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Mirkwood and beyond

Chapter 6 / ?
Authors: Mary A and Malinornë
Pairings: Mainly Thranduil/OFCs
Warnings: Adult sexual situations, implied and actual nudity, ear fondling.
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 and Haldir return to the halls, Mal goes swimming, and Thranduil enjoys himself as much as he can.
Feedback: Not required but always appreciated! Write to: thaladir@yahoo.com

~ Mary ~

"I bet we missed lunch," I said to my handsome escort as we walked up the stairs to the cave entrance. Haldir and I had enjoyed the forest with a bit more enthusiasm than I had expected we would, and I had lost track of time. In summer, it was harder to tell when it was getting late but my stomach was pretty sure it was far past the mid-day meal. "It was worth it, though," I added.

"Yes, I would say that it is closer to supper time," said Haldir. He looked proud of himself. And not in the least bit weary. Even though he had done most of the work. All I could think of, besides food, was taking a long hot bath and possibly grabbing a quick nap before dinner. Or maybe I would take a quick bath first, and then a long nap. Or maybe I would just skip the bath and dinner and go right to bed. I wanted to be rested for my night with Thranduil.

The first elf I saw after we entered the gates did not even wait for me to ask him anything before he said, "I am quite sure you will find His Majesty in his study, but as for His Excellency, I am afraid his exact whereabouts are unknown to me." I thanked him anyway, because if Thaladir was not in the study then I was satisfied.

The elves have learned that I have only mastered two questions in their tongue, "Mas aran Thranduil?" [Where is king Thranduil?] and "Mas Thaladir?" [Where is Thaladir?] but I did not always ask in that order. As Haldir escorted me toward the study, we passed by a few more elves who repeated basically the same message before I asked, although some spoke only in Sindarin, about not knowing where the seneschal was at the present time. I almost started to worry about the old grouch.

"Hi, king." The door to the study was part way open, and I had peeked in before entering. Thranduil had a parchment in his hand that he rolled up and held like a scepter as he lifted his eyes to me. He smiled and beckoned me to come in.

"Your Majesty." Haldir had followed in right behind me, and addressed the king with a bow or head nod; it is hard to say what, I only caught a glimpse of motion out of the corner of my eye. Thranduil did not look at him anyway, so it hardly matters. He kept his gaze fixed on me instead as he spoke.

"You are dismissed, March Warden," he said with a wave of his hand. "Close the door behind you."

"Bye, Haldir," I said, but I did not take my eyes from my king's face. As soon as the door shut I went over to the desk and perched on the edge of it, facing him. He leaned back in his chair.

"Now," he asked, "do you feel better after talking over your problems with the tall tree-climber?"

"Don't you like to climb trees sometimes?" It was nice to imagine Thranduil in a beech tree, naked, with me.

"I prefer solid ground," he replied.

"What does Teleri mean?" He lifted an eyebrow at my question. "Never mind," I said, and then added, "You already know how well Haldir stuck up for Thaladir, so you should be happy about that. And I guess I do feel better about my problems. Did you enjoy yourself? Later on, I mean? After the talking part? You know, later?" I could never learn how to lift an eyebrow, but I would have at the end of my question, if I knew how.

"We will go over that later, in detail." The king's smile turned into an ardent leer that I could feel right down to my toes, and a few other places. He was making a promise that I was not sure I wanted to wait for him to keep. For even one more minute. Tired or not.

"Can I have a preview now?" It was worth a shot, he is always worth a shot.

But, behind me I could hear an unusual noise at the study door, a gentle thumping mixed with a slight scratching sound. "What is that?" I asked.

Before Thranduil could answer, I jumped off of the desk to find out. It intrigued me that the origin was nearly at floor level. Was there someone lying on the floor just outside the door, trying to get our attention? It happened again, the same gentle thumping and scratching noise. I looked over at the king, who did not look at all worried, or even interested.

"Can I open it?" I asked. He nodded. I cracked the door open an inch or two, saw who was there and then opened it a few inches more. In walked Helca's kitty.

No longer the tiny bit of fluffy white fur that bounced through the halls like a frantic ball of cotton, she had grown into a beautiful, long-haired cat with startling blue eyes. At that moment, she sat in the middle of the study floor and began washing herself, as if she had come there just to take her bath.

