The Field Narrows
Disclaimer: This whole lovely world belongs to JRR Tolkien. (except for the parts I made up!)
Legolas Greenleaf: prince of Eryn Lasgalen. Plans on building new kingdom of elves in Ithilien
Haldir: Captain of the Guard in Lothlorien
Eledhel: First Marshal of the Guard, friend to Legolas, son of Bragoglin,
Miredhel: sister to Eledhel, daughter of Bragoglin
Belegil and Sulindal: twin brothers, warriors, and friends of Eledhel. Also wannabe "ladies' elves!"
Farothin: son of Rumil, nephew of Haldir, friends with Eledhel
Galadriel and Celeborn: ancient and wise rulers of Lothlorien
Tinarien: elf maiden and lady-in-waiting to Galadriel
Limaer: elf maiden, has the hots for the prince
Gilgafier: advisor to Celeborn, likes runes
Thranduil: king of Greenwood (Eryn Lasgalen) and father of Legolas
Caras Galadhon: Elvish city in Lothlorien
Lothlorien: the Golden Wood, realm of Galadriel and Celeborn
Eryn Lasgalen: aka Mirkwood, Greenwood the Great, home of Legolas
Ithilien: Forest between Gondor and Mordor. Legolas plans on setting up a new elvish colony there.
Chapter Eight: The Field Narrows
Across the field stood a collection of targets, each marked with concentric circles in blue, green, yellow, and red for the bull's eye.
"Ready?" called an elf who was to judge the contest. The warriors lined up, bows drawn, strings taut.
"Aim…" Legolas steadied his bow, eyes focusing on the target afar.
"Fire!" A fleet of arrows chased the field. Not had so many arrows been loosed since the siege of Dol Guldur.
The spectators leaned forward in the stands, straining to see which elves had struck the bulls' eyes.
"For the first round," the announcer called, and the crowd hushed, "perfect marks for Captain Haldir, Lady Helifeth, Celefier, First Marshal Eledhel, Belegil, Sulindal, Farothin, …" the announcer paused, "Prince Legolas, Lady Limaer, and Lady Miredhel."
Farothin nudged Legolas with his elbow. "They announced you with the ladies, Legolas. That should tell you something."
The prince elbowed him back and replied, "Yes, it tells me that they announced us in the order of our line-up."
Farothin looked down the line. "Sure…you can think that if it makes you feel better," he retorted.
Legolas glimpsed Miredhel on the other side of Lady Limaer. She had been smiling at the results of the first round, but when she noticed his gaze, she quickly frowned and began inspecting the shaft of her blue-feathered arrow.
"Round two, elves take aim!" Miredhel glanced at Legolas. His eyes gleamed with a determination and fierceness. She brushed a loose curl from in front of her eyes and readied her arrow.
"Fire!" Legolas watched the flight of his arrow until it struck red on the target. Perfect mark, again. He turned his head toward where Eledhel and Haldir stood together. They were both looking fairly smug as well.
"Round two, perfect marks for Captain Haldir, Lady Helifeth, Celefier, Eledhel, Belegil, Sulindal, Farothin, Prince Legolas, and Lady Miredhel," called the announcer.
Legolas turned to Lady Limaer whose arrow had hit the yellow ring, barely outside the bull's eye. "My lady," he addressed her, "your arrow seemed to find a mind of its own."
Lady Limaer flushed. She had not been able to believe her good fortune when the prince had taken his place next to her. He had danced with her once during the first night of his arrival. So charming, handsome, and princely, and now he was speaking to her. "If my arrow missed," she batted her long curly lashes over deep blue eyes, "it was only because it wanted to be closer to yours."
Legolas smiled at her. Behind Lady Limaer, he could see Miredhel roll her eyes in disgust. "Let us hope you do not miss this time, my lady. I would loathe for you to be eliminated," he said, loudly enough for Miredhel to hear.
"Final round, contestants. Ready?" The targets had been pushed to the very back of the field.
The bows curved with the pull of the arrows against strings. Every arm was poised to fire. Deadly pointed arrows glinted in the sun. The moment seemed made for silence. Even the Lord Celeborn found himself holding in his breath.
"Fire!" Arrows arced across the sky in a flash of many colored feathers, like a rare flock of birds racing in the wind.
"Can you see your target, Farothin?"
"No, Legolas. The judges are blocking it."
"They block mine as well." He shaded his eyes. "I can see Eledhel and Haldir's. Both hit dead center."
"Let us hope ours are the same."
The judges made their way back to the spectators' platforms. "For the first stage of the tournament, contestants with three perfect marks for all three rounds are: Captain Haldir, Lady Helifeth, Celefier, Eledhel, Belegil, Farothin, Prince Legolas, and Lady Miredhel!"
The spectators stood to applaud. Many young elves waved the colors of their houses in support of their champions. The warriors on the field busily congratulated one another on their success. Lady Limaer, however, had formed a visible pout. She missed twice and was now eliminated. Legolas stopped laughing and joking with Eledhel when he saw her disappointment.
