The dusk started coloring the sky above the forest. The life within the trees was waking up slowly. First birds started singing, other animals set out on the hunt.
A peaceful morning in The Greenwood.
But not in The Elvenking`s Halls. The enormous cave inhabited by elves was upside down. The King, dressed just in his pants, light tunic and a flowing dressing robe, was yelling orders to the servants. There was no time for asking questions. The Halls needed to be ready upon the strange queen arrival.
Thranduil was standing in the main Hall, breathing heavily as he was rushing through the corridors here and there. His heart was beating fast, his nerves were a mess. He tried hard to put aside the guilt he felt for all his orders. But it needed to be done. It was the only possible option how to avoid a diplomatic scandal – instead of offending someone let someone offend him.
The young Captain of the royal guards halted and rushed to the King like an obedient puppy.
His eyes dared to search the King`s as he saluted – a proper military education. Thranduil rather pushed away the thought of Lord Barthin and Aegnor, the two elves he lost not so long ago and yet it felt like millennia’s without them.
“Find the Captain of the border patrols and meet me in my study immediately.”
He literally ran away in the direction where the Captain of the border patrol used to be in the morning. Thranduil inhaled deeply. Another sting of guilt flew through his guts when he realized that all important elves in the Halls were so…young. Because he managed to kill the old and experienced ones.
There were times he didn`t regret it when it came to the thought of his beloved wife and queen. But sometimes he felt the truth very strongly. That he was foolish and cruel.
But now it was no time for this. He ran fingers through his free hair and headed to the study.
He turned to see Graven running towards him:
“I have a report for you.”
“Good, let`s go to my study, the Captains will be there soon and I will tell you what to do next.”
“And maybe we can have a quick breakfast?”
They smiled at each other but the seriousness of the situation still bothered them greatly.
Idril`s heartbeat was madly quick. She had no idea what was going on. She tried to ask servants and other ladies but no one knew the answer. She just heard some murmurs that the King is crazy. Some of them told her that there will be a great visit. But it didn`t seem that the Halls should be decorated for such extravagant visit. Actually the opposite – the Halls were getting darker and darker.
She decided to go back to the Royal wing because the prince should wake up any moment and as she was passing the King`s study, she spotted a maid with a trail of breakfast.
“Give it to me. I will take it to the King myself.”
“Do as I said.” Idril commanded to the poor servant and literally snatched the trail from her hands.
She then knocked on the door and the guards let her in.
“My King, Lord Graven.” Idril tilted her head gently, caring not to spill anything on the trail.
“Lady Idril, good morning,” Graven smiled. The King was reading a scroll, not really paying an attention, “since when you are serving a breakfast, child?”
Idril didn`t see such question coming and the only thing she was able to do was a shrug. She placed the trail on the huge desk in front of the King. The end of her braid tickled Thranduil`s arm.
“Idril.” He acknowledged her finally.
“Good morning, my King.”
Their eyes met and she quickly straightened herself up to not be so close to his face. The King, however, ignored it and his eyes turned back to the scroll.
“I expect him to wake up any moment. I shall go to tend him now.” She said softly. The rush of her blood made her blush. Thranduil looked at her again, picking up a piece of fruit and bit it delicately. Idril swallowed.
Is he doing this on purpose?
“Stay in his chambers until I`ll send someone for you. None of you two is allowed to leave.”
Idril swallowed the second time but in this very moment it wasn`t because of Thranduil but because she perceived that the situation was serious and their safety was at stake.
“As you wish, my King.” She bowed and left.
“And you wanted to banish her,” Graven noted after she left and sat opposite the King, taking a breakfast hungrily.
“You wanted to banish her and now you believe her with your son above most.”
Thranduil looked at the door.
“Legolas adores her. And he needs a mother figure…”
“She is capable, no doubt. I am glad we have her, actually.”
“I always imagine that Eleniel would be pleased to know this….” Thranduil whispered. His eyes became distant.
Graven covered his hand with his own.
“It is alright Thranduil, I know you honor her. This is for a greater good. Do not feel guilt.”
“I do…It is like an excuse. Dead excuse.” His voice broke and he quickly sipped a tea to cover it.
