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Far Beyond Mirkwood, Chapter 8/?

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: Thranduil and Mary head back to Rohan, Mal and the rest of the Royal Party travel on to meet them.

~ Mal~

"The recklessness of the sons of Elrond knows no boundaries," commented Thaladir curtly as we watched our uninvited guests ride north at a breakneck speed and be swallowed by the grey morning mist. The muffled sound of hoof-beats against moist grass was heard for a few seconds more.

"Truly spoken indeed," added Haldir equally sourly when the hoof-beats had died out and all was quiet. He shook his head and then chuckled. "But my time will still come, I hope?" That last was directed at me.

"It will," I promised him.

"In that case I think I will forgive them. The delay will allow me more time to prepare." The glimmer in his eyes paired with his smirk sent shivers down my spine. Just what did he have in store for me? I remained lost in Haldir's eyes, dreaming and anticipating, until the seneschal cleared his throat. As always, that sound instantly brought me to attention.

"As the young lords of Imladris have graciously been pleased to, finally, take their leave, there is no need to delay our departure," he said. "The mists shall, undoubtedly, remain but a small distance from the river, and, furthermore, be dissipated by the rising Anor before they are bound to be of any hindrance."

"But Ithilwen," said I, "and Miriel and Anarion, shouldn't we wait for them? And we haven't said goodbye properly to Quickbeam either, at least I haven't." There was a small possibility that the wood-elves would actually stay in Fangorn, rather than travel with the king to the lands of Men, but the seneschal foregoing anything vaguely resembling an official farewell ceremony was unheard of.

"We shall certainly take our leave of our host in a proper manner." He seemed pleased that I had brought up the subject. "That will, however, occur quite a ways to the south of our present location, where we will, likewise, be reunited with our travel companions." His voice grew more serious when he continued. "Allow me to point out that both circumstances have been planned for, and, consequently, described in our itinerary. I do hope recent... dalliances have not addled your wits, my lady."

"No, Your Excellency. I just haven't had much time to study lately."

"Indeed. However, that will be remedied shortly, as we will not reach said destination until noon. Tomorrow."

Thaladir spent a few moments discussing with himself whether I should continue to travel in the king's carriage, now that our grand entrance into Fangorn lay in the past, but he soon came to the verdict that it would be proper to do so, since the state visit couldn't be considered concluded until we had finally parted with Quickbeam.

During this time, my eyes followed Haldir's work with the horses. The animals, not to mention carriages, were of little use in his realm with its near invisible paths, but he was a quick learner. The only part that didn't seem easy to him was that he had to put his bow aside for the task.

Soon I was inside the king's carriage, comfortably seated on the big bed with my back against the headboard. Thaladir had agreed to let me travel with the bed still folded down, as he had to admit that an ent would neither be interested in, nor able to, being invited inside. I saw Haldir ride past the window, probably to take the lead, and heard the wood above my head creak slightly as Thaladir took his seat on the box.

When we began to move, I cast a brief glance at my copy of the seneschal's itinerary, and the map that came with it. The way to the next river, the Entwash, where Fangorn forest made a sharp turn to the west and where we were going to meet up with the others, was rather long. My eyes scanned a bit further down the scroll, hoping to see the king's name. Not finding it, of course, as His Majesty's decision to leave us - me - had been sudden.

I realized that thinking of him made me feel wistful, rather than angry. I wished I had asked Thaladir exactly when we would see him again. The four or five days he had mentioned earlier must have passed now, even though it was hard to tell the time in Fangorn. For a while I fought with myself; would the seneschal be very annoyed if I opened the door to shout a question to him, or would my interest be befitting a royal concubine and, therefore, an extenuating circumstance? In any case, it would upset him to see me ignore his safety rules, so, for the sake of the old elf's nerves, I decided to be patient.

Lulled by the gentle rocking of the carriage once we were up on the main road, I slid down a bit and put another pillow under my head. This comfortable, half-reclining, position would inevitably make me fall asleep, but before then, I thought back on the past night, and my adventures with the twins. I was surprised, and even a little disappointed, not to find any residual soreness to remember them by. But didn't they say in Rivendell that Elladan, especially, had inherited a great deal of his sire's gift for healing?

