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Far Beyond Mirkwood, Chapter 9/?


Authors: Mary A and Malinornë
Pairings: Mainly Thranduil/OFCs
Warnings: Adult het sexual situations.
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: Thaladir haggles with the innkeeper, Mary meets someone unexpected, and Thranduil becomes reacquainted with Malinorne.


~ Mal~

It was fully dark when we finally arrived at the village by the Entwash ford. The streets were deserted, as far as I could tell, even though I didn't see much until Thaladir reined in our horse and stopped by a building with a sign on the wall. It was scantily lit by a torch placed beneath it and said 'The Old Wold Ford Inn' in angular letters that looked like they had been carved into the wood rather hastily. If the ford was old, the inn certainly wasn't.

The door beside the sign opened to let out a small group of men, all tall and blond. They smelled of ale, too, I noticed when they stopped for a moment just beside us. I couldn't tell if they were more interested in the elves, our horses or me, but in any case they soon continued on their way, perhaps helped to make up their mind by a stern glance from the seneschal. One of them turned his head and whistled; this time I was almost sure it was directed at me. I looked in their direction, but without seeing much.

Then I felt a pair of strong hands around my waist and I was pulled down from the horse and into the arms of the Elvenking. I buried my nose in his hair, pressing myself as tight against him as I could, and just took in that familiar scent of moss and fresh leaves that I loved so much. He patted my back and then held me in front of him with outstretched arms, looking into my eyes. It came over me how much I had longed to see him, his handsome face, his gleaming eyes, his mouth grinning, just like that. He hugged me again, very briefly, and then placed my hands on his elbow and took a step towards the door. In the corner of my eye I saw him reach out his free arm, and Mary taking it. Then we entered the inn.

Thaladir was already inside, a silent figure towering over the other man at the counter, who rapped his knuckles at the wooden surface to call the innkeeper's attention. A somewhat plump man in the common room shouted something in his direction, and then continued cleaning a table. He looked up after some seconds, wearily, as if he didn't care much for selling another cup of ale this particular night, but lit up when his gaze fell on us. He wiped his hands on the cloth and tucked it inside his belt.

"Welcome back, my lord," he said as he approached us. "One room for you and the lad as last time?" I could hear Mary huff at being taken for a boy, but Thranduil didn't sound the least bit annoyed when he answered the grinning man.

"These two will share, but you will have to settle the arrangements with my seneschal." He turned his head in Thaladir's direction. The innkeeper nodded and went to the counter, muttering to himself; "That's one lucky lad, to get to share with a nice lady like that."

To my dismay, the king disentangled himself from Mary and me much too soon. He left us in the hall on the long bench fixed to the wall and went to talk with Haldir in the common room. They stopped just inside the open doors, but Haldir's back was all that I could see. A nice sight, but not one that interested me very much at the moment. I whispered a quick 'hello' to Mary, but once the king was out of sight, my attention drifted to the seneschal, who was now talking to the inn-keeper.

"The ladies," said Thaladir pointedly, "will require a room in close vicinity of your finest one, where His Majesty will take up temporary residence."

"Ladies? Ah, I'm sorry, it's been a long day and the light is too dim for my old eyes. But, are you sure about our king? It's been a while since King Eomer's last visit; did you meet him on the way?"

"I am referring to His Majesty Thranduil, the Elvenking of Eryn Lasgalen, the realm formerly known as Mirkwood." The inn-keeper's eyes grew big and round, and he appeared spooked.

"Mirkwood," said Thaladir again, "not Fangorn." The man seemed calmer already, but he had a hard time taking his eyes off Haldir once the seneschal had informed him that the other elf came from the realm of the Golden Witch, not that those were Thaladir's exact words. After a few more questions, the man concluded that in comparison with seeing such a ghost with his very own eyes, and still being alive, it was not such a strange thing to accept that the elf that had visited some days earlier was the mythical king from the dark forest in the far north.

"My lord," he said reverently and bowed in Thranduil's direction, and then he laughed again.

"For the other two of us," continued Thaladir, making a gesture to indicate himself and Haldir, "your least expensive room will be quite sufficient." He paused while the inn-keeper counted on his fingers. "Perhaps there is an unused stall in your stables that we may occupy."

"We take pride in our excellent stables; the stalls are a mirian for the night." As he heard that, Thaladir's mouth opened slightly, as near a gasp as I've seen him make in public.

