Whilst all the young competitors displayed an equal amount of enthusiasm and determination to do their best, it quickly became apparent to the spectators that the level of skill of the children varied greatly. The targets for the first few rounds were in easy reach of even the least talented among them, but even so, for the most part the objects were in no danger of being hit often, and then only by Sarien and a few of the elder boys. Legolas had refused none admission to his classes, regardless of their ability and the onlookers could now see the wisdom in allowing only the practice arrows to be used, just as all could see the joy and sense of achievement that lit the small faces whenever a point was scored.
Even more pleasing, from Legolas’s point of view, was the willingness of the experienced archers, many of whom had been disgruntled with the elf’s indulgence of the children, considering it a waste of his time and talent, to add their voices of encouragement. Amidst the titters of amusement that followed some of the more wayward misses, shouts of ”Well done, lad!” or “Fine shooting!” accompanied by much cheering and applauding could be heard for each successful hit on the target.
The boys who were eliminated left the field with their heads held high, and their eyes shining with pride as they ran to rejoin their families. A short rest period was called at the end of each round giving the scribe time to write the name on the certificate of participation that Legolas formally presented to each of the losing contestants. In turn the elf was rewarded with polite thanks and often a very informal hug from his young students.
As the end of the tournament approached, and only the most talented of the would be archers remained in the contest, Eldarion was not surprised to see Sarien was one of the five to make the final round and was even less so when his friend emerged as the winner. It had been with great delight and not a little envy that, after The King presented the finalists with their pennants, the young prince ceremoniously handed his friend the winner’s trophy.
“I just knew you would win, Sarien,” Eldarion exclaimed happily as his friend accepted the arrow.
“Thank you, Your Highness,” Sarien replied with a respectful bow as was appropriate in front of the large crowd who had gathered to witness their prince perform his first official duty.
Eldarion was stunned into silence. Never before had he been addressed in this manner by any of his friends and he decided immediately that he did not like it at all. Aragorn noted the frown on his son’s face, and smiled at him, nodding his head to indicate Eldarion should do likewise. The child forced a smile of his own, and then walked quickly away, dragging Sarien by the hand as he did so.
“My name is Eldarion, not ‘Your Highness’!” he hissed angrily.
“It is your rightful title, and father said I must learn to use it,” replied Sarien with a shrug.
“When Eldarion is acting as the King’s son, that is indeed true,” said Legolas who had followed the boys’ rapid departure, easily realising what had caused Eldarion to behave so strangely.
“Your father is also a King but I have never heard my father call you any name other than Legolas,” Eldarion replied, glaring at the elf.
“That is because you have never been in attendance at any of the banquets or other official functions where such formality is necessary. However, at other times, your friends may address you by whatever name you wish to use. Is that not so, Aragorn?” a mischievous Legolas asked of his friend of many names, who had also come to see what ailed his son.
“Aye, Thranduilion, ‘tis as you say,” Aragorn replied merrily, clapping Legolas on the back in acknowledgment of the unspoken jest between them and winking his thanks as the crisis quickly passed. The explanation had mollified the child’s anger and his smile had returned.
“Oh. I had not thought of that. Can I look at the arrow, Sarien?” Eldarion asked, turning his attention back to more important matters as he and his friend examined Legolas’s handiwork more closely.
It was to be the first of many elvish arrows that Sarien won in the years preceding their joining the ranks of trainee soldiers, and although Eldarion managed to defeat him on a few occasions he freely admitted that he was nowhere near as talented an archer as his best friend. Even had he not been so free with his accolades, the quiver full of arrows made by Legolas that Sarien wore on his back was testament enough to his ability, just as the numerous bruises on his arms and legs from Eldarion’s wooden practice sword spoke of the young prince’s increasing prowess as a swordsman. During sword practice I had it quickly become clear that Eldarion had inherited his father’s skill and Aragorn was filled with pride to hear his son declared the most promising student the weapons master had seen since he had trained the young Boromir.
“’Tis high praise indeed to be compared to my brother,” Faramir replied with a sad smile when Aragorn told him what had been said. Time had lessened the grief he felt at Boromir’s passing, but he still missed the brother he loved so well.
