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Mirkwood and Beyond

Chapter 26 / ?
Authors: Mary A and Malinornë
Pairings: Mainly Thranduil/OFCs
Warnings: Sorry, no nudity! Lots of hot elves but everyone keeps their clothes on in this chapter!
Disclaimer: Written for fun, not for profit, with characters and setting borrowed from JRR Tolkien.
Chapter summary: Elves spend their time keeping Mal in bed and trying to get Mary out of one. An important announcement is made if anyone would pay attention.

~ Mal ~

Lord Celeborn started to say something in response to my comment about his mirror and the quite unforgettable experience I had with him in front of it, but he changed his mind and all I got was a dark gleam in his cerulean eyes. A promise? A wish? Or just fond remembrance of a night of fun that was best if not repeated? If he had planned on letting me know, it was not to happen right then. A knock, no, two knocks, on the door made him take a step back, nod his farewell and leave me. But he had the most curious little smile on his lips.

"Oh, hello granddad," was the first thing I heard Elladan say, even before I saw my next visitors. "We do not intend to disturb," said Elrohir. "So do not leave for our sake," added his brother. The Lórien lord told them it was me they ought not to disturb, and that they should keep their visit short, and behave.

"I'm not tired," I shouted from the bed, "come in, please."

"Not tired? That is good," Elrohir replied. He took a step towards me, but his brother caught his sleeve, stopping him.

"Good?" There was doubt in Elladan's voice. "Then she might be less inclined to invite us to bed," he hissed, less loud now.

"I mean what I said," declared his brother. "If she is tired, she wants to sleep. Alone."

"She has to sleep alone. Ada wrote..."

"I know what he wrote; I was just going through his desk with you, remember?! He also prescribed" - here Elrohir lowered his voice to a whisper - "a double dose." He smiled triumphantly at his brother, who was quick to catch on. "Ah. And then..."

"And then who would be more fit to deliver it than we, dear brother?" Realizing it was time to remind them of my presence I cleared my throat and the identical grins on the twins' faces faded somewhat.

"I am so sorry," said Elladan, hastily approaching the bed, where he took my hand. "We are forgetting our manners." He performed the most eloquent bow, finishing off with a chaste hand kiss. Then Elrohir stood on one knee, his exaggerated expression of guilt and adoration making me laugh. Elladan lightly smacked his head.

"You are easy to forgive," I told them, "but perhaps Lord Elrond thinks otherwise. Do you often pry on his patients?"

"Never," said Elrohir. "Always," said Elladan. I guess the truth lay somewhere in between. Not that it mattered much; the pair was much too cute to be upset with.

"Anyhow," I told them, "as you seem to know as much about my condition as I do myself, you undoubtedly realize that I have to decline your generous offer to 'help' me. Believe me, it was not that much fun after all, and I'd rather not experience it again."

"Ah, but then maybe another time?" Elladan suggested. "We would very much like to..." started Elrohir, but was interrupted by someone opening the door.

"Out," came Thranduil's booming voice. That was all he said, and all he needed to say. The twins scrambled to their feet, and then left the room with a few more elegant bows, not too hurriedly. I got the impression they knew from previous experience for exactly how long they could safely try the king's patience. The rascals!

The king remained standing at the door until Elladan had closed it behind him, and then sat on a chair, which he moved to the side of my bed. His regal bearing made the simple piece of furniture seem like a throne. He put his hand on my thigh, and I trembled. A new wave of desire flowed through my body. I tried to reach out for him, to pull him closer, but of course he caught my wrists with his other hand.

"Eagerness is a commendable treat in a concubine," he said, smirking. "I would, however, be scolded by both my seneschal and the Peredhel if I were to risk your recovery by distributing the cure prematurely." I pouted. It had been so easy to resist the twins, so why did I feel so desperate now? He let go of my wrists, and instead took my chin in his hand. Looking me deep in the eyes, he said cryptically: "All is as it should be."

