The White City Cultural Education Club was one of many new outdoor facilities set up across Middle Earth to address the disenchantment felt by non-human students.
All schools surviving the White Council’s reforms were realigned to the human system of education: a curriculum built around economics, politics and the sciences. Physical education, while still included, very much took a back seat to other subjects.
For human students, there were no problems as there was no change to their learning.
However, the elves and dwarves, and to a lesser extent the hobbits, were accustomed to subjects like archery, axe craft, swordsmanship and a nature-based education. The absence of these subjects caused a great deal of unrest within the Elf and Dwarf communities, who were already concerned their culture was being overlooked in favour of human culture. The complete change became too much for some students, who felt increasingly feeling alienated from their past.
As a compromise, the non-human races were eventually given the option to be excused from the schools’ physical education classes, as long as they attended the Cultural Education Clubs after school and on the weekends.
At first, there was some concern the long hours on top of regular school hours would place too much pressure on the students. It soon became obvious that the opposite was the case and the students thrived at the clubs. Being able to attend classes that mostly consisted of their own race, and were away from human students, let them relax in a way they couldn’t at school.
The popularity of the clubs eventually came to the attention of the human members of the White Council. Complaints were made using the line that now that the races were united, there should not be clubs that humans could not attend. Surely, if elves, dwarves and hobbits had the option of attending these clubs, then shouldn’t humans have the same option, they argued.
The White Council agreed and the clubs were opened to all races. Bit by bit, human students began attending the clubs, eventually outnumbering the other races. To cater for the new students, human instructors were recruited and Bard Bowman became the first human hired as an archery instructor.
As they arrived at the club long before his classes started, Legolas helped Bard set up the target range for the junior classes that Bard was to teach.
It was widely acknowledged throughout the club that Legolas was the most skilled archer they had ever had and that he really didn’t need lessons. In fact, it was said he could even teach the other instructors a thing or two. School regulations being what they were though meant he was still compelled to take classes. Thankfully the club was willing to compromise. As long as he continued to attend the club, and for the right length of time, he was given free range to do what he wanted.
During his scheduled lesson times he was almost always on the advanced ranges, shooting alone. When he practised, it was guaranteed a crowd of spectators would watch. Prior to humans being admitted to the club, Legolas was not bothered by people watching him, whether it was just one or two people or a larger crowd. Once he started practising, his concentration would focus solely on archery, and his mind would shut everything else out. It was the only time he felt at peace. After humans also started attending, there were occasions when they would heckle him, but these were rare occurrences, and mostly confined to students of his own school.
After he finished helping Bard, Legolas walked over to the advanced range to begin practising early. He shot arrow after arrow, his concentration so intense that he phased out the murmurs of the crowd gathering behind him.
It wasn’t until he heard the unmistakable thumping of a group of Dwarves walking in front of the stands behind him that he paused. He turned his head slightly but kept his bow aimed at the target. He waited patiently for the taunt he knew would come.
“Hey laddie!” a voice called out. “Bet ya can’t hit the centre of the target forty times in a row!”
Legolas turned his head to face the dwarf fully. “Do you sleep with the light on at night, or do you get a stool to reach the light switch?” he said, suppressing a grin and letting go of the arrow he already had nocked. The oohs from the crowd let him know he hit the target perfectly.
The dwarf looked steadily at the elf for a long moment, the other dwarves standing motionlessly behind him, waiting for his response. A sudden burst of laughter from the dwarf saw the others relax. They started moving again, knowing Gimli would catch up soon enough. None of them shared Gimli’s friendship with the elf, although most of them understood why the friendship existed. Kili, a distant cousin of Gimli, was the only one among them who acknowledged Legolas, with a small nod of his head, as he walked off.
Kili was a keen archer who, once he got over the fact that Legolas was fifteen years younger than him and an elf, a Mirkwood elf at that, had a training session with Legolas many weeks ago. Still not quite believing an elf would be able to teach him anything he didn’t know, he stubbornly brought his bow with the highest draw weight. He was convinced the slender, fragile-looking elf would not be able to handle the bow and he would return home not having learnt a thing. To his surprise, Legolas picked up the bow and drew it as easily as a toy bow. He didn’t even look like it took any effort to draw the bow back its full length! After a long and rewarding session, Kili developed many new techniques and improved some existing ones, and while they would never be close friends, there was a definite respect between the two.
