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Far Beyond Mirkwood, Chapter 12/?

Authors: Mary A and Malinornë
Pairings: Mainly Thranduil/OFCs
Warnings: Actually, none... darn it.
Disclaimer: This is a work of amateur fanfiction of the parody type and is meant solely for entertainment purposes, no profit is made.
Chapter summary: Thranduil's Royal Party leaves the inn and heads for Edoras. Mary meets with misfortune and Mal meets some new admirers.

~ Mary~

After I was dismissed from the table, Anborn jumped to his feet and Thranduil stood up, too.

"I want to have a word with you, soldier," said the king. He gestured at Anborn to follow him a few steps away from the table. I went in the opposite direction.

Although I felt a little guilty over abandoning the ranger to the mercy of the Elfking, I had something else more important to take care of at that time. I approached Haldir and asked him if he knew the whereabouts of the younger serving woman. He smirked at me before he spoke.

"Is she trying to kill you today?" he asked and I made a face at him. He added, his voice softer, "She is a pale and nervous little thing compared to you. You have no reason to feel jealous."

"I have to return these to her," I said, pointing to the ribbons. He lifted one of his elegant eyebrows.

"What a pity," he said, reaching out to my hair. He curled the loose end of one ribbon around his finger and let it fall into a little coil. "They are quite fetching." He held his arm out to me and I took it, forgetting the serving girl's existence after gazing into his sparkling eyes.

"I am sorry I couldn't get to my door last night," I whispered. "I heard your knock."

"As a gentleman, I would never admit to such an unworthy deed," he said. "But, I am sorry, too." He bowed, and opened the door to my room, and I was shocked to find myself upstairs. I could not remember climbing the stairs.

"Did you hypnotize me?" When I saw my bed, a terrible mess, I moaned. It was inviting me to return, and I yawned and staggered over to it.

"You did not get enough sleep last night, I can tell," said the March warden solemnly. He stood in the doorway and leaned against the frame, his arms folded.

"It must be those elven senses of yours," I replied. "Now where did I leave my tunic?" I pawed through the blankets in search of my missing top.

"I can see that your garment is over there on the floor." Haldir pointed to the other side of the room. "Elven eyes," he added.

"Show off," I replied, but it was nice to have a tall elf around at times like that.

"Why do you wish to return to Isengard?" He cocked his head at me, thoughtful. "Did I not hear you say that you would never..."

"Oh, I say a lot of things, Haldir." I sat on the edge of the bed and sighed. "I wanted to go back there for an ent-draught, so I can be all fresh and sparkly like Mal is. It was a dumb idea. The king can't take his eyes off of her, it seems." I pulled the ribbons from my hair and stared at them.

"Aran Thranduil's attentions to Lady Malinorne will go far to heal her wounds," he said softly. "Are you aware of how devastated she was to find herself left behind, without any explanation?"

"I told her that I was sorry," I said in my defense. "It wasn't up to me, anyway." His words struck home despite my attempt to deflect the blame. Maybe I had not been responsible for hurting Mal, but I should be more understanding of Thranduil's wish to make amends with her.

"It's not like I had such a great time, you know," I muttered. The fact was, I felt Mal had more fun than I did. "She was lucky to be left behind."

"The Lady Malinorne did not deserve to be treated as less than an afterthought." Haldir's voice was brittle, and I could feel the outrage beneath his otherwise controlled manner.

"You're right," I admitted. "I will try to stop feeling so jealous, I will." He smiled at my words, since he had heard me say them before, more than once. "You better leave," I said, "and I'll get dressed. I can't wait to get out of this place."

After advising me to leave the ribbons and blouse in the room, where the serving girl was sure to find them, he stepped out into the corridor. Once he was gone, I thought of Anborn, and wondered what happened to him. Had Thranduil asked him to leave? Would he feel obliged to obey my king's orders?

When Haldir and I finally exited the inn, Mal was already on Amarth, with Thranduil standing beside them. The seneschal, seated on his own horse, held out his hand to me, and before I could protest, he had bent over and lifted me up sit behind him. The king grinned and I am sure he was very amused. Haldir mounted his own horse, and we were off.

To my relief, Anborn rode right behind us. I had not had a chance to talk to him since breakfast, and was happily surprised to see that he took a place with the royal party, while we left the village behind. He rode right beside Thaladir and me, when the horse trail allowed it. At times, the path would narrow, or be covered with water from the recent rains, and we would ride single file.

