Chapter 26

The first few days after Tauriel's awakening went by fast, as she had little time to herself. Not only did Thranduil never leave her side, but Legolas and her friends were always around as well. Her recovery was met with great joy by lord Elrond, Arwen and Lossendis, who remained in Mirkwood for these few days. The people of the realm were also relieved to hear of her being alive and well now, and to see their King resume his duties again. However, due to his prolonged absence on Tauriel's behalf, rumors of them sharing a romantic relationship were now flaring up in the King's court.

The last day before the departure of the three elves of Rivendell Thranduil decided to host a great feast. The purpose and meaning of the feast would be double: first of all, it would be held in honor of the lord of Imladris, whose contribution to discovering what had happened to Tauriel was invaluable, and secondly, the Elvenking had in mind to announce said elleth's return to the Woodland Realm.

So it was now, and the great hall was brightly lit and beautifully decorated with twigs, pine and fir cones, as well as mistletoe and other evergreen wintery flora. The gentle, yellowish light of the lanterns made the atmosphere very warm and welcoming, and the air was filled with elven songs of merriment.

The folk of the wood was more than happy to partake in another feast and in quite a short time after Mereth nuin Giliath, and the great hall was crowded and lively. The elves rejoiced at their King's decision for feasting, and the eldest were even reminded of days past, before the Shadow had fallen over their beautiful forest, when the King and his folk would often feast and make merry under the trees.

The Elvenking's table was the largest of all, round in shape and placed in the center of the room. His chair was high-backed and ornate, distinct among the rest. To the right of the King sat lord Elrond, with his daughter on his side. The Prince was on his father's left, with Lossendis and Tauriel following in order of seat. The rest of the chairs were occupied by the noble elves of the council.

Tauriel watched Thranduil with secret admiration as he regally rose from his seat to offer a toast. He looked radiant in his dark blue robes and silver cloak, and he wore his winter crown upon his silver head. Absolute silence fell in the hall as the King extended his elegant hand, which held a glass of wine, and began to speak.

"A toast for our esteemed guest, lord Elrond!" he announced in a clear, vibrating voice that echoed across the vast cavernous hall. "I raise my glass to his honor and with feelings of deep gratitude, for his contribution to helping a member of our folk find her way back to the living world had been invaluable". A small smile graced his otherwise calm and controlled features, and he turned slightly to Elrond's side, tilting his head as he spoke. "May your days be blessed with peace and prosperity, mellon nin", he concluded his short speech, and then everyone followed the King's example and sipped from their wine.

The lord of Imladris nodded and smiled, feeling touched by Thranduil's words. "Thank you, Elvenking. Your words honor me greatly", he said in a humble tone, rising briefly from his seat and inclining his head in front of Thranduil, acknowledging his gesture.

Then the King turned to his people again, and raised both hands this time. "And now, let the feast begin!"

With that he returned to his seat, and the room was once again filled with chatter and music.

"Your presence will be missed, Elrond", said Thranduil to him in a good-natured manner.

"You are always welcome to Imladris, Thranduil. I trust you will not allow another couple of centuries to pass before you decide to pay us a visit again", he responded, suppressing a chuckle, but the mirth showed on his face as his grey eyes shimmered.

"Most definitely not. I am fairly certain Legolas plans to journey oft to your lands, and I may accompany him sometimes. Furthermore, I am a different person now, Elrond", the Elvenking said, and his tone turned more serious as he uttered the last sentence. "I am not disengaged from the world anymore. I have reevaluated my life and my purpose".

"It gladdens my heart to hear this, my friend. What prompted you to change your views, if I may ask?" Elrond inquired with a slightly raised eyebrow, although he was half suspecting the answer.

"She did", Thranduil answered plainly and earnestly, and glanced at Tauriel as he spoke. The red-haired elleth caught his gaze and gifted him with a bright smile, causing his heart to sing in joy. "Her love is transforming me. I am rediscovering who I was, before I allowed grief and despair to take hold of me and turn me into a living statue of ice", he admitted and lowered his gaze to his plate.

