Spoilers: Some for The Hobbit.
Disclaimer: When I tried to sue Peter Jackson for copyright infringement my lawyer was kind enough to remind me that I own none of it. Then he called me crazy and the men in white coats came to take me away again. So unless I want to face more time in the nice padded room I'll have to say that Middle-Earth and all its inhabitants are the sole creation of J.R.R. Tolkien, and all characters and places taken from his masterpiece do not belong to me in any way.
Author's Note: This story was inspired by an event in my first story, What Hope I Can Offer. Basically, it's the story of the archery tournament Legolas mentioned as the first time he and Aragorn met. Since this story takes place when Aragorn is fourteen, he is going by the name Estel throughout the story. As in my last story, Aragorn was raised as a foster-son of Elrond, and Legolas was born near the end of the Watchful Peace. This is my first really long story, so I'm both excited about it and really nervous about how it'll be accepted.
I cannot speak any form of Elvish to save my life, so the only Elvish words I've put in this story are those used as nicknames or pronouns (such as 'Ada' when used as Thranduil's name, but 'father' when he's being referred to, such as "my father says...").
Chapter One: The Palace of the Elvenking
"Just wait until you see the Wood-Elves' palace, Estel!"
Fourteen-year-old Estel smiled at his brothers, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. They had been telling him this for the past three days, ever since the trio had neared the borders of Mirkwood.
"Yes, but do not let King Thranduil intimidate you. He is a king, but he is still just an elf like Ada."
Estel shook his head, grinning knowingly to himself. Elladan and Elrohir were convinced he was going to be terrified of the ruler of Mirkwood to the extent that they had spent the last four days telling him there was nothing to be afraid of. "Oh, but what if I make him angry?" he asked teasingly.
Elladan took the question seriously. "As long as you stay on your best behavior he shouldn't have any reason to be angry."
"Just do not call his palace a cave."
"Even if it is built under the mountain."
"And do not mention anything about dwarves."
"We did once and this vein in the middle of his head started throbbing."
"It was entertaining, but not something you should bring up."
"And try not to confuse his children's names."
"But if you cannot remember, 'My Lord' and 'My Lady' will do."
"Steer clear of Belegdur if you can, he does not care much for humans."
"Or dwarves. Or hobbits. Or anything that's not an elf."
"Or, really, any elves that are not from Mirkwood."
"But he should be able to tolerate you since you are Lord Elrond's adopted son."
"And if he cannot he will have to deal with us."
"Which should be frightening enough for someone like him."
"However, you and Legolas should get along just fine."
Estel sighed, blocking out the rest of his brothers' conversation. When they got going like this it could make one's head whirl, and they usually didn't even realize what they were doing. He was just glad that they had each been speaking complete sentences rather than finishing each other's.
He let his mind drift away, automatically nodding to his brothers' advice and instructions. They had not stopped talking about Legolas, either—though that had been going on for quite a while. In fact, his brothers had spent the last few years talking about the youngest prince of Mirkwood, insisting that he and Estel would make good friends.
And now he would finally meet him. Estel could not help but feel excited. If Legolas was one-tenth what his brothers said he was he'd be a great elf. He'd been trying to imagine what Legolas could look like ever since he'd learned of this tournament. According to Elladan and Elrohir, Legolas was almost their height with bright blonde hair and deep blue eyes—which automatically made Estel think of Lord Glorfindel. He could not quite get the image of the Balrog-slayer out of his mind, so he ended up with a mental picture of a younger, shorter Glorfindel every time he thought of Legolas. When he had confided this to Elrohir, the dark-haired elf had laughed and explained that Legolas looked nothing like Glorfindel, but almost exactly like Thranduil.
Estel grimaced slightly. Truth be told, he was nervous about meeting King Thranduil. Granted, there had been a somewhat shaky alliance between Imladris and Mirkwood for many centuries now, but the stories he had heard of the Wood-King's temper had frightened him as a child.
Shaking his head to dispel his unease, Estel turned his thoughts to the upcoming tournament. He knew his brothers were planning to compete in the archery tournament, but he was too young to do anything but watch. As a human, he would never reach the minimum age for an elf but had he been an adult he might have been able to join. Elladan and Elrohir had explained that the elves of Mirkwood held an archery tournament every twelve years, but this was the first time in millennium that Thranduil had opened it to elves of other realms.
"Just in time, too," Elladan had said. "Had they waited another twelve years Estel would have been too grown up and off with the rangers to have wanted to come with us."
Estel bit back a laugh at this memory. He could remember that day clearly, the day when his father, Elrond, had received word that the tournament was being opened. Lord Elrond had hoped that this could possibly shore up the rather shaky relations between Mirkwood and Imladris, and thus the twins and Estel had come to Mirkwood.
Not that Elladan and Elrohir wouldn't have come anyway, Estel reasoned. He was sure they would have, just to have a chance to spend time with the famous Legolas.
