Spoilers for events in "The Battle of the Five Armies." I wondered where things between Thranduil and Tauriel would pick up, following their final conversation.
I do not own any of the characters mentioned here.
It takes her half the night to find him.
Erebor has about it a vast and ceremonious silence, so that traveling down through its chambers is rather like descending into the early darkness of a valley. Her boots make no noise on its stone, and her breaths are lost in its deep, sunless air.
But in six hundred years Tauriel has never once managed to approach the king unnoticed, and so can guess perfectly well why he does not turn when she approaches.
He sits atop a stairway leading down into the great treasure hall; the gold gives off a burnished light, so that Tauriel does not need a torch to lead her down the final passage. His head is bowed forward. He holds a small box balanced on his knees.
Tauriel stops several paces away from him and waits. A single silver coin, which has somehow made its way up here to the landing, rests beside her foot.
The king says nothing.
(Tonight she has watched him lay the sword Orcrist in Thorin Oakensheild's mute, folded hands. She has watched a hundred burning candles go out, one by one, as a company of dwarves place three coffins in a tomb. She has watched Kili be sealed behind a door meant never to open again.)
She waits, ears filled with the sound of her own pulse, but the king says nothing.
He keeps his eyes ahead, aimed out over the piles of gold where they vanish into the dark. She considers taking the last few steps forward to stand beside him, but she dares not give any slack to this wire of tension held tight between them.
Instead, she drops into a shallow bow.
"My lord," she begins, "Legolas has gone – "
"North," he finishes. He does not raise his head. "Yes, I know. He asked permission to take his leave of me after the battle."
Tauriel straightens up.
She folds both arms behind her back to keep them steady, trying to recall the way he had looked at her atop Ravenhill. But that king is gone now, she thinks, receded somewhere deep inside of the one who sits before her.
("There is no love in you.")
She is still turning the memory over when he speaks again.
"And what exactly is it that you have come to ask of me?"
His emphasis slices her with its passing, the way an arrow's fletching sometimes lashes back against her wrist, but she manages not to flinch. Tauriel has planned this out, has selected her words and balanced them atop one another like cairn stones.
"Your forgiveness, my lord."
Still he does not raise his head, or turn to face her. Well. She did not expect him to.
She goes on speaking anyway.
"I led your son into danger. That alone would warrant an apology. But I was…" she searches for the word and sets into place "…Rash. A captain should obey the orders of her king."
He is quiet once again.
At first Tauriel thinks he has finished speaking to her, and she has planned this, too. She knows what will happen next.
She will bow one last time. She will go back to the stairs.
She will walk up out of the darkness, out of Erebor, out through the gates of Dale with her feet pointed south. She will keep walking south until she has crossed the borders of Haradwaith, and there she will look up at a sky full of strange stars.
But as Tauriel takes a first step to leave, the king's hands clench around the wooden box on his lap; up close she realizes that it is a jewelry coffret with iron mounts.
His shoulders sag in what may be a sigh.
"I suppose a king," he says, shifting towards her just enough to show a curve of his jaw, "should not act contrary to the conscience of his people."
He turns away again, not bothering to see how she reacts, so at least Tauriel does not feel impolite staring at him.
Whenever she has pictured her king in the past, she has always imagined him the same: in the black armor, damascened with silver, its plating like the bone scales of a dragon. He has always been hard and impenetrable and self-contained, a sword forged from one single length of steel.
("There is no love in you.")
But now Tauriel looks at his unguarded back. His shoulders are broad, yes, but his hands look pale and breakable where they clutch the wooden coffret. The tips of his ears are flushed pink from the dungeon's cold. Strands of hair, colorless as early sunshine, cling to the heavy brocade of his cloak, which he has spread carefully around him so that he will not have to sit on it. His circlet looks like something a child would braid from flower stems, there on his head where they placed it after his father's death.
He has lived so long, Tauriel remembers.
Lifetimes and lifetimes beyond her own, all gathered inside him like the age-rings of a great tree.
But she could draw her knife now, and take those final three steps forward, and send its blade plunging up through the muscle and tendon of that unguarded back straight through to his unguarded heart, and he would die gasping like any mortal man.
("There is no love in you.")
"Still," Tauriel says, and hesitates, because she did not think she would get this far, "I am sorry for…"
She considers the bodies shrouded in their elvish cloaks. She considers his son, who is by now headed towards the northern boundaries of Mirkwood.
She even, for a moment, considers her bow with its string cut cleanly in two.
"…I am sorry for your losses."
"Your own losses are punishment enough, I believe. I see no reason why you should burden yourself additionally with mine."
Tauriel brings both hands around from behind her back.
She clutches them together in front of her, even though it makes her feel like a child awaiting instruction. She can feel her heartbeat all the way down in her fingertips and she wants to make it hold still.
"I did not think grief was something to be hoarded for oneself, my lord."
He sighs again.
"No. I suppose not."
There is a different, measured quality to this next silence. While she waits for him to say something else – Tauriel has learned to read his pauses well enough – she stoops to pick up the coin at her feet.
She runs a thumb over its mint. It is a small silver tharni, from the kingdom of Gondor. If memory serves her correct, it takes four of them to make the worth of a single mirian.
