With Friends Like These

Chapter Twenty-four: The Games

by Jay of Lasgalen

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At the top of the stairs, Legolas debated briefly on which way to go.   Behind him, downstairs and out through the main doors, he could hear some sort of commotion, but decided against investigating for the moment.

Instead of making his way to his own room, Legolas headed for the rooms his father had been given.  He knocked on the door and immediately pushed it open.  Thranduil stood at the far end, gazing out of the windows which occupied most of the end wall.

“Father?   I just had a wonderful idea!”  Thranduil did not reply immediately, he was intent on watching something in the courtyard below.  “Father?”

With a slight start, Thranduil turned.  “Legolas?  Your pardon, my son, I did not hear you!   There are some new arrivals for the Council.”  He pointed down into the yard.

Legolas crossed to the window, and peered down with interest.  “I heard the noise.  Who is it?”  He could see a great many elves and horses, all milling around in the courtyard.  They were all clad in light cloaks, which seemed grey at first, but then appeared to shimmer, reflecting sun or shadow as the light changed.  All of them had hair of the same sort of sun-gold shades as his own, unlike most of the elves of Imladris.  “Who are they?” he asked again.

“The Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn, of Lóthlorien.  They have only just arrived in time.  She always did like to make an entrance!”  Thranduil added to himself.  He turned away from the window, and smiled at Legolas.  “Now, what is this wonderful idea of yours?”

Legolas related the conversation he had overheard between the twins.  “Why, the cunning little …” Thranduil muttered to himself.  “Trust those two to think of a way to turn this to their advantage!”

Legolas grinned.  “Why, do you think Lord Elrond and Lady Celebrían will say yes?”

“I think they will find it hard to refuse those twins anything they ask for at the moment!”  Thranduil felt a grudging admiration for the pair.

“That’s what I thought.  But then I had an even better idea.  Ada, could we give them both the bows, and arrows, and quivers?  As a thank you present?  Please?”

Thranduil gazed down at his son’s pleading expression and smiled at him.  “I think that is a most excellent idea, elfling.  I was trying to think of a suitable way to thank them – this will be perfect.  Well done!”

“Thank you, father!  Can I tell them?”  Legolas was already heading for the door at a fast limp, his stick thudding on the floor.

“No!  Not yet.  I would ask you not to breathe a word of this for now, not to anyone.  Do you understand?  Let it be our surprise.  I will go and talk to Elrond and Celebrían about it, never fear.  Now, shall we go and meet the new arrivals?”  Together they made their way back down to the hallway, and out into the courtyard.

The scene was one of organised chaos.   The newcomers were being warmly welcomed by Elrond and Celebrían, while horses were being led away by the grooms.  Arwen clung to the arm of one of the visitors, a tall stately looking elf with the same distinctive silver hair as Celebrían, and she was talking to him animatedly.  That surely had to be Lord Celeborn, her grandfather.

Searching the courtyard, Legolas spotted Elladan and Elrohir with another of the new arrivals.   She was – regal was the only term that came to mind.   Austerely beautiful, she had a majestic air that looked more than a little daunting.  At the moment, however, she was listening to something the twins were saying, and replying to them.

“Legolas, close your mouth,”  Thranduil murmured.  “You are gaping again.”

“Sorry, father.  But she’s so – so – ”

“Yes, she is,”  agreed Thranduil.  “As I said, she likes to make an entrance.”

That’s Lady Galadriel?”

Thranduil nodded absently.  “It certainly is.  Come here, I shall introduce you.”

Afterwards, Legolas could remember little of his first meeting with the imposing lady of the Golden Wood.  Her initial words to him had been, “Welcome, son of Thranduil,”  and her mesmerising eyes seemed to pierce him to the core.  He tried desperately to meet her stare, but eventually he dropped his gaze, muttering some inconsequential greeting, feeling uncharacteristically tongue-tied.   Beside him, his father squeezed his shoulder gently in reassurance,  and gave his own greeting, meeting the steely gaze unflinchingly.

“I will see you again tonight, my Lord Thranduil, and again at the Council.  Will you be at the meal this evening, Legolas?”   Her voice sounded softer now,  more friendly and approachable.

He nodded. “I will, my lady.”

“We will look forward to it,”  Thranduil told her.  “Goodbye until later, my Lady Galadriel.”

The Games started on the day after the Council.  They would be spread out over two days, and would consist of swimming, archery, horse racing, running, and the team games.  There would also be contests of singing, poetry recital, and music.  There would be separate archery challenges for the warriors and apprentices, and similarly additional competitions for the minstrels.   A new condition was that no one could enter for more than three contests – to keep numbers manageable, according to Erestor.

