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Mirkwood and Beyond


Chapter 20 / ?
Authors: Mary A and Malinornë
Pairings: Mainly Thranduil/OFCs
Warnings: Darn, not much, maybe beware of some naughty thoughts about Rangers. Not even a speck of nudity. Just wait.
Disclaimer: Written for fun, not for profit, with characters and setting borrowed from JRR Tolkien.
Chapter summary: Mal and Mary say goodbye to Lórien and head for Rivendell.


~ Mal ~

I remained in the garden perhaps an hour after Celeborn left me. The flowers seemed more fragrant than before, their colours clearer and the butterflies more jewel-like. All were clear signs that I had realized I was leaving, and would miss them. There were a few elves I would miss, too. Like Haldir.

Thinking of the dutiful elf also made me remember that there were some preparations needed for the journey. I should pack my own clothes, at least, even if I had the feeling that Ithilwen, whom I nearly hadn't seen since we arrived here, would turn up at the last moment and arrange everything.

Of course she did just that. When I arrived at my guest talan, Ithilwen was standing outside, accompanied by my door guard Anarion, and with a neat pack that I assumed were my clothes in the doorway. She confirmed that my things were ready and would be transported safely to Imladris without my worrying about it.

The longing glances I had once received from Anarion in my bedroom were now directed at Ithilwen. It made me happy to see that the attraction was mutual, and it relieved the guilt I had felt in Mirkwood at seeing the admiring elf every day but having taken him to my bed only once.

"How have you been, my lady?" he asked. "I apologize for not having fulfilled my duties of being near your talan, although I was given leave to spend some time with the guardians of this wood."

"Do not worry. It's not like I need a door guard here, and all services I could wish for have been provided. I trust it you are enjoying your stay as well?"

"Our hosts are generous. They have shown me places of undisputable beauty, and we have been on an exciting orc-tracking mission, too. And tomorrow we will set out for the eastern border, to see the great springs of Nimrodel, whom I have only heard of in songs in my youth. I am enjoying myself..."

He was interrupted by a tell-tale throat-clearing, and soon a very serious Thaladir stood beside him. The seneschal cleared his throat again before speaking.

"Allow me to interfere. Young Anarion has been honing his skills of woodland war craft, which was also the purpose of his stay with the Galadhrim."

The younger elf blushed, and I got the impression that he realized that he had put too much emphasis on the pleasure aspect of visiting Lórien. Apparently, Thaladir preferred to regard it as military training, not fun.

"For now, however," the seneschal continued, "the Lord and Lady of this realm request our company in an endeavor that I have been made to understand is mainly performed for purposes of entertainment." He managed to say it with a peculiar expression that somehow conveyed both his disregard for all things frivolous, combined with the outmost respect for the ruling couple of Lórien.

"I count on you," he said to Anarion, "to provide the ladies with safe escort to the river."

"Of course, Your Excellency."

From the top of a hill we had to pass on our way the water seemed to be strewn with white water lilies; it was remarkable that I had not noticed them when we arrived. As we came closer, the lilies seemed to both grow and move, and I realized that they must be birds. It was as if a whole flock of swans had landed on the river and were now swimming graciously back and forth with their elegant necks bent to the water.

Closer still I saw that they were giants, almost the size of the great eagles. The ones swimming carried elves on their backs, and others lay waiting by the shore. But they were too quiet, too still, and I finally understood that they were not alive at all. They were boats, not birds, although shaped just like swans, and only moved when propelled by oars.

Galadriel and Celeborn were there already, seated in a swan-boat steered by Haldir, and there were many others present as well. Thaladir had somehow managed to arrive before us, which I guess shouldn't be any surprise considering how long his legs are. He was standing together with Thranduil, critically eyeing what was going to be our craft.

It looked good enough to me, although I wouldn't think it safe for long journeys or in rapidly flowing waters. But it was wonderfully comfortable, with its cushioned seat that went like a half-circle. The high wings and tail of the bird provided backrest and protected the passengers from wind, while there was also possible to peek out between the feathers to look around. The feathers weren't real of course, but I couldn't figure out exactly how they were made. Wood, obviously, but they were covered with some softer material.

