The Secret of the Forest - A Thranduil Romance

Teatime with Gandalf

Tomorrow did come of course and when Anna awoke, still drowsy from her sleep, something in her bed was different. She wasn’t alone. Oh, but it couldn’t be, could it? He wouldn’t just have left his kingly bed to sneak under her sheets now, would he? But who knew. Last night’s passionate encounter had revealed to her the extent of Thranduil’s desire, a crack in his ever so perfect composure pushing open the door towards many pleasurable delights. He had set her body on fire and then had left her burning for more, more of his delicious mouth and those wickedly skilful fingers. There couldn’t have been any doubt about him wanting her, as she had felt the evidence of it, even through the layers of their clothes. His honour had, of course, overtaken whatever need had driven him, but what she had glimpsed beneath, was both dangerous and exhilarating and she could not get enough of that feeling, enough of him.

She shifted around under her snuggly covers, her eyes still closed and a sheepish smile dawning on her face. When she extended her arm, there was a warm shape beside her, a small and hairy shape. She squinted through one eye and a silent snort escaped her at the comical sight. It was of course not the Elvenking who had come to share her bed, but the ever so curious elk calf, who must have clambered into bed without her noticing it. She glanced at Aradan, snoring peacefully beside her and while her fingers combed lazily through the coarse coat of brown fur, her thoughts trailed to what this day would possibly bring: Thranduil’s meeting with the wizard and with it hopefully the restoration of her memory. She turned sideways, propping herself up on one elbow to scratch Aradan behind one ear with her other hand, as she surveyed her room. Her room as she had come to call it, but surely it did not belong to her, just as much as she did not really belong here.

An ache tore through her chest at the thought of what the revelation of her past might entail. What if her only choice was to return to wherever she had come from? Would she even have the strength to turn away from the Elvenking? What if she broke not only his heart, but also sent him to his doom, the mysterious dragon fire slowly consuming him? Wasn’t it her duty to help him, if there was anything at all that she could do for him? Not just her duty, but also what her heart commanded her to do. She turned around, laying on her back again, and stared at the ceiling, the thoughts swirling like murky waters in her head. Brethilwen had told her that she had powers that might be crucial to Thranduil’s healing, but she had no idea what kind of power the healer had been referring to. For once Anna wished that elves would not be so fond of their cryptic ways of speaking. Maybe Gandalf finally would be able to help her clear this mess she had found herself in.

In the meantime Aradan had awoken and was now licking her hand, the tickling sensation bringing a smile to Anna’s face.

“I assume you had a good night’s sleep?” she said and when Aradan intensified his licking she finally pulled her hand away, wiping it on her covers, “but we might need to have these sheets changed.” She frowned at the incredible amount of brown hair the elk calf had shed in a mere few hours.

Following a soft knock on the door, Brethilwen swept into the room on a wave of dutiful business, balancing a tray of delicious food in her hands, and when she spotted Aradan curled up on the bed she mirrored Anna’s grin.

“I am glad to see that little Aradan is making himself very much at home already. Still I would advise you to not let Thranduil see this. He doesn’t really approve of sharing a bed with animals.”

Anna lazily stretched her arms and legs and threw Brethilwen a mischievous glance. “Well, this is my bed and not his and he does not need to know about it, right?” Anna cocked an eyebrow at Brethilwen.

“My mouth is sealed,” Brethilwen lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper, while she began to arrange the food on the small table along the wall opposite Anna’s bed.

“The king, is he—?” Anna’s question hung unfinished in the air, but Brethilwen had an answer ready before Anna could think of a way to formulate her question without appearing too nosy.

“Yes, the king has been up since the break of dawn, as a matter of fact I doubt that he has even gone to bed at all. The return of an army involves a myriad of obligations. He might be busy for most of the day, his duties leading him from checking with the healers in the infirmary to the armoury, possibly even the stables, to a meeting with his commander, receiving reports on various matters, not to forget that he also plans on making time to speak with Tauriel and Mithrandir.”

Anna drew her mouth into a thin line, trying to hide her disappointment. She of course knew that it was silly and very selfish of her to be wishing for his company, but she couldn’t help it, every fibre of her body longed for him. Even a small kiss would have made her content already. She swung her legs around to sit on the bedside. Something warm and wet suddenly licked at her cheek and she didn’t have to look to know. Aradan’s insistence at remaining close to her was endearing.

