The Secret of the Forest - A Thranduil Romance

Mayhem in Mirkwood

Anna froze in her tracks on the narrow ledge as she caught sight of a vibrant red mane that could only belong to one person: Tauriel. And beyond doubt it was her graceful figure who was sitting at the bottom of the stairs with her back to Anna, right beside one of the cells, immersed in an animated conversation with whoever was inside that prison.

Anna pressed herself against the wall behind her trying to stay out of view. Although it was not forbidden for her to be wandering in this area of the palace, she felt considerably uneasy if she created the impression that she was either doing something secretive or that she had actually been following Tauriel. After all, she was the one who still treated her with a distinct trace of distrust. She slouched to the floor and peered around the corner, trying to pick up something of the conversation that was going on down there, but the voices were hushed and quite intimate, surely this did not sound like a guard talking to a prisoner. But it was impossible to make out the words that were said. And even if she would be able to understand something, she was quite sure that none of it was intended for her ears. Now she could even see calloused hands emerge from between the bars and reaching out for Tauriel’s hands. And to Anna’s surprise she did not pull hers away, but held on to them in something that did look considerably more than just a friendly handshake.

She retreated back around the corner, feeling that she had intruded into something private and remained crouched on the floor, her mind trying to digest what she just had witnessed. Could it be that Tauriel had an interest in one of the dwarves? Would that not be quite an affront? After all that she had learned in her short stay in the Woodland Realm it was quite clear that Elves and Dwarves were not necessarily on friendly terms. While she sat there dwelling on her thoughts she suddenly noticed the obvious absence of voices traveling up and she could make out the distinct shuffling of footsteps approaching the ledge where she was hiding. She shrank back into the shadows and held her breath, hoping to stay undetected, when Tauriel passed her with swift strides. Her head sank back against the wall as she closed her eyes and exhaled in relief.

“Walk with me.” Tauriel had turned around to face Anna and beckoned her to come to step closer. She scrambled to her feet and approached Tauriel with an uneasy feeling in her stomach.

“I know how this must look to you, but I was not eavesdropping. I just wanted to, I was on my way to —,” she stammered, but Tauriel cut her off abruptly.

“I don’t know what you think you saw, but I assure you it is none of your concern.”

“Yes, of course, I was not assuming anything,” she was quick to reply.

“I need some fresh air, why don’t you come with me? You look like you could use a change of ambience too.” She did not wait for Anna’s answer but picked up a swift pace like was her usual style and so did Anna not to lag behind.

Up the twisting passages and meandering bridges she trotted beside her silently until they reached the gates that were pulled open at Tauriel’s command. The morning sun greeted her with a blissful golden glimmer through the branches that were still laden with leaves in dark red and burnt orange. Autumn had put on its colourful raiment in the Woodland Realm and it was beautiful. She eagerly soaked in the fresh air and allowed the sun rays to tickle her nose when she heard Tauriel beside her. “Come, let us walk down to the river.”

She felt already more alive in the welcoming embrace of nature, so she joined Tauriel with less reluctance as she crossed the terrace that led to the bridge, veering sideways towards a steep pathway over gnarled roots covered in moss and fallen leaves leading down to the river. There was only a narrow bank amongst the dense roots of the ancient trees, but some scattered boulders served as a welcome resting place for the one who wanted to enjoy the merry gurgling of the fresh waters in peaceful solitude. She took a seat beside Tauriel, who seemed to be lost in her own thoughts for a moment as she followed the lively flow of the river with her eyes. The abundant waves of her auburn hair flickered around her like flames beneath the sunlight and when she turned to face Anna her brown eyes lingered on her with that intimidating keenness of her.

“I know that you think that I do not trust you. No, don’t object, I know you do.” Tauriel beckoned her to be silent before she could mouth a protest.

“I will be honest with you. I did have my reservations as the circumstances of your arrival here were quite unusual to say the least.” She raised one eyebrow. “As head of the king’s guard it is my duty to keep an eye on all possible threats to our kingdom, so I hope you understand. It is nothing personal.” She picked up a pebble toying with it in her hand before she slid it into her pocket. “But the king seems to trust you and if he does so do I.”

