8. The Contest
Chapter 8 - The Contest
The night of the birthday dance was the last Rhavaniel saw of Legolas for a very long time. Occasionally, she passed him on her way to practice or in a hall at the palace, but she never gave him a second look. She chose to put that horrid night out of her mind and pretend that nothing happened. She had her friends and her guardsman company and that seemed to be enough. She finished her first round of training and moved on to more exertive exercises, all in the hopes of becoming a palace guard. She poured her very soul into her work and was always at the top of her class. Her reputation for being a hard worker, quick learner and a fair fighter was known all over the Great Greenwood. Her next level would be archery. She had some practice in the art but she wanted to know more. It was not as much a requirement for the palace guard as they carried no visible weapons. Yet, she wanted to be trained in everything Greenwood had to offer. She was a perfectionist and wanted to be at the top of her game in every way.
Legolas, in the meantime, had spent every spare moment honing in on his archery skills. His goal was to become the best in his field so that his father would have no other choice than to let him become a border guard. Palace life just was not very exciting. He never wanted to become like the other nobles of the castle, sitting behind a desk, signing this and that, giving orders to others to take care of things that could just as easily be done by them. He wanted to be out there with the others, fighting to protect his realm. In his mind, there were no free rides. He would fight with his own armies and prove to be the best. He was well on his way as he had already managed to move up in ranks, now in charge of a small battalion of his own. They spent many days and nights at the northern borders. Yet, this is not where trouble was brewing.
There was recent activity in the southern forest of Rhovanion. Fewer elves would even venture into this area and for a while things went unchecked. Legolas felt something more was taking place in these areas. Still, by orders from the King, he was to stay in the north.
* * *
Quite a few years had passed and Rhavaniel's day finally came. She and her fellow guardsmen were graduating and being placed in their positions at the palace. There were many positions to fill as more guards were being placed around the perimeter, inside and out. She prayed to Eru that she would be given an outer position. She loved being outside in the open. To be inside would mean to see Legolas more and that was the least thing she needed. Though they were older now and more mature, she still wanted her space from the Prince. She could not deny that he had stirred something within her so long ago, but did not wish to revisit those feelings for they brought back too much pain.
A simple ceremony took place for the new recruits. King Thranduil, Queen Alastegiel and Prince Legolas were among those in attendance as were other nobles of the court. Each graduate was given their weapons needed for their position as different ones were needed depending on where they were stationed.
Rhavaniel's prayers were answered as she was assigned at a post along the outer perimeter of the palace, at the grand gate no less. She was thrilled when her best friend, Antien was stationed with her. It seemed the Valar were finally smiling down upon her. This would also mean more extensive training with a bow, which really made her day.
She and Legolas spoke briefly; actually it was more of recognition of each other's presence. Legolas could not help but notice how different Rhavaniel looked. She had matured into a lovely elleth, much different from the young elfling who used to follow him around the palace. Still, he felt her animosity towards him and did nothing to gain her wrath. A nod and a smile would suffice. Then they went on about their business.
The recruits were being given a month's reprieve before they started their new jobs. It was a well-deserved break and all looked forward to their time off. Some were spending it with family, some with friends. Few chose to travel far from Greenwood. Rumors spread of an uprising of evil due to the happenings in the south. Still, not many worried at this point. Life was basically good and everyone was content.
* * *
Rhavaniel had spent the better part of her time off with her family. Her father was away a lot more being he was a border guard. Her mother stayed close to the Queen any time she ventured from the castle. Today was no different. Faelwen and Alastegiel decided to go out on an adventure, something neither one had indulged in for quite some time. Thranduil was against it with the recent outbreaks and all, but the two friends ignored him. It was said to be a beautiful day from the looks of the sunrise. They packed a picnic lunch and headed off, Faelwen fully armed of course. They may be friends, but she still had a job to do. Alastegiel managed to overlook this and only saw her friend, not a bodyguard.
