Éowyn does not mind, Éomer told Théodred as they left Edoras with the wind behind them and the grasslands of Rohan stretching ahead of them. In fact, she would be relieved if it was Théodred, whom she loved anyway. Not as a lover, Éomer had assured himself, but as a brother….As she loved Éomer. And it would grow, he was sure, once they were wed. She was fourteen although other girls were wed by then and some had children of their own by sixteen. Théodred sixteen years and untried as colt himself but there was no rush now that the agreements had been made
Éomer cast his gaze back over his shoulder to Meduseld with its green pennant, a white horse running, streaming in the wind. They were old enough to bear messages from the King to his loyal lord, Erkenbrand at Helm’s Deep, but not warriors enough to join Erkenbrand in his watch over the Isen, or his occasional sorties over the Isen against the Orcs of the Mountains. Not in this time of peace. Old enough to be betrothed, said Théodred grumpily, but not fight. The most they would encounter, he added, was an old lame wolf with no teeth. Even so they girded themselves with swords and knives, for even an old lame wolf with no teeth might have young, Háma had said sternly. And whatever they said, both were excited to be riding so far and to such a man as Erkenbrand whose renown was great in the Mark.
Éowyn had watched them go, with perhaps a little bit of envy for even more than they, she resented being made to stay when they took off, she railed against the freedom they had compared with her own. Not this time, Théoden had said. This time you stay and make your wedding gown.
And she had. Resentfully threading needles clumsily and stabbing her fingers with the needle so there was her blood on good cloth. No one made any jokes about blood on white. Her fierce little face forbade them. She thrust the ruined cloth at Gríma, one of the new men arrived from the mountains near Isengard, and told him to get rid of it. He took it from her with reverence, like it was some great treasure
Éomer took a deep breath of the air that filled the open grasslands, the skies, the emptiness that he loved. He gave a shout of exhilaration and kicked Firefly so he suddenly took off across the grasslands. He heard Théodred give a cry of …what? Irritation? Delight? And then Flaurun, Théodred’s own horse, was right behind him.
They fled over the dusty track that was the North-South Road, from Gondor to the old kingdom of Arthedain. On their left rose the mountains of Ered Nimrais and ahead were the Misty Mountains. Helm’s Deep where Erkenbrand kept watch over the Ford of the Isen, and kept the way clear between Edoras and Isengard.
At this time of the year the streams that ran from the Ered Nimrais into the Entwash were swollen with melt water, and waded through the cold water and up onto the farther banks. The horses pulled up, flanks heaving, Eomer breathless and laughing. Théodred’s sandy hair was tousled by the wind, cheeks flushed, lips parted.
Éomer could not help but stare. He had always thought his cousin a handsome man. But recently something had changed for Éomer; he felt uncomfortable in the presence of one he had been closest too – yet he could not say why and so ignored it and Théodred seemed unaware of the heavy atmosphere that lay between them.
‘I believe Flaurun beat your slow old plodder yet again,’ Théodred turned his elegant bay stallion in a tight circle. The horse shook its head and snorted. ‘Perhaps you should turn yours to the plough!’
‘Hah! Firefly has stamina where your beast is flighty,’ Éomer retorted, but he knew it was weak. He turned Firefly's head west, and they rode more steadily.
‘How far?’ he asked.
Théodred shaded his eyes with his hand.‘About thirty miles. We should be there by tomorrow if you can keep up.’ He threw an easy smile to Éomer.
They made good progress and made camp near a wide fast-flowing stream that came down from the mountains. The water was cold and clear and pooled deeply between the granite rocks under a copse of oak trees. Firefly and Flaurun wandered off to eat grass. They fell into old easy habits; Théodred shot a rabbit which he skinned quickly and efficiently whilst Éomer made a small fire to roast it over.
The pools were deep. Cold water over rocks worn smooth . Théodred quickly unbuckled his belt and cast it on the lush grass, shrugged out of his tunic and pulled his fine shirt over his head and let it drop beside his belt. He toed off his boots and pushed his breeches down over his hips.
He laughed as the cold air pebbled his nipples and goosed his skin. ‘Is it too cold for your delicate skin, cousin?’
Théodred’s lean and muscular body gleamed in the pale winter sunlight, uncaring about the cold. His skin smooth and lightly furred with a golden down and curling luxuriously at his chest and groin. He was less hairy than Éomer himself, his build more lithe, less heavily muscled. Suddenly Théodred’s eyes came up and caught Éomer staring. He laughed and said without rancour or suspicion, ‘Are you jealous, cousin? There are more maids who look at me than you!’ It was teasing, fond.
Éomer laughed self-consciously. ‘They look at that smooth skin and wish theirs was as milky and soft,’ he retorted but it was half-hearted. A strange fluttering was in his belly and he felt his cock swell. But Théodred turned away, unaware and unconcerned.
‘I will be Éowyn’s husband soon and they will not look at me at all for fear she might skewer them with a needle!’ He splashed into the cold water, shouting with mock outrage at its bite and Éomer eased in after him.
Once they were immersed, Éomer felt more confident and splashed Théodred as they had as children, swam deeply and pulled his legs from under him, tried not to feel a shiver as his hand brushed his cousin’s flaccid cock, shrivelled in the cold.
He pulled himself out of the water, kept his back to the pool whilst he dressed and only then turned back to see his cousin still in the water. His hair, finer than Éomer’s, was sleek and dark in the wet. In the cold water, his body was pale and shimmering, almost luminous. Théodred stood up and the water came to his lean hips, and a thin line of hair from his navel disappeared into the water. Théodred smoothed his hands over his head and his eyes were bright and blue, laughing at Éomer, he emerged slowly, almost teasingly. The water slipped from his belly, hips, thighs and his cock nestled against the hair at his groin.
Éomer forced himself to look away.
As the stars came out, pricking the darkness one by one, the air became cooler. Éomer stretched his feet out and leaned against a smooth granite boulder where the moss made a soft cushion around it. He let his head fall back against the boulder and gazed up at the sky.
‘Are you truly happy that I am to wed your sister?’ Théodred said suddenly.
Éomer looked at him. ‘Of course. I could not wish her a better man. You are friends already and I know you will be good to her.’
Théodred looked away into the vastness of the plains and said nothing.
‘Are you happy?’ Éomer asked suddenly concerned. ‘Have you met someone else? I know that Théoden wants this marriage. He has done much to arrange it to everyone’s satisfaction…’ He paused and then asked more carefully. ‘Is it not to yours?’
Théodred did not speak for a while and Éomer grew anxious. If Théodred desired another maid, it would not break Éowyn’s heart, but it would mean she was still unwed and there were so few suitable men around that he worried she would be a maid always. And he liked Théodred…He felt a familiar surge of emotion in his chest and put it down to loyalty, admiration for his courage, liking for the nobility of the young man sitting nearby, the firelight stroking his hair and skin, warming it, reflecting in his eyes…
‘I love her…as much as I love anyone,’ Théodred said. He settled his head more comfortably on his arm and flicked his eyes to Éomer, as if he would say more. He kept his silence instead.
Éomer licked his lips. He felt suddenly hot and a bit uncomfortable. He stood suddenly. ‘I need a piss.’
Pushing his way through the ferns and stepping over round granite boulders, he fought with himself, shoved away the lust that had caught him. This is just frustration, he told himself. He had not taken himself in hand for a while. Perhaps that would relieve him. But it would take too long and Théodred would wonder what kept him so he merely pissed and then returned.
