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Mirkwood and Beyond

Chapter 12 / ?
Authors: Mary A and Malinornë
Pairings: Mainly Thranduil/OFCs
Warnings: Adult sexual situations, slightly naughty horseback riding, naughtier bathing, and very naughty other types of behavior, but not in bed and that is all I am saying. Of course there is nudity. We have made you all wait too long... so enjoy!
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: Mary and Mal finally make it out of the woods, but they have to wait for a while until they are back into the king's lusty embrace. Thaladir takes care of the propriety of each situation as it arises and the twins provide morale boosting, among other things.

~ Mary ~

The day that we finally emerged from the tunneled forest path, and reached the Anduin, it was a bright, fresh new morning and I was so sick of the inside of the wooden cage of torture, which the elves called my 'carriage', that I never wanted to see one again. Or be near one. Or even hear the word 'carriage' said out loud.

I had no idea how Thranduil was going to get me back to Mirkwood, because it was not going to be by carriage. The past few days had been hellish.

Our stops had grown less and less frequent and we moved at a crawl most of the way because large sections of the path had to be cleared before the carriages could be pulled through. And there were no more merry-making feasts in the woods. We would pause to let the horses rest and Mal and I had to have several escorts if we needed to stretch our legs and walk about. Not that we could have wandered far even if we had wanted to; the forest was thick with brambles and thorny bushes in between the trees.

The fresh food ran low, too, and all of our drinking water came from skins and was warm, and tasted nasty. I drank wine when I could and would have done so all day but Thaladir rationed me, not wanting any more aberrant behavior from me than what was already on display.

And there were no more alone times with Thranduil, either, as he was too busy leading his elves through his forest. He would not be swayed by arguments, tears, or threats. I tried sending him the most erotic images I could imagine, and I begrudgingly included Mal to tempt him further. I finally imagined just being a bystander if I could see him naked for a minute. Nope. So I was not only bored, stifled, hungry and thirsty, but I was lonely, too.

By the fourth day on the road I was frantic from the monotony. We had to keep our carriage roofs locked in place. The brief respite from the tunnel-like path in the hillier areas ended shortly after we left the Enchanted River, which was the furthest boundary of what Mal and I later learned was considered the 'civilized' portion of the Mirkwood forest. After that river, things got positively savage.

We were advised not to leave our carriage windows open more than just a small crack, to let in what the elves referred to as 'fresh air', but we could open them all the way to look out from time to time as long as we were careful.

When I did open mine all the way, just to relieve the utter boredom, it was too scary in this part of the forest to put my head out of it more than an inch or so. Even when I did get up the nerve, I could not see much outside in front or behind, besides trees, the edge of the rear end of one of the horses that followed Mal's carriage, trees, and the ear on the head of one that followed mine, and more trees. It finally got to me that day.

I called out of the window for the king, or anyone who could understand me, to come and get me, and right now, before I jumped out of my carriage door, because I could not take one minute more of being trapped inside of a wooden cage.

Not long after, I heard the pounding of hoof beats, but even poking my head out dangerously far I still could not see who it was that came in response until I felt a tap on top of my head and looked up. Thranduil held his hand down to me and lifted me up to the roof of the carriage. I guess that since he could not possibly get his horse beside it, he must have ridden as close to it as possible and jumped on it. That is my guess.

The eerie tunnel feeling was even worse up there, because the branches were so low that we had to crouch. The king would not come into the carriage with me.

"Please then can I ride with you for a while? I won't go back inside! I will throw myself off of this roof first if you ask me to go back in there, and I hope that I get trampled to death by the honor guard's horses! And don't think I won't do it, because compared to being stuck inside of that carriage it might even feel good!" To shut me up quickly, he kissed me. That helped a little, but not enough.

