A Spell to Remember
Returning to the ominous tunnel a second time was infinitely better with Thranduil by Anna’s side. His presence alone seemed to keep the darkness at bay. The lighthearted teasing about how she should have avoided her dress from getting stained had her in a joyful mood most of the way, even though she knew that she was literally heading into the unknown.
“It’s true,” he said, lightly tapping her hand with his fingers as they walked on, their arms linked, “when have you ever seen me getting my clothes so dirty in such a short amount of time?”
“That’s just because you are the fabled Elvenking, who knows his way through this tunnel, and I’m not,” she countered, nudging him gently with her elbow, “besides I had other things on my mind than the state of my dress as you well know. If I had known that you would be lecturing me like this, I would have taken my time and put on a fresh dress apart from the boots.”
“That is true, of course,” he said, nudging her back, “besides, you are always a pleasure to look at, no matter what you’re wearing.”
A grin spread on her face. “You do know that you are not only very, very ancient, but also dangerously charming?”
“Oh, I am well aware of that, but it’s always nice to hear it again, especially the charming part,” he said smugly, leading her through the darkness with unwavering assurance.
To her delight Anna found that he seemed more talkative than the usual, even about the secrets of his palace.
He told her about the tunnel’s origin, allegedly dating back to a time where the Sindar under Oropher had not yet established themselves as rulers of Eryn Galen in Amon Lanc. When Thranduil himself had led his people away from the Mountains of Mirkwood even further into the North to build these underground halls, this tunnel as well as several others, which interconnected to form a veritable network, had been discovered by the elves as they dug their own dwellings into the earth. This most interesting piece of history was unfortunately cut short by their arrival at the wooden door, but Anna made a mental note to ask him more about this later.
To Anna’s surprise the toppled shelf had already been put back in its place and whatever had survived the fall, had been neatly stacked again, the flacons and earthenware jars looking a bit lonely with all the empty spaces between them. A flash of guilt made Anna realise that she might have unwillingly destroyed some possibly valuable ingredients with her undue outburst.
“Do not fret about the shelf,” Thranduil said when he caught her embarrassed look. “I keep everything of importance in the cave and it’s about time that these shelves get sorted out and reordered. I daresay they have been collecting more dust than value over the years.”
Anna nibbled at her lower lip. “Still, I am sorry that I have caused such a mess. It wasn’t my intention to break things.”
He gave her an understanding smile. “Are you ready for this?” he asked, as they stood facing the entrance of the cave, his hand resting on the door knob.
“Yes,” she said with an assurance that she actually did not quite feel. She turned towards him, looking up into his face. “But I am also scared.”
He leaned down, letting go of the handle to brush a strand of hair from her face. “I know,” he said softly, “but you need not be afraid. Mithrandir has assured me that the spell will work and you do not have to fear any risk.”
She nodded, not quite convinced, and then she wordlessly flung her arms around his neck and raised herself on tiptoes to press a kiss to his mouth. He leaned down and met her lips with his, kissing her back. When he pulled her closer, wrapping his arms around her waist, then lower, encircling her hips, she was nearly ready to throw over her plan of ever recovering her memory. It would be so much easier to just head back up to the royal chambers, instead of undergoing another spell, which might or might not go wrong and destroy whatever small piece of happiness she had built herself with Thranduil.
He pulled away from her mouth, resting his forehead against hers.
“Anna,” he breathed, “I am here for you, with you. Never forget that.”
“I know, Thranduil,” she whispered, searching again for his lips. “I know.”
He regarded her for a moment solemnly, and then he claimed her mouth again, devouring her like a starving man would his favourite meal. The door was suddenly pulled open from the inside, but Thranduil’s lips lingered on hers for another beat, hungry for more, before he broke the kiss, leaving Anna’s cheeks heated and her heartbeat racing.
Gandalf’s wrinkled face appeared in the door crack, his bushy eyebrows raised in amusement. “Am I interrupting something?”
The wizard swung the door wide open and winked at Anna, a smile blossoming on her face.
“Your observational skills are impressive as always.” Thranduil had schooled his face into a facade of cool indifference and without further ado, he stepped over the threshold with Anna by his side, Gandalf making way for both of them.