Thaladir had been waiting for us when we came back to the camp. Haldir had been up, too, but he didn't move from his spot by the campfire. Only the seneschal's tall form disappeared into the darkness for a moment, only to reappear so close that I needed no light to know that he was there. I could sense his appearance from the tension he emanated.

"My lady, are you well?" he asked, his voice betraying concern, rather than annoyance.

"Very well indeed," I answered lazily as I reluctantly lifted my head from Elladan's shoulder. "Just a little tired." I gave a slight tug at the lock of the twin's hair I had wound around my finger, but then gave him a peck on his cheek to show that I didn't really blame him. Thaladir cleared his throat.

"We have done nothing beyond the lady's wishes," said Elladan quickly.

"Just spent some time together," Elrohir added.

"Fishing, if I recall correctly how you labelled it. Ahem." Thaladir cleared his throat again, louder this time, and I took it to mean that I would not be spending the rest of the night in a warm nest of half-elf twins. Then the seneschal did the unexpected. My eyes had become used enough to the dark that I saw him bend his neck in a deliberate bow.

"In any case, my lords, I find myself indebted to you, for providing the solution to a delicate problem." I blushed, and Elrohir sniggered. I felt Elladan's hand twitch. He would no doubt have smacked his brother if he hadn't had both hands occupied carrying me. "That does not, however," Thaladir continued, "change the fact that your presence in His Majesty's vehicle cannot be tolerated, wherefore I shall insist upon the lady's immediate return to my care. My lady?" he added as he reached out his arms.

"Can I say good night to them first? Your Excellency?" He nodded, and I whispered to Elladan to put me down. After that, I put my arms around the elder twin's neck and kissed him a last time, very thoroughly. I did the same with Elrohir. Surprisingly, Thaladir just waited, without a sound.

When I began walking towards the king's carriage, I stumbled, and soon felt the seneschal's reassuring hand on my elbow. He remained silent despite my little 'oh's and 'ouch's, and only when he had helped me into the carriage and was leaving did he let a remark fall.

"In all the millennia I have lived, I have yet to hear a fish speak. Or should I say moan." I blushed to the very roots of my hair, but the seneschal graciously withdrew before I could formulate an apology. I had truly wanted to be discreet!

I only saw Elladan and Elrohir for a moment the next morning, just enough to exchange wishes of a good journey. I felt a little guilty, too, for having added to their need for haste. Regardless of how fast they rode, they would still reach Lórien later than they were supposed to, which meant Galadriel had to wait another day, or more, before setting out to finally destroy Sauron's old stronghold in what used to be southern Mirkwood.

But, I knew how fond she was of them, and Celeborn was likely to defend them, too. For some reason I did not doubt he would consider their 'fishing' under my skirts a wholly acceptable excuse for their late arrival.

~ Mary~

After Thranduil and I had traveled some distance away from Isengard, I amused myself by imagining the expression that I was going to see on Thaladir's face, when I told him what I had learned of his highly-regarded ancient Onodrim, and their low and unseemly ways. He had taught me a lot about them, but he had left out a few important details.

Oh, that old ent Treebeard had tried to make it up to me, by offering me one of his famous ent-draughts, all green and glowing like it was a bowl of mashed-up lightning-bugs. I knew that after the hobbits had drunk some of it, their hair became even curlier than it already was. I turned it down.

"No thanks, my hair is just fine the way it is," I told him, and then, remembering what else had happened to the hobbits, I added, "And if I grew a few more inches, then I would burst out of my riding clothes, and I have nothing with me to replace them. You were probably planning on another unexpected exhibition of mortal flesh, but you can't fool me, not twice."

I would have added that without the seneschal around to be shocked and concerned by it, growing out of my clothes was no fun at all, but I had just vowed to never speak to Treebeard, the rest of the ents, or the king, ever again, and I had already said too much.

