The Secret of the Forest - A Thranduil Romance

The Bitterness of Winter

The tree had blessed Anna with a vision from her past, painted images in her mind and soul of what was once her life. Faces and embraces, smiles and hugs, dainty petals and autumn winds all swirled in her head like a vibrant bouquet of memories. But it were still only fleeting moments, broken flashbacks and as the minutes passed the images became static silhouettes deprived of their colour and sinking back behind the veil of oblivion and there was nothing that she could do to hold on to them.

It had given her a dream that filled her heart with joy and an equal amount of confusion. Why was the forest suddenly granting her insight into a life that had been taken from her, shut away from her eyes and her heart? Why now? She was lost in the midst of this forest and no step closer to finding Thranduil and then her past seemed to finally reach out for her, timidly still, but even the faintest knock had made her heart flutter in the most unusual way.

But could she trust what she saw?

Her mind told her not to be fooled, but her heart still wavered, clinging even to the slightest shred of her past life now that everything seemed to fall apart.

But what if it was just a dream, a cruel illusion to torture her already troubled soul? How could she even be sure that what she had seen were images of her life? What if this was just another one of those deceptive tricks the forest played on her? Leading her astray not only in her search of Thranduil but also sending her on a twisted pathway towards an alleged life she may have had in a hazy past. How could she tell apart lies from the truth? Neither did she possess the foresight of the elves nor the magical abilities of a wizard. The thought of Gandalf flashed through her head, he might be indeed the only one that could give her the answers she so desperately longed for. Of course he was as much out of reach as Thranduil, so no help would come from him.

It all boiled down to one fact: she was on her own, no one could come to her aid, nor would be able to bring light into the darkness that were her past and her future, the only certain thing being her present: she was lost and that was not good, she needed to get un-lost as soon as possible. The longer she lingered in these woods, the further she was from finding out who she was and who she wanted to be. Remaining under the tree and dwelling on her thoughts would not get her closer to any of her goals. If she did not want to die a lonesome death in the fangs of Mirkwood she needed to move on.

But that was easier said than done.

Her body was stiff, unwilling to move and she began her fourth day with a feeling of having been in the wild for weeks rather than days without proper shelter or food and the cold was affecting her more than what she had anticipated. Without being able to make a fire she had not had a chance to dry her clothes, so they were uncomfortably damp, sticking to her skin in heavy layers. The chill had slowly but steadily crept under her skin and into her bones, the blood crawling through her veins like a frozen river that spread into tiny icy brooks throughout her entire body, numbing her fingers and toes despite their protective layers of gloves and boots. Not even the elven cloak was able to shield her sufficiently from the freezing cold. Her body was not as resilient as the ones of the elves and she would soon reach the limit of what she could withstand. Her reflexes were beginning to slow down and her senses weakening, everything around her appearing slightly blurred and as if a thin veil had been cast around her.

The bitterness of winter did not show her any mercy.

Her body trembled in a desperate effort to keep her temperature from dropping even further down to life-threatening regions where her bodily functions would eventually shut down. The humidity in the air had also stuck to her hair, creating a wayward mess of matted strands, leaves and the occasional piece of broken twig sticking out under her hood. Whatever elvish braids she had, were long gone, her face covered in scratches, some of them still shedding blood, some dried up and she surely must have been a picture of misery. Probably Thranduil would not even recognise her if he found her, now that she was resembling more a wild beast than a human being, she thought to herself bitterly.

But nothing could be done now about her looks, her survival was more important than being pretty. Every muscle, tense and sore, had to be persuaded to stretch in order to avoid her body to succumb to winter’s ruthless grip. A heaviness lay on her limbs like lead that made them stubbornly refuse to obey the orders her brain sent in a desperate attempt to stay awake and alert. How much easier it would be to give in to the seductive murmurs of surrender that filled her ears with alluring promises of rest, sweet and endless and free from pain and suffering. If she just stayed under the tree and closed her eyes again she would eventually drift off into a deep slumber, dreamless, dark and warm, carrying her to a place where she would not feel any physical pain, only blissful oblivion and relief awaiting her. But a high price was to be paid at the door of eternal sleep, forsaking all possibilities of happiness and leaving behind both her past and her future in exchange for an endless void that would be her everlasting present. Grief would never find her on the shores of the absolute nothingness, but neither would love.