Thaladir rode hard for many leagues, and the other horses were pounding along either right in front of ours, or behind, which made talking to the ranger or the elf impossible. At least an hour had gone by and I was actually getting to like not speaking to the seneschal, and I pretended I was doing it on purpose.

~ Mal ~

On Amarth's back I waited, somewhat anxiously, for his master to join me. Thranduil's stallion had never done me any harm, but his great height and the size of his hooves, as well as the occasional snort as he impatiently lifted and shook his head, tended to impose a reasonable amount of respect into anyone who came near him.

Galadriel's travel dress required me to sit side-saddle, even if the king's horse was without tack, which made me balance the more gingerly. My fingers rested gently on coarse black hair; I didn't dare to grab Amarth's mane. I could feel his powerful muscles trembling under my thighs. He was eager to be on the way, and perhaps it was only Thaladir's presence nearby that prevented him from setting off prematurely. I sent a grateful thought to the seneschal, hoping the elf would soon get over his snit from the argument with the innkeeper. I had no wish to ever be caught up between an angry Thaladir and an irritated Amarth.

When the Elvenking agilely jumped up behind me it had a calming effect on his steed as well as on me. I was glad to feel his arms around my waist, and even the more so when he whispered playfully in my ear that I could put my hands on Amarth's withers for support, unless I preferred to hold on to his own thighs. My reply, that the latter would be more fun, but also a lot more difficult, cost me a moment of attention and more of my dignity as the horse chose that precise moment to make a great leap forward, encouraged by a passing mare. I nearly tumbled to the ground, but was saved at the last moment from the king.

"I think Amarth wants to run," I said as I held on to both elf and horse.

"My horse, as well as my subjects, want many things," he replied with a chuckle. "I like to grant them their wishes when possible."

And so we set off, leaving the village by the Entwash ford by a much greater speed than we entered it merely a night ago. In daylight, the horses made good speed even on the poor road that followed the river upstream, and it seemed to me that only an hour or so had passed when I could make out the shape of our carriages in the near empty plains.

The wood-elves had moved the vehicles near some low trees a short distance from the track and placed them in a circle. Within, they had made a fire. The grass around it was bent in a fashion that suggested that they had slept there, two at a time, which Ithilwen confirmed. She would have preferred a thick roof of foliage over her head, but rather than complaining, she said diplomatically that she looked forward to seeing the lands of the mortals further south. If devoid of large forests, the capital of Rohan still lay in a mountainous area, which would make it a little more like home.

~ Mary ~

If the king had intended for me to lose interest in my idea of getting my hands on an ent draught by making me ride with Thaladir, then he was right. The more I thought about it, the worse of an idea it seemed. Probably one of the only events that I had been anticipating, with more than just bored dread, was our welcome to the young King Eomer's court.

I knew that Thaladir would make sure we entered the city with as much pomp and circumstance as he could manage; he was good for some things. I recalled the beautiful gowns in my chest, probably made for an occasion like it, and knew that no one would think I was a boy when they saw me in one of them. There would be feasting, merrymaking, dancing, and gobs of handsome horselords. Mal would take center stage if I was not there.

My head still hurt, and the horseback ride was not helpful. I felt a little dizzy. I groaned, and leaned my cheek against Thaladir's stick straight spine; it was comforting and solid. My lack of sleep was starting to tell on me, I guessed. I wanted badly to put my arms around the seneschal. The king had ordered me not to torment the old elf, and I held on to his robe instead, and wished I rode with Anborn, who was at least cuddly.

The seneschal suddenly slowed our horse from a lope to a walk. The rest of the horses ran ahead of ours, except Anborn's. He came to a halt, turned, and rode back. Thaladir waved him to go away, and the soldier obeyed, but he did not stray far.

"Lady Mary," said Thaladir, turning enough to see my face, "are you unwell?" Now that I was asked to talk, I did not want to. I looked away from him into the distance, my vision was blurry for some reason, and felt grandly silent. It felt good to think about what I was going to say, first, instead of blurting out something mean.

"I'm fine," I finally answered, with just the slightest sniff. "The king said so, remember? It must be true."

