When Graven spotted two guards, standing on both sides of the ornamented door, he frowned. The King was still in his chambers despite the late hour. And he hasn`t seen Lilithiel either. He raised his hand to open the door when one of the guards told him what he feared the most.
“The King is not alone, Lord Graven. Queen Lilithiel arrived just before sunrise and she didn`t leave yet.”
Graven gritted his teeth.
So that was the great grief of the Elvenking? Succumbing into his old habits?
Graven opened the door without knocking and entered the King`s chambers. He glanced around and a pillow and a disheveled light blanket on the sofa caught his attention. He walked through the first sitting chamber when he heard a sound. He peeked into a walk through closet, full of different kind of robes, coats, and everything the King needed.
Thranduil was standing there, just in the middle, in front of a small table where all his rings and another kind of jewelry were displayed. He was putting his favorite rings on.
“Good morning, Thranduil.” Graven greeted him with a light irony, though. He couldn`t bear the feeling that his son-in-law forgot the union so easily and the bond between him and his daughter.
“Not as good as I would like to have.” Thranduil noted and looked at his loyal advisor. Exhaustion was written all over his face.
“Did you even sleep?”
“A little, yes. Please, keep your voice down.”
Graven almost growled with rising anger within him. How could he?!
“Let`s go to my study, we need to talk.” Thranduil passed him by without even considering an explanation. Graven couldn`t do anything else than to follow him.
They left the King`s chambers quietly. After closing the door behind him, the King turned to one of his guards:
“Find her handmaiden and tell her to wake her lady up. I do not want her to wonder in my chambers.”
“Yes, sire.” The guard nodded and left.
Thranduil turned back to Graven who was just opening his mouth to speak but the King interrupted him with one simple gesture of his hand.
“In the study.”
And so they walked in silence through the Halls, which were busy at this hour of the day and even more full when all the royal guards were on duty, keeping an eye on their people as well as the Eresiel`s strangers.
As soon as the door of the study were closed behind them, Graven let out his anger.
“Care to tell me why the hell she is sleeping in your chambers?!”
Thranduil rubbed the root of his aristocratic nose and sighed.
“She came to me at night.”
“How could you?!”
“Please, Graven, stop it.” The King sighed again, exhausted and slid down into his chair. Graven watched him but he kept his mouth shut this time.
“She came to me at night. Obviously, you already guessed why. But what happened then it left me…I do not know what to think of it…” Thranduil frowned, “We argued and she started crying, telling me…” The King shook his head. Graven frowned as well, not really understanding what the King was trying to say. However, he put the formalities aside and sat down too. Thranduil looked at him, all troubled. His blue eyes showed the confusion he felt inside.
He repeated all Lilithiel told him that night. Graven`s eyebrows were raising more and more with each sentence.
“I cannot even imagine Meridir to be…no, my mind cannot embrace it, truly, Thranduil. I do not believe a single word she has said.” Graven rose abruptly from the chair and paced back and forth. A single strand of the brown hair fell from his usually perfect braids.
“I cannot imagine it either…And…Tavarille never spoke so ill of him, “Thranduil leaned back, “However, she seemed to be honest. Her tears, her pain was honest, Graven.”
“I do not believe this witch!” Graven hissed, pointing out to the door behind him.
“It`s not all, Graven. She also told me that…” Thranduil swallowed, he felt the ping of an upcoming headache. This day will be long and hard, “She told me she serves the Darkness…”
“The Dark Lord is her supporter. And she is scared of him.”
Graven stopped in his pacing speechless, with opened mouth.
“And that I believe her as I sense the darkness within her. It Is all over her. Just look at the escort she has…It is certain that those creatures are nothing of good origin.”
“And we have the darkness in our home….” Graven breathed in a shock.
“Indeed, my friend.” Thranduil rose as well and walked to the window as usually when he was deep in thoughts. The view of his beloved forest helped him think.
“She asked me for help, “He spoke after a while again. Graven scoffed.
“She is scared and do not know how to get out of it…”
“She enchanted you, did she not? You believed her everything.”
The King shrugged his shoulders unkingly.
