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Far Beyond Mirkwood, Chapter 20/?

Authors: Mary A and Malinornë
Pairings: Mainly Thranduil/OFCs
Warnings: Adult sexual situations and language, some nudity, and a little violence.
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 wants to go sightseeing and Mal learns that her fame has earned her an unusual reward, or two.

~ Mary ~

After Anborn released me, and noticed the audience we had in the common room of the Underharrow inn, he pulled me around him, so that I was hidden from the crowd by his girth, and told me that he had come to take me back to Edoras, at King Eomer's request. That was a surprise.

Before I could recover myself enough to ask him if Thranduil had cared at all that I had been kidnapped, Anborn turned back to the table and told Elladan and Elrohir that the Elvenking had sent some treasure along, to pay for their misdeeds, in order to free them from their eventual imprisonment. He reached into his tunic and pulled out a small pouch. I was stunned. My king cared more about the twins than me.

"We did not ask to be set free," Elladan hissed in a taut whisper, after springing to his feet and standing close enough to the ranger to be heard.

"There is mischief brewing in this village," added Elrohir.

"I only know what I was ordered to do," said Anborn. He knew the twins well; they had often ridden together, during their return trip to Gondor, after Mordor had been overthrown. They all began to argue in whispers, until I tugged at the ranger's sleeve.

"But did Thranduil say anything at all about me being here?" I asked. From the look in the ranger's dark eyes, I could tell that he wanted very much to say something to please me, but could not. "Did you even talk to him today?" I added.

"Oh yes, I did talk to King Thranduil, or, rather, he spoke to me," Anborn answered. I felt my heart skip a little until he continued. "His Majesty advised me to keep my eyes and ears open, and my wits sharp."

"Nothing about me?" Even as I was asking, Anborn's expression was one of despair, over not being able to give me the answer he knew I wanted to hear. From somewhere behind me, the town master, who was also the inn's owner and the blacksmith, was speaking.

"Here now," he said, his voice gruff with greed. "What's this about treasure, then?" My rescuing ranger hefted the small pouch he was holding, and tossed it to the grimy man.

"That should cover all the expenses," Anborn said over his shoulder, as he drew me in the direction of the inn's front door. I was not ready to leave yet, however, and I tugged at him to stop, while I tried to watch the town master, whose eyes had grown two sizes wider after he opened the pouch and peered into it. He made a noise, like a strangled groan. Sweat-beads popped out on his dirty forehead.

The entire crowd was silent now, watching him. A great collective wheezing gasp rang out as the sweaty man tipped the pouch over and spilled three glittering gemstones onto his large, filthy palm.

"For goodness sakes!" I cried out. The bartering that Lord Thaladir had done with the previous Rohan innkeeper, over just one gemstone, came to my mind. "There is enough wealth contained in those jewels to buy this entire inn and the blacksmith shop, together."

"So what if there is, missy?" Delighted with his new found treasure, the town master turned around and practically guffawed in my face, and the assembled menfolk laughed along with him. When the laughter died down, he roared at me, "Do you think I need to send back some change?" The crowd laughed harder.

"Of course not," I said, smiling. "I think that there is enough wealth there to cover one more night's stay at this inn, spent here by me and my friend here, with dinner included."

"Oh you do? Is that what you think, me dear?" The town-master, who was probably simultaneously mentally fingering and counting the piles of coins he would fetch by selling the gemstones, was puffed up with self-importance, and not likely to bestow any generosity on a woman that he believed was of low morals. He did not have to say how he felt about me, it was in his leering glances.

"Or," I said slowly and carefully, "I could return to the Golden Hall tonight and tell King Eomer all about the nasty little business the menfolk of Underharrow are engaged in lately, selling women from the south into slavery and making them do all sorts of unseemly and disgraceful acts for dwarves."

That was the closest I could come to describing what the twins, and Lily, had told me. It was almost enough. The town master turned gray, an interesting ashy shade, and his mouth opened to speak, but nothing came out. So I continued.

"And he will believe me," I said. "Especially when I tell him that Edric tricked me into coming here by telling me lies." I turned to Anborn. "He said you were injured and that Thranduil had asked him to take your place as my personal body guard, or I never would have gone anywhere with him."

Luckily, Edric was not there to point out how I had called him a liar, immediately after he told me that.

