1. Journey's Interlude
As the sword practice concluded, one of the stockier guardsmen came up to Glorfindel. He had seen the sword contest and knew well he could not prevail against the speed and skill of the Elf. But the Elf was slender, if tall; surely in wrestling he would have to give way to the strength of the broader-built Man?
The man appeared confident, if serious and determined. To those standing about, the Elf seemed like a child who enters merrily into an unknown game, heedless of the outcome. The spectators watched as Glorfindel removed his upper garments, following his challenger's example.
Slender he was, but the arms were corded with muscle, and the chest defined and firm. And if his skin looked like that of a child, fair and unblemished, his eyes told of much experience. His hair shone gold. Not the pale glow of the moon, luminous and ghostly; not the warm yellow of the sun, but gold as if some ancient artisan had drawn fine strands of purest metal to the likeness of hair, and assembled them into a gleaming polished whole.
"This is a friendly contest, such as we have amongst ourselves, not for training," explained one of the guardsmen. "He who throws his opponent down first, wins. It is forbidden to bite or kick; only strength of the body may be used." Glorfindel smiled and nodded his agreement.
Dairuin stood among a group of townsmen who discussed this new match excitedly, and some proposed wagers. The trader struggled a bit with his conscience, and said, "He might surprise you."
He got a dismissive gesture in reply. "Oh, he is fast, we have seen that. But he looks like a stripling next to Gorlim."
The trader looked over the sturdily built guardsmen and shrugged. "I think the Elf will win - I will take your wager."
The rules of the contest having been declared, the two smoothed oil on their upper bodies to deny their opponent a good hold, and the grappling began. Bystanders shouted encouragement or jests. Gorlim's face was grim and showed his effort; sweat mingled with the oil on his chest. The Elf looked relaxed and graceful.
Seeming like a dancer embracing a partner, Glorfindel's arms grasped the other and twisted easily, and the man was down on the ground, with a grunt and a look of surprise on his face that set some in the crowd laughing. Glorfindel did not laugh, but rather made a small, courteous hand gesture, before extending it to his opponent. Dairuin wanted to warn him, but could think of no polite way to point out that his hosts might cheat, although they would not regard it so.
It was unnecessary. Glorfindel's stance on the packed earth was solid, and the sudden, sharp tug on his hand did not pull him over, but rather made the downed man look a little silly. A short exchange ensued, with other guardsmen urging additional bouts, while Glorfindel smiled and demurred, saying he wished to learn more of their technique by observing, as he might not have the same luck twice. It was a pretty performance. Dairuin could only hope that those he overheard grumbling that it was a fluke would challenge the Elf when he was around to watch the contest. Several bystanders, including Asgareth, looked as if they shared his sentiments.
One of the young men who aspired to the guard brought each man a coarse cloth to remove the oil. Glorfindel toweled himself and handed it back, and the remains of the oil on his skin left him shining like a pearl amid the grey stones that were the sparring men. As he dressed, Dairuin could see there were many in the crowd whose eyes were drawn to him repeatedly. Even when he rejoined Dairuin and they made their way toward the inn, glances followed them down the road.
When they were out of earshot Dairuin turned to him. "You were most diplomatic."
Glorfindel smiled. "I hope so. I do not desire to offend any in this town. I did not think they would know so little of us that one would think me easy prey."
"My friend, they know nothing of Elves here but what some vague tales can tell, and they don't believe most of that. I may know more, having traveled to Lindon, yet still count myself ignorant. But it is likely near a man's lifetime since any of the Firstborn have chanced upon this town, and very few here have traveled beyond the river."
The Elf was thoughtful. "I will consider this; it seems I understand less of Men than I thought. I would not wish to give inadvertent insult."
Glorfindel was quiet much of the evening, and after the meal thanked his hosts and retired early.
There was something in the room with him. He heard the breathing and sensed a shape inside the curtain at the doorway to the room. It was large, like a person, not small like a curious kitten or a mouse.
