Thranduil’s hands sank to his sides and for a moment he felt the overwhelming urge to wrap them around the hilts of his swords, their polished metal the only thing to cool his boiling anger. Much to his regret he had left them behind in his chambers and it wasn’t worth reaching for the small knife he wore concealed in his boot, so he resorted to what he knew worked just as well to intimidate anyone who dared to cross him. His jaw set square, his eyes had turned to glaciers and to his satisfaction Bilbo appeared truly frightened, slinking into the wizard’s shadow, his hands gripping the cart’s wooden handle. Thranduil had hoped this to be a smooth welcome of his son, but it was beginning to turn into a farce, and what irritated him even more was that the hobbit’s obnoxious prattling seemed to greatly entertain Anna. From the corner of his eye he could see her rounded cheeks as she was struggling to contain her laughter, her body taut in an effort to maintain her composure. The crowd around them had fallen into an expectant silence, curious eyes darting from the king to the ominous cart as everyone awaited their monarch’s next move. Whatever it was that loomed under that blanket now tried to wriggle itself free of its snuggly confinement, a vehement mewing accompanying its vigorous efforts. Thranduil knew those sounds all too well, and if he was not careful, his icy facade would melt like a patch of snow on the first warm day of spring.
“And what would you be hiding in this cart, Master Baggins? Are you trying to take advantage of my generosity?” His words cut through the silence with deadly precision. “Your old habit of being sneaky and stealthy appears hard to break, doesn’t it?”
Bilbo opened and closed his mouth like a fish out of water, wordlessly lowering his gaze to the floor. He must have concluded that saying nothing at all might be the safest way for him to stay out of trouble. To Thranduil’s surprise his own son suddenly came to the hobbit’s rescue.
“Ada, please do spare the poor Master Baggins your anger, as this is not his doing, but mine.” Legolas stepped forward with an apologetic glance, leaving Thranduil slightly baffled.
Thranduil narrowed his eyes. “Your doing?”
But Legolas had already proceeded to pull the cart closer through the parting crowd, Tauriel swiftly taking a hold of the cart’s rear. The fleeting smile between them did not escape Thranduil’s notice.
“Yes.” Legolas liberated the squirming creature and pointed with a formal gesture at the emerging ball of brown fur. “This, Ada, is Aradan,” he said, reaching down and gently stroking the head of a small elk calf.
A gasp went through the rows of elves around them and Anna let out a squee of delight, quickly clasping her hand to her mouth when Thranduil shot her a reprimanding glance.
For a moment Thranduil said nothing and simply gazed at the small animal, which had risen from its makeshift bed out of moss and blankets and stood now on shaky legs, staring up at him through wide brown eyes that told him all he needed to know. They spoke of a terrible loss and the struggle for survival, but also of gratefulness and hope.
He nodded slowly, directing his gaze back to his son. “Aradan, you say? This is a name truly fit for a king, but it is a rather big name for such a small creature,” he said, his annoyance beginning to lose its edge.
“Oh, he may still be small, but I am sure he has the potential to be a majestic elk. He is a strong willed creature, loyal and brave,” Legolas said with assurance, while ruffling Aradan’s fur. Tauriel rolled up the blanket and handed it to Bilbo, who had timidly shuffled closer, his eyes still avoiding the Elvenking.
Thranduil folded his hands in front of his lap. “You speak of his qualities with such certainty, yet you cannot have known him for more than mere days.”
“I do not have any doubts about him being special, which is why I brought him here.”
Thranduil looked intently at his son, those blue eyes so much like his own, yet with the candour of youth he himself had lost along his twisted journey through endless millennia. The sight before his eyes seemed to belong to a different life altogether.
“Aren’t you a little bit too old to be bringing pets to the palace?” he said, his gaze travelling from Legolas to Tauriel, who in their childhood had more often than not been his son’s accomplice in such endeavours, sneaking not only elk calves, but also rabbits, fawns and possibly half of the forest’s fauna into the royal chambers if he hadn’t put a stop to it. He remembered as clear as daylight the moment when he had prepared himself to take a relaxing bath after a long day of tedious meetings, only to find a beaver in the process of collecting twigs to supposedly build a dam inside the king’s pool. He had been positively furious, scolding both Legolas and Tauriel for their irresponsible behaviour in such a harsh way that had them flee the royal chambers with tears in their eyes. He had to admit that he might have overreacted just a bit, but back then it had been the final straw that had led him to enforce stricter rules concerning his son’s overly developed fondness for bringing his furry friends home. For some reason though he had never been able to shake off the feeling that Brethilwen had quietly undermined his authority by turning a blind eye to their activities, in fact he had been quite sure that she might have even encouraged them. Upon questioning she had of course denied all such allegations and any involvement. Furthermore she had pointed out to him that it was one of the few things that brought Legolas happiness after the loss of his mother, so Thranduil had decided to quietly tolerate his son’s pastime as long as there would be no more beavers floating around in his pool.
