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Mirkwood and beyond

Chapter 4 / ?
Authors: Mary A and Malinornë
Pairings: Mainly Thranduil/OFCs
Warnings: Adult sexual situations/ naughty back rub/exposed bottom flesh
Disclaimer: Just playing with Tolkien characters, for fun, and not profit, do not claim to have created them. Helca and Thaladir, the king' seneschal, are our own creations and we will lend them out if asked for permission in advance.
Chapter summary: Mary is rescued from the dungeons and Mal gets a back rub.
Feedback: Not required but always appreciated! Write to: thaladir@yahoo.com

~ Mary ~

"Why are we using these old wooden bowls for the wine?" I asked. "The Mirkwood elves have graduated to goblets, you know. These bowls are very Third Age."

By this time, I was sitting on Haldir's lap, as a partial payment for my eventual rescue by him from the dungeon cell we were yet lingering in. And I was grateful for his showing up after the twins had lured me down there and shut me up inside. He did save me from having to figure out that the door was unlocked, and I could have let myself out. But where would have been the fun in that?

"Alas, the goblets were too tall and would not fit under the serving tray cover," he explained, "therefore eliminating the element of surprise."

This was much more fun than being rescued, just being alone with him, on his lap, playing with that silky hair, and eating the little cakes that the kitchen elves had prepared for us. I had no complaints except one.

"Wine and wood don't taste good together," I said, referring to the bowls, and made a face to prove it.

"It is an acquired taste," replied the elf as he refilled my bowl. "For myself, I prefer a wineskin." He had already admitted that he and the twins had completely transformed what was reportedly a dismal little cell into the cozy room it was now. An elaborate prank, it seemed, to lure me in.

It was disappointing to find out that I had not discovered a different version of the imprisoned dwarves' story after all. Even though, according to the Galadhrim elf, if the dwarves had anything to complain about, it was their own race's architectural decisions.

"The bearded folk did not take comfort into consideration when they built these dreadful cubicles," he concluded. Typical elf to blame the dwarves for their own discomfort, but he did have a point. After all, they supposedly had been the designers of Thranduil's dungeons. This explained the low ceilings that certainly would not have bothered the original builders as much as they did the tall elves.

"What else do you want for your dungeon rescue reward, Mister Elf?" We were in negotiations.

"I am thinking it over," Haldir replied with a taut little smile, and then he nuzzled my neck with his gallant nose, which made me giggle. It was more of a friendly gesture than a seductive one, sort of for old time's sake.

"What if I don't want to be rescued?" The nuzzling stopped. Haldir straightened up and looked into my eyes as he spoke.

"Do you wish to spend the rest of the night down here, instead?" And just the way he said it indicated that he believed he came with the package.

"No, I mean rescued from Mirkwood," I waved one of my hands around to indicate the entire place. "Isn't that why you got me down here alone? To talk me into going back to my previous life with the twins?"

"Are you truly happy here?" One thing I like about Haldir is that he is not a mind-reading elf. He really did not know if I was happy or not. It was not something that the king ever felt the need to ask me, at least not when we were alone together.

"Oh, you are so sweet." It truly touched me that he seemed to care. "But couldn't Galadriel look in her seeing-eye mirror thingy and tell you if I am or not?"

"You are avoiding the question," he answered calmly.

"Then I have to say that I am probably happier than I should be," I told him. "Considering that I have to share the king with Mal, and I hate sharing anything, with anybody." But my answer did not seem to ease his mind; he looked even more doubtful.

"You say you are happy, yet that was not the picture I saw in the throne room on the day I announced Lord Celeborn's invitation to Thranduil," he said. "I have seen the same look I saw in your eyes that day only once before. It was when I encountered a doe in the forest whose hoof had been caught in a tangle of branches, and she was half mad from trying to release it."

"Oh, in the throne room, well..." I drew a deep breath. Even if he could not read my thoughts, it would have done no good to lie to a guardian of the Golden Wood, whose life work was to detect subterfuge.

