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Far Beyond Mirkwood, Chapter 17/?

Authors: Mary A and Malinornë
Pairings: Mainly Thranduil/OFCs
Warnings: Adult sexual content, nudity, wet naked horselord...
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 completes her mission, Mal has breakfast with an elf, and then they both head off in opposite directions.

~ Mary ~

"It's empty," I pointed out. "How sad." Eomer's tub was very large. Even better than that, it was right next to his sleeping chamber. I could see his bed through a door on the other side of the room, which was slightly ajar. Dim gray daylight was starting to peek in through the high slitted windows above us, it had been a long night, but the party was still going strong.

"Did you expect otherwise, m'lady?"

Eomer was standing next to me, we were both staring down into the empty bathtub as if it was some kind of shrine, and my mind was racing with ideas of how to get him naked. His beautiful blue eyes were a bit glassy from the mead, but he was still able to focus, and was not nearly drunk enough to be a push-over.

"You are a bit greasy around the edges, sire," I said bluntly, adding, "I would think your royal bedchamber servants would have had a bath ready for you." I finished with a sniff, to indicate how un-royal it was to be him. Eomer frowned, and seemed a little worried, but otherwise made no move to disrobe and bathe.

"I hear," I remarked casually, "that you are to be wed to some high born princess from the South? Lothriel?"

"Lothiriel," he corrected me. "Not a princess, she is the daughter of the Prince of Dol Amroth." While he spoke, I leaned down and ran my finger over the bathtub's inside surface, which was dusty. I had a feeling that a certain horselord had not had an opportunity to use it, yet.

"The daughter of a prince, eh?" I stood and presented my fingertip as evidence. "Does she know that this is what your bathtub looks like inside? Has she seen you up close after a typical meal?" I pointed my dusty finger at his sticky hands.

Before he could answer, I stepped across the room and pushed at the door to his bedchamber, not surprised to see a virulently messy manly area, along with the expected odor, and snorted. "Does she have any idea this is going to be her new bedroom? The poor thing." I shook my head with pity. "You will be lucky if she lasts through the first night." I stared over at the royal bed and shuddered.

"Perhaps," said Eomer, a bit sulkily, with a gesture towards the great hall, "we should return to the feast..."

"You know what?" I whirled to face him and smiled brightly. "I could give you lessons!" I cried, as if he had asked me for advice. "After all, I taught lady Mal everything she knows," I fibbed, "and Thranduil seems pretty happy with her, most of the time."

"Give me lessons," Eomer repeated back slowly, with a frown. "What kind of lessons?"

"We could start with the proper way to share your bathtub with a princess." Acting as if I was just a conscientious instructor, helpful and efficient, I swiftly unlaced my bodice and finally drew a complete breath. "Call in some servants to wipe the dust out and fill it up, take off your clothes, and I will teach you a few things that every man should know about proper bathing, not least a king who is about to marry a princess."

By then, I had my skirt, slippers, and blouse off, and stood before Eomer wearing only my petticoats. His eyes grew a little wild. "I will go wait in your stinky bedroom," I said, as I slipped through the bedchamber door. "Maybe I will tidy it up a little while I am in there," I added.

Once through his bedchamber door, I closed it, leaned my head against it, and prayed to whoever might be listening that he would be naked when I opened it up again, and not gone. Keeping my fingers crossed, I removed my petticoats. I could hear noises from the other room, but none that I could clearly identify as bathtub-filling activity, and was about to open it when I heard a soft knock from the other side, and then it opened by itself.

"We will begin the lessons now, m'lady," Eomer said, standing in the doorway. He was naked.

It was hard not to breathe a sigh of relief. It was harder not to stare at his lean, firm body, but I was only half way there, a very important half. The tub was filled, and there were towels and soap on a table beside it. I was impressed, and I praised him for being able to get things done, like a true king should.

"I will get in first," I explained, being only an instructor and not a seductress. "You must help me," I added, holding out my hand to him. We managed to fit nicely together in the tub, with a minimum of water sloshing over the edge when the muscular horselord lowered himself beside me. The water was not too warm for comfort, and I made him sit still while I scrubbed his back with a soapy sponge.

