Ossė's Gift by elfscribe
Summary:

On a sea voyage from Umbar, Erestor becomes enmeshed in intrigue while fighting his secret feelings for his irritating and compelling companion, Glorfindel.


Categories: Fiction Characters: Erestor, Glorfindel, Ossė/Uinen
Content: Action/Adventure, Romance, Slash
Challenges: None
Series: Osse's Gift
Chapters: 7 Completed: Yes Word count: 30227 Read: 654 Published: November 17, 2017 Updated: December 04, 2017
Story Notes:

Written for the 2006 Slashy Santa for Keiliss.

Request: Erestor/Glorfindel. a horse, rain, a message, flowers. A confident, practical Erestor, please. No pets. Warm rather than fluffy. Thank you, Keiliss, for the inspiration!

First posted Dec. 22, 2006   

This story won a first place in the 2007 My Precious Awards for LOTR fanfic in the misc. stories category: "Best where does this story go" 

Received Third Place in MEFA 2009 (Middle Earth Fanfiction Awards) Genres: Adventure: Elvish Lands

Beta: Capella

Author's Note: Rainbowdemon recently requested that I repost this story as she wishes to translate it into German. It's touching to know that people remember this story fondly.

1. Chapter 1 - Umbar by elfscribe

2. Chapter 2 - The Bay of Belfalas by elfscribe

3. Chapter 3 - Ardan by elfscribe

4. Chapter 4 - Black Magic by elfscribe

5. Chapter 5 - Ossė by elfscribe

6. Chapter 6 - Flotsam by elfscribe

7. Chapter 7 - Ossė's Gift by elfscribe

Chapter 1 - Umbar by elfscribe

Second Age 2250           
           
The light in the shop was dim and it took Erestor’s eyes a moment to adjust. There, leaning across the counter in close conversation with the merchant's son, was the one he sought, his traveling companion, Glorfindel. The Elda looked scandalously underdressed and terribly native in his sleeveless, blue-striped cotton tunic, which revealed the powerful curves of his bare arms, voluminous trousers tied at the ankle and slit up the sides to the thigh, and leather sandals.  His wrists were encased in bronze guards and his waist was cinched by a wide band of red leather from which hung a sword and several long and elegant elvish knives.  He certainly could pass for one of their Southron hosts except for his fair complexion and that hair. Unlike the traditional cloth-bound style of the Haradrim, it flowed down his back in a glorious golden cascade into which were braided a dozen tiny silver bells that chimed agreeably when he moved. Only Glorfindel could pull off such a brash mix of elvish and Haradren costume and still be uniquely himself.
                           
Erestor’s gaze shifted to the merchant’s twenty-year-old son, who appeared to have paused in the midst of wrapping up parcels.  Unfortunately the young man was pretty and he was looking at Glorfindel with dark eyes full of promise. Glorfindel’s answering smile was dazzling enough to weaken the most stalwart resolve.  The warrior reached out and gently ran his knuckles across the boy’s cheek.  The boy’s lips parted slightly; his eyes fluttered shut. A warm glow of sympathy for the young man’s plight coursed through Erestor, lodging in his groin. Curse Glorfindel for a rogue! This scene was all too familiar.
                                   
Loudly, Erestor cleared his throat.  The youth’s eyes darted upward to meet Erestor’s; he straightened and went back to his task as if nothing had happened.  Glorfindel turned to look at Erestor, a mischievous smile quirking that luscious mouth.  Not even a hint of embarrassment! Erestor shot him what he sincerely hoped was his sternest look of disapprobation.  He could feel Glorfindel’s amusement like waves of rippling water.  It did not improve Erestor’s temper.   He walked up to the counter covered with the pile of supplies, picked up a piece of that wretched waybread these Haradrim called food, and rapped it on the counter top.
                                           
“Not these miserable things again, Glorfindel.  I swear by the gods, I near broke a tooth on one during the trip down.”   

“They pack well and keep sweet for a long voyage. This young man’s family has a secret recipe which he assures me is quite palatable, Erestor.” The golden warrior’s voice was light, and as ever, smooth and diplomatic as silk. His tongue seemed to linger warningly on the final r in Erestor’s name.

“I assure you, my lord, it always receives praise,” the boy said. “My family, we are well known for it.” He spoke in the strange lilting accent of the Haradrim. His smile was bright, meant to charm.  Erestor was, of course, immune to its effect.

“My apologies,” Erestor purred, “I intended no insult. I am sure it is delightful.”  He tossed the biscuit back on the pile where it hit with a clatter.

The boy turned to Glorfindel.  “My lord, ten rotels of the biscuit, you said?”  He began scooping the tan squares from a barrel into one of the hanging scales, then added a lead weight to the other scale and frowned. “Enough is it, for a sennight at sea?”  

“It should be. The biscuit is mainly for the last stages of the journey. We are stocking plenty of other provender and my ascetic companion here doesn’t eat much, as you can see.”  Glorfindel lightly tapped Erestor’s stomach with the back of his hand.  

Annoyed, Erestor stepped away from him. “My needs are minimal. I don’t gratify my desires . . . as some do.”

“Perhaps you should occasionally.  It might improve your mood.  It is not healthy to starve oneself,” Glorfindel replied. 

“Neither is it wise to indulge in a constant glut,” Erestor countered. “Some of us take our vows seriously.”

The argument was old and tired and both knew it was not about food.  Erestor wasn’t even sure why they sparred so, just that whenever he spoke to Glorfindel, it came as naturally as breathing.  He wasn’t looking forward to another week cooped up on a small ship with his irritating companion. On the way down to Umbar, Erestor had spent quite some time contemplating what he would say to Ereinion when they returned to Lindon, about the king’s strange sense of humor in sending him, a senior strategist, on an ignoble mission to retrieve a horse of all things, and with Glorfindel of all elves.  Everyone in court knew they did not get along.  And it was also well known that Erestor hated to travel.  But when he had protested, Ereinion would not hear of it. “It will do you good, Erestor.  Get you out of that musty library and into the fresh air.”  Indeed, he’d said more that Erestor did not wish to contemplate just then.  And now . . .  well, now after two weeks in Umbar, Erestor had encountered enough court intrigue to know why Ereinion had sent him.  None of it served to improve his mood.

It seemed to take forever before Glorfindel finally concluded their business and arranged for the purchases to be delivered to their ship. The warrior’s farewell to the merchant lad was conducted with heartfelt assurances of mutual admiration and unnecessary kisses to both cheeks.  Erestor rolled his eyes.

Outside the shop the blazing white sunlight assaulted them, and instantly Erestor felt hot in his heavy, black silk garments. He remembered the argument he’d had with Glorfindel about adopting native dress and it served to increase his irritation. Once they were sufficiently out of the earshot of men hanging around the shop, Erestor turned to his companion and said, “For gods’ sake, Findel, what were you about in there?  Do you know what that boy’s family would do to you if they caught you? You might curb your appetite just long enough for us to get home in one piece.”

Glorfindel shrugged. “It was but a shared moment of appreciation, nothing more.  You get yourself too worked up over these things.  One might even think you were jealous.” 

Erestor spluttered like a dunked cat, “Jealous, my foot! Of what? Your ability to seduce every young catamite you come across?  You have an overweening opinion of yourself, Lord of the Golden Flower.  You should have a care.  The Valar are not fond of hubris.”

“I have met the Valar and am not frightened of them,” Glorfindel replied shortly.  He lengthened his stride into a long wolflike lope, a fact joyously announced by the bells in his hair. Erestor had to work to match his pace.  

The gulls’ rasping cries as they wheeled overhead told Erestor they were close to the docks.  The wind brought them the scents of brine, rotting seaweed, and tar.  They emerged from an alley into a wider road and were nearly knocked down by a cart hauling a load of timber down to the wharf.  The human traffic increased as did the sounds of commerce.  From booths perched on the wooden planking of the docks, merchants were selling anything one could imagine and some things one could not.

An apothecary’s stand with a strange assortment of hanging leathery objects caught Erestor’s eye. Unable to contain his curiosity, he stopped to look at them, then tentatively touched what appeared to be a tremendous sausage.

“Ah, the handsome lord desires something to please his sweetheart, yes?”  The merchant said with a sly wink.

“My sweetheart?” Erestor asked, raising an eyebrow.

“It’s a rhino penis,” Glorfindel said, as he leaned casually against the stand. Erestor snatched his hand back and Glorfindel chuckled. “Dried and ground into powder, mixed in wine, it’s supposed to improve one’s prowess.”

“Only you would know these things,” Erestor retorted.  He looked again at the object swinging in the breeze.  “Mandos, it’s huge,” he said in awe.  “I’ve never seen this animal.”

“They say it is an armored beast with a spike in the middle of its face and a wayward temper. I have never seen one either. Perhaps we should sail south to look for one?”  Glorfindel was enjoying himself far too much at Erestor’s expense. It was time for a riposte.

“The only direction I’m interested in is north where the climate is more temperate.” Erestor turned back to the merchant.  “Do you have anything for stomach malady?”

“From what cause, my lord elf?” 

“Illness at sea, from the motion,” Erestor crossed his arms over his stomach and puffed out his cheeks.

The man smiled.  “Ah yes, here.”  He reached for a large ceramic jar and opened the seal; it emitted a strong fishy smell.  He picked up a bit of the powdery substance on his forefinger and mimed touching it on his tongue.  He said, “Put under tongue or drop pinch in tea.  Works good.” 
“What is it made of?”  Erestor asked.

“Eels.”

Erestor made a face and Glorfindel’s laughter echoed down the quay.

“And some other secret ingredients,” the merchant hastened to add.                
“Yes, I’ll take a dram,” Erestor said.

“I’ve never seen you seasick,” Glorfindel said.               

“It’s not for me,” Erestor said with a smirk.  “It’s for you.  Eels. I’m sure that’s just the thing when you feel like heaving. I’ll be right there with a large spoonful.”

“Uh huh,” Glorfindel retorted. “It’s just sympathetic magic.  They think because eels squirm, it will cure the same roiling feeling in the stomach. Thank you, I’ll none of it. I’ll just hang my head off the side.” He turned and strode off through the throng.

Well, that’s put him in his place, Erestor thought smugly as he paid the man and tucked the small cloth bag into his belt pouch. The proud warrior had been quite ill during a rough patch of weather on the way over.  In part, Erestor derived satisfaction from his companion’s discomfiture, but another part couldn’t help feeling sorry for him. The usually unflappable Noldo had looked truly miserable, a fine shade of green.

“If you’ll pardon me, my lord, here’s another method of curing seasickness,” the merchant said. “Please to hold out your hand.”

Erestor did so and the merchant pinched on either side of the hollow below Erestor’s wrist bone where the pulse ran. “Apply the pressure just so,” he said.  “Hold.  It will relieve the malady.”

“Thank you, my friend,” Erestor said, although he couldn’t imagine how that would work.  He looked for Glorfindel and saw the flash of bright hair ahead of him in the crowd. He hurried to catch up.  

They came out onto the docks.  Ahead, moored to the pier, were an array of ships with sails of differing sizes and colors.  Third down the line was their ship, Hirilondë, a merchant vessel from Númenor. The sailors were busy unfurling its bright yellow and red sails.  There seemed to be a crowd gathering near it and suddenly they could hear the high pitched scream of a horse.

Glorfindel shaded his eyes to see. The crowd broke and swirled outward.  In its midst, Erestor could see a white horse rearing and flailing out with his hooves.

“By Mandos!  The fools!” Glorfindel cursed.  He took off running, as fiercely swift in motion as a thrown lance.  Groups parted before him and Erestor could barely keep up.  They dodged around people and carts until they reached the scene of confusion. 

There was their charge, the gift from Prince Du-phursa of Umbar to King Ereinion Gil-galad: a magnificent white stallion with a jet black mane and tail. The Prince had kept them a fortnight waiting at court occupied with feasts and meetings with officials, until he finally presented the animal. It had appeared docile and well-trained. Now the creature was completely wild: snorting, leaping, flailing his front legs which were wrapped in white bandages, while three exasperated men shouted and hauled back on the ropes tied to his halter. Overhead, on a long arm from the ship’s crane, hung a thick leather harness that they had been attempting to fasten to the horse so they could winch him on board the ship. Erestor watched in absolute horror as the stallion reared up again and caught a foreleg in the harness. 
         
“Halt! Don’t move!” Glorfindel’s voice boomed above the din. Everyone froze. “You,” Glorfindel gestured at the men who held the ropes, “Let go. Back away from him.”  The men looked at each other and then did as the fierce elf lord commanded. The horse shrilled savagely and continued fighting the harness, hopping around on three legs. The hooves clattered against the planking.  Glorfindel began speaking in Sindarin, his voice low and musical, almost like humming bees. The words were singsong nonsense but they seemed to project calm.  Suddenly Erestor envisioned a field of rippling grass. 

Blowing hard through flared nostrils, the horse stopped thrashing and stared at Glorfindel. Slowly, deliberately, the warrior approached. He reached out a hand; placed it on the animal’s neck.  The strange nonsense poured from his lips.  The horse’s ears pricked forward. Glorfindel grasped the leg that hung in the harness, gently lifted it a little, slid the harness away, then let it down to the dock.  The stallion was poised for flight, stiff and trembling. Glorfindel continued speaking to him in a crooning tone, as one would a lover, while gently stroking his neck, his ears, his nose. Then the elf lord leaned his forehead against the animal’s neck and spoke so softly Erestor could barely hear him.  Slowly the stallion lowered his proud head and his breathing eased.

The men around them relaxed and the buzz of speech began.  Erestor was struck dumb, filled with unexpected admiration. He knew his companion had a way with animals but had never seen him do this before. It was extraordinary.       

Glorfindel turned his head, still with his cheek pressed to the horse’s neck. “Erestor, come here. I need your help.”  Erestor approached with some trepidation. The horse watched him suspiciously. “Talk to him,” Glorfindel said.

“What do I say?” Erestor asked.

“It doesn’t matter.  Introduce yourself. Talk of the weather for Mandos’ sake.  Come here and put your hand on his neck.”  

“Hello friend horse,” Erestor began. “I am Erestor, Counselor and Strategist to the High Elven King Gil-galad.  And your name is, what did Prince Du-phursa call him?”

“Oiolairë,” Glorfindel said.  He was busy running his hands down the animal’s legs to make sure he wasn’t injured. 

“Ah yes, Oiolairë.  Interesting name that.  An evergreen tree. On Númenor, it’s sacred.  They affix a branch on the prow of a ship to secure Ossë’s blessings for a safe voyage. Perhaps you are meant to be our safe passage home, eh?”
 
The horse was listening to him with ears pricked forward and now he gave a small grunt and nudged Erestor with his nose.

“Erestor, I didn’t know you had a way with horses,” Glorfindel said as he straightened up.

Erestor felt himself blush with pleasure. He hadn’t had much call to work around horses. Mostly he viewed them as a necessary evil to get from one place to the next.  He stroked Oiolairë’s silky white neck and admired him. He was truly a splendid gift: spirited, fine carriage, intelligent face, long powerful legs, well-sprung chest.  His coloring was striking: white and black, a study in contrasts, like day and night. Even Erestor could tell that the offspring of this horse would greatly enhance the King’s stock.  The animal was worth several talents of gold. The Prince must really desire the alliance with Gil-galad that they had discussed. 

                                               
“My lord, how will we get him aboard the ship? He fights the harness,” asked one of the men who had been attempting to control the horse.

“Wouldn’t you fight if someone tried to strap something around your belly and hoist you through the air?” Glorfindel asked. “Where is his groom?  He needs someone he trusts.”

“His groom was detained,” said another man.  “He appears to trust you.”

“So be it,” Glorfindel said. “Bring me a scarf.” 

The first man unwound a cloth from his waist and handed it to Glorfindel.  Still murmuring reassurances in that low, melodic voice, the warrior tied the cloth around the animal’s eyes.   
                             
“I need help fastening the rig,” Glorfindel said. “You and you, approach slowly and quietly.  Erestor, hold onto his halter; keep talking to him.”   

After some false starts in which the stallion sidestepped out of the harness, they managed to secure him.  Glorfindel signaled to the men on the ship to start cranking the winch and slowly the horse was lifted off the ground and swung over the water.  He struggled, his legs thrashing as he became airborne.  Glorfindel called to him and the horse eventually relaxed. When his hooves touched the deck of the ship, the crowd cheered.

“Well, that’s done,” Glorfindel said, “Now we need to get aboard ourselves.”  He clapped Erestor on the back.  “A nice piece of work, friend. I didn’t know you had such a skill.”

Erestor had stiffened under the warrior’s touch. “I don’t,” he replied shortly. “Let’s get on with this, shall we?  I wish to be out to sea, away from this heat.”

They reached the ship by way of a fifteen-foot long, swaying gangplank. Glorfindel ran across it as if it were a highway.  Erestor came more cautiously. Once aboard, they went down into the hold where the sailors had lowered the unfortunate horse.  Although his stall was large and well ventilated, he looked ill at ease, shifting back and forth in an attempt to brace against the gentle rock of the ship.  He was supported about the belly by a harness that was tied to the sides of the stall. He still wore the blindfold.

“At least they know enough about transporting horses to leave his head free,” Glorfindel said.

“Why does that matter?” Erestor asked.

“They need to be able to lower their heads or they get ill,” Glorfindel replied.  He ducked under the rope barrier and entered the stall. “Suilad, old man,” he said. “Don’t fret. You’ll become used to it.”  He patted his neck, then carefully took off the blindfold.   The horse tossed his head with a loud snort.  “I understand your dislike of boats,” Glorfindel said. “I’m not partial to them myself. It will be only seven or eight days, Ossë willing, until your feet touch land again.”  He held out a hand filled with grain from the bin and the horse accepted it. After some time, the animal appeared to quiet and began drinking water from the bucket in the feedbin.

Erestor breathed a sigh of relief.  They had considered riding the horse back to Lindon by the overland route but that would have taken four months and would have been harder on the horse, not to mention the thought of brigands along the way.  No, this was the best method.

“Well, now that our charge is safely bedded down,” Erestor said, “I’m going on deck to see if they have delivered my trunk to our cabin. I expect half of the contents to be missing or at the least to find it filled with snakes.  I swear they went through it thoroughly while we cooled our heels in court. Everything was out of place.”

“You don’t have much faith in our hosts,” Glorfindel said, smiling.

“Should I? You and I both have watched the Darkness creeping over every enclave from here to Gondor,” Erestor said.  “I learned enough at Court to be disquieted. There are clearly several competing factions within Umbar. Just because Prince Du-phursa is Númenórean doesn’t aid us.  Númenor darkens too.”

Glorfindel nodded. “I see the signs as well as you, my friend and I've learned a few things myself.  I know what rides on this mission, as they say. Let’s go check on your trunk.”

They climbed the ramp to the deck and found the captain standing amidships shouting orders to a score of barely-clad young men who were climbing rigging, unfurling the sails, and hoisting the anchor.  Glorfindel gazed about with an appreciative smile.  Erestor had to bite his tongue to keep from making a snide comment.  The wind caught a sail and it bellied full just as several men pushed away from the docks.  The ship lurched forward. Overhead, the gulls screeched.

“Well, Erestor, you should be happy. We’re heading home,” Glorfindel shouted.  The wind took his words and flung them away.  He was beaming.  Erestor smiled too.  Yes, thank the Valar, they were headed home.   

