Memories of the Past
Legolas caught up with her quickly and greeted her with one of his open smiles. He seemed to have come from outside, as he had his bow slung around his back and his quiver sported considerably less arrows than the usual. “You seem worried. Is everything all right?” Concern was in his voice as he noticed that she was slightly flustered.
“Yes, yes, everything is fine,” Anna retorted a bit more rash than she had intended. But neither did she want to reveal anything about her encounter with the hobbit nor did she want to give Legolas the impression that she was too eager to hear news from Thranduil. “I was just on my way to the room.” She gave him an awkward smile and added quickly “The long session in the library has tired me a little and I was lost in thoughts; that’s all.” She straightened herself, pulling back a stray lock behind her ear, and looked at him expectantly. “But do tell me what news do you bring from your father.”
“Well, it is precisely about the library.” Anna’s face turned pale, afraid that she had upset the king by her frequent and extended visits. Maybe he did not want her nosing around after all. “Is it a problem?” she inquired, trying to keep her voice calm. “If the king does not want me to go there, I will stop.”
“No, no, do not worry. My father approves of your visits. As a matter of fact he wishes to meet with you there.” Legolas smiled at the look of relief dawning on her face and added “Tonight, if that is convenient for you.”
“Oh yes, yes of course it is convenient.” Gone was her resolution to appear indifferent, she could not conceal her obvious delight that Thranduil was finally reaching out to her again. She did not know what evoked this change of heart, but the fact that she would be in the same room with him after such a long time was anticipation enough for her.
“Very well then. I will inform my father.” Legolas was quite pleased and walked her back to her room, all the time happily chatting away about today’s hunt and it seemed to her that some sort of tension had been lifted from him.
Anna took dinner in her room like most of the days, although once in a while she would be invited to join the elves in one of the halls. She didn’t mind to eat alone tough, since she still did not feel altogether at ease in the company of the elves. It was a slow process to blend in, after all she had thousands of years to catch up, she thought to herself slightly amused.
A soft knock at the door announced that it was time to go. It was Brethilwen who came to accompany her to the library. Brethilwen had gotten to know Anna quite well throughout the last weeks and it was no use trying to hide her emotional turmoils. Although Anna knew her way to the library, she was glad that Brethilwen insisted on walking with her. It gave her a feeling of support when she didn’t know what to expect from her meeting with the king tonight. Before she would enter the library her grey eyes lingered on Anna’s face with reassurance. “You will be fine. The king has been waiting for this.”
She did not get a chance to ask her about the exact meaning of what she just said, because the doors of the library were suddenly pulled open and Brethilwen had turned away before she could even say goodbye to her.
It took her eyes a moment to adapt to the unusual darkness in the library at this late hour of the day, but then she saw a distinct tall and lean figure emerging from the twilight beside one of the shelves that held all the dictionaries of Sindarin and Quenya that she had been studying for so many hours. Her breath hitched in her throat when she felt Thranduil’s presence so close to her again. And she couldn’t hold back a smile when she realised that he was wearing the same dark grey robe he wore when he found her back then in the forest. His velvet cloak of deep burgundy was draped casually around his shoulders, contrasting pleasantly with the silver blonde strands of his hair.
“I am glad you came.” He greeted her with a slight inclination of his head.
His voice made her shiver. He had not spoken to her alone since the day of the banquet and although she had recreated the sound of his voice in her head countless times, it hit her right at heart when he addressed her directly in this deep and melodic baritone of his.
“I am glad you called for me,” she retorted, her heart racing like a barely restrained tempest. She lingered in front of the door, unsure of how to go on. She did not want to make a wrong move or say something that would upset him again.
“Legolas tells me that you have taken to visit the library quite frequently.” A fleeting smile flickered across his face, loosening the lump she felt in her throat.
“Yes, I have. It is one of my favourite places in the entire palace.” What she did not tell him was why. It was the one place where she did not feel alone and she had made some sort of substitute home for herself amongst all the books that kept her company during her endless hours in the palace.