"My good man, the quantity of money indicated for this service is quite outrageous indeed."

"I guess I could take half a canath off the price, seeing that you won't need any oats to chew on, do you?" He laughed at his own joke.

I missed Thaladir's response, as well as the rest of the conversation, when Mary moved closer to me and whispered that I had nothing to be jealous of concerning her trip with our king. She claimed it was horrible, which I highly doubted, but I was more than happy to put up with her exaggerations. It was good just to have her there.

We had only been apart for about a week, but she had missed me too, or at least forgotten what I look like. As if my hair would suddenly have become curlier! I tugged at a lock, trying to see for myself if something was different. It didn't seem like it, not much at least. Maybe there was a spring to it that was new, although I would need a proper mirror to tell for sure; my reflection in the dark window was distorted by the uneven quality of the glass.

I leant forward, peering into the common room. It was nearly empty now; apart from a man enjoying his drink at the bar, we appeared to be the only customers. A middle-aged woman had begun to clean the tables where the inn-keeper left off, and a younger one swept the floor by the fireplace in the other end of the room. It was fun to observe them, as neither could keep long from taking a peek at the elves. Thranduil and Haldir had moved a little, so that I could see part of the king's face again, and it made me warm inside to think of that I belonged with him. I didn't have to content myself with stolen glances.


~ Mary ~

"Haldir, can I have a word with you?" I approached the tall elf, after he and Thranduil spoke to each other privately, and plucked at his sleeve. I had left Mal sitting at the bench beside the common room's doorway to stand near him. We were all waiting for Thaladir to complete our room arrangements, which were guaranteed to be lengthy negotiations.

The miserly seneschal towered over the inn-keeper, who held his ground behind his high-topped desk. With pride, the man was pointing out how his inn was now the most modern in all Rohan. By order of King Eomer, it was built in the new Gondorian style, with bathtubs in some of the rooms and fireplaces with chimneys.

"Are you in distress, Lady Mary?" As Haldir spoke to me, the slightest of smiles twitched around his serious mouth. He knew me too well, I guessed, and was obviously prepared to hear anything. Either that, or he found the innkeeper's salesmanship amusing. Fireplaces with chimneys probably do not impress Lorien elves.

"Will you go in there with me?" I pointed into the common room. There was one of the innkeeper's modern fireplaces against the far wall, with empty tables near it. "My feet and legs are cold," I explained. "Will you keep me company?"

Haldir, ever the gentleman, lost his skeptical expression and offered me his elbow. I felt safe and protected, even if I had no reason to fear anything. When we had reached the inn, a departing group of Rohirrim, reeking of ale, had ogled Malinorne openly, and appreciatively. The few who saw me sitting on Amarth thought I was a servant boy. It was not their fault and I was too tired to feel sorry for myself about it.

It had only taken one peek in the window glass, near the bench Mal and I sat on, to see the sad truth. I looked like a bedraggled orphan that may have suffered through a hurricane. My hair was a wind-blown mess that resembled brown hay straw and my face was streaked with dust from the long ride. Besides my wild hair and grimy face, the fact that I wore pants instead of a gown, with a cloak over them, probably did not make me seem girlish. For these reasons, I was not at all worried that I would be molested, or even noticed, by any left-over drunken horselord in the common room. I wanted the March warden with me for another reason.

"I have to ask you something," I told him, after we sat together next to the fire. I had made sure that I had a view of Thranduil and Mal, through the doors that led out to the main entryway. It did not concern me too much that all of the men in Rohan, so far, had made google-eyes at her, including the inn-keeper. She was oblivious, having eyes only for the king, and he for her. "Can you see the way he is staring at her?" I said.

"Who is staring at who, where?" Haldir had been lazily perusing the surroundings. The large room was nearly vacant, with only a few stragglers at a far table, and a lone man leaning against the bar. At my question, the elf glanced quickly over his shoulder, as if to see someone there.

"Thranduil, silly." I pointed him in the right direction. "Can't you see the way he is staring at Mal?" The king did more than undress his concubine with his raking eyes, he actually seemed to be preparing to have his way with her. It was only a matter of time before he whisked her away somewhere and followed through with the promise in his heated gaze. Probably anywhere secluded enough for him, and against a wall if need be, if our rooms were not settled on yet. Haldir patted my hand solicitously.

