Far Beyond Mirkwood, Chapter 36
|Authors:||Mary A and Malinornë|
|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 meets her mystery escort for the day, Mal finally visits the House of the King.|
As I followed Thaladir down the corridor, listening with one ear to his exact and minute account of what a royal concubine's preparations for visiting another monarch would typically include, it was as if it finally dawned upon me what I was about to do. The moment I had unknowingly been honed for since I arrived in Middle-earth had come at last. Within hours, I would finally be intimate with the man I had admired since I first heard of him, the new King of Men, Renewer of the Two Kingdoms, living legend and the most attractive mortal man I had ever met.
I tried to still the butterflies in my belly. For all his grandeur, he was still a mere mortal, I reminded myself. Not an elf, much less a King of Elves. By now, I was used to living among royalty and not easily intimidated. I knew how to conduct myself, Thranduil's seneschal had made sure of that. And yet, what lay before me was not a banquet, nor a ball. Even my nights with high-born elves seemed of little use now. Aragorn, son of Arathorn, for all his handsomeness and elvish manners, remained a mortal. A Man!
Slowly the idea began to fill me with excitement. I could see potential for passion in our meeting ? the meeting of two strangers, each of them accustomed to the ways of elves, but both relatively new to sharing intimacy with one of their own kind. And now brought together by something, something much larger than themselves...
Thaladir remained silent for most of the time, leaving me to my thoughts as he guided me to the baths and afterwards to my room. His gentle attentions soothed my mind and as he rubbed my back with fragrant oil my body began to stir under his expert touch. His professional demeanour notwithstanding, I could not ignore the effect of his hands on my naked skin.
His fingers lingered on my backside and on my thighs, yet refused to dip lower than his sense of propriety dictated, regardless of how much I wished for it. The agony he caused was sweet, however, a welcome source of building excitement, not frustration. I sighed contentedly, enjoying the seneschal's careful ministrations to the fullest.
Yet I could not fully shake my doubts. When the moment of truth came, would I still feel attracted to Aragorn? And he, would he be thinking about his beloved, elven-fair wife, comparing us and finding me lacking? What if he indeed wanted me, but turned out to have some unusual desire I would not be able to satisfy?
"My lady," said Thaladir, as he guided me into a sitting position. "A considerable amount of the information accessible to me, all of it from reliable sources, insists that King Aragorn harbours no stranger desires than those of the majority of males, elves included." He handed me a pair of silky underpants and a camisole, both a soft shade of violet that I realized would contrast my green eyes in a very flattering way. I pondered Thaladir's information as I put on the garments, not sure what to think. Who would know something so personal except the man himself – and his Queen? Had Thranduil questioned one of them, or both? The idea was as amusing as it was touching.
"Furthermore," the seneschal added patiently, "King Aragorn acknowledges that the era of the elves is coming to an end. He has accepted His Majesty Thranduil's conviction that the power of all elven lords in Endor must now pass onto the King of Men. Moreover, he has expressed undoubted interest in the involvement of your person in particular."
"I know, it's just so hard to believe -"
"My lady!" Thaladir interrupted me with a frown and then added softly, "Elessar is an honourable man indeed and he will not take back his word with regard to fulfilling his role in the transfer of that power."
I had already heard enough about honour and duty for a lifetime and had no reason to doubt Aragorn's word. It was his feelings I worried about as the seneschal assisted me with my dress. What if we proved incompatible, simply not liking each other? What would then happen to Thranduil's quest? Would I get a second chance?
Thaladir was clearing his throat very audibly and, once he held my undivided attention, produced a minute vial with some pink liquid inside. The contents appeared familiar and I knew what it was the moment before he spoke again.
"If, at any time, any of you should experience difficulties... in consummating your assignation, you may open this and smell the contents. I highly advise against rubbing it onto any part of the body; most certainly you should not attempt to drink it," he said strictly. "Most assuredly, the effects would be as undesirable as I trust you will remember." The last part was added with the hint of a wry smile, and a wrinkled forehead.
"I promise. I will handle it with utmost care."
