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Far Beyond Mirkwood, Chapter 6/?

Authors: Mary A and Malinornë
Pairings: Mainly Thranduil/OFCs
Warnings: Adult sexual situations, slightly naughty elf behavior, hardly any nudity.
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: Malinorne spends the night with some interesting company and Thranduil and Mary finally reach Isengard.

~ Mal~

As wonderful as it would be to accept Quickbeam's offer to stay for the night in his house, I knew that Thaladir would not permit it.

"Indeed, o ancient one," he said, "it appears reasonable to assume that such an experience would add considerably to the scientific benefit of our current visit, and, furthermore be most agreeable." I held my breath when the seneschal continued.

"Regrettably, however, I will be forced to decline this most generous offer, due to lack of provisions. While elves can abstain from feeding for a time, the physique of humans is, unfortunately, more delicate." His face was set in stone, but he almost sounded a little sad.

"We have lembas," I reminded him.

"The Lady's gift is for situations of great need; spending it frivolously, having travelled but a short part of our journey, would be most inappropriate."

"We could go back to the carriages and get some food, and then return here. Thaladir, pleeease!"

"Unacceptable. Your manners, my lady, are becoming unsatisfactory, which I believe is evidence of your imminent requirement of rest." He frowned.

"Your Excellency," I pronounced carefully, eyes modestly downcast. "I am deeply sorry about my behaviour and ask you please to accept my sincere apology." I peered at his face and saw the frown slowly disappearing. I looked at his feet again and continued: "I forgot due to excitement, not exhaustion, but it would distress me greatly, Your Excellency, were you to set aside further scientific explorations for my sake. Indeed, it would crush me, Your Excellency."

I knew since my early days in Mirkwood that the seneschal was very susceptible to frequent use of his title, especially when paired with the submissive humbleness he considered befitting of a concubine. I stifled a giggle as I remembered one of his lessons, where he had closed his eyes and almost seemed to become aroused from the 'yes, my lord' he made me repeat until the intonation was perfect.

A respectful curtsy ended my performance. I looked hopefully at Thaladir, but in the corner of my eye I saw Haldir's grin. He knew exactly what I was doing.

"March Warden," said the seneschal after clearing his throat, "I trust you will find your way to our encampment?" Haldir nodded and was on his way before Thaladir could say anything more.

"Listen to the rowan trees," called Quickbeam after the running elf. "They will lead you to my house." Our host had remained quiet during the discussion, only swaying the leaf-like appendages on his arms, but now he seemed eager to leave.

"My house is not far," he told us.

For ents, Quickbeam's house was just a few steps from where we had been standing, but it still took us about half an hour to reach it. I was just going to ask our host how much longer we would have to walk when he announced that we were already there.

An ent-house is very different from anything humans, or elves, would call a house. This one was just a flat, grassy area on top of a low hill, with rocks on three sides and a small brook trickling through it. The rock was a slimy green where the water flowed across it, but not in an unhealthy way. The water itself was clear and fell from one of the 'walls' in a cascade, creating a miniature waterfall.

"This is where I rest," said our host, pointing with his twiggy fingers at a stone platform at about the height of my shoulders. It was pretty high up for a bed, and very hard-looking, as the surface wasn't covered with anything. Not even Thranduil would like to lie on that. Quickbeam was a good observer.

"You like softer beds," he told me with a gentle and amused look of his expressive eyes.

"Yes." He began to laugh, like he had done when we first met. The humour of ents is beyond me

"You can rest there," he said between bursts of laughter, and then he took a huge stride over one of his walls, where the brook came from, and disappeared into the trees, still chuckling.

I looked at my designated sleeping area. It was in a corner, sheltered by rock from two sides and the grass looked soft enough. I just wondered if it wouldn't be cold at night to sleep on the bare ground and without a cover. But maybe I could lie in the middle between Haldir and Thaladir.

The thought of the two elves so close warmed me. No more than two days had passed since the king left, but with all the new impressions it felt like forever. I missed him badly, now when I finally had a quiet minute to think about him, and I missed his touch. With him, I wouldn't even feel it if I had to lie on stone, at least not much, and he wouldn't let me be cold either.

I glanced at the king's seneschal, who, after a short inspection of our quarters had taken to pacing back and forth between the waterfall and the ent-bed, with his hands on his back and a hint of a wrinkle forming between his eyebrows.

