Disclaimer: It saddens me beyond the power of mere words to express, that I don't own LoTR. A few lines in this fic are paraphrased from LoTR, cause you just can't beat the Master (i.e. the Professor!)
A/N: This is my first ever LoTR fanfic, and only my second overall. Hopefully it's not too boring, please do read and review! Now, ON WITH THE SHOW!
"I cannot believe it,' said the elf, his fair face pale with revulsion. "To do this- for sport, for the sake of pageantry and glory and excitement! How can this possibly be an appropriate way to honour the dead?"
His companion, a tall and lordly man with keen grey eyes fixed on the spectacle before them, responded quietly. "It is a time-honored custom of the Rohirrim, Legolas. I know it is not the way of the Firstborn, but for the sake of diplomacy, it behooves you to refrain from open criticism at least. Éomer may be a dear friend but he will not take kindly to a slight upon the ways of his people."
His chastisement caused the elf to pause, clench his jaw, then nod briefly. The two watched silently as the scene continued to unfold before them. The taller man, a Rider by the name of Eadburg, clearly held the advantage in terms of experience. The shouts of the crowd did nothing to faze him as he guided his horse easily with his left hand, all the while sparring furiously with his opponent using the blade in his right. Suddenly, in a move so quick that the eyes of Men could only just catch it, the Rider twisted his wrist in an odd fashion, surprising his opponent. The other's sword was knocked out if his hand and sent clattering to the floor.
A moment's silence fell, then the loud chime of a gong reverberated across the field. At this, the audience out on the jousting field erupted into a thunderous roar of applause. The two Riders dismounted, removing their helmets, and walked forwards to congratulate each other on their showmanship.
Legolas grunted, an uncharacteristic sound for the normally unruffled elf. "That, at least, was a clean battle." The implication, that many others that day were not, was left unsaid.
Legolas and the King Elessar were in attendance at a great tournament hosted by Éomer King of Rohan. The weeklong event was being held to commemorate the great Ride of the Rohirrim, of which many songs had been sung. The minstrels of Rohan had certainly been busy in the twenty years since the great battle! The songs were sung at every mealtime and rest period from dawn till dusk. Not that Legolas minded. In his opinion, the laying of one's grief into song was a fine way to honour the fallen. Equally, it was his opinion that encouraging the survivors to fight, perhaps maim or even kill each other was a terrible way to achieve that same goal.
He said as much to Elessar that night, when the two were smoking pipeweed alone in their tent. At least, Elessar smoked. Legolas merely wrinkled his nose and made dire threats about destroying the pipe the second it was left unguarded. An empty threat, as the beautiful pipe made by the Halflings as a gift for Elessar's last birthday was always about the King's person.
"I do not mean to question the honour of Eomer's Riders, or any of the other participants for that matter, Aragorn. That is not the issue. What I find offensive is that these knights are actively engaged in hurting each other in the name of sport! Furthermore, that this is being done to honour those who fell during the war!" The elf's voice was agitated as he poured out his misgivings to his old friend.
He continued, "If every joust could be as the one between Eadburg and young Féle, I would not protest so much against the idea, though it still irks me that those who fell in battle are remembered by encouraging even more battling. However, you yourself know what we have seen today. How many good men have ridden into the arena today filled with high hopes, only to be left injured and maimed, sometimes permanently? How many potentially great soldiers has Gondor and Rohan lost by this foolishness?"
He paused as Aragorn gripped his shoulder. "Calm yourself, Legolas," said the King, his voice filled with calm authority. "You are overstating the situation, I am certain it was not as bad as all that. There were men injured, to be sure, but only a handful of the injuries were anything to speak of, and even less were permanent."
"It is ludicrous for even one man to be irredeemably hurt for such a cause," snarled Legolas. "Moreover, I am told that it is not unheard of for men to be killed outright at such a tournament. Where is the sense or meaning in laying down one's life, not to defend one's people and home, but instead to win a sackful of gold and passing renown?"
