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Deception by Starfox

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Thranduil stared down at the letter in his hand pensively. One of the border guards had just arrived and delivered it, announcing that a trade delegation from Harondor was camping on the outskirts of Mirkwood and asking for permission to present their goods to the king and negotiate trade deals. It was highly unusual for traders to come so far from the south and Thranduil didn't know what to make of it.

After a few more moments of thinking he rose and strode out of his study, making his way to the rooms of his son. Upon reaching Legolas' quarters, he gave a short knock.

"Enter," Legolas called and Thranduil opened the door and went in. Legolas sat on his desk, engrossed in the duty rosters for the patrols. He looked up as his father entered. "Ada," he greeted, laying down his pen and turning towards him.

"Legolas, please read this and let me know what you think." Thranduil handed his son the letter and leaned against the table.

With a curious look at his father Legolas turned his attention to the letter and read the contents. He furrowed his brow and tapped thoughtfully on the table. Finally he looked up at Thranduil.

"That's odd," he said. "I can't remember any occasion when somebody from so far south has come to trade."

"There wasn't any," Thranduil confirmed. "Which makes me highly suspicious."

Legolas put the paper onto the table. "Technically Harondor belongs to Gondor but there have been reports that more and more of it falls to the servants of Mordor."

Thranduil nodded. "So why the sudden interest in our lands and the desire to trade if not maybe to spy out on our defenses? Who knows who is behind this. Maybe Sauron himself tries to gather more information."

"Forbidding them entrance would be impolite and raise suspicions that we have to hide something," Legolas mused. He thought for a while longer, then his face lit up. "I think I have an idea, let's talk to Feron, Dilloth and Angon."
********************
Hashim, the leader of the trade company from the city of Gobel Mírlond in Harondor, waited impatiently for the elvenking's decision if they were allowed into his realm. He had heard that the elves of Mirkwood had fine goods to offer: cloth made from spider silk, furs, pottery, weapons and other things, so he hoped for a nice profit. He had also been approached by one of the lieutenants of Mordor who had suggested the trip and promised a nice amount of gold if Hashim could tell him anything about his observations while a guest of the elvenking. Hashim didn't have to think too long to readily accept the offer.

Now he paced in his tent and waited that one of the elves turned up and told him if he was allowed to proceed with his expedition.

The small bell at the entrance to his tent sounded, announcing that somebody wished to see him.

"Enter," he called.

Yazan, his personal servant, pushed the cloth away that covered the entrance, entered and bowed. "One of the elves is here to see you," he announced.

"Good, very good," Hashim said. "I hope he'll bring good news. Please, lead him in."

Yazan bowed again, then he left and reappeared a short time later in the company of one of the elves.

The elf bowed slightly, then he addressed Hashim. "I'm Brethil. Our king has decided to accept your trading offer and to receive you in his halls. I'm to guide you there."

Hashim nodded, barely able to suppress his triumphant grin. "Thank you, I'm very pleased to be offered this opportunity."

Brethil nodded. "It will take us three days to reach the stronghold so I suggest we start tomorrow morning."

"That's fine with me. We will pack everything up and be ready at first light."

"Good, I will be here then. For now I bid you a good evening." Brethil bowed again slightly, then he left the tent.

Hashim sank down into a chair, a smile slowly spreading over his face. This promised to be an interesting and rewarding experience.
********************
They reached the stronghold in the evening three days later. The last miles on their way they came across dwellings, some on the earth and sometimes built amidst the trees. It were beautiful houses which merged harmoniously with the surrounding nature.

A group of elves awaited them in front of a bridge. Brethil dismounted and gestured to Hashim and his company to do the same.

One of the elves stepped forwards. "Welcome to the Greenwood. I'm Galdor and I'm appointed to you for the duration of your stay."

Hashim bowed slightly. "Thank you, we appreciate it."

Galdor made a motion and elves appeared and took charge of the horses and wagons while other elves took the travel packs and other luggage.

"Please follow me, I'll bring you to your quarters." Galdor turned around and entered the bridge.

Hashim and his party followed him over the bridge and toward two great doors set into the mountain flanked by guards on the left and right.

