The first snow of this year started falling slowly from the sky, creating a soft crust on the ground.
At least it covered the ugly grey colour of the burnt earth which was seen from the north border of the Greenwood to the middle part, just a day of a ride from the Elvenking`s Halls. The trees were gone. All the plants and bushes as well. No animal had been seen since that day. Not even a bird. The kingdom seemed to be doomed. Now more than ever.
The beautifully carved main courtyard was full of elves. At least, what remained of them. Everyone knew, that before the treason and the battle it was impossible to gather all the elves of the Greenwood only at the courtyard.
In front of the courtyard was a small wooden platform with a simple wooden block. In front of it, close to the main gate to the Halls, was a bigger platform with a roof and a tall chair. The elves were gathered around it, leaving the space between the two stages.
Nobody said a word. Nobody moved.
After a short moment, the heavy main gate was opened. Altogether six guards with helmets and swords readied on their hips, led an elf to the small platform. Several elves gasped even though they knew who will be judged this time. But nobody believed it was a truth. Now they saw.
Two guards stayed up on the platform with the sentenced elf, the rest surrounded under the platform.
The common elves were staring at the elf. Some of them with a pity, some of them with an anger.
Just a week passed since the great battle of the Elvenking`s Halls happened. Every and each day since then, one of the royal advisors, who weren`t in Eresiel, had been sentenced to death. Almost nobody had remained to advise the King but one. And his day was today.
The Greenwood lost many of its children. But the Elvenking decided to spare some more.
The first snow of this year started falling slowly from the sky.
A little girl, merely five years old, raised her head and smiled.
“Look, mama! Snow!”
Her mother, a tired wife of the farmer, smiled.
“Soon we`ll build a snowman. Now, hurry up, darling, your father`s gonna be worried.”
The girl clapped her hands joyfully and ran to her mother, who just picked up the last dry branch and straightened herself up.
The farmer greeted them with a joy but his eyes couldn`t lie. He was exhausted and hungry. Like a lot of the others. This year wasn`t plentiful. The war raging all over the world was bringing them just a desperation, hunger, and harder and harder life. But at least they were safe. Far from the Rissigur and its claws. Far from the important lands, the Dark Lord was interested in.
At least they thought so.
The first snow of this year was falling slowly from the sky.
The dwarf in a brown tunic and beard so long that the end of it almost touched the ground, clicked his tongue and the horses started moving forward.
“I`m telling you, this winter will be hard and cold. The snow is falling too soon.”
His companion, sitting next to him on the wagon, nodded and puffed the pipe.
“Aye, but it`ll be good for the trade, my friend. Cause I have a lot of furs. A lot of forest animals appeared in the fields just a few days ago, running from something. And my companions and I had shot them all. We have furs for the whole winter to sell.”
“That`s weird, don`t you think?’
“Aye, it is. But who cares? At least I`ll have plenty to eat!” He started laughing till the fits of coughing stopped him.
“Aye, you`re right. Look, I can see the smoke from the chimneys of the village. Finally! It was a long ride this time.”
The first snow of this year was falling slowly from the sky.
Sorontur was trembling. It wasn`t just the cold air of the upcoming winter or the cold snowflakes falling behind his neck and soaking into the soft material of his tunic, it was also fear. He was scared, still deeply surprised, still couldn`t believe what was happening.
If the guards, standing next to him weren`t holding his elbows, he would collapse. So weak his knees were at this very moment.
The royal advisor who worked in this function for so long time, longer than even Thranduil could remember, looked around. The faces of the elves, the elves he cared about and he tried his best to provide them a good life, were indifferent.
Same the face of the Elvenking who just appeared in the main gate. Sorontur almost threw up when he spotted him. Was this really his fault? Was he really guilty?
The King, dressed in the luxurious black robes, symbolizing his grief, with a crown slowly changing into the white colour of the winter, headed to the bigger platform with the chair waiting for him. His pace was regal and one wouldn`t even guess that deep inside he was falling apart.
