The elf standing in front of her with a stern look sighed staring on her not so fancy dress and a hair in a messy bun secured with a brush.
“You really should-“
“No, I don`t want to wear a fancy dress and let the elves make my hair just because I am about to see the Elvenking. I am a painter, I am an artist!”
The elf rolled his eyes and sighed again. He had no patience to deal with this woman. He had more urgent things to do as the right hand of the King. He was sure that Thranduil will deal with her himself. Yet, she was one of the best painters and Lord Elrond wrote about her with an amazement even though she was just a human.
“Whatever. There are basic rules you have to follow without a word.”
“Have you ever had an audience with a monarch, woman?”
“Then listen to me and follow these rules: The guards will lead you in front of the Throne, you will keep your eyes down or you can look in front of you but not at the King himself. You will not speak until he asks you. You will be obedient and answer all his questions if he will have any. Sometimes it is hard to recognize when he dismisses you, but the guards know better and as soon as they shift from their spot, you will bow and leave with them. Is it clear?”
“Why can`t I look at him? I am supposed to paint him!”
The elf was silent, just staring at her, annoyed. Alice shut her mouth and swallowed.
Her name was getting famous not just among people but among elves as well. And that was something that has never happened before to anybody. The elves had always the fairest art, not humans. But something about the way she used to paint and the way she used the colours made them want her to paint for them as well.
When she met Lord Elrond, the half-elf who was known for his open mind to anything new, she was thrilled but when he told her, that he recommended her to the Elvenking himself, she almost died.
With a portrait of the Elvenking, the doors will open to her all around the world. It was the peak of her career.
So, she better shut her mouth and followed the rules.
It was exactly as the elf in the rich clothes told her. The guards led her in front of the Throne and she caught the glimpse of a long black robe with silver ornaments spread on the stairs but then she rather cast her eyes low to the marble floor. The guards halted and with a well-learned move, they stepped aside looking like statues. Alice shivered.
The Throne room was dead-like silent and she fought hard to not look around.
After a while, she heard a sound of the clothes and a deep voice which resonated in the room so powerfully.
“Alice, the magician of colours, they say…”
Alice`s heart skipped a beat. Was she supposed to say something, or not? Was it a mocking? She was confused, this all was so stupid!
She heard the rustle of the clothes and soft steps so strange after such powerful voice.
A pair of leather boots and a heavy black robe appeared in front of her eyes. Her heartbeat quickened, threatening her heart to explode. He was standing so close, she could smell his scent and she had to admit, he smelled good. It was so different from the village she came from. So different from people. But he was an elf after all.
“Did you lose something on that floor?”
She gasped but then smiled and shook her head. With her head still down in a slight bow, she finally could say something.
“They have told me to not look at you, your Majesty.”
“Mhm.” He was silent for a while again, she could feel his eyes on her. Why was everybody staring like that here? She was getting uncomfortable.
“How did you get to the Lord Elrond’s court?” His voice was so deep and smooth like a honey but she could feel the dangerous mistrust in it.
“I caught an attention of several ladies on the market and then the word spread pretty quickly. Lord Elrond invited me to his court when we met during his visit in the court of Lord Beren.”
“Quite an adventure for a human.” He noted, mocking her clearly. She gritted her teeth.
The Elvenking slowly walked around her like a predator. The long tail of his robe touched her boots.
She straightened her back and head. To hell with rules. He had no manners!
“Lord Elrond told me, that you are interested in business with me.”
He stopped in his track and she slightly turned her head but still didn`t look at him. She found out she didn`t want to.
“I am not interested in any business with you.” He scoffed and walked in front of her again, “My Right hand does. He wants you to paint a portrait of me.”
“You are the King, you could say no if you are not interested.” She shrugged her shoulders. She couldn`t say whether she was glad he didn`t want the business or disappointed.
“It`s a custom. It`s my work to follow it, I guess.”