“I am glad that you have found a place that is to your liking. I am afraid that the halls of my palace do not offer much diversion.” He beckoned her to come with him. “I think you will enjoy what I am about to show you.”
Anna followed him quietly through the narrow aisles and soon it dawned on her where he was taking her. Excitement built up inside her when, sure enough, he stopped in front of the restricted area. “This,” he turned towards her, “is a very special place and no one is allowed to enter except by my leave.” She threw him a quizzical look, but he beckoned her to go ahead.
She stepped over the threshold with Thranduil beside her and was caught in a different world. Although this room was indeed filled with books on delicate shelves it was more like a low, dimly lit cave, opening up towards the back, a faint teal glimmer emerging from between the aisles. She looked around, her eyes wide in amazement at the colourful covers of books in all sizes that were stacked here, resembling children’s books in their bold brightness and breathing a more lively air than the volumes kept out there, containing tales of war or discourses on scientific topics. The wooden shelves were covered in floral decor, branches and vines coiling snugly around its sides. Small alcoves along the walls offered cozy seats with cushions and low lying tables for immersing oneself in endless reading.
“Beautiful!” she murmured to herself, allowing her fingers to graze along some intricately adorned spines. She could have stared for hours at the treasures presenting themselves before her eyes if Thranduil hadn’t motioned her to go on further, following the blue-green light.
“There is more. Come.” A satisfied smile played around his lips when he saw that her face radiated with delight.
She followed him, her eyes taken captive by every little detail along the way. The room extended much further towards the back than what she had expected and soon enough the bookshelves ended and the walls opened up into a beautiful small grotto. Anna stopped in her tracks, marvelling at the serene beauty of this secret hideaway. It was like stepping into an enchanted forest. Dark green were the curved walls, softly gleaming in the twilight and countless iridescent gems of the purest silver and white illuminated the ceiling like stars in the darkness of night. Delicate flowers with tiny blossoms in gold and silver were cascading from hanging baskets along the walls. In the middle there was a stone basin with turquoise water, its blue-green glow radiating throughout the entire cavern. Water from a spring at the far side of the grotto purled steadily into the pool and filled the room with its soothing sound. Around the basin benches were hewn into the stone, inviting the weary to a quiet retreat in a place that seemed utterly withdrawn from the rest of the world.
“May I?” she asked Thranduil for his permission, pointing at one of the benches.
“Yes, you may. Be my guest,” he nodded in approval. She sat down beside the pool and allowed her fingers to glide through the water. It was refreshing, but not cold and glittered in different shades of turquoise. Her eyes were mesmerised by the rippling waves her hands created on the surface and she only stopped because she could feel Thranduil’s eyes on her. There was a strange glow in them when he took a seat opposite her. He sat still like a statue, observing her quietly.
“This is wonderful. I have never seen anything like it. You should not keep this locked away, such a beautiful place!” Her cheeks were flushed in excitement, but she noticed a lingering apprehension in his gaze. “But — why did you bring me here?”
He looked at her intently, the blue of his eyes intensified by the water’s turquoise glow. “I brought you here today, because I felt that our last encounter did not have the desired outcome.”
She lowered her head as she was shamefully reminded of her embarrassing performance at the banquet.
“You are not to be blamed. It was only your first day in a foreign world that you have tumbled into and I should have known better. But I didn’t. And I am sorry for that. Will you accept my apology?” Concern was in his eyes when she looked up to him again. She only nodded, slightly overwhelmed, her voice struggling to stay calm.
“I have been meaning to apologise to you for my undue behaviour, but you have kept me away ever since. All I could think of was how I would ever be able to amend my mistake. I know that I had no right to speak to you the way I did and to say the things I said. But I was confused and angry and —,” she paused and lowered her voice to a whisper, embarrassed of her own weakness, “— jealous. When I saw that you had a son I though that, that —,” She did not know how to go on and lowered her head in shame. “Please forgive me.”
