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Far Beyond Mirkwood, Chapter 34

Authors: Mary A and Malinornë
Pairings: Mainly Thranduil/OFCs
Warnings: Adult sexual content!
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: Mal continues her quest for knowledge about the task Thranduil has given her, while Mary tries to dispose of a suddenly unwanted garment. They both have interesting encounters with noble elves.

~ Mal ~

On leaving the library, Thaladir escorted me to my rooms and shortly thereafter took me to a small dining area provided for guests. It was located just across the Citadel court, overlooking the tree and fountain. Mary, with Elladan and Elrohir in tow, caught up with us on the way and Thaladir left as soon as he had made sure everything was set for us.

It was good to see Mary over lunch and realize that my fears of her having the same task as me were unnecessary. I didn’t get the chance to ask her directly until later, but she was never one to keep her mouth shut about anything at all, let alone something that might add to her perceived importance. She babbled on quite happily about Feredir’s cloak and how some villain had come to steal it, and about the heroic fight and rescue that had followed.

The one thing that threw her off for a moment was the mention of my brief meeting with Gildor Inglorion. She seemed jealous about it, which was only fair. It was still a mystery to me how she had become such good friends with the strange, rather dangerous-looking Feredir.

Elladan and Elrohir were as enchanted by Mary as always, eagerly waiting at her every whim, slipping morsels into her mouth and calling her 'darling'. Nevertheless, being perfect gentlemen, they also expressed some interest in my quest for knowledge. They made a good show of pretending not to have heard about Thranduil’s mystifying plans concerning me, but then Elrohir winked and ruined it all.

“So you knew?” I hissed to them while Mary was occupied pointing out the apparently magical qualities of her precious cloak. “And decided to take the chance to sleep with me before your foster-brother got the chance?”

“Hush,” said Elladan, casting me a look from under his dark lashes. He touched my arm lightly. “We would have seduced you anyway.” He said it casually, but there was no mistaking the gleam in his eye as he lifted his gaze. I got the distinct feeling he wouldn't mind repeating the experience, soon.

“The opportunity was too good to miss,” added Elrohir, beaming.

Both were wholly sincere and I didn’t have the heart to be angry with them. Any other day I would have felt sorely tempted to accept their wordless invitation, but I refused to be distracted from my self-imposed quest. I was still no closer to solving the Elvenking's mystery.

“Can you at least help me?” I said, looking at each of them as I clutched their hands.

“Of course!” They replied unanimously, their vigorous nods making me chuckle. Then Elrohir amended, "What with? If it’s library research, then Thranduil’s old grouch would be far better suited.” He made a lemony-sour face, an excellent imitation that made both Mary and his brother laugh.

If he only knew just how the mature elf had assisted me. I smirked.

“I browsed a section this morning which I have reason to believe you two may be acquainted with," I said a little coyly, "namely ‘The Erotic Arts’ section. I was wondering if could tell me if there’s something in there I might have missed."

“There are good stories there, aren't there?” Elrohir said to his brother, gesturing with excitement. “Remember the one about the entwife and the two woses? Or the illuminated ‘Satyricon’?” Elladan’s dreamy gaze told me he had excellent recall of those two exceptionally lascivious works. His hand slipped out of mine and began to wander beneath the table. I watched with fascination as it crept over the stone bench toward my thigh.

“Did you see those?” said Elrohir, making me look up. “No? Then you surely need to go back. With us.” His broad grin and twinkling eyes made me warm inside.

Reluctantly, I shook my head, trying not to encourage him too much with the smile I couldn't hide. Looking at naughty books together with the twins could only lead to one thing, and I was not going to partake in any more illicit activities in that particular public place. It was one thing if the head librarian thought Thaladir was my fiancé, but to come back with two new prospective lovers would be too embarrassing, even in the unlikely event nothing uncouth happened.

“Oh no!” I said a bit louder than I intended. "Thank you all the same." I resolutely removed Elladan's hand from my lap.

Regretfully, he snapped out of his blissful contemplations. “You will not find what you are looking for there,” he said. "Not in the history collection either. Father has copies of most of those books and we have read them all.”

“All?” It was hard to imagine the energetic twins spending more time reading than was absolutely necessary.

“All. Not only the accounts of war and mayhem, and not just those daring little notebooks Erestor keeps in his bottom drawer.” His eyes twinkled with mirth as he batted his lashes.

It surprised me, though I should have known better than to take the sons of Elrond for the rascals their outward appearance so often suggested. But this also meant there was no hope of finding the information I was looking for.

“Don’t lose heart, darling,” Elrohir said with a tender look and gently lifted my chin. “We know someone who can help you, if anyone can.”

