The Secret of the Forest - A Thranduil Romance

Patience and Resolve

What if we welcomed change in,

Or opened up just enough

To let it begin?

(Sleeping At Last: Resolve.)

The open door between the two royal chambers remained the topic of many curious conversations in the palace over the course of the next few days. When Thranduil had ordered for the tapestry with the stag to be hung on the opposite wall and the seamstress was called to adjust the king’s old robe to fit Anna’s size, it seemed that a fresh breeze was slowly but surely sweeping away the dust of centuries from those ancient halls of the Woodland Realm. Anna herself would have been perfectly content to remain in that joyous bubble that was the first kiss she had shared with Thranduil. If it had been up to her, she would have wanted to stay forever wrapped up in his arms, their locked lips the only thing that mattered in this world or any other. But of course she knew that this was a wish that was as desirable as it was unrealistic, so she turned her attention to what lay ahead. It had become obvious that her medical condition had improved significantly, so neither Thranduil nor Brethilwen kept enforcing their previous rigorous rules of confining Anna to her bed. Apparently all it had taken was a little bit of tenderness from the Elvenking, so Thranduil made good on his promise to kiss her ever so often, filling their days with sweet moments of intimacy. She was grateful for every single one of them, even if they were just brief, due to the many obligations Thranduil had to attend to in preparation for the arrivals from Dale. To her delight she had been given leave to not only move around freely in her own rooms, but she had also been granted access to Thranduil’s chambers, within reasonable limitations of course. After all, he was the king and that extended even to the privacy of his chambers, where meetings were held, politics discussed and decisions taken regarding the safety of his lands. He had not forbidden her to partake in any of these matters, but she felt that this was something she had no right to interfere with. And even if the thought of sneaking into his bedchambers in the dead of night might have been very tempting, she adhered to the rules, just like he did too, never making an inappropriate attempt to push too far, but rather allowing their tender bond the time it needed to grow.

Anna waited anxiously for the return of the elven army and with them the fabled wizard, who finally might unlock her path towards a possible future by helping her recover her past. What she would barely even admit to herself was that, alongside her excitement, the fear of what the uncovering of her past might bring also grew. Now that she had this precious memory of their kiss to cherish, she was even more terrified of losing this beautiful moment. And for what? To regain an uncertain past? Memories she might not even want to see? What if there was terror awaiting her and she gave away her present life for nothing? She did not want to confide her mounting worries in Thranduil, because she feared that this would only reenforce his wish that she remained oblivious of her past. The reluctance on his face, when she had asked him to perform the spell to bring back her memories, had been all too obvious and she knew that if he would see her wavering in her resolve, it might make him want to persuade her to change her mind at the last moment.

Her patience was tried dearly as those days seemed to fill with endless hours of fruitless waiting, still being confined to the royal chambers. So one lazy morning, when her eyes caught sight of Thranduil’s book on her bedside table, an idea started taking shape in her head. A vague shadow at first, it quickly grew into a potpourri of colourful images. She reached for the book and the wooden box and settled at a small desk beside the bookshelf, which allowed her to overlook the ever murmuring fountain that fed her small pool. She placed the book in front of her and the wooden box beside it. For a moment she laid one hand on top of the cover, closed her eyes, enjoying the smoothness and warmth of the supple leather and then she clicked open the box, diligently placing the ink jar on the desk to then remove the quill from its silken bedding. Absentmindedly she stroked her cheek with the feathery tip and then a small smile dawned on her face. A scene had begun to form in her mind’s eye, so she opened the book, dipped the quill into the ink and began to write, smooth and curvy letters blossoming on the white parchment. It did not take long for the first sentence to be accompanied by another and the blank pages filled with new life rather quickly. She was going to make good use of Thranduil’s gift. The hours flew by and she had to ask Brethilwen for a refill of her ink jar more than once.

As the late afternoon of the fourth day of waiting drew to an end, Anna was sitting again at her desk, when Thranduil suddenly strode into her rooms, urgency leading him on. She looked up from her writings, smoothing her hair away from her face, surprised to find him in a state of unusual agitation.

“How long do you need to be ready?” he asked the moment he had spotted her, a slight edge to his voice.

Anna peered at him curiously, her quill still hovering above the book. “Ready for what?”

“They will be here before nightfall,” he said, “and I want you to accompany me to meet my son at the gates upon his arrival.”

