The next five days were the longest and most difficult ones ever for Esendri, and he went about his chores with such a glum and troubled look that many paused to enquire after him. Still, each time he resisted the urge to give Legolas away, and remained torn between loyalty to his friend and concern for his life. Even Legolas attempted to cheer him up by being rowdier and more mischievous than usual, much to the consternation of his elders. Legolas even took his silent treatment in good stride, with the gleeful knowledge that soon he would have redeemed himself in the eyes of his father and brother.
It was in such a bleak mood at one in the morning of the appointment with the Dwarves that Esendri was roused from his slumber by Legolas, who was bouncing off the walls in his excitement.
"Trust you to face your death with such joy," Esendri said as they snuck down the corridors, avoiding the sentries with practised skill. He was still undecided whether to give Legolas up.
"Hurry, Sen, we will be late if you tarry!" Legolas said, turning around and spotting Esendri dragging his feet.
Once he reached the stables, Legolas let himself into it, and was waiting with Laediran outside by the time Esendri rounded the corner.
"Legolas," Esendri said when he saw the horse.
"I could hardly have taken Mellarin, for she is not swift enough! I have a small detour to make before we reach the plain!"
A visible sigh escaped Esendri, before he mounted, trying hard to resist the urge to yell at Legolas. He pulled at the horse's mane in frustration, only to make the beast snort.
"Your brother will kill us!"
"Sen, had I know you would have been so difficult, I would never have let you in on this!"
"You expect me to sit back and watch you get yourself killed?"
Legolas took a while to reply.
"You must understand that in spite of what you think, I am not throwing my life away. I must right this humiliation!"
His solemn tone caused Esendri to pause for a while. Had he misjudged this as another of Legolas's crazy schemes for mischief? Perhaps it would be good just to be beside him while Legolas attempted to right this wrong.
After riding for more than four hours, they reached the boundary of the forest, where Legolas dismounted and motioned for Esendri to stay put while he ventured off. He returned five minutes later with a smug expression on his face.
In under an hour, the pair came up to the agreed meeting site, just as the summer sky was starting to lighten. The shadow of Erebor, the Lonely Mountain to their north, gleamed red with the rising Anor, while the waters of the Long Lake, two miles to the East, started to shimmer.
"Where are the Dwarves?" Legolas said.
"Perhaps they grew scared at the last moment? Can we leave then?" Esendri said, his voice too hopeful.
It was fifteen minutes before the Dwarves turned up, much to the chagrin of Esendri, who had been keeping his fingers crossed in the hope that they would have forfeited the contest.
Instead, they drew near in a rancorous bunch, in high spirits.
"You are brave indeed, little one!" Galdin cried as he spotted the pair from a distance. "I hope you are well-trained in the art of slavery!"
"Have you brought what I seek?" Legolas said, ignoring his insult.
Galdin snapped his fingers, and one of his soldiers drew out a parchment and handed it to him. He unrolled it, showing it to the Elves.
"What of the mithril?"
"Did you expect me to bring such valuable stuff here? When you have had enough of your dawdling, would we be able to start our putting you in your place?"
"Very well! The first contest will be one that of accuracy!"
He drew out an melon from within his belongings, and whispered to Esendri about what to do, causing him to blanch. A scathing look earned a firm, resolute nod, who walked up to the tree a hundred paces away with the melon and waited for the signal, determined to at least contribute to the madness Legolas had set out to achieve.
Indicating Esendri to take up his position, Legolas drew out his bow and spoke to the assembled Dwarves, who had every expression of bemusement on each of their faces. "This shall be a test of accuracy, with Esendri and Lord Galdin to be judges for fairness sake."
A large Dwarf stepped out from the party and laughed, pointing at Esendri, who put the melon on his head and was standing, back against the tree.
"A competition with the bow and arrow? I cannot allow this, for we do not use such weapons!"
Legolas smiled, as if expecting the objection.
"Which is why I shall not object to you using any weapon of your choice!"
Another Dwarf came forward, the glee in his eyes undisguised.
"Very well then, I shall use this as a weapon, and you shall be sorry indeed you ever gave us this concession!" he said, drawing out a small axe that Dwarves used to hurl with deadly precision and accuracy.
He was stopped by Legolas.
"Stay your hand, Master Dwarf, for I am not done! One can see that any fool will be able to hit the fruit from such a near distance. Accuracy is measured in more dimensions than simply to the left or right or the height of an object. We shall shoot together, and the one who succeeds in piercing the melon without touching the bark of the tree shall be the winner!" he said, repeating what Felnor had ingrained into him in the past two years of practise.
A moment's hesitation presented itself to Dwarf's face, before he caught the triumphant glint in Legolas's eye.
"What are we waiting for?" he cried, and threw out his axe without warning.
Legolas let loose an arrow with such speed that it seemed like a blur to those watching. Both axe and arrow hit the melon in the centre at the same time with a resounding thwack, and the Dwarves were impressed by the way Esendri did not flinch as both weapons came at him. He let out a triumphant yell when they hit, and rolled away, to leave the melon still stuck to the tree trunk.