The trader couldn't suppress a gasp as the big doors to the stronghold opened silently and seemingly on their own. They closed soundlessly after they had passed.

They stood in a vast expanse of a cave but it couldn't be really called a cave. There were winding pathways, light fell in from above and everywhere he looked there were carvings and decorations. To his left it looked as if a forest was growing, along with squirrels and birds between the trees. Everything was made from stone, decorated with green marble and semi precious gemstones. It looked simply stunning.

Galdor led them along a long, winding path into a section of the palace that held the guest rooms. Another elf showed Hashim's companions to their rooms while Galdor proceeded with the trader to his guest quarters. He opened an intricately carved door into a big and beautiful room.

Hashim entered and let his gaze sweep the room appreciatively. He was impressed. They were standing in a large sitting room with elegant furniture, a book shelf and a writing desk stood against the walls while armchairs, a divan and a side table were positioned in front of a fireplace. The walls were richly decorated with carvings and wall hangings and from somewhere sunlight fell into the chamber, bathing everything in a soft glow. To one side he could see a sleeping room and on another side a door opened to what was clearly a bathing chamber.

I'll leave you now to refresh yourself, our king will see you in an hour," Galdor announced.

"Yes, of course. Thank you." Hashim moved further into the room, taking everything in.

Galdor left, a small smile on his face.
********************
As Hashim was led to the throne room he was sure he would never find his way back. They moved along seemingly endless pathways. On their way Galdor used the opportunity to brief Hashim on the impending meeting with their king.

"King Thranduil demands the proper respect. So remember to bow deeply, let him speak first, always address him with your Highness or Majesty."

And so it went on until they reached a big, carved double door with two guards in front of it. The guards opened the door and Galdor entered first, Hashim two steps behind him. The throne room was a big hall, as beautiful as the rest of the stronghold. Carved pillars to the left and right resembled trees, the ceiling was painted in dark blue, inlaid with white jewels so as the light caught in them it looked like the night sky covered in a myriad of stars. The throne was not less impressive. It stood on a pedestal and was carved from a rich, honey colored wood. Fine carvings covered it, depicting trees and animals. The armrests resembled the heads of eagles and the backrest bore the sigil of the house of the king. To the left and right of the pedestal stood four more guards, two on each side.

The king himself was sitting regally, his stern face void of emotions. He was dressed in a beautiful silver robe and a dark blue tunic with silver embroideries. On each finger he wore a heavily adorned ring. On his head sat a crown from a material that looked like mithril and interwoven throughout the metal were woodland flowers. His long blond hair was open. The elvenking was a very impressive and intimidating figure.

Hashim swallowed and watched as Galdor stopped in front of the throne and bent so low that his dark brown hair dragged over the floor. "My king, I present to you Hashim, the trader from far Harondor."

The gaze of the king locked on Hashim and he hastened to bow. "Your Majesty, it is an honor to meet you."

As he straightened the gaze of the king was still directed at him and the eyes seemed to drill right into him. I was very disconcerting and he felt as if the king could see right through him.

The elvenking straightened in his seat even more. "Well, Hashim from far Harondor," he began, his voice melodious but at the same time somehow dangerous, "I received your message that you want to trade. Is that the only reason that leads you here so far away from your home?"

Once more Hashim bowed. "Your Majesty, a merchant from Eriador found his way to us and he brought with him the finest silk and other goods. He told us it was from your realm. I hope that a trade exchange will be mutual benefitting for us." He lifted a small wooden box he carried. "I brought a gift for you, your Highness."

He took a few steps forward and was intercepted by one of the guards who stepped into his way and stretched out his hand. Hashim stopped and gave the guard the box. The guard examined it shortly then he went to the king and handed it to him with a deep bow.

The elvenking studied the intricate work of the box for a moment then he opened it. Hashim had chosen the jewels it contained personally. There were beautiful rubies, emeralds, moonstones and a few rare opals. He had also heard that the elvenking loved white jewels so he had added a few diamonds.

The king looked up, his face still inscrutable.

