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Mirkwood and Beyond

Chapter 13 / ?
Authors: Mary A and Malinornë
Pairings: Mainly Thranduil/OFCs
Warnings: Adult sexual situations including, lets see, where do I begin? I will just put it this way; Thranduil goes out of his way to be as naughty as possible whether Mary and Mal like it or not! Oh, and some threesome sex. Any nudity? Are you kidding? LOTS OF IT!
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: The king helps Mary and Mal dress for dinner, they have some nice dessert, and everyone finally gets to Lórien in one piece!

~ Mary ~

We were late for dinner downstairs, but it was not Mal's or my fault. It was on account of our new lingerie. We had not yet had a chance to try on the new shifts, which were the scantiest pieces of underclothes we had been allowed to wear to date. And although they fit us perfectly, as everything that the elves made for us did, Thranduil just had to make sure of it personally. With his hands. Both over and under the slips. Before he would allow us to put our dresses on.

The king seemed to be especially concerned with how well the satiny fabric fit over our hips, bottoms, and chests -- almost everywhere else, except for between our legs in front, was given a less lingering inspection. The shifts were rather low cut and he told us to bend over to show him just how much of our breasts would be exposed when we did so.

While we remained bent over, Thranduil had to reach inside to feel how well the thin material supported us there. And then he pinched our nipples, but not hard, just enough to make them stiffen. This way, he explained, he could see how they would look through the nearly transparent slip after we stood back straight.

"Quite fetching," he pronounced. He was pleased with the effect and he grinned while he squeezed each stiffened peak between his thumb and forefinger through the outside of the slip too, and then stood back to see if that would make a difference. "Very nice."

Next, he stood behind us while he had us pose bent over again, this time with our hands on our knees while spreading our legs apart so he could see how far up our thighs the slips would ride when we did that. This meant that we were both completely exposed in the most wicked way possible, and that proved far too tempting for our king.

Not many moments after, we were both gasping for breath as he abandoned inspecting the fit of our slips and instead used his fingers to explore what was so wantonly exposed for his viewing pleasure. I do not know about Mal, but all thoughts of dinner had fled my mind and I was ready to get naked again instead.

There was a knock at the door, dammit.

"Don't stop! Tell them to go away!" Mal and I were both vocal in our distress and we were both at the edge of desperation by then, but Thranduil laughed and told us, almost sympathetically, to hold on to those thoughts and he would be happy to pick up where we left off, in the near future.

Nonetheless, he did not answer the door immediately, and in the state we were in that was probably wise. Instead he let us both cool off a little, and catch our breath, before he handed us our dresses. If I was not so hungry, I would have thrown mine back at his face, maybe. He enjoyed our misery more than he suffered any himself, it seemed.

Mal pointed out that we had no panties to go under our shifts. I had not even thought to look around for any, and the king told us there were none on purpose. He would be able to have more fun at the dinner table if we went without them, and he added that Thaladir did not need to be advised.

If his concubine was even half as aroused as I was at this hint at Thranduil's plans for our dining room activities, then she must have been as happy to hear that as I was. Although for me there was a touch of apprehension too, at the thought of my new dress getting messy.

The king loves to fondle us under the table, and we love to be fondled, at least I do. But when hungry and trying to eat without making a mess, his caresses can be distracting. The simple act of lifting a fork full of food while having his hand between my thighs, moving ever so slowly, closer, and closer, and closer... only to be drawn away to start again, had turned out to be the cause of many unfortunately permanent dress stains.

For me, it is a sweet torture because he always knows exactly when to press forward and when to pull back in order to keep me on the edge, ready to burst, only not when people are watching. I always thought about closing my legs when I was really hungry, but I never could do it. Mal and I both hurried to get ready for the dining room.

Although he had ignored it the first time, the second time there was a knock at the door, Thranduil opened it. Thaladir stood there, what a surprise. I wondered if he was going to accompany us to dinner or stay there in our room and look around for his robe. It was hidden, not that I had any hope that he could not find it, and fast, if he was left by himself.

