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Author Topic: Under Unusual Circumstances  (Read 2540 times)

Vashti Ada Tohrein

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Under Unusual Circumstances
« on: July 07, 2017, 03:24:47 PM »

UNDER UNUSUAL CIRCUMSTANCES

She had not prayed in years.
 
Reckless disregard for the gods that breathed life into Middle Earth in every outcry that the mercenary gave, their names curses, the butt of sacrilegious jokes. Their accomplishments, once thing of childhood wonder and awe, now something to ridicule and guffaw. And yet, here she found herself at the edge of a bed - a bed - safe, sound, when she had been so close to death, wondering if her changed fortunes were the result something other than luck. Wouldn’t that be something, The mercenary thought, …for something, someone to have taken pity on one that deserved none?  Vashti laughed mirthlessly at the thought. Yes, she knew that there was no pity to be had on her, no mercy to be spared. She had taken so much from others already, seen so many lives snuffed by the sharp end of her blade, that the very notion of forgiveness was comical. Perhaps the halls that lay before her, the small comfort of safety, of clothing on her shoulders, all figments of a feverish imagination. But how she would beg for it not to be - she could pray for all of this to be real.
 
It felt real. All of it. From the healer’s hands that carefully removed the clothing that clung to her body afraid that it stuck to unseen wounds, to the ancient eyes that widened in brief realization of the human’s plight, to the embarrassment that burned in her stomach as she rooted her eyes on the floor underneath her toes, it all felt too real for it not to be true. She lifted her hand, the pad of her fingers barely grazing the bandages on her chest before tentatively increasing the pressure; she winced. Even the pain of the broken rib, the heat of the salve to help ’…dull the pain,’ felt true. There was a quivering sigh that pushed past her lips, the weight of reality crashing on her shoulders at once. “I’m alive.” Said the woman, her voice a whisper lost to a silent room. “Maker, I’m alive.”
 
Somewhere, between the darkness and voices muffled behind closed doors - conversations that she could not nor cared to understand - the woman lost her battle to exhaustion. She slept a dreamless sleep that night; black and soundless.
 
Vashti had expected for the Elvenking’s halls to vanish over night; the wide hallways with towering columns would dissolve into nothingness and she’d be there, in the cabin, with the wicked copper eyes and the creature that possessed them. She would be broken again, like so many times before, the little stretches of skin that remained untouched turning purple and green - bones snapped like twigs. The mercenary would wish for death then and curse the wicked dreams that temporarily gave her a false sense of hope. As night gave way to morning however, the images did not vanish. When azure eyes trembled open, the halls still stood – brighter, quieter, but still there.
 
Vashti moved slowly, the pain that had been dulled with sheer adrenaline alight. With a strangled gasped, she sat up on the bed, holding unto her knee for stability’s sake. Braising herself, she stood, immediately feeling her body straining under the simple motion. Legs quivered under the woman’s weight, but adamant as always Vashti steadied herself before gravity could take hold. Can’t have that, now can we? She thought. With slow, even movements, the woman dressed in silence, thumbing buttons close on a tunic that had been left at the foot of her bed. It ran too long, but it was whole and it was warm, and she could not be more thankful.
 
Tentative steps took her to the door, pulling it open enough to peer through. At first she saw nothing - a quiet hallway that stretched on both ends. The door opened silently, the dark-haired woman peering outside. On either side, keeping silent watch over the stranger stood two elves, their impassive eyes on the human. She wasn’t exactly surprised at their presence after her rather unexpected arrival, but the way their digits coiled about their weapons did. Eyes flittered from the hands perched carefully on the hilt of their blades and back to the youthful and ever-stoic faces of the guards and the eyes on the smaller woman. “Ah, shit. Sorry about that.” Vashti mused, “Didn’t mean to startle you.”
 
Silence.

“Still unarmed.” The mercenary chirped in a slightly hoarse voice, a smile tugging softly at the corner of her bruised lips, empty hands within sight. As thankful as she was towards her unlikely saviors, Vashti still was unsure what to make of the elves – and, she was sure, they didn’t quite what to make of her. For both their sakes – mostly hers – the mercenary kept her movements slow before the guardsmen, ‘Guardselves?’ as she slid out into the hall. “Surprisingly there’s not too many things that would fashion themselves for a weapon in there; that or they are too pretty.” A nervous laugh. The guards glanced at one another and then to her. Can they even understand common? Vashti’s smile fell, a pink tongue darting in a quick, nervous tic.
 
