And what a privilege it is to love
A great honor to hold you up.
(Sleeping At Last: Two)
Mellow sunlight flooded Anna’s eyes. Thranduil’s bedroom was gone, no—the entire palace had vanished. Around her there was a tranquil meadow, lush green grass beneath her bare feet, branches of trees swaying in a gentle breeze above her head. In the distance the purling of a small stream could be heard. It was beautiful and so serene that her heart felt instantly at peace. Looking down at herself she saw that she was dressed in a simple white tunic, her hair falling in loose strands over her shoulders.
Thranduil was standing to her left, his hair in its usual state of flawless perfection, the white tunic that matched her own bestowing upon him a truly regal look, despite the absence of crown or rings. Their hands entwined and her eyes shifted to the small flower ring on her finger. So everything had been real, not a dream. They had bonded. She was not dead. Or was she?
But what was this place and why were they here?
To add to her unanswered questions the shape of a female figure suddenly appeared in front of them. Her face was obscured by a hood, the lengths of her dark brown hair falling onto her green cloak. In her hand she held a wooden staff, a gleaming emerald sitting atop it.
“I have been expecting you,” she said in a soft voice.
That voice sounded familiar, as if were the voice of a friend. But—this was impossible.
“I understand that this must seem strange to you,” she said, her voice polite, yet determined, “but I am here to help you, so I need you both to trust me.”
“Trust you?” The words slipped out before Anna could stop them. Her ability to put her trust in people she thought trustworthy had been seriously shaken after her last encounter with Gandalf. What if this was another trick to deprive them of their happiness?
“I can vouch for her,” said a low and rumbling voice and then the familiar shape of Gandalf appeared right beside the mysterious lady.
“Of course, I should have known that this is yet another one of your machinations, or is being a master of grand illusions now part of your trade as wizard?” The irritation in Thranduil’s voice was palpable.
“Oh no, it is neither a machination nor an illusion and even if it were, creating something so grand is far beyond my modest abilities,” said Gandalf. “Only Eru himself holds such great powers. We are but humble servants of his will and have been granted only a few liberties with the layout of his design.”
“Are you indeed? It seems that you have been keeping more secrets than what is befitting even of an Istari. I demand that you tell us where we are and what all this is about.”
“We are at the Crossroads, of course,” the lady said as if she were talking about the most common place in the palace.
“The Crossroads? But this looks completely different,” Anna said. The abundant green vegetation looked nothing like the dark void she remembered.
“Looks can be deceptive,” the hooded lady said. “I really don’t know why Mithrandir insists on making this place appear so dark and empty, when this beautiful meadow is just perfectly fine in my opinion.” She turned her head towards Gandalf. “Definitely, much better than that somber grey version of yours.”
Gandalf cleared his throat. “I find that it lends a mysterious air to the place and does not detract from its purpose. It is a liminal space after all, a place of transition, of moving from one state to another—”
“I know what it is. Don’t forget that I have been tasked with guarding it for as long as you have,” she countered. Apparently this wasn’t the first time they had had this discussion.
She finally pulled back her hood and Anna gasped in surprise.
“Brethilwen—?” Thranduil said out loud what Anna had been thinking.
“Yes, it is me,” she said, the sunlight illuminating her face. There seemed to be a golden glow to her skin and her piercing grey eyes looked liked polished diamonds.
“B—but you look so different!” was all Anna could say.
“As I said before, looks can be deceptive,” Brethilwen said, the familiar intonation of her voice in stark contrast to her unusual appearance. “I am one of the Istari, known on the shores of Valinor as Isilmë the Green, but for you I am Brethilwen and will remain as such.”
“All this time you have kept this hidden from me?” Expressions of shock and disbelief chased each other across Thranduil’s face.
“I was bound to secrecy.”
“But I’m your king!”
“I serve a higher one and must obey his will. But let it be known that more than once I would have wished to let you see more than what I was permitted to show you.”
