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Mirkwood and Beyond

Chapter 11 / ?
Authors: Mary A and Malinornë
Pairings: Mainly Thranduil/OFCs
Warnings: Some nudity, barely any sex, a touch of angst, creepy creatures, swordplay, and copious wine-drinking.
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.
Chapter summary: Finally on their way to Lorien, Mary and Mal pause to make merry with Thranduil's wilder elves in the deep forest and also get a look at the Enchanted River. Thaladir does his best to keep everyone alive.

~ Mary ~

All that long day of travel was perhaps the only time that I can say I was bored in Middle-earth. Having a carriage all to myself was great at first, but I missed Mal. After the royal party had crossed the bridge, we stayed on the main road for a short time. Miriel rode next to me on her horse, and we talked through the window about the way ahead of us that would take us through the forest.

It was not actually a real road, she explained, but more like a path, although wide enough for my and Mal's carriages, and she would not be able to ride next to me for much longer. Shortly after she told me this, we left the king's road and plunged into a tunnel made of trees. Now there was no room on either side of me for anyone to even walk, let alone ride on horseback. The view was uniformly dull, if not depressing.

About the only thing that did change were the types of trees the path tunneled through. At first they were all beech trees, which turned out to be the loveliest and most interesting of them all before it grew too dark outside to tell the difference. But I did not know that, so I had not paid that much attention to them. At least some daylight was able to get through their branches, which was not true when the huge old hoary oaks replaced them.

Then it was no longer possible, looking out of the windows, to see much more than a little way to either side of the gloomy path; the trees choked out all but the most determined finger-sized ray of sunlight. Every once in a while, the carriage would be scraped by the brush on the path; it was that tight of a fit. The air grew warm and breathless.

These ugly old oak trees were more like the kind that I had expected to see in a forest called Mirkwood. Gnarled and ancient, their thick trunks were covered with lichen and masses of hanging mosses hung from their branches like the beards of dwarves. It was not a pleasant view.

But worst of all, Miriel had warned me that at some point in our journey we were likely to see some of those famous giant spiders. I was not looking forward to seeing one, and planned on avoiding it, but this part of the forest looked like the kind of place they would nest in.

When it began to rain, instead of a soothing pitter-patter on my roof, the sound was more like an occasional plop as a drop of water made itself from the skies above and through the layers of branches and leaves until it hit, and that noise startled me almost every time it happened. But the air grew cooler and I finally felt more drowsy than bored.

I closed my windows, which plunged my carriage into almost complete darkness, until I lit one of the lamps, and tried to nap. The cushioned seat was comfortable and it was so warm inside that I could remove my gown for added comfort. But I could not fall asleep, at least not for the longest time. It was hard to stop wondering what Mal was up to in her own carriage, if she was asleep or awake, and if she missed me at all.

The path must have been extraordinarily smooth, or the suspension system of the carriages was so well balanced that I did not feel a single bump or rattle. The raindrops fell more consistently and were not as annoying anymore.

Eventually, I did fall asleep and had a strange dream about the secret passage that I had just learned about, in the wall in my bedchamber back at the caves. The hidden door was open and I could hear an eerie sound faintly emerging from deep within the dark tunnel, like singing, or harp music, or both mixed together in a way that I had never heard before.

As I stood there listening, I felt fingers gently touching my face and my hair. It seemed a normal enough activity within my dream that I did not find it disturbing at all. In fact, I wished it would continue forever as the pleasure it brought me seemed to be mingled with the enchanting music.

It was only when the fingers brushed over my lips that I figured out I was not standing in my bedchamber, or even standing anywhere. When I woke the rest of the way I found myself curled up on my carriage seat with Thranduil crouched down beside me, smiling. I reached out and touched him back.

"Are we there yet?"

"There are many leagues of travel ahead of us," he replied. "But for now we will pause in my forest and enjoy this summer's night properly." Through the open carriage door I could tell we were in a less densely wooded part of the forest, and I could actually see dusky sky, and the first few stars, in between some of the trees.

