An Aussie in King Aragorn's Court ~ Part 25 - The Challenge!
"Ha!" she cried. " Catch me if you can!" Coralie sped off up the path through the woods as fast as her feet could carry her. The Hobbits and a number of Elves gave chase.
Looking over her shoulder, Coralie could see the Hobbits and Artapel, back on the track behind her, swearing all manner of oaths about what they would do to her when they caught up.
"They'll never catch me!" she laughed as she increased her lead. Artapel had overtaken the Hobbits now, and was beginning to close the gap, although he was a good 300metres behind. Suddenly there was a flash to Coralie's right through the trees.
"Rat's! Those Elves have taken a bloody shortcut! Trust them!"
Racing on, she could see that they were about to intercept her, where the track curved slightly to the right. All of a sudden, two tall Elves leapt out of the trees only a few feet behind. Coralie screamed. A good tactic to use when you are female, and facing the opposition of noble, Elven youthdom. Momentarily they broke their pace, and then realising the ruse, gave chase again as others broke through the woods to join them. They were all crying out for her to stop and shouted various empty threats with gay abandon.
"We will catch you Lady!"
"There is no escape now!"
Coralie screamed again as she continued her mad dash up the tree lined track.
The remaining members of the Company along with Támurile and Séretur were walking on the same path towards the meadow and the river when they heard the clamour!
"Coralie!" cried Legolas, hearing her scream just a short distance in front of them. He broke into a run with Aragorn, the others not far behind.
Coralie looked over her shoulder at her pursuers, as she rounded the bend in the path and ran straight into Legolas and Aragorn. She fell backwards onto the path, all legs and arms. The football rolled out of her grasp.
"OW! Did I run into a tree?" she asked as she lay there dazed and confused for a moment. Horrified, Legolas and Aragorn made to help her up as the Company arrived breathless at the scene.
Two tall Elves, grim with all the prospect their youth could muster, suddenly stepped between them and Coralie, as other Elven youth joined them at the scene.
Two youths from the pursuing group helped Coralie to her feet as Artapel arrived behind the rest.
"What is the meaning of knocking over our teacher?" demanded Talagan.
"Lady, are you alright?" asked Legolas ignoring him.
Coralie shook her head. "I think so." Then the realisation of whom she had run into finally dawned on her.
"Legolas! Aragorn!" she cried excitedly.
"You know these two?" asked Cirbannel as he eyed them up and down.
"Yes!" answered Coralie as she dusted herself off. "They are my friends. Let them through." Talagan and Cirbannel stood with their arms folded in front of Aragorn and Legolas.
"Oy! Hello! What's going on here?" cried Pippin as he and the other Hobbits, finally arrived, exhausted and out of breath.
"That's what I would like to know," replied Aragorn as he surveyed the sea of Elven faces before him. There must have been about 15 young male Elves at least.
"Crikey!" said Coralie as she tried to push past Talagan and Cirbannel. "Let them through will you?" The two Elves merely looked down at her as they continued their stand off. "Oy! Artapel! Where is that bodyguard of mine? Men! They're never around when you need them!" she said with exasperation.
Artapel pushed through the crowd of murmuring Elves to where Coralie stood as the Hobbits drew up alongside.
"Stand aside Talagan and Cirbannel. Can't you see that you are impeding the reunion of old friends? These are guests of The Lord and The Lady of the Wood and are to be treated accordingly," said Artapel with a small bow in the direction of the Company.
Reluctantly, the two Elves withdrew as Coralie threw her arms around Legolas and Aragorn.
"Oh! It is good to have you back! Are you all right? I mean you didn't get hurt or anything! I was worried about you!" she was talking at breakneck speed. Laughing in response, Aragorn and Legolas broke her stranglehold around their necks and held her out at arm's length.
"More to the point. Are you all right Titheniel? We did not mean to knock you over!" said Legolas with a concerned look upon his face.
"No worries mate! I'm apples," she responded with a wink.
"What's going on here?" interrupted Aragorn. "Why are all these Elves chasing you? Did you do give them cause of some sort?"
"Yes I did!" answered Coralie with a tilt of her chin. "I stole something!"
"You did what?" asked Aragorn, and Legolas not quite believing their ears.
Boromir and Gimli looked on with an amused twinkle in their eyes.
Bending down near Coralie's feet, Sam picked up the football. "This is what she stole Gentlemen!"