"That knave! I was not injured," growled Anborn, his face growing red, a nice contrast to the town master's gray. "If I had but known..." The enraged ranger bit off his words, took me by the shoulders to set me behind him, and then stalked slowly over to face the town master, who seemed to shrink.

"Now, now, young man..." the greedy man said, he had backed away from the glowering Anborn, and now he bowed and scraped a little. "Perhaps a nice dinner sent up to our finest room for you and the pretty lady here would help to restore your good opinion of our little village."

"Can I have a hot bath?" I asked. If Thranduil had not sent me any type of message, then I was going to assume that he did not care when, or if, I returned.

"Send up a jug of wine, too" said Anborn. He was smiling now, and so was the town master, who clapped his hands loudly, shouted out orders for hot water and food, and had us escorted upstairs.

~ Mal ~

That morning I had a private audience with Eomer King. Perhaps it wasn't that private, after all, considering how it took place in the main hall, where the usual number of servants, guards and visitors lingered, going about their business or just talking over a tankard of honey mead. But, Eomer was seated on his throne at the far end of the room, and I sat on a pile of sheepskins on the low platform leading up to it. The awkwardness of being at his feet and having to look up soon disappeared, and altogether the arrangement felt more intimate than official. It was an excellent occasion for a conversation heart-to-heart.

"My lady," said Eomer carefully as he put his hand on my shoulder, "I have spent this night in a manner much different from my usual habits."

"No ale?" I dared a joke.

"Hmm... maybe not that different, then." He stroked the stubble on his chin. "I do not see why a man should go thirsty when there's no lack of drink. But, this night I have burnt two whole candles while studying a scroll. I believe you know of what I speak." I nodded.

"Yes, Sire." I braced myself for what would come, be it a raunchy comment or a wish for even more lecherous detail.

"Very well." His cheeks had taken on a light pink tone as we spoke and I could tell that he was relieved not to have to explain further that he was referring to Thaladir's meticulous notes from my recent adventure with the dwarves. He took a deep breath. "No matter the unusual circumstances, the deed done is worthy of a song!" This last he said somewhat loud, causing a number of the people in the hall to turn their heads in our direction.

"I would of course be honoured," I lied, "but it was nothing worth mentioning." I'd rather die than being made a spectacle of that way. I still remembered the awful squirrel-girl song.

"On the contrary, it required manly courage, and, I hear, a certain amount of skill." I mumbled a vague protest. "In fact," continued Eomer, "my minstrel is already composing the song."

"No!" I cried out, again drawing the attention of the others in the hall. "I'm sorry, Sire," I apologized for my reaction. "I meant to say that I would be very embarrassed to hear such a song. Please don't do it. Please. The topic isn't very fitting for a king's hall, if I may say so. Please." He laughed, running his hand over my hair in a tender gesture I supposed was meant to be innocent, just reassuring. I could hardly blame Mary for wanting to seduce him.

"Worry not, my lady. Your name will not be mentioned in the Lay of the Dwarrow-bride. It will be a heroic song, sung in the worthy manner of old."

"Really?" The title didn't sound too promising, or too close to the truth. "So," I continued, "it won't be like that awful one about the lonely farmer and his mare?" Eomer coughed and looked somewhat guilty.

"A king cannot control every tongue in his realm. The people need some relief, you see, and sometimes in the form of a song meant only for companionship on long, dark nights. None will think ill of the deed itself."

I have long ago learnt that arguing with a king is an exercise in futility, so I pretended to be content with that. On the inside, I was fuming. I made a silent vow to put every effort into coaxing Thranduil to leave Edoras before any song, heroic or bawdy, would be finished. Considering all the time he had spent together with the ruler of Rohan, his errand, whatever it was, must be concluded by now. Eomer seemed to have read my thoughts.

"Regrettably," he said. "Thranduil has informed me of his plans to travel hence in only a short time, shorter than what the proper composition of heroic poetry requires."

"Oh." I tried to appear slightly disappointed, but on the inside I shouted with joy. And to my further happiness, a new and familiar face became visible in the hall as the main gates opened. Eomer saw him, too.

"Haldir!" the man called as the elf approached us. "Am I not right that you are leaving too soon? You didn't even get to see how my fortress is being restored to its former state of glory."

"My lord," said the elf with a smirk, "you do forget that I have had plenty of opportunity in the past to see the Hornburg, even as it was being built for the first time."