"I like it here," I told him. After all, it was I who had wanted so much to spend the night in an ent-house.

"These environments are suitable for an ent," he muttered, "and comfortable enough for an elf; however, highly inadequate for a mortal lady. I should not have allowed it."

"I will be fine, and I am very grateful that we could come here." That at least was true.

"Failing to instruct the March Warden to fetch a blanket in addition to the food items was a most regrettable oversight on my part, wherefore I fear that I have failed His Majesty in this matter."

"Maybe Haldir will think of bringing one. He is not stupid, Your Excellency." This made him perk up, but I suspect it was once again more because of his title than a sign of trust in the Lórien elf's intellectual capacity.

"Indeed he might."

We waited while the patch of blue sky above our heads turned first a rosy red and then a deeper purple, but Haldir didn't turn up, and neither did our host. Strangely, it did not make me worried. I would not have wanted to be alone in Fangorn, but Quickbeam's sheltered 'house' felt safe, and the tiny waterfall provided a calming sound of flowing water. It was fresh to drink, and I knew that Thaladir had a supply of lembas stashed somewhere underneath his flowing robes and would share them, his unwillingness to 'waste' any notwithstanding.

The seneschal calmed down once he saw that I was well and we spent some time talking about the things that we had seen in Fangorn. Despite his earlier indignation at the topic of procreation, it turned out that he had recorded a detailed account of it in his notebook. I decided that spending the night there with him would not be bad at all. He might even be convinced to hold me, even if I felt sure he would pretend it was purely for the sake of protecting my, as he preferred to think, fragile mortal body.

~ Mary ~

Having Thranduil all to myself, under the stars, was both exhilarating and romantic, but waking up the next morning was dreadful. Before I had fully opened my eyes, I was missing my bedroom back in Mirkwood and I was envious of Mal and her snug little carriage bed. I even missed sleeping in the trees of Lorien.

Although I was not sore from riding when I awoke, I was not in the best of moods and the gloomy dawn did not help. Camping next to a river might be romantic, but it is also damp after the morning mists creep out from the water and blanket everything. And I knew that there was not going to be any coffee out here, either.

Any physical discomfort from sleeping outdoors on the ground, which I may have worried about suffering, had been thoroughly, one might even say exhaustively, compensated for by my lusty king. Mostly, I had no time to think about where I was, and no reason to dwell on the circumstances.

Just to be near an elf in the dark, where you can truly see a soft shimmering glow about them, is magical. I wanted to stay awake all night to just stare at him, and run my hands over his shiny skin, and I would gladly have slept on sharp boulders for the opportunity.

He had been a gentle lover, too, and mindful of the limitations of our narrow bedroll, which was spread on soft grass, but the grass prickled. Afterwards, he had pulled me over on top of him to sleep on his chest, instead of on the thin bedroll. I am not sure that his unyielding flesh was a much softer bed.

Although he was nowhere to be seen in the gray morning light, Thranduil had thoughtfully started a fresh fire to warm up our immediate vicinity. The crackling and snapping noises must have woken me, because it was otherwise very quiet. I sat up, covered by the king's cloak, and felt something closely resembling raindrops on my face. We slept under either tall bushes or short trees, it was hard to tell in the foggy haze, but their leaves dripped on me no matter what they were.

I did not like waking up by myself, no matter where I was, but being outdoors when I did made it worse. Perhaps it was the knowledge that I was going to have to, at some point, and probably very soon, get up and get myself dressed. Back under the cloak I dove, and rolled myself into a tight ball again. Wherever my clothes were, and all I could remember about them was tossing them away from me into the darkness, they were probably soaking wet just from the dampness in the air.

After peeking out again from under the cloak, I groaned. Normally, the sun would have already burned off a river's mist, but there was no sun today. Through the branches over my head, I could see that the sky was growing dark and cloudy, a great gray blanket of doom. I felt like I was being watched. Just because I could not see him, it did not mean the king was far. I spoke out loud.

"It is going to rain on us today, isn't it?" I listened, and heard Amarth stamp and snort. He was standing close by, but I could not see him from where I lay. Thranduil must have been with him, however, because he appeared out of the grounded mists. "My hair is going to go all frizzy if it rains on me," I told him as I sat up again.

Instead of answering, he handed me my clothes, perfectly dry, and also my travel cloak, which had a hood, and my hair brush.

"I guess this means yes to rain," I said. "Thank you for taking care of my clothes, majesty, and for remembering to pack my cloak and brush."

