Late April, 2949 in the Third Age of Middle-earth
Elwin stood on the porch watching the westering sun slide behind the rim of the canyon, kindling the edges of the clouds into bright embers. The steady thunder of the Bruinen roared below him, echoing the pounding of his heart. He had just heard the news brought by Elrond's swift-winged doves. Legolas was close now, maybe a day's ride away. After more than two years of fervent waiting, it was almost too much to bear.
The dark-haired elf took a deep breath. See, he scolded himself, all your fears come to naught. He is coming, just as he promised. He does love you. Elwin tucked the fiddle he carried under his chin and idly began playing snatches of songs. The tune evolved into a lilting ballad of lost love regained, one that he had learned long ago from the master fiddler of Bree.
He remembered the serene look on the fiddler's rough bearded face as he played the tune that had first drawn Elwin to learn the instrument. The man had taught him everything he knew about music and hadn't asked much in return, just a chance to be near one of the First-Born. When he died unexpectedly young, Elwin had taught his son, his grandson, and then his great grandson. The latter was now an old man.
How bittersweet this contact with mortals! From them, he had learned the worth of a life that was over as quickly as a warm breeze on a summer's night. Such a contrast with the elves who had all of eternity stretching before them. Given endless years, unless violence or grief overtook them, it was easy to forget that time mattered. A lesson well-learned during the past thirty-one months waiting for his beloved. The lesson that he sighed to the dark as he lay alone in his bed.
Now his heart thumped with a joy that he fought to suppress for fear it would overwhelm him. But his hands conveyed his emotion, nimble fingers running over the fingerboard, bow surging across the strings.
"I haven't heard you play that one in a long while, Elwin," said a familiar voice behind him. "You must have heard the news."
Elwin's bow arm separated from his fiddle in a sweeping motion. "You know me too well, Lindir," he laughed.
"As well I ought." Lindir came around and leaned his elbows on the railing and looked out over the valley, his coppery hair falling forward. "And you've talked of little else since you came back from Eryn Galen several years ago. I am glad my ears will no longer be wearied by it."
Elwin frowned. "That's not so. I've hardly spoken of him at all."
Lindir punched Elwin's arm lightly. "I am teasing, meleth nîn. Maybe you should have spoken more of it. You might have been less difficult to be around. We have all noted how changed you were when you returned from Eryn Galen. Gone was my fair and joyful companion, unsurpassed both in the music hall and between the sheets. Instead there was a moody, preoccupied elf."
"I left the best part of myself in Thranduil's palace," Elwin said. "I did not know that it troubled you."
"Because you haven't noticed anyone else. You turned inward, meleth. I came to realize that unlike all your previous dalliances, including the one we shared, this one was serious." Lindir paused, rubbing his finger along his nose. "But I am happy for your happiness. I have never met this Eryn Galen prince. He had better be worthy of you, or I shall be forced to kick some sense into him!" He laughed good-naturedly.
Elwin looked fondly at his former lover and shook his head. "It is doubtful you would be able to kick much of anything into him. He is the finest warrior I've ever seen."
"I'll have to test that for myself," snorted Lindir.
Elwin smiled. "Well, I suppose you came out here to remind me of our practice session."
"At least you remembered that, bain nîn!"
"I have a new piece to show you."
"A new piece. Enchanting," said Lindir.
"You'll like this one." Elwin's lips curled into a grin. He put his arm about Lindir's shoulders and they went into the main house to the Hall of Fire.
Elwin said, "For this piece, at first it's just Lindir and Faereth on their drums. Here, allow me." He sat close to Lindir, pulling the elf's drum close and demonstrating the rhythm until Lindir's hands displaced Elwin's, pounding out the newly learned beat. Elwin nodded as Faereth joined in.
Elwin picked up his violin and played a tune with an unusual chord progression. It had a lush, mysterious sound. "Now I come in here on the upbeat, steady. Follow me. We will be going progressively faster and faster."
"Ah yes, I can feel what you're doing." Lindir grinned as his hands softly pounded on the tall drum grasped between his knees. "Thrilling, Elwin, the sound of the Woses."
The Hall echoed with a primitive, driving pulse. The three other musicians beat their hands on their thighs and moved rhythmically to the sound.
Faereth added a syncopation to the rhythm. "This is different," she laughed. "Will you get away with it, Elwin? Elrond tends toward the traditional."
"Shush, feel the beat," Elwin growled. His fiddle rasped in harsh chords. He pointed the bow briefly at another elf, "Come in now with the bass viol," he called.