"Well you blokes kicked it at me! What did you expect?" said Coralie defensively.
"And it takes over 15 Elves to try and catch one little maiden?" asked Aragorn incredulously.
"What can I say Aragorn? I'm guilty as charged. Are you going to arrest me now?" she asked rather amused at Aragorn's discomfort.
Aragorn laughed and shook his head. "No Lady, I am not going to arrest you. I can see now that you were playing some sort of game with these Elves here. Albeit a rather unusual one for a maiden to play."
"Nevertheless," said Talagan stepping forward with Cirbannel, "In spite of the fact, that these are friends of the princess, we demand satisfaction." There was a murmur from among the other Elves.
"Have a care, Talagan. You know not to whom you speak, thus," warned Artapel.
"What do you mean by `demand satisfaction'?" asked Coralie with her hands on her hips before Talagan and Cirbannel.
Holding Aragorn and Legolas with a steady gaze, Talagan folded his arms, "It is a question of honour, Princess."
Legolas and Aragorn eyed the youthful Elf coolly. Cirbannel turned to Coralie.
"You are our teacher, Princess. It is only right that we defend your honour."
"Honour? What is that supposed to mean?" she said.
"You were knocked down, Princess. Almost knocked out in fact," Cirbannel gave Legolas an accusing look. "As I said before. You are our teacher, and we are within our rights to demand satisfaction." The throng of young male Elves murmured their approval.
Coralie spun on them with her hands on her hips. "Now, just wait a minute! Artapel. Do something will you?" The Elf shook his head in reply.
"I am afraid they are right, Titheniel," said Legolas. "They do have the right to demand satisfaction."
"So what are you going to do about it?" she demanded of Aragorn.
"Concede to their demands, I am afraid," said Aragorn.
"Strike a light! I can defend my own honour, thank you very much. Now I'm getting so mad I'm just about ready to spit chips!" cried Coralie stamping her foot. "What's wrong with you all? It was an accident! `Struth! Now I'm as mad as a drunken spider!"
Coralie had begun to walk up and down in front of them waving her arms. The Hobbits took a step backward.
"Watch out!" said Merry.
"Yeah! These Elves haven't seen her in action yet!" agreed Frodo.
"My money's on Coralie!" said Pippin as Sam nudged him in the ribs.
"Ouch! What did you do that for?" asked Pippin rubbing his side.
"Do you really want to draw her attention towards us when she's like this?" whispered Sam out of the side of his mouth. Pippin just gulped in reply.
"What's wrong with you all?" Coralie was continuing her rant. "Are you all short of a sheet of bark or something?" The Elves stood resolute.
"So what is it going to be then? Pistols at Dawn? A duel of some sort?" she cried.
"A duel could be arranged, Princess. If that is what you wish," responded Artapel.
"If that is what I wish? Stone the flaming crows! You bloody macho men will be the death of me yet. Stuff this for a game of soldiers! Can't we settle this peaceably?" cried Coralie.
"I am afraid that is not possible, Princess. It is a question of honour," said Artapel.
Coralie turned on him, eyes flashing. "We've got to stop this, Artapel! This is the most ridiculous thing, I've ever heard of."
"Princess, it is well within your power to choose the weapons, as you are the injured party," said Artapel with an almost imperceptible wink. Coralie was still too livid to notice.
"Injured party, my foot. I'm the one who wasn't looking where they were going," she replied.
"Nevertheless, you must choose," said Artapel with some emphasis.
"Is he right Legolas? Do I have to choose?" she asked.
"You do have the right to choose, and none can gainsay you, Lady," he responded.
Sighing with frustration, Coralie looked to Artapel who was nodding slightly in the direction where the Hobbits now stood a little apart from the others. Sam was tossing the football absent mindedly as he watched the proceedings.
"Can I choose any weapon I like, Artapel?" Coralie raised her eyebrows at him.
"Yes. I believe that is correct. Is that not so Talagan? Cirbannel?" The two nodded at Artapel.
"Can I set the terms for this contest? Duel? Whatever you may want to call it?" she asked with a sly smile.
The Elves all nodded in response. Swiftly Coralie advanced upon Sam and snatched the football from him, mid toss.
"Then I choose this!" she cried triumphantly as she held it aloft.
"That is not a weapon!" objected Talagan.
