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Far Beyond Mirkwood, Chapter 1 (of who knows how many)

Authors: Mary A and Malinornë
Pairings: Mainly Thranduil/OFCs
Warnings: Rated X-tra Naughty, but you can call it NC 17. Adult sexual situations. In future chapters we promise LOTS of het sex, threesome sex, possible foursome sex, (with elves, the sky seems to be the limit, somehow,) much nudity, too, and we are sure that our dear Elvenking will come up with a few surprises along the way!
Disclaimer: This is a work of amateur fanfiction of the parody type and is meant solely for entertainment purposes, no profit is made.
Summary: Malinorne and Mary are the first two mortal maids to become willing subjects to His Majesty, the King of the Great Greenwood, Thranduil. After visiting the realms of Lothlórien and Imladris, in the company of the Elvenking, as members of his Royal Household, they have been invited to join His Majesty on a Royal Tour of the human realms of Middle Earth.

~ Mal ~

We stayed in Lothlórien, now part of the new realm governed mutually by Thranduil and its former rulers, for a few more days while all was decided and prepared for our onward journey. It was fun to see Legolas again; he was the same merry young elf, not visibly changed by his responsibility as stand-in on the throne. How sad that we would part ways again so soon.

He had almost made me believe that he intended to stay with the Galadhrim, and instead Galadriel would move to the royal caverns in Mirkwood. The lady seemed to weigh the suggestion carefully, but she eventually declined, after admitting that she at least had to visit, at a later point, to see what power the waters of the black forest river might have for her mirror. But for now, Legolas would return, and so would all of the elves he had brought to Lórien to hear the announcement of the new realm.

Only Ithilwen and Míriel would go with us, to care for and provide female company to Mary and me. I was happy for that, and it was good to see young Anárion with them; he would continue to be our honour guard. Thranduil had declined Galadriel's offer of fifty fine archers to escort us - 'we go not to war, my sister, and they may be better needed here' - but could not refuse her wish to send Haldir as her personal envoy.

All in all, it would be an interesting party to travel with, and after the initial disappointment at not returning to the northern forest, I became quite excited with the idea. We would go south, that much was clear, and if I understood things right, we would see both Rohan and Gondor, parts of Middle Earth that I had never been in.

Thaladir was in charge of the preparations, and although I tried to stay out of his way, there was one thing I had to ask. Our carriages - the king's enormous one, and the two smaller Mary and I had travelled in to the Anduin - had been brought, but I could not see how we would be able to use them. I had studied many maps under the seneschal's tutelage in Mirkwood, but never had there been a road out of Lórien. Only by horse or foot or boat could one leave. Or by eagle, of course, but that didn't explain the carriages either. Surely they weren't there only to impress the Galadhrim?

At least Haldir didn't look impressed where he stood beside the seneschal, possibly discussing security arrangements - his bow seemed to be an essential part of the discussion. I observed them for a few minutes, waiting for the right moment to pose my question.

"Pardon me," I said when, finally, the two of them nodded to each other. "How are we going to travel with the carriages from here?" It was Thaladir who answered.

"As you no doubt are aware of, there is a new human king in Gondor. A new road has of late been constructed along the southern perimeter of Eryn Lasgalen under his high permission, presumably as an act of benevolence towards his recent subjects."

"It was not requested by Lórien." Haldir's remark was as sour as his looks had suddenly turned, but I could not decide whether he just still hadn't gotten used to the thought of the joined elven forest realm, or if he had reasons to be unhappy with the road as such. Perchance both. Having guarded the Golden Wood from intruders for hundreds of years, he could hardly be pleased to suddenly have a new highway right under his nose. But the Rohirrim might find it convenient, and I could well understand Aragorn's and Éomer's reason for having it built.

While musing over Haldir, I lost part of what Thaladir was saying, but I was content to know that the elves didn't mean to send us rocking and shaking across the Rohan plains in those carriages, or, worse, try out their floating ability in the river. The last thought was so silly it made me chuckle.

