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Far Beyond Mirkwood, Chapter 2/?

Authors: Mary A and Malinornë
Pairings: Mainly Thranduil/OFCs
Warnings: Adult sexual situations, some nudity
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: During their last hours in Lórien; Thranduil, Thaladir, Mal, and Mary, make final preparations for the royal tour into the realms of Middle-earth Men.

~ Mal ~

It was late in the evening before I saw the king again. But first of all I heard him. He was still outside of my talan, on the ground, and, as far as I could judge talking to the two archers that usually kept watch over my tree.

"You know Thaladir? The tall one in long robes? You are to go to his talan." Their response was silent. "If he sleeps, that is well. But if he comes out, you will show him a good place for fishing. Or hunting. Or where your medical plants grow. Anything my seneschal likes. Just as long as he stays far enough from my whereabouts for as long as the moon is up."

I was glad to hear it. Before long, I suspected, the old elf would have us all eating, sleeping, and everything else, according to his, no doubt carefully worked out, travel plan. This night was the last not only in Lórien, but in the land of the Elves, for a long time. And the last in privacy with Thranduil. I was smiling already when I greeted him.

"So, my guards are to keep His Excellency, and his last minute decisions, away this time?"

"Cheese!" he burst out, throwing his hands into the air. "Cheese and dresses and whatnot! There is no end to the cravings of a mortal body!"

"Are you beginning to regret bringing me? And Mary?" I realized that many of the careful preparations had to do with us. If the elves had been alone, they would probably just have used horses, and nibbled on lembas. Or not travelled anywhere at all.

"A king does not regret his decisions." He was silent for a moment, then added in a softer voice: "But he has to endure their consequences, like any other man. He, and his people."

"And now you have to endure endless discussions on petty subjects? I like cheese, if that is any comfort to you, my lord, and am very grateful that you will continue to provide it, even if it must be such a small thing for you to decide." The king chuckled, but he sounded bitter.

"Be it that all decisions were small." He sighed. I did not know what to say that could possibly be of help. But I took his hand and led him to the bed. Surprisingly, he just followed, and then sat down beside me. His gaze was distant, as if he wasn't really there.

"Allow me to prove to you how right it was to bring me, my lord," I tried, tracing my finger around his ear and whispering into it. An immortal body has cravings, too..."

"Neither does a king take back his word. No proof is necessary." Disappointed, but not defeated, I continued to caress his ear, and added little kisses to his neck and face. He closed his eyes for a while, then opened them suddenly and caught my hands in his, fast enough that I lost balance and fell into his lap. "I will, however," he said, now with a smile tugging at the corner of his lips, "hold you to your offer. In time. But first, I want you to tell me how you spent your afternoon."

"You already know."

"My mind was occupied." He knit his brows. "Occupied, and with things of a less entertaining nature. Now, tell me."

I looked into his eyes and tried to relax as much as possible, to let him see what had passed between me and Lord Celeborn in the rocky pool where Thranduil had left me. His gaze was scrutinising at first, but grew less tense after just a few seconds. "In words," he told me. "Slowly, and in detail. Your king needs to hear something pleasant."

I did as he told me, most of the time. As he didn't allow me to close my eyes, but continued to hold my gaze, I couldn't help pausing to kiss him now and then. I chose my moments, of course, timing these small pauses after particularly heated parts of my story.

"He held his hand here," I said, and put the king's hand over my breast, gently pushing my chest forward. While holding his hand there, I kissed his mouth. He responded, fast, but then withdrew just as fast. His fingers stayed where they were, though.

"Proceed," he said. "There was more."

There was. But there was also beautiful scenery, a marvellous sunset, the feeling of the cooling water wrapping itself around heated bodies. White spray bobbing in a downstream rapid, a lone water lily swaying in the current, lean tree branches bending towards the surface as if wanting to drink. A bird calling in the distance. A..."

"A royal concubine who needs to quit stalling and get on with her story." His eyes were still glittering - the words were not really a reprimand.

"A beloved king who wants caresses to more than his ears...?" Quick as lightening, he gathered my wrists in his hand and held them in front of our faces.