“But at least you won’t be all alone.” Brethilwen smiled at her as she pointed at the various plates and goblets which she had laid out. “And I am not talking about Aradan.”

Anna rose from her bed, reached for her robe, and tied her belt with a quick knot. “But did you not say that Thranduil was already busy? Why are you laying out for two people? I am not expecting any visitor, am I?” She ruffled her hair while trying to stifle a yawn.

“Actually you are. Mithrandir has asked to speak to you as soon as you would be awake and Thranduil has granted him the permission to do so.”

“What?” Anna blinked and then stared wide-eyed at Brethilwen. “The wizard is coming here? To my chambers? To have breakfast with me?” Her eyes darted around the room in rising panic for either a quick place to hide or at least something more decent to wear. “But—, my hair.” She pulled at the tangled strands to prove her point. “And my robe! I have elk hair all over me!” She frantically shuffled through her belongings on the nightstand, nearly sending a stack of books tumbling to the floor, until she finally spotted her brush buried under a discarded tunic and began attacking her hair with a viciousness that tore at her scalp.

“Like this you’re either going to ruin your hair or the brush,” Brethilwen noted rather dryly, wresting the brush from her hands, “or more likely both.”

She made Anna sit down on the chair in front of her nightstand, her hands resolutely working through Anna’s hair with slow and deliberate strokes. “Just calm down. There is no need to panic and your robe is just fine. I can assure you that your clothes will be the least of Mithrandir’s concerns.” In an instant she had combed through all the tangles, and after she had placed the brush back on the table, she tied the honey coloured strands into a loose braid. Anna couldn’t help but marvel at Brethilwen’s ability of turning the mop on her head into a decent looking hairstyle in just a few moments. No doubt she was truly blessed with magical hands.

When Brethilwen was sufficiently satisfied with her work, she laid her hands on Anna’s shoulders, squeezing them gently. “After all, he is only here to help, isn’t he?”

“What if he asks me strange questions?” The queasiness in her stomach was still quite prominent.

“Then you answer them truthfully,” was Brethilwen’s plain retort. “You have accompanied the king to meet his son and his armies at the gate with such graceful ease. You will handle a short conversation with an old wizard just fine.”

Anna chewed on the inside of her cheek, as those moments at the gate came back once again to her mind. “To be honest, I was constantly terrified of making a mistake and if Aradan hadn’t lightened up the mood, I would have probably made a complete fool out of myself.”

Brethilwen’s mouth turned into a half-smile. “Oh I don’t think so. You did very nicely and it is not your fault that this hobbit uses more words than what are good for him. Nor can you be blamed for Thranduil being immune to the charm of Master Baggins.”

“For a moment I feared that he might just lock Bilbo up in the dungeons. I could feel him going as cold as ice beside me.” A shiver slithered down Anna’s spine.

In the meantime Aradan had jumped off the bed and was now stalking towards the table, sniffing at the food with growing interest.

“Are you hungry for breakfast?” Anna rose from her chair to follow him to the table. The food looked indeed delicious. There were those divine bread-rolls, fresh out of the oven and still warm, thick slices of ham and cheese, bowls filled with berries as well as grapes and apples. Carafes with water and a rounded teapot with what contained undoubtedly her favourite tea. It was steaming hot, tendrils of white smoke wafting up into the air. Her fingers danced atop the bowl of fruits and then she fished out an apple, holding it out to Aradan, who took it deftly between his teeth, then curled up under the table to happily crunch away on the fresh fruit.

“I very much doubt that Thranduil would have thrown the poor hobbit into the dungeon.” Brethilwen had now also walked over to the table and was brushing off some elk hair from Anna’s robe. “You know that he has a temper. But you also know that he only wishes to shield you from harm. Wandering off on your own can be very risky, especially for someone who does not know the roads and is not aware of the dangers lurking along the way. I am sure Thranduil does not mean to keep you locked up and should you ever wish to travel, he will gladly see to it that you both might journey safely. But for now it is wiser that you remain here, both for your own protection as well as for Thranduil’s sake.” Brethilwen gave the table another assessing glance and then her grey eyes were on Anna. “He needs you, you know, more than what you think. I know that he does not want you to worry about his condition, because he doesn’t want you to feel obliged to stay out of pity for him.” She sighed, her fingers gliding absentmindedly over the intricate carvings on the table. “When you get your memory back, please make sure that you do not take any rash decisions. Give yourself time to adjust to your old memories, but don’t allow them to swallow you whole and to bury your feelings for Thranduil.”