If the tunnel was dark and gloomy, the cave was something else altogether. It was unexpectedly wide and spacious, even lofty, despite its underground location. Torches along the walls casted flickering shadows. But before Anna had time to take in any of the details, as astonishing as they might be, a sudden power rose around her, sweeping over her like a tidal wave. She froze on the spot, one hand clutching at the folds of her dress, the other groping blindly for Thranduil by her side, who had wrapped his hand firmly around hers.
Something began to tug and pull, whisper and sing, the air itself brimming over with an incessant humming that crawled right under her skin. A myriad of colours pressed against her eyes, but when she blinked again, they had shifted, changing into something else. Everything around her seemed to simultaneously evolve and cease to exist, grow and diminish, flicker to life and turn to ashes; an endless circle spinning and closing in on her. Anna’s head was dizzy, her knees had turned to jelly and the little hairs on her neck were standing on end. Thranduil tightened his grip on her hand. His presence was a steadfast anchor in the rioting sea of unknown forces that crashed in on her with a pounding rhythm.
“What is this?” she finally managed to breathe through the exploding chaos in her head and for a moment she was terrified that it was just simply that, a figment of her imagination, the onset of madness.
“It is the magic of the forest you feel. In here its power flows freely, pure and unbridled, and its strength can be overwhelming at first, especially for you as a human.” Thranduil’s resonant voice was barely able to drown out the elemental storm that hit her senses. “But there is no need to be afraid. Do not try to fight it, just allow it in.”
“B—but I can’t! Everything is attacking me at once!” she said, clinging to his tall frame to keep herself from being sucked into the maelstrom that threatened to tear her sanity to shreds. Her blood rushed through her veins in a frightening tempo, silencing every clear thought in her head.
“It is pulsating like a heart, a living and breathing thing. Close your eyes and listen carefully to the song of the forest, follow its lead and you see that you will join the harmony and attune to its beat.”
She tried to make sense of his words, to focus on his hand holding hers and then somewhere deep inside she found a flicker of courage. Closing her eyes she gave in to the power around her. At first she felt like drowning, struggling for air, the urge to fight whatever was trying to pull her under becoming increasingly overwhelming.
“I can’t!” It broke out of Anna, her voice choked.
“You are holding your breath. Let it go.” Thranduil’s words seemed to reach her from far away, like through a wall of water.
Finally she loosened a long breath she had not realised she had been holding. She willed herself to steady her breathing and as the air flowed slowly through her, the storm around her began to calm, voices lowering to a whisper, vibrant colours dimming, the prickling sensation on her skin receding. The relentless waves gradually ebbed away, as if the forest had been testing her strength, at last considering her worthy. It pulled her gently into its everlasting dance, the low rumble of roots anchoring themselves deep inside the earth, leaves fluttering in the autumn wind like orange and red butterflies. The determination of young buds pushing through the ground was in every fibre of her body. She was the sigh of branches in a summer storm, the gracefully swaying flowers in the spring breeze, the glittering white dress of treetops in winter. She was each one and all of it at once.
Like resurfacing from a dream, Anna opened her eyes. She blinked, still slightly dazed, and then she caught Thranduil looking at her.
“You did well,” he said with appreciation in his voice. “Only few humans manage to withstand this power the first time they are faced with it.”
Anna was still slightly shaken, her voice a bit hoarse. “It’s beautiful and frightening at the same time. I could feel all the ancient wisdom buried within it, the pain and the suffering, but there was also hope, the unbroken will to renew itself, the determination to endure and bring forth new life, even against all odds.” She paused, feeling Thranduil’s eyes watching her intently. “Is this how you feel the forest?”
“Yes,” he nodded slowly, “I carry all of it inside me, every tree and every root, I feel every leaf stirring in the wind and every bud blossoming anew.” A shadow crossed his face, his glamour faltering for the briefest of moments. “Every broken branch, each tree trunk infested by evil, settles within me like a rotting thorn, its sickness spreading, the hope of ever recovering from it, growing dimmer with every passing season.” His mind appeared to have gone far away, a gleam of resignation and defeat darkening the brilliant blue of his eyes.
“But there is still hope. I saw it and I heard it.” She squeezed his hand which had suddenly gone cold. “As long as there is someone willing to believe in it, not all is lost.”