"Lady Mary," rumbled Treebeard genially, "the, hmmm, harum, after-affects of an ent draught that you mention are not quite as dramatic as you seem to believe they are."

"No, thank you, anyhow," I answered, keeping my voice emotionless. Why should I give him the idea that I somehow forgave him for what he had done, the very idea of which made me feel ill, as it sank in.

"Are you very sure that you know why you are so angry?" Thranduil had asked me at that moment. His eyes had a strange twinkle in them, like he was amused and way ahead of me, at the same time.

"Of course I know, you cad," I hissed. "I am mad about being put on display for all of your new ent friends and..." Too late, I remembered my vow of silence, and had to endure a smirk from the king. From behind us, Treebeard made a rumbling noise, not unlike Thaladir's famous throat-clearing signal, only the ent did not make me jump in alarm, and I turned to him slowly. He spoke to the king.

"It may be of some benefit, my friend," said the great tree-like creature confidentially, as if I was not there and it was just the two of them, "if you were to remove Lady Mary from the willow's shade." He paused, or took a breath, while gesturing to a path that led away from the river's edge, and then added, "I have heard it said that sunlight and fresh air can refresh both the mood and spirit of the young and the very s..."

"Don't you dare say 'small'!" I cried out. Vow of silence or no, I was tired of being treated like a pet puppy dog. The thought of the warm sun on my soggy boots sounded good, however.

"Would you prefer to stand in the shade?" Thranduil tossed this question over his shoulder as he moved just a few steps away and into a pool of sunlight. He knew very well that, after standing on the icy floor in Orthanc, and then splashing through the rain-puddles, my damp legs were cold, my wet feet felt like ice cubes, and my toes were numb.

I was in a pickle. If I moved into the warm sunshine to restore feeling into my lower extremities, then it would appear that I was both following him and taking Treebeard's advice. It would make them happy.

Fortunately, for my cold toes, my mind was made up for me by an errant willow-tree branch, which suddenly sprang up, as if moved by a gust of wind, and walloped me across my back. Although the mighty blow did not hurt at all, it sent me reeling forward, to land in Thranduil's outstretched arms. I heard some happy hums and murmurs from the lurking ents, and realized it must look like I had ran to His Majesty on purpose, his willing and humbled subject, and flung myself at him.

"Did you see that?" I fumed up at Thranduil's mock-surprised face. "The tree did that to me on purpose!" I tried to break away to show I did not mean to end up there. The king had a different idea, and he grinned down at me, pinning me with a familiar light in his eyes. Instinctively, I froze.

"I will show the Onodrim how to properly warm the toes and restore the good mood of a mortal maid," he said. Clasping me even closer to him, he lowered his face to mine, and I would have laughed at the term 'maid', except that his lips covered my mouth before I could.

At first, I was shocked to find myself, once again, on display for the ents. The air around me was filled with their excited hoots, from where they hid in the willows, peeking at us. My initial reaction did not last long, as the king effortlessly bent me to his will with his passionate and toe-warming kisses.

It was not long before I was ready, panting, flustered, and breathless, to take off all of my clothes, in front of any ent, or anyone else, who wanted to watch, if it meant Thranduil's attention would move below my lips. The rest of my body trembled all over as blood rushed to and fro, making some places more tingly than others.

After that, time stood still, and by the time the king released me, I was willing to cut my own head off, if he had ordered me to do it. He did not; instead he smiled with satisfaction, while he practically purred at me as he spoke.

"Are your feet feeling any warmer, my dear mortal maid?" Thranduil knew the answer, but he wanted me to say it out loud in front of our abruptly silent audience. He had to hold me up, my knees had turned all wobbly.

"I still think you are a cad, Majesty," I whispered to him and then I inclined my head to indicate the listening ents, "but, they do not have to know that."

The king knew what I meant. I did not have to say another word to him, except for, loud enough for the ents to hear me, "Thank you kindly, Your Majesty. I feel much warmer, everywhere." I added, for his ears only, "But if you let go of me, I don't think I could walk, warm toes or not."

