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Mirkwood and Beyond

Chapter 14 / ?
Authors: Mary A and Malinornë
Pairings: Mainly Thranduil/OFCs
Warnings: Mildly adult sexual situations but surprisingly little nudity, considering all the elves who visit Mal and Mary's flets.
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: Mal and Mary enjoy their travel into the heart of Lórien with their 'handy' guides and spend the night in mallorn trees. Thaladir keeps his balance while the smoldering Thranduil keeps his cool.

~ Mal ~

With the blindfold on, it seemed to take forever to even get far enough into the forest to be out of hearing range from the Silverlode. Not that the sound as such disturbed me - to the contrary. The clucking noise was a welcome element in my limited perception, as it at least let me keep a sense of direction. But, that I kept hearing it after walking a distance that seemed like miles and miles was annoying.

We went too slowly for comfort. It was not by fault of my two assistants; despite that their hold around my waist often felt a lot more enjoyable than practical, I think Rúmil and Orophin tried to lead me as quickly as possible.

And we weren't in that much of a hurry, really. After all the time that had passed since the invitation was given, with Thranduil's stubborn refusal to answer directly, the long journey through Mirkwood, and then several days on the Anduin, I thought that Galadriel and Celeborn would probably not even notice if we took the last leg of the trip at a snail's pace.

But it was annoying not to be able to see the beauty of Lothlórien as we passed through it. I could feel an air of stillness, and the shifting light as we went through sunny patches to shadow was discernable even through the cloth that covered my eyes, but the majesty of the trees could only be judged from how much I had to lift my feet not to stumble over their roots.

I also began to doubt Haldir's motives. It was hardly reasonable to apply the same set of rules to invited guests as to random travellers that came here only out of curiosity, or worse. He knew well that I wasn't a spy, or Mary, and besides, the city's defences wouldn't be worth much if a mortal with no special knowledge could find her way through the elves' mazes after going through them only once.

The March Warden wasn't stupid, and neither was he a lousy defender of the realm. Thus, the blindfolds must serve some other purpose, such as getting us reacquainted with him and his brothers in a quick manner that would be pleasant and not embarrassing to anyone involved. And, that could go on unquestioned under the very nose of the Elvenking, and his seneschal.

Or, perhaps it was just a way to irk Thranduil. I didn't need to see him to know that he was unhappy with the arrangement. He was too proud to complain, of course, but at times he made a crushing remark on the magnificent hospitality of Lórien, or the gentlemanlike conduct of its Wardens. He was probably angry at me, too, for volunteering to do as Haldir said. And that is something I missed seeing more than the mellyrn.

The twins jested, like always, and Mary was surprisingly quiet, possibly from pure delight to be out of any kind of confining transport. Thaladir watched over me. Not only did he make sure Rúmil and Orophin didn't let me stumble, but at one of the short stops for water, he told them that the lady needed a more serious companion. They just laughed at that, as did Elladan and Elrohir, but when we started moving again, I had my hand safely tucked into the seneschal's elbow.

It was easier to walk that way, and after the initial thrill of the younger elves' kisses had worn off, I decided that Thaladir had been right. We proceeded much quicker, and I got to listen to detailed descriptions of the landscape, in the seneschal's pleasant, if somewhat droning, voice. At one point he even carried me, when we had to cross a chasm. I was quite happy with the blindfold at that moment.

The next time we stopped, the speckles of sunlight had been gone for long, and the air was crisper. It smelt differently too, and when I sat down on a boulder I began to feel how tired I was from all that walking after spending several days in boat and carriage. Fortunately, my perceptions had been correct - it was evening, and we were stopping for the night.

I was even happier when Haldir told me that the blindfold was no longer necessary. I immediately raised my hands to untie it, but even this simple item turned out to have the usual intricacies of elven-made goods. The March Warden obliged, and he instructed me to open my eyes very slowly. He even sounded a little worried, at least until he had made sure that no harm was done.

Then, with a few smooth movements, he disappeared into a tree, and when he came down again, he carried a small sack with food - dried meat, bread, fruit and other things that could be stored for some time. It tasted a lot more delicious than I thought it would, which was possibly also part of the enchantment that the Golden Wood seemed to be wrapped into.

By the time I was ready to sleep I had identified three small flets in the trees around us, and there could well be more that I just couldn't see. My suspicions were justified when Haldir said that I would go with his brother's into one of them, Mary would follow him into another, and the others were free to choose from the two more telain available in the area.

