An Unexpected Ally
The next morning greeted Anna with the worst possible of hangovers, physically and emotionally. She lay awake in her bed, the disastrous outcome of last night’s banquet coming back vividly to her mind. She did not know when she had fallen asleep and how she had gotten to this room. She could not even tell for sure that it was in the morning, since this room lay deep underground and chandeliers were illuminating her chamber with a dim amber glow. She looked up to the ceiling, which spanned above her like a vaulted cave and fanned out into various pillars, carved out of the stone to resemble trees, with vines coiling decoratively around their rocky stems.
Anna groaned and sank back into the pillows, images of yesterday’s insane happenings flashing bright like daylight in front of her inner eye. She was too embarrassed to even think about it and buried herself under the sheets, hoping that she would just wake up somewhere else far from here, where she had not yet made an idiot out of herself.
But then it slowly dawned on her and she remembered that she was already somewhere else, it was only yesterday that some inexplicable twist of fate had brought her here, into this forest and the hands of its king, Thranduil.
And she was stuck. Now that she had angered the king she had shut possibly the only way back. And if not the king, who else could help her then? Or maybe he wanted nothing more than to get rid of her as quickly as possible? What if he just dumped her in the middle of the forest? Either way, it was a hopeless situation.
A determined knock at the door interrupted her thoughts. She was not even dressed, no way she would open that door. “Go away,” she mumbled and pulled the sheets further up her head. But whoever it was, was insistent and the knocking wouldn’t stop. Frustrated, she sat up, tossing around and untangling her legs from the sheets. She called “What is it?!” a little too rude while massaging her temples with her fingertips in an effort to relieve the stinging pressure on her forehead. A female voice answered. “Please, my lady, allow me to come in.”
She had almost forgotten that Brethilwen had promised her to show her the palace this morning. Oh well, at least it was not the king coming to see her, she would not have been able to look him in the eyes, not after what she had said to him last night.
“Come in,” she said in the most stoical attitude she could muster.
The door was pushed open by a red-haired elf, lean and energetic in her appearance, her eyes keen and observant. She wore a moss green dress, tall brown leather boots and a dagger on either side of her waist. One look was enough to reveal that she was a fighter not a servant. She greeted Anna with a brief inclination of the head and addressed her curtly.
“Good morning my lady, the king sends for you. When you are ready, would you please follow me?”
Anna pulled her sheets tighter around her body, stammering. “I—I think I am not really ready. I am not dressed and I was not expecting,” she searched for the right words, “I was expecting someone else.” She smiled wryly at her, hoping not to have sounded impolite.
“Ah, yes I know. Let me introduce myself to you: my name is Tauriel, and I am head of the king’s guard. Brethilwen will see you later.” She pointed at the opposite side of the room. “You will find fresh clothing at your disposal as well as food and drink.”
Anna’s eyes followed her motions and she realised that a small round table had been filled with fruits, bread, a small carafe and a glass, while on the wooden chair beside it clothes had been laid out for her.
When Tauriel saw the hesitation on her face she proposed: “I will wait for you outside. But please do make sure to take as little time as possible. The king does not appreciate to be kept waiting.”
“But why would the king want to see me again now? Last night wasn’t, well it didn’t exactly go as planned.”
She did not want to reveal too much, although to the best of her knowledge, Tauriel might as well have been already informed about yesterday’s banquet.
“This I do not know. But it is not up to you to question his authority.”
She had been hearing that an awful lot since yesterday, probably everyone here considered her some sort of rebellious spirit. But she was alone and she needed help, either from the king or from Brethilwen or maybe she could even try to recruit the talkative brothers from last night, Faeldir and Amardir, if she only knew where to find them?
“Well, will you prepare yourself then?” Tauriel interrupted her train of thoughts, pointing at the table and the clothes. Anna resigned herself to her fate, at least for the moment, and tried to be as cooperative as possible.
“Yes, I will. I will try to be quick, but these clothes are still a bit of a challenge for me, I am not used to these dresses.”