From right outside, and all around us, I could hear activity and the quiet murmur of elf voices. The faint strains of the beautiful music and singing was still wafting through the night air. I could smell meat cooking, and other delicious scents, and realized how hungry I was. However, having the king in my carriage gave me other ideas.

"Do we have time to fool around first?"

Without hesitation the door was closed and my underwear removed by the more than willing elf monarch, but after that he took his time. I also learned that the high back of my cushioned seat folded down to make a roomier bed. It was big enough for two, almost, although I will not say that there was a lot of elbow room.

He had to take his leafy crown off, so as not to damage it, and he let me put it back on his head when we were dressed again. I tipped it a little to the side and enjoyed the rakish look it gave to his handsome face.

"Malinorne is still asleep," he told me. "I will wake her. You shall have another escort to the feast, wait here."

"Don't send Thaladir," I said. "He always gets so cranky and rigid when we travel; he is no fun at all to be around."

"You mean that he will not be paying adequate attention to your theatrical performances."

"That, too," I admitted begrudgingly.

~ Mal ~

I was still drowsy when Thranduil announced his plans for merry-making, and if I had a choice I would have preferred to stay in my cosy carriage to sleep some more, rather than to step out into the gloomy dusk. Although I did not see very much of the surroundings, I was sure that we had long since left behind the parts of Mirkwood forest that were familiar to me. This part of the woods seemed darker, as if the trees were watching and were not too happy with this intrusion into their peace.

The Elvenking seemed unaffected by this, what else could be expected, and when I took his hand and stepped out onto the forest road, I had to admit that our whereabouts were not as frightening as they had looked from the inside of my carriage. It was almost dark, and the trees were very close to the road that now seemed more like a path to me, but there was also activity all around, almost in a festive way.

Horses snorted, handsome guards carried barrels and boxes, and I could hear the twins bickering and someone giggling. And there was singing, at least I thought so. It was very faint, but if it had come from my imagination it would not have been such a light, pealing sound. Not on this dark path, with the elf who refused to love me. But it was a lovely melody, elusive and yet clear, and it seemed to wind itself around me much like Thranduil's voice.

"My people are singing," he said. "Let us make haste."

He smiled at me with eyes glowing, and then he was gone in the bustle of elves and horses, and I soon lost track of his head crowned with meadow flowers. Mary was nowhere to be seen, and though her carriage was near, she did not answer when I called. Despite the bustling around me, I felt all alone.

Anarion rescued me. Just as I was thinking of climbing back into my own transport, he appeared at my side and extended his elbow to me with a slight bow that was so perfectly seemly that nobody could ever have guessed we had been intimate in the past. He was very like Thaladir in that way.

I looked around for the tall seneschal, but if he was still out on the road directing the carrying, he was too far into the shadows for me to see him. The young elf led me in among the trees, on a smaller path that I didn't even notice until we were walking on it. Soon light began to flicker between the heavy tree-trunks, and as we came further away from the road, the singing became louder, and I recognised the musical sound of harps. There were smells too, of something tasty being prepared.

After a few minutes, we stepped out into a clearing, and the sight made me forget all drowsiness. Torches were fastened in the trees at the edges, forming a circle, and in the middle there were fires, large and small. I could see Mary sitting with the twins, who looked so happy to be with her that I didn't want to intrude, even if I would have loved to join them.

I recognized a few elves from the honour guard, but there were many others as well, elves unknown to me, dressed in light-green and brown colours that must make them blend excellently into the foliage. There were elves in the trees, too, and they were the ones singing and playing the small harps that gleamed in the light of the torches.

Thranduil was sitting on a boulder with a wine-bowl in his hand. His wreath of flowers was slightly askew, which might have looked improper in his rock-hewn throne room, but here in the wild it was as it should be. It made him look freer, less burdened with responsibility and gorgeous in a way that ought to have been forbidden in a public place like that. His legs were wide apart and I longed to settle between them, or on his lap, and nuzzle my nose into his hair and make him spill the wine because he didn't care what happened with it.

"Come join me," he said.