"Keep your eyes closed, majesty," I instructed him, "while I pour this water over your head, or else you will get soap in...'


"...your eyes."

The bathing chamber had been slowly brightening as the dawn arrived. Eomer's freshly shampooed hair glistened where the earliest fingers of the sun touched it, as did the thick curls on his chest. After helping him to wipe the stinging suds from his pretty blue eyes, I leaned against him, touching him with more than my hands for the first time since we had entered the bath. He was comfortable enough with me to tolerate the intimate contact, and he smiled at me.

Without speaking, and keeping my eyes on his, I soaped up the sponge and washed his chest, dipping below the surface to wash his flat stomach, and then down further to what I could find between his legs.

"M'lady!" He grabbed my wrist, gasping, after I had immediately located a particularly interesting part of him that I felt needed some attention.

"If you aren't clean down here," I assured him carefully, letting go of the sponge and grasping his royal fleshy scepter with my bare hand, "no princess will want you in her bed." He did not argue with me; indeed he said very little that was coherent for quite a long while.

~ Mal ~

I slept very well in Thranduil's guest quarters and it was with a sigh of regret that I swung my feet over the edge of the bed and stood on the cold - by comparison - floor. If the king had been there, I would have stayed between the sheets, but as I was alone, it was hunger of another kind that prompted me to rise. I splashed some cold water in my face and put on parts of what I had been wearing the previous night. There was no chance of getting into the tight bodice without help, but wearing just the skirt and the blouse worked fine. I left the petticoats behind and opened the door to the corridor as silently as I could, not to disturb any late sleepers.

I now noticed that there were other doors there, presumably leading to more royal quarters, and I think I heard Eomer's voice behind one of them. He sounded rather drunk, or at least very sleepy, and I tip-toed my way to the main hall.

Here, the party was still continued by the last few brave horsemen who could still sit reasonably upright, if not stand on their legs. Just sitting seemed to require some effort and they didn't seem to notice me. Sounds of snoring came from some of the alcoves and I even saw a pair of booted feet sticking out from under the table. The smell of unwashed bodies, beer and smoke from the large fire where the roasted pigs had been prepared still lingered in the air.

A side table held some food items that looked like breakfast: a clay pitcher with milk - which I hoped came from a cow, rather than a mare or sheep, a steaming pot of some kind of porridge, loaves of bread in a basket, honey, cheese and butter. There were wooden bowls and plates as well, jugs and spoons, too. I took the largest plate I could find and used it as a tray for my food and proceeded towards the main gates. I needed some fresh air.

Outside was a lovely morning, the air crisp and clear from recent rain. The smell of horse was not overwhelming. Cocks were crowing and in the distance I heard what I decided must be merchants advertising their wares. This reminded me of the rat-faced little man I met yesterday, and my hasty promise to help him demonstrate the possible use of his stone phalluses to the dwarven artisans that made them on his order. The king had given his permission and all I had to do now was to convince his seneschal to assist me. I was not particularly looking forward to that, embarrassing as it would be, but delaying it would only make it harder to ask him. I promised myself to get it over with this very day.

But first it was time for breakfast. I nodded to the lone guard standing at the door and then sat down at the top of the stairs. The wind had already dried up the water from the flat stone and I only had to avoid the shallow indentations in the middle, where many feet had treaded for centuries. As soon as I started my porridge I was reminded again of how hungry I was, and I finished it in seconds. It was very tasty, a lot more so than its brownish-grey looks foretold, but the sandwiches were even more delicious. I took big bites, relishing the contrast between the sourish cheese and the sweet honey.

As I sat there, happily chewing with honey dripping on my chin and hands, I noticed how someone climbed the stairs very fast, all the way from the city gates far below. His agile jumps made him almost seemed to fly; it had to be an elf.

"May I," said Haldir - it was him - with a bow when he was just a few steps below me. I nodded, confused but convinced that whatever he intended would not be harmful.

Faster than I could react, he put his face near mine and I felt the wetness of his tongue as he licked the honey from my chin. Apparently, there was some on my lips as well. I yelped, startled, and he sat down beside me. When I had caught my breath, he took my hand - the one not holding the sandwich - and put the fingers in his mouth, slowly and deliberately, one at a time.

