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Mirkwood and beyond

Chapter 1 / ?
Authors: Mary A and Malinornë
Pairings: Our main pairing is Thranduil/OFCs, but the featured characters in this sequel will include every other character from every realm in Tolkien's world that we can think of before we are done!
Warnings: Adults only
Disclaimer: Just playing with Tolkien characters, for fun, and not profit, do not claim to have created them. Helca and Thaladir, the king' seneschal, are our own creations and we will lend them out if asked for permission in advance..
Overall summary: Mary and Malinorne are the first mortal females to be invited into the halls of Mirkwood by the Elfking, Thranduil. Subsequently, they have become subjects in his realm and members of his household. Currently, the two women have just returned from visiting Erebor where they attended, with the rest of the royal household, a wedding in Dale at the invitation of Lord Bard II. While they were gone, Legolas had invited some of his friends to visit the king's halls as houseguests, namely, Elladan, Elrohir, and the mighty March Warden, Haldir. Thranduil, Mary and Mal flew home by eagle back while the rest of the royal party returned on horseback a few days later. Legolas has departed, but the house guests have stayed, for reasons yet to be fully explained.
Chapter summary: As our story opens, Mary and Mal are waking up to their first day back in Mirkwood since the King's seneschal, Thaladir, has returned. They both have breakfast with some lovely elves
A/N: This story is a sequel to Mary Goes to Mirkwood.
Feedback: Not required but always appreciated! Write to: thaladir@yahoo.com

~ Mary ~

Waking up in the royal bed in Thranduil's bedchamber was not always a pleasant experience, especially when the king was already up and gone somewhere. Without him there to keep out intruders, there was no telling who might come in the door, raising a ruckus and rudely interrupting a perfectly lovely dream. It was the risk I took when sleeping in late within the halls of Mirkwood.

Not that such an intruder would ever be dangerous, or likely to harm me, what with two fierce wood-elves standing sentry duty on either side of the chamber door. If anyone did come in uninvited, it was usually for a good reason, at least as far as they were concerned. And sometimes I could tell that an unobtrusive elf had come and gone by the condition of the candles; if they were low and guttering or freshly lit.

This time, I was half-awake already, dozing and thinking about Haldir and his audience with the king in the throne room the day before. And I was wondering about the invitation from Lord Celeborn, for Thranduil to visit with him in Lorien, and what he meant by wanting to see that Mal and I were well cared for. What business of his was that? I had barely gotten used to being back at home. Although there were certain things I would like to avoid.

When I heard the door open, I turned my back to it and hoped that whoever it was, unless it was Thranduil, would take the hint by that gesture, and go away. There were no pressing engagements for me to attend, of that I was pretty sure. And it was still morning, so no one should expect much out of me before I had my coffee.

The seneschal's familiar throat-clearing signal roused me like cold water splashed on my face. I pulled the covers over my head and hid. He was one of the things I definitely wanted to avoid. If he was in a throat-clearing mood, then that meant he probably had bad news, like he thought it was time for me to get up. Usually, I enjoyed refusing to do as he asked and looked forward to it. But, I was angry with him, even though he did not know that I was, and I did not want to argue about proper sleeping in the royal bed protocol with him, let alone talk to him, or even see him.

It had only been the day before when I had learned the shocking truth about the grouchy elf. Try as I might, I had not yet come to terms with discovering that while blindfolded, and under the impression that I was with a stranger to me, the night we all stayed at a Laketown inn, the seneschal had undressed me, bathed me, taken me to bed, and had his way with me. Or, I should say, let me have my way with him. As a favor to Thranduil, I had remained oblivious to his identity, thinking that I was with a shy friend of the king's.

I had enjoyed myself and the blindfold, that night, I admit it, but only because at the time I had thought he was someone else completely different. Finding out how wrong I had been about my mystery lover's identity had crushed me with disappointment. The elf of my imagination was kind and pleasant. The elf that stood next to the king's bed this morning, waiting for me to respond to him, was neither.