He sat with me for a few minutes and explained patiently that we were traveling in an area where unceasing alertness to the surroundings was required. An unwary mortal maid would be in grave danger as well as a hindrance. And that he could not devote any more of his precious time entertaining me. When I woke up in my carriage several hours later, I had to feel grateful for the sleep spell, even if he had not asked my permission first. At least I had not felt bored out of my mind for that time.

On the fifth day, I opened my window and hollered out to any spider that could hear me, and who wanted to come inside and kill me, to hurry up and do it. Right now! I poked my head and as much of my body that I could fit out of the window to present myself for their eating pleasure, and just hoped they would be quick about it. I had my eyes closed because as much as I wanted one of them to put me out of my misery, I did not want to see it happening.

When I was lifted up by my shoulders, I thought I was going to heaven, but it was the king again. I woke up several hours later, again, only this time there had not been any conversation first. Or even a kiss.

That was our last evening on the road. Not long after I woke up, as we gathered around the campfires for what the elves called 'dinner', Elrohir brought me a bowl of wine, rationed according to the seneschal's specifications, and sat with me. The irritating smirk on his face indicated that he knew something that I did not know.

"What ever it is that is so funny," I said, not amused in advance. "Just tell me, don't make me guess."

"Oh, it is nothing, just something I accidentally overheard, and you don't really want to know." He grinned. I wanted to murder him. But I had wanted to murder everyone by that time, so it was not a new feeling.

"If you don't tell me," I promised, "then I will scream so loud that your ears will bleed and fall off." Of course, Elrohir believed me, but he also was quicker than me, and had my mouth covered with his hand before I could even draw a breath to make good on my threat.

"Let us just say that a certain member of the royal party wishes that he had saved some of that water from the Enchanted River, to feed to you, instead of wine."

And I knew exactly who it was that probably expressed such a wish, and I could not even be mad because I agreed.

~ Mal ~

After the Enchanted River, everything became worse. The forest, which had until then been dark and threatening only in places, now seemed to want to suffocate the narrow path along with everything that was upon it.

There were thorns and bushes in among the trees, and it appeared as an impenetrable wall. But, as I had nothing better to do, I often peered into that maze of brown and green as it was about all I could see through my windows. After some time I began to catch glimpses of something moving about in the shrubbery. At first it was only hints of swift movements, just out of my sight, but gradually, as I continued concentrating, I could put together a picture of what I saw. A furry ear. A tiny foot. The black tip of a bushy tail. They were squirrels!

Elrohir's toe regained full ability to move already the next day, and any disappointment he might have felt at no longer being able to play the injured hero seemed to fade away while he described to me, in a low voice possibly out of hearing range from the seneschal, all the amazing things he could now do with that toe, if I would only come with him away from the rest. Elladan was there too, of course, and between them, they exaggerated so much that the suggestion sounded more funny than lewd.

But, except for the squirrels, and the twins' bantering, nothing even remotely fun happened. We ran out of normal food, and all the water had to be saved for the horses, so that meant I was on a diet of lembas and wine. And, as I didn't want to drink too much of the wine on a nearly empty stomach, I was always thirsty. The lembas were too dry to eat without much drink, and I grew tired of them and just couldn't treasure them the way Thaladir had taught was proper.

The way-bread was always made by the noblest females, such as Thranduil's wife, the most royal queen of Mirkwood. There she was, again, her unseen presence, like a ghost. I had been very annoyed when the king wouldn't confess that she was the cause for his decision not to love me, but in the bleak afterthought I realised I ought to be happy that he hadn't lost his temper. Clearly, it was not a topic he wished to discuss. Perhaps my best chance would be to make sure he had so much to think about that he would have no time to pine for her, a decision Mary seemed to have made long ago.

I still hadn't had a chance of speaking with her since I found out about the king's spying abilities. I had thought we might cram ourselves into one of the carriages for a while, but every time we stopped, she seemed to either be asleep, or in such a bad mood that I couldn't bear to even think of spending time with her. Not that I was much fun myself either.

