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Far Beyond Mirkwood, Chapter 15/?

Authors: Mary A and Malinornë
Pairings: Mainly Thranduil/OFCs
Warnings: Adult language, descriptions, content, and one naked elf.
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: Mary and Mal have separate adventures while they wait for the night's festivities to begin. Thranduil shows up unexpectedly.

~ Mary ~

Shortly after Eowyn excused herself to attend to the welcome party, Ithilwen and Miriel left the parlor to inspect their accommodations. I invited Mal to come to my room with me, so I could talk to her about something. When we entered the nook, for an uncomfortable instant I felt somewhat like a prisoner being confined to a tiny cell, instead of a guest.

"What is it?" Mal perched on the edge of my bed. I drew the chair in from the balcony to sit on, and closed the shutters. The darkened room intensified the nagging feeling of being confined and I had trouble staying focused.

"I have a big favor to ask you," I whispered. "Can you help me with something tonight? I want to sleep somewhere else than this stuffy little place, while you are with the king."

"With Anborn?" she asked. "I don't think you will have any trouble with that one, he seems eager to be at your side..."

"No, Mal, not him." I stood and peeked out the door. The parlor was empty, but I felt like we were being watched. Sitting next to her on the surprisingly hard mattress, I said, in a hushed voice, "I want to sleep with Eomer."

Her eyes grew wide as she leaned back and stared at me. "Why are you whispering? Who do you think is listening to us?"

"I'm not sure..." I thought hard. It hit me that I had felt imprisoned ever since Eowyn had left. We had not been forbidden to leave the guest rooms, but neither had we been invited to follow her. "Who do you think?" I asked.

"Anborn?" Mal guessed, with a bewildered shrug. "Miriel? Ithilwen?"

"Mal," I said out loud, my throat was tired of whispering, "don't you see how Eowyn has locked us up in here? Now she can go wrap those long limbs of hers around our king." For a moment, I thought I saw a flicker of doubt in Mal's eyes, but then she laughed.

"Lady Eowyn is betrothed to Lord Faramir," she said, as if that was an answer.

"If you haven't noticed, Faramir isn't here," I replied. "Our king, on the other hand, is here, but he isn't in here." I nodded my head toward the door. "He is out there, somewhere, and so is she, while we are trapped in here." Mal shook her head in confusion.

"I don't follow you," she said, and then stifled a yawn. "Thranduil is with Eomer, and I am sure that Lady Eowyn is so much in love with Lord Faramir that all other men, mortal or elf, pale in comparison in her eyes." Her face grew dreamy and she added, "The way they do for me when I compare them to His Majesty."

"That was a lovely speech, Mal, but that woman is up to no good, I can always tell."

"Mary," sighed Mal, "If Eowyn is wrapping her limbs around Thranduil, then how can she be listening to us at the same time?"

"Spies, Mal, every royal house has them, I think."

"Besides that," she continued, undeterred in her disbelief, "if you want to sleep with Eomer tonight, why are you so concerned about Eowyn and the king right now?"

"Do you always have to be so logical?"

"One of us has to be," she said. The truth was, I had forgotten all about Eomer after his sister had neatly tucked all of us women away and then left. I had promised the king that I would curb my jealousy, and I had meant to start doing it, but my jealousy seemed to be uncurbable.

"Did you see the way Thranduil looked at Eowyn?" I asked Mal. "When she handed him that goblet?"

"I didn't notice anything unusual," Mal answered. "What did you see?"

"Nothing, I couldn't see them. That's why I asked you. Can we talk about Eomer later? I need to think about it some more," I said. With a sigh of relief, Mal stood up, moved to the door, and then turned to lift one of her eyebrows at me.

"Shouldn't you want to nap?" she asked. "Weren't you the one who was up all night with the king?" She left before I could answer her. Thranduil was the reason that I had a lot of thinking to do, but I as soon as I stretched out on the bed to do some, I fell asleep.