“They’re afraid that otherwise we will win everything, and no-one else will have a chance,” commented Elladan to Legolas, when he queried this rule.  Legolas refrained from responding to this astonishing claim, but Arwen had no such restraint.  She gave a most unladylike snort, which her mother would have been horrified to hear.  “Keep dreaming, El!” she told him from where she chattered to a group of friends.

“Is that possible?”  Legolas asked him.  “I don’t mean that you’d win everything, of course, because I’m going to beat you in the archery, but could one person win most of the contests?”

“I don’t know,” admitted Elladan.  “Probably not, not really.  But it would be fun to try!”

Legolas, to his intense disappointment, found that he would not be able to beat either of the twins at the archery contests, for the simple reason that they were not entering in the same classes.

The first competition that any of them were entering was the team race for three.  As they took their places at the start, Elladan peered along the line, seeing who else was there.  “El?  How many other teams are there?  Can you see?”  Elrohir asked him.

“Nine, I think.  Most are from here.  There’s a team from Lórien – no, two teams, and one from Lasgalen.  You’d better look out, El – Taniquel’s in that team!  Are you sure you want to try and beat her?”  He looked again, and gave one of her team an unfriendly look.  “What’s that idiot doing here?” he muttered.

“Taniquel?  Where?”  Elrohir gazed down the line, trying to see, ignoring the laughter from both Elladan and Arwen.  He spotted her at the far end, and waved, but saw no one else he recognised in that team.  One thing, he noticed, was clear - Arwen was by far the youngest of the competitors.  He hoped Elladan would forgive him if they lost by too humiliating a margin. 

As Erestor, the marshal, signalled, they were off, on a dash across the field to a marker post, then a mad scramble down the steep sides of a small ravine.  Each team had to follow a slightly different route, designated by coloured markers which matched the wristbands worn by each member.   The routes would criss-cross and loop around.  Eventually, all the teams would have covered exactly the same ground, and at the end they had to sprint the length of the training field to the finish line.

The Lord’s Little Rascals ran across the field to the trees which marked the edge of the ravine, searching for a marker with a red band.

“There!  I see it!” Arwen exclaimed suddenly.  They veered slightly to the left, and began to scramble down the bank, through trees, undergrowth and rocks.   They splashed through the stream at the bottom, then back up the other side of the slope.  Through the trees they could hear the progress of other teams, shouts, curses, laughter, cries of  “Come on!  Hurry up!”

On the far side of the ravine, at the top of the slope, they came to a path.  Their red marker led them to the right, and almost immediately they came to the first obstacle.  This was a barrier built of logs and was higher than either of the twins.  Elladan ran, jumped, and pulled himself up, sitting astride the top.  He leant down, one hand outstretched to Arwen.  She scrambled up, grabbed his hand, and was hoisted up and over to the other side.  Behind Elladan, Elrohir had already clambered over, and as soon as all three were down, they ran on.

The second obstruction was higher, and had sides that were nearly sheer.  Elladan and Elrohir exchanged a glance over Arwen’s head.  This would be a little more difficult.

 “El, if you pass her up to me, I’ll lift her over again, and then down to you.  All right, Ar?”  Elladan did not wait for an answer, but leapt for the top of the barricade again.

“Come on, then, Ar.”  Elrohir was about to lift her, when Arwen suddenly moved a few paces to one side. 

“There’s no need!  I see a better way!”  She dropped to the ground, and on her stomach, wriggled through a narrow gap at the bottom of the fence.  Elrohir stared after her in disbelief.  She had got to the far side much more quickly than he or Elladan could, and by a route they could not use.  The gap was far too small for either of them.  From the other side he could hear her calling him impatiently.  “Come on, El!”

He climbed to the top, swung over and dropped down beside the other two.  “Nice work, Ar!”  he praised her.  They carried on along the path.  Ahead they could see one of the other teams from Imladris, and behind, just negotiating the barrier, one of the teams from Lórien.  The relative positions did not mean anything at this stage, each team would be following a slightly different route, which would not join until they all merged at one end of the warriors’ training grounds.

Arwen suddenly pointed to the team in front of them, then at an almost-hidden marker post, edged with blue.  “Look!  That’s their mark!  They must have missed the post, they’re going the wrong way!  Do you think we should tell them?”

“No!”  Elladan and Elrohir spoke, as usual, simultaneously.  “Don’t do that!  It’s bad luck, I know, but they certainly wouldn’t tell us!”  Elrohir continued.

“I suppose not.  I hope we haven’t missed any of our markers!  We haven’t, have we?”  Arwen sounded anxious.

“Let’s hope not.  Keep your eyes open!”