"Oh yes." The king knocked his head with his knuckle. "With that face of a beardless youth I just cannot seem to understand that you ought to have been a withered old man already when Eorl led our people to these green pastures. I would still have liked to show it to you, knowing that warfare is your trade."

"Protection is my trade," protested Haldir respectfully. "Nothing good comes out of a war, neither for elf nor man. In that, at least, our races are the same."

"Right you are," said Eomer, "although it takes a man of more than my years to fully comprehend it. But," he continued, now addressing me, "your elf-friend speaks true. The fortress will be as it was already next year, but my people will take long to recover. Too many perished in the war - we have no bachelors."

"Really?" I thought he exaggerated; surely there must have been many too young to ride out who were counted as fully grown only now. "I saw plenty of men in your guard, and the party that followed us wasn't small either," I added.

"They are all there is. And nearly all are married men. We face a decade of old spinsters, a whole generation of maidens doomed to grow old without children."

"But surely your men could... for the survival of the kingdom, I mean?"

"We men of Rohan are faithful to our wives. I am afraid I am nearly the only bachelor left of eligible age," he added with some embarrassment. "Even with plenty of offers I could not possibly father the next generation; inbreeding is good neither for horse nor man."

"And elves are not faithful?" I meant it half as a joke, but Haldir had lifted a critical eyebrow at Eomer's proud talk of faithfulness.

"My apologies if I have offended," the Rohan king said, nodding at both of us, "but seeing as Thranduil has two..."

It's funny that Haldir would be the one to explain how an elfking whose wife is supposedly still alive could have an official relationship with not only one, but two others, without counting as morally depraved. Or, I should say, at least not for that reason. As a contrast, Haldir isn't married, and yet has to be coaxed into even the loosest arrangement.

But perhaps I should advise Eomer to invite Elladan and Elrohir? They were old friends from the war and wouldn't mind at all to tend to all maidens who wanted their company. There was, of course, the problem of genetic diversity... a major flaw of my idea. But, while I thought, Eomer had formed an idea of his own, which he now shared with Haldir.

"I am considering sending a delegation of maidens to Lorien. They would not be shot, would they? For intruding into the Golden Wood?"

"It is true," answered Haldir with a serious face, "that we have occasionally led men astray, leaving them to wake up in some other place unawares of their whereabouts, but only those who threatened our people. Only yrch and their likes need fear the arrows of the Galadhrim. Women with a peaceful errand would be welcomed."

"Your majesty," said I, "knowing that the relations between the Rohirrim and the elves of Lorien have been, well, full of suspicion, would it not bother you that part of your people would have elven blood?"

"With the knowledge I now have I would consider it a strength. And seeing how the father of my bride-to-be reputedly has elves among his ancestors, I could hardly disapprove of such bloodlines." He slapped Haldir's shoulder in a manly manner that made the elf lift an eyebrow again.

"No elf would sire a child that irresponsibly," he said carefully, "not intending to be its father while it grows to adulthood."

"Hm. A most honourable intention. But, in that case it seems we are in need of immigrants."

"Maybe you could do with emigrants?" I couldn't imagine that any elf would willingly agree to spend fifteen years or more in Edoras.

"What do you mean, my lady?"

"Provided there are elves who agree, maybe the young women could stay in Lorien until their children are grown, and then return to Rohan, if they like?" Haldir nodded his approval, and Eomer, too.

"That was a wise proposal," the Rohan king said thoughtfully, "and one I will discuss with Thranduil already tonight. But now, my guests, our mid-day meal is waiting. A wealth of words makes a thirsty throat, as the saying goes."

~ Mary ~

"We are not going to the Paths of the Dead, my dearest," said Anborn, patiently. He held the tips of his fingers on his temples, as if that would help. "I have already told you that King Eomer requested I return with both you and his carriage as fast as possible. How I ever let you talk me into staying overnight is a mystery to me."

"You enjoyed it," I answered, not feeling sorry for him at all. His tell-tale signs of a classic hangover were obvious to me. The inn's owner, the suddenly servile town master, had sent several jugs of his finest vintage to our room during the night. They were meant, I supposed, to help us both soften our views on his establishment, when we finally returned to King Eomer's court and gave our reports. "And," I continued, " you promised me last night that you would take me sight-seeing today."

