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Far Beyond Mirkwood, Chapter 37


Authors: Mary A and Malinornë
Warnings: Adult sexual content, and lots of it!
Disclaimer: This is a work of amateur fanfiction of the parody type and is meant solely for entertainment purposes, no profit is made.
Chapter summary: Mary take a closer look at Minas Tirith, and some of its visitors, while Mal does her best to fulfil her ultimate purpose in Middle-earth.



~ Mary ~

For the rest of the day, until the sun began to set, I could not shake the feeling that I was being kept amused, and out from under the king's feet. Feredir, silent and stone-faced, was the most unsatisfactory companion, but he was an excellent escort. His appearance was very different from the typical elves that had settled in Minas Tirith, who were mostly robed and fashionably accessorized. Not my wood-elf bodyguard, he wore dark buckskin leggings and a tunic-length vest over a long-sleeved shirt that appeared to be made out of dingy cobwebs, which was possible.

Not that Feredir was completely accessory-free. Around his waist, he wore a belt with a long knife sheathed in a scabbard at his hip. On his face, he wore a fierce expression, and his silken dark hair was the perfect frame for it. There was no hand-holding between us this time, he kept my arm securely gripped within his, and no one came near us.

From the way he led me around the ascending city gates, I got the idea that this was his first visit to this city. Before we started climbing upwards, we walked past the lampwrights' neighbourhood and paused before the famous Great Gate of Minas Tirith. It was brand new, made of dark polished wood from the trees in the surrounding forests, and carved all over with numerous depictions of the important events of the War of the Ring.

There was a memorial tablet erected next to the wall just inside the open gate, which told the story of the original Great Gate, thought to be impenetrable, and how it was destroyed by Grond, the enormous battering ram wielded by Sauron's army. It was a chilling reminder of how close the city had come to being destroyed.

"Tell me how things are with Legolas," I said, to lift the gloomy mood.

"All is well," was the curt reply, and with a tug of his arm, we moved on.

"The weather is nice today," I tried again. "Don't you think?"

After wrinkling his nose, Feredir shook his head and said, "These dusty streets could use some rain."

After a few more vain attempts to start a conversation about the sights around us, I finally gave up the effort to be friendly, and just let myself be tugged along. It felt very lowering after a while.

At first, I had been buoyed along with the notion that Feredir had called me 'lovely', but his persistent aloofness began to deflate me. Perhaps he said it on purpose to render me more malleable - a trick that I am sure either Thranduil or Thaladir might have taught him. Thinking about it gave me the uncomfortable sensation that my life was being managed by a race of people who were far above me in wisdom and keenness of mind.

No one was forcing me to live with them. No one forced me to follow their rules and bend to their wishes, besides grouchy old Thaladir. Even he, however, was merely performing his duties to His Majesty, as he had done for many long years before me. I should not take the seneschal's disapproval personally, or Feredir's remoteness for that matter, but I could not help it.

We began our ascent to the higher levels shortly after we left the Great Gate. Feredir remained quiet, but more openly curious about our surroundings, as we made our zig-zag course to each successive gate, which were staggered to prevent any enemy from advancing straight to the top of the levels.

We often passed by other elves; most of them were doing their best to bring green growing things to the otherwise stony city, by installing window boxes in the neighborhoods with homes in them. These boxes were filled with different things, like flowers, herbs, or small vegetables, and were mostly to be found in the southern facing streets, where they would get the most sunlight. Other narrower boxes were used to line the stone streets, beneath the windows and beside the doors.

Every time we approached a group of these gardening elves, whose appearance indicated they were probably sent from Lorien, Feredir would nod at them, mutter a greeting, and hurry me along, before I could chat with them. From the widening of their eyes and slightly cocked heads, it was obvious some of them were amused by the odd pair we made. A wild Mirkwood elf accompanying a random mortal woman, who was wearing a lhinglain cloak, had to have aroused speculation. I giggled at the thought of what those elves were guessing about us.

Feredir seemed to take my amusement as an insult, without asking me what I found so funny, and he grew even more sullen in his silence. His tightened grip on my arm reminded me too much of a certain seneschal. If he was embarrassed by having to be seen with me now, then it mattered very little how he had said I was lovely earlier that day. I was tired of being treated like an unruly child.

After we had reached the fourth level, I insisted we find a place to sit so that I could have a rest. Feredir deliberately pulled me in the opposite direction of a group of elves and men that were standing in the shade of an awning, in front of the neighborhood's tavern. It looked like a lovely place to catch my breath, but Feredir preferred a stone bench on the other side of the street, in the direct rays of the setting sun. After we sat, he closed his eyes, crossed his arms, lifted his face to the brilliant light, and smiled.

For a few moments, I leaned back and stared at my elfy escort, and wondered at his motives. I became more and more certain that I detected a hint of smugness in his grin. Did he know I was staring at him, and believed that I did so because I find him attractive? Or, was he congratulating himself for keeping me away from other men.

"I can't decide something," I said to his irksome self-satisfied profile. He made no reply. A short burst of laughter from the tavern drew my attention away from my maddening escort, and I wished that I could be inside, where it had to be cool, dark, and filled with interesting faces.

