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The Rose In The Fisted Glove: 1. No Man Is A Hero
"Curse it, Galion; will you watch out for the ears?"
"So sorry, Thranduil," said his esquire, in the exquisitely long-suffering tone that only Galion could manage.
Thranduil sat on a folding camp stool, having his braids undone at the end of a long day. A single candle lit the small tent, to illuminate a task that Galion could have performed blindfolded after millennia of practice. But even Galion's nimble fingers could not help brushing against the sensitive ear tips as he worked.
Thranduil missed his wife.
He had always been blessed with a hot-blooded nature; blessed or cursed, depending on how one chose to view it. It had been a curse for the first two millennia of his life, although he had managed somehow. It had been an unalloyed blessing and a fierce joy in the few years since his marriage. It was a curse again, now that he was all too aware of what he was missing. He missed his wife very much indeed.
"Ah, you newly wedded," said Galion, as if sensing his master's thoughts. "I recall the first hundred years of my own marriage. I spent it as randy as a stag during the rutting season. It must be a trial for you, Thran, to be called away from home at such a time. You would have done well to have waited."
Thranduil made a noise that resembled a growl. "What is done is done and cannot be changed. I might rather wish that Gil-galad and Elendil had waited before dragging my father and me into this fight, but the world does not arrange itself to my convenience. I would venture that the soldiers of our realm are suffering far worse privations than I am."
The armies of the Last Alliance were camped on the plains surrounding the Black Gate. It was a foul land, with bare brown earth and a sky like lead. Not a plant grew on the blasted plain, the ever present dust blew about and found its way into every cranny and crevice of an elf's body, and there was precious little water to be had. Off to the northwest, a stinking swamp added to the general misery of the place. After the long march down the Anduin from the Greenwood, Thranduil had found the tedium of the days of waiting to be the worst. Oropher had been muttering for weeks about how the leaders of the western forces would keep them all sitting idle long enough for the elves to grow beards, but at last Gil-galad and Elendil had decreed that the armies would take the field on the morrow.
Thranduil squirmed in his chair. "I pray you, Galion, find a different subject for your discourse than my marital life."
"As you wish, my prince." Galion was silent for a time, as if casting about for the tidbits of gossip of which he was so fond. "I noted the presence of Gil-galad and his envoys in your father's tent this afternoon. Lord Elendil and his sons were with him also. I sense they would ask once again for the fealty of the Woodland realms before tomorrow's battle."
Thranduil smiled thinly. "Not much gets past you, does it, my friend? And what does your incisive political acumen tell you was my lord father's answer?"
"That he and Malgalad would take the oath -- on such a day as Orodruin freezes over and Feanor is released from the Halls of Mandos."
Despite his restive mood, Thranduil found himself chuckling along with his esquire. "I was there in my father's pavilion today, Galion, and your words are surprisingly accurate."
"One would think," Galion said, "that the lords of the west would at least smell a little sweeter considering the presence of so many 'washerwomen' in their camp."
That got a snort out of Thranduil. "Washerwomen! Cheek, Galion; cheek! We all know those ladies are far too busy with other duties." He was amused at his valet's coarse jest, but secretly, he found the idea of female camp followers to be unsettling. There were females with Oropher's own army, the healers, but the idea of using them to satisfy base needs was unthinkable. The thought of using any stranger, and a subordinate at that, for relief was unthinkable. Although, he had to admit to himself, it was becoming less unthinkable as the long days stretched out.
"Some of them are quite fetching, though, for Edain," Galion continued. "I sometimes find myself envying those men of Númenor."
"It is not our way. You know the discourse on our traditions-- seldom is any tale told of deeds of lust among us."
"Oh, aye. And I also know your own father has referred to those so-called traditions as a pile of pious Lachenn cant. Have you ever stopped to ponder, my prince, that this lack of lusty tales about us might be not so much because we are a chaste and virtuous people as that we are a very discreet people?"
Thranduil merely grunted and shifted again in his chair. This line of talk was no better than the previous one.
The braids were undone, and Galion began to unstrap him from his armor. It was a relief to be out from under the weight of the double thick layers of leather, which Thranduil wore mostly to please his father. His muscles still cramped from the tension of carrying the burden, and Thranduil almost envied the Noldor their lighter metal gear, even though it too much resembled dwarvish fashion for his tastes. Yet, he was never quite free of the guilt he felt over being better protected than the rest of the Woodland warriors in their single layer of light leather.