“So, a portrait.” Alice breathed out to finally get into the important details instead of stupid mocking.
“When do you wish to start, your Majesty?”
“As soon as possible.”
Even though their roles has changed and she was asking questions now, he still had the upper hand and she could feel it. She has never met anyone so powerful like him. So charismatic.
“I am here at your service, your Majesty.”
“Alright. Everything you will need – ask Sorontur, my right hand – he will provide.”
“Thank you, your Majesty.”
He just nodded and turned away to go back sit on his Throne and accept next audiences. The guards shifted from their place and she was supposed to follow them.
He halted in the middle of the stairs and she finally raised her head to see him. He looked magnificent. The robe was spread, his light gold hair contrasted on the blackness of the clothes and the crown on his head was so high, strange and beautiful.
“I need one more thing…” She cleared her throat.
He raised one of his eyebrows.
“To paint a real and authentic portrait, I need to get to know you a little…Stay a couple days in your company, perhaps…Just…you know…watch you.”
She cleared her throat again. The dead-like silence was here again and he looked like a statue just like his guards.
She swallowed hard but that was what she did every time. It was a part of her success.
And with that, he waved his hand and the guards pushed her with their shoulders to move and leave the King and his Throne room behind them.
Alice was watching the elven servants to carry her things into her room she was supposed to stay in and her mind was full of the task ahead. She didn`t expect him to agree to this since she experienced his manners and behavior toward strangers. She knew that lot of people were surprised by her request every time but then flattered that they mattered to her so much, that they were so important someone wanted to watch them. Well, they weren`t important. Her art was important.
The portrait of the Elvenking will outlive her. The elves will outlive her. She is Alice, the magician of colours, the one who painted almost all the human lords and ladies and the first of human painters who painted elves… But the Elvenking`s portrait should be her masterpiece. To create a masterpiece, she needed to know his features in detail. She will get the details whatever it costs.
Alice was supposed to wait for her session with the Elvenking and she was warned it can take days because the King was busy. She didn`t mind at all, at least she could sneak around his Halls and watch the King when she caught a glimpse of him even though it never was much and hear the elves what they have to say about him.
It took her a week until she figured out at least half of his schedule and when she can see him where. And today she decided to come closer. Alice asked Sorontur, if she can go to the royal gardens and paint there to train and when he allowed, with apologies that the King is still busy for so long, she just smiled and gratefully took her easel and charcoals and headed to the gardens.
Alice just sketched the flowers and trees in front of her when she heard that deep, honey-like voice full of frustrated anger and a couple of other voices. When the sun was high and the sky was blue as an ocean, he held his meetings with advisors in the gardens and walked around with them. They were arguing in elvish so she couldn`t understand but to her great joy they stopped several meters from her, behind the flowers and he didn`t register her yet. The flowers and a tree were an obstacle in her view but it was the best view she had of him so far and she quickly changed the paper and started sketching his features.
The tone of his voice got deeper like a growl of a wolf and he cut the quarrel among them. The advisors shut their mouths in instant and looked down like scolded children. She watched it, amazed. Do they fear him so much?
He told them to leave him, apparently, as the advisors walked away and the King turned to walk in her direction. She quickly changed the papers back and pretended she was sketching the nature again.
“Your Majesty,” Alice acknowledged him and tilted her head when he was close enough that it was impossible to ignore his presence.
“Miss Alice,” He nodded and the brush in her hair, holding it up, caught his attention for a short moment but then he looked straight into her eyes. Alice was shocked. It was for the first time she was staring directly into his face from so close distance.
“I did not know you paint flowers as well.” He noted, looking at the easel and then back at her.
Alice blinked several times to wake up. The deep blue coat flattered his eyes so much that the blue in his orbs was, even more, standing out. His hair was so smooth and light that it shone like a silver in the sun and his face was so handsome and so flawless.
“You are staring too much.” He noted again as a matter of fact and frowned a little.
