Disclaimer: I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien but they belong to him. I gain no profit from their use other than the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.

AN: In this story, Legolas is almost 27, which, in human terms, makes him much like a child of 10 or 11.

*******

1. Desirable Weapons

Bow in hand, Legolas moved through the trees, his attention divided between the woods around him and the figure of his father, ghosting silently along in front of him through the gathering early-spring dusk. He hefted the bow a little, feeling its satisfying weight. Only a month ago, the archery master had given him and his friends Turgon and Annael permission to use bows this size. It was the first bow he had owned not designed specifically for elflings. True, its draw weight was far less than that of the bows used by his father and brothers, but still, he had a bow that could be used to hunt large game such as the deer that he and his father were now scouting.

Thranduil stopped and beckoned Legolas toward him. He pointed silently toward a tree trunk from which the bark had been scraped, undoubtedly by a deer rubbing his antlers against it and then smiled down at Legolas. Since Legolas had gotten his new bow, the two of them had hunted deer whenever Thranduil had had time. The scrape was a sign that they were on a trail deer used going between areas where they fed and those where they slept. Legolas could feel his excitement rising. Perhaps this evening he would bring down his first deer.

Thranduil motioned ahead, where Legolas knew a small meadow lay. If deer were going to be feeding anywhere in the area, it would be there. Perhaps the animals had already awakened from their daytime sleep and were ahead of them. Legolas followed his father as they crept toward the meadow. He knew Thranduil would not take to the trees because Legolas was not experienced enough to be sure of missing a deer's shoulder blade when shooting from above and thus could not be sure of making a clean kill. So they needed to stalk and hunt the deer on the ground. Thranduil said this was much harder than hunting them from the trees, and Legolas was both pleased that his father thought he could succeed in a harder kind of hunting and frustrated that the difficulty of hunting on the ground meant that he had not yet managed to kill a deer.

The two of them halted just at the edge of the woods. Thranduil made a minute gesture and Legolas gazed into the meadow. Straight ahead and facing them, a medium-sized buck was grazing. Legolas raised his bow, but Thranduil put a restraining hand on his arm. As they stood there, the animal lifted its head and stared toward them. Legolas would have sworn that the deer could not see the two green and brown clad elves, for he and his father were screened by underbrush and they stood completely still and were downwind from the deer. And yet despite all that, the deer suddenly reared and with a single leap disappeared into the trees on the other side of the meadow.

Legolas uttered a soft, disappointed sound and his father chuckled. "Deer are clever animals," he said sympathetically. "They sometimes know you are there before you do."

"Why did you not let me shoot while I had the chance?" Legolas asked plaintively.

"You know why," his father answered with a serious look. "A head-on shot has to hit dead center or it will deflect off the bone. You are not ready for that yet."

Legolas sighed. His father was right and he knew it, but he was still disappointed. His friend Annael had killed his first deer the previous week, and Legolas did not like to be outdone.

Thranduil put his hand on Legolas's shoulder. "We take gifts from the forest, Legolas," he said gently. "But we must do it with care."

"I know," Legolas acknowledged.

"Come," Thranduil said. "We must be going home."

"So soon? Please, Adar, let us stay just half an hour more," Legolas pleaded.

"No," Thranduil responded firmly. "We are some distance from home, and Ithilden will be waiting for us, and then you need to get to bed. You have weapons training tomorrow morning."

Legolas scowled in frustration but knew there was no point in arguing. He turned and followed after Thranduil, who had set off toward the place where they had left their horses. Suddenly his father stopped dead, looking at the ground in front of him.

"What is it?" Legolas asked.

Thranduil pointed wordlessly toward the ground and Legolas looked where he was indicating. A very large deer print was clearly visible in the soft earth. Legolas blinked. This track was by far the largest he had ever seen.

"This animal honors the forest with his presence," Thranduil breathed.

Legolas's heart quickened. "Then this is his territory," he said excitedly. "We can come back and look for him." He already knew that deer tended to be creatures of habit and stayed in the same area when they could.

"Perhaps," Thranduil acknowledged. "But an animal who grows to this size is wily, and our presence may already have put him off." He glanced at Legolas and evidently read disappointment on his face for he ruffled his hair and said, "The next time we hunt, though, we will come here. Perhaps we will be lucky."

Legolas let go of his disappointment and smiled at Thranduil. He loved hunting with his father, whether they brought down a deer or not. His father was so busy that Legolas had learned to treasure every moment they spent together. Thranduil smiled back at him but then turned to look ahead of them and an instant later Legolas too knew that someone was coming toward them through the trees.

