Some truths can save us
Some take our lives
Some truths are fire
And some truths are ice.
(Sleeping At Last: South)
Anna wasn’t sure if she’d rather scream, beat her pillow, or smash her drinking glass to smithereens, because not even all of them combined seemed remotely satisfying enough to vent her rage. And sadly for her, none of them would be possible anytime soon, as Brethilwen showed up for her morning visit only shortly after Thranduil had left her room. Anna had to cling to the last fragments of her paper thin composure to make it through the medical routine without breaking apart. To her relief Brethilwen kept her visit unusually short and Anna was finally able to give free rein to her pent up feelings. Waves of fiery anger and icy despair clashed inside her in an emotional thunderstorm. She felt helplessly deprived of her life and her choices, indefinitely tied to a bed she wanted to leave behind now more than ever. Since the prospect of screaming or sacrificing her glass seemed all of a sudden a tad overly dramatic, she resorted to the pillow, which lay, blissfully unaware of its imminent fate, before her. She slammed her fists into her silent companion with all the strength she could muster, dealing out a quick succession of angry blows until her face was flushed pink with the exertion. But the floppy softness offered no resistance, yielding all too willingly to every beat she aimed at it. With an exasperated groan she let go of it and took out her anger on the mattress, imagining how much more gratifying it would be to hammer against Thranduil’s broad chest instead. But even halfway through the thought she remembered how he had held her so close, his mouth almost touching hers. What if they had been undisturbed? Would she have allowed him to go ahead? Wasn’t that what she had wanted all along? Have his lips claim hers in a passionate kiss? Have him whisper in her ear that he wanted her, loved her even?
She buried her face in her hands and crumpled onto her bed, a picture of misery, her anger shattering into a million pieces and revealing a wounded heart beneath. If only she could silence the gentle flutter in her chest! But she had already let him in too far and now she paid the price for her foolishness. Falling for an Elvenking wasn’t something recommended for a mortal woman, she should have known so beforehand. But now it was too late and what has been broken might never heal again. And as her rage ebbed away, the tide of tears rolled in, her pillow soaking them up until it was damp and she finally drifted into an uneasy sleep. This time it was not dreamless, but filled with the most unsettling mixture of obscure trees, their branches swaying above her ominously. Trying to run from them, she found herself swallowed by a pitch-black shadow, burying her and the trees in unfathomable depths, a swirl of impenetrable darkness drowning her in an endless night. She cried for help, Thranduil’s name stuck in her throat, but he didn’t come. No one came to her rescue. She suddenly sat bolt upright, a silent scream on her lips and her nightgown clinging to her body all soaked in sweat. It took her a moment to realise that she was still in her bed and whatever darkness had threatened to claim her, had not reached her yet.
A sudden draft of cool air brushing her cheeks had Anna snap out of her drowsiness. Brethilwen had returned and was now heading towards her with an urgency in her demeanour that was not her usual style. Suddenly overly conscious of her dishevelled appearance, Anna hastily wiped her nose on the sleeve of her nightgown, realising that is was possibly futile to try to hide the evidence of her crying. And by the look on Brethilwen’s face, she most likely already knew the reason for her current emotional state. Brethilwen dropped her satchel on the table beside the book and the wooden box, Thranduil’s heartfelt gifts, and let herself sink onto the mattress with a deep sigh.
“You and I, we need to have a talk,” she said, not waisting any time with courtesies, “but first I want you to drink this. In the light of the most recent developments, I deem it only just that you should enjoy the benefits of this cordial.” She pulled out a delicate bottle from her bag and poured a small amount of honey coloured liquid into Anna’s glass on the bedside table.
“What is this?” Anna asked with a frown.
“No need to worry, I can guarantee you that this will not cause you any memory loss.” The slight trace of bitterness in her voice did not escape Anna’s notice. “This is Miruvór, our strongest and most efficient cordial. It has the power to restore strength and I am sure it will help you through this dark moment.”
