Disclaimer: I don't own Lord of the Rings, folks. Sorry to disappoint.

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Mirkwood's Plague

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Chapter 1 – Ghost Town

Rumil looked stoically into the distance, simply amazed at what he was seeing. The once thriving Mirkwood town was now almost completely dead. The bustling market town now resembled more of a ghost town, devoid of people and animals. No noise came from within, just the gentle sound of the billowing of the flag being blown about in the gentle wind. They had been told something was wrong with this town but nothing could have prepared the Crown Prince of Mirkwood for seeing so many of his people dead. The whole town was like a huge graveyard, the streets strewn with bodies – eerily quiet.

No one spoke as they rode through the town on nervous, jittery mounts. It seemed fitting that just at that moment a soft rain began to drizzle on the town, washing away some of the troop's fear yet still leaving the stifling sense of unease.

Rumil dismounted his horse almost silently with the stealth only an Elf could possess and his troops quickly followed his example, having no intention of leaving their prince alone for even a second. Rumil was the oldest son of King Thranduil of Mirkwood and was next in line to be King of the Woodland Realm. He had begged his overprotective father to allow him to accompany the troop to this mysterious town. Thranduil, being amazingly protective over both his sons - Legolas being the younger of the two - had said no at first, just as Rumil had expected, not wanting his son and heir to leave the safety of the Mirkwood Palace. Rumil had calmly argued that if his younger brother could go on a quest to bring about the destruction of the Ring of Power then it was only fair that the older should be allowed to go on a simple scouting mission. Thranduil had finally relented and allowed his son to go, provided that a well armed group of warrior guards went with him. Rumil hadn't been happy about this but had agreed, knowing this would be his only chance of going.

There had been rumours about this small town and its jovial inhabitants for quite a while now; all sorts of explanations were put forwards by the people of Mirkwood, including some pretty bizarre and outright ridiculous ones. Rumil's current personal favourite was that the town had been taken over by evil shadowy creatures that were holding the town's people hostage via possession of their souls and were waiting for someone to offer a pure Elven sacrifice from Mirkwood. Legolas' favourite was that the Ring of Power was back and was controlling the people – impossible seeing as the artefact had been destroyed over a year ago. Thranduil, when he had heard these strange yet persistent rumours, was keen to put a stop to them and prove them wrong. The last thing they needed was panic settling in Mirkwood, not when darkness was beginning to fade. If nothing else the King wanted to find out what was really going on in the enigmatic town.

Rumil walked into the town square, his guards close behind him with their weapons raised ready to protect their prince from attack if necessary. The whole town was dead; no sounds, no signs of life, nothing. Rumil walked towards one of the dark houses giving the false impression that he was confident and trying to ignore the rotting bodies of the dead Elves he had to step around. In actual fact, he was terrified of what he might find inside. However, the last thing he wanted to do was cause more unrest amongst his people so he hid his fear, knowing just how contagious it could be.

He went to the nearest house, knocked briefly on the open door and walked in. Nothing. The place appeared to be empty. Rumil suppressed a sigh of relief as did most of the nervous guards who had followed him. Some went off to search the rest of the town for survivors on Rumil's order. As much as he wanted people around him the faster they got the job done the sooner they could leave. Still, he could feel that something wasn't quite right. He couldn't place it but there was something…

Suddenly, something moved in the far corner. The prince instantly grabbed his sword from his scabbard, all his senses alert and working to figure out what was going on and where the danger was. He looked around, hoping for some clue as to what it was that was watching them from inside the house.

He stepped further into the house and looked around properly, his eyesight and hearing alert for whatever was lurking inside the house. The thought that someone or something was stalking them had all the guards even more nervous.

Something moved again and this time it let out a pained and seemingly frightened shriek. The guards rushed towards the corner, weapons ready, intending to kill whatever horror had made the unearthly noise. They grabbed the thing and pulled it out into the open where Rumil could see it. It certainly wasn't what he expected.