Within a few moments, two young Elves dropped from the trees to the ground, bows in their hands. Legolas recognized them from the weapons training fields as Tynd and Riolith. They were perhaps ten years older than Legolas, not old enough to be novice warriors yet, but not too far shy of it either. Legolas admired Tynd especially and was pleased to be found hunting deer. Tynd and Riolith had evidently seen Thranduil and Legolas and felt it polite to greet them.

"My lord," Tynd said hastily, and both of them bowed. They glanced at Legolas but did not greet him. Legolas frowned. Surely these two could see that that he was no longer a child. The very bow he carried proved that, and his twenty-seventh begetting day was only a month away.

Thranduil acknowledged the greeting. "You look as if you are hunting," he observed.

"We are, my lord," Tynd agreed. He and Riolith exchanged a look of suppressed excitement. They hesitated but apparently could not bear to keep their news secret. "We have been scouting this area for a very large buck that Riolith caught a glimpse of last week," Tynd confided.

Thranduil nodded and, to Legolas's dismay, pointed at the hoof print. "Perhaps this is the deer you seek?"

They hurried forward and looked. "Yes," Riolith breathed. "That is probably him." He looked up with shining eyes. "By your leave, my lord, we would continue looking."

"You are not going to hunt at night by yourselves, are you?" Thranduil asked with a frown. Legolas recognized his father's disapproving tone, having heard it often enough himself. Thranduil worried not only about normal night forest dangers such as wolves, but also about the creatures of shadow who were inhabiting the reaches of the forest south of his stronghold. His father's fears sometimes seemed unreasonable to Legolas. So far as Legolas knew, giant spiders and Orcs, who moved by night, had not yet ventured this close to his father's palace, but Thranduil was concerned about them anyway.

And Thranduil's fears had unfortunate consequences so far as Legolas was concerned. He and his father had occasionally been camping, but guards had accompanied them, and Legolas had been warned repeatedly not to wander from the campsite. And Thranduil absolutely forbade him to leave the palace at night without an escort. He chafed at being kept in because he loved the starlit sky. Indeed, he had been hoping he would be able to talk his father into hunting at night for deer because that was the time they were most active, but he assumed that Thranduil would permit it only with some fairly rigid restrictions on Legolas's movements. It did not surprise him that his father was concerned over what Tynd and Riolith might be doing.

"No, my lord," Tynd hastened to assure him. "We will stop soon."

"Good," Thranduil approved. "The woods grow dangerous at night. Go."

With a respectful nod, the two leapt back into the trees and disappeared silently in the direction of the meadow.

Legolas frowned. Neither one of the older two youths had even acknowledged his presence. "Why did you tell them about the hoof print, Adar?" he asked as soon as they were out of earshot. "That buck belongs to us!"

Thranduil put his hand on Legolas's shoulder and steered him once again toward home. "The buck belongs to himself, iôn-nín. You know that. And we will come and hunt again. This animal will not let himself be taken easily." He squeezed Legolas's shoulder. "Do not worry," he jested lightly. "There will still be plenty of deer the next time we come."

By the time they reached the palace, it had grown late, and although they did not pause to change before they went to the royal family's small private dining room, they found Legolas's oldest brother, Ithilden, waiting for them. He rose as his father entered. "How did it go?" he asked Legolas as Thranduil seated himself and waved both of them to their chairs too.

"Still nothing," Legolas answered, feeling again the rush of disappointment that he had thus far failed to match Annael's achievement.

"You are very good with a bow," Ithilden comforted him. "One day soon, we will be eating venison you have provided." The servant finished waiting on them and left the room.

Ithilden turned to Thranduil. "The Dwarves' representatives will meet with us tomorrow morning. I assume that is acceptable." Thranduil nodded but made no comment.

"Are there Dwarves here?" Legolas asked in some excitement. He had never seen a dwarf, for his father generally kept his distance from the inhabitants of Erebor.

"No," Ithilden answered. "Men of Dale are representing the Dwarves in negotiations about our buying weapons from them."

Legolas was disappointed. He had seen Men before, for the Woodland Realm traded regularly with the Men of Esgaroth. "What is wrong with our own weapons?" he asked.

"Nothing," said Thranduil crisply. "I am not sure that we need to deal with the dwarves."

"We need more weapons and armor than our own smiths can provide," Ithilden said in the tone of one who has made this argument many times before. "And the Dwarves produce blades of unmatched quality."

Thranduil frowned and speared his fork at the fish on his plate. "We will talk of this tomorrow," he said neutrally, a clear indication that the topic was closed. Legolas suspected that Thranduil did not want to talk of the matter in front of him. His father and oldest brother did not often discuss the defense of the Realm in his presence. He had not minded or even noticed their avoidance of the topic until recently, but now that he was growing up, he wished they would tell him about what was happening. He felt like a baby when his friends knew more than he did about battles that had occurred.

