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Mirkwood and Beyond

Chapter 29 / 29
Authors: Mary A and Malinornë
Pairings: Mainly Thranduil/OFCs
Warnings: Mild adult sexual situations with nudity.
Disclaimer: Written for fun, not for profit, with characters and setting borrowed from JRR Tolkien.
Chapter summary: Mal and Mary return to Lórien and learn their ultimate fate.

~ Mal ~

It was good to be back in Lórien. This time the eagles had not flown over the whole forest realm to land near the Anduin, but instead let us off at the foot of the Misty Mountains, just where the cliffs ended and the rounded, green hills took over. With mighty cries the great birds took off again immediately, disappearing above the pinnacles of their home. The chosen landing location, however, was not a decision of our carriers.

"The springs of Nimrodel," announced Celeborn as soon as everybody was on the ground, pointing further down towards the valley, where the outline of single mellyrn gradually melted together into a stream of golden foliage. There, between the first few trunks, something glittered that might be water. I could not tell for sure from the distance.

Noticing my difficulty, the noble elf patted my hand reassuringly. "You will see as we move closer." Then he announced to all, lifting his head; "Let us make haste to the stream. My wardens await us there."

Luckily, it took us only about ten minutes to move down the hill and in among the first trees. The terrain was easy to walk in, with low vegetation and no swampy areas, but Mary and I still had trouble keeping up. Elves move fast even when not in a hurry.

There was always the option of being carried, of course, but after hours on eagle-back it felt good to stretch my limbs. It was a more dignified way of entering the golden wood, too, and I tried not to pant loud enough for Thaladir to be worried and begin reciting something about the dangers of neglecting disturbances in the optimal heart rate for mortals and what not he had picked up from Elrond during our visit to Rivendell. The Half-elven lord was calm, but one never knows with the seneschal.

He certainly hadn't been calm last night, and Erestor had shown me more passion than I thought possible before our meeting in the library. I wondered briefly how his sketches had turned out, and if he was carrying them with him now.

"My seneschal keeps his book under close watch." The Elvenking's deep, melodious voice startled me. I had not noticed him moving from his place beside Mary in the front of our party. From the way he looked at me I was certain he had peeked in on our activities, although he had mentioned nothing up till now.

"I shall scrutinize the illuminations," he continued, "and, perhaps, see for myself how well they correspond with reality." At his words, I turned even hotter than I was from the brisk walk. Indeed, if the experience had been so overwhelming with an elf I hardly knew, what would it be like with Thranduil? His smug grin told me that he approved of my reasoning.

And that was when we all suddenly stopped. Here, on even ground, the wall of Rivendell officials in long robes hampered my sight, and it was only with the help of the industrious Elrohir that I could see what happened next. Thaladir frowned as we weaved our way under elbows and around those elves that wouldn't move, but the others seemed hardly to notice. They are probably used to such behaviour after seeing the twins grow up.

There, right beside a small pool from which poured a whispering spring, stood Haldir, speaking to Celeborn with his hand on his heart. I berated myself for not having moved faster, and thus missed the sight of the March Warden appearing, no doubt emerging from among the trees as if he'd stepped right out from the nearest grey tree-trunk. I could not quite catch what he was saying, but his nostrils flared with restrained emotions, and when the two elves clutched each other's arms there was more to the greeting than a soldier receiving his lord.

And then Haldir stepped back and I saw that there were more of the Galadhrim present. All males, it seemed, in grey cloaks and with long bows on their backs. All gorgeous, even if none sported a nose that could rival that of their captain.

Celeborn gestured to the pool at his feet, as if he was going to again proudly speak of the source of the most beloved brook that flowed through his kingdom, but something made him pause, and instead look up into the tree over his head. A pealing laughter joined the merry noise of the water, and suddenly a pair of bare feet emerged from the foliage. Then a head with golden tresses peered down, and in a moment lady Galadriel had jumped down into the arms of her husband.

She kissed him quickly on both cheeks - I could tell he wanted more - and then turned towards the rest of us. "Welcome," she said with warmth in her voice that would have lightened up the greyest of days. It felt as if the greeting came from the forest itself, from the very earth, rather than this tall elf-woman who now appeared more like a little girl than the mighty queen I had seen her as before.