"What is wrong?" Anborn called out, which distracted Thaladir's attention. If I had planned at that moment to pretend to pass out, and fall off the horse, in order to test the seneschal's reflexes, then he would have known. That is probably why he did not catch me before I landed on the muddy ground.

At first, I was not even aware that anything unusual had happened. It seemed quite natural to open my eyes and find myself staring up at Thaladir's worried face. "Lady Mary," he said, in the gentlest tone I had ever heard him use, "do not move yet, remain still."

"I don't want to move," I tried to say, but nothing came out of my mouth. It was then I realized that I was lying flat on my back, in the dirt. As if by magic, the king appeared, and I wondered how. Only a few seconds before, I had seen him disappearing around a clump of trees on Amarth.

Thranduil's eyes grew dark as he knelt down and surveyed me. I wondered what I had done wrong this time, to make his eyes that stormy. His hands were on my neck. To my surprise, considering the grim look on his face, he did not strangle me.

Gentle and searching, his fingers moved from my neck to my shoulders and down my arms to my hands. He asked me to move them. I wiggled my fingers and he continued down to my hips and legs, then he removed my boots and had me move my toes. At that instant, it felt as if my breath had finally been released from somewhere else.

"I'm okay, really," I said, out loud this time. "What happened?" The king was lifting me up.

"I will take her from here," he said. "I do not believe her wits are addled, and her neck and spine are intact."

"You fell," I heard Anborn say, but I could not see him. "As if you were in a swoon."

"I fainted?" Thranduil did not answer me, but he held me close to him, and that felt nice. All I could remember was having a headache, and feeling dizzy. I had felt that way since I had risen from bed. It seemed a natural consequence of spending a restless night being serenaded by a snoring ranger, and after I had drank too much barley wine.

The king carried me down the path he had ridden away on, and I wondered why he had not brought Amarth with him. Anborn followed behind us, leading his horse while he stayed on his feet. I supposed the seneschal was last in line and I felt badly for him. We rounded a turn and I could see the carriages ahead of us, parked beneath a small grove of trees. Mal was there, and the other elves we had left behind.

"It was not Thaladir's fault," I told Thranduil, once I figured out what must have happened to me. "If anything," I added, "he noticed something was wrong with me before I knew there was. If he hadn't stopped, I would have been hurt a lot worse when I fell off his horse." I closed my eyes, it felt better when I did.

"I don't blame him," said the king. He barked out orders and the next thing I knew, he was placing me on the huge bed in his carriage. Miriel was there, and helped him undress me. I was forbidden to move.

"Am I going to die?" I asked Thranduil, as he examined me more closely than he had done outdoors.

"You should have eaten breakfast," he said, and he turned one of my ankles the wrong way and I winced; it hurt. Miriel brought a mug of something and handed it to the king, he helped me sit up to drink from it.

"Because if I am going to die," I continued, after drinking from the cup, it tasted like one of Thaladir's famous teas, "then you won't have to worry about me anymore, won't that be better for you? I know I've been a terrible brat. But..." He handed me the cup to hold for myself.

"There is nothing wrong with you that a deep, uninterrupted sleep will not completely cure. Drink your tea."

"Sleep?" I scoffed. "You think I fainted because I need sleep? I've had plenty of sleep." I sat up straighter to prove it, I was so determined to be near death for a more exotic reason.


"Why, um, well... let me think," I stalled, and sipped some more from the tea. I was sure that I was right and just too sleepy to think straight. "All right," I surrendered. "But if you knew that I hadn't slept very much in the past few days, then why did you..." His lifted eyebrow was enough, I remembered everything, and shut up. "Never mind," I said. "You're right."

"Please, finish what you were about to say." Thranduil's expression was passive, but his tone was not.

"I was going to say," I replied wearily, "that you should prevented me from inviting the ranger into my room last night."

"I did what I could do," he said quietly, not without some resignation, while removing the cup from my hand. "There are no choices left for you now. It is time for you to sleep." He pushed me down on the bed, gently, and I closed my eyes, thinking he was going to kiss me.

~ Mal ~

Almost as soon as the king and I had arrived, at a speed that left the other horses behind, Thranduil went back along the track at a quick stride and with a determined but sort of worried look on his face. I at first thought Mary had done something on purpose to draw his attention away from me, but I regretted the thought as soon as he returned, carrying her, and with a downhearted ranger in tow. She was so pale and still in his arms, almost as if she was dead. They disappeared into the king's carriage and nothing was heard for some time.