"And whatever you do," Elrohir said, suddenly whirling around to look Estel straight in the eye, dispelling the human's thoughts and grabbing his attention, "do not call Princess Luinlothiel 'Lady Luni'."
Estel couldn't quite hold in a snicker. "I know, Elrohir," he managed to say around the laugh. "You have told me that at least four times. How much farther do we have to go to get to the palace?"
Elladan grinned. "Do you not see it?" he asked, pointing to the large stone wall ahead of them. It was easily twelve or fifteen feet high, with a large gate guarded by two brown-haired elves.
The gate was open, revealing the well-manicured gardens within. Estel's heart was pounding as they approached the gate, stated their names to the guard, and entered. Grooms came to take their horses, leaving the three brothers standing on the cobblestone pathway before the palace.
As his brothers had said, the palace was cut directly into the mountain. He could see balconies jutting out at various levels, and small porches and alcoves that had been built out from the palace. To the left were stables and a wide, open lawn. To the right were gardens and orchards.
Estel was lost in awe of the entire place as he followed Elladan and Elrohir down the path, over a bridge that crossed the river that ran through the grounds and under the palace.
The great doors of the Wood-King's palace opened, and out stepped a slight, blond-haired figure. The elf stood at the top of the steps, looking down on the visitors for a moment.
"Welcome, strange travelers," the elf announced in a merry voice. Elladan and Elrohir looked up, gawking at the newcomer.
"Legolas!" Elrohir shouted as he and his twin pelted up the steps and tackled the elf. Estel laughed as he followed at a more sedate pace, shaking his head at the picture the three elves tangled on the top of the stairs presented.
"Legolas, this is our brother, Estel," Elladan announced, pulling Legolas up and dragging him down the stairs.
Elrohir sprinted to Estel's side and pushed him forward. "And Estel, this is Prince Legolas."
Estel cleared his throat and extended his hand. "It is nice to finally meet you, Legolas," he said. He studied the prince, knowing the elf was doing the same to him. As his brothers had said, Legolas looked nothing like Glorfindel except for the eye and hair color. He was slightly smaller than Elladan and Elrohir, his build that of an archer rather than a swordsman. But what Estel was struck with the most was the elf's youth. From the stories he had been expecting someone his brothers' age, but Legolas looked to be much younger. Yes, age was hard to tell in adult elves, but having grown up in Imladris Estel could hazard a guess at this elf's age and he couldn't imagine him being much older than four hundred, maybe five.
"I am glad to meet you as well," Legolas replied, grasping his hand firmly. "I am pleased to see that you, at least, show some sense of decorum," he added with a playful glare at the twins.
Elladan bowed mockingly. "Forgive us, Prince. We had forgotten that his highness was of the royal family and not worthy of our more lowly traditions."
"Aye," Elrohir agreed, also bowing. "It was not our intent to soil the Prince of Mirkwood."
Estel stared, wondering if he should bow or not.
Legolas just laughed, throwing one arm around Elladan's shoulders. "It is good to see you again, my friends. Things have been far too quiet since your last visit."
The twins grinned, Elrohir wrapping his arm around the prince from the other side. "Aye, I see you have not grown an inch," he said teasingly.
"One does not grow at my age," Legolas replied seriously.
"I will wager Estel will beat you out for height, Legolas!"
Estel could not hold back his smile at Elrohir's words. The banter was familiar to him...his brothers often spoke to him in the same manner, so it was no wonder they thought he and Legolas would make good friends. "Oh, but Elladan, I thought you said we should go inside immediately upon arrival?" Estel asked with false fear in his voice. "Won't the king be angry that we have not greeted him yet?"
Legolas began to answer, but at a discreet wink from Estel held his tongue.
"Estel, you have nothing to fear from King Thranduil!" Elladan replied hurriedly, shrugging out of Legolas' half-embrace to put a comforting arm around the human.
"Aye," Elrohir nodded in agreement. "He will not begrudge you these few minutes while we greet his son."
"But do not expect a welcome like this from the king."
"He is a bit more formal than Legolas."
"But you should not fear him."
"He is really a very kind elf in his own way."
"Aye, but remember what we told you."
Estel burst out laughing, sharing an amused glance with Legolas.
"Do they always act like this?" the prince asked.
"Like twin mothers with a helpless infant?" Estel grinned cheekily. "Of course."
"Ah. And I thought it was just with me."
Elrohir groaned melodramatically, suddenly shifting his grip to a headlock. "What was that, Princeling?"
"Estel?" Elladan demanded, making the same move on his human brother. "Twin mothers, are we?"
"I can see where they would get the 'helpless infant' notion, though."
"Aye. What do you think, 'Ro? To the river?"
"The river!" Elrohir pretended to begin dragging Legolas to the river, when the four were interrupted by the sharp clearing of a throat.
Legolas swiftly pulled out of Elrohir's grip, smoothing down his hair and tunic as he did so. He turned to face the elf that had just exited the palace, straightening automatically as he did so.