"Uh oh, you know what this means," I said, but before I could finish my sentence, Helca had pushed the door all the way open and then entered the study. She turned to the king after sneering at me.

"You sent for me, Sire?" She is beautiful but her eyes are so cold that I wanted to claw them out of her face for even looking at the king with them. It was hard to understand how she could prefer men to elves. I knew she was loyal to Thranduil, in her own way, but I did not trust her.

"Just watch the hair," I warned her while I took a large step sideways from her. I pouted over at the king. "I guess I will see you later," I said and then asked, "Is it okay with you if I eat something now and skip formal dinner later?" He got up from his chair, still carrying the parchment scroll, and took me out into the corridor.

"Go eat now, bathe, rest," he told me. "We will have the whole of the night together."

"You have to tell Thaladir not to drag me out of bed to eat at a regularly scheduled time then."

"My seneschal will probably not be at dinner, either. You do not need to be concerned with him."

After he kissed me goodbye, I went off to my room, but I was starting to really worry about Thaladir now, and that bothered me.

~ Mal ~

We remained like that for a while, on the bed, with Thaladir stroking my hair until, when I looked up, the doubt was gone from his eyes. He seemed to believe again that I had come to him for more honourable reasons than to lure him into trying to influence the king's decision about the invitation to Lórien. I caught his hand in mine, sat up and kissed it gently.

"Should we perhaps move on to more scientific activities?" I'm sure we both knew by now that the examination of ears was a joke, innocent flirtation without other purpose than allowing the persons involved to explore the other in a non-threatening, and still titillating way.

"Naturally, my lady," answered Thaladir. "However, I do believe that the outcome may be enhanced considerably by your being more suitably clothed than is the case at present." His fingers trailing over my bare shoulder told me that he had nothing at all against me being naked in his bed, but I guess it was his way to indicate that the time for frolicsome play was over, at least for now.

After a final pat on my head, he rose and carefully straightened his clothes. He laced up his pants (what a pity), pulled at the hem of his tunic to make it fall properly all the way from shoulders to thighs, and then went to a chair to retrieve his discarded robe.

I smiled when he suddenly leaned over the desk and touched a finger to the leather desk pad that was the only item that had remained there. I hoped it wasn't ruined, but even if it was, it would have been his own fault. And now he could recall our naughty use of it every time he sat down to write. The thought made me grin, but I hid it as best I could.

It was a perfectly seemly seneschal who went to the door, calmly as if he was on his way to just another serious council with the king. He even made me wonder if he had changed his mind, and would actually leave the room.

But he did not. He just opened the door, cast a quick glance to the side and then bent down to pick up something. I suddenly realized that it had been incredibly stupid of me to leave my cherry robe and shoes in the corridor, and was grateful that the seneschal didn't say anything about that. From the way he examined the garment, he seemed more worried that it might had become wrinkled because of my careless treatment.

Apparently satisfied that it had sustained no serious damage, he held the robe out for me, while he politely turned his head aside. I managed to dress without giggling, which must be considered a feat under the circumstances.

While I fastened the ribbon that held the robe together, Thaladir seated himself at the empty desk. "You may proceed with the proposed activities," he said, and then added, immediately "unless you would prefer to retire, which would be perfectly understandable."

"No, Your Excellency," I replied and stood behind him. "I wouldn't miss this chance for anything in the world." That last thing I whispered into his ear, and the way the tip of it twitched, just a little, when I said that was endearing. He closed his eyes and for a long time nothing more was said. His ears felt soft and velvety under my fingers and it was a pleasure to touch them as gently as possible, and even more so to watch the seneschal's facial expressions. It was obvious that he enjoyed the experience.

Then he suddenly rose from the chair and declared that the experiment, however beneficial, must not intrude upon his duties. He helped me choose a book from his well-stocked shelves and then I was politely, but summarily, shown to the door.

He probably couldn't wait to get me out of the way so he could add one more entry to his book of collected unseemlinesses. He might not describe our amorous encounter, but I was sure that he would get into great detail regarding my walking through the whole palace wearing no underwear. Perhaps he would even dare an illustration, or commission one from the unknown elf who had done a marvellous job with some of more lascivious offences against propriety that had been recorded previously.