"If I say it is a weapon then a weapon it shall be. You all keep calling me a princess for some ridiculous reason. So therefore, it is well within my royal prerogative to declare this football a weapon! Well isn't it?"
They all just looked at her for a moment, dumbfounded.
Aragorn coughed. "Yes I believe you are right, lady... er Princess," he cast an amused sideways glance at Legolas who responded in kind.
"And Artapel said I can set the terms, right?"
Again they all just looked at her expectantly.
"Right?" she bellowed, making them all jump.
"Yes! Yes! Of course!" came a chorus of replies.
"Then let's settle this with a good honest game of Aussie Rules Football!" she cried. "The field is all set up, and it would be such a crime to waste such a fine day as this!" she exclaimed gazing up at the blue sky that peeped between the treetops.
Talagan and Cirbannel rolled their eyes at each other.
"Now look here you two. I am absolutely fed up! You've caused just about enough trouble today, to last a lifetime. If you both don't wipe that expression off your faces right away, I will set you so much homework, you'll both wish you were never born!" Coralie threatened them with a wagging finger. "Now, get thee to the football field. Scoot!" The Elves all turned and walked back the way they had come, muttering under their breath, that Talagan and Cirbannel had got off rather lightly, considering.
"What's homework?" asked Legolas with a bemused expression, as he noticed the younger Elves' faces pale slightly.
"Don't ask, Legolas. Just be glad she's not your teacher. It's positively ghastly!" grimmaced Pippin.
"I'm not so sure that you're not the one, that the lady should be setting this extra homework for Pippin. Who kicked the ball to begin with, thus setting off this chain of events? By the guilty expression on your face, I can tell it was you," said Legolas. Pippin gulped and ran off to join the other Hobbits as Legolas turned to Coralie. "Well Titheniel, it appears that you shall indeed be our teacher, for we shall need some instruction in this game called football, and I for my part am a willing pupil."
"And I," said Aragorn looking relieved.
"Well Gimli and I shall try to lend our support Aragorn, if that is any comfort to you," said Boromir clapping him on the shoulder. The dwarf nodded in agreement.
"I'm sure that the lady has taken the necessary steps, to ensure your safety," he said with a slight twinkle in his eye.
Laughing, Coralie took both Aragorn's and Legolas' arms as she walked between them.
"Have no fear. I'll give you a quick run down of the game as we walk along," she laughed. "But I must warn you that I intend to win, and there shall be an appropriate punishment set for the losers."
Aragorn and Legolas, both looked at Coralie as they walked along, noting the shorts and tiny top piece she wore, with its little straps over her brown shoulders. Looking over her head at one another they both raised their eyebrows. Part of what the Lady Galadriel had told them was evidently true, much to their dismay.
They discussed the finer points of the game as they walked along. Séretur was most eager to add his own contribution as he walked with his sister. "It is a fine game Sirs. Quite energetic and fast moving. We have played it many times this past week whilst you were gone. The princess is a good teacher. Though you are somewhat at a disadvantage, having never played it before," he said expertly.
"No worries! I'll take care of that and make the game is as fair as possible," said Coralie as their path now brought them to the edge of the meadow. Breaking away from them, she jogged across the field to the Elves now joining the maidens, who had sat patiently waiting for their return under the trees.
The remaining members of the Company stared in wonder at the four sets of poles that graced either end of the meadow.
"I suppose those poles are the goal posts the lady was referring to," said Gimli as he surveyed the field.
"This must have been what she was discussing with Haldir before we left for the Northern Borders," said Legolas as he looked up and down the meadow. The distance between the poles from end to end of the field was approximately 200 metres in length, while its width was bounded by the forest which stood either side at about 150 metres apart. Legolas and the others walked over to the goal posts closest to them for a closer inspection. The inner posts stood at least 6 metres high, and were the same length apart. The outer posts were shorter by half, and also were set at 6 metres either side. Various sacks had been wound around the bottom of each of the posts to at least 2 metres in height.
"This must be for protection in case you run into them," said Boromir as he examined one. He scratched his head as he looked back toward the other side of the field where Coralie was now walking toward them with various Elves and Hobbits in tow. "Surely she doesn't mean to play this so called `game' with us? This sounds too rough for a maiden such as herself."
"Oh she is a fine player," said Séretur with a smile. "As you will soon see."
