Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Unbound: 1. Unbound
" . . . We enter,
unwilling to die, into the commonwealth of its joy.
I give you what is unbounded, passing from dark to dark,
containing darkness: a night of rain, an early morning.
I give you the life I have let live for love of you . . ."*
I lay in bed for some time, knowing my bare feet would feel the stone floor before sleep found me, but allowing the moments to slip by slowly, hesitantly. I traced the path from my soft bed to the door - the short walk down the hallway - the heavy oak of his door. My blood moved through me in a roar that culminated in my head, breaking the silence with its coursing expectation. My body knew where it would inevitably travel but this new sense of propriety kept me locked within my covers.
This nocturnal journey was well known, but the purpose had shifted. Small fears and quiet unsettling had drawn me to his rooms many times in my childhood. He was my self-appointed teacher, explainer of simple facts - a role we both accepted with the shared, dignified nods of all who witnessed his first attempts. My wild exuberance was soothed so easily by his gentle, golden wisdom. He welcomed the responsibility of keeping me tempered and away from complex business. He enjoyed his job of keeping me from being trampled by assured feet. Explanations from his mouth were milder than from others - and he seemed to register my need for soothing calm and soft chastisement, before the harsher reprimands of others commenced. One glance toward my definite notions and he would extend his arms and usher me quietly into more controlled pursuits.
"My little one," he would say - even when I'd reached full maturity in body if not in spirit. "Come walk with me and tell me where you're headed so quickly. There's no need to rush about as if some dark thing were chasing you forward."
His green eyes would hold me fast until the urgency of all missions passed into the rambling mystery of what he instead would show me as we walked. And when he was needed elsewhere and his travels forced me beyond his patient watch, he would leave me with a list of possibilities so exhaustive that I would have no time for mischief. His instructions always tread the line between what was expected and what was so finely sneaky that there was no way to ignore the outcome of my private searches.
His presence was so quietly imposing to others, the respect he was given so seriously considered that I secretly rejoiced in the knowledge that only I knew the constant laughter that waited mere inches from every phrase he uttered. Overhearing a deep conversation as he plotted with an advisor or related serious findings to our Lord (and I was always somewhere near him - a fact that never escaped his recognition even if the others were blind to it) I could hear his laughter one step behind his every grave word. He knew I understood this and it made him all the more cheerful to me. I would raise my eyes from a book, from an involved project in some dark corner and he would catch my eye and wink the barest of winks to me before turning back to the matters that involved so much of his time and work - his primary purpose beyond keeping me occupied - which was keeping us all safe.
His safety had chased me into his rooms countless nights. My sleepy limbs melting into his embrace. There were no dark dreams in his warm bed. He knew I was approaching before I arrived. Ever awake for my coming, his eyes were on me as his door opened. Smiling sweetly he never demanded an explanation but simply pulled the covers back for me in the last dim light of the fire and wrapped me up as he would a precious gift. Murmuring soft stories to me and running his fingers through my hair, he watched over me until dreams picked up where his words ended. The old thoughts and ancient memories kept me company with him until the bright light of morning.
He was always gone when I awoke. I doubt that he ever truly slept - but more often than not a small gift would wait for me where he had lain: an acorn, an old book, a slip of paper with a word I'd never encountered but would spend the day unraveling the meaning of.
As I grew my visits became less frequent, my fears less founded. I spent my nights less in sleep and more in drawing. The old stories escaped my hand in vivid images, or sometimes my favorite trees were traced in memory until they appeared like some suddenly illuminated thing on the paper in front of me.
But even still, an unsettling thought guided me to his rooms once more. I sat at my desk crushing dried berries into a thick, cerulean powder. My fingers were stained the color of the evening sky and I remembered suddenly that it had been so very long since he had paid me the slightest notice. I pushed the pestle away from me and wiped my hands across my dress. His absence was a nagging thing like a constant tap across my window. Not bothering to change or comb my wind blown hair, I crept into the hallway and made my way to his rooms.
He waited for me as always, the covers drawn back to make way for my troubled limbs. "Where have you been?" I asked, stretching beside him.