“So soon?” she said bluntly. Despite her earlier impatience this took her now completely by surprise.

“Not any moment too soon,” he stated as a matter of factly. “And if I am not mistaken you seemed quite eager for this moment to come.”

“Yes, I know, it’s just that I —, maybe it is better that I wait here.” She laid down the quill, her eyes not quite meeting his gaze.

“And why would you want to do that?” Thranduil seemed taken aback.

“Well, I thought I was still not to leave these chambers,” she said slightly evasive.

“That is true indeed,” he said, stepping closer and placing his flat palms on the desk in front of her, “but you are allowed to go wherever you please as long as you are with me.” He glanced briefly at the book and Anna closed it with one swift motion. This wasn’t for anyone to see, at least not yet.

“But I am not—,” she broke off, quickly hiding her hands under the table when she realised that her fingers were full of ink stains.

“Not what?” he picked up her words.

She shifted in her seat. “Well, I am not anyone official. I am not part of the royal household.” She twisted her hands in her lap. “I am not even an elf, only a human.”

“Stop using that as an excuse for everything!” he said sternly, the open collar of his robe exposing his neck as he leaned closer. “I want you by my side. That should be enough.”

She nodded, still not quite convinced. “But what will people think?” she said in a small voice, gnawing at her lower lip and laying her forehead in wrinkles.

“Why does it matter to you what they might think?” He drew his eyebrows together in a frown. “I am their king and I choose who is to be with me. And it is you I want.”

The determination in his words made it quite clear that he craved her company in more ways than just one. “Besides,” he said, rounding the table and pulling her up from her seat so she stood facing him, his fingers tipping her chin up, “this is an order and you wouldn’t want to defy your king’s command now, would you?”

She leaned backwards against the edge of the table, the challenging tone in his voice awakening her spirit of contradiction. “What if I were to do so?”

He wrapped his arms around her body and pulled her closer in one possessive motion until his face hovered above hers, their lips nearly touching. “If you were to defy my orders so brazenly,” he said, enunciating every word clearly, “then I would need to think on ways how to punish you for your disobedience.” A smirk dawned on his face as he tightened his grip on her. “And although that is a thought undeniably tempting and possibly worth exploring, I rather have you join me by your own free will.”

“Of course,” she breathed, his playfulness igniting a fire inside her, “how could I disobey your command when you are being so very persuasive.”

“Good,” he said, his hands trailing up from her waist to the nape of her neck, long fingers weaving through her hair, “I’m glad we have that settled.”

He tilted her head back, and then he pressed his lips against the sensitive skin right under her ear. A shiver went through Anna’s body, her pulse racing, as he scattered fluttery kisses along her neck, curving upwards to plant another slow kiss under her other ear.

“And wear the pearl necklace,” he murmured, his breath hot against the shell of her ear. “Not only would it please me greatly to see you wearing it, but I am quite sure that a certain hobbit would be delighted too.”

“Bilbo is coming too?” she said, his words suddenly rousing her from the cloud of delightful pleasures his lips were bestowing upon her.

“Yes, he is.” Thranduil pulled away to look at her face, his fingers gently combing through her disarrayed hair. “Apparently he is never far from the wizard.” He quirked an eyebrow in amusement.

Anna looked herself up and down to where her newly acquired robe was tied loosely over her linen tunic, “But I cannot go like this,” she said, twisting a strand of her hair in between her fingers, “my hair is a mess and I’ve gotten ink all over my fingers.” She cast a wry glance at her hands.

“Not only your fingers.” Thranduil bit back a grin.

“What do you mean, not only my fingers? Do I have something on my face too?” She blinked, slightly irritated by his amused stare.

“Indeed you do,” he said, pointing an elegant finger at her forehead.

“Where?” She brought her hand to her forehead, but Thranduil caught her wrist with his own hand. “Better don’t touch it, because you will just smear it,” he said, adding in a deadpan voice: “You do know that you are supposed to write with the quill and not with your fingers?”

“I know that!” she exclaimed, “and I am using the quill!”

“Well, it doesn’t look like you do,” he said, breaking into an amused chuckle and letting go of her hands. “You are just like Legolas when he was little.” He leaned against the bookshelf, his arms folded casually in front of his chest. “Every time he would write, he used to end up with more ink on his face and hands than on the parchment. His sloppiness used to drive his tutors insane, although I am pretty sure he must have thoroughly enjoyed himself, knowing that they would eventually give up, exasperated, and allow him to exchange the books for his bow, which of course had been his plan all along.”

