Cry of the King
Chapter 5: Cry of the King
Thranduil started, turning his horse abruptly to his side. The animal shifted restlessly as the king lifted his gaze to the distant horizon, furrowing his brow in a moment of uncertainty. His heightened senses had picked up a faint sound dissolving into the dark night sky. However, the fleeting echo was quickly overwhelmed by horse hooves pounding the ground. Thranduil turned his head sharply as a warrior appeared from another direction. The king's expectant gaze rested on the approaching elf with experienced coolness.
"The orcs are being driven back, sire," called the elf, easing his horse to a halt. "Orders have been sent to dispatch spider hunters as well."
The king grunted softly in acknowledgement, eyes now set on the distant trees once more. "Prepare another hundred for reinforcements."
The elf turned his horse around swiftly, and glanced at the king with assured familiarity. "Annihilation, my lord?"
Thranduil nodded slightly as he turned his horse away, poising his body for another burst of speed. "I will join you once I am finished here." The words swept the forest grounds as the king promptly spurred his horse into a thick tangle of bushes. The squad of warriors followed with equal speed.
The path was narrow. Through the darkness, thorns and bushes mercilessly assaulted the hurrying warriors. The clearing they reached at last was a welcome relief for the horses, as they quickly spread about, neighing softly and shaking their shrub-sprinkled manes in annoyance. The elven warriors scanned the ground, and suddenly glanced at one another in alarm.
The thick sponge of soggy dirt ended here. The ground was laced with pebbles and roots, washed clean and smooth by the rain. The clearing offered numerous narrow paths, but Gandalf's trail was now nowhere to be found. It had vanished with the mud.
Without a word, the elves jumped off of their mounts and began to search on their knees for the trail of the wizard. A frightful tension hung in the air; the silence that refused to be broken gave testimony to fruitless effort.
Thranduil bit his lip as the heat of his pumping heart rose. His eyes easily spotted at least five or six mangled paths right away. Glancing back at the elven warriors spread about him, the king furrowed his brow in intense concentration.
There were no more than twenty. Twenty elves – formidable enough to defend themselves against any moderately large band of orcs. But if separated...
Thranduil stared at the thick mist laid out before him. If he divided the party according to the number of paths, their abilities would not be enough to protect the prince from the evils that had swept into these lands along with the orc attack. But leading them all into one path was extremely perilous; the party was clearly far behind already, and if they picked a wrong direction, all would be lost.
The warrior king straightened his back and jumped onto his horse. His decision was swift, the risks and stakes already weighed. "We will separate into three," he called, pulling the reins of his horse and turning the animal sharply. "Spread out, and cover as much of each other's paths as possible. I will follow this-"
Suddenly a laughter rose in the air, breaking his words. The king froze.
A horse whinnied, pounding the ground with its hoof. Its rider quickly rushed to it and stroked the long neck, whispering comforting words to quiet the restless animal. The rest of the elves glanced about uneasily.
Then the voice came again. This time, it was a scream.
Thranduil's face became ashen, his heart burning upon recognition.
Quick as lightning, the elves simultaneously jumped onto their mounts and sped into the eastward path.
Then they slowed.
Another scream came, this time from the north. The elves looked around through the thick fog in alarm and confusion, certain that this was also the prince's voice. But how did he move away so quickly?
Thranduil stared ahead, hard eyes glittering intently, listening to another cry from yet another direction. It was calling out for him.
The king slowly turned his head toward the squad behind him. The elven warriors' eyes met with the same dread-filled confirmation.
Silence befell the party. The air trembled as the elfling's voice multiplied, combining into a frenzy of sounds and tumbling wildly about.
"Where are you, Ada?"
"Sing to me, Nana!"
"Ada! Look! Come this way!"
The archers looked toward the king, fear and uncertainty plain on their faces. The horses were clearly agitated; they whinnied and bucked, shaking their manes furiously and tugging at the reins in irritation. The riders' soothing words and stern admonitions did not quiet the animals as they usually would have. The apprehension of the beasts soon began to infect the elven riders as well, as they glanced at one another uneasily and passed whispers amongst themselves in hushed voices. Debating which way to go, which one was the real prince. Questioning if the orcs were trying to distract them from something else. Not one daring to voice the dark fear looming in the shadowed corners of their minds – that it may already be too late.
The voices grew stronger, each fighting to be heard. Throughout the hectic discourse, the king was mutely staring into the darkness. His glassy eyes were unfocused, great swirls of emotion crashing against the crystalline glitter of the orbs. The elves' confused disquietude began to grow in volume, simultaneous to the growing chaos of voices intermingling in high-pitched innocence.
"Aren't you coming, Ada?"
"Wait for me, Nana!"
Thranduil's heart pounded ferociously against his ribcage. He had not felt a fear like this even during the great war that had ravaged his people's land. Not even when Death laughed at his face, nor when it claimed his invincible father, did he feel such sharp, heart-wrenching terror.
The evil creatures had gotten to his son; they had heard his scream. And now, they were taunting him with it.
The king gritted his teeth in bloody force.
Ah Valar, don't do this to me...
The anguished cry that tore through the dark skies shook Thranduil savagely. He swallowed hard and, shivering violently, bent over and gripped the horse's neck for support. The elves abruptly halted their murmurs to turn alarmed gazes toward the hunched figure. Hopelessness and panic began to emerge from the fair warriors' faces as their king paid them no heed and continued to stare with unseeing eyes, the usually neat hair streaming carelessly down his shoulders.
He was reliving the nightmare. The nightmare of five years ago, the seeping darkness that stained his mind and refused to drain away even now. He had lost half of his soul that day; and now, as the same scenario unfolded before his eyes, the nightmare tauntingly replayed itself, cruel grip secure around the other half of his soul.
Thranduil gave a hot, tremulous sigh. He could not live if the remaining half was also wrenched away.
Slowly, the king squeezed his eyes shut. Agonizingly, as the pulsating sounds screamed into his eardrums. Cold sweat sheathed his body in a sheen of silver.
The voices grew louder, higher. The king dug his fingers into the horse's mane. There were Legolas' voices everywhere; they were surrounding the party. The orcs were spread about, each of them with his precious child's musical voice lingering on its foul tongue.
Laughter, questions, screams. Everywhere.
A low growl emanated from deep within his throat. The king slowly raised his gaze, staring ahead with glassy eyes shining bright.
The monsters were biding their time, waiting for him to take the bait and run blindly away from his child. While he frantically searched in vain, the innocent life would be tortured to death – slowly and painfully – calling and waiting to the end for the father who would never come. The king viciously clutched the horse's mane; his knuckles whitened as the voices crashed into his throbbing head, wave after wave. He slowly raised a trembling hand. No torment could rival this pain.
Thranduil threw his head back and screamed, despair ripping through every shred of the cry in boundless misery.
To Be Continued