The nights were uncomfortable too. We stopped at places where there was at least a little free space beside the path, but it still felt as if we were perching on the highway. Not a much trafficked road, but still. The elves lit fires, and there was more of the wine. They still sang at times, but it was with low and sorrowful voices, nothing like the joyful tunes with the wild wood-elves in the glade. There were eyes in the dark, and not only squirrels.

Probably the thing that was hardest to get used to was that the king was too busy most of the time to even give me a little kiss. I could understand that in daytime, he needed to concentrate fully on leading us safely through the wood, but at night? He seemed distant and lost in thought even then, as if he was communicating with the forest itself, or perhaps he was just home-sick.

But I was glad to sleep on the ground, wrapped in a blanket and within a circle of watchful elves, rather than alone in my carriage. The lack of romance was just another discomfort, and I could live with that.

When we finally came out of the forest, I was ready to sing and dance. The line of trees just stopped, and slightly sloping grassland opened up in front of us. Suddenly, the warm weather wasn't suffocating at all, and the breeze blew pleasantly in my hair when the carriage roof was rolled back. There was water ahead, announced the twins, who could see the river glittering at a distance.

As we covered the remaining distance to the river I sat on nails, longing to get out. From my window I could see boats on the riverbank, and a few elves, too. Just before we stopped, I heard Thaladir calling out for Mary, but when I saw who opened the door to my carriage I forgot all thoughts of them.

The king lifted me down from the carriage, and then he finally kissed me for real. His mouth devoured mine with a fervour I had waited so long to feel again, and I wrapped my arms around him as hard as I could. Just to be with him like this almost made up for the hardships of the journey.

Then I heard Mary calling my name, and I reluctantly turned my attention from the king. She was swimming, out near the middle of the river, and Thaladir was undressing on the riverbank. I told Thranduil that it was sweet of his seneschal to join her, and he chuckled at that. Then we kissed again, and the next time I looked towards the river, Mary was already on the way up.

She was quite a sight, soaking wet and in her clinging dress, and as the king's attention had already shifted to her, I felt that my time with him was up for now. I wasn't exactly happy to leave them alone, but as I had to, I could just as well have a quick dip. The river had a strong current, so I chose to stay where it was only knee deep, and just crouch there. It felt lovely, and the water was good to drink too.

As we seemed to be in no particular hurry, there was something I wanted to do before we left the forest behind entirely, and now that I was sure that we had plenty of food available. I had two pieces of lembas that I hadn't eaten earlier, and I knew just whom to give it to.

Elladan and Elrohir offered their escort services, and they did it in such a formidably formal way that Thaladir just had to agree. I admire them for their bravery at that moment, because the seneschal was obviously angry after the incident with Mary. They were less formal once the three of us got up on a horse borrowed from the river elves.

I sat snugly sandwiched between them and delighted in having my nose in Elladan's hair and my arms around his waist. He behaved perfectly well, except for the time he pulled my hands a lot lower than they needed to be. But if he wanted to suffer...

Elrohir did want to suffer, and he took great care to make me feel the same. His hands rested on my thighs, and trailed between them, and stroked my side and front. I told him no, but he just chuckled, saying that he didn't need to be able to read my mind to know that I enjoyed it. I did, but I had promised myself that there was to be no alone time with anybody else until I could really, really show the king that I was worth keeping.

The squirrels were wary at first, and it took a long while of sitting still and waiting until they would even come close to the breadcrumbs that I had strewn across a flat stone at the edge of the trees. But, after the first one had dared to taste the lembas, two more appeared, and they looked incredibly cute nibbling on the bread that they held between their tiny paws.

When we came back to the others, we had a delicious meal with the elves that provided us with boats, and then it was time to say goodbye to most of the members of the honour guard that had accompanied us through the forest. Only Anarion and some of the boat elves would follow us down the river.

Before we stepped into the boats, the king removed his crown of fresh flowers and gently laid it down in the water. We watched solemnly as it floated down the stream until it disappeared in the distance.