"Traveling is a most serious matter," I heard the seneschal mutter, "and not to be laughed at. To be performed agreeably, it requires meticulous planning, as well as considerable discipline." He was frowning too, at least a little.

"Yes, Your Excellency." I knew the meek response would make him happy again, but I decided to find something else to do before he could continue to tell me more on the finer points of travel planning.

~ Mary ~

"He's kidding about this, right... Sire?" I asked Thranduil this, knowing full well that Thaladir was not kidding, was deadly serious, and had never kidded about anything in his entire life. And the king knew that I knew, which is probably why he did not bother responding to me, so I added. "Does he really think I will be able to rise at dawn every day?"

For emphasis, I shook the sheaf of scrolls that I was holding in front of the king's face, although not too close to be considered insulting, and just enough to make it clear what I was referring to, and still he did not respond. It was his seneschal's travel itinerary, each of us had been given our own copies, and I had not gotten farther than reading about the first two days of travel before I knew that there was going to be trouble.

"And what does this have to do with your wardrobe?" Thranduil asked. We were sitting near the fountain in the center of Caras Galadhon; its sparkling water made a rainbow, and I was starting to regret leaving so soon, and wished we could stay a little longer. Not that I would have voiced such a feeling out loud, because I had begged to be taken home recently, and away from Lórien and its mind-reading elves. He added, "I do not recall you asking to speak to me about this."

"Oh, right, sorry." I took a deep breath and composed myself. Before we had been handed our scrolls, I had already requested a private talk with the king about a problem that had come up earlier that day. It took me a moment to recall the language I had been taught, by the seneschal, to use when formally asking the king for information.

"Do correct me if I am wrong, Sire, as I so often am," I said, sweetly, "and if you should find it in your heart to do so, but anyway, aren't we going south? Won't the weather be getting warmer now?

"Certainly it will," answered Thranduil, graciously. "I have no doubt of it."

"Ha! Then Thaladir was lying to me." I felt triumphant at having caught His Excellency fibbing. "He told me that those other old clothes of mine that were packed underneath our Lórien clothes are far more suitable for visiting the mortal realms on our travel tour. Now, how can that be true if it is going to be warmer?"

"There are other meanings to the term 'suitable', my dear mortal maid." The king lifted his eyebrow when he said 'suitable', a clear warning to not be cheeky and obtuse. But I was being serious.

In Lothlórien, the weather was perpetually fair, unless the elves wished it to be different. An occasional refreshing rain was not considered inclement weather, but usually every day was as balmy and cloudless as mid-summer. High winds, freezing temperatures, or blizzards were not allowed, but an occasional dusting of snow was encouraged, during the proper winter months, to make the mellyrn look just that much more enchanting.

All of this information I had learned from Thaladir when he explained to me the reason why all of the new dresses that had been provided for my stay in the Golden Wood were being packed up and returned to the caves back home. Now that we were leaving the protected realm, I would no longer be needing them, and they were an unnecessary waste of space in my over-crowded clothes trunk. The somewhat longer-sleeved, longer-skirted, higher-necked gowns that were made for me to wear during springtime in the caves would be more than enough for my needs. At least no one had packed my winter gowns.

"Okay, yes, Your Majesty, there are other meanings to 'suitable'," I deferred to the king. "I do understand that these cute little summer dresses are not necessarily modest, or in keeping with the current styles worn by the humans that we are going to visit. See? I am learning. However, why do they all have to go back to Mir... er, Eryn Lasgalen? Why can't I have one or two to wear while I am stuck in my carriage? Or could a few stay here? Won't we be coming back here, or at least stop by here, when we go home?"

"That remains to be seen," he answered. End of that discussion.

"Well, I still think Thaladir was lying to me, because I was led to believe that my glowy skin was only a distraction in Mirkwood, in the dark caves, and around the susceptible wood-elves. Now we are going to be around humans, above ground, in broad daylight, so where's the harm in shorter sleeves and skirts?"