"But I want you now." He smiled.

"All is as it should be," he repeated, and then added: "You will wait. When the time is appropriate I will show you something. For now, you need to sleep."

That was the end of my brief audience with the Elvenking. The next person I saw was a nurse, the same elf-lady who had brought me water earlier. She was looking out the window, and when I stirred, she turned her gaze to me, then back to the window again. Finally, she shook her head silently and then left the room.

I felt tempted to get out of the bed, to better see whatever it was outside the window that had made her behave like that. She would possibly be back soon, though, so I decided to remain where I was and see if the riddle might perhaps be solved anyway. Were the twins up to something? Spying? Or had she seen another suitor trying to catch my attention? The thought made me pleasantly warm, but I realized that if she wanted to 'guard' me, then she would have stayed in the room.

The answer came soon enough. When she returned, carrying a tray with a bowl of something steaming, bread and a pitcher, she mildly berated me for waking up too soon. Apparently, it was still only afternoon, and I was supposed to sleep at least until dinner. I told her that I felt well, just a little hungry. She contented herself with that, but remained with me the whole time it took me to finish the soup, which was delicious, smelling of herbs and garlic.

Upon leaving, she asked me if I was truly not too tired. After receiving my negative reply, she told me that I had a visitor waiting to see me.

~ Mary ~

After Thranduil and I got out of the bath, I wrapped myself in a massive bath towel and sort of fell onto the bed and that is about as far as I can recall. I barely remember him saying goodbye to me, I felt utterly wrung out after our morning bridging exercises, but I was sad to see him go.

"Rest now," he said and I thought he said something else when he pulled the covers over me but it could have been a sleep spell. Not that I needed one.

The next thing I knew, someone else was talking. I clearly heard an elf's voice say, "She is waking up, brother." The towel, limp, warm, and a bit dampish, was still under the covers with me and I struggled weakly to untangle myself from its clammy grip. "Yes, I believe so," answered another voice. They were sitting on the bed, one on either side of me.

"Who let you in here?" Through slit eyelids I could tell it was barely afternoon, which might as well have been the middle of the night for all the sleep I had. "Why didn't the king's sentries stop you?"

"We live here," said Elrohir. "Why would anyone stop us?"

"And, we brought coffee," said Elladan with a big grin. He held the cup just out of my reach in order to force me to a sitting position to grab it from him.

"How come you two are here in the first place?"

"Would you have rather had Thaladir wake you?" Elrohir thought he had scored big points with that remark, judging from the self-satisfied smirk on his handsome face, which made it fun to disappoint him.

"I wouldn't have minded that so much." I smiled into my cup and imagined the tall elf standing there beside the bed, jiggling my shoulder. Would he ever want to get under the covers with me again? Only time would answer that question. I had not seen him since our night together in order to tell if he was going to be nicer to me now because of it.

"He is probably still standing just outside the door, frowning," Elladan told me. "I could fetch him." Suddenly I was not so sure that I wanted to see Thaladir right now.

If the king's seneschal wanted me to wake up, then it was probably for an important reason. He would never seek out fun in the middle of the day. That added to the twins surprisingly reserved behavior -- they had neither tried to cuddle, nor called me 'darling' -- meant that there was something more serious happening. I immediately thought of the Ithilien Ranger.

"What's going on?" I asked. "Am I in trouble? Is this about Anborn?" Those questions raised two sets of eyebrows so high that I knew I had not only completely missed the mark but probably revealed more than I should have. "You both look just like your father when you do that," I said while pointing to their foreheads, to buy time. "And forget I said anything else you thought you heard me say."

"Why would you think that you are in some sort of trouble?" asked Elladan.

"And what of Anborn?" added his brother. And they did a good job of pretending ignorance, or they really did not know what had taken place with me and their ranger friend. In which case honesty was the best policy, a little honesty anyway.