“I will make sure to remember.” Anna nodded a bit stiffly, her worries making an unbidden return, but first and foremost she needed to get through the meeting with this fabled wizard in the most dignified way possible.

“How long do I have until Gandalf gets here?”

“Oh, he has been waiting outside the door ever since he obtained Thranduil’s permission to come and visit you early this morning.” Brethilwen lifted the lid of the tea-pot to peek inside, closing it again with a satisfied nod.

“So he has been waiting all this time in front of my room?” Anna began to feel sorry for the old man, doomed to idle waiting until she would finally awake.

Brethilwen shrugged and picked up the empty tray. “He told me that he did not mind the wait, assuring me that time was the only thing he had indeed plenty.” She made to leave the room, but stopped on her way out, placing the tray on a nearby chair. “Oh, but there is one more thing before I leave you to your teatime with the wizard.”

From her satchel she pulled out a small phial filled with a crystal clear liquid and placed it on Anna’s bedside table. Upon Anna’s questioning look she said: “I know that your sting has healed well and it is not bothering you anymore, but just in case it starts acting up again, which I pray to the Valar that it will not, this little something will come in handy to ease whatever symptoms might show. It is a new mixture I have been working on based on the spider venom. There were a few ingredients that had been missing and which I have now finally received from Dale. It is very potent and a few drops should do.”

The colour suddenly drained from Anna’s face and her eyes went from Brethilwen to the phial, so small and inconspicuous, yet apparently filled with a powerful draught. Her voice was barely a whisper. “But, do you think that the pain will come back again?”

Brethilwen closed her satchel, slung it over her shoulder and picked up the tray again. “I do not think so, but I’d rather not take any risks and I am sure that it lies in the king’s best interest too. Thranduil cares a great deal for you and it is my duty as your healer to make sure that I do not overlook anything. So, just be a good girl and keep this with you at all times, will you?”

“Of course.” Anna nodded obediently. She took it, the glass smooth and cold against her fingers. “Better safe than sorry,” she said more to herself than Brethilwen, who was already at the door, exchanging some brief words with the wizard and then bidding him farewell with a chuckle and a blush on her cheeks.

Whatever that was about, Anna would not get a chance to ask Brethilwen until later, because Gandalf had already appeared at the doorframe and was now beaming at her.

“Good morning.” This was all Anna could manage and for a moment Gandalf seemed to ponder his answer, but then thought better of it and only said with a slight inclination of his head:

“Good morning, my dear. Thank you so much for giving me a moment of your time. I promise you that I will make good use of it and keep it short.”

Without his cloak, hat and staff, like she had seen him yesterday, he appeared just like a common old man, clad in a simple robe of coarse grey, a brown belt loosely slung around his middle. Of course she wasn’t naive enough to assume that his appearance had anything to do with the powers he might hold, so she reminded herself to be on her guard, just in case.

How did one open a conversation with a famous wizard? Was she supposed to ask him to join her for breakfast or was this considered impolite? Did wizards even eat like normal people? He seemed to have read her thoughts, as he threw the table laden with food a curious glance and then gave her a disarming smile.

“Oh, this does look rather delicious. The elves do have good taste in food.” He studied the plates and goblets. “And I see that there is even tea too! There is nothing better than to greet the morning with a cup of hot tea, wouldn’t you agree?”

Anna smiled widely, someone who enjoyed tea as much as she did, couldn’t be all that bad. “Yes, I do agree. Brethilwen is an expert in brewing the best tea and whatever honey she uses, is the sweetest I have ever tasted. Would you care to join me for a cup or maybe two?”

She grabbed the backrest of her chair to pull it out and then gestured to the other chair facing her, so Gandalf might make himself comfortable. Maybe this could even turn into an enjoyable conversation.

“Thank you very much,” Gandalf said, unhooking his thumbs from inside his belt. “How could I refuse such a tempting offer?”