Breathless, Estel fought the urge to hide behind Elladan as his brother released him. The newcomer was blonde like Legolas and bore a very close resemblance to the young prince, but his eyes were dark brown. This wasn't Thranduil, was it?
"I see you have taken it upon yourself to greet our guests, Legolas," the elf said haughtily.
"I thought it only fitting," Legolas tried to explain.
"I fear what Adar will say to this...meeting," the elf went on, interrupting Legolas' defense. "I tried to warn him that you lose all sense of dignity in the presence of these Rivendell elves."
"Prince Belegdur," Elladan greeted the other elf gravely, bowing nobly.
"It is good to see you looking well," Elrohir added with a bow of his own.
Estel bowed also, but didn't know what to say to the elf.
"I am sure Adar will feel differently than you, Belegdur," Legolas replied coldly. "He knows how much I have looked forward to seeing them again."
Belegdur looked down on the sons of Elrond. "Pity," he said, almost to himself. "Too bad you could not choose friends more worthy of your position."
The young prince sighed as his brother turned and walked back into the palace. Then he looked back to the brothers, sadness in his gaze. "You will have to pardon Belegdur," he said softly. "He only says what he thinks is right."
Elladan frowned. "Is everything well in your family?"
Legolas half-shrugged. "Belegdur and Melyannawen were against opening the tournament. Aranion and Luni are afraid there might be trouble."
The human had to swallow a snort of laughter. Did the prince really just call his sister 'Luni'?
"So...that was Belegdur?" he finally asked, his mind turning back to more serious matters.
"Yes, it was," Legolas explained with a sigh, shaking his head. "I apologize for his rudeness, my friends. Come, I shall show you to your quarters."
Estel, at his brothers' promptings, quickened his pace to catch up with the prince. "This is where you live?" he asked, somewhat in awe.
"This is the palace," the prince explained, smiling. "My family lives here, as do many others. Those of my father's people who do not wish to live in the palace live in a village about a half day's journey away. The guard rotate in and out, each one staying for about eight months with his family before going back to the village."
"This place is so big!" Estel exclaimed, wishing he had more eyes to see the palace around him.
"It is our stronghold. All of my people could take refuge behind these walls if the need arose. You do need to be careful here, however," Legolas cautioned. "It is easy to get lost if you are not familiar with the palace."
Estel shivered. "I don't want to get lost if your brother is prowling around."
Legolas laughed. "Belegdur, prowling around the palace? Nay, fear not. He spends most of his time in his study or the throne room."
"Speaking of throne rooms," Elladan interjected, "should we not be greeting your father soon?"
The prince nodded. "I will take you to your rooms and give you a chance to refresh yourselves after your journey, then take you to my father."
"Good," Estel sighed, shooting a mischievous glance at his brothers. "I want to get meeting the scary elf king over as soon as possible."
Elladan growled and pretended to lunge for Estel's neck, stopping short and smiling innocently when the prince looked back at him.
"Here we are," Legolas announced, coming to a stop in front of a door. "My father has arranged for you to use a small suite, but if you need other arrangements we can work something out."
"This should be fine," Elladan assured the prince. "Would you like to come in with us?"
The prince hesitated, glancing down the hall.
"You will be on hand to show us to the throne room," Elrohir added.
Legolas grinned and shook his head. "That is what you will tell my brother, should he question my absence?"
The twins took the prince by the arm and pulled him into the room with them. "That is what we will tell Belegudr."
"Elladan," Legolas began, perching on one of the beds as the slightly older twin began digging through his pack, which the servants had brought up, "are you and Elrohir planning on competing in the tournament?"
"Of course!" the dark-haired elf replied, head buried deep in the pack. He emerged triumphant a moment later, a clean tunic clutched in his hand. "Why else would we be here?"
"To see me?" Legolas asked, adopting a pitiful expression. He made a face and ducked as Elladan tossed his dirty tunic at him. "Careful! If one strand of my hair is out of place Belegdur will report me to my father for behaving in an un-princelike manner."
Estel's forehead wrinkled in mild disgust. "Is he really that bad?"
Legolas sighed. "Belegdur and I have had many disagreements on how an elf of 'my status' should act. Personally, I have come to think that he was born full-grown and has been growing worse ever since."
Laughing, Elrohir discarded his travel-stained tunic for a clean one, pausing to help Estel with his. "And here I thought all Wood-Elves were merry."
"Belegdur was adopted," Legolas retorted cheekily. "He is really one of you stuffy Imladris elves."
"Do not blame him on us," Elrohir protested. "We tried to befriend him."
"We were merely more than he could bear," Elladan agreed.
Legolas shook his head in amused exasperation. "Well, if you are ready shall we go and greet my father?"
Elladan and Elrohir looked at each other, then to Estel. "Aye," the older twin replied. "I believe we are ready."
"Then follow me," Legolas said, climbing off the bed and leading the trio down the hall.
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