“Having child troubles, are you? Would you like to talk about it?”
“What?!” Thranduil whirled around to glare at the dwarf who'd spoken. The elf king hadn't realized that he'd wandered to the dungeons. He'd been too busy fretting over his recent fight with Legolas to notice where he was. “What are you implying?”
“Nothing, elf lord. Nothing,” the red-haired dwarf said, holding up his hands. “You just look like a particularly irritated parent at the moment and if you tell me, I could help.”
“You want to help me?” Thranduil asked, unable to decide whether he's amused or irritated by the dwarf's audacity. “I highly doubt that you can comprehend what my son is feeling, let alone offer me advice on how to deal with him.”
“You think so, huh?” the dwarf replied, raising one eyebrow. “So the problem isn't that your son has suddenly become defiant, questioning your orders, and chasing after lasses of whom you don't approve?”
“What? How did you-?” the elf king's mouth dropped open at his prisoner's uncanny accuracy. But then he remembered that he was the Lord of Mirkwood and cut himself off sharply; Thranduil did not gape at anyone.
“We could hear you shouting from here. It wasn't that hard to figure out,” another dwarf scoffed from the next cell over. “I'm not surprised your son is rebelling when you talk to him like that.”
“How I talk to Legolas is none of your business,” Thranduil retorted hotly but this grey-haired dwarf just laughed.
“If you don't want people to listen in, then you shouldn't shout so loudly. Your entire kingdom probably knows your business now,” his prisoner continued. “But you're hardly the first person to ever raise a child. Swallow your pride and listen to our damn advice.”
What the hell? Who does this dwarf think he is? the elf king thought, drawing himself up to his full height. However, before he could reply with something suitably cutting, he was interrupted once again.
“Please excuse Dori, being imprisoned makes him cranky,” the red-haired dwarf told Thranduil, the sheer ridiculousness of his request stopping the elf lord in his tracks. “And you must admit that your Legolas appears to be acting just like every other angry teen in Middle Earth. You need to set a good example – be his parent not his friend and tone down the partying. I've heard all kinds of stories about an elk, an arrow, and a barrel of the Lonely Mountain's finest. I'm sure that's not the kind of thing your Legolas wants to hear his father do.”
“That was... that was the Star Festival!” Thranduil sputtered. “Everyone knows that doesn't count. And Legolas has seen three millennia; he must be too old for teenage angst by now.”
“So he's a late bloomer,” the dwarf replied with an airy wave “The important thing to remember is that your son needs a firm but gentle hand. You are clearly trying to control him and if you push too hard, you'll drive the lad away.”
“Which means no yelling,” Dori ordered. “Shouting and screaming just makes you look insane.”
“And it also means no glaring,” his cellmate added with a smirk.
“No spying and no bribing,” another dwarf advised him before one of the elf king's younger prisoners chimed in.
“No matchmaking,” he said with a shudder.
“Definitely no matchmaking” his blond cellmate agreed.
“Be firm but not angry,” Thorin's bald companion muttered. “And I'd rethink the outfit. You look like some kind of elven prostitute with those acorns in your hair.”
“You kind of do,” the largest dwarf admitted. “But a little trim could fix that. You want to seem like a real figure of authority; someone who's stern but always fair.”
“And for Aulë's sake, try to smile. Does he even know you care?”
“Of course he knows,” Thranduil exclaimed, overwhelmed and irritated by the litany of advice. Had every single member of Thorin's company been eavesdropping on his conversation? Only Thorin himself had kept his silence and even he was giving the elf lord disappointed glances from the corner of his eye. But Thranduil had been raising Legolas long before any of these dwarves were even born. What did they know about his child's temperament?
“He's my son,” the elf king snarled.
“And I'm sure you remind him of that daily,” the blond dwarf snorted. “You probably tell him that his conduct isn't befitting of your bloodline when he so much as sneezes wrong.”