I rushed to him, and it was almost like I had wished. He welcomed the nuzzling, and the kissing, even if I felt I had to limit that to a few small pecks because of the abundant company. But, there was no way he would be departed from the wine, even if I had dared to try harder. Instead, he waved his hand and a female elf approached with a bowl that she gave to me. She was paler of skin than the wood-elves living in and among the beeches near the royal caves, and though she appeared perfectly polite, there was something untamed about her.

"Who are they?" I asked, not really expecting an answer.

"These are the wilder of the tawaredhil, the elves of the wood."

I don't think the king had ever before answered a direct question just like that, or cared to explain much about his halls to either Mary and me, so to listen to his melodious voice telling me about these, different, elves was a treat not only because of the information as such.

"They are the hunters and watchers," he continued, "caretakers of the trees, the shepherds of the white deer and all living things in the forest, save only for the spiders. The creatures of darkness deserve no mercy."

He continued to speak about lingering evil, brave warriors and the ways of the elves of old, and although I did not understand all of it, it was very interesting. I hoped we would get to see the deer and the black squirrels, too. I could have done without being reminded of the spiders. The king chuckled when a shiver ran down my spine, but he also hugged me closer to himself, before calling for more wine, and food.

"Be merry, for it is rare to meet my subjects of the deep wood. Only in times of duress do they come near to my halls."

~ Mary ~

The twins showed up to lead me through the trees into a brilliantly lit clearing that was almost magical to see. If my dreary travel through the thick forest had been monotonously dull to one extreme, this unexpectedly dazzling sumptuous feast was thrilling to behold and made up for the whole long boring day.

There were elves in the clearing or up in the branches of the surrounding trees who I had never seen before. They were the ones who I had heard singing and playing music. Torches and tiny lanterns hung from the trees to form a large circle within which the merry-making was held.

On the grassy floor of the hall made of living trees were several small campfires and each was surrounded by a circle of sawed rings from felled trees, which were smoothed down by many centuries of elf bottoms into comfortable stools. After I sat on one of them, Elladan was quick to bring me something to nibble on while we waited for the main course and Elrohir saw to my wine-bowl, but I still felt completely neglected. Where were the king and Mal?

When at last Thranduil arrived to join the party, he sat on a huge rock in front of the biggest fire, where some large animal was being slowly turned on a spit. Before I could react, Mal joined him from out of nowhere and sat right on his lap. I stood up and then sat down and then stood again, but Elladan put his hand to my elbow and told me that the elves in charge of the meat would tell us when it was ready to serve.

"It's not that," I started, but did not finish. I did not want to sound like my feelings were hurt and give the twins an excuse to badger me about coming home with them. But I did want to sit on Thranduil's other leg. Theoretically it was my night with him and I should have been there instead of his concubine, or at least along with her.

However, something about the way he and Mal acted as they sat together stopped me from running over to join them. And as if he heard me, the king turned his eyes to mine, but his gaze was more enigmatic than reassuring. I sat back down again.

"I am really not that hungry, I guess," I lied. It was all that I could do to keep myself from asking the twins to tell me what Mal and Thranduil were talking about in such a serious way, because neither one of them looked very merry to me on that boulder. Instead, I stood up one last time and told Elladan to make sure that he found the best pieces of meat for me and that I would be right back. That would keep them both from following me back to my carriage where I intended to pout in private.

Except that I never made it there. The path the twins had led me on seemed to have disappeared as soon as I entered the forest where I thought it had been. After only a few steps I was immediately plunged into pitch-black darkness so solid that it could almost be felt. And I could see nothing in front of my face, or anything around me, until the glowing eyes appeared.

Right above my head came rustling noises from leaves being pushed around in the branches by creatures of some size, which were making an odd and very unfriendly hissing noise as they drew closer. They were probably not squirrels. I froze, too scared to scream.

"Stand behind me, Lady Mary," said a voice that I would never have expected to be happy to hear out in the middle of a dark forest.

