To the amusement of the elves, a few shared bottles of wine and a very late evening of merrymaking was more than enough to prevent the men of Gondor from rising early as they had done, and indeed it was well after Anor was high in the sky before those competing in the archery tournament actually made their way to the field used for such events. It had been decided that any who wished to take part were most welcome, and several of Eldarion’s guards had accepted the challenge made by their newly found elf friends. Unfortunately for the men, the tournament was quickly reduced to only a single mortal competitor amongst the ageless beings, and soon all but one of these remained, the others preferring instead to watch the last two, who were well matched.
To the surprise of the young men of Eldarion’s guard, it was the Steward and not Sarien who proved to be a worthy opponent for Legolas and the contest between the elf and man changed to more of a display of skill and technique for their audience and an entertaining game for them both. Aside from the greying of his hair and a few wrinkles around eyes that reflected the wisdom of his years, the passage of time had not diminished Faramir’s skills as an archer.
“That small white flower on that vine,” the one time ranger captain challenged, pointing to one of the blooms in amongst the greenery. Legolas looked up at his next target and casually nocked his bow.
“’Tis not a difficult task, but do you want me to simply hit it, or shall make it fall? Perhaps you would care for enough flowers to make Éowyn a garland? ” he suggested laughing merrily when Faramir replied by shaking his head in exasperation.
“Aye, they would look lovely in her hair, but can you make enough fall with only one arrow?” Faramir asked his eyes alight with mischief. Instead of answering, Legolas merely fired his arrow, hitting the vine where it was quite narrow and watched with satisfaction as the whole trailing piece, covered in flowers, fell to the forest floor.
“Most impressive, your skill is truly amazing,” Faramir had the grace to say after witnessing the shot.
“Thank you, but come, I see a target that will test your skills further in amongst the trees,” Legolas said, clasping the ranger’s shoulder in a gesture of friendship.
Eldarion and Sarien sat together a little apart from the other spectators, men and elves alike and watched as Legolas and Faramir darted amongst the trees. The friendly rivalry, and the respect for each other’s abilities between the archers was apparent to all, and was reflected in the one or two wagers that were made between the soldiers of Gondor and the Woodland warriors.
“If all the rangers display as much prowess as Faramir does, I think I will find it difficult to prove myself. I am not that talented,” Sarien confided in his friend as Faramir’s arrow found the next difficult target, one that could be barely seen so well hidden was it in the foliage.
“Nonsense. I admit that I was not aware of just how able our dear Steward was as an archer, but he has had so many more years’ of practice and experience that it would be foolish not to acknowledge his superiority. Were you not one of the best *young* archers in Gondor, you would not have been accepted as a ranger,” Eldarion reminded him, feeling no hint of envy or despair for the path his friend was about to follow for the first time since he heard the news.
“And had you not been the heir to the throne, so would have you,” Sarien commented with an apologetic shrug. “I am so sorry you were not permitted to join as well.”
“So was I at first, but I have come to understand that my duty lies elsewhere. As my father so wisely pointed out, I am the son of a king, not a ranger,” Eldarion said speaking the words with a pride rather than regret.
“True, and no doubt you will become a great King one day, but surely it would also be wise for you to spend a few days with us when you can be spared? Rangers will be your subjects too, after all,” Sarien said, eyes glittering with his usual mischief.
“An excellent argument, my friend and one I think my father will find hard to reject. If I can not be a ranger, then being the best friend of one will serve just as well.” Eldarion chuckled, favouring his friend with an affectionate smile which was returned in kind.
“A friendship not unlike that of Legolas and Aragorn when they first met,” Thranduil commented, startling the two young men with his silent approach. Eldarion nodded slowly as if only just now realising that it was the ranger, who met the prince in Mirkwood so many years ago.
“Aye, ‘tis a strange twist of fate, your Majesty,” Sarien agreed, making to stand so that he could greet the King with a respectful bow. A quick wave of Thranduil’s hand stayed his movement.
“Indeed, it is, in more ways than one when you consider the weapons you favour.” Thranduil agreed with a nod. “You are a skilled archer, young Sarien, just as Legolas is unmatched with the bow whereas Aragorn is easily the better swordsman, as I hear you are, Eldarion. Since my son is currently neglecting his duties to his guests in favour of his game with Faramir, I have come to enquire as to whether you might be interested in some practice with the blade. Several of my elves and many of your guards have already decided to do so,” he said, indicating the group now watching both the captains of the King’s and Eldarion’s guard as they clashed swords in friendly combat.
Eldarion’s eagerness was clearly written on his face even before he spoke the words indicating his acceptance of such an unlooked for offer. Arwen had often spoken of his grandfather’s skills as a warrior in the many battles he had fought through the ages, and Eldarion had often found himself wishing he had had the chance to cross swords with one such as Elrond. He could hardly contain his excitement, especially when the other swordsmen of both races stopped their practice and gathered around to watch the contest.
The elves knew their King was a formidable warrior, who, it quickly became apparent to the men, Eldarion included, the young man had no hope of defeating. Nonetheless, Eldarion fought with all the skill he possessed against his opponent who, unknown to the men was barely making moves beyond the trainee level for elvish warriors, and when he managed to score a hit, there was much cheering and applause from men and elves alike. The match ended when Thranduil easily disarmed the young man, as he could have done from the outset had he wished.
“I thank you, Thranduil,” Eldarion said as he accepted the King’s offer to help him up from the grass where he had fallen in defeat.
“Your father has taught you well,” Thranduil said, clapping a breathless and wide eyed Eldarion on the shoulder.
“How can you tell that?” Eldarion asked as he gratefully accepted some water from one of his men.
“I recognised some of Elrond’s moves in your style, we often sparred together during our days as part of the Last Alliance, and undoubtedly he practiced with Aragorn during his time in Imladris,” Thranduil said by way of explanation.
Eldarion’s elation at hearing that he had unknowingly learned some of his grandfather’s moves lasted well into the evening as they prepared to attend the feast of welcome for the Prince of Gondor. Not wishing to be embarrassed a second time, Faramir had taken the sensible precaution of enquiring as to the correct standard of dress from Thranduil’s steward. The elder elf had smiled knowingly and explained that the only time the King wore formal robes was on the rare occasions he had visited Imladris, or when celebrating one of the elvish festivals. Nonetheless, Eldarion insisted on wearing his coronet, ignoring the fact that it looked rather out of place with his bare feet.
“Sarien, I still can not believe it... ” he began for possibly the tenth time since they had retired to the guest house to bath and dress after the afternoon’s activities.
“Eldarion, if you tell me one more time that you have been taught some of Lord Elrond’s skills, I will leave for the ranger’s headquarters immediately instead of tomorrow,” he threatened with an indulgent smile, regretting his words when a shadow crossed his friend’s brow. “I am sorry, I did not mean to hurt your feelings, you are understandably proud to be able to make such a claim,” he added.
“I am sorry for annoying you with my boasting, but that is not what saddens me. It is the thought of our parting that is the cause of my melancholy. I will miss you, my dearest Sarien,” Eldarion said, embracing the brother of his heart.
“I will miss you, too, Your Highness,” Sarien replied, returning the embrace before stepping away and bowing formally to his prince.