“When necessary,” Thranduil replied stiffly, refusing to back down. Perhaps he should just end this conversation but these dwarves had offered him a challenge and leaving meant they'd win. “Pointing out my child's errors doesn't mean that I don't love him.”
“Aah, but have you told him that? Have you said you're proud of him?”
“I don't have to tell him. My concern is obvious.”
“The only thing that's obvious is how much you like to yell,” the youngest dwarf retorted. “Even in a temper, our mother never screams at us like that. If I were your child, I probably would have run off years ago.”
“That is because you are a rude and reckless brat,” Thranduil bit out. “I'm sure your parents are well quit of you right now. But Legolas is a prince of Mirkwood; he has grace and style and he knows exactly how much I care about him. I have shown him through my actions, have I not? Why else would I try so hard to protect him from wasting his heart on Tauriel? You cannot expect me to let that courtship stand when she's so unsuitable.”
“Of course not,” Dori told him, chiming in again. “However, you should try to be more subtle. You really think I've kept my brother Ori at home all these years just by glaring really hard? He would have run off with a minstrel ages ago if I hadn't given him better interests with which to occupy his time.”
“What, what?!” a dwarf shrieked across the hall. “That's why you made me take up knitting? To keep me away from Thodéd? You said you needed me!”
“And I did, my dear. There's no need for shouting. If Thodéd really loved you, he would have persevered, and at least you gained a useful skill along the way,” Dori said calmly and his little brother subsided with an irritated huff. Legolas would never have given up an argument that easily and Thranduil had to admit that he was a bit impressed.
“See, I told you,” the dwarf continued as though Ori had never spoken. “Subtlety is the answer. Don't make your son choose between his crush and his family; he might choose her just to spite you. You must separate Legolas and his lady love with something much less obvious. Why don't you offer him the chance to help protect your kingdom? If he's the prince you claim then I'm sure your son would jump at the opportunity.”
“Hmm. Legolas and Tauriel have been bothering me about the spider nests outside our borders,” the elf king mused. There was some wisdom to this Dori's strategy. “They could hardly complain if I sent her off to burn them clean.”
“Exactly. Control them with kindness instead of shouting,” Dori told him, the dwarf's grin wide and smug. “I find that works much better in the end.”
“You know that might not stop them,” the first dwarf cautioned. “If they are truly in love then you may be forced to grin and bear it. Better an unpleasant in-law than to lose your son entirely.”
“Legolas isn't in love,” Thranduil scoffed in answer. "He's just infatuated. If I can separate him from Tauriel, I'm sure that he'll forget her. I just need to find a diplomatic mission that will keep him in the west for a few years.”
“Well, you probably know your child best,” the red-haired dwarf conceded. “And letting him try his axe away from home should help the situation. I think you'll find your Legolas much more agreeable after he returns. Assuming that he doesn't find some other trouble. As my mam always said, children thrive with a little rope, too much and then they'll swing.”
“Spare me your strange folk wisdom,” the elf king sneered. “Legolas will be fine. He'll meet an appropriate young elf maid and settle down eventually.”
With that, Thranduil spun around in a whirl of robes and stalked back to his throne room. Although these dwarves had had a few interesting ideas, Legolas was his son and he didn't need anyone else's help with parenting.
Decades later, the elf king found himself facing that same red-haired dwarf across a betrothal table and he was forcibly reminded of the conversation that they'd had years ago. Because inappropriate in-laws was a subject that seemed very topical right now.
“Grit our teeth and bear it?” Thranduil asked, raising one perfectly arched brow.
“And get real drunk afterward,” the dwarf agreed. “I'll bring the ale if you bring the wine.”
“You have yourself a bargain,” the elf king said, holding out a hand.
He and Glóin sealed the deal with a handshake before getting down to business. If this was going to happen – and their sons seemed to be determined – Thranduil intended to ensure that Legolas was taken care of properly. No dwarf was going to out negotiate the elf king, not when the happiness of his only son was on the line. Although, faced with his new in-laws, Thranduil couldn't help thinking that Tauriel might not have been such a bad choice after all.