1. The Quiet One
Two days still remained of the Gathering, but many considered today’s event to be the climax. This morning would be the Great Gathering Trials--an archery competition of delegates from every elven realm. The delegates were novices, untested in battle, but with centuries of training. Participation in the Trials signaled the Warrior’s Coming of Age, also called the Second Coming of Age, when an elf who had chosen weapons-bearing as their craft could take up the full responsibilities and privileges of adulthood, and they could join war parties as equals rather than novices. Elves who chose war as their art were believed to need many more years of training and discipline than other crafts, for the warrior’s life had far more demands upon it. Centuries of training were required for elven warriors, and the end of those schooling years signaled this final ascension into adulthood. Thus, the climax of the Great Gathering, the Trial, recognized this momentous occasion. Only those novices who had reached or would reach the qualifying age this century were eligible--and an elf could only compete once.
The Trials would begin in two hours, and heavy arguments--as well as wagers--were being made on who the winner would be. Lothlórien had held the title for seven Gatherings, and every year the other delegations hoped to dethrone them. Emotions of the elves of Mirkwood were especially high; for the host realm to triumph was a particular honor.
The participants were readying themselves in the training rooms, near the warriors’ chambers in the outermost part of the palace. Like their kinsmen, the four delegates of Mirkwood were feeling the pressure of being the host realm. As they stretched muscles and practiced breathing, they talked excitedly among themselves--that is to say, three of them did.
“The wagering favors Eregolf of Lórien, Gwilwileth tells me,” Lady Merilin, daughter of Lord Heledir, told no one in particular.
“Lórien is always favored, but Faron of Imladris is more than Eregolf’s equal,” Tathar, son of Alagos replied.
“I rode with Faron back to Rivendell last year, and saw him on the practice fields,” Candrochon, son of Anunborn, added. “He is a formidable shot.”
“What of Princess Lalven?” Tathar asked.
Candrochon snorted. “Accomplished she is, but Merilin could outshoot her with one eye closed. I’m more concerned about Berelyn of--”
“Enough of this,” a stern voice broke through the chatter. The novices looked guiltily at Langcyll, warrior captain of Mirkwood and head novice master. “You have sufficient concerns of your own this morning without the skill of your opponents occupying your minds.”
“Yes, sir,” the novices replied sheepishly.
“He is right, you know,” Merilin remarked. “We should look to our own game.”
“Archery is hardly a game, Merilin,” Candrochon protested.
“No, but the Gathering Trial is, as Langcyll and the others unceasingly remind us,” Tathar told him. “All novice training is a game.” He paused for a moment, a twinkle in his bright eyes, then said loudly, “Kindly cease dominating the conversation, Legolas.”
The fourth delegate of Mirkwood had scarcely said a word since they arrived. Legolas, youngest son of King Thranduil, had been standing to one side of the training room, massaging the muscles of his shoulders. At Tathar’s sarcastic remark, he focused his eyes abruptly on his companions and blushed. “Forgive me. I was thinking.”
With a twinkle of merriment in his own dark eyes, he answered, “Of my own game.”
“That’s no excuse for neglecting your comrades,” Merilin scolded. “Seeing especially as you are Mirkwood’s finest archer.”
Legolas looked away. “We are all equals until the Trials are over. Only when our scores are tallied can we say who is finer than who. I am not perfect.”
“That has never prevented you from trying to be, which is why you continuously outperform the rest of us,” Tathar replied, but there was no malice in his voice, only amusement. It was no secret among the Mirkwood elves that Prince Legolas was the finest archer of this generation, and he was heavily favored as their champion. Many Gatherings before, his older sister Limloeth had placed second to an elf of Lórien in one of the closest matches in history, causing considerable good-natured anguish among the Mirkwood elves. When Legolas had bested Limloeth in a Mirkwood competition several decades ago, the hopes of the realm began to sing that this would be their year. *And poor Legolas has born the burden of their desires ever since,* Tathar thought sympathetically.
Tathar was one of the prince’s closest companions outside his family--in fact, Legolas had few companions outside his family not associated with either his studies or training. Although he would never mention it to Legolas‘s face, Tathar was appalled at how sheltered a life King Thranduil‘s youngest son led. In the centuries that he had been alive, he had never left Mirkwood, or even ventured far beyond the palace walls. Tathar was uncertain what the reasons were behind this; Legolas had two brothers and one sister, all of whom had grown up mixing with other elves and seeing other lands and races. Legolas spoke fluently the languages of many races, yet he had scarcely ever seen a man, let alone a dwarf or an orc.