Haldir had arrived, too, but the seneschal was nowhere to be seen. I soon deduced that he must have been removed from His Majesty's service on the spot, for committing some act of carelessness that had caused Mary to fall off his horse and break her neck. Most likely, the king had told him to never appear before his face again. It served him right that Thranduil had finally chosen one of his mortal subjects over his seneschal. Ha! How Mary would gloat over it when she woke up, except she would never wake up. I was on the verge of crying when Thaladir, appearing from out of nowhere, as was his wont, told me in passing that nothing ailed her that couldn't be helped by a good tea and adherence to reasonable intake of nourishment.

His voice wasn't too kind, either, which made me sure he had read my mind. It turned my sadness into anger, until I realized that he was quite in his right to feel offended by my thoughts. After all, he had been the king's closest friend and confidant for ages, but now Thranduil spent vast amounts of time with a couple of probably fairly useless mortals. Poor, loyal Thaladir. He must feel terribly slighted, but had chosen to stoically bear his unkind fate, without as much as lifting an eyebrow when his master cruelly dismissed him out of a whim.

"Mal?" Someone softly touched my shoulder and I turned around to see Ithilwen at my side.

"Yes? Is she...?" I suddenly worried that Mary was worse off than Thaladir said. The elfmaid smiled kindly.

"Aran Thranduil says that Mary will be restored to full health before nightfall." She waited a moment, probably to allow me to let that sink in before she continued. "And, he instructs you to cease having low thoughts about yourself. There is no need to pity others, either." She winked and then left me to my thoughts again.

Her words, or, rather, the king's, made me feel better about myself, and less worried about Mary, but Thranduil was wrong if he thought he could order me not to think Thaladir had to sacrifice a great deal to be as nice to us as he was. From now on, and for as long as I remembered it, I would take care to be even more nice and respectful towards the seneschal. I'd better start right that moment.

I found Thaladir together with Anarion, listening to the younger elf's report of the night that had passed. Apparently, the most exciting thing that had happened was when a group of nosy Rohirrim had left the track to investigate. The sudden disappearance of the fire had confused them for a while, but this tactics of the woodelves proved lacking in the absence of a forest, and the horselords didn't need much light to find the carriages once they had caught sight of them.

At about that time, Anarion noticed me and interrupted his story. I would have loved to hear how the situation was resolved, and for a moment considered pretending that the cup of hot tea I was carrying was for my own use, and I had just passed by to listen to an interesting tale. But, as I had set out determined to do the seneschal a favour, whether convenient or not, I realized that I had better get on with it. So, I modestly dropped my gaze to the ground, curtseyed, and asked him in my most polite voice;

"May I offer you a cup of tea, Your Excellency?"

I couldn't tell if he was surprised or happy, but seeing him accept the cup, sip the drink, and then thank me made me feel warm inside. Staying on to hear the end of Anarion's report would have ruined my display of good manners, so, after another respectful curtsey, I left the two elves. I could always ask Ithilwen later.

A wind struck up from the north. It made pretty waves in the long grass, but was also chilly, so we stayed only for as long as we needed for the horses to be rested. And for Mary to fall soundly asleep.

Leaving the dirt road alongside the river felt like heaven. By comparison, the stone-paved north-sound road was smooth as silk, and the clattering sounds of hooves were music to my ears. Travelling like this was a much welcome change from the slippery mud that had occasionally sucked a hoof or wheel down, thereby causing a horse to stagger or the carriage to jerk in a very uncomfortable way. For some hours I enjoyed the bliss of a peaceful journey. Miles and miles of fertile soil with nothing but rich, dark-green grass growing upon it. A landscape untouched by modern farming.

My only distraction and one I enjoyed a lot was the occasional party of riders passing or crossing our path. They seemed to prefer their old tracks over the plains, rather than the new-built road that would have spared them the dust and dirt. I guess the soft ground was better for the horses. Unfortunately, the horsemen were in a hurry, always riding fast, offering me little more than a brief glance at their faces. They looked proud and friendly at the same time, which I decided were signs of them being a good-natured people I was looking forward to seeing more of.

Distracted by a sandy-haired man on a remarkably agile bay horse, I did not notice at first that we stood still. Then Anarion's face became visible outside the window and I opened the door for him.

