Disclaimer: Not one Elf, and not one Bard.

Author's Note: You know how betweentimes I end up writing little stories with no plot just to amuse myself and then post them here in the hope of amusing you guys too? Here you go, then. Enjoy.

Summary: The new King of Dale visits the stronghold of the Elven-king and learns how diplomatic relations are maintained.

To Learn a King

Extract from Letter from Legolas to Elladan and Elrohir, TA 2946

There is nothing much else to tell, save that Bard the Bowman is due to arrive at any moment. But I should be referring to him as Bard the King of Dale now. He must have made a good impression on my father; he was so angry after the incident with the Dwarves and the Halfling that I feared he might declare war on the Shire. I would never have imagined he would allow a mortal into the stronghold willingly.

It was Bard's first visit to the stronghold of the Elven-king. He had been apprehensive about coming. The last time he had seen King Thranduil had been at the great battle. A wise king Bard knew he was, and a fierce warrior, but he was also quick to anger.

Bard did not want to damage his fledgling kingdom's relations with Eryn Galen.

The morning had been difficult. His audience with the Elven-king had been awkward and uncomfortable. Before that dispassionate blue-eyed gaze Bard had felt like a child again, not like a dragon-slayer and ruler of his people.

He had been given leave over the course of the afternoon to see the stronghold and adjoining woods, for which he was grateful. He could not have stood an afternoon as discomfiting as the morning had been. He was also enjoying the opportunity to practice his Sindarin, which he had not quite dared to do with the Elven-king.

So far Bard had visited the cellars, where he had been followed around by two grim-faced guards, who had no doubt learnt a lesson from the incident with Thorin's company. He had then gone to the kitchens, and one of the cooks had given him a warm tart, after many anxious enquiries to ascertain whether blackberries were poisonous to mortals. He had looked inside the workrooms to admire the weavers bringing forth quantities of every kind of cloth, from roughspun sacking to the fine wool used to make Elven cloaks.

It was near evening when he tore himself away from the wonders indoors and betook himself to the courtyard.

The stables were an instant temptation. Beyond them he could hear the familiar clanking of a smithy. On the other side of the smithy, one of the grooms told him in answer to his enquiries, was the woodwork yard.

Bard started off in that direction when a voice caught his ear.

"Mind your feet, Legolas!"

Extract from Letter from Elrohir to Legolas, TA 2946

I am not surprised Maeglad has decided to subject you to far more intense sword training. Glorfindel has been making our lives utterly miserable ever since Adar returned from Dol Guldur. I expect they exchange notes on how best to torment young warriors.

It was Thranduil. Bard recognized his voice.

Instantly curious, he walked in the direction from which the call had come. He found himself leaving the courtyard and following a narrow path that wound along the edge of the stronghold until it opened onto a wide clearing.

At the far end were long rows of archery ranges. Nearer were fenced-off fields for sparring with close-range weapons.

Normally Bard would have made straight for the ranges. Thranduil's archers were widely regarded as the finest in Middle-earth. Having seen them in battle before Erebor, Bard heartily agreed. But there were several Elves gathered around one of the sparring fields, including the Elven-king. Bard went closer, hoping nobody would ask him to leave.

Thranduil and several other Elves stood around the edges of the field, watching two combatants facing off inside it. One was Prince Legolas, the bright hair gleaming in the setting sun unmistakeable. The other warrior he did not know.

Both were blindfolded.

Extract from Letter from Elladan to Legolas, TA 2946

I rather think my father feels that it will soon be time to confront the Enemy once more. Perhaps the King does as well. If that comes, I am certain we will all be glad of whatever additional training we have been forced to endure.

That, at any rate, is what I tell myself. Sometimes, particularly when Glorfindel insists on six hours of drills and stands glaring at me through all six of them, I find it very difficult to believe I will ever be glad I endured it.

Bard had thought he was being silent, but Thranduil turned to look at him. He opened his mouth to apologize, but the Elven-king shook his head and beckoned him closer.

"My lord Thranduil, forgive me. I did not intend to intrude."

"You are not intruding," Thranduil assured him, though he sounded a little cool. "You may watch if you wish, though I would have expected you to prefer the archery."

"My lord, what are they doing?"

"Pace off!" snapped another Elf, before Thranduil could answer.

Bard started, and then realized that he was not the one being addressed. Legolas and his partner, moving in surprisingly perfect harmony, spun, stood back-to-back for a moment, took a couple of steps away from each other and spun again, shifting into classic guard positions.