"Best wishes, Prince Legolas. Since I am eliminated, may I be so bold to ask you to wear my favor for the rest of the tournament." The lady looked at him earnestly.
Legolas blinked. He did not know what to say. He had worn favors in other contests, but only out of love for the lady in question. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Miredhel observing the scene. "Of course, my lady. It would be my honor," he said graciously.
Lady Limaer took a ruby ribbon from her hair. "May I?" she asked. Legolas nodded. She tied it, not too tight, in a finorian knot on his left arm. Legolas instantly regretted his decision. "My goodness," she exclaimed, feeling his arm, "how strong you are, my lord."
"Thank you, my lady." Legolas could see Eledhel and Belegil laughing and pointing in his direction. "Now if you will excuse me, I must prepare for the next stage of the tournament." He quickly took leave of her and joined his friends. "Just what is so humorous?"
"Nice ribbon, my lord," smirked Eledhel.
"It matched your face when she tied it!" Belegil said, chuckling.
"Do not be envious," Legolas said. "Perhaps by the end of the next round, I can collect favors enough for us all." Eledhel and Belegil stopped laughing.
"Well…" started Eledhel.
"Did you see? Sulindal barely missed the last bull's eye." Belegil changed the subject.
"He was so mad that I thought he was going to snap his bow in half," said Eledhel. "This next part of the tournament will be more of a challenge," he continued, "because we have rigged moving targets on ropes to pull across the field. All of them will move at different speeds. The closest targets are worth less points."
"I see. And the farthest targets are worth the most," guessed Farothin.
Legolas listened thoughtfully. This challenge would require skill and strategy. He watched the field as the elves ran the ropes across the field at different levels of height. It would prove difficult to decide which targets to try and hit. He thought to himself that he would just have to hit them all. Only the five archers with the highest score would advance to the final contest. A vague look of satisfaction played across his face. He would be one of them.
"Your friend looks entirely too smug, my brother." Miredhel's voice diverted Legolas' attention from the field.
"Yes, sister, perhaps he thinks of winning his wager with you." Eledhel countered.
She colored at his suggestion. "Are you surprised I have joined you in the second round?" She did not want to discuss her bet with the prince.
"Not I, my lady. For I knew your aim to be as true as your heart," said Belegil.
"Lord Belegil, you will never change! The most accomplished rake in the Golden Wood!" she said and laughed as he brought her hand to his lips.
"Perhaps if you would reform me?" he asked. His voice was low and serious, but his eyes twinkled.
"All right, that is enough!" Eledhel interrupted. "Belegil, you will have to work your charms on a lady other than my dear sister. You know she is immune to them by now, anyways."
"Perhaps you should try Lady Limaer," suggested Miredhel. "She seems willing to bestow her affections blindly on any elf."
"I take your meaning, my lady." Legolas spoke up. He was going to continue, but the judges called for the archers to step in line for the next challenge.
Haldir was the first to go. One of the judges waved a flag, and the targets began to move. Haldir quickly fired and hit four of the closest targets. The targets in the back flew by. Haldir paused. Timing was everything. He took aim, fired an arrow and then another and another. He did not miss. His right arm did not rest on the bow, but pulled and reloaded, pulled and reloaded in one fluid motion like the movement of birds' wings in flight. The last target left the field. Haldir visibly relaxed and turned to face the spectators and his beloved Lord and Lady.
"Captain Haldir," the judges announced, "has hit nine of the fifteen green (easy-distance) targets, seven of the ten blue (medium) targets, and five of the five red (farthest and fastest) targets. He scores 48 out of 60 points." The crowd cheered for their captain and long-time protector. He bowed before Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel and proudly stepped to the side.
Lady Helifeth faced the targets next. Legolas did not know very much about her, only that she had gained fame during the Last Alliance and was thought to be fairly fell-handed. She was strikingly beautiful, but married and probably his father's age. Her strategy seemed to focus on the red targets since they were worth the most points. A torrent of arrows flew from her lithe bow, and Legolas could not help but be impressed.
"Lady Helifeth scores 44 points." Murmurs of admiration went through the line of warriors.
"Does it surprise you that a Lady could do so well, Prince Legolas?" Miredhel asked.
He had forgotten that she stood behind him. He turned to face her. "No," he replied curtly and then turned his back to her. His fingers tightened on his bow. Why was she so determined to find fault with him? He turned back around. "The Lady Helifeth bought her reputation on the battlefield. Her hands are probably darker than mine with the blood of orcs. I give her the respect that is due a warrior and equal." He waited for her retort. There was none.
Legolas had said everything there was to say, thought Miredhel. Even the things he did not say were clearly laid out—Lady Helifeth had fought bravely in battle. Miredhel had never even seen an orc. She felt foolish under the prince's frosty glare and even more so when he turned his back to her again.
Celefier had finished his turn and scored 40 points. So far Haldir led the group, but Eledhel was next to go. His youngest weaponry students held up a banner they had made with his colors on it. He smiled at them and waved before taking his stance. His division of forest guards cheered him on, yelling "Eledhel, Eledhel, give 'em hell!"
