The Secret of the Forest - A Thranduil Romance

Back Again

As much as she tried to stay awake through the rest of her journey, Anna only held out for a few hours. Her endurance, if she ever had possessed any, was nearly non existent after all she had been through in these past days. Sleepiness and exhaustion eventually got the better of her and about halfway through she must have dozed off again. Only vaguely she noticed when Thranduil carefully moved her into a more comfortable position and at some point her hands gave up their grip on the saddle altogether and she slumped backwards against his chest. The wintry cold crept into her bones despite the thick cloak and the Elvenking’s firm embrace. After what resembled half an eternity the steady pace of Silvermane finally slowed down and Thranduil’s voice rose her from her drowsiness.

“It will not be long now. We are almost there.”

Shifting in her seat she willed her eyes open, the greyish gloom of dusk making it hard to discern anything through the impenetrable wall of trees that lined the path on either side.

“Good,” she mumbled, “I almost cannot feel my limbs anymore.”

“You will be able to stretch them out again soon, I promise,” he said, accommodating his arm around her to keep her in a steady position during those last moments of their journey.

She squinted into the darkening pathway ahead and far off in the distance where the trees seemed to shy away from each other they now opened up the view for the familiar outline of the palace gates and not long after, the bridge spanning the forest river came into sight. Despite her earlier reservations against returning to the palace, she could not have been happier at the prospect of finally being able to exchange the confines of a horse-back for the comfort of a warm bed. Thranduil brought Silvermane into a slow trot and the layers of snow that had accumulated on the bridge muffled her steps as they approached the gates of the palace.

“Welcome back,” Thranduil whispered and Silvermane neighed contentedly, as if in happy anticipation of well-earned food and rest.

When the heavy stone doors were pulled open a sudden wave of noise flooded her ears and her eyes were blinded by the dim amber light of Mirkwood’s halls, which seemed just like brilliant daylight after so many days of darkness in the forest. Everything had been prepared for their impending arrival, servants and guards swarming busily to their side, but Thranduil wouldn’t let go of her, ignoring the strange looks as well as the stretcher that had been made ready and simply proceeded to carry her to her room in his arms. Only that he did not halt at what was unmistakably the door to her room. She stirred in his hold, a confused look on her face.

“I—, I think we just passed my room.”

“I know,” he said. “That is because you will be getting a new room, a more spacious one and adjacent to my chambers as well. Everything has been already arranged accordingly.”

“Thank you, that’s very thoughtful of you.” She snuggled her head against the crook of his neck, breathing in his scent and soaking in his warmth. Who knew for how long she would be able to have him so close to her once he was caught up again in the palace’s daily routine, so she made sure to savour every second of being in his arms, even if it was just a healer carrying his patient.

A faint golden light emerged from a room at the end of the hallway and the regally adorned oaken door right beside Thranduil’s chambers had been already pulled open to receive her and the king. A chatter of voices filled the chamber and when Thranduil finally laid her down in the bed which had been prepared, more eyes than she felt comfortable with were trying to get a good look at her. Some faces were familiar, servants and healers that she had grown accustomed to see during her stay in the palace. Still she had rather not them all staring at her like she was some sort of strange creature the king had rescued from the forest’s fangs. But at least everyone maintained a respectful distance while craning their necks, until Thranduil would be finished accommodating her.

“There you go,” he said with a satisfied smile, pulling the covers into place and tucking her in. She sank back into the pillows, the linens so incredibly soft that she had to resist the temptation of drifting off into sleep right away. Thranduil then turned to Brethilwen, who had rushed to his side and who would, so it seemed, oversee her treatment.

“Make sure she gets all the attention she needs. I have tended to her wounds already, but they will have to be taken care of consistently to make sure she will recover fully. You will find that there has been a severe cut on her left shoulder as well as a deep sting caused by a spider on her lower back. She has evaded death by just a hair and her body will need considerable time to heal.”

“Yes, of course, my lord.” Brethilwen swallowed, her eyes wide and her face slightly paler than the usual as Thranduil’s words and Anna’s pitiful appearance painted one horrible image in her head.

With a distinct layer of pride in his voice Thranduil added: “But she has been exceptionally brave and I am sure that in due time she will be just her former self again.” He looked at Anna with an encouraging smile, but she only managed a weak one in return, her body still exhausted and in dire need of sleep and rest. He bent down to her, his fingers grazing over her cheek. “There are a few things that I must see to now, but you are in capable hands and I promise you that I will be back as soon as I can.”

