1. Spiders and Sticks
The four friends for whom this adventure unfolded were all in their first century--still well within their childhood years by elven standards. They had been inseparable since they first began to walk, and like all childhood friends, their propensity to get into trouble together was legendary. Looking after them was a cause of constant hassle to all of their parents--particularly when the parents of one of them happened to be the king and queen of Mirkwood.
The eldest of the troublesome quartet was Candrochon, son of Anunborn, the king’s second Steward. A tall, sturdy twenty-nine-year-old (the elven equivalent of a human ten-year-old), he was already gaining a reputation as one of the future warriors of Mirkwood. His golden-brown hair was darkening to the characteristic chestnut color of Northern elves, and his dark brown eyes had that rather sly twinkle that put many a tutor and master on their guard against him. He was very quick at executing pranks--whether equally capable of getting away with them was less certain.
Next in the group was Merilin, daughter of Heledir, one of the Lords of Mirkwood. After the ruling family of King Thranduil, hers was one of the highest-ranking. Being often in the castle, the auburn-headed, green-eyed sprite of a she-elf child was a natural playmate of Candrochon’s and the youngest of the royal children. She was tall for her age, and strong and fit enough to hold her own in races and games among any of her peers--to the frequent dismay of the boys she matched.
After Merilin came Tathar, son of the royal tutor, Alagos. Though not as highly ranked as his three playmates, he studied with them, and his greater freedom (and impetuousness) drew the elf lords’ children to him. This he exploited to great advantage, and was the driving force behind many an elaborate prank. He was also particularly good at evading discovery--not to mention that he could always lay the blame upon Candrochon. The black-haired, brown-eyed twenty-four-year-old had a merry, impish nature that led early on to a very close friendship with the last member of the little band.
The youngest of the group was Legolas, the youngest son of Thranduil and Minuial, prince of Mirkwood. His elder brothers and sisters were all separated from him by centuries at least, and although he was on affectionate terms with them all, Legolas was forced to search outside his family for friends near his own age. Within the confines of the elven king’s palace, he soon fell in with Candrochon, Tathar, and Merilin, and by his second decade, the young prince was rarely seen without the company of at least one of them. Usually, if one was missing from the group, it was that unlucky member who would soon become the object of the latest prank.
On this particular day, a sunny summer afternoon shortly after Legolas turned twenty-two (the elven equivalent of a human eight-year-old), guards, stewards, and other elves in King Thranduil’s palace were instantly put on their guard to see Legolas, Merilin, and Candrochon scampering about the halls together--without Tathar. But every elf in the palace knew better than to question the trio, for they would have thought up an alibi for their suspicious activity far in advance. Elf children possess an intelligence and resourcefulness beyond that of men--in every way, including, unfortunately, mischief. Golwen, the royal children’s nanny, was searching for Legolas somewhere in one of the tree-towers of the palace.
But the three pranksters were in fact on their way to the outermost part of the palace, in search of an unwitting ally for today’s stunt. They found him in the craftsmen’s halls close to the northeastern gate of the outer palace. He was Alagion, son of Langcyll. Unlike his father, who was a captain among the warriors of Mirkwood, Alagion had chosen to become an artisan, and was one of the finest wood craftsmen in all Middle Earth. He did a great deal of carving work for King Thranduil, and during his time at the palace, had become a friend of the littlest prince.
He was working at one of his benches when Legolas, Merilin, and Candrochon came visiting. “Well, hello there, young ones,” Alagion said, bowing. “What brings you out here?”
Merilin and Candrochon began giggling immediately, and Legolas said innocently, “We want you to make something for us!”
“Make something?” The way they were grinning immediately raised the older elf’s hackles, for such smiles always signaled trouble. Still…they had an irritating way of being too cute to refuse. “What do you wish me to make?”
There came the giggles again. “It’s, ah, it’s just a little…ornament. Just a little something we need you to carve,” said the prince.
Alagion put down his carving knife and raised his eyebrows curiously. “Well, I can hardly carve something if I do not know what it is, young prince. You shall have to be more specific than that.”