"So you say," he grumbled, clearly not willing to exert himself, or his aching head, to remember. "Although I have no recollection of such a promise."

"Well," I purred, "you did seem distracted at the time..."

We had been arguing about it ceaselessly, ever since we had been awoken by one of the inn's serving maids, who had come to ask us if we were planning on staying over for another night. It was well past noon.

She had come with an armful of fresh linens, to make over our room, and stood in the open doorway with eyes as wide as saucers, after Anborn had answered her hesitant knock. The fact that he stood there dressed only in his dark skin-tight green breeches, but was otherwise unclothed, had much to do with her witless gaping stare. He did have a nicely shaped chest, with wide slabs of lean muscle lightly furred with dark, crisp curls.

"W-w-will you be coming down for the m-m-mid-day meal, my lord?" she stammered out, after Anborn stood frowning at her for several silent seconds. "Or," she added, after looking past him and at me, still in bed, "I could bring a tray to your..."

"Yes!" I called out, from where I was peeking out from behind the bed's curtains, before she could finish. "That would be..."

"We are leaving now," Anborn interrupted both of us to say. I pulled the curtain beside me completely aside, and glared at him.

"I won't leave this bed on an empty stomach." There. The first gauntlet was thrown down. With my arms crossed over my chest, and my chin high, I dared him, without saying a word, to pull me from the covers and carry me out of the inn. Naked.

After we finished our tray of food, I announced that I wanted to visit Dunharrow, because I was sure the view from that high up in the mountains would be spectacular, and then we should go to see the Paths of the Dead, at least the famous entrance to them, before we returned to Edoras. That was the second gauntlet.

During our night's play in the inn's cozy, curtained bed, I had Anborn at my mercy during one crucial point, and made him promise me that he would take me on the tour I had been promised, by Edric. It was not my fault that he would have some trouble remembering his gasping vow to do whatever I asked of him, no matter what, if I would only just... well, keep doing what I was doing at the time.

When Anborn refused to honor his promise to me, during the clear light of day, and while he was no longer under the influence of the heady wine we had drank, I offered to refresh his memory, if he would remove his pants. I closed the bed curtain again. By the time I was finished re-enacting the previous night's activities, he had made me several more promises.

There was still one big problem I was having, and until it was solved, I was not going to leave the inn. While Anborn dressed, I retrieved my skirt and blouse from the floor, where I had tossed them, and then nearly burst into tears at the thought of wearing them for one more day, or even one more minute.

"This ridiculous costume is making me want to scream," I announced. "The blouse is filthy, and the skirt is stained. I refuse to put it on."

With a shake of his handsome head, Anborn sighed. After stepping across the room, he pulled his cloak from a hook on the wall and approached me with it. He did not have the reflexes of an elf, however, and I was able to side-step his intentions, and dart around to the other side of the bed, before he could wrap me up in it.

"What would you have me do, my lady?" He fought hard to keep the exasperation he felt under control, but it leaked out a little bit. "Should I allow you to roam over the plains of Rohan in your bare skin? His Majesty would hardly be pleased with me."

"Do you remember that little maid, who brought our tray?" I asked, and he nodded warily. "Well," I said, "She isn't very short, but she was slender. I bet she has something that would fit me, did you bring any of your own money with you?" Instead of answering me, Anborn stood and stared at me, as if I had just turned purple and grew a pair of horns. He covered his face with his hands and then dragged them down far enough to eye me again.

At last, he removed his hands from his face, and spoke. Very slowly. Through clenched teeth. "You want me to go buy you a dress from the serving-wench?"

"Do you want me to leave this inn today?"

In the end, we compromised. Anborn was willing to go find the girl, and bring her back to our room, but he was not going to involve himself in anything as feminine as discussing buying the dress off of her back. He left us alone, and stood outside the door while we bargained.

To my surprise, the maid was willing to trade me her practical dun-colored gown for the clownish outfit that I had been forced to wear. It turned out that most of the menfolk in Underharrow had mentioned the way I had been dressed, and they had not made any unflattering comments. She could not wait to try it on, dirty or not. I think, if I had tried, she would have even paid me for the privilege of wearing it.

Most, if not all, of my reluctance to leave the inn had nothing to do with an empty stomach, a lack of clean clothes, or a sudden desire to see the view from the mountain tops. The truth was I was still upset about Thranduil not having mentioned me to Anborn.

