Lost and Found
Let our hearts, like doors, open wide, open wide
(Sleeping At Last: North)
His mind refreshed and his heart eager to see Anna again, Thranduil made his way back to the palace with a renewed spring in his step. The song of his beloved trees had lifted his spirits and filled his soul with confidence. Not only that, between frozen cushions of moss he had come across a single blossom of niphredil. To the unsuspecting eye it might have looked like a small blot of snow, but the Elvenking recognised its tiny white head beyond doubt and the rare sight filled him with joy, for it was highly unusual to find one of those blossoms so early on. They heralded the onset of spring, which was still nearly three moons away. He ran his fingers across the shivering petals, amazed at how they, despite their delicacy, braved the cold. Star of the Earth they were called, revered by his kin, and to him they were a blessing amidst all the barren frost. Maybe there was still hope for his forest and even for himself. He crossed the bridge leading to his palace with long strides, his voluminous cloak trailing behind him through the snow. This time he would do the right thing. He would ask Anna’s forgiveness and there would be no more deceptions and spells. Although, there would have to be at least one, necessary to bring back her memory, and he did not feel overly confident about it. In the long millennia of his lifetime he had perfected an impressive set of enchantments, the glamour hiding his scars being a marvellous display of advanced magic, but alas, a person’s memory was a different thing altogether. The mind was a highly complex matter, be it of elf or human, and when meddling with it, the prospect of things going horribly awry always loomed in the background. This would require all his skill and utmost delicacy and even then the outcome was still unsure. He hoped fervently that Anna would not bring up the topic of this particular piece of magic, but of course he knew better than that. It would possibly be the first thing on her mind. He looked up into the sky, sinister patches of black ink in between ghostly branches, but the stars were veiled in their endless dome above. No guidance would come from them tonight. He was on his own in this.
The entrance to his palace lay in wintry silence before him, all sounds muffled by the snow, and while the gates were being pulled open, he brushed off a thick layer of snowflakes that had settled on his cloak, wisps of glittering white swirling around him as he stepped through. Darkness had fallen hours ago and there was no more time to be wasted. He would go directly to Anna’s rooms, the gloomy loneliness of his own chambers not anything he was particularly looking forward to. He pulled back his hood, soaked through from the hours spent outside, the lengths of his hair plastered to his cloak in wet strands of silvery gold, but for once, changing into fitting clothes, or rather dry ones, would have to wait in favour of more important matters. The hallways around him were filled with an unusual bustle, something that slightly annoyed him as he was hoping for a swift and unperturbed return. Despite the late hour many elves in the palace were still up and going about their business. No doubt the good news of the army’s return from Dale must have spread like wildfire down to the very last cavern. A certain sense of elation permeated the air and a humming like that of a beehive enveloped him as he passed the subterranean stairways branching off towards the lower levels, small groups of elves standing in animated chatter in shadowy corners to his left and right. Most likely it was also an open secret by now that not only the prince but also the head of the king’s guard were on their way back to the Woodland Realm and even for the most common elf this translated into some sort of reconciliation between them and the king. The further particulars might remain unclear, but there was not a single elf in the palace who was not eager to see the new relationship, especially between father and son, with their own eyes. After Thranduil’s dramatic return with a grievously injured Anna the ambience had been somewhat subdued and everyone had watched with bated breath as Thranduil had tended this strange human with a level of concern and dedication he had not displayed in several centuries. It did not take long for even the most sceptic to notice that there was something profound growing between the two of them. Whispers sprouted that the king’s heart might finally be thawing and this adaneth could be more than just a guest after all, turning her visit into a permanent stay. But what none of them knew was, that, as Thranduil was finally willing to commit himself, things were in danger to fall apart altogether. The faces that turned towards him greeted him with gestures of reverence, many of them alight with cheerful anticipation. He passed them with a stoical expression on his face, for he knew in his heart that some of those smiles would die on their faces when they would realise that their loved ones would not return. It was the harsh reality of war and the price they payed for peace, or rather for his desire to reclaim a necklace, he thought to himself with embitterment.