"After the battle at Erebor," said Thranduil, "we realized that a far greater war will soon be upon us. We have, perhaps, no more than half a century to prepare for it."

Bard supposed that to an Elf, half a century was not nearly long enough to prepare for anything.

"Darkness is the weapon of the Enemy." Thranduil's eyes were on his son. "And if we would defeat him, we must learn to overcome it."

Extract from Letter from Legolas to Elladan and Elrohir, TA 2946

Truly, if one more person, Elf or Mortal, tells me that Darkness is the weapon of the Enemy, I will use my bow. Lord Maeglad made that the basis of his case in War Council when he was persuading my father to consent to this. And again when he was persuading me to consent to it.

Why he wanted that Saeldur and I should be his test case I cannot imagine. We are archers, not swordsmen.

"The Sword Master thought it might be a useful skill and managed to convince Legolas and Saeldur to help him with the experiment." At Bard's questioning glance, Thranduil explained further. "The archers are already trained to shoot by sound alone. Lord Maeglad thought it might be easier for them to learn to use their blades by sound. Legolas and Saeldur are used to each other and unlikely to have accidents."

"The archers train to shoot by sound?" Bard asked, having heard nothing after that.

The Elven-king looked amused. "If you are interested, I am certain we can persuade someone to demonstrate for you."

Bard nodded his gratitude, eyes not straying from the field.

Saeldur attacked with a fluid movement that Legolas voided, responding with a thrust of his own. Steel scraped on steel. Bard was half-certain that both combatants were using some sort of Elven magic to see through the layers of black cloth over their eyes.

But the Elf supervising them – Lord Maeglad the Sword Master, Bard guessed – looked unhappy.

"You can do better than this!" he snapped, when Legolas finally broke through Saeldur's guard to touch his arm with the tip of his sparring knife. "Stop. Pace off."

"No," said another Elf, tall and broad-shouldered, with hair such a pale shade of silver it looked almost white in the shades of evening. "We have been at this all afternoon, Maeglad. This is going nowhere."

"Perhaps you are right." Maeglad considered for a moment. "Legolas, Saeldur, we will have a round without the blindfolds."

Extract from Letter from Gandalf to Legolas, TA 2946

I am very impressed that the Elven-king of Eryn Galen has had the good sense to realize what many have not. Peril is upon us, Legolas.

Your father is one of the finest warriors I know, but if my fears come to pass, he will be hard-pressed simply to hold his own realm. The Elves of Middle-earth no longer have the strength to march on the Enemy, as they once did.

But I sense that you will have a part to play in the battles ahead, and the sons of Elrond, and others who have not yet been born. Prepare yourself, Legolas. I do not know how soon the hour will come, but it will, and when it does, we will have to act swiftly.

Bard had seen Elves fight during the great battle, but he had seen nothing like the grace and precision of two Elves sparring with each other. He appeared to be the only one gaping at them, and indeed the King was watching with a slight frown, so he could only assume that this was normal for Elves.

"Stop," said Lord Maeglad after several minutes.

Legolas and Saeldur stopped mid-motion, inclined their heads to each other, and turned to face him in silent enquiry.

"You are not entirely incapable with your knives," said the Sword Master. "I know that you can both shoot better blindfolded than I can with both eyes open. I do not understand why this is causing such difficulty."

"I think we are going about it the wrong way," Thranduil said suddenly. "Maeglad, may I?"

"Of course, my King."

Thranduil nodded. "Saeldur, come off. Legolas…"

He gestured to the she-Elf who held the blindfolds.

Saeldur and Legolas exchanged a glance that spoke volumes. Then, patting Legolas' shoulder and leaning over to whisper something in his ear, Saeldur came and stood between Bard and another she-Elf.

Legolas blindfolded himself again.

Thranduil took a practice sword – a long, two-handed sword that Bard could not even have lifted – from a rack and walked onto the field. He used no blindfold. Bard felt a moment's pity for Legolas. Skilled as the young Elf was, he stood no chance, and it would be uncomfortable for him to lose before an audience – an audience including a Man he barely knew.

"Legolas," the King ordered, "defend yourself."

That was all the warning Legolas had before the King's sword swung in an easy arc towards his head.

Extract from Letter from Thranduil to Gandalf

I admit I did not know at first what to do about the King of Dale. Mannish rulers are always awkward to deal with it, with, and although King Bard is not as short-sighted as some of his predecessors, he has always seemed uncomfortable around Elves. Perhaps it is a natural effect of the battle at Erebor; I know the Men concerned had seen nothing like it before.

