With every heartbeat I have left
I will defend your every breath.
(Sleeping At Last: Light)
“My lord?” Tauriel’s voice pulled Thranduil out of the torrent of despair that threatened to drown him.
He rose from the floor with Anna, holding her tight to his chest, facing both Tauriel, Thalion and Aradan who had followed after him.
“Why was no one with her?” His gaze of ice went to his guard Thalion.
“She wanted to be alone and was adamant about not being disturbed, my lord,” Thalion said apologetically. “We were not aware that she was unwell.”
“She is not simply unwell. She is burning up and I am taking her to my chambers.” He had quickly recovered his determination. There might come a day when he would be defeated, but it was not this day.
“Tauriel, fetch me hot water, fresh linens and athelas!”
“Yes, my lord,” Tauriel obediently went on her way.
“Thalion, find Brethilwen, and be quick about it. We must not lose any more precious time.”
“Of course.” He bowed quickly and was gone, obviously relieved to make himself useful.
Thranduil rushed her to his chambers, Aradan teetering behind him, and then he carefully laid her down on his bed, covering her with his enormous quilt. A breathy sigh escaped her lips as he bent over her face.
“Hold on, my little flower,” he told her, kissing her forehead. “Don’t let go!”
He unbuttoned his robe with flying fingers and tossed it carelessly onto his dresser. Then he proceeded to roll up the sleeves of his tunic, his eyes never leaving Anna. What if he was too late? He would never forgive himself for having left her alone when she needed him most. The thought of her being in pain all by herself caused a dreadful knot in his stomach.
Tauriel appeared with two servants, who brought a bowl of hot water and a pile of fresh linens. They placed the requested items on the large bedside table and awaited the king’s orders.
“You may leave.” He waved them away impatiently. “Why is Brethilwen not here yet and why did you not bring any athelas?” He threw Tauriel a dark glance, and then proceeded to swiftly loosen the upper buttons of Anna’s dress.
“Brethilwen will be here shortly, my lord. Thalion had to go and search for her in the healers’ ward. She was helping out the healers who are taking care of the wounded soldiers.”
Before Thranduil could retort, Brethilwen swept into the king’s chambers, a bundle of athelas in one hand and her satchel in the other.
“I came as fast as I could, my lord,” she greeted the king and one glance at Anna made her get right to work beside Thranduil.
“Since when is she in this state?” she said, quickly plucking the leaves and dropping them inside the bowl of water, the fragrant scent of athelas filling the air.
“I am not sure. I only just found her in her room,” Thranduil retorted. He reached for one of the linens and dipped it into the water. “I am afraid it could have been a while. She has not come back to consciousness.” He gently wiped her face and passed the towel over her neck, removing remnants of blood and vomit.
Closing his eyes he placed a hand upon her brow, his fingertips almost sizzling as he touched her.
“Has she taken the antidote?” Brethilwen asked.
“It’s the strongest remedy I have been able to come up to battle the symptoms of the spider’s venom. I gave her a small phial and urged her to carry it with her at all times.”
“She did not tell me anything about it.” He dropped the linen and began a frantic search for the phial, only to realise that he had no idea where to start looking for it.
He shot Brethilwen a silent plea for help and she said, “I guess she would have stored it in the pockets of her dress.”
“Her dress, of course,” he muttered to himself, struggling to make his fingers work through the abundant folds until he finally found the tiny glass container.
“You mean this? Will this help her?” He held it out to Brethilwen, a sliver of hope dawning on the gloomy horizon.
“Yes, it will help her, not for long, but it will lower the fever and allow her to sleep.”
He unplugged the phial with shaky hands and brought it to her mouth. Raising her head and supporting it with one hand he poured the liquid into her mouth. She coughed and nearly spitted it out again, but he gently closed her mouth and made her swallow all of it. He let her head sink back into the pillow and watched her face intently.
He didn’t object when Aradan climbed into bed and curled up beside Anna. It wasn’t an easy feat for the elk calf, considering the massive proportions of Thranduil’s bed and for once he felt magnanimous enough to grant him this privilege. If it hadn’t been for the animal’s insistence, Anna might have been beyond hope of ever coming out of this alive. Besides, he harboured the secret hope that Aradan’s presence might have a soothing effect on her. It had not escaped his notice that they appeared to have a strong connection.
The minutes dragged along excruciatingly slow, but eventually her ragged breathing evened out and the remnants of strain on her face turned into signs of relaxation and deep sleep.
Only when he had assured himself that the fever was indeed gradually leaving her, he rose from the mattress. He paced around the bed, raking his hands through his hair.
