A Matter of Loyalty
Icy gusts brought with them the first flurries of snow, donning the barren wasteland a short-lived beautiful blanket of glittering white. The negotiations with the dwarves had been futile, just as Thranduil had expected and now the Mountain lay under siege, a leaden silence burying the whole valley as everyone waited; waited for something to happen. But the idleness was soon to be replaced by a nascent bustle as the respective sides began their preparations for what might lie ahead.
The dwarves would not yield, but Thranduil was still hesitant about going to war, not wanting to give up hope that there could actually be a peaceful solution to all of this. But the prospects did not look too good he had to admit, Bard’s attempt to discuss terms with Thorin Oakenshield only proving once more the obstinate stubbornness the dwarves exhibited. It was exasperating, the dwarves were even worse than the humans when it came to proving that they were right.
So it would most likely boil down to a war, a war in between Elves and Men on one side and Dwarves on the other side. Thranduil did not like the taste of that, not at all. Thorin seemed far too confident, surely he must have something hidden up his sleeve, more likely some dwarvish allies that would come to their aid and give the attackers a hard time. And as if that was not enough to give even an Elvenking a headache there was still the threat of an orcish attack looming overhead, as Mithrandir’s words rang loud and clear in his head.
The Elvenking impatiently drummed his fingers on the armrest of his chair as he pondered these scenarios, all of them equally depressing and dreadful. With an exasperated sigh he rose from his seat, pushing aside his glass of wine like he wished to whisk away the obstacles barring his way to the treasure he so much desired. His eyes were drawn to the gleaming black armour of his as it rested peacefully on its armour stand. Perfectly polished and impeccably shiny, his servants had made sure of it, he almost could see his own reflection on the smooth surface. Surely soon enough that would no longer be the case, he thought to himself bitterly, the harsh reality of the slaughter that meant war would leave its merciless markings on all of their lives. If they were lucky enough to make it through alive.
The wizard had left Thranduil in a considerable state of unrest, not only had he fuelled his own concerns about the possibility of Sauron arising once more. This was a definite threat that had to be taken seriously, but it had not come as a surprise. He had known that this was bound to happen eventually, since the evil spirit could never really be eradicated, only banished and at best kept in check.
The agitation he felt was more due to the unexpected knowledge Mithrandir had displayed about Anna’s existence and the sudden interest, or more likely interference, in his private life. Something he strictly wished to keep exactly that: private. Why on Arda would the wizard even concern himself with this surely insignificant detail? Did he not have more pressing matters to attend to? The way he had simply breached the Elvenking’s tightly knitted confines to lay bare the thorns that had tortured his heart for way too long was as remarkable as it was unsettling. It left him vulnerable and exposed, both things he could not afford and therefore needed to be pushed back into their hidden quarters.
Maybe after this quest, if he got back alive and she was still there, he would find the strength to finally open up his heart to her. In the meantime he had to keep his heart as well as his head in place if he did not want this final attempt to reclaim his wife’s necklace to have been in vain. Failure was not an option for the proud Elvenking.
He tore his eyes away from the armour, hoping to occupy his mind with something less troublesome. But trying to push one worry aside only helped unearthing another one: since their arrival in Lake-town he had been hoping to get a glimpse of his son and Tauriel, but no trace of either of them was to be seen. Their absence fuelled his concerns as much as it augmented his wish for reconciliation.
He should never have sent Legolas on his way with such harsh words. Fear that he might have forever closed the door to his son’s heart had begun to gnaw at his own heart.
It had been an outrage, Tauriel leaving without his consent, going after the dwarves on her own accord. Those dwarves had been a headache from the moment he had them dragged into his halls, causing even more trouble as they left, with Anna as their unaware helper in their bold escape. Mayhem had risen in his palace, the prisoners gone, his head of guard head over heels after them, his son chasing both dwarves and elf guard, and in the midst of it all her unbelievable confession, something that he had not seen coming at all.
Thranduil had thought of himself as knowledgable and blessed with the gift of foresight like so many of his kin, but he had to admit that he had underestimated her stubbornness and what he initially considered blatant thoughtlessness, an opinion he had come to revise after she had laid out her motives. But then again, she was not the only rebellious person in his realm as he had been painfully made aware of when his own son had displayed such incredible insistence in going after Tauriel and on top of it even defended her actions with such ardor, that Thranduil had seen no other way than to order him to bring her back, or else she would be banished. It was the feeling of losing control that caused him such considerable unrest, after all he was the king, he needed to make sure his kingdom would not fall to pieces. And the tighter he held the reins the fiercer was the resistance he met.
