The archery fields stretched out, a wide, long expanse of short grass ringed by tall trees. One end of the field was lined with balls of hay, the shafts of arrows sticking into them. A hill rose up behind the bales to keep stray arrows from flying into the trees and injuring anyone.
Several instructors, marked by their blue tunics and white belts, were standing at intervals behind the row of Mirkwood elflings, their arms folded behind their backs. Occasionally they would lean down to speak to one of the students. The line began with the youngest elflings and progressed to the oldest, where complicated targets were set up across from them at the far end of the field.
Legolas stepped out into the field, his heart fluttering. He felt Hyrondal’s hand on his shoulder guiding him forward with one and Landion with the other. His uncle looked over at him and grinned.
As Hyrondal approached, one of the archery instructors approached, twirling an arrow in his calloused fingers. His black hair was braided back from the delicately chiseled features of his face.
“Greetings, Hyrondal,” he said.
“And the same to you, Myrel,” said the captain of the guard. “I have brought you four new students. Elladan and Elrohir will be here as long as they wish. Legolas and Landion will be here for the full lesson.”
“I will take them off your shoulders; you must have some eager young warriors waiting for you in the sparring yards,” Myrel said, a smile lighting up his tanned face.
“There are a sight to many this year!” Hyrondal replied, pushing his brown hair from his face. He waved to Myrel as he departed, calling back, “Legolas and Landion, behave yourselves!”
“Yes, sir, captain, sir!” Legolas replied, snapping a smart salute. He turned to Myrel with a wide grin. “When do we start?”
“I see I have an eager one,” Myrel remarked. “Come; we will appraise each of your abilities, and then send you to your place in the field.”
“I have not shot much before,” Legolas said, jumping beside him as Myrel led the way to a corner of the field.
Myrel pursed his lips. “You are here to learn after all.” He pointed to the straw bale ten feet away. “Legolas, see if you can place your arrow in the straw bale.”
“From here?” Legolas said. “But it is so close.”
“Do as you are told,” Myrel said, his expression indicating he had been through this before.
“Oh, all right.” Legolas selected an arrow from his quiver and placed it to his bowstring. He looked at the straw bale, lifted the bow, and drew it back. The weapon twanged as he released, sending the arrow flying forward, and the string slapping against the leather guard on his right arm.
As the arrow hit the center of the bale, Legolas looked up at Myrel with an annoyed expression. “See? I told you it was too close.”
“You may be the prince,” Myrel warned, “But you better watch your tone! Step back five feet and try again.”
Elladan and Elrohir winced at Myrel’s threatening voice but Legolas appeared undaunted. He walked five feet back, and sent another arrow into the center of the bale. Both twins watched with interest as Myrel ordered him to retreat five more feet after each hit.
“I wonder if he has been practicing on the sly,” Elrohir suggested, looking at his twin with a cheeky grin.
“He will miss soon enough,” Elladan replied, folding his arms over his chest with a knowing smile.
At the hundred-foot mark Legolas’s arrow finally slipped past the straw bale, and sank into the side of the hill. Legolas frowned at it and kicked the grass.
“Retrieve your arrows while I talk to the elf who will be your master,” Myrel said. “You exceed the standard ability of elflings your age.”
Legolas punched his fist into the air with a yell of excitement, and ran to collect his arrows. Myrel waved to the elf standing with a group of young elves.
“You have a new student, Aleph,” he said, jerking his head toward Legolas.
Aleph tilted his head to one side, green eyes squinting at Legolas. “The prince? He is a little young for my teachings. Wait a few decades and then send him to me.”
“He is ready now,” Myrel assured him, clapping him on the back. “He missed from where we stand now out of about twenty shots.”
“I will be sending him back to you if your judgment is a failure,” Aleph replied. He beckoned to Legolas as the elfling ran to join him. “Come with me, Legolas. Your place in the field is with me.”
“Good luck!” Legolas called back to his friends as he followed Aleph.
“Thanks!” Landion called. “I will need it! I already missed at the twenty-foot marker! I guess I am stuck here until my aim improves or I find out I am a natural!”
Legolas grinned. His smile faded as he saw his fellow students were at least a few decades older then him, and a foot taller then him to. Every eye in the group of fifty young elves turned to him with doubt and raised eyebrows. Legolas squirmed.
“This is your new classmate, prince Legolas Thranduilion,” Aleph announced. “He will be with us as long as his ability allows.”
“Greenleaf,” Legolas said.
Aleph looked down at him with a critical expression, and he flushed.
“What?” his master demanded.
“Prince Legolas Greenleaf,” Legolas mumbled, his eyes on the ground.
“Look at me when you talk, and do not mumble.”
Legolas swallowed hard. He wished he could have stayed with Myrel. Aleph was hard and mean, and his barking orders reminded him of Lord Katar.