“Anyways,” The woman started, her tone as lilting as it was careful. “I don’t know too much about elves - or your customs, for that matter.” Saviors or not, they could still very much kill her due to a misunderstanding for all she knew – and Vashti would much rather prefer to stay alive.  “But if it’s all the same, I would like an audience with, ah…” The lord? Elven king? Boss? “…my hosts.” Or that; that would work.
« Last Edit: July 08, 2017, 06:33:45 AM by Vashti Ada Tohrein »

Thranduil

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Re: Under Unusual Circumstances
« Reply #1 on: July 29, 2017, 10:59:48 PM »
As centuries passed, it had become a rare occurrence to find trespassers within the Woodland Realm, and even rarer to find trespassers who had not become a quick meal for the spiders.  Those who travelled the wood by his leave knew the safe roads and the rest all too often stumbled into nests, or into the river, and only rarely were they found while still clinging to life, if they were ever found at all.  So in that sense, this woman was an anomaly, and the topic of many a whispered conversation throughout the Elvenking’s halls. 

As far as Thranduil himself was concerned, however, she aroused concern.  Though she was welcome, and the services of his healers were offered gladly (he was not truly so heartless as many imagined him to be), there were far too many unanswered questions plaguing his mind.  Her injuries had not been caused by spiders; the healers had been more than certain that the signs pointed to something more like capture and torture.  And though there did number among the spiders certain ancient creatures with the cunning to torture and torment, they did not venture this far north.  No, this reeked of some other evil, one that sought to awake in him ancient hurts, buried away far deeper than most.

He had spent the morning in quiet conversation with the healer, wringing out every detail, paying particular mind to the projected length of recovery and how soon his guest might be well enough to travel.  It was not that he didn’t want her there… Actually, it was exactly that he did not want her there.  Yet he did not begrudge her his hospitality, for neither did he want to set her loose into the wood where she would only suffer a slower death than she might have had she never been found.  And as there was no option to have never found her at all, caring for her was the preferable course.  So it was through some careful balance of mistrust and compassion that he had left her to sleep, all the while under constant guard with orders to allow none at all near her save for the healers, the king, and his son.

And so it was that her ‘host’ appeared in a nearby doorway, near enough to have overheard the woman’s awkward, one-sided banter with the guards.  Not far behind the king might be glimpsed a familiar face, if Vashti possessed any recollection for those who had tended her wounds.  Perhaps it was an act of kindness and concern that the king’s gaze swept over her, full of keen scrutiny, or perhaps it was something less so, searching out signs of ill intent.  Whatever the case may be, he cut an intimidating figure, pure ice given form, for as was his custom in winter, Thranduil favored robes of white and icy silver.

“You’ve been ordered to rest.”   The king made no attempt to seem concerned with her health, though the fact that he mentioned it at all was sign enough that he had no wish to see her suffer.  “But if you have the strength, I will grant your request.”   A gesture suggested that she return to her room, where he would follow.  A better host might have asked if she were hungry, or if she had any other needs, but Thranduil was not a better host.

Vashti Ada Tohrein

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Re: Under Unusual Circumstances
« Reply #2 on: September 19, 2017, 12:13:15 AM »
The Elvenking king arrived as a silver flurry; sterling brocades spilling onto the floor as he broke through the threshold with seldom noise. He would have gone unnoticed to the dark woman, too far gone to her weariness for her mind to process the sound, but he was betrayed in the way his younger counterpart straightened in immediate attention. Vashti turned her head slightly, glancing over her shoulder to the taller male. He was a vision sculpted out of snow and ice – as ethereal and caustic as the frozen land he reigned upon. Fitting, she thought, before her eyes fell a little farther behind the elven king. She saw them then, still nameless from the night prior but far from forgotten. Lips curled into a soft smile at the sight of the healers, coloring her features briefly before it fell away. How much had been spoken - how much had been told?

Vashti’s attention turned to the elven lord again, lips parting to offer word, though what she was unsure. But the king’s voice interrupted her intention, voice ringing the hall - and the mercenary - into silence. “You’ve been ordered to rest,” said he and the woman’s lips turned tight. The dark-haired head dipped politely at the greetingless greeting, eyes falling away from the elven lord and to the floor. “But if you have the strength, I will grant your request.”