"In these matters I will defer to my seneschal." The king held his hand up to stop me from replying and continued, "Your willing cooperation in these matters would do me a higher service than your resistance. Planning this tour has put enough strain on the old elf."

"Being swaddled up in layers of fabric in my hot, stuffy carriage isn't a strain?"

"If I told you that the dressmakers of Gondor are among the finest in Middle Earth, would you continue to regret the loss of those other gowns, and the extra room provided?"

Blackmail, that is all it was, plain and simple.

"Alright, then, can we talk about this?" I held up the foul itinerary. It was a breach of protocol to bring up a new subject, and possibly an insubordinate waste of royal time, but I was feeling reckless. The prospect of dazzling new gowns might make me change the subject, but it could not distract me from another problem, as long as I had His Majesty's undivided attention.

The whole idea of being crammed back into that stuffy wooden torture chamber of a carriage was starting to get to me. I had been very happy to learn that Mal and I would be joining the Royal Tour, and not be left behind in Lórien or sent back to Mirkwood, but I had not completely forgotten how much I had hated the first few agonizing days of our journey here.

"Isn't it enough that I will get back in that dad-blasted carriage? Now I have to rise at dawn and what does this say?" I searched the scroll for the offensive passage, "Here it is: 'scheduled carriage inspections before breakfast', is he kidding? Before I even have coffee I am supposed to clean my carriage?"

"Perhaps a slight change in scheduling could be possible. Have you consulted him about this? He is not unreasonable."

"Um, he's kind of upset with me right now." It was not easy, but I confessed that, when Thaladir had told me about my dresses being sent away, I had accused him of being a perpetual old grouch and of not being strong enough to resist my bare skin, and that was why he was being so mean to me, again. "But, now I feel bad," I admitted. "He was only trying to help. I should go tell him that I'm sorry."

"It would please me greatly if you were to do only that," said the king. "And I shall discuss the morning schedule with him if he is put under any no further duress on your account."

"I promise," I declared. "I will even curtsy first and call him Your Excellency, this time."

~ Mal ~

I spent some time sitting on the rim of the great fountain in the middle of the central clearing, one of my favourite places in Caras Galadhon. The merry sound of the splashing water always made me happy, and it was a good place for studying the life of the city. The proximity of water felt refreshing on a warm day, even if only to stick my hands in.

I had not been there too long before Rúmil came by to chat. He was the same sweet flirt as usual, and we spent some enjoyable time together, discussing the changes that were to come from the unification of the realms. The possibility of guard duties in the former Mirkwood interested him. Of course. He admitted that was thinking of all the new elf-women he could meet. Which, in turn, made him think of his original errand.

"The king wants your company," he said. To his honour, he looked a little ashamed under his air of coolness. "I will show you the way."

"Thanks," I said in a rather strained voice. Keeping Thranduil waiting was never a good idea. Not that I didn't know how to lighten his spirits, it was just much more fun to be with him when he was in a good mood from the start.

By some miracle, I found the king occupied, speaking with Ithilwen, and although he had undoubtedly noticed my delayed appearance, he obviously chose to ignore it. There was an interesting gleam in his eyes as he approached me, after the other elves had left at a wave from his hand, but he was grinning broadly. I eagerly put my arms around his neck when he lifted me up.

Being carried among the trees brought a pang of homesickness to my heart. It felt just like the old days, in Mirkwood, before our journey began. Suddenly, I wanted to see plain oaks and beeches above my head, not these wonderful mellyrn. And to sleep in a cave again... or maybe not exactly sleep... but to have real walls around me. A ceiling that didn't move with every gust of wind. I closed my eyes and rested in the arms of the Elvenking, safe and warm. At least there was something that had not changed.