Feeling trapped, I wished for Thranduil to come and rescue me, and as hard as I could wish it. This worked sometimes, but only if it had not been his idea to send Thaladir in to wake me in the first place. And since I had no idea how far away the king was from his chambers, or how soon he could get there, I began to panic.

And then a soft sigh next to me reminded me that I was not alone. Tentatively I reached my foot out and met the warm flesh of the royal concubine's lower leg with my toes. I poked and she stirred, which made me feel better instantly. If she was under a sleep spell, I could have kicked her hard and she would have slept right through it.

"Mal, you deal with him," I whispered from under the blankets, but got no response. So, I wiggled her leg with my foot a bit more firmly. "Mal, wake up."

"I'm awake," I heard her murmur, but she still was not moving, except to pull her leg away from my foot, so I figured she was telling only half the truth. I scooted over closer to her in order to poke at her again.

"Wake up all the way and tell Thaladir to leave." That got her attention; I felt her shifting on her pillow. She drowsily said good morning to the seneschal, surprised to see him, and not sounding all that unhappy with his presence either.

"Mal, please tell him to go away," I whispered, in case she had been too sleepy to have heard me the first couple of times. But, before she could say anything to either of us, Thaladir told us that breakfast was about to be served in the private dining room, and that it was his duty to inform us that it was our duty to keep ourselves in good health by showing proper judgment with our nourishment by eating at regular intervals. And lying in bed for too many hours at a time was not good for our circulation, either.

When he finally shut up, I asked Mal to tell him to just leave now and send someone with a tray, if he was so worried about it, if it really was so important for us to eat. And do not forget some coffee. And then, before she could speak, I added that I did not think he was telling us the truth. It never mattered before if we ate breakfast at all, let alone on time, so how come now, all of a sudden, it was such a big deal; could she just ask him that?

"Why don't you ask him yourself," she hissed, finally fed up with me poking her.

"I'm not speaking to him ever again!" I hissed back. Mal pulled the covers up, in order to see my face and to screen us from Thaladir.

"Why aren't you speaking to him ever again this time?" she asked.

"I can't tell you as long as he is standing there," I explained. "So tell him to go away." She let the blankets fall back and spoke to him in Sindarin. I could understand enough of the language, and could infer the rest from the tone of her voice, to know she was explaining that it was never a good idea to wake certain sleeping mortals, and expect instant action. It took some of us longer than others to wake up all the way. He agreed. And before the two of them could launch into a discussion about the flawed character traits of the some of the second born children of Ilúvatar, I poked her again with my foot.

"Would you stop that!" she cried.

"Tell him to go away, now."

"Tell him yourself," she repeated, exasperated. Instead of telling the seneschal anything, I said that I was too ill to get up and did not want to eat and did not care, in fact I thought it would be great, if my circulation came to a complete halt right this minute, and I died in the king's bed. I pulled my pillow over my head and told them both that I refused to say another word until the seneschal left the room.

After a pause, they resumed talking where they had left off before I interrupted them, as if I was not even there.

~ Mal ~

I knew that it was a dream, but I accepted it. Thranduil was with me, and at the same time he wasn't, but his hands caressed me. I was safe, sated and secure, borne on rolling waves that took me closer to him, and then farther, but always to return. Or was I lying on clouds? Resting on soft cushions of nothingness travelling by the wind, steering steadily towards the sun, whose gentle fingertips warmed my skin. And then it was a tree... slender branches bowing in the breeze... trembling leaves fluttering...

A throat-clearing. Thaladir. The seneschal's presence was added to my drowsy sleep, and though one half of my brain was waking up, the other refused to, and instead made the stern elf part of my dream. I sensed a smile spreading across my face as he approached the tree, and peeking down from my nest I saw him start climbing. Higher and higher, but the tree kept lifting me farther away from him, and the Elvenking was suddenly gone too, and then there was a hard twig in my bed. I tried to bury myself deeper in clouds, but it was still there, and even among the waves something poked at me persistently. And the voice in the wind was Mary's.

