Bonus - New Beginnings
Life was now infinitely better for the Elvenking. Thranduil might have been an ancient elf, but since his soul bond with Anna, he felt he had the renewed strength and energy of a young ellon. If it hadn’t been for his royal duties, he would have been perfectly content to stay in bed with her until exhaustion would claim them both. He loved everything about her, the way she moved against him, the way she said his name when she went over the edge, the way she curled up in his arms afterwards, her warm breath tickling his neck. He had caught himself silently admiring her delicately pointed ears, the visible proof that she had been granted a new life, and his heart sped up every time he realised how incredibly lucky they both were. This time he would do the right thing. He would not let anything nor anyone allow to get between them, no dark lord and no shiny gems. This he had vowed to himself while he had made love to her and Anna had practically glowed from within as their bodies and souls had found each other again and again.
He smiled quietly to himself while he half-listened to Galion laying out the rather dull plans for the feast that was to be held in two days. It seemed ages away when he had greeted his son and his returning army at the gates, yet it had been only a fortnight ago. So much had changed in those few days and so much was still to be done in preparation for the feast that it had to be pushed back to give everyone in the palace time to adapt to the new situation.
“My lord?” Galion looked up from the parchment in his hands from which he had been reading for — for how long exactly? Thranduil’s thoughts had strayed yet again to the way Anna’s mouth had felt on certain parts of his body.
“Yes?” Thranduil subtly tilted his head, feigning interest in the details of seating arrangements and dinner choices. Hopefully he hadn’t missed anything important.
Galion let out a small sigh and frowned. “I was just asking your opinion on whether Mithrandir and Master Baggins are to be invited to the feast and should you wish so, where should they both be seated?”
Thranduil pinched the bridge of his nose. Did he really have to answer this question? Moreover, did he really have to invite the two of them to this feast? The answer was crystal clear, no matter if he liked it or not.
“Yes, invite Master Baggins,” he said, resigned to the prospect of having to play host for this overtly talkative fellow for a little while longer. “I am sure that Anna would want to see him partaking in the celebrations, just make sure you sit him far enough away from us.” Far away preferably being his hobbit hole, but he kept that to himself. “Despite his inclination to talk too much, he has shown her nothing but kindness and it is because of him that the battle at Erebor could be tilted in our favour.”
Galion scribbled something on his list and nodded. “And what about the wizard?”
“Invite him too, because if we don’t, I bet my crown that he will find a way to show up at the feast nevertheless.”
A small smile twitched around his butler’s mouth when he ticked off another name on his list. “You are most likely right, my lord.”
“Of course I am right. I know Mithrandir and his stealthy ways.” Although he had to admit to himself that the wizard had surprised him as of late with his unexpected revelations.
He leaned back in his chair, drumming his fingers on the surface of his massive desk. This was taking too long already.
“If there is nothing else you need my approval for, then I am leaving the preparation in your capable hands. I have complete trust in your experience and abilities.”
“Thank you, my lord. I am humbled by your praise.” Galion bowed with noticeable pride.
Complimenting his butler was easy, he thought with satisfaction.
“There is one detail though I would like to discuss with you.” Galion raised his finger near apologetically.
Oh, Valar! Thranduil closed his eyes, but then he flicked his hand, indicating for his butler to proceed. One more detail he could handle, but then he wanted to see Anna, perhaps finally invite her to that shared bath he had promised her. The thought alone sparked a flame of devious delight inside him.
Galion cleared his throat and only when Thranduil raised an eyebrow did he finally speak.
“Erm, there is the matter of Lady Anna.” Galion paused, fiddling with the parchment.
“What about her?” Hearing Galion use Anna’s title that was now hers in accordance with their law, filled him with pride but also apprehension. What had been their intimate secret for a short but thrilling moment in time, was now public knowledge. Not that he bothered with anyone’s opinion, he commanded enough authority that none would dare to question his choice, but being king also meant that nothing really was ever private. And while he had gotten used to his life being on display, it might not be so easy on Anna.
