Heavy wooden doors stretched to the height of the tall evergreens surrounding it, built into the enormous castle.
The handles, made of the same rich creamy wood, were crafted into the shape of curling leaves,
attached to a network of branches twirling and spreading into life sized depiction of an old crooked tree. The castle was enormous spanning the length of 20 city blocks.
But despite the enormity of the building, the forest that it was built in, seemed to swallow it whole, the canopy of the gargantuan fir trees loomed over its highest turrets and towers.
Ferns the size people grew from the wet black soil. Scattered along the path were large pine needles and cones.
The wet musky smell of the forest was filled with the plumes of smoke which escaped from the chimneys of the castle. Misty and smokey and soggy.
The forest path came to an abrupt halt at the gates of the castle, made of dark grey stone. Fog wound its way through the bars. A figure stood just outside the gates.
His breath curled in the crisp morning air. A tanned callused hand reached out to grip one of the bars, long fingers wrapped around it.
He bowed his head and the gate seemed to breath in his essence. As if answer to some question the gate slowly and silently, opened.
The man stood facing the entrance of the castle, and drew off his hood, revealing dark curls, gathered and laced with some organic fiber,
with feathers and small stones braided around his pointed ears.
Sharp blue eyes surveyed the stone pathway, at the center of which sat a courtyard and a gurgling water feature made of mossy boulders and large ferns.
The castle seemed to let out a groan, as the massive wooden doors were pushed open. Standing at the entrance was a tall skeletal woman.
A long grey braid, similarly adorned with feathers and stones, swung over her shoulder. Atop her head sat a wooden crown, engraved with the pattern of curling ivy.
Her slim pointed ears were encased in a decorative silver. She wore a cloak of such deep violet that it looked inky.
She stood for a moment, and though she looked frail, her stance was elegant and powerful.
She began to walk slowly down the stone steps, her long fingers clasped behind her back, her sharp chin facing the grey sky.
The man waited at the gate entrance, and when she came near he bowed his head. Though he stood taller than the woman, she seemed to loom over him.
"Your highness," said the man in a deep musical voice. he deepened his bow.
"Late," was all the woman said in a sharp regal tone. The man, gazed downwards at the stone path, but his mouth twitched upward into a half smirk.
With a swish of her cloak and a sweep of her long braid, she turned on her heel and made her way back up the castle steps. But not before he saw a gleam in her eye. She had missed him.
He followed her up the steps and into the castle. Warmth wrapped itself around him, and he felt relaxation take hold. It had been months since he had come home.
Hanging from the high ceiling were hundreds of slowly burning lanterns, which bathed the hall in a warm golden light.
The floor to ceiling windows, boarded in the same winding wooden leaf pattern as the front doors, let in the watery morning light of the forest.
Morning sounded through the halls, the clanging of pots and pans from the kitchen, preparing breakfast. Servants lit hearths and lanterns.
Others barreled down the halls with carts of equipment; axes for cutting wood, wax and brushes, fruit and pelts.
As they passed by the tittering morning activity, they bowed there heads and murmured "your highness," and "welcome home, prince."
They walked into a large room at the end of the main hall with floor to ceiling windows on all side.
The backside of the castle sat on the edge of a cliff which faced the ocean, the large round room dangled over the edge of the cliff, giving the feeling that it was floating.
In the center of the large room, decorated in greens and browns, was a large round table.
As the two figures entered the room, six of the seven figures rose to their feet, and bowed their heads. "Your majesty," their voices filled with devout loyalty.
The man still sitting, was large and muscled, his beard which reached the center of his barreled chest was well manicured,
and decorative feathers and stones were braided artfully into the grey hairs. His pointed ears, encased in silver, gleamed under the lantern lights.
Atop his braided hair sat a crown, twin to the tall woman's made of intertwining wood depicting tangled leaves and holly.
A deep rumbling chuckle rose from his chest and his blue eyes glinted as he surveyed the man standing next to his wife.
"Gavriel," he bellowed, "my son"
"Father," bowed the young man, who's name was Gavriel. The two men, young and old grinned at one another. The man stood heavily and strode across the room to embrace his son.
The six figures, three men and three women still stood around the table, fondly watching the reunion of their King and his son.
The King led his son to an open chair across the table from him, and the queen came to sit beside the King.
"Sit," said the king, "Now that we are all here,"
Gavriel looked around, it felt strange, coming home, like walking into another universe. In some ways that was exactly what it was.
Kira, sat two seats from him, she focused on the King, her dark hair, catching the morning light streaming in through the windows.
From his periphery he noticed her try not to look at him, he turned to meet her hazel eyes and her pale face turned tomato red.
He grinned down at the table.
The King clasped his fingers and rested them on the table.
He turned to face the regal crowed woman to his left,
"Queen Raveena and I have gathered the most important members of our court to discuss a serious matter" He clasped her delicate fingers in his own. Gavriel studied his parents.
They were opposites, his fathers face was generally split into an enormous grin and was quick to laugh. The only smiles his mother showed were tentative, timid.
Her face now was tight to the king's gentleness. This made them the perfect pair to rule.
Then the queen spoke, "The forest," She said, in a trembling voice that she had never spoken in, "is dying." Gavriel's chest tightened and panic rose up within him.
"But my queen," said a tall dark skinned man with shorn black hair, Loran, treasurer to the court. "What does it mean?" All the faces around the table were grim, panic shone in their eyes.
"The trees," Said the Queen Raveena, "They whisper..." her voice cracked, "of a darkness" Gavriel looked away, unable to bear his Mother breaking.
"What sort of darkness your majesty?" Whispered a short bald man, with round spectacles, Hordan, the court's secretary.
"It sweeps across the soil. It sucks the life from the sprouts and ferns, dark as a hungry void, intent on swallowing up the green and the good."
"A dark magic?" Asked Tenila, her hair the color of coffee, her skin the color of cream, her eye brows knit together as she tried to puzzle it out.
Tenila was the courts mathematician and chemist. She studied the elements and how the wound together with energy and magic and stars.
Gavriel was unhearing, the sounds muddled as the queen continued to describe the dark magic, slowly consuming the forest.
He was born of the forest, the whisper of its magic flowed in his veins, the song of the crows, the steady growth of the fungi, the spread of the moss over tree trunks.
The sugars that seeped from the maples. The waterfalls trickling down stones and soil. He was heir to the forest itself, the threat to its life, was a threat to his own, to his family.
His focus, like a knife, sliced back to the conversation. He had yet to speak, his families court ashen and panicked.
"What must be done, My Queen?" He asked with quiet conviction. All eyes fixed on his face, "I will do whatever it takes."
"I know of a volume, within it are all the histories of this land.
I remember," Tenila said, her eyebrows furiously knitting together, "I remember reading about such a thing within the pages of this book"
Tenila stood, bowing her head to the King and Queen and without another word went to retrieve the volume.
There was a pregnant silence while they all waited for Tenila to return, the soft caw of the Ravens, the creak of the evergreens slowing swaying through the misty morning.
Gavriel felt fear wrap its sharp claws around his gut as he contemplated the threat to his home, his family, his court.
Tenila entered the room with a sweep of her brown scholars cloak. Narrow spectacles rested on her shape nose and pointed ears.
The large leather bound volume was engraved with the insignia of the Elven Court of the Forest. The same gnarled tree which sprawled on the double door of the castle.
"A Histrory of Elan," Said Tenila, Elan was the name of their sacred forest. She Flipped fervently through the heavy browned pages, clearly searching for something specific.
Her face fell as she found whatever she was looking for. Then she began to read.