“Would you like me to help you?” Tauriel stepped closer, ready to pick up the dress from the chair.
“No, no,” Anna was quick to answer, “I’ll be fine. Just give me a moment.” Brethilwen had helped her bathe and dress yesterday, but she felt quite a bit intimidated by the presence of this warrior elf, so she would rather try on her own.
“Very well then. I shall wait outside for you.”
What seemed like endless minutes of tying laces and working through countless clasps, she was finally dressed, a grey tunic with a black leather bodice that fitted her quite well, she had to admit. Her hair though was still a mess, but she only had time to brush through it quickly before grabbing a bite of the crisp bread and one of the shiny red apples. Halfway through the food she realised that she was not really hungry, her stomach resembling more of a nervous pit, and she only gulped down half a glass of the fresh water, before facing the door and what lay beyond it.
Tauriel strode swiftly along the labyrinthine hallways and Anna had a hard time keeping up with her pace. Tauriel led her into a portion of the palace she had not seen yesterday. Anna assumed that her room possibly lied in the vicinity of Thranduil’s chambers, because the surrounding looked vaguely familiar, but now she was heading up steep stairways and across serpentine bridges into a vast hall, wider and more ample than the banquet’s hall. If she wouldn’t have been so preoccupied about her upcoming confrontation with the king — she was sure that that’s what she was heading to —, she could have just stood there in amazement and marvelled at the beauty of this place.
“Don’t fall behind,” Tauriel urged her on, well aware that the king would get more annoyed by the minute.
“I’m sorry,” she apologised and sped up behind her, climbing the final stairs that opened up into a circular platform enclosed by tall pillars along the sides. At the opposite end a steep spiral stairway led up to a carved throne crowned by giant antlers on either side. She knew those antlers, they suspiciously resembled the ones of Thranduil’s elk, but of course she assumed that, well, they possibly belonged to a different specimen.
Thranduil knew how to make a statement. He could not have found a better way to exhibit his superiority than looking down on her from the lofty heights of his impressive throne. Anna lingered behind Tauriel, feeling small and insignificant, hoping to get this behind her as fast and unharmed as possible. Tauriel addressed Thranduil in a clear and calm voice: “My Lord, I bring your guest, just like you ordered.”
He gave her a small nod. “Thank you Tauriel.” His eyes darted towards the stairs behind Anna. Something seemed to disturb him. “But where is Legolas? Why did he not come with you?”
Tauriel hesitated for a moment. “I do not know my lord,” she apologised. A crease appeared on Thranduil’s forehead and he sighed. “Very well then, I shall begin without him.” Tauriel turned to leave when Thranduil called after her: “I want you to look for my son. And do not come back without him.”
“Yes, my lord.” She bowed, throwing Anna a quizzical glance and then headed towards the stairs, leaving her alone with king.
As Tauriel’s steps faded away the silence in Thranduil’s hall grew more onerous and Anna wished that she had not eaten any of the food at all as she felt increasingly nauseous. She kept staring at the stone tiled floor in front of her, finding the patterns quite nice and intriguing. But she had to focus now. She promised herself that there would be no unexpected outbursts from her side this time. She would answer his questions, if he had any, as precise and clear as possible and if he happened to still be willing to help her, she would simply accept it. After yesterday evening he could not possibly have any more interest in keeping her here.
“I hope you have settled in your room and everything is to your satisfaction.“ His deep melodic voice trailing through the hall threatened to shatter all her resolutions.
“Yes, my lord, it is,” she replied as calm as possible, her eyes still fixed on the floor.
“Good.” A moment of silence followed. “Because you will be staying here.”
“What?! I mean, … I thought,” she stuttered. No, no, not again, she was straying from her laid out path of being calm, collected and as unemotional as possible. She finally looked up to him, but Thranduil’s attention was caught by swift footsteps approaching behind her. They belonged to Legolas, whose shock of blonde hair was the first thing she saw as he ascended the stairs. He was dressed in a green tunic and brown breeches and boots, a bow and arrows slung around his back, his hair in braids, just like yesterday. He greeted his father with a courteous nod, addressing Anna casually with a friendly smile.