I remembered well the first time I had been exposed to the substance, during my visit to Imladris. A harmless perfume to elves, it was a strong aphrodisiac to humans, as I had experienced first-hand after picking the wrong bottle of soap. The ensuing condition had been quite painful, not to mention embarrassing, and was not something I wished to go through again, even though I remembered the cure with fondness, diligently delivered by Elrond in a generous double dose.
"Thank you, Your Excellency," I said and hid the vial in my underwear.
Thranduil told me that even though I had until the tower bells chimed three times past the lunch hour to complete the first part of my mission, it would benefit me to carry it out as swiftly as possible, for the outcome was crucial to my future. The morning was swiftly passing.
Right then, I was to go with the twins to the Old Guesthouse in the Lampwright's Street on the first level of the White City, to meet with my escort for the day. Thranduil would not tell me exactly who this mysterious chosen companion was to be. He assured me that I would recognize him immediately and, in all likelihood, be pleased at the sight.
"I trust him with your life," was the closest to a clue the king would give me. I wondered if that meant he wanted me to bed the man. "He is to be your escort only," he added, smirking at my wandering mind, "and he will accompany you to a meeting of some importance to your welfare… do not interrupt me."
"I didn't say anything!"
"Your silent questions are often loud enough to drown out a shrieking Nazgûl, not to mention quite frivolous considering the circumstances, and I demand your full attention. You will have the rest of the day to daydream. Am I understood?" Thranduil seemed serious, but I thought it was just as serious to ask for whatever information I could, before he sent me off.
"Majesty, please, can you at least tell me if my escort is a man, an elf, a dwarf, a halfling or a half-elf?"
That covered every possibility, although I could have added orc, but I was fairly sure the king was not open-minded to that extent. Even if I was only to have a sturdy arm to cling to for a little while, I hoped it was a nice arm. Haldir's arm would be perfect, for I had not seen that particular elf since the night of our arrival. Despite Thranduil's cryptic reassurances, I also feared it could be Anborn.
No matter who it was, before I went anywhere, I was going to have to find something fancier to wear.
"Your vanity," Thranduil said with one of his annoyingly patient smiles, "forever overcomes your sense of self-preservation in a most charming way."
"But, Sire what if I walk right past this mystery person and end up being kidnapped by some random bored soldier or another?" It was a fantasy that I had indulged in ever since I had first laid eyes on the armor-clad guard at the front gates. Being abducted was beginning to feel like an ordinary outcome to a typical day for me in Middle Earth.
"Wear your lhinglain cloak," Thranduil said, the amused twinkle in his eye the only response to my random imaginings. "He has been told of it and he will recognize you by it."
"A stranger?" At first, I was stunned to think of meeting with a complete stranger, and then I felt fairly smug in assuming it was an elf if he knew what a lhinglain cloak looked like. "This doesn't sound like such a hard mission, Majesty." After giving me a swift kiss and a pat on my behind, the king led me out of the chamber to meet up with Elrohir and Elladan. They were waiting for me outside the doors.
"Do not fail me," Thranduil said. The twins nodded their heads toward him as if he was speaking to them, and I blew him a kiss to let him know that I knew he was actually talking to me, and we were on our way.
The twins had no idea who my mystery date could be. They did know, however, that the Old Guesthouse tap room reportedly had some very fine imported ale from their favorite brewery back at Lake Town. Most elves preferred wine, but the Imladris twins had learned to appreciate other beverages during the years when they rode with the Rangers and lived as mortal men.
The Lampwrights' Street was obviously home to the lamp wrights, or lamp makers, of the constantly glowing White City. The workshops crowded both sides of the lane and were open to the street, or spilled out onto the cobbled sidewalks. The twins had to constantly pull me away from some marvelous display of colorful glass, metal, and mirrors, or combinations of both, fashioned into a wide variety of shapes and figures symbolizing the sights and creatures of the new Kingdom.
There were glass dragons, in every size from life-like to miniature, graceful mallorn-tree candles, sconces shaped into the familiar Rohan horse heads, along with delicate tiny lamps made of mirrors and spun glass and breathtaking giant chandeliers of mithril and white diamonds. In the daylight, I could only guess how beautiful these works of art would be when lit up at night. Tiny breezes sent a perpetual undertone of tinkling chimes through the air.