"You have marks in your shoulder from the straps," said Galion, in a tone that managed to mix concern with irritation, as only Galion could do. He began to massage out the knots in the muscles of Thranduil's neck and shoulders.
"You sound as if you were my naneth rather than my esquire," said Thranduil impatiently. The relief was welcome, but . . . "Galion, there is no need for that."
"Of course there is need. I have no wish to find myself treating a boil if the straps cut your skin, Thranduil."
"Truly, Galion, I wish you would stop that," said Thranduil, twisting his head away and trying to ignore the sensation of his valet's hands upon his shoulders. "I wish you would stop right now. Ai . . . curse it!"
Too late. Thranduil crossed his legs in a futile attempt to hide a further humiliation from the sharp eyes of his valet.
"There is no need to be embarrassed, Thranduil," Galion said matter-of-factly. "There is much of that in the camp tonight. It is the nearness of death on the eve of battle. Many of us will not see the next setting of the sun, and we know it. Sensing the end, life reasserts itself for one last burst. I could give you some ease, if you like."
Thranduil tensed and whipped his head around to stare in disbelief. "I beg your pardon?"
"You understand me well enough, Thranduil. Your comfort has been my duty for many a long year, and you and I have been friends for longer than that. You have a . . . problem, and I will help you deal with it."
"This is more than merely emptying my chamber pot or airing my garments. I would never consider using you in that manner, Galion."
Galion laughed. "I was not volunteering to be 'used' in any way. I was offering a hand in friendship, merely."
Thranduil gave his esquire a sharp look. "I do not desire you or any other male. I never have."
"I do not fancy you either, Thranduil. I am sure you would sooner have a woman, but I see none of those around. Unless you would like me to send for one of those Númenorian washerwomen, or perhaps Nestalinde or Sarniel."
"That is not funny, Galion."
"I did not mean it to be funny, merely realistic."
Thranduil remained silent, his brow puckered in a frown.
"I've shocked you, I see. You no doubt view such a thing as a disloyalty to your wife."
"Aye, and to yours as well, Galion."
Galion shrugged. "Thranduil, our good ladies are five hundred miles to the north, and they will have no joy of us this night, no matter what seed is spilled here. Would you wish your wife to go hungry merely because you cannot dine from the same table? Would she begrudge you the joy of music merely because you cannot hear the notes from the same harp? I know my wife does not."
"I always knew you had a pragmatic streak to you, Galion. Yet you surprise me. You sound as if you're no stranger to this . . . soldiers' play."
"Do you mean to tell me, Thran, that in all the long years of your life no one has ever . . .?" Thranduil saw his esquire eying him speculatively. "Hmm, I suppose not. That is the difference between a prince of the Grey-elves and the son of a humble forester. They were all too affrighted of Oropher to approach you -- lads and lasses alike. You were most lucky to have found a woman of such spirit as would have you, even if it came late in your life."
At this, Thranduil could only nod in agreement. His wife was a gem of great worth.
"There is an unwritten code to these things, Thranduil. What happens out here, stays out here. I do not kiss and tell. But to ease your mind, my experience is limited. I am no libertine, if that is what worries you."
Thranduil squirmed uncomfortably. The direction the conversation was taking surely did not help his predicament. His groin was beginning to ache. "Curse this war. Curse Sauron. And curse those supercilious Golodhrim and their Númenorian allies for dragging us into this mess. Curse them all to the pits of Thangorodrim!"
"I would imagine that Sauron would find the pits to his liking," Galion said dryly. "But I would not. Nor will I enjoy the next week if you go on as you are. If you do not take care of this, you will have sore balls on the morrow and we all will suffer from your ill temper. So I tell you, Thranduil; either you let me help you, or I will be forced to leave the tent for a time so that you can put your hand to yourself."
"What makes you think I would stoop to such a practice?" Thranduil grumbled.
Galion snorted. "Thranduil Oropherion, it is I, your companion from boyhood, to whom you speak. Nine of ten of us pleasure ourselves, and the tenth lies about it. I may have known you to dissemble upon occasion, but I have never found you to be truly dishonest."
Thranduil sighed. "Ah, my old friend! You prove the old adage that no man is a hero to his own valet."
"And perhaps that is best. No man can be a hero all the time, nor should try to be. I tell you truly, these things are far more enjoyable with a partner. And what better partner than I? I have kept your secrets long, and you may rely upon my discretion unto death. So what shall it be then, my prince?" Thranduil felt his valet's eyes boring into him. "Very well, then. I will leave you to your own devices. And perhaps I will have the luck to find a welcoming campfire and a friendly cup of wine to go with it. My own talk has left me desirous of companionship for myself."