"You will have to thank Thaladir, when next you see him, he did the packing." The king squatted down next to the campfire and added a few more small branches. I guessed that he was not in a hurry to leave, and I relaxed a little.

"I should have guessed who did the packing when I saw this merciless bedroll."

The king quirked the side of his mouth up in a tight grin. "Were you expecting a feather bed?"

"I don't know what I was expecting," I answered honestly. "But you can't deny how you seem to have a way of concealing large things in very tight areas." I purposefully stared at the laces on his leggings, to make my point clear without using any more words about it.

If we had a roof over our heads, I probably would have tossed off the cloak and tried to entice him back onto the bedroll with me, but something about the surrounding woods made me feel too naked. I still felt like I was being watched.

"Are there ents around here?" I whispered, suddenly mindful of the possibility of witnesses with actual eyeballs that might be standing right next to us.

"There were a couple of them here earlier," Thranduil said. "They have gone on ahead of us to Isengard."

While I dressed, mostly under the cloak, I apologized to the king for my remark about him sleeping on rocks. "I know you don't really sleep, majesty, but I was trying to make a point about the difference in our measures of comfort."

"A good flat rock can be a very restful bed," he said.

"Oh, never mind then, I am not sorry I said it."

Despite Thranduil's assurances during breakfast that the ents had left us alone now, I still felt like we were being spied on. Maybe it was the deathless quiet around us, when there should have been some kind of natural sounds. It felt like every bird had stopped tweeting and every leaf had stopped moving and even the rushing river had grown still and quiet.

~ Mal ~

The first bright star had just begun to appear when a gust of wind made all the trees around us rustle their leaves. This was accompanied by creaking and rumbling noises that would have frightened me, if I hadn't known that it merely meant that our host would soon be with us.

"You have a very nice house," I told Quickbeam, who gave no explanation for his absence, and acted as if he hadn't left us for more than a minute or two.

"It is only one of many across the forest. We ents feel at home anywhere in Fangorn."

"Did you encounter the March Warden?" asked Thaladir. The ent laughed heartily.

"He will return with Anor's first light. For now he is with the other Silvans, and Skinbark. No use for him to walk in the dark. Ent-food is good for Man, the hole-dwellers proved that. And now the king-elf's man-wife..."

"Woman" corrected Thaladir and I simultaneously

"Oh, yes, now I remember. Woman." He said the word a couple of times, as if to taste it. "... The woman will have ent-draught before sleep."

Thaladir wasn't happy with either of Quickbeam's hasty decisions, but he had to admit that since the ents' food hadn't harmed the pair of hobbits that were once rescued by the king's son, it would hardly be harmful to a human being either. At least he accepted that I wanted to try it, rather than going to bed with an empty stomach.

"Here it is," said the ent as he put a large boulder on the ground. A closer look revealed that it was actually an unevenly shaped barrel of sorts, but made from stone, and with a flat piece of rock for a lid. "Drink."

I peered down into the waist-high barrel, wondering if it would be considered the most polite to dip my head into the dark liquid, or if I should use my hand.

"My lady," sad Thaladir and put a bowl, cleverly crafted from a large leaf, in my hand. I scooped up a little of the drink and held it under my nose. The smell was sweet, reminding me of birch sap, and although it was too dark to see the colour, it appeared to look like water, only thicker. I took a sip, and then another one.

It felt funny on my tongue, but that was nothing against the tingly sensation in my toes. For a moment it was as if I had been a young tree, with the ent-draught rising within my body like water, from root to leaf. I quenched an impulse to stretch up my hands above my head and wave my fingers in the air, and instead thanked Quickbeam politely and handed the leaf-bowl to Thaladir. He drank calmly, and as soon as he had finished, the ent lifted the stone barrel in both hands as if it had been a large cup, and drained it in one big gulp.

"Ah!" he exclaimed. "Now I feel fresh and green again, as I hope that you do, little friends. Take your rest as you like. I will stand over there and sink my roots into the stream, but I will become sleepy from the draught, so I had better wish you a pleasant night first."

I watched him stand next to the waterfall, where he seemed to bore himself down into the ground. He stretched up his arms, closed his eyes and then stood still. It was amazing. Not even in full day-light could I have told him apart from a tree, at least not if he hadn't been snoring.