There was a further barrier ahead, not quite so high, but still awkward to climb over.  The other team scaled it fairly easily and disappeared from sight.  As the twins and Arwen approached it, Arwen repeated her trick, squirming through a tiny space at the base of the barricade.   They could hear her on the far side, hopping from one foot to the other with impatience, urging them to hurry.  “Oh, come on, you two!  Someone will catch us up soon!  I can hear another team coming up the bank!”

“Shut up, Arwen!” snapped Elladan as he and Elrohir scrambled over the logs.  “We’re coming as fast as we can!”

As they landed beside her, Arwen pointed excitedly to the bushes at the side of the track.  “Look!  A red marker!  We have to go that way!”

“Well spotted, Ar!”  Elladan clapped her on the back so hard she nearly stumbled.  “That was sneaky of Erestor, putting a post there.  It’s easy to miss it as you come over the fence!”

A little breathless now, they began the descent to the bottom of the ravine again.  It was steep, and slippery underfoot with fallen leaves from last autumn.  Suddenly Elrohir slipped, sliding and skidding downhill in a flurry of leaves, earth and twigs.  Eventually he slithered to a halt at the bottom and picked himself up, brushing the dirt off, while Elladan and Arwen joined him.

“Are you all right, El?”  asked his brother.

“Fine, but look at this!  I don’t know where it came from; I must have knocked it over!”  Elrohir held up one of the mark posts, ringed with white.  “If I don’t put it back in the right place, they’ll go wrong!”  They scanned the ground quickly, trying to see where the post may have been.

“Here, I think,” said Elladan at last, pointing to a slight indentation in the ground.  “They have to go that way.”  He pointed along the side of the valley.  They replaced the post, hoping fervently that it was in the right place.  While they had been searching,  Elrohir spotted a post indicating they had to splash their way along the stream bed.  They halted momentarily to splash their faces with the cool water, and to drink a little.  Then they set off again, welcoming the coolness on their feet.  Almost immediately, they met another team – heading in the opposite direction.  Exchanging nods of acknowledgement, they passed by – and immediately started whispering. 

“Are they going the wrong way, or are we?” Elladan hissed.

“I’m not sure – maybe neither of us is – these routes seem to go all over the place!”  Elrohir reassured him.  Behind, he could hear the other team airing the same concerns, seeming equally bewildered.

“Perhaps we’re all going the wrong way!” suggested Arwen cheerfully.  With the confusing marker posts, it was certainly possible, she felt.

The twins exchanged a glance of exasperation.  “Shut up, Arwen!” they snapped. 

“How far along here do you think we have to go?”  Elrohir wondered aloud.  “This stream widens out soon, and gets much deeper, doesn’t it?  If we don’t turn off soon, how will we cross it?”

“I’m not sure.   Perhaps we – look, I see!  A rope swing, just like the one at Lasgalen!”  Elladan exclaimed.

“What rope swing at Lasgalen?”  Elrohir asked in puzzlement.

“You remember!”  Elladan paused then.  “Oh – no, you don’t do you?  Sorry, El!”

Arwen’s sudden giggle told them that she understood this peculiar exchange perfectly well.    “Well, come on, then!” she insisted.  “How can we reach it?  It’s too far away!”

Elladan looked around to see if there was a branch or something similar he could use to snag the rope, but could find nothing.  He looked at the rope carefully, assessing the distance.  “El?  Do you think we can do it?”  He did not bother explaining his plan.  He knew Elrohir would understand.

“I think so.  It’s worth a try, anyway.”  Grabbing his brother’s wrist, Elrohir braced himself as Elladan leaned out as far as he could over the pool.  “Can you get it?”

“No. Not quite.  Take my hand instead.”  Elrohir shifted his grip, allowing Elladan to reach a few inches closer to the rope.  “Nearly there … just a little further … El, whatever you do, don’t – let – go!”  He stretched forward as far as possible, extending every bone, every muscle, in his shoulder, arm and wrist, until his fingertips just brushed the rope, and gave an exclamation of disgust.  “I can’t get hold of it!”

“Then push it.  Push it away from you,” came Elrohir’s surprising advice.

Elladan twisted his head round to look at his twin in disbelief.  “El, are you mad?  I want to grab it, not push it away!”

“I know.  Push it away, then catch it as it swings back again.”

“El, that’s brilliant!”   Elladan did as instructed, and to his delighted surprise the rope swung further away, then came back, close enough for him to hook his fingers around.  “Got it!”

Elrohir pulled his brother back to safety, then watched while he took a run and a leap, swinging across the pool to land on the far side.

“Easy!  El, send Arwen across now.”

