Prologue: Reflections on Beauty

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South-western Greenwood, Winter.

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His face was carved marble; hard, strong - unyielding - ruthless. Yet those who knew him could not deny that behind the beguiling green eyes that hid within them the smallest flecks of blue and purple, was a softness, a vulnerability that lay at bay, harnessed by a fist of iron that was not easily pried open - not anymore. Time had tempered his ire, understanding had brought him a semblance of peace, and warfare had hardened his young mind, its inherent horrors lending him a deeper understanding of the nature of life, of love, of the tragedy of immortal death.

This was the face of Hwindohtar, the Whirling Warrior, first lieutenant in His Majesty's Woodland Militia, Warlord of the Silvan people of Greenwood the Great, bastard son of Thranduil King.

As he looked down into the rocky pool of still, transparent water, as yet untainted by the ravages of battle, he stared blankly at his own, unique reflection. The strong jaw and curved lips, the straight nose and high cheek bones. These were the features of the first great king of The Greenwood, the mighty Sindarin ruler Oropher - well-loved, sorely-missed. They marked him, mockingly almost, as a scion of the House of Oropher and yet - he was no prince; he was a half-breed Silvan-Sindarin child of the forests with the face of a Sinda and yet the heart of a Silvan.

A flash of emotion brought his reflexion to life and for a moment he was Legolas, for marble seemed to soften and mould itself into a fleeting expression of peace and contentment. He was what he was, and for most, that was unsurpassable for he was Thranduil's son, a Warlord, child of Lassiel and the very forest itself, blessed by Yavanna, goddess of the Earth. Yet for others who had, at first, considered him a shameful reminder of the departed queen's suffering - Aglareb of the Norhad clan, he had become an oddity, worthy of both suspicion and admiration, of mild disdain and exalted praise - a paradox in the form of a beautiful elf with hair that was the colour of winter wheat and burnished silver, with eyes that were greener than any fern to be seen upon the banks of the Anduin, and whose beauty was fast becoming legendary, unsurpassed by any known throughout Elvendom.

He smiled then, tight and sparing, at the memory of that long year in which he had gone from novice to warrior, from ignorance to knowledge, from bastard to lord. It had been the most intense year of his life, for he had discovered his true family and then come to know the fate of his mother; he had been proclaimed Beriannor* and named Warlord of the Silvans and now, First Lieutenant. He had travelled to Imladris, too, and gained a father in Glorfindel, and an ally in Elrond. Yet that year had brought with it great sorrow too, for he had lost the first mentor and protector he had ever known - Lainion, beloved Avari, Dimaethor - the Silent Warrior.

His own, great Uncle Bandorion, had publicly challenged him to Baud Gwaith and Hwindo had had no choice other than to meet him in battle, ultimately dealing death to him with the help of the king himself.

Some said it had been too much too soon, that one who had never known his mother nor his father, one who had never had siblings, could not assimilate such change in so short a time and perhaps they were right, Legolas often mused. He did not know how to be around them, he knew. He felt awkward, stilted, a stranger amidst a family that was only now knitting together once more after the tragic events surrounding the departed queen and Lassiel, Silvan lover of the king, his own, enigmatic mother.

But perhaps he could learn, learn to let them see him as he truly was, see his vulnerability, his faults, his weaknesses. Perhaps he could stop pretending that he was perfect, impenetrable, unbreakable for he was not. Yet the very thought of showing that side of himself seemed unthinkable. Only Idhrenohtar and Ram en' Ondo had truly seen him, them and his aunt, Amareth. He had shown no one else for he had been forced to be strong, made to defend himself against the cruel attacks of children who had no ken of boys without fathers and mothers, no understanding of the hurt they had dealt out in their puerile goading. Hiding his weaknesses had become second nature to him and however much he recognised the trait in himself, he was powerless to change it.

Taking his gaze away from his own reflection, he chewed on a piece of dried meat as his eyes lost their focus and he remembered - remembered the child that had pranced and frolicked amongst the oak and beech of his Silvan home, Lland Galadh. There, too, he had fought monsters and vanquished them all; he had wielded twigs and branches that would transform into mighty swords and magnificent war bows, spears and knives and none could best him, all had loved him. He would canter bravely, proudly upon his wooden war charger, and his shining armour of woven linen would glint under the midday sun as he rode victorious into the fortress of The Greenwood that was his treehouse - Captain! Captain! oh, to be a captain!