If my king had the time and inclination to tell the ranger to 'keep his wits about him', then he could have at least added something about me. It had made me so disturbed that my performance beneath the sheets, which had left Anborn too exhausted to remember his promise, had been inspired by the inclination to shake every last little bit of wit out of the mortal man's head.

The realization that I had done just that, and the wonderful argument my behavior had spawned, did not mollify my injured feelings. There was no possible way to avenge myself by dallying with Anborn, no matter what outrageous promises I made the agreeable ranger give to me to delay our return, because Thranduil was wise to every single one of my tricks. If anything, he would be amused, if he was paying attention at all.

Nothing was going to make me happy, but at least I could be in control there, in the inn. Within the confines of Anborn's and my room, I could fancy myself the Queen of Underharrow, at least. But I was not fit to be seen in any court in Middle-earth, dressed like I was, as a serving-wench.

The dress I had traded for was not a bad fit, but it was not at all flattering. Even though the gown had barely reached the inn-servant's ankles, on me the hem puddled around my feet. The maid found a pretty yellow sash to make a crude belt around my middle, to cinch in the loose fabric, in an effort to keep the skirt from dragging on the floor. The sleeves were too long, and the neckline was too high, but at least it was clean.

Anborn was so delighted to see me come out of the room that he valiantly tried to make a few weak compliments about how nice I looked in the ugly dress. As gently as he could manage, he put his hand on the small of my back and urged me toward the stairs. We made it down them, and as far as the inn's common room, when we were stopped in our tracks by the sight of Elladan and Elrohir. They were sitting at a table, staring up toward the second floor, frowning. Anborn seemed particularly perturbed to see them and strode over for a confrontation.

"Were you two not supposed to travel ahead of us to the Golden Hall?" he asked, leaning on the table with his arms extended straight out, after we drew close enough to the twins not to be overheard by the other customers. "Do neither of you recall how you were to deliver a message from me to the two kings that Lady Mary is safe?" His eyes were blazing now; this day had not gone the way he had planned it. Poor mortal.

"Edric is here." Elladan calmly said to the ranger.

"We saw him go upstairs last night, with Lily," added Elrohir.

"Did he pay for a room?" The town master, who came bustling over to us while we stood there, asked this, directing his question at no one in particular. Today he appeared to have bathed before coming into the inn. He was better looking without the soot and grime coating he usually wore, from his blacksmithing business. Almost handsome, by mortal standards anyway. The fact that he was more concerned with his pockets than he was about harboring a criminal made him very unattractive.

"Don't you care at all that Edric kidnapped me and tried to sell me to your innkeepers?" I asked him. For a moment, it seemed as if he did not remember who I was, as he almost jumped back in surprise when I spoke to him. Now that I was decently covered, he actually noticed that I had a face.

"With all respect, my lady, how can I blame an Eorling for taking some initiative and indulging in a bit of private commerce on the side?" The town master shook his head at my question and left us to visit with some other customers, after sending one of the innkeepers, who were keeping their distance from the elven twins, up the stairs to fetch Edric and Lily.

"Are you going to let that man talk to me like that?" I asked Anborn.

"Lady Mary," the ranger said, with some reluctance, "the practice of selling contracts for women who provide such services as you are wont to give away freely, is a common tradition in Gondor, and is only now becoming acceptable in Rohan."

"But I was kidnapped," I pointed out. "Is that common?"

"Unguarded women are considered a natural quarry in most mortal realms, darling," said Elladan, surprising me by seeming to agree with what Anborn was saying. "You have spent most of your time with the elves of Mirkwood and Lorien."

"And Rivendell," I added, smiling at Anborn. I had met him there, in the Great Hall of Fire of the Last Homely House.

"And no self-respecting elf would ever buy, steal, or borrow an unprotected woman," Elrohir concluded.

"Which is why you need me," said Anborn. If he had anything further to say about me, or kidnapping women to sell them, I will never know. Edric had come down the stairs, alone, and, from the way he hurried, it seemed as if he was trying to get out of the inn before he was seen. Not very likely with two elves, a ranger, and a greedy inn owner, all lying in wait for him.

The first to reach Edric's side, and spin him around to face the room, was Anborn.

"That was for lying to Lady Mary," said the ranger, at last able to take out some of his impatience on someone his own size. He was standing over the suddenly prone, and massively befuddled, Edric, who had landed on his back after his chin got in the way of the ranger's firmly-placed fist.

