The Chronicles of Shadowfall: Part 2 - Lost
The Chronicles of Shadowfall is a sequel series to my first set of stories, The Greenwood Tales, so if you haven't read those, you probably should, or this won't make much sense. That said...enjoy! And forgive me for not posting often. I'm so busy. Also, thanks to my story mentor, PrincessofNúmenor.
Darián ran such as he had never before in his life. A wild, blind rush of terror surged through his body as he fought to widen the gap between him and Nuruwen. Her snarl was that of a wild animal, and she ran swiftly through the tangled woodland trees. Darián was desperate to reach the caves if he did nothing else, he had to let Aladain know that Thranduil was dead, and his body was in the hands of a deranged murderer.
He tripped over a root and leapt back to his feet, and he could hear Nuruwen's heavy breathing as she anticipated closing in for the kill. Still Darián ran as one possessed by a terrible spirit, and he could feel the shadow that drew near.
A flash of torchlight - a smell of water - he had reached the caves! Barely daring to hope, Darián put on an extra burst of speed and dashed toward the sentries that guarded the path into the throne room. Seeing Nuruwen pursue him, they let him pass and then fired their bows at Nuruwen, barely stopping to reload.
Nuruwen raised a hand, seeking to turn the arrows away, but it seemed she was expending more energy than usual. She snarled and twisted away from them, trying to concentrate on keeping the arrows away while changing form to sneak past the guards.
One of the guards shouted, "A'amin! A'amin! Ulunde! Naur! Tulya!"
More guards poured out from all sides on the woods, and let loose their deadly rain of arrows on Nuruwen. She snarled and dove from side to side, but the elf-guards were skilled, and there were many of them. They kept her involved enough so that she could not change form.
The new leader of the guards strode forward, an elf appointed after Aladain had been forced to ascend the throne. He was tall, with a mane of dark hair and snapping blue eyes, and his name was Luinil Riverdancer. He spoke in a terrible voice.
"Nuruwen Esteniel, by the Lady Elbereth, you will be taken before King Aladain and made to answer for what you have done!"
Nuruwen tried to struggle as the guards bound her, but they were brutal with her and did not allow her to move, nor to change form. They pulled her inside and toward the throne room.
Thranduil swung his weak legs over the side of the bier and stood. There was an awful, burned taste in his mouth, and he was having trouble seeing straight. He felt as if he had just taken a dose of kuruhuine, a plant that grew only in the deepest regions of the forest and sent the user into a deep and often deadly sleep. The dose had to be precisely calculated to make sure that the user would wake up.
His entire body felt sore and brutally used, and he was dizzy and unable to see straight. Sure enough, it seemed like he had the symptoms of kuruhuine poisoning. But who would have given it to -
Nuruwen. Thranduil's hand closed into a fist. There was no other. Her false concern for him, her insistence that he eat and drink. She was the only person he had had contact with.
But why? Looking around into the black wood, Thranduil tried to understand. She had been a guard, she had come with Aladain to the Black Land when he was fighting to rescue Legolas. What had he done to her, that she did this to him?
The forest was black. Evil spirits hissed and slithered in the dark underbrush, but Thranduil's mind was made up. As soon as he was free from the effects of the kuruhuine, he was making his way back to the caves - whatever it cost him.
He refused to go near the bier again, and huddled near the edge of the clearing, breathing deeply and trying to gather himself. The trek back would be unbelievably difficult, he knew, and he tried to summon every scrap of strength and willpower that he could.
When at last Thranduil felt that he could trust his legs, he rose, and tossed his stained, tangled golden hair over one shoulder. He looked up at the Moon, barely visible through the tangles of briars, brambles, and moss growing over the trees, and said a silent prayer.
"Lady Elbereth, guide me," he whispered, and plunged himself into the dank depths of Mirkwood.
Strange and unsettling sounds slid through the night around him. Thranduil startled a snake, which flicked its black tongue at him and glided away into the underbrush. Taking a deep breath to calm himself, he continued on.