She nodded encouragingly and Anna took the glass, although still hesitant.
“It will make you feel better, I promise,” Brethilwen insisted, her usually flawless face somewhat strained. “I only wish you well, so please drink it up.”
Anna took a tentative sip, the molten gold creating an instantly pleasant sensation on her palate, so she closed her eyes and allowed the liquid to settle like a steadfast flame in her chest, renewed life flowing through her veins like a glittering stream. She was still revelling in the unexpected solace she had momentarily been granted, when Brethilwen took the glass from her hands.
“Now, there are some important matters which need to be addressed,” Brethilwen said, putting the glass back on the table. She straightened herself, absentmindedly smoothing down some creases on her dress. “I come from the king. He has told me about this morning,” she said, looking at Anna expectantly.
Anna shook her head in dismay. “I still cannot believe what he did.”
“I know that this came as a shock to you and you must think of it as something unforgivable.”
“It was a shock, yes! He brought me here to his palace and into his life, knowingly taking away all my memories. This is not something to be lightly forgiven! It is my life we are talking here about and not some game the Elvenking likes to play.”
“It is not a game and the king surely does not see it as such. He is very much aware of the severity of his deed and he is prepared to face the consequences.”
Anna pushed her chin forward, her jaw set square. “It is not right to keep someone under false pretences! He always told me that he didn’t know where I had come from and then all of a sudden it turns out that he had know of the existence of this portal all along! And he used his magic to erase my past!” She twisted one of the buttons of her nightgown in between her fingers with such force it snapped off.
“All you say is true and that is also why I have always tried to reason with the king and make him see that this path of secrecy is not the right one. All hidden things come forth in due time and when they do, it will only cause pain.”
Anna shot her a sideways glance, tightening her hand around the button as the queasiness in her stomach intensified. “What are you trying to say? Is this something you knew of?” Her palms were suddenly sweating and she sensed yet another piece of revelation creeping up on her. And sure enough, Brethilwen was all of a sudden quite reluctant to go ahead.
“Yes, I did know of it, but you must believe me, that it has pained me greatly not to be able to speak to you about it,” she said rather sheepishly and Anna even thought to see a slight blush on her cheeks.
For a moment Anna only stared at the elleth sitting beside her in silence. The one she had thought to be her confidant, friend even, now turned out to have been in league with the king all along. Of course, what else was she expecting? Brethilwen had surely been Thranduil’s servant and healer for many centuries and she was a mere mortal having entered this world only a few months ago. It was foolish of Anna to have had any doubts about where Brethilwen’s true loyalties lied. Anna took a deep breath while she watched the last remains of her truths crumble before her eyes.
“So you are telling me that you have known about this all along? Since the moment I have arrived?”
Brethilwen nodded silently and Anna was losing whatever grip she still had, the impenetrable shadows from her dream suddenly catching up with her.
“And you have just decided to keep me in the dark all the time?”
“I had made a promise to the king not to reveal anything until he would see fit to unveil those things to you. And as much as I may have wanted to tell you, this was a promise I could not break. Not only am I bound to him by loyalty, but also by friendship.”
Anna let out an irritated laughter, the word betrayal flashing prominently before her eyes and blocking out all rational thoughts. She couldn’t bring herself to be understanding, even if Brethilwen’s motives were only logical. “So you both have used me as some kind of pawn in an obscure plot you have been hatching or how am I supposed to understand all this?” Her voice had risen to an angry yell, but she made no effort to tone it down.
“You know that it is not like that! The king truly cares for you and so do I.” Brethilwen stood her ground, her voice calm as ever. Obviously Anna’s outbreak did not come as a surprise to her.
“How can you say that you care for me when you are on his side? And how can you still defend him? He had no right to do what he did!” Anna snapped angrily. She was eyeing the glass, seriously contemplating to finally smash it against the wall.