“I did not bring him as my pet, but as a gift for you, Ada.” The clear voice of Legolas snapped him out of his reverie and he raised his eyebrows in mild surprise. He had already guessed his son’s intentions, but decided to play along, not wanting to dampen his enthusiasm.
“For me?” he said, searching his son’s eyes for what he already knew.
“Yes, Ada. You will need a new mount, now that Silvermane has been returned to Odmund. Aradan may need time to grow, but I am sure that he will be a loyal companion, just like Tauron, whom you have lost in battle.”
Thranduil swallowed as he was reminded of the cruel way his elk had died at the hands of the filthy orcs and he quickly pushed those dreadful images to the back of his mind.
“I will have need of a new mount indeed, but I do not wish to rush this decision, as such an animal will have to be chosen wisely and with great care and he will have to learn his royal duties early on.”
“I understand.” Legolas nodded obediently. “And I do not want to impose any decision on you. I only ask that he be given a chance and that we might offer him shelter until he is strong enough to survive on his own.”
“Fair enough. If this is your wish, then so be it. Still, an elk is not an animal to be spending his days in halls underground, so the stables will be a more proper place for him than the palace.”
“Yes, Ada.” Legolas indicated for Tauriel to help him have the cart moved towards the stables.
“But he is still so small!” Anna piped up, her hand tugging at Thranduil’s sleeve, “can’t we keep him with us at least until the end of winter?”
Thranduil turned to look at her, her pleading eyes making it difficult for him to maintain a serious expression. “I assure you that he will be well looked after, besides, the royal chambers are no playing ground for elk calves.”
“Oh, but please, I can take care of him and I promise that he will not be a bother. My rooms are big enough!” She squeezed his arm excitedly, her other hand pressed flat against her chest.
Thranduil raised his eyebrows in amusement. “Since when have you become an expert in raising an elk?”
“I am not, not yet at least, but I am willing to learn and I am sure your son could teach me,” she said brightly and a sheepish grin spread on Legolas’ face, “and I could use something to keep me busy.”
With that she had struck a nerve, as charging her with Aradan’s care might not only distract her from whatever worries might plague her, but could also help her to feel even more at home, something that lay in his own interest.
“Very well,” he said with a small sigh, gently laying his hand atop hers, “but only until the onset of spring and if he does not learn how to behave himself, he must be moved to the stables immediately.”
“Yes, of course. Thank you, Thranduil!” Anna was bubbling with joy and raised herself on tiptoes to press a kiss to his cheek.
The unexpected touch of her lips brought a candid smile to his face. For once he could not care less about the breach of royal protocol and the murmurs around him told him that his people did not mind either.
“What choice do I have, with you and my son teaming up in this?” he said with only a grain of indignation in his voice, while he toyed with the notion of pulling Anna into an embrace and kissing her right here in front of everyone.
“It seems that you have been overruled, my king,” she said gleefully, leaning forward to pet Aradan, who stood just a little bit taller now that he had been officially admitted to the royal palace.
“It appears that I have,” he said solemnly, “but a wise king knows when to give in,” and turning towards his son he added “But do tell me, for I am now curious, how did you happen to come across him?” Thranduil extended one hand towards the elk calf, allowing him to sniff at his fingers, the wet muzzle tickling his skin in a most familiar way.
Legolas seemed genuinely relieved that his father did not put forth any further objections and eagerly delved into his recollections.