With a sigh I accepted reality, and was pleasantly surprised to find Thaladir still there, in the royal bedchamber. I watched him through still half-closed eyelids, which made him slightly blurry at the edges, but also made him look less business-like. I was fairly convinced that he hadn't come here for pleasure, no matter how much it would have pleased me to see him shrug his robe off, leaving it in an untidy pile on the floor, shed the rest of his clothes in the same unceremonious manner, and jump into bed with a growl. Not even in my dreams would that happen.

Instead, the elf brought up his most official tone, stating that the ladies were expected to present themselves at the king's most royal breakfast table without delay. Or something like that. It was difficult to concentrate on his words between mentally undressing him, and evading Mary's annoying attempts to get my attention.

She was worse than usual, and the way she angrily hissed something incomprehensible must have been painful to the seneschal's sensitive ears. He remained patient, stoically waiting for a reaction more befitting subjects to the Elvenking, but I had to disappoint him. "Stop it!" I hissed back at Mary, slightly louder than I had intended, and got her to still herself for a moment, long enough that I could wish the elf a pleasant morning.

Then I had to go back under the covers again to try to speak some sense with her, which wasn't easy. She kept nagging me to tell Thaladir this and that, and I realised she had another of those "am never going to speak with him again" moments. He'd probably just corrected her Tengwar writing or something like that, not aimed to hurt, and even less worth getting upset about.

I apologised to the seneschal for her undignified behaviour, and blamed it on the lack of coffee in her system, something that turns some mortals into orcs when they are awakened suddenly. He appeared understanding, as always, but before he could reply, Mary insisted on our attention again. She declared that she was going to stay in bed forever (not true) and not speak at all (if it only were true!) at least not until he left.

And then, she suddenly jumped out of bed, and without a thread on her body demonstratively proceeded to stomp towards the door to the corridor, open it with a daring glance at the seneschal, and walk out. The poor elf looked mortified for a second, but then seemed to turn into the competent guard of propriety. He went after her.

I could hear from her voice that she wouldn't let herself be calmed soon, and I knew that he wouldn't physically hinder her. He would do his best to cover her with something, but not restrict her movements. So, it appeared I had quite some time at my disposal before breakfast.

~ Mary ~

In my own defense, I have to say that I felt pushed to my limit. I knew Thaladir heard me the first time I asked Mal to tell him to go away, and the second time, and the third time, and the fourth time. How could he help but hear me with his elf-ears? But he chose to stay. My discomfort with his presence did not persuade him to leave, but then it never had. He must get pleasure out of seeing me squirm when he looms over me like a big vulture, waiting to pick my bones.

But, I was over my quest to gain his approval of me. No more Miss Nice Guy. While hiding under the covers, waiting for him to leave so I could talk to Mal in peace, I had a revelatory experience, and I acted on it.

I got up out of the bed, stark naked, and probably glowing like a sky-rocket, because I was so angry that it had to show. It was absurdly easy to walk right in front of him, disrobed. And I hoped it would give him a heart attack. Even though I knew there was no possibility of that, at least not as long as he thought I was just being rude, and had not yet done anything he might consider dangerous. Mal and I had learned that elves detect an emanation from human bodies, not unlike the shimmering light that elves give off to our sight. It is massively distracting to them.

It had been drilled into me that to travel in a state of even half-undress any further than the last door out to the public halls was strictly forbidden. It could cause a disturbance. Any unsuspecting elves who witnessed such behavior might be distracted against their will. This could lead to dangerous consequences. That was the way it had been explained to me, and I thought I had never heard any thing so silly, but I kept that opinion to myself at the time.

But this morning, it occurred to me that there is only elf in Mirkwood in any danger of being distracted by me. And he was standing right next to Thranduil's bed. The fiend. I should have felt sorry for him, and the way he always kept himself in denial, but I wanted to torture him instead. He did not ever have to look at me, dressed or not, but he obviously could not help himself.

"If he won't leave, then I will," I said not quietly, and I proceeded to the door and paused. "If you need me," I informed the room, "I'll be in the king's study." Ha! That ought to get a rise out of the seneschal. The study was in a very public area, very near the throne room. I hoped there were lots of elves hanging around there. They were about to get an eyeful of glowing human skin.