Pushing the luring invitation of death and its outstretched hand aside she finally opened her eyes with the little volition she still had left inside her, the dim patches of daylight momentarily banning the darkness that had threatened to seize her susceptible heart.

She looked up into the dome of tangled branches above her, greyish and dreary as they were and her eyes followed her breath as it froze in front of her face, tiny icy crystals swirling around her like a cloud of glazed cotton, dancing in the haze before they lost themselves in the twisted twigs above her.

Anna’s thoughts trailed back to the day she had left the palace and the mysterious visitor, whose arrival had allowed her to sneak out unnoticed. More than once she had nurtured the idea that he had indeed been a messenger from Thranduil and his army bringing tidings from either victory or defeat. It gnawed at her heart that she may have missed the possibility to keep her promise by just a fleeting moment. But of course it was useless to play the what-if game, because there was no way that she could turn back the hands of time, she had made her choice and had to suffer the consequences of her actions.

Still, she could not stop her train of thoughts, even if she had wanted to. What if Thranduil had indeed been victorious and was already on his way back only to find her gone from the palace? Surely he would be upset since she had broken her promise. And he had every right to be angry with her. Her behaviour was just another proof of her human weakness, she thought to herself glumly. Thranduil had been right after all about her, foresight and prudence being both equally far from her mind. He might just decide to give up on her and leave her to fend for herself in the wild. After all it would serve her right, defiant and stubborn as she was. She had repeatedly ignored his orders and wishes, so why would he go after her if she was not to be trusted?

As if those thoughts were not daunting enough an even darker shadow was cast on her heart when she contemplated the only other possible outcome of Thranduil’s quest. What if the messenger had borne ill news and Thranduil had been killed in battle?

No one was going to look for her either way.

However she looked at it, she had manoeuvred herself once again into a hopeless situation. She seemed to be getting rather good at it, disappointing the king being apparently one of her main qualities. How naive of her to think that she would be able to simply cross the forest and walk straight into Thranduil’s arms! She had thoroughly underestimated the power of this magical place and was paying dearly for her rash actions.

So the vision she had could only mean one thing: her past was her only future and she had to find her way back. It broke her heart to leave Thranduil behind, but after all that she had done it seemed unlikely to Anna that he would still care for her.

She could not bear the thought of being openly rejected by him, of seeing the disappointment in his eyes, so her only choice was to go away, to disappear from his life. He would eventually forget her, after all she was only a human, a mortal woman, who would never be able to make a lasting impression on someone that had already lived thousands of years and had still an uncounted amount of lifespan ahead of him. His heart most likely still belonged to his wife and if he ever would give it to someone else it would surely be one of his kin.

The wintry chill had crept into her heart, small patches of frost latching on to it and slowly covering everything in thin layers of ice until there was no more warmth left. Draining it of all confidence and trust, leaving her bare out in the cold that was as merciless as it was forbidding.

She pulled the cloak tighter around her in an effort to conserve the little bit of warmth she had left and willed herself to sit up, her stiff fingers fumbling at the drawstring of her backpack in search of another bite of lembas. The water had frozen inside the waterskin and only after a fair amount of squeezing she was able to extract some crushed pieces of ice that did not really help in warming her body, but after all she needed to avoid dehydration. She scrambled to her feet in a laborious effort, her nightly sentinel as withered and gnarled as yesterday and nothing revealed now the secret powers that slumbered beneath its ancient appearance. She put her hand on the rough and surprisingly warm bark as if the answers she searched for would flow from it into her, but it stood still and silent and said nothing.

