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Far Beyond Mirkwood, Chapter 35

Authors: Mary A and Malinornë
Pairings: Mainly Thranduil/OFCs
Warnings: Naughty mariner ahead!
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: While Mary attends an unexpected party, and suffers the consequences, Mal makes some progress in carrying out Thranduil's mission.

~ Mary ~

Forever, I believed, I would be grateful to Cirdan for helping me change my mind about the cloak Feredir had made and given to me. It did not seem to matter anymore that it was meant for someone else originally, because it was mine now, and I would never part with it.

Thranduil seemed to be in a pleasant mood after we left Cirdan, Lord Bard, and the Imladris twins behind us in the courtyard and headed up to his chambers. He patted the hand I had wrapped around his forearm with measured affection. I could not help but notice, however, that he seemed detached, removed from his surroundings in a way I had not seen since we visited Lorien, and I had to wonder if he felt as uncomfortable here in Minas Tirith as he had in Galadriel's realm.

I could not imagine the Elvenking feeling the same type of nostalgia here in Gondor as he had in Lorien, where he had once lived, after all, before his father had moved his clan into the forested lands of Rhovanion, and made them his kingdom. He could not possibly feel the same measure of competition with King Elessar as he had with Celeborn and Galadriel, either.

Perhaps the constant noise, the pressing crowds of people, and the brilliantly lit city itself, was upsetting to the king. Maybe he missed his dark, quiet caves as much as I did. Not that he would ever admit to feeling anything except completely in control.

Now that I no longer feared my beautiful elf-cloak, I could not stop touching the silken fabric in appreciation of its beauty and texture. I thought back on all the clues the king had given me about it, and how it had made me seem invisible, and wondered why I had not realized at once that the silk it was made out of came from the Mirkwood spiders.

"All of your questions have been answered satisfactorily, I see," said Thranduil, as we approached his chamber doors.

"Not hardly," I said. "Except for the ones I had about this cloak, of course. I have a lot more questions about almost everything, but I know better than to ask you anything."

"Questions such as…?" With a flick of his hand, the king had dismissed the guards posted on either side of his door. I wondered if he felt insulted by their presence. The ones that were supposed to have been guarding me had certainly proved worthless.

"Such as, did you know that Renk was going to kidnap me for Lord Bard last night?" I asked.

"The event itself was entirely predictable," Thranduil replied, as he led me through the doors of his royal guest apartments. Like that was an answer.

"Is there a reason you didn't at least warn me?"

"You are quite capable of defending yourself, are you not?"

How could I answer anything but 'yes' to that?

Nearly palatial in comparison to my guest rooms, Thranduil's chambers were lavish and large. Any other questions I may have thought to ask, since the king was pretending to answer me, flew from my head after he led me through a large pair of double-doors. We were not alone.

The room, obviously his private dining-hall, seemed to be filled with elves, both noble and not. Most were seated around a long linen-covered table in the middle of the floor, while murmuring quietly amongst each other. Although the table was in the process of being smothered with platters of food and jugs filled with wine, by a small army of servants clad in Gondor livery, no one was eating, but everyone had a goblet, or bowl, filled with wine in their hands.

There were groups of elves standing about, too, mostly by the windows. Galadriel and Celeborn, standing just inside the doors we had entered through, were the first to notice us, and as soon as they did, the rest of the elves in the room stopped talking, and were silent. The servants left the room. I curtseyed as deeply as possible, even though I had not seen Thaladir, hoping that one big curtsey would be enough for all of the high elves present.

"Ah," said Celeborn, bowing in return, and holding a goblet toward Thranduil and me, "our guest of honor has arrived and the feasting can commence." For a moment, I was sure he meant the king, but he handed the goblet to me. Stunned by his gesture, I realized that I was the only mortal in the room.

"Me?" I managed to croak out. "A feast? For me?" Galadriel nodded at me, and her kind smile was reassuring.

