The Secret of the Forest - A Thranduil Romance

On the Edge of Darkness

A picture of disaster and utter misery unfolded itself before Thranduil as he laid eyes on the city burnt to ashes by the dragon’s wrath. It was not something that was new to him, but it ripped open old wounds, scars stinging anew at the sight of death on heated wings, visions resurfacing of the darker days that had brought upon him the fire, the flames branding his skin forever. Images he wished to keep under lock and key were rekindled in his mind, resurfacing from the murky waters of the bottomless pool of his memories, brewing within him their venomous concoction of anguish and helplessness.

Every step closer to the ruined city of Esgaroth was a step further into his own disastrous fires of hell. Bodies burnt to death alive, every inch of skin on fire, flesh melting away beneath the sizzling heat, limbs a blazing torch of scorching heat, the nauseating smell of burnt flesh filling his lungs.

A moment of hesitation, a blink of an eye that had kept him stunned and frozen in the red heat flickering before his eyes, one little moment that had meant everything and destroyed everything he had.

“Angoroth,” the word had fallen from Elhadron’s mouth like a hammer on an anvil, ominous and heavy with the foreboding of doom as the elvish warriors had faced the horrid creature in the desolate valley overshadowed by the stronghold of Gundabad.

Distinctly outlined against the gloomy sky there loomed a massive creature with scales of matted grey, like an armour forged of iron, leathery wings with pointed claws, sharp like razors, a worm so terrible it instilled fear in anybody who had the misfortune to stand in its way. Eyes like flames, piercing and red like thick drops of blood with speckles of jet black and jaws with rows upon rows of teeth like knifes had greeted Thranduil and his companions on that fateful day so long ago.

Wisps of smoke hung thick and heavy beneath the cloud covered sky, leaving the ghostly silhouette of the massive fort nearly shrouded, only the occasional sharp edge poking through the grey veil bestowing on it an eerie and frightful look.

The beast crawled forth with remarkable speed and swift movement despite its colossal body, wriggling its way out of the orc’s lair, the fortress of Gundabad, and barring the entrance with stubborn pride. It reared its forbidding head covered in innumerable spikes, towering like a dark pinnacle of iron in front of Thranduil in his gleaming black armour and his warriors all clad in brown and dark green, their oval shaped shields raised in protection of their king. Elhadron had taken a stance right beside Thranduil, being his closest advisor and most trusted warrior. Dark haired and nearly as tall as the king himself his bearing was proud, his face stern and sombre grey eyes under furrowed brows conveying caution and prudence.

“My lord, we must not allow this beast to ensnare us with the seductive and malicious words it surely will be throwing at us.”

Elhadron had been an ever prescient counsellor, one of the few that had argued against setting out for Erebor to collect the necklace the dwarves had fashioned for Thranduil, seeing as the queen had shown some inexplicable concern over Thranduil’s plans.

But now, facing the evil creature, Thranduil only nodded quietly in assurance, his eyes never leaving the dragon and his face a fierce mask of self-control, an impenetrable shield of defence, should the dragon dare to raise its gravelly voice.

As indeed, it did. Words that he would never forget.

“So, my King,” the dragon spat at Thranduil in a mocking tone, malevolent, twisted and with a deep rumbling that seemed to come straight from the foundations of Arda.

“I see that you have finally come to look for your Queen.” Small wisps of smoke emerged from his nostrils as he leered at Thranduil before him. “What took you so long?”

His voice emerged like a venomous cloud of hot air from the gorges of his foul-smelling throat enveloping the Elvenking and his warriors in repulsive stench.

Thranduil only countered with determined silence, prepared to withstand this abhorrent creature and the destructive powers its voice alone possessed.

Wicked twisters of words with malicious intent were all the drakes and this one was no different, a spawn of Glaurung, the first of all the dragons, born from fire and sorcery in the shrouded beginnings of the First Age.

But this would not do, no one could stand before the mighty Angoroth in silence. Fangs bared, his contorted face a travesty of polite manners he lowered his appalling head, worming his sluggish belly closer to the elves, who bravely stood their ground, their widened eyes the only thing that might have given away the terror this creature instilled in them.