The king was uncharacteristically quiet, and, sadly, refrained from fondling me much while we sat waiting for Mary to arrive. It could have been the seneschal's watchful eye that hindered him, of course, but he also seemed distant, as if lost in thoughts. I wondered if the swan boats perhaps reminded him of the white ships of the Teleri elves in Valinor, and the gruesome part they played in the early history of his ancestors.

As I pondered that, there was a commotion of some sort, and I could soon see the source for it. Elladan and Elrohir had arrived, and were now paddling a boat, together with Rúmil, at a speed I wouldn't have thought possible. They shouted and laughed, and did a great deal of splashing, too.

That seemed to wake the king from his musings, and I heard him remark to Celeborn, who was now beside us; "It appears that a fiercer creature would be more fit to carry your grandsons. A water snake, perhaps?"

Celeborn just laughed at that, and Galadriel with him, again that girlish giggle that made her seem so very young and carefree. It was Thaladir who finally answered, muttering so that only those on our boat could hear: "A craban of Dunland would be appropriate for the young lords, methinks."

It appeared that Mary had arrived while I was busy watching the twins, and now that she snuggled up to Thranduil on his other side we were finally set to sail.

Cruising in the silent swan over the gently flowing waters of the Celebrant was a peaceful experience that was only heightened by the presence of other, equally beautiful boats. It was so easy to just lean into the king and enjoy the moment, hoping that it would never end. I must admit, although, that I became a bit sleepy after an hour or so.


~ Mary ~

Even though Thaladir had not been sympathetic when I had told him how hungry I was, after he had successfully stampeded me out of Haldir's arms; I was surprised to find a light meal laid out for me in my guest talan. The old elf had fooled me again. And I was finished eating and was properly dressed for traveling, with underwear on, by the time Elladan and Elrohir arrived to escort me to the river.

Miriel showed up to help me choose what to wear for the visit and told me about her time so far in Lórien, and how warmly she and the other Mirkwood elves, Anarion and Ithilwen, had been welcomed. It was a surprise to find out that she was not homesick, like I was, for the caves. She said that she had spent her childhood living in telain and was happy to sleep in trees. However, there was a hint of sadness in her tone when she talked about her tours in and around the mallorn forest.

"If aran Thranduil had a ring of power during the dark times," she said, defensively, although I do not think that she was defending him to me, "then our forest would be beautiful and clean as well." It was the closest I had ever heard the normally serene elleth come to sounding cranky, and I loved her for it.

"Have your tour guides been promoting the Lórien lifestyle to you, too?" I was remembering Haldir's attempts to talk me into staying the night before. Maybe Miriel's escorts had not tried that approach.

"The Galadhrim have been very kind," she said. "I believe they know better than to insult our king by talking poorly of his realm." She lifted her chin when she spoke, and I was instantly reminded of Thaladir, who would have been proud to hear her. It sent shivers through me to hear her refer to Thranduil as 'our' king, although I was not sure if she was referring to me or Ithilwen and Anarion.

"Do you think any of the Galadhrim would ever come back to the caves with us?" Now I do not know what prompted me to ask her that, because I do not really think a Lórien elf would leave their beloved forest, but she did not laugh at my question. Instead, she grew very serious.

"There are rumors of rumors," she began cryptically, and then she paused and looked around her, a typical Mirkwood elf habit, before continuing. "That something very much like that might happen, and soon."

"Something like what?" Now I was the one who did not laugh. Was I about to hear a secret?

"I have said more than I should," Miriel replied and would say no more, except to ask me not to repeat what she had said. I decided not to tell her that every elf of importance for miles around could read my mind, so it did not matter how quiet I was.

"Okay, you don't have to tell me anything else about the rumors," I said. "But is there any elf here in particular who you would like to see move into the caves with us?" Now she laughed before she answered.