But what could I say? That I had been snooping where I should not have been snooping and learned something that I did not really want to know? When Haldir had seen me in the throne room I was still reeling from my discovery. And I would have probably gone anywhere with the March Warden if he had asked me that day. Before I could reply to him now, however, he turned his head toward the cell door.

"Hark!" he whispered. "Someone is approaching." There was a rapping at the door and I knew exactly whose hand it was that knocked in that particular pattern. It was kind of a surprise that Thaladir even knocked in the first place, especially if he suspected unseemly behavior might be taking place. Not surprisingly, he opened the door and came on in anyway, before either Haldir or I could do anything about it.

Okay, I admit I might have overreacted, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. I grabbed the Lorien elf and kissed him. I could tell it took him aback at first, but he did not act offended. When the seneschal cleared his throat, I pretended like I did not hear him for the first few times. Finally I broke away from Haldir.

"That was a partial payment for services rendered," I explained, and then added, "I will be going now. My own tangled pile of branches just showed up."

And I made it a point not to look at Thaladir, or in any way acknowledge his presence, as I left the two elves alone together in the cozy dungeon cell.

~ Mal ~

It was, of course, very nice to be carried in Thranduil's arms, but during all of that long walk down the seemingly endless dwindling stairs that took us back to the main palace level, I could think of little else than his seneschal. The stern elf intruded with his stone face into every thought, and hindered me from fully enjoying the king's scent, or his arms around my body, or his hair that swept over my face like a thousand threads of silk when he had to bow his head to come through a particularly low or narrow passage.

I tried to re-live our lovemaking under the stars, and everything that had led up to it, but sooner or later my mind turned to Thaladir instead. He had been standing near the gates, so there was a possibility that he had not been present the whole time, but only appeared to alert the king when the limit of healthy outdoor time for an unclad mortal had been reached. I was fairly sure now that had been the purpose of the odd experiment the day before, to see how long I could be outside at night without being cold. He could have simply asked, but I bet that wasn't a scientific enough approach to the topic.

Somehow, I just could not get rid of the thought that he had been there from the beginning. Where else had the wine and basket come from, if he hadn't brought them? And wouldn't it be so very typical behaviour for both of the elves if he had been there, watching? It wouldn't be the first time the king invited his seneschal as a silent extra in his night-time activities, for his own pleasure and as a reward to his most faithful subject.

I did not want to ask the king straight out, I was far too sleepy for a discussion and I didn't want to make a fool of myself by talking about it, even if he had already picked my thoughts. Not that his curious squeeze of my thigh helped me come to any conclusion at all. Was it supposed to calm me, or confirm in a suggestive way that my assumptions were correct?

At least I didn't see or hear a trace of the elf as we went, and by the time we arrived at the royal bedchamber I had more or less decided to ignore the whole thing until the morning, and then ask the king, if it still bothered me. It really shouldn't, as it wouldn't exactly had been the first time for Thaladir to see me naked. Snuggling up to the king helped a lot in drifting into sleep in a sated, cosy haze of pleasant feelings.

I woke up with a start, in cold sweat, roused by a nightmare. I tossed and turned, trying to find that calmness again, but it eluded me. In my sleep-muddled mind, the seneschal had undergone a terrible transformation.

He suddenly had big bulging Gollum eyes, shining in the dark, and he was standing among the trees, staring at the king and me. I was on top of the Elvenking, much like it had been before, only this time he was lost in his own greedy desire and oblivious of my plight as the monster seneschal reached out his gnarled hands to touch me, again and again without reaching far enough, but I had woken up the second before he would have taken hold of me. I swallowed hard, with a gulping noise, and nearly jumped when I felt a hand against my cheek.

The fingers were smooth and soothing, and Thranduil's soft whisper in my ear took me fully back to reality. There were no distorted elf-monsters, just a sleepy mortal with confused emotions and a sore back from lying on the hard, uneven ground. But I was happy to see the candles near the door being lit by someone who had just come into the room, and even more, as the seneschal turned, that he was wearing his own grouchy face. His eyes were the usual dark hazel, and even the worry wrinkle in his forehead was in place, if slightly deeper than before. Now I was sure I could sleep well, but the king just had to ruin it, it seems.