“Well, I thought that the feast might be an excellent occasion to formally introduce her as your wife,” Galion elaborated. “This feast marks your victorious return from Dale and what better way to show your people that this truly is a time for new beginnings than to present yourself as a happily married royal couple. Not only does it point towards a bright future for the Woodland Realm, but I am also quite certain that it would help your wife ease into her role as the future Queen.”
Galion paused poignantly, as if waiting for Thranduil’s reaction.
Thranduil had to give his butler credit for not only thinking ahead, but also being astutely aware of the delicacy with which this topic had to be treated. Being the King’s wife was one thing, but being crowned Queen was yet another thing altogether, something he hadn’t yet allowed to think himself of, even though he was well aware that he would have to touch on this subject eventually. It would be the final step on Anna’s path into her new life, but he wasn’t sure they were both ready for this. He didn’t want her to think that he was pushing her towards responsibilities she didn’t want to have, but at the same time he did not want her to think that he was trying to keep her away from being the rightful ruler beside him because she suspected that some tiny part inside him might still cling to Calithiel. To make a long story short, it was complicated. His eyes darted to a dent at the edge of his desk, a remnant of his son’s childish intents of handling a sword twice the size of a little elfling.
“You are planning on making her Queen, aren’t you?” Galion pressed on, when he was only met by silence from Thranduil.
“Yes, of course, I am.” Thranduil nodded slowly and rubbed his temple, shutting away the old memories that had come flooding back. “But this is not something that should be rushed, as it will be quite an enormous change for Anna. I do wish to give her enough time to adjust to her new situation and I want her to have a say in this. It might be my wish, but it should be her choice.”
“Yes, of course, my lord. There is no need to rush this. In fact, your decision to wait only reflects that you are an ever foresighted and wise leader.”
“You are aware that I am long since immune to your flattery?” Thranduil arched an elegant eyebrow.
“It doesn’t hurt to try.” Galion folded his parchment and slid it into the pocket of his tunic. “Nevertheless, Lady Anna’s status as your wife will require that she be given a lady-in-waiting. She also should be instructed thoroughly in the royal protocol, furthermore she will be expected to study in depth the history and customs of our people. If you approve of this, then I would be honoured to offer myself as her tutor as well as find her a suitable lady-in-waiting.”
“Yes, do as you see fit,” Thranduil said, rising from his seat behind his desk. If he didn’t stop Galion right now, he would be sitting in this exact same spot for another hour, listening to his butler’s endless ramblings about the history of the Woodland Realm. Images of his son’s disastrous tutoring lessons flashed in his mind’s eye. Hopefully Anna would be more agreeable to Galion’s well-meant teachings.
“I promise that I will do my best to guide your young wife on her path. Once she has learned our ways, she will make a splendid Queen,” Galion said and with a final bow he let himself out of Thranduil’s chambers.
Thranduil gave the ever growing pile of parchments on his desk a withering glare. Knowing full well that his obligations would still be there waiting for him to be taken care of, he headed towards Anna’s chamber, his mind set on taking care of something indefinitely more enticing. He stepped through the concealed door, his silvery robe a ripple behind him.
Since they had exchanged their vows, they had spent the nights and most of the days together in his chambers, and he intended for it to stay that way. Nevertheless, he had encouraged her to keep her own rooms, so she could have as much independence and privacy as possible. The king’s chambers were rarely ever completely his own, since the matters of politics did not bother to halt at his doorstep.
He stopped in his tracks when he saw Anna standing in the middle of her room, wearing nothing but a thin ivory linen tunic, the seamstress kneeling at her feet and taking measurements for the new dress he had ordered. She looked enchanting, her simple beauty enhanced by her recent transformation. Even though she was standing with her back to him, he could feel the joy and contentment radiating off her through their shared bond. A smile dawned on his face. He was the luckiest ellon on all Arda, and no one would convince him otherwise.
His musings were interrupted by someone nibbling at his fingers and when he looked down, Aradan was pressing his muzzle against his hand.
“What have you been up to?” he said, ruffling the fur between his ears.
“You mean besides trying to eat my books and attempting to drown himself in the pool?” Anna turned around towards him, while the seamstress sunk into a deep bow. “I swear he thinks he’s a fish.” The lopsided grin on her face spoke volumes and one glance at the multitude of puddles all over the floor told him the rest.