~ Mal~

We left the temporary campsite, now devoid of any trace that someone had stayed there for several days, at sunrise. I mostly spent the time in my lonely gilded cage daydreaming, fearing that even an attempt at reading would make me feel dizzy. It was a bit stuffy in there, too, even after opening the two small airing windows. The seneschal refused point-blank to travel with the doors open. But, after lunch, he allowed me to sit beside him on the coach-box. The view from there was excellent, but there was not much too see, except Haldir, of course.

Nothing in the landscape seemed to change as we slowly proceeded through the grasslands of northern Rohan. At the right hand side was Fangorn, dark and dense, but not nearly as frightening anymore as it had seemed a few days ago. Some of the trees moved a little in the breeze, but it was nice to imagine that they could just as well be talking about us. I kept looking for Quickbeam, even if Thaladir insisted that the ent would not approach us until we came to the Entwash, the next day.

To the left was miles and miles of grass, without a single tree or rock formation, at least none that I could see. No Rohirrim, either. Now that we were on their territory in earnest, I half expected a couple of handsome horse-lords to ride up to us and ask our business. Maybe the new road had made them too used to strangers already, or we were too close to Fangorn for their comfort.

Straight ahead, as well as behind us, ran the road, as pristine as if we were the first to use it. The blocks of stone covering it were even, without any signs of wear, and the shallow ditches on either side were bare. There seemed to be no end to it, and when Haldir returned from one of his scouting trips to say that we were near the brook where we would spend the night, it felt like we almost hadn't moved at all.

The beginning of the following day was just as uneventful. I almost didn't trust my eyes when the wall of trees slowly became thinner around the edge. Some time after that, Thaladir confirmed that we were close to the south-east corner of the forest, but it took another half-hour or so before I could see it, too. The thin, glittering band in the distance grew to a merry stream. According to the seneschal, further downstream it would be wide enough to allow small boats to travel, and there was a settlement of fishers and farmers. That was our aim for tonight.

But for now, we made a stop by the Entwash bridge. It was clearly under construction, a makeshift solution made from dry, weathered wood rather than the type of stone that was used for the roadway. This was likely going to change soon, as blocks of stone were piled on the other side. Both Haldir and Thaladir investigated the bridge closely, stomping back and forth over it, kneeling to look underneath it, and finally leading Haldir's horse across. It creaked under the weight of the smaller carriages, and when the time came for the big one, I preferred to get off and walk.

All ended well, even though I had to look the other way more than once, when the wheels of the king's carriage seemed to wide for the bridge and catastrophe was impending. And, as soon as I had collected myself, there came a merry laughter from the direction of Fangorn. I immediately recognized it.

"Hasty," said Quickbeam and smiled with his broad mouth, almost swallowing a butterfly. "The ents could have helped. We could have carried the king-elf's dead-tree thing over the water."

"We thank thee, ancient one," Thaladir answered respectfully, "however, we have intruded sufficiently on the hospitality of the ents already." He nodded towards Miriel, Ithilwen and Anarion, who had arrived together with Quickbeam. This sent the giant into a fit of contagious laughter.

"The ents have much to thank the old elves for," he said when he had calmed down again, "and I am indebted to the woman here, too." He directed his enormous eyes to me and looked ready to burst out laughing again.

"Thank you, but I don't think I have done anything to deserve that," I said, puzzled.

"Most bendable, indeed," mumbled the ent as he reached out a twiggy finger to gently stroke my hair. It felt weird, like being combed with a tree-branch, but was not unpleasant. "The man-elves," he explained, still grinning. "Most enjoyable. The ents will remember."

The look in his eyes was so adorable I could neither feel embarrassed, nor angry; after all, the twins and I had practically been inside Fangorn. I made a pretty curtsey, bashing my eyelashes, and then looked at the seneschal. His fists were tightly balled up and he seemed near choking, but when Quickbeam continued to look happy, Thaladir relaxed as well.