When he put me down I at first thought I was still slumbering. We were surrounded by rock and stones, and the only sound was that of running water - an uneven, natural sound, unlike that of an artificial source. The place was in total shadow. But it was golden mellyrn that provided the shade. Still Lórien, then.

"This reminds me of home," I told Thranduil, unsure of whether or not he had picked up my thoughts during the walk. "I almost wish we were going there instead." I glanced at him; he looked somewhat amused.

"This morning you were eagerly awaiting our departure towards Rohan," he remarked dryly. "This is home now," he continued. "All of this. May the leaves soon be green in all of Eryn Lasgalen."

"I know. But it doesn't feel like it is. I like the climate here, but still..."

"Are you, too, going to complain about your clothing? Mary had, ah, certain objections to having the more revealing garments sent north." He looked even more amused now.

I thought about it. If the weather in Rohan was very warm, it might be uncomfortable to wear a full-length gown of the kind I was used to from Mirkwood. But, on the other hand, I was almost sure I would feel safer that way. If the horse-lords were anything like Lord Bard of Dale, or some of the northern rangers I had encountered in the Last Homely House, I would rather not traipse around among them half naked. With elves, it was an entirely different story.

"Sire, I thought you liked looking at me..." I batted my eyelashes playfully.

"Take off your clothes." The sudden command almost made me jump, but I was happy to comply, as it confirmed my notions that the king hadn't brought me here only to discuss the climate and scenery. It was just a pity that my ensemble fell off so easily... stripping oneself of a long gown can be done with much more effect. Thranduil didn't complain.

"Have that packed with the other crates," he told the nearest tree. Rúmil emerged from the branches and said that he would fulfil the command, but not before making a display of turning my camisole this way and that, stroking it, smelling it... Rascal! As if it wasn't enough that he was spying!

"And now," the king said to me as soon as the Galadhrim archer had finally started walking away from us, "you are going to attend me."

He lifted his arms and I began to undress him. Despite all the times I had done it, the task of removing the king's clothes was one of the reasons it was so nice to be his concubine. It was not only that it felt a bit like unwrapping a gift - there were always kisses and caresses involved, too.

When I was done, he took a few steps toward the nearest rock, a tall cliff that obscured the view of whatever lay behind it, and ushered me forward. A sharp turn to the left revealed the source of that dripping water. There was a deep pool among the rocks, and a trickling brook leading from it.

"A natural spring?" I asked. Thranduil nodded.

"Enough talk." He scooped me up again and stepped into the water, which was somewhat cool, but warmed by the sun to a pleasant temperature. The king heated me up further, with his hands, his mouth, his whispering words into my ear as we moved towards the middle of the pool.

"Do not fear the Rohirrim. You are mine."

I hugged him tighter still, and when he put me down, I proceeded to caress him all over his glistening skin. Drips of water clung to him, everywhere, an irresistible challenge for my tongue. The taste of his shoulder was slightly different from that of his chest, and the texture of his right hand was different from that of the left. I was just getting excited and prepared to move to previously hidden places, when he brought me off track with a remark.

"Thaladir will be pleased to hear that there are no further complaints to his luggage arrangements and clothing protocol."

I snorted and then began to laugh uncontrollably, falling backwards into the water and landing on my behind. Fortunately, the threat of swallowing water made me stop. It was such a romantic moment, really. I rose, and again began to travel with my mouth down his chest, his belly, his... A new sound interrupted me, someone clearing his throat. But it was neither Thranduil, nor his seneschal. I turned my head and looked straight at Anarion.

"Pardon me, Your Royal Highness," said the young elf-warrior. "His Excellency wishes your presence promptly." One could almost hear Thaladir speaking through him. "And," Anarion added in his own voice. "He said that he would fetch you himself if you would not heed my message."

Thranduil sighed. And even groaned. But he did move in the messenger's direction. As he went out of the water and began to dress, he told me to remain where I was. He was not pleased with the interruption.