"If truth be told," answered the wise Lorien elf, "I see an elflord who merely displays a suitable amount of approval at the sight of his beautiful mortal subject."

"There is something different about Mal, though," I said. "I can't tell what it is, exactly, can you?" Before Haldir could answer me, we were interrupted by a young serving-woman, who asked if we wanted any ale before the taps were closed for the night. We both declined and I asked for tea, instead.

"Do you serve wine?" asked Haldir. The maid favored him with her dimples, and a slight curtsy-like dip of her knees, before she replied that she would bring him a jug, immediately.

"I hope you like the taste of barley," I warned him, after she had returned and was gone, swishing her skirts provocatively as she left the common room and went up the stairs. Haldir did not seem to understand what I meant. When he tasted the wine, and wrinkled his handsome nose at the bitterness, it was my turn to pat his hand in sympathy.

The man who had been leaning on the bar moved over to the fireplace, where he stood to finish his tankard of ale. I had not paid much attention to the shadowy figure before, but now I could see his profile clearly in the flames' glow. As quickly as I could without spilling anything, I brought my tea bowl up to my face to hide behind, and turned my back to him before he glanced my way.

I peeked over at the counter and could no longer see the seneschal, the king, the inn-keeper, or Mal. I looked at Haldir to see what he was doing and found that he was staring at me. Concern shaded his countenance as he leaned forward to see my face while he questioned me.

"What is it?" he asked. "Did you see a wraith?" I had to think fast as he persisted. "What has frightened you?"

"It's the innkeeper's wife," I lied. "I don't trust her, and I... I thought I saw her lurking in the corner behind us." Haldir glanced over my shoulder and frowned. "Is she there?" I described her carefully, as if he might have to pick her out of a crowd of innkeeper's wives.

"No, there is no other woman in here besides you." I sighed with mock-relief and praised his guardian abilities.

"Would you do me a really big favor?" I asked. "Will you go find out where she is, and keep an eye on her?" Then I whispered, at least to explain my previous anxiety, "I think she wants to kill me."

"Surely you are imagining things," Haldir said. His hair shimmered delightfully as he shook his head at me and my notion, and skepticism crept over his lovely face again. It was almost a pity to send him away, but I had to do it.

"This time I am not making it up," I promised solemnly. "She is very sneaky, please believe me." He still hesitated, so I added, "If you could just find out where she is and tell me, then I can avoid her. Is that too much to ask you?"

"No, it is not too much," he agreed. After draining his wine, he stood up. "I will do as you ask for I see no harm in your request. Wait here until I return."

"I won't move an inch," I promised, lying through my teeth.


~ Mal ~

I continued listening to Mary with half an ear, and a nagging feeling of guilt, as most of my attention was directed at Thranduil. She must have noticed, because as soon as the king and Haldir came back into the entrance hall, she excused herself and took the March Warden with her into the common room. It crossed my mind that it might be a good idea to join them and have something to drink while waiting for Thaladir to finish his negotiations with the inn-keeper. But, that would mean taking my eyes off Thranduil, which I wasn't willing to do. I stayed put on my bench, counting the minutes until I could be alone with him.

The king was becoming impatient as well. I could see it from the way he eyed his seneschal when Thaladir continued trying to lower the price by amounts so small that they wouldn't have bought half a cup of the cheapest wine in Laketown. Sure, Thranduil was often tight-fisted, but this time his most trusted elf was overdoing it. The inn-keeper seemed to think the same.

"My lord," the man said with a gesture of resignation, "you are a hard negotiator and I'm tempted to charge you nothing, except for the stable places, those are excellent, you see, knowing how generously your elf-king paid me when he was last passing through."

Thaladir's reaction was priceless. The slightest hint of a smug smile, quite unusual for him, began to play on his lips at the man's mention of 'nothing', but it was instantly wiped out by the hint at the king's possible wastefulness. He even looked a little shocked when he slowly turned his head to Thranduil.

"Sire?" he asked in that perfect mix of respectfulness and indignation he had used with the twins some days ago. The king was not in the mood for being lectured.

"Yes, Thaladir," he replied silkily. There was a dangerous glint in his eyes that made me shiver, but the seneschal was unmoved.

"May I inquire, Your Majesty, into the precise level of this recent generosity?"

"A shard of a rill. And I feel sorely tempted to pay the man another one just to get this charade over with!"

