The Secret of the Forest - A Thranduil Romance

Regulations and Revelations

Days stretched into weeks and late summer turned into autumn when something like normality in within the absurdity of Anna’s situation was beginning to settle in. A myriad of new impressions had descended upon her, forcing her to keep her head in the present and giving her mind less chances to stray back to the mystery of her arrival in Thranduil’s forest. Eventually she decided to assign it a small locked up area in the back of her head. Maybe when the moment was right, she would bring it out and dare to ask someone she could trust about it, but for now she would simply try to focus on her daily life in the palace.

Brethilwen had kept her promise and shown her around more than once, through the twisting and echoing paths, the living quarters, ample halls for celebrations, even to the kitchens and down to the wine cellar she led her. It seemed that she had taken a liking to Anna and she proved to be a useful guide in many matters concerning the most basic things she needed to know for the time of her stay, to which as of now no limit had been put. Anna had wandered the hallways of the king’s palace with Brethilwen numerous times, while Brethilwen would keep her entertained with stories of the older ages and tales of the times when the forest was young and was still called Eryn Galen, Greenwood the Great, before the darkness had found its way into the realm of the Elves and the woods were thereafter named Taur e-Ndaedelos, or Mirkwood. Anna turned out to be an avid listener and was eager for more, so one day with an auspicious smile on her face Brethilwen took her to a special place. An area that was usually off limits for everyone but select elves: the royal library.

She could not have found a more valuable treasure chamber! Among the countless volumes of thick leather-bound books and ancient scrolls it offered her answers to so many questions she had. At first Brethilwen had accompanied her the her visits to the library, but as they gradually extended, she eventually allowed her to go on her own. Anna knew her way through the palace, and maybe, well Brethilwen had better things to do than to watch a strange human being bent over books for hours on end.

At first her biggest obstacle was the language barrier. She had gotten used to the soft spoken Sindarin, actually she really enjoyed the pleasant sound of it, but still she only understood simple words or phrases and everyone tended to switch to Westron as soon as she was involved. After all, she was not one of them. When she found herself presented with the possibility of actually uncovering the secrets of this foreign but beautiful language she dived head in. She also spent countless hours working herself through annals and chronicles, together with collections about herb-lore and essays on Dorwinion wine until her head was spinning with tales about dragons, orcs, dwarves and countless other more or less bizarre creatures and her eyes wouldn’t focus any more. Still, one thing she could not find amongst all the books was a single mention of the queen. It proved to be an ever elusive subject. She did read though about a fateful battle where Thranduil had fought alongside his father King Oropher, witnessing his father’s tragic death and making Thranduil himself the next king of the Wood-Elves. It was the Battle of Dagorlad, a fight where Elves and Men had joined their forces in the War of the Last Alliance against an ever recurring foe named Sauron. And she concluded that the impending doom of the darkness that everyone feared must be somehow connected to him.

As she wandered deeper into the library her curiosity was stirred by a barred area, obviously only accessible to the king alone. Countless times she lingered around the tall shelves, tightly packed with books of different sizes and shapes, trying to catch a glimpse of what was in there, hungry for more answers and revelations, but whatever it was that lay hidden, she was sure that it was somehow protected by magic, an invisible barrier to keep away prying eyes.

Magic was indeed an essential part of elvish life and although it made her feel uneasy at times, she had learned to accept the fact that there were many things in this realm that lay beyond her human abilities. Concerning her life in the halls of the king she seemed to be the curiosity of everyone at first, but as time elapsed and Anna apparently did not turn out to possess any extraordinary talents nor could boast to tell tales of far away lands and people, the factor of her being new and intriguing was wearing off eventually. One thing though that made her still feel strange and alien was that as she could not remember her name, people just referred to her as human, adaneth, the traveller or guest, or simply called her my lady. But even that she had learned to accept, although deep inside her heart she wished nothing more than to finally belong somewhere and it felt like having a name was an integral part of that. Especially since she had learned that the elves took pride in having names both beautiful and meaningful. But maybe one day it would get to that. She would not allow herself to lose hope, because without hope there was nothing left at all.

The two brothers from the banquet, Faeldir and Amardir, often came to the rescue when she was feeling downcast. Their company proved to be highly diverting and their competing for her attention quite amusing. After all, not many humans would be seen in these lands and it seemed to her that they were just as glad for a bit of distraction, even though possibly for different reasons. They finally had found someone whom they could impress with their talk and who had not heard their stories a thousand times over already. She spent many lovely afternoons listening to their tales or hearing them sing, which was one of her favourite entertainments in the confined space of the Elvenking’s halls. The floating harmonies took her right back to her first day in the forest and her mind drifted unwillingly back to Thranduil, his blue eyes and the way he had looked right into her heart, allowing her a glimpse into a paradise from which she had been expelled before even having been admitted. And the joy she had felt turned to anguish. She had to force herself not to dwell on those painful thoughts any more. She would not allow her mind to be taken prisoner by these unfulfilled wishes of hers. Who was she trying to fool anyway? After all what she had read in the library about unions in between humans and elves they were deemed inappropriate, and if they did happen, they were extremely rare and most likely to end in some sort of tragedy.

