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Far Beyond Mirkwood, Chapter 14/?

Authors: Mary A and Malinornë
Pairings: Mainly Thranduil/OFCs
Warnings: Arrrgh, none, darn it, but just wait!
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: The Royal Party prepares to enter Edoras and meet Eomer, the new King of Rohan, and his sister, Eowyn.

~ Mal ~

The seneschal was in his right element; that was plain to see. When he knocked at my carriage to wake me, the sound seemed milder than usual, and his normally stern face was softened by a smile. It was a lot more than just the hint of a smile. And, as I observed him leaving my carriage in the direction of the king's, there was lightness to his step. The hem of his long robe – one that had a long slit in the back for horseback riding – seemed to caress the grass whenever it touched the ground.

He was not the only one to be in high spirits this morning. Everyone I saw was excited that another part of our long journey would end today, and we would soon be in Edoras. Thranduil grinned when I passed him, and it was not only because of the wine goblet in his hand, and my scanty nightdress. Both Ithilwen and Miriel appeared to dance as they went about their self-appointed chores of assisting me with every little thing I really didn't need any help with. Haldir laughed loudly at something they told him. Only Anarion looked a bit apprehensive. I wanted to ask him why, but there was no time for that now, as I was swept away by the smiling elf-maidens.

A short distance from our campsite there was a brook, nearly not making any sound as it flowed slowly and unhindered through the grasslands. It was not wider than even a not too agile mortal in a dress could comfortably jump over, and probably not too deep either. That was hard to see because of its brownish water.

"That is merely silt," said Miriel.

"From the rich soil here," continued Ithilwen. "The water is clean, try it!"

With some doubt I scooped up a little water in my hand and sipped it. The taste was pure, but with a hint of something that vaguely reminded me of metal. It was not unpleasant, only unexpected.

"I see it's good to drink," I told them, "but is it really a good idea to bathe here? I don't think Thaladir would appreciate if I were to present myself at King Eomer's court with mud in my hair." Both of them giggled and whispered between themselves.

"Do not worry," said Ithilwen, suddenly returning to her serene and dignified manners. "I will rinse your hair afterwards. You will see."

As I washed with the soap and shampoo provided by them, I was also given the explanation of the water's peculiar taste.

"This is a finger of Snowbourne," explained Miriel, "the river that runs from the great mountains in the south. Much of the water comes from melting snow. Look!"

I lifted my gaze towards where she was pointing, and realized that the dark mass at the horizon, which had appeared as low clouds the night before, was in fact the Ered Nimrais, the mountain massive on Thaladir's map. I think I could even see their snowy caps if I squinted. Ithilwen pointed out what she claimed to be the hill where Edoras was situated, and Miriel said it was fairly easy to spot because of the glimmering at the top. I had heard of the Golden Hall of Meduseld, but I had to wait until we came closer until I could see it for myself.

Back at the camp Ithilwen rinsed my hair as promised. One of the empty wine caskets now had many small holes in the bottom and served as a shower. Anarion held it securely while Miriel poured water – sifted through a cloth – from a bucket into it. I appreciated their efforts, but I couldn't help wondering if there wouldn't be a residual smell from the former contents of the casket. Even if Thaladir was in a mood to forgive a small transgression of protocol like that, the idea left me somewhat uncomfortable.

"Our king will only like you more," was the cheerful reply from Miriel when I quietly voiced my concern. Indeed, one shouldn't expect a wood-elf to find anything bad with a little wine.

"Besides," added Ithilwen, "Edoras will smell too much of horses and their lords for any mortal to notice."

Mary was still confined to the king's carriage, and, according to Thaladir, should not be disturbed unless absolutely necessary. Thus, my dressing became a rather public affair. There would be no more modest and comfortable Galadriel dresses.

"The formal entering of the capital of another kingdom is an occasion that requires a certain degree of royal splendour," announced the seneschal with satisfaction as he approvingly regarded the gown Ithilwen held out for his inspection.

He then watched with a cool, professional interest as she assisted me into this creation of shiny, green silk. Haldir looked on, too, but from a less obvious position by the dying fire. His smirk was rather nice, though, and I hoped he felt at least a tiny bit of remorse for spurning me the night before. Then Thranduil came, and the others took a step back as he reached me in a confident stride, hugged me to his chest and caught my lips in a hot kiss. It lasted only for a moment, but the seneschal looked alarmed nevertheless. I could almost see his blasphemous thoughts: How rude of His Majesty to even risk wrinkling a dress brought all the way from Mirkwood for this very day!

