With Friends Like These

Chapter Twenty-five: The Archery Contest

by Jay of Lasgalen

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Legolas limped back to where his father stood, wondering if he had acted too rashly.  Although bitterly disappointed that the team from Lasgalen had only finished third, he was genuinely pleased that Elladan, Elrohir and Arwen had won –  even though it meant he had lost a wager with Athela, one of Elrond’s trainee healers.  They had deserved it.  The accusation that his friends had somehow cheated incensed him, and he had reacted impulsively.

Thranduil had not seen precisely what happened, just a flurry of movement.  “Legolas?  Are you well, little one?  Did you fall?  Did you hurt your ankle again?”  He sounded concerned.

“Well, no, Ada.  But – I think I just did something rather silly”  He explained what had happened, and why, rather shamefaced.

“He accused Elrond’s children of cheating?  And Elrond overheard him?”  Thranduil was incredulous.  “It was very well meaning, but perhaps not wise of you to become involved, my son.  Elrond is more than capable of dealing with him.”

“It’s worse than that,” Legolas admitted.  “Apparently this Finglas is one of the judges tomorrow for the archery contests.  I think he could deliberately mark me down in retaliation.”

Privately, Thranduil vowed that if there was any hint of a bias against Legolas, he would deal with Finglas – personally.  However, aloud he merely said mildly, “Then you had better shoot so well that there is no room for any doubt at all.  I know you can do well.”  He did not add that he had made a wager with both Glorfindel and Erestor that Legolas would win the contest.  That was unimportant now.

The next day dawned bright and clear, and the slight breeze of the previous day had died away completely.  It was perfect weather for archery.  Legolas had risen at dawn and had already been out to the range before breakfast to practice.  Then he spent some time checking his bow and all his arrows.  He checked the wood carefully, testing the suppleness, and examined the string, making sure the tension was right, that it was not beginning to fray.  Next he checked each arrow again, squinting along the shaft to ensure it was perfectly straight and would fly true, and finally tested the flight feathers for alignment.  There were only two arrows he was not totally happy with, and he placed those at the back of his quiver to use only as reserves.

As he began to finger the straps on the quiver, wondering if he should adjust them for a better fit, his father spoke from behind him.


Legolas jumped and spun around.  “Nervous?” he repeated.  “No, not at all.  Why?”  Even to himself, he sounded unconvincing.

“Because I have just watched you fiddle with that strap for the last ten minutes,” Thranduil explained.  “And because I know you normally take less than five minutes to do everything.”

“I just want to make sure everything’s ready!”  Legolas explained defensively.  “And – and – it stops me thinking about the contest.  And Finglas,”  he added.

Thranduil dropped down on the grass next to Legolas.  “I told you, you have no need to worry.  He would not dare to penalise you, surely?  Why do you think he might?”

“Well – Elladan said that his son was in the team that came in last yesterday. The ones that got lost.  And he said that they’re both really bad losers.  And I really want to win, because no-one from Lasgalen has won anything yet!”  Legolas rather felt that the honour of the Greenwood rested on his shoulders alone.

Thranduil turned to face Legolas,  touching his cheek lightly.  “Legolas, just do your best.  That is all I have ever asked of you, you know that.  And in the end, if someone else shoots even better and beats you, it is not the end of the world, now is it?  I will be proud of you, no matter what,”  he smiled.  “I always am.”

Legolas’s anxiety vanished, and he smiled in response.  “Thank you, Ada!”  He was still a little worried about Finglas, but suddenly it seemed less important, somehow.

Despite his early start, his own contest was not until nearly .  To while away the time, and to stop himself from dwelling on events, he watched some of the other archery contests first.   The first was for novice warriors, who had to shoot at a series of targets while riding across the field – on an unfamiliar horse. 

Legolas watched avidly.  On his own Dorlath, he had often practised this sort of thing.  He could not wait until he began warrior training, and could enter the contest himself.  As the contest progressed, the shots became more and more complex, until at last there were only two contestants left – one from Lasgalen, the other from Lórien.  The novice from Lasgalen, he realised, was Hirilornë – whose insanely dangerous shot had nearly killed Elrohir a few years before.  It seemed he had indeed learnt from that incident. 