"Welcome, dear guests," she said again, suddenly in a more queenly manner, and all present bowed towards the couple. "And most welcome home, my lord," she told her husband before snuggling up to him and nearly disappearing in his embrace. Thaladir cleared his throat.

"The springs of Nimrodel," he began, considerably louder than necessary, "have long been counted among the most prominent sites of the realm of Lothlórien; undoubtedly so not for their beauty alone, although..."

The seneschal turned out to be quite a talented tour guide, and his recount of the springs not at all as dry as I had feared. When he had finished speaking, one of the elves from Elrond's entourage produced a lute, and two of Haldir's archers lifted their voices in song. Their dialect was difficult to understand, but the tragic tale of the lost lovers was carried through perfectly without hearing all the words.

Galadriel's words broke the solemnity and we again started moving, but at a more reasonable pace. There was no mention of blindfolds or secrecy this time, perhaps a sign that Mary and I as subjects of the united realm of Eryn Lasgalen were no longer counted as strangers. In any case it was nice to be able to see where we were going, and observing the elves was a bonus.

Most of the ones that had come with us from Rivendell were formally dressed, in sweeping long robes that were perfectly fit for the majestic halls of the Last Homely House. They looked a bit funny side by side with the sylvan archers with their short tunics and close-fitting leg wear, so much more fitting for our surroundings. Like a company of peacocks visiting with hawks, perhaps. I soon learnt, however, that they were all unmistakably elven. None were hampered by their garments, and they were equally light-footed and silent as they moved through the forest.

~ Mary ~

No one lives in the past more firmly than an immortal being. In an effort to recreate portions of their personal histories, the three traveling Elflords -- Elrond, Celeborn and Thranduil -- decided to walk into Lórien from just outside the northern borders. All three of them, at one time or another in their linked histories, had come down the Dimrill Stair and crossed the Nimrodel into the Golden Wood.

While Mal stood with Thaladir, I stayed with Thranduil as the numerous eagles landed and departed, after depositing their elf-loads. Celeborn and Elrond joined us and, before we were all gathered and ready to walk into the trees, I was treated to the Elflords' initial reactions to the forested valley and what it was like now compared to when they each had arrived in their separate pasts.

There were landmarks to be pointed out and remarked upon, for having changed a lot, not at all, or maybe only a little bit. Broad paths that had once been narrow trails, stands of trees that had once been seedlings, riverbeds that had carved out deeper beds, massive boulders that had not changed very much, cliffs that had appeared and hills that had been flattened. Every single thing was noteworthy, even if it was present merely in the elves' memory, and no longer existed in actual fact, the way artifacts in a shrine are.

Celeborn had first come here with Galadriel, she bearing the mellyrn seedlings, which she would coax to thrive and grow. Thranduil had come with his father, Oropher, and Elrond had come, later, to ask for Celebrian's hand in marriage. They each had their own reasons for this peculiar pilgrimage but they were all living it together in the past for our benefit.

All of which was very nice for them, I guess, but it meant that I had to walk. On the plus side, Haldir and his brothers were waiting there to join us and I did get to bathe my feet in the Nimrodel, even though at that point we had not walked very far yet. I could have used its magical healing properties a lot more towards the end of the day.

Galadriel joined us, already barefooted, and the pilgrimage aspect changed from a nostalgic journey to that of a Grand Tour. As soon as she smiled at Mal and me, as if we were just two more members of her large, bloodline-tangled family, I no longer felt like baggage. If anything, I felt more this whole walking tour was for us two mortals' sake alone. To introduce us all over again to what was now a part of the new shared realm. We were no longer visitors here, we were at home.

Before we could actually enter the Golden Wood, the elves sang a sad song about the elleth Nimrodel who was utterly lost and the Elflord who loved her. Thranduil translated for me. I did not ask how it could be possible for an elf of any status to get herself lost in Middle-earth, it seemed a disrespectful question, but she sounded more like a runaway bride to me than a tragic figure.

