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Summary this chapter: After writing a naughty het story about her favorite Tolkien character, Mary receives gifts and an interesting invitation in a letter that requires translation.

Timeline: For the Modern World sections, the timeline is today. For the Middle-earth story, the timeline is just after the destruction of the One Ring.

Canon or AU? The characters Mary, Malinorne, and Sheraiah are AU, but all of the Tolkien characters, and places, will be as close to Bookverse canon as possible, with a little Movieverse tossed in for looks.

Author’s note: This story will be told from two points of view after this chapter.

It is helpful, but not necessary, to have read the prequels to this story. My Night and Next Day by Mary A and My Reward by Malinorne. Email me at thaladir@yahoo.com and I will mail them to you if you would like some 'history'.

I promise our chapter header will never be this big again!

And yes, there will be sex in this story, be patient

~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~

~Mary ~

After I wrote my first official fan fiction story, I began to socialize exclusively with other writers to pick up tips and tricks of the trade. There was so much to learn about on-line story telling, and my elf-muses, Elladan and Elrohir, were of limited value in this electronic world of alternate universes versus canonical ones, html documents versus rtf, or het versus slash.

To the twins, the word slash, along with hack, slice and stab, is something they do to agents of the Dark Lord, or anyone else they consider an enemy. Like Thranduil.

They were not pleased that the Elfking had, according to them, abducted me from the muse-swapping party. They were sure that it was only out of fear of retaliation, by them, that he had even returned me home at all. They were not mollified to learn it had been my idea to leave in the first place. I only wished our time together could have lasted longer, but I did not tell the twins that.

But, the Imladris born and raised elves knew Thranduil better than I would ever hope to, and they did not trust him, even from afar. They told me that I would be in real danger if the Mirkwood Elfking set his sights on me.

Accordingly, they went into full alert status. Every day they would sharpen their swords, attach them at their hips, and swagger around bragging about how they were going to hack him to pieces if he so much as poked his royal nose into view.

On the weekends, I would get together with my fan fiction group in a tiny virtual forest we created on-line, and the twins would relax their vigil. They knew I would be surrounded by fellow writers, and their friendly elf-muses, while trading comments on each others stories or giving our opinions on various aspects of Tolkien's marvelous works. Often they would trot off on their own to be of service to some lonely writer, whose real life problems had prevented her from visiting with our group.

Frequently, for amusement, we would organize on-line events, besides the usual parties, and one of the most popular was 'elving'. Basically, we would set all of the muses free to hide within the make-believe forest and give them a good head start. Then, alone, in pairs, or in groups of three or more, we writers would wander about trying to entice them out from the trees to be near us. It was considered a score if an elf came up from behind to engage in some delicate neck nuzzling.

Some of us saw the ability to lure an elf to be an art form and would use subtle tactics to entice them. Others just used the opportunity to grab a loose elf to play with. It soon became the rage. Eagerly, we would gather on chosen evenings to discuss our latest elving techniques, describe our attire, and then provide a running report of our successes or failures.

One particular time it was decided, as a twist, that formal attire would be worn by the writers. A lurker had set up a cosmetics table and was giving free make-overs to that night's elving participants. When I came along for my make-up, I did a little twirl in the scarlet dress I had on and asked everyone to guess where it came from.

"Grima?" sneered one writer who was known to cast covetous glances towards my twin muses whenever she thought I was not watching.

"Oh," I replied. "Ha ha, very funny." I showed how the bodice was obviously embroidered by elves with silvery threads and tiny glittering beads, so how could the slimy Wormtongue afford something like that?

"He could have stolen it?" suggested another writer, being helpful.

"It wasn't Grima," I said. "Guess again."

"Haldir?" inquired his biggest fan.

"Aw, now that would be sweet, wouldn't it?" I replied. "But you know that he would never play favorites." The mighty Galadhrim warrior was the Chief Muse, and guardian, for the group.

"I think I know," said the lurker-cosmetician. "Was it that king guy, Thranduil?"

"Yes! You guessed it." As the group goggled at me in disbelief, I did another twirl so they could see again what a dress from an Elfking looks like.