Coralie arrived with the others. "Alright. I'm going to divide you up into teams. Now, since I am the so called injured party, unfortunately Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and Boromir must play on the other team. Do not worry. I am sending you some help as you lack experience. However, I am sure you will do just fine," she said with a laugh at their worried expressions.
"Titheniel, do you intend to play this game against us?" asked Legolas.
"Of course I do!" cried Coralie. "What would Australian Rules Football be, without at least one Aussie on the field, eh? I'm here to make sure you all stay on the straight and narrow and fight fair."
"Fight? Are we to fight you Titheniel? For that is something I refuse to do," said Legolas anxiously.
"Don't worry Legga. All's fair in love and war mate!" she replied.
"I think she is speaking metaphorically, Legolas," assured Aragorn. "But I am concerned about you playing this game Lady. You are but a maiden, and I have no wish for you to be hurt."
"No worries Aragorn! Of course I intend to play, and if I get hurt... `Such is life' mate. Besides you can't stop me anyway. Remember it is my honour we are defending now isn't it?"
Aragorn nodded reluctantly.
"Well all I can say is that I'm glad that my little sister doesn't insist on playing, nor any of the other Elven maidens. One female on the field is enough for me," said Séretur grinning as he danced out of range from Coralie's retaliatory swat.
"Well, I intend to do something about the lack of physical exercise amongst those maidens over there on another day, including your little sister here. But for the moment they are better off not playing," added Coralie.
"You never know what your little sister is capable of, Séretur," said Aragorn with a smile. "Sometimes they can be most surprising," his gaze lingered on Coralie for a moment.
"Yes indeed!" said Coralie as she admonished Séretur. "Now let me see, I've decided to whittle the teams down to nine players a piece. That is half of a regular team. I did that so you blokes would actually get to play a bit and will be more involved in the game. I have selected five of these young Elves here to play with you Aragorn. Say hello to your team mates."
"But Lady, that leaves you with the Hobbits, Séretur, and only three grown male Elves on your side. How can we expect to play fairly against you when the odds are stacked so clearly in our favour? That is hardly fair!" said Aragorn.
Coralie laughed and patted him on the shoulder. "Relax Aragorn. I play fair and square. We are evenly matched, believe it or not. Appearances can be deceiving."
"Princess, I will swap with Calentaeg. I much prefer to play on an all male team anyway," said Séretur. "If I were on your team, and we won, then my little sister may get ideas that would be just too uncomfortable for me to deal with." Támurile, who was watching the proceedings from nearby, poked her tongue out at him.
Coralie merely laughed at this veiled insult. "Alright you little chauvinist. Go right ahead and swap with Calentaeg. But don't say you weren't warned."
Legolas and Aragorn shook their heads as the little `chauvinist', as Coralie had called him, swaggered over to their side.
"Remind me to teach him some manners later, Legolas. I will not have him talking to the Lady or his sister in such a way," said Aragorn to Legolas, who nodded in agreement.
"Okay Aragorn. Do you want to be captain?" asked Coralie. Aragorn looked at the others.
"I have never played this game before. Shouldn't someone else be this captain?"
"I think you would make a fine captain, Aragorn," said Calentaeg stepping up. "Let me introduce you to the other members of your team. Line up everyone." The Elves quickly formed a line as Calentaeg introduced Aragorn to each one in turn. "This is Orthadel, you will find that he can be quite good at trapping the ball." Orthadel nodded in return. "Here we have Thenigal, an excellent all rounder, His brother Caduion is very good at attacking the goal." Both brothers nodded together. "Celebtêw can be counted on to recover the ball, and Edradh can clear the ball forwards." Aragorn nodded, trying to remember what each one could contribute. Not that it made much sense to him anyway.
"Right so now the formalities are over with, I will give you a quick recap of how the game is played, now that you can see the field. Artapel here is going to be the Umpire. What he says goes. He will direct the play, and every time you hear him whistle it is for a good reason. Usually, someone has scored a goal, or perhaps made a foul. So whatever the reason...when you hear him whistle, stop immediately, especially if you've made a foul or he may send you off the field if you ignore him. Got that?"
They all nodded in agreement.
Coralie went on, "We will determine which side has possession of the ball with a bounce. Which ever captain catches the ball first gets to keep it for their team."
"Excuse me, Lady," interrupted Aragorn, "Who is the Captain of your team?" he asked.