If the king agreed with my unspoken assessment, he made no sign of it. Too late, I realized Celeborn, Galadriel, and Thaladir were all privy to my unspoken thoughts, too, and I burned with embarrassment for thinking such a thing about their beloved legend.

"Your thoughts are safe," whispered the king. "Unless you want them to be overheard, in which case..."

"No, I don't," I whispered back, but I was curious about what I would have to do if I wanted anyone to read my mind. "Not yet," I added.

"There were no mellyrn here the first time I stepped foot over this brook," announced Celeborn, after we had all stripped off our shoes and stockings and, in solemn ceremony, had waded through the swift, icy water to the other side. Thaladir led Mal after I grabbed Thranduil's elbow. I was so sure that unassisted I would have slipped and fallen in, which would surely be some breach of protocol of the most heinous sort. Everything is sacred to the elves, but some things are more sacred than others.

Any sadness from the story of Nimrodel and Amroth faded quickly once we were within the realm of Lórien proper. The instrument bearing elves played traveling music along the way and it was a pleasant journey for many miles. We paused for a midday meal and were met by even more Galadhrim who had prepared a feast for us in advance.

There was a regular army of elves with us when we were ready to move along again after our picnic lunch. We had wine with our meal, and even though I had been sick and tired of walking when we had first paused, afterwards I felt as if I could hike back over the mountains to Rivendell. The musicians and singing elves helped. For a while, I stayed with Thranduil so that he could translate the words for me.

"When you elves make your big announcement at Caras Galadhon," I asked him, "could you at least have a translator for me? So that I can find out if I am agreeing to anything against my better interest this time?"

"That decision is always up to me," he reminded me. "What is or is not in my best interest for you is what will be so, or did you forget?"

"How can I ever forget? If you aren't lifting your royal eyebrow at me then Thaladir is frowning."

"My seneschal has not been frowning at you overly much as of late," remarked the king offhandedly.

As soon as he said it, I realized it. Not that I had been paying much attention throughout the day to the normally grouchy elf, as I had learned to avoid him as much as I could whenever we had to travel anywhere. He was sticking close to Mal and that had been fine with me. But the few times we had been close to each other, he had an almost pleasant look on his face.

In fact, here it was late afternoon and Thaladir had not said one mean thing to me that whole day. Either he was changing his ways or I was learning how to be a proper lady.

"A little of both," said the king. And then he laughed, as if he had told a great joke.

~ Mal ~

The only significant difference between the elves showed later at night, when fish and vegetables roasted over an open fire had been eaten, and tired feet washed in the waters of the stream. To be honest, it was just Mary and I who had the tired feet, but Elladan, Elrohir and a few other younger-looking elves accompanied us. Returning, we arrived in the middle of a discussion on where to best sleep.

"Telain have been prepared for our guests," said Galadriel with a gaze up into the trees. I noticed that Erestor and a few of the others moved uncomfortably at the notion. Elrond was quick to accept, as were his sons, no doubt used to the local customs after having visited their relatives on numerous occasions.

"Do you want to sleep in a tree-house?" I whispered to Mary.

"Only if it is a house," she whispered back. I silently agreed with her. Houses were fine, but rackety little platforms without a rail were not something I was looking forward to experiencing. "Can we stay on the ground?" she asked Thranduil. He did not respond just then, but went away, leaving us with Thaladir and the long-robed citizens of Imladris.

"These parts are safe," said Celeborn, "and my wardens will keep watch. Those more comfortable beneath the trees than up in them may well stay on the ground." I sighed with relief, and soon found myself holding a blanket distributed by the efficient archers.

The king returned and just as efficiently whisked his mortal subjects away from the rest of the group. He had found a perfect place, not too far, but far enough to feel private, if the seneschal would just go away. Two large piece of rock framed a mallorn, so close that they were almost touching the trunk, in such a way that they formed a corner.

Our blankets were laid out there, and Thranduil sat, leaning back against the tree, and pulled Mary and me close, one on each side. He folded the blanket around us, thus effectively protecting us from the somewhat chilly night air, and at the same time making sure that we stayed close. As if he had needed to convince us to stay. I for my part could find no better place to be than snuggled up against the Elvenking with his arm around me.