Théodred had wrapped himself in his blanket and lay on the ground near the fire. His eyes were closed and his breath rhythmic.
‘Weakling that such a short ride has worn you out,’ Éomer said teasingly, thinking that perhaps Théodred merely pretended and would launch himself at Éomer unsuspectingly and tussle by the fire…As they used to. Innocently. Until recently. Until they had found each other one evening much like this, with the camp fire flickering and tussling in boyish silliness. And then Théodred was astride Éomer and Éomer hard and needy. They had stared at each other in shock at first - and then pulled apart and never spoke of it. Pretended it had not happened.
But Éomer had thought about it a lot. Every time he had gone to pleasure himself, it was not some creamy-skinned maid he thought of but found himself remembering the feel of Théodred astride his thighs. And so he did not dare to touch himself. He did not dare to imagine…but his dreams were not under his control and he did dream. Oh, he did. And he awoke with such a need, an aching desire that to touch himself once and think upon his cousin would be all it took.
He sat and threw sticks into the fire moodily and stared at his sleeping cousin, looked his fill as he could not at any other time. Théodred’s hair was that dark flaxen colour of wheat flattened by the rain. Not the flax with copper that Éomer shared with his sister. It was finer. Like silk in the palm of his hand. Éomer watched it spread over his cousin’s arm as he slept. And his eyes are hazel, Éomer reminded himself - green and flecked with brown that in a certain light, looked gold.
Éomer sighed and threw the remains of his ale into the fire. He sounded like a love-sick maid, he told himself irritably. And tried to think instead of a maid, with big breasts and round hips. But it was no good at all. Théodred had never really shown any interest in him, not like… that. He wrapped himself in his own cloak and stared into the fire.
Night wheeled overhead. The stars burned bright, the only sounds were from the quiet horses wakening occasionally and shifting their feet, munching on grass and then sleeping again. Small creatures crept about in the grass and a fish surfaced in the pool.
At midnight, he woke Théodred to keep watch for there were still old lame wolves and their young, he said to a mussed and sleepy Théodred. Then he rolled over and went straight to sleep. He dreamed.
It was some hours later in the darkness of dawn and the fire had long since burned down, the earth slept and all was still and very cold, that he felt a hand upon his shoulder.
‘Orcs.’ Théodred mouthed. His bright sword, its edge sharp with newness and lack of use, was in his hand.
Éomer was instantly awake. Orcs? This close to Meduseld? Surely not? Neither he nor Théodred had ever fought Orcs, had never fought anything. They were just messenger boys after all. Barely sixteen.
Still, he threw off his cloak and as quietly as possible, rose. He laid a hand over Firefly’s muzzle to quiet him and the horse turned bright, intelligent eyes upon him.
Théodred pointed silently away to the right and sure enough, under the starlight beyond the trees in which they sheltered and only some small distance, he could see an Orc lifting its muzzle to the sky and sniffing.
‘You are right, snaga,’ a gruff voice carried in the absolute quiet of the night. ‘Men. Horse too I think. Quietly now boys. We’ll sneak upon and then and have a rare old feast.’ There was a ragged edge of laughter, quiet. Cunning.
‘But we’ll have some fun first. Stick ‘em first and eat ‘em after.’ There was lewd laughter.
Théodred pulled Éomer quietly back into the copse and pointed back up to where the stream tumbled over rocks and boulders. He jabbed a finger first at Éomer, then to the two silent horses. Then he pointed upstream.
How many? he mouthed. Théodred held up all three fingers and then flashed both hands up. Thirteen.
Éomer grasped Théodred’s arm and shook his head, then pointed to the edge of the wood and ahead, where the Orcs were gathering.
We, he pointed at himself first and then Théodred, should gallop past them, he mouthed, run like the dogs of Béma are on our trail.
Théodred stared at him, and then looked towards the Orcs.
Shwoosh. Shwoosh. Shwoosh.
Arrows suddenly zipped through the air and three Orcs fell dead. Hooves thundered and there was a flash of silver. Two riders swerved, pivoted and slashed down; three, four more Orcs fell and the others fled. One of the riders flashed his sword so the blood slid from the blade. The other urged his horse after the Orcs and disappeared into the darkness.
The remaining rider slid from his horse and leaned over one Orc. It thrashed and gurgled horribly and the rider swiftly drew a knife across its throat. He straightened and turned his head, looking towards the copse. He sat upon his tall horse, stood absolutely still and Éomer and Théodred held their breath. Dared not breathe. Dared not move. Firefly’s head was up and nostrils flared. Éomer quickly stifled the whinny that almost burst forth.
The Moon suddenly came out from behind the clouds and shone down upon the rider. He was clad all in black leather that fit him like a second skin. His long black hair was pulled back in a high tail that streamed down his back and his ears were not round like a Man’s. A bright white sword gleamed in his hand. The runes swirled and slid along the blade like molten silver.
Éomer almost staggered back, grabbing at Théodred, who steadied him and glared at him. They looked at each other in horror. Elves from the Witch of the Golden Wood. Worse than Orcs.
Just then the other rider returned and the first called out in a strange tongue that sounded liquid and mellifluous. Éomer covered his ears so they would not be bewitched. But he could not drown out the howl of the Orc that the second rider dragged with him.
The second rider spoke to the Orc in its own black tongue. The Orc gibbered and howled and struggled and then the two riders bent over it and Éomer could no longer see what they did. Then the screaming began.
It split the silence of the night, pierced the quiet of the wilderness. And it was terrible.
The two Elves struggled with the Orc heaved it upright and then stepped away.
At first, Éomer thought the Orc was standing but Théodred clutched his arm and held his hand to his mouth.
The Orc was impaled upon its own spear, alive. It gurgled and howled and thrashed weakly.
The two riders mounted their horses and circled the Orc, looking down from their steeds. The horses where very tall, eighteen hands thought Éomer, and black; surely they were of the Mearas? Their tails high and manes long. Moonlight gleamed on the silver bits and stirrups and runes on the sheaths of the swords seemed to pour like molten silver.
One of the riders spoke then in Westron. ‘Know that the Sons of Thunder have been here.’ He raised his head and looked directly towards the copse and Éomer and Théodred gripped each other in terror. But the riders wheeled their steeds then and galloped off into the night, the hoofbeats faded - but the Orc still wept and cried aloud.
Théodred still gripped Éomer’s arm. ‘Béma. That is the most savage thing I have ever seen…’ He was staring at the Orc. Slowly he let go and took a step forwards. ‘We cannot leave it like that.’
‘Yes. Yes we can. And will. Or they might come back,’ Éomer insisted. ‘Come. Let us go while we still can.’
He pulled Théodred away and shoved him in front of him, pushing him along the little river towards the glade and the horses followed behind. ‘If those Orcs had found us, they would have done that to us,’ he said roughly for he too was shocked. And afraid. ‘If those Elves find us, they might well do the same to us.’
They stumbled along the stream’s banks, trying to be as quiet as they could but knowing they were anything but silent and when finally they reached the far edge of the wood and looked out, there was no sign of the Elves, Éomer could have wept with relief.
Even this far away, they spent the rest of the night listening to the howls of the Orc until it finally ceased.
‘Do you think it is dead yet?’ Théodred asked quietly.