The gown had suffered no harm that I could detect. It looked formal in a sort of casual way; the materials were expensive and the skirt chastely long and wide, but the sleeves were short and the bodice was cut a great deal lower than would have been considered proper in the public areas of the Halls of the Elvenking.

"An adaptation to climate, as well as local custom," remarked Thranduil. "I believe I shall allow myself to be influenced by some manners of the mortals of this land." His eyes had a mischievous glitter to them, but Thaladir's sudden expression of horror was real, until the king patted his shoulder reassuringly. "Sadron nín," Thranduil said, "you have prepared everything to my great satisfaction, as usual."

Both of them left, and I only then realized that we had guests. Suddenly there were horses everywhere, a full eored of twenty-four, according to Ithilwen who had now directed her attentions to my hair. I continued to look at the newcomers and soon understood that the disorder was only perceived. In reality, each man had a particular place in the formation of horses and riders, and as the captain barked out orders in a language I did not understand, they arranged themselves in a quarter of a circle behind him.

Thaladir and the king approached them, and the captain dismounted. He bowed and then announced in a loud booming voice that King Eomer was honoured to welcome the Elvenking Thranduil into the Riddermark. The seneschal replied that the Elvenking was indeed likewise honoured to welcome King Eomer's most esteemed captain into his temporary campsite. Thranduil made a gracious gesture of dismissal and left, but the seneschal and the captain continued to talk for quite a while. They used the common language now, and I heard enough to understand that they were discussing how we were to proceed on our way to the city of Edoras. Obviously, these preliminary greetings and the escort were only a small introduction to the official ceremonies that surrounded a meeting of two kings in Rohan.

~ Mary ~

I was awakened that day by the thunder of hoof-beats. My vantage point at the time was limited, as I was still on strict bed rest in the carriage, and I had to track most of the activity with my ears. I finally could not stand it anymore and rose to my knees to peek out a window. The king had already risen, probably before dawn so that he could see the stars, and he had left both of them open.

From what I could see, a party of Rohirrim had come to visit, and their captain was conferring with the seneschal. At first, I could have sworn that the captain was Edric, the same man that the king and I had met on our return from Isengard. The helmet he wore covered most of his face, making it hard to tell. After checking out the rest of the horsemen, I spotted at least a half dozen who could have also been Edric, or his brothers.

When I was finally allowed out of the king's carriage, after putting on a wine-colored silk gown, and having my hair done by Miriel, it was hard to keep a lady-like composure. A small group of the horsemen were near the carriage, chatting with Anarion and Miriel. They all turned toward me and, by the grins on some of their faces, I had the immediate feeling that none of them mistook me for a boy.

Sadly, before I could draw close enough to flirt adequately, Anborn was at my side, tucking my arm into his elbow. From the way his muscular arm gripped mine, I had the feeling that he must have been taking lessons from Thaladir. I kept smiling, although I wanted to kick him.

The courtly ranger introduced me to the Rohirrim as, "Lady Mary, a most valued member of the royal entourage," which was a term I had never considered before, although it sounded nice the way he said it. Then he shocked me by claiming that he had been temporarily deputized into the royal party to be my personal body-guard. The tone of his voice made it clear that he meant for the horsemen to keep their distance.

"Since when were you appointed to guard me?" I whispered to him, after I drew him away from the mollified Rohirrim. "Not that I mind," I added, after I saw his face fall. "I never had my own body-guard before, and it was a surprise to me."

"Lady Mary?" I heard from behind us and I turned to face Edric, the captain. Now that his helmet was off, and tucked under his arm, I recognized him immediately, despite his cleanly appearance.

"Captain Edric," I said, extending my free hand to him. "How nice to see you. Did you ever take my advice and go to Isengard?" I winked at him to let him know I was teasing, but I do not think he understood the gesture.

"Nay, lady, I fear that I have not," he said seriously, while shaking my hand. I felt a tug at my other arm.

"You have met this man before?" Anborn asked me, while he eyeballed the horselord suspiciously.

"He's a captain," I said, "not a man, silly." Before either of them could correct me, a familiar sound of throat-clearing saved me. Thaladir was there, looming over us from behind like a great gray cloud, but I was happy to see him. Quickly, I disengaged myself from Anborn and took the seneschal's offered elbow, and allowed myself to be meekly led to my carriage, as if I did so every day.