"I hope you find it pleasing," Hashim said, trying to discern the mood of the ruler. "I would be honored to show you the goods we brought with us and hope you'll agree to trade with us."

The king closed the lid of the box. The silence lasted a few moments longer, then he nodded once. "My advisor will see your goods on the morrow. Tonight there will be a feast to honor our guests. Tomorrow we will talk about your proposal." With that, he waved his hand, in a silent request for Hashim to take his leave.

Once more Hashim bowed, accepting the dismissal. He took a few steps backwards then he was met by Galdor, who whispered instructions to keep going backwards until they reached the door.

As they left, Hashim took a deep breath. The elvenking was an imposing figure and the meeting had left him disconcerted.
********************
Galdor led Hashim to the great hall where the feast would take place. Hashim's companions were seated at a nearby table while Hashim had a place at the king's table. Since the elves talked mostly in their language, Galdor was with him to translate and to explain what happened during the meal and what was expected from Hashim.

The king once more wore splendid clothes, a robe that shimmered red and golden, depending on how it caught the light, and a golden tunic. The elves to his left and right seemed to be elves of high standing, they also were richly dressed. Galdor told him their names but Hashim couldn't memorize them all.

The first course was served, a light vegetable soup which was served with bread. While he ate, Hashim noticed an elven maid standing at a door near to the king's table with two guards on her sides.

Galdor noticed his gaze and leaned closer. "That is the cook of this course," he explained quietly. "She awaits the king's judgment."

Hashim didn't think he understood correctly, so he decided to wait and see what happened.

The king talked quietly with the elf beside him while he ate the soup. As he seemed finished, he turned to where the elf maid was waiting and nodded slightly. The woman seemed to sag with relief and the guards remained standing while she bowed deeply to her king and left.

The next courses were small pastries who tasted delicious and also found the approval of the king and different kinds of meat, roasted and served with mash potatoes, vegetables and a tasty sauce. Each cook of the courses stood between the guards and watched the king anxiously. Hashim tried to concentrate on the elves around him and to make pleasant conversation but he couldn't avoid gazing in the direction of the cook.

The next course was a raspberry sorbet, that Hashim thought tasted delicious but he could see the king shaking his head slightly as he put his bowl down.

The elf between the guards trembled and instantly, he was gripped by both of them and dragged from the room despite his muffled protests.

The king looked grim then he waved his hand in a demand for the next course to be served.

Galdor noted Hashim's startled look. "Do not trouble yourself with him," he said, drinking his wine as if nothing had happened. "The king is in a good mood today so he will only get thirty lashes."

Hashim gulped. Suddenly his appetite was gone. "What happens when the king is in a bad mood?" he asked.

Galdor shrugged. "Sometimes they get fifty lashes, sometimes they get thrown into the dungeon for a month. It depends on how much they have displeased our king."

Hashim shuddered. In what hell of a kingdom had he set foot into? Rules in Harondor were also strict but this seemed quite insane.

He noted that the king was gazing in his direction and hastily raised his goblet in a silent toast. He really didn't want to anger the ruler.

The meal continued without further incident and Hashim gladly retreated to his quarters afterwards.
********************
The next morning after breakfast, Galdor took Hashim to Dilloth, one of the king's advisors. After they were introduced to each other, the ebony haired elf led him through the winding passages of the stronghold, along sections that served as living quarters out onto an open space, where warriors sparred. Next to the training area was a garden where trees were growing and flowers were blooming. Hashim knew that they were in the mountain but it seemed that part of the mountain wasn't completely solid since there were open spaces in the ceiling where the sunlight streamed in. The architecture of the stronghold was a marvel to him. They passed the open place and walked to an area that was clearly used for storage. Here the elves had put everything that the trade delegation had brought with them.

Hashim opened boxes and spread out the goods. Dilloth inspected the precious jewels, the well made leatherware, the colorful woven fabrics, the fine porcelain services and figurines that luckily had survived the journey undamaged and all the other goods that were presented to him.

The elf appreciatively took a cup and inspected it from all sides. It was fine work and Hashim knew that such goods rarely made their way that far north.