Restless were the king’s steps as he paced the confined space of his royal tent, brows furrowed and arms clasped behind his back, his mind caught up in never ending worries, when someone tentatively cleared his throat behind him.
“My lord?” It was he soft spoken voice of Faeldir. “May I have a word with you?”
For once he was glad to have been interrupted in his thoughts, for none of them were pleasant ones. He turned around, the young elf lingering expectantly at the entrance awaiting the king’s answer. As part of Thranduil’s army he had exchanged his usual blue tunic for the mottled green and earth brown one of the Mirkwood soldiers. It made for a pleasant view as it carried within it the deep green of his eyes and golden brown of his hair, the delicate curves of his face subtly enhanced by the flickering light of the torches that illuminated Thranduil’s tent.
Thranduil greeted him with a benevolent smile and bade him to come in with a languid wave of his hand. “Yes, of course.”
With a thankful nod Faeldir followed the king’s invitation and stepped closer, gladly taking the glass of wine offered to him. “Thank you, my lord. I can quite use a sip of wine tonight.”
Thranduil knitted his brow as he noticed a slight shadow of distress darkening the good-natured face of Faeldir. He reached out for his own glass of wine and returned to his ornately carven wooden chair, his cloak bunching around the armrests in abundant waves of deepest burgundy.
“Please have a seat and then do tell me what aggrieves you.”
Faeldir made himself comfortable on a more modest but still lavishly cushioned bench facing the king, drowning his initial nervousness in one big sip of wine.
Thranduil eyed him curiously, hoping strongly that there were not yet more bad tidings waiting to be revealed.
Faeldir gulped down the liquid, still holding on to the glass after he had finished.
“My lord, I know that war may be waiting for us out there and although I am ready to face battle, I do have to admit that it scares me.” Wanting to get ahead of a possible admonition, he added quickly “Please do not think lowly of me, I am most honoured to fight alongside such a great warrior like you my lord, but still,” he hesitated, “I wish that I could be more confident.”
“What exactly is it that lessens your confidence?” Thranduil casually crossed his legs, the lengthy robe parting at his waist and cascading around his thighs in silvery layers.
After a moment of hesitation Faeldir found the courage to speak: “My thoughts are with my father now more than ever. And after having seen the destruction the dragon has brought upon Lake-town, I cannot help but wonder what really happened that day when he died.” The last words left Faeldir’s mouth almost inaudibly. Still, there was resolve in his eyes. “My brother refuses to give me any details, but I think I have a right to know, after all, if I am old enough to go to war I am old enough to learn about his last moments.”
Thranduil looked at the elf before him, the effort it must have cost him to gather up the courage and come to him with such a question was clearly written all over Faeldir’s tense face. But against his usual impulse of brushing off such a request with well chosen but harsh words he only said:
“Very well. It is only a fair request that you should learn of your father and his fate.”
He brought the glass of wine to his lips and watched Faeldir over the rim of it, the expression on the young elf’s face oscillating in between anxious anticipation and humble gratitude.
“Thank you, my lord. You cannot imagine how much this means to me.” The small smile that lifted the corners of his mouth gradually melted away the tension.
Thranduil diligently placed the glass back on the table beside him and folded his hands in his lap, determinedly ignoring the slight tremble in his bejewelled fingers.
Upholding his usual aura of aloofness in the light of what he was about to reveal would require all his self-restraint, but after all, he was the king, he could not allow himself an uncontrolled display of emotions, notwithstanding the disturbing memories he surely would be unearthing. Only an inaudible sigh escaped Thranduil as he began his aggrieving recollections:
“The day we faced the dragon many lives were lost, too many, and your father Elhadron was one of them. But his deeds will never be forgotten.”
A subtle tilt of his head towards Faeldir accompanied those last words.
“Your father was a courageous warrior, never would he have left my side, not even in the moment when death was upon him. Not a trace of fear was in his eyes as the swirling heat filled the air, only the dark shadow of grief, knowing that he would not return, never to see his wife and sons again.”