*******************

Because they were important passengers, high-ranking members of Gil-galad’s court, Erestor and Glorfindel always dined with the captain who had the cabin next to theirs.  The crew all ate and slept in the hold below.
                                               
The Captain’s name was Azra Armalak.  He was Númenórean-born and had spent most of his life at sea.  He was lanky except for a large belly, wore his hair in a queue, and sported a long mustache. Even on land, he walked with a rolling gate.  He claimed kinship with the royal house of Númenor, in the distant past through a sister of Tar-Súrion. His talk was salty and his manners atrocious, a fact that Glorfindel enjoyed and Erestor tolerated. However, he was one of the Elendili, the elf-friends, and as such was loyal to Gil-galad. 

When they entered the cabin, the captain was awaiting them with outstretched arms. “Greetings my lords, Glorfindel, Erestor.  How fine to see both of ye back aboard.  The wind’s abaft us and we’re off to Lindon on a wing and a prayer, Mandos be cussed.”

“Good evening Captain Armalak,” Erestor said with a bow.  “And you may ‘cuss’ Mandos as you say, as long as prayers are offered to Ossë and Ulmo.”

“Is he always this damn formal, Findel?”

“Usually worse,” said Glorfindel. “I do believe he’s loosening up.” 

“I am merely cautious,” said Erestor. “I have no desire to wash up on the rocks somewhere through offense to the Valar.”

“Ah the Valar will do what they will, eh?  I’ve learnt that after sixty years asea.  Still Counselor Erestor, I’ve never been washed up anywheres yet.  And you Findel, gone native, I dare say.”  Stroking his chin, he walked around Glorfindel eyeing him appraisingly. “You look like a damned brigand.”

“It’s practical in this heat,” said Glorfindel. “I’ve learned to adopt the local dress wherever I go. They usually wear it for a reason.  Erestor and I have already had this discussion.”

“And I felt that as ambassadors from Gil-galad, we should look the part,” said Erestor. “However, there is no need for protocol here. I too can adapt.”  He looked pointedly at Glorfindel as he took off his thigh-length fitted jacket of black silk revealing a pleated linen shirt with lace collar and cuffs.  “There, much better.  I feel I can breathe.”
                                               
Glorfindel was looking at him with amusement.  “Do I win the wager?” he asked.

“Certainly not. We are not in Umbar now.”

“You are the stubbornest elf I know, Erestor,” said Glorfindel.

The Captain laughed at this exchange. “I see that a fortnight in Umbar hasn’t changed you two a bit.  I think the Haradren dress suits you, Glorfindel.  Nice physique, wouldn’t you say, Erestor?”

Erestor made a humphing sound. Captain Armalak laughed again. “Come, let’s sit down and eat,” he said.  “I’m fair fit to eat that horse we’ve got down in the hold.”

They sat at the table and the Captain rang a bell. “I hired a new boy while in port,” he said.  “A fair looker too, though personally I’m one for women.”  He winked at Glorfindel. The door opened and Erestor’s mouth dropped for a moment. It was the same young man who had served them in the shop. He was carrying a plate of fish and a basket of bread, which he set down on the sideboard.  Now that he was out in the bright light, Erestor could see the full extent of his loveliness: an almost feminine face with high cheekbones, bright eyes lined with kohl, a long, narrow nose, and shapely lips. Most of his black hair was bound up by a wide red headband but one curling lock escaped its confines and hung over his shoulder, halfway down his chest. The sides of his sleeveless white tunic were slit and loosely laced revealing tantalizing flashes of olive skin. Erestor was not pleased to see Glorfindel’s broadening smile. 

“Ardan!” Glorfindel cried.

“My Lord Glorfindel.”  The boy demurely dropped his glance and smiled, a lovely flash of white teeth. 

Ai gods, Erestor thought. He looked up at the elaborately carved ceiling.

“How do you come to be working aboard this ship?” Glorfindel queried.

“He showed up this morning with a letter of recommendation from the Prince’s Minister of Commerce,” Armalak said. “Said he could cook and keep track of the stores.  Fortunate, since my previous cabin boy ran off shortly after we come ashore and I ain’t seen him since.  This one is from an old merchant family. By Ossë, when he told me who his family was, I realized I knew his grandfather. Confided in me, he did, that he’s always wanted to go to sea.  Adventurous that.  Reminded me of me when I were his age.  And how, I ask ye my lords, could I turn that down.”  He gestured palm up at the boy who was smiling again with a coy expression.

“I can’t imagine how,” Glorfindel said, rather breathlessly.

Something was prickling at Erestor, something he didn’t like.  Almost of warning. He didn’t know what to do with the feeling, so he fought it down.

“Why didn’t you tell me this afternoon that you would be sailing on the Hirilondë?” Glorfindel asked.

“I wanted to surprise you,” Ardan said with a slight shrug.

"You succeeded," Glorfindel replied.

“Well lad, be about your business then,” said Armalak 

“Yes sir.”                                     

Glorfindel raptly watched the young man laying out the dishes, cups, and food.  Erestor noticed that he brushed against Glorfindel as he was pouring out the wine.  Glorfindel looked up and they exchanged a smile. When completed, Armalak dismissed the boy with a wave of the hand.  “I’ll ring when we require the next course,” he said.

Armalak raised his wooden wine cup. “Counselor Erestor, would you do the honors?”

Erestor nodded.  He dipped his finger in the cup, took up a drop of wine on his finger which he let fall on the votive plate, then a pinch of bread, a bit of salt. He pulled a knife from his belt and pricked his callused thumb with it, allowing a drop of crimson to splash down into the wine.  Then he swirled his thumb in a tight circle through the mixture. The salt stung. “Hear us, Ulmo, Lord of Waters, and Ossë of the Waves, grant your humble servants safe passage over your restless domain.”

“Hear us,” both the Captain and Glorfindel intoned.  Then, without even waiting a decent interval, Armalak was tearing at his bread like a starving wolf.

More daintily, Erestor began to eat his fish.  It had a fine flavor. 

“This is good,” said Glorfindel.  “Who knew the boy could cook?”

“Yes, who knew,” Erestor said dryly.

“You sound as if you don’t approve of my new hire,” Armalak said with a laugh. “I believe Findel has a different opinion.”  

“It is not my place to approve or disapprove,” Erestor said. “I merely have unfounded suspicions.”

Glorfindel looked at him and then a slow grin spread over his face. “My dear Erestor, just because you can’t eat, don’t begrudge someone else the feast.”

“What do you mean?” The Captain said around a mouthful.

“Ah, you didn’t know, Armalak?” replied Glorfindel. “Our dear friend and companion has taken a vow of chastity in service of Ossë, about five hundred years ago, I believe. It’s crap inconvenient at times.”  Glorfindel shook his head.

"Five hundred and fifty years exactly," said Erestor.

Armalak widened his eyes. “I didn’t know Ossë required that of his devotees.”

“Normally, he doesn’t,” Erestor said with dignity. “However, I have my reasons, which remain my own.”

“Damn shame,” Armalak said as he picked a fish bone out of his teeth. “Someone of your looks. Begging your pardon, my lord, but there it is.  I’d be blind if I couldn’t see it, even though women is more to my taste.  However,” he grinned and licked his lips as he ran his eyes over Erestor, "we shouldn't fault variety, should we?"

Erestor abruptly stood.  He grasped the sides of the table as he leaned menacingly toward Armalak. "You’re out of your place, Captain.”

“Forgive me,” Armalak replied.  He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and continued chewing. 

“Eh, Erestor, sit down,” said Glorfindel.  “I swear, you are so backed up that it is affecting your head.”

“I don’t see that frequent indulgence has improved your ability to be discerning,” Erestor scoffed as he sank back in his seat. “Who kept disappearing with the Prince’s sister while leaving me to wend my way through the nuanced intrigue of Umbarian conversation?  Half the time I didn’t know if I was being insulted or pumped for information.  I suspect both, but it was so,” he waved his hand, “subtly done.”

“They are known for that.  But you yourself are a master at such word games, Erestor,” Glorfindel said. “Many is the time I’ve seen you in Council put down some pompous elf so beautifully he didn’t even know it afterward.   I love to see that little half-smile on Ereinion’s face when you do it too.  Nothing gets by that old fox.”            

The rare compliment took Erestor by surprise.  He dipped his head in acknowledgment.

“Besides,” Glorfindel raised his glass, “what makes you think my time with Princess Ilien was not productive?  She shared many things that may be quite useful. Sometimes horizontal conversations are the most revealing, wouldn’t you say?”  He took a sip of wine.

Armalak burst into laughter, reached over and clapped his hand on Glorfindel’s shoulder.  “I like you, Findel,” he said. “I didn't think the elves were so hot-blooded.” 

“Who says we're not?” Glorfindel raised a slanted eyebrow.

“It’s a wonder we weren’t stabbed in our beds,” Erestor responded. “I hope this is not being discussed all over court.”

“Not a word,” Glorfindel said. “I assure you.”

“Well, I’m ready for the duck,” Armalak said. “What d’ye say I ring and we give Glorfindel another gawk at our lovely new server? Gil-galad’s Master at Arms appears to have a taste for Southron arse.”  He laughed again as he picked up the hand bell.

Erestor could only grit his teeth.

*************************************** 

After dinner, Glorfindel went to check on the horse while Erestor stood on deck and watched Anor recede in fiery glory below the horizon. Already the coastline was only visible as a distant brown haze that encircled them on three sides.  Erestor knew the way by heart. First they would clear the jaws of the Bay of Umbar and then strike directly across the Bay of Belfalas for the Cape of Anfalas, then meander along, keeping the coast in sight on the starboard side, past the lands of Enedwaith, Minhiriath, Harlindon to the Gulf of Lune. With a good wind, which they should have at this time of year, they would make it home in time for Mettarë, the winter solstice celebration.  Of all the rituals in the year, Erestor was most fond of this one. He smiled, remembering the candles blazing throughout the castle, the pungent smell of pine boughs that decorated the doorframes and banisters, and the mouth-watering smells of roast goose, spiced pies, and mulled wine punch with oranges, cinnamon, and cloves.  He loved the laughter and the singing that went on all day and into the night. And of course the little gifts.  He had picked up a few things in Umbar, uncommon enough to be real treats for his friends.  In a weak moment, he’d even bought something for Glorfindel, though now he wondered if he’d have the nerve to give it to him.  It was a little horse carved of ivory, exquisitely done.  The moment he saw it, Erestor had fallen in love with it. This afternoon when he’d seen Glorfindel’s gift of speaking to horses, he knew it had been the right choice.  But now . . .

He watched Glorfindel come up out of the hold, followed by that Haradren boy.  They went out to the stern of the ship and the boy pointed out things on the horizon.  Erestor could hear the low murmur of his voice and Glorfindel’s purring response.  Then Glorfindel put his arm around the young man’s waist. 

Erestor retreated into their cabin.

The cabin was warm and somewhat close compared to the cool air outside.  Erestor removed his jacket; unbuttoned and rolled up his sleeves.  He pushed on the round window at one end and latched it open.  Then, he took out the hammock stored in a bin built into the wall and clipped each of its four ends into the metal hooks hanging from the ceiling.  The hammock now took up most of the left side of the small cabin.  Glorfindel could sleep on the built-in shelf with the tick mattress across from the hammock. Erestor would be hung on a spit before he’d sleep in the same bed with him.

He took off his shoes and stockings and put them in the corner.  Then he exchanged his shirt for a silk sleeping chemise.  He still wore his leggings.  Unbraiding his long dark hair, he took a rare moment to feel pleasure in its silky weight. Then, he lit a candle which he stuck in the holder near his head. He rummaged through his trunk and removed a book.  He thought for a moment, then pulled his sheathed knife from his belt and hid it under a pillow in the hammock. Stepping on the recess below the window, he climbed up into the hammock and attempted to get comfortable, but the cursed thing swung wildly back and forth. Annoyed, he reached out and grabbed the candle sconce to steady it. He was reading with one arm propped behind his head when the door creaked open and Glorfindel entered, humming.  Erestor found he was pleased and annoyed to see him at the same time.  These contradictory emotions didn’t make any sense and the illogic of it just made him more annoyed. “You’re back,” Erestor said.

“Mmm, yes.  It’s a comely night. The stars are so beautiful . . . like lacework threaded with gems. You should have come out to see them.”

“I’ve seen them countless nights.  This one is no different.”

Glorfindel sighed. “Why are we always sparring, Erestor?”

“Because we don’t like each other?” Erestor closed his book to look at him.

“Actually, I rather like YOU, you fussy old fool,” Glorfindel said.  He unbuckled his belt and set it aside, then began drawing his tunic over his head.  The bells in his hair shivered with sound.

“Hunh,” Erestor said and opened his book again. “It seems you favor any pretty young thing that crosses your path.”

“I didn’t take a vow of celibacy,” Glorfindel said gently. 

Erestor raised his eyes from the book to look at him and discovered that the warrior had turned his back and was stripping off his loose trousers.  He straightened, his skin clothed only in the flickering yellow light.  Erestor had to catch his breath at the magnificence of that body, long limbs with muscles honed and sculpted by hours of battle practice. He wasn’t over-built as Erestor had seen some warriors become.  Instead he was lean, well proportioned, sleek as an otter. Just perfect.  And that beautiful hair.  It rippled down his back like a river surging over rapids. Erestor wondered how it would feel tangled in his fingers, or better yet, slithering down his chest.  His glance lingered on Glorfindel’s arse with its artful curves, strong, with that indentation at the hips.  How delightful it would be cupped in his hands. Then Glorfindel turned and Erestor’s eyes darted down his strong chest, across the rippling muscles of his abdomen, to the nest of golden curls, and below. . . . Unconsciously, Erestor licked his lips and then felt heat flood his face when Glorfindel looked up and discovered his gaze.  The Elda slowly smiled at him. “Do you like what you see?” he asked.

“Impertinent,” Erestor grumbled, turning away.  “You’re actually going to sleep naked.  What if we run aground and there you are, without a stitch on.”

“Then I’ll not be weighed down by my clothes,” Glorfindel said. “My dear Counselor, always worrying.”  He sat on the edge of the bed and began unbraiding his hair and sliding the bells out of it.  He set them down, one after another on the bed where they rolled gently back and forth with the lilt of the ship.

“Why are you doing that?” Erestor asked.

“I don’t want to disturb your slumber with noise every time I turn over."  He finished with his task, scooped up the bells, and dropped them in his trunk. "Sleep well, old friend.”

“Maer dü. Good night, Findel.”

Erestor reached over and snuffed out the candle.  He heard the crunch of the mattress as Glorfindel got into the bed and then the soft rustle of a linen sheet.  It became quiet: naught but the creak of ropes and mast, the occasional flap of the sails outside, and the slow rock of the boat.  All of it spoke softly of sleep. 

“Erestor,” he heard Glorfindel whisper.

“What?”

“Put that fine analytical mind of yours on this problem.  Why wasn’t Oiolairë’s groom there to load him aboard the ship today?”

“They said he was detained.”

“Is that likely?  What more important task would he have than making sure his charge, his master’s gift, was safely loaded?”

“I do not know, but you’re correct, it doesn’t seem right,” Erestor said. “I will think on it.  And thank you . . . for the compliment.”

“Don’t get a swelled head,” Glorfindel returned. “Maer dü.”

End Notes:

rotel - a unit of measure, like a pound
Du-phursa - to gush in Adûnaic, the language of Númenor
Oiolairë - means ever-summer, an evergreen that grows in Númenor
Suilad - greetings
Azra - means "sea" in Adûnaic
Cape of Anfalas - this is made up by the author as Tolkien does not appear to have named the spit of land that sticks out at the north end of the Bay of Belfalas.
Maer dü - good night in Sindarin

 

Chapter 2 - The Bay of Belfalas by elfscribe

Moonlight entered the small porthole, providing the faintest of light. Erestor suddenly realized that something important was missing.  He crawled out of the hammock and began frantically searching the cabin.  He didn't know where or what it was. In the cargo hold, down below, he heard the stallion scream. There was a ringing of hooves and the sound of splintering wood, as if the beast were kicking down his stall.  It was disturbing but he couldn't attend to it just then. His trunk against the wall did not look right.  The familiar scene of Gondolin carved on its side had been replaced by hideous beasts, which brandished their tongues at him. Stumbling in the dark, Erestor went over to it, opened the lid, reached in, and felt around.  Ai! A sudden sharp pain struck his hand.  He cried out and jerked his hand back. A huge black snake poured over the rim and rapidly slithered under Glorfindel's bed.  Shocked, Erestor stuck his throbbing hand between his thighs, hoping to soothe the ache.

The door to their cabin opened with a soft creak. Abruptly, he was awake, his heart pounding in terror. Erestor took a deep breath and realized his hand no longer hurt. It had only been a dream. Thank the Valar.  He raised his head and then started as a human form slid into the room, solid and darker than the darkness. This was not a dream. Erestor reached for the knife he had hidden under his pillow.

There was the barest breath of a whisper, "Glorfindel. My lord, are you awake?"

A pause, then Glorfindel's answering whisper, "Yes. Come."              

The shadow moved into the room with a soft barefoot tread. Erestor could smell a faint scent, sweet and intoxicating.  What was that?  A memory prickled at him of a cascade of white, star-shaped flowers over a wall and Prince Du-phursa saying, 'Delicious, isn't it? I can't get enough of this smell.  There is a shop that makes the perfume down near the docks.' Jasmine. That was it.

Erestor could see the slender figure standing by Glorfindel's bed. "Do I presume too much, my lord?" he said.  The words were barely audible, sibilant.

"Not at all. I'm pleased. Come to me."

It was Ardan, of course. Erestor saw him slide onto the bed.  It was more a blur of movement than a definite image. There was a slight crunch of the mattress, shifting, bodies turning.  A long sigh.

"Ah Glorfindel, you're uh . . . oh!"

The air in the cabin seemed warm, heavy.  The jasmine scent drifted towards him like magic. Erestor relaxed his grip on the knife and settled back himself.  For a moment he considered speaking up and telling them that he was awake and didn't want to witness this sordid tryst.  Instead, he found himself straining to hear.

"You've unbound your hair, Ardan. It's lovely."

"You like it?"

"I do."  There was a deep inhalation. "And you smell so good."

"I'm glad it pleases you . . . my lord."  

"You do please me. Come here."

There was a soft, indeterminate sound. Then another, more clearly wet. Another sigh.  The sound of weight settling further into the mattress. Then nothing, for a long time.

The quiet was maddening.  Worse when marked by the slightest of sounds: a breathy groan, the rustle of the sheet, a moist pop of separating flesh. They were kissing.  It was becoming more heated, deeper, breathless.

There was a  growl.  That was Glorfindel. "Get rid of these," he said.

The slight form sat up, arms lifted, a rustle, then a faint plop of fabric hitting the floor. Another movement and a mattress shift, then something else landed on the floor.  Trousers, Erestor thought.

More shifting.

"That's better," Glorfindel whispered. "Much better. You are so beautiful."

There was a soft murmuring reply. A light chuckle. More movement.  Sighs.  Then an inhaled hiss of pain.  

"No teeth, you minx."

"Please forgive."  Another shift of weight and a period of quiet.

"Ah yes, that's good." That was Glorfindel speaking.  The bed creaked again. Then there was a moist kissing sound.  A groan, definitely from Glorfindel.  "Ardan . . . oh yes . . . that's . . . uhhh."

Erestor's imagination easily filled in all the missing information and more beyond.  He was so hard that it was painful.  He reached down, ran a finger up one side of his difficulty, down the other, shifted himself a little.  That felt good.  He stroked it again, rubbed over the end and felt the dampness seeping through the fabric.  Curse you, he thought, always getting me in trouble.

It seemed to go on forever: the little moans, the soft, wet sounds, now a rhythmic hitching of a bedsheet. Erestor twisted uncomfortably. His hand strayed downward, caressing.

