The Secret of the Forest - A Thranduil Romance

The Banquet

In a matter of minutes Thranduil’s chamber transformed into a bustling beehive, dark-haired elves coming and going, always graceful despite their busy rush. Anna stayed put on the bench where Thranduil had left her, not really knowing how to fit in and what to do next.

Luckily she was spared the choice of doing something possibly awkward when an amiable elven lady approached her with a bundle of neatly folded clothes draped around her arm.

“My dear,” she said, smiling down at her encouragingly, “you must be tired from your journey.”

Her eyes were a light grey and her long brown hair with braids on either side framed her pale face beautifully. A long green dress flowed around her, complementing her dark hair and fair skin. She was of an ageless beauty beyond the count of human years, but the giddy excitement with which she approached Anna told her that she might be still quite young, at least in elven years.

Anna smiled at her wryly. “Yes I am.” As a matter of fact she was exhausted, but not nearly as much from her journey as from her stirring emotional encounter with the Elvenking.

The elleth pointed at the space beside Anna. “May I?” Anna nodded weakly. After laying the clothes on the nearby table she made herself comfortable beside Anna.

“I am Brethilwen. My Lord Thranduil sent me to look after you and help you prepare for tonight’s banquet.”

“Prepare? But why…?” Her question earned her an irritated look.

“Well, it is obvious that you cannot go like this!” Brethilwen’s hand waiving in the general direction of her less than elegant non-elvish appearance. “It is a lavish feast with illustrious guests and you need to be dressed accordingly.”

“But I do not feel that I am ready for such an occasion. I cannot even understand why I should be invited to this gathering. I am not an elf, just human; and not even from here.” Anna shook her head, mumbling “and I am still wondering how I got here.”

“If the king wishes you to attend his banquet he will have his reasons. You are to abide by his rules, not to question his authority.” Her matter-of-fact voice would not brook any dissent. “And besides it is an honour rarely granted to anyone outside the royal family, even less an adaneth. You can count yourself blessed for he has chosen you above many others.” She saw the look of confusion on her face. “Ah, yes I am sorry, you do not speak our language, I imagine?”

Anna shook her head. “No, I don’t.”

Brethilwen was eager to give her an explanation. “When we are amongst ourselves we use our tongue which is Sindarin, but when we have dealings with others we use Westron as well, the Common Speech, you know. So when I called you adaneth, it means that you are a mortal woman, not an elf.” She had a look on her face as if she hoped for Anna to ask her more questions.

Anna obliged: “So, what does your name mean then? It sounds very beautiful.”

“Oh it means beech maiden. You see, for us the forest with all its trees, flowers and beasts is a place of beauty that we cherish beyond anything else. All living things are sacred to the Elves, we live amongst them and we are a part of them. So has it always been and will it ever be.” The wisdom of the ages seemed to ring through her words and for a moment they were both silent beside each other.

Brethilwen seemed to ponder something when she finally spoke to Anna in a hushed voice. “Humans rarely come to us now from the other side, and if they do, they are most likely lost.”

Anna glanced at Brethilwen, a confused look in her eyes. The other side? What did she mean by that? But before she could ask, Brethilwen had already changed the subject, possibly realising that she may have unwillingly revealed something she was not supposed to hear; at least not from her mouth. “Do you want me to show you around in the palace?” She looked at Anna with eager eyes, barely being able to contain her joy at the prospect of being her guide. “How about tomorrow morning?”

“Yes, sure.” Anna nodded in agreement, not wanting to appear impolite. “That would be nice.”

"Very well then. It is decided. That is of course if Lord Thranduil does not have other plans for you." This was becoming increasingly confusing. What other plans? She could not shake off the feeling that she was being treated like a piece on a chessboard, moved around as others pleased. If only she was in full possession of her memory, she would not feel so helpless. But over the course of the last hours it had only gotten worse. Whatever shadowy shreds of her previous life she may have retained, they were evaporating quickly, leaving her bare and empty. Nevertheless she put on a brave smile, since Brethilwen was just trying to make her involuntary stay as comfortable as possible.

“Will you be at the banquet tonight?” A small flicker of hope dawned on Anna’s face.

“No, of course not,” she was quick to respond.

“But why not?” Her heart sank at the prospect of not having her by her side.

“Oh, we servants do not participate in these festivities, you know.” She shrugged. “But do not be troubled my lady, I will be here for you tomorrow and any other day should you enquire my services.”