The dazzling mid-day sunlight reflected off of the glass, gems, polished metals, and mirrors of the lamp wrights’ wares, which made the crowded street sparkle. My head was already spinning by the time we entered the dark Old Guesthouse, and the instant darkness of the entryway completely blinded me. I clutched at the twins.
In the dimness, I felt surrounded by the crowd of people lined up at the large front desk of what seemed a typical busy inn. Elves, hobbits, dwarves, and men, and they all seemed to be talking at once. Some of them were leaving, while others were arriving, a few were picking up messages, and one portly man was asking for assistance. It was noisy, but happy.
"The tap room is this way, darling," Elladan said, guiding me through an arched doorway into the better lit common area, and I could see again. There were several dozen round tables, most of them occupied with a contingent of the gate guards enjoying their lunches. I was fairly sure that my escort was not among them, which was a pity.
Elrohir arrived minutes after with a local woman in tow. He thrust her in front of his brother, muttering something that sounded like, "About the right size." With a broad smile he then turned to me and gestured toward a table in a nearby corner, far from the soldiers.
"His Majesty," Elladan said, as I sat at the table, "has given us another, and more delicate, task to carry out, and we must not delay much longer. One of us could stay here with you, darling, if you would prefer some company."
It was a little irritating that I had not been approached by this so-called escort stranger immediately upon arrival. What if my companion was delayed? The king had not instructed me to either search the grounds or to sit and eat lunch, but he had forbidden neither, and I was getting hungry.
If my escort was supposed to find me, then I decided it was best to just sit at and wait for him patiently, instead of getting up and trying to search him out. I would have a cup of tea and some pastries while I was there. Maybe I would get kidnapped in the meantime.
When the Elvenking came to fetch me, I cast a final glance in the mirror before leaving. The image I saw, of a confident woman, lavishly dressed and with expectation in her eyes, corresponded well with how I felt. I was ready to meet Aragorn and take him as my lover, to fulfil the Elvenking's quest and enjoy every moment of the pleasures it promised.
"You have never worn this colour for me," Thranduil remarked, nodding approvingly as he scanned my neckline and then the smooth sweeping line of my skirts. He bowed decorously as he offered his arm but did not hide the gleam of lust in his eye.
"I've always thought you prefer green, as do I," I said. "I don't feel quite like myself in violet, though the amethysts are very nice." I touched the drop-shaped pendants around my neck, smiling as I noticed the direction of his gaze. "Thaladir chose them."
"Wisely, as always," murmured Thranduil as we stepped out onto the courtyard. After a small distance, he stopped and suddenly caught my lips in a ravenous kiss, crushing me to his chest. It lasted only for a moment, but his expression of satisfaction, and my smile, lingered as we approached the King's House.
I clasped his arm harder as the double doors swung open in the hands of guards in the black and white livery of the Citadel. The seven stars above the silver tree gleamed in the sunlight. In spite of my earlier confidence, I was struck with awe. Thranduil sensed my hesitation and gave me a reassuring smile.
In silence, we climbed a wide, winding staircase and soon stood before a carved door, painted in the royal colours of Gondor. Here, there were no guards, and at Thranduil's determined knock, it was opened by the lord of the house himself.
Aragorn stood on the threshold in full regalia, seeming more a symbol of his kingdom than a mere man of flesh and blood. My excitement dropped considerably at the sight of this living statue, but I concealed it under a suitably respectful expression as I made a deep curtsey. I would not falter now. My mind was made up and my resolve steadfast though I was glad of Thranduil's warm arm under my hand.
"As agreed," declared the Elvenking in a loud, official-sounding voice, "I bring you my concubine, Lady Malinorne, as a sign of the friendship between our peoples, and the changes that lie ahead for all of Endor."
"And in the same spirit of friendship I receive her," replied Elessar with equal gravity, though less loudly. He gave me a shy smile as he took my hand, and then addressed Thranduil again. "I vow to honour your gift with all my heart." He touched his chest in the elven manner.
Thranduil repeated the gesture, then turned sharply and strode down the stairs without as much as a glance at me. I was alone with Aragorn Elessar II and feeling more awkward with every passing second.