Ahem," he said, drawing everyone's attention by producing a small box from his sleeve. "As we now take our leave of Fangorn, allow me the honour of presenting this most humble gift, in the hope that Greenwood's beeches and Lórien's mellyrn will be a welcome addition to the domains of the ents."

He made a deep bow, bending at his waist, which resulted in an admiring 'most bendable' from Quickbeam, and held out the box in both palms. The ent picked it up with great care, and then he bowed, too, very slowly. It looked funny, but very sincere, and I wouldn't dream of giggling in such a situation. Quickbeam looked truly moved when he finally spoke.

"Fangorn will always be open to any elf, or man of good will, who desires to walk underneath its boughs and beams for a time." He laughed again, and then returned to the forest, cradling the box in both hands. I decided I had to come back in some years to see what had become of the seeds. The ents were bound to be excellent foresters, and trees would probably grow faster than usual in their care.

When the ent had disappeared into the trees, we had a picnic lunch while the horses rested. The newly arrived wood-elves told of their adventures. Some of it was too elfy and beyond my understanding, other things made me envious, such as all the nice ents they had seen, or if they were trees. It was sometimes hard to understand, as they could communicate with both. There were Leafgreen and Barkgrey, and Redcrown the rowan, Brethil the white birch and Dorolas the oak. There were also things I was happy to have been spared.

"The huorns were scary," said Miriel, lowering her voice to a whisper that made me shudder. "Black-hearted and rotten in their cores, although smooth and silky on the outside."

"We did not dwell long in their company," explained Anarion. "But, as they are creatures of Fangorn, our experience would not have been complete without them.

"They rose from entings left without care," said Ithilwen sadly. "Nobody found them while there was still time, and they turned to bitterness and fear and hate from watching the deeds of burarum, I mean yrch." She sobbed, and Anarion patted her hair.

"Orcs," he said. "And careless men with axes. Such that Fangorn has every reason to defend himself against."

"Nobody dares disturb Fangorn anymore," concluded Miriel, "but the huorns are beyond healing." Anarion put a protecting arm around her as well.

"And yet, they were brave participants in the war against Curunír, the wizard," said Thaladir. "We owe them gratitude." We all nodded to that, and then we continued our travel towards the settlement he had mentioned earlier. It would be my first encounter with the Rohirrim.

~ Mary~

Having to carry me to where Amarth was waiting, impatiently stamping his massive hooves, was a small price for the king to pay, for making me dizzy. He said his farewells to our ent host and leapt up behind me this time, so that I was in front of him. I was thrilled by the change in seating; now I was able to lean back against his chest as we rode along. I barely remember anything else about leaving Isengard.

The king did not allow Amarth to run at full speed right away, even though the stallion began to act like his old frisky self, once we were back on the road. We carefully made our way along the Isen river and up into the gently sloping ridges that contained the southern edge of the great gap of Rohan. It was not until we were finally back on the flatter plains of Rohan that the horse was allowed to gallop, and the leagues began to melt away beneath his hammering hoof-beats.

The lands surrounding Isengard were now under the jurisdiction of Treebeard and the ents, by order of the new king in Gondor, and no one was allowed to travel through the gap without their permission. Some people, like just about any elf in Middle-earth, had open invitations to come through at any time. Others, like the ax-bearing dwarves, usually required some sort of escort or letter of recommendation to enter the vale. All of this I had learned from the seneschal's patient lectures. Now that I had to think for myself, I came to a few of my own conclusions.

The king's and my visit to Isengard must have been 'announced' to Treebeard by the chatty rooks, so that explained why we were not challenged when we had camped by the river Isen, which is the ents' territory. It also explained why they thought they had the right to be there, watching.

"How many of them were peeking at us last night?" I asked now.

"Only the two that I told you about," Thranduil answered, although he had left a lot out when he told me that they had been there. "Treebeard was there."

"Nembrethil must have been the other one," I guessed out loud. "When he explained his 'man root' question to me, he described what you and I had done that night in quite vivid detail."

"Does it matter?" The king let that question be his answer.