The inn-keeper followed the exchange with the same attention as I did. He flinched at the king's raised voice, but his whole face lit up at the chance of receiving another gemstone for his service. From what Thaladir had said earlier, the Rohirrim did not dig in their mountains, but was even leery of them, which would make even the smallest, flawed stones quite valuable here.

The seneschal changed his tactics. He bowed to Thranduil and then turned back to the inn-keeper.

"My good man, according to recent financial tidings from the High King in Gondor, the amount so lavishly bestowed upon this house by His Majesty Thranduil during his previous visit, is sufficient to cover the expenses associated with our current, most brief stay." The man looked disappointed, and he even dared an accusing glance at the king. He began to say something, but the seneschal stopped him with a gesture.

"We will, however," he continued, "pay extra for the care of our mounts, as a sign of His Majesty's benevolence towards the people of Rohan, the southern neighbours to Eryn Lasgalen." I'm not sure how much the inn-keeper understood, but he eagerly stretched out his hand when Thaladir opened his purse and took out a few coins.

"Thank you, my lord." He hurriedly stuck the money in his pocket. "My wife will show you to your rooms, just a moment."

"That will not be necessary," I heard the king say as I rose, and then he was by my side. Thaladir uttered a mild protest, but I didn't care to listen as I was by then already in the middle of being half carried, half pulled up the stairs to the second floor.

It was hard to keep up with Thranduil's pace as he took two steps at a time and then proceeded through the corridor in a stride. By the time he stopped at door, apparently to the same room he had stayed in with Mary earlier, I was quite out of breath. As he opened it and pulled me inside, I got a quick glance of a simple but clean room sparsely furnished with a bed and a table with two chairs. There was a fireplace, too, and a narrow door that might lead to a closet, or, hopefully, a bathroom.

That was all I saw before Thranduil's body obscured my view as he pressed me up against the now closed door to the corridor. His lips claimed mine and I closed my eyes for a moment, taking in his heady scent in my nostrils and his strong shoulders under my hands. If I had needed more evidence of his arousal than his eager mouth, it was there, too, pressing against the lower part of my abdomen.

I stood on tiptoe. Thranduil stopped kissing me and a wolfish grin spread across his face as he begun to move his hips. The sensations caused by this made me smile, too, and I bucked a little against him. Swiftly he caught my wrists and pinned them against the door, on either side of my head, which made it difficult for me to hold my position, but being so close to him, nearly joined despite the layers of clothing separating us, felt much too good to give up just because my ankles were tired.

The king must have sensed my discomfort. He released my hands and I steadied myself against his chest. We kissed again, his right hand now cupping my breast through the gown, and then he bent his head and sucked the tip into his mouth. I gasped, and then again when he withdrew, leaving a wet spot that quickly became cold. I wanted him to continue, but instead I felt his hands at my skirt, and he lifted my right leg. I hooked my knee around his waist, and then he entered me.

We were both too eager to bother with the finer points, and what followed was crude and rushed, hardly even qualified as 'lovemaking'. But, in spite of that, and my increasing fear that the next loud thump against the door would result in it breaking, or at least rise suspicion from someone who might pass in the corridor, I was filled with bubbling joy. He was with me again! I began to giggle giddily, then couldn't stop laughing as each thrust from Thranduil brought me not only physical pleasure, but seemed to bring our souls near each other.

A knock on the door made me freeze. I stopped laughing immediately, but it was hard to keep totally quiet, as the king chose to ignore our visitor. He picked up his pace and I held on to him, gradually shutting out the knowledge of the person behind the door. But, the knocking sound was repeated, and I jumped as Thranduil sighed heavily and slammed his hand into the door beside my head.

We both stood still for a moment, listening for disappearing steps. Whoever had disturbed us seemed to be running down the stairs. I giggled and looked into the king's eyes, shifting my lower body to show him that I was ready to continue.

This time, the door could have broken and I wouldn't have noticed.


~ Mary ~

As soon as Haldir was through the doors and out of my range of vision, I used my napkin to wipe any remaining dust from my face, and tried to smooth my hair down with my fingers. I removed my cloak and straightened out my tunic. While muttering a silent prayer, mostly that I was not making a big mistake, I was on my feet and quietly moved over to stand in front of the fireplace.

The familiar man standing there, with one booted foot resting on the bricks that surrounded the hearth, was staring into the flames with a pensive, weary look on his bearded face. I waited.