Her matter-of-fact tone meant that this was as much as she was going to get from her and it was now Anna’s turn in this conversation. She was at a momentary loss for words, but maybe this was her chance to set things right with her.

“I am sorry if I have ever given you a reason to doubt my sincerity. I know that the way I came here may seem strange to you, but I assure you that any dishonesty is far from my mind. I myself do still have many questions as to how I came to this place, but I am afraid no one has been able to give me answers. Nevertheless I am very grateful for the hospitality I have received. The king has been very generous and so has Legolas.” At the mention of the king’s son Tauriel’s eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly.

“Legolas speaks always highly of you,” she elaborated. “As a matter of fact a good amount of our conversations during the walks into the forest were spent with him talking about you.” She hoped to have dispelled some of Tauriel’s doubts as she had entertained a suspicion that maybe Tauriel was jealous of her spending time with Legolas.

“Yes, Legolas is very special indeed. He is dear to me like a brother.” Tauriel smiled briefly and after a moment of silence her gaze softened when she looked at Anna again. “It is a strange thing, love, isn’t it?”

Anna didn’t know quite what to make of that statement, so she only said: “Yes, I guess it is.”

Tauriel seemed to ponder something before she went on, her voice all of a sudden emotional:

“At times so elusive that we dare to even doubt its existence it suddenly takes our heart captive when we least expect it. And then what are we to do? What choice do we make? Do we follow our heart? And what if we are led astray only to realise that it was not real after all?”

She sighed as she picked up another pebble, this time tossing it into the river with an archer’s precision, so it would hit and bounce off a large boulder in the middle of the stream.

Anna followed suit sending a pebble she had picked up into the river to chase afters Tauriel’s.

“I do believe if two hearts have found love they must follow their paths together.” After a moment of silence and only the gurgling sound of the river filling the air she said: “But what about the heart that looks up to the stars and is captured by the brightest of them all? Will it ever find the light or is it doomed to drown alone in the endless blackness of night?”

“Sometimes patience is the answer to what may seem impossible at first.” Another one of Tauriel’s pebbles cut through the rippling waves like a knife.

“That may work for you elves, but I am only human, my days are numbered,” Anna responded glumly, sinking another pebble into the depths of the river with a dull plop.

Tauriel interrupted her motions to study Anna’s face, her eyes observing her closely. “I can only surmise what it is that your heart wants, but maybe the starlight you long for will need some guidance to find its path down to earth.” She gave her a meaningful look, dropping the leftover pebbles she had collected in her lap to the ground as she rose from her boulder. “But I daresay we better get back as I have still business to attend to and you may want to prepare for tonight’s feast.”

“Yes, of course.” Anna rose from her seat stretching her legs to shake off the slight stiffness and followed Tauriel silently to the steep trail back up to the terrace and into the palace.

Once inside Tauriel turned to her with a smile. “I am glad that we both were able to remove some doubts we may have harboured.”

“Yes, indeed, I am also relieved that we were able to sort things out.”

“Until tonight then.”

“Yes, tonight at the feast.”

With a small bow she bade Anna goodbye and left her standing in the middle of the ample hallway leading up to Thranduil’s hall, to which she had been called to.

It was still early enough for Anna to make another attempt and talk to the dwarves. The hallways of the palace were slightly busier than this morning but maybe she would still be able to sneak down to the dungeons unnoticed. Elves from the kitchens were carrying trays laden with dishes and bottles of wine were hauled by the dozen in small carts up towards the hall for tonight’s feast. But everyone seemed to be minding their own business, so she was able to make her way towards the cells at a swift pace.

“Pssst! Pssst!” Someone was calling from one of the smaller hallways that branched off towards the living quarters. She turned around, trying to spot who was there, but she could not see anything in the twilight.

“Who’s there?” She called towards the direction from which she assumed the source of the voice.