“Answer me, Elf, or have they not taught you how to speak?” His voice rang like the grinding of metal against stone through the shadowed valley around them.

“What is it you want from me, Angoroth? I do have business to attend to, if you do not mind.” Thranduil spoke at last, his voice firm, as he faced the giant snake with reckless defiance. “And you are standing in my way.”

“Now you are all but forgetting your nice manners, King of the Woodland Realm as you like to call yourself, you are in no position to utter commands nor expecting them to be met with obedience. You have no power here.”

Beginning to feel his superiority being undermined Angoroth was going to shoot an arrow straight at the king, taking a mischievous pleasure in knowing the exact whereabouts of his vulnerable spot.

“Let us no forget that it is you who wants something from me. Something that has been taken from you and you dearly wish to reclaim.”

The dragon leaned so close that the stench of his hot breath forced Thranduil to momentarily avert his face, his eyes now drawn to the razor sharp claws crushing the already crumbling rock beneath it, as the beast stomped its way closer towards the intruders, tail slithering behind him and raising dust in thick grey clouds about him.

“Is it not so?” the dragon insisted, sensing a trace of hesitation in Thranduil’s answer.

“I will not justify myself to a servant of evil who thinks he has a right to withhold something of mine. There will be no negotiations,” Thranduil hissed through gritted teeth with barely banked contempt, his hands determinedly sliding down along his sides until he had wrapped his fingers around the hilts of his swords.

“Now move aside, worm, before I will cleave your hideous head in two. And make no mistake, I will not hesitate to use my blades on you should the need arise.”

Following suit his warriors dutifully reached for their hilts, swords still sheathed but ready to draw them at any given moment at their king’s command, the threat of an impending attack looming like heavy storm clouds over their heads with every heated word being thrown in between the king and the beast.

Red orbs like molten metal glowered at Thranduil as the dragon trampled the ground before them, gravel crunching under the immense weight like bones being crushed and sending waves of dread throughout the rumbling ground beneath it. Anger had begun to boil in within the wicked creature bringing with it the onset of flames, the bellows of its torso expanding dangerously and revealing speckles of orange beneath the matted grey scales as its lungs began to fill with the deadly heat.

Caged inside its mighty body it remained though; for now.

Cunning as he was, the dragon was going to feed them but a foretaste of his lethal power, knowing that this was usually intimidating enough to inspire every living soul with awe and terror.

But he had reckoned without Thranduil’s unyielding perseverance, the dragon’s pretentious menace simply recoiling from the king’s shield of willpower.

“Do not think that you will intimidate me with this meagre display of fireworks you may have in store in your foul belly. I will take back what is mine!”

Thranduil’s gaze of starlight clashed against the one of flames as both held their ground and none would yield.

But it was clear that Angoroth would not simply step aside and allow them to walk out with the Queen. This had been only the foreplay, insignificant banter, and despite his stern appearance dread had begun to creep into Thranduil’s heart, fearing that the dragon was only trying to play for time, holding the elves back and giving the orcs enough time to fend off the impending attack, their chances of finding his wife alive dwindling by the minute. They were wasting their time with this skirmish!

Thranduil had only brought a small company with him, hastily selected his most trusted warriors, when he had learned that his wife had been abducted in his absence. Seeing the dragon now before him and imagining the orcish force that possibly lay hidden within the dark walls of Gundabad it began to dawn on him that all this had been a cleverly hatched plot to lure him into a trap.

The dragon’s fell voice shook him out of his gloomy thoughts, cutting through the stifling air with venom:

“We will see about that. But first tell me, Elvenking, how did it come to pass that your wife has been taken from you in the first place? Why were you not there to protect her?” Angoroth aimed another blow at the still unwavering king.

“Where were you?” Every word dripping with barely veiled accusation hit Thranduil with painful precision.

Pressing his lips together Thranduil threw the dragon a lethal glare, his fingers tightening considerably around the hilt of both of his elven swords, their silver blades gleaming orange as the dragon leered at him, jaws open and the onset of caged flames boiling in the bottomless pit of the animal’s throat.