They exchanged glances. “Can you carve…a spider?”
The artisan blinked at them. “A spider? Whyever would you want an ornament like that?”
“No reason!” Candrochon said quickly, his eyes wide with innocence.
“Indeed?” Alagion replied incredulously. He smiled, having known all three of them since before they could talk. “I suppose you wish it to be…lifelike?”
Legolas nodded eagerly, his gray eyes twinkling with mischief. He was the only one of Thranduil and Minuial’s children to inherit their golden hair--all of his siblings were dark. His face was very much his mother’s; Queen Minuial hailed from Lothlorien, and had passed many features on to her youngest son. All except the eyes; instead of his mother’s pale blue-gray Lorien eyes, Legolas had his father’s dark gray eyes. Such eyes made King Thranduil’s face seem especially intense, but in Legolas, they seemed to add to his innocence. And such an angelic face came in very handy when the young prince was up to no good.
Alagion was a sensible elf, and responsible with his craft, but he was also young enough to remember fondly the days of preadolescent pranks among his own friends. So, as long as these wee elves were not doing anything dangerous, he did not mind being party to their tricks. Judging by their commission of a lifelike spider, it sounded like a fairly harmless little scare for one of their playmates.
*The victim will be poor young Tathar, I imagine,* he thought as he quickly brought out a small piece of scrap wood and put his skill to work. Within a few minutes, a suitably wicked-looking brown spider was handed to Legolas. “I would suggest putting it on the edge of a pillow, my little friends,” Alagion said in a conspiratorial fashion. “That way it will slide down when the pillow moves and appear to be crawling.”
The delighted grins that passed between the elflings suggested that they would take him up on his suggestion. “Thank you, Master Alagion!” Candrochon said happily. “You are the finest!”
The following morning…
The summer morning sun turned the dew upon the green leaves of the forest into a dust of gold, until the great trees seemed to be crowned with emerald gems. Most of the denizens of the elven king’s halls were up and about already, particularly the nobility and their Stewards (and, consequently, their children.) However, since today was not a schooling day, the presence of the palace tutor was not required in the morning. As a result, both he and his son were still abed when his son’s friends came calling--with their little “ornament.”
“Shhh!” (Giggle!) “You’ll wake him, Candrochon!”
“Putting the spider on his pillow, you clunk-headed jibwick! Now hush before Alagos hears us!”
A moment later, a giggling Legolas joined Candrochon and Merilin just outside Tathar’s bedroom window in their tutor’s quarters in the outer palace. “Serves him right for always getting to sleep so late. My mother always has me up bright and early, so she says!”
“That’s because you’re a prince!”
“You say that like it’s a good thing; nobody lets me do ANYTHING!”
“Shh, listen!” Merilin poked the two boys and nodded to the window.
They could hear the door to Tathar’s bedroom opening, and his father Alagos speaking. “Time to get up, Tathar.”
“Mmph, go ‘way.”
“Tathar, do not make me come in there.”
There were some choice grumbles that sounded like they were muffled in a pillow. Merilin put a hand over her mouth. “This will be good!” she hissed at the others, who stifled their giggles.
They heard shuffling from the bed. “You always make me get up so earl--EEEEYYYAAAAAHGGGG!!!”
Gasping and giggling, Legolas, Candrochon, and Merilin hugged each other, nearly losing their balance with laughter. “I think he found it!” giggled Candrochon.
“Tathar! Tathar! What is it!”
(Gasp! Whimper!) “There’s--a--spider!”
Legolas had tears streaming down his face and both hands over his mouth to keep down the shrieks of laughter. Candrochon had his face buried in Merilin’s shoulder. All three were laughing so hard they could hardly breathe. Merilin managed to ask them, “How long do you think it will take him--”
“A FAKE spider--ALL RIGHT, WHERE ARE THEY?!?!”
“Not long!” declared Legolas, as the window flew open above their heads.