"Now," said Thranduil, "let us continue our journey through the land of men. Until we are among elves again, I will not reveal myself as king."

~ Mary ~

There were boats waiting for us, docked and being made ready by some more of the king's elves that lived by the river year-round to guard this westernmost end of the road, although I could not figure out what from. Nothing in its right mind would go very far into that awful tunnel of gloomy trees before they turned right around and ran back out, probably screaming.

And these boats were not little leaf-shaped things, thank goodness, but they were not yacht-sized either. Floating carriages they were or at least that was all I saw. But the river looked amazing after I had stared at nothing but trees for days and days until I had dreamt of them. The trees constantly moved across the inside of my lids when I closed my eyes whether I was asleep or awake.

The river looked inviting, and refreshing, and cool, and everything that the carriages were not. The line of horses ahead of me had slowed down now, as the royal party approached the shore. Before we had all come to a complete halt, I jumped out of my carriage door and made a bee-line toward the water.

"My lady Mary!" The seneschal had never raised his voice that loud before, but he was not going to stop me now.

Unlike the river that flowed in front of Thranduil's gates, the Anduin had a sandy beach and was twice as wide, maybe even wider. It was ocean-sized to me. I splashed right into it, it was colder than it looked, but I did not care even though I sort of shrieked as the chilly water splashed up my body farther and farther as I waded deeper.

My dress provided no protection at all, being made from fabric so flimsy that it was nearly not fabric at all, and I had completely discarded the notion of wearing anything underneath it, as a form of protest for being imprisoned in my carriage. The skirt floated instead of covering me, leaving everything below the surface exposed. The water reached some very sensitive areas, which made it hard to be quiet about it, but I kept going.

I was going to swim, and float, and be completely immersed in water, if it killed me.

"It's freezing!" I yelled out to whoever cared. "But, it's not that bad in here!" The Anduin was almost as cold as the king's river, but I could feel that it had currents of warmer water running through it.

"Don't drown!" I heard Elladan call out to me and I turned to wave at him. He did not dare dismount before he was given permission, but the grouchy old permission-giver had dismounted and was already disrobing by the river. In preparation, I assumed, for gathering up one of the king's subjects out of the Anduin, as if I was a fish for dinner. Or maybe he thought I was trying to escape.

It was already a given that Thaladir could out-swim me, so I waded out until the water was up to my chest and I could float and splash around while I waited for him. I was close enough to watch him undress and I treaded water. Mal was watching him too, with Thranduil, who must have kindly freed her from her own wooden cage of torture. It made me jealous to see them together.

"Come on in, Mal, it is just lovely!" I meant it too. I loved the way the water felt. The way it was both holding me up and trying to pull me under, at the same time, was rejuvenating. She did not seem to have heard me, or she was ignoring me.

But it was physically tiring, too, while I waited for the slow poke to get undressed. Treading water was a lot of exercise after being carriage-bound for days. And Thaladir just had to first carefully fold each thing he took off and stack it neatly on a flat rock.

Before the seneschal had even gotten to his last layer of clothing, I was tired of swimming already and ready to come back to shore to be with the king.

I passed Thaladir, still undressing himself on the beach, and joined Thranduil and Mal. As soon as I knew I had the king's attention, I walked slower. His eyes flickered appreciatively over the front of my skin-clingingly wet garment; the view was further enhanced by the effects of the stiff breeze. He did not sound angry at all when he spoke.

"That was quite a performance," he said with a leering grin, adding, "I am sure that my seneschal would agree?"

"Indeed not, My Lord," said Thaladir bitterly. My legs were too tired from the swimming in place to jump when he spoke from right behind me. And they should have run, at the tone of voice he used. A few days before, I would have made it up with him as quickly as I could have.

Right then, however, I was far removed from being grateful about being saved from the spiders. In fact, I had already accused him several times of letting me live on purpose, just to spite me, because he knew how much I was going to suffer in my carriage.

He had denied it.