"Please have a seat," the King said, showing me into an airy room with high windows and tapestries depicting ocean landscapes, proud ships and white gulls.
I sat gingerly on the edge of a divan. Aragorn sat down beside me, keeping a respectful distance at first, but then moving close enough that he could take my hand in his. Then he began speaking, slowly and carefully.
"I am grateful that you chose to come. Whether our union will have any actual consequence, or is merely a symbolic action, taking this form by Thranduil’s choice, I do not know."
I looked into his honest blue eyes and nodded.
He continued, holding my gaze. "This does not strike me as important. In either case, you are a precious gift, which I have accepted and intend to make full use of in accordance with the intentions of the giver." He pressed my hand and I felt my cheeks heat. Then he rose abruptly, letting go of my hand. "However," he declared, "I must inform you that you will not sleep with King Aragorn II Elessar.”
Shocked, it took me a moment to gather my wits enough to respond. "But... but I can’t be with any other man," I told him with growing agitation. "It needs to be you, and if you will not claim me, then everything King Thranduil has done will be meaningless. Everything that involves me, I mean.” I was so concerned I thought nothing of clasping his hand to pull him closer.
"My queen is the love of my life, the goal of my dreams since I was a mere boy. She deserves her husband’s fidelity. I trust you to understand as much, my lady, being far more than a courtesan yourself. "
I nodded and let go of him. What could I possibly say to that?
Then he began to remove his regalia as I watched in silent astonishment, stripping himself of every symbol of royal power, from the winged crown of the two kingdoms down to his outer tunic with the white tree. Only the ring of Barahir, precious heirloom even when he had thought himself to be no more than a ranger, remained on his hand.
"The King who comes to renew the lands of Gondor and Arnor cannot allow himself an extra-marital affair even for the sake of honouring his old friendship with the elves." He chuckled at my gasp of horror and then continued in a more casual manner, "Strider, however, is a simpler and more practical man, who has always followed his heart and mind, choosing freedom over the counsel of others." He grinned. "He is yours, if you will have him.”
"I will," I told him sincerely, much relieved. "And –", I suddenly felt shy, "not only because of the elves." I rose and took a step forward, closing the distance between us. His arms came around my waist and I rested my head on his shoulder.
He smelled of man, a potent, musky scent that would not be tamed by the weaker fragrance of his remaining clothes. It filled me with joy and a sudden feeling of familiarity came to me – somehow this stranger felt akin to me, a man, stable and rustic, not the ethereal, eternal elves who seemed to remain alien in part, somehow removed from so much that is earthly by their own choosing. Not so with this King of Men. For all his Numenorean longevity, there would be an end to him, and somehow that made him the more desirable to me. We had the here and now, potent indeed thanks to our mortality. I hugged him closer and breathed in that scent, the very essence of man, as it seemed to me.
He inclined his head, gracing my brow with the feather-light touch of his lips. I lifted my head and looked up at him, waiting for our first kiss. His fingers caressed the small of my back and yet he seemed to hesitate to move beyond our intimate, but chaste, embrace.
"No, " he said thoughtfully, more to himself than to me, "these environs are not for Strider. " He seemed to ponder this for a moment, his gaze distant while he continued to slowly stroke my back. "There is an inn near the third city gate," he finally said as he detached himself from me, reducing our contact to holding hands. "Meet me there at sunset. Haldir knows the way – the establishment is sometimes frequented by my captains. "
"Can we not go there together, now?" I asked.
"I would like that very much, but I realize I require some time to prepare. This is not easy for me." He paused and lifted my hand to his lips. "I would normally not presume to dictate a lady's attire. You may, however, wish to don something a little less... royal." He smiled kindly but his eyes were serious.
Something to remind him less of Arwen, I thought. I saw little similarity between his queen and me as it was, but if a plainer dress would make him more at ease I would of course comply. It was a small sacrifice to make and looking for something suitable to wear would make it easier to pass the time until we met again.
Elladan and Elrohir must have been aware that the gate-guard's lunch hour was nearly over; which is most likely why they were not reluctant to leave me in the Guest House tap room without a chaperone. Their mutual interest in the young Gondorian woman that Elrohir had dragged into the place puzzled me. I thought they were worried about being considered eligible bachelors by the local population.