"Your people host similar events," pointed out the King. "I believe you are no stranger to them either. I seem to recall my brothers telling me stories of tournaments in which the three of you competed against each other."
Legolas waved a dismissive hand. "That is different. We do not use each other as targets during archery tournaments! "
"Unless, of course, one's opponent has recently dyed one's hair blue," inserted Aragorn slyly, recalling a story he had heard from a chuckling Elrohir. If he had hoped to distract his friend, however, he failed. Legolas simply acted as though he had not heard Aragorn's words, continuing to speak as if there had been no interruption.
"Of course, we engage in hand-to-hand combat during training, but that is always done with blunted blades for safety. We certainly do not make a sport out of it! And if we are injured, we heal so much faster than Men do. I truly cannot imagine what fascination the sport holds for your people, Aragorn."
Aragorn was silent, thinking, as he took another puff on his pipe. It was some minutes before he spoke.
"Some things are better understood if discovered by oneself, so I can only ask that you keep an open mind and open eyes. Watch the people of Rohan, not just the participants, carefully over the next few days. We shall further discuss this then."
"I will never understand Men," grumbled Legolas. "It took me a good eighty years to even begin to understand you!"
All the same, the elf took Aragorn's words to heart. The next few days passed as he observed keenly the participants and supporters gathered in the Mark for the tournament. The participants consisted mostly of the Rohirrim, undeniably the most skilled on horseback and therefore touted as the likeliest winners. However, there were also peoples of Gondor, Umbar, Harad, the Dale, and other lesser cities of Men in the ranks as in the audience.
He learnt many things in the course of his observations. For one thing, he perceived that the Corsairs of Umbar were excellent horsemen, with several quite as good as the Riders of Rohan. Besides this, he noticed that the Bardings, men of the Dale, had a custom of bestowing a flower to their chosen ladies as they rode into the arena at the start of the battle. He was told later that if a Barding warrior was successful, it was expected that the lady of his choice would reward him with her favor, whether she be married or no. The pristine elf shuddered as the old man, Hengest by name, boasted that his son had won the favor of the wife of King Brand's own steward.
None of this helped to unmake Legolas' impression of the crudeness of the sport. Aragorn, who was usually by his side, offered no words of explanation. Indeed, his eyes shone with ill-disguised mirth at the elf's apprehension when Hengest proceeded to describe minutely the finesse of the royal steward's wife in bestowing her favors.
"Stop laughing, you wretch!" exclaimed Legolas, as Aragorn burst into merry laughter the moment Hengest was out of earshot.
"I am sorry, but the look on your face was priceless!" Aragorn defended himself. "Oh, that I should live to see Legolas Thranduilion engaged in a debate on the sexual prowess of a lady, and with a stranger in the middle of a crowded field, no less! What would King Thranduil say?"
"Less than Arwen will when I tell her how much you enjoyed his bawdy recital," returned Legolas, smirking as Aragorn's smile fell.
"You would not-!"
"No, I would not," agreed Legolas. "I happen to like you alive, only Ilúvatar knows why! Well, at least that settles it. I cannot see that these tournaments do anything besides encouraging wanton violence and licentiousness, and you shall not persuade me otherwise!"
"That is because you have been looking in the wrong places, my friend," said Aragorn, suddenly serious. "No, no, do not glare at me- 'tis true you know the strengths and failings in arms of each and every warrior, but even yet you are not able to read their hearts."
Legolas snorted in a most un-princely manner. "Perhaps that is why I have been waiting six days for you to enlighten me!"
Aragorn shrugged. "It has oft been said, and I do not deny it, that most Men love war and valor as things good in themselves, both a sport and an end. Warriors have long been esteemed above men of other crafts. I make no excuses for this; strange and uncouth though it may seem to the Elder Race, it is the way of my people. Valor in arms is the measure of a man, and renown is won through bloodshed."