He slid into the seat opposite her and began serving himself food, piling up bread, ham and cheese on his plate. Anna poured them both a cup of tea, adding a spoonful of honey, and then she served herself one bread-roll and some berries. She was more nervous than hungry. For a while they sat in a surprisingly comfortable silence, each paying attention to their food, until finally Gandalf addressed her.

“You must forgive an old man his curiosity, but I must be very sure about the condition of your memory. You truly do not remember anything from before the Elvenking found you under that tree?”

“No, I do not, although I do remember that at the very beginning I still had some vague images of my former life, but everything vanished when, you know, when he gave me that wine.”

Gandalf nodded solemnly and for a moment Anna stared at his wrinkled hands beside his plate.

“But how do you know that he found me under the tree? I thought you had not yet spoken to Thranduil?” She broke her bread-roll in half to dig out the fluffy inside, which was her favourite part, especially when the bread was still hot and fresh.

“Ah, for some things I do not need to ask him or anyone for that matter,” Gandalf said between taking sizeable bites of bread laden with ham. “There is but one portal tree in all of Mirkwood and I have been around for a good while to know about its existence.”

He suddenly leaned closer, the lengths of his beard sweeping the breadcrumbs off his plate like a broom.

“Look at me,” he said, his voice solemn as he fixed Anna with his eyes. He seemed to grow taller, tendrils of darkness coiling around him.

“I am looking at you,” she said, dropping her bread on the plate and shifting in her seat. She was starting to feel slightly uncomfortable.

He pushed his teacup out of the way with his fingers. “I mean, really look at me. I need to be sure about something.”

Anna swallowed her answer and ignoring the ominous shadows, she focused on his sky blue eyes that assessed her with a mixture of sharpness and wisdom. Suddenly her breath caught in her throat. Her mind whirled with clouds that were struggling to lift against their invisible ties. The shattered pieces of her memories, a mirror of broken reflections, glittered before her eyes.

“See, there it is!” he exclaimed with satisfaction, almost making her jump back in her seat.

“Yes,” she whispered, the vivid mosaic of her past taunting her with its panoply of colours. But it still remained out of reach, a solid wall that she could not break through, at least not on her own.

“Everything is still there, it is only the access that has been shut.” He tapped at his forehead with his finger.

“So, this is a good thing, you’re saying, isn’t it? It means you can bring back my memory!” A slight tremble was in her voice, when she had suddenly been so close yet still so far from herself.

“Yes, it will be possible.” He nodded, the darkness around him receding as he returned his attention to the half eaten bread on his plate.

“But Thranduil said something about a risk involved, that I could lose my new memories when regaining my old ones.” The thought of severing the tender bonds between her and Thranduil was closing in like an iron vice around her chest.

“Ah, yes, the risk,” he said gravely, nodding several times, as he casually allowed more crumbs to drop from his fingers onto his plate. “There is one question I must ask you and you must promise me to answer it truthfully. This might be crucial for the outcome of the spell.”

“Yes, of course,” Anna was quick to respond, sitting up straight in her seat, her fingers coiling around the belt of her robe. “I’ll do whatever it takes to make this work.”

“Good.” Gandalf dabbed at his mouth with a napkin and then laid it aside. She could feel his eyes again boring into hers. “I need to know one thing: do you love Thranduil?”

“What? Why—, why does this have anything to do with regaining my memory?” She felt heat rise to her cheeks. This wasn’t a question she had been prepared to hear. She barely dared answer it to herself, let alone say it out loud in front of a strange wizard she had just met.

Gandalf tilted his head sideways, raising his eyebrows encouragingly. “A yes or a no would suffice.”

She did know the answer to that question, had known it for a long time, but she had thought herself a fool for allowing her heart to fall for an immortal Elvenking. But no matter how hopeless or foolish it might seem, her heart had burned for him since the moment his gaze of ice had kindled a flame inside her.

She took a deep breath, her hands clinging to her robe, the one that still bore the remnants of Thranduil’s scent, and willed her voice to be clear. “Yes, I do love him, more than anything, more than my own life.”

Now that she had said it out loud for the first time, she felt strangely relieved, even glad, as if a burden had been lifted from her.