For a few moments, he stood still, as if he did not see me there, and then he shifted his stance slightly. He glanced over toward me, starting at my feet. Holding my breath, I watched his bored gaze quickly travel upward, taking in my muddy boots and leggings, and then barely touch on my face before he turned his attention back to stare at the fire. I waited. After a moment, he shifted his eyes over to my face again, and I smiled.

"Hello Anborn," I said.

"It is you!" he breathed out, stunned. "I saw Lady Malinorne of the Squirrels," he sputtered excitedly, while he gestured toward the counter, "and the tall elf with the robes, but, you are not a lad after all..."

"Do I really look that bad?"

After slamming his tankard down on the fireplace mantle, the stout ranger from Ithilien, who I had met in Rivendell, let out a great shout of triumph. I jumped at the sound and, before I could even recover myself, he grabbed me to him with arms that felt like oaken beams, lifted me off of my feet and pressed me to his equally hard chest.

"I guess this means you are happy to see me?"

"More than happy, my love," he declared. "I have found what I had thought was lost to me." Anborn held me even closer to him in his bear-like embrace. "At last we are together my darling, and I shall never let you go."

"Oh dear," I gasped, breathless from having all of the air squeezed from my lungs. I felt doomed to die from suffocation as the eager ranger added a lusty kiss to his viselike grip. Dimly, as I began to feel faint from lack of oxygen, I could hear a few chuckles from the men that lingered at the far table. With a last effort, I broke away from my enthusiastic Gondorian's hungry mouth.

"Put me down, Anborn," I wheezed out. "If Thaladir sees us, he will not be pleased."

"As you wish, but I will not let go of you." He let me down to stand in front of him, but kept his arms around me. "That is one of the many promises I made to myself as I set out to find you, and the image of you in my arms has sustained me all those many leagues, which I have traveled without rest or sleep."

"Good grief," I replied, trying not to be frightened by his passionate declarations. "Let's sit down and talk over tea..."

"Nay, my lady," Anborn shook his head slowly as he grinned down at me, his white teeth sparkling in the fire's light. His voice was husky as he continued, "Now that I have you in my arms, there are other promises to keep." Being held tightly against his masculine torso, it was not hard to guess which part of his anatomy was declaring its intentions.

I had not forgotten our one night together, nor his astonishing virility, and my earlier worries about being spied on by the seneschal began to melt away. I scanned the room and, after finding no elves in sight, I stood on tiptoe to whisper in Anborn's ear.

"Do you have a room here?"

"I secured a room with a large bed as soon as I arrived," he boasted as he led me away from the common room toward the stairs. He went on to explain how he had followed the itinerary that I had given to Legolas to deliver to him, but was dismayed when he had arrived earlier and we were not at the inn yet. He had given up all hope when Thranduil and the rest of us arrived, for he did not recognize me at first. With a rueful grin, he swore to me that he was truly and eternally sorry for thinking I was a boy, and I forgave him.

We had just reached the top of the stairs, and were turning to where I assumed Anborn's room was, when a familiar sound of throat clearing stopped both me and my gallant escort dead in our tracks.

"Lady Mary, your room for the night is in the other direction," Thaladir spoke as he stepped out of the shadows in the corridor behind us. Anborn released me to bow gracefully, and courteously, as he greeted my chief tormentor.

"Lord Thaladir, it is an honor to meet you again."

"Sir Anborn," replied the seneschal, with an inclination of his head that answered the bow.

"Your Excellency," I said, "I didn't see you there." I dropped in a quick curtsy, but could think of nothing else to say to him.

"Lady Mary," Thaladir answered in his dry way, "your inability to detect my presence does not alter the direction in which your room is located." He offered me his elbow and his eyes bored into mine, daring me to refuse to take his arm and be led to my proper place.

"Can I at least say good night to Sir Anborn, first, Excellency? Without you watching us?" There was actually a moment of hope as I watched the expression on Thaladir's face take on a thoughtful aspect, but at that moment another elf entered the scene. As silent as always, Haldir had climbed the stairs and approached me before I saw him. A tap on my shoulder made me whirl and then gasp in surprise to see the tall elf beside me.

"Lady Mary, I have the information that you seek." Haldir paused and pulled me away from Anborn and Thaladir, without knowing what he had interrupted, and as if he had the perfect right to take such an action.

"What information?" I asked, sincerely, having forgotten the diversionary mission I had sent him on. Thaladir frowned and Anborn glared at Haldir, but the March warden ignored them and spoke quietly to me.