Gimli came up closer to Legolas. “Are you hanging around after practice?”
Legolas nodded. “I’m staying here as long as I can.” His mouth tightened as he thought back to the previous night. “My father sent me to my room last night, as if I was a little child. And then this morning…” Legolas’ voice trailed off as he thought of his father sitting on the end of his bed, non-responsive and thinking of his dead wife.
“And then?” Gimli prompted, once it became clear Legolas was not going to speak again.
Legolas shook his head. “It doesn’t matter.” He looked at the group of dwarves heading towards the axe craft area. “You go on, I’ll come over after I’m done.”
Gimli slapped him on the back, frowning as Legolas flinched. “I’ll see ya later then laddie.” He watched as Legolas turned back to the target and began shooting again. Gimli reckoned the elf had already forgotten he was ever there.
The day Legolas started at their school, Gimli thought they would be enemies for life.
Classes had just started for the day and Gimli had his head down, taking notes in his schoolbook when a murmur went through the class. He looked up to see the headmaster standing in the doorway with a blond elf beside him.
“Your new student,” the headmaster said to their teacher, Miss Landers. The headmaster handed a file over to the teacher and left the room.
Gimli glared at the elf. So far he had been pretty lucky at the school. The students were still mostly human, so even though he was the only dwarf and there were a smattering of hobbits and unfortunately some orcs, there hadn’t been any elves. Until now.
And just look at the elf they got, he thought to himself. Standing there all prim and proper, perfect braids, not a hair out of place, standing straight-backed and tall like he was above everyone. Everything he despised about uppity elves.
Miss Landers flipped through the file quickly before telling the elf to introduce himself to the class. With that, the elf stood up even straighter and announced his name.
Gimli’s eyes widened in disgust. Thranduilion? Of all the elves to attend his school, it just had to be a son of Thranduil! Although Gimli had never met Thranduil, or any of his family, the name was mud to everyone in his extended family. He had never been told exactly what had happened all those years ago, but he knew his father despised the older elf, and he knew it would be his duty to hate the younger elf in turn. All dwarves grew up with the saying “Never trust an elf.”!
One of the students spoke: “Excuse me, Miss, is it a boy or a girl Miss? I can’t tell, what with all those braids and that hair!” The student, Éomer, looked at the students around him, nodding and giving them an “Am I right?” expression, stirring up their laughter even more.
The student had given Gimli a lot of grief when he started at the school, but despite himself, Gimli sniggered along with the rest of the class. Even Miss Landers had a half-smile on her face until she realised Legolas was watching her. She looked around the room and pointed to the empty desk beside Gimli.
“Go and sit there.”
Gimli watched as the elf walked over and sat down, unable to keep the disappointment off his face. The elf unpacked his bag, fastidiously setting out his books, pens and pencils on his desk and then lining them all up perfectly square to the desk and each other. Neither of them spoke to each other for the entire lesson and when the school break began, Legolas was packed and out the door before Gimli had time to blink.
This continued for several weeks, Gimli and the elf sitting next to each other and never speaking a word. Gimli hated every moment the elf – he refused to think of him by name – was near him. The only good thing about having an elf in the school was that all the teasing Gimli had endured when he started was now being inflicted on the elf.
During a break, Gimli had gone for a walk through the school grounds. He hated the school buildings and the way humans made everything look. Square concrete boxes with no soul. Give him stone and dwarvish stone masonry any day!
He was wandering alongside the school oval when he noticed a group of orcs ahead. Gimli stopped, wondering whether he should go a different way until he noticed the orcs were looking at someone. He followed their line of sight and saw the elf sitting by himself by the side fence, seemingly just staring at the fence.