Thranduil appeared to be weighing her words, a moment of tense silence enveloping them. “Can we get to the point of this meeting, or whatever this is? There is a bedroom I’d rather return to with my wife.” Despite the annoyance in his words a feeling of pride welled within her when Thranduil called her his wife.
“Of course you do,” Gandalf said, a smile shining through his tangled beard, “and although I am very sorry about this unduly interruption, it is of utmost importance that you hear us out.”
He looked at Brethilwen who straightened herself, gracefully wrapping both her hands around her staff, the emerald sparkling in the sunshine.
“You must answer this question truthfully: have you taken your vows and consummated your love to be lawfully wedded before Eru?”
Heat rose to Anna’s cheeks, but mercifully she was spared her answer.
“Yes, we have,” Thranduil said, “but what has this to do with why we are here?” There was an undercurrent of menace in his voice, as if he feared that any moment their happiness might be taken away from them.
“It has everything to do with it and it is the reason you are here at the Crossroads,” Brethilwen explained calmly. “By tying your souls together your lives have come to a turning point. Now listen carefully as these are the words of Eru himself as he wishes you to hear them.”
“Anna,” Gandalf addressed her solemnly, “when you embarked on your journey into the unknown, the compass of your heart was your only guidance. Your selfless love as well as your empathy and kindness have won you the heart of the one whose soul you have set out to heal. And even when it was revealed to you that this task might claim your life in the end, your resolve did not waver. You did not shy away from giving your life, as it meant saving the one you loved. What you did, embracing death in the name of love, is the greatest sacrifice of all.”
Anna held her breath as she listened to the wizard’s words and when Brethilwen spoke, her voice sounded both ancient and young.
“Thranduil,” she began, “the cursed dragon fire left you with a marred body, a torn soul and a broken heart. It has been my task ever since to find a cure, so you could be whole again. Mending your physical injuries needed all my skills as a healer. For a very long time, I doubted that your body could ever recover, but it did. Your extraordinary determination and willpower have allowed you to outwardly heal, but your soul had remained incomplete, making a full recovery impossible and leaving you with your strength diminished. If no help came, your fading would have been inevitable. It is because of Mithrandir and his untiring dedication that we uncovered the intricate correlation between the wounds of your heart and the missing piece of your soul. Healing your soul could only be achieved by mending your heart first. He journeyed even beyond the borders of our world to find the one who, we hoped, might thaw your frozen heart and by doing so, heal your broken soul. When you allowed the tender sapling of new love to take root inside you, you finally pushed open the door to being whole again. Furthermore, your willingness to give your own life if it meant that Anna could be saved from death, is the living proof of the profundity of your love for her.”
Gandalf now addressed them both, “Every step along the way, no matter how painful it might have been, has led you to this point. You may call it a quest or a trial…”
“…or better a journey to find healing and love,” Brethilwen finished the sentence for him. “And while we might have had a hand in this, the final outcome has always been in your hands alone, or rather in your hearts. By putting the life of the other before your own you have both proven yourself worthy of Eru’s gift.”
“Eru’s gift?” Thranduil’s voice was barely more than a whisper, but its echo resounded loudly in Anna’s head.
“Yes, it is most magnanimous of him really,” Gandalf said with a twinkle in his eyes. “Through your soul bond you now will share eternal life together.”
Anna’s heart stopped in her chest at those words.
“W—what?” she stuttered.
Thranduil said nothing, apparently at a loss for words, so Gandalf elaborated,“This means that you, Anna, are being granted a new life. Leaving your mortal form behind, you will not be subject to death or sickness anymore, but will be imparted the resilience and strength of the Eldar instead.”
“Yet, this is a gift which is not lightly given,” said Brethilwen, “and it does come with a price as well.”
“A price you must agree to, lest Eru will revoke his gift,” Gandalf added. “Are you both prepared to hear what is his will?”
