The clearing shifted to invite the sparkling moonlight in the dark forest. There was some rustling, and gigantic oaks and cedars and others appeared in the clearing, mouths hanging open, unable to believe.
”Aelanor? ” an old voice wheezed.
”Is that you, Eriobuild? ”
”Yes, my child. You have come back! ”
Aelanor ran blindly through the trees and the ents, who moved away to let her pass, and hugged the great tree guardian. Tears flowed freely from her eyes as her other friends from childhood formed a circle around her, looking happier than they must have been in decades.
”Oh, how we have missed you, dear Aelanor! ” one of them cried.
”We thought wed lost you, ” sniffed an older one.
Aelanor looked all around her, smiling through her tears. All of her childhood friends were there, Ashshell and Protus and Borassus. They looked weak, and old, and diseased- but they were there.
”I missed you all, as well, my dear friends, ” she said. ”What, pray, has happened to you? Tell me everything! ”
”We have been cursed! The human civilization has cursed us out of our immortality, ” Eriobuild boomed, ”The tree guardians are sick. Death is finally upon us. ”
”When did it start? ” Nimuel asks.
”A few years ago, ” one of the younger ones replied, ”ever since the human created factories and destroyed the environment. But the nightmare didn show itself until a few months back, when our barks came loose on our bodies, and our limbs began to blister. ”
Nimuel squinted in the dark. The pustules were there alright, angry, black swellings on the branches. The leaves had turned grayish brown, and falling down in heaps.
”Can you heal them, Nimuel? ” Aelanor asked.
Nimuel shook her head, ”I don retain my druid magic with me anymore. It vanished a few years back. ”
”Perhaps you would gain them again, even if a little bit, since we are back to the eternal worlds, ” Aelanor suggested.
”Perhaps, but I am skeptical whether any of the druids would be able to help them. This is no ordinary infestation. There is something sinister at play, ” Nimuel prophesized, with cold horror in her voice.
A chill swept over the group as they tried to make sense of the ominous pronouncement. Eriobuild shook his head.
”There is nothing more sinister than greed and lust, and the humans seem to have forgotten all that in their quest to conquer the world. Wealth, and luxury, and immortality, this is what they run after now. Not caring about what, or who comes after them. ”
”True, but the growth of the civilization itself is not harmful, since there is so much a mortal body can endure, ” Nimuel offers.
”Yes. Sometimes, I do wonder what would happen when we die, ” Aelanor said.
”Why would you think of death, Princess? ” the younger ent queried, ”You belong to an immortal race. ”
”Not anymore, Protus. When we got banished to the mortal lands, we lost our immortality. We would age, but slower than the humans. ”
”What! ” Eriobuild thundered, ”How could the realm stand by this decision? Banishing his own daughter and succumb her to mortality! What kind of father does that? ”
The ents around them seemed like they were starting to swell, in their anger they seemed to fill up the whole of the Emerald Forests.
One of them shouted, ”We should make our voices sound! Bring our own army to The Eternal Utopia, make them hold responsible for their decision, and ask them to return the Princess her immortality, and her status as an elf. ”
Aelanor gave a sad chuckle, and said, ”Immortality is not something you can just give back, young Borassus. And I don want you in rivalry with them either. Something tells me there is going to be a time soon when the different races would have to have each others backs. ”
”Not to mention that our strength is not what it used to be. We can barely move now, and the little energy we might use to leave our station might make us vulnerable to Death, ” one of the older guardians said.
”We should leave now, Guardians. Queen Gaelemar is aching, presumably because of the same source of discomfort that you are, and we need to reach the palace soon, ” Nimuel urged.
”Oh, we have heard of her plight, but we were too agonized in our own sufferings that none of us volunteered to go to the palace. Nevertheless, we bid you farewell. May you find your way guided by the spirits of the emerald light. Gods protect you, ” Eriobuild said.
”Farewel, friends. May our paths cross soon. ”
The Female leapt on their horses and resumed their journey, which would now take less than half a day. They rode in silence, still troubled at their conversation with the ents. They finally reached the cloud gates of The Eternal Utopia. Two guards stood there with their spears drawn, looking bored. Aelanor and Nimuel approached them.
”Halt! State your names and purpose, ” the guards growled.
”It is I, Princess Aelanor of the House of Zauarn, and cousin, Nimuel Saeltheriel of House Franirinth, ” came the declaration.
”Some Princess! ” one of them sniggered behind his hand, ”Heard you are now a mortal. What are you now, some mortal Princess in the Scottish Highlands? ”
There was a cold silence laced with fire.
”Watch your mouth while you are talking to your Princess, or you would be brought to justice for your insubordination, ” Nimuel thundered.
”And who would be doing that, Your Highness? Her father, our King, who banished her from the lands, and everything she ever had? ” the other guard prompted.
”No, but I would. Mortal or immortal, I am still your Princess. ” There was pride in Aelanors voice, and the heat in her blood was palpable. ”And you would do well to address me with proper respect, or be sorry for yourselves! ”
The guards looked at each other, deliberating. Mere mortals would not talk to them like that. They hesitated before giving in.
”You may enter, our Princess. ”
As Nimuel and Aelanor entered, the white gates closed behind them. They paused for a while, taking in their surroundings.
The Eternal Utopia was bathed in a misty blue light, built on the far side of the hill. The capital city of Morcoa was built on the slopes, sparkling, silver buildings reflecting the mild winter sun. Giant strings of ivy and mistletoe hung around the buildings, and sparkled like thousands of fairy lights strung down. Fountains and statues of great wars adored the city. It was a mortals dream.
”I never thought I would live to see this place again, ” Aelanor breathed.
”Everything looks the same, Aelanor. Its astonishing to think that all these is diseased, and that Death lurks somewhere in the nooks of this place. ”
”Somewhere, or perhaps, everywhere. ”
The distance to the palace was only a few hours by foot, but on the steeds, they reached there in half an hour. Aelanor looked up as her home became visible for the first time in years.
The palace was grand, and mesmerizing to look at. Huge, shiny diamonds encrusted the structure that was built of white marble, and rippling air gave it a misty quality. There was magic infused with the wind surrounding the palace, and thousands and thousands of flowers hung around it. Four towers and hundreds of turrets made it impossible to see the sun, but its warmth could be felt in every tiny blossom in the palace. It was a breathtaking sight.
There was a white dove waiting for them on the white marble fountain in the front. It flew towards Nimuel as they approached.
”Cugu! How did you know we would be arriving this early? ” she gave a shrill cry of joy.
”My messengers told me, ” came a voice that the Female could not have mistaken, ”and she is a clever bird, carrying messages back and forth, isn she? ”
King Naemar walked out of The Diamond Palace, his head held high with incredible pride, his mouth stretched in a sneer, gloating at the defeat of his daughter who was at last, back to The Eternal Utopia.
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