He was distracted by his keen senses when a hint of a similar power surged through him like a wave. Slowly he turned his head to one side, his mind working fast.
They have dared to step inside. They have dared to provoke him like that! Did they really think that he will be distracted by a front line of the war so much that he would ignore their presence? These were his lands! They weren`t allowed to make a simple step without asking him first! How dared they disrespect his rule here?!
His dangerous eyes narrowed. It also woke up a curiosity inside him.
Why did they risk so much? Why would they come so far? Why would they provoke him? They are too weak to challenge him face to face yet! What they are looking for?
A simple thought, simple order left his mind. It took just a few seconds and general showed up.
The greenery of the forest was slowly changing into a dark and hollow place. The trees more and more looked like a black ghost. The ground was grey. The winter breeze was biting her cheeks.
A light, white gown, trailing behind her wouldn`t be sufficient against such a freezing weather but she didn`t mind. She didn`t feel the cold like others. Actually, it was refreshing to feel a cold air on her face and the breeze, playing with her skirts and long dark hair. It was a welcoming change.
Her pale eyes, almost matching the color of the snow and the grey sky above, searched the ground around.
He should be here.
She doesn`t have much time.
And she spotted something behind the trunk of the fallen tree. With an almost joyful jump, she ended up on the trunk, looking down, under it. She smiled to herself. A delicate hand slowly caressed the cheek of the body lying there before her head snapped in the direction behind her.
She doesn`t have much time.
“Look at you! You are such a talented elfling!” A wide smile appeared on the Idril`s face when she bent over Legolas to look what he was doing.
“It is Ada and I.”
“And this is your mother?”
Legolas looked at the paper in front of him, still holding a crayon in his little hand and nodded proudly.
“Yes, Idril. Do you think Ada will like it?”
“Of course he will! But now, hurry. Your teacher will be here soon and you need to take a bath first. Did you finish your breakfast?”
“I don`t want to have lessons today!” The small blond boy frowned, “I want to go outside with other elflings. They all go outside!”
Idril sighed and sat down next to him. She caressed his head and kissed his temple.
“I know, Legolas, but you are a prince. And prince has duties just like your father, the King. You want to make him proud, don`t you?”
Legolas frowned even more. A little tear escaped from his green eye.
“I do. But I also want to play with others.”
Idril felt sad as well. She understood his needs. She was too isolated when she was smaller because her father didn`t want her to play with elflings who had lower ranks than their family. It was a lonely time.
“Let me ask your father if you can have a free afternoon but until the lunch, you will finish your morning lessons, alright?”
The small boy jumped on his feet and screamed:
Idril laughed and called for a servant to take care of the prince`s bath. When they both disappeared in the bathroom, she took the picture. It was a cute picture of the royal family. She sighed again and left the prince`s chambers with the picture in her pocket.
She cared about Legolas deeply. He was like her own child and the fact that he was always so sad made her heart weeping. Idril wished for a change for the sake of the Eleniel`s son. He needed it because she feared he will fade soon if his father won`t start caring about him more. At least games with children of his age might help to be happier for a while.
When she stopped in front of the King`s study, determined to knock and talk to him seriously, she spotted Graven, coming towards her. His pale face worried her.
“Lord Graven, what is wrong?”
“Lady Idril, “He tilted his head in respect. Actually, he was the only one still doing it since her father betrayed the King and the most part of the court started ignoring her, “have you seen the King?”
“No, I haven`t. Actually, I wanted to speak with him and I thought he will be in his study.”
Graven rubbed the root of his nose and sighed.
“It seems he is not present in the Halls. Nobody had seen him. He disappeared!”
The elk slowed down as the forest got thicker. Thranduil leaned towards his strong neck to avoid the low branches. His whole body was aching from the long ride on the elk without a saddle and from the freezing cold. His black robes were warm but not enough to endure the whole night outside. And yet, when the sky above his head started changing its color from the blackest blue to the grayish one, he didn`t turn the elk back to the Halls. No, he stubbornly continued, diving deeper into the forest.
The Elvenking lost track of time or the track of the path. He had no idea where the elk was carrying him. Maybe he didn`t care too much. Maybe he needed to escape from the stronghold for a while. He needed to escape from the ever-present memory of her.
The fast ride brought an apathy at first. Now his only problem was how to hold himself still on the elk`s back with fingers he no longer felt and where is the end of this crazy journey.
How long had it been since he rode somewhere without his guards? Just by himself?
It was when he met Eleniel in this very forest. He was away on his own the whole night back then.
A sting of pain stabbed his frozen heart. He felt how the single tear froze on his cheek almost immediately. Some part of him wished to freeze here. To death.
But the other part, the one more reasonable, wanted to find out where the body of his beloved was, who stole her from him and how to renew the forest so his elves won`t die from hunger. And then he can die.
Then he will follow his wife to the undying lands.
Peace of hope warmed him a little.