Finally, after a short silence, I turned back to Feredir and added, "I need you to help me decide."

"I am at your service, Lady Mary," he said, while standing and tugging me up with him. "We can talk while we climb to the next levels."

"Alright, fine, we will walk then." Not that I really had a choice in the matter, since I was being pulled down the street, but I was in a better mood. At last, my close-lipped companion was going to actually keep me company.

"I can't help but notice," I began, "how hard you are working at making me both miserable and lonely, which is something only an elf can do. Either you are jealous, or you have been given orders to keep me away from doing anything fun today."

Feredir just kept walking, semi-pulling me forward, but not answering me.

"Which is it?"

"Lady Mary, neither one of your amusing guesses is correct," Feredir replied. "I promise you that I received no orders to prevent you from being amused. My duty is to escort you to meet with the White Lady and that is what I am doing."

I think those were the most words Feredir had ever spoken to me at one time, not that I paid attention to them.

"Then you are jealous," I said. Feredir grinned down at me, as if I had just told him a joke.

"Of whom would I have cause to be jealous? You are in service to Aran Thranduil and he is my king as well; therefore, we cannot be severed from our mutual duty to him."

"You have no cause to be jealous, if you were," I said. "Because, besides my duty to the king, I haven't been with any man or elf since I spent the night in your flet."

This time, Feredir snorted, derisively. "This is supposed to impress me?"

"It would impress anyone else that knows me," I said.

"Have you decided?" he asked.

"Decided what?"

"If you will look into Lady Galadriel's mirror?"

"Absolutely, positively no, never."

"Are you afraid?"

"Of what?"

"We have arrived."

While Feredir and I had been arguing, we had continued to climb. The passages between each level were not as far apart as they had been at the bottom and we had reached the sixth one before I had even noticed.

We stood in front of a large wooden gate, which swung open slowly, revealing an almost miraculous site in this city of stone and mortar-a magnificent terraced garden. What seemed like acres of fragrant flowers and bushes spread out before us, and the setting sun tinted the entire landscape with a glowing golden glow. Birds, butterflies and lazy bees hovered and dove around the greenery.

I was greeted by a friendly man who identified himself as the Warden of the Houses of Healing. He slowly led Feredir and me on a tour of the massive garden, pointing out the various sorts of healing properties the plants and herbs provided. Everything he had to say was probably interesting for people who prefer the company of plants over other people, such as Feredir, but it bored me almost as much as one of Thaladir's lectures on propriety.

Then I saw Galadriel, who was standing under a white canopy next to a sparkling fountain, and I was almost sorry about it. Feredir would leave me now and it bothered me that I did not want him to go.


~ Mal ~

As the last rays of the dying sun coloured the city walls a rosy pink, I found my way down the sloping main road on Haldir's arm. The elven warrior was serenely quiet, leaving me to my thoughts. Thaladir had insisted on accompanying us and was following two steps behind. He had no need to make sure that I behaved myself. There was nothing on my mind but my soon-to-be lover.

A man, and what a man! Aragorn, son of Arathorn, a king, and yet for this night freed of the burdens of kingship by appearing as his former alias Strider, ranger from the north. I felt a shiver of excitement as I contemplated his eyes, his lips and the strong yet gentle hands that were soon to know all of me. A little anxiety still remained, but my earlier doubts were gone; I would finally share his bed. By the time we arrived at the inn, my body was practically thrumming with desire.

The establishment was suitably, if surprisingly, unremarkable, a mere hole in the wall, with nothing in its outward appearance that gave away its royal patron's presence. Inside, I understood even better why Aragorn had chosen it. Sparsely lit and with most tables set in alcoves which screened the customers, it was the perfect place for him to be incognito.

Some of the people at the tables – soldiers mostly – lifted their heads as we entered, but they returned to their drinks after a quick nod to Haldir, without more than a cursory glance at me. One or two smiled and raised their drinks. I nodded back politely, not really seeing them. Tonight, I had eyes for one particular man only.

"The usual, my good elf?" the innkeeper asked Haldir, while hurrying by with two foaming tankards.

"Aye," replied the captain, "and one for my tall friend as well." I glanced at Thaladir, who lifted an eyebrow. "Wine," explained Haldir. "Nothing compared to Thranduil's cellar, but decent."

"Coming up," said the man, having delivered the drinks. "And for the lady?" He glanced at me with appreciation. "We have a sweet mead that is popular with the ladies. "Then there's some cider, or punch; we made some fresh this morning." What do you say?"

Thaladir cleared his throat. "The lady has an appointment," he said darkly.

"Oh, yes, of course," said the innkeeper, glancing toward an alcove at the far end of the room, in a darkened corner where a candle on the table was the only source of light. He lowered his voice to add in something more of a whisper, "You are expected..."

Moving closer, I peered at the occupants, finding it hard to discern their features.

There, sharing a tankard with a ragged ranger, sat a fair-haired elf, from the looks of him no more than a rough stranger himself. Thaladir’s frown behind me was tangible as I approached the two villainous-looking men.

"It's alright," I told him in a low voice. "I recognize them now." At Thaladir's harrumphing I realized that he had immediately recognized Strider's drinking companion as the woodland king. As could be expected, he found it most unseemly for Thranduil to appear in public without showing off his status.