"I got it today," I continued. "Along with about three dozen roses and....what?" The whole group had suddenly gone silent and still. All eyes were fixed behind me, but I had no time to turn to see who was there before being seized at both elbows by identical pairs of hands.

"We want to talk to you," said Elladan.

"Back at home," said Elrohir.

"Right now," they said together. I had foolishly left the Mirkwood-posted packaging out before visiting the group, so excited I had been to show off my fancy gown. My ranger twins may not be detectives, but they can spot a Middle Earth postmark.

As I was dragged off backwards, both heels scraping along on the ground, I sadly waved goodbye to my group of fellow elvers. If I had known it would be the last time I would go out elving with them, I would have made the twins let go of me so I could have hugged them all good-bye, too.

The gown and roses were the tipping point. Elladan and Elrohir were now absolutely sure that Thranduil's intentions were of the lowest and most dishonorable sort. They went from alert status into warrior mode, and started practicing slashing at an invisible Elfking with their swords, when they were not peeking out the windows or checking all the locks one more time. I was put under house arrest for my own good.

I considered them to be a bit over-dramatic, as most fan fiction muses grow to be after they become feature players in a story. So what if Thranduil felt compelled to send me gifts? How could that possibly mean I was in danger? He was surrounded by beautiful, willing elf-maids in Mirkwood, I was sure, so why would he be interested in me? And what did they think they were going to do with those swords? Start a war?

What neither of them knew was that, along with the gifts of the scarlet gown, and roses, there was a letter from Thranduil, which I kept concealed from them. It burned in the back of my mind every day. But I showed it to no one.

However, as it was written in Elvish script, it might has well have been in Egyptian hieroglyphics as far as I was concerned, for I could not read a single word. The graceful script was lovely to look at, even if I could not understand a single letter of it. I kept it hidden while I puzzled over the best course of action.

Truthfully? I mooned over it like a love-sick teenager with a forbidden crush. I would bring it out, when I was alone, and just stare at it for hours while running my fingers over the king's handwriting. I could feel the impression his pen had made on the thick parchment and I found it oddly exciting. The penmanship was firm, bold, and, well, passionate, just like him.

I would fan myself with the letter each time I looked it over as memories of our time together came flooding over me. But, the heat I felt was not because of his lovemaking skills, which are incomparable, really, with those of any of the other elves I had encountered, but more because of his overpowering royal nature. I was consumed by him.

He was beyond arrogant. He was formidable. Unreadable. Enigmatic. He inflamed every passionately inquisitive cell in my body. I kept quiet about these feelings. I hated to admit them, even to myself, for I knew so little about him and had no way of expecting to learn more. I would have gotten over the time we spent together, except for this letter.

"It must mean something; it probably means nothing," I would think to myself over and over. I would convince myself that the letter, along with the gifts, were nothing more than routine courtly gestures sent without further thought from Thranduil.

But, then I would take it out and look at it again and convince myself that it might be a confession of true, true love. Oh, how could that be? How foolish of me. I knew that could not be. Elves do not fall in love with mortals. Especially a royal one who could have any woman he wanted to have. But I could not stop myself from thinking it. I started to lose sleep.

Into the Internet I traveled, searching out websites that offered lessons in the Elvish alphabet, but it was like trying to learn a foreign language according to only one person's unique handwriting style. I could pick out a single letter here and there but I could not match up word for word to save me. I just got dizzy. Even his royal signature was of no use in translating this code of foreign script, because it was one of those maddening scribbly flourishes that just sort of indicate the presence of letters. I was getting headaches.

Finally, I decided to seek out a discreet translator. Not an easy task. All of the resident elf muses, even the shy, reserved ones, love the twins, and are reluctant to help me keep secrets from them. Elves hate that. I hated it and I am not even an elf. But, it did not stop me. Some secrets are sacred and must be kept.

I needed to talk to a girlfriend. Who could read Elvish. And knew Thranduil. Which meant only one person. Galadriel. I had met the Lady of Light during my virtual tour of Middle Earth but I felt nervous about seeking her advice. There was no one else to turn to. I decided that f she could tell who was coming to visit ahead of time, in her seeing-eye mirror, then I might as well just go there, unannounced, and ask for help. It could not hurt.