"There is no reason to worry, my lady," he said. "Just a minor disturbance, which Lord Thaladir is dealing with. We will soon continue."

His sweet smile was possibly meant to prevent me from bothering myself with trying to find out more, but he had already provoked my curiosity. I had complete trust in the seneschal's abilities for dealing with almost anything we could possibly encounter on the way, but watching him in action was usually interesting. After hours of travelling, the prospect of seeing him do anything at all, except sit on top of a horse, was exciting.

"Please help me down," I said to the young wood-elf.

"Surely there is no need; Ithilwen will keep you company if you are bored." He waved his hand, and after a few seconds the elf-maid stood beside him, a slightly uneasy look on her face.

"Just be calm," she told both of us, despite her seeming to be the one most in need of calming. "We will continue shortly."

"Anarion told me that much," I replied. "I promise I won't disturb His Excellency in whatever he's doing, but I would like to stretch my legs." When none of them seemed particularly inclined to accommodate my wish, I added for good measure; "You must know by now that it is not good for the circulation of the mortal body to sit still for long periods at a time." This made Anarion uncertain, and he tentatively reached out a hand to help me down from the carriage, despite Ithilwen's attempt to prevent him by placing a finger on his arm. I knew she was too well-mannered to elbow him in the ribs, or do anything else of that sort that might have been more effective.

Outside, I immediately caught sight of Thranduil. The king had not dismounted, and now both horse and rider were pacing the grassy field beside the road in perfect unison, a splendid image of ill-tempered impatience. Haldir was standing beside his horse at the front of our column, his chin lifted and expression set in stone. The road was blocked by square slabs of rock, and, a small distance further to the front, cascades of sand were flying into the air. Someone was digging.

Thaladir was at the centre of the action, standing with his hands at his hips and staring at something. It was not until I came closer that I realized that he wasn't alone. Hidden behind his tall frame and flowing robes was a short, stout man with an imposing beard. I realized, not without excitement, that I was going to get a closer look at a dwarf, and likely more than one.

Despite parts of the Elvenking's halls being built by that mountain-loving race, they were rare guests in Mirkwood, and the wood-elves generally avoided associating with them. Now, as they were in the middle of our path, there was no such possibility.

The seneschal and the dwarf seemed to have a staring contest. Both of them were standing still, the eyes of the shorter one flashing angrily. I did not need to look at Thaladir's face to know that he was giving the dwarf his infamous silent treatment, the glare that would subdue anyone, even Amarth. Only the king himself could take it, and, it seemed, so could this dwarf.

"Bembo at your service, lady," he suddenly said, sweeping his cap off his head and bending at what must have been his waist, although he was evenly thick all over, and much of his front was hidden behind his beard.

"Thank you," I said, equally politely. "I'm sorry I can't offer you the same, but I'm already in the service of the Elvenking, and he doesn't like competition." I deliberately avoided looking at the seneschal.

"An ill fate, I say. A tight-fisted master he is, and one that returns little for service in abundance." I heard Thaladir gasp beside me, and the sinister sound of Amarth's hooves approaching.

"I'm pretty happy with it," I said. "I know that there are a few old grudges between elves and dwarves, but that shouldn't be reason to be unfair. I'm sorry, though, if you've been wronged."

"Hear, hear! Finally a graceful word! Finally some truth in the midst of deceit!" This outburst made the shovelling of sand stop, and three heads, as hairy as that of the speaker, and with similar caps, emerged from behind the stone slabs. They nodded enthusiastically and then went back to work.

"Lady," continued the first dwarf, "perhaps you would have the kindness to tell your companions to leave us alone while we finish our work."

I was about to reply that he thought too highly of me if he was under the impression that the king of the wood-elves and his seneschal would take orders from me, when he continued, "Or I shall have to charge you for interrupting my workers."

That last phrase made Thaladir clear his throat indignantly, and he draw himself up to full height as he, with an air of importance, produced a well-worn scroll from within his sleeve. I immediately recognized our travel plan.

"Good master dwarf," he said in a way that made it clear that he regarded the dwarf to be neither 'good' nor his 'master', even for the purpose of politeness. "You are no doubt aware of the fact that this part of the road ought to have been finished no later than a full month ago. Indisputably, a certain flexibility with the time schedule is to be expected, as well as graciously allowed, for any labour of this magnitude; however, it has been exceeded by far. If any compensation is due, that would be on the part of the builders, rather than the travellers."