Now the men at the table turned their heads, acknowledging our presence.

"Relax, old friend," said the elf, addressing Thaladir. "Have a cup with the captain. I am in excellent company." He grinned, seeming for a second to light up the entire room with his presence.

I felt warm inside, and the remaining butterflies in my stomach began to leave room to the familiar surge of lust I so often experienced in his company. Only this time, I was not to direct it at him. 'Good', I heard the Elvenking's voice inside my head. I glanced at him and he nodded, smiling, towards the man across the table.

I sensed Thaladir and Haldir leaving my side, but my gaze was now trained on the darker man. As Strider, Aragorn had a strong aura of mystery and danger about him, which I helplessly realized was a powerful attraction to me, in spite of all my allegiance to Thranduil. Rough and unrefined he seemed; for all I knew this relative stranger might be about to devour me with his passion, as his eyes already seemed to do, gleaming in the shadows. The idea filled me with excitement.

I suddenly found myself unceremoniously pulled onto the lap of the elf, to the ranger's obvious delight. He watched with serious intent as I tried eagerly to drink from the cup Thranduil held at my lips. I could not catch it all, but when I swallowed hard it was for quite another reason, as the elf licked spilled rivulets of wine from my neck and décolletage. I laughed, feeling happy and wild and free. Nobody knew us here, so there was no court protocol to adhere to. Even Thaladir had been told not to mind. I turned my head and kissed the Elvenking loudly on the mouth. His hands came up to my breasts, cupping them.

Some of the others in the room were watching now, adding further to my excitement by making the display feel even more scandalous. The ranger wanted very much to participate, that was obvious from his hungry gaze. He looked as if he would pounce the moment Thranduil released me. Suddenly, I felt torn between the desperate want to be at his mercy immediately, and a wish to prolong the intoxicating feeling of being desired by two kings and shared between them. Thranduil's aroused presence in my mind as he showed me naughty pictures did not make the choice any easier.

The Elvenking had been growing hard under me. I shifted smoothly to get the most out of the situation as I leaned over the narrow table, steadying myself on my elbows and resting my head in my hands. I gasped at the pleasure of feeling him pressing even more deliciously against my backside. Under the table, Thranduil slid his hands under my skirt, up my thighs and between them. My wetness welcomed his fingers as I looked into the eyes of the other man, and I realized with a fresh surge of lust that Strider knew precisely what was happening. I saw him swallow and glance over my shoulder at the elf.

“Yes,” Thranduil urged huskily. The ranger slid forward and bent over the table, where his mouth claimed mine. The kiss was brief; I got hardly more than a taste of his rough manliness before he sat down again on the edge of the chair, his hands now under the table. He was grinning widely, and I suddenly felt another set of hands on my thighs. I shivered with delight as a calloused fingertip travelled down the inside and then brushed against my core, before Thranduil's familiar thumb took its place for a fleeting moment. In my thoughts I bemoaned the loss of contact, but then I realized that the elf was holding me open for the man. I challenged Strider with a heated gaze under fluttering lashes. The ranger impaled me on two long fingers, in one draw that made me gasp again and close my eyes for a moment, overwhelmed by the intensity of the sensation.

I relished the sudden invasion, accepting it willingly and yearning for more. Slowly I opened my eyes as I leaned back against the Elvenking's chest, took his hands and prepared to enjoy the ranger's attention to the fullest. Strider gave me a lop-sided grin, his grey eyes boring into mine, and then his thumb brushed against me again, teasingly, leaving me breathless. Once more I felt this feather-light touch, and then he stealthily slipped under the table. Thranduil chuckled and the next moment I experienced the ranger's full ardour as he worshipped me with his tongue. I could stay quiet no more.

Only when the innkeeper came to our table did I stop moaning. Wringing his hands, the man looked apologetic but determined. “My lords and, eh, lady, it’s time you take your play somewhere else, lest my inn be mistaken for an unlawful establishment. I have rooms for rent, if you need one.”

Strider looked out from under the table, his face glistening with my dew.

"My sincere apologies," he told the man in a calm, very ordinary voice. "If you would lead the way to your best available room, please?"

I stifled a giggle – his display of effortless control was as funny as it was impressing.

"Enjoy the night," said Thranduil, as I rose from his lap. "I will join the captain and my seneschal now."

I watched him grab two full bottles from the counter as he passed it. Within moments, I would be alone with the ranger, and I would make the most of it for everyone's sakes, not least my own.

The innkeeper walked towards the stairs in a hurry, now and then glancing over his shoulder. The ranger and I followed suit, his hand firmly planted on the small of my back, then sliding decidedly lower than was proper for gentleman. I felt Thranduil's presence in my mind as we went, firm and reassuring. 'Enjoy him' vibrated in my ears. Yet I could not help feeling that there was something else mingled with that sentiment. Jealousy and – fear?

All lingering thoughts about the Elvenking evaporated as soon as the innkeeper pulled the door shut behind me with an audible click. Within moments now, I would finally lie with the man I yearned for. I gazed into Strider's darkened eyes and smiled, listening to the sound of the other man's steps receding with my back against the door. Then I reached out a hand and slowly ran my fingers over the bulging front of his leather breeches. The hiss from his lips filled me with satisfaction. I did it again. His eyes flashed darkly.