“Because firstly I do care for you, for both of you. And secondly I have known Thranduil for a very long time and even though it might look different from your point of view, I can assure you that his intentions are completely honourable. He never wanted to do you any harm nor hurt you in any way. I know what you are going to say,” she said, interrupting Anna before she could mouth a protest. “I know that he did hurt you all the same, but please, I urge you to try to understand what drove him to such measures.”
Anna’s gaze rested for a moment on Thranduil’s gifts and then her shoulders sank as the waves of anger overturned, breaking into countless pieces of despair, and her voice shrunk to a hoarse whisper. “I don’t know what to believe anymore. I don’t even dare to trust my own feelings, as they seem to have only led me astray.”
“Allow me to explain and forgive me if I seem to go far afield, but I think it is necessary for you to understand. Only then might you be able to overcome your anger.” Brethilwen reached out for Anna’s hands and she did not pull them away. They sat for a moment in mutual silence and when Anna had partly regained her composure, she said feebly: “I am sorry for my undue outburst. I just—I feel so lost and confused, my whole life is falling apart and I cannot tell truths from lies anymore.”
Brethilwen patted her hands as if she was calming a child after a nightmare. “That is why I am here. You can trust me and I want you to see that you can also still trust Thranduil despite what he has done. He needs you more than what you might think and although I disagree with the way he has handled this, I know that he didn’t act out of ill will. Thranduil has been a very lonely king for a very long time, kept prisoner by the darkness of guilt, shadows of self-doubt clouding his days and it all began with the dragon fire many centuries ago. I believe you have seen his scars?”
“Yes, I have, but he never told me exactly what had happened. He only warned me of the doom the fire could bring.” Unsettling memories of ghostly images resurfaced in Anna’s mind.
Brethilwen nodded. “It is a sign of great trust that he has shown you his scars, as only very few people have seen him without the glamour hiding them. And I am sure that the king will not think ill of me if I told you how he acquired those wounds.”
And so Brethilwen took Anna along on her journey of grievous recollections.
“In the king’s absence the queen had been captured by orcs and taken to their stronghold of Gundabad. When Thranduil learned of her fate, he immediately set out with his most trusted warriors to save her. But although they were valiant and prepared for battle, they did not expect to find a dragon there. It was a terrible disaster. Many were killed and the king nearly lost his own life. And still, despite the great sacrifices, the queen could not be saved and Thranduil blamed himself for her death and those of his warriors. From then on his nights were haunted by their ghosts and his days filled with their screams. He could not even face his own son.”
Anna stared at Brethilwen in horror, images of flames and bodies burnt alive rising in her head, but Brethilwen did not stop there.
“After the fire took him, he was only barely alive, half of his body burnt and his fae just clinging to his rhaw by a mere thread and although his body has been restored and he has perfected the use of glamour to hide his scars, his soul has never been quite the same. There is a lingering rift running through what is meant to be whole. And since none can endure long without the other, his condition has gradually worsened and I fear that he does not have much longer left.”
Anna swallowed hard, her hands involuntarily closing tighter around Brethilwen’s. “What do you mean by this? Is he—is he going to die?”
“If no help comes, then this will be his fate, yes.”
“But how do I fit into this? I do not possess the power to stop whatever is causing this rift. I—I do not possess any powers at all.”
“Yes, you do, you just don’t know it yet,” Brethilwen said with a weary smile, her grey eyes resting on Anna with empathy. “You must have faith, faith in him and in yourself. But first you will need to get back your memories.”
“Can I? Is it possible?” A gleam of hope suddenly dawned in Anna’s eyes.
“Yes, of course it is possible. For every spell, there is one to lift it, even though this one might not be an easy endeavour.”
Brethilwen slung one arm around Anna’s shoulder and pulled her close. “Don’t let your anger suffocate the feelings you have for him. Promise me to hear him out when he comes to see you tonight and allow him a chance to set things right, even if it may seem impossible to you right now.”