"Yes," he said in a low voice. "In time. He did like this, did he not?" He changed his grip so that my arms were still caught, but he had a hand free, and ran his fingers down between my breasts and over my belly.

"He did," I confirmed, whispering. "And then he moved even lower." I squirmed a little to encourage him. "Just like that, yes... yes!"

"So," he said. "And I believed he continued for quite a while, too." While saying that, he continued to mercilessly wiggle his big thumb over my most sensitive area, and I felt myself becoming very wet, fast.

Suddenly, the king let go of my wrists, lifted me from his lap and laid me down on the bed. As I lay in anticipation, with my eyes closed, listening to the familiar sounds of his ragged breaths and the rustle that my long gown made as its skirt was pulled up to my belly, I almost felt like I was back in his bedchamber in Mirkwood.

"And then, did he do this? And this?" By now, Thranduil's sceptre had found its mark, and I found it hard to answer with more than encouraging moans. "What about this?" he continued, marking each thrust with a question. "This? This? Or this?"

"No," I finally managed to say. "Not nearly as good as that." The lights had gone out and it was too dark for me to see anything, but I could feel that my king was smiling.

~ Mary ~

It was still fully dark outside when Miriel woke me up, but I did not complain about it. Today we would be leaving Lorien and I had asked her to get me up before dawn. The itinerary mentioned a farewell ceremony first, but I decided to skip it. I wanted to be first in my carriage.

"Did Ithilwen bring... it?" I asked her, unwilling to say more than that out loud. In reply, Miriel lifted something that had been draped over the foot of my bed and smiled. The high-born elves could read my mind, if they wanted to, but the wood-elves could not, and neither could their minds be read unless they chose. As long as I did not ask one of them to do anything that they considered improper or prohibited, they would keep my secrets.

Getting up from my bed at such a ghastly hour was one thing I knew no one would ever expect from me and therefore my talan would not be watched for an escape.

There were Galadhrim guards issued to both Mal and me from the day of our arrival. Mine were perched in the same mallorn that my talan was built into, above me, silent and unobtrusive. I flirted with them shamelessly when I was by myself. Unlike my door guards in Thranduil's caves, the Lorien elves were allowed to talk to me.

They were supposed to keep any unwanted visitors away from me, however, and not stop me from moving freely around the city. I could come and go as I pleased, which was truly liberating after my virtual imprisonment in my chambers back home.

If questioned, my guards would have to say that they saw me leave, but they did not have to climb down and follow me around unless I asked them to do so. It was possible that they could be asked to report any overheard conversation between myself and Miriel, so I kept quiet.

The evening before, I had her fetch Ithilwen, the elleth who attended to Malinorne. The king and his concubine would be spending their last night in Lorien together, which I already knew, so I invited her to join Miriel and me in a last walk together under the mellyrn.

While we walked, Ithilwen and Miriel listened as I explained to them a dilemma I was facing, but one that was easily remedied, with their assistance and discretion. One nice thing about elves, because they are rarely, if ever, deceitful about anything, let alone everyday ordinary things, they do not expect deceit and seldom guard against it. Or, maybe they just like to humor me when I fib.

When the morning came, Ithilwen had come and gone, and I sent Miriel out of my guest talan before I dressed myself.

"If you don't see me, then you won't have to be held responsible for anything I am about to do." The elleth looked puzzled, so I added, "I want to surprise the seneschal by being prompt." She promised not to volunteer anything about my whereabouts.

It was not easy to move as quickly and silently as I should have, mostly because I had to hold the skirt of my gown up higher than usual, and the fabric was slippery. The last thing I wanted to do was rip or stain it. It was not yet dawn and the forest shade made it seem like the middle of the night. Despite all of my handicaps, no one challenged me or tried to stop me from getting in my carriage.

While I sat there, with one of the carriage blankets pulled over me, and waited for everyone else to come, I imagined the look on Thaladir's face when he saw me there, waiting for him. He was going to be surprised, for once.