"The bed looks nice," I said in a low voice, caressing him a third time.

"Too late," he breathed voicelessly into my ear, his body suddenly crushing me against the door.

His sudden proximity shocked and delighted me. I felt trapped in a way that aroused me incredibly. I moaned out loud as his scent filled my nostrils and the stubble on his chin rasped against my throat. His hardened length pressed with intent against my core.

"Don't you know," he said in a raspy voice, "that playing with mysterious strangers has consequences?"

I shivered with expectation. "Show me," I whispered. Within moments, I felt his hand hitch up my skirt, his calloused palm brushing against my thigh full of wicked promise. I wrapped my arms around his shoulders, and my left leg around his waist, preparing for his sweet assault – only to find myself frustrated as my heated flesh met with soft but unyielding leather. His tongue in my mouth was mimicking the frantic motion of his hips, but achieving so much more as it thrust deep into me. I needed him, now.

I snuck my hand between our bodies in an attempt to unlace his breeches. It was surprisingly easy. They opened to release his length, but stayed in place, hugging his hips, as I guided him in. He slid deep inside me at once, proving to wield his sword as well as any elf. I sheathed him with great eagerness. As he began to move, the discomfort of the door behind me was quite forgotten, thanks to that perfect angle he made in me.

His breath came in short pants in time with his thrusts, each punctuated with a small grunt that would have sounded funny if it wasn't so erotic.

"Yes," I panted. "Yes, please, more, yes..."

He continued for much longer than I thought possible for a mortal man, in a steady rhythm that drove me mad from lust by its sheer relentlessness. Then, when I had reached a screaming peak at least twice, he pulled out almost entirely, only to drive me up against the door with a final thrust that threatened to burst the thing wide open. I watched his face as his expression grew lax. Slowly he opened his eyes and withdrew, but continued to hold me in his arms. His next kiss was sweet, and lingering with promise.

"Is this... all?" I asked hesitantly as he let go of me and backed away from the door as he closed his breeches. Surely it couldn't be all? Surely I would feel if the world had somehow changed through our coupling? Now, all I felt was that I already wanted him again.

He chuckled. "The rangers of the north are often accused of being unrefined, yet discourtesy to a lady is rarely found among our many sins. After such haste, would I not wish even more for a chance to treat you with gentleness also?" He drew his hand softly over my cheek, smiling as I melted into his caress. "We have the night," he said gently and then continued in a dryer voice, amused, "Your... Thranduil, or rather his seneschal, informed me that a single occurrence of intercourse might not be sufficient to achieve the ultimate purpose of our union." He grinned at my obvious pleasure.

"Now, come. I would see you." He took my hand and we covered the small distance to the bed. There, he traced my neckline with his finger, stopping at the bodice laces long enough to ask, endearingly if unnecessarily, "If you permit?"

Heated even further from the promise of his teasing touch, my first impulse was to urge him on with an unladylike 'yes'. I couldn't have cared less if he had ripped the garments off me. I took a deep breath, only now realising I had been holding it in eager expectation, and said, "If you let me do the same with you." He might look gorgeous in his worn leather and crumpled tunic, but I could not wait to get him out of them.

"A fair bargain."

A kiss sealed this very satisfactory agreement and then his lips began to graze my throat ever so gently while his fingers worked away at the lacings. It was no easy feat with the shawl partly hiding the knot. Eventually he settled for removing the shawl entirely with a swift tug. Suddenly bared to the cooler air of the room, and his appraising gaze, I gave a slight shiver. Warm lips calmed my goose-bumps and as he opened my bodice, inch by inch, I felt all desire and breathless expectation.

He cupped my breasts, now only partly covered by the thin linen of my shift. "So lovely," he said in a low voice as he began to gently massage them. "You are so lovely."

"So are you," I said huskily, dropping my hands to his buttocks with equal enthusiasm. "Aragorn – may I call you that? You are the most handsome man I have ever met."

At this he laughed, for a moment stilling his motions. "You have peculiar taste, Malinorne."

"Perhaps. But I do mean it. And please call me Mal."

He looked at me with intent, then stroked an errant lock of hair from my face. "If you say so, Mal. Now, allow me to remove this."

My bodice fell to the floor with a soft thumping sound that I hoped would drain out the faint clink from the vial that slipped out of it. Obviously unnecessary, its presence now embarrassed me – how could I have doubted the man who so eagerly relieved me of my remaining garment, his hands spreading fire across my body as they pushed the shift higher and higher?

Finally, he gathered the material in his hands and lifted the shift over my head. I felt awkward for a second, standing naked before him, with him still fully dressed, but it was a fleeting sentiment that was gone the moment his mouth closed on mine. Our tongues danced and I tried to take in as much as possible of all that was him, his scent, his taste, and the tickle of his hairy chin. His hands on my body.

As we broke the kiss, he began to explore me in earnest as I watched him in wonder. It was impossible to tell which was more erotic – his strong, sinewy hands, calloused fingertips meeting sensitive flesh, stroking ever so lightly, or the expression on his face – eyes half-lidded, mouth slightly agape in lustful admiration.