The three wood-elves from Mirkwood quickly climbed up into a mallorn, but Thranduil and Thaladir remained on the ground, at least for the moment. Neither of them seemed happy with the sleeping arrangements, but they said nothing about it. Perhaps the seneschal realised that his rules of proper seemliness would have little impact in Lórien.

I was too sleepy to dwell long on it, even though I would have preferred to have the king for company. As it were, Orophin did a great job of getting me up in the tree, and onto the platform, which was much too small and rickety for my taste. There were no walls either, and I carefully chose a position between the edge and the entrance-hole near the tree-trunk.

~ Mary ~

Right before we landed on the banks of Lórien, Thaladir donned his nicest long tunic, with the versatile sash, but looked unfinished without his robe. Reluctantly I handed it back to him and the seneschal seemed surprised, although not entirely grateful, that it was in spotless condition without wear, tear, or stain. Before he could make any remarks about it, Thranduil was at my side and he assisted me to dry land. As he did so, he squeezed my hand as if attempting to impart some type of message to me. I looked up into his eyes, and smiled at him.

"Don't worry," I said. "I will behave myself like a lady while Thaladir is watching me, I promise." He waved his hand in an impatient gesture as if he disregarded my comment and then replied just as cryptically as he usually did.

"Just... keep your eyes open."

"I was planning on it," I told him. As if I could have closed them when there were so many things to look at. However, as he had no further instructions, I tried not to blink for as long as I could as we walked along, but after a while I forgot I was even trying. Everything I saw was demanding my attention and yet all of it seemed to be shimmering in some kind of haze.

We walked for some distance before we were noticed. Although I was not expecting to see him on this side of the border, I was not really surprised when Haldir greeted us, with his brothers. As soon as Mal got blindfolded, I wanted one too; especially when I saw the hands-on guidance she was getting from Rúmil and Orophin. She did not seem to be too unhappy.

I was following right behind Haldir at first, but I dropped back to link arms with Thranduil instead; Thaladir moved around him to walk on my other side. Mal was right in front of us, and I do not know who was watching her every footfall the closest; her guides, the king, or the seneschal. I think that it was the first time that I have ever seen any elves notice anything lower than her knees. I tugged on the king's arm.

"How come I don't get to be blindfolded by Haldir?" I asked. "You know that I don't mind, I kind of like it."

"Do not doubt that Malinorne suffers," replied Thranduil while he patted my hand on his arm.

"Well, yeah, it's cruel to blindfold her like she's some kind of spy for a dark lord who no longer exists. In fact, it's stupid if you ask me." Thaladir cleared his throat, likely as not in preparation for delivering a lecture about insulting speech, so I tried to think of something wise to say to shut him up. "A day without sunshine is like, night," was the best I could do.

That shut him up.

For a while we all walked along quietly and even though all eyes, except Haldir's, were focused on Mal's feet, I could not stop looking at everything else. Even if I wanted to stop, and perhaps glance up at Thranduil's handsome face beside me, I could not prevent myself from having to see just one more thing, first. A butterfly or a group of blossoms on a mallorn branch, or a twittering bird in a berry bush beside the path, I just had to see it; everything seemed equally and endlessly fascinating.

And then I finally realized what the problem was about the blindfolds. The king wanted to 'see' Lórien through his bridge's eyes and even though I am sure he wanted to have both Mal's and my impressions, he was willing to settle for at least one of us. While we walked along, he was using me that way without anyone else knowing about it. And he had let the Galadhrim think they had scored a victory besides.

One nice thing about landing below the Silverlode River was we would not have to cross over it. In Lórien, I knew already, the only way over that river is by a rope bridge. Since I had not had to travel to Caras Galadhon by foot before, I had not ever had to try something like that, nor did I ever want to. And then Haldir stopped, and Orophin and Rúmil grinned at the twins, who tried to look innocent, like they knew nothing. I braced myself.

"Although the lady Malinorne may require assistance, would you like to walk the bridge with or without a second rope to cling to?" As Haldir spoke, he withdrew a small coil of gray rope from within his tunic, which he unwound swiftly.

"What are you talking about?" I stepped forward on the path as I asked and then shrieked. A deep chasm yawned before me, whether elf-dug or natural I could not tell, but there was no way over it except flying, or by rope-bridge. The sensation of vertigo I felt when I had looked down into it reminded me of when I almost fell into the Enchanted River. Do you know what happens if you get scared half to death twice? You start to get used to it.