Oh, I would gladly have accepted more than the few kisses I received, but our lair turned out to not be particularly private. Several elves walked around, alone or in small groups, conversing with each other, and now and then someone would stop by and talk with Thranduil. I decided it would be a long time before all of the elves would rest, and I fell asleep with their low murmur in my ears.

The next day continued much like the previous one, with more walking through the breathtaking landscape, more insights into the early history of the elves populating Lórien, and more adventure. I had not thought that I had it in me to cross the foaming Celebrant on a rope bridge, but having conquered such a challenge made me feel invincible, at least until my feet wanted to give up.

Luckily, we were not far from Caras Galadhon by then, and I felt instantly refreshed as I entered the city. There was some kind of power among these trees, perhaps coming from the fountain in the centre of the glade, which took away most of the weariness I had experienced the last few hours. Not to the point that I would stay up all night, but my earlier wish to go straight to bed was replaced with the idea that I would rather have something to eat, and drink, first.

Tables had been prepared by the fountain, and among the multitude of elves gathered in the glade I saw several well-known faces. Legolas was the biggest surprise.

There were no pre-planned seating arrangements, to Thaladir's obvious distress, and, by the time I had reached the table, the Elvenking and Mary were already far away, on the other side of the fountain. The seneschal looked determined to make room for me by having someone else give up their seat, but I managed, with some effort, to convince him that I was perfectly happy, and safe, at the side of the March Warden. As the evening proceeded, I discovered that there were other benefits, too.

"If I understand the arrangements correctly," the Lórien elf told me when those around us had began to pay more attention to wine and song than to conversation, "you have no obligations to your king this night."

"Isn't he your king, too, now?" I assumed that such a high-ranking elf as Haldir would have heard some of the news even if nothing had been officially declared yet. I was right, and, apparently, he had not yet settled in his new role. The sneer he gave me - which I suppose was actually meant for Thranduil - was formidable.

"I remain in the service of the Lord and Lady only." I nodded. I didn't exactly expect the king to put the Lórien elf in charge of his guard either. Flexibility is not a character treat I have come to associate with elves, other than in the physical sense.

"But you are right," I told him in an attempt to smooth his ruffled feathers, "I am free tonight. Do you have something particular in mind?" I felt a light touch to my elbow, and his fingers idly tracing the skin of my lower arm made me shiver.

"It depends on you," he replied coolly, and took a sip of his drink looking the other way, as if he didn't care a bit about the answer. His hand, though, sank down to rest on my thigh, and I moved a little closer to him. Now that was answer enough, wasn't it?

~ Mary ~

Sleeping outdoors was pleasant even if I had to share the king's sleeping space with Mal. At least we did not have to walk all night or climb up any trees. There was not enough privacy from the other elves for the three of us to do more than smooch a little. Not that I had much energy for more than cuddling and I slept like a dead person.

The next day's journey was as enjoyable as the first, until we reached our first major obstacle.

"I'm not walking over that." We had reached the Celebrant, which had no permanent bridge, and I knew the drill. By then, I was footsore, cranky, and not in the mood for a tightrope. Haldir and his brothers prepared the slender makeshift span with ropes and I sat on the ground. Galadriel crouched down beside me, gracefully, and smiled.

"I will cross first. If you keep your eyes on me while you cross, you will not fall." After she danced over the rope to alight on the other side as gently as if she was a butterfly, she turned around and beckoned me over. There was a rope at elbow height, to cling to, but it did not look very reassuring. I kept my eyes on hers and stepped off the cliff.

It turned out to be easy, after all, even though I felt more like a puppet being pulled over the line against my natural will than a tightrope walker. The twins applauded, impressed. Mal came over by herself, too, and Thaladir actually smiled, briefly, just a flash. It was hard to say if he was proud of her or relieved that she did not fall. It is always hard to tell with him.

But after that, my legs felt lighter and swifter for the rest of the way into the city. More elves joined us before we reached the entry gates and when we were through the last fence, I was inadvertently separated from Thranduil in the crowd there, and ran into Legolas.