His lips closed around a hardened nipple and I gasped with want. "Touch me," I said throatily. "Please."

Fingers began wander, across my belly, over the roundness of my mound, finding their true aim. The precise pressure of his thumb against my nub quickly sent me into a state of bliss and I bucked shamelessly against his hand.

"Yes," he breathed into my ear. "Come for me, now."

Seldom has an instruction been followed more easily or with greater eagerness. I came apart on his fingers helplessly clinging to him as I moaned my pleasure. He continued to hold me as I calmed, then kissed my sweaty forehead.

"Now we need to get you out of this," I said, tugging at his tunic, "And these..." I cupped him briefly, just enough to feel the delightful strain against his breeches and see his eyes darken even further.

Swiftly, giving me no chance to assist, he pulled the tunic over his head, then paused suddenly as he put it down on the floor. His eyes had fallen on something.

The vial. I winced as I watched him pick it up.

"What is this?" he asked as he peered at the liquid inside and then proceeded to pull out the stopper.

"No!"

"Why?" He had stopped at the right second and the vial remained closed, resting innocently on his palm. "Hmm, I seem to recognize this."

"We... I... Thaladir gave it to me just in case. We do not need it."

He laughed. "No, it appears we do not. My foster brothers once slipped it into my drink, with interesting consequences. I would have mated with an ogress, had the opportunity presented itself."

Now it was my turn to chuckle. "Who cured you?"

"My betrothed."

"I shouldn't have asked. I'm sorry."

"Don't be. She knows; Thranduil approached her first. I am here because of her."

"Then she is a wiser woman than most, and very generous."

"She is." He smiled, for a moment distracted by some memory it seemed. "Kiss me," he said suddenly.

I used all I had to pull him back to the here and now, and it worked. Aragorn, son of Arathorn, proved particularly fond of feeling a pair of nipples slowly dragged across his chest, especially when paired with a hand inside his breeches. When at last I lay back on the bed, smiling invitingly, he shrugged out of his remaining garments in seconds.

I pulled him down upon me, but he refused to relinquish control. Rather than accepting my shameless invite to plunge in, he gave me only the tip of his manhood. Supporting his weight on strong, sinewy arms, he held himself tantalizingly halfway inside. I growled, willing him to enter me properly and start moving. Yet he did not. Apparently, watching my agony excited him. I could feel him swell even further inside me.

"Please!" I moaned.

"I am a patient man," he stated calmly, as if waiting in this position was no more straining than waiting for a cup of tea to reach the perfect temperature.

"You are evil. Or at least decidedly bad."

"You appear decidedly corrupt yourself, my lady. I have not known such blessed, unadulterated wantonness before."

"I've learnt from the best." I smirked, but his sudden thrust turned my lips into an 'o' of astonishment and pleasure.

Then it was his time to gasp. The slow pace allowed us both to fully appreciate the sensations created as our bodies came together, far more so than in the frantic coupling against the door. Our eyes met and I continued to hold his gaze as he pulled back, then thrust again in a sensuous rhythm that made me feel like floating on wave upon wave of pleasure. Seeing this rapture mirrored in his eyes took my delight to impossible heights.

"Yes," I keened. "Yes. More, please. More. Yes..."

He smiled and adjusted my legs a little. "I will... give you... more..." he grunted between thrusts.

Gradually, he quickened the pace and I began to meet him with more force. Our minds' desire to prolong that special moment of agony and bliss eventually gave way to our bodies' urgent need for immediate gratification. We were both pulled over the edge, laughing and drunk with desire.

It was not enough for either of us, how could it be? This night was unique, it was our only chance to be together and it was something to savour, to try and press every drop of pleasure from, so that in the morning, nothing would remain unexplored that we wished to experience together. And so, we continued to share our bodies, until sleep finally claimed us.

When I awoke, a bleak light had appeared around the edges of the window. I sensed the ranger's presence beside me and sighed. I did not want it to be morning already.

"Hush," he said, moving closer and pressing his front against my back. His hand caressed my arm and then gently cupped my breast.

"Is it still night?"

He did not answer, but instead began to tease my nipple with his fingers, pinching it gently in a way that only served to further make me bemoan the time of the day. Then he ran his fingers across my stomach and let them rest between my legs. The pleasant soreness I felt did not deter me from responding to his touch; I pressed myself against his hand, willing it to touch me deeper.

"Alas," he chuckled as began to caress my pearl, twisting it gently between his fingers. Controlling the sun's rising is not within my powers. But I have ordered the shutters remain closed."

With a contented sigh, I gave in to the gentle nudging from behind and opened my leg ever so slightly, crooking it to give him welcome access. I pressed myself against his fingers and gasped at his sudden acceptance of the invitation. I had not realised to what extent I was ready for him again.

I relished feeling him move slowly and fully in and out while at the same time his hand lavished my front with attention. Yet I wanted him harder, deeper. On my elbows and knees I received what I desired, again punctuated with the grunts I now counted as his signature. A keening sound slipped from me, then his hand was suddenly in front of my mouth and I began to suck the fingers eagerly, inviting my lover to take me harder still, until we both collapsed, satiated and spent.

