Chapter 1: prologue
The late summer sunbeams were peering through ancient thick trees, guiding the way to the old forest road at the west Mirkwood. The air was fresh and humid, filled with sweet and spicy scents of exotic flowers scattered on the soft forest ground. This was the definition of happiness for Aireiel Nelethrin. A perfect start of an early morning. Sleepy, hazy dawns were Aireiel's favourite part of the day; when the hidden mighty world of Mirkwood is just waking up from its tired task of maintaining the endlessly horrific reputation. Though, as it was in her Sindar nature, she was fearless. A restless hunter that knew this part of Mirkwood by heart. This was what she got used to in the years of living on her own with her thousands of years old father, Edenir Nelethrin, long omitted descendant of the Forgotten Lords (that ruled these lands even before the arrival of the royal family of the last Lorien's ruler, Amroth), bereft of his own title. She got used to escaping their normal morning routines to run back to her own world. A world with no wars, resentments and bullies. Each stole something precious from her.
Aireiel caught a sight of a resting mammal twenty meters from her, nourishing with some greenery. She took a chance and slowly crept towards it. The animal caught her scent and started running for its life. Aireiel began to pick up her pace until she was running along with the animal, deep into the heart of the forest. Disobeying her father's rules and defying his will once again, she raced side-by-side with the speeding creature through the solitary thicket that started to become more dense and impenetrable with each step. The only sight of the animal she was able to follow were the blurry spots of its light brown fur with symmetrical white dots scattered over it that occasionally emerged from the maze of the forest's boughs.
The cost of the war was high. She lost her mother, Amalondeth, when she was just a little girl, her older sister Heraithiel and her younger brother Erurhil, to the forces of the Darkness. The pain of the loss was indescribable. The resentments stole her father's rightful position. All the elven kingdoms rejected their calls for help, wherever they, and other lost families that once happily lived under Amroth's reign, strayed for over a century after the announcement of the death of their King. A few families were too late for the departure of the ships that were to cross the Sundering Seas to the Undying Lands, where most of the Lorien inhabitants travelled to in order to escape the rising evil, and also where king Amroth had selfishly fled to with his love Nimrodel, leaving the Elves of Lothlórien behind, leaving them scattered and leaderless, afraid and lost.
Many centuries had passed without any protection over Lothlorien. Some families insisted on staying in their homes, not wishing to abandon their past as the future for their descendants, including Aireiel's family. For a long time they managed to live in seeming peace and prosperity when, in fact, their lives were all but peaceful. But the word that Lorien had found itself without an accomplished guardian and capable army soon arrived to the ears of Sauron's forces that invaded the Misty Mountains and the ruins of Moria. The Dark Lord saw an appealing opportunity that would result in both fulfilment of his strategic plan and enrichment of his military forces. After the attack all the families were affected by the invasion: some would see their hundreds of years old homes burned to the ground, others were forced to part from their crops, and then there were the ones like Aireiel with the greatest misfortune of all – to see their loved ones tortured and slaughtered. The image of it and the pain shall never fade from their memory as long as they breathed. The last thing Aireiel remembered from those horrible times was her father running towards her, screaming her name through fire and smoke with nothing but destruction behind him.
Edenir's family was known to be one of the most respectable and honourable ones in the wide region of Lorien. Even when the foundations of Lothlorien's politics were still based on ancient monarchy, the years of loyal service and devotion to this land did not go unnoticed even by the King Amdír whose mercy and favour Edenir enjoyed while there was piece in those lands. His hard work, commitment, and respect were the traits that persuaded King Amdír to bestow a noble title upon Edenir and appoint him as one of the grand lords of Lorien, yet his true heritage was still unknown both to the King as Lorien's inhabitants. Needless to say, such achievement encouraged many of Edenir's rivals to grow even greater resentment and hatred towards him. Not long after the title had been imparted to him, evil tongues started to spread spiteful rumours of Edenir and his family. Even though the amount of those foolish enough to accept and continue to spread the gossip was surprisingly high, Edenir was not short of admirers and supporters who efficiently defended him and his principles even long after the King's death.
Yet still the rumours managed to endure even in the cruellest conditions a land can confront – war and its aftermath (including the later inevitable migration of Lothlorien inhabitants, as well as Edenir's family who was deprived of its three members and all the privileges gained in the time of piece) – and passed onto its survivors. Shortly after the first effects of the destruction of Lorien, the rumours had successfully reached even the most distant lands, every kingdom they'd arrived to started to turn against them. The inhabitants did not like newcomers in their kingdom, especially not vagabonds professing their innocence and reporting of their homeland being destroyed by the hand of the Shadow. They wished none of their curse to be transmitted to their own lands. The times were indeed dark, and despite of the Elves' usual friendly welcome, the separate dwellings of this specific kind took special care in caution and restriction for the word of evil ailing the lands reached far and wide. Even though some of the lords themselves did not utter direct threats towards the young families, they were forced to move because of the rising pressure and growing threats, sent by the infuriated and incensed nation. Soon, the abandoned families were left on their own like refugees. With no shelter to run to, barely enough food for a few months, and some ripped old clothes was everything the families were left with.
