The Strength of One Green Leaf

Blood Upon the Sanctuary

Chapter 11: Blood Upon the Sanctuary

The wounded warriors within the castle put up a valiant battle. Numerous orc corpses lined the floor and walls; the wounded had dispatched more than twice their own number in their failing strength. But in the end, after the final elven sword had hit the soft carpet, injured bodies of elves lay strewn among dead orcs in the halls.

The dwindled number of orcs moved on in uncharacteristic haste, not bothering to finish the feebly breathing lives of the elves. They were eager to claim their final trophy of victory. And thus the black masses moved on in a rush, their foul stench mingling with the bloody moans in the halls. The scarlet carpet darkened with blood.

Magic no longer pervaded the castle grounds as the intruders trampled on the richly decorated floor. Doors swung open, and orcs peered in through every chamber. The halls and chambers were all deserted.

Soon, heavy footsteps could be heard invading the House of Healing. Even the healers and young maids had gone out to join the fight, or had fallen in the face of orc blades while defending their grounds. The castle was now devoid of elves – save one healer and two royal patients.

"It's all ours," snickered an orc delightfully. The other orcs threw their heads back and laughed. Crackling in their harsh voices.

Then one of them stopped.

"I smell something," he muttered. He slowly moved toward the last healing chamber in the hall.

"The elf-king." The other orcs followed, their paces quickening with excitement. They were soon trampling over each other, madly rushing toward the great wooden door. Just beyond the dark wood lay the ultimate prize. Their paces were frenzied, breaths mingling in heavy pants and shrieks of ecstasy. Before they reached it, however, the great door swung open.

And closed.

The orcs backed away in surprise as a flowing robe of rich green danced before their eyes. In front of the closed door stood a single dark-haired elf. In her hands gleamed a bronze candle holder taller than her height. Her long sleeves swayed gracefully, brushing the carpet with a gentle caress, as she slowly spread her feet, eyes fixed on the orcs. Pearlescent arms rose from the depths of deep green fabric, knuckles white as slim fingers tightened around the long shaft and slanted it to bar the door. This soft-voiced healer now stood alone between the band of orcs and her king.

Recovering from the momentary surprise, one of the orcs began to snicker. Soon the whole horde was laughing, some even stomping their feet or rolling on the ground with glee and amusement.

"Move, she-elf," sneered an orc, barely constraining his laughter. The healer tightened her grip on the candle holder.

"You shall not pass." Her voice was low, unwavering.

The orcs continued to grin, relaxing their holds on their weapons. At last, they had had reached their destination. This pitiful attempt to shield the king meant victory was within their grasp. "Your loyalty is touching," mocked an orc gruffly. He raised his blade. "We'll send your king after you soon enough."

The sword came down with a vicious swing. An ear-splitting screech ensued.

Without budging from her place before the door, the healer stood holding her shaft against the steel of the blade. Slender white arms trembled as feet slid on the carpet; yet she did not yield, and held her stance.

"You shall not pass," she hissed between gritted teeth. The rigidity of her body suddenly cracked, and she moved swiftly in fluid motion. The bronze flashed in a streak of gold. The opposing orc flew onto the other side of the hall.

The healer stood straight, dark fire smoldering in steel black eyes. She positioned herself again for battle; the long shaft drew a deadly arc in the air. Drawing a long slant across the great double door, the shaft barred the entrance once more.

Cries of rage and pain ensued.

When the orcs that had not received the succeeding blow looked up from their crouching position, the healer stood yet with fierce determination lining her soft features. More bodies lay scattered in the area. The remaining orcs attacked with a growl; they pounced at once, blades glistening with red blood. The candle holder swung once again in the air in desperate defiance.

"You shall not pass!" The cry tore from her throat as the bronze flashed, drawing an invisible web of arcs in last line of defense.

Red blood splashed onto the dark wooden door.

The orcs pulled back, snickering. There were several more fallen orcs lying about, whose bodies the remaining ones kicked out of the way. The untouched orcs eyed the great door with dreamy anticipation. Triumph lay before their eyes.

The healer slowly pulled herself up to her feet, but fell again onto her knees weakly. An orc kicked her face, effectively removing her from his path. Gasping, the healer rolled onto her back, shutting her eyes in pain. A broken murmur could be heard hovering on her lips; her pale fingers moved painfully. And she went still.

The leading orc grabbed the doorknob. A smirk drooled down his lips. His eyes shone with dark malice.

"You...shall not...pass..." choked a feeble voice by his feet. The orc looked down in surprise, and saw the healer pry herself off of the carpet to latch onto his leg. A growl slid past his lips; he shook his foot irritably, but she clung on with vehement tenacity. The orc cursed, and raised his sword. The healer closed her eyes, unmoving.

The blade came down.

Black blood splashed onto the ivory walls.

The orcs shrank back, screeching in terror, as a surge of light poured upon them. Where the doors stood was a threshold of blinding white. From within the threshold, a silver blade gleamed by the healer. Black blood dripped down onto the prone body of the orc lying next to the wounded elf. A pale hand emerged from the light.

"Rise, Ethelia."