Anna smiled gratefully, still feeling uneasy at the prospect of being surrounded by strangers and having to face the King again.

“So, should we get you ready then?” Brethilwen rose from her seat beside her and took Anna’s hand, pointing at the murmuring waters of the pool. The warmth of Brethilwen’s hand provided Anna with a sense of comfort, a comfort she dearly longed for.

She glanced at the inviting turquoise surface and nodded. “Yes, you are right. I probably could really use a relaxing bath now.”

A soft knock at the door announced the arrival of Feren, who was going to accompany her to the banquet hall. He was a stern looking elf, proud in bearing, thin and lean with dark hair like all the others except the king. He addressed her with a small nod.

“My lady, the king asks for your presence at the banquet. Whenever you are ready, would you please be so kind as to follow me?”

Brethilwen answered in her stead. “Oh, she is quite ready.” She smiled at Anna, satisfied with her own work. Anna was a strange sight to herself when she glanced at the mirror Brethilwen had placed in front of her. The sheen dark grey dress adorned with delicate silver leaves along the seams fitted her surprisingly well, despite the fact that she was a good deal shorter than the elves. A silver belt like woven branches was slung around her hips and a sleeveless cloak of a lighter grey fastened with a gem of dark green rested on her shoulders. Her sleek honey coloured hair braided in elvish fashion harmonised pleasantly with the grass green of her eyes. She almost looked like one of them if it weren’t for the lack of pointed ears and the abundance of freckles on her nose and cheeks, she thought to herself with slight amusement as she stared at her reflection in the mirror. She did not quite feel like herself at all.

She glanced at Brethilwen. “How do I look?”

“You look lovely my dear. The King will be pleased.” With an encouraging smile she sent her on her way with Feren. “Go now, I will see you tomorrow.”

The doors of the great hall were pulled open before her and never had she seen a more splendid sight than this. Countless chandeliers illuminated the vast hall, which had been delved into the rock with pillars as tall as trees. It was like stepping into the inside of a living tree full of golden light like amber glowing in the sunlight. So ample was the hall that the surrounding walls lay in complete twilight. It seemed that there were none at all and it was like a gathering in the midst of a forest.

On an ornate seat of wood at the head of the oval shaped table sat the king and her heart skipped a beat at the sight. She had to force herself to stay calm and keep her poise, when all she could think of was the strange conglomerate of fear and longing he had stirred up inside her. His dark grey robe glimmered beneath the candlelight and his velvet cloak of deep burgundy was draped decoratively around his seat. On his head he wore a silver circlet, his pale blonde hair falling down his shoulders in perfect strands. Against the backrest leaned a tall oaken staff with intricate adornments of silver. But then her eyes were caught by another face beside the king. He was much alike him, his hair of a golden blonde, which he wore in braids, not open like Thranduil, whose hair seemed to be above all kind of adornments. The likeness in looks brought her to the conclusion that he too must be a member of the royal family, although he had a more approachable and less aloof air about him than the king. Thranduil’s eyes darted towards Anna, and for an instant she saw him stunned, a look of awe and appreciation on his face.

“My lord Thranduil, your guest is here.” The moment Feren had announced Anna’s arrival, all eyes turned to her and she could feel the blood rush to her head, hoping that she would be able to make her way to her seat without embarrassing herself in front of everyone.

“Ah, there she is, our mysterious lady.” Thranduil beckoned her to step forward to introduce her to his guests. She stepped into the light, her hesitance gradually receding as she saw friendly faces smiling at her.

“This charming young woman is my guest. She is a traveller from far away lands and wishes for her name to remain unknown.”

Well, that was an elegant way to put her predicament, when even she herself couldn’t remember her name! She blushed and bowed her head as everyone acknowledged her presence with a small inclination of their heads.

Feren guided Anna to her seat just opposite of the king in between two elves with jovial faces that were dressed in almost identical dark blue tunics, just like brothers. She had hardly sat down, when they took her in their midst, involving her in an animated conversation about food, wine and life in the forest in general, making her almost forget that she did not really belong here. The two of them obviously loved hearing themselves speak, so she barely had a chance to contribute anything significant to the whole conversation apart from “Oh!”, “Ah!” and “Really?”. Halfway through the banquet she finally learned their names, Faeldir and Amardir, and brothers they were indeed and the most charming companions she could have hoped for. In the course of the evening many songs were sung and tales were told, half of which she did not understand and the other half was interpreted to her by Faeldir and Amardir, who took turns in translating to her what was said and sung. Beauty, sadness and melancholy were the three main ingredients of them all and although they sounded strange to her it was the same eerie beauty that had touched her deep inside when she had woken up under that tree in the forest.