“I just…” She shook her head, “You are so young…”
Thranduil raised one of his eyebrows ironically then turned away without a word and left.
Alice rolled her eyes and hit her forehead with a palm.
“Oh god, how can you be so stupid! Stupid!” She cursed silently. How could she say he is young? When he was like thousand years old?
“Oh, Alice, you are dumb,” She told herself and sighed.
A month run past like nothing and Alice found herself in her chamber, surrounded by pictures and quick sketches of Thranduil around her. All of them from different angle or in different light. She was looking at them feeling desperate. She wasted a month with those sketches and it didn`t seem the portrait will ever happen. The King was ignoring her as well as his right hand was apologizing all the time. She decided to put a knife on his neck even if it costs her the future masterpiece
Thranduil was standing by the huge window in his study with a glass of wine. His blue eyes followed the horizon of trees, the birds on the sky and the glitter of sun on the surface of the pond in the garden below.
He noticed her, painting. He couldn`t see right into her face but he imagined her to be concentrated, her hand lightly dancing on the canvas mixing the colours together.
She was an interesting creature, this human. It shocked him right when they met for the first time that she didn`t smell like others. He distastes the smell of humans but her scent was a vanilla with a touch of paint. Her deep brown eyes were curious and he always felt her watching him.
It was strange. He was used to be watched. He was a King after all. The elves watched him with respect during ceremonials, during hearings in the Throne room. Elleths watched him with wanting, love and lust, whispering about a handsome King who was widowed. But Alice…She studied him. Like he was a thing. It was humiliating, yet refreshing, yet uncomfortable.
The knock on the door broke the train of thoughts and he turned to see who was entering without his approval.
“Thranduil, I have very important scroll for you, from Lord Elrond.”
Sorontur handed the scroll to the King and explained what it was about even though the King was reading it meanwhile.
“Alright, I will answer this with priority.” Thranduil nodded after a while of discussion. Sorontur bowed and wanted to leave but halted.
“And one more thing. Miss Alice came to me this morning.”
Thranduil raised one of his eyebrows.
“Did she? Why?”
“She demands to start the portrait already. She told me we are wasting her time. She was really angry about it.”
Thranduil chuckled, but the small laugh didn`t reach his eyes.
“I don`t have time for this. You invited her.”
“Thranduil…It is a custom. We should do it a long time ago. Your father and your grandfather already had several portraits by your age. “
“With wives.” Thranduil hissed and turned away from Sorontur.
“Thranduil, come on. It is necessary. And she is the best.”
The King`s shoulders tensed. But then he sighed and nodded. Sorontur used this moment of weakness.
“Tomorrow after lunch.” He pushed.
The King`s hand, heavy with rings, dismissed him.
The very next day, indeed, Alice was informed, that the King decided to give her his time for a portrait. It made her angry at first, the way they told her, like she was supposed to be honoured by his attention after a MONTH, but then she just gladly took it as a sign of progress.
Alice didn`t mind spending time in the Woodland Realm and the Halls of the Elvenking, but she hated wasting her time like this. There were a lot of things and sceneries and elves to paint and draw, but her goal was the masterpiece, the portrait of the Elvenking.
When she came to the chamber where the elves made a little studio from it, she couldn`t believe her own eyes. Everything was prepared, all her things, the refreshment – tea, wine, water and some finger food and two servants. After a short while the Elvenking himself arrived, charismatic and powerful as always. Yes, something was amiss but she couldn`t say what it was. He was dressed in a luxurious royal attire, sew from silver and brocade and a crown with leaves was upon his head. He looked like he was just crowned to be a king.
Alice was just standing there with a uncomprehending look on her face.
Sorontur was right behind the King, speaking to him in elvish then he turned to Alice, meanwhile servants were preparing the King for the painting.
“Miss Alice, did you saw the pictures hanging in the library as I told you?”