But at that moment, I turned to confront him for sneaking up on me and was surprised to see that he had only pulled on his leggings before he followed me. He had his robe in his hands and I would have said something smart about that, too, except he draped the smothering mantle over me before I could. And I would have torn it off, and even stomped on it once or twice, except it felt good over the top of my damp and clammy dress.

"Thank you," I said ungratefully. "I'm not giving it back this time."

"Let us have lunch and then get into the boats," remarked Thranduil. "I am sure both of you will feel more refreshed once we are underway on the Anduin. She is a mighty river, and swifter than the horses." Thaladir did not look convinced.

And it was a while before we ate as the horses needed to be watered first before turning around and going back home with the honor guard. The river dwelling elves would take care of the carriages until we returned. Or, I should say, until the rest of the royal traveling party returned, because I was never going to get in that torture chamber on wheels again. And then Mal wanted to swim, too, but she stayed close to shore obediently.

My dress dried quickly but I kept Thaladir's robe wrapped around me anyway, just to annoy him. Mal went for a horseback ride with the twins, probably because I had grabbed onto Thranduil and clung to him. He put an arm around me and patted me now and then, but would not kiss me. The seneschal, who was already in a snit, hovered nearby. He did not need any further aggravation. The king told me quietly that I would only have to wait until we reached a comfortable and private destination he had in mind, downriver.

~ Mal ~

The first part of our journey on the waterway was simply wonderful. The mighty river bore us forward in a steady pace, rapidly but not so fast that it was unpleasant. I felt wonderfully refreshed after the bath, even if it had been quick, and I was hardly clean, except in comparison to what I had been before.

We would stop for the night at the Old Ford, Miriel had said, where there was a village that had guest-houses for travellers who had crossed the Misty Mountains and needed a rest before they continued on the Old Forest Road that would take them through Mirkwood. I looked forward to sleeping in a bed again, even if a night under the stars in the company of elves is a treat. Except under a suffocating roof of a tangle of trees, when there are eyes in the dark and someone has told too many stories about giant spiders.

Then the river began to flow swifter, the beaches became elevated and the water was squeezed between cliffs. Sharp rocks breached the surface along the beaches, and here and there white foam told of underwater rocks. The boat canted alarmingly, but the elf at the rudder remained unmoved, skilfully steering our vessel through the torrent.

Mary squealed happily when, at one point, our boat was nearly turned sideways, and though it was thrilling in a way, I could not help thinking about how miserable it would be if we turned over. I had no doubt that our lives would be saved, but still... I had no wish to test that faith, and Thranduil didn't seem to mind my holding on to him, even if I know my grip became harder than intended at times.

Suddenly there was a wall of rock right in front of us, an enormous cliff that stood up from the middle of the river and forced it to split into two arms.

"Carrock," announced Thaladir when we came into its shadow on the left side. "A formation most appropriate for winged creatures, and thus favoured and highly frequented by eagles. Furthermore, you will recall, Lady Malinornë, despite not yet having been enlightened in the lore and history of these parts, that this is the location from which His Majesty, in his immense kindness and wisdom, had asked the mighty Gwaihir to bear you to his halls. However, as you tarried on the way..."

At that point, the king raised his hand, and Thaladir immediately became quiet. I liked the timing, because though I certainly didn't regret the reason for being late, I wasn't comfortable with discussing my dalliance with Rúmil and Orophin in front of everyone in the boat.

But, it turned out that the king had another reason for demanding everyone's attention. He pointed to the rocky shore on our left, where a giant bear was splashing about in the water. It stood on a rock, reaching into the water with its front paws, and suddenly a large fish with speckled skin landed on the rock beside it. With a wiggle the fish was back into the sizzling water, and I now noticed that there were more fish jumping the rapids. As we left the bear behind us, it stood on its hind legs and, if I hadn't known it was just fishing, I would have sworn it waved to us.