He smoothed the hair away from my face, "Right here as always," he said, "what would you like to hear tonight?" Not waiting for an answer he began an old story - but sleep did not come pressing near me. His words trailed off after a time and he looked at me seriously, bothered that my fears were past his banishing for the first time in an age.
"Little one," he said, "why don't you sleep?"
I didn't know my own thoughts until my words came suddenly. I moved to lie on my side, facing him. He drew his hand from my hair as if my touch was troubling but I wouldn't let him escape. I brought my own hand to his face. "I will watch you sleep tonight," I said. "Let me guard your dreams as you've guarded mine for so long."
His smile, always waiting to surface, came easily. He humored my request and relaxed into the cushions as my fingers moved through his golden hair. I had no stories of my own, nothing to say that had not first come from him. There was no justice I could give to the tales that stemmed from his own life, so I simply spoke my heart - the secret shadows that had no words until the words first gave them meaning.
"Ancient one - you have kept me safe for a very long time," I said. The golden glow of his hair, the sweet joy behind his closed eyes - the shape of his mouth pained me in their beauty. "I am very young compared to you. There is no story I can give you in thanks." I was afraid to say what next came to mind, but found myself speaking despite the misgiving. "I feel that I belong to you . . . that you claimed me as your own from your first notice of me. Do you know that I am yours - and when you stay away from me I feel incomplete?"
His eyes opened at this. "It was never my intention to own you. You belong only to yourself, little one."
My fingertips rested just above his lips as he spoke. I felt the ghost of air move over them and his phrase trail around them. Nothing so small had ever moved me so greatly. I traced the shape of his lovely lips and pressed the finger to my own lips as if his every word could be memorized and kept there. He watched me do this as one would watch an inevitable conclusion of some great thing from a distance, powerless and involved only so much as the primary movement was initiated by oneself too long ago to have any effect. My fearless protector was afraid.
"Little one," he said, his green eyes a color lost to this new world. One would only know him to be so old by this color - the rest of his face was unchanged from the first light of the stars. I thought with a pang of jealousy, how could my new eyes ever hold his depths for long? He had seen far too many riches.
"Little one," he said again more quietly.
I could not stand his uncertainty, or live with the thought that I could cause it in one so certain. In light of that doubt I resolved my gaze and held his own tightly. Without a blink I lowered my mouth to his.
What other way could I capture his words more easily? If my fingertips could press his power to me then my lips would match the source. There was no way I could expect his reaction. I acted so quickly, as I always did. One step ahead of me, he could have pulled away or moved before I reached him. But his eyes only burned me more brightly and he grasped me to him clumsily, tightly. My lips against his moved lightly as he held me like someone on a precipice, one movement away from pitching forward or backward. His fingers wound into my hair and his mouth greedily bid mine to open, his eyes piercing into me.
He tasted like fear and something else buried far below the surface. His guarded levity - the sense of what always waited beneath his calm demeanor - became a torrent of raging expectation. I tasted his tongue and the meeting brought a moan from somewhere so deeply inside us both that the shock of this new taste caused us to break away - our wide eyes regarding the other suspiciously and hesitantly. We were taken aback by this strange power that could only exist where the two of us met, equal in its measure. At this new touch I knew then that his desire to know the secret parts of me matched my longing to touch his own.
We stared at each other this way for some time. It was my own sigh that finally closed our eyes and brought our lips together again, very tentatively at first as if in fear of the potential outcome. He quieted his movements and let me taste first his lower lip, then the upper, the slight smile rising at the corners of his mouth. I sighed again and he moved me onto my back, taking my place, making me submit to his own traversing.
He kissed each bare inch of my face, his leg against mine trembling as he moved to reach each space that hadn't yet been claimed. He kissed my neck, the slight movement of my jaw as I reached to touch whatever part of him I could reach. He pressed his lips to the hollow of my throat and I knew with clarity that no other mouth would be allowed to rest there.