“Why will you not speak to me now? Why do you throw me into such confusion?” she demanded in an accusatory tone, her fingers clutching at some frozen patches of moss. “I need answers, not more riddles.”

But of course it did neither speak nor sing to her, it was just as mute as all its companions in the forest, only softly swaying its branches in the chill morning air in a mocking tone. She clenched her fists in frustration, throwing them upwards in a menacing gesture where she imagined its treetop to be, hidden from her view.

“If you are just mocking or teasing me, then better don’t show me anything at all. It only hurts more to lose everything all over again.”

A distinct rustling went through the highest branches as if there was a wind picking up speed in the invisible sky above.

“What is this supposed to mean? In case you have forgotten, I am not an elf, I do not speak your language.”

Branches swayed vigorously above her, the wind raising its voice to a determined gust and a tremor went through the oak from top to bottom shaking the ground beneath her that made her gasp out in surprise and take back a step.

“I — I’m sorry. I did not mean to offend you —,” she stuttered, raising her open hands up as a sign of goodwill.

A moment of silence followed, long enough to make her realise that she indeed had just spoken to a tree. She must be going crazy. Being all alone in the forest was going to make her lose her last bits of sanity.

The tree did not move again and the wind had settled into a heavy silence that descended on the forest as she stood in front of the majestic oak, seriously questioning her sanity. How long she had been standing there staring at the tree she did not know. But a peaceful feeling spread inside her, warming her like a tiny hearth, and when she emerged from her thoughts as if from a trance, her mind was suddenly clear and for a brief moment free of all doubts.

And she thought she understood: she had set out to find Thranduil and that still must remain her goal no matter what. Her past had waited for so many months, it could wait just a little more. After all, what was already gone would not go away again.

But which way to turn to?

As if her question had been answered she saw a faint white light gleaming in between the dense thicket not far away from her. In the absence of a better plan she decided to follow the light, maybe it would lead her towards the king of her heart. It seemed quite unlikely to her that she could get even more lost than what she already was. So it was worth a try.

She tightened her scabbard, straightened her cloak and shouldered her backpack, making her way towards the source of this mysterious light. On and on it led her, staying always ahead of her, now a tiny glimmer flickering in between the branches, and then dancing away dimly in the distance, but she made sure never to lose sight of it. Her eyes fixed on the glowing compass she strode on, bushes and the thick undergrowth granting her an easier passage than during her preceding struggles. Still the cold was unforgiving and she had to pull her cloak even tighter around her, the icy chill creeping steadily up from her feet as it began even to seep through the boots. The ancient grey trees lined her path like sentinels and not far ahead from her between the tall pillars in a small clearing a shape appeared, glowing and radiating and filling the dim twilight of its surroundings with the soft light of hope.

For a moment she hesitated, a tiny shard of doubt had remained in her heart, prudence raising its voice in the back of her head. Maybe she was walking into a trap? Her heartbeat racing wild, she placed her hand on the hilt of her sword, a sudden rush of confidence staying the shadow that had threatened to descend on her heart once more. She held her breath as she slowly made her way forward, the glowing shape still blurred as it lingered partially hidden from her view in between the trees, the white light illuminating the ancient grey barks around it, bestowing on them a peaceful serenity that seemed quite unlike this gloomy forest.

Her eyes were blinded by the intensity of the light as she carefully stepped closer, having been used to the relative darkness in the forest and she had to shield them with her hands. And then with a pounding heartbeat she saw it and she knew.

She was not alone after all.