"Thank you, Thaladir. My concubine thinks you look like that wretched tree-climber we housed here until the ungrateful creature sneaked off." The seneschal wrinkled his nose at the unpleasant, and probably bad-smelling, memory.

"Sire, undoubtedly you did not call solely to impart me with this fascinating piece of information?" He looked even less amused than usual, and I suddenly felt very guilty. Whether he had spied on me or not earlier this night, he didn't deserve being likened to Gollum, not even in a silly nightmare.

"Ah, no," the king replied. "But it appears your thorough preparations did not take into account the need for a softer mattress than one of our kind would favour. Eru's second children are less intimate with the earth than we are, and so their bodies apparently do not well adjust to prolonged resting on the ground."

"Sire, I have failed you. Allow me to withdraw immediately to ponder my shortcomings."

"No, my friend. Your assistance is of the greatest value to me, and I would have you direct your attentions to regaining my concubine's trust, and at the same time easing her physical discomfort." The seneschal nodded.

"How may I serve you?"

In reply, the king nudged me to lie on my belly, still mostly covered by the sheet, and then he pressed his hand against my neck. I felt a slight pain at first when he did that, but gradually my sore muscles relaxed and the discomfort was replaced by a warm, wonderful feeling. I wished he would continue, but if he had decided Thaladir would be a good replacement, there was no reason to doubt it. I already knew this tall elf was skilled with his hands.

The seneschal started by uncovering me. I felt the material being lifted from my back, and from the soft rustling sound I understood it was neatly folded back and gathered on top of my bottom. He ran both hands over my back and in long even motions, and then proceeded to knead my shoulders gently. He lifted my hair to the side, baring my neck. I felt a sudden wetness there, and a nip. The king, undoubtedly, and his wolfish grin confirmed it. Thaladir made a small sound of disapproval, but said nothing. He rubbed gently over the spot.

Then he placed a finger on either side of my spine and applied pressure to the top vertebra in a circling motion. One by one he moved down and when he reached the small of my back I grunted and groaned. So good, despite the slight pain. He followed with massaging my shoulders again, and then turned his attention lower.

I tensed up a little in anticipation when the whole sheet was suddenly yanked off, and I didn't have to open my eyes to realise it was the king's doing. This time his expression was triumphant, and I wondered what Thaladir would do. The seneschal continued his kneading, now of my buttocks, seemingly without any display of emotion, except for a light smack, applied quickly, and immediately followed by gentle rubbing.

It was exquisite treatment, and I gradually felt the cosy, sleepy feeling return, only now it was mingled with something else. Arousal. And the king knew it. The seneschal must have known too, but did nothing to acknowledge it. If anything, he specifically avoided certain areas, even when I parted my legs just a little more than was necessary to allow him to rub my thighs. Gradually, I became sure I would die if he didn't touch me where I wanted, and soon.

Instead, Thranduil thanked him and he left the room. I looked at the king, who smiled back teasingly, and then put a hand on the small of my back, making me gasp.

"So, you want my hands?"

I groaned, in what I hope would be understood as affirmation. I didn't care what he'd use, as long as he would do it. I wriggled my bottom impatiently, and he chuckled, which made me want to smack him, only I wanted him too much to even try.

"I believe I can do better than that."

Smoothly, he moved behind me and parted my knees enough to make room for him. I eagerly lifted my hips and was rewarded with the slightest touch of a fingertip against my burning flesh. I resisted the urge to crush his hand beneath me, and held my breath as he caressed my most sensitive parts.

"Breathe, Mal," he whispered, leaning over close to my ear, and the tenderness in his voice made me smile.

Then his hand was in my hair instead, holding part of it in a ponytail in a tight grip, and his manhood was pushing inside me. He held me steadily in place as he pleasured both of us with long, well-directed strokes that wiped the smile off my face and replaced it with mindless moaning. I was glad to know for sure that we were alone.

