Chapter 1: A Friendly Wager
A/N: I do not own the characters or places of LOTR nor am I making any money from this! I do claim those characters that I have (obviously) created. I appreciate constructive critiscm, but if you have to flame me please do not swear. Obviously I have taken liberties in writing this story so if I offend anyone, I apologize.
Since his departure for Rivendell and beyond more than two years ago, Legolas, Prince of Mirkwood, could remember no brighter sight than the one he beheld now. Dawn breaking upon my father's house, he thought to himself, as he looked out of one of the many windows in his father's study. There is no sight sweeter than that.
During his travels with the Fellowship he had seen countless wonders and beauty of Middle-Earth. But his heart had always returned home, home to Mirkwood and all of its memories: his father, the greatness of the great halls, the gardens, and most of all, the forest. He had learned to shoot and ride in the great forests of Mirkwood and therefore, his heart would always remain with it.
Home, Legolas repeated in his mind. Yes, it is good to be home. He took one last look upon the sun casting its brightness over all of Mirkwood before turning away. He sighed contentedly and sat in the nearest chair.
"What has that whimsical head of yours got you sighing about now?" the voice of Gragoc, a childhood friend and long time confident, demanded from across the room. Like Legolas, as well as the two other elves that now sat in the private study of King Thranduil, Gragoc was tall and lithe, as well as blonde-haired and fair, but with a tendency to be more mischievous than the prince. At the moment, he was studying the contents of one of the giant bookshelves along the far wall of the study.
Legolas smirked. "Whimsical I may be, my friend," he returned, "surely as you are pig-headed and unimaginative!" This was met by laughter by the two other elves, Jhad and Lorith, who were also long time friends of the prince, and a grin from Gragoc.
"I see your travels have not dulled your wit, my prince," Gragoc said, coming over to him and clapping him on the shoulder.
Legolas smiled at his friend. "I do not deny that there were times that I feared it would be so," he replied, honestly. "And for that I am grateful to be home…where, presently, skill of wit is not needed." His blue eyes twinkled with mischief.
Gragoc laughed with the others. "Grateful to be home, hmm?" he repeated. "I do not think it was the warm thoughts of the forest that had you longing, eh?"
"If you are speaking of the fair maidens of our kingdom," Legolas began, "you are wrong. If you will remember correctly, there was no fair maiden-"
"Or maidens," Lorith cut in, grinning.
"-to speak fondly of when I left for my travels," Legolas finished, glaring at Lorith. "As there are none now." The ability that the prince possessed that seemingly made maidens swoon over him had greatly amused the four friends through their years together.
"There will be once you venture out of the main house," Jhad commented. "I believe the maidens did not get a good viewing of their prince during his homecoming and will stop at nothing to do so."
Legolas grunted, remembering the crowds that had lined the forest upon his return, shouting and cheering. Many a maid had been there. "Why must they look at all?" he grumbled. "They have proven to me time and again that all they favor is my title and my appearance. I have yet to meet a maiden that is willing to delve deeper."
"You sound as a man in need of a maid!" Lorith exclaimed, grinning. "And what better people to help you than those here and now? Come, Legolas! Tell us what you fancy!"
The prince hesitated for a moment, unsure if he should proceed. He had learned early on that his friends used everything, any information, as a good ribbing. Did he want to be teased about this?
"Come now!" Gragoc exclaimed, as if reading his thoughts. "It is apparent we have stumbled upon a worthy adventure that we, as friends, can share! We will be as serious as our prince…although if any jesting presents itself, it cannot, of course, be helped!" He smiled expectantly at Legolas.
"Adventure?" Jhad repeated, almost in disbelief. "I say it is a challenge! Finding a suitable mate for our prince who, if I recall, vowed never to marry? I assure you it will be the hardest challenge we've all faced."
"Ah, yes!" Lorith agreed. "What were his exact words? 'Why must I be tied to one when there are so many at my feet? How can I deny the fair ones that so readily bow to the ground on my behalf?'" He burst into laughter.
Legolas rolled his eyes. "I was only but a little over sixteen hundred years when I said that!" he protested. "And you still hang it over my head!"