“There is a great battle inside me whether I should trust her or not. But truth to be said I do not trust her wholly. But I believe that she was honest in some parts of her little story.”‘
“Will you tell Tavarille about what Lilithiel said about her father?”
“I am considering it.” Thranduil poured them a clear wine and handed one goblet to Graven who took it with thanks.
“We have to gather a council…You have to send a word to Lord Daeron, we have to be united. The evil in Eresiel is too dangerous. Mainly when it is inside these walls right now!”
“We cannot do anything until her leave, Graven…I need her to trust me…”
“You have a plan.”
The King looked at him but said nothing. Honestly, the King was clueless what he was supposed to do right now. However to keep his advisor calmer and to stop him from further actions he let him think that he had everything under control.
The General lowered his head. He couldn`t see his Master but he could sense his presence very well. The air in the great room was thick and dark. The power was surging from ceilings to the floor and back. He was mad.
“I am deeply sorry, my Lord. I didn`t see it coming…” General said calmly with a tone of humbleness colored his silky voice.
There was nothing but silence. The great power in the room made him shiver despite the fact he couldn`t feel the cold air at all.
“The lost were great but we did not lose the land. We are keeping the borders with the river. It was just a skirmish.”
Suddenly he was choking. He gasped for an air. His neck was like in iron grip even though he saw nothing around him. He was lifted from the floor, gasping for a precious oxygen.
“A skirmish you say?”
The General couldn`t distinguish whether he heard the voice with his ears or it was just in his head. He couldn`t tell the difference anymore.
The Master was more than mad.
“You are lucky you beat them with great losses on their side as well. Otherwise, I would put your ludicrous existence to an end.”
The General was tossed on the ground like a doll. He was coughing wildly, catching his breath again. He barely stood up. The Master was still nowhere to be seen. The power which was filling the room so greatly that General thought it will explode in any minute, eased.
“What about your little whore, Listereg? You kind of like her, don`t you? You old pig.”
“She is in the Greenwood now.” The General croaked ignoring the disgust in the Master`s voice.
“The Elvenking will never agree to the marriage, you know it.”
“He will not, but he will acknowledge her power, your power, and he will not play with the fire, my Lord. It will keep him in place.”
Suddenly the darkness in the room emerged in the middle and it created a shape of a body. Two eyes in the color of honey narrowed at him.
“I hope you are right, for your own sake, Listereg. I cannot reach to her because thanks to Alda`s doing in the forest, the Elvenking is stronger now and could sense me.” He growled. The General lowered his head again. It was another of mistakes the Master was angry at him for – when he lost his sister`s track and now she was back in safety instead in Master`s hands.
“Bring me Sinadhiel…I have a task for her.”
Lilithiel was watching him by the corner of her eye. His incredibly handsome features made her gaze to be driven to him constantly. He wasn`t looking at her. Instead, his blue orbs were staring into the horizon of his forest ahead.
Lilithiel pushed herself to turn her head and follow his gaze. The forest was dark but she liked the smell of the trees. The sky threatened to be spilled any second, but yet, Thranduil led her into the garden and seated her on the bench next to him.
“I am sorry.” She broke the silence between them.
It was relaxing, yes. And she finally escaped her own guards even though she felt their gazes from behind the walls but they could have some privacy at least a little bit now.
Thranduil turned his eyes to the grass in front of him.
“What are you apologizing for?”
“That I dishonored your title by calling myself an elven queen.” Lilithiel sighed.
Thranduil finally looked at her, reading her face like he would be searching for a mischief.
“You are an elvish queen.” He stated. Lilithiel smiled.
This elf, sitting next to her so unkingly, relaxed and yet his face was serious…she couldn`t say what he was thinking and it was making her nervous. But on the other side, she felt safe with him and relaxed at the same time. And she yearned for such feeling.
“What is a real purpose of your visit, Lilithiel?” He scanned her with those maddening blue eyes again and she automatically straightened her back. She remembered the orders of the General and his Master. The two beings she feared.
“You said that you sense the darkness within me.” She breathed. A wind caressed her black locks and the smell of her hair hit Thranduil`s nostrils. She smelled good. Very good.
“And what I said to you that night was truth…”
Thranduil couldn`t miss her low voice and the uneasy tone of her voice. She seemed really scared.