There were some angry shouts from the other men in the common room, but no one tried to interfere. The twins came over to stand at Anborn's back. I clung to Elrohir's arm and hoped that no one else would get hurt. Like me.

"Get on your feet, Captain," Anborn said with a sneer, as he lifted the dazed Edric to a standing position. Again his large fist connected with the horseman's body, this time it was his mid-section, and the poor man bent over, breathless. He was quickly straightened up again, with a fist to the nose, which promptly began to bleed.

"That's enough," I said to the twins. As far as I was concerned, a broken nose on Edric's formerly comely face was adequate compensation for the distress he had put me through. "Please make Anborn stop hitting him now," I asked Elladan, as I stepped around the ranger and the horseman. I was still clinging to Elrohir's arm. "At this rate, I won't get up to see the Paths of the Dead before sunset."

~ Mal ~

I spent the afternoon with Ithilwen and Miriel, who were eager to take a last look at the market-place, despite my assurance that they would find nothing there worth taking home. To tell the truth, I had hoped to avoid the busy street, where a certain rat-faced merchant would now be selling his dwarven-made merchandise openly.

We ended up strolling through only the first part of the main street, turning back before reaching the merchant's stand, as Anarion came to fetch us for a ride among the hills behind Edoras. The landscape was fetching with its brooks and waterfalls, as well as the striking contrast between the green grass on the lower hills and the snow-capped mountains in the distance. I couldn't even be jealous of Mary, who, according to what Thranduil said during lunch, was enjoying a sight-seeing tour with Edric and Anborn. He refused to say anything more specific, but I could tell from his smug grin that there was more to it than that.

She had still not returned by the time the elves refer to as starry twilight, which was also when dinner was served in Meduseld, and as I ate I began to hope that her absence would mean a second night with our king for me. She could hardly begrudge me that; after all, she had not only one, but two handsome men at her beck and call.

"Your altruistic eagerness to serve becomes a royal concubine," whispered the Elvenking in my ear. I had not meant for him to see that particular thought. My surprise made him chuckle. "And," he continued, "it has inspired me to be likewise unselfish. Tonight, you will carry on with the arrangement involving my seneschal."

My initial disappointment passed quickly and it was with a feeling of excitement I knocked on Thaladir's door later that night. I had prepared carefully, soaking in the bathtub for what felt like hours after dinner, and put on a simple floor-length tunic of a nondescript colour that I knew would met the seneschal's approval and taste for modesty. The silky undergarments I had chosen were more befitting a rendezvous with our king, but I decided that by the time he would see them, he would be beyond caring.

Thaladir opened the door promptly, but appeared more surprised than happy to see me. I gave him my best curtsey and a most demure 'Your Excellency' uttered with fluttering eyelashes and just the hint of a smile.

"Yes, my lady?"

"I have come, as instructed." He continued to look at me with his usual calm expression. Apparently, the first wave of surprise had passed, but he made no move to open the door further and let me in.

"As instructed? Ah, His Majesty has sent you to fetch me, despite the late hour?"

"No." I giggled. "His Majesty has sent me to stay with you, here."

"Is that indeed so?" I nodded, which made him finally stand back so that I could pass him and get into the room.

It was small, a copy of the quarters Mary and I occupied, only even more sparsely decorated. There were a few empty hooks and nails on the wall, as if the seneschal had preferred to remove whatever had been hanging there so that the room would fit his Spartan taste better. He appeared to have been reading at the minuscule desk, so I strode straight up to the bed, not wanting to occupy the only chair. Thaladir remained standing at the door, not closing it until I had gestured for him to do so.

"I'm sorry if I interrupted your studies," I told him, seeing that he was far from the amorous state in which I had hoped to find him. "Please continue, I promise not to disturb and I don't feel sleepy at all yet."

He gave me a strange glance, which I interpreted as disbelief, but sat down at the desk and took the scroll between his hands. His shoulders looked very stiff at first, as if he was not at all comfortable. My whispered offer to rub them for him seemed to make it worse. I sat still, keeping quiet and just studying him. That seemed to help, or at least he looked more relaxed when I had made no sign of my existence for perhaps half an hour. He must have very important work to do, or it had been a mistake to come here, despite the obvious pleasure he had from spending the night with me just recently. But maybe I could help him get into the mood?