~ Mal ~

Listening to Mary's tirades was tiring, to say the least. Not only had Eowyn been the perfect host so far; showing off an organized household and with a friendly smile for all, but with the preparations for tonight's party, she was also too busy to be acting out any advances towards our king. And he, why would he go through all the trouble of finding Mary and me and secure himself of our loyalty and love, if what he really wanted was the princess of Rohan? Besides, he was on a tour of the royal stables. There simply was no logic to it.

And, her worries over what others were doing in bed were even the more absurd considering her own plans. Sleeping with King Eomer! And on the very first night as his guests! I thought it was way too brazen, rude even, but of course I didn't say so. I knew Mary too well to think her wild ideas could be stopped by mere words from me. It was a relief when she finally said she wanted to think things over, giving me an excuse to leave. What she really needed was a nap, and she didn't protest when I suggested it. I couldn't help wishing it was me Thranduil had kept awake the whole night.

I retreated to my own cozy little guest room. With its bed, desk and comfortable chairs by the window, it offered all one would need. True, it wasn't very spacious, but Mary's complaints of feeling locked up just weren't fair. The common parlour shared between the rooms offered extra space, and beyond that was the vast main hall. I looked forward to examining it better later on; even at a quick glance the tapestries and the carved beams looked different from anything I'd seen before.

But, for now it was off limits and I needed to find something else to occupy myself with. I went out on the balcony and stood there for a moment, admiring the white-capped peaks of the high mountains that lay beyond the hill the Rohirrim had built their capital on. The lack of tall buildings on this, back, side of Meduseld, created an impression of being very high up, but when I looked down I saw that the hillside was only a few feet away from the floor. Had I worn something more practical than a dress, it would have been possible to jump out. I was tempted to do it, but decided against it, and not only because of my wardrobe. It would be quite impolite to just disappear without telling our hosts where I went.

Still set on going for a walk, I went out into the area shared by the four guest rooms. All the other doors were closed, and I chose not to disturb Mary, who was probably asleep by now. Ithilwen and Miriel were not there; knocking on their doors was fruitless.

I wondered what to do, as I didn't want to seem like I was snooping. Try to attract Eowyn's attention to where I was by calling out? Wait until Ithilwen came back, or someone decided to look in on us?

To my luck, a man come to my rescue, one I recognized as Eomer's official. Quite possibly, he was there the whole time, only his nondescript colours made him melt into the background in the semi-shaded room. My polite request for an escort was met with approval, although I do suspect he would have preferred if I just returned to my room. I promised him not to look to the sides on the way out, something that seemed to make him content enough.

Outside, I paused on the platform to look again at the festive banners and feel the wind against my face and in my hair. It was such a feeling of freedom that I almost wished to remain there rather than venture out into the town, but after a while my escort - a quiet young man in the livery of the royal house, who seemed to be just one or two years from being elevated to full manhood - suggested that I might wish to see the horse-head fountain.

I agreed, mostly to be polite, but on the way there, I noticed a row of canvas-roofs in one of the streets on the level below us.

"Excuse me, what is that?" I thought it best not to point, so I made a sweeping gesture with my arm in the general direction.

"The market-place, my lady. Is there anything you require? In that case, I am sure the Lady Eowyn will provide it to you."

"Thank you. I feel very welcome here." My escort straightened his back and nodded, then indicated that we should continue down the steps to the fountain. "You are very kind," I tried again, "but if I may, I would like to see the market. Out of curiosity." I smiled at him, and he seemed a little confused.

"The fountain is of no interest to you, my lady? All our visitors are generally quite taken with its appearance."

"It is beautiful," I admitted. "A wonder to behold." This made my escort nod enthusiastically, and he even offered a small smile. "But," I continued, "perhaps after the fountain we could visit the market?" He thought for a second and then gave his verdict:

"That would be agreeable, my lady."