Haldir threw one end of the rope to the other side, where a previously hidden elf caught it and then fastened it to a tree trunk, and then he turned to me with his hand out.

"Oh, ha ha, very funny, like you expect me to walk over even a little hole in the ground on a tight-rope? I can't even see to the bottom of that hole!" Now Mal gasped, when she heard what was going on in front of her blindfolded face. I turned to Thranduil and said, "Give my best regards to Galadriel and Celeborn, because I will be staying on this side of the forest until you are done with your visit."

However, before I could find a nice tree to sit under to wait for them, I was picked up and carried over the terrifying bridge by the king. Right behind us was Malinorne in the arms of the seneschal. The two of them resembled some sort of bizarre circus act, what with his billowing robe and her blindfold. I applauded.

~ Mal ~

From what I heard as Orophin handed me a couple of blankets that I gratefully wrapped around me, the twins were content to stay on the ground the whole night.

"We have nothing against sleeping in the trees when necessary," one of them said, "but we are used to staying on the ground even on our hunting trips," continued the other.

They had lit a small fire to the side of the nearly invisible path, and from my position in the tree I could hear them discussing various methods of orc-hunting with Haldir and Thaladir. Despite the gruesome details sometimes mentioned, they seemed to have a good time and I could tell that my company was rather intent on joining them as soon as I had gone to sleep. But first they wanted to show themselves as good hosts, and possibly more.

"So, was your journey pleasant?" asked Orophin politely. "Did you enjoy seeing Carrock from the river?" I was rather touched that he remembered our meeting there so fondly that it was the first thing he asked about. I nodded, and we talked a little about the great river, and the sights and settlements we had passed along the way. But Rúmil wanted to hear more about the eagles' cliffy island that now served as an airport.

"Did it make you... think about us?" His wiggling eyebrows made me giggle, and a lot more than he had expected, to judge from his surprised expression. "This is only a watch-talan, of course," he continued, "the ones in Caras Galadhon are much more comfortable for..." He wiggled his eyebrows again, this time managing the gesture to appear more seductive than funny.

I assured him that yes, I had recalled our night at the inn, but refused to tell him more than that, or give any indications of the possibility of a repeat performance. I was in a different situation now, neither lonely nor tipsy, and it was not a topic I would discuss when the king and all the others just a few trees away. Not even with Rúmil, even though I felt that he could easily have smiled his way through all of my defences.

"Change of guards," a deep, melodious voice announced from below, and soon I saw the king's head and then the rest of him appear from the hole near the trunk.

"As you wish," said Orophin and politely wished me a good night, complete with a chaste hand-kiss, before he climbed down.

"Spoilsport," muttered Rúmil, and made a breakneck jump from the flet and into the next tree. "Remember to visit my talan," he said with a smile when I stared at him in horror. And then the king demanded all my attention.

He put his hand over my eyes, and for the second time that day I saw nothing. Only now the contrast between light and darkness was less sharp than it had been in daytime, and the smell of him headier than the leafy scent of the blindfold.

"What are you doing?" He said nothing, but with his left hand still covering my eyes, he used the right one to remove the blankets and then move me further from the centre of the platform. When he put me down again, my left hand felt thin air instead of the wooden floor. I was terrified.

"Thranduil!" I yelped, but lay still, fearing that clutching him would only lead to losing my balance and falling over the edge quicker.

"You trusted the others," he said calmly, and if there was accusation in his voice I did not hear it. "Now you will trust me."

It was difficult to do that, but it became a lot easier when he lay on top of me. The kisses helped, and the rest too. And all the time, he held that hand over my eyes. I bit his thumb a little, and the growl that incited sent shivers all over me. Shortly thereafter, I cried out his name again, but for an entirely different reason.

~ Mary ~

When we reached our campground, Mal was un-blindfolded. The intense urge I had felt all day to look at and pay attention to everything that fell within my line of vision finally ceased as Thranduil switched his focus over to his concubine. Now she started noticing everything, and it seemed normal, too, because it was her first chance to see around her in many hours. She saw the sleeping flets up in the trees before I did, but she seemed happy about it. I knew better.

"Good luck trying to sleep in one of those crazy little tree-forts," I told her.