“How much time does this give her?”
“Not enough I am afraid. I only have one more antidote and there is too little time for me to make another one. The fever has come back much stronger than what I had thought it would.”
“But why, why is it affecting her like that?” His despair threatened to overcome him again, the thought of losing her driving him nearly insane. From the corner of his eyes he saw Brethilwen watching him with concern, her own face pale.
“I feared that something like this could happen.”
“Why did you not tell me about it? You should have warned me! I am your king and you are not to keep such grave matters hidden from me. Her life is in danger and I might have nothing in my power to save her.” The feeling of helplessness was numbing.
“I did not want you to worry about it. She was doing so fine, recovering suddenly much quicker than before, that I thought this would give me enough time to have found a cure if it ever came back. It seems that I was wrong.”
He was ready to throw her an angry reprimand, but he forced himself to stay calm and reasonable.
“I still don’t understand. The venom should have left her body by now. It’s as if there is something inside her that is preventing her from recovering completely.”
“There is indeed,” Brethilwen said, and Thranduil stopped dead in his tracks.
“What do you mean?” He gripped one of the bedposts for support.
“It’s the piece of soul, your piece of soul that she is carrying. It seems that the poison has clung to it and is now festering inside her. It is the only explanation I can think of. As long as it stays latched to her, the poison will remain inside her and it will eventually kill her. She is not strong enough to fight it any longer. She only has the body of a human and it is already bordering on a miracle that she has survived so long with it.”
It took him a while to process Brethilwen’s explanation.
“But why has the poison clung to my piece of soul? That makes no sense.”
“That was my first thought too, until I realised that it must be Sauron’s way of getting to you. He could not destroy you back then, so he is searching to mar that little piece of your soul that has found a place inside her.”
“But there has to be a way to save her! What do I need to do to make it stop? You are a healer, you must know!” His throat was clogging up, his glamour wavering dangerously.
“There is one way to save her,” Brethilwen said with hesitation, “but it is dangerous.”
“Dangerous? How can it be more dangerous? She is at the brink of death already.”
“I am not talking about her. I am talking about you.”
“Remember that I am first and foremost your healer, so your own wellbeing is my prime concern.”
“Anna is dying! The woman I love is dying.” He pointed with his finger at Anna’s sleeping form and for the first time in all this, he raised his voice. He had been trying to contain his anger at the cruelty of fate, but if his healer chose to withhold a vital piece of information from him, something that might decide if Anna lived or died, his wrath would be terrible. “I’m watching her being consumed by death without being able to stop it and you speak to me of my wellbeing? As your king I’m ordering you to tell me what I can do to save her. If there is anything in my power to stop death from claiming her, I shall do so, may Eru be my witness.”
“Very well,” Brethilwen said, her reluctance still palpable. “You need to invoke a soul bond with her, so the piece of soul can return to you again. Once she is free of it, the venom will have left her too.”
“A soul bond, you mean—”
“Yes, I do not speak of a mere healing bond, as this would not be powerful enough, but you must irrevocably tie both of your souls together.”
For a moment he was speechless. As much as he had wanted to make her his and desired this intimate bond with her, this wasn’t the way he had envisioned it.
“And what is this danger you speak of?”
“Without being in full possession of your powers, you might not be strong enough to fight the venom once the piece of soul has passed back to you.”
The honest concern in her eyes made him weigh Brethilwen’s words, but it did not make him doubt his resolve.
“Then, so shall it be. It is a risk I am willing to take. I will not watch idly as Anna wastes away before my eyes and I can only regain my full strength through having my soul restored, so bonding with her is the only way to save both her and me.”
Brethilwen nodded slowly. “I knew that you would say that, but please be mindful of your strength. You are treading a thin line of what you can bear without spending yourself in the process.”
“I will do whatever it takes to pull her from the claws of death.”
Brethilwen rummaged through her satchel and pulled out another small glass bottle. “Here is the last antidote. Use it wisely.”
“How long—” He could not bring himself to finish the sentence.
“A few hours, at the most one night,” Brethilwen said, placing a hand on his arm. “I’m sorry that it had to come to this, Thranduil.”
“One night is all I need.” He took the phial from her. “Anna may have come here to save me, but it is I who must save her now.”
He sent Brethilwen away, instructing her that, under no circumstances, was he to be disturbed and if anyone would be so bold as to defy his orders, they would be subjugated to cleaning elk droppings for months to come.
“Aradan,” he said, scratching the elk calf behind his ears. “Your time is up.” When Aradan only raised his head with mild disinterest and seemed intent on keeping his place close to Anna, Thranduil crossed his arms in front of his chest and looked sternly at the elk calf.