But instead of an answer she felt someone pulling at her arm. She flinched, trying to free herself from the grip when she recognised a familiar voice. “It’s me, Bilbo. I am sorry that I scared you.” He emerged from the shadows, still tugging at her sleeve and pulling her into a nearby corner to avoid curious eyes discovering them both.

“I found it!”

“You found what?”

“The exit! I found the exit!” He could barely contain himself with giddy excitement. Trying to keep his voice down he detailed his discovery. “Remember when you told me about the wine cellar?” She nodded.

“I went there to have a look and you would not believe it, but they have a trapdoor! That is how they send the barrels down to an underground river and to wherever it is that they are refilled again. And I bet barrels are not the only thing that can go down that trapdoor.” He beamed full of pride at his own discovery and smiled at her expectantly.

Her eyes were wide in astonishment at this revelation. “You mean to say that this is the way you and your friends will be able to escape?”

“Yes, I do. I have a plan. It would be too complicated to explain all the details, so I will skip that. Besides there is not much time, because everything has to happen tonight.”

“Tonight? Why so soon?”

“You know that we are running out of time, so the sooner the better. And tonight will be another feast as I have found out, so this is our window of opportunity. Less eyes on us, you know.”

It took her a moment to digest what Bilbo had just told her and then she nodded slowly. “I understand. But are you sure this will work? Will you not be discovered?”

“No, I won’t. I told you I have my little secret that allows me to slip by the elves and if luck is with us tonight, then I should be able to get everyone out.”

A noise from the far end of the hallway startled Bilbo and he reached out for her hands. “I am afraid I will have to go now. I do not want to risk being seen, and neither should you be seen with me. After all, I am not even supposed to be here.”

“Yes, yes of course.” She shook his hand as she heard the distinct shuffling of footsteps approaching. “Good bye then Bilbo and best of luck.”

He hesitated and then there was a sudden glow in his eyes. “Do you want to come with us? I am afraid, we are not as elegant a company as the elves, but we could use someone with your spirits. And you would be able to find Gandalf. And possibly on the way back we could even visit Rivendell. How does that sound?”

For a moment his excitement had sparked a fire in her eyes, a fire of adventure and a desire to find answers to her burning questions. Soon the footsteps would be reaching their hidden corner, so she had to act fast. Bilbo’s hand tightened around hers and if she allowed it, she could go with him and join his path. Her heart was hammering as the footsteps were getting closer. She needed to make a decision.

And then the fire in her eyes was gone as she felt the flames of an even stronger fire in her heart flaring up and she pulled back her hand hastily. “No, Bilbo. I am sorry, but I cannot go with you. I made a promise to the king and I will not break it.”

His eyes were sad for a moment but then he nodded and gave her a warm smile. “I understand. You must follow your heart.”

“Yes, I must.”

“So, good-bye it is then. I hope we shall meet again some day.” He briefly took her hands in both of his, gave them a tight squeeze and turned away, scuttling off quickly, before he would indeed be discovered.

Anna leaned against the cold wall for a moment, standing silently in the corner and murmuring into the hallway “Good-bye Bilbo.”

She did not want to get in the way of Bilbo’s escape plans, so she decided to finally give up on her project of talking to the dwarves. After all it seemed that it was not meant to be. But she was also not in a festive mood after all the unexpected agitation of today, so she excused herself from tonight’s banquet and spent the rest of the day in a mood of suspense and fearful anticipation retiring to her room early.

That night she tossed around in bed and when she finally drifted off to an uneasy sleep it was full of dreadful and dark dreams of daunting hallways and doors being shut right in front of her face and drums, drums chasing her with their dull and insistent pounding. She turns around to go back but she finds herself locked in completely, all walls closing in on her. She knows that she is trapped. She hammers against every door, but their solid wood is unyielding, only resulting in her bruised hands. The drums increase their droning sound, ear-deafening and obnoxious. Darkness and despair take her. There is no way out, she knows it now. The drums will find her and the walls will crush her. She must run, but she cannot move. She is stuck. And no help will come.