Suddenly, he spotted a smoke among the trees.
At first, it seemed like he hallucinated but then he saw it once again, dancing among the trunks. The elk turned the direction like he would see it too. Smoke – fire – warmth.
And maybe food.
The elk stopped right in front of the small cottage made of wood and pressed between huge roots of the very old oak. It had no windows but a little door. Thranduil dismounted the elk – or better said – almost fell on his knees from the animal`s back.
The little door was opened and the King recognized the elf he was looking for.
“I am waiting for you. Come inside.”
The King cursed silently and tried to get up. His frozen limbs protested. Just like his back when he had to bend to go through the door. But inside the cottage he was able to straighten up as the floor of the cottage was at the underground level.
Maecheneb closed the door behind him. Thranduil watched him carefully, even though he should be probably glad that he was under the roof after several hours in the snow-white night.
“I knew you will look for me, King Thranduil.” The old elf said as a matter of fact and placed a crooked mug on the table in the middle of the room.
“Please, sit and make yourself comfortable.”
Thranduil did not say anything. He just sat down as he was told and stretched his legs closer to the fireplace. His icy blue eyes didn`t leave the host.
Something was odd about him. His clothes were dirty and with holes here and there, his long, white hair was still touching his ankles and his white eyes, seemingly blind were looking around like he wouldn`t be blind at all. Thranduil remembered him like this. But still, something has changed. Maybe the style of his pace, maybe his skin was somehow more wrinkled, he couldn`t pinpoint what was wrong here.
Maecheneb put a bowl with a hot soup next to the mug.
“No, thank you.”
Thranduil pushed the bowl further away from him. Their eyes met.
“You are weak. You need to eat. You almost froze to death!”
“I am not weak.” Thranduil hissed. He lied and both of them knew it. Somehow the presence of the old elf sucked the rest of his willpower. Or maybe it was the warmth coming from the fire. He wanted to sleep.
“Oh, you stubborn kings.” Maecheneb waved his hand and he sipped the tea from his own mug, “you are all the same. Crazy and proud.”
“I didn`t come to chat with you.”
Maecheneb pierced him with those milky eyes and Thranduil shivered. He took the mug with both hands and sipped the tea as well. And then he realized his hands weren`t the same. The scars from injuries were glowing in the gloom of the cottage. His eyes widened.
“This silly ring of yours doesn`t work here. I am much more powerful than such toys.”
Thranduil was staring at him in shock.
“How is it possible?”
“As I said,” Maecheneb smirked, “I am more powerful than you and your silly rings.”
The old elf hid the row of yellow teeth in his usual grimace and turned his blind eyes to the fireplace.
“It worked on the wedding.”
“Only because I wanted to.” He snapped, “you didn`t come to chat and yet, you are chatting like a young girl. Just tell me why you risked such a suicidal mission.”
“You know why.”
Maecheneb smirked again. Was it the smirk which made Thranduil uncomfortable? Or the fact that all his scars and his blind eye were visible?
“What do you expect from the forest at the beginning of the winter, elf?”
Thranduil tilted his head a little, narrowing his eyes.
“I fear my people would starve to death if the forest won`t provide anything due to the fire just a few weeks ago. Even the animals aren`t here.”
Maecheneb just shook his head.
“It was you who told me ‘do not lose the forest!’”
The Elvenking was getting impatient. The elf in front of him was acting oddly. There was another kind of the aura around him than he expected and the power he felt within him was scary even.
“Enough of this game!” Thranduil`s fist banged the table. Both mugs and bowl jumped. Maecheneb turned to him. Thranduil would swear that his blind eyes were glowing like white gems.
“Indeed! Enough if this game, Thranduil Oropherion! There is a darkness slowly crawling over this world. Darkness, which swallows everything in its way! Darkness, which scared off your animals and burnt out this ancient forest! And the only thing you can see is the isolation you want to provide for your people and to mourn your little wife!”
The last word like it set Thranduil on fire. He jumped to his feet, piercing the old elf with the glacial gaze the same way like he did. But Maecheneb continued:
“The world is falling apart! Your world! And you do not care about it! Open your eyes and fight for it! Fight for your world or there will be darkness and things you could never imagine! The evil is spreading like a plague! Open your eyes and do something!”
“I won`t lead a handful of elves who endured the attack to another battle, to the war! The world didn`t come to help us either!”
“You were able to sacrifice one land of men to win the battle against Duragar! And yet, when someone perhaps wanted to sacrifice yours, you are offended? There have to be the sacrifices for the bigger good! For the gods!”
“Fuck the gods!!”
Graven turned away from the window. The snow storm raging outside was deadly. Even the courtyard wasn`t visible in the white madness out there. The sky looked like an apocalypse.
The only royal advisor was standing in the King`s study together with the Captain of the Guard and a Captain of the border patrol.
“He couldn`t disappear just like that!”
“My Lord, the King is not present within the Halls and his horse is in the stable.” The Captain of the Guard shrugged.