Legolas waited anxiously as Hirilornë’s turn came again.   At a signal, he galloped across the field, firing to the left and to the right, managing to place each arrow close to the centre of the target.  Would it be enough?  The entrant from Lórien was next – a young novice named Rúmil.  He rode well, but it seemed to Legolas that his shots were not quite so accurate.  Which part of the contest would bear most weight?  Rúmil was faster; there was no doubt about that, but further from the target.   Waiting with bated breath, Legolas could not restrain an exultant cry as Hirilornë was declared the winner.

Hoping desperately that it was a good omen, Legolas crossed to the part of the archery range where his own contest would be held, an open competition for all comers.  There were warriors, novices, healers, and enthusiastic entrants from everywhere, it seemed.  It was one of the few contests where Legolas could test his skill against that of warriors and novices from all the realms. 

The first round of the competition was a simple measure of skill.  Each contestant shot a single arrow at the targets, placed at a distance roughly half the archery range away.  Half, those with the highest scores, won through to the next round.  Half were eliminated. Legolas, along with ten others, scored a perfect mark, and they, together with several more competitors, continued.  Each time, the targets were moved progressively further away, making the shots increasingly difficult, until by the fourth round only five contestants would remain.   

It was at the end of the third round that the first sign of trouble came.  Legolas fired at the target, noting with satisfaction that he had hit the centre of the target once more.  However, as he moved away, back to the waiting area, a call came from the judges at the far end.  “Legolas of Lasgalen – disqualified.  Next!”

Incredulous, Legolas stared at the two judges, wondering what on earth he had done wrong.  It seemed he was not the only one; there was a murmur from the crowd, and the second judge, a warrior from Lórien, was querying Finglas’s decision.  An explanation finally came.  “Your left foot crossed the marker line.”

Instinctively, Legolas glanced down at his feet.  It was true, his foot was now over the line – he had stepped forward on completing the shot as he moved away for the next competitor.  But he had not touched the line before the shot – he knew he would never make such a basic error.  “But –” he began, then stopped.  There was something in Finglas’s expression – he hoped Legolas would contest the decision.  Such an action would lead to instant disqualification – not just from this contest, but from any others in the Games as well.

He bit his lip, staring at the two judges, feeling trapped.  Summary disqualification was desperately unfair and humiliating, but if he argued things would be even worse. Salvation came from the Lórien judge.  “There is some – uncertainty – on the matter.  You must take the shot again.”

Relieved to have escaped the disgrace of disqualification, Legolas simply nodded, and reached for another arrow.  He made certain that he was standing well back from the marker line, feeling annoyed at the injustice.  He hoped desperately that he could equal the first shot, and tried hard to relax, to let go of the tension that had gripped him.  To his disappointment, the shot was not as good as the first, landing fractionally off centre – but it was good enough to take him through to the next round.

The next round, now that just five of the most skilled entrants were left, was far more difficult.  It became a test of speed as well as skill.  Each archer had to throw a small ball into the air, draw an arrow, fire, and catch the ball again before it hit the ground.

Legolas listened to the instructions carefully.  It would be difficult, but not impossible, he felt.  He watched as the first contestant took his turn.  He did not throw the ball high enough, and was unable to catch it after taking the shot.   The warrior gave a muttered curse as the ball hit the ground, and retired, defeated.

The next contestant, learning from that, threw higher.  He completed the shot, but as well as throwing the ball high, had thrown it slightly to one side.  He too was unable to catch the ball.

Legolas went next.  Trying to learn from the mistakes the two previous contestants had made, he took his time preparing.  He checked that an arrow was within easy reach, took a deep breath, and threw the ball high.  In the same movement, his hand swept back and seized the arrow.  He fired, hit the target – and caught the ball, to loud cheers from the crowd.  Grinning in triumph, he turned, looking for his father in the crowd, and saw him applauding with everyone else.