Further down the stream, the river became gentler again, and it was almost as if it enjoyed being allowed to flow freely, and thus floated lazily through the open landscape and the green, gently sloping sides. In some places it swelled so much that it formed a swampy marshland, more resembling a series of lakes than a river.

We did not reach the village at the Old Ford until after sunset.

Despite it getting dark, the village was bustling with life. There was only one other boat at the ford, being unloaded so that it could be rolled on logs to the other side, but as we arrived two riders hurried over the stony crossing, and there were travellers on foot as well. Anarion and the boat elves stayed to keep watch over our luggage until it could be sent to the inn where we would spend the night. Miriel and Ithilwen kept them company.

Just like it had been at the Long Lake, it was Thaladir who led the way and negotiated with the innkeeper, while the king kept in the background with Mary and me. It was just as well, because Thranduil would probably not have stayed so calm when the discussion of room arrangements took an odd turn.

Apparently, there were no rooms where one elf-lord and two mortal ladies could comfortably spend the night. Be that as it may, but then the man tried to put the four elves present in separate rooms, while Mary and me were dismissed like some unimportant servants. At least he had the decency to smile pleasantly at us before he turned his attention back to the seneschal.

"I beg you pardon, my lord, but these wenches appeared a tad... worn out, if you ask me."

"I did not request your opinion in this, highly personal, matter." At that moment, I fell totally in love with Thaladir for his ability to be perfectly polite and incredibly rude at the same time. The innkeeper was clueless to the meaning of that deepened wrinkle in the tall elf's forehead and went on describing the lodging.

"So, they could have a rest in one of the rooms down here, and I will send up a few lovely ladies to the Lordships after dinner."

How dared he! I could live with being called a wench by a dirty old innkeeper, but to have the cheek to invite some sluts to paw Thranduil! What an insult! I kept myself from glancing at the king, because I'm not sure he was even slightly appalled with the suggestion.

"That shall certainly not be necessary," answered Thaladir. "You may arrange for a bath tub instead, for the most respected ladies in our delegation to refresh themselves."

"But, we have a washroom out on the back..."

"Prepare a bath in the room they will share with my lord, and be content that you suffer no consequence more dire for offending honourable visitors to your humble establishment." Yes! Good old Thaladir!

The man muttered how some good lords just didn't know their own best, and that he would not be to blame if the rooms available were found too small for three to be comfortable in there. But, as soon as he was paid, he happily promised to arrange the bath, as soon as possible, within a few minutes, in fact immediately, or, at the very least, as soon as enough water had been heated.

As Mary and I followed Thranduil up to the second floor I heard one of the twins talking to the innkeeper. "About those ladies..." There was a throat-clearing signal too, but I can't tell if it had any effect, because at that point we were already at the door to our room.

The room was small, and it was quite clear from the sparse furniture that this was a place where travellers spent just one night before continuing their journey, rather than somewhere a visitor would stay longer. There were only two stools and the narrow bed was fixed to the wall. Or, rather, it was two beds on top of each other in a sort of alcove. The curtains made it look very cosy, but there seemed to be very little room for fun, at least for a tall elf. Hopefully, the bathtub would allow some possibilities.

But, Thranduil left before the wooden tub arrived, and although Ithilwen came in with some clothes from the chests that were now in the room she shared with Miriel, Mary and I were mostly left to ourselves.

~ Mary ~

"Do you want the king to love you?" Mal sounded pensive, and a little worried. Her back was turned to me, covered in soap lather, and I had used my fingertip to carve out a heart in the foam there. She added, "Fall in love with you, I mean?"

"No." I put our initials, M & M, into the center of the heart and the letter T was the arrow that connected them both.

"You don't?" She turned to look at me as by seeing my face she would be able to tell if I was kidding.

"No, gosh no, never, no, no, no," and I shook my head with each last no as if that would convince her even more firmly that I was being serious.

"Why not?" She sounded almost offended and turned her back to me once more. I rinsed off the happy heart from her skin.