As darkness fell, and Quickbeam's snores ceased, it felt as if I was truly alone with Thaladir. He removed his robe and put it on the ground for us to sleep on. Neither of us took off anything else, except for our shoes.

All was calm, but I could not sleep. I thought about the king and how romantic it would have been to be here with him, and soon I had lost myself to erotic memories to the point that it had become impossible to even lie still. I stretched towards Thaladir and took his hand. The hesitation before he closed his fingers around mine was slight, but it was there. I squeezed his hand and then pulled it slowly towards me, eventually letting it rest loosely on my chest.

"No, my lady," he hissed as he sat up, untangling his hand from my loose grip.

"But, Your Excellency," I purred, "surely His Majesty has allowed it. He could not mean that you should go unrewarded for your loyal service to him during this visit, and neither would he leave me without comfort while he was away."

"He left no such instructions," Thaladir replied curtly. "You are certainly free to seek pleasure with the March Warden, should the torment of carnal desires become overly much for your weaker, mortal nature to bear with." His way of pronouncing 'carnal desires' as if it was something fascinating and, at the same time, beneath him only served to excite me further.

"Your Excellency," I tried again. "Haldir isn't here, and I don't think I can wait. It tingles... burns even." That last part wasn't entirely true, of course, but close enough. I did not dare to tell an blatant lie, in case he would choose that moment to read my thoughts. "His Majesty's thorough attentions have made me used to... I fear the benefits of my training will be lost unless I..."

"I believe a certain degree of abstinence will, to the contrary, serve to heighten the joy of reunion."

"Not if I die before it happens." I bit my tongue, realizing how whiny that sounded. Thaladir was just doing what he thought to be according to the king's will and best interest. "Yes, Your Excellency," I added meekly. He didn't reply and I tried to think about nothing and just fall asleep. I lay half-asleep for a long time.

"My lady, are you still in discomfort?" The whispering voice was close to my ear.

"Yes, Your Excellency," I whimpered.

"Then I believe there is a way to ease your plight without involving my person overly much."

"Yes, Your Excellency?"

"Come here."

He pulled me over towards him, so that I was lying on my belly and on top of his right hand, which he had positioned strategically between my slightly parted thighs. Pressing and rubbing myself against the hard base of his thumb resulted in very pleasurable sensations, despite me being fully dressed and him doing nothing more than breathing calmly into my ear.

After a while, when I was panting, he put his other hand on my rear, gently but steadily pressing me down in a slowly quickening rhythm. When my own movements became erratic, connecting with that hand felt like light slaps, a delightful reminder of my first erotic encounter with the seneschal. If only he would take me afterwards, like that time.

These thoughts sent me over the edge, but my climax was unspectacular, a light shudder as I tensed and then relaxed, letting my limp body rest against the seneschal's fingers. He must not have noticed, maybe more caught up in the situation than his calm behaviour betrayed, because his other hand was still on my bottom, now rubbing it. I felt myself becoming aroused again as his hand glided lower, caressing where my thighs began and then beginning to sneak its way between them.

I tried to slay relaxed, but he made it quite impossible, and when he touched my centre I couldn't help crushing his other hand under me again.

"Thaladir," I moaned quietly as I took up my grinding motions, now encouraged by fingers stroking me through my clothes. My breathing was heavy when I reached out to touch him. He gave a start and immediately snatched away his hands, leaving me feeling bereft. But I had felt, during that split second when my fingertips brushed against his leggings, that he was rock hard.

"My lady," he said curtly, "I believe that was sufficient for your immediate requirements."

"But, Your Excellency, I need more. And you want me."

"My personal desire is of no consequence in this matter, as I am quite capable of overcoming urges of the flesh." Hearing the strain of his voice was a meagre compensation for how I felt. "I will, however," he added in a more collected, and kinder, voice, "speak with the March Warden."

That said, he rolled over to far side of our lair. For some time I lay in the dark, listening for any signs of his taking care of what he had just denied me. But no, apparently his power of thought was as strong as he told me. I sighed. I tried touching myself, but it was no fun when Thaladir didn't even seem to be awake.

~ Mary ~

The unnatural hush only grew quieter as Thranduil and I rode closer to Isengard. The tower, Orthanc, loomed like a guiding beacon of bitter blackness on the dreary horizon. The fog had lifted but the dull gray skies had started to sprinkle when we were still some leagues away from our destination. My wonderful elf-made cloak shed the weather and chill, but it did not lighten the oppressiveness of the utter silence around us.