~ Mary ~

After I had returned to my chambers and got in bed, I tried to think about Haldir. I was sure he would be asking me more questions if he could catch me alone again, but I could not concentrate on what I should do to fend him off. Instead I kept thinking about that old grouch Thaladir, and his unexpected apology the day before.

Plus his attempt to make conversation with me, including his first ever compliment. What was that all about? And why did he show up in the dungeon? Had the king sent him? Maybe one of the door sentries had seen us and ratted? Was I being spied on secretly? Or was it usual for him to inspect the cellars on a nightly basis?

The more I thought about him, the more questions I had and the more confused I felt. One thing became clear. When I ignored him, and stopped trying to pretend to be nice to him, he seemed a lot less detached and actually interested in me. It was only a theory. And I could not figure out why.

Unless... but no, at first I resisted letting my thoughts wander to that night with the blindfold, and the bath, and the rest of it. Of course that meant I could think of nothing else. Eventually, I gave up and let those lusty memories flood back in. That old elf certainly knew his way around a mortal female body.

What if Thaladir wanted to try some of that again? Only without the blindfold this time? I sat straight up in my bed when that idea dawned on me. It made sense. Ever since that night at the inn by the Long Lake, I had really not spent any time alone with the seneschal, either in Dale or here in Mirkwood. Or had I?

Of course I had, the following morning at the Laketown inn, when he had brought me coffee in bed. How could I have forgotten that? I groaned when I recalled how I had declared my underwear had been stolen by the mystery elf, when the truth was I had just not worn any. At the time, I was so sleepy that I had not paid much attention to him, but I think Thaladir was almost nice to me that day.

His entire attitude toward me might have been changed, and I had been oblivious. Maybe he had enjoyed himself even more than I had enjoyed him? And could it be that now he was trying to win my favor? But he did not know how. It served him right.

Finally, I fell into a fitful sleep and dreamt of being lost in the cellars of Mirkwood, while at the same time trying to avoid detection.

Breakfast the next morning was interesting. I kept up my cold shoulder routine with the seneschal, who stood to the side and kept an eye on all of us, but this time I was chattier with the guest elves than I had been previously. It was not hard to be in a better mood because that night it was going to be my turn with the king.

Thranduil had not seen fit to join us, but the mood in his dining room was bright and cheerful even with the gloomy presence of the overseer of all seemly behavior.

Elladan and Elrohir spoke up shyly about exploring around the forest the day before and finding the lady Malinorne in a shady glen. She was involved in a most unusual experiment with Lord Thaladir. They were curious to learn if the scientific findings and conclusions had been beneficial. The methods they described that had been employed by the seneschal involved, among other things, the lifting of her skirt and showing off of her leg.

And the way Mal blushed indicated to me that they were being truthful. She would not confirm or deny their tale, but she did not seem too upset with the handsome Imladris elves for telling it. I turned to Haldir and pouted.

"So, you pawed the king's concubine's leg yesterday and all I got last night was a measly neck nuzzle?"

"Come now, I seem to recall somewhat more than that, m'lady," protested Haldir, but he had a sly little smile on his face when he said it.

"Yes, but that kiss was my idea," I replied. "And I still think I owe you a proper reward, don't you?" The rest of the table had gone completely quiet and I realized that the twins did not know the final outcome of my rescue. And Mal knew nothing about any of it. But she was not my main concern at that moment.

My main concern was standing across the room, pretending he was not listening to what any of us at the table were saying and yet muttering comments when he thought he should alert us to some significant fact or the other.

For instance, when the twins reported on finding him experimenting with Mal the day before, he had felt it important that we know he did not appreciate his important research projects being interfered with by impertinent elves. Although I would have thought something like that went without saying.

The conversation with Haldir about kissing and rewarding prompted the seneschal to natter on for a while about the impropriety of breaking, entering, redecorating, and subsequent lurking within prohibited areas of His Majesty's royal domicile without, at the very least, seeking permission beforehand. I ignored him, but I was glad to know that he was paying attention.