"Alas, the sorrows of the Eldar are never ending. And your share, Thranduil, had been a great one and hard to bear. But to see you now with renewed vigor and desire for life speaks for itself. I had not been wrong in considering you one of the strongest and more persevering elves to have ever walked this Middle Earth. The woodland elves could not have wished for a better King", Elrond spoke in kindness.

An almost timid smile curled the corners of Thranduil's lips, and he still kept his gaze low, contemplating Elrond's words and also the recent events of his life that resulted in his reshaping. After a brief period of silence, he lifted his eyes to his interlocutor again and spoke.

"I am planning an assault on Dol Guldur, as soon as I can have my army mustered and ready", he stated firmly. "The filth should be cleansed in its source".

The lord of Imladris eyed him with concern. "A perilous endeavor…" he commented thoughtfully. "Forget not that Khamul commands the forces of Dol Guldur, and he is second only to the Witch King".

"I am aware of that, Elrond. Khamul and two more of the Nazgul reside there. But the oppression of the Shadow is growing. The dungeons of the old fortress are swarming with orcs and wargs… The impertinence of Dol Guldur is insufferable, as the enemies cause trouble and skirmish in our southern borders daily. I cannot allow them to strengthen their forces, lest they choose to launch a massive attack on my realm first and obliterate us", the Elvenking said, tapping his fingertips lightly on the table. His brow was furrowed in unyielding resolve.

"There is wisdom in your words. The threat of the Enemy is ever-present. We cannot afford to let it grow unhindered. But I would advise you not to rush; be wary and careful in your preparations. When the time comes, send word to me and I will provide you with a number of warriors to aid your cause. You would do well to ask for the aid of the rest of your allies as well", said Elrond, looking at Thranduil intently.

The Elvenking was pleased to hear of Elrond's offer of assistance. "Thank you, mellon. Your kindness will not be forgotten. Still, I doubt that the rest of my allies, as you called them, would be much willing to help".

"What is the meaning of an alliance if not aiding each other in times of war?" Elrond responded and leaned back in his chair. "Send word to the lords Dain and Bain. In this war to come we are all allies, and it only an alliance that can defeat the Dark Lord".

Thranduil peered deeply into Elrond's eyes, and then nodded. "I shall. But I hold doubts about their cooperation, for Dain is stubborn and Bain is old. I fear they will not be willing to lead their forces into a war that I myself will instigate. I shall try to negotiate with them, however, as you suggest. I see now it is only an alliance that may bring down the Shadow. You have always spoken in wisdom, but it is only late that I listened".

"I should be glad you did listen at last. Sometimes you are more obdurate than lord Dain himself…" Elrond commented in jest disguised as seriousness, but the twinkle in his eyes gave him away. Thranduil laughed heartily, and starlight shone in his eyes. Elrond watched his friend and was pleased that at long last joy had returned to his heart.

As his laughter gradually died down, the Elvenking spoke again. "You failed to mention Galadriel and Celeborn. Should they not be most interested in the cleansing of Dol Guldur, since its filth and aggression reaches their borders as much as mine?"

"Indeed. And I failed to mention them because I consider their assistance a certainty. Their people and yours, after all, are of very close kin. The lady Galadriel desires Dol Guldur to be purged of the evil, of that I am sure. But you should speak with her, if you wish to know the thoughts of her mind", the lord of Imladris said with an eyebrow raised in thoughtfulness.

"I have not met with Galadriel for centuries…" Thranduil sighed and sank back in his chair.

"Well, that renewed and changed version of yourself should rekindle old relations and alliances. It is worth the effort, in the face of the coming war".

The Elvenking regarded Elrond for a while without uttering a word, and finally nodded his agreement. In his mind, the first layout of his plans was already being formed.

Nearby, an entirely different conversation was taking place.