Faeldir’s eyes widened both in sorrow and awe at these words. Never had he heard the king speak in such a personal manner about his father. The remorse rang through Thranduil’s words as he continued:
“He had advised me not to go to Erebor, but I had set his concerns at naught and when he warned me of the evil effect the dragon’s words would have, I listened not to the one who spoke the truth.”
Thranduil clenched his jaw, his skin numb to the pain as his fingernails dug into his own flesh.
“All I could think of was my wife in the hands of those foul creatures. The fear of losing her had crept into my every thought and clouded my judgement. I was deaf to the words of wisdom and my blind desire for retribution was an ill advisor.”
The words left Thranduil’s mouth only slowly, as guilt laid its iron claws around the Elvenking’s tormented heart.
“Your father was wise enough to see through the evil web the dragon had spun around me, he saw it clearly for what it was: a ruthless trap, carefully laid out to bring me down, break my defence and destroy me. But he could not let that happen, not while there was still a breath of life left inside him.”
Faeldir hung on Thranduil’s every word, shifting to the edge of his seat and his fingers wrapped tightly around the glass of wine as the heroic image of his own father rose in his mind’s eye.
“When my first stroke hit the dragon I was paralysed, my hands gripping the sword that threatened to drag me to the ground. Your father’s face seemed to float amid all the haze that surrounded us, his eyes pleading and his words beseeching. I looked at him, but I did not see, I remember his voice calling out to me through the swirling heat, but I did not hear.”
After a moment of silence Thranduil said quietly:
“So he did the only thing he found in his loyal heart: he took the blow that was meant to be mine.”
A sharp breeze rustled through the drapes as Thranduil’s words painted those gruesome images, the distant past rising again from the shadows of fire and smoke.
“And then there was only fire, fierce and deadly, the red flames driving the air from his lungs, his eyes wide in shock as the flames consumed him, the sizzling heat melting the flesh off of his bones like wax and in the blink of an eye he was gone, his body pulverised, a cloud of grey and black ashes swirling beneath the dull sky, a fateful warning of what would become of all of us if the dragon were to claim victory in the end.”
Faeldir held his breath as the harrowing details of his father’s death unfurled before him. Thranduil’s voice had dropped even lower as he descended into those dark regions of his soul, his aura of autocratic grandeur gradually slipping away and revealing the subtle shades of empathy beneath it as he continued his tale of loyalty and sacrifice.
“The only thing that remained of your father was his shield that he had thrust in front of me, his last means to protect me from the dragon’s wrath, even beyond his own death. But still, he could not prevent the inevitable and when the dragon’s breath finally brushed my face a wave of searing pain engulfed me and I tumbled to the ground and lost consciousness. For how long I lay there I do not know, it might have been an eternity or only an instant, for all I knew it could have been both. As I teetered at the edge of the void I stared blindly into the darkness that stretched eternally and impenetrable in its blackness before me. But I could not let go, not yet, not until my appointed task was done. So I willed myself to stay and face the duty that had been placed on me. I swore to myself that your father’s sacrifice would not have been in vain and that I would stake my life on slaying that beast and wresting my wife from the claws of evil. But as you well know this was not how that day ended.”
Thranduil had lowered his head, staring intently at the entwined fingers in his lap, his voice wavering as the emotions threatened to spill out of their confined vessel that was his tightly regimented heart.
“The dragon was slain indeed and so were many of the orcs that had come to the beasts aid. We left more dead than alive and the ground was watered with the blood of friend and foe. But my wife —. All help came too late for her.”
He reached out for the armrests, his fingers gripping the wood until his knuckles turned white to brace himself against the surging wave of grief as best as he could. He did not want to shatter the impression Faeldir had of him, his steadfast leader, least of all now that he had come to him with his preoccupations about the possible battle lying ahead.
The old Elvenking and the young soldier both quietly mourned their losses, when the rustling of the curtains cut through the silent stream of unspoken words.
“My lord, please forgive my intrusion.” Amardir bowed curtly to the king, the tent’s heavy drapes billowing behind him as he entered at a brisk pace, urgency clearly on his heels.
Amardir’s likeness to his brother was even more striking in his attire of Mirkwood’s soldiers, his face now more austere than ever and the unmistakable air of duty surrounding him.