Aradan eagerly wagged his stubby tail and proceeded to lick his hand.
“I see,” Thranduil said, swiftly retreating his hand and indicating for the seamstress to rise. “Please leave us,” he commanded. “I wish to speak to my wife in private.” An idea had begun to take shape in his head.
“Yes, my lord.” The seamstress quickly gathered her things that lay spread on the floor all around Anna.
“Thank you for your work, Rîneth. I’m sure the dress will be beautiful.” Anna smiled brightly at the seamstress and stepped carefully out of her way.
“Thank you, my lady.” Rîneth’s face lit up for a brief moment and when she had collected everything, she bowed to both of them and headed quietly for the exit door.
He didn’t know why he was so worried. Anna would make a splendid Queen. She already had most of the staff of the royal household wrapped around her little finger. And the rest of his people would learn how to live with his choice.
He casually strolled over to Anna and pulled her into an embrace. “I missed you,” he said, burying his nose in her hair. He closed his eyes and inhaled her scent, sweeter than the forest in springtime.
“You wanted me to stay here for the seamstress.” She leaned into his touch and wrapped her arms around his waist. “And it was only for a few hours.”
“It felt more like a few years.” His hands trailed over her back down to her hips where his fingers found the laces of her tunic.
“Was it that bad?” Anna tilted her head back to look up at him. Her cheeks rounded with a barely held-back smile.
“Not bad, but boring.” He kissed the spot under her ear which he knew would make her knees weak and began to pull at the laces.
“He is probably just trying t—to be thorough.” Her voice wavered as he slowly kissed his way down the column of her throat.
“You don’t know Galion the way I do,” he said between kisses. “The Valar have blessed him with the gift of making even an interesting topic sound dull.”
“Poor Galion,” Anna remarked with a chuckle.
He undid the uppermost button at the front of her tunic and nipped at her skin. “But let us not talk of him anymore,” he said, purposefully working his way through the second and third button.
Anna hummed in delight, her hands fumbling with the clasps of his robe.
“You taste delicious,” he breathed onto her skin. “Better than any food known and not known to elvenkind.” This is how he wished to spend his days, this and perhaps the occasional glass of Dorwinion in between.
A loud splashing noise and the sudden feeling of wetness on his back tore him from his ministrations. “Aradan!” He let go of Anna and turned around on the spot.
“You, my dear friend,” he pointed at Aradan, who stood in the middle of a giant puddle, his fur dripping wet, “are in dire need of stretching your legs outside the palace.”
He straightened himself and turned towards Anna, whose face oscillated somewhere between amusement and annoyance.
“He has been doing this all day already.” She ran a hand through her hair and shrugged. “Perhaps Thalion should take him for a walk?” she suggested.
“I do have a better idea.”
Aradan stared at both of them with wide eyes, as if he feared the worst.
“As a matter of fact, I myself wouldn’t mind a stroll through the forest.” He opened his hands in an inviting gesture. “What do you say? Would you care to join me for an outing in the snow?”
“Sounds cold, but tempting,” she nodded and reached for her dress. “And I think we all could use some fresh air.”
“I’m bringing the heavy cloaks. Even though you’re an elleth now and you won’t be affected as much by the cold as you were before.”
With those words he rushed to his chamber and returned with two thick woollen cloaks.
When both of them were ready, Aradan already awaited them eagerly at the doors.
“Someone is definitely excited to go out,” Thranduil said, offering Anna his arm and then they headed out.
The snow had wrapped the woods in a thick blanket of purest white. As if to greet them, the sun peeked through the scattered clouds above. The air was crisp and fresh. He hadn’t seen such a beautiful winter day in many years, not since the darkness had befallen his beloved forest.
Suddenly Anna shuffled closer to him and reached for his hand. “Are you sure it is safe? W—what about the spiders?”
“You don’t need to fear the forest. The darkness has been pushed back, and while it’s not completely gone, it has been weakened enough not to pose an immediate threat, especially not so close to the palace.”
Anna stared into the thicket of branches hidden behind a veil of white before them, looking not quite convinced.