Anna couldn’t help but laugh. “Sounds like a smart plan to me.”

“Oh it was and it almost never failed. I believe that there must be at least one example of his writing attempts hidden amongst these books.” He turned around towards the shelf as he spoke, tapping several books with his fingertips until he found what he was looking for.

“Yes, here it is,” he said, pulling out a thin volume from within a larger one, bound in simple black leather and placing it on the table beside Anna’s book. “Take a look,” he said with an inviting nod.

Anna did as she was told and when she opened the book and browsed through the pages, she saw Thranduil’s vivid description confirmed, blotted pages with stains where there should have been neat handwriting, but to her surprise she also found that Legolas had filled many pages with drawings that brimmed over with an obvious comic talent. When she stumbled upon an especially grim looking specimen of what could only have been one of his tutors throwing a fit of madness, she giggled and looked up to Thranduil: “Well, Legolas might not have been good at writing, but he definitely had a penchant for drawing. These are really good, although the ones depicted might not have found them particularly flattering.”

“No, they were most certainly not amused, especially not this one,” Thranduil smirked as he took another look at said drawing, “that’s why we eventually had to hide these masterpieces from his tutors, who probably would have very much desired to cast all of them into the fires of Mount Doom.”

“I bet they did!” Anna closed the book with a snort as she imagined the bewildered faces of Legolas’ tutors, and handed it back to Thranduil. Countless hours spent in the library had taught her that this mountain was the most unwanted and possibly hottest place imaginable in all of Middle-earth. A perfect place to dispose of unflattering images.

“But in the end he mostly got away unscathed.” He took the book from her and placed it back on the shelf. “He had perfected the use of his charm to his advantage at an early age, so the poor tutors were basically helpless against his overwhelming powers.” The smugness in his voice made her chuckle.

“I wonder where he got that from?” She threw him a coquettish glance.

“Well, don’t look at me!” Thranduil’s face was as innocent as freshly fallen snow. “I was a most obedient and dutiful elfling in my youth.”

“Sure and you most certainly have never ever used your charm to get what you wanted.” She jabbed one of her ink stained fingers towards his chest.

He straightened himself, assuming a regal posture. “Never! After all I am the king and I always get what I want. I don’t need my charm for that.”

“Oh, but I quite like it when you use your charm. It suits you very well.” She snuggled against his chest, revelling in his warmth and inhaling the sweetness of his scent, and he closed his arms around her in a tender embrace, the music of their beating hearts filling the silence around them.

“We must not tarry any longer,” he said after a long moment that was still too short, planting a kiss atop her hair and she reluctantly freed herself from his hold. “Let Brethilwen take care of your necessary preparations, including this,” he said, brushing his thumb across her forehead, “and meet me in my chambers when you are all set.” He turned around on his heels, leaving Anna behind in a state of nervous excitement.

Brethilwen appeared not long after with a luxurious platinum grey dress in hands. It was of a heavy brocade fabric, embroidered with a delicate pattern of silver wintry leaves all over the bodice as well as the length of the full skirt, a wide belt in silver slung around the waist, coiling vines snaking themselves along the trimmings, intricate adornments of white lace accenting the curved neckline.

“This is what I am supposed to wear?” Anna swallowed, not even daring to touch the gown with her ink stained fingers.

“Yes, the king personally requested that you wear this,” Brethilwen said, carefully laying out the garment for Anna on her bed. “And he reminded me not to forget the pearl necklace.” Brethilwen pulled out the upper drawer of the small ebony armoire at the foot end of Anna’s bed, removing the necklace from its velvet bedding.

Anna still couldn’t tear her eyes off the dress and when she made no motion to change, Brethilwen frowned. “Don’t you like it?”

“Yes, I do. It’s beautiful, regal almost, and so very different from what I have been wearing lately, well, as a matter of fact, from what I have ever worn in my time here.” With a wry smile she pulled at her simple yet comfortable tunic underneath her robe.

Brethilwen stood with her arms akimbo, throwing Anna a measured glance. “Then it’s about time you start wearing nice dresses and if you are to appear in the king’s company, you must be appropriately dressed. This one will fit you perfectly, you’ll see. But we should better get started. The king does not appreciate to be kept waiting, especially now that he is expecting to meet his son again.”