This must be the last time. There was no denying it. It was morning.

"If nothing comes of this," I said pensively, "I will still not count this night vain."

"Nor will I," he stated seriously. "Strider may be many things, but he is not a fool." He kissed my hand reverently, then turned it and darted out his tongue at the sensitive centre of my palm. "I must take my leave," he said gravely, meeting my gaze. "We will not meet like this again, but know that I am grateful."

I nodded. I did not need tell him in words that my feelings were the same.


~ Mary ~

Reluctantly, I bid farewell to Feredir and sat with Galadriel. There was a lovely supper laid out for us, but I was not very hungry.

During the entire day of being yanked around Minas Tirith, I had never lost the feeling of being kept occupied and out of the way of the king. Maybe Galadriel was going to give me bad news. Maybe Thranduil did not want me anymore? I could not help but recall how distant he had been lately. Nervously, I sipped at a goblet of sparkling wine and tried not to worry about what this elven queen was going to make me see in her mirror.

The sun had set, but it seemed too early in the evening for the stars, including the Star of Earendil, to come out, and I wondered what we were going to talk about while we waited for them to appear.

"Earendil the Mariner is not like the other stars, Lady Mary," Galadriel said gently. "In fact, the Lightbearer of Westernesse is as alive as you or me." For a few seconds, I just stared at her. From nowhere, the idea came to me that Feredir had been thrust into my path for a reason. A possible alternative? Did the king expect me to run off with the wild wood elf, live in a tree house, and eat boiled squirrels for dinner? Was that the vision awaiting me?

"Do I have to look in your mirror?" I blurted out. In reply, she laughed, a light tinkling sound that reminded me of wind chimes.

"You do not require a mirror to see what has been, what is now, or what might come to pass, Lady Mary. Your destiny lies entirely in your own two hands."

Stupidly, I looked down at my hands, as if they were going to speak to me.

"Close your eyes and open your inner ears," Galadriel whispered, and even though I never knew that I had 'inner ears', I tried it. For a few moments, I just sat and listened to the fountain, the leaves that rustled in the evening breeze, and the faint twittering of sleepy birds.

Abruptly, all of the surrounding noises ceased, and I felt something. It was the king, and he was anxious, agitated, and… fearful?

"Thranduil!" I cried, and I was suddenly up on my feet and racing toward the gates. Behind me, I heard Galadriel calling my name as I burst through them, expecting to find Feredir standing by, and ran right into the grouchiest elf in Middle Earth. He appeared to be in distress, and I panicked at the sight.

"Lady Mary," Thaladir said with a bow, "Your king…"

"I know! I know!" I interrupted. "Where is he? Take me to him!" Without waiting for him to reply, I turned to run to Thranduil's guest chambers, but was halted in mid-flight by the seneschal's restraining grip on my cloak.

"My lady, we will require a horse to reach him without unnecessary delay," he said, and then he guided me away from the gates, explaining, "The stables are this way." Almost miraculously, the King's stables were located on the same level as the Houses of Healing, and Thaladir lifted me with him onto a suitable mount, and we were on our way down the six levels, at a surprisingly swift speed for him.

The last place in Middle Earth I expected to find my king was a murky, smoke-filled tavern, occupied mostly by the ale-drinking mortal men of Minas Tirith, but there he was, sitting in a dark corner with Haldir.

Even odder, Thranduil was dressed like a mortal man in shabby clothes, but his majesty shone through the disguise, even though he seemed pensive and preoccupied. Haldir did not seem any happier, although he at least acknowledged my arrival with a courtly nod.

The king did not even look at me. Instead, he grumbled something in elvish at Thaladir, and I could tell that he was talking about me. His seneschal replied to him, but I could not understand a thing they were saying. While they talked, I took a long look around me. Besides Haldir, there was not another elf in sight.

"What is this place?" I interrupted them. "What are you doing here?"

"Begging your pardon, sirs," an unfamiliar voice broke in. "Would you be needing another room now?" A man, apparently the tavern owner, was smiling directly at me as he spoke.

"Another room?" I asked, more to hear myself speak than because I expected anyone to answer me.

"Perhaps you are right, old friend," the king said to Thaladir in the Common Language. He nodded at the innkeeper and then pulled me down into his lap. Instantly, I could tell that he was aroused. What was going on?

"Where is Mal?" I asked.

"My seneschal has convinced me to change my mind about something, and I want you to listen to me carefully, and do not speak until I am finished."

"Alright, I will be quiet."

"Will you please bridge for me one last time? Think carefully. I am not commanding you. You must answer of your own free will and in service not to me, but for the future of Middle Earth."

"Did you just say please?" It was the most shocking word I had ever heard come out of his beautiful mouth.

"I did," Thranduil replied. There was really nothing to think about. My earlier fears disappeared. The king needed me.

"My lord, you know that I would do anything for you. Of course I will."