She clutched at his hand maybe a little too fierce, suddenly afraid of losing him again. “You promise that you will be back, won’t you?”

He gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. “Yes, I do. I have not forgotten my words from this morning. I just think that you will want a little privacy to refresh yourself, and eat and allow Brethilwen to take a look at your injuries. And before you know it I will be back here with you.”

His confident words dispelled her concerns and when he turned to leave, she willed herself to focus on the necessary procedures that lay now before her.

“My dear girl, what have you been up to?” Brethilwen’s inquiring gaze left no room for the pondering sadness of hers and it was more than clear that she was expecting a full recollection of Anna’s adventures. Without waiting for an answer Brethilwen sat down by her side and tucked strands of her unkempt hair behind her ears and then Brethilwen shook her head and pulled Anna into a tight embrace, whispering into her hair. “I’m glad that you are back alive!”

She hugged her back, muttering: “I’m glad too!” And for a short moment all the tension she had been harbouring inside disappeared in her near motherly embrace and she found herself clinging to Brethilwen like a child that had been lost and was finally back home again.

“I’ve gotten myself into such a mess!” she said, burying her face in her shoulder, fighting against the rising tears. “Thinking that I could cross the whole of Mirkwood on my own was the most foolish thing ever and if the king hadn’t found me, I surely would be dead by now.”

“I never had the slightest of doubts that he would find you and I will want to hear every little detail about said mess,” she said as she released Anna from her hold, a mixture of relief and worry in her grey eyes. “But all in due time.”

Brethilwen took a good look at her and said with a satisfied nod: “It pleases me to know that the king has been so diligent in attending to your injuries, but as you have heard I will need to see them nevertheless to make sure nothing goes unnoticed.”

Anna nodded obediently. “Yes, of course, I understand.”

“Good!” She rose from the bed in a business-like fashion, straightening her tunic, and directing her attention now to the servants and healers still waiting beside the bed. “But first we will get you cleaned up and put you in some fresh clothes, all right?”

At Brethilwen’s command the elves all fell into a collective shuffling around with jars and flasks and many more items with their purpose not yet revealed to Anna, ready to attend to her every remaining bruise when suddenly the far end corner of the room came into view. There a small circular pool had been carved into the stone, spring-fed by a placidly murmuring fountain on the wall. Delicately carved vines wound themselves along the edges and a comfortable selection of cushions and rugs had been placed invitingly around it. Star shaped flowers in yellow and white cascaded from small baskets along the wall, some of their trails so long that the slender green strands dipped into the water, swaying rhythmically like elegant dancers in the lazy current. A beautiful lantern hung from the ceiling and illuminated the middle of the pool, the glittering surface gleaming in a nearly surreal greenish golden light. It was like being in the midst of a forest, peaceful and tranquil, a perfect repose for the weary of mind and body. It was much smaller than the one in Thranduil’s chambers, but what it lacked in size it made up for in charm. It breathed the same serenity as the Queen’s hideaway in the library and the intimate aura instantly won her heart.

“Yes, that’s yours to use at any time,” Brethilwen said with a smile. The eager look on Anna’s face must have been all too obvious. “If you wish to take a bath first, which I assume you might want to, I will send the others out for the time being, but I must insist to remain by your side; just as a measure of precaution. Agreed?”

“Yes, agreed,” she nodded her approval. This beautiful oasis was just too tempting to refuse, after all her body was craving a bath and her sore muscles would surely benefit from the warm waves lapping at her skin. With a small flick of her hand Brethilwen ushered everyone else out, many eyes still curiously clinging to Anna’s dishevelled appearance and after some rustling and shuffling she and Brethilwen were the only ones remaining. While she began the preparation for the bath, Anna allowed her gaze to roam around the room now that she could do so freely.