'What took you so long?' I planned on saying to him, and, 'Gee, what a slowpoke you are today.' While I planned my lines, I made myself more comfortable and chuckled myself to sleep.

~ Mal ~

The following morning I awoke pleasantly sore in certain areas, and spent a few minutes delightfully remembering why it was so. Thranduil had left my side at some point during the night, and although I always missed his arms around me when he did that, it was probably for the best this time. It would be straining enough to spend most of the day on the road, and I was suddenly very grateful that I would travel in a carriage, rather than astride a horse. An extra cushion would feel good, though, and I planned to ask Ithilwen to see to that as soon as she showed up.

In the meantime I got up, washed, and then peered outside my door to say 'aur vain' to the archers guarding my tree. They always replied, but seemed to find it amusing that someone would wish them a beautiful morning. The mornings in the Golden Wood were always beautiful, one of them had told me when I asked, but I kept to the habit. It was a reason to address them, as I wasn't comfortable with pretending they weren't there.

My gown from the previous evening was not in my room, and neither was the one I had planned to wear this day. In fact, the room was nearly stripped of personal belongings, which I should have expected. Ithilwen could be almost as careful as Thaladir, when she tried, and had obviously been efficient while I was asleep. I just had to trust her that she had packed a few bags to take along, and not sent everything back to the royal caverns.

I needed not to worry. As soon as she appeared, the elf-maiden told me that she had just entrusted the missing things to the seneschal's care, and that I had better dress immediately. "This is what we will all wear for the farewell," she told me, gesturing to her shimmering grey attire, and then handed me a dress just like it. The material felt soft and light, almost as if it wasn't there at all.

"And I've picked these," she said. "For your hair." She effortlessly arranged my locks in a fashion that looked deceitfully simple, but I knew I could never learn to do it myself, not if I had a hundred years to practice, which I told her. Not with the flowers like that. She laughed. "Not a hundred, no, it doesn't take as much as that. Maybe twenty!" For the umpteenth time I felt grateful that she had chosen to help me.

The farewell ceremony was a quiet affair compared to the pomp and circumstance that had been involved during the announcement of the joined realm a few nights ago. Lady Galadriel was there, of course, and Lord Celeborn, but otherwise the attendees were limited to the visitors from ex-Mirkwood, and a small group of Galadhrim led by Haldir. Legolas was standing beside his father. Responsibility became him; he looked serious, mature, a ruler in his own right.

Míriel was there, too, wearing the same kind of dress as Ithilwen and me, but I couldn't spot Mary. For a moment I thought that Thaladir was missing, too, but then I saw him behind Celeborn, the only elf present that was tall enough to hide him from view, if only for a moment. The seneschal went to stand in front of Galadriel, facing her, and Thranduil joined him.

"May your journey be blessed," she said with mildness in her voice that softened her queenly appearance. At a sign from her, one of the female elves in her entourage, possibly the one that had first greeted us at our arrival, took a few steps forward to stand beside her mistress. She was holding a box-like basket. Galadriel reached inside it and held up something. I couldn't see what it was, but I could guess. The Lady of Light was giving us her very own lembas!

"We thank thee, oh bassoneth [bread-giver]," Thaladir replied, bowing deep, and then accepted the gift with reverence as if he had been given a bag filled with mithril, rather than a box of bread wrapped in leaves. Thranduil bent his neck, too, barely enough to justify as bowing, but for him, it was a gesture of deepest respect and gratitude. The other visitors bowed as well, and at a nod from Ithilwen, I joined her in my best version of the seneschal's courtly curtsey.

The official part seemed to end with that, because Haldir turned his heel and melted into the shadows, together with his archers. Thaladir went away too, no doubt happily pondering where to hide the just received stash of goodness. I lingered with the others, hoping for a chance to personally thank, and say goodbye to, our hosts.

"Thank you for everything," I told Galadriel when it was my turn. "I have been happy in Lórien."

"You have." She smiled, and I heard her youthful voice inside my head: 'And so has my husband. Perhaps now I can have him to myself.' Pealing laughter accompanied it, and I felt that she was not upset. She was serious when she spoke audibly again. "Do not let sorrow over the past cloud your joy of coming events. May you find what your heart seeks. Farewell."