Haldir indicated the guest-mallorn chosen for me and he was obviously going to assist me in my ascent. I hate climbing trees even when I am well-rested and in a good mood. But my legs felt like lead and my eyes were so tired that my whole head pounded. I looked over to Thranduil, who turned to face me and then nodded, as if he was giving me permission, before turning back to continue his conversation with the other elves.

"Wait here," I said to Haldir. I approached the king and tugged at his tunic sleeve. He excused himself from the seneschal and the twins and we walked a little ways away from them all. "My head hurts," I told him, "and that's entirely your fault. Now you expect me to climb a tree and I guess you want me to fool around with Haldir, too, for your viewing pleasure?"

"I think he would be quite helpful for your headache."

"Where are you going to be sleep..., uh, staying tonight? I know you don't like to climb trees either." But he peered upward at the mallorn where his concubine was giggling with Rúmil and Orophin. By rights, it would have been her turn alone with Thranduil if anyone was keeping track. The last time either one of us had the king to ourselves; it had been me in my carriage. During the nights of our river travel, we had all camped out together with the other elves, and neither one of us had time alone with him.

"Malinorne," he said, "has had a traumatic day and needs comforting." There was another giggle from overhead. I had to wonder, really, who had been the more traumatized by the experience and felt a tiny tickle of fear course down my spine.

"It sounds like she is getting plenty of that right now." But he did not appear to hear me and I was starting to feel even more worried. His concubine had been out of his control for most of the day, and even when she was finally wrested away from her Galadhrim guides, it was the seneschal who took over. On the other hand, I had walked beside the king the whole time. I tried to reassure myself that he only needed to reestablish his authority over her. The idea that he might be falling in love, after all of her whining to me about it for days, was something I did not want to contemplate.

Without any more conversation he led me back to Haldir, but then he kissed me goodnight in front of everyone, even Thaladir. So I should not have felt utterly abandoned, but I did anyway. I called over to Elladan and Elrohir and asked them where they were staying. Neither of them was a tree-climber, either, and they gestured to an area of moss-covered ground where their bedrolls sat, still rolled, but ready. I bit my lip and thought about it.

"I hope that you do not expect me to assist you with such a simple task as putting a mortal maid to bed, March warden," said Thranduil with a taut smile and he lifted his chiseled chin as if he was issuing an ultimatum.

"Nor would I expect you to do so, majesty," replied Haldir and without a warning, I was lifted and tossed over his shoulder.

"Oh yeah!" I hollered at Thranduil as Haldir quickly carried me into the tree, upside down. "This is just doing wonders for my headache!" I heard him chuckling below us, but we were too far up in the branches for me to see his face. And then I was sitting in the flet.

"You are in pain?" Haldir was sweet now, no longer the big bad Galadhrim in charge of the place. I forget that not all of the elves are mind-readers.

"My legs are killing me, and my head, mostly my eyes." As I answered, he lit a small lamp and hung it on one of the branches. It gave a subtle glow, much like a candle, but there was no flame that I could see. His golden hair shimmered in the light as he unfolded some blankets and made a bed for me.

"If you will lay down here and be still," he said, "I think that I can help you." I scooted over to the blankets and laid flat on my back. For the past few days in the summer's heat, I had felt overdressed in my flimsy gown, but now I felt nearly naked as he put his hands on one of my legs and began to massage it. His hands were warm and his touch was so gentle that I closed my eyes and began to relax instantly.

Strong, firm fingertips pressed into the aching muscles and it felt so good that I wondered if I should open my legs just a little bit, as sort of an invitation for a different kind of massage. But I was sleepy, and my head still hurt a lot, so I kept them together and began to feel myself drifting off.

And then I heard Mal yell out, "Thranduil!" as if he had just surprised her. The king apparently got over his aversion to climbing trees. My eyes flew open and Haldir was sitting there, smiling down at me. He had stopped rubbing my legs, however, although one of his hands still lay on my thigh, under the skirt of my dress, and his magical fingers were not moving but they were filled with promise. As was the look in his eyes.

I opened my legs, headache be damned. And the king was right, Haldir cured that problem too.

~ Mal ~

When I awoke the next morning, Haldir was sitting beside me, humming and dangling his legs over the edge of the platform. The gentle light sifting through the green leaves and yellow flowers of the mellyrn in bloom made him seem softer, happier and more carefree. He was still the Guardian of the wood, but the tenseness and arrogance from yesterday were gone.

A puff of air sent a shower of golden trumpets over us. Laughingly he collected a few of the flowers in his hand and offered them to me.