She wonders whose life it is accountable for: one of her own kinsmen, possibly, or a dwarf who went to war at the summons of king with no kingdom. Maybe even a man-child of Laketown, about the same age as the bowman's son, who will never know a gray hair and could not even have named whatever weapon his enemy used to gut him.
In one snap of temper, Tauriel takes the coin and flings it viciously off into the dark.
It collides with something. There is a cascade of sound as the gold and silver shifts to accept it, devour it, and in a moment the worthless little tharni is gone forever.
"I hope they seal it off." Tauriel searches for another coin, taken abruptly by the demented whimsy that she will count out the weight of their dead in gold and see how long it takes her. "I hope this mountain opens up and pulls it all back down into the earth."
The king runs a hand over the coffret's iron latches, as though committing them to memory.
"That may be for the best."
(This evening has also seen Dain Ironfoot present the king with chests of gold, with the emeralds of Girion, offerings to honor the sacrifices of his Silvan people, and Tauriel knows very well that this box was not among the gifts.)
He unfastens its lock with the hesitating motions of an old man and opens it.
She is met by a brilliance so startling –silver sparks raining off a grindstone, starlight on a winter evening – that at first Tauriel cannot see what the coffret actually contains.
But then the king sifts his fingers through those shards of light and grasps something with a kind of infinite precision, and he lifts out a necklace of white gems.
Understanding comes to her all at once. It is quick and stunning like a blow between the eyes.
("There is no love in you.")
"It was the clasp," the king says. "I only asked that it be welded, but their silversmith insisted on replacing it altogether. Odd. I cannot even recall how she broke it."
The White Gems of Lasgalen multiply in Tauriel's vision. The cavern around her becomes unsteady, although she thought she would be all emptied out with crying by now.
Her hands recall the smooth outline of a stone, warm from being carried against her body even as she pressed it into the colder hands of its owner. And she remembers again:
Kili is dead.
He is dead, and she is alive, although Tauriel cannot help but think that she has closed up a part of herself inside the tomb along with him, a part of herself she will never get back and did not know she possessed to begin with. The sorrow of it has gone through her like thread through the eye of a needle, and she knows everything in her life after this moment will be woven with its color.
Tauriel speaks through a peculiar bowstring-tightness in her throat.
"Does it ever stop?"
He turns the necklace for inspection. It is so delicately formed that it could be made of morning dew and spider-silk, and he handles it with such care that it may as well be.
"Does it ever change?"
Then the king really does turn to face her.
His eyes are bright and sharp, as they had been when he looked down along the flat of his sword to her heart. A single crease forms between his brows, but it smooths away in another moment.
("There is no love in you.")
Tauriel wants to ask him how, but that seems comes to her that perhaps he does not know the answer for himself.
Then she waits for him to look away, and is suddenly frightened by the fact that this time he does not.
(More frightening still is the possibility that the king has always looked at her this way, and that she has simply never bothered looking back for long enough to notice.)
"What will…" Tauriel falters, studies her hands, "what will you do now, my lord?"
"Return." His gaze shifts forward again. "Wait."
He places the shining necklace in its coffret again and spreads it flat over the bed of gemstones. The iron lock clicks shut.
It is Tauriel's turn to sigh, and draw enough breath to speak.
"I fear there was some merit in Mithrandir's warnings. This battle may have only been a prelude of sorts." He gathers the ends of his cloak together and stands in one jointless motion. "That orc you captured also made some mention of the one Azog did his business for."
"The orc?" Tauriel forgets her shyness. "Legolas told me you cut off his head before he could say anything worthwhile."
"You were right." The king keeps his back to her, but something like a smirk pulls briefly at one corner of his mouth. "He did like death."
This almost startles a smile out of Tauriel as well, but her hand comes up quickly enough to hide it. "And the spiders? What of them?"
"I don't know yet. Perhaps burning out their nest in Dol Guldur would be a favorable course of action after all."
"But you said –"
The cloak floats lazily around him as he turns. Even in this gloom, his brooch and robes and hair draw light just as the gems did.
"Are you about to admit that you gave unwise council, Tauriel?"
"I did not think so. Always one for doing what you must before doing what you should." The king leans his head back, a practiced motion ideal for looking down his nose at her. "It is among your many insufferable personal qualities, but I will allow that it has always made you a fine enough captain."
Tauriel bows, deeply this time. The words seem to split from their meanings, so that she cannot quite understand the last part of what he has said.
"Goodbye, my lord."
Thranduil inclines his head in return, but says nothing more to her.
Tauriel, in turn, can say nothing more to him, so she leaves him to the darkness and the private horde of his own grief. She moves back up alone through the mountain's halls, and sits before a newly-sealed tomb for the remainder of the night.
(And when her king departs with his remaining host, in the first gray morning light, she is waiting for him at the gates of Dale.)
"Time's cupped hand holds
no place so lenient, so calm as this,
the moment after suffering. It is like
a sunlit clearing after densest wood,
bright by antithesis."
- Jessica Powers
As always, your thoughts, critiques, and comments are very much welcome and appreciated. Thank you for reading.