"We have business to discuss," he said when he was done and I had dropped the remnants of the sandwich.

"Shhh," I hushed him with a glance over my shoulder at the guard. "We are not alone."

"The man is a warrior and a guardian of a royal house. He would tell no gossip, even if he understood Sindarin, which I doubt."

Clever Haldir. I had not even noticed that he addressed me in that language, making me automatically reply the same way, rather than in the Westron we usually spoke for Mary's sake. I watched him pick up the bread from the stair step, blow on it and then eat it with obvious pleasure.

"As you wish, let us talk," I told him. "You promised to come to me when we were somewhere with walls and a roof. Meduseld is good enough, I hope."

"It will do."

"Should I expect you tonight, then?"

"I will come when the time is right. I merely desired to raise the issue to find out if I would still be welcome." He smirked and rose. "Now, if you allow me, I will fetch us some more honeyed bread."

~ Mary ~

From the way that my empty stomach growled, I figured that it must be near noon, if not after, when I awoke in Eomer's messy bed. The linens were reasonably clean, it turned out, but our thrashing about in the early morning hours had not made the already unmade bed any tidier. I sat up, yanking and rearranging the tangled covers, and wondered if I should slip out quietly. The urge to wake up the snoring horselord, who was not at all disturbed by my bed making, made me stall. I felt that I should wake him and praise him for being an attentive student, before I left his side.

What Eomer had lacked in imagination, skill, and prior experience in his lovemaking, he had more than made up for with his enthusiasm, once he got over the fact that we had ended up in his bed together. At one point, while he hovered above me, propped up on his elbows, he was obviously bewildered. "Thranduil told me to expect you here before daylight," he told me, his face glazed with confusion, "but I thought he was joking." He shook his head, as if doing that would make me disappear, and then added, "And yet here you are, after all."

"You talk too much," I had replied, pulling him down to me. I had coaxed him onto the bed and then under the covers using similar tactics to luring a puppy dog to be friends. Instead of bits of meat, I had tempted him with promises of more important lessons that he needed to learn, before he married and made a fool of himself with the high-born daughter of a real Prince. I had basically bullied him, poor thing, using his natural human sense of insecurity against him as a weapon. Living with elves had taught me well.

Now, however, after waking and turning to see the young king still asleep beside me, as innocent as a lamb, I felt a stab of guilt about what I had done to seduce the unsuspecting horselord. Even though he was a fast learner, and a virile performer, I did not have any illusions about who he really would have rather desired to be in my place at that moment. As if he could hear me thinking about him, Eomer opened his eyes and looked right into mine, although his blue gaze was bleary, unfocused, and a bit bloodshot around the edges.

"Good day to you," he croaked out.

"I hope you aren't sorry to be waking up with me instead of Mal," I said. He shook his head and lifted himself up to lean his back against the massive headboard, carved with the usual horse heads. After stretching and scratching himself absent-mindedly, he reached to the table beside the bed and quenched his dry throat with whatever was left in the bottom of a tankard he found there.

"On the contrary, lady Mary," he said, before taking another pull from the tankard. "Indeed, it is my ardent hope that I did not..." Eomer paused, and appeared to be struggling with what he wanted to say, and then finished in a rush, "I sincerely hope that I did not disappoint you." He had trouble looking me in the eye.

"Disappoint me?" It was a surprise to hear him say something nice, instead of ordering me from his bed now that he was sober and able to think clearly. I scooted closer and leaned against his shoulder, dragging the sheet up to cover us both. "Why would you think that?" I knew why, but I did not want to get out of bed yet, and making him talk was a good excuse to linger. He snorted at my question, sounding not unlike the horses that he loves.

"It must have been obvious to you who the leader was in this bed during the wee hours of the morn," he said. Instead of answering, I slipped my hand beneath the sheet and stroked his chest; it was marvelously firm and lightly furred. Undeterred by my attention, he continued, "How could you not be thinking that I was..." his voice trailed off. I stared at him, taken with his suddenly morose attitude, and felt ashamed for the tactics I had used to seduce him. I removed my hand from his chest and reached up to his chin, gently turning his face to mine.