Lossendis leaned to Tauriel's side and said in a low voice, "I would have expected you to sit next to the King". A playful smile was on her face and made her brilliant eyes shine.

"This seat belongs today to lord Elrond. He is the guest of honor. And I am but a simple Silvan elf of the Realm. I am honored to even sit at this table", she replied in a reserved tone.

"What does that mean? Are you and him not going to take the next step?" she inquired.

"Probably, at some point in the future… But not yet. It is too early. I should first return to my duties in the Guard and be accepted back by the people. In time, we will let them know of our relationship. Thranduil and I have agreed on this", Tauriel explained.

"Oh, I see. And here I thought you might marry before I do!" Lossendis softly chuckled.

Tauriel returned the smile. "Are you making such plans?"

"To use your words, I will say probably, at some point in the future!" she said and laughed again merrily. "We need to set a date for the betrothal first. I believe around midsummer would be nice", she mused.

"It sounds perfect. I long to see Legolas happy. He has been through much in these dark times, and he deserves light and love in his life… more than any of us perhaps", Tauriel commented and glanced at her childhood friend, who was currently chatting with his father.

She let her gaze linger on them for a while. Prince and King looked content in each other's company. Legolas was being lively and open as usual. Thranduil, although maintaining a more restrained manner, was also mirthful, and it was not a pretense. The sight of his smiling face warmed her heart, and the impulse to run to him, hug him and kiss him was born inside her.

She contemplated what a long way they had come to reach this state. Starting off as King and ward, then spending most of her life in his service as a Captain in the Guard, and lately revealing their love for each other and becoming lovers, she marveled at how unexpected life could be. Much had happened in the past, but what did the future hold?

"They look lovely together, father and son. Do they not?" Lossendis murmured and smiled. Her gaze, just like Tauriel's, was also trained on the royal ellyn.

"Yes… I do not recall seeing them like this ever before in my life. At last the grievances of the past have been set aside, for the most part at least", said the red-haired elleth in a thoughtful tone.

"Legolas has spoken to me of his relationship with his father. His mother died when he was only a few years old, and since then the King became cold and distant. He had always felt that the day he lost his mother, he lost his father as well", Lossendis said and sorrow creased her forehead.

"I have been friends with Legolas ever since I was brought into the Elvenking's halls. His father's sentimental absence had always weighed heavily in his heart, and he never agreed with his ways. You see, the whole realm took after Thranduil's psychological state: we became more and more isolated and shut-off from the rest of the world as the years went by. Strangers were unwelcome, and the King was distrustful and suspicious of everyone with unclear purposes. Legolas felt distressed, but for long he dared not voice his opposition; he dutifully obeyed his father's commands", narrated Tauriel.

"He told me it was not until the battle at the slopes of Erebor that things started to change", Lossendis said and titled her head to the side.

"Yes. That battle was a turning point for all of us. We were not the same afterwards", Tauriel replied in a low voice and let her gaze drop to her glass, as memories of those times came unbidden to her mind.

Lossendis studied the other elleth's face for a while. "You defied the King, and Legolas joined you in this. He told me it grieved him deeply to go against his father, but he would not abandon you to continue the fight alone".

Tauriel nodded. "The Prince has a noble heart. This defiance of his father was his turning point, I think. He had had enough of Thranduil's detached and uncaring manner, and he decided he would not be like him. Since then he started discovering who he truly is and becoming an ellon of his own", she said and forced a small smile.

"It is a pity this happened under such circumstances", the dark-haired elleth commented.

"Alas, life-altering events and decisions rarely come smoothly. There is a cost to be paid", said Tauriel.

"You said that battle was a turning point for you all. What changed for you and Thranduil that day?" Lossendis wondered.

"I drew my bow against him. I do not think anything could remain the same afterwards", she replied with a bitter smile and downcast eyes. "In that moment I despised him, I hated him. Blinded by despair, I could not see that my rash acts equaled treason. I did not care at all what would happen to me. I only knew I had to save Kili", she confessed.