I sat up straight. “Master Elrond? Is he here, too?”

They chuckled and shook their heads, dark locks flying. “No. But grandmother is. And grandfather. It is time someone made him live up to his second name.”

At that point, Mary broke into the conversation, stating that she wanted to go to the library. Astonished as I was to hear that she would set foot in one voluntarily, I eyed her suspiciously. She could only be after some time alone with the twins in a place that would upset Thaladir, should he find out about it. Then she surprised me again, by declaring that she wanted Elladan and Elrohir to take her there, and then leave. She would say no more about what she was up to, but we agreed that the twins would escort her, and then go with me to Galadriel and Celeborn.

I took a stroll around the courtyard to take in the surroundings, so different from anything I had seen with the elves. This was nature conquered; a mountain tamed and shaped into perfect building material. It was beautiful, but it also made me a little sad. I returned to my rooms to wait there, but instead of the twins, it was Mary who knocked on my door.

She dropped a heap of purloined scrolls and books in front of me without a shred of embarrassment and asked me to read them, to search for information about her cloak. Supposedly, cloaks like it had at some point been used in Gondor's army. I doubted it – the flimsy material looked far too delicate to be of any use in war – but I agreed to take on the task. After all, she had already taken the scrolls and I might as well do something useful while I waited for Elladan and Elrohir to appear.

One of the scrolls was in a spindly script I couldn't decipher, but the others were easy to read and fairly to the point. Whoever had helped her with the selection had done an excellent job. Now I just needed to find Mary quickly and return the scrolls to her before I could be accused of being her partner in crime.

Luckily, I met her at the doorstep – she had been on her way to see me.

"Here," I hissed, "take these back now. I've found out what you want to know."

"Then tell me," she said with a loving glance at the cloak as I deposited the stolen goods in her arms.

"As far as I can tell, there were never that many of these cloaks," I said. "Only two, or perhaps three, were ever in the possession of Gondor, and it's unclear what good they did. It's little more than a legend. Some accounts do call them magical, but there seems to be a scientific explanation as well, something to do with how it reacts to starlight. The material is called lhinglain."

"Leengleyn," she said, mangling the word horribly. "It even sounds worthy of a princess." She smiled contentedly.

"Wait," I told her and went to fetch the two thin volumes still on my table. "It says here," I continued, showing her the book, "that such cloaks were made by the wood-elves of Mirkwood for visiting high elves to wear, to hide their glow at night and conceal them while hunting spiders."

"Spiders?" Mary gave a shudder. Then her eyes became narrow and her lips parted in a bloodthirsty grin. "Feredir is a fierce spider-hunter, I'm sure!"

"Yes, and isn't it ironic how the spiders bring about their own demise by providing part of the means of their destruction."

She blanched. "What?"

"Lhinglain means 'spider thread'. Your cloak is made from cobwebs." I stated it calmly, bracing myself for her reaction. Mary's fear of spiders was well-known throughout the Elvenking's realm, except perhaps its deepest corners where Feredir had dwelt before he followed Legolas to Eryn Mithren.

She gave a blood-curdling scream, flung the scrolls on the floor and began to tear frantically at her cloak.

Then, alerted by the racket, Elladan and Elrohir came rushing in with drawn swords, two identical avenging angels who made me weak at the knees with their dashing bravery. That is, until they burst out laughing, sheathed their swords and began to carefully unfurl Mary from the garment she had managed to thoroughly swaddle herself in by now. I laughed helplessly, tears flowing while I picked up the scrolls.

Elladan gently ushered her into her rooms and I followed suit with the scrolls and books. Elrohir deposited the cloak with the literature on her table. And then something rare and almost unprecedented happened: the twins decided to split up – one would be my escort, while the other remained with Mary.

~ Mary ~

To add insult to the grievous injury of learning my beautiful magical cloak was actually a disgusting pile of creepy spider webs, Mal cruelly insisted that I return the scrolls and books I had stolen from the library. A snickering Elrohir offered to carry the books for me, but he decided that I had to deliver the scrolls, and apologize to the Librarian.

The offensive cloak, deposited on my table, sat there like a pile of malevolence, with the appearance of a lumpy legless spider, and seemed to stare at me. For several long moments I stared right back at it, wondering what to do with it. I could not bring myself to touch it, just looking at it made my skin crawl, and I had an overwhelming desire to bathe. The thought of undressing when the cloak was in my rooms made me shiver so hard that my teeth chattered.

Elrohir was not helpful. He was still chuckling to himself long after Mal and Elladan left, while the cloak and I silently battled for supremacy. How could I not know, he kept asking me, what kind of silk it was made out of? When he and his brother had done everything to help me guess, except draw pictures of spider webs?