He heard a gasping breath, then another, coming quicker.  A whimper. "Uhhhh, please, my lord, please!"

A lower moan. "Hold still."  That was Glorfindel.  There was more movement, shifting, the mattress crunched. Erestor heard definite rhythmic wet sounds.  It was maddening.

"Glorfindel, please."

"Do you want it?"

"Oh yes!"

There was another long pause. "Unnhhhh!"  The pained gasp was from Ardan.   

"All right?"

"Oh . . .gods, you're . . . unh."

A slight chuckle.  "Not too much?"

"No, I like it."

"You feel good, Ardan. So good."

More movement.  The wood creaked-- slightly, then quicker. A breathy gasp, Another.  A muffled cry.  Then there was a soft slapping sound of flesh connecting. At the end of each slap there was a light gasp and a panting, pleading moan.

Erestor couldn't take it anymore.  With both hands, he unlaced his leggings and pulled himself free.  He spat on one hand and began stroking in time with the sounds below.

There was another gasp and Ardan's light voice, "Please, harder."  The slight knocking increased in speed.

It went on endlessly.  Curse Glorfindel for having such stamina.  Erestor could feel an explosion building in his loins.  He rocked his hips with each stroke.  Oh, it was so good.  So good. And suddenly he was erupting in a glorious surge of feeling.  By the gods! He had forgone this for too long.  He moaned and then bit his lip to keep quiet.  It was no matter. They were making enough noise below him now, apparently having abandoned efforts to be quiet.  He milked out the last tremors, feeling disgusted at the stickiness on his hand.  At a loss, he finally wiped it against his leggings.
    
There was a soft wail from Ardan, following by a deep breathy groan from Glorfindel.  The knocking stopped a moment, then continued more slowly, more slowly still, finally ceasing.  Soft panting.  Then another shift on the mattress.  A quiet chuckle from Glorfindel.  A giggle from Ardan.  More kissing.

"Did you like that?"
                                              
"Mmmm. You are like stallion. I want more."

"Sshhh, don't wake my companion."

Too late, Erestor thought. Glorfindel, you piece of orcspawn!  You had to have known I wouldn't sleep through all that. I don't know how I'm going to get my revenge, but be assured, it will be suitably nasty. He continued to listen, but the quiet deepened.  Finally, just as he was drifting off, he heard, "I must go now."  Another kiss, followed by a squeak of the bed and shuffling.  The shadow moved about picking up something off the floor.  Soft rustling of clothes.  "Good night, my lord."

"Good night, sweet boy."

The door creaked open, shut.  With an aching heart, Erestor lay in the dark, awash in a sea of conflicting emotions and imaginings.

***************************
Erestor awoke with the dawn.  Half sitting up as best he could in the finicky hammock, he looked down at Glorfindel. He was sleeping deeply, lying on his face, one arm flung up, rippling yellow hair spread about his back like a cloak. The sheet had slipped down to his legs revealing his muscular backside. It was an inspiring sight. Erestor felt a hot surge within his loins, which only served to irritate him.  Out of long habit, he suppressed the feeling, climbed out of the hammock and dropped to the floor. Last night had been an aberration, a lapse of his formidable control.  It must have come from that dream. In the past, vivid nightmares had always meant something important if only he could decipher them, and often they were prescient.  He had learned to pay attention to them.   

He went over to his trunk, which was shoved up against the wall.  It looked rather unremarkable - a light cedar wood, unpainted but richly carved.  This trunk had carried his few belongings out of the wreck of Eregion - over five hundred years ago now.  For a moment, he felt the weight of his years.

He lifted the lid.  When he'd checked it the day before, he'd noted that, as he suspected, someone had been in it.  His clothes had been disturbed. But they couldn't have found the secret compartment in the lid. Could they? He pressed the hidden latch. The false top clicked open, revealing the compartment in which he had placed the letter from Prince Du-phursa.  He drew it out and looked at it.  It was heavy, bound in textured parchment and sealed with red wax in three places, each with the Prince's personal seal - a hawk clutching a coiling serpent in its talons.  He remembered the tall Númenórean prince taking him aside yesterday morning before they had departed and pressing the large envelope into his hands. 'Take this to your King,' he'd whispered in a voice heavy with conspiracy.  'It's terribly important that you yourself place it into his hands.  Let no one else see it.  And my gift, the horse, must reach him as well.'

'Why is it so important?' Erestor had asked.  

'The letter will explain.  But let me say this. The Dark Lord is again stretching forth his hand and his reach has come even unto Umbar.  I have many in my own court whom I cannot trust. Do not let Ereinion Gil-galad believe he is immune in his far northern kingdom.  It is coming there too.  I have had disturbing news.  Can I trust you and Lord Glorfindel to deliver this at all cost?'

'Yes, my lord,' Erestor had said with a bow.  He had thrust the envelope into a pocket in his coat, the coat that was heavy enough to conceal such a package, even though Glorfindel had made fun of him for wearing it.

He ran his fingers over the seal and considered his dream.  Was the deadly snake a symbol of the letter's contents?  Or was it something else?  He looked up - right into the clear blue eyes of his awakened companion who was contemplating him with one hand propped under his chin. Erestor's eyes lingered on that face - the one that had captivated him long ago with its contradictions: so strong and confident and also so vulnerable.  At times, such as now, he radiated a wide-eyed innocence.  At others, he embodied masculine power and predatory mischief. Always, he was Desire in its purest form.  Erestor's tongue had become his defense against such a formidable temptation.  

"Still worried about that message from the Prince?" Glorfindel said softly.

Erestor nodded. "I had a disturbing dream last night."

"I know. You cried out."

"It's remarkable that you heard anything, what with all the noise you were making."  Erestor slid the envelope back into its compartment and closed it.  It disappeared into the lid of the trunk. The workmanship was extraordinary, rendering it truly invisible.

"Noise I was making?" Glorfindel asked sweetly. "I wasn't making any noise when you had that dream."

"You lecherous villain.  Did you think I was asleep for that sordid performance with the Haradren boy?"

"No. I knew you were not."

"Then you are twice a lecher and a cad," Erestor snarled. He pulled his nightshirt off over his head and dug around in the trunk for his day clothes.

"You could have said something if you wanted it to stop.  If I heard aright, you rather enjoyed it," Glorfindel said.

"What?" Erestor spluttered.

"Unhh uhh," Glorfindel groaned.  It was probably an accurate rendition of Erestor's moan of completion last night. 

"You are beyond belief for sheer audacity," Erestor snapped. "How could you possibly have heard that while you two were carrying on loud enough to wake the entire crew?"

Glorfindel rose from the bed in all his naked glory and padded over to Erestor, who stood there bare-chested, fumbling with a shirt.  Glorfindel gently patted Erestor's cheek. "What makes you think that whole performance wasn’t for you, Counselor?”

"I hate you,” Erestor replied acidly. He took a step backwards, then quickly pulled the shirt over his head.

Glorfindel thrust his hands into his own hair, lifting it away from his head and letting it slowly sift through his fingers. "The boy was lovely," he said with a little moan. "So passionate. So hot and tight."

"Stop it," Erestor said.

Abruptly Glorfindel stepped forward and took him in his arms. He held Erestor gently but firmly about the waist, pressing his warm, muscular body hard against him.  A shiver of excitement thrilled through Erestor.  They were the same height.  Glorfindel's enticing lips were inches away from his. All he needed to do was lean forward.  Struggling against the idea, he looked into Glorfindel's eyes.  For a moment the two elves stared at each other. Erestor had expected to see that sardonic smirk but, surprisingly, Glorfindel's expression was tender. He reached up and brushed a strand of hair away from Erestor's face. "One day, Erestor, I'm going to crack that armor of yours," he said in a husky voice.

Erestor panicked.  He shrugged Glorfindel off.  "Not today," he said.

"Such a shame," Glorfindel replied, turning away.  He began rummaging through his own trunk for his clothes, found his trousers and donned them. 

Erestor said, "For the King's Master at Arms, you showed a complete lack of caution in welcoming that boy into your bed last night.  What if he had been an assassin waiting for an opportunity to slit your throat?"

Glorfindel plunged his hand down behind his mattress and brought up one of his long knives, unsheathed.  It glittered in the early morning light. "He wouldn't have lasted long if he was."

Erestor nodded in approval.

"I made certain he had no weapons. I can assure you, there is no place that I did not check."  He grinned wolfishly at Erestor.  Yes, that was the Glorfindel he knew.

"Yes, I'm sure," Erestor said dryly. "Still, I urge caution.  There's something suspicious about him showing up on this ship."

Glorfindel looked at him shrewdly. "I agree and I expect you'll investigate, won't you, Counselor?"  He pulled on his tunic.

"You know me too well," Erestor replied, with a grim smile.

Glorfindel chuckled. "Let's go have breakfast."

*********************************
Ardan had scrambled some eggs for them, which he served along with some of his family's biscuits.  Erestor had to admit, once softened by dunking in tea, they were good.  However, he had to grit his teeth to keep from saying anything when Ardan and Glorfindel looked at each other and Ardan's face lit with a sweet smile.  The boy seemed genuinely infatuated.  He was beautiful.  Erestor felt a strange knot in his gut.

After breakfast, Erestor went out on deck. The Captain was already out by the rudder checking his position with the sextant. The day was turning fair with a good wind.  No land was in sight.  They must be crossing the immense Bay of Belfalas. Anor was rising on the starboard side and towards the stern, so Erestor guessed they were heading in about the right direction, northwest.

"We're two degrees off," Armalak pronounced.  "Make the correction, Nadroth," he cried to his helmsman. "The wind's shifted. Prepare to come about."

There was a chorus of 'yes sirs.'  Several of the sailors began pulling ropes to move the sails.  

Erestor kept out of the way while studying the men. The Hirilondë was light and fast and didn't need a large crew.  There were ten of them on this watch, most of whom he recognized from the voyage down, but now he noticed two new ones.  Their features indicated that they were both Haradrim.  They wore the cotton tunic and voluminous trousers but neither had the knotted headscarf.  Instead their hair was plaited into dozens of small braids bound at the ends with strips of red cloth.  'That's different,' Erestor thought. He had seen that style before in Umbar, even among some of the men at court.   

When Armalak finally had the ship under way to his satisfaction, Erestor approached him.  "Captain, who are the new recruits?"

"Hired them in Umbar to replace the local lads who went home.  They came recommended, just as Ardan did."

"Who recommended them?"

"They had letters from the scribe Ures."

Ah, Erestor thought.  He'd met that scribe.  He worked for . . . yes, that was it, Princess Ilien, the one Glorfindel had so thoroughly enjoyed. 

Armalak looked at him with one eye squinted. "Do ye have cause for concern, Counselor?"

"Possibly."

"I understand.  I asked a couple of the lads I trust to keep an eye on them."

"Good thinking."

Erestor stood watching for some time.  He found he was enjoying the breeze in his hair.  Then Armalak clapped him on the shoulder, "Look, Erestor, dolphins!"

Indeed, there were three of them.  They leapt and played in the spray alongside the ship. The sight made his heart soar.  Then suddenly he was remembering a terrible night five hundred and fifty years ago. He recalled the terror of the storm, the sudden shudder of the ship, men shouting, water pouring over him, a frantic grasp for anything substantial . . . then the dark cold water closing over his head. He couldn't breathe. He heard himself praying, "Ossë, hear me." He remembered the hard shove of a long snout pushing him through the freezing blackness to the surface and that blessed gulp of air that tore at his lungs.

"Erestor?  What ails you?"  He heard Armalak shouting at him and realized he was bent over, gripping the gunwale while staring down at the iron-grey water.

"I feel ill," Erestor said. "Forgive me, I think I'll lie down."

Shakily, he made his way to the cabin, then paused just outside. Ever so faintly, he detected the jasmine scent.  He opened the door. The first thing he saw was a set of clenched bare buttocks, pumping back and forth, then he noted that they were connected to a completely naked Glorfindel who was standing with a writhing Ardan held in his arms. A pair of brown knees gripped Glorfindel's sides and the legs were crossed at the ankles around his back.  The pumping motion was accompanied by the music of rhythmic gasps and the thumping of Ardan's back up against the bulkhead. He looked as if he was thoroughly enjoying the pounding.  His head was thrown back and his eyes were closed in rapture.

At first, Erestor froze in surprise. Then he was filled with anger - and other less noble emotions.

At that moment, Ardan opened his eyes and saw him. "My lord . . . Erestor!" he spluttered.  Glorfindel turned to look, at the same time as Ardan flailed and grabbed one of the ropes supporting the hammock, using it to pull himself upright.  The hook ripped free from the ceiling. With a wide-eyed look of surprise, Ardan shot backwards with it still in his hand.  He managed to twist sideways and fall onto the bed. The shift in balance pulled Glorfindel, still connected, over on top of him. One end of the hammock slithered down, covering them both.

"Aiiii, I think you broke it!" exclaimed the Glorfindel-shaped lump under the hammock, and then he began laughing.

In utter disgust, Erestor hissed, "Wantons! Both of you!" and slammed shut the door.

He turned to see several of the sailors grinning at him. Curse Glorfindel!  If he wanted to behave like a varlet, that was his prerogative. But why did he have to flaunt it? Summoning what dignity he could, Erestor went down into the hold to see what he could learn from the off-duty crew.

He paused outside the horse's stall. Oiolairë pricked his ears forward and Erestor patted his neck. "I think it would be less complicated to be a horse," he said and Oiolairë snorted.

Nearby, in the crew's section of the ship, he found three men crouched around a game of sigil.  Erestor recognized all of them from the first leg of the journey.  One of them was a handsome, dark-skinned Haradrim named Lornis. He wore the traditional knotted headscarf.  The other two were Númenórean.  The older one named Zirik shaved his head; the younger one, Aratanur, wore his hair in a long queue like Captain Armalak.  Erestor approached quietly.

Zirik looked up from the game. "Look mîkin, Gil-galad's Counselor blesses us with his presence."  His voice was heavy with sarcasm.

The Haradrim nudged him, "Respect is in order, Zirik," he said. "Is there something you require, Counselor?"  His voice was deep and resonant.

"I grow weary of the journey and would like some diversion," Erestor said, "May I join your game?"

Aratanur looked up at Erestor as if he were a dish of sweets. He actually licked his lips.

"There is not diversion enough in your cabin that you would seek it down here?" Zirik said with a smirk.  "If Lord Glorfindel is occupied with the Haradren karbî, you should know that I can give you whatever you need."  He poked Aratanur.

"I doubt that," Erestor said.  He squatted down and folded his legs under him.  They had chalked the sigil gameboard on the wooden floor - an outline of a star drawn in a continuous line so that its arms were five triangles.  The knife was embedded point down in the upper right triangle.  The floor was pitted with gouges. "What are you playing for?" Erestor asked.

"Chits," Aratanur said. "The winner calls for a favor from the loser. Right now we are playing for next watch. What would you wager?"   

Erestor pulled the knife from the floor, flipped it in the air, deftly caught it, then tossed it again. It described an arc and landed point down in the center of the top triangle.  "I would like to play for some information," he said.

The men laughed, clearly impressed.

"A shark," Zirik said, shaking his head. "This is what we get for playing with a scunning elf. What do you want to know?"

"What's a karbî?" Erestor said 

"Ah, that would be a she-horse, wouldn't it?" replied Zirik.  "You know, one who likes the bottom."  He winked at Erestor.

"Understood," Erestor said. He flipped the knife again and it landed in the upper right triangle.

"Well played," Lornis said.

"What do you know about Ardan, aside from his sexual proclivities?" Erestor asked.

"Good cook.  Nice arse," Zirik said. "Some of the lads were making a play for him when he showed up yesterday. But he can take care of himself all right.  Pulled a knife on Nadroth when he got too frisky.  Seems he's set his sights on quality."

"His family is merchant class," said Lornis, "but he has attracted notice at court, they say."

"Is he working for someone at court?" Erestor asked.

"Unknown," Lornis said.

"He seems to be working on Lord Glorfindel at present," Zirik said.  "He was seen getting cozy with him last night on deck.  Now that's something I'd pay to see - the two of them together."  He leered at Erestor.

"Hold your tongue," Erestor said sharply. "You are too familiar." He pulled the knife from the board with an abrupt jerk and threw it at Zirik.  It stuck quivering on the floor right between his legs.
 
Zirik's mouth dropped in surprise, then he chuckled. "A near thing that, my lord.  Forgive my ill manners."

Erestor gave him a half-smile, reached over between Zirik's legs and pulled the knife free. He flipped it again and it landed in the next triangle down.

"Uncanny!" Aratanur cried.

"I was playing this two thousand years before you were born," Erestor said. "Now, tell me, what do you know about the two new Haradrim with hair in ragties?"

Lornis scowled.  "I wouldn't have let them aboard," he said. "They're bad luck. But no one asked my opinion."

"How so?"  Erestor asked.

"Don't you know?"  Lornis lowered his voice to a whisper. "They are Lorcastrîn - acolytes of Azgara, the serpent.  They practice black magic.  There seem to be more and more of them in Harad and it does not bode well for the future.  I don't know what these two are doing aboard this ship, but I don't think they mean well."

"Where are your loyalties, Lornis?" Erestor asked suddenly.

Lornis ran his forefinger in a circular motion over his heart. "With Prince Du-phursa."

Erestor caught his gaze and held it until he was satisfied the man spoke the truth.  He nodded, then reached into his belt pouch and pulled out some silver, which he spilled on the floor, a little in front of each man.  "Can you keep an eye on Ardan and the Lorcastrîn and let me know if they do anything remotely suspicious?"

All three nodded.  "It would be a pleasure," Lornis said. "The Prince should have exiled that cult long ago.  Now, it seems to be spreading."

"Yes," said Erestor. "I know only too well where it comes from."

"Ah Erestor, there you are."  It was Glorfindel's voice. Erestor turned and saw him coming down the ramp into the hold. It was exactly like opening a shutter and letting the sun into a darkened room.  He was glorious, even if he couldn't keep his pants tied.  "I'm taking Oiolairë up on deck to stretch his legs.  Care to come with me?" Glorfindel asked.

"Your company is not something I can avoid at present, much as I might wish to," Erestor replied.

"I fixed your hammock," Glorfindel said.

"Only of slight consolation," Erestor replied, glaring at him.

The men were grinning at each other.  Glorfindel came up to the group. "Hello Lornis, Zirik, Aratanur.  Don't tell me you let this rascal play sigil with you?  He's notorious at court. Many is the time I've seen that sweet, innocent face beguile some self-important lord into a match, which the Counselor invariably wins."

"Your praise is unmerited, Lord Glorfindel," Erestor said, but he couldn't suppress a slight smile.

Zirik laughed. "Indeed, he took us like conies. 'Twas unexpected."

"There is much that is unexpected about the Counselor," Glorfindel said.  "A fact I have come to appreciate."

Erestor rose to his feet and bowed. "I thank you, gentleman for a most diverting game. After you, my lord."  He tossed the knife, which flipped in the air.  This time it landed squarely in the center of the star.

End Notes:

mikîn - boys in Adûnaic
sigil - knife in Sindarin
karbî - mare in Adûnaic

Lorcastra (plural Lorcastrîn, elfscribe-invented Haradren term) a sect of the Black Serpent cult that practice black magic.

The scene of the Prince and the jasmine in this chapter is a tribute to a certain very erotic scene between Legolas and Imrahil in my beta Capella's "Sea of Sand."

Chapter 3 - Ardan by elfscribe

"Have you no shame at all, Findel?" Erestor whispered when they were out of earshot of the other men.