“I would advise you to crawl back into your filthy lair of eternal darkness if you do not wish to die a gruesome death.”

Thranduil’s lower lip trembled at the dragon’s accusations, guilt rearing in the depths of his heart. Guilt at having gone to Erebor despite his wife asking him not to go. Guilt that had begun to gnaw at him and had dug its way into the very corners of his soul and had threatened to break down his iron-willed restraint.

“What were you doing in Erebor, Lord Thranduil, when your place was at your wife’s side? Are gems more precious to you than your wife?” he prodded again, twisting the knife in Thranduil’s wound.

“You had no right, no right at all to take her away!” it finally broke through the dam of his composure, his blue eyes glinting with hatred and filled to the brim with loathing. Thranduil unsheathed one of his swords in a swift motion, brandishing the gleaming blade at the grimace in front of him. Sensing the impending danger, Elhadron shuffled closer, readying his sword and shield should the need arise to protect his king.

“My lord, it is no use arguing with this offspring of evil. There is only one language they understand.”

He beseeched him to not let himself be drawn out, fearing that the dragon’s strategy was precisely that, the king under the influence of the abduction of his wife being more vulnerable than the usual. “Let us finish him off once and for all, so he might never again open his malicious mouth.”

But Thranduil did not move, his eye still fixed on the beast in front of them, his heart desperately struggling to hold on to the last fragments of calmness that had not yet been burnt down by the heat of Angoroth’s words.

Angoroth’s twisted face shone with satisfaction, seeing how he would slowly be able to break down Thranduil’s reserve, step by step bringing the Elvenking down until he would be a crumbling mess, a shadow of his regal self and an easy target for his fiery breath. Then he would go for the kill. But in the meantime he had all the time in Arda to toy with him and torture him, letting him feel that he was no king in this realm of darkness.

“Oh, but I did not take her. I am the one keeping her. The orcs did the dirty work for me. And let me tell you, they were very eager to bring your pretty wife to me. They barely could keep their filthy hands off her.”

Glinting with malice the dragon paraded in front of them, his leathery wings now halfway unfolded to add more grandeur to his menacing appearance.

“Enough, you evil spawn of Morgoth!” Thranduil spat, his whole body burning with the desire for vengeance. “You shall say no more and your twisted mouth will forever be silenced!”

Thranduil raised his sword higher, blade glinting dimly beneath the dull grey sky, the gaze of fire and ice locked in a merciless struggle for power.

A wide swing and a swift stroke, silver hitting iron in a deafening clang, heat and smoke filling the air and through it all Thranduil’s cry as he ferociously dealt a targeted blow at the animal’s chest rearing up before him. And then a feral shriek of pain, wailing and ear-splitting in its thunderous blast echoed through the valley.

Tumbling backwards and maddened by the unexpected stabbing Angoroth’s vengeance came swift and devastating.

Shields were raised and swords were drawn, a row of silver spears, elegant curves facing the armoured mountain of rough scales, grey and coarse. Elhadron urged Thranduil to take cover behind the shield he offered, but the king listened not, his body frozen in motion, the force of his own stroke dragging his arm down, the sharp edge of his blade grinding heavily against the gravel beneath him.

“My lord, you must protect yourself!” Elhadron’s voice rang desperately through the rising mayhem.

And then a singular flame burst forth and in the blink of an eye infernal chaos struck, scorching heat hitting Thranduil right in the face and searing pain rushing through his veins, and then he was pushed to the ground by a body bursting in flames, throwing himself in between Thranduil and the dragon.

An outcry of pain died in his throat as the breath was knocked from his lungs by the sheer force of the blazing torrent engulfing him, skin melting off his bones and his left eye going suddenly blind, a grey veil of darkness descending on him as he fell into the shadows.

And for a moment he lost all consciousness. He felt his fae tearing away from his rhaw, pulling, yearning for release, wishing to be freed from this incredible pain. It teetered on the edge, wavering on the brink of death. Hovering over the abyss of darkness like a feather at the mercy of the wayward gusts of a winter wind, the sweet promise of oblivion reaching out seductively for him. He only had to let go and be free of all the suffering. Only a fragile bond was still holding him together and keeping him from tearing apart.