Miriel, Ithilwen, Anarion, and a few other Mirkwood elves that I recognized from the caves, were all gathered together with the king's son, and I was instantly homesick.

"Who's watching the throne back home?" I asked Legolas when he bent to embrace me in a brotherly greeting. "I hope you didn't bring Helca here with you."

"She would be bored," he told me, mock-serious, "there is not enough man-flesh here."

"Man-flesh! That reminds me! Guess who I met in Rivendell?" But there was no time for filling the elf prince in on my meeting with Anborn, and my subsequent request of the ranger to run along to Mirkwood and meet me there. What if he got there before I did and Helca sank her claws into him? He did have a beard.

We were being guided, our little Mirkwood reunion party, to follow the other elves deeper into the city until we reached the fountain. Another feast was waiting for us there, in grand tables that circled the ceaselessly cascading white water. The Grand Announcement would not happen until the next day, I learned from one of the twins while everyone milled around and found places to sit, as even more elves were expected to show up tonight.

Thranduil was standing and talking with his son, and some of the other Mirkwood elves who had come to Lórien while we were in Rivendell, but I did not let him out of my sight. Mostly I was concerned with the occasional elleth who walked by the handsome pair and brushed a little too close. As soon as the king headed for the table, I was next to him, and sat with him.

"I hope that sleeping outdoors last night with Mal didn't count for anything," I whispered to him as I slipped my hand under the tablecloth to rest it on his hard thigh. For the last few miles of our long walk, I had kept a picture of the marvelous swinging bed hanging within the royal guest room in my mind, like a carrot on a stick.

His hand covered mine on his leg and he squeezed my fingers, but he made no other reply. For a shaky moment, I wondered if Mal and I were going to be offered up to Celeborn one last time, to seal their contract or something. Not that I had any objections to messing around with the Lórien lord in the future, but I worried more that the situation would mean the king would be up for grabs tonight.

It seemed to me that none of the local ellith could keep their eyes off of Thranduil. The few that had not figured out a way to accidentally on purpose bump into him earlier, while we were all still standing, contented themselves at the dinner with staring at him and smiling. Invitingly. He was sort of their king now, too, I guessed. They were seeing him from a new perspective and it made me uncomfortable to witness.

The only two women who were not undressing Thranduil with their eyes were Mal and Galadriel, who were both more interested in their Lórien dinner partners. It was easy to see that the Lady had missed her Lord and the king's concubine was not observably unhappy with having Haldir to look at while she ate. I was pretty sure Celeborn was not going to be let out of a certain high born elleth's sight for a while and was able to relax a little.

The city's elves showed up afterwards to escort the honored guests to their various telain and a few of them were happily greeting the Rivendell contingent as long lost friends.

"Where am I going to sleep tonight, sire?" I asked Thranduil.

"No swinging beds for you," he answered, but he took my arm into his elbow and led me away from the table.

"Great," I said as I realized he was taking me to my guest talan, but I could not say another word. This must mean I was going to be sleeping alone and my heart sank deeper with each step. We entered the room, and I was thankful that I at least had a place to myself and could cry in private, but the king closed the door behind him and did not leave.

~ Mal ~

"The lady Malinorne is tired," Haldir suddenly announced to nobody in particular. "I will escort her to her guest talan." He moved my chair for me, and as I rose I happened to catch the gaze of Legolas and the twins. The Mirkwood elf winked. I smiled at him. It was good to see him again, even briefly.

I followed Haldir, who had not offered me his elbow the way it would have been done in the halls of Elrond Peredhel or the Elvenking, but kept to his warrior style. We had moved only a few steps away from the fountain when two other elves sidled up to me. Rúmil and Orophin. They had just greeted me when Haldir suddenly stopped and whirled around. He was clearly not amused.

"We decided you might wish some assistance, brother," said Orophin.

"I do not."

"Perhaps we could relieve you of your task, then," suggested Rúmil with an innocent expression, "as the mighty March Warden must have more important matter to see to, than escorting guests." Orophin rolled his eyes and Haldir looked like he was only seconds from exploding.