~ Mary ~

It was late afternoon when I awoke. To clear my mind, I stepped out onto the balcony. It was obviously only meant for a single person to occupy, but being out in the open air helped me to stop feeling like a prisoner. The view of the waving grasses on the hillside, added with the splashing sounds of the horse-head fountain, and the murmur of the artificial stream as it flowed down its stony course, were calming. The sun was low on the horizon, and everything had a gold tint to it, the grasses, the fountain's spray, and the village.

Soon I would need to start getting ready for the night's activities, and I wanted to have a plan in mind for Eomer first. There was a reason that I wanted to get into the Rohan lord's bed, besides not liking my own. The king had asked me to try, and he had made it sound like a challenge, more than a direct command, so I had agreed immediately. It was my own fault, too, because I had foolishly asked him if he was ever going to need me to bridge for him again.

It was possibly the only reason he had brought me to Rohan in the first place.

"You may find that the young horselord does not tumble at your feet as easily as other men are wont to do," the king had warned me. "Indeed, he will most likely be terrified of you if you press him too fast into a corner."

"Why? Is he a virgin or something?" I did not want to think that Eomer had an aversion to girls; that would make my bridging task nearly impossible. Of course, I could don my leggings, muss my hair, dirty my face, and fool him into thinking I was a boy...

"I would not say virgin," Thranduil had replied. "It is more that he has reportedly had a limited audience for his bed performances, and a natural fear of failing to perform up to a lady's given standard." Where the king got his information was beyond me, but I did not dare question him.

"Oh, I see what you're getting at," I said. "Eomer thinks that he can't compete with an elf, especially a royal one," I concluded. "So he won't even try." Thranduil nodded and I thought that it was a sad situation, but it made sense.

"Your task is to convince him otherwise."

That was my mission. I had hoped that Mal would help me come up with some good ideas, but she always had to be approached delicately, and I had been so upset about Eowyn earlier that I had forgot what I was supposed to be doing. What I really needed was someone who knew Eomer, and would talk to me about him.

The door that led from the parlor to the great hall was not locked after all. I opened it slowly. At first, all I could see was a bustle of dim figures in the distance, and then I saw a slender figure in white, and I felt like a fool. It was Eowyn, and she was clearly busy, and not doing anything improper with my king. Then my view was blocked a green-cloaked man.

"Lady Mary, can I be of any assistance?" He was more dignified in appearance that the typical horseman I had seen during our time in Rohan, his hair was shorter than most and his beard was trimmed.

"Thaladir told you to lurk out there in wait for me, didn't he?" I studied his sun-lined face for a reaction, but there was none. Here was a human that could take the truth without flinching, or even pausing to think first about how he would reply.

"Indeed, Lady Mary, it was reported to me by His Excellency, Lord Thaladir, that you have a propensity to wander about without an escort." His voice was gruff, but courtly, and pleasant.

"A propensity to wander?" It sounded like a mysterious disease. "I have no such thing, whatever it is, I assure you, er, what is your name?" I remembered this man from the welcome ceremony before the gates, someone had told me that he was a councilor to the new King, but I knew nothing more about him.

"My name is Freawine, Lady Mary. I must insist that you remain in your rooms until you are summoned by the Lady Eowyn. It is her personal desire that I prevent any of our honored guests from viewing the evening's preparations in the hall." His words were stern, although cordially delivered. I wondered what I could learn from this man about Eomer, if I flirted with him. He was not exactly my type, being a bit long in the tooth and therefore harder to manipulate, but I would do my best.

"I wanted to go outside and watch the sunset." I smiled coyly at him.

"Very good, my lady. I will summon you an escort." He glanced about and beckoned toward the shadows. From out of the gloom stepped Captain Edric, and my heart flipped over when he smiled into my eyes while he held out his sturdy, manly arm to me. Flirting with this younger horselord would be no hardship at all, even if he would not spill any royal secrets.

"Excuse me," Anborn's voice said from behind Freawine. "I will be in charge of escorting Lady Mary now," he said, as he took my other arm in his. "Thranduil's orders," he added.