"With sound effects," I added emphatically. “It had to be him.” I remembered how embarrassed I had felt when I realized exactly who the helpful ent was imitating, and my cheeks turned hot all over again. Thranduil was unmoved and did not reveal the name of the other ent who watched us.

After we had reached the higher ground, the matured grassy plains of Rohan stretched before us like a blanket of gold and green waves. By then I had finally stopped amusing myself with images of Thaladir. Now that there were no more trees nearby for any ents to hide behind and spy on us, I began to feel better about them. The view grew monotonous, and to see something new, off in the distance, such as a farm house, or perhaps a small village, was almost exciting. The tiny houses were not close enough to the trail we used for us to see any clear details, but it was comforting to know that there were other people around, and less ents.

It was well past noon, and the sun was warm, even after I shed my cloak and stuffed it away. The recent rains had left everything smelling earthy and that fragrant odor, added to the friendly sunshine, made me feel drowsy. I could hear the harsh yet clownish cries of the rooks overhead as I drifted off to sleep against Thranduil, and I wondered what news they were bringing him today. He did not pause to listen, so I assumed it must not be too important.

I instantly awoke when the king was halted on the trail by a half dozen uniformed riders, who pulled their horses in front of us in a solid line to prevent our passage. They were only a small part of what must have been a larger party, for I had learned that the Rohirrim rarely traveled in groups less than twenty four, when they were on one of their patrols.

Without introducing themselves, one of the mounted men spoke to the king in a challenging tone of voice, although there was enough ceremony present in his words to prevent what he said from sounding insulting.

"Halt and well met, stranger. What business do you and your lad have in the Westfold?" He looked serious, but I could see that he was hoping we meant no harm.

Incongruously, Thaladir's words came back to me about how the horse-lords were masters of their mounts and otherwise primitive in their war-making. They relied, the seneschal said, more on their formidable cavalry charges than on skill or finesse. It was not much of a comfort when six of those primitive war-making weapons were pointing in my face as the spear-holding horsemen began to tighten around us in a semi-circle.

"I am so sick of everyone in Rohan thinking that I am a boy," I muttered quietly to the king, not wanting to cause a scene and make anyone start poking at me with their sharp spears.

"My intention is not to trespass on your lands, gentlemen," answered the king, calmly. "I am traveling to visit your new King, Eomer son of Eomund, by invitation." Like a magician, Thranduil reached into his tunic and pulled out a tightly rolled scroll, tied with a green ribbon, and he held it out to whoever wanted to take it. The man who had challenged us took it out of the king's hands with the tip of his spear, and passed it over to another of the Rohirrim, apparently one that could read.

"I am traveling with several of my people from the east," added Thranduil. "They are coming from the Limlight and will be meeting us at the inn by the Entwash ford, tonight."

For my part, I smiled at the horsemen and tried to look as feminine as I could.

Thaladir's lectures had taught me a lot more about the ents than about the Rohirrim. For some reason, until now, what had stuck most firmly in mind from the seneschal's lessons was that the horse-lords were illiterate, and passed along their culture in memorized poetry and song.

This notion had seemed a rather romantic one to me, how the 'born warriors' were also the most dedicated songsters and poets. Right now, as they sat before me, they looked more like a bunch of scruffy dust-covered cowboys than artistic composers. Instead of chain mail, they wore sleeveless leather tunics that were fashioned to flare out in overlapping panels that covered their hips, and other vital areas. Their legs were gray with cracking layers of mud, dust, and grime. It was hard to tell if they wore pants or were bare-legged.

Their burnished helmets, surprisingly clean and shiny, had a long slender nosepiece that gave them all a curiously cross-eyed appearance, but their blue eyes glittered within them like sapphires. Their long golden hair was straggled and unwashed, so unlike elves. And yet, I appreciated the fact that they were still men, under all that dirt and leather, and not ents.