Everyone went silent as the next warrior prepared his shot.  With a quiet determination,  Halmir, a novice from Imladris, threw, fired, caught – and also hit the target, just as Legolas had done.  The spectators cheered wildly again – two out of the final five had managed to make the incredibly difficult shot.  Now all eyes turned to the final contestant, Fíriel, the only female left in the contest.  With a swift, precise move, she tossed the ball high into the air, drew an arrow, sent it into the exact centre of the target, and caught the ball again with an ease that made the whole thing look deceptively simple.

The two judges – Finglas, and Haldir from Lórien – conferred.  It was clear they had not expected anyone to succeed and were swiftly formulating plans for yet another round.  Legolas and the two remaining contestants stifled groans of despair as the next round was announced.  The task would be similar – but this time they would face in the opposite direction to the targets.  On throwing the ball they had to turn, fire, and then turn again, so that they ended up with their backs to the target once more – and again catch the ball.  It meant they would be unable to line up the shot before the turn commenced, and would test their speed of reaction even further.

Halmir went first.  Legolas and Fíriel watched closely as he threw, turned, drew, fired, turned again, and caught the ball.  However, in his haste, he fumbled the release of his arrow, and it sank into the ground several feet in front of the target.   “Impossible,” he muttered.  “No one can do it.  But good luck, both of you!” he added good-naturedly to his fellow contestants.

But it was possible, Legolas decided, watching carefully.  Yes, Halmir had missed the target – but he had completed all the necessary moves, so it could be done.  He waited as Fíriel took her place.  Her shot went a little wide, but it struck the outer ring of the target firmly.  As she caught the ball, she twisted her head around to look.  “Elbereth!  I did it!” she breathed in amazement.

Halmir and Legolas added their own applause to that of the spectators as they congratulated her.  Then Legolas took his own place.  He raised one hand to his throat, fingers brushing against the stone he wore there, a leather thong threaded through the hole in the centre.  A gift from his father, a special memento, he felt it had always brought him luck.  He waited until total silence fell, and became still and intently focused.  He threw the ball.  As he span around, already drawing and nocking an arrow, he heard a gasp of horror from those watching.  He was already facing the target, and releasing the arrow, when he saw a tiny child, escaping from the clutches of her parents, run forward towards the target, directly in the path of his shot.

It was too late to shout a warning, too late to stop the arrow, too late to do anything to prevent tragedy – but Legolas found his left hand had jerked upwards instinctively, sending the arrow sailing high into the trees, passing safely over the child’s head.

He froze, staring in disbelief, unable to believe that he had been able to miss her, unable to believe his reaction, hearing dimly the deafening shouts and cheers of the crowd.  Above the noise, he clearly heard the soft thud as the ball fell, unseen, to the ground behind him.

A sense of bitter shame swept over him, and he turned away from the target, facing Fíriel.  “Well done,” he managed to say.  He walked off the field, scarcely hearing the buzz of protest that followed him.

Fíriel walked swiftly behind him, catching his arm and pulling him around to face her.  “Legolas?  Surely you do not think you will be penalised for that?  You saved her life!  Come back, you should win the contest for what you did!”

He shook his head.  “No.  It’s over.  Congratulations, you did well.”  He turned away again, trying to get off the archery range, away from the crowds and noise.  But the delay had cost him.  Both Finglas and Haldir were converging on him now, and then he saw his father approaching as well.

Legolas stood stiffly as Thranduil hugged him, whispering, “That was an amazing shot.  Well done, I feel so proud of you!”  Then he had to listen as both judges praised him, for the speed of his reaction and the skill of the shot, telling him to try again, convinced he would win the contest.  Finglas seemed as keen as Haldir was on the second chance, his earlier animosity forgotten.

Resolutely, Legolas shook his head again.  “No,” he repeated adamantly.  “I don’t want to.  Fíriel won.  She deserves it.”  He walked away again, and this time made it to the edge of the field, although he could hear his father’s voice calling to him.  For the first time in his life he ignored it, as the shame overwhelmed him.

He could still hear the hubbub behind him, and the echoes of Thranduil, Fíriel, Haldir and Finglas all praising him for what he had done.  If they knew the truth, they would not be so swift to congratulate him.  They would never forgive him.

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