His hand splashed into a murky pool. Disliking the touch of the water on his skin, Thranduil jerked it out and battled desperately on.
From the low shadows of the earthen tunnels, Legolas watched as the guards dragged in a writhing, hissing woman who fought them like a wildcat. Her hair was a mane of darkness, her eyes bright and terrible in her pale, cadaverous face. She screamed and struggled, spit flying from her mouth, and Legolas could see how the fire of absolute madness burned in her gaze.
He looked up at the slender young elf that he stood next to, Darián Leafson. Legolas had grown in his father's absence, and he looked like a human ten-year-old. His face was pale and his hair uncombed, his face smeared with mud. His eyes were wide in the darkness of the tunnel.
"Darián," Legolas said, his voice cool, "is my father ever returning?"
Darián bit his lip; he had been hoping to avoid this question. If he told Legolas that his father was dead, it would break his heart. And yet, he could not lie to the prince. That would be even crueler.
Legolas looked at Darián, a searching intensity in his gaze that seemed out of place for one still young and inexperienced in the ways of the world. His voice was soft, but carried an unmistakable weight.
"Is he alive?"
Darián swallowed. His throat was as dry as parchment. Looking at the slender, pale, muddied youth that stood beside him, he found that he could not lie.
Legolas jerked as if he had taken a blow to the stomach and stared forward, his jaw set, but his lip quivering. Tears filled his eyes and overflowed down his muddy cheeks, making pale tracks through the filth. He sank slowly to the ground, and put his hands over his face.
Darián took a breath, watching Aladain's face turn first pale and then deep red in anger. Although he could not quite make out the elf king's words, they were sharp and furious. Nuruwen stared up at him defiantly, quite unrepentant.
Darián knelt beside Legolas. He was not much older than the young prince, and yet now he felt so much older. With what seemed the weight of the world on his shoulders, he put his arms around Legolas and tried to comfort him.
He looked up in time to see Nuruwen turn her pitiless gaze toward them, and Legolas crying in the low passage. She turned and spoke to Aladain, although Darián could not make out what was said.
"Is this what the proud Kingdom of Mirkwood has been reduced to?" she said, her voice low and cutting. "A muddy-faced child crying in a rock passage while a guard, a child himself, tries to comfort him over the news that his father is dead? You are weak, Aladain. Weak."
Aladain kept staring at her. The news that Thranduil was dead had rocked him to the core, especially as Nuruwen had previously told him that he was alive. Still, something nagged at the back of his brain. Something was not right; something was bothering him. Thranduil had died by eating the flesh of a being that had been poisoned by the forest, Nuruwen had said. It was a simple and logical explanation. What, then, bothered him?
Aladain found it hard to form words, but made himself do so anyway. His throat hurt, and he kept his voice tightly under control for fear it would crack.
"Nuruwen, you are evil," he said softly. "I have never met a being that I detest more."
Nuruwen tossed back her shaggy mane of dark hair and gave him an insolent look. "That is indeed unfortunate, isn't it?" she said sarcastically. "Unfortunately, it was through my intervention that Thranduil was even kept alive at all. So do not spout such idiotic things to me."
"Idiotic, are they?" Aladain said, his temper flaring. He turned to Luinil. "Clap her in the deepest dungeons of the caves, and throw the key in the Forest River. Let her rot, let her feel all the pain that she has inflicted, for I know what she has done. Let her die."
A ragged cheer rose from the ranks of guards.
Nuruwen ran forward, her pale face flushed. "Aladain, listen to me! It was not my fault that Thranduil died." Her voice dropped dangerously. "However, that does not mean that I cannot bring him back to life."
Silence fell, a smothering curtain. Legolas choked on a sob and looked up, his eyes burning holes into Nuruwen. Darián could feel the way he was shaking.
"How?" Aladain said, his voice breaking with grief and anger. "If you wish to add necromancy to the sentence against you, please feel no limitations, for it is also a crime in Mirkwood."
"I never spoke of necromancy," Nuruwen said.