"Did I say that any of the Galadhrim would move to the caves with us?" Thranduil would have been proud of her.

The twins came and, after I hugged Miriel goodbye, Elladan tried to talk her into coming along with us to Rivendell, but she declined. It is hard to say if her wood-elf upbringing made her leery of eagle-back travel or if she was less impressed with the flirtatious Imladris elves than she seemed to be with the Galadhrim. But there was no time to ask her.

We had to walk for quite a distance and the forest was so lovely along the way that I was almost tempted to change my mind at the last minute and stay. But when we reached our destination, and I saw Thranduil sitting in one of the stunning swan-shaped boats, with Mal glued to his side, I had no doubt where I belonged. Glued to his other side.

And seeing him was like feeling sunshine come out from behind a cloud on a chilly day. Even if he would not kiss me in front of everyone, after I climbed into the boat with him and Mal, it was still more pleasant to be near him than to do anything else with any other elf. I felt him come back into my mind with a rush that was very much like the embrace he would have normally tackled me with if we had been alone. It was nice to see Mal, too.

The king was quiet and when the beautiful swan boats at last began to move he was almost subdued. None of us spoke and it was very much like being in a dream at first as we floated down the river.

"I missed you last night," I said finally. But I did not mean physically -- it went without saying that I hated having to share him -- I meant in my mind.

"There will come a time for you to share your night with me, before too long," he said quietly. "Not that I believe the March warden has anything novel to show me." And I could hear the sneer in his voice when he said it, which was a relief. The polite and quiet king was almost unnerving. I leaned over to see why Mal was being so quiet and saw that she was napping. With a happy sigh, I cuddled closer to him and enjoyed the view. The boat ride was over too soon.


~ Mal ~

When I woke up, we had arrived at a small island in the middle of the river. It was covered with soft, low grass and the leaves of a single mallorn put part of it in a pleasant shade. A picnic was set out on the ground, on white blankets that served as tablecloths as well as seats. Galadriel was there already, and I was happy to find myself seated between her husband and my king. Mary appeared less happy to have Thaladir on her other side.

There was no reason for her to complain; the seneschal was perfectly polite, and I noticed how he even served her the best bits of anything that was out of reach for her. Thranduil drank vast quantities of wine. He had obviously not been telling the truth when I heard him say to Celeborn the first night how lacking the local drink was in comparison to the Dorwinion vintage.

We ate and drank, laughed and listened to sweet music played on harps and flutes, until there came a loud sound from the air, as if the wind had suddenly begun to blow. The sound gradually acquired the distinct feeling of wing beats of some large bird, and for a moment I thought I was dreaming; it was as if one of the swan boats had come alive and was now flying towards us.

But the others could hear it, too. "They are here," Galadriel announced with melancholy in her voice, and moments after that a giant eagle landed on the meadow, just by the water's edge. The large bird made no sign of having noticed us, but sat cleaning its feathers as if it was the most natural thing for it to rest on this island. I could see, however, that the soft ground was unsuitable for it; its claws had left deep marks where it landed.

Our hostess rose, and stood barefoot on the grass. The sun was reflected in her hair, and in the mallorn leaves above her. She looked like a goddess native to this land. Celeborn joined her, and they shared a long, gentle embrace, whispering words that I couldn't hear. I only saw their lips moving, and the light in their eyes. I took Thranduil's hand as I watched them, and I hoped that he would one day come to love me that much. It was a futile thought, but being content with the present did not mean that I had to give up my dreams.

Thaladir bowed stiffly to the Lady, and then followed her husband to the waiting eagle. The two elves climbed up on its back, made some kind of signal that they were ready, and soon they could be seen soaring in the air high above our heads. Another great bird landed on the same spot as the first one. It was our turn to leave.

Galadriel hugged Mary and me, and told us that she would much like to see us again. To Thranduil she just stretched out her slender hand, and he placed a very gentlemanly kiss upon it. As we turned to leave, she stopped us with a pealing laughter.