"What kind of friends be we if we did not?" Lorith demanded.
Legolas could not help himself; he laughed. "Great friends you are for helping me to earn the wrath of my father!" he said, remembering all the mischief his father, King Thranduil, had called them on.
"We could not let you be a boring prince, could we?" Gragoc asked. "Speaking of your father, where is he?" All four had been summoned for a small matter of business.
Legolas shrugged. "When I was summoned the servant told me that Father would be a moment," he answered. "Not quite finished with his last audience."
"So early in the morn?" Jhad asked, shaking his head. "Then it is fortunate that he is king and I am not."
"Fortunate indeed!" Lorith concluded, which earned him a mock punch to the arm. "Ow!" he exclaimed, rubbing his arm.
Gragoc turned once again to Legolas. "You have not answered my question, my friend," he told him.
"And what question would that be?" Legolas asked, smugly.
"What kind of maid would you desire?" Gragoc asked, impatiently. "How do you expect us to find you a maiden when we do not know what you desire?"
"Who has said that I want you three to find me a maid?" Legolas demanded. "I am capable of doing that myself!"
"You have just admitted that the ones you mange to attract are not what you seek!" Gragoc challenged.
"It is flattering to have pretty maids at my feet," Legolas countered.
Lorith snorted. "Of course it is!" he said, waving his hand dismissively. "But how happy do you suppose you'll be with someone who has no interest in what your heart and mind has to offer?"
Legolas looked surprised, then laughed. "I do believe those are the first sensible words that have ever come from your mouth, Lorith!" he jested. His friend also laughed, shrugging. Legolas took a moment to stare at his friends, studying them. The sincerity in their eyes was plain to see, making him sigh. "Very well," he agreed. "But I know I will regret this sooner or later."
Gragoc laughed. "You may," he returned, "but for now, you will be grateful. Now, if you would please-?" He motioned to the parchment and pen on King Thranduil's desk.
Legolas sat down and immediately began to write. A few moments later, he handed the paper to Gragoc. "This is all I could think of under such pressure," he jested.
Gragoc looked over the list of qualities written down, Jhad and Lorith peering over his shoulder. "Intelligent, independent, witty," he intoned, his eyes quickly move down the list, "good friend, makes mistakes and admits them, willing to learn, loyal, trustworthy, compassionate and kind." He stopped there, although the list went on.
"That is quite a list," Jhad commented, still looking at it.
Legolas shrugged. "Now, it is your turn," he told them.
They all sat down, deep in thought. Gragoc's face lit up a moment later. "Serenity Envel!" he exclaimed, triumphantly. "She is quite smart and works hard. She's since taken over her father's bakery."
Lorith frowned. "You mean that sharp-tongued beauty that always punches me whenever we go to the village?" he asked. "I don't believe a kind word ever comes from her mouth!"
"Maybe she just likes you?" Jhad suggested.
Lorith furiously shook his head. "Never would I wish her on my worst enemy!" he said, so solemnly that they all laughed.
"I have already met her," Legolas said. "And, I do believe she has held a grudge against me for not escorting her to one of Father's banquets." He shook his head at the memory of the flour covered maiden, her face scowling and her eyes blazing.
Gragoc frowned and returned to thinking. Lorith soon thought of someone. "Yilith Sandstone," he announced. "She's pretty and she's studied with some of the most intelligent elves. She always had her nose in a book."
This time, it was Legolas who frowned. "If I remember correctly," he said, "she was the one who became so flustered when I talked to her, she fainted. For three days I tried to talk to her, but to no avail! I believe her time with books has diminished her ability to speak."
"Rose Teaurora?" Jhad suggested. "Arden Whitesun?"
Legolas didn't wait to hear their lists, he simply shook his head. The less said of those two, the better.
They sat there, all deep in thought, when Jhad suddenly sat upright, a smile growing on his face. "Ziendriel!" he exclaimed so suddenly that the others jumped in surprise.
"Who?" Gragoc demanded, as Lorith asked, "What?"
"Ziendriel," Jhad repeated. "I've only just thought of her because her father just walked by."
"I have no idea of whom you speak!" Legolas exclaimed, looking exasperated.