"You didn't disappoint me in the least, my lord," I said, while I let my hand travel up his cheek and into his hair, which was charmingly disheveled. "I was highly satisfied with your performance," I purred, "it was nothing short of amazing, truly." With a sharp tug, I pulled his face closer and whispered, "I have to confess that you surprised me, my lord, and you probably didn't need any lessons at all. Your princess is a lucky lady."

At last he smiled, his eyes brightened visibly, and I should have kissed him, or asked him to kiss me, but no, I had to to keep talking. "And I am sure that even Thranduil wasn't disappoint..." With a strangled gasp, I stopped myself from saying another word before I had put my whole foot in my mouth. "I mean, um," I stammered out, "that I, um, I am sure Thranduil won't care, exactly, if he finds out that I ended up here with you..."

To be strictly honest, from what I could tell, the Elvenking had not been enormously impressed by Eomer's abilities under the sheets, although he had indeed been monitoring us closely. "Please forget what I said," I ended lamely, "I meant that Thranduil is very generous and would not be angry if he hears about us being together."

"Surely you do not believe that I would carry such a scandalous tale about you to him?" Eomer was wide awake now, and not happy.

"Oh no, never, my lord! I believe most sincerely that you will be very discreet with my reputation." I fell back on my hours of training from the seneschal, adding, "As befits an honorable and courteous man of your grace and royal station."

"Your reputation is indeed safe with me," Eomer muttered. It grew uncomfortably quiet and I was worried about letting him have any time to think twice about what I had unthinkingly blurted out. It was not fair to him, I believed, to have been used for someone else's selfish pleasure, without his consent, but now was not the time to think of justice.

The Rohan mortals were far removed from elves, and for many years had viewed them with superstitious dread. It was true that Eomer had spent time with Legolas, and with people who were friendly to elves, but that did not mean he was ready to learn that our lovemaking lessons had been a shared experience. The young king might have been insulted, or frightened, by the disclosure, neither of which would be helpful for the future of Middle-earth.

A knocking sound made us both jump, and I dove under the covers to hide. Eomer rose from the bed and I peeked out to watch him, admiring the shape of his stunning backside as he padded barefoot across the room. He slid a hanging tapestry to the side and cracked the concealed door open far enough to see out, and then glanced over his shoulder in my direction, his expression was inscrutable, before turning back to hold a whispered conversation with whoever it was on the other side.

~ Mal ~

It was not until noon that I saw Thaladir, and that was for the best as I had plenty of time to wash and dress in a more suitable way. It would not have helped my chances of getting his consent to show up in the old-fashioned clothes that would remind him of one of his rare mistakes. The seneschal was just coming out from the male guest wing when I found him.

"Your Excellency," I told him politely while making a curtsey, "please walk with me."

"If you require an escort, my lady, I am sure Ithilwen will oblige, or one of King Eomer's men."

"Please, Thaladir, I would feel much safer in your company." I tried to look small and vulnerable.

"I assure you that the local guards are most virtuous and, furthermore, capable of warding off any, indeed unlikely, attempts at harming your person."

"Oh, it's not that I doubt them, but I would like to speak with you about something. It concerns His Majesty," I added when it looked like he was going to tell me that whatever I wanted to say to him could be said right there.

"In that case, a measure of privacy is indeed called for," he said, nodding slowly. I took his offered elbow and we went outside. I had been telling myself that it would be much easier to discuss the touchy subject while walking under the open sky, than in a small room where I had to look him in the eyes.

I steered towards the busy market street, where the voices of merchants and customers would drown out anything I did not wish anyone else to hear. But, it was difficult to start, and several times I ended up only commenting the pots and pans for sale. Thaladir kept his stoic calm for a long time, but then he asked: "My lady, you indicated a wish to discuss matters pertaining to His Most Royal Majesty?"

I took a deep breath and told him everything: how the former Path of the Dead had opened up possibilities for trade with the south, that the colony of dwarves in the Glittering Caves produced items much wanted there, and that King Eomer and his realm could profit a lot from this. And, of course, which was the main point for Thaladir, that Thranduil wished to support this development and had already approved of my participation. For the moment, I left out the little detail of exactly how I would be involved.

"As His Majesty has graciously given his permission, I do not see, my lady, what my humble person could add."