~ Mary ~

Later that night, for the first time since I had been given my own room in the palace, Thranduil came to my bed for a change and roused me from my nap. I gradually awoke to his warm hands sliding over and then under my nightshift, stroking me gently, while he kissed my throat and face until I fully responded. He was under the blankets with me, and I could feel his satiny-textured skin as he pressed his legs and chest against me.

"You're already naked," I complained. "Not fair, you know how much I love watching you undress, it's one of my favorite things to do." But I was glad he had not sent anyone else there to wake me up and tell me to dress and then make me to walk all the way to Thranduil's chambers.

"And you are not naked enough," he said as he finished removing my nightshift. "It is a pity the March Warden had such a difficult time bringing you to this most desirable state." Even though the room was dark, I could see his smile, or I could hear it in his voice. "It was a bit precarious there, I believe," he added.

"Stop, please, don't make me laugh," I begged him, but it was too late. I was already lost and snorting into my pillow while I remembered telling Haldir that if he wanted to get into my pants then he had to figure out a way to get me out of them, while I was lying on top of him, up in the tree, on that branch, and I had better not fall during any of it. It was not easy, but he is resourceful, that Lorien elf, and is not intimidated by challenges thrown his way.

At least I had not put my boots back on before we climbed into the friendly beech, which was a blessing. "Was I being overly difficult?" I asked Thranduil.

"I do believe it was well worth his effort, from what I recall." He sat up suddenly, and left the bed. I knew why without having to ask, he wanted more light and warmth, the room was too dark and cold, and it was for my sake, not his. In moments, the fire was rebuilt and glowing brightly, and candles were lit on my bedside table.

It was such a treat to see him moving around my bedchamber without a stitch of clothing on to mar the view that I forgave him for not waking me before he had undressed. The porcelain sheen of his marble-like skin reflected the light of the flames in a most marvelous way. I could hardly wait to touch him and feel him beside me again.

"Are you sure you can stand being in my bed?" I asked him when he returned and yanked all of the covers off of me. "It's a lot softer than solid ground, or even a tree branch."

"I believe that you have something to show me," he replied as he swept his eyes over my body.

"Wait a minute," I sat up. "Weren't you watching us today? I could have sworn you were there."

"Yes, I was a participant of a sort, but I had other things on my mind at the same time, too. I happen to have a kingdom to attend to, in case you had not noticed." He had sat on the edge of my bed while he spoke, not touching me or moving in my direction, as if dangling himself in front of me, probably to get me to be quiet.

"So, we were like, what, background music?" I asked, because I was not ready to be quiet. "We were just one more thing to think about while you were busy with your royal busyness? You can't even take a little break for something like that? Just lock the study door and enjoy yourself uninterrupted for a little while?" And all along I had thought that Haldir and I were a feature attraction, I was nearly insulted.

"You have my undivided attention now," he said firmly as he guided me down until I was on my back again, and then lay on top of me and nudged my legs apart so he could settle himself between them. "And you will give me yours."

That was the truth. He kissed me for a while to make me shut up. When he was finally satisfied that I was willing to be still and focus properly, he cradled my head in one hand, and entered me slowly as he penetrated my mind at the same time with his eyes.

At first, there was only him, his body pressing against my skin, his hardness inside of me, and his hands touching my body, which was more than enough under any circumstance. While he fixed me with his gaze, I felt as if I could dive into his eyes, their glittering depths were that magnetizing. I knew I would drown if I did manage it somehow, and gladly.

Slowly, so slowly that I could not tell when I was feeling only the king and when I also felt something else, I began to feel Haldir again, exactly as if I was back up in the tree with him, and he was making love to me. I could almost feel the breeze and hear the sound of the leaves as they were blown about, it was that clear a memory.

But it was more than a memory with the king. I felt caught in a state of enchantment, as if he had me bound within a spell, and there was Haldir below me, while he was above me, and they were both inside of me, at the same time. I could feel both of them distinct from each other and mixed together. Even when the king kissed me, I could feel Haldir's mouth on mine, too.

There were two sets of hands caressing me too, and touching me with their own individual style and manner, which was confusing to cope with at first. The soothing sensation of the March Warden's cool and gentle fingers combined with the urgent heat from Thranduil's more demanding touch made me feel dizzy at first as I tried to keep track of them separately.

