Author's Note: I should make this warning upfront: this fic isn't fully written. Not even close. Normally I wouldn't dream of starting to post it already, but life has been very chaotic and I'm hoping, hoping this will be a little bit of sanity and posting will give me motivation to write regularly. I do intend to finish it but updates may not be as frequent as I'd like. If you'll find that bothersome, it may be best to wait until the fic is completed before starting to read. If you do decide to read it now, welcome. I hope you'll enjoy the ride.

Disclaimer: None of it is mine.

Summary: In the early stages of weapons training, Legolas must learn to navigate court, friendships and adult duties.


The Morning of Our Days

Part I

The Elven-queen stood at the top of the steps for a moment. Birdsong filled the air. As always, the sight and scent of the riot of bloom in the garden brought her a thrill of pleasure. Spring was a season that, ever since the birth of her son, she found doubly joyous.

"Lindariel! At last!"

An elleth with golden hair twined into warrior braids waved from beneath a beech tree. She held two large baskets. The Elven-queen tripped lightly across the grass to her.

"I am so sorry, Ellaurë. I lost track of time. Have you been waiting long?"

Ellaurë shrugged. "I enjoyed myself. It is a beautiful day to be outdoors. I am surprised you were wasting it inside."

Lindariel responded with an eloquent grimace that startled Ellaurë into laughter. "Galion wanted to speak about the preparations for the delegation from Dale. He has been worrying about it since Norgalad broke the news to him. He has persuaded himself that all sorts of perfectly normal foods are poisonous to Men."

"Poor Galion. What did you do?"

"I sent him to Barancrist. Barancrist saw Men on the Dagorlad. He even treated some. He will know all about what is harmful to them… or not. He can answer Galion's questions about herbs." She took one of the baskets from Ellaurë. "I am surprised you have time for berry-gathering. The forest is about to be overrun by Men, or so you would think to hear Amarthiel talk about it."

"The Valar preserve us all from Amarthiel. I think we are capable of handling a visit from a few mortals without doubling the guard." Ellaurë laughed again. "Indeed, most of us have light duties now, save Maeglad and Master Bainion."

"Yes," Lindariel murmured, eyes darkening.

Ellaurë glanced at her. "I know you worry about Legolas –"

"Of course I worry about him! He is young. The woods are green. He should be listening to the song of Arda."

"He does, far more than most Elves I know. The trees all adore Legolas – and not only because he is your son. He speaks to them, and they to him."

"But…"

"But it distresses you that he must learn to be a warrior."

Lindariel flushed. "I mean no offence," she said apologetically, as they left the garden and made their way down the path leading to the forest.

"I take none. Only a fool would choose battle. But the choice is not always ours. War has come upon us in the past when we did not seek it. It will come upon us again. The Enemy was defeated, but not slain. Nameless things still lurk in the dark places of Arda. If the time should ever come when evil rises again – the old Enemy, or another like him – we must be prepared."

"Thranduil warned me, when I agreed to marry him, that any children we had would be duty-bound to defend the realm. I know it is Legolas' duty. I accept it. I just… did not expect it to be so difficult to watch."

"I understand. If I had children, I would not want that life for them. You should be proud of Legolas, though. The weapons masters are harder on him than on any of the others… and Bregolien is positively unpleasant. Legolas handles it well."

"Bregolien is unpleasant to most people," Lindariel said. "I am surprised anyone thought it was wise to involve him in training."

"His manner is unfortunate," Ellaurë agreed, "but he has an unparalleled ability to disappear into the forest, and his time in the wilds has taught him many skills valuable to a warrior. I only wish he were better able to impart them to others."

"At least Thranduil intends that Legolas should serve in the Home Guard when his training is complete," Lindariel said. "I will not worry so much for him with you."

"He mentioned that to me. I doubt it will last long, even if Thranduil does put him in the Home Guard. Thorontur would never stand for it, to begin with. He is taking it as a personal affront."

They had been walking briskly as they spoke. They came to the river and a fork in the path. Ellaurë, with barely a moment's thought, led the way onto the right-hand fork… away from the archery fields where drills were in progress.

Lindariel shook her head. "You need not worry about my seeing Legolas train."

"If you mean that, come to the archery trials next month. You can watch. You should watch," she added, enthusiasm creeping into her voice. "The archery trials are always amusing, and if you have a fancy for laying wagers, there will be plenty willing to take your coin. As for Legolas – already I would fear to challenge him to an archery contest."

"Oh, come," Lindariel said. "He is a child is still in training."

"He is not a child anymore, and you forget that the sons of Elrond started him early."

"Could I ever forget that? Thranduil was furious."

