The smell of blood pervaded the crimson forest with a sickening stench. Broken splinters of wood laced the forest floor, laying out a thickly drenched pyre for the numerous corpses that littered the darkened soil. The stark horizon loomed over broken trees, naked and bleeding. Not a single living creature stirred.
Treading among the ravages of battle was a solitary elf, a bloodied sword in one hand and a great black bow in another. His eyes were downcast, fleetingly scanning the site of destruction. Clad in a ragged armor, he was bathed in crimson blood, his flaxen hair tinged with soiled black. His broad shoulders were weary, and his breath spread warm against the moisture of reddened air. Yet his steps were firm as he picked his way through the remnants of war, his stature stately and reverberant with a relentless spark of life.
He stopped among the jagged trees, silent and still. Listening. In a flash, his eyes shot down to his feet, only a fraction of a moment before a black hand shot out from underneath the piles of splintered wood and red-black bodies on the ground. It grabbed his ankle with surprising strength. The elf watched in silence. A bloodshot eye glittered from among the ruins.
"...die..." croaked the black creature, and hissed in pain. His nails dug into the elf's leg painfully, clutching with tenacious hate that smoldered in the dimming eyes. The elf watched, motionless, as a fresh tinge of red began to spread against his armor. His gaze locked with the screaming eyes of the deformed creature. The elf slowly raised his bloodied sword, dark and thickened with gore, foreboding against the reddened sky.
"Be at peace, my brother." The voice was low, weary – it glided against the mournful air with steely strength, the determination of one who has seen much and has not yet been defeated by what he has seen. "With the blood-red sun as my witness, I shall never again stain my sword after this day."
The blade came down slowly, a silent black silhouette against the blood-stained heavens. The wretched creature fell into a still silence.
After what seemed like an eternity, the elf slowly raised his body from the sword. He wearily pulled out the blade, his head downcast, as darkened hair hung heavily against his tattered armor. Sheathing the sword, he lifted his eyes toward the crimson sky. The last of the sunlight was fading, and red was devouring the last traces of gold. Night would cloak this bloodshed soon.
The elf turned when he heard footsteps hurrying toward his direction. He watched as a dark-haired elf approached him, also clad in a ravaged armor and holding a bloody sword in his hand. On his back rested a battered brown bow.
"The last of them remain at the edge of the forest," reported the young elf, steadying his faltering steps. "You must return to the castle, my lord. We can march at dawn." Anxiety lined his voice as he looked into the eyes of the blond elf.You told me once that a leader must always bear the heaviest burden of his people.
Tainted strands of gold fluttered as the blond elf shook his head. He readjusted his grip on the sword. "Summon the rested ones from the castle. I will be there shortly."
"But you have not rested since the battle began!" protested the sentinel heatedly. "Our warriors in the palace are prepared, sire. Give us leave to march ahead."
Calm steps turned away from the western horizon, and began to wade their way through the bloody carnage of the forest floor. The younger elf followed with agitation.That is why I choose to go into this journey with the hope of Man, a journey –I believe you know well – from which there may be no return.
The king stopped before a blood-soaked tree. A tired hand reached out to touch a green leaf glazed with thick grime, hanging heavily down from the branch – the single drape of green among red and black. Sharp blue eyes softened.
"My lord, I beg you."
A gentle touch on the arm made the king turn. He stared at his companion, the piercing gaze making the other elf flinch slightly. Yet the younger elf did not release the king's arm. At length, the king smiled faintly at the worried gaze. He breathed a soft whisper.
"I have seen you severally with the other party." He turned fully toward the younger elf. "What is your name, brave warrior?"
The younger elf sucked in his breath. "Lindel, my lord."I tread this path, father, to protect what is dear to me. Just as I know that you will choose your battles in our beloved home to protect what is dear.
The king looked down upon the hand that grasped his bloody armor, and focused his intense blue eyes onto wild younger ones. His voice was soft. "Let me go, Lindel." He searched into the depths of the amber orbs. "I must finish my battle."
"Then we shall ride together." The young jaw tightened with determination. "Your battle is not yours alone, my lord."
The king tilted his head ever so slightly, an ageless smile spreading into his fair features. Ah, how he many a time envisioned his hope riding aside the hope of men.Forgive me for not seeking your counsel ere my leave. But I know you would hold me back, in spite of the same call you feel in your heart.
"You have been at the forefront long enough." The grip tightened. "I beg you." The young eyes were anxious, desperate.
The king gazed steadily into the younger elf, unfathomable emotions fleeting in his eyes. At last, he smiled.
"I am king, young one."
The warrior looked bewildered. "Sire-"
"Lindel." The king's voice was serene. He smiled, the pale blues eyes a twinkling dance of sorrow and mirth. "A woodland king does not sit upon the throne that you have seen in Gondor, or other fading regimes of men." He gently pulled away from the grip, and began to wade through the soiled trees once again.
The young guard stood where he was, eyes wide with confusion. The king looked far out into the western horizon, where the last of the golden rays were disappearing into the vast sea of crimson. Much blood had been shed this many a day.I am not sorry that I made this decision, for my heart is sure – but I am sorry, dear father, for plaguing your heart with worry once again.
