“It’s bloody freezing!” Antira growled, pulling her gray Lorien cloak tighter about her shoulders. Her horse, a stocky bay with a fierce eye, tossed its head, catching her irritation. Her language drew more than a few eyes, but Legolas merely smiled. She was cute when she showed her temper, and their situation was trying to say the least. Four days, waiting for the enemy to make their move, and the weather edging more towards snow with each passing hour. It was enough to fray even the strongest nerves, and Antira had little patience for waiting.
Legolas inched his gray gelding closer to her and spoke in her ear. “The snow is already falling further north, and will surely be hampering the orcs.”
“Let us pray it will dampen their spirits as well as their feet, elf-lord. Those few scouts that return report numbers beyond count,” Antira replied curtly.
Legolas tried not to be hurt by her tone, answering her with pure elvish serenity. “May I remind you, lady, that ours is a force to be reckoned with, as well. And we’ve brought down several of their raven scouts.”
Antira’s iciness melted a bit, and she gave him a fond smile. “You mean to say that you’ve brought down the ravens. You are a remarkable archer, Legolas Greenleaf.”
“My thanks, Mistress Antira. I have seen you work wonders with a sword, but I cannot recall seeing you loose a shaft. For that matter, I haven’t seen your famed dagger skills yet either.”
“Never seen me loose a shaft, eh? Well, you are missing something there.” There was a laugh deep in her throat that she did not quite give vent to.
Legolas cocked his head at her curiously, waiting for her to explain. Putting on an expression of mock arrogance, she said, “Give me a bow and a target, any target at all, and I guarantee…I’ll miss it.”
He laughed aloud at her. “That bad?”
She nodded, then went on. “As to the daggers, you are not half bad with your own, when it comes to it. But dance with me sometime, and see if the rumors are true.” Her tone was challenging, but a smile shone from her eyes and stole playfully across her lips. Legolas, however, frowned.
Puzzled, Antira laid a hand on his arm. “Have I offended you in some way, lord?”
This time, the laugh was apparent behind the frown. “No, lady. But I am rather accustomed to asking maidens to dance, not the other way around.”
Antira laughed outright for the first time in days, wiping tears of merriment from her eyes. As she began to recover, Legolas spoke again.
“Let us dance now.”
Antira’s smile faded into surprise. “Your pardon?” she asked.
“I could use a lesson, and the movement may keep you warm,” Legolas said, dismounting.
She stared at him for a moment, blue-green eyes meeting brown. “Alright then. Master Peregrin, fetch as many as will come to the practice circle. Yon elf lord has agreed to sacrifice himself for some much needed entertainment.”
The hobbit went running, and Antira turned her gaze back to Legolas. “Make your choice of blades, and meet me there.”
As he turned to go, she stopped him one last time. “Oh, and Legolas- wear two sets of clothing, for the extra padding. It will be a hard lesson.”
Legolas smiled and went to prepare.
Antira knelt at the edge of the practice circle, unrolling what looked like a wide bolt of fabric. As Legolas approached, he could see a pocket sewn every few inches along the fabric, and in the first four feet unfurled, a dagger rested in each. It was an incredible collection.
Antira glanced up and noticed him. “I try to stick to the basics,” she said. “A small cooking knife, a boot dagger, other necessities, plus a few favorites.” She touched a pale hilt carved in elvish runes, one of several. “These, however, I cannot bear to leave behind. Elvish blades are hard to come by, and I have a certain soft spot for them.” Her eyes held his for a moment, and then a motion by her side drew her attention. It was Frodo, stroking Sting’s hilt thoughtfully. “Have no fear, Halfling. Even a hobbit’s short sword is too big a dagger for my taste.”
She turned back to her collection, selecting two elvish blades. “Well, my prince, let’s see what you have brought.”
Legolas produced his daggers, slightly curved filigreed blades with ivory hilts covered in runes. He handed them to Antira, who grunted in awed approval.
“These are beautiful blades, Legolas Greenleaf. They suit you.” She shook herself, then handed them back to him. “For this lesson, exchange one with a new blade. Practice fighting with unfamiliar weapons.” She gestured to her daggers, and Legolas stepped forward to select one.
He ran his fingers lightly over the hilts that protruded from the pockets, muttering under his breath. Antira watched, fascinated by this. She knew instinctively what he was doing- looking for a blade that would echo those words back to him. That resonance, a characteristic of elvish blades, would indicate a dagger well suited to him.
His hand stopped over a black leather wrapped hilt with a green stone set at its end. His brows drew together in puzzlement.
“What is it?” Antira asked softly.
“It’s strange…only elvish blades resonate, but this one draws me more strongly than any other I have encountered, and I see no markings on it. Yet it feels elvish, just the same. Where did this come from?”
“That is my family dagger. It was forged by ancient elves, beyond the reach of even Elrond’s memory. They gave it to the family of Luthien, and it eventually found its way to the Golden Wood. The Lady gave it to my grandfather, who was taken in by the elves after being lost in the forest. He proved a great friend, writing songs for them and composing poems praising Galadriel’s beauty. The runes were carved in jade and wrapped in the leather. If you look on the blade, there are three more: beauty, truth, and grace. An ancient code of elvish honor.”
Legolas drew the blade, turning it over in his hands. He seemed to consider for a moment, then moved to put it back. Antira laid a hand on his arm, and he met her eyes.
“Such things are not made for playing with, lady.” His voice was tight with the effort of laying aside such a beautiful blade. “I would feel awkward with it in my hands.”