Thranduil sat down and with one well-learned movement of his arm the heavy fabric of his robes spread out. His pale face with high cheekbones, now more visible than ever, held an emotionless mask. The blue eyes looked around the courtyard and then with just a slight nod he started the sentence.
Because most of the executive power was sentenced in the last days, the Sorontur`s verdict was read by Captain of the Guards. Graven, who was the only one, who remained alive from the Royal Advisors, refused to sentence them and mainly Sorontur in the name of the King. If the King want to kill everyone, then he can do it by himself, he told him. He just lost his daughter and he couldn`t care less if the King will sentence him as well. But in the corner of his soul, he knew that Thranduil wouldn`t do it. Because Graven was, next to his son, Legolas, the only one related to his bellowed Queen. Maybe that was why he was the only one, who the King didn’t touch and didn`t accuse. But it was also from another reason – Graven was with him in Eresiel. If he stayed in the Halls he would save his own daughter and Thranduil was sure of that.
Unlike the most sentenced, Sorontur didn`t cry and didn`t plead. Instead, he stayed there, supported by two guards and listening to his sentence. He recognized the coming master of the executions. He himself called him for Talion. And now he was coming for him.
The trembling of his body was worse and worse. He felt sick. The fear was consuming him. He wasn`t ready to die. To die in the fight was completely something else than to die by a hand of an elf, whom he baby sited a few times when he was just an elfling.
When he heard the reasons why the King sent him here, he wondered again.
Was it really his fault, that the Queen is dead?
Could he really do something more?
Was it really his fault that her body was stolen?
Thranduil was motionless. He saw the Captain announcing the verdict he decided for but he didn`t hear him. He saw Sorontur, one of his most loyal elves, standing on the small platform but he didn`t perceive. His heart was bleeding still. His eyes still saw her face.
The King was glad, that this was the last day of the executions. It was exhausting. He hated to go out from his chambers, mainly among the common elves like today. But it had to be done. He had to punish them. He left them here with his forest, the elves, the Halls and with his two precious gems. He lost half of the forest, he lost more than half of the elves and he lost one of his precious gem and almost the second one as well. All the royal advisors survived. They were here to advise her, to protect her and the rest. They failed. And they also failed when they insisted to let the Queen be mourned in the public Hall, not in his private chambers. And once he left her side because Sorontur insisted that he needed a rest, she was gone…
And he will never forgive him that…
“My King…” The guard behind him whispered.
Thranduil snapped out from his thoughts. All of them were staring at him. Suddenly he realized, that Sorontur called his name. The King looked at him and narrowed his eyes.
“You don`t want to do this…”
Thranduil didn`t respond. He didn`t even get angry like usually when someone had spoken like this without being asked to do so. He was quiet.
And then Sorontur saw it.
He saw that this King was not the one he used to serve to. This was not the elf he knew from the birth. This King was the one with the hollow heart and a darkening soul.
“I do.” He heard him then.
Thranduil just gave a sign and when the elf`s head rolled down with the hollow sound on the floor creating a red path behind, he stood up and left the courtyard without looking back.
The first snow of this year was falling slowly from the sky. The square in the middle of the village was always more beautiful when the snow was falling and the ground was all about the white. She loved it. With a happy face, she was dancing and jumping between her mother and father. It was a very important day for their little family. Today the square was filled with a buzz of the crowd and little wooden stands where the merchants were selling their goods.
Today was a happy day for their little family because her father was very successful with the trade of this year`s harvest. Even though it wasn`t much they earned enough money for the purchase of the furs for the winter. And this year for the first time ever, she will have her own fur and not the old one after her mother. She was excited even more when she saw the merchants.
It was also the first time in her life she saw dwarves.
The one with the long beard almost touching the ground smiled at her and disheveled her hair.
“Hey, little girl!”
The first snow of this year was falling slowly from the sky. The Orc rushing through the corridors of the ruins almost slipped on that white wet thing he hated the most. He didn`t like the cold. Most of the Orcs didn`t mind the weather but he just hated it. He quickly composed himself and slowed the pace. Nobody could see how clumsy he was. He had been just promoted as a Captain and he needed to be respected. Not respected Captain was always quickly dealt with.