He was right. It was obvious once I gave some thought to all the hints I had been given, either on purpose by Thranduil, or by accident by Lord Bard. No wonder the scent of the cloak's fabric reminded me of the Mirkwood forest! It did not smell like Feredir, it smelled of spiders. Maybe Feredir smelled like spiders? Well, he would if he made cloaks out of their webs.

No matter what or who it smelled like, I wanted the cloak out of my rooms at once. Just for his own amusement, I think, Elrohir refused to dispose of it, or even touch it, which left it up to me to get rid of it.

"I know just who would love this nasty cloak," I told him. "And I am taking it to him first, before we go to the library." After using two of the scrolls to scoop up the cloak, I carried it in front of me as far away from my body as my arms could reach, and headed toward Lord Bard's chambers.

The corridors were filled with repairmen, carpenters and masons, who were working on restoring the interior walls of the city to their former pristine state. More than a few stopped working, when Elrohir and I passed by them, and grinned at the spectacle I assume I was making of myself.

"It is your facial expression they find amusing, more than the way you are carrying your cloak on those scrolls, darling," explained Elrohir. "You appear to be expecting an imminent attack from a harmless bit of fabric."

"How do you know that it won't attack me?" As far as I knew about magical cloaks, they were capable of doing anything. Elrohir admitted that it was not impossible, in the larger realm of endless possibilities, but it was certainly not probable.

"It had plenty of opportunities to harm you before now," he pointed out. "It seems to me your cloak has been more helpful to you than not."

"That is no reason to take any chances," I replied. "Where spiders and elves are involved, it never hurts to be too careful."

Lord Bard, it turned out, was not in his chambers. A manservant, at least that is what I assume he was, answered the door and claimed to have no knowledge of my cloak, and he would not allow me to leave it on the floor. Even after I offered to dump it outside the door, on the floor, he still refused.

"It is a gift for Lord Bard," I said. "I could get you fired if you don't take it! This cloak is very valuable and I know that he wants it!"

"Then why do you hold it out in front of you as if it were a venomous serpent?" the cheeky manservant, quite unshaken from my threat, countered with a sneer. If my hands were not otherwise occupied, I might have slapped him for looking at me like that.

Elrohir made a snorting noise behind me, but when I turned to glare at him, he gave me an innocent grin, patted my back, and took over the conversation. He faced the man inside the door, lifted his chin, and allowed the Elf lord blood in his veins to take command.

"My good man, you will forgive Lady Mary's outburst," he said calmly, his voice tinged with an elven musical cadence. "This good woman, a respected member of King Thranduil's personal household, is in need of your assistance, not derision. She is presently overwrought from her attempts to deliver this cloak to your master. You will apologize at once for your insolent remarks."

It was a pleasure to see the blood drain out of the manservant's face, while his eyes darted from Elrohir, to me, to the cloak, and then back to Elrohir. He stammered out an apology, but declared that he still could not take the cloak, without having been given permission beforehand.

"In that case," Elrohir said, "will you please direct us to where we can find Lord Bard, and we will be on our way."

We were politely directed to the throne room, where Lord Bard had been invited to attend a council of leaders from the Northern regions of Gondor. Elrohir cautioned me to be silent when we came to the massive arched entryway of the well-guarded Royal House. I was to let him talk to the door guards. It was understood that we would not be allowed to enter, as we had not been invited, but he asked for, and was given, permission for us to wait just outside the throne room doors.

We took a vow that we would not make any noise that could interrupt the council, or provide a distraction, and sat on a long marble bench within sight of the doorway. No mention was made of the books and scrolls we carried, or the cloak. Apparently the Minas Tirith Royal guards were prepared for anything. At last, I could drop the cloak from the scrolls off onto the bench seat, and I felt as if I could breathe easier. I made Elrohir sit between me and it.

It seemed to take hours for the council to finish its business, but at last a few people, elves, men, and dwarves, began to drift out and walk by where Elrohir and I were waiting. A tall, handsome, silver-bearded man, unaccountably wearing the flowing robes of an Elf-lord, spotted Elrohir and came directly toward him with a smile of delight on his face. As he drew near, I could see that he had the piercing, glittering eyes of an elf, too. I stepped aside from the obvious reunion of old friends to search the thickening crowd for Lord Bard.

The manservant Elrohir and I had met up with earlier was in the crowds, too, and obviously searching for the same person. I watched him find Lord Bard and they both turned in my direction, after speaking for a few moments. They headed my way.