Arwen clung tightly to the rope, and Elrohir gave her a hefty push.  Being lighter than her brothers, she did not have the same momentum, and could not quite reach the other side.  But by stretching out her hand to Elladan, he was able to seize it and pulled her the rest of the way, before flinging the rope back to Elrohir.  As he landed next to his brother and sister, the team from Lasgalen appeared through the trees.

“El, quick!  Let’s go!  We must be near the end now!” Elladan urged.

Taniquel called across to him.  “Elrohir, let me have that rope!  Please?  Don’t just let go!”

Elrohir hesitated, torn.  Beside him, Elladan shook his arm.  “El, no!  Don’t help them!  Come on, hurry!”

“Elrohir, please!  For me?”

With a nod, Elrohir sent the rope across to Taniquel with a hard push.  He heard a moan of disgust from both Elladan and Arwen.  “Why did you have to do that?  They’ll catch up now!”

Elrohir did not care.  From the other side of the pool Taniquel called her thanks, then blew him a kiss, to a chorus of whistles from her two team mates.

As they scrambled up the bank, back towards the training grounds and the last part of the race, Arwen looked back.  “Elrohir, why have you gone all red?”

“Shut up, Arwen!” 

At the top of the slope the land levelled out, and ahead was flat ground leading to the training field and the finishing post.  As they emerged from the trees, Elrohir glanced to his right, and saw two other teams appearing.   “Oh no!  Come on!”  he urged.  They raced across the grass to the training ground, about level with one of the opposing teams, slightly ahead of the other. 

But Arwen was flagging.  She had gamely kept up with her brothers throughout the gruelling race,  but she was tiring.  She was out of breath and had a stitch in her side.  Over her head,  Elladan and Elrohir exchanged a glance of concern as she slowed still further.  “Come on, Ar!”  they encouraged her.

“I’m trying!”  she gasped.

“Right, there’s only one thing to do,”  Elladan decided.  “Ready, El?”  With that, her brothers grabbed one arm each, hoisting Arwen off her feet, and ran, flat out, to the end of the field, the finishing post, and the cheering spectators.  They crossed the line just one step ahead of the other team, also from Imladris, jubilant and exhausted.

“We did it!  We did it!”  They hugged each other tightly, and collapsed onto the grass, panting, completely out of breath.  

“Arwen, you were fantastic.  Well done!”  the twins praised her. 

“I quite agree.  You all did well!”

Elrohir looked up to see his father, beaming with pride, approaching and he sat up. “Father, we won!” 

Arwen bounced to her feet, her tiredness forgotten, and Elrond hugged all three at once.  “Congratulations!  You did marvellously well, all of you!”

Gradually the other teams appeared.  Taniquel’s came third, and finally, trailing in well and truly last, was the team that had missed their marker, and who had got totally lost.  The cheers and applause that greeted them was liberally laced with jeers and good-natured teasing from the other teams who awaited them.  When all nine teams had crossed the finishing line, Erestor announced the winners.

“In first place, Elladan, Elrohir and Arwen, the Lord’s Little Rascals!”  There was a ripple of laughter at that.  Most of Imladris knew of the nickname, but few realised that they knew of it.

Elladan and Elrohir tensed at a mutter from somewhere behind them.  “It was a fix!  It had to be!”  Before they could identify the speaker, Elrond turned around.

“Finglas?”  He raised one eyebrow and glared at the culprit.  “Would you care to repeat that?”

Finglas shook his head fearfully, rather wide-eyed.  “Ah – no, Lord Elrond.  I apologise.  Forgive me.”  Bowing to both Elrond and his offspring, he turned and left hurriedly, pushing his way through the crowds.

The twins looked at one another indignantly, but before they could voice their resentment, there was a commotion behind them.  Turning, they could see Finglas picking himself up from the ground where he had evidently fallen.  Legolas stood over him, apologising profusely.  “I’m so sorry!  How foolish of me, I did not mean to leave my bow where you could fall over it!  Here, let me help you up!”  As he stepped forward, his foot somehow became entangled with Finglas’s cloak, and he tripped again.  It was noticeable that no one else made any attempt to help Finglas.  Many who had overheard his comment had been offended by the slur, and were now amused at his plight.  “Oh dear, how clumsy of me!  I’m sorry!”  Legolas repeated.  Eventually he released Finglas, and joined his friends.

Elrohir clapped him on the shoulder.  “Legolas, that was brilliant!  Thank you!  He deserved that, he’s always been a pompous fool!”

“Well, what a cheek!  I heard what he said, as if you’d cheat!”

Elrond looked down at Legolas.  “Thank you for your support, elfling.  But I fear you may have made matters difficult for yourself.  Finglas is one of the judges for the archery tomorrow!”

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