"You see," I continued in a lower voice, "for this trade operation to work, the dwarves have demanded to see how some of their... uh... artful objects could be used in the bedroom. I need an assistant. Please, Your Excellency," I pleaded, "I don't want any of these merchants to put their hands on me. I need you!"

"I shall take it under consideration for some time."

Nothing more was said of the subject, and instead he began to explain to me the peculiar housekeeping habits of the Rohirrim. It turned out that the reason the king's golden hall was still such a mess in the morning was that all the servants usually took part in the celebration, and were then allowed to sleep as long as everybody else the following morning before they began to clean up the hall. The breakfast had been prepared not by an early riser, but by someone who was late to bed. He concluded that it was all a logical solution, as mortals needed to rest so much more than elves did.

We were almost back at Meduseld by the time he returned to my earlier question. We had stopped just below the last flight of stairs, to admire the view. I was totally unprepared for what he said.

"Do I understand you correctly, my lady, that it is your desire that I insert a number of stone items, shaped like the male member, into your female passage, for the visual entertainment of a community of the stunted folk?"

"Yes," I whispered. It sounded so silly when he said it, and I blushed to the very roots of my hair. How could I even think of doing something like that, much less ask this dignified elf to take part in it? I looked away and even tried to start walking ahead of him, but he took my hand and demanded, very politely, that I look at him.

"It is indeed a most indecent proposal," he said seriously. "It has, however, its merits and, in addition to the monetary benefits, shows potential for a measure of mutual enjoyment of those directly involved during the act itself. I shall do as you wish."

I did not believe my ears. Did he really mean that he would not only do it, but even thought he would like it? I had already been sure that he would, or I wouldn't have thought of him as a partner candidate, but hearing him admit it was totally unexpected.

~ Mary ~

When Eomer was done with his whispered conversation, he dropped the tapestry back over the hidden doorway and hurriedly began to dress himself. I wondered if I had been forgotten, as I watched him pull on his leggings. He was hopping across the floor on one leg, while searching about frantically for his shirt and tunic.

"Are you going somewhere?" I asked, sitting up and letting the covers fall off of my naked body, which made the hopping horselord nearly fall over when he glanced my way. "Are you going to leave me here in your bed?"

"No, Lady Mary, I do not intend to leave you here," he said, now seated to pull on his boots. "It is only that the others are waiting for me and I must... we must hurry." He stood and found my pile of petticoats, tossed them to me, and then went into the bathing chamber to fetch the rest of my clothes.

"Others?" I called after him, once I realized that he meant for me to get dressed. "What others?" I do not know what possessed me to be so bold with my questioning. It was not my business what this young king did in his own realm, or with whom he did it, but it was disheartening to see how easily I was being dismissed. He returned, triumphant.

"Your king, for one," he answered, handing me the skirt and blouse, but not the tight-fitting bodice. I assumed he forgot that I had it on, and had not even looked for it. Not that I cared, it was an article of clothing that I would never willingly put on again. "We were to go boar hunting at mid-day," he explained. "I have kept them waiting far too long as it is." He had turned his back to me and waited for me to dress.

"But this is your kingdom, my lord," I said, ignoring my clothes. "You can keep everyone waiting if you so desire, no one can stop you." He did not turn to me. "You forgot my stockings and slippers," I added with a sigh. "I kicked them off by the door." While he retrieved these last articles for me, I slipped the blouse over my head and stood to put on my skirt and petticoats. Now that I was covered, Eomer was able to look at me again, and he smiled. After I was completely dressed, he took both of my hands into his.

"I will be forever grateful for your lessons, dear lady," he said, and he lifted my hands up to his face and kissed the backs of both of them, one at a time, and then pulled me closer to him and kissed my forehead. "I will see to it that you are amply rewarded."

"You were an excellent student, sire," I said. "My memories of you will be the only reward that I will ever need." It was the truth, actually, because I had bedded him for the ultimate reward that anyone could bestow upon me, the high regard of Thranduil. There was not a single thing in Rohan that could match the Elvenking's esteem.

Keeping my hands in his, Eomer pulled me to the concealed door, and when he opened it, there was someone standing on the other side. It was Freawine, the same man who had stood guard over the guest quarters the day before. He did not seem at all surprised to see me, even though he could not help but notice that I was wearing most of the same clothes that I had on the night before.