~ Mal ~

I remained in bed, watching through half-lidded eyes as Aragorn washed himself perfunctorily in a basin, before donning his tunic, breeches and boots. He flung a hooded cloak over his shoulders, winked at me and then slipped out of the room, quiet as a shadow. Lazily, my eyes drifted to the washbasin. The idea that I ought to get up and ready myself for a new day crossed my mind. I would rest for just another five minutes first, with my cheek on my lover's still warm pillow.

The next thing I knew, I was in a different bed, with clean crisp linen that rustled softly when I moved. With each breath, air with the sharp freshness of rosemary and mint filled my nostrils, and as I slowly opened my eyes I became aware of a shape beside the bed, dark in the sharp light from the large windows.

"Where am I?" I asked, surprised to hear my words come out as a hoarse whisper.

"I-Mbair Nestad," answered a soft, angelic voice. "You are in the Houses of Healing."

"Why –" ¬ A cool hand was placed on mine. "Do not attempt to speak – save your strength," said the angel. I looked up into her face and recognized Queen Arwen Undómiel. Mildness and pity shone from her eyes, momentarily drenching out the pang of guilt I felt at seeing her.

"You were exhausted to the point of unconsciousness," she explained. "You have slept for more than a day and a night," she continued as she stroked my hand slowly.

"Thranduil–"

"He is in still in Minas Tirith," she replied, anticipating my question."He wishes to depart for his forest realm as soon as possible, but you are not fit for travel yet. He will not leave without you." She held my gaze until I nodded understanding. "Now, do you think you can eat something?"

I nodded again. Despite my long fasting, I did not feel very hungry, but it seemed pointless to decline. I wanted to become stronger as fast as possible. The porridge she offered was tastier than it looked. To my surprise, I found that I had eaten all of it almost without noticing.

"Very good," said a male voice.

I looked up, astonished to find the Elvenking standing beside me. His expression was kind and relaxed. Had it worked then, this strange transfer of power?

"Time will tell." His deep baritone was like a caress to my soul, wrapping me in a familiar sense of security. He took my hand and stroked it gently, smiling. Then as we looked deep into each other's eyes, I felt words in my mind he would rarely form with his lips. "Thank you."

He remained by my side, holding my hand, stroking my forehead and telling me of the lushness of Greenwood until the sun was high in the sky. Then he sighed, and said as he rose, "Do everything the healers say. I cannot bear these walls!"

Later, Mary came in, bouncing with energy and bringing everything that was needed for an indoor picnic, which she promptly spread out on the cover of my bed.

"Thaladir told me everything," she said triumphantly pouring me a cup of some evil-smelling brew she insisted contained kingsfoil, straight from the hands of our host. "Thranduil needed company while you were busy. You left him horny and nearly drunk."

A familiar pang of guilt hit me, quite illogically. I had left the Elvenking due to his own orders.

"None of that," she said, with a chuckle. "I enjoyed it very much. We both did. But, how do you feel?"

"I feel... ordinary," I said after a moment's hesitation. "It's strange, really. I no longer feel the urge to be fucked senseless by any male with long hair and pointed ears."

"Only by one?" She narrowed her eyes suspiciously.

"Only by one," I confirmed, although, truth to be told, what I had felt when the Elvenking came to see me was something much purer.

"Darn."

We both began to laugh. If there had been serious rivalry between us when we first came to Mirkwood, we had long since learnt to share Thranduil. And to treasure the friendship that had always been there, even when our differences seemed impossible to overcome.

"Get well soon, Mal," she said seriously. "I want to go home." I knew she meant Mirkwood, not modern day America. She sighed, and then continued. "I never thought I'd long to live in a cave again, with Thaladir watching my every step, but I do."

"The old grouch must be homesick, too," I replied, using her nickname for the venerable seneschal. "I know our king is. Give him a kiss from me, will you?"

"Of course. And then I'll give him a better kiss from myself, so he'll forget about yours."

I threw a pillow at her and she scampered out of the room, laughing with me as she went.

"What was that about?" said a familiar voice. I saw a dark head appear around in the door frame, soon to be followed by the rest of Elrohir, as well as his brother.

"Don't ask," I replied. "You know Mary."

"We do," said Elladan dreamily. "And very well at that."

Elrohir poked his ribs. "We came to tell you about the dress. It has been returned to its rightful owner."

"Not in the state it was, of course," added Elladan. "It showed some signs of use..." At that, both twins grinned lecherously and I couldn't help laughing at their expression, as they no doubt had intended.

"Now," said Elrohir, suddenly serious, "there is something else we wanted to tell you. If you feel strong enough to come out into the garden at sunset, there will be a surprise waiting for you."

He bowed, and then the two of them left.

I rested some more and when evening came, I found that I was not only feeling well enough to go outside, but I was also far too curious to even consider staying inside. The herbal gardens of the Houses of Healing were famous for their beauty. Even without surprises they were a sight to behold.

The sight that met me outside was otherworldly. A myriad of small lamps lit the gravel pathways that crisscrossed the gardens, almost giving the impression that the herbs themselves were luminescent. Against the balustrade, a table had been set up but there were no seats other than the benches I saw scattered here and there. Tall shapes in white stood in small groups or strolled around the garden.

As one of them came closer, I recognized Lord Cirdan, looking splendid in a silver robe that matched his hair and beard.