“This is my bed and it’s my turn now to share it with Anna.” He gave Aradan a determined shove towards the edge of the bed where he remained stubbornly seated, throwing Thranduil a reproachful glance.
“I am grateful for what you did, little one, but this does not mean that you can now come to my bed any time you please.”
He plucked some dark brown hair from his quilt. “Especially not if you’re going to leave your hair all over.”
Thranduil pointed at the concealed door. “Now go to Anna’s room and be a good boy and stay there. I told Brethilwen to leave an extra treat out for you.”
The last bit seemed to sway the animal. He jumped from the bed and dashed towards the room faster than lightning. Thranduil made sure to close the door behind him, a small smile on his face. Today’s events had made one thing crystal clear. Aradan had earned his place as royal mount.
His eyes never once left Anna while she slept. With a flick of his hand he lighted one candle after the other until the whole room was bathed in a golden glow. His magic might have been depleted, but it was still powerful enough for simple enchantments like these. Despite the dreary outlook, he wanted this moment to be perfect for her.
He poured himself a glass of Miruvór and then prepared a second one for Anna. She would need it when she woke up. According to Brethilwen the antidote would lower the fever and allow her body to recover for a short time, but she would need more strength for what awaited her. A soul bond was a powerful thing even for elves, but it might put additional strain on Anna being a human, especially since she was already weakened by the fever. However, it was her only chance at ever fully healing, so it was a risk he needed to take. If Anna agreed to their soul bond, it would mark a turning point in their relationship. Not only would it allow his soul to heal and save her from the deadly poison, but it would also make her his wife, a thought that filled his heart with joy.
He would not be detracted by the thought of what the venom might do to him after their bonding. This needed to be done. Draining the glass of Miruvór, he revelled in the feeling of warmth that flooded his chest. Hopefully the cordial would provide him with enough strength to see everything through.
Thranduil made sure to adjust the quilt, checking Anna’s hands to see if she was neither feeling too hot nor too cold. Although remnants of whatever had been inside her stomach, when she had gotten sick all over herself, were still stuck to her hands, the softness of her skin felt delightful against his own. If he couldn’t do anything else for her now, he could at least see to it that she was free from any direct reminders of her earlier torment. A full bath was out of the question, there was neither the time for it, nor would it be possible with her still asleep, besides, he would not do anything that might cast a doubt on his honourable intentions.
He sat himself on the bed beside her with another fresh bowl of water and a pile of linens and got to work. Beginning with her hands he devoted himself to this task that might have been deemed menial, but it filled him with a sense of usefulness in the face of the uncertainty that lay before him. With careful precision he passed a linen cloth over her forehead, along her neck and down to where the open dress revealed a glimpse of her chest. He then proceeded to comb her hair as gently as he could without waking her. Whenever he found remnants of blood and vomit stuck to her honey coloured strands he wiped them away with the soaked towel and then passed over it with the brush until everything was to his satisfaction. There wasn’t much to be done about the state of her dress, but looking down at himself, he wasn’t in a much better state to begin with. For once, it didn’t matter. His only worry was that she would come out of this alive.
She looked so small and fragile, especially compared to the size of his bed. Yet she was so much stronger than what her appearance had led him to believe. Not only had she gone through a horrible death and lost her family, but she had come here and accepted the task to save his soul without even knowing what expected her. She had fallen in love with him, quietly and fiercely, while he was too proud to admit his own feelings for her. And if he hadn’t been so obsessed over reclaiming a necklace that hadn’t done him any good in his entire life, she would have never left the palace and gotten herself into this dreadful situation with the spiders. He was the one to be blamed for the fact that she was now hovering above the abyss of death.
“Forgive me, please,” he whispered. “I never wished for any of this to happen and I am deeply sorry that you now have to pay the price for my blindness, for not having seen love when it was right in front of me.”
He grazed his hand against her cheek. Her temperature had gone back to normal and her breathing was deep and regular. The colour of her face remained paler than the usual, highlighting the dusting of freckles on her skin in the flickering candlelight. Her lips had recovered their rosy pink and were slightly parted, a sight that made him want to show her just how much he desired her. He placed a light kiss on them and then there was one more thing that remained to be done.
He went to his desk and from a drawer he retrieved the small flower ring. Many years ago he had it made when he had first heard the song of the trees, speaking to him about someone who was meant for him. It had whispered of a small flower, who would save not only him, but also his forest from the darkness. His little flower.
It was time that the ring found its rightful owner.
athelas - kingsfoil, a medicinal herb
Miruvór - an elven cordial