I wanted to ask her what she meant, if she knew what it was that would come. What my heart was seeking I knew already. Thranduil's love. The same old thing I knew that I couldn't have, not the way I wanted it. I sighed, dejected, but the look she gave me as she went away was so warm and hopeful that it immediately whisked away any melancholy. Then Ithilwen said that it was time to go to the waiting carriages, and we spent the short distance happily chatting. Now, we were both excited to go.

~ Mary ~

The next thing I knew, I heard Haldir, or someone who sounded just like him, speaking, close to me, like in a dream.

"I found her, she is here," he said. I opened my eyes and was lying on my side on my carriage seat. Haldir was leaning in, smiling at me, like sunshine. I smiled back.

"Who?" I asked him. I was so disoriented that I thought he was talking to me, and not about me. The morning was well on its way and the sun had reached down into this clearing, making me too warm with the blanket over me. I shook it off and sat up, but lost my own smile when I heard a familiar throat clearing.

"Lady Mary," said Thaladir, standing just out of my view, "that gown you are wearing does not belong to you."

"Yes, Excellency, I know." I answered confidently. "I borrowed it, well, I had Ithilwen borrow it from Mal, because my old gowns are too tight on me." As I spoke, I turned to face him. "I was afraid the seams of my own gowns would split and reveal more flesh than is proper and seemly. At least this way I am covered." I did not mention that Mal did not know her gown was borrowed.

Now, I had not planned it, exactly, but when I turned, the slippery neckline on Mal's gown slowly drooped sideways and the top of my shoulder was revealed. It only took a slight shrug to make it fall farther. I pretended not to notice. The dress was obviously meant for a woman with a much larger bust line, and it gapped accordingly, in a most fetching way, I thought.

"My only other choice was to wear my chemise," I continued calmly, sure of myself. "I didn't think that you would have approved of that, Excellency."

"Your absence at the farewell ceremony has been noted, Lady Mary." Thaladir replied as he waved Haldir away, therefore denying me both the pleasure of sparring over my appearance, and having an audience.

"The Lady Galadriel is waiting at your guest talan," he informed me icily, as soon as the March warden had melted back into the trees, and in a tone of voice that indicated I had breached too many matters of propriety for him to cope with on his limited schedule, but each one had been duly recorded and would be addressed at some point in the future. "She wishes to speak to you before our departure, and she has a gift for you."

"Really? A gift?" Why did Galadriel want to talk to me? What did I do now? "Well, could you go get it for me and give her my regards? I don't want to have any reason to delay our departure."

"Indeed not, my lady," Thaladir could not have been more offended. I saw sparks in his eyes as he opened my carriage door and held his hand out to me, which I took meekly as I exited.

"Oh, I am sorry, Excellency, did I shock your nerves? I was so hoping to please you by being the first one ready to go, for a change." We were even. I would behave properly for the rest of the day now. If anything, he could not complain about me not being willing to board my carriage on time.

Having Haldir and Thaladir see me in Mal's gown was fun, but I had not taken anyone else beside Thaladir into consideration when I had put it on that morning. I cringed to think of what Galadriel would think when she saw me, but I gasped when I entered my talan and saw who else was there.

Thranduil, looking resplendent in his traveling clothes, dark green today, stood next to Galadriel just inside the doorway of my guest talan, a little too close to her as far as I was concerned, and he asked me the same question that he had asked me the very first time I had encountered the two of them alone.

"What are you wearing?" That day, I had been wearing Celeborn's robe.

"It's Mal's dress," I replied. "None of mine fit me anymore, Majesty." I had been holding the too-long skirt up far higher than necessary, while walking through the forest, mostly to irk Thaladir, and I let it drop to the floor where it puddled at my feet. Thranduil did not seem bothered by the lower than usual neckline as it slipped off one shoulder, but he never had indicated that he cared what I wore.