“I thought so,” was all Gandalf said, reaching out for his cup of tea to drain it in one swig. “I don’t believe in letting anything go to waste, especially not such a delightful tea,” he said, when he had placed his empty cup back on the table.

“That is very wise of you,” Anna stated, watching him and wondering how to return to a normal conversation that didn’t involve laying bare her innermost feelings. To her relief he apparently did not plan on developing his question any further. As a matter of fact, he pushed his empty plate back, dropping the napkin on top, and rose quite briskly from his seat.

“But now I should be going, as I know that Thranduil does not approve to be kept waiting. Well, that and smoking pipe.” Gandalf raised his bushy eyebrows, a smile shining through his tangled beard. “I think it reminds him too much of the dwarves.” He chuckled while he adjusted his belt.

Anna could not help but grin. “You are probably right. He isn’t very fond of dwarves, that much is for sure.”

She followed suit, rising from her seat, and then held out her hand to him to bid him farewell. He took it, his weathered hand surprisingly warm and strong around her own.

“It was very nice meeting you,” he said, shaking her hand.

“Yes, it was indeed,” she said, smiling, “and I hope this will not be the last time that we meet.”

“It won’t be, of that I am very sure.” He still did not let go of her hand, as if were pondering something. “As this was neither the last time nor the first time that we have met.”

Her eyes went wide and she felt her insides freeze. “What do you mean, not the first time?”

“Just exactly that. We have met once before and I remember one thing about you.”

“And what is that?” She could feel her palms beginning to sweat in his firm grip.

“Your name.” He squeezed her hand again and then suddenly let go of it. “It was very nice meeting you again, Anna.”

And while she still stared at him, open-mouthed and wide-eyed, Aradan reappeared from his hideout under the table to brush up against her legs, and by the time she looked up again, the door had already closed behind Gandalf.

At first Thranduil had been slightly irritated by the fact that Mithrandir had expressed the wish to meet with Anna beforehand, but after a moment of consideration he had agreed. This was about her after all, and whatever the wizard could learn from her, would help in the recovery of Anna’s memory. After last night all he could think of was how much he wanted her and how terrified he was of losing her. Her body had felt so incredibly delicious in his arms and if it hadn’t been for Aradan interrupting them, he would have taken her right there on that settee. Her warmth, her scent, it all had nearly shattered him and the desire building in his loins had burned through him like a wildfire. Maybe he had been a fool for having allowed his honour to once again claim victory over his need. What if this had been his only chance at feeling her come undone beneath him? What if after the recovery of her memory she would reject him, even hate him? It would break his heart if she left, but he would not hold her back, would not keep her here against her will. He would allow her to return to her old life, if that was what she wanted, and accept his fate, allow the crack in his soul to deepen until there was nothing left of him to heal ever again. Brethilwen had warned him of what would become of him, if he could not find the cure for his broken self, but he had pushed her words of wisdom aside, kept on going, cultivating the ice around his heart until it had become a nearly impenetrable shield. And now it might well be too late. He had been so close and found himself now suddenly further from his redemption than ever before.

A determined knock at the door tore him from his brooding thoughts. He rubbed his temples, trying to clear his mind and stir his thoughts towards the conversation that lay ahead.

“Come in!” he called and when he looked up, there was Gandalf standing on the threshold.

He was a strange sight without neither his usual voluminous travel cloak, his pointy hat nor his staff, appearing just like a plain old man, his frail and ancient body concealing the immense power that slumbered inside his immortal soul.

The wizard cleared his throat, politely waiting to be addressed. Thranduil straightened himself in his seat and signalled for him to come closer with a wave of his hand.

“Mithrandir! I am glad to see that you have found some time in your busy schedule to grace me with your presence.” He didn’t easily admit to the fact that he needed the wizard’s help, so he decided to wear the mask of arrogant self-assurance just a little bit longer. It was the only way he knew how to shield himself from the overwhelming feeling of being powerless.

“I hope you have enjoyed your breakfast with my guest,” he added, a little less hostile.

“Oh, yes indeed I have. She is such a charming young lady. And I must say your tea is excellent and it possibly even rivals the quality of your Dorwinion.”

“I am glad that you find the quality of my kitchens to your liking, but I have to admit that I did not know that you favoured tea over wine. If I am not mistaken, this is a relatively new habit?”