" I do not doubt that my seneschal has a good reason for his summons, but this time he is taking his duties too seriously!" Despite the king's earlier words, I went to his side. My wet hand on his arm, or if it was the sight of water dripping from my nipples, seemed to soothe him. "If the old elf has mercy on me," he added in a less grumpy tone, "I will return soon. But if I know him right, you had better plan to spend the remainder of the afternoon without your king." He sighed again. "Back into the water with you!"

~ Mary ~

While on my way to find His Excellency to apologize, I met another, more elusive, elf; Legolas. Ever since he had arrived in the Golden Wood, his presence was noticeably absent. He loved being aloft in the mellyrn, unlike his father, and preferred the company of the Galadhrim while he had time to visit. I could hardly blame him; too soon he would be sent back to the caves and the duties of the throne.

Although I did see the king glance around from time to time during meal times, as if trying to spot his son in the crowd, no one else, namely Thaladir, seemed disturbed that the prince was off spending time with his Lórien cousins. The last time Legolas had visited, he believed that Gandalf was dead and that the ring quest was in peril. Doom clouded his mind as well as the rest of his kin, but now all spirits were high and the future of the joined realms looked brighter every day.

"Did you see this, Your Highness?" I handed him Thaladir's travel itinerary.

"Please, do not call me that." Legolas winced at the title. "I get enough of that at home." He opened the scrolled papers and clucked over the meticulous details. "Ah, old Thaladir, he likes to believe he can put everything in order before there is an opportunity for chaos to interfere with his plans. He is often right."

"I hate how cranky he gets right before we go anywhere." I told Legolas about the incident with my clothes and how bad I felt now. For me, it was always hard to tell when the seneschal was being a bully and when he was being helpful, he often acted the same way in either case.

"You do not still believe Thaladir hates you, do you?" Legolas had no clue about me and Thaladir and... our times alone. This was not the time or place to tell him about any of it, maybe in the future, back at home, over a bottle of wine.

"No, I don't," I replied and would have liked to have added, 'I think he hates himself for wanting me.' Instead, I said, "I think he tries very hard to serve the king and even perfect is not good enough for him."

"As I have told you before, Lady Mary," Legolas reminded me, "He is harder on himself at these time than he is on anyone else." We walked along a path that wound through the tremendous trees and I could hear singing from above, and the musical sound of water burbling nearby, either a fountain or a stream.

As we talked, I realized that Thaladir had been more relaxed here in Lórien than he had been in any other place we had visited. His current anxious behavior stood in contrast now, instead of being merely more intense than normal. Maybe because he knew that in Celeborn and Galadriel's realm he was not responsible for anyone else's behavior besides the few elves we brought with us, the king's concubine, and me, or at least not yet. Now that the realms were joined, he might have some changes in mind.

The prince did not know where the seneschal was at that moment, however, and neither did I.

"If I don't get a chance to talk with you again all alone before we leave," I said, "Don't forget to tell Anborn that I'm not coming back to Mirkwood right now." I could not help but sigh when I thought of how all of my plans for the handsome Ithilien Ranger had been dashed by the Royal Tour to Gondor. "Maybe he can catch up with us if he hurries."

"Is it not possible that Anborn would enjoy staying at the palace in Eryn Lasgalen with me for a while?" asked Legolas, a bit bemusedly it seemed, while he handed me the itinerary. "Why would he wish to leave so soon for Gondor? After all, he comes there at my invitation while he is on a tour of the Elven realms, and I am sure that he has seen Gondor before."

I pretended that I did not hear anything he had to say.

"Will you be so kind," I asked, as I handed him back the itinerary, "to give him my copy of this? Tell him it is from me, I don't need it, and that I bet he can meet up with us in Rohan."

If there was one thing I was sure about Thaladir, the pace we take on the Royal Tour would be somewhere between cautious and barely moving. And there was the matter of the road itself, as there was some controversy over how far along in its construction it could be this soon after it was supposedly started. Delays were not only predicted in the seneschal's precise scheduling, but planned for in advance.