The city ahead of us, or the hill it sat on anyway, was in view of our campground, and we could have walked the rest of way. There was enough distance in between, however, to justify not trying to approach on foot, especially those of us who were dressed in formal gowns for the event.

After Mal and I were in our carriages, a pair of the Rohirrim horsemen were chosen by Captain Edric to ride on either side of us. The King and the captain rode in front of the procession and behind them were Anarion and Haldir, each with the new flag of the joined kingdom affixed to their horse. Anborn rode next, in front of Malinorne's carriage, which was in front of mine, and Thaladir rode on top of the King's carriage, from where he could keep an eye on the rest of us. The remaining horsemen followed behind.

I could not decide what irritated me more, that my personal body-guard was riding in front of Mal's carriage, or that I had a personal body-guard at all. My feelings went from one extreme to another. It felt lovely that the king wanted to protect me, now that we were entering a realm of mortal men, but it was a bit humiliating, too. Like I needed a babysitter, ha!

As long as Anborn faced away from me, I took the opportunity to smile at both of my Rohirrim escorts, and I tried to get them to chat with me, although I never learned their names. "It seems like it would be a lot of work to open and close those gates all day," I said to the rider on my right as we moved closer.

"They are usually always open, Lady Mary," he admitted shyly. "This ritual is part of our welcoming ceremony." He would not say more to me, and the other horseman, to my left, either did not notice my efforts to get his attention, or he was afraid to. As we drew closer to the mountains, a river that ran down from them flowed right next to us, roaring from the recent rains, and it was no longer possible to converse with anyone. We finally drew to a halt in front of the gates, and our carriages were drawn to the side of the road, and parked.

Mal and I had been instructed to remain seated in our carriages until the gates were fully opened. Anborn moved his horse next to Haldir, and both of them flanked Thranduil and Amarth. Anarion now stood beside Lady Malinorne's carriage, ready to open her door and assist her out. Next to my carriage stood Thaladir.

Just as I was starting to grow weary of being politely silent, a blare of trumpets made me nearly jump out of my seat. I could hear some of the horsemen chuckling behind me, even during the typical cascading chorus of blasts meant to grab our attention. The gates began to swing open slowly.

~ Mal ~

I felt a bit intimidated by these Rohirrim, probably a combined effect of all the horses and the fact that much of the men's faces were hidden by their helmets. Mary had no such problem. Almost as soon as she had appeared, she drew the attention of several men, and she began to chat casually with the captain. She looked stunning after Miriel's care; I had almost forgotten how pretty she was. No doubt why that Anborn was so protective of her!

Thaladir noticed the ranger, too. When we began travelling again, after much rearrangement of who was going to ride where, I found myself treated to the not unpleasant sight of Anborn's back. Farther ahead were Haldir and Anarion, and at the very front I could even see a little of the king.

Straight ahead of us were the mountains, their silvery tops partly disguised by thin mist as if it was raining there. Further down, they were less high, and the peaks a sandy grey, and lower still the mountains were replaced by rounded, green hills. In between them lay valleys, some of them deep enough to look almost black in the shadows. Here and there I could see a distant waterfall or the glitter of a stream. It was a truly beautiful landscape.

In the midst of it, on a lonely hill that rose up from the plains, lay Edoras. From afar, the city was a muddle of low wooden structures thrown together haphazardly all over the hill, but as we approached, streets became visible, and also a wide path or stair that led to the top. There stood Meduseld, the king's richly ornate hall with the gold-thatched roof it was famous for. All the other buildings seemed to cower at its feet in awe.

Just at the foot of the hill, the new road we had so far travelled on joined with the older one that ran all the way to Minas Tirith. At the other, far distant end was The Shire and the forgotten cities of the long lost kings of the north. These thoughts put me in the right mood for the last part of the way, past a number of hills too evenly shaped and spread to be a work of nature. The man riding to my left confirmed that they were indeed man-made: the burial mounds of the kings of Rohan all the way back from Eorl the Young who was gifted the land for his services to the then high king of Gondor.

All the mounds but for the last one were overgrown with small white flowers. "The resting place of Theoden King," said my escort, although I had guessed it already. "Great were his deeds in dire days and mighty in the memory of men, but it will be yet another summer before Simbelmyne, that is Evermind, will pay him homage." I nodded solemnly.