Anna nodded, albeit with reluctance at first, but maybe if she could get her memories back and things were set right indeed, not everything might be lost after all.
“Good,” Brethilwen said and planted a motherly kiss on Anna’s hair, before rising from the bed and reaching for her satchel. “I must go now, but I shall make sure that you will not be disturbed. The king as gone into the forest to find some solace, but I know that he is very much looking forward to see you again.”
And with those words Brethilwen took her leave, the steady purling of the small fountain magnifying the sudden silence within Anna's chambers.
Anna felt her heart strangely calm and her head clearer than what she had expected it to be, something she attributed to the combined effect of the Miruvór and Brethilwen’s encouraging words. Now that she had overcome the initial shock and her mind had begun to work through all the unbelievable things Thranduil and Brethilwen had revealed to her, she realised that she hungered for more, more details, more explanations. But above anything else she wanted to recover her memory. This would be the first thing she would ask him to do. Only if she knew her past, she would be able to face her future. The evening couldn’t come fast enough for Anna, but she was in for a long and dreadful wait.
Deciding that brooding in her bed wouldn’t do, she threw back the covers, swung her legs around and sat for a moment at the edge of the bed, enjoying the feeling of tingling warmth as she sunk her toes into the fluffy rug. She instinctively brought her hand to her lower back, and to her relief she only sensed a dull echo of the former pain, hopefully a sign that she was finally on the mend. Emboldened by a sudden burst of energy, she rose from her bed and just to be sure she held on to the headboard, but thankfully her legs carried her weight. Her first steps led her to the pool and the thought of taking a bath was tempting, but she very much doubted that she would be able to truly relax in her current emotional state. She bent over the delicate flowers along the edge of the pool to inhale their sweet scent, but then her gaze was drawn to the large tapestry with the white stag. She hadn’t had the chance to observe it in detail and now as she stepped closer, she marvelled at how lovingly it had been crafted. Her hands grazed over the expertly woven rows of thick wool, decorative leaves and flowers added in endless hours of embroidery. As she stood immersed in silent admiration, she felt a lingering draft on her still bare toes. She bent down and noticed that there was a crack in between the floor and the wall, a dim ray of light filtering through. Spurred on to investigate further, Anna lifted the heavy tapestry, the outline of a door coming into view behind it. She quickly had her fingers wrapped around the doorknob, as she had an inkling where this might lead her. Anna bit her lower lip in anticipation and before her courage would leave her, she slowly turned the knob around with a squeaking sound and to her delight she met no resistance and the lock clicked open. She peered through the narrow crack, quickly surveying the room on the other side. The large chamber lay in complete silence before her, chandeliers and sconces lighting up what were unmistakably the king’s bedchambers.
She didn’t feel quite as guilty as she ought to feel, although what she was about to do clearly fell into the category of snooping around in Thranduil’s privacy. But after all, he hadn’t had any reservations in putting a spell on her just to keep her here, which made this somehow seem more justified and even gave her a small, but satisfactory feeling of vengeance. Leaving the door ajar, she ventured further and took in the magnificent sight. She had of course been to his quarters before, but she had gotten no further than the antechamber, where he would receive his guests, never had she laid eyes on those undoubtedly much more private areas. Seeing them all deserted made these rooms appear even grander and somehow it felt strange to imagine that one person alone would occupy such a vast amount of space. She felt a jolt of sadness when she thought of all those endless days and nights Thranduil regularly spent in his chambers without company. Surely they did not lack any comfort, but somehow radiated an eerie aura of melancholy and loneliness. It seemed awkward to see his majestic cloak and the crown atop the wooden dresser like abandoned artefacts. With outstretched fingers she carefully reached for the crown, the spiky leaves of holly surely not the most comfortable choice to wear, she thought to herself.