"Why can't you both escort me?" I asked, while keeping a firm hold on Captain Edric's elbow. I had instantly decided that, if I needed to do some brain-picking, two men's heads were better than one. I pouted at Anborn and said, "If we stand around here arguing about it, I will miss the sunset altogether, do you want that?"

For a moment, I thought of Mal, whom I pictured alone and bored in her stuffy little room, but the moment passed swiftly. I tried not to strut as I was led outdoors by the two handsome soldiers, one with raven locks and the other with hair like spun gold, and neither of them in the least intimidated by my association with Elves.

~ Mal ~

Together with my young escort, whose name I still didn't know, I went through the street and small square that supplied the Rohirrim with goods. Many of the vendors sold food, which was fun to look at but not exactly something I needed to buy.

My escort was more interested in the market than he had wanted to show, and we soon agreed to meet at the end of the street. He assured me that I would not be in any danger, at least none more dire than losing the money I realized I didn't have. I must remember to ask Thaladir later, in case I saw something that caught my eye. For now it was fun to just stroll along the street, mingle with the locals and get a feeling for this new place.

I stopped at a stall one-third down the street, intrigued by the looks of the shopkeeper. The man looked quite different from the others I had so far seen in this realm. He was shorter than me, and slimly built with the exception of a hint of a round belly, showing despite the wide folds of his red trousers. He wore his dark hair rather short, not allowing the neatly trimmed curls to reach to his shoulders. His moustache was the detail he took pride in - it was thin, but very long, forming a whip of hair on either side of his mouth. With a bit of wax, it would look elegant in an oriental sort of way. In the street like this, it reminded me of whiskers, rendering him a rather rat-like look. His beady eyes that studied me as I studied him added to that impression.

"I am a stranger in this land, like yourself, my lady," he said and then bent at the middle in a flourishing bow. His words set me off a little; I thought I blended in fairly well among the Rohirrim. "Lady Mal, is it? Arrived with the King of the Elves this morning?"

I nodded reluctantly and then asked, more to change the subject, than out of any particular interest in his wares: "Do you mostly sell things from your homeland, then?" The items on his counter didn't seem that different from what I had seen up till now: wooden plates, hairpins, ribbons in garish colours, the odd knife and spearhead.

"Indeed, my lady," he answered enthusiastically, clapping his hands. "I trade in items from southern Anfalas, which the men of Rohan call Langstrand." I frowned. That was south of the mountain chain that stretched all the way to Minas Tirith - an awfully long way to transport things. "It has only become possible recently," he admitted, "since King Aragorn Elessar opened the way through the mountains."

"The Paths of the Dead!" I shuddered, remembering Legolas account of how they had reached Minas Tirith from the south by using the road guarded by ghosts of past battles.

"It is quite lively now," the merchant shrugged. "And, my lady, let me tell you a secret, it will be even more so once I get the permit to trade in these." He patted a wooden box at his feet.

"And what is it? Some medical substance unknown to the northerners? You don't mean to sell drugs, do you?" I frowned again. If that was the case, I would take the first opportunity to speak with Eomer so that this man would be stopped and the old path blocked, or better guarded.

"Fear not, my lady, it is quite innocent. Especially for one of your status." He laughed heartily, kicking the box, rather hard this time, but it didn't move. Whatever was in there must be pretty heavy. Apparently encouraged by my curiosity, he stuck his hand into a pouch beside it, and withdrew an object that he placed in my hand, grinning.

It was a penis. Shocked at first, my initial reaction was to drop the thing, but then I closed my hand tightly around it instead. That was when I realized that it was fashioned from stone, polished to a smooth, velvety feel, and a little oily. Having made sure that nobody was watching - and grateful that my escort was nowhere in sight - I opened my fingers slowly. The item was quite a nice display of craftsmanship, actually, with every detail chiseled out in the pink, marble-like material.