Soon he would not have the strength to fight anymore. All was lost.

But this had not been the end. It had been only the beginning.

“My lord?” Amardir’s voice tore Thranduil from the iron grip of his memories, but only slowly he resurfaced from the fires of his past and when his eyes met Amardir’s the remnants of terror still shone through their crystal blue.

“Is everything all right?” the concerned words of Amardir yanked Thranduil finally back to the present and he realised that he had been gradually slowing down his pace until his elk had abruptly stopped in its tracks and his entire company behind him had come to a halt along the banks of the Long Lake. He nodded slowly, a dark gloom shadowing his face.

“Underestimating the impact of a dragon’s wrath is an imprudent mistake. I was foolish enough to do so once and paid a high price for it.”

“So did my father,” Amardir added grimly.

“Your father was the bravest and most valiant of all my warriors and much could have been different if I had but listened to his words. But alas, I was blinded and his wisdom had gone unheeded.” His gaze drifted off into the distance.

An air of surprise dawned on Amardir’s face at this unexpected rueful revelation, but no words passed his lips. Thranduil now faced Amardir directly, his eyes streaked with sorrow and regret.

“I know that none of these words can bring him back, for he has travelled to the Halls of Mandos, but rest assured that not a day goes by where I do not lament his passing and the feeling of guilt has not left me ever since.”

Amardir acknowledged the king’s words with a solemn nod, but it was Faeldir, who had now caught up with his brother, that spoke.

“Thank you, my lord, for these words. They mean more to my brother and me than you can possibly imagine.” He raised his hand to his heart and gratefulness lit up his face. Thranduil mirrored his gesture and bestowed a small smile on the young elf.

Suddenly made aware of the impact the sight of destruction might have on Faeldir, Thranduil quickly sought to dispel any possible concerns:

“I know that what you see here before you might frighten you, but do not despair, the dragon is forever gone and will do no more harm now that he is resting in his eternal grave at the bottom of this lake.”

Faeldir’s eyes roamed over the pitiful sight expanding before him. “I do have to admit that I did not quite expect this.” He underlined his words with a sweeping gesture of his arms. “After all I only have heard tales of those fiery beasts and now I have to say that I am quite relieved that we will not have to face one of them.”

“Indeed we luckily will not have to preoccupy ourselves with dragons.” Fully returning to his usual calm self he geared Faeldir’s thoughts towards a more practical side. “We must now direct our efforts to help those that have survived the dragon’s fire and are in dire need of food and shelter.”

Indeed, the fire was gone and so was much of the smoke, but what remained of the disaster was heart-wrenching nonetheless.

The Long Lake was still heavily littered with burnt wood, silent witnesses of the wanton destruction that had befallen Esgaroth just a few days past, half drowned and sticking out in awkward angles and shapes from the murky waters. In between there were barrels floating amongst abandoned belongings and scattered dead bodies, burnt beyond recognition, soon to be swallowed by the dark waters of the lake and sharing their grave with the dragon, cold and forever deprived of his deadly fire.

Great was the joy and relief among the people of Lake-town upon the arrival of Thranduil and his army as hunger and thirst would now be quenched and many helping hands would speed up the necessary preparations against the harshness of winter and to save what little could be saved from the place they once called home. Plans were quickly made and Bard who had taken over the lead after the Master’s not so heroic disappearance proved to be an apt leader. Goods were distributed, camps were made, and those that could not fight stayed behind, helping to rebuild what needed to be reconstructed.

Thranduil was willing to put the fate of the people of Lake-town before his own desire to reclaim his wife’s necklace. Still, he wished to make haste, for he feared that the longer they tarried the more obstacles they might find on their way. And even more he feared the ever lingering shadow making an unannounced entrance and descending on all of them, his people and the men of Lake-town.

So he welcomed Bard’s offer to join forces and march towards the Mountain together. For the bowman too was hoping for a share in the fabled treasures of Erebor, demanding amends for their losses, which he attributed to the dwarves’ waking of the dragon.