Thranduil rounded the last corner towards the royal quarters, leaving behind the excited chatter and clatter, the silence welcoming him like a soothing embrace. Thalion, the young dark-haired guard in front of Anna’s chambers stood at attention as Thranduil approached him and for a moment the king felt a brief stab of guilt. Maybe he had been overly strict with his orders, being fiercely adamant about no one entering and leaving these rooms in his absence. Now that he was standing right in front of the obviously sealed doors, his fear of Anna running away appeared suddenly unfounded.
“Any unusual occurrences in my absence, Thalion?” he inquired and the guard seemed to swell with pride, this being his first important assignment as member of the king’s guard.
“No, my lord. Everything has been quiet and I have made sure that your orders would be closely followed.” Under the well trained expressionless facade only a slight tightening of the jaw gave away Thalion’s lingering tension. Thranduil graced him with a satisfied nod and then the guard pulled the doors open, announcing in a clear voice: “My lady, the king is here to see you.”
Thranduil strode into the room without waiting for an answer, not that he needed to, his cloak billowing behind him like a dark storm cloud, but he stopped dead in his tracks even before Thalion could shut the doors behind him. His voice cut through the ominous silence like the edge of a knife. “This room is empty,” he said. His words were ice and so was his gaze when he faced Thalion, who had abandoned the doorknob and stood now thunderstruck beside the king.
“M—my lord,” he said, nearly lost for words. “I assure you that this door has been shut at all times during your absence. No one has entered or left.”
“Are you quite sure of that?” Unspoken accusations rang through Thranduil’s words, the strain in his voice palpable.
The blood rushed to Thalion’s head and after a moment of hesitation he said: “Well Brethilwen did, but with your permission.”
“So, someone did leave this room then,” Thranduil said silkily, raising one of his eyebrows.
“Yes, but she was the only one. No one else has passed through this door. I assure you, my lord that —”
“Don’t waste your breath!” Thranduil cut him off rather gruffly.
Panic began to surge beneath his anger. She could not have possibly slipped away unnoticed! Not unless she had mastered the ability to turn invisible like a certain hobbit appeared to possess. His heavy cloak suddenly seemed to weigh him down, the cold seeping into his bones. With a skilful twist he loosened the silver brooch to dispose of the uncomfortably wet garment, flinging it onto a nearby stool without so much as another glance. For a moment he stood as if in a trance beside Anna’s bed, the emptiness laying itself like a shroud around his heart. He paid no heed to Thalion, who seemed to be in utter distress at having failed his king. The guard scuttled around, obediently searching every nook and corner of Anna’s chamber, the pool and the alcove with the bookshelf being his first guesses. Thranduil’s own eyes remained fixed on the evidence of Anna’s absence. Her robe hung folded and untouched over the headboard and the tips of her slippers peeped out under the bed. She could not have possibly gone far, barefoot and dressed in naught but her nightgown. And if her condition was anywhere near as serious as Brethilwen had described, she was in no state to wander around. His fingers grazed over the book he had given her, which lay together with the wooden box on her bedside table, much like an abandoned gift from an unwanted person. He pressed his lips together, turning away from the sight. If only he had listened to Brethilwen’s advice from the very beginning, much could have been different.
“My lord!” Thalion called from across the room, rousing Thranduil from his brooding reverie. “I think I found something!”
Thranduil spun around, momentarily both relieved and alarmed. There was his guard holding up the tapestry with the stag, the concealed door to his own bedchambers clearly standing ajar behind it.
“It appears that your guest has made an unexpected discovery, my lord.”
“So it should seem.” Thranduil drew his eyebrows together in a frown. This was clearly not what he had expected though. His orders to Thalion were short and crisp: “Send for Brethilwen and tell her to come to my chambers. Then you will resume your post. The hour may be late, but your duty has not ended yet. I shall proceed on my own from here on.”
“Yes, my lord!” Thalion bowed, but did not move.
Thranduil pinched the bridge of his nose and let out a strained sigh. “What is it now, Thalion?” he said rather tersely.
“With your permission, my lord,” the guard said, holding the king’s gaze, “I am quite sure that Brethilwen is not to be blamed for this.”
“Why would you assume that I should think so?” Thranduil said icily.
“Well, I thought that, since you wanted her to come to your chambers, it meant that —,”
“You thought wrong.” Thranduil did not wait for Thalion to finish his sentence. This was it, the end of his patience with this young guard was imminent. “But even if this were the case,” he enunciated every word clearly, “it would be none of your concern.”