The dwarf sighed and threw his hands up in the air.

"Since when did elves become experts of road-making? Good stonework takes time. 'Tis a sturdy, reliable dwarf road we are constructing, not a fleeting dream out of moonbeams and cobweb." Now, chuckling was heard from the pit, and the foreman looked very pleased with himself, but Thaladir wasn't going to let him get away so easily.

"Neglecting the value of spider's web is a common misconception of mortals," said the elf in his lecture tone. "This material, quite to the contrary, and despite its delicate appearance, has proven most durable and its uses are numerous; from the finest silk to clothe us in times of peace and celebration, to strong hithlain rope when there is need for hard work or battle."

For a millisecond I thought of the rope Haldir had brought from Lorien. I wouldn't blame him if he were thinking how some of it would look good around the neck of an obstinate dwarf.

"Will you leave us alone!" said the dwarf, now stomping his foot. This shook the seneschal out of his droning speech, and he shut up from pure surprise. I cast a pleading glance in his direction, and then the dwarf's as well.

"We understand," I said, "and of course we will wait until you are finished with your task." There was no way we could get the carriages past the pit and the rocks anyway, so it seemed pointless to continue the discussion. The king thought otherwise.

"We will reach Edoras shortly," butted in Thranduil, who overlooked the scene from his rather menacing position on Amarth's back. "No doubt it will interest Eomer to hear that his road is being built with such slowness, and by such impertinent workers."

"It is the road of the dwarves, not the horse-lords."

"His people, and the high king in Minas Tirith, will benefit more from it than yours. No doubt the humans are paying dearly for your work. What was your price?"

"The glittering caves, or Aglarond in your language," the dwarf declared proudly. He might just have wanted to boast his knowledge of languages a little, but in the present situation it sounded more like he was lording it over the elves that his own tongue was a well-kept secret, while Sindarin was the next thing to the common language, known, at least in part, to most of the men in Gondor. "Full access to the wonders within, and ownership of the grounds it stands on. For as long as the mountains remain."

"In that case, the road is paid for in full, and you have little business asking toll from travellers."

"In the days of Durin, the politeness of the elves was much greater, even though their generosity has always been lacking."

"In the days of Durin," replied Thanduil hotly, "the dwarves had not yet stirred up the terror of the mountain."

"It was not the dwarves that brought the balrog."

At the mention of the horrible creature all the elves gasped collectively, which gave me the chance to speak. I wished I remembered more of the seneschal's lessons in diplomacy, to say something elegant and wise to mend the situation. As it was, I blurted out the first words that came to my mind.

"Can't you just let it be? Please?"

I thought for a moment that I was talking to deaf ears, but maybe both parties had finally had enough of quarrelling. Thranduil suddenly turned Amarth around and walked towards the carriages, where Ithilwen and Anarion waited with Haldir. It was clear that they had heard everything, even Miriel, who was leaning out from the window of the big carriage where Mary was resting.

"There shall be no further mentioning of this incident," the king said icily as Thaladir and I followed him back to the others. "It has not happened." I thought he would command us all to get off the cursed dwarf road instantly, so that nobody could say that he owed them anything, but Thranduil was not stupid, even if he could be unreasonable at times. He would not sacrifice the carriages for the sake of his pride.

We waited some more I had taken refuge in my carriage and then I saw, astonished, how Haldir and Anarion, under Thaladir's supervision, led our spare horse to the work area and hitched it to one of the slabs. Within minutes, the flat stone rested on the sand bed prepared by the dwarves, and after about half an hour the hole in the road was gone. The foreman declared that he would, perhaps, have to begin to reconsider his opinions about elves, some of them at least. He even went as far as suggesting that Thaladir, if he should ever feel inclined to exchange his service to one king for that of another, would be most welcome to Khazad-dum, which was now under reconstruction.

The seneschal declined, of course, and Thranduil had the good taste to later pretend not to even having heard of the strange offer.

~ Mary ~

When I opened my eyes again it was full dark outside. The bed was shaking slightly and, after a few moments, I realized that the carriage was moving; I could see the night sky passing by through the open window. I turned over and noticed Miriel was there, sitting on the edge of the bed and looking out through the opposite window.