With my eyes squeezed shut, I clung to Thaladir's back, which may have hindered him a bit, not that I much cared at the time. I only knew that I was not going to let go of him. Even if the creatures with the scary glowing eyes were not spiders, which was my guess, they were definitely not friendly, and they were not going to get me.

It was an interesting lesson in swordplay; I could feel each of the muscles in the seneschal's back, and even somewhat in his legs, that were being used as he defended us both from the hissing beasts. I could not see a thing, but I could tell what was happening.

After he had had delivered a dozen or so hacking and slashing blows, apparently hitting his targets from the sounds of it, I opened my eyes again and saw that all of the glowing eyes that had bore down on me from above were swiftly retreating. I could hear the rustling of their bodies moving away through the leaves and branches of the trees all around us.

"They are gone," stated Thaladir. I still held on to him, though. Not that I did not believe him, it was more that I was just not sure how smart those spiders were, if they were spiders. They could be waiting for a second chance as soon as I let go of the elf, and I was not going to give them one.

"Hold still," I said as I circled around the seneschal, keeping myself as close to his body as I could while still allowing just enough room to move quickly. There was only one place where I thought I would be even safer than clinging to his back and that was underneath his robes, and in front.

"My lady Mary, I am not able to move about in the forest if you are going to be impeding my forward progress in such a fashion." I had pulled the flaps of his robe around me so that all of me was covered. It was somewhat stifling with my face pressed against his chest, but I felt a lot safer. Any spider that came our way would have to get past his sword now, to get to me.

"Well," I said to the hobbled elf, "you will just have to use all of your years of wisdom and skill and cunning to figure out a way to get us both out of here with me hanging on to you like this, because I am not letting go." Although I heard nothing except Thaladir's breathing now, he turned slightly as if something behind us had alerted him.

"Perhaps I can help?" It was Elladan.

"Yes," I pulled part of the robe away from my head so that he could hear me better. "Come and stand right behind me, then I will be covered with living elf-armor."

He did so, silly elf, even though I was mostly kidding. Luckily for the double-hobbled seneschal, Elrohir showed up to take his place, and the two of them successfully extricated me from beneath the robe. After I had thanked the seneschal for saving me, they led me back to the firelight.

For the rest of the night I gladly stayed put in the clearing with the merry-making elves, who sang and danced and drank wine until dawn.

~ Mal ~

The roasted meat was delicious, and the heady wine too, not to mention the small wild apples that had been dipped into honey to sweeten their sourness. I looked at all the happy faces around me, and truly wished that I could sing and laugh like them.

But there was something nagging inside of me that would not go away, despite the Elvenking's hand around my back and his fingers occasionally caressing my cheek. I gazed into his eyes, but had to look away when I saw the glittering mirth in them. It was just too painful to see that, and know that he would never be mine.

I leaned my head against his chest, and bit my lip, trying to will my melancholy to go away before he would sense it. It was doomed to fail, of course, but his soothing whispers only made it worse. Could he not just pretend he didn't notice? He practically owned me, so why not let it stop at that? It was my duty to entertain him, and he didn't have to care. He had said that he didn't love me, which was only logical, as he technically was married, but why did he have to be so gentle now?

"Is it because of her?" I already knew, but it was almost as if I wanted him to hurt me by saying it out loud.

"What are you saying, Mal?" He sounded absent-minded, and tried to plop a roasted hazelnut into my mouth. I took it after a little wrestling between my tongue and his fingertip. More of this unbearable kindness.

"Legolas' mother," I said, and felt his thigh stiffen under me. "The Queen of Mirkwood," I continued, "Her Most Royal Highness, your lady wife..."

"There is no necessity to talk about her." His grip around my waist tightened and there was a slight sting in his voice.

The torch in the nearest tree went out with a wheezing sound, and when I snapped my head to look at the elf that had been guarding it, I saw disapproval in his face. I turned to Thranduil again, and the torchlight came back.

"Dangerous and less wise they are deemed by some," he said, "and part of that is true. But they are not bad, and none has the right to blame them for being fierce in their loyalty." His voice became softer again as he spoke of the wood-elves, but I just couldn't let go.