She jumped back startled like she had stepped on hot coals, the crown slipping from her hands and landing quite unceremoniously on the floor, when she saw a ghostly white figure looming in the shadowy depths of the room. Her heart raced wildly as she tried to search in her head for ways to exit this room the fastest way possible, only to realise that it was her own reflection staring back at her from a tall mirror on the wall. The tension left her body and she scorned herself for her foolishness. Who was she expecting to find here in Thranduil’s private chambers? The ghost of his wife haunting them, wanting to scare away anyone who got too close to the king? She shook her head at the absurdity of this idea, and with her daringness back in place she stepped closer, but what she saw nearly froze the blood in her veins. The long white nightgown glowed eerily in the flickering candlelight, and the image of a ghost was not far from her mind. Her hair had grown longer and fell now in thick, but slightly unkempt dark golden waves around her shoulders. She tentatively leaned closer, her hands clasping at her pale and sunken cheeks in disbelief and if it weren’t for her ever present freckles she would have thought herself a spectral vision rather than a human being of flesh and blood. Orange flames danced in the depths of her eyes. Eyes that were wide and with dark circles around them, the evidence of her distress as clear as daylight. This was the first time since she had been back to the palace that she was able to see the whole of herself and it couldn’t be farther from what she was expecting to see. Too unsettling was the sight, so she turned away, her eyes now drawn to the massive fourposter bed directly ahead of her. It occupied most of the space in his room, the intricately carved columns fashioned to resemble trees, their branches entwining and creating an elaborate wooden canopy. It was almost like sleeping beneath a real tree. The pristine sheets of green and cream coloured linen and an abundance of pillows and cushions in various sizes promised hours of comfortable rest, and not only that. She curiously picked up one of the pillows and dipped her nose into it. It was infinitely better than her own. The smell of forest leaves and berries mixed with a distinct musky scent could only be described in one word: Thranduil. A wave of goosebumps rolled over her when a myriad of highly unsuitable scenarios began to unfold in her head, all of them involving the Elvenking stretched out on his royal bed in all his tempting glory. For a moment she stared at the empty sheets like hypnotised, but then her anger suddenly rekindled when she remembered how he had tricked her without even batting an eyelid. She dumped the pillow with an indignant huff and turned away from the bed, a small open chest on a low lying table along the wall now catching her attention.
She peered inside and at first it seemed just a collection of random pretty things and personal belongings, and she shifted through them with mild curiosity. It was filled with letters, a heart-shaped stone, journals, a small dagger in a leather sheath, something that resembled strongly a boldly coloured child’s drawing, rolled up parchments and atop it all rested a delicate silver circlet. A beautiful golden locket had been left open and Anna leaned closer to study the pictures inside. And although the colours may have faded, the beauty of the elves depicted was more than obvious. One was unmistakably Thranduil and the other could only be the queen. An angelical face framed by chocolate brown waves, a flower crown atop her head, a serene smile and eyes the colour of liquid silver looked at Anna with a gentleness she did not feel she deserved. A stab of jealousy and guilt hit her when she realised that all these items must have once belonged to her. A box full of love and heartbreak, traces of someone long absent, but ever present. A sick feeling rode up her throat as the ghosts of Thranduil’s past sprung to life so vividly right in front of her eyes. She closed the locket with a snap and let it slide back into the chest. It served her right for being an intruder, thoroughly ignoring Thranduil’s privacy. These were things not intended for her eyes and now she paid the price for her indiscreet behaviour. Why was she even allowing herself to be so affected by these memorabilia? She was supposed to be mad at Thranduil and not ridden again by jealousy. She wrapped her arms tightly around herself, a sudden frost creeping under her skin. In her eagerness to explore she had completely forgotten to put on her robe and the fireplace was barely able to heat the vast bedchamber enough to keep the wintry chill at bay. It was time for her to get back to her room. She could feel her legs beginning to slack, after all her body was still not fully recovered. But a glance at Thranduil’s massive oaken desk brought a thought to her mind. Maybe she could write him a letter, or at least leave him a note, trying to explain her feelings. It might be easier than to face him again, his mere presence still causing her to forget half of what she was going to say. With determination she strode over to his desk, its proportions just as impressive as every single piece of furniture Thranduil called his own.