"Mal, he's an Elflord," I replied as if that should explain everything. "It would be like being scorched by a solar flare and I'm not flameproof." She was silent. I was glad, because I had thought about it and had a lot to say.

"Plus," I continued, "he would probably lock me up, to keep me safe of course, and never let me see the light of day and I would never have any fun ever again. Or maybe he would let me out from time to time, but he would never let me out of his sight, or let me fool around with the twins again, like he does now, or Haldir. And he would know if I did so I could never sneak around behind his back." The whole idea creeped me out and I shuddered. Her back stiffened.

"Haldir?" Oops.

"Oh, that's right. I haven't told you about Haldir and me, have I? In that same tree that you two slept in?" She snapped her head back around to see my face again. Uh-oh, she did not appear happy to hear about it, but she was silent for a moment as she absorbed what I had just confessed.

"He took you there? No, you haven't told me, or about the twins. And I think..." She stopped, and then, after letting out a sigh of resignation, she said, "I have a feeling that there is a lot that I don't know."

"That's true, but don't blame me, alright? Because I always try to tell you things but you never believe me." This was almost the truth. I had wanted to tell her about Haldir but had not had a chance. She probably would have believed everything except the part about the king 'watching us' while we were in the tree.

"Do you blame me?" She asked. And she had a point.

"Nope. I don't. But, so far, that means no one is to blame and yet no one is the wiser."

"I love him," she said so quietly that I wondered if she knew she had said it out loud.

"I know you do." She needed help, and that was for sure. I wanted to put my arms around her, but as we were naked I did not know how she would take such a maneuver, so I said, "Big mistake, Mal."

"A mistake? How dare you say that? I am free to love who I want! Who are you to say that I can't?" Since I already knew she would be angry, I did not even let it bother me.

"See, there it is." I said.

"See what?"

"That's why there's a lot that you don't know, because you get mad and then you don't want to hear any more. But I know what you're feeling, and the crazy thing is that I worry about the king falling in love with you all the time." And I thought that I had a lot more to worry about than she did.

"You do?"

"Yes and what if he does fall in love with you, Mal? And then he doesn't want me around anymore? I mean, wouldn't you want his love to be 'all or nothing at all'? Isn't that the only way that elves love in the first place? I know I would want it to be that way. No offense, but you would be history if I was Queen. No concubines in my palace."

"There is no queen in my palace, nor do I have need of any," said an unexpected voice, "Therefore, neither of you has anything to fear." Thranduil had removed his tunic while he spoke and was standing next to the tub. "I have all that I need right here." And the way his eyes were glittering at us said more than that.

I was happy that Mal and I no longer looked like the filthy bedraggled river rats that we both had resembled upon arrival, as the innkeeper had so kindly noted. I hoped the king would get in the tub with us, even though there was not an inch of space left to fit him.

Bare-chested alone he looked so good that he seemed nearly edible and instead of getting in, he picked up a stool, placed it on the floor next to the tub, and sat there. "Now," he said while bending over and dipping his hands into the soapy water, "Let me see how well you have both done with your bathing."

~ Mal ~

At first, we were both too preoccupied with the luxury of soaking in the warm water to think of much else, but after a while we began to talk. Several days had passed since the last time we were alone together for more than a few minutes, and even if I was not yet prepared to share my shocking revelation of the king's spying habits with her, we had a lot to talk about.

Such as elves. As we washed each other's hair, and backs, we chatted about the wood-elves in the glade, and Anarion and Ithilwen, and the seneschal, and the king, and just had a good time. Then Mary brought up Haldir, which wasn't too bad, even if it was a little bit disappointing to hear that he had brought her to the beech-tree I thought was ours alone.

But then she called me stupid for falling in love with Thranduil. As if I didn't know already that it wasn't too likely that the Elvenking would ever pledge me his undying love and place a crown on my head. I didn't need to be told that it wasn't a very clever thing to do to fall in love with him. But I couldn't help it, and it was not as if I had done it on purpose! I was just going to tell her exactly how I had ended up in Mirkwood, which was more of his doing than mine, when the devil appeared.