"But is it because of her?"

"What?" He sounded angry now, even if he still controlled his features. But his eyes were stormy, and I loved it.

"That you don't love me." I wanted to sound cool and unaffected, but I failed miserably and my words came out more as a half-stifled moan than a declaration of an indisputable fact.

A cascade of sparks rained over our heads. Thranduil made an annoyed gesture with his hand and the light became stable again. He didn't answer me, in other ways than to wrap his arms tighter around me, very hard, so that I wasn't entirely sure if he wanted to strangle me or comfort me. But even without an answer I felt better from just having told him straight out.

We sat like that for a while, and I began to think that it was almost bearable to have just a small part of the Elvenking. Perhaps even enjoyable, at least a little. A full bowl suddenly appeared in my hand, and I took a sip. He drank too, and a smile tugged at his mouth.

"Sing, mellon nín." I stared at him, bewildered, but before I could say that I didn't feel much like singing, yet, he lifted his bowl towards the elf in the tree, who began a trilling melody, not unlike a bird. The king listened for a moment, and then he began to sing, too.

His rich tenor mingled with the tree-elf's voice, and before long the whole glade seemed to be singing. The songs shifted from merry to solemn, and then sounds of joy, and after that they became just rowdy.

A few of the wood-elves danced around the largest fire, now and then leaping across it, and the dancers drew down gales of laughter when they got spears in their hands and began to play-fight. Sometime around that point, Elladan and Elrohir joined them with their swords, and soon all I could see was a blur of dark and fair elves silhouetted against the flames.

~ Mary ~

The next morning, I had fun trying to sweet-talk a couple of fit enough looking elves into removing my clothes chest from the back of my carriage, where it was attached, and putting it inside where I could examine the contents once we got back on the road.

It took time, as I had not yet learned how to say, 'this is my carriage and those are my clothes' in Sindarin. But it was first on my list of new phrases to learn. The twins had ridden ahead of the honor guard to scout out the way, and there were no other elves around who understood me. I used sign language.

Of course I was interrupted by Thaladir, who belayed my orders, and then tried to talk me out of it.

"Your garments have been packed with the utmost care, in order that they would all fit with a maximum use of what inadvertently turned out to be minimal space." Oh ho, had someone miscalculated and there was not enough room in my brand new traveling chest for all of my new clothes? However, I kept quiet about that. After having been rescued the night before by the seneschal, I did not want to make him mad at me today.

"Your Excellency, I beg your humble pardon, but I think that I have a right to change out of this dress that I wore all day yesterday and last night," I explained.

Thaladir countered by pointing out the resultant mess that would be made inside of my carriage, and how he doubted that I would attend to it well enough to pass inspection.

"Inspection? This is my carriage, isn't it?" Mal came over to where I stood with Thaladir and I could tell she was in a much better mood today and she had on a fresh gown, too. She curtseyed perfectly in front of him, and then turned to me with a request.

"How would you like to trade carriages with me for the day? I haven't seen the inside of yours." As soon as she asked, the seneschal's frown grew even more severe. She batted her eyelashes at him and asked, "For a change? Just for a little while? Please, Excellency?"

After Mal promised him that she would help me repack and tidy up my carriage, if need be, and well enough to pass any inspection, he relented to both of our requests graciously. She and I took just a quick peek inside of my chest and I pulled out a thin, wispy garment that seemed perfect for the hot weather. After that, we got into each other's carriages and were soon on our way.

Because the elves' forest path had climbed into hills, the oaks were replaced now by sturdy firs whose lowest branches did not reach across the path. Accordingly, the tunnel effect was gone for a great distance. This meant we could have our carriage roofs folded down to have both air and sunlight for a while. We could see anybody else who rode near on horseback and talk to each other, too.

Miriel and Ithilwen rode near to Mal and me, so I told them all about Thaladir and the spiders, again. They had each heard the story individually during the merry-making, but now that they were all around me at the same time, I told it with several added embellishments to make it sound even more dramatic.