Typical wood elf, Gimli thought. The elf had found the only spot in the school where there was a tree, as he was sitting where a tree had grown over the fence from a neighbouring property. The elf would be feeling right at home, Gimli thought to himself. There were no trees in the entire school, so the elf probably felt just as out of place as he did.
Gimli stopped that line of thought in a hurry. Why, next you’ll even be feeling sorry for the damned elf!
As he started moving again, he realised the orcs had turned away from the elf and were looking towards a newcomer. It was Bolg, one of the most hated orcs in the school. Bolg had a reputation for violence and intolerance for anyone who was not an orc. Gimli once overheard a group of students discussing Bolg’s father, Azog, who was apparently in jail for murder. The students stopped talking when they realised Gimli was listening, so he never heard the full story.
Once Bolg reached the other orcs, they all turned and looked at the elf again. Gimli shook his head. One elf against all those orcs? He knew he should walk away, it wasn’t his problem what happened between the elf and the orcs. Why should he stick his neck out?
Gimli looked down as he felt the ground change to grass under his feet. He had subconsciously changed course and was now walking diagonally across the grass, headed straight towards the elf. Noticing the orcs were also headed towards the elf, he sped up, determined to get there first.
One of the orcs noticed Gimli and nudged Bolg. The orcs all looked at Gimli and stopped. They could get to the elf before the dwarf did, but Bolg wanted to get Legolas alone. He had private business with the elf and didn’t want anyone interfering.
Legolas looked up in surprise as Gimli sat down heavily next to him, but quickly resumed staring at the fence. Gimli noticed the orcs had turned back, Legolas hadn’t said anything so Gimli was not sure if he had even noticed the orcs. As he watched him more closely, he realised that even though the elf seemed motionless, his eyes flickered back and forth between the fence and the orcs. Maybe he had seen them after all.
When the orcs had disappeared, Legolas seemed to deflate. His gaze turned downwards and he folded his arms in front of him, huddling in on himself. Gimli amazed himself by feeling concerned for the elf and reached a hand out to his shoulder.
“Are you all right, elf?”
To his surprise, Legolas was shaking. Gimli left his hand there, hoping to give him comfort. Eventually, the elf stopped shaking and he shook Gimli’s hand off.
“I’m fine,” he muttered.
Gimli snatched his hand back, instantly offended at the elf’s haughty tone of voice. “Well, fine then. I’ll leave you be.” He stood up and stomped off before Legolas had a chance to respond.
That day marked the first time Legolas was ever late for a class. When he did show up, he stood by the desk for a moment to get the attention of Gimli who was looking down at his school book, refusing to acknowledge his presence. Gimli looked up just as the teacher yelled at the elf to sit down, and was surprised to see a slight smile on Legolas’ face. It shocked him so much that he smiled back without meaning to. The elf sat down and the lesson continued as normal.
From that moment on, things became more relaxed between him and the elf. They were still pretty quiet during lessons, but eventually started saying hello and goodbye to each other. Then one day Legolas waited for him at the start of a break instead of instantly disappearing. After that, he started accompanying Legolas to his spot by the fence during the breaks. He didn’t understand Legolas’ fascination with a tree but sat with him regardless. He also started referring to Legolas by name, rather than just “the elf”.
By the time a place opened for Legolas in the Club, the two had become inseparable friends.
This friendship was solidified not long afterwards when Éomer, who had been one of the first human students at the club, took offence at something Gimli said to him. He retaliated with a threat and a dig at Gimli’s height. Éomer pointed his sword at Gimli but before he had a chance to do anything, Legolas was standing between the two with an arrow nocked and pointed at Éomer. Gimli’s eyes widened in surprise – he hadn’t even seen Legolas coming.
One of the instructors finally noticed the altercation and came over to sort it out, but the moment would remain with Gimli for a long time. Being defended by an elf was a concept that would seem strange to any other dwarf, but to Gimli, it was confirmation he had done the right thing by intervening the day the orcs had approached Legolas.
After Legolas finished his archery practice and spoke with the junior students clamouring around him asking questions, he walked over to where the dwarves were practising. He sat up in the stands and watched the end of Gimli’s lessons.