“I do. And we will no longer speak of it. It is forgiven.”
But the look of worry did not leave his face, and his body seemed tense. His eyes lingered on the water when he raised his voice again.
“But there is more that I wanted to tell you. This place is very dear to me because it holds a special meaning. But I have not come here in a very long time, because it also reminds me of my deepest sorrow.” He hesitated for a moment. “It was my wife’s most beloved refuge in the entire palace.” He paused, waiting for her reaction, but when she was only quietly clinging to his every word, he continued. “I had it built for her. She loved books as much as you and she used to spend countless hours here reading.” He closed his eyes, trying to keep his countenance calm, emotions long locked away pushing their way towards the surface. She waited silently, allowing him the time he needed to collect himself again, his voice trembling with barely contained agitation.
“It filled my heart with gladness to see her so delighted. She was beautiful and kind and I could not have wished for a better wife and Queen. She also loved to stroll in the forest, but as the darkness slowly crept in, she kept more and more to the palace. So this repose became her most cherished hideaway.” He paused for a moment as those memories came to life inside his head. “And when our son Legolas was born, we were complete. He was the light of her life and she used to bring him here too, to read stories to him, sing and play, and then this room was full of joy and innocent laughter. It was a time of happiness for us.”
Anna smiled at the image of little Legolas being spoilt and loved by both his mother and father.
“But then everything changed.”
Her eyes met his and they were full of grief and she knew why. “One day she ventured again into the forest … alone. And she was — taken from us. I was not there to protect her. I failed her when she needed me most.” He clenched his jaw as if the words were too painful to be uttered aloud. “The orcs, those foul beasts of Mordor, they captured her and … tortured her, but she would not surrender. She had a strong will.” He paused, his hands slightly trembling in his lap as he continued. “But even the strongest person can be broken.” His voice was now barely a whisper. “… and then they killed her…. I was too late, I could not save her.”
Anna stared at the glowing turquoise surface, unable to speak as she digested all these heartrending revelations, sadness and compassion mingling in her heart.
When she looked up again, Thranduil was still sitting motionless on his bench, his face alone revealing a broken heart. She wished that she could just pull him into an embrace, but she knew that this was out of the question. So she remained on her bench, trying to find the right words, but how do you mend a heart that has been torn apart? Was there ever a chance of healing?
She chose her words carefully. “I am very sorry that the one you loved was taken from you in such a cruel way and that your happiness has been shattered. I know there is nothing that will ease the pain of your loss, but …,” she was uncertain if what she was going to say was indeed the right thing. “But her memory lives on in your heart and nothing and no one is ever going to be able to take that away from you. Don’t let grief overcome you and guilt poison the sweet memories you have of her.”
His eyes gazed at her in a way that made her heart ache. “It is not your fault that your wife died, don’t punish yourself for something that you cannot undo. And don’t deny yourself the right to live.” She leaned forward as she went on, wanting to lend more weight to her words. “Your wife would not have wanted that for you, I am sure. She left you the most precious gifts of all: your son. She is not with you any more, but she lives on in him. Legolas is the living proof of the love in between you and her.”
He listened to her words in silence. There was more that she wanted to tell him, something that had been on her mind for a while. “And he needs you and your love. He is such a kind person, happy and cheerful for most of the time, but I see that sometimes a sorrow descends on him, when he feels you distant and indifferent towards him. He is your only son and he deserves your unconditional fatherly love.” Thranduil’s penetrating gaze was lingering on her and she held her breath, hoping that she had not crossed another line, dashing the newly gained trust he had placed in her. She was not really in a position to give him unasked-for advice, but after all he had opened up to her about his deepest sorrow.
Thranduil sighed, but his voice was calm when he spoke. “No one has ever talked to me like that before.”