He lay still, concentrating. He felt nothing malign, but his hand had found his knife in sheer reflex, and he grasped the haft and allowed his eyes to move toward the intruder. It was indeed one of the Edain, and not a very tall one. The dark shape moved slowly - uncertainly he would say; he watched as the hands felt the wall carefully. They cannot see in the dark, he recalled.
The intruder came closer and stopped a few feet away. Abruptly, he sat up and spoke. "What do you do here?"
There was only a slight hesitancy in the voice. "Sir Elf, I wish to talk to you."
He could easily see the answer concealed untruth. The female Edain continued groping toward him, finally stopped by the bedframe. He recognized Asgareth, a young one even for the Secondborn, surely not more than a fifth of a century. She was the one he had seen in the public room with hunger in her eyes for tales of other lands.
Some wanted tales of heroic deeds or of the glorious past of their kin, or of the Gods. This one had wanted stories of foreign places, of differences, of people with unfamilar customs. It must be hard for such a one to be restricted to this town.
He softened his voice from the sharp, commanding tone. "Why have you come here, and why now?"
"I wanted to hear more about other places. And I wanted to know you better." Words flowed smoothly from her. She appeared slightly nervous, but not at all frightened. He sat back a bit, and she appeared to take that as permission to approach more closely.
"This is a poor time for that," he said, but without heat. "Again, what do you seek?" he asked.
She sat on the mattress beside him. When she leaned close he realized that the hand on his leg was no accident or mistake.
"I wish to be with you."
He was amazed at her daring. Was this how the Edain managed such things? "I do not wish to bond with you, nor with anyone," he said gently. "The time is not right. My people do not bond or beget children in dark times."
"I won't ask for a bond," she replied. She leaned over slightly, allowing the top of her shift to gap and reveal a bit more of herself. "Are not elves as men in this? Am I unpleasing to you?"
He shook his head at her and smiled a bit. "That will not work, you can not so easily turn me from my course by such attempts to catch my sympathy. Were you the most pleasing or the least, that is not the matter at hand. Why should you want this? What do you seek - novelty, power, notoriety?"
"No!" she said. A pause. "Well, then, it is to have something for myself. Something that is not for my family or Arthrad Lumren, or even for the House of Hador, scattered through these lands. Just for me. I would have liked for you to want to bond, and to take me with you north," she said wistfully, "but I really didn't think you would. And I don't believe what some said - that one that lies with an Elf will become immortal."
"I am glad you do not believe it, for it is an untruth," he said seriously. "How did such a lie come to be told?" He frowned. "Surely one of my kin did not say such a thing?"
"I don't know about that." She shrugged. "I overheard it from some of the boys, they were talking about what Elf-women must be like and what they would want to do about it."
He did not care for the taste of that thought.
"I know all that isn't true. But I still want you to lie with me. I will be content with one night."
"I cannot give you what you desire. I will not sow where I can not expect to reap."
But she was not giving up. The hand on his leg had begun slow motions.
He had good control of this body, so recently granted him, but not yet perfect control. And the long time in Mandos' Halls had left him with a hunger for things of the senses. He was reminded of his return to Valinor, when like a babe discovering himself, he had found new pleasure in all things of the body: the feel of the wind on his skin, the sounds of the harp, the odor of a savory meal.
So the sensation of her touch was not without effect. His body said that it did not mind if she was not of the Eldar, her form was the same and the mechanics were no different.
I have faced a balrog, and cannot face one young mortal? He laughed at himself. He wished Ithwen were here to advise him. Her sharp tongue would have made short work of this tangle.
But he felt sympathy for Asgareth, her desire for adventure reminded him of the young Galadriel, then called Artanis; but this one had no way to leave her home. And remembering the spirited and proud young Elf who had fallen into grievous error with the rest of the Exiles, who had grown into a wise adult with sad eyes, he determined to do something for this young one - more than a child in body, but not yet a woman in wisdom. How to do this and not harm the pride of the youngling?