According to one faction, the new King's Road should be nearly done, according to another, we would be lucky not to have to call on the eagles before the first week was out. Thranduil did not care, he was riding his horse and he did not need a road. Those of us who rode in carriages had a different opinion.

Not that I was even aware that there was no road between Lórien and Gondor previous to the destruction of Mordor. I had assumed there was one. It was Mal who brought it up to me, as if I knew, but then she always paid more attention to Thaladir's lectures when we were being trained in Middle-earthian geography, my least favorite subject, besides the rest of them.

She also loved to study maps with the seneschal, poring over them in the king's study while listening to Thaladir explain about the climate, wildlife, interesting historical features, local cultures, and current political situation within every square inch of land charted out. That is what it felt like, anyway.

"As long as I can ride with my carriage top down," I told her, after she worried out loud about the possibilities of a bumpy ride, "I don't care how much I bounce around inside of it. At least I will have fresh air in my face while it is happening."

So far, riding in an open carriage had been the only promise I had been able to wheedle out of Thranduil and Thaladir. It turned out that they had never planned to put the carriage tops up, unless it rained, now that the possibilities of spider attack were no longer a danger. I still counted it as a victory.

~ Mal ~

I swam a few small circles, and then sat down on a long, flat rock on the far side of the pool, contemplating my misfortune. For once, even I was annoyed with Thaladir. The Elvenking would not be back soon, I knew it, not before I became wrinkled like a raisin anyway. I could just as well leave, if I could find my way back to the inhabited parts of Caras Galadhon.

I had just made up my mind to go, when the sight of a white body appearing among the rocks startled me. Lord Celeborn! I sat back down, quickly. I even averted my eyes, proud of myself.

"Oh," said the elf-lord. "Do tell me if I intrude on your peace. I believed the pool was unoccupied - I noticed no clothes."

"Eh, no, your co-ruler had an organizational moment." I smiled amicably into his face and hoped he wouldn't want to discuss it further. He didn't. "And no, you don't disturb," I told him. Firstly, it was his forest; secondly, the company of elves by nature simply cannot be entirely unwanted. He nodded and I modestly looked the other way as he entered the water.

For a while we sat in silence, he on one side of the pool and I on the other. I glanced at him now and then, candidly. He seemed lost in his own thoughts, and it would have been a waste not to use the moment given. I would soon depart from the Golden Wood, and who knew if I would ever meet him again.

"What a pity," he suddenly said, startling me. Had he been reading my thoughts?

"No, not exactly," he said. Now I was sure he had done precisely that. "I was merely recalling a moment from my latest visit to Elrond." He smiled, in a naughty sort of way. I thought I knew which one. The bathing house. An astonishingly aphrodisiac soap. More embarrassment than I could bear to remember. I winced.

"No, honestly," he chuckled. "It was a pity that we were interrupted." He was correct. Perhaps, if Thaladir hadn't showed up to 'rescue' me just then, Celeborn could have cured me before the ensuing madness had happened.

"Yes," I replied. But why did he bring that up now? And in such a kind voice? "I would have liked to continue," I added, before thinking. Within moments I found myself sitting very close to the elf-lord. I would never get used to their swift reflexes. He moved again; very slowly he lifted my hand to his face and pressed his lips to my palm. I looked into his eyes. Did he mean what I thought he meant?

I took my hand back, just as slowly, but on the way I let it tentatively run down his chest until my fingers touched the water. Holding my gaze, he reciprocated my earlier motion. A gentle caress over my body, wet on wet, skin on skin. I held my breath as his fingers chose a path straight across my nipple, rather than the safer way I had traveled. Vaguely, I heard the quiet clucking of the water as the surface opened for his hand. Thoughts were rushing through my head, a sudden heat welling like a spring. Willingly, I parted my thighs.