Panting heavily she woke from her dream, bathed in sweat, her sheets a complete mess, when she realised that the drums were still there. Only that they were not drums but heavy footsteps, echoing across the hallways accompanied by agitated clamour not far from her door. She sat bolt upright, her heart beating like mad, as it dawned on her that she knew already what was the possible reason for all this fuss. There was not much time to think, so she jumped out of bed, threw on her robe, her trembling fingers failing at tying a neat knot. Tentatively she pulled her door open and a bustling of voices and sounds greeted her. Guards were rushing towards the lower levels and she could hear the distinct voice of Thranduil shouting further up. At first nobody seemed to be paying attention to her and she just lingered in the hallway not knowing where to turn to. But then she saw Faeldir’s face bobbing among the crowd as he made his way towards her, meandering in between the guards that were hurtling in the opposite direction.

When he caught sight of her and saw the utter worry on Anna’s face he called out to her: “My lady, do not trouble yourself.” He allowed the last of the guards to pass by and then slid to her side, greeting her with a smile.

A lopsided smile was the best she could manage. “What is all this commotion about?”

Despite the general clamour he had not lost his good humour. “I am afraid the chief guard and the king’s butler are going to have a hard time today.”

“And why would that be? Don’t speak in riddles to me, Faeldir.” She was anxious and already had a bad feeling about this.

“The dwarves, they are gone.” He sounded more amused than outraged about this, but when he saw the shocked expression on her face he tried to appease her. “But this does not need to worry you adaneth. It’s not like you had anything to do with this. The king will be furious though, that much is for sure.” He threw her a meaningful look.

She held her breath, her face a frozen mask and her heart a roaring river, threatening to break out of the shallow river-bed that was her haphazard composure. Yes, she knew Thranduil and his anger, and woe betide the poor soul who incurred his wrath. She had to keep her wits together if this was not going to end in some sort of disaster for her, so she turned to Faeldir in the most innocuous way she could muster. “Is it known how they escaped?”

Being presented with the opportunity to pass on news Faeldir was in his element, and sure enough with an eager gleam in his eyes he laid before her everything he knew. “To be honest, my dear, much of it still a mystery. But as far as I can ascertain they escaped through the trapdoor of the wine cellar, apparently using the empty barrels to hide, taking advantage that the chief guard and Galion the butler had fallen asleep after too much wine. So when the barrels were sent down the river the dwarves went to their freedom. How they were able to apparently free themselves from their locked cells remains unclear. They must have had someone helping them. Whoever that was, has not yet been uncovered.”

She tried to keep her expression as nonchalant as possible. “Well, maybe it is for the best that they are gone. I dare say they caused the king more trouble than what it was worth.” For a fleeting moment there was a bewildered look on Faeldir’s face, soon to be replaced again by his usual good-natured smile. “You may be quite right, my dear. The king was indeed very much concerned with their unwillingness to reveal the nature of their journey. Nevertheless he does not appreciate the fact that they somehow managed to escape right under his nose.” With a glance down the hallway he smoothed his dark blue tunic and bowed curtly. “I would love to extend this conversation my dear. But I am afraid, I have to take my leave now. My brother has been looking for me, and I do not want to keep him waiting.”

“Yes, of course. I do not want to be the reason to make your brother wait. Send him my regards.” She leaned against the wall, her knees weak like jelly.

“Are you sure that you are all right? You look as pale as a sheet. My brother and I also missed your company last night.” He frowned and reached out for her, fearing that she might actually collapse.

“Yes, I am fine. I did not feel well yesterday and sought to go to bed early. But unfortunately I did not sleep well last night. But I will be all right.” She gave him the most disarming smile she could manage.

“All right. I will take my leave then.” The moment Faeldir had left, she stormed back into her room, making sure she had locked the door. She needed to be alone now. Digest what she just heard; and make a plan.