Éomer listened. ‘I have not heard anything for a while. If it is not yet, it will not be long.’
There was a pause. ‘I hope it is dead. I would not see anything in such agony as that.’
Éomer did not say anything. He had seen the devastation wrought by Orcs in the Northern Marches when their parents had been slain and he was brought to Meduseld to be fostered by his uncle. Théodred had not.
Daybreak showed a pale crack in the sky above the far horizon. They saddled up and mounted, wanting to leave as quickly as they dared.
‘We make for the Deep and tell them there are Orcs in our lands. Then head back to Meduseld as quickly as possible for they too must know.’ Théodred glanced over his shoulder at Éomer. All the joy and excitement of riding together had fled in the danger of the night. They rode swiftly.
Erkendbrand was not at Helm’s Deep. He had ridden out in pursuit of Orcs that had come down from the Mountains and raided a homestead on the high hills. Perhaps even those same Orcs that had been slain by the Elves. The few warriors who remained at the Deep were happy to see them anyway, to take the messages from the King for Erkenbrand and receive the messages from their own kin. Théodred relayed the words given him faithfully enough but some of the plainer messages were made more kindly through his recitation, which was rich and though he gave them the exact words, he embellished it with pauses and sighs so that the lonely soldiers felt their loved ones did at least miss them, even if they did not.
The warriors were concerned about the Orcs but even more worried about the Elves.
‘Sons of Thunder you say?’ said one grizzled warrior, the captain in Erkenbrand’s absence. ‘Surely that cannot be?’ he said doubtfully. ‘It is said that once, very long ago, the Good Folk such as these Sons of Thunder came to the aid of Eorl the Young and fought his enemies long ago. But it cannot be they.’
‘Aye, if that was ever more than a story put about by the Witch of the Golden Wood, the Sons of Thunder have long gone,’ said another.
‘Beware of any Elves. Do not look into their eyes,’ cautioned the grizzled captain. ‘The Witch has sent these warriors to trap unwary souls and take them back to her Wood. She ensnares Men, it is said, and then devours their souls. They are never seen again.’
‘Their eyes are silver,’ said another. ‘And their faces eldritch fair. They will hunt you, trap you like a deer. To look upon them is to be bewitched. Once they have your soul, you are trapped forever.’
There was a mutter of agreement from the men and Éomer was glad he had not looked into the faces of the Elves. But even so he dreamt that night of terrifying black riders on great black horses that snorted smoke and rode out of the mist. He dreamed that the riders were tall and black-haired and fair of face, and in spite of the terrifying horses, he thought he was utterly bewitched.
When they rode back along the dusty road to Edoras, they spied two riders on black horses far away on the higher road, the wind fluttering the long manes and tails of the horses, and the hair of the riders streamed out as they rode. Éomer grasped Théodred’s arm and murmured to him not to show that they had seen them and they kept their eyes ahead and kept their pace regular and brisk. Éomer knew they had been seen for the Elves turned their heads towards them and kept pace for a while. But then the Elves’ road disappeared between the hills, and they did not reappear. Théodred and Éomer kept watch warily and hoped they did not meet.
They passed the Orc. It was dead, its eyes had been picked out and its tongue hung out black and engorged and pecked. They did not pause and quickly made their way towards the ford.
It was at the ford that the Orcs were waiting.
A second band that had already seen their dead spread out upon the steppe for the carrion. They fled from the Sons of Thunder who they knew were hunting them and hid amongst the alders and birches until nightfall. But they watched two riders who were not Elves approach casually, their horses’ heads low and unconcerned, the riders young and soft, their swords swung too loose at their sides and they talked, laughed unawares.
Beady yellow eyes flashed at each other and sharp pointed teeth bared. One raised a crossbow and fitted the thick black bolt that would skewer the first horse between the eyes and other Orcs silently drew their short sabres and then waited impatiently until the riders were just within range.
Éomer should have known when Firefly shied suddenly and struggled to bolt, Flaurun’s head thrown up and stamping, shaking his head to escape the bit and rider. But it was only when a cross bow bolt zipped within a hair’s breadth and thudded into the ground in front of them that they realised something was wrong. They would have turned and done as the horses wished if a second bolt had not struck Théodred in the thigh and he sagged in the saddle, and in spite of Flaurun trying to keep him on, he slowly slid to the ground.
Éomer leapt from Firefly and dragged Théodred to his feet as the Orcs splashed across the ford, weapons gleaming and jeering, shouting recklessly. He shoved Théodred upwards, struggling to get him astride Firefly but Théodred collapsed against him with a cry. They began to run, Théodred heavy against him but they did not get far before the Orcs were upon them.
Firefly leapt away, lashing out with his hooves and snapping with his teeth, Flaurun whinned shrilly and snaked his head round to seize an Orc’s arm.
Éomer had never seen Orcs up so close before and found his heart pounding in his chest. He swung his sword recklessly, left, right, slashed down and thrust wildly. He could see Théodred out of the corner of his eye, wielding his sword as well as he could, bowed with pain. He limped, clutching the bolt and the sword was loose in his hand as he swung wildly. Black blood spattered and an Orc fell beneath Éomer’s sword and he felt a surge of hope and ferocious joy. He turned and slashed again. Another Orc fell but there was another in its place and another and another and he could not defeat them all. A cry rang out, and he saw Théodred stumble at last, and there was a horrible baying of delight. Orcs pounced on Théodred and he disappeared from Éomer’s view.
With a shout of rage and despair Éomer surged forwards, slicing an Orc’s face and barging his way through towards Théodred.
‘Put up your sword, little horseboy, or we gut him like a pig.’ A thick saw-edged blade was at Théodred’s throat. A seam of blood squeezed beneath the blade. An Orc had Théodred by the hair, another held his arms twisted behind his back. Raucous laughter and the Orc shook Théodred until his teeth clattered.
‘Run Éomer!’ Théodred shouted, and one of the Orcs struck him hard with the haft of an axe. Théodred reeled and collapsed against the Orc that held him and they laughed and jeered. Théodred’s head lolled, eyes closed. Éomer hoped he was unconscious. Not dead. No.
The horses were standing a little way off, their heads thrown up and watching nervously. There was nothing they could do, thought Éomer and he could not bear to see what the Orcs would do to them.
‘Go, Firefly!’ he shouted and threw his arm out, sending them away.’ Run Flaurun!’ He saw how they hesitated, how reluctant they were to leave him, but they shook their heads and galloped off and it was then that he dropped his sword and held up his hands.
The Orcs surged forwards and seized Éomer with rough hands, rough voices. He was bound with ropes and his hands forced behind his back, and shoved face down into the dirt. A heavy iron shod foot crushed the side of his face and he thought his cheek would fracture. Pain exploded behind his eyes. He wanted to cry for his father, his mother; he had never felt anything like it before except once when he fell from his father’s horse and cracked his head.
Then Théodred was thrown down alongside him and Éomer heard a little gasp. He was alive, at least…The Orc’s foot was taken off his head and he closed his eyes in relief.
Cloth tore, the Orcs crowded above them, jeering. His cloak was ripped from him and hard, clawed fingers grabbed the neck of his tunic the fabric pulling hard against his throat. He struggled then. Kicked out with his feet and wriggled trying to turn over so he could kick them harder.
‘We got a live one ‘ere lads!’
‘Stick ‘im ‘ard and make him squeal!’ Harsh laughter surrounded him.