Anna nodded, obediently untying her robe and handing it to Brethilwen, who eyed her face and hands with a frown. “And those ink stains will have to come off first.” Brethilwen sighed, turning towards the pool to retrieve a washcloth.

Despite the elaborateness of Anna’s dress, Brethilwen worked with surprising speed. After she had sufficiently freed Anna of all stains, she carefully brushed her hair until it fell in sleek honey coloured strands down her back. When she then pulled the dress over Anna’s thin linen tunic and proceeded to tie the laces in the back, Anna barely could take her eyes off herself in the mirror. She felt considerably strange, but also distinctly proud that Thranduil had wanted her by his side and that he had given so much thought on how to bring out her features in the most subtle way. She wasn’t a stunning beauty, especially compared to the elves, that were all of an ethereal beauty which was impossible to match. But she did have a pleasant appearance, her green eyes glowing in anticipation and she even had learned to appreciate her freckles after Thranduil had confessed to her how much he adored them, insisting that one day he would take the time to kiss every single one of them.

When Anna was all set and Brethilwen had finally ushered her through the concealed door into Thranduil’s chambers, she caught sight of him sitting in front of his tall mirror, a servant diligently adjusting the fit of his crown, until the ivy leaves stood once again in pristine alignment. He then rose from his seat, and two other servants, who had been waiting with his silvery cloak in their hands, approached him from behind to drape the heavy garment around his shoulders. Some final touches were given to his hair, which fell in thick strands down to the middle of his back. Even from behind he looked every bit the fabulous Elvenking he was, majestic and awe-inspiring, his cloak flowing around him in abundant waves. Upon a flick of Thranduil’s hand the servants interrupted their tasks, retreating simultaneously from him and when he turned around in one graceful motion, his stunning appearance left her nearly breathless. Beneath his silver cloak he wore an exquisite robe of charcoal grey, just a shade darker than Anna’s dress, the familiar spider brooch resting beneath the high open collar, dark grey leggings tucked into tall black leather boots.

“Come closer,” he said with a generous smile, languidly twisting the rings on his fingers until their fit seemed to be sufficiently satisfying.

She approached him slowly, the long trail of her dress rustling with every step, and her cheeks growing uncomfortably hot beneath his testing gaze. What if he wasn’t satisfied with the way she looked? There was no way she could ever be nearly half as elegant as him. When she stood directly before him, she lowered her head, staring at the floor between them. Over the course of the last few days she had gotten used to his slightly more casual robes and seeing him now again in all his kingly glory, he appeared considerably intimidating. The pointed crown atop his head added to his already impressive height and made Anna feel even smaller in his presence. He rounded her, appraising her silently, and Anna could have sworn that he was enjoying himself greatly, while she struggled to maintain her composure, her heart pounding madly in her chest. He stopped right behind her, leaning closer and his breath on her neck made the little hairs stand on end.

“You look lovely,” he whispered into her ear and then he produced a small package from the folds of his robe and handed it to her. “Open it up,” he said, standing now beside her and looking at her expectantly.

She hesitantly extended her hands towards the small box and clicked it open. Bedded atop a lining of blood red silk lay two perfect pearl earrings to match her necklace. A small gasp escaped her and when she looked up into his face there was an excited gleam in his eyes.

“I want you to wear those,” he said, removing them swiftly from the box and fitting them both to her ears with skilled fingers.

“Thank you,” she murmured, slightly overwhelmed by all this sudden attention given to her appearance.

Although Brethilwen had been kind enough to provide her with a rough overview of what was expected of her in the company of the Elvenking, the prospect of royal protocol ahead admittedly terrified her. She brought her hands to her ears and then allowed her fingers to glide over the necklace, to then smooth the bodice of her dress in an attempt to calm herself.

“Nervous?” he said, tugging at the folds of his own cloak to adjust it.

“Is it that obvious?” she asked, her shoulders sinking.

“Only a little bit,” he retorted dryly, “but no need to be afraid, just hold your head high and follow my lead.”

She took a deep breath and nodded slowly, hoping that she would not disappoint him. “I’ll do my best.”

“I know you will. Legolas will be very pleased to see you with me.” He held out his arm to her with an encouraging smile and when she finally laid her hand on his arm, her fingers were trembling less than what she had expected.