Thranduil must have come directly from the bathhouse, because his hair was moist and there were wet patches on his tunic. I wanted to jump right up in his embrace and make his leggings wet too. Of course I didn't do that. But it was comforting to hear that he needed no queen, and my good mood returned instantly when he declared that he, on the other hand, very much needed Mary and me. I exchanged an expectant glance with her, as he fetched a stool to sit next to the tub, and we both began to smile.

We were not disappointed. At first he felt beneath the water, everywhere his long, flexible fingers could reach. Mary and I quickly discovered that the best way to maximise the pleasure to be had from this game was to sit back to back. That way, each of us had one of his hands to herself, and, from the way she giggled and moaned just like me, I'm sure he was equally skilled with both of them.

From his seat, the king could easily stroke our breasts, or, as he said, make sure that they were properly cleaned. It took him a long time to convince himself of this, and it was fun to move a little so that he would have to start all over again to make sure no spot on our chests were left untouched.

But, to feel deeper down beneath the water, and to caress us there, he had to bend over. That brought his face within kissing distance, and we both pouted like little fish, competing with each other to kiss him first, and most. I could have stayed there forever, or at least I didn't care the slightest if my skin would look like a raisin all over.

However, the king thought about that, or he was just eager to look as well as touch. He bade us stand up, and then he poured clean water over us from a bucket. It was cold, but it rinsed off the lather efficiently, and Thranduil comforted us with his mouth. He added more water, three or four times, because he was thirsty, he said. Not that I think he got many drops on his tongue, but the process was very nice, as he drank by licking the water from our nipples.

It became increasingly difficult to just stand there and let him do that without being able to touch him in return, and when I was sure I couldn't stand it for one more second, he suddenly sat back on the stool again.

"Now, my dears," he said, "who wants to be the first to serve me?"

I wanted to, of course, but I decided to be nice and say that we could both attend to him at the same time. And when I had said that, it was already too late, because Mary was in his lap, and he had unlaced his leggings just enough to impale her on his very ready shaft. She was facing away from him, and as he bounced her up and down with one hand, he used the other to draw a whole repertoire of everything from enthusiastic squeals to keening moans from her.

It was so erotic that I didn't even feel left out. I sank back into the fragrant water, watching the two of them, and was overwhelmed by a silly feeling of happiness for just being there. And, as the king continued to tease her with his fingers, it felt like he was teasing me too, and telling me to hurry up and speak my mind next time.

Mary yelped when he put her back into the water, and then I kind of lost track of her, except for noticing briefly that she glowed with satisfaction and looked more at ease than she had since we left the king's halls.

"And you, what would you like?" He smiled amiably when he said it, but there was a glint in his eyes that told me he hadn't planned to wait for an answer.

It all happened very fast. One second I was standing in the tub prepared to put my arms around his neck, and the next I was on my back on the floor, with him above me, and something too thin to be comfortable under me. It was exactly what I had wished for, except that my imaginary floor wasn't that hard. Thranduil was an expert at making me forget that.

Afterwards, I had a quick rinse in the now rather chilly bathwater, and then the king dried us both with a soft towel in such a way that at least I was prepared to 'serve' him again immediately. That thought tugged at a corner of his mouth, but he said that we must get dressed and have dinner first.

So we did, in the clothes that had been brought earlier by Ithilwen. The dresses were very pleasant to wear, more loose-fitting and less long than the ones we usually wore in Mirkwood. The skirt ended just under the knee, and the sleeves at the elbow. There was no underwear, except for the shift that reached mid-thigh. Could that really be right? I looked at the king, and he was grinning.

"It is as I intended. Our meal will be less dull this way, and we shall be able to continue with other activities the faster."

"But Thaladir..."

"I see no need to inform my seneschal of this particular situation."

To be continued...

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Chapter posted: April 19, 2005

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