Neither twin seemed concerned about appearances as they examined her, in front of me, from head to toe, before nodding to each other as if they were both in agreement over something. I could guess what it was, but I was too busy twisting around in my chair to catch the eye of the closest soldier to bother with the three of them. After a hasty farewell, they were gone.
Moments after I had been left alone by them, to possibly be abducted by, (or at least had a chance to flirt across the room with,) one of the handsome manly Gondorians in uniform, the entire contingent of gate-guards in question rose and departed. I had not even been served my tea yet; it was very upsetting.
My mysterious escort had not yet been revealed and the only remaining people in the tap room were a pair of lamp wrights attaching tiny lamps to the walls. They were far too busy to notice me.
As my tea was being served, I finally turned my back on the empty tables and tried to appear interested in it. I had just finished buttering what looked like a scone when a voice from near me spoke, and made me drop my knife.
"Stand up." The voice commanded quietly. "Turn around."
I do not know if I was in shock from recognizing his voice, but I stood up before I even thought to ask him why I should. There was only one elf in Middle Earth whose voice could do that to me, right up until now, and that elf was royal. This elf, however, was not.
"Feredir!" I gasped out. "What are you doing here?"
"It fits you well," he said, gesturing to my cloak. I looked down at it, too, and then back up at Feredir. My head whirled a little bit because I had forgotten how tall he was, and how beautiful, too, in a wild wood-elf way.
"You never got to see me in it and I never got to thank you for it," I said. "I know it was you who left it in my carriage."
Instead of replying, he remained silent, as if he was waiting for me to say something else, so first I just said, "Thank you."
"I think that it is beautiful, Feredir," I added. "It might be the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, or worn, in my life."
"Sit," he finally said. "We will eat together." He was nearly nonchalant as he sat on a chair across the table from mine.
"Alright," I said, while sitting, "but I might have to leave right away, so don't get mad. I am waiting for an escort that Thranduil told me to meet here. For a moment there, I thought you might be him, but the king said over and over that I must make haste, not sit and eat lunch."
"I am your escort and we will make haste," Feredir said, "as soon as it is time to make haste." With that said, he turned his nicely shaped nose up at the proffered mug of ale that had automatically been brought to him, made a face after tasting the wine, and had to settle for a cup of tea, which he pronounced undrinkable, but he drank it anyway.
After all of the king's urgent instructions to me about finding my escort, and then hurrying to some other designation, it was bothering me that we were just sitting there, eating.
"Why do I get the feeling that I am being kept out of the way today? As a matter of fact, I think I was kept out of the way last night, too. Thranduil kept my wine goblet filled until I passed out."
"Would it relieve your injured feelings," Feredir said, "to learn that you are to have dinner alone with the Lady Galadriel, where you will be offered a glimpse into her mirror?"
"That's impossible," I snorted at his Mirkwood elf's ignorance of Lothlorien. "She can't possibly carry that big old thing around with her."
"The mirror itself is only a basin, about this large," Feredir said, while spreading his hands a few feet apart, indicating precisely who was ignorant. "It is very portable."
"But…" I started to say, only to be interrupted.
"We only have to present you to her before the Star of Eärendil ascends. We have time to tarry here until then."
"Can you read my mind?"
"Your mantle does not cover your face," he said. "Your violet-hued glow of impatience, while lovely, says more than your thoughts would ever reveal to me. Be calm, enjoy your tea."
"I still think I am being kept out of the way," I muttered, but I relaxed into my seat, bit into my pastry, and wondered if I even wanted to look into that far-seeing magical mirror. I knew where I had already been and I was positive that I knew where I was going, and that was back to the caves. What else was there to see?
There was also the possibility that the mirror would show things that I would rather no one else saw, ever. Especially an elf that I respected as much as Lady Galadriel.
Did Feredir just say that I was lovely?
On my way from the King's House I ran into Elladan and Elrohir.
"I need to find a simple dress, and Haldir," I told them.
They looked at each other for a second and then turned their heads to me wearing identical wide grins. "We know what you need," said Elladan. "We have it," added Elrohir. "Just wait a moment."