Anna and Thranduil both nodded silently and then Brethilwen spoke, “Both your souls and your lives will be inseparably entwined, and you shall live alongside each other for as long as this earth shall endure, but the path to Valinor will be forever shut for both of you. It is Eru’s will that you are to remain in Middle-earth as rulers and guardians of this forest until your spirits will become part of the very land itself. Your children though are exempt from this. Your son Legolas as well as your future sons and daughters, should your matrimony be blessed with children, may sail West, if they choose to do so.”
Anna shivered. She knew that the price for Thranduil was a high one to pay, yet this was much more than what she could have ever hoped for.
“Now that we have laid out everything to you, you must give us your answer,” Brethilwen said, her grey eyes looking straight into her soul. “Are you both willing to accept this gift Eru is bestowing upon you?”
“Yes,” Thranduil said without hesitation and Anna nodded with delight. “Yes, I am.”
Gandalf smiled and the sunlight danced on his wrinkled face. “Then our labour here is done and you are both ready to embark on your new life together.”
Brethilwen raised her hand in a graceful gesture and said, “May it be filled with joy and may Eru’s blessings accompany you on your path.”
Before Anna could say anything, their shapes dissolved into mist and so did the sunlit meadow. Darkness descended like a heavy blanket, the relentless flow of time grinding to a halt as life itself came to a standstill. An all-encompassing silence lay around her like the unperturbed surface of a clear mountain lake, not a single ripple marring the quiet perfection. The entire universe was holding its breath, listening, waiting.
Then she heard it, a chime in the void.
Slow and steady, the pulse of life picked up the familiar rhythm as it renewed itself. It was the beating of her own heart that reverberated throughout her entire being until every fibre attuned to her new song. A comforting and steadfast tune that would guide her through the endless expanse of time beckoning like an ocean without bounds, wild and untamed, beautiful and terrifying all the same.
“Thranduil?” she said into the silence of his bedroom, her eyes still closed.
“Yes?” he said quietly.
The heat radiating off his naked body warmed her inside and out, body and soul.
“I just had the strangest dream.” She opened her eyes and turned her head sideways to look at him. His eyes were lost in the tangle of twigs above, which made up the canopy of his bed.
“I did too,” he said, turning to face her.
“I saw Gandalf and Brethilwen, only that she was—”
Anna swallowed. “So you saw and heard them?”
He nodded, his gaze alone speaking volumes.
She reached out to touch him, her voice laced with excitement and apprehension. “Is this real? Are we real?”
He caught her hand with his and brought it to his mouth, kissing the inside of her palm. “Yes,” he said, looking at her while his lips hovered above the flower ring, “all of it.” He took her other hand, holding both of them against his bare chest, the smoothness of his skin so delightful it made her toes curl.
“You are not sorry that you have made this choice, leaving Valinor behind for me?” she asked.
“No, I am not. My heart is tied to these lands and so is my soul. I am the guardian of this forest and I desire nothing more than to live out my days here, together with you.”
“What about Legolas or our children, if we ever had any? What if they decide to sail West and we will not see them again?”
This was a thought that weighed heavily on her. She knew how much he loved his son and how difficult it would be for Thranduil to be parted from him. The pain of having lost her own daughter Matilda was still fresh. Thinking about having to let their future children go made her throat tighten.
“Legolas will not be alone in Valinor,” Thranduil said. “He will have his mother by his side, who will receive him with joy. If we ever are blessed with children, which would be a wonderful and welcomed gift, we must find it in our hearts to let them go. It will be their choice to make, not ours.”
“You would not blame me for being forever separated from them?”
“No, how could you even think such a thing? It is because of you that I have been given a new chance at life and I have made my choice. I chose you and I would do so again.”
The honesty of his words brought tears to her eyes and she buried her face in her pillow, overwhelmed by her emotions. He pulled her into an embrace and they lay silently holding on to each other, their naked bodies entwined. Their bond flowed warm and golden between them, enveloping them like a comforting blanket, their hearts beating together as one.
“I can feel the change within you through our bond,” he said after a while, his fingers drawing lazy circles on her back. “Your fears and your excitement, it’s all there.”
