Disclaimer: I have borrowed the characters and world created by J.R.R. Tolkein and riffed on by Peter Jackson. I gain no profit from their use except the enriched imaginative live that I assume their creators intended me to get.

Author's note: I originally created Beleg, the bad-tempered armorer, for a more serious, book-verse story I'm working on. Outraged by the abuse of good steel, he forced this story from me when I had intended to work on the other one. So it's his bad.

Feedback is always welcome via review or e-mail. I enjoyed writing this story and therefore fear that I may have gotten carried away. Let me know what you think.

"Watch This!"

On the morning of the thirteenth of Hithui, the elves of Mirkwood woke to a sight they had been awaiting with varying degrees of impatience. Falling from the grey winter skies in great fluttering swirls was the first snow of the season. All elves are attuned to nature and wood elves particularly so. In Mirkwood, First Snow was a holiday. Elves greeted one another with the traditional "May the first snow gladden your heart," or, more simply, "Gladden your heart!" Normal activities were suspended, and the elves came together to sing and dance and feast in the Great Hall of King Thranduil's rocky fortress.

For smaller elflings, First Snow was especially welcome. They were not usually expected to help prepare for the feast and indeed were usually urged to stay out of the way. Thus they traditionally spent the day sledding on the slope that lay just beyond the palace gates. By late morning of this particular First Snow, however, the wind had shifted and the temperature had begun to drop. Parents became worried about frostbite in tender fingers, toes, and ears and called their young home. Among those summoning elflings was Nimloth, the caretaker of Legolas, King Thranduil's youngest child. Legolas had spent the morning on the hill, along with his two best friends, Turgon and Annael. The three of them now resisted the summons indoors.

"We're not cold, Nimloth. Can't we stay a little longer?" Legolas pleaded.

Nimloth, however, was having none of it. "I don't have time for this, Legolas. I am needed in the kitchen to assist with the preparations for the feast. Turgon and Annael can come in with you if they like, but you must come in now." Reluctantly the three elflings allowed themselves to be led indoors into the antechamber of Thranduil's Great Hall. "Why don't you go watch the preparations in the Great Hall?" suggested Nimloth before she departed down the hall leading to the kitchens.

Legolas, Turgon, and Annael left their sodden cloaks in an untidy heap in the antechamber and ventured into the Great Hall, where that night's feast would be held. Preparations for the First Snow feast were always frenzied because the holiday's arrival was unpredictable. In the Great Hall, elves worked setting up tables and hanging the hundreds of polished crystals that served as the traditional decoration for the holiday. The workers ignored the three friends as they drifted through the hall and out another door. "This is boring," complained Turgon, whose patience was non-existent. Let by Turgon, the elflings rambled along, shoving one another for the fun of it, and looking for some way to amuse themselves.

Turgon was endlessly ingenious in devising interesting things to do, and to an envious Legolas, his parents seemed to object to very few of them. Last summer, after Turgon's father had caught and slaughtered several wild pigs to be served at the mid-summer feast, Turgon had suggested that they fill the pigs' bladders with water and throw them at the guards before the palace gates. His mother had given them the bladders without even asking what they wanted them for. The bladders had been fiendishly difficult to fill but had exploded with a most satisfying burst of water when they struck. Legolas had not been allowed to play with Turgon for a month after that. Legolas and Annael had faith in their friend now. Boredom would not last long.