"I know of no other art," Aladain barked.
Darián rose, shielding Legolas behind his arm, and moved into the throne room. "Your Majesty, Nuruwen said that Thranduil was dead, and I believe that he was, but Thranduil has better woodcraft than to eat something that he thought might be tainted. He has more skills than that. There might be something wrong."
"Nothing wrong," Nuruwen said. "I strove to keep him alive - "
"Explain your actions as we returned from Mordor!" Aladain bellowed.
"What would you say then," Nuruwen said bitingly, "if I told you that I was with his child?" She thrust a finger at Luinil, who stared at her disbelievingly, and Aladain cast him a shocked glance.
Luinil recovered his voice first. "Your Majesty - she only seeks an outlet for escape! I tell you, this is not true!"
"Do you remember a slender, blonde elf-woman?" Nuruwen said, her voice layered with poison and honey. "Who came to you as you dreamed of darkness and the downfall of Mirkwood? She was wrapped in a purple mantle, and I will find it for you if you do not believe me."
"You never came to me, Nuruwen!" Luinil shouted.
"Ah, no, I did not, but Lurea did," Nuruwen spat, her eyes filled with savage triumph. "And when I return to my other shape, you do not remember that I have ever looked different."
Luinil stared in wild disbelief between Nuruwen and Aladain, both of whom stared at him. Nuruwen's glance was one of brutal joy, Aladain's of shocked disbelief.
"You kill me, and you will also kill my child," Nuruwen said sweetly. "Who has done nothing wrong. You may be seeking revenge, King, but I did not think you were bloodthirsty - yet."
"No," Aladain whispered in horror.
"Yes," Nuruwen said. Her voice was terrible, and even worse because both Darián and Aladain could tell that she spoke the truth.
Luinil stared in horror.
Nuruwen raised her dark head, and gave Aladain and Darián a proud look. "You know that I speak truthfully," she said, and the gloating in her voice was almost more than Darián could bear. He wanted to kill her. The longing rose hot and fierce in his blood, and for a moment his fingers made a movement toward his dagger.
"Your Majesty - " began one of the guards.
Aladain snapped. "Do not speak to me of what is good and right, for I care nothing for it. Nuruwen murdered Thranduil, I know it, and for that she will suffer. She will not fool me with her pretty tales of poisoned meat. If that is true, I will ask you, why do we hunt our meat from the forest and not suffer?"
"What will you do then?" the guard asked helplessly.
"I will send her under strict lock and key to Imladris, with a contingent of guards to watch her every move," Aladain said bitterly, the words sharp and stinging. "Lord Elrond will take her, for I have been in close commune with him and he knows of our situation. The baby will be born, if that is how it must be, and left at Imladris. Nuruwen will be brought back here and - dealt with."
Luinil still stared at Nuruwen. "So, you were Lurea?" he whispered.
"Yes, I was," Nuruwen said smugly. "Men are always easy to fool, for they follow pretty women blindly and never stop to think of the outcome."
Bitterness washed across Luinil's face. "So you always have a plan," he snarled.
"Yes, and how beneficial you were in aiding it," Nuruwen said sweetly as several guards came forward and chained her hands, then led her from the halls of the Wood-elves, none too gently. They led her to a wooden cart with bars, and shoved her into the narrow space. One of the guards climbed up into the seat, and another hitched a strong stallion to the cart.
Aladain watched the cart roll away with a fierce flame of hatred in his heart. He did not notice Legolas standing nearby, as the pale youth blended into the background, and stared at him intently from blue eyes.
Darián watched the cart go as well. For some reason, he felt a stirring of foreboding, and yet he could not name it.
"The child will return," he said softly.
Aladain shot him a disbelieving glance. "You're only a child, Darián, how can you say that? But, perhaps, you will be right. And then we will have to purge the vermin from existence, for it is sure to be as vile as its mother was." His voice was shaking as he spoke the words.