Thranduil quickly eased back into his usual self of languid superiority as he addressed the newly entered elf: “Please do come in.”
Amardir’s gaze was drawn from the king to the elf on the bench and he raised an eyebrow in surprise when he spotted no other than his brother on said bench, a glass of wine in his hand. A questioning look and an apologetic glance were exchanged in between the two when Thranduil said:
“You are not intruding at all, I was only having a long overdue conversation with your brother, which you are more than welcome to join in.”
Amardir’s face went blank for an instant, prompting Thranduil to add: “About your father.”
Amardir nodded slowly to then state quite matter-of-factly: “I see that my brother has finally worked up the courage to get the answers he has been seeking,” and directed to his brother in a slightly reproachful tone: “Why did you not come to me first?”
“I did, many times. But you would only ever give me evasive answers or tell me that I was too young,” Faeldir countered stubbornly, “I felt that it was about time for me to know the truth. So I came to the one who last saw our father alive.” With a thankful glance towards Thranduil he added “And I am glad I did.”
With a resigned sigh and the onset of a defeated half-smile playing around the corners of his lips Amardir said: “Then I shall be glad too.”
There was a distinct trace of worry on Amardir’s face that did not escape Thranduil’s notice.
“I see that there is something on your mind. Do tell me what brought you here with such urgency.”
“I do bring word from your son and Tauriel,” Amardir responded dutifully.
“Legolas?” Thranduil leaned slightly forward, eager and anxious to hear what else Amardir would have to say: “What do you know of them?”
“We have just received word from our messengers that they have been seen riding north.”
“North? Were the messengers not more precise? Where did they go?”
But he knew the answer to his question already before Amardir had said another word. There was only one place that they could have been possibly headed if they were still in pursuit of those foul creatures. His hands tightened again around the armrests. It was the only thing revealing the anxiousness coursing through his veins.
Amardir lowered his voice to a rather subdued tone: “Gundabad, the orc stronghold, that is where they went.”
Thranduil’s heart sank at the mention of this hateful place as the cold hand of despair closed in on him and all he could think of was: Not this cursed place. Not again. Not my son.
He rose from his seat rather hurriedly, Faeldir obediently following suit, and began wordlessly pacing back and forth, hands clasped firmly behind his back, his cloak obediently trailing behind him in brisk waves. The two brothers exchanged meaningful looks as they watched their king in his silent determination, the crease on his forehead deepening as his thoughts circled around his son and Tauriel and the danger they had put themselves into. His eyes were caught in the flames of one of the torches illuminating his tent, images of death and destruction evolving from within the flickering heat.
Was this dreadful place going to haunt him forever? Was there never an end to all the suffering?
He turned away from the fire, his hands now firmly folded in front to keep his perfectly composed facade from crumbling.
“How long have they been gone?” he inquired with a small inclination of his head towards Amardir.
“Not more than a few days time, my lord.”
Thranduil’s gaze lingered on Amardir, the grey eyes of Elhadron staring back tauntingly at him, dark brown tresses framing his solemn face.
“Do you wish for me to go after them?” he proposed upon seeing the unrest in Thranduil’s eyes. He shot a sideways glance at his brother, indicating him to be silent. Thranduil took a moment to consider his offer. He knew that it was impossible for himself to go, he could and would not abandon this quest, but still he could not bear the thought of Legolas and Tauriel unknowingly walking into a possible trap. This task had to be appointed to someone trustworthy. Someone that was both cautious and fearless.
With a solemn nod Thranduil said: “Find them and be sure to make haste.”
“Yes, my lord.” Amardir bowed while his brother could not contain himself anymore.
“I will go with you brother.” And with a nonchalant shrug he added: “Two is better than one.”
But Thranduil would not hear of it.
“Your brother will go alone. It will be easier for him to go unnoticed and he will be faster this way. Besides I need you here by my side, I would rather not have to spare the both of you.”
“But I do not want him to go to this place alone, not after all that I have heard from your own mouth about it.” Faeldir was clearly unhappy about his brother’s over-zealous sense of duty.
“Your brother surely can take care of himself.”
The king’s words were reinforced by a vigorous nod from Amardir. “Yes, indeed, I can and I will.”
Faeldir wanted to mouth another protest, but was silenced by a wave of the Elvenking’s hand. “This is my last word. You will stay here.”