After centuries of straying the vast lands of Middle Earth the news of Lothlorien regaining its stability came to the lost families. Supposedly their homeland had found new guardians and the joy that overcame the wanderers was indescribable. The lost families embarked on the path to their homes, guided by the hope of a renewed life they'd lost. But Edenir was not as fascinated by the fact that his homeland had supposedly recovered by the hand of these foreigners the messengers spoke of. Many who were stunned at Edenir's decision not to join them on their path of redemption failed to see that the only possible way he could achieve his redemption was through vengeance. That only the spill of the enemy's blood could roughly suffice to quench the undying drive to go insane. That only when he shall send those vicious souls responsible for their revolting crimes to hell his spirit will be able to fly free again.
Aireiel's breath got deeper and heavier, but she kept on running parallel to the speeding animal. The thrill of keeping up with its speed was addictive. It was like she was sent to an entire different atmosphere only for Aireiel and her prey to exist. As if nothing else was real but a part of an ill dream.
The sound of crackling of an endless blanket of green leaves covering the ground was starting to increase, when suddenly the animal disappeared behind a tree. When Aireiel approached the giant oak there was nothing but light blue fog with silver rays and precipitous, narrow ravine ahead of it. With breath caught in her throat, she realised she somehow found herself in the Woodland Realm. She didn't recall crossing any rivers, that's why the whole situation was even stranger. Aireiel hid behind the great dark brown bark and observed the surroundings with her eyes wide open. She had never been this far from home before. She simply mindlessly followed the animal deep into the woods without realizing her step. How typical.
Surely, she would hear some harsh words from her father when she should reach home, but the sight in front of her was simply astonishing. Even though the most beautiful land she'd ever visited was Rivendell, which held quite a wide and loud reputation, that spread far across Middle Earth of having the most beautiful landscape, this part of Mirkwood was a land of its own. The ground was coloured deep green from which old and tall trees grew high and proud, reaching up to the bright blue sky. Small birds and insects were swiftly flying around the trees, the sunlight was soft and adequately warm, the wind fresh and wild. It seemed as if her heart was possessed by the radiant beauty of the enchanting forest. When her eyes stopped searching and wandering around the surroundings, she looked a bit to her left. She saw a path that most likely led to the main entrance of the infamous palace. At the end of the path there were large gates, decorated with two high pillars. Oh, how she craved to see what was in there. But she dared not. She heard who ruled there, the great Elvenking Thranduil, son of the mighty warrior Oropher whose glory was praised even centuries after his unfortunate decease. Even though she opposed any kind of monarchy ever since the betrayal of her own King, she had the greatest respect for the King of the Elves of the Wood. And same amount of respect went to his son, Prince Legolas, of whom she heard great stories. She heard he mastered the techniques of arrows and daggers, like herself. She often daydreamed of confronting him one day in a spontaneous combat. But surely, those were just foolish fantasies with low chances of actualization. She also heard of another elvish being that resided inside king Thranduil's castle walls. It was the infamous Tauriel, captain of the Elven guard of Thranduil's Woodland Realm. Aireiel liked to think she was a lot like Tauriel; within and without, but for a change, her eyes were piercingly light brown with shades of green, curiously gazing into the world around her. She was taught to be a part of the forest at a young age. She learned its secrets, its hidden paths and mostly, learned to value its beauty. One can be truly at home only when one appreciates its magnificence. She oriented very well on the mysterious ways of Mirkwood, for she started hunting here ever since she was on her own with her father. Every time she went hunting, the forest would welcome her inside and embrace her as one of its own.
Just as Aireiel was about to give in to her curiosity and slowly approach the entrance, she heard a stamp of feet approaching.
"Noro lim, mellonnath! Aran thel aníra ihaw hi," said a commanding voice that approached fast. It appeared to be Legolas's. (Run swift, friends! The King will want to hear about this.)
Aireiel hid right in time before the rank of elves arrived. If she had lingered only for a half a second longer, she'd be noticed. And most certainly taken to the King himself for questioning for lurking and assumed hunting within the borders of the Realm.
She recognized the company of elves as the Royal Guard coming from the North. She saw Tauriel walking alongside Legolas and they seemed fully occupied discussing some important matter, thankfully not paying much attention to the surroundings. As they were crossing the passage to the entrance, Aireiel carefully slid a bit lower, near the oak's roots, to have a better view of the walking Woodland Realm Guard. The leaders, Tauriel and Legolas, were the first to enter the King's halls through heavy doors, opened by the mighty elven palace guards. The rest of the elves didn't wear their usual armour, but they did seem quite exhausted and their long green garb looked worn out. It appeared as if they'd encountered an unwelcome guest back at the North. She wondered who that might be.