"There are others who would like to say farewell to the ladies."

The twins stood, grinning, one on each side of her. They made kissing sounds with their lips, but their grandmother whisked them aside. "Not you, my dears," she said, and instead beckoned the two elves behind her to step forward. Haldir appeared unaffected, but Rúmil's face shone with the same expectance as the twins had shown minutes before.

Mary boldly put her arms around Haldir's waist, and I quizzically glanced at the king. He nodded imperiously, and I could hear him inside my head. 'Kiss the young buck farewell. He has deserved it.' His voice carried the impression of being accompanied with an amused smirk, although no such thing could be seen in his face. I grinned at him and approached the younger elf.

Rúmil is a great kisser and the public character of the situation did not lessen his ardour the slightest. I found myself drawn into him, reminiscing our night together, as well as the mind-blowing experience with the king that had followed. I have to admit that it was difficult to detach myself from him, and it was probably only the knowledge that Thranduil was near that saved me. I saw Haldir lifting an elegant eyebrow when I finally left his brother, but otherwise nobody seemed to have found the farewell remarkable.

Blushing, I curtsied to Galadriel and the other elves, and then joined Mary and the king. The eagle looked a little impatient, and it flew off almost before I had settled safely. It was probably eager to leave space to the next of its kind, which I assumed would take Elladan and Elrohir. But I was lucky to sit in the front, with the king's arms around me. He gave no explanation to the arrangement, but I'm fairly sure that I got this better seat because I had not flown with him before, like Mary had. Or perhaps she prefers to hold on to him rather than have an open view on the scenery.

Our feathered steed turned west and followed the Celebrant towards the Misty Mountains. Thus we did not pass directly over Caras Galadhon, but it was still easy to find it from the air, because of the unusually tall mellyrn that grew by the fountain.

After a while, the trees thinned out and the juncture of Celebrant and Nimrodel became visible. We continued to follow the larger stream, turning north and deeper into the mountain range. Many of the tops were merely green hills, but in the distance the sky was pierced with ragged, silver-capped peaks that reached through the clouds.

Suddenly a small lake gleamed beneath us, its waters clear and blue as if its bottom was covered in the whitest sand. "Mirrormere," said Thranduil. "It is beautiful, but lifeless, as are still the halls of Moria beyond it."

There were probably orcs still living in the mountain, as the Galadhrim went on expeditions in that direction, but I decided not to bring that up. The sight of the mighty peaks and the gleaming lake was much to beautiful to ruin with talk about such creatures.

I wondered if the eagle would choose the eastern side of the mountains, which would offer a welcome chance to look at the Gladden Fields again, and glimpse parts of Mirkwood in the distance, or the western side with its to me unknown territory. But, it appeared that the bird preferred to stay in the middle of the range, flying over and between peaks on either side. I assume it got more wind under its wing that way, or it just wanted to stay close to its natural habitat.


~ Mary ~

During our lunch on the sunny little island, I talked to Thaladir about his pre-travel jitters. It was not as if he was acting all frowny and hysterical. If anything, he seemed calmer than usual, on the outside, and he was even nice to me when everyone was watching. But I just knew, and could somehow feel, that his anxiety level was on high alert about any possible delays or mishaps.

"Your Excellency, I know you are worried no matter how you act," I told him. "And I know you think that if someone, namely me, does anything wrong, then everything else will fall apart or something, and I don't know why you think that way, I only know that you do, so don't deny it."

He tried at first to distract me by offering me tidbits of food or pouring wine in my bowl, but I kept talking anyway. It was the most I have ever said to the seneschal at one time since I had met him, except for that one night when I did not know I was with him.

"And if I could do anything to make you feel calmer right now," I continued, "I would, gladly, except that the only thing that I can think of that might help is, well, unseemly, and that would just make you even more agitated if I mentioned it." I smiled at him. He did not answer, of course, or look at me, or even blink to acknowledge my existence. But, I did not let that slow me down.