Once we had left the river, there were no more trees, and if there were any ents around then they had to be very short ones. There were some rooks again, their noisy cries were a relief to hear in the stillness, but they flew high and did not come down to visit with us.

"Why did you bring me along with you, really?" I asked, mostly to hear the king's voice, if he answered. If I was not with him, I had realized, he would have already been to visit Treebeard and back, possibly. He had no need of fancy beds or even bedrolls on the ground.

"You have your uses."

"Why, thank you, I think." For a moment, I believed that he was talking about our time together on the bedroll the night before. I felt my cheeks grow a little hot.

"According to Bregalad," he continued, "Master Treebeard had expressed some curiosity, or, I should say, had an ardent interest in seeing a mortal woman..." the king stopped, and then, after a moment, continued, "...up close, or face to face, so to speak..."

It was not like the king to be indirect with me. He could be enigmatic, yes, but beating around proverbial bushes was not his style. I decided that he must be having trouble coming up with a mortal equivalent to the situation at hand.

"So I am to be presented to Treebeard as a gift then?" I broke in, trying to be helpful. "A host gift? Like a bottle of wine or a small house plant?"

For a moment, I wished that I was wearing a dress at least. If the citizens of Rohan mistook me for a boy then what would an ancient old ent think? It was hard to decide if I felt flattered or annoyed to be the representative of all women in Middle-earth on such short notice.

"...or in some other fashion," finished the king.

"Or in... what? What are you talking about?"

"Treebeard, and you are definitely not a houseplant."

"Wait a minute, sire, ents have been around since before humans came along, so how come he has never seen a mortal woman? I can't believe that. I know the people from Rohan were afraid of Fangorn forest, but don't they go visit the ents that live at Isengard now?"

"The primitive fears and superstitions among the Rohirrim about the former wizard's vale, reach back to even before there was trouble brewing beneath it; the conflict did nothing to heal them." There was another pause, and then the king added, "I did not say that he had never seen a mortal woman."

"I could have sworn you just said..."

"Treebeard will have no difficulty in determining that you are a woman." Now that reply was more like the Thranduil I was used to, and I asked no more futile questions.

We had reached the boundaries of Isengard. Once Saruman's domain, the great bowl-like valley was now under the control and dominion of the ents, or Onodrim, which is what Thaladir had told me was their proper collective name.

Before we left Lorien, the seneschal had schooled Mal and me intensively on our anticipated meetings with the venerated 'ancient ones', as he also called them. For once, I had paid some attention to the lectures. The Onodrim, we were instructed, had been put into Middle-earth by Iluvatar at Yavanna's request, to guard and protect her beloved trees from men, dwarves, orcs, and their axes. They had once been closely allied with the elves.

In the First Age, an Ent-host had assisted Beren against the traitorous dwarf-army that had descended from the mountains, sacked the realm of Doriath, and slain King Thingol. Thaladir's eyes had grown dark and distant when he recalled those days; whether from sorrow or anger was impossible to tell. He did not believe, however, that any of those helpful Onodrim had survived the inevitable fall of Beleriand, for he did not recall ever encountering any of them afterwards in Lindon, where he dwelt with Oropher for a time.

Normally, I would get headachey and feel drowsy when the seneschal talked about family history, especially if Thranduil was not involved in the tale, but I was grateful for those lessons about the ents now that I was about to meet the oldest one of them all.

The watchful silence was nearly deafening as we rode through the tree-lined entrance to Isengard, on a long straight road, which led directly to the looming black tower of Orthanc. The enormous sharp-edged structure was even taller than it had seemed from a distance, for it sat in the bottom of the bowl-shaped vale, and most of its height was hidden until we reached the same level it stood on.

The rain had stopped, and there was no breeze to speak of, but the leaves on the trees we rode by seemed to move, with the tiniest fluttering movements, when we passed them.

"Your Majesty," I whispered, respectful of our surroundings, "I think the trees are flirting with you." If anything, the leaves fluttered faster after I spoke, and the noise they made, in the otherwise complete silence, was like a chorus of soft sighs. I added, "They are definitely trying to get your attention." From out of nowhere, it seemed, or from everywhere at once, a deep voice slowly boomed out.

"Hoom! Hum! Ah now, that was very observant of you!" Amarth squealed in alarm, did a stutter-step, throwing his head around wildly, while I clung to Thranduil, before he was brought back into control. When it felt safe enough to open my eyes again, there before us stood Treebeard. He was twice as large in girth as Bregalad, and nearly twice as tall, too.