"It must be a great loss for your people that he is no longer with you," I said.

"Aye, fine was the fallen, but we do not weep long for our dead. Theoden King fell in honest battle, to his own glory and that of his line. Eomer King is a worthy heir of crown and country, a valiant lord of both people and pasture."

Our conversation was interrupted by the sudden sound of trumpets; we had reached the gates. Only now did I notice the thorny wall that surrounded the city and the deep dike along its outer perimeter. These defence structures looked impressive enough to me, but Edoras was very isolated, and I knew I would feel a lot safer in Thranduil's caverns if there was an attack. I guessed that's why they built the stronghold at Helm's Deep.

The gates were pulled open by two white horses, magnificent creatures that looked higher than Amarth, and stronger, but there was something ethereal to their step, as if they danced rather than walked, even when performing a task like this. Each of them wore a green blanket embroidered with a snow-white horse – the emblem of the king of Rohan – and the men leading them wore tunics in the same colours.

More trumpet sounds were heard; now playing a slow, majestic melody that followed the pace with which the gates were pulled, one to the right and the other to the left. Inside was a forest of banners, some tied to high poles that flanked the path, but most were attached to a spear. If the preliminary welcome party was one eored, then this must be at least two. Row upon row of horses and riders in gleaming armour, as if they were prepared to launch out in battle.

But, they remained still, allowing themselves to be duly admired, and only when the music stopped a few minutes later did they move. Exactly at the same time, each horse and rider took a graceful step to the side, parting in the middle to create a path there. It was as if a wave moved through the mass of bodies; a splendid demonstration of masterful horsemanship. An amateur like I would have been impressed by a lot less, but I could see that my escort was taken by the sight as well. "Look," he whispered and pointed to the empty space between the rows of horses.

A man had appeared there, astride a chestnut and wearing the same kind of armour as the others. Only the horsetail adorning his helmet gave him away. This must be Eomer, the king.

He removed his helmet and handed it to one of his men. I was shocked by how young he was. Fully grown, by all means, tall and well-built, and with the weather-beaten face of people who spend most of their time outdoors. This king was not prone to spend all day sitting in council or being waited upon as he rested by the fire. And yet, something about him reminded me of an adolescent boy, an air of innocence perhaps. I could tell already from this distance that he was very attractive and I straightened my gown an extra time before turning my attention back to him.

"Mae govannen!" he pronounced loudly. "Well met, esteemed friends of Rohan!"

Then he rode forward to where Thranduil was, and they exchanged a few words that I could not hear, after which both kings continued into the city, where they waited while the carriages were parked. The streets of Edoras were not built to accommodate vehicles as large as Thranduil's carriage. But it had served its purpose well already; all the inhabitants that had gathered around us looked duly impressed.

When our horses had been taken care of, the welcome ceremonies continued with much formal speech from both sides. This seemed to be more out of respect for tradition than due to any personal wish of the current ruler, as Eomer left most of it to his marshal, a serious-looking man with white at his temples. He and Thaladir exchanged polite phrases with obvious delight that was fun to behold.

Then it was time for more personal greetings. Accompanied by Thaladir, king Eomer went to each member of our delegation to have us introduced to him. He listened carefully to Thaladir's presentation and seemed to have a word for every one of us.

"Lady Malinorne, king Thranduil's concubine," I heard the seneschal say, and I curtsied with my gaze respectfully downcast, as was polite on an occasion like this. Then I found my hand caught by a much bigger one, and Eomer grazed it with his lips.

"My lady," he said, directing those blue eyes into mine.

"Your Majesty," I replied and curtsied again. According to protocol as explained by Thaladir, this was it. A monarch would not take time to chat privately with anyone until after the formalities had been concluded. Perhaps that is why I was so taken aback by what Eomer said – in my thoughts I had already dismissed him.

"The king's concubine?" he asked, grinning. "Perhaps that is another novelty I should consider introducing to my realm."

For some silly reason he made me blush. Obviously, the young king of Rohan was not so innocent as he seemed.

~ Mary ~

As soon as Thaladir opened my carriage door, I clutched at his arm and whispered to him, "Make sure Anborn does not come near me, Excellency, he seems determined to crush my dress into a rumpled mass." This was only a little fib, for the ranger's earlier grip on my arm had caused it to wrinkle a bit. I offered my sleeved arm up as evidence and the seneschal took the bait and left to find the offensive dress-crusher.