"I'm not ashamed of anything," Glorfindel said, "and I grow weary of your castigation." They reached Oiolairë 's stall and the horse snorted in greeting. Glorfindel began unbuckling the horse's support harness.

"Well, you might have strained your equipment in that fall," Erestor persisted.

"I did. Rendered inoperative. You don't have to worry about being disturbed in the night ever again."

Glorfindel seemed deadly serious and Erestor looked at him carefully. "Did you really hurt yourself?"

Glorfindel's face cracked into a smile, widened, fell into laughter. He said, "You have to admit, ‘Restor, it was funny."

"I'll admit no such thing," Erestor said, but he too smiled inwardly as he remembered the astonished look on Ardan's face as the hook came loose in his hand.

"In any case, I came to apologize. I realize that I have been insensitive to your situation. I have the perfect solution."

"You plan to glue your prick to your leg?"

"That might work, but not what I had in mind," Glorfindel chuckled. "Whenever I am . . . uh . . . occupied, I'll tie a scarf to the door knob. That way you can be alerted and go somewhere else for a while."

"So very thoughtful of you," Erestor said sarcastically.

"Actually it was Ardan's idea. Seems he was shaken up to have you discover us like that."

"I'm glad someone has sense."

"You know, ‘Restor, it's most peculiar. I think I'm falling for him. Whenever he's around, I feel very compelled, as if I can't get enough of him."

Erestor narrowed his eyes. "Have you felt this way about anyone else before?"

"Yes," said Glorfindel, "but not in the same way. This feels, well, strange. I can't put my finger on quite why. Maybe it's what love feels like."

"I would counsel you to resist it, Findel. It doesn't sound right to me," Erestor said.

Glorfindel shook his head. "That's your answer to any tug of the heart."

"You do not know what is in my heart," Erestor said. "If you value my friendship, I would ask that you leave it alone."

"Very well," Glorfindel said. He took the stallion by the halter, snapped on a rein, and led him out of the stall. The horse stumbled a little, then jerked his head up, eyes rolling. Glorfindel soothed him with soft nonsensical words, then led him up and down the hold, speaking to him all the while. The language was calming to Erestor as well.

It took a little while for Oiolairë to get used to the gentle roll and pitch of the ship. When he seemed steady, Glorfindel led him up the ramp. The horse took the climb several plunging steps at a time until he was on the deck, blowing nervously. Glorfindel led him in a tight circle, which he widened until they were traversing the deck from one side to the next. Oiolairë 's hooves echoed on the wooden planking with a hollow, clicking sound. His stride grew longer as he relaxed and was able to keep his balance. Erestor followed along next to Glorfindel, once again impressed with the warrior's skill in handling this large, unpredictable animal.

The sailors on deck were watching with great interest. Several of them came forward. "He's a beauty. Can I pet him?" asked one.

"Yes, if you approach quietly with a friendly spirit," Glorfindel replied. The man walked up slowly and Oiolairë allowed his touch.

"Beautiful animal," the sailor enthused. Soon several others were gathered around him, petting and crooning to the beast as if to a child. The horse actually seemed to like the attention.

"Good boy," Glorfindel said, while stroking the horse's nose. "This is not natural for you at all, but you are so clever. You learn quickly how to walk on a ship." The horse pricked his ears forward and flared his nostrils, seeming to drink in the smells about him. The wind shifted, causing the main sail to flap about for a moment. Suddenly Oiolairë snorted, then backed up several steps. He made a low rumbling sound, which had a note of warning. He must be afraid of the sail, Erestor thought. The horse shrilled that strange note again and half-reared. The sailors who had been petting him quickly moved away.

"Steady, steady," Glorfindel said. Erestor turned around and saw the two Lorcastrîn coming down the rope ladder off the mizzen mast. They reached the deck. Erestor detected a faint scent. It seemed familiar. What was it? The two men slowly approached, their dark, braided hair blowing about their faces. Oiolairë squealed. He backed up again, fighting against Glorfindel.

"Hold! Stay where you are," Glorfindel called. The other sailors all turned their heads to stare at the newcomers. The two men halted.

"The Prince's animal is skittish," one of the Lorcastrîn said. His voice had a slithery quality that caused a shiver to run up Erestor's spine.
 
"He was fine until you showed up," Glorfindel said in exasperation. Oiolairë squealed again. He threw his head from one side to the other, then reared, while Glorfindel attempted to control him.
 
"Back away," Erestor said to the two men. He walked towards them menacingly, with his hand on his knife. They stood their ground, arms folded. One of them smiled revealing a gold tooth which flashed in the light. Erestor advanced until he came within an arms-length of the man. They stared a challenge at each other. The man's pupils were like pinpricks. The effects of black magic. It had to be. Erestor could smell it on him.

"Fetch the Captain," Erestor said over his shoulder. He heard a soft pelting of feet up the deck.

Meanwhile Glorfindel managed to turn Oiolairë's head upwind. He put his hand over the horse's nostrils, then led him down the ramp, disappearing below deck. There was one last rumbling snort, then silence.

Captain Armalak appeared yelling, "What in Mandos is going on here?"

"Maldomas and Tethra here frightened the horse," one of the sailors said.

"We have done nothing wrong. We didn't even get close to 'im," the gold-toothed Lorcastra said.

"I told you the rules of this ship, Maldomas. No disturbances," the Captain said, shaking a finger at them. "It seems the horse don't like you. Keep away from him."

"Yes sir," they said, but to Erestor it did not sound sincere. As soon as the Captain's back was turned, Maldomas tilted his head back with a most disrespectful sneer.

**************

The next day passed without incident as they traversed the immense Bay of Belfalas. Erestor found Ardan's red headscarf tied to the doorknob after lunch and again after dinner. He shook his head at his friend's carnal appetite. It seemed awakened by Ardan's proximity while he was serving the meals. Dinner was hardly bearable with the little touches and the lascivious looks exchanged between them and Captain Armalak's winking conspiracy added to the whole mess. Truth be told, it made Erestor feel lonely. He realized he had become used to Glorfindel's company, annoying as he was. He had wanted to discuss the Lorcastrîn with him, but Glorfindel was otherwise occupied.

That evening, after he again discovered the red scarf on his door, Erestor went out to the deck, leaned his elbows against the gunwale, and stared moodily out at the horizon. The wind was brisk; they were making good time. Erestor cheered himself with imagining the Mettarë preparations in Lindon. About now, the elves would be out in the winter cold cutting holly and pine. Red-cheeked and singing, they would haul the boughs home where they would wind scarlet, silver, and gold ribbons around them before hanging them up over the doorways, along the walls, and down every banister. The hunters would be coming home with deer, pheasants, and fat geese. The cooks would be bustling about the kitchen, filling it with fragrant smells. By now, the head cook, Erelas, who had a notorious temper, would have begun a tremendous fight with his assistant Thelin over some bit of trivia, and Erestor would have been called down to the kitchen to sort it out. In the concert hall, Lindir and the other musicians would be tuning up in a delightful cacophony of sound. Even more than usual, at this time of year the castle was filled with music and song . . . and practical jokes. Last year that rascal Glorfindel had led a raid on the butteries, making off with all the pies until Ereinion had ransomed them with four barrels of strong red wine. The resulting party had left nary an elf fit for duty in the morning. Erestor included.

He remembered watching Glorfindel that evening, resplendent in a blue velvet jacket that echoed the flashing color of his eyes until they seemed to rival the heavens. He was drunk: laughing and flirting with everyone, and in general being the notorious Glorfindel. But occasionally he would glance at Erestor with an expression impossible to read. He remembered the feeling of loss when he watched Glorfindel leave with his arm around Gildor.

The memories made Erestor feel heartily homesick. It was good that they'd soon be back and he could put this whole journey out of mind. Before he had left, Ereinion had said to him, 'Look on this as an opportunity to reconcile your differences with Glorfindel.' Unfortunately, Erestor would have to report to the King that his differences with Glorfindel were alive and well, even if, secretly, he had a renewed appreciation for his companion's many talents. Still, Glorfindel was a rogue. Erestor yearned to go back to his quiet routine, unmolested by thoughts of the golden warrior, who even now was banging a young Haradrim senseless in their cabin.

He looked up to see another Haradrim, the sailor Lornis, walking up to him. "My lord Elf," he said in that beautifully resonant voice, "may it be permitted to join you?"

"Of course," Erestor said. Lornis tilted his head respectfully. He came up to the gunwale, where he rested his forearms. Anor was dipping below the horizon, casting long shadows that accentuated Lornis' strong profile with its hooked nose and sharply angled cheekbones. He wore a whip-thin goatee around lips and chin. A handsome man, like many of the Haradrim. For a time they watched the sea together in silence, then Lornis said, "Ah, there it is. Do you see it, Lord Erestor?"

"See what?"

Lornis gestured. "White glint in the distance with blue haze at its feet."

Erestor shaded his eyes. "Yes."

"Is the White Mountains, called Nered Lassta in our tongue. They march down nearly to the sea close to Cape Anfalas. We round it tonight. It's been a good strong wind making our journey quick. Sing praises to Manwë."

"Indeed, Manwë be praised," Erestor said.

"You seemed deep in thought," Lornis said.

"Yes, I was thinking about preparations for Mettarë back home - thinking that I was sad to be missing it."

"Ah yes," Lornis said. "We celebrate Anor's return too, though Mettarë is not our name for it. This is the time that I miss my family the most. I anticipate seeing them when we go home after this run."

"You have a family?"

"Yes, very big one. Wife, four sons, two daughters, and my old mother, she still lives with us. One son is married with two children."

"That is larger than most elves have. Where does your family live?"

"On Númenor, in the port city of Rómena."

"Ah yes. Beautiful city. It has been many years since I was last there. Over five hundred, in fact."

"You would find many changes. Not all for the good." Lornis lowered his voice. "The King and his followers grow arrogant. They envy the First Born, I think, and envy breeds hate, and that leads to evil."

Erestor recognized the language of one of the Faithful. "You are wise, Elendil," he said. 

                 
Lornis smiled, a brief flash of teeth. He made the circular sign of the elf friends over his heart. Then he lowered his voice. "Those Lorcastrîn, they are up to no good. I can feel it in my bones. They keep to themselves and speak in whispers. The ship is small place, not good for secrets. I have been watching them as you asked. I can tell you, they do something together at night." He smiled wryly. "Not that. Something. I think they are practicing magic. There is a smell."

Erestor snapped his head up. "A smell? Of flowers?"

"Yes."

"It's time we discover what they are doing and put a stop to it. Can you watch them tonight and come wake me if you suspect they are up to mischief?"

"I will."

"Thank you for your service, Lornis. Please excuse me, I must attend to something."

Lornis inclined his head. "My lord," he said.

Suddenly, Erestor had a bad feeling. Glorfindel had been occupied entirely too long in their cabin, even for an elf of his appetites. The puzzle was beginning to shape into a pattern. He hoped he was wrong. He climbed the steps to the cabin door, noticed the piece of red cloth still hanging from it. He turned and looked about the ship. It was dusk. A sailor was going about lighting the lanterns; a small group in the stern was listening to someone playing a lute, but otherwise, there was little activity. He pressed his ear to the door. No sound. None at all. Ever so faintly he could detect Ardan's jasmine scent. His heart misgave him and he decided to enter, even if he caught them in the act. Erestor turned the knob. The door wouldn't open. It didn't have a lock; there must be something blocking it. Erestor rushed it with his shoulder and managed to open it a hands-width. He could see that there was a trunk in front of it. He shoved again and was able to squeeze past the obstruction. Erestor heard the sound of a lid slamming. He emerged into the room and was overwhelmed by the jasmine smell.

A fully clothed Ardan suddenly straightened upright. He was standing next to Erestor's trunk. Glorfindel was sprawled face down, unmoving on the bed, completely nude. Was he dead? Erestor didn't wait to find out. Filled with rage, he flew across the room pulling his knife as he went. He shoved Ardan up against the wall and pressed the knife against the young man's throat. "What are you doing?" he snarled.

Ardan had turned white. "Nothing, nothing at all, my lord," he stuttered. 

"You were doing something you had no business doing," Erestor said. "What's wrong with Glorfindel? Speak or I'll cut your throat!"

"He's sleeping," Ardan squeaked. "Worn out."

"I know him better than that. He hears like a wolf and will wake if a leaf drops to the ground. He wouldn't sleep through this! What have you done to him?" He pressed the knife harder into Ardan's throat. A thin line of blood trickled down.

"I meant him no harm! I love him," Ardan cried. "Please Lord Erestor. I'm under orders and I dare not disobey."

Thankfully, Erestor heard a groggy moan from the bed. "You've drugged him," he snapped. "You had better tell all and you'd better do it now or I swear I'll cut you and drop you off the side for the sharks to rip apart. Start praying to Ossë!"

Ardan made a choking sound. "Knife . . ." he managed to say. Erestor eased up on the pressure against his throat.

"Will Glorfindel recover?" Erestor asked.

"Yes. It's just a sedative."

Erestor removed the knife from Ardan's neck, grasped him by the shirt collar and flung him down hard on top of the trunk. The boy landed with a thump; he looked up at Erestor with terror in those beautiful wide eyes. His black hair was loose and hung down over his shoulders. The jasmine smell was overwhelming. Erestor couldn't help noticing how lovely the boy was. It made him angrier. He grabbed a chair and drew it up close. "Ardan, I am going to ask you questions. Believe me, I can tell if you're lying, so don't even try it. I've got my knife to hand. Don't doubt that I can use it."

"Yes," Ardan said. He put his hand to his throat and coughed.

"Who are you working for?" Erestor said.

"Princess Ilien," Ardan replied.

Erestor sat back. "Interesting. Is she Lorcastra?"

"No, she's not."

"Then why did she hire you?"

"I'm, I'm not sure." Ardan dropped his gaze to the floor.

"You'll have to do better than that, Ardan," Erestor growled.

"Please . . ."

"You know more than you are telling me," Erestor said. "I'm afraid Ardan, I must have the truth, all of it. What is the Princess's involvement with the Lorcastrîn?"

Ardan sighed. "Not many know this, but the Minister of War, Azgara, is Lorcastrîn. He told Princess Ilien that he would kill her brother, the Prince, if she did not obey him. The Prince is in a very dangerous position at present."

"I can see that," Erestor said. He remembered meeting Azgara and disliking him immediately. He had been right to trust his intuitions. He also remembered Glorfindel saying that the Princess was afraid of him. It was satisfying to see the puzzle fitting itself together.

"Believe it, my family is loyal to the Prince," Ardan said with some pride. "We have worked for the royal family for several generations."

"Then what were you doing in my trunk?"

"The Prince's message to King Gil-galad, I had to replace it with one from the Princess."

"That does not sound like the action of a loyal subject," Erestor growled. He brandished the knife.

"Please, Lord Erestor. Azgara has my father hostage and he controls the Princess with threats and dark magic. I must comply. I didn't want to do any of this." A tear tracked down Ardan's cheek. "I am in a knot with no unraveling."

"Did you succeed in replacing the message?" Erestor asked.

"I went through your trunk when I first came aboard and couldn't find it. I had to give Glorfindel a truth potion to find out where you had hidden it," Ardan said. "If you hadn't come in . . ."

"Get up," Erestor demanded. "Give me the letter from the Princess."

Ardan lifted the trunk lid. Erestor could see that the secret compartment had been opened and was now empty. Ardan retrieved two envelopes that looked alike with identical red seals. "I dropped them when you came in," he said. He handed them both to Erestor.

"Do you know the contents of the one you carried?" Erestor asked.

"No," said Ardan. Erestor held his gaze. The boys' eyes were clear of deceit. Erestor was trying to decide what to do next. Obviously, he would have to determine which was the real and which the fake message.

"Is the Captain involved in this scheme?" Erestor asked.

"I don't think so," Ardan replied. "I never spoke to him about it."

"Do you know why Oiolairë's groom wasn't there to help him board ship?"

"No," Ardan said, "but I can guess. I suspect he was bribed. Maybe they hoped the horse would be injured while boarding. For some reason they don't want your king to receive this gift. Perhaps they want to embarrass Prince Du-phersa."

"Perhaps," Erestor said.

There was a quiet moan from the bed. Ardan's eyes cut to the right. "He should wake soon. It was a light sedative. Believe me, I had no desire to hurt him."

"You said you were in love with him," Erestor said. "Is this what you do to someone you love?"

"I told you, they have my father," Ardan said defensively.

"And how were they to know whether or not you completed your mission? You could have tossed your fake message into the sea."

Ardan nodded towards the door, then looked anxiously back at him.

"You are being watched, aren't you?" Erestor said softly. "I thought as much."

"Yes."

"And the perfume . . ."

"The Lorcastrîn, they gave it to me to bewitch Lord Glorfindel. It has an amazing effect. I've had to fight off half the crew." Ardan ventured a look at him through his eyelashes. "I've had to sleep in the Captain's cabin . . . for protection."

Erestor nodded. He knew the truth of Ardan's words. The scent was making him dizzy, making him hard. He had an overwhelming desire to knock Ardan down, rip off his clothes, and pound him into the floor. Ardan might have that effect even without a magic potion. With one, he was irresistible. Erestor summoned control, practiced over hundreds of years.

"Hmmm," he said, "Well now, Ardan, what am I to do with you? I can't decide whether to string you up from the yardarm, or give you a sword and tell you to take out those two witches and then kill whomever emerges victorious."

Ardan looked at him sadly. "It doesn't matter. I have betrayed everyone I love now. It would be a kindness to kill me."

"No, you don't get out of it that easily," Erestor said. He tapped his finger against his lip, deep in thought.

A drop of blood snaked down Ardan's neck. The boy put his finger in his mouth and then rubbed it along the shallow cut. "Here, get up," Erestor directed. He reached into his trunk, pulled out a white cotton rag, and tore a long strip from it. He came over to Ardan and tied it over the cut around his neck. "There now. If anyone asks you about it, say that Lord Glorfindel likes it rough."

"He does," Ardan said with a little laugh. "But not that rough."

"Enough," Erestor replied.

"Does this mean . . .?" Ardan asked hopefully.

"It means you are working for me now and you are going out of the frying pan into the fire. I have another agent here, so if you betray me, I will know instantly. Understood?"

"Yes," the boy nodded. "What can I do?" He seemed eager to atone. Erestor could almost feel sorry for him.

"You'll tell the Lorcastrîn that you've succeeded in your task here and that you wish to join them. You'll need to be convincing, Ardan. Then try to find out what they are doing here. Come back and tell me."

"I thought they were only here to make sure I carried out my task," Ardan said.

"I suspect that they are doing something else as well," Erestor said. "You'll have to be good at deception." He smiled a little. "Better than you were with me."

Ardan hung his head. "That alone should convince you that I am not practiced at deceit," he said.

"Yes, quite. However, I am very skilled at what I do," Erestor said. "Don't think that sentiment for a beautiful boy will cloud my judgement."
 
"No, my lord. I must go now. I've got to make breakfast for the second watch."

"Be off with you, then." The boy headed towards the door. "Oh Ardan," Erestor said, "I suggest you wash that scent off before the entire crew goes insane and they take turns at ravishing you."

"I can protect myself," Ardan said grimly. But he looked tired; there were circles under his eyes.

"Come back and sleep here tonight. I'm sure it will please Glorfindel and I want to keep an eye on you."

Ardan smiled at him. It was lovely to see. Then he slipped out of the room.

Erestor sighed. He weighed the two envelopes in his hands. There was nothing for it, he would have to break the seals and read the contents. It might prove important to their errand. Ereinion would understand, he hoped. Besides, he was skilled at repairing a broken seal. He smiled at the memory of past intrigues.