Since the terrible war, she heard all kinds of stories of vile things creeping beneath the trees of Mirkwood. That darkness lay upon that forest. Aireiel couldn't ignore all the rumours of late forever. She'd travelled most of the west Mirkwood and she found out the rumours were, in fact, correct. She couldn't put her finger on it, but something was definitely off. The forest had changed. Great evil shall rise again, she could feel it in her bones. She had a sense for these things. But as a humble and insignificant wood-elf, forced to flee from her own home, she knew her actions, no matter how courageous, wouldn't make much difference. Aireiel could only dream of becoming a part of the Royal Guard. But even if she'd be accepted amongst the elite, she'd be mocked, laughed at. Soon Tauriel would realize she's not the right material and she would have to leave. And that was a disgrace she could not afford. It wasn't as simple as it may seemed. Aireiel had all the time she needed to think over her chances of ever reclaiming her and her father's title. But there wasn't much to think. They'd fail, no matter where they'd flee.
Legolas escorted Tauriel and a part of her guard back to the meeting hall. It was around noon now and the sunlight was leaking through high walls, shining onto the stairs upon which they were walking. Legolas couldn't stop thinking about the malice he had just witnessed. He had never seen such vile, putrid beings before as those gigantic spiders. They must've been sent here for a purpose. As he was leading the way, he turned to Tauriel who was walking right beside him.
"Tuin uin ner taug rhû. Man na en gon?" said Legolas while they were walking the high stairway leading to Thranduil's throne. (Those creatures were pure evil. Who is their leader?)
"Ú-iston. Ennas ner limb," Tauriel responded with a worried expression. It seemed those creatures truly frightened her. Though he could not blame her. (I do not know. There were so many.)
Legolas saw the tiredness in her eyes and he felt guilty. It wasn't necessary for Tauriel to come along when they were called this morning, but still he insisted. He wanted her by her side, because she was his only friend within these walls. He trusted no one else as he trusted Tauriel.
"I am sorry, Tauriel" he uttered after a while. "For everything." He did not dare to look her straight in those green eyes. He didn't want to come off too vulnerable.
"Ha na tríw, estel nin. Baw trass, muin Legolas," she replied with a strong voice. This was the Tauriel he knew. The unbroken warrior. (It is fine, truly. Do not worry, dear Legolas.)
"Im anírant pêd agoreg vae sír," Legolas finally said and they both smiled at each other. Tauriel nodded in reply as a sign of acknowledgement and appreciation of his observation. (I wanted to say you did well today.)
Even though he was aware that the horrible feeling she got when they encountered those evil things was still dwelling in her soul, he deemed it wiser not to bring the subject up again. Their friendship was a special bond, consisting more of signs and mind-reading rather than actual words. There was no one else he'd count on more in the times of war or desolation. After all, there was some comfort in knowing someone always had your back.
They approached the final stairs that led directly to the king Thranduil. There he was in all his majesty. Today, the Elvenking was clad in a long silver outfit sewn with white and dark grey glittery threads. His crown was made of red leaves and berries of the autumn, his long fingers decorated with rings made of moonstones. His blood red cape rested on his arm and crawled down to his feet. It suddenly moved as he lifted his arm to greet the oncoming group of elves.
"Nîn aran," Tauriel bowed in front of a tall figure sitting calmly on the throne and so did the rest of the group. (My king.)
"Tauriel, Legolas, mae g'ovannen. What news do you bring?" Thranduil's voice was deep and calm, dominant and authoritative. (Tauriel, Legolas, welcome.)
Legolas and Tauriel looked at each other before Legolas decided to report of the mission.
"This morning we were called by the North Guard at the Northern border, near Forest River. They claim they've sensed evil spreading not far away beyond our Realm, at the junction of the rivers Greylin and Langwell in the Vales of Anduin. They wanted us to join them immediately to either confirm or reject their suspicions."
Thranduil's icy blue eyes were gazing into his son's. "What seemed to be the issue?"
"New malice is arising, my King," Tauriel jumped in. "We've all seen it. We've all fought against it. But these creatures are strange, sprout with some kind of darkness that enables them the continuous rampant breeding."
Thranduil seemed to be concerned for a moment as he put his right hand to his chin. "I thought I ordered the nests to be destroyed not two moons past."
"We cleared the forest as ordered, my Lord. But more spiders keep coming up from the South. They are creating new nests by night and advancing towards the North by day. They are spawning in the ruins of Dol Guldur, we have later discovered. If we could kill them at their source-"
"That fortress lies beyond our borders," Thranduil cut her off rapidly. "Keep our lands clear of those foul creatures. That is your task."
"And once we drive them off, what then? Will they not spread to other lands?"
"Other lands are not my concern." The king's eyes tightened as if he tried to emphasize his point. His voice was demanding and cold. "The fortunes of the world will rise and fall. But here, in this kingdom, we will endure."
Tauriel knew she could not speak back to the King any more as she already had, so she simply nodded to herself as a sign of agreement that this conversation was now over. As the captain of the guard she did possess some special privileges, but nothing more than reporting to the King personally. Her benefits ended there.