“I found him lying close to an unexpected row of niphredil. The flowers had caught my eyes as they are very rare to be blooming so early on and then several of them so close together struck me as quite remarkable, so I went to investigate,” Legolas elaborated, clearly intent on not forgetting any important detail, “and as I bent down to look at the flowers, I heard muffled sniffing and very faint bleating coming from behind a tangled web of twigs, so I treaded closer and then hidden in a shallow pit I saw this shivering bundle of brown fur, too weak even to move, white puffs of smoke curling up from his muzzle, his breath dreadfully shallow. He must have been laying there for several days already, as he appeared seriously undernourished, the mother cow nowhere to be seen. He had nearly lost his will to live, the pleading mews growing weaker until he fell completely silent. I knelt by his side and spoke to him softly, resting my hand on his head and when he leaned into my touch, I dared to pick him up, quickly wrapping my cloak around him and taking him back to where we had made our nightly camp. He has not left my side ever since.”
“I think he has also grown quite fond of our food, too,” Tauriel added, “which we have gladly shared with him.”
Legolas rubbed along Aradan’s flanks as he looked up at his father again. “I decided to bring him here as I am sure this was no mere coincidence that I found him.”
“You did right in bringing him here, for without your help death would surely have been his fate, but now let us not linger any longer, so I can attend to other matters where my authority as king will not be so easily undermined.”
And with those words he turned to face the other arrivals and raised his hands in a welcoming gesture. This time he was not interrupted, Aradan silently wagging his tail as he looked up to his new master, Tauriel standing behind the cart and Bilbo beside it, the crumpled blanket in his hands, obviously glad that he had effectively evaded the king’s wrath. Legolas had taken up his place beside his father once more and Gandalf leaned on his staff, a merry twinkle in his eyes at the unforeseen yet satisfying turn of events.
“My dear brave warriors, your arrival has been long awaited. See that all your needs are tended to, rest and eat and find your loved ones and in three days time we shall all gather in the Great Hall for a feast to celebrate your victorious return.”
Thranduil’s booming voice echoed through the hallways, his words of welcome crisp and short. He was well aware that his soldiers were more likely looking forward to their well earned rest rather than a lengthy speech from their king. There would be enough time for elaborate words on the day of the feast.
The return to the royal chambers proved slightly more cumbersome than anticipated. Thranduil’s people were highly interested in the strange train that moved past them, their king and his human companion side by side with Legolas and Tauriel right behind, followed by Gandalf and Bilbo beside him, who had a hard time keeping up with their faster pace. In their wake marched Thalion, tasked with carrying Aradan to Anna’s rooms and Brethilwen, who did not even make an effort to hide her obvious delight. They were followed by Feren, the king’s commander, stern and tightlipped as always, as well as Galion, the king’s butler, the relief of being home again clearly written all over his good-natured face. When they had finally reached the hallway that led to the royal chambers, Thranduil bade everyone to a halt with a dismissive wave of his hand.
“Thalion, you will resume your duty once you have safely taken Aradan into the rooms.”
“Yes, my lord!” came Thalion’s quick response and he looked like he wished to get rid of the elk calf, who had begun to sniff his face, as fast as possible.
“Brethilwen, you will take care of anything that might be needed as I shall most likely be kept busy until late tonight,” and with a stern expression he added, “and make sure the royal chambers are kept clean and organised. As you know very well we have been through this in the past.” He wasn’t keen on finding elk droppings all over the place, so he shot a warning glance at everyone in hearing distance.
“I promise that everything will be to your satisfaction, my lord,” Brethilwen assured him.
“Galion!” came Thranduil’s commanding voice, his butler immediately standing at attention, “show Master Baggins and Mithrandir to the guest rooms and make sure that all their needs are met.”
“Yes, of course, my lord.” Galion bowed with an obliging smile on his face, obviously glad to be taking care once again of daily routines at the palace.
Thranduil’s gaze softened when he looked at Anna beside him.
“I will come to your rooms later to see how you and little Aradan are faring,” he said, reaching out for her hand and placing a fleeting kiss on her fingers.
“Of course,” she said with a smile, her eyes darting from father to son, “I understand that you both have possibly much to catch up right now.”
“Yes, indeed, we do,” Thranduil said, glancing sidewards at Legolas, who nodded approvingly, “and I am glad to see that you will have somebody to keep you company in the meantime.”
Thalion had already pulled the door open for Anna while trying to maintain a square face as the elk calf nibbled away happily at the leather straps holding in place the shoulder plates of his armour.
“A most charming company indeed,” Anna said as she disappeared into her rooms, Thalion closely behind her, while Brethilwen kept pushing the elk calf’s mouth away from Thalion.