“Adar, you called for me?”
Anna smiled back, unsure of what was going to happen next.
“Yes, indeed, I did. What kept you so long?” Thranduil rose from his throne and descended the stairs, his robe slithering behind him like smooth waves of gold and green. Legolas approached his father with swift strides.
“Something about the prisoners required my attention.” Prisoners? Anna was immediately alarmed and the pit in her stomach deepened considerably. “And Tauriel is concerned about the spiders in the forest. They are growing stronger and bolder. She thinks that we need to increase our forces against them.”
Spiders?! This was getting better by the minute. Why couldn’t she have told Thranduil yesterday that she wanted to get back and leave this place for good?
“And what do you think about it, my son?” Thranduil was now standing beside Legolas, whose youthful appearance was in stark contrast to his father’s proud bearing. Despite the king’s ageless beauty and flawless posture his shoulders seemed burdened with an endless lifetime of responsibilities and duties. For a moment a shadow of weariness darkened Thranduil’s face as if the strain was taking a toll on him. Compassion stirred inside Anna, her heart felt drawn towards him, notwithstanding spiders and prisoners. Legolas looked up to his father, who towered over him — as a matter of fact Thranduil was taller than every other person she had seen in the palace—, his expression indecisive.
“I think that we should heed Tauriel’s opinion, as she has fought bravely in the forest.” He seemed to ponder as how to go on. “And I do agree that we need to be watchful and more assertive if we want to keep the darkness at bay.”
“So you think I am being too negligent?” Thranduil raised an eyebrow and observed his son from the corner of his eye.
“No, of course not. That is not what I meant father.” Legolas peered in Anna’s direction and threw his father a questioning look. “Should we be discussing theses matters here? I mean, your guest. Surely she does not need to be bothered with these matters and we could speak about this later.” He gave her an apologetic look before turning back to his father.
“No, now is the time. And she can and will hear about this, because she will be staying.” Thranduil turned briefly towards her, a challenging look in his eyes, before resuming his conversation with Legolas, who seemed slightly thrown off course by this revelation.
“Oh, well, I did not know that. My apologies, father.” He did not look quite convinced though by his father’s decision and Anna started feeling increasingly uncomfortable, being the subject of this discussion without obviously having a say in her own matters.
“You could not have known this, because I have only revealed this just prior to your arrival. But let us get back to my question. The safety and wellbeing of our kingdom is what concerns both of us and in extension everyone under my command.” He looked at his son benevolently who took this as an encouragement to speak his mind.
“Well, father, I think that we must not underestimate the danger that is slowly creeping into our realm and I fear that more dark things will come forth if we do not set bounds and enforce them.” This time there was firmness in his voice, he was truly his father’s son in every way.
Thranduil took a moment to ponder and then nodded. “Very well. We shall increase our vigilance, but I am not willing to engage myself in matters that lie beyond our borders.” He made it clear that this was the end of discussion and Legolas nodded his approval.
“Now, the reason why I called you here is because I want you to be in charge of my guest. I have many obligations keeping me busy and I need to be sure that her safety is in capable hands.”
Anna’s eyes widened and darted from Thranduil to Legolas in an incredulous stare. She wanted to mouth a protest and raised her hand shyly, but thought better of it. As of now, her indiscretion had only brought her trouble, so she might as well stay out of it for a change.
“But father,” Legolas frowned, clearly caught off-guard by his fathers orders. “I do not think that I am the right person for this, this assignment.”
Thranduil gave him a stern look. “There will be no arguing about this.” Legolas nodded silently, knowing very well that his father would brook no dissent.
Thranduil then turned towards Anna, his expression polite, but terse. “Legolas will take you now back to your room and in all matters of your stay you will turn to him and he will report to me. Brethilwen will be your personal servant if you should be needing anything.” He looked at her expectantly, waiting for her response.
“I don’t think I need …,” she began, but the look of annoyance dawning on Thranduil’s face made her steer a different course. Maybe for once she should be more cautious and simply obey, instead of manoeuvring herself into another problematic situation.