~ Mal~

It was already afternoon by the time we left the 'new' bridge over the Entwash, but Thaladir was content. We weren't supposed to reach the old ford, that had until recently been the preferred crossing-point, until the evening. Thranduil and Mary would meet us at an inn in the village there, or possibly join us while we travelled. As the seneschal pointed out, in the flat landscape the carriages would be clearly visible to the king, even from a great distance. The prospect of spotting him storming across the plains on Amarth's back made me lean forward to look out of the windows every few minutes.

Ithilwen and Miriel were travelling with me inside the big carriage now. It felt good to have female company again, but as we chattered, sharing more of our experiences from the time spent in Fangorn, the differences between us were very clear, too. Although I was usually happy to be a human, all the talk about communicating with trees, or just experiencing nature the way the elf-women had done, made me envious. More than once during our conversation, I found myself looking forward to seeing Mary, until I realized she would make me jealous. Even if she wouldn't say a thing about all her time spent alone with our king - and there was no hope of that - she would arrive together with him, on his horse, with her arms around him, or his around her.

Suddenly the carriage came to a halt. I heard Haldir's voice, and then caught a glimpse of blond hair as the March Warden passed the window. Hoof-beats disappearing told that he had ridden forward to scout, but he soon returned again. More voices were heard; this time both Anarion and Thaladir were involved in the discussion. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but it was something that did not make the seneschal happy.

Some minutes later, he stuck his head through the now open door and informed us that our company, regrettably, would have to split up again. The dirt road we had turned onto after the bridge was in a too bad condition for the carriages, and we would have to leave them there. Anarion had volunteered to remain behind to guard them, and Miriel and Ithilwen did the same as soon as they heard about the situation.

As a result, only Thaladir, Haldir and I continued towards the village, on two horses. The seneschal would not let me ride in a normal way even if this was Rohan, so I found myself sitting behind him, sideways, so that I would look perfectly seemly in my long-skirted dress. It was rather difficult without a side-saddle, and Thaladir's back hid everything ahead of us from my view, but we were making progress, even if it was at a snail's pace.

The sun was already setting by the time I heard the beautiful sound of Mary's voice shouting that she couldn't see a thing. I turned my head and peered into the dusk. At first there was nothing to see, but then the sound of Amarth trotting became stronger. And then they were there, beside us. I cried out with happiness, all thoughts of jealousy forgotten. Thranduil and his seneschal exchanged wordless nods, and then the king took the lead. I was too glad to just see him to feel disappointed for not getting the chance to touch him, or even talk to him. If only we would reach that inn soon!

~ Mary~

"Yes, this was written by the Lady Eowyn's hand," confirmed the reader of Thranduil's scroll to the rest of the mounted men. "You see this here?" He pointed to a dark green blob at the bottom of the parchment. "That is King Eomer's seal." He grinned proudly. "And that is the Lady's signature, next to it." His face beamed as he spelled out the letters, 'E-O-W-Y-N', and then he handed the scroll back to Thranduil.

Eowyn had invited us? This was news to me. The one literate horselord did not mention anything else that may have been written on the scroll and I wondered how much of it he could read. Apparently the signature and seal were enough, and we were given permission to travel. The king, however, was not in such a hurry to leave, and he casually dismounted and helped me down.

"We have taken a side-trip to visit Isengard and are on our way to the ford," he explained to the still-mounted Rohirrim. It was unusual for him to volunteer information to strangers, but the reaction from the men was visible; they were impressed. "The lady needs to stretch her legs and have a bite to eat, and then we shall be on our way."

The horsemen hurriedly dismounted and clouds of dust fell from them when they hit the ground. They removed their helmets and shed their cloaks, and their manliness radiated from them, now that I could see their handsome faces and admire their physiques. After producing their own packs of food and water-skins to share, they sat down to eat together with us. Their leader cordially introduced himself to us, his name was Edric, and told me, as an aside, that he was sorry that he had called me a lad. He was not flirting, exactly, but he was cute when he said it. I offered him my hand and he shook it.