I asked him here, hoping that seeing Elves who are not warriors might put him at ease, but it was only a few hours before I despaired of success.

To Legolas' credit, he did try to void the blow. Thranduil saw his movements and shifted position easily, coming in from the other side with blinding speed, only to stop a hair's breadth from Legolas' neck.

"A hit," he declared, tapping his son's jaw lightly with the sword. "Shall we try again?"

The next four rounds went as the first had done. Legolas did his best, which was far better than Bard would have done in similar circumstances. But he was no match for an Elven warrior who had the use of his eyes.

"This is not working," Maeglad muttered as Thranduil knocked Legolas' right knife out of his hand, blocked the left in the same movement, and then touched Legolas' ribs with the tip of his sword.

"If I were an Orc," the King said to his son, "and I trod on a twig a league away from you, you would have an arrow through my heart before I could take another step. I know you can do better than this."

He handed Legolas the fallen knife and attacked again, swifter than thought. Legolas took a step back and blocked. Thranduil followed his movement, and a moment later the left knife went clattering to the ground a few feet away.

"A hit," Thranduil said. His sword tapped Legolas' throat before flickering away.

Legolas grimaced. Without removing the blindfold, he bent and rolled, picking up the knife that had fallen and coming up in a guard position.

Bard heard a sharp intake of breath from Saeldur.

"Of course," the Elf said, disappearing from Bard's side.

Extract from Letter from Legolas to Gandalf, TA 2946

My father is pleased that you appreciate his wisdom, but desires me to tell you that that will not save you if he has reason to be… angry. But I would not worry about it, Mithrandir. I think he is beginning to resign himself to the fact that we will all be in danger if the Enemy should gain strength once more.

Legolas' back hit the fence post. Bard thought that would be the end of it, but it gave Legolas the leverage he needed to vault high enough in the air to evade even the King's sword. He landed lightly on the balls of his feet, even as Thranduil turned, sword raised for another attack.

Bard sensed movement, and Saeldur was next to him again.

"Legolas," he called, "yours!"

As he spoke, he flung something into the air. There was a barely-audible tinkle as it flew.

In a single, fluid movement, Legolas turned, replaced his knives in their sheath, and drew his bow and an arrow from his quiver. Without pausing, he raised the bow, arrow already nocked, and loosed.

There was a shower of dust as the thing Saeldur had thrown exploded.

It had taken barely a few seconds. Already Legolas' bow had been returned to its sheath and his knives were in his hands. He spun, bringing the knives up just in time to block his father's sword. Another turn, a twist of Legolas' knives, and Thranduil's sword clattered to the ground.

For a moment there was utter silence. Then Thranduil smiled. "Better."

"That was a fine idea, Saeldur." Maeglad's eyes were narrowed as Thranduil bent to pick up his sword. "I doubt Legolas will be able to repeat it – Thranduil was not expecting serious resistance – but at least we have made a beginning."

Extract from Letter from Elrohir to Legolas, TA 2946

And while I am on the subject, do you remember that terrible summer when Glorfindel decided we had too much free time and needed more sword training? He is worse now. If you do come to Imladris next summer – and I am not the only one who hopes you will; the Elvellon Baggins hinted that he would visit, and he asked whether you were likely to be here – be prepared.

Although Legolas lost the next two rounds, he was putting up a much better fight than he had done earlier. Maeglad seemed pleased, and even the King did not look quite so grim as he had done a few minutes previously.

After breaking through Legolas' guard and tapping his chest for the second time, Thranduil lowered his sword and glanced at Maeglad. "Better, I think."

"Much better," agreed Maeglad. "Legolas, come off. This will do for today."

Legolas pulled off the blindfold. He inclined his head formally to his father before sheathing his knives and walking to the fence.

"Prince Legolas," Bard said, as soon as he was near enough.

Legolas turned to him, a sunny smile lighting his face. "My lord Bard. It is a pleasure to have you here. You must forgive me for not greeting you on your arrival – my duties kept me away from the stronghold."

Bard found himself smiling back. "I know your duties must be extensive, but I am delighted to see you now. My youngest daughter particularly wished that I should tell you she saw and admired your skill at the battle before Erebor."

"Legolas," Thranduil said suddenly.

He was watching them with an expression Bard could not read, and he felt a momentary fear that he had overstepped bounds.

Legolas turned back to his father. "My King?"

"Our guest expressed interest in watching archery training. Perhaps you and Saeldur will demonstrate for him?"

"Of course, my King."