Once Anborn and Thaladir were safely neutralized, I moved closer to Thranduil's side, nudging past Mal and Haldir, during the impressive display of horsemanship just inside the opened gates. By the time the seneschal realized that he had been duped, the most he could do was come to stand near me, as we were all being cordially greeted by the handsome young monarch, Eomer. His golden hair, glistening in the daylight, was the only thing that the young king had in common with Thranduil. His youthful face and warm smile made him seem human, instead of royal, but he was darling in his own horsey way.

"Your son spoke highly of you to me, Aran Thranduil," said Eomer, mangling the Elvish a bit, but not enough to make Thaladir's face move a muscle. "There is much that I would like to discuss with you, about running a kingdom." The younger man said this last with such a charmingly helpless grin on his face that I had to stifle a giggle. The seneschal had managed to put himself between me and the king, and now Anborn was at my other side.

"We have been introduced to the hospitality of your citizens, and your soldiers, Eomer Eomund's son," Thranduil was saying. "Their loyalty, and sense of duty, reflects well on your skills as a monarch."

There was some more flowery talk, but my mind wandered as I gazed up into the hills and watched a group of horses grazing in the grass. I finally started paying attention when the rest of us were personally introduced to Eomer. Thaladir presented me as, 'His Majesty Thranduil's humble retainer, Lady Mary', but I managed to keep a bland expression on my face while I dropped into a curtsy and then offered the young king my hand.

"I am honored to meet you," I said, as Eomer bent slightly to hold my hand to his lips. Then I added, quietly, "I am very sure that His Excellency did not mean 'humble' as in 'modest' or 'unassuming'." When he looked up from my hand to face me, I smiled and winked. Unlike Edric, I could tell he got my message.

"I will keep that in mind," he murmured, with a grin twitching at the corners of his lips, before Thaladir directed him to meet the Mirkwood elves. Young Eomer charmed Miriel and Ithilwen immediately by greeting them in their own Sylvan tongue. A trick he probably learned from Legolas. From the way their eyes danced, the young elf prince must have taught the horselord a special hello for pretty girl elves.

After all of the formal introductions were made, a procession was formed to climb up the path to Meduseld. Mal and I were each given a rider from Eomer's personal mounted honor-guardsmen to escort us, which I thought was a delightful custom. Anborn had a different idea.

"I will be escorting Lady Mary," he informed the golden-haired horselord at my side, whose arm I was happily clinging to, as if I did not have the ability of holding myself upright without it.

"My king has assigned that duty to me, sir," was the gentlemanly answer from my escort.

"Her king," said Anborn, with his chin out and his narrowed eyes issuing a clear challenge, "has assigned that duty to me." Then he stepped in front of the taller horseman, his legs spread, as if ready to pull out his sword.

"This isn't happening," I groaned. "Where is Th..."

"I beg your pardon, Sir Anborn," interrupted the seneschal, to my relief. "As you certainly must be aware," he continued, "it is a matter of even the least common courtesy to allow the ruler of his realm to make the final decisions concerning the proper placement of his subjects, and the assignment of their duties, during official affairs of state..." Thaladir's voice droned on while I pulled my Rohirrim guard away from the lecture to the ranger.

The rest of the royal party were ahead of us, following Eomer and Thranduil up a wide path, paved with enormous flat stones, suitable for horses. On either side of this odd road, houses were built, and their front doors opened almost right onto the flat stone way itself. In front of every home were at least two or three people, or more, standing still and quiet as we went by. Then the path changed to a winding one, not very steep, but tiresome. It felt as if we would never reach the top.

Unlike my carriage escort, the handsome horselord who led me up to the city was allowed to talk, but he was almost as boring as Thaladir. All along the way, I was directed to notice some feature of the Rohan landscape or architecture. He directed my attention to a platform built on the terraced hills, from which a stream of crystal water gushed from a fountain, shaped like a horse's head, and flowed beside the path. I refrained from mentioning that it was very elvish-looking to me.

The artificial stream made a lovely sound, however, and it stayed beside the path for the last long stretch of stairs that climbed the terraced hillside, before we were at last to the top of the hill and beheld Meduseld, where Eomer ruled as king. The great hall did have a golden top, only because it had a roof thatched with hay straw, and it dominated every other structure around it, except for an enormous barn-like building behind it. The smell of horse was strong, but I could not see any of them up here.