But, I had not traveled too many steps down the hall before Thaladir caught up to me. He had removed his robe while he chased me down, and was holding it up to drape over me. I ignored him and just kept walking, while he followed after me and informed me that it was highly unadvisable for me to be wandering through the palace halls without benefit of appropriate garments. And I would be best advised to slow my pace in order that he might remedy my current state of undress before any of His Majesty's subjects were accidentally exposed to me. I walked even faster.

"And you better not be looking at my bottom, either," I shouted. "You dirty old elf." I whirled in time to see him doing just that. I shook my finger at him while his cheeks turned pink at being caught. "Did the king say you could look at that?" I asked him. Of course, he had no answer. "I'm telling on you," I threatened. "Unauthorized glancing at His Majesty's private property, I bet you could get in a lot of trouble for that."

Actually, I knew no such thing. The king would probably be delighted to learn his seneschal got a peek at mortal flesh. As soon as that fact dawned on me, I stopped short and grabbed the robe out of Thaladir's hands and wrapped it around myself. He had enough fun, even if he did not know he was having it. We were nearly to the study anyway, so I had made my point. Such as it was.

Once inside the study, I closed the door quickly behind me and leaned against it. Thranduil was sitting at his desk, which surprised me. I rarely found him there when I needed to be rescued from the seneschal. And the fact that he was so close, and had not come to rescue me, meant that he had sent Thaladir to wake me up. Uh-oh.

"Your Majesty, I think your seneschal is going to resign again," I managed to get out before there was a knock behind me. The king leaned back in his chair and looked at me. Slowly, he let his eyes travel over my unusual garment.

"I see," he said, finally. "This should be interesting." He stood and came over to the door, moved me aside, and allowed his seneschal into the room. "Do you have something to tell me?" he calmly asked the old grouchy pervert.

While Thaladir painstakingly accounted, in careful detail, for every moment of time he had spent in the royal bedchamber attempting to wake up Mal and me, I pulled his robe around me even tighter and went to sit on the desk chair. There were some interesting scrolls to look at, which I did, carefully pulling them closer to me with a fingertip. I knew it would annoy the seneschal and divert his attention if he noticed me peeking at official documents without permission. As if I could read them, they were all written in Sindarin.

He did pause, and frown at me, but I ignored him. Dutifully he reported how he had delivered the message that he had been ordered to give us, to attend breakfast in the private dining room.


"Since when do I have to eat breakfast?" I asked, even though I was so hungry at that moment that I thought I was going to stuff one of the scrolls in my mouth; they actually looked edible.

"We have spies under our roof," replied the king. "I must protect my own. Go dress and join Elrond's sons for breakfast, they have been asking for you."

"Good grief, they aren't spies!" I said. "Are they?" And all this time I thought they were just trying to get in my pants. Or, under my skirt, I should say.

"Le hannon, sadron nín," [Thank you, my faithful one,] the king told the seneschal, while opening the door and gesturing for him to leave us alone.

~ Mal ~

As I went down the hidden staircase to the king's bathing chambers, my thoughts went to the proceedings in the throne room the day before. It was tempting to dwell on Thranduil and his wicked boot-wagging laziness, or the March Warden's formidable, barely controlled wrath that had made his eyes shine especially fiercely. Two elves, magnificent representatives of their kind, different and still much alike. And, in a way, I belonged to both of them...

I heard myself gasp when my naked body was quickly submerged in cool water. I had meant to wake slowly, soak for a while in the warmest spring, perhaps swim a few strokes in the largest one, but instead, the part of my mind that wasn't occupied with dreaming about elves had led me straight into the small pool that was fed by clear, cold water from the very roots of the Mirkwood hills. And it was probably for the best.

Regardless of how suggestively Haldir tended to express himself, he had not come here to seduce me, or Mary, even if I suspected that she would be much better at resisting him than I ever had. He was in Mirkwood on an official errand, sent by the Lord and Lady of the Golden Wood, to deliver a message to Thranduil.

I went over to the larger pool, which now felt pleasantly warm in contrast, and began swimming at a leisurely pace while I pondered the situation further. Could this invitation to Lothlorien be the reason for the unexpected demand that we eat at once? Had the king already decided to accept, and everything was ready for immediate departure, except for his sleepy mortals?