"Look at the riches of my realm," he said as I studied them. "Our gems are living, breathing parts of the land, and we care little for what is dug from the belly of mountains."

I lifted one of the flowers to my nose. It smelt of honey and vanilla, and although its beauty was ephemeral, it had something more than Thranduil's white gems and silver. I sighed. "It is a pity that this is all you let me see of this beautiful forest."

"No," he replied, shaking his head. "Today you shall experience the light of Lothlórien with all your senses."

Breakfast was light, and soon we were on our way again, through this wondrous temple with living pillars and a canopy more beautiful than the work of any artist's hand. We met a few hardships on the way, as we had to cross a stream or a chasm, which the elves did with an ease and elegance that rendered me speechless, but in all it was a pleasant journey. It almost felt like walking in a dream.

However, the king surprised me. Having many times witnessed his great love for nature, and especially trees, I was sure he would enjoy being here just as much as I did. But he seemed distant, and the closer we got to the tallest of the mellyrn that signalled the entrance to Caras Galadhon, the more he withdrew into himself. Not even Ithilwen's offer to pleat a crown of mallorn leaves and flowers would heighten his spirits, and it was painful to observe him.

The love I tried to send him seemed to merely bounce off, without any of it being absorbed into his soul. He had been calmer the previous night, after he came to me with such ardour, but it had worn off already, replaced with a gnawing, slowly boiling anger. This was not the Thranduil I knew.

And still I could not long be influenced by his bad mood. The day was too beautiful for that, the others in our company too happy, and the forest too welcoming. Bright-coloured butterflies flew by, there were little birds twittering in the bushes, and even the wild flowers along the path seemed to be there just to greet us.

When Haldir finally announced that we had reached Caras Galadhon, it was difficult to believe him. Instead of city with houses and streets there seemed to be a wall of greenery before us, not unlike the thorny bushes that surrounded the north-western entrance to Mirkwood, except that it was neither gloomy nor suffocating. There were flowering climbing plants among the thorns, and though I was sure it was impenetrable, it felt more like a work of art than a defence structure.

We went a short distance to the left, and found the entrance marked by two trees that were thicker and taller than any of the beeches in Thranduil's realm. I looked up into their canopies with awe, and was met with friendly glances from watchers up there. There was even one who waved at me, and I waved back. It seemed the natural thing to do, and worth risking a lecture on proper protocol on state visits for.

It was harder to guess how to best respond to the white-clad ethereal-looking being that approached us with a pitcher and a cup in her hands. She seemed to float gracefully through the air, her naked feet barely touching the grass. "Galadriel's handmaiden," whispered Orophin reverently. Thaladir knew what to do, of course, and bowed his head as he wordlessly accepted the cup from her. He drank from it, and then bowed to her again. She filled the cup from the pitcher, and proceeded to Thranduil.

Then we all drank, in some order hidden to me, if there was any, and though it was only water, it was possibly the most refreshing drink I had ever tasted. It made me feel even more alive and awake than before.

"Mae gevennin, gwenyr uin forod," [Well met, kinsmen of the north,] she greeted us with the same, slightly different, dialect I had previously only heard from Haldir and his brothers. "Gwethil," she addressed Mary and me, thereby indicating a kinship by association, rather than blood. I was deeply touched and was reminded of the wonder it truly was to have been accepted among the elves as easily as we had been.

"I bring you the greetings and blessings of my Lord and Lady," she continued, "and their urgent request for your presence. May your stay among us refresh your souls."

Her solemnity made me even more quiet than usual, and as we followed her I was so filled with awe at the capital of the Galadhrim that I didn't even register what the others were saying, if anything. There were huge trees everywhere, and platforms in all of them, some at a level just a few feet over my head, and others so high up it made me dizzy to even think about it.

Some of the flets were open, without walls, like the one we had spent the night in, and I felt a bit nosy watching the elves who were sitting or standing there, only protected from glances by an irregular veil of leaves. Others had walls, on one side or more, but there were also completely built-in ones, like tree-houses. None of them seemed to have any roof, at least not as far as I could see, but unless the Galadhrim could command the trees to protect them from rain there must be some kind of clever solution to that.

All the elves that we met, or saw, seemed friendly and interested in us. There were more waving hands, and a few shouted "Mae gevennin" from up among the branches. I could probably survive here, if the Elvenking should tire of me. Judging from his behaviour this day, that didn't seem wholly unlikely, and the doubts that had haunted me before were suddenly back. I glanced at him, and immediately regretted it. His gaze was cold, his face determined, and that frightened me. We were among friends now, weren't we?