Graven wanted to add something to the topic of his dead daughter but there was a knock and Kaalis and the other Captain, Lienir, entered the King`s study with a salute and Thranduil welcomed the disturbance.
“Please, sit down and report to me.”
Both Captains sat down. Thranduil opened a map of the Greenwood meanwhile Lienir reported the news from the border patrols. No disturbance so far and the shift will change in an hour.
“I want to withdraw the border patrols. I want to send them closer to the Halls and some of them to join the guards and help Kaalis to secure it.”
“But my King, it will let our borders open. Whoever can wonder in the forest then.”
“I know. The forest is wild enough to take care of itself.”
Thranduil pointed out his long finger and drew an invisible circle around the stronghold.
“I want them here.”
“Maybe you should tell them why, Thranduil,” Graven noted, watching the map as well.
“So-called elven-queen is going to visit. I expect her at dawn. It is not a pleasing visit but still, we have to welcome her. Sort of. We will welcome her here, at the Gates, first. The forest will be clear except of the spies.” Thranduil looked directly at Lienir and then Kaalis, “They should report us what we can expect.”
“She will probably come by the main path from Eresiel.” Graven nodded and wrote a quick note for the guards to deliver it to the one of the spies, “the spies should set up immediately.”
“Indeed.” Thranduil agreed and turned back to the map, “The border patrol – they should be under a cover. We should seem to be unprotected from the outside and shut down in the stronghold. I don`t want her, or her guards, to find out how many of us is here. Her subjects are not like us, Lienir.”
Graven sipped a morning tea and explained it further:
“They are probably some kind of elves, but their skin is dark, their eyes are light and they are taller than us. At least by the description of the spies. I tried to find something in the library but found nothing. We do not know where are they from.”
“Prepare your people for it, Lienir.”
“I will, my King.” Said the red haired Captain with wide eyes.
“Alright.” The King inhaled. All the elves in the room were watching him. Even Graven did not know the whole plan, “I want half of your men outside, pretending the common people.”
The question marks in their eyes were amusing but Thranduil did not feel amused at all. Nobody did.
“I don`t want them to know, that all subjects of the Greenwood are hidden in the Halls. And I do not want to put common people at risk by sending them outside. Your task is to build a couple of temporary, poor houses, just for an eye and pretend to live there as a commoner. Your men are able to protect themselves if they will need to. Let them have their weapons. Just cover it.”
“A-Alright, my King. As you wish.”
“Are you sure we have a time for building houses, Thranduil?”
“Just make some branch mess in the trees, I do not care. Just something believable.”
Graven raised his eyebrows but said nothing.
“Go, you need every minute,” Thranduil said to Lienir.
“I will withdraw the border patrols immediately and inform my men. You can rely on us, your Majesty.”
“Good. The realm needs you more than ever.” Thranduil nodded gratefully and the Captain of the border patrols, feeling praised, left the study.
“Kaalis, ” Thranduil continued, “Secure the floors with common people. No one is allowed to leave or enter. The visitors have to be kept just in the official parts of the stronghold. I want the highest security your guards can provide.”
The King opened another map, this time a map of the inner stronghold. He traced slowly with a finger.
“These parts are the most important. They have to be heavily guarded. For these parts chose the best men you have and they should know each other so no one can mingle with them.”
“But shouldn`t we protect you and the prince the most, my King?”
“I have another plan for my son and lady Tavarille.”
“I want you, personally you, Kaalis, to find that elf…what was his name? Faglir. Find Faglir and bring him to me. I plan to send Tavarille and my son into the lowest parts of the stronghold to mingle with commoners. They should be safe there.”
“But my King, it could be dangerous for them! The commoners might hurt them? Especially lady Tavarille…”
“Thranduil, Captain is right. It could be more dangerous than Lilithiel herself.”
“If Faglir is loyal as he claimed, they will be safe. And how many commoners saw and remember the first queen? I can imagine that in the simple clothes she wouldn`t be recognized.”
“Do you really believe this man that much? To hell with Tavarille, but what abut Legolas?”
“He is an heir to this kingdom and they prayed for his life. I have to believe them. I don`t want Lilithiel to even see him!”