He turned to leave, and Thranduil watched him go, unhappily cognizant of the pressure in his groin and the emptiness in his heart as he contemplated a half hour alone with his own hand.
"Galion . . ." Thranduil struggled to get the words out. "You need not leave."
Galion paused, his hand on the tent flap. One of his dark eyebrows was raised, as if he had not truly expected to be invited to stay.
"But . . ." Thranduil continued. "If we do this thing, there will be no rank between us. No prince. No valet. Just Thran and Galion, as when the two of us were youngsters. And you will be served as well."
The other eyebrow went up, and Galion smiled slowly. "I think I could do that."
Thranduil cleared his throat. The decision made, he found himself unsure of how exactly to proceed. As with any venture he undertook, he was resolved to do it right, yet he found himself unwilling to admit his naivety in such matters. He rose and went to his narrow camp bed. He lay down upon it and motioned to Galion.
"On the bed?" His esquire sounded dubious.
"Well, where else? We might as well be comfortable."
Galion shrugged, nodded and joined him on the cot. There was not much room, and they found themselves balancing precariously, each on his own edge of the cot as if trying to maintain as much space between them as possible. Thranduil found this ironic, since the two of them had had previously shared a bed on many occasions in boyhood, lying happily curled together as two puppies in a basket. Nor were the two of them strangers to the sight of each other's naked bodies, in the baths or out swimming in the forest streams. Why he should feel so bashful now, he had no idea.
"I am not sure how comfortable this will be," Galion said. "And I remind you, Thranduil, I offered a hand only."
"Aye. A hand is all I offer in return. I will behave myself." No sooner said, than he jumped as Galion reached for his lacings. "Ai . . . ?"
Galion sighed. "What did you expect, Thranduil? That I should sing you a love song or offer you a bouquet of flowers? Flowers would be a tall order in this barren land."
"I have heard your singing voice," Thranduil grumbled. "Kindly spare me. But a kiss would seem only courteous before making a grab for my codpiece."
"Then by all means, let us observe courtesy," said Galion, sounding amused.
Now that the moment was upon him, Thranduil hesitated.
"Shut your eyes, Thran, and pretend I'm your wife," Galion said. "I have found that works best at times like these."
Thranduil took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and gave Galion a perfunctory close-mouthed peck. He felt the tip of Galion's tongue brush his lips and he jerked back with an undignified sound that he feared sounded like a squeak. "Not funny, Galion."
"I thought it was funny," said Galion saucily. "You asked for that, Thranduil. Now be still and let me do what I must."
While Galion's hand moved lower, stroking him through his partly open shirt and the thin leather of his trousers, Thranduil licked his upper lip meditatively, tasting the uniquely masculine flavor of his esquire. He realized he was going to have a difficult time pretending that this was his wife, because the feel of Galion's lips had been hard and spare, and the scent of his hair was that of a male. It was unfamiliar and somewhat unnerving, yet not entirely unpleasant.
With a skill that might have been expected in a valet, the laces were soon undone and Thranduil found himself springing free into Galion's hand. His arousal, already an insistent pressure, turned into keen pleasure as a thumb circled the tip and teased the sensitive blade of flesh along the underside before enclosing the shaft in a gentle yet firm grip.
Thranduil was quite used to being touched, by his wife and by his own hand over the course of many long years, but this too was different. Galion was handling him in a way that his wife, for all her loving skill, could not have known how to do. The feel and the angle of the sword calloused palm, so obviously not his own, was disturbingly stimulating. "Mmm, that feels good!" he murmured.
He felt his heart begin to beat faster, as his spirit began to join forces with his excited body. He edged closer on the bed, as his hand moved to the other man's lacings. He was not so skillful, and his hand fumbled, but soon enough he had Galion undone. He reached inside and brought the member out, still semi soft but rapidly hardening under his touch.
He marveled at the feel of the warm column of flesh, alike in size to his own but alien in minor details of shape and girth. The sensation of it growing beneath his hand, too, with no corresponding feeling as when he touched himself, was strangely exciting in its novelty.
Abruptly, Galion reached down and grasped his wrist, pulling his hand away. Thranduil, was briefly troubled by the removal, wondering if he might have done something wrong, until Galion brought the hand up to his mouth. With a lascivious smile, he slowly licked the center of Thranduil's palm. A jolt of pleasure shot up Thranduil's arm and moved down his torso, pooling in his crotch as Galion's pointed tongue slowly circled. When the hand was well moistened, Galion returned it to his own member, which was now as hard as Thranduil's.