"If that is all you bring with you, you are dismissed," said Thranduil after a while. As the group was leaving the hall, Thranduil called back for Legolas.
"Not you, Legolas."
The prince turned to his father with a reluctant expression on his face.
"What's troubling you, nîn ion?" Thranduil's voice echoed around the hall. (What's troubling you, my son?)
Legolas hesitated before answering his father's question. "Tauriel's right and you know it."
Thranduil sighed and nestled in his throne. He looked his son deeply and thoroughly. He was proud of what he was seeing. His mother would've been proud as well. But he needed to make sure his son knew what the realm was dealing with. The true dangers this kingdom was facing.
"Those creatures indeed bring great evil along. I do not wish my Realm to be infected with such abomination. Can I fully trust you and Tauriel to keep our lands safe?"
"I see no reason why Tauriel would seem unworthy of your trust," Legolas answered with anger in his eyes, though his father was still not pleased, judging by his stone cold look. "I know her. She fought well today. You can count on both of us and your guard to fulfil the task."
"That is settled then," Thranduil stood up from the throne and devoted one of his last cold looks to Legolas. "You are expected in the dining hall at sundown. You wouldn't want to keep the híril waiting." (Híril = lady; in this case it is meant as a plural form)
Thranduil seemed pleased with himself as he walked the stairs behind the throne that led to his private chambers, but Legolas did not feel the same way. He was not very fond of the she-elves living inside the castle walls. They all seemed vain, empty and flamboyant. They were graceful and fair indeed, but lacked imagination and true ardour. The only she-elf he knew of that shared the same passion about the nature, art and the universe was Tauriel, but he was certain she saw nothing more in him but her loyal companion. He gave up those futile dreams centuries ago.
Aireiel took the same rout to return home. On the way back, she managed to hunt a few rabbits for lunch. Luckily, she hadn't encountered any new elves wandering around Mirkwood nor any other creatures dwelling among these trees for that matter. While she walked the soft forest ground, she thought of the Realm. She wondered how it is like to rule such great land or at least be a part of it. Her family, among countless of others, managed to establish brief shelters in several elvish kingdoms (until they were eventually evicted from that area), and all were very dear to her heart as the memories of parts of her childhood she spent in each of them, especially memories of Rivendell. She remembered the numb babbling of waterfalls coming from the high Rivendell mountains, the morning cheep of those little blue birds she adored, the pale moonlight that shone upon high cliffs where she used to gaze into the moon and long for adventures, far away from this vicious circle she was trapped in. She then thought of her own homeland; her mother and her siblings laughing in the flowering of the spring, chasing each other around the halls and roaming the nearest forests and meadows. She couldn't hold back the tiny tear that appeared in her eye. It was overwhelming, at times, to realize that all that was once her world was now lost. Her father kept telling her she was too young to understand, too foolish to comprehend the terrors of the war. He forbid her to think about the happy times in the past, for she must focus on the future that lay ahead of them both. And they had to survive.
But sometimes, at sensitive and vulnerable times such as this, Aireiel saw no meaning in fighting for their survival when they had nothing to live for any more. All they both cared about was far away from them, past their reach. Soon, they will both be forgotten. History will become legend, legend will become a myth, as all great tales of happiness. Soon, there will be nothing her family would be remembered after. Now they had to hunt to barely make it through another couple of days.
Still, she was aware of a promise she had sworn to her father in the darkest of times. That she will make sure their line would endure. No matter what she'd have to go through, she decided this task to be her mission. Regardless of the evil she might have to face, from now on this was the only thing she needed to focus on. The key to their survival, though, was to lay low at all times and pay no attention to those rumours which surely endured as did everything that was bad and evil.
Aireiel arrived to the edge of the forest where her and her father's sanctuary was located. They've been safe at this spot for almost a century. Though they needed to keep moving every now and then to remain unseen.
"Nîn muin Aireiel," Edenir shouted as he stood to welcome his daughter back home. (My dear Aireiel.)
"Suilad ad, adar," she greeted him. "Here are some fresh rabbits I was able to catch this morning. They seem well-fed, they shall suffice for some time."(Hello again, father.)
Aireiel dropped the prey near their feet and sat by the hearth. Her worried expression was not ignored by her father's eyes which always seem to catch her sad looks.
"What is it, dear?" He held his warm hand on her shoulder. His sincere eyes gazed into Aireiel's. Aireiel could feel his glare on her, but she kept mumbling something indistinct to herself. She did not want her father to find out who she ran at in the forest. Nor the fact how far she had ran and what she had put at stake while being so reckless.
"It's nothing. Just a foolish thought," she replied in hope that would drive his curiosity away. But she was mistaken.
"I like your foolish thoughts, Aireiel."
Edenir sensed doubt and insecurity in her heart. Only a fool could see past it.
"Anything that troubles you, I am sure I can help you get through it."
"It was something in the forest that disturbs me. Something I sensed a long time ago," Aireiel finally opened up and his father's hand fell to his knees, carefully following each of Aireiel's word.