"I am," Coralie replied with a toss of her head. "Who else?"
"Who else indeed," whispered Legolas to Gimli, as Coralie continued to explain the game.
"This should be interesting my fine Elf friend. Brother and sister on opposing teams," answered Gimli.
Legolas just shook his head. "From everything I have heard so far, this is no game for a maiden to play. What can she possibly be thinking?"
"Probably that she will beat us!" said Boromir with an amused smile. Coralie looked sternly at them. "Oy! I hope you lot were paying attention just then. I'm not going to explain it again," They looked at her with some amusement as she stood there defiantly in her little shorts and tank top decorated with daisies.
"Oh yes, Lady. We were paying attention!" said Boromir with a grin.
"Then I will just say this in closing then. There will be no head high tackles, in fact no tackling is allowed. I don't want any broken necks. You can try to stop your opponent by grabbing their shirt or bumping them out of the way. If I see anyone go down, I will floor you myself!"
"I can't even imagine myself grabbing i titheniel's shirt," said Legolas as he watched her march over to the other side of the field with the Hobbits and Elves of her team. "There isn't any loose fabric to even try and catch hold of."
"Yes, her clothing does tend to stick to her doesn't it?" said Gimli, shaking his head.
They all laughed suddenly at the absurdity of the situation.
Aragorn strode over and joined the others as they watched her fall into a huddle with the others. Their arms were around each other's shoulders, with heads meeting together in a circle. Támurile stood to one side momentarily.
"What are they doing?" asked Aragorn.
"They are planning their strategy, Aragorn," said Calentaeg beside him.
"Strategy?" he replied.
"Yes, have a care Aragorn. This is war and this is the lady's battlefield," said Calentaeg clapping him on the shoulder. "Come! You must try to gain possession of the ball from i titheniel."
"Alright team. We are going to win this match right?" said Coralie with enthusiasm.
"Right!" came the chorused reply.
"Then it's going to be up to you hobbits to kick those bloody goals and make them count," Frodo and the others nodded together. "You blokes are our secret weapon. Aragorn and Co have no idea, just how agile you really are, and how powerfully you can kick. Use whatever tactics you can to get the ball. Talagan, Cirbannel, Calentaeg.... Hang on.... Calentaeg... Where is he?" They all looked up as Calentaeg walked to meet Artapel with Aragorn. "Oy! Calentaeg! Just whose side are you on anyway?" called Coralie. Calentaeg waved and then grinning at Aragorn, clasped his hand and wished him good luck, then jogged over to join Coralie and the rest of the team. "As I was saying," Coralie rolled her eyes at him, "Talagan, Cirbannel, Calentaeg, and Telmen will try to get as many marks as possible to give you some advantage. Okay?"
"Okay!" They all chorused. Aragorn and the others heard the chorused okay from Coralie's team.
"Shouldn't we be planning some sort of strategy as well, Aragorn?" asked Gimli a little nervously.
Aragorn looked at the Elves. "Do you have any suggestions?"
Thenigal laughed in reply, "Run hard and fast, kick the ball every opportunity you can, and try not to worry too much about the princess. She is the toughest player out there believe it or not."
"Why am I not surprised," said Legolas shaking his head. Suddenly, there was a loud yell from Coralie's team and she was jogging over towards them. "Take no prisoners!" she cried over her shoulder.
Aragorn ran a hand through his hair as he looked at his team. "How bad can it be? She is but a maiden, there are four Hobbits, and only four left who could provide us with any real competition," he said, trying to sound confident as he ran over to meet Coralie and Artapel in the centre of the field.
"Would you like to know what the punishment for the losing team is?" asked Coralie with a wicked grin.
"I'm almost afraid to ask," said Aragorn.
"The losing team gets a dunking in the river. The Hobbits are not going to lose this match mate!" she laughed.
Artapel called out to everyone as he held the ball aloft. "Take your positions!" From somewhere off field, loud music suddenly blared out. Támurile waved as she sat with the other Elves under the trees with the Clie. She had attached the speakers and turned up the volume to full.
"What's that?" asked Aragorn.
"The soundtrack of a 'Knight's Tale', Azza. This whole situation is so surreal; I thought we should have some appropriate music to set the mood.
"Are you both ready?" asked Artapel.
They both nodded, as he suddenly bounced the ball on the surface of the ground between them.