A Crown Of Woodland Flowers
Thranduil gave a brief, longing glance at the bright day outside, at the sunlight slanting through the open window, and the leaf shadows dappling the floor. He sighed. It was a glorious day of high summer, yet he faced a morning and afternoon of petty-minded wrangling and mind-numbing diplomacy. He bent to kiss his wife. "Goodbye, my love. I will see you at the noon meal."
Telparian stopped him with a hand on his arm, and an odd smile on her face. "Wait. Have you forgotten what day it is today?"
Thranduil looked at her in surprise. "No, of course not. It is the day of the council meeting, the day when the delegation from Esgaroth is due, and the day I have to persuade Lanatus to finally archive some of the older account books. There are far too many cluttering my office, and I will never need to refer to them as he claims!"
Telparian shook her head. "No. It is none of those."
Thranduil gazed at her suspiciously. "No? What do you mean, no?"
"Today is your begetting day," she reminded him simply.
"I know it is. It is also the day when I have to tackle Lanatus, meet the men of Esgaroth, and listen to the council telling me how I should rule my own realm!" he explained in frustration. He sighed. "I loved my father, and honoured him as king, but his ways are not mine. This morning I shall have to remind the council of that again."
"No," Telparian said again. "Today you – we – are going take the horses, ride out in any direction that pleases you, and spend the day together. Alone," she added firmly.
"Alone …" he echoed longingly, as the sunlit forest called to him. Then he shook himself and sighed again. "I wish I could – but you know how much there still is to do. Perhaps another day …"
Telparian drew a deep breath. "Not another day – today. Now. It is all taken care of – the council has been postponed until tomorrow, the delegation from Esgaroth is going to be entertained by a hunt and a demonstration of our warriors' skills, and I have already dealt with Lanatus."
"You did?" Thranduil echoed curiously. "How did you manage that? I have been trying to deal with him for years!"
She smiled. "I have my ways. How do you think I coped with him all those years while you were away? Now come with me. I arranged everything last night. The horses will be ready, there will be a picnic prepared, and there is nothing you have to do."
Thranduil's gaze moved again to the window and the leaves outside stirring gently in the breeze. Tearing his eyes away, he looked back at Telparian hopefully. "Nothing?"
"It is my begetting day gift to you. Well, one of them, anyway. Everything has been arranged, and everyone understands that you are not to be disturbed – not for anything."
The look she gave him reminded Thranduil that Telparian had ruled the Greenwood very, very capably while he had been battling in the bleak and barren lands of Mordor. He smiled. "You arranged everything?"
"Everything. And now the day is passing, while you stand there wasting time!"
With a sudden laugh he took her hand and pulled her close. He felt as carefree as an elfling at the prospect of this unexpected holiday. "Then what are we waiting for?"
Together they slipped down a flight of stairs that led directly to the kitchens, Telparian's hand still held in his. He felt as light-hearted and giddy as the day they had first met, and had not realised how the duties and burden of kingship had weighed him down. A basket awaited them in the kitchen, laden with bread, cheeses, fruit, and a flagon of wine. Carrying this bounty, they headed for the stables.
Thranduil's black stallion danced restlessly, and he realised guiltily that it had been far too long since he had last taken Morril out for anything more than a short exercise. Glawar tossed her head and nudged Telparian expectantly until she took two apples from the basket.
"You spoil that horse," Thranduil told her. "Let me give Morril his – he will not take it from anyone but …" he broke off as Morril nosed at Telparian coltishly, and stole the apple from her hand while she patted Glawar. "Traitor," he chided the horse.
As they rode off through the forest, Thranduil had no clear destination in mind – the joy of being with Telparian, among the trees, and with no duties or responsibilities to draw his attention was enough. The track wound through the trees, skirting clumps of brambles which would be heavy with blackberries by the autumn, crossing open glades, and at times following one of the many streams that flowed into the Forest River. He allowed Morril to choose their path, content to let this day unfold as it would.