It was an ample chamber with the same beautiful columns to resemble trees found in all of Thranduil’s palace. The shape was quite irregular, with some areas still hidden from her view due to the limited angle she had from her bed. If she listened closely there was another sound weaving itself into the water’s constant murmuring, a distinct crackling that must pertain to a fireplace, providing the room with a comfortable warmth. And one glance around revealed beautifully crafted furniture, every single piece fashioned of dark wood so much more lavish than in her old room. There were several tables of different sizes, matching chairs and comfortably cushioned benches. On the wall leading to the pool hung a large tapestry depicting in detailed embroidery a white stag standing proudly in the middle of a peaceful glade, its majestic head reared up with impressive antlers growing upwards like snow white boughs, the glow surrounding it nearly unreal in its brightness. Tall trees heavily laden with leaves bowed their branches and the animals of the forest looked up to their guardian. Colourful flowers and vines framed this peaceful scene. A small smile played around her lips. Even if Thranduil was not in this room, his spirit would always be present. And then there was yet another interesting discovery. In a small alcove stood a book-shelf, delicately shaped like those in the restricted area of the library and to her delight it was fully packed with a variety of leather-bound volumes both big and small, promising to be a much needed distraction in those possibly long days she might be bound to the confines of her room during her convalescence.

“My dear, the bath is ready.” Brethilwen’s soft voice put a sudden halt to her wandering eyes and trailing thoughts.

“Yes, of course,” she said, quickly taking the offered hand to help her rise from the bed. “I was just admiring my new room. It is really beautiful and so lovingly decorated.”

“It is indeed. It is a shame that it has been empty for so long, but I am very glad that it is being filled with new life once again.”

She smiled kindly at Anna, wrapping an arm about her waist to make sure her first attempt to get up would not end prematurely on the floor.

“Do not rush. We have all the time in the world.”

And Brethilwen’s support was dearly needed as her knees threatened to give in all too soon and her head was spinning so much she feared to tumble backwards into bed.

“Are you sure you want to do this now?” she said, casting Anna a doubtful look. “Maybe you would like to rest first?”

“No, I really wish to take a bath now,” she said with as much determination as she could muster. Her whole body felt like it was encrusted with a layer of dirt, sweat and blood, and she did not even want to take a look at her hair that felt like a matted piece of fur every time she tried to run her fingers through it. No, she needed to wash off all the visual signs that remained of the horrors she had encountered.

“All right then,” Brethilwen tightened her grip around Anna’s hand and waist. “I am sure that if you were able to make it through all those turmoils in the forest you will make it across the room and you will see that the water will instantly work wonders on your body.”

And she could not have been more right!

Once she had shed all her clothes, resembling more rags than something decent to wear, and had slid into the water with Brethilwen’s help, she was caught in a different world. She was grateful for the marvellous engineers that the elves of Mirkwood truly must be for filling their pools with either hot or cold water depending on the season or ones personal preferences. Whatever ingenious inventions worked their magic underground, it was a blessing for her body. After winter’s merciless frost she was now floating weightlessly in the most heavenly liquid filled with delightful fragrances, reviving and relaxing her body with soothing waves and alluring scents. The dull pain radiating from the sting as well as the cut on her left shoulder were dissolving and the tension in her muscles melted away as her limbs were carried by the water’s steady current. Vapour rose from the rippling surface, settling in tiny glittering beads on her face and when she tilted her head back her hair fanned out under the surface like softly swaying sea weeds. Brethilwen sat behind her and an array of flasks and jars as well as a neat pile of linens and wash cloths beside her promised Anna a royal treatment for all her senses.

“So, let us begin,” she said and picked up one of the wash cloths, dipping it into the water and adding some drops of scented oil to it. Anna closed her eyes and sank backwards, while Brethilwen’s hands skilfully worked their way from her neck sideways in swift strokes.

It was perfect. The only way this divine bliss could have been even better was if Thranduil himself had been the one attending to her. At one moment she began to imagine his hands drawing delicate circles on her back, passing the wash cloth along her shoulder and the tender skin on her chest with gentle but determined strokes. His name was on her lips, like a whisper in the wind, and goosebumps rolled over her flesh at the thoughts dancing through her head. But before her mind would wander any further, soaring up into the apparently endless skies of her imagination, she reeled it in, pulling it back to the present, determined to appreciate the dedication Brethilwen was putting into her work. She did not want to lose herself in daydreams, even though Thranduil had been quite clear about his feelings for her. There were still a good many obstacles to overcome, her unknown past being only one of them and her being human an equally difficult one. She still did not know how all this would fit into their newly unfolding relationship. With a sigh she sank deeper into the water trying to clear her head of all worries at least for the time being.

