible length.
Neldorion sighed, and let himself drop lightly through the branches until he hit the ground.
"A moment of your precious time, father," he said brightly.  He saw Legolas flash him a grateful smile.  Thranduil frowned forbiddingly at him.
"Neldorion, what are you doing down here?  I commanded you to keep watch for the foes and signal their approach, not play about in the branches."
Neldorion sighed loudly.
"Thus have I done," he said with exaggerated patience.   "Four times, if you really want to know - but you were clearly too deep in conversation to hear me."
Legolas seemed to perk up immediately.  "They are here?"
Neldorion nodded; Thranduil grimaced at the eagerness in his son's voice.
"Right," he said, drawing himself up to his full height.  "Neither of you are to say a word.  I alone will speak."
So what else is new?  Neldorion asked himself wearily.
*He* certainly hadn't wanted to come.  In fact, he'd have been happy to have nothing to do with the whole dreadful affair.  But Thranduil had been at his most vehement.  He had wanted no witnesses to what he considered his youngest son's shame, so it had to be a member of close kin standing guard.  Which meant Neldorion.  With the best will in the world, his second brother, Dudol, was not the brightest star in the sky, and jobs of importance tended to come Neldorion's way instead.
"Well, what are you waiting for, Neldorion?"  Get back up there before they see-"
The Dwarf party were already in the clearing, barely a hundred yards away. Perhaps it was not just Dudol who went through life with his eyes closed.
Neldorion looked across with interest at the party of three Dwarves before them.  They had clearly come for parleying rather than fighting,and they were all also clearly kin.  The chief of the three was elderly and white-haired, his beard reaching to his knees, his eyes dark and angry.  His son - for it clearly *was* his son - walked to his right,his arm bandaged as though from some recent injury.  He, too, looked very, very angry, and his father appeared to have a vice-like grip on his shoulder.  The third was shorter than the other two, with a bright red beard, and an axe hefted over his shoulder.  Neldorion was no connoisseur of Dwarven body-language, but he had the distinct impression that the redhead was bored rigid.
An almost exact equivalent of their own party, in fact, he thought wryly.
Legolas started forward impatiently, only to be jerked backwards by Thranduil's hold on his arm.
"You," the King said firmly, "are going *nowhere*."
Legolas subsided, but continued to stare across intently at the Dwarf with the injured arm - Gimil? was that his name? - looking more like a lovesick youth of sixty than an Elf-Prince who had lived almost a thousand years. The Dwarf was staring back with a remarkably similar look in his eyes.
Neldorion grimaced.  Young love - at the age of nine-hundred-and-odd. Really, it was nauseating beyond words!  Still, Legolas had always been somewhat of a late developer, and that Dwarf was clearly no youngster, either.  Neldorion did a momentary comparison of Legolas's rather uneventful love-life with his own byzantine history of marriages, affairs and assorted broken hearts of both sexes, and allowed himself a superior smile.  At least *he* had never lost his heart to a Dwarf.
Thranduil strode forward, his eyes hard and his head held high.
"Glóin Gróinsson," he said imperiously.  "I wish to parley with you on a matter of great importance to both our houses.  Will you speak with me?"
"I will," the elder Dwarf growled, and then turned to the redhead beside him.  "You are to chaperone Gimli, Gróin.  See that he does not attempt to speak to that creature."  He clipped his son round the ear to get his attention.  "Mind you behave, Gimli."    Gimli brushed the words off as though they were a minor irritant, and once more locked eyes with Legolas.  The red-haired Dwarf grimaced.
Couldn't agree more, Neldorion thought wryly.
Thranduil's voice snapped him out of his musings.  "Neldorion, you are my sentry.  If that Dwarf so much as attempts to come near your brother, shoot him."
He did not wait for Neldorion to answer, but strode away with the old Dwarf into the clearing beyond, leaving the two lovers - and their reluctant babysitters - to wait for them.
* * *
"So!  You are the father of that dishonourable dirt-grubber who has ensnared my poor son."
Thranduil was the first to speak - a fact his eldest son would have found irritatingly familiar - and perhaps he believed that the elderly and shrunken creature before him would be easily cowed by an imperious manner.
"I will trouble you to keep a civil tongue in your head, King of Mirkwood," Glóin growled, drawing his axe and leaning heavily on it for emphasis. "Dishonour is not a trait limited to Dwarf-kind."
"Oh!  So you seek revenge for that small matter-"
"A month in your stinking dungeons is no small matter."
"Small or not, to set your son to seduce mine is a foul tactic.  I did not expect such perfidy-"