"At first, I thought it was just daft rumours, until I've sensed it with my own being. I could hear its loud breathing, foul odour, the corrupt, vile spirit hiding in the shadows. Something has infected this forest. I do not believe we will be safe here for long, adar."
That made the wise Edenir think. He stood up to walk around their small fireplace for a while until he suddenly stopped. His gaze spread far across the mountains behind them and now up to the sky.
"Does anyone else carry the same feeling? Someone you've have maybe crossed paths with?"
That made Aireiel nervous. When she was just a little girl she once talked with her sister and brother about their mighty father. They said the people who are afraid of him claimed Edenir could read minds, but they stayed with the conclusion that it was pure nonsense, since they did not come from the witch-kind kin. It was not possible for Edenir to possess such magical powers, but he sure often came close to that.
"Is there something you wish to tell me, Aireiel?" Edenir's voice grew colder once he did not get the wanted response.
"Please, father, just listen. I was just walking around the forest when... when I found myself at the Elvenking's Halls. It was unintentional and purely reckless, I swear to you, ada," her voice hurried to say something which seemed meaningless to the man standing above her with the same hazel snake eyes.
"Tell me, Aireiel, how does one 'unintentionally' wander off into the very heart of the Woodland Realm whilst casually hunting for their family's survival up in the West border?"
She knew it was time for her to remain quiet. Until she found a proper comeback, at least.
"How could you possibly be so careless and run into the unknown lands of Mirkwood! You could have been seen! We could have been exposed! How could you have let so much be at stake, my dear child?"
His voice turned soft once he saw the sadness in Aireiel's eyes. He sat beside her and put his long arms around her.
"Goheno nin, adar. Im nant úpa." (Forgive me, father. I was being foolish.) Her voice trembled as her father pulled her closer to his heart.
"It's alright, my dear. Worry not. But we must think of a new strategy of survival. We must be ready for quite anything at this moment. We never know how far and how long this evil shall spread. Do you still know the way?" Edenir looked his daughter straight in the eyes.
"The hidden path?"
"Indeed. It is time."
At dusk, the halls in the higher parts of the underground king's residence were filled with dim and soft light coming from the floating candles that hung across the entire palace. Slow and enchanting tunes spread through the maze of halls. Scents of the late summer nature, wild herbs, and traditional old elvish cuisine crawled amongst the peaceful and graceful elves that passed the halls from time to time. The ladies were dressed in long roseate or azure robes, made of the finest brocade and silk, their dark hair was decorated with genteel headbands and circlets. Their escorts were clad in garments of the same fabric, yet the patterns and configuration of the very clothing were different.Of all gleaming chambers that were located at the highest parts of the cave, there was one chamber at the end of the highest hallway that shone the brightest. Right behind the corner, there was an entrance to one of the biggest royal chambers of the underground dwelling of the Wood Elves. It belonged to Prince Legolas.
Legolas stood in front of a high golden mirror, wearing only his leggings of bright blue colour that suited his long but muscular-shaped legs well. He walked around his room for a while and then again stopped in front of the mirror reflecting his image which he deemed dull this evening. His pale blonde hair was still loose and fell freely on his bare, tight shoulders. This night was supposed to be the night when he'd meet his kindred spirit in his father's eyes, but personally he deeply doubted it. Father may thought he was ready for that form of commitment, while Legolas had other things on his mind. Love was the last of them all.
Three different garments, all glamorous, lay on his enormous bed of silver silk. The fire beside it was softly crackling in the hearth, warming up Legolas's spacious chamber. It was almost time for him to head downstairs, but he was not ready yet. He was not ready for hungry looks of dishonourable she-elves who only desired him for his title. He was not ready for the deadly glances from the cream of the crop, filled with expectation and glee, and the poisonous tongues spitting yet another set of lies to welcome the evening into its usual hectic rhythm. After he heard a knock on the wall from one of his friends from the army, Adanion, he chose the blue garment sewn with silver threads that formed symmetrical ornamental embellishments, dressed up, and exited his chamber to join the party that was not going to incite without its main attraction.
"Na vedui! What held you behind for so long?" said Adanion with a smirk. (At last!)
"The very thought of going to this pointless festivity is making me ill," Legolas replied with a dead serious expression. His lips barely moved when he spoke and his walking pace seemed intimidating.
"Am man? Man le trasta, Legolas? (Why? What is troubling you, Legolas?)
"Únad. Ha na únad," Legolas replied vacantly. (Nothing. It is nothing.)
The answer did not please his comrade for he knew the real Legolas, and those words were not the reflection of his normally flamboyant mood.
"But tonight is your night! Savo 'lass a lalaith! After all, you have earned it." Adanion tried to cheer up Legolas by playfully punching his arm, but Legolas only gave the man a deadly look. Something was definitely off tonight. (Have joy and laughter!)