He paused and lay his head on my breast - our breath quick and hurried. I felt the weight of him on my heart and couldn't help but twine my fingers through his hair and ease his mouth back to my own. My fierceness frightened me. I could not taste enough of his lips, could not breathe enough of him into me. His moans became breathless whimpers and I was both ashamed and enflamed to be able to draw such sounds from his old soul. My legs entwined with his and I pressed myself to him without the knowledge of what I urged him for - knowing only that I wanted him as close as I could get him. I thought that if I could get him just a bit closer I would never have cause to worry over his absence again - a part of him would be carried with me always.
At this urging he drew away and I could have cried for losing him when he was just so near.
His ragged voice was both familiar and intricately strange, "Little one - what are we doing?"
"You do not know?" I asked, appalled that we could have discovered something that his ancient wisdom had no answer for.
He smiled at my innocent response to his question and the familiar warmth of his gesture made me want to cry all the more. Some small part of me knew that whatever our bodies had spoken, it had the power to either take him away from me completely or draw him ever closer. I could not bear the promise of the first.
His tone was now very serious. "We can never share our hearts lightly," he said. "You must give much thought to whom you will give yourself freely. This desire that you feel . . ." he thought for a moment, " . . .we feel - it will tie us to each other for the remainder of our long, long days."
"And you have never been so bound to another?" I asked.
"Never," he answered, a warm finger tracing the shape of my face as if I had won the part of him that could not be taken. "No one has held me as closely as you and no one has ever shared my bed, even as you have done in all innocence. I have never had the will to send you away."
"And will you now?" My voice was stricken and incomplete.
His hand rested still on my cheek, but he moved a space away from me. We lay on our sides, each regarding the other. Understanding lay in the empty space between us.
Very quietly I said, "You claimed me as yours before I knew I could be possessed."
"And I was yours before you were born."
"Then there is no question," I stated simply. "There is no choice but for me to touch you." I placed my hand over his. His fingers wrapped within my own.
"But you are so young."
"And you are too old."
He nodded his head slowly, more confused than assured. "I never thought that I was coming back to this world to find you. I was told my purpose was in other pursuits."
"And just because my presence here was not mentioned - does your tie to me dissolve your other duties? Or could my love only strengthen your purpose?"
He smiled again. "You always surprise me, little thing. Your mind is a mystery. But you have far to go to learn your own purpose."
"I refuse to surrender you for fear of what's to come," I said, resolutely. "Fate brought me to your arms before I could walk on my own and I trust it brought me to your arms tonight."
"You are impatient," he said.
"And you move too slowly."
"That may be so," he rose from the bed and smoothed the covers around me. "Your hands are dangerous," he said sweetly and bent to brush the smallest kiss to my lips.
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"You know I leave in the morning - I'll be gone for some time. Sleep now and savor your dreams. I will visit them as I can while I'm away."
I sat up and watched him begin to gather his things.
He didn't look at me as he spoke, "Consider tonight carefully and search your heart for the answers."
I watched his slow and graceful movements as he stepped from one side of the room to the next. "I will sleep in your bed every night you are away," I said defiantly. "I will go through your things and memorize every one of your possessions until I know each secret you've kept from me."
He laughed and I was enflamed at his dare to belittle my threats, "I keep no secrets from you."
"While you are gone the only word that will leave my lips will be your name."
He stifled a small laugh again but stopped his preparations and came to kneel by the bed.
His eyes burned into me; the memory of them would stay with me the entire time he was away. "And what is my name?"
I pursed my lips, "Ancient one."
"Will you not name me? My only love, who has never called me by my name."
"I have said your name in passing." I said quietly, dropping my gaze.
"But never to my face, Vedith."
I could not have known the power of my true name until that moment. It was a secret word suddenly, an incantation that locked my heart in his.
I lifted my eyes. "Glorfindel," I said simply. Our names passed between us in that moment. An exchange that sealed the most ancient of pacts.
He kissed my mouth quickly. "When you go through my things try to put everything back in its proper place."
I sighed, he continued. "But most of all, know that when I return I will not expect an answer either way. Weigh your life equally, consider a future where I am near but you are not limited by me. See the positive in either outcome. Learn to know your heart as well as I've come to know it. There is still much time for decision."
"Do you think of me with as much happiness as I think of you?" I asked. "Or do you humor me . . ."