The corners of his mouth turned up into a small smile and a flicker of warmth returned to his eyes. “Your hopefulness is admirable.”
“If I give up hope, what’s the purpose of going on living?”
“Perhaps if you had seen as many dark times as I have, you would not be so sure about it anymore.”
“Well, in that case it’s good that I am not quite as old as you are. Being human certainly does have its advantages.”
She leaned into Thranduil and gave him a cheeky grin. He raised an eyebrow in return, then placed a kiss atop her head.
“Your wisdom is as astonishing as is your hopefulness,” he whispered and she could feel him smiling into her hair.
“She certainly has you wrapped around her finger.” Gandalf chuckled, his thumbs casually hooked into his belt. The wizard had observed the whole scene with utmost curiosity. “If I ever called you old and ancient, you would not be so forgiving.”
“I most certainly would not,” Thranduil said, but even Anna could hear the faint trace of amusement in his voice.
“There is much for you to see,” he said to her, waving his hand at the vast expanse opening up ahead of them. “This cave is one of the places in the forest where power is given and received. There are two more, the portal tree and at the source of the Enchanted River in the Mountains of Mirkwood further south. There are others still, but since the darkness has fallen on my lands, they have been too dangerous for my people to set foot anywhere near them.”
Now that her body and mind had finally adapted to the power inhabiting this place, she was able to take a look at her surroundings.
She had expected some kind of laboratory, but this looked more like a sanctuary, a haven for all things that grow, a subterranean greenhouse of sorts. A gurgling sound filled the air, as if there were a river rushing through the cavern, but the view further ahead was obstructed by a large array of tall shelves, which were placed in spacious rows all throughout the cave. Some were easily taller than the Elvenking himself, their top tiers obscured by shadows, and upon each of them stood a multitude of pots housing plants of various sizes. The majority appeared to be ranging from saplings to young plants, all in different shades of green, from a healthy fresh spring green to a sickly pale yellow. One long table along the right side of the cavern was filled with a sad display of what appeared to be a heap of rotten wood, overgrown with fungus, pieces of bark infested with patches of distinctly evil looking lichen stacked beside it. A large crate was filled to the top with roots sticking out at odd angles which bore an unsettling resemblance to twisted legs of giant spiders.
Thranduil appeared to have read Anna’s thoughts as he pointed an elegant finger towards said corner.
“Many of the plants are sick as you have seen, so I have begun to bring some of them here to try and heal them, find a cure for what has befallen them. Unfortunately many are beyond what even I can do for them and they will wither and die, but even if I succeed in saving one it is a victory against the darkness, though a small one.” He brushed a tender finger over a particularly small fern, its leaves still curled up tightly like a green snail shell.
Towards the middle of the cavern’s left wall there appeared to be a narrow opening. It emanated a bright greenish glow, as if the forest itself had just been tucked into the rock right behind it.
“May I?” she asked Thranduil, her curiosity stirred up.
“You may look around as you wish,” he said with an inviting smile.
Anna treaded closer, her fingers grazing along the rough and humid surface of the cavern’s wall. The green glow intensified when she reached the entrance, wide enough for two people to step through abreast. It opened up into a beautiful small grotto that was nothing short of stunning. A thick rug of moss covered the grotto’s floor in its entirety, while vines crawled up the walls, their heavy leaves nearly hiding every evidence of the rock behind them. Trumpet shaped blossoms dotted the green with dark purple and pale white petals. From above, through whatever ingenious way of elven engineering, there were even slivers of daylight peeking through what appeared to be slanted openings. Even despite being thoroughly underground, this secluded grotto felt closer to the forest and its vegetation than any other place she had ever visited in the palace. Everything was vibrant and alive and if she had to put in words what she saw, she would have said that this had to be nothing less than the true heart of the forest. There was such an air of peacefulness and serenity to it that Anna did not dare venture further and simply admired this lush oasis from the entrance.
Thranduil had ambled closer and came to stand beside her, his arms folded behind his back.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” he said, tilting his head towards her, obviously pleased by the look of awe on her face.
“Yes, it is. I never expected to find anything like this so far underground.”