Extract from Letter from Elladan to Legolas, TA 2946

I do not doubt for a moment that your father knew what he was doing. He has not held his realm against Dol Guldur for nearly an entire Age by being a fool.

And so you and Saeldur obliged the King of Dale with an archery demonstration? Bard the Bowman of Laketown has gone up in the world. How many Men can say they have had the opportunity to watch a contest between the commander of the Elven-king's archers and his second?

Bard was laughing as giddily as a child of four when Legolas and Saeldur finally came off the archery range.

A small crowd had gathered to watch. At the sight of coins and trinkets changing hands Bard could not hold back another soft chuckle. It appeared that in some ways Elves were not very different from Men.

"Back to your duties," Legolas ordered the milling Elves, his smile taking any sting from his words. "Saeldur and I have entertained you long enough." He turned his attention to Bard as the Elves dispersed. "I hope you found our performance adequate. We would hate to disappoint the King of Dale."

Bard opened his mouth to make an appropriate response, but what came out instead was, "Will you teach me?"

"You would do better to ask the Archery Master, but we would be happy to practise with you, if you wish." Legolas glanced up at the sky, where the first stars were coming out. "Tomorrow, perhaps? It might be…"

Legolas hesitated over his choice of words, prompting another snicker from Bard.

"It is assuredly too dark for Mortal eyes," he told the Elf-prince. "And it will not offend me if you say it. Indeed, I cannot sufficiently express my gratitude for your consenting to help me at all."

"It is no hardship," Saeldur said. "But, darkness or not, that must wait until tomorrow. I have duties, and a commanding officer who takes a very dim view of slackness or inattention." He finished with a teasing smile in Legolas' direction, as though to leave Bard in no doubt of what he meant. "By your leave, my prince."

Legolas rolled his eyes. "Go. I know the King has asked you to supper," he added to Bard as Saeldur went off. "Do you know the way?"

Bard thought of the twisting, winding corridors inside the Elves' stronghold and assured Legolas that he had absolutely no knowledge of the way.

Extract from Letter from Legolas to Elladan and Elrohir, TA 2946

Fortunately, my father seems to have taken to the current King of Dale. There are few of them that he has liked, and the less said about his views about the Masters of Laketown, the better. Since it is quite clear that a state of mistrustful peace is the best that can be expected with the Dwarves, it is as well that we can hope for better with the Men.

"I trust you had a pleasant time on the archery ranges."

"Very much so, my lord Thranduil." Bard accepted the cup of wine that was held out to him, casting a sidelong glance at Legolas. "Prince Legolas and Lord Saeldur were most accommodating. I have the promise of an archery lesson tomorrow."

Thranduil responded to him only with a smile.

"Legolas, will you have a cup of wine?" he asked his son.

Legolas shook his head, looking genuinely regretful. "I am on patrol duty tonight, my King. By your leave, I must go at once. My lord Bard, I look forward to seeing you in the morning."

Before Bard could formulate an appropriate response, the Elven-king said, "Go with Elbereth."

Legolas bowed formally and was gone.

"You seem to have had a pleasanter evening than you did a morning," Thranduil observed, leading Bard to the table. Bard flushed, and he went on, "You need not worry about incurring my anger by admitting it. Legolas is my son, after all."

"He is a fine archer," Bard ventured. It seemed a safe thing to say. "You must be proud of him."

"A fine archer? Yes, Legolas is certainly a fine archer." Thranduil sat, inviting Bard with a gesture to do the same. "You will find, King of Dale, if you have not learnt it already, that leading your warriors will be the least – the very least – of the ways in which your heir will help you. Legolas has inherited his mother's temperament."

Understanding came to Bard as he stared at the Elven-king in the firelight. "You asked your son to demonstrate archery for me."

Thranduil gave a negligent shrug. "You had been worried and uncomfortable from the moment you alighted from your horse. An hour with Legolas on the ranges and you returned smiling. I should say this is a far better atmosphere to discuss relations between our realms."

Laughter bubbled up in Bard, and although the Elven-king did not join it, the glint in his eye was proof of his amusement.

Extract from Letter from Gandalf to Thranduil, TA 2946

I must say, Thranduil, that you are very fortunate in your heir. He has a knack for making friends and a willingness to overlook old prejudices – and whatever your personal views about the Mortal races, you must admit that both are invaluable qualities.

When the time comes, I hope you will remember how invaluable these qualities are, and how very rare, even among the Wise, before you decide you want my blood.

What did you think? Good? Bad? Please review!