After some delicious food and more goblets of wine Anna was brave enough to ask them about the blonde elf beside the king.

“Oh, that my dear lady is Legolas, and he is the king’s son. He is a formidable archer,” Amardir was quick to respond. Faeldir leaned in from the other side, nodding vigorously. “Well, as a matter of fact, he is the best.”

A sting of jealousy flashed through her chest. Where there was a son, there had to be a mother, the queen, Thranduil’s wife. Of course, how silly of her to think that a great king like Thranduil would not have a wife. But why was she not by his side? Slightly inebriated by the wine she dared to throw the delicate question at Faeldir.

“But what about his mother, the queen, were is she?”

Amardir was the one who answered, gesturing his brother to be silent. “The king does not talk about it, and I am sure he wishes for it to remain this way.”

The sudden change of tone in his voice was striking and it did not help to appease her feeling of jealousy, but rather augmented it, which was of course completely uncalled-for. She had to remind herself that she was only a stranger in these lands after all and that these matters were really none of her concern. Amardir noticed her silence and his tone softened again.

“I am sorry my lady, I did not intend to sound rude, but this is a very delicate subject and only the king himself will decide when and to whom he will speak about it. You do understand, my dear? It is nothing against you.”

She nodded. “Yes, of course, I understand.” For the rest of the evening she could not help but feeling downcast and the few times Thranduil glanced briefly at her did not do anything to alleviate her lingering glumness. Even the wine left a sour taste in her mouth.

As the banquet drew to a close Thranduil ordered everyone to leave with an idle wave of his hand. Anna rose from her seat to join the bustling stream of guests behind Amardir and Faeldir. But she had not even left the table when he addressed her directly. “Not you! You will stay.”

She stopped dead in her tracks and threw him a confused look, but his eyes would not give away anything. Why would he want her to stay? He had not exchanged a single word with her during the entire evening apart from greeting her and introducing her to his other guests at the beginning. Once in a while his gaze would linger on her, but never long enough for it to mean something other than pure coincidence.

“Sit down. Please.” He pointed at her seat and Anna reluctantly sank back onto her cushion waiting for the last of the elves to leave the hall.

There was an awkward silence as the doors closed behind the crowd, sweeping with them all the cheerful chatter, and the hall fell eerily quiet as only she and Thranduil remained. The distance in between them was amplified by the emptiness of the abandoned table, vacant seats, plates, goblets and leftover food still bearing witness of a merry gathering. The lively voices and joyful songs had allowed her to hide amongst the crowd. But not any more; she felt even smaller and more insignificant now that she was facing the king alone again. She barely even dared to look his way, for his gaze made her heart flutter in the strangest of ways. The effect he had on her was beginning to scare her. He poured himself more wine and placed the goblet in front of him, reclining in his seat with his hands elegantly draped on the armrests. And then he looked at her. For the first time in all the evening his eyes took notice of her presence beyond her just being part of his group of guests. It was impossible to tell if his face showed approval or dislike behind the self-assured arrogance of his.

She could not stand it any longer, this silence, it made her restless and antsy. If she could only pluck up the courage and tell him how she really felt. She had so many questions that needed answering. In her despair she decided to stir a less risky course, trying her luck at small talk: “Well, this was an impressive banquet I have to say.”

Was that really the best she could come up with? She almost forgot that her talent at small talk was near abysmal and now there was no hole in the ground deep enough for her to disappear into it.

“So, you have attended a good many of these banquets then?” The sneer on his face was just all too obvious. He was going to take her down in a matter of minutes, deliberately and with sardonic delight.

Anna lowered her gaze and found the prospect of having a wordless stare-off with her empty plate all of a sudden quite appealing. “Well, not really to be honest, I just thought —,” she mumbled. Her conversational skills were no match for the kings’.

He leaned forward pushing the goblet aside and pointed one finger at Anna, his rings glittering iridescently in the candlelight.

“Then, unless you wish to enter into a conversation about food and the benefits of good wine, I suggest that you do not waste my time with insignificant tattle.”