A beautiful white stag was pawing the ground before her as she neared it timidly, majestic antlers like snow-white branches crowning its proud head and the ethereal light surrounding it like starlight, beautiful and pure. A smile dawned on her face as she approached this graceful and elegant creature that seemed to have descended from the heavens, her hand letting go of her sword’s hilt and then the deer reared its head towards her, blue orbs quietly taking in her appearance, the familiar hint of melancholy permeating its gaze of wisdom. She was so close that she only needed to extend her hand to touch it, but she was hesitant, maybe she would scare it away, after all she looked rather haggard and maybe it would refuse to be touched by a human. So she only stood glued to the spot, a look of awe on her face as she allowed herself to drown in the ocean of its eyes. So beautiful, so perfect, an endless sea of blue, and a lonely soul hiding on an island of sadness in waters that were cold and still like the morning frost.

And then the stag closed the gap in between both of them, laying its head on her shoulder with a tenderness that seemed rather remarkable for an animal of such impressive size. But of course she knew that this was not just a normal animal, she had concluded as much already after her first encounter with the stag in the Queen’s refuge.

It was Thranduil’s way of looking after her while he was away, his fae residing within the rhaw of this celestial guardian of the forest. A spirit animal it was called. She had read about it during her visits to the library, but until not so long ago never thought that she would ever set eyes on one of those exquisite creatures, let alone feel it beneath her fingers.

And then there was no more holding back and she flung her arms around its neck and buried her face in the unbelievable softness of its fur, all her fears and doubts streaming down her cheeks in salty tears, the stag patiently allowing her to let go of all the emotions she had been holding in for so long. She wept as the feeling of emptiness that Thranduil had left behind in her heart filled her with grief and sorrow. She wanted to say that she missed him, that she was sorry for running away, that she only wanted to be with him again. Nothing else would ever fill the gaping hole that was in her heart. But no words left her mouth, her throat was all choked up and all she could do was cry as she pressed her cheek against the firmness of the animal’s head, her tears glowing iridescently like tiny pearls scattered across the pristine whiteness that was the stag’s fur.

Bathed in white light they stood in a long moment of silence, Anna’s arms wrapped tightly around the animal’s neck, its steady heartbeat reaching out for hers and taking it along in a harmonious rhythm until both their hearts were beating in unison and a tiny spark kindled a small but bright flame inside her, illuminating her human soul with a glimpse of eternity, beautiful and frightening in its immeasurable endlessness. A light that she carried within and that would guide her when everything else went dark. It was a moment lost in time, disconnected from the world, two souls connected as one in the vastness of the universe.

When the stag looked at her again there was a single tear in the corner of its eye and as it lowered its head the tear fell onto her sword, a faint white gleam flashing through the blade in the blink of an eye and before she could take a second look it was gone and the metal was back to its not so pristine, slightly dull silvery surface.

The stag bowed its head before her and she caressed it tenderly in between the antlers, like Thranduil had done to his elk on her first day in the forest. And then she placed a kiss on its forehead and murmured: “I am glad you found me.” she stroked the soft fur, seeing that it seemed to enjoy her caresses, as it rubbed its head against her hands. “But I need you to bring help. Please!” It reared its ears, tiny white wisps flaring from its nostrils as it nodded and then it slowly turned away, making its way through the majestic pillars, bathing them in white light as it passed them, the light growing ever fainter as it cantered on into the dark thickets until it finally could not be seen anymore, leaving her behind in the dim twilight once again.

She stood there looking at the spot where it had disappeared, unable to tear her eyes off the now empty clearing, all the magic suddenly gone. Still she passed the remainder of the day with a warmth in her heart that made all the cold and pain more bearable.

But her time of hardship was not over just yet. In fact the real ordeal was still ahead of her. But of that she knew nothing when she searched for a suitable shelter to spend the night. She fell asleep in high spirits after today’s wonderful encounter, hoping for a speedy reunion with Thranduil as she drifted off into a peaceful and dreamless slumber.

The next morning she awoke to another disturbing challenge when she opened her eyes and she saw only misty white surrounding her. A dense fog lay on the forest like thick layers of greyish white blankets suspended in between the trees, soaking them in impenetrable veils, their branches resembling skeletal hands reaching out for her from above, poking through the mist in unexpected places and awkward angles. With aching joints and sore muscles she reached for her already dwindling store of lembas and the still frozen water and then scrambled to her feet, muttering curses under her breath. It dampened her spirits that this type of weather was sabotaging once more her efforts of orienting herself, making it impossible to make out any pathway at all.