"Ah, you poor dear, then I am even more happy that I chose to interject myself on your behalf," said Galadriel, kindly. "When it came to my attention yesterday how upset you were to find out that your charming gowns, which you and the Lady Malinorne had brought for your stay here, were to be returned to Eryn Lasgalen, I sought to remedy the situation for the both of you."

It came to her attention? Did she know everything that I had said?

"Who told on me?" I asked Thaladir, as if I did not know.

"Lady Mary," he replied, "there is very little which could possibly transpire in Lórien and escape the Lady Galadriel's faultless insight and impeccable sense of judiciousness." It was good to be reminded of why I wanted out of Lorien.

"I was pretty loud, too," I admitted. Luckily Galadriel was too polite to remark and Thranduil was used to me being, well, not quiet. Thaladir chose to reply by not replying to me, instead he turned to the king and politely reminded him of our impending departure, and the necessity for haste. He cut his eyes at me on the word 'haste', which was not fair.

"Well, don't look at me! I was in my carriage first, remember?"

"Your presence was missed, Lady Mary," said Galadriel, she glided over to stand between the seneschal and me, and then guided me to another part of the talan, where my new dress was hanging. " Thranduil assured all of us," she continued, " that you were not lost or missing, and would appear in time for the scheduled departure, or I would have had my Galadhrim out scouring the forest."

Behind us, I heard the king speaking to Thaladir, who then left the guest talan, after a polite bow to both of the Elflords.

"Can't you read my mind?" I asked Galadriel, while I slipped out of Mal's gown. Her bust may be bigger, but the rest of her was not the much larger, so I had to shimmy some to pull it off.

"Not if someone else is in the way," Galadriel said, but she was looking at Thranduil, not me. And he was looking at me, since that was the point of my little shimmy in the first place.

The dress was wonderful, for everyone concerned. It floated over me the way the other gowns had done, but it was even lighter and silkier to the touch. It would be perfect for traveling. I could see Thaladir's touches in the modest neckline and sleeve length, and color, which was a soft dove gray with just the slightest shimmer. I could not thank Galadriel enough, or get away from her fast enough before she had a chance to flirt with Thranduil any more.

The king escorted me to my carriage, and I refused to feel guilty for making everyone else wait. I could not have planned a better entrance, and I felt beautiful in my new dress. Miriel, waiting for me in my carriage, and Ithilwen cooed over it, slightly jealous, I think, even though they wore new gowns, too. The Lady of Light had been very generous with all of Thranduil's womenfolk.

~ Mal ~

When Ithilwen and I arrived, Anarion was already by the carriages, tending to the horses, and I could see Haldir, too, but nobody else. While we waited for the others, we continued to talk about what she knew about the travel arrangements for the first part of the journey. The March Warden would lead the way on foot, she explained, as it would otherwise be nearly impossible to find a way out of the forest that could be travelled with the carriages. The king's big one might even have to be squeezed between rocks here and there. And, added Anarion, His Excellency Thaladir would be walking as well, so that he could talk to the king's horses, to calm them and make sure that they understood the seriousness of the situation.

In addition to the draught horses, there were also four extras, all of which could also be used for riding. "His Majesty's horse will carry only him, naturally," Anarion said when he noticed my interest in the animals. I took a closer look at the feisty, black one the elf had hinted at. Was it really...? "Yes," the elf replied with an affectionate smile. "Amarth was very unhappy with staying in Mirkwood without his master. His Royal Highness Legolas brought him here."

My gaze turned back to the other horses. If Amarth was here, then maybe Cinnamon and Gwilwileth, the horses Mary and I had been given our first winter with the king, had been brought, too. But they had not. Apparently, the long journey would have been too taxing for the dainty mares, at least that is what Anarion reported that Thaladir had said to him, and, just as important in the seneschal's eyes, it would not be proper for ladies on an official visit to travel in any other fashion than by carriage. It was a little disappointing to hear, but the seneschal had a point, of course.

I had expected Thaladir to be the first to come to the carriages, eager to make final inspections and rush everybody else so that we would leave on whatever time he had planned. Thus, his absence surprised me, a lot more than that of Mary and Thranduil. The upcoming night with him belonged to her, so I could hardly complain if he wanted an early start. But it was annoying, nevertheless. He usually could wait at least until the afternoon.

