Summary: One day in Rivendell, before the Nine Walkers begin their quest, Aragorn attempts to lighten the mood.

Happy birthday, Silivren, Tinu! I hope you have a wonderful day. *hugs*

Many thanks to my wonderful beta, Calenlass.

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

Before the Storm

I aim.

The bowstring is taut in my hands. The goose-feathers of the arrow fletching tickle my thumb. I do not notice it. I am, as my instructors taught me, one with the bow and the arrow and the unsuspecting target. I can feel the rightness of the shot. I know that it will fly true.

I take a deep breath and release the arrow.

I... miss.

And now I am stuck in one of the upper branches of a tree, while a very angry woodland prince is on the ground looking around for whichever mortal was foolish enough to send an arrow in his direction.

"Please help me," I breathe to the tree.

Legolas' sharp ears catch the sound. He turns, bow raised, arrow set to the nock and bowstring drawn back to his ear in one swift movement. He does not even need to aim: the arrow is already pointing straight at me, so straight that my forehead tingles where it will hit me if he releases it.

"Come down," he orders. I am struck by how much he sounds like his father when he chooses. It is an alarming tendency that should be firmly discouraged.

"Only if you promise not to shoot me," I call back.

"Come down and we can discuss it."

"Define 'discuss'," I respond, shifting to a more comfortable position. The glinting arrowhead follows me as I move. "The last time you offered to have a discussion, I spent four hours in a beech tree while you and my brothers sat beneath it discussing some aeons-old battle –"

"Aeons? It was not even two hundred years ago –"


"Well, perhaps a little more than two hundred years, but in any case it was after the end of the Watchful Peace. So I do not know how you call it aeons old –"

"You are frightening the Halflings!" I bellow.

"I am frightening what?" He glances around and spots Frodo's two cousins standing a few feet away. They both look terrified. "Oh."

"Well?" I snap.

Legolas switches to the Common Speech, but the words are clearly foreign on his tongue, and even more alarming than Sindarin would have been. I cannot help snickering as I listen.

"Well met," he says brightly. The Hobbits squeak and try to hide behind one another. Legolas stares at them in surprise for a moment before realizing that he still has his bow drawn. "Do not be afraid," he says, hastily sliding it back into its sheath and putting the arrow in his quiver. "I will not harm you. You must be Master Meriadoc and Master Peregrin."

They do not seem reassured. He gets down, patting his horse to keep her quiet.

"Bilbo Baggins has told me a great deal about you. I... err... I am honoured to meet you. I am Legolas Thranduilion."

His attention seems to be distracted. I sidle over to the tree trunk and drop one leg over the branch. Legolas, still attempting to make conversation with the Hobbits, does not react. I drop the other leg over. All seems well – but as soon as I attempt to lower my weight to the branch below, the tree bucks up and I have to cling to the trunk to keep from being flung to the ground.

"Sinda!" Legolas looks up at me questioningly. "Let – me – down!"

"As you say," Legolas replies, his voice so obedient that all my suspicions are aroused.

Before I can say a word, he has murmured something too soft for me to hear. I suppress a shout as the branch beneath me whips treacherously out of the way. I am falling – branches and leaves are all around me – I feel a moment's alarm – and then I am on the ground, buried up to the waist in a pile of fallen leaves.

"Legolas," I growl, getting to my feet.

"You look untidier than ever, Estel."

The tone does it. Before he can say anything else, before the half-bemused, half-petrified eyes of Merry and Pippin, I launch into a description of Legolas' numerous flaws in a mixture of Sindarin, Quenya, Westron, and the few words of Silvan I have learnt from Legolas and his friends in Eryn Galen. For good measure, I even throw in the odd Dwarvish curse that I have picked up over the course of my travels.

Legolas only looks at me in polite surprise, blue eyes very round, as though he does not understand what I am saying.

As though he and my brothers did not, between them, teach me most of the Elvish insults that I know.

"Estel," he puts in mildly when I pause for breath, "you are frightening the Halflings."

My foster-father has told me never to grind my teeth. He has described it as a vile habit, most unsuitable for the future King of Gondor and Arnor. But I cannot help thinking, as I meet Legolas' infuriatingly innocent gaze, that not even Lord Elrond could keep calm under this kind of provocation.