"Lhinglain! Magnificent!" I heard an unfamiliar voice cry. It was the bearded man, and he was holding up my cloak and gently shaking out the wrinkles and making it shimmer. "Why is this glorious mantle left here in this disrespectful disarray?" the man demanded of Elrohir. "Surely it is a garment made for an elf-princess, at least. The craftsmanship and design work indicates this is so."

"Lady Mary," said Lord Bard, now at my side, with a bow. "I understand that you have a gift for me?"

At that moment, in a split-second of thunderous time, I changed my mind about the cloak. It truly was a glorious garment, the man with the beard was correct, and it was given to me with respect from an elf who knew that I was not a princess. I wanted it for myself, forever, and I would never give it, or sell it, to anyone.

~ Mal ~

As I found out, Galadriel and Celeborn had been at the reception the night before, but they arrived after I left with Thranduil. Their temporary residence was not on the uppermost city level as I had expected, but one level below, and located just beside the prow-like cliff. Elladan escorted me through an airy room out onto a balcony hanging over the abyss. The view was magnificent but also unnerving – it was a long way down to the lowermost city wall beneath us.

The Lady of Light was seated in a comfortable chair facing outward, but turned to us when we entered. Elladan bowed and lifted her hand to his lips. “This is Mal,” he said. “She would like to ask you something.”

“We are acquainted,” she told him amiably. “You may leave us.”

He seemed hesitant, almost as he would protest, but then he turned towards me and kissed me soundly on the mouth. He was gone before I could regain my wits.

“Excuse him,” said the Lady, “and do sit down, please.” She indicated a chair beside her. “Elladan is a good boy, if somewhat impulsive. He takes after his mother.” She looked thoughtful for a moment, perhaps recalling a fond memory.

“I don’t mind,” I told her. “It is rather refreshing after the morning I’ve had.”

“Yes, I heard Thranduil asked his seneschal to entertain you. Poor dear.”

I told her about our visit to the library and how few results my efforts had yielded. None, really. I had refreshed and deepened my knowledge of some aspects of history, but was none the wiser as to why the Elvenking wanted me to bed the King of Men, and after sleeping with a long row of elven lords at that.

“Did you not think to ask for works on ancient magic?”

“No.” Now I felt stupid. If I hadn’t been so keen on erotica, I might have thought to ask about old lore.

“A pity.” Galadriel shook her head. “The collection of prophetic predictions is impressive although most of the scrying manuals are inaccurate.”

“Then what Thranduil wants me to do has something to do with ancient practices? With magic?” I was on the edge of my seat, eager to find out more.

“Ancient, new, who can tell whether the world wanders a path predestined from its creation? Each day may be a well of possibilities. There is no writ on the task you have been given.”

“No? But you have... seen something?”

“The era of the elves is coming to an end,” she said slowly, looking towards the horizon. “The rise of man has begun. All who previously held power in Middle-earth must pass into the west. I will be sailing soon. Elrond will follow. Mithrandir has gone before us.”

“But Thranduil carries no ring – he has no special power.” Other than his peculiar sexual appeal.

“He believes he has been given a task in the transition nevertheless.” She looked at me. “He will pass his power to Aragorn Elessar, he who became Hope where there was none.”

“Through me?!” Was that was she was saying?

“That is his understanding.” She spoke slowly and with graveness, holding my gaze.

I didn’t know what to say. It was too unbelievable, too unreal. “Will...” I eventually faltered, when I couldn’t bear her intense gaze any longer, “will it work?”

“That path of the future has not been disclosed to me. He believes it will do so.”

Again I searched for words, finding none that seemed suitable for the situation.“Why me?” I blurted out, and that loosened my tongue. “I’m willing to accept that the Valar may have told him something, but I’m certainly not going to believe in them choosing me!” I suddenly became afraid that I had spoken too freely and offended her.

“You are wise to doubt,” she said, seemingly unaffected by my outburst. “Anyone would have served the purpose.” She laughed. “That is, anyone willing to love him unconditionally.”

I did not know what to think. In a way, I was relieved not to have been told I was chosen by higher powers. Had she said any such thing, I must have believed Galadriel was deceiving me just like the Elvenking. On the other hand, I felt degraded, reduced to a piece of meat. Then I was struck by the idea that Thranduil might never have found me. I felt suddenly cold, only to be filled with a warm feeling of gratitude that I had met him and shared all these precious months with him. So many warring emotions stirred in me.

Galadriel patted my hand and I looked at her friendly face, her eyes filled with understanding. “Do not worry yourself with riddles unfathomable. Trust him in this, as you have trusted him until now. When the time comes, perform your task with diligence. Enjoy it.” She winked, with a suddenness that startled me. “None of my grandsons are bad in bed, I have heard.” She chuckled again, a pealing laughter that was contagious.