Thranduil had ensured that Anna would not be wandering around alone at will. She had been granted some liberties, yes, but she remained under surveillance for most of her time, except for those hours in the library and after she retired to her room at night. She was not allowed to leave the palace, at least never on her own. The king’s son Legolas made sure of that, he was polite but assertive, following his father’s orders closely. He had once in a while ventured into the forest with her, although never too far from the palace, possibly at the king’s command, and patiently answered all the inquisitive questions she had about the trees and beasts inhabiting the woods. Even when it got to the spiders, something that had been lurking in the back of her mind since she first heard him talking about them to his father, he tried to satisfy her curiosity. But to be honest, the fact that apparently they were of an enormous size, growing bolder and infesting more and more parts of the forest, was more than enough information for her. The dark power spreading from the south-east into the realm of Thranduil also cast a shadow on his son’s spirit, who was for most of the time cheerful and glad to be of service. The one thing that was still prying her mind she had not dared to ask him yet. Although she was constantly reminded of her existence when she looked at him, she had not found the courage to inquire about his mother. He never mentioned anything and she felt that she had no right to get into his personal matters.

To her disappointment she had not seen much of the king lately as he had been kept busy with those prisoners of his, the dwarves. In her wanderings with Brethilwen she had passed their cells and cast a curious glance at the dwarves, stout and bearded fellows, who seemed to be in a constant grumpy state of mind. She couldn’t blame them though, if she had been locked in those cells she hardly would have been prone to joyous outbursts either. Still it had not been revealed to her why they were kept in the king’s dungeons, except that they had been caught trespassing through his territory. She counted herself lucky not to have met the same fate and actually avoided lingering too close to their cells. Not that they ever spoke to her, but she did not want to run into trouble by being considered fraternising with the enemy. The elves were ever watchful and she could not shake off the feeling that some of them remained distrustful of strangers, which included her after all.

Besides the dwarves she seemed to be the only other non-elvish person in the whole palace, although she could not cast off the feeling that once in a while she saw, or to be more precise, she felt a small shadow moving around the cavernous halls. She could have sworn that she even once almost bumped into it, but since she did not see anyone she concluded that this must be another one of those elvish magical devices. Who knows, maybe they could turn invisible at will? Anna had to admit that this thought made her considerably uneasy. Being followed and observed all day long was tiresome enough, but being tracked by an invisible shadow was more than unsettling.

Until one day the shadow stepped into the light, albeit unwillingly.

Anna was on her way back to her room from another long session in the library and all caught up in her thoughts when she passed an empty hallway near the area of the kitchens and suddenly bumped into something solid. She stumbled, and almost fell if she hadn’t reached out for the shelf beside her, sending some of the stacked plates crashing to the floor with a loud clang.

“Who’s there?” she shouted, scrambling to her feet, still looking for a hold. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she apologised quickly, although she did not know to whom.

“Do you mind?” retorted a bodiless voice, mumbling in an inarticulate way like someone who was speaking with their mouth full. She pressed herself against the wall, eyeing the corridor suspiciously, when a child-sized figure emerged from beside one of the shelves containing assorted food supplies. To her amazement it was not a child at all, but a plump middle-aged man with bare feet covered in bushy hair, somewhat unkempt brown locks framing his round face that seemed to be generally good natured but looked now thoroughly annoyed at having been interrupted in the search for food. Curiously enough she noticed his pointed ears, but he could not possibly be one of the elves, he was too short and not nearly elegantly enough dressed. As a matter of fact, his clothes looked seriously worn and somewhat grimy.

“When you are done staring at me, would you please resume minding your own business?”

Anna closed her mouth that had fallen open as she stared at him, suddenly aware of her impolite attitude. “I am sorry. I did not see you there.”

“Mmhh. Yes, yes. That happens sometimes.” He shifted around uncomfortably. “Well, I do accept your apology. If you will excuse me, my dear.” He turned to leave while he stuffed some buns of bread into his deep pockets.

She went out on a limb when she decided to throw the question at him directly. “Are you also a traveller from another world?”

“What? No!” He looked baffled. “Well, that is, unless you would call the Shire another world.”

“The Shire?”

“Yes, yes the Shire,” he repeated slightly annoyed. “That is where I come from. My name is Bilbo Baggins and I am a hobbit if you must know.”