I take a step forward and put my arm around Legolas' shoulders, turning him to face the Hobbits as I do so.

"You have not even introduced yourself properly, my friend," I say cheerfully. "Merry, Pippin, this is Legolas Thranduilion, son of the Elven-king of whom you have heard so much from Bilbo. He is a brave and noble warrior." I feel Legolas' breath catch as he guesses what I am going to do. Before he can order the trees to snatch me up, I slide my hand down his arm to grasp his wrist firmly and pull his arm behind his back. "He is the finest archer of the Woodland Realm."

Legolas shoots me a level look. I have him in a grip that would have been painful for a Man. Being an Elf, he could probably free himself while doing something unpleasant to me at the same time. But he and my brothers seem to have come to an unspoken agreement not to use Elven strength against me except while sparring. It depressed me at first, but now I have come to see it for what it truly is: a blessing. It is because of his absurd compunctions that Legolas, despite knowing precisely what I am going to do now, has no option but to stand quietly and listen.

"In fact," I say, relishing my friend's helpless frustration, "if you and Sam and Frodo want to see how dangerous skilled Elven warriors can be, you should ask Lord Glorfindel if you can watch while Legolas is having his archery training."

"Do not be absurd," Legolas bursts out. "I am sure Master Meriadoc and Master Peregrin want to see nothing of the kind."

"Oh, but they do," I assure him.

"But, Estel," he pleads. "You cannot do this to me. Glorfindel is almost worse than Thorontur."

"Better yet," I tell Merry and Pippin, ignoring Legolas entirely, "you can ask him if he will let you watch while Legolas and the sons of Elrond are having a full day's training – sword training in the morning followed by archery in the afternoon."


"If you do that, half of Imladris will turn up to watch," I promise the Hobbits. "You will have plenty of company."

"Estel –"

"What, Legolas?"

"I am giving you one chance to call this off." Legolas' eyes glitter dangerously, and I almost succumb. He truly is becoming alarmingly like his father.

"I will speak to Lord Glorfindel myself," I say, before Legolas' gimlet gaze can dent my resolution. "Tomorrow at dawn: I cannot answer for these three being in Imladris after that. You have no plans, have you?"

Merry and Pippin shake their heads. I do not blame them for not speaking. If I did not know for a fact that Legolas will never truly hurt me, no matter how much he threatens, I would not dare speak either.

Even then, as the Hobbits scamper away and I release my grip on my friend, I cannot suppress a shiver. After I have spoken to Glorfindel, I am going to have three Elves baying for my blood – something that is perilous enough in itself, without taking into account the fact that the three of them put together have probably seen more battles than any entire army of Men.

Of course Lord Elrond will not let them do me any permanent damage. Of course, being the wise and ancient Elf-lord that he is, he will not issue orders that have loopholes of which an ingenious Elf can take full advantage.

I will be in no danger at all.

Of course three ingenious young Elf-lords will not find a way to turn this against me.

I am worried.

Glorfindel took to my suggestion with enthusiasm. He thinks Legolas and my brothers have become lax. They disagree. Legolas has sensibly said nothing about it, but my brothers went to great lengths to point out that hunting Orcs in the Hithaeglir is far more taxing than sword training.

It is likely that Glorfindel will now go to great lengths to prove them wrong. They, with their usual lack of judgement, will blame me.

I am very worried.

It is nearly dawn. As I expected, a small crowd has gathered to watch. Glorfindel's training sessions are always interesting, especially when he has decided to prove a point to warriors who are becoming "soft" and especially when the point involves Elladan and Elrohir. Legolas can usually talk himself out of trouble, but today it looks like he will be unsuccessful.

I have secured a good place for myself. The five Halflings – five, since even Bilbo has decided to abandon his corner by the fire to come and watch – stand in a chattering line at the railing surrounding the practice field. I am just behind them: close enough to see and hear everything, close enough to the other spectators that none of them will start flinging sharp objects at me.

My brothers and Legolas arrive first. They are all dressed and armed for battle.

I hope they will not turn their attention to me after Glorfindel has finished with them. They might well decide that, since we are at a practice field, their self-imposed restriction against the unfair use of Elven skill does not apply. Worse still, my foster-father might decide to take their part. He has already told me that I have asked for whatever they do to me.