"Take this," he said much later, gesturing towards his lounging robe. "Just make sure to send someone back with it. It would hardly be fitting for the ruler of two realms to be seen striding unclad through the forest. My wife fears for my dignity." He chuckled.

'And I fear your wife,' I wanted to say, but didn't. That was something I should have thought about earlier, before agreeing to any adventures with him. She would hardly turn me into a toad - Thranduil wouldn't allow that - but I didn't look forward to being thrown out of Lórien either. Or southern Eryn Lasgalen.

I dressed in silence. I couldn't help feeling joy from Celeborn's appreciative glances, but the thought of an annoyed Lady of Light was scary enough to make me not want to linger. Quickly I skulked through the trees, hoping that leaving the path would take me the straightest way to the guest telain. It was a mistake, of course. Instead of making an unseen entrance into the living area, I ended up by the mighty hedge that surrounded Caras Galadhon. And right next to a tree with guards in it. And Rúmil was among them.

"Ah, what a nice surprise," he said, sticking his head down from the hole in the talan. "It gets lonely on watch duty even this close to home." The others laughed, a good-natured laugh.

"I was just going to ask," I told him. "Where my temporary home is, I mean." I gave him my best smile and hoped that he wouldn't notice what I was wearing.

"That way." He pointed in the direction I had come from, but slightly more to the right. Oh well. I hadn't been off by that much then. "And you should wear that colour more often," he added. I turned my back on him without replying. It was time I got into my own clothes.

~ Mary ~

If I had only stopped first to think about where the seneschal would most likely be located, if he was not right beside the king, which he was not, then locating him would not have taken me as much time as it did. Ever since I had discovered that Thaladir was just as privy to my thoughts as the king was, I had made an effort to not think too hard about anything.

The day before, I had asked Thranduil why he needed to bring a big carriage, with the hope that my question would make him think about the enormous built-in bed it contained, and perhaps he would invite me there to demonstrate firsthand the necessity of it. I could think of no other good reason on my own.

It does not take much of an imagination to figure out that once we left Lórien, we would be leaving civilization, as defined by the elves, behind, too. There would be no inns along the way. Thranduil, however, is not much of one for creature comforts, and probably preferred roughing it. Bringing a big bed to spend his nights in would have been more for my and Mal's benefit, as he rarely ever slept.

The king surprised me, though, by not even bringing up the subject of his luxurious sleeping accommodations. Instead, he informed me that the carriage would serve as his traveling throne-room, as he was now officially departing the elven realms to travel out amongst the mortal lands. He did not elaborate further, but I realized that he of course still had kingly duties to perform and royal decisions to make, and he would need a place to do both in private.

The seneschal, therefore, must be hovering near the carriage. That would be his territory and most likely the reason Thranduil did not invite me there the day before to try out the bed.

I arrived at the staging area where all of the carriages were parked just in time to watch Thaladir supervise the delivery of several large wheels of Lórien-made cheese, which were then loaded into the king's carriage. The seneschal had a small notebook in his hand that he stopped to make a note in and then he waved over some elves who were standing nearby with a few baskets of fresh baked breads and pies. After an inspection, they were covered up and also loaded in.

There was only a basket each of the more perishable Lórien fruits and vegetables, but not very much else. Fresh meat would probably be hunted for along the way. Thranduil would have an aromatic traveling throne-room.

As I was determined to be on my best behavior, I stood by quietly and waited like a proper lady for a chance to speak to Thaladir. The Galadhrim were studiously avoiding making eye contact with me, possibly because the seneschal was watching them, so it was not as much fun being in the middle of elves as it should have been. I kept a pleasant attitude anyway.

Finally, after all foodstuffs were put away and noted down, my presence was acknowledged by Thaladir. Keeping a new gown from Gondor firmly in mind, I dipped into a curtsy and even bowed my head, a little.