“Of course, my lord. Please forgive my wrong assumptions.” Thalion bowed and shuffled aside, making way for the king, who rushed past him without another word.
As he lingered on the threshold Thranduil was trying to remember the last time he had stepped through this door. But it wasn’t a pleasant memory and so he pushed it to the back of his mind rather quickly. But there had been times in the past where this door had been kept open, permanently connecting the royal chambers and Thranduil could see the images clearly, as vivid as if they had just been a day ago, in front of his mind’s eye.
There was a tiny golden haired elfling running back and forth on his stubby legs in between the two rooms, shrieking with high pitched laughter. He stormed towards his Adar, who was trying to work at his desk with varying degrees of success, and then back to his Naneth, who had her maids attend to her gown in preparation for the upcoming royal dinner. The elfling squealed in delight as both his parents took turns in teasing him with cuddles and tickles whenever they got a hold of him until he finally plonked himself down at his father’s feet, cheeks flushed pink in exertion, his blue eyes alight with the pure and innocent joy of a carefree childhood.
“How long do you need with that?” The little elfling pouted, pointing with his rounded chin in the direction of his Adar’s seemingly never diminishing pile of papers. “I want to play!” he whined, his lips quivering.
“Not long, my little leaf,” Thranduil said to his son, who looked at him pleadingly. “And you are playing, aren’t you? You have been racing around the royal chambers for several hours already. Shouldn’t you be tired by now?”
“But I am not tired!” The elfling protested fervently, wrapping his arms around his father’s legs to snuggle up against him and tugging at the brocade robe with impatient little fingers. “And I want to play with Nana and with you! Please?”
Thranduil finally put his quill down and peered at his son, trying to maintain a serious facade, which proved increasingly difficult with those endless pools of blue staring at him.
“These are important matters that require my attention, Legolas,” he said, placing one flat hand atop the parchment in front of him.
“More important than me?” Legolas’ eyes suddenly threatened to fill with tears.
“No iôn-nín, of course not,” Thranduil said with a smile quirking around his mouth. “You are more important than anything else in this world, but that still does not mean that a king and a queen do not have duties to attend to. And you are a prince, so you will have to learn that sometimes what we want to do and what we have to do are not the same thing. But go now and sit with your Naneth, so I can finish this up quickly and then we will play.”
Reluctantly the elfling let go of his father’s legs and stood beside the enormous desk, his little nose pressed against the edge.
“Promise?” he asked, his eyes wide like saucers.
“Promise,” came the king’s answer. Those eyes never failed to soften his heart, but of course he would never admit to anyone that his son could wrap him around his little finger. “And besides, I have a new wooden sword for you to try.” A mischievous glint was in Thranduil’s eyes.
“Really?” The prince’s chubby cheeks grew even rounder, his whole body bobbing up and down in anticipation.
“Yes, and the faster I can finish this, the sooner you will get to see it. So, off you go, little leaf!” He sent his son away with a playful tap on his nose.
Legolas nodded obediently and turned around, calling out to his mother “Nana, Nana! Ada says he has a new sword for me!”
Thranduil watched as his son hopped back to the queen’s rooms like a fawn in spring, waving his arms in excitement, the incessant pattering of his tiny feet on the stone tiles gradually fading away. When the small shape had disappeared through the door and only the echo of his son’s laughter remained in the air, he turned his attention back to his paperwork. But in truth his concentration was long gone and his fingers were now itching to exchange the quill for the hilt of his own practice sword.
“I will finish this later,” he murmured to himself, pushing away the pile of documents to be signed and mentally preparing himself for another long night of work. He pulled out an elongated wrapped package from the lowest drawer of his desk and rose from his seat.
“Now who is the greatest warrior in all the Woodland Realm?” he called aloud as he picked up his own wooden sword from its stand along the wall, twirling it in his hand with graceful ease and a faint swooshing noise filling the air. High pitched giggling was the answer from beyond the door and with a wide grin on his face the king threw himself into the fray.