The doors of his chambers swung open and with resolve in her step and as much gracefulness as she could muster, Anna walked beside Thranduil, who seemed to glide along with effortless ease despite his heavy robes. The hallways were flooded with amber lights and had filled up with what seemed most of the populace of the palace, uncountable pairs of curious eyes following Anna and the king as they emerged from the royal wing and headed at a measured pace towards the pathways leading to the gates, two guards always closely behind them. Anna had not seen the palace in such a state of excited bustle since the days preceding Thranduil’s departure to the Mountain, even though now there was possibly only half the amount of people it had held in those days. There were elves with solemn faces standing in small groups, speaking in hushed voices, fathers cradling tiny elflings in their arms, many of them yawning and obviously fighting sleep, older children clinging to their mothers’ hands in anxious excitement and staring with big eyes at the illustrious couple passing them. Anna spotted the familiar faces of several healers that were preparing themselves for those that would still need treatment, and the closer they got to the entrance the more crowded the hallways became, but they navigated the parting crowds with ease, everyone obediently making way for their king. A circular area in front of the gates had been cleared for them, the waiting elves filling the sidelines, the ones in the back craning their necks to get a better look not only at the king and his companion, but also at the homecoming soldiers.

When finally the gates were being pulled open at Thranduil’s command, an icy gust of wintry air greeted them, a flurry of snowflakes stirred up by the countless feet approaching the bridge and Anna soon realised that this whole endeavour would neither be quick nor particularly glorious. The arrival of an entire army was not something that would pass off in a few hours time, but was a rather slow, laborious and chaotic process, until every last warrior, animal and weapon was tended to, stowed away and mended. And even with Anna’s very limited knowledge and even less experience concerning warfare, one glance was enough to reveal that warriors returning after battle were a much less glorious sight than their departure, even if they had emerged victorious. An aura of heaviness preceded the elves, the ghostly steps of those that were missing accompanying them. These were the shadows of the dead, the ones that had fallen in battle and would now travel to the Halls of Mandos, never to return to the lands of Middle-earth, but would await the reunion with their families on the shores of Valinor.

Anna threw a quick sideways glance to Thranduil, who stood beside her like a carven statue, completely motionless and not a muscle in his face betraying the tiniest flicker of emotion, while Anna had to conjure up all her countenance to remain impassive in the face of the oncoming wave of people and the ever mounting excited chatter all around them. Despite the onset of night and the descending darkness she now clearly recognised those in the vanguard of the elven army, a head of golden hair with a red-headed warrior beside leaving no doubt about their identity. Right behind them walked an odd sized pair of someone very small, the person’s body almost completely hidden from view, and by his side a considerably tall person, the tip of a pointy hat towering even above the elves around him. This could only mean one thing. These had to be Bilbo and the wizard! Anna’s heart was racing at the prospect of seeing Bilbo again and then finally meeting the one who held the key to her fate in his hands. She simultaneously felt her knees growing weak and a smile dawning on her face, her resolve to uphold her poise wavering. She had to suppress the desire to break away from Thranduil and barge forward to offer everyone a friendly welcome, consisting either of a warm hug or at least a heartfelt handshake, both things completely unelvish and unroyal. Besides she would be also breaking the first and foremost rule of protocol, which granted the king alone the right to make any type of first move, however bold or unusual it might be. And although she was neither an elf nor royalty, Thranduil had left no doubt that he trusted her to take her place beside him with the necessary dignity and appropriate demeanour, both things she felt she still needed to work on. She closed her fingers tightly around Thranduil’s arm, hoping that some of his steadfastness would somehow magically flow into her, so she might get through this without showing any weakness or embarrassing herself.

When Thranduil still did not move beside her, despite his son now having walked up to them and motioning to greet his father in the traditional elven way of placing his right hand over his heart, she feared for a moment that the king might not reciprocate the greeting, or might have even regretted his decision to meet his son at the gates. She held her breath, her eyes darting from father to son and a myriad of unspoken words seemed to pass between them and only when the tension had reached unbearable heights and the crowd had fallen completely silent, did Thranduil finally move, closing the gap between them with one swift stride and pulling Legolas into an unexpected embrace.

Na vedui, iôn-nín!” she heard him whisper into his son’s hair as they stood in a tight hug, the prince’s arms now also finding their way around his father’s body. A murmur went through the crowd and on their faces was relief and delight at the fact that the reconciliation of king and prince was no longer only a rumour.