And to think that all this trouble is because Legolas made a tree drop me. If only the Sinda would be sensible!

They walk onto the practice field, but they do not draw their weapons. Instead they stand in a tight group well away from the spectators and begin a whispered conversation. More than one baleful glance is shot in my direction.

I wonder if Lord Elrond would consider letting me move to Rhûn.

Now Glorfindel is here. He is fully armed, as well. The crowd parts before him, not one Elf daring to meet his eyes for fear of being summoned to train with Legolas and the twins.

"Did he really slay a Balrog?" Pippin demands in a whisper. "What's a Balrog, anyway?"

Clearly he is not yet accustomed to Elven hearing. Glorfindel, who is several feet away and was standing upwind in any case, stops and turns to him with a smile.

"You had best hope you never find out," he says. He does not sound angry; in fact, I can tell that he is trying to sound reassuring. Pippin utters a strangled squeaking sound that I had thought could only be produced by mice, and then tries to sidle behind Frodo.

It is probably better for Pippin to find out about Elven hearing this way than to have him find out from Legolas on the quest. I cannot imagine that that will turn out well.

Glorfindel has turned to his students.

"Ready!" he barks.

The speed with which they move is amazing: in less than two seconds they have spaced themselves perfectly, four paces apart, the twins have their swords in the formal defensive position, and Legolas is twirling his knives in his hands. I have not seen them draw that quickly even when faced with hordes of Orcs.

I cannot say that I blame them.

Glorfindel stands in the middle of the triangle they have formed. He turns to each of them in turn, saying nothing, but staring steadily until the Elf in question flushes and falters. When he has reduced them all to a satisfactory state of nervousness, he says softly, "Begin."

He is out of the way by the time he has finished the word, and he is just in time. A moment later, there is the clash of steel on steel as my brothers' swords and Legolas' knives meet precisely where he was standing.

Sam's eyes are round with awe as he watches: all three are well-rested, and all three are moving almost too fast for mortal eyes to follow.

"It is the very beginning," I tell Sam softly. "They will be slower when they tire."

I sense three pairs of eyes flicking in my direction. But there is no pause in the movement or the muted metallic noises, so perhaps it is my imagination.

"Who is winning?" Merry demands.

I study them for a moment. "Elladan," I pronounce at last. I do not want to admit that even I cannot quite tell yet, and it is a safe enough prediction: when it comes to sparring, Elladan usually wins. "Legolas will have the most trouble with sword training – oh, he is skilled enough, but the blade is not his weapon of choice. And he is used to fighting among the trees."

"Does that make a difference?" Frodo asks.

"Oh, yes. That is why the archers of Greenwood use knives instead swords – they are smaller and lighter, and make it far easier to keep your balance when you are standing on a thin branch in a high wind. Swords are very good for combat on solid ground – like this. The sons of Elrond are skilled and experienced swordsmen."

"How long do they spar?"

"Until Glorfindel decides that somebody has won. Then they get a few minutes to rest before they begin again."

"How many rounds are there?" Pippin asks.

"As many as Glorfindel wants to see." At their looks of horror, I add, "If someone draws blood, he will let them stop long enough to bind the injury."

"I thought they used blunted weapons!"

"They do. But at that pace, even blunted weapons can hurt. Do not worry; there is unlikely to be blood."

Even as I say it, I hear a hiss from one of the combatants and a sharp, "Daro!" from Glorfindel. Legolas has taken a cut on his right arm. It does not seem serious, and I doubt it will affect his aim in the afternoon. I am surprised, though: Legolas is not as good a swordsman as my brothers, but I was not expecting him to take a hit so soon. He is unusually slow this morning.

The three of them hold another quick conversation while Elrohir is tying up the cut. I wonder if Rhûn is far enough away.

They start again at once.

Pippin frowns and mutters to his companions, "Will we miss breakfast?"

"If you want to watch," I tell him cheerfully, and loudly enough to be heard by my brothers and my friend, "you will have to decide which meals you can avoid. Glorfindel will let them stop for a rest and a meal between sword training and archery training, but it will be short. I do not think you should tell him about second breakfast or – what was it? Elevenses?"

As it turns out, Pippin does not want second breakfast. Or elevenses. He was refusing to go in to lunch until Glorfindel promised not to begin the archery training until he returned.