If you are with strength. She tested the words in her mind, bitterly toiling them in her soundless tongue. Strength - was there still any for her to have? Sheer stubbornness, rage, and unadulterated luck the only reasons for her survival - not strength. She certainly did not feel there was any strength left within her bones, not now; there would not be any for a while. She raised her head and alongside it her gaze, meeting the king’s eyes. “With all due respect, your Eminence,” the woman begun, voice hoarse and throat tight, but as sincere as the sell-sword could be.  “…it is the most rest and strength I have been allowed in days. I will manage.”

She would have to, manage that is, for what other way was there for her to ignore the sooth and sandalwood she swore still clung to her skin or the heat that lingered too close for comfort? A shiver begun at the base of her skull, building between her vertebrae and running down the length of her back. A sharp intake of breath stilled the sensation and a strained smile danced on her lips. She stepped into the room, door held open for the elven king to follow. Was it customary, she supposed it was - or at the least it was sheer decency. “Please.” She offered briefly, closing the door only after the elf had followed. The door clicked shut. Vashti shuffled uncomfortably. She wasn’t entirely sure why she had made the request in the first place, and it was only now as the lord glanced down at the top of her head with mild disinterest that she realized how unideal it all was. Silence set between them for a few short seconds, lips opening briefly but her resolve quickly lost. ’Shit.’

Another moment of awkward silence and she rubbed the back of her neck. The woman sighed. “I suppose I wanted to thank you for your kindness - and the kindness of your people,” Vashti suddenly said, brow crinkled in thought. "There are no words other than thank you." And how she had tried for words in that moment, that very second, but that was all that her mind could muster.


Thranduil

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Re: Under Unusual Circumstances
« Reply #3 on: September 29, 2017, 03:58:55 PM »
The woman met his gaze; that alone a sure enough sign of strength, even if she did not know it.  He had few enough dealings with mortals, but those he had met often avoided such boldness, likely as not unable to bear up against the weight of years behind that icy glare, for more and more of late, his eyes held no welcome for strangers. Whatever she may have thought about her own strength, the Elvenking did not doubt she would manage. There was something to be said for the strength to be stubborn.  Far too often, the two went hand in hand.

Musings on strength notwithstanding, Thranduil did appreciate the woman’s attempts at polite formality, awkward as they were. Often enough the attempt was enough, for he hardly expected a mortal to be well practiced in the art of proper behavior, but when the attempt was made it was always a pleasant surprise.  And so, ever gracious, he offered a nod as he stepped into the room, carefully masking his amusement in the same way one might hide that they tried not to laugh at children playing at being grown.

She thanked him for his kindness.  Yet another novel concept, for he was hardly well known among the elves for being particularly kind to strangers. That was Elrond’s nature, and blessed was he to have the luxury of it.  Imladris was not under siege. But in these days of growing darkness, enemies surrounded them, and the enemy was clever enough to devise such a ruse, to play upon the sympathies of his people and earn the trust of his guards. And so, perhaps without even fully knowing it, Vashti found herself still in peril, though of a very different kind. 

“Do not be too eager with your thanks,” he cautioned, more out of courtesy than concern. Even now, alone behind closed doors, he continued to take his measure of her in the manner only an elf could, though he possessed none of the skills of Elrond or Galadriel. Thranduil had never been very skilled at seeing into the hearts of others (a symptom of being far too conceited, some particularly brave souls might have said), but his instincts rarely served him poorly. “My son might have brought you into my house, but that does not mean you have my trust.”  At last he stepped away, taking with him the oppressiveness of his presence, and settled into the best chair in the room, a simple and delicate thing of carven wood, yet he came to rest in it as if it were just another throne. 

“Few Men cross the borders of this realm, not even our simple friends who dwell in Esgaroth. Yet here you are.”  A faint smirk colored his features, but this time it was not so cruel as it was amused, and there was a glint behind his eyes that might have even been interest.  “My healers seem to think you came this way to escape some danger, that your hurts were not dealt by any peril of Mirkwood.  I would hear it from you.”

Vashti Ada Tohrein

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Re: Under Unusual Circumstances
« Reply #4 on: September 29, 2017, 11:34:32 PM »

Yet there she was.

There she stood, a bruised and sullied mess, an absurd counterpart to the elf’s domineering persona. There she stood nearly a shell of who she formerly was, embittered in some ways - numbed in others. It was this which made her immune to the king’s unwavering stare and the weight of eons behind it, his starker gaze not unlike her deeper blue; though, perhaps it was an absurd sense of pride in her still.