“My palace does have a few surprises. It is called Thurin Galen and just like the Queen’s Repose this is another place of peace and quiet,” he said, “although the reason why something like this exists, is one I would rather have wiped out from the face of Middle-earth. When the darkness infested more and more parts of my forest, I began to use this cavern not only as a place of healing for the damaged plants, but also to keep samples of healthy ones, like you see them in this grotto. So whenever the evil finally passes, I hope to be able to help the forest regrow at a faster pace.”
“But when will that happen?” Images of her own struggles through the spider infested thickets of Mirkwood came flashing through her mind, and despite her earlier hopefulness, an uncomfortable feeling now settled in her stomach.
“With Sauron having fled Dol Guldur there has been a lifting of the shadows as of late and we might even be facing a beautiful spring after so many dark ones,” Thranduil said, “perhaps the forest will even be able to regain some of its former strength, although I do not believe that the evil has been banished once and for all. Sauron now hides in Mordor, bidding his time, rebuilding his strength and then he will show himself again, more terrible than before.”
Thranduil stared into the emerald gloom ahead and a cold shiver skittered down Anna’s spine, her hand searching for a hold on the rugged wall beside her.
“How do you know all this?”
“Oh, he has been around long enough to know our worst enemy only too well,” Gandalf chimed in from behind both of them, his tone slightly too casual, considering the gravity of the topic, “also we have recently been sharing some interesting conversations, besides it is not altogether unexpected. It was only a matter of time until the Dark One would rise again.”
Anna had hoped that Thranduil’s victorious return from Erebor had meant the defeat of the enemy, bringing with it the promise of peace, but she now realised that this may have been little more than a skirmish in comparison to what still might lie ahead.
“So, this battle you have been fighting wasn’t the end then. You are expecting a war and you think it will come here too.”
It wasn’t so much a question as a statement and her words hung in the air like an omen of foreboding. She turned to face both Gandalf and Thranduil, the reality of upcoming dangers beyond what she had ever imagined, dawning on her. Nowhere would be safe, not even here.
“Yes, that is what I fear,” Thranduil said without looking at her, the tension in his shoulders all too obvious.
Gandalf seemed to take this as his cue to launch into one of his favourite topics.
“Our only chance to endure is that we all stand united, only then can we be strong enough to defeat the Dark Lord. This is not a time for petty rivalries and old grudges, but for—,”
“I know what is expected of me. There is no need to remind me of my duties,” Thranduil cut across Gandalf rather gruffly. “My kingdom will be ready, must be ready,” he added heavily, glancing towards the decayed wood and the large number of dying plants that awaited whatever miracle the Elvenking might be able to conjure. “I will defend this forest until my last breath and you know this, Mithrandir.” He shot Gandalf a haughty glare, but the wizard appeared undaunted by Thranduil’s subtle hostility.
“Yes, I do not doubt this, but what if there is need of your forces outside of Mirkwood? What if Lady Galadriel calls for aid? Will you come? Will you stand together not only with Elves, but also Men and even Dwarves, should the need arise?”
The wizard had grown unnaturally tall, tendrils of darkness coiling around his form. Anna’s throat went dry and she took a step back until she hit the firmness of Thranduil’s chest behind her. He wrapped his arm around her in a protective gesture.
“Let us not cross the bridge till we come to it. Isn’t that one of the sayings that you have picked up in the human world?” Thranduil’s words might have sounded nonchalant, but the ice in his voice was a clear warning that this was a line Gandalf would do well not to overstep, not here at the very heart of Thranduil’s power.
“Yes, it is indeed and of course, you are right,” Gandalf muttered into his beard, his appearance shrinking back to his unassuming self, “we must not get ahead of ourselves. All in due time.” He gave Anna an apologetic smile. “I did not mean to cause any distress. It is just in my nature to be vigilant and keep out an eye or two for possible dangers.”
“Indeed, you are very versed in spotting dangers everywhere,” Thranduil said, relaxing his grip on Anna and lowering his head to whisper into her ear, “and when there is absolutely no danger on the horizon, I believe he is fully capable of making something up, just to keep us on our toes.”
Anna looked up into Thranduil’s face and there was a mischievous glint in his eyes. She turned towards Gandalf, her eyes narrowed.
“Really? I thought that respectable wizards would never do such a thing.”
