Summary: It starts in a forgotten room and ends on the archery range. Legolas learns what drives a true warrior.
My Bow of Burning Gold
Give me my bow of burning gold.
Bring me my arrows of desire.
Bring me my spear. Oh, clouds unfold.
Bring me my chariot of fire.
I will not cease from mental strife
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till I have built Jerusalem
On England's green and pleasant land.
-The Book of Merlyn, T.H. White
The room was dim and musty, lit by a thin rectangle of sunlight that slipped through a single thin window and illuminated the smooth grey stone floor. It was a small room, but was packed full with several trunks and many rich items that gleamed brassily in the faint light. The objects in the room had obviously belonged to a lady at some point, but now the lady was long gone and her possessions had been relegated to this back room, where they could not be broken by children's hands or tarnished with use. Here the lady's garments, jewelry, figurines, portraits, and tapestries waited silently, disturbed only once a year for cleaning, when maids in royal uniforms polished and washed the items then departed and locked the door behind them.
This year, however, a mistake had been made─ the door had been left unlocked. This small mistake might have gone unnoticed except for one fact: the young prince and his friends were playing hide and go seek. It was Canachir's turn to be seeker, and while the ebony-haired elfling covered his eyes with tiny hands and commenced counting, four other elflings fled while gleefully trying to contain giggles. Prince Legolas was one of those hiding, and although it was his home and he knew all the good hiding places, some part of his childish mind told him that he had used all the good ones up and needed to find a new one, someplace where Canachir would never think to look for him. The young prince considered this while he trotted along the stone corridors. The kitchens? No, that was too far away. The wine cellar? No, that would be locked. Ada's office? Canachir would certainly never dare to look there, since Ada was a king and could look very scary if he wanted to. Legolas paused to mull over this last option. What if Ada was in his office and doing paperwork? Would he be mad at the interruption, or would he play along?
Legolas' keen ears picked up Canachir's warning that he was finished counting. Scowling (Canachir must have cheated by counting too fast!), the prince pushed on the door nearest to him. It opened with the faintest of creaks─ Legolas paused to listen and make sure Canachir wasn't on his way─ and allowed the child to slip inside. It was only after he'd gently pressed the door shut that he turned around and realized that he had never seen this room before. It was not brightly lit, several large trunks covered with tapestries formed large colorful lumps, and a tall mirror stood unused in the back corner. Legolas was, as all children are, very curious about everything, so he ventured forward, his feet light and soundless on the newly- cleaned floor. He ran his small hands over one of the tapestries, tracing the filigreed edges and the embroidered tree leaves. A row of tiny bird figurines lined a solid wooden shelf, and when he carefully picked one up he realized with awe that it was gilded with delicate jewels.
Replacing the figurine, he glanced to the left and almost cried out. An eye! Someone else was here! He stumbled back, his own eyes wide, and tripped over a tapestry edge. The sudden jolt to his tailbone made him pause, and in that pause he realized that the eye he had seen was a painted one. There was no one else here, there were only portraits. Feeling foolish, he stood and brushed off his leggings, then wound his way around the trunks to the wall against which the partially-covered portrait leaned. He pulled off the covering, which was actually a rather fine tablecloth, and stared.
The lady in the portrait was beautiful. Her hair was long and wavy, her face genteel and kind, and her eyes were bright and blissful even in paint. She was wearing a flowing green gown and a crown of flowers. Even though he hadn't seen her in many years, Legolas recognized her immediately. She was his mother. His nana who had sailed away to the Undying Lands after an Orc attack. Legolas' face darkened at the memory; the Orcs had stolen the light from Nana's eyes, and he still hated the creatures for that. Entranced, he sat on the floor and stared hungrily up at her.
Nana had never been too busy to play with him, as Ada sometimes was, and he had loved running through the woods with her, learning to climb trees and imitate bird calls. When the shadow had started to fall over Greenwood and he wasn't allowed in the forests without guards to supervise him, she would often take him out to the gardens and, while he climbed and ran around, tell him the ancient stories of the Valar, of Beren and Eӓrendil and the Silmarils. It was, he later realized, her way of explaining the shadow to him. Sometimes, instead of going to the garden, she would take him to the archery range. He would watch her shoot, her head high and hands steady as she notched and released arrow after arrow. She had been an archer before she had been a Queen, and she wanted to make sure she never forgot how to shoot. Ada also used the bow (although he preferred swords), and Legolas knew he was going to be an archer as well. He was still too young to learn, but soon he would start training. He was going to be a master archer and fight Orcs, so that Nana would be proud of him when they met again at the Undying Lands.
Lightly pattering footsteps running past the door brought him back to the present. The musical laughter of his friends swelled louder then trembled down to an echo as the elflings ran past the door and down the corridor. It suddenly occurred to Legolas that he did not want his friends finding him in this room. This was his room, his and Nana's, and he stood up and sent his Nana a small smile before slipping out the door. He would find another place to hide, and later he would ask father about starting archery training.
"Ready!" The captain, Caelion, was standing at the front of the patrol, confidently notching his arrow and seeming completely unfazed by the horde of rapidly approaching Orcs. Legolas's hands shook slightly as he drew his own arrow. It would be his first battle. He had never killed anything before.
"Aim!" The Orcs were ugly, twisted creatures, and they drew their own weapons as they charged at the group of warrior elves. Legolas picked his target, a hulking beast with bloodstained lips and rage in its eyes, and aimed. He couldn't miss his shot now, not when it really counted. He took a deep breath and tried not to pay attention to the unsteady thumping of his heart.