She was so spent that she barely had any recollection of what had happened after the bath. Her senses had been calmed to a point where it seemed to her that she was in a near trancelike state. A blur of voices and fleeting touches were all she could remember before she sank back into the shadows of her dreams. The only thing she knew was that when she opened her eyes again, she was back in her bed, her wounds had been tended to, she had been dressed in a simple yet delightfully fresh nightgown and her hair fell in silky waves around her head and onto her pillow. A sudden draft on her feet had awoken her from her slumber. She must have shifted around quite vigorously in her sleep as she found the sheets all messed up and barely covering half of her body. With one determined pull she brought them back where they belonged, but now that she was awake she could not get back to sleep anymore. The room was quiet except for the murmuring and crackling sounds and it seemed that everyone had indeed left. It was impossible to tell if it was at night or already in the morning as the lanterns and chandeliers still emitted the same amber light. She turned around and nearly dropped the covers again when she realised that she was not alone after all.

Thranduil was sitting in a chair beside her bed, although that by itself was not the even most remarkable thing about it, but rather the fact that he seemed to be veritably asleep, which was most unusual. It was a state in which she had never seen him before, but there could scarcely be a doubt about it, as his head had fallen against the backrest and although his eyes were only half-closed, he was completely motionless. She knew that elves did not need to sleep in a way humans did, but apparently once in a while they could also succumb to exhaustion. He probably had not given himself any rest and had come to see her like he had promised, only to have found her asleep already. And like the gentleman he was, he simply must have decided to wait for her to wake up again. Only that she hadn’t awoken any time soon and apparently had instead slept through the entire night. And, well there he was, such a beautiful and candid sight to behold that she could not take her eyes off him.

He had exchanged his grey robe for a different one in a shade of mossy green with interlacing golden threads, the shimmering surface reminding her somewhat distantly of scales. It was impeccably fitted as always, a row of neatly aligned ivory clasps running up the middle. The tight cream coloured breeches, contrasting pleasantly in their simplicity with the exquisite robe, were tucked into dark brown knee high leather boots. Thranduil sat with his legs crossed, one arm casually draped on the armrest while the other rested in his lap.

To her surprise he wore no circlet or crown and there was only a single ring on his fingers. It was a ring she was quite sure that she had not seen him use before, although to the best of her knowledge he most likely had a vast collection of jewellery to choose from and she might have seen only a fraction of what his extensive vaults had to offer. Still, her gaze lingered with curiosity as it was different from the others, much simpler and smaller, no enormous gems or flashy designs, but just a plain silver ring with a small circular white gemstone shaped into something that resembled strongly a minute flower, the delicate petals opening up like a tiny sun. His hand was so close that she only needed to stretch out her own from under the sheets to touch it. Her eyes darted quickly back to his face, but he was as still as before, allowing her to indulge just a little more in her covert admiration. She slowly extended her fingers from beneath the cover towards his, her eyes mesmerised by their graceful elegance and near pearlescent whiteness. Even closer she inched, biting her lower lip as she held her breath, only hesitating when her fingertips almost touched his and then she hovered for a while undecidedly, the warmth radiating from his skin sending her heartbeat into a wild frenzy until her courage suddenly left her again and her hand began to sink and retreat.

“Don’t pull away,” he said. With a swift grip Thranduil had taken her hand in his and when she looked up to him, there was a smile on his face.

“I—I’m sorry,” she said, blushing furiously, “I though that you were asleep.” She had been so enraptured in her silent adoration that she had failed to notice when he had actually awoken. Or maybe he had not been asleep after all? For how long he had been already watching her and the strange spectacle she surely must have presented to his eyes she did not know. She just wished that the sheets might swallow her temporarily to hide her embarrassment, but his smile was so disarming that she couldn’t help but reciprocate it.

“I may have appeared to be, but I was only resting until you would wake up, which I am glad to see, you have now.” He brought her hand to his mouth and kissed it lightly, a pleasurable tingle rushing through her veins. “I hope that you have slept well and everything has been to your satisfaction?”

“Yes, it has. The pool is amazing, just like everything in this room!” She was barely able to contain her delight about all the wonderful things this place seemed to hold in store for her. “Thank you again for your kindness to allow me to stay in such a beautiful chamber.”

“You are very welcome,” he said, running his thumbs over her fingers while his eyes lingered on her face. “I want you to feel at home here and I daresay that this room will be a good start.” Leaning forward he said: “And now that we are both undoubtedly awake I will have us brought some food and then we can finally share a moment of hopefully uninterrupted conversation in a comfortably warm surrounding. ”

As if by magic a servant slipped quietly into the room, carrying a tray with the most delicious assortment of fruits, loafs of bread in varying shapes, slices of ham and cheese as well as two glasses and a carafe with an amber liquid that did not look like wine, something for which she was grateful, as her stomach did not feel ready for alcohol, at least not at this early hour of the day. The servant placed the tray on the bedside table, not without a curious sideways glance in her direction, and with a curt bow towards Thranduil he said:

“Will there be anything else you need, my lord?”