“Aye, and an honour,” Aragorn added, placing a comforting hand on his Steward’s arm as he handed him a goblet of wine. Several long and tedious meetings had made their day tiresome and now that it was at an end, the two friends were relaxing in the King’s private study. “I understand you have paid a great compliment to Sarien’s skill by recommending he be trained as one of the Rangers?” Faramir nodded.
“I was more than pleased to grant his request. We both know he is not only an excellent archer, but has also learned much about being a woodsman from his and Eldarion’s frequent visits to our elvish friends.” A smile of amusement was exchanged, acknowledging the fact that the visits to the Wood elves were often without prior invitation or permission for that matter. Whenever they were out riding or hunting, Eldarion and his friends frequently arrived unannounced at the colony and often stayed for several days at a time. Aragorn was not pleased by such irresponsible behaviour, and always reprimanded Eldarion immediately on his return, but it seemed that his words often fell on the deaf ears that were commonplace amongst adolescents.
Legolas had also tried to dissuade his young friend from such behaviour, but with little success, for Eldarion was a stubborn and wilful youth. Besides, the part elf in Eldarion loved the forest and Legolas fully understood his need to escape from the stone walls of the city. Fortunately for Aragorn’s peace of mind, Legolas was aware of his responsibilities and never failed to immediately dispatch a messenger to inform the King of his heir’s whereabouts, and the expected length of his stay.
“Legolas and his people have indeed been indulgent hosts and excellent teachers in the woodland arts,” Aragorn stated with much affection for his long time friend that faded slightly as his thoughts of friendship returned his attention to the current dilemma his son was about to face.
“Has Sarien told Eldarion that he will be leaving with you when you return to Ithilien?” Aragorn asked, the concern in his voice reflecting his apprehension at how he knew his son would receive the unwanted news. The two had been almost inseparable as they matured from boyhood into youths and the parting of ways would be difficult on them both. Sarien was to become a Ranger and although it would be many years before Eldarion became King, and he had requested permission to spend some time with them as well, it had been decided that the heir to the throne was to remain in Gondor.
“Nay, I am afraid I told Sarien that as Eldarion’s King and father that task lies with you, but I do have a suggestion that might help ease the pain.” Aragorn sighed in sad acceptance of his duty and raised an eyebrow in query, indicating the Steward should continue. “As you are aware, Legolas is expecting his father to arrive in Ithilien within the week.” Aragorn nodded.
“I have never seen Legolas so filled with joyful anticipation, and nervousness.” The elf’s normally calm and unperturbed demeanour had cracked a little when he and Legolas had recently spoken about the impending visit.
“Nor have I, but his reaction is understandable, we all wish to impress our sires. This is the first time King Thranduil has graced the colony with his presence since it was established, and it is only fitting that an invitation to attend the court of the King of Gondor is extended to the visiting Elvenking.”
“Aye,” Aragorn agreed wondering at the mention of a courtesy that would have been extended as a matter of course. In fact he had already hinted to Legolas that Arwen wanted to hold a banquet in Thranduil’s honour.
“Should not such a message should be delivered by one of appropriate standing, the King of Gondor’s son, perhaps?” Faramir asked, watching Aragorn’s confusion rapidly fade as he helped himself to some more wine. “Eldarion has often expressed a desire to meet Legolas’s father and assigning him such a task will surely distract him when Sarien and I depart.”
“It is time he took on some of the responsibilities of his position, but is not the elvish colony a little out of your way?” Aragorn asked.
“I intend to be a part of the escort of the prince,” Faramir said as if stating the obvious. Aragorn was not fooled for a moment.
“Tell me, do you do so out of duty and a desire to protect my son or a wish to meet Thranduil?” Aragorn enquired, his smile reaching his eyes as he teased his friend. Both men knew there was no need for the Steward to accompany Eldarion, other than Faramir’s curiosity regarding all things elvish. An ample guard would be assigned to protect Eldarion whenever he travelled on official business.
“My duty to your House will always come first,” Faramir assured his King with a respectful bow, rising to meet amused eyes with his own. “But, aye, I greatly desire to meet the legendary King Thranduil.”
“I know and your idea is a sound one so please make your arrangements to leave as soon possible. I will speak with Eldarion after the evening meal.”