Whatever Harm Encroached

Whatever Harm Encroached

By Nieriel Raina

The Long Winter

Early February, Year 2759 Third Age

The tall figure moved stealthily through the frozen wood, making no sound as he stalked his prey amid the bare trees covered in ice and snow. His golden hair was pulled into a single braid, which hung down his back over his dark grey tunic. His eyes were cold and calculating, their green depths revealing age and wisdom belying his youthful appearance, and not missing a single snowflake that drifted on the light wind. In one hand he held both his bow and a single arrow; there would be no movement of drawing from his quiver to give him away. His prey would never see him at all, not until it was too late to flee.

Slowly, step by step he moved, his boot clad feet leaving no tracks in the deep snow. His lithe frame blended in with the dark trees, his grey and black clothing lost in the landscape of snow and shadow. Not even his scent would give him away for he approached from upwind and he smelled of the forest in which he hunted. He stopped as his eyes fell upon the one he had pursued since morning.

His prey stood just ahead in a break in the forest, its white coat blending in with the snow covered ground. Its cloven hooves dug through the snow, pausing as the agile lips and teeth searched the bared ground for frozen grass on which to sustain it through the bitter winter. But the stag would not need to suffer any longer from the cold and icy conditions. Instead, it would become nourishment for those dwelling in the Elvenking's Halls.

The season had been longer and colder than many could remember, even though some, including the hunter, had lived for millennia. It was unsettling that there had been no signs to warn them of the deep winter, which had settled on the wood shortly after the leaves had fallen. The usual stores had become severely depleted shortly after the solstice. Many villagers had sought refuge in the halls, the severe cold driving them to seek additional shelter and, hopefully, food, since the harsh weather had driven most of the deer herds south. The lack of provisions for the people drove every available hunter into the woods seeking whatever game could be found.

And so, the old hunter had left the warmth of the halls, joining the others out in the frozen wood in the search for food. It was his duty to protect the people from whatever harm encroached upon them, even cold and hunger. Slowly, he bent his bow, the single arrow notched and aimed for the stag's heart. The arrow flew true, dropping the deer quickly, causing it no suffering. The hunter moved to its side, murmuring words of thanks to the animal for providing for his people. He gutted it and hoisted it upon his shoulders, making his way back to the halls as swiftly as he could manage.

The gates to the caverns swung open at a word from the tall elf, and those inside gathered round, relieving him of his burden. Cheers were uttered, but he merely blushed and waved them to silence, a small smile on his face as he made his way to his quarters to change and warm himself.

Sitting in a chair before the hearth, Thranduil removed his boots and stretched his feet towards the fire. Despite the lingering cold in his limbs, his heart was warm. His people were fed for the night. He would return to the hunt in the morning. The winter would not defeat them any more than the Shadow…at least not if he had anything to do with it. Sighing in contentment, his eyes lost focus as he drifted into elven dreams.

The door to the chambers cracked open just enough for a slim figure to slip through. He was also dressed in hunter's garb and he rubbed his hands together to warm them as he crossed the room. He paused at the chair, looking down upon the dozing king with an amused smile. Covering Thranduil with a blanket, the younger elf leaned over to place a kiss upon his brow.

"Sleep well, Adar. I will wake you for the meal," he whispered softly.

Silently, Legolas crossed the room, pausing at the door to whisper once more. "You are a good king."

A peaceful smile tugged at Thranduil's lips as the door quietly clicked shut.

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