“I’m sorry that I cried,” she said with a choked voice, leaning into his touch, “but this is all so new for me.”
“The prospect of eternity can be quite intimidating, but I will be there with you, every step of the way.” He reached for her chin to make her look up to him. “You do not need to fear the future.”
“I’m not afraid as long as I’m with you. I will just need time to get used to my new self. It’s like I am the same person, but something is different inside me.”
“You are an elleth now and no longer a human. The changes are subtle, but I can see them.” His thumb followed the outline of her brow, over her cheek and down to her corner of her mouth. “You radiate a glow that hasn’t been there before, like a light has been kindled inside you.”
Her own hand went to his cheek, grazing over his flawless porcelain skin. “Your scar, it’s gone,” she said, her finger trailing along his jaw.
He shivered under her tender touch. “It has finally healed.” He brushed away a strand of hair from her face to tuck it behind her ear. Suddenly he stopped his motion, and then a smile dawned on his face.
“What is it? Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Your ears,” he grinned.
“What’s with my ears?”
He raised a suggestive eyebrow. “You should probably touch them yourself.”
Anna brought a tentative finger to one of her ears, expecting the familiar round curve, only to find that there was a decidedly pointy edge to it now, perhaps not as prominent as Thranduil’s, but pointed nevertheless.
Her mouth fell open, shock and surprise mixing inside her. “So, it is real indeed.”
“Of course it is and they look perfectly delicious on you.” He traced an elegant finger along the sensitive tip of her ear, chasing unexpected goosebumps over her skin.
“If my finger can cause this, I cannot wait to find out what my tongue can do,” he said suggestively.
“That sounds very indecent,” she said, delighted by his playfulness.
“I want to be indecent with you, over and over again.” He chuckled and gathered her in his arms. She snuggled against the crook of his neck, his scent washing over her, musky and sweet, and many other nuances she had never noticed before.
“You smell so good,” she said, sinking her nose into the silken strands of his hair until she pulled a short dark brown hair from her mouth. With a frown she held it up.
“Is this what I think it is, elk hair? Does that mean you have gone against your own rules and allowed Aradan into your bed?”
“I know, I was surprised at myself,” he said smugly. “It was an exception though. I already told him that he couldn’t hop into my bed — our bed,” he corrected himself, “anytime he pleased.”
“Mmh, I’m not sure Aradan is going to be convinced so easily. He’s quite cunning when it gets to sneaking into a soft bed.”
“I’ll make sure he knows his place,” he said, capturing her lips in another slow and lingering kiss. The love flowing through their bond warmed her soul like the summer sun.
“So this is now our bed, then?” she asked, a low moan escaping her when his mouth found a sensitive spot right under her ear. He hummed against her skin in satisfaction.
“Yes, of course it is,” he said, the heat of his lips reigniting her desire. “We are husband and wife now and I want to share this bed with you every night for the rest of our days here in Middle-earth.”
“Sounds alluring,” she purred. How had she gotten so lucky to deserve all this?
Thranduil raised himself on one elbow beside her and studied her body, his gaze openly lingering on her until she found herself blushing.
“But what to do first?” He playfully tapped her belly button with the tip of his finger. “Should I make love to you again? Should we take a bath together or should I call for something to eat?”
Anna yawned and stretched her arms above her head, a feeling of contentment settling inside her.
“All options sound equally tempting. Perhaps we could do all three of them, one after the other?”
“You are quite insatiable, my little flower,” he said, laughing huskily. “But you know what I have been wanting to do?” A devious smile dawned on his face.
“What? Tell me.” Butterflies danced in her stomach when he moved to lie on top of her, their bodies moulding perfectly against each other.
“This,” he said, placing feathery kisses on her nose, then her cheeks and along her upper lip. “I’m going to kiss every single one of your freckles and I don’t care how long it takes. We have all the time in the world now.”
Isilmë - moonlight
elleth - female elf