Éomer surged upwards, almost onto his knees in desperation. He rammed his head back and butted it against the hard head of an Orc. For a moment he saw stars and then he felt a punch to his gut and he was thrown down again, hard. An Orc put his foot on Éomer’s neck and stepped down, squeezing his windpipe until there was no breath and he thought he would die.
Suddenly there was a shift. The Orcs’ attention seemed to be elsewhere and then the pressure eased from his neck. Air rushed into his lungs and he sucked it in, gasping. There was shouting and the voices of the Orcs were panicked, even frightened. Wild hope leapt in Éomer’s chest and the Orc that had been standing on him moved and turned about to face the river. Metal clashed as blades were drawn. Around him Orcs milled and shouted indiscriminately and with no regard for their prisoners. One Orc stumbled over Éomer and kicked him cursing and there were heavy, clumsy feet between him and Théodred and suddenly he could no longer see his cousin. Panicked he wriggled around and tried to shuffle himself to kneeling but got a punch in the gut and a fist in the face for his trouble. He tasted the copper in his mouth of blood but still could not see Théodred.
Orcs pushed and shoved past him or they simply trod upon him, stumbling over him. A tremulous whinny pierced the air. Éomer tried to roll onto his side to see but he could not for he was tumbled and shoved by the Orcs that jostled around him. He hoped, how he hoped that the horse that had whinnied was with an Eored that had happened to come upon them.
An Orc fell half over him and black blood spurted over Éomer’s face. He jerked his head away but saw the arrow sticking from the Orc’s chest.
Mud and heavy feet obscured his view as the gang of Orcs shuffled and pounded into some sort of rudimentary formation, their breathing harsh and panting unease of their breath, the thump of their hearts loud enough even over the blood in his own ears.
One Orc shifted, and suddenly he could see the river.
Wading through the ford were two tall black horses. Their manes were very long and their tails floated behind them as they splashed through the water. One pawed at the water, sending up a spray of silver drops and shook the horse shook its head. The riders were clad all in black and wore sable cloaks, very fine. In their hands were long swords, one frost-bright and one a dark blade, a metal Éomer had never seen before.
The Sons of Thunder.
Almost he begged the Orcs for a sword to defend himself, to defend his soul, but he lay still as if dead, and watched as the first horse almost casually, pulled itself out of the water that streamed off its glossy black coat. There was a shuffling, anxious murmur amongst the terrified Orcs and a bolt whizzed through the air to fall short for the Elves were yet out of the short range of the crude crossbows. Then the other horse emerged from the river. They were like the Mearas.
Their riders almost lazily strung great bows that they carried and that were greater than Éomer had seen any Man draw. Within moments two Orcs fell dead beside him, then two more. There was one panicked volley of bolts from the rudimentary bows of the Orcs, which fell far short of the Elves. The riders shouldered their bows and drew swords, one frost-bright and one dark as night. Slowly they swiped the air with their swords, as if this were a mere practice and the horses broke into a slow canter at first and then flattened into a gallop as the Orcs fell into a fumbling panic as they tried to reload the crossbows.
The Sons of Thunder seemed to barely draw breath as they slaughtered the Orcs that fled before them. And this time they did not drag an Orc back and behead it for they killed every single one brutally. Coldly. Blood soaked the ground. Saturated it so the earth was black with blood and gore.
Éomer shut his eyes tightly and lay absolutely still amongst the already dead Orcs. He pressed against the earth and listened to the thud of hooves, to Théodred’s breath, to the hiss of steel and the whimper and gurgle of the Orcs as they died.
When there were none left standing, the riders slowed to a walk and then circled the huddle of bodies in opposite directions and the riders did not speak. At one point, there was a hiss and blood spattered over Éomer’s cheek but he did not flinch or move.
He opened his eyes the slightest slit and peered through his eyelashes. He could see the riders looking down at the pile of corpses, their faces impassive and still.
The horse flicked its tail at a fly and then shifted its feet so it rested one hoof. The rider merely sat, looking and did not move or speak. It was then that Éomer realised he was staring at Théodred.
The Elf turned his head then and spoke, their tongue was fluid, lilting. The other rider halted somewhere behind Éomer and Éomer dared not turn his head to see where he was. There was a thud and then a soft clink of armour and steel. Above him, the Elf loomed and Éomer squeezed his eyes shut once more, hardly daring to breathe; then there was movement and a slight warmth against his side as the Elf sank on one knee beside Théodred.
Éomer bit his lip and tensed; the Elf was going to reach out and take Théodred’s soul! He drew in a slow breath, ready to launch himself at the Elf, he thought how he would suddenly roll over kicking and biting, and he clenched his fists in readiness.
Cold cold steel was at his own neck before he could even move. The blade was made of some black metal Éomer had never seen before, and the sword seemed to curl against him almost, hissed at him in delight at the smell of his blood, the bang of his pulse. Black blood still beaded on the cold metal.
‘You are not an Orc.’ The Elf’s voice was rich, smooth and Éomer smothered the instinct to listen, to lean in and let it soak into him.
He opened his eyes then, careful not to look into the eyes fo the Elf. ‘And you are not Men of the Riddermark,’ he observed with his belly churning with nerves. ‘Yet you are in Rohan and unless you are enemies of the Mark, you would declare yourselves.’
The Elf said nothing. He tilted his head slightly and raised an eyebrow. His face was beautiful, thought Éomer, fell and fair. He wanted to gaze at the Elf, to fill himself with the sight of him but he dared not for he would be bewitched and his soul devoured. But beyond him was Théodred and he could not bear to lose his cousin to sorcery and devilment.
A cool smile slid over the perfect features of the Elf whose sword held him and then other spoke in his own tongue. Quick and fluid. Like silver, like the runes that had poured and slid over their swords.
Salty, copper blood. It was not words that formed in his head but rather an understanding of thought. He drew back in horror. They would drink his blood.
‘Aícanaro has drunk enough this day,’ said the other Elf who was still mounted upon his tall black horse.
‘And yet he thirsts,’ said the Elf who held the dark blade. And to Éomer’s horror, the orcish blood that still beaded on the sword slowly seemed to be absorbed into the blade itself.
Éomer closed his eyes in horror. He took a breath and said, ‘Take me if you have to, but spare my cousin. Take my soul, drink my blood but leave him.’
And suddenly the sword was taken from his throat and with a scrape of steel, it was sheathed. The Elf shook his head almost as if in exasperation and said something to his companion who laughed and leaned his hands on his pommel of his saddle. A smile slid over the second Elf’s lips and Éomer saw that he too was beautiful, and a mirror image of the first Elf who now leaned over Théodred.
‘Please!’ Éomer cried and shuffled forward as best he could given that he was still bound. ‘Do not harm him! I will be your sacrifice if you wish it.’ He stared up at the Elf, breathing hard, and swallowed for he was…perfect. Impossibly beautiful. Utterly masculine. Implacable. Éomer’s lips parted, an involuntary sigh.
The other Elf who knelt beside Théodred cast Éomer a disparaging look and then turned back to Théodred, shoving his quiver back from his shoulder and moving his sword. He put his hand on the unconscious man’s forehead and spoke again in his own tongue to his brother, for surely they were twins.
The black horse shifted and shook its head. Its rider looked down at Éomer unsmilingly, his lovely face impassive and still and then he reached for a knife at his belt. He drew it, looked at it appraisingly and then tossed it down at Éomer’s feet.