An outraged, black-haired head poked out, followed closely by a vigorously shaking fist. “Garryyygh! Just wait! Just wait! I’ll GET you!!”
“Ah-ah!” Someone unseen by the others hauled Tathar back in. “Not out the window, my impetuous elfling. If you wish to exact bloody revenge, you will still take the civilized route through the door!”
“DON’T GO ANYWHERE! I’M COMING!!” roared Tathar, and the sound of sprinting feet could clearly be heard.
“And keep the entrails outside!” Alagos was heard calling after him. Then Tathar’s father stuck his own head out the window. “Were I you, I would be running for my life now, little ones.”
“Your wisdom is known far and wide, Master Alagos!” Merilin shouted over her shoulder as she, Candrochon, and Legolas took off.
Tathar might have been the smallest of the foursome, but he made up for it with ferocity. And now, the entire outer palace was alerted to the carnage about to take place as the door of Alagos’s dwelling burst open, and a vengeance-screeching elfling came tearing out in search of his victims. “Go, go, go!” squealed Legolas as they pelted back into the main part of the palace, hoping to lose the infuriated Tathar in the winding corridors.
Princess Limloeth, second child of King Thranduil and Queen Minuial, was in conversation with Langcyll, one of the warrior captains in one of the palace halls when the elves there heard a tremendous commotion coming down the corridor. They looked up to see her youngest brother, Prince Legolas, young Lady Merilin, and Candrochon, sprinting into the room as if all the hounds of Sauron were after them. Langcyll moved to give the youngsters a wide berth, but Limloeth laughingly intercepted them. “Easy now, little ones! What is the rush?”
Legolas stumbled to a halt, Merilin and Candrochon bumping into him from behind. His clothes rumpled and golden hair disheveled, Legolas was out of breath--and giggling hysterically. “We…we…we have to run!”
Limloeth folded her arms. “Oh? And why--” just then, what sounded like a herd of oliphaunts came echoing down the hall. “Ah. You’ve been playing pranks on Tathar again.”
“Carry on,” she said with a smile, stepping aside.
The three sprinted for their lives, heading for the opposite door. And not a moment too soon, for a moment later, a small, black-haired elfling came tearing into the hall with a fury that might startle an orc into pausing. Tathar paid no heed to the other elves in the room, merely ripped through them in his quest for vengeance. “Outta my way!” he shoved past one of the Stewards. “Outta my way!” he flew between Limloeth and one of the servants. Then he nearly plowed into Langcyll. “Outta my--oops, outta your way.” He pivoted around Langcyll and dashed on, racing through the door like a dark-haired tornado.
Langcyll, Limloeth, and the other elves in the room simply watched, then as the door swung gently closed in the wake of the chaotic passage, smiled at each other and resumed their conversations. This sort of thing happened at least twice a day.
The court of the elven king and queen was quiet that morning, for the realm was enjoying a peaceful summer. There was little business save a few petitions from the elves of Mirkwood, which they dealt with in the throne room of the outer palace. It was the largest of the outer halls, built above the ground upon sturdy tree limbs, its windows open wide to let in the sun that made the marble overlay of the floors and walls gleam white. The thrones were chairs of carven wood, and there sat Thranduil and Minuial throughout the day, giving audiences to their people.
They were wise rulers, and much revered. Thranduil, son of Oropher, looked every inch the elven king, and very much a son of Mirkwood. He was tall, imposing, and sturdily-built for an elf. His eyes were dark gray, nearly black, and the tone of his skin bespoke much time spent out of doors. Most of his physical features were typical of the wood elves, save one. Thranduil had inherited the rare trait of golden hair from the Lothlorien blood that flowed from his father’s line. Most elves bred in Mirkwood were dark.