"Greetings, Lady Mary, said a familiar voice, and I turned to find Lord Elrond standing beside me. He was accompanied by his sons, Elrohir and Elladan. With a small twinge of horror, I noticed Helca, with her cat in her arms, was there, too.

Soon enough, we were all seated, and a small trio of elves playing harps and a flute, were playing a feast for our ears that only slightly outmatched by the feast for our stomachs. The kitchens of Minas Tirith produced the type of opulent meal of rare foods and fragile delicacies that I had grown used to eating when I lived in Mirkwood, and had not tasted since we visited Lorien. Arwen's elvish hand was apparent, and appreciated. I had to wonder if she had brought some cooks from Rivendell with her.

As usual, the wine, it had to have been shipped to the White City directly from the vineyards of Dorwinion, went straight to my mortal head. After awhile, the room began to swim a little bit, just out of the corners of my eyes, which I tried to keep pointed straight ahead. Thranduil, sitting next to me, made sure my goblet was kept full, but he otherwise maintained his politely aloof manner.

"Lady Mary, I want to salute you." Celeborn, a bit wobbly it seemed to my wine-befuddled eyes, lifted his goblet to me. "For providing me and a few of my fellow elf-lords with an unexpectedly pleasant interlude of passions reawakened, the likes of which many of us have not experienced for many a long year."

"What is he talking about?" I whispered to the king. Apparently, my whisper carried to other ears, because it was Galadriel who answered me.

"The Sindar are not usually a lusty people, Lady Mary, she said."They rarely stray from their marriages, except for rare occasions of, shall we say, dire need."

Dire need? I sort of understood that she was referring to the time that Mal and I had shared Celeborn's bed. Was she saying that the mostly blissful encounter happened only because of some sort of 'dire need'? It did not sound very flattering.

"Speaking for myself," a blurry Lord Elrond interjected, "I will cherish the memory of my minor contribution to your education for many more long years to come. Only ask for anything, and if it is in my power to give, it shall be done."

Now I was more confused, because I had never been intimate with Lord Elrond, but I gave up trying to figure out what he meant. I did have a request.

"I would like to meet that Gildor from Finrod, my lord," I think I said, at least as close as I could get my tongue to say it. "Is he here tonight?"

Any reply he made would forever be lost, the next thing I knew, I was waking up in Thranduil's bed, it was the next morning, and, except for a headache, I was alone.

~ Mal ~

By the time I returned to the Citadel, the sun's beams already reached halfway down the White Tower. Neither Gildor nor I had been in a hurry to leave our peaceful haven outside the confines of the city. I woke early, when dawn's gentle light was just touching the meadows, but I had already lingered in the elf's pleasant company much longer than I should have. The image of Thaladir wrinkling his forehead sternly came into my mind as soon as I had said good-bye to Gildor by the city gates. I walked as fast as I could, paying as little attention as possible to the morning chores of Minas Tirith despite my usual fascination with foreign customs and habits.

I went straight to my room to bathe and change my clothes, before taking a quick breakfast under the seneschal's disapproving gaze, accompanied by low mutterings about irresponsible Noldor. Then I went on my way to see the Elvenking. I wanted to apologise for being angry with him before, and also ask his permission to see Aragorn this coming night, or even this very afternoon. I felt a strong need to do my duty as soon as possible, to fulfil my purpose for Thranduil even though it would, ironically, bring about the end of my usefulness to him. What reason would he have to keep a mortal concubine once his quest was completed?

The idea of being separated from him was too painful to consider for long, and I was suddenly grateful for the physical discomfort that told of my amplified need for intimacy. That was another reason to rush to him. Thranduil would provide the best solution, if he chose to set aside kingly matters for a while to indulge me and himself. I hadn't even caught a glimpse of him the previous day and now I was longing for him, body and soul. His door was unlocked and I slipped through without knocking, full of expectations. Inside, I stopped short.

I had not expected him to have company.