With a melancholy smile Thranduil resurfaced from those precious memories of golden times long turned dark. But this was not the right moment to dwell on them, he reminded himself. More amused than upset he took to investigate his chambers, unsure of what he might find. His rooms had more than one concealed door and if Anna had found this one, the others might not be safe from her curiosity either. At first sight everything appeared just the way he had left it several hours ago, but then the distinct pointy shape of his crown on the floor caught his eye and he was quite sure that this was not where he had left it. He picked it up to place it atop his cloak on the dresser, carefully avoiding the spiky edges of the holly leaves, which stuck out at rather awkward angles, but the state of his crown was not his main concern at the moment. Although he was less than fond of finding his personal belongings out of place, he could not quite bring himself to be angry with Anna. His only wish was to find her, both unharmed and well. Everything else could wait. He passed the tall mirror along the wall, avoiding his reflection, as he didn’t need another reminder of his drenched appearance, the flickering candlelight casting a blood red gleam on his burgundy robe. He half expected Anna to leap out from a hidden corner, either frightened at the prospect of being discovered or eager to be found and ready to face him in a heated argument. But the vast expanse of his chambers lay completely deserted and in utter silence before him, just like every other single day. He shot a curious glance at his bed, but put the idea right out of his mind. She could not have possibly lied down there, although he had to admit that he was not averse to the idea of finding her stretched out in between his sheets. He shook his head at his own frivolousness. This was not something that was going to happen any time soon, if it was ever going to happen. He turned around and then he saw her, or rather he saw waves of golden hair flow in between the armrest and the seat of his high back chair. His heart picked up its pace as he approached the chair silently from behind, the massive back still hiding her body from view. He held his breath as he gripped the backrest and peered over it. A cascade of emotions washed over Thranduil’s face when he saw her all curled up on his giant chair, the innocent nightgown hugging her curves in the most delicious way. She seemed so small and fragile, almost like a little girl that had climbed onto her father’s armchair to wait for his return, and then falling asleep when the waiting had stretched well into the night. Her head was nestled against the armrest, strands of her honey-coloured hair splayed on the flowery covers, her legs pulled up with only her toes peeping out from under her nightdress, and her hands folded tightly against her chest. For a moment he just stood there, drinking in this tender image, gladness in his heart that he had not lost her, but rather found her in the most unexpected place. Despite the fire flickering close by, there were goosebumps on her arms and shoulders, so he reached for a woollen blanket on the footstool nearby and pulled it gently over her body, careful not to wake her. A small sigh escaped her and she shifted her head, her neck now so close to his fingertips that he could almost feel her pulse on his skin. A sudden flash of heat surged inside him and he quickly retreated his hands, before his body might eventually betray him. As he adjusted the blanket he noticed that her hands were wrapped around a crumpled piece of parchment. He did not want to extract it from her fingers, but even without being able to smooth it out he recognised it as his own letter, the one he had abandoned in frustration, convinced that she would probably throw it right back at him. But yet here she was, his little flower, in his room, asleep on his chair, covered in his blanket and holding on to his letter. Maybe this was a good omen indeed.
For a moment he was torn in between waking her immediately or just allowing her to keep sleeping until she would wake of her own accord, but decided that the latter was probably the better choice, besides he wouldn’t want to miss this moment of peaceful bliss. With nimble fingers he removed the spider brooch and placed it atop the mantlepiece, proceeding then to undo the clasps of his velvet robe one by one, peeling himself out of the garment and draping it across the backrest of the other chair. He concluded that the white tunic underneath was still in a reasonably dry condition, something which could not be said of his black leggings. He let himself sink onto the chair facing Anna and pulled off his boots, stretching his long legs towards the fireplace, so the heat might dry them as best as possible. He found his eyes straying back to Anna, as this was the first time in nearly two millennia that actually there was another female, be it adaneth or elleth, asleep in his chambers and it felt right. There had been some for whom he might have harboured a superficial feeling of adoration in the past, but none had been able to kindle in him a protectiveness as fierce as this mortal. He could feel the desire to make her his own rushing through his veins like the echo of a long forgotten song. The vigorous power of his emotions had scared him, had made him want to keep them under lock and key, afraid of what they could do to him if they were freed of their cage. But then, in the midst of the darkest moment, when he had almost believed her lost after the spiders’ attack, something unexpected had happened, something that had erased all doubts he still might have had. It had been a healing bond and nothing more and he had been careful so as not to push too far. Even with the distance remaining in between them, he had felt the faint golden light emerging from her soul and when his own fae had reached out for hers to push back the darkness, it had been like the completion of a chord, the missing note in a melody, enveloping him in perfect harmony. With utter terror he had witnessed her inner light flicker when the fever had threatened to consume her afterwards. The fear of losing her had driven him to the radical and admittedly risky art of fire-magic. He had been very much aware that he had knowingly pushed her to the very edge of what her body could possibly endure, and it had nearly broken his heart to see her suffer so much at his own hands, but it was either that or lose her to death and that was not an option he was willing to consider. By the grace of the Valar he had succeeded in the end and Anna had proven to be much stronger and more resilient than what was to be expected of a mere mortal. He looked at her with fondness, her lips slightly parted and her brows drawn together in a frown, her chest rising and falling steadily, and he wondered if she had also felt their connection through the bond they had so briefly shared.