Lossendis nodded, remembering what Legolas had told her of the dwarven King and his company, as well as Tauriel's affection for one of his nephews.

"Only when I mourned over his dead body did I truly feel what losing your loved one meant. I suddenly felt all alone and bereft. With Kili gone, and myself banished and homeless, I knew not what future awaited me, if any. I half expected to be thrown in the dungeons forever, or even be executed for treason", she sighed and tears rose to her eyes at the bitter memories. "But I was wrong, Lossendis. For when I lifted my eyes from Kili's body it was Thranduil I saw. Him, and no one else. He walked close to me, looking broken and derelict, his entire existence shaken as I had never witnessed before. He felt for my pain and offered me what little comfort he could. Can you imagine that, my friend? I had threatened his life but he was still there for me in my dark hour of grief. I had turned my back to him, but still he came to me", she concluded in a broken voice and hastily wiped a tear from her cheek.

"He loved you", Lossendis tenderly said and touched her hand.

"Yes. But back then I was too blind to realize that. Consumed by grief and blaming him for Kili's death, I spat back in his face his forgiveness. I did not want to return to Mirkwood and keep serving this cold and unfeeling King", Tauriel said and shook her head. "I could not come to terms with the fact that the ellon I had admired, feared and revered since I was an elfling was responsible for my misery".

Lossendis sighed and looked at her in sorrow and sympathy.

"But I was wrong. As the years passed, my anger and my hate for him dissipated. Only disappointment and hurt remained. But it was not until I met with him again and we had a chance to talk about those past events and learn of his motives that I truly saw the folly of my choices", Tauriel admitted.

"Do you regret going after the dwarves and trying to defend them?" Lossendis asked with care.

"No, never. But I do regret overstepping and threatening Thranduil's life. I do not know if I would ever be able to release that arrow, but the thought of it alone makes me sick. Countless times I have wished that things had been different back then, but the truth remains as it is", she said and sighed.

"But he forgave you and invited you back to his kingdom", Lossendis commented.

Tauriel nodded thoughtfully. "Yes. After everything that happened, he was willing to overlook it all. Now that I think of it, I never deserved such magnanimity and kindness. I deserved severe punishment. I did not know why he did it, and this lack of understanding infuriated me even more".

"It seems to me that all he wanted was you to love him, and forgive him as he forgave you", Lossendis said softly and gave the other elleth a warm look.

Tauriel's eyes widened at this simple piece of wisdom Lossendis had just offered. "I wish I had been that insightful back then. Much hurt would have been avoided", she lamented.

"We cannot change what happened. But look where you stand now. You have come a long way, you said it yourself. Your King is not heartless and mean. On the contrary, he loves you, and you love him back", Lossendis commented with a small smile and glistening eyes.

"Do I hear talk of love going on?"

It was Legolas who interjected the question, leaning towards his beloved and placing his hand on her shoulder.

The two ellith blushed slightly, and Tauriel looked away in uneasiness. Lossendis turned her face to Legolas' direction.

"Is not love the most important motive in our lives?" she said and her eyes danced, feeling her heart and body warmed by the close proximity of Legolas.

The Prince peered deeply into her eyes, and it was only propriety that kept him from kissing her lips in public for everyone to see.

"It is, I will not argue. Would you offer me this dance, in the name of love, my lady?" he asked her courtly, and, taking her hand in his own, placed a kiss on her knuckles.

"It would be my pleasure, my lord", she responded in the same manner.

Then Legolas rose from his seat, still holding Lossendis' hand, who stood right after him. "If you would excuse us, my lady Tauriel", he told her with a playful smirk and a small bow.

Tauriel laughed softly. "By all means, my lord".

The beautiful pair then left the table and joined the dancers. The minstrels were now playing a vivid, uplifting piece of music that prompted many elves to join the dance, and soon the room was filled with flowing silks of every color and glowing faces.