Patiently, the king instructed me to let the two of them blend together, and to stop trying to keep track of who was who. After that, I was engulfed in sensations, and not able to take any more instruction, if I had needed any.

And when I thought I could not possibly take any more pleasure than I was feeling, the king showed me what it felt like for him to be sheathed inside of me, and then the same thing from both of their points of view, so to speak. If I could have uttered a coherent syllable, I might have asked him to stop at that point; it was almost too much to bear. But I managed it, although not quietly.

~ Mal ~

The next morning I woke earlier than usual, and feeling very rested after my long, mostly undisturbed sleep. It's supposed to be cold and boring to sleep alone, and it is, but for me it tends to works better. Not that I'd willingly give up my rightful nights in the royal bedchamber, of course. Sleeping well every other night is sufficient.

I had told Ithilwen the previous night that I wouldn't require her help in the morning, at least not straight away, but I came to regret that decision. I wanted very much to take a bath, rather than just washing my hands and face in a basin. I had found out that just three doors from mine was a small room designed for heating of water.

There were several sources of cold water within the caverns, and a system of sometimes open, sometimes closed, conduits to transport it to different areas, but the only hot spring seemed to be the one where the king's bath chamber was located. In all likelihood, there was one in the kitchen too, at least I hope the elves would be practical enough for that, and I also didn't think the king would put his personal convenience before the good of all inhabitants of his halls.

Elsewhere, water had to be heated, which meant that the corridor where Mary and I had our rooms was equipped with a small chamber that just held a basin, carved into the stone wall, with constantly running water from a river or spring within the mountain, and a fireplace for heating that water. Ever since I discovered this system, I often went there to wash myself, instead of having someone bring water to my room. It was just so much more convenient, and I enjoyed this small opportunity to be independent.

But, this morning I really felt like taking a swim, which was the usual routine when I had stayed the night with Thranduil. However, today was Mary's turn, and I was hesitant to visit the royal bath chamber. I knew the king wouldn't mind additional company, if they were there, but I still didn't want to intrude on their privacy.

The sun peeking in through my stained-glass windows made me think that the river outside might be a valid alternative. I put on some underwear that would have to do instead of a swimming suit, and then the long robe I had worn yesterday. I just hoped I wouldn't meet Thaladir on the way, as he would undoubtedly suspect that I was out on the same kind of mischief as the day before.

Outside, I went to the same spot where I had sat with the twins earlier, just staying on the near side of the river instead of crossing it. There was a special place for swimming further down the stream, but I didn't want to go too far from the gates this first time, and alone. This was a good place too, with clear water and pebbles on the river bottom, and not too close to the water lilies, which I guessed would grow in mud just as where I came from.

Carefully I waded down into the stream, regretting my decision when the water turned out to be relatively chilly, and particularly so when it began to reach my belly. Holding my breath I took a plunge, and when I surfaced it was rather pleasant to swim. Then I heard the sound of hooves coming from the forest road. Quickly, I sank back into the water up to my chin, but when I spotted who the rider was I just had to stand again to see better.

Thranduil was returning from a successful hunt, with the sleek body of a deer cast over his thighs. As he reached the bridge, Amarth, his steed, slowed down from a brisk trot to stately walk, but the power in that great horse was as obvious as if he had been galloping at full speed.

The king acknowledged my presence with a nod, and he looked very much as if he knew something I didn't, and though he smiled, it was a provoking little smile. As if Thaladir had written down everything after all, and the king had read that in their early morning session along with all the other reports on the state of the kingdom. One scroll more or less, what did that matter?

Not that it mattered to me either. I never thought the seneschal would keep secrets from his king, though perhaps some topics ought to be treated with a little more tact. I didn't say that of course. It was rather sensual, in a way, that the king knew, and if anything, he seemed pleased.

"If I hadn't already been fortunate to have a catch this morning," he told me after halting on the middle of the bridge, "I would give this new water-sprite in my river a better welcome."

I stood up and curtseyed in my best nymph manner, and felt very welcome at the sight of the king's grin. The camisole clung to my body and water dripped from everywhere, trickling all over. It also made me feel cold as soon as the monarch took his gaze off me and continued on his way to the halls. With a shiver, I sank back into the water again and instantly felt a little warmer. It was really time to get up, but before that thought had turned into action, two more riders appeared on the forest road.