The Orc stopped in front of the door and shivered.
Well, let`s do this. He will be pleased, won`t he?
He slightly knocked and opened the door.
He always felt fear and a cold shiver running down his spine when he saw the Main General. He was standing there, next to the window, looking somewhere out. His huge black robes with a hood over his head were spread around him. The Captain realized he had never seen his face. He was always hooded. Many believed that he had no face. That he was a ghost of the darkness.
“Eresiel is ours, sir.”
“Good.” Was the only answer. The General didn`t even move.
What we should do with the captives?”
“As you command, sir.”
The Captain bowed even though the General couldn`t see it and was leaving the room backward when the General`s voice froze the blood in his veins.
“The Master will be pleased.”
The Captain stumbled on the snow again. He was almost running how quickly he wanted to be further away from the General.
The Master will be pleased…
Nobody ever saw the Master. Just him. Just the General was allowed to bring him the news and bring back new commands. But all knew that the Master is very, very powerful.
The first snow of this year was falling slowly from the sky. It`s slow, the peaceful motion was interrupted by the swift movement of the black blade. In a moment after the snow was mixed with drops of a blood.
The merry market and happy faces swapped place with screams, cries, and death.
The farmer tried his best to protect his wife and his child. But he was too weak and too inexperienced in a fight to stand against the Orcish power. He died first. His wife was killed afterward with the girl in her arms. They were stabbed from behind and the lance tied them together in the death.
The pack of thirty Orcs was done with the village quickly. Nobody survived. They packed everything they found useful from the market and left the village behind.
“And it`s not all, my King! The Orcs attacked more cities and villages than we can count on our hands. They are like an insect! I don`t even understand from where they are appearing. We need your help, please!”
Dringol, the best Daeron`s diplomat was looking to the indifferent eyes of the Elvenking, desperate that his pleads didn`t do anything with him. He didn`t even blink.
“Also Lord Daeron asked you for help on the front lines in Rissigur. We need every help – food, water, healers, soldiers…”
The Throne Room was silent. The Elvenking, dressed in black with the white pointy crown on his head, was staring down at the diplomat. Graven, standing next to the throne bit his lip.
Dringol shifted his weight from one foot to another.
“My King, you cannot stay indifferent when the war is raging all over the world!”
The King leaned forward.
“I am not indifferent.” He finally spoke with a hoarse voice.
Dringol smiled, sensing his victory with the stubborn Elvenking.
“So, you will help us, my King? Shall I bring this happy news to Lord Daeron?”
“Tell Lord Daeron, that no help will come from the Woodland Realm. I am sure he knows what happened to my people and to this kingdom. I won`t lead my people to the war again nor I will cut off the sources from their mouth just to support the useless war you`re fighting.”
Dringol stared at the King with disbelief. Even his mouth stayed wide open. Graven widened his eyes as well.
“No buts.” The King raised from his throne, “I said no. And do not bother with another pleading visit. My decision is final.” He waved his heavy ringed hand and Dringol bowed, clenching his jaw.
When the diplomat with guards behind his back left the Throne Room, Thranduil started descending the stairs.
“It reminds me – withdraw our troops back home. I believe Deteghor does not need them anymore when Eresiel is taken now.”
“He was your last friend you had, Thranduil…You are turning everyone against you.”
His father-in-law slowly descended the stair behind him. Thranduil turned to him, frowned.
“I do not care, anymore, Graven…I want my people home and safe.”
Graven sighed again, watching Thranduil`s back when he was leaving.
“I lost her too, Thranduil…” His voice broke. The King halted, sensing his pain as well as his own.
“We lost more than you think…”
“Do not try to lose everything, son…”
Thranduil turned to face him, again. Although he was very good in hiding emotions and holding his masks, Graven could clearly see underneath it. He was broken, destroyed, alone…
“Send a word to Deteghor that everyone from Eresiel who remained, are welcomed here as well…”
And just when Graven wanted to be pleased that Thranduil is not that crazy as he feared he was, the King added:
“And Graven, I want to continue with the interrogations tomorrow. There has to be someone who knows how she disappeared…”