"Very well. I won't torture you any longer," Adanion finally said to break the silence with faigned smile on his lips to ease the tension. "But promise me one thing: please have a good time tonight. Find a she-elf to keep you company, only if for the night. Your father, king Thranduil, has made great effort to make this feast as memorable as possible and-"
Legolas stopped only meters away from the entrance to the dining halls. The festive tunes were spreading across the hallways which only put Legolas in a worse mood.
"Do not talk to me about my father and all the great things he has done. He has done nothing but intervened in my personal life and I do not see any greatness in that. If you believe so, this conversation is now drawing to a close."
Adanion was shocked. He had never seen Legolas more on edge as he did tonight. Of course, he fell silent after Legolas's threat, but deep down he knew Legolas felt guilty for what he had done. As one of rare Legolas's acquaintances, he knew something had been bothering him for the past few days, but as stubborn as he was, he wouldn't tell a soul about it. He could not degrade himself below such level of humiliation. He was a sensitive soul, though not many knew him well enough to confirm this carefully hidden side of him. His soft core lay deep inside, surrounded by a shield as strong and thick as dragon's scales. If you wanted to break in and touch his vulnerable heart, you had to wait for him to open up to you first. He was like an onion; you peeled it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you wept. But Legolas believed that exact fact was what made him such great warrior and a master archer. Nothing could get to him.
They drew near the entrance of the dining halls and Legolas could feel his pounding heart in his throat. It was not because of excitement nor thrill, but because of anger and angst. He felt contempt towards his father, and nothing could change his mind that he was nothing more than a devious man. Every good deed he had ever done was powered by some personal interest, every kind word he had ever intended to his son was to satisfy others.The Prince knew that deep down he possessed the strength to oblige his father by offer a smirk or two to the fair she-elves, laugh at the royal escorts' jests, and pray to the stars in peace as if nothing happened. But he refused to use this strength within him this evening. He was fed up with father's treacherous schemes of what he should do with his life. He was done pretending.
Legolas entered the dining halls through the wide opened gates alongside with his companion and suddenly all eyes were on him. To not feel the rage bursting inside him just yet, he pretended he was walking with some beautiful she-elf that everyone stared at. He had to pretend he did not hear the sound of vicious voices spreading latest rumours about him. He had to pretend that the beings around him did not have any expectations of him, assuming he would kindly fulfil them.
Adanion left Legolas's side once the latter was approaching the King's honourable place in the heart of the dining hall. He supposed something bad was to follow, so he rather stepped aside than to be a part of it; he presumed as his loyal friend he would be burdened with the duty of calming him down and force him yet again to leave the feast.
"Hîr vuin," Legolas said as he bowed to the man in front of him. (My Lord.)
"Dear son, welcome," Thranduil's voice spread across the halls as they fell silent due to king's speech.
Thranduil now turned to face the crowd before him. Their eyes widened as they witnessed all his mightiness in front of them. They believed in their rescuer. They poured all their faith in his leadership and protection of the Wood Elves of Mirkwood. Thranduil could not help himself but let his lips spread into a gratified smirk. He was pleased to know he had his nation eating off his spoon. Not that he ever took advantage of the situation, he rather let them create their own fate. Before he spoke again, his blue eyes glanced Legolas one last time, and then he began.
"My loved ones. We are gathered here tonight in the celebration of Mereth Nuin Giliath, to honour the Great Elentári, Rîs uin elenath who rises above us. Sad uin galad, ennas na estel. We thank you for your gift and blessing, we kneel before you." (The Queen of the stars. Where there is light, there is hope.
After Thranduil had said the formal words to honour the main reason of this festivity, he opened his arms towards his nation.
"Let us feast!Let us celebrate and unitein this blissful and magical nightas we enjoy the peace!"
Uproarious applause had filled the air. The Elves were shouting the King's name and absorbed his whole essence in great awe. The screams disappeared once the tables were filled with all kinds of colourful food. The Elves started to move along in long lines and the tables were seated in no time. Legolas was the last one to take his seat which was placed next to the King.
"Tell me, Legolas, how are you enjoying this beautiful starry night?" Thranduil said with his mouth half full, while Legolas hasn't touched a bit even though the smell was tempting.
"I think you have prepared yet another night to remember, father," he replied with his teeth clenched. The only thing he thought was smart to grasp was another cup of miruvor.
The king's counsellors seemed to have agreed with him as they nodded and drank their beverage without looking at him. As they were all in admiration of their king, they also paid deep respects for his son as well. As royalty, they believed he deserved only the best. But Legolas was tired of constant luxury, small talk and meaningless discourses of war affairs. He was tired of constant presence at meaningless discussions where the wise and old friends of his father's would mostly talk about either warlike matters or the rosy-cheeked dames. One could say he was tired of his life in the Realm.
At late afternoon, when the day faded into darkness, Edenir and Aireiel walked silently along the west border of Mirkwood. They had their weapons in short range of hand just in case something unexpected would attack them. Now that Aireiel had told Edenir about something vile crawling these woods, he would not want to risk their survival once again. He believed evil would come forth again. It craved its old supremacy back.
"This way," Edenir whispered to his daughter as they entered the forest.