She had a quick apology ready. “I’m sorry, I did not mean to—”
He raised his hand in an appeasing gesture. “No, do not apologise. You are right. I have been blinded by my grief and hiding behind my guilt and I have not seen what was right in front of my eyes. My wife is not with me any more, but I know that she is waiting in the Halls of Mandos, and I may yet see her again.” He took a deep breath before he went on. “But my son needs me as his father. A father not lost in sorrow but aware of life.” He studied her face with a curiosity that made her blush. “I want to thank you for your honesty. I know now that I did right in bringing you here tonight.”
Her heart was still too full to formulate a meaningful response, so a small smile was the best she could manage. She dipped her hands back into the water, watching them as they floated back and forth and following with her eyes the symmetrical waves she created. And for a while the only sounds in the grotto were the mixed harmonies of water, the steady purling from the spring interwoven with the swooshing sound of her hands stirring up the quiet surface.
Thranduil’s voice rose her from her thoughts. “You seem pensive. Is there something else on your mind that you wish to tell me?” Indeed there was, but she was not sure if this was the right moment to bring up her own worries. After all they seemed insignificant compared to the agony that was in Thranduil’s heart.
The affectionate way he had spoken about his wife and all the talk about memories had churned her emotions and made her again sorely aware of her own predicament. She looked up to him, his eyes lingering on her with a distinct glow of empathy in them. “You can tell me. Please do not be afraid.” She was still hesitant, her eyes drawn again to the water, but he insisted. “I opened up to you about something that I have kept locked away for a long time. Do I not deserve the same from you?”
Indeed, he did. She nodded and with a deep sigh she said: “I do not have any memories at all. Nothing. It is as if I have never even existed; a person with no past and maybe no future at all.” She retreated her hands from the basin, feeling them suddenly cold and numb. “I don’t know if I ever loved someone or if anyone ever loved me.” Despair struck her and she felt tears welling up. “Will I ever know? Will I be able to go back and find out? What will happen to me if I don’t? Am I to stay here for the rest of my life, … nameless and unloved?”
She buried her face in her hands, embarrassed that he would see her cry, when suddenly she felt him take a seat beside her. His nearness was both comforting and tantalising. If only he would reach out for her hand, but he did not make any move towards her. For a while he was just silent beside her and seemed reluctant to talk.
“You are not unloved,” he then said softly. She looked up to him, her eyes still unfocused with tears, but she saw in his face that he was struggling to compose himself, trying to remain calm in the face of her emotional upheaval. He reached into his robe and took out a small piece of cloth to dry her tears and then he spoke to her again. “But I fear that I cannot see what your fate will be. I have asked myself this question numerous times and found no answer.”
She searched in his eyes for something else, but whatever it was, it was hidden behind his impenetrable gaze. “I am sorry that I cannot give you a more satisfying answer.”
She nodded, slightly crestfallen, but she felt that this was as much as she would hear from him tonight about this, so she decided not to push it any further. He handed her his handkerchief so she could clean herself up as her crying receded into occasional sobs.
“But there is one more thing I have been meaning to ask you before we part tonight.” His hand brushed hers as he motioned her to stay for another moment. It was as if electric sparks were being shot into her veins and she saw in his eyes that it had struck him too. She quickly pulled her hand away, embarrassed of her feelings being so obvious, when he addressed her with a candour in his voice that she had not heard from him before. “I know that I have ordered you to stay. And you have obeyed my command, which I appreciate. But what if I asked you to stay of your own free will, would you?”
She could barely breathe, her heart was so full that she feared it was going to burst open, her emotions rattling like a storm at the fence that she had patched together around it. But she willed herself to stay calm and when she looked into his eyes her voice was steady. “Yes, yes I would.”
“Good.” There was a glimmer of relief in his eyes and a satisfied smile dawning on his face. “Very good indeed.”
They both remained silent in each others presence and it seemed to her that there was a fresh breath of life pervading the air, knocking timidly at her heart’s door to see if she would let it in.