"I sort of lied to him last night, in the Great Hall, and I am sure that I was overheard and reported." Then I went on to explain about Princess Fang and the wolf language demonstration offer.

"Lord Thaladir is waiting outside the door to escort you down to the Great Hall right now," said Elrohir, confused.

"Or, as he put it, 'the instant that she is reasonably presentable'," Elladan added, imitating the seneschal down to his last frown line, before he leapt from the bed and began to rummage through my clothes' satchel.

"He said nothing to us about a Princess Fang," his brother told me before joining him to choose a pretty frock for me to wear and they both came back to sit on the bed. "Your presence is requested for an official announcement about the final decisions of the council."

"My presence?" I stayed right where I was, damp towel and all. "What for?"

"You are to represent the mortal subjects of Thranduil's realm, and you had better hurry." But despite Elrohir's urgent tone, or maybe because of it, I resisted the idea of leaving Thranduil's chambers. It was my night with the king and I did not see any good reason why I should get out of his bed. And I did not want to take any chances of running into Anborn again, or at least not yet.

"What about Mal? Why can't she represent both of us? At least she speaks the language and I know Thaladir would rather see her standing with his precious king."

"The Lady Malinorne is indisposed at present," Elladan said a bit more jauntily than the situation should have called for. "She has been prescribed strict bed rest until tomorrow." His brother nodded in agreement and sighed dreamily.

"A lovely sight," he sighed again and then stood up to hold the dress he had chosen for me like it was a prize and all I had to do was get out of bed and reach for it. "We can sneak you out the back way and stop to see her first, if you would like…"

"Back way? What back way?"

~ Mal ~

When Glorfindel entered, it was as if an angel had stepped inside the room, for a moment dimming even the sharp afternoon sun with his radiance. He did not physically glow, of course, that I had realized when I got to know him, but somehow he affected me on a level that made my inner sight perceive him as creature of light.

"My lady!" he exclaimed, sinking to one knee on the floor and putting his right hand over his heart. "Forgive me for approaching you, for it is I who have caused you this ill in the house of Elrond!"

His theatrical words and gestures were contrasted by the seriousness in his eyes, but he still reminded me too much of Elladan and Elrohir for me not to smile at the sight of him. Perhaps that was where they had learnt the more gallant side of their behaviour. The shining knight at my side seemed to misinterpret my smile, or at least he did not want to be forgiven so easily.

"Nay!" he said, "indulge me not with your smile. I have yet to earn your confidence, if that is feasible at all."

"Why wouldn't it be?" I asked him, puzzled. "It was Celeborn who suggested I use that soap, and he has apologized already."

"The blame is mine," protested the golden-haired elf, now in almost a whisper. "I saw you gaze at the ill-fated bottle the previous day, and neglected to warn you. And thus I brought about your ruin!"

Now he was exaggerating, really. 'Ruin' was not what I would call being pampered by elves, although not all of the experience had been pleasant. But not even being cruelly ripped from my embrace with the Lórien lord, nor being denied the slightest touch by Thaladir could exactly be called great suffering, no matter how much it had felt like that at the time.

"Please," I told him, raising my hand in what I hoped was a calming gesture. "I am fine." He clutched my hand between his and then kissed it fervently. It was a pity to ask him to stop, but I would rather he regain his dignity as soon as possible.

"Why don't you sit down," I said when I had managed to take my fingers back. "Perhaps you could tell me a story? I'd love to hear something from your past, something heroic."

"You would, my lady?" I nodded, and smiled at him again. This time he smiled back. He sat on the chair, took my hand between his for the second time, but not in a desperate way, looked out the window and began his tale of Gondolin, the hidden city of his youth.

Fair she was, he told me, even in last years before her doom. Her girdle of sharp mountain peaks provided shelter, not a prison, and life was merry among the fountains and the flowers. To me, it sounded almost like I imagined Valinor, especially when he described the trees of silver and gold that the city's ruler made to stand outside his tower.