~**~ ~**~

There is only one way to travel to virtual Lothlorien: Eagle-back Airlines. Right after I had returned from my date with Grima, a travel agent joined our group and offered to help other members visit various sights in Middle Earth. With her help, I was booked on a "red-eye" flight one night, while the muse-twins visited a fellow writer who was having difficulty with a love scene, and I was off to see the Lady of Light for advice.

The travel agent could not guarantee the Galadhrim would allow us to land within the city. I would probably have to land some distance away and be guided in. I was willing to take my chances. The flight was so smooth that I slept most of the way, and did not wake up until we were crossing the Misty Mountains in broad daylight.

As we approached the Golden Wood, I wondered if I would be able to look down, when we were above the borders, and see the march wardens at work. I wanted so bad to see at least one little golden-haired head peeking out from the trees at us. I pulled myself up over one massive shoulder, and held on as tightly as I could, to look down at the forest.

As if the eagle had read my mind, it swooped down very low, as we approached the trees, and I held my breath. I was sure we were going to crash right into them, as I could not see how that big bird could pull out of such a steep dive. But we landed with a big "whoosh" of its wings and a gentle thump.

As I disembarked the large, feathery transport, I heard my name being called from within the forest. I looked into the darkness there and whom did I see striding out of the shade of the trees to greet me?

Haldir. I ran to him. All thoughts of Galadriel, the letter, Thranduil, and the twins, fled from my mind as soon as I saw the sunlight on that glorious golden head.

Then, I was in his arms and I never, ever wanted to leave them. I held on to him and just breathed in the reality of his presence, like an aroma. I drank in his nearness to me, I feasted upon his heartbeat against my face. But, I did not know if I was expected in Caras Galadhon, or if I was not going to be allowed to go any further. I finally asked the question, even though I was not sure I wanted to know the answer.

"Are you here because you are going to guide me to the city?" I asked, as if it was already a foregone conclusion. "Or did you just come out here to say hello to me before I fly the rest of the way there?" I did not want to bring up the third possibility. That I would be sent home with my letter not translated because the Lady of the Wood certainly had more important things to do than read it.

"Neither," answered the mighty elf. "I am going to take you to my flet and do more than just say hello to you."

Haldir, it turned out, was the self-appointed greeter of all group members who are brave enough to travel to his beloved land. After we bade farewell, respectfully, to the eagle, he led me a little deeper within the tree line and then lifted me with one arm while climbing one of the largest trees at the edge of the forest. He informed me that Galadriel had foreseen my arrival, but more than that he did not say. And I did not care.

"I like climbing, too, Haldir," I lied. "You don't have to carry me."

"I would rather carry you. It will take less time this way to have you to myself." Actually, I have always thought of tree-climbing as a highly overrated pastime.

We reached a bare platform set up high within the branches of the mallorn. There was nothing to distinguish it as his home, or even a home. There was nothing there except he, and I, along with wind-scattered branches and leaves. He spread his cloak on the floor and beckoned me down to him. Who needs furniture?

After a while, a long while, Haldir asked me to show him Thranduil's letter.

"What letter?" I asked with feigned innocence. "Thran-whoodle?"

He chuckled and held his hand out to me to hand it over. He had known about it, after all, even though I had not mentioned it to him. That, more than anything, convinced me that Galadriel had left the translating up to his capable self.

I gave it to him and then hung over his shoulder far enough to see his face while he read it to himself, silently. I watched his eyes travel back and forth over the lines and I could not tell if what he was reading was good or bad news for me. He was about half way down the page, all stone faced, when his whole body seemed to harden. My inner sense of self-preservation gripped me and I yanked the letter from his hands.

"Wait a minute," I said. "I want you to say this out loud to me, word for word. In case the king starts talking about stuff that I don't want you to read." I handed it back.

"Very well," he sighed. "Mary, my dear..."

"It says that? Is one of these words my name, right here?" I pointed to the first few words. He tapped his finger on my name. I stared at it. My name written in Elvish. It was beautiful. "Okay, go on."

"I hope this letter finds you well and in good health..."

"How kind of him to say that," I sighed.

"It is a standard greeting," Haldir explained.

"Okay, spoil-sport, go ahead. Keep reading."