“These are completely unfounded allegations. Don’t believe a word the Elvenking says, Anna.” Gandalf drew his bushy eyebrows together, but the smile shining through his tangled beard took the edge off his indignation. “Never have I made anything up. I only warn when warning is due.”
“I am relieved to hear that,” Anna said, “but no matter what dangers are there awaiting, I would rather face them being in full possession of my memory.”
Gandalf nodded his agreement. “Which is why we are here of course. We can continue our talks of war somewhere more comfortable, like in a room with a squashy armchair and a crackling fire. I have to admit that the chilly air down here does not agree with my ancient bones. My back is starting to feel rather stiff.” He rubbed one hand along his lower back as if to emphasise his words.
“I will make sure to include armchairs and a fireplace to the list of commodities to be added to this cavern.” A sliver of amusement rang through Thranduil’s words as he beckoned to Anna to follow him. “Come with me. There is something else I want to show you.”
The Elvenking headed through the rows of shelves towards the back of the cave and Anna ventured after him, Gandalf following closely behind. Trying to keep up with Thranduil’s stride, she barely had time to acknowledge the sheer amount of plants that inhabited each and every wooden shelf they passed. She could only marvel at the great lengths Thranduil was willing to go to ensure the survival of his forest. He was much more than its guardian. He was the beating heart of it and when he had said that he would defend it until his last breath, she knew that he had meant every word of it. Leaving these lands had never been an option for him and now she had seen with her own eyes, felt with her own heart the bond that tied the two of them together.
Thranduil had come to a halt and then Anna noticed it too, a merrily gurgling river winding itself along the back wall. She curiously peered into the near black depths that rushed eagerly from one side of the cavern to the other, disappearing into the darkness ahead.
“Is this the Enchanted River?” she turned towards Thranduil, who stood by her side at the water’s edge.
“Yes, it is and as the name suggests, the Enchanted River is no ordinary river, but it carries within its current a powerful spell, woven into the waters by me. Here in this cave is where the enchantment of the river begins and flows upstream, and where its magic is the strongest. It is one more way to ensure the safety of our ever shrinking kingdom, keeping out unwanted strangers and wanderers. Whoever has the misfortune of falling into the river, drinks from it or somehow else touches the black waters, will fall into a deep sleep from which the person will only awake very slowly. Even after that, they will remain in a trance-like state that will not allow them to orient themselves, throwing them off their initial path.”
“What happens to those people after the spell wears off?” Several potentially dangerous scenarios began to unfold in Anna’s head.
“Some might find their way out, being able to return to where they came from, but not all will succeed in leaving the forest alive. The less lucky ones will fall prey to the spiders, meeting their violent ends at the pincers of these ever hungry beasts.”
An icy shiver slithered down Anna’s spine at the mere mention of those horrible creatures, the memory of her own encounter still painfully fresh in her mind.
“But let us not speak of such dark and evil things now,” Thranduil said when he saw that Anna’s face had turned a shade paler. “The magic flowing within these waters can do much more than wipe people’s minds blank.”
“This is why Brethilwen has told me about the river, because of the powers it holds. She insisted that I should visit the Enchanted River, but she never revealed any more details.” Things were starting to take shape in Anna’s head. “So you are going to use the same spell you use for the river. But since my memory has already been erased, the spell will bring it back instead?”
“Exactly,” Thranduil said and Gandalf beside him nodded his agreement.
“Although there were some adjustments to be done, taking into account the circumstances of your memory loss,” Gandalf elaborated, “a spell that has been carefully tailored to the recipient will yield a more satisfying result and will at the same time minimise the risk of a possible failure.”
“So I won’t be falling into a deep sleep?”
“No, you won’t,” Thranduil assured her.
“And I get to keep my new memories?”
“Yes, you will,” Gandalf said with confidence.
“So, let us do this then,” she said, straightening the bodice of her dress, the dark stains and blotches of ink along the lengths of the skirt appearing blacker than ever. “I am ready. Just tell me what I must do.”
“Follow me then.” Thranduil turned around on his heels, making his way back through another row of shelves with Anna and Gandalf in tow, leaves of all sizes brushing Anna’s arms and some even tickling her head from their lofty heights above.