At that point, it was only amusing to see how much longer I could keep the robe from him, and every minute counted. If he found it, he found it. I was not giving it back to him was all.

After we descended the stairs, Thranduil was greeted at the bottom by the loathsome innkeeper. The man asked, looking right over Mal's and my heads, as if truly puzzled, "What about the other two, er, ladies in your party? Are they going to eat with you or do they want a tray delivered up to the room?" He did not recognize us, which made me feel better. While the menfolk sorted out who was where, I peeked into the common room to see what kind of people were there.

The king had not agreed with me earlier that a good thrashing was probably the proper response to the innkeeper's rude remarks about Mal's and my initial appearance, and subsequent crude offer to supply him and Thaladir with women. But when I saw with my own eyes the quality of the local floozies that the man had to offer in the common room, I changed my mind and thought maybe he should have been beheaded on the spot. It was too late now; the effect would be totally lost.

~ Mal ~

When there was a knock on the door I was in a total haze from the Elvenking's ministrations. It had started playfully enough, with his so called inspection of our shifts, but, once he proceeded to mainly explore the exposed area between our legs, I wanted nothing more than to stay in that room with him for the rest of the night. It had been so long since the last time with him that the quick intimate moments after the bath felt only like a teaser.

But the knocker was persistent, and I knew who it was. By the time Thaladir was finally let into the room, Mary and I looked a lot more respectable than we, or at least I, felt. When the seneschal turned his gaze to me, after the customary respectful little bow to his king, I felt as if he could see through my dress, and shift, all the way to my non-existent panties. I almost wanted him to tell me to twirl around, in the hope that he would be inspired, rather than angry.

This night, he wasn't wearing his robe, but wore the same kind of unobtrusive uniform as the honour guard used. Perhaps he always dressed like that when he was among mortal men, appearing more like a warrior and less like a scribe. Being out of Mirkwood seemed to affect his sense of duty too, at least the part that was concerned with palace manners. He did cast more than a quick glance at our unusually revealing dresses, but there was no throat clearing or any other indications of disapproval.

I wondered how much he had heard while waiting outside the door, and felt sorry for a moment that he hadn't been invited to join us. The seneschal with all his thoroughness would be an excellent measurer of skirt lengths and material opacity. Thranduil lifted an eyebrow at that thought of mine, but he was merciless in his decision to have dinner, downstairs and without further delay.

Elladan and Elrohir already sat at our table when we arrived, but it seemed that Ithilwen and Miriel were delayed, or had joined Anarion and the boat elves in exploring the village. I can't say I was too sad about that, as I'd prefer as few witnesses as possible to the king's naughty table manners.

The main hall of the inn wasn't crowded, but there were no lack of guests. Some kept to themselves in the darker corners, while others laughed loudly and swung their tankards. There were few women present, and they all seemed to be part of the staff, or perhaps the 'lovely ladies' that the innkeeper had tried to foist on Thranduil. Fortunately, the lewd wenches stayed away from our table, despite a few curious glances. Thaladir did a good job with scaring them off.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food. The bread was freshly baked, the fish and vegetable soup steaming hot and cooked just enough to preserve the taste and crispness, and the butter so creamy it almost melted at a glance. No wine was served, but they offered water with some kind of fresh herb in it. All ate with good appetite, and once I had accepted that there would be no fast retreat to the bedroom, I was even happy that the king kept his hands to himself for a while.

But, that was only until the worst hunger was sated. As soon as I had swallowed a particularly delicious piece of fish, that just had to be trout, and regretted that I soon wouldn't be able to eat more, I felt a hand in my lap. It was hesitant at first, or just teasingly slow, as it glided over the fabric of my skirt and then downwards to the hem.

I felt deliciously naughty registering the fingertips that grazed my bare skin, just over the knee, before they moved up my thigh, between the two layers of fabric. Especially as I, at the same time, continued to nod politely at the seneschal's informative, but lengthy, additions to the discussion of the various game and fish of the river area.

