At the Edge of the Forest by Ria|
Summary: Legolas meets a dragon.
Legolas ran lightly ahead of the hunting party. His feet left no trace on the frosted ground. His companions would be tracking the deer’s cloven trail, but the prince followed the path of a hunch. A waterfall rumbled to the north. The smell of fresh water must draw an animal tired from the chase.
He emerged from the screen of trees a little above the waterfall, where the spruce-clad cliffs of northernmost Greenwood split to reveal a long panorama of the frozen plain below. Although the elf made no sound, the beast drinking there looked up. Slitted golden eyes met keen grey ones for a long moment while neither moved. Then the dragon hissed and plunged its head back into the pool. Steam rose around the fine red-gold scales of its neck and skull.
Since it seemed to have dismissed him as a threat, Legolas carefully lowered his bow. Besides, to judge from its tiny, fluid scaling and complete absence of gems on its vulnerable underside, the creature must be a drakeling still. The prince had been trained as a hunter by the best woodsmen of the Sinda-Silvan court, and he scorned to shoot the young of any kind unprovoked. Still, for an adolescent, the dragon’s growth was impressive. From head to tailtip, draped across the verge of the pool, the thing stretched as long as a pair of horses, if less bulky. Every inch of it gleamed with ophidian musculature sheathed in carnelian mail. As Legolas studied it, the dragon raised its head to stare at him.
“Well you put your weapon away, Man. Such a puny thing could not harm me,” the dragon hissed.
Stung, Legolas blustered back. “You are safe. I don’t attack children.”
The dragon hissed again, half-flaring its wings. It looked much larger as it reared above the pool. Legolas resisted the urge to reach for his bow again. From his earliest lessons, the huntmaster had instructed him, “Never show a predator fear.”
Apparently his show of calm worked. The dragon settled back on its haunches and declared almost sulkily, “I am seventy summers out of my egg, Man.”
Legolas almost laughed at that. Since confidence put the beast on the defensive, he let his first thought slip out. “You are younger than I thought, then.” The beast seemed taken aback, so the elf continued, “When I was your age I already had a mithril-bound bow, with which I slew a dozen werewolves.”
The dragon peered at him, trying to catch his eyes again, but the prince had remembered his teacher’s precepts on dragons once the first shock of the encounter had passed. Full-grown drakes used their gaze to entrap prey. Finally it ventured, “That cannot be true. Men are old and stooped when they get to my age.”
“Perhaps, but Greenwood the Great is a dwelling of the Firstborn.”
“The F -- ? Oh, elves,” it mumbled. “I would not even have flown this far south if it were not that the winter has driven the aurochs away from their usual grounds. Have you ever eaten an aurochs?” The dragon licked its chops reminiscently. It speculated slyly, “No, I suppose that they are too large for a hunter of your size. The largest game animals stay to the north, leaving only little creatures for you small folk to hunt.”
“I have heard that the Mumakil of the far South are larger even than aurochs. Besides, in flight you cannot lift the weight of a grown aurochs, so the size of the beast is irrelevant,” the prince answered
The beast growled, “Do not presume to tell me what I can do! I am Smaug, the -- the Dragon.”
Legolas maintained his bold front, answering the dragon’s anger with nonchalance, “You will need a better epithet than that if you are going to be famous. What about Smaug the Scaly? Or the Smaug the Aurochs Eater?”
The dragon bared its teeth. The prince wondered whether he’d gone too far. The creature reared up, then leaped into flight as elven horns rang sharply from the forest’s edge, followed by the hunters themselves, bows drawn.
“My prince – are you safe?” “Look at it fly! It must be a cold-drake!” “What is its wingspan?” The familiar voices around him made Legolas’ encounter with the dragon seem distant even before it had flown out of sight. His companions pressed him for all the details he could remember.
By the time they returned to the forest king’s halls, some of the party had already turned their prince’s adventure into a song. Legolas tried to look humble as they sang it for his father. Thranduil’s leaf-green eyes narrowed in amusement as he listened to the whole tale. In a voice pitched so that only his son could hear, he noted dryly, “When I was your age . . . I knew better than to taunt a dragon.”