He paused. "By the grace of Ilúvatar, we have not been at open war for the past 20 years. Those who were babes in the arms of their mothers during the last war are now come to maturity by our standards, and warriors in their own right. They desire glory and renown, the only immortality within the circles of Arda that is possible for my kind. This is the purpose of tournaments. A man may achieve fame and fortune through them, proving his fitness to take his place among his people."
While the King and the Prince spoke, the final two warriors standing in the tournament had been squaring up on the field. Judging from the screams of the crowd, the spectacle was an exciting one. The two were evenly matched. Eventually, however, one warrior shattered the other's lance and emerged flushed with triumph.
Aragorn gestured towards the winner, a Gondorian warrior named Haldor who had barely reached his majority. "You have the keen eyes of your kindred, Legolas. Tell me what you see."
Legolas looked. The young warrior had dismounted to collect his prize, as was expected of him. What he did next, however, was not. He walked proudly right past the awards stand, halting in front of a beautiful young maiden of Dol Amroth whom Legolas recognized as belonging to the household of Prince Imrahil and Éomer's own queen. Haldor and she looked upon each other with the adoring eyes of lovers but did not speak. Haldor addressed the girl's father instead. What he said no one could hear, but the result was unmistakable: in a symbol as old as Arda itself, the great lord took her hand and placed it in Haldor's.
"You see," Aragorn spoke quietly in Legolas's ear. "If it had not been for this tournament, who shall say how long it would have taken for Haldor to win her father's consent? And we are not Elves, Legolas, we cannot afford to wait forever. Risk and death are but two sides of the same coin, and most Men prefer to take their chances with death rather than to stay behind bars until use and old age accept them, when all chance of valor has gone beyond recall or desire."
Haldor, having won a prize greater than all the coffers of the Mark could buy, appeared dazed by his own joy as he accepted his winnings. The celebrations began immediately in an explosion of fireworks. These were almost as fine as the works of Gandalf of yore, having been crafted by the dwarves of the Lonely Mountain. The audience, many of whom had never seen such marvels, was spellbound. In the interval, Éomer King slipped away from his high seat to find his old friends.
As he had expected, he found them hiding in a dark and secluded corner, having given their guards the slip. They jumped when he addressed them by name, turning to him with identical guilty expressions that caused him to chuckle.
"Well met, my friends! I hope that you have been enjoying yourselves?"
After exchanging the usual pleasantries, they eventually settled down to a comfortable chat on all that had passed since they last met.
"I am pleased that we have finally held the tournament," remarked Éomer as they sipped their goblets of Dorwinion, a concession to Legolas's taste. "I have been thinking about it for years but the timing was never quite right before."
"What made you decide to host it?" asked Aragorn, exchanging a glance that Éomer could not quite understand with Legolas.
"In part to commemorate the great deeds performed during the war, of course," said Éomer, his voice softening as it always did when his thoughts turned to the man who had been as a father to him. "And also in part to lighten the hearts of our people, for this day has ever hung heavily in their minds. I wish for them to remember the valor and honor of the victorious dead, rather than the grief associated with their loss."
As the three great lords looked about them, the atmosphere was indeed one of good cheer and excitement. Éomer smiled before continuing. "I appreciate your forbearance, Master Elf. I realise that your people do not approve the concept of tournaments, but as you will have seen, it plays a vital role in our society. Men have not the luxury of time to wallow in our own misery, we must accept things and move on or waste away in grief and idleness. The tournament helps in that people forget the bad and remember only the good. Would you not agree?"
Legolas was silent for a long moment, but finally, albeit grudgingly, he nodded. "I still do not like it, but I will allow from what I have witnessed that it plays a vital role in your society."
Eomer's face broke out into a grin. He turned to Aragorn, ignoring Legolas. "There! Did I not say we could do it?" he demanded. "O ye of little faith!"
Legolas, bewildered, watched as Aragorn rolled his eyes good-naturedly. "Very well my friend, you were right. Now where are those wretched brothers of mine? I believe it is time to collect our winnings!"