I couldn't get enough of it, and hoped Glorfindel would stop while all was still well. But I didn't ask him to, and of course he eventually arrived at the dark part, where friends were lost and houses burnt. He didn't say much of his own part, but rather concentrated on the heroic battle between another elf and a balrog of Morgoth. His vivid way of describing the details were too much for my comfort, but still I did not stop him. I listened in terror and clung to him as best I could without leaving the bed. Engulfed by the tale, he didn't seem to notice.

"... and thus was slain the mighty Lord of Balrogs," came a voice from the door, joining that of Glorfindel, "but joy was scarce, for the city of singing rock had fallen, and in that battle he brought down with him Ecthelion, bravest son of the Fountain."

Lord Elrond - it was he who had entered the room - put a hand on the blond elf's shoulder and looked at him with such love and compassion that it made me all warm inside. I understood that he had heard the same tale many times and knew exactly what feelings of melancholy it invoked in the story-teller.

"You did all you could, my friend," he told Glorfindel. "And you continue to do so by commemorating that which is no more. The time when you shall meet again draws close."

"Thank you," replied Glorfindel. "Perhaps it was not the best of tales for a convalescent, but, as always, I found it difficult to stop myself until it was told to the end." He shrugged and then smiled apologetically. "I believe I should take my leave now."

"Not at all," I said in reply to his first statement. "It helped me take my thoughts off minor worries, and, nothing compares to hearing about something from someone who was actually there. Even if it is still beyond my grasp..."

"As it was to me when first we met," said Elrond, again turning his gaze to the blond elf. "But now I would like a word in private with my patient." I thanked Glorfindel again for keeping me company and then prepared to hear the worst from Elrond. At the very least, I expected him to offer me some bad-smelling concoction. He chuckled.

"No. The after-effects will pass by themselves and time is enough to heal them. Judging from your behaviour with the most sought-after elf-lord of my realm, your condition has improved considerably already. Tell me, in all confidence, of course, did his presence evoke any physical response? A quickening of pulse, perhaps? A tingling sensation in certain areas of the body?"

I considered his words and then, truthfully, answered that no, I had felt nothing like that. Only with Thranduil it had been difficult to control myself.

"That is well, then. You may still receive visitors, if you like, but as soon as darkness falls you need to rest. Guards will be posted outside your door shortly." I looked at him questioningly. "In your best interest," he clarified. "Although you experience no difficulties at present, you may discover later tonight that some of the excitement returns. I trust you to be able to resist any urges you may have in regard to other males, but I do believe you would be powerless should Thranduil appear." I nodded.

"That particular weakness is nothing to be ashamed of," he added, leaving, "but rather to be commended for. He is lucky to have attracted such devotion."

~ Mary ~

Mal looked fine to me, better than fine, actually. She looked healthier than a horse, with a rosy glow about her and a twinkle in her eyes, when she smiled at the twins, that I do not believe I had ever seen before. She was lying in a bed so that much was true, but I could not see why, and I felt like I should have been in there with her, or perhaps instead of her.

The 'back way' to the lower floors from the tower room had turned out to be a knotted rope through a trap door, some ancient defense mechanism I supposed, and I had barely caught my breath after the terrifying descent before the twins had whisked me through the healing ward to what they told me was the king's concubine's private room. They held me back in an alcove first and I could hear her door open, shut, and then the soft swishing sound of elf robes. Someone had just left her room.

"We promised Lady Mary a peek at you," explained Elladan after we burst through the door following a short knock. He stood nearest to the bed and I swear I saw Mal wink at him while she tugged at the hem of his tunic to move him out of my view.

"And now we must be leaving," Elrohir said as he turned me back toward the door and pulled his brother away from the bedside.

"Where are you going?" I heard Mal ask, with a plaintive note in her voice, but she was not talking to me. I answered anyway, shouting to her over my shoulder while the twins hustled me away, one at each elbow.