Rhavaniel was at the archery field this day. In just a few days she began her new position at the palace. She had already set aside times to come to the field for practice. Her instructor was one of Legolas' Captains who saw her potential and took it upon himself to teach her this fine art with a bow. She really would have liked a finer weapon but felt she wasn't ready just yet. Besides, she wasn't expecting to need such a fine instrument of war anytime soon. This one was good enough for practice.
She picked her target, one far enough away from the other archers, and began shooting. No matter how hard she tried, her aim was always off. She kept in mind all of her teachings and concentrated but to no avail. Rhavaniel was very deep in concentration when someone spoke.
"You should try bringing your elbow up more." he said.
Rhavaniel sighed and closed her eyes. She did not need this right now. How long had it been since they spoke to each other? Why was he here and why of all the targets, did he have to pick the one closest to hers.
"If I want your advice Thranduilion, I will ask for it." she said in a low tone, never taking her eye from her target. She released the arrow. Still off center, she thought. She knew Legolas was a good archer and he was probably right, but pride took over.
"I was just trying to help." he said. Legolas notched an arrow and without taking too much time to aim, released it and hit dead center on the target. Rhavaniel watched out of the corner of her eye as he did this time and time again. Showoff, she thought. Jealousy rose up through her chest. This was what she wanted, to be an accurate shot. She couldn't deny that he was very good at his art.
Rhavaniel waited until Legolas' arrows were spent and he went to retrieve them. Then she swallowed her pride and took his advice. She raised her elbow, incorporating it into her other training. She released the arrow and it hit the center. She smiled to herself and tried it again. When she got the same result, she found her niche and continued to hit center every time.
Legolas saw her progress and knew she followed his advice. He smiled to himself knowing he helped her, even if she didn't want it. He came back with a quiver full of arrows and looked at her stance. Her poise was good but for her front foot. "You might want to try pointing your right foot forward slightly." he said and waited for her to tell him to mind his own business. He was surprised when she tried his suggestion without saying a word.
Rhavaniel felt her balance shift by doing this. Now her core was balanced and not off center as usual. She continued to hit arrows into the center with more ease this way. Everything was making sense and coming together. This was what she needed, though she wished it wasn't Legolas who helped her. Now he would boast to his friends how he was the one who taught her to shoot correctly, further infuriating her. Well, maybe just this once it was worth the hassle.
After some time, Legolas spoke again. "How about a contest?"
Rhavaniel lowered her bow and looked straight at Legolas for the first time since he arrived. She didn't want this. She just wanted to be left alone, but she never was one to pass up a challenge. "What kind of contest?"
"Best out of ten wins." he said, examining his bow.
"Forget it Thranduilion. You know we are never good at competing with each other. Someone always gets hurt and you seem to be in a good mood so far. I'd hate to ruin your day." she heckled.
Legolas laughed. Some things never change, he thought to himself. "You seem so sure you will win. Fine, but won't you give me a chance to prove you wrong?"
Rhavaniel squint her eyes at Legolas, wondering what he might be up to. "Alright then, best out of ten."
"You go first." Legolas said but Rhavaniel glared at him.
"Wait a minute. What does the winner receive?" she asked. She knew everything came with a price as far as he was concerned.
Legolas thought for a moment. "What do you want should you be victorious?"
She thought for a moment. Could she dare ask? If she was going to be serious about this, Legolas was the best one to break her in. "You will teach me all you know about archery, as often as we can spare but at least once a week." There, she put it out there and hoped he would accept.
He stood tall facing Rhavaniel as he thought about her offer. "Fine then, archery lessons but for how long?"
"Until you feel I am able to improve on my own." she answered.
Legolas nodded his head. "Agreed."
"Now you, Thranduilion. What is your price for victory?" she asked. Surely it would be something simple, something to do with her new position as a palace guard.
There was one thing he wanted, something he was not so sure she would agree upon. Dare he ask this of her? Surely he would win this contest. Or maybe he would let her win if he thought he could not go through with it. It was a bold move but he would say it. Legolas ran his fingers along the length of his bow then without lifting his head he rolled only eyes to her and said. "We finish what we started on the balcony that night."