"I bid you welcome, father of the bright-eyed Greenleaf and ruler of the last great forest," he said to the king; his rolling thunderous voice was warm and pleasant. "Welcome to my home."

~ Mal ~

When I woke up next I thought I was dreaming. Everything around me was a fresh, yellowish green, like a sunny day in Lórien when the mellyrn bloomed, only it was still Fangorn. The sky was dark, even black, but Quickbeam's house was like a bubble of light, and he himself looked younger and livelier than before.

Haldir was there, too, and Miriel and Ithilwen and Anarion. They were eating and chatting with the ent, and each other, and a fifth elf that it took me some time to recognize. It was Thaladir, of course, but without his long robe, and as merry as the rest of them. Not the king's serious seneschal, but just an elf in a forest. Seeing him like that filled me with joy, only I was much too sleepy to enjoy the sight for long.

In the morning I found out that I had not been dreaming at all. Haldir was back, without blankets, but with all the food I could wish for, and the rest of our party had joined us, too. It turned out that he had encountered Skinbark and the others when it was nearly dark, and the ent had persuaded him to stay with them. Apparently, ents preferred not to move in the dark. But, at some point during the night, the dutiful March Warden changed his mind and decided to fulfil his mission, and he led the others to us as well.

"What about the light?" I asked, and he pointed to two large vats standing on the slab of stone that was Quickbeam's bed. The ent, who was standing nearby, held his hands over the vats, and the yellow-green light from my dream began to shine from them. "Ent magic?"

Quickbeam chuckled as he put lids on the vats, extinguishing their light, but offered no explanation. Thaladir said that it was a secret of the ents, as old as Fangorn itself, and if it was something they had learnt from the elves, then the art remained only here.

After breakfast - the ent refused to try even an apple, but took a sip from the waterfall - we continued our exploration of the forest. Ithilwen demanded that we revisit a group of remarkable hazels not far from where we had first entered Fangorn, and Míriel kept mentioning a deep woodland mere with pink waterlilies that Skinbark had promised to show them.

The hazels were pretty interesting; it was nice to see something that wasn't as huge and gnarled with age as most of the trees in the parts of the forest I had visited. There were nuts already, and Quickbeam said it would be rude not to try them when the hazels offeoffered. They were fresh, soft and a greenish white instead of brown, but tasted good.

The mere with the waterlilies was very beautiful, and worth the long walk. It was situated among old oaks with heavy canopies that shadowed most of the water, which looked almost black. This provided an excellent background for the delicate flowers, enhancing their unusual colour and making them seem to glow. While I admired the scene, Haldir came to my side.

"Thaladir told me you have a problem," he said silkily. "Something the old elf needs help taking care of."

~ Mary ~

Thranduil exchanged polite and proper greetings with Treebeard and thanked him for the warm welcome.

"As I told your son," the ent replied, "any Elf who should wish to walk in my land for his pleasure will be welcome; far too few have accepted my open invitation, hmm, hum, but I have long cherished the hope of meeting with you, Thranduil Oropherion. We have much in common, I believe, for we both have been shepherds of trees under assault by dark forces during dark times."

Although I thought I had been forgotten as the two legendary figures had their first meeting, the king then said, "Please allow me to formally introduce to you a mortal subject of my realm, aran Onodrim. Lady Mary, say hello to our gracious host."

"Hello Mister Treebeard," I said. "It is an honor to meet you." If he had been closer to us, I would have offered my hand to him, but the most I could do was peek around the king's back and bow my head like an elf would. I wondered if we were going to dismount, although the ground around us was wet with puddles.

"Lady Mary," the old ent repeated back, and each letter of both words were distinctly pronounced, as if he was tasting it while he said it, "Indeed, it is a fine name."

The ent's enormous shining eyes, the first thing that I noticed in his huge gnarly face, were wise like the king's were, deep with centuries of living, and yet they were more present, alert, and curious than any elf's I had met. They seemed to twinkle with unspoken mirth.

To me, the elves always appeared to be present in half measures, partially aware of what was happening around them while their other half dwelt in past glories and tribulations. Not Treebeard, he was wide awake. I had the sensation from his eyes that he was looking ahead into the future, not back at a regretful past. As soon as he had appeared, the utter silence began to give way to more normal sounds, but still hushed, a peaceful, quiet, steady murmuring hum of buzzing bees and chirping birds and the soft rain falling and dripping from the trees.

