"Naneth, what's an Adonnen?"
"Where did you hear that word?"
"In adar's book." The queen sighed, meeting her son's bright blue eyes. So much like his father's.
"I thought he asked you not to read it?"
"He did," the young prince admitted, shifting uncomfortably under his mother's gaze. "But he left it out, and I was curious."
"How much did you read?"
"Just the first few pages."
"I suppose you were going to need to know at some point." The queen took her son's hand and led him out of the library. The king was away to the north on business, so she knew that they could talk in his study without being disturbed. Apparently Legolas had also realized this, because the precocious twelve-year-old had clearly been in Thranduil's study if he had found the book. He never would have snuck in there if the king was home.
"Why are we in here?" Legolas asked, looking uncomfortable as his mother pulled him back into the large study. Books and charts stood on shelves along the inside wall, while large glass windows looked out over a colorful garden, just starting to bloom with the early spring weather. But it wasn't to the books or the windows that the queen directed her son. She pulled him over to one of the side walls, where several portraits hung. They stopped in front of a large painting of a dark haired elleth, standing on the top of a hill littered with dead orcs, a shining silver sword in one hand.
Legolas had always wondered at this particular painting. His father had explained all the other paintings in the room, from the portrait of his grandfather Oropher, to the picture of the sea and a tall white ship, but never the portrait that hung beside the ocean scene, the one of the female warrior. She was clad not in armor, but in a pale green gown that was painted billowing around her in the wind, her dark hair partially obscuring her face as she brandished her silver sword. That same sword hung below the portrait, untouched by time. The prince had seen the look on his father's face whenever he observed the painting, and had been afraid to ask what about it caused him so much pain.
"What did you read about the Adonnen in your father's book?"
"Not much," Legolas admitted, turning to glance at the book, sitting prominently on his father's desk. It was likely the king had been going through its pages before he left in a hurry. "Just that destiny controls the fate of the Adonnen, and as hard as they may fight, they are just sparrows in a hurricane, just along for the ride."
"The Adonnen are a very rare people. Most only lived during the the early years of this world and into the First Age. But there was one that lived during the War of the Last Alliance. Her name was Karina. This portrait is of her."
"But what are the Adonnen? What happened to Karina?"
"The Adonnen are elves that are born from the earth in adult form, just like those that woke along the shores of Cuivienen. But they hold the souls of those that died in a world far different from our own. They were once men, brought to our world by the Valar to complete predestined tasks. But the gift of a second life came at a price. Once they had succeeded in their missions in this world, they all died. Lady Karina, the sole Adonnen of the last age, died during the War. Her mission was fulfilled."
"What was her mission? And why does adar have a picture of her here?"
"Your father new Lady Karina very well. They met the day she arrived in Middle Earth, though he did not know her origin until that evening, when your grandfather Oropher informed him. King Oropher had seen the lady when she was brought before King Gil-galad. Both your father and grandfather knew she was important. Though she was trained to be a healer under Gil-galad's orders, they both felt she was meant for more than that. Your father helped unlock her gift with the sword. He gave her this blade." The queen gestured at the sword before continuing.
"When your grandfather died during the first battle of the war, Lady Karina gave your father comfort when he felt alone, having lost his father and gained the responsibility of leading what was left of his people in one day."
The queen paused, eyes on the face of Lady Karina. "Your father fell in love with her. The way he tells it, it was almost instantaneous. With Oropher dead and Thranduil now leading his army, Karina took up her sword and fought by his side. The Valar had gifted her with incredible skills with a blade, and she defended your father for months, their love only growing stronger by the day, despite the darkness around them.
"Until one night while away from the battlefield, she came to your father in his tent. She spoke of dark things, of the possibility of them both dying. Her words bothered him greatly. He had long promised to marry her, and he tried to calm her worries with his love. She stayed with him that night. But your father could not shake the feeling that she knew something she was not sharing with him. So to keep her from harm, he had guards assigned to keep her away from the front lines that day.
"But her fate was preordained. She escaped her guards and rode into battle, just as this painting shows. No armor, only her gown and her long sword. She had realized her purpose. She died that day, saving your father's life. She knew he had more to offer this world, and that she had no part in it. The Valar had given her a vision the night before. Thranduil held her in his arms as she told him this and said goodbye. His grief was great. But he turned it to rage. For the next seven years, he fought with anger in his heart, bitter thoughts in his head about how the Valar could torture him with such a strong love and have it stripped from him so quickly. Many years after the war, he lived in his own dark thoughts, ruling his people justly but always with the memory of his loss at the Morannon."
"Then he found you?"