No matter how excited I had originally been at the thought of seeing the mellyrn, and the tree-living Galadhrim, and Galadriel and her mysterious mirror, and, well... Celeborn, now that it seemed that it would come true at once I suddenly didn't feel so inclined to go. I liked it here, in these cosy caves that made me feel safer than anywhere else. The forest was recovering, and though it held no mellyrn, there were beeches, good enough for me. Many of the wood-elves of Mirkwood lived in the trees too, just as their kin in Lorien.

I conveniently steered my thoughts away from the less agreeable dimensions of Thranduil's realm, such as Helca. And November, with weeks of staying indoor, under ground, if it was raining. But then there were bound to be unpleasantries everywhere, wasn't it?

When I heard the main door open, the one leading to the corridor on the main palace level, I was prepared to beg the king not to go, on my knees if necessary, or at least to leave me behind. As if Mirkwood would have been the same without him. That idea was as ridiculous as the notion that I might change his mind if he had already accepted the invitation. But I had to try, and I was so set on it that I was half-way up from the water before I realized that the elf who had entered the chamber was not the king. It was Thaladir.

The elf looked unclad without his customary robe, almost a little obscene, and I suspect that was how he felt too, even if he did not show it. Neither did he betray his thoughts on my own, more blatant, state of undress, but as elves would find the idea of washing, or swimming, with clothes on, very strange, he must have deemed it appropriate for the occasion. And there was a gleam of interest in his eyes, even if he succeeded perfectly well in sounding official.

"My lady, His Majesty, will be most pleased to be informed of your physical exercise, bearing witness of the suitability of these premises as habitat for mortals." He was so funny. "Most pleased indeed," he added while wrapping me in a large towel. He stepped back with a small nod, so apparently it would have been too bold of him to help me to dry myself. Or perhaps he was afraid that it would lead to more, something he could not afford to indulge in with his no doubt busy schedule. "My lady," he said, with a possible hint of regret in his voice, "it is still my duty to insist that you present yourself in His Majesty's dining chamber, at this instant."

Ithilwen had silently slipped in during this conversation, and now efficiently assisted me into my dress, while the seneschal respectfully turned his back. She arranged my damp hair in a thick braid on my back, which was really the only reasonable way to treat it. It was a lot simpler than the usual arrangements of hers, but I nearly always felt beautiful among elves, something that must depend on an ability of theirs, rather than my appearance.

~ Mary ~

It had not been that long ago when I had been warned about Thranduil's feelings about hosting strangers in his halls. What else could I expect from a warrior elf who had survived the perilous Third Age by regarding each and every visitor who entered his forest as a possible threat? He was naturally suspicious about everything, it was a reflex. It would take more than a few brief seasons of time after the destruction of the Dark Lord's Ring and all the evil it had made, before any elf in Mirkwood would let their guard down.

And so, after the king dismissed Thaladir from his study, and informed me that any invasion of his halls from other realms must be taken as a possible act of aggression, I relaxed. I agreed that the twins and Haldir were probably there to make sure that Mal and I were not being mistreated, but that was all. And we were both obviously well cared for, and happy to be there.

I highly doubted his unwanted guests were interested in any of his dealings of state, or the location of his treasure, but I kept that last thought silent, so he could ignore it if he chose. And I did not believe for a minute that they were paying attention to our eating habits or circulation.

"Yes, I agree with you," said Thranduil. "However, regarding eating breakfast on time, my seneschal seems to believe that in his absence a certain amount of chaos has been introduced into my kingdom, and to the eventual peril of us all. He is determined to restore order at every level."

"He was staring at my butt," I said. The king smiled, pleased, just as I thought. "Does he know yet that I found out about him and...?" I stopped, and struggled for a moment, trying to figure out how to say what I still did not want to accept had actually happened, then settled with, "the blindfold episode?"

"No," replied Thranduil.

"Please don't tell him," I asked.