My hair was a disaster, too.

"Lady Mary," said the older man, with a courtly bow. "If you will please follow me?" I turned to say goodbye to Eomer, but the door had been shut behind me. We were in a narrow corridor, probably a servant's hallway, which was dimly lit. I followed the broad back of the silver-haired councilor and wondered how many other visiting ladies had been escorted back to the guest chambers by this secret route.

We came to a circular junction, with different corridors leading off in a few directions, and were met by Captain Edric. He was obviously surprised to see me there, with Freawine, but he bowed extravagantly over my offered hand, and saluted the older man.

"Lady Mary," Captain Edric said, "how fortunate I am to have found you so quickly."

With his charming smile, Edric informed me that Anborn had been injured the night before, while arm wrestling, and Thranduil had asked him to assume the Ithilien ranger's duties as my personal bodyguard for the rest of the day. The captain turned to Freawine and chuckled. "So you see, I can take over for you, sir. It would be my pleasure, and I am sure that the hunting party will appreciate not having to be delayed a moment longer."

"How fun," I whispered to Edric, after Freawine, visibly relieved, let the captain take me off his hands. "That was a good lie you told, about Thranduil and Anborn. You think fast on your feet." Edric seemed shocked for a moment and then he laughed at me, but he had an uneasy look in his eye.

"What would make you think I told a lie, my lady?" He asked with his hand over his heart as if he had been wounded by my words. We were traveling down an unusually long corridor, and I could not tell what direction we were going. At any moment, I expected him to stop and steal a kiss.

"Oh, I don't mind that you lied," I replied. "Ever since I first met you, at the edge of the Isengard Vale, I have wanted to spend some time alone with you."

"How convenient for both of us, then," he said smoothly. We had reached the end of the hidden passageway and he opened the door, but we were not back in the guest chambers. Instead, we stepped out into bright daylight, which made me blink and squint. I felt nearly blinded. For a few seconds I was almost paralyzed with the shock of being outside, and on display. My vision cleared and to my relief there were no witnesses nearby.

"Thranduil suggested that I take you out of Meduseld today, while he accompanies King Eomer's hunting party," said the captain. "How would you like to take a sight-seeing tour?"

Before us stood a small closed carriage, which had a driver seated on top. With another extravagant bow, Edric opened the door to it and gestured for me to enter. I felt too conspicuous in my ridiculous costume, now wrinkled, to linger long in the open air, and I dove in gratefully.

"Are you going to feed me at least?" I asked, after Edric settled down next to me and the carriage began to move. "I haven't had breakfast yet, and I get very cranky when I am hungry."

Whatever it was that this horselord soldier had in mind, he was not going to have an easy time of it. One thing I did know was that Edric was lying to me. My king knew better than to send me off on an impromptu travel tour without making sure that I was fed first, and allowed to bathe and change my clothes. Only a man would forget important details like those.

~ Mal ~

Back in Meduseld, I went straight to my room to digest Thaladir's unusual reaction, and its implications. Despite the idea being mine from the start, I began to doubt my decision to follow through with it. There was no return now, it seemed - both the elves I needed support from had given their permission. Thranduil would never force me, but how could I face him, or his seneschal, if I backed out now?

Ithilwen brought me a pen, as well as ink and paper. I was grateful that she left immediately, asking no questions. I took a deep breath and scribbled a short sentence on the paper. "I am ready." Having signed it and rolled it to a scroll, bound with one of the red ribbons from my hair, I began to consider whom to send to the merchant with the message. I preferred not to bother Ithilwen with it, and asking Thaladir didn't seem right, as he had already done me a big favour. Haldir? He would tease me incessantly, and I did not trust the secrecy of King Eomer's servants.

With some reluctance, I settled on Anarion. His loyalty was undisputed; it was more a matter of his not being familiar with the town yet, but, as he told me when I explained where to find the man, he would complete the task even if he had to wander each and every street to do so. Even then, he would be back before long, he added, joking.

I was not prepared for the reply he brought back barely an hour later.

"My lady, I am grateful beyond words. I have now departed for the Glittering Caves and expect to see you there with your chosen one at your soonest opportunity."