He was engaged in a lively discussion with his guest, a male elf sitting with his back to me. I could not identify him, but I thought I recognized his voice and suspected he'd been at the dinner in King Elessar's hall. Thranduil was in a splendid mood, telling a hilarious story about how Galion once fell into the Enchanted River when fishing for an imaginary bottle, which he later swore he had seen gleaming on the bottom. This drew hearty laughter from his visitor, who then reciprocated with an equally humorous piece about the shaky maiden voyage of his first river vessel. I smiled quietly, not wishing to interrupt the friendly conversation.

It was several minutes until the Elvenking waved to me to enter. His gesture made his visitor look swiftly over his shoulder and I saw that he was Cirdan, Lord of the Grey Havens, master shipwright and once a ring-bearer. He made a mock display of fear, ducking in his chair as he burst out: "Woe is me! You've come to pluck me, haven't you? I'm the last one remaining before your collection of elf-lords will be complete." He gave another loud laugh, and then peered at me with intent, waiting for an answer.

I did not know what to say. I had been awe-struck when first being introduced to the venerable elf-lord, and though he seemed vastly different in private, I dared not answer with a joke of my own ? if indeed what he said was intended as such. Thranduil rescued me by motioning me closer to him. I took a seat on the low footstool at his feet, desiring to be as near him as possible. I kept my eyes down, not quite comfortable with Lord Cirdan.

The two elves continued their small talk in a light and amiable fashion. I listened with half an ear, mostly concentrating on Thranduil's hand playing idly with my hair. I delighted in the sensations these simple caresses created in me; I felt loved and cared for and very much his. Suddenly it was not so difficult to face the other elf-lord. I raised my head and looked into Cirdan's storm-grey eyes.

Then Thranduil spoke and my reprieve was over. "Mal, I believe our guest is still waiting for an answer. Have you indeed come for him?"

"Perhaps," I said with a naughty smirk, not taking my eyes from Cirdan. "If he behaves. I will decide later."

Cirdan bowed his head. "You are as gracious as you are graceful, my lady," he said calmly. "Forgive an old mariner a bad joke."

He took up the conversation with Thranduil again, but on a more serious note. I had plenty of time to study him as they talked about possible improvements to the rafts and boats used by the Mirkwood elves, as well as the people of Lake Town. Apart from his unmistakably elven eyes, Cirdan was the least elf-like elf I had ever met, half-elves included. He had a boisterous laugh, he talked too loud and he sported a beard. Every inch the typical sea-farer he appeared, more like a seasoned captain out of a fairy-tale than an elf of Middle-earth.

Involuntarily, my eyes fell often on his hairy chin, unique among elves. Combined as it was with his ageless face, it looked odd, as if a young man of, say, twenty-five, had borrowed his grandfather's beard. Yet it suited him, a natural companion to the silver on his head. Now if I could just stop staring at this exotic feature...

Of course my fascination with his facial hair did not go unnoticed.

"Some say it's a sign of old age," Cirdan explained. "Myself I suspect it's mostly a curious side-effect from wearing Narya for so long a time." He cast a glance at his empty finger, then looked at me again. "Have you seen Mithrandir's beard? Much worse than mine." He chuckled. "How fortunate for Lady Galadriel that she was chosen for another ring, don't you think?"

The idea of a bearded Lady made me giggle and any remaining ice between us was broken. I found that I enjoyed his easy-going company very much, though not enough to completely forget why I had sought out the Elvenking. Suddenly impatient, I took Thranduil's hand and kissed his ring. Turning towards him with pleading eyes, I said in a low voice, "I need to talk to you. Please."

He didn't reply in words, but cupped my chin and eased his thumb in between my lips as he continued to talk with Cirdan as if I wasn't there. I lavished the digit with attention, doing my best to make him look into my mind and see what else I wanted to do for him, if only we could be alone.

His resistance lasted through a discussion on whether or not river transport along the entire length of the Anduin would ever become feasible. Cirdan listed all the main obstacles, and means of conquering them, and still Thranduil listened politely. However, when the mariner embarked on a lengthy description of an experimental mechanism that might allow the lifting of lighter boats over the Falls of Rauros, Thranduil's patience was over.