“Do not be too eager with your thanks,” it was Thranduil the first to break the silence again; the taciturn of his cadence not reaching his features, but cutting her severely from her reverie. Vashti did not turn as the elf brushed past her, watching only until he disappeared out of her periphery. There were no feigned pleasantries or pseudo concern as the king spoke, but rather an unwavering honesty that someone with a thinner skin may have perceived as unkind. Refreshing, she thought, turning to the fair lord as he continued, “My son might have brought you into my house, but that does not mean you have my trust.” The silvery mien said, perched on top a chair in the farthest end of the room. Perched, yes, not quite sitting, with an unnatural ease that only elves seemed to have - and more so their king.

Were she smarter, perhaps she would see the dangers of her indecorous behavior; but the mercenary was not a smarter woman. Instead, she chuckled shamelessly at the admonition despite the elf lord’s presence.  Immediately she regretted the short sound, pain shooting across her ribs and to her back with the pitiful effort - she bit back a curse. The woman sucked in a slow gasp before releasing it quietly to even her tone, “I would never be as bold to assume I had gained King Thranduil’s or his son’s trust.” Vashti said, remnants of a simper curling the corner of her lips regardless of the pain. There was nothing but truth in the mercenary’s acquiescence, for what was there for her to gain by giving something other than the truth? She’d sooner find herself locked in the depths of Mirkwood than she would be capable of fooling the king. “However my gratitude, even if unwanted, stands.” And she alongside it.

The mercenary hummed in acknowledgment as the elf continued, slow steps crossing the length of the room. Vashti stopped several feet away from the king polite enough to keep her distance (if for her own sake). She glanced briefly at Thranduil, brow quirked, before she thumbed away at a sealing wax stick half-hidden in a writing desk, actions undeterred by the company in the room. It was true what he said, there were not many that ventured into the sickly forest without a choice. Spiders and short-tempered elves both equally dangerous if one threaded too close. “Here I am indeed.” Vashti mused in a breath, that realization still causing her disbelief.

Whatever amusement that still lingered on the dark woman’s features disappeared altogether at the Elvenking - a confirmation to his healers’ keen-minded assumptions. Wax stick still in hand, Vashti turned to the elf, the surprise she tried to keep from her features evident. With eyes that were too wide and lips that fell agape, she stared. For a moment she said nothing, carefully weighing how much she wanted to say? How much could she will herself to admit? For days subjugated to unspeakable acts that nearly drove her to death. Vashti pursed her lips, her features hardening.  “They are not mistaken.” The woman muttered curtly, gaze averted from the fair-haired king.

“Keen eyed, your healers.”
« Last Edit: September 30, 2017, 05:45:25 AM by Vashti Ada Tohrein »

Thranduil

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Re: Under Unusual Circumstances
« Reply #5 on: December 20, 2017, 01:16:57 AM »
There came no further observation regarding the thanks offered, though he was sufficiently pleased with her response.  All too often, when faced with such seemingly harsh words, his guests would crumble, and beg his forgiveness for whatever slight they had imagined the cause for Thranduil’s lack of consideration.  Sufficed to say, he approved of her persistence in the matter, and there might, just might, have been the barest twitch of a smile in response. Thranduil abandoned a fragment of kingly posture, leaning forward a mere fraction of an inch, pale eyes still shining with interest.  A simple tilt of his head was offered in response to her words, an acknowledgement and acceptance of her gratitude. 

However, his gracious nature ended there.

It had been the king’s hope that his uninvited guest might have elaborated further on the circumstances that brought her to his doorstep, but he refrained for the moment from pushing harder for such information.  Empathetic he was not, but he was also no stranger to the workings of a troubled mind.  No amount of force would make her more eager to speak of her hardships.  Indeed, it was just as likely to make her more stubborn.  But there was something there, hidden behind her eyes, some clue to the things she would not say.  And curious though he may have been, he said nothing to acknowledge that he’d even noticed.

“You may keep to yourself what you wish,” he offered.  “I have no particular interest in forcing from your lips any tale of your ordeal.”  The words themselves were meant as comfort, should she perhaps fear he meant to impose upon her pain.  In the end, perhaps it was better he did not insist upon details, for, though he did not suspect as much, the knowing had the potential to awaken Thranduil’s own grief, a wound that if quickened anew, would require, at the very least, a lengthy treatment of Dorwinion red. 