What did the merchant mean? Just getting there would take at least two days, or so it looked on Thaladir's map. The caves were located just beyond Helm's Deep, but that was nearly all the way to Isengard! I had somehow assumed that the performance would be arranged when the dwarves came to Edoras on some business or the other, not that I would need to get back on the road again after just having arrived. I was very tempted to forget the whole thing. Thranduil would forgive me, and Thaladir, too, eventually.

On my way to tell the Elvenking that I would not leave his side for several days just for a couple of dwarves, I ran into a whole hunting party. Both kings were there, and Thaladir, as well as four or five of the men I had seen in the delegation that escorted us to Edoras.

Once he noticed me, Eomer detached himself from the group and greeted me cordially.

"Look, here comes our newest shield-maiden," he announced, causing friendly laughter from the others. I was puzzled but tried to look as if I understood what he meant.

"Thank you for the compliment, Sire, but I am not much for fighting."

"To the contrary, I would say, my lady," he continued, more serious now. "I have just heard of your brave plans to add to the wealth of Rohan, and I want to thank you in advance. The treasure chests of my people were depleted by the war, and much remains to do before they will be filled."

I kept my outward calm, curtseying politely in reply to the Rohan king's words, but inside, I was fuming. Had Anarion taken the merchant's message to Thranduil before giving it to me? I glanced at the Elvenking, who lifted a brow ever so slightly, as if he was surprised to hear my doubts. The smile tugging at the corner of his lips said it all.

"You will have to forgive me, my lady," continued Eomer, "as I have kept your king and my men waiting for too long already, or I would personally see to your needs for the journey. As it is, I once again express my gratefulness, and leave your further preparations in the able hands of Freawine here."

"Thank... thank you," I said meekly, by now having given up all thoughts of resistance. Disappointing two kings was more than I could handle.

"It is I who thank you," replied Eomer with a bow. "But, do not forget," he added over his shoulder as he left the room accompanied by the others, "that I expect at least ten percent of the revenue to end up with the poor, rather in the pockets of that industrious merchant!"

I just stood there looking after them until the big doors had swung closed on their hinges. Only then did I become aware of the grey-haired main at my side.

"If you will follow me, my lady," he said, gesturing towards one of the side alcoves in the hall.

On the bench lay a saddlebag, already packed, and clothes that looked similar to what the men in the hunting party had been wearing. Leather boots, breeches of the same material and a linen shirt. There was also a brown bundle that Freawine said was a hooded cape.

He helped me change clothes as if it was the most natural thing in the world, without any hints of embarrassment or unseemly interest. Then he picked up the saddlebag and took me outside, to the stable area behind the Golden Hall.

Thaladir was there already, in similar attire, and with him were two horses even more magnificent than Thranduil's stallion Amarth.

"Mearas," said Freawine with obvious pride in his voice. "Eomer King has lent them to you as a sign of his gratefulness, so that you would travel swifter and with greater comfort than on ordinary steeds. This is Thunderfoot," he patted the large gray to Thaladir's left, " and the lovely mare here is Lightning, his mother."

Already on the way down from the hill to the city gates I felt the smoothness of Lightning's movements, and as soon as we reached the plains, both horses proved their names. At first I enjoyed the speed, but after some time the mountains began to pass so fast before my eyes that I grew dizzy. 'Worry not,' I heard a whisper inside my head, a strange, wild voice, but comforting. 'I will not lose you.'

I opened my eyes momentarily. Thaladir was right beside me, but appeared to have noticed nothing. Just seeing him was calming, as he was not blurry even along the edges. I held on to Lightning's mane and kept my gaze on him until we stopped for a break.

It was almost dark, but the seneschal assured me that the lack of daylight mattered little to mearas. We would press on, and reach the caves before the first star appeared.

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

Status of daily schedule: N/A

Remarks: Despite having not yet arrived at our final destination, I find it necessary to note already that the peculiarity of the errand I have today embarked upon with Lady Malinorne by far surpasses that of any of my many previous duties in His Majesty's service. I shall, however, continue to strive towards its fulfillment with all diligence. Long live Eryn Lasgalen!

To be continued...

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Chapter posted: September 19, 2007

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