The hushed silence quickly gave way to a loud rush of exclamations, and Galdin quickly made his way to the tree, followed by the rest of the Dwarves, while Legolas sauntered up slowly behind, self-assuredness in every step he took.
A loud roar of disbelief rose from the Dwarves as Galdin pulled out the axe and the melon fell to the ground, the arrow still embedded within it. Splitting open the melon revealed the arrow to have paused right in the centre of the fruit.
"Very well then, you win this round, but be reminded there are four more for you to lose!" Galdin said. "What else have you got in mind?"
"To the east of us lies the Long Lake. I suggest that whoever returns to us first with a fish caught from the waters of it shall win the second round. We do not fish, so there will be no advantage there!"
"You sure you want to do this, Elf?" Another Dwarf said. "Us Dwarves are known for our deadly bursts of speed, and you are nowhere near full-grown!"
Legolas grinned and nodded.
"As before, Galdin and Esendri will be the judges! And I shall allow you a head-start, for my kind are known to be swift indeed!" Å6¶5"That will not be necessary, Elfling! If any, I fear it's you who needs the head-start, if you could see the length of your own stride!"
"Very well then, on your marks!" Esendri said, knowing very well that Legolas could win the speed portion of this round, for most of his days were spent fleeing some irate grown-up or beast who sought to give him a sound beating for his pranks.
Legolas was not surprised to see that the Dwarf had a better start than himself, the stout creature putting down the power in his legs and pulling away. It was not long before the gap between them widened to ten feet, but still he persevered, concentrating on putting one foot down on the other.
Over fifteen minutes later, he reached the shores of the lake behind the Dwarf, who was having difficulty, splashing about in the shallow water, attempting to land himself a catch. The corners of Legolas's lips curled up in a smile, before he continued further north, knowing that there would be no hope of catching anything with the racket the other was causing.
Once there, he waded into the water, watching as the smaller fish scattered in shock. He waited for another half-minute, and saw that there was quite an abundance of larger fish just further out. The water was almost waist-high by the time he got to where he wanted to be. He then pulled an arrow out from his quiver, before stabbing down into the water with a triumphant yell, and brought up a raw and wriggling fish about the size of his arm, speared through by the sharp arrow.
For a moment Legolas stood there, staring at the blood pouring out of the fish. This was the first time he had killed not in defence. A sudden sensation of regret filled him at the decision he had made. He should have known better than to come up with this! He watched as the fish slowed its beating, life taking leave of it. A great sorrow washed over him, and he said a silent prayer for the life he had just taken.
A great shout indicated the Dwarf might have had success. Holding onto his prize, he waded out of the water, and ran, careful not to drop his slippery catch. His thoughts soon took leave of him, and it was only when he heard Esendri's cheering did he realise that he had won.
"Well done, Lass!" cried Esendri, taking the bloody carcass of the fish away from Legolas. He was so excited that he did not complain about the ruined clothes.
Five minutes later, Legolas's competitor huffed his way up, and threw a small fish to the ground. He spat upon it, before turning and storming off.
"What do you suggest next?" Galdin was impressed by Legolas's performance so far, but was still confident winning.
"I suggest a contest of hand-held weapons!" Legolas said, and unsheathed his long knife.
The Dwarf that had lost to him in the first round came forward, eager to avenge his earlier humiliation, brandishing a large axe. He grinned at Legolas, although his eyes were cold and determined.
"Very well, Morden, the first one who incapacitates the other wins!" Galdin said, before the spectators formed a loose circle around the combatants.
The signal was given for the fight to begin, and the Dwarf lunged forward, aiming to strike Legolas down. Legolas grinned and jumped aside, surprising Morden with his agility. Not waiting for him to strike again, Legolas leapt high into the air, landing behind Morden. He then seized the Dwarf from behind, pinning his knife to Morden's throat, and let out a victorious cry.
"Enough!" Galdin cried, alarmed at how rapidly the match had been resolved. Legolas was not better than Morden in this aspect, but the Dwarf had underestimated his opponent's speed and paid for it.
Galdin scowled, wondering if his men could win for the first time since the competition started.
"For the fourth round, we shall have a contest of strength!" Legolas said. He strolled over to the great sycamore tree, with a boulder at its foot.
"'Tis not too complicated. Whoever succeeds in lifting that shall win!"
While the dwarves would have howled with laughter earlier, Legolas's winning streak had planted doubt in them, and so they squinted at him, wondering what trickery he had in store this time.
Esendri blanched, but held his tongue. While Legolas seemed to have thought his competition out well, he could not help but feel worried about this round.
"And if we both meet with the same result?" asked Galdin, more hopeful than before.
"We think of another competition for this round!"
"Very well, I shall do it!" The sentry who had stopped the pair five days before stepped forward.
Walking over to the boulder, he squatted down beside it. His hands groped about for a good hold. Grunting, he lifted with all his strength, but the boulder did not even shudder.