While he waited for Anna to wake up he thought that he could use a glass of Dorwinion to wash down the lingering tension in his veins. He rose quietly from his seat and made his way over to the small table that stood near his dresser to serve himself of his favourite vintage. When he reached out for the carafe there was a knock at the door and following his soft-spoken “come in” Brethilwen strode into the room, her face pale and distraught.
“You called for me, my lord.” She bowed and added slightly out of breath, “I heard from Thalion that she—, she is gone from her room?” Her voice was unnaturally high, and her eyes went wide at the sight of her king standing barefoot, his hair still damp and not anywhere near its usual sleek perfection, wearing only his tunic and leggings, both of which might have seen better times. Thranduil nodded gravely, while proceeding to pour himself a glass of wine at what could only be described as an agonisingly slow pace.
“Yes, that is true,” he said, picking up the glass and languidly swirling the contents inside, while he leant casually against the edge of the table, “but please, do keep your voice down.”
Brethilwen frowned, confusion written all over her face, but did as she was bidden and lowered her voice to a near whisper, her eyes barely being able to focus on the king. “I am terribly sorry my lord, I have no idea how that could have happened. I swear that she was still in her room when I left her and I am sure that she cannot just have disappeared!”
“Indeed, she cannot,” he answered, his voice as calm as the sea on a clear summer’s day.
“But how can you be so tranquil when she is lost?” Brethilwen wrung her hands, her face flushed pink.
Thranduil took a slow sip from his glass, the heady bouquet creating a pleasant tingle on his palate and after placing the glass back on the table, carefully alining its base with the floral decor on the wooden surface, he faced Brethilwen with a smirk “Because I have found her.”
“You have?” Brethilwen stared at him incredulously. “But why did you not tell me?” She threw her hands up in the air in exasperation.
“I am telling you now, am I not?” he said, his smirk widening into a toothy grin, and Brethilwen raised one of her eyebrows, swallowing whatever remark she might have wanted to drop.
“Yes, yes of course you are, but may I ask where she is?”
He pointed an elegant finger towards the high-back chairs behind him and following his approving nod Brethilwen sneaked curiously towards the mantlepiece. Thranduil first watched her from the corner of his eye and then ambled over to stand beside her, hands clasped behind his back. The image of Anna sound asleep and swaddled in Thranduil’s blanket cast a gleeful smile on Brethilwen’s face. With a satisfied nod she turned towards him.
“You are one lucky ellon, Thranduil,” she said airily.
“I know. Possibly more than what I deserve,” he retorted with no small amount of smugness.
“Ever the modest one, aren’t you?” she teased him.
“You know me well, Brethilwen,” he said, lazily crossing his arms in front of his chest.
“I do, but I am glad for you nonetheless.” Suddenly her gaze was drawn to the empty dining table. “Should I tell the kitchens to prepare dinner for two then?” she asked, always the devoted servant, no matter the circumstances.
“Yes, please,” he said, rubbing his hands together, as he felt his appetite suddenly resurfacing. “It appears that I might not be dining alone tonight after all.”
To be continued…
Niphredil - a winter flower, meaning ‘little pallor’ or ‘snowdrop’
adaneth - mortal woman
iôn-nín - my son
Adar - Father
Ada - Daddy
Naneth - Mother
Nana - Mommy
elleth - female elf
fae - soul
ellon - male elf