"How *dare* you!"  Glóin drew himself up to his full height, every hair bristling like a cat's.  "Do you believe that I rejoice," he said; "that my only son has joined himself for life to a peroxide Elven bimbo?"
"Perox-?"  Thranduil stopped short.  In truth he had always wondered about Legolas's tales of an unfortunate encounter with an ill-tempered Istari, which had apparently turned his hair yellow.  "How dare you, sir?  My son is no bimbo!" he said quickly.  "It was *your* wanton spawn who seduced my fine, brave boy.  No Elf would *ever* attempt to seduce a Dwarf."
"It is not Dwarven habit to engage in seduction."
"Indeed.  I doubt your uncouth folk are capable of it."
Glóin shifted his stance slightly, placing slightly less weight on the handle of his axe ready to draw it if necessary.  "And what are you insinuating?"
"There are enchantments that are well within a Dwarf's capabilities."
"You suggest such-"  Both hands were now on the handle of the axe, and Glóin's voice was a subterranean growl.  "No Dwarf would ever do such a thing.  Our deepest laws forbid it."
"It must *be* so.  My poor son genuinely believes he loves that brat of yours.  He *cannot* be in his right mind to think such a thing.  Only the strongest of Morgul-spells could affect him so gravely."
"You seem to know much of such enchantments to speak thus.  Can you say it is not your son's doing?"
"I both can and do.  Legolas would never love such a mean creature."
"Think you I brought up Gimli to such unnatural desires?"  Glóin cried."I taught him to hate your kind, and not to love them. It is unthinkable that he should thus dishonour his family.  My boy was a fine upstanding Dwarf until he was seduced by that scheming son of yours."
"How dare you speak of Legolas so?  My son would *never* do such a thing!"
"No more so would mine," Glóin said vehemently, and folded his arms across his chest, resting them firmly on the handle of his axe.
There was a sudden silence as Elf-King and Dwarf-Lord glared across at each other.  Glóin may have had the disadvantage of height, but the fieriness of his glare more than compensated for the shortness of his stature.
"And yet," Thrandruil said deliberately, "it has come to pass.  What say you?  How can you explain that."
"I cannot.  And nor can you."
Thranduil sighed.  "No, I cannot.  I would not have had him chose thus."
"No more would I,"  Glóin said firmly.
"No,"  Thranduil said gloomily.  "It only remains, then, to decide how we are going to resolve this despicable situation."
"Resolve it-" Glóin said contemptuously.  "And what do you propose to do about it?"
"Do?  But end it, of course.  They will come back to their senses, I suppose, if we but keep them apart long enough."
"We would be wasting our time."
"Wasting our time?  What mean you?"
"I mean," Glóin said bitterly, "that it is far too late for my son to be dissuaded.  Our kind give their hearts but once - and Gimli has chosen to give his to your son."
For the first time, Thranduil felt truly shocked.  He at least could still dream of an eventual suitable daughter-in-law, once Legolas had got this madness out of his system.  "But once?  But that is terrible -I had not realised!"  He looked down at the old Dwarf and realised that he had tears in his eyes.  "Let us talk this through as comrades, Glóin. There must be something we can do."
* * *
"Neldorion..."
Neldorion sighed.  He knew that tone of voice - and the doe-eyed look that went with it.  Legolas was about to try and use charm on him."What is it, Legolas?" he asked grudgingly.
"You remember that time after the Battle of Five Armies when you went out wenching in Dale?"
"Yes...?"  Neldorion had a horrible feeling about this.
"You remember who covered up for you until you got home?"
"Yes...?"
"You remember you said you owed me a favour."
"Yes...  But the answer's no.  Absolutely not, in fact.  The old fool'll have my head if he comes back and you're necking with that Dwarf."  Big imploring eyes looking across at him.  Damn.  Typical spoilt younger brother.  "Oh, well ... go on, then.  But if you get caught it's nothing to do with me."
He glanced across at the two Dwarves, and saw Gimli give Legolas a grim smile and then turn to the red-haired Dwarf beside him.  He could just catch their conversation.
"Remember what happened to Hrolf Ironfist's second-best helmet?"
There was no answer, but the red-haired Dwarf's grip on his axe tightened.
"He still wants to know who was responsible."
The Dwarf blenched.  "You would not!"
Gimli gave him one of his grim smiles.  "Fear not, Gróin.  Your secret is safe."  And then he turned his back and went to join Legolas.  Side by side they headed towards the edge of Mirkwood, where a dense copse on the forest's edge gave thick cover.
Neldorion and Gróin watched them go, and then both turned away.  As Neldorion lowered himself to the ground to wait he heard Gróin grunt out a single, emphatic word.  It sounded remarkably like "Families!"
"I know," he said ruefully, more to himself than his companion.  "But for our families, all our lives would be simple."