“You said your guards in the Main Gate saw him leaving.”
“Indeed, my Lord, they did. He handed him the crown and left.”
All of them looked at the wooden crown on the desk.
“Where did he go?”
“To the forest, my Lord.”
Graven rubbed his eyes and sighed. He was frustrated. He was tired. Exhausted even.
What the hell he thinks he`s doing?!
“My Lord, we cannot send the guards nor scouts to look for him now. It would be a certain death for all.” The Captain of the border patrol stated carefully.
“But we have to find him! He is the damn King!”
“We have to wait until the weather calms down, my Lord. I am sure our King knows what to do in such weather. I am sure he hid somewhere.”
“Search the Halls again for any clue why and where he left! Now!!”
Maecheneb rose to his full height. His eyes changed and suddenly Thranduil could recognize the hint of the orbs within them.
So he wasn`t blind at all.
“Only Valars can help you now! Only Valars can tell you how to fight the darkness! Only Valars knows where your wife disappeared!”
Thranduil was taken aback. His heart skipped a beat.
“You know where she is?”
“I am no god.”
He turned away from the King, taking the bowl of soup and pouring it into the fire. The fire hissed like it would be hurt.
“Tell me where she is!”
The old elf banged the wall with his fist, losing the patience with the Elvenking as well.
“You weren`t supposed to fall for her! You are the one, Thranduil, son of Oropher! You are the one who can fight the darkness! She wasn`t supposed to be in your life!”
“She was supposed to die! That night. In the forest!”
Thranduil couldn`t take it anymore. No. It was too much. The old elf`s arrogance. The fact, that he almost froze to death just to find out this ugly creature. These stupid lies he had to hear. What supposed to be and what was not. He was fed up with it. He didn`t want to hear anything else about stupid prophecies…
“Go off of me, you elven brat!!”
It was then when Thranduil realized he was holding Maecheneb`s throat and that the old elf was struggling with his breath, kicking him and scratching him like a woman.
He caught a glimpse of a steel and reacted automatically. The King disarmed the elf underneath him and with a well-learned movement, he stubbed the elf where his heart supposed to be. And he didn`t miss.
Maecheneb`s breath shattered. His face held the surprise and just when Thranduil expected the light within him to fade, he opened his eyes but this time without the orbs again, looking all blind and milky as usually. Thranduil was so shocked that he let Maecheneb catch his arm so hard that Thranduil wasn`t able to back off.
A strange and unfamiliar feeling settled within him, his skin started tickling and he saw that the hand of the old elf was flickering with a white light. He felt the heat rising and his head was spinning.
And then everything went black.
He found her just where he expected her to be. He has not seen her for so long time that her beauty almost stroke him. But he quickly recovered himself and held his head high.
She was standing there, all weak and tired but her gaze was still proud and fearless. She was the only one who wasn`t scared of him. Sometimes he liked it, sometimes he hated it.
“What are you doing here?” They both spoke in unison. He chuckled then, observing the motionless body behind her.
She narrowed her eyes, watching his every move. But he didn`t move at all. Just his eyes in the color of honey were flickering and looking around until they pierced her like daggers.
“Leave him alone.”
He chuckled again.
“You are weak, we both know it.”
“Leave.” She insisted. Her voice didn`t even shake.
“This is not your place. You have no right to be here.”
“It`s not yours as well. You stole it.”
Instead of an answer or even anger, he looked again at the body lying behind her.
“Oh, dear, what have you done?” He smiled. She shivered. She knew that this smile wasn`t anything good. He was a master of devilish smirks. But to her surprise, he just disappeared with a blink of an eye.
“My Lord! My Lord Graven! Someone was spotted on the edge of the forest!”
Graven couldn`t believe his own ears when he heard the Captain yelling on the corridor. He ran to the Main Gate as well as the rest of the Captains. The winter storm was slowly descending, the wind was still wild but when he narrowed his eyes to see the place the Captain was describing, he held his breath.
A tall, black silhouette was coming towards him. And the closer the silhouette was, the calmer the falling snow was.
“Thranduil…” He breathed when he recognized the features of their King. And he couldn`t believe his own eyes.
Not only the King seemed uninjured, he didn`t even look he would suffer in the winter storm, which now changed into slowly falling snowflakes. Graven didn`t understand. His brain couldn`t process it.
The Captain next to him took a step back. And he couldn`t blame him.
The pace of the King was confident and strong. He looked like an angel of the doom in his black robes and silver hair flying behind him.
But when he was closer he couldn`t miss the blood on his hands and pants and the dangerous green color flickering within his blue eyes. Graven shivered.
“My King, I am more than relieved that you are back home and safe.”
Thranduil looked at him. Something on his face was different. In the way, he looked at him.
“I need a bath. Meet me in an hour.”
“I am sure you need some rest, Thranduil…?”
The Elvenking smirked.
“I am fine.”