He pulled me into his arms. "You are my only happiness," his lips trailed against my neck. "I know your skin as well as my own." He rose, unclasping my hands from his. "And consider more conversation than my own simple name while I'm away. The others will tire of hearing it and think you've gone mad."
"They know I'm mad," I said.
"Nonetheless," he smiled, "pretend otherwise so they don't question the source of your madness."
I could feel him leaving even as he stood before me. "Kiss me once before you go."
He did as I asked and the sweetness filled every sense of me, his lips languorously assailing me. I reached for him, hoping to draw him closer to me, to prevent him from leaving. The morning was still hours away, yet he pulled away and straightened to his full height, the level gaze of my teacher dared me to defy his judgment.
"Now sleep," he said sternly - then ever more quietly, "and know that I love you only."
Despite his low assurance, I was angry with him for weeks after he departed. Rather than utter his name at every given opportunity, I refused to acknowledge one with such name ever lived amongst us.
"Here's a message from Glorfindel," someone would say.
I would simply raise an eyebrow, "Who?"
Listening to stories in the evening, I would exit conspicuously the moment a tale mentioned him, or even hinted at recalling a history where he was present.
If walking down the hallway I found the door to his rooms open, I would shut it with a defiant slam. Curiously, the door would be open again the following day, or the day after.
He was gone for three full months before my rage subsided into what I was reluctant to call longing. I used his name again slowly - not his true name but familiar endearments, altered to suit my purposes. "Any word from the old elf?" I would say, or more quietly, "Any news relating when the golden one (old rat) may return?"
Eventually, I began to sit through stories in which he was mentioned, even if I could not keep my eyes from rolling skyward at key points of his exploits. The others regarded my disrespect curiously and from a great distance.
One evening as I made my ways to my rooms I passed his open door and paused before it. The old oak shone in the last light of evening. A tree branch swayed before his open windows. I cannot say how long I stood there before entering, but eventually I did. I had not used my time wisely. I had not considered his options or my choice in his absence. I sighed and lowered my shoulders. I was defeated. There was no choice or option - my path had been written before I entered this world he had known for so long before my coming.
I buried my face in the cushions of his bed and inhaled deeply. I stood and began a thorough exploration of every shelf, every drawer. I put on a cloak and pulled the hood over my head. I held his old weapons, I toyed with his herbs, I sipped his wine. I strummed a harp in the corner of the room that I had never heard him play and I ran his comb through my hair. I sat on a stool and surveyed the room again, unsure where to go next.
As my gaze strayed from shelf to table to bed, I lingered for a moment at a small chest on a table beside the window seat. The strange runes of the old language adorned its lid, the words intertwined with vines and the symbol of the golden flower.
Despite the leave I had been given to explore his room - if indeed it could have been called permission - I was hesitant to unleash the contents of this treasure. The runes were foreign to me, the words unknown despite my knowledge of our languages.
I pushed the cloak from my head and lifted the hinged lid slowly. The box's contents were meager. An unadorned book and a lock of hair, a few strands carefully braided - my hair - secured at the ends with blood-red ribbon.
I picked up the book and placed the lock of hair back inside the box. I shut the lid and took the book with me to the bed. Pulling the cloak around me, I reclined on the cushions and opened the cover. Three times that night I read from start to finish the partially filled pages of that book. His familiar script in our recent language wrapped itself about me, pulling me close in his distant embrace. That night I read the story of myself as someone who witnessed my life removed and entwined from its first beginnings. He took great care with my story, as if my simple actions were worthy of great remembrance. When at last I closed the book of myself upon myself - my heavy eyes gave way to a sleep rich with dreams of him.
For three months more he stayed away, with only brief communication. Nothing expressly arrived by his hand for me. His letters brought from rare messengers or travelers were full of business and various sightings, trade and negotiations meant in truth for our Lord's eyes - however I strained to sneak a glance. I slept in his bed each night with his cloak wrapped about me. And if anyone noticed this - no questions were directed toward me.
On the eve of his arrival, a scout traveling before him placed a small package in my hand. He nodded with authority, his strange mission complete, before turning on his heels and leaving me on the garden path in quiet solitude.