"I'm not sure, but I'll tell you all about it later!" I could only hope that she heard me before the door was closed behind us by a frowning elleth that had apparently come in behind us, silently. The twins took me down poorly lit corridors and in and out of hidden doors through various rooms and smaller halls.

"What is wrong with Mal?" I asked my quick-stepping escorts as they trotted me toward the Great Hall. "She didn't look sick to me."

"An allergic reaction," replied Elladan, smiling at his brother over my head.

"To soap," added Elrohir with a chuckle. They both seemed delighted about it.

"I didn't think elf soap could make anybody sick." That comment made them laugh.

"Then it all depends on what you mean by sick," replied Elladan. He said nothing further, however, because we had not only reached the entrance to the Great hall but had practically run right into Thaladir's back, who stood waiting there facing in the other direction. They pulled me up short just in time.

"Hello, Your Excellency," I said, panting a little, actually happy to see him standing there as still as stone after being run like a race horse through the corridors of the last Homely House by the twins. The seneschal was dressed in his fancy long tunic, with the sash, and he offered me his arm with a slight bow. "You look nice," I added, meaning it, as he led me through the entrance, but then I saw Thranduil and stopped breathing altogether.

His Majesty was dressed in his formal tunic, too, a long deep-green kingly garment that he only wore for fancy occasions, and with black leggings and boots. When we flew to Rivendell by eagle-back, he had removed his leaf-crown and let it soar off into the sky. Now he had his mithril circlet on, which I had come to think of as his traveling crown, and it's sparkling glints atop his shimmering mane of golden hair set off the simple lines of his velvety suit to perfection. At his hip he wore his sword.

Thaladir handed me over to the king, who stepped forward to take my arm, and I clung to him during the rest of the announcement, and the subsequent toasting with many goblets of wine, and did not hear much of anything that anyone had to say. This did not make Mal happy later when I reported back to her on the event.

"You know how much those elves love to talk, Mal, and Thranduil was wearing his nicest tunic, the dark dark green one. How could I pay attention to anything when he does that?"

"But if you were standing right next to him then you must have heard something."

"You should have seen his hair, Mal, in the firelight." I was lying on my back next to her on the bed, after kicking off my shoes, and much to the distress of the frowning elleth who had closed the door in my face earlier. "Oh, they said a bunch of stuff in Sindarin, to the assembled elves and rangers, no one thought about me, I guess."

"Didn't you ask?"

"Ask what?" The elf nurse was too polite to say anything to me when she came in and saw me next to Mal and I ignored her cold glances as she moved silently around the room, or pretended I did not see her flash them at me.

"Weren't you curious as to what they have been talking about after all these days of secret meetings?" Mal's voice sounded strained and I could tell she was starting to get frustrated with me but I could not help it. I thought telling her how nice Thranduil and the other elves appeared was enough of a report for anyone in her position. What else did she need to know?

"You know very well that Thaladir will have the whole story for you," I said, "with lots of added dates and pertinent facts, and historical precedents; if you just make the mistake of asking him." I turned over in the bed and looked at her. "I am surprised he isn't standing guard at the door, or at your bedside here."

"I wish," she whispered, suddenly distracted by her own thoughts.

~ Mal ~

"A-hem." The familiar throat-clearing immediately wakened me from the half-slumber I had fallen into from pure boredom. There were no books in the room, and nothing to do except sleep or stare out the window. The breathtaking view lost quite a bit of its enchantment after the first half-hour or so. Thaladir was a much appreciated distraction.

"According to Lord Elrond's assessment, the critical stage of your affliction has passed, my lady," he said with his usual neutral voice that betrayed nothing of his feelings at such information. "Undoubtedly, however," he continued, "it is deemed wise to ensure oneself by personally performing an ocular inspection of the subject in question."