"This is beautiful," Dilloth said, putting the cup down carefully. He examined the rest of the goods and nodded satisfied. "I'll make a list for the king. We will negotiate for all of it. Please give me a list of what you want in exchange so we can start negotiations on the morrow."

"Very well," Hashim agreed. "I look forward to bargaining with you."

Dilloth's face remained impassive as he shook his head. "The king has to decide, so you'll have to trade with him."

Hashim tried to cover his shock. The first confrontation with the elvenking had left him more than a bit shaken and intimidated and what he had witnessed at the feast filled him with dread. To punish somebody because he didn't like the food this person made seemed extreme. Who knew how the elvenking would react to other things, like bargaining?

Dilloth noticed the look of dread on the trader's face and did his best not to smirk. He put on a serious expression and asked: "Galdor already told you about proper procedure while you talk with our king?"

Hashim nodded, swallowing hard. After the first meeting with the king Galdor had continued to drill him on the appropriate behavior to hopefully avoid any incidents. "Yes, he instructed me about the proper protocol."

"Good," Dilloth murmured with satisfaction. "We don't want to anger our king, after all."

"Certainly not," Hashim concurred weakly. For more than ten years he was now in the trading business but never before had he felt so uncomfortable with upcoming negotiations. He tried to pull himself together. "Is it acceptable if you receive the list this evening?"

Dilloth nodded his head. "This evening is fine."

On the way back to his quarters Hashim noticed two guards dragging another elf between them. The elf's tunic was torn and blood covered his back.

Noting the trader's look, Dilloth commented lightly: "It seems King Thranduil was not in a good mood during council. That's Aeglos. He is responsible for the decorations of the great hall for the midsummer feast. Obviously his ideas haven't been to the king's liking."

Hashim watched silently as the elf, who hung limply in the grasps of the guards, was dragged towards a dark corridor.

Dilloth sighed and murmured softly: "I wonder how long he will have to stay in the dungeons." Turning to Hashim and ignoring the appalled look of the trader he smiled pleasantly. "Come, I'll show you to your quarters."
********************
The negotiations with the king didn't take place in the throne room, but in a spacious room that seemed to serve as a reception room and office. The king sat in a richly decorated armchair, flanked by two guards. Another four were at the door, two stood to attention inside, while the other two guarded the door on the outside.

Like at their first meeting, the king was dressed in fine garb, wearing jewelry and his crown. His gaze was piercing and Hashim felt like a rabbit in the presence of a snake.

Hashim bowed deeply. "Your Majesty."

The king waved a hand haughtily towards a chair, indicating for Hashim to sit. The trader obeyed nervously.

For a long moment there was silence. Hashim started to feel uncomfortable but he remembered Galdor's warning to let the king speak first, so he kept his mouth shut and waited for the elf to make the first move.

Finally, King Thranduil took a piece of paper and addressed the trader. "Dilloth showed me your goods and gave me the list of what you ask in return. Quite an impressive list, Hashim from Gobel Mírlond."

"Your Majesty, surely you have seen that we have the finest quality of goods."

The king made a dismissive gesture. "A lot of trinkets. Surely they will catch the fancy of the ladies of the court. Maybe the leatherware is useful but that hardly justifies the price you are asking. I'll give you half of it and I think that is a very generous offer."

Hashim gasped. "Your Majesty, that is not nearly enough. Look at the fine quality and the quantity of my goods. We came all the way from Harondor to trade with you. I'm sure you have seldom seen such fine wares. Surely that counts for something."

King Thranduil leaned back in his chair and stared at the trader for a moment, bows drawn together. Hashim felt his heart sink to his stomach. Normally he enjoyed negotiating and the arguing that came with it but this time he would do anything to get it over and done with. He caught himself watching the king closely, trying to gauge his mood with every movement the ruler made. Unfortunately King Thranduil's face remained impassive so he couldn't tell anything from that.

The ruler remained stoic a moment longer, then he suddenly snapped his fingers. One of the guards next to him stepped closer and bowed deeply. The king said something in his own language and the guard stepped to a cupboard on the side of the room, took a pen and handed it to him with a deep bow.