But there was nothing for it, she could not remain where she was, so she staggered along as best as she could, her eyes wide open and still unable to see, her hands outstretched in front of her to avoid possible collisions with trees or unseen obstacles hidden behind the drape that enshrouded the woods. Blindness took her, inside and out, her heart’s pathway was as hazy as were the woods surrounding her. After what seemed like hours of fruitless wandering her inner light grew ever dimmer, almost imperceptibly at first as despair and doubts gradually choked it until it got to a point where the flame flickered meagrely one last time and then went out. Or at least she thought so, the darkness and the cold threatening to gain the upper hand once more.

As she was lost in thoughts she had not noticed that in between the layers of fog something else had begun to emerge in the thickets around her. Dense and nasty it spanned in between the trees, tricky cobwebs they were, prepared to catch the unaware traveller, their ever hungry architects lingering in the dark, with piercing eyes, black and keen and always alert staring through the shadows. The rank smell of decay, mellifluous in its deceptive sweetness, emanated from beneath the rotten layers of leaves and deadwood and countless fungi, littered with disintegrated corpses of unidentifiable creatures, carelessly dropped and forgotten by their disgusting murderers. She did not need her eyes to tell her that she had somehow wandered into the portion of Mirkwood that she most had wanted to avoid, the tales of evil spiders, those monstrous Spawns of Ungoliant, painting all too vivid images in her head. The daylight had started to fade away yet once again, the dense fog now appearing like thick clouds of dark grey and an impression of impending doom descending around her.

She closed her fingers around the hilt of her sword, the black ocean of fear flooding her stomach, threatening to drown the crumbling remnants of her courage in its greedy abysm. The smooth metal was cool against her skin, but as she gripped it tighter heat began to emanate from within, the warmth radiating around it, prickling beneath her fingers and crawling under her skin. She gasped in surprise and released the hilt, afraid that it would burn her fingers, but immediately scorned herself for her foolishness. This was an elven sword, how could it be cursed with evil magic? And then it dawned on her that the stag’s tear must have probably cast a protective spell on it.

But another disturbing thought lodged itself in her mind: what if the sword sensed danger and went into something like an alert mode? This could only mean one thing: she was seriously in trouble. She resumed her grip, the warmth immediately rushing through her hands into her arm, her fingers moulding around the heated metal that began to buckle against the restraint of its scabbard, begging to be released. With a racing heartbeat she held on to it, trying to keep it sheathed, while she crept along silently, carefully avoiding the treacherous cobwebs, their sticky fangs looming greedily above her head. The silence was unbearable, it was the calm before the storm, she knew it in her heart that the hunters had surely spotted their prey and were now patiently waiting for it to get tangled in their gluttonous nets.

It did not take long and then she heard them, first muted from high above and then echoing in between the trees: clicking noises in various pitches, screeching cries like evil voices debating the most gruesome way of killing her. The accompanying squelching made her hair stand on end and her skin prickle with revulsion.

This was it, the horror she so desperately had tried to avoid had found her at last. It was time, time to face her fears. Only she did not feel heroic at all, more like a cornered rabbit with a hammering heartbeat hoping against hope to be able to escape from an untimely death. If only Thranduil were here to protect her, things might have looked less gloomy for her, but he was far away from her fighting his own war. His swords would not be able to fend for her now.

Flight or fight were her two choices, but deep down she knew that it was too late to run away and she had only one option: go forward and defend herself as best as she could. Forgotten were her past and her future, her whole existence melted into a single moment here and now that consisted only of Anna and her still invisible foes, her mind blocking out everything else that would distract her from her goal of staying alive.