"Ziendriel," Jhad repeated once more. "Eldest daughter of your father's chief counselor. You know of her sister, Ariel."
Legolas' eyes grew wide. "Ariel?" he repeated, for he knew that name well. She was considered one of the most beautiful Elf-maidens in their kingdom. She was a nice enough maid, but Legolas found he could not find a common link between them. She had a sister?
Lorith frowned. "I don't know, Jhad," he said. "I heard she is very plain-looking." He emphasized the word "very".
Jhad rolled his eyes. "That is because everyone who has looked upon Ziendriel compares her to her sister," he countered. "And you know anyone is plain when compared to the fair Ariel."
"She has 'come of age' over a millennia ago!" Lorith argued. "If she hasn't married by now I do no think she will anytime soon!"
"That is a lame excuse!" Gragoc exclaimed.
Lorith glared at him. "Besides," he added, "I've talked to Ariel and she says Ziendriel thinks naught of the elven lords. Seemingly, she thinks it ridiculous that we make spectacles of ourselves during many of King Thranduil's contests."
"Yes, she never does attend those for that very reason," Jhad admitted, "but, surely you can understand why. We do tend to show off during the contests."
Lorith snorted. "Well, she also thinks it disappointing when a maiden throws herself at our prince," he continued. "Ariel says Ziendriel calls it a shame that yet another maid has fallen prey to us."
At this Legolas laughed. "I think she has eloquently described our affects on the maidens," he said, then turned to Jhad. "She intrigues me, this Ziendriel. She does not appear to be as the other maidens in our kingdom. I may be inclined to cede to your suggestion."
Jhad suddenly frowned. "I-I do not know, milord," he said. "Perhaps I have suggested the wrong maiden." He fell silent, his brow furrowed in thought.
Gragoc laughed. "Aha!" he exclaimed. "Methinks you want this Ziendriel for yourself!" His eyebrows rose knowingly.
Jhad glared at him. "No," he said, firmly. "It's just that…well, Ziendriel does not 'shine' like her sister. She tends to stay in the background and from what I understand, she likes it there." He looked apologetically at Legolas. "Forgive me, my prince," he quickly added. "I do not assume that you will not do well with her. I merely speculate that you will not get close to the lady as you wish."
Legolas smiled. "It is alright, Jhad," he assured him. "And I appreciate your honesty. As to whether or not Lady Ziendriel and I grow close…well, we shall see." And he mischievously winked.
Gragoc roared with laughter. "Oh ho!" he exclaimed, excitedly. "I see a friendly wager forming! What say you, Jhad? Lorith?" He looked at them expectantly. When both nodded, he added, "I have full faith in our prince that he will indeed fall into the good graces of Lady Ziendriel. But how far will he go to stay there?"
Legolas rolled his eyes. If there was anything Gragoc enjoyed more than fair maidens and archery, it was friendly wagers. "I haven't even confirmed whether or not I will pursue this!" he protested.
His friends ignored him. "I will wager hand holding," Jhad announced. "Lady Ziendriel strikes me as one who does not give kisses so liberally."
"Then I will wager that very action," Gragoc said, cheerily. "I wager that Lady Ziendriel will be swooning from the kisses of our prince here!" He chuckled.
"Well, if he is that good," Lorith broke in, "then I will wager that Legolas beds her!" He grinned at them. "I will keep it as a dummy wager," he added. "From what Jhad has described of Lady Ziendriel, our prince will be lucky if he is able to breathe the same air as she!"
They all laughed, with Legolas shaking his head. "I will have no part in your wagers," he said, chuckling. "Although I must admit this maiden intrigues me so. Perhaps I will seek her out tomorrow. Without the influence of your wagers, of course." His eyes twinkled.
Gragoc snorted but said nothing. He looked knowingly at the other two who nodded back. Legolas saw this and opened his mouth to protest, but was interrupted when King Thranduil entered the room and immediately sat at his desk. Legolas quickly grabbed his list from the desk and tucked it into his tunics.
"I fear I have missed something," Thranduil, King of Mirkwood, announced, looking amused.
Four pairs of elven eyes averted themselves from his stare, fearing all would be revealed if they looked to him.