Elladan and Elrohir looked dashing on their horses, and it was fun to observe how they gestured and chattered to each other all the time. I couldn't hear a word until they reined in their horses and slowed down at the bridge, but by then it was clear that their hunting hadn't been as successful as the king's.

It was something about the great birds nesting, and the squirrels being inedible, and how it wouldn't be right to put down more than one stag in this particular season. There seemed to be some disagreement at whose fault it was that the king had been the one to fire his arrow first, but that stopped as I made some noisy strokes to attract their attention. Elladan looked down into the water with a laugh.

"Muindor [brother], we should have gone fishing instead."

Elrohir grinned his agreement and then licked his fingers purposefully, ignoring Elladan's waving and pointing towards the king. But Thranduil had already dismounted and seemed to be paying no attention to nymphs and peredhil twins at the moment.

~ Mary ~

Hours had passed in the embrace of the king like they were no more than minutes, as usual, but I was limp and unable to fight very hard when Thranduil had risen from bed to dress. Even though I had napped for a long time before he had come to my room, the king's lovemaking had drained me completely, and in the most delicious way. If he had stayed, it would have been past time for me to go to sleep anyway, but it did not make me feel any happier to see him go away.

"But, aren't all the animals still asleep right now?"

"All the more reason to be out in the field and ready for them first," said Thranduil. At least I got to watch him as he dressed, which is something rare for me as I was usually asleep when he rose early. "As you know," he continued, "you are always welcome to join me. I could have a horse made ready for you."

To be fair, Thranduil had warned me that he was going out on a hunt with the twins, which necessitated them riding into the forest before dawn. I shudder at the idea of getting out my bed when it is still dark outside. But the idea of hunting some furry creature with big brown eyes was something I would not ever contemplate, no matter what time it is.

He was sitting on the side of the bed to pull on his boots, but he glanced over at me when he said this. I could never tell if he was sincere with his invitations, he did always tell me that I could come with him, or if he was joking.

"I'd probably fall asleep and then fall off of my horse, thanks to you." I was not complaining. "It's your forest; can't you order everything to sleep in late today?"

"Now that would not be sportsmanlike, would it?" He stood, wide awake, bright-eyed with enthusiasm, and eager to be on his way, I could tell.

The only thing I would have hated more was if we were in his bedchamber and he was leaving me alone. It was nice to be there, but I had no guarantee of privacy if Thranduil was gone and I slept in late. Every day, at some point, a team of elves and ellith would swarm through to tidy up.

While at it, they would put fresh flowers in vases, new candles in candleholders, clean clothes in the king's wardrobe and just make a general nuisance of themselves with their desire to change the linens on the royal bed. Thaladir would almost always have to intervene.

In my own room I had a bit more control over my privacy, and changed my own sheets, but I could not prevent the king from doing whatever he had previously planned to do, ever, in any room. Much less slow him down when he was ready to move.

"It's not fair how you are always wide awake and full of energy afterwards, and I am always so wiped out that I can barely see straight." Even though I would rather he got back into bed with me, I was ready to say goodbye to him while I was still conscious.

"You do that to me, you know," he said while he sat next to me and pulled me up to kiss him farewell, and then left me to think that over. Not for very long as I was too sleepy to do much more than file his cryptic comment, along with many others, for future reference before I drifted off all the way to sleep.

At first, when I was awakened later that day by an excruciatingly familiar voice, I thought it must be a mistake. I was in my own room, was I not?

"My lady..." But that was Thaladir's voice, which meant that it must be his hand on my shoulder, well only the tips of his fingers to be truthful, shaking me awake. He was gentle, true, but he was there. In my room.

"Go. Away," I said as firmly as I could as I turned my back to him and pulled the covers over my head. "Now."

"My lady, His Majesty would be most highly pleased if you would join him and his guests in...."

"Tell him I have a headache or something," I interrupted him. "Now go away." But I was wide awake. "Join him where?"

"In his private dining room, he desires your presence, my lady, and you must make haste," reported the dutiful elf. I could hear the strain in his voice as he tried to be nice to me and follow Thranduil's orders at the same time. "I have brought you coffee," he added.