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CHAPTER 4

The edge of the thicket still seemed a little too far away. Legolas could feel Neldorion staring at the back of his neck, and wondered what his older brother must be making of the scene. And the other Dwarf - what would he think?

"What happened to your arm?" he asked under his breath, as they made their way slowly towards it.

"Nothing grave. A scratch, only." Gimli's voice was unmistakably evasive.

"A *scratch*? It would take nothing less than an axe to cause a scratch such as that!"

"Yes," Gimli said flatly. "Shall we say just that my father was not pleased?"

Legolas raised an eyebrow. "I think that is understood." Gimli, at least, had had the tact not to mention his own hagridden appearance.

They entered the cover of the thicket, and Legolas saw Gimli glance around dubiously at the tangle of brambles that filled it, and then shrug, his face resigned.

"Will it serve? I know it is hardly the greensward of Lórien"

"I think a barracks privy would serve right now, if it gave us a measure of solitude."

"A barra-" Legolas bit off the outraged exclamation, and then started to laugh. "My dear Dwarf, I knew there was a reason I had missed you so greatly." He swooped gracefully to his knees to seize Gimli tightly in an embrace, careful of the injured arm. "I have missed you exceedingly, in fact - more than I would have believed possible."

Kneeling thus, they were level. He felt Gimli bring his one good arm up round his shoulders, drawing them together for their first kiss in ... oh, almost a week. It felt so much longer. "They must be dull indeed in Mirkwood, for you to say so." Gimli eased himself down onto the dirty, prickly forest floor, not releasing Legolas as he did so. "But you are well?" he asked doubtfully.

Legolas gave a brief, fractured laugh. "Oh Gimli! I fear my poor father has driven me half witless." He slid down so that he could lay his head against the broad sholder, and closed his eyes momentarily, letting himself drink in scent of his lover - the smell of new earth and old leather. Here of all places he could be peaceful.

"My poor witless Elf," he heard Gimli say fondly, turning to look at him so that the long dark beard brushed against his forehead. "I always said your kind's deadliest weapon was your habit of talking others to death."

Legolas laughed in spite of himself, and then sighed, and of their own accord his fingers tangled themselves in Gimli's beard. He felt Gimli's hand caressing his hair, and looked up into his face, into the strange secret depths of the dark eyes ... and then, by common unsaid consent, their lips met.

It was some ninety seconds by the clock before they again drew breath, and both cast sudden guilty glances back in the direction of the clearing.

"Are they returning?"

"Not yet. I would imagine my father still has more than enough to say for himself." He laughed, and for the first time it was his old, carefree laugh. "Surely we have many more hours before we must part again."

"I would not be so sure. My own sire has certain was of his own of curtailing others words."

"Your wound - I see! But what happened?"

"Do not ask, I beg you," Gimli said quickly, and then immediately relented. "It is a shameful thing: to be beaten in combat by your drunken, aged father."

The words were spoken a shade too lightly to fool an Elven ear, and Legolas reached out once more to pull him into a long kiss. "Who can fathom the ways of parents," he asked understandingly. "Not I."

They lay still and quiet for long minutes, curled around each other like pups in the hay. "Perhaps we could elope," Legolas said lazily, "while our sires decide what is to be done with us."

"Perhaps. But where would we go?"

"To East Lórien, perhaps? It is not so far, and I know that Lord Celeborn would gladly receive us."

"Aye," Gimli said thoughtfully. "He would not be the only one, alas. I fear Haldir would also be pleased to see us."

"Well ... perhaps." Legolas contemplated mischief for a moment, and then decided to risk it. "He did say maybe a threesome..."

He felt Gimli's good arm tighten slightly around him.

"A threesome? There wouldn't be room enough for him."

* * *

It was a truly ludicrous situation to be stuck in, of course.

Neldorion gave an irritable sigh, not for the first time that day. Between his idiot father and his idiot brother he was helpless. Stuck here - on the edge of Mirkwood with only a silent Dwarf for company, and his brother off canoodling with another Dwarf out in the bushes.