“Yes, sir,” he said.
“Good. We are at the beginning of our lessons for today. We are practicing the shoot and run technique; Alexei will demonstrate.”
The elleth nodded to her teacher, the cloth of her green, knee length tunic stretched across her rounded breasts and secured by the strap of her quiver. She broke into a run across from the straw bale, her longbow loaded and ready. As she passed, she released the arrow, and sent is spiraling into the center of the bale. She jogged back to join Aleph.
“I am not sure I can do that . . . yet,” Legolas said.
“I doubt you can,” Aleph replied, in a voice that infuriated Legolas. He waved a hand. “You will do the same thing Alexei demonstrated but you will do it walking.”
Legolas drew in a deep breath. He had a feeling missing was not an option; Aleph would not be the kind of person to forget and would rub it in every chance he got, while the older elves around him, their eyes sneering, would snatch the opportunity to tease him about it. For the first time, he felt like a cornered animal, cowering from the angry fists of Lord Katar, but unable to defend himself against them.
“You may take your turn, Legolas,” said Aleph.
Legolas gulped. His stomach lurched as he walked, horizontally across from the straw bale. He lifted his bow, the arrow tip touching his finger as he drew it back and concentrated on the center of the bale. He let it go, and came to stand beside Aleph with a pounding heart, unsure if he had missed or not. He looked up at the straw bale and the sickness in his belly faded as he saw the green fletching of his arrow safely inside the bale. He closed his eyes and thanked the valar.
“Beginners luck,” said Aleph. His students went through their routine with speed, each one of them running and firing their arrow as they passed, the elf after them bouncing on their feet in anticipation of their turn. Legolas’s turn came back around much faster then he would have wished.
Legolas stepped out onto the path worn in the grass where the elves had run and walked sideways, facing the straw bale. He felt the eyes of his classmates boring into him as he moved, judging his very steps. His bowstring twanged and the missile sailed across the ground.
The tsking of Aleph’s tongue, and the snickers of his classmates told him he had missed even before he dragged his drooping head up and saw the arrow sitting in the side of the hill beside the bale.
Aleph patted Legolas on the shoulder but it was not one of sympathy. He leaned down, his weight hard on Legolas’s small frame, and spoke into his ear. “You will to practice harder, Legolas.”
“Of course,” Legolas said, fighting to keep his voice steady though it bristled with angry feelings and tears. He raised his head as the running feet of the students before him took off.
Twenty-three turns, and fifteen misses later, Aleph turned to Legolas, shaking his head. “Ten out of twenty five shots are far below the average expected of you; collect everyone’s arrows and bring them back here.”
Legolas looked at the hundreds of arrows sunken into the straw bale, and the few littered around it. He looked up at Aleph, the unfairness of his task lying heavily upon him, but he met a smug glare. Turning quickly, he ran to obey.
The straw poked and scratched his arms as he dug out the arrows, and the heavy pile he lugged back across the field hurt his arms, the pile of shafts slipping and sliding as he lurched back to Aleph. As he passed his classmates, one of them stuck out a foot. Legolas tripped and staggered to his knees, the arrows falling in a cascade across the ground in front of him.
“How clumsy,” Aleph said scathingly. “Pick them up and divide them equally by forty nine. Everyone should have twenty five arrows apiece . . . provided you collected them all, and did not break any.”
A chuckle of laughter rose into the air. Legolas stared at the fallen arrows. “One of your students tripped me. I did not fall on purpose.”
“Filthy lies,” Aleph said, his voice light. “Now do as you are told.”
Legolas rose to his feet and glared Aleph in the eyes. “No, I will not. Have your students pick them up; the arrows are on the ground because of them, not me.”
Legolas’s saw Aleph’s hand go back and ducked, out of instinct. The hand flashed past him as he scrambled to his feet and shied away from Aleph, dropping his longbow to the ground. Aleph’s fury radiated into the air as the elf faced him.
“Obey me, Legolas, or you will be sorry!” Aleph said. “It is not your place to question me. Do it or I will break this.”
“NO!” Legolas cried, as he saw his precious longbow under Aleph’s foot. “My father gave it to me!”
“Then down on your knees, and pick up the arrows,” Aleph said.
“I hate you,” Legolas said, tears in his eyes. “You are cruel.”
“And you do not belong here,” Aleph replied. “I do not like weaklings.”
“I refuse to let your cruelty drive me away!” Legolas cried.
The sound of his raised voice attracted the attention of several of the archery masters standing alongside their students, and their eyes were questioning, worried even. The nearby elves cast curious looks at Legolas, wondering what he was arguing with his teacher for.
Aleph removed his foot from Legolas’s bow, and stood back. He looked at his students. “Pick up your arrows; classes are over for today.”