Legolas stepped out of the shadows and tried to rub the mud off his face, but only spread it further. "Aladain, come to your senses. Your judgment is frayed by the loss of my father. If the baby grows up outside of Nuruwen's foul influences, it will be as innocent as any."
Aladain stared at Legolas until the boy blushed and looked away. "You are also a child, Legolas. You do not understand. Perhaps one day you will, though, to lose a friend you have known many ages and suffered with through so many conflicts. To lose him tears the heart and worse. I do not want to speak to you. Darián, take him away."
Darián bowed and led Legolas away, whispering in his ear, "Don't take it to heart. As you said, his judgment is frayed. He will recover."
"My father is dead," Legolas said softly. "Can I believe that, though? First he was dead, and then when Nuruwen came he was alive again. And now he is dead yet again. Perhaps that woman is simply playing us for fools. I - I could not believe that Ada would ever truly leave me, especially after Amil left."
"Neither could I, Legolas," said Darián heavily. "And yet your amil left us, and your ada is dead. Are you an orphan, or only in the mind? Can I ever understand? I do not know."
The two elven youths walked in silence to Legolas's quarters. A stone basin had been filled halfway with tepid water for the prince's use, and he halfheartedly splashed it on his face, washing the mud away.
"How is it," Legolas asked after a moment, "that you are the same age as I - perhaps a few hundred years older - and you are a guard, while I am a prince, who should be defending his realm, and I am not? Aladain is the king; I do not consider myself the heir."
"When - Nuruwen - left, a void was created in the ranks, and we are so depleted that I was forced to become a guard," Darián replied. "It has ever been my duty to protect you, and you are still the heir, for you are of royal blood."
Legolas laughed bitterly, wiping his face clean with a towel and tossing the rag aside. "Blood! The blood of my father was spilled by that vile woman, and what use is a throne, or even a life? We are inconsequential."
"Don't talk like that," Darián said, upset by Legolas's fatalistic words. "You have much left to live for. Don't give in - not just yet. Try to live. Please, my prince. For me, if no one else."
Legolas went over to his bed and sat down, drawing his thin legs against his chest. "You speak well, Darián, but why should I heed you?"
"You're young," Darián said. "You have too much of your life ahead of you to throw it all away. Listen to me, Legolas. Listen to me. You are a boy. When this plague is lifted, the forest will be as green and beautiful as ever it was - "
"When?" Legolas's voice was bitter. "Why should I believe that it will be lifted?"
"Because - because every darkness has a light at the end," Darián said, at a loss for anything else that was appropriate. "Even night doesn't last forever. The sun rises, doesn't it? I see no reason that this plague will stay hanging over us. Eventually, it must lift."
Legolas did not acknowledge his words, and Darián turned to leave the prince alone.
When he returned later that evening, bearing a tray of food, he knocked several times. The sound echoed hollowly through the stone door, and it unsettled Darián. He pressed his ear to the door and heard nothing, no sound, no hint of Legolas's presence.
"Prince Legolas?" he said. "Are you in there?"
There was no sound. Darián risked opening the door, and the tray clattered to the floor in his shock.
Legolas was gone, and Darián's bow and quiver, which he had left in the room, were also gone. A single sputtering candle sat on the wooden table, and beneath it there was something white. A note.
Darián ran to the note and pulled it from beneath the candle. It was short, written in Legolas's spidery, childish handwriting.
No doubt you will question where I have gone. But I beg you to not breathe a word of my whereabouts to anyone, especially Aladain. Perhaps you will argue that I cannot accept my father's fate, but I cannot believe that he is dead.
My father, the one who raised me, the only parent that I have ever known. If he is dead, as you said, than I will find his body and bring it back to the caves in hopes of purging foul influences from it. I will see to it that he is buried as he and my mother would desire for him. If I do not return, then so will it be.
Darián swallowed a burning lump in his throat. He stared at the letter. The handwriting so young, the words so old and sorrowful. Legolas's desperate hope to find his dear father, dead or alive.
"What have you done, Legolas?" Darián whispered. "What have you done?"