"I almost forgot," Ithilden exclaimed. "Legolas, a letter from Eilian came for you in the last bunch of dispatches." He pulled a sealed letter from his pocket and handed it across the table. Legolas was delighted. His brother Eilian was assigned to the Woodland Realm's Southern Patrol, so he was seldom home, although Legolas thought Eilian should soon be due for the week of leave he got every three months. But he wrote to Legolas frequently with very entertaining stories of the oddities that were part of his days. They were the only letters that Legolas got, and he always felt very grown up when he used his dagger to loosen the seal and opened the folded parchment.

"No reading at the table, Legolas," Thranduil warned.

"I know," Legolas said, although he did think the rule was rather unfair. Ithilden often read dispatches at the table. He put the letter away for later. It was something to look forward to. He settled down to eat his meal and exchange the news of his day with his family.

***

"This is silly," Turgon grumbled under his breath. "How are we supposed to hit anything?"

Legolas's gaze was on Annael, who, following the instructions of Penntalion, the archery master, had shut his eyes and was firing yet another arrow at a bale of hay only four feet in front of him. The bow in Annael's hands looked very long, for Legolas had not yet grown accustomed to seeing his friends use adult bows. "Adult" bows. The very idea sent a thrill of satisfaction through him. He ignored Turgon, who tended to think he knew better than the weapons masters about almost everything. Turgon was a good friend, but, as Thranduil had pointed out to Legolas repeatedly, he did not always show good judgment, and at the moment, he was irritated because half of his own shots had missed the hay bale.

"How does your shot feel?" Penntalion asked. "Is it different than it is with your eyes open?"

Annael considered. "Perhaps," he said doubtfully.

Penntalion nodded. "It probably is. We will do this again until they feel the same." He summoned Legolas to take his friend's place.

Legolas nocked his arrow and came to his full draw. "Close your eyes but do not fire yet," Penntalion instructed. Legolas obeyed. "What do you notice?" Penntalion asked.

Legolas considered. "My stance," he said tentatively. "I can feel how my arm is extended."

"Keep your eyes closed and shoot," said Penntalion. Legolas fired the arrow. "Do not open your eyes," the archery master warned. "Draw and fire again." Legolas pulled an arrow from the quiver on his back, nocked it carefully, and fired. In all, he shot perhaps a dozen arrows. "Enough," Penntalion said. "Open your eyes now."

Legolas opened his eyes. His arrows were scattered but at least they were all in the hay bale. While that seemed a ridiculously tiny accomplishment at this distance, it was better than either Turgon or Annael had done. "Remember," Penntalion admonished them all, "the point of this exercise is to think about your shot, not your aim."

"I do not see what good a shot is if you cannot aim it," Turgon sulked.

Penntalion raised an eyebrow at him. "If your shot is good, your aim will be consistent. You are having trouble because your bows are bigger than what you are accustomed to, but you will all master them in time."

Turgon scowled but said nothing more. "That is enough for today," Penntalion told them. I will see you again two days hence." They all nodded respectfully to him, and he gathered his gear and walked toward where some older students were waiting for him.

The three friends started to leave the training fields. It had been just them working with Penntalion today because they had all recently gotten the longer bows. Until now, they had been in a large class of elflings. Soon, they would join the older students. Legolas was looking forward to that.

"Legolas," called a voice, and he turned to find Riolith approaching him. "I wanted to speak to you about that buck that Tynd and I were hunting last evening."

"What about it?" Legolas asked.

"Are you and the king going to be hunting it?" Riolith asked. Annael and Turgon were listening curiously. Legolas had told them about the large hoof print earlier. They had both been impressed, and he had not even exaggerated its size.

"Perhaps," said Legolas cautiously. He intended to try to talk his father into hunting again this evening, but Thranduil seldom could spare the time two days in a row. Still, he did not want to cede the territory to Riolith and Tynd.

"I did see it first, you know," Riolith said rather heatedly.

"That has nothing to do with anything," Turgon jumped into the discussion. "Legolas should be able to hunt it if he wants to."

Riolith snorted scornfully. "Legolas could not hit it. All he would do is chase it away by his presence."

"Legolas is probably a better archer than you are," Turgon asserted loyally. Legolas flinched. Being better than Turgon and Annael was not the same thing as being better than the older students. Legolas had seen them shoot and knew his own limits.

Riolith laughed shortly. "Turgon, you are always amusing." He looked at Legolas again. "Hunt elsewhere, elfling. That deer is beyond you." He turned and walked away.

"Of all the nerve!" Turgon exclaimed. "Ignore him, Legolas."

"Are you going to hunt that buck?" Annael asked as they started off the field again.

"I would like to," Legolas said slowly. "But I do not think my adar will be able to." He was recalling last night's conversation between his father and Ithilden about a meeting having to do with buying arms from Dwarves. It sounded like the kind of meeting that kept his father busy and in a bad temper for days on end.