I stood and began to fold down the bed cover, very slowly and carefully in case he was watching. Then I sat down again and pulled the tunic over my head, catching a glimpse of the seneschal abruptly turning away just as I finished. I folded the garment neatly and put it on the windowsill, for lack of better places. Thaladir appeared deeply absorbed in his reading, but now I knew that it wasn't so. There was a half-opened bottle of wine in the window, and a cup beside it. This I filled and carried to him, offering it on outstretched palms as I knelt beside the chair.

"Your Excellency," I said, and then repeated it a couple of times when he didn't react. Hearing his title being said in a respectful manner has always been a weakness with him. As I kept my eyes modestly downcast I did not see his reaction, but he took the cup and I heard him take a big gulp, swallowing audibly in a most un-elfy manner. Then he cleared his throat.

"My lady, although your current manners are most pleasing, my humble person requires them not, more befitting for approaching His Majesty as they are." I stood and placed a small kiss on his head; I just couldn't help it, it was so typical for him to say something like that.

"As you wish, Excellency," I replied in a less subservient voice. "Would you like some more wine?"

"If you would be so kind."

This time, I fetched the bottle so that I could stand right next to him and pour. That meant it would be harder for him not to look at me, and it felt nice the way his sleeve brushed against my belly when he took the cup.

"Thank you, my lady," he said when he was finished. "It was most kind of you to offer your service, but now I believe it is time for you to leave."

"I can't," I told him, which of course wasn't entirely true. "I have not yet fulfilled my duties." Before he could ask, I took the few steps to the bed and slid between the sheets. "His Majesty instructed me to warm your bed," I explained with a seductive voice.

"In that case, my lady, you may proceed with your current activities for the short while estimated to be required for the fulfilment of said task, I do, however, assure you that the temperature of this room was adequate from the beginning."

"Come lie with me." Now he was just being silly. I knew that he wanted me. "It's His Majesty's wish," I continued, "unless you're truly not interested." That last part sounded whiny, but I was losing my patience with the obstinate elf.

"My personal desires..." he began.

"... are of no consequence." I finished the sentence for him. "I know you, remember? And I happen to like you very much. I desire you, Thaladir. Please come." I lifted the sheet and patted the space beside me.

"My lady, those undergarments are most unseemly," he said as he sat on the edge of the bed. "Not only do they provide insufficient coverage in this area," - his hand glided over my taut nipples, "but, furthermore, they are so thin that what lies beneath is revealed to the eye, here." He moved his fingers to the mound beneath my belly and stroked me there repeatedly. "And," he added, "the unseemliness of said material is confirmed by how it invites most disrespectful touching."

"Oh, yes," I replied, lifting my hips. "More, please." He complied, for a while, but then he suddenly jumped up from the bed. I saw him wiping his fingers on his robe as he returned to the desk with stiff, agitated motions.

"I cannot forego my duties," was the explanation he offered when I asked him what was wrong. He refused to look at me again, even when I pleasured myself. I hope he suffered as much as I did before I finally fell asleep, feeling very lonely despite the small physical distance between us.

~ Mary ~

The breathtaking view from Dunharrow was exactly as I expected it to be, and even Anborn had to agree it was worth the trouble to make the twisting, winding, bouncing trip by carriage up into the mountains. As we stood there, looking down at the plains, I wondered if Thranduil had even noticed my absence. I could not feel him in my head.

From a large plateau on top of a high peak, we could see all of the merchants, traders, and other travelers, coming up, and going down, on the road that led to the former Paths of the Dead, which had been renamed the Dunharrow Pass, a name that I found extremely boring in comparison.

There were carts, wagons, loaded horses and ponies, and men on foot with large baskets strapped to their backs. Every once in a while, a group of horsemen would gallop by, raising dust and making the pack animals nervous. It had taken hours to travel up into the mountains, due to all the traffic in our way. When we exited the carriage, I felt gritty and sore from being shaken by the bumpy ride. A hot bath and soft bed would be nice, but both of those luxuries were leagues away.

The sun was just setting, the sky was purple and gold, and it would be too dark to travel in an hour or two, but I was not in any hurry to leave Dunharrow and travel back down the twisting mountain path. I pretended to be interested in the historical sights and barely noticed anything while I pictured my king taking a bath with Lady Eowyn. If Eomer had a grand bathing chamber, then I imagined the White Lady had one even more fancy.