The twins bragged happily about all the creatures they had encountered during their many orc-hunting trips, and the king illustrated the swift deer and the fluttering butterflies by changing the pace of his fingers.

There were some people watching us, and no wonder. No matter how much Mary and I tried to be as still and as quiet as possible, one could hardly expect that a wolfishly grinning elf-lord with both hands under the table would go unnoticed. And it was impossible not to squirm, at least a little.

But that was before Thranduil became serious. As he let his hand travel up my inner thigh under the skirt, I found that I just couldn't resist parting my legs some more. And then more again, when he didn't move fast enough. I waited for him to touch me just a little higher, but he stopped there, as if the conversation has suddenly caught his attention to the point that he had forgotten what he was doing. I waited, growing more hot and bothered by the second.

"Breathe," he finally whispered to me, before he pressed several strong fingers right where I wanted it the most. I jumped, and Thaladir interrupted his speech for a second to give me a probing glance. I smiled at him, as innocently as possible.

I felt I was good at this now, at not demonstrating the feelings the king's touches invoked in me. It was love, and affection, but most of all a lust that became increasingly harder to control as he moved his fingers away slightly, forcing me to move closer to the edge of the bench to feel them deeper inside again. I would very soon be at the point where I would scream in ecstasy and draw shame over the whole company.

As it were, the seneschal's serene face stopped me from doing that. Instead, I leaned over the table on my elbows and tried to just look like there was something incredibly interesting going on behind him.

Thaladir observed us attentively, turning his gaze from me to Mary and then back again. He swallowed, and then he said to the king:

"Sire, I believe it would be wise to retire, lest the ladies be overly exhausted on the morrow."

I wished I had been bold enough to kiss him.

~ Mary ~

Once we were alone again, just the three of us, the king quickly solved the problem of whose bed he was going to share, not that either of the small bunks was big enough for two. He removed the mattresses from the bedsteads in our room, and put them together, side by side, on the floor. We all agreed that the fairly solid-looking floor was probably capable of taking a lot more activity than the rickety bed frames were anyway.

While Mal and I covered the bare mattresses with the linens, there was a delivery to our door. Thranduil was handed a small platter with a lid over it, which he placed on one of the stools and forbade us to touch. It had to be a nice surprise, I could tell from the way his eyes twinkled, and at that moment it did not matter to me if he loved me or not, as long as he continued to spoil me.

After Mal and I had made up the bed, our liege lord removed his tunic, sat on the other stool, and ordered us to undress for him, but to do it slowly. The nicest thing about these newest gowns was that they did not require assistance to remove. There were no hooks on the back at all. They were loose-fitting enough to slip on and off over our heads. Mal obediently removed her gown and shift, but I sat on one of his knees instead.

"Are you sure," I asked, "that you wouldn't rather have the innkeeper's offer of some fresher fancy ladies at your lordship's disposal?" Thranduil did not hesitate to reply.

"There may be some amusement to be had from actually intimidating a mortal maid, for a change," he answered, as if he had thought about it. "And to have one tremble with fear in my presence would be refreshing indeed." He looked me dead in the eye and did not even have the decency to smile when he said it.

"Well, you still make me tremble, especially when you nibble on my neck, isn't that enough? And at least one of us is scared all the time." I looked over at Mal and she pulled a face at me while placing her hands on her hips. And since she was completely naked, it was a striking pose. When he looked at her, Thranduil's serious expression was instantly transformed as a wolfish, although affectionate, smile lightened his perfect features.

"The women of this region fear me for what they can only imagine I am capable of doing, but Malinorne is well aware of my nature," the king said, while reaching out and pulling her to sit on his other knee. "She is appropriately respectful. And if my willing concubine has any fear at all, it is in not pleasing me fast enough when I give her a command." He turned to face me and lifted an eyebrow to punctuate his sentence.

And then he quite noticeably lavished his naked concubine with generous caresses while his other hand, at my still-clothed waist, remained motionless. Taking the hint, I hopped off his lap and stood with my back to both of them.