"Excuse me for a moment," he told his guest and rose from his seat, his thumb leaving my mouth with a plopping sound.

I smiled apologetically at Cirdan and then gasped with desire as I felt Thranduil's hand grasp the hair at the back of my neck. I stood and let him guide me into his bedroom, making myself walk slowly rather than bounce happily ahead of him. There, he pulled me to his chest and we kissed passionately. I could not get enough of feeling his body pressed against me, his luscious hair and the firm muscles of his back under my hands. I let my fingers venture lower – and was stilled by his hand capturing my wrist.

"Have you decided yet?" The Elvenking's voice in my ear was low and silky, yet serious.

"What?" I whispered back, wishing that he would kiss me again, or better still, open the bed curtains and get into bed with me. And then kiss me again, to start with.

Instead, he held me at arm's length distance and asked plainly, "Will you sleep with him?" The way he cocked his head to the side he appeared truly curious of the answer.

"Do you want me to? I'm sorry I was angry with you yesterday. I know now it's all for a good purpose..."

He shook his head. "I want you to choose."

I took a deep breath, hoping I did the right thing. "Then I will do it. I will sleep with Cirdan. For you."

This answer seemed to satisfy him. He enclosed me in his embrace again and put his lips to my ear. I shivered as his voice came to me like a soft caress, words breathed rather than spoken.

"Then do it, my dear. Seduce him. Take your pleasure of him. But be swift." He straightened up and released his grip around me. "Elessar's house is merely a short distance away."

"Then you know already that I would like to... see him tonight? Please, will you speak to him? Thank you." I brushed my lips against his, willing myself not to take it further.

"Be swift," he repeated and then left through the door that led to the corridor that connected his quarters with the baths and the other guest suites. I was hot, bothered and alone with his visitor.

I wondered briefly what it would take to seduce Lord Cirdan. Nothing too refined, I decided, guessing his tastes would be as simple as his relaxed manners suggested. There was no time to look for the seneschal and find out if he still had my flimsy little concubine dress from Mirkwood stashed away somewhere in our luggage, so I adjusted the ribbon at the neck of my bodice and made the skirt shorter by tucking up the waistband. The result was not too elegant, but hopefully alluring enough to work. I combed my hair with my fingers and with no more ado was ready to face my last elven conquest.

Appearing before Cirdan, I dipped him a low curtsey, conveniently offering him a full view of my cleavage. He played along nicely, ogling my assets with about as much refinement as the average teenaged stablehand in Edoras. His smirk, though, told me he knew perfectly well that this had been my intention. The elf-lord was far from being as simple as I had guessed. I swallowed. It was too late to rethink my strategy now.

"My lord," I told him and smiled. "King Thranduil regrets to inform you that he will be otherwise occupied for a short while. I will entertain you in the meantime."

He shifted in his chair. "And what kind of entertainment do you have in mind, lady?" His eyes shone expectantly.

"The best kind," I said, glancing at his crotch. He adjusted himself absent-mindedly, probably not realizing what he was doing.

I sat down on the couch, patting the spot beside me. "Why don't you join me? We would be more comfortable here."

He cleared his throat. "We would? Ahem. If you say so."

As soon as he sat, I stole a kiss from him.

He chuckled. "So, you wondered what my beard would feel like?"

I nodded. "Yes. And now I know – at least how it feels here." I touched my lips and then let my hand slowly trail down my throat, pausing just above the swell of my breasts.

He caught the idea immediately. "And I shall show you how it feels there, too," he said with a dangerous growl as he bent over me, brushing his chin over the edge of the bodice. Then he buried his nose in my cleft, making me giggle; his beard tickled. When he came up for air, he had a devilish grin in his now rosy face.

"I bet you would like to know how it feels here, too," he said, patting my knee. Not waiting for an answer, he whipped the hem of my skirt up over my thighs and began to caress me with his hand, going straight for my centre.

I said little beyond the odd moan; it felt so good just what he did with his fingers, even through the material of my underpants. Then he suddenly moved the strip of clothing aside, inching his digit underneath.