And at night, he would sup on pea soup and fresh, crusty bread, and then sleep, when he would once again become a commander of elves, slayer of dragons and bane of fiery balrogs.

His smile waxed melancholic and he looked to the floor. It had been all he had ever wanted and yet - he had gained so much more, or rather fate, and the Valar, had pushed it at him, flung it all in his face and demanded of him he accept it all.

And he had…

Would that those childhood fantasies were reality. Would that it were all so simple, a child's game where right and wrong was so clear, where everything was black and white, good or bad - blindingly obvious. Would that the world were a place where there was no doubt, no guilt, no crushing pity. But nay, for now he fought the real monsters - and they fought back. They killed and maimed, severed limbs and gutted his brothers in glee - his friends. How now, was he, as a commander, as a captain, to send them into the fray, to their deaths, condemn their loved ones to a life of grief and despair.

This was what Dunorel was preparing him for; this was the reason the captain would drive him so hard, so relentlessly. The harsh reality of battle beneath the boughs of the forest, the very real devastation that follows it, the sheer and utter cruelty of the enemy. Such things can surely not be faced and dominated by one so young? Dunorel and the Inner Circle would have reasoned.

For the past four years, he had patrolled under the guidance of the Sindarin Captain, and not in vain did the commander have a reputation. He had pushed Hwindo almost to his limits and then some more. He was the youngest lieutenant in the king's militia, he was their monarch's son - there could be no doubting that he had earned the title and not inherited it, not after the events that had led up to the gathering of the Inner Circle four years previously. Even so, the warriors that accompanied them had often times thought the captain overly hard on the boy. What Dunorel would forgive the warriors, he would magnify ten-fold with Hwindohtar; what would garner the troop a soft reprimand would be a resounding upbraiding for The Silvan.

And yet Hwindohtar did not resent him. Aye it rankled him and oftentimes he would seek out a quiet spot, away from them all, and give free rein to his anger. Yet once he had calmed he would realise that he understood, and in understanding came knowledge. He was young, and although he excelled in many things military, he had still been susceptible to emotional turmoil. The trauma of his own past, his inexperience, for seven hundred and forty-eight years was incomprehensibly precocious for a First Lieutenant, and Dunorel knew it. What the captain did he did for deference, in the hope that when his training had finished, the Greenwood would gain a worthy captain, a strong ally with which to fight back the encroaching wave of pure hatred that was slowly yet undeniably waning their strength.

As fate would have it, his command training had coincided with a sharp decline in the safety of the realm. Enemy numbers had risen alarmingly, and there had even been reports of strange movements close to the abandoned fortress of Dol Gûldur, and beyond. Even Lothlorien had reported an increase in enemy engagement. Something was amiss, and their elven commanders had yet to discover just what it was - the nature of it, and amidst this spiralling violence, Hwindohtar had fought and learned, had analysed and erred, had excelled and then fallen upon his knees, sometimes in despair and others in utter exhaustion.

They had spent months on end in the forest, with the occasional two-day rest at one of the nearby villages. But there had been no substantial leave, indeed Legolas had only returned to the fortress a handful of times and even then, it had only been sufficient for but a glimpse and a smile for his father, a brother, a sister. He would submit reports, collect supplies, and leave once more lest his absence jeopardise his patrol. He was its lieutenant, he could not fail them - not now.

He allowed a tentative smile to creep back onto his face, for his mind sought to bolster his mood, he knew, and The Company came to him; Idhrenohtar, the Wise Warrior, brother in arms since even before he could speak properly, together with Ram en' Ondo, the Wall of Stone for he towered over any elf Legolas had ever met, and was just as broad. Chance had made these three friends, but life had made them brothers.

Later had come Lindohtar, the Bard Warrior, and then Rhrawthir, Fierce Face. There was a Sinda amongst them too, Koron en' Naur, Ball of Fire, and two Noldor - Rafnohtar, the Winged Warrior, and Glamohtar, the Screaming Warrior.

His smile spread, but then a single hand reached up with a will of its own, and brushed a finger over one of his Avarin braids. His smile faltered, replaced now by deep sorrow as he remembered there had once been another - Lainion, Dimaethor the Silent Warrior - fallen brother of The Company. The Silent Warrior had perished, but the rest remained to remember him, just as Hwindohtar himself honoured him every day of his life, the thick - twisted braids that sat high upon his crown said it was so.

"Hwindo!"