Legolas’s heart leapt. He looked up at the sun; he could not believe two hours had passed already! Dying to run home and hurl himself into Thranduil’s kind arms, he knelt to pick up his shafts and longbow. He headed toward the trees behind him, purposefully avoiding Landion and the twins. He needed to be alone to sort things out, and settle his emotions.
The elf prince walked slowly, his eyes on the ground and his longbow at his side. His feet dragged as he wondered what he would say to ada. He hated to tell his father he had not enjoyed his first day at archery lessons. He wanted to learn even if it was hard, and he wanted not to disappoint or worry Thranduil.
Legolas looked up as he heard a stick crack but all around him were trees. He wondered if the twins and Landion had enjoyed their lessons. For a moment he briefly wished he had no special talent; he wished he could have stayed with his friends and family instead of being sent to an advanced class.
A hand clapped across his mouth, the firm arm choking off his cry of alarm and fear. His longbow fell to the ground as he struggled to peel the arm away; it pressed down on his throat and made it hard to breath. He gasped for breath and staggered away as the arm disappeared.
Legolas swallowed as he looked up and saw the elf that had tripped him earlier in the fields. He whirled around as two more elves stepped out of the trees.
“You think you are good enough to step into our class,” said the elf behind him, coming closer. “You think because your father the king, and your rich, you can walk into whatever you please. Well, it is not true. You do not belong with us, and when we are done with you, you will see how true it is. You will go back home, and tell your father you are not ready for out class yet.”
“No!” Legolas cried, his heart pounding in his chest. He moved to run but one of the elves to his side dove and grabbed his arm, jerking him to a halt.
“You deserved to pick up your own arrows!” Legolas cried. “It was unfair of Aleph to make me collect everyone’s arrows, and then try and punish me when you tripped me!”
“How dare you talk back to me, you snot?”
Legolas gulped. He was not sure how far the bullies around him would go but he felt cornered and afraid. His eyes opened wide and his heart tore as he heard a loud snap and saw his longbow break across the knee of the elf in front of him. Tears blinded his vision; tears of anger and grief.
“You beast!” he howled. He twisted and bit down hard on the fingers holding him, tasting blood. As the elf yelled and released him, holding his abused hand, Legolas jumped onto the elf holding his broken longbow, grabbing a handful of his hair and jerking it out with an angry tug. A fist connected with his jaw, and sent him sprawling back, red spots dancing before his eyes. A hard kick in his ribs made him cry out, and he tried to scramble away but all three elves were on him now; bigger and stronger then him, and intent on beating him.
As the feet and hands rained down on his body, he curled into a tight ball, his cheek hard against the cool ground, tears turning the dirt to mud beneath him. He felt the sharp sting of a branch snap across him, and the black world around him gave breath to images of Lord Katar descending on him with angry words on his lips, and his hands ready to deliver a hard beating. He squeezed his eyes closed and tried to escape the pain, struggling to cling to memories of his father. He tried to pretend the blows were gentle hugs and kisses but it was hard to forget he was huddled at the base of a tree, surrounded by three bullies.
Legolas heard a sharp yell. He stayed curled into a ball, hearing running footsteps as the elves around him scattered. He heard someone kneel down beside him, and touch his shoulder. The hand was gentle but unfamiliar.
Legolas un-hunched his shoulders and raised himself up on his dirty hands, wiping the mud out of his watering eyes as he looked over his shoulder at the elf behind him. Immediately, he cringed back, and scrambled backwards. His back dug into the sharp branches of a tree, and he winced, staring wide-eyed as Aleph came toward him.
“Are you all right?” Aleph asked.
Legolas’s lips trembled. “L-leave me alone!”
“I apologize for treating you unfairly,” Aleph said, his hand landing on Legolas’s arm. “I . . . judged you because of your age instead of treating you with the respect everyone deserves. I give you my word tomorrow will be different. You will learn what I have to teach.”
Legolas whimpered, his voice a mumble as he thought of his broken longbow. He dragged himself to his feet, stumbling against Aleph as the elf caught him. He felt dizzy and every step hurt.
“Let me help you home,” Aleph offered.
” . . . No . . .” Legolas murmured, staggering. ” . . . Have to go home . . . alone. Please . . .”
“I am afraid you do not have the strength to make the walk,” Aleph said.
Legolas jerked upright. “I am fine! I have survived this before! I cannot—please leave. I need—I—I need to go home—alone.”
Aleph saw the plea in Legolas’s eyes and stepped back with a silent nod. Legolas watched him leave, leaning against a tree until he was out of sight before he picked up the broken halves of his longbow and wandered home, frightened of facing his father but unsure why.
That could have gone any which way. But this path ended poorly. Was Legolas responsible for the outcome more so then his tormenters?
Thank you for reading; I love hearing from you.