eowyn

The elves of Eryn Carantaur used various drills to hone their skills—clout archery, roving archery, flight archery, even ‘combat’ archery with blunt, padded-tipped arrows—but today Haldir had set up a row of five simple square targets, each identically spotted with coloured circles of various sizes, and his warriors, standing at a distance of fifty yards, were taking turns to shoot at the colours called by the March Warden, their skilled performance drawing excited cheers from the crowd of Rohirrim that had gathered to watch.

When it came to Legolas’ turn, he took his place at the line, standing between Valandil and Thorkell bogsveigir.

“Good morning, my Lord,” said Thorkell, with a slight bow. He drew an arrow from his quiver and fitted it to his bowstring.

“Good morning, Master Bowswayer,” said Legolas. “May I—”

“My Lady,” the man interrupted, “has already been kind enough to inform me of your offer—but I will not be needing a leave of absence.”

Legolas frowned. It was perfectly correct for a servant to refer to his mistress as ‘my Lady’ but in Thorkell's case something about it had sounded—possessive. He turned to the man—

“Make ready,” called Haldir, raising a red flag.

Since the arrows used in all but the combat drills were tipped with lethal bodkin points, the drills followed a strict procedure. Haldir was standing to the right and slightly forward of the line of archers, where his signals were clearly visible; Orodreth, holding a second red flag, was standing opposite, to the left of the line, and mirroring the March Warden’s actions.

Vowing to speak to the man later, Legolas turned back to the field and, carefully emptying his mind of everything but the target, nocked an arrow.

“You show ’em, lad.”

Legolas smiled. Gimli had clearly pushed his way to the front of the crowd. The elf re-focussed.

“Three in red,” called Haldir, and he and Orodreth dropped their flags.

Legolas promptly shot three arrows into the red circle, placing one at the centre and slightly offsetting the others, to avoid damaging the first shaft. He lowered his bow—suddenly hearing, once more, the cheers of the crowd behind him.

“Make safe!” cried Haldir, raising the red flag. The other archers lowered their bows.

Legolas scanned the targets. The elves had all shot well, each hitting the red circle three times—though none, he thought, had placed the arrows quite as well as he had—but Thorkell bogsveigir had more than matched them, arranging his shafts in a precise triangle—top centre, lower left and lower right of the circle.

“Well done,” said Legolas, quietly.

Eowyn ran to the group of people huddled round the mess table—Berryn, Lord Fingolfin and, she was almost certain

The third figure, the nervous youth, suddenly lifted his head, and his hood fell back.

Eowyn slid to a halt, raising a hand to her mouth. The reddish hair had recently been hacked short, and stiff, uneven strands were sticking out in all directions. But the fair, flawless complexion and the pale blue eyes were undisguised, and confirmed her worst fears.

“By the gods,” she said. “Have you taken leave of your senses?”

With the flags raised, the archers were given permission to retrieve their arrows.

Legolas, walking back to the line, noticed coins changing hands between spectators and shook his head with a faint smile. Some of them will have made a tidy sum on Master Bowswayer’s performance, he thought. Of course, the short distance favours him…

He took his place beside the Beorning.

“Make ready,” called Haldir.

Legolas nocked an arrow.

“Three in gold.” The March Warden lowered his flag.

Legolas loosed. His first arrow flew true, piercing the small golden circle dead-centre. He reached over his shoulder, and—before he had time to withdraw another shaft—a second arrow thudded into his target, a fraction of an inch from the first, and angled as though shot from somewhere to his right…

“Please do not blame Berryn,” whispered Gunnhildr Bergthórsdottir. “He did not know that I was coming.”

Eowyn pulled out one of the folding chairs and sat down heavily. “How?

Gunnhildr bit her lip. “I was disguised as one of the messengers.”

“Obviously,” said Eowyn. “But all three left—Legolas saw them go. He was concerned that one of them seemed to be…” She sighed. “He was not sleeping. What was he?”

“A cloth man,” said Gunnhildr. “I sewed him from sacking—he fitted into my saddle bag. When I got here, I stuffed him with blankets, and weighted him with grain—there were pockets in all the right places. I did not steal the blankets or the grain,” she added, quickly, “I paid Eomer King’s cook for them.” Berryn patted her hand. “Heðinn,”—she was referring to the man who had brought the message for Thorkell bogsveigir—“helped me do it.”

“That,” began Eowyn, impressed despite herself, “that was—who would have thought that, in the right hands, needlework could be so dangerous?”

Legolas heard the crowd gasp.

“MAKE SAFE!” bellowed Haldir. “THORKELL BOGSVEIGIR…”

Despite his barely contained rage, the March Warden waited until the archers had lowered their bows before storming out onto the field to confront the Beorning. “You,” he barked, standing eye-to-eye with the equally tall but much slighter man, “will never touch a bow again. You will spend the rest of your life grooming horses and cleaning tack. You—”

“Wait, March Warden,” said Legolas, quietly. “Master Bowswayer was issuing a challenge. To me. And I accept it.”