"Asgareth, I will give you something for you, something to remember, if not all you think you desire."
"I don't want trinkets," she said heatedly, "however fine! I am not one to do this for silver as some will when the travellers come down the river."
"Shhh," he said. "I do not seek to buy your behaviour. I will give you something for you, even if it is not all you want. I think you will be pleased." He leaned forward and gently kissed her forehead before moving to make a place for her. "Will you lie down, bold one?"
He would make her the gift of herself, of her own pleasure.
She lay down obediently, but with trepidation and looked up at him uncertainly. He bent over slowly, barely touching her ear with his lips. She had rubbed something on herself to change her scent, he realized. She smelled like crushed flowers. Did she not value her natural odor?
He brushed his fingers across her cheekbone and continued gently over to her ear and down her jaw. He bent to kiss her neck. The floral odor was pleasant enough, but he preferred undisguised female scent. In this case it was probably just as well such an arousing factor wasn't present. He straightened, and concentrated on sensing her feelings and finding what pleased, on building a slow ascent for her that each motion might be amplified by what had gone before. From her neck he stroked her collarbones down to the charming hollow at the base of her neck, and eventually down the center of the chest. He was gratified to see the results: her indrawn breath, the lift of her breasts and the slight arch of her body revealed his success.
Slowly he undid the ties that held her shift together, moving her hand away when she would have hurried the disrobing. As he slipped the cloth down, his lips trailed in the shift's wake down breast bone to navel.
Raising up again, his fingers began a long, slow rhythm from shoulder to curve of breast and then nipple, watching as she arched and sighed. He controlled what of his breath he could, but felt rather like he had just finished a brisk sparring match. She was different than a nissi, although the parts were familiar. If she had not the elegance, the height and slenderness of the Firstborn, yet the fuller shape of the Atani had an appeal of its own, or so his hroa informed him.
She reached for him, and he shivered as her hand combed through the silk of his hair, lowering then to slide over his chest. In the wake of her touch he felt the linen trews tighten over sensitive flesh. He lifted her hand away from his body and kissed it. "Lie still, little one. Before you learn to pleasure another you must learn to enjoy yourself. This is my gift for you."
The long slow strokes continued, and her heartbeat grew more rapid, and she made small sounds as her breath fluttered beneath his fingers.
As his fingertips danced delicately lower, he remembered another, another who was a match for his years and experience. She had writhed beneath him, begging for him both to finish and to go on forever. He smiled as he recalled her revenge: telling him his wordless cries were far sweeter to her ears than the most elegant madrigals sung in his rich voice. She had made sure to hear her favored sound often.
This is for your memory, Híril Nîn, his thought whispered to the one whose sweet body had lain beneath the wave for centuries, and whose spirit dwelt still in Mandos' Halls.
His fingers glided now over flesh like folded petals, and there was urgency in her low moans and the short sharp motions of her hips. At the last he leaned down to muffle her cries with his lips.
Asgareth lay still now, her breath slowing; a red flush stained her chest. He lay beside her, and cradled her against him while stroking her hair, humming softly.
After a time she turned to him, all duplicity gone from her face. "May I do something for you?" she asked artlessly.
"This was a gift for you," he reminded her.
She reached her arms around him. "I have heard that that it is very difficult for men if they are roused and not allowed to satisfy themselves."
"Then it is fortunate that I am an Elf and not a Man," he said, smiling down at her. He relaxed in the simple physical comfort of encircling arms, a sensation he could enjoy without compunction.
"Your pleasure has made me happy; it is all the gift I desire from you. Sleep," he whispered, still stroking her hair. She tightened her arms about him momentarily, snuggled into his side, and slept.
The main story this comes from, True Jouney is Return, can be found here
I owe a lot to AfterEver. She's a wonderful beta, and without her I wouldn't be writing and exposing my scribbling to public view. She has encouraged me repeatedly, helped me rework endlessly, and made me laugh hysterically when I really needed it.
Happy Birthday AfterEver for everafter!
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