Queen Minuial, on the other hand, was a full-blooded Galadhrim, and she looked it. Her flaxen hair was long, full, and beautiful, and her skin much paler than that of a wood elf. Her eyes were blue, a very pale, delicate gray-blue. Unlike Thranduil, who was as commanding, authoritative, (and sometimes unmovable) as a giant oak, Minuial was gentle and graceful, preferring to rule by understanding and evenhandedness, rather than simple control. It was said that the King and Queen of Mirkwood loved each other just as greatly as they had when they first pledged their troth, and between the two of them, they could accomplish nearly anything. It seemed impossible to imagine one without the support and counsel of the other.
Not to say that they never disagreed.
“We have argued this before, husband,” said the queen. “I am determined. It is in the best interests of our realm and others.”
The elven king sighed, shaking his head. “While such a mission may be a high-minded proposal, I do not think you should be the one to go. It is dangerous.”
“Of course it is. Diplomacy is always dangerous,” Minuial’s eyes twinkled, but her words were serious. “My presence there will be the best proof of our sincerity, save your own presence. But you do not trust them, and they do not trust you.”
“At least we agree on that much,” Thranduil said, earning a disapproving look from his wife.
“In any case, you can hardly withdraw your consent now. We leave this evening for Moria.”
“As you will, my lady,” the elven king smiled affectionately. Trying to dissuade her had been a lost cause, and he had known it even as he attempted it.
All at once, there was a great racket outside the throne room. Pounding feet and shrieks of laughter and outrage could be heard approaching the audience hall. The elves in the room glanced around curiously, and Thranduil and Minuial exchanged a faint smile. The king rose. “Open the doors.” The guards did so, and they all beheld a small herd of elflings sprinting frantically down the corridor. The three small mischief-makers and their infuriated pursuer clearly intended to merely bypass the throne room and continue their stampede through the outer palace, but Thranduil waited until they were just passing the open doors, and (after giving the barest little grin to his wife) bellowed, “WHAT is the meaning of this?!”
At the front of the group, the Steward’s son Candrochon literally skidded to a stop, and was immediately run into by Lady Narmeril’s daughter Merilin, and the king’s own son, Legolas. No sooner had the three turned to fearfully face the king and queen than Tathar slammed into them, knocking the entire group to the ground. From the resulting pile of arms and legs, a blonde head suddenly poked out, staring at his father with wide dark eyes. “Ooh--ahh--Father, I can explain--”
“--Right yourselves first, all of you,” Thranduil said. The elflings hastily untangled themselves from each other and stood in the doorway, looking fearfully into the throne room. The elven king gestured imperiously at them to enter. “Now, what, may I ask, is going on here?” The foursome exchanged glances. “Well?”
With a little gulp, Tathar mustered his courage and pointed at the other three, “They put a spider in my bed, sir!”
Behind the children, the king distinctly saw both his herald clap two hands over his mouth to keep from erupting into laughter. Minuial made a small sound that suggested she too was struggling to contain her amusement. It really was so difficult to discipline these four when they always managed to be so funny! Thranduil cleared his throat to hide his own laughter, then said sternly, “I see. And now you are seeking revenge, young son of Alagos?”
Thranduil folded his arms. “Stampeding through the palace is hardly the behavior of a prince, a lady, or the sons of respectable elves. You may play all you wish, but I expect the four of you to conduct yourselves properly from now on. Is that clear?”
Four little heads bobbed in terrified unison, then hung sheepishly. “I’m sorry, Father,” said Legolas in such a contrite little voice that Thranduil nearly lost his composure.
“Very well. We shall let this incident go. But I promise you,” he raised a hand sharply before they could look too relieved, “next time I’ll not be so lenient. Now be off with you.” The children fled. “Close the doors again,” he ordered the guards.
No sooner had the doors clicked shut than musical laughter burst out behind him. Thranduil turned and faced his wife in mock-disapproval, as she stood where she was and expressed her intense amusement at the whole incident. “If I did not know better, my lord, I would say you enjoy that!”
Soft chuckles came from the other elves in the room. “Really, my lady, how do you expect me to discipline our youngest son if you continuously giggle in the background?” the elven king said.
She smiled and sat back down on her throne. “You do not fool me, my dear. I have seen your laughter many a time when you are attempting to correct our erring children. And I have NEVER laughed in front of them during such times!”