They continued, the rhythm becoming faster and more powerful. "Elwin, meleth," Lindir said, swaying his head, "you are heating up my blood. You'll have all the household hot and bothered."
A tall robed figure emerged from the shadows and the music faltered, then ceased as the musicians stared at the imposing Master of Imladris. His stance was quiet, hands clasped gracefully in front of him, his glance piercing.
"Pray, don't stop," he said. "I passed by and heard something, uh, rather unusual." He came forward into the firelight and stood in front of Elwin. "Your composition, I imagine?"
"Yes, Master Elrond." Elwin cast his eyes down in confusion. "Does it displease you?"
"Not at all. I heard in it a sound I have missed." Elwin looked at him quizzically and Elrond winked at him. "Carry on. I look forward to hearing the full piece tomorrow." He turned and left the room in a swirl of long robes.
Lindir yipped and began pounding his drum again. "My darling, Elwin," he said. "You're one lucky elf."
Elrond stirred with the first pale yellow light on his face. He heard a faint tapping at the glass and got up to open the window. Leaning out, he extended his hand and a little white dove hopped onto it. The bird flapped briefly for balance. Elrond drew her close and she settled against the warmth of the peredhel's grey silk robe. She cocked her head and looked at him with beady black eyes, then emitted a series of cooing rumbles.
Behind him, he heard the linen sheets shifting. "What is it, melda?" asked a melodious voice, husky with sleep.
Elrond looked back toward the bed as the long shape turned and propped himself up on his elbows, shaking a cascade of golden hair from his fair face. The peerless Glorfindel.
"From Thranduil. He's asking for word of his son's arrival."
"The Misty Mountains are a dangerous crossing. He is a father after all," Glorfindel replied.
Elrond sighed. "Yes, indeed."
"What troubles you?"
"My own sons. They heard the news last night and so they are setting off again. I suppose I should be used to it by now." Elrond turned to the small creature he held. "Go now and rest, pen niben," he said and threw the bird out of the window in a flurry of soft wings.
Glorfindel held out his arms. "Come back to bed."
Elrond shook his head. "I should not. I have to trim the hooves of that silly mare that foundered last week."
"Always it is duty with you, Elrond," said Glorfindel. "I know duty myself. Too well. But there are times when you should let it go. The horse is being admirably cared for by Ríwen."
"Ríwen is green, she doesn't know how to do it properly yet."
"I think you are making excuses."
"You know well." Glorfindel sighed. "I need tending too, my friend." He threw back the covers to reveal that splendid, muscular body, his thick shaft curving up from a nest of spun gold to lie swollen and hungry upon his abdomen.
Elrond looked and wondered how his lover's exquisite beauty could fail to stir him as it used to. He only felt weariness these days, the oppression of over six thousand four hundred, forty-seven years of life. The ring, Vilya, weighed down his hand even as the weight of Middle-earth sat upon his shoulders. Few understood, maybe none but Galadriel.
He knew he was being unfair to his glorious companion, the one who had comforted him in the devastating years after Celebrían had departed, at first with both words and silent presence; then finally with his body. How happy the nights had been once Elrond had finally let go of his guilt and abandoned himself to his lover's arms! But in the last fifty years the coldness had seemed to close about him again. He couldn't tell why. He certainly couldn't make it clear to Glorfindel. The golden-haired elf had been patient and kind with him, but lately, there had been a growing frustration.
The Lord of Imladris moved over to the bed and then settled next to his seneschal. Reaching down, he slid his hand about his lover's shaft. The skin was dry and warm, pulsing under his touch.
"Would you have me do something about this?" he inquired.
Glorfindel snorted in disgust. He suddenly rolled away and got up. "I will not be another duty for you to perform," he said, as he reached for his leggings lying on a chair. He bent over to pull them on and Elrond reflected, without ardor, that his companion's rear was by far the comeliest in Middle-earth.
"Pen valthen, I'm sorry," Elrond said. "Come back here and I'll relieve you."
The elf shook out his tunic with a snap. "Even with immortals, patience is not limitless," he said. He finished dressing and left the room, closing the door abruptly.