Tathar realized he was daydreaming, and looked back at his companions. Merilin and Candrochon were wondering what sort of obstacles the Trial overseers were thinking up for the last leg of the course, and Legolas was thinking again--*brooding is probably a better word for it.* Aloud, Tathar said, “I think, my friends, we shall never be more prepared than we are now. For all our training, if we dwell too much, we may handicap ourselves.”
Merilin nodded. “You are right. No one has ever tallied a perfect score in the Gathering Trial--we shall all sustain faults. If we allow them to drive us to despair, we shall have no chance at winning the title for the wood elves.”
“Therefore, let us be merry!” Candrochon laughed, gripping Merilin’s arm and clapping Legolas on the back. For his part, Legolas still looked tense.
Thranduil, King of Mirkwood, stood upon a platform showing the best view of the course for the Trials. About him, seated in chairs or standing and talking in groups were the lords and ladies of all the elven realms. Lady Narmeril and Lord Heledir of Mirkwood stood in conversation with Lord Elrond of Imladris, his daughter the Lady Arwen was seated beside Lady Eirien, the wife of Thranduil’s eldest son, Berensul. Berensul was standing very close to Arwen’s brother Elladan, and they were joined in earnest conversation by Haldir of Lórien--and Thranduil soon suspected they were making a wager on the Trials. He chuckled to himself.
He turned back to the field. It was nearly time. The running of the Trial was overseen by delegates from all the elven realms. Langcyll and Eregdos were overseeing for Mirkwood, Elrohir and Glorfindel for Imladris, Rúmil and Orophin for Lórien, and others from the smaller elven Realms, and wandering elves. Throughout the course, the officiating elves were preparing for the start of the Trials, while other elves had gathered by the hundreds along the perimeters to watch.
In the midst of a crowd standing nearly beneath the tree that held the noble elves, a cry suddenly went up. “Mithrandir! Mithrandir has come!”
Thranduil went to the very front of the platform, the other elf lords and ladies surrounding him, and looked down. Sure enough, the one known to men as Gandalf the Grey, wizard and elf-friend, had come to watch the Trials. “Langcyll!” Thranduil called down. “Let him come up!” Moments later, the tall, grey-clad wizard had climbed up to the high platform to the cries of delight from the elves there. “Welcome, and well met, Mithrandir. A star shines upon the hour of our meeting,” Thranduil said warmly.
Gandalf bowed, “My thanks, Lord Thranduil. I had planned to arrive for the final Council of the Realms, but I should not wish to miss this Great Trial. I perceive it shall begin soon, then?”
“Very soon, my friend,” said Thranduil.
“It will be a great day for Mirkwood if your Prince Legolas should win,” Gandalf remarked.
“We have four fine archers entered in the Trial,” Thranduil told him. “And novices no more, after this morning. It will be a great honor for Mirkwood if any of them should win or place.”
Gandalf raised his bushy eyebrows at the King’s neutral tone, then he nodded cheerfully to Lord Elrond, who had moved to join them. “Well met, my lord.”
“Mithrandir, my friend, I am pleased you arrived in time,” Elrond replied. “How are things with you?”
“Well, my lord, thank you. And I do believe the sun is reaching Mirkwood’s floor on this day. Even the darkest shadow cannot withstand the eagerness of so many elves.” Gandalf was right, the lords observed. Though a shadow had hung so long over Mirkwood, rare rays of light had pierced it on this day, filtering through the leaves. Then the wizard’s gaze fell upon Thranduil’s sons Belhador and Berensul, arguing rather vigorously with Elrond’s son Elladan, and Haldir of Lórien. With a sly smile, Gandalf lowered his voice, “The wagering is very exciting this year, I see.”
Thranduil chuckled. “For all their traded whispers and rumors, none can seem to determine the likely winner. It shall be an interesting trial.” He gave a sly smile of his own, “I suspect Lord Elrond was contemplating placing a wager on Rivendell’s Gaerongil.”
Elrond affected an affronted expression that fooled neither of his friends. “Indeed, you are mistaken, Lord Thranduil.” He paused, glancing down at the field, then murmured to them, “I placed my stake on Faron.”
The three laughed heartily. In spite of the troubles that seemed to grow like a persistent weed throughout Middle Earth, nothing could put a damper upon the high spirits of this morning. Then the King moved back as a hush fell over the assembled elves.
Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel, the highest of all elves, entered the platform as a path opened for them in the crowd. Thranduil bowed and gave way for them to take the two front most seats. The other elves moved to their own places, Thranduil to the right of Galadriel and Celeborn, as was customary for the host of the Great Gathering. They smiled often, and spoke little, but as the overseers were making the final inspection of the trial fields, Galadriel suddenly turned. “If it please you, Mithrandir, come and sit on my left. I know how you enjoy our Great Trial, and you shall have the finest view.”
Gandalf stepped forward from where he had stood among the other elves, and bowed low to her. “You do me a great honor, Lady.” He took the offered seat as the overseers took their positions, and Langcyll stepped to the center of the field, facing the platform.
He addressed Galadriel, “All is ready, my lady.”
Galadriel rose, and there was a collective intake of breath from the throng, for her beauty and majesty struck awe into all who beheld her, even her kindred. She spoke solemnly, “Though the shadows may threaten our lands and our borders, let them have no power over our hearts. At this, the Gathering of the Realms, all the elves of Middle Earth are come in the spirit of friendship and strength. Now is a time for joy!” In a clear, ringing voice, she raised her arms and declared, “Let the Great Trial of the Gathering of the Realms begin!”
It did seem as though the oppressive shadow that had hung over Mirkwood for centuries lifted, and sunlight turned the leaves to dazzling emerald. There was a great roar of applause, lively and exciting music began to play, and an elf herald announced the candidates as they entered the field to begin the first stage of the trials. The name of each delegate received a great cry from their homeland. “Faron of Imladris! Eregolf of Lórien! Merilin of Mirkwood.”
No rank or lineage was given, only the name and realm of origin for each contestant. For it is tradition that elf warriors fight to defend their homelands, not merely to gain glory for self or family name. And when an elf archer reaches the end of novice hood and attains entry into the Great Gathering Trials, it is acknowledged that he has earned this honor for himself, with his own labor and practice. “Tathar of Mirkwood! Gaerongil of Imladris!”
Though the noble elves applauded all the candidates out of courtesy, slight changes in the force of their clapping could be heard among the kin of the competitors. Seated behind King Thranduil, three of his children, Crown Prince Berensul, Princess Limloeth and Prince Belhador, whispered among themselves. “Elladan has placed a heavy wager on their Faron. They say Lórien will fall to Imladris this year,” Belhador said discreetly.
“Faron is a fine archer and warrior, yes,” Limloeth whispered back. “And Lórien may well fall to Imladris. But in any case, both shall fall to Mirkwood this year.”
“To our brother,” Berensul agreed, smiling broadly. The children of Thranduil had their share of sibling rivalries, but on this day, the brothers and sisters of Legolas wanted nothing but glory and joy for him. For all he had done, and born, in their eyes, he deserved nothing less.
“Look, there he comes!” Limloeth gasped, the pitch of her voice raising with excitement.
Legolas would soon be announced; his family could see him waiting with the others to enter the field. “Is he nervous, do you think?” Berensul murmured. None bothered to answer him--the answer was so certain as to make the question ridiculous.
If Tathar of Mirkwood believed himself to be the only one who noticed Legolas’s timidity, he was mistaken. The elder sons and daughters of King Thranduil had long wondered at his over-protectiveness of Legolas, and at their youngest brother’s strangely inhibited nature. As they watched him moving toward the front of the line of archers being announced, it was painfully clear to all his siblings that Legolas was desperately nervous. Belhador murmured, “May any god, spirit, or fate that hears us grant him victory.”
ORIGINAL CHARACTER GUIDE: LEGOLAS’S FAMILY AND FRIENDS:
Crown Prince Berensul--Legolas’s eldest brother, heir to the throne,
Crown Princess Eirien--Berensul’s wife, (formerly from Imladris)
Princess Limloeth--second child of King Thranduil
Prince Belhador--sixth child of King Thranduil
Queen Minuial--Legolas’s mother, died when he was twenty-two (in my universe. I made up her name)
***Note: Apart from Legolas, in this story-universe Thranduil and Minuial had three other children. Where are they, you ask? You’ll have to wait and see.
Langcyll--warrior captain and head novice master of Mirkwood, trained Legolas and other novices
Lady Merilin--archer of Mirkwood, trained beside Legolas
Tathar--Legolas’s best friend, fellow archer and training companion
Candrochon--fellow archer of Mirkwood and training companion
Faron of Imladris--archer champion of Imladris, friend of the Mirkwood archers
Gaerongil of Imladris--archer delegate of Imladris, friend of the Mirkwood archers
Eregolf of Lórien--archer champion of Lórien
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.