Thranduil turned his gaze to Tauriel from over the two now emptied seats. Since Elrond and Arwen were preoccupied in conversations with the members of his council, he decided to approach the red-haired elleth, who was left on her own.

Seeing him rise from his chair and moving towards her caused Tauriel's heart to beat faster with anticipation.

"Are you being lonely, my lady?" he began with a soft smirk.

Tauriel smiled and looked into his eyes, taking a moment to regard him before replying.

"Not anymore".

The Elvenking sat down next to her. "I am glad that my company is welcome", he said and gazed at her lovingly. But as he looked at her more closely, his countenance became somewhat concerned. "Are these traces of sorrow I see? Is something troubling you, meleth nin?" he asked her in a low voice, inaudible to anyone but her.

"No, no, I am fine", she quickly answered, shaking her head. "You need not worry. It was just some memories of the past, evoked by the conversation I had with Lossendis".

"But I will not have you be sorrowful tonight, or any night since", he told her in a deep voice.

"I know", she breathed softly and let herself get lost in his cerulean eyes.

He smiled then and spoke. "I would ask you to come with me to the terrace and retreat from this crowded hall for a while, but I fear our absence will be noted and gossiped about, so I must refrain from it. But I shall ask something else of you: will you come to me in my chambers, after the feast has ended?"

Tauriel's lips parted slightly, as she thought of his words. Never before had they made love in his private quarters, never before had she lain in the same bed the Queen used to sleep all those centuries ago. His invitation to her was not void of significance and meaning.

Seeing her hesitation, the Elvenking spoke again, offering an alternative. "If you are reluctant or afraid you might be seen, I can come to you, if it is of your preference".

"No, Thranduil, I am neither unwilling nor afraid. It is just that…" she made a short pause and took a breath before continuing. "That is the place you used to share with Lothrin, the very private space where your love bloomed. I cannot intrude in that".

"You will not be intruding, beloved. True enough, those chambers are home to many fond memories, but I believe there is plenty of space for more memories to be made and kept", Thranduil responded in a soft tone and smiled at her.

The elleth's eyes shone with a new light then. His words had touched her and pleased her. "Alright then, I shall come to you, mell nin".

He nodded in approval and then reached to refill her glass. "I think it is time I announced your return to the Woodland Realm", he said.

Tauriel smiled. "You should return to your kingly seat", she told him and gestured towards it.

Thranduil stood and glanced down at her through half-lidded eyes, a smirk curling his lips. He nodded at her and then walked to his chair.

He waited for the song the minstrels played to end, and then he called for everyone's attention.

"Elves of the Woodland Realm! I have an announcement to make", he started and countless sets of eyes were turned on him at once, the chatter in the room dying down. "It is with gladness that I welcome Tauriel Elboroniel back to the realm and to her position in the Guard, after many years of absence. Past wrongs are forgiven and forgotten, for we are entering a new era, where dissension and discord have no place. We must be united if we are to face and defeat the great evil that gathers in the south. In this light, I ask of you to accept Tauriel back among you with joy and benevolence, as she is one of our own, a daughter of the wood".

A round of applause and cheer followed his short speech, the folk showing the King that his words were well-received. Some of the councilors, however, exchanged a few skeptical glances, but nobody voiced a comment.

The Elvenking noticed those glances and made sure to return them with his own ones of indifference and disregard. He expected that not everyone would be pleased with Tauriel's permanent return and reinstatement as Captain, but he would not suffer petty complaints.

Tauriel rose from her seat and bowed meekly. "Thank you, my lord", she offered in a timid voice and sat down again, feeling uneasy being in the center of attention.

He glanced at her, maintaining a serious and expressionless façade, as he was still being watched by all his subjects. He slowly nodded and then waved his hand in dismissal, gesturing for the feast to continue. And continue it did, well into the night.