Thranduil shook his head. “It takes considerable effort not to. One day I am going to injure myself.” Minuial laughed even harder.
Having overcome the terror of being censured by the elven king, the four hooligans in question had decided that the fake spider was really quite a piece of work, and were now heading back toward Master Alagion’s workshop to see what other wonders he was creating. “I think I shall hang the spider from my window,” said Tathar, examining it as they skipped back down the corridors of the outer palace.
“That would keep Thorod and those goblin friends of his from sneaking in to play tricks,” remarked Legolas, skipping along next to Merilin.
“And it would stop you from getting in too,” Tathar added, making what the grown-ups called “mad eyebrows” at Legolas.
“Wouldn’t stop me, I come through the door,” Candrochon declared.
“And even if we didn’t, we know it’s fake,” said Merilin. “You’ll have to do better than that if you want to keep us out!”
“Maybe I’ll get Alagion to make me a bow,” growled Tathar, and the others giggled.
They meandered down to the ground level and through the kitchens (one of their favorite places.) The cooks and other workers immediately dove to protect all food sitting in the open, but Candrochon still managed to snatch a handful of nuts and dried berries. “Don’t you four go spoiling your luncheon!” shouted the head cook.
Giggling, Legolas, Merilin, and Tathar accepted their share of the loot. “By the stars, I can’t WAIT until my father lets me have a bow,” sighed Candrochon.
“Well, I’m going to be the best archer in Middle Earth!” declared Merilin, flouncing ahead of him with her nose in the air.
“So?” said Legolas. “I’ll be the best in all the world!”
“Fah! I’ll win the Great Trial!” said Tathar, tossing a berry and catching it in his mouth.
“I’ll slay dragons!” exclaimed Candrochon, pumping his fist.
“I’ll slay Nazgul!” cried Legolas, leaping into the air.
“I’ll slay the Necromancer!” yelled Merilin, jumping higher.
“I’ll take Dol Guldor!” declared Tathar.
“I’ll take Mount Doom!” shouted Candrochon.
They pranced along for some time in this fashion, running and jumping and waving their arms as each predicted his or her feats as warriors. The ambitions of the last prince of Mirkwood and his three best friends were well-known throughout Mirkwood. Legolas wished to be a warrior like most of his elder siblings, and so did Candrochon, Merilin, and Tathar. At their first coming of age when they reached fifty years, they would be allowed to begin training as novices.
But until then, they had to be content with dreams and fantasies, and every elf in the palace had heard their tales of their future exploits. None more than Alagion, whose craft also fashioned many of the weapons wielded by the warriors of Mirkwood. “Oh dear, you’re back,” he teased as the four came scampering through the door. “So Tathar, did you like your little present?”
Tathar pouted, “They’re mean to me.” Then he brightened, “But it’s a really good spider!”
“I thought you would appreciate my workmanship,” the craftsman said. He eyed the elflings knowingly, “I suppose the fact that you are here and today is the day I work on the warriors’ orders is not a coincidence.” He folded his arms, “Now you know I am not supposed to let you in the weapons room.”
“Can we look, please?” begged Merilin, her big green eyes pleading.
Alagion smiled and gave a little shake of his head. That little noble knew exactly how to get her way from her elders. Even the king found Merilin hard to resist. “I suppose you may watch, but you know the rules,” he said sternly. “I’ll not risk the wrath of your parents if one of you gets hurt. Behave yourselves.” The four nodded eagerly. “Very well. Come. I am putting the finishing touches on Elunen’s new bow this morning.”
He let the children into the room where he and the other weapons crafters worked. A bench and table stood along one wall, with various-sized pieces of wood, arrowheads, and tools neatly arranged. But the young visitors were primarily interested in the walls, where the newly-finished weapons hung. Alagion sat down and picked up a nearly-complete longbow and began etching the decorative elven symbols into it, while keeping a discreet eye on the aspiring warriors.