“Marry me, Thranduil. Despite the feelings, despite the customs…Embrace the darkness and you will never get lost in it…”
The Elvenking stood up abruptly.
“I was mistaken then when I thought you wanted my help to escape the darkness. Yet, you are fighting for it, alluring me into its embrace!”
Lilithiel looked at him, sadly.
“Darkness cannot be beaten. Evil cannot be stopped. You of all people should know this. “
Thranduil gritted his teeth.
“I think you should leave. My hospitality was tested enough.” He growled and turned on his heels to leave her in the garden alone. But Lilithiel stood up from the bench.
“Think about it, King Thranduil! But quickly. I fear he might have something in his mind, already. Join me before it is too late! Join me before he crushes you!”
Thranduil halted for a moment but then he left without even looking at her.
Lilithiel sighed. She pitied him. Such a gem among elves. Such a capable ellon. And yet so proud and stupid. She closed her eyes and breathed slowly to calm her nerves. She feared she will look upon his corpse one day. But still, a little hope was growing in her heart, knowing that Thranduil will not act stupid in the end. Hopefully.
Her personal guard, the leader of the strange dark elves in her little army appeared behind her. She looked at him coldly.
“We are leaving. There is nothing more I can do.”
Idril was sitting on the stairs leading to the playground bellow where the few elflings this realm had, were playing. Legolas was among them. Together with others, they were braiding Tavarille`s hair.
Idril`s eyes were on Legolas constantly. She would protect him with her own life. So close he grew to her heart.
But watching him, the son of the King and her best friend, was also hard. Tavarille`s words released thoughts she didn`t want to have. Idril didn`t even realized them until that moment. And she hated to admit that Tavarille was shockingly right.
Idril had a soft spot for the King. She liked to be in his company together with Legolas. He was different then. She found out he was a marvelous father to Legolas. Only the hardship and King`s responsibilities hold him back from spending more time with his son. She adored seeing them together.
But she couldn`t deny the feeling of betrayal when she thought of Eleniel. It was Eleniel who was a mother to Legolas and a wife to Thranduil. It was Eleniel who captured his heart. It was Eleniel he thought of often. It was Eleniel his heart was weeping for. And it was Eleniel who would curse Idril beyond eternity if she would just know what Idril was thinking.
But the young nanny couldn`t help herself. She loved Legolas and she adored her King.
Was it that bad?
Perhaps not. Perhaps it was even understandable, but what of her heart?
Will it not ache soon? What is it she desires? A love from the King? A friendship? Or was it just an admiration of the ruler?
Idril didn`t know. But she knew one thing for sure.
She will never abandon Legolas. Therefore she will never abandon Thranduil.
Graven felt joyful and anxious at the same time when he watched the golden carriage leaving with the dark elves behind in the narrow formation. He shifted weight to other leg and looked at Thranduil.
“You get rid of her pretty quickly.”
The King grimaced. His eyes were following the retinue which was disappearing at the edge of the forest, as well.
“Are we sure that she did not leave anyone or anything behind?” The King turned to Kaalis and Lienir standing next to him and Graven.
“The Halls seems clear, my Lord. However, we plan scouting the forest once they`re gone.” Kaalis answered dutifully.
“I will tell you when.” The King nodded and returned his gaze back to the edge of the forest. There was no carriage to be seen anymore.
“I am glad that she is gone.” Graven scoffed.
Thranduil slowly turned and headed back to the Halls. The sound of the main gate closing behind their backs was pleasant. He felt safer immediately. But then he remembered Lilithiel`s words and a shiver ran down his spine.
“Graven, please gather the Council in two hours and let some light inside or I will go crazy. Lienir, check the Halls if everything is really clear and everyone is alright.”
Both ellons bowed their heads, ready to accomplish the orders. The King then turned to Kaalis, still standing behind him meanwhile the others went to different directions, shouting orders.
“Kaalis, any news…?”
The Captain shook his head.
“No news, my King. I suppose they are safe.”
“Lead me to them.”
The fire in the fireplace was almost dying but he kept staring into it. He stretched his short legs and rubbed his temple. He felt the soreness of his body and it was a good feeling. But something made him uneasy, anxious even.