"Dear lady," he said, loud enough that everyone turned to look at us, "you are most welcome. This is an informal reception, of course, as we did not wish to tax you overmuch, but be assured that we have all gathered here in your honour."

He handed me a glass and as I lifted it in a toast, everyone did the same. I was deeply touched by the gesture, and by seeing so many dear, special faces at the same time. Thranduil, Thaladir and Mary were there, of course, and the King and Queen. I knew Galadriel and Celeborn were in Minas Tirith, but it was a surprise to see Gildor Inglorion beside Haldir. And Feredir! Elrond was the biggest surprise of all – it felt like an eternity since I had been to Imladris. With Elladan and Elrohir standing next to him I suddenly realized how very alike they were, all three grey-eyed and dark, and, oh, so very handsome!

"Relax," said Cirdan. "This is as formal as we intend to be. Walk around, make conversation if you wish it, or be quiet if that is your preference. We all know what you have been through."

I felt a deep blush rise to my cheeks.

"Not the details, naturally," he said in a low, confidential voice. "Every one of us has kept those to ourselves, as a treasured memory not for casual sharing."

As we reached the table, he bowed and left me to my own devices ? and the delicacies there. I picked out a few morsels and ate them slowly as I admired the first stars. Then I began to walk around the garden, pausing here and there to exchange a smile or a nod with someone. That was all I needed, I found. I was not in a mood for conversation, and nobody tried to engage me in one.

Some time later, I was again standing by the balustrade, supporting myself on the rail. Despite all the rest I had had, I still felt tired, even on the verge of illness. My time with Thranduil had so far been blessed with unfailing health, but now I felt feeble all of a sudden, as if indeed some power the elves had filled me with had left and the full weight of human weaknesses was coming down on me.

In the corner of my eye I noticed someone approaching me. With gladness, I recognized Master Elrond. If anyone knew what had befallen me, it must be him.

"Pardon me for interrupting your thoughts," he said quietly. "It is yet too soon to deem if what you think is true. Regardless, these events have taken a toll on your humanity ? that much I have seen. I have been taking turns with my daughter by your sickbed as you slept."

"Thank you," I said sincerely, awed by his revelation.

"Rest alone will not help you regain your strength," he said, and then continued, "I come with an offer. The healing gifts of my kind are strongest at night, under the canopy of the stars. Thus, if you wish it, I would like to treat you here, now, rather than tomorrow."

I didn't need to think long. I wanted to spend some time with the ruler of Imladris, awake and able to enjoy his company. The better if I could do so without having to talk much. "I would like that, too," I said. "Right here?"

"It would be better if we sit down," he replied and gestured towards a bench a short way into the garden.

I sat with him beside me and closed my eyes as he instructed. Then he began to run his hands gently over my body, first my arms and hands, then my neck and shoulders. All the while he hummed quietly, a soothing sound that I could relax into as easily as I did with his touch.

After a while he stopped caressing me, although he still hummed, and I opened my eyes. He made a gesture and a second person came forth, the one I least expected.

"My presence surprises you", said Aragorn.

"You are the King. I did not really think you would treat patients, though of course I have heard the saying."

"The hands of the king are the hands of a healer," he quoted. "The old rhymes are true, you know. And if anyone is worthy of my attentions this evening, it is you."

Now they both began stroking me and this time I kept my eyes open. Looking at their hands was as relaxing as the touch itself.

The caresses were altogether chaste and, strangely enough, my body did not react any differently when their hands were between my legs than when they stroked my arms. I enjoyed the ministrations immensely, and not only for the relaxing effect; they seemed to fill me with an inner peace that surpassed anything I had experienced earlier.

By the balustrade, Elladan and Elrohir were standing together with Mary, talking quietly. I pitched my ears to their conversation when she glanced at me and then turned back to the twins.

"What on earth are they doing with her?" I heard her said.

"A manual therapy," explained Elladan. "A healing technique."

She turned to me again; this time her gaze followed Aragorn's hand as it moved in circles over my front. "It looks like they're feeling her up," she stated.

Elrohir snorted. "Trust me, if my brother and I were to deliver such treatment, it would be just that," said Elladan. As an afterthought, he added, "Would you care for some?"

I did not catch her reply, but I very clearly heard the Elvenking's intervention, even before he came into my line of sight.

"If so, I believe I should be the one to deliver it," he said.

Mary's reply was a squeal of happiness.

I watched them leaving, with a remarkable lack of jealousy that made me feel very sensible and mature. Then I suddenly yawned, perhaps a combined effect of the late hour and the relaxation of the two pairs of hands stroking me.

Elrond declared that it was time for me to go to bed. I was more than content to do so, especially with such an illustrious escort as the Lord of Imladris and the King of Gondor and Arnor.

As the two of them left me, ensconced once more in my bed, King Elessar suddenly turned his head and smiled. The look of meaning he gave me as he did so sent a pleasant tingle through my body. He winked mischievously and for a second I was brought back to the night of passion we had shared. Somewhere inside this imposing king, and not too far underneath the polished surface, the ranger Strider still lived on. I winked back. When I fell asleep, it was with a smile on my lips.

To be continued... and concluded in ch 38.


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Chapter posted: July 18, 2011

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