Reluctantly Faeldir complied, knowing very well when not to push the king’s patience any further. He swallowed his argument, replacing it with a strained “Yes, of course.”
Thranduil now turned again to Amardir, who was waiting to receive the king’s orders.
“You will leave as soon as you can. Make sure you take one of the fast horses and ride north on the swiftest path.”
“Yes, my lord.” Amardir bowed again and grabbed his still truculent brother by the elbow to steer him towards the exit.
“Faeldir!” the king called him back as he was being led away by his brother. “There is something I want you to have.”
Thranduil walked over to one of the large chests in the back of the tent and after some rummaging he returned with an oval shaped object, carefully wrapped in a heavy cloth of dark grey that had clearly suffered through the ages, placing it on the table in front of him. Motioning at Faeldir he said: “Open it up.”
Faeldir exchanged a quick glance with his brother and when the elder nodded in approval he proceeded to swiftly unravel the gift, fingers trembling with excitement. Out of the multiple layers emerged a battered shield, the exquisite design still shining through the savage damage that had been inflicted upon it. The surface of matted gold lay now dull and pitiful before Faeldir’s eager eyes. Hesitantly he extended his hands and allowed his fingers to glide over the rugged surface. He did not need to ask, he knew that this was their father’s shield, the one he had used to defend the king, the only thing of their father that somehow miraculously had survived the flames, a silent witness of an act of bravery and loyalty that would now never be forgotten. With satisfaction Thranduil watched the young elf as he silently took in the details of the once so refined and now mutilated object of defence. Numerous dents deformed the metallic surface and several rows of deep cracks cut through the coiling vines that adorned this impressive piece of excellent elvish smithery. The flames as well as Angoroth’s talons had left their vicious imprints, a visible memory of the fierce trial of strength so long ago.
Amardir was the one who broke the silence, his eyebrows raised in scepticism. “How is it that we have never seen this before?”
Thranduil met the slight accusation ringing through his words with calm dignity.
“I have kept this in my possession with the intention of having it reforged, but some things cannot be mended. They are broken beyond repair,” he said with bitterness in his voice. “It will not serve you any more in battle.” Thranduil lifted the shield up in the air, feeling the weight in his hands. “But it might serve you as a memento, knowing that your father’s sacrifice will always be remembered.”
With those words he handed the shield to Faeldir, whose eyes were wide like those of a child receiving the most precious gift from an unexpected benefactor.
“Thank you,” was all he said as the mixture of excitement and grief surged inside him in view of this artefact reaching out to him from dark days long gone by but ever present.
A pensive silence fell on the king’s tent after the brothers left. But it was not to last long and the string of most unusual visitors had not yet reached its end, when later that night a council held by Thranduil, Bard and Gandalf was unexpectedly joined by a certain hobbit by the name of Bilbo Baggins showing his curly head in the Elvenking’s tent. His arrival was as unforeseen as was his proposed scheme extraordinary: An heirloom for an heirloom and war might just be avoided indeed. Everyone’s eyes were on the apparently not so plain hobbit when he produced a gem of remarkable beauty, placing the fabled Arkenstone on the table. An iridescent jewel, almost otherworldly in its smooth perfection it gleamed like a moon caught in a net of woven starlight, evoking gazes of marvel from the recipients of this priceless gift.
But Thranduil’s amazement did not stop there, for when Bilbo elaborated his motives, the deep feeling of loyalty he harboured for the dwarves became obvious. In the short time of their quest together he had grown so fond of them that he was willing to even incur Thorin’s wrath if it meant to avert war and spare their lives.
Plans were quickly made to present Thorin with the Arkenstone and the hopes were high that a peaceful solution might still be found after all.
“I would like a word with you alone,” Thranduil called after Bilbo who had turned to leave with Bard and Gandalf once the terms of their deal had been set. The talkative hobbit seemed momentarily at a loss for words, assuming that everything had amply been given thought and word. But of course he knew that the Elvenking would not take no for an answer.
“Yes, yes of course.” With an awkward bow and a rather irritated glance thrown at Gandalf, Bilbo shuffled to the appointed bench which had been occupied not long ago by Faeldir.
“There are just some quick questions I wish to ask you. Then you shall be on your way back to the dwarves if you should wish so. Although I would recommend that you stay with us, seeing as you seem to be of the reasonable kind.”