"The fancy ladies in this town might cower in fear before you, sire, but I doubt they would undress for you like this." While humming the tune that the exotic dancers in Dale had gyrated to during the wedding party at Lord Bard's estate, I moved my hips suggestively in time from side to side while pulling off my dress and shift. I turned back to face them, still moving to the melody, and Mal mentioned that she wished she had thought of dancing, too, but she did not look eager to get off of the king's knee to join me.

However, now that I was naked, we both had a reason to ask Thranduil to undress all the way, too, and we knelt at his feet to pull his boots off and then fought to be the one to unlace his leggings. He stayed our hands at his pants, and stood to undo them himself while the two of us scooted over to our makeshift bed to wait for him to join us.

Our king reclined between us, propped up on his side with an elbow, and stopped us again from touching him. Instead he had Mal, because she was closest, set the tray down with us and uncover it. This revealed a large bowl of fresh sliced strawberries swimming in clotted cream that had turned pink from the juice of the fruit, which was our dessert, and there were no spoons. The thick cream was not sweet but the fat ripe berries were, and they tasted delicious together.

We fed Thranduil with our fingers and he fed us, and we dripped cream all over ourselves and each other. The king's tongue was very helpful with cleanup and then I accidentally on purpose dripped some cream between his legs. This prompted Mal and I to play a game of taking turns thinking of the most creative way to eat bits of strawberry off of our monarch's lordly scepter, which became a dessert plate, although it was a bit wobbly at times if we did something down there that tickled.

By the time the bowl of strawberries was empty, we probably could all have used a bath, but instead Thranduil stretched out on his back and, without a word being said, swiftly pulled Mal over him to straddle his hips while I was lifted up to his head to hover over his face. I had to be careful not to pull his hair by kneeling on it.

Right behind me, Mal was left to her own devices, but I could tell by the way Thranduil's body was shifted about by her exertions, and the grateful whimpering moans she was emitting, that she was taking maximum advantage of her fortunate position. However, I had nothing to complain about.

The king's warm, wet lapping tongue between my legs was delicately tantalizing. He held me steady with his hands at my hips while he pleasured me this way until I was nearly to the point of losing my senses, but not quite. Gently, Thranduil pushed me to lean backwards against Mal and I could feel the tips of her breasts as they rubbed up and down on my back while she rode him.

Before too long, she and I happily traded places, and then after that Thranduil thought up several more pleasant positions for the three of us to try, until finally we all fell exhausted and spent into a heap of sweaty limbs in the center of the tangled linens. It had to be near dawn. No sleep spells were required.

~ Mal ~

When I awoke the next morning I was not at all surprised to hear Miriel's cheerful voice explaining that all was packed and ready, and we would leave as soon as Mary and I were dressed. Mary was up already, admiring the view from our window, and as neither the king, nor the seneschal, was present, it didn't take long until we were on our way, despite feeling drowsy. The village looked even more rustic in daylight, and despite the good meals, we weren't sorry to leave it. But there were fat cows in the surrounding meadows, and the inhabitants appeared happy with their life.

The first short distance from the Old Ford was a bumpy ride, with a few rapids and jumping speckled trout. 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 mostly 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.

There were flowers everywhere, yellow irises and water-lilies that had looked like a golden carpet from a distance. I was not at all surprised that the elves called the iris 'ninglor' [water-gold]. Thaladir nodded appreciatively when Ithilwen said that men referred to the area as the Gladden Fields, because of the flowers, but I found the Elvish word easier to understand.

A small town with wooden houses rose on the right hand side, and as we draw nearer to its harbour, which was a mess of bridges and piers, the twins began to exchange meaningful glances and increasingly insisting nudges, until Elladan finally spoke up.

"Can we make a stop here?"

"We really like to," continued Elrohir. "This is Ninglorost, and there is a special inn here, and the women there..." Thaladir's gesture made him stop and glance apologetically at his brother.