Erestor heard Glorfindel moan again. The warrior turned over, face up, and threw his head side to side, seemingly in the throes of a bad dream. Erestor put down the packets, then sat next to him on the bed. The smell of jasmine hung heavily in the air. For so long he had been watching Glorfindel from afar and here the elf was, spread out before him. Erestor ran a hand down the side of Glorfindel's face, brushing away the golden ripples of hair. Without the fear of being caught, he was able to gaze his fill at the gloriously naked body. Irresistibly drawn, Erestor stroked a hard pectoral muscle, gently pinched a round, fleshy nipple, then ran his finger down the indentation delineating the center of Glorfindel's chest to his navel. From there his hand crept lower, across a flat abdomen to twine in curly blond hair. Glorfindel murmured; his eyelids fluttered. Erestor sighed. Truly, this elf was the most desirable being he had ever seen. Glorfindel lips moved as if he would say something. Erestor gazed at his beautiful face, took in those full, curving lips, slightly blushed with rosy color. He had often wondered . . . just what it would be like . . . to kiss them.

At that moment, Erestor lost control. He leaned forward and touched his lips to his companion's, finding them everything he'd imagined. He pressed a little harder, nipped at the lower lip. He felt a slight movement as Glorfindel opened his mouth. Heat surged through Erestor's loins. He threaded his fingers into Glorfindel's hair as he sank deeper into the kiss. It felt so right, as if they were made to fit together like this. With a sigh, Erestor settled down beside Glorfindel and explored his warm mouth. He tasted sweet with a hint of something bitter. The sedative, most likely. Glorfindel returned the kiss sleepily, and then he put his arms around Erestor's back. The kiss deepened as their tongues discovered each other. Erestor never wanted it to stop. He threw a leg over Glorfindel's loins and pressed against him, feeling the warrior's burgeoning length against his thigh. Suddenly Erestor was out of his mind with lust. He wanted to tear his own clothes off and revel in the dance of the flesh. He wanted to feel Glorfindel moving deep within him while their mouths were joined, to feel them breathing in each other's ecstasy. He wanted to hear him cry out as they shared a shattering climax. He devoured Glorfindel's mouth.

"Ardan," Glorfindel murmured.

Erestor's heart somersaulted. Abruptly, he sat up. What was he doing? No. He couldn’t do this. He couldn't. He had lost his head. But, it had seemed so right.

Glorfindel opened his eyes. For a moment, he looked puzzled, then smiled sweetly. He put his hand to Erestor's cheek. "Erestor," he said softly. "I thought I was dreaming, a most wondrous dream. I never expected it was you . . .but why did you stop?"

"It seems you were dreaming of someone else," Erestor said sharply. "He isn't here. He drugged you, then tried to steal the Prince's letter to Ereinion. He might have killed you. You should be ashamed that you let down your guard so thoroughly."

"What?" Groggily, Glorfindel raised himself on his elbows, looked around, then met Erestor's glance. "No, it can't be," he said. He put a hand to his temple. "Ai, my head."

"You'll get no sympathy from me. Reprobate! See what your appetites have done?" Erestor got up from the bed and began pacing.

"It seemed you had an appetite yourself, just a moment ago," Glorfindel said, rather grumpily. "I liked it. Why don't you come back here and finish what you started?"

"Don't you care what has happened?"

"Of course I do and I'm sure you'll tell me all, with frequent mentions of my inept wickedness. But first, I want to know what you were doing just now."

"About to make a mistake," Erestor said. "We've both been doped with an aphrodisiac and I was about to succumb. Believe me, it won't happen again. Now to the problem at hand. It appears our suspicions were correct." He related everything that Ardan and Lornis had told him.

"It's coming back to me now," Glorfindel said, "I heard some of your conversation with Ardan, but I thought I was dreaming it. That rascal! I should have known. Ilien told me his family's shop was the best place to replenish our supplies. Told me to ask for him personally. It all falls together now. So, you were completely right and I should have listened to you. You may curse me with whatever ill names suit your fancy. Are you satisfied now?"

"No," Erestor replied. "However, that will suffice for now. I need to learn the contents of those letters." He found a small penknife in his trunk, then pulled down the secretary from the wall. "Findel, could you hand those to me and light a candle."

Glorfindel rose from the bed, picked up the envelopes from the trunk lid and came over to where Erestor had drawn up the chair by the makeshift table. Erestor looked up at him and then his glance strayed lower. "You must put on some pants. I can't concentrate while staring at your . . . parts."

"What's wrong with my parts?" Glorfindel asked.

"Nothing. That's why I can't look at them."

"You are exasperating beyond measure, Counselor," Glorfindel said. "I wake up to find you ravishing my mouth in a most familiar fashion, then just when I'm warming up to the idea, you become a block of ice. I'd say I have just cause for grievance."

"Ssshh," Erestor said. He was carefully fitting the penknife under one of the wax seals and then with an expert flick of the wrist, bringing it up off the paper intact.

Glorfindel sighed. He searched around the room until he found his leggings, which he pulled on with a snap of fabric. Then he lit a candle and brought it to the table. Meanwhile Erestor had managed to remove the other two seals and was unfolding the letter.

"I'm glad you're on our side," Glorfindel commented.

Erestor scanned the letter. "This one must be from the Princess. It looks like Prince Du-phursa's signature but says nothing of great import. Lots of florid niceties, wishes for more trade between our peoples." He looked up at Glorfindel. "No mention of the horse."

"Peculiar," said Glorfindel. "What of the other?"

Erestor dexterously opened and unfolded the other letter. "Ah yes," he said, "this is the one the Prince gave me. The letter begins with greetings and polite inquiries about Gil-galad's health. Mmmm, from there he launches into a recount of troubles: unrest among his people caused by the Black Serpent cult that spreads murder and dissension. He says it has infiltrated his Court and is growing stronger; he now fears for his life."

"Apparently he was on the mark there," Glorfindel said.

"Ah, here's the crux of it. Listen," said Erestor.

"The latest reports from my agents have led me to a terrible conclusion. The dark rumors are true. It is none other than the Great Enemy coming to power once again. He has rebuilt Mordor and sends forth his servants to harass our borders. He corrupts the neighboring tribes by telling lies and making false promises. Now, I am told he is unleashing a new weapon. Long ago he subjugated men to his will by giving them Rings of Power. For an age, those men seemed to disappear. I regret to report that the greatest of them was one of my own countrymen. His name was Murazor, son of the Númenórean king Tar Ciryatan. They say that over one thousand years ago the Enemy lured him to Mordor and no one has seen him since. Now the rumors speak of a terrifying being who is invisible to our eyes and must shroud himself in rags to walk among the living. It is said that Sauron has sent him to seek the elvish rings and that Murazor is coming to Lindon. You must protect yourself. The horse I have sent is a great gift as he has been trained to recognize the servants of the Enemy and will warn you of their presence. May he serve you well. I hope this convinces you of my earnest wish to renew our acquaintance, to seek counsel together, and perhaps an alliance against this menace now returned to plague us. Yours in deepest friendship, sincerely, etc. Du-phursa, of Númenor, High Regent to Umbar."

"So there it is," said Glorfindel.

"Indeed, our worst fears come to pass," Erestor replied. "What shall we do?"

"I'm inclined to march down to the hold, haul those two Lorcastrîn out by their nasty braids and drop them over the side," said Glorfindel. "Who knows what mischief they are working."

"We have no proof of anything, except the word of a horse," Erestor said. "And that won't hold up in any court with which I am familiar. I say we watch and wait."

"Mmm, as ever the elves do," Glorfindel said. He picked up Erestor's hand, then held his gaze while he bent and kissed it. "As ever I have done with you."

Erestor pulled his hand away. "Don't be absurd. We care not a fig for each other. You had better hand me that candle so I can reattach these seals. Then for Mandos' sake, open the door and air out this room before we do something we'll forever regret."

End Notes:

Azgara- means to wage war in Adûnaic
Elendil - in this context means "elf-friend"
Nered Lassta - supposedly White Mountains in Haradren. Totally made up by the author, as were most of the names in this chapter.

The name Murazor is not the author’s or Tolkien’s. It comes from an RPG game.

Chapter 4 - Black Magic by elfscribe

The evening passed uneventfully. Ardan came back to the cabin with the news that he had told the Lorcastrîn he'd been successful in replacing the message to Gil-galad. He thought they had accepted his word, but any attempt to talk to them further had been met by silence. Glorfindel glowered at Ardan during his whole report. Clearly he did not appreciate being betrayed by the young Haradrim, so Erestor left them to sort things out.

Erestor went out on deck. It had turned cold. The wind had picked up and clouds were scuttling in long ropes across the moon. The weather was changing. He wondered if it would bode ill or well. He saw Lornis leaning against the mainmast. Erestor went over and asked him in a whisper if there was any news. Lornis shook his head. "They've kept to themselves as usual," he said. "I have to be careful. If I become too close, I will seem suspicious."

Lornis was different, detached somehow. Erestor looked at him carefully. "Come wake me if there is anything of concern," he said.

Lornis nodded, then continued staring out to sea.
 
By the time Erestor returned, it appeared that Ardan and Glorfindel had come to terms. They were sleeping peacefully together on the bed - but this time they were clothed. They looked so sweet together. Glorfindel was curled around the boy's back with one arm thrown protectively across his chest. Erestor sighed. It could never be him in Ardan's place. He knew that.

Erestor climbed up into his hammock and tried to sleep. He tossed fitfully back and forth until he finally went into a light doze. Suddenly, he heard the stallion screaming in the hold below. But when he bolted upright, there were only the murmurs of wind and wave. So, it must have been another dream.

In the dim light of dawn, Erestor awoke again to the sounds of lovemaking. It seemed that they really were trying to keep quiet this time, but occasionally there would be a wet pop of flesh and a suppressed moan. It was both irritating and arousing, and therefore doubly torturous. He closed his eyes and endured it. Finally he heard Ardan get up and move about the cabin, humming to himself. Erestor yawned loudly, turned over to see what the boy was doing. Ardan mouthed, "Breakfast duty," then slipped out.

Glorfindel was sitting up on the bed, his golden hair rippling down over his bare chest. He was pulling tight his crotch laces. Apparently he had forsaken his Haradren clothing. He grinned up at Erestor, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and said, "I've already had my breakfast."

"You are horrible," Erestor said.

"Admit that you love it," Glorfindel replied.

"Never," Erestor said. "I gather you have forgiven Ardan?"

"Maybe. I still don't trust him completely."

"Good impulse, for once," Erestor said. He climbed out of his hammock and began dressing.

Glorfindel watched him intently. "Erestor, are you ever going to tell me why you took that vow of celibacy?" he said.

"It is no concern of yours."

"Because I've been thinking about that kiss yesterday," Glorfindel ran a finger over his lips, "that marvelously passionate kiss. You cover it up well with your caustic words. By Mandos, sometimes you sound just like an old fishwife. But I have watched you over the years and noticed little things: the way you lick your fingers after eating toffee pudding or the way you close your eyes when smelling a wreath of flowers. Then yesterday, that kiss, so fiery . . . Erestor, I believe you are fooling us all and you are, in truth, a very sensual elf. So, by the Valar, why must you . . ."

Erestor froze in the midst of doing up clasps on his jacket. "Go no further with that thought," he warned.

Glorfindel slid off the bed. He came over, put his hands on Erestor's upper arms, and squeezed them affectionately. "It must have been something terrible to warrant such a great sacrifice," he said. "I am sorry."

"There's nothing to be said about it," Erestor replied. "It was my choice, my fate."

Glorfindel sighed. "Maybe some day you can tell me. I just wanted you to know that I liked it . . . the kiss, I mean."

"Good," Erestor said. "There won't be another. I'm going to get breakfast - something more substantial than the one you had." He turned away so that Glorfindel couldn't tell that his pulse was racing. Why did Glorfindel have to make him feel like this - confused and shaky inside? He hated it.

*******************

The Captain was late joining them for breakfast. He came in looking consternated, drops of mist in his hair. He strode across the room, threw open his trunk, and began tossing maps onto the bed. "Ardan, tea," he said. He pulled a map, studied it with a frown. Ardan handed him a cup, but he waved it away, then he went back outside. Glorfindel and Erestor looked at each other before getting up and following him. 

The day was bleak and wet with a gusty wind. Anor showed as a wavery yellow light behind a veil of clouds. The motion of the ship was choppy. "We should be here," Armalak stabbed at the map with his finger. "We should be able to see the land. Do you see land?" He turned to the elves, fixing them with a fierce glare.

"No," Glorfindel said.

"No!" Armalak declared. "My instruments say we've turned again. Turned in the night, heading out to sea. I've never seen the like."                        

"Did your steersman fall asleep?" Erestor asked.

"By Mandos' cock, I'll find out," Armalak roared. He grabbed the nearest crewman. "Go and wake Nadroth."

Shortly the trembling man was facing Armalak's wrath. He swore he had steered true all night and had not fallen asleep. He admitted that he had felt strangely disoriented for a time but it had passed and he'd thought nothing of it. Erestor was beginning to be very suspicious. While Armalak stormed about shouting orders to turn the ship in the right direction, Erestor went down into the hold to look for Lornis. He found him fast asleep in his hammock, tossing and turning, beads of sweat on his forehead.

"He's been sick all night," Zirik said. "I don't know what he's got."

Erestor cursed himself for not checking on Lornis last night. He didn't like this at all.

"When did he become ill?" he asked.

"Just after the second watch," Zirik said. "He went on deck for a while. When he came back he said he didn't feel well and went right to sleep."

Erestor felt Lornis' face. It was cold and clammy. "Lornis," he called, "can you hear me?"

The man mumbled incoherently.

"I'll be back with some herbs," Erestor said. When he got topside, he found that the wind had increased. The sky roiled with black clouds. Light spits of rain smacked his face. The ship heaved and rolled as it climbed the grey-green waves and then dropped into the troughs between.

He staggered into their cabin where he found Glorfindel sitting on the edge of his bed, looking pale. "Are you well?" Erestor asked.

"Yes, fine," Glorfindel said, although he didn't look well at all.

"Come, I need you," Erestor said. "I think those two witches have been practicing magic. The time for watching and waiting is done. We must put a stop to it. Bring your weapons."

Glorfindel nodded. He slowly rose and removed his belt with the sword and long knives from the hook on the wall. Meanwhile, Erestor pawed through the medicinal supplies in his trunk. What would cure such a malady? He found a small ceramic jar, pulled it out, and read the label. Yes. Agarthond. A good counter-reactive against spells. He stuffed the jar into his belt pouch. The ship made a rolling lurch. Erestor grabbed the edge of the trunk to steady himself. He turned to see Glorfindel bent over, clutching his stomach. The belt left his hands and clattered to the floor.

"I hate this," Glorfindel hissed through clenched teeth, "I hate feeling so weak." He grabbed a pot under the bed, then emptied the contents of his stomach into it.

"Ai no," Erestor cried in dismay. He went back through his supplies, found the little bag of eel powder. The ship rolled again; there was a sound of thunder outside. "It's getting worse out there, Glorfindel," he said. "We've got to try this stuff."

"Not on your life," Glorfindel said and retched again.

"Don't be stubborn," Erestor said. He sucked on his finger, stuck it in the bag to coat it with the powder, then sat on the bed next to Glorfindel and took him by the chin. "Here, open your mouth."

"Ugh," Glorfindel gasped.

"Do you want to feel better or not? Open!" With an exasperated moan, Glorfindel opened his mouth and Erestor stuck his powder-coated finger under the elf's tongue.

Abruptly Glorfindel pulled away. He choked, retched, spat, and then let loose with a string of obscenities that Erestor had to admit was quite artful. He concluded the diatribe with,"By Ossë's foam-soaked prick, I am never setting foot on a bloody, wretched tub like this again."

"Well said, friend," Erestor replied. "I concur completely. Feel better?"

"No," Glorfindel gasped, "and that was the foulest tasting crap I ever put in my mouth."

"Let's try this," Erestor said. He took Glorfindel by the wrists; pressed hard with his thumbs in the spot where the apothecary had shown him. Then he projected thoughts of balance, quiet, well-being. For many long minutes they sat like that.

Finally Glorfindel raised his eyes. They looked bruised, huge and child-like in his pale face surrounded by straggling locks of yellow hair. Erestor's heart went out to him.

Glorfindel managed a wan smile. "That . . . that seems a little better," he said.

"I would not have thought it would work, but I won't argue if it does," Erestor replied. "However, we can't sit holding hands the rest of the voyage and I need your help with our two miscreants."

"You could tie something to my wrists to keep the pressure in the right place," Glorfindel suggested.
 
"Good idea. I know just the thing," Erestor said. He released Glorfindel's wrists, rose, and dug around in his trunk until he found the leather bag containing the tiny ivory horse he'd meant to give to him on Mettarë. He also grabbed a cotton rag. Then, he went to Glorfindel's trunk, and after much searching, finally found one of the little bells the warrior had worn in his hair. He brought all of them back to the bed where Glorfindel was starting to double up again.

"Here, hold this," Erestor said as he began tearing a long strip of cloth.

Glorfindel turned the horse in his fingers. "Lovely. Where did you . . .?" Suddenly, he pressed his lips together, looking altogether green.

"It's your Mettarë gift - a little early," Erestor snapped. "Hold still now." He took the little horse from Glorfindel, placed it right over the pressure point on his wrist, and bound it tightly. Then he did the same with the bell on the other wrist. He waited a while watching Glorfindel's face anxiously. Eventually, the warrior's brow unknotted. He sighed.

"Better now?" Erestor asked.

Glorfindel nodded. "My stomach is steadier. Perhaps that dratted eel poison is working too. I owe you like for like. Eel stew, whenever we get off this blasted boat. And remind me not to question your medicinal notions again."

"No eels," Erestor said. He grinned. "I make it a rule not to eat any meat that is longer than it is wide."

Glorfindel smiled. "Do you now? What a pity."

"Now I know you feel better; your sense of humor is back." Erestor clapped his hand on Glorfindel's shoulder. "Let's go."

Erestor left the cabin with Glorfindel following, somewhat unsteadily. He took the pot with him, tossing its contents overboard. Captain Armalak was standing amidships, waving his arms and shouting directions at his crew, who were scrambling up the rigging. The elves went over to him.

"Looks like a grand lady of a storm is catching up wi' us," Armalak called over the wind.

"Lornis is sick," Erestor said. "I think I know why. We need to put those two Lorcastrîn into custody before it gets worse."

"What evidence d'ye have against 'em? I'm going to need all hands to furl up the mainsails if this storm shapes up the way I think she will," Armalak said.

"None yet, but I would wager I'll find some if I search their berths," Erestor said. "I need your authority to do so, Captain, and possibly your backup if I find anything."

"You have it. Go quickly."

"Where are they now?" Glorfindel asked.

"Up there." Armalak pointed aloft where a number of men were standing on the ropes below the spar, like crows on a line, and rolling up canvas. Armalak craned his neck. "Too much to port, let it out," he yelled up at them.

Glorfindel nodded at Erestor and led the way down into the hold. First, they went to the galley where they found Ardan working over a little cookstove.

"Where do the Lorcastrîn berth?" Glorfindel asked him.

Ardan gestured. "Way up in the bow."

Erestor pulled out the jar of Agarthond, thrust it at him. "Heat some water. Dissolve a big spoonful of this in it, then use it to rub down Lornis's face and chest. I think he's been bewitched."

Ardan's brow was creased with worry. "What's happening?"