I found a bench beneath a draping willow and sat there to examine the thing in my hands. I knew without a doubt where the package originated. He sent small gifts to me whenever he traveled. I could feel his spirit move through me in the sweet warmth that had chased away ill dreams and soothed me into sleep since I was very young. The package itself seemed to glow with faint, golden light between my fingers.
I unwrapped the coarse twine fastening it closed and slipped a finger beneath the spot of beeswax that sealed all official messages.
The paper contained familiar runes - the same ones that adorned the old box within his room . . . yet no other words. Mystery frustrated me and he knew it. "Be out with it, you old rat," I said aloud.
Tucked within the paper's folds was an acorn - the usual sort, a brother of any number on the floor of the green garden where I sat.
Despite my frustration at his riddle, I smoothed the paper across my lap before bringing it to my lips. I kissed the runes that were written by his ancient hand and imagined I could smell the sweet scent of his golden hair on the paper.
I slept in my own room that night, his message held tightly in my hand and his cloak draped all about me.
I awoke in the morning to the sound of hooves through the front gates. I knew his horse's steps and lay still, trying to contain my joy but desperate in the knowledge that his own great wisdom over the months could have led him to an ill-favored decision. His message told me nothing - speaking to me of neither despair nor love. I knew his presence would always be promised and true, but remained uncertain of the distance he would keep from me. The customs of our heritage told me nothing. In our time new love of any sort was rare and marriage seldom and quiet. I could not gauge propriety. My own parents were dead to me, long gone into the West after leaving me to the mercy of strangers who would see I that experienced the time that was left in this land. My parents had grown weary of shadows and threats but knew there were other lessons for me to learn before I followed their path.
I stayed hidden throughout the day. I walked in the forest and was absent from meals. I nibbled wild berries and scavenged a few scattered lettuces for meager nourishment - and just once (I will admit this to no one) licked a rosy colored pebble because it seemed delightful. I was hoping it would taste like its color promised, but its only flavor was grainy earth - good for smelling after a deep rain, but seldom good for the tongue.
I wandered aimlessly and tried not to let my thoughts stray toward his cryptic message or wonder what he was doing. I knew he would be involved with relating his travels and all the knowledge gleaned in his journey throughout the day. Deeply however, I wished he would come seek me out. He did not.
All references that could help me decipher his message would be found in the endless shelves of the library, and there was no more certain place that I would see him. So I kept to the forest paths and most distant gardens. A thousand unrelated things kept him close to my mind: the river's noisy flow, the quiet talk of small streams, the undersides of leaves glowing in the afternoon sun, and even the pebble that I tasted. It at once filled me with happiness and annoyance that I could feel his spirit in all these random things. The last thing I could bear was the thing itself.
So I lay in my bed that night after slipping into the house quietly when all activity within had slowed. Final embers glowed in the hearths, my heartbeat was a roar in my ears and my quickened thoughts brought no hope of sleep.
I knew my bare feet would touch the cold stone floor and I knew these same feet would carry me to his rooms. Whatever followed was as unknown to me as the runes on the paper beneath my pillow.
As if in a dream, my legs moved to the edge of the bed and the floor was very suddenly beneath my feet. His cloak, of course, was around me.
His door was just pulled to, the faintest light creeping about its edges. It opened easily with the lightest touch. I stood at the threshold, just as I had stood on the day of my plundering in his absence. He lay silent on his bed, his eyes - as always - watching me. How different, I thought, these things we have done so many times are when infused with invisible meaning. For the first time, my legs refused to rush me blindly into this room. I opened my mouth to speak, but could not formulate a word. I caught him suppressing a laugh - a gentle laugh but humor nonetheless.
I said his name for the second time in his presence. "Glorfindel," I said and his eyes grew wide as his smile slipped. I stepped into the room and closed the heavy door behind me.
I removed his cloak and my skin beneath my thin dress felt chill in the small breeze that blew from the open window. I gathered my reserve about me in the cloak's place. "Ancient one," I said as I moved toward the bed. "Despite your enjoyment of mysteries, I failed to uphold your simple, direct request." I held the cloak out before me as if it were my reason for visiting. "I did not leave this where I found it."