"Perhaps m'lady would enjoy taking a leisurely stroll in the forest with me after breakfast?" asked the March Warden, "And we could continue our negotiations from last night?" For a moment his invitation gave me pause. There was a reason I did not want to be alone with Haldir today, was there not?

However, when Thaladir piped up with the possible dangers to mortal health posed by vigorous exercise following too soon after a meal, I told Haldir we should go horse-back riding instead. And as soon as possible.

"That way," I pointed out to him and therefore to the seneschal who was listening in, "we can let the horses do all of the hazardous exercising while we enjoy each other's company."

In response, Thaladir cleared his throat, but before he could comment I added, "The king said I can go riding in the forest whenever I want to, as long as I have an escort."

~ Mal ~

The king was gone from the bed in the morning, as happens much too often for my taste, but such is the inconvenience of incompatible sleep habits. After all, he had a kingdom to rule, too, unless his absence was due to Mary claiming her right early. Which was only fair.

So, I was awakened by his seneschal, and the sight of his expressionless face recalled to my mind his excellent back-rub services. However, my positive thoughts of him came to an abrupt stop when I noticed what he was carrying. My dress. The one that had been left behind on the hill. My feelings of vulnerability and insecurity at having been watched, or at least quite possibly having been watched, by a hidden, sneaky seneschal came over me again.

"Your dress, my lady." His voice betrayed nothing, if there was anything to betray, and neither did his face.

"Thank you, your Excellency, for bringing it."

And my underwear, I thought, did you keep my silky little pants as a souvenir? Did you see me take them off? Did you like that? Could you see everything in the starlight, how I impaled myself upon the king, or were we only dim shadows feeding your imagination? Surely you must at least have heard my throaty moans?

"Your other, hmm, more intimate garments were not fit for continued wearing. Ithilwen has been instructed to bring a fresh pair shortly."

I contemplated jumping up from the bed stark naked just to see if I could shock him out of that perfect calmness, but he was too quick for me. He left before I had come to a decision, and sweet Ithilwen appeared instead, with a full set of fresh clothes.

She lifted an eyebrow at the sight of a small dirt stain on the dress, but I'm convinced what surprised her was that His Excellency had brought me a garment that needed cleaning, rather than the origin of the dirt itself. And if he, who overlooked nothing, had not noticed that stain, then I must have shaken him after all, at least a little. Ha!

~ Mary ~

It was reassuring to find that Haldir looked just as dramatically heroic on horseback as he does anywhere else. Due to their reclusive nature, and limited territory, the Galadhrim of Lorien rarely had to use anything besides their own feet for transportation and the border guards never used horses. But today he was willing to ride on one, for my sake, and the sake of my mortal health.

"A mounted steed would be impractical along the borders of the Golden Wood," explained the March Warden. "For they cannot climb up into the trees with us and remain long hidden." Luckily, all elves feel comfortable with most animals and Haldir was no exception. On his lent horse he looked as if he had been born to ride.

To satisfy all protocol, I had sought out Thranduil to formally ask him permission to borrow a horse for Haldir so that he could ride with me. The seneschal had followed me into and out of the throne room and the royal bedchamber as I looked for the king. I almost wished that I could have thought of more places to look, it was so funny the way he shadowed me. But we found His Majesty in the corridor leading to the great gate.

"Do not overtire yourself while you enjoy my forest," said Thranduil in reply to my request, with a flicker of promise about his plans for our night in his eyes. It was hard to remember why I wanted to go horseback riding with anyone else as I stood before him. I would much rather have spent time with him, alone, right that minute.

But he was surrounded by other elves, and obviously involved with some sort of kingly business, which meant it would not have done much good to stay inside. Especially with Thaladir following behind and then hovering over me like a mother hen. Even the king shot him a raised eyebrow, although that particular facial gesture could have meant a thousand other things that went over my head.