Soon, though, he recognised the path they took. They were drawing near to one of the most peaceful, beautiful spots in the entire forest. A waterfall cascaded over a low cliff, filling a wide, shallow pool. A green lawn stretched from the water to a grove of beech trees, and a small stream trickled from the pond down into the valley. It was quiet, tranquil, and utterly enchanting.
Telparian gave a sigh of pleasure. "I love it here," she said with a smile. "How clever of Morril to bring us."
"I think he knows me a little too well," Thranduil admitted. He stroked Morril's dark neck. "Thank you, my friend," he murmured. Morril tossed his head, then turned away to a shaded area where the grass grew thick and long. Glawar joined him, and they began to graze contentedly.
Leaving the horses in the cool shadows, they crossed the stream together, stepping lightly from stone to stone. Thranduil set the wine near the edge of the waterfall to keep cool and sank down onto the bank of the pool, drawing Telparian with him. He leaned back on the grass, gazing upwards through the ever-changing pattern of beech leaves framed against the sky. Telparian sat at his side, drawing his head into her lap and running her hands through his hair. Her fingers were gentle and caressing, and he closed his eyes, relaxing into the sensual touch. He was drifting on the edge of sleep when her hands suddenly stilled. "Do not stop," he protested drowsily.
He roused as she shook him awake, frowning down at him. "You still have your crown," she protested.
It was true. The crown of the Greenwood – a thin circlet of gold, adorned with emeralds and enamelled leaves, was still in place. He had worn it in anticipation of the council meeting and in honour of the delegation from Esgaroth, and had forgotten it was there. Pulling it off, he tucked it safely into his tunic. "There. Now I am just Thranduil."
"But you are not just Thranduil. You are king of this forest." She paused, her head on one side, studying him. "I have an idea." Her hands were busy again, picking leaves and woodland flowers – snowthorn and alfirin, elanor and lissuin, the golden bells of mallos – weaving them together into a living crown of green, white and gold. Finished, she placed the crown on his head. "There. A crown of woodland flowers for a woodland king. Far more fitting."
Delighted, he took removed the flowers again to look more closely, studying the delicate blooms, the vivid glow of colours, and breathing in the sweet fragrance. "Make one for yourself," he urged. "From now on, this will be the crown of the Greenwood – a crown of flowers, to reflect our ties with the forest."
"But it will not last," she mourned. "The flowers will fade and die."
In answer, he held his hands over the crown, murmuring an incantation under his breath, imbuing into the leaves and flowers a little of his bond with the realm, a bond that some called magic. "There. They will not wilt now. They will stay as fresh as the moment you picked them, a reminder of this day for all time. The crown will change only with the seasons – berries and red leaves for the autumn, holly and mistletoe for winter and Yule. Will you make them? Please?"
She nodded, weaving and plaiting more flowers into a second crown, holding it out for his inspection and blessing. Taking the coronet carefully between his hands he repeated the words of preservation and protection, then placed it gently on her head before drawing her forward into a gentle kiss. "Thank you for this day. I had forgotten how wondrous a moment like this could be, and it is all the more precious for being so unexpected. Thank you."
She nestled against him, returning the kiss, then sat upright again. "Come, the day is wasting. What shall we do?"
"First, I would like to see what delicacies Mireth has put in the picnic basket. Wait here – I will fetch it." As Thranduil crossed the stones over the stream again, he paused midway. "This stone is loose," he called back. "Look." Shifting his weight very slightly to one side, he made the stone wobble a little.
"Be careful," Telparian called automatically. "If you tip it too far, you might slip."
"Of course I will not fall!" Thranduil declared proudly. He rocked the stone again, his feet braced on the outer edges, swaying from side to side. The stone tilted, first one way, then the other, sloping at a greater angle with each movement. He looked up, grinning, as Telparian watched, her expression oddly resigned.
Suddenly, to Thranduil's great surprise, the stone lurched sharply beneath his feet, throwing him off balance. He leapt to one side in an effort to regain a stable footing, but slipped on the slick green surface of the water-washed granite. With a spine-jarring splash, he was suddenly sitting waist-deep in the stream, unsure quite what had happened.