“He looks hungry to me, so we better get him some food before he tears his armour apart,” Brethilwen said with an amused grin, sending one of the servants away with orders to fetch a bale of hay, tree bark and some apples, just in case.
“Make sure that you don’t spoil him already on his first day in the palace as it makes it difficult to teach him the necessary discipline,” Thranduil called after Brethilwen.
“Of course, my lord, I will see to it. You have nothing to worry about.” Brethilwen met his eyes and he could have sworn that she had given him a small wink.
“Good,” he said, not quite convinced. He had the irksome feeling that he might have opened the floodgates to something that could easily spiral out of his control and he was rather averse to the prospect of chaos this might entail.
Father and son retired to the king’s chambers and as soon as the doors had clicked shut behind them, Thranduil disposed of his cloak with a sweeping motion, his crown quickly joining the heavy garment on top of his dresser. He beckoned Legolas to sit down on one of the high back chairs beside the fireplace while he made his way over to the small table and proceeded to pour wine into two glasses. Legolas swiftly sat himself down, taking the offered glass of wine with a thankful nod. Thranduil took the seat opposite his son and made himself comfortable, a feeling of warmth spreading inside his chest, seeing Legolas before him and knowing that he had truly returned home. He took a languid sip of wine, the sweet Dorwinion a perfect companion for what would be the first of hopefully many conversations with his son. There were still some issues between them that needed resolving, as hundreds of years of misunderstanding could not simply be erased all at once, but Thranduil was confident that they were now in a good place to start anew.
“Tell me, my son, besides providing me with a new mount, what other tidings do you bring from Dale?”
Legolas took a sip of wine and sat back, his posture elegant like his father, but with a juvenile eagerness that reflected his will to prove himself worthy of his father’s trust.
“There is much to be said about it, but of highest concern are the restoration of Dale and Lake-town. It will take some considerable amount of time to restore both cities, as the dragon as well as the war have wreaked havoc and left many people dead and even more homeless, so those of our kin who were willing to remain behind, will stay for as long as their help is needed, assuming that it is also in our interest to see those dwellings rebuilt. Since Faeldir has still not completely recovered from his wounds, his brother has also wished to stay by his side and he volunteered for the task to oversee to process of rebuilding Dale alongside Bard the Bowman. I thought that it might be a good way to keep him busy while he could still remain close to his brother, so I decided to put him in charge. And from what I have gathered, Amardir has proven to be a capable negotiator and has earned his respect among the people of Dale.”
Thranduil nodded approvingly. “A wise choice, my son. Faeldir might still be on a long way to recovery, so while it is good for him to have his brother’s company, there is not much that Amardir can do for him.” For a moment Thranduil fell silent, the cruel fate of his young soldier suddenly brought back vividly to his mind. He only hoped that Faeldir would live to see the coming of spring. He sighed deeply, pushing the dark thoughts aside. “And what of Bard, the Dragon-slayer? He seemed to be quite determined in pursuing his goals.”
Legolas had a quick answer at the ready, obviously prepared for anything his father might want to ask. “I have seen in Bard the ability not only to be a fearless fighter but also a righteous ruler. His people hold him in high esteem and I daresay than none have shed a tear over the loss of their old Master. Bard even wishes to bestow upon you a gift as token of gratefulness for the help you have offered him and his people in their darkest hour.”
From the folds of his tunic Legolas pulled out a necklace of stunning emeralds, placing it carefully on the delicate wooden table beside his father. Thranduil’s eyes widened in awe at the splendour of this necklace, studded with hundreds of emeralds as green as grass.
“This is the Necklace of Girion, which Dain had given to Bard as his share of dwarves’ treasure and he in turn offers you as gift, hoping that you will accept it.”
The candlelight enveloped the emeralds in a mysterious light, iridescent sparkles bouncing off of the perfectly polished surfaces like green flames. Thranduil ran his fingertips across the gems, their impeccable smoothness a joyful delight. He could not deny that he was most fond of such beautifully crafted and wondrous works of jewellery and this would be indeed a fabulous addition to his already vast collection. He looked up to his son, who had been studying him, waiting for his verdict.
“This is indeed an impressive necklace and with the next messenger to Dale I will express my gratitude to Bard for such a generous gift.”
Legolas smiled and leaned back, visibly pleased with his father’s reaction. He took another sip of wine and put the glass back thoughtfully.
“It also seems that the Dwarves under their new king Dain are once more willing to take up friendly relationships with their human neighbours,” Legolas said tentatively.