"Oh, yes," I purred. "There, just there. Please."

"Aye, m'lady." Still grinning madly, he dropped to his knees in front of me and removed the offending garment. My thighs parted, seemingly of their own volition, and he dove in, tongue first. "Can you feel that?" he growled.

"Not yet," I lied. I wanted more, much more.

"Minx," he panted, but then continued, showing no signs of stopping even when I had reached climax twice. He applied himself masterfully and it was evident that he enjoyed it as much as I did. Still there came a moment when the stimulation was simply too intense to be enjoyable.

He sensed it too and immediately withdrew. I couldn't help giggling as I saw how he licked his lips dreamily. He looked quite irresistible and I followed the impulse to hug him.

"Ready for more entertainment?" I asked in a low voice as I brought my mouth close to his ear. "Would you like me to..." I wrapped my fingers around his member, delighted to hear the low rumble in his throat. Moving my hand up and down along his length resulted in more of the same sounds. They disappeared while I fumbled with his laces but started again with new vigour when flesh met flesh. Only when I dipped my head towards his lap, he took my arm, stopping me.

"Climb on board," he said raggedly, pulling me down on top of him as he lay back on the floor.

"How about the couch?" I hissed in his ear. "There's not even a carpet here!"

He gave a chuckle and then grunted, "As long as I have something soft on top of me, I don't mind!"

I sank down on him slowly, enjoying the marvellous feeling of being filled, not only physically, but on a deeper, emotional level as well. I took great satisfaction in riding Cirdan's mast, through the storm and the calmer period that followed until the storm rose again – all the time feeling deep inside that I was not only doing something that felt good for the both of us, but something that was right and good of itself.

And yet, as my body was sated, my mind began to doubt again. Would Thranduil still want me after tonight?

The glowing aftermath was sweet, filled with stolen kisses as Cirdan and I straightened our rumpled clothing as best we could. I would not soon forget what a bearded elf felt like, in all sorts of places.

Thranduil, returning, found us sipping left-over tea, respectably seated each on his own piece of furniture.

"Thank you, both of you," said Cirdan, putting down his cup and making ready to leave. "This has been a far more entertaining morning than I expected."

"Then your gift of foresight eluded you," replied the Elvenking.

Cirdan chuckled. "There is always an element of free will. Nobody could foresee your lady's choice with any degree of certainty." He looked at me fondly and then directed his attention to the Elvenking again. "Nor do I know if any wood-elves will ever desire to travel west, but trust me, if they do go, they will have a heavy discount on their fare." He grinned.

"My seneschal will be pleased to hear that," said Thranduil, in a serious voice but with mirth playing in his eyes.

As Cirdan closed the door behind him I could still hear him chuckling and repeating to himself, 'She plucked me! Oh yes, indeed she did!'

As soon as the mariner had left, Thranduil folded his long legs and sat down beside me on the couch. He made a face at the cold tea, but plopped a biscuit into his mouth as he made himself comfortable, resting his outstretched arm against the back of the couch. I leaned into him and kissed his cheek.

"May I ask you something?"

Thranduil nodded, smirking. We both knew that the Elvenking would always hear out a question – but seldom answer it, at least not in a way simple to understand.

I would normally not try to coax an answer out of him – it was always an exercise in futility. But this one question was too important to me to go unanswered any longer. If by assisting Thranduil I would be sacrificing my relationship with him, I wanted to know it. Now.

"What will happen after tonight?" I said in a low voice, not daring to look into his eyes. "You will not be needing me anymore."

There was a moment of silence, which forced me to glance at him. How was I to interpret the slight lift of eyebrow?

"The Lord of the Havens was most satisfied," he purred as he ran his finger over my wrist in a very distracting way. "Was he any good?"

"Not like you," I said, and kissed him again.

He chuckled. "I made arrangements with Elessar while you entertained Cirdan. I will take you to him this afternoon."

"Thank you."

He nodded and then said, "Now, how would my concubine like to spend her day until that time comes?"