Truthfully, if this stranger continued to be so intriguingly forthright, Thranduil may well have been willing to offer her the same treatment for her wounds.  But that remained to be seen.  “Still, I would have you tell me if I have further need to guard my borders.”  Oh, he had his suspicions.  Evil men still roamed the lands to the north from time to time, and orcs had become much bolder of late, stirring up the spiders and trampling their way through the wood further to the south.  They had not yet dared intrude upon the lands still claimed by the Woodland Realm, but Thranduil feared that would not be the case much longer. 

A sudden thought struck him, though the only outward evidence of such was the sudden shifting of his eyes from the woman to some unfocused point beyond.  A nearly inaudible huff of amused breath escaped his lips, and blue eyes sought her out once more.  “Do you have a name?”  He’d been remiss in not asking, but he did not beg her pardon. 

Vashti Ada Tohrein

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Re: Under Unusual Circumstances
« Reply #6 on: December 21, 2017, 07:51:08 PM »

Vashti would not be the one to bestow upon another the weight of what she had endured. The woman was not cruel enough to muddle the sensibilities of another, to engrave in their minds the wickedness of what those damned four walls had seen. The healers had learned what had transpired if only by their own profession. She had said nothing of her befoulment as they had tended to her, nor had they asked, but had there been no doubt of the matter by the signs etched across her skin. From prying ears and eyes she would keep this well-known secret, partly hoping that in not speaking of it she could destroy the reality of it - if she didn’t accept it, perhaps it was as good as it having never happened. A fool’s paradise.

In their silence there was a sliver of understanding, she swore. The elf lord’s decorum never once threading unto what she did or did not, for that matter, wish to share. Instead, Thranduil granted her her silence, allowing for her tale to remain unsaid. Vashti was grateful for the elf lord’s lack of questioning though whether it was due to empathy or his own well-being she was unsure. Nonetheless, she took the little comfort he had offered her with the inclination of her head.

“Still,” said the elf king and her blue eyes flittered up to meet his own shimmering pools, the interest all too evident despite himself. “I would have you tell me if I have further need to guard my borders.”

“Ah.” She uttered quietly, brow furrowing in contemplation. A fair question to ask and one that required an equally fair answer. The dark-haired woman leaned against the writing desk in silence, arms drawn across her chest. Honest to a painful degree, she did not shy of letting her thoughts be known - and more so when it was requested.  Still, she was careful with her wording, ever careful to not insult her host.

“I mean no presumptuousness in this,” She offered meekly, glancing back to the silver-haired king before her eyes fell to the floor. “…but I was able to cross into your realm in my state.” The previous snowstorms had made tracking difficult - keen elf eyes could still be blinded in the flurry of ice, tracks covered, broken branches disregarded as nothing more than a natural phenomenon.  She had been found, yes, she was well-aware of that matter - and how thankful she was for that - however it had been only after the snows had settled and the skies had cleared.  Her brow crinkled. “Frankly, I can only imagine what one in better fettle and guile might accomplish if they were inclined to do so.” She said nothing more after that, allowing for the words to sink deep into the mien.

Strangers in the best of circumstances and she an intruder at worst, there was still a sense of ease in their short exchange, made all the more evident in the way a chuckle rumbled in the back of her throat. “More than one, I am afraid…” she began in an aside - as much a joke as an admission, “Vashti is my given name.”
« Last Edit: December 21, 2017, 08:12:22 PM by Vashti Ada Tohrein »

Thranduil

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Re: Under Unusual Circumstances
« Reply #7 on: September 01, 2018, 08:07:03 PM »
The reply was met with the arch of a brow, an indication that the Elvenking was both impressed with and, perhaps, insulted by her observation.  That it was blatantly true did not help to soften the blow.  Thranduil knew well the state of his realm, the ease with which servants of the enemy might slip past the watchful eyes of his scouts, especially to the north where the guard was lighter.  Too much effort was necessary in clearing spider nests to spare more men, and so the darkness encroached meter by meter, inch by inch…

Wine was sounding more and more appealing by the moment.

“I have safeguarded this realm for three-thousand years,” he finally replied. Except when it mattered most, a voice whispered in his mind. HER voice.

He leveled Vashti with a pointed look.  “Nothing passes my borders without my knowledge.”  The words had meant to demonstrate confidence, but even Thranduil himself knew that his hasty reply was plainly defensive, almost snippy if such a word could be applied to a king who should have had a tighter rein on his temper.  The fact that such a declaration was no more than a plain and simple lie only made matters worse.  He no longer knew what evils passed his borders, and harsh words were not enough to make it untrue.

