Galadriel sat upon a regal chair, her maids and pages at her feet. Tall elves holding torches ringed the clearing and the air wavered with firelight and smoke.
"It is time," she said, and clapped her hands.
Sam looked over the baggage and bedding inside the pavilion. He didn't think that Mr Frodo had had the best spot to sleep in last night and so he shuffled things around so that Frodo had the softest bit of ground and no-one's feet in his face. And an extra pillow that Pippin had claimed.
He saw that Strider was watching him, so Sam glared at him and pretty soon Strider looked away. Everyone was afraid of Sam. Except Mr Frodo, of course.
Frodo was sitting with his back against a tree, so Sam went over to sit beside him. Gimli was heading for the same spot, but Sam just gave him a look and the dwarf backed off. Sam sat down and crossed his arms, daring anyone to bother Frodo.
Then two elves came up to them. Sam jumped to his feet and narrowed his eyes, but it didn't seem to work on them. He stepped half in front of Frodo and crossed his arms again.
"We bring a summons," one elf said. "From the Lady Galadriel. She bids Frodo Baggins--"
"Not without me, he isn't," said Sam, flaring his nostrils.
The elves just laughed and one pinched Sam's cheek. "Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee to wait upon her. Unless you'd rather meet me in single combat?" The elves grinned at each other and Sam wanted to punch them both in the face. Instead he just glowered.
Frodo seemed oblivious to the confrontation. He'd been dreamy ever since they entered the woods. He stood and put an arm around Sam. "Of course we will come. Will you lead the way?"
The elves showed them to a clearing where Galadriel waited, along with many other elves with torches. The flickering light made them all look a little scary. Except Galadriel, who was glowing faintly in the dark.
She smiled at them. "Thank you for coming, my friends. I have but a small task for you: to entertain me for a while."
Both the hobbits bowed and Frodo spoke. "My lady, what we can do, we will. But we know no songs or stories high and fair enough for such company."
"No matter," said Galadriel. "For I had something else in mind." She paused to draw the hand of her maid between her own. "Couple for me, and I will watch."
Frodo blushed and was silent. But Sam, after a glance to make sure Frodo was all right, set his hands on his hips and faced Galadriel. He gave her the full force of his well-honed glare. "Now see here, my lady. We're not used to such behaviour and certainly not in company. I don't know what customs you elf folk have here, but in the Shire there are some things that take place only behind closed doors." And then he blushed as well. "If then."
"But you are not in the Shire," Galadriel said. She smiled again and it was more dangerous than Sam's glare. "You would do well not to refuse my requests."
Sam's hands doubled into fists and he took a step forward. But Frodo's gentle hand on his shoulder stopped him. "It's all right, Sam," Frodo all but whispered. "If we must, we must." He gave Sam a trembling smile. "You must help me, Sam."
Sam turned to face Frodo. "Of course I will, Mr Frodo. You just look at me now and forget about those nasty elves."
"You're always so strong, Sam." Frodo stroked Sam's hair.
"Strong enough for two, you always said." Sam took Frodo's hand and held it.
Frodo's limpid eyes filled with tears. "What would I do without you, Sam?"
"Or I, you, Mr Frodo." Sam's lip began to quiver and he took Frodo's face between his hands. "It will be all right." Very gently, very softly, he kissed Frodo.
Galadriel rolled her eyes.
Boromir was wary when they entered the clearing. Many elves surrounded them and he looked to find a way out, if there should be a need. The witch was sitting on her throne and he resolved not to speak with her so she could not glamour him.
Aragorn, though, walked right up to her. "My lady," he said and bowed.
"Aragorn," she said. "So good to have you back. You know what to do."
He nodded, then walked back to Boromir, pulling his shirt off on the way.
Boromir stared. Aragorn had been under a lot of stress lately, but this behaviour was odder than he would have expected. Boromir looked up at the sky and hummed a little, trying to look as though nothing was wrong.
But Aragorn clapped him on the shoulder. "Come, Boromir, you're lagging."
Aragorn didn't answer; instead he pulled at Boromir's tunic, as though he were trying to remove it.
"What are you doing?" Boromir stepped back, then whispered so the elves wouldn't hear. "Have you gone mad?"
Aragorn stepped close. "It is the custom here in Lorien. We are here to copulate for the lady's pleasure."
Boromir risked a glance at Galadriel. She looked very beautiful but somewhat irked. He whispered again. "With her?"
"No!" Aragorn unlaced his breeches.
"Then with whom?" Some of the maids looked very beddable, Boromir thought. One of them was definitely giving him a very encouraging look.
"Each other, of course." Aragorn dropped his breeches and stood there naked.
Boromir looked up at the sky again and hummed more loudly than before. He had also been under much stress, but could he be imagining things? Surely he had heard wrong.
"Have you never done this before?" Aragorn asked.
"It's quite easy. Just do what comes naturally."
Boromir passed a hand over his forehead. "I mean, of course I've been with women. Many women. Just not with a man."
"Well, it's not very manly, is it?"