She probably had a nicer bed, too.

The famous Rohirrim mustering area was now set up as a tourist location, with statues of horses and plaques that told the story of the last days of Theodon and his valiant riders. There was even a small tribute to Eowyn, who had ridden to Gondor with them, in disguise. An inn had been built for those who wished to spend the night, with a dining room open to the public, and I talked Anborn into taking me inside for supper.

"If they have a room available," I added, as we entered the newly constructed establishment, "then maybe we can spend the night here."

"Lady Mary!" Anborn sounded shocked at the suggestion. During the carriage ride up the mountain, he had repeated, several times, his vow to return me to Edoras before nightfall, or as soon as possible after the sun had set. Once we had reached our destination, which we had to make at a snail's pace, he was in despair, and I did not care. It was nearly full dark by the time I had read every plaque and admired every statue.

Withholding myself from Thranduil's bed, on purpose, was something that I had never considered before. It just had not been an option. Tonight, I was going to come the closest I could come to seeking revenge, by not being at my king's disposal. It was hard to convince myself that he would be the one to suffer.

"It won't hurt to ask," I murmured to the ranger. I approached the desk where a fat man, who I assumed must be the innkeeper, was sitting, smoking a pipe. He grinned at me and winked. Ignoring his cheeky manners, I asked if there were any vacant rooms available to rent. It had not even occurred to me that I had no money, and I forgot to find out if Anborn had brought any with him, but it turned out not to matter anyway. There were no spare beds to be had.

"We could sleep in the carriage," I said to Anborn, as he tried to coax me away from the front desk and into the dining room. He paled at my suggestion.

"Hold there," said the innkeeper, he had stood up and was chuckling like a mad fool. "Do ye be Lady Mary? Visiting from Eomer King's court?"

At first, I thought the fat little man must be flirting with me, or something like it, because of the way he grinned like an idiot and could not stop shaking from mirth. He came to stand in front of Anborn and me, and sucked at his pipe while he waited for me to answer him.

"I might be her," I said, suddenly glad that I had Anborn to protect me. "What if I am?" I wondered, for a panicky moment, if this man was in league with Edric and the slavery market.

"There be a room already purchased for ye," he removed his pipe from his mouth and used it to point up a flight of stairs on the other side of the room, and then he winked at me again, "that is, if ye are Lady Mary."

"How can that be?" I demanded. "No one knew I was coming... here..." I stopped, and then I looked at Anborn. He shrugged. I could see that he was just as bewildered as I was. My heart began to flutter, but I was not going to get my hopes up too high, yet. It could be a mistake, there could be more than one Lady Mary in Middle-earth. "Which room?"

"Up those stairs, at the end of the hall, to your right," said the jolly innkeeper, although he had stopped chuckling by then. "And your escort is to stay here, with me."

Before Anborn could protest, or stop me, I was running toward the stairs. My borrowed gown wrapped around my legs and nearly tripped me, but I managed to keep my balance. I gathered the skirt up to my knees and took the steps two at a time. Vaguely, I heard laughter and cheers from the other customers in the inn's common room, but I did not consider the spectacle I was making, and thought there must be a court jester entertaining them downstairs.

When I reached the room, my heart was racing, and I was breathless. There might be someone inside, waiting for me. Somehow, I knew that there was. It could be another kidnapper or...? Behind me, I could hear Anborn's heavy boots clomping up the stairs. Without another thought about it, I knocked on the door, it was flung open, and I was grabbed inside.

"You are late," said Thranduil. "Our bath water is starting to grow cold."

"I took the stairs two at a time," I said, before he kissed me.

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

Status of daily schedule: Accomplished?

Remarks: Matters of state accomplished successfully, His Majesty's visit to the realm of the Rohirrim therefore soon to be concluded, much to my relief, since I of late find it much difficult to control certain urges, and even more so as His Majesty this night has seen fit to send one of his temptresses to my chamber with the purpose of testing my faithfulness to him. Yet, through the haze of my libidinous thoughts I do realize that I have failed His Majesty most grievously by desiring that, which belongs to him, and I humbly recognize his right to punish me, even in this cruel manner. Long live Eryn Lasgalen!

To be continued...

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Chapter posted: December 5, 2007

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