Thranduil narrowed his eyes in displeasure. The words ‘friendly’ and ‘dwarves’ being used in one sentence was not something he wished to get used to and he did not make any effort to hide his obvious contempt. “The dwarves will remain on friendly terms with the Men of Dale for as long as they can derive a benefit from it and increase their wealth, hoarding gold and gems in their kingdom of stone as they have always done.” Thranduil stared gloomily into the fire, the thought of dwarves chasing away the feeling of delight the necklace had brought to his mind.
“Oh, but on a more joyful side note there is much to be said about Odmund’s daughter Edda as she has been found alive and unharmed!” Legolas veered towards a more innocuous topic of conversation.
“She has indeed?” Thranduil was only mildly interested as he absentmindedly swirled the contents in his glass, languidly following the motion of the burgundy liquid with his eyes. “I assume that the man must be quite pleased to have not only his horse but also his daughter back.”
“He is indeed, although he probably did not expect things to turn out the way they did,” Legolas said with a mischievous grin.
“In what sense?” Thranduil’s curiosity was now finally stirred and he placed his glass back on the table beside him.
“Well, the thing is,” Legolas began, leaning back and making sure that he had his father’s full attention, “the circumstances of her disappearance have turned out quite different from what everyone had originally thought. When Odmund believed her lost in the fire, Edda had actually taken advantage of the general confusion while everyone had been fleeing the city and eloped with a young fisherman whom she had secretly been meeting for several months. Her father had disapproved of this blossoming relationship, wanting her to take on a more suitable partner, whom he had already chosen for her, but she had openly rejected. Seeing no other choice but to abandon her family, they had been planning their escape several days prior to the fire and when the dragon attacked the city, it proved to be the perfect moment for them. They had arranged to secretly meet in his small fisher-boat, so when she supposedly had gone back to find Silvermane, she snuck away and they both made it to the shore undetected, thanks to the clamour and chaos after the dragon’s death. They then took shelter in the nearby woods, keeping away from the general bustle, hoping that with the passing of time her father might bring himself to accept his daughter’s choice. Ultimately they had successfully avoided being found by Odmund, knowing that he would eventually have to attend to his other younger children and would not be able to keep on searching for an extended amount of time, but they could not evade being tracked down by our people. When they were found in their makeshift hideaway they were at first reluctant to come to Dale and only when Edda learned of her father’s endless grief about her supposed death, could she be persuaded to follow them. Still, her condition was that they would not allow her father to separate them again, or else they would stay in hiding. And so they went back to Dale and to Edda’s surprise it took little convincing for Odmund to accept his daughter’s choice, especially since he saw himself faced with not only her mother taking their daughter’s side, but also the young couple’s steadfast declaration of their mutual love.”
“Odmund accepted his daughter’s choice without questioning it any further?” Thranduil shook his head in disbelief.
“Yes, he did, although it might have cost him to see past his pride, but in the end he was overjoyed to have her back alive and when he saw that she was happily in love, he did what any father with his heart in the right place would have done, he gave in and accepted her choice. Love is as love does, or so the humans say.”
“This may be a nice and touching story, but love is not always as simple and straightforward as that,” Thranduil said with a sigh, an age old ache tearing through his chest.
“I know that love is not always easy and the path to happiness may be a crooked one.” Legolas leaned forward and Thranduil could feel his son’s gaze lingering on him, the shield around his heart melting away. “But it does get easier once you accept it and don’t try to push it away, doesn’t it Ada?”
“You are right, son, it does indeed,” Thranduil said with a warm smile, reaching for his glass again. “Let us then drink to love and its inexplicable and most wondrous ways, which only Eru in His infinite wisdom might wholly understand.”
And so they did, both raising their glasses, the bell-like tinkling echoing through the king’s chambers, and Thranduil silently thanked the Valar for granting him another chance. It was a rare privilege of which he hoped to be worthy.
The meeting with his son had left him both elated and emotionally stirred up, the unexpected tale of love between Edda and her fisherman showing him quite plainly how much he longed for his own heart to finally be at peace again. He loosened the upper clasps of his robe with impatient fingers as he stepped through the concealed door into Anna’s rooms, looking forward to some moments of relaxation before he would have to return to his long night of royal duties. The candid scene in front of him brought a smile to his face. Aradan was dipping his muzzle into the pool, curiously observing the circular ripples he created. Anna knelt on a big velvet cushion on the floor beside him and from where he stood, Thranduil could see her eyes following the elk calf’s every motion and hear her speaking to him in an animated voice.