Hashim watched as the king wrote something down on the list he had read earlier. After he had finished, he handed the paper to his guard who took it with a bow and then brought it to Hashim.

Before Hashim could study what the king had written, a knock at the door interrupted them.

King Thranduil looked annoyed at the interruption. "Enter," he called.

"The door opened and one of the guards moved a few steps inside, bowing deeply. "Your Majesty, I apologize for the interruption, but you wanted to be informed immediately when the trade delegation has returned from Dale."

The king nodded. "Thank you. Ask Glaerom to come and see me after I'm finished with our friend here."

The guard nodded, bowed again deeply and retreated backwards.

King Thranduil returned his look to Hashim and made an impatient gesture for him to read his offer.

Hashim studied the list for a moment. The offer was a bit better, but still he thought that it should be more that he got in return for his goods.

"Your Majesty," he started nervously, "if you would be so gracious to add more of the wonderful silk your realm is fabled for and maybe some of your fine pottery, more of these finely crafted bows and furs..." he trailed off, watching the king anxiously.

"Flattery will not get you what you want, Hashim of Harondor." The ruler's voice was icy, causing a shudder to run down Hashim's back. King Thranduil stared at the ceiling for a moment then his piercing gaze returned to the trader. "But I'm not totally unreasonable and you did come a long way. Ten more rolls of cloth, Fifty pieces of pottery and twenty furs."

"What about..." Hashim started, but the king gave him a stern look and he fell silent.

"Do not try my patience. This is my final offer."

"Agreed," Hashim confirmed with a trembling voice.

"Good." King Thranduil leaned back in his chair. He motioned to a guard, who took the list from Hashim and gave it to an elf who had had been sitting unobtrusively on a chair in a corner. "Berthon will write down what we agreed on. I'll send servants to collect your goods and to deliver our goods in exchange."

"Thank you, Your Majesty," Hashim said. The king made a dismissive gesture that he took as his cue to leave. He stood, bowed deeply and remembered in time to retreat backwards.

As soon as the doors had closed behind him, he took a deep breath. Relief flooded him. It wasn't a bad bargain even if he hadn't gotten as much as he would have liked. As he turned around, he noticed an elf pacing nervously a few steps away.

One guard motioned to the pacing elf. "The king is now ready to see you, Glaerom."

The elf stopped his pacing, took a deep breath, straightened and walked slowly to the door. Hashim gave him a sympathetic gaze. He could imagine how the elf felt.

Galdor, who had waited outside for him to escort him back through the stronghold, murmured. "I hope he got what the king wanted." He turned his attention to Hashim. "I hope negotiations went well?"

Hashim nodded weakly and followed Galdor, not daring to think about what would happen to the elf if he didn't get what the king wanted.
********************
On the morning of his departure, Hashim once more sat at the table of the king. A lot of plates were placed on the tables, containing bread, cheese, fruit, jam, butter, scrambled eggs and other delicacies.

King Thranduil was seated at the head of the table, as usual. He wore splendid clothing, this time a robe which shimmered iridescent in gold and green. His tunic and leggings were dark green with golden embroideries and matched perfectly with the robe. An elf with light brown hair elf sat to the left of the king, while a silver haired elf sat to his right. Next to this elf Hashim recognized Dilloth, the king's advisor.

Hashim conversed quietly with Galdor, quiet pleased that he had made a good deal and succeeded in his mission. He looked forward to the gold he would get for his report to the servant of Mordor. Although he didn't know what they would make of the state of the kingdom of the wood elves.

Breakfast passed mostly uneventful and Hashim slowly dared to think that he would be able to leave without further incident when suddenly there was a commotion from the head of the table. The elf to the left of the king had accidently knocked over a glass of wine. Unfortunately the glass had been nearly full and its contents had spilled on and over the table. The king's robe was drenched on one sleeve and red wine dripped onto his robe and shirt. The brown haired elf had blanched and stammered something in their native language.

The king's face was livid with rage. He gestured for the guards and hissed something to them. At that moment he looked like he could murder someone in cold blood.