"Now!" The elves' bows sang out in one sharp twanging note as the arrows were released. The weapons struck true; even as he reached back for another arrow, Legolas saw his green-fletched arrow impale its target in the neck. Black blood rained from the wound and the Orc fell, its face twisting in pain and its black tongue protruding. Don't think about it, he reminded himself as he released another arrow. It's just a foul Orc.
The number of Orc attacks in Greenwood had increased over the years. The vile creatures had steadily penetrated deeper into the forest, brutalizing not only elves but the forest itself. The emerald leaves of the trees had withered to black and the flowers had shriveled away. The Orcs had brought with them giant spiders, monsters of Shelob's descent that built large sticky webs and murdered the forest's wild animals and the occasional unfortunate elf. The blackened trees had thickened their canopies so that the sunlight was blocked, and some parts of the forest seemed to be stuck in perpetual night. So strong was the shadow that Greenwood the Great had been renamed Mirkwood. It was a name that Legolas despised, as it was a reminder of the ever-growing evil that haunted his home.
He let fly another arrow, hardly sparing a glance at the stricken Orc had had just killed. Reaching back to grasp another arrow, his hands clasped only air. His arrows were spent. An Orc was hurtling towards him, and he quickly sidestepped it while sliding his bow back in place and drawing his sword. He wasn't as good at sword fighting as he was at archery, but he didn't hesitate. Even if was injured or killed, he would take down as many Orcs as he could before he fell. The Orc flew at him again, and he thrust the blade through the air so that it pierced the creature's lungs. He freed the blade and stabbed again, letting his rage loose. This Orc had just tried to kill him! Orcs had killed his mother, had ravaged his people, had ruined his forest! He weaved wildly through the mass of Orcs and elves, swinging his blade and letting his fury overtake him.
Later that night, they burned the Orc bodies. The elves had sustained few injuries and had set up camp near the river for the night. No campfire was needed; the burning bodies of their foes provided enough light and warmth. Legolas sat on the ground, staring at the fire and absently playing with his portion of lembas. He was not hungry. He felt slightly sick as he thought of the battle and of the feral way he had fought. It was hard to believe that he had killed so many so easily, hard to believe that he had lost control at such a crucial time.
The back of his neck prickled and he peered back to see Caelion staring at him. The captain hesitated then walked over and sat beside the prince, casually taking a bite of his own waybread as he did so. His eyes did not leave Legolas, and the silence between the two elves was not a comfortable one.
"If you have something to say, Captain, please say it." Legolas spoke more rudely than he intended, but he knew Caelion wouldn't blame him. The captain knew more than anyone the way that battle frayed the nerves.
Caelion shifted uncomfortably. "Legolas...the way you fought today..." he paused, trying to fit his words together. "You have seen how wargs fight. They do not fight with strategy, they simply go in for the kill without thought or control. That was how you fought today."
Legolas stared fixedly at the ground and absently traced designs in the dirt. The fire crackled and spat loudly while the wind blew the stinking fumes from it to the east.
Caelion asked, softly, "What were you fighting for?"
The ground suddenly seemed like an intensely interesting place to look. As he answered, the prince stared at the flickering shadows cast by the fire. "For Greenwood and its people, and for...my mother. Because I hate the spiders and the shadow and the destruction they bring." The fury rekindled for a brief moment and he looked into the captain's eyes. "I'm not sorry."
"I'm not asking you to be. Many young elves fight for revenge at first, driven by their hatred. But hatred can only drive you for so long before it fades away, and then what are you fighting for? Nothing. Legolas, heed me. Do not fight as revenge for what has happened in the past, but for the hope of the future."
Legolas said nothing, and Caelion sighed. "We start heading home tomorrow. I think it would be good for you to take a break from patrolling for a while. Learn how to control your emotions better, maybe teach some novices while you're at it..."
Legolas's jaw dropped and his uneaten lembas fell from his suddenly limp hands. "What? Caelion, please, you cannot...I...I'll do better! I can─" But Caelion was shaking his head. His eyes held an apology as he stood and pressed a reassuring hand on the younger elf's shoulder before he walked away, leaving the stunned prince behind him.
He lounged in the shade of a tree while he watched the novices depart. He had been teaching them for a several months now and their archery had improved drastically. Tomorrow this group would be leaving to join patrols, and he would be leaving with them. One of the novices waved as she went past and he nodded in acknowledgement. When the last novice had left the range he picked up his bow. He was the only one out here now; the breeze was light today, the sun not too hot, and he took a moment to appreciate the beauty of it before he strung his bow and aimed at one of distant trees that served as targets. He did not fire right away but made a conscious effort to be calm even as he imagined that the trees were an army of Orcs.
He shot arrows again and again. He had been a good archer when he'd gone on his first (and so far, only) patrol, but now he was better. Now he hit every target every time, and usually dead center. He practiced until the sun had begun sinking in the sky and it started getting hard to see, and by that time he had one arrow left. He held the arrow in his calloused hands and admired the straight fletching and the perfect balance of it. The setting sun had painted the sky bright orange and colored the wood of his bow and arrow burnished gold. The weapon gleamed in his hand as he strung the bow and notched the arrow.
Holding that golden bow, he thought of Caelion and Nana and Adar. He would make them proud; he would fight for them, if they ran into Orcs or spiders or wargs while on patrol. He would fight for his home, and would not stop fighting until Mirkwood was Greenwood again and the shadow was gone. He would fight for hope, as Caelion had told him to, because hope would carry him farther than hate.
He aimed the arrow and let it fly.