"Just keep an eye out for trouble," Glorfindel growled. Erestor grabbed a lantern and they headed toward the cargo hold.

They passed by Oiolairë. He was safely secured in the harness but appeared very nervous. He was throwing his head up and down, then pawing at the floor. Occasionally he would let out a little squeal. Glorfindel paused to reassure him while Erestor passed through the area where the men slept, noting the night shift cocooned in their hammocks. He continued until he found two hammocks tucked off by themselves in a cranny around a corner. There was a faint smell of the jasmine, a sweet smell of candle wax, and something else, sharply bitter. Overhead he heard another crack of thunder. The ship rolled heavily. Erestor's head spun; he was beginning to feel sick himself. He raised the lantern and looked around. Spying a ragged cloth lying on the floor, he lifted it. There, scratched in charcoal were strange symbols clustered around a large oval like a snake's eye. It was stained dark with a substance that looked like blood. "Glorfindel, come here," he called.

Glorfindel came up behind him.

"Look at this," Erestor said. "Do you know what any of this means?"

"Yes," Glorfindel said between clenched teeth. "Annatar, the giver of gifts." He spat out the words. "We found rooms full of symbols like this scratched on the walls in his stronghold after he was driven forth from Eriador. We also found the dungeons filled with his prisoners . . . what was left of them, with a foul mark like this one on their bodies." He pointed at one of the symbols that looked like a wheel with spokes of fire.

"Do you know what they mean?" Erestor asked.

"No. But their mere presence is enough to convince me those Haradrim are up to no good." Glorfindel walked away.

Erestor hurried after him. "What are you going to do?"

Glorfindel drew his sword. "What do you think?" he said. Suddenly he hunched over as the ship pitched about. Little objects rolled and skittered about their feet. Glorfindel rose with a look of grim determination. "These things on the wrist help," he said, "up to a point. Believe me, I am not in a good mood."

Erestor followed him up the ramp where they were almost blown over by the wind. He put his head down. His jacket flapped madly about him. The sailors had partially furled some of the sails before Armalak had ordered them down from the rigging. Erestor could see a half dozen of them including Zirik, Aratanur, and the two Lorcastrîn pulling on ropes to turn one of the sails at an angle to the wind.

With a shout, Glorfindel flew at them, sword drawn. "Servants of Morgoth," he roared, "drop the rope and stand away." All the sailors looked up startled.

The two Lorcastrîn glanced at each other. They did as Glorfindel asked but their expressions were mocking. The one with the gold tooth named Maldomas laughed. "You know nothing, Noldo filth," he said.

Glorfindel took two great strides, grabbed him by the throat with one hand, and shoved him up against the mast. "Enlighten me," he said through gritted teeth.

Erestor saw a quick movement as the other Lorcastra's hand went to his side. There was a flash of metal. Erestor drew his own knife and threw it. The knife buried itself in the man's neck. He went down in a gush of blood. With cries of dismay, the other sailors fell back. Armalak appeared, waving his arms.

Maldomas wriggled. "Don't," Glorfindel hissed and pressed tighter. The man began to choke.

Erestor moved in. "Glorfindel, don't kill him. We need him to talk." He rolled over the fallen Lorcastra, examined him. "I'm afraid, Armalak, that you've lost one of your crew," he said. "I'm sorry."

"What did you find in the hold?" Armalak asked.

"Evidence of black magic," Erestor said. "Tell us, Maldomas, what were you and your late companion doing with those symbols scratched on the boards?"

"You'll find out soon enough," Maldomas rasped. His hands scrabbled at Glorfindel's hand about his throat.

"Glorfindel . . ." Erestor warned.

The warrior let the man go suddenly. He stepped back and raised his sword. "Answer the Counselor. The instant I think you're lying, your head decorates our prow," he said.

Maldomas coughed. His dark eyes glittered with malice but it was a little while before he could speak. Finally he said in a hoarse voice, "Secrecy no longer matters. He's coming."

"Who is coming?" Erestor asked.

"Our master. We summoned him. He's coming for you." He pointed off toward the horizon.

"Murazor?" Glorfindel growled.

Maldomas cringed. "No names," he said.

"Look!" Zirik cried out.

In the grey distance Erestor could descry a set of black sails. Suddenly he was filled with dread.

"Corsairs," Armalak cried. "Quick, you mast monkeys," he yelled, "up aloft! Unfurl the sails again."

"In this wind?" Erestor asked.

"We've got to chance it," Armalak said. "We've got to outrun them."

At that moment, the heavens opened. Rain slanted down. The men scrambled aloft. Erestor was very glad he was not up there in this gale. The ship lurched again and the waves sprayed over them. They heard a scream. A man came hurtling down and disappeared like a stone into the water. He must have slipped. Terrible! Erestor bit his knuckle.

Tilting at a dangerous angle, the ship fled before the storm. Because of the curtain of rain, they no longer could see the black ship behind them, but Erestor had no doubt that it was there. 
 
Erestor came up close to Maldomas, close enough to smell something rank on his breath. "What have you done to Lornis?" he asked.

"Nothing much," Maldomas cackled. "He's in the Black Sleep now. He'll awaken when the Númenórean comes. Then, he'll wish he hadn't. Traitor!"

Glorfindel seemed to grow larger with anger. A white fire glowed off him and smoldered in his eyes. Maldomas averted his gaze. His lips twisted.

"The only reason you are still breathing," Glorfindel said in a voice purring with menace, "is because the elves do not kill needlessly. However if there is a need . . . " He grabbed Maldomas by the face. Holding his eyelids open with his thumbs, he stared deeply into his eyes.

"No!" Maldomas shrieked. "Stop! It hurts!" He attempted to writhe away from the warrior.

Erestor stood amazed. This was a side of his friend that he had never seen before, that of Glorfindel, the powerful and deadly enemy of the Darkness. For the first time, he had no doubt as to why the Valar had chosen him to return from the dead to aid Middle-earth in its need.

Maldomas slid down until he was groveling at Glorfindel's knees. "Stop it! I'll do what you ask," he cried.

Glorfindel picked him up by the scruff of his neck as if he had been a dog, then shoved him forward. "Remove your spell," he roared. "I will know if you are doing something evil."

"I need to lay hands on him."

"Do it." Glorfindel prodded Maldomas with the tip of his sword. The man fled before him, slipping and sliding on the wet deck. Erestor followed. He was cold, soaked to the skin, and trying not to notice that the ship was shuddering in the wind, its timbers creaking with effort. They removed the cover the sailors had placed on the hatch, then marched down the ramp into the lantern-lit gloom. They passed near the hold containing the white stallion. The animal rumbled a low note of warning, then he screamed like a war-horse on the battlefield. Erestor had heard that sound as they fought before the ruins of the great elven city of Ost-in-Edhil. It caused a shiver of terror to crawl up his spine.

"Be calm Oiolairë!" Glorfindel called.

They reached the sailors' sleeping berths where they found Ardan bathing Lornis's face with the water. The poor lad's brow was drawn with worry. He looked up as they entered. "He, he's hardly breathing at all. The medicine isn't working," he said.

"You are also traitor," Maldomas said to the boy. "Too much you liked having the Noldo filth's prick up your ass. Now your father is good as dead."

Ardan looked stricken to the heart.
 
"Shut up," Glorfindel snarled. "Remove the spell!"

Maldomas bent over Lornis. He drew a symbol with his finger on the man's chest and on his forehead. Then the Lorcastra began to shiver and sway from side to side, emitting a strange high-pitched wailing. Erestor recognized words of the Black Speech. The sound was unbearable and Erestor and Ardan both clapped their hands over their ears. Glorfindel clenched his teeth, glowing white again. In the compartment behind them, they heard the horse's frenzied neighing.
 
Just when Erestor couldn't stand it any more, Lornis began to move. He flailed his arms and legs in a tarantistic dance. His eyes opened; they bulged. He began choking.

"What are you doing?" Erestor cried to Maldomas. Glorfindel raised his sword.

"Wait," the Lorcastra said, holding up a hand.

Lornis's chest heaved. He flopped about in the hammock like a fish. "Ai gods, dreams," he murmured. "Terrible dreams."

Erestor put a hand to the man's cold brow. "Lornis, are you back?" he asked.

The man nodded slightly. They heard the horse bugle again. This time the note was especially fearful. Glorfindel turned his head to listen. "We had better go topside," he said. "Something terrible is happening. You," he grabbed Maldomas by the neck, "I'm going to lash you to the mast where you can't do any more harm."

The man laughed. "My Master is coming. You will all be dead soon."

"That remains to be seen," Glorfindel said with a grim look.

Suddenly the ship shuddered violently. They were all thrown backward. Erestor hit the wall with a painful smack, then careened into Glorfindel. Hundreds of small objects pelted his body. There was a terrible shrieking, yawning, and moaning of wood as the whole ship tilted upward. Then water began pouring in from somewhere. They could hear men shouting, the horse neighing, and the roaring of water. They were sliding. Glorfindel grabbed a broken beam to stop their fall and Erestor held onto his waist. One lantern flickered nearby.

"We've run aground!" Glorfindel shouted.

Erestor was paralyzed with fear. "No," he moaned. "No, not again." Glorfindel was talking to him; Erestor could see the elf's lips moving but he couldn't comprehend the words. It was all happening again just as he remembered it, the shriek of splintering wood, the struggle to breathe, the water closing over his head, darkness, deadly cold, dropping down . . . down to a watery grave. 

He felt a stinging blow to his face. "Erestor! Pull yourself together and listen to me!" Glorfindel shouted. "The ship is sinking! We must get out of it. Come with me."

Erestor shook his head to clear it. They were knee-deep in freezing water. Where were the others?

"Ardan!" Glorfindel called.

"I'm here. Help me!" They heard faintly. They discovered Ardan, barely able to stand, trying to lift a timber off Lornis. Erestor and Glorfindel both seized an end of the wood and raised it off the man. Maldomas was nowhere to be seen.

"Pull him free, Ardan," Glorfindel called. Ardan grabbed Lornis by the arm and hauled him out. "Good boy," Glorfindel said. They dropped the timber. Glorfindel picked Lornis up and half-draped him over his shoulder. "This way!" he cried.

They continued their perilous journey. When they reached the foot of the ramp, they could hear Oiolairë going mad as he battered at the sides of his stall. Glorfindel spoke in Erestor's ear. "Get them up top, Erestor. Find planks of wood to float on and jump into the sea. I must free the horse."

Erestor was petrified. He did not want to be separated as he had the awful feeling he would never see his friend again. "Glorfindel . . . ," he said tentatively.

Glorfindel kissed his brow. "We must be close to land if we hit something. Just let the tide float you in. Don't worry. I'll find you on the beach. Ardan, the same for you." Glorfindel gave the boy a kiss on the mouth.

Ardan seized him in his arms. "I love you," he said. "I did not want to betray you."

"I know. Now, go, quickly. May Ulmo and Ossë keep us all from harm," Glorfindel replied.

"Blesséd Ones, hear us," Erestor said automatically. Then Glorfindel was gone into the darkness of the hold.

"Go on," Erestor called to Ardan, who began climbing up the shaky ramp that was tilted at an angle greater than normal. Erestor had the harder job of supporting a weak Lornis as he climbed. The horse's screams had stopped. A good sign, maybe? He kept going.

They emerged on deck in the midst of the downpour. There was a frenzy of activity as Armalak was directing the rapid construction of a raft. When Erestor appeared, Armalak grabbed his arm. The Captain's face was drawn. "I never lost a ship afore," he said. "That cussed patch of rocks shouldn't be there. I would swear it on my own mother's grave."

"Not your fault, Captain. We've been bewitched by those fiends. They've muddled direction and distance," Erestor said. "No help for it now. Can you watch over Ardan and Lornis? They are elf-friends, Armalak. If you care at all, get them on that raft."

"I'll do my best. Where are you going?" Armalak asked.

"Back below to help Glorfindel."

Armalak gripped his arm more tightly. "Not good thinking," he said. "The hold is filling up with water."

Erestor tried to quell his rising panic. He stood at the hatchway and called Glorfindel's name. There was no reply. Then he heard one of the sailors cry, "Look, Captain! There it is again. That Corsair ship!"

"Damn!" Armalak swore.

Erestor raised his eyes. The rain had slackened. Towards the west the curtain of clouds had brightened with the pale afternoon light. Silhouetted against them was the ominous black ship. It rode up a wave, disappeared into the trough, then reappeared. It was close enough now that he could see a black banner flying above the top sail, and at its center, a lidless red eye. Along the side, he could descry a glint of helms and spears carried by a crowd of black forms. 

"Armalak! Now! We must leave now!" Erestor cried.

"All hands abandon ship!" Armalak cried. "Grab whatever will float and let the waves carry you!"

Using ropes, they lowered the raft off the side. It landed with a tremendous splash. Then there were more splashes on all sides as men leapt into the water and swam to it. Lornis seemed to have recovered sufficiently to have his wits about him. He made the sign of the elf friends over his heart, clasped Erestor's arm briefly, then dove into the swirling waves. Ardan hesitated. He looked beseechingly at Erestor.

"Go," Erestor ordered. "Believe me, you don't want to be caught by what's on that ship. I will work with King Gil-galad to try to get your father freed."

"Thank you, my lord. But I don't want to leave Glorfindel."

"You must. Don't worry about Glorfindel. He'll take care of himself, no doubt," Erestor said with what he hoped was a reassuring smile.

"Come on, boy," Armalak shouted. "Don't want to lose a good cook. Over the side with you." He picked him up and tossed him into the water. Ardan surfaced, splashing and coughing. He began to swim. Erestor watched until he saw that the boy had scrambled up onto the raft. 

There was a whine as something swept by his ear. That was altogether too familiar a sound recalling many an ancient battle. A black-feathered arrow hit the deck with a thud. Then came another. The blasted Corsair ship was close enough now for archery. Erestor ran over to the hatch. He could hear the stallion neighing below. Danger or no, he had to find out what was happening. He slid down the ramp where he found himself waist deep in water. There was no light except what little came through the hatch. "Findel," he called miserably. "Where are you?"

He heard a loud blow, followed by a rapid series of thuds, and the sound of splintering wood. Was the horse kicking down the side of the ship? Erestor followed the sound, trying to make his way in the dark. Finally by feel, he found the area where the horse had been stabled. It was quiet. The horse was gone. He found a portion of the harness that had held him up. Where in Arda were they?

The ship shuddered and tilted further. It seemed to be collapsing. Abruptly Erestor lost his footing and began sliding down towards the stern into deeper water. The water rapidly rose until it reached his neck.

Desperately Erestor shouted, "Ossë, Lord of the Waves, hear me! I have served you faithfully for five hundred years. Once before I begged for your help and you gave it. Once again I beseech you."

The water closed over his head. He flailed upwards and managed to inhale a huge gulp of air before the water engulfed him again. It was pitch black and freezing cold. There was no name for the terror Erestor felt at that moment. He didn't want to die, not this way. Unseen objects bumped around him. He thrashed about, but didn't know which direction to go. He was trapped in a sinking ship with no way out and no one at all to help him.

Chapter 5 - Ossė by elfscribe

The water was pitch black and deadly cold. Erestor could not tell which direction was up or down. He could hear the bubbles issuing from his mouth and faint thuds as objects struck the side of the ship. That was all. There had been another time that he had felt such terror, five hundred years ago in the last shipwreck. He had barely escaped then; perhaps his fate had finally caught up with him. As his breath swelled in his lungs, so too did his fear. He knew that panicking wouldn't help. He must try to think his way through this one, calmly, while he could still hold his breath.

He stopped thrashing and let himself drift upward until his head bumped a barrier. He began trying to feel his way along it but there was no change, no opening. He should keep going until he reached . . . what? Until he couldn't hold his breath any longer and had to inhale a lungful of ocean? It was too late. There was no way out.

An image of Glorfindel manifested in his thoughts. It was last year at the Mettarë party. His head was thrown back, his mouth open in laughter as he joked with Ereinion. Then he turned and looked directly at Erestor with eyes so bright it seemed as if a star had melted in each of them. His face fell into sadness, yearning. At the time, Erestor hadn't realized what it meant. Now he knew. Glorfindel loved him. Had Erestor been so blind before? No, on some level he'd been aware all along, but he couldn't open his heart, couldn't even admit the possibility of love. It didn't matter now. He was going to die here, cold and alone. So terribly alone. Still running his hand along the wood, he came to a place where it curved upward, but it was solid. No way out. He despaired.

Ossë, please, I beg of you, he thought. I've been your servant all these years. I've done everything you asked. Please.

His lungs were bursting, bursting. He had to breathe, had to take in that gulp that he knew would kill him. With a sob, he breathed in. It burned like fire. He tried to cough but more water came in. He was choking. And then his consciousness left him.

**************

His cheek rested on something gritty. He could hear waves coming into shore, felt them lapping about his thighs. They were warm. Erestor turned his head, choking up briny water. He breathed in air, sweet smelling air. It was the most marvelous breath he'd ever taken. He opened his eyes and, dazzled by brilliance, quickly shut them again. There was a white beach that caught the light and reflected it back in fiery sparks as if the sand were made of diamond dust. He rolled over on his back, clenched the wet sand, let it bunch through his fingers. He was alive. He was grateful. For a long moment, he basked in those realizations.

But where was he? Maybe he wasn't alive after all. Maybe he had died and was now in Valinor, in the halls of Mandos. This was not how he had pictured it.

He opened his eyes again, squinting. How did he get here? And bloody Mandos! Where were his clothes? He was lying naked on some alien shore. He must be dead. Must be.

Then he heard laughter. It was formed of the cries of gulls and the crash of waves. He knew that sound, all too well. Erestor raised himself up on his elbows and stared out at the rippling aqua-green water that deepened to a dark blue at the horizon. He watched the familiar figure rise from the water.

Long and foam-white was Ossë's hair and chopped in various lengths, some ending at his chin, some his shoulders and his chest; the rest frothed all the way down to his waist. His body was a deep gold, tattooed with light brown geometric symbols that seemed to move as he did. His elfin face was sly and fair as a summer's day. He wore a necklace and a kilt of beaded shells that clicked as he walked. A mantle of kelp adorned his shoulders; he was crowned with a circlet of polished coral. He strode up to Erestor and stood over him, straddling his legs.

"Well met, Erestor," he said. His voice boomed and hissed like waves upon the shore. "You surely do know how to get yourself into trouble - but then you begged so nicely that it seemed a shame to let you perish."

"Am I dead?" Erestor asked.

Ossë laughed. "You think like a creature of Arda, in absolutes. There are shades in between life and death. Aye, 'tis that! You are caught in a shade between."

"Riddles, as always," Erestor said.

"You used to like them," Ossë replied. He threw himself down next to Erestor, picked up a long strand of Erestor's hair, and ran it over his mouth. "And how is your king, Ereinion Gil-galad?"

"He is well, as I'm sure you know," Erestor said.

"He has not ventured out to sea in a long time. Not since . . ."

"Not since then," Erestor agreed.

"He would be safe," Ossë said. "My word is good. And you, my pet, you have not journeyed to the sea cave to sacrifice to me in nigh on two years." His lower lip curled outward in a pout.

"I have kept your altars burning. I have kept my vow to you. What more do you desire?"

"You know well what I desire." Ossë unclasped his shell kilt, cast it away; then he flung a hard, muscular leg over Erestor's thighs and dragged him close. He slid on top of him, pressing a forceful kiss to Erestor's willing mouth. As always, Ossë smelled of salty wind and warm sand. His body felt heavy as it drove against him. Erestor closed his eyes and gave himself up to sensation that was pleasurable to the point of pain.