Legolas and Candrochon were examining a magnificent bow intended for Alagion’s grandfather, Beleryn, the warrior captain of Mirkwood. “That one is wonderful, Master Alagion.”
The craftsman smiled, “I am glad you think so. Captain Beleryn needed a new bow before he leaves on his next mission.”
“Where is he going?” asked Tathar, eyeing the newly-finished long knives set out upon another table.
“Moria, to protect Queen Minuial when she goes to visit the dwarves. The delegation leaves today.”
Legolas heaved a great sigh, “And she’ll be gone for three whole months!”
Alagion laughed, “Come now, Legolas, you want to explore Middle Earth. Why should your mother not?”
“Because I miss her when she goes!”
“Fair enough,” Alagion chuckled, then did the last of the etching along the bow. “There. What do you think?” He held up the weapon, unstrung as yet, but gracefully-shaped with a solid grip fit just to the size of its future owner’s hand, and twisted etching down its length.
“It’s beautiful,” sighed Merilin longingly. “Will you make our first bows?”
“I promise I shall,” said Alagion, and mounted the bow on the wall. “Elunen will string it herself. That is custom, you know. If you are truly destined to be a warrior, you must be able to string your own bow. Even your first bow.”
“I bet I could do it!”
“Of course I could!”
“We really could if Alagion showed us now!”
“Ah-ah,” Alagion laughingly shook his head. “That would be against the rules, Candrochon. One cannot cheat when it comes to weapons.”
The elflings shrugged and went back to inspecting the weapons. Legolas pointed to one mounted high on the wall, “Why ever did you make a crossbow, Alagion? Nobody likes them!”
“Just to see if I could. It works rather well, but all our warriors were content to trust their own longbow rather than such a strange thing. The crossbow shoots much harder, but not as accurately.”
Merilin wrinkled her nose, “A crossbow is for cowards who don’t want to face their foes.”
“Mm-hmm,” said Tathar, still examining the knives. “Crossbows have no honor. Like chili peppers.” ^
Everyone stopped. “What?!” demanded Alagion.
Legolas rolled his eyes. “Just ignore him when he says things like that. He doesn’t know what they mean either.”
“I do too!”
“I’ll never tell!”
“See?” Legolas said smugly. Tathar just snorted.
Alagion shook his head, then glanced out the window. “Here comes Beleryn. You four had better be going.”
“We’ll be back!”
After lunch, Candrochon had to go with his father to one of the villages outside the palace, and Lady Narmeril came to haul off and scold Merilin over the chaos in the palace that morning. So Legolas and Tathar ended up wandering around the outer palace wondering what to do with themselves. “And I thought my father was strict,” Legolas said, wrinkling his nose.
“Lady Narmeril really is a she-orc! I heard she doesn’t even want to let Merilin be a warrior!”
“Why not?” demanded Legolas, appalled.
“She says it’s not proper for a high lady.”
Legolas drew himself up indignantly, “I’d like to hear her say that in front of my sister! She’s a princess AND a warrior!”
“And a good one at that. Lady Narmeril’s just a jibwick.”
They ran out onto the green between the outer palace and the cave in the mountainside that held the old palace halls of Mirkwood. They were almost completely unused now except for storage, and few of the wood elves spent much time within them. Still, it was a well-known rumor that King Thranduil’s treasure trove lay somewhere within them. Nonetheless, even the inquisitive and impetuous elflings kept their distance from caves of all kinds, no matter what wonders were reputed to be inside.
In keeping with this habit, Legolas and Tathar ran around the green, chasing butterflies and squirrels and collecting dead sticks and leaves to play with. The afternoon sun was merry among the leaves, and the palace guards watched the antics of the pair with amusement. Although they were terrified of the cave, Legolas and his friends loved the bridge that crossed the Forest River, and often spent many hours hanging over the edge watching the water flow beneath them.