And in a few days time the elvish host made their way together with the men of the Lake, the green and the blue banners waving side by side in the soft breeze, carrion birds as their ever faithful companions in hope of battle and slaughter.

Their way to Dale was swift and undisturbed as they moved at a quick pace, geared towards making camp in the abandoned ruins of the once mighty city before the valley that led to the entrance to the Mountain, the bleak wastelands. Under the cover of dusk they approached the city along both banks of the river, swiftly establishing their camp during the hours where the twilight slowly melted into the jet black night, until finally many fires and torches illuminated the crumbling walls and desolate towers of Dale.

That night, as Thranduil directed his eyes towards the mountain he could not help but be reminded of what it held inside; or rather what it withheld and Elhadron’s cautionary words of reasoning resounded in his head, his wife’s imploring pleas a painful overtone and the dragon’s malevolent accusations the relentless beat of doom, all forming a reproachful elegy of guilt, ready to drown out every other reasonable cadence in his mind.

Was he indeed treading his old path of delusion again? Was he walking away from what really mattered?

The worries that he carried in his heart had been his loyal companions ever since he set out for Erebor and the longer he remained away from the palace the harder he had to work to keep them under control.

The birds were his trusted messengers and ever tirelessly they flew back and forth between the Elvenking’s halls and the king himself. They spoke of Anna’s struggle to be patient, of her doubts and how much she feared for his life. Nothing of it did anything to appease Thranduil, but rather increased his own concerns and his feeling of restlessness, being torn in between the rigorous voice of duty and the gentle whispers of his heart.

He pulled the curtains shut with a frustrated sigh, forcing the looming silhouette of the dwarvish stronghold from his eyes and his mind, hoping to be able to occupy himself with other things, like laying out a strategic plan as to how to approach the Mountain. Now that they had seen the braziers lit and their flames illuminating the heavy darkness it was clear that the dwarves, or at least some of them, must have survived indeed. So it would not be as easy as walking up to the Mountain, collect the necklace and whatever other treasures might catch his eye and head back for his palace. It rather looked like the dwarves had prepared themselves to stay and sit on that pile of gold they had newly wrenched from that accursed dragon and knowing the stubbornness of dwarves just all too well, their force, albeit small in numbers, was one to be reckoned with. And who knew, they might have even some hidden allies marching towards the mountain to join them. After all, though the dwarves might fight amongst themselves, they were still remarkably loyal, even he could not deny that, and might surprise his elven host and the people of Lake-town with renewed forces withstanding them. When it got to defend dwarvish possessions against intruders of any other kind, they were not squeamish as to against whom they would raise their heavy battle-axes.

With a lazy pull of his fingers he adjusted his robe that had slid down his shoulders and turned towards the small round table to reach out for the decanter, pouring himself some wine, hoping that this would take his mind off all those worries pestering him.

But he had reckoned without the wizard, whose unmistakable droning voice was suddenly to be heard just outside the tent. Apparently he was having an argument with Thranduil’s guards who had orders not to let anyone in, as the king had given clear instructions to be left alone.

“But I am Mithrandir, surely the king will make an exception.” When there was only a politely uttered “No exceptions,” heard from the guards, the voice took on a more urgent tone. “Tell Thranduil that I come with tidings of utmost importance,” quickly adding, “No, and it cannot wait until tomorrow.”

He knew it already, the wizard and his insistence. In within seconds, one of his guards would pull the curtain apart, and with an embarrassed look on his face inform Thranduil that this old man would just not be palmed off with any type of argument, blatantly refusing to leave until he would get his audience with the king granted.

A barely stifled sigh escaped Thranduil as he saw himself confronted once more with a possible moralising lecture by the ever nosy wizard. He knew all about it, he must have heard it a million times since the arrival of the Istari in Middle-earth. Ever on the side of Men, who had taken up meddling in affaires that did not concern them, the wizards had been around watching out for them, guiding them. More likely protecting them in an overly friendly way, Thranduil thought to himself sourly. Not that he did not value his opinion or advice, but he could not have chosen a more unsuitable moment to divulge whatever he had on his mind.