“I see that you have made friends already,” Thranduil said as strode towards them, his fingers still working through the remaining clasps.
A smile dawned on Anna’s face when she looked up to him. “Yes, we have,” and then she whispered to Aradan. “Look, we have a visitor. The king is gracing us with his presence.”
But it seemed that the elk calf was not easily distracted from what he was doing, as he kept paying attention to the water rather than the Elvenking. Thranduil observed Aradan with amusement, allowing the brocade robe to slide backwards over his shoulders and disposing of it on a nearby chair, which left him only with his tunic and leggings. He let himself sink onto the settee in an alcove adjacent to the pool and patted the empty space beside him with his flat hand.
“Come and sit with me,” he said, and Anna leapt up from her cushion on the floor and made herself comfortable on the settee, snuggling against his side and resting her head on his shoulder. He threw one arm around her and pulled her close, a feeling of peaceful contentment settling in his chest. Aradan finally abandoned the pool, sending droplets flying everywhere as he shook his head. He teetered towards them and curled up at Anna’s feet, a small puddle forming under his chin.
“So, tell me about this little one. What has he been up to? Is he taking apart the royal chambers already?” He trailed his fingertips along her arm and Anna let out a small purr as he made goosebumps rise on her skin. She shivered a little and then slid even closer until their thighs touched.
“Oh, not at all, he is really sweet, except that he has been trying to eat my quill and apparently he loves to chew on parchment too. I caught him sniffing my book with a surprising amount of interest,” Anna chatted away happily, her finger tracing the pattern of leaves on her dress, “oh, and you know what? He is completely in love with the pool. He keeps trying to poke his own reflection. Apparently he thinks it’s another elk calf and wants to play with it, but at least he has not jumped in yet. Apparently he knows that it’s not for him to swim.”
“That is a relief, but animals can pick up the strangest habits indeed, so you are well advised to put him in his place or else he will act up in no time.” He playfully tapped her knee with his fingers. “The first rule you need to know is that you cannot let him dominate you. You are the master and he must learn to obey your command,” Thranduil elaborated while Aradan had begun to chew on the hem of Anna’s dress. She pulled it up and away, giving him the sternest look she could manage.
“I can clearly see how that will be working out for me,” she said with a grin, while assessing the damage done to the delicate cloth.
“You just have to practice being more authoritative,” Thranduil said with enough smugness for both of them, “I can teach you.”
“Oh, I have no doubt that you can be very authoritative, but I don’t think that Aradan would be much impressed by that. He clearly has a mind of his own.”
As if Aradan would want to prove her point, he rose to his feet, eagerly wagging his short tail and ostentatiously laying his head across Thranduil’s knees.
“This, my little friend,” he said coolly, pushing the elk calf’s head off his knees with quiet determination, “is not going to get you anywhere. You can count yourself lucky that I have been in a most generous mood today.”
Aradan angled his head to look at the king, and for a moment Thranduil meant to see his old friend Tauron staring right back at him from those big brown eyes, but he also saw unbridled joy and an eagerness to prove himself worthy as new companion. This little creature had already found a way into his heart and had apparently no intention of giving up such privileged space ever again. He poked Thranduil’s fingers, gradually edging closer and when he did not meet any immediate resistance, he pressed his muzzle against the king’s hand, eagerly licking his palm.
An amused chuckle escaped Anna. “So this is your idea of being authoritative?”
“Having authority also means knowing when to yield,” Thranduil said imperiously and with as much dignity as possible while trying to ignore the growing wet stains on his leggings where Aradan had comfortably settled with his head square across his knees.
“Mhm,” Anna nodded, biting back a grin, “I’ve heard you saying something similar already once today.”
“You don’t believe me?” he said, stroking Aradan between the ears and narrowing his eyes as he looked at her.
“Of course I believe you,” she said, running her hand through the elk’s flank. The animal had now closed its eyes in obvious delight at receiving caresses from both of them. “It’s just that I am not used to seeing you like this.”
“Apparently there are many sides of me that you still need to discover for yourself.” He found her hand and laced his fingers through hers.