The guards grabbed the unfortunate elf and dragged him out, despite his panicked attempts to get the king's attention again and his obvious begging for mercy.

Hashim looked to Galdor for an explanation of what had been said but Galdor looked down onto his plate and only murmured: "He enraged the king very much, he is to be executed."

The trader finished his breakfast in a cold sweat, trying to avoid the king's gaze and concentrating on his food. He was truly terrified now. Obviously the smallest things were enough to send King Thranduil into a mad rage, ordering the harshest punishments.

As usual, he was escorted on his way back to his quarters. Galdor, who was normally very cheerful, seemed subdued this time. Obviously he too was under the effect of what had happened.

As they crossed the open space of the stronghold Hashim spotted a figure tied to two wooden poles. The body was slumped, the only thing holding it upright the ropes with which its wrists were bound to each pole. A large puddle of blood covered the ground at the feet of the figure.

Galdor coughed embarrassed and hurriedly steered him in another direction, trying to get him past the gruel scene as fast as possible.

Hashim couldn't avert his eyes. The large puddle of blood and the position of the body left no doubt in his mind that the elf was dead. The king had ordered one of his people slain over some spilled wine. He couldn't believe it.

Galdor hurried him along and finally they reached his quarters, where he thanked the elf, closed the door softly behind him and sank into a chair, shocked beyond belief.
********************
Still shaken from the experience at breakfast Hashim asked his people to ready for departure as fast as possible. He didn't want to risk to anger the king in the last moment and be the target of his wrath.

As Yazan reported everything ready he breathed a sigh of relief. His people were waiting on the green in front of the bridge, already mounted, the wagons laden with the goods they had traded.

Hashim stood beside his horse, having taken his leave of the king with courteous words full of flattery. He had tried his best to show the ruler the proper respect, terrified to offend even slightly.

Now he faced the king's advisor, glad that the ordeal would be over soon. He didn't intent to ever come back.

Dilloth smiled pleasantly at him, apparently not noticing his discomfort. "I hope you are satisfied with your bargains, Hashim from Harondor. We look forward to trading with you again."

Hashim did his best to contain his horrified expression but obviously he wasn't as successful as he had hoped.

Dilloth leaned forward conspiratorially. "I think you leave better as long as you are in his good graces." He nodded meaningfully into the direction of the king, who stood regally, watching the proceedings with a stern face.

The king caught Hashim's eyes, nodded curtly, then he turned around and swept back through the doors into the palace.

Hashim shuddered slightly. The look the king had given him had made him feel insignificant, like an insect under scrutiny. He hastily mounted his horse and gestured for his companions to move out.

It was time to leave this accursed place with its mad ruler and never look back.
********************
Thranduil and Legolas stood on the balcony of their sitting room and watched the trading party's hasty retreat. Angon and a few other elves were following the delegation in the trees, making sure that they were really leaving the realm and not trying anything else.

Thranduil had removed the jewelry and his crown and changed into much simpler clean clothing. Now he felt more like himself again.

Legolas leaned forward onto the railing and smirked. "I don't think we'll see them ever again. He looked more than a bit shaken."

Thranduil snorted. "He will report back about a mad elven king who values his jewelry about anything else and who punishes slight transgressions and mishaps severely. Whose people are afraid of him. How much threat can such a kingdom be?"

Legolas laughed. "Just hope that nothing of this reaches Imladris, or they will be on their way here before the report is even finished."

"I'll tell them it's your fault. You had the idea after all."

"Although I wish I could have participated more," Legolas said regretfully. Thranduil had refused to involve his son in the deception, so Legolas had posed as a simple warrior and just observed everything. Galdor, Legolas' friend and second in command, had gladly taken the task of 'entertaining' their guest and of reporting his reactions back to Thranduil, Legolas and the others.

His father turned to him, his face now solemn. "Not even in jest would I raise a hand against you, you know that. We also don't want to announce your presence to the enemy. We still don't know if Sauron knows about you."

The opening door cut off Legolas' reply. Feron and Celairdir entered, both laughing heartily. Celairdir, who had played the victim at breakfast, had dressed in fresh clothes and cleaned up. "Did you see his face as you ordered me executed?" he asked, still chuckling. "I think he wanted to leave right then."

