Chapter 3

The Woodland Realm lay on the north-eastern border of the Wood of Greenleaves, many leagues from the Golden Wood. Where Lothlórien was gold and full of sunshine, the Woodland Realm was verdant and glowed with a soft light. Streams ran from the Dark Mountains in the south and the Iron Mountains in the north, under the beech trees and to the hidden capital of the kingdom. Through gates beside the riverside lay the proud city; winding staircases and vast halls beautifully carved from living rock, most unlike the cold, claustrophobic caverns of the Dwarven people.

Thranduil, the king of the Elves of the Greenleaves, sat in his high-ceilinged hall of tall pillars, a crown of flowers atop his molten gold head. His raiment was green and trimmed with white, and his grey eyes were mighty and full of wisdom. But there was also life in those eyes, unchanged by the fading of the Elves that had stricken most of the Eldar who remained. And he gave hope to his people; reassurance of the people's continued prospering.

From the open gates ran a small Elf child, clad in green and grey, and with fair hair and bright eyes. Thranduil saw the boy, and got to his feet, a smile shining on his face.

"And who is that young Elf-prince I see striding into my halls? I do hope he is not here for my throne, for surely I cannot best one of such might," he said. The boy stopped running, reaching the king, and looking up at him with a smile of equal brightness.

"Don't jest, Grandfather," he said. "For one day, all the forces of darkness will quail before Prince Laurëlas of the Woodland Realm." Thranduil bent down and picked up his grandson, spinning him around and holding him close.

"I am sorry to disappoint you, my princeling," he said. "But there's little darkness left in the world to quail before you. When you sit upon my throne, it will not be to lead into battle as your grandfather did, but to preserve what those that have come before you have fought to make." Laurëlas looked down, his smile faltering a little. "And that is the most important task," he added. "Surely you would not sorrow at the peace that many Elven lives have been lost for?"

Laurëlas met his grandfather's eyes again. "Of course not, Grandfather," he said, holding on tighter. "When I am king, I will make sure that the losses of our kind against the Enemy are remembered. My smile faded only because I remembered the dream that I had this night..."

Thranduil's face became sombre and concerned, and he sat down in his throne, setting Laurëlas on his knee. "What dream, my prince?" he asked. "What troubled your rest?"

Laurëlas's hand moved to the brooch clasped at his chest, given to him by his mother before she rode east on the Mission of the Elves of Middle-earth.

The Mission was one that was devised by the last Elven lords of Middle-earth. Thranduil travelled south to East Lórien with his sons and daughter, and met Glorfindel of Rivendell; and Elladan and Elrohir, the twin sons of Elrond Halfelven, who sailed west at the end of the Third Age; and Círdan the Shipwright, the Master of the Grey Havens; and Lord Gelmir of Forlindon, who ruled his land from the island of Himring several miles from the coast; and Carmeril, the Lady of Roses, who led the Elves of Harlindon; and finally Galdor of the Galadhrim, representative of Lord Celeborn, who would not leave his city for reasons unknown. Laurëlas had begged his mother to take him, and she finally relented, for he had long desired ever since he had learnt to speak to explore the reaches of the Wood.

At that council, raised was the matter of the Avari, the Elves who had never entered Middle-earth. These Elves, known as the Unwilling, had refused to travel to the Westlands, instead remaining in the east. And the Elf-lords discussed how the time of their kind was ending, and that, ere their kind faded altogether or departed for Valinor, they should reunite with their kindred of the lands of the east and to discover their fate, that they might return with them to the west. Gelmir of Forlindon, Laurëlas remembered, had been most against it, naming the Unwilling also the Unworthy, and that he did not trust those who would not accept the offer of the Valar all those ages ago. But eventually, the Mission was decided, and a host of Elves was to travel east, past the Wood of Greenleaves and the Brown Lands to the south, and past the Sea of Rhûn to the uncharted lands beyond. And Laurëlas's mother had chosen to go.

"My prince," Thranduil said, waking him from his thoughts. "Speak to me."

Laurëlas sighed. "I dreamt of... wolves. Black and huge, with bloody jaws and powerful feet. And they were storming a forest," he told him, and it was as though he was experiencing the dream again, even as he sat there. "There was nothing but evil and darkness in their eyes, Grandfather. And they were not wolves. I know that they were not."

"What do you mean?" Thranduil asked, his brow furrowed and his interest creasing his forehead.

"There is no creature that could feel such... such hatred," he answered, his voice lowered in fear. "They were not wolves, but evil creatures. Right out of the tales, Grandfather."

Thranduil, with his light fingers, turned Laurëlas's face back to face his. "Listen, my boy," he said calmly. "There is no need for fear. For if this dream does have some measure of foresight, then I will surely defend our lands against this threat."