A tall one.
“Who are you?!” Shouted the dwarf king, turning his head around. And there she was, next to the fireplace, resting towards the warm stone wall. Her eyes were wild and mad. Her hair was braided neatly and the cape she wore was all black. He wouldn`t even notice her in the shadows if she wouldn`t have so fair skin. She was beautiful. Her slim and tall body was telling him an unfortunate truth. She was an elf.
“What are you doing here?!” He shouted his second question and searched for his dagger behind the pillow.
“I have a message from the Master…” Sinadhiel said softly. The fact he wanted to be armed with a weapon against her let her cold. She didn`t move.
“From the Master?”
“It is time.”
“For what?” He frowned.
“To take what you always wanted.” She raised her eyebrows and disappeared.
To take what he always wanted…
So he was keeping his word after all…
He will be the one and only king of dwarves under the mountains!
But it can wait till the morning, cannot it? He has a mead to finish.
Thranduil never realized how huge the cave was until he was forced to walk from the main hall to the common quarters down below just because he gave a promise to his son. However, it didn`t slow his pace. It was two days without hearing his giggle, voice or seeing his little cute face and he already missed him. But first, he needed to know if he was alright. Thranduil would like to trust his subjects that they won`t harm his son but thanks to his actions lately…he might not be the favorite king anymore.
“Make a room for the King!” Kaali`s guards were shouting and making a clear way for him, “The King is going through! Make a way!”
The more they descended to the inner halls where the common elves resided, hidden in the safety, the more crowded it was.
“Enough!” The King growled when one of the guards pushed an elleth to move away, “I will go alone.”
“But…my King!” Kaalis stammered with wide eyes. It was unthinkable to let the monarch be swallowed by the mass of the commoners, unable to be protected by his guards and their swords.
“Let them be, for Valar`s sake!” The King hissed and turned to continue. Kaalis dismissed the guards and ran after the King alone.
Thranduil didn`t slow his pace, his eyes were searching for his only child. The elves were staring, making him a clear way themselves as he was passing them by. A whispering raised to the point that whole floor was mingling with voices. Thranduil realized that it had to seem odd when he was storming through the crowd in his full royal attire and the crown on his head. Damn it. He could leave the crown behind at least. But now it was too late to bother.
The King stopped on the crossway, thinking where to go. He didn`t know these parts. Kaalis stopped behind his back.
“To the right, my King…I guess.” Lost as well he was snapping his head to the both directions.
“Your Majesty…” A soft voice came from the crowd. A beautiful red-haired elleth stepped closer. Her eyes were full of fear and her hands were shaking, “You are looking for your son?”
Thranduil swallowed hard.
“Where is he?” His voice was low, heavy with worry and threat at the same time. The elleth just pointed to the path on the left.
Thranduil was almost running. His heart almost sank when he thought of his son in danger.
How could she know? Wasn`t his cover good enough? Was it so obvious?
He halted once he spotted a playground in front of him. It was full of elflings and elleths watching over them. He also spotted Idril and Tavarille sitting nearby in their poor dresses.
He has to be here, then.
The rush on the playground – elleths talking, children playing and making noises – died. Everyone was staring with wide eyes and mouths opened at the King staying on the corner.
Thranduil`s heart skipped a beat.
Legolas was running to him with a huge smile on his little face, his hands forward, challenging his father to catch him.
Thranduil dropped to his knees to the dirt of the cave, closing his dearest child in a full embrace.
“Legolas, ion in, my little green leaf…” He breathed into his hair between the kisses.
The whole playground was watching them. The sight took their breath away as well as it melted their hearts.
“I`ve missed you, Ada.”
“I have missed you too, my love.”
Legolas smiled and snuggled under Thranduil`s chin, pressing his tiny body into him. The King rose with Legolas still in his arms. He took the crown and handed it to Idril who rushed to their side, greeting him with a smile as well.
“Thank you for keeping an eye on him. I am forever in your debt.” He bowed towards his subjects.
The silence broke into cheering.
“Long live the King! Long live the King!”
But what really brought a smile upon his strict lips was Legolas whispering into his ear.
“You promised to play with me, Ada.”