"It is my wish that you accept these small gifts as a token of appreciation for the time we spent together..."

"He said that?" I interrupted again, "The king said appreciation?”

"The king said appreciation, yes. Now, do you wish for me to continue?"

"Yes, please. Sorry, I'll keep my mouth shut, promise." I imitated locking my lips and throwing away the imaginary key.

"Let me see..., for the time we spent... ah yes," Haldir continued. "It is apparent why the Imladris brothers are so protective of you. I wish to apologize for any insulting behavior I may have demonstrated toward them."

"Apologize!" It burst out of me, unbidden.

"Yes, apologize." Haldir replied calmly. "I agree, that is an unusual statement from Thranduil." He paused, then returned to the letter. He pursed his lips while trying to find his place again, and I wanted to kiss him, he looked so cute doing that. Then he continued, "...demonstrated toward them, and I also want to apologize to you, again, for the unfortunate markings that may have inadvertently been caused upon your tender skin during our..."

"Give me that!" I grabbed the letter back again. "Why are you translating this for me, anyway? I specifically wanted Galadriel to do this for a reason."

"He wants you to come to Mirkwood."

"What? Where does it say that?" I handed it back and made him point to exactly where on the page it mentioned the word, Mirkwood.

"Okay," I said, "start from that point."

"I hope this meets with your approval." He put the letter down and looked into the distance with just the slightest bit of a triumphant look on his face.

"Very. Funny. Read the line right before that, please."

"And so, in anticipation of your acceptance of this invitation, I have made all the arrangements for your visit here, in Mirkwood." I sat back off of Haldir's broad back and thought about that.

The king wanted to see me, again. Alone, with him, in his underground palace. Where he supposedly enslaves unwilling mortal maids for torture. Although I really would not believe it. The Elfking I had spent time with had never done anything to me that I had not desired he continue. Or try again.

But, for some reason, it all seemed so far away and distant as I looked at Haldir sitting there with the dancing leaf shadows playing over his fair skin like a hundred little beckoning hands calling me to draw closer. I could not even remember why I had entered that back room at the party, the night I met Thranduil.

And it did not really even make the least bit of a difference, because I had decided, on the spot, that I was never leaving Lothlorien, or Haldir, or the crazy little tree-fort we were perched upon. Ever. Wild horses were not going to drag me away.

I had to take my eyes away from that gorgeous elf as I imagined it in my mind. The commotion it would cause if I never went back home.

"She wandered out into the virtual forest one night, and never returned, an unsolved mystery to this day..."

That would be horrible.

"...the famous Imladris muse-twins were treated for grief prostration over her disappearance, but are expected to make a full recovery under the tender loving care of the over 600 fan fiction writers who have been holding vigil...

That would be terrible.

"Memorial services will be held..."

That would be the worst.

I almost cried. I made myself sad and felt suddenly dizzy with guilt. I could not just abandon the twins. They had no idea that I was in Lorien. They would go crazy. They would probably start stabbing people with their swords to make them talk. Or, at least, pretend like they would. Or, even scarier to imagine, they might think the king came and stole me. They would travel to Mirkwood with every intention of hacking him to pieces, and were probably on the way there right now.

I looked back at Haldir. A breeze swirled the leaves again, making dancing little flecks of sunlight that dappled his hair and skin. He looked almost sparkly. And I suddenly did not care anymore about the twins and whatever havoc they would wreak. Let them stab! Let them hack! Nobody knew where I was! Nobody would talk! I was not going back!

"Except the travel agent," I said out loud, with a groan, as soon as the realization hit me.

"Travel agent?" asked Haldir, completely at a loss. I explained it to him.

"She knows where I am," I sighed, resigned to being found out, eventually. "She helped me get here."

Then it occurred to me that this was not such a bad thing. The agent would tell the twins not to fear, I was safe, and they would put their swords away. I felt suddenly so relieved and happy that I laughed out loud. I threw my arms around Haldir and began kissing all the little brilliant gold sunshiny spots on his skin that I could find. "She can tell everyone, so I have nothing to worry about."

"Tell everyone what?" He drew me beside him on the cloak.

"That I am in Lothlorien, since I am probably never going back."