“Your offer is very kind, but I will have to decline as my place is with my friends.” Bilbo was clearly wishing for this to be over already, although if he was completely honest, there was not really anything joyful expecting him back there with the dwarves.
“And so it shall be.” The Elvenking acknowledged Bilbo’s wish with a slight tilt of his head.
Thranduil furrowed his brows as he took a moment to assess this extraordinary halfling, an array of burning questions flashing through his mind. There was clearly more about this hobbit than his unassuming appearance let on. Thranduil’s eyes travelled across the small shape of this plump middle-aged man seated before him. His waistcoat surely must have seen better days, sporting not only obvious holes and frayed seams, but also several singes from his encounter with the dragon. Beneath the Elvenking’s unblinking stare Bilbo shifted in his seat, eventually lowering his gaze to the floor as if he had developed a sudden interest in the floral garlands on the carpet in front of him.
“So, do tell me Master Baggins, did you enjoy your stay at my palace?”
Thranduil opened the conversation in a casual tone as he reclined lazily in his chair and looked expectantly at Bilbo. A rather hesitant nod accompanied by a slightly constrained “yes” were Bilbo’s only response, not quite sure where the king might be heading with this seemingly informal tone.
“Why then is it that no one at my palace seems to have taken notice of you? You must be quite a master of disguise to have evaded my people for several weeks.” Thranduil raised one eyebrow, clearly mystified about the hobbit’s abilities.
“This is something I would rather not disclose, if you do not mind, but I assure you that rather a great amount of luck was involved in it.”
Upon seeing the deepening crease on the Elvenking’s forehead he searched for a way to deviate the conversation towards a hopefully more innocuous topic. “But you know, there was someone who saw me, or better we bumped into each other, to be exact. I believe she told me that she was a traveller from afar. She seemed quite lost though if you ask me. But a fine lady nevertheless, and very helpful she was too. I hope she did not get into trouble because of her hospitality.”
Bilbo looked up at Thranduil expectantly hoping to hear some word of relief. Instead the king’s words remained cryptic as he did not intend to share any of those details with the hobbit.
“The lady in question is my guest and you need not concern yourself with her wellbeing. But I would very much like to hear what you may have to say about those encounters. I am rather intrigued, I have to say.” Thranduil beckoned Bilbo to go ahead with his recollections.
Bilbo cleared his throat, the inquisitiveness of the Elvenking putting him on the spot in a rather uncomfortable way. But he did not want to appear impolite, so he reached for a somewhat evasive answer.
“I am not sure if I can be of much help as I assume that there is little of interest that I can contribute.” He shrugged apologetically. “We only have met a handful of times, although I do have to admit that our conversations were quite lively and I remember those moments with fondness.” A warm smile lightened up the round face of Bilbo as he continued. “She appeared to be quite interested in our quest and the fact that the dwarves had lost their home seemed to move her in a most special way.”
Bilbo’s heartfelt words reminded Thranduil just how dearly he missed her sweet smile, but he needed to keep his mind focused, so he moved on to the next question in line:
“Is it true that you had asked her to join you and the dwarves on your little adventure?” The Elvenking tilted his head sideways, his eyes never leaving the hobbit who shifted nervously in his seat in front of him.
“Yes, my lord, that is quite correct. But as I am sure you know she did not come with us. It was a matter of loyalty. She felt that she was bound to a promise she had made.” Bilbo looked up to the Elvenking whose gaze remained as impenetrable as ever. “A promise to you.”
“By the way,” Bilbo added casually, looking around in Thranduil’s tent with curiosity, “where is she? I had hoped to find her here. Did she not come with you?”
A sheet of frost descended on Thranduil’s face, this hobbit was beginning to be a tad too nosey for his taste. Maybe it had not been such a good idea to have brought him into this conversation after all.
“No, she did not. She stayed behind in my palace. It was a matter of safety,” Thranduil answered rather brusquely, his mood darkening by the minute.
Bilbo frowned with an open mouthed stare, slightly inappropriate in the presence of an Elvenking. “But why would she do that? She seemed quite fond of the idea of exploring the world beyond the borders of Mirkwood.”
“I think you are mistaking this for a simple pleasure trip, which it is not. This is a dangerous place and I do not usually bring along my guests to battle.”