"The location of the innkeeper's wife," he answered. "As you requested."


~ Mal ~

"Your dinner, my lord."

The maid who entered the room cast an insecure glance at Thranduil, who had opened the door, and she looked back twice on her short way to the table, where I was sitting, flushed and still catching my breath. She avoided looking at me as she swiftly arranged the plates and cutlery. Her hand shook a little when she lifted a heavy pitcher, but she was very professional. When she was done, she curtseyed, again, to Thranduil, not me, and then she quickly left the room, closing the door behind her with great care. It didn't make a sound.

"You frightened her," I said to the king, who was a striking, regal appearance even in this post-coital state and in clothes covered in dust from the road. He moved with the elegance of a big cat as he sat down opposite me.

"Not as much as my seneschal would have," he replied dryly, but with a glitter in his eyes that made me giggle as I thought of Thaladir. Despite my intimate knowledge of him, it was almost impossible, but very funny, to imagine the impeccable elf in such a passionate moment.

"He would never let himself be caught in such a compromising situation."

"Indeed, at times his concern of seemly manners comes close to the prudishness of humans. Why do you try so hard to hide your natural needs?" The king murmured. "Why are you ashamed of them?"

It was a rhetorical question, and I was glad for that. I would much rather have something to eat than try to explain why the thought of an audience made me embarrassed, something I suspected he would never fully understand anyway. I lifted the lid of the clay pot in front of me and the delicious smell made me realize how hungry I was.

"Eat," said Thranduil. "You will need your strength." I took a spoonful of the stew; it tasted at good as it smelt.

"What is it? Do you know?"

"Sheep, most likely."

"In a fishermen's village? Thaladir told me on the way here that the location for this new settlement had been chosen because of the abundance of fish."

"My seneschal does not have knowledge of all things, but I would be much surprised to hear that he did not also inform you of the herds of sheep roaming over the vast grasslands of this realm in times of peace."

"I forgot," I admitted, blushing. It was embarrassing, because I really tried to remember everything from Thaladir's lessons, but at least I had a good excuse. "I forgot because I've missed you so much." Thranduil grinned, but there was something shrewd in his expression.

"You will show me how much you missed me, soon. Now, eat."

I needed no encouragement to do as he said, and I took another two spoonfuls of stew and a bite of rye bread before even noticing that I was thirsty. I reached for the pitcher in the middle of the table.

"No." I looked at Thranduil, puzzled.

"Isn't it good?"

"Matters of taste aside, that barley wine is too strong for you." His gaze made me all warm inside as I guessed his reason for not wanting me tipsy. He was right; I did not want to waste this night with him by experiencing it an alcohol-induced haze, and neither did I want to become sleepy too soon. I would be a small sacrifice to drink only water even for the rest of my days. I knew Thranduil would make it worth it.


~ Mary ~

"The innkeeper's wife?" I repeated back to Haldir. "Her location?" It came back to me then, in a rush, why I did not trust her from the first time I had been there. I narrowed my eyes as I said, "She is probably lurking outside of Thranduil's door." I would not have put it past any woman to try. The more I considered it, the more I believed it was true.

"Ha! I hope Mal keeps him busy all night and in bed; at least she isn't drunk." I could tell by the way the king had smiled at his concubine that she was not going to be given much time for drinking wine, or eating food either, poor thing. I would have given anything to be in her place.

At that very moment, my hunger for the ranger was seriously challenged by the subsequent thoughts of the nearness to a hot bath and warm bed, in my own room, and probably something to nibble on in between the two. I was nearly faint with hunger, after the tea had stirred my appetite. My feet were still cold, too. Anborn's kisses were nice, but they were not toe-warming like Thranduil's are.

"No, Lady Mary, it is not as you believe, she is not lurking up here," Haldir proclaimed a bit grimly. "The good woman is currently busy in the kitchen. Furthermore, I had a few words with the younger maid, and she gave me no reason to consider this woman a threat, as you say she is."

By now, it no longer mattered to me where anyone was, or what they were doing, but I did have a bit of dignity left to preserve. "I told you that she was sneaky," I explained. "And how can you trust a mere servant? They usually lie to protect their masters."

"The young woman is the innkeepers' daughter," he said, "and she seemed quite sure that her mother is a gentle, loving soul who would not harm another to save her own life." The way Haldir stared into my eyes, after he delivered his information, made me feel uncomfortable, like he was not very happy with me, or something.

