Tauriel is thirty-two years old. Whippet-cut by brambles, smeared with dirt and muck, muddled by spider venom, and still dripping tears, she is brought into the King's presence. This is their first meeting, but Tauriel is in no position to be honored by his great condescension in admitting one so young into his sight. She would give anything in the world—anything at all among all the wonders of the forest and all the tales of glories in the many kingdoms beyond—not to be kneeling before her King.

The King. She knows nothing else to call him; no one she knows has ever used his name.

A fresh burst of tears blinds her, and a stuttering sob stops her ears. Everyone she has ever known is dead. She knows this, though none of the Guard has told her so. Hiding in the hollow tree, her secret hideaway, surrounded by soft loam and skittering beetles, holding her breath until she felt her head and chest burst with the strain, she had survived.

She alone.

He is speaking to her, but she cannot hear him. She does not dare raise her eyes to his face, but even if she did, the tears would keep her from seeing anything other than a blur of flaxen hair and rust-red silk. The color reminds her of the dull amber of the maple trees surrounding her parents' garden, as well as the color of her hair, the hair Mother brushed with fifty sweeping strokes each night.

The tint is the essence of fall, the quintessential shade of her favorite season. It becomes the King well.

But this day has destroyed everything she loves. Nothing remains of Tauriel's life, of her brief, butchered childhood. So she hates the color, as she hates everything—no matter how insignificant—that brings to mind this day.

Tauriel is not brave enough to hate the King. She is too lowly, too insignificant for that.

But as the hours pass, his voice—even, measured, deep—and his questions wear away at her like water against a stone, she grows to dislike him. However many times she weeps, however much her escorts shift uncomfortably in their boots and suggest she be given time to rest, he persists. He must know, he says, how the spiders attacked. In what numbers. How the village militia responded. Why they were not successful.

Finally, the immediacy of her pain gives way to a curious cold numbness. Tauriel looks up at last, with clear eyes. And she sees her own dislike reflected back at her.

She does not understand it. In all the years that follow, Tauriel still does not come to understand it. But she knows it is true, she never doubts it. Though the King arrives at the decision to host her in his own palace, effectively adopting her as his ward though many families stand at the ready to take her, Tauriel sees the truth.

He dislikes her, as much as she does him.