Gandalf wagged his head. “Well, that comes with travelling across time and space, one picks up habits here and there.”

“I see,” Thranduil said slightly amused. “Why don’t you have a seat, so we can get to the point of your visit.” He pointed at the armchair across his own with an elegant flick of his hand.

“Ah, yes, of course, there is much that needs to be discussed.” Gandalf strode to his appointed seat with a surprising amount of agility, sinking into the soft cushion with an extended sigh. Thranduil watched him with a mixture of amusement and apprehension and when the wizard was finally seated, Thranduil folded his hands in his lap and took a deep breath.

“As I am sure you are well aware of the reason for our meeting, and assuming that you have gathered whatever it is you have wanted to ask her, I think it is best that I lay out to you what it is that I seek your advice for.”

“Of course. Giving advice is what I do best,” Gandalf said with a considerable amount of smugness that nearly rivalled Thranduil’s. The wizard leaned back in his seat, opening his arms in a welcoming gesture, before folding them casually in his lap, while Thranduil felt himself tightening up at what lay ahead of him.

“Is there any way I can assure that she will be able to recover her memory without her losing the new ones she has? As you have surely noticed, I have grown very fond of her and would do anything to spare her any further pain. She has been very assertive that she wishes me to remove the spell I have put her under, but I daresay that she is also terrified of being left with none of her new memories. I know she does not share any of those concerns, at least not with me, but I am not blind, I can see the worry in her eyes.”

Gandalf only nodded and then said: “Yes, yes. I have given some thought to this already and I am quite confident that we will be able to navigate these treacherous waters with success.”

“I am glad to hear that.” The tension in Thranduil’s shoulders lessened considerably, but then he went on. “There is still something else that I wish to consult with you. When I healed her from the spider’s sting and then again when I had to pull her out of the fever that had befallen her, I have felt a connection between us, faint and not more than a delicate thread, but it was there. I was surprised at first, because I have made sure that it was only a healer’s bond, but nevertheless her soul seemed to reach out to mine in a way that made me pull back suddenly. I thought that I had unwillingly pushed too far, because how else could that have happened, unless there is something that links our souls, something that eludes my grasp.”

Gandalf nodded gravely. “You might very well be on to something, Thranduil. As you know, I have travelled beyond this world and I do not need portals to do so. Ever since the day the dragon fire nearly consumed you, I have been searching not only for an explanation of what has created that rift in your soul, but also for a way to heal it.”

For a moment Thranduil only stared at the wizard and the way his wrinkled hands lay folded in his lap.

“Brethilwen is an amazingly capable healer,” Gandalf went on, “and she has been so kind as to lay out everything related to those early days, when she had been called here to help you recover and now that you have revealed to me the connection you have felt between this mortal woman and yourself, it has confirmed my theories.”

Thranduil swallowed, preparing himself for whatever bad news might be coming from the wizard’s mouth. “And what would those be?”

“Apparently the day when the dragon nearly burned you, the dragon’s fire wasn’t just common fire, but it was cursed.”

Thranduil felt his mouth going dry. “So you are saying that the dragon cursed me?” His fingers curled around the armrest. The room around him was beginning to spin.

“In a way, yes, but I am afraid that it is a little bit more complex than that. The fire burned through your soul, burnt it nearly whole, but it had not counted with your innate strength. It thought to crush you, to diminish you, wipe you out from the face of Arda. The dragon’s intention was not just to destroy your body, which the Valar could have restored, but also to tear your soul to shreds, so nothing at all would remain of you. When it felt that it could not defeat you completely, it fractured your soul, crushed it and rattled against it until a piece of it tore off. A small piece only, but a vital one nevertheless, as your soul is not made to exist incomplete. You can still live on, even recover from your physical wounds, but your soul will always be missing that one piece that broke off.”

“What are you saying? What does this mean? A piece of my soul broke off, but where did it go and where is it now?”

“Haven’t you guessed the answer to that already?”

Thranduil’s face turned pale as the realisation hit him. “She—, she has the piece of my soul?”

Gandalf nodded, the corners of his mouth turning up into a small smile. “Indeed, she has it, which is why you have felt that connection with her through the healing bond. What you have felt is the missing piece of your own soul, calling to you, finding you again through space and time.”