“No…” said Haldir. He drew Legolas aside. “Please. He has broken the rules of practice and endangered all his comrades. He swore an oath of loyalty to you and he has broken that, too. He must be punished.”

“Afterwards,” said Legolas.

“Suppose he wins?”

Legolas patted Haldir’s arm, smiling. “In that unlikely event, March Warden, I will still be a King’s son, and his lord.”

Eowyn turned to Fingolfin. “What do you advise, my Lord?”

The elf thought for a moment. “Lady Gunnhildr will quickly be missed,” he said, “and her father will no doubt track her here. But I do not believe that he will attack. I do not believe he wants to fight—”

“Then why did he send his champion to challenge Berryn,” asked Eowyn, “if not to provoke a battle?”

“To put us at a legal disadvantage,” replied Fingolfin. “I think that Bergthórr beytill wanted Berryn to refuse the challenge so that he could appeal for justice to a higher authority.”

“To Legolas?”

“To Thranduil, as Lord Legolas’ father and King,” said Fingolfin. “Or perhaps to Elessar, as King of the Reunited Kingdom—”

“And I ruined his plan by accepting the challenge on Berryn’s behalf.”

“If I am right, then, yes. And he will not miss another opportunity.”

“With King Thranduil, perhaps he hopes to re-negotiate his rights to the mithril mines,” said Eowyn, “though I do not think much for his chances. But what ‘justice’ can he seek from Aragorn?”

“That, I do not know…”

“My Lady, Lord Fingolfin,” said Berryn suddenly. “There is a simple answer to this problem—Gunnhildr and I will leave the cavalcade and travel alone. It will have to be south…” He paused, as though mentally consulting one of his own maps. “Far Harad. We will make for Pelargir and thence to Far Harad.” He squeezed the girl's hand. “I have skills that the merchants of the south will be more than willing to pay for. And you have just proved how resourceful you are—”

“No,” said Eowyn, firmly. “It is far too dangerous. We know that several bands of Orcs are roaming these parts—besides the wolves and the bears. You would not be safe.” She rose from the table. “I will ask Legolas what—”

A great cheer suddenly went up from the crowd behind her, and Eowyn belatedly remembered the archery drill. Had she missed Legolas’ turn? She looked down at Lord Fingolfin. “Keep Lady Gunnhildr well-hidden,” she said, “Thorkell bogsveigir must not see her.”

Then she ran over to the practice field.

The other archers had withdrawn, leaving Legolas and Thorkell standing at the centre of the line.

Against his better judgment, Haldir had been persuaded to leave the distance at 50 yards—“To increase it,” said Legolas, “would be to put him at an unfair disadvantage,”—and to enforce a hastily agreed set of rules: each archer was to shoot a single arrow into the colour called by the March Warden, and this was to continue until one of them missed.

The elf and the man nocked their first arrows.

“Make ready,” called Haldir.

They raised their bows and drew to their anchors.

“Red!” cried Haldir.

Two arrows flew down the field and thudded into the targets almost simultaneously—Legolas having the dual advantage of elven reflexes and a Galadhrim bow—the elf’s hit dead-centre, the man’s slightly to the left.

“Gold!” cried Haldir.

The result was almost identical.

“Blue!”

This time Thorkell bogsveigir was slightly slower to loose, but his shot was no less accurate.

“Green!” shouted Haldir.

Legolas immediately took aim, but a familiar voice, saying, “Gimli, what is happening?” broke his concentration—and he loosed just a fraction of a second too soon.

His arrow hit the edge of the circle; Thorkell’s buried itself, cleanly, at the centre.

The crowd gasped.

“It is in,” said the elf, calmly.

“Make safe!” shouted Haldir. Then, “Captain Eofred, will you confirm, please?”

The Captain of Eomer’s Guard examined the target. “It is well in,” he declared.

Haldir waited until Eofred had safely left the field before calling the next colour: “Make ready. Gold.”

This time, it was Thorkellís arrow that went astray, missing the edge of the small gold circle by more than an inch. Cheering, men and elves streamed onto the field and gathered around the Lord of Eryn Carantaur.

Eowyn ran to Legolasí side. “What was that about, Lassui?” she asked and, as Legolas wrapped his arm around her, she frowned up at Thorkell bogsveigir, silently demanding an explanation from the troublemaker.

But the man just winked, and allowed Haldir to drag him away.

 

Legolas
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This starts immediately after The messengers.

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Notes
The details of the archery contest are loosely based on a Wikipedia article but I’ve added extras to the procedure and made some changes, especially to the targets, because any elf worthy of the name would have no trouble hitting the centre of a traditional target every time…

Gunnhildr Bergthórsdottir is, of course, Bergthórr beytill’s daughter, who took a shine to Berryn in Misrule in Mirkwood.