It was only after Haldir and I had finally escaped the suddenly ever-present seneschal, and had ridden away into the forest, that I finally remembered that I was going to try to avoid him, too, and answering any more of his questions today. Darn it. I braced myself for an interrogation.

However, my handsome Lorien escort did not even mention the night before in the dungeon, even to flirt about rewards for rescue services rendered. Instead, we rode along quietly on a trail that followed along the Forest River for some distance into the wood.

We passed by the inhabited areas of beech and fir trees that grew near the great gates, where the wood-elves lived in telain much like their Lorien kin. The day was sunny and hot, but the cool green shade of the forest canopy protected us while we enjoyed the beauty of Thranduil's wilderness. But Haldir did not ask me anything.

He brought our ambling to a halt when we reached a clearing where there was grass for grazing. We both dismounted and let the horses wander freely while we explored the nearby riverbank. There we found a large, flat rock that made a perfect bench and we removed our boots so we could dangle our feet in the cool water. Finally I could not stand it anymore.

"Remember that doe you told me about last night?" I asked. "The one who had her leg trapped?"

"With the wild panic in her eyes, yes," replied Haldir as he dipped his hand into the river and drank. "I do recall." He offered a palm full of water to me like a cup, and I sipped gratefully.

"What if," I asked, "you learned that the doe had been specifically cautioned not to stick her hoof into that particular pile of branches? What if you were aware that she had been further warned that if she did so, she should not expect any sympathy for her plight?"

"She would have earned my sympathy, nonetheless," he answered kindly. "No matter what foolish decision had led her into that predicament." He used the edge of his sleeve to wipe my chin dry where it had gotten wet from drinking out of his hand.

"But what if you were to find out that the stupid doe had to actually sneak past guards and break into the forest, to even get to the branches?"

"Break into the forest?" Haldir looked puzzled. I could not blame him.

"Never mind," I said. "The difference is this; that doe you found was a beast, and didn't know what she was getting herself into." With his arm around my shoulder, he drew me closer to his side.

"And you did?"

"I was well warned." Which was the truth, but it did not help me with my problem. Haldir took one of my hands into his before he spoke.

"Last night, you referred to Lord Thaladir as your tangle of branches," he reminded me. "Would you care to elaborate on that provoking image?"

And before I knew it, I was telling Haldir everything.

~ Mal ~

After breakfast, I ended up taking the Imladris twins in the king's study. I was surprised to find out that the rambunctious, outdoorsy young elf-lords had an interest in literature, but once I knew that, it only seemed natural that they would enjoy the meagre content of Thranduil's bookshelf. It appeared that some of the boring and, to me, unreadable, tomes on millennia of war and strife were not to be found in Elrond's extensive library.

It was a pity I couldn't say anything about all the books in Thaladir's room, but I wished we could have been there instead. Then I could have looked at something else other than the small poetry book I had read back and forth several times, and would have been less bored while the elves were amusing themselves.

Elladan and Elrohir's eager shouts at having found a particularly blood-drenched description, or shrewd manoeuvre, soon annoyed me, and I wanted to leave. I felt alone. I rose from my seat at the desk and returned the poetry book to its place, and then Elladan suddenly spoke up, raising his head from the book for the first time since he settled down with his brother on the wooden bench opposite from the bookshelf.

"You must be bored with us," he said apologetically. "We are sorry for forgetting our manners," said Elrohir, and came to my side. "Can you forgive us?" asked Elladan, now standing at my other side. They were so comical in their expressions of regret that I had to giggle. Of course I forgave them instantaneously.

"Come sit with us," they both said in unison, which made me giggle again as I sat down, this time between them on the bench. "There must be some knowledge we could share with you, something that you would be interested to know." It was Elrohir speaking, and Elladan added: "Mary was curious about us, for example." "We are quite unique," said Elrohir, and I was beginning to feel like I was trapped in the middle of a tennis match. I had to stop turning my head towards whoever of them was speaking or I would get dizzy.