Later that night Thranduil was lying in his bed, one arm bent and tucked beneath his head and eyes closed, resting. He had gotten rid of the heavy robes he wore at the feast and was wearing a simple grey tunic and matching loose pants. A glass of wine, which was carefully placed on the bedside table, was keeping him company. The fireplace was lit and the soft glow that emanated from it made the darkness of the room melt away.

The low crackling of the wood as the flames licked at it lulled Thranduil, and his slightly intoxicated mind was relaxed. Various incoherent thoughts danced in his head, but he wished not to linger on any of them. He simply lay and waited for his nighttime guest.

A while later, a soft knock on the doors signaled the arrival of said guest. "Come in", he called in a deep, somnolent voice.

He heard the outer door opening and closing, then some soft steps, and then the door to his bedchamber being pushed open. Tauriel's auburn head appeared from behind it, and she glanced around the dark room.

"I am over here, meleth nin", he spoke softly and looked at her through half-lidded eyes.

She turned her face towards the direction of his voice, and saw him lying leisurely in the bed, legs crossed at the ankle and covers pushed aside. A warm smile graced her features at the sight of him, and she slowly stepped closer.

The Elvenking observed her as she approached. She had exchanged her ornate dress of the feast for a simple white gown, and her hair hung about her shoulders unbraided and free of any ornamentation. Her emerald eyes were gleaming, and her cheeks were ever so lightly flushed.

He sat up, propping himself on his elbows, as she reached his side.

"You look beautiful… like you have come straight out of a vision", he murmured as his gaze traveled all over her slender form. The yellowish light of the fireplace accentuated her frame from behind, making her hair glow like flames and the outline of her gentle curves visible beneath her thin gown. Shadows were cast on her face, but her eyes shimmered.

A lustful smirk rose on his lips, and he outstretched his hand, elegant fingers touching her hip lightly and slowly tracing the curve downwards over her thigh. Tauriel shivered at his touch, and desire was lit like an ember inside her.

"I have missed you…" she breathed, and proceeded to get on the bed and deftly straddle his thighs.

His hands immediately went to her waist, squeezing gently as they slid backwards and lower over her bottom, eliciting a soft sigh from her.

"You have me now", he responded in a husky and lined with lust tone.

Tauriel brought her hand to tangle in his silken strands of silver-blond hair, pushing them backwards, behind his ears and shoulders. She peered deep into his starlit eyes, and smiled.

"I am glad to be back home", she whispered.

Thranduil returned her smile, and then one hand of his glided upwards along her spine until it reached the nape of her neck. Cradling her head gently, he leaned close and kissed her on the lips.

The kiss was not hurried, but languid and explorative. A tingling sensation spread over Tauriel's body at his familiar taste of wine that came first to the tongue, but it never covered that unique and indefinable taste of his that had her senses running wild every time.

She placed her hands on his shoulders and leaned closer, allowing their bodies to touch in the front. He let out a deep moan when he felt her pressed against his arousal, and sought to hold her tighter still.

The Elvenking's mind and his sight had started to become hazy due to the combined effects of lust and alcohol. "I want you…" he murmured against her ear, and his voice alone was enough to make her shudder.

"And I you", she responded breathlessly, and her fingers went to the front of his pants. Loose as they were, she had no difficulty setting him free of his restraints and taking him in her hand.

He moaned again, more audibly this time, and bit lightly on her earlobe. His hands ran all over her body, making a pause to fondle her supple breasts. But the light fabric of her gown annoyed him, and he tugged at the laces with urgency, quickly exposing her tantalizing flesh to him. Mouth and hands were on it at once, making her burning hot with desire, while she continued her ministrations in the nether parts of his body.

When he felt somewhat satisfied with the attention he had given to her soft globes of femininity, he dropped his hands to her thighs, grabbing hold of her dress and pulling it upwards.

Suddenly aware of his intent, Tauriel looked bewildered. "Like this?" she asked him.