"It appears we were mistaken," Rúmil quickly added, and the two brothers were gone as soon as they had appeared, but not before they had each stolen a kiss. I couldn't help laughing.

"Would not you kiss me, too?" I asked Haldir. Without a word he took two steps towards me, pressed me to his chest and kissed me roughly. It was quite intoxicating, incomparable to the light pecks the others had given me, which was of course the point.

"Let us find my talan fast," I told him. "I don't want to be delayed."

"Always the impatient." His voice sounded unconcerned, but his gaze was dark with something that promised more kisses, among other things. "I have other plans." He turned away and started walking again, faster this time. I ran after him and caught his arm in a firm grip. I would not let him get away from me!

When we had left the central clearing, he slowed down. "There is a tree," he said.

"A tree? A little love-nest of yours, you mean?" I hoped it at least had proper walls. He shook his head, serious now.

"No. Do you remember the beech-tree by the brook?" If I could forget! Many months had passed since my encounter with Haldir in the depths of the Mirkwood forest, but I don't think I will ever forget how it felt to be joined with him, and the tree, in my mind. Especially as I had been joined with the elf in the flesh at the same time. I nodded.

"There is a mallorn that wants to meet you."

~ Mary ~

"No swinging beds for me tonight, either," Thranduil explained, while swiftly removing my dress and tossing it aside, before I could even gather myself to ask him why he was still there in my room with me. I was so sure that he was going to abandon me, even after I was naked, that I was only convinced that he was going to stay when he locked the door.

"Who needs swinging beds?" I asked, relieved and happy to have him alone and to myself in anyway I could. I gestured around us and added, "Especially when we have all of this." My guest room had been prepared for me, lamps were lit, the covers were turned down, and there was a bowl of fresh fruits, with a jug of wine beside it, on a table.

The king backed me up a few steps, with his hands on my shoulders, and sat me on the tidy bed. I waited there quietly while he pulled off his tunic and boots before standing in front of me, hands on hips, with a lustful glow in his eyes. Glad to be of assistance, I did not wait for him to command me to unlace his pants before I leapt to the task and I quickly had his most worthy scepter in my hands. It sprang happily forth from where it was trapped inside those tight leggings like it was a living thing with a mind of its own.

"Let me help you out with this," I said. "It looks like it could use some polishing, first." I stretched my lips over the wide knob of marble-like flesh with its leaking tip. Thranduil's hands were wrapped in my hair as I greedily suckled his already firm length to make him even harder. He made little noises in his throat that indicated how much he liked my idea. A lot.

"I think it's ready now," I announced finally, keeping my hand on the throbbing member in question while smiling up at my handsome king. The way his eyes glittered with appreciation in the dimly lit room, as he gazed down at me, was more glorious than a night's sky filled with falling stars and one of Gandalf's firework's displays, combined. I was starting to shake a little, I was so ready for him, but it was his move.

"Indeed, more than ready," he said and I was not sure if he was referring to me or him, but his voice was a bit hoarser than before, although steady. "If you will let go, and lie down now, I will remove my leggings and join you." If the thought of having his long, smooth, naked legs next to mine had not overruled my impatience to make use of other important parts of his anatomy, I would have asked him to leave his pants on and jump in.

"I bet you can make this bed swing better than the other one up in that tree," I told him, while he slipped under the covers with me and took me in his arms.

"Let us see what I can do," he said, before he stopped any more talking about it with his lips on mine. He did not disappoint me. The king never disappoints me.

~ Mal ~

The combined experience of Haldir and the mallorn were even more overwhelming than I had imagined, and as I fell into dreamless sleep I could not care less about there being no walls. My lover would keep me safe.

And he did. The next morning he was sitting beside me on the wide branch, dangling his feet and inspecting his bow. "We have been summoned," he told me as he handed me a piece of bread baked with nuts and honey, along with a water skin. "All have," he added. I quickly finished my morning routine and then went back with Haldir to the central clearing. This time with my hand on his elbow.

It seemed like all of Caras Galadhon, along with the visiting elves from Imladris and Mirkwood, were gathered there already. My escort employed a similar, although more sophisticated, tactic to the one Elrohir had used yesterday to find a space from where I could observe everything. He then excused himself, explaining that he had to see to the defences of the city.