“But how is all this possible?” Thranduil grabbed the armrests tighter until his knuckles turned white. “I have never heard of anything like this happening before!”

“There are many things possible, even things that seem so strange that one can barely believe any of it. And just because something has never happened before, does not mean that it cannot happen at all. This piece of your soul might have been wandering around the void for a very long time until it found someone to latch onto, someone it thought might be able to return it to you. Someone that would be willing to give up their own life to save someone else’s.”

The blood rushed through Thranduil’s head like a roaring river and for a moment he thought that he might need to lie down, but he kept himself upright.

“Does she know about it?”

“No, she doesn’t. To the best of my knowledge she is not aware of it.”

“But how do you know that it is her? How can you be so sure about it?”

“You keep forgetting that I am a wizard. I know things,” Gandalf said dryly and before Thranduil could beat him to it with a smart response he continued, “but to answer your questions: For one, she has passed through the portal, which is by itself remarkable and only possible in very rare cases and second and most important of all, I myself found her in her own world and I might have just inadvertently pushed her into a little unexpected adventure that turned out apparently quite different from what she might have thought it to be.”

Slowly Thranduil began piecing everything together and then it dawned on him. “So you know her! You know who she is and what is her name and everything about her!”

He shot up from his seat, his robe a whirl of silver around him, and then he stood behind the chair, his hands gripping the backrest as if he wished to crush it with his bare hands. “Why haven’t you told me any of this before? This could have spared her and me a lot of trouble!” His eyes were as cold as a lake in winter, rage bubbling dangerously close to the surface.

Gandalf remained unimpressed by Thranduil’s rising anger. “Well, first of all you did everything to keep her existence hidden from me and then you also never asked me about her, so I concluded that you needed time to figure everything out on your own. Of course the fact that you gave her the enchanted wine has complicated matters considerably—,”

“I know that this was a mistake, and believe me, Brethilwen has made a point of reminding me of my foolishness on a regular basis,” Thranduil interrupted him quite gruffly, his jaw clenched tight.

Gandalf kept his voice calm. “Before you jump to any rash conclusions, let me assure you that I do not know nearly as much about her as you might assume. Our paths have crossed only once in her world and it was a very brief encounter. Her tale is not mine to tell. I will assist you with all that is in my power to help regain her memory, but I will not be the one to reveal to you what only she herself must tell you.” He paused and it seemed to Thranduil that he was pondering his next words. “But I do know one thing about her.” Gandalf twiddled his thumbs, and Thranduil could have sworn the wizard was savouring this moment more than what he should.

“And what would that be?” Thranduil struggled to keep the eagerness from his voice.

“Her name,” Gandalf said. Two words only, but those words seemed to contain the world to him.

“You do?” Thranduil’s heart was close to bursting in his chest.

“Yes.” Gandalf smiled, apparently quite pleased with himself.

“Are you planning on telling me her name or will you keep this secret to yourself like so many other things that you have apparently hidden from me for too long?” He was beginning to grow impatient. It was always the same with this wizard, meddlesome and secretive, a hidden agenda concealed somewhere behind those overly bushy eyebrows.

Gandalf studied him for another moment and then suddenly, without a warning, Thranduil could feel those keen eyes breaking through the tattered remains of his composure, the expanse of his fractured soul now laid bare before the wizard’s gaze. A barren wasteland, beyond a chance for healing, or so he had thought. Thranduil did not resist, did not try to push him out, he was too tired and exhausted to keep his guard up at all times. He was not ashamed any more of admitting how broken he really was. Let him see and make of it what he would.

Gandalf’s eyes filled with empathy and there was something else in them that Thranduil could not quite place, but then the wizard cleared his throat and said quietly: “Anna, that is her name.”

“Anna,” Thranduil breathed out the word like a prayer, repeating it to himself with reverence. “Anna.” He had to keep his lips from trembling.

Gandalf had risen from his chair, and was now rubbing his hands together, a twinkle in his sky blue eyes. “So, should we get to work on that spell?”

Thranduil nodded his agreement, letting go of the chair, his flawless facade quickly shifting back in place. “Yes, we must not delay any longer,” he said, ushering Gandalf to follow him into his study. “Let us bring Anna’s memory back.” He smiled a little at the sound of her name coming from his mouth.

To be continued…

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