Not far away from the border, a secret location lay under the Mirkwood grounds. They started digging and not long after they began, they found what they've been looking for.
"Hold this." Edenir passed the shovel to Aireiel's hands as he removed the rest of the dirt with his hands. Shortly, a reflection of a dirty metal shone from the ground, covered in a sack of thin fabric. Edenir took a hold of the great weapon and observed it for a few seconds under the pure moonlight.
"Oh yes, the great Dragon Slayer. Forged by our own kin," said Edenir proudly as he wielded the weapon skilfully.
"But I've heard that-" Aireiel started but soon fell speechless as her eyes took a full sight of the ancient legendary weapon.
"I am aware of what the rumour has it or at least what is believed to be a fact. Well, I am holding the very proof to the contrary," Edenir responded with a proud smile on his face. "It was founded by your grandfather, Tamolien Nelethrin, son of king Amroth, which was kept a secret for the entire time of the existence of the kingdom, of course, when he, as the rightful king and a royal army commander, and the rest of the royal army hid in a cave in the time of the great war. There they ran into a real treasure chest full of ancient riches. White gems lay scattered, rare, raw metals covered by dirt and dust. Your grandfather saw the sword reflecting in the light of fire, but he left it where it lay still, peacefully waiting for its new wielder. He made a promise to himself that if he returned from the battle alive, he'd climb back to the cave and claim the sword. Up until the day Tamolien secretly became his new owner, the sword passed out of all knowledge for thousands of years. He searched deep and long to discover the meaning of the second orcrist and at last, he learned that the Elves of Gondolin had secretly forged another sword. One was made to kill orcs, that was its main purpose. And the other one was made to fight even greater and stronger evil that was ahead of us. It was made for the worst of times to come. It is as light as a feather, so strong it can slay up to five orcs at a time, its blade so sharp it could slice the dragon's throat. But to protect it from greedy eyes, Tomalien passed his sword to his son, to me. I was told its secret is to keep it from all the eyes and only use it in the amid of the battle, in the heart of evil, or else it would lose its magic. I was fortunate enough to only use it once, but you were too young to remember. I used it to protect you when the orcs came upon us. I wish it reputation was justifiable, but I am glad it helped me save you." His eyes glowed in a sad ray of light.
Aireiel could not believe her ears nor eyes. She was standing there, in the edge of this evil forest, witnessing thousands of years of history. Edenir's face had now changed.
"What is wrong, father?" Aireiel whispered.
"Holding it takes me back in time, that is all, my dear. It makes me feel the same wrath I felt when they took your mother and siblings. I wanted to run after them, cut them to pieces, but I knew I wouldn't be able to do it all on my own. After all, I did not belong to the army. You were standing right behind me and I realized now you were the reason for me to fight; I swore an oath to protect you. I had to let them go. I could not afford to lose you as well," Edenir said, his eyes brimming with tears.
"Mell adar nin!" Aireiel wept. (Oh, my dear father!)
She wrapped her arms around her father's broad shoulders as he leaned his head on hers. They both cried. They cried on the night of starlight when some celebrated hope and prosperity in the age of light, they grieved in the memory of their lost ones.
After the main course was over, the tables were filled with rich, healthy desserts. The scent of cinnamon and vanilla diffused as the afters were placed on the tables, enticing mixture of honey and caramel prevailed. The sound of enjoyment and laughter spread far across the hallways, the soothing Elven melodies filled the festive air. Legolas sat still in his place and ordered another cup of the alcoholic beverage.
"You have not touched yet any food tonight, Legolas. Na pân mae?" said one of the council members. (Is everything well?)
"I am quite alright, ni 'lassui, Erudion," Legolas replied with a kind voice, yet not moving his bright blue eyes away from the table he'd been staring at all evening. (Thank you, Erudion.)
"I can assure you Legolas is just weary from the action earlier. He will still fulfil his normal duty as the Prince of Mirkwood on this special night, will you not, my son?" Thranduil intervened with annoyed voice again.
Legolas barely moved his head for a centimetre, not looking his father into his eyes at all. His clothes felt tight on his chest, the twisted silver crown heavy as it rested on his forehead as if the entire hall and its content was captured in its weight. His mind was filled with vacant, yet clear images of his past. The desire to return back in time was indispensable, as it was on every social gathering he had to attend by law. All he wanted was to run away into the forest, not having to please all these people he had no connection with. It all seemed meaningless and futile.
Thranduil soon sensed the bitterness that burdened his son's soul.
"Indóme mín pedath ned said, nin ion?" Thranduil's deep voice said. (May we speak in private, my son?)
Legolas stood up and left the halls with the king by his side. The Elves sitting at their tables bowed their heads in respect of the passing royalty. As soon as Thranduil and Legolas crossed the exit, he turned to his son with burning look in his yet cold eyes.
"Whatever you are preparing for tonight, you end it here and now," his voice echoed.
"I have no plans for tonight, but since you are so fond of the idea, I might as well set something up," Legolas said flamboyantly and looked his father in his eyes for the first time tonight.