"Um, nice," I stuttered, blushing, as I handed the thing back to the merchant. Contrary to what the man seemed to think, my concubine status had not removed all my sense of modesty.

"The dwarves make them," he explained, turning it in his hands before putting it down on the counter. "The ones that have settled around Aglarond, the Glittering Caves. The material in the surrounding cliffs is most suitable for this type of fine carving, allowing for an excellent product. The idea is mine," he added, answering the question in my head about why dwarves would suddenly start producing erotic toys rather than armour and jewellery.

"And do you expect to sell a lot of this... product here in Rohan?" He nearly tippled over with laughter.

"No, my lady, not here. My little gems - and not all of them are very little, if you get my drift - are intended for the market of the Falas and Southern Gondor. There was once a phallus cult, fallen into oblivion among the general public but never quite forgotten, and with the recent archeological finds, it has become fashionable again. Not the cult as such, I should say, but the artful objects are regarded the perfect adornment for a home, and the ideal gift for a young couple at their betrothal."

"Oh," I said. "That makes sense then. I thought the material..."

"Somewhat unforgiving? Believe me, there are some who would use them similar to the way a man might pleasure a woman." He winked. I preferred to pretend I hadn't heard him, even if I found the idea fascinating. He wasn't fooled. "But alas," he continued with a gesture of resignation, "that is all in the future, and I fear that my permit will not come soon."

"No? As you say, this business seems harmless enough, and I don't see how King Eomer could oppose your trade, as long as you pay your taxes."

"My lady, if the King of Rohan was the only person I needed to convince, I would be a rich man by now. It is the stone-masters that require me to have the items tested before they allow me to sell them." The idea of customer-friendly dwarves surprised me, but it was logical, considering how they were known as masters of any craft they pursued. Of course they would be interested in making only a quality product.

"Is it so hard then to find someone to test them? Even here, I think there would be some open-minded ladies who would be willing to try them out in their bedrooms." I realized as I spoke that my fingers were idly stroking the sample object, which was now lying in front of me. I snatched my hand away.

"Regretfully, my lady, testing in private is not sufficient for my clients. They are quite clear in their demands of a public display..."

"Public? The filthy little..!"

"Calm yourself. The audience would only encompass a small number of their own people, twenty or so. They are bachelors, you see, my lady, and I guess there's only so much fun to be had under the mountain." He lifted the phallus carefully and eyed it lovingly before he put it back into his pouch. "In fact, there was a young lady who had promised to aid me in the task of staging a small performance, but she ran off with a couple of elves and the last thing I heard was she's making big money letting people watch as they flog her with silk ribbons. She loved being spanked," he added with a wistful glance at his modest stock of ribbons.

"Were these elves dark-haired?"

"As the night," my lady. "And as much alike as a star and the next one. They appeared to be quite the gentlemen, although more easy-going than most of the people here, but the next morning they were gone, and with them my assistant." He sighed. "I had even planned to train her as my heir and successor."

"I won't promise anything now, but maybe I can help you. With the testing, I mean." Taking over a market stall in Edoras was not among my plans for the future, even if I had my hunches about the identity of the gentlemen who had stolen the merchant's assistant. If it truly were the twins, then the girl should be back soon. Elladan and Elrohir didn't have company when I met them on their way to East Lorien.

"It would not be a bad experience, I can guarantee that," said the merchant, perhaps taking my silence for hesitation. To tell the truth, I was strangely excited about the idea and it appeared more titillating by the minute. I remembered Thaladir's lessons. The combination of eroticism and political implications made it seem the ideal task for a concubine; a chance to prove useful beyond usual bedroom activities.

"Would the dwarves touch me, the test person, I mean?" I was reluctant to go that far even in my thoughts. Thanduil would never approve, no matter how much it would forward the trade with Rohan's neighbours.