But there was nothing for it. If he had to face the inevitable, it was best to get it over with, he told himself as he took another measured sip of wine.

“Tell Mithrandir to come in already. I know that he will not take no for an answer.” Thranduil’s voice stifled the guard’s question before he was even able to utter one syllable. The king had not even turned around, but sure enough the preoccupied face of the guard had appeared in between the folds of the curtain. He stood with his mouth open, swallowing his now obsolete question and instead shuffled obediently aside to usher the wizard inside.

His shoulders sinking just imperceptibly, Thranduil put down his goblet, his bejewelled fingers letting go reluctantly of the smooth metal and then with one graceful twist he turned around, his heavy cloak of silvery grey elegantly flowing about his shoulders, the inner folds cascading around his lean shape in deepest burgundy, his whole figure a picture of effortless elegance.

“Mithrandir,” Thranduil addressed the old man with only the slightest inclination of his head. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your unannounced visit?” leaving no doubt in his voice that he did not deem it just as pleasurable as the words might let on.

Through the heavy curtains entered an old man bent over his staff, a coarse and weatherbeaten grey travel cloak slung loosely around his shoulders, his long grey beard streaked with strands of white as bushy as his long hair, his good-natured face as wrinkled as a crumpled piece of parchment, a jovial smile shining through the tangled mess of his beard and keen blue eyes twinkling with a humorous glint. The only thing missing from his usual apparel was his pointy hat, which he had handed to the slightly confused elf guard beside him upon entering the tent.

Nothing of his rather ragged appearance revealed the actual power hidden in within this cloaked figure, for the wizard travelled always in an unassuming way, blending in with his surroundings, not instilling fear, but rather appearing as a wise counsellor, the well-being of Middle-earth his main concern. Only the unobtrusive blinking of a distinct elongated silver shape beneath his cloak spoke of the existence of a sharp blade, which the old man knew how to wield with surprising efficiency.

“King Thranduil,” Gandalf exclaimed, gallantly ignoring the slightly hostile tone in Thranduil’s voice, “the pleasure is all mine. I do not wish to take up much of your time and I promise you to keep it short.”

Gandalf’s apologetic nod was met by a slight frown on Thranduil’s side, clearly conveying that he harboured serious doubts concerning the wizard’s ability of keeping his speech crisp.

“I have come with counsel,” Gandalf carried on undeterred. “And I do need to warn you. I have been to Dol Guldur.”

Thranduil raised an eyebrow in curiosity: “Indeed you have?” followed by a questioning look directed at the old man. Seeing as he had now the king’s full attention, Gandalf went ahead to detail his unsettling discoveries.

“The enemy has not been idle. The shadow has slept long enough. It is now preparing to spread its evil darkness once again over the lands of Middle-earth. The dragon might be dead, but the malice is not. I have seen it. Sauron has risen again. He has fled to Mordor to bid his time, but it will not be long until he will show his full force.”

Thranduil narrowed his eyes, throwing Gandalf a scrutinising look. “How can you be so sure of that?”

“First: I have seen it with my own eyes and second,” he shrugged slightly and added in the most matter-of-fact voice, “I am a wizard after all, I know things.”

With a stiff nod Thranduil retorted “Be that as it may, I am only here to reclaim something of mine. I do not wish to get caught up in another war if I can help it.”

“But you must know that the war will seek you out even in your own kingdom. You will not be able to evade the all-consuming shadow that comes with it. And let me tell you, Sauron and his orc armies are preparing for a strike. I do not think that you will be able to simply walk away with that heirloom you wish to reclaim. You must ready yourself for a possible battle, and it will not be the dwarves you will have to worry about, but a much fiercer and evil foe, only death and destruction on their dark and twisted minds.”

Gandalf’s voice had taken on an imploring tone, hoping to have conveyed to Thranduil the importance of his discovery, knowing that despite his isolationist tendencies Thranduil remained a wise and prudent monarch, filled with an equal amount of courage and bitter hatred of Sauron’s terror.