"Because whenever you get agitated about schedules and deadlines, you are mean to me, and I am tired of it. Even if you are not picking on me, you still frown at me, or you do what you are doing right now, pretend like I don't exist. And I have never done anything to you to make you treat me so badly..."

It hurt to say that, and I had to stop for a minute. I did not want him to feel sorry for me, really. I just wanted to make a deal with him, while I had the chance. "Look, all I ask is that you don't be cruel to me today, because I am not all that happy with myself for getting invited along, and you probably think that I talked the king into taking me, but I didn't. What happened was..."

And that is where I had to stop, because Galadriel announced that the eagles were coming and it was time for the final farewells, and I could not hold a conversation in my head with the seneschal and pay attention to anyone else speaking around me at the same time. I bet an elf can.

Although I still hated to think of it, and was unwilling to fully accept it, I was almost convinced of Thaladir being able to read my thoughts. And it was turning out to be a more practical affair than I would have believed. Speaking silently to him was easy and I enjoyed saying whatever I wanted to with my mind. If he was not going to admit he could hear me, then he could not stop me either.

Not that I knew for absolutely sure that he could hear me, or chose to listen in, but it could not hurt to assume it. The best parts were that I could continue to 'talk' to him even while I was eating or drinking, and that no one else, except for the king, and the Lord and Lady of the Wood, could hear me except him, if he really could that is. And when he left, I almost missed him.

Kissing Haldir goodbye was interesting, knowing that the king was back in my head and watching. I made sure it was an extra long embrace for both of them to enjoy. And for anyone else nearby who might have been peeking in. It helped that there was no one around to clear their throats at us. I was glad Galadriel did not try anything with Thranduil although I had braced myself for it.

Soon enough, we were flying away from the mellyrn and the Galadhrim and the Lady of the Wood. Now it was my turn to be sleepy while Mal was wide awake, and I held onto Thranduil and napped. Every once in a while, I would wake up enough to look around and see how far we had gone, but the mountainous terrain looked uniformly similar to my untrained eyes, and I had no idea what I was seeing below me. But I looked anyway before dozing back off.

Gently, Thranduil woke me up all the way when we approached the valley of Imladris and Lord Elrond's Homely House. Below us, I could see one of the other eagles circling as it descended lower and then it landed. The other one had flew up past us after just taking off. I instantly felt guilty again about showing up uninvited, despite Haldir's assurances to the contrary. But when we disembarked our feathery transportation, no one seemed to notice that either Mal or I was there.

Elrond was deep in conversation with Celeborn, and his sons, and the other elves who were there to assist with unloading the eagles, and show us visitors where to go, did not do more than glance at us and smile briefly, but otherwise they kept their eyes to themselves. Immediately I suspected Thaladir had warned everyone to stay away from the king's concubine, and the 'other one'. The elves there seemed to be just as intimidated by him as they were of the king.

At last, Elrond glanced our way, and as soon as he noticed Mal and me, I saw his eyebrow shoot up in mild surprise before he smiled warmly in our direction. Had his sons and Celeborn not even mentioned us tagging along? It was hard to say, but the noble Rivendell Elflord did not appear disturbed in the least by Thranduil's extra baggage.

Lord Elrond barely did no more than say a polite hello to me, however, once he came over to formally greet the king and welcome him to Imladris. But his smile grew even bigger when he was introduced to Mal. They had never met before. He took her proffered hand and, after pressing his lips to it, suddenly grew sober and concerned.

"How was your flight? You are not feeling any symptoms of airsickness, wind burn, high altitude tremors, or anything of that nature, are you, my dear Lady?" Even I was worried by his serious tone, and I looked at Mal, who seemed perfectly healthy to me. Her cheeks were a little pink, but otherwise she looked fine. Before she could answer, the throat clearer made his appearance.