This was a disaster! And she only had herself to blame. Of course she should have thought about all that before! She had told Bilbo about the wine cellar, and although she did not know about the trapdoor, she still had given him a nudge in the right direction. And now the dwarves were gone. She felt glad for them and for Bilbo, after all she still thought that their quest was just and that they had every right to be on their way. But in the heat of the moment she simply forgot about the consequences: they would be gone, but she would still be here and sooner or later it would be revealed that someone had helped them and that she had something to do with it. Whatever was she thinking? Did she really expect that this would just go unnoticed? The dwarves would simply evaporate and Thranduil would not bother to find out how they were able to escape? How naive of her!

Anna spent most of the day in a hazy blur, locked up in her room, brooding over what she had done and how she could find a way out of this unfortunate quandary. Lucky for her not even Legolas nor Tauriel came to see her and when Brethilwen knocked to bring her lunch Anna only allowed her in reluctantly. She did not want Brethilwen to see her like this in distress. And sure enough her eyes filled with worry at the sight of Anna’s obvious nervousness. But this time it was not something she wanted to confide in Brethilwen, so she was unusually taciturn and eventually Brethilwen must have realised that she wanted to be to herself. She barely ate, pacing the room like a caged animal, then collapsing into bed, trying to find some sleep, since she had spent the night before tormented by nightmares. But it was no good, no rest or sleep would come to her.

She had to confess.

She had to tell Thranduil.

And it had to be soon, before someone else would.

Even if that meant that the frail trust that had been built in between them both would be shattered into pieces. Her heart filled with a thick cloud of despair, black as night, at the sheer thought of losing Thranduil’s affection over this impulsive deed of hers. Everything that she had gained up to now would be lost again. But maybe he would have mercy with her? Maybe he would even understand? If she only could explain to him why she had helped Bilbo in the first place, then maybe, maybe there was still hope for her here in the Woodland Realm. She reached into her pocket, but even her little talisman would only speak of betrayal. She had to unburden her heart, now, not later. This could not wait, it would only get worse.

Anna looked at herself in the mirror and when she saw her own reflection it was like looking at a stranger. Who was this person gaping at her with wide eyes, a face pale and distraught? Not an elf, but a human dressed in elvish fashion, still looking utterly out of place here. What was she doing here? Whose life was she leading? Was it hers or someone else’s? Her own eyes did not reveal anything, an empty reflection with a hungry demand for answers was staring back at her. She tore her eyes away from the mirror, this was too unsettling, she did not need to be reminded of her own ‘situation’ as Bilbo used to call it, she had enough problems to deal with as it was.

Bracing herself for the worst she made her way towards the king’s chambers with a determined stride. At this time of the day he must have already retired to his rooms, so the odds that she would find him there were most likely in her favour. Thranduil’s chambers were only one hallway away from her own room, so in a matter of a few minutes she found herself in front of the massive oaken doors with the elaborate brass knobs embellishing them. With clammy palms and a hammering heartbeat she considered her own audaciousness. Never before had she actually gone to see him in his private chambers. She was so nervous that she was almost ready to turn around and go back to her room, when all of a sudden the doors opened in front of her and Feren emerged from inside. There was a strained look on his face and he only managed a tight-lipped smile when he saw her, apparently as surprised at her appearance as she was at his.

“Oh, I am sorry, I did not know that you were here,” he apologised with a curt bow, holding the door for her. “Is the king expecting you?” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “I am afraid he is not in a pleasant mood tonight, so you may want to come back tomorrow.” But before she could answer, Thranduil’s voice rang from inside: “Feren, to whom are you talking there? Was I not clear enough when I said that I did not wish any more disturbance tonight?”

Feren turned around and bowed towards the king. “I am sorry my lord. It is your guest. I found her here in front of your door, but I already told her that —“

“Tell her to come in.” Thranduil cut him off mid-sentence, his voice now just slightly less annoyed.

“Yes, of course my lord.” Feren bowed again and beckoned her to go in. “The king will see you now.” When Anna did not move immediately, she heard him mumble behind her. “Don’t make him wait then, adaneth,” and with a soft push against her shoulders she was shoved inside and the door clicked shut behind her.

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