With a deep breath she slowly drew her sword that eagerly leapt into her hand, ready to prove its value and sensing that a time of valour had come again. The sword was not a two hander, but she had much better leverage gripping it with both hands. Also there was nothing else for her to hold on to, no shield to protect her, so she might as well cling to this piece of metal as tight as she could like her life literally depended on it, which was not far from the actual truth.

Her eyes still blinded by the ever darkening fog, she allowed the sword to guide her, the slightest vibration of the slender blade reverberating throughout the entire piece of gleaming silver, flowing into her hands and filling her body with anxious anticipation. The tension clutched her heart in an iron vice as it pounded in her chest, her blood rushing like a torrent through her veins. She gripped the smooth and polished metal of the delicate hilt with fierce determination until her knuckles turned white, all sinews in her body in taut expectation and a mixture of recklessness and courage emerging from some hitherto undiscovered corners of her heart.

And then the first attack came out of nowhere and hit her unprepared nevertheless, a swift blow from behind slashing through her cloak with an edge as sharp and pointy as a knife. She staggered forward, struggling to keep her balance, the hilt of her sword pulling her upwards as if it were guided by invisible strings. If it weren’t for the protective magic of the elven cloak, this first blow would have surely struck her down already. She quickly concluded that moving forward would not do the trick, she had to circle around slowly, prepared to strike any moment and in any direction.

Her motions were terribly uncoordinated at first and it was almost a miracle that she did not drop her sword in her confused stabbing and more than once her sword gut stuck in the hairy bellies of her enemies and she had to get dangerously close to those nasty pincers in order to retrieve it again, keeping her attackers at bay with a wooden stick she had grasped in despair. But the more she relaxed and gave herself to its lead the more her aim improved and it seemed practically glued to her hands.

Her breathing fell in sync with the swirling motions of her blade as it cut through the onslaught of her enemies crawling frantically around her on their eight crooked legs. Soon the forest floor was littered with cut off limbs, heavy drops of gooey blood painting the dead leaves black.

Anger drove them on as they were frustrated by her constant evasion of their sticky webs and rattling pincers. Nastier and quicker in succession came their attacks and more and more of their fat and filthy bodies appeared from in between the trees. Some swung themselves from branch to branch on endless threads hoping to catch her unaware, but her eyes where now everywhere and so was her sword, slashing and stabbing in constant rhythm in a fearless dance of merciless slaughtering.

High pitch shrieks cut through the air, chasing a wave of repugnance down her spine. Again and again she thrusted her blade into the black mass around her. Parrying and slashing, she needed to keep her mind focused. Any mistake could cost Anna her life.

Turn around. Faster! Don’t let go of the sword. Raise it up again. Higher! There, you got another one!

A lifeless body falling backwards and curling up its legs spurred her on to an even fiercer onslaught.

Left. Right.

She pushed them back one step.

Don’t trip. Hold your ground.

But they advanced two steps.

Keep your guard up!

Her face was covered in sweat and blood, blurring her vision, her hair a mess as it stuck out in odd angles.

Watch out!

There, another blow from an unexpected angle hit her hard. A jolt of pain burned like acid through her left shoulder where a claw had slashed through all the layers of her clothing and she could feel the blood soaking the fabric, its warm flow trickling down her left side.

That was a close call.

Anna bent down in pain and the attack left her disoriented just long enough for the spiders to gain the upper hand.

After all, she was only one against many foes and eventually her motions became sluggish and fatigue began slowing her down. Her arms were not able keep up with the apparent endless energy of her sword and even despite its lightness the metal felt now heavy, dragging her arms down and rendering her attacks less efficient. All she could do was block and try to parry the spider’s incessant stinging so they would not get to her all at once. But a bad feeling pooled inside her stomach as she began to realise that only a miracle would save her now. The wall of enemies closed in as they formed a tighter ring around her, most of them crawling on the floor ever more daring and clinging to the lower branches, their nasty attacks now carried out with renewed agility as they smelled victory in the air and soon saw themselves being rewarded with a small but fresh piece of meat to feast upon. Their hairy legs and clicking pincers relentlessly worked their way around her, bulbous eyes staring at her greedily and a rotten stench surrounding her, raising an urge of vomit inside her as she staggered on, trying to avoid tripping over the gnarled roots that spanned across the forest floor. Their screeching intensified with their equally growing excitement and she could already feel their foul breath close to her, too close. More sticky threads were cast around her in relentless determination, forming speedily into thick webs that stuck to her clothes and threatened to trap her sword as well.