They came to my room after a short while as promised, not bringing Haldir but carrying a package. They opened it with much ceremony to produce a white, low cut linen shift, and a corset-like waistcoat, grey with embroidered patterns of leaves and grapes. To complete the outfit, there was a lacy scarf shawl to drape around the shoulders. I had to admit it seemed perfect – simple and rustic, while at the same time pleasing to the eye. Even Thaladir would find nothing wrong with it, as long as I did not presume to wear it for some official court function.
"Where did you get this?" I asked Elladan as I traced the winding vines on the bodice. I had seen no shops or market stands in the upper city levels.
"We – borrowed it," hedged Elrohir.
"You didn't steal it, did you?"
"It wasn't stealing..." Elrohir declared, all innocence. "Its owner wanted something from us and we gave it to her." He grinned. I got the distinct feeling they had planned this in advance, knowing their foster-brother's tastes.
"And then you thanked this woman by stealing the clothes off her back."
"No," said Elladan, as if indignant, but his teasing smile was irrepressible. "Far from it," added Elrohir. "This was in her cupboard; she will not know it's gone until we return it to her."
"I should alert the guards," I muttered, "but you are much too handy."
"Naturally." They grinned and bowed. However, instead of leaving, they watched me rather expectantly as if waiting for some high treat.
"No," I told them as I shooed them towards the door. "I do not need your help to undress, thank you very much." The truth was I would have appreciated the company, but I did not trust myself to spend much time alone with them. Not now.
The protests to my verdict were surprisingly weak; surely the seneschal must have had something to do with their unusual surrender.
I came to regret my decision. The violet dress was not easy to take off without assistance and it seemed to take forever to unbutton the fastenings down the back. I removed the necklace after a moment's hesitation. I had come to like it for its elegant beauty and was not at all eager to let go of it.
I was likewise reluctant to slip out of my underwear. Thaladir had picked the garments with such typical expertise that they were the exact shade of the dress, but of a smoother, softer material. I closed my eyes and moved my hands over the fabric, imagining someone else touching me. Aragorn. His hands were larger, fuller, sinewy and strong – and would feel not at all like my own. But simple Middle-earth women did not wear silk underwear, or any underwear at all.
Shivering, I quickly pulled the linen shift over my head. The loose shift was very comfortable, and the tighter fitting bodice of a waistcoat gave support rather than leaving me feeling constrained. Luckily for me, it fastened in the front. It also provided a secure hiding place for Thaladir's vial.
Now I only needed to do something about my hair. I started to remove beads and pins, flowers and ribbons. I could perhaps leave one ribbon, or braid my hair into a single, thick plait. I tried some variants, but they either seemed too elaborate or made me look like a farm girl. Finally, I opted for wearing it loose, without any adornment at all.
There was a knock on the door, and moments later Elladan and Elrohir entered the room. Dressed, I was happy to see them.
"What do you think?" I asked, turning around to show my new look.
They examined me closely, muttering to each other. "I told you that girl was much shorter," Elrohir said. "Nobody will notice," Elladan replied. "Just let me tighten the bodice. Yes. And we need to do something about the shawl." He opened it somewhat, revealing more than a hint of cleavage.
"Perfect!" Elrohir exclaimed. "Just like the barmaids in Bree in their finery. Estel will love it," he explained. "It will bring back happy memories from his untroubled younger days."
"I didn't think he had any," I said. "Wasn't he always smitten with your sister?"
"That is the official version, and true in part. But she kept him waiting, and you know how young men are." He winked. "Elves are, of course, different," added Elladan in a serious tone, while Elrohir snorted.
"So a barmaid in Bree got lucky," I guessed.
"One or two or –" Elladan smacked his brother. "We should not spill all his secrets."
All attempts to find out more were futile, and when I found myself increasingly attracted to the twins, I decided it was time for them to go, and for me to find something to eat. "Please ask Haldir to fetch me at sunset," I requested as I escorted them to the door. At least with him, I would be sure to save my favours for the intended receiver. For once, I was happy that the Lorien captain had a reputation of resisting any attempt to seduce him.
To be continued...
Chapter posted: April 2, 2011
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"Long live Thranduil, great Elf-king of Greenwood!"