Understanding dawning, Thranduil removed Galion's hand from his own erection and brought it to his mouth, sighing briefly at the loss of the contact. Not to be outdone, he first kissed the palm then gently nipped each fingertip in turn before applying his own tongue. As he did so, he was gratified to feel Galion's shaft give a little twitch within his own tight grip and to see his friend grimace with pleasure.
Galion returned his hand, and Thranduil found himself engulfed in slick wetness. He sighed again, as he lost himself in the sensation of being worked. Without being consciously aware of it, he began to thrust into the encompassing palm, and his arm snaked beneath Galion's head, holding him firm on the narrow bed. Galion threw a leg over him, locking behind his knees to hold the two of them together below.
Subtlety was thrown aside now. Their bodies provided their own motion to augment that of their hands, grinding together in an instinctive rhythm. Galion had been right -- this was so much better with a partner. Thranduil drew back and opened his eyes to look into his friend's face. Galion's slate blue eyes -- the color of the sky here on the doorstep of Mordor -- had grown soft and unfocused with passion.
'What am I doing?' he thought. 'This is my friend since birth. We are near siblings. This is dangerous.' Even though he could not stop the mindless thrusting of their bodies, he pressed his lips tenderly against Galion's to express the confused affection he felt. Ever so slowly, Galion's lips relaxed and the kiss was returned. Gently, Thranduil broke the contact and buried his face in his friend's hair.
All too soon, Thranduil found himself approaching the brink, and he wrenched himself back from it. It became a contest and a matter of pride with him now. He was Thranduil, prince of Greenwood, scion of the House of Oropher, and, man or woman in his arms, he would come last.
He felt his friend tense in his embrace, and shake his head. "Oh, yes you will," Thranduil whispered, and nipped the tip of Galion's ear.
Galion gave a little yip of pleasure, and his hand spasmed around Thranduil's shaft. "Thran, you bastard," Galion moaned, as Thranduil felt his own hand flooded with liquid warmth.
Thranduil laughed and let himself spill. The two lay panting together, joined belly to belly in a happy, sticky mess.
After a time, Galion untangled himself, rose and went to the washstand. He wet a cloth and returned to the bed to clean off first Thranduil and then himself.
Thranduil regarded him through half-lidded eyes. "Ah, Galion, that was unexpected. I think you and I just made love, mhellon."
Galion did not meet his eye, but he nodded slowly and his mouth curled upward in a wry smile. "All things considered, Thranduil, I still prefer my wife. But you will serve." He began to move about the tent, returning the cloth to the washbowl and blowing out the candle before heading for his bedroll in front of the door.
"Galion," Thranduil said softly, patting the bed beside him "come here."
"Again?" Galion said, this time with a note of surprise.
"No," Thranduil laughed. "Not again. I think, my friend, that this is a pleasure best enjoyed only rarely between us, if ever. I fear we have awakened a sleeping dragon which is best put back to its rest. I . . . I do not wish to spend this night alone. Will you lie beside me as we used to do when we were youngsters?"
Galion nodded. "Aye, Thranduil. I would like that too."
"Good, because you owe me amends for calling me a bastard just now," Thranduil laughed as Galion settled down beside him.
"Bastard? Nay, my prince, you misheard me. I am sure it was 'dastard' that I called you. I am not sure it is possible for an elf to be such a thing as a bastard."
"Oh, 'dastard.' That is entirely different." Thranduil could not help smiling as he settled his chin around the top of Galion's head. A thought crossed his mind. "Galion . . .?"
"Our wives, at home . . . Do you suppose they . . .?"
"I never asked. But it would be a sort of justice if they did, do you not think? I imagine the pain of loneliness and the fear of waiting is just as hard on them as it is on us."
There was silence for a time. "Galion . . .?"
Thranduil sighed, for his next thought was hard to give voice to. "Tomorrow . . . The plan to charge the gate, with or without Gil-galad's signal. Oropher is my father, and he is our king. I have always trusted him and I must trust him now, but . . ."
"Aye, Thran. I know. I am in mortal fear myself. But hush, and rest yourself. You and I will come through this."
To be continued . . .
* * * * * * *
Lachenn: Flame-eyed. A Sindarin term for the Noldor.
Golodhrim: Another, politer, Sindarin term for the Noldor
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