On this particular day, Legolas and Tathar sprawled across the sun-warmed wood of the bridge and attempted to build houses from the sticks they had collected, with less than exciting results. Finally, bored with the game, Legolas tossed one of his twigs idly into the river, then leaned over the opposite end of the bridge to watch it float by. Tathar watched him curiously, then did the same, and they both watched the stick float beneath the bridge with fascination. Elf children, like all children, had a way of finding sources of interest and wonderment in the simplest of things.
“I’ve got an idea!” Legolas exclaimed, jumping up. He seized another stick, and handed it to Tathar, then took one of his own. “Throw them and see whose floats the fastest!”
“Right! One, two, three!” They flung the sticks into the water and waited, giggling eagerly, for them to float by. At last they came, one after the other.
“But you didn‘t throw yours as far! Not fair!”
“Then let’s try again!”
“Oonnnnneeee, twwwoooooo, THREE!!” the sticks flew. “You still threw yours closer to the bridge!” Tathar protested.
“I did NOT!”
“Fine, fine! Here!” Legolas leaned over the edge and held his stick above the water. “Just drop them then. Not fair, hold your arm out all the way. There. Ready? Now!” This time the sticks dropped straight down, and the elflings raced to the opposite side, watching eagerly. “THERE!! Ha! Mine still wins!”
Legolas giggled, examining the remaining sticks in the pile. “I think it’s because you keep using sticks from the elm trees.” Curiously, he held up several of the twigs. “The beech sticks are lighter. That must be why they float faster.”
“Then let me use the beech stick this time, and you drop an elm stick.”
“Have it your way.”
“Where are they? Where are they?”
“Haha! Now my stick wins again! I think the river likes me better!”
“Everyone likes you better because you’re the prince!”
“Fah! You’re just jealous that I’m better at picking sticks than you!”
“We’ll see about that; let’s do it again!”
And that was how Candrochon and Merilin found them on the bridge an hour later, dropping sticks simultaneously over the edge of the bridge and rushing to the opposite side to see whose floated by first. The two older elflings stared at their friends in amazement. “What ARE you doing?” demanded Merilin.
Legolas and Tathar looked up from where they’d been watching their sticks race. “Playing a game!” said Tathar.
“What kind of game is that?” asked Candrochon, coming up onto the bridge beside them.
“It’s something we just made up,” explained Legolas, picking up two sticks for a demonstration. “See? Like this. Drop the sticks right into the water and see whose floats to the other side first.”
Merilin and Candrochon watched with great interest. “I want to try!” declared Candrochon, not wanting to be left out of the fun.
“Me too!” added Merilin.
Soon the new arrivals were also hanging over the edge with sticks of their own. Now when the command was given, four little twigs dropped into the water, and four pairs of feet scampered to the other side.
“That’s mine! That’s mine!”
“It is not, you liar! That’s my stick! See? There’s yours; it’s longer!”
“He’s right, Candrochon.”
“You cheated, Legolas! See? Yours has a leaf sticking off it. You had a sail!”
“There’s no wind, clunkhead! A sail won’t make any difference!”
(Giggle!) “I think yours drowned, Tathar.”
“What could possibly be so interesting?” said new voice.
The elflings sprang back from the edge to see none other than Queen Minuial standing at the foot of the bridge, watching them curiously. “Ahh,” Candrochon said, bowing hastily. “We’re just playing a game, my lady.”
With a perplexed little furrow of her pale brow, the elven queen walked onto the bridge, eyeing the sticks. “What sort of a game is that?”
“We just invented it!” Legolas said proudly. “Here, Mother, watch!” He thrust sticks into the hands of his friends, and they eagerly performed a demonstration.
Queen Minuial leaned over the rail as the children shouted over whose stick had come through first. “So you are racing sticks?” The elflings giggled and nodded, incredibly pleased with themselves. “And what do you call this new game of yours?”
“Ahh,” the foursome exchanged glances. “It’s called…it’s called…”
“Poo Sticks!” Legolas exclaimed, and Candrochon and Merilin burst into hysterical giggles.
Minuial blinked. “‘Poo’ sticks? Why?”