My brothers and Legolas do not even bother to go indoors. They simply find themselves a shady part of the practice field and sprawl on the ground, gratefully accepting Glorfindel's offer to have someone send them food. They all look exhausted. I almost feel sorry for them... But the nagging feeling I have that they have been plotting against me all night keeps me from it.

Pippin eats at breakneck speed, even refusing a second helping of pudding for fear Glorfindel will forget his promise and start. The others seem equally eager to return.

When we take our places by the railing – of the archery range this time – Boromir appears beside us.

"My brother Faramir would enjoy this," he comments. "He is a great student of Elves and Elven ways. And Elven warfare."

"There are worse things a captain of Gondor could study than Elven warfare," I say mildly: he sounds as though he does not have a high opinion of it.

Boromir snorts. "Elves!"

Before I can reply, Glorfindel has barked an order and the three Elves line up. He has set up two sets of targets: one about halfway down the field and one at the far end.

They have still not pulled out their bows: they will do that on his command.

I feel a sharp rap to the back of my head. I turn to meet Gandalf's twinkling eyes.

"I just wanted to tell you," he says, "that I will not rescue you, Estel."

"Why does everyone assume that I will need to be rescued?" I demand. "First my father, now you... Even Erestor was giving me a lecture about prudence and tact!"

He only chuckles and settles himself against a tree, pulling out his pipe and lighting it.

Without turning around, Glorfindel barks, "Put that foul thing out, Mithrandir, or you will be the archers' target!"

"They would not dare," Gandalf replies, unconcerned.

"Try me."

Gandalf rolls his eyes, but I notice that he makes haste to tap out his pipe nonetheless.

"Just in case," he says, when he sees me looking. "With Glorfindel, anything is possible."

He is wise: Glorfindel has a way of persuading people to do what he wants. And my brothers and Legolas have suffered enough under his tutelage that none of them would even think of disobeying.

Glorfindel orders, "Aim!" He pauses for a heartbeat. Then, "Fire!"

Three arrows, three thuds, three perfect shots.

"Aim!" Glorfindel snaps, without checking the shots. "Fire!" Then, almost before the bows have finished twanging, "Aim! Fire!"

He gives them less time with each shot until, at the twelfth, he does not even give the order to aim, and the last four are simply, "Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire!"

Accuracy has suffered: Elladan and Elrohir both shot wildly towards the end, in some cases barely managing to hit the target, and even Legolas only made twelve perfect shots: the last three arrows are in the first ring outside the centre. Glorfindel studies the targets, scowls at all three of them, and tells them to collect their arrows and begin again.

By the time they are through two rounds of it, Legolas has found his rhythm. When the third round begins he has his arrows off almost faster than Glorfindel can call the shots, each one a perfect hit. Elladan and Elrohir have improved as well. Glorfindel studies the targets for a moment before pronouncing himself satisfied with a grudging nod.

Then he produces a bag full of clay balls.

"He will throw them," I tell the Hobbits. "He will probably ask somebody to help him: he will not be able to throw them as fast as he wants on his own. And they must be shot before they hit the ground."

The balls have been painted bright red... But my brothers and Legolas exchange miserable glances, knowing as well as I do that Glorfindel, being Glorfindel, probably has another bag of balls painted the precise shade of the afternoon sky to use when he is finished with this one.

Glorfindel shakes the black ball. The bell inside it tinkles faintly. Then he throws it into the air. The bell is barely audible above the birds and the chatter of the crowd.

Legolas, blindfolded, raises his bow, pauses for the space of a heartbeat, and fires.

The ball explodes in a shower of fine clay. The bell falls to the ground, sparkling in the dying sunlight.

Glorfindel announces that the training is over.

I can tell that more than one of the watching Elves would have protested, except that Legolas still has half a dozen arrows in his quiver and they have just seen proof of how accurately he can shoot by sound.

The Hobbits leave. I am about to sneak off after them when I hear my name.

"If you want to spar with Estel," Glorfindel is saying, "I do not mind supervising. I think I could do with some sword practice myself."

I am shocked and hurt. I cannot imagine what Glorfindel has against me.