“Thank you,” I said, blushing. The mention of beds reminded me of the need that had been growing slowly ever since I left Thranduil that morning. Thaladir’s ministrations had alleviated my discomfort for a few hours, but not quenched it completely. I needed to find the old elf at once, and persuade him to go with me somewhere we could be alone.

A secretive smile spread over the Lady’s fair features and she gently took my hand between hers. “There is no need to leave so hastily,” she said. “Will you not stay for tea?”

“I’m sorry,” I said, wishing she would look into my mind so I wouldn’t have to spell out to her why I wanted to leave immediately. With anybody else, it would have been easy to say I wanted to think things over in solitude, but I could not lie to her.

“There is someone here who would be grateful to take care of your need, should you agree,” she said in a low, intimate voice as her finger drew a circle on the back of my hand.

I snatched it back, putting it demurely in my lap, trying to ignore the humming of my core. “Is Thaladir here? But he said he had duties with the king this afternoon...”

“Not the seneschal.” She smiled. “My beloved.”

I was shocked – less by the idea as such than by her frankness in suggesting it.

She saw it, and continued, “Consider it my gift to him, if you like. We have often shared memories of your visit to Caras Galadhon. Now, go.” She gestured towards the opening in the wall. “If you want him, that is?”

I nodded and slowly rose from my chair, still not fully believing what I had heard. But I wanted him, and maybe even a little more than I would have wanted anyone else at that moment. The memories of the tall lord’s mirror were still fresh in my mind.

Galadriel stood and then she brushed her lips against mine. Astonished, I felt the touch of her tongue darting out, gone before I had registered the feather-light kiss. “My contribution to Thranduil’s mission,” she said as her hand against my back gently sent me on my way towards a door in the room I’d passed through on my way to the balcony. It was slightly open but not enough that I could look inside. I cast a glance towards the balcony and then knocked, encouraged by the Lady’s secretive smile.

“Enter,” said a deep voice, making me shiver with anticipation.

I slipped through the door and pushed it shut behind me as I took in the sight of Lord Celeborn the Wise. He was casually dressed in a short tunic, but appeared as lordly as when I had first seen him in formal robes. The silver embroidery matched the moonlight hue of his hair perfectly and made his serious, grey eyes shine. He reached out his hands to me and I took them, then found myself in the tall elf’s gentle embrace. I relished the feeling of security, and yet my heart was beating like that of a frightened bird.

“You need to relax,” he said. “Come.”

He led me to a low divan at the far end of the room. As I sat down I noticed the open book on the desk by the window. I wondered what he had been reading, and if he had heard the conversation I had with his wife.

“Lie down,” he instructed me in that deep voice. “No, on your belly. Relax, make yourself comfortable.”

Had he misunderstood what I was here for? It was not rest I needed, but I closed my eyes.

Then I felt his large hands gliding over my back, lightly at first, then applying pressure along my spine and kneading my shoulders. I bit my lip; it hurt a little as he delved into my rather tense muscles. Yet his touch made me feel safe and warm and I thought I couldn’t get enough of the sensation.

His hands became soft again, gently stroking my skin underneath my blouse. I held my breath as his fingers travelled down each side in little circles, eventually coming to linger on my ribs beside the flattened swell of my breasts, caressing the sensitive skin there. The next moment they were gone, returned to stroke my back, then advancing to my backside. Responding to his touch, I lifted my thighs ever so slightly, inviting him.

The divan creaked under his weight as he straddled my legs. Then I felt his mouth on my neck, placing gentle kisses there. His hardness was evident against my backside, a promise waiting to be fulfilled. I pushed against him, my need suddenly stoked to impossible heights by his proximity. “Soon,” he murmured in my ear. I shivered and willed myself to remain still.

Then he shifted and settled between my thighs. He entered me in one sure stroke, but then remained still for what seemed an eternity, his erratic breathing the only evidence of what he was feeling. Impatiently, I pushed back against him repeatedly, which made him chuckle throatily. Then he began to claim me in earnest, filling me in slow, maddening strokes, very gently, yet mercilessly in the inevitability of the steady rhythm he kept.

Every movement soothed and alleviated my frustration a little, until, eventually, the burning inside turned into a slow simmer. I felt thoroughly loved and cared for, safe and secure and calm.

I woke up, alarmed. It took me only a second to realize I had fallen asleep. I sat up rapidly, devastated to find the elf-lord sitting beside me.

“I – I’m sorry,” I faltered out.

“It was what you needed. I enjoyed giving it to you,” he said serenely.

