As the day of the contest drew near, Legolas willingly agreed to allow the boys to practice as much as they wished, provided their lessons and daily chores were completed. Eldarion came to watch his friends, bravely hiding his disappointment as he joined Sarien in the laughter and teasing that was a normal part of their friendship. Even so, his slightly slumped shoulders and his obvious yearning to be able to take part in the contest did not remain hidden from the elf, nor did Eldarion’s constant glances back towards the city gates. It was almost as if he was expecting something or someone, and Legolas decided to try and find out what was bothering the child.
He waited until the last of the boys had been called home by his parents, then he with a gesture indicated for Eldarion to help collect the practice arrows.
“Why do you keep looking towards the gates?” Legolas asked as they walked towards the targets. Eldarion shrugged and kept his silence, but the elf was not to be deterred. “What do you expect to see? Aragorn leaving on an urgent errand perhaps? One that will prevent him from attending the competition? ” A very curious Eldarion turned to face his friend and nodded his head slowly.
“How did you know I was thinking that? Can you hear my thoughts?” Legolas shook his head and laughed softly, his eyes glittering with amusement.
“Nay, although I have heard Gimli suggest I have that ability at times. I know your thoughts because I have had some experience with your situation,” Legolas replied as he sat in the shade of one of the trees that bordered the field and took a sip from his water bottle. He looked up at Eldarion and indicated the vacant patch of grass beside him, inviting the child to sit and take some refreshment as well.
“When you were little, you mean?” he guessed.
“Aye, the duties of a King sometimes must be given more importance than those of a father, no matter how much he may wish it were otherwise. There were many occasions that Adar was forced to break his promise to play, or go hunting with me or read to me or do any of the things we planned.”
“Were you very angry with him when he did that? So angry that it made you cry?” Eldarion asked, obviously voicing his own method of dealing with disappointment.
“Aye, sometimes I cried and in my anger said hurtful things to my mother, who was usually the one to tell me that Adar had been called away. I often wished I was not the son of the king,” Legolas admitted with regret and sadness for ever causing his beloved nana such heartache as he knew he did with those words even though they were spoken in childish rage. Eldarion was shocked to think the gentle elf could ever hurt anyone, but especially his mother, and it showed plainly on his face.
“But it was not your mother’s fault the King could not be there all the time,” he said wisely having already learned that lesson. Whenever Arwen needed to tell him Aragorn had been suddenly called away, they had shed a few tears of sadness, and then continued on, eagerly waiting for his return. Legolas placed an arm around the small shoulders and gently hugged his young friend.
“Nay, it was not, nor was Adar to blame, as I came to understand when I grew older and took my place amongst the other warriors on patrol. I missed many special occasions and celebrations while I was away protecting the borders but my duty came first in those dark days,” said Legolas with a shudder as memories of the cold evil that had invaded Mirkwood sent a chill through his blood.
“I am going to train hard and become a great warrior like you and Father,” boasted the young heir to the throne proudly. Legolas smiled sadly in acknowledgement of the truth of the words spoken by one who was born into a world of peace and hope It would be foolhardy to think that the King Eldarion was destined to become would never raise his sword or fire his bow in battle against a foe who sought dominion over his realm. The only comfort was that never again would Middle-earth face the evil of Sauron.
“Then you should begin by learning to keep astride your mount,” teased Legolas. The steel grey eyes glittered with a brief flicker of anger that swiftly changed to mischief.
“Just as you learned to keep your footing in the trees!” Eldarion replied in the same good humour, joining in the elf’s merry laughter as they finished collecting the arrows and walked slowly back to the city.
To the delight of all, but particularly Eldarion whose fears regarding his father’s absence were proven to be unfounded, Aragorn declared that the day of the archery tournament was to be considered a holiday and a festive air descended upon Minas Tirith as the city awoke to the sound of excited laughter and chatter of its younger citizens. The contest itself was not to begin until the afternoon, but many families were already eagerly making their way through the streets towards the gates and the glade not far beyond that was the site of the long awaited event. Coloured banners had been hung from the trees and several makeshift tables stood to one side, covered with bright tablecloths, platters of meats and cheeses, fresh bread rolls and a delicious assortment of sweets and pastries from the King’s kitchens.
Legolas, Eldarion and several of the young archers from the ranks of the King’s soldiers, whose services as official scorers had been sought, had been hard at work since dawn, setting the targets and ensuring that the spectator area was well marked. They had also set up a pavilion with a comfortable chair for Arwen, who had just arrived and was now seated, watching with pride and amusement as her son took the responsibility of introducing Aragorn to the parents of the other boys in his class.
The Queen often entertained the other mothers, and knew both the ladies and their children well, but those boys whose fathers were not of the King’s Guard were unknown to Aragorn, a situation Eldarion had insisted on rectifying. Blankets of all materials and hues, shared by friends and kin alike, were spread under the trees in the most advantageous places around the archery range and Arwen smiled at the delightful scene of a relaxed Aragorn, his hand firmly held in Eldarion’s, being lead around the glade, stopping frequently to exchange greetings with acquaintances, or for formal introductions to others.
The air fairly crackled with excitement and anticipation until Legolas finally took pity on his young friends and called the contestants to the archery range. With a final check to ensure that bows were strung properly and that hair was tied back well away from their faces, Legolas’s students quickly made their way to the starting area where the officials, all except one were waiting to draw straws to determine the order of shooting.
“I think I will sit with Mother and Father, if you do not mind,” Eldarion told Legolas when he came to escort his helper to the official area.
“I hope ‘tis not because your arm is causing you discomfort?” enquired the elf with concern. The child had looked a little pale after the morning’s exertions and Legolas’s sharp hearing had not failed to alert him to the occasional small intake of breath that often accompanied a painful movement.
“Well, it does hurt a little, and you do have enough other judges…” replied Eldarion hesitantly. Legolas accepted that answer, although he could tell from the child’s demeanour he was also probably feeling a little left out again. All his friends were now taking their turn at a final practice, and there was no doubt that it was longing that filled the child’s eyes.
“Then by all means stay here and rest, you are certainly in good company,” Legolas added with a bow to the King and Queen. “Aragorn, I believe Faramir has the pennants you are to present to the winners,” he reminded his friend who merely nodded in reply.
“Can I give the one who takes first place his prize?” Eldarion asked, glancing from his father to Legolas who nodded his acquiescence. Along with the pennant, the winner was to receive an elvish arrow, made by Legolas and greatly desired by all the budding archers in his class.
“Why would you wish to do that?” asked Arwen who had also sensed her son’s increasing despair and was surprised at his request.
“Because I know Sarien will win,” Eldarion replied with complete confidence in his friend, “and because he will let me hold the arrow whenever I want until my stupid arm heals and I win one of my own.” All three heard the anger, remorse and determination in the small voice, and none of them were surprised when Eldarion turned to Aragorn and solemnly vowed never to break his promise again.