She gasped. "Oh Legolas, you are so crude. Do you really believe I would agree to such a thing? And with you of all the ellyn in Middle Earth?"
His smile sickened her. "I knew you could not handle the challenge. You are too insecure of your aim yet. But then again, if you win I will be your instructor, professionally mind you. I have seen your skill with a bow. You are quite good at it and with just a little help you could come to master it. But if the price of losing is too great then…"
"Fine." she interrupted. "I will agree to the challenge."
Legolas smiled and approached her. He held out his hand to her and they shook, finalizing the deal.
Rhavaniel went first and then Legolas. To spare one all the details, you should know that it ended up with one final shot, Rhavaniel's that would determine the winner. If it was off, she'd lose. If it was centered, she'd win. The elleth felt quite secure with her aim by now. She could win this and Legolas would have to teach her what he knows. She notched an arrow, raised her elbow, adjusted her feet and starred down the shaft. Then a little voice in the back of her mind interrupted her. She could throw the contest by losing. The thought started off small, but it quickly grew as she had been watching Legolas fire his bow. She couldn't help but notice his well-defined muscles, his strong jaw and toned arms of an archer. He had grown into a very handsome ellon indeed. She remembered that night on the balcony, putting the rest of the night out of her mind. In that one single moment, she wanted to feel his lips upon hers. She enjoyed feeling his hand at her waist and how he gently pulled her towards him. He did not force himself upon her that night. She would have done so willingly. Soon, they would reach their maturity and then they would be freer to become involved with the opposite sex.
She brought her thoughts back to the challenge at hand. No, she would win. Becoming a better archer was much more important than a chance at tasting his sweet lips and feeling his warm breath upon her…
No! Her mind shouted. Before she could completely think straight and check her stance, she loosed the arrow and…
"Game over." Legolas said with a devilish grin.
"I missed?" she said with disbelief. "No! I missed. But I wasn't ready. I… I…" she stuttered. She looked over at Legolas who was smiling at his victory. Actually, he was sure he would lose. Rhavaniel proved to be a better shot than he thought.
She dropped her bow on the ground, put down her quiver and walked over to Legolas. Her eyes were facing the ground as she accepted her defeat. Legolas came up to her, standing in front of her and looking down upon her forlorn face. "Alright Thranduilion, let's get this over with. You won fair and square. Claim your prize." Her voice held no enthusiasm at all.
Legolas took her chin in his fingers and tilted her head up. He met her eyes and held her there a moment. Her eyes were beautiful, deep blue and sparkling. He wanted this badly, a chance to finally kiss her. He leaned into her but stopped just before their lips touched. There was something missing in her eyes. It was not like the excitement he felt on the field that day, or the passion that rose within him on the balcony. She held nothing there for him in this moment. It just did not feel right.
Rhavaniel just wanted to get it over with. But as soon as his fingers touched her skin, she felt a kind of spark. She met his stare and searched his sky blue eyes. Somewhere deep down within her, she wanted this. She wanted Legolas to be her first kiss. Still, this was not how she wanted her first kiss to happen, not because of a lost bet.
Legolas backed away from her, releasing her from his hold. "I cannot do this. I'm sorry Rhavaniel. It was foolish of me to ask such a thing. I will not force you into something you are not comfortable with." he said and turned from her.
Rhavaniel was relieved at first. Then his voice rang through her head. She heard his compassion. Maybe he was not the selfish arrogant brat she thought he was. He had a conscience after all. He wanted this just as much as she did, but was not willing to go through with it in this manner. She watched as he walked away from her. Then before she knew what she was doing, she spoke out.
"Have you ever kissed another?" she asked as he was walking back to retrieve his arrows.
Legolas stopped and turned to her, head lowered and looking at the ground. "No." he whispered.
Rhavaniel found it hard to believe. "Not even Valisilwen?"
Legolas managed a slight smile. "No. She did not see me as such. Besides, she found an interest in Arandorion. I was not but a pawn."