"No more than you were," Ellaurë reminded her. "I agree Legolas was far too young to be taught any form of warcraft, but the bow in Legolas' hands is not merely a weapon… Given time and dedication, both of which he has in ample supply, he will be the equal even of Beleg Cúthalion."

"Now I know you are not being serious," Lindariel said, laughing.

"Wait and see," Ellaurë insisted.


The elleth sitting on the fence was overseeing the youngest students at their practice. Master Bainion did not usually supervise these newly adult archers himself – his presence made them too nervous. Rochendilwen was far closer to their age than the Archery Master who had seen the fall of Doriath, and she enjoyed helping with their training.

"Eredhion!" she called. "Mind your elbow!"

Obediently, one of the archers raised his elbow to keep his arm parallel to the ground. She looked along the line again, making sure everybody's stance was satisfactory. Then –

"Begin!"

They had progressed far enough in their training that she did not call each individual shot. She watched with a practised eye as they drew, loosed and repeated the process until each had sent twelve arrows into his or her target. They had all grouped their arrows inside the inmost ring. At this stage of their training, anything else would have been a scandal.

"Well done, Voronwë," Rochendilwen said briskly. Voronwë had, in fact, had the poorest showing of the lot – a tidy grouping, but not as good as some of the others, and he had been the last to finish. Still, he had done his best. The bow was not his weapon and there was nothing to be gained by haranguing him. "Meluial – and Eredhion – be careful of your stance." She went on down the line, dispensing praise and correction as called for, and stopped at the last archer. "Legolas…" Legolas had a near-perfect grouping, eleven arrows in the very centre of the target, the twelfth at the inner edge of the inmost ring. And he had been the fastest. All the same… "You know you can do better," Rochendilwen said with a smile.

Legolas nodded his acknowledgement, answering Rochendilwen's smile with a cheerful one of his own. He would not complain about extra practice. His parents, Lord Arbellason and Lord Thorontur had drilled it into him that he had a responsibility to learn to defend the realm.

Rochendilwen glanced at the sun. It would soon set.

"Go home now," she said. "Sup lightly and stay out of your cups." The last part was only half-serious; one or two glasses of wine would do nothing to hamper an Elf's lucidity unless someone managed to get into the King's Dorwinion. "We will have drills tonight. Return an hour after moonrise."

With formal bows, the young Elves gathered their arrows and trooped off the field.

Once the last of them left, Rochendilwen leapt off the fence and crossed the archery range to the one beside it, where her brother Bregolien was working with slightly older students.

"Brethil!" she heard Bregolien snapping as she reached it. "Any slower and Orcs will overrun your position before you have fired a shot! You will be dead by nightfall of the first day you are on patrol."

Brethil, who had been strapping on his quiver, fumbled. It slipped from his grasp, scattering arrows on the ground at his feet.

Rochendilwen winced for him. As much as she loved her brother – and Rochendilwen loved her brother very much – she could not understand why Master Bainion had asked him to work with young archers. Normally he taught older Elves, novice warriors, training them in tracking and hiding themselves among the trees. Despite his unfortunate manner – patience was not among Bregolien's virtues – it was logical that he should do that; nobody could melt into the forest like Bregolien.

Brethil's face was scarlet as he scrambled to pick up his arrows, dropping them again in his nervousness.

"Help him, Saeldur," Bregolien barked.

Saeldur hastened to the rescue. Rochendilwen took the opportunity to study the targets. The groupings were notas uniformly clean as among the younger students. These archers were being trained to greater speed; that meant that accuracy might suffer… at least at the beginning. It was clear who had a gift for archery.

Rochendilwen did not comment – she knew Bregolien would not appreciate that.

She waited until he had dismissed the archers before she spoke.

"Tuilin has some skill."

"Perhaps," Bregolien said dismissively.

"Saeldur is the best of them."

Bregolien scoffed. "Saeldur grows overconfident. Yes, I know he is the best of his class – and, believe me, he knows it as well. With Arahael and Brethil telling him about it all the time, how could he not?"

"He might be one of the finest archers Eryn Galen produces in this Age."

"On the archery field, certainly. He shoots wildly when he grows nervous – that does not happen often now because, as I said, he is overconfident. Like all Sindar. He and Arahael and Brethil consider themselves far superior to their companions."

"I do not think it is that," Rochendilwen said. "Not with Saeldur. As you said yourself, he has no equals in his class."

"Do you have a solution?"

"I have been meaning to ask Master Bainion if we should move Legolas up."

"Legolas is too young. Eredhion and Voronwë are both older than he is, and they are in the first class."

"Only by a few years. Eredhion and Voronwë will be competent archers, but no more than that. I think Master Bainion will agree with me. It will be a challenge for Legolas – and perhaps for Saeldur."

"I doubt Saeldur will be grateful to you for that. He quite enjoys outstripping his companions."