“No, thank you. That will be all for now.” Thranduil gave him a small nod and the elf retreated with another bow.

Propped up comfortably in bed, with soft sheets covering her and a fluffy pillow stuffed behind her back it seemed almost surreal that only two days ago she was in the middle of a merciless battle with giant spiders. And then her stomach reminded her of the fact that she must have skipped dinner last night, so she reached out for the tray and began eagerly munching on a small bun of bread while the questions were piling up in her head. Thranduil did not seem in a hurry to eat, he rather leaned back in the chair and watched her with an amused look on his face.

“Sorry,” she said, suddenly aware that she was the only one eating. “I did not eat last night and I’m really hungry.”

“That is what the food is for. So please enjoy,” he said, folding his hands in his lap and for a moment his eyes travelled around the room and there was a strange glance in them when his gaze returned to her again.

And then the questions tumbled from her mouth: “What about the Mountain? Was there a battle indeed? You must tell me everything about it! Were there any orcs? And Legolas, you promised to tell me about him too! And Amardir and Faeldir! I need to know if they are all right!”

A chuckle escaped Thranduil and she blushed, suddenly conscious that she must have sounded like a demanding child that was all too eager to hear extensive recollections of adventures.

“All in due time, my dear. I promise you to satisfy your curiosity and provide you with as much detail as I can.”

“Yes, of course. And I promise that I will be patient.”

Anna pulled her legs up under her knees and followed with bated breath Thranduil’s tales of fierce battles, a city burnt to ashes, strange beasts and dark armies, valiant soldiers and a son believed lost now found again. Minutes must have stretched into hours, the tray gradually being depleted of food, and Thranduil seemed to be quite enjoying himself, his face displaying a rare relaxed mood. This was the moment she needed as there was still one particular question she had been burning to ask him and which he had not touched yet. They had been engaged in an animated conversation, when he noticed her tensing expression.

“Has something that I said unsettled you? You seem suddenly quiet.”

She hesitated for a moment, but her curiosity got the better of her. “There is something else I have been meaning to ask you.”

“Well, then don’t hold back and ask away. Now is the moment” he said, leaning back in his chair, his fingers absentmindedly toying with one of the clasps of his robe.

“Were you able to reclaim your w—, the necklace you wanted?” She couldn’t bring herself to mention his wife, not after that precious bit of closeness she had just recently gained towards him.

For a moment Thranduil’s face went still like a frozen lake, his blue eyes boring into hers and she feared that she had crossed that invisible line she had once had the nerve to overstep. “I’m sorry, I did not mean to be nosy. I just —,” she broke off, searching for but not finding the words she wanted to say.

Whatever it was she had stirred up inside him, he had quickly pushed it back, his face returning to the former calm surface.

“In fact the answer to your question is both yes and no.”

“Oh,” was all she said, as this was somehow not the answer that she was expecting. “I am not quite sure I understand?”

He shifted for a moment in the seat as if he were thinking on how to best clothe his thoughts in words.

“When I headed out towards Amon Ereb my mind was set on reclaiming this beautiful piece of jewellery, something I have dearly longed for and which has been withheld from me for far too long. But I realised that I have been chasing after a ghost, like my son has pointed out so eloquently to me: bringing home the necklace will not bring my wife back.” He leaned forward, his eyes trailing over her face as if he wanted to make sure that his words would not cause her any unnecessary unrest. “She is gone from this world and even if she were to choose to be reborn, her path would not lead her back to the lands of Middle-earth, but she would wish to remain on the shores of Valinor.”

She nodded slowly, trying to make sense of his explanation. “But that means you might still see her again, whenever you decide to leave this place behind.”

“Which I will not,” he said with determination in his voice, his glance suddenly stern.

“Y—you will not? Not sail west, you mean? I thought that was expected of all your kin. I mean, at least that is what reading in your books has led me to believe.”