This sudden magnanimity surprised me. Not that the Elvenking used to dictate my days, but I had never before been asked this question. The answer was easy.

"You know how," I told him, caressing his thigh and showing him the same pictures in my mind as earlier.

"I will not allow it. You would be sore."

"I don't mind being sore from you," I said in a low voice with my lips nearly touching his ear. My tongue darted out, by its own volition it seemed, and the king gave the slightest of shivers.

"It pleases me to hear it," he stated calmly. "I cannot, however, take that risk. You must be rested for your appointment."

"This is all the rest I need," I said as I straddled his lap. His reaction was very evident and I pressed myself against him as I began to kiss his mouth. His hands came around my waist, then caressed my backside promisingly, but at the same time as he bucked against me, he caught my wrists in an firm grip and held my torso away from him.

"No, my seductress," he said, grinning. "Now is not the time for this."

"Spoil-sport." I pouted and rubbed myself against him a couple of times more. At this, he laughed, but the expression in his eyes said something different. Perhaps his resolve was not so very great after all...

Then suddenly the king's seneschal was in the room, stone-faced and proper. Clearly, Thranduil did not share my surprise. He had let go of me almost on cue, just a moment before the door opened.

"You arranged this," I accused him as I climbed off his lap. "Do you trust me so little?"

"At times, I do not trust myself."

"Your Majesty." Thaladir bowed. "I will oversee the preparations personally. She will be ready at the stipulated hour." To me, he said calmly, "Let us go, my lady." He bowed elegantly and offered his arm.

I took it reluctantly, still holding the Elvenking's enigmatic gaze, still hoping for an answer. When it didn't come, I turned my head towards the door.

"Indeed, let us go," I told the seneschal, struggling to keep my voice steady. I was suddenly glad for his supporting presence. Whatever would happen after tonight, he would still be there, unchanging.

"Wait." Thranduil's voice echoed in the silence, immediately stopping us in our tracks. Slowly, I turned around. I did not want to, but, regardless of my emotional state, I could not refuse.

"Yes, Your Majesty?" I dropped a curtsey to him, with my eyes demurely downcast, fighting to feign indifference.

"Look at me."

I lifted my gaze with a measure of reluctance, afraid of what he was going to say.

I was not prepared for the warmth that engulfed me as I looked into the Elvenking's eyes.

"You asked me a question. I enjoy your company far too much to let you go easily," he chuckled. "You wish to stay with me once this is over?"

"With all my heart." How could he not know that already?

"Then it is settled. We will speak no more about this."

Thaladir took the cue and propelled me out the door. I followed contentedly, and very much relieved. Yet I had a nagging feeling that I shouldn't have needed to ask. Had the Elvenking not said, and shown me, on numerous occasions that he cared about me, not only the value of my role in his mission?

Thaladir put a reassuring hand on my shoulder.

"My lady," he said, "you are human; it is your nature to doubt. This he knows." I wondered, not for the first time, if he had been listening in on my thoughts.

I had many more questions for the Elvenking – about where we would go, now that we were at the ultimate goal of Thaladir's itineraries, if we would return to Mirkwood, and when, and how, but was satisfied to keep them in my heart for the time being. Thranduil had answered the one question that underpinned everything and I would be content with that. I would trust Mary's forthright curiosity to raise all the others.

~ Mary ~

A particularly harsh ray of sunlight, piercing through a slight opening on the curtains on a window in Thranduil's bedchamber, did its best to stab through my eyes, enter my skull, and kill me. Pulling the covers over my face only made me aware of how bad I felt all over the rest of my body. Weakly, I struggled to sit up and find some relief from the after-shocks of overindulging in the Elvenking's wine.

A soft knock on the door, which was not fully closed, preceded the arrival of the last person in Middle Earth that I expected to see. It was Miriel, bless her quiet footsteps, and she carried a cup of coffee. I was not sure I was ready to ingest anything into my uneasy stomach, but I was touched by the gesture, and I would have been happy to see her serene, smiling face at any other time, except for now.