Thranduil, together with Celeborn and Elrond, were standing side by side with the great fountain just behind their backs. Galadriel was seated on a chair in front of them, a bowl of water placed before her. If it was not her mirror that had been moved, then it was a vessel very similar to it. I was just going to feast my eyes on the Elvenking, when the Lady suddenly spoke, turning everyone's attention to her.

"The world is changing," she announced in a veiled voice. Her gaze was unfocused, as if she was looking at something far beyond the clearing, or perhaps into herself. "Indeed, it is changing. Long have I felt it, yes, ever since the coming of the Followers into the circles of the world. The wind bears witness, the water, the earth. Yet for a little time we shall remain, remembering our days of glory. Yet for a while shall we wander beneath the trees. And then...

Our days shall pass. We shall hear our calling. That, which must be done, will be done. But until then we shall be brothers and sisters all. Let us live and rejoice, celebrating this day when change has come upon us. Let us conquer!

The uniting of Lothlórien with Greenwood the Great is the first sign." She closed her eyes and when she opened them again it was as if a cloud that had covered the sun had passed.

"But let us not dwell upon the inevitable," she continued, now in her normal voice. "Let us instead hear the agreement that has been reached between the sylvan realms of east and west, of north and south."

Celeborn gently massaged his wife's shoulders and then took a step forward, together with the king.

"I present to you King Thranduil, my brother. Take his advice and heed his command as if they were mine." Haldir was nowhere to be seen, but it was easy to imagine his reaction.

"Likewise," spoke Thranduil, "Lord Celeborn, my brother, will command those previously in my service." I couldn't help it. My dirty mind wandered and for a few sweet moments I imagined providing very intimate services to both of them. I instantly felt guilty when I looked up into Galadriel's eyes. She was smiling enigmatically.

"Please, Elrond," she said, nodding to her son in law. The Lord of Imladris unfolded a long scroll and began to recite its contents.

Eryn Lasgalen was the name of the new, united realm, which would be ruled jointly by Celeborn and Thranduil. It consisted of Lórien, as well as all of the former Mirkwood, including the southern parts where darkness had long prevailed. Only a narrow strip along the western outskirts would be excluded, given to the Beornings to rule over like they pleased as thanks for services in the past and coming times. I did not quite get the last part, but it seemed to have something to do with plans for making southern Mirkwood green and fresh again.

It was all pronounced with a lot more embellishments, of course, and in a formal voice I recognized too well. Thaladir had obviously played a considerable part in penning the agreement. I looked at him, and I think I saw the slightest smidge of pride behind his strict facade.

As soon as Elrond finished speaking silence fell over the glade. But only for a moment, and then the cacophony of hundreds of voices drowned every other sound. For the first time I heard no fountain, no chirping of birds, no golden leaves singing in the breeze. Only elves talking, and all at the same time. I couldn't make out a thing they said, but they looked happy for the most part.

This went on for ten or fifteen minutes, and then Thaladir took a step forward. He cleared his throat, or, tried to, but had no chance of making himself heard above all the others. Thranduil looked annoyed. Then Galadriel rose, and the voices grew quiet. As she sat again, Thaladir cleared his throat once more, very audibly now, and bade all listen to the King of Eryn Lasgalen.

~ Mary ~

I asked Legolas to stay beside me during the announcement and translate for me. We were both directed to stand in front of the large crowd in the clearing, near the trio of Elflords, along with Mal and Thaladir, and it was a heady feeling to be included in the ceremony as an actual participant.

"Does that mean," I asked the prince, after it was explained who was commanding who now, "that Galadriel and Celeborn get to order me around, too?" I did not think it was fair that I might have two more bosses, no matter how gracious and kind they might be, when I was already subject to one of the bossiest elves in Arda and his even bossier seneschal.

"Lady Mary, I do not believe that you will have to spend much time directly under the gracious rule of the Lady Galadriel," answered Legolas, as cryptically as his father would have. "And Lord Celeborn will doubtless remain more in the southern wood than bother with the caves."