Thranduil's expression suddenly softened and that made Legolas's heart twitch a bit. It was so rare to see his father as a normal elf he was and when the occasion came, it was almost frightening.
"Please, Legolas, tell me what is burdening your heart? I do not care if it is of small importance, I am here for you. Confide yourself in me, even if it is about me – especially if it is about me. My goal is not only to be a successful king, but to be an even better father to you," his voice was low and humble.
Legolas stepped back a little bit. He felt his shield slowly melting and that was not good. He was starting to feel and emotions make you weak. The last thing he wanted was to feel puny in front of his great father.
"Ú-iston uin man ci peda," the Prince answered vaguely, his eyes wandering around the majestic cave walls. His eyes wandered everywhere but to his father's eyes. (I do not know what you are talking about.)
"Do not play foolish now, Legolas. We both know we have had certain disagreements in the past few centuries, but I do not believe we should quarrel over that matter any longer. Man na ned gobennas, dartha ned gobennas." Thranduil drew near his son, but he would turn away. (What is in the past, belongs in the past)
"I cannot simply push away the past. I cannot ignore what had been done."
"What was done was in the name of our Realm." Thranduil's words were merciless from now on.
Legolas felt a lump in his throat as he tried to hold back the mean words rushing up. He gave one last disappointed look to his father and then started walking back to his chamber.
"Don't you dare walk away from me!" said Thranduil. "You know what needed to be done to save the Realm and that is what I did."
That made the Prince turn back to his father with rage in his eyes. "Another grudge is not the way to save the kingdom. That is not freedom, it is fear."
"What was done cannot be undone. And as you can see for yourself, we are in peace right now. The last thing I would want is another war we have to fight for no reason at all. Why would I put my people through that again?"
"Binding with the Elves on the South would be an advantage for us. In times as such, when evil is regaining its strength, the inhabitants of Middle Earth must unite and defeat the enemy jointly," Legolas said, his voice was broken and weak.
"To keep our lands clear and safe is our highest priority at the time. Other lands are not my concern and they should not be yours either." Thranduil's eyes have become cold once again.
"My kin is my concern. People at these halls right there might be blind when it comes to your greed and selfishness, but I will not forget when you rejected those helpless families from Lorien," Legolas whispered. "You know what day it is today?"
Thranduil looked at his son with bewildered eyes.
"It is the 350th anniversary of the time the people of Lorien entered our Realm in the time of despair and need. And you let them down. You turned your back to those helpless people." Legolas's voice was restrained, yet daring. He knew he was pushing the boundaries with his father here, but he had to say what has been on his mind lately. It was only fair that they have a clean and honest relationship.
"You have no right to say these things. I am the King and I will run my business as I wish. Ego! You are not welcomed here tonight anymore," Thranduil roared as Legolas already began to walk towards his chamber. (Be gone!)
"Di gûr," Legolas whispered to himself. (With pleasure.)
Even though the conversation with his father did not end well, his conscience was pleased. The unspoken words came forth again. Although Legolas knew it took time and effort to maintain this kingdom and to run it flawlessly; that is why, in some way, he understood Thranduil. He knew his father was the right one for the job. But sometimes, just sometimes, he really loathed that merciless nature of his. Although, above all, the king had a reputation to maintain, and openly showing his feelings was not helping him with doing so. Nobody wanted a lousy king, having a soft point for something, for once the word of it is spread the enemy can use it against you.
Legolas rushed back to his chambers where he undressed himself. He lay on the bed only with a thin tunic and breeches on. All this pressure was sometimes too hard for him to handle. Maybe he was royal blood, but in his spirit he was free and did not belong in those halls, locked up like a bird in a cage. He longed for the open forest. He yearned for the thick, fresh air, the smell of the oak and pines, the sound of the trees swaying in the mellow breeze. Since father did not like him slipping past the guards and vanishing into the woods in the middle of broad daylight or night for that matter, he hesitated before he stood up and dressed into his daily clothes that consisted of a knee-length, tight, dark green, velvet jacket, silver tunic underneath, brown leggings and a pair of leather boots. He picked up his bow and arrows from behind one of the high pillars and left the room.
The Prince sneaked through the corridors across his chamber and started to go south of the palace where there was a secret exit only he knew of. That'd probably be so because he invented it as a young elf. The traditional festive music was heard from across the whole palace and so was the laughter and mirth coming from the dining halls. Legolas knew it would take long time for father to return to his chambers.
It took a few minutes for him to walk all the way to the other side of the palace before he reached a secret round door behind a tapestry. He managed to slip past a few guards at the south corridor and once he took the last glance at the currently empty hallway, he sneaked through the door into the dark.
The tunnel lead behind the palace into the steep hill that ended with a silently flowing brook. Not far away at his right there were the main gates. Legolas managed to sneak out right in time before the guards would check the hallway again. He jumped and landed on the other side of the hill and the great forest now lay in front of his eyes. He smiled to himself before vanishing into the fairly warm night.