*******************
Afterwards they lay entwined, their skin dusted with sparkling sand. The Maia amused himself by braiding shells into Erestor's hair as he sang to him. In an unknown language, he sang ancient songs that came from the twilight time. Erestor's soul ached with the beauty of the music. His body felt sated, but his heart was unsatisfied. It was good to be here in the Maia's arms, to feel desired. He had needed it. Yet still, Ossë was not . . .

"I fear I am not the one you truly love. It saddens me," Ossë said in the long quiet that came after he finished singing.

"If you loved me, as you say, you would let me go," Erestor sighed, as he sidestepped the question. "What kind of life is this for me, Ossë? Do you really intend to hold me in thrall to you forever?"

"In thrall? Is that what you think? I do recall that willingly you made the vow to me in exchange for certain favors. I granted those and I gave you life. This time, I am still deciding what to do with you."
 
"You are?" Erestor sat up in alarm.

Ossë chuckled knowingly. "Truthfully, you are still in the hold of the Hirilondë on the brink of death. For a time, I have stopped your journey to Mandos. Perhaps I should hold you suspended for all time, to keep you here as my lover? What do you think?"

Ossë's expression was taunting. His eyes were wells of emerald green. He sank his teeth into Erestor's neck until the elf cried out. Erestor felt something warm trickle down his neck. Ossë lapped at it eagerly. "So sweet, my Elda. You feed me well," he murmured. He moved lower, swirling a tongue around one of Erestor's nipples before sucking it wetly into his mouth. Erestor threw his head back with a gasp. It felt so good. The Maia's lips trailed downwards.

For a time, Erestor knew only the sharp pleasures of the Maia's mouth and hands. When he was done and Erestor lay panting under him, Ossë said, "Nay, my lover, I do not think I'm quite ready to relinquish you. Not yet." With this pronouncement, Ossë rolled off him and lay in the sand with his head propped behind his hands.
   
Erestor reflected that the Maia was quite capable of doing just as he had said. But he was capricious. For many years he might forget that he had Erestor in his keeping. For Erestor to save himself from such an existence, suspended between life and death and at the mercy of a fickle god, it was time to start playing whatever cards he had left.
 
He climbed atop the Maia, grasped his long white hair, pulling it hard in his fists, and kissed him. He kissed him with all the passion he'd ever felt for anyone, for maybe a certain golden-haired elf. At first the Maia tensed, but then he began to purr, "Ah, the little Elda is licentious." His tongue was slick, covered with small bumps. It curled snail-like around Erestor's in a sinuous dance. Erestor rocked his hips against him, feeling him rising under the friction. Finally he spoke, his lips brushing against Ossë's mouth. "I've been your acolyte for five hundred years, my lord. I know what you desire and it's not this." He kissed him again.

"What is it then?" Ossë said breathlessly, "for surely this is desirable."

Their mouths plundered each other for hidden secrets. Erestor came up for air. "You desire worshippers to call your name while they dance before your altar. That is what feeds you and makes you strong. I have given you that."

"Indeed you have."

"I can get you more worshippers, build your cult so that it surpasses even Ulmo's," Erestor said as he slid downwards.

"Surpasses Ulmooo? Unhhhhh," Ossë cried as Erestor's mouth claimed him.

Erestor knew just what Ossë liked. Slowly up and down he drew his mouth, swirling his tongue here and there, now speeding up until the Maia was struggling and moaning, then slowing down again. He used his hands, his fingers. Then, when he judged Ossë was ripe, he began humming in a sing-song voice.

Ossë thrashed under him. He gasped. He cried out. He seized Erestor's head and attempted to make him move faster. Erestor resisted him, brought him to the brink, then kept him hovering there until the Maia was desperate.

Finally Ossë roared, "Erestor, I beg of you. I cannot bear it. Release me!"

Erestor lifted his head. "What will you give me?" He plunged a finger into the Maia's body and curved it around, causing him to howl.

"Anything, I'll give you anything. As Manwë is my witness, I swear it."

"Free me from the ship. Let me go back to my life. Release me from my vow."
 
"Clever little Elda. I will send you back, but you are still mine, your vow intact. Now, do not try my patience. Give me my release!"

One does not refuse the command of a god. Erestor kept his part of the bargain so magnificently that, as Ossë roared out his completion, the earth shook and the waves pounded over them, flooding them with white foam.

*********************

Erestor found himself back in the dark hold of the ship, his last breath burning in his lungs. Suddenly, there was a bright light that illuminated everything about him. He could see the twisted wreckage and the damaged hull. And there it was, a gash in the side. As he swam towards it, he discovered he could breathe as if he were a sea creature. His fear vanished in the wonder of it. He swam through the hole and upwards towards the surface. A white dolphin was cavorting about him, nudging him with his nose. The bright light increased and the dolphin became Ossë, god of the waves. His white hair floated beguilingly about his face. He smiled at Erestor, then held his chin for a lingering kiss.

"I have a soft spot in my heart for you," he said as he studied Erestor's face. "Until we meet again, Erestor."

"Please tell me my lord, Glorfindel and the others, did they survive?" Erestor asked in a sudden panic.

Ossë shrugged. "I cannot account for all. But you might recall that my blessings are bestowed on a ship that affixes an Oiolairë sprig to its prow. Remember your vow. You are mine and I will call for you again. Farewell." Once again he shifted into the dolphin shape.

I shouldn't have expected a straight answer from that one, Erestor thought irritably. His head broke the surface and he sucked in a long, gasping breath that felt almost as good as the one in Ossë's Land-in-Between. The storm seemed to have abated but the water was still rough. Erestor took a hit in the face. He spat it back. Towards the west, the clouds were bright with sunset. There was no one in sight. He was about to call when, with a start, he saw the black ship anchored on the other side of the remains of their vessel. How was he going to get away without being seen?

The dolphin swam by him, poked him with its nose, then rubbed against his back, almost like a cat angling for attention. He saw the fin slide by. He grabbed it and held on. The beast shot away, drawing Erestor rapidly behind him.

It seemed as if ages had passed, when the dolphin shook him free. It leapt out of the water, dove, undulated around him, then disappeared into the deep. It was twilight. He could hear waves crashing. He must be close to shore. With his last strength, he began swimming. The waves caught him, carried him, hurled him to the beach. Hunched over, drawing his legs up under him, he coughed up water. Then he passed out. For a long time he lay still with no knowledge of the world moving about him.

Chapter 6 - Flotsam by elfscribe

A wave splashed over him and Erestor stirred. He was shaking with cold and his hand was stiff from holding the dolphin's fin. He tried to close it but couldn't. He felt sore, as if he'd been beaten by large objects. Overhead Ithil was waxing towards full, lending a ghostly silver light to the beach. What had awakened him? He thought he'd heard a distant voice calling his name. There it was again.

"Erestor!"

It couldn't be, could it? Glorfindel! He tried to call back, but his tongue felt thick in his mouth. He realized he was desperately thirsty. There. He thought he saw lights flickering down the beach - was that torchlight? Yes! They appeared to be floating in the darkness.

"Halloo, any survivors?" called another unknown voice. He spoke Westron with a strange accent.
 
"Findel, Fin!" Erestor rasped. The torches seemed to be going away. No! He began to crawl. "Glorfindel," he yelled as loudly as he could. "Help, oh gods, don't leave me!"

The torches were coming nearer. Someone cried, "Look, there's something over there!" He heard feet scuffing rapidly through the sand. The next instant Glorfindel was gathering him up in his arms, hugging him tight, rocking him. "Erestor! Thank the Valar, you're alive!" His voice was husky as if he were fighting tears.

"Am I?" Erestor asked. "I wasn't quite sure."

Glorfindel laughed. It came out as a sob. "I never thought I'd see you again," he said. He dashed his hand across his eyes. "Gods, you're like ice. Aramir," he called, "a blanket, quickly." He began rubbing Erestor's arms, then helped him drink from a skin of water. "You idiot," Glorfindel said affectionately. "Where have you been? You've had us worried. Come. There's a village near here. They've got a bonfire and a feast going. It's Mettarë, don't you know? They are celebrating. As luck would have it, they have a custom to seek out and fete any travelers passing through on this night and they are used to shipwreck victims it seems. So we are more than welcome."

"And the others," Erestor asked, "have you found any other survivors?"

"A few of the sailors, including Lornis." Glorfindel's voice was heavy with anxiety.

"Neither the Captain nor Ardan?" Erestor persisted.

Glorfindel shook his head. "I fear what might have happened to them."

"And how did you escape?"

"Enough questions for now, Erestor. Come."

A young man appeared leading the white stallion. Glorfindel took a blanket from him and wrapped it around Erestor. "Here is Oiolairë, Erestor," he said soothingly, almost as if he were speaking his calming, nonsensical language. "He turned out to have Ossë's blessing after all. You asked how I escaped. The ship had tilted so much that Oiolairë couldn't gain a foothold and I was forced to batter out a hole in the ship's hull with an iron stave. Then this braveheart leapt into those raging waves and towed me to shore."

Erestor put a hand out to stroke the stallion's neck, "Good horse," he said, and Oiolairë rumbled softly. Glorfindel boosted Erestor astride, then led Oiolairë over the sand. Dazed, Erestor retreated into the simple sensations of comfort: the enfolding blanket and the horse's warm flanks. The animal's gait was smooth. Gently it rocked him as he slumped forward onto its neck. Everything was turning into fog. He fell asleep.

*************************

The horse's gait changed into short, upward lunges. His neck bumped Erestor's nose. Erestor opened his eyes, then sat up. They were climbing a sand dune. When they reached the top, he could see below them a village of thatched huts. It was brilliantly lit with a huge bonfire in the center and torches scattered throughout. He could hear drums, singing, and laughter. Oh, and the wonderful smell! There was a scent of something delicious cooking. His stomach told him exactly how long it had been since he'd last eaten. He peered down at Glorfindel, who was looking anxiously at him. Erestor smiled and Glorfindel's face relaxed as he returned the smile.

"I'm glad to see you awake," Glorfindel said. "It's just a little further now."

Glorfindel led the horse down the other side of the dune. Erestor noticed that there were two men on either side of them. They were dressed in coarsely woven plaid tunics and trousers whose legs were bound from ankle to knee with crisscrossed thongs. Their hair was cropped to the chin. They smelled strongly of sweat and wood-smoke.

"You can stop for a bit at my house here, Master Glorfindel," the younger man said. "Me Mum'll get your friend a dry set o' togs."

Glorfindel inclined his head. "We are in your debt, Aramir," he said. "Come on Erestor, slide off now."

Erestor half fell off Oiolairë into Glorfindel's arms. It felt so good to hang onto him. His body was solid, comforting. Erestor was reluctant to let go but he didn't want to appear weak. With an effort, he pulled away. Glorfindel put his arm around Erestor's shoulder and led him into the house, where they were met by an older woman with grey-flecked dark hair and laughing eyes.

"Ah, Master Glorfindel, you've returned successful I see. Is this the one you've been so wrought up over? Glad am I for your sake that he's been found." She came over and eyed Erestor shrewdly. "Handsome, to be sure. What do they call you, sir?"

Erestor kissed the woman's hand "I am Erestor, Madam. I thank you for your hospitality. And what might your name be?"

"Ah you've fine manners and the fair sound of the First-Born in your voice. I am Widgewyn. It's not often we host elves from Lindon in our poor village, even though 'tis not uncommon for us to pull shipwrecked sailors out o’ the sea. The rocks that jut from the promontory out there are treacherous, lying as they do just under the surface. Most like ‘tis why Lord Ossë has such a following in these parts." She folded her hand over Erestor's and patted it, then exclaimed, "Ack! Your hands are cold as a wight's. Let's get ye into dry things. I expect my son Aramir's stuff will fit you well enough. You're about the same shape, though you're sommat taller. Here, take these. You can change in the next room."

She thrust a bundle of clothes and a drying cloth into Erestor's hands. He found himself pushed through a rush curtain into a dark room, a little dizzy from Widgewyn's take-charge manner. Glorfindel came with him. The room was sparsely furnished, a straw pallet, a chest, and a small table in the corner on which burned candles and a sweet-smelling grass. Sitting on it were a variety of objects: seashells, dried kelp, salt crystals, and a statue of a god with long curling hair. It was all very familiar - a shrine to Lord Ossë. Erestor looked more closely. There, perched jauntily next to a shell, were the little horse and the bell he had bound to Glorfindel's wrists to help with the seasickness. He glanced at Glorfindel.

Glorfindel shrugged. "They let me sleep in here last night. I thought an offering to Ossë wouldn't be amiss. Who knows, maybe it helped."

"Maybe. It's possible he heard you," Erestor said. "Findel, we've lost our stores, all our gear, and the letter from the Prince."

"Then it's fortunate that you read it so you can relate its contents to Ereinion. Don't worry about that now. It's unimportant," Glorfindel said. He was looking at Erestor with a soft expression in his brilliant blue eyes.

Erestor nodded. He turned away slightly, attempted to unclasp the hooks on his jacket, and found his fingers stiff with cold. He clicked his tongue in exasperation.

"Here, allow me," Glorfindel said. He began peeling away Erestor's damp clothes. Uncharacteristically, Erestor stood passively and let him. He was trembling from cold, or perhaps something else.

To take his thoughts away from Glorfindel's warm hands, he began asking questions. "How did you meet these people so quickly, Findel? And how did it get to be Mettarë? That was a day hence from the time the ship wrecked."

"My dear friend, you've been missing for an entire day." Overcome for a moment, Glorfindel stopped. Then he said in a raspy voice, "I never thought to see you again. I was certain you were dead."

"Not so certain, it seems," Erestor said softly. "You came back to look for me."

"Indeed, I did. Hope lends strength when reason despairs. What happened to you? Where were you for an entire day and night?" Glorfindel succeeded in freeing Erestor of his coat, shirt, and undergarment. He began tenderly drying him with the cloth, starting with his face and hair. It felt so good.

Glorfindel paused and peered intently at Erestor’s hair. He fingered one of the shells braided into it. "In the name of Mandos, where did these come from?"

"I met my Master," Erestor explained. "The Lord Ossë. Apparently he kept me awhile before returning me to this plane of existence." He paused, waited for Glorfindel to meet his gaze. "I was dead, Findel, or close enough to taste it. Once again, I owe him my life."

Glorfindel ran a finger over Erestor's neck and chest, stroking in a circle around one nipple. "Mmmm. Strange bite marks," he commented. "Is this the shape of a Maia's teeth?"

Erestor looked down at himself. "It must be," he said.

Glorfindel cocked his head. "Is that your secret then, Counselor? Are you beloved by a god?"

Erestor nodded, almost imperceptibly.

"Lucky for you, I guess," Glorfindel said gruffly. "I am grateful that he has returned you. The clothes are there on the chair. I'll leave you to finish in privacy." He was gone from the room before Erestor even had time to protest. His absence felt like an ache.

Erestor quickly peeled off his wet leggings, stockings, and boots. Shivering as he dried himself, he donned Aramir's clothes, pulling a cloak over his shoulders. The clothing felt rough against his skin, but it was dry and that was something. His hair and skin felt sticky. He wished for fresh water to wash away the salt. Even more, he longed for a hot meal, then to fall asleep in Glorfindel's arms. Outside he could hear the sounds of celebration. Well, at least there was hope for the hot meal part. It seemed so strange to be here attending to mundane needs when, not so long ago, he had been trapped and despairing within a sinking ship. He wrapped his arms about himself thanking the Valar for the gift of his life. He should not tempt fate by asking for more.

He pushed past the curtain of hanging rushes into the next room, bright with fire. Widgewyn was dipping something out of a pot into a mug. She handed it to him. "This'll warm ye up. Drink it while I rinse and dress that hair. 'Tis way too lovely to be hanging about in snarls. Don't fret. I did Master Glorfindel's for him too. And it didn't hurt much, did it luv?"

Glorfindel smiled. "Not so much," he said.

"When he arrived yesterday, he was a sight," Widgewyn continued. "Sit ye here. I do love a man with long hair."

Erestor took a sip of the drink thinking it would be tea. Instead, he choked with the burn of a harsh liquor, then immediately felt warmed to his core. The taste wasn't so bad either, once you got used to it. He took another sip.

Widgewyn laid her finger aside her nose. "Old family recipe," she said. "You'll feel like yourself in no time."

After a cup of the stuff, Erestor agreed completely with her assessment. He was relaxed, amiable, and found himself joking with the others. Widgewyn rinsed and dried his hair, removed the shells, then applied a light oil to help in combing it out. "Ah, there," she exclaimed when she was finished. "Look at the luster in it now, Master Glorfindel. Just like a raven's wing. Have you seen any sight prettier?"

"No," Glorfindel said. He sat back in his chair as he took another swig of the fiery liquor.

Widgewyn said to Erestor, "Your friend here was fretting something fierce last night. I had to give him a cup o' chamomile so he could settle down enough to get some rest."

"He always has had a responsible streak," Erestor said, "much as he tries to suppress it."

Glorfindel folded his arms in mock annoyance.

Widgewyn laughed. "Males. They can never tell each other anything in plain words. So, should I braid it up again or leave it out?"

"Braid it," Erestor said.

"Leave it loose," Glorfindel said at the same time. His eyes were glowing softly.

Widgewyn looked from one to the other, then nodded as if something was confirmed in her mind. "I'll just pull a braid from either side, tie them together in the back, and leave most of it out," she said.

At that moment Lornis, Zirik, and Nadroth burst into the hut. "My Lord Erestor, glad am I that you were spared!" Lornis said. He went down on one knee. "I came to thank you for saving my life from that Lorcastrîn spell."

"A lord are you?" Widgewyn exclaimed, taking a step away from Erestor. "Stopping here in my house? And it must be Lord Glorfindel as well, I take it, from King Gil-galad's court?" She dipped her knee, pulling her skirts wide in a curtsy.

"No titles," Erestor said. "Dear lady, to you and everyone in this village, we are but ragged castaways dependent on your hospitality. Please do not treat us any differently." Lornis rose and Erestor embraced him and the others. "I'm glad you escaped. Tell me what happened!"

Soon they were all seated with a cup of Widgewyn's brew while Lornis told them about frantically trying to paddle the raft away from the ship, while every wave seemed to fling it back. Then the archers from the black ship began firing arrows amongst them. "Unhappily, one hit Aratanur between the shoulders," Lornis said. "He didn't survive it. When that happened, we all leapt from the raft, grabbed whatever was floating, and paddled for dear life."

"What happened to Captain Armalak and Ardan?" Erestor asked. He could see Glorfindel shaking his head behind Lornis.

"We lost sight of them in the storm. But I fear many were taken by the black ship's commander," Lornis said miserably. Zirik and Nadroth nodded their confirmation.

"We must attempt a rescue," Nadroth declared.

"Just us five? Not likely," said Glorfindel. "First we need to return to Lindon and tell King Gil-galad what we know. Then, by Mandos, we'll hunt down that black ship, and if our friends are held captive, we will free them."

"No, my hot-heads, first you must have some supper," Widgewyn said. "Aramir, get them bowls and take them out to the fire. Go on. It's Mettarë. Enjoy yourselves afore ye start aplotting. Shoo!" She waved them out.

Chapter 7 - Ossė's Gift by elfscribe

Several hours later, Erestor and Glorfindel sat together near a roaring bonfire. Lornis and the other sailors lounged nearby. They listened as the villagers played drums, rasps, flutes, and a squawking wind instrument made from a pipe attached to a bladder inflated with air. Others were dancing. There was plenty of food and drink. Erestor learned that these people called themselves the Eníeds. On Mettarë, the shortest day of the year and the longest night, it was their custom to celebrate loudly so as to entice Anor to return with the light and warmth of spring. Erestor couldn't fault it.