After a moment or two, they turned into a new hallway that, in sharp contrast to the palace's other public spaces, seemed deserted. As the three elflings rounded a corner, they saw what, or rather who, accounted for the absence of elves in this area. There, crouched on the floor, was Beleg, one of Mirkwood's armorers. Beleg was a skilled worker of metal, but what most marked him out was his singularly foul temper. Elves range in temperament like any other people but, with some exceptions, tend to be even natured. Beleg was a spectacular exception to this rule. He quarreled with is family, neighbors, and co-workers. He refused to attend feasts and claimed to dislike the music of Thranduil's minstrels. And he complained endlessly about the deterioration of standards for armor and the death of "fine, Elven workmanship." Other elves avoided him when they could, hence the empty corridor leading to this room

Legolas, Turgon, and Annael paused in the doorway and tried to decide if the entertainment value of Beleg's project outweighed the risk they would take by entering the room. They craned their necks to see what he was doing. At the back of this room was a stairway. On the wall formed by the side of the stairway, six shields were normally displayed. These shields were not used in battle, but had been relegated here for one reason or another. Included among them was the shield that Legolas's grandfather, King Oropher, had used when he single-handedly slew seventeen Orcs he had inadvertently surprised when he had stepped away from a war camp to answer a call of nature.

Beleg had now removed all of the shields from the wall and lined them up carefully on the floor to check the soundness of the straps by which they usually hung. The three elflings, who had never seen these shields down from the wall before, crept forward carefully, curiosity warring with the caution that all residents of Mirkwood used when approaching Beleg.

"What are you three doing here? Don't you have lessons to go to?" Beleg growled.

The three jumped back a foot or two. 'There are no lessons today, Master Beleg," answered Annael somewhat indignantly. "It's First Snow." Then belatedly remembering his manners, he added, "Gladden your heart."

Beleg narrowed his eyes and tried to work out if this elfling was mocking him, but Anneal looked back at him guilelessly. He drew himself up in preparation for sending the three away with fleas in their ears, but before he could speak, Amdir, his unfortunate apprentice, appeared in the doorway across the room.

"Master Beleg," he said nervously. "You are needed in the workshop. Sorontil says that there is something wrong with the bellows."

To the good fortune of the friends, Beleg turned his wrath on Amdir instead of on them. "I am doomed to work with fools and incompetents," he snarled. He looked hard at the elflings. "I'll be right back," he said and stomped off after Amdir.

Legolas, Turgon, and Annael looked at one another and then at the shields spread out before them. For a moment, good sense warred with temptation, but the struggle was an unequal one. Legolas dragged tentatively at the strap on the back of his grandfather's shield and found to his surprise that he could actually lift it. Because he had never seen the back of the shield before, he had not realized that it was made of wood over the front of which metal plate had been applied in a foil-thin layer. He lifted the shield and brandished it at his friends. "Back you foul beasts!" he shouted. "I am Legolas the Undefeated, and I will drive you from these woods."

Turgon and Annael whooped in unison and rushed at Legolas, shoving him back until he tripped over a fantastically ugly shield that someone had carved with figures of flowers and then painted. He landed on his backside with Oropher's shield over the top of him and Turgon and Annael on top of the shield. The three lay in a laughing heap for a moment before Turgon bounced up and began to investigate the other shields.

Among the shields was a pair that were curved into a rounded form like a shallow, inverted cup with a raised knob in the center. They had been given to Thranduil by one of the men of Laketown. They had been relegated to this spot almost immediately because the elves found their overly rounded shape unwieldy. An ungrateful Thranduil suspected that their unwieldiness was probably what had led to their being given away in the first place. They normally hung side by side, and Legolas's older brother Ithilden called them "The Maiden." Legolas couldn't understand what a pair of warrior's shields had to do with silly girls, but when he had asked Ithilden about it, Ithilden had laughed and said "Never you mind." Adults could be very rude sometimes and never be sent to their chambers to think about what they had done. Legolas did not think it was fair.

The shields' curved shape added to the knobs in their centers made them tippy when they were on their backs, like flipped over turtles. Turgon was now rocking back and forth on one of them, with his feet braced on the two edges. By shifting his weight experimentally, he found that he could cause the shield to inch along the slippery marble floor. Annael's face lit up with delight. "I'll race you," he cried, running for the other half of The Maiden.