Rochendilwen shrugged. "Then it will be good for him not to do it so easily."


The Elven-king sat in his study reading a letter. He had read it four times already, and it made him angrier with each reading.

There were people in his realm who did not understand why he insisted on maintaining a standing army so many centuries after the defeat of the Enemy. Wood-elves were merry, the song of Arda was bright; as far as they were concerned, there was no cause for worry.

Yet Thranduil knew that evil would stir again. He felt it still in Arda; he knew it too well to mistake it for anything else. The One Ring had been lost after Isildur's refusal to cast it into the fires of its making, and Thranduil did not believe it had been destroyed. While it existed, the Enemy's power could not be undone.

That knowledge was why he insisted on training young Elves in the sword and the bow… even his own son. It broke his heart that Legolas' youth must be full of weapons training. But he could not refuse to do what he asked of other parents. Even if he did, Legolas would never stand for being held back from his duty.

Thranduil cast the letter aside. Reading it again would do no good. He had other business to attend to this evening.

He went out and crossed to the corridor to the small council chamber where three Elves were waiting for him.

"Celephindeth," he said courteously. "Norgalad. Candnaur. Istuion sent me your proposals for the Lord of Dale. Everything seems satisfactory."

"Naturally," Norgalad said coldly. "We discussed it all with you first."

"Of course," Thranduil said, stifling a sigh.

"The reason we are here," Celephindeth said, "is Legolas."

"You want Legolas' views on your trade proposal?" Thranduil asked, astonished. "I know I ask him to spend three mornings a week in court, but I do not think he knows enough for that – not yet."

"We do not want Legolas' views on the trade proposal," Norgalad said, even more coldly.

Celephindeth shot him a repressive glance. "We want him next week, when the Lord of Dale arrives – not necessarily to attend court in the mornings, although I daresay you will expect him to do that. We want him in the afternoons and evenings – when we have general entertainments planned for our visitors."

"Legolas has weapons training in the afternoons and evenings."

"Legolas," Norgalad said, enunciating every word, "has an unmatched ability to persuade anyone to be his friend – and, more importantly, as he has proven, to persuade the strictest disciplinarians to be lenient with him. We are hoping he can help us."

"Master Bainion will not like any of us very much if we keep Legolas from the training fields." King or not, Thranduil had a healthy respect for Bainion, who had once taught him archery.

"Surely the prince's duties to the realm may supersede training for a week," Norgalad said.

"My King," Candnaur said mildly, "already Legolas speaks Westron more fluently than I do. I know he is a gifted archer, but I think his talent for making friends out of enemies is nearly equal to that, and just as valuable to the realm."

Thranduil sighed. "Very well. I will speak to Maeglad and Lord Bainion. It will do Legolas no harm to miss a week's training."


Saeldur eyed Rochendilwen's broad smile with apprehension. When she was that happy on the training field, it meant she had planned a particularly fiendish drill. Worse, Bregolien was smiling as well.

As the second class took their places, Rochendilwen told them to wait instead of pairing off as usual.

"You will drill with the first class this evening," she said. "In putting you together, we base our judgement on what we consider the most suitable combinations to ensure that your training is –"

"What my sister means," Bregolien interrupted, "is that some of you are so shockingly inept, even after over ten years' training with your bows, that we are combining the classes. It is to be hoped that you will improve."

Almost on cue, the students of the first class walked on. Only a handful were actually younger than Saeldur, who, like most Sindar in Eryn Galen, had begun training as soon as he was old enough. Many of the students were older Elves who had seen no reason to fight until –

Saeldur shook his head. It was terrible that the peace of the forest was being disrupted again, but…

"Eredhion," Rochendilwen said briskly, "go with Arahael."

Saeldur almost laughed at Arahael's expression of horror. He hated Eredhion, and Eredhion, although not the best in his class, was certainly a better archer than Arahael.

"Meluial – over there with Triwath."

Rochendilwen worked quickly. Saeldur noticed that, as far as she could, she was mixing up the students of the two classes. He understood; on patrol and in battles, warriors would have to work together, and it was best to grow accustomed to working with others outside one's own friends.

"Saeldur, Legolas," she said at the end. "There."

Saeldur gave Legolas a brief nod as they took their places. He was unsurprised to be paired with Legolas. Saeldur knew nobody in his own class was his equal – just as he knew that Legolas, even if only by a hair, was better. Legolas and Saeldur had both learnt to use bows long before they had begun formal weapons training.

Legolas' smile, despite the seriousness of training, was full of mischief. Saeldur could not help smiling in return. He and Legolas had been friends as children, although they had grown apart in the years since Saeldur began training.

"Check your quivers," Bregolien bellowed. "We will start with something simple. The targets are already set up."

Saeldur took out his first arrow.


TBC


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