What chance was there, after all, that Legolas was likely to be alert enough to hear his father's approach before he returned? What with that Dwarf of his with him, precious little - and Neldorion did not relish the trouble that would come his way when the two fathers returned.

He glanced up suddenly, to find the red-bearded Dwarf watching him.

And there was someone else who would be in dire disgrace if the two lovebirds were caught. Neldorion knew little of Dwarvish customs, but he strongly suspected that the Dwarf would be facing a sterner punishment than curfew and harsh words.

He examined the Dwarf for a moment, his eye drawn instinctively to the bright red beard. No Elf ever had hair that colour - indeed he'd never seen such a colour among any of the free peoples. And the length!

He looked closer, at the ornate braids woven into it, and the two neat prongs in which it ended, carefully trimmed to be equal in length. It looked softer than it had any right to be, too - more like wool than bristle. Was that, he wondered, what poor Legolas had fallen for?

A Dwarf's beard? Surely not! If any more ridiculous thing existed under the Sun Neldorion had yet to encounter it-

He gave a sudden start, realising that the Dwarf had caught him watching, and was now matching him intently, glance for glance.

"What's your name." That, he supposed, was an overture of friendship, Dwarf-style. Though it could just as easily have been a simple request for information or a precursor to a duel to the death. One never knew with those people.

"Neldorion," he said, hoping the Dwarf did not understand Sindarin. [Clown Prince of Mirkwood,] he added silently. [Greenwood the Great, Eryn Lasgalen and whatever else dad's calling it today.] He jerked a thumb towards the wood. "He's my brother, alas!"

The Dwarf weighed him up. "Gróin Fróinul."

"Gróin?" Neldorion raised an eyebrow at the name, and the Dwarf scowled.

"I have heard the jokes already," he growled, "And none of them were clever even the first time around. It was a common Dwarvish name long before the anatomists began their shameful trade."

"Peace! I do not mock," Neldorion said quickly. "In fact I hardly have the right! When they render my name in Westron, they call me 'son of a beech'."

To give him credit, Gróin neither laughed nor smiled. "Families are cruel things."

"Yes ... which reminds me..." Neldorion peered towards the thicket momentarily, to the two dim figures he could see within it, locked together in a seemingly endless embrace. He sighed. "Much as it pains me to own it, they do make rather a sweet couple, in a strange kind of way."

"They are right together," Gróin said shortly. "Even a simpleton can see that."

[Right.] A strange way of putting it - as if their love were the only possible solution to an equation, or the correct resolution of a dissonnance. Neldorion shrugged. "Simpletons, yes. Parents appear to have more trouble with the concept. But what now? I suspect we have an unconscionably long wait ahead of us, and I for one would welcome some way of whiling away the time. Wait!" He fished in the light bag he had brought with him, and from its depths brought a small wineskin. "I do have some berry wine here, to ease the long hours of waiting. Will you partake with me?"

The Dwarf eyed it suspiciously, and then reached for his own pack, and drew out a stone flask. "I thank you," he said, with more warmth than he had spoken before. "But I have liquor here myself." He unscrewed the stone stopper, and Neldorion caught a whiff of a pungent heady smell that all but set his head reeling.

"What is it?"

"We call it horak."

"May I try some?" Neldorion regretted the question the moment he had spoken it. Everyone knew the Dwarves were an acquisitive, grasping people, not at all inclined to share their property with others, even among their own kind. And besides, he was not at all sure he wanted to taste something quite that strong.

But Gróin shrugged, and passed the flask over to him.

Neldorion drank a mouthful, and nearly dropped the flask, coughing and choking with his eyes watering. It was a few moments before he regained the power of speech.

"You people drink that for *pleasure*?" he said incredulously.

Gróin's took the flask back from him, a little proprietorially. "No," he said. "We drink it for distraction from our woes."

Neldorion considered this for a moment. "Well," he said thoughtfully. "If that is its purpose it is certainly ... effective." He picked up his own flask. "Here," he said. "I should be interested to know what you think of Elven wine."

The Dwarf took the flask warily, as if suspecting trickery. He tasted it, frowning. "Sickly. It would be good, if it were not so sweet."

"Perhaps it is. We find it consoling, when faced with unpleasant tasks. Perhaps-"

Unbidden he retrieved his wineskin and picked up Gróin's stone flask in his other hand.

"What are you doing?" Gróin did sound annoyed now, but that could not be helped.