The wind blew fiercely, and only the hands of an elf could have been clever enough to fix my hair to stay in place. I made a silent vow to do something nice for Miriel, she deserved it. She and Ithilwen were also given Rohirrim escorts. Anarion, denied the right to stay beside either the concubine or his lady-love, behaved more stoically than Anborn about it. As soon as we reached a broad, paved area, in front of the doors of the Golden Hall, the ranger was at my side again. I pretended not to see him at first.

Horns sounded again, but this time they came from inside the closed doors, and after a final flourish, they stopped, the doors opened, and Lady Eowyn stepped out. She was dressed in a dazzling white gown with a low-slung belt at her hips. Smiling into the wind, she stood silent and unmoving as the last of the royal party, and escort, climbed the final stairs behind me. Her long golden hair streamed out behind her like a cape, but a silver circlet on her brow kept it from her face.

~ Mal ~

The young human king's personal greeting made me feel very welcome in his capital, but it was nevertheless intimidating to have to walk through the whole city under the scrutinizing eyes of all of its citizens, not to mention the silent, heavily armed guards posted at intervals along the way. My escort – another guard – assured me that their purpose was purely ceremonial these days, and their swords too heavily decorated with gold to function as weapons, but their helmets still made them look more threatening than festive.

From afar, Edoras had looked like a village. Now its population seemed to exceed that of Thranduil's old realm, at least if one counted only the elves living in the caverns itself and the immediate area outside. I was wholly unprepared to see so many children. There had been none in any of the elven realms I had visited, and the ents were famous for their lack of offspring. The Rohirrim were thriving.

"Indeed," said Thaladir's voice from behind me. He took the next few steps in a stride and caught up with me before continuing. "Here is evidence of His Majesty's foresight when he predicted that the future of Middle-earth would lie in Men." He sighed and looked resigned for a moment, but lit up at the next bend of the winding path we were on.

A little girl was standing there, with tousled hair and dirty bare feet, and she held a bunch of yellow flowers that reminded me of dandelions. As we passed her, she suddenly darted forward and pressed a drooping flower into the seneschal's hand. She said something I couldn't understand, but her face shone, and it was easy to see what she meant.

Thaladir stopped and bowed to her, in the serious, respectful way he usually reserves for the king. She laughed and ran back to her mother, shouting happily. After that I stopped feeling nervous and began to enjoy the attention. I studied the eager faces and smiled back, but I still kept my eyes at the path most of the time. The rise wasn't any steeper than a horse could walk, but the way the path altered between serpentine-like winding and straight flights of low stairs, required caution.

From the start, one of Eomer's guards had walked at my left side, and I occasionally took his elbow, but it felt good to have Thaladir's familiar presence there at my other side. I looked back, but couldn't see Mary. Anborn was there, though, looking sulky, and the four wood-elves. Haldir kept his usual, cool expression, but Miriel and Ithilwen looked around with visible interest and delight.

The two kings raced ahead and by the time I climbed the last steps they were already standing on the terrace where Meduseld was built. They made a striking image, both with their golden hair flying in the wind, with the great hall behind them. As I reached the top, the blow of horns were heard again, and after some more time, when a big crowd had gathered outside the hall, the doors swung open and a white-clad woman stepped out. Eowyn bore a striking resemblance to her brother and it only took me a moment to realize who she was.

~ Mary ~

In her hands, Eowyn bore a large goblet, which she held out and offered to her brother, the king of Rohan, and 'his most welcome guests.' She looked like a queen, herself, tall and proud, and I hoped that she would keep her hands off of my king while we visited. I had heard that she had an appetite for royal men.

"Where is Thranduil?" I whispered to Anborn, who shrugged in reply. There was a crowd of tall people all around me now, and I had to see my king's face when he was greeted by Lady Eowyn. I slipped away from the ranger and threaded my way around the green clad bodies of the horsemen. It occurred to me, as I nudged and bumped against one firm male body after another, that I had misjudged the Rohirrim; they were very clean when they wanted to be.

Whatever took place between the White Lady and Thranduil would remain a mystery to me. By the time I broke through the crowd, she was handing the goblet to the seneschal, and my king was conversing quietly with Eomer. I was surprised that Thaladir did not voice any concerns over the clearly unhygienic practice of sharing a drinking cup with strangers. At my shoulder, I felt someone breathing, and I turned to find Anborn there.