‘Do not try to hurt my brother,’ he said. ‘He will kill you before you can.’
Éomer stared at the knife and he had no doubt that what the Elf said was true. Then he scooped it up and cradled it in his bound hands. The knife was strange, beautifully made of the lightest steel he had ever felt and it rested in his hand like had been made for him. An M rune curled lovingly about the hilt and it was warm against his palm. He flipped the knife between his fingers so it touched his bonds. Instantly the orcish ropes parted as if they could not bear the touch of elven steel. His hands were free, and he rubbed his wrists for a moment, feeling the prickling in the fingers as blood surged into the once again. The black horse took a step towards Éomer and the rider held out his hand for the knife. He wore gloves of fine black leather, scrolled and scribed with curlicues and swirls. He placed the knife carefully in the outstretched palm.
Behind him he was aware that the other Elf rose to his feet his sable cloak fell around his shoulders. He strode away from both Théodred and Éomer and caught the reins in one hand, put his foot in the stirrup. He swung lightly into the saddle and wheeled his horse around.
‘Wait!’ Éomer cried in panic for he did not know how to heal Théodred and he thought they must be able to. ‘Wait,’ he said more quietly, more breathily and stumbled towards them. He looked up at them and they stood, still and unearthly, completely terrifying. ‘Help me,’ Éomer pleaded, for they had not harmed either Théodred or him and perhaps they were not enemies. ‘Help him.’ He looked towards Théodred who lay still, his eyes closed and his face bloody from where the Orcs had beaten him.
The Elf who had examined Théodred spoke. ‘Your friend will not die.’ He looked towards his brother. ‘Come, Elladan. We must away. There was another band up on the mountains. If we wish to find them we must reach the Isen by nightfall.’
But Éomer clasped the stirrup of the one his brother had called Elladan. He raised his head and deliberately looked into the Elf’s eyes; they were grey. He started; he had expected them to be ice-blue and somehow lit with unearthly light. But they were just grey, though, keen and sharp. There was a moment of silence as the Elf named Elladan stared back, and then he spoke in his own tongue to his brother.
His brother replied, a note of irritation in his voice and turned his own horse’s head away towards the Isen.
‘And yet we will stop for a while nevertheless, brother,’ Elladan called after him, but still looking down upon Éomer.
His brother glared at Éomer and the weight of his gaze, his displeasure simmered. And in spite of Elladan’s words, he turned his horse’s head and clucked to his horse. He trotted away.
Éomer did not know whether he was blessed that Elladan merely stayed when his brother departed, or whether he was in mortal danger.
Elladan glanced at him obliquely and then dismounted. The horse immediately dropped his nose to the grass and pulled at the thick grass. Dropping to one knee as had his brother, Elladan looked at Théoden.
‘He will live,’ he said as had his brother. ‘But we are too exposed out here and there are Orcs still about. We were hunting a band of about thirty, pursued them from the Mountains,’ he said as he pulled the fine leather gloves from his hands and shoved them into his belt. From his tunic he pulled a cloth. It looked like silk and this he bound over Théodred’s wound to staunch the blood. ‘They split once they crossed the Isen and we have yet only accounted for twenty or so.’
He rose to his feet and clucked to his horse. Immediately the horse lifted its head and walked over towards them. Its intelligent brown eyes gazed at Éomer for a moment and then dipped its muzzle and snuffed at his hair. It was such an ordinary and familiar gesture that Éomer laughed and reached up to rest his hand on the stallion’s forehead. Perhaps the stories were not quite true, he thought.
‘His name is Barathea,’ said Elladan and smiled. He took the luxurious sable cloak from his own shoulders and draped it over one arm. Then he put his foot in the stirrup and swung up into the saddle. Éomer cried out in dismay. Surely Elladan was not also leaving him after all?
‘Hand him to me.’
It was such a relief that Éomer almost stumbled but he managed to lift Théodred’s inert body and give him to Elladan, who pulled him up easily and held Théodred before him with care. The Elf pulled his own cloak around Théodred’s shoulders and settled the Man against his own chest.
‘Hold onto the stirrup to steady yourself,’ Elladan said. ‘Even my stalwart Barathea cannot carry three of us. But we do not have to go far. There is a small cave nearby that my brother and I have used before. I will settle you there where you will have cover and be safe. At least for a while whilst your friend recovers.’ He looked down and Éomer thought that his face was kind where before he had thought the Elf impassive. His face was smooth and youthful without being young, not a line on his skin or thread of silver in his hair and yet Éomer was absolutely certain that he was long lived and had seen very much.
The cave was very close. Sunk conveniently into the shallow limestone cliffs that lined the river a little downstream and beautifully camouflaged by the silver birches and alders that lined the banks of the river. Éomer thought he knew this region quite well and yet he had never known there were caves.
He stole a look up at his companion. The Elf was broad shouldered like a swordsman, and he held Théodred’s dead weight as if it were no trouble at all, and still had his round buckler and sword, quiver and bow strapped to his back.
He only realized that he was staring when Elladan inclined his head in wry acknowledgment.
‘I have never seen an Elf before,’ he muttered. A weak excuse. For it was not that that had made him stare, but the strength of the Elf, the power of him.
‘We are here,’ was all the Elf said and Barathea came to a halt.
Carefully, Elladan let Théodred slide into Éomer’s arms and then dismounted himself. But he took Théodred back from Éomer as soon as he was on his own feet and Éomer noticed how tall he was. A good two hands taller than Éomer himself. And he took Théodred as if he were no weight at all.
The cave was half hidden amongst ferns and bracken. Inside it was dry and the floor was sandy not mud. The stone seemed to have held the heat of the day too and it was not as cold as he expected. The sound of the river rushing by was a soothing backdrop.
They settled Théodred near the back of the cave, still wrapped in the Elf’s sable cloak.
‘My name is Éomer,’ he said, thinking that it was time to introduce himself properly for he felt now that he was not in danger; at least, not his soul.
The Elf merely nodded.
‘You are Elladan…?’ Éomer left the question hanging but Elladan merely nodded and carefully lifted the hasty bandage he had tied over Théodred’s wound. Clearly Elladan had no intention of giving Éomer more of his name that he already had.
‘The man you are helping is called Théodred,’ Éomer said a little irritably.
Elladan nodded again. ‘Yes. Son of the King of Rohan. And you are his nephew, son of Éomund, Third Marshal of the Riddermark who was slain in battle with Orcs five years ago,’ He lifted first one eyelid of Théodred and then the other, peered into each eye while Éomer gaped like a fish in surprise. ‘We heard you halfway across the Fenmarsh,’ Elladan explained. ‘You hailed each other as you were galloping. The rest we pieced together. ’ Elladan smiled again. His smile, thought Éomer, was beautiful. It lit up his face.
As if he knew what Éomer was thinking, Elladan lifted one perfect eyebrow. Éomer swallowed; what if the Elves really could read his thoughts? Oh Béma, he thought.
‘I had forgotten how stupid were the Orcs this side of the Mountains,’ came a second voice then and Éomer turned quickly. It was Elladan’s brother, his twin, he corrected himself. So he had not left after all. Behind him, from the mouth of the cave came a low and welcoming nicker; Firefly. And behind Éomer’s Firefly, was Flaurun. Elladan’s brother came into the cave and threw his own cloak down. Something heavy rolled out over the sandy ground and Éomer could not see what it was in the dimness of the cave. But it stank.