Unable to sleep, Elwin had arisen early. Singing to himself in a clear, silver voice, he wandered about his room trying to assess how it would look to Legolas's eyes. The view from his window was inspirational, looking southward across a small balcony and down the long, narrow valley, now filled with shreds of morning mist. Slender columns of supportive stonework crept up his walls and entwined in the vaulted ceiling above. In one corner nestled a small fireplace. Near it, hung in an artful arrangement, was the knife the prince had given him in Esgaroth as well as a half dozen stringed instruments. Next to the fireplace was his large desk, littered with books and sheets of hand-written musical notation, which he now attempted to tidy up. By the desk was another set of dark walnut bookcases filled with dusty volumes.
Up a step and opposite the desk stood his delicately carved wooden bed with the black bedcover embroidered with leafy vines. On the wall by the bed hung a number of water-color landscapes and some portraits done by his own hand, including one of Prince Legolas.
Elwin went over to the painting and touched its frame gently. The prince stood in a meadow, his face wistful as a butterfly hovered near his mouth. My poor skill doesn't do you justice, meleth nîn, he thought. He wondered if he should put it away. It wouldn't do to let the prince know how much he doted on him. Or would it?
He remembered their last time together in the meadow. A flurry of butterflies had arisen and one had brushed the prince's lips with its wings. "Even the butterflies can't resist your lips, as I cannot either," Elwin had said to his lover. How they had fallen on one another, wrestling off clothes, kissing, nibbling, and licking each other. Ai, the feel of his skin, the look in his eyes! The exquisite sensation of pushing inside, feeling himself surrounded by that tight heat as he listened to his lover's anguished cries. Moving hard within him, the rush toward completion.
But in the midst of their passion, he could feel that his elven prince held part of himself back. The sensation, elusive as it was, evaporated in the moment of ecstasy and he finally heard Legolas cry out, "Gerich veleth nîn, Elwin," and Elwin's heart had burst with joy.
Elwin frowned as an image surfaced in his mind, an image of a small white scar located under the prince's breastbone. A scar that had not been there before the prince visited Smaug's ghost under the waters of Long Lake.
When Legolas did not come to Imladris at the end of the two years last fall as he had promised, Elwin had despaired. The prince had written to him, telling him he was waiting until his sister-in-law had her child and then he was delayed by early snow in the Misty Mountains. Elwin had feared that the prince was just making excuses.
And then there was a small matter of station. Legolas was the son of a king and by all rights should be consorting with someone of higher rank than Elwin. Even though Elwin had worked hard to be a master musician in Elrond's household, he was still not the equal of a prince.
Ah well, he thought. It was time to abandon doubt and fear. Soon his love would be here and all would be well.
He tried to imagine how the prince would look, what their first words would be to each other. Glancing longingly at the bed, he pictured Legolas lying back against the bedcover, his blond hair splayed against the pillows, holding his arms out for Elwin to fall into. Oh, my treasure, Elwin vowed, I'll drive you wild with desire. I'll make love to you so thoroughly, you'll never want to leave me. Elwin reached the climax of his song.
There was a knock on the door and he went to open it. A dark-haired figure entered, the younger of Elrond's twin sons. He was arrayed for war, wearing a heavy leather surcoat over chain mail, metal greaves, and arm braces. A quiver was slung across his back. His hair flowed over his shoulders like a black waterfall.
"Elrohir," Elwin said.
The twin's answering smile was like sunlight breaking through a cloud. "I heard you singing, Elwin. For the first time in a while, you sound happy."
"Yes, I am."
"I can guess the cause, meleth. I have heard, the beauteous Legolas is coming." Elrohir slowly advanced on Elwin who took a step backward. The twin's expression was amused. "Ai, such a lovely elf is our Eryn Galen cousin. Don't you think? Such stunning blue eyes, such a delectable expanse of flawless white skin."
Elrohir moved closer, his sensuous lips parted slightly. "Flawless, with but one exception, a small beauty mark just here. He gently pressed his forefinger into the side of Elwin's throat under the jaw. His voice sank to a conspiratorial husk, "where the pulse throbs."
Elwin felt the blood pound in his neck. With sudden clarity, he had no doubt that Elrohir had taken his beloved at some point in the past. He had not suspected it before. His face flushed with jealous anger as he said coldly, "You are very observant, Elrohir, to notice such a tiny flaw upon casual acquaintance."
The twin smiled in that way that always made Elwin's loins tingle. He dropped his hand to his side. "He is an old friend of mine, too. But, I am afraid I will not be here to greet him when he arrives." He looked out the window. "News has come of a party of orcs traveling south through Emyn Helch." His fair face spasmed into a look of such black hatred that Elwin felt a rush of fear. "My brother and I are leaving immediately to intercept them."