Turgon stopped dead in his tracks. "We should do it!"

The other two looked at him. "Hunt the buck?" Annael asked doubtfully.

"Yes," Turgon was excited now. "Legolas knows where its territory is. We can ride out there this afternoon after our lessons and start scouting it."

The other two considered. Legolas felt a sudden stab of excitement. "We could do that," he agreed. Annael, too, was nodding, his eyes gleaming. For an unworthy moment, Legolas wished that Annael had not been part of this conversation. He had not forgotten that his friend had already killed a deer. He suddenly felt as possessive of the buck as Riolith had seemed to be. They could all scout it, he vowed to himself, but he would bring the big animal down.

***

Ithilden was pleased. So far, the meeting with the dwarves' representatives was going better than he had hoped. His father was unenthusiastic about buying weapons from the Dwarves of Erebor for he had been schooled by his own father in the story of the ruin of Doriath at which Oropher had been present, and Thranduil's distrust of Dwarves ran deep. But he had allowed the two Men from Dale to show them armor and swords whose workmanship was very fine.

"The blade is exceptionally well-balanced," said Rudd, who was evidently the leader of the pair.

Thranduil picked the sword up, flexed it lightly, and then laid the flat of the blade on the edge of his hand, adjusting it until the sword hung perfectly poised with his hand near the hilt. He grunted in grudging approval and put the sword down. "I am really more interested in the armor," he said austerely. Ithilden grimaced inwardly. He hoped that Thranduil's claim was just a bargaining tactic, for he believed that they needed the swords too.

Rudd's companion, Cadoc, hurried to show off the helmet and hauberk they had brought with them. "Feel how light they are, my lord," he told the king, who picked each piece up in turn.

"What kind of fee are the Dwarves asking for these?" Thranduil asked, sounding bored. Now Ithilden knew that his father was bargaining, but judging from the looks on Cadoc's and Rudd's faces, so did they.

Rudd produced a sheet of parchment and handed it to Thranduil. "You will find what they are asking for each weapons or piece of armor listed there, my lord."

Thranduil ran his eye down the list, irritation increasingly showing in his face. He thrust the list at Ithilden, who scanned it quickly and sucked in his breath. No wonder his father looked irritated.

"These prices are preposterous," Thranduil declared. "Particularly given that our own smiths can provide us with the items just as well."

"The prices are merited by the Dwarves' skill, my lord," Rudd maintained.

Thranduil snorted. "Unless the items are made of mithril, they cannot possibly be worth what is being asked." To Ithilden's dismay, his father rose, bringing everyone else to their feet too. "This discussion is at an end," he declared. "It is obvious that the Dwarves are not seriously interested in dealing with us." He began to walk toward the door.

"My lord," said Rudd hastily, "we are empowered to do some amount of negotiating over the fee."

Thranduil paused and looked at him, his eyes hooded. "Do not waste my time," he said. "If you have a better offer to make, then make it."

Rudd and Cadoc looked at one another, and then Cadoc shrugged. Rudd turned back to face Thranduil. "An amount that is two-thirds of the prices listed might be acceptable," he allowed.

Thranduil raised an eyebrow. "When would we receive the first shipment?"

"In about two weeks, my lord," Cadoc said, sounding relieved. "Most of the items are already made."

Thranduil nodded. "Very well," he said. "We will pay you when the shipment arrives."

"I fear we must have the payment first," said Rudd hastily. "Otherwise, the Dwarves will not allow their goods to be sent."

There was a moment's silence. "This requires some degree of trust on our part," Thranduil finally said, "and I fear I do not have a great amount of trust for the Naugothrim."

Rudd smiled rather weakly. "I fear that the lack of trust is mutual, my lord. The Dwarves made it clear that they will not send anything until they have been paid." He hesitated. "They too remember old grievances."

Thranduil sneered. "Their 'grievances' do not concern me." He looked at Ithilden, who was holding his breath and then sighed. "We will make the arrangements," he said. "You will have the payment by tomorrow."

Rudd and Cadoc sagged in visible relief, and Ithilden feared that he did too. He followed his father from the Great Hall and into his office, leaving the Men scrambling to take a hasty departure on their own.

Thranduil sank into the chair behind the desk and waved Ithilden into the one in front of it. "I do not like it," the king declared.

"I know you do not," Ithilden acknowledged. "But we need the weapons and armor now and cannot wait until we have trained more of our own smiths to provide it."

Thranduil made a face. "We will see how this first shipment goes," he declared moodily.

"Thank you, Adar," Ithilden told him. He fervently hoped that all went well, for if it did not, his father's wrath was going to be audible all the way to Erebor.