"My Lord," Thaladir said to Elrond, "With all due respect, should it be determined that either of His Majesty's royal mortal subjects have suffered any adverse effects from today's travels, you will be notified immediately." At first, I almost thought the seneschal was offering Mal and me up for an examination, but we were both whisked away from the helpful healer before anything could actually be determined about either of us.


~ Mal ~

After all the steep mountains it felt almost magical to see them opening up into a valley, where the buildings of Rivendell seemed to float ethereally in the air amidst waterfalls. It was incredibly beautiful and even made me a little dizzy. Or maybe that was just the effect of a prolonged eagle-back ride.

Elrond turned out to be a charming host once he noticed our presence, and I was more than a little annoyed with Thaladir's quick assurance that neither of the ladies was in need of immediate medical attention. After that, the evening quickly deteriorated. Thranduil and Celeborn disappeared with the Lord of Imladris and they kept to themselves even in the Hall of Fire.

Mary and I were stuck with the twins, and for once they were no fun company at all. They just kept repeating how all elves present were afraid of us, or rather Thranduil. I hoped they were lying, or at least exaggerating, because there were many elves around that I wouldn't mind being introduced to.

I also noticed a few unkempt men in a dark corner, behaving as if they lived here. Rangers from the north, I guessed, who were enjoying Lord Elrond's hospitality. It felt strange to see mortal men here, but there was something attractive about how different they were from the elves around them.

There was one in particular that drew my attention; a man that was sitting on the floor with his back leaning against a pillar. His dark hark was untidy and he looked like he hadn't shaved in a week or two. But his laughter was pleasant, and his arm muscles were displayed in an interesting fashion as he drank.

I nearly choked on my wine when the ranger in question rose and made as to walk towards me. His dark eyes were gleaming strangely and for a moment I wished I had never looked at him. But it turned out that he was merely looking to fill his cup, and as he returned to his place I had a good view of his backside. He had strong legs, too, and his boots made a heavy, manly noise against the flagstone floor as he went.

Such a man would be rough in bed, I decided. If he could, he would carry me off to his lair, and there he would ravish me without even removing his tight leather pants, and he would keep me there and have his uncivilised way with me again and again in the most delicious manner...

'No rangers.' The voice inside my head was firm, but not angry. I turned to look at Thranduil, but he was too preoccupied with his fellow elf-lords to notice. I continued to let my mind wander, and pondered how that man's unshaved chin would feel against some sensitive part of me, such as my inner thigh. Would it tickle pleasantly? Or feel coarse and leave pink stripes in its wake?

'NO rangers!' This time I jumped from the sharpness of the remark and I jerked my head towards the king. Why was he suddenly angry? So far he had been perfectly happy to have me occupied with various males, and most of the time he had actually been the one to initiate the affair. For his royal viewing pleasures, or whatever excuse he made up when it suited him. And it was not as if I had decided to run off with the man. He probably had fleas, after all.

At that very moment, Thaladir approached the table where I was sitting, and I was sure the king had sent him to further keep my thoughts at bay. I became even more annoyed with him, and smiled prettily at the group of men in the corner. A few of them nodded back, but mostly they appeared surprised.

Then my view was restricted by the seneschal, but, instead of berating me for unseemly thoughts, he bowed slightly and said that he had the honour to introduce me to an elf who would much like to make my acquaintance.

When he stepped aside to reveal this elf, I at first felt blinded, as if someone had just struck fire to ten fresh torches. It lasted only for a moment, and then I realized that the light, that appeared a lot dimmer once my eyes got used to it, came from the elf himself. He was as blond as the king, only with a warmer, more golden tint to it, but the soft glow emanated from all of him. I had never seen someone so handsome.

"At last our paths meet, fair lady," he said, lifting my hand to kiss it. "Mary tried to convince me over and again that you were not an elf, but now that I see you I know that she lied."


~ Mary ~

We all ended up in the Hall of Fire, one of my favorite places in Rivendell, and there was Glorfindel off in a corner and a couple dozen other elves that I had never seen before, but was looking forward to meeting.