Elrohir reached into a pouch at his waist and removed a small glass vial, which he pressed into Elwin's hand. "I brought a gift for him. Though, no doubt, you will appreciate it as well." The twin grinned, then leaned close and whispered in his ear, "When you are in the throes of passion, apply a drop." His fingers danced down across Elwin's crotch, causing the musician's shaft to twitch in spite of himself. "Think of it as an enhancement. Be judicious, a very little of this goes a long way."
Elrohir brought his hands up behind Elwin's neck. "And afterwards, give him this for me." Before the musician could think to protest, Elrohir was pressing his lips to Elwin's in a soft, sensuous kiss. The twin pulled back and looked deeply into Elwin's eyes as he ran a thumb along his jaw. "My lovely, you taste so sweet," he said. "I wonder why we never . . ."
Elrohir leaned forward as if to kiss him again. Then Elwin noticed his eyes lose focus slightly. Still looking at Elwin, the twin said loudly, "I was just coming, Brother."
Elwin glanced past him and saw Elladan braced across the open doorway, also in full battle dress. He had not said a word. Uncanny.
Elrohir strode over to his brother and Elladan reached out to place a hand in the middle of his back, gently urging him out of the door. The older twin looked at Elwin. "Give the prince my greetings as well, Elwin meldir," he said. "We are glad he is coming to stay here a while." Elrohir glanced back at him briefly, then they were gone.
The twins had changed. Elwin remembered when they had been light-hearted mischief makers, charming everyone around them. That was over four hundred years ago, before their mother's torture in the orc dens and her subsequent flight from Middle-earth had unhinged them and they had become fell. No longer laughing and playing jokes, no longer taking lovers, or at least there was no rumor of it, instead they bent all their energy into the pursuit of revenge.
Elwin wondered at the brief show of affection Elrohir had granted him. At some point, he would have to ask Legolas about his relationship with the twin. He looked at the vial in his hand and shook it gently. The fluid moved with the viscosity of oil. He grinned. Among the twins' skills was a knowledge of aphrodisiacs. This could be put to good use. Elwin set the gift in the cupboard over his bed.
Legolas's weight shifted sharply back and forth as his horse moved under him, picking a way down the steep, rocky path. They were traveling through the tumbled foothills of the Misty Mountains. The morning was turning fine, with a bright, blue sky. All about him blooming madly amongst the lichen-covered rocks were tiny flowers: white, yellow, red, and blue. Spring had come late this year. Behind him the mighty blue peaks rose, still capped in white snow. Several small birds wheeled in the sky over them.
Legolas rode with an escort of three of his father's elite guards. It had been a long but uneventful journey from the palace in Eryn Galen. He could see Ellech ahead, swaying over his horse's back, his long, chestnut hair flowing over his green cape. The hooves made a steady chuffing sound in the dirt, occasionally punctuated by a sharp click as they hit a rock.
"My eye soars in the sky and then returns to earth to settle by . . . elloth," said Thornan from behind him.
"My eye soars in the sky and returns to earth to settle by . . . fileg," Legolas replied.
A yellow butterfly landed on a bluebell and gave a snap of her wings.
Thornan said, "My eye soars in the sky . . . "
"Gwilwileth!" Legolas said quickly.
"Genediad!" Thornan replied, with a laugh.
"So, it's come to this, has it?" snorted Ellech, turning to regard them with amusement. "You can find naught else to entertain you but elflings' games?"
"The answer is no, Ellech mellon nîn," said Legolas. "After traveling with you three for nigh on five weeks now, I think we've run out of conversation. How much farther is it?"
"How many times is that now?" Thornan turned to Thrin, who rode behind him.
"Eighty-three, since we started," Thrin said. "Not that I'm keeping count."
"It's as far as I said last night, minus the league we've traveled today," Ellech said.
"You mock me," Legolas laughed. "I can't help it that I've never been west of the Misty Mountains before."
"I think our dear prince is impatient to gain his destination," Ellech said.
"Perhaps he is weary of the ride?" Thrin suggested, a smile coloring his voice.
"Weary of this one and anxious for one of a different sort." Thornan chuckled.
"You are insubordinate, all of you," Legolas laughed. "I'll have to ask Elrond what his punishment for that is."
"Hopefully, it is to be stripped naked and chased by two dozen love-starved Imladris elves," Thornan said. "It's been, well, it's been a long time."
"It's only been five weeks for you, my insatiable friend," said Thrin. "For some of us, it's been longer."