“There wasn’t much in it for you.” I chuckled nervously.

He gave a slight smile. “It was a purely selfish endeavour, I assure you.” He rose from the divan and reached out his hand to me. “I may even have furthered Thranduil’s cause somewhat.”

Having tea afterwards with the illustrious couple felt strangely natural, as if nothing in the world could upset me after what I’d gone through the last day. I felt calm, and yet thoughts buzzed in my head like flies at a window.

~ Mary ~

"Go away, I don't want to talk to you right now," I hissed at Lord Bard, after he had inconveniently appeared too soon. Why could that man never be suitably placed? Instead of going away, however, he shook his head at me.

"We do not have to talk at all," he said. "It is my understanding that you have had a change of heart and tried to deliver your cloak to my chambers."

"What nonsense!" I cried, while looking around for his manservant.

That is when the most unhelpful elf-twin in Middle Earth decided to come over and become involved in our exchange.

"Greetings, Lord Bard, and well met again," Elrohir said happily, while clapping the cloak-coveting fiend on the back.

Despite the fact that I gestured frantically at Elrohir to keep his mouth shut, he merely gave me a puzzled look, but otherwise ignored me. "We have been waiting for you," he babbled.

"So I have been told," replied Lord Bard, after a bewildered glance in my direction.

"What good fortune, then," Elrohir said, "to find you so quickly!" He glanced over at me, noticed that I was glaring at him, and carefully guided Bard away from me, and toward where the bearded man was standing. I followed right behind them.

"I am sure Lady Mary has told you," Elrohir continued, "that despite your despicable behavior last night, she has decided to give you her cloak, after all!"

"I have not!" I cried, and I would have said more, but I was both drowned out and interrupted by a roar of outrage, evenly matched in timbre and volume to a certain Elvenking's bellow.

"Give the young Bardling this mantle? This is not to be borne!" This particular voice was not Thranduil; it was the bearded stranger, with my cloak draped over his arm. The entire courtyard fell silent at the very same moment that he stopped shouting and turned his attention toward me. In a much calmer tone, he asked me, "Have you gone mad?"

"Of course I haven't gone mad! I protested. “Why, I would never think of doing such a thing!" With his free hand, the stranger stroked his white beard and lifted a silvered eyebrow at me, with all of the scepticism I had grown used to seeing on the faces of every elf I had ever met.

"Somehow, I doubt your word," he murmured, and the way his eyes sparkled with a hint of amusement was familiar, too. "Who are you, by the way?" he asked, and standing as close as he was to me, I could tell that despite the beard, this was no ordinary mortal man. Here was an elf, a very high elf.

"My lord," Elrohir thrust himself, literally, between the tall man and me, "Permit me to introduce to you Lady Mary, a member of King Thranduil's royal house. Lady Mary, I present the Lord of the Falas, the Steward of Lindon, the Chieftain of the Elves West of the Blue Mountains, and the Master of the Gray Havens, Lord Cirdan the Shipwright."

Those were enough fancy titles to earn a curtsey from me. Thaladir's boring history lectures were finally coming in handy, as I recalled how powerful this particular elf was, and how ancient.

More ancient than Thaladir.

In fact, Cirdan was older than most of the other elves in Middle-Earth, including Thranduil and Elrond. Cirdan had once possessed a ring of power, but he gave it to Gandalf, and I wondered right now if he regretted that as much as I regretted the notion I had about giving my cloak to Lord Bard.

"Now, tell me the truth about this mantle," the ancient Elflord said, after the obligatory polite greetings were finished. Without my cloak on to cover my ‘glow', Cirdan was able to see if I was being honest, or not. Now was not the time to pretend that I had been acting sensibly. "Start at the beginning," he added, as if he could tell from the way I hesitated that I had trouble knowing where to start.

"An elf from Mirkwood, named Feredir, who lives with Legolas in Southern Ithilien, gave that cloak to me as a gift a few days ago," I began, and Cirdan nodded as if to tell me that was the right place to begin. I continued, "I loved it as soon as I put it on because it is so beautiful that it makes me feel like a princess when I wear it, and it reminded me of Feredir. He was a difficult elf to be friends with, but I miss him very much." By this time, I could tell from the lordly elf’s expression that he was satisfied with my accounting, and I felt more confident as I proceeded on with my tale.

I told of my discovery that the cloak seemed to make me invisible to elves, when I was in starlight, and how I thought it might be magical. He frowned while I told him about Renk and Lord Bard's attempt to take the cloak from me the night before. When I told him about how I reacted after I found out that it was made of spider webs, and how much I really hated spiders, he smiled.