"I think we will discuss this further," replied Haldir. "Later."
And then it was his turn to kiss all the golden spots of sunlight he could locate on my body as the gentle breezes shifted the leaves overhead.

~*~ ~*~

Day turned to evening and the shadows softened and eventually blurred into shade. I had finally asked Haldir about what he and the Elfking had discussed the night of the party, behind that closed door. It turned out that not much was discussed. The king pointed out that I was curious about his villainous reputation, and wanted to explore the darker side of elf sexuality, and he was willing to accommodate me on both issues. If I knew how to blush, I probably would have as I recalled some of the research the king and I had conducted during our short time together. I had certainly had a lot of my curiousity satisfied, and then some.

As night fell I yawned with drowsiness as Haldir reminded me, "Do not think that the king cannot locate your presence in the Golden Wood." He paused for a moment and even in the shady gloom I could tell that his face grew quite serious as his words sank in. "And do not think he would not be willing to wage war to win back whatever treasure he believes he has claimed as his."

I had not thought of any of that, of course, because I had not been thinking at all, only feeling, wanting, desiring, and wishing really hard. There was not any possibility, however, of my staying in Lothlorien, among the Galadhrim. So, it was time to think. At least Haldir appeared to be in the mood to hold further discussion on the matter.

We were both lying on our backs, staring upwards into the higher branches of the moonlit tree, and talked quietly for a while about Thranduil's request and my choices. Surprisingly, Haldir did not seem opposed to the idea of my traveling into Mirkwood all alone. I was a little bothered by his lack of concern.

"There are giant killer spiders in Mirkwood, aren't there?" I did not think I could take even seeing one, let alone getting eaten by one.

Haldir patiently reminded me that, after the Dark Lord had been overthrown, the evil forces that had plagued the race of elves were beginning to withdraw from the natural surroundings of all the elven realms.

"The vile creatures," he said, "that infest that forest were in service at first to Dol Guldur and, then, eventually, in league with Mordor, against that whole wild realm of Thranduil's. As the darkness recedes, the creatures weaken, for they fed on the fear and despair of their Dark Lord."

"So, are you telling me there are no more spiders in Mirkwood, or what?" I sat up and looked into his moonlit eyes.

"No, I am not telling you that," replied Haldir patiently. "There are some still nesting there." I gasped and he continued, "Only there are not so many, and they are not so large, as before the overthrow of Mordor and its evil influence upon our world."

I pondered this information in the dark. Giant spiders, even not so many, or so large, were still giant spiders.

"There is something else you need to know from the letter." His voice had just the slightest tinge of humor in it, like the way someone's voice sounds when they are getting ready to say something funny, but have not said it yet. "He is going to be at the masquerade party, he wants to know if you will be there, and he wants to know if you are going to bring the twins. He expects you to give him an answer to his invitation while he is there."

"No," I groaned again and pretended to collapse in a dead faint onto Haldir's chest. "Hold me. I don't think I could take it, the king at another party with Elladan and Elrohir all revved up to duel for my honor." I thought about it for a moment. "And the twins are going to be there whether I want them to be or not, because they are going without me..."

I explained how the planned guessing game was going to work. All of the writers had to come in disguise and see if they could fool their own muses. So, I could not see the twins before the party. I would be unescorted. "Maybe I will just stay home," I decided. "I should, just stay home."

I further explained how they had not quite gotten over the Elfking taking me away from the first party. Now they were worried that he would try to lure me away to his kingdom and keep me in a dungeon, for his own personal pleasure. And no matter what argument I had given them to contradict their theory, they remained adamant in their opinion.

"You don't think the king wants to lock me up in Mirkwood, do you, Haldir?"

"There is no telling what goes on in the mind of Thranduil Oropherion when it comes to that which he considers his personal treasure."

"Well, that's just crazy," I replied. "And not very comforting. I may be a lot of things, but, somebody's personal property? I don't think so." Curiously, he replied to me in Elvish.

I suddenly had to yawn even harder than before, I felt so sleepy, and lie down on Haldir's chest. "You put a sleeping spell on me, didn't you?" was what I thought I was going to ask. I did not get any further than, "You....put..."

t b c
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