Elladan made a comment and his brother shrugged. He made no comment but there was displeasure in his face and all the lines of his body with stiff with irritation as he returned to the mouth of the cave and led the two horses inside. Éomer fussed over both, running his hadns down their legs and flanks to soothe but to check they were free of injury too. He deliberately kept a distance from Elladan’s brother for he felt dangerous and the air almost crackled when he was near. Éomer had not forgotten the dark sword that hung at his hip, and how it had almost spoken when it was held thirsting, against Éomer’s throat.
And yet as he stood there, Flaurun put his muzzle into the Elf’s arm as if he were the most trusted friend. And then Firefly stepped closer too and was snuffling at the Elf’s hand.
Éomer looked across to where Elladan had taken out a small flask and was holding it carefully against Théodred’ lips. His brother said a word in his own tongue and Elladan looked up briefly and then at the heavy object that had come to rest against Elladan’s own saddle where he had taken it off his horse and propped it up against the wall. He made a face and retorted irritably and his brother shrugged, leaned down and lifted the thing off the ground, swung it from its…hair.
It was the head of an Orc.
‘Forgive my brother,’ said Elladan. He said no more but busied himself with Théodred whilst his brother contemplated the ugly head with dispassionate interest. Elladan said something else and his brother replied in a caustic tone but whatever it was that Elladan had said, made his borhter leave, the head of the Orc with him.
He did not take long and when he returned he glanced at Éomer critically, for he was watching Elladan tend to Théodred, and said, ‘You might build a fire perhaps. He will need boiling water soon.’
So Éomer found himself dismissed and outside in the cold. He foraged for dry kindling and sticks, and filled his water canteen from the stream. He took a moment to look about. Frost lay over the twigs and branches already and in the falling night the breath smoked from his mouth. The sky was heavy and threatening snow. He trudged back to the cave.
Inside was cosy, a fire crackled though there was no smoke and he wondered how they had managed that. A pot steamed over the fire and the air was filled with a fragrance he did not know, that refreshed and revived him, made him feel a weight of worry lift from his shoulders. He was safe. He was with two Elves and they had not attacked or bewitched him; quite the contrary. They had rescued Théodred and him, they had looked after Théodred, they were in a cave and there was food. The smell of roasting meat made his mouth water and he came in, dropped the kindling and looked wryly at both his companions who turned their beautiful, eldritch, identical faces towards him dispassionately. One had a piece of wood and was whittling. The other simply sat in still and silent grace. He could not tell which was Elladan and which was not.
‘Kindling and water,’ he said. A little grumpily because he had wasted his time. And felt they had merely kept him busy. And sent him out of the cave….
. Suddenly he looked over at Théodred in alarm. He was still but his chest rose and fell naturally and his breathing was deep and regular.
‘He sleeps.’ The one who was whittling, shaved a long piece from the wood and threw it into the fire and Éomer remained standing uncomfortably, near the fire but not sitting for he felt somehow uninvited.
The other smiled and quirked an eyebrow. ‘We have bewitched him of course,’ he said with a hint of mischief. ‘And now he sleeps forever until he is awoken by the kiss of his true love.’
Éomer gave him a quick, anxious look that he knew betrayed him. He thought that one was Elladan for he was lighter in his tone and smiled whereas the one whittling by the fire was intense and fierce. He glared at Éomer.
Elladan flashed a smile at Éomer. ’This is my brother, Elrohir. He is the ugly, miserable one.’
Elrohir laughed once and glanced at Éomer. Then he said humourlessly, ‘My brother teases both of us. Forgive his bad manners.’
Éomer inclined his head as graciously as he could and Elrohir gave him a cool look. Éomer thought hin beautiful, as his brother. Bewitching. Impassive. He glanced at Elladan who was sitting back on his heels and looking down at Théodred now. The firelight cast a warmth upon his face. Just as beautiful. He was very still, his hands draped over his knees but he turned and his gaze lingered upon Éomer.
Elrohir blew the dust from the piece of wood he was carving and then glanced at his brother first and then at Éomer, a slight smile on his lips. He said something, a slight sharpness in his tone but Elladan only laughed. The look Elladan gave Éomer now was openly speculative.
Elrohir said something back and slid a quick, unsettling gaze towards Éomer. Then he bent his head and went back to his task. A horse’s head emerged from the wood, its tiny ears pricked and nostrils flared. Artful work. But in spite of the grace fo the carving, Éomer wanted to keep his distance from Elrohir, for he felt like he might explode into violence at any moment.
Elladan held out a silver flask to Éomer. ‘Here,’ he said. ‘Drink this. Sip it though.’
Éomer was still standing; he felt young and foolish for not sitting, but he had not been invited to sit and so could not. But Elladan still held up the flask towards him and he took that as a reason to inch away from Elrohir, Elladan gave him the silver flask and Éomer carefully avoided touching his hand as he took it. He looked at the flask hesitantly. It was beautifully made, of course. An elegant shape with scrolled and delicate patterns etched upon it. Elrohir said something and Elladan laughed and Éomer found himself staring.
‘My grumpy brother says that you think you will be bound here forever if you eat or drink anything we give you.’ Elladan gave his beautiful smile. ‘It is miruvor. A restorative in my home.’
Éomer flicked a guilty look at Elrohir but the Elf was looking down at the wood and carving elegantly, a long sliver shaved from the pale wood like an apple peel. When Éomer looked up again, Elladan was closer and a smile played about his lips. He was amused, entertained and knowing. Éomer looked again at the silver flask and because he almost no longer cared and because perhaps little bit of him wanted to be bewitched, he put the flask to his lips, closed his eyes and tipped his head back.
A taste of apples in Spring, of fresh cut grass, of the high open steppe with the sky bright and blue above him, the long grass whispering against his legs.
His eyes snapped open and he looked about himself startled. Everything seemed sharper, clearer, more intense. He felt as if he could run and jump and climb great heights, spread his arms and leap into space…He laughed giddily and handed the flask back, careless where he had been careful so his fingers brushed the Elf’s, stayed there, resting against Elladan’s hand.
Elladan rose to his feet, pushing the stopper back into the flask. He flipped open the saddle bag and dropped the flask into it. Then he returned to the fire, but he did not sit this time, but stood next to Éomer. Taller than Éomer, and his eyes reflected the firelight, so for that moment he looked wild, predatory.
With a long suffering sigh, Elrohir pushed himself to his feet, disapproval pulled at the corner of his mouth. ‘I will scout,’ he said and disappeared into the darkness so that Éomer was left staring after him, his mouth open again.
Elladan watched for a moment and then crouched down and reached for the whittling. He stayed crouched by the fire for a moment and cut a chunk from the smooth wood and changed its shape completely so the strong back of the little horse emerged now, and its quarters. Then he carefully laid it to one side and stood up again. He was closer to Éomer now.
Éomer stared into the fire, self-consciously and tried not to shift his feet and move a step away from the Elf. He wondered why Elladan did not sit back down, wondered if he should now that Elrohir had gone. Elladan stood too close for it to be entirely comfortable and the hairs on Éomer’s arm nearest Elladan stood on end, but he did not know if it was from fear or excitement. Elladan threw a stick on the fire and turned to face Éomer. His eyes were not simply grey as Éomer had first thought but quicksilver and full of light. And they were fixed upon him with unmistakable intent.