Noticing something moving in the shadows in a corner, I took a closer look, leaning slightly to see around the seneschal's tall form. I was surprised, but not unpleasantly so, to notice Erestor. The dark elf nodded once more, apparently to me this time, and then turned, seemingly to melt back into the shadows. I found this behaviour odd, but decided that he was just trying to be discreet. I wouldn't have minded one of those library cookies, though, or a kiss. The thought shocked me, and I quickly turned my attention back to Thaladir.

As I lay back against the cushions, the tall elf reached out a hand to feel my forehead. I couldn't help teasing him a little, and let out a small moan as his cold fingers touched me. Immediately he pulled his hand back, as if burnt, and he even backed off from the bed.

"The esteemed healer seems to have committed a mistake," he said to nobody in particular while eyeing me suspiciously. "Yes," I whispered, fluttering my eyelashes, "will you not make yourself comfortable?"

"Certainly not!" he said with slightly more force than he used to. It made me laugh, of course, and ruined the joke. If Thaladir had not known my thoughts before, he certainly did now, and that realization made him scrunch up his mouth in that sour lemon expression I find adorable.

"Forgive me," I said. "I'm fine, really, and perhaps just a little under the influence of Elrohir and Elladan, who visited earlier." That seemed to satisfy him, at least somewhat.

"The young lords at times provide a most unsuitable company," he agreed. "I believe, however, that I should content myself with this brief visit, and leave a closer examination to Lord Elrond. It is indeed regrettable that you are indisposed, as I have reason to believe that you would find tonight's announcement of certain interest."

"What announcement? Please tell me!"

"The rulers of the three realms will disclose the result of the negotiations engaged in the passed days. Alas, I am in no position to prematurely inform you further. Perchance the lady Mary will assist in this matter." I groaned inwardly, as discreetly as I could, in case he was still listening to my thoughts. The announcement was probably to be made in Sindarin, and even if she managed to catch the gist of it, I did not trust her to be interested enough to remember the details.

Thaladir and Erestor had not been gone long before Mary arrived, with the twins in tow, but there was no time to talk with her about anything, not even ask if she would actually be present during the upcoming announcement. Elladan obscured her from my view, and before I could convince him to move, the three of them were gone, perhaps deterred by the frowning nurse-lady who arrived with my dinner (more soup). From the looks of her, I swear she noticed me winking at the twins.

The rest of evening turned out much as I expected. Mary had been in the Great Hall most of the time, but had eyes and ears only for our king. I know what a breathtaking image he makes in full regalia, but had hoped she'd still keep some of her wits about her. For a while we lay on the bed talking about how fantastic he his, and nibbling on the delicious cookies she brought me from the party, but after a while I became frustrated.

The hovering nurse didn't make things better, and I was almost happy when Mary left. She was right; I would have received so much more information from Thaladir. And perhaps something else, too...

I began to think about him, imaging the ways he would caress me while he told me everything about the council in his monotone voice. Those long fingers of his would find their way everywhere they wanted to go, and I would be happy to let him, so happy. And then he would undress, or maybe not - I had trouble deciding in which direction to continue the fantasy - but if he did leave his clothes on, it would certainly not hinder him in fulfilling my naughtiest desires. I sighed.

It was not very likely that he would come into my room anytime soon. He was probably drinking wine with the king, and both of them were much too dutiful to even think of putting my recovery at risk. Besides, Thranduil would spend the night with Mary, of that I was so sure I didn't even want to include him in my fantasies. I tossed and turned, feeling increasingly hot, and eventually came to think of my door guards. Elrond had said they would be there, wouldn't he? So maybe I could lure one of them, or both, to my bed? It would at least be worth a try.

But the door was locked! No matter how I pleaded, there was no response from outside. I do think someone was there, because I could hear a faint rustle of clothes, or perhaps, weapons, as they shifted, but otherwise all was silent. I was not at all happy with Elrond, and when I went back to bed to dream on about all the irresistibly sexy elves I had met, or had yet to meet, I specifically excluded him. Ha!