“Yes, yes, very well. Whatever you say my lord.” She gave him a resigned smile, her eyes now drawn to Legolas who walked over to her.
“Shall we go then?” he asked.
“Yes, fine,” she agreed, ready to leave.
Thranduil addressed Legolas once more before dismissing them both with a wave of his hand. “I will need you back here later, but in the meantime I will be having another parley with the leader of this annoying dwarven company.”
“Yes, father.” Legolas nodded and then turned to leave with Anna.
They walked quietly side by side at first, but once they had turned into the meandering hallways leading back to the king’s chambers and her room, Legolas broke the silence.
“My father can be quite adamant, you know. But do not be alarmed by that. I am sure, he means you only well.” He was surprisingly nonchalant about his father, but it did not really convince her.
“Well, maybe. But that does not change the fact that he is intimidating. And, well his presence makes me feel …,” she was searching for the right words, “tense and exposed.”
She didn’t know why she confided these feelings in him, after all he was the king’s son and she was sure that he would report back to him, but she felt so dejected that she didn’t care. Or maybe she even secretly hoped that he would let Thranduil know how she felt. Legolas threw her a sideways glance, his blue eyes as bright as his father’s but with a gentleness in them that she had not seen in Thranduil.
“Well, after all he is the king and it takes a great deal of discipline and self-assertion to rule a kingdom,” he pointed out.
“Yes, I know, but he can be nice and still be a king, like a nice king, if you know what I mean,” she countered.
A small grin flickered across his face. “Well, I see, you still have a lot to learn about kings.”
She chuckled, surprised at her own cheekiness.
“Apparently yes.” Anna sunk back into her thoughts and they walked the rest of the way in silence.
When they arrived at the door to her room she decided to take her chances and ask him for a favour. “Will you help me? I mean, teach me about kings? I don’t know what your father has told you about me, but I am not really a traveller. I got lost and he found me in the forest.” She paused, waiting for his reaction, but he was only listening intently, curiosity in his eyes, so she took that as a sign to go ahead. “If I am bound to stay, I will need to learn things; a lot of things.”
Legolas was silent, his eyes assessing her, making sure that she was being sincere, but then he finally spoke: “Yes, I will help you. I promised my father that I would look after you, so it is part of my duty to help you in any way I can.”
A thankful smile spread across her face. “I am very grateful for your help. I am a stranger here and I do not know what else fate has in store for me.” She sighed, her thoughts trailing back to Thranduil and the obscure concoction of feelings he stirred up inside her with as much as an incidental glance of his eyes.
“You will be fine,” Legolas reassured her. “If you wish for me to stay, I will. Otherwise I will go now and give you some time to rest, if that is what you need.” Anna was all of a sudden sorely conscious of her appearance, her hair far away from elvish perfection and her face still possibly showing the remnants of sleep-deprivation. “Well, yes, I guess I do prefer to rest for a while and I remember also that Brethilwen was going to come and show me around in the palace.”
Legolas reached for the door knob and pushed the door open for her. “Very well, it sounds that you already have a busy day ahead. I shall then send her to you at midday and I will see you later.”
“Thank you for your kindness.” She looked at him and couldn’t help but wonder about his mother. She must be a very special person indeed.
“You are welcome.” He bowed briefly and turned to leave.
The door snapped shut behind her and she leaned against it with a deep sigh.
This morning had raised more questions than it had answered. Why would Thranduil want to keep her here? Was he really concerned about her safety or was he merely making sure that she would not try to escape? And why would that even matter to him? And still the most intriguing question of them all: the queen, who was she and why was she not here? Would she ever learn the truth about her and would she be able to amend her mistake and apologise to Thranduil?
She collapsed into bed, her head spinning with all this talk about prisoners, dwarves and spiders and more alarming, some mysterious darkness that seemed to frighten everyone.
Apparently the Woodland Realm had trapped her in its webs for good and would not allow Anna to disentangle herself any time soon.