"I do have a question," I said, looking straight forward, towards the door. "Yes?" said Elrohir. "Tell us," said Elladan. "About elves," I continued, resisting the urge to ask them to be quiet at least until I had finished speaking. "How good is elven eyesight, really? Compared with how well humans can see?"

"Excellent," replied Elladan. "We make perfect archers," said Elrohir. "Half-elves too," added Elladan, squinting and aiming an imaginary bow at the door.

"If there were any windows in here," Elrohir said, both of them immediately wrinkling their noses in an endearing expression of disgust with Mirkwood architecture, "we could see you even if you were standing on the other side of the river." That was far. "Even if you were far away in the forest," Elladan added, "if there was not a forest there, I mean."

That was a relief, at least. That the formidable half-elves couldn't see through trees. "What about at night?" That was the question that really interested me.

Two identical grins gave me a clearer reply than I would have wanted. "We could still see you," said Elladan. "In the moonlight," said Elrohir. "Though only to the other side of the bridge."

Perhaps I was safe then. The moon hadn't shone all the time, and though I had other things than celestial objects to think of that night, thanks to the Elvenking, I was fairly sure it had been just us and the stars in the most heated moments. Clouds are a blessing sometimes.

"But starlight is the best." No, Elladan, I thought, please take that back! He did not. "Though we love the sun and moon," his brother continued, "the stars are closer to us, they are our companions under the sky, ever since the first awakening of the elves under Varda's jewels."

"There is nothing like hunting yrch in starlight," Elladan said in a dreamy voice. "True, brother," exclaimed Elrohir, breaking the solemnity with enthusiastic sword-swinging gestures.

So, that was it. If Thaladir had been up on the hill all night, he had seen everything. Somehow, it felt good to be sure, and the knowledge was a lot less disturbing than I thought last night.

"Are your ears as good as your eyes?" I heard my question from outside, as if it had been somebody else speaking. What did that matter now?

"Aye, to be sure!" came the enthusiastic reply. "Not that it takes much skill to hear a mortal," whispered Elrohir, and his brother reached across my lap to smack him. "Sorry," said both.

We all laughed, and I got an impulse to have a closer look at a peredhel ear. It was silly, but then the twins behaved quite silly and I felt very much at ease with them. Like I had with Legolas.

I had not even voiced my request completely before both twins offered their services. I chose Elladan, because he was to my left, and carefully put his dark hair behind his ear. He had very nice dark hair, exotic in comparison with the less distinct colours of the wood-elves, but his ear looked just like the king's. An elf ear, nothing 'half' there.

Tentatively I ran my finger along the rim, all the way up to the tip, and encouraged by my 'victim's' silence and his brother's expectant interest, I caressed Elladan's ear a little more. It felt soft, smooth and pleasant to the touch. I wondered how my ear would feel to an elf. Funny I never thought of asking the king that.

And then the door opened, and Thaladir entered. Or rather, he stopped at the threshold, with a rare expression of astonishment showing for just a moment, before he arranged his features in clear disapproval. He looked us up and down, and I quickly put my hand back into my lap, as if the ear it had been touching had suddenly turned into a slug.

"My lords, my lady," the seneschal pronounced crisply, "your behaviour by far exceeds the limits of the acceptable. I demand that you cease this instant."

"Unseemliness," acknowledged Elladan immediately. "In a public place," added Elrohir.

"It is not," said I. "Elf ears are not, hmm, excitable parts, so this is perfectly innocent. An honourable experiment even, serving to further extend the scientific knowledge regarding the physique of half-elves." I was very happy with myself and my clever reply.

"Allow me to point out that the level of excitement depends on who is performing the touching," Thaladir retorted sourly, "and the object of your attention is clearly not uninfluenced." I cast a quick glance at Elladan. He was blushing. Uh-oh.

"His Majesty's study," continued the seneschal, gravely and with veneration as if he was talking of a shrine, "is not a proper location for physical examinations of any kind. Be gone."

To be continued...

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Chapter posted: December 14, 2004

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