Feeling increasingly impatient, I tried out my carriage, walked in circles around the horses and carriages, then sat in my, admittedly, very comfortable carriage again, got out of it for the second time, and then decided to take a little walk in the direction it looked like we would be taking, to see if I could guess which way Haldir would choose.

The March Warden would have none of it. He dashed to my side before I was even 30 feet away, and insisted that I return immediately.

"Is it too dangerous to walk further?" I asked him, batting my lashes. He responded by putting a reassuring hand on my arm. Knowing what he was capable of, I would have hoped for more, but it was a nice distraction anyway. "There aren't any orcs here, are there?" I continued, taking a step closer to him as if to hide in his embrace. "Or wild animals?" I stressed the word 'wild'. A little kiss for the distressed lady, perhaps? He looked at me down his nose, with a perfectly cool attitude.

"No. The others are coming."

After that, things happened rather quickly. His fine hearing had picked up the sounds from the moving elves, and human, in good time, and by the time they arrived, I was sitting in my carriage like a perfect lady, with Ithilwen beside me and Anarion standing next to Amarth, who was now snorting and stomping. Haldir reported something to Thaladir, who then began to direct everybody to their places.

My eyes were on the king and his magnificent horse, so I can only assume that Mary and Miriel had taken their seats by the time we all began to move slowly along the lines of elves who had came to wave us, particularly their king, off. I knew that I needed not worry about Thaladir, as I could see him in front of me most of the time, walking next to Thranduil's throne room on wheels. The March Warden was nearly always out of sight, hidden by the vegetation, but the horses must have seen him, as they never seemed to doubt about which way to choose.

We continued like that, moving at a slow pace and zigzagging between tree trunks and rocks, for what felt like an eternity. Despite its clever construction, my carriage often rocked heavily in a sickening way, but Thaladir allowed us out only in the most difficult places, for fear that we would get lost, or accidentally be injured. I suspected his worst fear was rather that we might delay the slow progress, but it seemed pointless to even try to argue with him.

It was not yet midday when we came out of the forest, so it must have taken a lot less time than it had felt like. Fortunately, that also meant that it was too early for lunch. I could hardly eat before my stomach had settled down in its usual place.

The new north-south road was a blessing. It wasn't very wide, just barely so that the biggest carriage would fit, and it was rough in places, but it was a road. Suddenly, I was offered a smooth ride, almost as if I was sitting in a comfortable chair. It may even have been possible to read. The landscape was a novelty, though, and looking at the softly rounded hills and wide plains kept me happily occupied until we stopped for lunch.

~ Mary ~

When we traveled to Lorien, through the stifling Mirkwood forest, the carriage ride had been torture, but this time it was sheer pleasure, at least the first day on the road. The occasional dip or swerve was bearable, as long as the top was down and I could see around me, and feel the fresh air and sunlight. One big difference, I had company in my carriage. Miriel had been on horseback for that first leg of our journey, another pair of elf eyes that were needed for the dangerous woodland trail, and I had to be alone. Even Mal was not allowed to join me, by Thaladir's orders, with no reasonable explanation as to why.

"It's a beautiful day for traveling," I remarked to my companion elleth, once we finally started moving. "How long do you think it will take to reach the edge of Lorien?"

"Lady Mary, did you not receive an itinerary for the royal tour?"

"Oh, never mind, I will just be surprised, it's more fun that way," I answered, lamely. I did not want to admit that I had given mine to Legolas. Miriel might not care, but I did not even want the thought of it to drift into my mind. Luckily, something happened to turn the topic away from stray itineraries. I spotted bodies moving through the trees.

A small group of elves was moving single-file through the Golden Wood, but in the opposite direction to the way we were headed, and I caught a glimpse of them as the path they marched on drew near us. One of them waved at Anarion. After they had vanished into the trees, I called him over to my carriage to ask what was going on.