As Elrond's reading of the terms of the agreement was droning on, I lost track of the prince's patient translation while I speculated about what he had said about Galadriel and Celeborn. There was something going on, some other part to the overall story that was missing, and it bothered me. For a moment, I thought I knew what it was and I tugged on the prince's sleeve to make him stop translating and bend down closer to me.

"Hey, I met a guy named Anborn while we were visiting Imladris," I hastily reported in a whisper, before Thaladir noticed and made me stop. "You know, Anborn, the ranger from Ithilien? He said that he knows you," As soon as I said it, however, I knew that was not the missing piece of the puzzle. I was glad anyway that I had finally remembered to say something about him.

"Ah, yes, of course, I know Anborn." Legolas looked pleasantly surprised. "Is he still there?"

"No, see…" I began, but was shut down by a well placed throat clearing from the seneschal. He proudly stepped forward to introduce Thranduil and I applauded with the rest of the crowd. "I'll tell you later," I said to Legolas while the king took center stage.

"For an age now," said Thranduil, "I have dwelt contentedly within my halls and rarely traveled farther from the great gates than the edges of the forest. It was no burden to both manage my realm and fight off the unceasing darkness in the southern parts of my woodland, alone."

"Throughout the bitter ages of our long defeat," he continued, "we have accomplished little that will secure a successful future for this world. We have secluded ourselves, wrapped ourselves in past glories, and not interfered with the second born as they struggled in grief to grow into their roles as the rightful inheritors of Middle earth and its various gifts. They, not we, defeated Sauron, but we should not so easily consider that event to be a signal of the ending of our duty here. It is a beginning, the time of Man has come, and the fate of the world depends on how this new age takes its unsteady first steps into the future."

"To that end, I will be traveling forth from the Golden Wood to the south, to meet with the new royals in our old world, with their new crowns and the heavy burdens that naturally come with such ornaments, rather than returning home to the shelter of my caves. My son will take my place on the throne and make the necessary preparations for the unification of our realms."

The most amazing thing about Thranduil's announcement was it did not surprise me. If anything, it finally made the uneasiness I had been feeling all day disappear. Except that it was replaced with complete and utter despair at the notion of possibly being left behind in Lórien.

"We salute your decision, Thranduil," said Galadriel. "And offer to you the services of our most skilled Galadhrim archers to provide an additional escort to your party."

"If you will accept such services, brother," Celeborn's blue eyes seemed to shimmer with mirth, although his face remained serene, when he addressed Thranduil with the new family term. I did not hear the king's answer, because the large gathering of elves began to talk all at once again as they had before. My hand was still resting lightly on Legolas's arm and, when he tried to move away from me, I grabbed onto him more firmly.

"Do you know what is going to happen to Mal and me?"

"I will show you," he answered and he took my hand into his to lead me away from the clearing. When I asked where we were going, he smiled and drew aside the branches of a large bush. There, in another cleared space, was the king's massive carriage, no longer black in color, it had been painted in the royal colors of green and gold. Parked on either side of it were Mal's and my littler carriages, also repainted, and very sporty looking.

"So, I guess this means that we aren't going right back to Mirkwood?" I did not know if I was happy or sad about seeing my carriage again. It had been a hellish wooden cage when we traveled through the spider-infested forest. Now it looked like the answer to a prayer. Mal and I were going south with the king.

"Not Mirkwood," prompted the prince. "Eryn Lasgalen."

"Right, right, Eryn Lasgalen. How could I forget?" I took a deep breath and added, "There is something that I have to tell you about your friend Anborn…"

The end

Ok, it isn't really the end, but Mal and I will be taking a hiatus from our adventures, due to some happy circumstances that have arisen lately. Malinorne, in real life, is expecting her first child on March 24. I hope all of our readers will send good thoughts her way for an easy labor and delivery, and for a healthy baby.

When we are ready to write again, we will begin the third story of our Mirkwood Adventures series: "Far Beyond Mirkwood."

Our thanks and gratitude goes out to all of our loyal readers!

Long live the King!

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Chapter posted: March 9, 2006

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