"Oh, no. They are quite strict with keeping to themselves; their interest in other races is limited to watching." I drew a sigh of relief as the merchant continued talking. "Originally, I was to be the male ...performer, but, my lady, I would, naturally, not presume to touch a royal concubine, even for strictly professional and mercantile purposes. The wrath of the Elvenking surpasses even that of a spurned shield maiden of Rohan, I have heard."

I doubted that Thranduil would care who, for as long as it wasn't one of the Stunted Folk, but I was relieved to hear that the man wouldn't insist on doing it himself. I needed more inspiration than that to go through with this.

"Would it be possible for you," continued the merchant, "if you decide to take on this assignment, to provide a partner? It would need to be someone diligent and calm, a dexterous person who can control his emotions and knows you well."

"It would not be a problem to find such a person," I assured him. "If I decide to accept, I will bring someone who knows me quite intimately."

I had made up my mind already. Now, the hard part would be to convince Thranduil not only to allow me to take on the task, but to also let me borrow his seneschal for something as obscene as this.

~ Mary ~

The view of the mountains in the distance was glorious, and not the least impaired by the close proximity of Anborn and Edric sitting beside me on the bench. The horselord pointed out some of the features of our surroundings and I pretended to listen, even though his bright blue eyes were massively distracting, and the feel of his well-muscled thigh touching against mine was not easy to ignore, either. Mentally, I was trying to figure out how I could lure both of these men into the same bed with me. Maybe that would satisfy Thranduil's voyeuristic needs, if I could not land Eomer.

"What do Rohirrim men do for fun?" I asked Edric. "Single Rohirrim men," I added, and I would have winked at him, too, but these Rohan men seemed immune to normal flirtatious behavior. Instead of smiling, the horselord stiffened slightly and spoke gravely.

"My lady," he said, "we do not refer to ourselves as Rohirrim, which is an Elvish word. We call ourselves Eorlingas." He chuckled when I tried to pronounce it back to him. His mouth had the sweetest curve at the edges when he smiled; it enchanted me.

On my other side, Anborn grunted and shifted about as if he was uncomfortable. I turned to him and was dismayed. He sat with his arms crossed over his chest and stared stonily into the distance. I poked him and he looked at me sideways, his eyebrow was drawn down in a scowl, and I asked him if I could lean against his shoulder. The bench had no back to support me. After unfolding his arms, and shifting a bit sideways to accommodate my shoulder, the gratified ranger grinned down at me and then I turned back to face the Captain.

Completely unruffled, Edric spoke about the time he had spent in Gondor, after riding to the rescue of Minas Tirith, and the great men he had met. Anborn discovered that they had been on the same battlefield and eagerly the two men began to swap war-stories. I had the distinct feeling that I had been forgotten, but it was nice to see them being friendly toward each other. At least a half an hour had passed when I finally remembered that I had meant to use them to help me devise a plan to seduce Eomer.

Before I could think of a way to bring the conversation around to the bedroom, Captain Edric glanced over his shoulder and then remarked that it was probably time for me to return inside, and Anborn agreed. They acted like they wanted to be rid of me, and I would have asked for a few more minutes with the two of them, to at least make plans for later, except that a certain tall elf appeared from out of nowhere and advised me that he had come to take me inside, to prepare for the great feast. He must have been what Edric had seen coming our way.

"Lord Thaladir," I asked, "where is the king, our king?" I knew if the seneschal was running around outside of the great Hall, then Thranduil must be close by.

"His Majesty's whereabouts are of no concern to you, or of any importance to the issue at hand, Lady Mary." Thaladir held his hand out to me, to assist me from the bench. "The hour grows late."

Neither of my escorts tried to stop the seneschal from drawing me to my feet, and then clamping my arm inside of his bent elbow, the cowards. Thaladir escorted me back into Meduseld at a brisk pace, with Edric and Anborn trailing behind us, and I was nearly out of breath when we reached the guest wing.