This was antagonising, he obviously enjoyed putting her on the spot, very well aware of her precarious situation. She fell silent, her fingers tracing the floral pattern on the plate in front of her.

“We have more important matters to attend to.” He folded his hands, his voice condescending as if he was lecturing an unreasonable child. “As I have explained to you before, I am willing to offer you my help should you wish to return to your world.” He nodded benevolently. “I gave you time to think. So I am asking you now: have you made your decision?”

Anna had anxiously awaited this moment with both hope and fear. Thranduil demanded an answer and she had none to give. A part of her was terrified and frightened by her present situation and wished nothing more than to find out who she really was and recover her lost life. But something had happened back there in the forest. His gaze of ice had kindled a flame inside her, fuelled by the sweet elven wine and the warmth of his body so close to hers. There was nothing that she wanted more right now; go back to that intimate moment. A feeling was growing inside her heart, a tender sapling still, but its delicate bud nonetheless vigorously pushing towards the surface. Was it possible that Thranduil had read her heart before she would even admit it to herself?

“I am waiting.” A shadow of impatience flickered over his face when she finally looked up to him.

But then she felt again the sting of jealousy, flaring hot inside her like venom. Of course he must wish for her to go back, it was quite clear that he wanted her out of his way again. She meant nothing to him after all. How could she have expected anything different? She was just a lost human who happened to end up in his kingdom, a brief distraction from his kingly duties, nothing more. She was sad, angry and confused, an explosive mixture that would soon be blowing up right in Thranduil’s face.

“You want my answer? All right then.” She sat up straight and pushed her chin forward, emboldened by the wine and determined not to let herself be intimidated this time. “Here is what I have to say. The answer to your question is: There is none. How am I supposed to make a decision about going back if I do not even know what it is that I am going back to? You brought me here to your palace, as your guest, or should I say prisoner? What am I to make of that? Is there maybe something that you want from me that you are not saying?”

Thranduil stayed silent, but Anna was talking herself into a rage, her hands clenched under the table, the wine clearly loosening her tongue beyond what she usually would consider being polite and reasonable. “It is very easy for you to feel superior. You know who you are, the king and no less, and you know exactly where you belong. You have your, your big kingdom, a fancy palace and, yes indeed, a giant elk! How impressive!” Her voice echoed across the empty hall much louder than she had anticipated. But this was her moment and she would not back down now. “But I am no one. I don’t know where I come from and what my name is. I don’t know where I belong and I have nowhere to go. So tell me, Lord Thranduil, how am I supposed to give you an answer without even having a real choice?”

He stared at her with an indignant glare, anger seething under his composed self. “How do you dare talk to me like that!” The corners of his mouth twitched dangerously as he went on. “Consider yourself fortunate that I have been lenient with you, but you are stretching my patience. I was merely offering you my help and you pay me with ingratitude?”

She said nothing, her lips a thin line and a defiant gleam in her eyes, so he kept on going, his voice harsh. “What does this silence of yours mean? Do you wish be thrown into my dungeon? I guarantee you this could be arranged.” He threw her an infuriated glance as he leaned back, his fingers drumming delicately against the armrest.

Anna stubbornly crossed her arms, her spirit of contradiction making a renewed appearance: “Yes, well maybe you should have done that instead of taking me to your chambers and make me think that—that you were interested in me,” she said, the inappropriate sauciness of her words completely lost on her. The drumming of her heart was drowning out every clear thought and the hall was beginning to swim in front of her eyes. Clearly this Dorwinion was affecting her in a way that made her act in the most foolish way possible.

He narrowed his eyes, tilting his head sideways. “Did I give you that impression?”

“Yes,” she slurred, her vision blurring with every passing minute, the plates and goblets doubling before her eyes. “And I’m not quite sure your wife would approve of that!”

She didn’t know how she even dared to say such a thing, she had to be out of her mind.

It took Thranduil a moment to digest what she had just said to him, when his face darkened, the crease on his forehead deepening and anger boiling slowly inside him. Anna sank back in her seat, her heart pounding like mad. But he did not even look at her when he pointed towards the door.

“Leave!” his voice a sheet of frost. “Go. Now!”

She hesitated on her seat, desperately searching in her head for something to say, but there was no excuse for her behaviour, she knew it herself. Thranduil did not move, nor did he look at her.

It was time for her to go.

Anna rose from her seat and headed for the door, holding on to the wall to steady herself and leaving Thranduil behind, a lonely figure in his vast hall.

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