"I don't recall you telling me last night that one of those spiders touched you or that you swooned into Thaladir's arms," said the always skeptical Mal. She was fanning herself with her hand as the brilliant morning sun had turned into an angry glaring fiend over our heads.

"I forgot," I told her. Although I have never swooned in my life, I probably would if I was touched by a giant spider, so I thought it was fair to add it in, like adding spice to stew. Before Mal could point out any more inconsistencies in my account, the twins rode up and told us that there was a river ahead with a bridge to cross.

"Do you think we can go swimming?" I asked Mal. She did not know and there was no elf in authority near enough to ask. We swore we would get into that water even if it took extreme measures, including mutiny. But when we got to the bridge and got out of our carriages, we learned that it was the Enchanted River. No swimming for us.

The danger posed by even touching the black water of that river was illustrated by the presence of a sturdy guard rail on the bridge, with warning signs posted in Westron and Khuzdul at either end. Thaladir described the physical side-effects to us in great detail and the king forbade Mal and me to go near it, but he was sympathetic at least.

Elladan and Elrohir had never seen the legendary river, although they had heard stories. Mal and I were allowed to stand on the bridge as they explored the banks below us and I could hear them speculating about the river's effectiveness as a barrier to the minions of the dark lord, or their equivalent.

As the twins drew closer to the river's edge, I thought I spotted a fish darting among the rocks in the dark water right under the bridge. I hopped up to sit on top of the railing, which was about waist high, and then leaned over to have a better view. And I was being careful.

However, the loud yelp that Elrohir made, when he lost his footing in the slimy mud and then accidentally stepped into the river, startled me so much that I lost my grip on the guard rail and started to fall. I did not even have time to consider the consequences of landing in the magical water before I was caught.

"You were quick!" I told the king.

"I knew what was going to happen," he explained.

"Did you see into the future with elf-magic?"

"No, I saw you climb up on the rail."

It was nice to be in Thranduil's arms for an instant, and to be able to quickly kiss him for saving me from falling into the nasty river. He stood me back on my feet and gestured for Mal to join us, and briskly escorted us the rest of the way over the bridge and to the picnic area where we would have our lunch. I pretended to be so shaken by the experience that I needed more cuddling, so he sat with me to eat.

My only regret was that the whole scene had so many witnesses that I would not be able to add anything else to the story of my rescue from the Enchanted River, until we got to Lorien.

~ Mal ~

At noon the next day we crossed a river with murky water that flowed slowly through the landscape. It was broad and deep, and it seemed to cut the forest in two, because despite the thick undergrowth, no trees or other vegetation leaned over the water, as if they wanted to avoid it.

The bridge had to be fairly new, because the wood was still light, and only in a few places was it speckled with dots of black lichen. The seneschal had still deemed it wise to cross on foot, so Mary and I got some longed for time on our feet. Both of our carriages were perfectly comfortable, of course, and we had already tried out each other's for a bit of change, but travelling in them was a luxury that quickly lost its charm.

It was a warm day, and the still, humid air was very unpleasant. Ithilwen tried to cheer us up by pointing out the moving clouds above our heads, but as not the faintest gust of breeze reached the forest floor it was hard to be happy about that. The only good thing about the heat was that Thaladir couldn't object to our wearing the thinnest dresses thus far.

So, naturally, when Elladan and Elrohir came galloping from their scouting, telling that we would soon reach a river, both of us were very happy to hear that. The path was too narrow for our carriages to travel side by side, but with the roof down it was still possible to talk, or at least shout to each other. We quickly decided to refuse to continue if we couldn't take a swim first. The twins smirked at that, the lecherous things.

But, once we stopped, Thranduil was there, with the seneschal at his side. They both looked serious, and though the king glanced at our skimpy dresses with appreciation, his voice was serious when he spoke.

"This is the Enchanted River. We will take our meal here, but any wishes to swim will have to wait." He looked like he wouldn't have minded some swimming of his own. Mary and I groaned at the missed chance to entertain him, and ourselves. No doubt it was Thaladir who had cancelled our fun.