“I am looking forward to that,” she said, looking up at him through thick lashes, her hair falling in silky waves around her shoulders. He tucked a loose strand behind her ear, his fingers gently grazing over her cheek. She still wore her elegant dress and he took delight in the beautiful sight before his eyes, the white pearls accenting her slender neck, her rosy lips so inviting. He sensed her breath quickening as he leaned towards her, the warmth of her body kindling a fire within him. He laid one hand on the small of her back to tug her closer, the elk calf for a moment forgotten, and looking into her eyes he saw his own longing reflected in them.
“I enjoyed very much having you by my side today,” he said. His fingertips danced along the neckline of her dress, the intricate border of white lace contrasting pleasantly with the sprinkles of golden freckles that faintly dappled her shoulders and chest. He found himself holding his breath at such a tempting sight.
“Thranduil,” she whispered, running a daring finger down the opening of his tunic. A myriad of sparks seemed to be shot right through his veins.
“Yes?” He exhaled slowly, resting his forehead against hers.
She pursed her lips. “Kiss me,” she said.
He gave her a slow smile, savouring the thrilling moment of anticipation before their lips touched, the scent of honey and roses enveloping him.
“Your wish is my command,” he said and then he leaned down and kissed her, the warmth and softness of her mouth tumbling him into a realm of bliss. Anna slung her arms around his neck and the way she surrendered to his touch filled him with a fierce possessiveness. His hands travelled down her back and over her waist, gripping the curve of her hips. He wanted her, wanted to make her his, to kiss her until he knew every corner of her body. A searing heat burned through him and he pressed her even closer until he could feel her heartbeat racing against his chest. More, he needed more. Her fingers clenched his hair when he deepened the kiss, her mouth giving in to his demand with a willingness that sent his own pulse into a frenzied staccato. He was beginning to lose himself to the fire that consumed him, his resolution to stay gentle crumbling rapidly. Their lips clung to each other in a sensual dance, and whatever rhythm he set, she eagerly followed his beat. His hunger for her pushed itself vigorously to the surface, drowning out the voice of reason in his head. He buried one hand in her hair to tilt her head back, his mouth exploring hers with a feverish heat that set him on edge. Anna melted like wax in his hands and she did not resist when he pushed her further back into the settee rather forcefully. Nothing would stop him now from going as far as his desire drove him. His fingers brushed over the laces on the back of her dress and began skilfully pulling them apart, while his other hand searched to untie her belt, and only when he felt something nibbling at his hand, did he come to his senses. He abruptly stopped his motions, pulling away from her mouth and willing his heart to slow down its frantic beat. For a moment he froze, his hands still clutching the strings of her bodice and his gaze went over her exposed shoulder to Aradan, their unwitting chaperon, who stared at both of them with utmost curiosity. A wave of shame washed over him. He had nearly lost control and he could not let that happen again.
“Don’t stop now!” Anna protested with her eyes still closed, her dress slightly askew and her lips searching for what they had lost.
“Forgive me,” he breathed heavily, struggling to find his voice as he tried to cool his blood, “I did not mean to push that far.”
She opened her eyes and her heart lay like a precious gem right before him. He needed only to reach out and take it. “But I want to,” she whispered, still breathless from their kisses, her fingers fumbling with the drawstring of his tunic. She looked so radiant, her skin glowing in the flickering candlelight and he wanted nothing more than to go on, but she was not his to claim, not until she could truly make that choice for herself.
“You need to know what’s in your heart before you can give it to me,” he said softly, when he had finally pieced together the remnants of his brittle composure, catching her hand before it could wander any further.
She retreated her hand, letting it sink into her lap and when she looked at him, she blinked away a tear.
“I know that we both want more,” he said, taking her face in his hands and regarding her solemnly, “but being with you is something very special for me and I want to be able to call you by your name when we are together.” His thumb traced the outline of her upper lip, the evidence of their passion visible on her reddened skin, and then his voice suddenly turned serious. “Tomorrow I will speak with Mithrandir to hear his advice, so I can bring your memory back as soon as possible. With every passing day the thought of having to let you go again becomes more unbearable.”
“I don’t want to worry about tomorrow.” Anna heaved a sigh and sank against his chest. She buried her face in the crook of his neck, her forehead damp with a sheen layer of sweat. He held her close, gently stroking her hair, and a part of him wished that tomorrow would never come.
To be continued…
floranocturna, September 2018
Niphredil - a winter flower, meaning ‘little pallor’ or ‘snowdrop’