Treebeard contemplated me closely and then it seemed like his treeish face smiled, when he stated, "I will treasure your visit to my lands for many ages to come." This last seemed an unusually effusive compliment, considering the fact he could barely see me under my cloak, behind Thranduil. Before I could say anything in reply, I was interrupted.

"Perhaps we can find some dryer accommodations for my mortal subject, o master of trees." The king dismounted and helped me down. It was not like him to take my comfort into consideration, but I was grateful. I was able to tiptoe around the wet places in the road but I was not looking forward to walking around in the rain.

"Guests are rare here, my friends," said Treebeard, "the wizard's tower is not furnished for the comfort of mortal flesh these days, I fear. There may be some dry areas within that are not too inhospitable. Lady Mary. I shall have an escort take you there, and then you and I," he turned to the king, "shall have a good, long talk."

Although most of Isengard resembled a beautifully and lovingly landscaped garden; a carefully detailed restoration, the king had informed me, to its former Numenorean glory, the tower was thrust into the center of all the bushes and trees like a great, bleak monument to all of the former dark times in Middle-earth. The ents had tried to soften the sharp edges of the edifice by training vines to climb up the sides, but they had a long way to grow before they had any noticeable effect.

The tower of Orthanc is basically a chimney, an enormous, shiny black chimney that sucked the calm outdoor air up inside of itself like a bellows, and turned it into a blustery wind. I have no idea how Saruman was able to walk up and down that gigantic steep staircase without his wizard's robes being blown into the air around his ears. I was glad I wore leggings, but the farther up the steps I climbed, the higher up my cloak whirled around my face, until it felt almost like a living creature intent on blinding me.

The main stairway ended at a circular landing with several arched openings, leading to narrower stairs that went both up and down the inside of the tower walls. The windows were narrow slits, it was raining harder now, and the air inside was dim and dusty. My escorting ent, a squat oak-tree-like creature named Doron, which probably translated to Slowfoot from Elvish, huffed and puffed his way up the stairs beside me and then directed me to a doorway which led to what he said were the guest quarters.

Ages before Saruman took over, the tower of Orthanc was home to Numenoreans, and their influence was still to be seen within the ancient chambers we explored. We opened enormous doors with screeching rusted hinges only to find empty, dust-filled halls or corridors that led to more dust-filled halls. Thousands of years had passed since men had lived there and the rooms held only a few scattered pieces of dilapidated furniture now, all of it broken down by age and neglect.

We finally found what appeared to be living areas, various small chambers that looked like they would have been cozy a couple of thousand years before, when people were there. Tattered rags lay on the floor, hung on the wall, and were draped over the windows, remnants of what used to be carpets, tapestries and curtains, probably woven from rich and beautiful fabrics, once upon a time, and now turning slowly to dusty threads. It made me feel sad.

"Saruman didn't have many houseguests visiting here after he took over this place, I think," I told Doron, who chuckled in response but did not say anything. "But he must have had servants," I pointed out. "Or slaves at least, and they must have slept somewhere else in here, right?"

Behind me, I heard an odd noise, as if a huge grove of trees just happened to be growing outside in the main corridor, while a breeze blew their branches around and rustled their leaves. I whirled around to see what was there, but the doorway was empty.

"Are there more ents out there?" Before Doron could answer me, I went to the door, peeked out, and gasped.

There were at least two dozen or more of the tree-like men standing there, frozen in place. They were staring at me, and at each other with shifting-eyed glances, all of them with the same expression in their eyes as a mortal man would have, who was caught doing something that he should not have been doing.

"Please forgive us, Lady Mary," said one of them, a tall ent that resembled a birch tree. "We did not mean to frighten you."

Looking guilty that way was something that I never saw an elf do. I was instantly charmed.

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

Status of daily schedule: Accomplished

Remarks: Visit in Fangorn continuing at large in accordance with earlier preparations, the deviation from which concern our location for diurnal rest, and, furthermore, Lady Malinorne's intake of nourishment. The degree of interest that said lady has shown in my person far transgresses the boundaries of His Majesty's instructions, wherefore I, not without a certain degree of regret, have deemed it necessary to call upon the March Warden for attendance to this matter. Long live Eryn Lasgalen!

To be continued...

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Chapter posted: January 31, 2007

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