"Well, Prince, to answer your question, we are close to our goal. I recognize that rock formation over there. We should reach Imladris by nightfall," said Ellech.
"By dinnertime. I hear Elrond keeps a good table," said Thornan. "It'll certainly beat lembas and dried fruit, which is all we have left."
"Ah Thornan, always thinking of your stomach and your . . . walking stick," laughed Ellech.
"I'm just focussed on the important things of life," Thornan replied, "eating and ah, walking."
There was a gentle lilt of laughter among all of them.
"We'd have had some meat if you hadn't missed that hart a week ago," Thrin said.
"You're never going to let me forget that, are you?" Thornan replied.
Legolas smiled as he listened to his companions. He looked off in the distance wondering when he would see the valley of Imladris. He'd heard that it was so well hidden that it suddenly opened up at a traveler's feet with no warning.
Not for the first time on this journey, he questioned taking a step like this. To show up at Elrond's house with no clear plan for the future, how long he would stay and what he would do, just to fulfill a promise he'd spoken to Elwin while half bemused by pleasure. Oh, but what pleasure! He smiled as he recalled what a skilled bedmate the dark-haired elf was.
His father had been unhappy about his liaison with Elwin and imposed a two year wait before Legolas could rejoin his lover. Legolas knew that Thranduil expected the infatuation to pass and his son to turn to other pursuits. But Legolas had been true, partly in defiance of the expectation and partly because of a need he could not put his finger on.
Elwin's beautiful face appeared in his thoughts, bent over his desk, studying some sheet music. The image faded and Legolas sighed. He did love the Imladris elf, didn't he? It was a strange sensation. Every time he felt the intensity of his affection for Elwin, it seemed to retreat, to be replaced by a dry, whispery feeling.
Curse the dragon and his bargain!
Vividly he remembered standing naked and defiant in the dragon's lair as Smaug looked down at him with those huge golden eyes sliced by empty black pupils. Again he felt the dismay that had filled him when he suddenly realized the meaning of the worm's riddle. "You want me to give up my heart?" he had asked incredulously.
"Just the barest portion of your affection for the other elf," the dragon had hissed. "You will still be able to love him, but you will never be able to give your whole heart to him. And you may never tell him the reason why."
Legolas had sunk to his knees. "You drive a cruel bargain, Smaug," he cried. "There is naught else that you desire?"
"I could devour your lover's whole heart. A much better deal for me, as the strength of his passion is great, but it would kill him," Smaug said.
"I cannot allow that!" Legolas cried.
The dragon laughed again, the terrible sound reverberating about the cavern. "Then it's a slice of your heart, Elf," he roared. "In return I shall give you three of my precious teeth, enough to cure everyone of the fever. I deem it a fair exchange."
Legolas had to agree; there was no choice in the matter. Suddenly he gasped and clutched at his tunic as he felt again the sharp agony of the dragon's claw piercing his chest and withdrawing a bloody sliver of flesh.
"Are you well, my Lord?" asked Thornan, stopping in the midst of his playful argument with Thrin.
"Yes, well," Legolas replied. Absently, he stroked his fingers over the ache in his chest.
The sun was sinking westward toward the horizon. Legolas and his three companions had managed to scramble down the roughest of the mountain slopes. Now that the path was a little wider, they rode two abreast.
"We are close now, my Lord," said Ellech, his voice hushed. "Can you hear the murmur of the Bruinen River?"
On the edge of the prince's sharp hearing was the white noise of falls. But now there was something else, something intangible that beat on his body. A feeling of tension and power. He searched the rocky land ahead and thought he could see a faint shimmer as of the air itself bending and stretching.
"Ellech, do you feel that?" Legolas asked in awe.
The elf nodded. "Imladris," he whispered.
Suddenly, just as he had been told, the path opened into a narrow ravine. The horses carefully descended, sliding and sending little showers of pebbles to plunge into a long drop. The steep walls of the canyon rose on either side as they began negotiating a series of switchbacks. Legolas breathed deeply of the air scented by sun-warmed pine trees that stood tall and patient on either side of the trail. The roar of the falls grew and so did the sensation of moisture in the air.
Legolas had the strong feeling that he had crossed into a place outside of Middle-earth, beyond the wearing of time. He imagined Valinor would be like this. His spirit rose. Far ahead, he could see a slender white tower that looked as if it were carved from a spire of rock, perched on the edge of the deep valley. A figure stood at the top of it. They heard a clear, echoing horn call. Then from even farther away, an answer.
"The sentinels," Ellech said. "They know we're here."