He led them to a small wooden closet near the entrance to the green grotto. From it Thranduil produced an elegant goblet of finest silver, delicate leaves and flowers garlands snaking themselves around its base and stem. He placed it on top of the closet and when Anna peered inside she saw that it had been filled to the brim with a blood red liquid that undoubtedly resembled the king’s favoured wine.
“What? This is it? I drink a cup of this and then my memories will come back?”
“Yes, so it is,” Thranduil said, slightly taken aback. “What had you expected?”
“Well, I had expected to see some elaborate display of magic. I thought that I had to perhaps turn on the spot three times going right and then take ten steps towards the left corner of the cave, turn around while saying some words in a strange language and perhaps you and Gandalf would wave your hands and perform some extraordinary ritual—,” she broke off, when Thranduil raised his eyebrows in amusement and Gandalf’s low chuckle resonated through the cave.
“Obviously I am not very versed in magic. I did not really know what to expect, so I’m sorry if I have just made a complete fool out of myself.” She could only hope that the dim lighting in the cave might conceal the blush that had crept to her cheeks.
“This is nothing to be ashamed of.” Gandalf gave her a benevolent smile. “It is a common misconception that magic must be flashy in order to be effective. Rather the opposite is true. The most accomplished form of magic is often the one working in complete silence.”
“I have to agree with Mithrandir for once,” Thranduil said and Gandalf’s eyes widened. It made Anna wonder if this was perhaps the first time ever that Thranduil had openly admitted to agreeing with the wizard. “The wine is merely the medium for the spell. It is not the liquid, but the spell itself that is complex,” the Elvenking explained, “and the only thing that is required of you is to drink this entire glass of Dorwinion and allow the magic to do its work.”
“Well, at least I can’t do anything wrong then,” Anna said, trying to regain some of her confidence, while the heat on her cheeks gradually receded.
“I have no doubt in your abilities.” Thranduil graced her with a smile as he picked up the goblet and pointed towards the entrance of the grotto.
“There is a bench further in the back, where you can sit and make yourself comfortable while you drink.” He took her hand to walk towards the grotto.
“One more thing to remember,” Thranduil said, stopping with her on the threshold, “your old memories will need time to come back. You will have to be patient and allow your mind to adjust until you can piece everything together again.”
Anna nodded, the effort of trying to keep her heart from beating like a drum becoming more and more difficult.
“You have to imagine the enchantment like the gradual opening of a gate. The spell with initiate the opening, but it will take time until all memories can come through. It is not like the breaking of a dam, where everything comes flooding out at once. Also, not all memories will come back in chronological order, so do not be frightened when things still don’t seem to make sense at the beginning. Eventually everything will settle and fall in place.”
“I will do my best to remember it all,” Anna said and then Thranduil led her over the thick rug of moss, her feet sinking into the softness beneath. It was like stepping into an enchanted realm. Ribbons of pale sunlight danced through the air, flowed like golden rivulets across the moss and entwined with the thick green vines along the walls. The rushing of the river could still be heard from the distance and the air was heavy with the sweet scent of fragrant flowers. Thranduil kept his pace slow and without haste, as if he were treading on sacred ground, and for a moment Anna felt the overwhelming desire to lie down on the soft moss that beckoned to her like an evergreen bed. She wanted to fall asleep, forget her past and her future, because nothing of it suddenly seemed to matter anymore.
“You must stay focused, the forest’s power is even stronger in here.” Thranduil’s voice pulled Anna from her near trance-like state.
She had not even realised that she must have stopped and lifted now her eyes from the ground to the Elvenking by her side. Both his silvery hair and robe had taken on an emerald gleam in the greenish light around them. Never had he looked more ethereal, a true king of his forest.
“I—I’m sorry, it’s just, this place—,” she broke off, when her eyes met Thranduil’s. Their icy blue appeared almost sea-green in the twilight and something ancient seemed to stir in their depths. He leaned closer, his lips parting slowly, but before he could say anything, Gandalf had already walked up to them and placed a hand on Anna’s shoulder.
“It is quite all right, my dear. This is a place of rather extraordinary powers and it is only normal that you feel overwhelmed.” He smiled jovially. “Believe me, you are doing very well.”