"Oh, I will not have to," the king said. "I am quite sure that you will do that yourself." And then, with a knowing look in his eye that irritated me, he added, "In fact, I am amazed you have kept it to yourself for this long. Perhaps the seneschal's deportment lessons are having an effect after all."

Since I was starving, I consented to go eat my breakfast. The king escorted me to my room, to make sure I did not mislay Thaladir's robe along the way. I still had it wrapped around me. His subjects, His Majesty told me, had enough of a diversion from their daily routine by my arrival to his study, and did not need another peep show. Because I blamed all of that on the seneschal's refusal to leave this morning, I did not feel guilty. I asked him if he truly thought that Elladan and Elrohir were interested in anything more than having as much fun as they could at his expense.

"That remains to be seen," replied Thranduil enigmatically.

With a sweet but too brief kiss, he bid me good day at my door and turned me over to Miriel, who had been waiting there all morning for me.

The happy elleth was bursting with questions for me about the Imladris twins, who she had just met for the first time, and the March Warden, who she felt torn about. It seems that elves are like humans in that they tend to see their closest neighbors as rivals, while those who are farther away are possible allies. The Galadhrim are wood-elves, too, but the Mirkwood elves seemed to see them as cross-town competition.

However, Miriel suggested there was a general overall softening of attitudes in Thranduil's halls towards Celeborn's side of the river. When I told her about the invitation to visit Lorien, she thought it was an omen of even better days to come.

Breakfast was quiet and uneventful. Elladan and Elrohir were focused on Mal for some reason, which was fine with me. They had heard all about Glorfindel's speculations that the king's concubine was actually an elf, with altered ears. I did not think they took him that seriously. It was more a joke in Rivendell than a serious theory, but the lordly elf had said he would like to meet her, to learn for himself. Maybe he had sent the twins here as advance scouts?

There was also the possibility that they had heard the sillier rumors about the royal concubine's mysterious origins that had to do with her being abandoned in a tree and raised by squirrels. The elf minstrels at the Laketown inn had sung about it, indicating that the nutty story had spread at least some distance beyond the halls of Mirkwood.

I tried to weasel out the truth about the real reason for their visit from Elrohir, but he insisted that he had come only to see for himself what life was like in a hole in the ground. So far, so good, he added, but he was looking at the king's concubine while he did so.

Haldir was thoughtful and quiet, but every time he looked at Mal, she blushed. At least he did not seem to be there to spy on our king, so I felt safe flirting with him at the table. Mostly I did so to irk Thaladir, who hovered over us like a little rain cloud ready to dampen any merriment at a moment's notice. The seneschal was not ever going to get another peek at my glowing skin, but I liked making him believe that at any moment, some other elf just might.

~ Mal ~

As I had expected, Thranduil was not among the elves gathered at the table in the small, private dining room. I guessed that he would make his entrance later, perhaps dressed in the black travel clothes I loved so much, and inform us all about his decision. But for now, I would have to do with the company of Elrohir, Elladan and Haldir. Not bad, that either.

"Good morning, my lords," I said, "and how nice of you to wait for us... me, I mean." I smiled uneasily and hoped Mary would appear soon, as it was quite obvious that they had their morning meal at this particular place and hour, only because of us. Haldir was smirking, but nodded deeply and then flashed me an honest smile that warmed me all the way to my toes. Truly, that elf didn't seem to be able to do, or say, anything to a female without making it look, or sound, like a bold invitation.

The twins, on the other hand, surprised me. "Good... morning", they said, Elladan beginning, and then dropping off after just one word, and Elrohir filling in the second one, quietly, as if he had hesitated to speak at all. They both smiled at me, friendly, and not at all threatening, and Elladan's cheeks took on a slightly pink hue when I sat between him, and then accidentally touched his arm when reaching for a slice of bread.

"You slept long," Haldir remarked. Now it was my turn to blush as I answered him. "It took a long time before I fell asleep." I hoped he wouldn't ask for the reason, and he didn't need to. Thaladir, who had taken up position next to the door, obviously not interested in eating, but possibly instructed to remain in the room, volunteered all the information the Lórien elf may have wished for.