“That may be true for many, but not all of us feel the pull to go to a place we have never laid our eyes upon. I was born in these lands and the forest of Eryn Galen is where my heart has taken root and I only wish for its former beauty to be restored.” His eyes took on a veiled gleam as his mind drifted back to the days of old. “I wish you could have seen with your own eyes the beauty of the forest the way it used to be. It was nothing like the crooked and gloomy woods you have come to know. Everything was fresh, green and full of light and I used to wander through the endless pathways at my leisure, listening to the trees as they were little saplings and teaching them our elven ways, weaving my wisdom into their buds and watching them grow until they in turn would sing their songs for me.”

The way he spoke of the forest was an almost tender one, like a lover speaking of his beloved or a father of his child and she thought for the first time that his heart might not belong neither to an elf nor a human, but to the world he lived in and the forest’s embrace was the one he longed for in the end. The strange thing was that this was a rather comforting thought and it did not upset her in the least. It seemed the natural way of things for an Elvenking who over time became more and more one with the place that was his home. Like a tree whose roots were not touched by the frost and whose branches were not swayed even by the strongest of winds. It was a wish she suddenly hoped would eventually come true for the burdened Elvenking.

“Do you think the darkness will ever leave the forest?” she asked, cutting tentatively through the silence.

“Yes, it will. It might not be anytime soon, but no evil does last forever. And then this forest will be as beautiful as it was before or even more so.” His face lighted up at the prospect of new life returning to these lands and for a moment all burden seemed to have been lifted from his shoulders and she could imagine him strolling beneath the sunlit canopy of gold and green like a young elfling.

“But now let us get back to your original question: the necklace,” he said, taking a sip from the glass before putting it back on the table. “I did not return home empty-handed after all as I stumbled upon someone who holds you in high esteem.” A mischievous smile dawned on his face as he reached into his robe.

“Who would hold me in high esteem? I do not know anyone in Dale,” she said with a frown.

“You may not, but he certainly does know you and he wanted to make sure that he would somehow show you his gratitude for your hospitality in case he would not be able to do so in person.”

Her eyes widened when the sudden realisation dawned upon her. “Bilbo! You met Bilbo Baggins! So he is alive after all!”

“Yes, he is alive and well,” Thranduil said with a smile and then her eyes were drawn to the delicate pearls he had pulled from his pocket. “And he wishes to bestow this necklace as gift to you.”

“But, I cannot—,” she stuttered as he unfolded the string of white pearls in between his hands.

“Yes, you can,” Thranduil interrupted her with determination. “I will not have you refuse this gift. This is for you and you deserve to have it.”

“Thank you, but still, this is much too valuable and I do not usually wear any jewellery.” She was more than flustered at being presented with such an exquisit gift.

“Well, then it is a good time that we start changing that. I am sure that you will look lovely wearing this.”

And with those words he leaned closer and before she could say anything else he had slung the row of smooth orbs around her neck, his fingers busying themselves with the delicate clasp. His hands so soft and the pearls so cold made pinpricks dance on her skin and then her own hand shot towards the necklace, her fingertips gliding over the neatly rounded pearls as if to make sure they were indeed real.

“Now turn around and let me look at you,” he said and she did as she was bidden, a timid smile on her lips.

“Beautiful!” he said, his eyes sparkling in delight. “Those pearls are a perfect match for you. I must say, this Master Baggins does have an exquisite taste. Now the only thing missing is a dress to complement this piece of jewellery.”

“But I don’t think I need an elegant dress while I’m still bound to this bed.” This was all of a sudden going at a much faster pace than what she had anticipated.

“No, you don’t, but there is no harm in thinking about the future. I am sure that you will be recovering swiftly and will soon be leaving this bed behind.” Thranduil suddenly rose from his chair with a renewed bout of energy. “I will inform Brethilwen to make sure she lays out a nice dress for you when the time is right.” He leaned with his folded arms against the chair’s backrest. “And then you will have dinner with me in my chambers. I would be honoured if you were to grace me with your presence.”

“Yes, of course,” she said, barely being able to hide the big grin that spread on her face. “The honour would be all mine.”

“Very well then. So that is settled.” He took her hands in his to plant a tender kiss on them. “I must take my leave now as I am expecting messengers from Dale and there are numerous other matters that require my attention, but I will make sure to send Brethilwen to keep you company and I promise that I will be back before the sun sets.”

“You spoil me,” she whispered, her heart going out to him like a flower to the sun.

“Then let me do so. I have not had someone to spoil in a very long time.”

There was nothing she could say against that, so she only smiled and her eyes followed him as he strode from the room, his robe gleaming iridescently in the twilight with every single one of his graceful steps.

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