“Of course she is,” Thranduil said tersely as he straightened himself.
One subtle quirk of his eyebrow was enough to make Gandalf retreat his hand rather quickly from Anna’s shoulder and for once she thought that Thranduil might have had a point in calling the wizard meddlesome.
With the goblet in one hand and Anna by his side Thranduil proceeded swiftly to the back of the grotto, towards a half moon shaped bench carved out from the rock, vines and ivy growing thickly around it, a soft layer of moss cushioning the hard surface.
“Will you sit with me?” Anna said, pulling him towards the space beside her, hoping that the closeness of his body would anchor her in the present as she embarked on her journey towards her past.
“Yes, I will.” And so he did, close enough for their thighs to touch, the lengths of her dress and his robe mingling on the mossy ground.
Gandalf remained a few steps away, his hands folded behind his back and his blue eyes alert.
“Everything will be just fine,” he said with an encouraging nod.
Anna only managed a small smile and then she took the goblet from Thranduil, locking eyes with him. His gaze pierced her with an intensity that sent her pulse galloping. He tipped up her chin and leaned closer until the strands of his hair tickled her face.
“Lotheg nín,” he said softly into their shared space, “whatever your past might be, I want you to know that you are my present and my future, the flower to my frost and the spring to my winter.”
Words failed her, a lump forming in her throat, so all she did was nod and then she brought the cup to her lips and closed her eyes. Her mind was a raging tempest of thoughts and images, as she relived the moments that made up her life here in this strange realm. The very first day, when Thranduil had offered her the cup of Dorwinion, followed by the notorious banquet, felt so infinitely far away. Even her completely unreasonable journey across Mirkwood that had nearly gotten her killed, appeared nothing more than a distant speck on the horizon. What was real and true was that she had grown to love the Elvenking more than what she had ever thought possible and that he loved her in return. That was what she would hold on to. Their first kiss and his promise to stay by her side, come what may.
Thranduil had draped an arm around her shoulder and his silent, but reassuring presence gave her the last push needed to embrace the unknown. She took a slow sip, allowing the sweetness of the Dorwinion to fill her chest with a familiar warmth that made her down the rest of the delicious wine without hesitation until the goblet was completely empty. A sudden dizziness rose to her head, spreading rapidly through her veins and into the very tips of her fingers. The cup slid from her hands, her body swaying as if she had danced for hours on end. Without Thranduil’s tight grip on her she might have keeled over.
After a long moment she finally opened her eyes.
Besides the echo of her dizziness nothing felt different at first, just like Thranduil had told her, and her eyes gradually focused on his presence beside her. He watched her quietly, his arm still slung around her, a flicker of anxiety in his eyes and his lips pressed tightly together.
“I know your face,” she whispered and then she slowly brought her hand to his cheek.
Thranduil leaned into her touch, his lips trembling as the tension melted away.
“And yours is as beautiful as ever,” he said, raising a reverent hand to her own face in return, “each of your freckles still waiting to be kissed by me.” He drew an arc over her cheekbone with his thumb and his smile made Anna’s chest ache with joy. She had not forgotten who he was, nor the taste of his lips on hers, the flames of her love for him burning bright as ever in her heart.
Then slowly, ever so slowly, tiny and isolated fragments of her memories returned, gradually resurfacing like bubbles of air in a glass of water, swirling around her, faces she knew and names that once had meant something to her. Her home and her family, the people she had loved and the place she had lived until —
Everything burned crimson and orange, tongues of searing flames engulfing her, licking along her body, melting her skin, charring her flesh until nothing was left of her, nothing but a spirit, a soul floating in the void.
Anna sat bolt upright, every muscle in her body taut like a bowstring. Her hand had sunk into her lap, the icy chill of a terrible realisation freezing her heart. She looked at Gandalf, who had stepped closer, his face solemn, and then she understood.
“I died, didn’t I?”
To be continued…
Eryn Galen - Greenwood the Great
Amon Lanc - Naked Hill, a hill in the southern part of Greenwood the Great, former capital of the Woodland Realm of the Silvan Elves under Oropher in the Second Age. After Orpher moved his people further North, Sauron occupied it and it became known as Dol Guldur.
Thurin Galen - Hidden Green
Lotheg nín - my little flower