His smile returned suddenly in the face of my strange directness. "You may keep it if you wish," he said with a nod.
I paced to the empty side of the bed and placed the cloak at its foot. I sat at the edge of the bed primly, my shoulders square - some distance between us. He followed my movement with the barest turn of his head. Great warmth coursed through me, having him here again, so close after so many months. My old teacher's green eyes, the gaze I was so accustomed to, were suddenly very shocking. They laid me bare and saw me more thoroughly than I ever imagined. After reading his words of my life in the hidden book, I was almost ashamed that he would know me so completely. But beneath his gaze was a desire that I could not turn away from - a longing that held me close and kept me still on the side of the bed, spellbound.
What could I do with a desire so great and so very, very ancient? The brief taste of his kisses before his departure were truth enough of how he could devour me. Did I want to be so enveloped - or more rightly - would there be anything left of me if I allowed him to possess me so thoroughly?
I knew then that these were the questions he had wanted me to ask while he was away. My age had nothing to do with the strength of my spirit. Only I could answer the truth of the situation. Was there enough strength in me to face this fierce love and not be dimmed by handing over so much? There was a terrible amount to gain as well as lose.
He knew without me saying that this truth has just occurred to me.
"This is a dreadful wager," I said.
He agreed, "Truly."
"You stand to lose as much as I - if not more. You've traveled this world, gone beyond it and back only to arrive in this moment with an obligation creeping toward your spirit. You would have accomplished none of these things with the burden of sharing your heart with another." I remained perched on the edge of the bed, but shifted uncomfortably in the silence that proceeded his response.
"Perhaps my life has led me through all those strange circumstances and back again to do simply that - to find you." He spoke in the tone of secret conspiracy that had colored our exchanges for as long as I could remember, as if our every word shared knowledge that no one else was privy to. It felt as if he had been telling me through each and every exchange since before my remembering . . . I have found you.
I lowered my head, "But what am I in light of your history, all the great battles, the glory and slow diminishing to this time here. The light of the stars, all who have known and trusted you for times so long before I was born."
He closed the space between us by taking my hand in his own, his fingers entwining through mine - and he held them up as if all the mysteries in the large world could be held close in this grasp.
"You are the reward I was promised for every sorrow and every passing beauty. I would suffer every moment of my long life again only if it inevitably led to you - which it has," he kissed my fingers slowly, the barest touch on each knuckle. "But I will also wait to have you, or . . ." he raised his eyes at this, ". . . be content with simply watching over you if your path would lead you elsewhere."
"And the runes?"
"They say only - I give you what is unbounded."
"And in this you bind me?"
"You are only bound in the choice," he lay my hand gently back onto the covers of the bed, his own still resting upon it.
"You know that mysteries trouble me. Rather than viewing my choice as one mystery in exchange for another, I prefer to see you here before me. The world has changed much in my lifetime. You will be needed for many things before your time here is completed. Would your promise to me keep you from journeys you would otherwise take?"
The gaze he returned was strangely shy, his bright eyes shining with thinly concealed joy. I smiled in spite of our overwhelming words.
"You are the only journey that keeps me here," he said after some time. "I would have departed and crossed the sea long ago if not for your coming. My work here is finished."
"I doubt that," I said, "but your words are pretty."
Do we ever have a choice in our journeys? We walk our paths aimed with only so much knowledge as we have gleaned through mysteries. And even seeming death cannot keep us from the desires of our hearts. Beneath each path there is the one small seed of our purpose, our hidden truth, and even that lies cloaked in the guarded shadows of our minds. These longings and the promise that each desire is justified only in the wanting, the constant moving toward our secret heart's wish. The mysteries of fate and strong purpose did not seem so troubling to me in that moment. What was understanding compared to my spirit's purpose - and was there every, really, a choice?
"What is your desire, little one? What will be your answer?" his words were so low I would not have heard them if my eyes were not upon his lips.
I crawled across the space between us and pressed myself against him. His arms enfolded me greedily, as if they had no other use save to hold me close.
My lips touched his with the smallest of kisses, light as autumn air. He suffered me with maddening detachment. I wanted him to claim me but he waited for me to stake my own claim.