"You make it very difficult for me to carry out my obligation to guard your person while we dwell here, Lady Mary." Anborn appeared distressed, and I hoped he was not worried about impressing the king, or any other elf.

"My person is not in any danger while Thranduil is near by," I whispered. "I am sure that he meant for you to keep an eye on me only when he or Thaladir are not around." Instead of answering me, the ranger grew stiff and then he bowed low. Eowyn was standing before us. I curtseyed and tried not to be afraid of her just because she was a lot taller than me.

"Lady Mary," she said, "do you thirst?" She held the goblet out to me.

"This isn't barley wine, is it?" I leaned forward and sniffed it. "Because every time I drink barley wine, I get a bad headache." I could smell spices, perhaps cloves and cinnamon, but no barley.

"Nay, Lady," Eomer said, stepping forward, his voice light and cheerful. "Have no fear for your pretty head." He took the goblet from his sister's hands and presented it to me with a brief bow. "This is merely a light honey-mead, a much milder drink than barley wine, it is meant to refresh a weary rider."

"I guess a little sip wouldn't hurt me." I held my hand over his as I drew the goblet to my mouth and tasted it. "It is delicious," I told him, licking my lips delicately. "You were right."

"Do not overlook our honored Ithilien guest, dear brother," Eowyn said, a bit tersely, nodding toward Anborn. "When Lord Faramir returns next month, I do not want him to hear that we were less than hospitable to one of his most favored men-at-arms." She smiled a little too warmly at my ranger, and I slipped my hand into his elbow before she could sink her claws into him. I remembered that she not only had a taste for kings, she liked Gondorians, too.

"Sir Anborn has been appointed to be my private body-guard during our visit," I informed Eowyn. "He is not to ever leave my side for any reason," I said. "Unless I ask him to leave me alone," I added, after the ranger began to caress my hand on his arm. "Which I probably won't do, very often." I tried to pull my hand away, but he clutched my arm to his side.

"How lucky for you, then," said Eowyn. "Although there are not many dangers within the Golden Hall for you to be guarded against."

Her brother had silently moved off, after letting Anborn have a drink from the goblet. Eowyn addressed the ranger directly. "Perhaps you would like to tour the royal stables with the kings? I can take over guarding the women. I would like to show them to their chambers now, and give them some time to freshen up."

"As you wish, Lady Eowyn," said Anborn. She turned to face me.

"Would you like to see your room now?" She asked, although it came out more like an order. "I am sure you must be hungry, and I have had a light meal ordered sent to the parlor for us to share." Somehow, while Eowyn was speaking, she had taken my arm from Anborn, and held on to it gently, as she herded Mal and the ellith along in front of us. We entered the gigantic doorway, which rivaled the great gate to Thranduil's halls, and entered Meduseld, the Golden Hall.

Inside, Mal and I, at least, were temporarily blinded by the dimness. There were huge windows, but the light fell in blocks on the floor, and the spaces in between them were dark and shadowy. Like the king's caves, there were enormous pillars, but these ones actually held up the roof above. The guest chambers were close to the entryway, and they were brighter and cheerier.

We four women, ellith and mortal, shared a common area, the parlor that Eowyn had referred to, and a bathing chamber, but we each had separate sleeping nooks, with doors that locked. There was enough room inside of them for a small bed, with a table beside it, and nothing more. Candles glowed in wall sconces. In mine, I opened what I thought were shutters for a large window, and discovered I had a tiny private balcony, overlooking the terraced hills, with a wicker chair to sit on and enjoy the view.

In the parlor, our luncheon was the typical Rohan fare, oatcakes, barley soup, and tea. Eowyn told us that she did not want us to fill up too much, for the welcome party, after sunset, would be a great feast. She rose to leave us, and attend to some business for the night's festivities, after advising Mal and I to take the opportunity to lie down and nap.

"This night promises to stretch until dawn," she declared, before gliding out the door and into the gloomy outer corridor.

To be continued... (Thaladir's Notebook comments will return in the next chapter.)

Mary and Mal are proud to announce that Far Beyond Mirkwood has been nominated for Best Thranduil Story! For more details, and other story nomination, check MPA Awards.

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Chapter posted: June 7, 2007

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