"An experiment." He poured a little of the horak into his wineskin, and then transferred the contents back into the stone flask, before pouring it back, and then back again. "Some of the best evenings of my life have been spent in the company of mixed liquors. You never know quite what you will find until you try it. There!"

He passed the stone flask back to Gróin, and took a long swig from his wineskin, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. "Now *that*," he said happily, if a little unsteadily, "is a drink that will cure any ill." He took another swig. It was light and sweet, but there was a fire in the liquid that burned all the way down to his belly. He was starting to feel a little woolly-headed as well.

Gróin picked up his flask cautiously and looked into it suspiciously before taking a sip. "Not bad." He sounded a little surprised. "Strong ... and yet sweet. Perhaps you are wise, Prince Neldorion." He took another mouthful, and Neldorion could not resist a smile. He took another mouthful.

It would have been churlish not to join him, so Neldorion took another gulp from his own flask, and then a second, because it really tasted very good.

There was probably, he remembered, a very good reason why drinking something so strong would not be a sensible idea right now. Something like that. It really didn't seem terribly important, though, so he drank again, looking across to where Gróin was watching him, with those strange deep eyes of his. His eyes fell again on the mass of red hair that crowned the Dwarf's chin.

"Have I ever told you," he said muzzily, "how very fascinating your beard is?"

* * *

The mood in the valley a hundred yards away was beginning to be distinctly darker. Glóin sat glumly on a rock, his axe lying neglected on the ground, while Thranduil was pacing restlessly to and fro, his fists clenched.

"There must be *something* we can do!" he burst out angrily for about the seventh time in five minutes. They had been through all the possible scenarios they could think of, time and time again, and every time had failed totally to find a course of action that would work, without violating either Glóin's code of honour or Thranduil's sense of decorum. "There *must* be."

"We have checked everything already," Glóin pointed out unhelpfully. "There isn't."

"We can't have thought of everything. There *must* be something left."

"We could kill them."

"But surely-"

"Very well then - banish them! It comes to the same thing."

"Banish them! What good would that do?"

"It would get rid of the problem."

"But you don't understand," Thranduil almost wailed. "I would never live it down! If they knew that my own son, and a Dwarf-!"

"Is it our fault that our sons have no taste?"

"Well - no."

"Then stop fretting. You can always tell the world that you are giving him the opportunity to colonise - oh, somewhere many miles from here."

"And how am I supposed to explain away the fact that my youngest son is sleeping with a -"

"There is no call for vulgarity," Glóin growled angrily. "Explain nothing. That is the Dwarven way. Rather leave your son to address the personal questions. In fact Gimli will leave Erebor as soon as Thorin will give him leave to go."

There was a long, rather sullen silence. It was not ideal; in fact it was a long way from ideal. But what else was there to be done?

"Very well," Thranduil said weakly. "You are quite right, Glóin, my friend. It cannot be helped. It is no fault of ours that our sons are so peculiar."

"No, it is not." Glóin climbed heavily to his feet and picked up his axe again, testing the edge with his thumb. "Now let us collect our willful offspring and tell them how very merciful we are being to them."

* * *

"Legolas?"

"Mmmmm?"

"I think we ought to get back?"

"Mmmm ... nah. Why?"

"Something to do with our fathers' return, perhaps. Even *I* can hear them, and you say I am nearly deaf compared to an Elf."

Legolas sat up abruptly, staring over Gimli's shoulder. "What? Oh *no*!"

Gimli twisted round to stare through the brambles at whatever it was had thus caught his lover's attention. "Gróin ... and -" Not to mention their two fathers barely fifty yards away. He stopped speechless for a few seconds, staring open-mouthed at the spectacle that met his attention. "That," he said flatly, "is not good."

It was not merely not good. It was downright catastrophic. For almost a minute, the two could do no more than stare, horrorstricken, at Neldorion and Gróin, and the figures of Thranduil and Glóin as they approached.

"What should we do?"

Legolas thought for a moment. "We should go back. They may need our help."

"Our fathers? Or Neldorion and Gróin."

"Both. Your father has an axe with him, remember."

"That," Gimli said firmly, "is a fact I am unlikely to forget in a hurry." He struggled to his feet, a little encumbered by several stones' worth of Elf lying across his legs. "Move, idiot Elf - if you would not have me carry you."

Legolas jumped quickly to his feet and put an arm briefly round Gimli's shoulder. "Ah well," he said softly. "We have seen greater dangers than these, master Dwarf. Come! Let us face the music together."

END

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