Her fingers grazed along the perfectly polished wooden surface, neatly organised piles of paper sharing their space with rolls of parchments, quills in several sizes and colours, some of them well worn, a sizeable ink bottle, as well as some maps and a few sketches of flowers and leaves, an open box with pencils beside them. She picked up one of the drawings, impressed by the astonishing amount of detail with which this particular flower had been executed, but then another parchment caught Anna’s eyes. She shifted some of the sketches to be able to take a better look. It appeared to have been crumpled and smoothed out numerous times, filled with sweeping lines of curved handwriting, angrily crossed out words, replaced by others, only to be crossed out as well. Clearly this did not look like a report on border patrols or the latest delivery of Dorwinion, but was of a distinctly more private nature. The first words alone sent her nearly staggering backwards: Dearest Adaneth, my little flower it read in elegant black letters. She dropped the drawing without giving it another look and pulled out the parchment from underneath, holding her breath as she did so. After a quick glance towards the door and with her heart drumming loudly, she began to read:
Dearest Adaneth, my little flower,
As I sit here at my desk, trying to string together the words I wish to tell you, I find myself struggling to formulate a single sentence without the desire to cross it out and start again anew. Like I wish that we could start out anew, without enchantments and deceptions. Giving you the chance which you have deserved from the very beginning and which I have taken from you.
Too long have I closed myself from what could bring me joy and when I was finally granted another chance at happiness, I have failed yet again. I am ancient like the weathered trees in my forest, but you are young like a budding flower in spring and you have swept into my life like a summer storm and captured my heart in a way I never thought possible. And although I might not deserve you, I cannot deny that I wish for nothing more than to have you by my side.
Then the text became illegible, a whole paragraph crossed out with forceful strikes that nearly tore through the parchment, and only the final lines made it through the king’s merciless self-censorship.
You mean more to me than you can imagine and if you left, I would have nothing at all. I may be a wise and powerful king, but I am also broken and alone and I deeply regret the pain I have caused you. I only ask for your forgiveness, to be allowed a second chance, so I might prove to you that I am indeed worthy of your trust and hopefully even of your love.
Anna clasped her hand over her mouth and she might have stopped breathing altogether as those words lit up her weary heart like the golden morning sun. She clutched the edge of the desk, the room spinning around her and there was a sudden sting of tears in her eyes. “Thranduil,” she whispered, tracing the delicate letters with her fingers as if she could touch him through the dried ink. Strung together with diligence, many times mulled over, each word carefully chosen and thoughtfully placed, only to be discarded and not deemed worthy of her eyes in the end. She clung to every single one of them, fearing that they might suddenly disappear if she looked away only for an instant.
“Why didn’t you tell me before?” She murmured, oblivious of the fact that she was merely talking to herself. The parchment trembling in her hand, she sank onto one of the high back chairs in front of the mantlepiece. She pressed the letter against her chest like it was the most precious treasure on all Arda and stared at the flickering flames, the smoky warmth of the hearth fire enveloping her in a lazy heat. There was a sudden heaviness radiating through her bones, so she pulled up her legs, the chair spacious enough for her to curl up comfortably, her head lying on the armrest’s velvet upholstery. She needed to rest, if only for a moment, before she would head back to her room. The soft crackle of the burning wood soon lulled her into a state of drowsiness. Still she did not dare to believe what stared at her in bold letters. My little flower, he had called her. With a smile on her lips and his words in her heart she fell asleep and did not wake until late that night.
elleth - female elf
Miruvór - an elven cordial, rejuvenates and strengthens
fae - soul
rhaw - body
adaneth - mortal woman