Gimli finished his lessons and then disappeared into one of the buildings with the other dwarves. Legolas leant forward and placed his elbows on his knees as he rested his head on his hands. Without anyone he was interested in watching, Legolas lost himself in thoughts of Aragorn and their brief meeting. A smile lit up his face as he thought of Aragorn’s bluish grey eyes and his wide smile.
“Whatcha smirking at, master elf?” Gimli asked, sitting next to Legolas.
Legolas shook his head, not quite ready to share his feelings for Aragorn. “Nothing.”
Gimli nudged Legolas’ upper arm with his shoulder. “Don’t give me that, you don’t smile like that just for nothing.”
Legolas nodded, knowing he couldn’t hide anything from Gimli. “A family of elves moved in next door this morning. They have a foster son. His name is Aragorn.” As he pronounced Aragorn’s name, the smile appeared back on his face.
Gimli nodded knowingly. “Aragorn? What sort of name is Aragorn for an elf?” he teased.
Legolas shrugged and glanced sideways at Gimli. “He’s a human,” he replied reluctantly.
“What?” Gimli guffawed. “You’ve fallen for a human. After all the things you’ve said about humans?”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. But when I saw him…” Legolas’ voice trailed away, trying to put into words how he seemed to have fallen for a human he had barely met.
Gimli laughed again, trying to imagine Legolas and a human. “You better introduce him to me. I’ve got to meet this human who can make the mighty Legolas fall so heavily.”
Legolas rolled his eyes at Gimli’s carrying on but his face soon grew serious again. “My father will never allow it.”
“Why not? Surely he can’t complain about you being with a human when he is married to one?”
“It’s not that, it’s who his foster family is. It’s the Peredhel family, his foster father is Elrond Peredhel.”
Gimli stopped laughing instantly. Legolas had only told him bits and pieces about what happened to his mother, but Gimli knew enough to know the significance of the identity of Aragorn’s foster family. He closed his eyes for a moment, remembering how lonely Legolas had been after Amdirwen’s death. Once again, he felt grateful that his parents were still together and that he had an older sibling who also looked out for him.
After a moment, Gimli pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket. “Have you seen this?” he asked, wanting to distract his friend.
The paper was a flyer for a competition that was to be held in the adjoining nature reserve. Groups of students from the various Clubs were to compete in archery, swordsmanship and axe craft. It was a chance for students to interact and test their skills.
Legolas looked the flyer and nodded. “Yeah, I’ve seen it.”
“Do you want to enter?”
“I would love to but we can’t – the teams have to have a minimum of three.”
Gimli sighed, he knew as well as Legolas did that no one at school would team up with them. “Let’s go over there and watch the training anyway. Who knows, we might find someone there who needs team members.”
Just as they stood up to leave they heard someone call out to them.
“Hey you two!”
“Hello Mr Bowman,” Gimli replied.
“Hi Gimli,” Bard turned to Legolas. “Do you want a lift home or are you staying here.”
Legolas shook his head. “No thanks, we were just about to head over to the reserve and see who was training for the competition.” Legolas pointed to the flyer in Gimli’s hand.
“I see. Are you going to be home in time for the barbeque?”
Legolas scoffed. “I’m not allowed to go.”
“Do you want to go?”
“My father will never allow it,” he insisted.
“That’s not what I asked you. I said, do you want to go?”
Legolas nodded reluctantly.
“Then you just leave your father to me.”
Legolas grinned, beginning to feel hopeful. He desperately wanted to see Aragorn again.
Bard gestured at Legolas’ gear. “Do you want me to take that for you?”
Legolas nodded with another smile. “Thank you.” He turned to Gimli. “Come on let’s go.”
Gimli said goodbye to Bard and the boys turned and made their way down the stands.
As he watched the two walk off, playfully pushing and shoving at each other and laughing as they teased each other, Bard could almost see the laughing, smiling elfling that Thranduil insisted Legolas used to be. With a sigh, Bard picked up Legolas’ gear and headed to the car. How was he going to change Thranduil’s mind?