The Captain and the Ranger were not allowed into the guest chambers, but the seneschal took me through the parlor and into the bathing chamber, without pausing to ask anyone for permission. Miriel and Ithilwen were there, both of them seated on stools, in front of a steamed-over looking glass. They had damp hair, and I guessed that they had tested out the facility while I had been outside. Thaladir greeted them cordially while I stared around me.

This large room was obviously a recent addition to the guest wing. The floor and walls were built from raw timber, possibly a type of pine, which exuded a forest-like fragrance. Thick woven straw mats protected bare feet from splinters and fresh linen towels were stacked in shelves on the far wall. It was a shock to my senses, for I had not expected to find such luxury after seeing my dim little closet of a bedroom. Wisps of steam rose into the air from behind a wooden folding screen, which stood in one corner. I stepped around it to see a bathtub.

Huge, ornate, and made from some metal, maybe brass or copper, it was a real monster of a tub, fit for a long-legged horselord or two. There was a drain plug to let out the old water, a crude spigot for cold water, and a step-stool to get into it. Hot water was provided in buckets through a clever little door, one simply had to open it to find a bucket waiting, no matter how quickly one might try to get the door opened again, after dragging a heavy bucket through it. I wished that the king was there to see it, and share it with me.

"Your Very Goodness," I said quietly to the seneschal, who came to stand beside me, "weren't you the one who told me that the people of Rohan did not bathe regularly? And that the most I could hope for was a bucket of cold water in the morning?"

When we had stayed at the Rohan inn by the ford, Thaladir had deftly explained away the bathtubs there as being part of the new construction boom in the outlying areas of the Riddermark. They were, he declared, an aberration. He could not pretend that there was not a bathing chamber here, but he replied smoothly.

"More than a few of the former habits of the Rohirrim have been clearly transformed by command of their new king, Lady Mary." He did not frown when he said it, either. It clearly pleased him to find Rohan to be cleaner than he had expected.

"They don't like to be called Rohirrim, you know," I told him. "They prefer Eorlingas." Instead of acting offended at being corrected, Thaladir actually smiled down at me.

"I am pleased to learn that you have taken it upon yourself to educate yourself further in the local culture, Lady Mary." His manner was so pleasant that I wondered if he had drunk too much honey-mead during his tour with the kings. Or, maybe he was trying to be nice to me, but for what reason? I gestured for him to bend down and then I whispered into his ear,

"Are you going to stay in here and take a bath with me?" It was a wild guess on my part. Thaladir, however, quickly assured me that he found me to be quite capable of attending to my own bath. After helping the ellith drain and refill the tub, he left us alone, and then I sent them both off to their own rooms. Miriel said she would bring my gown back later, and help me dress.

Once alone, I had no sooner relaxed in the steaming water, when I heard the door open and close again. "Who is there?" I asked. No one answered.

~ Mal ~

After being safely seen back to my room by my young escort - I was glad that he didn't persist with questions on how my afternoon had been - I sat on my bed, brushing my hair. It was hard to tell the time, but I suspected we should soon prepare for the night's festivities. Asking Eomer's councilor hadn't seemed proper, but I regretted it when I found the occupants of the other guest rooms still gone, or in Mary's case, probably sleeping. I decided to continue with my hair for a few minutes, waiting for Ithilwen to knock on my door, and otherwise wake up Mary. Perhaps she would know what we were supposed to do.

"It has come to my knowledge that you are intent on a mission." The silky voice come from the balcony, and as I turned I caught sight of Thranduil lifting a long leg over the railing.

His expression as he strode into the room was inscrutable; I had to proceed with care. I was glad to see him, but this was not the time for polite greetings or shows of affection. He would want answers.

"A diplomatic mission, Majesty," I told him demurely as I rose and put the brush aside. "A delicate one."

"Delicate? Hard as stone, rather." He smirked, making me relax. "Now, if I had known that you take an interest in contrivances..."

"I don't," I hurried to say. "Honestly, I have never desired for something made from wood or stone."

"Leather?" he asked, lifting an eyebrow.