Trembling, the healer slowly raised her eyes. Her dark orbs widened, riveted on the sight before her. Tearing her eyes away, she immediately crouched again, touching her head against the blood-drenched carpet with a deep bow.

"My lord." The whisper was hoarse, thick with emotion.

From the brilliance of the light emerged the king of elves, holding the bloody sword in his hand. He was clad in a loose robe that barely concealed the numerous bandages underneath. However, his steps were firm; his eyes were as cold as ice.

"None shall bring blood upon our havens and live," said the king, his low voice emanating harnessed wrath. The voice rang with steely resonance. The orcs bared their teeth, but none dared to move from their huddled position on the opposite wall.

Thranduil stepped forward, slowly raising his sword. The blade was now pure white with blinding radiance. The king's body was encompassed in the threshold of white, shining with powerful magic as he eyed the orcs steadily.

"The Firstborn have treaded upon the land since the golden days, untouched by fear of evil." The sword began to shimmer with a pale blue glow. The king's voice rang with growing strength. "The song of Arda runs in our veins, and its melody shall live on to the end of time."

The healer raised her eyes when she felt a tremor in the air. The hall was quiet save the voice of the king, and yet her eardrums screamed with a thunderous roar. The Quenya rune slipped from the king's lips and traveled swiftly about his body, entwining itself around the king, wrapping him in layers of enchanted protection with growing speed and volume. The beats of magic pulsating around the king were deafening; the invisible runes of old shone before the eyes of the healer, shining in ethereal brilliance. The long-lost songs of life, the gentle whispers of the sun and the stars, powerful prayers of the moonlit rivers and rolling valleys – the voices of those that have lived and passed on before their time embraced the king in a fevered chant, a maddening dance. Treading upon the ancient grounds of his havens and enveloped in the protection of his forefathers' magic, the king now stood untouchable. The pulsation of the magic grew wild and frenzied as the silent incantations continued to weave in and out between the king and sword, increasing in its heat until the healer shut her eyes, plugged her ears – and the light intensified, the invisible runes running throughout the palace, spreading their light, as the blinding power magnified around the king –

"So be gone, cursed race of demons; leave this place and be no more!"

There was a tremendous explosion of light.

The healer fell to her knees, coughing up blood and clutching the carpet tight. The ground beneath her shook violently. Looking up, she saw the orcs flying toward the entrance as if struck by a mighty hand of one of the Valar themselves.

The orcs screeched and clawed the walls in desperation, but to no avail. The invisible force swept the creatures swiftly and mercilessly out of the palace grounds. The entire castle structure seemed to be glowing with the incandescent light. The healer could feel the maddening pulse of the magic flying around her, climbing higher and louder and faster – the ancient songs of Arda bursting in powerful harmony, as the dark forces were violently repelled. A welcome darkness overtook her vision, leaving only the sounds and vibrations of the magic, as she shut her eyes.

She could no longer hear the orcs; the pulsating drumming of the frenzied chants of magic began to die away, leaving her ears ringing in a soft hum. The shaking underneath her had stopped before she had realized it. Hesitantly, she released the breath she had been holding. She opened her eyes slowly.

They had won victory.

Tears blurred her vision as the healer collapsed onto the floor, trembling. Her body was hot with elation and veneration; weakened nerves shook with the magnitude of what she had just seen. Never before had she witnessed, or felt, the work of elven magic at such height of power, for the havens had never been invaded before.

The king slowly lowered his blade. He looked toward the quaking healer, and bent his back to reach his hand out to her once more. The radiant light was fast fading, but his body still shimmered with a pale blue sheen. He looked utterly ethereal.

"Rise, my healer," ordered a gentle tone she had never before heard from the king. The healer bowed deeper, not daring to raise her eyes, as she crouched humbly at his feet.

"My king."

Disregarding the elf's reverence, the king promptly took her hand and hauled her up to her feet. The healer took a deep breath. Her hand tingled with electrifying sensations as sparks of intense magic still emanating from the king traveled down her body.

"Go into the chamber and drink what you gave me – it's in the ewer; I did not finish all of it," ordered Thranduil, scouring the numerous bodies that lay around the floor. The healer stood still, eyes pale and unsteady, unable to speak.

When he was met with silence, the king turned to look down at her. His eyes softened upon the slender elf who stood helplessly among the heap of bloodshed, pale face marred with blood of her own.

"Fear no more, for the breath of the land is awakened," he said gently. "All evil that attempts to set foot in our realm shall be banished."

Before the healer could respond, he was gone from her side, briskly moving toward the entrance. The healer cried out, choked voice catching in her throat. The taste of blood spread in her mouth. The king glanced back, and stopped. His eyes were cool and steady as he regarded her, his loose garb flapping gently in the draft stirred by dying magic. His grim mouth moved to form a reassuring smile. The soft voice overwhelmed her with comfort as he turned and disappeared out the door.

"Rest, brave warrior. I will return shortly."

Ethelia sank to her knees and wept.