"On the contrary," said Aragorn. "Two men, together, is the most manly thing there is."
"I don't really--"
"Here," said Aragorn and laid his hand on Boromir, in a most intimate place. Boromir hated to admit it to himself, but he was suddenly feeling very manly indeed. "One more thing," Aragorn said and he leaned in close to speak in Boromir's ear. "She'll kill you if you don't."
"Ah," said Boromir, and took off his clothes. After all, Aragorn wasn't so bad. Pretty manly, even. And maybe tomorrow he could find that elf woman again.
Galadriel smiled and got out her sketchbook.
Merry and Pippin were laughing with each other when they came before Galadriel. They bowed together, with flourish and aplomb. "My lady," Merry said, "we thank you for your hospitality."
"Indeed," said Pippin. "We have been fed and watered and cosseted and comforted. We are in your debt and if there is any service we can do you, you have but to name it."
And so she did.
Merry looked at Pippin and Pippin looked at Merry. Then they turned back to Galadriel, shuffling their feet and blushing. "I'm afraid..." said Pippin.
"You see..." said Merry.
"Can't?" Galadriel drew her brows together and looked down upon them. "I'm afraid I must insist. Or there will be...consequences."
"No, no," said Merry.
"It's not..." said Pippin.
"So," Pippin said, "we're not unwilling, you see, just unable."
"Well, I'm probably able," said Merry. "But poor Pippin--"
Pippin kicked Merry sharply in the shin. "You're a liar!" He turned to Galadriel. "He's lying. He was the one who--"
Merry gave Pippin a shove. "Shut up, Pippin!"
"You shut up!" Pippin shoved Merry back and they would have scuffled but a clear laugh rang out and they stopped to look at Galadriel.
"There is little that surprises Galadriel any longer," she said, "but I confess, this I was not expecting." She turned to one of her pages. "Offer them the cup."
A murmur ran around the clearing as the elf stepped forward bearing a silver goblet.
The elf gave it to Pippin and he drank. At once, Pippin's face began to glow and his eyes grew brighter. Then Merry took the cup and drained it. His eyes snapped and he goosed the elf before he handed back the goblet. The elf just laughed and left them there.
"All right there, Pippin?" said Merry.
"All right, Merry. I'm up for another six times, at least."
"It was five."
"Shut up, Merry," said Pippin and tackled him. They fell to the ground, quickly dispensed with time number one, and started on two.
Galadriel watched, bemused, as her maids giggled.
A page approached Galadriel. "Lord Celeborn will not come. He only weeps and says that if he cannot have Mithrandir, he will have no one."
Galadriel frowned. "Most inconvenient. But no matter. I will speak with him later. Now fetch the last two. And get these hobbits out of here. They're beginning to repeat themselves."
When Legolas saw all the elves gathered in the glade, he wondered why they hadn't invited him earlier. It was obvious they'd been here for hours already.
The grass where they made him stand was all crushed and it looked a little sticky. Nobody else had sticky grass to stand on.
And why had they made him come with the dwarf? Did they not like him?
Probably that was it. Stuck-up Lothlorien elves, with a lady who wouldn't even call herself a queen. And Celeborn, supposedly some relative of his, wasn't even there.
But there were a lot of elves gathered in the glade, so Legolas did not voice his thoughts, but bowed instead and said nothing. He would have the last laugh.
Gimli, though, bowed and said a lot of things. Legolas wondered how Galadriel could even listen to such obvious flattery, let alone respond to it. But she was smiling and Legolas thought her cheeks were faintly flushed.
"...than the stars of the sky or the diamonds in the deep," Gimli finished.
"Welcome, Gimli son of Gloin," she said, "and Legolas. Will you cheer me for a while?"
"Great lady," said Gimli, "whatever my hands can do, I will, for there is no greater honour in all the world than to live in your service, unless it is to die in it. For the Lady of Lothlorien is fair beyond the rays of the sun or liquid gold poured out of the ladle and..."
Legolas waited, bored, and quickly counted all the leaves on one of the trees, something he was sure the dwarf couldn't do. And he thought he detected a little impatience even from Galadriel.
"Thank you, Gimli," she said. "Silvertongue I name you. But there is something that would please me even more." She held up her hand to forestall Gimli's protestations of willingness. "You and Legolas shall sport together, here before me."
Legolas opened his mouth to object, but stopped when he saw that Gimli wasn't objecting along with him. It would probably make him look bad if the dwarf was willing and he was not.
Then Gimli dropped his trousers and Legolas opened his mouth even wider. As did every other elf in the clearing, even Galadriel. Legolas fell to his knees before anyone could take his place. And opened his mouth wider still. The last laugh indeed.
Galadriel's sketchbook fell unnoticed to the grass as she looked upon them.
When they had done and gone, the elves set their torches into brackets and waited for the signal. When none came, one plucked up his courage and spoke. "My lady, may we begin?"
Galadriel looked up, as one waking from a dream. "Yes," she said, "begin. But first, call back the dwarf. And bring me the cup."