That remark got me up to a sitting position at least, and this time I remembered to keep myself covered as I took the cup from his hand. Déjà vu flooded my vision, and I was back at the inn by the Long Lake, repeating these same actions. I felt struck by something that I had totally forgotten, until that moment.

The king had borrowed the seneschal's sash to use for my blindfold that infamous night, and I had been so worried that something would happen to it that I had panicked at first when I could not find it the next morning. I was so thankful when Thaladir produced it out of nowhere that I had not even considered how he had guessed what I was looking for.

And as he stood there now waiting for me to rise and join the king in his dining room, I ought to have finished my coffee before I said anything, but nope.

"I should've known it was you," I said. "When you pulled your sash out of your sleeve and I hadn't even told you what I was looking for. Only that I thought the king's friend had stolen something. But I didn't say what it was, did I? I was so stupid."

The look on Thaladir's face as he absorbed what I said to him would have been priceless if I did not at the exact same moment realize what I had just said and therefore admitted to knowing. He definitely blinked.

"If you will forget I just said that," I told him quickly. "I promise I will get right out of this bed and behave like a lady for the rest of the day."

"As you wish," he replied, probably because he could not think of what else to say, now that the proverbial cat had snuck quietly out of the bag before either of us was prepared to cope with it. He was probably as relieved to drop the subject as I was that he agreed to do so.

Miriel came in, found a dress for me in my wardrobe, and shooed him away. But he shot one last interested glance at me before he left the room, and I smiled back at him in return.

~ Mal ~

Back in the caverns again, I put on a simple and comfortable dress that I didn't require assistance with, and then went to the great hall in search for something edible. With all the formality surrounding most things that happened in the royal household, it had been a relief when I first discovered that morning meals appeared to be laid-back to an extent that felt almost sinful. No matter what time of the morning it was, there were always a number of elves eating, and I had yet to find the kitchen area deserted at any time of the day.

Later I learnt that the breakfast wasn't as unregulated as it seems. There was a pattern to who would arrive at what time, as I discovered after a few weeks. When I slept to my natural time, I often found Ithilwen and Miriel there, or was escorted by them, and there would be some other court functionaries there too, like Helca, though I always tried to sit so that I would not be facing her.

A few times in early spring, when I had awoken at dawn from the sunlight through my precious windows, and headed straight for the kitchen, I had breakfast together with Anarion and a large group of guards. They had been surprised the first time that had happened, undoubtedly having heard of the lazy habits of mortals, but greeted me politely.

Though I always felt well taken care of, I felt extra safe surrounded by them, seeing with my own eyes that the forest realm had protection. Otherwise, the elves on guard duty did not have the habit of making themselves seen, with the exception of those posted in official places, such as at the throne room.

Only once had I encountered the kitchen staff at the tables in the morning, and that was when I had slept badly and felt I needed at least a piece of fruit to nibble on before I tried to go back to bed. Light had been subdued, with only a few of the torches in the corridors burning, and I half expected to find the great hall deserted.

But instead there was gathered a group of elves in white, soft grey and sand-coloured clothes, eating and, at the same time, making plans for the day. The most important of them all, the chief baker of bread, was a fawn-haired woman that I learned had been one of the leaders of the wood-elves before Thranduil's father had become their king. She kept a serene face all the time, and the others treated her with the utmost respect.

I happily accepted the apple they offered me, but decided not to linger. I didn't want to intrude on their affairs, even though I felt sure that they would have invited me to their table. And, I wanted to get some more sleep too.

But this morning, I wanted to eat, and I was not disappointed. On a large table near the kitchen entrance was a wide selection of fruit and bread and nuts and cheese, and in a stone alcove to the side was a clay pot filled with steaming tea.

Having eaten to my heart's content, I went back to my room and spent some time reading while I waited for Mary to get up. Judging from the sounds she had made at one point during the night (and probably at several, though she had only woken me once), that might take a while. But I didn't mind. Thranduil had long ago made it clear that he would not choose between us, and my initial jealousy had faded gradually and was nearly gone now.

The book Thaladir had lent me, "Nu vellyrn" ["Under mallorn trees"], turned out to be a story for elf children about Lorien and its trees. It had poems and small drawings, but the most fascinating thing it told me was the origin of the mallorn. I found it nearly ironical that the trees that had become a symbol for all things elven had come to Middle-earth with the mortal men from the ancient island kingdom of Númenor.