~ Mary ~

"How is your headache?" When I heard Thranduil's voice in my ear, I thought I was back in Mirkwood for a moment. But when I tried to turn over to embrace him, I found myself trapped in a blanket with his arm over both me and it. It was dark. I was unable to move. And then I remembered where I was.

"You should know," I said. "It was your prescription anyway." I wondered if Haldir was still there, too, but I fell back to sleep, with the king's arm over me, before I could ask about him.

Later, when the sun was high and the birds were already so sick of singing that the forest was almost quiet, I woke up all the way and Thranduil was gone. But I was not alone. Waking up with Rúmil and Orophin staring at me from the other side of the flet was like waking up with bunny rabbits. Arrogant bunny rabbits. Friendly yet aloof bunny rabbits. They were sitting, unmoving yet alert, and I had barely opened my eyes when they began to talk.

"It occurred to my brother and me this morning that we have never spent any time in your company before yesterday." Orophin's voice was pleasant on the ears this early in the day.

"We have heard about you," Rúmil chimed in. "From Haldir and our Lady and..." but he stopped short when his brother shifted and frowned slightly. "...and others," he finished with a dazzling smile. I only had one question.

"Do you have any coffee?"

They both blinked. While they spoke the two had both drawn closer but still sat at a respectful distance. I wondered if Thaladir had a hand in their training. It was true that I had never met them before yesterday, even though they seemed to be life-long pals with Malinorne.

"We have some breakfast," said Orophin helpfully. He unfolded a mallorn leaf to reveal some bits of unrecognizable something. It could have been dried fruit and some slivers of dried meat.

"What is that?" I half sat up to look at it closer.

"Breakfast," replied Rúmil as if it should be obvious. The meat smelled suspiciously like venison, too.

"No thank you. I can't eat anything this early in the morning... unless I..." I caught myself before mentioning how the king had to be involved in the process and hesitated. However my Galadhrim breakfast club buddies just stared at me with those arrogant bunny rabbit eyes, curiously, and with their ears up. So I asked, "Is everyone else awake already? Waiting for me?"

"Unless you... what?" Rúmil wanted to know, not distracted by my questions. His brother seemed just as curious. They drew even closer. I smiled but wrapped my blanket around me tighter.

"Unless I... have some coffee, first," I answered. "The twins packed some in the boat and made it for me when we were camping."

"We have something better than your coffee," whispered Orophin. They both leaned closer to me.

Thaladir did not look anything like a bunny, even the haughtiest one on its most arrogant day, while he rose through the center of the floor behind the Lórien elves. More like a cobra I thought, old and wise and dangerous. He climbed all the way up and then stood straight, towering over us like a tree within a tree. Whatever he resembled, he managed to get into the flet without Rúmil and Orophin taking any notice and for the first time ever, I got to see someone else get ambushed by one of the seneschal's throat-clearing sneak attacks.

Only neither of them jumped when he did it, but they did sit up very straight and their eyes got bigger.

"It appears that you are having as much success awakening a mortal as you have in guarding your backs," remarked Thaladir.

"Let us depart swiftly, brother," Rúmil whispered, although so loudly that even I could hear him clearly, "before he assigns us some drill." They said good-bye to me sweetly, and then slipped out of the flet, but not through the hole. Instead they went over the sides, silently, without rustling a leaf, perhaps to show off and regain a measure of pride in their woodcraft.

For the rest of our journey, the two of them continued to make an effort to redeem themselves with stunning feats of graceful agility as we crossed a few more natural obstacles in the way of our travel to the center of Lórien. They leapt across wide fissures and up over fallen logs like gazelles. And they spotted all kinds of wildlife for Mal and me. I was impressed, even if Thaladir remained unmoved. Thranduil just got quieter and scarier.

The day before, I thought the king had reacted to Haldir's take-charge attitude with aplomb. After all, he is an Elflord and therefore capable of 'glowing' all of the Galadhrim into submission. But good manners must have dictated that he not lord it over other elves outside of his own realm. Instead he had surrendered graciously and had let his seneschal haggle over the boring blindfold details, as usual.

If anything, the day before, Thranduil had seemed more distracted and withdrawn than upset or irritated. Today he looked like he might bite someone. And not for fun.

To be continued...

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Chapter posted: May 17, 2005

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