Eledhel turned and waved again. Legolas smiled at the crowd's response to his friend. Eledhel was much loved by the folk who knew him. The loyalty of his guards proved that as a leader, Eledhel owned their trust and admiration. Yes, he was well loved. The signal flag dropped and the targets began to move. Eledhel took aim with leonine grace. Without hesitation, he shot the targets from the back to the front as they zipped across the field. So far every arrow shot had found its home in a target.
"He does not miss," Miredhel observed.
"The only way to beat his score is to be faster and hit more targets," Legolas agreed.
The score for Eledhel, the First Marshal of the Forest Guard, is 52 points. He takes the lead!" the judges announced. Eledhel's young archers jumped up and waved their banner before the crowd.
"You are a difficult act to follow, Eledhel," commented Belegil as he took the field. Belegil was a quick fire, but with less finesse than Eledhel. His skill in archery lay in the strength of his arms to bend the bow. Belegil scored 46 points, and Farothin followed, making an impressive showing for his first tournament with 42 points.
"Well done, Farothin! You bring honor to the family," Haldir slapped his nephew on the back. "I trained him well, did I not?" he asked Legolas, but the prince did not hear. He had assumed his position on the field.
Legolas shook his arms and rolled his neck as he walked onto the field to loosen up his muscles. It would never do to be too tense. As the announcer called his name, he turned to salute the crowd. He could see Lady Limaer waving at him from the stands and calling his name.
"That is Prince Legolas from Mirkwood," she exclaimed to her friends. "He is wearing my ribbon! Prince Legolas! Prince Legolas!"
He groaned inwardly and gave her a small wave before turning to face the field. The judges raised the flag. Legolas bent his bow and fit his first arrow to string. The flag dropped, and the targets began to chase across the field. His plan was to take each target out as it crossed into play. So far he had hit two green and three blue. If he wanted to beat Eledhel, he knew that he could not miss any red targets. The first red sped onto the field. Legolas aimed and fired at it. The arrow whizzed by the target. He had missed!
Feeling frustrated, Legolas fitted another arrow and rapidly fired at the same red target. This time the arrow lodged itself in the red center. Legolas was running out of time. By now, almost all of the targets were on the field. His bow had not seen such action since Helm's Deep. His hand reached from quiver to string in one fluid motion quicker than elven eyes could see. The final red target rushed onto the field. Legolas had to make this shot to make a perfect score and take the lead. He reached into his quiver, only one arrow left! He swept it onto the elven string and let it fly, straining his eyes to trace its flight. The crowd hushed in anticipation. A direct hit!
"Prince Legolas of Eyrn Lasgalen has earned a perfect score, 60 points. Every target hit!" The elves jumped up from the platforms to applaud his skill.
"Nicely done, Prince Legolas!" Lady Limaer called.
"Did I not tell you he would win?" one elf said to another.
"Nice recovery, my friend! I thought you blew it, when I saw that first fault." Eledhel congratulated him.
"I know," admitted Legolas. "I thought so too, but I just kept going."
"Well done, Prince Legolas," Lady Miredhel said sincerely.
"Thank you, my lady, and I hope you shoot well," he said. Lady Miredhel took the field. Since she was the last to compete in this round, she knew that she had to score more than 44 points to be one of the five to qualify for the final race. If she could hit all of the red and blue targets, then that would be 45 points, just enough to qualify. She pulled out her first arrow and waited for the signal. She could hear her brother speaking to the prince.
"So do you think she will qualify?" asked Eledhel.
"I hope so…" said Legolas and their conversation faded out. The flag dropped. Her turn began.
All Miredhel could hear was the twang of her bow string and the constant whine of arrows toward the targets. With her left hand steady, her eyes searched the field for any trace of blue or red. The targets and green field seemed to run together. She felt her eyes swimming in her head. The clouds in the sky seemed to spin before her.
"Your sister swoons!" declared Legolas, and he started toward her.
"No, Legolas. Let her be. She is of tougher make than you might think. She will not faint," Eledhel assured him.
Miredhel blinked. All of the targets danced before her. She focused her eyes on her silvery bow and the elvish engravings upon it: Deadly beauty, silver grace. She could feel the sun on her cheek. Deadly beauty, silver grace. The targets seemed to slow before her eyes. She lifted an arrow from her quiver and fired. She fired again, and then again, repeating the elven phrase in her head. Her arrows leapt toward the targets. She knew nothing but the rhythm of her arm and the feel of her bow in hand. The last target quit the field but not before meeting her final arrow.
"And the final contestant, Lady Miredhel scores…48 points!" Most of the elves suffered a collective jaw drop. Haldir could not believe his ears. Eledhel's sister had tied with him?
Eledhel was all smiles, though his eyes spoke of disbelief. "Miredhel, you were amazing. We thought you about to faint, and then you began firing so quickly. Even Legolas could not trace your movement."
"Truly, my lady. A most outstanding accomplishment," Haldir added.
"It seems we will have the pleasure of your company in the final race." Legolas said. "Our wager is far from over."
Lady Miredhel smiled at him. "No, my lord. It seems to have just begun."
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