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16. Heart-to-heart with Thranduil
“Come, walk with me.” It was more of a command than a request.
Wynne followed Thranduil downstream alongside the river. Her steps crunched on the gravel and stones, his was entirely soundless.
She had a bad feeling about this whole thing, and a strong suspicion what Thranduil was about to say. All in all she felt very much like when she had done something forbidden, and anticipated Mother’s reaction. Just like then, her mouth had gone bone dry and her palms sweaty.
At last he stopped, and spoke.
“I have noticed lately, that you and my son are becoming close.”
She nodded, and swallowed nervously. There was no use in denying it.
“Legolas is very young – for an elf – and yet he has fought several battles, and been participating in adventures of a magnitude few could fathom. Despite this, he has not been much exposed to the common world. Or to females. He could very easily be misled by such as yourself.”
Wynne scowled. The way Thranduil spoke, he made Legolas seem like an immature teen. The picture would have been laughable in other circumstances.
“I am sure you mean well. You think that you love him, am I not right?” He looked at her imploringly. “I take your silence as an affirmation. However, at your age one cannot always discern between love and desire.” He paused. ”You are shaking your head, but remember that I am your senior by several millennia. Please rely on my greater knowledge and experience in these matters.”
He began to walk again, with Wynne demurely following a few steps behind.
“Then there is the question of station. Even if your feelings were to grow into real, mutual love, Legolas is heir to my throne. My people would never accept a human woman as a queen. He would be disgraced, publicly shamed.”
That was an aspect Wynne had not considered. Mother had seemed so certain she could procure an alliance between their House and Mirkwood, but now it was obvious that her plan had been uninformed and overly optimistic.
“My last objection to this match is the most grave. You, My Lady, are a mortal, whereas Legolas will never die a natural death. You would force him to watch as you grow old and pass away. And elves do not take grief well.” He turned to face her, and she saw the same sadness in his eyes that he had shown once before. She knew he was referring to his deceased wife. “Imagine an eternity away from your beloved. Never able to forget her, always missing her. Elves love only once.”
Tears burned in Wynne’s eyes. Thranduil was right. How could she not have thought of this herself?
It had been a foolish dream. One that could never be.
They walked back in silence, but before they separated Thranduil pressed Wynne’s shoulder soothingly.
“It is better this way. Ending it before your heart is too deeply committed.” He sounded unusually kind.
She nodded, not trusting her voice to hold.
“Thank you, Wynne. I was certain you would understand.” He pressed her shoulder again, and left.
She did not remember much of that day, only that it was one of the worst she had known so far, in a way even worse than being kidnapped. She had escaped the orcs, but there was no happy way out of this.
All she wanted was to lie down and cry her eyes out for the unfairness of it all, but instead she had to act normal, doing her chores among the others as if nothing had happened.
Thranduil must have spoken to Legolas too not long after, for he also seemed very low that day. She wondered what his father had said to him, but then figured she did not really want to know. Whatever it was, it had worked. Legolas did not avoid her, but when they had to speak he evaded eye contact. It hurt, even though she know it was for the best.
At last the long day was over, and Wynne gratefully left for her tent. In the solace behind canvas walls she could finally bury her face in her pillow and allow the tears to pour.
Why had she come on this stupid mission? All it had brought her was fear, pain and heartache.
She was not sure if she loved Legolas, perhaps Thranduil was right and she did not yet. She had never been in love, and had no idea what that felt like. But she did know she cared about him more than anyone else she had met, and wanted to be near him at all times. Even if her feelings were not love, she was certain they would have grown into it, given time. And she believed he cared about her too. From the beginning, he had singled her out, and she suspected his braiding her hair meant something special.
But now it would have to end, almost before it had even begun. She felt empty.
All the crying made Wynne tired, and for the first time in days she fell asleep in her own bed. She had no dreams and slept late the next morning, yet when she woke up she was heavy headed and exhausted.
Soon after breakfast they broke camp and took off again. They rode in silence, everybody occupied with their own thoughts.
The following weeks were spent travelling between the orc hideouts marked on the map. Some were empty, others were inhabited and cleared out as efficiently as the first. The elves found another map in one of them, slightly different, it lacked some of the triangles but had others instead. The two maps completed each other and made the quest even easier.
Only once did they encounter orcs in the open, a large group of warg riders, but this time Wynne stayed on horseback and nothing bad happened. A few of the elves got lesser blemishes and cuts, nothing worrisome. They were grateful for Wynne’s fire water, which was now saved for medicinal use only. It helped them heal a lot faster.
Wynne’s stitches began to itch and needed removing after the second week, which she did on her own in the tent. The memory of that time with Legolas by the river made her cry again when she cut the knots and pulled out the threads. She shed many tears those first days, but only after nightfall, laying in bed or on Vatna’s back.
Things slowly grew back to normal between the rest of them. It was evident the others must have suspected in part what had happened, and had kindly given her and Legolas time and space to get over it. But after a while they resumed their friendly banter. Legolas even pulled his tired old lembas joke every now and then, but his smiles never really reached the eyes and Wynne’s laughter felt false and unnatural.
After about two months they were finally finished with the first part of their quest. Every triangle on the maps had been checked, every den cleared out.
“This was the last one.” Sweat poured down Galion’s pale face as he dragged a headless orc on top of its former comrade.
“We have done well.” Thranduil beamed at the others through the smoke from the burning carcasses. “When we first set out, I had no idea that the Brown Lands were so infested. We have made this area a great deal safer for travellers. Maybe there shall even be settlements again, I know King Éomer has wished to expand his borders to the east for a long time.” He turned to Wynne. “Whenever you return home, you must send word to him of our progress.”
“I’m sure he will be delighted. Breeding horses requires a great deal of land.”
“Aye, I noticed some of your extensive pastures when we last visited there.”
They had made two short trips across the Anduin into Rohan to restock their supplies. The food had never really been scarce, what with the addition of game and fish from the river (and of course the neverending lembas), but they had needed healing equipment and more fire water, and Wynne had wanted peppermint leaves for her morning tea.
“We shall now turn south and enter the hills of Emyn Muil,” Thranduil continued. “Like in the beginning of our journey, we shall have no map. Again we walk blindly, and try to cover as much land as possible. We know not where the orcs hide, and in addition we might encounter greater dangers now, such as mountain trolls.”
Wynne shivered despite the warmth of the summer evening and the heat from the pyre. The past months had hardened her, and orcs no longer scared her like they had. But trolls were something else, they were said to be huge, with skin hard as stone. She had never seen one, and had no wish to either.
“The terrain we enter into will be difficult, but I was told that riding is the best way to travel through it. Wynne’s horses can walk over creepers and brambles easier than us.”
“They prefer the open land of course, but are sure footed. They can walk in almost any terrain.”
“Then let us rest, and begin this new part of our journey tomorrow.”
Wynne had overcome most of her fears from before, and no longer suffered from insomnia. But that night she slept badly again, with faceless trolls haunting her dreams.
When she woke the next morning she tried to shake off her worry. She trusted the elves, they were skilled fighters and could probably defeat even trolls.
Besides, there might not even be any trolls.
Sorry for this very bleak chapter... but things will improve, trust me. :)
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