"I was going to give it to Lord Bard because I thought that I didn't want it anymore," I concluded. "But, I changed my mind and I want to keep it, after all."

"A very wise decision," Cirdan said, nodding thoughtfully.

From all around us, there was a sudden burst of applause and cheers from the silent crowd of elves, men, and dwarves, who had obviously been listening to us. Even the wily Lord Bard was smiling, and clapping.

"May I please have my cloak back now, Lord Cirdan, sir?" Even as I asked, I suddenly felt that Thranduil was near. Before I could turn around to see where he was, he spoke from directly behind me, raising the hair on my neck.

"Take care, my friend, or you might find yourself giving her the White Ship." The king stepped around me to Cirdan, held out his hand and said, "Allow me."

Cirdan nodded his head slowly and handed my cloak to Thranduil, who turned to me and draped it over my shoulders.

"Perhaps I will reserve a seat for her," said Cirdan to the king, quietly enough that only I could overhear, and then he turned and winked at me. "She could make the long sea journey quite memorable, I imagine."

"You, my friend, will have to continue to use your imagination," said the king, but he was smiling when he said it. After bidding everyone a good evening, he led me directly, and swiftly, away to his chambers. Not that he had anything to worry about with Cirdan where I am concerned. I prefer my elves to be clean-shaven.

~ Mal ~

I needed to think over what Galadriel had told me. It was wholly unbelievable, and yet it provided some sort of logical explanation of the many amazing things that had happened since I first came to Mirkwood. It irked me no end that the many elves I had been intimate with may have done it mostly because they thought they’d be saving the world by lying with me. Yet it had given me opportunities I would otherwise not have had, to speak with them, to get to know them. Celeborn had been willing to repeat the experience, and not only to do me a favour.

What of the others? Elrond had been trying to heal me, of that I was sure, but Glorfindel? Had he purposely given me the aphrodisiac soap? I worried less about Erestor. That had been an artistic endeavour, hadn’t it? Thaladir and I had assisted him as models, and we all got carried away. Yes, that must be it.

I knew I was avoiding the main question, but it was too much to wrap my head around. I simply could not understand how sleeping around would transfer anything to anyone but bodily fluids and, in the worst case – at least among humans – venereal disease. All the same I knew the experiences had changed me, or at least Thranduil had. It had to be his doing that I now craved carnal intimacy nearly all the time. Through skilful manipulation, he had made me that way, so he could enjoy me whenever he wanted... but why the others? It didn’t make sense. Galadriel’s words were the one thing that would keep me sane. I knew I had to trust the Elvenking without knowing and understanding. Why must it be so hard to do?

Suddenly I felt a strong need to leave the confines of the city. I wanted to get away, at least for a couple of hours, to be out in the open and see no walls around me. To imagine I still had a choice.

Hurriedly, I walked down the circling main road, wanting to get out as quickly as possible. The thought crossed my mind that I should tell someone where I was going, but I brushed it away. I couldn’t go back now, or I would not be able to leave at all. Faster and faster I went, until I was running, people and houses around me turning into a blur.

Then I saw the gate in the lowermost wall and slowed down. There were guards. They would not let me leave on my own, of that I was sure. Thaladir would have arranged that. Now what would I do? Ask them to send for him to escort me? Or risk being provided with a detachment of soldiers that would follow me around, marching behind me as I wandered aimlessly outside the wall? The image was more than a little ridiculous and annoying. For the first time in many months I wished – for a second – that I could return to normality, where grown women could go where they pleased without an escort.

“Tolo as nín [Follow me],” said an unmistakably elven voice with the agreeable lilt I had come to associate with those of Noldorin origin.

I turned and recognized Gildor Inglorion.

“Come with me,” he repeated in the Common tongue. “I have had enough of street dust for a day and need to feel grass under my feet. If I am not mistaken, you are of the same mind.”

I happily accepted the offered solution to my predicament and could hardly believe my luck as I walked through the city gate beside the elf, the guards ignoring us. We followed the road for some minutes, then when it veered to the south, Gildor took a leap over the ditch at the verge. His outstretched hand was a question.

I looked at the road and the city behind me, then at the blue sky over his head. Then I jumped. It was only a small leap, and yet it filled me with carefree happiness, as if by that simple act I was leaving all troublesome reasoning behind. I wanted to run and laugh and dance.

At first I stumbled, unused to the uneven surface of the grassy plain, but soon I felt as if I was soaring as we ran until I had to stop for air. I threw myself onto the grass and simply lay there, smiling, gazing at the clouds. And at Gildor sitting beside me raising a strange, other-worldly tune from a straw of grass.

“Tell me about the elf-towers,” I said. “I have heard about your wanderings and I wanted so much to see them.”