For a moment Thranduil seemed to consider Gandalf’s revelations and the aggrieving prospect of merciless slaughter that came with them, should the wizard’s assumptions indeed be proven truthful. And if he was completely honest to himself he did not have any reason to doubt the wizard, for he himself had surmised that it was just a matter of time until Sauron would show his face of malice once again.

“Very well,” Thranduil said at last after a moment of pondering silence, the wizard and the Elvenking exchanging wordless glances, “I will heed your counsel, but still, I do not wish to spill unnecessary elvish blood. We must not jump to hasty conclusions.”

Gandalf nodded, sufficiently satisfied with this outcome. “Yes, of course.” He adjusted his cloak as he prepared himself to go. “I am glad to have found a sympathetic ear and as I have promised I shall not take up more of your time and will be on my way now.”

Thranduil bade the wizard farewell, a distinct shadow of preoccupation clouding the king’s face.

Gandalf’s determined motion to reach out for the curtain was interrupted by another thought crossing his mind as he turned again to face Thranduil addressing him in a casual tone.

“By the way, I heard that you have a visitor in your palace.”

Thranduil’s eyes narrowed instantly and he retorted rather harsher than what he had intended:

“And what would you know of that?”

For once Thranduil was not able to contain his surprise. He just blankly stared at the wizard, a small smile dawning on the old man’s face, barely visible behind the tangled grey mess that was his beard, as if it were the most obvious thing for a wizard to have knowledge of even the smallest and seemingly most insignificant happenings in Middle-earth.

But it took Thranduil only an instant to ease back into his usual composed self, his mind set on regaining the upper hand in this conversation, his face a perfect display of languid arrogance.

“Yes, don’t tell me: you are a wizard and you know things,” the sarcasm in his voice only barely contained.

With a humble nod Gandalf sought to downplay the true powers that had been vested in him as guardian of Middle-earth.

“It is far from my mind to meddle in your private affairs, but I do have to admit that this rather astounding appearance has raised my curiosity.”

Thranduil’s jaw had tightened, his lips pressed together, feeling torn in between wanting to keep the wizard out of his personal space and at the same time craving the answers he had been searching for.

“Astounding in what aspect?” he said with as much indifference as possible, his fingers absentmindedly gliding along the seam of his cloak.

Gandalf wrapped both of his hands around his staff and with an assessing glance from under his bushy eyebrows he said:

“You know very well that those occurrences are a rare thing to happen. Only in times of great need the veil in between the worlds becomes translucent, allowing for a passage that otherwise would be prohibited by the firm laws of time and space.”

He paused, studying Thranduil’s face, his emotions well concealed behind his stoic and aloof facade.

“Meaning what?” There was an undeniable strain in the Elvenking’s voice.

“Meaning that it is remarkable, you have to admit. Because only a great amount of despair can move the celestial powers to pity,” the wizard continued. “That, and love.”

Thranduil raised an eyebrow, a nearly imperceptible twitch around his lips the only thing revealing the effort it cost him to keep his bucking emotions tightly bound inside his chest, as they were struggling to wrest themselves free from their prison of guilt and self-denial.

“And what would you know of love?” he said quietly, his eyes alone unveiling with painful clarity the inseparable embrace of love and loss that held his heart in a tight grip.

“More than you think. Love is powerful and not to be underestimated.” There was sincere empathy in his sky blue eyes as Gandalf took one step closer to Thranduil. “I am sure that beneath those layers of ice you have cultivated around your heart, the memory of it still resides within it like a flame that is waiting to be rekindled.”

Still Thranduil maintained his composed facade. “And why would you concern yourself with my wellbeing?”

“Why should I not? You are a wise ruler and rather dear to me even if that feeling may not be mutual. If you want me to put it in one word: forgiveness. That is what you need, what your heart needs.”

Thranduil watched with disbelief as the wizard’s words reached into the depths of his soul where he thought his deepest fears and wishes well hidden from the world and if he was honest, even from himself.

“I do not think that I need your advice in those matters,” he brushed Gandalf off rather defensively.

“I beg to differ, but you do. You had your fair share of mistakes and losses in the past, though not all of them were of your doing. You cannot blame yourself for everything that happened.”