“Is she really that evil. Maybe…Maybe we are overreacting, Thranduil.”
But the King just shook his head like a mad man. He was unsettled, nervous, the measures he was taking upon Lilithiel`s arrival were almost absurd.
“I fear we do not have enough guards, my King,” Kaalis admitted weakly. His innocent face turned to the King. He looked like a boy but Thranduil knew he was fierce in the fight and dutiful.
“I am not able to double the guards at the moment…”
Thranduil ran fingers through his hair, frustrated. He turned his back on them, looking out from the window.
“Maybe part of Lienir`s men will help?” Graven suggested
“It is not enough, my Lord.”
The silence crept into the room. They were waiting for the King, secretly thinking about any other options they could come up with.
“Mirrors,” Thranduil whispered.
“Mirrors. Use every possible tall mirror and place them in the corridors. They will reflect the guard and it will seem like they are doubled.”
“Do you really think, it will work?” Graven made a face and Kaalis just opened his mouth and closed it again.
“Well not everywhere, but in some corridors, it could. We can try it.”
The King turned to them with a hope written visibly I his clear blue eyes. Kaalis stood up, determined.
“We will try our best, my King. I will report you shortly.”
“Good. You may leave. And do not forget to bring me Faglir here.”
Graven watched the Captain of the Guards leave and then he looked at Thranduil.
“You know something more than me?”
“No,” He shook his head, deep in thoughts, “It`s just…just a feeling. Very bad one. She is coming with something which seems like a new species. She doesn`t seem as a capable leader. Never struck me as one. And yet….There is something behind it and I do not like the feeling of it. I will not risk again.”
“I wonder what does she want.”
“Me too…Graven…Me too.”
It was a strange picture. An elf in the long luxurious black robe with a black pelerine with silver lining and a wooden, spiky crown was kneeling in front of a small group. Two elleths in brown dresses with a hole here and there in the skirt and three ellons in simple tunics were watching him as he was embracing a small elfling in a poor clothing. The child was crying.
“Shhh, little one. It is just temporary. You are going for an adventure. You will meet elves who will be your new friends. And other children. Is it not what you wanted, my little green leaf?” The King hushed him and wiped off the small tears with his thumb.
“Come with me.” The child pleaded. His little hands were clutching to the black fabric of the robe, his tears soaking into it.
“I cannot go with you, love. But Tavarille and Idril will go with you. And also your guards. You will be safe. I will soon come for you. I promise.”
Idril kneeled next to the King, even though she felt unsure how the King will react.
“Come, Legolas, we have to go. Let’s go and play with others. All will be well. Your father will join us later and play with us.”
Thranduil looked at her but she rather ignored it. She just hoped he understood that she had to make this false promise to calm Legolas down.
“Will you?” Legolas looked up.
“Of course. Idril is right. Now stop crying and go to play.”
Legolas nodded, wiping his own tears off and he let Thranduil go.
“But you will come and play with me later.”
“I promise.” Thranduil kissed him and gave him last strong hug. After that Idril took him into her arms.
“He will be alright, your Majesty. I can promise you that.” Faglir said with a pride that the Elvenking trusted him with such task. The King just nodded, his face emotionless. But Tavarille noticed his trembling hands behind his back. She suddenly realized he has never been an emotionless creature as she thought at the beginning. He was just good with masks.
Thranduil turned to face her then and squeezed her arm softly.
“Be careful and do not speak your name aloud.”
Tavarille smiled and caressed his arm which was holding her.
“Do not worry about us. We will be alright. Do your politics and drive that crazy woman away from my home!”
Thranduil just smiled weakly and let her go.
“Protect him, or you will pay me with your lives.” He whispered a soft, yet deadly command to the guards.
Then he watched the group departing to the inner floors of his Halls.
When she woke up and rubbed her eyes ungracefully, she was surprised by the darkness creeping into the carriage. She drew away the curtain. Is it an evening already? Or is the forest so dark? A shiver ran down her spine. If she wasn`t escorted by the darkness itself she would be afraid till the roots of her bones. She leaned back and sighed. Her back ached. The carriage wasn`t as comfortable as it should be. She looked up at the maid, sleeping noisily opposite her. It was the only elleth in Eresiel next to the Queen. The only “normal” one. She was lucky to found her otherwise she would be surrounded by those scary creatures resembling elves.