~ Mary ~

I did not feel too sorry for Mal having to stay behind in the healing wards. When I was leaving her room I saw that some gorgeous elven guards had been positioned at either side of her door. There was a moment when I stopped to think about it. Who were they guarding her against? There were no elves in Imladris brave enough to take advantage of a bed-ridden subject of the Mirkwood realm.

It had to have been Thaladir's idea. Now that evening had fallen, and shadows began to overtake the corners of the Last Homely House, he had probably wanted to take some extra precautions to protect the king's concubine from any romantically-inclined well-wishers. Either that or the frowning elf-nurse put them there to keep me from coming back. Maybe I should introduce her to the seneschal.

There was only one thing that I really wanted to know, now that the council was over with, and I set off from Mal's room determined to find out. The most likely place to start was with an elf who would answer questions.

Before I had left the Great Hall, kitchen elves bearing platters of festive foods had come in and loaded up one of the few long tables. Everyone had crowded around to chat about the announcement, drink more wine, and feast on the offered dainties, and I was fearful of being pressed up against Anborn by accident.

The love-struck ranger was there, somewhere, but mostly as a shadowy presence in the background with all of the other participants while the king was nearby. I could feel Anborn more than see him. Since I had planned to spend the day in the royal guest chambers I was not prepared to confront him or answer any questions. Music began to play, which made everyone even jollier. If dancing started, then who knew what would happen?

"I feel sorry for Mal having to miss this party," I had told the king before I had left him there. "Can I run and take her some of these little cakes if Lord Elrond says its okay for her to have them?"

After visiting her, however, I decided not to go back to the Great Hall right away. Instead I headed for the library. There were a couple of elves who had not been around for the announcement and I knew that at least one of them was probably easy to find. Erestor.

As I had suspected, he was reading quietly in his private study in the back of the library, where I had been escorted by one of the elves. His door was open and I stood and watched him sipping his tea for a moment before entering.

"Lady Mary," he said as he stood to greet me, "What a pleasant surprise to see you again, how are you faring?"

"I'm faring fine, Master Erestor." I let him direct me to sit on the small couch in front of his desk where he sat beside me. "Why didn't you come to the big party?"

It is always fun to ask an elf a direct question and watch them slither out of it. Erestor took a few moments to rise, return to his desk, retrieve his teacup, stare into it, cross to the door to motion at someone else outside, before coming back to sit next to me. Just when I thought he was about to finally answer, an elleth with a fresh pot of tea, and a spare cup, hurried into the room.

It was only after we had both been served fresh tea, and offered sugar or cream, which the elleth had not brought with her, possibly another stalling tactic so I declined, that Erestor pretended he had not heard me.

"And how did you say you were faring?" he asked. Since I figured repeating the question would prompt him to realize that neither of us had any cookies to nibble on; I decided to skip it.

"Can you at least tell me if you know if there is any good reason why the king and Mal and me can't fly right back to Mirkwood now that their important council is over?" That was all I wanted to know, if we would get to go home, and I figured if Erestor was not being put on the spot for personal information then he might accidentally tell me something. I think I was too eager.

"Lady Mary," he replied quietly, "I am not privy to the travel plans of our guests, would you not be better served making this inquiry of His Majesty?"

"Indeed she would," said a familiar voice from the open door. It was Thranduil. This was so not fair. Erestor had probably sent out an emergency brainwave hotline alert the moment I had walked into his study. I stared at the dark-haired elf and nodded.

"Watch this," I told him and then turned to the king to ask, "Can we go home now?"

"I have something else in mind for us," he answered, his eyes glittering with a familiar heat that turned my insides to jelly. "Right now," he added, after nodding politely to Erestor, and then he turned to leave.

All things considered, for not answering my question at all, that was a great answer. I followed. It was not until the next morning that I remembered I had not even said goodbye to Erestor.

To be continued...

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Chapter posted: January 18, 2006

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