“Yes, I did my Lord.” Alice answered and looked at the King with the corner of her eye. Yes, they were preparing him for exactly this kind of a kingly picture. Oh god.
“We want something like that. It must be very royal, very fair. We also expect the magic with your colours.”
“Of course, my Lord.” Alice answered flatly.
“Good. All is settled then.”
“It will take a long time, not one day, are you aware of it, my Lord?”
Sorontur smiled kindly.
“Indeed, we are, Miss.”
“Alright. Ehm, I would need to…you know…concentrate, it would be better if nobody would disturb us.”
She caught the eyes of the Elvenking turning to her.
Sorontur looked at her, all surprised with such demand.
“I am all good, Sorontur. Leave us. All of you. I don`t need witnesses of this charade.” The King growled, obviously grumpy from the vision of all day here.
Sorontur and servants bowed to their King and silently left them alone.
Alice inhaled deeply and looked at the King, standing near the window in his full attire, looking away with an annoyed face.
She sighed again and started sketching his posture. When she heard his sigh in the otherwise very silent room she looked up. She put the pencil away.
He turned to her.
“This is not you.” She stated and put her hands on her waist with head slightly tilted to the one side.
“What?” He frowned, annoyed even more.
“I request to spend time with my customers and watch them for one more reason – they get used to me, they feel comfortable in my company. You are too tensed and this-” She gestured to him with both her hands, “is a really horrible scene which doesn`t suit you. Are you sure about this?”
Thranduil was staring at her with disbelieve.
“Are you serious?”
“Yes, I am, your Majesty. You are visibly exhausted, tensed and stressed. I understand there are too many things and matters laid upon your shoulders but…do you want it all in your picture?”
Thranduil`s shoulders stooped and he rubbed the root of his aristocratic nose.
“Honestly, I do not care.”
“Yeah, I figured it was not you, who invited me here.” She snorted. The King sighed.
“Do not take it personally. I have no desire of a stupid portrait hanging on the wall of my Halls. Like I will not be here for another millennium…”
“You call my art stupid?” Alice frowned, deeply offended.
“No. I quite like your paintings from the garden. Just the portrait is a stupid idea.”
His voice sounded so tired and defeated. She was staring at him, ignoring all the rules Sorontur told her before. The King`s eyes were driven to the window again and the sight from it like he wished to be elsewhere, like he was trapped in his own palace.
Alice cursed silently and poured a cup of tea for him. She came closer to him, just like he was before in the Throne room when she arrived.
“Sit down here,” she pointed to the sofa with her chin, “and drink this tea. Just relax.”
He was staring at her, confused. The way he was always collected, always so strong and powerful and regal amazed her every time. But at this moment, he wasn`t. She watched him for a month, every day, at every possible chance. She recognized the haunted look in his eyes, the shadow on his usually flawless face. How tensed he was, his shoulders higher, closer to the neck than usual.
“Please, your Majesty, make yourself comfortable and relax. Rest a little. I see you are exhausted. Nobody will bother you here.” She said softly, handing him the cup of hot tea. But he just shook his head like a stubborn child.
“No, let’s get over it. Start painting. I will not waste my time like this.”
Alice gritted her teeth and frowned.
“Like you wasted mine when you let me wait for a whole month?” She hissed at him. Thranduil`s eyes widened but he quickly collected himself. The coldness captured his features.
“You are immortal, I am not. And yet, you wasted MY time. My art, the portrait, matters to me. It may not matter to you, but every piece I paint, every piece I draw, matters to me. Everything I do in my life matters to me. Every minute of it.”
They were staring at each other and nobody said another word. She expected him to get very angry, but he just clenched his jaw and say nothing.
So, Alice broke the silence first.
“I am sorry for my outburst, your Majesty. But please, I beg you, you may not need this portrait but I do and it matters to me. I am honoured to paint you. Will you let me paint you, your Majesty?”
Thranduil was still looking straight into her dark brown eyes. The blue remained her of storm and storm there was behind it.