The carriage stopped suddenly.
Finally, she thought and poked her head from the small window. But there was no welcome ceremony awaiting her. No castle in the sight nor any wooden elf. Just the deep dark forest with its scary sounds.
“What is going on?”
Her personal guard rode his horse closer to the carriage and stopped right next to the window. She was staring at his tights in the armor.
“A fallen tree trunk on the path.” He noted, “My Queen.”
She sighed and pulled herself back to the carriage just to open the door and step out.
“You should go back to the carriage, my lady.” The guard noted again. They were like…their voices lacked emotions. They were all so alike. She just shook her head.
“My whole body hurts from this damn thing.” She cried out and stretched her back. As she pushed her chest forward she couldn`t miss his eyes catching the sight of her full breasts pressed in the dress and a low cleavage. A sudden pang of a desire shot through her belly. But she rather turned away, looking into the darkness of the forest behind them. Since the General pleased her, she couldn`t find a peace. Nobody was able to please her like that and he managed t use just his hand and mouth, or rather teeth? Just a thought of it and she felt her wetness already.
But she was also scared to death. It took weeks until her skin was healed. When he left her she looked like after a battle. Bloody and hurt. No, she doesn`t want to experience it again. Not to mention the humiliation.
“Is this the Greenwood or not yet?”
“It is Greenwood.” the guard answered, “we are ready to continue, please go back to your carriage.”
“Why is it so empty?”
But her last question remained unanswered.
The sun was descending behind the horizon and the main gate was opened. The courtyard was calm and quiet. Everyone was awaiting the carriage which should be just a minutes away.
“Do you think the news spread to everyone?” Thranduil whispered. Graven narrowed his eyes, looking still at the path in front of them.
“Yes, do not worry. Every elf in the Halls knows we are still mourning. However, they are not allowed to speak with anyone. I gave orders to her personal maids personally.”
Thranduil exhaled and squeezed his hands into fists behind his back.
“Maybe I should help Tavarille to win the throne back. At least I wouldn`t have to deal with this.” He whispered again.
The carriage with the retinue of armored elves appeared on the path just at the edge of the forest. The gold on the carriage reflected the evening sun.
“Shh. Let`s discuss it when she will be gone.” Graven hushed him. They both straightened themselves up.
Ten riders rode ahead and cleared the way on the courtyard. The carriage passed the gate and stopped just in the middle and next at least forty men surrounded it.
“Fifty men. I expected more.”
“She feels safe in the times of the war. Interesting.”
“She is just showing off.”
“But they are heavily armed.”
“I guess you should shut up and go to welcome her. Be nice, Thranduil. Maybe she came in peace.”
Thranduil just growled and with a slow, regal pace he headed to the carriage. Kaalis and one of his personal guards followed him.
Thranduil couldn’t help himself but his eyes were immediately driven to the strange elves. They were tall, indeed. Just the same height as Thranduil was which was quite unusual. Their skin looked like painted with an ash and dust. But when his eyes met the eyes of Lilithiel`s personal guard who just dismounted his black mare, he almost halted. Very light yet radiant eyes scanned him just as he scanned the guard. Then he opened the door.
He remembered her, of course. She was his failure. But still, her provocative beauty was outstanding. Her black hair shone like a dark gem, her high cheekbones were blushed lightly, her lips parted until she saw him and a wide smile spread across her perfect face. Her blue eyes shone like this would be the happiest moment of her life.
“Lady Lilithiel.” He tilted his head in respect. His eyes slipped from her face to her low cleavage and his heart quickened. Her dress was in a fashion he has never seen before. A combination of a nude, transparent material with embroidery and a heavy brocade felt like if you would look properly you will see her nakedness. But it was so greatly done that nothing was possible to peek out. Very clever, very breathtaking.
“Queen.” He corrected him and cleared her throat. He gestured a kiss on the back of her hand and then offered her his arm.
“What a surprise. I did not expect your visit at all.”
“I came for your answer.” She took his arm and smiled wickedly. Thranduil swallowed but forced a weak smile in return.