"What are you doing here?" I asked, or croaked out I should say.

"Le suilannon, Lady Mary," she replied patiently. "I have come to prepare you for an audience with His Majesty, and we must hurry."

"An audience for what?" I asked, and not in the most pleasant tone of voice. "Does the king expect some kind of performance from me?" I continued. "Because I can barely sit up straight, in case you didn't notice."

"There is something restorative in this coffee to revive your ill spirits," Miriel said, ignoring my whining and practically pushing the cup into my face. "I have your bath prepared and you are to eat something directly after you are finished bathing."

Only an elf can be bossy while sounding so sweetly helpful. Whatever was in my coffee worked like it was made to ? magically. While I bathed, she told me how she had only arrived that morning, much earlier, at a summons from the King. She could not, or would not, tell me any more than that.

After the bath, my later than usual breakfast, or early lunch, never tasted so delicious, and when I was finished I felt ready to perform cart-wheels for whatever audience Thranduil had gathered for me.

Miriel led me down a corridor to a large drawing room, kissed my cheek, whispered, "Do as you are told," and then bade me farewell.

Thranduil was alone, there was no audience that I could see, and he was sitting in a large chair against the furthest wall of his chambers. It was a very large throne-like chair and I could tell by the lack of cushioning that the impressive piece of furniture was probably hard, too. Not surprisingly, the king seemed very much at ease sitting on it, almost relaxed. The only thing missing from the picture he made was his leafy crown.

Silently, he remained seated, calmly gazing at me, until I almost felt nervous. Was he supposed to be my audience or was I supposed to be his? Something in his attitude, or maybe the expression on his face, told me, louder than either words spoken or telepathically transmitted, to keep quiet and wait. After what seemed like an hour, but was probably only minutes, he spoke to me.

"Remove your gown," he said, firmly.

Aha, now I was beginning to understand who the audience was going to be. I felt instant relief, although I was not really aware of how anxious I was until that moment. The dress slipped easily off of my shoulders to pool around my feet on the floor, but when I bent to pick it up, Thranduil stopped me with a brisk, "Leave it."

Then he commanded me to crawl over and kneel before him.

"You want me to crawl around on this floor?" I asked, pointing down to the obviously hard stone-flagged surface. "What about if we move over there, instead?" I pointed to a nice, soft rug that was placed in front of a cozy-looking couch. The king shook his head.

"You will kneel here before me," he repeated, a bit more sternly. "Or have you forgotten your place?" he added, with his famous raised eyebrow.

"Oh, I see!" I cried, clapping my hands together, at last understanding the king's odd mood. "We are going to play king and subject."

"We are king and subject," Thranduil pointed out.

"Well, I didn't think that you forgot, but why do I have to kneel on this hard floor? Can I drag that rug over there in front of you?" I pretended not to even remember that he expected me to crawl, first. For several long moments, Thranduil remained silent, again.

"Stand before me, then." His voice was patient, and kind.

Cautiously, I approached him, and leaned right up against his knees. Silently, he took my hands and gazed into my eyes.

"I have one last official mission for you to do in your capacity as my royal bridge," he said. "It will not be unpleasant for you," he added, before I could respond. "I will, however, demand a complete concentration of your attention, and every ounce of your mortal energy."

Swiftly, I considered all of the men that I had been with in order to open their minds to the Elvenking, and wondered what man, of any real importance, could be left for him to learn about, besides the new King of Gondor. I envisaged myself alone with Aragorn. He was both handsome and regal, but completely and wholly devoted to his Queen, the exquisite Arwen.

"We aren't going to be, um, attacking anyone, are we?" I had almost used the word 'rape'. Not that changing my mind about what I was going to say at the last second could ever prevent Thranduil from knowing what I had started to say, but thinking disrespectful things was not forbidden to me, or I would have lost my head before ever leaving Mirkwood.

Saying the disrespectful ideas that flitted through my head out loud was something I had finally learned how to control, mostly.

"Not this time," said the king.

To be continued...

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Chapter posted: January 4, 2011

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