His keen eyes looked at Thranduil with a warmth he usually would not bestow on the proud Elvenking.

“Now is your chance to make up for them. Take the right decisions and bear in mind one more thing.”

Gandalf gently laid one hand on Thranduil’s shoulder in an almost fatherly gesture.

“Do not be afraid to listen to your heart. You know that those gems have led you astray already once. It would not be wise to give in to a false desire for lifeless jewels when you might be leaving behind another blossoming treasure.”

For a fraction of a second all the pain that resided within Thranduil’s heart floated to the surface, threatening to spill out in words that he wished to say, but could not; at least not yet and not here. He closed his eyes for a moment to compose himself, tugging back his emotions behind the well rehearsed veil of indifference.

“I do value your concern, but I need to do what I must. There is no other choice, not for me.”

Gandalf retreated his hand, knowing that he must not push this subject any further.

“Yes, I understand. But know that indeed there is always more than only one choice. You just have to be willing to open your eyes to them.”

And with those rather cryptic words and a poignant glare the wizard bade Thranduil farewell, leaving behind an agitated king.

He felt a sudden urge to see her, make sure she was all right and unharmed. Hearing his trusted messengers was not enough, he needed to see her with his own eyes. He would have to send forth his fae in the guise of his spirit animal, thus, liberated from the boundaries of his own body, being able to overcome the distance that lay in between both of them. Something that he did not do lightly as it left his rhaw more vulnerable, a rift splitting apart what was meant to be whole. But he knew that it was necessary or else the worries newly stirred up by the wizard would consume him eventually.

He allowed his gaze to travel inwards, raised his hands to his heart and momentarily a powerful swirl of light floated through his chest, infinite warmth building up inside him, a glowing torrent flowing steadily through him. Every fibre of his body brimmed over with rays of light, circulating through his veins as he sent forth his spirit through the most delicate web of silver strings woven out of purest starlight surrounding his figure as he remained in a status of trance. His body was completely motionless, as if a spell had been cast on him, allowing his soule to leave his outer shell behind and travel freely throughout space.

Through layers of contorted images and blurred sounds he sped on, never stopping until he found the one place where he could feel her presence, shining like a steadfast beacon in within the stream of incessant colours through which he dived, braving the tumultuous sea that was the mosaic of life, unswervingly following the pull of his heart.

In the Queen’s refuge he finally found her, bent over the pool, just like the day when he had first allowed her a glimpse into his heart, her face shining through the perfect stillness of the surface.

The white light filled the waters, stirring up their calmness and then his eyes found hers.

Her green eyes were wide in disbelief, followed by utter amazement and then her hands stretched out towards him only to pull back hastily before they would touch the surface. He could only listen and watch her through the stag’s eyes, knowing that no words of consolation would reach her ear. But maybe if she saw him, felt his soul reach out to her, then the distance in between them could be reduced to the thin veil of turquoise that mirrored their faces.

When he looked into her eyes he saw her struggle, the demons of doubt that she was fighting, their venomous arrows piercing her heart until her shield of confidence was only a brittle remnant of her steadfast promise to him. The fear of losing him becoming unbearable until every reasonable thought drowned in the dark sea of despair.

He knew that she had already lost one life when she tumbled into his realm and now she was about to lose the new one that she had begun to build. Those tender bonds that had begun to grow in between the most unlikely of people were now threatened to be severed before they had even been granted the chance to reach out to one another. But beneath it all he also saw the unwavering flame of love, burning with unfaltering dedication, longing to fill all those dark corners of her heart with its beautiful light.

Tears fell from her eyes onto the mirror, stirring up the surface and then in the blink of an eye she was gone and Thranduil’s spirit resurfaced from his journey, a rush of light floating through blurred shapes and indistinguishable sounds as his soul was pulled back to be caught by the silvery web until the intense light ebbed away as he became whole again.

He opened his eyes but his gaze remained far away, wishing to linger near her. Her image so vivid, her lovely face so close, but still out of reach, made him painfully conscious of how much he missed her.

He wanted nothing more than to go back, but he knew that he must go forward, hoping that she would still be there for him in the end.

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