"That is not necessary," Legolas says as he pulls off his blindfold. His voice is so mild that all my suspicions are aroused at once. My brothers might, under certain circumstances, decide that they have more important things to do than wreak vengeance upon me. Legolas suffers from no such compunctions: he is too much his father's son. "I am sure Estel is tired. He has spent most of the day standing in the sun laughing like a maniac. It might make him ill."

Elrohir, looking as though he does not believe his ears, pulls Legolas aside and whispers urgently to him. Legolas shakes his head, smiling. He murmurs something. A moment later, Elrohir sighs, shrugs, and says, "If you say so, Elfling. At least let me look at your arm."

He indicates the cut Legolas took from Elladan earlier. The bandage wrapped around it is stained with blood, but when Elrohir unwraps it I can tell that it is not very deep. It will not even need stitches.

To my surprise, Legolas does not make a fuss when Elrohir wraps the bandage around his arm again.

"We will leave in some time," Legolas points out mildly, when he sees my astonishment. "I cannot risk having an injured arm. It might affect my aim."

I consider pointing out that his injury does not seem to have affected his aim so far, but decide against it. For one thing, if the Elfling is consenting to medical treatment without a fuss, it is probably best not to interfere. For another, I do not want to have to spend all night listening to complaints about how some shot missed its mark by a hair's-breadth.

I offer to help, but Elrohir refuses. In a few minutes he has bound Legolas' arm to his satisfaction.

We walk back to the Last Homely House together, sharing a companionable silence as the last of the light fades and the stars begin to come out. Legolas, as always, is distracted by them: his gaze flickers upwards, and I hear him murmur an invocation to Elbereth. My brothers have begun a soft but frenzied argument about which of them had the better showing with the bow.

I wrap an arm around Legolas' shoulders, feeling guilty for letting him and my brothers in for this – and for believing that they would try to get back at me in some way. I should have known better.

He turns to me in startled enquiry, but I shake my head and lead him in the direction of the house.

As we are about to reach it, I hear footsteps on a path to our left. I turn, but I can see nothing through the trees. Legolas stiffens imperceptibly.

I am about to ask what he has sensed. Before I can, Arwen emerges from the trees.

I am utterly confused. That Legolas did not know who was coming is inconceivable – I would not be surprised to find he knows the location of every single Man, Dwarf, Elf or Halfling who is in the woods at this moment. There is no reason for Arwen's presence to alarm him –

But I feel his shoulder jerk under my hand. He stumbles.

Arwen notices the movement. Her sharp eyes take in his slightly dishevelled appearance and the bandage around his right arm. "What is wrong?" she asks, sounding worried. "Have you hurt yourself."

I expect Legolas' usually cocky denial, but instead he flushes scarlet and mumbles something. Arwen frowns. I am astonished at Legolas' foolishness – he knows as well as I do that when Arwen has decided somebody is withholding information, nothing will keep her from extracting it. It is unlike him to make such basic mistakes.

And then, as Legolas looks up at Arwen with widely innocent blue eyes, meekly offering his arm for her inspection, I realize what he is doing, what he and my brothers have probably been planning for hours.

I remember that first sparring-match of the day. I thought at the time that it was surprising for Elladan to score such a quick and decisive hit, and Legolas and my brothers are all experienced enough not to cause spilt blood unless –


I turn to Arwen and open my mouth, but I see that it is already too late. Legolas and my brothers are surrounding her, pouring out tales of my iniquities.

"And just think, Arwen, of the early hour –"

"When I only returned from Eryn Galen yesterday –"

"Absolutely no consideration for how weary we might be after having had patrols all night –"

"Completely unprovoked attack –"

"Training with Glorfindel, Arwen. Can you imagine that?"

"All day."

"I know he has to amuse himself somehow, but surely we do not deserve –"

"Shot at me from the trees –"

Arwen pats Legolas' shoulder in a comforting gesture. I know there is no hope for me now. If it had only been the twins she might have taken my side, but for some reason she seems to think that Legolas is still the four-year-old Elfling she bounced on her knee.

"Arwen," I say, smiling ingratiatingly. "Meleth."

"Estel." She smiles as well. The sight of it is breathtakingly beautiful – and terrifying. I shiver. "I want to talk to you."

I catch sight of Legolas' delighted grin and my brothers' silent laughter. Cursed half-witted, Orc-brained, Dwarf-wrought Elves!

What did you think? Good? Bad? Please review!