"Your Excellency, I wish to speak with you," I said, keeping my eyes down, just to make him happy. "And I can tell that you are busy, is this a bad time?" I peeked up at him, he at least was not frowning.

With a flip of his wrist, the seneschal magically produced the notebook he had been writing in from his sleeve, opened and consulted it, and then answered, "I can spare only a few moment's of His Majesty's valuable time, my lady ." He gestured me to sit on a nearby bench, formed from a living mallorn's root, and stood in front of me, with his arms crossed.

With a flash of insight, I realized that Thaladir had probably read my thoughts and knew that I was going to apologize. All of the fun drained out of the experience, instantly. Now I did not want to do it anymore, dress or no dress, not even for a thousand dresses. Then I remembered that the king had actually promised to intercede on my behalf over the draconian travel itinerary, if I said I was sorry about the mean things I had said, and gathered myself.

"I am sorry that I called you a lecherous old goaty grouch with an uncontrollable sex drive at the sight of my bare flesh, Excellency." I rattled off quickly, glad that I had rehearsed it while I was hunting for him. "It was uncalled for," I added. "And I deeply regret the sentiment, which was entirely untrue. You do not have to forgive me, but I do want you to know that I wish I could take it back."

The last part was added spur of the moment, and was the most, if not only, sincere thing I said.

"The loss of your gowns came as a shock to your nerves, my lady," the seneschal replied patiently. "Your typically unrestrained reaction and intemperate outburst regarding my libido were entirely predictable, and therefore, of no consequence. At the present moment, if you have nothing further to speak to me about, I will take my leave." Without actually waiting to find out if I did have anything else to say, he turned around and left with a dignified swish of his robes. Probably to gloat in private.

"Yes, it was a shock!" I called to his departing back and then looked down at the dress I was wearing, "I am going to miss these gowns," I said, but quietly, to myself. I stood up to enjoy the way it felt to wear the pretty thing for the last time. As I felt the unique way the fabric floated over me, not hugging tightly but not baggy or shapeless either, something else occurred to me. I had to stop myself from going further with my thoughts, in case the seneschal was tuning in to my mind, and whistled my way back to my guest talan.

Miriel was there, sitting outside the door and chatting with a few of her newly made Galadhrim friends, and she followed me inside. I knelt and opened my travel chest, inside were the gowns that I had worn in the previous spring while we were in the caves, and I lifted one out. I remembered at the time how liberating they felt, with their slightly shorter sleeves and skirts than the heavy winter gowns had, and how much I had loved them. Unlike the Lórien made gowns, they fit me snugly at the waist and bust.

A lot had changed since those days. Mal and I had been on a strict and nutritious diet then, and a regulated sleeping schedule, with exercise every day as there is no way to travel about in Thranduil's realm without going up or down stairs. I hastily stuffed the gown back into the trunk. After our 'examination' by Lord Celeborn, the strict health regimen had been abruptly terminated.

"Have all my new gowns been sent back to Eryn Lasgalen?" When the seneschal had come to take them, it seemed as if my elleth companion was not pleased with him, either. She was always protective of my wardrobe, like a mortal girl child is about her doll's clothes.

"Yes, Lady Mary," she said solemnly. "All but the one that you are wearing."

"Good," I said. "Will you please fetch Ithilwen? I need to speak to her."

~*~ From Thaladir's Notebook ~*~

Status of daily schedule: Accomplished

Remarks: Provisions loaded according to plan, although the size of the cheese proved to be somewhat smaller than initially given specifications, wherefore it became necessary to increase the amount thereof accordingly. Lady Mary, regrettably, reacted adversely to being separated from the items of her attire that will have no function whilst travelling, while Lady Malinorne, as could be expected, knowing her more docile nature, behaved above satisfactory. Oropher's son was most helpful in all matters. Long live Eryn Lasgalen!

To be continued...

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Chapter posted: October 24, 2006

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"Long live Thranduil, great Elf-king of Greenwood!"