Legolas skipped over, grinning. The Dwarf walked away in disgust after giving up. Legolas sat down and removed his shoes, much to the Dwarves' amusement.
"It helps me get a better grip!" he said, drawing more bemused chortles, while Esendri's face lit up as he realised what Legolas was doing.
Once he stood barefoot, Legolas moved over to the boulder, and entwined his feet in the tree roots. Crouching down, he closed his eyes. It was a full minute before he reached forward and placed both hands on the rock.
Esendri felt it when Legolas called upon the magic, a familiar warmness filling his limbs as Legolas let it fill his body. The power and might of the old tree flowed into him, and he waited until he felt strength seep into his bones, and lifted the rock with a jerk, much to the amazement and horror of the Dwarves. He then gave it a thrust, causing it to roll away from the tree.
"What devilry is that!" Galdin exclaimed.
Legolas did not answer, but just smiled.
"A conference with my men, if you don't mind?" Galdin said after a while.
The Dwarves filtered off to a side, huddled together in a tight, worried embrace, and Legolas fell back onto the tree trunk, beads of perspiration erupting on his brow.
Esendri rushed over, showering concern upon him.
"Do not worry about me, Sen," Legolas said. "The tree's roots had been crushed by the rock, and it requested me to aid it in removing it when we first arrived, giving me the idea for the competition."
Esendri beamed. He had wondered what Legolas was doing when they first arrived, stroking the tree.
Footsteps sounded the return of the Dwarves, and Legolas managed to pull himself to sit upright against the trunk.
"We have decided it's unfair for you to decide all the competitions, and have come up with one of our own!" Galdin said, trying to keep his frustration and desperation at bay.
"Indeed you speak the truth."
"First, let us get away from this confounded tree!" Galdin said.
Seeing their reluctant looks leant more encouragement to Galdin, who managed a smile when they had put a distance between them and the tree.
"If you manage survive three square blows of my fist, we shall admit defeat!"
"That is completely out of order!" Esendri cried, leaping forward in anger.
"Do I have your word?" Legolas said.
"Master, please do not do this, you will not survive! Can you not see that he will shatter your bones with one hit?" Esendri pleaded in Sindarin, tears coming to his eyes as he saw Legolas's resolve.
"On my word as Lord of my people!" Galdin said.
"Very well, I shall neither duck nor step back from your blows!" Legolas said.
"If you fall over, you lose!"
Stepping forward, Legolas thrust his chest out.
The first blow came, landing with a resounding crack on his shoulder. To the surprise of the Dwarves, Legolas did not cry out in pain, and instead stumbled back at the impact, his face unflinching.
Impressed by his resilience, Galdin paused for a second. He had held back the first time, for it was not in his nature to hit a young, defenceless creature. Even then, he knew the blow must have caused a huge amount of pain, contrary to how Legolas reacted.
His second blow hit Legolas one hard in the stomach, winding him, causing Legolas to double over, almost falling to the ground. Yet, he managed to struggle to stand up straight again, and a fire blazed in those brilliant blue eyes of his.
"You ready to give up, Elf?" taunted the Dwarves around, delighted at how this was turning their way.
Galdin was about to hit him with all he had when he drew back his fist, admiration filling him. A sudden feeling of grudging acceptance that he had been bested filled him, and he thrust the scroll into Legolas's hands.
Legolas had been preparing himself for the final blow, and was shocked to see Galdin concede defeat.
"The mithril?" Esendri said, controlling his conflicting urges to cheer and check that Legolas was alright.
"I told you that I shall return whatever I had with me, but it is with great regret that I announce they have been stolen by that ungrateful brute Barin, who snuck up on my guards in the still of the night and made off with them!" Galdin said, scowling at his useless men, defeated by such a small Elf.
"You lying, cheating filth!" Esendri was livid with anger.
"Sen!" Legolas said, not managing to hide a grimace.
"Some healing herbs for your friend!" Galdin threw a bundle on the ground, before the Dwarves walked off without a backward glance..
Legolas waited until they had left before collapsing on the ground, and fell face-flat onto the grass. Esendri scrambled to his aid, and turned him over. It was then that he realised that Legolas was wearing the vest of Anarien under his tunic, a rare possession of Thranduil's, which served to absorb a proportion from the shock of blows
"I won!" Legolas gasped, waving the scroll about, staring up at the sky.
"We must get back to the palace!" Esendri cried. He let out a whistle, and their steed appeared minutes later.
Just as he was about to help Legolas onto the horse, a loud screech sounded from above. Amazement soon lent itself to their faces as a magnificent eagle wheeled overhead, circling above.
"I am Gildran, lord of the Eagles!" he said, landing before them. "What are two young Elves doing in a wilderness such as this, so far away from home?"
Esendri introduced themselves, trying not to stare at its golden feathers.
"The son of King Thranduil, you say? I saw everything from the sky. You are indeed brave. Foolish, but with a stout heart. The Dwarven medicine will help to numb the pain."
Once that was seen to, the eagle spread its wings and grabbed each of them in a talon before taking off in the direction of the forest.
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.