He turned to the call of his name, his warrior name, for that was all he would use here, in the wild.

It was time to leave once more and so, with a steadying breath, he slowly rose from his waterside seat until he stood at full height, a subtle breeze lifting the tips of his strange hair to reveal an acutely pointed ear and long, dark brows that sat over eyes that were not those of Oropher, but of Lassiel of Lland Galadh - Silvan lover of king Thranduil.

"Hwindohtar, the enemy moves…"

With a clench of his jaw, he forced any remaining emotions back into the hidden corner in which he kept them. Legolas had gone, replaced once more by the Whirling Warrior. Now was a moment for battle, for service to his people and his land, and obedience to his king, even unto death.

Accommodating himself into the saddle, he checked the blades in his boots and his belts, then aligned the quiver and bows upon his back. One hand reached up to touch the leather and silver bands upon his right arm; archery, knives and personal combat, all that a warrior could gain save for the sword and spears, sat upon the strong, bare muscle - a warning to any who approached him - beware for this is Hwindohtar, lieutenant of his majesty's armed forces, Warlord of the Silvan people. This is Legolas, son of Lassiel and Thranduil, Protege of Yavanna…

He - is The Silvan.

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Southern Greenwood, fortress of Dol Guldûr, below ground

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A pale hand reached up, brushing softly over milky skin - smooth and unblemished. One finger traced the outline of an acutely pointed ear and then down a high, angular cheekbone and a strong jaw until it reached rosy red lips, delicately curved and all the while, intense blue eyes sparkled in curiosity and awe.

He was exquisite …

Cocking his head to the side, his finger moved back up to follow the lines of his own almond shaped eyes and the long, dark eyebrows that framed them perfectly, and all the while his mind grappled with the conundrum that had accompanied him all his life.

A rough hand, a warrior's palm smoothed down the silken locks of blue-black hair, long and thick that hung down past his shoulders, hugging the honed muscles of his back, the fruit of centuries of incessant weapons training for he had always known he would be the best.

His eyes moved downwards, past the thick neck and muscled chest of smooth white skin - hairless, perfect. The strong ridges and planes of his disciplined body lent him the perfect equilibrium, for he was tall, much taller than the rest of his kin and yet he was not stocky or burdened by his own bulk; he was fast, his reflexes almost instant, his speed akin to that of northern mountain lions for he had seen them, and had stared in jealousy and respect at their prowess, had coveted it.

But his lovely eyes did not stop their quest for now they returned to his face, followed the long, fine nose, down to his mouth, where soft, pink lips parted and white teeth emerged, jutting out acutely, the two long incisors curving down into a dangerously pointed tip - lethal, beautiful.

He smiled, lips stretching impossibly around his teeth, jaw opening wider than any elf could ever manage, for he was no elf…

This body could not be vanquished. No warrior could kill him for he was harnessed power, pale and lethal, terrifying to look upon for he was grotesque - and he was beautiful.

This, was Gra'don, General of Dol Guldûr. Not elf, not orc, not Uruk Hai but Nim'uan - White Monster.

His time had come, there could be no doubt. After two hundred years in which he and his brother had prepared themselves in both mind and body, ever since they had been born and then revered as the gods they were. They had used their superior intellect to bolster their people's resolve, teach them what it was they should fight for, and who they should fight in order to achieve it - give them a sense of purpose.

They had multiplied themselves, too, in the hope that their offspring would strengthen their race, so that they could better fight the enemy that stood between them and their goal. Indeed it had worked for many of their warriors had become larger, more powerful, more intelligent. None though, could match him or his brother for beauty for only they, were pure bloods.

They were ready - the armies were almost ready. Soon, he and his brother Saz'nar would put their plan into motion, for Gra'don had found a home for them all - above ground - in the forest for there it was beautiful. There were trees and there was shade. Rivers and ponds and food in the waters and upon the ground. There was wood for fire and sun to warm his face and lend colour to the world. There were caves too, where the pure orcs could live for they would never adapt to the light, not completely.

They would take the forest, no matter that it was already occupied - they would simply kill any who stood in their way - kill the elves that resided there for they were the only thing that stood in Gra'don's way, that could pose a threat to his dreams of an orcish empire over which he had been born to rule - a realm he would take for his own.

It was the time of the Nim'uan and the founding of a new kingdom, a new Emperor to rule - over Arcane Land.

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*Beriannor - loose translation of 'protected one'. Credit to Ziggy for the suggestion.