"Well, thank you for finding her, Haldir, I knew you would." I reached up and fondled the ends of his braids that lay against his broad chest. "I will lock my door tonight, anyway, unless I hear a special knock..."

Up to that point, Anborn had stood by quietly, although he had sidled over to be able to see both me and Haldir. When I touched the elf, it had an effect on the ranger and he was instantly at my side again, which meant that I did not get a chance to tell Haldir the special knock he would need to get in my room.

"Lady Mary," Anborn said, not looking at the March warden, "is there something wrong? May I be of assistance?" The ranger put his beefy arm over my shoulders, protectively, and I was back where I had started from. It was time for Thaladir to join the crowd. Instead, the innkeeper's wife came up the stairs, not nearly as quietly as an elf, because we all heard her. She stood stock still at the top, staring at all of us, who were staring back at her.

"See? Sneaky. I told you she wants the king," I whispered to Haldir, smugly. The lady dipped into a curtsy and smiled tiredly as she spoke.

"Would any of you be needing anything from the kitchen?" She added, "We are about to shut it down for the night." The elves and men were silent, but it had been too long since I had last eaten for me to politely decline her offer, even though it meant speaking to her in a civil tone.

"What do you have down there?" I asked her, since all I had to swallow was my pride. After I learned that I could have stew, left over from dinner, or a platter with some cold meats and cheese, I ordered both. "And a jug of your wine," I added, and the kind lady nodded and swiftly departed.

"Excuse me, Anborn," I said to the ranger, as I stood on tiptoe to kiss his bearded cheek and then slipped out from beneath his possessive arm on my shoulders. "I will see you in the morning, I promise." He reached out to grab me back to him, but Haldir was quicker and stood between us, facing me.

"Goodnight Haldir," I said with my sweetest smile, and I made a fist and 'knocked' it on his chest, three short raps, and hoped that he understood my message. "I would love to apologize to you properly, for putting you under so much unnecessary strain on my account tonight."

"If you are no longer fearful, my lady, then I will seek my own sanctuary for the night." His smirk told me that he understood me very well, but was not accepting my invitation.

"How could I feel afraid with such a great big bodyguard like you nearby?" Despite the slight sting from his rejection, I was not entirely disappointed. "And you too, Anborn," I added, because I could hear the man grunting with aggravation from where he stood, hidden behind the March warden.

"For my part, I will not sleep tonight, Lady Mary," declared the Gondorian. "I will stand watch all night at the top of these stairs. You will truly have nothing to fear." His last words must have sounded like a challenge to Haldir, who turned to him with a scowl, and I could not take it anymore. I left.

It seemed to me that Thaladir's eyes had a strange cast to them, after I stepped away from both the Lorien elf and the Ithilien ranger and stood before him. "I am ready to go to my room, Your Excellency," I said meekly. "Would you be so kind as to escort me?"

Unless it was a trick of the shadows in the corridor, I could have sworn that the seneschal almost looked happy. Again, he extended his elbow and I took it with a smile. It felt good to do something that actually pleased the old elf, even if my chief motive was to get him alone and tattle on the Isengard ents.


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

Status of daily schedule: N/A

Remarks: As an addendum to the previous entry I find it necessary to remark upon the patron of 'The Old Wold Ford Inn', seeing how said person has proven to be most difficult in negotiations. Furthermore, Lady Mary's report on the ents of Isengard was most disappointing, as the behaviour of the ancient ones in that location leaves much to desire in seemliness, as well as proper protocol. I am, however, pleased with the lady's much improved sense for decorum. Long live Eryn Lasgalen!

To be continued...

A note on the money mentioned in Mal's parts: Mirian and canath are the currency of Gondor. There are four cenaith ('quarters') to a mirian. The word 'rill' as a name for shiny gemstones without much value was made up by me, using the final element of words such as 'mithril' (lit. 'grey brilliance') and 'silmaril'.

Thaladir fans! Now it is possible for you to talk to the seneschal, one on one. Just click "Talk to Thaladir" in the menu.
Also, come and see the seneschal's MySpace page! (You do not have to be a member to view it.)
And don't forget to visit Thaladir's 360 Page.(You do not have to have a Yahoo account to see his 360 page.)


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Chapter posted: March 14, 2007

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