"The proper amount of sleep recommended for adult mortal females, according to most experienced and highly well-informed sources, does not fall below seven hours," the seneschal said. "Consequently, forasmuch as His Majesty is not in the habit of resting until past midnight, it is adequate for those in his service to rise exactly at the stipulated time for this meal." Thaladir had never shown a particular interest in human biology, or medicine, before, but now he sounded like Haldir's notion had been an accusation against Mirkwood practices.

"Thank you for waking me... us... up in time." Haldir lifted his eyebrows at the mention of "us" and grinned widely. "I don't like lying in bed too long... it makes my back hurt." I immediately regretted I had added the last words, wishing we could talk about something else, such as trees, or wildlife, or the impending visit to the Golden Wood, all things that ought to interest the elves more than my anatomic flaws.

"Forgive me," said Elrohir, "but if that should happen while we are here, my brother is quite skilled in massage. Our present occupation prevents us from becoming true healers, but we have had much training from our father."

"Thank you," I said, to both of the brothers. Having one's back massaged is always a pleasure, whether it really hurts or not. I hoped Elladan could somehow be persuaded to practise his skills on me even if I felt perfectly strong and healthy. One more thing I would miss because of the hasty departure.

"Your generous offer is most appreciated," interrupted Thaladir before I could say anything more, "but allow me to inform you, my lords, that the physical treatments provided by His Majesty are wholly adequate for any ails and conditions."

"Ah, of course," said Haldir. I knew exactly what he was thinking of. The naughty elf! This time, I refused to be intimidated, however unintentionally, by either him or the seneschal, and instead told Elladan and Elrohir that I was indeed very grateful for the offer, and would happily have accepted it, if time would have allowed. But perhaps they would travel with us part of the way?

At that, Thaladir cleared his throat even more audibly than usual, and then Haldir informed me that "His Most Royal Majesty" had not yet been gracious enough to reply to the invitation. His nearly perfect imitation of the seneschal sent the twins into a laughing fit and it was only after a look at the stern elf that I could remain somewhat serious.

Then Mary finally joined us, and though she greeted everybody at the table heartily, and most of all Elrohir, she still refused to look at Thaladir. I was relieved to see her, especially since it quickly took the attention off my misconceptions about the journey. It would make sense if the king would wait for some time before deciding, and even if he would travel, it would likely not be so soon after just having returned from Esgaroth.

As we all ate, and talked, I wondered what had made Thranduil say that I should take the twins to my bed if I wanted to. It must be something more than just an unselfish offer to satisfy my whims. For as long as I had known him, he had never done anything that wasn't to his personal advantage, or that of his people. And from what I'd heard of Mirkwood history, the Elvenking never did anything without a reason. That was how he had survived, and protected his realm, for hundreds of years, and it wouldn't change just because he had decided he wanted human company. There must be a reason other than being nice to me.

I thought about the other times he had been involved in arranging partners for me. Thaladir had been the first, and nothing would rival that experience, for many reasons. It had been a gift to his seneschal, and me, but the king had also taken much pleasure in watching.

The second elf, Anarion, had been a substitute for the king when he had feared he might hurt me in his time of distress. Perhaps it had also been a sign of recognition of the young sentinel, who had turned out to be an eager and considerate lover, and also a worthy member of the royal guard of honour. But the sons of Elrond? Could it be the beginning of better relations between the two realms, a fumbling invitation for a possible alliance, even in times of peace?

It could also just have something to do with the silly rumours Mary had spread about me, and that at least the ignorant humans had believed more than willingly. Would my sleeping with the twins, if I chose to pursue it, and they were willing, be proof that I was neither squirrel, nor elf?

The possibility was there; after all, Thranduil had allowed rather explicit examinations of both Mary and myself to satisfy the curiosity of the humans in Esgaroth and Dale. But it never went that far, and he hadn't seemed too happy about the whole affair either.

I reasoned best I could, while keeping up with the conversation at the table, and finally came to a conclusion that just had to be the right one. The king didn't really want to travel anywhere, and so, he must be suspecting that the invitation and talk of diplomacy were just a subterfuge. What they really wanted to know was more about Mary and myself, and how well we were taken care of. After all, the Elvenking had told Mary last year that elf lords could communicate in their minds when necessary, and that they didn't visit each other just like that. At least he didn't.