Thranduil and I sat with Edric in the shade of a stand of tall bushes; the others sat nearby with the horses. We learned that these Rohirrim were indeed part of a larger Eored, and they were in the area to guard a team of surveyors. From the grimed over looks of them, it had been many days since they had seen civilization, which would explain why they had not seen us in the town.

"Lord Eomer wants to build his own road, next spring," Edric told us. "One much like that of King Elessar, only ours will begin in Edoras," he then pointed towards Isengard, "and end at the edge of yonder gap."

"Treebeard has been consulted, of course," remarked Thranduil, with a lifted eyebrow. The group of horsemen heard him, and they mumbled uneasily amongst themselves for a few moments.

"We will avoid encroaching on that territory, have no fear," said Edric. Despite his assurances, the other horsemen looked worried, even a bit frightened, by the prospect. "We do not intend to disturb... the old ones," he concluded, haltingly. It was obvious he was spooked by the subject, they all were.

"The ents are very nice!" I blurted out, which was the first thing that I said to the horsemen. "You don't have to be afraid of them." After some reflection, I added, "Just leave your womenfolk at home and you will all get along fine."

"Lady Mary, I mean no disrespect," said Edric, "but our sole mission is to guard and assist King Eomer's surveyors." The other men nodded in agreement. "We were not sent forth to be diplomats."

"Well, if you ever do go to Isengard, ask for Hirdathar," I answered, recalling the willow-like ent fondly. "He was a real gentleman, for an ent."

We left the Rohirrim behind us and Amarth made up for the lost time by galloping twice as fast as he had previously, it felt like. I figured that he knew we were headed to that stable he had enjoyed so much. The king's stallion was not a stupid animal, just a bit on the feisty side.

The afternoon shadows grew long around us, despite the thundering pace, and my feet started to feel chilly again. I turned sideways and tried to draw my legs up, to cover them with my cloak, but it made me feel off-balance. I would have asked Thranduil for another one of his toe-warming kisses, however, I believed that the jarring ride would have made it dangerous. What if his teeth hit mine by accident?

"You will be warm, soon enough," said the king. Ahead of us I could see nothing except the grasslands, which were turning gray in the fading light. I strained to see the lights of the village we had stayed in. The sky was purple when the king slowed Amarth down and I heard the sound of hoof-beats coming toward us. "Who is that coming?" I asked. "Is it more Rohirrim to harass us?"

"Keep watching," he said, and the familiar erect posture of the elves on horseback finally grew distinct enough in the inky blackness for me to tell that Haldir and Thaladir were going to be joining us. I thought I could see someone seated behind the seneschal.

"Who else is with them?" Thranduil had kicked Amarth into a lope and I had to almost yell to be heard now. "I can't see a thing!" We reached the seneschal's side and halted. I could see Mal's blond curls as she leaned around his back and said hello to us, but we did not pause long enough for any chatting.

Once we were all inside of the inn, I sidled up to her, while Thaladir made arrangements for our lodgings. She seemed happy to see me, and not angry at all over being left behind. I told her that I was sorry about not waking her to say goodbye.

"Don't even think about feeling jealous, either," I whispered, but more to keep any mortals from overhearing me. "My entire time with His Majesty has been a living nightmare. You were lucky that Thaladir said you couldn't go, so I had to." I had never seen Mal's eyes grow bigger, as my last words sank in. In fact, everything about her seemed a bit larger, and curvier. I took another good look at her.

"Did you do something to your hair?" I asked her.

"Why? What is wrong with it?" She tried to see herself in the reflection of a darkened window.

"Nothing, it looks beautiful," I told her. "I just don't remember it being so curly before."

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

Status of daily schedule: Accomplished

Remarks: Visit to Fangorn successfully concluded by means of delivering the combined gift from Eryn Lasgalen, upon the reception of which our host expressed sincere, as well as most proper, gratefulness. Reunification with young Anarion, Ithilwen and Miriel according to plan, however, recent unforeseen circumstances have necessitated a second, notably highly temporary, separation. His Majesty has returned, with Lady Mary. Long live Eryn Lasgalen!

To be continued...

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Chapter posted: February 28, 2007

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