Thranduil’s face hardened as Bilbo kept pouring out more unexpected revelations.
“Yes, yes of course you are quite right, but still I should have thought that she was very much interested in meeting with Gandalf.” Bilbo shook his head in scepticism, an equally sceptical frown dawning on the king’s side.
“Gandalf? Are you sure of that? Did she say why she wished to meet with the wizard?” A sudden concoction of uneasiness and preoccupation rose within Thranduil as he eyed the hobbit, who had taken to ostentatiously flatten his waistcoat, which apparently refused to fall in place in a mannerly way.
“Ah, well, I thought that was quite obvious, given her more than unusual situation.” He shifted around beneath Thranduil’s inquisitive gaze, beginning to feel that his talkativeness might get him into unexpected trouble. “I am most definitely sure, I mean, after all she appeared to be quite at a loss concerning her whereabouts and her life in general. And not even being able to remember her name, that is a quite curious thing. So when I mentioned that a wizard was part of our company it seemed to have caught her interest. I imagine that she was hoping to be able to get some answers she might have been looking for. You know how Gandalf is, always knowledgeable and a wise answer at the ready.” Bilbo wiggled his nose as he undertook yet another futile attempt of bestowing on his unruly attire a more dignified look.
Oh yes, how I know the wizard and his wise but cryptic ways, Thranduil thought to himself, his icy composure not revealing the worry Bilbo’s words had planted inside his heart. It was not so much the fact that she was apparently hungry for answers, in a way he even sympathised with her as he felt the same desire for knowledge, wishing to unveil the remaining dark areas of mystery that still surrounded her. No, it was something else. It was yet again the fact that she had not told him anything about these plans of her, had kept all that to herself. He could not really accuse her of having lied to him, only of withholding another piece of information from him. His mind was spinning as he was trying to determine what could have been her intention?
Was she afraid to tell him? If that was the case he only had himself to blame.
But what if she had been planning her escape, keeping him in the dark concerning her true motives? Was she just waiting for him to leave so she could run away from the palace undisturbed? What if she was already on the way, looking for the wizard?
Thranduil pressed his fingers against his aching temples as those thoughts flashed through his head, threatening to tear apart his rather worn out layers of countenance. He needed to be alone and digest those unsettling revelations. Forcing himself to remain calm he thought on possible ways to usher out the hobbit.
Luckily that would not be necessary as Bilbo himself wished now nothing more than to absent himself from this increasingly stifling atmosphere. In an attempt to leaven the mood he searched for some innocuous words to initiate his leave-taking.
“It has indeed been a very long day and I am afraid I might need some sleep before Thorin finds out that I have been trying to save his life in a way he must clearly disapprove of.”
A barely stifled yawn underlined Bilbo’s words as he stretched his arms and flexed his fingers.
“Yes, of course, you may go now.” Thranduil sent Bilbo on his way rather unceremoniously and the hobbit bowed himself out with manifold words of farewell.
The curtains had hardly closed behind the hobbit when Thranduil’s head sank backwards onto the chair, eyes closing and a deep sigh escaping his lips as the meticulously webbed cloak of rigorous dignity suddenly fell from his shoulders like an uncomfortable piece of clothing. And for a moment he allowed his mind to be engulfed by the soft murmuring of the night wind as it rustled through the heavy drapes, a welcome albeit meagre consolation in this dreary loneliness of his. A short instant of leaving all the heaviness of his eternal existence behind as the cool breeze would carry him through the starlit dome above to — yes, but where to?
Pinching the bridge of his nose he forced himself to come back and when he reopened his eyes and saw only the confines of the vaulted roof above him he scorned himself for his idle reveries. He leaned forward, his head resting heavily in his hands while he sought to lay out a strategy concerning this new development. He needed to have another word with Mithrandir alone, better sooner than later. Find out what the wizard knew, ease his mind, so he could focus again on why he had come here in the first place.
This whole quest of his was converting into an ordeal, but maybe now that this extraordinary hobbit had provided them with the means to negotiate, there might still be the possibility to resolve this entire issue without spilling any blood.
What he hoped for was a swift and painless exchange, an heirloom for an heirloom as Bilbo had so eloquently put it, and then he would be on his way back to the Woodland Realm.
Back with the necklace in hand to where his heart pulled him if only he allowed it.