“You look well, my son,” Thranduil said with an appreciative nod as he pulled away from Legolas, laying both hands on his son’s shoulders. “It seems that taking over responsibilities has done you good.”

Legolas beamed at his father. “I believe it has,” and with a sideways glance at Anna he added, “and it seems that loosening the reins has been good for you too.”

“Yes, it has,” Thranduil now turned towards Anna with a smile, “and very much so.”

With a small gesture of his hand Thranduil indicated that it was now Anna’s turn to greet Legolas. She did not need any more encouragement to follow Thranduil’s example and soon the prince found himself pulled into yet another hug, not that he seemed to mind.

“Welcome back, Legolas,” she said, “you have been sorely missed and dearly expected.”

His open smile turned for a moment into a worried frown. “I am glad to see that you are well again. My father’s messengers have informed me of your unfortunate incident with those nasty spiders.”

“Well, it was very foolish of me to think that I could have crossed Mirkwood all by myself and if it hadn’t been for your father’s bravery, I would not be standing here today.”

She reached for Thranduil’s arm beside her as a sudden wave of gratefulness washed over her. “I owe your father my life,” she said, her eyes still fixed on Legolas’ face.

Thranduil placed his own hand atop hers, his voice solemn. “I only did what my heart commanded me to do. But let us not speak of this now, as there are a multitude of issues that need attending.”

Legolas nodded obediently and took his place on his father’s left side. During all this conversation Tauriel had kept a respectful distance and only when Thranduil now bade her to step forward, did she do so, bowing before him.

“Tauriel, I am glad to see you back,” he said, but his face remained impassive. “Still I have not forgotten your earlier disobedience,” he said sternly. “You shall be summoned tomorrow morning for a disciplinary hearing.”

“Yes, my lord,” Tauriel said, her face not revealing neither resentment nor fear.

“And do not be late,” Thranduil added, raising an eyebrow.

“Of course not,” she said obediently. “I will be there whenever you will call for me.” And with another curt bow and only a brief onset of a smile in Anna’s direction she retreated towards the sidelines.

Finally Thranduil now proceeded to greet the wizard and the hobbit, who had been lingering behind Legolas and Tauriel, awaiting their turn to be welcomed by the Elvenking.

“My dear Mithrandir,” he said, raising his right hand to his heart in reverence, “I bid you welcome. Long has it been since you last have been a guest in my halls and ever you appear when you are most needed and least expected.”

Gandalf tilted his head and a warm smile broke through his tangled beard. “Thank you, King Thranduil, for your warm welcome. Indeed it has been too long that I have visited your halls, but not long enough to have forgotten their splendour, and of course the magnificent wine. I am very grateful for your hospitality and I am hoping to speak with you soon about matters of great importance.”

Anna suddenly felt Gandalf’s eyes dart towards her and there was something vaguely familiar about them, but she did not even have time to think about it, as Thranduil rose to speak again, drawing Gandalf’s attention away from her.

“I am glad you remember my palace so fondly, especially the wine,” he said slightly amused, “you will find that the hospitality of the Wood-elves has not lessened since your last visit.” With a small nod in Anna’s direction he said: “I want you to meet this lovely lady. I believe that you have heard of her already, but words do not do her justice. She has been the most delightful addition the Woodland Realm has seen in a very long time. And although she may have lost her name, she has her heart in the right place.”

Anna felt the heat rise to her head at those words. Thranduil may have complimented her in private, but he had never let any of it be heard in public.

“It is a pleasure, my dear. I must say that what I have heard told of your beauty has been a grave understatement,” Gandalf said with a twinkle in his eyes, “I can see now why the king has been so adamant about keeping you to himself.”

“I am glad we finally meet,” she said, trying not so sound too excited, “but I am sure that whatever tales you must have heard about my beauty must have been greatly exaggerated,” was all she could think of, as she found herself facing this old wizard, who apparently was also unexpectedly versed in the art of complimenting.

Gandalf only smiled knowingly and then he stepped closer, lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper “And I promise you that I will do my best to get your little problem sorted. Finding a name is an easy task in comparison to finding a heart.”