He told me that some of the Galadhrim were traveling to Eryn Lasgalen today, led by Legolas, to eventually take up residence there and help restore the former Greenwood to its prior state of green glory, the way it had been before the dark times.

"The Lady Galadriel will be accompanying Legolas across the Anduin, to the southernmost edge of the forest, where she has vowed to cleanse Amon Lanc of its foul tower, forever, even to the undoing of its very foundation."

"I wish I could see that," I told him. Soon those lucky Lorien elves would be in the caves, and in time for the fall weather, and Thranduil's glorious halls were warm and inviting. I envied them.

That made me think about the Lady's ring, even diminished as it was in power by the destruction of the One Ring, it still must pack a wallop if it could undo a magic tower foundation. Maybe the nice weather of Lorien would spread over the rest of the shared realm now? What was it going to be like when we got back home?

At lunch, I sat in the shade of a grove of fir trees, beside the silent King, who rose to confer with his worried looking seneschal, after eating only a few bites of his food, leaving me by myself. Haldir came and sat beside me.

"How are you faring?" he asked, and he seemed concerned, like he really cared.

"Oh, wonderfully," I answered, truthfully. "I am having a wonderful time, just lovely, really."

"Lady Mal is not doing as well," Haldir said. I glanced over to where she was sitting, and she did seem a little weary as she picked daintily at her food. "The bumpy road," he explained.

"What if I told you," I said, "that I lied about feeling wonderful, because I didn't want to worry you. What if I told you that I was terribly ill, too? What would you say?"

"I would say that your second and third helpings from the lunch table told a different tale."

"Of course you would say that," I said.

Like a vulture, Thaladir was hovering over Mal. Her health must have been the reason for the emergency conference with the king, who I could not see anymore; he had disappeared. Haldir laid a finger on my arm to get my attention.

"And what would you say," he asked, "if I were to inquire of you, now that you have visited all three of the major elven realms, your opinion about which was the most pleasing, the most comfortable, the most accommodating, of the three?"

"Gosh, Haldir, when you put it like that, I guess I have to really stop and think about it..." He smiled at me and then I said, "Mirkwood."

His face did not fall, but his smile did not look as happy.

"You prefer the dripping gloom of those caves to our balmy woodland? Or the gardens of Rivendell?"

"Yep, I like my room back home." I stood up as I answered, and scanned around us, certain that I would see Thranduil emerge from behind a nearby fir tree. "My bed in the caves never moved around in the wind."

"And yet," I heard the king say, before I saw him, "you asked that I suspend your bed from your ceiling, with ropes."

"Yes, Majesty," I told him. He had emerged, silently, from the green shadows, to stand beside me. "Because that way it would only move when I wanted it to."

"Should you not be riding ahead of us, March Warden?" Thranduil had not otherwise acknowledged Haldir, up until that comment, and even then they did not actually face each other. "The road ahead of us may be less furrowed and more even in form, but that does not guarantee that the way forward is safer in fact."

With a polite bow, and a kiss on my offered hand, Haldir wished me to have a good afternoon, then he nodded to Thranduil, not in the least intimidated, and in no great hurry, before turning away to take up his post as advance scout. I tugged on the king's sleeve.

"Are you going to hang my bed from the ceiling, when we get back home?"

"We have only just entered the very edge of the land of men," he answered, but he was smiling. "We have yet to lay our eyes on the river Limlight, or hear the voices of the oldest of the old in Fangorn. There are many leagues and many meetings ahead of us before we see our beds again, let alone readjust them."

"Very well," I said, "I will take that as a yes."

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

Status of daily schedule: Accomplished

Remarks: Farewell ceremony of insufficient length and complexity. Departure successfully effected, despite minor initial disturbances caused by continuous difficulties in connection with Lady Mary's dressing habits, which, of late, have become a most curious affair that I shall have to investigate further. Immediate inconvenience eliminated by Lady Galadriel's provision of suitable attire. Lady Malinorne's health has, unexpectedly, become a matter of concern, hopefully to be remedied by a restful night. Long live Eryn Lasgalen!

To be continued...

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Chapter posted: November 6, 2006

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