“A hobbit?” There wasn’t anything about hobbits in the library, she was quite sure about that. Her levels of confusion and amazement were highly competing with each other, not exactly helping her in sounding like a sane person at all.

But apparently Mr. Baggins the hobbit took pity on her and settled into a brief explanation to help her out of her misery.

“I see that you are indeed not from here and quite surely not an Elf. We Hobbits are little people, and we live in the Shire, which is quite far from here, a very nice place indeed, hidden from humans and most other disturbances and we keep generally to ourselves. You should come and pay it a visit some time. Well, anyhow, I myself am here only passing through, but since my friends, the dwarves, got caught and imprisoned, I have to linger around until I can find a way out.” He eyed her suspiciously. “Who are you by the way? You are not one of the elves, but you are dressed like one of them, so what is that all about?”

Funny how their minds both worked alike, assessing each other’s appearance. Both trapped in the halls of the Elvenking they were both equally far away from being one of them. “And they seem to be watching you quite closely, if I may say so. I have been observing that for a while, you know.”

“You have?” Her eyes widened and it dawned on her that she had finally found her fleeting shadow. “So you were the one that I have been seeing around? Well, not actually seeing, but I had the feeling that I was being watched, apart from the elves.”

“Yes, that might have been me,” he admitted bluntly. “But you still haven’t given me your name. Haven’t they taught you any manners where you come from?” He frowned at her, while scanning the shelf beside him for some more edible morsels to scavenge.

Anna was caught unprepared, since lately no one had been questioning her origin any more, and stuttered. “Well, … I. I am a human as you can see and in a way I am a traveller as I said, but I come from a world far away.” She simply decided to go for something close to the truth, since this little man did not look too intimidating after all. “And to be honest I do not remember my name. I know it sounds strange, but that is the truth. The elves simply call me adaneth for most of the time. I have been staying here at the king’s palace for some weeks. As a matter of fact, I think I have come here around the same time your friends were caught.” She was silent for a moment as he busily wrapped some cheese in a piece of cloth and allowed it to disappear in his apparently bottomless pockets.

He threw her a quizzical look. “Well, that is a curious thing. A nameless lady? In the halls of the Elvenking? Very interesting indeed.” He nodded and seemed to be muttering more to himself than actually talking to her. “Well, I should not be too surprised after all the strange things that I have encountered on my journey so far.”

Sympathy stirred in her heart when she saw how desperate this little man in his ragged clothes was looking for something to eat. Who knew which hardships he had gone through already? “Would you like to come with me? I have food in my room,” she offered him. “And I could always ask for more.”

He looked at her with something in between surprise and gratitude, but then his pride prevailed. “Thank you my dear, but I will have to decline your well-meaning offer. I can quite manage by myself. And I would not want you to get into trouble on my account.” He crinkled his nose and straightened himself, attempting to convey an image of honourableness and self-reliance.

“All right then. But just so you know that the offer stands if you ever should feel the need.” She gave him a smile and then a thought passed her mind. “But however did you manage to get past the elves?”

Bilbo shuffled his feet nervously, looking around and making sure the hallway remained empty. “That, if I may say so, my lady, is my very own secret. And I do not wish to share it.” He bowed apologetically and lowered his voice to a whisper. “I sure hope you understand. You know: my predicament. I am not really supposed to be here. The elves have not found out that I slipped past them. So I am the only hope that my friends have of ever escaping from the king’s dungeons and pursuing their quest.” He seemed quite proud of his obvious importance and raised himself to his full height.

She glanced at him in surprise. “A quest? What quest?”

Bilbo’s mood changed instantly and he would not reveal anything else. “I have been already saying too much. If you will excuse me. It was very nice meeting you.” He bowed curtly and dismissed himself, snatching another small piece of pastry from the shelf and leaving her standing alone in the hallway as he scuttled off into the darkness.

Anna had only just turned around the next corner, her mind still digesting all the strange revelations she had heard, when another voice called out to her from behind. Her heart sank when it was not the one she had been hoping for. But of course why on earth would Thranduil be looking for her in his own palace when he could just have her summoned to his chambers? She began to think that the king was actively avoiding her and sadness pooled inside her chest. Seeing him walk around in his vast halls or riding out on his numerous hunting activities, but still never being able to get close to him was like torture, stabbing her every day all over again in her aching heart. She longed for nothing more than to be with him, and he seemed to have altogether forgotten about her existence. Yes, he was the king and he had his duties to attend to, but after all, he had ordered for her to stay, and what was the use of that, if he did not want her close to him?

The clear voice of Legolas broke through her glum thoughts of self-pity. “Adaneth, my dear, please wait up. I bring word from my father.” Anna stopped in her tracks and turned around, trying to convey an aura of indifference. But her heart told another story, anxiously awaiting the news Legolas would bring.

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