"Why?!" said Mary accusingly. "A little swimming hasn't hurt anybody, ever, has it?"

"On the contrary," replied Thaladir, addressing both of us. "Although the exact origin of the enchantment of this particular river remains undisclosed, it is a well-known fact that it serves as a protective barrier against enemies intruding into His Majesty's domains from the west. Drinking its waters causes only slight dizziness in elves; however, the adverse effects on creatures of all mortal races cannot be exaggerated. Nausea, distractedness, a condition of deep sleep bordering on unconsciousness, furthermore..."

He stopped only when the king raised his hand, smiling rather affectionately at the elf beside him.

"No swimming, regrettably," he repeated. "You may stand on the bridge and mayhap feel somewhat refreshed from that, but do not touch the water."

Mary and I remained behind as the rest of the royal party cautiously crossed the bridge and made camp on the other side, at a good distance from the water. I would have thought that at least the horses would be tempted to drink, but they showed no desire to do so. The wild animals, that we had yet to see, probably kept away too, as Thaladir has said the waters were harmful for any other species than the elves.

We stood on the bridge and peered down into the dark water. All interest in swimming had disappeared as soon as we looked at it, but it was tempting to at least dip a hand or foot in. For several minutes we stayed very still, hoping to catch a glimpse of a fish, if there were any.

Then, suddenly, there was a splash and a howling that startled us both. I remained standing, but Mary, who had been leaning out over the surface of the river, somehow lost her grasp at the unexpected sound, and turned out to be hanging from the wrong side of the railing. I was sure my heart would stop from the shock, but before I could even begin to react to help her, Thranduil was holding her in his arms, safe on the bridge.

Swiftly he half carried, half dragged us to the other side, and I was just as glad. There were safer ways of finding out if there were fish in the river, and there probably weren't any either, or Thaladir would had said not to try to catch them.

Another shrill howl pierced the silence, and I turned my attention towards the direction of the sound. Elrohir was hobbling on one leg, and Elladan was laughing mercilessly. It looked funny, but I hoped that nothing serious had happened. Thaladir eyed the commotion with a stern expression.

"My brother did not mean to disobey," explained Elladan, now supporting his twin by holding an arm around his waist. "He was just curious..."

"I slipped," whined Elrohir, "and now, look at my foot!"

His brother helped him remove his boot, which was slightly wet in the front. "Look," he continued, "it is pale and stiff and I cannot move it!" He wiggled his toes to prove it, and indeed, the largest of them remained still. Elladan pinched it a couple of times, and he could not help chuckling when Elrohir didn't react at the treatment. Thaladir, however, remained unimpressed.

"Young lord," he said curtly, "you ought to be grateful that none more vital body part was drenched, for the effects of the enchanted water on a peredhel are a topic most regrettably ignored in literature, and although it would bear me significant happiness to make a few humble observations in the name of science, I fear that the dangers involved in performing such an experiment at present outweigh the benefits."

I got the distinct feeling he wouldn't have minded to see a swimming half-elf, if it hadn't been too risky.

"Will it fall off?" Elrohir looked pleadingly at Thaladir, his voice full of worry, and I took his hand and patted it as calmingly as I could. His big toe looked the same rosy pink as the others and showed no sign of immediate deterioration.

"No," came the judgement, and the owner of the toe immediately put the partly numb limb back on the ground.

"Ah, I knew it was nothing," he said. "Enchanted rivers are no hindrance to a true warrior." He suddenly looked proud as a peacock.

"It is a pity it was not your mouth, brother," jested Elladan.

"Indeed," said Thaladir dryly and went away towards the camp. I patted Elrohir's hand a last time and then followed the seneschal. The wild wood-elves had sent with us something delicious for lunch, and I did not want to miss that. Neither did the twins, it appeared, and they were at my side in an instant. Elrohir almost didn't limp at all, at least not much, even though I suspected that might change when he got a chance to tell Mary about his heroic survival.

To be continued...

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Chapter posted: April 5, 2005

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