I drew back suddenly, "The acorn," I said, "whatever was that about?"
"To get your attention. You threw one at me once when I was ignoring you. I thought to return the favor. I was hard pressed to launch one from such a distance but I hope it caught you in the head regardless." He tapped the space between my eyes so lightly, making me mad for his touch despite the rude sentiment.
"You allowed that acorn to hit you," I said.
"It roused me nonetheless."
A mischievous thought occurred to me then. "Shall I fetch an acorn to rouse you now or is my presence sufficient?"
"You're hard to ignore pressed against me thus." With a hand on each side of me, he traced my length from shoulder to knee. He gripped the hem of my dress and my breath caught at the whisper of his touch on my bare leg.
Afraid he would cease his touches, I took his face in my hands and leveled my gaze into his bright eyes. "I accept all," I said. "Take all that you wish from me. All other desires are meaningless in the face of this choice. I choose you in completeness."
All mirth was gone from his eyes, his face a mask of serious contemplation between my hands. I waited, neither of us moving for some time.
"I decide and yet you hold back. I've offered myself, you old fool."
His next words were murmured in a tone I had yet to hear but have since learned to rue and adore. "I fear I will expose every piece of you - that I will take all that is both mine and yours. I dread the least provocation will unleash a merciless intensity that has lain dormant since my return. I do not know the limits of my passion any longer."
I leaned toward him, my lips a breath from his own - I wanted to know these depths. My voice surprised me in its quiet urgency, " I would expect no less."
His eyes roamed my face for a moment. He took my hands in a fierce grip and pinned them behind my back - his mouth against me suddenly, harshly. His lips were assaulting and imploring - telling me that this was only a meager fragment of his desire, his ability to possess me. He loosened his grip only so long as to ease me onto my back, his hands still restraining my own against the cushions. In this familiar bed with his familiar scent all around me, he began to divest me, to evoke me - one slow and complete layer at a time.
I tried to wrench my idle hands loose as his mouth tasted each new part of me. I closed my eyes against the terrible surge of pleasure that he drew from my skin to his lips. Ages of desire passed through me, fervid and piercing. He wouldn't let me move against him. I could only wait, brutally exposed as he bid me to open my eyes, to watch him become acquainted with each new portion of me.
He adored me with his hands and mouth, discovering each new place at first tentatively, with a reverence almost awe-filled until his desire for me would push him forward with a moan, turning his gentle touches into deep possession. In truth his name was the only word that crossed my lips. There was no need to put my desire into words.
He paused for a moment, his green eyes crazed with longing. He allowed me to press him down onto the covers, my hands barely skirting his shape, the briefest touch across what skin I could reach. His spirit was a tangible thing that seemed just below the surface of what I could grasp, what I could acquire. I admired his sublime presence from his golden hair to his matchless feet; the same feet that had tread lands lost to this world and those beyond. He attempted to rise and draw me to him again, but I stilled him with a slight shake of my head, "Wait."
I marveled at this new mystery of skin, the landscape of his body that had been hidden from me. I took my time with him, my hands unhurried - our roles shifted. His skin was sweet to my mouth, my lips memorized the regions where my touch forced his bright eyes closed, made him ache toward me. There was no other power in the large world so great as this - that my mouth alone could make him tremble.
The smallest discovery, the dip beneath his knee, the juncture of his shoulder, the softest skin at his side - each new thing brought a breath of surprise from deep within me. When at last I reach the miracle of flesh lower still, he caught my wrist and lowered me back to the cushions.
We lay a hands breadth apart, the silence in the room punctuated by the occasional call of early morning birds outside the open window.
It was all so pleasurable that I responded with a lazy laugh when he quietly asked if I was certain that I wanted him, "But I have you," I whispered back.
He lay on his side, watching me laid out before him - his head propped on his arm beneath him. He raised an eyebrow and bit his lip a moment in contemplation. He smiled slightly at my puzzled look. "There is much I failed to teach you," he said.
I wondered what he could possibly mean and was just about to ask when he stretched himself over me, his arms on each side of my shoulders holding me an agonizing breath from his mouth. His question still hung between us.