“Because that’s what you say when you lose!” cried Tathar, and they laughed harder.
*Children truly find the most amazing ways of amusing themselves,* thought the queen, with a mental shake of her head. “You try, Mother!” Legolas urged.
She smiled, “I think I would probably lose.”
“Oh, go on!” her youngest son pleaded.
Minuial regarded the four for a moment, then slowly smiled and accepted the proffered twig. Legolas was, after all, the youngest, and when he grew up she would not have any more chances to play with her children. The rest of his friends took their places at the edge of the bridge, admonishing her to remember what it looked like. “So we don’t mix them up,” explained Merilin.
“Drop your stick on the count,” instructed Candrochon gravely. “One, two, THREE!”
Laughing, Minuial let her stick fall with the others into the water, then looked over the other side of the bridge. “There goes Tathar’s.”
“I won, I won!”
“And there is mine! There comes Legolas’s, Candrochon’s, and Merilin’s.”
“This is the first time I haven’t won.”
“So sorry, dear. But you cannot win all the time.”
“Shall we do it again, Mother?”
“Minuial?” King Thranduil called as he walked toward them across the green. The queen looked over at him and smiled. “What are you all doing there?”
“Your son and his friends have invented a new game,” she told him.
“Indeed? Show me,” said the king. After his wife and the four children favored him with a demonstration, he laughed. “How very clever. It looks like fun.”
“Do you want to play, Father?”
“Not now, Legolas. I’m afraid I must speak with your mother.”
Minuial laughed, “Then you shall have to come and play it some time, Thranduil.” Kissing Legolas on the cheek and smiling at his friends, she took her husband’s arm and walked back towards the outer palace, her golden hair and forest green gown swirling gently in the summer sun.
Legolas’s friends watched their king and queen with awe. “They say the Lady Galadriel in Lothlorien is the fairest lady in all the world,” sighed Candrochon. “But I don’t think she could possibly be as beautiful as our queen.”
“Me neither,” agreed Legolas.
“And even if she were, I bet she doesn’t know how to play Poo Sticks!” crowed Tathar, causing the others to laugh and return to the game.
However, they soon encountered a new problem: they had run out of sticks. “Now what?” asked Legolas as he sat on the edge and let his legs dangle over the water.
“We could shove Legolas in,” Candrochon suggested to the others.
“You’re just mad because I’m better at Poo Sticks than you.”
“You just cheat!”
“Stop snorting, Tathar!”
Tathar had been looking at the cave entrance across the bridge. Now he turned and faced the others slyly. “I’ve got an idea.”
“Uh-oh,” Legolas wrinkled his nose. “The last time you looked like that, you convinced us all to sneak out of the outer palace and we got lost.”
“Pfft. Are you STILL scared about that? We hadn’t even gone past the archery fields; nothing would have happened!”
“Until it got DARK!” said Merilin accusingly. “Legolas is right; you always get us into trouble.”
“That never stops you from coming with me! It’s not my fault you’re all fright owls!”
Tathar’s smile got even more sly. “Then let’s go into the cave!”
“WHAT?!” came the chorused reply.
“You’re crazy!” cried Candrochon.
“No way,” added Merilin.
“Why would we possibly want to go in there?” demanded Legolas, gesturing to the forbidding mouth. “There’s nothing to see?”
“Haven’t you heard,” demanded Tathar, looking disgusted. “The king keeps his treasure down there! I’ve always wanted to see a real treasure. We could go and get a look at it.”
Tathar simply folded his arms and grinned at the others. “What?” he asked slyly. “Scared?”
ORIGINAL CHARACTER GUIDE
Queen Minuial: Legolas’s mother (made her up)
Princess Limloeth: second child of Thranduil and Minuial, Legolas’s older sister
Master Alagion: a craftsman of Mirkwood
Langcyll: an archer captain, Alagion’s father
Beleryn: warrior captain of Mirkwood, Alagion’s grandfather
Lady Narmeril: Merilin’s mother, a ranking Lady of Mirkwood
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.