8. Epilogue: The Fruit of her Hands
"Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies."
The small internal voice that said, 'It's morning,' summoned Thranduil from sleep. His first official night in his own bed in his own chamber had produced no nightmares. He dimly recalled dreams of a rabbit hopping on a sunlit hillside, of Lalaithiel's silver laughter drifting out of the trees, and himself looking down from a great height, punching his first into the air and yelling, "For Oropher!"
That last sleep vision had been of Mordor, at the Black Gate, but it did not trouble him. It was a good memory. The dream of fire and the evil, mocking voice had not come. He hoped he was done with it for good.
Pale morning light drifted in through the cracks between the shutters, making him secretly glad of the window and Lalaithiel's intransigence that had caused him to have it made. Thranduil stretched lazily and rolled over to face his wife, only to find the bed beside him empty. The pillow still bore the indent of her head, and the covers had been pulled back up, but Lalaithiel was nowhere to be seen.
Where could she have gone? Surely she had not changed her mind even at the last minute and fled his bed to seek her home.
Thranduil quickly pulled on a pair of trousers, grabbing a shirt off a nearby peg. He sprinted barefoot down the stairs and through the hallways, fastening his shirt as he went. Outside the gates, he barely noticed the burgeoning warmth of the summer morning, the rough, new feel of the railing beneath his hand and the rush of the river below. At the guard post at the far end of the bridge, he hailed one of the soldiers. "My wife . . . have you seen the Queen?"
The guard, a dark-haired Laegel, nodded. "Yes, Sire. She passed this way not twenty minutes ago."
Mindful of the twigs and pebbles against his bare feet, Thranduil hurried on into the forest, stopping and letting out his breath when he spied Lalaithiel kneeling in the dirt beside the trail, bent over some task.
"Good morning, my love," he said, trying to keep the almost pathetic relief out of his voice. "What are you doing?" Around him, the forest was coming awake. Faint and far off came the sounds of hammering and sawing, as his Silvan folk went about the business of constructing their huts on the ground and their telain in the treetops.
She swept a pile of earth into a shallow hole and tamped it gently firm with the palm of her hand. "I thought we should have ranks of trees bordering the path as we did back at home. I brought these in my pocket from the south." She looked up at him with that soft smile of hers, the one that never failed to make his heart pause for a moment or two in its eternal beat, and she held out a nut in her dirt-smudged hand. "You see? Beeches. For Oropher."
Thranduil sank to his knees beside her and planted a light kiss on her cheek. "For Oropher," he whispered.
He looked back over his shoulder toward the bridge and the river, with the bulk of the mountain beyond, so solid and comforting. It did not feel like home yet, but he knew that would come. They would be safe here.
Thranduil smelled the morning cook fires of the Silvans, and the laughter of a child at play rang out on the morning air. Inside the palace, Galion would be wondering where he had gotten to, ready to help him into his daytime clothing and choose the court robes for the evening. His advisors would be seeking him out with questions about the kitchens, the stables, the guard rotations: a thousand small decisions concerning the running of the new realm. He supposed he should get back inside.
But the sun felt so good on his face, and it warmed his arms through the thin fabric of his shirt. The dirt felt good between his bare toes. And the smell of Lalaithiel's hair rivaled the green perfume of the summer trees. Everything could wait until tomorrow. He and his beloved had all the time in the world.
"Hang my duties," he murmured, earning a delighted grin from Lalaithiel. "Where do you want to plant the next one?"