With a small wink he stepped back to then gently shove Bilbo towards the foreground. As always, the hobbit was barefoot, but the rest of his attire was of a much more elegant choice than the last time she had seen him and spoke of the possible riches he might have acquired on his quest. A dark blue waistcoat with a row of nicely polished brass buttons and brown breeches of a heavy cloth made him appear like a wealthy uncle coming to visit from a distant land.

“Master Baggins,” Thranduil greeted Bilbo with a subtle raise of his hand, “I am glad to see that you have changed your mind about returning home and have accepted my offer to stay in my halls instead. You will see that it is a much more enjoyable affair when you do not need to hide from view.”

“O great Elvenking,” Bilbo bowed low, “I am grateful to be welcomed in your halls and I assure you, I do not plan on hiding this time,” Bilbo pulled himself up to his full height and wrinkled his nose, “and it is not that I did not want to return home, I very much wish to be in Bag End again, but I thought to myself that seeing a friend may be more important than seeing my armchair. After all, I am pretty sure that my furniture and my books will still be there when I get back.” With a smile that lit up his round face he turned towards Anna. “While you might not, if ever you should decide to resume your travelling. You know, Rivendell and so on, even the Shire maybe?” He suddenly reached for Anna’s hand, patting it affectionately as if she were a long lost niece, who might finally be persuaded to come to visit her lonely and slightly odd uncle. “Which by the way, you would be welcome anytime. Oh, you must see the rolling hills, our beautiful gardens and the fragrant meadows. I am sure that you will love it! The best moment of course would be during springtime for the blooming of the flowers, or autumn after the harvest, or of course summer to taste all the ripe fruits. Well, basically any season that is not winter. That is, unless you were to prefer the cold of course.” He squeezed her hand lightly. “We hobbits are known for being very hospitable and there is always plenty of food.” He stood with a glorified smile on his face. Maybe he indeed was missing his home more than what he had been willing to show.

“I thank you very much for your kind offer, Bilbo,” Anna said with a hesitant smile, “but I do not plan on leaving this place anytime soon.” From the corner of her eye she could see Thranduil’s face turning to ice.

“No, of course not! This is not what I meant! I would of course also extend my invitation to you, great Elvenking,” Bilbo said slightly flustered, quickly letting go of Anna’s hand as he was made aware of the king’s darkening mood, “that is if you would want to travel together. You know, you and the king, going on a little adventure,” he said, wagging his finger rather nervously. “My hobbit hole might not be an elven palace, but I daresay that it is the most luxurious one in all the local area and I could offer you both comfortable lodgings.” Glancing at the towering Elvenking he added “Well, er, maybe for you it might be a bit tight as you are really very tall…,” Bilbo’s voice trailed off and his face had turned a rather dark shade of crimson. Gandalf was rubbing his hand over his face in exasperation and Anna had to quickly look away, stifling a laugh. If it weren’t for her mounting feeling of pity for Bilbo in the face of Thranduil’s obvious annoyance, this would have been highly amusing.

“We shall see about that, Master Baggins,” Thranduil’s voice had lost all warmth, “do not get ahead of yourself by extending unasked for invitations. As long as you are a visitor in my halls I do not wish to hear anything about travel plans involving my guest without consulting me in this matter. I do not take lightly to being sidestepped,” Thranduil said, his lips a thin line.

Bilbo lowered his gaze and stared at his hairy feet, mumbling almost inaudibly “I am sorry, I was just—, I did not mean any offence.”

“Of course, you didn’t!” Gandalf exclaimed with a huff, stepping forward to pull Bilbo back by his collar rather gruffly and muttering something into his beard that sounded like ‘fool’ and ‘Took’.

A moment of uncomfortable silence settled around them, the storm cloud of contained anger emanating from Thranduil filling the air with a chill, while Anna hoped for something to happen that would lighten the mood. When finally Thranduil raised his arms in a welcoming gesture to address his soldiers, there was a strangely muffled whimper coming from a small carriage right behind Gandalf and Bilbo, followed shortly after by a hearty sneeze. Whatever or whoever it was that produced those sounds was impossible to tell, as there was a thick blanket wrapped around what seemed to be a vigorously stirring bundle. Thranduil lowered his hands, slightly irritated by this unruly interruption, and Bilbo quickly took another step back, turning his head away as if he had developed a sudden interest in the carven columns beside him.

Apparently there was an unexpected visitor requesting admission to the halls of Mirkwood.

To be continued…

floranocturna, August 2018


Na vedui! - at last!

iôn-nín - my son

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