“You will feel no such thing. It calls to you, and that is interesting. Let us see what will come of it.”
He held her gaze for a moment, then nodded slightly and stepped back.
“It is well then. Come, Antira, teach me to fight.”
“First, the weak spots.”
Antira idly flipped a dagger in one hand. “These won’t be surprising, but they will be a bit different- remember, the dagger is shorter than a sword and carries less force than an arrow. Every stab must count.”
She tucked one dagger up her sleeve and motioned with the other.
“Eyes. Throat. These are fastest. If you have the chance, a well placed stab just here, between the third and fourth ribs. The stomach is sensitive as well, but there is no guarantee of a quick death. However, a quick upward thrust to the abdomen will do wonders. And never underestimate the power of fighting dirty.”
She closed with Legolas so fast he barely had time to block the blade headed for his throat. Just when he began to relax, he realized exactly where her other blade was. He shifted, doubting she would move the dagger any closer to the unprotected area between his legs, but her smile made him…uncomfortable.
“Most soldiers think twice about their will to fight at this point.”
Legolas swallowed, trying to smile back while balancing awkwardly on his toes. “I bet.”
She laughed and backed away. “No more surprises, then, elf lord. A clean fight. She held both blades at ready, beckoning him. Legolas smiled and began to circle.
Night fell over a weary but peaceful camp. The day’s sport between Legolas and Antira had lightened the mood considerably. Antira had taught the elf much, but his quick learning had kept her on her toes. As the first stars began to come out, Legolas stood at the edge of the camp on a small hill, looking north. A sound behind him brought him out of his thoughts, but he did not turn- the person’s breathing told him who it was.
“Good eve, teacher,” he said softly, a hint of a smile in his voice. “Have you developed a taste for dancing with the elves?”
Antira came to stand beside him, not at all surprised that he’d known it was her.
“Dancing with elves is always exhilarating, Legolas Greenleaf, but dancing with you…” She trailed off, and he could not tell if her sudden flush was rueful or embarrassed. She changed the subject. “You seem sad, Prince of Mirkwood. Why?”
“Foolishness, I suppose,” said Legolas. His gaze grew far away again. “They were elves once, you know.”
Antira was lost for a moment, then she followed his gaze to the northern horizon, where the orc army lay still out of sight. “Once, Legolas,” she murmured into the gloom. “The orcs are elves no longer.” She hesitated, then asked, “Does it pain you? As if you were killing your own?”
Legolas’s smile was distant. “No. I hate them for what they are. More than most, I imagine. But I weep for what is lost. That they were ever allowed to fall so far.” His eyes became hard. “It is a reminder, I think. Even the elves can fall. Are doomed to. Not by Mordor’s hand, but by a stronger. Time will scatter us like leaves, and turn our greatest works to dust.”
He looked down at his arm, surprised to see Antira’s hand there. Her green-blue eyes were filled with worry. “But not yet, I think,” she said. She turned him to face her, placing her other hand on his cheek. “Not yet.” Legolas’s eyes were wide with surprise. He had never seen her like this before. She was always laughing, or joking, or perhaps angry. She was rarely soft, yet at this moment she seemed almost…affectionate. Abruptly, her hand leaped away, and she tore her eyes away from his. “Forgive me. I presume too much.”
She walked several steps away from him, fists clenched at her sides. Legolas reached out, and she paused, turning halfway back. She let out a long breath and said, “I am sorry, Legolas. It pains me to see you upset. I have spent my whole life in love with the Fair Folk, and their sadness…echoes in me. For some reason, your sadness does not merely echo. It resounds.”
She laughed softly in her throat, but there was little amusement in it. “I must sound mad.”
The elf shook his head. This new vulnerability in Antira was intriguing, and he could sense what had been fondness and admiration for the woman fast becoming something more. “There are many things in the world that can be called mad. How much my sorrow upsets you. How strongly I felt drawn to your dagger.”
That brought her head up, and she jumped slightly. He had closed the distance between them as he spoke, and his deep eyes caught hers.
“Legolas,” she breathed. Her voice sounded rough and uncertain.
He slid an arm around her waist, his body acting of its own accord, and pulled her to him. It wasn’t until her head lay on his chest that he realized how badly he had wanted her there. She was trembling, and far too hard for him to blame it on the cold. She sighed, and that, too, sounded shaky.
“Are you alright?” he asked, his voice mingled concern and amusement.
Antira shook her head against his chest. He tried to smooth her hair, and she shivered so hard that he could not believe she remained standing. Frowning, Legolas stepped back, letting go of her except for one hand that he kept on her arm to steady her. His voice took on a slightly cold edge. “I’m sorry if I have frightened you. I thought…” he trailed off.
Antira’s trembling lessened slightly, enough for her to give him a weak smile. “Oh my elf lord. You frighten me more than you know.” And then, as if to deny what she had spoken, she placed cold hands against his face and pulled his lips to hers in a soft and sincere kiss. When she stepped back, she stumbled a bit, as if her legs would not quite support her. Legolas did not stumble-he simply dropped straight to the ground and sat there, staring, elvish grace forgotten.
She turned as if to go, then… giggled, and returned to where he sat, kissing him again, with a bit more force. He kissed back, this time, but when he opened his eyes they were still full of wonder and confusion. He opened his mouth to speak, and Antira laid a finger on his lips.
“Shhhh, Master Greenleaf. Tomorrow we may not meet each other’s eyes, but let’s not ask questions tonight.”
And with that, she kissed his forehead and disappeared into the night, leaving him with nothing else to do but laugh softly at the stars.