With Friends Like These

Chapter Twenty-six: And the Winners are...

by Jay of Lasgalen

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Still feeling rather numb, Legolas left the field and began to make his way through the trees towards Imladris, before realising that he would have been better to head for somewhere more secluded.  In front of him he could see Elladan and Elrohir, on opposite sides of the path, moving quickly, clearly angling to intercept him.  Behind him he could hear his father, still calling him, and hurrying to catch him.

Accepting the inevitable, Legolas stopped and waited.  As the twins approached him, they exchanged a glance, then Elladan demanded, “Well?  What was all that about?”  Legolas shrugged, glanced over his shoulder, and waited until his father joined them.

“Yes.  I would like to know as well.  Tell me,” Thranduil told him, in a tone that left no room for manoeuvre.  With a rather hunted expression, Legolas moved to the side of the path and dropped down onto the grass at the side of the track.  He gave a long sigh.

The twins looked at Legolas and his father, then exchanged another glance.  “Do you want us to leave?” Elrohir asked tactfully.

Legolas shook his head.  “No.  It doesn’t matter.  Everyone – everyone keeps telling me how well I did.  But I didn’t, not really.”

Elladan started to protest, but Thranduil silenced him with a wave of his hand.  “Why not?” he asked quietly.

“Because – because when I saw her, my first thought wasn’t that she was going to be killed, but that the stupid little elleth was going to ruin the competition, and made me miss my shot!  I was more worried about the contest than I was about her!  And it shouldn’t have been that important; it isn’t important, and if anything had happened to her I’d never have been able to forgive myself, but it made me realise that I didn’t care about the contest anymore.  Not if it made me think like that.  So I withdrew,” he finished simply.

Thranduil sat at Legolas’s side, placing an arm around his son and pulling him close.  “Oh, Legolas,” he murmured.  “Is that it?  Is that what you were so ashamed about?  A spur of the moment reaction?  We have all thought, and said, and done things we regret later – or immediately.  Just for a moment, your priorities became muddled.  With the nature of the competition, and the pressure you were under, it is hardly surprising.  It is a part of life.  It is a part of life to accept our faults, do what we can about them, and to move on.  Do you still blame the child?”

“No, of course not!  I realised at once that it wasn’t her fault, or her parents’.”  He smiled, a little sheepishly.  “I remember what I was like.”

Thranduil smiled also at that reminder.  “Aye, so do I!  Legolas, there is nothing to be ashamed of.  You felt a momentary disappointment, when it appeared that something you cared about so much was going to be spoilt.  But the way you deflected the shot was amazing.  That is what people are going to remember.  And I think that the only reason you feel so guilty is because you keep thinking about what could have happened.”

“I know.  If I’d turned just a moment later; if I hadn’t seen her; if I hadn’t moved the bow – I didn’t even realise I’d done it!  Ada, I could have killed her.”  He shivered at the thought.

“But she is safe and well, thanks to you.  Shall we go back and see her?  I expect her parents will have something to say to you about it.”  Thranduil stood, and pulled Legolas to his feet. 

Legolas hesitated.  “I – I don’t know if I want to go back and face everyone.  Not after walking off like that.”

“Legolas, you can do one of two things.  You can go back to Imladris, and keep out of everyone’s way, or you can go back to the archery field and watch the rest of the games.  They will not be over yet.  Which is it to be?”

After a moment’s consideration, Legolas gave a slight smile.  “I’ll go back.”  He raised one hand and pointed towards the field.  “That way.  And I think I’d better apologise to Finglas and Haldir, too.  But I won’t retake the shot!”  he warned.

Elladan and Elrohir, who had been listening silently, followed as father and son retraced their steps.  At the field where the games were being held, the next contest, a race, had finally started, albeit a little late.  Finglas and Haldir were still carrying on a heated debate with Erestor, who was in overall charge of the Games, and as the group approached, Haldir beckoned Fíriel over.  The judges spoke to her, but she shook her head emphatically.

No,”  they could hear her insisting.  “I won’t accept, not like that. He would have completed the shot, you know that as well as I do.  If he won’t take it again, then I withdraw as well.”

The judges moved away, and conferred quietly again.  At one point Haldir looked up, his eyes scanning the crowd, and he nodded slowly, looking relieved.  He saw Legolas watching the exchange, and called to him.

Rather apprehensively, Legolas approached the three judges. What would their verdict be about his conduct?  He knew he should never have left the field like that, it could disqualify him from any future events.  Withdrawing from the contest of his own volition was one thing, but disqualification would bring shame to Lasgalen.

Haldir, Finglas and Erestor waited until the three final competitors had all assembled.  Haldir spoke into the tense silence.  “We have been discussing how to judge the last round,” he announced.  “We do have a clear winner, but she has refused to accept the prize.  Therefore, in the circumstances we propose to disregard that part of the competition, and award the winners on the previous round.  We declare the contest to be a three-way draw.”

Halmir, Fíriel and Legolas exchanged rather wary glances, and then nodded reluctantly.  None of them really felt that they deserved the title, but this would be an acceptable compromise.  Fíriel finally spoke for all three.  “Very well,” she said.  “I still think there would have been a different outcome, but we accept.”

Haldir presented a winner’s token to each of the three competitors – a disc of silver, engraved on one side with a bow and quiver, and with the waterfall symbol of Imladris on the obverse.  Legolas barely glanced at it, and thrust it into his pocket before giving the judges a brief salute, then turning away.

“Well, that seems to have been a satisfactory outcome,”  Thranduil told him, appearing at his side. 

“I suppose so,”  Legolas murmured.  He was still not happy.  “It seems to have made life easier for the judges, anyway.”

He would have changed his mind if he could have overheard the debate that started afresh behind him.  Erestor, deeply unhappy, was still debating with Haldir and Finglas.  “It is not that I question your decision,” he was saying.  “It seems the most equitable way to end it.  But the rules are quite clear!  A contestant who leaves the field without permission is automatically disqualified.  You know that as well as I do.  As much as I wish it, I cannot overlook that!  Legolas should be disqualified.”  There were times when being Marshall meant making some difficult choices.

Haldir managed to look surprised.  “But Legolas did request permission!  I heard him quite clearly.  So did you, Finglas!”

Finglas, who had heard no such thing, looked startled.  “But he –”  he began.  Then, as Haldir nudged him, he caught sight of the child whose sudden appearance had caused such chaos.  She was running towards Legolas, her arms outstretched, a ragged bunch of flowers – half of them weeds – clutched in one hand.  As they watched, she presented the flowers to him with a huge smile.  Legolas accepted the gift solemnly, kneeling on the grass beside her.  Then, in exchange, he gave her a small silver disc, placing it in the palm of her hand and closing her fingers over it gently.

 “Yes,”  Finglas corrected himself.  “Yes, I did hear him.”

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