The Elf leaned towards Éomer, and his breath drifted over Éomer’s cheek.
He licked his lips and saw how Elladan watched his tongue touch his lips. The Elf’s eyes were steady upon his.
Steady. Looking into him. Stroking over his skin.
His chest felt tight, and his belly fluttered nervously.
Éomer felt himself stiffen, and desire surge through his veins and blood. The Elf was tall and straight, his hair sleek and thick, his face smooth and utterly beautiful, wide shouldered, lean-hipped. Masculine. Like a stallion.
When Elladan tilted his head slightly, his long hair slid over one shoulder and Éomer marvelled at the texture, the smooth heaviness, the thickness like silk. He wanted to lift it in his hand, to feel it run through his fingers but he dared not. And then Elladan lifted one elegant hand that Éomer knew was stronger than any Man’s, and caressed Éomer’s cheek. Éomer almost leapt away but he forced himself to stay and then Elladan turned his hand over and rubbed his knuckles against Éomer’s beard, smiling.
‘I have always liked the furriness of a Man’s face,’ he said. Éomer was frozen to the spot- so he had mistaken Elladan’s intention, he thought. He was merely intrigued. Relief mixed with disappointment.
‘I have always liked the way it feels against my skin,’ Elladan said but this time it was more intimate. And then he leaned down towards Éomer and pressed his own mouth onto Éomer’s.
Éomer’s lips tingled with excitement, and felt his own mouth open under the Elf’s teasing pressure. The Elf followed and gently pressed him against the wall of the cave, leaning his own weight against Éomer so he thought this must how it felt to be a woman; but he had never wanted a woman like this, not like he wanted Elladan, now.
Éomer’s arms went around Elladan’s neck and pulled him closer, he forced his tongue into Elladan’s mouth and pushed against the Elf’s, strained to push in deeper and deeper and felt his cock fill and surge and his balls churning. His hands clasped Elladan’s buttocks and Éomer felt the Elf’s cock strain against his breeches, rub against his own. Elladan murmured something in his own tongue and the words sounded soft, lingering in Éomer’s ears and he pulled the Elf closer, shoved his hands between the belt and waistband of his breeches and felt warm skin.
The palm of his hand tingled with sensation and he delved, Elladan’s breath hot against his own ear, he licked the Elf’s throat, but Elladan seized the tip of Éomer’s ear lightly between his teeth and Éomer felt a jolt of lust spike from his ear through his belly to his balls and his cock thrust instinctively and he pressed hard against Elladan’s thigh.
He did not, could not stop to think what he was doing; how forbidden this was, how wrong. How terrifying. All he could think was that his skin was tingling, his cock throbbing and he wanted this, oh Béma, how he wanted this. He shoved his own tunic from his shoulders, tugged the buckle of his belt open with one hand and toed one boot off at the same time. Elladan pulled Éomer’s shirt over his head and cast it on the ground, dragged the belt from his waist before Éomer had even pulled the tongue through the buckle and threw it over his shoulder where it curled next to Éomer’s shirt like a discarded snakeskin. Éomer kicked his other boot off and stood in only his breeches, breathing hard, his cock straining against the leather.
Elladan smiled and pressed the palm of his hand against Éomer’s chest, bent his fingers so the curled hair of Éomer’s chest was pulled tight, little spikes of pleasure-pain pricked his chest and he let his head tip back, eyes half closed when Elladan moved one hand down over his flat belly and pushed his breeches down over his hips and thighs and let them fall. Éomer’s cock thrust forwards and Elladan caught it in his warm hand.
And paused. He stood for a moment looking down, the firelight reflecting warmly on his beautiful face, casting the shadow of his eyelashes onto his cheek. He sighed and Éomer was devastated. He was not going to continue! He was regretting already how far they had gone.
Éomer seized the Elf’s hand and clasped it to his chest, and Elladan looked up and met his gaze with eyes gone silver-mithril-grey. ‘Do not stop,’ Éomer pleaded. ‘Do not regret this.’
Elladan paused. ‘Is this what you truly desire? ‘
‘Béma, yes,’ Éomer breathed. ‘Yes. I desire you. I want you.’
Slowly Elladan stepped back, shrugging his own tunic from his shoulders and swiftly tugged his shirt over his head and stood looking at Éomer appreciatively as Éomer looked at him.
The Elf’s chest was smooth and pale, his hair like the threads of silk that his mother had used to weave into the smooth fabric. It fell straight and the deepest black down his back. Ink-black. He was so beautiful. Like a stag. And Éomer wanted him like he had never wanted any one, anything before. He took a step forwards and reached his hand to the Elf’s smooth chest, traced a finger over his nipple, dark and erect. And then Elladan took a step towards him and their mouths met. Their teeth clashed clumsily at first and then…then Éomer felt his blood heat and a wave of throbbing lust surged through him and left him weak kneed and melting. He slipped his hands between the Elf’s waistband and his skin and slid his breeches from his lean hips. A warm scent enveloped him, musk and salt and something else… clean and it was like the water of a forest stream. He breathed in deeply and heard a soft laugh.
When he looked up, Elladan’s eyes were amused but soft too and he smiled back.
‘Have you done this before?’
Éomer ducked his head and looked away but he felt a warm hand palm his cheek and gently guide his eyes back to the Elf’s face and this time it was kind.
“I will show you,’ Elladan said.
Éomer’s mouth was dry, and he could not speak.
Elladan placed his hand over Éomer’s own heart and caught Éomer’s gaze, held it so his heart pounded.
And then he pulled Éomer down with him onto the sable cloak and Éomer’s skin thrilled to the softness of the fur, to the smoothness of the man who touched him and trailed his fingers down his belly and reached for his cock, circling it with skilful fingers, flicked the end so it thrummed with desire. Éomer could not speak but simply gave himself over to the skilful fingers and tongue until every sense was exploding and his nervous, excited lust was a liquid pooling in his belly. He let his head fall back against the soft warmth of fur, felt its luxurious sensuousness against his skin and looked down at Elladan’s dark head as it rested against his own belly. Then a long lick left a trail of delight from his belly to his cock, and he felt his hips shift upwards and then suddenly he was flipped onto his front and strong arm around his waist pulled him back against Elladan and he felt the strength and girth of the Elf’s own cock pressing against him.
Suddenly fear gripped him as strongly as the Elf and he wriggled. Instantly Elladan let him go and sat back on his heels, hands spread appeasingly before him.
‘Tell me what you want?’ Elladan invited. Then when he saw Éomer had relaxed, he scooted forwards and smiled, let his head tilt slightly as he regarded the Man kindly. ‘You have done nothing like this before I think?’
Éomer felt himself blush and shook his head. He looked down and shoved his fingers through the rich fur, embarrassed. There was a moment of silence and then he felt a hand brush his cheek lightly.
‘Forgive me. I was too eager.’
He glanced up to see that Elladan’s grey eyes were upon him, a rueful smile on his full lips. Éomer wanted to kiss him.
‘Perhaps we should just do…this.’
A firm grasp on his cock brought him sitting upright and thrusting into Elladan’s hand and crying out. Elladan smiled and moved his hand faster and in no time, Éomer felt that churning in his balls and a surge started deep within him. His mouth opened and he clutched at the hand that held him and thrust helplessly. A spurt of hot liquid shot out over Elladan’s hand and Éomer slowly opened his eyes to see the Elf leaning over him tenderly. He wiped his hand on the sand of the floor of the cave and his eyes were heavy lidded and suddenly the kindly Elf had gone and the grey eyes glittered dangerously.