He should have apologized for his tone.

He did not apologize.

He did, however, push back the remains of his temper, releasing a low breath and regarding her with near passionless eyes. “Vashti,” he repeated, turning the conversation away from the woman’s all-too-honest assessment of his defences.  Well, almost.  “Well, Vashti, you will find yourself quite safe within my halls.”  That, at least, was something he could promise. “You are welcome to remain while your injuries mend.  My healers are at your disposal and will see to your needs.” 

“You are welcome to go where you wish so long as you understand the meaning of a closed door.”  Though he didn’t say it, snooping about in places she was not welcome would likely earn her a new room.  One with a locked door.  “Stay out of the wine cellar,” he added as an afterthought.  “I trust I will find no cause to regret my hospitality.”

Eyes that had been fully uninterested a moment before took on a hint of their former sharpness, and there might just have been the barest twitch of a smile to compliment it.  “Perhaps during your stay you might teach us how to better patrol our northern borders.”  In those words came just the barest hint of what had been, in his youth, a penchant for sarcastic humor.  Though in those days it had been a bit more friendly. 

He waited, curious to see if she would meet his challenge, or simply shrink back from it.

Vashti Ada Tohrein

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Re: Under Unusual Circumstances
« Reply #8 on: October 02, 2018, 04:27:33 AM »

Perhaps she should have shown sensitivity, decorum, or restraint; she should have been empathetic, or lessened the blow of her explanation. He requested honesty, a voice chimed in the back of her mind, and that is what was delivered. But the way his gaze turned to her, those impassive eyes boring into hers, those that nearly cut her down to size told her otherwise. It was clear to Vashti that the audacity with which she delivered her explanation, frank as she had attempted it to be, still had held a certain acerbity.  She had ruffled his feathers, though that had not been her intention.

She should have apologized for her brusqueness.

She did not apologize.

It would have been unfair to this elven king if she attempted to dance about the subject, Vashti thought in her own defense. Dare you think me incapable to process this?, she could hear him declare in a hiss so calm, so cold, that the blood would freeze within her veins. She’d be better off in the frigid wasteland that Mirkwood forest had become than in the very halls that burned brightly in its hearth had this been the case. But ah, this was a king she spoke before. He was not a lovestruck peddler whose sentiments needed protecting. He needed to know, and she needed to share.

“Nothing passes my borders without my knowledge.” Snapped the king, the serene veneer cracking for a second, and a semblance of youthful impertinence - could elves be such? - flickered through. Vashti nearly chuffed in amusement, but held unto the sound. Instead the woman shrugged her shoulders, or half did but quickly regretted the motion. Yet, despite the king’s claims, here she was. The smile that had begun to curl in the corner of her lips falling.

And so can he.

Her body responded to the call, head turning to acknowledge Thranduil, but her mind was not there. Vashti stared past him, past the ornate halls. It traveled through the snow-covered lands and deep into the stifling heat of the cabin. Again she could feel how the heavy air had licked at her skin, sweat dropping down her neck and collarbone. She could again discern the smell of sandalwood as it permeated her skin. Skins flush. Breaths against her ear. 

“Vashti,” The name suddenly woke her from her reverie and suddenly she became acutely aware of the crisp air around her. Skin pricked as she wrapped her arms tightly against her, the breath she had been holding unto released shakily. “Well, Vashti,” The elf king continued, “you will find yourself quite safe within my halls.” She smiled meekly, the weariness that had been bearing on her shoulders coming across in that simple gesture. There was no playfulness in that curl of the lip, no fire behind her eyes, just thankfulness.

“Your lordship is far too kind.” The woman said softly, not quite sure where to start. But starting somewhere was better than starting no where. “Thank you.”

But as suddenly as this quiet gesture had come, so too it left. Instead returned Vashti’s usual simper, the carefree tone dancing on her lips - though some would argue that carelessness would be a more apt description - as she continued, “I can assure his Eminence that neither he, nor his kin, will ever find me in the wine cellars throughout my stay.” And that was perfectly true. Not entering this tantalizing treasury, for what else could one call  it, and not being caught in it were two entirely different things. A close door merely an invitation - a puzzle, if you will, that needed to be solved.

With a smile, the dark woman continued, “Who am I to deny imparting some knowledge?”


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