As Legolas watched them waddle across the room, he fingered the shield strap still in his hands. Oropher's shield was narrow and tapered to a point at the bottom end. Indeed, it occurred to Legolas that it was shaped rather like the sleds he and his friends had ridden down the snowy hill all morning. Lying there, clutching the shield and looking up at the staircase, Legolas was seized with an inspiration that was positively Turgon-ish. He ran up the stairs, dragging the shield behind him and set it down carefully at the top. Then, rather than lying on it as he had on his sled, he ventured one degree further. As he stepped onto the shield, he uttered a phrase dreaded by the parents of boy-children of all races down through all the ages of Arda: "Watch this!"

Turgon and Annael had now reached the other side of the room and were arguing over who had won the race. At Legolas's cry, they turned and looked up at him. At that same moment, Beleg came through the doorway, trailed by Amdir. Elflings, armorer, and apprentice watched as the youngest prince of Mirkwood hurtled down the stairs standing on his grandfather's shield. The natural grace of elves served Legolas well on the descent, but nothing had prepared him for the landing. As the shield reached the bottom of the staircase, its tip caught in a seam between the blocks of the floor. Momentum sent it and its rider somersaulting through the air and into a tapestry on the opposite wall. Legolas clutched at the wall hanging, and tapestry, shield, and elfling tumbled to the ground with enough noise to rouse every inhabitant of the Hall of Mandos.

"You little imps!" Beleg cried. "What are you doing?" He seized the still dazed Legolas by the back of his tunic and pulled him to his feet, shaking him once or twice like a dog with a rag in his mouth, to emphasize his unhappiness with his prince.

"Look how you have scraped the surfaces of the Laketown shields." Legolas had noticed that Beleg never referred to the two round shields as The Maiden and had wished to ask him about the title but had hesitated for reasons about which he was not quite certain. "Now they will have to be polished before tonight's banquet. And," his distress choked him to silence for a moment as he picked up the shield Legolas had been riding, "and you have dented the shield of Oropher. Undoubtedly only the fine Elven workmanship prevented more damage." He looked at them darkly. "Thranduil will not be pleased."

The three elflings stared at the shield in open-mouthed horror. Legolas was particularly dismayed. He adored his handsome, bold, warrior father, but he also had a healthy respect for Thranduil's temper and had no wish to provoke it.

"Master Beleg," Legolas cried, "can you not fix it?"

The armorer glared at him.

"We will polish The Mai.the shields of Laketown," Legolas hastened on before Beleg could speak. "But please, can't you fix grandfather's shield?"

Beleg snorted. "What possessed you to do something so harebrained? Between the three of you, there's not the sense the Valar gave a vole." Beleg studied the three woebegone faces before him, hesitated, and then seemed to make a decision. "Amdir!" he roared. "Go and fetch shield polish and some deerskin. I want you to supervise these three witless warg cubs until they rub every last scuff mark off the shields of Laketown. I will be in my workshop attending to this dent."

Three hours later, Beleg was rehanging the last of the shields. All were polished to a high gleam and a viewer had to look closely to see the slight dimple that remained in Oropher's shield. Beleg had refused to have anything to do with rehanging the tapestry Legolas had pulled down, but he had not hesitated to summon one of the housekeepers and order it taken away to be cleaned. "It's disgracefully filthy," he snorted.

The three friends watched with relief as Beleg descended from the ladder. Their alarm rose again, however, when he turned toward them. "The next time any of you has time on his hands, come to my workshop and I'll find you something useful to do. The Valar would have to remake Arda before there would be any possible use for sliding down stairs on a shield. I would have hoped that your parents had taught you more sense."

With that, he gathered up the rags and polish, signaled to Amdir to take the ladder and swept out the door. As they tramped back through the still- falling snow to the workshop, Amdir thought he heard something that sent a chill down his spine unrelated to the winter weather. Surely he was mistaken. For a moment, it had sounded as if Beleg, the bad-tempered armorer, was softly laughing.