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Chapter Two: Girls Will Be Girls

Part Two: Girls Will Be Girls

"Ouch, Ronneth, you're doing it too hard!" cried the elf-maiden.

Although, Thranduil had privately expressed doubts about the 'maiden' part, and after a week with Mistress Aiwen's troupe Elrond was inclined to concur. He quickly eased off on his pace with the hairbrush. "Sorry, Gwaeloth." Maiden or not, he loved the feel of her hair through his fingers, and the light golden color, so unlike his own, fascinated him.

Once they had left the camp, at the end of the train, a full two days after he and Thranduil had watched with relief as Círdan rode out in the vanguard and Isildur peeled off to the south, ostensibly to counsel his nephew in the governance of Gondor, the time had passed with ease. The troupe put on an abbreviated show each night. Gwaeloth sang with the sweetness of the Vanyarin choirs that serenaded Lady Elbereth on the slopes of Taniquetil themselves, with Elrond tootling his flute dutifully in accompaniment. Lalie shook her tambourine and Eleniel stoked the strings of her viol. Thranduil strummed his harp and mouthed the words, while Mistress Aiwen looked on with a smile and counted the gold thrown down by those soldiers who wished to sit closest to the makeshift stage.

Much to Elrond's surprise, Thranduil's post show juggling act had proved to be very popular, drawing in crowds who sat in rapt fascination, with their eyes fixed on a point lower than the objects flying about Thranduil's busy hands. One cheeky fellow had even managed to toss a gold coin down the bodice of 'Randiriel's' dress, causing Thranduil to startle and miss his catch. The object was fortunately just a gourd, rather than Mistress Aiwen's good glass goblets, which hit the ground and burst, splattering the first circle of the audience with seeds and squash innards. Still intent on Randiriel's bouncing potatoes, they didn't seem to mind a bit.

"Do me next, Ronneth," Lalie piped in. "You're always so gentle. And so helpful. Unlike that stuck-up Randiriel."

"Yes, Randiriel," Elrond said, smoothing the soft nightdress that Gwaeloth had given him out of gratitude for his nightly attentions to her tresses, "why are you such a killjoy?"

This earned him a grunt -- in careful falsetto -- from behind the closed curtain of the upper bunk 'Ronneth' and 'Randiriel' shared. Elrond could picture Thranduil lying curled tightly, still wearing his stolen shift because he had been too miserly to spend any of his pay (admittedly small) or the coins tossed down his bodice on new attire. This was his pattern every night after the lady minstrels finished their show and retired to the privacy of their shared wagon to relax.

"It will be my pleasure, Lalie," Elrond said smoothly. No sooner were the words out, than he felt something soft swat him in the back of his head. He turned to see Eleniel reclining on her bunk in the indolent pose of a Haradren harem girl, her pillow still in her hand.

"Am I of no account, then, Ronneth?" she said. "Am I as insubstantial as Lord Manwë's winds, or as invisible as a night without Lady Elbereth's stars? My hair needs brushing too."

"Why of course not, you are --"

"Oh no you don't, you vixen," Lalie interrupted him, giving Eleniel a blow with her own pillow that left little poofs of down floating in the air. "She's mine next."

"Girls, there's enough of me to go round," Elrond protested, only to have Gwaeloth's pillow smack the top of his head and her arm encircle his waist from behind.

"How quickly you forget me, faithless Ronneth," she said, dropping her pillow and bringing her other hand around to delve into the front of his stomach.

"Tickle fight!" the other two exclaimed, attacking him from the front. Elrond felt slim feminine fingers stroking the sides of his neck, working at his armpits, and brushing his sides. Always horribly ticklish from the earliest days of his childhood, it was all Elrond could do to fend them off ineffectually and concentrate on keeping his helpless giggles high-pitched.

He clamped his arms to his sides, but that left his chest and belly unprotected in a three to one contest. The girls laughed and squealed, with their limbs visible beneath the fabric of their shifts and dressing robes. And then, as the touches moved lower, Elrond began to understand the reason behind Thranduil's unsociability and hunched posture.

"Ladies, don't make me come out there," called Mistress Aiwen from her more spacious private cubicle at the back of the wagon, after an especially piercing shriek.

'Yes, please Elbereth, do not come out here, Mistress Aiwen,' Elrond pleaded silently. Already the thin fabric of his nightgown was threatening to reveal his predicament. He broke free and made a desperate lunge for the top bunk. In the process he landed on top of Thranduil who, almost certainly noticing the reason for his hasty exit let out an outraged, "Hey!" and began to struggle.

To Elrond's dismay, the three girls followed and renewed their attack in earnest. Only one thing left to do -- Elrond grabbed hold of Thranduil as a shield and rolled the two of them out the propped open wooden flap that provided ventilation for their bunk.

They hit the ground with a hard thump. Fortunately, Thranduil, on the bottom, broke their fall.

"Oh my goodness -- are you all right?"

Elrond looked dazedly up into a pair of the bluest eyes he had ever seen and a radiant face framed by twin waterfalls of silver-blonde hair. "Are you a Maia?" he whispered in awe.

"No, silly," the vision of loveliness said with a tinkling laugh. "I'm an elf like you."

"What's going on, sugar?" came a booming voice out of the darkness.

"Nothing, Ada. I was just getting a little air and this girl fell out of the wagon." She turned back to him. "I'm Celebrían."

"El -- er, Ronneth," said Elrond, remembering that he was, indeed, supposed to be a girl.

"So very pleased to meet you," said the father, a tall elf with hair the same color as his daughter's. "We just joined the train tonight." He gestured back vaguely toward a large and luxuriously appointed traveling wagon where two exhausted looking grooms were unhitching the team of horses.

"Celeborn!" A woman with impossibly gold hair stuck her head out the wagon's door. "What is that infernal racket?"

"Nothing, my dear. Go back inside. Don't trouble yourself." He turned back to Elrond. "I was with the army, but my family spent the duration of the war in Belfalas. We're returning north to Lórien. I suppose it's Amroth's realm now," he finished with an eloquent sigh.

"Will you, for the love of the Rodyn, get your big arse off of me?" came a muffled voice from below.

"Oh, sorry," said Elrond, scrambling to his feet. Before he could offer a hand, Celeborn stepped in between.

"Oh my, and who have we here?"

Thranduil's reply was too soft to be audible, but Elrond could have sworn it was, "Huitho."

* * *

Continued in Chapter Three: Oh Careless Love!