"We will certainly pause in this small town," answered the seneschal. "However, the purpose of this, indeed most brief, visit is to acquire provisions, not to prolong our journey by providing entertainment of questionable value to young lords lacking proper self-restraint."

"But we could be quick, really quick... no?"

"No. You, my lords, will remain here to ensure that the ladies present are not accosted by the local populace whilst myself and His Majesty enter the town."

I felt a little sorry for the twins, but even more for the servant girls at that inn. The gallant half-elves must be a real treat for them, especially as I imagined the locals no more refined than the men at the Long Lake.

While Mary and I waited in the boats, where we had stayed for lack of a better place to sit, we got a glimpse of local life. The harbour area was fairly small, but very busy, and though no vessel was larger than ours, they came and went every so often, unloading a few passengers or some goods. A few of the men sent curious glances our way, but they remained at a good distance.

I think we had mostly Anarion to blame, or thank, for that, because while he made a good show of appearing ready to kill anyone who looked at us, and particularly at Ithilwen, the twins seemed to have other things in mind. Both Elladan and Elrohir grinned in an inviting way, and all of the younger women, and a few not so young, who passed us stared at them. Most smiled back, before they remembered themselves and carried on with their business. I could not blame them – the pair from Imladris was a striking sight.

The king and the seneschal returned with many small packages of various food items, all carried in baskets. Thaladir insisted that we needed to make haste, so we had a picnic in the boat, nibbling on bread and cheese and fruit and smoked meat while slowly floating through the sea of flowers. There seemed to be no end to the delicacies. My favourite were the honey-glazed roasted hazelnuts, and it was so sweet of him to remember from our trip to Esgaroth how much I liked them.

Much too soon for my taste, the river began to flow swifter again, and we left the golden fields behind us. But the trees on the riverbanks did not leave out the sun, and though it would still be some days before we would reach Lórien, sitting in a boat with Mary and the elves was not a bad way to travel.

~ Mary ~

That morning at the inn, daylight, a fresh breeze, and the music of birdsong, woke me for the first time since I came to Middle-earth. In our travel through the forest, we never saw sunlight again after crossing the Enchanted River, and back at the caves I would have to get dressed first if I wanted to see any blue sky. But that room, no matter how rustic and crude it was, at least had a window that opened!

A room with a window was a treat for me. I envied the one in Mal's room back in Thranduil's halls, which was only good for letting in a little light. There at the inn we had a shuttered one with no glass. One of the first things I had done when we got into the room was to open it.

However, it had been too dark that night to see anything outside of it except the twinkling stars and the silhouette of the trees. A few men had carried lamps as they walked home below our room, but they had not looked up. The shutters had been left open all night and the fresh air was nice. It was one of the few things that had made our brief visit back into the world of mortal men even slightly bearable.

Although I was not all the way awakened by the sunlight and birdsong, the next thing that I noticed about being among humans again was the amount of noise there was all around us at that inn. Just the tromping of feet up and down the wooden stairs was a surprise; it had been many months since I had heard footsteps of any sort. No man would have ever been able to sneak up on me there, but that was not a comfort as I am sure that any elf still could have.

It was useless to try to go back to sleep as the rest of the sounds that men make, when they rise and make ready for a new day, became equally noticeable. The opening and shutting of doors, the shouts for hot water or fresh towels, the murmur of voices from the diners in the common room, along with the smell of breakfast cooking, that drifted up from below us through the open window.

Neither Mal nor I had enough sleep, but we were euphoric enough from the king's extravagant attentions through the night to remain in a good, if somewhat drowsy, mood and even though we moved slowly, we did move. The boats were by far more comfortable than the inn, even though the elven craft were pretty bare of any luxuries themselves. We both looked forward to leaving that place and did not dawdle unnecessarily while getting ready.

Before we left the Forest Road's ford, the twins pointed out how on the west side of the Anduin the road became a pass that went up and over the Misty Mountains and then down to Rivendell. This meant we were actually closer to their home than we were to the Mirkwood caves. How nice it would be, they said, to sit in the Hall of Fire and listen to the songs there.