He patted her hand. “Besides, you are with me and no one dares to attack the king and his wife unless they wish to die a gruesome death.” He had brought the knife he always carried inside his boot, just to be sure, but there was no need to mention that.
“If you say so,” she said, pushing her chin forward and holding on to his hand a little tighter than necessary.
It didn’t take him long to make her forget her worries, and soon they were both immersed in a conversation about trees and how their lives intertwined with his. Aradan jumped around them as if he wanted to make up for all the time he had spent cooped up in the palace and rubbed his growing antlers against any tree available.
“You see now why the forest is a better place for him than the palace?”
“Yes, fine, you were right,” Anna said, brushing the low-lying branches as they passed them, sending the snow drizzling to the ground like powdered sugar.
“Of course I was right.” He nudged her gently with his elbow. “As soon as he is strong enough, he will be moved to the stables with plenty of freedom to roam around as he pleases.”
They stopped in a small clearing, Aradan cantering ahead of them, his skinny legs poking holes into the deep drifts of snow. The sun rays cast a golden light on the glittering white.
“This is beautiful.” Anna crouched down to pile up some snow, shaping it into a slightly elongated heap.
“Yes, it is.” He was glad to see her so relaxed after all the pain and suffering she had endured.
She picked up two branches from a nearby tree and stuck them into the mound of snow. “What do you think?” She threw him an expectant glance.
“What is this supposed to be?” He honestly had no idea. It looked like a loaf of bread with two odd branches sticking out.
“It’s an elk of course.” She tilted her head sideways, pouting. “Isn’t that obvious?”
“Now that you say so, I definitely can see the semblance. It looks just like Aradan, except that Aradan does have four legs and isn’t white.”
“Are you making fun of me?” She narrowed her eyes.
“I would never.” He bowed with a flourish gesture of his hand to underline his statement, when in fact, he was rather enjoying himself.
“You are not convincing me.” She jabbed a finger at his chest and then bent down to scoop up some snow. There was a mischievous glint in her eyes. “Do elves throw snowballs?”
“Elflings may do it, yes.” He arched an eyebrow.
Anna rolled a perfectly round ball between her hands. “But you wouldn’t consider this a suitable pastime for an ancient elf like yourself?” She was grinning from ear to ear.
Now it was his turn to narrow his eyes. Anna knew very well that it pricked his ego when she brought up his age, yet she rarely missed a chance to poke at his weak spot.
“I am quite versatile when it gets to how I spend my pastime,” he said casually. “Besides, I’m not that old.”
“Are you? Then perhaps you are afraid of a bit of snow, you mighty warrior king?” She casually tossed the snowball up in the air with one hand to catch it with the other.
“I dare you!” He crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Are you challenging me to a snowball fight?” A smirk dawned on his face. This was about to get really interesting.
“Apparently I am,” she said, lifting the snowball over her shoulder.
“I have to warn you. With my eyesight restored, my aim is now infinitely better than what it was before.”
“One hit and I win.” Without waiting for his answer, she sent the snowball spinning towards him with surprising speed but little accuracy.
He ducked it with ease and in the blink of an eye had scooped up one for himself.
“Very well,” he said and flung his snowball at her shoulder with unwavering precision.
“That’s unfair!” she shouted, brushing off her cloak. “You didn’t give me time to prepare.” She hastily worked on her next snowball.
“You brought this upon yourself,” he said smugly. He already had a second one in his hands and was now circling her. Perhaps he should give her time to get ready, but then where would the fun be in this? And he hadn’t had so much fun since Legolas was a little elfling.
Anna tried to anticipate his movements, but he was too quick for her. She might be an elleth now, but she was lacking his experience. Her snowballs were fast, but they went astray and didn’t even get close to hitting him, yet his never missed their mark.
“You have to focus,” he told her when she began throwing them around in random fashion, flinging snow in every direction.
“Like this.” He took aim and threw one at her chest and then sent another one directly at her hip where it disintegrated into a puffy cloud of white with the force of the impact. This was almost too easy.
“I’m not giving up yet!” she called, her entire cloak dotted white. “I’ll get that hit.” She scooped up more snow, while Aradan ran back and forth between them as if he were trying to decide which side to take.