Rhavaniel was surprised at his admission. "You, the Prince of Greenwood the Great, a pawn in a silly elleth's game? I find that hard to believe." Now she was moving closer to the Prince.
"And what about you? Rumors say that you and Antien are…"
Rhavaniel laughed to think about her and Antien. "You do not know how far from the truth that rumor is. Antien is my best friend but nothing more."
"And you have never even kissed out of curiosity?" Legolas questioned.
"My lips are not the ones he kisses." she answered as she thought about a scene she came upon once, in the gardens behind the giant ash. She happened upon Antien and Glandur in a lovers embrace, kissing with much need and passion. She thought it odd and a little disturbing at first, but soon came to realize how much they cared for each other. So far, the two ellyn had managed to keep their affair a secret. "Besides, he is like a brother to me. When the right ellon comes along, I will surrender my first kiss."
Legolas met her in the middle of the practice field. They were once again standing face to face. "And have you at least met the one who might deserve this from you?"
'Maybe." she answered, biting her bottom lip. "He must be someone strong but compassionate, able to put up with my wild ways. I will not change for anyone. He should accept me as I am or leave me be. And you? Have you met the one who deserves your first?"
Legolas smiled gently. "Maybe. She is of course beautiful but more importantly, she is independent and strong willed. Her mind is her own."
Rhavaniel reached out and touched her finger to his suede jerkin, tracing the silver embroidery. "Do you see anyone here that might match your description?"
Legolas looked up and around the practice field, as if he was truly searching for someone. Then his eyes came back to her and there was a fire in them that was not there before. "I believe so."
Rhavaniel gazed into his smoldering eyes. She had felt this before with him and her heart was racing once more.
Legolas truly looked deep into her dark blue jewels. Just a moment before, he found nothing for him there. But now what he saw was meant for no one else but him.
Slowly, they leaned towards each other. Legolas laid a gentle hand on her waist and pulled her to him. She followed his lead and let him guide her. Their lips came together and it was soft and sweet. Rhavaniel felt lightheaded as his kiss consumed her mind. Strong but soft were his lips.
Legolas relished the moment to finally taste her sweet breath. He wanted more and deepened the kiss with more pressure. She answered him by adding her own pressure, then feeling his bottom lip with her tongue. Legolas responded by parting his lips and allowing her entry. Tongues touched and sparks were lit behind closed eyes. Soon they tasted each other fully as their mouths covered each other. Breathing became heavy, warm and caressing.
Rhavaniel's hand involuntarily came up and snaked around the back of his neck, sending a shiver along his spine. His hair felt soft between her fingers.
Legolas' arms surrounded her waist and pulled her as closely as he could get her to his own body, feeling the softness of her breasts pushed against his chest.
They soon realized that this felt better than either one could imagine. Simultaneously, they ended the kiss and pulled away from each other, eyes coming back to one another and searching for some proof that what they felt was real. This was more than a reward for a silly contest. A spark had been lit. The feeling was mutual.
Legolas smiled first. "I never imagined my first kiss to be like this."
"Neither did I." Rhavaniel answered with a smile of her own. "I never imagined it being with you."
He laughed. "Nor you."
"So… what now Thranduilion?" she said raising an eyebrow.
Legolas tucked a stray hair behind her ear, noticing how she closed her eyes in delight of his touch. "I would like to know you better. I mean, we already know each other to a point but I would like to…"
"PRINCE LEGOLAS!" came a shout as a guard ran into the practice area.
Shocked by the interruption, Legolas and Rhavaniel both looked up to see what was so urgent. "What is it?" he asked, slightly annoyed.
"Prince Legolas, you are commanded to return to the palace at once. You too lady Rhavaniel. You are both being summoned by the King. News comes from the southern borders. There was an attack inside the boundaries" said the messenger.
Rhavaniel was worried. Her mother and the Queen were headed in that direction this morning. "Who was attacked?" she demanded.
"They did not tell me but only asked that I fetch you both. Now hurry." he said and Legolas and Rhavaniel followed the guard back to the palace as quickly as possible.