"What's stopping you?" I asked. I was more interested in the wide, cleared Forest Road that went eastward, back into the Mirkwood trees. It looked nothing like a tunnel, in fact it resembled a highway, and I wondered out loud why we could not have taken that route instead of the overgrown wilderness trail that our carriages had been squeezed through.

"If the rest of you return to Mirkwood this way, I might consider coming back with you," I told Thranduil. He did not appear worried and made no reply.

For the rest of the day our boats floated down the calm river, letting the current carry us along. There were no more rapids or rocks to disturb the water and Mal and I were able to relax and watch the world glide by. The Anduin was so wide that the trees growing on either bank were too far away to block the sun and we soaked it in. Until Thaladir figured out a way to rig up a piece of canvas over us, to prevent our skin from being burned, but that only made the napping conditions nicer.

Even in the shade it was warm, and I slept soundly until late in the afternoon when we stopped at Ninglorost. Thranduil and his seneschal went into the town and the twins, who stayed on board to guard us from being molested by any fool brave enough to come near the elven boats, were captivated by the view of the local townsfolk while they strolled by on the quay, so Mal and I talked. After I was sure that she seemed to feel reassured by the king's lovemaking, I felt brave about bringing up a touchy subject.

"Mal. You know what? I did wish that Thranduil loved me, or was in love with me, once, when I was over in Rivendell and I thought that I was never going to see him again. All I could think about, when I wasn't missing him, was that if he had been in love with me, he would have treated me differently. I never thought beyond that, like what it would have meant if he was in love with me."

"I think it would be heaven," she said, "even though that is a selfish wish, really."

"But then," I continued, "when he came for me, and collected me, I think that's when I realized that belonging to him was better than being loved by him." Mal's frown at my remark was a perfect unconscious imitation of the seneschal's.

"How can you say that? It sounds so cold, like you only want to be his possession?"

"Thranduil treasures his possessions, Mal. By the way, if you haven't noticed, he needs us as much as we think we need him, maybe more. And he is going out of his way to secure our loyalties or at least make up for that miserable carriage ride to prevent problems. "

"What is that supposed to mean?" As if she was worried that we may be overhead, Mal cast nervous glances over at the seemingly oblivious twins and then she looked over to the riverbank. Thranduil and his seneschal were returning and we both knew that they could probably hear us even from a distance. But I was past caring what the king thought about my suspicions when I answered her.

"I have the feeling that we are being prepared for something, although I have no idea what. And on top of that, this invitation to us from Celeborn has provoked our king, isn't that obvious? And Thaladir, too, and I wonder sometimes who is more worried."

"Worried about what?"


~ Mal ~

On the third day after we left the floating fields of flowers, we began to see golden-leafed trees instead. Now that we were so close to our goal, I began to feel apprehensive. What if the magic of the land was so strong that that it would swallow us, and I would stay there forever as a happy prisoner, oblivious of the life I had before? I would not willingly desert our king, but what if Galadriel could trap my mind so that I would think I loved one of the Galadhrim instead?

We left the boats, and the boat elves, where a smaller river joined with the Anduin and after resting for a short while we began to walk. It felt weird to just leave our luggage under a tree, but Thaladir assured me that it was safe and would be fetched later.

Lórien was incredibly beautiful, and it was easy to understand why one of its names translated 'valley of singing gold'. The yellow leaves of the mighty mellyrn glittered like gold in the sunlight, and walking beneath them felt like being in a palace with hundreds of cut-glass chandeliers and mirrors everywhere. Only, there were birds singing instead of music, and the floor was soft from last year's fallen leaves.

I instantly felt refreshed, and the thoughts that had kept going on and on in my head since I talked with Mary didn't seem to weigh so heavily anymore. It was as if the air around us was different, or perhaps only the fact that we were among elves again. Whatever the reason, I loved it.

Suddenly I jumped, as something flickered between the trees, and an elf, and then two more stood on the path. There was a thin, shimmering rope hanging from a tree beside them, and when the shock from their sudden appearance was gone I understood that they must have been waiting for us in a flet.