‘Like for like,’ he breathed over Éomer’s neck and bent and nuzzled at the collarbone. He seized Éomer’s hand and bent the fingers around his own cock. Éomer had never so much as touched another and was surprised at the silken skin that moved so easily, that the Elf’s manhood…elfhood, he wondered, was heavier, and the dense curls at his groin were as black as the hair on his head though there was only a light down over the rest of him where Éomer was thickly furred. His flesh felt heavier, denser. more corporeal somehow. He stared and then Elladan covered his hand with his own and started moving it. The Elf came as quickly as Éomer had himself and it looked, smelt the same. Éomer opened his hand and stared at the sticky mess on the palm of his hand. Then he too wiped it on the sand and then Elladan lobbed him a flask of water. He washed his hands, feeling it was somehow insulting, as though he had been repelled by it… when he was not.
‘Did that help?’ asked Elladan, but Éomer saw that the Elf’s cock still bobbed erect and lustful. As was his own.
‘Not completely,’ he said bravely.
Elladan smiled slowly. ‘Then perhaps this will,’ he said and gently pushed Éomer back down against the fur, pushed his legs apart and delved between them.
It was some time later that Elrohir reappeared. Éomer had been dozing lightly, in sweet satiation of all his unfulfilled lust and secret desire when he heard the light steps of the Elf. But when Éomer twitched and struggled quickly to extract himself, Elladan tightened his hold upon the Man and held him still, nuzzled his hair and kissed him quickly, affectionately.
Elrohir dropped a couple of trout already gutted and scaled upon the stones circling the fire and threw a quick look at his brother where he sprawled unconcerned with his arm curled around Éomer’s neck. Elrohir quirked an eyebrow, but he said nothing. Picking through the kindling, he selected a couple of slender sticks and skewered the fish, setting them to roast over the fire. He shoved something else between the stones and then went to look at Théodred.
Éomer, hot and red-faced with embarrassment, seized the opportunity to grab his breeches and pulled them on. Quickly he tugged his shirt over his head and got his head stuck in an armhole, struggling clumsily.
Elladan laughed softly and Elrohir glanced back over his shoulder, ignoring Éomer as if he were not even there. He said something in his own tongue and Elladan said, ‘No. He has not awoken or moved, but I think he sleeps now. Rests.’
Elrohir stood looking down at his brother for a moment, his face impassive and smooth but his eyes were not; his eyes were full of fire, thought Éomer anxiously. But Elladan still lay upon his sable cloak that was draped loosely over his hips. He bent his arm and let his head rest upon the crook of his elbow and looked up at his brother unconcerned. In the firelight, his skin gleamed and his chest smooth, flat belly, finely muscled. His long black hair spread under him. Éomer found himself hard again and wanting, but Elrohir’s presence unnerved him and where he had filled with pleasurable desire at the sight of Elladan, he found himself wilting under Elrohir’s intense gaze.
Elrohir sat opposite his brother and carefully turned the roasting trout.
‘There is an Eored some distance from here,’ he said casually, pushing at the skin of the fish with his finger, testing if it was cooked. ‘They are ten leagues away more or less.’ He watched as Éomer scrambled around for his boots and belt. ‘They will not be anywhere near here for some hours yet,’ he said.
‘But they may not even come this way,’ Éomer said, losing all fear for the Elf in his anxiety to meet the Eored and get help for his cousin.
‘How can you be so sure?’
Elrohir simply looked at him. Flames reflected in his eyes and suddenly all the warnings of Éomer’s folk clamoured at once. Soul-Eater, Dead-Walkers, sorcerers and warlocks. These Elves had bewitched him. He had drunk their strange and potent wine, he had eaten their bread and loved their flesh…Éomer fought the panic that struggled out of him, forced it down for Elladan was looking at him fondly he was sure and though Elrohir was cold and fierce, even he looked a little amused.
‘I just am,’ he said. And then as if he relented, he added, ‘I left tokens for them to find to bring them this way.’
Éomer shuddered at the thought of what those tokens might be.
And then it seemed that Elrohir reached into the very flames and drew something out from between the stones. He juggled it between his hands and Éomer almost laughed at how ordinary he seemed then. It was some root that he had baked between the hot stones and they ate that with the fish. There was some delicious flavour that Éomer did not recognise and he ate hungrily and could have eaten more. Elrohir had set a tin cup at the edge of the fire and it was filled with water. It was hot now and he drew a pouch from his tunic and opened it. From it he took some dried leaves and crumbled them into the hot water.
‘Sleep now,’ Elrohir said to him and rose to his feet once more, taking the tin cup with him. ‘They will find you. You have my word.’ He went over to Théodred and knelt beside him, raised his head slightly and held the cup to Théodred’s lips. There was that strange fragrance again, apples in Spring, fresh cut grass, the high open steppe with the sky bright and blue above him, the long grass whispering against his legs.
He found himself looking at Elladan with his eyes wide open and his senses, perceptions so very clear.
‘You will leave while I sleep,’ he said and Elladan looked into the middle distance and did not speak. He looked down and Éomer knew that it was true. He grasped at Elladan’s hand, gazing into those silver-grey eyes that would not meet his. ‘Give me something to remember you by,’ he said softly. ‘I know we will not meet again and I will think in my dotage, that this was merely some passing dream.’
Elladan smiled and sighed. ‘It saddens me to think of you with old flesh and creaking bones,’ he said. He took from his cloak a brooch, a leaf, mithril.
‘Not idly do the leaves of Lórien fall,’ he said smiling. His grey eyes glazed and he stared into the fire unseeing. ‘One day you will have need of me. I will come. We will ride into a great battle, side by side you and I.’
He turned his head and blinked once. His beautiful face was eldritch and strange. Utterly different. Éomer’s body remembered the heaviness of that body upon him, the skilful hands, the full lips and tongue that was demanding, urgent.
‘I will not forget you,’ he said. ‘Ever.’
When the sun rose, Éomer was deep in sleep and it was only the sound of horses and men’s voices that roused him. It was Erkenbrand, for it was his Eored that Elrohir had spied. But the Elves had gone and Théodred and he slept alone in the cave. Of the Sons of Thunder there was no sign and Éomer would have wondered if it was but a dream had it not been for the mithril brooch pinned to his cloak.
It was many, many years later that Éomer did indeed have need of the Sons of Thunder, and they rode to the very gates of the Morannon and there threw down the Dark Lord and freed all Middle Earth from his tyranny. It was there in the shadowed lands that Éomer found again the freedom to love as he wanted, as he truly wished, and the memory of those days sustained him through his long life and to the very end he wore a silver brooch in the style of a leaf and bequeathed it to none of his many children but it was buried with him, pinned over his heart.
Éowyn does not mind, Éomer told Théodred as they left Edoras with the wind behind them and the grasslands of Rohan stretching ahead of them. In fact, she would be relieved if it was Théodred, whom she loved anyway. Not as a lover, Éomer had assured himself, but as a brother….As she loved Éomer. And it would grow, he was sure, once they were wed. She was fourteen although other girls were wed by then and some had children of their own by sixteen. Théodred sixteen years and untried as colt himself but there was no rush now that the agreements had been made