Telparian clapped her hands across her mouth in a vain effort to restrain her laughter, but gave up the attempt a heartbeat later. Her mirth rang out across the glade, joining with the bubbling, chuckling stream and the murmuring of the trees. Thranduil glared at her, but then the absurdity of his plight struck him, and he began to laugh. "I am your husband, wench!" he roared. "Do you dare laugh at me?"
She nodded. "Oh yes," she agreed solemnly. "Especially when you look so foolish. But while you are there, perhaps you could do something useful for once, and catch some fish. You do know how?"
"I think I might manage it," he drawled. "I am certainly wet enough." He climbed to his feet, and waded forward to a more secure footing, knee deep into the water. He stood quite still, squinting to see through the shimmering glare, and waited. A fat brown trout glided past him and slid smoothly away, surfacing briefly to snatch a hovering fly. Ringed ripples radiated across the pond and slowly died away. Still he waited.
"Are you going to stand there all day?" Telparian enquired from the bank.
"Wait," he breathed. "This takes patience." The sun beat down on him and he felt content and utterly at peace. The trout returned, closer this time, brushing against his leg, then his hands. Too swift for thought, he scooped the fish out of the water in a shower of shining droplets and tossed it to Telparian. "Catch!"
Although taken by surprise, she caught it deftly and despatched it with a swift blow. "Well done," she approved. "How hungry are you?"
Thranduil glanced at the trout as he splashed out of the pool. "He will be enough. I do not wish to take more than we need." He kindled a fire while she stuffed the fish with sweet cresses growing at the side of the stream, wrapped it in leaves, and set it to bake.
The sun sparkles dancing on the water began to call irresistibly, and they shed their clothes to swim in the cool, crystal clear pool, the coldness of the water a delightful contrast to the sun burning down from above. At last, breathless and chilled, they emerged from the water to lay on the sun-baked rock at the foot of the cliff to dry.
"Well?" Telparian asked at length. "What next? What do you want to do now?"
"Eat," he said firmly. "I am ravenous. Is that fish ready yet?"
She gave a cry of dismay. "The fish! I had forgotten it!"
As she pulled it deftly from the embers, Thranduil retrieved the basket from the cool shade on the far side of the stream, and hauled the wine flagon up from its watery home. He poured two goblets, and held his up in a toast. "To us," he said simply.
"To us," she echoed. "And to you, on your begetting day."
The trout, wrapped in its leaves and carefully placed at the edge of the fire, was cooked to perfection. They ate from platters of leaves, using their fingers to pick every scrap from the bones, then turned to the contents of the picnic basket. Small, unexpected treats were hidden at the bottom – a handful of spiced biscuits, and some of the honey cakes that Mireth, Telparian's oldest and closest friend in the Greenwood, excelled at.
At last, the basket empty, and the flagon of wine drained, they swam again, then floated, lazy and languid, carried by the swirling current from the waterfall; drifting apart then coming together again like the steps of some courtly dance. Finally they lay in the sun upon the rocks, together, and slept.
Shadows lengthened across the grass as the sun began to drop behind the trees and the distant mountains. At last Thranduil began to stir. "I suppose we had better return," he said reluctantly. "I would like nothing better than to stay here – but duty will call eventually. I cannot ignore my responsibilities for ever."
Telparian stretched languidly. "No – but you can remember days like this. Take time for yourself; for us. Enjoy the gifts the Valar gave us, and the simple pleasures. Remember."
"Even falling in the stream?" he asked with a grin.
She laughed. "Especially that! It will be a tale to tell our children one day. We will bring them here as well, and enjoy being a simple family sometimes."
As they stood, Thranduil replaced the circlet of flowers on her head. They were still fresh and unwithered, the colours vibrant and bright. The crown of woodland flowers would always remain perfect and unblemished, as alive as his memory of this day. Neither would ever fade or die.