It was small and probably starved from the look of its thin frame. Despite all the blood and mud that covered it Rumil could easily see that it was no monster but a young Elven child. Never before had Rumil seen anything in such a pitiful state. The girl, Rumil presumed it was a girl because of the small, dirty white dress she was wearing, was crying and struggling against the guards who were trying their best to carefully restrain her. Knowing that she wasn't a threat to their prince wasn't enough for them to let their guard down just yet. Still they tried to calm her down.

Rumil knelt down in front of her and gently encouraged her to look up at him.

"What happened here?" the prince asked when the child's cries had died down slightly. She looked blankly at him for a moment before resuming her crying. Rumil didn't even know if she knew what was going on or if she understood him. He didn't know what to do. He had had some practice looking after Legolas when he was young but that was centuries ago and now he really had no idea what he was doing. He looked to the guards to help but they all looked far too worried to notice. They just watched helplessly as Rumil tried to calm the distraught child down.

"It's alright. You're safe with us, I promise. We're here to help but you have to calm down," Rumil reasoned.

Much to his and the guards surprise the girl stopped her crying and stopped struggling with the guards who were still holding onto her to make sure she wouldn't suddenly run away. When she stopped her struggling the guards loosened their grips, allowing her to move a little more. Instead of running away like Rumil expected, the girl just stood and looked directly at him with huge, scared green eyes.

"What is your name?" the young prince asked, hoping the innocent question wouldn't send the girl into another fit of hysterics. Luckily, she just continued to look at him as if trying to work out whether to trust him or not.

"Leanna," she said eventually, a little shyly and with a quaking voice. "I've seen you before."

"I am Rumil. My father is King Thranduil of Mirkwood," he introduced himself, smiling at the girl's interest and apparent excitement at the name.

"A prince! Nana always said that I would be rescued by a handsome prince one day," the girl said nervously but a hint of excitement was now in her voice although the fear wasn't completely gone Rumil could tell it was slowly fading.

"Why would you need to be rescued? What happened here?"

"People started getting sick a while ago. There was nothing anyone could do. I don't know why but I didn't get sick like the others. Ada and Nana said I should be grateful and not question how I escaped it," Leanna said looking around her nervously.

"Where are your parents? Did they get sick too?" Rumil asked as gently as possible. He knew it was a stupid question as they hadn't seen any other living thing in the town as they walked through it. The girl's grief-filled face confirmed his suspicions.

"They told me to stay away from them; they didn't want me getting sick too. By the time they realised what was happening it was too late for them." She paused, looking nervously around her. "Perhaps you can help them," she said suddenly. "You're a prince! You can help them." She pulled Rumil to his feet and dragged him over to a bedroom next door and then to a four-poster bed in the centre of the room. On it were two still forms, lying entangled in each other's arms.

Rumil and the guards didn't need to check their pulses to know that the girl's parents were dead. Their lifeless, pale faces were enough to tell that that, also the terrible red marks that blemished their skin and the blood that was spattered all over the grimy pillows on which their heads rested together. The Prince held Leanna back whilst the guards checked their pulses. Even though they were sure there was no chance they were still alive Rumil knew he couldn't just leave them whilst their daughter stood beside him.

The guard checking shook his head, silently telling his prince that they were already dead. No one, except perhaps Leanna had expected anything else. Rumil looked to his side but the girl was no longer there. He looked around him and quickly spotted her lying face down on the floor, her breathing heavy and laboured. He ran over to her and picked her up, cradling her in his arms as if she were his own baby. She was hot with fever, her face deathly pale and she was shaking as if she felt freezing cold. At that moment three guards ran into the room with their weapons drawn, wild looks in their eyes.

"Sir, the whole town is completely dead. There's nothing left alive. Even the plants are wilted. Sir, we should leave, it isn't safe here," one of the guards informed him, urgently dragging Rumil from the room, not caring that he was pushing the prince about.

"Yes, let's get out of here, she needs a healer. We'll head back to Mirkwood, someone will be able to help her there."

Translations:

Nana – Mum

Ada - Dad

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TBC…