And then everything was but a hazy blur, she slashed around wildly in a last attempt to free herself, her eyes half-closed in an effort of channeling all her remaining energy into her hands. Her hands and her sword were the only two things still keeping her alive. Hands that were slacking, bruised and scratched as they were, but still holding on tightly to her sword’s hilt, as if letting go meant embracing the finality of death. She almost stumbled as one of her legs had gotten stuck in the ever growing net around her, dozens of spiders in a revolting black and hairy wave nimbly working their way around her most susceptible body parts.

Cut, cut the net! Now, or you will be lost! Rolled up into a cocoon of juicy dinner.

Anna slashed desperately at the threads that held her leg captive only to find her other one tangled in the meantime by this untiring army of the abhorrent servants of evil.

Faster now, cut the other side loose! Move your sword, swing it high and slash through once more!

But her body was beginning to fail her, weakened by her wounds, her hands refusing to raise the weight of the sword any more, the blade now only dragging heavily along the floor, not shiny and silvery, but stained dark with the blood of her enemies and pieces of hair and skin blemishing its once so pristine and elegant appearance. In the midst of all the turmoil of misshaped bellies and greedily outstretched legs her will to fight trickled steadily from her veins, leaving her body weak and empty, and she knew that this was it.

Whatever miracle she was secretly hoping for would not come.

A gust of wind rose beyond the circle of feasting spiders around her while they worked ever faster on her sticky and lethal prison, as if a fresh wave would be making its way towards her. But she was so worn out from her fight that had turned out fruitless in the end that she barely noticed the slight change in ambience, determined and clear voices mixing with the ever busy scuttling of tireless legs around her. All she saw were gluttonous mouths opening wide, their gaping holes stunning her with their revolting stench and revealing dark and voracious gorges that would be the last thing she would lay her eyes on.

But she would not die with the ugly image of these evil creatures etched in her mind. She closed her eyes and surrendered herself to the inevitable. The sword slid from her hands landing on the floor with a soft thud. It had served her well, but now she would not be needing it any more. As she felt the threads tightening around her, her body heavy and limp as she gave up all resistance, she conjured up the sweetest memories she could think of. She did not have much to choose from. Only broken fractions of her former life remained from her last vision, long forgotten scents of home, fleeting touches and furtive glances, not enough to hold on to. And then the image of Thranduil emerged from within, pushing itself to the fore, the enigma that was the Elvenking in all his ethereal beauty filling her every thought. And the barren land that was her heart suddenly brimmed with light, blinding and bright and she whispered with the last remnant of breath: “Thranduil, I am sorry —.”

A blood-curdling shriek echoed through Mirkwood, she staggered backwards clumsily with her bound legs as searing pain rushed like lightning through her veins, her blood boiling in agony, igniting a deadly paralysis of her body. Panic struck her as her body went numb at an alarming rate, but it was too late. Like a wildfire it consumed her, in an evil twist leaving her mind still conscious of all that was happening until the end, malevolently bringing home to her the bitterness of defeat. It spread from her lower back, taking possession of every fibre of her body, an invasion of evilness slithering beneath her skin that had her helplessly drowning, arms and legs hanging limply by her side, and struggling for air as her lungs were rapidly constricted, clouding her mind as it ran out of vital oxygen.

Her inner light flickered in a last gasp of life.

And she fell through endless shadows into the black pit of darkness.

And she fell, on and on, until she was caught in a firm embrace.

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