I had nearly given up waiting and decided to find someone else to spend the day with, when there was a knock on my door. It was Ithilwen, and she looked uncharacteristically excited when she asked me to follow her to the king's private dining chamber. Something special must have happened, because it was far too early for lunch, and anyway the mere prospect of having a good meal didn't make a wood-elf this excited. They were far too accustomed to parties for that.

When we arrived at the dining room, there were already many others there, but I only had eyes for the king. He was sitting at the short side of the table, lazily reclining in his chair and thoughtfully turning a large goblet in his hand. His eyes seemed to follow the swirl of the liquid within. It never ceased to amaze me how much wine these elves could drink without being affected, and even in the morning.

Then he looked up, and I got a clearer view of the fresh crown on his brow. It was different from those he usually wore, and composed of small, delicate flowers more befitting of a gentle princess. And as always, the contrasts served to show him as so obviously being king that he did not have to rely on outwardly manifestations of power.

I recognised the white petals of the wood-star, but there was also a new addition, a tiny bell-shaped flower in a soft pink shade that accented the green in his eyes better than any glittering jewels could have done. He gestured for me to take a seat, and only then did I pay attention to who else was there.

The chairs on either side of the king were occupied, and it surprised me to find Elladan and Elrohir sitting there. True, they had been Thranduil's hunting company this day, but I had not expected the three of them to suddenly be so close, with the twins sipping wine from their own goblets as if it was some kind of gathering of family and old friends. Haldir was there too, but standing at the side, and when I looked at him, he lifted his goblet in salute. His smile was enigmatic, smug but also triumphant, as if he wanted to say that he had seen through whatever reason the king had for inviting us there.

Beside Haldir were Ithilwen, and further back Anarion, Helca and a few other elves I recognized as important court functionaries but otherwise was not acquainted with. Except for Canath, the young-looking treasurer who was such a wonderful dance partner, albeit a very shy one.

While I was looking around the room, Thaladir arrived. He was impeccable, of course, but there was something about him that indicated that he had arrived later than he intended, and that must irk him. There was something else too, that made him appear just a little softer around the edges. Hastily, he strode to the table and sat at the other short side, across from the king, after bowing to him. There were only two missing now, Mary and Miriel.

Thranduil stretched lazily, like a big cat, and then stood. When he made for the buffet with the now empty goblet in his hand, a number of elves moved to assist him, but he stilled them with a gesture of his hand. Slowly he poured himself some wine from a decanter. The crimson liquid flowed as of by free will, and I momentarily envied the goblet that would soon be kissed by his lips again.

That was the moment when Mary finally entered the room, followed by Miriel. Thranduil gestured to them, and Mary sat on the empty chair across from me, on the seneschal's other side. Miriel joined Ithilwen and the other elves standing behind the seneschal.

Despite the non-formal occasion, the room was thick with unasked questions and, at the same time, nobody seemed inclined to be the first to talk. Not even Mary, though she appeared ready to burst when I looked at her sitting next to Thaladir without making a face, like she had for so many days now. The seneschal cleared his throat, and for a moment my eyes drifted to him, before I turned all attention to the king.

He was still holding his goblet, turning it slowly between those long, deft fingers. Then he directed his gaze at all that was gathered in there, one at a time, lifted the goblet to his lips and drank. His face split in a wide grin and his eyes glittered in a playful way I just knew Thaladir would disapprove of.

"A fine vintage," he said, addressing nobody in particular, and then added, in an absent-minded way that made the impact of his statement so much bigger. "We will be leaving for Lorien at the first opportunity."

I gasped, and I think Mary did that too, but I turned to look at Haldir, not her. The March Warden lifted his goblet to the king, smirking, but if he had thought to say something, he didn't get the chance. Thranduil had sat again, and now put a hand on each of the twins arm.

"You two are coming with us. I will not have you deceive my son into wreaking havoc in my realm in my absence." Elrohir pouted, looking more offended than hurt, bdan put his hand on his brother's and nodded to the king. "A wise decision, Majesty," he said in an exaggeratedly serious manner, and I would have laughed out loud if Thaladir hadn't been sitting right beside me.

To be continued...

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Chapter posted: January 17, 2005

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