"Like this", he replied with impatience in his tone.

With the hem now lifted above her knees, his fingers crept underneath it and stroked the flesh of her thighs, smooth skin covering taut muscle, until he reached her bottom. A groan escaped him as he squeezed her, causing her to moan as well.

At once the dress was pushed further up, and she readjusted her body in his lap, allowing herself to slowly descend on his hardness. But he did not allow her any chance of adjustment this time, and with an urgent thrust upwards he buried himself completely inside her. She let out a yelp at his sudden intrusion, but the feeling of completion was so overwhelming that she had no mind to complain.

Once joined, Thranduil held her firmly in his strong arms and stood from the bed, causing her to yelp yet again in surprise.

"What are you doing?" she wondered.

He then turned with her in his arms, causing her dangling foot to kick his glass of wine. It smashed on the floor and broke into pieces. But Thranduil ignored this insignificant accident and walked a few steps until her back was pressed against the wall. "This", he replied, and brought his hands to support her bottom, while she held firmly on his shoulders.

He then began a series of thrusts that were growing in demand and intensity, and soon Tauriel was moaning and panting. Feeling heated up, he got rid of his tunic and tossed it on the floor with one swift move. Tauriel's nails immediately raked his upper back and shoulders, enjoying the feel of his naked flesh beneath her hands.

"I have wanted this since the beginning of the feast", the Elvenking told her in a voice so hoarse that nearly resembled a growl.

"I would be a liar if I said the thought had not crossed my mind as well", she managed in-between pants and moans. "But worry not, mell nin. I am staying permanently this time, and we will have plenty of chances to enjoy and love each other".

Her words made him smile, and he kissed her again, resuming his urgent thrusts. It did not take them too long to reach their climaxes, releasing all the pent-up tension and steam, shuddering and heaving in each other's arms. He was still holding her against the wall, but once the beats of his heart had calmed, he carried her over to the bed and they crawled under the warm covers.

"This was the best conclusion to a beautiful night", Tauriel whispered, relishing the feelings of bliss and content that washed over her.

He smiled and observed her postcoital glow. Her eyes were half-lidded and glimmering, her face relaxed and rid of every care and graced by a soft smile, her limbs carelessly entangled with his. This was a sight he wished to see for the rest of his immortal life.

"I love you", he told her in a low, emotional voice.

She turned her eyes to him and lifted her hand to caress his cheek. "And I you, Thranduil".

He loved to hear his name rolling off her tongue. It made him feel special, cherished and loved. It gave him back his long-lost sense of a right in a private life, for he was too fed-up with the formality of "my lord" and "my king".

He leaned close then and dropped a feathery kiss on her lips. "My Queen", he uttered, addressing her in a manner that was entirely foreign to her.

Tauriel raised an inquisitive eyebrow. "I think it is rather early for this…"

"No. For me you are my Queen whether you wear a crown or not, for you rule my heart", Thranduil responded in a deep voice, and the depths of his eyes trembled. He leaned close to kiss her then, and a single tear ran from his closed eyes.

Tauriel hugged him tenderly and sighed. "Oh, my love…" she breathed, profoundly moved.

"And this bed is meant to be occupied by a Queen", he added.

A shiver coursed through Tauriel's body, as she realized that on this very bed a once very alive and breathing Lothrin lay and made love with Thranduil. She held her breath as memories from her dreams while she was unconscious came to her mind, and she remembered that the white lady had asked of her to make him happy and ease his pain and sorrows.

Determination fueled her words as she spoke. "I will be your Queen and anything else that might make you happy, Thranduil. This second chance is not given to you for naught, or to go wasted. It is an extremely rare gift of the Valar, and they gave it to you, realizing in their wisdom and benevolence that none of the firstborn has ever suffered like you did", she said with a sudden surge of insight and enlightenment.

The Elvenking propped himself on one elbow and watched her closely as she spoke. "You will surpass Galadriel in wisdom, should you continue like this", he made a light attempt at jest, and Tauriel did respond with a chuckle.