The king lowered his gaze and scanned the vast expanse of carnage around him. His battle had been long. The last of Sauron's forces had poured about the forest in their final strike against the realm of the elves, as had been predicted. It would have been believed as a miracle that the Mirkwood elves managed to repel the evil, protected their forest at the final siege. But Thranduil no longer believed in miracles.But fear not for my safety. Trust me to return to you, as I trust you to protect the home to which I long to return – and to await me with open arms.
The king looked back at the young elf and smiled. "Who will protect the people, if not the king?"
The young elf stood absolutely still, as if struck by an invisible blow. Silenced, he followed the king in his gait, head bowed reverently.
Please do not grieve for my departure, for it pains me to cause you grief. Remember Mithrandir's words; the bird will return to its nest again – my home is wherever you are, and as long as the sun shall rise, I will return to wherever you may be...No, the king of Mirkwood did not believe in miracles. He only believed in the strength of the last green leaf that clung onto the crimson-soaked tree, refusing to fall under the weight of moaning blood.
...for you are my Ada, and I will always be your little Greenleaf.
The king stopped once more.
The warrior elf behind him looked up. The king did not turn toward him; his eyes remained fixed on the horizon. He then turned back to watch the gentle fluttering of the last green leaf once more.
And I make the same promise to you which you made to me, many a year ago.
The last leaf did not fall. The elves did not succumb to overwhelming darkness. The last hope survived by a thread; life would return to the great woods. Thranduil breathed out a weary sigh. He then squared his shoulders, raising his head erect. Bloody fingers readjusted their grip upon the great sword.
We shall meet again.
"When this war is over," said the king quietly, his eyes glittering with indomitable flame, "our home will be bursting with life again. So much that it will be called Forest of Greenleaves."
He cocked his head back to the younger elf. The warrior held his breath upon seeing a flash of a smile.
"Come, Lindel. Let us end this today."
The dark-haired elf followed as the mighty form of the king strode toward the last defenses of Dol Guldur, his blade gleaming with resolve.
A blue ring of tranquility filled the hall. Somber silence hung in the air, the soft cries of the wounded seeping out distantly from the House of Healing. The scarlet carpet stretched on without end, its royal splendor greeted by deserted quietude.
On the wall on the way to the king's chamber hung a large portrait, its frame incised and sculpted in eloquent patterns of gold and mithril. In the portrait rested a golden lady, an elven maiden with deep blue eyes of dancing stars. Rich cascades of hair tumbled down beneath her waist, flowing over the azure blue fabric that floated in ethereal gentleness. In her left hand was a single green leaf, its vibrant life brightening the fingers that caressed it in a delicate touch. Her other hand rested gently upon her belly. Life was already pulsating within this starry-eyed elleth.
A slender figure of an elf stood before the great painting, eyes raised toward the twinkling smile of the maiden. Azure blue orbs shone softly in the settling darkness of the hall.
"The last battle has just been won," came a quiet voice from his side. The elf turned, his tattered cloak tapping wearily against his calves. He tilted his head slightly, allowing a faint smile to glimmer in the dark. The dark-haired elf before him smiled tenderly.
"You look as terrible as the king."
The blond elf let out a quiet laugh. The laughter was soft and relaxed, easy and smooth – like the soft trickle of blue waters. He smiled at the raised eyebrows of the slighter elf. His clothes were smeared black with grime and frayed at the edges; one could scarcely tell that his attire was once dark green. His long flaxen hair was rough, singed by the harsh fingertips of the wind. His face was pale and thin; the only feature that looked alive was the pair of gently glowing eyes – eyes that sang the inextinguishable song of continual life.
"I could not wait for my horse to recover." The soft tenor echoed in the dark hallway with a clear ring of a bell.
"Traveled on foot, then?" The dark eyes softened as the elf neared him. Reaching out gingerly, she hesitantly touched the haggard face. Her voice was a reverent whisper. "You have saved us all, dear child."
The young elf tilted his head and smiled. The older elf stepped back. "I will utter no welcome ere you see your father." The dark silhouette began to glide back gracefully into the depths of the shadows. "Come by the House of Healing. My doors remain open to you, always."
The blond elf nodded, and turned toward the painting again when he was once more alone. A tired sigh escaped his cracked lips. The glimmering blue eyes regained their gentle dance, the deep echo of a long-forgotten melody, as he gazed up at the portrait. A pale hand of brittle skin reached up to tenderly caress the loving hand that held the green leaf. A phantasmal smile surfaced through wind-whipped lips.
"I am home, Nana."
He turned toward the end of the corridor when a familiar gait pervaded the hall. The footsteps gained speed as they neared the faint blue twilight in which he stood. Bright blue eyes sparkled with a sudden vitality; the same crystalline mirrors looked back into his. A clatter of a sword hitting the floor echoed in the silence of the darkened corridor.
The young elf ran toward the motionless blood-soaked warrior, the harsh, windborne breath catching in his throat as he launched himself into his father's waiting arms.
And above them both, looking down upon the embracing father and son engulfed in the fading blue light, the queen smiled.
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