So, in his shrewd wisdom, he must have decided that if the twins got to know me really close, and if he could get Mary into bed with Haldir, which wouldn't be too difficult if she was in her right mind, there would be no need for an expedition to the Golden Wood. Both the March Warden and the twins were faithful warriors in the service of their rulers, and would undoubtedly be trusted to bring the full truth back to their realms. Hence, by this simple bedroom manoeuvre, the curiosity of both Imladris and Lothlorien would be satisfied at the least cost and trouble for Mirkwood. Perfectly reasonable.

But, there would be no mallorn trees for Mal. No silver-haired elf-lord either. No leaf-shadowed, soft-bedded flets on the highest branches, gently waving in the wind, or, perhaps, rocking because of something else. Sigh. I looked at Haldir, who was now engaged in a lively conversation with the other elves, and wondered if he would steal me away from here if I asked him. Just for a short trip, of course, to satisfy some of my curiosity.

~ Mary ~

After eating, I went back to my room to hide from the seneschal. It was Mal's night with the king, so I planned on spending the whole rest of the day feeling grouchy about it. After taking off my gown, and putting on my riding pants and blouse, I plopped into a chair in front of the fireplace in the sitting area of my chambers, and prepared to brood. But I was interrupted by a voice that raised the hair on the back of my neck. And it was my own fault, too, for leaving my door ajar, but I liked keeping an eye on who came and went in the corridor, when I bothered to pay attention.

"My lady Mary," Thaladir began, and then stopped. It was proper for him to wait for me to acknowledge him before he proceeded. I decided to drag it out. Like the king had done with Haldir in the throne room. I rarely, if ever, had any leverage at my disposal around this grouchy protocol enforcement officer, and it felt good to use it when I did. Finally, after I had stared into the fire and counted from one to a hundred and back down to one, I responded.

"What is it?"

"I have sought you out to offer my most humble apologies."

I would never in all my days at Mirkwood have thought that those words from his lips would terrify me, but they did.

"You're kidding," I said. Only, I did not think he was at all. He was too shrewd and cautious with his personal belonging to not have discovered by now that I had been in his room, and had read his diary. He had to have figured out that I knew that he had been the one who had requested my company, blindfolded.

"I have come to apologize," he repeated, dutifully. But, for me, it was too soon, I was not prepared. If he came in here to tell me he was sorry about that night in the Laketown inn, I would never live through it. And I had broken into his room to read his diary, too, which meant he might just be setting a trap to make me admit that I had.

"You don't have to apologize for anything," I told him quickly. "Just go away. I am busy now. Goodbye." I waved my hand over my shoulder, because I still had not turned to look at him. I did so now, and he was firmly planted from the looks of it.

"Why are you still here?" I asked.

"My lady, it does not escape my senses that my presence is currently offensive to your person, more so than what is usual. Nevertheless, it is my firm conviction that an apology may be called for..." I interrupted him again. There had to be a reason he was doing this.

"Did the king send you here?" Thranduil was probably listening in, he always listened in, and hoping to hear me blurt out the truth to his seneschal before I burst. I just knew he thought he was doing me a favor.

There are times when I regret the fact that I fell in with elves; they are much swifter than any human with their extraordinary reflexes. It is impossible to sneak up on them from behind, let alone attack them frontally. And Thranduil was not only the swiftest elf of all the elves, but he could read my thoughts and know my intentions before they were fully formed within my mind. It took all the joy out of imagining strangling him, because there was no way that I ever could have.

"No, my lady," answered Thaladir. "His Majesty is unaware of my visit. This apology is entirely on my own behalf." If anything, this was an opportunity to prove to the king that he was wrong and I could keep my mouth shut when I really tried. At least I would not be the first to mention it, like Thranduil had said.

"Go ahead then," I said. "It's time to get this out in the air anyway."

To be continued...

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Chapter posted: November 1, 2004

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