After the moment of mirth had passed, his countenance turned more serious. "I do not intend to waste my chance, Tauriel. Come tomorrow, you will see a different King. Many things will change, and on that I am resolute".

"What do you mean?" she asked in curiosity mingled with interest.

"No longer will I be isolated. Our realm will gradually re-emerge and re-engage with the dealings of the world. You were right; we cannot remain idle bystanders as war rages around us. We will strengthen our defenses and prepare. But I will not sit on my throne and wait for the enemy to attack. Evil may never be completely eradicated from Middle Earth, but it must be confronted and halted", he spoke and his eyes burned with liquid fire, his jaw was set, his lips were drawn into a tight line and his stern brow was furrowed with purpose.

"What will you do? What plans do you have?" Tauriel eagerly asked, her eyes trained on his face.

"Do you remember that letter of invitation I had sent you?" he asked and she nodded. "I had written to you then that I intend to march against Dol Guldur, come spring. We never had a chance to discuss this, but I suppose this is as good a time as ever", he told her and held her gaze.

"You would ask my opinion?" she asked somewhat incredulously.

"Of course. It should not surprise you. In a few days I will bring the issue to the council. The Commanders of the army and the Captains of the Guard will be present. That includes you as well", he spoke the last words with tenderness and caressed her cheek. "You may voice your opinion now or think about it and speak at the council".

"I need not wait. I fully support your plan, Thranduil. I have always believed cleansing Dol Guldur of the filth that festers there is the only way to control the infestation in the forest", she spoke firmly.

He nodded. "Three of the Ringwraiths reside in the ruins of the old fortress, and they orchestrate the attacks in our lands", he said and slowly rose from the bed, walking to the fireplace. Tauriel watched him as he added more firewood and rekindled the fire, which had died down. "I know not whether we will be able to drive them away, but I opt to decimate the numbers of their forces. If they are substantially weakened, they will cease their attacks against our borders, at least for some time", he said as he set the tongs and poker aside.

Glancing at the now vivid fire, he smiled. "Now that looks better".

"Thranduil… come back here", Tauriel called to him softly.

He complied, and on his way back picked up his carelessly abandoned tunic and tossed it on the armrest of a chair. Smiling contentedly, he slid under the covers and pulled Tauriel's warm body in his arms, her back against his chest. He kissed her shoulder and then let his chin rest on it.

"No more talk of Dol Guldur tonight", he murmured in her ear and nuzzled his face in her hair.

"It will be today soon", she said and laughed softly. "The feast went on well past midnight, and I am pretty sure we have spent the remaining hours of nighttime doing everything but sleeping".

"That is fine by me. I care not for sleep when I am so blissful", he said and threaded his elegant fingers through her hair. "And, we are elves. A sleepless night means nothing to our constitution. What other race can boast such resilience and endurance?" he said and smirked pridefully.

"Hm, that is true…" she whispered, and with that she turned in his arms and her lips sought his once more.

They made love well into the dawn, until exhaustion claimed them and they lay side by side, their limbs still entangled in a loose embrace. It was before long that Tauriel was sound asleep, but no sleep came yet upon Thranduil's eyes. He lay in his bed content and peaceful, with the love of his heart in his arms.

His attention was caught by the first rays of sun that entered the chamber, and fell on the abandoned pieces of broken glass that lay scattered on the floor. The pale light made them glisten like small diamonds. Inwardly, he smiled. It was not many years ago, when he felt as hard and cold and fragile as glass. But he did not feel like that anymore. He did not feel so broken inside.

A soft smile rose to his sleepy features. Tauriel's soft and steady breathing beside him lulled him and made his body yearn for rest. As he delivered himself unto sleep, Thranduil wondered if it was possible then, perhaps, for what is broken to be mended…

The End

(Continues is sequel titled "Warring Hearts")