Realization passed through me in a scorching wave as I wrapped my legs around him. He bent to kiss my throat and I stretched my neck toward his mouth, my whole body rising to seek his out.
"Do you know what you offer?" he asked. Just as we had passed from joy to dire truth time and time again, there was no lightness behind his question.
My fingers caressed his lovely face, whispered across the brow above his ancient eyes. "I offer myself willingly - I give you what is unbounded."
The slightest relief crossed his face - relief or resignation. His eyes stayed fixed on my own, heavy lidded and so very sweet as he slowly entered me. A new warmth filled my senses - an understanding that was both light and darkness. We both held our breath in that moment, the stillness of him within me blinding me to all other pleasures. There was no greater mystery or deeper truth.
An age could have passed in that moment. I pressed him to me deeper - unable to get him close enough. And it seemed that our breath resumed at the same time, the world began its slow movement once more and a quiet laugh escaped my lips before he claimed them again with his own, smiling, whispering adoration into my mouth.
As we slowly moved against each other we passed so easily from joy to fierce possession and I thought amidst my pleasure how so like life this fine line between sorrow and happiness. We moved toward one another, caught within the briefest thread of longing and completion.
I grew accustomed to his curious intrusion, knowing that he held something back - something that could only be unleashed by my leave. His eyes were somewhere beyond me and I wondered for the first time what his spirit felt when he passed beyond this world. I had him so close to me, but I wanted to taste the fierce mystery of his essence.
"More," I whispered.
It seemed my word passed through him before the sudden recognition of my voice opened his bright eyes wider. "This is enough," he said, dropping his head to my shoulder.
"No, it is not," my hands brought him back to face me. "I will not have
just a part of you."
I thought he chose to ignore me. I closed my eyes, his mouth moved to my breast - his slow movement matching the rhythm of my hips. But slower still a peculiar warmth spread deep within me, a surging, silent wash of memories that stilled my breath. I had no words for these things, these shades of images - apparitions of light and shadow. These images were the source of all words, the center of all life. To know these things and still be able to bear the pale ghosts beyond the window filled me with keening despair. My arms were weak, clutching him to me. My voice begged him to be done with me yet he drove himself all the deeper within me. There was no more rhythm to our movements, only a blind, consuming heat.
My body took its pleasure as his spirit burned within me so violently it was almost unbearable. Yet at the margin of my knowledge I knew at last that the things he showed me were not his alone - he drew these ancient remembrances from me. I saw him at last as my enviable equal - no wiser, eyes so bright in his pleasure. I pulled him closer still with a hoarse cry, the blinding ache in my senses at once lifting and falling. He caught my cries with his mouth, claiming them with his own and stealing my last assertion.
As my senses quieted and my eyes at last could open, I was shocked to find the room unchanged, all that was familiar still in its same place.
I could hardly look at him for some time, the love I felt still too weakening, almost tangible. The dream slipped through me slowly, the knowledge that I was unbound to all that came before me, as equally as he. I could feel his eyes upon me as he lay at my side, quietly regarding my slowing breath. I knew he smiled at me and I could hardly suppress my own smirk. I ignored him for as long as possible, counting instead the beams in the ceiling above me.
At last I turned to face him, my smile hurting the sides of my worn mouth. I curled onto my side, our knees just touching - and laughed as much as I could bear.
"What is it?" he asked, infected by my own humor - his smile a golden treasure to me as never before.
"I tasted a stone yesterday," I said.
He shook his head and took my hand, pressing it to his heart. "It's for that reason alone the Valar sent you to me. Was the taste pleasing?"
"I prefer the taste of you by far."
"I'm happy to hear that," he said as he pulled me to him. With every assurance of his own sleep, I closed my eyes with his golden hair all about me, my face pressed close to his neck. Dreams came to me swiftly, their colors vivid and bright. His story washed over me in wordless histories until his past was as deep as my own - his story and mine intertwined like ancient and rambling vines.
When morning light and birdsong woke me slowly, I smiled again at the peace of his even breath beside me, the knowledge that my story was no longer my own - as if it had ever been.
* Opening poem by Wendell Berry
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