Warm and dry, wrapped in a cape, his stomach full of grilled cod, roast corn, and fiery drink, Erestor was quite content. The people were charming, and he was with Glorfindel. Erestor leaned against his friend's solid shoulder, realizing that he never wanted to move from the spot. There had been a time when the warrior's company would have filled him with trepidation and he would have used his biting wit to keep him at arms-length. Now he knew what his trouble had been. He had been guarding his heart. But sadly, his situation had not changed. He was still Ossë's servant and he could not act on his newly discovered affection. So, he took what comfort he could from the proximity of Glorfindel's strong body.

Nearby, Oiolairë munched on sea grass gathered up for him by the villagers. He was surrounded by admiring youngsters who Erestor guessed didn't see many horses.

A group of young women sat on the far side of the fire. They were looking at the elves sidelong, whispering to each other from behind their hands, and giggling.

"What's wrong with them?" Erestor asked. "Do I have corn stuck between my teeth?"

Glorfindel chuckled. "Widgewyn warned me of another custom," he said. "A maiden can spend the night with one of the guests, if it is agreeable to both." He winked at a girl with long dark hair. "I suspect we've got some prospects, if you are interested."

"By the bloody Valar!" Erestor growled. "Well, I cannot and you really, really should not or you'll end up stuck here married to some fishmonger's daughter!"
 
Glorfindel dropped his head back and laughed. "Now that's the old Erestor I've missed. Don't worry, I have no intention of complying with the custom. However, that one is very pretty." He grinned at Erestor, then wiggled his fingers in greeting at the dark-haired girl who blushed beet red and hid her face.        

"Glorfindel!" Erestor said sharply. "Come with me!" He stood and hauled the slightly drunk elf to his feet, then with an arm about his waist, dragged him behind a sand dune out of sight of the revelers. There, with his hands on his hips, Erestor confronted him. "You simply can't keep it laced up, can you? This is not suitable conduct for a member of Gil-galad's court. I swear if you make any move to seduce one of these villagers, I'll wrestle you to the ground and keep you pinned there all night!"

Glorfindel looked highly amused. "Go ahead and try it," he said. 

They circled around each other. Glorfindel made a feint to the right, then he pulled back just as Erestor closed in. They circled again, maneuvered back and forth. Erestor watched Glorfindel's eyes, which were sparkling with humor. He was playing with him. Then, as suddenly as a pouncing cat, Glorfindel lunged from the other direction, grabbed Erestor, flipped him onto his back, then fell on top of him, straddling his waist and using his weight to pin him neatly to the sand. He pulled Erestor's hands over his head and held them down by the wrists. For a long moment Erestor had the wind knocked out of him and couldn't speak. The sand was cold against his back. He could feel Glorfindel's warm breath husking along his cheek, could hear him panting slightly. Through their rough trousers, he felt the warrior's need growing to match his own. Glorfindel's hips rocked forward, then back, then forward again, grinding hard against him. Blood pounded into Erestor's loins, spreading like fire throughout his body. By the gods, how he wanted this!
        
"Findel," he moaned. He tried to say, "Stop me," but instead he heard himself say, "Kiss me!"

Glorfindel relaxed his hold on Erestor's wrists and entwined their fingers in an intimate gesture that made Erestor’s heart pound. The warrior leaned down and dusted his lips lightly across Erestor's. Then with a sigh, he pressed harder, taking Erestor's mouth in a desperately devouring kiss that stole Erestor's breath away. When they finally separated, there was a terrible throbbing between Erestor's legs. He wanted, needed, oh gods . . . But he couldn't, couldn't break his vow. How do you betray a deity without terrible consequence? It was tearing him apart. "Findel,” he said, “Please understand, I want you badly, you don’t know how much, but I am sorry, I cannot.”

In disgust, Glorfindel rolled off him. He lay on his back staring up at Ithil's brightness. "I hate this," he said. "It is terrible to have such competition. Who can rival a god?"
 
"I wish that it were different," Erestor said.

Glorfindel rolled his eyes. "Do you? Do you really?"

Erestor sighed. "Findel. The last thing I saw before I . . . well, when I thought I was going to die, was your face. And I realized something terrible. I realized that I love you."

Glorfindel turned to face him. His expression softened into a white radiance. His mouth curved into a secret smile as he leaned down and kissed Erestor again, this time gently. "Something terrible, indeed," he said. "I never thought to hear those words from your lips."

"And what of you?" Erestor asked. He felt shaken to his core, having finally admitted the unthinkable. He didn't know where this would lead, and then suddenly he feared Glorfindel would deny his own feelings as they had both done for so long.

But Glorfindel said, "This must be a dream because I dare not think it real. My dearest, I have loved you hopelessly for over two hundred years, ever since that Mettarë when we had the heavy snowfall and you and Elrond used your shields to slide down the hill behind Ereinion's chambers. I heard your laughter, saw your ruddy cheeks and your flying dark hair, and realized there was another side to that dour Counselor who terrified everyone so. I began to watch you and before I knew it, you had my heart. I never thought a day would come when my feelings would be returned. Thank the Valar."  He leaned forward for another kiss.

Erestor put his hand on Glorfindel's mouth. "Our feelings change nothing. I am bound by a vow to Ossë, god of the waves. He will not release me. I know, I asked him when he rescued me yesterday."

Abruptly Glorfindel sat up. He threw a handful of sand, then another. "I would challenge him to a duel, if I thought it would do any good," he growled. "Is there no other way? What would happen if you just broke your vow?"

"Well, for one thing I would have to renounce travel by sea." Erestor smiled grimly. "Not a good plan if I ever decide to go to Valinor. Besides, it goes deeper than that."

"Tell me."

"You might recall that I was in a shipwreck when Ereinion and I were returning with the Númenórean fleet carrying the army that he had recruited to challenge Sauron's hold on Eriador."

"I was mustering forces near Ost-in-Edhil," Glorfindel said. "And I remember hearing about the storm . . ."

"Yes. It sank several of the ships, including the one Ereinion and I were aboard. Ereinion had taken a blow to the head from a fallen spar and he was unconscious. I was trying to keep his head above water, but I was losing my strength and we were both sinking. In desperation, I prayed to Ossë, and marvelous to say, he appeared. I begged for Ereinion's life and Ossë took pity on me and spared us both."

"By Manwë, Erestor! You did it for Ereinion?" Glorfindel exclaimed. "No one carried that tale back to Lindon. It all makes sense now."
    
"Yes, what else could I do? Apparently Ossë took a fancy to me. He is possessive. He made me pledge myself to him, body and soul. I have kept my vow to him, served as his priest in Lindon all this time. When he came to me the day before yesterday, he seemed amused that once again I was in the same plight. He was going to keep me suspended in time, as his personal servant. I bargained my way out of that one, but he held me to my original vow."

Glorfindel looked intent. "You bargained with him? What did you offer?"

Erestor laughed. "Pleasure. Release."

Glorfindel raised an eyebrow and Erestor ran a finger tip up the in-seam of his friend's trousers. "My dear Findel, you are not the only one with erotic skills."

Glorfindel chuckled. "You are ever full of surprises," he said affectionately. "Here’s another title to add to your credit: Erestor, seducer of a Maia. Yet clearly the fact that he bargained with you shows that he is open to negotiation."

"He is. Further, I offered to increase his followers, for that is what he really desires. I do not fool myself into believing I am all that important to him. I have learned over the last five centuries that I am a mere plaything to be discarded at a whim."

Glorfindel's face lit with a sudden revelation. "That's it!" he said.

"What is it?"

"What does a god want?" Glorfindel asked. He got up and began pacing.

Erestor thought for a moment. "In Ossë's case, he is vain, insecure, and subject to temptation. He wants to be worshipped as one of the Valar."

"Yes! As one of the Valar!" Glorfindel cried. "We may yet have something to bargain with him. Come!"

"What are we doing?" Erestor asked as he rose to his feet.

"Appeasing a god," Glorfindel replied.

He strode back to the bonfire past the crowd of revelers. Walking up to Oiolairë, he patted his neck. "Come, friend, let's go for a ride." He grabbed a handful of mane, swung up onto the horse's back, then offered his hand to Erestor. Erestor grasped it and Glorfindel pulled him up behind. As soon as Erestor was settled, Glorfindel squeezed his legs about the stallion's sides and the horse took off. They galloped across the moonlit dunes heading towards the shore. Erestor did not know exactly what scheme Glorfindel had in mind but, for once, was content not to ask. He wrapped his arms about the warrior, pulling him close, taking pleasure in the feeling of the hard body rocking strategically against him.

They reached the ocean, stretched endlessly along the horizon. Erestor heard the sound of waves crashing to the shore. Moonlight danced on the water. There was a slight breeze.

Glorfindel swung off Oiolairë's back and ran up to the water's edge. "Ossë, hear me," he cried. "Attend my words!" There was a long silence. Glorfindel strode up and down along the shore. "Ossë!" he cried again. "Erestor and I, we owe you for our lives. We owe you a sacrifice. You are wise and powerful and yet you do not receive your fair share of the praise that goes to the Lord Ulmo. I wish to make a bargain with you, one greatly to your favor!"

Still, there was nothing but the sound of the waves sighing as they slid onto the sand.

"Do not ignore me!" Glorfindel cried. He lunged into the water and pulled his knife.

"No," Erestor cried out, but Glorfindel had already made a cut across his palm. He raised his hand high, letting the blood drip down into the water. "Hear me," he cried. "Hear my promise, now sealed by my blood."

There was a disturbance in one of the waves. It reared up high and Erestor could see two gleaming eyes within it. The wave sliced onto the shore, foaming all about Glorfindel's legs. Out of it, right in front of Glorfindel, Ossë arose. His hair glowed a phosphorescent white with shades of green and purple. He took Glorfindel's bloody hand and licked across the palm. "Ah, sweet Elda," he sighed. "What do you want of me?"       

"Erestor, please come here," Glorfindel called, holding out his cut hand. Erestor noticed that the bleeding had stopped. He kicked off his sandals and entered the surf. Glorfindel drew him close. "Erestor has served you faithfully for many long years, has he not?" Glorfindel asked.

"Indeed he has." Ossë turned to Erestor. "Faithfully and well." He licked his lips.

"Is it not time to release him?"

"Why should I?" Ossë asked.

"Because if you do, I will give you something you want. I shall build you a temple."

"A temple?" Ossë's eyes widened.
 
"We will build it upon that promontory over there." Glorfindel pointed. "At night, we will kindle a fire in a great brazier within it. The light will shine through the pillars where it can be seen far out to sea and serve as a warning so that no ship is wrecked upon these rocks again. People will sing your praises when they see the glow at night."

It was a brilliant ploy, Erestor thought admiringly, and it might just work. He hastened to add, "Yes my Lord, it will be beautiful, much better than the sea caves where I come to sing your praises. We will make it of white marble and it will gleam golden in the sunrise and silver at night. People will come from all over Arda to admire it and to chant your name."

Ossë looked slyly at them. He twisted a lock of hair around one of his fingers. "It is tempting. And, after all, today is Mettarë, a time for giving gifts." He held out his fist and opened his hand. There, miraculously, were the tiny horse and the little bell that Glorfindel had left upon the altar. He dropped them into Erestor's hand, then put his palm against Erestor's heart. "Indeed, you have served me faithfully, Erestor. I now give you a gift and release you from your vow. And after all, how could I hold you when I know where your heart truly lies?"

Erestor bent his head. "I am your servant, my Lord, and I will ever give thanks to you for saving my life and that of my King." He placed the tokens in the belt pouch at his waist.

Just then, they saw a dolphin leap from the water. Ossë smiled. "Ah, before you depart, you should meet my new companion." He turned and beckoned. Soon they saw another figure rising from the waves, a familiar one, wearing a scarf wrapped about his head, from which escaped a long ringlet of dripping black hair.

"Ardan!" Glorfindel cried. He took several splashing steps forward to embrace the boy. "I thought you had been taken captive or worse!"

"No, I have escaped, praise be to Ossë." He smiled warmly at the Maia. "It gladdens me to see that both of you are well."

"Are you coming back to Lindon with us?" Glorfindel asked. "There will be a ship sailing for Umbar soon."

"Er, no," Ardan replied. He looked coyly at Ossë. The Maia took his chin and kissed him. Then he turned to address the elves.

"I have a new acolyte," Ossë said. "A very talented one."

Ardan smiled. "He said he would counter the magic that holds my father hostage and he has promised to show me the wonders of the deep. How could I refuse?"

"How indeed?" Glorfindel said. "As long as it is of your own choosing."

"It is. Farewell, my friends, for now," Ardan said.

Ossë leaned down, kissed Erestor, then took the Counselor's hand and placed it in Glorfindel's. "Go now and give expression to your love for each other," he said. And to Glorfindel he added, "Take care of him and do not forget your promise. I expect my temple to outshine Anor." He laughed. Then, shifting once more to dolphin form, he and Ardan slid into the water where soon they were leaping and cavorting together as they swam out toward open sea.

Dumbfounded, Erestor stared after them. "He never turned me into a dolphin," he said.

Glorfindel laughed. "Perhaps it's not too late to change your mind."

His hair, silvered by the moonlight, blew gently about his face. His eyes were soft with affection. Gently, he caressed Erestor's cheek with a thumb. At that moment, Erestor realized just how much he had fallen for him. And now he was free, truly free to express his affection. It was like taking a gulp of heady wine. "Change my mind? Never!" Erestor said. He gathered Glorfindel into his arms and there, under Ithil's light, with the surf surging about his legs, kissed him with the force of all his long years of suppressed passion. Glorfindel returned the kiss in equal measure until they were both dizzy and delirious. Erestor could hear their hearts thundering in their chests.

"Let's go somewhere dry," Glorfindel said. "I hope not to feel seawater on my skin for a long time to come."

Erestor chuckled. He began to run, pulling Glorfindel along. They laughed like children as they splashed through the surf and charged up over a dune. Erestor tripped and fell, pulling Glorfindel after him as they tumbled down into a secluded hollow. There they lay together, frantically kissing. Glorfindel lipped along Erestor's face, bit his neck, then with a groan went back to his mouth. "By the gods, I want you!" Glorfindel panted. “Worse than I’ve ever wanted anything.”

“I want you too." Erestor laughed with the joy of admitting it. He rolled Glorfindel over so that he was on top of him. He rocked against him and said,"I want you to give it to me so hard and fast that my arse feels as if it's on fire, then I want to go at it slowly and deliberately all the rest of the night."

"Nguh!" Glorfindel panted as he began frantically unbuckling Erestor's belt and pulling off his tunic. "Get these off." They both sat up and there was blurred movement as they jerked clothing away, some pieces upwards, some downwards. The feel of the breeze against Erestor's naked skin was sinfully erotic. He felt light and free. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back, reveling in Glorfindel’s passionate bites against his neck and chest.

Then, he felt a wet breath puff against his face and looked right into a whiskery muzzle. There was Oiolairë, peering curiously at them.

"Findel, our friend is here," Erestor said.

Oiolairë lipped along Glorfindel’s back. The warrior shivered. "Ack, Oiolairë, go eat some grass," he said. He crooned some words in that sing-song nonsense of his, pushed against the animal’s neck, then turned back to Erestor as the horse moved off among the sighing sedge. "Now where were we?"

Slowly, provocatively, Erestor held out his arms and Glorfindel threw himself atop, rubbing against Erestor's hardness with an impressive staff of his own. Erestor felt a tingling heat that was growing into madness as they rolled and slipped together and then an uncomfortable gritty rasp on his tender skin.

"Oh no, Glorfindel, stop," Erestor cried.

"Gods! What now?" Glorfindel sounded frantic.

"Sand. I hate sand in sensitive places," Erestor said.

Glorfindel groaned. He looked around, grabbed his cape and spread it on the ground. Erestor dusted himself off, crawled onto it and lay down, then Glorfindel pulled Erestor's mantle over them both. "Better now?" he husked as Erestor felt his body once again warm and heavy against him.

Erestor nodded breathlessly. He was unbearably hard. His body was screaming for release.

"It had better be, because I'll tolerate no more interruptions," Glorfindel growled. He sat up, spat into his hand and stroked himself as he looked into Erestor's eyes. He took Erestor’s hand and brought it to close around his substantial length. Erestor slid his hand up and down slicking moisture along the soft skin that moved over an iron hardness. “Do you want that?” Glorfindel asked.

“Gods, yes,” Erestor said.

"You wanted your arse set afire, did you? I promise, you will feel it burn," Glorfindel growled. “Guide me in.”

Erestor moved him down, felt him poised, nudging against his sensitive entrance. Then with a sudden forward lunge, he pierced Erestor, driving deep, giving him everything. And burn it did. Erestor threw his head back and yelped with the sudden pain and the lasting pleasure of it.

Glorfindel gasped, "Oh, by the blessed Valar, that’s good! I have wanted to do that for so long." He began pounding Erestor, driving into him with a punishing rhythm. They rocked, they struggled, they panted and moaned in anguished rapture. It felt so good, better than anything Erestor remembered. Glorfindel leaned forward, his silvered hair falling about Erestor's face like a curtain. He fastened his mouth to Erestor's and kissed him, while he continued thrusting deep, his belly rubbing against him so that he was stroking Erestor both within and without.

Erestor dug his fingers into hard back muscle. "A stallion, indeed," he moaned, when he came up for air.

“You heard Ardan say that, did you?”

“Uh yes, I confess it. Oh gods, Findel, harder!"

Glorfindel increased the pace until Erestor felt stretched, filled, pummeled almost beyond relief until finally Glorfindel gave a great gasping cry, thrust his hips forward, and shuddered. His shout of triumph and release flung Erestor into that realm of unbearable ecstasy in which the air seemed filled with golden sparks arcing against the blackness of night.

For a long time afterwards they lay panting against each other, in sticky bliss.

"That was miraculous," Glorfindel finally managed to murmur against Erestor's neck. "I cannot believe that I have you in my arms at last. I never thought this day would come."

Erestor combed his fingers through his lover's hair. "I never even thought to imagine it and the loss was mine. You are magnificent. I want to do that again and again every day for the rest of our lives."

"That can perhaps be arranged, if you'll have me," Glorfindel said as he raised himself on his elbows to look at him.

Erestor chuckled. "You do know that if you want to keep me, you'll have to give up your promiscuous ways."

Glorfindel leaned over to kiss his nose. "That will not be so hard, now that I have what I want. Stubborn elf! I spent a long time trying to get your attention. You have a will of iron, you know that."

"Hmm, you don't know what torture it was watching you flirting with every lovely creature in sight while I had to keep celibate. That night when you and Ardan were carrying on, I thought I would burst. You are a terrible rogue!" Erestor said.

"Oh, I am, completely." Glorfindel tongued one of Erestor's nipples. "Let me show you just how much." Erestor could feel him stirring against his thigh.

"Go on, then. I dare you."

"Mmmm, the kind of challenge I like." Glorfindel came back up to kiss Erestor's mouth, his hair trailing silkily along Erestor's chest. Erestor sighed. It was just as lovely as he’d imagined.  Suddenly Glorfindel’s lips trembled and he burst into laughter.

"What amuses you? Erestor asked.

Glorfindel rolled onto his back. "Ah, you realize, of course, that now we must talk Ereinion into building a temple."

Erestor laughed. "I think he owes me a favor." He reeled Glorfindel in for another kiss.

And so it was that they spent the longest night of the year exchanging the gift of passion that returns tenfold each time it is bestowed. 

The End

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