The elves and the wizard watched, awestruck, as the entire havens flared up in ethereal brilliance. Enveloped in blinding white light, the castle sent wave after wave of dazzling luminance in immeasurable speed; the invisible power swept over the haven grounds, spreading under the warriors' feet and hitting the orcs with a deafening roar. The screaming creatures flew away as if they were nothing more than dry leaves. The fog also began to clear; it was as if a massive gust of wind was blowing away the mist along with the vile creatures.

Within seconds, the gates swung shut, the engraved runes radiating with a luminescent white aura. Powerful beams of pale blue began to shine down upon the awed elves; Gandalf could sense the eruptive surge of magic shifting beneath the lands. The wizard narrowed his eyes. The masses of orcs were being blown back further and further away from the palace; soon, they would be back where they started, in the southern parts of the forest. Gandalf pulled distractedly on his beard, taking care to remember the spectacle unfolding before his eyes.And those who bring blood upon the Firstborn's sanctuary shall suffer everlasting doom.The elves leaped off of their horses – most of them slid off, rather – and dropped to their knees when their king stepped out of the palace, sword in hand.

The wizard dismounted slowly, taking deep breaths of the cleared air, as Thranduil acknowledged every one of the warriors with a respectful touch of the heart, for which he was presented a humble bow in return. After finishing his individual greetings and words of concern, the king finally turned to the wizard. Gandalf watched with a bemused smile as the king waded toward him, dark blue robe fluttering gently in the breeze. "I see that you reawakened the ancient rune, my friend."

The king tilted his head, allowing a light smile that sent a twinkle into his clear blue eyes. "I am shaken myself," he admitted, glancing back at the glimmering castle. "I only learned the spell as a child, the same way I taught mine – never have I have witnessed the holy magic, let alone feel it coursing through my body."

Gandalf made a face. "How right you are, for once. You risked much back there, you reckless fool of an elf."

For only one elf had ever called upon the dormant power of the elven magic – and had paid dearly for it.

Thranduil cocked his head, eyes twinkling with young mischief. "To save much, one must risk much." He shrugged.

Gandalf scowled, but could not help the smile creeping in from the corners of his lips. Leave it to Thranduil to summon the ancient spell he had never seen and let it take control of his body. This elf was born to become nothing less than a king.

With a half-scowling grin, Gandalf clasped the elf's shoulder. "You fool. I knew we could rely on you."

Thranduil shook his head, stepping back slightly. He presented a solemn bow. "You have my deepest gratitude, Mithrandir."

Gandalf quickly grabbed the king's garb and pulled him up, nearly choking him in the process. "No need, you fool. Stop your courtesies."

The elf smiled once again, weariness emerging from his dry lips. He turned to the soldiers around him.

"Gather the wounded."

The warriors stirred into action, murmuring and calling out among themselves. The blue sky looked comfortingly down upon them; the sun was beginning to peek over the clouds once again.

The wizard and king stood still, side by side, eyes lingering on the southern horizon. A wistful smile tugged at the king's sculptured mouth. He dug his blade nonchalantly into the earth, and leaned heavily upon it. "So much for a war to end it all, I must say."

The wizard snorted. "Thank the Valar that you still have a head upon your shoulders."

Thranduil laughed quietly, a breath of a sigh touching the edge of the clear laughter. His eyes looked far out into the trees, a sad light lingering within the orbs. "Aye."Another day of fighting. The thought floated in his mind like transparent silk, delicate and easy to brush away – but nonetheless swirling in inextricable patterns. It danced atop his mind tauntingly. Another bloody war. The king bit his lip.

The wizard seemed to read his thoughts. Gaze locked on the horizon as his friend's, Gandalf reached out and wrapped his rough fingers firmly around the elf's clenched fist. "You have driven them back, and your realm is safe." The murmur caressed the weary king soothingly. "They will return, but what matters is that you protected your lands today."

Nodding, the king closed his eyes, letting another sigh escape his lips. He stood still, allowing the gentle breeze to enfold him in its comforting touch. A bird was singing in the distance.

Eyelids gradually slid open, and deep blue pools of light slowly came back into focus. The king furrowed his brows as his expression became distant and concentrated, gaze lingering lazily on a nearby tree.

Gandalf noticed the sudden alertness. He raised his eyebrows. "What is it, Thranduil?"

Before the elf could answer, Gandalf suddenly turned toward the southern horizon, staring at the distant trees as did his friend. He grabbed his horse's reins. "Is that fighting I hear?" he muttered breathlessly, as the king quickly leaped onto a nearby horse and broke into a canter.

The scattered warriors followed the king and wizard in haste. The clamor was coming from the south – the direction in which the orcs had just been blasted away by the holy magic. It led to the western path. The elven warriors and wizard galloped forth in silent dread.

The battle was over by the time the Mirkwood elves and Istari reached the site. The forest path screamed of a swift and bloody encounter. Thick black blood dripped from twisted barks of aged trees, and weighed heavily upon tender young leaves. Countless bodies of orcs lay scattered in the area. A cool silence regarded the carnage with detached calm.

Thranduil slowed his horse to a stop. Meeting his eyes were the coal black depths of a dark-haired elf.

The forest fell into a silence.

To Be Continued

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