"No," the queen said softly. "His grief lingered long after we met. It made sense for us to marry, but Thranduil had no interest in such things, knowing that the lady he had promised to wed had been taken from him. But eventually, he did ask for my hand, but only on the condition that I listen to his story and know the truth of his pain. He told me of Lady Karina and his love for her, which he said would never lessen, and that I was free to find someone else if I could not accept that fact. He also told me that Karina had come to him in a vision not long before. Upon her death in the War, she had woken back in her world. She had been pulled back from the brink of death there, and so her soul in this world had to return to where it belonged. She asked him to stop grieving, for it only broke her heart to think he was in such pain over her. Her life in her own world was a comfortable one, even though she too would not ever forget their love. Almost sixty years had passed since the war, and Karina said that she was nearing the end of her mortal life. She only wanted to ensure your father's happiness before her final death. She had the gift of prophecy, it seems. She said it was his destiny to marry and have a son. At her plea, he had asked for my hand."
"And you still said yes?" Legolas asked, disgusted at his father. How could the king not love his mother? She was beautiful and kind and intelligent.
"I love your father very much, Legolas," the queen said, sensing his thoughts. She turned to look at her son, the one whose birth Karina had foretold. She did not share with the prince what else Karina had foretold about him. "And I know your father loves me. He would not have married me otherwise. But he will always love Karina more than any other, and I accept that. I am not angry at him or Karina or even the Valar for their part in this tragedy. I am grateful, for the lady saved your father's life, and as a result, I now have both you and your father to love."
"I do not understand."
"Someday, perhaps you will," the queen said, gently running her fingers through her son's hair. "I will ask this of you: do not tell your father you know the story. Not yet. It pains him greatly to talk of such things. It is best to wait until he is ready to tell you himself. And do not think so harshly of him. Love is a strange thing, sometimes. We cannot control it, and it can cause just as much pain as pleasure. He is a wonderful king, a good husband, and a fair father. He deserves your respect."
"Yes, naneth," Legolas said, his brow furrowed as he ran through the story in his mind. "I am going to go for a walk, I think."
"I understand," the queen said, watching the young elf exit the way they had come. She looked up at the portrait of her husband's first love once more. Thranduil had painted this himself in his darkest grief, but it was still one of the most beautiful paintings in his study. The beauty of the lady contrasting against the darkness of the battle could be felt right to the core. Looking at this painting now, it struck the queen just how different she was from her husband's first love. Karina had dark hair and fierce green eyes, a thin face and angular features. The queen was fair haired, her warm brown eyes and round, soft face so much more delicate than those of the warrior elleth that her King had fallen for. She wondered if perhaps this had been a conscious thought in Thranduil's mind when he asked for her hand. Looking at his queen, he would have no reminders of his first wife. Her heart clenched at the thought, unsure how to feel about this insight, yet still finding herself unable to find fault with Thranduil or Karina.
As her eyes met the green ones in the portrait, the queen whispered softly. "Thank you, for my husband and my son. I hope that you have found peace in death." She closed her eyes, listening to her own heart beat in her chest. A warm hand gently touched her arm. Turning, thinking Legolas had returned, the queen gasped. Before her very eyes hung a silver specter, a translucent ghost shining as if it held its own internal light. Brown eyes met pale green ones as the queen of Mirkwood looked into the face of Lady Karina.
"Take care of him, my lady," the specter whispered softly, wisps of light dancing around her and licking at the form of the queen. "And your son. Their stories are only beginning."
"I will. But why do you come to me and not the king?"
"His grief is still too strong. I cannot make him suffer more at my hands. In time, his grief will fade and he will love you as I love him. But he will take more time to heal."
"Thank you," the queen said softly, not sure if Karina's spirit had heard her before. "You should not have had to die for me to gain the life I now lead."
"It was always my destiny to die. I may have looked like an elf in your world, but I was still human. Death was not so horrible a fate. I am grateful that I experienced the love I did with Thranduil, for no love amongst men is half as beautiful as that among elves. That is why I am the one who must thank you. Your love has kept Thranduil from falling into despair. That is more important to me than living a thousand lifetimes by his side. His happiness is all I desire."
"He would have been happier with you at his side."
"Perhaps he felt that way once, but you were always meant to be his wife. That was your destiny."
"I must know," the queen said earnestly. "Is your spirit at peace?"
"At long last, I have found peace," Karina's ghost said softly. The queen closed her eyes and sighed. She felt a weight off her shoulders that she had not realized she had borne. Opening her eyes once more, she found the study empty. All that remained to indicate the specter's presence was the book on Thranduil's desk, which now lay open, its gently worn pages fluttering in a non-existent breeze. Walking towards her husband's desk, the queen watched the pages settle. All that was written on the page in front of her was the fading script in the king's hand, which simply read "All we were is sparrows in a hurricane."
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