Feron sank into a chair. "My compliments, Thranduil, you really pulled this off. Nobody who saw you would doubt that you are a cruel tyrant."

Thranduil grimaced. "And I'm supposed to take that as a compliment?"

Legolas grinned. "Galdor took pleasure in explaining our 'customs' to Hashim."

Thranduil huffed. "And you took great pleasure in coming up with new ideas how I could terrorize my people. I can't believe he bought it."

Celairdir grinned. "You should have seen yourself. You were really terrifying. Every inch the arrogant, self-assured, ruthless bastard."

Thranduil groaned and hit his head softly against the wall. He would never live this down.

Legolas laughed heartily and clapped his father on the back, earning him an annoyed look that clearly said that Thranduil would hold him at fault for this mad idea.

"You agreed to this, Adar," Legolas reminded him with a grin.

"Whatever possessed me then obviously made me take leave of my senses. Let's just hope it was worth the effort and the dubious reputation I will certainly have from now on."

The door opened and Galion entered, bearing a tray with two bottles of wine and a few goblets. "I thought you would like to celebrate the successful deception, my lords." He went to a table and put the tray down on it.

"Good idea, Galion," Celairdir approved. "I think we all have earned that."

Galion nodded, noticing the heavily decorated rings and the crown Thranduil had removed. "Back to the treasury with these, Sire?"

"Yes, put these trinkets away," Thranduil agreed, looking down at the simple gold band with the single emerald he now wore again. It meant much more to him than any of the other jewelry that had accumulated in the treasury over time.

Galion nodded understandingly and gathered everything up. He turned to leave.

"And Galion," Thranduil added, making him turn around and look at him questioningly. "Please give my apologies to the cleaning elves. I hope they'll get the berry juice out of the clothes." That had been the idea of Celairdir. He had come up with a berry mix that looked like blood and they had used it generously to make things look even more realistic.

Galion smiled. "They won't mind, Sire, we didn't have that much fun in a long time." With that he left, closing the door behind him.

Feron took a bottle, uncorked it and poured the wine into four goblets. "Come, sit down," he requested, "let's enjoy the successful performance."

Thranduil, Legolas and Celairdir joined him, taking seats and accepting the goblets he handed out.

"Where is Dilloth?" Thranduil asked, taking a sip and leaning back in his chair, relaxing for the first time in days.

"He is just finishing up with a few things," Celairdir answered. "He will be with us shortly, Galdor too."

"Good," Thranduil approved. "They were quite essential making sure that everything worked."

Celairdir raised his goblet in a silent toast and the others mirrored his movement, sipping the wine appreciatively.

The door opened and Dilloth and Galdor entered.

"There you are," Thranduil greeted. He took the bottle of wine and poured two more goblets. "Come, join us."

They both came over to the table and pulled up chairs. Galdor sat down next to Legolas, exchanging a grin with his friend before taking the goblet Thranduil held out to him.

Dilloth sat down as well, nudging Celairdir's foot out of the way so he could stretch out his legs. He took a sip of his wine and sighed deeply. "You have no idea how hard it was to keep a straight face in front of this guy."

Galdor nodded in agreement. "You should have seen his face. He didn't dare look at Thranduil for fear of causing his ire."

For a moment there was silence until Dilloth suddenly started to laugh.

At the questioning look of the others he explained: "You should have seen how hard he tried not to show how terrified he was. He couldn't wait to get out of here."

Celairdir chuckled while Thranduil rolled his eyes.

He was certain that the talk about the last days would go on for a long time and that he would never hear the end of it.

"Next time we put Adar's throne upon a stairway, with giant antlers as decorations," Legolas suggested.

"And a groom gets punished because his horse isn't ready fast enough," Galdor contributed with a smirk.

Legolas, Galdor and Dilloth continued to spin new ideas for the next time they needed to scare somebody off, Celairdir and Feron chiming in with increasingly extravagant ideas.

Thranduil groaned and buried his head in his hands, much to the amusement of his son and his friends.

The End
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