I could only see her back, and her long, glossy hair shimmering in the lamplight. "Are we almost there?" I asked her, my voice a whisper because my throat was dry. She whirled and her angelic face lit up in a smile.

"Are you hungry?" she asked. "Aran Thranduil said you would claim to be starving."

"He was wrong for once," I croaked out. "I am dying of thirst more." My headache was gone, and I felt more alert than I had in days.

While I sat propped up by pillows, and ate the simple meal Thaladir had ordered Miriel to feed me, she told me of the day's events since the time I fallen asleep. They had left the campsite shortly after and traveled for many leagues since. After joining back to the new King's Road, the Royal Party was confronted by some vague, unanticipated 'obstacles', as she put it, in their way. She would say no more about that except that it was another set-back in the itinerary. Nothing else eventful took place that she was aware of, but she had spent most of her day inside the carriage with me.

"I had to shutter the windows every time a party of Rohirrim would pass by us," Miriel lamented. "They traveled in both directions," she explained. "There were dozens of them at a time, and the dust they raise is like clouds." She had enjoyed riding through a few villages along the way; the people had gawked politely at the procession, and some had smiled and waved.

After the sun had set, the horsemen had not appeared as often, and she had finally had the chance to enjoy the landscape. For her, however, the best part about Rohan was the uninterrupted view of the starlit sky. She missed the trees, but she marveled at the sparkling beauty of the stars out here on the open plains.

"We are not due to reach Edoras for at least another day," she finished. Tonight we would be camping outdoors.

I could feel the carriage was slowing down and then it stopped. Outside, through the window, the sounds of the royal party coming to an official halt floated in, with orders being given about where to put the horses, and who should gather firewood. At any minute, I could receive a visitor, and I tried to make myself look presentable with Miriel's help.

Thaladir came in first. Silently, he took one of my hands into his and looked into my eyes. "You are on strict bed rest until mid-day tomorrow," he pronounced crisply, then he laid my hand down and turned to leave.

"Wait a minute," I called out. The tall elf stopped and faced me from just in front of the door. "I want to thank you, Excellency, for slowing down when you thought I didn't feel good. If I fell off when you were galloping, I probably would've broken my neck."

"Try to remain quiet, now, Lady Mary, and do not overly concern yourself with imaginary events. It is far better than you concentrate on your current state." As he spoke, Anborn came to the door and peeked in. I could see him, but Thaladir could not.

"Can I have visitors if they act like gentlemen and don't tire me out?" I spoke loud enough for the ranger to hear me, keeping my eyes on the seneschal's face. "Or ladies, like if Mal wanted to come in for a while?"

"Only if the visit is limited to a brief duration," Thaladir said, a bit reluctantly.

Anborn was the only human I had ever seen who was able to sneak up behind an elf and remain undetected. He must practice not breathing loud. Right before the seneschal turned to leave, after wishing me a 'good night', the ranger pulled away from the door and waited out of sight. Then I could hear them talking outside, Anborn sounding his usual courtly self as he asked Thaladir's permission to pay me a short visit.

"I swear," I whispered to the grinning ranger, after he successfully gained visitation rights, and stood beside the bed, "you could charm a lemon into tasting sweet."

"If such a deed was ever required of me, in order to be at your side, I would do my best to perform," Anborn declared. I thought he deserved a kiss for that, and if a certain elf had not been lingering in the doorway, watching us, he would have gotten one!

"I believe the present state of affairs is satisfactory," the seneschal told him curtly. "I bid you a good day."

~*~ From Thaladir's Notebook: ~*~

Status of daily schedule: Accomplished

Remarks: Departure from Entwash ford successfully initiated. Reunification with Anarion, Ithilwen and Miriel marred by most anxious circumstances involving Lady Mary, who, however, according to His Majesty, suffered no great harm and is, furthermore, expected to be fully restored shortly. After leaving the bridge, our onward journey to this point has been remarkably uneventful, indeed, nigh a thing has passed, at all. I cannot, however, forego noting that the race of the Naugrim is obstinate indeed, wherefore it is most fortunate to have none within the borders of His Majesty's realm. Long live Eryn Lasgalen!

To be continued...

Thaladir fans! Don't forget that you can still talk to the seneschal, one on one. Just click "Talk to Thaladir" in the menu.
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Chapter posted: May 9, 2007

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