"Daro!" commanded Haldir with a defiant expression that made me take another step back, at the same time as I admired his striking appearance.

"Mae gevennin," said Orophin and Rúmil with sunny smiles all over their faces. It somewhat ruined Haldir's stance as the fearsome guardian of the wood, and they immediately looked more serene after he cast an annoyed glance at them. I decided they would get on perfectly well with the twins, and they probably knew each other already. But Haldir acted as if he had seen us all for the first time, and we were strangers threatening his borders.

"What brings you to the Golden Wood?" he asked in a demanding tone. Rúmil rolled his eyes, and Mary sighed, though it sounded more like admiration than resignation. The king answered him in a no less bold tone.

"Our errand ought to be known to you, March Warden. Or have you already forgotten the message you brought me no more than a season ago?" Then Thaladir stepped in, and as he exchanged a few quick answers and questions with Haldir, I got the feeling that it was more of a ritual that had to be followed for tradition's sake, than any doubt from Haldir's side. But he still demanded that Mary and I should be blindfolded part of the way to Caras Galadhon.

"No, please Haldir," we both whined, neither wanting to be deprived of the scenery. He shook his head sternly, but Thaladir came to our rescue.

"The very notion that it is not sufficient that His Majesty answers for the conduct and honesty of the mortal ladies in our company is most discourteous," the tall elf said in his most official voice, "and I must protest such treatment of His Majesty's subjects." Haldir shook his head again, which made his hair fall over his shoulders in a teasing manner, but we didn't get to hear his reply.

"Furthermore," the seneschal continued, "the logic of undertaking the indicated treatment is flawed and your expression of caution unsatisfactory, as the lady Mary has previously visited the Golden Wood, and, on the personal invitation from your high lady."

"Caution is required. I will not lead the way unless my conditions are accepted."

"I knew my way in these parts before you saw your mother's talan," the king retorted with narrowed eyes, nudging his seneschal to the side. "Your assistance is not necessary for us to find our way to Celeborn's lair."

The two elves looked marvellous set against each other like that, with the king on the verge of losing his temper, and the March Warden as arrogant as ever. But the situation seemed dangerous too, and an unnecessary disturbing of the peace in the beautiful surroundings.

"Please, Haldir," I said pleadingly, "I accept the blindfold." The seneschal supported me before the king could protest.

"Your Majesty, the discreet diplomacy offered by your concubine appears to be a most desirable and wise solution."

"However," he continued, now directed at Haldir, "logic stipulates that lady Mary may proceed unhindered through the realm." Haldir is not stupid, and I think he realized that this was the best offer he was going to get.

"Be it so," he said. "I have the most vivid memories of Mary's visit to my talan." That remark caused Thaladir to pucker up his lips in his famous 'sour lemon' expression, but Mary seemed more than happy to have made a lasting impression. Haldir definitely looked a little disappointed when he had to stick one of the blindfolds back into his belt.

His presence when he tied the remaining piece of cloth over my eyes was overwhelming, and I couldn't help leaning into him while he made sure that it was a snug fit. "Trust me," he said after placing a quick peck on my cheek. I had no problem with that, although it was eerie to stand there, as if alone. Mary was the only of them I could hear. But then I felt an arm settle gently around my waist, and though I didn't recognize Orophin's touch until he spoke, it calmed me.

I think Haldir lead the way, with Mary following just behind him, no doubt watching his behind as much as the scenery. I could hear Thaladir behind me, clearing his throat every time I made the slightest sign of stumbling. And, every time, the elf leading me took the opportunity to squeeze me a little firmer, and give me a few caresses too. All in all, it was a much more pleasant walk than I had expected.

Orophin and Rúmil took turns leading me, and often they whispered things into my ear that I hoped the seneschal didn't hear. They also told me that Galadriel had specifically chosen them and Haldir to meet us, so that Mary and I would feel more welcome.

To be continued...

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Chapter posted: May 3, 2005

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