“They are tall,” he said. “Tall and white and slender, glowing like alabaster when the sun rises. Elostirion is the tallest of the three, Elendil's great watch-tower.”

“Is it true that one can see the sea from the top?”

He chuckled and then became solemn. “Most definitely. And more. On a clear day, it is said, the mists on the horizon part and one may behold a glimpse of the Blessed Lands.”

I frowned. “How is that possible? When the world is round, I mean?”

“Indeed, all roads are bent. Who knows? Perchance it is not for our physical eyes to perceive the Hidden Lands, but in our minds we may be given the grace to see them. Does that make it the sight less beautiful?”

“Have you seen it?”

“Nay,” he said, melancholy in his eyes. “That grace has not yet befallen me. This side of the sea still holds many wonders; I am not yet weary of travelling.”

“Then maybe you will be able to see it one day.”

“Maybe.” He grew thoughtful and lay down on his back beside me. We lay there for a long time, watching the sky change in silence. Clouds that had been grey and white turned a rosy yellow as the sky paled, then darkened.

The ground grew cool and I moved a little closer, hoping he wouldn’t mind. When a hand took mine, I knew he didn’t. I pressed it, he pressed back and then changed into a half-reclining position, on his side, resting his head on his hand. With his free hand, he traced the lightest trail along my arm, from shoulder to wrist, then back again.

I held my breath, realizing that I desired him, and at the same time that I did not want to desire him. Not there and then, at least – the peaceful moment was rare and I did not want to ruin it.

His inquisitive fingers continued to caress me lightly, travelling over my neck, my face, my hair. Why would he do that, if not... I caught his hand and pressed it to my chest – a mistake of course. Feeling him there did not make me want him any less. He quirked an eyebrow.

“Please,” I said as quietly as I could.” May I ask you something personal?”

“As long as you keep in mind that we elves are famous for saying both yes and no.” He chuckled, but continued to look at me with intent.

“Do you really want this?” I asked, suddenly not daring to look at him. “Me, I mean? Or do you feel compelled to, by...”

His lips closed on mine in a kiss, gently, slowly as if he savoured every moment of it. “Does that answer you?”

“I think so.” My mind was swimming, filled with sensations and the warm feeling of being welcomed.

“The wind goes wherever it wills, bound by no-one,” he said. “So do I. Now, are you sure about my intentions?”

“Maybe,” I said slyly, which made him initiate another kiss, then many more as I pulled him down upon me.

And so, I lay with Gildor Inglorion of the House of Finrod, under the stars, the night sky a friendly canopy over us and all shelter we needed. He was a silent and attentive lover, a gentle force of nature who knew how to whisper when a shout would not be loud enough to hear.

“I have heard of Thranduil’s mission,” he said in the morning as we walked back to the city. “It makes it easier for me to accept that a lovely woman would allow me to take her in my arms after such brief an acquaintance.”

“Then I am glad you know about it,” I said. What if Thranduil had realized from the start that making his curious mission known to some was the only way of ensuring success? He must somehow have told a few select elves, while knowing he had to keep it a secret to me at any price, or the requirement of unconditional love could not be met. I supposed under these circumstances, I had been angrier with him than was called for.

We paused by the city gate, waiting for it to open. Gildor spoke again, mirth apparent in his eyes. “No elf would be coerced into carnal relations solely for the sake of fulfilling the spiritual beliefs of the King of Mirkwood.”

“How about humans?” I asked as the gates were pushed open from within and four guards rode out on prancing sorrels. “Aragorn, I mean. You must know him.”

“That, my fair, is for you to find out. He is a man of duty, of strong ideals. And yet, unmistakably a man, with the desires of his kind.”

I waited for him to continue, but he would say no more. Instead he bowed his head to kiss my hand, and I knew this was where our ways must part.

“I trust you will find your way to the Citadel?” he said.

I nodded. “May the winds be gentle with you,” I replied, then added to myself, “and may they blow you my way again some time.”

From Thaladir’s Notebook:

Status of daily schedule: Accomplished

Remarks: A most efficiently and furthermore pleasantly spent morning due to Lady Malinorne's highly commendable lust for knowledge, so wisely inspired by His Majesty. The day has proceeded in an equally satisfying manner, with only a minor interruption caused by a measure of commotion of the fashion that seems to follow Lady Mary's person most persistently and for which His Majesty, fortunately, knows the perfect cure. I shall now return to the Citadel tower, wherefrom the view onto the plains is unhindered, to watch over Lady Malinorne's safety from afar. Long live Eryn Lasgalen!

To be continued...

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Chapter posted: September 26, 2010

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