“Are you sure?” he teased her, juggling two snowballs. “We can stop now if you want.”
“Never!” she fired another one that almost got within the range of his shoulder, but hit a tree instead.
He held a snowball in each hand, ready to fire them both, but then suddenly something bumped into him from behind. For a fraction of a second he lost his balance and before he could refocus, a snowball hit him square on the forehead.
“Ha!” she exclaimed, clapping her hands in delight and jumping up and down. “See, I did it! I got you!”
He wiped the snow off his face and then he saw Aradan cantering towards Anna. Of course, it had to be the elk calf. The snow trickled down into his robe and while as an elf he generally was not affected by the cold, he did feel a slight shiver down his spine.
“That was just luck,” he said, brushing the snow off his hair, “and Aradan was sabotaging my defences.”
“Don’t try to blame it on Aradan! He’s as innocent as freshly fallen snow.” She patted Aradan on the head.
“You are both working together, I see.” He dropped his snowballs and strode towards Anna. “This cannot go unpunished.”
“Then you have to catch me first! Come, Aradan!” Nimble as a doe she was dashing through the snow, Aradan sprinting alongside her.
They were headed towards a massive pine, its wide branches heavily laden with snow. A devious idea rose in his mind. Perhaps it was time that he taught her a small lesson. He didn’t usually take advantage of their height-difference in such an obvious way, but this was too good to pass up. No one messed with the king, not even when it came to throwing snowballs.
“You are not getting away with this!” he called after her, his long stride allowing him to quickly catch up with both of them. While Aradan turned his attention towards the bark and began ripping off small pieces to devour them eagerly, he could hear Anna giggling from behind the tree-trunk. As silently as possible, he sneaked closer, bowing his head to avoid the low-lying branches.
“You cannot hide from me,” he whispered, knowing full well that Anna could hear him. His breath curled in white wisps in front of his face and then he reached around the tree trunk and pulled her towards him.
“I still won,” she said with a grin, and then her arms went around his neck.
“You won because you had help.” He gave her a playful tap on the nose.
“Nothing wrong with a little bit of help from a friend,” she said, running her hands over the sodden strands of his hair.
For a moment, he just looked quietly at her. She was so beautiful, her freckled cheeks reddened by the cold, her grass-green eyes sparkling with joy, tiny ice crystals clinging to her long lashes. The sight almost made him doubt his resolve, almost, but not quite.
“Aren’t you going to kiss me?” she whispered and rose herself on tiptoes.
“I might.” He leaned closer until their lips almost touched. Her warm breath mingled with his. “My little ice flower,” he said into their shared space. Anna closed her eyes, her rosy lips parted in expectation. She was completely oblivious to everything around her.
This was the moment. He pulled at the low-lying branch right above her and quickly stepped away. It snapped back up and the whole load of snow poured down on Anna’s head. A shriek escaped her that made Aradan abandon the tree bark and look at Thranduil in a way that was clearly reproachful.
“You!” she rubbed her eyes and spit out snow from her mouth.
“Did something happen?” He put on the most innocent face possible.
“You know exactly what happened.” Anna scrunched up her face, the melting snowflakes running like slush over her cheeks and soaking her cloak. She looked like an angry snowman, or more like a snow-elleth. “You did that on purpose!” With her fingers she dug out clumps of snow that had slid into the collar of her cloak.
“This forest has a mind of its own,” he said, biting back a grin.
“Don’t try to blame it on the forest now,” she said, but the slight smile that tugged at the corners of her mouth gave away her own amusement.
“I’ll make it up to you.” He helped her brush off the snow from her shoulders and pulled up her hood. “How about we go back to the palace and have some hot tea? And I can think of something else that will help you warm up.” He put on what he hoped to be his most charming smile.
The elk calf abandoned the pine and darted towards them, sending a flurry of snowflakes flying through the air.
“Are you by any chance trying to bribe me into forgiving you?”
“Perhaps.” He offered her his arm. “Is it working?”
“Perhaps,” she said coquettishly, linking arms with him. “I’ll think about it.”
“I can accept that.” He would show her exactly how persuasive he could be.
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