“You can paint me.” He said at the end and broke the eye contact.
“Thank you, your Majesty. Please, sit down. I will show you something.”
The King finally obeyed and sat down on the sofa. Alice took a piece of paper and a pencil and sat down next to him. She quickly sketched something and then showed it to him.
“I`d like to paint you like this, sitting in the armchair like I saw you many times on your Throne when you showed your power, yet you seemed like you didn`t care. It`s pretty arrogant but it is you as I would have recognized you and many of your subjects as well.”
“Did you just say I am arrogant?” He snorted. Alice looked at him and chuckled.
“Of course not, your Majesty. You care deeply for your kingdom and that couldn`t be arrogant.”
He raised one of his eyebrows again and she smiled to that.
“So, what do you say, your Majesty? May I rearrange the picture?”
“Yes, you can. At least it will be more comfortable than to stand all day.”
Alice stood up and happily prepared the scene with an armchair. Thranduil drank his tea and then sat down into the armchair which was way more comfortable than the first position Sorontur desired so much.
Alice finally let her hand dance with the pencil in her fingers, creating the real sketch of the portrait of the Elvenking.
When she looked up an hour after she noticed that the King fell asleep. He rested the head facing the window, his face was calm and relaxed.
Alice watched him for a while, drinking in the sight of him like that. She could study his features without hurry. The straight nose, thin lips, the thick eyebrows, still a little bit frowned, the fair skin but manly features.
The long silver hair covered almost half of his face. Alice swallowed and carefully, with her fingertips brushed the strands away. He didn`t wake up, just parted his lips a little and sighed. She has never seen someone so handsome like elves, particularly like the King of elves.
When Thranduil woke up, he didn`t know where he is at first but then he recognized the room and the situation. He cursed when he realized he fell asleep like a baby. But truth to be told, he was truly exhausted and now he felt a little bit better.
The room was empty and silent. The sun was gone already and the night sky was getting darker and darker. So, he slept a pretty long time. Damn.
And then he noticed her on the balcony. She was curled up in the second armchair. A book was lying on the floor next to her as it probably fell from her hand when she fell asleep as well.
So instead of painting a portrait, they both fell asleep. How great.
His eyes fell on the table near the door to the balcony. There was a notebook with her sketches lying on the small table. But what caught his attention was the sketch itself. It was him.
The King came closer, just to peek in it. As he turned more and more pages, he realized the sketches was just him from all different angles and he couldn’t help but think with a different emotions as well. And he thought he was so good with masks.
One page surprised him the most. He was looking somewhere away and smiling. He was staring at it, thinking when was the last time he smiled.
“I have actually never seen you smiling…I just…tried to picture it.”
Alice was standing behind him, looking at the page with the smiling sketch of him. Then she raised her eyes to him.
“I know…it looks creepy but…I need to know your face for the portrait.”
“It is creepy.” He assured her, confused with his own emotions about all of this.
“How do you feel?”
Thranduil raised one of his eyebrows, so typical gesture from him.
“It is none of your concern, I believe.”
“Better?” Alice ignored his tone. “Look at the sketches. Look at your eyes. They are telling everything.”
“I am not so easily read.” He snapped and closed the notebook, angry more with himself than with her.
“No, you are not, if one does not read properly…” She said almost in a whisper.
“Enough of this. Please do not act like you know me better than myself.” He snapped again, leaving her behind in the dark room.
“Your Majesty.” She stopped him by standing between him and the door, “I didn`t mean it like this. I don`t want to offend you. Please, don`t be mad at me…I would be honoured if you accept my help and come here whenever you need to rest…whenever you need to run away from everyday stress.”
She was looking at him with pleading eyes. Thranduil sighed, frustrated with her and himself as well. This woman was playing his nerves but he had to admit the afternoon sleep was really needed in his case.
“Good night, Miss Alice.” He pushed her softly aside and left the chamber.
TO BE CONTINUED