Thranduil deposited Mal and me on a couch that did not have leaves growing out of it, in front of a table that was not rooted to the floor, before disappearing in the crowd, and the twins came to sit with us. When I asked them to introduce me to some of the handsomer elves in the hall, they grew quiet and looked guilty.

"We have something to tell you," said Elladan, ominously. He took one of my hands into his.

"Why do I not want to hear this?" I asked Elrohir.

"There is not an elf in this hall that will come near you," he replied. "Unless Thranduil tells them first that they can do so safely." Elladan nodded sadly in agreement.

"What do you mean? I was just here a while ago and I got to know a lot of the elves who live here."

"They are even more afraid than the others who were not visiting here at the time," said Elladan.

"But, why...?" And I did not have to continue because I knew exactly why. The sword fight. When the twins tried to stop Thranduil from taking me back to Mirkwood, the big brave sillies. I had been proud of them at the time, and irritated, but I never thought that they were in any danger. Apparently the rest of the elves in the valley thought otherwise. Or they had been led to believe so by someone, most likely by two someones. Identical mouthy someones.

"Great, that is just great," I told them. "And Thranduil is probably going to be locked up for hours in some council room while I sit here and collect cobwebs."

"We can keep you company," explained Elladan, as if I should be happily surprised to hear it. I glared at him. "Or not," he added. Luckily for both of them, the seneschal came to stand near us and I could do no more than make faces at the twins while they scurried away like the little rats they are. I had no doubt that they were happy they had frightened all the other elves in Imladris away from me, but they were going to be disappointed if either of them thought I would turn to them out of some sort of desperation.

I thought about slipping out through an opening in the ever increasing crowd to the library and finding Erestor, who I was certain was not afraid of me, when the seneschal interrupted my schemes by bringing Glorfindel over to where we sat, thereby blocking my planned escape route. I had met him already, but I knew that he was interested in meeting the king's concubine. And she seemed stunned by his interest in her, and his belief that she might be an elf.

Thranduil had disappeared again and I started hating myself for coming to Rivendell while I sat being ignored, as usual, and eclipsed by the perfect lady, Mal. She spoke Sindarin to Glorfindel, of course, which tickled every elf within earshot. I wanted to go back to Mirkwood.

Out of nowhere, the king was there again, and he announced that Thaladir was going to escort me to my guest room, but I was not going. I crossed my arms over my chest.

"Where is your room, Majesty?"

"I doubt that I will be using my bed tonight," said the king, but he did smile.

"So? I should get to stay there tonight anyway if I have to be all alone. It is my turn, sire." If I was going to be by myself then I might as well do it in style, and I figured Thranduil would be given posh accommodations. And there was always a chance that he might show up at some point, if whatever they were going to discuss got taken care of quickly.

The king turned to Thaladir and murmured something to him that I did not catch, and drew me up to my feet to lead me a little distance from the tables.

"You may stay in my bed tonight," he said. "But you do not have to be alone."

"What do you mean? I just learned from the twins that all of the other elves here are scared of me, because of you. And unless they ask you first, they won't come near me."

"One has asked," he said. And he seemed amused about it.

"Who?" I looked around at every elf face in the hall, trying to see if I could tell who it was. None of them seemed interested in us, however, and there were no eager expressions of anticipation on anyone's face. And now I was not so sure that I wanted a stranger in bed with me, even an obviously brave one.

"If you will follow Thaladir quietly," Thranduil answered, "and not give him any more grief..."

"When did I give him grief? When is the last time I gave that elf even the least little amount of grief? I never give him any grief and he always gives me lots of grief and I don't ever hear you telling him to stop."

"If you will follow Thaladir quietly," Thranduil repeated calmly, "then you will learn the identity of your companion for the night."

"Don't I even get fed dinner first?"

"Have you yet to miss a meal since you have come to live with me?"

"Do you always answer a question with a question?"

"No," replied the king with a grin as he gestured his seneschal over to us. "Not always."

To be continued...


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Chapter posted: September 14, 2005

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