"No! Your Majesty, you are quite enough for me." I knew that was what he had wanted to hear.

"Very well, then. You have my permission to proceed," he said casually. I stared at him. This had been much too easy so far.

"Thank you." I hugged him and whispered in his ear that I would show him that night how grateful I was.

"I might have to spank you afterwards, of course. Come to think of it, I might decide to do it in advance as well."

"That would be lovely." I placed a kiss on the tip of his nose and pretended to try to get away when he swatted my behind playfully.

"How did you know?" I asked him after another kiss, this time on the mouth. "The merchant promised not to say a word."

"Your mind, my dear, is so full of images of stone devices and their imagined use that it was impossible to ignore. I do not care for your intended audience, but I am willing to make this sacrifice for the sake of diplomacy. And for the future of Men in these lands. Now, it is time for a bath."

With that, he left as suddenly as he had come, but through the door. I sat on the bed for a few minutes to calm myself, and then went out into the guest parlour to search for a bathing chamber.

~ Mary ~

Although I could have sworn I had heard the chamber door open and close; there was only silence from the other side of the screen. After several moments passed, I decided that someone must have merely peeked into the room and then had left. I relaxed again, closed my eyes, and tried to concentrate on Eomer, but all I could see was Captain Edric's face. Again I heard something and I sat up straight. It was a slight rustling sound, as if someone was undressing.

"Is that you, Mal?" I asked.

"It is I," said Thranduil, as he stepped around the screen. I nearly jumped out of the water with joy at the sight of him. His face lit up at the sight of the steaming bath. The king had removed his tunic and I noticed that his boots were uncharacteristically muddy, and had bits of grass clinging to them. He stepped over to me, bent down, and kissed me. When he drew back, I wrinkled my nose and told him that he smelled like a horse.

"Young Eomer, Eomund's son, has seen fit to present me with a pair of young mearas, and I had to ride one of the beasts to show him how pleased I was with such a gift." He pulled off his boots while he talked and tossed them over the screen.

"Are they finer horses than Amarth?" It was hard to imagine the king on the back of any other animal than his fiery-tempered black stallion. When he removed his leggings, and stood completely nude before me, I no longer cared. "Do I get you all to myself?"

"No," Thranduil said. "You will have to share, my greedy little mortal."

While he spoke, I heard the door open, close, and then Mal's voice saying, "Hello?" I was glad that she could not see the face I made. By the time she came around the screen, I was smiling, and I was glad to see her. But I wished that I could have been alone with bare naked Thranduil for more than a few dizzying seconds.

While the king helped Mal out of her gown, I told her that he had been given two horses as a present. I did not mean to sound like I was bragging about knowing something that she did not, but I could not help it that I did. It was not my fault that I had seen him first.

"You are both very valuable to me, in your own way," said the king to her, grinning. "Perhaps the greatest treasures that I possess," he added, "while I am out here in the great wide world, and away from my forest." He did not say, 'and away my treasure house,' but he had to have been thinking it.

"Are we more valuable than horses?" I asked him, after he had assisted Mal into the tub and then fitted himself between the two of us. It was a tight fit, but I liked it.

"Oh, far more than horses," Thranduil said as he drew us both even closer to him, with an arm around our shoulders. "You are above mere good breeding stock and predictable bloodlines, and the more priceless because of it."

"What do mean?" Mal asked, her eyes wide. "Are you going to give us away as a present?" The king laughed, took his arm from around me, and grabbed her chin in his wet hand.

"Never," he declared fiercely, and then he kissed her.

"Hey, how about me?" I asked, and I am sorry to say that I probably whined a little bit. "Don't I get a kiss?"

Of course I did, we both did, lots of kisses and many slippery, soapy caresses, which were not quite as carefully returned. Despite the tight fit, we all got very clean.

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 taken 3:rd place in the category Best Thranduil Story! For more details, check MPA Awards.

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Chapter posted: August 8, 2007

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